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OT132: Open Shed

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

1. Local lawyer Nate Gabriel is trying to mount a constitutional challenge to zoning laws saying that “no more than X unrelated people can live in a house here”. He needs some plaintiffs, and says the best-case scenario would be a group of at least four people in a polyamorous relationship, [since] for freedom of association it matters how intimate and family-like the relationship is”. They also couldn’t be in CA, NJ, or NY, which have already aboilished those laws. If you’re a polycule living together in a house outside those states, you could be well-placed to help start this important legal change; email Nate if you’re willing to help.

2. I process bans and unbans once every few weeks. If you were just banned and don’t know why, check the Register of Bans at the Comments tab on the top of the page; it was probably for something bad you did a few weeks ago that I’m only now getting around to dealing with. And if your ban has expired but I haven’t unbanned you yet, it’s probably because I haven’t gotten around to it; feel free to email me reminding me to do that.

3. New sidebar ad for Doof Media, a group making podcasts and other online content about their favorite (mostly SFF) movies, books, etc. Especially focused on Wildbow stories like Worm and Pact.

4. I’ll probably be launching another adversarial collaboration contest later this month. If you have suggestions on how to improve the process, now’s the time to let me know.

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845 Responses to OT132: Open Shed

  1. Worley says:

    This is a ridiculously elementary question, and yet I don’t know a good way to get a summary answer. My main source of serious news is the Boston Globe, which is sort of a poster child for a solidly liberal newspaper that isn’t always too smart. One topic that comes around regularly is the need for increased “funding” for “mental health care”. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason the Globe doesn’t explain what this money (presumably tax money) will actually accomplish is that deep down the Globe sees value in that we have the intention of helping what I might summarize as crazy people. Compassion per se is valuable.

    I, on the other hand, am essentially an engineer. I’m willing to spend a lot of tax money on one thing and another as long as there’s a good ROI (measured across society as a whole).

    Where the disconnect comes in is that the Globe rarely if ever explains what benefits will accrue from attempted mental health care. My best guess is that what the mental health people can do for people is poorly publicized, difficult to measure/describe, and/or important but disheartening. (Getting an out-of-control-crazy person to be only “living on welfare” is a tremendous benefit but not an inspiring human interest story.) Conversely, the stories that get into the news are usually about people whose mental problems can’t be cured (or even kept under control) by current techniques, with an admixture of mentions of fairly well-off people who undergo regular psychotherapy to become … fairly well-off.

    Currently this is practical politics, as there is the question of “funding” “treatment” of opiate addicts. The Globe is in favor of this, of course, but doesn’t argue how much or even whether the proposed treatment makes the lives of addicts better.

    So is there a place where I could read an outline that explains all the good things this section of medicine is doing?

    • Aapje says:

      The consequences of cuts to and ‘optimizations*’ of mental health care in my country has been an increase in violent and otherwise unpleasant behavior in the general public, with negative consequences for the general public, the police who has to deal with this, etc.

      I think that keeping these people from harming others and themselves is worth a decent amount of spending, even if it is more care than actual treatment.

      * Apparently consisting of treating people with fairly minimal problems who can be treated cheaply and withholding care from serious cases.

      • Worley says:

        That certainly seems plausible, and if it’s true, it’s a good argument. And the concept has leaked into popular culture to the point that “off his meds” is a snark that can be applied to people. And yet, I basically never see references in the popular media to how many potentially crazy people are kept under control.

        I am reminded of an article that did appear in the Boston Globe that noted that some small, western US city (San Antonio?) had a well-organized public mental-health system. Naively this would not be expected, as such cities tend to be politically conservative of the libertarian flavor. But in this case, the county government was responsible for the public hospital, the ambulance service, and the police force. So while the county was not positive about spending extra money on mental health, the same government reaped the savings from not having the police deal with out-of-control people.

        • The Nybbler says:

          To treat the serious problem cases, you need an _involuntary_ system, because many of them do not want to take the meds or (even when on the meds) cannot be relied on to do so. Additionally, there’s an ethical problem if you’re considering this to be treatment: are you really treating them for their own benefit, or are you treating them for the benefit of others?

  2. A number of people here accept claims that there has been no significant progress for the bulk of the population over recent decades. I came across a blog post recently arguing that such claims are a statistical illusion, depending on ignoring non-wage income and the shrinking size of households. I don’t know the literature well enough to tell if its conclusions, one of which is that the bottom quintile “had about 25 percent more income in 2007 than 1979,” are correct, but I thought it worth pointing out as evidence that the situation is not as clear as many assume.

    One point they don’t discuss, and that is probably more relevant to comparisons of income inequality across countries than across time, is the distinction between current and lifetime income. A society where year to year fluctuations in individual income, or changes over the life cycle, are large will look more unequal than it really is, because at any instant some people are having an unusually bad year, some an unusually good. I remember hearing a presentation long ago by someone who had done calculations of inequality by country using data on expenditure rather than income, since that averages out some of the year to year variation, and concluded that the U.S. looked substantially less unequal relevant to other developed countries measured that way.

    This plays into the recent discussion of the relevance of ad hominem arguments. Once you conclude that an issue is sufficiently complicated so that it takes a more detailed examination of the evidence than you are willing to engage in, perhaps more expertise than you have, it makes sense to use the biases of information sources as a proxy. If someone who appears to be competent reports a result that is the opposite of what, given his biases, you expect him to want you to believe, that’s much better evidence than in the opposite case.

    • Plumber says:

      @DavidFriedman,
      When I read The New York Times it says the majority are worse off compared to some other decades.

      When I read The Wall Street Journal it says the majority are better off compared to some other decades.

      Of my peers growing up the overwhelming majority were worse off at the age of 25 than their parents were at the same age (I’ve little idea how most of them are doing now, as they mostly left town).

      My mothers parents were overwhelmingly better off than their parents most of their lives, except for a youth during the Great Depression, and a young adulthood during a world war.

      My father’s father had a rather unenviable life as did my father, but his mother did better in New Jersey than her parents in Ireland.

      My mom’s young adulthood was pretty poor compared to her childhood, but she’s doing pretty well now.

      If I compare myself at 25 to my Mom and Dad, I was doing worse, at 51 I’m now doing better than my Dad did (and way better than the last years of his life which he spent in public housing till he died in a hospital), and I’m doing worse than my Mom did at that age.

      Amongst my co-workers who are immigrants or the direct children of immigrants they’re mostly doing better, among my co-workers who had American born parents, they’re usually doing about the same, divorce and jail time seem to be the big pitfalls to lower standards of living.

      Life expectancy seems an easier measure to suss out who’s doing better, with (recently) non-college educated middle-aged whites dying sooner than they did more recently, and most other sub-sets of Americans dying later (IIRC Costa Ricans, the Japanese, and Scandinavians live longest in the world, Americans used to live longer than more nations, but in absolute terms overall there hasn’t been a big drop, and life expectancies have mostly been rising for Americans).

      • As your observations suggest, it’s very hard to answer that sort of question by personal observation, both because you are observing a small and non-random sample and because, within that sample, people differ.

        It’s also hard to do it by statistics. To take one more problem, the current income distribution includes immigrants who were not here forty years ago. If they now have incomes below the current median they are pulling it down, even if they are much better off than they were before they came.

        And there are quality of life dimensions, positive and negative, that are hard to measure. I’m typing this on a laptop in a car driving across Iowa (my wife driving), connected to the Internet through my phone. Finding motels and restaurants en route is much easier than it was even twenty years ago. I can work on indexing my present book, go through photos of period jewelry picking ones to add to the slide show on the subject I will be giving at Pennsic. By the time I replace this car, self-driving software will probably be good enough so that the portion of the trip on the interstate, which is almost all of it, can be done without a human driver—although my gadgetphope wife may not let us do it.

        The relevant changes would be different for someone else, of course, but I suspect most Americans have had their lives improved in some ways by technological developments over the past forty years. But there are also social changes with negative (as well as ones with positive) effects, although none that have seriously worsened my life so far.

        • Plumber says:

          @DavidFriedman,
          I think a lot of it also depends on what age someone is and when, IIRC I read that while the Nation recovered well, many perhaps most who were already adults in 1929 never again reached the wealth they had before the stock market crash, and those who became adults in recessions largely have lower lifetime incomes than those who did a few years earlier or later.

          Roll of the dice really, I imagine that (barring another crash soon) those who leave school now will do better than though who entered the job market ten years ago.

          I know that I was envious of adults younger than me in 1999, but I had it easier than the young adults of 2009.

    • gdanning says:

      FWIW, Real median income seems to be at an all-time high. https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEHOINUSNYA672N

      The standard claim to the contrary among those I talk to often rests on this https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/
      However: 1. That is a graph of hourly wages, not income; 2. It includes only a subset of workers. 3. It shows increases or a lack of decreases in most recessions. A metric that shows that is probably not an adequate measure of overall welfare.

  3. johan_larson says:

    I am a really terrible Go player. In an effort to improve, I am committing to playing the game every day for a year. Hopefully by making a public commitment, I’ll be a bit more inclined to stick to the plan. And you can help.

    If you’d like to help keep me at this, I invite you to place a bet on how long I can keep this up. You designate a day, an amount, and a charity. If I keep playing every day until (and including) the day you picked, you pay the amount to the charity you designated. If I don’t, you’re free and clear.

    For my part, the commitment is a mix of high and low expectations. On the low side, any game will do. A 9×9 game against the AI on my phone at the lowest setting still counts. I plan to play most of the games on the Online Go Server, but who knows what the future will bring. On the high side, I have to play Go every single day. No excuse for skipping a day is good enough. It doesn’t matter if I’m unconscious in intensive care, or the world is rapidly turning into paperclips. Every single day.

    How much should you bet? I suggest a higher sum would be appropriate the farther out you pick the date. For Americans, perhaps $1 per day would be appropriate, but that depends on your circumstances, of course. And remember the money doesn’t go to me, but rather to the cause you designate.

    Interested? Then fill in a line on this spreadsheet. The fields should be straightforward. If you provide an email address, I’ll send you a notice when your payment is due.
    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1C36Uk1YXYEFFLfoHtkG5_OXDe-bMbpMbmJoYHS8xlIY/edit#gid=0

    Day 1 of this effort is today, July 17, and I’ve already played my game for today.

    • PedroS says:

      I want to help you keep up your commitment. I also play at OGS. (my handle there is PedroJSilva) You can challenge me any time 🙂

    • mrcogmor says:

      Why do you want to become a good Go player?

      Why not find a hobby you actually enjoy?

      • Randy M says:

        Often times going from dilettante to expert requires putting in some practice time even when not feeling inspired at the moment. Perhaps he anticipates a feeling of accomplishment from besting the local players that will require but also compensate for playing even when he fancies doing something different. He anticipates his motivation in the moment is highest from loss aversion, then from his whims, then from his long term goals, hence the bets.

        I should do something similar to get my writing in shape.

    • benjdenny says:

      I also suck at Go; I’ll figure out what my OGS username is tonight and post it as a reply to this reply. Or, if you happen to be in Phoenix, we could meet up (I have a board).

    • drunkfish says:

      I’m also a pretty crappy Go player who wouldn’t mind getting better. What would you say to us agreeing to play eachother once a month (or some similar frequency to that), and a $10 bet (paid to the other person’s charity) that the other person is the first to cause us to miss a game? Details TBD.

    • abystander says:

      The fastest way to become better, short of private tutoring, is to work on go problems tailored to your strength. The Graded Go Programs for Beginners series co-authored/Translated by Richard Bozulich is a good series.

      After volume 2, the Elementary Go Series is also good particularly. Tesuji and Life and Death by James Davis. Tesuji considers objectives such as trying to connect groups and different types of moves that might achieve the objective. Life and Death exams common shapes and whether they are alive or dead unsettled.

    • jgr314 says:

      I suggest you change your use of OGS a little bit: (a) join all the site-wide ladders (9×9, 13×13, 19×19) and challenge three players above you for each ladder. Join some other groups with ladders and challenge those folks, too. Then, you’ll be playing around 9 games most of the time and will have a lot of game-based feedback.

      Also, I just challenged you to a 9×9 game with some handicap stones. Happy to play several games with fewer/more stones until we get to the right level. Also happy to play on other board sizes if you want to reverse challenge me.

    • jgr314 says:

      For anyone who is interested, I started a group on OGS called SlateStarCodexers. Feel free to join and get on the ladders. The benefit of having this group is to start some new ladders so that we can all have more games in progress. Once there are enough people, perhaps we can have some themed tournaments or something.

  4. littskad says:

    So, Pearson (formerly Prentice Hall) has announced that it intends to make all of its college textbooks “digital first”. Some highlights from the article:

    Print versions of the materials will still be widely available to rent, but students will be discouraged from buying them with relatively high pricing and limited availability.

    Pearson plans to lower its prices so that fewer students are tempted to buy secondhand books. It will also push its rental program so that fewer books ever enter the secondhand market.

    “We will effectively have three price points. They will vary by discipline, but broadly speaking, the average ebook will be $40. You can still rent a physical textbook for $60. And a fully integrated digital product, like Revel, MyLab or Mastering, will be $65 to $80,” said Fallon.

    Presumably, then, the price for actually purchasing books with be hundreds of dollars a pop. This is obscene, and I hope that universities (or at least professors) push back strongly against this. I’ve written my own textbooks for my classes, and have made the pdfs available free for those students who want that, and have set up inexpensive print-on-demand availability for those (a large majority, as it turns out each semester) who prefer that.

    There are still lots of details to be worked out, such as how to update materials without disrupting teaching, but Urry is hopeful the shift will result in a better experience for students — one that is more interactive, engaging and informed by the latest pedagogical research.

    Bleah. I’d prefer my students actually learn something, and have physical ownership of their books. With this digital model, students walk away with nothing.

    • CatCube says:

      Wow, that’s obnoxious and stupid. If a textbook is worth a damn, it’s worth having a physical copy. Trying to work off of a screen is confined to things that don’t matter, like reading fiction.

      I just purchased an updated version of a textbook I have from undergrad, 11 years ago (a textbook on designing steel structures). They’ve updated design codes since then, so having one with the current equations to answer some basic design problems is worthwhile. But I don’t want to lose the old version, because I need to use it to understand designs performed under the older codes when I refer to them! I still have printed copies of codes and textbooks going back to college, plus some of my dad’s copies from the 70s (e.g., Roark & Young), as they’re still useful references.

      • Matt M says:

        If a textbook is worth a damn, it’s worth having a physical copy.

        How fortunate we are that the overwhelming majority of textbooks aren’t worth a damn!

    • I’ve just brought out the kindle version of my Price Theory—price $8. For anyone who doesn’t want to pay that, the pdf it’s based on, combining material from the first and second editions, is still up on my web page. I’m currently indexing the print version, hope to have that out in a few weeks, don’t know what the price will be.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      but students will be discouraged from buying them with relatively high pricing

      Uh huh.

    • ana53294 says:

      I’m confused. Weren’t textbooks already outrageously expensive?

      I think this is another attempt of removing private property. Owning a book gives you the right to resell the book, although you don’t have the same rights for its contents. But because an electronic book is a license, it’s not as straightforward to resale.

      I think that frequently, buying a book, if you treat books well, is more economically viable, because you can resell it at a price differential lower than the price of rental. You do have to front the money.

      And many textbooks are just good reference material. Most of the stuff in the internet has not been vetted, and having some trustworthy material saves tons of time.

      You can also make notes on a book you own, which you can’t on a rental book. And while you can make notes on electronic books, it’s just not the same. There is also the issue with Microsoft ebook apocalypse.

      • Nick says:

        Agreed. They buried the lede—I think it’s this:

        Pearson plans to lower its prices so that fewer students are tempted to buy secondhand books. It will also push its rental program so that fewer books ever enter the secondhand market.

        • Randy M says:

          The word tempted there stuck out at me, perhaps due to reading Scotts new thread. A neutral term would have been “decided” to. Tempted implies it is something that the student knows they shouldn’t do.
          Students aren’t tempted to buy secondhand books, they happily seek them out because the expense of college textbooks is pretty huge.

          • Nick says:

            The nicest thing I can say for the wording (and for Pearson) is that perhaps buying old editions of books screws over students and the secondhand market makes this too easy—even setting aside negligence by the buyer, mistakes or fraud about which edition is being sold may be just that bad.

            But I’m not convinced there’s much need for a new edition every two years anyway, so this ‘solution’ smells fishy to me.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s an argument for this in fast-moving fields like, say, front-end web development. But that’s an overwhelming minority of fields. I could have learned out of my dad’s calculus textbooks just fine, if the professor had happened to assign exercises from them.

          • Matt M says:

            Also keep in mind that the “secondhand market”, unless its a literal hand-to-hand transaction on campus between students, often includes Amazon of Ebay or some other third-party, who is surely taking a cut of the transaction for themselves.

            And perhaps that’s who Pearson is trying to squeeze out here, not necessarily the students themselves.

          • Randy M says:

            I could have learned out of my dad’s calculus textbooks just fine, if the professor had happened to assign exercises from them.

            But he couldn’t, because each new edition changed the problems. So that he couldn’t.

          • AG says:

            You know, I never quite understood why professors were so tied to exercises from textbooks. I suppose it’s farming out the generation of novel problem sets to other people, but sometimes the professor is themself the author of the textbook.

            Seems like in the modern day, automated worksheet generation tools could plug in new numbers every year (so that each problem is still teaching the same intended solution mechanism), but the resulting problem set would be a pdf that students could access free of charge.

            New editions just to change the problem sets is rather blatant rent-seeking, isn’t it?

          • Nornagest says:

            New editions just to change the problem sets is rather blatant rent-seeking, isn’t it?

            Eeeeeyup.

          • albatross11 says:

            Isn’t it just because they provide useful sample problems that teach what’s being taught, with already-provided answers that have been checked? If you spontaneously make up (say) an algebra problem for someone you’re teaching, you have to solve it yourself, and it’s often possible to choose an unusual case that’s harder to solve than you intended.

            Though the usual convention in math textbooks seems to be that the book contains answers to odd numbered questions, so you could just assign those to your kids if you weren’t worried they’d just copy the right answer from the back and not do their homework. In college, ISTM that this would be fine–if you really want to try to get through your calculus class without working any homework problems, feel free.

          • John Schilling says:

            Isn’t it just because they provide useful sample problems that teach what’s being taught, with already-provided answers that have been checked?

            Except, you know what else provides useful sample problems, already-checked answers, etc? The last edition of the same textbook, which is often basically identical except for having different sample problems. The question we are asking is, what problem was solved by printing the new edition?

            No, it doesn’t stymie cheaters who want to just look up the answers on the internet.

          • albatross11 says:

            AG said:

            You know, I never quite understood why professors were so tied to exercises from textbooks. I suppose it’s farming out the generation of novel problem sets to other people, but sometimes the professor is themself the author of the textbook.

          • Protagoras says:

            You know, I never quite understood why professors were so tied to exercises from textbooks. I suppose it’s farming out the generation of novel problem sets to other people, but sometimes the professor is themself the author of the textbook.

            The issue isn’t just novelty; there’s also getting the right level of difficulty, and getting enough coverage of each of the key concepts among the exercises. Coming up with good exercises is just not trivial. Which is not to say textbooks do a reliable job of it, but the professor is likely to do no better, and expend considerable effort, doing it themselves.

          • ana53294 says:

            But you can use exercises that already exist and are not easily googleable.

            My understanding is that it’s OK to use extracts of books for educational purposes.

            For subjects that haven’t changed in the last few decades, you can just take exercises from very old textbooks that are not currently used and unlikely to be solved online. And you give them the free problem set.

            In Spain, many universities have their own presses which print books almost at cost. MIT for example also has their own university press, and they seem to provide books that are quite affordable. Why can’t they use problems from such books?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            We had a previous conversation about text books (introduced through a different topic) a month or two ago, and there are open-source textbooks out there for lots of subjects. https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/ is one of them, https://openstax.org/ is another.

            Licenses vary but some of them let you adapt and redistribute (even for profit, in some cases).

            They aren’t a bunch of shit, either, at least the ones I looked at. They paid professionals to write them.

          • Aapje says:

            I made and conducted exercises for college students a long time ago. It was quite a bit of effort. I wouldn’t want to create new ones if I already had a nice set of exercises.

          • Randy M says:

            Does it really matter if students cheat on text book exercises? Surely the exams are novel and bear the weight of the grade, and the cheaters will not do as well on them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Randy M

            Apparently colleges care about attendance and homework nowadays. More signs that college is becoming the new high school.

      • Two McMillion says:

        Question regarding the Microsoft ebook apocalypse: Why are the books vanishing? Aren’t the books files that are downloaded to devices? Why not simply leave the files where they are, even if you shut down the ebook service?

        • Matt M says:

          I don’t actually know the answer to this, but my working assumption is that it likely has something to do with the original legal agreement between Microsoft and various publishers, which may have been something like “We agree to pay you $X in exchange for the right to host your books on our platform (and also, consumers aren’t allowed to say, download a DRM-free PDF of the books they buy on your platform).”

          Which implies that if Microsoft stops paying $X (and presumably, the main reason it’s shutting down the platform is because it no longer wants to pay $X), it can no longer host the books on its platform. And given that there is no “download and keep DRM free version” option, books vanishing from the platform necessarily means books vanishing from the devices.

          • ana53294 says:

            KDP specifically states in its terms that even if the writer removes the book, they get to keep it for all those who already made a purchase. I would find it strange if Microsoft didn’t have the same terms.

            I think Microsoft are assholes who don’t care about customers because people keep using their crap despite their terrible customer treatment. And keeping all that software infrastructure for people to read books when they just keep losing money is money losing idea. And they would have to maintain the system and keep it compatible; it’s probably cheaper to return the money.

          • Matt M says:

            Honestly though, it’s unclear to me that this move makes consumers, on net, worse off.

            Like, I’ve bought quite a few books on Kindle. If Kindle sent me an email tomorrow announcing that they were going to delete all of my books and refund me the full purchase price, I’d be pretty darn happy about that exchange. 95% of the value of a book for me comes in the initial reading. Most of them I’ll never read again, or probably even refer to again. I don’t annotate or take notes in them either (I sometimes take notes, but always in a separate file).

            Basic consumer surplus aside, if I could exchange them all for the price I paid for them, that’d be a pretty big net utility increase for me.

          • ana53294 says:

            Now that most of the fiction you buy is available in multiple venues a mouse click away, sure.

            But for textbooks, will they bother keeping previous editions available for sale? Or if there is a special edition.

            I guess with electronic books, you don’t get the attachment you get with physical books. In my family, we have grand-grandparents’ books, which are basically unreadable (written before Basque had unified spelling). But they have notes from generations of my family – if anybody suggested to take it back and give me what my gran-gran paid, I would be absolutely against it.

            But I can still imagine this being abused, such as when Amazon deleted 1984. I don’t want the government, or any private corporation, to have the ability to take my books away from me – even if they pay me back. That’s eminent domain, and they should have a damn good reason for that. Inconvenience is not one.

            In general, I object to this being possible. They shouldn’t be able to delete stuff you paid money for from your computer – even if they return the money. And that is what makes consumers worse off. What if somebody decides to un-publish a book? They just have to buy the copyright of the book, and remove it from every store. If there are no physical books, and electronic books cannot be re-sold, new readers won’t be able to legally read that book.

          • bean says:

            This is why they make software that can turn most purchased ebooks into DRM-free forms. (I do it more for other reasons, but it’s nice to know they’re not vulnerable to the whims of Amazon.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I think Matt M is right, but it’s because the original deal was presented as “one time purchase -> you pay a one time price” (even if this wasn’t the deal, that’s how most people thought it through and priced it), and undoing that is pretty good for just about everything.

            E-book textbooks are just letting rapacious sellers with a captive market (who were not properly given pricing information[1]) the chance to dynamically price things to squeeze out every bit of consumer surplus. Or even drive the consumer-surplus negative: I could imagine a dollar auction scenario [2] where students are billed extra for access to the textbook the night before problem sets are due. This is a special kind of evil, but I’ve seen no reason not to expect the textbook publishers to refuse to go that far.

            [1] Students sign up for the class and then find out that the old version of textbook they got from a friend is obsolete because they changed the problem sets, or something else minor. This generally requires the professors to be in on the grift, because no neutral third-party would be happy about the situation and let it continue.

            [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dollar_auction

          • Matt M says:

            This generally requires the professors to be in on the grift

            This is a really key point.

            Like, I went to a Top MBA program a few years ago, and I was pretty pleasantly surprised that even there, where you might expect a very pro-textbook environment (professors are openly capitalist, students have/will soon have a very high disposable income compared to other students, etc.), most professors went out of their way to minimize textbook expense.

            One all but announced in class “by the way, if you google the title of this text plus free pdf, you might find something that suits your needs quite well.”

            Courses where you had to purchase and use the most current version of a fancy expensive textbook were definitely the exception, rather than the norm.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I think a lot of that comes down to how much the professors are being paid. A lot of below-average colleges are filled with permanent adjuncts with no job security and barely minimum wage, if that. Their students are also those least able to afford surprise expenses.

          • I could imagine a dollar auction scenario [2] where students are billed extra for access to the textbook the night before problem sets are due.

            They can’t do that if the student has paid for a year’s rental, which seems to be the pattern currently being pushed. And if rental was really on a day by day basis, doing it once would result in a striking loss of brand name value for the publisher.

            Or in other words, you are being paranoid (common language meaning, not psychiatric).

            At a slight tangent, the table of contents for my webbed Price Theory text got about four thousand hits last month, which may mean that there are professors assigning it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Software is eating the world. Apply the skinner-box lessons of modern “free-to-play” video games and apply them to a new “free-to-read” system of e-book rental. “Oh, sorry, our DRM server is under heavy load. Sucks that your homework is due in 10 hours. Hey, we have a premium DRM server. It will only cost 10 gems to access. Here are 12 free gems to get you started!”

            Yes, I am extrapolating out a few iterations.

            You say the students could negotiate a better deal. That works if they have a decent professor (and/or school), something they may not be aware of or able to negotiate. (Some of these students are legal minors, even.) And their BATNA is not being able to complete the homework (which in one more iteration must be submitted through the e-book app) and flunking their class.

            You provide free access to your textbook. That is great. The future doesn’t have to suck. But there’s no reason to think that it has to not suck. A lot of parts of the higher-ed system use textbooks as revenue generation (sometimes to top up professor salaries).

        • ana53294 says:

          Because when you bought a book on Microsoft Edge, you didn’t buy a book. You bought a license to read a book on a DRM program on a device were that program was installed.

          Once the program is gone, your license is invalid.

          At least, that’s my rough understanding. IANAL, and all that.

    • Murphy says:

      https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.en.html

      For Dan Halbert, the road to Tycho began in college—when Lissa Lenz asked to borrow his computer. Hers had broken down, and unless she could borrow another, she would fail her midterm project. There was no one she dared ask, except Dan.

      This put Dan in a dilemma. He had to help her—but if he lent her his computer, she might read his books. Aside from the fact that you could go to prison for many years for letting someone else read your books, the very idea shocked him at first. Like everyone, he had been taught since elementary school that sharing books was nasty and wrong—something that only pirates would do.

      And there wasn’t much chance that the SPA—the Software Protection Authority—would fail to catch him. In his software class, Dan had learned that each book had a copyright monitor that reported when and where it was read, and by whom, to Central Licensing.

    • Randy M says:

      I’ve written my own textbooks for my classes, and have made the pdfs available free for those students who want that,

      You’re a good person.

    • benjdenny says:

      The schools won’t push back; they presumably get part of the money.

      • albatross11 says:

        The great thing about the textbook publishing market is that it manages to make the rest of the scientific publishing market look reasonable and non-predatory by comparison.

  5. Purplehermann says:

    Why does ad hominem get such a bad rap? If you accept the premises and refuse to engage the logic based on ad hominem this makes sense, but what about when the other party has clear motive to hoodwink you, is obviously biased, or is bringing in premises you don’t know to be true from a non biased source?

    • Clutzy says:

      Its like the slippery slope fallacy. While it carries no weight in a logic debate, and is bad form on a cordial forum such as this, it is often correct in many real world applications. Slippery slope and ad hominem are two logical fallacies that I think form a large group of “gut feelings” that are fairly accurate predictors in the real world.

      Thus, I think a lot of bad actors revert to calling out logical fallacies (the phrase “logical fallacy” is just such amazing rhetoric) when they know they have no leg to stand on.

      • Purplehermann says:

        There is definitely sonething to this, but ad hominem seems to be accepted as simply wrong, always, by otherwise intelligent people, and by a much larger portion of society, i wonder if there is something else there

        • Clutzy says:

          Well, it is kinda mean. But I don’t think its very well accepted as wrong. Its basically the foundation of political debate.

        • 10240 says:

          (1) It often gets used against logical arguments (rather than only against premises or statements one can’t check and doesn’t trust).
          (2) It often involves insults.
          (3) Even if it used against statements made without evidence, it’s a better idea to say you don’t believe those specific parts of the argument. That way the other person at least has a chance to bring evidence for them.

          With the last point, there is an issue that we often don’t trust even what looks like evidence for the claim, as we know how easy it is to manipulate or cherry-pick evidence, especially when you don’t have time to thoroughly check it. Even then, it’s better form to express in some way that you don’t trust the validity of the evidence than to say “I don’t trust you because you’re X / you have an interest in Y”.

          • albatross11 says:

            There’s a really big difference between:

            a. You’re not trustworthy, so I won’t trust evidence you provide whose value rests on your trustworthiness.

            b. You’re not trustworthy, so I won’t trust arguments from expertise you possess, because their value also rests on your trustworthiness.

            c. You’re not trustworthy, so I won’t trust logical arguments from you, or evidence I could check myself that comes from you.

            (a) and (b) are reasonable statements, though they’re subject to a lot of motivated reasoning, wherein I decide you’re not trustworthy w.r.t. some topic because you’re on the wrong side or have said or done bad things in some other area of your life unrelated to your trustworthiness. (Like if someone making an argument for AGW was shown to routinely visit prostitutes, that might mean he’s an immoral person, but it would be a silly reason to dismiss his argument about climate modeling.)

            (c) is also very commonly used, even though it doesn’t really make any sense. The example that comes to mind is dismissing Charles Murray’s discussions of IQ statistics because some of the people he cited in his book were associated with white supremacist or eugenicist ideas. Those statistics were available from a public dataset on which he based his analysis, and anyone could check them. But that didn’t matter, since the purpose of those arguments was to shut down thinking and discussion.

            Most mainstream political discussion, it seems to me, is not much about actually thinking or digging into evidence. It’s mostly dark arts being used by second-year Slitherins who don’t understand what they’re doing very well.

    • Erusian says:

      Because the motivations and deliverer of an argument have no bearing on the validity of the argument itself. As one internet commentator said (paraphrasing), “Just because someone has a selfish motivation for producing evidence doesn’t change the fact they have produced evidence.” An argument made in bad faith is still valid or invalid on its own merits. We also do not want to give anyone a superweapon that forces people to prove their good faith any time an opponent demands it.

      • Nick says:

        That’s mostly right; ad hominem is a fallacy of irrelevance, because for most arguments some quality of the deliverer doesn’t matter. Except when it does, of course: if I say my way of life is the only way of life that leads to true happiness, and you respond that I appear to be a miserable wretch, you have responded ad hominem—but of course that’s what you should do, since the quality in question is something I’m appealing to in my argument.

        • Erusian says:

          Your point is correct (that when a person is the subject it is no longer an ad hominem) but your example is still an ad hominem fallacy. Your argument should instead be that their way of life does not appear to have to produced happiness. Their state as a miserable wretch is a trait of the person and may or may not be the result of their lifestyle. For example, a person could be living the most optimal life imaginable and still be clinically depressed.

          For another example, I could say, “I am President Barrack Obama.” You naturally disagree. And all subsequent arguments would address my traits. Because the person, in that case, is the subject of the argument it would not be an ad hominem to point out I am not black. Your point there is not that my whiteness disqualifies me in some way but that a well known trait of Barrack Obamas is being black.

          • Nick says:

            You’re correct that the argument was fallacious, and even (sorta) why, but it’s not an ad hominem fallacy. The argument given was that living my way is a necessary condition for being happy, but my hypothetical interlocutor responded as if it were a sufficient condition. That’s a formal fallacy, while ad hominem is informal, so this can’t possibly be an instance of an ad hominem fallacy!

          • Erusian says:

            It seems I misunderstood the example argument then, which is my mistake.

          • Nick says:

            Your shame is less than my own, because I didn’t notice the necessary-sufficient thing until you pointed it out. 🙂

      • Shion Arita says:

        I agree with most of this statement, but do have to point out a somewhat related thing.

        Often I find myself in a situation where someone presents evidence that I don’t have the ability to directly assess whether it is accurate or not, because they’re for example reporting something they heard from another source I don’t know about, or for example you know they’re biased themselves and are therefore more likely to have cherrypicked their statement.

        In other words, if the person or their source is known to have been untrustworthy in the past, the amount of prior credence you give to their statements should be somewhat adjusted for that. But I’m not sure whether that would be considered ‘ad-hominem’ or not, and it also doesn’t really count in the case where what they’re saying can be directly evaluated for validity based on its own intrinsic content.

        • Erusian says:

          Logical fallacies only apply when addressing arguments. What you are referring to is a situation where you are declining to fully engage with the argument because the costs of repeated investigation are higher than the risk of being swindled. This is perfectly fine as a life heuristic: you probably save a lot of time in net. But it’s not a valid logical argument.

          In other words: “Tricky Dick has swindled many people in the past, past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior, therefore I should do as little business with Tricky Dick as possible.” is not an ad hominem. Nor is it an ad hominem to have the principle of doing as little business justified with past swindling. But Tricky Dick says he has the lowest prices in town, you saying he’s lying because he’s Tricky Dick is still an ad hominem… even if you’re justified in not buying from him because of a general heuristic.

      • Aapje says:

        @Erusian

        We also do not want to give anyone a superweapon that forces people to prove their good faith any time an opponent demands it.

        Yet we don’t have an infinite ability to do research or otherwise verify. So we typically limit this and trust people not to lie (too much), which in turn makes us exploitable by bad actors, who take advantage of this.

        When buying things, it is also very useful to judge sellers by their reputation, for similar reasons. If you favor sellers with a good reputation and disfavor sellers with a bad reputation, you are less exploitable by frauds and benefit from sellers who overdeliver in ways that you couldn’t predict (reliably) if you’d ignore their reputation.

        The real issue is when an ad hominem is not based on something that actually correlates well with reliability, but on some trait that merely identifies the outgroup.

        • Randy M says:

          The fraud comparison is a good one. Knowing who sold your friend the used car is not useful in establishing how good it will run; you need to look closely at the actual physical vehicle, test drive it, take it to the mechanic, and so forth. If you are interested in the absolute value of the car, it is irrelevant.
          However, knowing the reputation of the dealer may be very reliable in predicting accurately the condition the car is. It doesn’t establish any facts about any particular vehicle, but it will be a good guide to how you should spend your money or time.

          • Aapje says:

            Knowing who sold your friend the used car is not useful in establishing how good it will run

            Yet a common sales technique is to argue that it was owned by an old lady who never drove it.

            A fraudulent dealer might lie about this, while an honest dealer would give you information about the previous owner that would give good information.

    • edmundgennings says:

      Ad hominem attacks are often used even when there is no connection to a motive to hoodwink. And are more ” I do not like the other guy or think he is stupid” than ” There is reason to think the other guy is engaging in motivated reasoning or attempting to deceive.”
      Thus they are typically more akin to name calling – or at best statistically discriminating. Statistical discrimination is taboo and so the best justification for the ad hominems depends on a taboo justification.
      Now there is a small subtype of ad homimens that is based on motive to deceive but I suspect that it is just victim of of a reaction to the normal sort of ad homiems.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      what about when the other party has clear motive to hoodwink you, is obviously biased, or is bringing in premises you don’t know to be true from a non biased source?

      Because none of these is a valid reason to discard the argument. They all may be good reasons not to get into the discussion in the first place, or get out of one once you realised that’s the case. But as far as you’re arguing, you can’t prove that you are right just by the fact the opponent have a reason to fool you. If they do indeed lie/use untrustworthy sources which contradict the trustworthy ones/ignore all the evidence against their position, you can just point to these facts directly. If their arguments are true, they don’t become any less true just because someone biased mentioned them.

      • 10240 says:

        But as far as you’re arguing, you can’t prove that you are right just by the fact the opponent have a reason to fool you.

        This only implies that ad hominem is never a legitimate reason to assert that your opponent is wrong; it doesn’t imply that it’s never a legitimate reason to refuse to accept that your opponent is right (as opposed to remaining uncertain)

        If they do indeed lie/use untrustworthy sources which contradict the trustworthy ones/ignore all the evidence against their position, you can just point to these facts directly.

        What if you don’t know whether they lie? What do you do if you don’t have time to thoroughly check the sources?

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I ignore people all the time because I don’t think they are worthy of debate or trust. But once I start fighting it out, I can’t rely on their being a scoundrel to win the debate.

          • 10240 says:

            It may be virtuous to only enter a debate when you are willing to devote an effort to having a high-quality debate. The issue is that when one side tells its view much more than the other, even without evidence, many people will assume it’s probably right. Theoretically they shouldn’t believe either side if neither side brings solid evidence*, but that’s not how people behave. Now if you just ignore claims you disagree with whenever you are unwilling to go into a high-effort debate, you just cede ground to your opponents.

