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Open Thread 132.5

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1,214 Responses to Open Thread 132.5

  1. Deiseach says:

    Boris Johnson in part of his speech upon formally becoming Prime Minister:

    And next I say to our friends in Ireland, and in Brussels and around the EU: I am convinced that we can do a deal without checks at the Irish border, because we refuse under any circumstances to have such checks, and yet without that anti-democratic backstop and it is of course vital at the same time that we prepare for the remote possibility that Brussels refuses any further to negotiate and we are forced to come out with no deal not because we want that outcome, of course not, but because it is only common sense to prepare.

    You refuse under any circumstances? No checks at all? You know what, feck you Boris, enjoy your chlorine-drenched chicken and your hormone-treated beef and all the smuggled diesel and every last dodgy container load of crappy shoddy gear that will blow up in the faces of your citizens. You asked for it, I hope you get it full measure, pressed down and flowing over >:-(

    (If we could trust the goddamned British government not to stab us in the back for a period longer than a millisecond, we might not need the backstop. But of course we can’t, so we do).

    • broblawsky says:

      Without checks at the Irish border, the UK has defacto open borders with the EU regardless of what kind of Brexit they implement. I’d make some kind of joke about him being on drugs, but there’s no intoxicant like power.

      • John Schilling says:

        Without checks at the Irish border, it is still possible for the Crown to use London’s access to the World Financial Panopticon to track who paid for what, and when and where, so as to knock on doors and say “Good sir, even though we didn’t stop you when you crossed the border with Ireland, you know full well, and we know full well and you know full well that we know full well that this crate of merchandise originated in Dusseldorf and not Dublin. This is the part where you hire a barrister. Have a nice day”.

        De facto open borders requires not just no checks at the border, but a three-monkeys approach to enforcement inside that border. Otherwise, you just have semipermeable borders, and I’m pretty sure the British didn’t vote for Brexit on the basis of the small stuff that can slip through.

        • DeWitt says:

          It’s not unreasonable to suspect a lack of border enforcement to hint at de facto open borders. It’s definitely not unreasonable to note that having no border enforcement makes everything significantly more difficult. It’s absolutely not unreasonable to suspect a British politician of being up to something shady. Just because they could doesn’t mean they will, or even are likely to.

          • John Schilling says:

            Just because they could doesn’t mean they will, or even are likely to.

            Right. Just because the UK could have “de facto open borders” doesn’t mean that they will, or even are likely to.

            There are sound, obvious reasons for Boris Johnson’s UK to not have physical checkpoints on the A1 between Dublin and Belfast, and there are sound, obvious reasons for Boris Johnson’s UK to not have “de facto open borders” with the EU, and there is an obvious way to satisfy both of these conditions at the same time, so the bit where it is obvious to you that Boris Johnson is lying and secretly plans to open the UK’s borders sounds like unsupported wishful thinking.

          • DeWitt says:

            He doesn’t need to secretly plan anything. All he needs to do is to idiotically bumble into it, which is what the Brits have been doing for the past three years anyhow.

        • Lambert says:

          Huh.
          People have been talking for many months about “technological” solutions to the border problem, but this is the first actual discription of what that might begin to look like.

    • DeWitt says:

      Other than that whole terrorism thing, what’s stopping the Irish from instituting checks on their side of the border?

    • Randy M says:

      That reads pretty incoherent. I wonder how often extemporaneous speaking reads well when transcribed? Plus, the power to add punctuation is fairly significant in making sense of long paragraphs sentences like that.

      • Nick says:

        I wonder how often extemporaneous speaking reads well when transcribed?

        I’ve transcribed lots of speaking verbatim, and a lot of it is like that, and it drives me crazy. I try to do better personally. One thing that helps is to pause until you’ve figured out how to end your sentence.

        A good word for this, by the way, is anacoluthon.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Wasn’t it the Irish taoiseach who was warning that people might start blowing things up if there were checkpoints on the Irish border? Seems to me that he should welcome Boris Johnson ruling out the possibility of a hard border. Or, if for some reason your government has changed its mind, what’s to stop them setting up checkpoints on their side of the border?

      (If we could trust the goddamned British government not to stab us in the back for a period longer than a millisecond, we might not need the backstop. But of course we can’t, so we do).

      Are there any specific back-stabbing actions you’re thinking of, or is this just generalised Anglophobia speaking?

    • Matt M says:

      And next I say to our friends in Ireland

      If we could trust the goddamned British government not to stab us in the back for a period longer than a millisecond

      Well, that was a short-lived friendship!

  2. Nick says:

    Courtesy of The Cut, Is Bruce Hay the Most Gullible Man in Cambridge? Long read but worth it for those who can’t tear away from stories like these.

    • J Mann says:

      The weirdest thing is that just as this was ramping up, Hay used one of the two women as his example of how horrible Justice Scalia was.

      Here is Bruce Hay writing about Justice Scalia in 2016.

      I am close to one of the victims of his operation, a transgender woman named Mischa Haider, whom I got to know during the course of her work on a Ph.D. in physics at Harvard. She’s an extraordinary polymath — gifted violinist, writer and novelist; fluent speaker of a half-dozen languages; math genius. And physicist. Her intellect would have made our brilliant Justice want to hide his head in a bag, to borrow his charming words from last year’s marriage equality ruling. …

      She’s decided to leave academic physics after finishing the doctorate. She has become too absorbed in the struggle for equality – for being accorded the most basic human dignity – to think of anything else. She could not live with herself, she tells me, if she did not devote her talents to helping the many trans women whose lives are decimated by the bigotry and ignorance of those around them. Bigotry and ignorance inflamed by demagogues like Antonin Scalia, whose toxic rhetoric has done so much to incite and legitimate fear of gender nonconformity and elevate it to the level of constitutional principle. She is resolved to become a trans rights activist.

      So that is Antonin Scalia’s contribution to physics. To drive a woman with a luminous mind from the study of quantum theory and statistical mechanics and condensed matter, and into the urgent project of safeguarding vulnerable people from the inhumanity he dedicated his life to spreading.

      Meanwhile, the Cut article shows that by 2016, Haider was harassing Hay, alleging that Hay had forced Haider “to postpone gender-affirmation surgery, which was exacerbating her depression. At one point, Haider told Hay she was going to a euthanasia clinic in Zurich, before Hay talked her out of it.”

      By October 2016:

      Even as Hay continued to meet with Haider almost daily to talk about her writing, the texts from both women had become increasingly hostile. They told Hay that his failure to leave Zacks was tantamount to torture and attacked him for, in Shuman’s words, “exploiting and manipulating” Haider.

      (Unrelated, but amazingly, te real jaw-dropper for me was that after all this hostility, “Shuman told him she had another surprise for him, but she needed his computer password. He complied.”)

      • Randy M says:

        Even as Hay continued to meet with Haider almost daily to talk about her writing, the texts from both women had become increasingly hostile. They told Hay that his failure to leave Zacks was tantamount to torture

        This is really extreme compartmentalization if literally true.
        “You make me want to die! But, do you think I need this opening sentence in paragraph 3 or cut it?”

        But the real jaw-dropper is that after all this hostility, “Shuman told him she had another surprise for him, but she needed his computer password. He complied.”

        Nice tie in to the discussion down-thread.

      • Deiseach says:

        To drive a woman with a luminous mind from the study of quantum theory and statistical mechanics and condensed matter

        Which would be more fucking impressive if we didn’t all know Hays knew bugger-all about physics (I’d love to see if he even knows what a proton is) and was simply regurgitating what his fuck-buddy and her pal were telling him – “oh yeah, I’m totes a genius, I’m studying all these Really Hard Subjects, you probably never heard of them”.

        There’s open-minded, and then there’s letting your brain fall out the hole in your head you sawed open.

      • Nick says:

        Yeah, maybe it’s Bruce Hay’s turn to hide his head in a bag.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        @J Mann: Oh, that’s fantastic. This professor was such a perfect mark for a sexy scammer who opens with “I recently divorced a woman” that he should legally change his name to Marky Mark Marcuse.

        Zacks pushed Hay to ask for a paternity test, but Hay wouldn’t have it. Not only did he trust Shuman, he felt it would have been insulting for a heterosexual cisgender man to question a professed lesbian as to whether she’d had sex with other men.

        Oh hi Mark.

        • Deiseach says:

          he felt it would have been insulting for a heterosexual cisgender man to question a professed lesbian as to whether she’d had sex with other men

          Reason Number 999,999 as to “So, Deiseach, why are you one of those stinking awful horrible nasty bigoted social conservatives that are so terrible and wicked and so mean to nice ordinary folx who only want their civil rights?”

          Because, my dear, I’m not the person whose mind is so rotted by the woke shibboleths that he sees no contradiction in a “professed lesbian” being willing to sleep with and have a baby by “a cisgender heterosexual man”, even though he’s presumably being listening to the same message drumbeaten for the past twenty years about “born this way” and “inherent orientation can’t be changed”.

          • DeWitt says:

            Confidence schemes and other cons have been around longer than the modern civil rights movements, and I resent that you’re pretending this is a modern rather than a human issue.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree with DeWitt. This has nothing to do with SJ, except that the con-artist correctly estimated that SJ was a decent attack vector with which to exploit this particular mark.

            Had this con-artist been going after you or I, they would have picked something else.

          • Nornagest says:

            To be fair, it’s not terribly uncommon for people to ID as gay or lesbian even while their behavior looks more bisexual. There’s still a stigma around the “bi” label in LGBT circles.

            But a self-IDed lesbian opening with “you’re very attractive” to a male stranger is a bit much to swallow.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M:

            This has nothing to do with SJ, except that the con-artist correctly estimated that SJ was a decent attack vector with which to exploit this particular mark.

            Had this con-artist been going after you or I, they would have picked something else.

            Absolutely agreed that the fake Mort Shuman daughter (do we seriously not have her real name from the court cases she’s in?!)[1] would be capable of concocting a very different scam if SJ hadn’t infected rich people’s brains.

            [1]Is it perjury to give your name in court as Maria-Pia Shuman if your real name is, for example, Nigeria Emilia Scam? I imagine it has to be some crime.

          • Randy M says:

            This has about as much to do with social justice as abusive priests has to do with Christianity.

            Was the abusive impulse caused by the movement? No.
            Does the movement (including victims) give undo trust/deference to the perpetrator’s class? Yes.

          • Nick says:

            Was the abusive impulse caused by the movement? No.
            Does the movement (including victims) give undo trust/deference to the perpetrator’s class? Yes.

            “Caused” is just too vague a word for it, I think. This may be what you were getting at with your second question, but there are ways in which a specific institution, culture, etc., can exacerbate things. For instance, clericalism (which is a real thing!) can sway a person to cover things up or a parent not to take a child’s report of abuse seriously. Likewise with e.g. #BelieveWomen. On SSC we’ve documented probably a dozen social justice beliefs or practices like this.

          • Randy M says:

            I tend to agree with you, Nick, but I wanted to stay on firmer ground and couldn’t really find the best wording for “has some influence on the margins.” Celibate priests arguably make abuse more more likely; an oppression narrative arguably makes SJW aligned minorities care less about harms to dominant groups. [edit: and of course the similarities only extend so far]

            Ultimately the instances of abuse don’t, imo, “have nothing to do with” the wider group, but they don’t serve to discredit it either.

          • dick says:

            “So, Deiseach, why are you one of those stinking awful horrible nasty bigoted social conservatives that are so terrible and wicked and so mean to nice ordinary folx who only want their civil rights?”

            Again, with the putting words in your hypothetical opponents’ mouths. “But dick, isn’t it nitpicky of you to complain about a humorous rhetorical device?” Perhaps. But exaggerating the position you oppose in order to make it easier to argue against is a pretty bad habit to engage in regularly on any forum, let alone this one.

          • Nick says:

            @Randy M

            Ultimately the instances of abuse don’t have nothing to do with the wider group, but they don’t serve to discredit it either.

            Agreed.

          • Matt M says:

            but there are ways in which a specific institution, culture, etc., can exacerbate things.

            I still think this is an incorrect model.

            Everyone has different buttons that can be pushed by scammers. And what separates the really good scammers from the garden variety scammers is the ability to quickly read a person and determine what the right button to push is.

            So if your read of this situation is “He fell for it because of SJ, and that wouldn’t work on me because I’m not sympathetic to SJ, therefore I couldn’t be scammed by this person” then you’re probably overestimating your own ability to detect and resist scams, or underestimating the ability of the scammer. Because a really good scammer would notice that you’re not sympathetic to SJ, and find some other way to exploit your trust and to keep you quiet about the whole situation.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Matt M:

            So if your read of this situation is “He fell for it because of SJ, and that wouldn’t work on me because I’m not sympathetic to SJ, therefore I couldn’t be scammed by this person” then you’re probably overestimating your own ability to detect and resist scams, or underestimating the ability of the scammer.

            Oh yes, absolutely. That said, if a con artist can trust with high probability that Americans as rich as this guy are SJ believers, she only has to learn one script to scam almost any rich mark, making it easier at the margin.

          • Randy M says:

            I think it’s clear that, to the extent Hay’s story is true, these women are sociopaths* and would probably find other levers to pull to manipulate him if they needed. But Hay is a Harvard professor who believes “it would have been insulting for a heterosexual cisgender man to question a professed lesbian.” That was a weakness that was exploited, and it didn’t come from nowhere.

            Now, maybe him holding that view has other benefits for society or himself (I’d argue not, but perhaps). Nonetheless, this specific aspect of his worldview made him vulnerable.

            *At the end of the article, there is a quote from a text that Hay received from an anonymous number that says “Oh and as to your quest for motives? Don’t bother. I just really hate the patriarchy, that’s it.”
            I don’t think we can give this too much credence, but take it for what it’s worth. Even if true if could be an example of them just trying to hit him where it hurts; or it could explain their actions.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Celibate priests arguably make abuse more more likely;

            The frequency with which this piece of crypto-Freudian folk wisdom pops up even on a site like SSC is a source of great sorrow to me. In reality:

            No empirical data exists that suggests that Catholic clerics sexually abuse minors at a level higher than clerics from other religious traditions or from other groups of men who have ready access and power over children (e.g., school teachers, coaches).

            The best available data reports that 4 percent of Catholic priests sexually violated a minor child during the last half of the 20th century with the peak level of abuse being in the 1970s and dropping off dramatically by the early 1980s. And in the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report only two cases were reported in the past dozen years that were already known and dealt with by authorities (thus the grand jury report is about historical issues and not about current problems of active clerical abuse now). Putting clergy abuse in context, research from the US Department of Education found that about 5-7 percent of public school teachers engaged in similar sexually abusive behavior with their students during a similar time frame. While no comprehensive studies have been conducted with most other religious traditions, a small scale study that I was involved with found that 4 percent of Anglican priests had violated minors in western Canada and many reports have mentioned that clerical abuse of minors is common with other religious leaders and clerics as well.

          • acymetric says:

            But Hay is a Harvard professor who believes “it would have been insulting for a heterosexual cisgender man to question a professed lesbian.” That was a weakness that was exploited, and it didn’t come from nowhere.

            It didn’t come from nowhere, but…I don’t think that is a conclusion a reasonable person (even immersed in SJ culture) would reach. I think anyone but the most hardcore SJ advocates would react to hearing that with “Uh…what?”

          • DeWitt says:

            FWIW, I think he’s lying about that. I find it much more likely that the aforementioned vanity got in the way of demanding a paternity test be had: to demand of her she take one would mean admitting to himself that this wasn’t something beautiful, it could well be a sham and he’d been played for the fool he was.

            But that’s only my own guess and conjecture if there ever was any. We’ll never really know.

          • John Schilling says:

            Everyone has different buttons that can be pushed by scammers. And what separates the really good scammers from the garden variety scammers is the ability to quickly read a person and determine what the right button to push is.

            I’m sympathetic to that argument in the general case, but in this specific case that would almost require that “Mischa” Haider have been a guy until his partner in crime came home with “OK, our latest mark is really into SJ, so if you can do a quick and dirty transition we can really sink a hook into his sympathies…”

            It seems more likely that this particular group of scammers knew their circumstances gave them an edge scamming the SJ-adjacent and picked their targets accordingly. Which is not to say that a different group of scammers wouldn’t have had an equally good edge against a hypothetical evangelical Christian conservative Bruce Hays.

          • acymetric says:

            I could buy that explanation. I’m reasonably SJ aligned, and that explanation sound so stupid to me that it is hard for me to believe anyone could really believe it.

          • Matt M says:

            Nonetheless, this specific aspect of his worldview made him vulnerable.

            If Achillies hadn’t been dipped by the heel, would he be more or less vulnerable?

            A hasty answer might be something like: “If he wasn’t dipped by the heel, he wouldn’t have his well known weak-spot, and he would be invincible!”

            But that’s not correct, because if he wasn’t dipped by the heel, he’d have been dipped by somewhere else. And without knowing where the “somewhere else” is, we can’t even speculate as to whether his alterative “weak spot” would be more, or less, accessible to his enemies, than the heel.

          • Nick says:

            I’m sure really good scammers can find the right button for just about anyone. Still, there are ways you can make yourself more vulnerable, as Randy says. Or to flip it around: you yourself distinguished between good and not so good scammers, Matt, so consider that there are beliefs or practices that make you so vulnerable even the worse scammers can get you.

          • Matt M says:

            John Schilling,

            Fair enough. The best scammers do also play to their own inherent strengths. I think it’s fair to say that the mark’s SJ-leanings made him particularly vulnerable to this specific scam by these specific people.

            But D’s logic of “This is why I’m not SJ – because it makes it easier for people to scam you” still does not hold.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I’m sympathetic to that argument in the general case, but in this specific case that would almost require that “Mischa” Haider have been a guy until his partner in crime came home with “OK, our latest mark is really into SJ, so if you can do a quick and dirty transition we can really sink a hook into his sympathies…”

            Yeah, if Haider has serious gender dysphoria, “Shumer” would not be able to use them as a partner in crime against a different class of people.

          • Randy M says:

            FWIW, I think he’s lying about that.

            There is a whole lot of “If what he says is true” to all this discussion, for sure.
            This is the kind of story I don’t update any beliefs on, because it is pretty incredible all around. Some of the particulars could be verified, but on the matters of motives or reasoning it’s all conjecture based on self-serving narratives trying to put the best face on a humiliating string of events.

            If Achillies hadn’t been dipped by the heel, would he be more or less vulnerable?

            This analogy holds if a SJ “woke” worldview otherwise protects a middle aged straight white male academic. Does it?

          • Protagoras says:

            The Hellenistic or Roman (whenever it was added) addition of the invulnerability to the Achilles story strikes me as very much a change for the worse. Even if it is helpful for analogies like this, I think it should be left out of any reference to Achilles.

          • LadyJane says:

            @Deiseach:

            Psychologically speaking, I’d imagine this had a lot more to do with his vulnerability to getting scammed than his social justice views:

            Hay has been legally divorced since 1999, but he lives with his ex-wife, Jennifer Zacks, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston, and their two young children. […] The professor wasn’t accustomed to picking up women in random places, let alone getting picked up by them; he was intrigued. Since moving back in with his ex-wife in 2004, he says, their relationship had been mostly platonic, and the two had an understanding that if either of them wanted to see other people, they’d have to move out. […] his former students describe him as a dynamic Socratic professor who commands a classroom but can nevertheless be painfully awkward in social situations. […] “Jennifer and I are the opposite — she’s very skeptical. And I’m very gullible,” he says. When we met for pizza at his Sunday-night hangout one evening, he wondered aloud whether he might be “on the spectrum.”

            Seems like a classic case of “awkward gullible nerd who has no luck with women (and probably hasn’t gotten laid in years) getting scammed by an attractive young girl who’s conspicuously interested in him.” If anything, social justice gave him an excuse that let him save face and retain slightly more dignity than if he just admitted “yeah, I was lonely and she was cute, I’d have believed anything she said.”

          • Scott Alexander says:

            “This has about as much to do with social justice as abusive priests has to do with Christianity.”

            A better analogy might be one of those cults where the leader abuses the followers “because you’re impure” or “because I have to beat the devil out of you”.

            IE if you have a religion that makes it too easy to think of yourself as a sinner, or which is disconnected enough from reality that you suspend your moral common sense, that gives manipulators extra power over you.

          • At a considerable tangent, I suggest that the most famous confidence man in history is probably Casanova. He was a lot of other things as well, but much of the money that let him, for sizable chunks of his life, live the life of a rich aristocrat, was swindled out of a wealthy elderly French noblewoman in an extended and elaborate con.

            But you could argue that the most effective confidence men in history were the brothers Sobieski-Stuart, considering that, two centuries later, lots of people still believe in their invented Celtic lore, clan tartans and all.

      • Nick says:

        By the way, you folks missed by far the funniest line in Hay’s Scalia article:

        I worked for him early in his tenure on the Supreme Court. He had visited my law school when I was a student, and I was smitten by his warmth and humor and sheer intellectual vibrancy. When I applied for a clerkship at the Court, my hero Justice Brennan quickly filled all his positions, so Scalia became my first choice. He offered me a job and I thought I’d won the lottery. I knew we differed politically, but he prized reason and I would help him be reasonable. A more naive young fool never drew breath.

      • Reading both the Scalia piece and the article, my initial feeling is that Hay deserved what he got. He is making a confident public attack on Scalia largely based on a factual claim (that his friend is a superb physicist) that he does not seem to have made the slightest attempt to verify. That level of intellectual irresponsibility, especially in a top level professional academic, deserves to be punished.

        The fates got it right.

        His ex-wife, on the other hand, does not seem to have deserved any of what happened to her.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          It sounds like you’re saying this person deserves abuse because of their political opinions.

          I’ve probably made mistakes much worse than attacking Scalia for harming a great physicist without checking how great the physicist was first, but I don’t think that means I deserve the kind of torment this guy went through.

          • hls2003 says:

            I mean, Hays clearly thought that Scalia deserved abuse because of Scalia’s political opinions, or more precisely his jurisprudential philosophy. The juxtaposition of the two pieces does lend itself to a bit of schadenfreude.

            For me though, I think the irony is that he attacked Scalia based upon the fact that he had clerked for Scalia, which supposedly would give him the opportunity to closely observe Scalia’s character. Implicit in his criticism, then, is the idea that he is a keen judge of character, and that we can rely upon his perspicacity based on his proximity to the person. This later episode seems to disastrously undermine that implication, and the specific person-to-person comparison he chose to make doubly so.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yeah, “deserve” is probably the wrong word and there’s certainly a lack of proportionality. But the combination of gullibility and one-sidedness in the Scalia piece, and the specific manifestation of “I’ll believe anything Mischa Haider tells me, and damn as a blackhearted villain anyone who is on the wrong side of that narrative”, is in hindsight a sort of facepalm moment in both this-was-inevitable and my-sympathy-diminishes sense.

            Given the magnitude of the wrong done to him, I’ve still got a bit of sympathy to spare. And more still for his ex-wife.

          • Not because of his political opinions, because of his intellectual irresponsibility. Equally true for someone who defended Scalia or ferociously attacked some other Justice on the basis of factual claims that were inherently not very plausible—mathematical geniuses are scarce, even among Harvard graduate students in physics—without any effort (so far as I can tell from the story) to verify those claims.

            Do you very genuinely believe people deserve to go through this sort of emotional abuse, physical extortion, and home eviction, all for talking smack about someone who didn’t deserve it once?

            No. I put it as my initial feeling, not my considered conclusion. What happened to him was out of proportion to his desert, but he did deserve to have something bad happen to him.

          • MorningGaul says:

            I read it more as “he deserves abuse for (publicly) attacking someone based on hearsay”, which isnt the same as a political opinion.

            Not that I really agree with DavidFriedman, first because the “punishment” seems unrelated to the fault, second because I take The Cut story with skepticism. It’s too convienient for my personnal beliefs while being too surreal in it’s description of an absurd level of lack of awareness. I wouldnt be surprised if the complete story was more nuanced than presented.

          • J Mann says:

            IMHO, there’s an irony in Hay holding Scalia responsible for Haider’s injuries, then being accused of injuring Haider himself.

            It suggests that the Golden Rule might have counseled Hay to exercise a little more scrutiny on Scalia’s behalf.

            I don’t think that Hays “deserved” what happened to him, but David said that “the fates got it right” – IMHO, the fates sometimes deal in irony, not justice.

        • DeWitt says:

          Do you very genuinely believe people deserve to go through this sort of emotional abuse, physical extortion, and home eviction, all for talking smack about someone who didn’t deserve it once?

        • Nick says:

          He sure deserved punishment for that piece, but not what he got. It’s disproportionate.

    • Ben Wōden says:

      It isn’t relevant to the content, but by jove that’s a good picture – the one with him standing outside a house – it’s gorgeous.

      • Nick says:

        Agreed. But it actually is relevant to the story, since the “housenap” is one of its highlights!

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Respectfully disagree. I’m looking right at Hay’s crotch and up his nose. His body is square to the camera and awkwardly posed. His skin tone is yellow on the right side of his body and red on the left. The horizon is about 10 degrees off, which is enough to be distracting but not enough to be purposeful. The harsh shadows on the house and heavy digital work aren’t helping, either. Despite that the lighting still looks flat. If this were presented to me at a print competition in a Commercial or Photojournalism category I would struggle to not score it in an “unacceptable” bracket. Source: am PPA Master Photographer and Photographic Craftsman and have judged numerous print competitions.

        • Randy M says:

          It’s a great picture for a Halloween piece, but otherwise their interior decorator should be flogged. Solid red room? How do you not go a little crazy living there?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t think the coloration is natural. It’s either digital or the photographer put colored strobes in the rooms. I’ve done that same kind of trick for commercial or marketing shoots. Think “of course all us biomedical sciency types work in dark labs bathed in blue light!”

          • Nick says:

            I thought the lighting effect was neat. But granted, I am not a master photographer, etc. 🙂

        • John Schilling says:

          Respectfully disagree. I’m looking right at Hay’s crotch

          But shouldn’t the illustration highlight the most important aspect of the article? I mean, it’s right there in the headline, we’re supposed to be focused on Hays’ thought processes.

