SELF-RECOMMENDING!

Open Thread 131.25

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

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

1,062 Responses to Open Thread 131.25

  1. Deiseach says:

    It’s Sunday, so let’s fight about religion and politics!

    First up, there is this TIME story by David French about Evangelicals and Trump – why oh why did they support him? (Answer: they’re just dumb ignorant scared rednecks acting out of irrational fear):

    The relentless drumbeat of claims against Trump–combined with the clear moral declarations of the past–have caused millions of Americans to look at their evangelical fellow citizens and ask, simply: Why? Why have you abandoned your previous commitment to political character to embrace Donald Trump?

    Glad you asked, David! Turns out there are some journalists/religion beat reporters who have done a bit of work on that question:

    (1) Many evangelicals supported Trump from the get-go. For them, Trump is great and everything is going GREAT.
    (2) Other evangelicals may have supported Trump early on, but they have always seen him as a flawed leader – but the best available. They see him as complicated and evolving and are willing to keep their criticisms PRIVATE.
    (3) There are evangelicals who moved into Trump’s tent when it became obvious he would win the GOP nomination. They think he is flawed, but they trust him to – at least – protect their interests, primarily on First Amendment issues.
    (4) Then there are the lesser-of-two-evils Trump evangelicals who went his way in the general election, because they could not back Hillary Clinton under any circumstances. They believe Trump’s team has done some good, mixed with quite a bit of bad, especially on race and immigration. They think religious conservatives must be willing to criticize Trump – in public.
    (5) There are evangelicals who never backed Trump and they never will. Many voted for third-party candidates. They welcome seeing what will happen when Trump team people are put under oath and asked hard questions (and ditto for FBI officials). However, they are willing to admit that Trump has done some good, even if in their heart of hearts they’d rather be working with President Mike Pence.
    (6) Folks on the evangelical left simply say, “No Trump, ever.” Anything he touches is bad and must be rejected. Most voted for Clinton and may have yearned for Bernie Sanders.

    There’s an evangelical left? Appears so! And the question for the Democrats and religion is this – how did the Dems go from “three-quarters of voters/supporters have some kind of religious belief” to the ‘rise of the Nones’ wing dominating the party, and what (if anything) are they going to do about it?

    As for me, I keep thinking about all the church-goin’ people that I know who really, really, really do not want to vote for Trump. Yet they hear the train a comin’, since they remain worried about all those familiar issues linked to the First Amendment, abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court, etc.

    So what is happening on the Democratic Party side of this story?

    It would seem to be this:

    Democrats have traditionally had a strong base of religious voters. A decade ago, more than 80 percent of self-identified Democrats were affiliated with some sort of religion, according to the Pew Research Center. The party was nearly one-quarter Catholic and nearly one-half Protestant, including mainline, evangelical, and historically black denominations. By 2014, those numbers had shifted significantly: Pew found that 28 percent of Democrats identified as religiously unaffiliated.

    This year, the God gap also seems to be an enthusiasm gap. In the new PRRI survey of 1,811 respondents, conducted this year in August and September, religiously unaffiliated Democrats were more than twice as likely to have attended a rally within the past 12 months compared with their religious peers. During that time, they were significantly more likely to have contacted an elected official or to have donated to a candidate or cause. And nearly half of religiously unaffiliated Democrats said they had bought or boycotted a product for political reasons or posted political opinions online, compared with roughly one-quarter of their religious peers. “Culturally, this is the subgroup of the Democratic Party that feels most at odds with the direction of the country and what the Trump administration is doing,” said Dan Cox, the research director at PRRI. “These secular Democrats also tend to be the most liberal.”

    So, on both sides, there’s a small percentage who are really committed to what they believe – in one estimation, about 20% on the right who really are serious about their faith and trying to live it, and about 28% on the ‘spiritual but not religious’ side who are equally committed. The vast majority are the mushy middle. For the moderate right/centre-right/centrists, those are looking to see if there’s any Democratic candidate they could in good conscience vote for – they just want to be thrown a bone about the religious topics they care about (which is possibly why Biden is the candidate for them and most electable if you’re going for ‘who can appeal to the nation as a whole’).

    On the moderate left/centre-left/centrists, again Biden is probably the man (or someone like Romney perhaps, or any Republican that seemed centrist/moderate). However, the most vocal, most active, and most engaged element is the progressive wing, which is rather the tail wagging the dog as they’re the smallest part of the party but the ones most likely to run and turn up for campaigns, write/phone/email the congresscritters, post on social media etc. They’re also reliably liberal and that’s why campaigns like the one Hillary ran tuned their note to what were perceived to be their concerns.

    The problem there is that by tailoring public policy pronouncements to the progressives, the Democrats are losing the moderate righties who take a look at “all the candidates raised their hands in unison” debates, where one guy is talking about – as one of THE big, major, social and national problems – the vital importance of making access to abortion for trans men easier and more widely available, and they are presented with “either hold my nose and vote for Trump or vote third party or don’t vote at all” choices, even where they might be old-school blue-collar white working class Democrat voters.

    It’s a problem for both parties, and the answers are not glib “it’s only a problem for one side and it’s because they’re all just dumb ignorant scared rednecks” pieces in the slicks.

    • Plumber says:

      @Deiseach, 
      Well among the differences between Democrats and Republicans is that according to polling a majority of Democratic Party voters say the want the Party to move in a more “moderate” and less “liberal” direction, while the majority of Republicans want their Party to move in a more “conservative” direction, but the more “moderate” inclined Democrats are on average older, less educated, less urban, less white, and more likely to live in “Red States” (those that are majority Republican) so their influence is stronger on Presidential primary elections than on most others.

      An example of a successful Red State Democrat is John Bel Edwards the Governor of Louisiana (not to be confused with John Reid Edwards the 2004 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee) who is anti-abortion in a pro-abortion Party.

      An example of a successful “Blue State” Republican is Mit Romney (who you mentioned).

      Compared to 60 years ago there’s been a shift in who’s likely to vote for which Party, back then the Democratic Party coalition was (on average) blacks, Catholics, Jews, “Southerners” (south east U.S.A. excluding Florida, and including Texas), and union members, while Republicans were mostly business owners, “far westerners” (Arizonia, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming) and northern white Protestants (especially in New England),  since then Catholics are about split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, Southern whites are now overwhelmingly Republicans, union members are still mostly Democrats but there’s just a lot less of us, and northern white Protestants are much more likely to be Democrats if they’re college graduates with lower incomes who live in cities (basically the younger ones).

      As it stands a slight majority of Americans sides more with Republicans on “cultural” and “social” issues, and a bit larger majority (but not on overwhelming one) of Americans sides more with Democrats on “economic” issues, and it would seem an easy win for either Party to drop the more unpopular “axis” of economic or social, but the donar base of both parties is more “fiscal conservative”/”social liberal” than the majority of voters, and (as you mentioned) on the Democratic Party side, by far the energy and growth has been on the “social liberal” side, plus “social liberals” are typically the sort of college educated young urbanites who major media market journalists are more likely to encounter (and they’re also more likely to post on Twitter than most Democrats (and Twitter is the lazy journalists insta-poll), and that narrative is what shapes the impression of what Democrats want, and with story being destiny, what new Democrats will be, with Republicans going the other way in reaction. 

      The only way I see around that are a continuous high level of immigration, because just as a hundred years ago, the children of immigrants tend to be Democrats (but less so their grandchildren) despite usually being more “socially conservative”, and/or enough African-Americans (who tend to be the most loyal of Democratic Party voters despite usually being less “liberal” than the rest of the Party) move to a currently “Red State” and flip it “Blue”, which is a possibility as African-Americans have been moving back to the South which would give “Red-Tribe” Democrats an electoral base beyond just presidential primaries.

      And that’s a element that our host’s original “Blue-Tribe” and “Red-Tribe” (and the tiny-tiny “Grey-Tribe”) list of attributes missed, his “Blue-Tribe” list (to me) just looks like “cultural attributes common with college graduate white women”, and his “Red-Tribe” list (to me) just looks like “cultural attributes common with non-college graduate white men”, and that ignores a significant portion of Americans – simply put, black and non-Cuban Latino Americans vote “Blue” and worship “Red”, and non-religious Americans are a growing portion of the population that don’t have as many kids as the religious (they’re growing because of conversions), and while religious whites have more kids than the non-religious, they don’t pass on their faiths to all of they’re kids.

      If current demographic trends continue (and I probably won’t live long enough to see it, but my son’s likely will) combined together both our host’s “Blue” and “Red” “Tribes” will be outnumbered by non-white religious Americans who didn’t fit either of those “Tribes” and today’s “culture war” will be a footnote for antiquarians, as white Christians fail to reproduce culturally (enough to halt their decline as a percentage of the population), and white atheists fail to reproduce physically (compared to everyone else), leaving a non-white religious majority (with Catholicism the biggest faith), which unless black Protestants and brown Catholics fail to get along (and so far they haven’t shown much sign of that), will mean future Americans will get along with far less rancor than is the current state.

      That’s right, I predict that what David Brooks called “the white civil war” will fade away because of demographics no matter how much the donar class tries to stoke it, after centuries of squabbling the Puritan/Quaker alliance and the Borderlander/Cavalier alliance will no longer have sufficient numbers to continue the struggle for dominance, the “Blue-Tribe’s” aggressive cultural imperialism wouldn’t save it (unless there’s a global warming caused mass exodus to Canada, but even in that case how long did the Shakers last? Can a culture centered on values discouraging parenthood last?), and the “Red-Tribe” refusal to even integrate the extremely culturally similar African-Americans into their ranks, and without assimilation, they’ll decline as a percentage of Americans, as too many of their kids run-away to “Blue” cities and become acculturated there.

      It probably shows the limits of my imagination, but I just can’t conceive of a pro-natal “Blue-Tribe” that’s still recognizable as that tribe, the “Red-Tribe” on the other hand has actually been successful in evangelizing Latin Americans to their brand of Protestantism, so maybe bits of their culture will continue.

      Oh wait…

      …I had originally thought to end on a note of ‘The “culture war” has a time limit on it, and good riddance!’, but now I’m seeing a possibility of the CW perpetuated even among a population that’s even further from the “Albion’s Seed” origins of it than today’s, with close-enough versions of our current Red-Tribe providing enough converts to the Blue-Tribe for it to continue to exist as well, which is a bring-down for me, as the thought of the current CW fading into irrelevance pleased me, but now I’m wondering if the same stupid script will play on for centuries more. 

      Damn!

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        That’s right, I predict that what David Brooks called “the white civil war” will fade away because of demographics no matter how much the donar class tries to stoke it

        I agree with this. The Red Tribe breeds at replacement rates and the Blue Tribe does not. There are not enough conversions to keep the Blue Tribe going, and conversions happen both ways. And the Red Tribe is now fully aware of Blue Tribe indoctrination efforts via media and academia and are actively guarding against it.

        and the “Red-Tribe” refusal to even integrate the extremely culturally similar African-Americans into their ranks

        I really don’t think this is the case. I live in a Red State in the south, and half the population is non-white. We whites work, worship and to a lesser extent live with blacks and everyone else just fine. It’s the big city Blue Tribe media that won’t shut up about how horrible and racist we all are, but they’ve never been here to meet us.

        • Plumber says:

          @Conrad Honcho

          “…I really don’t think this is the case…”

          Good.
          With black American families returning to the South for a generation now (though not in the numbers that their grandparents left the south), I would hope that they’re going to place that’s become more welcoming, and not just leaving places that have become less welcoming.

          I’ve posted some similiar thoughts before, but Biden’s Democratic frontrunner status  has produced a lot of ink and pixels explaining how “older black voters support him and don’t blame us journalist for being suprised, they’re sneaky about it ’cause they don’t go on Twitter and post endlessly about who they do and don’t support!”, and lots of pieces explaining how black voters are more loyal but less liberal than other Democrats, and the pieces reminded me very much of 2015/2016 pieces on white Evangelical Christian voters and their support for Trump, and what really struck me is that for both voting for their Party correlates with church-going; and other than political party and genre of music (country & western or rhythm & blues) how very similar cultural attitudes were and even attitudes on a lot of political issues, the evangelicals aren’t “Wall Street” Republicans, and I know why they aren’t on the same side (affirmative action, civil rights, voting rights), but the similarities really strike me, and why not?

          Both cultures “homelands” were the rural south for generations, and the oddity is almost that they aren’t on the same side – except for a time they were – the most being the 1936, 1940, and 1944 elections, when northern blacks and southern whites (not southern blacks, ’cause they mostly weren’t allowed to vote).

          Most “new immigrants” strike me as more “red tribe that votes blue” as well, and in some ways the old white “red tribe” Democrats are preserved in West Virginia similar to the way that the Mormons in Utah have preserved some aspects of 19th century New England culture that have dissipated in New England. 

          I’m very curious about how the party coalition’s will shake out in the next few decades, but I’m doubtful that I’ll live long enough to find out.

        • The Nybbler says:

          There are not enough conversions to keep the Blue Tribe going, and conversions happen both ways.

          Are you sure about that? Something like 2/3rds of all high school graduates go on to college, and college Red->Blue conversion levels seem extraordinarily high.

          And the Red Tribe is now fully aware of Blue Tribe indoctrination efforts via media and academia and are actively guarding against it.

          But it’s too late; Blue has taken the primary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions and nearly all the media. People who homeschool and allow only pre-screened old media through are not even a blip on the radar.

          • John Schilling says:

            Something like 2/3rds of all high school graduates go on to college,

            I believe that this includes spending a year or two at the local community college with vague notions of becoming a dental hygenist and then dropping out, and…

            and college Red->Blue conversion levels seem extraordinarily high.

            …maybe not so much outside the central example of spending four years in residence at a traditional college or university.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Something like 2/3rds of all high school graduates go on to college, and college Red->Blue conversion levels seem extraordinarily high.

            But remember the old adage about people getting more conservative as they get older. I think it is mostly true. It has been true for at least as long as I’ve been alive (I am 62) that young 20 somethings are left of center, often far left, but most of them become more conservative as they age. Conversions do go both ways.

          • The Nybbler says:

            On college, some more numbers here. Two thirds of the college enrollees went to 4-year colleges. So still a quite large set of targets for conversion.

            As for the other: The theory I subscribe to is that people do not become more conservative as they get older; they’re just overtaken by the world moving lefter faster.

          • Clutzy says:

            As for the other: The theory I subscribe to is that people do not become more conservative as they get older; they’re just overtaken by the world moving lefter faster.

            I don’t know. I have certainly changes as I aged. Not particularly left to right (I was essentially a libertarian by 5th grade, which was a worldview shaped by the obvious failure of group projects and collective grades), rather I have shifted in all directions wherein the shifts are all driven by my lesser trust in the goodness of individual humans. Also less faith in the blank slate theories.

          • Plumber says:

            @The Nybbler

            “Something like 2/3rds of all high school graduates go on to college…”

            And something like 34.98% of Americans in 2018 who were at least 25 years old have the privilege of a four-year college diploma, even though the majority have “some college”.

            Even I have “some college”, one Cultural Anthropology class, a European History class, and some time in the welding bay at Landry Community College in Oakland, California.

            BTW: “Of high school graduates” doesn’t clue me in on how significant it is without telling what % graduate high school.

            “….The theory I subscribe to is that people do not become more conservative as they get older; they’re just overtaken by the world moving lefter faster”

            That doesn’t fit my lifetime experience at all, the most “Left” the “World” changed in my lifetime was from 1968 to 1975, most of which changes I was too young to be aware they were happening at the time.

            Since then I’d say the world and the U.S.A. have moved more Right than Left, but in a two steps forward one step back fashion, a tax cut, and destruction of public housing here, the S-chip program, and Obamacare there, a gutting of unions here, Gay marriage there, the end of the Soviet Union way over there, a liberalizing of China and India far away there, tariff threats here, “the end of welfare as we know it” here, et cetera. 

            Most of the change I experience that’s getting faster is from the market not the government. 

            I fail to see any increase governmental policy movements to the Left that are further than the movements to the Right in my lifetime, if I was born just before Brown vs. Board of Education in ’54 I’d say the U.S.A. got more “Left” in my lifetime, but still not the world as a whole, and most of the leftward changes were before ’75.

            As for myself, on the “social”/”cultural” side I’m more ‘Right’ in that I increasingly feel that local cities and counties should just decide for them damn selves and there not be a national debate at all, on economics, I’m no longer conservative, as the ‘Great Society’ has been too long gone, I’m now a Left reactionary, please bring back public housing, unions, “welfare as we know it”, the WPA, and British Leyland (I want a ’68 MGC-GT like Prince Charles had).

            So I’m not really more conservative at all, except for technology – that should be slowed way the Hell down, and that’s where “progressivism” may work like magic, since full “actually existing socialism” freezes most technological development, I imagine it’s diluted form in a “mixed economy” should just about slow progress nicely so the winds of change will blow more softly, as it’s undiluted capitalism that’s really the most “progressive” force, and the older I get the more I want it brought to heel (and yes, I really think that “liberals” are actually more conservative, and “conservatives” are both far more liberal and for more progressive than so called “liberals”).

    • Dack says:

      Why have you abandoned your previous commitment to political character to embrace Donald Trump?

      That shouldn’t be a mystery. You can nominate someone of completely unblemished character, like say, Romney. The opposition will still tar and feather him as a racist, classist, sexist, etc. Everything-ist that they can get away with. And then they have to much character to fight back.

  2. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    I kind of figured my DM was phoning his sessions in a bit, and that my fellow players weren’t entirely interested in the role-play perspective, but last night’s game was definitely….uuhhhhhh…

    1. Two of us play characters hostile to the nobility and law/order in general.
    2. A group of miners started a raid for “healthcare benefits” (that’s the DM’s word, followed by “whatever passes for healthcare benefits in the medieval world).
    3. We apparently were supposed to help the nobles crush this miner revolt (uhhhh…we don’t like the nobles and made that clear as a character point the last several sessions)
    4. We needed to do this because we were apparently introducing a new PC who was Lawful Good and specifically loyal to the Town Guard.
    5. The player controlling the PC decided her character loyal to the town guard would betray the town guard and help the rebellion because OOC he supports healthcare benefits.
    6. Cue two line-conversation, where the DM says “so-and-so explains the plight of the workers” and the player says “okay, I’m a rebel now.”
    7. We were already attempting to grab one of the other numerous quest hooks presented, so this kind of character conflict wouldn’t come up in the first place.

    Kind of an interesting session….

    • Deiseach says:

      A group of miners started a raid for “healthcare benefits” (that’s the DM’s word, followed by “whatever passes for healthcare benefits in the medieval world).

      Real world historically, this would have been some outreach of the Church and/or charitable religious associations set up by the laity. Your rich nobles might well have been donating to and/or setting up almshouses. There would also be shrines and holy wells etc. renowned for healing, so people would go on pilgrimages, seek the use of relics and so on – so in a game world where the gods are actively involved, healing from the local shrine is very possible. In our world the patron saint of miners is St Barbara, in your game world whatever god or local god is the patron of miners would be the one responsible for taking care of their health (via their clerics and so on, with cures at the shrine).

      a new PC who was Lawful Good and specifically loyal to the Town Guard …would betray the town guard and help the rebellion because OOC he supports healthcare benefits.

      That’s not impossible to pull off; if the town guard is under the orders of the mayor or local lord or whatever, and the big-wig is supposed to be funding the shrine/almshouse for the sick miners, but is diverting the money into their pocket and letting the sick/injured miners go without treatment then siccing the town guard on them when they protest, then it would be plausible that “this is a case where an unjust law and a tyrannous ruler can be disobeyed”. It would need more setting up than “yeah I heard a sob story and now I’m Robin Hood”, though.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Yeah, none of these things are really impossible to pull off. It’s just that the DM (and the party) is new to the game, and for all of them their knowledge of the Middle Ages comes from Princess Bride and Monty Python.

        Because it’s a new group, it has all sorts of problems endemic to new groups, like an infinite number of called shots, rerolling perception checks continuously, 5 minute adventuring days (I think we took 5 long rests in a dungeon?), using Charisma as mind control, and Liam O’Brien having a cameo to give one of our party rogues multiple magical daggers, boots of haste, and a blink belt. Plus cribbings from Matt Colville, but not 100% adapted. He, for instance, adapted Against the Cult of the Reptile God, but removed important allies like Ranme, railroaded two of us into getting drugged (because we didn’t drink the poisoned drinks) because it sounds cool to have a PC go against the party…and no one in our party is particularly interested in teasing out mysteries in the first place.

        Just beginner group problems.

        • Deiseach says:

          Just beginner group problems.

          And the perennial “the good guys have to have 21st century Western liberal attitudes even in a 19th/18th/mediaeval setting” problem of novels, movies and what have you 🙂

          Beginners will improve with time and practice. Could try slipping the DM a copy of the Horrible Histories; they may not be hugely more accurate but they will be a lot more fun!

          • Betty Cook says:

            One of the things I liked about the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin novels was the lack of “good guys have to have 21st century Western liberal attitudes”. The two central characters, in their very different ways, have what I find convincing 18th/19th century opinions and morals.

            To paraphrase Aubrey (I couldn’t find the exact quote in short order): “Stephen gets outrageous on the subject of slavery, and I can see his point; but at the same time I can’t help feeling that a couple of biddable young blacks around the house who could not give notice would be very useful.” Not exactly a modern attitude.

          • I was struck by the contrast with the Hornblower novels. Hornblower is different from those around him in being more like us. Aubrey and Maturin are not.

    • b_jonas says:

      What is the setting of where that story happened? Was it similar to our world, and if so, is there an approximate date and location? You say “medieval”, but I’d like a bit more specific than that. How much is magic available?

    • Dack says:

      As a DM, every time I roleplay a medieval ruler, I have to go to great pains to accentuate how benevolent and just they are; otherwise, the PCs have a tendency to shout “Sic semper Tyrannis!” and give them the murderhobo treatment.

      Actual conversation at the end of a campaign derailed by the PCs betraying their employer, the rightful monarch:

      PC: The Queen was evil all along, right?
      DM: What? No!
      PC: But she cast Suggestion on me. Mind control is totally evil.
      DM: Suggestion is not inherently evil,…and she was trying to find a way to get you to do your job so that she wouldn’t have to charge you with treason.
      PC: I don’t know…

  3. Nick says:

    From the annals, Scott’s review of MacIntyre’s After Virtue. I was looking through some old SSC comment threads for… reasons, and this is one of my favorites. Highlights include Deiseach explaining how Catholic CS Lewis was (answer: not very) and why Dawkins is wrong about the Troubles (answer: he’s English), Christopher Hallquist’s suggestion to read The Abolition of Man with a transhumanist mindset, and muflax getting a blank check to pick Scott’s next book and choosing… The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis.

    • Deiseach says:

      Deiseach explaining how Catholic CS Lewis was (answer: not very)

      Well, you know – for an Ulster Protestant from County Down he’s surprisingly sympathetic to the question, but no way he’s going to go the full Anglo-Catholic, let alone Roman, route 😀

      Re:Dawkins – I STAND BY THAT UNABASHEDLY, UNASHAMEDLY, AND UNCHANGINGLY!

      • Dack says:

        I was shocked when I learn that Lewis was not Catholic several years ago. It turns out that that belief was just an assumption based on going to Catholic school and being required to study/read Lewis and having all of his teachings, writings, and ideas presented as fully orthodox.

        I had no idea what town he was from.

  4. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Why is Sagat from Street Fighter considered an honorable opponent rather than pure evil when one of his battle cries is “TIGER GENOCIDE”? Wouldn’t it be a very effective form of altruism to hire a hitman to kill him before the next tiger is killed?

  5. The stock market is also soaring, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average setting a new record high this week on optimism about an end to the U.S.-China trade war (News story)

    I have a new explanation for Trump’s trade war with China. It makes us poorer. Ending it will make us richer, raise the stock market, make Trump less unpopular with tech firms. Voters vote largely on current information. So if he ends it a few months before the election …

    Which reminds me of the story of the man in the insane asylum for hitting himself in the head with a hammer. When one of the doctors asked him why he did it, the answer was “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

    • The Nybbler says:

      I have a somewhat more 4D-chess version. If things look too good, the Fed will raise interest rates quickly. Trump thinks this will crash the economy. So he makes enough noise and makes enough token gestures towards trade war to keep things apparently cool enough the Fed doesn’t do so. Then he backs off a bit. Lather-rinse-repeat. And of course talking trade war helps him with his base.

    • broblawsky says:

      Trump actually, genuinely believes in tariffs. I’m not sure he believes in anything else besides himself, but he believes in tariffs. His wishy-washiness is probably more closely linked to how easily manipulated he is when flattered, as Xi or Abe did.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      No, as broblawsky says, Trump likes tariffs. Tariffs only make “us” poorer in the sense that “us” is the professional and investor class. But for the working class, unemployment can’t get much lower, wages are rising for the first time in a long, long time, and the economy is making jobs including manufacturing jobs like crazy. You simply have different economic values than Trump and Trump voters.

      • Matt M says:

        Fully agree.

        Trump doesn’t need to win votes in Manhattan or Silicon Valley (which is where “tariffs make us poorer” is considered dominant and obvious).

        He does need to win them in rural Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, etc. Where what’s considered dominant and obvious is closer to “All our great jobs have been stolen by the Chinese.”

        In 2012, Barack Obama was running campaign ads bragging about how he kept tariffs on tires high, while greedy capitalist Mitt Romney wanted to sell out to China by lowering them, which would cost Americans tons of jobs. He did that for a reason. Trump dropping his trade war right before the election would be a disaster for him (but he might do it anyway, if he listens to his almost-entirely-neocon advisors…)

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Like Peter Navarro, Larry Kudlow, and Wilbur Ross? Not happening. Those guys are loving every minute of the trade war.

          ETA: Timely relevant. Larry Kudlow on Fox Business Network about the 224,000 jobs added in June. Nothing’s changing.

          • Plumber says:

            @Conrad Honcho,
            Frankly with median wages finally rising for the first time since, what the ’90’s? And no increase of and relatively few Americans coming home in body bags, I don’t see that they’ll be any “voters remorse”, and meanwhile the Democratic candidates seem to not just doing the “circular firing squad” thing, but to almost activey trying to hurt themselves in the general election.

            Barring changes, it really looks like your man Trump will be re-elected.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            We’ll see what happens during the inevitable “shift to the middle” in the general election, but right now I think the Democratic candidates are badly misreading the electorate. You can’t win on things that 60% of people outright oppose and only ~25% support, like free healthcare for illegal immigrants. But if they walk that back they’re going to look like flip-floppers.

            I think Biden might have had a chance if he’d stuck with working class economic issues, but his numbers keep slipping as he has to dance around (or with) the progressive identity issues. And even among working class voters, in the general if I were Trump I would be hammering him over his comments that China is not a threat. That does not sound like the sort of thing people who are worried about their jobs going overseas will think is true.

            Also, Trump’s approval among black and Hispanic voters is significantly higher than it was during the last election, so I don’t think you can necessarily count on high minority turnout. If Harris is the nominee (which was my prediction in one these OTs at the beginning of the year) she’s going to have another problem, which is many African-Americans don’t see her as one of them, anyway. I’ve recently become aware of the ADOS movement, which is short for “American Descendants of Slavery.” This is African-Americans whose families were here before the Civil War, trying to make a point to distinguish themselves and their experience from latecomers, like Obama’s Kenyan father or Harris’ Jamaican father. It’s not really the same thing when your parents chose to come here at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement.

            So long as the economy stays strong, I could see Trump’s electoral college victory widening. But I can also see him losing the popular vote by an even wider margin as nobody in California or NY sits this one out.

          • albatross11 says:

            As an aside, there’s a basic problem with affirmative action that applies to this stuff. If you think of affirmative action programs as a kind of reparations or fixing the harm done by slavery and Jim Crow, it’s really hard to see why that should apply to (for example) West Indies or African immigrant blacks. OTOH, if you’re Harvard and you’re looking for black students who can keep up, you’re going to take the top black students you can find, rather than restrict yourself to only the best black students whose great-great-grandparents were mostly slaves.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the Democratic candidate is going to have widespread commercials of his or her most out-there comments during the debate. The Democrats can win this election on a return to normalcy and moderation, but there’s no way they can win it on a return of mandatory busing, reparations for blacks, and trans rights.

          • Matt M says:

            The Democrats can win this election on a return to normalcy and moderation

            Are any of Trump’s actual policies abnormal or immoderate?

            Or just the fact that he’s crude and boorish?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Are any of Trump’s actual policies abnormal or immoderate?

            One could argue border enforcement / family separation, but then we get into the “Obama did it / Obama didn’t do it” arguments. But I think if illegal immigration becomes the central focus of the election, Trump wins because more people want the border shored up than want to give free healthcare to illegals.

            The only other “abnormal” thing is the trade war, but the “normal” thing wasn’t working for working class voters, anyway.

          • Deiseach says:

            meanwhile the Democratic candidates seem to not just doing the “circular firing squad” thing, but to almost activey trying to hurt themselves in the general election

            I’m slowly coming round to the notion that Biden might actually get to be the Democrat candidate, because while he’s old white cis het guy, he’s also a known quantity, liberal enough on the right questions but not batshit crazy (sorry rest of the field; for the first time ever, a nice lady like Marianne Williamson who is plainly wired to the moon did not strike me as the nuttiest person there).

            The party has to make a choice: does it want a good chance at winning the election, or does it want to pander to the ever tinier slivers of “who can scream the loudest about being oppressed?” Hillary bombed, and for all the talk of “she won the popular vote!”, yes she did – in areas solidly and reliably Blue which did her no good at all by voting 95% instead of 90% for her. The “basket of deplorables” thing was a bad, bad mistake that she (or her campaign) could not resist because they were focussed on appealing to the progressive wing.

            Well, that got them four years of Trump and the very strong possibility of another four years after that. So Biden is the best chance they have to appeal to the widest swathe of the American electorate. It will be interesting to see if the party machinery will let the other candidates claw each other to pieces and then when all the shouting is over, quietly push Joe into place.

            Biden vs Trump would be interesting to see and not that easy to call.

          • Plumber says:

            @Deiseach,
            The problem is that to get the nomination Biden is having to walk back his previous “moderate” positions i.e. his decades long support for the “Hyde Amendment”, which prohibited Federal funds for abortions, which are exactly the kinds of positions that broaden a candidates appeal in the general election.

            It’s like if in order to win the Republican Party nomination their candidates had to multiple times promise to “Destroy social security (old age pensions) with fire!”.

            Madness.

          • albatross11 says:

            A Biden vs Trump debate would be pure comedy gold. The battle of the uninformed, uninhibited blowhards!

          • I think Biden’s weakness against Trump is that, while both of them are old, Biden looks old. Trump is a bully. He likes pushing people around. Reasonably or unreasonably, voters don’t like identifying with the person who is being pushed.

            But I may be underestimating Biden.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman,
            If you’re underestimating Biden you’re not alone, as I share that impression.

            Judging by polls Biden is the Democrat most likely to beat Trump, but it seems a slim chance.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t think polls at this point mean much. First off you need state by state polls. Second, the election will not be held today. It will be held after another year and a half of propaganda and shit flinging. I don’t think that works in Democrats’ favor, because there’s not much more shit you can fling at Trump that everyone hasn’t already heard ad nauseam. We’re in a perpetual media cycle of racist -> sexist -> Russia Russia Russia -> nazi and then back to racist again. So, take Biden now, fling $2 billion worth of mud at him for a year and a half and we’ll see where we stand then.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            There’s not much anyone can say about Trump that hasn’t already been said, and everyone’s already priced in all that stuff.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Biden is amazing with the unforced errors he makes, like saying that the election hacking would not have happened under his or Obama’s watch. He would probably be a fine centrist good-government Democrat, but he is incredibly bad at campaigning.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Timely column from Pat Buchanan about the difficulty Dems will have shifting to the middle: Are Democrats Ceding the Center to Trump?

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          That Obama ad is linked from this piece. Politifact said it was “mostly true” but that involves a lot of parsing of what was said. The ad was “I did tariffs because China was flooding us.”

          https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/oct/01/barack-obama/ad-says-obama-defied-china-save-tire-making-jobs-h/

          I can see a difference between “tariffs to boost our own markets” and “tariffs to retaliate against flooding” but I suspect the rust belt voters do not.

  6. I recently started rereading Gate if Ivrel, C.J. Cherryh’s first novel. The introduction is by Andre Norton, at the time a very successful author.

    Cherryh, in that novel, is doing the sort of thing Norton did, but doing it much better. And Norton, to her immense credit, realizes it and is willing to say so. The end of the introduction:

    My personal question rises:
    “Why can’t I write like this?”
    I very much wish that I did.

  7. proyas says:

    What changes could have made Battlefield Earth a good movie?

    • Viliam says:

      The most important part is to realize that no one is impressed by the Scientologist creation story.

      I am not saying that a stupid story is a problem per se. You can make a successful movie based on a stupid story. But it needs to have something else, for example awesome graphical effects, lot of fighting, or nudity and sex. It is a combination of stupid story + long boring moments when nothing happens, that is fatal.

      One possible approach is to improve the story. “Humanity was enslaved by evil alien Psychiatrists and reduced to the level of savages, but one truly dedicated self-educated person can kill them all by (1) breaking the glass dome that protects a breathable atmosphere for the aliens on Earth, and then (2) teleporting a nuke to their home world, which explodes the entire planet” is simply not enough for two hours of a movie. It would need something less linear; to introduce a few different pieces that at the end interact in an interesting way.

      The problem is, I guess, making some of the Psychiatrists smart or non-evil would be a heresy against Scientology, and with one race being stupid savages (with the exception of the protagonist, who is an exceptional smart savage) and another race being utterly evil and boring aliens, there is no material to build a story on. — Perhaps introduce a third race? Someone also enslaved by the Psychiatrists (i.e. not utterly evil), but not reduced to savages. The other aliens could be a different kind of slaves, e.g. someone who does the accounting or navigates the spaceships for the Psychiatrists, so they are left with high intelligence and education (and perhaps crippled in some other way). Now someone from that third race, at a great risk for themselves, could help humanity, at least as an “enemy of my enemy”. They could follow their own goals, and either succeed or fail at them (or it could be open-ended: humanity delivers a fatal blow to the Psychiatrists, the interstellar wormholes between Earth and the alien empire is destroyed, we have no idea what happened to the other aliens).

      Another possible approach is to add giant fighting vehicles, a lot of alien monsters, tons of ammunition, and spend 1/2 of the time showing fights and explosions, 1/3 showing awesome technology, other impressive graphics, and sex among the humans, and at most 1/6 with the story.

      • Incurian says:

        The book was more like your suggestions.

      • proyas says:

        I like your ideas, but a constraint I’m adding is that the film can’t depart too much from the book. Unless there was a third species in the book and it had a significant role (e.g. – not just mentioned in passing by the Psychiatrists), they can’t be in the film adaptation.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          There were many other races in the second part of the book, who show up to fight for ownership of Earth since the Psychlos have lost their claim on it.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        The most important part is to realize that no one is impressed by the Scientologist creation story.

        Wait, was Battlefield Earth at all related to Scientology’s origin story other than being by the founder?

        It looks like the “distrust psychologists” aspect of the book was as a result of the APA coming out against Dianetics, but the actual storyline is unrelated, and I don’t remember any of that anti-psychologist stuff being in the actual movie. The movie Psychlos were just a generic evil hierarchical empire.

        If anything, I’d say it sort of contradicts Scientology: surely the Psychlos would have mentioned something about the ancient alien souls in the people they just conquered? Or “hey isn’t this the place that Xenu landed on way back when?”

    • Deiseach says:

      First, pick any other novel other than something by L. Ron Hubbard.

    • proyas says:

      My own suggestions:

      1) Get a better cinematographer. Battlefield Earth is notorious for its overuse of tilted angles (“Dutch angles”). The lighting effects are also cheesy.

      2) Get a better composer for the movie’s score. As is, the soundtrack is forgettable and uninspired. Sphere (which I actually like) is an example of a sci-fi film whose musical score hits above the overall weight of movie.

      3) Add more jokes and humor. At least make Battlefield Earth funny to watch (and not in an inadvertent way that strays from the filmmakers’ intent).

      4) Try to get Tom Cruise to star in it. He’s also a Scientologist and might have been willing to be in the movie for a low salary given that it was a “labor of love” for “the Church.” A Cruise-Travolta pic would have definitely made more money.

      5) Open the movie in the year 2000, with the Psychiatrists invading Earth, and show a gripping CGI battle scene where the aliens destroy the humans’ armies and cities. Cut to black and then have the words “500 years later” shown.

  8. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.newsweek.com/scientists-vortex-black-hole-speed-light-1447729

    Very tentative: I’m guessing these black holes are in the centers of galaxies, so they’ve got the rotational energy of matter from a large region concentrated into a relatively small area.

    Now I’m realizing that I have no idea why galaxies rotate.

    It’s plausible that they concentrate the rotational energy of large regions, but I find it surprising that there could be such huge asymmetries of rotational energy. Or do they only look huge because my sense of scale isn’t large enough?

    Is it possible rotating regions are more hospitable to star formation?

    And if a black hole is rotating at close to the speed of light, is that adding to its mass?

    • Incurian says:

      Isn’t galactic rotation just the product of a bunch of mass orbiting a barycenter?