            Even your opponent in a particular situation might not be particularly certain of his view, and just hold it because no one has challenged it so far, and it appears to him that most people believe it. Then it makes sense to voice your opposing view, even if you are unwilling to go into a long debate.

            Now let’s say you voice your contrasting opinion, and perhaps throw in a short argument. It turns out that your opponent does have a large volume of evidence to the contrary, but it’s not obviously legitimate. What do you do?
            (1) Get convinced that your opponent is right, even though you are not actually sure. (Most of us would say that this is impossible.)
            (2) Pretend to be convinced even though you aren’t, because to not do so would be an unfair ad hominem.
            (3) Spend two hours evaluating evidence on what you intended to be a two-minute argument.
            (4) Somehow express that you don’t have time to check the evidence, and you don’t take it on faith. This doesn’t mean that you are certain that your opponent is wrong, or that you have won the debate, but it means that you are not certain that he is right. More precisely, your estimate of the probability that your opponent’s view is right definitely doesn’t decrease as a result of your untrustworthy opponent saying it, but it increases much less than if your opponent was trustworthy, or if you had checked the evidence and it turned out to be sound.

            * Well, depends on what we mean by “theoretically”. The view more people hold is statistically more likely to be true, though it’s not a certainty by any means.

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          Well if you don’t expect to change your opinion because your opponent is a dirty rotten liar, you certainly shouldn’t expect for them to change their [stated] opinion, for much the same reason. In this case what are you trying to do there? Just stop arguing and leave. If you don’t have time to check sources this is definitely a fact about you, not about the sources or your opponent.

          • Purplehermann says:

            In debating whether dietary fat or sugar is a health issue, people who honestly believe fats are the issue may bring research paid for by companies whose products are filled with sugar.
            Claiming that this research is untrustworthy can bring on a storm of claims of ad hominem.

            I have run into this in a few subjects, and it is fairly annoying.

            I don’t expect to change my opinion based on research that has a very obvious motive to be faked- i wouldn’t debate coca cola on the subject unless i was playing for an audience, but i would definitely debate a friend for the sake of his health- but either would ‘ad hominem the research done by companies with a vested interest in a specific answer

          • CatCube says:

            @Purplehermann

            That’s actually a central example of what the ad hominem fallacy is fighting against. If they have research, then you have to show why the research is wrong; just asserting “Wrong company sponsored it, LOL” isn’t sufficient, and it’s mostly a distraction from the actual logical debate over the research.

            There are plenty of examples on both sides of this–I can dismiss research showing why marijuana has some beneficial effects by sneering about how it’s being pushed by a bunch of potheads who just want to get high, or I can dismiss research showing why marijuana is harmful as being the product of biased research by the government seeking to ban it.

            Now, there can be heuristic that the potheads’ research probably underestimates the hazards and the government’s overestimates it, but you still have to evaluate the research on its own merits. Attacking the source is mostly just a distraction.

          • Purplehermann says:

            Your example is a bit lacking in my opinion, mostly because the motives are unclear/it’s unclear how they affect the science.
            Why does the goverment want to ban marijuana- what do they get out of it/ why would the government be acting as a monolith in this case to keep mj banned unless they really thought it was bad for some reason- and how are pot heads affecting the science in any appreciable way?

            Contrast this with coca cola funded research showing that sugar is healthy even in large quantities and does not cause obesity.
            Obvious motive and obvious avenue to affect the research

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            I think for personal investigation one should be suspicious of ‘sponsor studies’ (i.e. it’s a reasonable heuristic) but in the context of arguing with someone, knowing 1 or both of the following should allow you to refute or accept the study directly:

            1. Whether similar work has been done by non-interested parties and the result of that work

            2. The methodology of the study

            A ‘sponsor’ study behind a paywall with no replication would not convince me, but i also wouldn’t be comfortable dismissing it on the grounds of bias, at least compared to the alternative of dismissing it on the grounds that i can’t actually see what the content of the study is.

          • Aapje says:

            @CatCube

            What if trustworthy research shows that industry-sponsored research tends to be quite biased?

          • If they have research, then you have to show why the research is wrong;

            Often it is impossible to know if it is wrong–the data are not publicly available, and even if they were you have no way of knowing the details of how they were produced. Even if it is possible, it would take a lot of time and effort.

            Given a sufficiently precise account of the research, the motives of the researcher are irrelevant. But if, as is usually the case, what you have is closer to “researcher X found result Y,” the motives of the researcher are highly relevant.

          • J Mann says:

            My problem with arguing motivation in research is that I don’t see where it stops.

            1) What’s the practical difference between:

            – John Doe is a big advocate for lead remediation. Why should I believe a study he worked on that shows lead has harmful effects?

            – John Doe’s professional credibility as an academic depends on his groundbreaking research showing the harmful effects of lead. Since he now as a professional incentive to publicize that area and to discredit criticism, why should I believe any additional research he did on the subject.

            – John Doe’s study was funded in part by companies that perform lead remediation.

            2) The other problem is that once you eliminate studies funded by organizations with an interest in finding out the answer, you’re left with government and universities having an effective monopoly on the areas of research. And even then, you would have to determine whether governments and universities are neutral funders in that area.

          • John Schilling says:

            Why does the goverment want to ban marijuana- what do they get out of it/ why would the government be acting as a monolith in this case to keep mj banned unless they really thought it was bad for some reason?

            Public Choice Theory. There’s literally an entire major field of economics devoted to understanding why “the government” does what it does, and the answer is almost never as simple as “because they believe it is in the public interest. Governments are ultimately made of Men, not Laws, and as men they each have their own reason for everything they do – including the decision to be part of the government in the first place.

            Even if we assume no one ever chooses to be a government official for any reason other than a sincere desire for public service [pause for the laughter to subside], the ones who choose to become government bureaucrats in charge of deciding which drugs to ban do so because they believe it is important to Do Something about the Bad Drugs people are using – the ones who think the drugs people are using are mostly OK and/or that there’s nothing to be done about it, chose some other area of public service. So potential drug warriors are a subset of the population selected for the tendency to overestimate the harms of drug use and the necessity of action.

            As drug warriors, their power and prestige and pretty much every other personal reward of government service, including their self-image as someone who is serving the public by their good deeds, is increased every time they can convince themselves and their colleagues to ban another drug.

            And should they later allow themselves to be persuaded that the ban on marijuana was a mistake, their power and prestige and all the other rewards of government service would be diminished if they ever admitted to that. Their ability to maintain effective bans on the drugs that they still believe are dangerous and in need of banning, would be diminished. So it is simply not in their interest to open their minds to arguments that “marijuana isn’t that bad, mmkay?”, which can only do them harm whether true or false. And if they somehow do wind up so persuaded, they may at the margin be inclined to lie about that in the [accurate] belief that admitting they were wrong about marijuana will make people distrust them when it comes to keeping heroin properly banned.

            That’s the short version. Fortunately we have a professor of economics in residence, who can no doubt recommend some good basic texts on Public Choice theory. Preferably cheap ones that you are allowed to actually own.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s perfectly rational to decide that certain types of studies are easy enough to manipulate, even unconsciously, and so not update our beliefs very much if at all, even if we can’t point out the particular flaws.
            But this argument rightly isn’t very convincing to anyone else, and you have to watch out for your own bias and update when the evidence accumulates.

          • 10240 says:

            @CatCube You can’t determine if the data were faked. In most research, you have to take that on faith, or not. Data is more likely to be fake (though perhaps still not extremely likely) if the researcher is biased.

            99.9% of people don’t have time to evaluate the methodology either. Most people would first have to spend a few months studying statistics, and a few more months on dietary science before they could evaluate studies confidently that they would spot subtle bias (or, quite possibly, they couldn’t spot it even then). For most people the options are, once again, to take it on faith or not.

            You can’t evaluate the studies. Your health is at stake. Do you believe the study, and drink sugary drinks as much as you like, as to do otherwise would be an unfair ad hominem? Do you advise your friend to do the same?

            But this argument rightly isn’t very convincing to anyone else

            It can be convincing for anyone in the same shoes as you.

          • some good basic texts on Public Choice theory

            I don’t know what the best text on that would be, but I devote the second half of a chapter of Price Theory to it and you can read that for free.

          • 10240 says:

            @AlexOfUrals Y’all seem to assume that the debate in question is always a solemn, serious affair where the sides are expected to provide high-quality arguments and evidence. Many of the “debates” where ad hominems happen are more of the sort where someone says something you disagree with in a casual discussion, and you don’t want to leave it at that. Or some politician or journalist says something, and you make a snide remark.

            Well if you don’t expect to change your opinion because your opponent is a dirty rotten liar, you certainly shouldn’t expect for them to change their [stated] opinion, for much the same reason.

            One situation is that you intend to debate using theoretical, logical arguments that don’t require trust in each other, as you can evaluate the soundness of the logic; and your opponent answers with empirical evidence. Evaluating several cited studies, looking for possible confounders etc., and then doing the same with a bunch more studies in the area to see if your opponent cherry-picked the studies that support his position the most, easily takes an order of magnitude more time than thinking through a comment to see if the argument is legitimate.

            If I’m unwilling to take the time to check the sources, I might also take them on faith. The point where ad hominem comes is that I’m more likely to do that if the other person is likely to be trustworthy and unbiased.

            If you don’t have time to check sources this is definitely a fact about you

            It’s a fact about me. Now what do I do? Do I pretend that I’m convinced by my opponent, even when I’m not, because doing otherwise would be unfair?

          • 10240 says:

            Well if you don’t expect to change your opinion because your opponent is a dirty rotten liar, you certainly shouldn’t expect for them to change their [stated] opinion

            Also, sometimes your aim is not to convince your opponent, but to convince others not to take your opponent’s claim on faith. Even if you thoroughly check any claim and evidence you hear or you don’t take it into account at all, some people trust others and believe claims at least in some cases; you have more reason to warn them not to do so if the one making the claim is likely to be biased or have ulterior motives.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            @10240
            You’re right, I mostly assumed that ad hominem applied in second person, directly to your opponent, and that the debate is serious and reasonable. I agree that it is a valid reason to dismiss an evidence which comes from an untrustworthy source. And of course if it’s a casual discussion or a snide remark, there’s little reason to strive for such level of intellectual honesty.

          • albatross11 says:

            CatCube:

            I disagree. If the research was funded by Coca-Cola but can be evaluated entirely independently, then there’s no problem. But most research’s reliability depends on the researchers actually trying to get the right answer, and to the extent the researchers were strongly motivated to get a particular answer, the results become a lot less reliable.

            But this comes down to evaluating the quality of evidence, rather than evaluating an argument. If the Coca-Cola company provides a logical argument that drinking a coke a day keeps the doctor away, I can evaluate the logical argument without reference to the motives of the arguer.

            ETA: This can apply to a community of researchers, as well. For example, if dozens of research teams are all looking for a particular effect, then a published result finding that effect is less reliable than if only one research team was looking for that effect. If some results will get you political pushback or will be unpublishable because in your field nobody publishes negative results, then that builds in a bias.

          • albatross11 says:

            Randy M: +1

            At one extreme, you get someone like James O’Keefe, who may well be honestly reporting some story now, but who made his name by dishonestly reporting stories with desceptive video editing. The result is that I have almost no confidence in any claimed scoop or story he reports.

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            The current scientific community is shite at evaluating the quality of evidence, which is what the ‘replication crisis’ is about.

            Note that ‘evaluating’ at the scientific level ought to include actual replication attempts, not just reviews. As a programmer, I know that reviews merely catch a certain type of error and are very much insufficient to know if code changes actually work as planned. You need testing (= the equivalent of replication) as well.

          • albatross11 says:

            The depressing thing is that the two mechanisms we have in our society for determining the truth that are probably the best, overall, are:

            a. Legal proceedings

            b. Scientific publications with peer review

            For all their flaws, if I want to know whether Joe murdered his wife, I’m much better off counting on an actual criminal trial than I am counting on the consensus of newspaper and TV news stories, or a documentary on the case, or the result of a lie-detector test, or a politician’s speech. If I want to know whether dihydrogen monoxide causes cancer, similarly, I’m better off counting on the peer reviewed scientific literature than news reports or activist claims or the list of things known to the State of California to cause cancer[1], etc.

            And yet, we keep seeing evidence of how both those processes fall apart, give us incorrect data, and generally have huge holes that allow both honest errors and dishonest people with an agenda to get everyone to accept false statements as the truth.

            [1] That is, all the things.

      • John Schilling says:

        Because none of these is a valid reason to discard the argument.

        I need a valid reason to discard an argument?

        OK. “I’ve got better things to do with my time to listen to this argument”. That’s a valid reason to discard any argument, at my sole discretion, and it’s actually true of the vast majority of arguments. Furthermore, “You’ve got better things to do with your time than to listen to that argument”, is a valid reason for me to propose to anyone else, as to why they should ignore whatever argument some third party is making to them.

        Factoring into the decision of whether I or anyone else should spend any of our too-scarce time on this particular argument out of many many others, or the even more numerous non-argumentative uses of our time, are factors such as: the likelihood that we will be taken in by a complex scam if we listen in good faith, the amount of time we will have to spend carefully deconstructing the argument to minimize the probability of being scammed, the extent to which our useful lifespan will be reduced by the stress and aggravation of listening to the argument, and of particular importance, the probability that someone else will eventually come along with a better version of the argument that is less aggravating and less likely to be a scam.

        Rational implementation of all of this, involve heuristics that look an awful lot like “Bob’s an [X], so don’t listen to him about [Y]” for various values of X and Y like “Lobbyist for R.J. Reynolds”/”cancer risks” or “Antifa”/”alleged Naziism of conservative speakers”

        • J Mann says:

          A while back in one of the comment threads, somebody pointed out that most logical fallacies are perfectly rational for a Bayesian analysis.

          You need some priors on the relatively likelihood that sponsored research is worse than other research, of course, before you can really apply that knowledge in a rational way.

          As I pointed out upthread, many researchers have a vested interest in reaching a particular result – some are motivated partisans of a particular response, others have their professional standing resting on acceptance of an idea. If we start discrediting all of them, we may be left without much research to rely on.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I think the case you’re probably thinking where ad hominem ought to have traction is when the audience doesn’t have the resources to properly evaluate the argument.

      Example: someone cites an article in Anti-Egg Weekly saying eggs cause gagriditis. I argue that AEW is anti-egg, so that article is probably wrong in some way. That’s an ad hominem argument. The article might be correct. However, many people probably don’t have time to read the article and check its facts, and are using my argument to infer that AEW is likely exaggerating or mistaken when they claim that eggs cause gagriditis.

      It’s rational to employ heuristics to infer that certain claims are probably true (or false), when one is short on fact checking resources. It’s irrational to do so when one has sufficient resources. It’s also irrational to state a claim is certainly true (or false) on the basis of that heuristic; it’s merely more or less likely, given no further information. Ad hominem is one such heuristic; it gets a bad rap because it’s so often used as a valid argument.

      That’s all.

  6. MereComments says:

    My family and I are considering a move to Montreal from Austin in the near future for work. This new job would be supplying the work visa and paying for the move, and it’s a significant promotion and pay increase. We’ve been doing all the research for we can (tax differences, school situations for the kids age 3 and 9, where to live, etc), but there seems to be tons of stuff to know. I’ve created spreadsheets and ordered lists and checklists, but I’m worried about unknown unknowns. I’m starting to wonder if we should be looking at professional help for this.

    So, the meta-question is, for an international move between the US and Canada (Quebec) with family, would it make sense to get a lawyer to walk me through some of this? I assume the company is going to advise on a lot of this, but I’m also assuming they’re going to be arguing for their interest since they really seem to want me there. Do I need someone to represent me and advise, or is that overkill and ridiculously expensive? If it makes sense to get a lawyer, where would I even start looking for someone with that sort of expertise? Does anybody have any specific recommendations? Assume that this would be for a tech/entertainment job that pays in the low six figures.

    • Eltargrim says:

      I’ve done a similar move relatively recently, as has my brother. The company lawyer will do their best to steer you through the obvious pitfalls. Keep in mind that they’ve spent a fair amount of money to get you to come down; you’re an investment, and they don’t want to risk you walking away.

      All that being said, I know where you’re coming from. For professional advice, you’d want to talk to an attorney familiar with US immigration law. There are some who can be found in Canada, as cross-border immigration is fairly common. Consults are usually relatively inexpensive. You probably don’t need to hire your own attorney for paperwork, the company attorney should be sufficient there.

      Don’t be afraid to look up things on VisaJourney, I’ve found there’s a fair amount of good advice.

      One area where you probably do want professional advice is with regards to Canadian taxes. Depending on whether or not you will be a deemed resident of Canada for tax purposes, you may owe Canadian taxes on some American income. I haven’t had to deal with this yet, but my colleagues who have all recommend a professional accountant who is familiar with cross-border banking.

      What’s your visa/status? H1B? TN?

      EDIT: Here’s an annoying unknown that I ran into: importing a Canadian car into the US is very difficult, you may need to sell your car and buy another. Depends a bit on your length of time in the US.

      • Eltargrim says:

        Disregard all of the above; I misread your direction. I hope you enjoy Canada! Second everything Tenacious D mentioned, especially the peculiarities of Québec.

      • MereComments says:

        So, we’ll be US citizens moving to Canada. Sorry if the order of cities in my opening sentence made that unclear!

        It sounds like two important takeaways (company attorney is fine for paperwork, possibly get professional advice for taxes) are probably still applicable? Is there a Canadian version of VisaJourney?

        Edit: oops, wrote this while you were posting!

        • Eltargrim says:

          It’s probably still worth getting professional advice for at least your first tax return or two. Canadian taxes are generally straightforward, but assuming that you’re a US citizen, you still need to file your US taxes. Canadian tax rates are generally higher than US tax rates, so you shouldn’t have to pay any US taxes, but you’ll want someone to check it over. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a professional to help.

          As for the immigration, I’ve known a few people who came through as TFWs and now have permanent residence or citizenship. I don’t think any of them hired an attorney at any point. None of them were in Québec, though, so that might be worth at least asking the company attorney about; Québec really is almost its own country within a country.

    • Tenacious D says:

      First of all, congratulations on the opportunity. I don’t have specific advice about your legal/tax questions, but I’ll point out that some of those matters can be different in Québec than elsewhere in Canada, so if you do consult a professional, make sure they have the appropriate expertise.
      When moving anywhere in Canada, there can be wait lists to get a family doctor (probably in a major city like Montreal the process is pretty quick though), so make it a priority to find one before you need to. Here’s a link with some info: https://www.quebec.ca/en/health/finding-a-resource/consult-a-professional/registering-with-a-family-doctor/
      Think and prepare for winter in advance. If you’ve never lived in a city with that climate, there could be some unknown unknowns there: things like SAD, heating bills, vehicle issues. There are certainly enjoyable aspects to winter in Canada but it’s important to be prepared.
      If you stay there long enough your kids could be eligible for the sweet resident tuition rate at McGill (currently around $2,500 CAD annually for a B.A., before various fees) and other universities in the province.

      • MereComments says:

        Thanks for that link! Figuring out our health care situation is definitely one of our highest priorities.

        Re: winter, we’re from Boston originally, so while I’m not looking forward to returning to the cold and darkness, I’m at least prepared for it. And my wife actually prefers the cold to the 90 straight days of 100+ temps we currently live with.

        • Tenacious D says:

          You’re welcome.
          A couple of other things I thought of that might be helpful are:
          Most Canadian provinces have an agency that’s like a DMV on steroids, providing a one-stop shop for various licenses, registrations, and address-linked services or fees. These agencies are usually named Service or Access + {name of province}.
          Using an ATM in Canada to withdraw from an account in the US (and vice versa) might result in high fees unless the banks have an alliance (e.g. BoA and Scotiabank). It might make sense to get a Canadian bank account.
          If you plan on crossing the border frequently, getting a NEXUS card might be worth it.
          If you ever decide to wear a Bruins jersey, you do so at your own risk.

  7. Mark Atwood says:

    @AlesZiegler , given that you are in Czechia…

    A few years ago, I visited Prague. (Beautiful place!). I entered the “The Czech Republic” and a week later I departed “Czechia”.

    Wikipedia has the timeline of the name “Czechia”, but not the *story*.

    So, what was the story? And why did it take so long to start using the obvious exonym?

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Official name of the country translated to English is still Czech republic, just like official name of Slovakia is Slovak republic, official name of France is French republic and so on. Few years ago, Czech government semi-officialy told the world to use Czechia in informal contexts, since using Czech republic everywhere was slightly ridiculous. Equivalent informal name in Czech has been in use long before that.

  8. bean says:

    Naval Gazing has, as usual, been busy.

    First, I’ve started a series on signalling at sea. Parts 1 and 2, on non-electronic signals and naval radio through WWI respectively, are up.

    In popular culture, impressment was done by gangs of sailors roaming the streets, grabbing hapless civilians and forcing them to serve in the navy. The reality was a little more complicated.

    A very belated correction to an old SSC links post. The semi-famous case where Pepsi took delivery of old Soviet warships in payment for providing soft drinks? I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen.

    My long-running series on the Falklands War got a new installment, this one covering the last of the Argentine air attacks on San Carlos.

    For some reason, the National WWI Museum is in Kansas City. I went there a few months ago, and wasn’t particularly impressed with what I found.

    The Rule the Waves 2 community game saw victory in our war with Italy, although we now have to face growing German power.

    And there’s the Naval Gazing Open Thread.

    • Matt M says:

      I’m not typically interested in your more technical posts, but the one on impressment was certainly interesting, and nice to see some confirmation of something I always kind of suspected was true (that “roving bands of sailors grab random people and force them to serve on ships is a vast oversimplification of what was going on).

      It’s also interesting to note, as you point out, that these sorts of practices were eventually replaced with formal mass conscription. Which is basically the same thing, just more highly organized, which for some reason is supposed to make it less morally objectionable?

      I mean, “band of soldiers comes and grabs you and forces you to be in the army” is basically what the draft is, only they give you a couple weeks notice and expect you to turn yourself in so they don’t have to actually come physically grab you (but if you don’t, they certainly will).

      • bean says:

        I’ll point out, as I believe I did in the comments to that post, that mass conscription is superficially similar, but has a very different basis. It only works with a broad base of popular support, and works best in cases where it’s universal. Things get ugly when it stops being universal, like it did in Vietnam. (Partially because the Army didn’t need and couldn’t afford to take everyone.) From a libertarian point of view, it’s probably as objectionable as impressment, but the practical workings are pretty different.

      • What amused me in the piece, and I commented on, was the idea that there was no other practical way of manning the navy in wartime–while paying lower wages than the merchant ships. Getting as many employees as you want while paying below market wages is not a special case that applies only to the navy.

        Conscription, then and later, is a tax in labor used to replace a tax in money—one imposed much more unevenly and more inefficiently.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The British invented libertarianism and capitalism but never applied them with consistent rigor, as you know.
          Arguably Britain hasn’t done anything with consistent rigor since the Restoration.

          • Watchman says:

            Imperialism for a while?

            But yes, inconsistent and rather lax – we’re the prototype modern democracy. Which seems to be a good thing.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Arguably libertarianism as political philosophy was invented by the French. “Laissez-faire” as a slogan was coined by Frenchman named René-Louis de Voyer de Paulmy, Marquis d’Argenson, in 18th century, according to English Wikipedia. Then you have physiocrats, Jean Baptiste Say, Bastiat..

        • bean says:

          Part of it is that it’s often practically easier to tax in labor than to tax in money. (Leaving aside the bit where the tax is uneven and often falls on those who can’t vote.) The British government in the Napoleonic Wars and earlier was a paragon of fiscal stability compared to the rest of Europe, but it was still pretty shaky. Outbidding the merchant ships would have taken a lot of money, and it was money they simply didn’t have and couldn’t reasonably collect.

          • spkaca says:

            “Outbidding the merchant ships would have taken a lot of money”
            And as usual the story was more complex than the headline pay figures might imply. Merchant ships in the eighteenth century paid higher nominal wages, because Royal Navy wage rate had been set in 1653 and not raised for a very long time, but:
            ‘In warships the monthly pay came net of fixed deductions of 1s 6d and nothing else… In merchantmen the crew was liable to arbitrary deductions on account of damaged cargo… on Atlantic voyages they often received part of their wages in debased colonial currency; and above all they were not usually paid unless the voyage was completed. If the ship were wrecked, or simply sold abroad by a dishonest owner, the men stood to receive nothing.’ (Rodger, The Wooden World, p.127)
            The main problem, if I read Rodger correctly, and the main cause of the need for the press, was that the population of trained seamen could only grow slowly, whereas when war broke out the Navy needed a lot of men in short order.

          • bean says:

            1. The Wooden World covers the mid-18th century, while I was talking most of the Napoleonic era. (My main source was Lavey’s Nelson’s Navy.) I wouldn’t be surprised if the premium paid by the merchantmen was higher in the latter era.
            2. Revealed preference. Yes, there were some seamen who preferred the stability of naval life. But this wasn’t nearly enough to man the fleet, which it probably would have been had conditions been genuinely better in the RN.

        • edmundgennings says:

          There are certainly dead weight losses associated with conscription, but it does not strike me as obvious that it has higher marginal deadweight loss than more taxes, especially if taxes are already relatively high and tax collection capacity is relatively weak. Napolionic England already had trouble with smuggling to evade import taxes.

        • Matt M says:

          was the idea that there was no other practical way of manning the navy in wartime–while paying lower wages than the merchant ships

          See also: Every modern article about how X industry is currently facing a completely inexplicable “labor shortage”

          Who will be the first Presidential candidate to propose conscription for truck drivers? If you can think of any other practical way to man our trucking fleet while paying lower wages than the available alternatives, I’d like to hear it!

          • Evan Þ says:

            See also: At least half the modern articles about how “native-born Americans just won’t work in Industry X!”

            Pay me fifty thousand dollars a day, and sure, I’ll pick strawberries for you.

  9. aristides says:

    Has anyone analyzed the effect of automation on small business? I skimmed the McKinsey article Bamboozle linked, and it reminded me of this question. Automation is going to reduce job opportunities for the no college, but currently, many people without a degree are able to open their own small business. In the future, will this population benefit from automation, or will they suffer with the rest of the no college population?

    • I can’t speak to the general case but I am, among other things, a self published author, which is a form of (very) small business. It was not a viable model twenty or thirty years ago, is now. And that is mostly due to a set of technological changes—first word processors, complete with spellcheck and indexing, then the internet.

    • Murphy says:

      Depends what you mean by automation.

      There’s a lot of small businesses that simply could not have existed a few years back that can exist now because automation brings the costs down to something sustainable.

      Excel destroyed a lot of accountancy jobs… but also allowed a lot of small businesses to manage their accounts with slightly lower costs.

      Word processors destroyed typists as a sector of the economy… but also cut the cost of staff for every business that needs anything typed.

      Phone switching used to be manual, a job done by phone switch operators… but the network switch became a little $50 wireless device that sits in the corner of an office and lets a dozen people communicate with the world.

    • Well... says:

      Automation is going to reduce job opportunities for the no college

      Really? What about in the skilled trades?

      Also, has automation impacted the arts much? Stable careers in the arts were always difficult, but I haven’t seen anything showing that automation has made obtaining those careers harder.

      • Nornagest says:

        Hmm, maybe. I was all set up to say that automation hasn’t affected the arts at all, but now that I think about it, better software tools have made a dent — desktop publishing software for example is getting to the point where it’s starting to squeeze professional graphic design, after obsoleting the typesetting industry in the Eighties and Nineties.

        Outside the design world it’s more of a mixed bag. The Internet upended all the old business models for arts careers — musicians don’t sell CDs anymore, they go straight to Bandcamp or Spotify or YouTube — but it also opened new ones, and it’s not clear to me which side dominates. And it’s not really an automation issue so much as a communication one.

        AI is just about getting to the point where it can write a semi-coherent listicle, but if it makes all the listicle writers unemployed then good riddance, I say.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think film/video, music, and visual arts are all very heavily affected by technology and automation. As I understand it, a single person can now do stuff that used to require expensive resources to edit the film/produce the music.

      • Plumber says:

        @Well… >

        “…What about in the skilled trades?…”

        Some new technology reduces man-hours, and renders certain skills obsolete, for example I had an air conditioning repair class with a man who’s job it had been to repair smog test equipment, his job was made obsolete by the most significant part of the test equipment getting small enough that it could be unbolted and shipped back to the factory for exchange, also among my classmates was a man who was as a film developer – digital cameras destroyed his business.

      • Garrett says:

        The guy who does my plumbing work (4th generation plumber, I think), said that he needed to go to 4 years of plumbing school. So, even if not technically a 4-year bachelor’s degree anchored in the liberal arts, it’s still a good amount of formal post-secondary education.

        • Plumber says:

          @Garrett,
          For my plumbing apprenticeship it was five years of classes two nights a week, for about eight to ten hours per week, two months off classes each summer, and 9,000 hours of documented appropriate labor, plus “turn-out” tests both from the union and from the County of Santa Clara, to be declared a “Journeyman”.

          They gave me a certificate saying it was the equivalent of something from Foothill community college, accredited through them.

      • Anthony says:

        Automation over a longer timescale has really impacted the construction industry. The excavator and dump truck have made redundant huge numbers of shovelers and wheelbarrowmen. As excavator technology gets better, it takes less time to dig the same hole, and costs less in material and equipment costs.

        The nailgun has significantly reduced the labor hours required to build (or replace) a roof. Slipforms have reduced the number of carpenter hours required to build formwork for a lot of concrete structures. (That’s not automation per se, but it is technology.)

        • Well... says:

          Right. When I hear “automation” I’m thinking “press a button, no human needed from that point onward except maybe as quality control”.

  10. Bamboozle says:

    any thoughts on this article by McKinsey on automation and it’s effect on American Jobs in the years to come.

    My only take away from this is given what we’ve seen so far i don’t expect more than lip service to be done by anyone going forward.

    Given i’m prime age for having kids (long term relationship, late 20’s) this article makes me think am I f*ck having more than 2. Better start saving for their Uni fees now….

    • VivaLaPanda says:

      Have you considered moving outside the US to raise kids?

      • Bamboozle says:

        I don’t live in the US but a similar phenomenon is happening in my country too (UK).

        Living in Australia currently but it’s even worse here in the “Megacities” (Sydney and Melbourne) than back home.

        • aristides says:

          How expensive is college in the UK? In America public universities are fairly affordable, and it’s easy for students to get loans, and possible to get a scholarship. I obviously don’t know your financial situation, but I’m surprised cost of college would be a major limiting factor on having children.

          I’m saying this as someone in the US in a similar situation as you, trying for 3-5 children.

          • Watchman says:

            If you’re a UK resident, it’s a loan system for fees, which is paid back on income over a certain level (and are written off after 65 or thereabouts if outstanding). Interest is inflation linked. So anyone can afford university, and the failure to get a job afterwards doesn’t have direct penalties in relation to the loan.

            Some parents still seem to want to pay for their kids’ fees and lifestyle, but rationally I’d say they’d be better using that money to pay deposit on a house for them or as seed funding, or something similar: the best use of a parental gift is to mitigate inability to acquire credit or to replace credit on harsher terms rather than replace a fairly generous loan that will normally have minimal impact on those who take them out.

            Note the UK has much less of a culture of parental involvement in children’s university education than the US, probably because the parents have never been expected to fund it.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Watchman: To add some things you already know to this- you can also obtain a “maintenance loan” on the same terms as the tuition fee loan which is supposed to pay for costs other than tuition (rent, food, books, etc). Some parental support is expected, as the amount you can get in maintenance loan is means-tested depending on household income. A year’s maintenance loan is never really enough to live on even at the maximum level- students are expected to make up for the shortfall with support from their parents, part-time or vacation jobs, or scholarships/bursaries from their university.

            Note that university students living with their parents is unusual even if they are studying in the same city. And if you do live with your parents, the amount of maintenance loan available is reduced.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Yes, under the current UK system it should not be difficult to pay for your children’s uni, unless maybe you have several who will be doing it at the same time. Government loans cover tuition, so you only need to cover living costs (and only the part not covered by maintenance loans and bursaries). I can’t imagine that being drastically more than living costs for your children living at home if your income is low enough that they get a reasonable amount of maintenance loan, even accounting for the loss of child tax credit.

    • Matt M says:

      There’s not necessarily any specific claim in this article I disagree with.

      I would; however, encourage everyone to keep in mind that the purpose of these articles is, in the main, to convince CEOs that they need to hire McKinsey. And saying “massively huge and radical changes are coming that you rubes don’t understand but we do!” is the prime way of doing that.

      In other words, it will always be in McKinsey’s interest to say “radical change is coming!” and never in their interest to say “this stuff will happen slowly and everyone will have plenty of time to recognize it and adapt to it.”

    • SamChevre says:

      I’d look on the bright side: automation should mean that material goods are cheaper. So it will be easier to buy clothes, food, transportation, and so forth for kids. (This is a big deal–even just since I was a kid, clothes have gotten a lot cheaper, and kids go through clothes…)

      So if you aren’t in a status competition, or looking for work in one of the “big city only” fields, automation should make kids more affordable.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        This is a big deal–even just since I was a kid, clothes have gotten a lot cheaper, and kids go through clothes

        With the internet it’s also easier than ever to trade kids’ clothes. My neighborhood has a FaceBook page, and people will post “have a box of clothes for a four year old boy, anybody want?” And somebody will snap that up and two years later pass that same box along to somebody else. Between the neighborhood and family hand-me-downs we have bought exceedingly few clothes for my kids.

        • Nick says:

          Yep. In my town these were organized by our school or church rather than over the Internet, though.

    • If you start having kids now, they will be ready for college in about twenty years. I wouldn’t count on the present system lasting that long. I haven’t read the article, but, given present and future technological change, the future that far out is very uncertain.

    • Well... says:

      [Epistemic status: bitter rant]

      What’s up with people paying for their kids’ college tuitions? My mom would have laughed her head off if I’d asked her to pay a penny of mine, both because she was always broke and because the very notion would have been absurd even if she wasn’t. I was a legal adult when I graduated high school! She did co-sign but only because it was legally required. She was very explicit that she would not be able to pay if I defaulted, and I knew it.

      “But I don’t want my kids to go into debt!”

      So tell them to wait a few years and work a real job in the real world (maybe even learn some real skills!) before they go to college. They can save up money, plus learn how to handle themselves as adults. A lot of scholarships are available to so-called “non-traditional” students too. I wish my mom (and high school guidance counselors, etc.) had advised me to do that.

      “But that’s not realistic, my kid isn’t going to be able to save 80 grand in two or three years!”

      After those 2 or 3 years, your kid goes and gets his gen eds out of the way at the local community college, then a year or two later transfer to the state U for his 4-year degree. Again, I wish my mom et al. had advised me to do this.

      “But my kid is going to [elite world-renowned institution of higher learning that costs a bajillion dollars per credit hour]!”

      OK, then your kid will easily be able to pay the loans back after he graduates, right? Because the payoff for going to those schools is supposed to include the ability to land a sweet high-paying job, right?

      • Randy M says:

        I understand well off parents wanting to give their children all the advantages they can afford.
        I strongly disagree that being able to save for a college education should be seen as a requirement for being a responsible parent, I and perceive it is often portrayed this way. But on the other hand, parents should help their children to find other ways to progress through life or save the money needed, since the culture strongly preaches college as the default choice, costs notwithstanding.

        I did get a couple grand from my parents on an occasion when the loans didn’t fully cover that semesters tuition. After that I started washing dishes.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Because the school demands that the parents pay, and parents have gone along with it.

        Imagine me going to the car dealership and them demanding to look through my parents’ income tax returns to decide how much I can afford. Imagine customers going along with it. Yet, if customers went along with it for some reason for generation, we might be stuck in a weird situation with insane tulip subsidies.

        • Matt M says:

          This. The system actively punishes children of wealthy parents, so the least those wealthy parents can do is make them whole for that.

          I don’t have kids, but my plan for this would be something like “I’m willing to pay for a public state school for four years so long as you pick a useful major that you can explain how it will increase/improve your employment prospects. Anything above/beyond/outside that and you’re on your own.”

        • Well... says:

          Right. My post is basically saying “stop going along with it.”

          • Matt M says:

            The problem is that too many people have already gone along with it for too long that it’s now institutional. Not going along with it anymore only punishes yourself (or more accurately, your children).

            Imagine a 100-person prisoner’s dilemma where everyone defects but you. Maybe you feel good about upholding the principle of the matter, but…

          • Well... says:

            I just outlined a technique to get around that “institution”: work for a few years (or do some military service) first, get gen eds out of the way at community college, go to the local State U.

            It’s like if the prisoner’s dilemma had a third option where you go make a few license plates and then you and the other guy can both walk.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m not against any of those options, (I joined the military myself, and you sucker taxpayers financed two of my degrees), but you can’t literally force your children to take any of them. If they decide to go in debt up to their eyeballs getting a psychology degree from Evergreen State, your choices are to either help them out, or watch them suffer.

            There’s a strong argument to be made that “watch them suffer” is the correct utility-maximizing choice there, but it’s a hard one for parents to make…

          • Well... says:

            If you don’t co-sign a loan, it’s hard to see how they will end up at Evergreen State. It’s not like they show up and now the school can exact a ransom from you.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If my kid is going to an elite+expensive institution, there probably are simply not loans to be had to cover the price. If they lose my kid, they don’t mind, even if there were not a hundred lined up behind him. Because they don’t want to lose price pressure on the other ~1000 students.