        • Ben Wōden says:

          Well fair enough! I really liked it, but I know pretty much nothing about photography, so perhaps I should not venture into the territory of “good picture”.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Oh absolutely, like it if you like it.

            I probably should have started with something complimentary about how the red and yellow warning coloration in the windows really giving you the sense that something wrong and no good happened with this house and what a great job the photographer did communicating that or something.

            You know the judge is going to give you a pretty awful score when he starts by praising the subject. “Gosh, what a beautiful little girl. Just adorable. Look at those curls. Boy I bet her mom bought a great big canvas of this shot, huh? Okay but the lighting is really flat and you see how the edge cuts off right at the knee joint and…”

    • Deiseach says:

      That story had me banging my head off the desk. It’s very plainly one-sided (there’s a heck of a lot we could be hearing from the ex-wife, not to say the two alleged con artists) but boy oh boy oh boy.

      If it’s at all remotely true, the guy should not have been let outside without adult supervision. You need to be smart to be this stupid. I realise this is rather harsh, and it doesn’t take into account that the scammers invested months in grooming him to be pliant and gullible, but honest: just hand over your laptop and passwords? because it’s okay, you’ve already given her access and passwords to your other accounts? That they took the house is no surprise after that.

      Part of it is (I’m sorry, gentlemen) male vanity. Not just him but some of the other guys – the Does and Roes – scammed. Reasonably attractive woman walks up to you on the street, gasps how she is smitten with your attractiveness, invites you back to her hotel room and jumps your bones the minute you walk in the door? And they go along with this, and having unprotected sex, because a little voice is smirking in the back of their head ‘heck yeah, I’m this hot and studly that a chick can’t resist me!’

      Gentlemen, for those of you who may not realise it: a woman will not walk up to you and give you her email address out of the blue, unless (a) she’s crazy, and you don’t stick your dick in crazy and/or (b) it’s a scam, and ditto there. If, moreover, she tells you “I’m a lesbian, but there’s just something special about you so fuck me now”, don’t even bother looking for the door, jump right out the window and get away from there fast because I regret to inform you, you are not so special and studly you can turn gay women straight.

      A large part of it is also being from a class living in a high-trust environment; of course he believes that she’s the daughter of a famous singer with nothing but her bare word that this is so. Of course he believes he got her pregnant after one time and he didn’t even orgasm. Of course he believes her friend is a genius and just needs his help and influence and contacts to get her access to have her work published (the irony of one of these scammers, the alleged but doubtful – ‘help her with her transition by supporting her and paying for stuff’ seems to have been one of the hooks they were using on their pigeons for years, but somehow ‘she’ never did transition – trans woman was writing articles for The Guardian on Bad Conservative Judges like Gorsuch is so rich and thick and creamy I am eating it with a dessert fork). Because he comes from a background where people don’t lie about stuff like that, everyone probably is well-off enough (not stinking rich, but comfortable and connected and mildly famous or adjacent to mildly famous) that he swallowed it all. Why believe the trans woman was a genius physicist when the only evidence he had was she dropped out of her physics course?

      I don’t think he is as dumb and gullible as he comes across, but I also think there is an awful lot more that is not being told and digging further in to the story would make him less sympathetic (his futzing around with the ex-wife and kids was frustrating; no, if your batshit insane former squeeze turns up to yell abuse in the middle of the night with her equally crazy friend, you don’t take her side over your kid’s side, you tell her to shut the fuck up and stop shouting at your kid. You don’t tell the kid “well she’s having a lot of problems at the moment, do as she says”).

      There’s also nothing to say she really is who she claims to be, which I would have liked to know. Is she really this woman or not?

      EDIT: Also, it seems to me it’s pretty clear who the father of all these kids really is – none of the pigeons, but that live-in boyfriend Klein. No wonder Shulman didn’t want any paternity testing done!

      • Nick says:

        And they go along with this, and having unprotected sex, because a little voice is smirking in the back of their head ‘heck yeah, I’m this hot and studly that a chick can’t resist me!’

        With Roe and Poe it was protected sex, actually! At least per them or their lawyers or whatever. And they had the sense to demand paternity tests. From the timeline it sounds like they were marks 1 and 3, while Hay was 2.

        There’s also nothing to say she really is who she claims to be, which I would have liked to know. Is she really this woman or not?

        There’s no indication in the article, but the journalist has confirmed elsewhere that yeah, she’s totally Mort Shuman’s daughter.

        • Deiseach says:

          With Roe and Poe it was protected sex, actually! At least per them or their lawyers or whatever.

          Yes, but even with Poe, there’s this tid-bit:

          Oddly, one key fact eluded the attention of everyone in the court: Shuman’s first child’s birthday is December 10, 2011 — two years after their encounter.

          So either the lawyers were just as stupid as their clients and Poe’s lawyer never noticed “Hey guy, the baby wasn’t born until two years after you two fucked the one and only time you say it happened”, or else Poe is not telling the whole truth and there was more than one sexual encounter (quite possible, as Ms Shuman seems to have had no trouble forcing her attentions on the men involved). Whild Doe did ask for a paternity test, so he must have had some doubts, he later asked about co-parenting and seems to have been upset by her demands that he “relinquish his parental rights”, so again, another guy who let her persuade him that no, they did magically make a baby.

          It’s clear these con artists were able to pick the right marks and knew how to manipulate them and push their buttons, but it’s also striking how clueless and lacking in common sense or self-preservation the men seem to have been, or at least as they’re portrayed in the story. Doe’s tale of:

          According to Doe, the two women ordered virgin Bloody Marys …and interrogated him about where he had gone to school and what he did for a living. He assumed he was being vetted “to make sure I was safe, an on-the-level member of society. I had the feeling that they were sharing an inside joke or a secret.” In retrospect, he says it struck him more like an interview with a potential sperm donor.

          No, dingbat, what they were doing – the “inside joke” – was making sure you were worth their while. Yeah, they had identified you as a prospect, but if you were just some bright but poor kid then the game would not be worth the candle. Since he apparently went to a good school and had a good job, then he had enough monetary worth to be plucked (with the tried-and-trusted “I’m having your baby” routine).

      • J Mann says:

        @Deiseach

        1) For what it’s worth, by my standards Hay is pretty good looking and successful, albeit on the far end of middle aged. If anyone less attractive that Bill Clinton and Leonardo DeCaprio is going to get propositioned by random women, he might qualify, or at least believe that on a good day, he might. (But you’re probably right that he doesn’t qualify).

        2) It sounds like it’s a sliding scale – a cute stranger starts by introducing herself and suggesting you two meet sometime, which is unusual but not impossible, and when she announces she wants to sleep with you . . . well, in the moment you might not be thinking fully rationally.

        3) At some level, lots of scams work on the idea that other people are having easy, and this is your break – you’ve finally found an investment manager who has access to the sweet deals that guarantee a 12% return, or you were super lucky that the person behind you on the sidewalk happened to find an envelope full of money and is offering to share it with you, etc.

        As I understand it, one thing the successful scams have is a stepwise process – nothing the grifter asks for is individually outrageous, but they just keep asking.

      • sentientbeings says:

        Part of it is (I’m sorry, gentlemen) male vanity.

        Or incredibly powerful biological predisposition (not that they are mutually exclusive). Consider, thought, that the inclination to follow the predisposition might actually be higher for someone with the opposite of vanity.

    • John Schilling says:

      A rare exception to Betteridge’s law. Well, OK, there’s probably someone at Cambridge more gullible than Hays, but “This woman claims I am the father of her child; even though I have never ejaculated in the same room as her, I shall believe her and defend her against all who would question her” is pretty hard to top. Indecisive as well, and completely unwilling to assert his own interests.

      But I’m also struck by the lack of any real motive for the women’s manipulations, of both Hays and their other known victim. As a long, and long shot, con for a discount on Cambrige real estate rental, this is pretty weak. There doesn’t seem to have been much financial profit for them, and if there’s value in Hays’ mentorship as a writer and academic that could presumably have been obtained honestly and for the asking. This only makes sense as emotional manipulation for the pure joy of manipulating emotions. So, yes, that happens. Frightening that it happens, because it makes it hard to use reason to discern the trap and teaches that the only defense is to avoid emotional entanglements with strangers.

      • Deiseach says:

        But I’m also struck by the lack of any real motive for the women’s manipulations, of both Hays and their other known victim.

        Money. And power. The story mentions three other guys besides Hays that they pulled the same “oh hi, oh you’re so sexy I can’t resist you, oh I’m pregnant with your baby, no you can’t have a paternity test” thing on – John Doe, John Poe and Richard Roe (the court case pseudonyms). There’s probably a trail of other guys in Canada and elsewhere but the dots haven’t been joined up yet. And I’d be willing to bet this Andrew Klein boyfriend has a sideline in doing the same thing to women, it’s a cosy little trio of scammers and thieves.

        As a long, and long shot, con for a discount on Cambrige real estate rental, this is pretty weak.

        I think they needed to move into his house because they couldn’t keep up the rent on the house they originally had (not surprising, if they’re paying with money extorted from their victims and have no money of their own) and despite their best efforts, he wasn’t kicking out his ex-wife and kids and letting them move in, so they set this up with the visit to Quebec to get him out of the way (while they charged the ten grand moving fees to his credit card). I bet they’d have tried sub-letting the house for a lot more than $1,500 a month, or even taking out loans on it or selling it; if they could fool somebody into “we need to make a quick sale because we’re moving to Canada/France/the North Pole, the place is worth $3.2 million but we’re willing to take a knockdown price of $2 million”, they could do well even if they only managed to con a deposit of a couple of hundred grand out of a credulous fool. I honestly don’t think they’re rich daughters of pop stars, they’re living hand to mouth from one scam to another and any money is good money.

        The scammers claimed to be rich and famous (or at least the daughter of a famous guy) and to have all this property here, there and everywhere, but the pigeons end up paying for a lot of things. It’s relatively easy to set up a rental paying with paper probably backed up by a previous victim and then present yourself as ‘rich person living on own means’, see the Anna Sorokin/Delvey case just recently where she scammed the wealthy into paying for all the trips and meals and the rest of her lifestyle.

        I don’t know if this woman really is who she claims to be (if she is, she would have money of her own), but it’s how grifters and con artists work – create the appearance of being well-off, then soak the victims. Because they’re assuming you’re a class equal, they’re much less suspicious than they would be if an obviously poor(er) person was asking for ‘pay for the flights, book the hotel’ etc.

        The threats and taking out Title IX and so on were all part of keeping Hays anxious and entangled in the relationship while they tried to get his assets from him (the house thing is outrageous and on the face of it he was a total fool, simply handing over passwords and accounts without a murmur of suspicion) and he’s not the only one. So money and the power of fooling somebody who is supposed to be smart and better class, and getting them to believe any old nonsense.

        The pair of scammers come across as slightly crazy as well as greedy, and I don’t suppose it would be any surprise if they turned out to have some kind of personality disorder (or several) that makes them sociopathic and so on.

        • John Schilling says:

          The scammers claimed to be rich and famous (or at least the daughter of a famous guy) and to have all this property here, there and everywhere, but the pigeons end up paying for a lot of things.

          But did they, really?

          Hays wound up paying, effectively, a couple months’ rent on a very nice house in Cambridge, plus all the moving expenses. But even if we assume the girls planned and believed they could get away with that long-term, that’s a lot of effort for a single non-fungible asset whose use-value can’t be that much better than the house they were living in before. There’s strongly diminishing marginal returns from square footage of even the finest hardwood floors, if you can’t expect to sell or borrow against the property. It isn’t indicated that Hays was paying their rent before they stole his house, nor either of the previous victims, there don’t seem to have been any cash payments, and I don’t recall any extravagant gifts.

          I don’t buy the real estate scam as the initial plan. There’s too many ways for that to go wrong and too long to set up before it can possibly go at all right. Presumably Hays paid the lion’s share of any shared expenses, like meals the three of them had out, but that’s chump change for something of this magnitude.

          I was reading this piece from the start with a position of “OK, the obvious narrative is that this is a scam to part a fool from his money, let’s see if I can be smarter than Hays and spot when that happens”. And even in hindsight, I don’t see where that happened. Oh, he was separated from his money in the form of legal fees to try and undo some of the harm that had been done to him, but not in the form of money or liquid assets that the con artists can walk way with.

          So it looks like straight-up power tripping and emotional manipulation.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It isn’t indicated that Hays was paying their rent before they stole his house, nor either of the previous victims, there don’t seem to have been any cash payments, and I don’t recall any extravagant gifts.

            And the other victims were younger, and no indication they were particularly wealthy. One of them was a 30 year old CPA. I don’t expect a 30 year old CPA to have enough wealth to bother stealing. Go for the old guys with the home equity and the retirement accounts.

          • Don P. says:

            I’m always amazed, in these stories, how late in the game the victim gets a lawyer; but I guess if they were dumb enough to believe everything else, they’re dumb enough not to know when things have already gone way off the rails.

          • The Nybbler says:

            A scammer going after a 30 year old CPA might have some idea that they can get the mark to embezzle from their clients. This protects the scammer also as once the mark realizes they’ve been scammed, it’s in their interest to cover it up.

            Not that I’m saying that happened in this case, but it’s a plausible motive to scam a CPA.

          • Matt M says:

            I recently read a book on con-artists (I think it was called “The Confidence Game” but can’t fully remember).

            My impression was that some people are just wired for this sort of thing. They really can’t help it. It’s as if they’re addicted to scamming. You can catch them and sue them and throw them in jail, but they’re never going to stop. A lot of times they end up getting decent sums of money out of people, but that’s really more of a side-effect of their desire to keep escalating the scam more than it is the ultimate goal in and of itself.

            Note that this is a separate case from most scammers, who totally just want easy money. They are atypical of scammers in the same sense that Hannibal Lecter is atypical of murderers.

            It was really a somewhat depressing book. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. I also didn’t read this article because I can already tell where it’s going, and these stories just make me so sad. Even more sad than like, a random drive-by shooting killing an innocent person, even though the final outcome isn’t nearly as bad.

          • Deiseach says:

            if you can’t expect to sell or borrow against the property.

            If. Since they seem to have managed to get him to the point of preparing to take out a hefty mortgage, and to have engaged in fraud when drawing up the “lease” to “rent” them his house, then I don’t imagine they would have balked at a bit more fraud in trying to mortgage the house, use it as collateral for loans, or even sell it.

            If it hadn’t been for the ex-wife fighting for the house as the home for her and their kids, then they would have plucked this guy down to his bones and left him in his underwear by the side of the street:

            Throughout the summer and fall, the women suggested Hay financially “disentangle” from Zacks, proposing he sell his house or ask Zacks to buy him out so he could invest in the women’s house. …At one point, Haider and Hay went to a bank to see what kind of home-equity loan he could get.

            …After her confrontation with the women, Zacks realized she had to be more active in protecting herself and her children — especially after Hay told her about Shuman and Haider’s various proposals for selling their home and Zacks found on his desk an application for a $500,000 home-equity loan. The day after Christmas 2016, she and Hay signed an agreement to take his name off the title.

            … During one of these periods, in April 2017, they agreed that Haider, Shuman, Haider’s boyfriend Klein, and the kids would stay with Hay in July while Zacks was away in Spain with his other children. The women were planning to sell their house and buy a bigger place in Cambridge (though, at other times, they discussed moving to Europe to flee Trump’s America). Hay asked only that they not tell Zacks. He went house hunting with Haider in May and June and helped them make arrangements to have their stuff moved into storage in July.

            …But when Hay and the women returned to Cambridge two days later, Hay and Zacks’s beautiful Italianate home on a quiet corner of Mount Vernon Street had been emptied of his family’s furniture, cookware, toys, documents, books, Zacks’s mother’s and grandmother’s heirlooms — and everything replaced with the women’s furniture.

            The next day, Hay called the Cambridge police. When the officer accompanied him to his house, the women came to the door — his door — and furnished a lease renting them the $3.2 million home for two years for $1,500 a month. He says Shuman had used his laptop while they were in Quebec to send an email to her lawyer from his Harvard account, in which he purportedly said the “lease” “looks good.” Then they produced a copy of the $3,000 check they’d made out to Hay before the Quebec trip. See, we paid a security deposit, they said.

            So it wasn’t mere manipulation and making him jump when they said “when”, it was defrauding him and trying to take assets away from him. I really hope the journalist is making him sound about ten times dumber than he really is, because honestly it sounds like he should be in supervised living or something, else he’d hand over his wallet to the first person who asked him.

          • Deiseach says:

            And the other victims were younger, and no indication they were particularly wealthy.

            Yeah, but this travelling circus of Shulman and her trans female best buddy and best buddy’s live-in boyfriend and Shulman’s three (four?) kids seem to be living the scamming life, moving from A to B to C, putting up the facade of wealth and upper middle-class lifestyle, and that burns up money.

            Even if she is the real daughter of Mort Shulman, I don’t know how much money she did come in for from his estate or if she has any access to it or how much is left. Even scamming child support from the CPA could have been worth their while, especially if she got pregnant by Klein (as I strongly suspect to be the real father of the kids). For these criminals and mental cases, why pay to support your own kid when you can con some mark into paying for you?

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m always amazed, in these stories, how late in the game the victim gets a lawyer

            Well, that is how these romance scams work, generally it’s men pulling them on women, and they persuade the woman to hand over her life savings and every last penny, all the while promising that they’ll marry some day (he just needs to set up his business idea first, it’s a loan, he’ll pay her back when the money comes rolling in). Men get scammed too, of course.

            This is just the gender-flipped version. Emotional manipulation like this, where you get the mark to fall in love with you, relies heavily on love being blind and on getting away with the cash before the scales eventually fall from the mark’s eyes and they realise they’ve been tricked. The nasty manipulation and threats in this case are just part of the personality disorders in the case of the scammers.

          • Randy M says:

            I was reading this piece from the start with a position of “OK, the obvious narrative is that this is a scam to part a fool from his money, let’s see if I can be smarter than Hays and spot when that happens”. And even in hindsight, I don’t see where that happened.

            Maybe there was nothing that made it seem like an obvious scam for his money, but at the point where they are trying to get him fired by accusing him to his dean of rape–and he knows this–he is still trying to work out living arrangements with them.

            Shuman [the woman the professor slept with] wrote in February. “I’m going to write her and detail the abuse you have done, and explain how if they have any decency they will fire you.” The fighting was punctuated by occasional in-person meetings among the three, purportedly to figure out a harmonious path forward. During one of these periods, in April 2017, they agreed that Haider, Shuman, Haider’s boyfriend Klein, and the kids would stay with Hay [the professor] in July

            How do you not run away and lawyer up when this superweapon comes out?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            How do you not run away and lawyer up when this superweapon comes out?

            Because, like every person railroaded, you know you’ve done nothing wrong. And like every person who has achieved a fairly comfortable and stable life, you have never been railroaded.

          • Randy M says:

            Well, fine, I can buy naivete for not finding a lawyer then, but the malice behind the statement should have compelled him to cut ties. I guess he was still trying to be the father and sincerely believed that his blanks hit the target.
            Or do other people in relationships make career ending threats as a matter of course? I know some people are just really bad at conflict but that’s so far over the line for someone you are considering tying yourself to.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            No argument that his naivety was superhuman. But it’s of the same kind as that of anybody who sticks with an abusive relationship way longer than they should — a stew of sunk-cost fallacy, the distraction of occasional good times, and a hubristic conviction that if you could just explain things and talk it through then the problems would disappear.

            What made it newsworthy (if it was; I’m still of mixed feelings) was that Hay was a member of the elite, where one doesn’t often see that level of naivety, and the coldly sociopathic character (at least in this telling) of his tormentors.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            how late in the game the victim gets a lawyer;

            His ex-wife was an assistant US Attorney. Those are prestigious positions and the people who hold them are good lawyers, and know other good lawyers. (She got her house back pretty quickly.) I was surprised that the scammers would target someone who can call in big guns like that so easily, even if they suspect he won’t.

    • Randy M says:

      How common is the living arrangements Hays had even before all that commotion with the other woman?

      Apparently we was married, they had a child together, then they were divorced and he moved out. Then he moved back in, and they had two more children.

      There’s an old saw that the upper class makes up (progressive) norms that serve them well, but that cause trouble when adopted he more impulsive lower classes. This particular upper-class fellow would probably have been well served himself by stronger norms against divorce, considering his life would have largely been the same but may have been prevented from pursuing the casual fling.

      (edit: “May have” and may not, I know, plenty of married men do have flings, of course. The article implied he only had the fling because he considered himself unattached, but who knows how accurate this third hand picture of his psychology is. Still, even weak matrimony bonds surely do more than complete sexual freedom, right?)

      • DeWitt says:

        Still, even weak matrimony bonds surely do more than complete sexual freedom, right?

        Nobody knows if they do, because it is extremely hard to check. Worse, it leads to circle logic: clearly this person believes in complete sexual freedom, not weak matrimony bonds. If he didn’t, he’d not have a fling.

        Beware assuming anything about the past if you don’t have a way to measure it. People have had flings for eternity and are going to keep doing so for a while yet.

        • Randy M says:

          clearly this person believes in complete sexual freedom, not weak matrimony bonds. If he didn’t, he’d not have a fling.

          In this case, he said he felt that pursuing a relationship would requiring telling his ex/housemate, but a casual fling did not.

          This is a somewhat reasonable assumption, given that they got divorced. Like, otherwise what’s the point of divorce?

          So it sounds like he had some kind of honor about him and might have withstood the temptations of this other woman if he were still married and knew the expectations, rather than in this ambiguous de facto marriage but officially divorced relationship.

          But, for all I know, it was a prior fling that caused them to split the first time. Could be, though he doesn’t seem like the highest testosterone bloke on the block.

          • DeWitt says:

            That’s the charitable interpretation, as written down by a journalist who grew up in a similar area to Hay while taking his side of the story. I’m more inclined to think that Hay wanted to have his cake, eat it too, and saw things (predictably) blow up in his face.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m pretty sure the story is slanted in his favor, because for one, he’s the one talking to the reporter, and for another it’s hard to imagine a version that paints the other parties in a worse light. [edit: actually, at some points it does have their side of the story. Still, it’s written from his pov generally]

            Still though, I think marriage has >0 effect on partner count, Hay would have been better off with that pressure, and he was basically living as a husband already, so neither one of them can claim they were trapped in a terrible relationship or similar.

      • Deiseach says:

        People do weird stuff when it comes to marriage and cohabiting. From the story, he seems to be a guy who relies strongly on a woman to make the day-to-day decisions for him; if he moved out, I’d bet he couldn’t manage to live on his own, so moved back with the ex-wife and kid to recreate the same relationship as when they were married. Why she went for it is the interesting thing; maybe they had one of those “can’t live with you, can’t live without you” relationships where she realised on one level he was a disaster as husband and father, but she was still emotionally entangled with him. So she lets him move back in because hey, it’s for the sake of the kid, right?

        Then ‘things just happened’ and there you go, two more kids and the presumption that they’re in some kind of relationship once more where they’re not free to have “flings on the side”. Or it was one of those “marriage doesn’t suit us but we don’t need a piece of paper to have a loving, intimate, faithful relationship” ideas which work out better in theory than practice, but lack of communication meant he still thought he could have his cake and eat it (ex-wife to run his domestic life, but if any attractive younger women drag him off to hotel rooms to ravish him, well sure, why not?)

        Hay…has a tight-knit circle of friends, many of whom are women, and though their relationships are nonsexual, the intensity, he tells me, has been a continual source of conflict with Zacks. “Jennifer says my women friends always have ulterior motives, and my response has been that my best friends have been women for my entire adult life,” he says.

        Yeah, I’m betting ex-wife has the right of it here and she’s not just jealous or not jealous without cause; he does seem to be an easy mark for women to take advantage of, and there is that aura of “hey we’re not married anymore, that means I’m available if, y’know, but I’m not saying this is what is going on, but I am an attractive virile male in my own right so why wouldn’t women find me desirable, you’re only being jealous because you acknowledge that” there.

        • Randy M says:

          where they’re not free to have “flings on the side”.

          The two seemed to have had differing expectations about that.

          Since moving back in with his ex-wife in 2004, he says, their relationship had been mostly platonic, and the two had an understanding that if either of them wanted to see other people, they’d have to move out. But casual flings, he believed, fell under a tacit don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.

          Zacks took it as an enormous betrayal. She declined to speak on the record, but as far as she was concerned, there was no don’t-ask-don’t-tell arrangement. He had cheated on her, physically and emotionally.

          Obviously they were in a relationship and he was rationalizing a way for him to get some exotic young intellectual nookie on the side. But, you know, if they were married the expectations of monogamy would be a lot harder to claim ignorance of.
          Of course, if they were married it’d be harder for the wife to “disentangle” herself from his nutcase.

          • I don’t get how there could be a misunderstanding of that magnitude. They say they had a “mostly platonic”(what does mostly mean?) relationship and yet they had more kids after moving back in together? The only explanation for that is him just straight up lying about the whole understanding. But if that’s the case, why wouldn’t Zacks just say that? And why would she still be living with him?

          • Plumber says:

            Wrong Species >

            “I don’t get how there could be a misunderstanding of that magnitude. They say they had a “mostly platonic”(what does mostly mean?) relationship…”

            It means they’re not newlyweds anymore.

            “…why would she still be living with him?”

            Because they have kids together, which is what parents are supposed to do.

            Regrettably those who get divorced and/or have children with those they aren’t legally married to aren’t sterilized as a matter of course to prevent this type of nonsense from re-occurring.

          • Obviously the passion is going to fade after years of being together but what kind of couple describes their relationship as “mostly platonic”?

          • acymetric says:

            @Wrong Species

            The kind that got divorced, then moved back in together? The occasional sexual encounter (resulting in a few additional kids) afterwards doesn’t necessarily contradict a description of mostly platonic.

          • But then why would she “feel betrayed” over him seeing this other woman? You could say that he’s just straight up lying but if that’s true, the way she reacts to all this seems really off.

          • acymetric says:

            Maybe they never clearly defined their post-divorce relationship, and he gave his honest characterization as he saw it?

            Or maybe she’s lying to save face, because publicly being seen as the woman who had let her ex-husband move back in but keep sleeping around, while occasionally sleeping with him herself, wouldn’t be the greatest look for her either.