    • Re: galactic rotation:

      Galaxies (like stars, but on a larger scale) coalesced from immense low-density dust clouds which collapsed under their own gravity. Obviously, collapsing decreases the radius of the cloud. Thanks to conservation of angular momentum, a decrease in the radius of a rotating object of constant mass will necessarily increase its angular velocity. (You can test this out for yourself with an office chair.) Thus, even the slightest net angular velocity of the dust cloud would have been greatly magnified by the gravitational collapse and voila, a rotating galaxy.

  9. johan_larson says:

    (This is a repost. I originally posted this in the 131 OT, and some folks argued it was too culture-war for the whole-number threads.)

    An interesting take on Women’s Studies by Suburb Dad, who is a dean at a community college in New England somewhere.

    Women’s studies courses were some of the most useful courses I’ve ever taken. …

    That flies in the face of cultural stereotypes, I know. Courses like those are usually held up — by those who like to make such arguments — as among the most self-indulgent of the purely academic enterprises. They elicit snickers from some. I get that. But there’s a tremendous value in them that rarely gets expressed, even by supporters of courses like those.

    At their best, the women’s studies courses I took — yes, I used the plural — helped with two incredibly important management skills. They helped me learn to navigate complex and emotionally charged issues, and they helped me learn to depersonalize categories.

    Unfortunately the formatting on the blog really sucks. I’ve contacted the author about it, and he says its a platform problem and out of his hands. You might want to copy the text into an editor for easier reading.

    • Nick says:

      All the spans in the body of his blog post have a bunch of custom styling on them, including white-space: pre. If you inspect element and remove it, word wrap works again:

      https://imgur.com/vf9sDNS

      Why is it styled that way? Blogspot definitely doesn’t do that by default. Is he pasting his posts into the editor and it’s assuming/carrying over a bunch of bizarre styling? This is why I hate wysiwyg editors. It can make all of these unwarranted assumptions about the styling of your post you can’t do anything about, and sometimes can’t even see until it’s published, and it won’t just show you the damn markup. Or worse, the markup isn’t even plaintext so it would look like nonsense anyway. There is no excuse for it.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Clean copy:

      *****

      Confessions of a Community College Dean
      In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990’s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care. For private comments, I can be reached at deandad at gmail dot com. The opinions expressed here are my own and not those of my employer.

      Wednesday, June 26, 2019
      Revisiting a Favorite

      Chuck Pearson reminded me of this piece from 2012 this week. Reading my old stuff usually makes me cringe, but this one holds up better than some.

      The Stonewall riots happened 50 years ago this week. In honor of that, the piece below is (was) aimed at my straight male counterparts who aren’t quite sure what to do as the world changes.
      It’s possible to learn, and to grow. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be in education.

      Why Men Should Take Women’s Studies

      Women’s studies courses were some of the most useful courses I’ve ever taken.

      I’m not kidding.

      Moreover, I can imagine them being incredibly useful for other men in management roles.

      That flies in the face of cultural stereotypes, I know. Courses like those are usually held up — by those who like to make such arguments — as among the most self-indulgent of the purely academic enterprises. They elicit snickers from some. I get that. But there’s a tremendous value in them that rarely gets expressed, even by supporters of courses like those.

      At their best, the women’s studies courses I took — yes, I used the plural — helped with two incredibly important management skills. They helped me learn to navigate complex and emotionally charged issues, and they helped me learn to depersonalize categories.

      These skills are useful every single day.

      I was reminded of this a few days ago, when I was on the receiving end of an extended, vitriolic outburst. It would have been easy, if unhelpful, to respond in kind, or to try to respond point by point. Without betraying any confidences, it was based on different sets of assumptions crashing into each other.

      Getting through that and coming out in a better place required the patience to first try to figure out where it was coming from. It required accepting that the reason I was being yelled at was my office, as opposed to me personally. And it required emotional self-control in a charged setting that was moving pretty quickly.

      Looking back afterwards, I realized that women’s studies classes were the first academic setting in which I honed those skills.

      As a clueless — if well-meaning — straight young white guy from the suburbs, I went into those classes without malice, but with some pretty glaring blind spots. And back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, some of the theoretical issues were, um, let’s go with “at an early stage of refinement.” Some discussions were conducted with appropriate academic distance, but some of them got pretty raw. And it was easy to fall into the demonization/defensiveness spiral that we all know so well.

      But it was also where I was first blindsided by arguments about things I thought I already understood. I remember being struck dumb when someone made the point that the question of mothers working for pay registered differently in low-income communities, where the “choice” was never a choice. I hadn’t thought of it from that angle. And I remember repeatedly getting flustered as statements that had seemed obviously correct were parsed for unintended, but real, effects on folks I wasn’t thinking about.

      If that isn’t preparation for administration, I don’t know what is. Everything here has ripple effects, and dealing with those ripple effects is a huge part of the job. For some of us, the patience to take those seriously is a learned skill. (There’s always a temptation to just throw up your hands, say “screw it,” and do what you wanted to do in the first place.) And learning to at least think about possible unintended effects is incredibly helpful.

      I won’t claim that all was sweetness and light. There was some groupthink, and heaven knows that the prose style of, say, Gayatri Spivak, can sap the will of even the most tenacious reader. Some of it was a bit much, and at least back then, the standards of proof weren’t always what they could have been.

      But that’s not really the point. The point was to develop habits of mind that acknowledged that even things that seem obvious may have more to them, and to be able to separate, say, an attack on “patriarchy” from a personal attack as a guy. It wasn’t always fun, but it was incredibly useful.

      It wasn’t marketed as vocational, but I use it on the job every single day. For any guys out there considering administration or management, I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

      • Viliam says:

        Ugh, mansplaining… does anyone feel like we really need a cishet white male to explain why men should take women’s studies? This article completely erases the effort of all women who wrote so many insightful articles on the same topic. But instead of supporting one of them (e.g. by linking to her article and making a regular donation to her Patreon), the author believes that writing his own opinion from the perspective of a privileged male is the part that was missing from the discourse. This is what actual privilege looks like!

        😛

        More seriously, I suppose one can find enlightenment in anything. So if Women’s Studies gave you something insightful, good for you. I voluntarily took Gender Studies (the same thing? not the same thing? what’s the difference?) at university, and the amount of useful information was zero. So the advice is not universally helpful.

      • Watchman says:

        My perhaps uncharitable reading is that this dean would have benefited from more classes with a postmodern bent generally, not just women’s studies, since the benefits he identifies seem to be those of effectively-taught postmodern thought, primarily challenging categories.

        I’d never considered the fact women’s studies could be the major vector of postmodern teaching into colleges before though, which might well be the logical implication here.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          As ideologically opposed to both women studies and postmodernism I always thought one contains a lot of the other 🙂

          But I don’t think he was referring just to the content of the course, but to the (accidentally) perfect mix of content with the opportunity to apply it in defusing the situations he got himself into, as a “cis white male” that expressed his naive thinking.

          • Clutzy says:

            Also, his experience is different than the modern one, at least as often described. He seemingly engaged to profitable discourse. The modern experience has much more of a “shut up and listen” narrative.

          • albatross11 says:

            Clutzy:

            Have you taken such a class and had that experience? Or is this just your impression?

          • Clutzy says:

            No, I haven’t. The closest was a mandatory “diversity and inclusion” course, which was pretty much closed off to debate and was not interesting in the least.

            Other than that it would be all 2nd hand accounts from people I went to college with.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I’ve actually had interesting diversity training a few times (like having a guy come talk about the research behind implicit bias tests–very interesting, and even more so as most of those results have since failed to replicate), but most of the time, diversity training is a rehash of high school–a bunch of students who don’t want to be there, being lectured by some lady from HR who also doesn’t want to be there. Usually a kind of dull secular sermon on the virtues of diversity and acceptance.

    • SamChevre says:

      Nitpick: Dean Dad (who I’ve been reading since his now-in-high school daughter was a newborn) used to be in Western Massachusetts (Holyoke), but is now in New Jersey. One of my great regrets is being too shy to reach out immediately when I moved to Western Mass – he moved to NJ 6 months later.

  10. honoredb says:

    A few months ago here I wrote

    Possible business/effective philanthropy idea that occurred to me listening to Tyler Cowen and Rob Wiblin: Has anyone tried approaching convicted drug cartel chemists about their “near misses”? Recreational drugs (or drug variants) they developed that turned out not to be addictive enough, or that had effects that people were satiated with quickly so they ended up only using a small amount once a week, or that failed to get you high at all but had interesting other effects? There’s been decades of Dark R&D in pharma, and it seems like the evil side gets to profit from the good side’s failures but not vice versa.

    Variant for governments: Offer pardons or asylum to active drug cartel researchers in exchange for their research.

    Responses then were mainly people saying that I was wrong, drug cartels weren’t actually sponsoring Dark R&D. Turns out, if Fentanyl, Inc. is to be believed (and the summaries I’ve read are accurate), we were both wrong and right: the Dark R&D is going on in quasi-legal factories in China, often subsidized. Which might make this project harder for non-China entities in some ways, but at least might mean it could be done openly–is it possible that someone in China has invented a non-addictive opioid, had no easy way of monetizing it, but is still sitting on it and would gladly sell it?

    • Deiseach says:

      I’ve a suspicion drug cartel ‘near misses’ tend more towards ‘kills the customer on first dose’ rather than ‘not addictive enough’ or ‘doesn’t get you high but man can you jam crazy jazz riffs when on it’.

    • broblawsky says:

      Even if it existed, how would you find it? It’s not like these guys are doing extensive and well-documented research and human testing on their products. How would they know if they had something useful? And if they don’t know, how could you?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      You’re assuming a less addictive drug would automatically be considered a fail. I don’t think so – they’re neck deep in the drug market, and they probably know better than everyone just how many functional, non-addicted drug users are there.

      It’s probably one of the ways the universe is cruel – most pills that make you feel good also get you addicted. Which makes sense, if you consider “feeling good” to be an instrument for habit making.

    • Buttle says:

      Accidental contamination during synthesis of opioids has led to a useful model of Parkinson’s disease: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MPTP , https://www.acsh.org/news/2017/01/12/frozen-addicts-garage-drugs-and-funky-brain-chemistry-10728 .

  11. One question that sometimes gets discussed here is to what extent things have gotten better (or worse) over recent decades. I recently came across some calculations of how the ratio of prices of goods to the wages of an unskilled worker changed from 1979 to 2019. If their figures are correct, the average cost of goods measured in hours of labor fell about 72% over that time period.

    Their price calculations are based on the Sears Christmas Book for 1979, Walmart’s web site for 2019, so for goods, hence do not include schooling, medical care, or rent. But the result is still pretty striking as a contrast to the idea that things have not improved over that period.

    • Lillian says:

      Very few people these days seem to complain about the price of consumer goods, but lots of them sure are complaining keenly and at length about the prices of schooling, medical care, and rent. It seems to me that to the extent that people think things are worse, it’s in great part precisely because of the costs in these three categories. It makes sense too that increases in costs there would be more keenly felt, as while people generally find relatively easier to cut back on consumer goods if they are too expensive, they find it a lot more difficult to cut back on healthcare, rent, and schooling.

      • cassander says:

        Except people aren’t buying anything remotely like the same goods today than 40 years ago when you look at medical care and rent. Medical care is incalculably better, with whole swathes of disease that used to be death sentences now survivable. Housing today isn’t just higher quality, we have something like twice the square footage per person with the same amount of land.

        Education, I grant, hasn’t seen the enormous increases in quality of those other industries, but what do you expect from the most socialized industry in the country?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      There was an article (or facebook post?) by Eliezer Yudkowsky some years back, probably at the time he started thinking about Inadequate Equilibria. I really wish I had a link, it’s been relevant to a lot of discussions here.

      The way I remember it, it was about how society has wealth-sinks that make sure we’re always at an equilibrium level, comfort-wise. They will extract a variable amount of resources until they reach the point we refuse to pay more – so most of progress goes the way of rent-seeking instead of actual human enjoyment.

      Products are not well suited for this, except very specialized or branded categories (iPhones come to mind). Too much competition and choice, including the possibility of not buying. Education, health and rent/home ownership on the other hand are not really optional, easily regulated and much less subject to competition. They make ideal choke points for human wealth.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Safety is a massive wealth sink. For a trivial example, a coworker visited the US recently and was shocked when he visited a Home Depot and saw guy working there, walking in front of a forklift with warning flags. That was his job, to walk in front of a fork lift waving a flag.

        Another example would be rules around duty time limits for doctors in the UK. My uncle was an anesthesiologist, now retired. He said when he started out he did some procedure 500x per year, and now the doctors do it about 200x per year, just because they aren’t allowed to work as much. (it was in the context of new doctors not getting the proficiency as fast)

        Another example: hour requirements for airline pilots. After the Colgan Air crash first officer requirements went up to 1500 hours. Or duty time limits, which have gotten more restrictive over time, meaning more crew need to be hired per aircraft.

        Another example: there was a crew of NYPD pilots that all refused to fly their anti-terrorism missions because they were worried about flying single-engine turbine 25 miles off shore. NYPD/ In this case it is the pilots demanding more safety: a few million more to get a twin engine plane. (the single has a failure rate of 1/330,000 hours, and ditching has a sub 10% fatality rate)

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Yep, safety is exactly the kind of thing you buy according to how much you can afford to pay, instead of making a rational choice.

        • CatCube says:

          One of the links I like to pull out at the slightest excuse is on the US Bureau of Reclamation’s website: Fatalities on the worksite during the construction of Hoover Dam. Note that this is pulled from the official construction history, and the Bureau acknowledges that there may be other fatalities not counted, because they died in the hospital, rather than on the worksite; it’s provided for historical purposes rather than as the last word on the subject.

          They break down the fatalities by year, and within the year by cause, and within the cause by date. When you start looking closely you realize that the timelines are remarkable. Look specifically at 1933: They had a guy killed on the first of the year from a fall in the Arizona Valve House, two people died due to an explosion on January 10 & 11*, another fall on the 1st of February, two deaths on February 7th due to falling rock in a penstock tunnel and being struck by a motor vehicle. The list goes on.

          Looking at that, you realize that they were killing a guy every two weeks on average during that quarter. That would be absolutely appalling today. And some of these are things that would today be considered appalling carelessness if they happened even once: accidents where people are killed by explosives, for example.

          In government construction nowadays, we literally will stop work for an investigation after one fatality, and part of that is a lever to make the contractor care about safety. Of course, we pay for that in the bids.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            The death rate for workers constructing the Empire State Building was higher than that for soldiers in Afghanistan.

        • LesHapablap says:

          It makes me wonder: if at some point, to stop climate change we need to do something drastic that is definitely going to risk a lot of lives, will it even be possible or will the safety and liability red tape prevent it? We can’t even use nuclear power to solve it since that is deemed too risky.

          What about in the military? Maybe bean would be able to answer that one.

          • John Schilling says:

            What about in the military? Maybe bean would be able to answer that one.

            I’m not bean, but:

            We can definitely nuke China. Yes, it involves the use of nuclear power and is deemed risky, but it doesn’t require a consensus and if a moderately-competent POTUS wants it done, it will happen. If we’re careful about how we do it, there should be some short-term cooling due to stratospheric soot, and a substantial long-term reduction in China’s carbon footprint. Also, our negotiating position when we tell e.g. India to reduce their carbon footprint as well, would be substantially enhanced.

            If your plan wasn’t to solve the problem by killing people, breaking things, and scaring the crap out of the survivors, then the military is the wrong tool.

          • LesHapablap says:

            John,

            I didn’t mean using the military to solve global warming, I meant more like “does the military suffer from increased safety rules that are now irreversible.”

            The though came up because I was listening to a retired navy seal (Jocko Willink) interviewing a green beret from the vietnam war. During the interview it was obvious that the safety standards had completely changed, and that what would have been a stock standard SOP or mission during the Vietnam War would be too dangerous to be considered in the 2000s. For special forces, anyway. I was just wondering if a) is this change reversible if necessary and b) does that apply more generally in the military.

          • CatCube says:

            I’ve actually wondered this myself, from the inside. Standard practice now in our asymmetric conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is to conduct a formal investigation of every combat death, with the investigating officer being no less than a major. Operations are conducted with that calibrating an acceptable level of risk.

            If this is how the Army handles casualties occurring in relatively small numbers (the worst day was 30 KIA, on August 6, 2011), I don’t have a good feeling about how we’ll fare against a near-peer, where you can regularly expect those kinds of casualties. When training to conduct an in-stride breach of an obstacle, 50% casualties of the breaching platoon is considered a “GO”, so that’s going to be a psychological hurdle for the chain of command ordering that.

      • LesHapablap says:

        One I forgot to mention: parenting. Parents spend twice as much time parenting as they did 50 years ago.

        The amount of work and expense involved has surely gone up as well. This certainly counts as a wealth sink.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Or as a legitimate way of spending that wealth, depending on your position. For many parenting may just be a primary goal in itself. After all, you do have to spend the extra resources on something. It’s just where marginal benefits get a lot lower that you have a problem.

          Even safety – there was the Hoover Dam example above. To increase safety from that level is a legitimate way of spending wealth (because we don’t like dying) and also profitable – dead people are a waste of experience and potential, so long term it’s just better to have less casualties. But we get to the point were we stop children completely from interacting with strangers because there might be that one in a million danger, while ignoring other much more statistically relevant problems. That’s not safety, that’s security theater. And when it becomes socially impossible to protest security theater, it gets into a positive feedback loop that is making costs almost irrelevant.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Not all extra parenting has any benefit. As an example: you can no longer leave your kid in the car to go grocery shopping. Even though your kid is more likely to die walking through the parking lot than staying in the car. This new norm makes parenting much more difficult for no benefit, and is only possible because our society is rich enough to afford it.

  12. pansnarrans says:

    Fourth of July posts reminded me:

    This Fourth of July (and not before), I’ve noticed quite a few people from the US posting comments and memes to the effect of “British people suck!”, plus the near-literal storm in a teacup about the women’s football. None of them have been serious but a few seemed to have at least a bit of a barb to them. Is this common, or a new thing, or a just-because-of-the-football thing?

    I’m British but not looking to start a fight. It just seems like a bit of an old issue to drag up from the winning side.

    • metacelsus says:

      I’m an American living in England. British people don’t suck, in my experience.

      On the 4th I had a BBQ outside with some of my American friends. A few British people also came. To my great disappointment, the person who was supposed to bring the fireworks didn’t bring any. Still, it was generally a good time. There was a bit of banter about independence, but it wasn’t hurtful to anyone.

      • pansnarrans says:

        Yeah, this is what surprised me – in my general experience Americans seem pretty friendly to and positive about Brits. So I was wondering if it was based on the football, or something something Trump Brexit something, or even if it was just that a few more memes get popular every year, so you see more of them repeated.

    • broblawsky says:

      It’s really just a 4th of July thing. Come July 5th, we’ll be back to thinking you’re better than us.

      • pansnarrans says:

        So this feeds into my alternative hypothesis of “I just happened to check my Facebook account on 4th July this year but not the last few years”.

    • dodrian says:

      As a Brit living in America, I hear that type of thing around the 4th a lot in person (and have for years), but always meant in a jocular manner. I haven’t heard anything in particular about the world cup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some American friends wanted an extra reason to gloat in a friendly way about how “Britain sucks”.

      It’s definitely a fair-weather fan thing too, no one in the US would care about the world cup if the US hadn’t been doing so well in women’s soccer recently, much as they don’t care about men’s soccer because the US team doesn’t have any global standing.

    • John Schilling says:

      Yeah, this is almost certainly a 4th of July thing. With football (and the quasi-warm beer) as our go-to examples of things the British just get Wrong. The remaining 364 days of the year, you can join us in griping about how French people suck.

    • This reminds me of the story of an Englishman boasting about the long string of English victories through history. An American interrupted with “but what about the American Revolution?”

      “Another fine example. A victory by brave English colonists against the Hanoverian King George and his Hessian mercenaries.”

      • pansnarrans says:

        Hah! Yes, we’re well-positioned to place ourselves on whichever side of history suits the moment. My oppressed underdog ancestors, the Saxons, were ground beneath the heel of my glorious conquering ancestors, the Normans.

        I guess a lot of Americans can similarly choose to identify with or against the British depending on whether we’re being awesome or brutish at any given point in history.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Americans really, really like the UK and Canada. Gallup has their favorability ratings are in the 90s. It is almost impossible to get something that high. Like, I am doing some quick googling for comparisons, and those are higher favorability numbers than cheese and Aaron Rodgers. In Wisconsin. It’s up there with Abraham Lincoln and Jesus.

    • AG says:

      It’s the same as jokes made during Eurovision. People have joked that the US being unable to participate in the Eurovision ribbing is payback for all of our 4th of July ribbing.

  13. Deiseach says:

    Gentlemen! (or indeed, ladies, let’s be inclusive here!)

    Are you looking for a sure-fire way to pop the question and get a positive response? Look no further!

    Paint it on the side of your cow 😀

  14. Jake Rowland says:

    I’m trying to take advantage of this community to better understand positions I disagree with. In the last open thread I asked about arguments in favor of the minimum wage and got several interesting responses. The issue is that to me most libertarian conclusions seem obviously correct. Not only that, but I have this odd expectation that anyone who spends long enough thinking about the political issues eventually ends up more libertarian than they were before.

    Now before everyone jumps on me, I want to say that I know that this cannot be correct. There are a lot of people smarter than me who are not libertarian, and if the issues seem one-sided to me it’s probably just because I haven’t heard the best form of the other side. So, in the interest of correcting my biases: those of you who are now less libertarian than you used to be, who were once more laissez-faire in some domain but are now more pro-government, what changed your mind?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I briefly identified as a libertarian in the early 2000s, mainly because the rise of neoconservatism in the Republican party made me no longer want to identify as a Republican, and I was looking for some rational justification for my preferences towards small government and free markets. What drove me away from libertarianism was social issues and pragmatism. The realization that libertarianism is just as much a utopian fantasy as communism. “Well, I’m not greedy and I’m easygoing so if everybody else were not greedy and were easygoing then we could all share everything!” “Well I don’t want to force anybody to do anything and would never violate the NAP so if everybody else were just as easygoing and peaceful as I am…” If men were angels we would have no need for government, but if wishes were horses beggars would eat and here we are.

      This leads me more towards “conservatism.” Yes, taxation is theft, but we have to pay for roads and police and defend ourselves from hostile foreigners, so some theft is required. Let’s try to keep it to a minimum, though. Sure, free movement of people is a great thing. But it turns out lots of other people in the world don’t have the same attitudes towards individual liberty and healthy suspicion of collectivism as we do, so maybe we need to tightly control the border so those people don’t wander in, set up shop and vote themselves our property. Nobody ought to be going around telling anybody else what to do with their bodies or in the privacy of their own bedrooms, sure. But it turns out once we remove all the sexual taboos we get tinder and lots of women sleeping with the top echelon of men and lots of people have really dysfunctional relationships and don’t wind up settling down and having kids, and with families being the foundation of society and all this will result in bad things.

      Libertarianism is like most ideologies: sounds really good until it bumps up against humanity.

      • Nick says:

        The realization that libertarianism is just as much a utopian fantasy as communism. “Well, I’m not greedy and I’m easygoing so if everybody else were not greedy and were easygoing then we could all share everything!” “Well I don’t want to force anybody to do anything and would never violate the NAP so if everybody else were just as easygoing and peaceful as I am…” If men were angels we would have no need for government, but if wishes were horses beggars would eat and here we are.

        +1

        Incidentally, I believe Jayne’s exact words were, If wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak. 😀

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          That was the way my dad said it when I was a kid, which predates Firefly. I hate it when that happens. Some joke I tell appears in mass media and then I can’t tell it anymore or else people think I ripped it off from the TV.

      • “Well I don’t want to force anybody to do anything and would never violate the NAP so if everybody else were just as easygoing and peaceful as I am…”

        I don’t see what that has to do with libertarianism. Libertarian minarchists expect the government to continue law enforcement. Libertarian anarchists expect law enforcement by private rights enforcement agencies.

        There might be problems with either approach, but neither depends on other people being easygoing and peaceful.

    • albatross11 says:

      Some things that pushed me from being very libertarian to being a libertarian-flavored moderate who wants to make very small incremental changes and see how they work instead of break the wheel:

      a. More life experience which led me to see that often, private businesses are dysfunctional and government agencies are effective and well-run. (Plenty of times it goes the other way, though.)

      b. Realization that there are a hell of a lot of people who aren’t very smart. Reading _The Bell Curve_ was a big part of this for me. A substantial number of people are pretty dumb. It’s not their fault, but it’s also probably not possible to fix. (At best you can hope to help the next generation with better schooling, better nutrition, less lead in the environment, etc.) Maximal freedom often seems to end up with the dumber people getting ground up in the gears.

      c. Personal experience where I manage to make a lot of irrational/suboptimal decisions due to time constraints, personal failings of willpower, distraction, etc. This made me a lot more sympathetic to other people whom I could see had made dumb decisions, and somewhat more sympathetic to proposals to set up government programs/rules that made it harder to make those decisions.

      d. Lots of vicarious experience and some personal experience of clever schemes to remake the world along some pure ideological lines being implemented and going horribly wrong, often yielding outcomes the opposite of what their believers expected. I once believed that the net plus strong crypto plus widespread computing power would destroy governments–this turned out not to be the case.

      e. Having kids, and watching my parents and grandparents get older and less mentally sharp.

      f. Seeing a couple situations in which badly-behaving companies were reined in by government regulators in exactly the way you’d hope for.

      All this left me with libertarian leanings, and a recognition that just because government *could* solve some problem doesn’t mean it will do a good job of it, but also with the belief that it’s probably the best tradeoff we can make to have mostly free markets and societies, but with some government regulation and safety nets and such.

      • Nick says:

        I once believed that the net plus strong crypto plus widespread computing power would destroy governments–this turned out not to be the case.

        I still have a lot of personal sympathy towards these folks which I don’t think I can explain. I’m also not sure why they declined—well, did they actually decline, or did I just shift bubbles/change who I read, or what?

        • albatross11 says:

          Our predictions turned out to be approximately as good as those of the utopian socialists.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Now before everyone jumps on me

      I think you have a very bad mental model of this comment space.

      • Jake Rowland says:

        Very possible, and I apologize, but I spent a lot of time trying to think of a way to say “I feel like all the smart people agree with me” without it sounding inflammatory and I wasn’t sure I succeeded.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think you misunderstand my point.

          There are more commenters here favorable to libertarian ideas than most places. “Everyone” will definitely not object to you saying how you think libertarianism is clearly correct.

          I think libertarian ideas are useful. I recognize that they are appealing in certain ways, and very appealing to some. I think capital-L Libertarians are mostly deluding themselves. But you aren’t asking for my opinion.

          • Jake Rowland says:

            Ah, I see. Yes, the commenters here being largely libertarian makes this less than ideal for my question, but even if it’s 90% I still think this is a decent place for this discussion because the remaining 10% will be of unusually high quality for the internet. Basically I feel like I’m more likely to get interesting responses here than somewhere like AskReddit, even if it’s a much lower volume.

            I’m not sure about capital-L Libertarians, I use the word libertarian because it seems maximally open to interpretation while still gesturing at the ideas I want to gesture at.

          • I think capital-L Libertarians are mostly deluding themselves.

            If you mean that expecting to win the presidency is a delusion I agree, but that isn’t the only reason to run candidates.

            Or were you thinking of something else that distinguishes Libertarians from libertarians?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            I think Jake perfectly understood the distinction I was making.

            I use the word libertarian because it seems maximally open to interpretation while still gesturing at the ideas I want to gesture at.

            As the old joke goes, there are more libertarian philosophies than there are libertarians. There is very little coherence in the typical libertarian, little real thought about what should actually be done, just something of a vague notion that rules can be impediments to happiness. Little-l libertarian is maximally flexible gesturing.

          • Jake Rowland says:

            There is very little coherence in the typical libertarian, little real thought about what should actually be done, just something of a vague notion that rules can be impediments to happiness. Little-l libertarian is maximally flexible gesturing.

            This I would disagree with. I would define libertarian philosophy as believing the ideal amount of government to be very much less than the current amount of government. The problem is many people who believe that would deny the label, and in asking my question I wanted to try to limit it to people who considered themselves libertarian by their own definition, not by mine. The label, like all labels, has become subtly loaded with other qualities and I wanted to leave room for that without over-specifying the problem.

            I agree that there is dispute over the exact inclusion criteria of the label “libertarian”, but I don’t think that implies the label has no descriptive value for grouping specific policy preferences. One hundred people can have one hundred precise definitions of “libertarian”, but I’d bet almost all of them would be at least partially in favor of redirecting public education funds into school vouchers. That’s not exactly a “vague notion.”

          • @HBC:

            Then what do you mean by big L libertarian, and what part of that is self-delusion?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:

            Then what do you mean by big L libertarian, and what part of that is self-delusion?

            A fundamental misunderstanding of human nature, much in the way of the Big-C Communists.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jake Rowland:

            I’d bet almost all of them would be at least partially in favor of redirecting public education funds into school vouchers.

            Not to be too harsh, but, that is about as milquetoast a definition of “libertarian” as you can possibly get. It’s just an impulse.

            Let me ask, do you think the state should have some sort of standards for the money going into vouchers? Do the students need to demonstrate anything at all? If the money be simply kicked back to the parents in a 50-50 split do you have any issues with that?

          • @HBC:

            That tells me what you think is wrong about Libertarians but I still don’t know what you mean by “Libertarians” as contrasted with “libertarians.”

            The usual convention is that “Libertarian” means a member of the Libertarian Party, “libertarian” means someone who believes in libertarianism. It doesn’t sound as though that’s how you are using the term but I’m not sure, and if not I have no idea what you mean by the distinction.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            I mean those who believe society can be fully organized around and entirely consistent with libertarian principles.

            I predict that the conversation that follows after this is likely to be boring.

          • I predict that the conversation that follows after this is likely to be boring.

            Possibly.

            It consists of my pointing out that inventing your own meaning for a term and using it without explanation is especially confusing when the term already exists and already has a (different) meaning.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            What would your preferred term be for people who think society could and should be entirely organized around libertarian principles?

    • The original Mr. X says:

      So, in the interest of correcting my biases: those of you who are now less libertarian than you used to be, who were once more laissez-faire in some domain but are now more pro-government, what changed your mind?

      Short answer: I considered the role that peer pressure and social norms play in our lives, and how, even if something (shacking up with another man’s wife, say) doesn’t directly affect you, it can still have an important indirect effect (in this case, by contributing towards the normalisation of adultery and so making my wife more likely to cheat on me). But then, once I started taking indirect harms into consideration, I just couldn’t see any reason to follow the libertarian principle of permitting anything that does not fall foul of the non-aggression principle.

    • edmundgennings says:

      I was quite a liberatarian in my youth but now am not.
      I became convinced that the NAP and claims that state action illegitimate were wrong and thus moral risk involved in state action was much smaller. To some extent this was the result of a discovery of to pre enlightenment theories of government; I have never found Lockean consent of the governed convincing.
      Also in social ontology I came to think that social groups exist and have moral standing. Relatedly I came to feel that we have a broader range of moral obligations to people outside our immediate family. Along those lines, I have developed a sense of modern noblise oblige especially because of behavioral genetics.
      Encountering people who embrace a full throatedly paternalist position opened a more coherent moderate form of paternalism when I had previously rejected the incoherent moderate paternalist position I grew up thinking was the only form of paternalism. A practical presumption against certain forms of paternalism for specific reasons while having only a weak presumption against other forms when those reasons do not apply makes sense in a way in which the acceptance of certain forms of paternalism while viewing paternalism in more personal areas as a priori objectionable is not. Similarly becoming convinced that human flourishing was to an important extent objective if immeasurable thing as opposed to subjective
      More generally modus ponuses became mudus tollens in philosophical questions.
      In empirical questions I am have become a bit more centrist but I have not had any significant changes of position.

    • Well... says:

      In my mid- to late-20s I considered myself an anarcho-capitalist. I got less libertarian after that.

      What changed my mind, I think, was first-hand knowledge that kids can be old enough to be in a position to make their own decisions, yet young enough to be easily preyed upon. Related to this is the realization that most people are pretty irrational, and even the most rational people still have biases and other little cognitive weak spots that can be (and are) exploited.

      The result of this is a lot of voluntary exchanges that aren’t actually win-win.

      I’m definitely not convinced that big bureaucratic government organizations are therefore necessarily the solution to everything, but I don’t see them as evil and obviously malicious as I used to. I might go so far as to say in most cases (in the US, at least) they often are comprised of people — including politicians — who are earnestly trying their best and doing a pretty good job given the constraints.

    • Plumber says:

      @Jake Rowland,
      I’m under-educated for this crowd, and my alcohol pickled and age addled mind isn’t that quick either, so I doubt I qualify as “smarter”, but I have dim memories of Libertarianism once sounding more appealing to me, but I doubt I was ever much of one, but I’m pretty anti-libertarian now, even if long-term it would be better, ’cause utopia is a bet, and I think it’s cruel to destroy institutions that people have grown up with and have been in place for generations, besides, as unpleasant as my time in public (government) schools was, my time working for “private industry” is far from fondly remembered.

      If you must “make the world a better place” please do it slowly so people have time to adjust.

      Otherwise, the places where people seem to thrive most (Canada, Scandinavia, et cetera) by-and-large mostly seem to adhere to the “social democracy”/”welfare state capitalist” model, they’re exceptions to that model of places where most do well such as Utah which seems to have a church substitute for state social welfare programs (and even though it’s also a Communist dictatorship, mostly Catholic Cuba isn’t quite the Hellscape North Korea is, so I suspect that the culture of a place is as or more important than the laws), there is Singapore which we may as well just call fascist which is a thriving place that’s an outlier from the social-democracy model, but there’s also Costa Rica, which may be the most libertarian-ish (no standing army) but happy and healthy place I’ve heard of.

      I’d advice looking to actually existing models and also recognize that the laws of one place may not fit another culture so well.

      As for me, the U.S.A. of February 1973 seemed better than before and after, so more like then, or more like modern Canada seem good goals to me, I really don’t see a gentle way to turn the U.S.A. to be more like Costa Rica (or Cuba, or Singapore, or whatever is your thing), and frankly I don’t think “broken eggs” now, are worth promises of “omelettes” later.

      I don’t know, maybe become a missionary and try to make the rest if the U.S.A. more like Utah?

      • Enkidum says:

        Otherwise, the places where people seem to thrive most (Canada, Scandinavia, et cetera) by-and-large mostly seem to adhere to the “social democracy”/”welfare state capitalist” model,

        Yeah, this is more or less the clincher for me. I’d say Canada, Scandinavia and similar places are pretty much the best places to live for the average human, in all of human history. I don’t actually think that’s an exaggeration. It may be that this style of society is unsustainable, and certainly there are many people doing their best to change it for the worse, but thus far it’s not doing too badly.

        I was never much of a libertarian per se, somewhat of a wannabe anarchist but I can’t muster the enthusiasm any longer.

        • Garrett says:

          A hypothesis of mine: It’s the cold weather.

          If someone is unable to get/hold a job, unable to file paperwork, and antisocial to the point that no one (even the shelters) want them around, they are very likely to die when it his -40 over the winter.

          In warmer areas “nature” won’t do the job for you and so you are much more likely to have a population of people who survive who are unemployable, unable to fill out the paperwork, and anti-social.

          Bitter-cold weather is a surprisingly strong civilizing force.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        If you must “make the world a better place” please do it slowly so people have time to adjust.

        Best comment of the week.

    • broblawsky says:

      Engaging with the US health insurance system made me substantially less libertarian on healthcare issues. And before anyone starts talking about regulatory capture, I regard the existing system as already being the end result of libertarian principles coming into contact with reality.

      • albatross11 says:

        The weird thing is, sometimes you get computers or consumer electronics, and other times you get the clusterf–k that is the US healthcare system.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        @broblawsky
        The health insurance business in the US is pretty much a creature of the government. Not just regulatory capture, but the tax deductions that make it rational to treat insurance as a medical paymaster instead of coverage for catastrophic care, and the many many regulations of each state. I am only kind of a libertarian, but it is very clear to me that our medical system would work much better under a free market than the mostly socialized system we have in the US.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I also used to have more libertarian outlook than I have now. Things that changed my mind: life experience, paying attention to world and domestic events, reading social science in my spare time. All of that however has an overarching cause – living through the great recession and being impacted by it. We are all products of our time.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Not less libertarian, but had a small epiphany that refined a lot the way I think about things. tl;dr: I’m libertarian as a personality characteristic. I _also_ agree with both economic and social libertarianism, but I now view this agreement with skepticism instead of enthusiasm. There will probably be a longish process of reviewing my beliefs, and I really hope to retain a good 90% of them, but still – accepting that your driving ideology doesn’t come from reason but because it fits your emotions is sobering and needed.

      Also I missed the last thread’s question. Too bad, I have an answer to add: It may be that the economic optimum is paying $6 per hour for unskilled labor. But if all companies collectively raise that to $12, they won’t lose much: prices go a bit up across the board, and no company actually loses money. But employees earn a lot more than before.
      The problems with that are left as an exercise to the reader.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        And this line of thinking is how California ended up with 100 different regulations (each one with an associated bureaucracy staffed with politically engaged employees who will treat rolling back their own one regulation as an existential risk to their own personal livelihoods, and each one with some PIG who regularly publishes an array of shiny websites full of photogenic suffering children illustrating why their regulation is just barely holding back some civilization ending disaster), each regulation adding “only” $500 to the cost of each housing construction.

        And yet nobody can quite figure out why it costs an additional $50,000 to build a house in California, before turning over the first shovelful of dirt.