      • albatross11 says:

        We got some money from my in-laws (basically spreading my wife’s inheritance out across many years instead of waiting to get it all at once), which we put into college funds for our three kids. We’ve also had money pulled out of every paycheck for many years and put into college funds for our kids.

        My parents paid for my college, and so I got to start my professional life out with only a little (stupid credit-card) debt instead of a mountain of debt I couldn’t repay. My first job out of college didn’t pay all that well, and if I’d had an extra loan repayment, I’m not sure how I’d have made it month to month.

        I very much wanted to offer my kids the same deal–I want them to come out of college without a huge pile of debt. That will make it possible for them to take risks (like starting a company, or changing fields if they find they don’t like the one they started in, or even doing something weird like joining the Peace Corps or going to graduate school) that they might not be able or willing to take with tens of thousands of dollars of debt hanging over their heads. It will make it possible for them to get married/have kids earlier, if they’re similarly not burdened with that huge debt. If they screw up college and leave with no degree, at least they won’t haul around $30K in not-dischargable-in-bankruptcy debt to make it extra hard for them to find another path to having a successful life (picking up a trade, going into the military, going to school for some completely different thing while working).

        If we hadn’t been able to afford to do this, we would have just told them “you’re on your own.” As it is, my oldest son is heading to college next year, and it’s a state university rather than one of the more expensive private colleges he was also accepted to[1]. We’ve made it clear to him and our other two kids that the college funds we’ve given them are most of what we’re able to contribute to their education, and that we won’t be cosigning loans or anything. (We’ll continue helping out with expenses and feeding them over the summers and they’ll stay on our car/health insurance.)

        I think the cost disease/unending spiral of education costs is one of the things that’s broken with our society–it’s nuts to have all these kids end up with tens of thousands of dollars of debt they can’t get out from under even in bankruptcy, in order to get an education that gives them a shot at a decent middle-class lifestyle. We’re fortunate enough to be able to at least partly shield our kids from this bit of societal dysfunction, and so we’re doing that, in the same way we’ll keep them on our health insurance as long as possible to keep them from being billed a gazillion dollars for getting sick because medical costs are in the same crazy cost-spiral, or in the same way that, if we lived somewhere with rampant corruption and cronyism, we’d use what money and connections we had to help them dodge the worst of that dysfunction.

        [1] Partly because I pointed out to him that the scholarships they offered to make their tuition affordable would probably go away if he had a bad semester, and then he’d be unable to afford the rest of his education.

        • Nick says:

          and that we won’t be cosigning loans or anything.

          Wait, what? If you’re not cosigning the loans, who is?

        • Well... says:

          I very much wanted to offer my kids the same deal–I want them to come out of college without a huge pile of debt.

          I addressed this.

          That will make it possible for them to take risks

          But isn’t this counterbalanced, at least somewhat, by the fact that they’ll have never been unsupported by their parents, have never known real struggles, before they graduate?

          (We’ll continue helping out with expenses and feeding them over the summers and they’ll stay on our car/health insurance.)

          Case in point…

          I don’t know how much my experience of packing up everything I owned and leaving home and moving to the other side of the country when I was 18, then spending the next few years very hungry and occasionally scared (and sometimes in very thorny situations) contributed to my resiliance as an adult. But it’s definitely nonzero.

          I do wish I had worked longer before going to school, and that I’d stayed in-state, and that I’d chosen a major that would make me more employable, and that I hadn’t amassed so much debt, but those are all things I can recover from. I don’t know how I’d recover from not having had the formative experiences alluded to in the paragraph above.

          • ana53294 says:

            I don’t know how much my experience of packing up everything I owned and leaving home and moving to the other side of the country when I was 18, then spending the next few years very hungry and occasionally scared (and sometimes in very thorny situations) contributed to my resiliance as an adult. But it’s definitely nonzero.

            And how good was your relationship with your mother after that? Because that kind of situation doesn’t seem to fuzzy feelings and bringing the grandkids home for Christmas.

            I get that you didn’t get help, because your family wouldn’t or couldn’t. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have.

            Family should be the people that have your back. I met many people from familys that were really struggling while their kids were studying, and it was really hard for them; but they took those costs together, they lived together, they supported each other, and they pulled through stronger for that.

            Sure, you can give your kids tough love. But then they may give you the same treatment when it comes to taking care of you in old age, and put you in the shittiest old people’s home.

          • Randy M says:

            Family should be the people that have your back.

            Yes and no to this. It’s definitely good to help each other survive, achieve dreams, get out of trouble, etc., but the person receiving the aid has a responsibility to minimize the need (ie, go to a cheaper school, perhaps community college 2 gen ed, work part time) and to consider the financial situation of the person assisting.
            Perhaps there are some parents who should help more; perhaps there are some students who should say, “Mom, I can’t take money from you right now, let me work a year first.”

          • Well... says:

            And how good was your relationship with your mother after that?

            It got much stronger after that. Caused me to realize, despite my mother’s lack of money, how much I appreciated her love and warmth and other kinds of support.

            It’s not about tough love. It’s about walking that line between having your kids’ back and preparing the road for them. I also think there’s something to be said for requiring that one’s kids take responsibility for the expensive things they want but don’t immediately need.

            I also think the parents’ responsibility greatly diminishes once the kids are adults. After that point whatever the parents provide can be thought of as being done out of love or kindness, but it is too often framed as something like a duty or expectation.

          • ana53294 says:

            You should have your family’s back, too, obviously. If there are jobs available to you that would dramatically improve your family’s situation, you should take it.

            In Spain, almost all public universities cost more or less the same (except the Catalan ones, which are 1k or so more expensive). In most of places, it’s under 2k.

            So the most affordable university is the one that is closest to home, if there is one within a commutable distance, or the one where the cheapest rents are (not the big cities, Catalonia or the north coast). Most students live at home anyway, bring homemade meals to school, and use the public transport if possible.

            In Spain, there are few jobs an 18 year old could get that are full time and are more than subsistence wages; I can’t imagine how an 18 year old with no qualifications other than a high school degree would save for university.

            But unless your parents had you when they were really old, your parents will be in their best earning years when you are 18, whereas you are in your worst years. If we view it as trying to maximize the family’s income, it makes more sense to invest in the kids’ career. Unless your mother is breathing bleach daily for you (most likely she has a nicer full time job with benefits), it makes sense to take the help she gives you, and repay her when you have a decent job.

          • albatross11 says:

            You do you. I’ve certainly done my best to put my kids in situations where they need to adapt and figure out how to handle things on their own. However, the higher educational system is a massive society-wide ongoing clusterfuck, and my kids are exactly the kind who should go to college. I could indeed kick them out at 18 and wish them the best of luck dealing with that clusterfuck, but I’m certainly grateful that I don’t have to.

          • Randy M says:

            @Ana
            That’s all reasonable enough; but the university I graduated from now charges 32,000$ per year. National average is about 28,000.
            A middle or lower class student can hope to get a lot of that paid for in aid and loans, but obviously that American picture is more complicated than 3k per year for Spain you mention.

            Anyhow, your example is some of what I was getting at. A student taking a lot of money from their parents, but in return willing to live at home and commute by bus, etc. is making some effort to minimize their burden. This seems like a rarer or at least unpopular experience in America, where the expectation is to live on campus, charge the campus meal plan, etc.

          • ana53294 says:

            For 35k you could send your kid to Germany, have them study German for a year, enter a German university , and afford 1-1.5 year or so of uni (and life costs). For another 15k, they could get the Bachelor’s (it’s three years in Germany). Of course, that would mean having to learn another language, sharing an apartment, and getting a degree in a foreign country.

      • Plumber says:

        @Well…

        “…What’s up with people paying for their kids’ college tuitions?
        …”

        It’s the traditional way, I think loans are a more recent development.

        • Well... says:

          I thought the traditional way was something closer to “go to the military first, and/or work 2 jobs after class so you can pay your own way”.

          • Plumber says:

            Nope, that’s the mid 20th century way, earlier than that college just wasn’t something commonly done, parents or patrons paid for the few who went, with some newer exceptions like New York’s City College.

            Basically, for a short time wages were high and tuition was low, but that waa abnormal, but we’ve been heading back to the pre-New Deal/WW2 norm for a while.

          • Well... says:

            Yes, I agree. But I figure this discussion is limited to the situation in which going to college is fairly common even among people from lower- and middle-class backgrounds. That really has only been the case since maybe the end of WWII? Maybe a little earlier?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Well…

            Yes. Mostly as a result of the combination of the GI Bill with massive enlistment amongst the middle and working class because of WWII.

            Prior to WWII university enrollment rates were in the single digits to low teens.

            Edit to add: Plumber is entirely correct (as usual). Colleges used to be finishing for the elite, not generally available to the rest.

      • edmundgennings says:

        [elite world-renowned institution of higher learning] will dramatically reduce tuition if the parents earn less than a massive amount. HYP and near peers have it so that no students need to take on debt. However, if one was high income, one’s children would be charged full price and not be able to pay it without one’s support.
        That being said if one can get into [elite world-renowned institution of higher learning] one can usually get a full ride or close to it at at least some state Us.
        However many people can get into second tier schools that while quite good are also quite expensive.
        But I would recommend ROTC as a way to avoid college debts.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        The whole system seems to be a lot easier if everyone commits to paying for their child’s college tuition rather than paying for their own.

        When you’re in college, you have limited ability to make any money: any sort of jobs you’ll be taking will be unskilled, and your work week is limited by college itself and studying: to the extent that you need to work, your academics may suffer. It’s doable, but it’s not easy.

        When your child is in college, you’re generally at or near the peak of your earning potential in whatever field you’re in. You’re well-established in your field, you’ve worked out whatever housing arrangements you have, and you’ve likely had everything be stable for a few years. It’s much easier to come up with any given cost at this point than when you yourself are growing up.

        The problem is that the only way to get to this state is for one generation to both pay for their college and their child’s college, and that’s not easy. There’s also another financial incentive to not have children, which isn’t great.

        • Well... says:

          This also assumes everyone is able to pay for their kids’ college. My single mom sometimes wasn’t able to put dinner on the table, and I remember once she locked herself in her bedroom and cried because she couldn’t look me and my brothers in the face one of those nights. I don’t think my story is all that uncommon. (Maybe the locking herself in her room crying part, but not the not having extra money to set aside for college part.)

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          If people just paid for their own college, college would probably cost much less and be much more spartan.

          • EchoChaos says:

            The number of car dealerships outside military bases suggest that they would just go badly into debt and live it up.

            Young people making stupid decisions is the basis of many industries.

          • Matt M says:

            The military is kind of a special case there, in that they are uniquely low credit-risk because it’s reasonably easy to garnish their wages to get your money back if they skip out on a debt.

            So long as they remain in the military, they’re easy to recover from.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Matt M

            Since student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, they are also uniquely low-risk.

            In my lived experience (admittedly a couple of decades out of date at this point) the people who were paying for themselves on student loans lived it up far more than did the middle class folks who had to work for spending money and/or ask parents for it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Student loans should be dischargeable, and 40(? god I feel old) years ago they were, and nothing broke. People could afford college. Student loans existed but were modest. No one is going to blow their credit to discharge $8000 (2019 dollars) in loans. They would to discharge $90,000, but no one lent them $90,000 because they would obviously discharge it. (There is something especially horrible about a system that does not let minors enter into most contracts, yet lets them take on non-dischargeable debt.) So no one billed at a rate that would require $90,000 in debt.

            Individual students might have more or less money, and individual students might go into debt for status reasons. But that’s at least a choice it is easy to opt-out of. The all-in bundling of college costs, where enrollment includes a climbing wall and lazy river and internet-everywhere and whatever else kids these days get-off-my-lawn get, mean that you have to go to an entirely different school to avoid the price escalation, a school full of people who couldn’t afford the main thing.

      • Nick says:

        My family didn’t pay for anything either. I used scholarships and student loans, and I’ve been steadily paying them off. I graduated in 2017, and I can pay them off entirely this year, if I’m willing to wipe out my savings.

        The whole system is crazy, but parents paying for their kids’ tuition is not even in the top five craziest things about it. My top five is more like the huge sticker prices themselves, or the corresponding wide availability of huge loans, or the vast disinformation apparatus persuading you to just study what you love or invest in a valuable law degree, or the insistence that everyone can and should go, or the bizarre way colleges spend that money (why is my professor on food stamps?!)….

        ETA: less combative wording

      • ana53294 says:

        I have ASD, and although I am able to get a job, I was a deeply dysfunctional 18 year old. If my parents kicked me out of home and told me to fend off for myself, I’d have ended in the streets. Most probably I’d have sued my parents and they would have had to pay for my education. In Spain, parents have the obligation to pay, if they can afford it. State aid is based on parents’ income.

        At 23, after I finished university, I was a much better adapted adult, and I was able to get a job.

        I’m not sure how much people like me there are.

        I was 18 in 2012, the year of the severe economic depression in Spain. Nobody was hiring inexperienced youngsters who could only work part-time because they had classes. People with PhDs were working as cashiers. Many young people were leaving Spain to Germany or the UK to wash toilets, even with engineering degrees.

        I wouldn’t have been able to improve my situation then.

        • Well... says:

          1) I apologize, my experience is limited to the American “system”. I do not mean to speak for others.

          2) My experience is also limited to people without disabilities (the majority), who are generally presumed to be capable of independence at age 18, or were when I was 18.

      • John Schilling says:

        What’s up with people paying for their kids’ college tuitions?

        What’s up with people paying for their kids’ high school tuitions? Either individually or, worse, lobbying the local tax authorities to make every adult pay for every child’s high school tuition whether they want to or not? Everybody should just work part-time jobs or take apprenticeships or sell newspapers or at least do chores on the family farm in exchange for the privilege of a high school education.

        I was a legal adult when I graduated high school!

        Which is relevant if we are talking about a legal obligation. For the most part, there isn’t a legal obligation to pay for your offspring’s college education?

        Some people perceive a moral or economic requirement to do so, in which case the question is when someone morally or economically an adult. And if someone believes that a person cannot be a viable economic entity until they have at least a four-year degree, that anything less than that condemns one to starvation or wage-slavery, then one ought to believe that paying for someone’s college education ought to be considered about as obligatory as paying for their high school education.

        That underlying premise may or may not be objectively true; we have had many threads debating that subject. But we’ve got lots of people who seem to sincerely believe it, and you don’t seem to be trying to argue them out of it. In which case, the analogy stands. Either you feel an obligation to pay for someone’s education until they are capable of independent economic existence, or you don’t, and either way paying for all but the last four necessary years and then throwing them out on the street seems indefensible.

      • MorningGaul says:

        So tell them to wait a few years and work a real job in the real world (maybe even learn some real skills!) before they go to college.

        It’s a bad idea for multiple reasons. The less you forget between highschool and college, the better, and the earlier you start a career, the better. Taking break in your studies to save up the money to go to college both increase your chances of failing (maybe compensated by an increased involvment, but i’m not sure), and the lesser your degree will be worth at the end.

        • Well... says:

          The less you forget between highschool and college, the better, and the earlier you start a career, the better.

          The first part of that assumes you just got done learning a lot of stuff you’ll immediately need in college, which is not true in many cases. The second part of that has problems too: one, at 18 most people (I’d guess) don’t know what they want to do or haven’t found the thing they’re really good at. Starting down a career path is risky. Starting to work as an independent adult, on the other hand, is very beneficial: it teaches you a little about how the world of working adults operates, it teaches you how to be responsible and show up to places and work hard to get ahead, it forces you to learn to budget and save and pay bills and taxes…and that is exactly what I was saying high school grads should do!

          Taking break in your studies to save up the money to go to college both increase your chances of failing (maybe compensated by an increased involvment, but i’m not sure), and the lesser your degree will be worth at the end.

          I don’t understand what this is supposed to mean. The second part doesn’t make sense (why is a degree worth less because you earned it between the ages of 20 and 24 rather than 18 and 22?) and the first part is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.

          • Matt M says:

            why is a degree worth less because you earned it between the ages of 20 and 24 rather than 18 and 22?

            If you consider a degree to essentially be nothing more than an “earnings multiplier” applied to a fixed amount of time (say, the # of years between the time you earn the degree, and your death), then the later a degree is earned, the less total benefit it can provide you.

            This probably isn’t an exactly correct set of assumptions, but it does make some intuitive sense and is probably closer to being generally right than generally wrong.

          • Well... says:

            Nah, I think it contains too many assumptions to be generally closer to right than to wrong.

          • MorningGaul says:

            The first part of that assumes you just got done learning a lot of stuff you’ll immediately need in college, which is not true in many cases.

            This may be true of (some) actual learning material, but my experience is that any STEM course relies on prior knowledge, and while you can get back on the bike after taking a break, it’ll likely be harder than just continuing after a summer.

            And it’s not only what you learn that would be lost and forgotten, but also how you learn. And good study skills are god damn important in higher education.

            The second part of that has problems too: one, at 18 most people (I’d guess) don’t know what they want to do or haven’t found the thing they’re really good at. Starting down a career path is risky.

            Which is the whole point of higher education: to not have to enter the workforce at 18, and instead opening possibilities in, admitedly, a specific field, but usually large enough to get you options after your first internship.

            And (admittingly, drawing from my personnal experience of summer jobs), working the jobs you’ll get with no experience nor degree will only tell you in which fields you dont want to work, and these fields are unlikely to have a universitie course.

            I don’t understand what this is supposed to mean. The second part doesn’t make sense (why is a degree worth less because you earned it between the ages of 20 and 24 rather than 18 and 22?) and the first part is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence.

            The first part refers to the premise that taking a break from your studies will make you less proficient at it (and thus increase your chances of failing them). I’ll concede that it’s the weakest point, and hard to find data on, considering that looking for “college graduation rate by age” will yield generational data instead.

            As for the second, if i’m going to work 40 years, but spend the first 3 at minimum wage and then becomes, say, a programmer for 37, i’ll make 37 years of programming (P) + 3 years of minimum wage (M). If I work 40 years of programming, i’ll make 40 years of programming. I assume that 40P > 37P + 3M, even more considering the value of P increase for every additional P through raises. And even more again if the industry is youth-obsessed as CompSci is, which makes you outdated that much sooner if you’re, for the same experience, 3 years older than your competitors.

      • jgr314 says:

        My understanding is that one factor is that this is sort-of a tax advantaged way for parents to transfer financial capital to their kids as human capital. As with other tax structures, the institution that facilitates the tax benefit gets to keep some (most? all?) of the benefit depending on elasticities.

  11. oriscratch says:

    Anyone have opinions on whether general anesthesia causes brain damage? I’ve heard of multiple conflicting reports regarding the subject, and while it does seem to cause brain damage in animals, the results for human studies seem inconclusive. I personally know of a lot of people whose kids have mental issues (or are just really stupid) after childhood surgery. So my current view is that while anesthesia may cause brain damage, it’s extremely minor and probably not permanent. Still, the idea of losing some intelligence after surgery, even just a little bit, is something I find pretty terrifying. Am I worrying too much?

    • SkyBlu says:

      I had my wisdom teeth removed, and I had a choice between localized and general anesthesia. I opted for generalized anesthesia, since while there were greater risks, I just didn’t want to be awake while people cut open my mouth; that would distress me more than the slight loss of intelligence or slight chance of a major issue with the procedure, and my panic would probably cause more problems than the anesthesia would. Don’t know how helpful that is, but at least for me, the trade-off for choosing general anesthesia was very much worth it.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Did they offer you sedation (not anesthesia at all)? I got that, and it went really well – it felt just like falling asleep.

      • Murphy says:

        When I was getting a wisdom tooth out I opted for local. My mother always maintained she lost some mental acuity after going under general and that always scared me far more.

        it was mostly just a slight scraping feeling. I winced once at a slightly unpleasant bit.

        Then I was sorta sitting there wondering when they’d get to actually taking the tooth out and what it would feel like and whether there would be any pain… and then I noticed the dentist was sewing.

        Turned out that half second wince was actually the tooth coming out and I’d missed him whipping it away, turns out it was just a vaguely unpleasant sensation without pain.

        We build big monuments to relatively useless people like generals and politicans, there should definitely be some statues larger than mount rushmore dedicated to the inventors of anesthetic.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, anesthetics, antiseptics/germ theory, antibiotics, vaccines–all together, they’ve eliminated a huge amount of human misery. Dentistry before anesthesia was seriously nasty, and other kinds of surgery were much worse. Plus, you were unlikely to survive most kinds of surgery before people realized they needed to sterilize their hands and instruments.

          • Murphy says:

            As always, relevant xkcd

            https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/degree_off.png

            “You can’t make people happy by law. If you said to a bunch of average people two hundred years ago ‘Would you be happy in a world where medical care is widely available, houses are clean, the world’s music and sights and foods can be brought into your home at small cost, travelling even 100 miles is easy, childbirth is generally not fatal to mother or child, you don’t have to die of dental abcesses and you don’t have to do what the squire tells you’ they’d think you were talking about the New Jerusalem and say ‘yes’.

            ~Terry Pratchett

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Probably lots of things cause brain damage, given how difficult it is to measure. It’s a good idea to avoid them when practical, on general principle, but I wouldn’t panic too much – it’s just not possible to avoid them all. There was an article here recently about a link between pollution and early dementia, that had some scary-ass numbers. Or just plain sleep deprivation – 40 years of living like a zombie pretty much qualifies as lowering average lifetime IQ.

    • Garrett says:

      From my not-scientific experience with a few patients and asking follow-up questions, it seems to be a risk factor for dementia in elderly people. That is, older people who get general anesthesia may end up with permanent cognitive deficits.

    • Pete Michaud says:

      Anecdotally, I had *a lot* of surgery when I was kid, and I seem fine. It’s hard to say what the counterfactual would have been, but I was pretty smart, I still am pretty smart, so it’s a subtle effect if there is one at all. Or it’s not a slight effect on everyone, but a bigger effect on specific people for some reason.

  12. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I continue trying to learn quantum stuff. I’m reading Lee Smolin’s latest book, “Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution.” I understand he is not arguing the primary viewpoint, but I’m not to that part of the book yet.

    I don’t understand why we think there is entanglement. Here is my understanding:

    Say a particle can have a reading either true or false. We have two particles, A and B, that are entangled to give opposite readings, and they are flying away from each other. We read particle A and find out it says true. At that moment [1], even if it is very very far away, particle B goes into state false. This is weird, because it happens even at huge distances. (And if we read A as false then B would snap into true.)

    Why is this the model? Wouldn’t the much simpler model be that particle A entered into state true and particle B entered into state false when they were entangled? There is no measurement going on, so this model is much simpler. Obviously this isn’t true, so what am I missing?

    [1] I’m know there are problems with simultaneity, but I don’t want to get into that.

    • k10293 says:

      You should look into Bell’s Theorem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell%27s_theorem

      The theorem states that if entanglement worked the way you describe, then the statistics of certain measurements performed on the entangled particles should obey an inequality called Bell’s Inequality. When you run the experiment, Bell’s Inequality is violated.

      The only plausible interpretations of entanglement once taking into account this experiment are the following:
      1. The entangled particles are able to send information to one another faster than the speed of light (in a way described by Bohmian mechanics).
      2. Entanglement works the way it is typically described, and the properties of the particles are not determined until one is measured.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      Bell’s Theorem precludes a theory of local hidden variables explaining quantum entanglement.

      http://www.drchinese.com/David/Bell_Compact.pdf

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell%27s_theorem#cite_note-Bell1964-4

      EDIT: k10293 sniped me with a better response!

    • mcpalenik says:

      Part of the problem here is that you’re starting a model in words, rather than asking what the mathematics describes. When you state things in words, you have the freedom to phrase them however you want, but when you start with an equation that describes a system, like a many body schrodinger equation, you’re forced to work with whatever the mathematics implies.

      So, first of all, if you have two non interacting particles, the eigenstates of the schrodinger equation of that system (or whatever appropriate equation models the type of particles you’re working with) will be products of single particle wave functions. If they are bosons, like photons, then your wave function is restricted to symmetrized linear combinations of product wave functions. If the net spin of your system is zero, then your total wage function is restricted even further to a subset of linear combinations of these symmetrized wave functions (the Clebsch-Gordan coefficients can tell you which linear combinations will add up to which spin, although you can also figure it out by building the full product Hilbert space of your two particles and finding the eigenstates of the total spin operator within it).

      So, this is all implied by the mathematics. The wave function of two bosons in a spin zero state has to look a certain way. And that function contains some degree of correlation between the spin of the two particles. But neither particle is itself in a spin eigenstates. Neither spin is purely up or down, mathematically speaking, and no amount of language games can change that.

      As others have pointed out, this does have implications for actual measurements as well. The correlation between spin 1 and spin 2 when you measure them at different angles is different if you use the correct wave function versus in the model you proposed.

    • eigenmoon says:

      But can you explain away the quantum eraser experiment, especially the delayed choice version?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_eraser_experiment
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ORLN_KwAgs

    • smocc says:

      Entanglement is subtle and difficult to explain with words. What you have described is correlation between two variables. Correlation between two variables happens in classical physics just fine. Entanglement is not just correlation. Entanglement is when there are correlation functions between two variables that cannot possibly exist in classical states. As others have mentioned, Bell’s Theorem proves that there is a quantum system of measurements that has a correlation function that is impossible with a local classical probability theory.

      There is also the GHZ state, where you can measure directly (without having to run the experiment multiple times) that there are quantum states that are impossible in classical physics.

      Ultimately entanglement is a result of the fact that there are more states in a quantum system than there are in a classical description of the same system. There must be more states because for every two states in the quantum system there is a third, state1 PLUS state2, which is not true in classical physics.

    • Thegnskald says:

      “True” and “False” aren’t a complete description of the possible states under consideration. It’s more like a spectrum of states, with corresponding anti-states – so 90% true, 10% false, with an anti-state of 10% true, 90% false. Not quite correct, but slightly closer.

      Slightly closer still is a multipolar system – say, red, green, and blue, as opposed to true and false – but this is wrong in a slightly orthogonal direction to the original wrongness of binary states, although it does a nice job of conveying the idea that you’re trading off between orthogonal properties rather than opposed properties. (Makes a particular difference when considering distance between states, as a1 – a2 has substantively different properties than sqrt((a1-a2)^2 + (b1-b2)^2 + (c1-c2)^2)) )

      The least incorrect way to describe it is in terms of waves, and wave interactions. A particle isn’t “Here, or here”, and it doesn’t “Have this property, or doesn’t have this property”, it’s a spectrum of possibilities, each of which interact.

      You can construct a model without entanglement by treating these probability waves as the “real” state of matter (that is, the particle doesn’t have a wave describing possible locations for a real particle that is smeared across probability-space, and is instead a wave itself), but generally the people who take issue with entanglement are the neo-realists, who really want there to be real particles with real properties, and just saying “Nah it’s all waves bro” doesn’t satisfy their aesthetic/intuitive principles about how the universe should behave. (Also, while this deals with entanglement nicely, it causes other parts of physics to start misbehaving, namely almost all the rest of quantum physics. It’d probably be the work of a lifetime to rewrite physics to be compatible with this approach, and it doesn’t appear to offer any immediate benefits, so I don’t think we’ll be seeing this anytime soon)

      There’s a lot more debate about the validity of the Bell Inequality experiments that have been conducted than is generally recognized; we’ve done the best experiments we can figure out how to do, but there are still assumptions that could be invalid. Whether or not our assumptions are valid, the best evidence we have is that Bell’s Inequalities hold up.

    • dick says:

      Wouldn’t the much simpler model be that particle A entered into state true and particle B entered into state false when they were entangled?

      Suppose you ran A through a reversomotron, which flips (but does not observe) its value. If you then observe A and B, will they be the same or different? If you were right, they would match. With actual entangled particles, they’re still opposite.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I think theorizing about nonexistent technology which may not even work isn’t terribly helpful to explain that a feature of the universe is definitely true.

      • phi says:

        No.

        Unless by reversomotron you mean something other than the X gate?

        • dick says:

          I was referring to an interaction that produces a new particle with the opposite spin. But this was an experiment that was described to me in a class 20 years ago, I don’t remember if it was done with electron spin or some other property, and may well be misremembering some important part of it. I mentioned it because it’s a way of illustrating that we can tell the difference experimentally between a superposition of states and an unknown-but-not-indeterminate state, without having to explain what “superposition of states” means.

      • eigenmoon says:

        I’m not sure what Phi’s app does, but I also say no.

        Your model doesn’t depend on the 50-50 probability split between “true” and “false” states, so we could use 100%-initially-true entangled pair to do instant message transmission over any distance using the reversomotron.

    • I W​ri​te ​B​ug​s No​t O​ut​ag​es says:

      The explanations of how hidden variable theories are ruled out are all well and good, but I think the OP may be asking about a simpler theory, where there is nothing hidden; the particles simply enter a classical state.

      The simple answer for how to rule this out is measuring the particles in a different basis. If you have the four basis vectors <00| +/- <11| and <01| +/- <10|, and the system is in state <01| + <10|, then you would get the same measurement result 100% of the time for systems prepared in this way. If the system were in one of the pure (in the original basis) states <01| or <00| prior to the measurement, you would get <01| + <10| 50% of the time and <01| – <10| 50% of the time.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Thanks for all the answers, everyone! A lot to digest here.

      • Enkidum says:

        A lot to digest here.

        Nonsense! Entanglement is super simple and if you don’t understand it right away, you’re clearly not that smart.

        (Sarcasm, in case that doesn’t come through.)

      • lightvector says:

        @Edward Scizorhands: take a look at this article:
        https://www.americanscientist.org/article/quantum-randomness

        A version of the Bell inequality can be phrased as a particular game where it’s not hard to see that two cooperating players can win at most 75% of the time. You can read through the rules of the game, and if you think carefully about it, it’s actually pretty straightforward to see why.

        The interesting thing is that under quantum mechanics, if they have an entangled particle pair between them, they can *correlate* their behavior better in such a way as to win 85%ish of the time. This is the “Bell inequality violation” that shows that QM is nonclassical.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          That CHSH game is a wonderful example. I will need to work out the math to verify it, of course. Thanks.

    • Dacyn says:

      I don’t think anyone yet has addressed the fundamental conceptual problem with the way you phrased the scenario: the reading a particle gives out depends not only on the particle itself, but also on which type of measurement you choose to make. In the classical Bell’s Theorem you can choose to measure the electron on one of three different axes. The point is that the pair of results you get from the two measuring devices depends on the pair of measurements you choose to make, in a way which is not reducible to the fact that each individual result depends on the individual measurement you choose to make. Since it’s implausible that which measurements you choose to make affects the initial states of the electrons themselves, this proves that there must be something else going on (which we call entanglement).

      Here is an example which illustrates the fundamental concept and is mathematically much simpler than Bell’s example (although it doesn’t appear in real QM): Suppose I told you that you could measure three different qualities of an electron: red green or blue, and you would get either yes or no answers. Now suppose that whenever you ask about the same color on the two different detectors, you get the same answer, but whenever you ask about different colors you get different answers. Each individual detector always has a 1/2 probability of saying yes to each individual question (ignoring the other detector). Now there is no way of representing this situation as an initial state of the electrons, because that would correspond to map from the set {red,green,blue} to the set {yes,no} such that distinct elements are mapped to distinct elements. But this is precluded by the cardinality of the sets.

  13. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    If an alien spacecraft came to Earth prior to the development of electric lighting, would it have been possible to see the lights of a city or town at night from orbit?

    • Phigment says:

      “Prior to electric lighting” is a pretty big time frame.

      But in general, no, not possible.

      Possibly the largest cities, when gaslight street lamps were a thing, but that was a relatively short time before electric street lights took over.

      Pre-electrification, it was really complicated and expensive to run lights all the time, so people either went to bed when it got dark, or had just enough light to do what they wanted to do, and not much excess. i.e., people carrying lamps and candles around with them from room to room.

      And it takes a lot of light to not look dark from orbit. Large parts of the continental U.S. look dark from orbit even today.

      • Watchman says:

        That might work for the poor peasant (although I doubt it) but we know churches often kept their lights burning all night, and the rich could use lighting as a form of conspicuous consumption, so an Ottoman emperor could illuminate his palace by night. In northern Europe medieval tradesmen would pay for lights to make the streets safer.

        Mone of which would necessarily be visible from space due to the simple fact that the more lamps or candles you burn the greater the amount of obscuring particles and water vapour you release above you. The advantage of electric lighting for off-planetry observation is not only that it is bright but that it is remote from the by products of producing the power for the light (although I guess this second factor is less important).

      • 10240 says:

        And it takes a lot of light to not look dark from orbit.

        Depends on how sensitive your alien eyes or cameras are.

    • beleester says:

      Depends how close you look. Astronauts have said they can see airplanes and ships from space using binoculars. I also recall a story where an astronaut said he managed to see a truck on a road, but I can’t source it. I also found this NASA survey of lights at night, which says that “fishing boats, gas flares, lightning, oil drilling, or mining operations can show up as points of light.” So it seems like it doesn’t take that much light for something to be visible at night. I think it’s plausible that early public lighting (some cities had oil or candle lamps on public streets well before gas or electric street lamps) might be visible if you were looking in the right spot. If you’re taking a broad view, like one of those “blue marble” photographs, probably not.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I can second the memory of a discussion of an astronaut seeing a truck from a road. IIRC his vision was tested (after he made that claim?), and he had unusually good vision. Also it was a fairly low orbit IIRC, and what he specifically saw was sunlight reflecting off the top of a reflective semitruck trailer, one of which was confirmed to be in the location he observed at the time of observance.

    • Eric Rall says:

      To do some back-of-the-envelope math, I’ll assume an artificially-illuminated area is visible from space when a majority of the light emitted or reflected from the area comes from artificial lights. Directly-visible light sources complicate this, but I’ll make the simplifying assumption that before the gas street lamps Phigment mentions were a thing, artificial light would have mostly been in the form of candles and hearth fires burning indoors, so I only need to calculate the indirect light.

      Natural illumination at night varies wildly depending on weather, phase of the moon, etc. A full moon produces an illumination of 0.05 to 0.3 lux on a clear night, depending on how directly overhead the moon is. And with no moon, starlight and airglow combine to produce about 0.002 lux of illumination.

      It looks like a typical candle flame puts out about 12 lumen of light. I plugged in numbers to an online lighting calculator to see how many candles per acre it would take to tie natural light levels at night. For starlight+airglow (0.002 lux), it looks like we need less than one candle per acre for 50% of illumination to be natural. And even for a full moon at maximum brightness (0.3 lux), you only need about 100 candles per acre.

      My 50% assumption may be optimistic, since you need to stand out from noise. It looks like albedo of various terrains can vary by about a factor of 10, so let’s assume you need to be 10x as bright as naturally-illuminated terrain to stand out as artificially lighted (and not just freshly-fallen snow (90% albedo) surrounded by dense coniferous forests (9-15% albedo)). We now need 7 candles per acre at a new moon, or up to 1000 candles/acre with the full moon directly overhead.

      That’s still startlingly low. And while that may be enough to make an area obviously illuminated to an alien spacecraft scanning for brighter areas, I doubt 7 candles scattered over an acre of ground would be visible to an unaided human-like eye.

      So let’s try it again, with a different oversimplified model. This time, I only care about direct illumination. The standard level of brightness for a star that’s just barely visible to the naked eye on the darkest night is Magnitude 6, which produces 8 nanolux of illumination. So let’s assume a point light source is discernable to an observer with a good idea where to look, when it produces at least 8 nanolux of illumination to the observer. To give 8 nanolux of illumination to an observer about 250 miles directly overhead (about the altitude of the ISS’s orbit), so you need just under 19,000 lumens from a point-ish source, or about 1600 candle flames visible in reasonably close proximity.

      With the caveat that these are very rough models, I’d say the answer to your original question is “probably, but only if you have a really good idea where to look, or you have really good cameras with computer analysis to help your search”.

      [Links to calculators deleted since the spam filter didn’t seem to like them]

    • Well... says:

      Beleester said it depends how close you look. I think it also depends on how you’re looking. Maybe looking different parts of the light spectrum, for example. Or maybe some other kind of waves the aliens have technology to detect — these waves are generated by gas- or oil-powered city lights, unbeknownst to humans.

      • Anthony says:

        The most likely part of the spectrum to stand out would be, at my guess, the infrared, since there’s a lot of heat given off by human population concentrations, even if there’s not a lot of light outdoors. Specifically, the 300K blackbody peak.

    • Thegnskald says:

      I believe the refractive properties of the spectrum of light produced by most fire tends to make it quite diffuse, compared to modern lighting. I think an alien spacecraft is more likely to detect light pollution than direct light sources from a sufficiently large city or town. (Based on hazy memories of research I did nearly a decade ago when I was confused by why a new town I moved into had incredibly bad light pollution compared to a city I had lived in previously that had more lighting – turned out the new city used old-fashioned gas lighting in most of downtown for historic reasons.)

    • GameDori says:

      Would it need to?

      Other commenters have looked at the light levels necessary to distinguish candles burning, but natural wildfires are quite common and quite a bit brighter than candles: an alien would have to see a city or town, with the lights arranged in some structure, in order to discover human civilization that way. But what if the aliens look at the spectrum of the light?