            Or he’s lying, and it was outright cheating when he knew there was an expectation of exclusivity with the wife.

        • J Mann says:

          Since moving back in with his ex-wife in 2004, he says, their relationship had been mostly platonic, and the two had an understanding that if either of them wanted to see other people, they’d have to move out. But casual flings, he believed, fell under a tacit don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.

          IMHO, a guy who says that his relationship with his live-in babymomma is “mostly platonic” and that they have a “tacit” understanding that he can date someone else is probably just having an affair.

          “My wife and I haven’t really been in a real marriage for years” and “I understand that my partner and I have an open marriage, but haven’t actually told her about my understanding” is (from what I read) verses 1 and 2 in the cheating dad’s playbook.

          • DeWitt says:

            Agreed. Hence, having his cake and eating it too.

          • Randy M says:

            the cheating dad’s playbook.

            Dad’s don’t cheat; husband’s cheat. But he’s an ex-husband. He has a legal document telling him he is now free to pursue other cake.

            He’s got more leg to stand on than the guy who takes off his wedding ring surreptitiously. He took it off and got that notarized.

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, the fact that they are divorced makes me skeptical of what either of them say. There are basically three possibilities:

            1) The guy is lying to save face, he knew there was an expectation of an exclusive relationship when he moved back in with his ex-wife.

            2) The woman is lying to save face, she knew there was no expectation of an exclusive relationship when her ex-husband moved back in

            3) They never really clearly defined what their relationship was supposed to be post-divorce, and instead made assumptions; both believe they are more or less correct in their characterization of the arrangement.

            Without more info, I give about equal weight to all three. Maybe 30/30/40.

            He took it off and got that notarized.

            This is maybe my favorite description of divorce ever.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Randy M:

            He has a legal document telling him he is now free to pursue other cake.

            Damn Lex Luthor and his legal team!

          • 3) They never really clearly defined what their relationship was supposed to be post-divorce, and instead made assumptions; both believe they are more or less correct in their characterization of the arrangement.

            This seems the hardest to believe. I can’t imagine that a couple would get divorced and then start living together again(and having more kids) without having a conversation about what their relationship is. It sounds like a bad comedy movie.

          • Randy M says:

            I can’t imagine that a couple would get divorced and then start living together again(and having more kids) without having a conversation about what their relationship is

            That’s what prompted my original comment in this subthread.

            Maybe they saw themselves as too mature and adult and modern to get hung up on sex and didn’t need to discuss it, and oops, we’re alone and drunk and now I’m pregnant. And of course I could investigate other options since we’re not married, but he/she would have to run that by me since we’re partners.

            But I really feel like I’m straw-manning there and actual people aren’t that dumb.

          • acymetric says:

            @Wrong Species

            The kind of couple that gets divorced and then moves back in together is exactly the kind of couple I would expect to have this problem. It would be hard to convince me that either of these people are likely to be involved in a healthy, well adjusted relationship based on that fact alone.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s quite possible that they hadn’t nailed down what relationship they wanted because either they were both uncertain what they wanted, or because they weren’t in agreement about what they wanted but neither wanted to end the relationship.

            My uninformed guess is that his ex-wife may have been hoping they would stick together–after all, they’d moved back in together, and slept together enough to have more kids. Maybe she felt like things were going okay (they hadn’t remarried, but he was living with her and they were raising their kids together) and it was better not to rock the boat.

            I’ll admit that if I saw someone move back in with his ex-wife and have more kids with her, I’d think “Ah, you’ve gotten back together–that’s great news!” I would not guess “Ah, you’re just shacking up for convenience with your ex-wife and three kids while having a de facto open relationship.”

          • acymetric says:

            @albatross11

            It would be helpful to know who initiated the divorce (and why) and how he ended up moving back in.

            Heck, given how apparently gullible he is are we sure the wife wasn’t running a soft scam on him herself?

          • John Schilling says:

            We can perhaps reasonably infer that the relationship they didn’t want was, “lives in a committed relationship and domestic partnership with the person they married long ago, with whom they created three children that they continue to jointly parent, and with an explicit condition of sexual monogamy even if there isn’t much actual sex any more”. Because that relationship is called “being married”, which they explicitly decided to not do.

            We can also extract from the story that they did chose to live together in a relationshp and domestic partnership, having created three child three children that they continue to jointly parent, even if there isn’t much actual sex any more.

            Subtracting the one from the other, what’s left?

          • My uninformed guess is that his ex-wife may have been hoping they would stick together–after all, they’d moved back in together, and slept together enough to have more kids. Maybe she felt like things were going okay (they hadn’t remarried, but he was living with her and they were raising their kids together) and it was better not to rock the boat.

            This is the only thing that makes sense to me. The only reason we have to suspect him cheating on her is that line about her feeling betrayed but it’s not about anything she directly says but what the author tells us about her emotional state. Here’s what I think is happening:

            When they moved in together, they agreed to it platonically. They slipped up a few times but they reaffirmed it after having the kids. Over a longer time period, she starts getting stronger feelings for him but never brings it up. When talking to the author, she talks about feeling upset over the “infidelity” not because she blames Hay, but because that’s just how she feels. The author infers the blame based on her feelings and puts that in the article.

      • LadyJane says:

        How common is the living arrangements Hays had even before all that commotion with the other woman?

        My grandmother moved back in with my grandfather 20 years after they had gotten divorced, following the death of her second husband. She didn’t really have anywhere else to go (due to legal complications, her second husband’s house went to his children from his first marriage rather than her). And besides that, she preferred to live with her own children and grandchildren, and we were living with my grandfather at the time.

        My great-aunt moved back in with her husband a few years after their divorce. I’m not entirely sure why, it might’ve been for financial reasons.

        My father travelled a lot for business, and when he came back to New York, he’d usually stay with my mother and I, sometimes for weeks or months at a time, even though they’d gotten divorced back in the early 90s. This apparently continued after I moved out, as recently as 2016.

        I lived with my ex-girlfriend for two years after we broke up, and only moved out when she got married and wanted her spouse to move in. (Back in college, I lived with another ex-girlfriend for six months after we broke up, but that was because we’d gotten a dorm room together and broke up midway through the school year, so I don’t know if that really counts.)

        So, at least judging by my family, it seems to be fairly common.

    • ana53294 says:

      This sounds like a case where “you can’t con a honest man” would be true.

      • acymetric says:

        Hard to think of a less true folk saying.

        • Protagoras says:

          Well, one of the popular kinds of cons is to pretend to be conspiring with the mark to con someone else. That sort of approach has the advantage that the mark can’t go to the authorities without effectively confessing to planning illegal activity of their own. Obviously, you can’t run that sort of con on an honest person. But there are plenty of other ways to con people.

          • acymetric says:

            Sure. I just think the idea that honest people can’t be conned (and the implication that someone who gets conned must not be honest) are…the opposite of helpful.

            There are plenty of other popular cons that play on honest folk’s generosity,etc.

          • dick says:

            “You can’t con an honest man” is as much a definition of “con” as a rule about people – confidence scams definitionally involve the mark believing he’s been taken in to the scammer’s confidence. Without that, it’s just someone lying to someone else in order to accomplish a theft.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The Spanish Prisoner con, in many of its variants, does rely on the mark’s greed, but not so much on his dishonesty.

          • Nornagest says:

            There’s a classic scam that involves dressing up as a grizzled old security guard, standing by an ATM (preferably one not near an actual bank), and telling customers that the machine’s broken but you’ll be happy to accept their deposits. Take the money, write out a worthless deposit slip on convincing-looking letterhead, and send them on their way.

            That doesn’t seem to fit the literal definition of “confidence scheme”, but I think most people would nonetheless call it one.

          • acymetric says:

            confidence scams definitionally involve the mark believing he’s been taken in to the scammer’s confidence

            This does not require dishonesty on the part of the mark, though.

    • S_J says:

      That story tries to make the main character into a sympathetic person. But it fails. (My sympathies for him took a dive during his first visit to the hotel room…and kept declining as he made more and more bad decisions.)

      The women involved seem to be the female version of the main character from the book/film Catch Me If You Can!…or a version of the trio who are the main characters of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

      I count this as a reminder that not all claims of abuse are legitimate. And also that even very smart people can become a victim of a confidence-trickster.

      • acymetric says:

        Complete tangent, but I saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on Broadway and absolutely loved it. Saw The Producers the following day and was thoroughly unimpressed (the best, though, was seeing the Blue Man Group Off-Broadway..

    • BBA says:

      The most surprising thing about this story is that such a redoubt of Internet feminism as The Cut published it. I could easily see them covering this as “Abusive Harvard professor makes ludicrous claim to be victim of absurd scam in desperate effort to avoid Title IX.” Which, for all I know, is just as accurate a description.

  3. Algon33 says:

    I’d like to try changing my breathing patterns for about a week. Does anyone have reccomendations for breathing techniques? It doesn’t matter if its for meditation or not.

    Note that when taking deep breathes for about half an hour my head feels quite different, and I’m not sure if this is good.

  4. BBA says:

    All news is fake.

    HuffPost has another deep dive on the collapse of Mic.com, which I linked to a previous story on in a thread I don’t feel like digging up. Again, I’m struck by the contrast between the earnest true believers who wrote the site’s virtual reams of idpol clickbait and the apolitical cynics who owned and managed it. Mic lived and died chasing every minor change to the Facebook algorithm in hopes of a bigger slice of a dwindling ad revenue pie, culminating in the disastrous “pivot to video.” In the end, the owners took a mere seven-figure buyout to sell the domain and archives to Bustle (who also own the remains of Gawker and the Outline – is Bustle’s business model a digital undertaker?) while the writers were left with nothing but “exposure.” Poking around the Twitter reactions, most ex-Mic writers still have a lot of praise for the company for letting them write actual pieces at an age when their peers would be fetching coffee for senior writers at more “traditional” media outlets, and for its commitment to diversity and representation, shallow as it was.

    Of course the story of Mic is the story of all “new” media, and some “old” media that’s made the digital transition. The story of the rest of old media is storied institutions like the Youngstown Vindicator and the New Orleans Times-Picayune closing in the face of dwindling subscriber bases and Craigslist killing off classified ads for good.

    I don’t see this lasting. I also don’t see a profitable business model for news, online or offline. Layoffs and buyouts are accelerating. You can try to goose your numbers by producing a lot of cheap ORANGE MAN BAD content (or, if that’s not your niche, ORANGE MAN GOOD can work) but it’s a game that everyone ends up losing. Maybe Facebook and Google will start their own news-gathering bureaus when they finally kill off all the existing ones. Or “journalism” as a whole could cease to exist, and social media randos will be the main source of information going forward. Who knows.

    • DeWitt says:

      social media randos will be the main source of information going forward

      That doesn’t seem unlikely.

      Well, social media randos and people paid by specific interests rather than their consumers’, but we’re already seeing the start of that

      • Matt M says:

        I mean, social media randos are already a top primary source for the “official” news networks themselves, most of which are happy to signal-boost their messages, so long as they are ideologically aligned (think: Covington catholic)

        CNN didn’t add any value to that story. They didn’t do any reporting. They just found and amplified.

        • Enkidum says:

          One of the more depressing news trends of the past few years is that there are large numbers of BBC articles that consist of >50% embedded tweets from randos. But perhaps I have an overly naive David Simon-esque view of what news should be like.

          • Randy M says:

            Very much agreed (ie, +1) to both of you.

            To repeat what I’ve said before, “X said Y” is not news. Obvious exceptions for political figures speaking about policy intentions relevant to you personally or some expert providing context to a finding (that doesn’t fail to replicate) aside, that’s all just narrative shaping, space filling, rabble rousing non-sense you are almost certainly better off ignoring.

          • Nick says:

            Yeah, I hate this trend too.

        • DeWitt says:

          Cynically, and not even flippantly, being a social media random is how Trump kickstarted his campaign. Twitter is the devil.

          • Randy M says:

            But not really accurately. Trump was a household name before Twitter was a thing, like it or not. (It’s the ‘random’ I’m objecting to, not the ‘kickstarted’).

            There wasn’t much reason his opinions were terribly relevant to anything, that’s true, but he came in with notoriety and would have gotten coverage in media after announcing his candidacy for President even absent social media.

          • DeWitt says:

            Trump is an early adopter of social media manipulation for sure. For the past decade now, he’s been very good at it, with the most well-known example being the whole birth certificate thing.

            It may be true that he’d have been succesful prior to social media’s ubiquitous proliferation as well, so somewhere before ~2008, but we don’t live in the counterfactual world where this happened. We live in the world where the one person to have been elected president of the United States is the single figure to draw the most attention on social media.

        • Nick says:

          They just found and amplified.

          Yep. To take a more recent example, the Erica Thomas Incident. Guy is an asshole to her in a store, she claims it was racism, national media blows it into the stratosphere.

          • Plumber says:

            @Nick,
            That this is the first time I remember seeing anything about the “incident” makes me happier about NYT articles being hard to view lately.

        • John Schilling says:

          (think: Covington catholic)

          Covington was a highly noncentral example of modern journalism. So is anything resembling investigative reporting. Almost everything you’ll find on the front page of a major modern newspaper or the like was written by a professional journalist and based on an organizational press release, a public briefing, or a private interview with a known source(*). Which is low-effort stuff to be sure, but it allows for at least some level of objectivity and fact-checking between you and e.g. the local police union’s announcement that they’ve determined that the cops were the good guys in 100% of last year’s controversial shootings.

          The reporters are paid by whatever combination of advertisers, subscribers, and rich white dudes with relevant philanthropic and/or Machiavellian agendas will make for marginal profitability. This model seems quite sustainable, at least at the national level, even if it will have to shift more towards the rich white dudes with an agenda model.

          If you want your news feed to consist of mostly social media randos, that’s easy to arrange. But you don’t have to, it’s not the default, and it’s probably not the wave of the future. Nor is it in any way an improvement, because see Covington Catholic.

          * Which may be presented as an “anonymous leak” and give the misimpression that investigative reporting was going on.

          • Matt M says:

            Covington was a highly noncentral example of modern journalism.

            Seems to be becoming more and more central each day. As Nick says, we have a similar such scandal this week, where a sympathetic person described a fictional event on Twitter, and the media uncritically parroted it as established fact (and continues to do so even after a vehement denial by the supposedly offending party, and at least a partial walkback by the original source).

            And there’s another increasingly common version of this wherein “People on Twitter are saying…” is more and more becoming a popular headline in and of itself, even if the people are quite few and entirely insignificant. Look back at the “White supremacists are outraged that Disney has decided to cast a black Ariel!” articles that managed to find like three such Tweets, from newly created accounts with two-digit followers.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But does the uncritical amplification of randos’ accounting of events have more or less impact than the type of real journalism you describe?

            I wonder what would have happened with the Matthew Shepard case in an age of social media. The murders claimed “because gay” and the media reported this uncritically because the goal was “pass hate crimes laws” and not “report events accurately.” No reporter bothered to ask “wait a minute, we’re uncritically accepting murderers’ statements as truth. Perhaps we should interview other people in the community to find out how plausible this.” Had they done that, they might have found the townspeople familiar with the gay community in Laramie who knew the murderers and the victim were intimate. Today those people would have been able to correct the record almost immediately, and then be amplified by conservative or alternative media.

          • Enkidum says:

            But does the uncritical amplification of randos’ accounting of events have more or less impact than the type of real journalism you describe?

            I don’t know. I don’t have much of a solution or ideal goal in mind.

            There are obvious, massive problems with letting the twittersphere or whatever determine what constitutes news. But I’m not sure what the correct way of dealing with this is.

            In terms of the Shepard thing: I think then you’d find that there would be two versions of the story believed by two different tribes, which is more or less what the case is now. See also the supposed hate crimes immediately after Trump’s election, which I’m sure you know more about than I do. I don’t think either “only let qualified journalists define the narrative” or “throw it open to everybody” is particularly ideal.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Sure, but we didn’t get the other side of the story in the Shepard case for over a decade. Today it would have been basically instant, and maybe we wouldn’t have federal hate crimes legislation.

            And I’m not necessarily putting that as a positive. I am marginally in favor of hate crimes laws.

          • John Schilling says:

            Seems to be becoming more and more central each day.

            Reality check: Of the fifty-four articles directly linked on the BBC News front page as I type, no more than five are primarily sourced from and/or reporting on anything resembling “social media randos”. And in some cases, e.g. the lack of public appearances by Turkmenistan’s president adding credibility to social-media rumors of his death, this seems like material that would be newsworthy under any standard.

            I don’t think the ratio would be terribly different if you looked at e.g. CNN or NYT; knock yourself out if you think otherwise. But “becoming more and more central” for something that is still at the single-digit percentage level, strikes me as hyperbole.

          • Enkidum says:

            I am marginally in favor of hate crimes laws.

            Heh, and, in contradiction of what you might expect, I am marginally against them.

          • Nick says:

            @Enkidum
            Why, if you don’t mind my asking?

          • Enkidum says:

            Because I don’t actually think it’s worse to murder (or beat up, etc) someone because you hate their sexual orientation / race /etc than it is to just do it because you feel like it, or for money, or whatever. If the laws discouraged people from committing hate crimes, then that might be a point in their favour, but I can’t imagine that the kind of person who commits them is really spending a lot of time poring over sentencing guidelines.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But we don’t just put people in prison for deterrence. That’s one reason. But also “removal,” so they cannot harm someone else. “Retribution,” making the punishment fit the crime. And of course rehahahahhahahahahabilihahaha yeah whatever.

            As for it being worse than beating/murdering somebody for money, consider that there are more victims in hate crimes. If my neighbor is murdered because of a falling out with his business partner, that is terrible. But really nothing to do with me and I don’t need to fear. I’m not in business with that guy. If my neighbor is killed because he’s an X, and I’m an X, or I’m one of those stinking X-lovers who can tolerate living next to an X, oh boy. Now I’m living in fear for my kids. This kind of rips apart the whole tolerant and pluralistic society we’re trying to have.

            Consider also that we have additional charges for terrorism. It’s one thing to blow up a building for the insurance money, and it’s something else to do it to cow everyone into going along with your politics. Hate crimes are a lot like terrorism.

          • DinoNerd says:

            As for it being worse than beating/murdering somebody for money, consider that there are more victims in hate crimes. If my neighbor is murdered because of a falling out with his business partner, that is terrible. But really nothing to do with me and I don’t need to fear.

            Locally, we had a person recently convicted for intentionally driving the wrong way on a street/highway, hitting another car, and killing all 3 of the people in it. I’m unclear on the motivation, except it wasn’t targetting a specific group – and so not a “hate crime”. But people like that are a danger to everyone who uses the road(s) – so it would be the same case according to your argument.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, which is why we have different punishments for different states of mind. Intentional murder is worse than murder resulting from reckless behavior which is worse than murder resulting from negligent behavior and complete accidents no one could have foreseen aren’t even crimes.

    • Erusian says:

      The issue with media isn’t that it’s inherently unprofitable. It’s that news media has a genteel contempt for acting as a business. I’m not talking about Chomsky-ite criticism of media as an inherently capitalist institution. I mean they feel they should be above monetary concerns, as some professions are wont to do.

      I know plenty of people who run media outlets with relatively small subscriber counts profitably. However, they monetize their subscriber base and understand that they need money to keep the lights on.

      Mic had eighteen million readers on its second-worst month of 2015. So let’s say they had 210 million readers (which is the low estimate). If 1% of them had signed up for a $5 a month subscription, they’d have made $126,000,000 that year. Double the total venture capital they took in during the company’s lifetime. If their content was really that good, they couldn’t get a freemium model with 1% conversion going?

      But the article is painfully light on exactly how mic.com earned revenue or what routes were explored, if any. Google tells me they were selling branded content consulting and placement, basically helping companies produce content targeted towards millennials. If that’s the case, they were more a media consultancy and I’m not sure why they had such a news production focus. I’m also not sure why all the strategy meetings were about getting views instead of, you know, revenue.

      • Randy M says:

        The trouble is, if you’re just selling your opinion and not any useful primary reporting–well, you know how common opinions are. Probably even more common than the aphorism suggests, and all available at once, thanks to the internet. So I’m not surprised that they couldn’t monetize it.

        SSC I can’t really get anywhere else, so if it became necessary, I’d probably chip in a few bucks a month to keep access to it (but in the present case, the milk is free, so…). Mic.com? Never heard of it, but apparently not many people are willing to make that statement about them.

        • Nick says:

          I would be happy to support SSC with a few bucks a month; I don’t because Scott tells me not to. I pay for a few others already.

          I’ve heard of Mic.com, but I’m a little amazed they had 18 million readers (is that really unique readers, and not just hits?) on a bad month.

        • Matt M says:

          If Scott was suddenly making millions and driving around in a Ferrari, my guess is that reasonably decent facsimiles for SSC would show up pretty darn quick.

          The reason you can’t get it anywhere else is because the audience is relatively small, and he has yet to prove that it can be effectively monetized.

          • Randy M says:

            Sure, sure. But the point was that it is a uniquely well explained and thought out opinion and comment section, which cannot be said for large swatches of online opinion journalism which compete with people posting their thoughts on blogs and twitter for free and still compare unfavorably.

          • JPNunez says:

            This is why he has branched to promoting VRAYLAR to us.

          • Randy M says:

            This is why he has branched to promoting VRAYLAR to us.

            More like, “Please don’t send me money, it would compromise the integrity of any psychological tests I run on you.” 😉

          • Erusian says:

            The reason you can’t get it anywhere else is because the audience is relatively small, and he has yet to prove that it can be effectively monetized.

            I’ve also found there are types of people. I doubt Scott (I doubt many people here) think of a blog as a business or consider making a profit a goal of the activity. They might even think that cheapens the blog or content in some way. And that’s fine. (Or at least, it’s fine until they start complaining about how they shouldn’t have to worry about plebeian concerns like ‘money’, as some have.) Not everything has to be a business. Not everything worthwhile can be.

          • Deiseach says:

            If Scott was suddenly making millions and driving around in a Ferrari

            Growth mindset, Matt M! Maybe not this year, but next? 😀

            This is why he has branched to promoting VRAYLAR to us.

            Well,you have to admit: if ever any of us need antipsychotics, we now know what to ask our doctors to prescribe: “VRAYLAR! As recommended by (the paid advertising at the annual meeting of ) the American Psychiatric Association. Accept no other!” 🙂

        • Erusian says:

          The trouble is, if you’re just selling your opinion and not any useful primary reporting–well, you know how common opinions are. Probably even more common than the aphorism suggests, and all available at once, thanks to the internet. So I’m not surprised that they couldn’t monetize it.

          That doesn’t really matter: just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not monetizable. Perhaps you personally will only pay for news with primary reporting but that’s not some ironclad rule of the market. Plenty of people pay for work that’s basically secondary opinions or secondary comedy: look at the radical magazines or whole Daily Show penumbra.

          It’s possible their oh-so-vaunted content was just clickbait nobody would be willing to pay for, meant to maximize FB algorithms rather than give value to the reader. In that case, maybe no one would pay… but that’s because they weren’t producing something people would pay for, not because of some rule no one pays for opinions.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The NYT, Washington Post, and Vox all made a profit last year. Why do you think that can’t continue?

      • JPNunez says:

        That can continue but maybe there are only so many news outlets the market can support.

      • Randy M says:

        Weren’t the first two of those recently bailed out of financial trouble by wealthy billionaires looking for an already established media mouthpiece?

      • birdboy2000 says:

        Two of those are owned by two of the five richest people in the world and the third by a massive company that regularly places high in “most hated company in America” polls. Who needs lobbyists and PR firms when you own the papers?

      • blipnickels says:

        Huh, you’re right. Consider me updated.

        Reading through the NYT’s 2018 financial statement, they turned a respectable net income last year of ~$125 million on ~$1 billion of stockholder equity (p.20). Looking a bit deeper, the NYT makes about twice as much from subscriptions (p.30) as from advertising and their digital-only subscriber base is growing, which has to be their most profitable area.

        Sadly, it doesn’t look like the Washington Post releases financial statements since the Bezos buyout and while Wikipedia says the Washington Post should show up under either Graham Holdings or Nash Holdings, I can find anything for Nash and Graham Holdings is a mess of different companies. Graham doesn’t mention the WP but they do mention Slate and I recall Slate was owned by WP so my guess is Graham was a subsidiary/holding company of WP which is still tracking WP’s assets but I’m well out of my depth now so I have no idea where clear reporting on WP’s financials are. Vox also doesn’t release financials, I think because they’re not public yet. Rumors of profits at both these are from “leaked” emails or Twitter posts.

        My take away is that WP and Vox are saying they’re profitable but you can take that with a suitably large block of salt. NYT’s annual report/10-k is pretty credible though and it does show a respectable profit.

        My (very shallow) take is that the market is bifurcating between Twitter (cheap clickbait) and the Economist (quality reporting/status symbol worth paying for) with a lot of legacy media stuck in the middle. Looks like the NYT has managed to get to get on the Economist/paid subscription side. Looking through the mic article, it doesn’t seem like advertising is long-term profitable; that’s certainly what the NYT’s annual report shows. Making the transitions from advertising to paid subscriptions, especially digital ones, is difficult and scary. It looks like the NYT has or is close to making that transition. I can’t find any evidence WP has but it’s plausable; it’s a high quality/prestiege brand. Vox though, I can’t see Vox making the transition to subscription. (Looks like they might try though).

        So to answer Scott’s question, a lot of media companies are still heavily dependent on advertising and we should expect them to die. I’m actually curious whether the NYT will hold the same cultural position is does now or whether it will be more like the Financial Times; very respected but not really culturally influential.

    • Matt M says:

      social media randos will be the main source of information going forward

      They’ve been my main source for years now! I find them to be approximately as reliable, and a lot cheaper.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I also prefer social media randos because you get instant fact checking. CNN doesn’t have a comments section.

        • Matt M says:

          And it’s worth noting that the most useful fact-checking of mainstream media is typically provided not by other mainstream media, but, in fact, by social media randos.