        It must be the fault of “the rich”, or of “greedy” real-estate “speculators”, or of “techbrodudes”, or something.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          God, I’m so trying not to start ranting right now. I have a huge chip on my shoulder since I cleaned up an apartment a couple of years ago, and later found a homeless guy sorting, in the dark, for a couple of hours, through plates and pans I had thrown out. That’s the point I started to consider minimum wages pure evil, and not just inefficient. The guy was willing to put work time in uncomfortable conditions for … $1-2 equivalent value? But he couldn’t wash a car for triple that because he needs to be full time employed for minimum wages, and he’s, not offence, just not productive enough for that.

    • I was a full on anarcho-capitalist before rejecting it for both philosophical and pragmatic reasons. One of the things that got me was how every libertarian had these stock answers for how the free markets are always better and every time I tried to look in to it I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the issue. I became suspicious that these libertarians didn’t actually know what they were talking about and started suspecting it would be extremely coincidental that every possible issue of market vs state ends with the market being the superior option.

      • it would be extremely coincidental that every possible issue of market vs state ends with the market being the superior option.

        Indeed it would. Fortunately, we don’t need that to be true in order to make the case for anarcho-capitalism.

        We don’t have any way of getting the state to only intervene in those cases where state action would be beneficial, since the state isn’t run by wise philosopher kings. All you need to defend anarcho-capitalism from a consequentialist point of view is to argue that the damage done by the state intervening where it shouldn’t is larger than the good done by it intervening when it should.

        • Plumber says:

          @DavidFriedman,
          For me the best argument for statelessness is that the worst Hells humanity has known were creations of states, but I don’t know of any of the best places being stateless, and I can’t imagine how a stateless society could protect itself from conquest, or an armed and well-drilled minority tyrannizing the majority.

          • There are no modern developed stateless societies. But there are a fair number of past stateless societies and some current embedded stateless societies–subgroups at least nominally under the rule of a state, but enforcing their own rules on their members by non-state mechanisms.

            Some of the past ones got conquered (the Commanche) or ended due to internal conflict (saga period Iceland, which should probably be classified as semi-stateless, since there was a law code and a court system but no executive arm of government to enforce verdicts). But the Commanche lost to an overwhelmingly more powerful opponent, after making quite an impressive fight of it—against people with similar levels of population and technology they were more than able to defend themselves. And the Icelandic system lasted considerably longer than the U.S. has so far.

            If you are curious about how a modern stateless society might deal with such problems, the second edition of my first book is a free pdf on my web page, the third edition an inexpensive kindle on Amazon (and slightly less inexpensive paperback). There is even an audiobook.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            All the historical examples of “stateless” societies I am aware of, and the modern ones too, have two distinguishing features. A known, fixed, code of law everyone agrees is the law, and an incredible level of bloodymindendness about punishing people who break that law.

            Medieval Albania was not lawless because the average albanian would literally rather draw steel and die fighting than to suffer breeches of traditional law. Ditto Island. And the various places where failure of central government means the actual law code is Sharia.

            There is no path from here to there. You cant just wish that level of concensus and brutality into existence. Also, it is a worse way to run a society, because it sheds lots more blood. Albania and Island may not have had roaming bands of thieves, but they did have lots of corpses by the wayside as a result of freelance law enforcement.

    • LesHapablap says:

      One of the reasons I’m no longer all that libertarian is that I moved to a place that actually has a community. I had undervalued the importance of communities being able to make collective decisions about how they want to be. When I was a libertarian I had very little empathy for places being gentrified, for example. Now I understand more that disrupting a community’s neighborhood actually destroys a lot of value for people.

      Socially, there are things like the concept of Chesterton’s fence which I had no appreciation of before. Total freedom is actually pretty distopian. I had very much underestimated the importance of family and close relationships.

    • SamChevre says:

      Most of the above are fairly similar to my reasons. For me, I’d articulate my moving away from libertarianism as a combination of four things.

      1) Coming to think that most property in the modern world is dependent on a legal system, and so the legal system can’t take “property” as the starting point. “My pencil” is a kind of property to which NAP applies well; “my pencil factory” is less so; “my land on which the pencil factory is built” even less so; “my CDS on the debts of the pencil factory” is pretty much entirely a creation of a system of laws and contracts.
      2) Which led to thinking that the system of laws and contracts could be evaluated by whether it produced good results, not just whether it did a good job of protecting what it defined as property.
      3) Combined with both observation and Catholic social thought to say that protecting individual rights was important, but that protecting on-average beneficial social norms is also important.
      3a) That, along with my history, leads me to want small-ish groups with different social norms to have to co-exist, and compete for people’s allegiance. (See “liberalism as alien machinery forged in the fires of hell.)
      3b) I think that most towns are small enough that exit is a sufficient right, and support much greater ability to set norms as the scale diminishes.
      4) Combined with the increasing domination of official libertarianism by the group that I refer to as pro-rape libertarians – slightly edited quote below.

      Freedom of private association is important….[But] By the end, breaking the [feminist] system required overriding the normal freedom of private association. [It] had gone on for too long and been engineered too deliberately for equality before the law to coexist with the normal extent of that freedom.

      None of this means that … freedom of association aren’t real values. Some of it means that they’re means that can’t be prioritized over the ends that they serve.

      If libertarian still meant Buckley and Rockwell, rather than “cheerleader for every anti-community project that likes pot”, I’d probably still identify as libertarian.

    • DinoNerd says:

      The more familiar I become with human nature, and the way politics and other human activities work out in practice, the less I find libertarianism credible. As a callow young nerd with limited experience of the world, and a chip on my shoulder about the superiority of reason over most people’s decision making methods, it looked extremely attractive.

      For me, it’s yet another example of the difference between theory and practice. Communism looks attractive too, if all you get to see is the theory, not any real world implementations.

      Note that my issues are almost entirely with economic “liberty”, when it takes the form of large/powerful/rich individuals and groups throwing their weight around at the expense of the small/weak/poor majority. Also when it takes the form of having to sue for damages after harms occur, because that basically doesn’t work at all in many situations.

    • John Schilling says:

      I briefly considered anarcho-socialism to be the ideal system before I realized that reputational signals alone would not be sufficient to organize a broad economy and settled into minarchist libertarianism about thirty years ago.

      And haven’t much changed, for basically all the reasons other people here are saying they did change. Dozens of variations on “nice theory, but in practice people are scoundrels and if left to their own devices will do things that hurt other people”, for which the proposed remedy is pretty much always to appoint a different group of scoundrels, give them more power with less accountability, and ask them to pinky-swear that they’ll keep the first group of scoundrels in line without becoming bigger scoundrels themselves. And, every time this works badly in practice, saying that’s just because it was the other statist party that chose the scoundrels and if it had been the good statist party then the pinky-swear would totally have worked.

      Liberty isn’t meant to guarantee utopia, and shouldn’t be judged on that standard. None of your alternatives have generated utopia either. Liberty, is the best we’ve got to stave off several ugly varieties of dystopia, which if you can’t see on the horizon you’re not looking very hard.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Less fatih in price mechanisms to allocate all resources and more faith in government services. I do not mean that I trust the government more than the market: FAR from it. But younger, more libertarian ADBG had basically no faith in government. This is hard to reconcile with the performance of modern Western mixed market economies. It’s also harder to believe we are all on the Road to Serfdom when we actually enjoy more rights than any other group of humans in history.

      On issues like tax policy, regulation, etc, government intervention seems much less damaging than younger more libertarian ADBG would expect.

      Also, most libertarians I know lost pretty much all their credibility with me after the 2008 crash. I am temperamentally libertarian, but I am not an Austrian. Given that is THE defining economic issue of the last20 years, it’s really hard to sign on board with the overall movement.

      • John Schilling says:

        The non-libertarian response to 2008 was for the state to put about eight trillion dollars on the national credit card and spend the next decade conspicuously not coming up with a plan to ever pay off that debt. And it’s the libertarians who lost credibility with you?

        If it were possible to borrow real money indefinitely without consequence, but only when the State does it, that would be an argument for having a powerful state to go around tapping into this infinite cornucopia for the public good. But it isn’t, and you know that. There are consequences as well as benefits, the state can ensure that it is first in line for the benefits and last in line for those consequences, and they act like it.

        • brad says:

          This strikes me as disingenuous. When (general) you go around loudly claiming that the apocalypse is going to come next year unless all the sinners repent, none of the sinners repent, and the apocalypse doesn’t come you don’t get to blame the wiles of the devil and say that it is definitely coming next year. You’ve already lost all your credibility.

          • John Schilling says:

            If I had said the apocalypse was going to come next year, or last year or ten years ago, you would have a point. I didn’t, so you don’t. But feel free to treat me as non-credible if it makes you feel better.

            Understand that I hold you in equal contempt, as if you were playing literal Russian Roulette with your childrens’ lives because someone offered you a few months’ salary every time you pulled the trigger and nothing bad happened the last three times.

          • How about if you say “unless the government follows my policy, the unemployment rate will reach X,” the government does follow your policy (you being the President), and the unemployment race reaches X+Y, Y positive?

          • brad says:

            JS
            I prefer evidence driven policy to policy by dour Calvinist morality tales. YMMV.

            DF
            Sound like whoever that is doesn’t have much credibility.

          • John Schilling says:

            What was your evidence, in 2008, that it was safe for a developed nation to push its debt-to-GDP ratio above 90% in peacetime?

          • brad says:

            Japan.

          • If I had said the apocalypse was going to come next year, or last year or ten years ago, you would have a point. I didn’t, so you don’t. But feel free to treat me as non-credible if it makes you feel better.

            You personally may not have but many prominent libertarians were. They were literally telling us that sustained, uncontrollable high inflation was just around the corner and that if we didn’t switch to a “sound money” policy soon, a new recession worse than old one was bound to happen. 11 years later, it hasn’t happened and there’s really no reason to think it will.

          • You personally may not have but many prominent libertarians were.

            I am, as it happens, a prominent libertarian, and I wasn’t.

            Perhaps you are overgeneralizing, and should limit your views to some subset of libertarians?

            It’s true that certain versions of Austrian economics are more popular among libertarians than elsewhere, but that is not a defining characteristic of libertarians. I can think of six Nobel prize winning economists whom I would describe as libertarians of various sorts. One of them might be described as an Austrian, but I don’t know what his views were on the details of macroeconomics.

          • brad says:

            In case it wasn’t clear in this sub-thread (below ADBG) my points have nothing to do with libertarianism per se.

          • @David

            I don’t think that the post-recession events discredited all libertarians. However, John implied that what happened should be considered more damaging to non-libertarians than libertarians, which I think is ridiculous. I don’t know what the exact distribution of Austrians in the libertarian camp is but surely we can agree it’s non-trivial, especially during the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession and the rise of Ron Paul as a presidential candidate.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Didn’t the Austrians predict the 2008 crisis, while the mainstream economists all said that everything was fine? Part of why I became a libertarian was because of all those youtube videos with Peter Schiff predicting the problem with the housing market.

          • @LesHapablap

            Austrians are a classic example of a broken clock being right twice a day. They proclaim constant doom in the economy, and when there is a problem, they pat themselves on the back for “predicting the future”. When an Austrian put his money where his mouth was, he was embarrassingly wrong.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Wrong Species, you’re probably right and I certainly don’t have any inclination or ability to defend Austrians. At the time though that ‘broken clock’ criticism was leveled at Schiff etc, and my thought was that by the same token a group of people saying that “everything is fine, nothing to worry about” will always be right until it isn’t. So that broken clock criticism never meant much to me.

          • Schiff has been making terrible predictions since the recession. That article came out in 2015 and it looks even worse for Schiff since then.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Well that’s unfortunate. I wonder how much of all that stuff has infected my understanding of economics.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          It’s not possible to borrow money indefinitely without consequence, but even as early as 2008 we knew that the US had a lot of fiscal runway from Japan.

          Meanwhile we spent a great deal of time listening to conjectures that the US was going to soon enter a debt spiral or an inflationary spiral or both. This wasn’t credible even in 2008, but it should have been really obvious by 2011, 2012, 2013…

          I am annoyed by mainstream economists and politicians for other reasons, and I am pretty sure I have explained my specific frustrations with center-left economists (who I think are basically bad faith pundits at this point), but on this issue the libertarians just have no credibility with me.

      • BBA says:

        I was, ah, liber-curious before 2008. I still think, in the abstract, that Andrew Mellon’s “liquidate, liquidate, liquidate” might be the best way to handle a financial crisis, putting the system as a whole on firmer ground to prevent future crises. Key words being “in the abstract.” In reality the short-term harms of liquidating everything are very real and very severe, to the extent that it’s politically impossible to implement even for someone as well-connected and insulated from political forces as Mellon was. Theoretical soundness does you no good when it leads to an angry mob out to tar and feather you.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        I seem to be missing the significance of 2008. Surely the modern Western economies were every bit as mixed in that year as they had been before, and have been since?

        • albatross11 says:

          Something similar happened after 9/11. We’d had a violent interventionist foreign policy with plenty of involvement in the middle east before 9/11, and yet when the 9/11 attack happened, it seemed like everyone suddenly decided that this had discredited the idea of a less-interventionist, less-violent foreign policy with less involvement in the middle east. Instead, the only thing to do was to continue with our previous policy, but do it harder and with bigger bombs.

          • Incurian says:

            To be fair, despite some notable exceptions, the trend for bombs has been to become smaller and more precise.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I recall reading someone (it might have been Scott Sumner) draw that exact parallel: the neokeynes after 2008, like the neocons after 2001, benefited from having a prefabricated narrative ready to go at a moment when everyone else was still trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

          • albatross11 says:

            We make it up in volume.

      • Jake Rowland says:

        The 2008 financial crisis has come up in this thread a couple times. My understanding is that individual homeowners learned a very expensive lesson about the nature of the housing market. There were probably cheaper ways to learn that lesson, but in this case the role of the government looked a lot like making sure those most responsible suffered the fewest consequences.

        The people pushing the bad loans knew they were exploiting financial ignorance for personal gain. I would prefer a government that prevented people from doing that, but the one we had in 2008 didn’t. Instead it bailed them out afterwards.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The people pushing the bad loans knew they were exploiting financial ignorance for personal gain.

          The people on the sharp end pushing the bad loans weren’t bailed out. They weren’t exposed to significant risk in the first place; they were loan originators, writing loans and immediately selling them while keeping a commission. The loans were then securitized and sold; many of the holders of those securities were bailed out, as were many of the homeowners who defaulted, but the people selling things like NINJA loans and 5/1 ARMs which the buyer barely qualified for based on the initial (teaser) rate didn’t need to be bailed out.

        • albatross11 says:

          It seems like the 2008 meltdown should weaken your confidence in financial regulation, rather than strengthen it. We had (and have) a heavily regulated financial sector, and an activist treasury department and Fed. We still had the 2008 meltdown, and worse, when things really got ugly, the government largely bailed out the big players in ways that let them benefit from taking risks and not lose when the dice came up wrong.

          • I think the 2008 comments should be taken as critical of (some) libertarians, not of libertarianism. There is no inconsistency between Keynesian economic theory and libertarianism, although many people use the theory to argue for non-libertarian policies. I think there used to be a textbook by a Keynesian libertarian economist, although I no longer remember the details, and Keynes himself wrote a glowing endorsement of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.

    • brad says:

      I’d like to think I’ve held on to the best part of libertarianism. Insights like: the people that make up the government are just people like everyone else, there are always unintended consequences, and that doing nothing is an option worth considering. But I know longer think that maximizing liberty is of such paramount importance that it overrides every other consideration. I’ve seen too many people clearly not living their own best lives.

      • Incurian says:

        But I know longer think that maximizing liberty is of such paramount importance that it overrides every other consideration.

        It’s a good heuristic, though, and a Schelling point.

      • But I know longer think that maximizing liberty is of such paramount importance that it overrides every other consideration.

        Most libertarians don’t think so either. If they did, they would put all resources not needed for their own survival into working to reduce the power of governments, and few if any do.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      I’m always surprised by how many tales of personal apostasy, here and elsewhere, take the form of “I used to believe in X but no longer do because [Very first objection that pops into everyone’s head when they hear of X]”– as opposed to “…because (defense of X against [Very first objection etc.] stopped seeming adequate, because reasons)”. The first version just leaves me wondering how they were ever able to believe in X.

      • DinoNerd says:

        possibly just trying to avoid writing a wall of text?

        • That’s partly it for me. I used to spend a ton of time trying to get libertarians to understand my POV and failing to get anywhere. When you spend a lot of time trying to communicate and neither side is convincing to the other, it seems fruitless. It’s not just both sides talking past each other. Sometimes you think your point is compelling and they don’t, and there’s no non-biased referee to adjudicate who is more compelling. It makes me wonder how important non-rational psychological states are needed to accept certain arguments or what kind of frameworks you need as a foundation. I know that I’ve gone back and looked at arguments that seemed really compelling at one point and even though the logic doesn’t seem wrong, it seems unimportant now.

          An example that should be non-controversial for this crowd: a creationist will often point to some feature of people or animals that scientists don’t really have a good explanation for why that came about through natural selection and will use that as one of their arguments. They aren’t wrong exactly but it’s not going to be convincing to the evolutionary biologist.

      • Incurian says:

        Wasn’t there an SSC article about that?

    • Viliam says:

      Mostly the things others already said.

      I think that non-aggression principle is a good approximation of personal ethics. If you are the kind of person who enjoys starting fights or scamming other people, I do not want you in my social group.

      On the other hand, I find the idea of buying police protection on free market implausible. The reason, in a nutshell, is that if an organization is strong enough to protect me e.g. from organized crime, it is also strong enough to intimidate me into remaining their “client” even when I change my mind. I find it unlikely that the top dogs would achieve the perfect balance that would allow me to freely choose among them, with them only helplessly watching the loss of income from a departing client.

      My time and attention are limited, and the world I live in is complex. I do not have time to research all the products I use, or to understand the details and implications of all contracts I would have to sign in a society where all contracts are explicit. I trust the world around me that no one puts poison in the food I buy, and that no small print can turn a purchase of a mobile phone into a slavery contract. Having a government that finds the poisoners and punishes them for me, and makes hidden slavery contracts invalid, seems like a reasonable solution. (Yeah, in a libertarian paradise, there would be an agency I could pay to do this. Which would again require me to do my individual research, albeit on a higher level: instead of researching who puts poison in food, I would have to research which agencies properly detect those who put poison in food. I probably wouldn’t have time and attention for doing that kind of research properly either.)

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Yeah this is probably the best critique of libertarianism. But still there is the question how far do you push it? Government makes life easier because you don’t have to do all the research yourself. But at what point do all the defects of government; such as reducing choice, rewarding mediocrity, cost disease, etc., make life worse more than make it better. IMO, the crossover size is a whole lot less government than we have today.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yeah this is probably the best critique of libertarianism.

          I see only a critique of anarcho-captitalism. Where is the critique of libertarianism?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Obviously it depends on how you define libertarianism, but…

            My time and attention are limited, and the world I live in is complex. I do not have time to research all the products I use, or to understand the details and implications of all contracts I would have to sign in a society where all contracts are explicit.

            I do think it is a pretty standard libertarian stance to want to greatly decrease or eliminate product bans due to safety by government. As someone who is only moderately libertarian, I am in that camp. People should be allowed to make their own decisions what is too dangerous, most such decisions are made for political reasons, not scientific ones, regulatory capture of such agencies by the companies they are supposed to control, etc. Viliam has not convinced me otherwise, but he makes a good counter-argument, and I think most of society would be in agreement with him.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m not a pure libertarian, but even if the government weren’t doing testing, there would still be private groups like UL and Consumer Reports doing it, and people could use those tests.

            Most libertarians still accept that companies can’t use fraud or force so they can’t lie about getting approval or change their product ingredients to rat poison without writing that down.

            (I’m not saying that government regulation of products is bad, just arguing against the idea that we would all have to do it individually if the government did not do it.)

          • acymetric says:

            Most libertarians still accept that companies can’t use fraud or force so they can’t lie about getting approval or change their product ingredients to rat poison without writing that down.

            “Can’t” or “shouldn’t”?

          • albatross11 says:

            “Should be forbidden by law,” though anarchocapitalists might prefer the law to be privately produced and enforced. In general, a libertarian is going to be okay with you selling me enough fentanyl to OD myself a hundred times over, as long as it’s correctly labeled as fentanyl. But if you sell me something labeled as heroin which is actually mostly fentanyl plus inert ingredients, you get in some kind of trouble–perhaps you’re help liable for my OD death.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        You won’t meet many people with whom the Argument From Laziness resonates more than it does with me. But one of its implications is that the people I’m trusting to take care of all those things for me will be operating mostly unsupervised: monitoring their performance is another of the things I’d rather not be bothered with.

    • I’d say two important things explain my gradual path from libertarian to anti-libertarian Andrew Yang supporter were:

      1. The whole “woke capitalism” thing. Many conservatives/libertarians scream when some university forces that crap down people’s throats, but say “meh, who cares,” when a corporation does it. Gradually I decided that the conservatives/libertarians had replaced the liberals as people who wouldn’t take their own side in a fight, and definitively left that sinking ship.

      2. An understanding of positional goods and signalling. The quintessential example of positional goods are those luxuries consumed by the very wealthy who are trying to compete with other very wealthy people in the status game. Nobody feels a lot of pity for those rich people “forced” to compete with other rich people. But now look at the funeral industry. They specialize in guilting the grieving into spending large sums to signal that they care about the recently deceased. Why shouldn’t the government just step in and shut the whole thing down? Establish price controls? Sure, some would try to skirt the law, but consumers would now have the excuse of saying that while they would love to pay the exorbitant prices because person X was very important to them, they aren’t willing to break the law to do it. Or they could just nationalize the whole darn thing, so long as they run it with a modicum of competence so bodies don’t start to line the streets, it could end up much cheaper than the current system with no downside,* people would quickly find other ways to show their loved ones’ how much they care, ways which might actually benefit somebody. When thinking in this mindset, the classic libertarian argument of “nationalizing all the industries doesn’t work so why should this one industry be nationalized,” doesn’t apply. When you have an industry like education, where it’s mostly signalling, it may be better to leave it in the hands of the government. While in theory private education could find more efficient ways to impart knowledge to students, in practice they wouldn’t do this because learning isn’t the goal of the students. Instead, their capitalistic energies would be thrown into finding ways to convince their students to spend more money to signal the value they place on education.

      *Though it’s possible that it could end up massively bloated as we collectively want to signal how much we care about the recently deceased and demand everyone get the Gold Package.

      • Lillian says:

        With respect to the funeral industry, there’s a very straightforward private sectors solution to it: Make it known to your family that you want your funeral arrangements to be as cheap and simple as possible, and back it up with a will containing the same stipulations. Both of my parents have done this, because they have no wish to encumber my sister and me with ruinous funeral expenses when we could spend the money on ourselves. Literally all my mom wants is for her body to be donated to science, and then cremated and the ashes scattered somewhere nice. It’s cheap, simple, practical, and sentimental. For my dad it’s the same except he doesn’t care what happens to ashes, we could use them for kitty litter if we like. We’ll probably also scatter them somewhere nice.

        If any relative objects to this arrangement on the grounds that it’s insufficient on my and my sister’s part at conveying how much we loved them, we have their stated beliefs and their will on our side. “It’s what they wanted,” is something of an argument stopper when it comes to the dearly departed. The fact that solution is so simple and straightforward and yet not widely adopted tells me that there is a big preference for big expensive funerals. Personally, i don’t believe there is much good to be had in telling vast swathes of the populace that their preferences are wrong, and that henceforth they are not allowed to exercise them. That’s why the government shouldn’t step in and shut the whole thing down.

  15. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    So I recently had a fairly unpleasant experience while traveling, and it made me wonder about millimeter wave body scanners. Besides being a prop in security theater or an excuse to feel up air travelers, are they actually useful in any way?

    Wikipedia strongly implies that the answer is no, because they have a >50% false positive rate and have never actually caught a terrorist. However, if you’re trying to catch every instance of something that happens at a very low frequency it would make sense to minimize false negatives even if it meant a high rate of false positives. You could even argue that not having detected a true positive is expected because of how infrequent they are, although that borders on making it unfalsifiable.

    So what do you guys think? Is it actually helpful in any way or just another random indignity of air travel like taking your shoes off?

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Honestly, it seems mostly like trying everything other than profiling (for obvious reasons).

      • Protagoras says:

        Because profiling is much harder to get right than it seems, you mean? If you profile narrowly, terrorists will pick people who don’t fit the profile for their attacks on airliners, while if your profile is broad, you’ve only reduced the problem of too many targets a little bit. And the terrorists might still be able to find someone who doesn’t fit the broad profile, though of course if your profile is “everyone except the most absurdly unlikely” then it will at least be true that the terrorists will have great difficulty finding anyone in the absurdly unlikely categories willing to be terrorists. Still, profiling “everyone except the most absurdly unlikely” means a very large minority if not a majority of flyers being treated as suspicious, so again not much saved effort. Keeping your profiling criteria secret won’t help either; it’s trivial for the terrorists to do dry runs to see if their intended operatives get extra scrutiny or not, and then only run the op with the ones who don’t get extra scrutiny (terrorists are known to have used that tactic; I believe it was used by the 9/11 plot).

        • John Schilling says:

          Because profiling is much harder to get right than it seems, you mean? If you profile narrowly, terrorists will pick people who don’t fit the profile for their attacks on airliners, while if your profile is broad, you’ve only reduced the problem of too many targets a little bit.

          And if you profile somewhere between the two extremes, you make it much harder for terrorists to successfully carry out terrorist attacks while requiring only modest resources on your end.

          Or maybe not, but “here is how the proposal fails at one extreme, and here is how it fails at the other extreme” is a poor argument against any proposal, and if it’s the one you go to then the rest of us are going to suspect that it’s the best you’ve got and that the proposal is a pretty good one.

          Keeping your profiling criteria secret won’t help either; it’s trivial for the terrorists to do dry runs to see if their intended operatives get extra scrutiny or not,

          Only if your profiling criteria are deterministic, invariant, and always result in a detectable signal but no more than modest inconvenience to terrorists who match the profile. It is trivial to arrange for one or more of those conditions to be false, and it is trivial to recognize that it is trivial to arrange for one or more of those conditions to be false, so again this is the sort of low-grade argument that makes me think you don’t have any good ones.

          • Lillian says:

            Profiling is how the Israelis do airport security, and they have a much better track record than the United States in that department despite being a much more frequently targeted. Given proper training and procedures it absolutely works and works well. The problem with implementing such procedures in the United States is political rather than practical, in that our race politics make it effectively impossible

            Bluntly, even if you implemented profiling policies that were properly weighted and calibrated to the most rigorous of standards, the general populace will simply refuse to believe that it’s not racist. Like i recall a story of a security guard who was given a pseudo-random mechanical counter to determine who would get additional screening. However they were not allowed to tell the people in the queue about the counters, just that they’d been randomly selected. Consequently when members of visible minorities happened to come up, the guards would frequently be accused of racism. People simply could not believe that their race really did have nothing to do with it, even though that was objectively the case.

            In the face of such paranoia it’s completely impossible to implement any profiling system without it being immediately denounced as unforgivably and irredeemably racist. What’s more i’m not even sure the paranoia is unjustified! While i generally believe that the American public is ridiculously over-sensitive on the subject of race, i also find myself unable to trust the TSA to not abuse their profiling authority. Frankly i expect that within a couple of years of this system being implemented we’d get a leak about a private TSA Facebook group where they brag about how they go out of their way to give certain demographics an extra hard time or something.

            So yeah, in theory it could be done, in practice it’s not happening.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      A metal detector has probably never caught a terrorist with a gun, but that doesn’t mean the metal detector isn’t doing its job.

      There is a lot wrong with airport security, but we need to make sure we ask the right questions.

      • albatross11 says:

        IIRC, the TSA has never stopped a terrorist. This is mainly because there aren’t very many terrorists trying to get bombs onto planes. However, two have managed to get bombs onto planes through TSA–both failed to do much damage because their bombs didn’t go off. (I’m guessing Al Qaida’s QA department isn’t too well-run.).

        It’s possible that we’d have a lot of hijacking attempts and bombings without all that security, but I am extremely skeptical. I think it’s mainly security theater to make the passengers feel better and the politicians look like they’ve done something about the threat of terrorism.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          If I were in charge of airport security, there are a lot of things I would just get rid of entirely.

          But I would keep metal detectors. Even though they’ve never caught a terrorist with a gun. Saying “there has not been a problem, so let’s fire security” is a classic blunder, and you don’t want to make it just because you are trying to avoid the opposite anti-tiger-rock blunder.

          • albatross11 says:

            I like Charles Murray’s half-joking proposal to replace all the TSA song-and-dance with a retired big-city homicide detective sitting at the door who is allowed to flag anyone that makes him uneasy for a thorough search and frisking.

          • Plumber says:

            @albatross11,
            Judging by the homicide detectives I see they’d have a hard time complying with the no smoking rules of airports without being able to leave it and get a cigarette break at least every couple of hours.

        • CatCube says:

          It’s possible that we’d have a lot of hijacking attempts and bombings without all that security, but I am extremely skeptical.

          It’s not only possible that we’d “have a lot of hijacking attempts” without airport security, that’s what actually happened, and the reason we have airport security.

          They instituted screening on January 5, 1973, after somebody hijacked a plane and threatened to fly it into Oak Ridge National Lab. This was just the last straw; from 1968-1972 they were averaging a hijacking every 2-3 weeks just people demanding to fly to Cuba. (91 hijackings in 5 years for just that scenario–I don’t have the patience to pick out the US ones from the general hijackings list on Wikipedia.)

          The introduction of airport security didn’t stop hijackings, but it cut the numbers way back.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            9/11 changed the meta for hijackings. If someone tries to take over a plane (in America) today, they aren’t getting into the cockpit, no matter if they say they have a bomb or start slaughtering every last passenger. And because this is Common Knowledge, people don’t even try.

            Pre-9/11, if the airlines had tried this policy, no one would have believed it, and they would have lost the lawsuits if they followed it.

            Wikipedia never disappoints when it comes to lists: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_aircraft_hijackings none in the US since 2001.

            You still have to worry about suicide bombings, so we need some level of screening. I don’t want to get rid of everything.,

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @CatCube
            You are talking about security before 9/11. I don’t remember too much about security back then, but it was a lot more minimal than it is today. I don’t remember hating security like I do today. I agree with Edward that we still need security (maybe the big city cop Albatross wants, or the metal detector Edward wants), but a tenth of what we have now.

          • Deiseach says:

            from 1968-1972 they were averaging a hijacking every 2-3 weeks just people demanding to fly to Cuba.

            Gosh, this brings me back; yeah, I remember as a child the news stories about hijacking planes to fly to Cuba! If hijackings still happened like that today, what is the modern equivalent (Cuba seems to have fallen out of favour) as the Utopia of the disaffected (I can’t seem to imagine a lot of demands to “fly me to Canada or else!” “um, sir, we’re already flying to Canada?”)

  16. JPNunez says:

    Can anyone get me a copy of

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1335-8

    Dunno if we can actually generalize knowledge except for a few things this way, but should still be interesting.

    • Murphy says:

      oh that is a crazy-interesting paper.

      ‘NiFe’ is to ‘ferromagnetic’ as ‘IrMn’ is to ‘?’

      I’ve already got ideas spinning through my head for how someone might throw it at my own fields blobs of data.

      • Deiseach says:

        For example, when trained on a suitable body of text, such methods should produce a vector representing the word ‘iron’ that is closer by cosine distance to the vector for ‘steel’ than to the vector for ‘organic’

        Hm – one objection that immediately comes to mind is that such training means you’re bunched if you want to find out about iron deficiency and haemoglobin/blood research, but I presume it’s going to be specified to the field – someone wanting to know better ways to make steel girders isn’t going to care about blood and vice versa.

        You would just want to be very careful that your department bought the software model trained on “steel” not on “blood” and the other way round for whichever purpose you’re needing.

        • Murphy says:

          Looking at the paper, it looks like they trained it on research papers downloaded from a pair of journal API’s.

          Thing is it isn’t just about closeness, it’s about direction in a sort of multi-dimensional space in which the direction and distance you’d travel to get from “king” to “queen” is the same as you’d travel to get from “man” to “woman”

          The fun thing though is that it looks like it can identify properties that may have been mentioned or merely implied in research papers that haven’t made it into formal databases.

          So I might throw it at a million genetics papers and then ask for genes that have a similar relationship with the words “cancer” or “neoplasm” as BRACA1 (well known breast cancer gene)

          Or gene names that have a similar relationship with [any disease name] as BRACA1 has with cancer then filter out the well known ones.

          then see if any of the results aren’t in databases of known cancer causing genes and investigate further…

    • Enkidum says:

      There’s a similar-sounding tool that scrapes tens of thousands of fMRI papers and shows you brain areas associated with functions across all of them… I’m trying to remember the name but haven’t looked at it in years. It’s a nice way of constraining hypotheses, among other things.

  17. edmundgennings says:

    Is there a name for acting in some way because of the chance that one is wrong on some question of the moral reality? I think that animal suffering is irrelevant. But I am not sure about that. There are a number of reasons why factory farming could be morally objectionable. While I think it is probable that they are all largely false, I am not enormously confident and so I try to less meat than I otherwise would. I am not sure how odd it it that I do this.

    • Incurian says:

      Hedging?

    • Nick says:

      It’s perfectly natural to do this; we aren’t always sure about what to do. In Catholic moral theology there are a variety of positions on how to resolve this, but the rule per St. Alphonsus Liguori is equiprobabilism: if one opinion is more probable than the other, follow the more probable, but if two opinions are about equally probable, it’s up to you. Probable is a technical term here meaning that it’s based on a reason (or a cumulative case of reasons) strong enough for a prudent person to assent to it, but with doubt. Meat eating, even of factory farmed animals, passes the test for probable—I guarantee you that you know plenty of very prudent folks who eat meat—as does the contrary, so they’re both probable.

      A tutiorist (Latin for “more safe”) would say that, since avoiding factory farmed meats is the more safe opinion, that is, the less morally risky, it should be preferred. Liguori at least would disagree, since prudence does not dictate that you minimize moral risk. But if you actually believe the case against factory farmed meat is definitely stronger, i.e., definitely the more probable, you should refrain anyway.

      ETA: For a rough draft summary that I’m not entirely intentionally channeling here, see Brandon on Liguori’s account.

      • edmundgennings says:

        In terms of what one is bound to do or not do under pain of sin some mix of a little tutoralism and probabilism or equiprobabilism seems correct. It would seem sinful to do what has a good chance of being a moral catastrophe even if it were the weaker position for deeply trivial reasons but full tutoralism seems rigorist.
        But it seems supererogatorially good to lower moral risk.

    • I once had a conversation with a libertarian Jesuit (Father Sadowski, if I remember correctly). His account of the Catholic position on abortion, if I understood it correctly, was that it wasn’t that abortion was murder but that it might be, and one should therefor not do it on the chance that it was.

      • edmundgennings says:

        That is a questionable interpretation of Catholic teaching, but it is a very sensible position.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yes, this seems pretty sensible, with the probability that you’re killing a full human being going up as you approach birth. This assumes that there is some point at which the fetus becomes a baby, and we don’t know what that point is.

          • raj says:

            > with the probability that you’re killing a full human being going up as you approach birth

            At risk of going into a CW topic (?) this statement seems fundamentally flawed. Whether a fetus is or is not a person is a question of definitions and norms, not probability. The probability that the number of cells in the fetus is odd is .5, the probability it is a person is NULL.

          • edmundgennings says:

            Raj
            Are you a moral realist?

      • Deiseach says:

        His account of the Catholic position on abortion, if I understood it correctly, was that it wasn’t that abortion was murder but that it might be, and one should therefor not do it on the chance that it was.

        That’s a very Jesuit way of phrasing it, and my Dominican senses are tingling, but if you need to put the case to sceptical secular worldlings who’ve been raised that abortion is as acceptable as having a glass of water when you’re thirsty, it may have the better chance of working as an appeal.

        (Meanwhile, in the Fourth Sphere of the Sun, Thomas Aquinas is giving Ignatius Loyola consolatory patting on the back: “I know, I know; you should see what some of them are doing with my theology based on the science of the time on this question”.).

        • Nick says:

          Not just Jesuit, but Jesuitical.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          That’s a very Jesuit way of phrasing it, and my Dominican senses are tingling,

          You got bit by a radioactive Dominican in high school, huh?

          • Nick says:

            And here I thought Domini canes’ bark were worse than their bite.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:
          • edmundgennings says:

            Le Maistre Chat
            Saint Christopher pray for us

          • Deiseach says:

            You got bit by a radioactive Dominican in high school, huh?

            Close, for some reason I’ve always had a grá for St Thomas Aquinas and then Chesterton’s biography put the tin lid on it (how can you not love somebody who ran away from the (cushy sinecure provided by his family for him as abbot with the) Benedictines, had his idiot brothers try ‘if we hire a hooker for him, that’ll cure him of his fancy moral notions and then he’ll get with the plan like the family want him to do!’ and when he finally got to university in Paris had his classmates call him The Big Dumb Ox?)

    • There is actually. It’s called moral risk.

      • edmundgennings says:

        Thank you, wrong species this is exactly what I was looking for

        • Nick says:

          Amusingly, I was going to mention the modern notion of moral risk in my own post. But every single search was returning moral hazard, even when I used quote marks, because Google in its wisdom decided we’re no longer serious about searching exact words. So I gave up and stuck to theology.