      The spectrum of fire varies based on its fuel. Generally natural fires exhibit a blackbody spectrum, which is shifted based on the flame temperature, but with specific lines for the composite atoms of the material that is burning. Presumably a sufficiently advanced alien spacecraft would be able to differentiate natural wood-burning from tallow / oil-burning: the ratio of hydrocarbons in the flame are going to vary depending on the source of fuel.

      However … would the aliens be able to connect that to intelligent life? In an alternative evolution, there may be organisms which evolve to extract energy not from oxidation internal to the cell, but from external sources of oxidation (fire), and then evolve to capture, kindle, and transport these external oxidation sources. (Presumably the reasons this has not evolved on earth are that (1) the sun is a much better and more consistent energy source than the occasional fire, and (2) in the places on earth where there is little sunlight, the necessary ingredients for fire are rarely available together. “Cave fires” are so rare that no plant has evolved to get energy from them.) Anyway, the aliens would have to already know a lot about the structure and evolution of life on Earth to rule out non-sapient bioluminescence just by picking up light in their orbital survey.

      At the optical resolution that would be needed for a definitive nighttime satellite survey, the signs of civilization, and thus sapience, would probably be evident enough during the day.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Sorry if this was unclear, but the aliens in my hypothetical were just a convenient way to set up the question about lighting.

        If I had just asked whether a pre-modern city would be visible from orbit at night, half of the replies would be pedants helpfully reminding me that there weren’t many satellites or astronauts prior to the invention of the lightbulb.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I would expect natural fires to be easily distinguishable from urban fire-based illumination based on its shape and behavior. Do an image search for “wildfire from space”, and most of what you’ll see are either all-concealing massive smoke plumes or red outline of active fire with a black burnt-out area in the middle. And the size and shape of a wildfire would vary significantly over a matter of days or even hours. I don’t think manmade fires in a preindustrial city would look anything like that.

        But if we’re looking at how to spot pre-industrial civilization from space (despite Nabil’s clarification that that wasn’t his intent in posing the question), the easiest way to do that would probably be looking for evidence of cultivation. Farms are a lot bigger than cities, and they don’t look a lot like natural growth. Ploughed fields are almost always as close to being squares or rectangles as the terrain allows, and flooded fields (e.g. rice paddies) tend to be terraced at constant elevation. And most fields will be a uniform color with a clear discontinuity at the edge of the field, making the shape obvious.

        Ship wakes are another feature worth looking for. Even if the ships themselves are small, they cut a much larger wake in the sea, and that wake is a distinctive V pattern that doesn’t look much like any natural phenomenon.

        And maybe megastructures, particularly long, straightish structures like roads, border walls (Hadrian’s Wall, or the Great Wall of China), or aqueducts. But I’m not sure how obvious these are from space, nor how easy they are to distinguish from natural features (rivers or dry riverbeds, escarpments, etc).

        • The Nybbler says:

          The Great Wall is not visible from space using the naked eye, at least not from the orbit of the ISS. A similar well-lit line might be visible at night, though.

          Obvious answer for aliens with visual acuity similar to humans: use telescopes.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Thanks, I wasn’t sure. I knew that claims of it being visible from the Moon were rampant nonsense, but I wasn’t sure about its visibility from LEO.

            I’d done a quick image search for “Great Wall of China from space”, which did turn up some satellite photos where you can pretty clearly see a line (although without a caption I couldn’t say with confidence whether it was a wall, a road, or a dry riverbed), but based on that article I’m guessing those were taken by imaging satellites orbiting a bit lower than the ISS and using optics that give a much more detailed image than what the naked eye would be able to see.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Given how satellite images of N Korea show a big dark spot, I’d say no.

  14. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Say I want an alien animal with a segmented body possessing lots of hands. What’s a good body plan/where do they hit diminishing returns? Like imagine a big bug that’s evolved into a centaur walking on its six hind legs – how many pairs of arms before it becomes too front-heavy? Perhaps knuckle-walking like a gorilla would help, with only the front pair of limbs too specialized to walk on?

    • Nick says:

      Tiny animals have to worry less about this stuff, right? I imagine centipedes could evolve to walk on their hind 20 legs or so provided the body can bend enough.

      • Well... says:

        Yeah, it totally depends how big you want this animal to be. Also, what kind of environment does it live in?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Big enough to do interesting things with all those hands. So big like a centaur if its brain is human sized, or like a stretched-out crow at minimum.

          Forests and grassland.

          • Well... says:

            If it’s insect-based, stretched-out crow seems like the biggest you’re gonna get and even then it’s going to be pretty sluggish.

          • sfoil says:

            Make them arboreal, like monkeys. Every dexterous limb can work as a “hand” or a “foot”.

            I assume weight is the limiting factor, with extra limbs past four providing diminishing marginal returns on usefulness with added mass. But an extra pair of limbs in place of a prehensile tail seems pretty reasonable.

            If it’s a centipede-like creature, imagine that it adapts its locomotive limbs to manipulation by using them as “fingers” — so it uses three or four of its spindly limbs to pick something up the way you use your fingers.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Well:

            If it’s insect-based, stretched-out crow seems like the biggest you’re gonna get and even then it’s going to be pretty sluggish.

            I’m assuming extraterrestrial evolution, so it could just as well be a segmented body with an endoskeleton.

          • Watchman says:

            Exoskeletons are the restriction on insect size. They’re heavy and as you scale up they get very heavy.

            Mind you, would you need exoskeletons to be segmented? So long as you’re limiting extrememovement then an internal (endo-?)skeleton would be conceivable I suppose. They’d just be very vulnerable to spinal injuries.

          • Lillian says:

            There’s some good discussion here on how to make large arthropods work. Apparently having a high oxygen atmosphere helps.

          • Well... says:

            Right, didn’t there used to be giant pig-sized horseshoe crabs and stuff millions of years ago when our atmosphere was way more oxygen-rich?

          • Nornagest says:

            There are hermit crabs now that’re about the size of trash can lids.

    • Paper Rat says:

      I feel answering questions like “What’s the function of those multiple hands? Why has it evolved/was created that way?” would help with designing this kind of thing.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The function is to be a multitasking sapient animal. It should be able to do things like walk on six legs (forming a stable tripod as it moves) while also carrying tools, use multiple tools at once, etc.
        I’m appealing to evolution because if you had the technology to make a new body plan for sapient tool-users from scratch, you might just make bush robots.

        • Paper Rat says:

          There are some mechanical problems with six legs, four arms creatures. Namely for “spine-and-ribcage” type animals arms and legs are attached to shoulder and pelvic girdle respectively. Extra appendages means extra girdles (or like four appendages per girdle, which can sort of work for arms), and there’s not a lot of space to place those girdles, never mind making locomotion look natural.

          One six-legged creature from popular culture that comes to mind is sky bison Appa from The Last Airbender. According to wiki his body plan is based on these little guys: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tardigrade, who look like little chubby caterpillars. The reason for designing him that way was, that “they found it difficult to create a six-legged mammal”.

          Not that anything of the above should stop you, just something to think about. Maybe picking a body plan from something, that’s not mammals, can work. Although arthropods, like spiders, centipedes and such, are maybe not the way to go, since they have exoskeleton, and that would inevitably make your creature look insect-y.

          Different functions for extra arms that came to mind:
          – for fighting in mating rituals, like caribou antlers (augmented with claws, talons, bone plates etc.)
          – for traversing difficult terrain (low digit count, bulky, grabby)
          – for tool manipulation (basically human, flexible, fine control)
          – for various highly specific tasks, like catching a certain prey, or gathering a certain fruit, cracking nut shells, checking fur for parasites etc. (can be anything you like, depending on the task)

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      What will it do with those hands? Do you expect it to have enough brain power (and the appropriate brain structure) to actually multitask and do different things in parallel with different sets of hands? If no, it seems that usefulness of additional hands for a task decreases rapidly, and it’s hard to think of a task that can really benefit from more than 3 pairs, especially in the pre-agrarian world (which I assume since you call it “animal”).

      As for the body plan with as many hands as biomechanically possible, how about kind of a centipede with pairs of hands along its back? Like, having a pair of hands corresponding to each pair of legs but on the back. Or it might be a worm without legs, only hands on the back. Presumably such hands will need to be able to bend both outward to reach out to things, and inward to cowork on something. And you’ll need a head, or at least eyes or whatever it sees with, positioned relatively high, to be able to oversee all these hands. I’d guess this single point of oversight will eventually be the bottleneck too, provided brain power and usefulness is not an issue, but you can probably go to tens of pairs before that.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Cognitive load was my first thought, but then again, it would be fascinating to have a species that delegates tasks to lower-function brains that handle a more specific subsection of the body. (Also potential interesting horrifying situations dealing with, say, a decapitated creature, which may still be functional for survival purposes but has lost all higher brainfunction)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @AlexOfUrals:

          What will it do with those hands? Do you expect it to have enough brain power (and the appropriate brain structure) to actually multitask and do different things in parallel with different sets of hands?

          Yes. I’m thinking of a sapient animal that gets to make interesting decisions like “Should I knuckle-walk on six legs for stability in case an animal tries to knock me over, or rear up on my last legs and shoot a bow with each pair of hands?”

          @Thegnskald:

          Cognitive load was my first thought, but then again, it would be fascinating to have a species that delegates tasks to lower-function brains that handle a more specific subsection of the body. (Also potential interesting horrifying situations dealing with, say, a decapitated creature, which may still be functional for survival purposes but has lost all higher brainfunction)

          Yeah, I like where this is going.

          • Watchman says:

            The existence of a functional remnant creature would require some sensory inputs to the subsidiary brains to allow them to do anything other than random or mechanically-repetative actions though. Which could produce an original creature prone to having each set of limbs react in odd ways before the central system restores order. Which sounds fun…

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Maybe go for a three-segmented body plan then, something remotely like an ant or diplodocus? You have the central part with a few, perhaps just four or six, strong legs specialized for walking. Anterior part with more of smaller and more dexterous arms, with maybe rearmost of them somewhat capable of working as legs, probably when walking over long distances or standing for long time. And the posterior part, kind of an abdomen or a massive tail, with no legs or maybe some rudimentary appendages, which normally counterbalances the front part but to free its rearmost “arms” on the front part, or frontmost “legs” on the central part, the creature needs to lower its rear part on the ground, which makes it essentially immobile – the thing basically seats on its rear.

            As for the creature remaining alive after it’s primary brain was destroyed, the idea is fascinating but imao not quite evolutionary plausible. Consider that all the highly developed earth animals ended up with more or less centralized brain, even though many groups started with more than one ganglion. After all, it provides approximately zero evolutionary advantage to have a lobotomized body remaining alive after most of its higher cognitive functions are gone. If it could’ve survive without those functions it wouldn’t have evolved then in the first place.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Doesn’t need to have an evolutionary advantage that way; it is more interesting from an ethical standpoint if it doesn’t. Raises questions about what it means for a thing to be dead, basically, and possibly leads to different conclusions than our own biology.

            As for how it could evolve this way in the first place, giraffes. Nerve length that starts to affect survivability, making smaller neural clusters a possible solution. Humans already have neural clusters around the stomach and heart, we aren’t entirely centralized.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            @Thegnskald
            Maaaaaybe but I’m really unconvinced here. Alright, I mean, it certainly passes under the bar of willing suspension of disbelief, even for the harder scifi. But in the real world, I’d be really surprised to see anything like this on another planet. Natural selection might provide pressure to move some of the vital functions to local centers, but it seems extremely unlikely that it will provide pressure to move all of them and for them to be able to function properly together without the central guidance, for long time. Humans do in fact have the spinal cord in addition to those centers you’ve mentioned, which afaik controls most of the lower level bodily functions. But if you blow your brains out the body will die fairly quickly and not of the blood loss.

            ETA: Googled more about that chicken that lived without a head for 1.5 years, and how it was possible, and retracting the previous argument. It’s not hard to imagine in a different biology these parts of the brain being somewhat further apart and such kind of injuries being significantly more likely, perhaps in a sapient creature too.

      • b_jonas says:

        > What will it do with those hands?

        – Hold the steering wheel with two hands and the gear stick with one hand all times for better driving.
        – One hand for the turn signal switch, because a turn is exactly when you need to keep holding the steering wheel and gear stick the most. That same hand can ramp up the volume on the radio when you’re not in a turn.
        – Two hands for texting on your mobile phone, with particularly dextrous thumbs, because letting go of the steering wheel to write messages would be dangerous.
        – One hand to hold the beer. Coffee, I meant coffee. I certainly don’t drink liquor while driving, no sir.
        – One to hold the cigarette, and one to hold the sandwich. Heck, make that two hands for eating, so that you can eat proper food rather than just sandwiches.
        – One hand for rude gestures to the other drivers. Why does society even allow those cripples with only four usable limbs to endanger our lives on the road?
        – And of course one hand to stroke the blonde sitting in the seat next to you, because that’s the point of driving this sports car after all.

        That’s about twelve hands total, plus two legs for the pedals. I don’t think cognitive load is a problem, at least not compared to what human drivers already have, becasue they already do the same task with their two to four limbs.

    • GradientDissent says:

      Somewhat related: there is some interesting work in using reinforcement learning to design “virtual creatures” based on maximizing some objective function; say, walking the furthest distance or jumping the largest height. In many of these simulations the initial configuration of the virtual creature is either random or relatively simple. See this video as an example. After several generations the initially random creatures develop somewhat organizes sub-systems of appendages, tissue compositions, etc.

      If you wanted an alien with many hands I assume the objective function would be “graspability of many objects”. However, to counteract the front-heavy problem (presumably because the hand alien needs to move in order to catch food at some point) you’ll need to toss some mobility into your objective function. I wonder what would come out at the other end of some of these simulations?

      Bonus: a really interesting paper on what can go wrong not only in these virtual creatures experiments but also in other reinforcement learning problems. For example, one swimming creature ended up developing a vestigial fin from a previously sub-optimal configuration.

    • helloo says:

      Sea anemone or jellyfish – virtually endless – aquatic (or maybe burrowing), mostly mindless and uses arms just as a way to “grab”/filter stuff, fairly simple structure/movement for additional limbs

      Climbing millipede/really spider monkey – unsure – climbing, dense environment with plenty of vines or other things to grab, limited by usefulness (ie. how many hands are needed to effectively hold/climb/hunt) and ability to handle hand actions (more hands -> probably more simplistic actions taken by hands)

      Punching/throwing – probably just a few – those tend to require more complex body balance and control, not just hands and muscles

      Complex dexterous interactions – unsure – there’s humans with 2 and then there’s octopi with 8 and elephants with none/one

      Remember that a centaur is in itself a fictional animal and has really weird anatomy like two separate rib cages and possibly 2 spines.

      • albatross11 says:

        The fact that New World monkeys evolved to have prehensile tails suggests that four grabbing appendages isn’t optimal for their environment, and more would be nice. Evolution couldn’t easily get more (for the same reason that bats have fur instead of feathers even though feathers would be a better solution for them).

    • albatross11 says:

      Vertebrates all have more-or-less the same body plan, but that doesn’t tell you that a 20-legged thing the weight of an elephant is unworkable, just that evolution couldn’t easily get there from where it started. Is there actually any reason why a large animal *couldn’t* walk on 20 legs? Maybe there is, but I don’t know of such a reason myself.

      • Phigment says:

        Coordinating the movement of many sets of legs without them interfering with one another seems like a problem that gets harder as you scale up the number of legs.

        That’s just speculation, but it seems likely that there’s some point at which the extra processing demands of coordinating an additiona pair of legs would outscale the value of those legs.

        The optimal point is not necessarily “four”, but evolution doesn’t optimize, and four is the first spot where you’re stable and have a spare. I’d imagine that legs 9 and 10 don’t buy you as much as legs 3 and 4 did, when you’re a macro-scale animal.

        • Protagoras says:

          Yeah, but very small animals manage to coordinate 8 or more. My impression is that there’s a lot of luck involved here; the first vertebrates had 4 limbs and 5 fingers/toes per limb more or less by chance, and all other vertebrates were descended from those, and mutations to add entire limbs to a vertebrate apparently never added sufficiently functional ones to survive (some have lost limbs and many have lost fingers/toes, of course).

      • helloo says:

        Remember the prompt is for hands, not legs.

        So the animal would need to be able to “stand” up and use it’s appendages for more than just walking, which likely limits a lot more on what could be done.

    • bullseye says:

      I’d drop the centaur idea entirely; just have one long horizontal torso with lots of arms (and also lots of legs to hold it up, unless it moves like a snake or swims).

    • AG says:

      Why hands? The actual useful feature to multiply appears to be fingers, and spiders and octopi do fine with less than 10 of those.

  15. salvorhardin says:

    I just finished reading Albion’s Seed, and it is as extraordinary as widely attested. I have some things to say about its applicability to current events but will save those for the next fractional/CW-allowed thread.

    Here’s one hopefully non-CW question about it though. Does anyone know of a good account of what happened to the members of Fischer’s four groups who stayed in Britain after the migration period? Do they still have the cultural characteristics their forebears did? If not, why not? Apologies if this was already discussed in the comment thread to Scott’s review in 2016– I couldn’t find any such discussion but might well have missed it.

    Fischer very briefly alludes to the rise of the 18th C London ascendancy as having possibly stomped on some of the regional British cultures, and maybe that’s the whole answer– but then it’d be interesting to understand why that stomping was so much more “effective” in Britain than centuries of sometimes very strong pressures on these cultures have been in the US. In general Fischer gives just enough insight into why cultures change and why they resist change to make one realize how incomplete even his sweeping picture is, and want to follow his threads further.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Britain is not very big, and the government is pretty centralised – certainly much more so than the States. The First World War may also be a factor: I’m guessing that the US has never come close to having that proportion of the population in military service (or at any rate not all on the same side).

      • Furslid says:

        Not just the government, but the culture is more centralized too. Different metropolitan centers help develop distinct cultures. Think New York vs New Orleans. Before railroads and mass media, the different cities may have been the cultural capitals of different regions. People within one region would travel to their regional capital much more often than other regions. Artists and musicians would likely stick to their regions too.

        London was much closer to being the sole cultural capital of Britain than any US city was to the US.

    • Plumber says:

      @salvorhardin,
      Just a guess of mine, but maybe the cultures remained more distinct in North America because there’s just a lot more space to remain seperate.

      As a counter to that, the British seem to have far more regional accents in a smaller area than here, which implies somewhat distinct cultures.

      I hope @fion is still commenting and has some insights.

      • eric23 says:

        the British seem to have far more regional accents in a smaller area than here, which implies somewhat distinct cultures.

        That mostly means the accents have been evolving for a longer time. It is a principle of linguistics that places with a greater density of accents/dialects/languages have had more time for the language to diverge. We see this in US vs UK accents. We also see this in languages: Europe has many languages, but North and South America overwhelmingly speak English, Spanish, or Portuguese. Similarly there is a high diversity of Bantu languages in the Nigeria-Cameroon area, and a lower density in southern Africa where Bantus later migrated to.

        • Aapje says:

          Globalization is also killing languages, so the heyday of small languages is probably over.

    • Zephalinda says:

      A few possible factors:
      –Mobility/ intermingling populations. England has decent-ish long-distance roads and a system of long-distance coach transportation starting the mid-18th century, followed rapidly by canals and railways. America’s population is more dispersed, as Plumber notes, so it may have been easier for insular communities to remain insular.

      — Depopulation of rural areas. Starting, again, about the 17th/18th century, enclosure of common lands produces a mass migration of countryfolk into urban centers. This trend accelerates as the Industrial Revolution really kicks in in the 19th century. The result is the removal of the critical mass needed to maintain traditional culture in many villages, plus the creation of a large population of disconnected urban poor with nothing but a kind of blank, desperate hand-to-mouth unculture.

      –Selection effects. It’s been a while since I read Albion’s Seed, so I don’t remember if he discusses this, but I’d think there must be some effect not just of transplanting particular local cultures into America, but also of the particular selection filters that determined which individuals migrated from each culture. For instance, with the Puritan migration, you get not only people from broadly Puritan cultural clusters, but the very most Puritan individuals among them, the ones who are so darn conscientious or orderly or whatever that they would rather leave home and chance a fatal sea voyage than put up with their neighbors’ unrighteousness. Versus a home population that’s necessarily composed of people all across the spectrum of personal characteristics and social situations, it makes sense that the selected group would go on to create a more intense and possibly a more durable version of the culture in question.

      • cassander says:

        Fischer definitely discusses selection effects.

      • Anthony says:

        In Britain, mobility is also by boat. Nobody in England is more than 60 miles from the ocean, so going off to sea is an option for almost every young man. Many would return home, but many would not.

    • edmundgennings says:

      There was considerable brain drain to the south of England

    • Watchman says:

      UK geography is good at leaving tribes at the margins to the north and west (basically you hit more and more hills) but otherwise fairly unified. There’s been very little in the way of impossible terrain in England for centuries, and a winter ride from Aberdeen in north-east Scotland to London would maybe not have been fun (it’s wet and cold.. ) but it’s unlikely it was ever considered impossible. So people could and did move, especially once the coasting trade, then the turnpike and then the industrial revolution’s arteries, the canals and railways, arrived. Arguably the fact the UK was more advanced in terms of unifying transport architecture did for regional tribes such as borderers (their classical haunts are nowsdays only about an hour’s drive south of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, so once you got decent transport links borderers were far too close to a major centre to exist separately). And the puritans at least were never a geographical tribe in England, hence the attraction of the New World.

  16. DragonMilk says:

    Eventually, I shall build a PC. For a while it seemed too expensive (graphics cards still seem crypto-ey). Yet Prime Day has hit many of my price points!

    For those who have built a PC before, is now a good time to buy, or would you suggest waiting a bit more (over the next year or so)? Also, any bottlenecks you see in the components I’m contemplating?
    1. AMD Ryzen 5 2600 ($150) it’s $140 on Amazon now
    2. B450 Motherboard ($150) it’s $120 on Amazon now
    3. 2x8GB DDR4 RAM (I’m actually confused why there’s so much price range in these) (2x $50, $68 for now)
    4. 500GB Samsung SSD ($100) Now at $70 on Amazon
    5. Nvidia Gforce 1060 ($250) I was hoping to get this for < $200
    6. Some sort of case for ~$40
    7. 650W Power supply ($100), I was hoping for one around ~$100

    Essentially I was hoping for a $700 ish build…

    • sentientbeings says:

      I don’t see any bottlenecks, but regarding prices…
      1/2: Do you live near a Microcenter? If so, forget about Amazon and check their prices. They routinely offer a $30-50 discount for motherboard + processor bundles.
      3. RAM is dirt cheap at the moment. While 16 GB really is enough for just about anyone, I kind of have to recommend going for 32 (as 2 x 16), just because you’ll get a reasonable price and you’ll be totally covered if you ever want to do something more memory-intensive. Prices might not have bottomed out just yet, but they sort of have to be close and prices the last few years (pre-2019) were really high. (Without looking at exactly what Amazon has on sale, I’d guess three reasons for price variation in RAM, only two of which are important. (1) Clock speed, (2) CAS timings, (3) aesthetics.)
      4. Good price for a Samsung drive, but you can find cheaper if you are willing to use a different brand.
      7. You can find a better price for 650 W, including for the higher efficiency ones.

      I’m recommend browsing /r/buildapcsales for #3 and #7.

      • DragonMilk says:

        Oops, meant $50 for PSU. I do live pretty close to “Micro Center” in Flushing, NY, which I shall assume is a microcenter. Would they have anything in person that they wouldn’t sell online?

        • Vermillion says:

          I went to one for my fancy case, anything bulky/aesthetic like that I think you’re better off getting in person if possible.

          For buying anything off Amazon, with Prime Day the time to buy is now. Great deals show up, but you do have to be ready to jump on em quick, at least that was my experience with my build last year.

        • sentientbeings says:

          Micro Center’s online availability and shipping is sort of convoluted, so I would recommend you just go in person (might also help getting a cheap case, since that can be tricky with shipping). The pricing info and availability for in-store stock should be accurately reflected online, though, so you can check it out beforehand.

    • SkyBlu says:

      I actually built pretty much your exact build; I’ve been happy with it since I’ve got it. I mostly play competitive online shooters (CS:GO, R6 Siege, Overwatch), and I consistently hit 60fps on those games while streaming/having chrome open (my monitor caps out at 60Hz so I don’t usually care about exceeding that target too much). It can also handle VR (I use the original Rift), though it’s definitely stretched to its limit there.

      • DragonMilk says:

        I actually just did a weaker version of the build for around $600 (bought amazon renew 3GB GTX 1060) and they should all arrive buy Thursday!

    • Another Throw says:

      The range in price for ram is because not only does the clock frequency at which it operates vary, but also the number of cycles it takes to perform an operation. (Amazon, by the way, hasn’t really caught on to this and AFAIK doesn’t make it easy to find this information.) AMD in particular has a hell of a time driving higher clock rates; as a result, the kinds of people that like to think of themselves as the kind of people that care about performance bid up the price of memory at the top end of the frequency range AMD systems can drive if it shaves a few cycles off. My understanding is that there is a specific RAM chip, no longer in production, that if it is used in a particular stick, the price will be ridiculous.

      Unless you plan on immersing your computer in liquid nitrogen every time you want to use it, I’m not really sure it matters that much, but enough people think so to effect pricing.

    • sharper13 says:

      I used to (a long time ago) custom build systems for a living. I still always build or upgrade my own, but not doing it constantly means you lose track of the best price/performance deal at any given time.

      For the last 5-6 years or so, I’ve found this guide an invaluable reference. The guy tracks and updates builds at various price points (including your $700) as prices change and new components come out. He makes his money from his Amazon affiliate link when people follow his advice.

      I’ve built about 8 computers for myself and my family based somewhat on his advised builds and always found his recommendations to hold up. At most, I’ve sometimes prioritized things a little differently based on my own preferences, but even then, looking across his builds gives a good relative price at each performance level.

  17. Vermillion says:

    Attention Boston SSCers, I will be heading your way in a couple months. I’ve got a really nice job offer which makes the whole apartment hunting process easier but it’s still not easy. I’d like some advice on what neighborhoods are good, and really just advice in general. I’ve visited Boston several times but never spent any extended period there. So here are my main goals vis-a-vis where to live:

    1) Convenient to the Financial District by both bike and transit, I’ll be working long hours so spending as little time commuting to and fro is a priority.
    2) Low crime.
    3) Modern apartment i.e. not built in the 1700s.

    Based on that I’ve been looking at Charlestown, East Cambridge, then Beacon Hill. Beacon hill is the closest to where I’m working but also seems to have the oldest apartments. Charlestown looks like it’s got a lot of new developments but I don’t know how going over the N. Washington St. bridge is going to go in practice.

    So yeah any thoughts or experiences you would like to share would be greatly appreciated.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      If those are really your only 3 factors why not live in Seaport in one of the new giant tower apartments? It’s a completely soulless neighborhood with vast oversized blocks but easy to pop over to the Financial District. Nobody could accuse those apartments of being old. Probably good views too. And if you’re making good money there’s even some nice restaurants.

      Honestly I can’t imagine crime factoring meaningfully into any choice of Boston neighborhood, and I lived in Dorchester which made people shiver for reasons that never made sense to me. But I’m perhaps under-paranoid about crime in general.

      (Not actually in Boston but lived there for a minute)

      • Maxander says:

        As a long-time Boston resident, seconding that; there’s no bad neighborhoods in (central) Boston anymore. Dorchester used to be a scary neighborhood maybe a decade ago, but now most of it is just an incrementally cheaper yuppie district. I’d feel quite safe walking around in any of the areas you mentioned at 1AM in an expensive suit.

        I’ve yet to live in one of the new “luxury” apartment buildings that are popping up all over town, but the ones I’ve looked at give me the impression they’re cheaply built relative to the (absurd) price. Honestly, if you find a place that was built in the 1700s, jump on it- back then people weren’t able to rent out a plywood playhouse for $3k/month. : )

    • boog says:

      Boston’s old but booming, you can find can something from the 1700 or a newly built/renovated condo in any neighborhood (excepting Back Bay/Seaport, which were still river/ocean at that point). So check out the North & West End too. If your office is near the Red Line look around the Broadway stop too, there’s a nice bike path from there along the Fort Point Channel to downtown.

      Commuting into the Financial District during normal hours on a bike is a mess of traffic, going over a bridge isn’t much worse, except that part of the winter when the wind whipping off the bay is trying to kill you. That counts for coming from the Seaport as well, but you can always wimp out and take the Silver Line then.

      Also note that Boston is basically flat except for Beacon Hill.

    • Deiseach says:

      Modern apartment i.e. not built in the 1700s.

      Oh, you modern young people with your unreasonable fancy demands – “I want my dwelling to possess a water-closet”, tallow candles not good enough for you, you must have your rooms lit by kerosene lamps – pshaw! 😀

      • Watchman says:

        It’s a problem with people whose recent ancestors emigrated to the New World. They don’t appreciate the pile of stones their great to the power fifty grandfather put up to shelter them from the wind and want things like air-conditioning and ceilings instead. It’s decadence I tell you!

    • smocc says:

      Since other people are being friendly and helpful, let me just add don’t move to East Cambridge because I want my rent to stay down, and I don’t want any more demand for ugly new apartment buildings.

      🙂

    • MereComments says:

      The black box that is the SSC comment filter keeps deleting my responses, so I guess I’ll just try to repost the first half, since that seems to go through:

      I’m not sure about biking from there, but I lived in East Cambridge off and on for 20 years and it’s one of my favorite neighborhoods in the Boston area. It’s gone through crazy changes since then, and is now definitely getting those generic mixed-use retail/”luxury” residential blocks everywhere, but it still has a lot of charm, is full of cool restaurants and bars, and is within walking distance of a beautiful bike and jogging path along the Charles River, with the best views of Boston in the area. It sounds like the residential blocks may be a plus in your case, since they’re all very new. Also despite being outside of Boston, it’s probably the most centrally located place in the area, depending on where you end up spending a lot of time (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, and Hyde Park are hard to get to from there, but it sounds like you want to be closer to downtown Boston anyway). It’s located on two train lines, the Green (Lechmere) and the Red (Kendall), and if you’re willing to walk a bit further, there’s even an Orange Line stop nearby (Community College in Charlestown).

      Oh, also, you’ll be within walking distance of Inman Square, one of the more hidden great neighborhoods in Cambridge (largely hidden because no train services it and there’s never any parking there, so you can basically only reach it by bike/walking/uber). I would highly recommend East Cambridge.

      • MereComments says:

        Let’s try posting the second half here:

        As others have said, there is very little crime in Boston/Cambridge these days, especially compared to the 90s. Dorchester for example was a really rough place back then, especially Uphams Corner and the Bowdoin and Fields Corner neighborhoods. But they’re been pretty gentrified, with all the good and bad that comes with that. However, there are still parts of Cambridge that, while not bad by most standards, can get pretty sketchy. Central Square has had a pretty consistent homeless problem for years. It’s not San Francisco bad, but they can get pretty aggressive. The neighborhood in the middle of the triangle between East Cambridge, Central, and Inman squares has had some crime problems. My wife grew up in Cambridge and lived in that neighborhood (Wellington-Harrington and Area IV aka the Port) for years, and although we always felt safe there it depends on what your used to.

        • MereComments says:

          Comment filter update: Ha. It was this sentence that gets caught by the filter, which I guess makes sense if you look at it that way.

          Gur infg znwbevgl bs pevzr gurer vf lbhat crbcyr shpxvat jvgu bgure lbhat crbcyr, abg gnetrgvat pvivyvnaf.

  18. Argos says:

    Career advice thread for tech (I hear a few SSC readers work there) : Can you have your remote cake and eat it too?

    As a software engineer from Europe, I am relieved that I do not have to suffer the daily craziness of the Bay Area, but simultaneously envious of the salaries for tech workers there (and the US as a whole). I would consider moving, but in the near future I am home bound as I want to take care of my parents. Specifically I am worried that in a few years the burden might increase, and would like to build a financial cushion soon. Cue remote work.

    How feasible is it to find remote work for a decent-to-good-but-not-rockstar developer for a US company that pays US salaries? Most remote job postings I see limit the search only to people located in the US, but I don’t know whether this is for legal reasons or because of time zone differences (I am willing to work during US office hours and travel occasionally). Additionally, it seems that a network already convinced of your skills is crucial, but it’s obviously hard to build such a network overseas.
    My current plan is to make two-three cool projects, identify a couple of companies that do interesting work and might have a need for my specific skillset, cold-email them and wait for positions to open.

    Any ideas on either how to market myself as a dev worthy of remote employment, or how to find companies that might be willing to hire remote people?

    • Well... says:

      A lot of American companies have European offices; you might look into that as well. If you’re in, say, Belgium, it’s probably easier to market yourself as a remote candidate for a job with the Paris office of an American company than with a company solely located in the Bay Area. That would probably not have the visa (or related) restrictions built into it too, if those exist.

      • Matt M says:

        This. I work for a large multi-national company. We have a lot of “international employees” but technically speaking, they work for our legal affiliate in France/Belgium/China/wherever, which is an entirely separate entity that does its own screening/hiring/setting of remote work policies/etc.

        That said, once you’re into one of those affiliates, everyone considers you part of the company in general so you if you have a strong desire to come to the US and start working at headquarters, that’s more than doable if you’re generally good at your job.

    • Erusian says:

      How feasible is it to find remote work for a decent-to-good-but-not-rockstar developer for a US company that pays US salaries? Most remote job postings I see limit the search only to people located in the US, but I don’t know whether this is for legal reasons or because of time zone differences (I am willing to work during US office hours and travel occasionally). Additionally, it seems that a network already convinced of your skills is crucial, but it’s obviously hard to build such a network overseas.

      My current plan is to make two-three cool projects, identify a couple of companies that do interesting work and might have a need for my specific skillset, cold-email them and wait for positions to open.

      Any ideas on either how to market myself as a dev worthy of remote employment, or how to find companies that might be willing to hire remote people?

      US companies pay a premium for US-based developers. The US government also basically requires its work remains on shore, including its contractors for the most part. Depending on what country you’re from there can be security concerns. There’s also additional legal headaches, so you need to find a company that’s already decided to commit resources to support foreign remote programmers. So you’re at a disadvantage.

      That said, you can still find jobs that pay worse than you’d get in the US but better than you get in Europe. You won’t get a fully US salary unless you move here but it will be higher than local developer salaries. Unless you’re in a high-security concern country, but you probably aren’t. Where are you?

      You’re right that an important qualification is showing you’ve worked with US companies and it can be hard to break in. If you’re interested, I’d be willing to pay you a small sum to develop a project and (if it goes well) serve as a reference. I can also shoot you any remote positions that come across my desk that are 100% remote and say they don’t care about if you’re in the US. That’s usually a few a week. (Those are separate offers by the way: I’ll do either or both.)

      • Argos says:

        Those are generous offers, thanks!

        I am interested in doing a project, is there a way for me to contact you? If you would prefer to email me, you can reach me at {username}.77os@gmail.com

    • GradientDissent says:

      (Disclosure: I work for a large tech company.)

      Practically speaking, I have noticed that more and more at work interaction is taking place via video conferencing and that a person’s physical location is becoming less of an issue. There are a large number of teams and orgs in my company, including my own org, who are not only split between different buildings on a large campus but also between different offices in the U.S. as well as in Europe. Many meetings, especially org-wide meetings as well as team meetings, are conducted using video conferencing. For me it’s gotten to the point where the impact of working remotely has shrunk, outside of personal preference, work habits, and the opportunity for “watercooler talk”.

      Therefore, depending on where you apply I don’t think you need to do much marketing of your “remote worthiness”. After all, many future co-workers might already be working remotely part-time. That being said, showing that you are an effective worker via, say, GitHub and its communication tools would be a good way to communicate this. Personal projects don’t usually provide enough opportunities to demonstrate these remote communication skills but maybe you could get involved in a project that has an active developer community?

    • brad says:

      The mid-size SV based tech company I work for has remote developers but doesn’t hire remote developers. That said it does hire a lot in London and a little sprinkled throughout the rest of Europe.

  19. Protagoras says:

    I’ve been reading “A Blunted Sickle” and playing some HOI4, and it has brought to mind a question which has puzzled me for a while, which I thought I’d present to the war experts here. Ichi-Go went pretty well, in 1944, when the silent service had already sunk most of the Japanese merchant fleet and American was in countless ways inflicting horrible problems on the Japanese. And, of course, the early phase of the Second Sino-Japanese war went pretty well for Japan also. What were they doing between 1938 and 1944? Was their lack of aggressiveness and poor performance when they did attack during those intervening years inevitable, or was it a serious mistake on their part to not devote more resources to China earlier, to get that problem resolved before they got themselves entangled in a much larger mess? Did IJN/IJA rivalry mean IJA wasn’t getting enough resources for the Chinese campaigns? Something else?

    • sourcreamus says:

      Part of the problem was that the Army and Navy were independent of each other and the civilian government. The Navy did not tell the Army or the government that they were planning Pearl Harbor until a month or so before the attack.
      The lack of coordination was a huge problem.

      • Protagoras says:

        I’m asking at least partly because it seems so likely that terrible Japanese decision-making was going on (insofar as their decision making was epically bad around that time), but I am unable to find easily available sources that give any details about exactly which terrible decisions might have been being made. Apart from the decision to be fighting in China at all, and Konoe’s decision to essentially rule out peace negotiations after the initial victories; I’m looking for information on their decisions about how the war was conducted, not their diplomatic mistakes (which seem to be easier to get info about).