          They are the ones that proved the narrative on Covington Catholic was complete BS. Not CNN, not ABC, not even Fox News or Breitbart. Robby Soave, essentially by himself, doing a bare minimum amount of activity resembling real journalism, discredited multiple huge behemoths in a matter of hours.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Robby Soave is a journalist, though with an ideological magazine (Reason) rather than a mainstream one.

          • Matt M says:

            Indeed. But his primary contribution occurred on the weekend, in real time, as the events were unfolding, and was reported primarily on his personal Twitter account.

            Yes, later on in the week he wrote up a more detailed piece that was published on Reason. But everything he did except that could have just as easily been done by any private citizen. He didn’t rely on any connections or sources or tools or anything else that being a “professional journalist” would have gotten him.

          • Nick says:

            @Matt M
            But Robby was only able to boost the exonerating evidence because he’s a journalist with a blue check mark (an automatic reputation boost on Twitter) and a bunch of followers. It’s true a rando could have done the same if they had lots of followers, but then we’re not talking about any old rando, we’re talking about some celebrity.

            I think it makes more sense to flip it around and consider the responsibilities journalists have. Like, maybe investigate the story before sharing it thoughtlessly with your 10,000+ followers.

          • Matt M says:

            Nick,

            Your points are plausible and I can’t really prove you wrong, but in this case I really don’t think that’s what happened. I think Robby’s refutation basically “went viral” in the sense that it dramatically over-reached his regular follower base.

            Would that have been a lot harder to achieve by a true rando with only 100 followers? Yeah, sure. But keep in mind there are plenty of somewhat well-known political Twitter commentators who are not in the employ of any journalistic organization and who have a similar reach as Robby does.

            To use one immediately available example, Scott Alexander, is not any sort of official journalist, but I think he could have done this just as effectively as Robby, if he had chosen to.

          • Nick says:

            @Matt M
            Yeah, if what you have in mind as a rando is Scott, I don’t think we substantively disagree.

    • albatross11 says:

      …while the writers were left with nothing but “exposure.”

      As the quote goes, “exposure” is what you die of when you can’t pay the rent because you’re working for free….

  5. dick says:

    “It’s okay, I realized long ago that these things happen periodically,” said Mitchell, thinking dysfunctional split.

  6. Well... says:

    Your employer has tasked you with replacing the graphics in the perfunctory CYA online compliance training for data security.

    Because you are a sane and decent person, stock images of black-clad masked/hooded figures looming in front of laptop screens in dark rooms with green 1s and 0s zooming by in the background drive you absolutely insane and you leap at the opportunity to banish them forever.

    What plausible, realistic, non-cliche, work-appropriate images do you use to represent those who would threaten your company’s private data?

  7. proyas says:

    What are some technologies that should be added to the Civilization game’s tech tree?

    My proposals:

    1) Human genetic engineering [leads to an incremental increase to your country’s population, productivity, science R&D, and profits each turn, until it tops out once the limits of human biology are reached–enables “Super Soldier” unit]

    2) Cybernetics [does the same thing as Human genetic engineering, but adds further benefit–enables “Super Soldier 2” and “Mechwarrior” units]

    3) Narrow AI [significant increase to your country’s productivity, science R&D, and profits each turn, until it tops out once the limits of non-sentient AI are reached–enables various military drone units]

    4) AGI [confers a large benefit to all of the aforementioned stats, but upon discovery, there is a 50% chance of a Robot Uprising happening in your country, whereupon all nuclear weapons and drones come under the control of a hostile AI that will try to take over all your cities and possibly attack other countries]

    5) Chemical weapons [Allows you to build poison gas weapons, which are moderately effective at killing civilian populations of enemy cities without damaging city infrastructure, and at killing enemy ground troops in the field–allows the special battle tactic of gassing mechanized enemy units to kill the humans that are manning them, and then seizing the mechanized weapons for yourself to create a friendly unit of the same type if one of your units grabs it during the same turn. The gas bombs have an “explosive radius” so you can’t use them if your own units are too close.]

    6) Biological weapons [Allows you to build germ weapons, which are moderately effective at killing enemy civilian populations and military units in the field. Has the same effect as poison gas weapons, but lingers in cities for several turns (population drops each turn) and can spread between cities in uncontrolled fashion. The disease can even get back to the attacker’s forces and country or third party countries. You can also build bioweapons that only kill an enemy’s croplands. They convert into polluted wastelands.]

    7) Green revolution [Lets you re-irrigate all your irrigated land hexagons to double their food output]

    Also, I think the world map in Civilization should be a spheroid whose surface is made of (distorted) hexagonal tiles. As you used the mouse cursor to scroll, the entire spheroid would rotate in front of you. This would eliminate the geographic distortions associated with the use of a flat map, and would let your units cross the poles.

    Additionally, once you have completed the Apollo Mission, you should be given a view of the Moon during each turn, and you should be able to build spacecraft to go there. It could eventually turn into a battleground itself.

    What other technologies and features should be added?

    • bullseye says:

      Also, I think the world map in Civilization should be a spheroid whose surface is made of (distorted) hexagonal tiles.

      Would that work? I’m not a mathematician, but I feel like no set of hexagons, however oddly shaped, could cover a sphere.

      I play D&D, so I know that twenty triangles will cover a sphere nicely, with five triangles meeting at each corner. And you can divide a triangle into smaller triangles with six of the smaller triangles meeting at each corner. Now if you designate each triangle corner as the center of your land tiles, most of the tiles are hexagons but several (twelve, I think?) are pentagons. That describes a soccer ball, but you can increase the number of hexagons as much as you like without changing the number of pentagons.

      • broblawsky says:

        You’re correct. With only hexagons, you can never make a sphere (unless you permit interior angles greater than 180 degrees).

        • Martin says:

          Proyas said spheroid, not sphere.

          • lightvector says:

            It doesn’t matter. It can be some ellipsoid, or egg shaped, or whatever, and it still won’t work. If it’s a surface that wraps around in a way that is topologically like a sphere, it can’t be tiled with hexagons alone.

            The issue isn’t one of needing to distort the hexagons, it’s that hexagons fundamentally are “flat” and whereas spheres need positive curvature. You need to do things like introduce pentagons (exactly 12 of them!) or other irregularities to get the necessary curvature.

            See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euler_characteristic

          • lightvector says:

            (well, you could do it with hexagons alone by allowing things like vertices of degree 2 with the same “hexagons” meeting each other on multiple different edges or other weird things, but at that point you’re not really any ordinary sort of tiling).

        • dick says:

          Pretty sure you can lop off the poles and tile the resulting truncated sphere (or whatever the remaining shape would be called).

      • proyas says:

        A soccer ball map it is then!

      • smocc says:

        You don’t divide the sphere up into hexagons, you put a regular lattice of points on it, like these and specify which points are neighbors. Then in the actual view of the game you draw a hexagon (or whatever) around the current point and around the other points, hexagons that appear more distorted the further away they are from the current location.

        The key is treating the lattice of points as fundamental and the 2D tile shapes as eye-candy that don’t have any fixed shape.

        • Lambert says:

          Then, unshackled by the chains of geometry, you implement portals between places, other planets, other dimensions etc. entirely intuitively within the normal data structures of the game.
          Because your grid is just a certain representation of an arbitary graph.

    • albatross11 says:

      The problem with a technology tree is that you (the player) know what will and won’t work. This sort of seems inevitable for Civilization, but it’s also true for Alpha Centauri and Starbase Orion and similar stuff where it’s all made-up technology.

      The technology tree should be randomized, in several ways:

      a. The cost of researching a technology should be rerandomized each game.

      b. Some technologies should be randomized into being unworkable each game. Some of those might simply disappear; others would appear in the tree, but after spending the time on researching them, you would find out that the technology just didn’t work out.

      c. The benefits of different technological advances should be randomized somewhat.

      d. There should be randomized-in negative and positive consequences for developing some technologies.

      Ideally, there would be a fairly well-connected weighted digraph of technologies, and then you’d randomly cut a bunch of links and eliminate a bunch of nodes while keeping the graph connected, and you’d also randomize the weights on the edges and some of the properties of the nodes.

      The benefit of this would be that the player would experience technological discovery like it really works–when you start out working on fusion power or quantum computers or strong AI, you don’t actually know if it’s ever going to work, or how long it’s really going to take to get it to work.

      • metacelsus says:

        Stellaris does this pretty well. The tech tree itself isn’t random, but at any one time, your research options are random.

        I think the “technology didn’t work out” mechanic you propose would be extremely infuriating to players.

      • Matt M says:

        AC had “blind research” as the default option (in which you would pick a general research theme among explore, discover, build, conquer, but you were unable to specifically select individual technologies to research), didn’t it?

      • Randy M says:

        There was a game like that; I believe it was the much maligned space 4X MoO3 (and probably others in the series). Some techs were always available, but many were randomly made not available. I think you occasionally got bonus research breakthroughs or set-backs as well.
        Since the units in the game were custom built ships and fleets designed with components unlocked by those random techs, what you sent out would be different every game.
        But of course there’s only so much variation allowed; you won’t see a game where you simply can’t make colony ships or there are no shields at all or whatever.

      • proyas says:

        I’ve never found the Civilization tech tree to be problematic in any way.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Speaking of not being problematic, anyone else remember the old days when there were Wonders like Women’s Suffrage that you could set one city to build over a large number of turns?

          • Randy M says:

            What’s the problem there? Is the abstraction of burly men in mines toiling away to produce a legal and cultural change too disconcerting?

            There’s a reason they went to social policies later on, but early versions were understandably less complex.

            edit: It would have been amusingly ironic if Civ2 had Civ4 ‘s slavery mechanic and you could beat people to death in order to discover universal suffrage.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            What’s the problem there? Is the abstraction of burly men in mines toiling away to produce a legal and cultural change too disconcerting?

            Sort of: not too disconcerting to “believe” in the game, but bizarre and giggle-inducing.
            I can almost imagine all the burly male miners and builders around SF or NYC toiling away year after year to build a legal and cultural change and nothing physical, but there were also strong incentives (terrain and the opportunity cost of building multipliers) to separate industrious cities from a Super Science City that produced a super-majority of your science and cultural change. So it was like suddenly the industrial capital of a country produced no steel or trains for many years and then, poof, women can vote.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Randy M, beating people eventually yielding universal sufferdoesn’t sound ironic at all – it’d just involve an intervening revolution.

  8. Scott Alexander says:

    I want to propose a conspiracy theory.

    Boris Johnson, who was just chosen Prime Minister of Britain, used to be Mayor of London. He ran on a platform of fighting youth crime, but he wasn’t very good at it.

    A year after he took office, Franny Armstrong, a famous film-maker and activist, was attacked by criminal youths in a London alley. She shouted for help, and Mayor Boris Johnson, who happened to be bicycling by, ran in, chased away the criminals, and saved her.

    The Mayor of a city personally getting a chance to dramatically fight crime seems implausible, but not too implausible – I’ve heard of a few other situations where stuff like that has happened. But for the crime victim to herself be a famous person (Armstrong has been on Top 100 Famous Women In The World lists) defies belief. Add Johnson’s ongoing campaign against youth crime, and his dishonesty and talent for self-promotion, and I start to wonder.

    Armstrong is not a fan of Johnson’s politics, so it’s unlikely she was involved in this conspiracy. But there’s no reason why Johnson couldn’t hire some fake thugs to pretend to beat her up, without her knowledge or consent. In fact, this would be the safer option, since it makes the conspiracy smaller.

    The attackers were never caught, but Armstrong describes them as “looking like something straight out of central casting” – maybe more like people trying to look like criminals, than like the way real criminals dress? And Johnson has previously been implicated in a conspiracy to beat up a reporter, so it’s not like he doesn’t know where to hire thugs if he needs some.

    I think probably less than 5% chance this is true, but I’m still surprised I can’t find anyone else proposing it.

    • albatross11 says:

      Did he write a personal check to the thugs for his scam crime? I mean, you’d think not, but apparently it’s a good idea to check….

    • Randy M says:

      Frankly I’m surprised this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often.

    • Plumber says:

      @Scott Alexander,
      A group of girl thugs attacked a semi-famous lady and the Mayor of London came and chased them off?

      Please someone tell me a re-enactment was filmed!

    • sentientbeings says:

      This theory sounds like fun, but I’d really be interested to see someone to put in the time to do some rough math, to determine the chances of something like this happening under the circumstances (i.e. Johnson + notable individual of opposite political persuasion + mugging), more generally (politician somewhere + some notable person + any criminal behavior), and fully generalized (people not remaining bystanders during crime, or perhaps just witnessing one).

      It certainly seems like one of those situations in which the number of degrees of freedom and possible interactions *might* result in there being a not-unreasonable probability of something like it happening somewhere, but in which it happening to a particular set of people is highly unlikely – but it would still be fun to see rough estimates of likelihood. I have a suspicion that the odds are actually higher than we would anticipate, based on my anecdotal experience of how often my friends in New York City run into celebrities (that is, often). Kind of like with the 23-people-means-better-than-even-odds-shared-birthday result, even if your total population is large and your fractional people-of-interest small, if you are matching between enough pairs the odds of a “surprising” result can scale quickly.

      Edit: Thinking about it some more, it might almost reduce to the problem of “Johnson witnessing crime,” which is seems significantly more probably than the whole scenario. Think about it: (1) tough-on-crime, in some fashion, is part of probably a quarter to half of politicians’ platforms (2) opposite political spectrum is probably a bit under half on average, etc. Those are factors that reduce the probability, but not by orders of magnitude. The real questions are (a ) the odds of witnessing crime generally, and witnessing crime conditional on being a London politician, and (b) the odds of encountering a “notable” person, and the odds of encountering a “notable” person in London, or some similar variants.

      • dick says:

        I don’t think you can use probabilities for something like this. If I were staging a crime, I would try to make it look as typical as possible (e.g. by hiring young men rather than young women), so some un-staged crimes will therefore be less “likely” according to a system like this than some staged ones.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, we probably never hear about a staged crime that looks like a lot of normal non-newsworthy crimes. If Smollet had staged being mugged by a drug addict, the story wouldn’t have gotten all that much attention, and almost certainly would also never have come unraveled.

          • Matt M says:

            There’s also the “believability” factor. Part of what made Jussie’s claim non-credible is that it was contingent on him either somehow fighting them off, or them just getting bored and deciding to stop bugging him for no particular reason.

            Boris being able to successfully “chase off” a bunch of young women thugs is much more believable than if the thugs had all been tough young men.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Eh, young men might still run away because they attracted unwanted attention.

    • JPNunez says:

      So what people who stage conspiracies like this successfully do?

      I’d say that they would probably try again.

      Can you think of any other possible event that Johnson could have staged like this?

      I guess the thing about the reporter being beat up counts? But that’s just beating up someone, not beating up someone and then saving the beaten up person.

    • Murphy says:

      https://www.theguardian.com/uk/davehillblog/2009/nov/10/boris-johnson-franny-armstrong-girl-muggers

      Sorry, Boris Johnson rescued me from girls, not boys. The Camden New Journal made that up & wrongly quoted it to me.

      @DaveHill Sorry, but the Camden New Journal got that wrong & attributed it to me (nice). It was definitely girls, not boys

  9. proyas says:

    Does anyone have data on American public opinion during the Civil War about the conflict? I’m particularly interested in the number of Union citizens who were willing to let the South secede, or who were neutral or pacifist.

    I’m also interested to know about the minority voices in the CSA.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I don’t think that data exists outside of election results. There weren’t any polls at the time; a book I read on the Copperhead movement spends significant time talking about how we don’t know how strong the movement actually was or how many sympathizers it had, until the actual election in November 1864. So, we can say the Union public supported the war by November 1862, but that gives very little idea of their views in April 1861. The war definitely appeared to be popular then from the number of volunteers, but we can’t get much better than that.

      I’ve also heard of analyses done on the number of deserters, or on sentiments expressed in surviving letters to and from soldiers, but those would inevitably be partial and not quite what you were looking for.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Both are difficult, since opinion surveys weren’t really a thing yet, let alone scientific polling.

      For the former, the best proxy is probably the political fortunes of the “Copperhead” faction of the Democratic party, which advocated for unconditional peace with the Confederacy as its core issue. Election results (especially in 1862) are one place to look, although a difficult one since only a few states saw Copperheads and War Democrats cleanly sort themselves into separate ballot lines (with the War Democrats usually forming a fusion ticket with Republicans under the “Unionist” label). The 1864 Presidential election is not a good proxy, since the nominee (McClellan) was personally a War Democrat even though he was running on a mostly Peace Democrat platform.

      Relative circulation of Copperhead newspapers vs other political newspapers might be another good proxy, at least in times and places where the federal government wasn’t actively censoring Copperhead publications.

      For minority voices in the CSA, the best proxy is probably election results for delegates to the secession conventions. William Freehling did some good analysis of this in Road to Disunion, Volume II. There also appear to be some papers online (unfortunately behind paywalls) looking at individual states.

    • sentientbeings says:

      I would recommend looking into records of correspondence, journals, etc. among West Point officers. They wouldn’t match up exactly with the general populace, but I think they will help you investigate the question regardless.

    • Well... says:

      There are tons of things written by people at that time, and I’m sure a lot describe the political climate around them. It’s not perfectly scientific, but it’d give you qualitative information about what views existed where, at least.

  10. Aapje says:

    An apparently uniquely Dutch tradition: a “dropping.”

    It means dropping kids off in the woods, preferably at night, without a clue where they are and letting them make their way back on their own. I did a weak version of this during school camp.

    #DutchTermsThatSoundEnglishButAreUniquelyDutch
    #NoDangerousWildAnimalsLeft

    • DeWitt says:

      I went through a couple of these as a kid, though only one of them had us dropped off in any actual woods. The other times it was more fields and such, much closer to roads and the like.

    • The Nybbler says:

      My father says a version of this was a form of fraternity initiation when he was in school. Not so much the woods, but dropping pledges from his very urban school off somewhere more rural to make their way back. As far as I know, not called a “dropping”

    • Evan Þ says:

      I did a related version once in Boy Scouts, where we were dumped on the side of a country road at dawn and left to hike our way back. It was fun at first, but trudging along the side of the road got old afterwards.

    • gettin_schwifty says:

      Reminds me of “Manhunt.”
      The basics: One team would get dropped off on the outskirts of town and the other would try to find and tag them before they get to the safe zone (park, school football field, that sort of thing). It was basically a small town-sized game of Hide And Seek Tag with an emphasis on the “safe zone.” Memory is fuzzy, but I think the hunter team only wins if no one makes it to the safe zone. I have no idea how widespread this game is, but I played it in a South Dakota college/farming small town.

    • Lambert says:

      At least give them a map (and teach them how to use it beforehand). Otherwise how are they supposed to work out which way to go?
      Unless there are fietsknooppunten everywhere.

      • Aapje says:

        The Netherlands has a lot of signage and a lot of bicycle paths/roads, so if you know the location of base camp, you can probably get going in the right direction relatively quickly, by just going in a random location until you find a road and following it to the signs.

        According to the NYT story, the kids might get a GPS for more challenging drops (like in the Ardennes).

        PS. Note that fietsknooppunten are not actually helpful. It’s a number system, where you can plan and follow routes by going from number sign to number sign. Using it requires already knowing the route you want to go and what numbers are on that route.

        • Lambert says:

          I suppose that works, so long as the roads are safe to walk along.

          In the UK, there’s too many narrow, winding lanes with tall hedges, steep banks and 60mph speed limits.

          Once the kids know how to use a map and compass, though, there’s plenty of public footpaths for them to maraud around.

  11. deltafosb says:

    It wasn’t until the last year that I started to actively listening to lyrics of whatever I’m listening at the moment; even now it’s difficult and every little distraction pulls me from this state of mind (basically I can’t do anything besides listening). Before the lyrics were not that important for me, I treated vocals as any other musical instrument (and I was not aware that it could be any different). What is your experience with music in this regard?

    • Randy M says:

      How else do you sing along?

      • deltafosb says:

        Just as I do (almost) everything else, on autopilot; the internal experience is similar to humming along to music. Paying attention to lyrics is comparable to improvising on a guitar with music in the background.

      • Randy M says:

        That was mostly just a cheeky way of answering your question. It’s possible for me to enjoy a song with lyrics that I don’t empathize with–I’m a big evanescence fan–but it’s harder.

        On our road trip I made use of the skip button on my wife’s playlist, as despite how catchy “There’s not enough rain in Oklahoma” is, I’d reached my quota about songs about abusive husbands/fathers at that point.

        Also, thinking about the lyrics is a way of following along with the melody when I whistle a tune.

    • DinoNerd says:

      A lot of vocal music has unintelligible lyrics – either the style of singing makes it dififcult/impossible for me to distinguish the words, or the singing is in a language I don’t speak. That music can be very useful for me in a noisy workspace – reduces distractions from other people’s conversations. The rest of the time, I don’t like it.

      But otherwise, the lyrics are the main point of vocal music for me, and have been as long as I can remember. I don’t play it unless I want to listen to it.

    • Enkidum says:

      I’m obsessed with lyrics, have been since I was very young. I can often remember large parts of a song after one listen, and can remember the specific circumstances when I first heard several songs.

      I find it very hard to listen to something like, say, Oasis, where the music is pretty good but the lyrics are borderline incoherent gibberish.

      This is a big part of why I listen to so much hip-hop and alt-country, where the lyrics (and their meaning) are generally central.

      • I’d say that the lyrics in music is grammatically correct nonsense the majority of the time. Even in rap, where the lyrics are more central, it’s so full of slang that I often don’t know what they’re saying.

        • Enkidum says:

          I generally avoid the songs which are grammatically correct nonsense. FWIW I think it’s not quite the majority of them, but it’s a significant fraction.

          I really do miss the idea of a standard song, like it was expected that every jazz singer would cover Mack the Knife or whatever. Then you can have all the variety and improvisation and differences you want, but the lyrics still make sense. Ah, for the days of Ella.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve really never understood why covers aren’t more popular. I love them! I can have a hell of a good time at some bar listening to some crappy band play a poor man’s version of “The Best of 90s Alternative Rock.”

            Or even cover bands that attempt to mimic classic singers/bands entirely. Apparently I’m like second cousins or something with one of the country’s most successful Neal Diamond impersonators. Seems like a perfectly respectable career to me!

          • acymetric says:

            I’ve really never understood why covers aren’t more popular.

            Covers are extremely popular. They are, however, less lucrative than originals. In fact, I’m not 100% sure a band keeps any of the money from a recorded cover song after they pay royalties on it (I took a Music Business class a long time ago and could have explained exactly how it works but 10 years without using a bit of knowledge is a long time).

            If you want covers you have to go to the live shows, mostly.

          • You mentioned that you like rap. Look at this excerpt from the song “Ned Flanders*”:

            She wanna twerk on my chain, gettin’ that brain, swerve in your lane, uh
            I fuck her, knock off her bonnet, I had to get it, I want it, honest, yeah (Hooh)
            Ooh, private jet, Nike tech, she up next (Check, right)
            When you a boss, don’t take a loss, count up a check (That’s right)
            SoHo plate, never late, go on dates (Hooh)
            When you get up, they hate, uh
            Diamonds, they drip like a lake (Hooh)
            Ollie a ten, kickflip a eight, nigga I skate (Yeah)

            I can sort of make out the meaning when reading it but it’s not trivial.

            *I’m not picking on this song or anything. I just think it’s pretty representative in terms of lyrics.

          • Enkidum says:

            Who’s that by? One of Odd Future or something (just guessing because of the skate references)?

            I can get most of that on first reading… it’s not exactly dense with meaning. Fuck hoes, get money, spend money, that kind of thing. But I’ve spent a LOT of time somewhat seriously studying this stuff, because it’s definitely very far from my cultural background, and like I said I like it a lot, and am obsessed with lyrics.

            For me it all started when I got into Wu Tang back in the day. Quoting Liquid Swords from memory…

            I’m on a mission
            That niggas say is impossible
            But when I swing my swords they all choppable
            I be the body dropper
            Heart beat stopper
            Child educator plus head amputator
            Cause niggas styles are old like Mark Five sneakers
            Lyrics are weak
            Like clock radio speakers
            Don’t even stop at my station and attack
            Why your plan fail
            It derailed like Amtrak
            What the fuck for
            Damn Allah I make law
            I be justice
            I sentence that ass two to four
            Round the clock
            That’s state pen time check it
            Came through with the Wu
            Slid off on the D L
            I’m low key like sea shells I rock these bells
            Now come aboard it’s Medina bound
            Enter the chamber
            And it’s a whole different sound
            It’s a wide entrance
            Small exit like a funnel
            So deep it’s picked up on radios in tunnels
            Niggas are fascinated how the shit begin
            Get vaccinated my logo is branded in your skin

            It’s not going too far to say that figuring out that funnel metaphor (it’s not that complicated) was one of the more pleasing Aha! moments of my life.

          • acymetric says:

            Rap isn’t a unified genre any more than rock is. There is plenty of rap that reads mostly like sentences when the lyrics are written out. I’m not sure music by K Swisha is representative of…anything.

          • dick says:

            Even in rap, where the lyrics are more central, it’s so full of slang that I often don’t know what they’re saying.

            This is especially a problem in battle rap. I think modern battle rappers have some of the best wordplay going these days (doubly impressive considering that their songs are generally performed once only, for a tiny crowd and almost no money), but much of it is incomprehensible without knowing lots of slang and being familiar enough with the scene to get references to other rappers and things that happened in old battles.

          • Nornagest says:

            The moreso because a lot of the language isn’t slang — it’s idiosyncratic stuff that rappers come up with on the spot and then develop over their career. Aesop Rock (not to be confused with A$ap Rocky) is especially bad with this, although he’s an incredible writer once you figure out what he’s actually saying.

          • JPNunez says:

            IIRC there are two kind of licenses for songs; the mechanical license and the recording license.

            The mechanical license is the license to the lyrics, notes and composition of a song. In USA this can be licensed under a compulsory license, meaning that JPNunez can license, say, whatever Wrong Species’s songs he wants just by paying the this license. This ain’t that much I think.

            The second license is to the actual recording. Once you record a cover, you will have the right to this recording, which you can then sell. In this example, JPNunez retains the rights to the cover, and Wrong Species cannot just distribute JPNunez’s version of WS’s own song in his album, without in turn paying up.