          • Nornagest says:

            Looks like you can still do it through the Advanced Search interface. And typing it into the search bar in quotes returns the same results for me; maybe your browser’s stripping the quotes for some reason?

          • Nick says:

            I was searching from google.com, not from my address bar, so I don’t think my browser can be at fault. And I tried just now through advanced search and got good results, so wtf.

          • Nornagest says:

            Maybe we’re being A/B tested.

          • quanta413 says:

            I’ve had failures using exact words through advanced search too. I no longer expect special search features to work consistently 🙁

    • SamChevre says:

      I agree that moral risk is a right term. I also think this kind of action is very closely related to Pascal’s Wager.

  18. Deiseach says:

    For anyone interested in The Religious Left and politics, an online post about Democratic outreach attempts and what journalists could be covering, or should be looking for if they want to cover, the topic (did you know the Democratic Party had a Director of Religious Outreach?)

    • Plumber says:

      @Deiseach,
      Five Thirty Eight did a similar piece called Why Democrats Struggle To Mobilize A ‘Religious Left not to long ago that was pretty good.

      • Deiseach says:

        That’s a good piece, Plumber, and I think the answer to the question is buried within it, though it doesn’t seem to have come to the attention of the writers:

        If there remains an obvious opportunity for some version of the religious left to emerge, it would be among black and Hispanic Democratic primary voters, who were significantly more likely than white Democrats to say that religion is somewhat or very important in their lives in the 2016 CCES survey.

        And the problem there is that this is describing “religious people who are on the left” but not “the religious left”. Black churches tend to be more socially conservative and lag behind on the LGBT+ rights that the Democrats are broadly supporting (though that is changing) and Hispanics are either culturally Catholic or these days, quite often, members of Evangelical churches, especially Pentecostalism, which have made huge inroads in South America. They have ties to and are loyal to the Democrats on civil rights, immigration and so forth, but the social liberalism is not the key element.

        The Religious Left, such as it is, is more like these organisations – female pastors, LGBT+ members, pro-choice, etc. Buttigieg being raised Catholic (however loosely), coming out as gay and converting to Episcopalianism (which is much, much more liberal on gay rights) is the model here: my old church was stodgy on Position X so I switched to a new church that told me it was just fine since the Zeitgeist had settled that question. Trouble is, being left-liberal in theology means that there isn’t much impetus for people to sign up to be members, since they can be just as left-liberal as secularists and your own teaching is telling them this is just fine (but hey, how about that God thing – oh okay, you’re spiritual but not religious, we’re down with that! but wouldn’t you like to join like-minded people to help improve the world – no? you’re already doing that via secular philanthropy? okay, fine, we don’t believe in scaring people into conversion, you’re doing great as you are!)

        The Democrats problem with religion is a bit like the Republicans problem with appealing to minorities 🙂

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The Religious Left, such as it is, is more like these organisations – female pastors, LGBT+ members, pro-choice, etc. Buttigieg being raised Catholic (however loosely), coming out as gay and converting to Episcopalianism (which is much, much more liberal on gay rights) is the model here

          … and as you point out, very few people join a church to have leftism preached at them.
          Then you get the sight of Anglican bishops from the world’s poorest countries telling the Episcopalians they’re heretics, and the rich white leftists shrieking “Homophobia!”

          • Deiseach says:

            Then you get the sight of Anglican bishops from the world’s poorest countries telling the Episcopalians they’re heretics, and the rich white leftists shrieking “Homophobia!”

            Even worse than merely yelling. You get snide remarks (by a black American bishopess herself, for the irony) about the Global South primates being bought off with chicken dinners, and ‘jokey’ posts about primates illustrated with photos of chimpanzees because ha ha they’re primates, geddit?

            (I remember being an onlooker at the Anglican Wars and thinking however bad our crowd were, at least it wasn’t quite this bad even with the liberal Spirit of Vatican II lot).

    • Jaskologist says:

      I wrote about this topic a while back, and I don’t really think anything has changed. tldr; the Religious Left died when they signed on to Obamacare, and therefore suing Hobby Lobby (and later nuns) for not buying abortion pills.

      What does “the Religious Left” offer that is distinct from “the Left”? What will they stand up for, even against the party?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Asked about immigration during the debate, Episcopalian Buttigieg said “the Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion” while “our party doesn’t talk about that as much,” largely because of commitment to separation of church and state. Then this: “For a party that associates itself with Christianity to say that it is O.K. to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages, has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

      John 10:1:

      “Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber.”

      More glibly, Heaven has high walls, a fiercely guarded gate and a strict immigration policy. Hell has open borders.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I am fully in favor of strongly revising US immigration policy at the End of Days.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        Are you trying to prove Buttigieg’s point with this prooftexting, or are you actually claiming that Jesus was making a statement about national immigration control when he described hself as a good shepherd?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          No, I think there’s plenty of stuff in the bible about the importance of walls and borders, of obeying secular laws, and of foreigners respecting the laws and traditions of places where they are guests. Buttigieg is grandstanding as “more Christian than thou” and is absolutely wrong about some kind of incompatibility between Christian faith and US border policy.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            There is some stuff in the Bible about obeying laws. Perhaps you should have quoted one of those passages, instead of blasphemously misusing the words of our Lord for your own ends.

          • Nick says:

            If you’re going to accuse someone of prooftexting and blasphemy, it would behoove you to show us how Conrad is misreading the text.

          • JPNunez says:

            Bible quote fight! *grabs bible*

            fight fight fight

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            @Nick

            For reference, here’s the whole passage:

            “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; 2 but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

            7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. 9 I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd;[a] I know my own and my own know me, 15 as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.”

            Jesus says that the one who enters by the door is the shepherd, and then says that he himself is the shepherd. He also says, mixing the metaphor a bit as often happens in the Gospel of John, that he is the door by which the sheep go in and out. Jesus, then, is both the door and the one who goes in by the door. “All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not heed them”: clearly this refers to false prophets, false teachers, and false messiahs (which were abundant at the time) who attempted to lead the sheep astray. There’s absolutely no warrant for seeing the “thieves and robbers” who climb over the wall as economic migrants. Picture a scraggly, half-starved sheep sneaking through a hole in the fence looking for grass: does that have anything to do with the image Jesus uses? Obviously not.

            As for the flock itself, it first means the Jews to whom Jesus preached, and then is expanded: there are other sheep from a different fold, who will also follow the shepherd’s voice, making “one flock”. Therefore not just the Israelites, but all the nations will be saved by hearing and following Jesus, and all of them will mingle together. Insofar as the sheepfold represents a nation, it’s the nation of Israel, which is then expanded to include everyone who follows Jesus. There’s no indication that it can represent any arbitrary nation such as the USA. Furthermore, if the passage makes us think about national borders at all, it should make us take them less seriously.

            What Conrad did is take a metaphor for the salvation that comes from faith in Christ (hearing and following), and divert it to a completely unrelated political point. In the process, he twisted a teaching that goes out of its way to be inclusive and expansive into something exclusive and narrow. He did this in such a blatant and egregious manner (seriously, I’ve never heard anyone say that the Good Shepherd sermon is ambiguous or difficult to interpret) that I find it impossible to believe he cared about the true meaning of the passage he used. He chose to weaponize the word of God for his own political ends. I stand by what I said: that is blasphemous, and it’s a sign that Buttigieg’s rebuke isn’t entirely off target.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Fortunately we don’t need to work out the question for ourselves: Christ promised us that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, and hence we can trust that the Church’s teaching has not habitually been in error. Or, if you prefer a more secular argument, the Apostles and Church Fathers came from a much more similar social and cultural background to Jesus than we do, and consequently are less likely to misunderstand him as saying something completely different to what he was actually saying.

            So, did any of the Church Fathers tell us that the Roman Empire had a moral imperative to let in anybody who wanted to find a better life for their families? It’s not as if there were no opportunities for them to do so, if they thought that keeping people out was morally wrong. And yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much as one Christian left person produce so much as a single Patristic citation for their position.

          • JPNunez says:

            When I think of the bible and walls I mostly remember the history of the walls of Jericho, so I guess that God is strongly on the side of “fuck walls”.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I’m surprised Nehemiah hasn’t been getting quoted more in the current year.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @The Pachyderminator

            Jesus had a tendency to use easily understandable metaphors to explain himself and the kingdom of God. One that’s incredibly basic, that simple people can understand is that those who try to enter a sheep pen without going in the proper way (through the door) are thieves and robbers. This is the concrete part of the metaphor that should need no explanation. It very well applies to economic migrants, who seek to enter the country not the proper way, through the immigration system, but by either sneaking through the desert or climbing over or under the fences, and when caught they lie and say they’re fleeing violence. They come like thieves and robbers, to steal social services they didn’t pay for, to steal time, attention, and care away from legitimate asylum seekers, to steal jobs from Americans at wages lower than Americans are legally allowed to work.

            The metaphor is apt, and nothing here is blasphemous. I’m using the same metaphor Jesus did because it’s so simple and obvious it should require no explanation, and yet here we are.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            @Conrad

            Yes, here we are, when opportunistic pseudo-Christians like you won’t hesitate to use any mental contortions, no matter how tortured, implausible, and anachronistic, to make Scripture say exactly and only what they want to hear. This is what Buttigieg was talking about in the quote you posted, and he’s 100% correct.

            No, I’m not saying you’re explicitly lying. You’ve probably deceived yourself too thoroughly for that to be necessary.

            The USA is not the Kingdom of God. Jesus didn’t preach in order to supply you with political prooftexts. Jesus’ warning against false prophets was not meant as an excuse for you to deny your responsibility to the poor.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What about my responsibility to the poor Americans whose jobs are taken by illegals? What about my responsibility to the poor Americans whose neighborhoods are taken over by hostile foreigners? What about my responsibility to poor Americans whose social services are diverted to foreigners? What about my responsibility to Americans murdered by people who broke the law to come here? What about my responsibility to not support endeavors that funnel money to cartels that butcher people in Mexico? What about my responsibility to poor asylum seekers denied their day in court because the system is flooded with lying illegal aliens? I’m pretty sure Jesus did not call on me to screw over the group of poor people I have greater responsibility to by ignoring or subverting the law in favor of a different group of poor people I have less responsibility towards. Tell me, who will speak for the poor Americans? Who will help them? Not their own government, apparently. Not the elite in their own nation. Will the government of Guatemala care for the poor Americans as the US government is expected to care for the Guatemalans?

            And don’t call me a pseudo-Christian.

            ETA:

            Jesus didn’t preach in order to supply you with political prooftexts.

            Will you tell that to Buttigieg? I didn’t start with the injection of my religion into politics. He did, and he’s wrong about it.

      • Hell has open borders.

        Apparently not.

  19. Tom Chivers says:

    This sort-of-obituary for Christopher Booker, the former Private Eye editor and latterly Sunday Telegraph columnist, reminds me somewhat of Muggeridge and Chronicles of Wasted Time: the scion of liberalism turning against liberalism

    (I don’t know enough about Muggeridge to say if the parallels are deep; apparently MM was Booker’s mentor in some ways. Booker spent his latter years loudly decrying expert knowledge without any real knowledge of his own – on climate, Europe, smoking, evolution. I don’t know the extent to which MM did that.)

    Anyway I thought it might be of mild interest.

    T

  20. Plumber says:

    After my last post on the subject of “Antifa” I came across Conservatives Conjure Up Liberal Support for Antifa Violence
    Despite trawling social media, conservative publications found scant evidence that mainstream commentators approved of an attack on a journalist
    in The Atlantic Monthly which in part read:

    “….What Rosas’s and Morse’s responses ignore is that even the prominent liberals quoted in their own articles condemned the attack.

    There’s a reason the Daily Caller and company couldn’t find much evidence of liberal support for antifa: Despite the right’s effort to affix the term leftist to everyone from Joe Biden to Chairman Mao, there’s a vast ideological gulf between mainstream American liberals and antifa, an anarchist group that justifies its violence by rejecting the legitimacy of the state. Historically, in fact, the revolutionary left has loathed liberals, who generally support the reform—not the overthrow—of existing political and economic institutions. Which helps explain why many of the journalists antifa has attacked aren’t conservatives at all…”

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised to read an equivalent story of “liberals”/”left” ascribing views to “those conservatives”/”the right” that are equally uncommon. 

    I’m reminded of the recent post of @albatross11 where he shares the polling results that show that “Most Americans with a political side (Republican or Democrat) significantly overestimate how extreme the other side’s average views are”.

    Today isn’t the 1860’s or even the 1970’s, actual advocates for political violence are just plain extremely rare.

    • Aapje says:

      I saw a lot of victim blaming, though. When liberals or those they sympathize with are victim blamed, they seem to generally regard that as support for doing the harm.

      It’s not surprising that some/many conservatives then adopt the same reasoning, if only because not doing so makes them weaker in the culture war.

      Today isn’t the 1860’s or even the 1970’s, actual advocates for political violence are just plain extremely rare.

      Quite a few people present escalations of violence against their opposition as self-defense or as not being violence, though.

    • Deiseach says:

      Despite the right’s effort to affix the term leftist to everyone from Joe Biden to Chairman Mao, there’s a vast ideological gulf between mainstream American liberals and antifa

      I am quite happy to accept this. I just wish the same was promoted in the other direction:

      Despite the left’s effort to affix the term rightist to everyone from Larry Hogan to Adolf Hitler, there’s a vast ideological gulf between mainstream conservatives and fascists

      I think the Atlantic piece is more driven by journalists being in high dudgeon over being called out for hypocrisy (how dare you say we liberals and fellow-professionals did not strongly condemn an attack on a journalist! Even if he wasn’t a real journalist, and besides he holds the wrong opinions, and it doesn’t count that he’s a minority because Asians are coded white and being gay in his case is the cis type of gay which is the wrong type of gay nowadays…) than anything else.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I don’t know anything about Ngo and had never heard of him before this incident. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he was doing anything to incite the attack on him beyond filming, which is sort of the thing journalists do. We hear endlessly from the media about Trump allegedly inciting violence against the media (which I would characterize as “criticizing them back when they unfairly criticize him”). When Jim Acosta had his press credentials pulled, Fox News issued a statement in protest and I believe joined in on the lawsuit to get them reinstated. But when Ngo gets actually assaulted an awful lot of blue checkmarks did the whole “this is bad but he kind of had it coming” thing. Which tells me it’s not really about inciting violence against the media, it’s about whose media is getting violence incited against it.

        • dick says:

          I don’t know anything about Ngo and had never heard of him before this incident. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he was doing anything to incite the attack on him beyond filming, which is sort of the thing journalists do.

          I live in Portland, and while I don’t follow this super-closely, I think it would be fair to say that there is a small group of “right-wing protesters” and an opposing and equally small group of “antifa protesters” who have been skirmishing, IRL and online, for a year or two, with Ngo being part of or associated with the former. The spate of scuffles that have been happening here recently have a lot to do with the specific people involved, but have very little to do with Liberals and Conservatives generally.

          The idea that antifa is representative of the left is just as absurd as the idea that the Proud Boys are representative of the right. I mean, each of them works really hard to get their message out and get people to show up at their rallies, and each of them winds up with a couple hundred people, most of whom just gawk, every time. That’s pretty good proof that their views are not popular within their respective tribes.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Ngo is not “part of” the Proud Boys, and he’s only “associated with” them in as much as he’s given antifa negative coverage. It’s true that when the Proud Boys and antifa skirmish, there’s a measure of mutual combat. That isn’t true of Ngo. Yet when antifa beats up Ngo, the wagons are circled in defense of antifa. To me this indicates that while antifa may not be representative, they or their actions are at least popular.

          • Plumber says:

            @The Nybbler

            “….their actions are at least popular”

            In remembering how the same bunch and modus operandi were really hated in 2011 I find it hard to fathom that they suddenly became popular.

          • dick says:

            Yet when antifa beats up Ngo, the wagons are circled in defense of antifa. To me this indicates that while antifa may not be representative, they or their actions are at least popular.

            I think you’re confusing people on the left defending Antifa with people on the left defending the left. Imagine the Proud Boys beat up some liberal, and we were having the same conversation, but in reverse. If I said, “Man, those guys who beat that guy up are jerks,” I’m guessing you’d agree. But if I said, “…and that’s just more evidence that conservativism is a violent ideology,” you’d object. And then I could say you’re circling the wagons, etc, etc.

          • quanta413 says:

            with Ngo being part of or associated with the former.

            Andy ngo has much relation to militant rightists as George Bush has to Hitler.

            You’re repeating his opponents smears without pointing out that they’re blatantly false.

      • Nick says:

        I am quite happy to accept this. I just wish the same was promoted in the other direction:

        Despite the left’s effort to affix the term rightist to everyone from Larry Hogan to Adolf Hitler, there’s a vast ideological gulf between mainstream conservatives and fascists

        +1

      • Plumber says:

        @Deiseach, 
        On the tendency to “call out” out-group wackos and cite them as examples of said out-group, your quite right, i.e. as informative as some of Paul Krugman’s columns are, he also keeps on a drumbeat of “No the Republicans don’t have a difference of opinions of what’s best, they’re just greedy racists rant rave grumble mumble fume see this example….!”

        A term for this tendency of citing some wackjob as an example of many [outgroup] is “Nutpicking”, and I’m noticing it more. 

        This isn’t helped by another tendency I noticed of “reverse motte-and-bailey” or “Tony Blair sings ‘The Red Flag'” i.e. Sanders and “socialism” and “We need a political revolution!”, when what’s actually being asked for isn’t storming the Winter Palace but instead the no tuition college that my Mom’s generation had.

        There’s just some political cosplay going on, both of claiming that Democrats are the Cheka or Republicans are the Gestapo, and of claiming oneself to be far more radical than one is, in another thread @Matt M aluded to the tendency of “property is theft” vs. “taxation is theft” rhetoric when the actual discussion is a few percentage points of the top marginal income tax, which brings me to “antifa”.

        I first heard the label “antifa” from a Trump supporting co-worker he cited as an example of “the Left”, and it didn’t take much research to figure out that they were likely the same self-proclaimed “revolutionary anarchists” that called themselves the “black bloc” a few years ago, and were much decried back then, that are basically a tiny group of window smashing ex-punk rockers, who now get to schedule fistfights with self-proclaimed “nationalist” ex-punk rockers and both cosplay Weimar republic Left vs. Right street fights as a step up from the ‘Peace Punks’ and ‘Skins’ fights of the ’80’s, hardly 1930’s Spain.

        As to The Atlantic Monthly article, I read that there was “widespread media excusing of Antifa’s actions”, but nope – the first I heard about any of that was a comment here at SSC, so hardly “widespread”, and a couple bloggers are hardly “The Press”.

        Sometimes (as in the Covington schoolboys D.C. kerfluffle) this kind of niche crap does briefly become “widespread news”, but not this time.

        I wish Newsweek and Time magazine were still displayed at gas stations so I had a better idea of what’s “widespread news”, but until then radio and T.V. news seem a good indication of what’s niche and not, and yeah most of internet “news” doesn’t become water cooler talk, call me extremely doubtful of any Orson Scott Card’s Empire second civil war scenerios, and I don’t even think the 1970’s scale of political violence will come back anytime soon, marginalized groups of marginal people have always been around, internet attention of them doesn’t mean that they’re more of them.

        • Deiseach says:

          “Tony Blair sings ‘The Red Flag’” i.e. Sanders and “socialism”

          I actually wouldn’t mind Tony Blair singing The Red Flag (I have old-school Old Labour sympathies), I simply don’t know if he ever did sing it – or if he did, was it like John Redwood’s (the then Tory Secretary of State for Wales) much-mocked attempt to ‘sing’ Land of My Fathers in 1993?

          Some cursory Googling reveals Blair hated The Red Flag as a symbol of everything New Labour had dumped and left behind, tried and finally succeeded in getting it banned/dropped during his stint in office, it came back briefly in a tidied-up ‘properly sung‘ (ahem) version for the 2011 party conference and it only really came back under Corbyn – so a bad analogy there!

          • Plumber says:

            @Deiseach,
            I had thought that even “New Labour” still sang “the Red Flag” once a year as a ritual.

            Thanks for the correction,

        • Aapje says:

          Covington had nothing to do with antifa.

          • albatross11 says:

            No, but it had a lot of blue-checkmark journalists from high-profile publications beclowning themselves in public.

          • Plumber says:

            I was citing the Covington schoolboys kerfluffle as an example of an “internet story” that did become an on the radio story in contrast to anything Antifa related, which I don’t think has really reached mainstream news (ABC, CBS, NBC) yet.

    • J Mann says:

      Yeah, most liberals sort of disapprove of beating up random conservative journalists, particularly then the people doing the beating are white and the people getting beaten are of color, but:

      – Not many are interested in stopping it (say, by encouraging police departments to protect conservatives or supporting laws making masks illegal).

      – Many of them think there are so many bigger problems that they basically “all lives matter” the issue – there isn’t that many antifa attacks and we have bigger problems, so let’s cluck our tongues and let antifa keep attacking people.

      • albatross11 says:

        J Mann:

        How do you know what most liberals think on this issue? Do you have polling data you can link to?

        The most extreme voices are the ones getting massively amplified right now, largely due to the need for clickbait headlines and algorithms that are optimized for increasing engagement. It’s quite possible that 90%+ of liberals think these guys are whackjobs who belong in jail, and yet that 90% of the liberals you see on Twitter or on the Web generally are cheering the antifas on.

        • Deiseach says:

          I don’t know, albatross11, all I know is that Vox found it necessary to put out an explainer setting us all straight about how it wasn’t what it appeared to be:

          In footage captured by Portland-based reporter Jim Ryan, demonstrators douse Ngo in milkshake, punch him, and yell at him. In short, it looks a lot like an unprovoked, unjustified, reprehensible assault on an observer — a journalist — merely because the protesters don’t like him.

          But the aftermath of the attack — the narratives both sides have spun out of the basic facts established by the footage — is much trickier to assess.

          Note that it isn’t an ” this is” attack, it’s a “looks like” attack. Great! Now the next time some thug beats up a black or gay person, can we get “yeah, that only looks like some right-wing fascist is beating them up for being black or gay”? Yes?

          I put the responsibility on the Mayor of Portland, who seems to have instructed the police to just stand there with their hands hanging and let antifa do whatever the hell they like in previous stunts; this is simply the fruit of such a policy.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Can confirm that the Mayor of Portland is very woke and it’s extremely hard to get laws enforced unless the victim is the right kind of person. Heroin needles on public property, or in a low-income person’s yard? De facto legal. Throwing trash in the Mayor’s yard? Very illegal.

          • albatross11 says:

            This tells us what Vox’s writers think, but not what the average liberal or progressive thinks.

            IMO, the city letting this crap continue is the political version of the “picking up nickels in front of a steamroller” financial strategy. Most of the time, nothing really bad happens and the mayor gets a small benefit for the police’s “restraint.” Eventually, someone’s going to get killed, or the opposition will bring guns and there will be a bunch of killings, and then it will blow up catastrophically in the city government’s face.

        • J Mann says:

          @albatross11

          How do you know what most liberals think on this issue? Do you have polling data you can link to?

          Sorry, I should have put an IMHO in there. It was shorthand for “most liberals with whom I have discussed the issue or read” (which is several liberals)”, coupled with my general model, which is:

          1) People are generally lukewarm good when they think about it and it doesn’t cost them anything, so I am comfortable assuming that most liberals vaguely think that people shouldn’t be attacked for being in Portland, even for (somehow) being in Portland in a provocative manner.

          2) I’m also pretty comfortable assuming that most liberals won’t do anything to limit or reduce antifa, because I think I would notice if they were. Maybe they would vote for anti-mask laws if they were proposed, but I doubt it.

          So I’m pulliing it from my butt, but I’m still relatively confident that I’m right. 😉

          • pansnarrans says:

            I think most people won’t do anything to limit or reduce anything they disapprove of, short of very personal, cheap and safe actions like voting, recycling, and arguing on the internet (which is probably counterproductive a lot of the time). Self included.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          The most extreme voices are the ones getting massively amplified right now, largely due to the need for clickbait headlines and algorithms that are optimized for increasing engagement. It’s quite possible that 90%+ of liberals think these guys are whackjobs who belong in jail, and yet that 90% of the liberals you see on Twitter or on the Web generally are cheering the antifas on.

          What are these 90% who think these guys are whackjobs doing? If they’re just tutting about it and then getting on with their lives, or saying “They should be in jail” when asked by a pollster and then giving the issue no more thought, describing them as “not interested in stopping it” seems reasonable enough to me.

        • Plumber says:

          @albatross11,
          Once again I post a link to:
          The Democratic
          Electorate on Twitter
          Is Not the Actual
          Democratic Electorate

          Twittered are not reflective of a majority of Americans, and certainly not of Democratic Party voters as “Twittercrats” are on average younger, more college educated, and whiter than most Democrats.

          They reflect a subset.

      • dick says:

        I’m a liberal, I think antifa are generally twits, and yet I also think a law against masks is a terrible idea.

        • quanta413 says:

          If you’re not a fan of anti-mask laws, does that include wanting to repeal the anti-mask laws created to fight the KKK?

          Anti-mask laws are not a bad idea. Not obviously good either, but I think probably good narrowly applied.

          • dick says:

            You’re free to support anti-mask laws, and you’re free to be against antifa. What you can’t do is claim that people who are against anti-mask laws must not want to stop antifa, which you did when you said, “Not many [liberals] are interested in stopping [antifa] (say, by … supporting laws making masks illegal).”

          • quanta413 says:

            You’ve mistaken me for someone else, since I didn’t say that or you’ve responded to the wrong thread. I think the second more likely since you didn’t respond to my question.

          • Unsaintly says:

            Leftist here: Yeah, I am totally in favor of repealing anti-mask laws that were created to fight the KKK. Anti-mask laws are a terrible idea. I strongly disagree with your assertion that they can be probably good, or are at least not bad.

    • John Schilling says:

      “….What Rosas’s and Morse’s responses ignore is that even the prominent liberals quoted in their own articles condemned the attack.

      That’s nice. Now tell me about the prominent blue-state mayors and police chiefs who deployed police officers to stop the attacks, as opposed to stopping the other side from holding the speeches, etc, that were “inciting” the attacks. Tell me about the blue-state district attorneys who, when a clear case of antifa violence is dropped in their laps, seek more than a slap on the wrist.

      I am unimpressed by opinion polling that basically just asks people whether they want to give the obvious virtue-signalling answer to questions like this. Liberals all love their country, or at least they say they do if you ask them on the 4th of July, and conservatives all oppose racism and yes progressives all deplore political violence. Just ask them, and they’ll tell you. And most of them are telling the truth, in the sense that they e.g. hold the abstract preference that antifa should not beat people up. But do they care enouh to lift a finger and actually DO anything about it? Even to speak out against it without being prompted and put on the spot? Some will, some won’t, but either way that’s a question worth asking.

      If it’s their actual job to do something about it, saying that you deplore political violence constitutes praising with the faintest of damns. And we live in a sufficiently cynical society that the politically violent will read it that way.

      • Plumber says:

        @John Schilling,
        I don’t know about your town, but during the 2011 “Occupy” protests the ‘black bloc’ window smashers were very much decried in Oakland, California, and how our Mayor handled (and didn’t handle) that mess was a big reason she wasn’t re-elected.

        As for professor Clanton, yeah he should’ve had a harsher sentence, stuff like that is why me and my wife got a house just north of Berkeley instead of inside city limits, we decided that policing was insufficient there back in ’92.

        • John Schilling says:

          the ‘black bloc’ window smashers were very much decried in Oakland, California, and how our Mayor handled (and didn’t handle) that mess was a big reason she wasn’t re-elected.

          I don’t doubt it, but the original post was about what prominent liberals think about Antifa et al. The mayor of Oakland is a prominent liberal. The various Oakland citizens who were fed up with the window-smashing, may have been liberal but don’t have prominence.

          At least they still have the franchise, and it sounds like they used it wisely.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Liberals all love their country, or at least they say they do if you ask them on the 4th of July

        Well, at least Salon is consistent on this one. Not even on the Fourth of July.

        • Deiseach says:

          Well, at least Salon is consistent on this one. Not even on the Fourth of July.

          I’m beginning to wonder if pieces like that aren’t the secular equivalent of the Christmas-and-Easter stories about “This will SHOCK AND APPALL YOU! Tehre was no Star of Bethlehem/We’ve found the tomb of Jesus/the three wise men were not kings but astrologers and there probably weren’t three of them anyway/A LOST GOSPEL DEVASTATES THE VATICAN AND EXPLODES CHRISTIANITY!!!!” we get every year like clockwork. (Do I really need to explain that the author’s notes beneath the video are absolute porridge and Not Really So?)

          After all, religion as a punching bag has lost a lot of its appeal since people are less religious and it has lost much social influence and power, so the ‘bold defiance of established orthodoxy’ frisson can only come now from challenging the civic orthodoxy – but make sure it’s the right orthodoxy to attack (‘patriotism bad’) not the wrong one (‘there are only two genders despite what a tiny minority claim’).

      • albatross11 says:

        The people actually not doing their job w.r.t. the head-breaking at political rallies (mayor, police chief, DA) are responsible for a lot of the harm being done. I hope the voters make it clear to those folks that head-breaking thugs at political rallies aren’t acceptable. I’ve seen news coverage of a bunch of incidents in Portland that look like the mayor is broadly on board with these masked thugs doing whatever they want, but I don’t know how representative of reality that is.

        • Deiseach says:

          I agree there. If the Proud Boys or whomever are cracking skulls (as distinct from simply marching and being gobshites) then they should get hauled in. Same with the antifa/Black Bloc if they crack skulls, throw milkshakes, and take it upon themselves to divert traffic.

          One of these groups getting thrown into the paddy wagon but not the other is just making things worse. Be equally lenient or equally ‘this is police brutality!’ but don’t take sides so obviously.

        • Nick says:

          Right; several quasi-defenses of antifa I’ve been seeing are of the form “they have to be there because of the far-right, sometimes violent, demonstrators.” It would seem both sides agree, at least implicitly, that the local police are fracking useless.

      • albatross11 says:

        In cities where the police don’t let this crap go on, we hear about an occasional violent protest or riot, but not the pattern that appears to be going on in Portland. But I’ll note that black-clad masked antifas don’t seem to be kicking the shit out of journalists filming them in Washington DC or NYC or Chicago too often.

        In fact, showing up at a political protest dressed up in your own uniform and then busting heads is a strategy that only works when the police are inclined to back off and let you do it. Otherwise, you just all get arrested before the protest starts on some kind of bullshit incitement charge, and they let you go the next day with no charges, but with your names and fingerprints on file. Or they watch your group carefully and as soon as someone starts a fight, a dozen riot cops show up and arrest him, dealing with resistance from the other black-clad thugs by bringing in more and better-armed thugs of their own.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Beinart is basically lying. Warzel of the New York Times said (in several tweets)

      Thread from a great journalist who routinely embeds w/ hate groups. This doesn’t discount that the situation is fucked and that violence should be unacceptable. But there are also serious risks involved with putting yourself in volatile situations. Any journalist should know that

      Also: this whole event should be seen through the context of what it is…an information war. A number of people who go to these protests are looking for fights or to document them. they’re all livestreaming. When tensions boil over, it’s meant to be ammunition for a culture war

      it’s not ‘both sides-ing’ to note that both parties…& many of the ppl who cover them (journalists, provacateurs, activists) know what’s going on. They know the risks & they know how it can be weaponized. Which is why talking about this like it’s a 20th century protest is stupid

      anyhow can’t wait for my ratio

      Yes, he gives lip service to violence being unacceptable. “But” it’s right before a “but”. Louis CK used to have a signature line which was “Of course, but MAYBE“, and that’s what Warzel is doing here. “Of course violence is wrong, BUT MAYBE this guy had it coming”.

      Then you’ve got stuff like this which slyly implies Ngo provoked the attack.

      Also, consider the source; Beinart is a professor at CUNY, which is itself at least sympathetic to left-wing violence.

      • Plumber says:

        @The Nybbler,
        That’s a good point, if I remember “Days of Rage” correctly that fates of the terrorists of the 1970’s really diverged with collegiate credentials, some of the terrorists got long sentences or death, others got short sentences and tenure.

        • dndnrsn says:

          That’s pretty much how I remember it, having read the book two or three years back.

      • dick says:

        I think Warzel is basically right, and you’re misinterpreting him. He’s not justifying violence. He’s saying, both sides are trolling each other and trying to generate narratives about how bad the other side is, and in this case the right did it better. If the Proud Boys had busted the eye of someone from the left, we’d currently be going through a round of “Has conservative violence gone too far?” in the national media, rather than the opposite.

        Am I saying Ngo wanted to get kicked in the face? Of course not, you can die from that if you’re unlucky, no one would. But the whole reason all those people were out there yelling at each other in the first place was to make something like this happen.

        • Plumber says:

          My initial reaction to briefly viewing a story of an “antifa vs. nationalists” fight in Berkeley (me and my wife could actually hear a helicopter circling around the “event” for hours from our house) was that “Well I guess it’s consensual head smashing of each other, it would be nice if they didn’t block public walkways and maybe kept their fighting inside an auditorium and sold tickets to finance it”, it really did sound to me like a 1980’s “mosh-pit”, where some just wanted to fight each other out of their desire to “punch a commie/punch a nazi”.

          Maybe designated “Thunderdomes” are called for?.

          But yeah, these “fight clubs” really should be broken up before more bystanders get caught in the crossfire.

          • albatross11 says:

            If the police beat you up for taking pictures of them, I want those policemen off the force and in jail. If random protesters beat you up for taking pictures of them, I similarly want them in jail.

          • Plumber says:

            @albatross11
            I agree, and it does seem to me that going masked should equal “probable cause”.

            I don’t know much about Portland today, but in Oakland 2011 the police really were between “a rock and a hard place” caught between orders to “stop the property destruction” and “don’t be brutal”, but at least then it was kinda obvious who was going to break windows, the masks were a “tell”.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            One of the Popehat bloggers who lives in the Carolinas tweeted

            “When southern states finally got serious about the Klan, the first thing they banned was gatherings of masked cowards.”

  21. Epistemic_Ian says:

    I have a question about an old essay Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote. I’m not sure where to ask it, so I’m asking it here. If anyone can direct me to a better place to ask it, I’d very much appreciate it.

    Anyhow, the piece in question is called ’FAQ about the Meaning of Life’. It’s about 20 years old, and some parts of it are very similar to what I independently came up with a few years ago.

    This piece is listed as “wrong, obsolete, deprecated by an improved version, or just plain old”. Since Yudkowsky has had 20 years to think about this, I want to know how his thoughts have changed, and if there’s anything more recent which he’s written on the subject (section 2.5, ‘What is the meaning of life?’, in particular).

    Can anyone direct me to the best representation (i.e. a more recent essay) of Yudkowsky’s current thoughts on the subject of this FAQ (esp. section 2.5), and/or how those thoughts have changed over the past two decades?

    • Viliam says:

      These things seem to me like something Yudkowsky would obviously disagree with today:

      “Can an AI, starting from a blank-slate goal system, reason to any nonzero goals? [blah blah, yes]”

      “How can I live my present life in such a way as to promote the Singularity? Rich: Make seed funding or venture capital investments in technology companies, especially information technology, neurotech, network-based supercomputing, advanced search engines (especially collaborative filtering), new programming tools, and AI. Sponsor computer-programming classes for Welfare recipients.”

      …and generally, the tone of the article how “Singularity” is the awesome thing, and the assumption that it will result in things better than humans (whether those will be our descendants, or our replacement).

      Instead, Yudkowsky today would say that an awesome technical achievement has a potential to kill humanity (e.g. gray goo); the superhuman artificial intelligence will likely exterminate humanity (not because it hates you, but because you are made of atoms it can use for something else); if you instead augment human intelligence, there is a chance it will create an imbalance and the augmented humans will become crazy (somewhat related: Algernon’s Law), and therefore… we must be really really careful to make sure the glorious future will actually be good… as opposed to humanity exterminating itself, or creating a machine that takes over the universe, exterminating humans and potential alien intelligences as a side effect.

      Thus, the recommendation for the “rich” would be to support AI safety research (and reducing other existential risks), rather than going full speed ahead.

      And the part about AI deriving its goals from blank-slate system… Yudkowsky today would probably just call it confused thinking. (See “No Universally Compelling Arguments“, “Created Already In Motion“.)

      Not sure what would be the best link, but “Yudkowsky’s Coming of Age” is the text where he criticizes his former opinions. It may not include a specific answer to your question, but it describes the general change in perspective.

      • Lambert says:

        > blank-slate goal system

        What does that mean?
        All the research on ML and AI starts with a goal, then trains the algorithm to do that.
        I’d expect an AI sans goal to just be an overcomplex RNG.

  22. Atlas says:

    In the New York Times profile of Democratic presidential candidates, it seemed like half or so cited Abraham Lincoln as their hero. Is Lincoln’s reputation as a brilliant statesman deserved?

    I would argue that it is not, and that, while institutional/political/historical constraints might make it illogical to condemn Lincoln individually, he did not handle the secession crisis wisely. The secession of the southern states did not pose a threat to the remaining US, and thus I would argue that it is indeed accurate of southerners to describe the American Civil War as an imperial war of aggression on the part of the US. The states that seceded did so at the behest of the elected representatives of their citizens, much as the US seceded from the British empire. I do not believing that “reunifying” a country against the will of the people living in separatist areas is a legitimate basis for war; to take a contemporary example, I would condemn the Assad government in Syria for attempting to maintain the rule of the Damascus government through invasion of rebellious Sunni areas. Therefore, the contention that Lincoln “saved the country” by invading and occupying polities that wished to secede strikes me as fallacious.