      • bean says:

        Part of the problem was that the Army and Navy were independent of each other and the civilian government. The Navy did not tell the Army or the government that they were planning Pearl Harbor until a month or so before the attack.

        Hold on. Did they not tell them about Pearl Harbor specifically, or about the plan to go after the US? Because those are very different things. The former is basically meaningless for the Army and the politicians who could/should have cared were too thoroughly cowed to object. The latter is implausible given the high level of IJA commitment to the early campaigns in places like Malaya and the Philippines.

    • DarkTigger says:

      I can only offer idle speculation, since I’m only an interested layman and popular history books tend to gloss over that part of WW2, but here is what I think.
      One part of the problem was that the Chinese got their shit together and started to offer serious resitance when the Japanese got close to the provisional capital at Chongqing. They also started to get serious foreign aid from the allies.

      The other problem was that, IJA suddenly had to spread their ressources over a lot more land. I am watching the “WW2 Week by Week” channel on Youtube atm, and it looks like in 1939 and early 1940 the Japanese still had succesful offensives in central China. After that they had to send hundred thousands of men to Indo-China, the Phillipines, Malay, the East Indies etc.

    • bean says:

      I’d guess it was mostly a matter of resource allocation, but this is an area of the Pacific War I know disturbingly little about. 1941 was spent planning for the conquest of Southeast Asia, and 1942 was consolidating that. I’m not sure about 1943. They may have been distracted by Burma.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I think the Burma campaign is a major factor here. Wikipedia claims about 300k Japanese soldiers in Burma at the peak, which is about 25-30% of what they had in China in 1939 (1M) or 1945 (1.1M), and probably a larger share of their logistical capacity than of their manpower. There were also a similar number of troops (350k) committed to the New Guinea campaign, plus 100k in the Dutch East Indies and 150k in the Philippines. And Wikipedia says they reinforced the Home Islands with troops from China after going to war with the US and Britain.

        Wikipedia doesn’t list Japanese troop strength in China in 1941-1944, but I’m guessing they must have pulled back as much as they could afford of their forces in China in order to get troops for the other fronts.

  20. albatross11 says:

    Interesting chart about how people met their partners by year they met. I wonder how the rise of meeting online affects things. And yet, I was an early adopter of online stuff, in a community of the same. Among friends of mine, I knew two couples in college in the late 80s/early 90s that got together after meeting online–one still together, one broke up after about fifteen years together.

    • metacelsus says:

      Besides “met online,” I also see that “met in a bar or restaurant” is also going up considerably. This is interesting and I hadn’t expected it.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It allows multi-coding, so that may be an artifact of people answering both “how they met” and “how they met in person” if they met online.

    • Nick says:

      I have to ask—does the sudden fall in the 90s of meeting through work track the introduction of HR departments, or is it all from the initial rise of online dating?

      • albatross11 says:

        I wondered about the same thing–you could imagine this being companies tightening up HR rules about dating coworkers, or changing corporate cultures, or even changing social norms that made it extra awkward to date a coworker so people did less of it.

        • John Schilling says:

          I wondered about the same thing–you could imagine this being companies tightening up HR rules about dating coworkers, or changing corporate cultures, or even changing social norms that made it extra awkward to date a coworker so people did less of it.

          I could imagine this, but I haven’t actually seen it. There is perhaps increased enforcement of rules against bosses dating subordinates, but nobody in any of the places I have worked seems to have any problem with colleagues dating or even marrying each other.

          Has anyone else seen such corporate disapproval of workplace romances in the field, and if so in what industries?

          • The Nybbler says:

            There were not rules against dating co-workers (aside from managers and subordinates) at Google when I was there (though I understand they have instituted them since then. However, doing so was still “fraught with peril”, as merely asking could result in a meeting with HR, or becoming the subject of an atrocity story on internal Google+.

            The current policy at both Facebook and Google, according to the press, is that one may ask a co-worker out and be refused (ambiguous answers count as “no”) exactly once. Which means even more peril.

          • Enkidum says:

            Definitely in the university, where it used to be extremely common for male professors to marry their female students/post-docs (I’d guess somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5-10% of male profs over 45 are married to someone they used to supervise). But it’s much less approved of now, to the point where it would be considered a bit sketch for a prof (or even some post-docs, depending on age/seniority) to date students they aren’t even supervising at all.

          • Enkidum says:

            @Nybbler: What is the “peril” in being able to ask only once? You mean that it forces people to worry that this is their only chance?

            That sounds kind of ok to me, to be honest. Ask out, get refused, the end. Removes ambiguity, makes the expectations crystal clear.

            I’d assume that if the other person suddenly develops an interest after rejecting you, they’re entitled to ask you out exactly once. And in cases where there’s legitimate uncertainty about one’s feelings, etc, I’m sure most sane people would allow a little leeway before. making that HR complaint.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Nybbler: What is the “peril” in being able to ask only once?

            You ask someone out that you had happened to have previously invited somewhere (not on a date). Bam, HR issue. You ask someone out, they refuse for transient reasons, you can either give up or risk an HR issue by trying to see if the reasons were just a “no” delivered softly.

            And in cases where there’s legitimate uncertainty about one’s feelings, etc, I’m sure most sane people would allow a little leeway before. making that HR complaint.

            That is not a safe assumption.

          • Garrett says:

            > most sane people would allow a little leeway before. making that HR complaint

            Perhaps. But that assumes a sane system at one of these companies. Or reasonable people in HR. Neither of which is true.

      • Garrett says:

        I’d suspect that it has more to do with every worker getting their own computer and so there were fewer stereotypically-female secretaries to do typing/filing/whatever in male-dominated industries. Thus, to the extent that there is gender sorting in particular industries, this would have reduced cross-gender interactions.

      • 10240 says:

        The decline matches the decline of every category other than online (except bar/restaurant, which may be secondary to online, as The Nybbler said). The interesting part is that through/as coworkers was going up until ~1990.

        I don’t see the source of the chart, I presume it’s American? It would be interesting to compare with data from a country with little sexual harassment law.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      It initially seems weird that “met in college” (which I would expect to be very common) is about the same as “neighbours” (which I would expect to be rare). But presumably this is because “met in college” is ignoring people who met in college online/through friends/etc..

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Most of the trends seem quite expected, but why would meeting through friends drop so much and meeting in a bar rise so much in the last two decades?

      • hls2003 says:

        That doesn’t seem so unexpected. Several decades ago, there was more social stigma attached to single women going out to meet partners at bars. Not as much as 50-70 years prior, but still more than now, as you would expect from the steady deterioration of the norm due to aging-out effects and cultural tipping points. In place of the rising “go out and meet someone” norm, the older dying version was “friends do an introduction.” The concept of needing an introduction goes back centuries, and postulates more community grounding than atomistic individualism. So I would expect self-directed bar meetings to increase through the same cultural process causing friend introductions to decrease.

      • Matt M says:

        Millennials don’t have friends? Or are more likely to be dispersed across a wider geographic area such that your friends aren’t as equipped to introduce you to hot singles in your neighborhood?

        • acymetric says:

          I don’t think that’s it, I think the idea of “introducing friends” to date has just gone out of style. There are a few reasons I think this might be true…they aren’t phrased very well but hopefully shows what I’m trying to get at.

          1) “Friend groups” are more of a closed loop than they might have been in the past. This means your single friends have probably already met, and also increases the risk that one (or both) friends fall out of the group if there is any kind of breakup, even if it isn’t a particularly bad one.

          2) I think there is just a general reluctance to make romantic recommendations to people. I don’t have any “this is the clear reason why” ideas, but I think a lot of small social changes have lead things in this direction.

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect many of these categories overlap, too–you might have been introduced by friends because you work in the same place/go to the same church/attend the same school, for example.

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          Millennials don’t have friends?

          So this is a thing?

    • Plumber says:

      @albatross11,
      Oh jeez, that tells me people have far less interaction with face-to-face friends and family than they used to.

    • zoozoc says:

      A random note, but I found it odd that they removed one of the trend lines from the legend. The cyan-colored line is “met in church”.

      Also, respondents were allowed to list multiple items as “how they met”, which is apparently why the total adds up to greater than 100%. So I imagine some of the “met online” is also getting filed under “met at a bar”.

      • JPNunez says:

        Met in church was always low but it cratered on top of that.

        • albatross11 says:

          I know some couples that met in church, but not many, and I have a sample that’s quite skewed toward knowing such people.

          • acymetric says:

            I know exactly one couple that fits that description (my parents), but I’m not sure they would have checked “met at church”, rather they were introduced by friends they met at church.

        • Randy M says:

          Comparable to neighbors and college, though.
          The most dramatic plummets are “family” and “primary/secondary school”. That accords with a later age of marriage, but it’s kind of sad marrying a high school sweetheart (or college for that matter) is basically a thing of the past.

          It’d be interesting to see how partner meeting even effects length of marriage (if at all).

      • Garrett says:

        I decided to go check out a number of church services in my area. I noticed that other than the African-American Baptist church, there weren’t a lot of marriageable young women attending. Lots of girls with their parents. And a good number of new parents themselves. But not really any in the “available” range.

        • albatross11 says:

          This tracks with what I’ve seen at my (liberal Catholic) parish. There are a lot of kids, a fair number of teens and college students (mostly still involved with the youth group), and then a lot of young married couples with a kid who come back to the church, but it doesn’t look to me like we have a lot of singles.

          • Nick says:

            Part of the problem, I think, is that getting married and having (or being about to have) kids is what brings those young people back—if they didn’t marry, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be there at all.

    • kaathewise says:

      I am surprised that nobody raised this question: shouldn’t there be a huge bias towards long-term relationships in the “previous years” in this sample?

      I.e., if I met somebody in 2000, but we are not together anymore and that’s not my latest partner, the way we met is not reflected in the chart.

      If you accommodate for this, for the fact that short-term dating wasn’t as much of a thing as it is now, and for the fact that online dating was non-existent 20 years ago, there hardly remains anything interesting about this chart.

    • Does anyone know where the data come from? If, for instance, they were collected online …

  21. JohnBuridan says:

    Re: Adversarial Collaboration tournament.

    Here are some issues we ran into last time:
    1) Not getting at the cruxes. Possible solution: pregister cruxes.
    2) Being too kind to collaborators claims. Possible solution: ??? [I am not really worried about this; committment to truth does not mean every claim must be fought tooth and nail, but only the essential ones.]
    3) Shifting a fringe position toward the center. Possible solution: only publish collaborations from the realm of which it can be said “here normally reasonable people disagree.”

    I would like to point out to potential writers that an AdCollab need not be something two people already disagree upon, but could be something that two people would address in wildly different ways. For example, a historian and a statistician argue about the limits of forecasting, or a psychiatrist and a theologian argue about the effects of Christianity on the individual.

    • Vermillion says:

      I think one of the issues that came up is AdCollabs kind of petered out in the middle many times. Maybe it could be possible to post like, round by round instead of a mega post at the end? I’m not sure if that’s feasible for everyone’s writing process but might improve the success rate.

    • Michael Pershan says:

      It was sort of fortuitous that TracingWoodgrains and I found each other for the Adversarial Collaboration, considering that people were posting ideas on the subreddit and in a few different places in the comments. I’m not exactly sure how to make this better though, since all the ideas that come to mind seem worse.

      I guess I’ll say that I’d be very open for another Adversarial Collaboration on a number of topics, if anybody is interested.

      I sort of got the sense that TracingWoodgrains and I won the contest without enthusiasm. It seemed like people’s visions of what an Adversarial Collaboration should look like was more in line with the other entries — people wanted to see a bit more of the disagreement, something more like a debate with a resolution, something less like a joint essay, more blood, less sweat.

      It would be interesting to see how the next round of entries shake out. One thing Scott could do is leave it alone and see what emerges. Another is he could offer some clearer guidelines about what these things should look like.

      Speaking personally I’m much more interested in collaborations that look more like joint research and less like a debate. What makes it exciting is when the collaborators are open to learning something together — I thought the collaborations where people started out with clearly defined positions were stale and uninteresting. That’s just me and my tastes, though.

      Hit me up for your Adversarial Collaboration proposals! I go by mpershan, I’m interested in teaching, education, religion, math and math history, getting interested in finance.

    • imoimo says:

      Stray suggestion: people could seek out outsiders/other bloggers who they expect could argue in good faith. This might increase the diversity of opinions present, leading to possibly more mainstream disagreements and thus more satisfying resolutions, while helping spread the adversarial collaboration concept.

    • Jiro says:

      Not getting at the cruxes. Possible solution: pregister cruxes.

      The reason that adversarial collaborations don’t get at the cruxes may be that the cruxes aren’t something that one of the sides can supply much evidence about. The vaccination one didn’t have a question “are vaccines safe and effective” because the naturopath knew very well that if he tried to make that the question, he’d lose.

  22. broblawsky says:

    There’s a quote from a famous Greek person that roughly approximates to, “Of all the virtues, courage is the one that most transfigures a man.” Can anyone help me find the original?

    • JohnBuridan says:

      Sounds like a Civ5 quotation. Maya Angelou, once said something similar.

      “Courage is a kind of salvation.” – Republic IV, Plato

      “First comes the courage of the citizen-soldier; for this is most like true courage. Citizen-soldiers seem to face dangers because of the penalties imposed by the laws and the reproaches they would otherwise incur, and because of the honours they win by such action; and therefore those peoples seem to be bravest among whom cowards are held in dishonour and brave men in honour. This is the kind of courage that Homer depicts, e.g. in Diomede and in Hector” – Nicomachean Ethics III, Aristotle

      Why do you want it?
      Ancient Greek notions of courage were entirely martial, except for Plato/Socrates who thought that courage concerned knowledge first and action second.

      • broblawsky says:

        Why do you want it?

        Honestly? This is just one of those things that sticks in your brain and won’t let go until you’ve satisfied it. Based on past events, it’s going to be at least a day until it goes away.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Aristotle, perhaps?

      “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.”

      • Randy M says:

        Rephrased by CS Lewis as
        ” Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

  23. Folamh3 says:

    Hi folks.

    Long-time lurker, extremely occasional commenter. I’ve written a novel that I’ve sent out to numerous publishers and agents, none of whom have bitten. I’m thinking of just following the Unsong model and posting it one chapter at a time on a WordPress site. Can anyone with experience doing something similar give me some advice on how to go about doing this?

    Thanks!

    • o11o1 says:

      I don’t have personal experience, but I’ve found a good Blog on the subject of writing Web Serials, by Wildbow of worm fame.

      https://wildbow.wordpress.com/2017/05/22/thoughts-on-writing-serials/

      (( Even if you don’t like Worm as a story, it’s pretty popular, and success can be it’s own evidence if you’re looking for advice. ))

    • theredsheep says:

      I’ve been writing a serial since the start of this year (click my username). I liked WB’s advice and tried to follow it, particularly the bit about maintaining a backlog of posts. You have a built-in backlog, so that’s awesome. I’d be careful about whether my novel is set up for serialization; ideally you want to post multiple reasonably-sized but satisfying updates per week. Slow chapters aren’t verboten, but since your audience is receiving it in snippets you want to be even more certain than usual that every installment is moving the story forward in some way that rewards and encourages the reader. This doesn’t mean you need constant cliffhangers or anything, but it’s different from a printed novel where you can just skim over slow bits. I can’t recall if WB said something similar–probably. But it bears emphasis.

      There are a couple of hubs for online fiction. I go WordPress, and try to advertise via word of mouth. http://www.webfictionguide.com is a venerable go-to, but I understand its administration has gone unresponsive since shortly after I joined, with the result that it’s basically impossible to get listed as a new author at present. This was something I heard a number of weeks ago; I don’t know the present state of things. WFG is linked to http://www.topwebfiction.com, which lets the public vote on serials without registering. If you can get your rank up there, it will earn you steady clicks. But since it’s linked to wfg, that route might be closed at present.

      There are a couple of big sites intended to specifically host serials. They’re substantially bigger than WFG, actually. http://www.royalroad.com is more geared towards “boy” fic, especially litRPGs, wuxia and anime-inspired fic, and general adventures. It has a LOT of people, and if you do it right you can get a lot of views, but I’m told the ratio of views to constructive commentary is less than ideal. There are also some trolls, natch. Wattpad (I think it’s http://www.wattpad.com , not sure) is the equivalent for more girly stuff. There are also the spacebattles, sufficient velocity, and … questionable questing? forums, where you upload your chapters as forum posts. I’m only just now discovering these, and know little about them. In fact, I just committed a minor faux pas on SB, so don’t say you know me.

      Finally, there’s Reddit. The people at the Rational Fiction subreddit, r/rational, have given me a warm welcome, and they’re open to (AFAICT) any literature with thoughtful worldbuilding and intelligent characters, though the guidelines for strict rational or rationalist fiction are hard to pin down. And they WILL catch your slipups. And there are plenty of other subreddits, of course.

      I advise you not to bother with Facebook unless you feel like spending money to make sure that your author updates reach even the people who have specifically signed up to receive them. I don’t do Twitter and can’t speak for them.

    • Note that an alternative is self-publishing, which nowadays costs you nothing beyond the cost of proof copies to find and fix errors in what you originally sent in, and gets the book on Amazon for everyone to read.

      • theredsheep says:

        This is also true. I self-published a book (prematurely; it’s flawed) via CreateSpace, which has now been merged with Kindle Direct Publishing. My goal with PB is to finish the serial, see how much attention and feedback it’s gotten, then polish it up a bit and realize a print edition for sale with exclusive supplementary material. I got the idea from Cory Doctorow, who does something similar, and Wildbow has been planning to do it with Worm for years but has faced logistical obstacles.

  24. Matt M says:

    Does anyone else ever intentionally look to find “random” books to read? As in, books that are not particularly popular, particularly acclaimed, have not been recommended to you by anyone (either mass media or personal recommendations), etc.?

    Every once in awhile I do this and find it very rewarding. My preferred method is to pull up the website for a random non-prestigious university press, and start browsing, looking for something that seems interesting. I also recall as a teenager I’d randomly browse library stacks with the same intention.

    As a follow-up, for those who do this sort of thing, what’s the best/most underrated book you’ve found?

    • SamChevre says:

      I do it by wandering the library, especially the biographies and the short fictionc ollections.

      My two favorites that I found this way:
      Lincoln Steffens, The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens
      Kurt Vonnegut, Welcome to the Monkey House

    • ksdale says:

      I do this all the time, mostly if I find myself in a big library, but also in really eclectic used bookstores. My fondest memory of doing this is doing it in a university law library. Law libraries have a lot of books that are “important” for one reason or another, and they also have a lot of books that are really old. Naturally, they skew more reference-y (they also skew very expensive, which can be cool), but if that’s your thing, they’re a real awesome place to wander!

    • crilk says:

      En la vida de Ignacio Morel by Ramón J. Sender (a book sufficiently obscure that I don’t believe it’s ever been translated into English)

      I later found out that Sender is better known for his earlier books set in the context of the Spanish Civil War, but I like his later works better.

    • Plumber says:

      @Matt M,
      All the time at bookstores and libraries, I just pick up books that have titles that look interesting, read the cover and first few pages and go from there, the most recent book that I found that way and read and enjoyed was The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell.

      I suppose it’s a form of popularity, but left behind in my 6th grade classroom by someone was Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky, which was my introduction to that author, and in a 9th grade classroom someone left Larry Niven’s A Gift From Earth, which had me reading his works, which I got into deep.

      The best from finding on a shelf at a used bookstore and finding the title interesting?

      Maybe The Man Who Had No Idea short story collection by Thomas Disch

    • Nick says:

      I do this occasionally in used bookstores—sometimes the cover or description on the back is enough for me to buy it. Mostly I just buy books that are already on my list, though.

    • MissingNo says:

      I do a moderately randomized search with the pruning functions being “Knowledge in a major area I am not knowledgeable of” and “Sources from places likely of decent quality”

      Here are the best books found under that.

      The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t—Nate Silver.

      Perhaps its not as “random” as one would like…but it was bought in a group of 20 under the above function. Its probably the best book explaining the usage of statistics in everyday life without involving advanced expected value calculations. Most interesting tidbit: Did you know that if there is a 10% chance of rain the weather system adjusts for people’s psychologies and put it at around 20%?

      The History of Torture (Sutton History Classics)— Daniel P. Mannix

      Summary of the most important insight: If you had to go back into the past…i’m not sure you could so easily reform the systems of punishment. What could actually deter people from crime in an age where painful starvation was likely for any given individual? Something worse than starvation, if you couldn’t outright eliminate them due to social reasons.

      Arthashastra—Book on history and ruling in Ancient India.

      If you thought modern politicians like put on an act to benefit from the religious beliefs in the population…just *wait* until you find that ancient Indian rulers used to do neat little tricks like hire foreign workers to build a lovely religious temple overnight in order to distract the population from internal affairs and pronounce a miracle! Also a neat explanation of the ancient laws in a very organized and systematic fashion which is easy to navigate.

      Most overrated book I found this way:

      Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse Five

      I get it. War sucks. Thrilling insight, Mr. Vonnegut. Did it get famous for all the references to the woman and the pony picture?

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      I used to do this all the time at good bookstores, new (Harvard Square was great for that) or used (random bookstores anywhere), or even better, sui generis places (the Strand in NYC, MIT Press – had a friend who worked there). Now, I like to hop from page to page on Amazon, using the “Customers who bought this item also bought” lists. From something popular that you like, you’re usually a couple jumps away from something intriguing and near-unknown. If you start from something more niche, even better.

    • Elephant says:

      I often do this at the library, finding random books. It’s great! It’s also something that I find much easier and more pleasant to do in physical space than online. Off the top of my head, one random pick that I loved: Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      I have no idea if they’re underrated or not, but I did this once and ended up grabbing two books based on basically a “color” theme. “Autobiography of Red” and “Love Letters on Blue Paper.”

      The first is an absolutely lovely poetry-story-thing of like, sexual abuse but also they’re literally a monster from Greek mythology, and possibly also literally the color red? I enjoyed the whimsy, and it really got me despite myself.

      The second is like, a guy sad about the British Labour party? I didn’t finish it. Maybe I’ll revisit.

      I’ve done this other times, but it’s definitely been less fruitful overall than dipping into my list of “books-I’ve-heard-someone-mention-and-vaguely-thought-to-write-down”

    • JPNunez says:

      I used to wander looking at the books at my college’s library doing this.

      Also read more back then. My backlog grows and grows now.

    • Alan Crowe says:

      I’ve made three sympathy purchases at a shop selling remaindered books. Sympathy meaning “oh you poor book, with such an off putting title you are doomed to be pulped. Do not fear! I will rescue you.”

      A World Ruled by Number: William Stanley Jevons and the Rise of Mathematical Economics.

      From Watt to Clausius: The Rise of Thermodynamics in the Early Industrial Age

      Capitalism and Arithmetic: The New Math of the 15th Century

      All three excellent books. Also well described by their titles. So maybe their appeal is limited, to a certain kind of person.

    • Concavenator says:

      Sometimes I wander a bit through the library of the Biology department of my university, in Italy. It’s not very large but there’s a surprising amount of books from the 1870-1940 period, just… piled there, mixed with newer books, without any particular placement or protection. A few things I’ve found:

      – a first Italian edition of Darwin’s Descent of Man, printed in 1871;
      – an “Index Kewensis”, a full list of flowering plant species, English/Latin double text, edited by Joseph Hooker and printed in 1895;
      – a facsimile of Leeuwenhoek’s Arcana Naturae Detecta, printed in Latin, with illustrations on folded pages;
      – a complete 1928 German edition of Brehm’s Life of Animals, with incredibly beautiful prints that seem to have been used in every single book on nature of the late 1800’s, including the Descent;
      – a number of books on racial anthropology from the ’30s, including one extremely creepy Rassenkunde des Deutschen Volkes that was apparently one of Hitler’s favorite books, and an Italian book that cites the Piltdown skull as evidence;
      – a much more pleasant “Medicinal Plants of Japan”, a bilingual English/Japanese tome with gorgeous illustrations of herbs (I couldn’t find the age, but it didn’t seem more than a few decades old);
      – a Traité d’Histoire Naturelle of 1870, which contains such things as the chemical composition of different kinds of meat, a comparison of all fur animals, and the exchange rate of rifles-for-beaver pelts among the natives of Québec; there’s a beautiful illustration of the kinds of clouds that uses birds as key, e.g. the cloud with 2 birds in it is a cirrus, the one with 3 is a cumulus, etc.

      • Aapje says:

        No proper caretaking? 🙁

        I was shown the original baptism record of Van Leeuwenhoek. Four days earlier, Vermeer was baptized in the same city. In fact, they are recorded on the same page.

        Vermeer is the second from the top, which says:

        Ditto (referring to the same date as the previous entry) 1 child Joannis, father Reynier Janssoon, mother Dingnum Balthasars, witnesses Pieter Brammer, Jan Heijndricxzoon and Maertge Jans

        Leeuwenhoek is the entry just below the header for the new month: Follows the month November 1632. Just like Vermeer, he is also recorded with a different name than we know him as: Thonis, rather than Antonie.

        In 1672, England, France and the Prince-Bishoprics of Münster and Cologne attacked The Netherlands, which resulted in what is known as the Disaster Year and a long term economic decline, which hit painters very hard, since the money went to the army and not to paintings. So Vermeer became poor and died a few years later in poverty.

        Leeuwenhoek was assigned by the courts to manage the inheritance after Vermeer’s death. So they were united in birth and in death (at least, bureaucratically).

        • Concavenator says:

          Well, I’m not remotely qualified to say what counts as proper caretaking. The books I mentioned are all in relatively good shape and easily readable (though some covers are abundantly taped together), so I guess some caretaking occurs. But the ones I saw were on the same shelves as newish publications.

    • Libraries sometimes have book sales to raise money, often books that have been donated to them over the past year. The one my mother in law was involved with putting on (in Cleveland Heights) had a lot of interesting things at very low prices.

  25. AlesZiegler says:

    Question for German readers. According to foreign (aka non German) press, Ursula van der Leyden, German Minister of defence and now official candidate for a head of European Commission, is considered as not very competent in Germany. Is this accurate and why?

    • Senjiu says:

      I first heard of her around 2010 when she tried to establish DNS level filters to make it harder for not knowledgable internet users to reach websites with child porn. She was minister for families and such back then.
      There are multiple problems with that, that I’ll list in no particular order.
      First, it’s a state controlled secret censorship infrastructure. Obviously the list of blocked websites needs to be kept secret, otherwise you’d just generate a catalogue for people looking for child porn. Then they could use those filters to block other unwanted content too. It’s a well established theme that first they want new tools for law enforcement to fight child porn / terrorism / organised crime and half a year later they start including, I dunno, parking violations.
      The next problem is that everyone who doesn’t use their ISP’s DNS (the one that has to follow german laws and where these stop signs would be implemented) could still reach child porn websites. And child porn is illegal basically anywhere, so host providers that get notified delete the content within a few hours. So there was a slogan against her suggestion “Löschen statt Sperren!” (“Deletetion instead of blocking!”) that helped mobilise a lot of people, including the formation of an organisation of people who had been victims of child abuse when they were children. She ignored those protests and insisted on blocking access instead of deleting the content.
      The law got passed, the president (not chancelor) refused to sign it, then signed it in the end but they decided to not create a list of websites that are to be blocked and about a year or two later the law got revoked by the highest court in germany.
      Ursula von der Leyen got the nickname “Zensursula” (“Censursula” I guess, merging censorship and Ursula) and it kinda stuck with the community internet users that are now in their 20s-40s.

      She became minister for labour and social affairs for a few years but I don’t remember her doing anything there.. I might just not have followed news on what she did though.

      Then she became minister for defense and while the costs for defense went up in those years (by 30% or so) it’s nowadays a joke that the equipment in the Bundeswehr (german army) isn’t working, that massive amounts of money are spent on consultant firms (where some of her children are employed).. and she generally makes the impression of travelling here and there for photo shootings with soldiers while everything is kind of falling apart.
      We’re spending billions on drone projects that aren’t working and people generally don’t want, we’re spending 200 million € on repairs for some sailboat..

      She creates the impression of not really caring about doing a good job and being more concerned about people getting the impression of her doing a good job, without actually being good at it.

      • DarkTigger says:

        I second the discreption.
        After her transition from minister for “families and such”* to defense minister her nick name has been updated to Flinten Uschi (shotgun Uschi), or “Der Dauerwellen Stahlhelm” (the granny perm steel helmet).

        She creates the impression of not really caring about doing a good job and being more concerned about people getting the impression of her doing a good job, without actually being good at it.
        There also has been talk that she has been build up by Chancelor Merkel to be an non threatening possible succcessor to her. I’m not sure who would vote for von der Leyen, but than I’m not sure why anyone would vote for her party the CDU in the first place. So maybe this is only me not understanding conservatieves.

        *great translation btw

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Well, so it appears that when Germany sends its people, they´re not sending their best.

          • raw says:

            Yes. At least when they are sent to work for the EU. Working for the EU is better payed but you are not as prominent and not so much in the focus of the public. So it is often seen as a choice if you did a mediocre job at home you get to work for the EU for some years before you retire. But maybe I’m a bit to cynical.

          • DarkTigger says:

            There is a German verb “wegloben” from weg=away, and lob=praise. Giving someone an seemingly higher position in order to get rid of them.
            EU Commissioners are a good position for that. Big title, better pay, but all in all pretty impotent.

            Not that my opinion of the rest of our politicans is much better.

          • Aapje says:

            In Dutch, you have ‘promote away.’

          • DinoNerd says:

            English: “kick upstairs” – not quite the same connotations, and usually ironic, but similar – get the person out of the work they aren’t doing well.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            …EU commissioners have one hell of a lot of power, if they care to exercise it.
            See: Vestager, Margrete.
            Also Delors, if you want an example from the chief post.

        • DarkTigger says:

          I mean there is also some prejudice shit going on as well.
          Von der Leyen is a woman with seven children, which defenitly carries conotations of incompetence for the German mainstream (as in to stupid to use protection), and there has been a lot of talk that a woman couldn’t be an defence minister, back when she got the job.
          On the other hand, she was always on the conservative family values side of the CDU, and hold speeches arguing for “traditional roles as house wifes” for women (funny for a career woman who surly did not cook dinner for her seven children).

          So she didn’t exactly made friends with the conservative voters and press who argue that defense isn’t a topic for women, nor with anyone on the left who are traditionally wary of defense ministers, and oppose people arguing for “traditional family values” on principle.

          • EchoChaos says:

            which defenitly carries conotations of incompetence for the German mainstream

            Is having lots of kids that out of the mainstream? In the United States, for a middle/upper class family, that’s a decent amount of kids, but it certainly wouldn’t be considered incompetent. Our assumption is that anyone outside the very poor who have so many kids did it intentionally, usually for religious reasons.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @EchoChaos
            Well okay, maybe incompetence was to harsh a word. But there was a lot of “what kind of people have 7 children?”-talk.
            Having more than 4 or 5 children is out of the ordinary even for religious conservative people, at least for everyone since the baby boomers.

            Also the very religious conservatives, are a lot less mainstream around here. So “they are just very religious” isn’t exactly seen an good arguement why someone should be seen as a good representative for the majority of Germans.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @DarkTigger

            Ah, that makes more sense. I guess I’m odd in that I am part of a church where we have multiple families with double digits number of children, which is a lot more common in America: See Quiverfull movement, which I believe is a primarily American movement.

            Also, I tend to forget that religious Americans are still a lot more religious than religious Europeans.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            I can confirm that in Czechia woman with that many children would be stigmatized. And we share abysmaly low birthrates with our German neigbours.

          • ana53294 says:

            In Spain, “woman with seven kids” would mean either Roma/Opus Dei, and none of those two communities are famous for letting women get jobs, especially career woman jobs.

            I cannot imagine a woman in a high position in Spain with more than 3-4 kids.

          • Nick says:

            The stigma exists in America too—I’ve heard it.

            In Europe, cf. the dustup last year over France’s President Macron’s comments that “perfectly educated women” don’t have lots of kids.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @ana53294

            At work last week a middle aged (late 40s, early 50s) professional woman giving a presentation when someone was talking during it said that she had six kids and knew how to quiet a room. This was a laugh line and didn’t indicate that she was weird at all.

            Given her age, she is not quite a peer, probably about a decade younger, but this isn’t unusual in America.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @ana53294
            Well, in Germany you could add very religious (muslim) immigrants to that list, and maybe some groups that look crypto-facists even to the moderate-right.

            Let me rephrase my “incompetent” statement as:
            “vdL is a women with seven children with is seen as a very strange signal to the German mainstream, either incompetent or part of a fringe group.”

          • ana53294 says:

            After hearing that story about the religious homeschooling family that got Swatted and had to run to Austria, I got the impression that Germany is not a country tolerant towards fringe religious groups.

            A lot of online comments (I don’t know how representative they are), would say that the family deserved it because they were educating their kids in the religion, and obviously the government needs to make sure kids are taught all the relevant values in school.

            Maybe I get the wrong mental image, but in my mind, Austria is much more friendly and tolerant towards fringe religious groups, and Germany is not.

            EDIT: A woman that has been working as a high-level politician for so long, and has six children, presumably had children during one of her positions.

            In Spain, when a female Defense minister only took half of her maternity leave, she was severely criticised. When French minister Rachida Dati did not take her maternity leave, she was severely criticised.

            At the same time, taking three months off when having a baby and being in a high-powered position is not very easy.

          • DarkTigger says:

            After hearing that story about the religious homeschooling family that got Swatted and had to run to Austria, I got the impression that Germany is not a country tolerant towards fringe religious groups.

            Well after the war the allies had some very stern ideas what, how and who should teach German kids. Those ideas fit very well in older views about the relationship between the state and it’s citizense.
            So those ideas became institutionalized and maybe culturized and leave no room for stuff like homeschooling.

            Edit: What I wanted to say:
            It’s less intolerance toward religious groups and more institutionalized mistrust of homeschooling.

          • Randy M says:

            Well after the war the allies had some very stern ideas what, how and who should teach German kids.

            Great idea; if there was one problem in Nazi Germany, it was too little deference to the state on important matters.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            if there was one problem in Nazi Germany, it was too little deference to the state on important matters.

            I was thinking exactly the same thing, but you said it much much better than I would have.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @Randy M
            I hope my tounge in cheek comment about older views about the relationship between state and citizens already conveyed that I don’t completly disagree.

            On the other hand, as far as the allied knew there were 60 million people heavyly influenced by nazi propaganda, who might or might not pull the next “let’s conquer all of europe” as soon as they turned their back. I don’t think not giving them an completely free hand in how to rise theire children was a bad idea.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t think not giving them an completely free hand in how to rise theire children was a bad idea.

            It’s not an easy question, but ultimately I find it hubris to assume that the solution is to force submission to our all powerful state because it could never go astray.
            In general I’m willing to accept some fraction of the population being raised Nazi if it prevent the government being able to enforce a uniformity of opinion.
            You are a lot less likely to get widespread agreement on bad ideas without coordination and coercion. Better to have lots of competing bad ideas.

          • AG says:

            Yeah, because Reconstruction went so well.

            Between The South and Germany, the consequentialist view favors strict reeducation.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @Randy_M
            I already said I agree with you on principle.
            But a) back then there was no all poweful state, only one by the grace of a couple of occupational forces, of which at least one was more than ready to break up Germany for good.
            b) education is matter of the states and the communities not the federation, so it is never centered all in one hand.
            c) it worked out pretty well so far. There are even religious schools for those parents prefering that. It’s just no homeschooling, and at least paying lipservice to democratic institutions, and science.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @AG

            Please do not engage in culture war attacks in this thread.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @EchoChaos
            To be fair, they are not the first to bring up cw topics in this thread.

          • Randy M says:

            To be fair, they are not the first to bring up cw topics in this thread.

            Reading this thread I forgot what OT it was posted in. Sorry if I contributed to it gradually drifting out of line.

          • Garrett says:

            @EchoChaos

            > Quiverfull movement

            Do you know if there’s a non-religious version of this? I’ve sort-of set my life up to be compatible with something like that. Except that women don’t find me very appealing.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Garrett

            I am sure there is, although honestly I don’t know much about non-religious movements as a really religious guy.

            But as an alternative, consider that for being attractive, one advantage of religious communities is that they tend to value being a provider and committing to raising many children above marginal attraction. As long as you’re not a hard 1, you likely won’t have too much trouble attracting a religious woman in such a community.

            And you’ll likely also find higher life satisfaction.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        Yeah, I´ve read that, but I am more interested in German perspective

        • Argos says:

          The linked article represents the German perspective very well.

        • Senjiu says:

          As Argos said, I agree with that article. The article just left the part about the Zugangserschwernisgesetz (“Law about making access more difficult”) out that I wrote about.
          That sort of set her image for me. If you ever protest against the actions of a politician that person automatically gets sorted into a category of “I will never ever vote for this person”. So for me that was far more important than her running down the military (which is something I don’t really oppose, I just think it could be achieved for less money).

    • raw says:

      This is quite accurate (I’m German living in Germany). As mentioned below she had not very practical ideas about “web filters”. In her current role as Minister of defense she alienated some of the military personnel as she obviously didn’t know what the military needed. She tried to buy a predator drone, which than would not be allowed to fly in Germany. Currently there is an “Berater Affäre” as she hired lots of expensive consultants (e.g. McKinsey) with mediocre results and disregarding the policies for legal tenders. After her nickname “Zensursula” she also got nicknamed “Flintenuschi” (Flinte = shotgun or old gun), which shows that she is not respected.
      She will resign as a minister of defense regardless if you is elected as head of the European Commission, and it has the impression that she is moved to a higher position, as she has done a mediocre job on Germany (peter principle).
      As far as I know she has good connections especially to Angela Merkel, and traditionally in Germany there are not many politicians who are willing to be Minister of Defense, that’s what got her in the position.