            So whether recording covers is profitable depends on whether you can charge enough from the recording to make up for the mechanical license.

            IIRC the mechanical license is called thus because it comes from when people would make piano rolls for automatic pianos (typical seen in cartoons about westerns), so people would be able to make said piano rolls without reaching an agreement with the song writer, but still making sure the song writer got paid.

          • Enkidum says:

            I find Aesop Rock (and a lot of similar dudes) so dense that it interferes with the marriage of lyrics to music. It’s less like John Donne (who I think is a very apt point of comparison for rap in general) and more like James Joyce, who I find fairly unreadable. But obviously lots of people love Joyce, and musical tastes are not moral imperatives, so it’s all good.

          • dick says:

            Agreed, and I’d go further and say that if Aesop Rock didn’t hook up with very good producers in his early career none of us would’v heard of him.

            For non-fans, this is fairly typical for Aesop Rock:

            I forever wallow in glitches
            Grimly distributed by side effects, consumed, cocooned in antisocial trenches
            Drenched, cradled between dense pillars of polar value,
            Lies a grey so blueless it’s got eye fiending for the sky
            Synthesized lies rise synthetic
            Sitting inside solidified plastics whose lateral burns germs compatible
            My firm’s radically piloted, dodging a fire swiftly
            Yellow-brick stalker walking shifty

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          I’m not so sure about “grammatically correct”. In my experience, many lyrics act as a collection of words that carry an association with some central concept.

    • AG says:

      For most music, lyrics are a means to an end. They help the composer/performer get into a state of mind with which they can create the best music that they can. I might enjoy the phonaesthetics of the words, too. But in that, especially in pop, the actual meanings of the lyrics is subject to Sturgeon’s Law, comprehending their meaning can break immersion. So I prefer listening to foreign language music.

      The exception to this is in musicals, where the lyrics matter, and their actual meanings can contribute to enjoyment. However, there are cases where the emphasis on lyrical meaning can lead to downplaying the music elements, so a lot of modern musical songs rapidly become skips on the music player (unless, again, the phonaesthetics are sufficient to overcome this).

    • Paper Rat says:

      Often prefer to listen to songs in languages, that I don’t speak, because so often lyrics are an unimaginative repetition on the same three or four common themes (regardless of music genre). Occasionally there’s a gem of a singer, who knows how to work the words, but it’s a rarity.

      Most times whether the singer can channel emotions well is way more important to me, than coherent/legible/meaningful lyrics.

    • dick says:

      I have a deep and abiding love of songs with complicated lyrics and have since I was a boy. I don’t consciously try to learn the words to stuff like Modern Major General or Blazing Arrow, it just kind of happens.

    • Nick says:

      I am a distinctly unmusical person, and lyrics are basically the only reason I listen at all.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Has anyone put classical music to lyrics to help me remember which one is which?

        I want to learn to recognize more of it, because reasons, and anything with lyrics I can instantly recite.

        • Randy M says:

          Didn’t Ode to Joy not originally have lyrics?

          • John Schilling says:

            Ode to Joy is a poem by Friedrich Schiller, so yes. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has always had a choral movement with lyrics closely adapted from Schiller’s poem. It was I believe unique and is still extremely rare for a symphony to have a chorus and/or lyrics, possibly because everyone who might be inspired to try it looks to Beethoven and says “we’re not worthy”.

          • Randy M says:

            Thanks for the correction.

          • Enkidum says:

            The lyrics include the word “feuertrunken” which means “drunk from fire” and is thus objectively the best word ever coined.

          • John Schilling says:

            Indeed, approximately half the value I received from studying German for four years was the ability to understand Schiller and Beethoven in the original. Another 30% for Nena Kerner, and 20% for actually being able to speak to German people in my mediocre German rather than their uniformly excellent English.

            And yes, if “feuertrunken” wasn’t a word before Schiller, it’s now well beyond cromulent.

        • SamChevre says:

          If you want lyrics for classical music, the Beethoven’s Wig series is great – you can likely find them in the children’s section of your local library.

        • AG says:

          Star Spangled Banner
          Thaxted, for Holst’s Jupiter
          “Tonight We Love” is a bastardized standard song of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1, but it’s awful because it takes a 3/4 song and does it in 4/4, ugh. Sinatra sings to the original meter in film musical Anchors Aweigh, though.
          Speaking of Sinatra, his song “Daybreak” is from Ferde Grofe’s Mississippi Suite.
          John Williams Is The Man
          27 pop songs you didn’t know were inspired by classical pieces
          A few older examples of classical made pop
          The entire musical Kismet is based off of the music of Alexander Borodin.
          Cartoon show Arthur set some cute english lyrics to Bizet’s Carmen.

          Paired visuals are the better bet than lyrics, imho. Watch the Fantasia films and other similar cartoons. No one will ever set lyrics to Rite of Spring, but you sure can remember dinosaurs.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      I do listen to the lyrics of the songs I hear, and most of them (especially the ones on the radio) are vaguely disgusting drivel. That can sour my enjoyment of music even when the sounds are pleasing.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      I’ve always listened to lyrics, and if I like a song and know it well, but some portion of the lyrics are still opaque to me, I’ll look them up. Or just look up a song to get some idea of what the hell it’s about, because that’s more often a question that has a satisfying answer, as the actual lyrics are usually oblique and/or banal.

      However, it can be an actual pleasure to listen to the lyrics of say, an Elvis Costello song.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I treat lyrics as aesthetic cues. I pay attention to the aesthetic and mood, but not the poetry. Most songs make for very, very bad poems.

      There are a few songs that are delightful poetry and also nice to listen to, and those are really just transcendentally good, but the ones that aren’t don’t bother me.

    • Urstoff says:

      Since I listen to mostly metal with growling vocals, they’re rarely intelligible in the first place, so lyrics aren’t really important except as just another instrument. And if you read the lyrics of most death metal (of the kind I listen to anyway), it’s generally just vague, abstract sounding stuff with no real meaning or impact, so there’s not much value in knowing the lyrics.

      For other kinds of music, lyrics are ok if they’re not so bad they’re distracting. I’m rarely wowed or amused by lyrics of any kind.

      • This is what I like about old school metal. People don’t just like the song Painkiller because of its impressive instrumentals and vocals. They love its relentless, unabashedly over-the-top metal lyrics. Who doesn’t want to hear a song about a super-powered cyborg who comes to Earth on his motorcycle to save us from the apocalypse?

        • Enkidum says:

          On the other hand, does anyone like Iron Man for its lyrics?

          • Matt M says:

            On the other other hand, does anyone not like War Pigs for its lyrics?

            Its metal status probably prevents it from being seen as a legitimately great protest song (that is to say, if it were performed by Bob Dylan with nothing more than a harmonica and an acoustic guitar, it would have been taken much more seriously as such)

          • Nornagest says:

            Rob Halford is at least twice the lyricist that Ozzy Osborne is, though. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ozzy, but we are talking about a guy that rhymed “masses” (in the sense of “crowds”) with “masses” (in the sense of “Black Mass”) and called it a day.

            ETA @Matt M — does that answer your question?

          • Enkidum says:

            Agreed w both Matt M & Nornagest.

            Although I think Ozzy didn’t write the lyrics, did he? Wasn’t he mostly just there to hoover up cocaine and shout incoherently?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            On the other hand, does anyone like Iron Man for its lyrics?

            Tony Stark.

          • Nornagest says:

            While we’re talking about great metal protest songs, though, how about Iron Maiden’s “2 Minutes to Midnight”? It’s top-notch Maiden instrumentally, and the lyrics are pretty good too. Too gruesome to resonate with the kinds of folks that go to Bob Dylan concerts, but I think that’s actually a plus with this subject matter.

          • acymetric says:

            @Matt M

            Maybe among baby boomers…plenty of people see the 70s/80s metal (and 90s grunge/adjacent) as the pinnacle of musical protest. It just isn’t necessarily the same people that see Bob Dylan as the pinnacle of musical protest.

          • dick says:

            Most of the best and most important protest music made since the 90s is hip hop. Change my mind!

          • acymetric says:

            @dick

            Since the 90s? Practically the only protest music (at least with any mainstream traction).

          • SamChevre says:

            Protest music since the 1990’s: I’ll nominate country as a contender.

          • acymetric says:

            Not seeing it, care to provide some examples?

          • Enkidum says:

            @acymetric: Steve Earle has a lot of protest-y songs.

          • Matt M says:

            I like the thought of viewing something like “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” as a protest song, in the sense that being unabashedly pro-aggressive war, despite being official government policy, is far and away a minority position among popular culture as a whole.

            Of course, that’s not exactly a new thing either. “Fightin’ Side of Me” was basically a red-tribe Vietnam-era protest song. Only it was protesting the protestors.

          • SamChevre says:

            “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” – really a battle song more than a protest song

            “Keep the Change”
            “Little Man” – more a lament than a protest song.

            “How Do You Like Me Now” may be the angriest song I’ve heard, although I wouldn’t call it a protest song.

            OK, maybe you’re right–straight protest isn’t as easy to find as I thought.

            (For older stuff, “9 to 5” and “Sixteen Tons” are great.)

          • hls2003 says:

            American Idiot by Green Day was, if I recall correctly, listed as the top (or one of) protest albums of the Bush Administration in industry reviews. Very good album, regardless of how one took the message.

          • Plumber says:

            From my Dad’s record collection: This 1977 Country song

            https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gj2iGAifSNI

          • acymetric says:

            @Plumber

            I was specifically questioning Country as a vehicle for protest in the 2000s (“since the 90s”). Certainly it was that decades ago (along with blues, rock, punk, jazz, and near every other popular form of music at some point). Doubly so if you decide you want to count Southern Rock as a country offshoot (most popular modern country is basically southern rock so that would seem fair).

            @hls2003

            Yeah, American Idiot counts, but stands out as one of the few popular examples that weren’t hip-hop. Gosh, that album came out almost 15(!) years ago.

          • Nornagest says:

            There was a fair amount of political rock in the early- to mid-2000s, mostly protesting Bush administration policy. Rise Against, for example. Rage Against The Machine was still popular into the Bush years, although the only album they released in that timeframe was “Renegades”, a cover album (“Battle of Los Angeles” was 1999). NoFX’s “War on Errorism” is probably popular enough to be worth mentioning, although it isn’t really good — there’s good protest punk (Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion), but most of it is pre-2000.

      • gettin_schwifty says:

        The band Pyrrhon rates high on both lyrical content and unintelligibility. I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone who isn’t into metal, though, the music is impressively dissonant, maybe even atonal at times.

        Also, I feel remiss not mentioning Nile. Most of their lyrics are about Egyptian mythology, and from the liner notes it seems like they really know their stuff.

        • Urstoff says:

          Pyrrhon just never clicked with me for some reason. From 2017 alone, I preferred Ingurgitating Oblivion and Dodecahedron for dissonant death metal above Pyrrhon’s album. This year’s Warforged and Ceremony of Silence are really good too. Don’t have a clue what any of them are signing about, though.

          Maybe I should give What Passes for Survival another shot.

      • GreatColdDistance says:

        Just here to namedrop Allegaeon, whose AI-themed “Proponent for Sentience” might be of some interest to the folks around here.

    • I’m the other way around. I find poetry more interesting than music, so regard the music as accompaniment to the lyrics. I gather Monteverdi was of the same opinion.

      Unfortunately, most songs don’t have very interesting lyrics, but there are occasional exceptions, such as Leonard Cohen.

    • SamChevre says:

      I grew up with no musical instruments or recorded music, but with singing a very common activity. (I could almost certainly sing from memory more than one verse of more than a thousand hymns.) For me, lyrics are the main event. Sometimes I’ll listen to music without lyrics as background while working, but to actually focus on music without comprehensible lyrics takes a good bit of effort.

    • BBA says:

      Often I’ll find the lyrics a distraction from an otherwise good song. In particular I can’t stand RATM because of Zack de la Rocha’s insultingly obnoxious lyrics, even though Tom Morello is an incredible guitarist. (I was into Audioslave.)

    • Bamboozle says:

      I’ve always had to focus on the vocals in any song to the exclusion of all other elements and it’s the primary reason i can’t stand most pop/chart music. That shit is so repetitive and the lyrics will be with me all day every time i hear one of those songs.

      my partner on the other hand doesn’t know the lyrics to anything and finds it hard to pick up even when trying to. I’m guessing the majority of people are like her and that’s why popular music is popular, but god i wish it wasn’t!

    • Plumber says:

      It depends on the song, I can enjoy stuff like Carl Orf’s Omnia Sol Temperat
      despite it being in a language that I don’t speak, but for other songs like Up the Junction by Squeeze, the lyrics make a big difference.

  12. Eponymous says:

    I’m surprised not to see any commentary on the big pre-registered growth mindset study that just came out, finding no effect.

    While one study doesn’t settle things, I think this comes pretty close, particularly after one takes into account what our prior should be here (pretty low, in my view).

    Is anyone revising their views on this? As expected? Still holding out hope?

    • Plumber says:

      @Eponymous,
      I never heatd of the study or indeed of “growth mindset training” before, and I generally expect well-proven ways to be superior to most new things that are tried anyway so no revision in my views.

      • Eponymous says:

        Scott wrote a series of four posts about it in 2015. See here.

        From memory, I think Scott’s bottom line was, this sounds like the sort of thing that shouldn’t be true, but it seems the studies are actually solid, though the effect size is probably small so it’s not the panacea Dweck is selling.

        I think Scott’s predictions generally look good in light of subsequent research. But if the latest one holds up, maybe he should have been more confident in his anti-GM views.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I’m surprised not to see any commentary on the big pre-registered growth mindset study that just came out, finding no effect.

      Finding no effect yet, gr—wait, shit.

    • Deiseach says:

      Telling under-achieving kids that they can do better if they pull up their socks and do some work, and hey presto they find out that if they study a bit harder and pay more attention in class and do some work, they do improve on tests? Yes, what a marvellous discovery!

      Well, that’s too snarky. That is basically what growth mindset boils down to, though; if you discourage children early, they’ll learn to be helpless and hopeless, and if you keep encouraging them (where “encourage” can mean “put the fear of God into them” just as much as “praise and lollipops”) that they can do better and go places if they work hard and then they will improve.

      (This is why homework, by the way – I’m amused at times by the posts over on the sub-reddit that crop up every now and again about procrastination, often but not always from college students, about how they know they’ve got to get this particular piece of work done but they just can’t make themselves buckle down to it. Congratulations, this is why homework, to train you to buckle down and do boring, tedious but necessary work and turn it in on time or else.)

      Under-achieving is doing a lot of the heavy lifting there; if they’re under-achieving because they’re bright but lazy or discouraged, then “growth mindset” will work. If they’re under-achieving because they’re not able for the work, then it won’t – there will be some improvement because working hard will always garner some improvement, but you’re not going to see huge and sustained gains over time.

      Growth mindset as the approved way to encourage and not discourage kids in school, great. I think that’s important, because with the emphasis on measuring schools by performance results which means ‘how do the kids do on tests’, it’s easy to discourage less able students if it’s constantly “you’re not getting As on the tests, you are dragging the school down”. But it’s no panacea and won’t be a one-size-fits-all turn your D students into A students solution (you may get from a D to a C, and that’s good, but it’s not a miracle cure).

      • Randy M says:

        Congratulations, this is why homework, to train you to buckle down and do boring, tedious but necessary work and turn it in on time or else

        But if you are smart enough to pass with your homework scribbled in the first five minutes of class, it trains you that you can get away with procrastinating the busywork.

        • Statismagician says:

          Indeed. I think this is more ‘why essays’ than ‘why homework;’ my experience is that any homework straightforward enough for the lowest-performing section of the class to have a chance at is so easy for the higher ones that it doesn’t really accomplish much. This is in US public schools, which don’t do a lot of tracking or explicit ability-sorting, so mileage may vary.

          • AG says:

            Essays have much more subjective grading, though, and most teachers don’t have the energy to reward actually creative writing. My freshman year of English taught me not to try writing any essays not regurgitating the interpretation the teacher gave us for the books we read. But that training also served me well for getting high scores on AP test essays.

            The thing that taught me to actually write good essays was competitive debate.

        • Enkidum says:

          Yup, this is exactly what I learned. Other than English class, where writing takes a little time, I don’t think I ever had to do more than about 20 minutes of work on anything until about Grade 12, and you can bet your ass this did not prepare me for what I’d have to do in advanced calculus, not to mention the rest of my adult life.

      • broblawsky says:

        I guess the question here is, how confident are you that this approach yields meaningful improvements? Because the study linked above suggests that it doesn’t.

      • this is why homework, to train you to buckle down and do boring, tedious but necessary work and turn it in on time or else.

        Better to teach that lesson with tedious work that is actually necessary for something the kid wants to achieve.

        • Matt M says:

          Right. For the top ~20% of students, homework teaches a very counter-productive lesson – that routine skill-building and basic instruction-following is largely pointless and will not be rewarded in any meaningful way.

          • localdeity says:

            It taught me that the adults in authority would cheerfully waste thousands of hours of my time (on top of the classes themselves). It taught me that nearly all of them either didn’t have my best interests at heart (in one case a teacher explicitly said “If I made an exception for you I’d have hundreds of parents beating down my door to demand the same”), or were simply unwilling to accept the idea that their curriculum wasn’t optimal for some students. It taught me that dropping out of the education system entirely, and working on programming myself (and eventually getting paid to do it), was a desirable career path, and one I intend to pass on to others.

        • Nick says:

          Teachers definitely made an effort in this direction when I was in high school. Write about something that interests you! they would say. Same if we were to give a presentation, within limits. But the last thing I want to do with a topic that interests me is share it with my teacher, and I doubt I was unusual in that regard.

          Not sure if the problem there is us or them.

          • AG says:

            For me, the issue was more about not having a constrained thesis to focus an essay or presentation on.

            I think that it would have been better for them to teach something useful, but that students didn’t always realize was so useful, like a home ec practical application, or a real example a professional encountered at work.

            Wouldn’t it be nice if students graduated high school knowing how to do their taxes, as well as how to research their tax options? Tedious but necessary.

            I had a math teacher assign a project where we would put together the research on buying a car and the payment plan as per annuities or something, but didn’t actually teach us anything about annuities or whatever, so I threw together some googled number salad, got a mid-to-lower B grade, and still have zero knowledge regarding buying cars via annuities or something. So yeah. I really would have liked it if I got education on actual practical living things at some point before getting thrown in the deep end after college.

          • DeWitt says:

            Wouldn’t it be nice if students graduated high school knowing how to do their taxes, as well as how to research their tax options? Tedious but necessary.

            No, it’d be nice if you stopped caving to lobbyists and did what nations elsewhere do: stop being obtuse about taxes. This isn’t some cutting edge reform, this is the case in many places.

            It’s true that being able to do your own taxes is a useful skill nowadays, but learning a specialised set of skills that nobody should have to learn but remains relevant because the professionals scream bloody murder when someone raises the idea that they should rightfully become obsolete because and only because you never got around to making them obsolete is the very definition of tedious and unnecessary.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s true that being able to do your own taxes is a useful skill nowadays

            Nah, even this isn’t really true. Almost everyone making near or below the median income can file their taxes for free, in a fairly easy and simple and straightforward manner, online with TurboTax or H&R Block or whatever.

            To the extent that “do your own taxes” implies some additional thought beyond this simple form-filling exercise, it’s only useful to the fairly rich, or to people who find themselves in oddly specific and generally rare tax situations.

          • AG says:

            The point isn’t for everyone to do their own taxes from now on, but to un-black-box taxes, or un-black-box getting a mortgage and calculating how debt impacts lifestyle, or un-black-box insurance, or alert them as to the marketing tricks that calculate out to lesser deals. For people to conceptually understand key parts of their life. So that they aren’t completely in the dark when they vote for policies that only hurt them.

            Financial literacy is entirely too low right now.

          • Nornagest says:

            TurboTax and competitors are too predatory for me to recommend them — they’ll offer federal filing for free up to a point, but state filings often aren’t and they’ll upsell you every step of the way.

            If you can do eighth-grade math, though, you can fill out the actual, factual IRS forms online, which TurboTax is basically just a prettier front-end to anyway. The UI isn’t the most intuitive, but they won’t take your forms unless they’re roughly correct, and they won’t penalize you if it takes a few tries.

          • acymetric says:

            There are legitimately free online tax services you can use. I can’t remember the name of the one I used this past year but the IRS site actually compiles a list of them (your income has to be under a certain threshold, but it is reasonably high).

            Nice for people who live somewhere in between “give me the 1040-EZ and the standard deduction please” and “give me a team of 20 tax lawyers, we’ve got to figure out how to turn this yacht into a business expense”.

    • sty_silver says:

      Is this study about the effect of growth mindset, or about the effect of trying to change to growth mindset? I can’t tell from reading the stuff on the link.

  13. Deiseach says:

    So the Conservative Party has a new leader and the UK has a new Prime Minister and it’s Boris Johnson, as mostly everyone expected. Brexit is definitely* going ahead, deal or no deal, by October 31st at the very latest.

    Things (particularly Anglo-Irish relationships**) are about to get even more interesting!

    *Definition of “definitely” to be defined at a later date

    **E.g. allegedly said, when Foreign Secretary, about our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “Why isn’t he called Murphy like all the rest of them?” What a hilarious thigh-slapper, BoJo! But don’t worry, we don’t need the backstop and there won’t be a hard border because magic tech will take care of all that. What magic tech, you ask? Don’t ask that, it’s a simple matter of can-do spirit and the moon landing!

    • broblawsky says:

      Is there anywhere I can place a bet on there being a general election before October 31st?

      • Tarpitz says:

        I’m sure there is, but do be aware that for that to happen Parliament has to move very fast. The absolute latest they could start the process is the 10th of September, and that might in practice not be soon enough. They’re on recess for almost all of that time – from Thursday until the 3rd of September. Essentially, I think they would have to return from recess and immediately pass a no confidence motion in the government.

        • brad says:

          Couldn’t they vote no confidence today or tomorrow?

          • Watchman says:

            Yes, but since the one issue that would possibly cause Conservatives (who have a majority with the Ulster Unionist votes) to oppose the government in a no confidence vote would be leaving the EU without a deal is the one issue that a reasonable number of Labour MPs would abstain from, I don’t think they’ll try it.

            Plus a government has to do something to have no confidence in them I guess.

            Plus the polls say a Johnson-led Conservative party are likely to win an election, so not exactly benefitting the opposition.

          • DeWitt says:

            Plus the polls say a Johnson-led Conservative party are likely to win an election, so not exactly benefitting the opposition.

            Seriously?

            What even is Labor doing that it can’t win an election after this much blundering? I know polls aren’t that reliable, but sheesh..

          • salvorhardin says:

            @dewitt

            well, the conventional wisdom seems to be “being led by an obvious loon and blatant anti-Semite.” CW is not always correct, of course, but in this case it’s at least plausible.

        • b_jonas says:

          Can the Parliament choose to postpone the recess if there’s an urgent matter they have resolve, such as the brexit?

    • John Schilling says:

      This was one of the secret escalator clauses in the Anglo-American Political Entertainment Treaty of 2016. The original deal was, the Brits had to actually go through with Brexit, in exchange for our giving them a Trump presidency for their amusement. Since they wimped out on that, we had no choice but to invoke the Boris Johnson clause.

      If this works out, AAPE II will involve a Corbyn government in London and an AOC presidency in the United States, both committed to renouncing the Treaty of Paris. That way everybody gets to see everybody else, on every side, at both their “smug and arrogant” and “deranged and insane” extremes, with no chance of moderation or executive competency spoiling the fun.

    • Cliff says:

      Why not just not put up a border at all? Granted there will be smuggling, but so what?

      • Lambert says:

        Enforcing a border between the UK and EU is kind of the entire point of Hard Brexit.
        It would be like Trump building the Wall then letting whoever turns up at the border in legally.

        And it leaves a big hole in the EU’s border control. You’d be able to smuggle anything GB-NI-ROI-France without paying EU import duties.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          It would be like Trump building the Wall then letting whoever turns up at the border in legally.

          Isn’t that the actual plan? Anyone who steps up to the Wall can say “I’m seeking asylum”, then they let them into a detention center on the US side of the Wall and every Democrat yells for them to be released from the concentration camp?
          The Wall seems like a very expensive irrelevant part of the system.

          • That’s not the plan. That’s just how it turns out in our political environment.

          • DeWitt says:

            1: actual Democrat policy is inconsistent with what you’re going on about.

            2: what you’re describing isn’t working for the people who are yelling very well at all.

          • Matt M says:

            The main purpose of the wall is to prove that red tribe can occasionally actually get something, anything, they want, via the political system.

            So far, the lack of a wall only proves that no, they totally can’t.

          • Statismagician says:

            @ Matt M – given the whole ‘two years with control of both houses of Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court’ thing, it kinda looks like the Red Tribe not getting what they want is an own-goal situation. Possibly the Red Tribe does not itself know what it wants to any kind of actionable degree of detail?

          • Matt M says:

            @ Matt M – given the whole ‘two years with control of both houses of Congress, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court’ thing, it kinda looks like the Red Tribe not getting what they want is an own-goal situation.

            What could red tribe (as in, the average red tribe voter, not as in Donald Trump and Paul Ryan and Clarence Thomas) have done to be any clearer about what they wanted to happen in regards to immigration and border policy?

            What can they do now? Abandon him and vote for… who exactly? Who is out there running on a platform of “I’m like Trump except I will actually do the things he only said he would do and then didn’t do?” I mean, I think that’s basically Ann Coulter’s platform, but as far as I know, she isn’t running…

          • Eponymous says:

            @Statismagician

            Red Tribe != Republican Party.

            The GOP leadership got its biggest priorities (corporate tax cut, SCOTUS nominees). The rest — wall, repealing ACA, cutting spending — wasn’t stuff they actually cared about.

          • broblawsky says:

            No straw-men, please.

    • Eponymous says:

      By the way, what’s the argument that Boris Johnson is actually bad? From the limited media coverage I’ve seen, this seems to be taken for granted, but the argument is mainly by innuendo and implication: He’s the “British Trump”. He has messy hair and looks kind of funny. He supported Brexit (boo!). He has said a few “offensive” things.