    There is also the claim that Lincoln freed the slaves. This is accurate, and indeed a worthy achievement, but I don’t think that it justifies his reputation as a model statesman. Slavery was abolished in every other country in the Americas by the end of the 19th century without war. I think that steps short of war should have at least been tried before invading the CSA, and I think that they very well might have succeeded. That is to say, what if the Lincoln administration had allowed 7-11 southern states to secede, but then had subsidized a large-scale Upperground Railroad, produced a constant stream of anti-slavery literature/advocacy, sanctioned/boycotted goods made with slave labor, etc.? It seems at least possible to me that such non-violent policies could have fatally undermined slavery as an institution by making it unpopular/unprofitable, especially considering that, as mentioned previously, other countries like Cuba and Brazil with large slave populations abolished slavery by the end of the 19th century without civil wars.

    • Erusian says:

      The secession of the southern states did not pose a threat to the remaining US, and thus I would argue that it is indeed accurate of southerners to describe the American Civil War as an imperial war of aggression on the part of the US.

      I suppose it can be argued the Confederacy never successfully invaded the North. This is mostly because the North put them on the back foot though. The opening stages of violent conflict were not Fort Sumter: they were the Confederates massacring pro-Union communities and supporters in their putative states. The earliest battles of the war were actually these southerners fighting other southerners. The first battles where Union forces engaged Confederates were defensive actions against actions where the Confederates attempted to attack Union loyalists in Appalachia. Surrounding Union states and the military fought alongside these white pro-Union forces.

      So yes, the Union could have let all their supporters in any Southern state (as far north as the tip of West Virginia) get massacred and let the South fire on Federal troops without response. Maybe the South (which had stolen significant Federal property, including military weapons) would have stopped at the borders. But from the Northern point of view, secessionist rebels were killing loyal Americans in what was American territory. If the Confederates had refrained from doing so, perhaps the Union army wouldn’t have invaded as early as it did.

      The states that seceded did so at the behest of the elected representatives of their citizens, much as the US seceded from the British empire.

      False. While some did so, others seceded despite losing the vote. Secession was highly controversial and faced significant legal challenges from loyalists who pointed out the Secession Convention was a new political procedure that no one had agreed to. The North, meanwhile, pointed out that there had never been such a procedure and the states had agreed to a perpetual union.

      The Continental Congress, meanwhile, was arguably an illegal organization but it was following a format that had been used before. The British didn’t even try to claim the Congress was illegitimate as a Congress: they claimed it was treasonous because it was rebelling, not because it existed.

      Also, keep in mind, the British started the war with the Proclamation of Rebellion. They had forces in the United States seeking to occupy territory and disarm inhabitants. The United States did nothing nearly so provocative to the Confederacy. Likewise, the fighting started only after the British declared war in the Proclamation of Rebellion. This action was considered so provocative that British commanders on the ground quietly didn’t fully enforce it because they believed it would provoke a shooting war. In other words, no shooting war existed at the time. The shooting war started when the British went on an expedition to disarm locals and shot some local militia in the process.

      The Congress then sent a petition asking for an end to the war. And the British doubled down on the whole, “No, we’re at war and you’re all traitors” thing. Only after that did the Americans declare independence as a war aim.

      I do not believing that “reunifying” a country against the will of the people living in separatist areas is a legitimate basis for war; to take a contemporary example, I would condemn the Assad government in Syria for attempting to maintain the rule of the Damascus government through invasion of rebellious Sunni areas. Therefore, the contention that Lincoln “saved the country” by invading and occupying polities that wished to secede strikes me as fallacious.

      So you believe states do not have a right to maintain their territorial integrity, regardless of where the state draws legitimacy from? Is there any limit to this principle, or can I buy some land, declare independence, and not have to pay income tax in exchange for having to pay tariffs?

      Slavery was abolished in every other country in the Americas by the end of the 19th century without war.

      No. While some countries abolished slavery without violence many did not. Plus there’s the question of what you count colonialism as: when Italy invades Somaliland, executes a bunch of Somalis, and declares the slaves free, was that without violence? If you say yes, how about rebellions in Puerto Rico or the civil war in Cuba? Or the violent suppression of the Circassian trade by the Young Turks that was combined with a package of other violent measures?

      I think that steps short of war should have at least been tried before invading the CSA, and I think that they very well might have succeeded. That is to say, what if the Lincoln administration had allowed 7-11 southern states to secede, but then had subsidized a large-scale Upperground Railroad, produced a constant stream of anti-slavery literature/advocacy, sanctioned/boycotted goods made with slave labor, etc.? It seems at least possible to me that such non-violent policies could have fatally undermined slavery as an institution by making it unpopular/unprofitable, especially considering that, as mentioned previously, other countries like Cuba and Brazil with large slave populations abolished slavery by the end of the 19th century without civil wars.

      They were. In particular, many loyalist slave owners received some form of compensation. Many states successfully abolished it locally through attrition and making it unprofitable. In fact, New York abolished slavery partly because one of the Founding Fathers (a financier) managed to manipulate the market and use regulations so that holding slaves was less profitable than free labor. Prior to being a Founding Father, that’s what he was known for. And for being obscenely wealthy.

      They did not work in the South because the South was dominated by slaveholders. Laws were put in place to encourage slavery even when not as profitable. When they faced the prospect of a more moderate abolition, they rebelled. Had they not rebelled, they might have formed a Senate majority with pro-Union Democrats. They would have still been outnumbered by abolitionists but, had they remained, could have undoubtedly got more favorable terms than they did. The Radical Republicans would have been much more fringe than they were without the war.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        False. While some did so, others seceded despite losing the vote. Secession was highly controversial and faced significant legal challenges from loyalists who pointed out the Secession Convention was a new political procedure that no one had agreed to. The North, meanwhile, pointed out that there had never been such a procedure and the states had agreed to a perpetual union.

        The Declaration of Independence is quite clear that people have a right to rebellion, so either the “perpetual union” would have to carry the implicit proviso “unless the government becomes tyrannical”, or it would contradict its citizens’ inalienable rights, something which it would have no authority to do.

        Also, keep in mind, the British started the war with the Proclamation of Rebellion. They had forces in the United States seeking to occupy territory and disarm inhabitants. The United States did nothing nearly so provocative to the Confederacy. Likewise, the fighting started only after the British declared war in the Proclamation of Rebellion. This action was considered so provocative that British commanders on the ground quietly didn’t fully enforce it because they believed it would provoke a shooting war. In other words, no shooting war existed at the time. The shooting war started when the British went on an expedition to disarm locals and shot some local militia in the process.

        Your chronology is a little off; the Proclamation of Rebellion was issued in response to news of the Battle of Bunker Hill. In other words, the fighting had started well before the Proclamation was made.

        The Congress then sent a petition asking for an end to the war. And the British doubled down on the whole, “No, we’re at war and you’re all traitors” thing. Only after that did the Americans declare independence as a war aim.

        Worth noting that Congress had already authorised an invasion of Canada before sending the Olive Branch Petition. IOW, “We’re at war and you’re traitors” was a perfectly reasonable way of viewing the situation.

        ETA: Also, if secessionism is ipso facto wrong, as many in the North argued in the run-up to the USCW, then it was still wrong when the colonials did it, whether or not the shooting had already broken out.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “No taxation without representation”, whereas the South seceded because they lost a single presidential election. The Revolutionary War was fought on the principle that democracy was necessary. It’s no good blaming the North for the South’s unwillingness to submit to democratic rule.

          If the South had, it would have taken the US far longer to abolish slavery. They wished to dictate whether new states would be slave states. The South could have prevented the abolishment of slavery in their own states simply by remaining in the Union.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            the South seceded because they lost a single presidential election.

            That was the trigger, but it clearly wasn’t the sole reason, any more than the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the sole reason for WW1 breaking out.

            The Revolutionary War was fought on the principle that democracy was necessary.

            Eh, kinda. It was fought on the principle that *representation* was necessary, but that’s not quite the same thing, and the Constitution deliberately included plenty of non-democratic features (Senators being chosen by state legislatures, Presidents being chosen by special Electors rather than the people as a whole), since it was considered that a democratic government would inevitably descend into anarchy and mob rule.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That’s the old line of “It’s a Republic, not a Democracy” which is just bullshitting about definitions.

            Seriously now.

        • Erusian says:

          The Declaration of Independence is quite clear that people have a right to rebellion, so either the “perpetual union” would have to carry the implicit proviso “unless the government becomes tyrannical”, or it would contradict its citizens’ inalienable rights, something which it would have no authority to do.

          No, the Declaration of Independence is quite clear that people have a right to alter or abolish the government. Since the United States is a democracy, there is a procedure to do that. Unlike the colonists who had no right to change the British government, the Southerners could have changed anything if they had the votes. They didn’t but that’s the system working. It was not ‘any armed militia can rebel for whatever they want’. George Washington himself forcibly suppressed rebellions.

          Also, the DoI is not a legal document.

          Your chronology is a little off; the Proclamation of Rebellion was issued in response to news of the Battle of Bunker Hill. In other words, the fighting had started well before the Proclamation was made.

          Correct-ish. My mistake was mixing up the Proclamation of Rebellion (which was issued on August 23rd, 1775) and earlier declarations that people, states, or organizations were in rebellion (which go back to 1774).

          Worth noting that Congress had already authorised an invasion of Canada before sending the Olive Branch Petition. IOW, “We’re at war and you’re traitors” was a perfectly reasonable way of viewing the situation.

          There are arguments for it being a reasonable interpretation, especially after 1775, sure. My point is to say that the Congress was relatively reluctant to declare independence: there was a formal declaration of war in August of 1775 and it took them until July of 1776 to declare independence. During that time, they still tried to seek a resolution that didn’t necessarily involve secession. This was not the case with the South.

          ETA: Also, if secessionism is ipso facto wrong, as many in the North argued in the run-up to the USCW, then it was still wrong when the colonials did it, whether or not the shooting had already broken out.

          The North didn’t argue that secession was ipso facto wrong. They argued that the South had no legal grounds to secede. They were objectively correct that the South had agreed to a perpetual union freely and without coercion, which was not true of the colonies.

          The fundamental question is where you believe a state derives its legitimacy. If you buy the American theory that uncoerced representatives make binding agreements in the name of their people, often in perpetuity, then the South has no case. If you believe all sources of legitimacy to be equal, or that the divine right of kings is at least equally as good, then yes they both did the same thing.

          • They were objectively correct that the South had agreed to a perpetual union freely and without coercion, which was not true of the colonies.

            I’m curious, not knowing much about the controversy. What act by representatives of the states constituted agreeing to a *perpetual* union?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No, the Declaration of Independence is quite clear that people have a right to alter or abolish the government. Since the United States is a democracy, there is a procedure to do that. Unlike the colonists who had no right to change the British government, the Southerners could have changed anything if they had the votes. They didn’t but that’s the system working. It was not ‘any armed militia can rebel for whatever they want’. George Washington himself forcibly suppressed rebellions.

            I dunno, if the country as a whole is hostile to your interests and shows no sign of becoming less so, I think it’s at least non-obvious that seceding would be wrong just because this hostility is expressed by democratically voting for laws that harm your interests.

            (ETA: And if the answer is “Well then, you should just do a better job of convincing the people to support your interests!”, then I don’t see why the answer to the rebellious colonists wouldn’t just be “Well then, you should just do a better job of convincing the King to support your cause!” In theory this should be the easier task, because they only have to convince one person (well, OK, they’d need to convince some important ministers as well, but still nowhere near 50% of the British population).)

            The North didn’t argue that secession was ipso facto wrong. They argued that the South had no legal grounds to secede.

            Andrew Jackson’s line about how saying that states have a right to secede is tantamount to saying that the US isn’t a real nation seems to imply that secession is ipso facto wrong if the people you’re seceding from are of the same nationality as yourself, or at least that’s how it’s always seemed to me. As for legal grounds, I’d be surprised if there were any legal grounds for British subjects to declare war against their sovereign.

            They were objectively correct that the South had agreed to a perpetual union freely and without coercion, which was not true of the colonies.

            Was there an explicit statement they signed up to saying that secession was forbidden? All the arguments about this I’ve seen have centred on the idea that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly authorise secession, which aside from being an argumentum ex silentio is also difficult to square with the Tenth Amendment.

            And again, it’s not obvious that sovereign governments can bind their successors in perpetuity; at any rate, there are plenty of legal theorists who would deny that they can, on the grounds that equals cannot bind other equals.

          • Erusian says:

            I’m curious, not knowing much about the controversy. What act by representatives of the states constituted agreeing to a *perpetual* union?

            The Articles of Confederation were explicitly perpetual, as were several other representations made at the birth of the country. The Constitution was meant to establish a more perfect union and had no procedures to exit. A union that is perpetual is more perfect than something that is temporary and the Founders considered the union (though not the Constitution) to be perpetual.

            Even the Confederates acknowledged this frame: they thought they were dissolving something perpetual, not that the union was a temporary measure they could exit as they please. In contract terms, the Confederacy saw itself as breaking a contract that had become so disadvantageous that whatever costs the Union sought would be worth it. But they agreed they were breaking the contract and even attempted to offer the Union compensation, acknowledging the North had legitimate interests that were damaged by Southern secession. The Union decided letting them out of the contract, under any circumstances, would be so damaging they needed to be forced to continue to bear the contract’s obligations.

            This is in contrast to the Revolution, where the British Crown claimed absolute power. They explicitly believed they could rewrite the contract however they wished whenever they wished. The colonies disagreed. In contrast, both the North and South agreed they had agreed to a Constitution that was fully legitimate. It was simply a matter of whether they could dissolve that prior agreement. The Union case was they had not agreed to any way to exit the obligations at the beginning and had made it explicitly perpetual. The Southern case was that the will of the people overrode this and allowed them to exit the contract, though it acknowledged they were breaking prior obligations and might need to compensate the North as a result.

            I dunno, if the country as a whole is hostile to your interests and shows no sign of becoming less so, I think it’s at least non-obvious that seceding would be wrong just because this hostility is expressed by democratically voting for laws that harm your interests.

            (ETA: And if the answer is “Well then, you should just do a better job of convincing the people to support your interests!”, then I don’t see why the answer to the rebellious colonists wouldn’t just be “Well then, you should just do a better job of convincing the King to support your cause!” In theory this should be the easier task, because they only have to convince one person (well, OK, they’d need to convince some important ministers as well, but still nowhere near 50% of the British population).)

            You’re missing the point. The Constitution was meant to give you the right to try under a preset set of rules, which the colonies did not have. It was not meant to be a guarantee of success. No political system can perpetually guarantee success to all factions. The Southerners indeed had the right to try under a pre-agreed set of rules, which was more than the colonists had.

            You can make the argument that isn’t sufficient, that people need exit rights. But that wasn’t the intent.

            Andrew Jackson’s line about how saying that states have a right to secede is tantamount to saying that the US isn’t a real nation seems to imply that secession is ipso facto wrong if the people you’re seceding from are of the same nationality as yourself, or at least that’s how it’s always seemed to me.

            Or it could be him pointing out a nation whose states can ignore its laws would mean it doesn’t exist. That’s how I took it. The United States could survive a state leaving. It couldn’t survive the precedent that political units can ignore the Constitution and Federal laws when it doesn’t suit them.

            As for legal grounds, I’d be surprised if there were any legal grounds for British subjects to declare war against their sovereign.

            There were, actually. There had been numerous successful rebellions in the colonies in the 17th century. For example, England sanctioned the rebellion against Andros, where the colonies rebelled against an appointed governor and jailed him. Meanwhile, back in England the right of elected representatives to determine, and even depose, the sovereign was already a thing.

            The Revolution actually turned on rather complex legal questions about colonial status, legal rights, and a variety of other topics. But the colonists absolutely had a legal case. So did the British, of course.

            Was there an explicit statement they signed up to saying that secession was forbidden? All the arguments about this I’ve seen have centred on the idea that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly authorise secession, which aside from being an argumentum ex silentio is also difficult to square with the Tenth Amendment.

            And again, it’s not obvious that sovereign governments can bind their successors in perpetuity; at any rate, there are plenty of legal theorists who would deny that they can, on the grounds that equals cannot bind other equals.

            See the response to Friedman. In order for the Constitution to only be the relevant document, you have to believe that the Constitution abolished all the agreements that preceded it. The burden is in the opposite direction: legally binding documents make secession forbidden, then the Constitution comes along and doesn’t allow it. Does the lack of explicitly forbidding it now make it legal?

            I’m not sure what legal theorists you’re referring to. The Constitution could be amended to allow secession, I suppose. But I’ve never heard anyone make a good faith argument a law shouldn’t apply because everyone who wrote it is dead. That would overturn not only the Constitution but many other laws. Would we start tracking all the people who authored the bill and make it invalid when the last person died? Or would we need a sunset provision on all laws so it isn’t perpetual? We have none of these things.

          • The Articles of Confederation were explicitly perpetual,

            Doesn’t that make the Constitution illegitimate, for the same reason you are arguing that secession was?

            The Constitution was meant to establish a more perfect union and had no procedures to exit. A union that is perpetual is more perfect than something that is temporary

            Why? A union that is perpetual is worse than one that is temporary if circumstances arise in which breaking up the union becomes a good thing and you can’t because it is perpetual. There is a rule against perpetuities in the Common Law —are you claiming the law would be more perfect if there was no such rule?

            and the Founders considered the union (though not the Constitution) to be perpetual.

            Possibly, but so far that’s pure assertion. They didn’t write it into the Constitution. Given that they had just terminated the Articles, which did include such a provision, that is at least suggestive.

            I don’t think you have provided any support for your claim that the South “had agreed to a perpetual union.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            This is in contrast to the Revolution, where the British Crown claimed absolute power. They explicitly believed they could rewrite the contract however they wished whenever they wished. The colonies disagreed.

            No, the British Crown claimed that its authority extended and had always extended to making rules for the colonies. Maybe this was right and maybe this was wrong, but the Crown believed that it was following the rules as they had stood, not making up new ones.

            You’re missing the point. The Constitution was meant to give you the right to try under a preset set of rules, which the colonies did not have. It was not meant to be a guarantee of success. No political system can perpetually guarantee success to all factions. The Southerners indeed had the right to try under a pre-agreed set of rules, which was more than the colonists had.

            Why isn’t “Petition the government, and if you’re successful they’ll do what you want, and if you aren’t they won’t” a “pre-set set of rules”?

            Meanwhile, back in England the right of elected representatives to determine, and even depose, the sovereign was already a thing.

            If that’s a reference to the Glorious Revolution, then no, the legal theory behind that was that James’ flight represented an abdication, and consequently he had ceased to be sovereign through his own actions.

            See the response to Friedman. In order for the Constitution to only be the relevant document, you have to believe that the Constitution abolished all the agreements that preceded it. The burden is in the opposite direction: legally binding documents make secession forbidden, then the Constitution comes along and doesn’t allow it. Does the lack of explicitly forbidding it now make it legal?

            As David Friedman said, if the Articles of Confederation are to be regarded as perpetual, then the US Constitution is illegitimate.

            I’m not sure what legal theorists you’re referring to. The Constitution could be amended to allow secession, I suppose. But I’ve never heard anyone make a good faith argument a law shouldn’t apply because everyone who wrote it is dead. That would overturn not only the Constitution but many other laws. Would we start tracking all the people who authored the bill and make it invalid when the last person died? Or would we need a sunset provision on all laws so it isn’t perpetual? We have none of these things.

            It’s not that laws cease to apply when everyone who wrote them dies, it’s that you can’t validly put on a bit saying “…and nobody’s ever allowed to repeal this!” At any rate, that’s the case in British jurisprudence, because each sitting of Parliament carries equal authority, whereas to forbid Parliament from repealing a law would imply that the body doing the forbidding has greater authority than Parliament. I believe the same principle is also found in canon law regarding the legal authority of popes, and it or something similar dates back to Roman times.

          • Erusian says:

            Doesn’t that make the Constitution illegitimate, for the same reason you are arguing that secession was?

            No, not at all. The Constitution, like the Articles of Confederation, could be replaced at any time and the union would still exist. The union is perpetual, the laws of the union are not.

            You seem to think the Constitution founded the country or that in the absence of a constitution the union would not exist or that the union derives its validity in some way from the Constitution. This is not the case. At least not legally. We celebrate July 4th, not September 17th.

            Why? A union that is perpetual is worse than one that is temporary if circumstances arise in which breaking up the union becomes a good thing and you can’t because it is perpetual. There is a rule against perpetuities in the Common Law —are you claiming the law would be more perfect if there was no such rule?

            Well, in this case I’m relaying the relevant decisions. You certainly could point out that the state has an interest in declaring that to be the case but that doesn’t change the fact that is legally what they said. Also, you’re misunderstanding the word ‘perfect’ which in context means ‘complete, total’ not ‘good, without flaw’. You would not have to prove a temporary union was better, you would have to argue a temporary union was more total and complete.

            Possibly, but so far that’s pure assertion. They didn’t write it into the Constitution. Given that they had just terminated the Articles, which did include such a provision, that is at least suggestive.

            They didn’t write any way to exit the Union into the Constitution either. If you want to look into specific rules about rebellion and secession, the debates around the Whiskey Rebellion and the Tariff of Abominations both had Founders engaging in their thoughts about rebellion against the United States and secession and what they thought they had made the rules.

            I don’t think you have provided any support for your claim that the South “had agreed to a perpetual union.”

            I have cited the relevant documents where they affixed their signatures agreeing to a perpetual union. I have shown that they were still considered to be in force and everyone acted as if they were, including the secessionists during the early stages of the Civil War. If that is insufficient, it is insufficient.

            No, the British Crown claimed that its authority extended and had always extended to making rules for the colonies. Maybe this was right and maybe this was wrong, but the Crown believed that it was following the rules as they had stood, not making up new ones.

            The British Crown and the colonies had been going back and forth about what rights colonists retained or lost since at least the mid-17th century. If the Americans retained all the rights of Englishmen, then the Crown could not make rules or set terms as arbitrarily as they did. The British position was that they had surrendered their rights by leaving England. The American position was that they had not. Which position was correct is a matter of interpretation.

            Why isn’t “Petition the government, and if you’re successful they’ll do what you want, and if you aren’t they won’t” a “pre-set set of rules”?

            To spell it out, the British claimed the right to revoke and replace colonial charters. This would be the equivalent of claiming the Constitution could be changed at any time without the consent of the governed. That was not the situation the South found itself in.

            As David Friedman said, if the Articles of Confederation are to be regarded as perpetual, then the US Constitution is illegitimate.

            The union is perpetual. The Constitution and Articles are not. Or do you believe we would become an entirely new country if we ratified (for example) the Equal Rights Amendment? Or that France became an entirely new country when it promulgated its latest Republic?

            It’s not that laws cease to apply when everyone who wrote them dies, it’s that you can’t validly put on a bit saying “…and nobody’s ever allowed to repeal this!” At any rate, that’s the case in British jurisprudence, because each sitting of Parliament carries equal authority, whereas to forbid Parliament from repealing a law would imply that the body doing the forbidding has greater authority than Parliament. I believe the same principle is also found in canon law regarding the legal authority of popes, and it or something similar dates back to Roman times.

            Sure. But you could say, for example, “there is no procedure to repeal this. Before you repeal this you must create the procedure to repeal this through the new procedure creation procedure.” Which is where we currently stand and also stood in 1860.

          • You would not have to prove a temporary union was better, you would have to argue a temporary union was more total and complete.

            You are the one claiming that ” in Order to form a more perfect Union” in the preamble implies that the union was to be perpetual, so the burden of proof is on you to show that a perpetual union is more perfect.

            But it occurs to me, reading the preamble, that even that wouldn’t do it. It doesn’t say “in order to form the most perfect possible union.” Even if a perpetual union was more perfect than one that could be terminated, a terminable union might be more perfect than what preceded it in other respects, so they might still be attempting a more perfect union.

            I also note that it says “in order to form a more perfect union” not “in order to make the union we already have more perfect,” so if we are taking the wording of the preamble as evidence, it’s evidence against your claim that they believed the union was already there and already perpetual due to the wording of the Articles of Confederation.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No, not at all. The Constitution, like the Articles of Confederation, could be replaced at any time and the union would still exist. The union is perpetual, the laws of the union are not.

            So then how exactly did the South agree to a perpetual union, if not by signing up to either the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution?

            They didn’t write any way to exit the Union into the Constitution either.

            No, but they did write that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Since the Constitution never says that states have no power to exit the union…

            I have cited the relevant documents where they affixed their signatures agreeing to a perpetual union. I have shown that they were still considered to be in force and everyone acted as if they were, including the secessionists during the early stages of the Civil War. If that is insufficient, it is insufficient.

            You’ve cited the Constitution and Articles of Confederation, but you’ve also said that the union wasn’t brought about by either document, so I’m left confused as to where actually you think they signed up to a perpetual union.

            To spell it out, the British claimed the right to revoke and replace colonial charters. This would be the equivalent of claiming the Constitution could be changed at any time without the consent of the governed. That was not the situation the South found itself in.

            I’m not sure that’s a good analogy — the British Crown had granted those colonial charters in the first place, so it’s certainly not implausible that it had the right to alter them (and indeed this had happened several times before the Revolution, without anybody disputing its right to do so, IIRC). A better analogy would be, say, a state government granting a town charter and then later altering or revoking it; as far as I’m aware, nobody disputes their right to do such things.

            Sure. But you could say, for example, “there is no procedure to repeal this. Before you repeal this you must create the procedure to repeal this through the new procedure creation procedure.” Which is where we currently stand and also stood in 1860.

            The problem with that, though, is that if the majority don’t want the minority to declare independence, they can refuse to allow the creation of such a procedure, thus keeping the minority in the country against their will. Just imagine how far the colonists would have got if they’d sent a polite letter to Parliament saying “We’ve decided that we no longer want to be ruled by you, but there is currently no legal procedure whereby we can declare independence. Could you please pass a law creating a procedure for us to leave and form our own country?”

        • Lambert says:

          Perhaps if the American revolutionaries hadn’t all just so happened to have been great philosophers, this thread would have been much more about realpolitik than about notions of nationhood and rights and ius belli.

          • Erusian says:

            It is a little strange to treat this all so legalistically. Of course, the real reason was because the Northern troops won the war. International anarchy and all that.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I mean, if you think the Southern states had the right to secede, yeah, Lincoln is probably a bad President. The arguments that Lincoln is one of the greatest Presidents assume that the Civil War was a just war, the South did NOT have the right to secede, and keeping the Union together was a great thing.

      But, to your point: Secession and Rebellion are NOT the same rights. Secession is a political right granted to political entities. A right to secede would grant a political entity the right to secede from the Union, for any silly old reason, including just losing a political fight. That would mean California could secede if they lost the election, for instance.
      The right to rebellion is a human right, emergent from other rights which are inherent to us as humans because they were granted to us by our Creator. And it is specifically to be used when governments become destructive of the ends of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. And there’s a pretty high bar for those grievances, like “suspending all representative government” and “eliminate trial by jury” and “stationing armies in cities during peace-time.” AND there’s a strong implicit argument that you need to actually try to resolve these disputes through peaceful means, in good faith, with an eye towards keeping political union together.

      So, Californians do not have a right to rebel, just because Donald J Trump got elected. It doesn’t matter if they don’t like Trump, because losing a political fight is not just cause for rebellion. And even if DJT were doing bad things, Californians would be obligated to use our existing political system to try to challenge them, in good faith, with an eye towards keeping the Union together. If they lose all of that, and Trump does things like send the army into California, suspend the California legislature, dismiss Newsom and replace him Trump Jr., arrest all the Hollywood actors and just declare them guilty, etc, THEN, and only then would Californians have the right to revolt. This right would not need to be exercise through the state of California, though that’s probably the easiest parallel political institution to leverage.

      The South had disputes, but they essentially just decided to quit as soon as they lost a Presidential election. I do not think this is close to a valid rebellion.

      • Murphy says:

        Ya, the whole process around the south seceding seemed sketchy as hell.

        it’s like if instead of a brexit vote to remove the UK from the EU…., a bunch of rural brexiters had just turned up with guns, formed an army and declared the UK separate and started shooting at the french…..

        There is a real world Cal-exit movement

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

        And if they did indeed get a decent majority (vs the 13% they were polling at) in california in favor of secession… I could very much see things going a bit different vs the civil war because a strong democratic mandate holds a lot more sway with courts than “we have a lot of guys with guns”.

        • DinoNerd says:

          I could very much see things going a bit different vs the civil war

          Well, my first intro to CalExit was via a Trump-supporting co-worker who explicitly cited the precedent of the Civil War, seemingly approvingly, to suggest what would happen to them if they were successful.

      • cassander says:

        The South had disputes, but they essentially just decided to quit as soon as they lost a Presidential election. I do not think this is close to a valid rebellion.

        the British line against the colonists was essentially, “the least taxed people in the world started screaming about liberty while demanding rights that had no basis in law. I do not think this is close to a valid rebellion.”

        • DinoNerd says:

          And the other British line seems to have been “a bunch of slave holders yammering about ‘liberty’; isn’t this rich :-(“

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Rights are often granted as the result of armed combat at various points in history, not just given in a deliberative body. The Colonists were not asking for anything but the rights of full Englishmen, as created post Glorious Revolution. Britain treated the colonists like Jacobites instead of Englishmen, and did things like essentially revoke the Bay Colony Charter. Had the King done the same in England, he would have been beheaded.

          Either way, the Colonists by and large clearly wanted to remain part of the Empire until at least 1775. The South basically up and quit as soon as they lost an election.

        • cassander says:

          The South basically up and quit as soon as they lost an election.

          This isn’t a remotely accurate statement. You can’t just gloss over the 40 odd years of increasingly rancorous sectional conflict that led up that secession as “they lost one election”.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            It is, if anything, overly charitable to the south. That previous history you mentioned basically boils down to the confederate states being run by, and represented in the federal government by, enormous assholes.

            Censorship of the post, the gag rule (and its eventual overturn) the caning of Sumner.. Ect.

          • Enkidum says:

            And, you know, slavery.

          • cassander says:

            This animal is dangerous, when attacked it defends itself…

          • Enkidum says:

            Does “attacked” here refer to anything other than “had its slavery-based economic system challenged”?

          • cassander says:

            @Enkidum says:

            Does “attacked” here refer to anything other than “had its slavery-based economic system challenged”?

            No, and that’s the point. After 40 years of union with a bunch of polities that were increasingly challenging something they considered fundamental to their way of life, it’s not surprising that they decided to go for a divorce. It wasn’t a tiff over a single election.

          • DeWitt says:

            This isn’t some grand meta-level claim people are making against you – and it shouldn’t be, because the object cases aren’t one and the same. Seceding over high taxes or religious intolerance isn’t the same as seceding over your god-given right to brutalise your fellow man for profit.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The increasingly sectional conflict was being managed by political compromise almost every single step of the way. The North didn’t just disregard Southern political wishes until it was actively fighting the South in the Civil War. Sectional conflict is unavoidable and isn’t justification for secession. Parliament effectively disbanded Colonial assemblies, put Massachusetts under martial law, and tried to confiscate colonial weapons. The North did not do that to the South until the South had already passed its secession acts.

            . Seceding over high taxes or religious intolerance isn’t the same as seceding over your god-given right to brutalise your fellow man for profit.

            I don’t see why an 1860 Southerner would agree with this statement. They joined the Union under the premise that they could keep their slaves. If the Union simply mobilized an army and declared that they were going to attack the South to free the slaves, without an amendment or anything of the sort, I don’t see how the South wouldn’t have the right to secede given the understanding of politics and rights at the time.

          • brad says:

            Given whose understanding?

            I can’t understand people that want to defend southern chattel slavery. Or ignore it to move on to some contrarian actually point.

            This isn’t some judging Romans by contemporary morality—lots of people at the time pointed out it’s evils.

          • cassander says:

            @DeWitt

            What about your right to brutalize indians and take their land? Or the right to keep catholics oppressed, both of which were signifcant points of contention in the revolution and the latter of which is actually mentioned in the declaration of independence?

            @A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The increasingly sectional conflict was being managed by political compromise almost every single step of the way

            One could say the same thing about the conflicts between the colonies and the UK. Everything is managed by compromise, until it isn’t.

            Sectional conflict is unavoidable and isn’t justification for secession.

            Why not? If you and your wife are having increasingly violent fights over time, maybe you should get that divorce.

            Parliament effectively disbanded Colonial assemblies, put Massachusetts under martial law, and tried to confiscate colonial weapons. The North did not do that to the South until the South had already passed its secession acts.

            the first continental congress met a year before the british came to Boston, and Bostonians started training up an army at about the same time.

          • DeWitt says:

            I don’t see why an 1860 Southerner would agree with this statement.

            Many of them did. Some confederate states did. Presumably, a supermajority of black southerners did. It wasn’t beyond the pale at all.

            What about your right to brutalize indians and take their land? Or the right to keep catholics oppressed, both of which were signifcant points of contention in the revolution and the latter of which is actually mentioned in the declaration of independence?

            I thank you for literally prefacing your whataboutism with what about, because it’s made it really, really easy to recognise as such.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The US government made a decision to defend chattel slavery at its founding and through the Civil War because large portions of its citizens did not agree that chattel slavery was evil. If you choose to disregard those political compromises, your political union is invalid. If you don’t want to make those compromises, don’t invite people you think are evil into your political union.

          • Enkidum says:

            After 40 years of union with a bunch of polities that were increasingly challenging something they considered fundamental to their way of life, it’s not surprising that they decided to go for a divorce. It wasn’t a tiff over a single election.

            Ah, that’s a fair point. Well, they were evil, and deserved to be destroyed then.

          • cassander says:

            @DeWitt says:

            I thank you for literally prefacing your whataboutism with what about, because it’s made it really, really easy to recognise as such.

            You: “The motives for the revolution were just and had nothing to do with oppression, unlike secession.”

            Me: “Um, what about all these motives that were oppressive?”

            You: “Quit your whataboutism!”

            You can’t assert two things are distinct and then insist that attempts to compare them are whatbaoutism, at least not if you want to argue honestly.

          • DeWitt says:

            I don’t really care to defend the American revolution in general, because I don’t find it particularly admirable or detestable of a revolution. I certainly find the south’s reasons for seceding detestable; I will not defend it. If you want to tell me it was okay because the American revolution was okay, that’s fine, there are enough other rebellions I’m much happier to defend than one I don’t even know about too well. And even in a counterfactual world where Confucius is right about everything and rebellion is never, ever justified, the south’s secession is something I’d find particularly heinous.

            Well, they were evil, and deserved to be destroyed then.

            Refer to the keeping a double digit percentage of your population in horrible conditions, all along with state-sponsored violence and terrorism bit if you don’t think the throwing a temper tantrum because you didn’t get your way bit was enough.

          • Enkidum says:

            Refer to the keeping a double digit percentage of your population in horrible conditions, all along with state-sponsored violence and terrorism bit if you don’t think the throwing a temper tantrum because you didn’t get your way bit was enough.

            Just to be clear, I wasn’t being sarcastic. Fuck the Confederacy.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Lincoln has a stellar reputation because he was a powerful orator, prosecuted one of the single clearest examples of a Just War in the historical record to a victorious conclusion, and then was murdered before he could blemish that accomplishment by fucking up the peace.

      You can argue that he was just in the right time and place to be immortalized by historical forces he actually had very little control over – Because no president could have permitted Treason in the Defense of Slavery to stand, and given the disparity of resources, any not-utterly-incompetent president would have won the civil war.
      But arguing that prosecuting the war was wrong is.. I have no words. This is a mighty offering of Error you are making unto the altar of Azathoth.

      The people in charge of the confederacy had been arguing for expanding the reach of slavery by force of arms for decades. They wanted to wage naked conquest upon Cuba and Mexico to create more slave states. That is who they were. They fired upon the forces of the US, and committed atrocity upon their political enemies. There could be no peace with the confederacy, not ever, at most a truce while they armed themselves further before trying to enslave the north.

      • John Schilling says:

        ….and given the disparity of resources, any not-utterly-incompetent president would have won the civil war.

        Except Lincoln was at least a century late for the era when heads of state actually won wars. 19th and 20th century heads of state delegated the war-winning to their generals, and given the utterly incompetent(*) collection of generals Lincoln inherited and the low esteem with which the few competent exceptions were held by their colleagues, it is quite possible that a mediocre president would have lost the war in the first year or two.

        * At warfighting; some of them were fairly good at e.g. training peacetime armies

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Heads of state no longer commanded armies in person, but they were (and are) still in charge of managing the home front, determining overall strategy, maintaining good relations with third parties, and all sorts of other things that have a major impact on whether a side wins or loses.

          • John Schilling says:

            “Major impact” is not the same as “absolutely decides the outcome”; the other factors deciding the outcome were so thoroughly stacked against POTUS-16 that simply doing a competent job of managing the home front, determining overall strategy, and maintaining good relations with third parties, would have been insufficient to provide a Union victory.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I can’t think of any period when the leader could absolutely decide the outcome on his own; chance and the actions of other people have always played a role. And personally I think the idea that the Union leadership were much more incompetent is just a myth; yes they had their share of duds, but so does every army, and more to the point, so did the Confederates.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Union, in the first year of the war, had their share of duds and at least half of the Confederacy’s share of duds. And their few geniuses were largely marginalized. Trying to turn that into “meh, there were duds on both sides, I don’t think it made any difference” is not just wrong but boringly wrong.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The Union, in the first year of the war, had their share of duds and at least half of the Confederacy’s share of duds.