  26. Nate Gabriel says:

    Explanation of the zoning thing–

    I think those laws are unconstitutional as a violation of freedom of association. The Supreme Court said the opposite in 1974, but that was before it handed down some cases describing what freedom of association actually is. (There are two types; expressive association like a political party or whatever where you’re associating because of a message, and intimate association where a relationship is protected because it’s personal. The only protected type before 1984 was expressive association, which usually doesn’t apply here.)

    That’s why poly plaintiffs are the best possible. No one could possibly deny their relationship is personal/intimate/etc. Also, the case would turn on the judge finding that These Relationships Are Important And Protected, which would be a nice precedent and a step up from “I guess we can’t stop you.” Poly plaintiffs are not strictly necessary–there’s some authority (especially in the Ninth Circuit) already agreeing that who you live with is protected intimate association. This just hasn’t been applied to zoning laws. If you have people who live in a group house or want to, that could be enough.

    Lots of cities have laws limiting the number of unrelated people who can live there. The worst I know of cap it at three (though there are probably still some out there saying two), but wherever you are somewhere near you has some limit. Unless your state banned this, in which case never mind.

    If this works, it doesn’t abolish zoning. Cities would retreat to “no more than X people per bedroom” instead of “no more than X unrelated people per house.” But that’s a little less screwed up and also less discriminatory.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Something I’m not sure I understand: it seems to me that zoning restrictions of this sort are aimed primarily at getting rid of the cheap-beyond-cheap kind of housing, where you stick as many men (typically) in one place as you possibly, whilst they’re working and saving/sending money home. To the best of my knowledge, this approach to housing migrant workers who aren’t necessarily interested in spending a whole lot on amenities is common in Europe and I’d expect that this may also be the case in the U.S.

      It also seems to me that “polyamorous group can’t live together, because zoning” is going to be a much rarer occurence than any of “students can’t bunk up ten-to-a-house, because zoning”, “wannabe-slumlords can’t rent out their properties to tens of itinerant workers, because zoning” or “Joe can’t have his band, road crew and groupies living at his place, because zoning”.

      In other words, wouldn’t a better line of attack in the case of poly groups be “these people aren’t unrelated“? I mean, recognition of polyamory might seem like a long shot, but in the current zeitgeist it seems doable.

      The point being that this preserves the benefits of zoning laws to the extent they prevent overpopulation of properties (the incentive is always to pack as many as you can, if money is the main issue), whilst still allowing poly groups to actually live together.

      Why the challenge to zoning law overall, as opposed to its specific application?

      • Matt M says:

        Agree.

        I think it will/would be much easier to convince people of, say, “Poly people are being unfairly harmed by zoning and we should fix zoning laws to accommodate them” than it will to convince people of “Poly people are being harmed by zoning, therefore we should abolish all zoning regulations, even though they’re mostly in place for reasons that have nothing to do with poly people.”

        Like, plenty of libertarians tried to use the gay marriage debate to suggest that this would be a great opportunity to eliminate all state involvement in and regulation of marriage. Notably, it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, we got a vary narrow ruling of “homosexuals can now marry too.”

        To the extent that you’re able to mobilize opinion in favor of a particularly sympathetic poly group, most people are likely to take it as “end poly discrimination” rather than “eliminate regulation entirely.”

      • Nate Gabriel says:

        Arguing that there has to be an exception for poly families would absolutely work. It wouldn’t get them declared related so much as saying that if they’re a “functional family” the state can’t care whether they’re related, which is still a win. This is more or less what happened with the non-poly plaintiffs in NY.

        I do also think it’s a bad law and want it gone. The decent reasons can be accomplished by limiting how tight you can crowd a place. Limiting who the people can be excludes people for no reason.

        (Example to prove the difference matters: homeowner in a five-bedroom Boston house, wants to take on a lodger but already has two other people. This would be legal if the rules are based on number of bedrooms, square footage, or any objective measure of how crowded it is, but is illegal under current law.)

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          I believe that the reason why “who the people can be” is the deciding factor is that we have no guarantee that the size of dwelling shall scale with the size of family.

          In other words, if you say – for example – that you need at least one bedroom per two occupants (related or not), and you have a couple with two kids living in a two-bedroom flat who suddenly happen to conceive another, what’cha gonna do? You’ve legally mandated space for four people, but now you have five to house…

          It’s by no means obvious that a growing family has the means to get a bigger house every time it “outgrows” its old one. Do we fine them? Take their “extra” kids away? Throw them out on the street?

          Of course, we could say “no more than two people to a bedroom, unless it’s a family” – but that doesn’t seem very different from the current situation.

          Looping around from a different tack, a psychological reason for such laws in some communities might be: “we’re all living here with our families in a high-trust community and don’t want random, itinerant, short-term renters in the area, especially in numbers” – the idea being that high density rental turns a high-trust community into a low-trust one.

          (It’s an idea I’m willing to defend, but not here.)

          Regardless of what you think of this reason, I’m not sure that attacking it from a freedom of association angle is a good approach, given that one could potentially make a freedom of association (or rather – disassociation, but it’s one and the same) case for the laws being challenged.

          • SamChevre says:

            Yes, this is key: there are plenty of social worlds in America where “two or three kids share a bedroom” is perfectly normal, but “three unrelated adults share a bedroom” is classic flophouse territory.

          • Steve? says:

            I see your point that allowing more unrelated people could lead to several babies being born at once and making the total occupancy much higher than the limit. However, this is already possible if a couple has twins/triplets etc. Presumably there already is some orderly process to deal with families that outgrow the legal limit of their homes. (I know if we had a third kid and wanted to put them in the same room as our other two kids we wouldn’t be conforming to city code. We’re moving so it’s irrelevant, but I’ve assumed that we’d at least be able to finish out our lease without any fines etc.)

            Mostly, I think there’s a fundamental matter that the state shouldn’t care too much about why people who choose to live together. If the zoning rules allow a couple to live with an adult child and two of their elderly parents, it should allow five college students to live there. If neighbors are worried about noise etc., they should deal with that through noise ordinances and the like.

            Note: I am perfectly happy with exceptions for minor children. Obviously they need to be with their parents/guardians. Their arrival can also be unpredictable and they’re smaller than adults.

    • Deiseach says:

      Yeah, thing is, the experience of “unlimited non-related people in the one house” that I see over here gets abused by the modern-day equivalent of slumlords.

      The test case seems to be for nice middle-class people who want to agree that eight or ten of them will live in one house and be housemates and pay reasonable rent, and that it’ll be all be adults and it’ll be couples sharing bedrooms so a four-bedroom house will do them nicely.

      What we get over here are cases like this (admittedly, that one is extreme with 16 people to one bedroom, but there are a lot of unregulated landlords and tenants who are so desperate for somewhere to stay that they pay cash in hand, have no tenancy agreement, and live with other unrelated and non-intimate partner adults in overcrowded conditions).

      So my concern would be that they take the case, win it, and now it’s established that limitations on X number of people in a house/so many square feet of dwelling space per person are no longer in effect. While it may benefit poly relationships and people wanting to live in group houses, it will also mean some landlords rubbing their hands in glee, shoving bunkbeds into the bedrooms, and now they can charge full whack rent for living in the desirable area to twice the number of people in the same property as before – and that will happen, because this is the world we’re living in and nobody is going to turn down extra profit. Don’t like it? Great, find someplace else to live and good luck with being fussy because every landlord is doing the same thing. Like the entrepreneurial spirit who was one of the investigation subjects:

      The third property inspected by the documentary was located in Rathmines. A former three-bed family home, it had been converted into multiple occupancy rooms.

      A total of 23 women lived at the property, sharing one shower and two toilets between them.

      (Now, for those who don’t know Dublin, Rathmines is not a slum area and indeed has pretensions to poshness. Greed is universal.)

      What Faza says about student accommodation is very pertinent; I don’t know about the local situtation in San Francisco but every year it’s the same thing for students who get university places, particularly in Dublin – trying to find anywhere to live at anything like an affordable rate, then trying to find anything at all affordable or not. Student accommodation landlords tend to be not too fussed about things like repairs or fire safety or what have you, it’s more “pack in as many as possible for the market rate”.

      • Nick says:

        One of the funny things about “students needing to find housing” is that it’s present way back in Dostoevsky, but where I expected conniving, jerkass landlords, they were as far as I recall okay people. Like, in Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov’s landlady treats him just fine; in fact, she’s letting him stay there even when he’s not paid his rent in months nor attending his studies. The Marmeladovs’ landlady meanwhile is surprisingly patient with Katerina’s constant invective and hysterics.

      • Protagoras says:

        While I suppose it’s less common to get 40 related people who want to live together, people being related doesn’t provide any protection against fires. Perhaps they should have more fire safety inspections rather than more nosing into people’s private lives?

      • ana53294 says:

        In the UK, landlords have to get an HMO license if you have 5 people living in a house that form more than one household, even if the house has 6 bedrooms.

        I think the argument is to have X people per bedroom/ Y square feet/ kitchen/bathroom, or whatever.

        Defining what a bedroom is is also important (in Spain, a room can only count as a bedroom if it has windows that go outside, or to an interior patio).

        • Tarpitz says:

          I believe, based on my memory of looking into it when I first moved into my house, that the HMO regulations vary from local council to local council. I live with my brother (who co-owns the four bedroom house with me) and three lodgers (two of them a couple). If we were in Oxford proper, we’d need an HMO license, but because we’re in an outer suburb that falls under the Vale of the White Horse jurisdiction we don’t.

      • ProbablyMatt says:

        Wouldn’t rents have to come down if every landlord is allowed to shove 8 people in each bedroom since the total supply of beds would massively increase?

        • AG says:

          Wouldn’t rents go up because landlords assume that you’re splitting the cost, so it becomes impossible for anyone to rent a space without roommates?

          • abystander says:

            If there are 100 renters and 100 1 bedroom apartments and 8 renters were allowed to rent one apartment and split it, then landlords are unlikely to raise rents because there are 99 apartments for 92 renters and the apartment with the highest rent will be left empty and unrented. If there are 300 renters and the same number of apartments then maybe allowing 8 renters will allow the landlord to raise rent to suck up all the renters income.

          • 10240 says:

            Rents depend on supply and demand, not on what the landlord assumes. Whether the rent goes up or down is unclear.

            If few people move into the city in question as a result of abolishing the density regulation, rent goes down. To see it, it’s better to think on a per-room basis rather than a per-bed basis. A few people who are currently forced to rent at least, say, half a room would rent less than half a room. So if per-room rent stayed the same, then demand would decrease and supply would stay the same on a per-room basis. As a result, rents would decrease (assuming demand currently equals supply at the current rents).

            If many people would move into the city (or move into high-density rentals from the streets), rents would increase. These people, who prefer to live in the city 3+ to a room to living elsewhere or on the streets, would benefit along with the landlords. In this case, density law is basically an anti-competitive law by tenants who can afford and want at least, say, half a room, against people who can’t.

            If there are 300 renters and the same number of apartments then maybe allowing 8 renters will allow the landlord to raise rent to suck up all the renters income.

            More precisely, it would suck up their excess salary over the salary they could make in a cheaper place, or the savings (in terms of money and quality-of-life) of not commuting from a cheaper place. Even more precisely, the excess salary of the marginal resident of the city. The excess salary you can make in, say, San Francisco varies person to person; the more residents, the lower the excess salary of the marginal resident (ignoring the effect that more people lead to higher per-capita productivity, and thus more excess salary).

      • eigenmoon says:

        OK, suppose I value studying in the Dublin University so much that I would choose to live with 22 other people in one house as long as I get to study there.

        But the government passes “Deiseach Law” that bans me from doing that. Now I have to live elsewhere because Dublin doesn’t have enough place.

        Why would you claim that this is done for my benefit? If I chose to live like this, it means that this is how my personal utility is maximized. Please don’t try to do me good by reducing my options.

        • Plumber says:

          @eigenmoon,
          I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t benefit college students as much as their potential neighbors who would suffer livng next to so many of them (as college students tend to be just deeply loud and annoying, and have been at least since the Middle Ages).

          • Matt M says:

            Then sell your house (which has almost certainly appreciated a great deal since you bought it, given that demand is such that huge dense apartments are being built around it) and move someplace else.

            Honestly this sort of thing bugs me a lot, because I did grow up in a college town where demand kept increasing and students kept wanting new dense housing near campus and elderly homeowners who originally bought big homes with giant yards in the 1930s, presumably for a quarter and five goats, kept consistently voting down any new housing near them.

            Right near campus is not the appropriate place for elderly folks in large single family homes (even if it may have been decades ago). Sell, take your 10,000% return, and go build yourself a nice mansion out in the country somewhere.

          • eigenmoon says:

            This concern is diametrically opposite to Deiseach’s. In Deiseach’s scenario, local real estate has greatly appreciated (because landlords can extract much more value from it), but in your scenario it has greatly depreciated. My guess is that in reality the effects would cancel each other out to some degree so the result won’t be that dramatic.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Also, the case would turn on the judge finding that These Relationships Are Important And Protected, which would be a nice precedent and a step up from “I guess we can’t stop you.”

      I think you considerably overestimate how much polyamory is considered acceptable.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        I suspect a bunch of illegal immigrants rooming together while they hang drywall and try to save up enough money to build a house back in El Salvador are overall more politically sympathetic than a poly family.

      • Nate Gabriel says:

        That is actually the other reason I want to do this.

        I know it’s not considered acceptable, especially since this lawsuit could take place just about anywhere and might not be friendly territory. But whether it’s the type protected by the First Amendment? That’s easier.

        There’s no really clear definition, because courts find that kind of thing hard. But here are the descriptions of what kind of relationship gets protected, which I’m sure you’ll agree would include romantic relationships, plural.

        –“[Small] size, purpose, selectivity, and whether others are excluded from critical aspects of the relationship.”
        –“Deep attachments and commitments to the necessarily few other individuals with whom one shares not only a special community of thoughts, experiences, and beliefs, but also distinctively personal aspects of one’s life.”
        –“continuous, personal, and social relationship that take[s] place more or less outside public view.”
        –“the ability independently to define one’s identity.”
        –Whether it’s the type of relationship where you infect each other with your values, though I misplaced the quote for that one.

        It’s not asking the court to say poly relationships are moral. It’s asking it to say they’re protected, and when doing that it has to say all this stuff about how the relationship is important to the people involved.

        I think this part is a very safe win. One appeals court has said the roommate relationship is intimate enough to be protected, and this is even more so.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s not asking the court to say poly relationships are moral. It’s asking it to say they’re protected, and when doing that it has to say all this stuff about how the relationship is important to the people involved.

          You know where that’s going to hit up against? The type of cults where everyone is One Big Happy Family, and now they can attest that Guru Joe having sex with every female member even if they’re married to other members is simply One Big Happy Poly Family. Or even Hookers for Jesus.

          Good luck with “we demand you recognise and protect sexual relationships between more than two people at the same time”, particularly when it’s going to look exactly like that slippery slope conservative people were derided about in the wake of gay marriage (“what? no of course this won’t lead to polygamy, are you crazy, you bigot?”)

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          You have a finite number of weirdness points, and you are now spending on credit.

          • Deiseach says:

            Edward, every time I get one of these snide little remarks, I just sit back and glance at the latest story about how exactly what the snideness was pooh-poohing really happened to real people in the real world.

            You’ll excuse me continuing to believe that what a small section of rich, WEIRD and weird people think would work out just peachy for their own unique particular situation would not work out so peachy when the rest of the world gets its hands on it. Indeed, I do believe that there have been some little rifts in the lute when people have taken advantage of the free loving live and let live we’re all open-minded here community in question to do shitty things?

        • Aapje says:

          @Nate Gabriel

          It’s not asking the court to say poly relationships are moral. It’s asking it to say they’re protected, and when doing that it has to say all this stuff about how the relationship is important to the people involved.

          Yet my strong impression is that the courts make up the meaning of the constitution to legitimize their positions.

          If they don’t like polyamory, but you do, don’t expect an easy win based on what the constitution obviously says.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I’m not sure why you’re doing this, though. Usually when we want to challenge an unjust law, it’s because there are actual victims. You look for a test case to find the most sympathetic of all the people victimized by this law*. Unless there’s anyone being kicked out of a home by the zoning authorities for violating these laws…why bother?

      * my favorite being Plessy vs. Fergusson, where absolutely everyone involved in the “crime” wanted to challenge the law: Plessy, the train company he trespassed against, and the detective hired by the train company to arrest Plessy for trespassing.

  27. johan_larson says:

    In past OTs, we have talked about the homeless problem, particularly as it manifests in San Francisco. What does the grand compromise solution look like, with left and right (and up and down) shaking hands across the aisle?

    I’m thinking the right gets enforceable vagrancy laws so squatters who are causing problems can be forced off public land. They also get usable rules for committing the truly crazy to institutional care, and maybe some sort of mandatory outpatient care system for making sure some of the marginal cases take their meds.

    The left gets funding for a bureaucracy for (ideally) helping the homeless get back on their feet and (regrettably) just plain housing the hopeless.

    The libertarians get looser zoning restrictions so more housing gets built and housing in general gets a bit cheaper. They also get more permissive rules for co-housing, letting more people share housing, and run boarding houses.

    (Is there a fourth side to this?)

    I realize this is a bit CW for the even-numbered thread, but I think we’ll be OK as long as we focus on the culture peace treaty rather than the culture war around this issue.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I think that like pretty much all other political compromises, it comes down to how much we are willing to tolerate in the enforcement level. Vagrancy laws are already on the books, institutionalization already exists, even funding for asylums isn’t terribly controversial.

      More help is plausible, but in the end you’re going to eventually have cops dragging people away who don’t want to be dragged, and once that comes and homeless cities start getting broken up by the strong arm of the law, it’s going to be tough to keep that going.

      Especially since statistically it’s likely that minorities will be overrepresented amongst the vagrants.

    • Matt M says:

      I realize this is a bit CW for the even-numbered thread, but I think we’ll be OK as long as we focus on the culture peace treaty rather than the culture war around this issue.

      Disagree.

      My instinctive response to your proposal is “one of the sides has already gotten what you propose they want multiple times over and it hasn’t been considered enough.” And I think following that line of discussion would veer off into CW almost immediately.

      • johan_larson says:

        Do we have a second for the motion to defer this discussion to 132.25?

        • moonfirestorm says:

          Seconded.

          Generally anything that even has plausible routes into CW shouldn’t take place in a non-CW thread. Pretty good chance that the discussion gets derailed into what comments and perspectives are or aren’t CW, and some people may not get involved that would otherwise have had interesting perspectives because those perspectives feel too CW to them.

          If you have to consider for more than a second whether your discussion is or isn’t CW, or make a justification for why this is OK for the non-CW thread, you’re better off just going to the CW thread.

        • Plumber says:

          Thirded,

          See you on Wednesday!

    • Deiseach says:

      They also get usable rules for committing the truly crazy to institutional care

      That is going to be extremely hard to get across, as the work done on shutting down asylums and ending institutionalisation has seeped into the public imagination as “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” type abuse of patients, plus by my understanding American public institutions tend to be terrible conditions compared to private nursing and retirement homes etc. (for all the same reasons as everywhere else – it’s paid for by public money so “cheapest contract” for everything wins everytime, cutting down on wages and labour expenses by hiring as few staff and with the least qualifications possible, since more qualified means higher pay, and so on).

      So on one hand you’ll have all the “psychiatry is social control and abuse, there is no such thing as madness” crowd loudly protesting about involuntary incarceration and on the other people with good solid examples of why the system can’t handle dumping a thousand or more new patients into it.

      Plus the people you’re talking about are likely to have very severe problems and be even less capable of conforming to any kind of “no, don’t shit on the floors and wipe it on the walls; please take your meds regularly; don’t stab your fellow patients with your dinner knife; no you can’t drink/have recreational drugs” rules wherever you put them.

      • POGtastic says:

        More thinking about this is that the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that mentally ill people deserve due process, too, and the entire infrastructure for committing mentally ill people to long-term involuntary institutionalization violated due process.

        Examples of this are Addington v. Texas, O’Connor v. Donaldson, and Jackson v. Indiana.

        So it’s not just a question of “Can we convince the public that we’re not going to reintroduce Nurse Ratched.” It’s a question of whether we can even have that kind of institutionalization at all.

    • The Nybbler says:

      There’s a formula which goes “rights imply responsibilities”. From a libertarian point of view it’s a rather flawed one, because it quickly degrades into “You have the right to do X; you have the responsibility not to actually exercise your right to do X”, which vitiates the right entirely. However, despite that it’s getting at something important. I might try to phrase it as “freedom to act requires accountability for one’s acts”. For a person to have no accountability because of some physical, mental, or moral deficit, but yet for everyone to be required to grant them the freedom to act that people who do have accountability are granted… that’s the broad outline of how you get this situation. Further detail would need to be deferred to +0.25.

    • albatross11 says:

      This seems like an example of the culture war swallowing everything–how the hell do we work out good policies for how to address homelessness if we can’t even discuss the issue without it devolving into CW stuff?

      IMO, ceding public spaces to homeless people and petty criminals has contributed a lot to the atomization of our society–formerly nice shared spaces have been destroyed, and so there are fewer places for people to make connections. And this has also driven various businesses whose strategy is to provide safe common spaces for people to have parties/take their kids/get together casually, and since they’re private property, people who are disruptive or unpleasant or aren’t paying customers can be run off.

      • Nick says:

        To make this a little more concrete (assuming we can, CW etc.), how would you say it has affected public libraries?

      • CatCube says:

        The reason we can’t work out “good policies” is specifically because this topic will devolve into CW stuff! Homelessness is an example of a “wicked problem“–there are so many conflicting demands to meet that it can easily devolve into bickering and accusations of bad faith.

        For example, Family Promise is a program that makes use of churches to provide shelter to homeless families. The program I’m familiar with has a “day house” where the families have individual rooms so babies can nap, they can get some privacy, and can shower. Every night, they go to a participating church to sleep. They have to pack up their sleeping stuff at the church every day, and go back to the day house, and they rotate to a new church every week.

        If you think about it for a few minutes, everything I’ve just described is fucking bonkers. Why on earth don’t they just sleep at the day house, instead of messing around with churches? Even if you have the day house and the church in the mix, why don’t they stay longer at the churches to minimize the amount of shuffling around?

        The answer is there are a bunch of competing laws and codes that were passed to solve other issues. The day house would have to be zoned differently to be a homeless shelter, with the concomitant objections of local landowners. That will adversely affect their property values and potentially the safety of their families, and I certainly understand why they would have problems with that.

        They don’t want to stay too long at one church, or maintain a 24-hour residence at the day house for too long, because then they’d establish tenancy, and would have to be formally evicted if they stopped making progress towards finding a permanent home. These laws were passed to prevent abuses by landlords, but in this context they mean you need to jerk around homeless families to prevent them from getting these extremely extensive protections–having to do one single eviction would be an expensive nightmare that would kill the program.

        Following these posts, there’s likely to be others who say that the reasons in my previous paragraphs (zoning, tenancy/landlord requirements) are stupid, but they exist and have large constituencies; they cannot be assumed away in any solution. Hence, CW.

    • Drew says:

      Is there an aisle? Democrats hold all 11 seats on the SF Board of Supervisors

      Going through their bios, goals / sales points include:

      Sandra Lee Fewer: (No Comments WRT Housing in bio)
      Catherine Stefani: Gun Control
      Aaron Peskin: Required private developers to create affordable housing
      Gordon Mar: expand access to good jobs, public education, affordable housing and healthcare
      Vallie Brown: Affordable housing for residents
      Matt Hanley: build affordable housing for teachers and protect them from evictions, launch a new school in Mission Bay, secure housing and expand services for homeless students
      Norman Yee: No comments in bio. Newsletter promotes ‘home match sf’
      Rafael Mandelman: As a Deputy City Attorney​, Supervisor Mandelman practiced primarily in the areas of real estate, economic development, and affordable housing
      Hillary Ronan: Building More Affordable Housing
      Shamann Walton: Shamann is passionate about quality public education, options for living-wage jobs, safer neighborhoods, affordable housing, support services for the homeless
      Ahsha Safai: actively involved in local government for the past fifteen years – working under Mayor’s Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom with the San Francisco Housing Authority, the Mayor’s Office of Community Development, and the Department of Public Works, all the while working on behalf of neighborhood residents, low-income families, and working men and women

      Depending on how you count, that’s between 6 and 9 supervisors (of 11) who care enough about affordable housing to brag about it in their very short bio. And they’re all the same party, and mostly signaling that they’re progressive-dems.

      At this point, I don’t think the problem is a moral disagreement about trade-offs.
      Instead, I think the underlying problem is a disagreement about which policies will work to lower housing costs.

      You can have a treaty to trade values. But trading facts is a lot harder.

    • Another Throw says:

      What do CA’s adverse possession laws look like?

      Having a lawyer start filing claims on behalf of the homeless that, having taken open and notorious possession of every street, bus station, library and park, as well as about half of the businesses, so that under the rules of adverse possession, every street, bus station, library and park as well as about half of the businesses are now private property with new owners would have about the same effect of setting off a nuclear bomb in city hall. It would be damn near enough to turn CA red for an election cycle.

      The problem would works itself out pretty quickly after that.

  28. Hackworth says:

    @scott alexander

    In light of recent developments, most prominently immigrant concentration camps, if you were to update this post:

    https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/11/16/you-are-still-crying-wolf/

    would you still come to the same conclusion?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yes.

      • Rana Dexsin says:

        Incidentally, that post currently seems to have a formatting error which leaves most of the text small and italicized and difficult to read.

    • EchoChaos says:

      This is far too CW for the even numbered thread.

      • Matt M says:

        I’m curious as to what the expectation/norm is when someone posts obvious-CW stuff on a no-CW topic.

        Specifically, how are we allowed to respond to it? Scott has seen this post and chosen not to delete it. So is it fair game for me to respond to it on its own terms (which would be straight-up CW)? Or am I expected to be the better man and just walk away?

        • EchoChaos says:

          Given my experiences, I walk away. If substantial engagement past that occurs, going after the discussion is reasonable.

        • Nick says:

          I’d recommend not answering substantively. Not even Scott did—all he gave was a yes/no answer.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          If you really want to respond to it, consider going to the current CW thread (131.75), posting your response there, and then post the link here. “This is too CW for the integer thread, response [here].”

          ETA: and I certainly wouldn’t mind if you did. I would like an explanation from @Hackworth about why he thinks such an update is warranted.

          • 10240 says:

            Or if you want more discussion, wait until the next .25.

          • Purplehermann says:

            How do the thread designations work? .25 .75; evens odds, hidden open-
            What is acceptable/expected where?

          • Enkidum says:

            Anything that isn’t on the main page is legit (I believe that is the current status). So any fractional OT (0.25, 0.5, 0.75).

            EDIT: …is legit terrain for anything you want to discuss, so long as comments are at least two of good/kind/necessary. But Plumber just said that.

          • Plumber says:

            @Purplehermann >

            “How do the thread designations work? .25 .75; evens odds, hidden open-
            What is acceptable/expected where?”

            The difference is that whole number “Open Threads” have a note reading:
            "This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics"

            while the fractional Open Threads read:

            “This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread”

            But our host still requests that our posts be at least two of "True/Kind/Necessary
            (See Here for more on comments)

          • Purplehermann says:

            Thank you

    • Watchman says:

      Edit:agree with Echochaos. I’d be intrigued to know the logic behind Hackworth’s argument (as I assume it) but this is not the thread.

    • Sounds like again CW.

  29. tayfie says:

    Since there was an open thread posted today and I ran a meeting today, I want to take advantage of the coincidence to say the meeting in Richardson, TX (Dallas Area) went good and we were happy to have some visitors from the Austin group. Those crazy people drove three hours one way to spend some time with us and I am impressed at that commitment.

    Any readers around Dallas should check the sidebar around the second Sunday of the month because we’ve had three solid meetings at this point and I am confident they will continue.

  30. hash872 says:

    I’ve been reading about wage subsidies vs. a mandatory minimum wage system recently. I understand the arguments for subsidies as superior social welfare programs- promotes higher rates of employment, doesn’t distort the employment market, etc. A lot of proposals for wage subsidies I found are much heavier on generalities than specifics, but I thought I saw a rough consensus for say a $10 an ‘minimum wage’ for workers- a sliding scale achieved through a mix of employer wages and the subsidy, as needed (i.e. no one can make less than $10 an hour, the subsidy scales up to get them there etc.) I do have one question that I couldn’t find the answer to anywhere though:

    Why wouldn’t low wage employers immediately drop what they pay workers overnight- turning the whole program into essentially a federal subsidy for the Walmarts & Dollar Generals of the world? I.e. I’m the CEO of Dollar General, we typically pay our non-managerial workers say $8-12 an hour. As soon as the wage subsidy program passes Congress, overnight we lower our end of the wage program to 10 cents an hour- knowing that the government will simply pick up the slack for us. Essentially, I’m running a business but now the government has generously volunteered to make payroll for us. Or is this…. the point of the program? This ties into existing criticisms of employers like Walmart, whose workers heavily use food stamps, Section 8, etc.

    Yes yes I know you think wages are determined by supply & demand, ‘it’s Econ 101 brah’, etc. Aside from the fact that I think is a bit simplistic model- here we are discussing employers’ ability to set their end of the wage payment *likely below what the market would bear*, knowing the government will cover for them. (Sure you could probably make them pay a minimum of $1 an hour or something- doesn’t detract from the main point).

    What would this cost the US Treasury annually- in billions of dollars? (One source I found online states that around 20 million US workers make $10 an hour or less). Is subsidizing the ability of low wage industries to pay extremely low amounts worth whatever (I personally suspect modest) gains in employment we’d see? How is this a ‘market’ mechanism, exactly, when employers are paying what’s likely below-market wages, and the government is helping them ‘top up’ to what’s likely above-market? Wouldn’t the left (or the populist right) constantly run on increasing the government contribution to win votes, seeing as you’d have no real organized corporate opposition? (Only the deficit would pay, and we know how that goes in Washington….)

    I’m actually asking these questions in good faith and not a 100% critical angle- I generally support neoliberal market reforms, and I agree that promoting a culture of work among the poor is beneficial & a public good. Just wanted to flesh this out- because a lot of right-leaning economists I see arguing for wage subsidies I think lack the (for lack of a better term, sorry) common sense to realize that actual IRL employers would immediately drop their wages to virtually nothing, knowing that Big Government’s now essentially making payroll for them

    • Reasoner says:

      You said you see how a wage subsidy promotes a higher rate of employment. It makes sense that if workers are cheaper to hire, businesses will probably want to hire a few more of them, right?

      But the only way for them to actually attract more workers than the number of workers they are currently attracting is to sweeten the deal for workers. So the probable net result is that businesses do decrease the wages they’re paying, but not to the point that workers are just getting paid the same amount they were getting paid before. Because if they decreased it that far, they wouldn’t actually be able to attract any new workers at the cheaper price they are now paying for them.

      Even if this particular business doesn’t need any new workers, the lower price of hiring workers is likely going to encourage some other business which benefits from more employees to try and steal the workers that this particular business already has. So the net result is that it has to keep wages reasonably high in order to maintain its current workforce.

      So you see usually economists have given at least some thought to these kind of “common sense” considerations. My initial comment was going to be a reference to supply and demand curves but I tried to keep it storybook style to make it easy to understand. (Also, it’s possible I’m a little rusty on my supply and demand curves.)

      That said, based on my amateur training (a couple college economics courses way back + The Cartoon Guide to Economics–great book btw) I do think you have an interesting objection to the wage subsidy proposal, in the sense that the subsidy will partially be captured by corporations and partially by workers. I can actually think of an interesting argument for why this is actually desirable: If you’re worried job automation, you might want to encourage companies to continue hiring real human beings and give them a nice cash bonus for doing so.

      Maybe if someone is really clever they can think of something which beats minimum wages, wage subsidies, and universal basic income. It seems like each idea has its own unique flaws.

      • hash872 says:

        So the probable net result is that businesses do decrease the wages they’re paying, but not to the point that workers are just getting paid the same amount they were getting paid before. Because if they decreased it that far, they wouldn’t actually be able to attract any new workers at the cheaper price they are now paying for them.

        My point is that at $10 an hour and under (if that’s what the subsidy sets as an effective minimum wage), the employer can pay less and it’s all the same amount of money to the worker. To spell out the arithmetic- employer is paying say $7-10 an hour now, after the subsidy law is in effect they can pay say 50 cents an hour or whatever and the government chips in $6.50-9.50 an hour- employee takes home the same amount regardless

        • nyc says:

          A program that works as you’re describing it would indeed have the problem that concerns you. Most likely what’s confusing you is that whoever described to you how it would work did a poor job or was confused themselves.

          The way a well designed wage subsidy works is basically equivalent to a UBI. Everyone gets e.g. $12,000/year on top of whatever their employer pays them. Then employers have no incentive to pay less and potentially the incentive to pay more, because it’s easier for the employee to quit and still not starve or freeze to death while finding or training for a better job.

          Giving everyone $12,000/year sounds expensive, but you have to remember that you’re also giving everyone $12,000/year. If you as the average person pay $12,000 more in taxes while receiving $12,000 more in cash, you’re not really paying anything or receiving anything. The rich would pay more taxes than they receive in cash and the poor the opposite, but that’s the whole idea.

          Doing this replaces the entire welfare system. You no longer need a minimum wage, but also unemployment insurance, low income housing subsidies or food assistance, student loan or mortgage subsidies or anything else. All of those costs disappear because they all have the same purpose — transfer money to those with less, which works more efficiently as cash for the same reason markets do.

          • hash872 says:

            1. You are confusing wage subsidies & UBI, which are two separate things

            2. Paying all adult Americans $12,000 would come at a cost in the trillions of dollars annually, regardless if you’re replacing the existing welfare system or not

            Here’s a good explanation of how wage subsidies would work https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/11/case-for-wage-subsidy-government-spending-book-excerpt/

          • nyc says:

            > You are confusing wage subsidies & UBI, which are two separate things

            The people promoting “wage subsidies” are. They’re de facto the same thing, they just fail to realize it.

            Suppose the government offers a $5/hour wage subsidy. You immediately hire your friends and family at $0.01/hour to make dinner and do laundry and whatever else they were going to do anyway only now they can get the money from the government. Imagine a lot of people getting paid 8 hours a day to participate in long-term informal sleep studies in their own homes.

            If that’s all it is then it’s equivalent to a UBI of whatever the maximum amount of the subsidy is, with more annoying paperwork.

            Changing that would involve requirements that devolve into corruption (e.g. only connected businesses may receive the subsidy) or re-instituting something equivalent to the means testing and steep phase outs we were trying to avoid.

            > Paying all adult Americans $12,000 would come at a cost in the trillions of dollars annually, regardless if you’re replacing the existing welfare system or not

            Keep in mind that it’s net of taxes. If you pay $14,000 to fund the UBI while you receive $12,000, you have paid $2000 but not $14,000. If you pay $10,000 while receiving $12,000, you haven’t paid $10,000, you’ve paid nothing and then received $2000.

            This isn’t like building a school or hiring a government employee. If you pay $12,000 only to receive it all back, you can still do the same thing with it as you would have before.

            The result would be higher marginal tax rates, but not on average higher effective rates net of the UBI, and in many cases the marginal tax rates would still be lower than the benefits phase out rates for the programs being replaced.

          • hash872 says:

            Keep in mind that it’s net of taxes

            I don’t see raising taxes to the tune of $2-3 trillion annually as politically realistic here in the US, to put it mildly. Also, the benefit would be vanishingly small- $12k is far less the federal poverty level even in the cheapest parts of the country.

            Interestingly, what you’d described below about fake/quasi-UBI jobs (the idea of hiring your friends, or ‘sleep studies’ at home) is a fantastic point I hadn’t even thought of- but I count it as another strike against the realism of wage subsidies. I suppose the government could have minimum standards for being a ‘real’ employer, but then more sophisticated operators would set up various non-legit companies to ’employ’ workers for a kickback or some other scam- weakening public will for the programs (it would be all over Fox News!)

          • nyc says:

            > I don’t see raising taxes to the tune of $2-3 trillion annually as politically realistic here in the US, to put it mildly.

            The key is to frame it as a tax credit like the EITC. Then you’re not “raising taxes” you’re cutting them — which is actually true, because on net people end up with more cash, in the amount of the programs being replaced which had required the tax dollars to be spent on specific purchases with strings attached. That now instead comes back as cash (the tax credit) which you can use for anything.

            > Also, the benefit would be vanishingly small- $12k is far less the federal poverty level even in the cheapest parts of the country.

            The 2019 federal poverty level for a one person household in the lower 48 states is $12,490:

            https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines

            Moreover, a UBI would supplement whatever income you get from working. The number of people who can’t find a job that pays at least $490/year is likely to be a good approximation for zero.

            > I suppose the government could have minimum standards for being a ‘real’ employer, but then more sophisticated operators would set up various non-legit companies to ’employ’ workers for a kickback or some other scam- weakening public will for the programs (it would be all over Fox News!)