      Okay, but is there an actual case that he’s incompetent or unqualified to be prime minister?

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        He got hired by the Times via family connections, promptly got fired for making quotations up out of whole cloth Then he landed a job with The Daily Telegraph, again via connections, moved to the position of Brussels correspondent, where he was extremely dishonest and incompetent, but did not get fired for it because The Daily Telegraph did not actually mind that their Brussels correspondent just turned in entertaining lies.

        Moved from there to MP of a sleepy, rich, conservative suburb, a job which it is basically impossible to fuck up, somehow managed to become mayor of London, and did a pretty shit job of that, but did an effective job of keeping himself in the public eye.

        After this, became one of the focal points of the brexit campaign, with the obvious expectation that it would fail, but bring him more fame and pull in the tory party.
        When it went through, you could literally see him publicly panic in interviews, and he made a complete ass of himself when May gave him a job.

        Lying liar who lies, shit administrator.

        • Eponymous says:

          landed a job with The Daily Telegraph, again via connections, moved to the position of Brussels correspondent, where he was extremely dishonest and incompetent, but did not get fired for it because The Daily Telegraph did not actually mind that their Brussels correspondent just turned in entertaining lies.

          Sounds like he wasn’t incompetent then! Also, I’d like to see evidence for the claim that he routinely printed lies.

          somehow managed to become mayor of London, and did a pretty shit job of that

          How did he do a poor job?

          he made a complete ass of himself when May gave him a job

          How? Also, how did he wind up PM if your description is accurate?

          • DeWitt says:

            how did he wind up PM if your description is accurate?

            Because all the other rats know to get the hell of a sinking ship instead.

          • broblawsky says:

            How did he do a poor job?

            The most obvious example (which is peripherally related to some of my work) is the notorious Boris Buses, a fiasco masterminded by Johnson which resulted in London paying hundreds of millions of pounds for hybrid-electric buses with damaged batteries, poor air conditioning, and a generally unergonomic and misery-inducing design.

          • J Mann says:

            Here’s a rundown of Johnson’s EU claims as Brussels correspondent – most of them are partially true, but the part varies and at the very least, it’s sloppy. (Claim is in bold; explanation follows)

            1) EU rules forbid recycling teabags. What Johnson was referring to was that acting under an EU directive, Cardiff forbade the composting of teabags. EU defenders argue that although it’s apparently true that EU Animal By-Products Regulation 2002 directs against allowing the composting of products that have come in contact with milk, it leaves the implementation up to local bodies. (And it doesn’t sound like many other places have outlawed teabag composting).

            2) EU Rules set standards on coffin sizes. The “Council of Europe” has passed rules on coffin construction, and those rules do affect coffin sizes, but the Council of Europe is separate from the EU, and most of the rules deal with aspects of coffins other than size.

            3) EU rules govern how much power vacuum cleaners may have. True, but EU defenders say the rules are a good idea and you should be happy with the vacuum they allow you to have.

            4) EU rules say children under eight cannot blow up balloons. EU rules *do* require balloons to carry a warning that children under eight should not blow up balloons without parental supervision, but there are no other enforcement mechanisms.

          • Eponymous says:

            @ J Mann

            If that’s the worst of it, it’s not so bad. First, most of these refer to things he was saying in support of Brexit, not things he wrote as a correspondent, which was the original claim. Expectations for politicians differ from expectations for journalists. Second, most of the claims are either correct, or at worst somewhat exaggerated. One was based on old data, and one was about a pre-EU ordinance. All had a foundation in fact and support his argument.

          • Deiseach says:

            How did he do a poor job?

            The Garden Bridge fiasco, for one, which was a vanity project by some famous pals of his, ending up costing £43 million of public money and has now been abandoned. Handling of the congestion charges. The Boris Buses which were much-trumpeted but didn’t work out. When he first decided to stand for Parliament, shopped around for a seat and was parachuted into a safe seat in Henley, which he then dropped during his second term there as soon as he won the mayoralty (which, fair enough, is what happens most safe seats used to get a prospect some political experience before they go on to bigger and better things).

            Wikipedia has a good run-down; a lot of it was sounding out of touch with ordinary people, especially those finding it hard to live in London due to the cost of living – when defending keeping on his writing and journalism gigs while Mayor of London (because it was simply impossible to live on £140,000 a year) he defended himself by calling what he would earn from these “chicken feed” – some chicken, if it costs £250,000 a year to feed! And for ordinary people not earning anything remotely in that region, that sounds insulting and patronising and out of touch: how can he be mayor of a city where he doesn’t have the first idea of how the majority live?

          • J Mann says:

            @Eponymous – it’s a little Trumpy.

            Most sources consider Johnson’s statements on those subject to be ridiculous, laughable lies, but coming at the issue from outside, it looks more to me like they’re what the fact checkers would call “partially true” or “partially false.” (“How dare you say that EU rules address coffin sizes, Sir, when in fact Council of Europe rules address coffin size?!?”)

            On the other hand, maybe long experience with the guy is enough to remove any entitlement to charity, and we just don’t have that experience.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            History teaches us that power vacuums are very dangerous. Anyone willing to take on the job of cleaning one should be entitled to charge whatever the traffic will bear.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Incidentally, the Council of Europe describes itself as “the continent’s leading human rights organisation”. That it should busy itself regulating coffin sizes is surely Peak Europe.

          • Lambert says:

            How come coffin sizes are standardised by the Council of Europe, rather than by an EN?

          • J Mann says:

            Apparently, the Council of Europe is responsible for a 1973 treaty on the requirements for transporting corpses across borders, and there may or may not have been some subsequent regulation or legislation in 1993. The relevant bits of that treaty apparently mostly address how sturdy and sealed coffins need to be, which I admit seems fairly reasonable.

      • dick says:

        As an American who has been watching a lot of British TV for many years: Boris seems to have been in the national media for one thing or another for so many years that he’s practically synonymous with “rich twit”. Brits have a sort of complex love/hate relationship with their upper class; Boris, by having been a media figure for several decades and by conspicuously and unapologetically epitomizing many upper-class stereotypes, is sort of metonymically representative of a related set of viewpoints and a worldview associated with posh conservative types. So when you ask people why they don’t like him, it’s not going to be a single thing he did, it’s also the worldview he represents. (Actual Brits please chime in if you think this is way off)

      • Deiseach says:

        Okay, but is there an actual case that he’s incompetent or unqualified to be prime minister?

        “Smart but untrustworthy” is the general view. He gets away with playing the buffoon because he’s smart enough underneath and everyone accepts that he’s playing the traditional Great English Eccentric. However, it really is a case of “The louder he talked of his honour/The faster we counted the spoons”.

        For a start, he seemingly cannot stop himself fucking anything in a skirt. Just about a month ago, while involved in the run-up to the leadership contest and the whole “what I will do about Brexit if selected” presentation, the cops were called to the flat he shares with his current girlfriend (whom he has shacked up with while divorcing his wife) due to a concerned neighbour hearing a screaming row complete with plate smashing. She’s not the first bit on the side, either, and his history with the ladies and any offspring he may or may not have fathered is less than gallant.

        Put that aside, even though it’s not the kind of brouhaha you want a potential Prime Minister to be embroiled in on the cusp of a very important decision about the fate of the nation.

        He’s also a bit two-faced, famously having written two articles (one pro-EU, one anti-EU) for his newspaper employer at the time of the whole leaving referendum, and he’s also stuck with being one of the Bullingdon Club lot. There’s also the whole NHS Brexit bus thing, the being stabbed in the back by Gove for the leadership first time round, and a few other matters of that ilk, including his time as Foreign Secretary where he is perceived (how true or not I cannot say) as having practiced the Duke of Edinburgh approach to diplomacy (i.e. turn up in foreign nations and insult the inhabitants).

        Basically, the general opinion is that Boris is out for Number One and he’ll say or do anything to that end, including wrapping himself in the flag, but when the chips are down he’s pure self-interest. He’s already talking about borrowing more money to cover government spending, and if there’s a recession right around the corner, this doesn’t seem like a prudent thing to do, on top of the uncertainty over Brexit.

      • brad says:

        Why the feigned ignorance when the responses make it clear you already have a strongly held position?

        • Eponymous says:

          You are mistaken; the question was genuine. My responses were motivated by skepticism and a desire to know the truth. They naturally took the form of questioning the claims put forward by my interlocutors. It’s not my fault that these were mostly of one opinion.

          Incidentally, I just heard NPR describe Johnson as “very popular” as mayor of London. This seems inconsistent with the view that he did a terrible job.

          It does sound like his October 31 goal is highly unrealistic, so he’s coming into a very difficult situation (of course, partly of his own making!). This lowers his chances for success.

          • Aapje says:

            This seems inconsistent with the view that he did a terrible job.

            You think that politicians are primarily judged on how well they actually do???

          • Randy M says:

            You think that politicians are primarily judged on how well they actually do???

            For local politicians, even big city mayors, it probably is. QoL issues like crime, taxes, policing, or utility services are things the mayor will have an influence on or responsibility for, and most residents won’t overlook those for ideology’s sake.
            Possibly for identity’s sake in some cases, though.

          • Eponymous says:

            You think that politicians are primarily judged on how well they actually do???

            I would hope there’s at least a correlation. Enough that it’s pretty unlikely that a mayor who was *clearly* incompetent would be highly popular at the end of his term.

          • Protagoras says:

            In my part of the world, Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci was very popular in Providence for many years. Besides being charismatic, he basically overspent during good economic times and had the good fortune to be removed from office by scandal before the economy turned and cutbacks were needed, and then managed to return to office once the budget had been repaired and the economy was recovering again to do it all over. So, no, I don’t think a mayor being popular is particularly strong evidence of his being competent.

  14. sharper13 says:

    Interesting study looking at the perception gap between what Republicans and Democrats think each other believe and how they actually respond on a survey.

    I took their quiz and came up with a perception gap of 10%, which is apparently a bit of an outlier, but they make a good case for the prevalence of ideological bubbles, even if the questions they ask aren’t the most precise possible.

    • Plumber says:

      Someone linked to a synopsis of that study a few weeks ago, and IIRC the best and the worst at accurately guessing the opposing parties views were both Democrats.

      Low education Democrats were far more accurate in describing Republicans views than were highly educated Democrats who were lousy at it.

      Republicans on-the-other-hand didn’t get worse in their guesses of Democrats views with more education, but they did get worse with partisan media use.

      Those who mostly got their news from broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC) television did better in accurately describing the views of the other Party than users of cable television and the internet.

      • sharper13 says:

        Dratz, and I took the time to do a site:slatestarcodex.com google search first just in case someone had already commented on it. I just tried a few likely searches and still couldn’t find the comment, so I guess the keywords I’d associate with it just aren’t there.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Low education Democrats were far more accurate in describing Republicans views than were highly educated Democrats who were lousy at it.

        Do you have the source for that handy? That’s a fascinating result.

        • Plumber says:

          @Jaskologist,

          When the study came out there were opinion pieces that said as much, but I didn’t bother searching for them because from the link that @sharper13 provided above:

          “….Democrats’ understanding of Republicans actually gets worse with every additional degree they earn. This effect is so strong that Democrats without a high school diploma are three times more accurate than those with a postgraduate degree….”

          which has lots of graphs to suss out your own conclusions from.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’ve said before that I think these questions are essentially bullshit, because they mostly test how you interpret the question, not the actual views.

            Take the first question: “Properly controlled immigration” could mean many things including “immigration from only white, European countries”.

            Thus, if I think of properly controlled immigration as “controlled, but substantial inflows from every country of the world” and I answer that you won’t approve of that, I am likely correct, we just interpret the meaning of the question differently.

            The fact that my interpretation of an ambiguous question changes as my education increases isn’t surprising.

          • Plumber says:

            @HeelBearCub,
            Also the organization doing the study is called “More in Common” and their agenda is bi-partisanship.

          • Randy M says:

            I think people are finally starting to realize how easy it is to skew results with the phrasing of questions.
            I should make a survey to find out.

          • CatCube says:

            @Randy M

            I’m now morally obligated to link the Yes, Prime Minister video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA

    • Nornagest says:

      -3% for Democrats, -9% for Republicans.

      For Dems, I overestimated “proud to be an American” and underestimated agreement with “completely open borders”, “America should be a socialist country”, and “America should abolish ICE”.

      For Republicans, I overestimated agreement with “people are right to be concerned about climate change”, and severely overestimated agreement with “Donald Trump is a flawed person” (by 39%, how’d that happen?), but most everything else was within margins of error.

      (FWIW: college graduate, independent, get most of my news from the Internet)

      • sharper13 says:

        That’s pretty good, although it sounds like you fall into one of the their “best” categories already.

        I overestimated “Donald Trump is a flawed person” by a lot as well. I wonder if it’s the verbiage tripping people up, in terms of how literally people take it vs. just taking it as a pro/anti-trump thing.

        I mean, how many officially Christians don’t think anyone not Christ is flawed in at least some way?

        • Randy M says:

          I just started to take this quiz, and the questions really make me doubt the methodology. Maybe you rationalists are rubbing off on me, but they are asking for yes/no answers to absolute questions and I don’t think either response will capture my opinions much at all.

          Properly controlled immigration can be good for America

          Does disagree mean I think immigration should be uncontrolled? Or that I think there is no chance any immigration, no matter the controls, can be beneficial, ever?

          Racism still exists in America

          Does agree mean I think systemic racism is a major problem and explains all the racial gaps in outcome or that someone somewhere is racist?

          And I agree that no one could call Trump flawless except as hyperbole or signalling, but you could say the same about any previous president, or person. Really odd choice of wording.

          It looks like it might get better on the next page.

          That said:

          My Perception Gap is: 4%

          Sweet, nevermind the complaints, I’m apparently the resident expert on Democrats. (edit: except for those down thread with lower scores and valid complaints about the scoring method)

          • Nick says:

            0%, baby! But if you sum the absolute values my score would be terrible.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That is interesting. I wonder what the numbers would be asking Democrats “Obama is a flawed person.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:
            You and I agree. These questions seemed designed to reach the conclusion they wish as they largely depend on interpretation of the question itself, not the underlying views.

      • albatross11 says:

        This is similar to how mine turned out–I assumed everyone agreed with “DJT is a flawed person,” but otherwise was reasonably close.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Their math is bizarre, and makes me look a lot more accurate than I really am, because I’m not at all consistent as to which direction I get things wrong in.

      So while the absolute value of my misperception of Democrats ranges from 8-38%, the net reported is a mere -3%. The absolute value of my misperception of Republicans ranges from 2-35% giving me a net of 10%. This makes me better than all the averages, except maybe people estimating the opinions of their own party members (not given).

      I figure this is a pretty decent result for a foreigner, even one who’s lived in the US for 25 years. (I’m not naturalized, and haven’t really followed US politics at all until relatively recently.)

      • Tyler says:

        Agree, it’s using a simple average instead of a sum of squares based formula. I had the good fortune of missing only two in each party by any significant error and it was in opposite directions each time so my net result was (2%) for democrats and 0% for republicans but with a 20% miss in each of my four misses.

      • aristides says:

        I was in a similar boat with my scoring. I got a 1% gap which sounds good, but means I think Democrats are much more pro open borders than I expected, and much more patriotic and fun supporting than I expected

      • gbdub says:

        I think both a straight average and an absolute difference average could be useful.

        The unsigned average tells you how “informed” you are – a zero indicates you’re perfectly calibrated, a large number indicates you’re way off.

        A signed average has the problem you note, you could be way off across the board but get a small number if you were wrong in opposition directions.

        But combined with the , that sign if the signed average could give a “bias” score – a large signed difference indicates that you tend to consistently over or underestimate the extremity of that side’s views.

        Are they doing something to correct for directionality or really just averaging the raw number? One issue with using the signed average as I mentioned is that the direction of “extreme view” is not consistent among the questions. E.g. someone who thought the Democrats are very extreme would probably overestimate the number who want to abolish ICE, and underestimate the number who are proud of America.

        • GreatColdDistance says:

          The “extreme” direction varies when they ask the question, which is good as it makes you think more while answering, but if you check the reported section they flip about half the questions to make the “extreme” direction consistent when they calculate the final score.

          So IMO the final gap is a useful measure even with strong cancellations, cause a large gap would show that you consistently over/underestimate how extreme a party’s supporters are.

    • k10293 says:

      My errors cancelled out and I miraculously (and luckily) got a 0% gap on predicting Republican views.

      I had fairly large (~15%) underestimates on racism existing and properly controlled immigration. And I had a fairly large (~15%) overestimate on Donald trump being a flawed person. The rest were fairly close (<5%) and were all slight overestimates.

      I'm a somewhat liberal college graduate who gets news from Politico, NYT, 538, and Apple News.

      • sharper13 says:

        Judging by the tiny sample of your score and @DinoNerd and others, either SSC readers are much more likely to do well on the “test”, or we have a bit of publication bias in that only those who do well are likely to post a comment listing their score, or a combination of both. 🙂

      • Eponymous says:

        You got 0, but that was averaging pretty large errors. They really should report MSE.

    • Clutzy says:

      It is an interesting study, which replicates things I’ve seen before, but I think it is biased against certain people. Mainly, if you are an internet based person, you will view your opposition as internet Dems/Republicans, who are different than TV Dems/Republicans.

    • Deiseach says:

      I had forgotten this was the survey with misleading questions. First, my results:

      Perception gap between me and Democrats: -4% (yes, that’s a negative number, means I don’t attribute more extreme positions to Democrats than they hold in reality; hanging out here must be having a good effect on me!)

      Perception gap between me and Republicans: 3%

      So I’m doing better than many Real Actual Americans on this. But this is a rubbish survey, and I’ll explain why: reading the scores, for the Democrat questions they had FOUR of the six questions scored as “% disagree”, which is NOT how the questions are phrased. They had NONE of the Republican questions scored this way.

      So they’re deck-stacking to get a predetermined result: “Oh look, those (unreasonable bigoted) conservatives think Democrats are all crazy extremists, but liberals understand Republicans better and are more nuanced and smell nicer and wear more stylish clothes”.

      Bah, humbug.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      2% and 12%. Foreigner. I guess Republicans are more Democrat than I expected. Ironically, I was dead right on half of Republicans considering Trump to be flawed 😀

    • Zeno of Citium says:

      Highly educated Democrat, 8% perception gap against Republicans. I was consistently slightly pessimistic, thinking the other side has slightly more extreme views on every question but one (where I was about 3% too optimistic). I should update slightly, but that seems pretty good.

    • Eponymous says:

      Took the quiz. My perception gap was -4% — basically democrats are more socialist and more anti-ICE than I thought.

      • Eponymous says:

        To add: My error was <3 for all other questions. But on those two: I thought ~35% of Ds want to abolish ICE, and ~20% want America to be a socialist country. Turns out the true numbers are ~50% and ~40%, which are *insane*.

        I guess Democrats really are a lot more extreme than I had thought.

        • Nornagest says:

          I had similar results, but I think we’re seeing a similar effect here as with “Donald Trump is a flawed person” — that is, the most topical-sounding questions are getting answered as tribal markers. Not “Abolish ICE”, but “are you woke on immigration?”. Not “Donald Trump is a flawed person”, but “are you anti-Trump?”.

          • Eponymous says:

            I agree that “Abolish ICE” is a sort of lefty cheer at the moment, sort of like “build the wall”. I don’t think it means literally “our government should have no agency devoted to border and customs enforcement” any more than the latter means “We should build a 1,000 mile Great Wall of Texas along the Rio Grande.”

            I suspect with “socialism” we’re seeing a real shift, at least linguistically and probably politically. Socialism is no longer a dirty word, at least on the left — it’s not North Korea or Venezuela, it’s Denmark and Sweden. If this is right, we’ll probably see people like Bernie, Warren, and AOC continue doing well.

    • Plumber says:

      @sharper13,
      Since I try to imitate the cool kids I took the test as well and got a -18%.

      My biggest failures were that more Democrats think that socialism is a good idea and more Republicans think Trump is without flaw than I guessed (both of which confuse me, I’m guessing more Democrats are thinking Norway not North Korea as;the meaning of “socialism”, but c’mon Trump isn’t Jesus!).

      I’m a Democrat with a year of community college.

    • Jon S says:

      I’m a Democrat and got a -15% gap for Republicans. I have a hard time believing that people are answering the questions literally – do 1/3rd of Republicans really believe that there are hardly any Muslims who are good Americans?

      • Randy M says:

        Let’s see, I haven’t said anything controversial in awhile, have I? I’ll give this an answer, though I don’t necessarily think it is reflective of most Republicans.

        Like I said, I don’t like these questions. This was the only one that I answered in the extreme direction, and I thought about it awhile before answering yes.

        I don’t think that there are no Muslims here who are good neighbors or employees. But a nation is more than a place people work, and I think nations tend to be better with unity rather than diversity.

        Obviously a nation that unites around an idea that promotes or condones some evil is going to be worse than an admixture. And also obviously, even if it would be better for America to be non-Muslim, that doesn’t justify any given course of action towards them–I don’t hope for a reconquista here. And it may need to be said that it doesn’t justify wars against other nations; I don’t even see how it could.

        And Islam is specifically political, not just spiritual. Its often been interpreted by devout Muslims as instructions for a civil polity, as opposed to Christianity which sees itself as a separate domain that requires submission to civil authorities in the temporal. So if I was going to mix another religion in with historically largely Christian America, it wouldn’t be that one.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I don’t think that there are no Muslims here who are good neighbors or employees. But a nation is more than a place people work, and I think nations tend to be better with unity rather than diversity.

          Obviously a nation that unites around an idea that promotes or condones some evil is going to be worse than an admixture. And also obviously, even if it would be better for America to be non-Muslim, that doesn’t justify any given course of action towards them–I don’t hope for a reconquista here. And it may need to be said that it doesn’t justify wars against other nations; I don’t even see how it could.

          And Islam is specifically political, not just spiritual. Its often been interpreted by devout Muslims as instructions for a civil polity, as opposed to Christianity which sees itself as a separate domain that requires submission to civil authorities in the temporal. So if I was going to mix another religion in with historically largely Christian America, it wouldn’t be that one.

          +3

        • Peffern says:

          a nation is more than a place people work

          This might be the most fundamental disagreement I’ve had with a comment on SSC, at least recently.
          I’m going to have to rethink a lot of my opinions, so, thank you? You spelled out what was a fundamental disagreement between me and a lot of people that I could never put my finger on.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m going to have to rethink a lot of my opinions, so, thank you?

            Unclear whether you are rethinking your opinions about nations, or about commenters on SSC, but in case of the latter, I don’t claim to be particularly representative of the place. 😉

            (I realize I’ve just claimed to be non-representative of different groups in two consecutive posts and I want to make it clear that, unlike most people, I do know I’m not special.)

          • sharper13 says:

            @Randy M,

            I realize I’ve just claimed to be non-representative of different groups in two consecutive posts and I want to make it clear that, unlike most people, I do know I’m not special.

            So I believe that would be your third claim in a row that you’re non-representative, if I’m keeping score correctly? 😉

        • sty_silver says:

          I can’t tell from your answer whether you ended up answering agree or disagree to the question that many Muslims are good people. But regardless, you seem to see that the literal answer is obviously yes, and consider answering differently based on interpreting the question more broadly.

          I’m extremely annoyed by this attitude. I’m reminded of a survey on right-wing extremism that I filled out in school ages ago. I remember exactly how I answered: I said “disagree strongly” on all but the final question, which all tested political affiliation somehow (so that would be the most anti right wing option). Then the last question was (translation) “national socialism also had good sides”. To which I answered “strongly agree” because it was and is exceedingly obvious to me that a system that’s different on so many variables will have good sides. But I was one of very few people who did this. I also remember that my teacher argued to me that the answer was literally no.

          I find it intuitively fairly obvious that the world would be a much better place if everyone answered the actual questions (or differently put: if everyone answered as if they would receive 1000000$ for every correctly answered question judged by some omnipotent power), instead of ignoring the actual question and instead answering the different question of “which answer corresponds most closely to your place on the spectrum that you are assume I’m trying to measure by asking this?”

          • Randy M says:

            the question that many Muslims are good people.

            That was not the question.

            you seem to see that the literal answer is obviously yes…I’m extremely annoyed by this attitude

            I answered the question honestly and literally.

            For contrast, I did not see any way possible to answer that Trump has no flaws, as a person or president.

          • sty_silver says:

            Mhpf, I even made sure to double-check the question before submitting the comment and still got it wrong. Like I said, I was very annoyed.

            So the literal question was: “Many Muslims are good Americans.” Well, I can see how it’s possible to interpret “American” in such a way that your original comment is relevant for the literal question. Kudos for the Trump thing.

            So I retract the hidden accusation that you do this, however, this doesn’t at all change the fact that tons of other people do this. Apparently, a lot more than I thought, since I was the most off on the Trump question. And Matt M has admitted to doing it just a few comments downstream.

          • Randy M says:

            tons of other people do this.

            I can understand the impulse, though. I’m asked a question about whether Trump is flawless.
            I am a person more than one day past the turnip truck, and thus know that all people are flawed.
            So I have to either conclude that the questioner means the question non-literally, in which case I have to guess at the actual meaning; or the questioner assumes I’m some kind of brainless follower, in which case I don’t care about the integrity of his survey. Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.

            The latter viewpoint is kind of a failure to understand that there are actual brainless people on my side which may be of academic interest, of course.

    • honoredb says:

      I’m another Democrat who got a negative perception gap for Republicans (the “Trump is flawed” one was my worst). In retrospect, I think that was its own kind of empathy failure, because I can easily imagine giving non-literal answers to a pollster if they seemed like they were trying to build a narrative I hated. If you ever want to make me look like a lunatic, give me a poll with questions like “Do you think it’s possible that someone in an ICE detention camp might have gone on to murder someone if they hadn’t been detained?”

      • Matt M says:

        because I can easily imagine giving non-literal answers to a pollster if they seemed like they were trying to build a narrative I hated.

        I’ve long admitted that I gleefully do this.

        I will answer almost every poll with the furthest right, most extreme answer available, even if my own beliefs aren’t nearly that extreme.