            Do you have any way to measure this? Because otherwise, it just seems extremely vague.

            And their few geniuses were largely marginalized.

            Lincoln was Commander-in-Chief of the US army. IOW, he had the ability to promote genius commanders over their incompetent colleagues. Bad leadership isn’t just a force of nature which no military head can do anything about.

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you have any way to measure this?

            Pick a random sample of “worst generals of the Civil War” list and start counting. Either the Union candidates will substantially outnumber the Confederate, or the Confederate list will be rounded out with lower-ranking officers and/or those promoted later in the war, or both. This is not a controversial position.

            Lincoln was Commander-in-Chief of the US army. IOW, he had the ability to promote genius commanders over their incompetent colleagues.

            Abraham Lincoln had this ability, yes. It is not the case that everybody who sits in the POTUS chair has this ability. In order to actually have this ability, one needs to be able to recognize military talent when one is being told by experts that this guy just got lucky and/or is a talented front-line leader but in either case is not ready for a major command (which is often true), and to recognize military incompetence when the expert opinion is that so-and-so faced an untenable position and did the best that could be expected (ditto). It is also necessary to persuade people to accept new officers that they’ve never heard of in place of the leaders they came to legitimately respect in peacetime and who are being unceremoniously replaced for no apparent reason. Because no, you can’t just say “this guy is in charge, you have to do what he says or else” and expect to win wars.

            Most heads of state aren’t particularly good at these things. Lincoln was. That mattered.

            Bad leadership isn’t just a force of nature which no military head can do anything about.

            Bad leadership is not a trivial matter that any moderately competent “military head” can sweep aside into irrelevance by just picking the good commanders and putting them in charge.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Pick a random sample of “worst generals of the Civil War” list and start counting. Either the Union candidates will substantially outnumber the Confederate, or the Confederate list will be rounded out with lower-ranking officers and/or those promoted later in the war, or both. This is not a controversial position.

            Well, if you say so. But for your claim that “the other factors deciding the outcome were so thoroughly stacked against POTUS-16 that simply doing a competent job of managing the home front, determining overall strategy, and maintaining good relations with third parties, would have been insufficient to provide a Union victory” to be true, it’s not enough for the Union leadership to be more incompetent than the Confederates; they’d have to be so much more incompetent as to cancel out a two-to-one population advantage (three-to-one if you only count free citizens), a ten-to-one advantage in industry, almost all the pre-war army and navy, and international recognition as the legitimate government. And that is not only implausible on the face of it, it’s also not the sort of thing you can prove by just counting names on a list.

          • John Schilling says:

            And that is not only implausible on the face of it,

            No more so than the thirteen colonies defeating the British Empire in a war for independence, against far greater disadvantages. But I take from your phrasing that you’re not actually interested in discussing the matter beyond tossing out canned arguments and saying “I so obviously win that I don’t need to listen to any counterarguments”.

          • cassander says:

            @John Schilling

            Much greater relative strength, yes. But with a capital 150 miles away from the enemy’s, not 3,500.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ve ever played a strategic-level Civil War game that didn’t have a mechanic to represent the high political cost of replacing a Butler or a Fremont with a less well-connected general who knew what he was doing.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No more so than the thirteen colonies defeating the British Empire in a war for independence, against far greater disadvantages.

            Not really; the Thirteen Colonies were much further away and communications were much less well-developed, making force projection a major problem for the British. Plus of course the rebels had half of Europe on their side, which is the sort of thing that evens the odds a lot: there’s a reason why plausible scenarios for Southern independence almost all involve Britain and France joining in on the Confederacy’s side.

            But I take from your phrasing that you’re not actually interested in discussing the matter beyond tossing out canned arguments and saying “I so obviously win that I don’t need to listen to any counterarguments”.

            Actually my position is more along the lines of “Strong claims require strong evidence; ‘McClellan et al. were sufficiently incompetent, and in the right way,* to cancel out a three-to-one population advantage, a ten-to-one industrial advantage, international recognition, and the support of almost all the pre-war army and navy’ is a strong claim; therefore this claim requires strong evidence to prove it”.

            [* McClellan’s main problem as a commander was his unwillingness to take any risks, and whilst this makes a decisive victory unlikely, it also makes a decisive defeat unlikely as well. So McClellan at least was never likely to lose the war, except perhaps by making it drag on so long that the North got tired of fighting and voted for a peace candidate; but then, that would take longer than “the first year or two”.]

            Also, if you’re going to accuse other people of “tossing out canned arguments”, you might want to come up with something more original and/or in-depth than “Pick a random sample of “worst generals of the Civil War” list and start counting”.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            McClellan WAS incompetent enough to squander a 2:1 advantage and a 10:1 industrial advantage. That’s what he actually did when he was commander. Yeah, it basically is impossible for the South to decisively knock out the North, but that’s not what was required. What was required was for the NORTH to invade and occupy the SOUTH, which is actually really difficult to do.

            In the prime timeline, Lee took his poorly supplied army into Maryland, where he was strategically outnumbered, divided them so they could be defeated in detail, McClellan managed to get a copy of his maps, and McClellan still almost lost at Antietam. And even after wrecking the Army of Northern Virginia, he didn’t press his advantage.

            Yeah, maybe Robert E Lee never had a chance of taking Washington DC, but under McClellan, the Union never had a chance of taking Richmond either. At that point the war drags on forever.

            Also, the Union had actual good generals in the West, and still had a hell of a time taking it.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Yeah, maybe Robert E Lee never had a chance of taking Washington DC, but under McClellan, the Union never had a chance of taking Richmond either. At that point the war drags on forever.

            Not true. In an extended war, the North was always going to defeat the South, due to the aforementioned manpower and industry shortage. Consequently, even if McClellan remains in charge forever and never manages to exploit his victories, the North still wins due to attrition (Lee’s constant invasions were expensive in men and materiel, and the South could much less afford to lose these things than the North).

            Basically, the only ways the South could hope to win are (1) if the Northern public get war-weary and vote for a peace candidate, or (2) foreign powers — specifically, Britain and France — throw their weight behind the Confederacy and tip the balance of power against the Union. (1) is probably the most likely possibility, although it would take years to get to that point, and it’s not clear that the South could have lasted that long anyway due to the aforementioned inadequacy of men and war supplies, even with people like McClellan in command of the Union armies. (2) isn’t really very likely — France didn’t want to get involved without explicit British support, and Britain didn’t really have any desire to aid the Confederacy, so unless Lincoln does something very stupid to alienate them, they aren’t going to get involved.

            Basically, the war was the North’s to lose, so the fact that the North didn’t lose it doesn’t imply any particular brilliance on the part of the Northern leader, any more than the modern USA winning a war against somewhere like the Philippines would imply that Donald Trump was a great war-leader.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          The confederacy – to me – is mostly interesting because it is a very potent example of the power of disinformation, both in its own time, and to this very day.
          The confederacy embarked on an utterly insane war of choice, because they had censored the press, censored the mail, and also were in the habit of outright killing voices of dissent. Fireeaters proclaimed any southerner was worth five northerners in a fight, that the United Kingdom and France would Kow-Tow to King Cotton and.. Then they based their war plan on those things being true.

          And that was insane.

          http://www.historyofwar.org/Maps/maps_acw_population.html
          That is a map of the census of the south in 1860. An absurd fraction of the total population of the south were slaves, who obviously could not only not be put under arms, they would rise up and fight in droves for any enemy the second the battle lines got within reach. The north was also just vastly more populous in general. And much, much more industrialized.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1860_United_States_Census

          The union states had five times the population, to a first approximation, all of the industry, and an international situation where nobody could, or would, support the confederacy without getting in dire trouble with their own citizens because slavery was Fucking Evil and people outside the disinformation regime of the southern states had noticed that.

          Then after the war, the south engaged in a concerted propaganda effort to gild a giant stinking pile of manure, and it mostly worked! It is a rare example of history being written by the loosers. I keep running across people who claim the war was about states rights or tarrifs or.. anything. Which is just amazing. The primary sources are a very minor google effort away, and before they got their asses predictably kicked, the confederacy was in no way shape or form subtle about the fact that they were going to war to preserve and expand slavery.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      It would be much harder to dislodge CSA if it would have been given time to establish itself as a functioning government and form alliances with European powers, e.g. with France, which invaded and occupied Mexico in 1862. If you take as a premise that CSA was an evil regime that needed to be destroyed (and I do), Lincoln did his job brilliantly.

      • If you take as a premise that CSA was an evil regime that needed to be destroyed (and I do), Lincoln did his job brilliantly.

        How can one know that? We don’t have parallel histories where someone else did the same job in different ways.

        Winning the Civil War is a complicated problem which none of us are competent to solve—we don’t have the relevant detailed knowledge of the society. Perhaps an abler president could have picked better generals, done a better job of persuading states in the upper South not to secede, run the war in some different and better way.

        We know two things. The North won, and it won at a horrendous cost in human life on both sides. That doesn’t tell us whether Lincoln did his job brilliantly or badly, just that he didn’t do it badly enough to lose. Given the facts of the war and his assassination, he was pretty much guaranteed to be viewed as hero whether or not he deserved to be.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Yeah, we don´t know the counterfactual, but I think results speak for themselves. I do not claim his performance was flawless, but CSA was annihilated and slavery abolished. As far as I am aware, Lincoln didn´t commit any major blunders during the war, and showed considerable political skills in maintaining political unity and commitment to the Union cause in the North, in the face of inevitably huge costs of the war. Imho this was no small achievement.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The Union had over twice the population as the CSA and something like ten times the heavy industry. Frankly I think it very discreditable that it took the Union so long to win.

    • broblawsky says:

      It’s worth noting that the Confederate government was substantially more tyrannical than the US federal government at the time. The Confederate Constitution gave its president a line-item veto, a massive expansion of executive power that is beyond the pale even in the modern era of the Imperial Presidency. The individual states were also stripped of their power to grant voting rights to non-citizens, their right to trade freely with each other, and their right to outlaw slavery within their borders. You can argue that even white citizens were substantially worse off in terms of their individual freedoms under the Confederacy, especially non-slaveholders.

      • Nornagest says:

        A line-item veto isn’t that far beyond the pale. We actually had one for a couple years during the Clinton administration; it was ultimately struck down, but the concept has returned every few years since then in various forms.

        • broblawsky says:

          I think 1996 was peak “minimal concern about the Imperial Presidency”, though.

    • mendax says:

      When Tolstoy was a guest of a Caucasian chief of Circassians, a people who lived in the mountains far from civilization, he found them most desiring to hear about Lincoln.

    • BBA says:

      If the Union had let the Confederate states secede, within a few years they’d be going to war anyway. We’d see the Fugitive Slave Act getting repealed and slave-catchers operating illegally within the Union, meanwhile abolitionist militias would follow in John Brown’s footsteps. Sooner or later there’d be a casus belli. A peaceful divorce was not in the cards.

      Remember, this was a time when wars of conquest were still considered legitimate. Barely over a decade beforehand, the US had conquered the Southwest from Mexico because it was our manifest destiny to reach the Pacific we felt like it.

    • DeWitt says:

      The secession of the southern states did not pose a threat to the remaining US

      Doubtfully so, for reasons others have stated.

      The states that seceded did so at the behest of the elected representatives of their citizens, much as the US seceded from the British empire.

      This proves too much. Even if you ignore the points Thomas Jorgensen makes, that the south was in no way a very well-functioning democracy even among its white population, the amount of black people living there numbered well into the double digits. If southerners had the right to leave the union, would black southerners not have the right to leave the south?

  23. johan_larson says:

    Let’s suppose a friend of yours spends a lot of time on a hobby. It might be video games, or maybe something more traditional like cards. Whatever it is, it is nothing productive; it doesn’t make your friend richer or fitter or more knowledgeable or more connected within his community. But on the other hand, it doesn’t seem to be doing outright harm; your friend does a decent job at work, keeps a presentable house, doesn’t seem to have any real problems with money, and is appropriately involved with his children. All this being the case, is there some level of involvement at which you would advise your friend to cut back on his hobby? 10 hours per week? 20? 40?

    • dndnrsn says:

      If someone isn’t suffering problems, they don’t have a problem. The point at which something is too much is the point at which it starts cutting into their job, family, whatever. If they are somehow playing video games 40 hours a week without sacrificing anything else, I’m not telling them to cut back, I’m asking where they got the time-warping magic.

    • Elephant says:

      Why exactly should your friend being happy bother you?

      • johan_larson says:

        It doesn’t bother me that he is happy. It bothers me that he is wasting his life.

        I think we can agree it is OK to spend at least some time on rest, relaxation, and just plain fun. If someone wants to spend ten hours a week on video games or sitcoms or paperback thrillers, that’s just fine.

        But there are more worthwhile things than R&R: accomplishing actually useful things, helping people who really need it, or even just self-improvement. And once we are talking about the bigger batches of time, particularly the 20 hour a week level, the opportunity cost starts to look rather daunting. The three hours a day that went to watching TV could have been spent becoming a very fine amateur pianist, or running a part-time business.

        • brmic says:

          Your numbers are wrong. The alternative to 3 hours R&R a day is surely not to work those same hours. The people for whom that works don’t spend 20 hours/week on R&R in the first place.
          Instead, realistically, your friend could maybe gain another 7hrs/week. At which point the gains are a lot less convincing.
          Also:
          (1) There are discontinuities in engagement. E.g. if you play tabletop RPG with a bunch of students who have 20hr/week to sink into that, cutting your own involvement back to 15 is hard. If you’re a regular SCC commenter, you can comment less, but at some point your involvement sinks so low you can keep up with the threads anymore. Maybe the 20hour engagement offers a feeling of competence/expertise that a 10 hour engagement with the same matter wouldn’t.
          (2) You insufficiently account for gains and risks: E.g. say cutting back on stress relief has a 20% chance you buddy starts smoking (again) is that a good trade? Or is insufficiently relaxed to deal well with his job, his partner or his kids when they’re stressful. Maybe your buddy gets something else besides stress relief out of the activity.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          could have been spent becoming a very fine amateur pianist

          This is just as much of a hobby as anything else. I think you are typical minding.

          I also have a hunch that if this person was working their way through written works, rather than televised media, you wouldn’t find it objectionable.

        • Elephant says:

          I’m having a hard time coming up with a reply that isn’t sarcastic.

          “It bothers me that he is wasting his life.” Fine, let it bother you. Your friend doesn’t think he’s wasting his life. (And what does “wasting” even mean? He could argue, of course, that you’re wasting your life by commenting on the internet rather than volunteering at a homeless shelter, or whatever else he things gives meaning to existence. Does that mean he should tell you this? Why?) It’s ok if you’re bothered by other people having different goals and values than you. It’s not ok to act on this and actively bother them.

    • JPNunez says:

      Regardless of everything else, 40 hours per week is another-job level and it could easily be worrying

    • Well... says:

      The OP states the hobby doesn’t do damage to the friend’s ability to do his day job well, keep good relationships with his family, maintain his house, and it doesn’t present money issues. To me this suggests a baked-in upper limit of time, because you simply can’t work a full-time job AND have all those other things if you also have a hobby that requires 40 or even 30 dedicated hours a week.

      So, the determining factor on when you might advise your friend to cut back has nothing to do with hours per week.

    • You put in some caveats but I would generalize to a more broad one: if it wasn’t causing him problems and it didn’t interfere with any of his duties, then it’s fine. The problem is that the duties we are obligated to do are not always straightforward and are dependent on the society we live in. For example, am I obligated to hang out with a friend a certain amount of time? How would I determine what that level should be?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      The level at which I’d advise my friend to cut back would be the one at which “everything is fine” is no longer true. I think there’s a cap somewhere not far north of 50 hours, but that that escapes the hypothetical.

    • Deiseach says:

      Whatever it is, it is nothing productive; it doesn’t make your friend richer or fitter or more knowledgeable or more connected within his community.

      There are several communities, though: your friend might not be very tied-in to the community in the neighbourhood/town where he lives, but in the case of his hobby community (be that knitters, gamers, or Makers swanning around Maker-spaces being all creative unlike ordinary schlubs in their garden sheds making things which is not at all the same thing), then he may be very connected and indeed of high status/popularity (“Joe is the guy to go to when you need an answer about ‘how do I turn the heel?'”).

      Now, if it really means he is neglecting responsibilities or duties, or that you’re afraid he’s socially isolated and cut-off, then that’s a problem. But if he’s holding down a job, has a family, has real-life friends and isn’t blowing the mortgage/rent money on action figures, then what’s the problem? Either Joe will eventually burn out and reduce the time spent on his hobby to a reasonable level, or he’ll continue to be happily engaged in his hobby even post-retirement.

    • Murphy says:

      it doesn’t make your friend richer or fitter or more knowledgeable or more connected within his community

      What’s your friends terminal goals?

      I know one woman who loves making figurines, not as anything economic, she just loves making them.

      Another guy I know makes weird mathematical simulations.

      Another reads detective novels.

      Another woman who just really loves pretty shoes and has a large number and enjoys caring for her collection.

      None of them would be terribly happy if I took that time from them and split the time evenly between them working overtime, time on a treadmill and time reading encyclopedia articles.

      • Lambert says:

        > weird mathematical simulations

        Do they put them online or anything?
        Because I sure like looking at weird mathematical simulations.

        • CatCube says:

          3blue1brown just posted this 12-minute animation of using Fourier transforms to draw pictures.

          They were outtakes of the video where he explains what’s going on here.

  24. ricraz says:

    In the comments section of this post, Scott says:

    The really relevant Hanson here is http://mason.gmu.edu/~rhanson/longgrow.html . I originally was going to include Paul’s rebuttal against it, but a lot of it was beyond my understanding and I was just blindly relaying quotes from people smarter than I was, so I decided to just avoid bringing Hanson up.

    Is the rebuttal available online? Does anyone have a link to it? Or was it verbal?

  25. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/blackmagicfuckery/comments/c8x2p0/these_shapes_shouldnt_be_able_to_coexist_like_this/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=ios_share_flow_optimization&utm_term=control_2

    Optical illusion where dots moving in straight lines can be seen as triangles, squares, or a seven-pointed star.

    Does this have something to do with the corners of the squares and triangles adding up to seven?

    • John Schilling says:

      Fascinating. I do not know if there is any deeper mathematical meaning to it, but thank you for pointing it out.

    • eigenmoon says:

      I don’t buy this. Specifically, the points don’t really make sharp corners, and they had to rotate the whole star to make this less visible. If you pause the video on the last second, you can see that the points near the corners are actually outside the star.

      • dick says:

        Not sure what that means, but you can see all of the math behind this structure here and can play with similar patterns here.

        • eigenmoon says:

          Alright, but the video tries to pretend that the lines of a hypotrochoid are straight, and that is the problem.

          a = 4./7

          • eigenmoon says:

            Sorry, posted an incomplete comment by accident (where’s the edit button??).

            In pylab, try this:

            a = 4./7
            b = 1 – a
            t = arange(0, 100, 0.01)
            x = a * cos(t*pi/4) + b * cos(-t*pi/3)
            y = a * sin(t*pi/4) + b * sin(-t*pi/3)
            plot(x,y)

            or use your favourite plotting software. That would plot the hypocycloid as in the paper.

            But whoever made the video tried to straighten the lines by increasing the squares relative to triangles, maybe with

            a = (1 – cos(4*pi/7))/2

            but that dulls the corners of the star, which is why the points in the video don’t fit around the corners.

          • dick says:

            The implication that this was some sort of malicious act, as opposed to a limitation of the tool used to superimpose the shapes, is confusing but ominous.

  26. Le Maistre Chat says:

    In the pre-modern world, before Western academics got their hands on the Greek primary sources, Alexander the Great was only known to non-Greek-speakers as the hero of the Alexander Romance, a fictionalization of his life that starts with Pharaoh Nectanebo II, defeated by the Persian Empire, fleeing to Philip of Macedon’s court, where he conceives Alexander by cuckolding his patron in the form of a dragon, telling Queen Olympias he’s Zeus Amun.
    The Greek original was translated as far West as England via Latin, and as far East as Mongolia via Syriac. The story also includes such charming fabulisms as Alexander romancing the Amazon queen, trying to reach the heavens in a griffon chariot and inventing a submersible to explore the sea.

    • Lambert says:

      So that explains why he’s depicted underwater, looking profoundly displeased.

    • Erusian says:

      I believe my favorite story about this is that Alexander’s legend grew up very fast around him. Shortly after he died, Lysimachus (a former general and one of his successors) heard a fantastic fable about him romancing the Queen of the Amazons. He famously remarked, “καὶ ποῦ, τότε ἤμην ἐγώ?” (roughly, “And where was I when this happened?”)

      • To be fair, even in the history books he has this mythical, Homeric flair about him. I know he’s one of the most well documented figures in the ancient world but I sometimes wonder how accurate those sources are.

    • Watchman says:

      Minor correction here: Alexander was well recorded in the Latim world. Plutarch’s parallel lives, which include a biography of Alexander, don’t seem to have been lost in the west. And slightly-later Christian works in Latin, particularly Orosius’s History against the pagans and the chronicles derived from translations of Eusebius both had information on Alexander derived from earlier sources as part of their creation if Christian history built on the foundations of earlier empires.

      Whilst the Alexander romance was maybe the most-encountered version of his life, information from more historical sources was available for those interested.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Oops, you’re right about Plutatch in Latin. It’s the other four primary sources (actually written centuries after his death!) that were limited to the Greek East until the Renaissance.
        And yes, Eusebius. I haven’t read Orosius to confirm if it sticks to the mundane rather than taking any material from the Romance.

    • Alexander the Great was only known to non-Greek-speakers as

      Are you ignoring the Iskandernama, or is that closely linked to the Alexander Romance?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        It sure is. It also appears as part of Ferdowsi’s Shahnama, which shares with the extended Iskandernama the signature Persian change of making Alexander Philip’s grandson via a daughter and Shah Darab, also father of Dara (Darius III).

    • Deiseach says:

      I like how “Ha, ha, how can anyone be so dumb as to fall for Al’s real dad being Zeus? No, it’s much more believable and realistic that he was a pharaoh transmogrified into a dragon” 😀

      • Protagoras says:

        You wouldn’t want to say this in Alexander’s presence, though; he had a childish obsession with being another Achilles, so he surely greatly preferred the Zeus story, since Zeus was supposed to be an ancestor of Achilles.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        @Deiseach: I know, right? 😀

    • dndnrsn says:

      On the topic of “vaguely fantastical stories of Alexander” I vaguely remember reading, long ago for a class reading, an old Jewish story involving Alexander travelling to see some Jewish authorities about philosophical questions, or something like that.

      Now, as is the way of such things, I can’t find it. I thought it was Talmudic, but Google brings up a reference to Alexander that’s in the Talmud and also Josephus.

      However, those – while interesting, especially the Josephus (which paints Alexander as being pretty philosemitic) – aren’t what I remember. Which I can’t find now. I vaguely remember it as having sorta-fantastical elements. Any ideas?

  27. HeelBearCub says:

    Question for the statistically inclined.

    How would we model expected win rate in Battle Royale games based on stats?

    BR games like the currently popular PUBG, Fortnite and Apex Legends (although I want to ignore Apex for the moment) start with a number of players distributing themselves across a map. Players then search the map for weapons and other gear, and then proceed to attempt to defeat each other in combat. The map area shrinks over the course of the game, via a Damage Over Time mechanic applied to players outside the safe zone. The last person standing wins.

    (Nearly) by definition, the Kill/Death (KD) ratio in every solo game is very close to 1. It would be equal to (N -1)/N if there were no mechanics like self-damage from AOE attacks, out-of-zone DOTs or fall damage. As Apex doesn’t have any solo mode, I want to ignore it for the moment.

    The median player will have a KD significantly below one, as the best players will have KDs significantly over 1.

    Of course, it’s possible to win the game with only one kill (or rarely zero kills, if the last opponent dies to the DOT zone). But I think we can say that KD should correlate well with expected win percentage when playing solo games, even though different play styles can generate different results for the same stats.

    The other stat that people will examine in determining how “good” a player is “Average Damage per Round” (ADR). Damage in many BR games is expressed as percentage of a players health. Thus an ADR of 300 indicates that in an average round you do enough damage to kill 3 players. You may not have a KD of 3, however, for a variety of reasons (there is healing in the game, you can kill people who are low on health). KD and ADR do tend to be correlated, and ADR is generally viewed as a more reliable indicator of skill.

    So, given these two stats, and given an initial number of players in a game of 100, how would we model expected wins based on those stats?

    • Incurian says:

      Assuming you’re not on a team, of those two stats, I think only kills matter. To the extent that ADR is a reflection of skill, over time that same reflection will average out in the kills column, but ADR can also indicate you’re not confirming your kills (ie you wound but don’t finish your opponents), so I think consistently high kills with low ADR is a better indicator for wins than low kills with high ADR.

      Kills also net you loot. And not just random loot, but loot that’s been pre-filtered to be useful and work together. Damage gets you nothing but unwanted attention. Anecdotally, I’ve found it’s not very hard to last to the final rounds of a game just by being cautious and staying hidden, but when the circle finally forces a confrontation, you stand a far better chance if you’ve been accumulating kill-loot.

      Regarding your actual question about modeling wins, I don’t quite understand what you’re asking. Or more specifically, I don’t understand what data is available to the hypothetical statistician. Is it the records of 100 players over the last season (or whatever), or are you asking how to predict who the winner of a particular match was based on the stats at the end of it?

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible, so I am not considering duos or squads, only solo play.

        The question is, given that you know a player’s k/d (given that you think this is the most relevant stat), how would we predict how many games out of 100 games played the average player with those stats “should” win.

        As a further data point, I think we can model the tail end of the k/d distribution at about 6. With even people at the top of the (public) game averaging about 4 to 4.5.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Baseline model:

      Assume players die in one-on-one fights, always. Make a single-elimination bracket. 2^6 = 128, so the bracket is approximately 6 rounds deep. Assume KDR is the ratio of win:lose in each bracket round and is normalized to 1 death. Then you have

      P(win) = (KDR/(KDR+1))^6

      Sanity checks:

      A 100:1 KDR yields a win in ~95% of games

      A 6:1 KDR yields a win in ~40% of games

      A 2:1 KDR yields a win in ~9% of games

      A 1:1 KDR yields a win in ~2% of games

      Someone with more experience in the genre can say whether these numbers seem accurate.

      Improvements: Add more stats than KDR in P(round win). You can probably make most stats better by normalizing by the average of log_2 “players left alive at elimination.” Also, given what you said about top pub players averaging ~4, there’s probably a way to assign byes that’s based on average time between engagements.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Hoopyfreud:

        Interesting.

        Does that formula assume that everyone else on the server has a k/d of 1:1? Or is it just that starting population of any game has a k/d averages to 1? I’m not sure I’m quite understanding the leap we have made.

        One obvious issue with the model as described is that encounters are not strictly 1v1. How to deal with “third partying” an ongoing engagement is an important strategic consideration. I suppose we can simply say that comes out in the wash of k/d though. There is an order to the deaths in a multi-player skirmish after all.

        The other issue is that high value loot locations tend to attract players with the best k/d averages. Thus a player with a high k/d is much more likely to encounter similar players in the early rounds of this model.

        Lastly, as a reality check, one of the better players is a guy named Ashek. He carries a ~5.9 k/d, and a win rate in solos of 13.5%. chocoTaco has about a ~4.6 k/d and an 8.7% win rate. WtFMoses has a ~2.7 k/d and a 6.5% win rate.

  28. Radu Floricica says:

    So until now I’ve been pretty chill about privacy, browser security etc. Until, well… today.

    Apparently there’s a market for “traffic”, where pretty much everybody (including the free browser extensions you are using right now) is selling your traffic to integrators, which then offer access to marketing companies. In practice it means a friend of mine spends his fun time finding gross security or GDPR violations… in freaking URLs. Ok, if you’re not pissed yet: in freaking URLs sent over SSL – because in this scenario it doesn’t matter.

    Pretty much everybody in an ads agency has access to the full GET queries you’ve used over the past few years. If this doesn’t make you livid… well, you probably don’t understand what I’m saying. Or maybe I’m waay behind the curve here and everybody else already browses full time in incognito.

    But personally I think this is so much worse than any facebook scandal in the past years that it’s not even in the same category.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      This is known, Khaleesi.

      • albatross11 says:

        It’d still be good to break the wheel, even if that involves dragonfire burning down King’s Landing the whole internet advertising business.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The basic issue isn’t that people won’t pay for things. You know the old (in Internet years) adage, if you aren’t paying you’re the product, not the customer.

        • Clutzy says:

          I am not sure it won’t break itself. A lot of internet advertising is eating its own over whether targeted ads are more effective than normal ads. And particularly whether they are worth the price to develop them enough so that they can be, theoretically sometime in the near term.

          In the end, its possible Google and Facebook will have massive platforms on which to advertise, but their data collected will not be useful on the white market. The only people who will have much use are “Nigerian princes”, and the like, which hopefully is too much of a risk for firms like that to pay.

    • JPNunez says:

      Incognito mode doesn’t do much, by the way. It just doesn’t save to your computer the history of the browsing session, but your ISP and your extensions still see everything you do. Besides, people are now fingerprinting browsers to make anonymizing harder.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        ISP doesn’t see your encrypted traffic, and most traffic is encrypted nowadays. And incognito by default does disable extensions, you have to manually activate them for incognito.

        But I’m not really freaking out about my data – everything really sensitive is dual factor anyways, and the rest… meh. I’m freaking out about how a huge part of our collective data is mine-able, and what I read in the news is freaking Cambridge Analytica where some people had access to my friends list at a time when it was common knowledge that you can get access to one’s friends list. It’s freaking Alice and the Looking Glass.

    • Well... says:

      I use Mozilla, always on “Private browsing” mode. DuckDuckGo is my default search engine, and I use Privacy Badger, the DDG Privacy essentials plugin, HTTPS Everywhere, and basically anything else DDG recommends. I figure I’m probably still being tracked a lot, but at least I feel like I’ve done my due diligence.

      It’s apparently a matter of some controversy what internet users’ expectation of privacy ought to be.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        It’s apparently a matter of some controversy what internet users’ expectation of privacy ought to be.

        Well yeah. And mine were always pretty low, and deliberately so. But the full history of accessed URLs … man, that’s a whole different ballgame. I know how software is made. Those guys are literally knowingly selling passwords, api keys, and god knows what else – no, not god knows, _everything_ else. How on earth isn’t existing legislation enough to put them in jail?

        Not to mention how I’ll have to change the way I’m writing software. Until now I lived in a world where a 100 char random string over SSL was a pretty solid way to protect access to a resource. Now I find people mining for it. A common scenario: send an invoice to a client by email, with a print/download link. That’s public now. Hell, ANY autologin link is public now. WTF.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Wait, you were writing software that sent passwords in the URL?

          Is this a “REST is best” paradigm?

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Not since 1996, probably 🙂 But I am sending lots of moderately confidential information by email, that’s protected by a random code. Goes from my server (secure), by ssl to the emailing service (secure), to the recipient inbox encrypted with TLS (secure)… and then he proceeds to click on the link from a browser with a screenshot extension installed and BAM, in a searchable database.

            Edit: but the chance that there aren’t passwords (or password equivalents like autologin links) in there is nil. Somebody out there is definitely sending passwords by url. And shitty practice or no, those guys are selling them. For money.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I lived in a world where a 100 char random string over SSL was a pretty solid way to protect access to a resource.

            It sounds to me like you are using something in a URL to “protect access to a resource”. And that’s been a flawed approach for a long time. As you already mentioned.

            Of course, people do demand it.

          • JPNunez says:

            That works if you want the URL to be public but don’t want people to bruteforce your site and find all the public resources.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @JPNunez

            “Worked”. Because right now that’s exactly what happens – with searchable databases you get ALL resources. Or, well, most of them.

            We already changed the behavior in one SaaS to require login before accessing the information, but that’s gonna suck: just imagine all those accounting departments that can’t just be forwarded the link anymore. “This is why we can’t have nice things” etc.

            I’m thinking long term to do a soft-autologin thingy. I leave a cookie forever in the browser, and let the autologin/resource access work only if that cookie exists, which is telling me the user has previously logged in from that machine. A weak form of two factor: you need both cookie and link for it to work. Full login page otherwise.

        • Well... says:

          I don’t know if maybe this is stupid, but I try to use meatspace analogues of whatever kind of internet use I’m partaking in to figure out what my expectation of privacy ought to be.

  29. I had this idea of writing a book where each chapter is from a different characters POV but each chapter has inaccuracies based on the bias of the character. You can tell this by the contradictions between the chapters and it’s up to the reader to try and determine what the truth is by critically examining the sources, like a historian would do. Would that be too confusing?

    • Enkidum says:

      It can be done, but it can also be confusing. Rashomon would be one of the most famous examples of it being done well, although the ultimate point of that may well be that there is no single truth. If yours actually expects the reader to be doing some work, as opposed to simply accepting each story and noting that they are incompatible, this could be interesting.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Probably not; I imagine books like this exist already, although I can’t think of any off the top of my head. For some reason, I associate this more with movies – maybe it’s easier to notice discrepancies when there’s visuals?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      A Song of Ice and Fire (the book series) in some great part gets its power from revealing the inherent bias in telling the story from the point of view of the protagonist, accomplishing this by switching protagonists each chapter.

      Perhaps not quite the same thing, but worth mentioning.

      • That’s actually what I had in mind. Something like A Song of Ice and Fire except instead of character motivations being suspect, certain events that are told are in question. For example, imagine instead of accepting that Jeoffrey is a tyrant, you have to filter out his supposed evil actions from the bias of the person exaggerating and even outright fabricating his deeds, trying to parse out the truth from mere hearsay.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, look at Jaime.

          If introducing him as a protagonist in A Storm of Swords didn’t make you question whether the versions of events you are being fed were actually always true …

          • Sure but when you read about Jamie and Cersei’s incestuous relationship, you’re supposed to accept that instead of wondering whether it’s propaganda.

          • Nornagest says:

            The narration of Ice and Fire hardly ever straight-up lies to the reader. You can almost always trust the actual events you see on page; characters often lack the context to fully understand it, or leap to conclusions about it, or their opinion of it is colored by personal likes or dislikes, but if Lord Rocky’s narration says says Ser Boris stabbed Lady Natasha, then Lady Natasha got stabbed as best Rocky can tell in that moment.

            Can’t always trust their recollections either, though — a certain interaction between Sansa and the Hound comes to mind.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Sure but when you read about Jamie and Cersei’s incestuous relationship

            … but that’s relayed to the reader as an eyewitness in the first few chapters of the first book. Whereas the various characters opinions on what has or hasn’t happened are suspect.

            Perhaps you are actually thinking of something that’s more akin to a murder mystery, where we get very little “eyewitness” to the relevant events.

          • @Heelbearcub

            When Augustus Caesar boasts about his glorious reign, do you take him at his word or do you apply some skepticism? After all, he was a eyewitness to all that he did. Think of it like that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @wrong species:
            Sure, I get where you are coming from. I’m just saying Jaime and Cersei aren’t a good example of that. We don’t hear someone accusing them of incest, we see them committing it.

          • In Fight Club, you see Brad Pitt’s character doing all these things but he’s not.

            If you haven’t seen Fight Club, I want to question what we see in addition to what we hear. I think this would be easier in book form since we don’t “see” anything.

    • convie says:

      The Rules of Attraction by Brett Easton Ellis did this. All the chapters are through various characters POVs and their are a number of discrepancies. The main one being that one of the main male characters is in a homosexual relationship with the other in his point of view but not in the others. And you get a conversation where he hears the other ask him if he wants to get a “quesadilla” with him while in the other characters POV he asks him to get a “case of beer”.

    • This is what the Alexandria Quartet did, except that it was each book being from a different viewpoint, at least as I remember it from reading it a very long time ago.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      An Instance of the Fingerpost is another good example of this.

      • This is exactly the kind of thing I’m thinking of. Does the book tell you that they are unreliable or do you have to figure it out? Is this framing distracting in a way that hurts the plot?

        • Gossage Vardebedian says:

          My very sketchy recollection – and I’m actually going to reread this soon, after nearly 20 years – is that it works along the lines of your original post; the different narrators contradict one another.

    • cassander says:

      The Bartimaeus books are told mostly from the perspective of eponymous demon who has been summoned by the wizard Nathaniel, but also party from the perspective of Nathaniel and a couple other characters. There’s a great moment where Nathaniel talks about how fashionably dressed he is, only for the next chapter to open up with Bartimaeus’s rather less flattering take on the same outfit.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Oh, oh, if we’re doing examples: Dresden Files. It does the unreliable narrator very subtly, but also with devastating effect. The original POV is the eponymous wizard, so we know his intentions and his troubles, and it’s an almost tired trope that he has a bad reputation. As the books progress you slowly realize that the rest of the world sees him as a 7 foot freaking wizard, with mysterious motives, very dark past and a rather long trail of bodies behind him – because that’s what he is. The misunderstanding is not the world’s, but entirely his.

      (also yeah, Rashomon is the first in the list for good reason).

      • Mark Atwood says:

        The other thing to keep in mind about the changes in perspective about the Dresden Files is how the protagonists change over time.

        In book one Harry has a stoop, a pauch, and can run less than a block before getting winded. In the later books, he stands straight, has abs, his chest and back have filled out his signature coat, and he charges his punch rings by boxing with a sandbag each morning.