            It’s not just that — those are real jobs. Cook is a real job. Housekeeper is a real job. It’s common for people to do them with only informal compensation arrangements, or where the customer and the employer are the same party, but it’s real work all the same. Currently nobody files paperwork for them because there is no incentive to do so. Create that incentive and they will.

            Likewise, the purpose of the exercise is to get people hired doing low value labor. But paying people to do high sample size low effort sleep studies so you can list that on your resume, or paying them to hang out with you, are what low value labor looks like. It’s not a bug, “human emotional support animal” is a real job. It’s just the expected natural consequence of cheap subsidized labor.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The people promoting “wage subsidies” are. They’re de facto the same thing, they just fail to realize it.

            You should stop talking. Wage subsidy is not UBI. And you keep on destroying the wage subsidy concept to force it to match the definition.

            I cannot actually stop you from posting, but I can encourage everyone else to stop responding, so this is me doing that.

          • Furslid says:

            Wage subsidy isn’t UBI isn’t welfare.

            There are two scaling systems here. The first is how much someone works. Say 40 hours/week per adult. The second is how much a family needs. Say 12000$ per person. These don’t scale together, because family sizes differ. Wage subsidies cannot bridge this gap because there is no legal limit on family size.

            Set income to 15$ an hour (~34k) a year, and one parent with two kids is just short of meeting their household needs.

            If there is one parent with 5 kids, their income would need to be subsidized to ~30$ an hour.

          • nyc says:

            > You should stop talking. Wage subsidy is not UBI. And you keep on destroying the wage subsidy concept to force it to match the definition.

            “Stop talking” isn’t really a refutation.

            Here’s the claim: There is enough informal labor already happening that substantially everyone, given the existence of a wage subsidy, would be able to claim it by formally booking the existing labor at a nominal wage with minimal if any real behavioral changes. The government is then paying the money to substantially everyone, i.e. it’s equivalent to a UBI but with more annoying paperwork.

            If you dispute that, which part and why?

            > There are two scaling systems here. The first is how much someone works. Say 40 hours/week per adult. The second is how much a family needs. Say 12000$ per person. These don’t scale together, because family sizes differ.

            The way a UBI can address that is straightforwardly by paying one UBI per person, in a lower dollar amount for minors if necessary.

            In principle the wage subsidy could operate the same way, in the “wage subsidy devolves to UBI” sense. The child is paid by the parents to do chores, or their “job” is to go to school (formalize nominal payment as necessary), so they receive the wage subsidy as well. I doubt it’s what the proponents had in mind, but if permitted it would actually address the problem.

        • Evan Þ says:

          To remedy that, we could scale the subsidy so that, for each extra dollar the employer pays, the government pays perhaps 50 cents less. So, someone getting a $1K wage might get $10K subsidy adding up to $11K take-home; someone getting $3K wage might get $9K subsidy adding up to $12K take-home, and so on. The current Earned Income Tax Credit does something sort of like this on the upper side. (It currently scales up as you earn more, until you hit a peak, and then it scales down like my suggested subsidy. Here’s a graph with more details.)

          This would definitely increase the amount paid in subsidies, but it’d also avoid the pitfall you describe.

          • nyc says:

            What you’re describing is equivalent to the reverse of progressive taxation, with the highest marginal rate on the lowest earners. It could be better to provide the same subsidy to everyone unconditionally and then use a uniform tax rate to claw it back as incomes increase, so that it’s at least flat and not actually a higher rate on lower income people.

            You would also have the problem that way of employers and employees colluding to overstate hours worked and understate hourly rate to arrive at the same total employer compensation but more government subsidy. Or in the alternative where longer hours reduces the hourly subsidy, punishing people who have to work two jobs or longer hours at low wages because they need the money.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Yes, it would involve a high marginal effective tax rate, but the EITC and other current benefit programs already have a high marginal effective tax rate. It’s suboptimal, but IMO still better than the current situation.

      • in the sense that the subsidy will partially be captured by corporations and partially by workers.

        If it’s a competitive industry, it is captured partially by workers and partially by the consumers of what low wage workers produce.

        @Hash872: The supply of workers is at $10/hour, since that is what they are getting. But the demand is at fifty cents an hour if that is what they cost the employer. Both supply and demand are now larger than before–supply because the workers are getting more, demand because the cost to the employers is less than before. Wages end up somewhere between zero and $10, at the level at which quantity demanded is down to the (fixed) quantity supplied.

        • My previous comment was wrong. If the subsidy brings any wage of less than ten dollars up to ten, then an employee does not care whether he is paid fifty cents or five dollars an hour, so offering to pay more (below ten) doesn’t help an employer who wants more workers bid them away from other employers. And above ten, demand is less than supply.

          So employers all pay one cent an hour and compete with each other on non-monetary benefits–air conditioning, free food, easy work, and the like.

    • User_Riottt says:

      As with most things in econ 101 the number of assumptions you have to make to get your result (wages are set by supply and demand) are so insane I honestly can’t believe people take the conclusions seriously. e.g. Ergodicity. Working backwords from data is just as fraught.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Any reason not to just subsidize $10 to every worker below some sum per year? Along with that abolish minimum wage outside the subsidy, presto- employers pay what they want, but paying more is still useful, and every working person gets a minimum threshold wage without it coming (directly) out of employer pockets

      • silver_swift says:

        If you subsidize hourly pay, that leads to tricky situations where companies are encouraged to hire people for more hours than they need (eg. convert all their part time employees to full time) and let the employee “work from home” for the remainder of the time.

        If you do the same thing on a monthly or yearly base, this is just a needlessly complicated version of UBI.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Part to full time conversions are rare now because of benefits requirements for full time.

          Removing that would already create more full time workers.

        • Purplehermann says:

          Wouldn’t it be an improved UBI? This way (monthly/yearly) there is plenty of motivation to work, more than currently, as opposed to basic UBI where motivation to work is decreased.

    • Robert Jones says:

      I believe there are essentially two answers to this question. Firstly, you seem to be envisaging that the wage subsidy will be set so as to provide a total remuneration of exactly $10/hour. In that case, the employee is indifferent to whether he is paid $1/hour or $9/hour by his employer, because the government makes it up to $10/hour in either case. In practice, this isn’t how wage subsidies work, e.g. in the UK in-work benefits are set at a certain level and reduce by 41p per £ of income over some threshold, so the employee is always better off being paid a higher wage.

      Secondly, you’re treating wage subsidies and minimum wages as alternatives, but in practice these often go together. The implicit deal to employers is “If you pay people at least £X, we’ll make it up to a liveable income.”

      Of course the correct neoliberal answer is that everyone should receive a basic income sufficient to avoid indigence and wages can then be allowed to find their natural level. If person A is willing to pay person B £1/hour to carry out some task and person B is willing to do the task for that wage, it is no business of anyone else. To look at it another way, we provide everyone with a wage subsidy at a fixed level and therefore avoid any substitution effect.

      • Of course the correct neoliberal answer is that everyone should receive a basic income sufficient to avoid indigence

        We have been through this before. Unless your definition of indigence is very modest, the cost is something like the total federal budget.

        For example, at $12,000/year to every adult (255,000,000), it comes to just over three trillion dollars a year. The 2018 U.S. federal budget was just over four trillion. Revenue was about 3.3 trillion.

        $10/hour comes to about $20,000/year, so providing that to everyone would cost more than five trillion,

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Doesn’t this already happen to a degree? Are not there a significant number of Wal-Mart employees who receive food stamps or Medicaid? I googled around and found a 2014 study saying they do receive food stamps and then a 2017 article dunking on that study because they found Wal-Mart workers on Medicaid and assumed they were also on food stamps. Which still seems bad to me.

      On the other hand, I think if we made a rule “no Medicaid for Wal-Mart employees” that would not incentivize Wal-Mart to offer more affordable healthcare for their employees. The employees would just do without.

      • albatross11 says:

        The problem is, we also often talk about poverty traps and how bad they are–that is, the screwed up thing where you can have some just-barely-tenable situation where you can pay your rent and keep your kids fed, and then you take a job that makes $2/hour more, and suddenly you lose your rent-subsidy and the free healthcare for your kids, and you end up worse off than before. Pretty much everyone who looks at that kind of situation agrees it’s bad, even if we’re not all sure how to solve it, right?

        So, if indeed we don’t want poverty traps, then shouldn’t we be pretty happy to see that people working shitty bottom-tier jobs are still able to get medicaid for their kids, or food stamps if they don’t have enough income to feed their small kids? I mean, we could say “once you take a job at Wal-Mart, you lose all your public benefits, because that will stick it to this yucky company we don’t like,” but then we’d either deprive a bunch of Wal-Mart shelf stockers’ kids of healthcare coverage or we’d convince them to quit their Wal-Mart job.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          So, if indeed we don’t want poverty traps, then shouldn’t we be pretty happy to see that people working shitty bottom-tier jobs are still able to get medicaid for their kids, or food stamps if they don’t have enough income to feed their small kids?

          On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, I feel like I’m being taxed to subsidize Wal-Mart. And on the gripping hand, I think if I weren’t being taxed to subsidize Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart employees wouldn’t have health insurance.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It depends what one thinks the alternative is to WalMart employee’s wages being subsidized.

            Alternative 1) WalMart pays them more money.

            Alternative 2) They are not employed at all and are completely on public assistance.

          • albatross11 says:

            Alternative 3) Joann the single mother of three kids doesn’t take a 20 hour a week job at Wal-Mart, because doing so would lose her more than $ minimum_wage*20 a week in benefit. And so she isn’t in a good place to move to a 40-hour a week version of that job when her youngest goes to school, or to move up at Wal-Mart/get a better job elsewhere based on her experience. She just remains on public assistance for all her income, since doing anything else loses her money. A decade later, she’s in a much worse place than she would have been if she’d taken that job, but she was living right on the edge before, and probably wasn’t all that great at thinking a decade ahead anyway, so….

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Why wouldn’t low wage employers immediately drop what they pay workers overnight

      If we started a $1 wage subsidy today, to a large degree you would have the employers at the bottom pay nearly $1 less.

      However, there would be new employers that show up. New industries that could not survive paying $10/hour but can exist at $9/hour are now competing for labor.

      Also, while the wage costs of those employers paying $10/hour would drop, since they are presumably in competitive industries, their competitors would also have the same cost reductions, and so the prices they can charge in the market would also drop.

      • hash872 says:

        New industries that could not survive paying $10/hour but can exist at $9/hour are now competing for labor

        Well, the federal minimum wage is currently $7ish an hour, and any business that can’t be profitable at those wages simply moves overseas instead (what’s the average wage in Vietnam or Bangladesh these days?) You’re modeling a closed US system here, but in actuality the really low wage industries fled to the Third World decades ago and seem unlikely to come back.

        So my point stands- the US Treasury spends billions annually to subsidize low wage, Dollar General or Walmart-type jobs- to what net benefit to society? I’m sure there would more of these low wage jobs now, but my question is *how many more* and is this (kinda substantial) corporate welfare cost really an overall plus for the US.

        I suppose there’s a middle ground where we lower the minimum employers have to pay to $2-4 an hour, and then the subsidy kicks in. $6 an hour per worker * 20 million workers * say 30 hours a week = $3.6 billion annually, which is way less than say TANF at $17.5 billion. So maybe it’s a net positive, I dunno

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Well, the federal minimum wage is currently $7ish an hour

          Okay. So in my example, make the minimum wage $6/hour, with $1/hour wage subsidy.

          the US Treasury spends billions annually to subsidize low wage, Dollar General or Walmart-type jobs- to what net benefit to society?

          The benefit is that it is not harming the low-skill workers who are increasingly getting squeezed.

          Raising the minimum wage may help or hurt those workers, depending on the shape of the demand curve. I think the long-term trend is that low-skill workers are just more and more excluded from the economy, and the thinking we can change them into high-skill workers just does not apply to many of them. Minimum lot-sizes, minimum degree-requirements, minimum wages, minimum standard-of-care, minimum food-quality, minimum safety features, minimum everything, they all go towards making it illegal to be a low-earner, despite the stated and earnest intention to make things better for the poor.

          There are people who cannot earn enough to maintain a living situation (or, alternatively, enough to meet the living situation that society has determined is the minimum; the argument is mostly the same). But they can earn a portion of it. If they need 10K to live and have earning potential of 8K, it’s better IMHO for them to be partially subsidized rather than completely dependent upon the government.

          One thing I want to point out is that it is not just crap-level jobs which become economical with a wage subsidy. It is also things that people think are socially useful but are currently cost slightly too much. One idea from a previous thread: people might put on a community theatre, and they can sell tickets at such a level that the wages they can pay come out to $5/hour, but people really enjoy doing it more than corporate for-profit work. This job is currently illegal, but would be legal with slightly more wage subsidy than I suggested above. A second idea is all sorts of environmental or neighborhood cleanup work that I could hire people for. Maybe I am not willing to spend $1000 to clean up the park, but I am willing to spend $400, which I can do with wage subsidy. The main thing a wage subsidy does is allow the market to decide what is useful. The Dollar Generals will need to pay more than these jobs.

    • sharper13 says:

      The wage subsidies I’d propose would be along the lines of a negative payroll tax. Currently, the government actually discourages employment with a payroll tax by taking 15% of everyone’s first $128K of earnings (they call it FICA).

      The rest is details surrounding how much to subsidize and how steeply the subsidy ends.
      Example with made up numbers:
      Government pays a legitimate employer (say, in the form of a payroll tax credit to the employer’s payroll tax collections):
      50% of your first $3/hour ($1.50/hour)
      33% of your next $3/hour ($1.00/hour)
      20% of your next $4/hour ($0.80/hour)
      15% of your next $10/hour (canceling out FICA)
      or a max $3.30/hour subsidy, while you always receive more money if your wage goes up, thus preserving the competitive wages aspect and compliance is easy, it’s in the employer’s FICA-related tax payments.

  31. benjdenny says:

    What’s the weirdest source of contemporary fame you’ve run into? I’ve recently become aware of a couple of tech entrepreneurs who are famous primarily for how they write job vacancy postings. For some reason the whole “famous, but for a incredibly niche reason you might not expect” thing tickles me and I want more of it.

    • The Nybbler says:

      His site is down so I assume his 15 minutes are up, but one engineer at Google achieved fame by testing USB-C cables, sometimes to the destruction of the cable, charger, and device.

    • drethelin says:

      Steve1989MREinfo has a youtube channel with millions of views devoted to reviewing Military Rations from various countries and, far more of gamble, various time periods. Here’s one of him eating an emergency ration from 1944.

      • benjdenny says:

        Until he opened the can, I was expecting a large hunk of salted pork and was incredibly stressed out. I’m definitely watching this channel now.

    • johan_larson says:

      The folks at LoadingReadyRun spend some of their time doing comedy sketches and some of their time streaming themselves playing video and board games. And they don’t seem to be truly expert players. They’re closer to best in the neighborhood than best in the world. But people turn up and watch and give them money.

      • Tarpitz says:

        At least where Magic is concerned, even “best in the neighborhood” is a stretch. I doubt any of them would be among the ten best players at my local store.

        • johan_larson says:

          Really, even Ben and Jer, who we see in this episode of North 100 (far left and far right, respectively)?

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSdVr6tTo_Y

          • Tarpitz says:

            That’s Jeremy White and Ben Wheeler? I can’t claim to have watched either of them play (or at least not so I’d remember it specifically); my impression of the standard of play from the LRR crew is based on their pre-prereleases, which is the only content of theirs I watch. I’ve just looked up their GP performances: Wheeler has only played one and did not do well. White had a decent run a few years ago, but hasn’t made a day 2 since; it’s possible he’s a little better than I thought. Best guess, he’d be something like the 9th best player in my playgroup, but it’s conceivable he’d be as high as 4th (which is where I’d rank myself). It might be fairer to say he’s probably on a similar level to players 4 through 8, but well behind 2 and 3 and miles behind 1 (who in fairness is a former gold pro and several times England team captain). And that’s leaving out two more very strong players who live locally but don’t play at my LGS.

            All that said, Oxford is atypical. There are probably sleepier stores where White would be the best local player.

    • Aapje says:

      @benjdenny

      Youtube is full of people famous for doing weird stuff. Another user already suggested Steve1989MREinfo.

      colinfurze is a plumber turned YouTube star, who builds all kinds of amazing and mostly impractical contraptions. A similar channel is The Hacksmith, which is even more nerdy.

      First We Feast is a YouTube channel where people get interviewed while eating very hot hot wings. Sort of like the modern variant of torturing people to get a confession. The interviewer is known for his peppery pepperness.

      You also have the Hydraulic Press Channel, where a Finnish factory owner uses his hydraulic press on stuff.

      Joerg Sprave has the slingshot channel, where he tests all kinds of weapons that are legal without a weapon license in Germany. He even got his own innovative crossbow manufactured, with a built-in cocking handle and a magazine.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        First We Feast

        We’re not usually interested in anything celebrity-related, but my wife and I love this channel. Also Dax Shepard is a beast.

        • Aapje says:

          Yeah, he is a really good interviewer. He does very good research, but isn’t slave to the script. He is good at going along with the interviewee.

          He is basically good cop/bad cop in one person, who sweetly convinces the other person to undergo suffering, which you can’t blame him for, because he suffers along.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Does he really though? That guy seems like he’s built up a hell of a tolerance. I don’t think he’s sweating much, even on the last dab.

            ETA: This show is also an example of what I love about YouTube. Yes, 99.99% of YouTube is garbage and cat videos and the like. But if you pitched a show about interviewing celebrities while they eat insanely hot chicken wings, no studio would ever greenlight it. But you just start doing it anyway on YouTube and we get a fun show. Repeat for every little niche topic across everything forever. It’s nice.

          • Aapje says:

            He doesn’t seem to be a sweater, though. Some people seem to be quite affected, without real sweat.

    • SamChevre says:

      There’s an actuary who is mostly remembered for an incredible rant, titled “Rise Up, you mushrooms and sheep.”

      • Matt M says:

        The link goes to a forum that requires you to be registered to view the post. Could you copy/paste?

        • SamChevre says:

          Key lines (but it’s really the headline that is remembered).

          Evil triumphs when good people do nothing and evil triumphs whenever it can hide what it is doing.

          They love mushrooms and sheep. Mushrooms to keep in the dark while they dump horsemanure on their heads, and sheep to lead to the slaughter.

          Sunlight remains the greatest disinfectant, as it always has been.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Bread face girl.

      There’s a young woman who makes an absolutely absurd amount of money for videos of herself rolling bread against her face. I’m assuming that it’s a fetish thing, it’s the only explanation that makes any sense to me. There’s no way that watching someone smushing bread on their face is that entertaining, there has to be something else going on.

      • Well... says:

        “There are some weeks I don’t receive any [money], and some weeks a couple hundred [dollars],” she says.

        I guess it’s an absurd amount considering what she does to get it…

  32. Jeremiah says:

    As part of the project of going back and doing audio versions of some of the classic posts every fortnight. we just released Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism (original post here.)

    As always the easiest way to get it is to just subscribe to the podcast feed.

  33. MoebiusStreet says:

    Has anybody finished reading Neal Stephenson’s latest book, Fall?

    It started off well enough, I enjoyed it at the beginning. But it’s quickly trailed off. As he got to the (literal) world-building stuff (somewhere around 35% or so) it turned into a real slog. I’m finding it uninteresting as well as thoroughly implausible from a CompSci perspective.

    I’m seriously considering throwing in the towel, unless somebody can tell me there’s something special waiting down the road that will make it worth that slog.

    • Nick says:

      No, but I actually just finished The Rise and Fall of DODO today. It was all right.

      • MoebiusStreet says:

        I enjoyed DODO, too. And almost all of his previous work – Cryptonomicon is a favorite, for one. But I’m disappointed in how far off the mark is his understanding of CompSci in this book, which is surprising to me because past works like Cryptonomicon and Reamde have seemed quite literate.

        • Nick says:

          Cryptonomicon was my first Stephenson novel and still my favorite, which is disappointing in a way. And I’ve been liking his later novels less than his earlier ones. At this point I might as well work back to Zodiac or the ones he cowrote with Frederick George instead of reading Fall.

    • Jeremiah says:

      I finished it. (Link to my review.) If you don’t like the mythology he’s building then you probably should throw in the towel. Because that’s the bulk of the book.

      The book was discussed at more length on the subreddit, but I’m having a hard time finding the link.

    • watsonbladd says:

      I did. I was able to ignore the compsci bits (which I may have found slightly more plausible having worked in security myself). Then again I have a high tolerance for Neal Stephenson’s Stephensonness.

    • Bobobob says:

      I made it all the way through Cryptonomicon and halfway through the first installment of the Baroque Cycle. IMO, Stephenson’s books have absolutely no forward momentum.

    • theredsheep says:

      I know nothing of CompSci, but I’m probably about as far in as you are. I’m at the part where Qbqtr’f fvzhyngrq oenva nccrnef gb or unyyhpvangvat/pbafgehpgvat n cnex nebhaq uvz naq cynlvat yvgreny Tbq jvgu vg. It’s not entirely clear to me what exactly is happening, which annoys me, but I’m willing to soldier on for the time being. I think this is just what happens when you try to describe something utterly divorced from normal human experience in poetic terms. And NS just couldn’t resist the urge to go all Pentateuch.

  34. Moorlock says:

    Summary: The Society of the Free & Easy is a peer-supported, self-directed, free (gratis y libre) method of self-improvement by means of practical exercises that are designed to deliberately instill useful habits. You’re invited to join.

    The theory we’re operating under is this: There are many character traits that help people to thrive. These character traits are, by and large, habits that can be acquired and integrated into one’s character through practice. We can help each other design and practice exercises that establish and strengthen these habits. By doing this, we improve and also benefit the culture around us.

    In classical philosophy, the skills and habits that promote a thriving, beneficial life were called “The Virtues,” and we’ve adopted that nomenclature.

    There was no single, canonical list of virtues that everybody agreed on back then, though many people and traditions came up with lists they liked. We don’t have a canonical list either. Instead, we have collected (so far) a list of over 250 distinct virtues. We use our list more as a menu than a scripture: We don’t have any dogma about which ones are the right ones or the most important ones. Each of us decides for herself or himself which virtues are most important and which ones to work on.

    These virtues can be roughly divided into three categories:

    Intellectual virtues, like imagination, rationality, curiosity, or mindfulness

    Social virtues, like honesty, hospitality, leadership, tact, or justice

    Internal virtues, like honor, courage, endurance, hope, or initiative

    Some virtues we learned as children, and they’re second-nature. Others we never picked up, and we find them difficult or frustrating to practice even as we admire them in others. Everybody has a different mix of virtues they’re fluent in and virtues they struggle with.

    The key theory animating our project is this: A virtue is a sort of habit. You can acquire or strengthen such a habit by practicing it. With regular, deliberate practice, the habit will eventually become part of your character.

    We also suspect that virtues have a way of building on each other. If you strengthen the virtue of persistence for instance, you will better be able to put in the effort to acquire other virtues. If you strengthen the virtue of curiosity you will be better able to inquire into what is holding you back from practicing a virtue. If you strengthen the virtue of honor you will increase your motivation to become a more virtuous person. And so on.

    The Society of the Free & Easy is meant to be something like a gymnasium for the virtues. In the same way that you would go to a gym to work on physical strength, endurance, balance, or flexibility, you go to the Society of the Free & Easy to work on a broader set of virtues.

    Another analogy would be to “rationality dojos,” which are similar in being peer-supported, self-directed programs that aim to instill good habits, but which tend to concentrate more exclusively on the intellectual virtues.

    Our process is flexible, and you are encouraged to tweak it to suit your own needs or to experiment with new techniques. So far we have had luck with this approach:

    1. Find a buddy or form a small team to work together.
    2. Each of you choose a virtue to work on (this can be an involved and interesting process!).
    3. Take a close look at that virtue, and at any obstacles you feel when you try to practice it.
    4. Work with your partner(s) to come up with exercises in which you will frequently, deliberately practice that virtue in ways that challenge your current level of fluency.
    5. Check in with your partner(s) regularly to keep each other accountable and to adjust your curriculum as you learn more about what works and what challenges you face.
    6. When you feel that you have integrated the virtue adequately into your character, start the process again with a new virtue.

    Peer-support and -accountability helps our Society to be more useful than the sorts of “self-help” programs that sound wonderful when you read the book or watch the TED Talk, but then never quite get integrated into your life.

    Along the way, we hope to learn from each other’s experiences with specific virtues so that we can assemble virtue-specific toolkits and short cuts.

    * We are free & open source.
    * We are not associated with any particular religious creed or organization.
    * We are non-partisan.

    We’ve been developing and alpha testing our process in a small, private group for a few months now, and we’ve just recently opened up our group for a broader beta test. If you think you might like to join, please let me know and I’ll point you in the direction of our discussion group. Elsewise you’re welcome to take this idea and run with it in your own direction.

  35. Atlas says:

    Is this a common experience or a personal idiosyncrasy?

    Something that I’ve been thinking about lately is that I find fiction, in all media, much, much less engaging/enjoyable/fascinating than I did as a child. It feels like a glitch in the Matrix. Like, today I was reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, both of which are justly acclaimed as pretty good. (Incidentally, the Frank Justus Miller translation of the Metamorphoses that Barnes and Noble publishes is excellent.) But I couldn’t help but reflect that I was enjoying them considerably less than I enjoyed various YA novels I had read as a kid. And, furthermore, even though these are allegedly among the greatest, most profound works of fiction in the Western canon, I’m not sure that I found any more profound themes in them than I did in the disposable pop culture detritus I consumed in elementary-middle school. (I have also been extremely disappointed so far by most of the literary criticism I’ve read so far, which seems to mostly focus on either marginal trivia or esoterica that yields little insight into the fundamental symbols/themes/techniques etc. of the story in question.)

    Books I read as a kid just felt so much more expansive, unpredictable, exciting, profound, etc. than books I read now—which are theoretically “better”—do. Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Eoin Colfer’s The Supernaturalist absolutely boggled my mind as a child in a way that renowned works of speculative fiction for adults by authors like Phillip K. Dick, China Miéville and Neal Stephenson don’t come anywhere close to doing for me now. And those are authors that I enjoy, relatively speaking! Louis Sachar’s Holes really challenged and impressed me as a young’un in terms of the complexity of its plot, depth of its characterization and power of its themes in a way that King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Anthony and Cleopatra didn’t when I read/watched them as a grown-up.

    It’s like things haven’t scaled the way I assumed that they would. There was a pious fellow some centuries back who wondered: “All this, and Heaven too?” Likewise, as a child fascinated by books like the Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl series, I wondered: “All this, and Shakespeare too?” But then I grew up and actually read Shakespeare’s plays, and they really didn’t seem all that much deeper/better/more interesting to me than Harry Potter did back then.

    I leveled a pretty emphatic, though somewhat devil’s advocate-y, critique of fiction in an OT a few months, and I think this was an important part of my reasoning/source of potential bias that I failed to identify. So I’m curious if other folks have had similar experiences, or if I’m somewhat unusual in this regard.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Have you tried reading, as an adult, other YA or Middle-Grade fiction that you didn’t read as a child? I’ve noticed – even when I read it now as an adult – that the best YA and MG is often far above more “adult” fiction, especially in terms of being “unpredictable, exciting” and plain fun. Perhaps that’s what you’re seeing?

      • Atlas says:

        I did sort of try this; I recently read the Bartimaeus books, which I remembered frequently seeing in bookstores/libraries as a kid, but somehow had never read. They were okay, pretty good even, but they lacked that indelible spark that similar books had for me as a kid.

        I’m definitely generally willing to consider reading YA novels in a way that I wouldn’t have been a couple years ago or so, though.

        • JulieK says:

          If you haven’t tried Diana Wynne Jones, you should.

        • Dragor says:

          I mean, if we’re just throwing out recommendations here, Philip Pullman and Peter Dickinson are great, but is it possible you are just less happy these days? If you enjoy everything less, that can extend to media too.

      • sidereal says:

        Common as dirt. You lose your child-like sense of wonder as you gain perspective and experience. I try to take some solace knowing that child-me was naive and had low standards. Harry Potter and Holes were powerful to me as a child but if I try to go back they seem incredibly banal and uninteresting.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          As part of the Potter generation, I agree about the banality. They go on and on with banal conversations and the bureaucracy of the Wizarding World without ever asking anything really interesting about the premise.
          If they have lived segregated from Muggles since the 16th century, why are they so secular? Have the Muggleborns assimilated a founding population of Anglo-Catholics? Or have the same forces that secularized the modern West included them despite their social segregation? What’s it like to be a child of Hindu immigrants like Parvati dedicating her life to Western magic? These are the sort of questions Poul Anderson would have started grappling with within a couple chapters of starting a slim fantasy novel, and Rowling never thinks about them even as her shorter novels give way to four doorstoppers!

    • orin says:

      With regard to Shakespeare, focusing on the plot is largely missing the direction in which the praise is aimed. (Also, plays are meant to be performed, not read.) With regard to comparisons with e.g. Harry Potter, I guess you can’t account for taste, but gee, for me nothing in any young adult fiction comes anywhere near the depth and beauty of stuff like:

      Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
      As I foretold you, were all spirits and
      Are melted into air, into thin air:
      And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
      The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
      The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
      Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
      And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
      Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
      As dreams are made on, and our little life
      Is rounded with a sleep.

      • Atlas says:

        With regard to Shakespeare, focusing on the plot is largely missing the direction in which the praise is aimed.

        I’m not sure I agree—surely dramatic, complex plotting is a mark of the sophisticated playwright that Shakespeare epitomizes?—but, okay, fine. Which classic dramatists/tragedians do you think are worthy of praise in this regard, then?

        (Also, plays are meant to be performed, not read.)

        Not necessarily. In any case, I have seen performances of some of the cited plays; while I generally enjoyed them, they didn’t cardinally change my feelings about the source material.

        With regard to comparisons with e.g. Harry Potter, I guess you can’t account for taste, but gee, for me nothing in any young adult fiction comes anywhere near the depth and beauty of stuff like [Prospero’s famous speech in IV.i]

        I’ll grant that sheer eloquence is one dimension in which I’ve been (relatively) less disappointed by classic works. In particular, I’ve come to greatly appreciate the poetry of authors like Auden, Kipling, Housman and Tennyson. But I thought that literature was supposed to be about more than just inventive turns of phrase.

        So let’s consider this speech of Prospero’s—which, remember, is considered one of the greatest passages in one of the greatest books of one of the greatest writers in all of human history.

        It seems to me—and I just read it today and haven’t read any scholarly commentaries on it—that Prospero is saying (when you consider the two lines before where you began the quote) that “everything is finite, so instead of being sad that this production is coming to an end, appreciate that it happened at all.” (Plus there’s a plausible extra layer of Shakespeare speaking about his own mortality and legacy as an artist.)

        That’s fine, but I don’t think that’s as wondrously profound as you’re suggesting. Furthermore, I take issue less with the speech itself and more with the context of the play in which it’s delivered, which I don’t think gives it the emotional heft that I was led to believe Shakespeare had.

        I don’t think that the threat Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo present to the masque is particularly convincing; I don’t think that Prospero, Ferdinand or Miranda have complex enough character arcs to make the delivery of these lessons very impactful; and I don’t see that the overall theme of life’s finitude is explored all that deeply in the rest of the play. (Yes, I realize that e.g. Alonso’s mourning of Ferdinand could be said to also demonstrate this theme, but I don’t see that as powerful enough to give this speech the kind of weight that you’re claiming—that I want—it to have.)

        To take a random counter-example from popular culture, at the end of Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men Cyclops observes:

        “Everything is so fragile. There’s so much conflict, so much pain…You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize this it: the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along, that weird, unbearable delight that’s actual happy—I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get. ‘Cause it’s here and then…it’s gone.”

        I don’t think that is substantively much less profound than what Prospero is saying. Considering the quotes in the context of the respective stories in which they were told—which I think is how they should be considered—I don’t find Prospero’s remarks much more moving than Cyclops’. (Though I will readily grant that Shakespeare is far more stylish in his use of language.)

        Am I saying that a gosh-darned comic book is better than Shakespeare? No, I’m saying that I always thought that Shakespeare (or rather “canonical” writers in general) were supposed to be countless orders of magnitude more sophisticated than the pop culture junk I grew up on. And yet, when I actually read the books in question, they never seem to have the depth/drama/pathos/profundity that I was promised they would.

        • Deiseach says:

          (1) Joss Whedon writing Cyclops has the advantage of coming nearly four hundred years after The Tempest and reaping the benefit of a culture marinated in what Shakespeare created. The descendant will naturally show traces of the ancestor.

          (2) I don’t think Prospero and Cyclops are saying the same things; Cyclops is “carpe diem” which is an even more ancient message; “gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying” to quote Herrick. The fragility of life and the imperative to seize what joy you may as it only comes now and will never come again later – that’s one strand in the culture.

          What Prospero is saying is something different and, if you like, meta: now that they have come to the end of the play, the audience is being directly addressed – the imaginative creation of a world and characters that they have entered into, that has become for the period while they were watching the play a secondary world, has now ended and is being dismantled. And in a bold and striking leap of comparison, Prospero/Shakespeare is saying to us that our ‘real’ world, the one we think is so solid and long-lasting, is something as transitory and unreal as the play-world. The world of the island in the play was a ‘real’ world to the characters within it, but to our level of reality it was all airy nothingness and is now ended. And to a higher level of reality? Our world is as insubstantial and unreal (you may now pause to rehearse the simulation argument here if you wish) 🙂

          Our lives begin and end with a sleep, and what goes on between those two sleeps may be nothing more substantial than a dream, or a play in an author’s brain. That’s a lot different to ‘seize the day’; ‘seize the joy as it passes’ at least presumes that the joy and the fragile world are real and have some meaning. The Tempest says no, that joy and fragility and dust are nothing more than – dust.

          The genius of the art is that Shakespeare ends on this message of ‘all is illusion’ but it’s not nihilistic. Whedon is giving us “life is what happens in between making plans, this isn’t a dress rehearsal, this is your real life” and that’s true but it’s not at the same pitch of mastery and grandeur.

          • Deiseach says:

            But you don’t (or at least I don’t) read Shakespeare for the plots, the plots are the least important part, he cobbled them up from a mix of what were the hit plays of the day and cribbing material from translated historical anecdotes. The plot of Romeo and Juliet is stupid, and wouldn’t work if any of the adults in the play acted like adults for five minutes.

            You read (I read) Shakespeare for the language. The gorgeous, lush, inventive music of the language! It’s a shot of pure aesthetic delight right to my brain 🙂

            Though sometimes, yes, he does things with the plot, as in Lear where he subverts our expectations: at the end, when the Bad Guys have been soundly beaten in the traditional manner, we expect a happy ending of virtue rewarded for Cordelia and chastened but wiser happy retirement for Lear.

            And instead he gives us this.

        • JPNunez says:

          The actual best part of Whedon’s run is Cyclops saying “To me, my X-men”. I loathe dumb phrases with weight due only to repetition but this time it works.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m hardly the first person to have said this, but if someone told me that “I will face God and walk backwards into Hell” was something out of Milton, and I didn’t know better, I’d have bought it. It’s not. It’s a fucking Dril tweet.

          But it’s still a powerful line.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        With regard to Shakespeare, focusing on the plot is largely missing the direction in which the praise is aimed. (Also, plays are meant to be performed, not read.)

        Generally true, but I strongly recommend owning copies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Arthur Rackham’s illustrations, The Tempest with Edmund Dulac’s and Twelfth Night by Heath Robinson’s. These were all masters of illustration in the Edwardian era and add a different kind of pleasure to the words than watching a performance.

    • Mary says:

      It is inevitable that something that was thrilling when it was new loses luster when you have plenty of examples to compare it to.

      Some works improve with practice reading, though.

      • Atlas says:

        There’s definitely some truth to this. I’ve found rereading to be extremely rewarding with quite a few books (e.g. The Book of the New Sun and Watchmen).

    • bullseye says:

      I would guess it’s a combination of age (you know more now, so there aren’t as many new ideas), and reading old works written by and for cultures that no longer exist. I’d recommend finding something written for people your age and for people of your culture.

      • Atlas says:

        That very well might be true. I’ve definitely found Houellebecq’s novels compelling for this reason.

        • Randy M says:

          What do you think of Tom Wolfe? I’ve greatly enjoyed reading his books even as I’ve fallen largely out of the novel reading habit.

          • Atlas says:

            I really like his novels, and they’ve had a sizable impact on my thinking. Steve Sailer describes him as “the greatest satirical-realist novelist in the English language since his idol, Evelyn Waugh.” (Steve’s written a lot about Tom Wolfe over the years.)

    • bernie638 says:

      I read a lot more nonfiction for myself as an adult, but I still read a lot of fiction whenever my children are assigned to read the books at school. I like to refresh my memory of the books before I talk to the kids about them.

      I agree, they are not nearly as impressive when I reread them as an adult.

      I do kinda still enjoy them, but they aren’t nearly as magical as they were when I was a child. Some of the stuff they are assigned to read are positively awful!

      • Atlas says:

        Glad to hear that someone else has the same feeling. Hopefully the quality of your children’s school assigned reading improves a bit as they rise through the grades.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      engaging, enjoyable, fascinating, expansive, unpredictable, exciting, profound

      So this language seems to cut two ways for me. You want to be engaged, and you want to be surprised. Surprise gets harder to pull off as one ages and learns the tropes. Engagement is more likely a matter of taste and style. So it could be that you’re comparatively unmoved by Shakespeare because you don’t engage with the stories and you’re well aware of the themes and characters through cultural osmosis.