    • John Schilling says:

      The simplistic algorithm that 30% of Republicans and Democrats alike hold each of the extreme caricatures of the views traditionally attributed to them (e.g. that Donald Trump is a literally flawless individual, or that one should be ashamed to be an American), scores a 12% perception gap w/re Democrats and 7% w/re Republicans. That’s better than almost any of the subgroups they analyzed, with the major exceptions being the completely uneducated and politically disengaged.

      Conclusion #1: Politically aligned Americans can be coarsely modeled as 30% fanatics

      Conclusion #2: Politically aligned Americans believe the Other/Stupid/Evil Tribe is about 60% fanatics

      Conclusion #3: The questions and the scoring of this whole thing are absurdly simplistic, devoid of nuance or statistical rigor, and so conclusions #1 and #2 are low confidence at best.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Got 16%, but nearly all of that is from a gross misestimation of how “It is important that men are protected from false accusations pertaining to sexual assault” would be interpreted. I figured respondents would interpret it as relative importance, but apparently they went with a more absolute importance.

    • sty_silver says:

      Foreigner. -8% republican gap. I far overestimated the amount of republicans thinking Trump “has flaws” and climate change is a legit concern. If the survey was meant to be reassuring, it did the opposite for me.

      4% for democrats. here, my guesses were pretty accurate (which doesn’t follow from the score, since as others have pointed out you can just go wrong in both directions and have it cancelling out).

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      The first two times I took this survey I accidentally answered with my own opinions instead of what I thought the political opposition believed (-9% bias! Yay?), and the third time I took it I accidentally entered the wrong guess on one of the questions. So… anecdotally, the lizardman constant is strong with this survey.

    • Plumber says:

      @sharper13,
      Of course we’re mostly forewarned, but it seems like the test results of the commenters here are theopposite of the study makers conclusions as most of us seem to be guessing that the voters for each Party are more moderate than the actual averages.

    • sty_silver says:

      Separate comment on the survey: the results are obviously going to be flawed due to the fact that you have to answer the first set of questions every time you want to answer the second set (or even just check which questions were asked). This might not be a problem if you were allowed to not answer questions, but you aren’t.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’d be interested to see if they did some A/B testing to see if stuff changes if they ask the Democrat questions before the Republican ones, or vice versa.

    • drunkfish says:

      They really need to use root-mean-square. I got a 1% gap, but my RMS would be more like 10%. Still, a fun exercise, and I’m pleased with how I did.

      • Nornagest says:

        As best I can tell from tea-reading their blurbs, they went with simple average because they’re trying to build an estimate of how partisan you think the other side is, not how accurately you can describe their consensus on various issues — so if you think they’re extra-partisan on, say, global warming, but kinda chill on, say, immigration, it averages out to something close to their actual level of partisanship.

        This only works inasmuch as the questions are actually a good gauge of extreme views, though, and I think that’s pretty questionable. We already have good evidence that they’re not being answered literally.

    • A1987dM says:

      I’m not that sure that using the average of signed differences rather than e.g. the root mean square is the right thing to do. Yeah, it’s interesting that Democrats systematically think Republicans are more conservative than they actually are and vice versa, but differences not as simple to describe would be interesting too.

    • Well... says:

      Took the quiz. I wasn’t extremely careful about placing the sliders, but I don’t think I ever placed them more than about 5-7% off from where I would have put them if I was being really super thoughtful and careful.

      My score was -15%. So, apparently I give Democrats too much benefit of the doubt? I thought only a tiny minority, for example, favored actual socialism but apparently the real number is closer to 40%. Same for open borders, where I figured maybe 6 or 7% actually want that when it’s really more like 30%. Same again for abolishing ICE, where I figured maybe 22% of Dems now favor this, purely because of the horrible optics of the detainment centers, but the actual figure is almost 50%! More Democrats believe just about every other thing I thought fewer of them believed, such as “Most police are bad people”, “I’m proud to be American”, and “Law abiding citizens should have the right to bear arms”. The only one I underestimated was about protecting men from false accusations of sexual assault, and I underestimated it by a whopping 3 percentage points.

      Where are people getting the second set of numbers? Did they take the quiz twice, or did they start by saying they were independent?

      • Nornagest says:

        I said I was independent, and was given two sets of attitudes to judge, one for the Dems and one for the GOP. That gave me two numbers at the end, one for each.

  15. Anthony says:

    Alternate history timeline jumping off point:

    There is some physical limit to how small one can make transistors. In this alternate timeline, that limit is around 0.1 mm. How does technology evolve differently?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      So like 100µm feature size? I don’t think you even get ICs. We’re basically stuck with vacuum tubes in that world. So we already know what world looks like: the 1960s.

      • bullseye says:

        We don’t know what the world looks like when we have 1960s computers for fifty years. We wouldn’t still have 1960s culture, because culture always changes, but we wouldn’t have our present culture without the internet as we know it.

    • 10240 says:

      The brain must contain some sort of transistor-equivalent or basic components that allow for computation in another way. So if there was a physical limit preventing transistors (or analogues) smaller than 0.1 mm, it would also mean we couldn’t pack nearly as many neurons in our head as we do. So we probably either wouldn’t be intelligent, or our head would be much bigger, which would in turn require a lot of further changes in the physics or the biology of our hypothetical world.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        If we assume that this applies to electronic transistors but not biological ones, perhaps it leads to an alternate timeline where biological computers saw much more development.

    • Lambert says:

      Are transistors any good for analogue computing?
      Full analogue has some pretty bad problems, but maybe you could do a hybrid, where all the logic is discretised into hex. i.e. a wire is at one of 16 voltages.

      It’d be awful, compared to anything else except valves.

  16. If the French government decided to build a larger-than-life replica of Notre Dame using modern materials and construction techniques, how large could they make it? In order to qualify, the building must be visually but not structurally identical to the original: e.g., it must have flying buttresses, but they don’t need to be load-bearing.

    (Once construction is complete, we’ll put the final boss of Dark Souls IV in there.)

    • Erusian says:

      (Once construction is complete, we’ll put the final boss of Dark Souls IV in there.)

      More interesting question for me personally: You are an evil French wizard with the ability to make Dark Souls monsters and bosses for France. The final boss is in this super Notre Dame Cathedral. What do you make? La Pucelle de Douleur? L’Empereur Renaît?

    • Protagoras says:

      Steel is a much better construction material than stone. Ten times the size in each linear dimension, so a thousand times the volume, would make it the tallest structure in the world, but would only beat the Burj Khalifa by a slight margin. I believe the reason nobody’s built anything like Notre Dame to that scale is expense and pointlessness, not physics, and so I’d expect that, or something close to it, to be possible.

      • sentientbeings says:

        Disclaimer: I am not a civil engineer

        That’s not how structures scale. It’s not just a matter of supporting a certain weight or not being so heavy as to sink into the ground. There’s also interaction with wind, among other things, which is very important for tall structures.

        Not that I disagree it would be impossible to do, in principle. I’m just saying it isn’t implied simply by better strength to weight ratio (along any measure – compression, tensile, shear, etc.).

        • Protagoras says:

          I didn’t mention strength to weight ratios; I just vaguely gestured in the direction of what we can observe to have been done with steel. The estimated size was an extremely vague ballpark estimate based on the observed difference between what people have managed to accomplish with steel and what they’ve managed to accomplish with stone. The complications you mention mean it’s very hard to get a more precise estimate, but I wasn’t going for that.

      • bullseye says:

        I’m imagining this thing with pews too big to sit in, doors to big for normal use, etc. I’m all for it.

  17. James says:

    Have any AI buffs here come across Graphcore? A youngish startup who produce chips which they claim can outperform GPUs by ‘orders of magnitude’ for machine learning tasks, and who seem to have got a lot of funding. They’ve had some impressive write-ups.

    I’m curious as to whether anyone more knowledgeable about the field has any feelings about the extent to which their product seems like a genuine innovation, or whether their funding is due to AI bubble-ish hype. Based on previous well-funded chip startups in modishly buzzwordy fields, and on my sense of tech bubbles generally, my priors lean towards ‘bubble-ish hype’, but I don’t have enough of a technical sense to know whether there’s any substance there. Certainly I don’t know of any reason why it shouldn’t be possible to outperform GPU architectures for machine learning.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      I’ve not read their literature, but…

      It’s possible to design “ML-PU”‘. So far, ML-PUs are really just lower-precision faster GPUs with a faster general store/read mechanism. We call them “GPUs”.

      Add on that it is Very Hard to do bleeding edge performance microelectronics design, and its very very very VERY expensive to do bleeding edge performance microelectronics fabrication.

      But, they might have hit on something really innovatively better than huge arrays of really fast low precision multipipeline GPUs. It could happen. There are a lot more breakthroughs that are possible.

      But I wouldn’t bet a lot on this particular company.

      • Anthony says:

        Eric Raymond has a couple of articles about where parallelism doesn’t work well – where the algorithm is intrinically serial.

        http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=8223
        http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=7979

        If the problem space isn’t suitable for GPU-like parallel processing, but isn’t *intrinsically* serial, there’s a possibility that someone could have come up with a processor architecture which can handle the problem space more efficiently than a serial CPU.

        But something like that would probably have some university research into it somewhere, even if the company is the first to instantiate the algorithms into silicon. If they cite a bunch of papers talking about the algorithms, they may be real.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It is definitely possible to outperform GPUs by a substantial degree for machine-learning tasks; that’s the point of Google’s Tensor Processing Units. Whether Graphcore has done so, I have no idea.

    • brad says:

      They are using reduced precision floats which gives you the speedup vs traditional GPUs, but looking at the linked articles I don’t see anything else that would justify a claim of order of magnitude (by some reasonable metric) vs google’s TPUs or Intel’s forthcoming hardware.

      • James says:

        Yeah, it seems like that, in itself, would only give a linear speedup. An eightfold linear speedup is perhaps not to be sniffed at, but I have to raise a quizzical eyebrow at ‘orders of magnitude’.

    • Deiseach says:

      A youngish startup who produce chips which they claim can outperform GPUs by ‘orders of magnitude’ for machine learning tasks

      “Orders of magnitude”, hmmm? Why, I’ll bet there could be as many as dozens of people interested in that!

      Fuzzy extraordinary claims make me very suspicious, but since I have no knowledge of the topics of either chip building or machine learning, I can’t say whether they’re Theranos Mark II or the best thing since sliced bread.

    • Murphy says:

      It’s a tough market to get into with limited money to be made.

      Very few people are training neural networks vs running them.

      Of them most rely on standard libraries that may not play well with random hardware. It’s tough enough to get them to see and use your GPU in some cases.

      GPU manufacture and design is subsidized by the hundreds of millions of video-game-playing people.

      Even if they had an idea that worked I’d probably not invest in them.

      • brad says:

        And what’s your moat? A patent?

        • Murphy says:

          moat?

          I’m not sure what you mean.

          My position is that even if we start with some generous assumptions:

          * their tech works as advertised and really is that fast for the task.

          * they have whatever patents or protections they would need to protect their invention.

          * the chips they sell produce sweet frozen treats once per day.

          lets assume that’s all true

          So, what price can they charge? well if they can outperform a GPU by an order of magnitude then you also have the option of just buying 10 GPU’s so there’s a price ceiling.

          GPU’s, for what they are are incredibly cheap and their development and tooling cost is spread over millions of units and they keep improving.

          With electronics economies of scale are everything. The difference between something that costs 10K per unit or 2 bucks per unit can be whether someone ordered 3 units or 30 million units.

          If you’re trying to compete with someone who’s selling 30 million units… you don’t want to be selling 1000 units.

          The pool of people who would buy this is small. lots of people use neural networks but they’re cheap to use. Training them is the expensive bit. But there’s really not that many groups with a big budget training neural networks on a large scale. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in the low thousands.

          When you’re doing any kind of neural net work you’re gonna be using various standard libraries and frameworks like TORCH.

          Those things can be a pain in the hole to get working even with the exact graphics cards they’re built to run on.

          So the deck is stacked heavily against them however good their product is.

          • brad says:

            Sorry I was agreeing with you but also pointing out that I don’t think patents would likely be sufficient to protect their secret sauce in a durable way.

  18. Lambert says:

    The picture round on University Challenge tonight was good.
    Thanslate the following Beatles songs’ titles back into modern English:

    Ic wille beclyppen Þin hand

    Æfre æcera EorÞ-berigena

    Ne cann lufe me bycgan

    Her ancymÞ seo Dæg-Candel

  19. proyas says:

    You’re the commander of the secret base known as “Area 51.” 100,000 people have assembled to storm the base. They have massed in three camps of equal size in nearby public areas and will simultaneously charge towards Area 51 from three different directions.

    Law enforcement agents have infiltrated the insurgent group and have provided you with very good intel. They plan to charge the gates in 48 hours, and will be mounted in thousands of vehicles ranging from RVs to dirt bikes. A minority of them will be armed with guns, and many others will be high on drugs and/or dressed as aliens and other types of popular fiction characters.

    What do you do to protect the base?

    • rubberduck says:

      Use my alien technology to mind-control them into leaving and telling the world that yeah, Area 51 is just a boring airbase, nothing to see here. Obviously.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Any particular reason why copious amounts of heavy machine gun fire wouldn’t do the trick? Besides the moral and political ones, of course.

    • Nornagest says:

      Helicopter the aliens to Area 52 for the weekend. Fly in some Russian fighter jets being used for obscure but nonclassified OPFOR training. Put up some token resistance.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Get a bunch of grading equipment, destroy existing roads from those gates and set up “roads” so the three groups will be funneled into each other. Evacuate all aboveground facilities, conceal all underground facilities that cannot be evacuated. Set up cameras and buy popcorn.

    • sentientbeings says:

      Napalm

    • johan_larson says:

      First of all, have the DOD lean hard on whatever agencies are responsible for the land these 100,000 people are standing on to make them disperse. If it’s state land, get the state troopers to order people to go. If it’s a federal park, close the park. And have the rangers tell anyone who’s there to go. Use big SUVs, helicopters, and rangers with dogs. Be as intimidating as possible. And take anyone who fights back into custody. Those agencies aren’t set up to deal with 100,000 people, but they may be able to reduce the size of the problem by getting some of the most lawful hangers-on to go home.

      Second, deal with base security. I’m assuming the base has an integral security force of maybe 100 guards and is surrounded by something like a chain-link fence.

      Get on the phone and call in as many MPs as you can get (1,000 maybe?) with truncheons, teargas, and rifles. Also an engineering unit with excavation gear. Use the engineers to build a trench around the base sufficiently deep to stop cars. Also evacuate the base of all personnel who are not of use defending the base.

      Deploy the MPs with tear gas grenade launchers and truncheons near the fence. When the protesters come, have the MPs launch gas grenades outside the fence, and use the truncheons to push back anyone trying to climb over the fence. Have smaller units of MPs farther back with rifles or shotguns firing rubber bullets, to deal with anyone getting past the folks at the fence. Have even smaller units in all of the buildings, with rifles firing actual live rounds.

      Finally have some sharpshooters stationed in guard towers with orders to shoot anyone seen with a firearm within 100 m of the base fence, or anyone farther seen farther out making preparations to fire.

      – out of 100,000, 10,000 go home either on their own or in police custody
      – 90,000 head for the base
      – 80,000 get a whiff of gas and head home
      – 10,000 get near the fence
      – 500 make it over the fence
      – 100 reach a building
      – 20 get inside a building

      Damage to base: Fence breached in one location; one lab room burned. Persistent odor of tear gas.

      Attacker casualties: 1,000 injured, 50 dead
      Defender casualties: 20 injured, 2 dead

      • Deiseach says:

        johan_larson, the level of detail in your reply (down to defender fatalities) makes me wonder if you know something we don’t 🙂

        • johan_larson says:

          These figures are definitely not from a confidential study I did for the RAND Corporation in 2005. There is no such study. I have never worked for the RAND Corporation. And 2005 is a fake year anyway.

          • Deiseach says:

            Given that this never-commissioned study was not carried out by you for an institution not your employer in 2005 which doesn’t exist as it’s a fake year, I definitely do not want to know why a corporation with nothing to do with it was sufficiently uninterested enough in the scenario to not commission such a study which was not on behalf of the US Armed Forces who don’t have secret(ish) desert bases at risk of assault three lustra before such a meme was not discussed by anyone on social media 🙂

      • bean says:

        This is more or less my plan, although I do think you could probably go further in dispersing the camps and bringing in support. 48 hours gives you enough time to bring in a lot more than 1,000 reinforcements. California and Arizona both have MP units in their national guards, and there’s probably reservists available, too.

        I’d be more aggressive about attacking the camps and getting people to go home early. Cut off the water supply and any movement into the camps ASAP. Call a Psyops unit and get them started working. (If you’re smart, you’ll have booked one when you saw this was actually going to be a thing.) Cut off cell service to the area. For the first 12-24 hours, you’re just making life unpleasant, flying helicopters overhead during the night and playing the Barney song at them on repeat. Announce repeatedly that anyone who leaves now is free to go, no questions asked, but with a deadline. This should be enough to cut things by 50% or more.

        After that, turn up the heat. Send in the civilian police, with military units waiting behind in case they need backup. Make the music even more obnoxious. The helicopters fly lower. Start jamming any other means of communication you can. Jam GPS, or better yet spoof it to make them drive to somewhere that isn’t your camp. And 12 hours or so before the deadline, at a different time for each camp, go after them with tear gas. Ideally, you can reduce the attack on the base itself to minimal levels. Lots of people go to the wrong place, and those that do go to the right one trickle in, instead of arriving as a wave.

        • johan_larson says:

          Yes, going on the offensive against the staging grounds is good thinking. But I would expect police units to be a bit reluctant to take on groups as large as 100,000. They may not be able to do much more than keep more people from showing up. But that’s something at least.

          We also need to worry about public perceptions. We need to avoid the perception that the military are the ones doing the attacking, which makes me reluctant to gas the camps. “Military Police Attack Peaceful Protesters” is the sort of headline I really don’t want. But making life in the camps difficult would be fine, I think.

          Also, I think you’re too optimistic about mobilizing the National Guard. The run-up to Desert Storm (or was it Iraqi Freedom?) showed that many National Guard units have really crappy readiness. Mobilizing them effectively in 48 hours is asking a lot.

          • bean says:

            We’re talking about using the Guard as police in Nevada for a day or three, not sending them halfway around the world. This is the day job of a lot of the people in question, and the level of competence needed is a lot lower than we’d want for Iraq. I’m sure there’s a civil disorder plan that we can use. Also, readiness is a lot higher than it was 20-30 years ago. They’ve been in the deployment cycle for most of that time. A lot of these people are combat veterans.

          • acymetric says:

            @bean

            This is the day job of a lot of the people in question

            Is this true? I realize this is anecdata, but none of the people I’ve known who were in the National Guard worked in law enforcement (and, conversely, none of the people I’ve known in law enforcement were in the National Guard). Maybe it depends on what you mean by “a lot”.

          • bean says:

            It’s not the general National Guard. It’s MP units in particular. Traditionally at least (this isn’t my area of expertise) being an MP in the Army is a good way to get into the police.

          • Deiseach says:

            We’re talking about using the Guard as police in Nevada for a day or three, not sending them halfway around the world.

            Yeah, but the minute you have even the perception of a thought of the National Guard possibly firing (even baton rounds) on civil protesters, you are evoking the spectre of Kent State.

            Now, my own opinion is that if you rush an army base even in a jokey manner, you are provoking a response that will be decidedly unjokey and frankly you are asking for it. But American troops shooting American citizens on American soil is not something anybody wants to see happen, and simply handing it off to the National Guard is not very much better for the above reasons.

          • proyas says:

            Keep in mind that I said the rebel group was divided into three different camps, so that’s about 33,333 per camp. It would be easier to deal with them piecemeal, and the Area 51 base commander should deploy his own security forces in ways that keep the rebels broken up.

            Also, the P.R. problem you brought up could be solved if some of the secret government agents who had infiltrated the rebels to get intel staged an early false flag attack on the Area 51 security forces. This could involve a handful of guys in Mad Max outfits shooting bullets at the base from such a distance that there was no risk of anyone getting hurt. However, it would provide an excuse for the riot police to raid the staging grounds.

      • proyas says:

        I totally agree that disrupting the staging camps beforehand is the best strategy.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Home alone style traps. Road spikes, nails, tar, pits ~2.5 meters deep covered with tarps and with super/rubber glue at the bottom; closer to the base build a labyrinth with dead ends that seal themselves off after peope go in. Only one way through to the actual base, with a 50 meter stretch from the labyrinth exit to the base entrance. Position a small army on the walls there, have them shoot off to the side as civilians sprint to the base.
      Have a massive party for the soldiers on base and have anyone who makes it join in.

    • Watchman says:

      Sod protecting the base. I film the next Mad Max film instead.

    • AG says:

      Area 51 is disguised as a Burning Man event. The protesters are encouraged to join the party.

    • Paper Rat says:

      Close the blast doors to the undeground facilities, wait a couple of days, week tops.

  20. dark orchid says:

    Considerations on cost disease, UK edition: the Society for All British Road Enthusiasts discusses the cost of road-building in different countries in Europe (with a segue into nuclear submarines).

    • ana53294 says:

      Why does it seem like such a trend to not have in house engineers?

      Some of the analysis I have seen of the low cost of the Madrid underground, for examlle, explained how having an in house team of engineers led to lots of savings. It seems to me it would be quite reasonable for Highways England to have in house engineering staff instead of hiring consultants.

      • Hoopdawg says:

        Because it’s part of the neoliberal dogma that all public utilities should outsource their operations to private for-profit companies, which will somehow make them more efficient.

        The choice is purely ideological and resistant to cost-benefit analysis. Or perhaps, the ability to leech public funds should be assumed to be perceived as a benefit by the decision makers.

        • ana53294 says:

          Part of the discussion on the original link is about how even major contractors don’t seem to have an in-house team anymore, instead sub-contracting even the design.

          Since they are not the ones picking the tab, I guess it’s a saving, but couldn’t they be more efficient and get more bids if they could offer the synergies an in-house team offers?

          I just see so many advantages to having an in-house team of engineers – the main one being that you can make quick on the spot decisions (even when the politicians are the ones making decisions, having somebody who can quickly tell you what the best option is saves tons of time).

          A lot of costs are due to wasted time – whether on lawsuits or paperwork compliance. And some of the time is wasted because oops, there is some rock/water pocket/natural stuff that is completely expected yet somehow totally unexpected in the middle of the project, and they need to decide what to do with it. Having an engineer that is able to say whether the contractor is reasonable, and the politicians quickly approving changes, would save lots of time.

          I am not saying that the government should design the roads themselves (although I don’t see why not – from what I’ve heard, the US army is pretty decent at building stuff). But at least having somebody in house, at all times, so when something happens, they can quickly make a decision/give advice, seems very useful to me.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            The thing about government contracts is that you basically cannot make quick on-the-spot decisions about changing their specs, the regulations being strict as they are for transparency and anti-corruption reasons. (Which alone makes it preferable to just specialize on one hand and subcontract everything on the other.) I have no idea whether this is ultimately more cost-efficient than more elasticity for the price of outright nepotism and corruption. (It might.) I am pretty sure that, yeah, doing as much as possible in-house would be more efficient than both, but, again, this option often isn’t even considered, for ideological reasons.

          • ana53294 says:

            When the contract for the construction of a tunnel is awarded, sure, you cannot make a quick decision on who gets the contract. But when during the construction of the tunnel they encounter say, a pocket of water, and need to decide whether to dig around it or to pump it out (according to prices in the bill of quantities), the project does not go to tender every time. That is where the cost overruns come from.

            But it is possible to make quick decisions with reasonable costs when such things happen, such as was done in Madrid.

            no external project manager; and a very small group of experienced engineers driving the works, more like close friends and colleagues, than people under a rigid hierarchical organization.

            Consulting or other companies were not needed as Project Managers for Madrid Metro Extensions, which ran on time and on budget without such assistance.

            It is wrong to contract tunnel construction on a fixed price lump-sum basis. It will not work.

            Several colleagues from other cities involved in similar works, in asking us about the details of the management of our projects, were particularly impressed when they heard that all decisions by the top politicians with responsibility for the project, President Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón of the Regional Government of Madrid, and Sr Luis Eduardo Cortes, his Regional Minister for Public Works, were taken within 24 hours. In most other cities, similar decisions might take several months. It is therefore correct to say that, the undoubted success of the Madrid Metro Extension Project was due to both the close and supportive relationship provided by those with political responsibility, and the careful consideration and implementation of engineering principles and practices.

  21. Zamiel says:

    If I am not mistaken, the oldest presidential candidate is Bernie Sanders; if elected, he would come into office at age 78. Regardless of whether or not Bernie Sanders would be a good president, we can pose the following question:

    Anecdotally, we know that mental faculties decrease somewhat linearly with time. Subsequently, we should be wary of presidents that are over a certain age threshold. Grant that most people would prefer a president that does not align with them on policy positions but had firm mental faculties over a president that aligned with them on policy positions but had the beginnings of onset dementia. Given this preference, is there a specific age threshold upon which we can agree to disqualify presidential candidates?

    One naive strategy that we could use to get a value here is to take the age of the oldest president (at inauguration) and arbitrarily add 5 (as a “slack” value, in the hopes that we are not being too aggressive with the cutoff). For this strategy, we would use Reagan (at the beginning of his second term): 73 + 5, making 78 as the arbitrary cutoff.

    But we can probably do better than this by using actual senility data. Based on this page and this page, it seems that there is a 0.2% chance of dementia at 65, and this doubles every 5 years until it is around 7% at age 90. Of course, this is only looking at dementia – it would perhaps be prudent to add on top of this the risk of Alzheimer’s and related diseases.

    This is not my domain of expertise, so this is where I stop. And of course, even after the proper research is done, the question remains of “what percentage of risk constitutes presidential disqualification?” and this percentage is of course arbitrary. (Is a 10% risk too much? 20%?) But nonetheless, I would be very interested in an SSC-style blog that tries to get to the bottom of this question. Does anyone know if research has been done in trying to analytically answer the question: how old is too old?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      how old is too old?

      If they win the election, they’re not too old.