        The characters get older, the much younger ones become adults. As they get older, they act older, and their viewpoint is as from an older person. And as they get older, they start better understanding the people who had been older when they were younger.

        Characters exhibit multiple symptoms of PTSD and other trama disorders. Various characters make hard choices, they cross various formerly uncrossable lines, and it changes them.

        There is no “reset button” at the start of each Harry Dresden novel. There is no happily ever after, there are barely any happy endings, and most of the happy endings that do happen are for the next generation or for the blissfully unaware.

        I do really like the twist of realizing “hey, all the red vampires are rich Mexicans, what the hell, OH FUCK they are AZTEC PRIESTS!”

        • Radu Floricica says:

          many of the adults are exhibiting multiple symptoms of PTSD and other trama disorders

          Poor Murphy. Poor Molly as well, actually, after a certain idiotic character uses her like he did.

          Edit: I just realize the women in his life don’t fare very well, and very directly due to him. I’m a bit afraid for Mab now…

    • JPNunez says:

      It’s a good, proven idea but it is a lot of work.

      The Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) is written like this. Each book is divided into sections, and each section follows a different character, often with different opinions and biases.

      I don’t remember any of them straight up _lying_ to the reader, but you can see how the people interpret each other and the events very differently.

      • I’ve seen a lot of examples where the characters give different perspectives on events but I’m more focused on the idea of the contradictions in the events told being central to the story, not just mere differences in opinion. I’ve also seen movies where there is an unreliable narrator but that is usually explained by the protagonist having a mental disease, rather than more mundane reasons.

        • JPNunez says:

          I think that people don’t like being lied to in their fiction. The characters may lie to each other, but straight-up-lying-to-the-reader/spectator/player should be done carefully and sparingly.

          Everyone mentions Rashomon, but do note how rare Rashomon-like movies actually are, compared to the copies of other Kurosawa movies (7 samurai and hidden fortress come to mind). How many movies that do this that are not Rashomon or Rashomon copies can you name?

          Rashomon itself is cool, but it is not even in the top three Kurosawa movies for me (Kagemusha, Ran, 7 Samurai for me, that order).

          Tread carefully, and only lie to the reader on a central thing.

          • I wouldn’t intend it to be lying any more than fiction is lying. It could just be a concept that people have to get used to.

            Ideally what would happen is that you’re a decent way through the book and enjoying it but you’re really confused about these contradictions and then suddenly you have this eureka moment where you realize that the authors are all unreliable. It’s kind of like the movie Memento, where you gradually pick up that the other characters are manipulating the protagonist. My problem would be if it wasn’t communicated that they should pick up on it in a reasonable way. But I also don’t want to simply announce it. That just seems clumsy.

          • Another Throw says:

            I am reminded of an episode of Bob’s Burgers where they put on a a poorly acted murder mystery dinner theater show. The show begins with Linda explicitly telling the audience that she isn’t the murderer and ends the show by revealing the “twist” that she is the murderer. The audience members precede to argue that a lie is not a twist.

          • John Schilling says:

            I wouldn’t intend it to be lying any more than fiction is lying. It could just be a concept that people have to get used to.

            Point of fact, we don’t have to get used to it. And your finding the idea to be indescribably clever and appealing from the authorial point of view, isn’t a reason for us to try. This is the part where you explain why we should bother.

    • SteveReilly says:

      Browning’s novel-in-verse The Ring and the Book does something like this. It’s not the easiest book to read, but the wikipedia page has a quick summary.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’ve never tried The Ring and the Book, I have read Sordello and I have to agree with Tennyson:

        Lord Tennyson manfully tackled it, but he is reported to have admitted in bitterness of spirit: “There were only two lines in it that I understood, and they were both lies; they were the opening and closing lines, ‘Who will may hear Sordello’s story told,’ and ‘Who would has heard Sordello’s story told!'”

        The problem with overlapping unreliable narrators is – are you going to have a third version that is the ‘true’ version? Else it becomes We dined with friends, we dined alone, a tenor sang, a baritone and the reader has no idea who is telling the truth, if anyone is, and what really happened. You would have to write it really well to pull that off, and if you fail the reader is angry and disappointed because if everyone is wrong and telling it wrongly, why should the reader care what happened?

    • AG says:

      You need to make it obvious to the reader that this is happening early on, or they’ll feel like the “contract with the reader” has been broken down the line for a cheap gotcha.

      • One approach might be to make it epistolary. The chapter isn’t what the author is telling the reader, it’s what one of the characters is telling another—and there is no reason to assume that he is always telling the truth.

        I have a bit like that in the (unfinished) sequel to my first novel. The speaker, a soldier from the defeated army getting room and board at an inn by attracting customers with his account of the campaign, gives a significantly distorted report of events in the previous novel. A scene a little later has two other characters going over the account (one of them was taking notes), concluding that parts of it cannot be true, but coming up with the wrong explanation of what really happened.

        • Jon S says:

          Yea, this seems like the right way to do it to me. Letters/emails/etc written by the characters rather than their first-hand accounts also works.

          • Nick says:

            Narratively speaking, there’s often not much of a distinction; a lot of stories that aren’t explicitly epistolary nonetheless have a frame indicating it’s an account of events written by the narrator. And it seems to me that an explicitly epistolary story might undermine Wrong Species’ intent: we don’t just tell things differently, sometimes we see them differently.

    • Shion Arita says:

      I don’t think it would be too confusing, but you should somehow indicate very clearly that this is what’s happening, since the way people are the first conclusion most readers will jump to is that the author is making mistakes.

    • Protagoras says:

      The various books in the Black Company series by Glen Cook have only one narrator per book, but it isn’t always the same one between books, and they do disagree with one another. Honestly in that case I have some suspicion that it’s mostly a cover for Cook being a bit sloppy about consistency, but the less than perfect reliability of the narrative is explicitly mentioned in the narrative.

    • AppetSci says:

      The Poisonwood Bible The mother of the family, narrates the introductory chapter in five of the novel’s seven sections. The narrative then alternates among the four daughters.

      The writing style differs greatly between the characters (especially the elder teenage daughter) so you’re not confused as to who is observing/narrating.

    • LesHapablap says:

      The biography of Bill Black is like this in places. The biographer will relay Bill’s version of some story, and then someone else who was there will write a section about how the incident happened in their own memory. Often quite funny, like when Bill hovered his helicopter right on top of a local hotel to wind up the owner, with the propietor running out screaming. Then hearing later that the downwash had emptied the contents of the chimney all over the lobby.

    • brad says:

      The larger category is unreliable narrator, with this specific case being multiple unreliable narrators. As I Lay Dying is a famous example.

  30. salvorhardin says:

    Your Fourth of July story about arguably un-American behavior by government officials:

    https://theintercept.com/2019/06/22/cbp-border-searches-journalists/

    I admit my bias is strongly against both government officials generally and border enforcement specifically, so: what am I missing here that would excuse the actions of the CBP officers in the story? What is this other than absolute power corrupting absolutely?

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m sorry, I stopped right at the headline because it smacked too much of “How dare they do this to me – A JOURNALIST???!!!!”

      I don’t like abuse of civic power, I think the press does have a role in making government and other big functionaries accountable, but I also think that if you deliberately go somewhere in order to be offended and you’re walking around with a neon halo of “I am the one and only true source of facts, truth, virtue and freedom” then I’m going to want you to back that up with a lot more than “I’ve got a press card!”

      Doorstopping grieving family members and naming defendants in cases where the judge has ruled, for damn good reasons, that they shouldn’t be named is too often defended as being in the public interest. And too often it’s not “what is in the public interest”, it’s “what the public are interested in”, as well as “this will enable my employers to sell more advertising space by grabbing eyeballs with shock, horror headlines”.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        +1

      • Well... says:

        As I’ve said many times now, the news is just a bunch of English and Acting majors (or dropouts!) who get together and put on a show where they pretend to be the experts on things.

        The journalist in question’s name is Seth Harp. I’m not 100% sure but I think this guy has a degree in…journalism. In other words, he has no real expertise in anything he writes about, only in doing the writing. His authority as a purveyor of truth and facts comes from…magic? Well, nothing actually.

    • The Nybbler says:

      What is this other than absolute power corrupting absolutely?

      Less than absolutely, since he didn’t “have a fatal heart attack while in custody”. But bad enough, and the privilege of cops to mess with people who fail to ‘respect their authoritah’.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I find the behaviour both very bad and completely unsurprising. The shocking thing to me is that an experienced traveller like the author would be so foolish as to wilfully increase his risk of getting fucked over by border officials.

    • edmundgennings says:

      Reading between the lines this seems to reflect poorly on both of them. The journalist, whose side of the story we are reading, comes off as overly self important, needlessly suspicious, and conflict prone and the officers seem to take their powers way too seriously and be corrupted by them. But people being suspicious and evasive are seem like they should receive additional scrutiny and I would be angry if someone was being needlessly so and thus wasting my time.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’d already seen this one, and I’m pretty close to Deiseach on this one. Object level, it was a foolish abuse of discretionary authority granted to civil servants working in my name, and I’d rather they not have done that. But at the end of the day, everybody was alive and in good health and nobody was in jail, so pretty far down on the outrage scale.

      Except, I’m clearly being told that I have to be outraged over this, because it was done to a journalist. A deliberate smart-ass journalist who went out of his way to antagonize cops and then cashed in by telling a story about how the cops he antagonized were mean to him. Why, they didn’t even serve him coffee!

      Journalists are basically spies who don’t happen to work for a government. Well, maybe not the journalists who tell me who won the latest sportsball game and how thrilling it was, but the ones who set out to uncover corruption that the corrupt don’t want uncovered, yeah, that’s spying, and doing it in what you or some wealthy philanthropist(*) believe is the public interest, doesn’t change the fact that you really have to expect to be treated like a spy.

      Not because spying is intrinsically evil, but because humans are intrinsically incapable of being nice to people who are spying on them. We can have rules like “if you don’t do the hardcore James Bond stuff and if it’s not wartime, we don’t execute or disappear you”, and we do, and in the United States those rules are particularly favorable to journalist-type spies. The enemy is still going to rough you up as best they can.

      So, tell me the story about how you crossed enemy territory and infiltrated the enemy stronghold to get the goods in the name of the Public Interest, and the hardships you endured and how you outfoxed the enemy and most importantly what you learned, and I’m good with that. Tell me the story about how you found yourself in enemy territory and they were mean to you for four hours, and they didn’t serve you coffee, and you a journalist, and eyes roll, moving on.

      * Does anyone else even hire journalists any more?

      • Deiseach says:

        Why, they didn’t even serve him coffee!

        John Schilling, no! Oh, the humanity! At least in Manchester they’ll give you tea and cake* 🙂

        *Note: tea and cake may not be applicable for real villains

        • Plumber says:

          But was the cake fresh or stale?

          If the cake tastes stale then it’s grossly inhumane treatment!

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        Governments. For many of the same reasons. And also a dash of “Sending a gaggle of reporters to poke about openly is a very useful intelligence tool”.

    • blipnickels says:

      Sure.

      To see the flip side of this, read a classic Last Psychiatrist.

      Bottom line, there’s no reason to be angry with the CBP officers, there’s some reason to be concerned about the underlying policies.

      The situation is scary to the journalist because it’s never happened to him before. The officers involved have literally done hundreds of these before, there’s 40 pages of paperwork and checklists they have to fill out before they’re allowed to release him, and within 5 minutes of talking with this guy they know that he’s both unpleasant and not a real threat, which reclassifies him into busywork. But at a personal level, none of them care anymore, and anyone who does care was probably transferred out by a supervisor awhile ago because you don’t put psychopaths in public-facing roles, psychopaths do stupid things, which generate lawsuits, which are one of the few things government orgs actually care about. The only things the CBP officers did that seems questionable is on their answers to his rights (ie right to enter the US, right to an attorney) where they seem to have been either unclear or lied.

      At the policy level, it seems like the CBP and others have found a legal loophole around citizens rights when they cross back into the US. This is somewhat defensible since border crossings are a logical place to apply extra scrutiny to people, but there don’t seem to be good limits on how far that extra scrutiny should extend. Good luck finding 50+ senators to vote on it though.

      And this guy should not have been panicked. He works for Glenn Greenwald, who’s been subject to this for a decade+. Everyone at The Intercept should be familiar with this, so his panic/fear comes across as deeply unrealistic.

      But to defend the CBP officers, which seems like the main thrust of your question, they don’t care about you or him anymore than the DMV lady does. They don’t get a high off this because this is just work, they’ve done it hundreds of times before, and no one they’ve examined is really that important or interesting.

      • albatross11 says:

        As an aside, bullies and sadists often manage to stick around on normal police departments that deal with citizens and are subject to local government control. I’d expect that to be much easier for CBP folks, who overwhelmingly deal with noncitizens who have little familiarity with US laws, fewer rights than citizens even in theory and way fewer in practice, almost no chance of having any connections who can push back on misconduct, no money to hire a lawyer, and who probably won’t even be in the country anymore in another year.

        I know nothing about the Intercept reporter’s situation, but I don’t think it’s safe to assume that the bad apples are being sorted out of CBP with any particular regularity.

        • blipnickels says:

          Sorry, let me clarify. “Transferred out” doesn’t mean fired. This is government, no one’s getting fired (joking/absolutely not joking). I mean assigned different duties. These are CBP officers, they sit behind a desk scanning passports all day, the passports of people with the resources to fly internationally. I’m sure any sociopath quickly got assigned to desk duty far away from the public.

          Are there some places I’m worried about sociopath officers? Sure, in the Baltimore Police Department or the Folsom prison guards but these are places that #1 require or induce some level of socipath-y just to function and #2 are desperate for people.

          But these guys just sit behind desks all day? Do you really think this lady is a budding sociopath?

          • LesHapablap says:

            You don’t need to be a full-on sociopath to be an asshole, especially if the cultural norms of your employer is to be an asshole. There must be some reason why the TSA and CBP officers in the US are known for being rude assholes compared to the rest of the world.

          • albatross11 says:

            Indeed, it seems like perfectly normal people can end up behaving like monsters when put in the right circumstances and given the right incentives. This is really important to keep in mind for times when *you* might be the person put in a position to behave like a monster.

            As far as I can tell, there’s never been a nightmare state with anything like enough sociopaths and sadists to staff all their gulags/concentration camps/death squads/torture chambers. They had to *create* the supply they needed from normal morally-flawed people.

      • LesHapablap says:

        There has to be some reason that US police and customs agents strut around like roided up prison guards, like 80s movie high school jocks prowling the halls for nerds to throw in trash cans, while the same civil servants in other western countries are friendly and nice and de-escalating.

        I don’t know what it is but there is an obvious difference, and I wouldn’t rule out that the American police force advertises a certain lifestyle that attracts a certain type of applicant.

        Edit: top result for “NZ police recruitment video” vs. “US police recruitment video”
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9psILoYmCc
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy_k7KC_d1g

        Bloody obvious when you compare the two

        • johan_larson says:

          Could it be that the bottom end of society, which police inevitably spend much of their time dealing with, is just plain nastier in the US than elsewhere? That would explain a more aggressive posture. The Brazilian police, who have to deal with flat-out shanty towns, are known for being extremely aggressive, both formally and informally.

          Are the worst neighborhoods in New York worse than the worst neighborhoods in Berlin, say?

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Edit: top result for “NZ police recruitment video” vs. “US police recruitment video”
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9psILoYmCc
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy_k7KC_d1g
          Bloody obvious when you compare the two

          Yeah, no wonder US cops often seem to act like an occupying army… There was so much militaristic imagery in that video, I had to keep reminding myself that it was trying to get me to join the police, not the army.

          Are the worst neighborhoods in New York worse than the worst neighborhoods in Berlin, say?

          I don’t know, but size/proportion of bad neighbourhoods could also explain things. If (just pulling numbers out of my backside here) 10% of New York is really bad but only 1% of Berlin is, then even if those 10% and 1% are both as bad as each other, I’d expect the police in New York to spend much more time interacting with the nasty people, and consequently to be more aggressive in general.

        • Deiseach says:

          Edit: top result for “NZ police recruitment video” vs. “US police recruitment video”

          Feck’s sake. If I wanted to soldier, I’d join the army, not the rozzers.

          As for Irish police recruitment ads, this is unrealistically glamorous. The truth is more like this.

      • Deiseach says:

        there’s 40 pages of paperwork and checklists they have to fill out before they’re allowed to release him, and within 5 minutes of talking with this guy they know that he’s both unpleasant and not a real threat

        Exactly this. “I know you’re not a terrorist, just a pain in the arse, but due to all the panic about Something Must Be Done there are sixteen checklists I have to tick about “are you sure this guy isn’t a terrorist? really sure? super-duper really sure? have you checked about his great-granny? okay maybe he’s not a terrorist but if we let him back into the country is he going to park on a double yellow line?” before they can show him the door and say “good riddance”.

        All that paperwork takes time, and probably there was an element of “this guy wanted to be a huge pain in the arse, so let him sit there and stew for a bit, turnabout is fair play” as well. Not great practice and not to be encouraged, but understandable on a human level.

  31. Hamish Todd says:

    Social history question: in medieval western europe, did women have any social standing over men in any circumstances at all? If the answer is “within this time period and location, it varied some amount”, I’m interested in an “average”.

    By this I mean “were there many ordinary couples who, in their day-to-day lives and communication with one another (as opposed to property/business/legal dealings), had the woman act as anything more than a a passive infant”. My understanding is that ancient Athens was a bit like this, women couldn’t even sing. I am most interested in hearing about letters/first-hand accounts.

    • Watchman says:

      Simple answer is yes. Women had their own property since they would have a dowry on marriage, and could inherit from parents under many systems. This was recognisable separate property: husbands could be taken to court over misusing the wife’s share of the property and dowry was returned on divorce for example (note also women could initiate divorces).

      Taking England as an example, women were involved in 15%-20% (sorry – no idea where the exact figure is) of property transactions. The records I’m most familiar with, for eighth-century Francia (most of western continental Europe north of the Pyrenees and Alps), have lower female participation (5-10%) but I think this reflects the fact that these were generally big transactions with churches, not between private individuals due to the partial survival of evidence. Women definitely were able to act with husbands (or other male family members), and in some cases on their own.

      This is not to say this was an equal society in any way: women would need a male advocate in court for example, even if they were head of the household. But women could hold authority and could on occasion actually own all the property.

    • edmundgennings says:

      Women clearly had meaningful agency in medieval Europe both in the boring everyday sense as well as legal. There are a number of cultural records that only make sense if women had meaningful agency. It would clearly be much less than modern feminists would like but there is a huge difference between 0 and that. There were a number of instances where women held superior power to men whom they outranked. Abbess who were surprisingly powerful being the fullest example, but women would sometimes hold power on their own and would often exercise power in the name of a male relative.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Common sense says no: whatever the official and legal case may be, people are people and there will be couples where the wife wears the trousers.

      For further evidence pertaining to (late) medieval England specifically, consider the Wife of Bath’s prologue from the Canterbury Tales, starting around line 154:

      An housbonde I wol have – I wol nat lette –
      Which shal be bothe my dettour and my thral,

      It goes on.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Common sense says no: whatever the official and legal case may be, people are people and there will be couples where the wife wears the trousers.

        +1
        People are people, and for any literate society where literature survives about people outside the court of the king making the laws, you find evidence of women with power.
        Heck, even for the Mycenaeans, a warrior society whose documentary evidence consists entirely of accidentally-burnt clay tablets, we know about Karpathia of Pylos arguing at the royal court for her property rights in two plots of land.

        • Watchman says:

          Are we sure that the destruction of Mycenean civilisation wasn’t a proto-red-tribe reaction to a proto-blue-tribe judge letting a woman plead her case?

          If you work hard enough you can make anything about the culture war…

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Are we sure that the destruction of Mycenean civilisation wasn’t a proto-red-tribe reaction to a proto-blue-tribe judge letting a woman plead her case?

            Epistemic status: low-probability but who knows? 😛

    • gdepasamonte says:

      This is not a real answer, but it seemed to me that the stock figure of the henpecked husband is probably old as time itself, and only really works as a humorous figure if it approximates to the experience of ordinary people. Sure enough, I found a rather charming popular lyric from the 14th/15th century (excerpted):

      If I ask our dame bread
      She takes a staff and breaks my head
      And does me run under the bed
      I dare not speak when she says – “Peace!”

      If I ask our dame flesh
      She breaks my head with a dish –
      “Boy, thou art not worth half a pea” –
      I dare not speak when she says – “Peace!”

      And according this blog post, “the image of a wife beating her husband with a cudgel is a common sight in medieval English cathedrals”. We all know the kind of couples in the modern world that this trope makes fun of (rightly or wrongly), and I doubt earlier times lacked the relevant personality types. Ordinary daily interaction is surely governed mainly by relative strength of personality of the husband and wife, itself probably largely genetic. It is not easy for me to believe in a population of almost exclusively “passive infantile” women, even if that was more common than it is today.

    • For a Muslim example, consider one of my favorite medieval Islamic law and econ stories.

      A certain vizier was going about the countryside taking petitions and giving alms and dealing with what must be dealt with. A poor woman asked him for alms, and he wrote “give this woman two hundred dinar” and gave the writing to her to take to his treasurer. The treasurer was surprised at his master giving so large a sum in alms, so took the writing back to the vizier:

      “Master, is this your hand?”

      “It is. It was my intention to write ‘two hundred dirhem,’ but since it was the will of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, that my hand slipped and I wrote ‘dinar’ for ‘dirhem,’ gold for silver, pay it out as it was written.

      Three days later, the vizier received a petition from a poor old man. It said that three days before the vizier had given his wife two hundred dinar, and she had now decided that she was too wealthy a woman to be married to a poor man like him, and was threatening to force him to divorce her. The petition asked that the vizier appoint someone in authority to prevent his wife from making him divorce her.

      The vizier thought a moment, took out paper and pen, and wrote “Pay this man two hundred dinar.”

      Under Islamic law, a husband can divorce his wife but a wife cannot divorce her husband. The implication of the story is that, in practice, the wife can make being married to her so unpleasant that the husband will divorce her—and that not even the much wealthier and more powerful vizier can stop her from doing so, or at least would be sufficiently hard so that paying the husband is a better solution to the problem.

      Why I consider this a law and econ story I will leave for readers to figure out. Or you could look at the chapter on marriage et. al. in my Law’s Order.

  32. JulieK says:

    I’ve recently learned that instant coffee is not nearly as good as “real” coffee.
    Any recommendations for an easy and inexpensive device or method for making coffee for one person?

    • Enkidum says:

      If you like espresso/Americanos (and you should), you can get a stovetop espresso maker for 20 bucks or less. It’s a little more effort than a machine, and you can screw it up, but it’s actually quite easy, and done properly it’s as good as anything you’ll get at a coffee shop. Lots of youtube videos etc showing you the details.

      EDIT: “screw it up” here means you’ll get a cup of shitty espresso if you leave it on too long. The maker itself is essentially indestructible, I bring it camping all the time.

      • Lambert says:

        It’s not real espresso, since it only reaches a couple of atmospheres, compared to the optimum of around 9 bar for espresso.
        But it’s very good nonetheless.

        Most importantly, get a decent grinder. The Hario Skerton is the usual reccomendation for your first grinder, and it’s what I use. Ground beans will be stale long before you buy them.

        It’s a good idea to go to high-quality coffee shops, in order to see what you like.
        Doubly so if the shop also sells beans. I usually buy beans from nearby roasteries.
        I might be able to give recommendations, depending on what continent folks are in.

        r/coffee is a good place for information.

        Alas, the 3rd wave coffee scene is a bit hipster: a pre-17:00 mirror of craft beer. But there’s some damn good coffee out there.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Electric Kettle, Burr Grinder, French Press. There’s an initial outlay of cash, but it’s pretty solid.
      You can dump the used grounds in the sink…but the catch is to have a strainer in your sink. It makes the biggest hassle of a French press (clean-up) into a simple action.

    • brad says:

      You’ll need a grinder, it’s table stakes. If you have the patience the manual one Lambert recommends above is good & cheap. Since you are making for one, it won’t be too bad. You’ll also need at least decent beans–don’t need to go overboard here, but you want beans roasted relatively recently. Sticking with the cheap but manual theme, I’d go with a french press. I like pour over when a pro does it, but it’s more expensive and it takes practice to get right.

    • broblawsky says:

      I’m a big fan of the Aeropress. It takes a little muscle to use, but it makes better coffee than any stovetop espresso maker I’ve ever seen.

      • Elephant says:

        Seconded — the Aeropress is cheap and great.

      • J Mann says:

        Thirded – an aeropress is great.

        Cafejo used to make a similar product that used K-Cups or reusable K-Cup filters. I love that even more, but it looks like they don’t make it anymore, so I suspect patent trouble.

    • Tarhalindur says:

      Considering the “easy and inexpensive” criteria, the other suggestions here might be too fancy. As a notoriously thrifty person who made coffee for myself at home from whole beans for several years (until I decided I needed to cut out the caffeine), perhaps my old method would work?

      You will need:
      1 cheap coffee maker, probably 5-cup – especially since everything else is larger and probably too much for only one person. (No-frills models are often available at supermarkets like Wal-Mart or Target for less than $50; these tend to lack electronic controls in favor of an on-off switch (and possibly a timer you can set in order to automatically make a cup at a given time), but I tend to consider that a feature rather than a bug. Some of the cheap ones do have problems; IIRC the last time I got one I picked up a $40 model rather than one of the $20 ones specifically to try to avoid that.)
      1 coffee grinder (not sure exactly where mine came from since it was a hand-me-down, but I’m pretty sure it was from a box store); a spice grinder might also work.
      Package of coffee filters (grocery store, Costco/Sams Club/etc. may have larger batches)
      Bag of whole coffee beans (grocery store will do – last couple of batches I got were Eight O’Clock brand, IIRC). Whole is important, the ground kind lose their flavor.
      Measuring scoop (it’s not clearly labeled, but I think the one I was using was a refitted 1 tbsp measuring spoon).

      Should come out to less than $100 (well, assuming you’re not in an area with inflated prices), at least until after you have to pick up enough new replacement bags of beans (and to a lesser extent coffee filters).

      My usual prep method (aka “making a pot of coffee for dummies”):
      – Put two scoops of whole coffee beans into the coffee grinder.
      – Grind beans in grinder until powdered (or sometimes just small chunked)
      – Put ground coffee beans in a coffee filter (should vaguely resemble dust covering the bottom of a bowl).
      – Open the lid of the coffee maker.
      – Put the filter with beans in the spot in the coffee maker that is designed to hold beans in a filter (usually the overhang right over where the coffeepot goes).
      – Take the coffeepot out of the coffee maker and over to the sink, fill it up (there will probably be markings on the side of the pot indicating how full you’re supposed to fill it), take it back to the coffee maker, and pour it in the large chamber that’s meant to hold it (usually at the back; my most recent machine had a set of water level markers so you would know whether you were getting it too full) and pour it in. Tap water should do fine here, since you’re boiling the water anyways.
      – Turn on the on switch and come back in a few minutes (there’s a distinctive gurgling when it’s almost done, you can use that to time once you’ve learned it).
      – Enjoy your coffee!

    • Theodoric says:

      I use a pour over cone and use pre-ground coffee. I’m sure the foodies here can give several reasons why this is bad, but I am satisfied with it.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        This is undoubtedly the easy entry on ramp to raising your coffee game.

        Just buy quality beans. If you like a bold cup of coffee, with a very dark roast, Peet’s is a good brand.

        If you want to go just one step more, buy a kitchen scale to use the same amount beans each time. 35 grams is a nice starting point. Obviously use the same size cup each time, or get a Hario server and make 400 ml of coffee.

        • Well... says:

          +1.

          I would take it a step further and say the pourover cone is the best way to make coffee. Step 1: put finely ground beans[*] in a cone filter, in the cone, set on a carafe or just on your mug if it’s a #2 size cone. Step 2: heat water to just below boiling, about 110˚. Step 3: pour just enough of the hot water over the beans to soak them through, then wait about 30 seconds. Step 4: pour enough more hot water over the beans to fill the cone.

          *Use medium- or light-roasted beans, never dark roast. Quality beans can sometimes be found for under $10/lb at places like Trader Joe’s, but usually you’re going to be spending at least $12 or more per pound for anything decent. Beans from East Africa tend to be fruity and tangy. Beans from Central America tend to be rich and chocolatey. Beans from Oceana and the Pacific Islands tend to be fruity and zesty. It’s fine to buy your beans pre-ground if you’re going to make coffee every day, but if you only have coffee once in a while then you should buy whole beans and grind the ones you’re going to use. Try to use a finer grind for pourover, but it doesn’t have to be powder-fine like for espresso. Use two or three heaping tablespoons per 8oz mug of coffee.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Depending on where you live, a local roaster is perhaps the best option. Also, different people like different roasts!

            I mention Peet’s because they are a national brand that’s much better than Starbuck’s IMO, and it’s more likely you can get some where you live. I agree that the aggressive dark roasts aren’t the best for letting the coffee be itself and one will be amazed at how different they can be.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      I’m not a coffee drinker, but I’m surprised at the immediate jump from “instant coffee” to “grind your own beans”. Is just-in-time grinding really that much better? (Especially if you’re comparing it to instant?)

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Instant coffee is miles and miles away from even pre-ground beans.

        It’s analogous to the difference between a frozen dinner and actually cooking your own meal from a blue apron kit.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        IME, yes, grinding your own beans is FAR better. Plus, a decent burr grinder is relatively small and super-easy to use. You just dump in your beans and press a button. It’s actually easier than making coffee with a standard coffee machine.
        It’s not super-expensive, around $40-$50 if you pick it up from Bed,Bath,Beyond or some place like that, and I am sure there are cheaper models.

        The biggest drawback is that it takes up counter space, but this is one countertop appliance I think is worth it.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I’m getting my coffee ground at specialty shops in 200g batches, so it doesn’t have (that much) time to lose flavor. That’s probably the best compromise, considering they’re also grinding to the proper size for my coffee-making method, which I probably couldn’t without a lot more fuss.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            An electric burr grinder will grind it exactly as fine or course as you like.

            The shop is using an electric burr grinder as well, I would guess, just one built for many more duty cycles.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Really? Things evolved since I last got my hands on a coffee grinder.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Radu Florica:

            You are likely thinking about a blade style grinder, which would frequently have been referred to as a simply a coffee grinder. The blades spin and repeatedly cut/break the beans. Control on the grind is minimal and limited to how long you spin the blades.

            A burr grinder uses a conical base and an inverse conical top plate that can be adjusted farther and closer to the base. The beans make one pass through the grinder and the fineness is precisely determined by the distance between the grinding surfaces.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @HeelBearCub

            …And I found myself looking at shopping options. Thank you… I think.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Radu Floricica:
            I have owned this model, the Capresso 560.01 Infinity, for several years and like it.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Depends on how “good” you want and how much coffee. A 4-cup drip coffeemaker with pre-ground beans is acceptable to me (I have a burr grinder and grinding just before is better, but not THAT much better), but if you only want 1 mug it’s not so good (4 “cups” is usually about 2 mugs, but making less than that in a automatic drip coffeemaker doesn’t work out IME). They make manual “pour over” single cup devices (which basically just hold a filter cone into which you pour hot water), I haven’t tried them but they’re cheap enough to experiment. A french press is good for single cups but then you need a grinder because the pre-ground beans are too fine.

      More important is likely the coffee you’re using. No matter what you do to brew lousy coffee, it’s still lousy coffee. And if you like one roast, a much darker or lighter one may not be to your taste. Same with regions; Colombian coffee is different from Costa Rican is different from Hawaiian.

      If you are stuck with instant, the Starbucks VIA Ready Brew is surprisingly close to their regular coffee. I’m not a great fan of that but it beats chewing No-Doz.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I got to this by pure laziness, but apparently it’s an official way of making coffee (to the point where good baristas know the grind size for it). Boil some water in a tea kettle and pour in a cup over a couple of teaspoons of coffee. That’s it 😀 A splash of cold milk to settle the beans is welcome. Be careful, you end up with pretty strong coffee this way, caffeine-wise.

      Nowadays I’m using an espresso machine – it takes about the same time, but quite a lot more skill.

      If you just want the coffee without the fuss, get an espresso machine with pods. Put the pod in, push a button, drink surprisingly good coffee.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        Boiling water is too hot. The water should be at just under 185F, not just over 210F.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          This is why I have an electric kettle that heats water precisely to the temperature at which I want. And for whatever reason, I get best results at 200 (maybe because I use a French press and let it sit for quite some time).

        • Radu Floricica says:

          That was in my lazy days, before I learned to appreciate a well made cup of coffee. I find there’s a delay of a few good years before “I’m a guy that drinks fancy beers/good coffee” and “I actually can tell the difference” – I only got there with coffee this year.

          But it’s easy to play with the temperature. Just leave the kettle a minute, or pour the water into another cup first.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Pourover. I do it each morning.

      The night before, I set up two cups, each with a teaspoon of sugar, put a filter cone on each, and put a filter in each one. In the morning, I hit the start button on the kettle, put a heaping spoonful of ground coffee in each filter, and then feed the cat. A few minutes later, the kettle is at 185F, and I pour that water into the filter. A few minutes later, there are two cups of fresh coffee to walk to the bus with.

      There is no complicated equipment to maintain or clean, the filter cones just need a rinse every few days, the filters the cups and the lids are all compostable, and I can pipeline interleave the process with other morning prep chores.

      You can get your coffee beans ground at many cafes and most good grocery stores.

    • AG says:

      The absolute lowest effort is to cold brew in concentrate, then serve individual diluted portions. This way, you don’t even need to brew that often.
      (You can even freeze some for the long term.)

    • DinoNerd says:

      I’m using pre-ground beans and a single-serving french press . I got the french press from some local coffee place – Peet’s, I think.

    • SamChevre says:

      Seconding this: for cheap and easy, decent preground coffee and a stovetop espresso maker (AKA “Moka pot”) is a great place to start if you like dark, strong coffee. My preferred coffee is Café Bustelo. This is the coffee I grew up with, and it doesn’t require filters or fiddling–put coffee and water in it, put it on the stove, pour out the coffee and dump the grounds and rinse it.

      For more “American-style” coffee, a french press or aeropress and Folgers coffee. (Yes, you are supposed to use coarse coffee in a French press; I don’t bother.

      I don’t find the extra effort of grinding my own beans worth it.

  33. JulieK says:

    Why do children’s book publishers bring out new editions with new illustrations every few years? For example, “Flat Stanley” from 2018 is different from 2012, and “Ramona” 2013 from “Ramona” 2006. I understand they might not want to use the original illustrations from the 1960’s (though I think they’re charming), but does something really become outdated in just a few years?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I suspect this is one of those cases where if the question is “why”, the answer is “money”. Even if nothing has changed aside from the size of Ramona’s cell phone (OK, I checked, and at least on the cover she doesn’t actually have one), putting out a new edition garners interest and produces sales.

      • Nick says:

        Yeah, this sounds like a weird case of planned obsolescence to me.

        • More plausible for textbooks, where there is a reason why the (student) buyer needs the current edition.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I don’t think planned obsolescence.

          It’s for a saturated market where new title sales can be impacted by how appealing the cover art is. The target market is in constant flux, being primarily young readers.

          People looking specifically for Ramona books specifically, they just buy the current edition. The cover isn’t for them. The cover is for people who don’t know they are looking for a Ramona book.

    • Etoile says:

      Louis Sachar’s “Wayside School” books got made into a cartoon, and now you can only buy with illustrations those cartoons, even thought the previous illustrations were far superior.
      I don’t know why I’m the general case, but is unfortunate one.
      By the way, the above are excellent books to read aloud to grades K-3, and full of little things for adults to notice as well.

      Edit: spelling

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Why do children’s book publishers bring out new editions with new illustrations every few years?

      Money.
      I’m a bibliophile and sometimes I buy two different editions of a classic because I can’t decide which illustrator is better, e.g. the original Tenniel Alice books and also Harry Rountree’s Alice in Wonderland or The Hobbit by both Alan Lee and Michael Hague. Very often the best illustrations for an old book are either Victorian or Edwardian.

  34. Don_Flamingo says:

    I’ve got this need for speed in my interactions with tech. And I get extremely impatient, when it can’t keep up.

    my fast browsing setup for PC (something I’m still tinkering with):

    Microsoft Edge Dev
    cVim
    I don’t care about cookies
    uBlock Origin
    Boostaler

    Edge Dev is Chromium-based. It’s MS way of saying: “If we can’t beat them, join them”. And it looks really neat. I always liked the look of Edge tbh, but it was missing all the extensions I needed. It had adblockers but not a single vim-extension, so that’s fixed.

    cVim
    Only extension right now that allows me to press “mf” and then have letters appear on all links and letting me open them up in another tab with two keystrokes. Usually vim-extensions vanish the letters after selection. Vimium for Firefox could do this as well, but the Quantum-update killed it so I’ve abandoned FF.
    Usually I just use “f”, but often with link-posts from Scott or MR or when I want to download a lot of files at Uni, I get really pissed if I have to click little words on my screen, moving my hand and this taking seconds.
    I scroll with jk and ud.

    I don’t care about cookies
    To stop the microaggressions cookie prompts.

    uBlock Origin
    Read an article recently showing several adblockers and how they perform in various scenarios. uBlock seems to always be among the best or is the best. Can’t find the article 🙁

    Boostaler
    Just installed it. I think it makes very big difference. Often I feel that because of cVim I can do things faster than the browser can comprehend. Now that problem is much less present.