      To potentially combat the issue of engagement: Make a list of the books that got your blood going, that you didn’t want to put down, or any other metric you think applies. These can be recent or from childhood, and then do a quick books-I-couldn’t-even-finish-because-god-the-agony list. Do patterns arise? Rather than considering books as “good books” and “children’s books” you might just be a person who likes Sci-fi and fantasy, since basically every book/author you mentioned was in the fantasy/sci-fi/speculative region. Have you read any Magical Realism? 100 Years of Solitude is heartbreaking.

      To potentially combat the issue of surprise: Read things from outside your own culture. This way your own cultural antibodies may not be attuned to the text and you won’t be able to predict its movements. Often the differing mores can make you look at your own in a different way.

      Literary criticism varies wildly, so I can’t really comment on that. I always liked Harold Bloom because he’s clearly a crazy person which is what I want in someone who writes books about Christian Gnostics and Shakespeare with the same exact tone.

      If what you want is thematic depth, you can always go off the deep end like I did after college and read Ulysses 5 times. First read it out loud, then read it with Hamlet in mind, then read it with the Bible in mind, then read it with the Odyssey in mind, then read it with your own life in mind. (This kills the reader)

      • Atlas says:

        Have you read any Magical Realism? 100 Years of Solitude is heartbreaking.

        Aside from maybe skimming some assigned readings in high school, I don’t think so, so I’ll see if any books from the genre sound interesting to me.

        To potentially combat the issue of surprise: Read things from outside your own culture. This way your own cultural antibodies may not be attuned to the text and you won’t be able to predict its movements. Often the differing mores can make you look at your own in a different way.

        That’s an interesting suggestion, because I’ve had the opposite perspective recently: I consciously try to consume media from my own native language/culture, because I figure that’s what I’ll get the most out of. You’ve offered a good reason to reconsider, though.

        Literary criticism varies wildly, so I can’t really comment on that. I always liked Harold Bloom because he’s clearly a crazy person which is what I want in someone who writes books about Christian Gnostics and Shakespeare with the same exact tone.

        I have been reading Bloom on Shakespeare, and I really want to like him on a lot of levels but I can’t truthfully say that I personally find his commentary very insightful.

        If what you want is thematic depth, you can always go off the deep end like I did after college and read Ulysses 5 times. First read it out loud, then read it with Hamlet in mind, then read it with the Bible in mind, then read it with the Odyssey in mind, then read it with your own life in mind. (This kills the reader)

        Ulysses might be worth checking out, then, if I can comprehend it tolerably well.

      • rubberduck says:

        If you don’t mind my asking, what exactly did you like about 100 Years of Solitude? I had to read it in high school and found it to be absolutely horrible: pages and pages of people with repeating names doing mundane things. I must be missing something, but I don’t know what. I suppose for someone more into literature the underlying themes might be interesting, and the setting was vibrant and colorful, but the plot and characters were (for me) totally unengaging. And what was up with that ending? Xvyyvat bss rirelbar jvgu n gbeanqb gung fubjf hc bhg bs abjurer ba yvgrenyyl gur svany cntr? Jung?

        What am I missing? Why do so many people love this book?

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          So I’ll use the opening line to illustrate some of the things I like about the book.

          “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

          So first is the language is quite lovely.

          Then there’s the absolutely fucky interplay of tense. When I first read the book I had, perhaps like Atlas, become slightly disillusioned with the largely linear stories I’d been reading. 100 Years of Solitude is in fact linear, but also rewards a reading where it’s cyclical. You don’t have to distinguish between characters in part because the central struggle is that of a whole family. It goes against the individualist strain in much of literature, without actually being collectivist. The town of Maconda is almost a living, dying organism.

          But the thing I think I love most about it is that despite being called “magical realism” it’s not actually a book about how imagine-if-these-crazy-things-happened. The thing which Aurelio will one day remember is, of all things, ice. The very best magical realism, in my opinion, makes the mundane magical as much as it makes the magical mundane.

          This is a constant theme throughout the book that even though at one point someone is literally flying around the town on a magic carpet, this is presented as equally fascinating as a pair of magnets or a chest of ice.

          Rebecca is a girl who is presented as “other” and slightly magical. But why? She shows up with a bag of bones, yes, but ultimately because she has her own sexual lusts and eats dirt and plaster. None of these things are actually impossible. The magical element helps me reinterpret some mundane things. Ursula the matriarch, who cures everything with egg whites, made me reconsider my own mother and her mother (who I hated, and lived much too long).

          Towards the end of the book, there’s also a character who comes back and describes an interplay of memory and nostalgia as two mirrors he’s trapped between, and the apparent endless reduplication of himself. So I take the city of mirrors at the end to be a kind of statement on that. Even though we’ve just read a book where seemingly everything repeats and certain things are forever, that was merely the creepy effect of memory, which feels like a second chance, but isn’t when you inevitably die. And in all that time as the family tried to avoid incest, they also avoided ever loving each other until the very end, so one wonders if it was worth it.

          So if you like, consider the ending like the ending of the Sopranos.

        • Dragor says:

          Ok. So i really loathed it too. I eventually tried to get into Marwuez when I had a seemingly-promising crush on a girl whose favorite book was Love in the Time of Cholera, but I failed. Reading what Frankist Georgist says below though, maybe I should give it another try; I notice I find the question of why an author wrote book more interesting these days. As long as questions like “what is the symbolism of X?” have a definitive answer, I am willing to keep digging.

    • benjdenny says:

      I agree with others in the thread that part of your problem might be that you really like YA-style books/exciting sci-fi. The books you listed liking are all designed to be enjoyed, not to impress the kind of people who gate-keep serious adult fiction these days. I’m cynical, but I don’t believe the average big-publication mainstream reviewer is all that interested in being entertained these days.

      It also doesn’t help that the stuff you are mentioning as being spellbinding to you as a child were all best-of-their class entertainment materials. Ender’s Game and Harry Potter were both HUGE outliers in terms of how much people enjoyed them – they are rare books that scratched a near-universal itch readers didn’t know they had. It’s going to be hard to match that with what you describe as a single try of one series – the fact that this kinda worked for you is telling that you are on the right track.

      I have these specific recommendations:

      The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

      Rollicking Sci-fi. Best paced book I’ve ever read of any kind; it’s absolutely perfect. This isn’t the first book in the series, but it’s absolutely the one you are supposed to read first and you won’t feel at all like you’ve started at the wrong place or missed anything. Do yourself a favor and try to avoid/ignore the book cover, which is legendarily bad and turns people off what’s probably the sci-fi novel ever written. Side note: I have misogynist instincts with authors and tend to mentally discount female writers if I’m not actively trying to subdue this impulse, and I still hold that this author is better than anyone else.

      Dune by Frank Herbert

      More serious. Less fun/enjoyable than The Warrior’s apprentice. The prose is better, and the world is a lot more novel/fleshed out/”expensive feeling”. You’ve probably already read this but I’m throwing it out there just in case you haven’t.

      Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

      Japanese Fantasy Light Novel. You need this genre in a broad sense for what you are trying to re-capture. Grimgar deals with a bunch of teenagers who wake up in another world and promptly forget ours; they are more-or-less forced into the only job available for other-world immigrants, which is becoming adventurers and fighting monsters. They aren’t very good at it. It’s pretty dark most of the time. There’s one annoying love-or-hate character you will know when you see him that might ruin the thing for you, depending on how you deal with characters like that.

      The Gamer (free, webtoons.com)

      This is a long shot; it falls into a relatively new category popular in Asia called “litRPG” where some elements of the world use RPG rules (leveling, grinding, stats, menus). This isn’t particularly amazingly well drawn and the plot fails to stay compelling later in the series. It isn’t the best example of it’s genre, but it’s super-accessible and will help you see if this genre is a possibility for your needs. I hope it is, because it is a pretty deep rabbit hole and the “my life is an RPG in some ways” mechanic is a surprisingly powerful storytelling tool.

      • benjdenny says:

        Quick last note:

        Don’t give up. It’s certainly possible you are just jaded and mentally broken in a way that makes it impossible for you to like fiction anymore, but I think that’s unlikely. Bear in mind that for the last couple decades possessing an unusual premise, hitting the right social cues and the word “gritty” have been all that most critics have cared about, and that’s most of what’s on the shelves anymore.

        To beat this, you have to go find the stuff they ignore.

      • Atlas says:

        Thanks for the recommendations, they all seem interesting. I was definitely planning to read Dune in preparation for Villeneuve’s upcoming movie.

        • benjdenny says:

          I did more recommendations than I expected, so just as a quick addendum I want to really reemphasize The Warrior’s Apprentice. It’s unbelievable to me it isn’t better known.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The Vorkosigan series is very well known, and _The Warrior’s Apprentice_ is one of the original three books in the series, so it’s probably pretty well known. I assume there were some sort of weird publishing shenanigans that resulted in Bujold debuting by publishing three books (Shards of Honor, The Warrior’s Apprentice, and Ethan of Athos) in the same series essentially at the same time. For a while it was _very_ hard to find despite other books in the series being published. _Young Miles_, which contains it, is still in print.

            It’s definitely one of the more fun books in the series.

          • benjdenny says:

            It gets into semantics a lot, and also the particular sample of people I know, but I don’t think I could compare TWA to, say, Ender’s Game in terms of fame. I know tons of people from the “secular” non sci-fi enthusiast world who knew ender’s even before the movie; same with dune. I’ve yet to meet even any Sci-Fi people in real life who know about Bujold in general, either.

            I feel like I could go ask a group of 20 people who wrote The Dark Tower series and get a correct answer out of one or two of them, but I don’t have that confidence saying “have you ever heard of The Warrior’s Apprentice”. Could be regional?

          • LesHapablap says:

            I had never heard of the Vorkosigan series until a few open threads ago. So from my perspective it is a lot less well known than Ender’s Game, or Neal Stephenson, or the Culture series, or Dune, etc. I read Shards of Honor and liked it, and then gave up a quarter of the way through Barrayar. Maybe I’ll give TWA a try but I’m not that hopeful.

          • benjdenny says:

            I would. The two Cordelia books aren’t very good in comparison; it’s why I recommend TWA first.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’ve yet to meet even any Sci-Fi people in real life who know about Bujold in general, either.

            That’s surprising to me. Several of the Vorkosigan novels won Hugo awards (well before the recent issues), and several have been serialized in Analog. It’s not mainstream the way Stephen King or Tolkein or even the Dresden Files are, but I’d have expected most SF fans to have heard of her. I guess there’s bubbles within bubbles.

            The second half of _Shards of Honor_ (with Cordelia alone) is weaker, IMO, but Cordelia’s idea of a shopping trip in _Barrayar_ is not to be missed.

          • albatross11 says:

            Interestingly, I found the two initial Cordelia books better than many of the Miles books. I liked both Shards of Honor and Barrayar (really one book that should be read together IMO) better than The Warrior’s Apprentice. Among the Miles books, I really enjoyed Mirror Dance, Memory, Komarr, and A Civil Campaign. And I very much recommend Falling Free, which is set hundreds of years earlier but is IMO quite good. (I’d love to read some more stories set among the Quaddies, maybe after the events of Diplomatic Immunity)

          • Garrett says:

            I also agree with the recommendation of The Warrior’s Apprentice. It’s one of the most *fun* stories I’ve ever read.

      • Matt M says:

        The books you listed liking are all designed to be enjoyed, not to impress the kind of people who gate-keep serious adult fiction these days. I’m cynical, but I don’t believe the average big-publication mainstream reviewer is all that interested in being entertained these days.

        100% agree. It definitely seems like the typical critic/gatekeeper/academic is reflexively repulsed by any work that gives off the slightest whiff of “this is designed to entertain for entertainment’s sake.”

        The only place where you can get away with that sort of thing is if you’re doing some clear and obvious signaling that your work is designed to be consumed by children or teenagers, at which point, the standard rules no longer apply.

        This is how we end up with stuff like Toy Story 3 being the highest rated film on RottenTomatoes. Because it was designed to entertain, did a very good job of it, and critics are allowed to judge it on those merits alone without having to dock it points for not making a strong enough social statement on the top issues of the day.

        • Dragor says:

          Honestly, I think the books I liked most as a kid provoked philosophical pondering. The best authors could have a riveting story that really felt like it expanded your world when you were done with it. There were definitely books that were just fun that I enjoyed, early Rick Riordan and early Pendragon for example, but on these I was much, much less forgiving of mistakes.

          • LesHapablap says:

            William Sleator’s books were like that for me. Dark, realistic and interesting: House of Stairs and The Duplicate come to mind.

            My chief complaint about the Hunger Games was this lack of realism. Teenage kids, both orphans, about to die, who are in love with each other, in the same bed, and there’s not even any awkward groping? Most of the YA books I read as a kid tried to be realistic about sex and relationships to some degree, but The Hunger Games was like a Disney movie except with torturous killing and death.

          • Randy M says:

            Agreed on Sleator as a great YA author. Holds up okay; I found the sequel to interstellar pig only a few years ago.

        • Lasagna says:

          100% agree. It definitely seems like the typical critic/gatekeeper/academic is reflexively repulsed by any work that gives off the slightest whiff of “this is designed to entertain for entertainment’s sake.”

          I don’t know about this. As far as I can tell, all the gatekeepers are obsessed largely or exclusively with pop culture. What serious, adult, difficult literature do you think egghead critics are trying to shove down your throat?

          It seems to me that everything has moved in the opposite direction, where I’m being asked to treat art meant for children as every bit as deep, complex and important as Shakespeare.

          • Randy M says:

            Does gatekeeper here refer to academics pronouncing something as literature or not, or to publishers looking for books that will sell? Very different perspectives among those two groups.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t much follow adult literature, but it seems that, despite a significant effort to expand in a direction away from this, we’re still not anywhere close to a world where Iron Man or Harry Potter can win the Oscar for Best Picture, even if they are far and away more popular than the competition, and even if critics generally respond to them positively and don’t have any major complaints against them.

            They just aren’t “serious” films. And you know they aren’t serious because they are very popular with a very wide audience, that includes a significant amount of teenagers and children.

          • JPNunez says:

            Didn’t LOTR win an oscar?

      • Dragor says:

        So…can you sell me on Dune? I read the book a few years and really, really hated it. I don’t think I felt let down by a book like that since reading Oliver Twist at 12. Oliver Twist I have am explanation for: Oliver Twist was originally a serial novel, and serial novels tend to lean on repetition and cliffhangers, but what’s the deal with Dune? I felt like he built this awesome world and then skipped over the interesting parts of his story.

        • benjdenny says:

          Svefg naq sberzbfg, V qba’g zvaq ng nyy vs lbh qba’g yvxr Qhar; vg’f fbeg bs vg’f bja guvat. Vg’f nyfb cebonoyl cerggl ihyarenoyr gb gur Frvasryq rssrpg, gbb, pbafvqrevat gur cbchynevgl naq ntr bs gur fgbel.

          Ba fxvccvat bire cnegf bs gur fgbel:

          V’z abg 100% fher jung lbh zrna urer. Cnhy tbrf sebz jrnygu naq gur phygher bs n jrg pbhagel gb ershtrr fgnghf oevrsyl gb nqbcgvat qel phygher, orpbzvat pynveiblnag naq hfvat gung pynveiblnapr gb eha n fhpprffshy pbhc ba gur onq thlf.

          Qhar vfa’g, oebnqyl, nobhg gur xvaq bs jne jurer lbh’q unir gebbc sbezngvbaf be onaqf bs zreel zra be gung. Jura jr frr svtugvat, vg’f hfhnyyl irel crefbany naq jvgu n xavsr; jurer jr frr ynetre fpnyr jne, vg’f hfhnyyl tbvat ba bhgfvqr naq oevrsyl fhzznevmrq juvyr gur vzcbegnag (gb Ureoreg) qvnybthr orgjrra punenpgref vf unccravat.

          V guvax gb Ureoreg gur phygherf naq crbcyr gung rzretr bhg bs inevbhf fbpvrgny/phygheny/jrngure pbaqvgvbaf jrer gur vzcbegnag guvat, fb ur’f cerggl pbagrag gb tb “vs vg jrer qel naq unefu, gurfr ner gur thlf lbh’q frr! Vs n 4000-lrne byq cflpuvp jrer ehyvat gur tnynkl, gurfr ner gur xvaqf bs thlf lbh’q frr naq urer’f gur jnlf ur’q or gverq bs yvsr!”. V guvax lbh rvgure yvxr gung be lbh qba’g, orpnhfr gung’f ernyyl nyy ur’f oevatvat gb gur gnoyr.

          Jvgu nyy gung orvat fnvq, V yvxr Qhar n ybg. Vg’f tbg na vagrerfgvat pbzong flfgrz jurer crbcyr jrne nezbe gung qbrfa’g qb nalguvat, naq bayl gubfr jub ernyvmr naq npprcg gung gurl pna’g cebgrpg gurzfryirf ner rssrpgvir svtugref. Vg’f tbg na vagrerfgvat rpbabzl; vg unf vagrerfgvat cbyvgvpf qrznaqrq ol gung rpbabzl.

          V guvax sbe Ureoreg gur ovttrfg ubbx jnf “Jung vs rirelobql jnf hfrq gb 100% rssbeg gb fheivir ng nyy gvzrf? Jung vs rirelobql jnf hfrq gb na raivebazrag unefure guna jne, naq gura gung fbpvrgl tbg gur trareny vg arrqrq gb or jne-rssrpgvir?”. V ernyyl yvxr gung ubbx, fb V ernyyl yvxr gur obbx. V nyfb yvxr Ureoreg’f cebfr, fb gurer’f abguvat va gur jnl sbe zr znxvat vg zber qvssvphyg gb yvxr.

          Gung orvat fnvq, V gbgnyyl haqrefgnaq vs fbzrbar qvqa’g yvxr vg orpnhfr bs gur cebfr, be orpnhfr Ureoreg sbphfrq ba gur jebat guvatf (sbe gurz), be orpnhfr vg’f ulcre-znfphyvar, be orpnhfr vg qbrfa’g ebyyvpx ng nyy, be sbe nal bgure ahzore bs ernfbaf. Orfg V pna qb vf enzoyr nobhg jul V yvxr vg jvgubhg fnlvat “ohg guvf vf nyy arprffnel sbe ‘tbq rzcrebe bs qhar’, juvpu V infgyl birerfgvzngr nf na vafnaryl vzcbegnag obbx!”. V guvax vg’f BX vs lbh qba’g ybir vg; gurer’f bgure fghss bhg gurer (ernq gur jneevbe’f ncceragvpr, vg’f gur bccbfvgr obbx va n ybg bs jnlf).

        • Dragor says:

          Thanks That was thorough and thoughtful. I don’t recall the characters being rich, but perhaps it’s like the Culture novels where the society was rich where characters aren’t. More specifically with the slipping the good parts, for me the climax was anticlimactic.

          V sryg yvxr n ybg bs gur fgbel jnf uvz ohvyqvat gur fgeratgu sbe eroryyvba, naq gura gur eroryyvba vgfrys jnf na bssfperra pnxrjnyx.

          It reminds me of building playmobile armies with friends when I was a kid, and then whenever we got around to the fight it was disappointing because we couldn’t get a story together. Maybe a Chekhov’s gun kind of thing? What is the point of amassing powers if we don’t see the powers deployed in a challenging setting?

          • benjdenny says:

            I might be over-justifying this out of love for the series, so treat me as an unreliable source, but:

            I don’t think that Herbert didn’t write the battles in great, exciting detail because he couldn’t. In my understanding of it, he seems to be going “OK, here’s a climate; it would inevitably create this kind of people. Now bring in the super-general that’s a hybrid of another climate and another kind of training, and you get this kind of army.

            So for him the interesting bit is answering the question “What would happen if you trained up an entire civilization to severe military discipline, then gave it good leadership and set it loose?”. In the original dune book, the answer is that they steamroll everyone; the only question is how to get them to “everyone” which is what the shield wall stuff was about. After that there’s no battle to talk about; it’s just the “bad guys” getting stabbed. The interesting part (to Herbert) was how you get an army that can stab that well, and how you get a leader that can lead them the best.

            So if you like him focusing on what he considered to inevitable consequences of environment, you are going to love the book; if you want helm’s deep, he doesn’t give it to you because it isn’t his focus. I think it’s totally valid to dislike it for this reason, but I think it’s similar to wanting happy romantic endings or good-guys-win-outright scenarios out of Game of Thrones; that’s not what Martin does, really.

        • Bobobob says:

          I think Dune is the single most overrated book in the entire sci-fi literary canon (and this is coming from someone who devoured it at the age of 12). The overly romantic appropriation of Arab culture, the Nicholas and Alexandra vibe of Duke Leto Atreides and Jessica, and especially Frank Herbert’s “tell, don’t show” method of writing out what his characters are thinking.

          On the other hand, I think the first hour of David Lynch’s Dune may be the most *underrated* in the sci-fi movie canon, so take my opinion with a large grain of spice.

          • Dragor says:

            @bobobob Are you a massive fan of cinematography? I noticesd recently that had strongly effected my film preferences when I was younger. I still love cinematography, but apparently without the driving passion that I used to, and when I was screening The Fall for a class a few weeks ago I saw how ~80% of the class was frustrated with the film.

          • Bobobob says:

            Dragor, I don’t know if it was the cinematography. I was impressed how Lynch presented the technology of Dune as mechanical, rather than electronic, a bold choice in the wake of Star Wars.

        • johan_larson says:

          I felt like he built this awesome world and then skipped over the interesting parts of his story.

          What did you want to see that Herbert didn’t show you?

          • Dragor says:

            The war. Insurgency. Struggle and conflict.

            Like a major plot point is gaining the capability to conduct guerilla warfare, and then we never see guerilla warfare.

          • johan_larson says:

            We see Paul go on a raid with the Fremen; that’s where he meets Gurney again. And don’t we also see a Sardukar raid on a Fremen sietch? Paul isn’t a front-line soldier.

        • Lasagna says:

          I loved Dune, but I can see how someone wouldn’t. Moreover, there are like fifteen books in the series, and they get progressively more awful. If you didn’t like it on your first read, I wouldn’t bother. It might be the kind of thing where if you didn’t read it when you were 16 you’ll never get into it.

        • JPNunez says:

          I read Dune and liked it alright, not crazy about it but it’s a cool book.

          Then dropped out of the series with Messiah, and I can tell you exactly the moment; when the facedancer murders the fremen soldier at the opening of the book.

          I finished that book because it is a short one, but that moment just killed any interest. I suspect because it does not seem to be interested in beauty, but in the characters just creating longer and longer chains of reasoning into the future which eh.

          After that I read the summaries of the rest. God Emperor seems interesting. The rest sounds like more and more non sense.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          If you don’t read “Dune”, you can’t appreciate Lampoon’s “Doon”, which may be the best SF parody I have ever encountered.

    • gdepasamonte says:

      I think it is a mistake to expect (much) famous literature to be “profound” in the sense you seem to mean. Literature is primarily an aesthetic activity, and most writers are not philosophers – Shakespeare certainly was not. Cf Orwell:

      …much rubbish has been written about Shakespeare as a philosopher, as a psychologist, as a ‘great moral teacher’, and what-not. Shakespeare was not a systematic thinker, his most serious thoughts are uttered irrelevantly or indirectly…It is perfectly possible that he looked on at least half of his plays as mere pot-boilers and hardly bothered about purpose or probability so long as he could patch up something, usually from stolen material, which would more or less hang together on the stage. [However, that is not the whole story…about a dozen of his plays, written for the most part later than 1600, do unquestionably have a meaning and even a moral…]

      Many authors are remembered as moralists or thinkers of some kind, but even this is sort of misleading because no-one would remember them for these qualities if they couldn’t write or dramatise in the fully literary sense in the first place. For criticism, I highly recommend Orwell’s other critical writings – the short essays on Kipling and Dickens, and “Good Bad Books”, are the ones I remember as especially insightful, though probably there are many others. The last of these addresses something like the artistic vs emotive/compelling qualities of books, maybe clarifies the matter at hand – it is online here.

      • Atlas says:

        Yeah, I agree and think that this a really insightful point. (To some extent it’s also what I argued in my critique of fiction that I linked in the OP.)

        Thanks for sharing the Orwell essay, it seems very interesting.

        • gdepasamonte says:

          Yes, I think you had the main point already. I remember finding it reassuring that Orwell’s views were closer to my own (and, I think, to the natural product of unprejudiced reading and “ordinary common sense”) than many of the extravagant claims made for literature by certain sorts of critics and readers – perhaps you feel the same.

          Orwell has also a strong purely aesthetic sense, which makes him sympathetic to many writers whose ideas he finds not just commonplace but stupid or even disgusting (Yeats, for example). I’m not sure a sharp nose for literary quality is something you in particular are interested in acquiring – probably there are sensible and principled reasons for actively avoiding one – but that sort of thing is why certain people enjoy Prospero’s speeches and roll their eyes at X-men, even if the underlying ideas are not very different. (I think you can argue further that relying on cliched metaphors actually restricts your ability to think and communicate precisely, but maybe that’s for another day.)

    • Elephant says:

      I may be misreading your post, but it seems to me the issue is that *everything* is more intense when one is a teen / young adult. Movies, music, books, etc. Being middle aged, I sometimes wish I had the intensity of emotion I felt then! I don’t think it’s the works of art themselves, having gone back and re-experienced things I experienced then, and tried for the first time things that are similar to thing I experienced long ago, without the same intensity that 15-year-old-me felt. (Isn’t this a well-known thing?)

      • Atlas says:

        There might be a lot of truth to this, but I think I’ve felt a secular decline in the entertainment value of fiction independent of the general intensity of things. For instance, I still find music very exciting; indeed, probably more so than I did as a kid, now that I’ve figured out my tastes in that regard a bit better.

      • I didn’t read Enders Game until I was an adult but I still thought it was pretty compelling.

      • Bobobob says:

        That would certainly explain how impressed I once was with Kansas’ “Carry on My Wayward Son.”

    • LesHapablap says:

      When I was a kid I read dozens of Hardy Boys novels and couldn’t put them down until I gradually realized they were totally repetitive. At which point I got bored and moved on.

      Ender’s Game to Neal Stephenson: some fiction is like crack cocaine, and some is like a meal at a fine steak house.

      If you want more crack cocaine type fiction there’s always Lee Childs or the Orphan-X series, which are awesome thrillers, the kind you end up staying up way too late to read just one more chapter! Or Delta-V by Daniel Suarez, which is a great mashup of hard sci-fi and guilty pleasure style thriller.

      In non-fiction: Chickenhawk by Robert Mason is a war-memoir that gets a bit mind bendy, especially good if you like aviation. Or Fate is the Hunter by Ernest Gann. Both those authors have literary chops, unlike most memoir writers.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        When I was a kid I read dozens of Hardy Boys novels and couldn’t put them down until I gradually realized they were totally repetitive. At which point I got bored and moved on.

        This is, I think why I’ve basically stopped reading. I used to read voraciously. Up until I was about 35. And then…I feel like I’ve read it all, and all I’m reading is variations on a theme. Every book is some amalgamation of three different books I’ve already read. “Oh, it’s Stranger in a Strange Land but with robots and wizards.” I already basically know everything that’s going to happen, what the themes are, and I can just read the wiki article and save myself an awful lot of time.

        I’d rather play video games, which are only ever getting more interesting.

        • JPNunez says:

          I suspect some people switch to non-fiction for this reason. Imagined worlds can only be so deep.

          • Matt M says:

            What?

            Real life can only be so deep! Imagined worlds are limited only by the imagination of the imaginer!

          • Nick says:

            I think JPNunez’s point is that if you’re really interested in Rohan, there’s only so much you can read, while if you’re really interested in France, there’s no end to information you can dig up.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also, reality is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense.

          • LesHapablap says:

            When I first watched Mindhunters I was struck by how obvious it was that it was based on someone’s memoirs instead of fiction. Incidents happen, even small incidents, and they don’t necessarily fall neatly into an A B or C arc. It is a big part of why that show was so great in my opinion. It has a completely different feel to it and is much more unpredictable.

            Suspension of disbelief is easier to maintain in non-fiction storytelling, because there really can’t be any plot holes. If a character does something unrealistic or dumb, as long as you trust the author isn’t lying to you, you know it really did happen that way so quit complaining!

          • Reality definitely has plenty that “ruins” the narrative. History is full of these young, intelligent, charismatic rulers who look like they’ll change the world until they’re kicked off their horse and trampled.

          • Matt M says:

            History is full of these young, intelligent, charismatic rulers who look they’ll change the world until they’re kicked off their horse and trampled.

            I still maintain that a huge part of the success of Game of Thrones is using unexpected deaths in a way that openly defies all of our expectations of how fiction and storytelling works.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            A large number of apparently promising and capable would-be kings or powers-behind-the-throne manage to get killed off in ways that subvert the usual kind of fantasy story.

          • albatross11 says:

            OTOH, reality is enormously richer than fiction, and the author can easily make unworkable things work in fiction, whereas that doesn’t happen in reality. (Unsustainable things happen all the time, but if you’re reading history, then you get to see the point where they stopped working, often triggering some kind of collapse or disaster with widespread suffering.).

          • Matt M says:

            A large number of apparently promising and capable would-be kings or powers-behind-the-throne manage to get killed off in ways that subvert the usual kind of fantasy story.

            Even beyond the shock value, I feel like it almost forces your hand into becoming more invested in all of the characters.

            Normally, fiction is self-reinforcing in the sense that the people the author spends the most time on are assumed to be the most important. And because the audience knows this, they themselves pay increased attention to and become more invested in those characters, often at the expense of characters who have less time spent on them.

            The deaths of the people who seemed like they would be really important also sends a message of “the people who don’t seem really important might end up being more important than you think

          • Lasagna says:

            +1 to this thread – the life is stranger than fiction part, I mean. My favorite example is Emperor Carus.

            The Roman Empire should have collapsed permanently in the Third Century. I mean, it was over. Divided into component parts, barbarians running amok, central authority a joke. “Emperor” increasingly meant “next General in line”, and even when they were good generals they couldn’t make a dent in putting anything back together. At best they slowed the pace of collapse.

            Along come Carus. “Who” you ask? Exactly. Carus only ruled for a couple of years, less maybe, and was one more military emperor in a string of them.

            The difference was that in those two years he did pretty damn well. He blew through a bunch of German tribes, pacifying the area, and reconquered a big chunk of the Eastern Empire. He was all set to expand the Empire by conquering new lands in the East – the first emperor to do that since Trajan (I think) almost 200 years before. He was looking GOOD.

            Then he was struck by lightning and died. His sons were not him, and gave it all back. Ah well.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Lasagna, Many of the barracks emperors did an adequate job of fighting off Rome’s enemies, even if they had great difficulty staying alive for very long; Carus was not as exceptional among them as you make out.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Many stories can’t be told unless the author is a 10,000 hour-expert who was actually there and experienced it. They just require too much domain knowledge to actually occur to someone’s imagination.

            A sort of analogy is the design of some kind of product or plan, in the workplace, say. You can sit around and brainstorm how something will work, but once you make a prototype and actually do things for real, things never go as you imagined. You learn things you could not have anticipated just from using your imagination.

          • Murphy says:

            Most good fiction is laced with the stranger elements of reality.

            I once had the pleasure of listening to Sir Terry Pratchett over a pint at a convention a few years before his death. He was talking about things he’d come across in his research that never made it into the books.

            One of them was Counterfeit Soot.

            In victorian england soot was valuable, not very valuable but valuable enough: it could be sold to tanners, dyers, used in fertilizer and various other things.

            A chimney sweep down on his luck might sweep your chimney for free in exchange for the soot.

            And this being victorian england people started counterfeiting soot.

            He never did find the recipe for what the counterfeited it with but it was a thing.

            And it never made it into his books due to being too absurd because people will accept people made of rock and skeletons riding ravens but mundane things will break their suspension of disbelief.

            About his book Dodger, he stated that almost none of it was fiction apart from a few things adopted from other fictions like Sweeney Todd and some of the individual characters.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            And it never made it into his books due to being too absurd because people will accept people made of rock and skeletons riding ravens but mundane things will break their suspension of disbelief.

            This reminds me of the conversation I had with my friends after we left the theater for Avengers: Endgame (spoilers, but it’s a 3 month old movie now so nyeh). It’s always fun looking for plot holes and the like so I said, “when they bring everybody back, and Hawkeye’s wife calls him on her cell phone…how did she still have service? Wouldn’t her contract have run out 4-5 years before?” My friend suggested maybe with half their staff dusted, AT&T didn’t get around to shutting off everyone’s service. “Nope, nope nope nope. Flying people, talking racoons, giant purple space monsters who want to kill half the universe, fine. But AT&T not canceling your service the instant you stop paying? Suspension of disbelief only goes so far.”

          • JPNunez says:

            I chalk the wife’s phone still having service on Hawkeye being too busy to go cancel his family plan (imagine everyone in the world after Thanos starting to reduce family plans!) and too rich to notice the minuscule dent it’s making on his wallet.

        • Murphy says:

          My SO loves murder mysteries, I get a bit sick of them because they rely so heavily on “clues” and the culprit admitting everything in the evil voice when confronted.

          When really if they just kept their mouths shut or went “nope, didn’t do it!” the protagonists would have nothing except a fragile structure of vague guesses.

          But that would leave the story in a morally ambiguous state where the audience wouldn’t be sure if the protagonist just spent the show fucking over some innocent guy based on a hunch.

          “Samuel Vimes dreamed about Clues. He had a jaundiced view of Clues. He instinctively distrusted them. They got in the way. And he distrusted the kind of person who’d take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, “Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fallen on hard times,” and then unroll a lot of supercilious commentary about calluses and stance and the state of a man’s boots, when exactly the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he’d been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen* and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!”

    • I wonder how much of this is you coming in to these things with certain expectations. When you are told that this work is The Greatest And Most Profound Thing Ever, it can actually hurt your experience. As a kid, you don’t really have these sort of expectations.

    • tayfie says:

      This is my experience too and I will echo other commenters in saying I chalk most of it to having more examples to compare against and knowing most of the common troupes and patterns. For example, I reread Eragon by Christopher Paolini three years ago, which was absolutely to book that sparked my interest in epic fantasy in elementary school. It was boring and much less immersive because I now recognized every story element from half a dozen other places.

      I also think reading fiction as a whole is less rewarding to me than as a child for two reasons. The first is unfortunately my degraded attention span with the introduction of the internet. The second is the greater opportunity cost of reading a book. As a child, I adored spending all day reading one book. As an adult, I have other concerns. I have a life and I want my reading to apply.

      • albatross11 says:

        This is an interesting point: Nothing is derivative when you’re reading full-length books for the first time. Later on, you might say “yeah, this is basically lifted from Tolkien,” but before you’ve read any Tolkien, you won’t think that.

        • Evan Þ says:

          What’s more, I’ve heard of people who read Tolkien for the first time after they’re already familiar with the fantasy genre saying that he feels so derivative – because they’ve seen everything before in all his imitators!

          That’s one reason I recommend everyone read Lord of the Rings as a teenager before they go on to more modern fantasy works.

    • Robert Jones says:

      Speaking for myself, as I’ve got older I’ve become more and more aware that the ability of the characters to overcome obstacles does not depend on the abilities or virtues of the characters or on the logic of the fictional world but only on the requirements of the plot. I’m also more inclined to think that fiction/drama doesn’t so much “hold up a mirror to nature” as show how the writer imagines nature to be, which generally turns out to look a lot like the prevalent social narrative.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I’m also more inclined to think that fiction/drama doesn’t so much “hold up a mirror to nature” as show how the writer imagines nature to be, which generally turns out to look a lot like the prevalent social narrative.

        So don’t read new books!
        The best old books had authors who didn’t just regurgitate the prevalent social narrative, but were geniuses shaped by societies unlike our own. As products of their upbringings, they speak to us today with a combination of Values Dissonance and original thoughts from their own creative reason.

    • Akrasian says:

      I’ve been feeling something similar, but I still am a teenager which makes it kind of sad. For me I think it was caused by two factors that didn’t mesh well at all:

      1. The internet fried my brain, and I’m now worse at reading long-form things across the board.

      2. I got more pretentious, and tried to go too high brow too soon, ended up trying books I didn’t even really have the capacity to appreciate, rather than just reading what I know I’ll enjoy. Spent far too much time on 4chan’s /lit/ board.

      So I was trying to read more difficult material with a decreased attention span, and I became sick of reading in general. I’m still hopeful I’ll be able to reverse this.

      That said, have you ever read any David Foster Wallace? His stuff is consistently entertaining and delivers profound messages that are probably even more relevant now than when he was alive. The experimental aspect of it also makes it especially unpredictable. Both the plot twists and the messages really creep up on you. I jumped straight into Infinite Jest and loved it, but if you (understandably) want to start with something shorter a great one is Good Old Neon.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Dont read Shakespeare. Theater or movie – they were not written to be consumed off the page, and also, half the strength of Shakespeare is the incredible tradition around the plays – that is, anyone who puts on a production of, or acts in a Shakespeare play has seen it produced several times before and has a strong idea of what works and what does not, so you rarely get bad productions.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Hard disagree. Most productions of Shakespeare are terrible. Good ones certainly exist, but they’re the exception, not the rule. The norm is false, singy tripe.