  35. fion says:

    There’s a lot of smart, nerdy people here. Has anybody solved a Rubik cube?

    I don’t mean “has anybody learned the algorithms that allow them to consistently move the blocks to the right places as fast as possible?”. I mean sat down to it, as a puzzle, without looking up the solution, with a pencil, paper, time, possibly a computer, and solved it?

    If so, what was it like? How did you do it? Was it very hard? How long did it take? I learned the algorithms about ten years ago and I’m a little sad that I’ll now never be able to try to solve the puzzle. My impression is that it’s very hard and I might not have been able to do it anyway, but I’d love to hear from somebody who’s done it.

    • Elephant says:

      If you mean “pencil, paper, time, possibly a computer,” and a Rubik’s cube: yes. Actually, minus the computer, and (intentionally) not looking anything up. I highly recommend it. It took me a long time — many hours, but spread over many weeks (10?), often in bits of otherwise useless waiting time.

      After poking around with the cube for a while, I started drawing what various combinations of moves would do, eventually thinking up with patterns that would do particular operations. (I printed many copies of blank cube pictures that I could write on.) I’m sure my combinations are very inefficient, but it was a really great feeling to come up with them myself!

      I recommend it.

      • fion says:

        Yes, I was of course including a Rubik cube in the “allowed equipment”. To be honest I didn’t really expect the computer to be useful… it’s probably not really the sort of maths that requires that. Speaking of maths, are you trained in group theory? Did you use it? Did your approach involve a lot of trial and error? How did you plan which parts of the cube to solve in which order? Have you since looked up existing solving methods to see if your method was equivalent to one of them?

        Also, when you say you recommend it, do you mean to imply that you disagree with my assumption that I, as somebody who has looked up existing solutions, cannot ever really solve the cube? Or do you just mean you recommend it in general terms to people who have not already spoiled it for themselves?

        • Elephant says:

          Good questions!

          About group theory: no, I am not trained in it, though I have a minimal knowledge of it, which I didn’t make any use of (other than the trivial bit of insight that cube operations don’t commute).

          About trial and error: yes, I did a *lot* of trial and error! Much of this involved writing down what various combinations of moves (X, Y, inverse X, inverse Y) would result in, and then staring at these notes to see what combinations of these results could accomplish.

          About what order to do things: I don’t really remember — sorry! Certainly the last things were figuring out what moves would switch pairs or triplets of blocks on a single face, leaving everything else unchanged.

          About looking up existing methods: I haven’t done this. It might be interesting, but I don’t really care. (If I had more free time, I’d instead work on other cubes, like 4x4x4.)

          About recommending: I certainly recommend trying it for people who have not spoiled it for themselves. (Also, I don’t understand why people look up the solutions — what’s the point?) About whether you can really “solve” the cube now that you know existing solutions is an interesting question. If you internalized the solutions so well that you absolutely can’t get them out of your mind, then I don’t think there’s much to do. However, if you can still “play around” with exploring combinations of moves and finding sets that do useful things, I think you can certainly meaningfully solve the cube!

          • fion says:

            Thanks for your answers! I don’t really have anything to add, but that was really interesting. 🙂

    • AG says:

      I was able to figure out algorithms for the 1st and 2nd layers, but not the 3rd.

      • fion says:

        I was the same. I spent a few weeks playing with an old cube to see what I could figure out, and that was as far as I got before I decided to learn existing algorithms.

    • Lignisse says:

      Yes, I have. When I was a young child of 8-9, I learned how to solve it from a book “The Simple Solution to Rubik’s Cube”, which involved a very minimal algorithm set. I never got faster than about 4-5 minutes, and forgot everything I learned.

      Fast-forward a decade and a half, and I was a college student studying group theory on the way to a B.S. in Math. I impulse bought a cube because I remembered liking it as a child, and spent about three hours that evening solving it. I manually worked out the first two layers, then experimented to find a few sequences of moves (mostly depending on the “commutator principle”: if X and Y are short move sequences, then X Y X’ Y’, where X’ is the reverse of X, is probably a sequence that changes very little). I wrote down the effects of the ones I had found in cycle notation, and once I had accumulated a few, I worked out on paper what would happen if I composed them, and gave those variable names too, until I found a way to compose them to solve the situation I had (it was many hundreds of turns for the accumulated levels). It was a very enjoyable three hours.

      Though I’m done answering your question, there’s more to the story. I forgot about the cube for a decade, picked it up again about five years ago and decided to be good at it. I went to the site of a Dr. Fridrich that I had briefly looked at before, noted with delight that she had changed her name and gender from when I had last looked at her speedcubing page (I was to do the same about a year later, so that was an unexpected bit of positive representation) and learned her eponymous method. My current average time is 27-28 seconds, I still practice regularly (on public transit, mostly) and I still feel like I have another 5 seconds or so that I can shave before I peak.

      • fion says:

        Very cool! Thanks for sharing. I’ve not heard of the commutator principle, and google isn’t helping. Is this a concept in group theory? Frankly I’m amazed that you solved it in three hours in one evening. I was expecting answers more along the lines of Elephant’s “many hours over many weeks” above. So is it not as hard as I think it is? Or do you think your maths knowledge helped you? Or did your vague memories from fifteen years ago help at all? Or are you just a genius? 😛

        • Nick says:

          It is indeed from group theory. A while back I asked a friend who’s into that how general the methods are, and he had this to say:

          [9:04 AM] Nick: Is there like a super algebra for solving rubik’s platonic solids? Like I’m sure there are algorithms for orienting corners on dodecahedra and all, but is there anything algebraically in common between that and the one for a cube?
          [9:08 AM] Paracompact: Well, I think every permutation puzzle conceivable should be susceptible to the method of commutators: https://www.ryanheise.com/cube/commutators.html
          [9:10 AM] Paracompact: An exception would have to be a type of puzzle whose every legal move disturbs a large majority of the cubies, but even then I think it would just be a frustration rather than a outright escape from commutators. And certainly no puzzle that I know of has this property.
          [9:14 AM] Paracompact: General Friedrich methods of “solve most of the cube, often through a F2L slotting process, then solve the last layer with 1-4 steps of OLL/PLL algorithms” are quite generalized, though.

          That still doesn’t answer the question how obvious the application of commutators is, though.

          • Nick says:

            I asked the followup question:

            [12:45 PM] Nick: Hey, if you had never heard of the rubik’s cube before but had studied the group theory you had, how obvious would the method of commutators have been to you?
            [4:36 PM] Paracompact: Not obvious at all. The function that commutators have of disturbing very few cubies is something rather specific to the idea of group actions on a set whereby the group generators all disturb only a small portion of the set’s elements, i.e. almost identically the concept of Rubik’s-like puzzles.
            [4:39 PM] Paracompact: In other words, commutators are very well known to me as a mathematician, but that property of theirs in the above-mentioned scenario would surely have been nonobvious to me.

          • fion says:

            Ah, that’s really interesting. Thanks for sharing. As somebody who knows more about mathematics than Rubik cubes, I am also familiar with commutators, but I guess it makes sense from what your friend says that this property of them is not of very general application.

        • Lignisse says:

          It helped specifically that I was studying permutations, yes – which is an example of a group that my textbook heavily leaned on. And it did speed things up; for instance, it meant that once I found a sequence that interchanged, say, cubies 1 and 3 and cubies 6 and 8 I could just write on my paper “A = (1 3)(6 8)”, then “multiply” that by any other sequence I found to make a new sequence – much faster and less error-prone to do the multiplication on paper with symbols than on the cube by composing long move sequences.

          I don’t think I knew the “commutator principle” I mentioned by that name at the time (I think I picked it up from Fridrich’s page later), but I remember it being kind of intuitive – you do something on the cube that does what you want, but also messes up an unrelated bit – so you want to fix it by doing the reverse, but you don’t want to undo everything, so you jog something else first and see what happens.

          Bonus fact: Commutators show up in many other physical contexts (huge handwaving and imprecision ahead but I think it gets a non-false point across): in quantum theory, nontrivial commutators of observables are uncertainty principles – XPX’P’ is nonzero where X is “observe position” and P is “observe momentum”, therefore Heisenberg, which is super cool.

          • fion says:

            Yes, I can see that the understanding that you can multiply group operations would be useful in forming algorithms.

            As a physicist, I’m familiar with commutators of quantum mechanical observables. More so than in a pure group theory sense anyway!

    • b_jonas says:

      No, but I made some partial solutions. In particular, I independently rediscovered one of the useful simple algorithms that modify only the last layer, (R U R’ U R U2 R’).

  36. brmic says:

    How high is the probability a restaurant is a front for the mob, and how do I tell?
    Background: I recently went to a sushi place where all the workers were heavily tattooed. I’m vaguely aware that in Japan tattoos are associated with criminality, but nowhere near savy enough to judge the nature of these particular tattoos or the strength of the association under a prior of living outside Japan. The sushi was great, but I wouldn’t want to help the mob with money laundering if there’s a high probability the restaurant is a front for them.
    (FWIW, I have a similar story about an Italian restaurant, where the same thing applies: Stuff that is ‘off’, but filtered through a foreign culture whose rules I’m not suficiently familiar with.)

    • Aapje says:

      Tattoo’s are extremely disapproved of in Japan. A basic arm tattoo is probably similar to a face tattoo in the West. There is a youth counterculture that has them, but they seem unlikely to be heavily tattoo’d.

      On the other hand, the Yakuza seems to regard tattoos as private, so they would presumably not flaunt them.

      So ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • Watchman says:

      If you’re looking to launder money through a business, you don’t then employ mob members in the business surely? Firstly, they probably have the wrong skill sets: customer service expertise being a particular concern… And secondly, getting investigated and arrested is normal for criminals: drawing attention to the business where you’re laundering your money by employing people in whom law enforcement is likely to take an interest might not be wise.

      So I’d be inclined to doubt the tattoos reflect a Yakuza front organisation. If it does, expect detectives to spend a lot of time eating sushi, and there to be some big trials forthcoming.

    • broblawsky says:

      If the sushi place isn’t in Japan itself, it almost certainly isn’t Yakuza-associated. The Yakuza have very little presence outside of Japan beyond money-laundering operations, where the rank-and-file street soldiers wouldn’t be welcome.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Additionally, if the sushi place isn’t in Japan itself, the workers are unlikely to be Japanese, and it’s very likely there are no Japanese people involved at all, unless you’re somewhere relatively high-end.

    • The Nybbler says:

      You might also consider the possibility that these workers were not Japanese.

      • Well... says:

        Especially if this restaurant was not in a place with lots of Japanese immigrants. Where I live in flyover country, it seems like every sushi restaurant is actually owned and run by Koreans.

        • bullseye says:

          I lived in Atlanta (not exactly flyover country) and I knew a guy whose Korean parents owned a Japanese restaurant.

    • Bamboozle says:

      When I lived in Scotland a few chip shops would only take cash and be very bare bones inside. always wondered how they stayed open and assumed it must be something shady like money laundering.

      Also nail bars are commonly used for money laundering (and people trafficking), to the point where my old business wouldn’t taken on the investment portfolios for clients who owned one.

  37. Mark V Anderson says:

    I am curious if people here have opinions on the idea of jury nullification. Advocates of this believe that juries should have the right to vote their conscience about a case even if it violates the law. That is, if members of the jury think a law is bad, they should vote acquit someone of violating that law even if they did the deed. This seems to be a common belief of libertarians, even though it seems to be that it violates the concept of the rule of law, which libertarians also believe.

    I am currently reading Hayek’s book, The Constitution of Liberty, which he wrote about 1960. He has emphasized quite strongly that the rule of law is necessary for liberty to happen. There are two good reasons to support the rule of law: 1) Citizens of the regime know what actions will be illegal, which gives them more freedom of action, and 2) The actions of government enforcers will be less likely to be capricious or self-serving if they have to follow the law, instead of just throwing in jail the people the sheriff or judge doesn’t like.

    But recently I was reading some CATO publication, and they were pushing jury nullification, which seems to contradict Hayek’s dictum. Of course there is no reason CATO has to follow Hayek’s policies, but I would think CATO would want to follow the rule of law. I don’t think that jury nullification follows the rule of law. I also think CATO and other libertarians are wearing rose colored glasses about what would happen in a jury nullification world. CATO imagines juries letting off suspects that ran afoul of laws that CATO doesn’t like, such as drug laws. But the same rule could result in juries convicting suspects even though that wasn’t the law, such as juries that think criminals shouldn’t get off on technicalities. Or even more pernicious, that the suspect is guilty because those type of people no doubt committed some crime, even if innocent of the crime charged (type being perhaps Blacks, or CEOs, or Republicans, or socialists). Am I creating a straw man of jury nullification?

    • cassander says:

      The point of a jury is that in order to convict someone of a crime, you have to convince 12 of his neighbors who don’t really care one way or the other and would rather be somewhere else that the accused did something worth punishing him over. Jury nullification seems to me to be an essential part of that process, at least logically. Besides, any power that can only err on the side of not imprisoning people is going find favor with libertarians.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In cases where nullification is at issue it comes down to this: At the end of the day, you’re sitting there on the jury. You have a choice to make. Do you, personally, vote to uphold the law and commit an injustice? Or do you do what is in your power to prevent that injustice from happening?

      I know my answer.

    • Clutzy says:

      Jury nullification, properly understood, stands as a citizen bulwark over selective prosecutions. Imagine a town with an arcane law that requires hand signaling when making a left turn. But given the invention of the automobile and turn signals no one obeys this law, and the police don’t enforce it.

      Until some alderman is a big pain in the side of the mayor, and now he gets stopped every day, and his wife, etc, etc.

      The problem with people like CATO is they apply this too broadly and say that if a law in general is unjust, juries should nullify. That is stupid because the only way unjust laws get repealed is if they are enforced. Otherwise they only exist for the purpose of selective prosecution.

    • Eternaltraveler says:

      Liberty is the core of libertarian thought. I dont think you’ll find too many people let alone libertarians these days who would convict someone of harboring run away slaves or of hiding Jews in their attic or of any other number of attrocities that used to be the law in the developed world. Some people see a few residual attrocities that are still the law now. Jury nullification is supposed to be one of the last lines of defense against a corrupt government. It unfortunately doesnt work very well because, it turns out, most people just go along with things.

      Ultimately, however, there better be a damn good reason to take away someone’s freedom and it is up to juries to be the final arbitor on whether they are going to do that. And jury nullification is part of the rule of law anyway, because, by law, it is the decision of the jury and not anyone else.

      • Plumber says:

        @Eternaltraveler

        “….there better be a damn good reason to take away someone’s freedom and it is up to juries to be the final arbitor….”

        Well this juror will gleefully convict anyone who’s credibly shown to keep their neighbors awake with the sounds of drums, televisions, or loud parties – a sentence of being put in stocks and pelted with foul smelling garbage, or suffering exile to solitary confinement seems appropriate, especially if the landlord is also so sentenced.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I think of jury nullification as a way of getting the government to be no worse than the public and no better. You take your chances.

    • Morally speaking, jury nullification seems correct–if I don’t believe someone has done anything for which he should be punished I shouldn’t take an action–voting for conviction–that results in his being punished.

      On the other hand, people believing in jury nullification might have serious negative effects. The main problem isn’t convicting innocent people—criminal conviction requires a unanimous vote and it isn’t likely that every juror will deliberately vote to convict someone who is innocent but part of an unpopular subgroup. The problem is acquitting the guilty.

      Consider a society where a sizable minority, say forty percent, are strongly prejudiced against some group, such as gays or Republicans. If jury nullification is widely believed in, a member of that minority can beat up or kill a member of that group and be reasonably confident that at least one member of the jury that tries him will share his prejudice and vote for acquittal.

      • Watchman says:

        I’ve never seen an example of jury nullification work in this way though, at least outside of the old south which I’d discount as a fundamentally non-democratic society anyway. Whilst it’s a theoretical danger, do we have examples of this happening in a functioning modern democracy?

      • ana53294 says:

        I heard that is what happened with Klan members in the south – even when caught, jury nullification meant they didn’t get a sentence.

      • edmundgennings says:

        Jury nullification with voir dire seems to risk only people willing to lie being able to nullify which is a bad situation. If jury nullification is to work on a general basis, voir dire needs to be changed. I suspect voir dire is the reason why there are not a lot of jury nullification abuses because not a lot of jury nullification can happen with it.
        Having jury nullification for extreme circumstances would not risk this but I worry about the potential for it to encourage culture war vigilantism. One could easily imagine a situation where a prosecutor in a left leaning city does not prosecute an anti fa member who 4-chan has conclusively identified as being responsible for a relatively clearly criminal assault on a far right rally member. If jury nullification has teeth, I could easily imagine a jury, at least in a red tribe area, being unable to convict someone who later tracks down this anti fa member and equivalently assaults him. This would seem likely to escalate with anti fa retaliating and so on. Culture war violence along these lines even if relatively rare would be destructive to social trust. I could easily imagine a number of culture war issues that are sufficiently hot button to escalate to vigilantism if we leave the present equilibrium.

        • Eternaltraveler says:

          Jury nullification with voir dire seems to risk only people willing to lie being able to nullify which is a bad situation.

          Yes, last time I was called to jury duty they let me go because they asked if I would be willing to convict if I thought they were guilty of the charges (there was about a dozen charges relating to theft). I replied I would have no problem at all except some petty paraphernalia possesion charge they threw on top, and that I would not convict on that. Either that or telling them I was a scientist (lawyers hate scientists in court, their entire game is convincing sounding arguments) resulted in the judge dismissing me (after the judge was done dismissing and it was supposedly the lawyers turn) and I havent been called for jury duty since. I did wonder if I had a moral obligation to lie after the fact.

    • Polycarp says:

      There is a “right” to nullify in US law. I haven’t looked at this for many years, but I believe the right is recognized by appellate opinions. It is a peculiar right in that attorneys are not permitted to argue it to the jury.

      It does not capture the idea of nullification, I think, to says that “if members of the jury think a law is bad, they should vote [to] acquit.” The “should” is too strong. It is a bit like the Quaker idea of consensus. The right to block a decision (under that model of consensus) is not that I should block any decision if I think the decision is wrong. Blocking a decision is supposed to be understood as an extreme measure to be taken only rarely—say, once or twice in a lifetime, if ever. (I have known organizations that attempted to operate on the Quaker model of consensus without understanding it in this way. In every such case it turned out to be completely unworkable.)

      Recognizing the right to nullify but not letting the attorneys argue it to the jury can be viewed as an imperfect way of trying to calibrate nullification in the direction of requiring something more than just disagreeing with the law. I know there are cases where I, if I were a juror, would vote to nullify. These are extreme cases in which the law seems to me to have simply failed. That is different from me disagreeing with the law.

      Think of it as a citizens’ pardon power. [Edited to correct an error.]

    • ana53294 says:

      From what I’ve heard, in death sentence cases, juries are chosen on the basis of whether they don’t oppose the death sentence in principle – because otherwise too many jurors would vote for jury nullification just to avoid giving the death sentence to the accused.

      I think that if you have a punishment many citizens in your country are unwilling to sentence a man too, you should suck it up and allow nullification, or don’t press for the death sentence.

      • Theodoric says:

        There is no mandatory death penalty. When prosecutors try to get “death qualified” jurors, they are looking for jurors that will vote for the death penalty after conviction, not jurors who will convict in the first place. I’m not sure that a juror voting against the death penalty is really nullification. The jury evaluates the mitigating and aggravating factors; this is inherently subjective. It’s entirely possible for someone to think there is no aggravating factor bad enough to execute someone.

        • Lillian says:

          That’s not true in practice. People who are in favour of the death penalty are also more likely to trust the government, and so are more likely to believe the prosecution’s case and vote to convict. This means that some prosecutors may seek the death penalty precisely because it makes it more likely to secure a conviction.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Or even more pernicious, that the suspect is guilty because those type of people no doubt committed some crime, even if innocent of the crime charged (type being perhaps Blacks, or CEOs, or Republicans, or socialists). Am I creating a straw man of jury nullification?

      Uhhhh, yeah, you’re creating a bit of a straw man, because you’re talking about a jury voting to convict someone, as opposed to a jury NOT convicting someone. If juries want to convict someone because they don’t like the color of their skin, they can do it now.

      Jury nullification becomes a problem when juries refuse to convict based on the law, but that’s entirely up to your judgement of whether the law is good or not. Is the Fugitive Slave Act good? 3 Strike Laws?

    • brad says:

      If jury nullification is part of the system then it is no more a violation of the rule of law then a judge dismissing charges in the interest of justice. The questions are: 1) is it a part of the system, and 2) if not, should we make it part of the system?

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Thanks Brad for specifically discussing my issue of jury nullification going against the rule of law.

        But please explain to me further what you mean by a judge dismissing charges in the interest of justice. DO you have examples of judges doing this when the defendant is clearly guilty of committing some crime? To me the judge in this case is clearly not following the rule of law. I do think judges have the duty to follow the law as written, regardless if they think it is just or not. Otherwise, the judge is writing his own law. Where is the separation of powers? Although I could understand a jury member not accepting this same responsibility for doing this as a judge, since the jury is drafted and not voluntarily a member of the court.

        I get Polycarp’s point of juries over-riding the law in extreme cases. The rule of law isn’t perfect. But it should be very rare.

        • brad says:

          I don’t know about other states, but in NY judges are authorized by statute and case law to dismiss charges in the interest of justice. It’s a power with limits and subject to review, but it’s wholly part of the system. Or what about pardons, do you think they violate the rule of law?

          I could be wrong here, but I get the sense that you perceive the justice system to be far more algorithmic than it is. It has discretion built into it by design.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Or what about pardons, do you think they violate the rule of law?

            You mean Presidential pardons? Absolutely! I’ve always thought they were a travesty. How could anyone think a Presidential pardon has anything to do with justice?

            There is plenty of decision-making necessary in any court of law, without them making their own decisions outside the law. I thought judges made an oath to follow the law. I think they should follow that. And it is true that legislators often do give administrators and judges too much latitude. Which is one reason the country is sometimes at the mercy of Trump’s emotions.

  38. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to take the setting of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare seriously.

    In this universe, Russia is capable of simultaneously invading America, France, and Germany with minimal difficulty. The American and French nuclear arsenals appear to be nonexistent: the single nuclear weapon used in the conflict is a captured Russian ICBM fired by a rogue British soldier in order for its EMP to eliminate the Russians’ air superiority over Washington, D.C. (plus the ISS, but who’s counting?). The U.S. Navy has no operational capabilities: the Russian fleet sails into New York harbor unopposed.

    How did the world get into such a state? Is every country except Russia abiding by a strict arms-control treaty? Discuss.

    • Clutzy says:

      I need to know the power levels of China and India to proceed.

      • China and India are never mentioned and can be assumed to be strategically impotent.

        • Clutzy says:

          I find this to be the most plausible explanation:

          Following WWII, environmentalism erupted in North America and Europe, this results in a series of increasingly restrictive Kyoto-style restrictions on industry. These restrictions result in strains on the community to build nuclear power, but it is hastily done. Chernobyl happens in America, then in a European country, and now it is too stigmatized and turned off. This backlash includes nuclear weapons, but most leaders resist full denuclearization because of the Soviet threat.

          While the Wests’ economy struggles, China and India have no rising tide to lift all boats, and there is no competition for the USSR in turning them into client states, which they do, and they prevent market reforms in those states, keeping them weak and starved.

          The economies in the West continue to stagnate as they cannot meet demand for energy, much of the military budget (including upkeep for nukes) is cannibalized into frivolous projects targeted at green energy, stimulus projects, and varieties of boondoggles. Fertility decline is even steeper than currently. The population ages rapidly resulting in even more strains on government. As this happens, a populist uprising occurs, but the cure is as bad the sickness, as it results in dismantling some of the few remaining successful private businesses in the EU/US.

          Meanwhile, the USSR faces extremely low energy prices, which they are happy to use. Khrushchev’s reforms now appear to be an outstanding success. And he is able to transform the USSR to look similar to modern China in its internal governance policies. It progresses along, obviously not as fast as China did post 1978, because there is no rising tide to participate in, but decently well. There is also a baby boomlet in the 70s & 80s makes the demographics of Russia the envy of the modern world.

          There is my scenario.

    • Evan Þ says:

      How far back can we diverge from real history? I’m thinking of a Soviet Union that took world revolution seriously, has united with Eastern Europe if not also half of China while somehow avoiding ruining its economy, and might have been the first power to invent the nuclear bomb.

      On the other hand, according to the Wikipedia article, it looks like things are far too realistic for that far back a PoD.

    • Auric Ulvin says:

      I suppose all that’s necessary is to strongman the Russians and weakman the US and its allies. Bear in mind that I know very little about the Call of Duty franchise.

      Instead of Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Brezhnev, Russia got generations of Deng Xiaoping and Lee Kuan Yew’s unholy love-children, fostering intense development. Russia has access to large export markets for its natural resources, oil prices are unusually high. Maybe Saudi Arabia got nuked, or some regional exchange occurred between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which also had the effect of reducing nuclear stockpiles (especially the more easily used tactical variety). Assume Russia has strong allies as well: India, China and possibly Brazil.

      The Russian military also is designed to perfectly counter what NATO is doing (if NATO still exists). Stealthy submarines and guided missile cruisers > Carriers. ATGMs, ballistic missiles and mobile SAMS > high quality air superiority fighters. Ekranoplanes actually work really well, they’re not just a good subject for documentaries. Lets add extensive code-breaking and intelligence coups for good measure.

      In the West, we have ineffectual, pacifist-leftist governments, leading to brain-drain capital flight and savage military cutbacks. Assume the Bundeswehr is in an extremely sorry state (not a terribly big ask) due to government unwillingness to fund it. Perhaps all the soldiers are doing public works, not training with their tanks. Same as in France, though we add festering civil disobediance and student riots.

      NATO invests in dead-ends, not 4th gen aircraft or smart weapons. Maybe instead of GPS, they focus on SDI or Rods from God. Perhaps they try to make a half-decent air mobile tank. Military lasers could be a pretty big dead end, along with spaceplanes.

      Air and naval superiority over the US is gonna be a big ask. We can rip off Clancy and say paratroopers took Iceland, letting Russian naval bombers win the battle of the Atlantic. We can say the US fleet is tied down fighting in Asia and the Indian Ocean, perhaps Panama got blown. We can imply they have fuel difficulties (the navy is after all the biggest guzzler of oil), but an invasion of the continental US is still quite difficult.

      Canada allying with Russia is probably the least ridiculous best option, unless we go full World in Conflict and have the Russians hide in container ships (something too implausible for even this post). We probably need the US airforce to be sabotaged or bombed on the ground in the first few hours of hostilities, while being a ghost of its former self due to savage cutbacks. Political appointments are also a good way to lower efficiency, imagine left-McCarthyism against the military.

      If we tweak every variable in Russia’s favour, there’s no way they can lose.

    • Watchman says:

      The reality is that Russia’s military spending is actually than that of the UK and France combined, never mind the other NATO nations in Europe who probably match it again. The Russian technology is mostly older as well. Whilst Russia has the tanks, artillery and air force to roll through an unprepared country, I can’t see how they could ever invade the US without the total removal of any defences the US could have. You’d have to rewrite history to make Russia a truly productive and powerful country: say perhaps that 1917 saw a revolution that created a free-market economy that was strong enough to deter Hitler and therefore suffered no major war damage, and likewise avoided poor government decisions? This could out-develop the US and western Europe over a century, but there is a logical flaw here. This sort of economy only seems to work as a democracy or a very benevolent dictatorship (which tend to mature to democracy), and these sort of states do not go to war with each other. So we’d have to assume the US, France and Germany (and if allied with them, the UK) were not free-market democracies, the easy explanation for which would be that Nazi Germany, which remember didn’t attack radically free-market Russia, won a somewhat more focused mid-century war, and as a result fascist governments rule the western countries (or at least those named). Fascist governments tend to be collectivist rather than free market, handing a development advantage to Russia which would help this scenario. Russia would also have natural allies in any remaining democratic nations or socialist countries (perhaps Canada or Sweden, and quite possibly some Central American states), and probably in the territories of the British and French empires, assuming these had fallen, so could be in a position to launch attacks from outside its territory.

      All of which is to say that if you’re playing Call of duty: modern warfare then you’re probably playing the bad guys.

    • proyas says:

      To make the setting plausible, we’d probably have to create an alternate timeline that diverged from ours starting in the 1980s.

      1) The Cold War ends, but less disastrously for the Eastern Bloc. Since the game has “Russia” as the villain and not the “Soviet Union,” then the latter still collapses. However, Russia doesn’t have its “lost decade” under Yeltsin, and someone more competent and authoritarian is in charge. Let’s just say a guy like Putin, but who is also less nepotistic and kleptocratic, so the country makes a more successful switch to semi-capitalism and the economy strengthens. This means no degradation in Russian military capabilities.

      2) The West would also have to play a different hand of cards. Assume that NATO honors its promise to Gorbachev to not expand east. That means the countries of Eastern Europe fall back into Russia’s orbit by the end of the 1990s. As a result, Russia can move its troops through Poland in secret, right up to Germany’s border. Instead of joining the E.U., they and the ex-Soviet republics join a Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, which operates better than in OTL.

      3) As for the vanishing of the U.S., French and German military forces, we can get partway there by assuming that post-Cold War disarmament happens to a much greater degree than in OTL. Maybe the Russians used various ruses to lull the West into a false sense of complacency while it maintained a significantly larger military in secret. The Russian amphibious/airdrop invasion of the U.S. could have been timed to coincide with a big U.S. military exercise in the Pacific or Indian Ocean, where they would be too far away to help. But still, this only gets us halfway to the situation depicted in the game.

    • thompson says:

      Relatively embarrassing, but this is my first comment…and it’s about a decade old video game storyline. 😛

      To strongman(?) the CoD:MW story a little bit (not that I find it plausible, but I actually thought it was better done than many ‘near future’ games), I think there are some key parts of the story that are missed in the parent post.

      The Russian invasion starts with the US (in MW2), after years of military buildup of an ultranationalist block in Russian politics (driven by hero worship of the big bad that was killed at the end of MW1). Although not obvious at the beginning of the game, this is done in collaboration with an American general (who wants to produce a war for his own reasons), and involves compromise of American defense satellites so that the invasion isn’t detected in advance.

      Those two bits are the parts of the story that are the biggest stretches.

      A lot of the other aspects of seem reasonable to me…the casus belli is a mass murder of Russian civilians by a CIA agent (organized by the above general…if you accept that a general could defect in that manner, it isn’t that much of a stretch to assume Russia might respond militarily).

      As an aside, “No Russian”, the sequence involving mass murder, was pulled from several country versions of the game.

      The invasion is conventional and largely contained to the eastern seaboard of the US, so response with nuclear weapons might be viewed as a dangerous escalation. The broadening of the campaign against Europe starts with terrorist attacks followed up with conventional forces…again I don’t think there would necessarily be a nuclear response.

      Also keep in mind that the end result (because good guys have to win) is that the Russian aggression is locally devastating but contained in relatively short order.

      To answer the parent post more directly: Given a few years of ratcheting up tensions between the US and Russia, a US action sufficiently reprehensible that allies might be slow to mobilize in defense, and a general on the inside facilitating Russian aggression…it really isn’t *that* hard to believe that Russia might engage in an invasion that is quickly contained.

      All that being said, I agree that Russian navy getting that close to the US without anyone knowing is pretty unbelievable…I know submariners that follow foreign subs around. My understanding (maybe wrong) is that neither Russia or China are within a decade of our stealth level for submarines.

      Glad to e-meet you all. I might even comment on something I know about someday.

      Allies don’t immediately respond to the invasion because the c

      • INH5 says:

        If the Russians had invaded Alaska (leaving aside the question of what they would hope to accomplish there), then the scenario might just barely be plausible enough for me to go with it, but even with magic satellite hacking I don’t see any possible way for an invasion force of that size to get from Russian territory to the Eastern Seaboard without being detected by a whole bunch of people along the way. Do Russian fighter jets even have that kind of range to begin with?

    • MorningGaul says:

      The problem is, the first MW game is (relatively) well anchored in reality: Russia is a bit more fractured (hence the antagonist, a Russian Ben Laden), and Not-Irak actually got WMD (and not-Saddam is a middle-eastern Fidel Castro), but the US is pretty all-powerful, to the point Russia require their intervention to save them from a nuclear coup by said Russian Ben Laden).

      Even considering a nuke wiped out a large US offensive in Not-Irak, accepting the setting of the first game makes the rest absurd.

  39. Le Maistre Chat says:

    RPG thread: am I right that rules impose a tone or genre?
    Using D&D for examples, they’re all supposedly the same kind of fantasy, but.. editions before 3rd are Weird Tales. It’s common for monsters to kill a short story protagonist and running away (typically of dead guy’s companions) is common, like in Lovecraft’s Dreamlands or any number of Clark Ashton Smith tales. When a protagonist survives long enough to level up, they tend to keep surviving, becoming a serial protagonist of short stories like Conan.[1] 3.X is… this unprecedented genre where certain classes (Wizard, Druid, Cleric) are superheroes, except recurring villains are very rare because they quickly murder everyone they get into combat except casters played at the same level of system mastery as themselves, who have a ~50% chance to murder them instead.[2] 4th Edition is medieval shounen anime, where opponents try to beat each other down with named attacks they can use once per fight. And 5th Edition is more like medieval Justice League, since other classes aren’t so badly balanced with Wizard/Druid/Cleric and it’s usually impossible to kill an enemy with one hit even if they’re already unconscious, while one-hit kills are Standard Operating Procedure in optimized 3.X.

    [1] It also does Tolkien, obviously. Hand out magic items at Level 1 to help your PCs survive and remember to describe overland travel Romantically.
    [2] Other classes get to do superhuman things like Barbarians easily surviving 200-foot falls by getting angry, but they’re so much weaker than “full casters” that support for adventuring together like Hawkeye with Doctor Strange is negligible.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Depends on the ruleset. If the mechanics place bounds on the ease of death/availability of certain things/difficulty of tasks, yes. If those things are left in the hands of the GM, or the group, no.

      GURPS is interesting here because it may be the only simulationist system capable of playing in almost any tone, simply by dint of having so many variant rulesets that may or may not be in use.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Depends on the ruleset. If the mechanics place bounds on the ease of death/availability of certain things/difficulty of tasks, yes. If those things are left in the hands of the GM, or the group, no.

        So the more rules, the more yes.

        GURPS, being a universal simulationist game, would get to “does any tone” in the opposite way. Its core tone, as far as I know, is “stories of dangerous events from real life”. You can use the core rules to simulate the life and death of a Chalcolithic bumpkin like Otzi the Iceman, the story of how many buddies Grandpa lost in WWII, or the dangers facing astronauts.
        So then if you add magic, the genre of your Fantasy will definitely be “how casting spells affects an otherwise completely mundane universe.” If instead you want Ulster to not get steamrolled by an enemy’s spell, you then use rules from the GURPS ??? book to give them Cu Chulainn.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Definitely. I’d go so far to say that if you want to impose a tone or genre, or more broadly have something matter in-game, you need to have rules that impose, or at least incentivize, it. Going hand in hand with this is my belief that “sometimes we spend the entire session talking, without rolling dice or consulting rules!” is, far from being a positive, a major negative. It’s a sign that you either did nothing of importance in that session, or that you are doing things that are important in the game world but which the rules do not support, which shows you are using the wrong rules.

      If you want to play a game (I’m using this to mean a particular campaign or whatever, eg, “I’m playing in Brenda’s cyberpunk game”) in which combat is a big part of gameplay, you’ll need a system with relatively robust combat rules. If you want to play a game in which overland movement is a big deal, you’ll need rules for large-scale movement, random encounters, food and camping on the road, encumbrance, etc. If you want to play a game in which court intrigue is a big deal, you’ll need a social system for the game heavier than “talk real nice to the GM and maybe roll against CHA”. Brenda’s cyberpunk game needs rules for hacking and putting cybernetics in your body.

      If you play a game with a system that doesn’t accommodate it, at most tone/genre is going to be given lip service. As an example, imagine Call of Cthulhu without a Sanity mechanic. Some players might decide to act out their character being scared of things, running away, becoming increasingly unstable as they realize what they thought was reality was but a sham, etc. In practice, though, I would expect CoC without SAN to play like low-level old-school D&D: PCs running away from Serious Business enemies and relying on strategy, tactics, and firepower for lesser foes (it is a common claim that “guns are useless in CoC”, but this is a “lip service” claim that I think is intended to paint it as a higher class of game, where PCs don’t fondly stroke their assault rifles; if you actually look at the rules, sufficiently powerful small arms allow a party to take on more modest foes, and even bigger things can be dealt with or inconvenienced with heavier firepower) but without either the slow, gnawing degradation of SAN wearing down characters over time or the occasional high-individual-loss case of insanity throwing a wrench into a tactical situation. SAN also helps the world make sense – sure, a platoon of tanks will, by the rules, wreck a lot of big monsters, but not if a quarter of the crews just went temporarily insane. One might go as far to say that SAN makes CoC what it is; it is game-defining that characters basically have a self-destruct countdown built in.

      I think that most frustration in games is due to a lack of negotiation and communication in terms of expectations from the game, and using the wrong rules system – using a system that does not create the tone/genre desired – is a big part of that. I honestly believe a lot of people playing D&D would be better off with a storygame type system: they want a rules system that protects the narrative by ensuring that Chosen One Hero PCs don’t go do