      Or, “too old to win the election is too old.”

      • Zamiel says:

        You are dodging the premise of the question. I agree that a hypothetical candidate could be very old, but vibrant enough to garner support from the country and be voted into office. I’m more worried about the 4 years following the inauguration in which they are likely to develop dementia, a related disease, or simply a sizable reduction in general mental faculties. Another way of stating this is: we definitely care that a candidate is provably non-senile before an election, but we also care about senility when the president is being a president and making decisions.

        • quanta413 says:

          The President has a cabinet thought and could be declared incompetent.

          Is it enough of a risk compared to a young President developing a brain tumor that alters their behavior (or just turning out to order crazy things which has happened plenty of times before) that it’s worth having a rule? I don’t think so.

          • LHN says:

            I’m dubious about a formal upper age limit as being necessary or useful. But I’ve come to doubt that section 4 of the 25th amendment to remove a president for inability to discharge duties will ever actually be invoked.

            The threshold is extremely high: the VP, a cabinet majority, and 2/3 of both houses. Maybe you can get that if the President is actually in a coma. But if they’re merely erratic or having memory or temperament issues, aligning all the relevant actors seems very unlikely in the face of active resistance by the President.

            (If the president recognizes and agrees with the issue, he or she can voluntarily invoke section 3 or simply resign, so section 4 still doesn’t come into play.)

          • Mark Atwood says:

            if the President is actually in a coma

            That situation is pretty much exactly what the 25th is for.

            Otherwise, anything promptly catastrophically bad is why the Joint Chiefs are supposed to have some backbone.

            Everything else, so the Administration muddles around being random for 3 years while the cabinet is staffed with hold-station-protem undersecretaries. Big deal.

            That would put it in the top-quintile historically for “Good Presidents”, IMO.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I’m not dodging the question. The voters look at a candidate. About a candidate, some may say, “this candidate seems too young.” About another they may say “he seems to old.” The voters will make up their minds on a case by case basis.

          • Well... says:

            To say nothing of the election process itself. What does it take to seriously run for that office? How much sleep do you get? How many meetings and briefings and speeches and Q&As and this and that do you have to be on your A-game for hour after hour, day after day, month after month? It’s exhausting just thinking about it. I’m in my mid-30s and in something close to the best shape of my life and I’m sure I would ring the bell to quit within a couple weeks of that.

      • quanta413 says:

        I agree with Conrad. No reason to make a new rule. The election process is a fine filter.

        While we’re at it, may as well remove the lower age requirement as well. If everyone wants a 2-year old president who just smiles at the camera and says cute things, the problem isn’t that there’s not a rule against a 2-year old president. The problem is that that was the most appealing candidate.

        • Matt M says:

          I could be easily convinced that running a campaign to successfully become President is significantly harder (or at least more demanding of ones full mental and physical faculties) than actually being President is.

          Which puts a lot of credence into the “If you’re able to get the job, you’re presumably able to do the job” camp.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            Unfortunately, winning an election and governing a country require two rather different skill sets. A great deal of misery has resulted from this fact.

          • quanta413 says:

            The age requirements seem orthogonal to the difference between skill sets problem though. I don’t think be older or younger can fix that issue.

          • Well... says:

            Yeah, I would say while the two jobs require different skill sets, one skill they have in common is you need to be mentally present (i.e. not have dementia) and be in decent enough physical shape. (Hillary was, er, pushing the limit on the latter requirement.)

    • C_B says:

      Grant that most people would prefer a president that does not align with them on policy positions but had firm mental faculties over a president that aligned with them on policy positions but had the beginnings of onset dementia.

      I’m definitely reluctant to grant this premise. A useless president just means the executive branch doesn’t do much for 4-8 years. A competent but evil president would, from my point of view, be much worse.

      • Zamiel says:

        Perhaps I can frame the hypothetical in the different way: If you are an American Democrat, then it would probably be in your interest to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate that aligns with your 80% of your policy positions and had firm mental faculties over a president that aligns with 100% of your policy positions and had some reasonably strong risk of developing onset dementia.

        It seems like age should play some part in all of this, even if it is small.

        • C_B says:

          Yes, that’s much easier to grant, and now that you mention it it’s the obvious comparison to make when talking about whether or not to want Bernie to win the nom. “Competent and disagrees with me about everything” is worse than useless, but as you say, “Competent and agrees with me about most, but not all, things” is better than useless.

        • bullseye says:

          If the President has dementia, his advisers will run the White House, and they will have been chosen for their policy proposals. So I would in fact prefer a candidate who agrees with me 100%, even with a risk of dementia.

          • cassander says:

            If the President has dementia, his advisers will run the White House, and they will have been chosen for their policy proposals.

            Only if by “run” you mean “viciously fight for power”, at least if the history of regencies is any guide.

          • albatross11 says:

            Reagan was beginning to have signs of dementia in his second term in office, though I am not sure whether his advisors really fully understood that. Are there other historical examples we can draw on?

          • Clutzy says:

            Wilson’s wife basically ran the white house after his stroke IIRC

    • Nornagest says:

      I think the concern over presidential age has generally been less about dementia and more about the risk of dying in office, causing a minor succession crisis and leaving the White House run by a former VP with an shaky mandate. Historically, VPs elevated to president after a death in office have been neither popular nor very effective.

      We average living to about eighty now, so electing at sixty or younger is probably ideal and seventy might be a reasonable place to start getting really concerned.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Historically, VPs elevated to president after a death in office have been neither popular nor very effective.

        The 20th century examples (TR, Coolidge, Truman, and LBJ) were all reasonably popular and effective. All four were reelected to full terms in their own right, and of the four only Truman’s reelection campaign was close. And all four have major signature policy initiatives they pushed through.

        The 19th century examples (Arthur, Andrew Johnson, Fillmore, and especially Tyler) are much more in line with your description, though. The question then is whether the difference between recent and more distant experience are changes in institutional culture (perhaps we’re better at picking VPs, or maybe we’re more used to the Presidential succession process, or maybe the combination of Civil Service reforms and the expansion of both society and the federal government’s role in it have made the President’s job different in ways that make VPs succeeding to the Presidency more effective), or just a sample size issue.

        • Noah says:

          Wasn’t Truman really unpopular? His approval crested high enough to get him reelected and then immediately plunged again, bottoming out at 22% at some point.

          I personally think this means that approval isn’t a good metric of how good a president is, but calling him “reasonably popular” seems wrong.

    • John Schilling says:

      Anecdotally, we know that mental faculties decrease somewhat linearly with time. Subsequently, we should be wary of presidents that are over a certain age threshold.

      We know that decrease in mental faculties is highly variable between individuals. And we elect individuals, not statistical abstractions, to the office of President. By the time we actually elect them, we have had ample opportunity to assess their aptitude and their alleged senility, and it does not matter what the statistics say about the average or even three-sigma X-year-old, because we know what we are getting with that specific person.

      If there is reason to be concerned about their post-election future decline, then that’s what the 25th Amendment is for. Also, if your “somewhat linearly with time” hypothesis is correct, then we can extrapolate from that. The older a candidate is at the time we deem him fit to be elected, the slower the linear decay rate must be in their specific case for them to still be fit today. If we really are going to adopt a linear-rate statistical approach to minimizing the probability of a POTUS going senile during his term, then we should be looking for the oldest not-yet-senile candidate we can find on the grounds of their demonstrated resistance to senility.

      Or we could, you know, just elect the best man for the job and trust that we are not North Korea and do have robust succession processes in place.

      • Zamiel says:

        John,

        Some odds and ends:

        1) Has there been work done to show how exactly, on average, mental faculties decrease with age? If it turns out to be exponential instead of linear, then of course we would want the youngest candidate instead of the oldest one. Part of my post is to probe for such information.

        2) I didn’t word this very well, but I wasn’t necessary advocating a new formal legal rule for disqualifying candidates. To rephrase the question in another way, we could break it into two parts:

        2a) Is there good age-to-senility-probability data?
        2b) If yes, and armed with that data, is age ever a useful consideration or heuristic when evaluating potential politicians / presidential candidates?

        It strikes me that the common-sense answer to this question is yes, but it sounds like once we have had “ample opportunity to assess their aptitude”, then you would argue that the answer is always no.

      • Eponymous says:

        My understanding is that decline isn’t linear, and a significant decline is more likely the older the candidate is. But I would love to hear an expert weigh in on this.

        I think that significant concern about the older candidates is warranted, particularly since we don’t actually have full information about their current cognitive abilities.

        The 25th amendment realistically will only be invoked under extreme circumstances, and thus could allow for quite significant decline to go unchecked. Under such circumstances, the administration would presumably take significant steps to shield the president and keep his/her condition secret. The actual decision making process could be quite opaque, and driven largely by unelected staffers.

        • Zamiel says:

          The 25th amendment realistically will only be invoked under extreme circumstances, and thus could allow for quite significant decline to go unchecked.

          Indeed. I remember reading/hearing that this kind of thing actually occurred during the Reagan administration. Although to be fair Wikipedia does not support this:

          Reagan’s health became a concern[to whom?] at times during his presidency.[citation needed] Former White House correspondent Lesley Stahl later wrote that she and other reporters noticed what might have been early symptoms of Reagan’s later Alzheimer’s disease.[210] She said that on her last day on the beat, Reagan spoke to her for a few moments and did not seem to know who she was before returning to his normal behavior.[210][dead link] However, Reagan’s primary physician, Dr. John Hutton, has said that Reagan “absolutely” did not “show any signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s” during his presidency.[211] His doctors have noted that he began exhibiting Alzheimer’s symptoms only after he left the White House.[212]

      • Peffern says:

        we elect individuals, not statistical abstractions

        +1.

        This is the same argument about various other forms of discrimination being applied just as accurately here: it doesn’t matter if older people are generally less intelligent than those yoinger than them because we can just measure the intelligence od the person in question instead of relying on second-order heuristics.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Do we know anything of the likelihood of dementia setting in within 5 years, if the person is perfectly healthy at the start, and whether that correlates with age at all. If the decrease is linear (is it?) then a 90 year old that starts her term at state X would degrade to X-y – and so would a 50 year old who started his term at state X. Zero reason to exclude the 90 year old.

      Now it may be that some 50 year olds (and no 90 year olds) start at state X+Z, where Z is much bigger than Y, so are still above X at the end of term. But either reject all as low as state X, or none of them. (At least with these assumptions.)

    • Zeno says:

      He may be something of a joke candidate, but former senator Mike Gravel is 89 years old and running.

  22. Nick says:

    “You added Sister Mary to our D&D party?!” Tom said nonplussed.

    The Atlantic has a piece up on the growing number of Millennial nuns. Author Eve Fairbanks grew up in an incredibly secular community, but years later her classmates are turning toward Catholicism. And it’s not the easygoing Church the aged try to cast it as, either. These girls don’t want to be jean-clad nuns trying desperately to be cool—they want to be the real deal, habits and all.

    Fairbanks visits a Catholic school in a small town whose theology teacher, Olon, had been inviting religious to speak to the class. They all sung the same tune: “We’re just like you. We do all the same things.” This was the spectacular failure it deserved to be, because this is no pitch for the religious life at all. It challenges absolutely no one, and these monks lining up to be the most Cool Parent have failed to articulate why it’s worth choosing at all. It’s only until a dour priest sporting a collar comes that Olon’s class gives a positive reception.

    Though she doesn’t put it this way, Fairbanks is saying younger generations are more polarized: they’re less religious than ever on the whole, but the ones who are are attracted to more traditional religion. The habit is just the beginning: they prefer older liturgy and defend the whole gamut of doctrine. Boomers and Gen X are pretty Laodicean—Millennials and Gen Z like me, mostly the opposite.

    As a contribution to the usual debates over modernity and religion, it’s an interesting one. We can expect religious practice over the next few debates to decline at the same rate it has been. The question on the mind of many of believers, me included, is when will the wider community get wise? Will I ever see the Benedict Option in my lifetime? This article drives home, from an unlikely source and with unusual clarity, what I’ve long suspected: this is a generational change. Not until the last catechetics class is taken from the last Boomer will we stop digging. And when that happens, it will be through young women like Tori and Mackenzie.

    • savebandit says:

      So we’ve gone full Pharisee. What brand of hat does God truly want you to wear to satisfy the command to cover your head before the Lord, etc.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Are you suggesting the young nuns want the habit because they think it’s a question of doctrine? I don’t think that’s it at all. They want to be challenged in living a religious life instead of being told “the regular secular American lifestyle plus maybe some God talk.”

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          They want to be challenged in living a religious instead of being told “the regular secular American lifestyle plus maybe some God talk.”

          Right. You can get that from the Episcopalians. The vows of a nun are challenging, so why take on those rules if you’re going to present like an Episcopalian?

      • Nick says:

        I have no idea what you’re talking about.

        • benjdenny says:

          Pharisee is a religious sect. As a Christian trope, they are basically people who are really, really good at rules in a way that mostly ignores love of your fellow man or a sincere desire to be good in favor of lording your rule-following over normal people.

        • Aapje says:

          Matthew 12:

          At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

          He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

          Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

          He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

          Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Well there ya go, Nick, now you know what a Pharisee is!

      • J Mann says:

        So we’ve gone full Pharisee.

        IMHO, that’s pretty uncharitable – my guess is that most of the nuns take very seriously their obligation to love their neighbors, and don’t judge people for not wearing habits.

        Without a lack of Christian love and a habit of judgment, I don’t think they come close to “full Pharisee.”

        (They might have those qualities, but my guess is not, and it’s uncharitable to assume without evidence that they do.)

        • AG says:

          The charitable reading is that hardcore joining the institution supposedly about God is often not as “authentic” as simply living a good life as a “civilian.” Jesus was all about people not joining up with the religious institution.

          Consider savebandit’s quote: What brand of hat does God truly want you to wear to satisfy the command to cover your head before the Lord

          Their interpretation is that Pharisees made a point of putting on an Official I Am Religious Guys hat, but you don’t need to do that to satisfy the command. Similarly, joining up with the nuns is an overt signal and choosing to reduce the Christianity’s accessibility to the people by that signalling. They could just as well demonstrate their love for God without becoming nuns, without alienating potential converts by bringing up the icky connotations of The Church.

          • Nick says:

            joining up with the nuns is an overt signal and choosing to reduce the Christianity’s accessibility to the people by that signalling

            alienating potential converts by bringing up the icky connotations of The Church

            If this is the charitable reading, then the charitable reading is at variance with the article.

          • Nick says:

            ETA: (since the damn editor ate it) To be less flippant, Olon’s students were only interested in a priest who pitched a challenging life while the opposite strategy failed miserably, and Tori’s friends began to turn to her for advice as she was considering becoming a nun. This conflicts with claims that they’re “alienating” people or reducing “accessibility.” It’s only anecdotal, sure, but still better than bald declarations to the contrary—if this is what savebandit meant, then he’s simply speaking right past us.

          • J Mann says:

            Similarly, joining up with the nuns is an overt signal and choosing to reduce the Christianity’s accessibility to the people by that signalling.

            Does it signal that Christianity is inaccessible, or does it signal that Christianity is a viable option that people choose and aren’t ashamed of. I’m Catholic, and it literally never occurred to me that the presence of a habited Nun at Mass meant I was unwelcome.

            (Similarly, I’m Catholic and I don’t find a robed Buddhist or a white shirted Mormon to be exclusionary).

            It has never occurred to me that Jesus’s criticism of the Pharisees was that by observing religious laws, they made religion unwelcome. He doesn’t object to their religious practices in any of the scenes I can recall – he objects to them criticizing him and his apostles for not following the practices.

          • AG says:

            One of Jesus’s most famous criticisms of the Pharisees was the parable of the poor woman who could only donate a couple of coins. In this case, loudly signalling their virtue was the bad thing the Pharisees were doing.

          • J Mann says:

            @AG – I hate to be so combative, but I don’t see anything in the parable of the Widow’s mite that suggests that Jesus was opposed to excessive religious observance by the Pharisees. He was concerned that they weren’t giving enough charity, but I don’t think he wanted them to cut their earlocks or start harvesting grain on the Sabbath – he just thought they should give more money.

            The parable is reported twice:

            Mark 12:41-44

            The Widow’s Offering
            41 Then he sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it. Many rich people were throwing in large amounts. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny. 43 He called his disciples and said to them, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. 44 For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had.”

            and Luke 21:1-4

            21 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all offered their gifts out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on.”

            In neither case does Jesus even mention the Pharisees, or criticize anyone for excessive religious observance. He criticizes the “rich” for not giving enough money, full stop.

            (In Mark 12:38-40, Jesus does criticize “experts in law” who “devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers,” but (a) that’s not the parable of the Widows’ mite, and (b) I read it as primarily condemning the sin and hypocrisy, not the prayers. Jesus himself made long prayers, most notably in Gethsemane.)

            ——

            In any event, let me say that while I enjoy the discussion, I hope it doesn’t sound confrontational. if there’s anything you want to talk about or any way I can help, let me know.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ve always read this story as saying that God grades on effort rather than on outcome–a rich man tossing a few gold coins from his hoard into the collection box would feed a *lot* more hungry people than the widow’s pennies, so grading by outcome, the rich man did a lot more good. But in terms of virtue, the widow, who gave ’till it hurt, did better than a rich man, who would never miss the coins he dropped into the box.

          • Randy M says:

            I read it as primarily condemning the sin and hypocrisy, not the prayers. Jesus himself made long prayers, most notably in Gethsemane.

            Jesus also condemned being ostentatiously showing in your prayers; those who pray loudly on the street corner already have their reward.

            A big difference between Jesus and EA is the latter being in favor of virtue signalling as a way of establishing norms, and Jesus being concerned about motives.

          • SamChevre says:

            I grew up Amish-Mennonite; one kindness a friend did me when I was leaving was recommending what clothes do buy to look reasonably normal–I’d never gone out in public without being absolutely identifiable before. My parents were converts.

            The distinctive clothes made it less easy to drift in and out–but they were also a walking advertisement: “we’ve got something great that you should want.” And it attracted a lot of people.

          • AG says:

            @J Mann

            You are correct. My memories got mixed up of a pastor’s sermon making this connection to that parable.

            I was actually thinking of Matthew chapter 6, verses 1-8, and Matthew 23, verse 5 particularly resonant with savebandit’s comment on hats.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @SamChevre

            In your experience, do the Amish get a lot of converts?

          • J Mann says:

            @AG – Thanks!

            That one is interesting and challenging. Jesus is clearly not against fasting and praying, but against advertising that you do so.

            On the other hand, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus says:

            14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven

            I tend to reconcile this by looking at motive. If you’re displaying your light for your own glory (and that can sneak up on you), then you’re praying like the hypocrites. If you’re allowing your deeds to be seen for the good of God and your neighbors, then you’re letting your light shine.

            Probably based largely on that distinction, I think that calling nuns Pharisees for wearing the habit is really uncharitable, and I’m kind of offended, because I read it as saying that they’re doing it to be exclusionary or vainglorious, and they might well not be.

            On the other hand, if the argument is that letting people know that you practice religion is contrary to the teachings of Jesus, well, that’s a pretty aggressive interpretation, but I appreciate the challenge and will think about it.

          • AG says:

            As per my first comment in this thread, it’s not that wearing the habit is inherently bad, it’s the official joining up with an institution that’s bad, taking on an official title that sets you apart from the people. (As per Matthew 23, being called Rabbi).

            People can go around living pious lives and wearing habits, if that helps them live pious lives, but they don’t need to go about making a formal order out of it and calling themselves a special kind of career and having membership requirements and such. To denote a special kind of Christian is the thing being frowned upon, when they are to all be brethren and sisters together.

        • savebandit says:

          We have different definitions of taking things seriously, I think. I actually know a lot of nuns (but probably not a truly representative sample of nuns, I’ll admit that.)

          The American nuns I know mostly grew up in a relatively privileged household, most are college-educated, and most importantly most have good career prospects. The convents I know have mostly these characteristics.

          1. They support a lifestyle business, like running a hospice, making rosaries, etc., that supports the convent. I call it a lifestyle business because it is intended to leave most of the nuns with ample time for prayer, and because the businesses simply aren’t that big compared to the pool of labor in the convent.

          2. They focus at least 50% of their help to others through prayer. Whether that is offered Masses, vespers, individual contemplation, etc. The other time is spent running the charitable lifestyle business.

          Given that the nuns I know are picking from a pool of people who disproportionately have the option to go to silicon valley, strike it rich, and fund the entire convent’s lifestyle business several times over, what are the odds that God has called all these women to a life of ascetic prayer? Something is wrong in the discernment process, just like the Pharisees incorrectly (but sincerely, I’m sure!) discerned that the best way to love God was to compete on who could follow the literal rules of the sabbath the closest.

          For what it’s worth, I feel roughly the same way about monks, some journalists/writers/musicians, and generally anyone who complains about problems in society after voluntarily squandering their power to fix things.

          • albatross11 says:

            Not everyone is a consequentialist.

          • savebandit says:

            I assume the nuns enjoy monastic life. Not to generalize too much from my own experience, but the ones I know do, the same way a weightlifter enjoys going to the gym despite the time commitment and frequent effort.

            If they’re not meant to be consequentialist, and it really is okay to focus on self-improvement through prayer like that because you enjoy that kind of thing, that’s about the most hedonistic thing I’ve ever heard. I guess they should thank God every day that something so awfully convenient to them is their calling.

          • Jaskologist says:

            So if you enjoy something, it must not be God’s calling?

          • Nick says:

            Prayer is not for self-improvement; most of it is actually offered for the rest of us. Alexi Sargeant wrote about this at First Things the other day. You can’t even do the math here on their impact if you aren’t taking that into account, and, well, good luck measuring it. So it seems to me a consequentialist analysis of the religious life doesn’t even get off the ground.

    • Machine Interface says:

      The cynical answer is: when a fandom is dying, of course only the hardcore fans remain and only the extra-hardcore join.

      • DeWitt says:

        Pretty much.

      • Nick says:

        That’s not any kind of answer, because it doesn’t explain why recruitment is actually up rather than down.

        • Randy M says:

          Doesn’t that depend on the group you are calling fandom?
          You are interpreting him as calling nuns fandom, he is calling Christianity (prob. in America) fandom.

          • Nornagest says:

            It doesn’t make sense either way. This is basically an evaporative cooling argument: the less hardcore leave the group, so the group looks more hardcore afterwards. But that doesn’t mean there are more hardcore members.

          • Randy M says:

            It doesn’t mean there necessarily will be, but if potential zealous recruits are attracted to the group when they judge average level of zealotry to be sufficiently high, evaporative cooling could create an environment that attracts recruits even though there’s a net loss.

            I’m not saying I buy it, just explaining MI’s reasoning.

          • Nick says:

            The possibility occurred to me too, but it’s pretty dubious (is there any evidence it happens?), so it doesn’t seem like it fits with MI’s apparent confidence.

      • Nornagest says:

        That explains newly inducted nuns being extra-serious about it, but not recruitment numbers going up.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      That explains something that had been confusing me lately.

      I had been hearing about how orders of nuns had been dying out due to flagging recruitment for years, but the nuns I see wandering around these days are usually in their 30s or younger. And they were definitely wearing the full habit.

      I was open to the possibility that I was just walking past a weird convent but if this is a broader trend it makes more sense.

      • Nick says:

        Fairbanks doesn’t dig into the statistics, but my impression is that there was a mass exodus from the priesthood and religious life in like the seventies—and once most nuns stopped wearing habits you were unlikely to know you were encountering one anyway. So yeah, with vocations up, a young, habited nun today is both more likely today than in years past, and guaranteed to stick out like a sore thumb.

      • b_jonas says:

        Would you recognize a nun that wondered around you if they weren’t wearing the full habit?

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Anecdotal support for this: a friend of a friend is currently going through holy orders, and he mentioned how the new priests want to bring back the cassock and other more traditional wear. The reasons given seemed similar to what you’ve posted: the appeal of traditional religion is, well, the religious tradition. You don’t join a holy order if you aren’t wholly into it.

      • Nick says:

        That it’s cyclical may be what Fairbank’s Nietzsche scholar dad was suggesting. I’m not so sure, but definitely a plausible way to read it is that it’s a strong reaction by young folks to the ways of their parents’ generation.

      • Creutzer says:

        You don’t join a holy order if you aren’t wholly into it.

        I see what you did there.

    • Like most journalism, it’s light on statistics and focuses heavily on characters. I would be really hesitant to assign any underlying trend based on this narrative.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Are the number of priests going up as well, or is this only for women?

      • Nick says:

        They were a few years ago, at least in America; I’m not sure about, say, the last two years.

      • SamChevre says:

        I think numbers of priests in total are still going down, but number joining is going up (slightly, from an unsustainably low base.)

        But anecdataly, yes, the younger priests are much more likely to be conservative; if they didn’t think the Catholic Church had something uniquely valuable to offer, they wouldn’t be priests.

  23. rubberduck says:

    The premise: You have a time machine and can go back in time to any point in the past. Once there, you are able to speak the language and have all the other necessary skills to live in that time period as well as a sum of money that will buy you as much as $1000 can today.

    Your assignment: Find one (1) item that would be the most useful in the present. One item means one physical object; no collections or stocks. I’ll let you define “useful” however you want, but if you don’t feel like defining it then “monetarily valuable” can be substituted.

    The catch: you cannot take any items with you in the time machine. You must hide your item or give it to someone in such a manner that you can retrieve it in the present day. Additionally, you cannot bring anything modern to the past; however you choose to preserve your item, it must be done with what you have at your disposal then. There are no other restrictions on the size or complexity of your item. If you might need additional material to hold your item between the past and present (a crate, envelope, etc), assume that as soon as you get your hands on the main item, whatever you used to store it poofs out of existence.

    What item do you choose? How do you plan to retrieve it in the present?

    My choice: travel in time to 1856 British Guiana, buy a 1856 British Guiana 1c magenta, send it inside an envelope postmarked with a normal stamp to my 1856-era relatives with an explanation of my time-travel and additional information about the future and/or them to make them believe me, and trust them to hold onto the stamp and envelope until 2020.

    More mundanely, you could also use this power to return an overdue library book.

    • souleater says:

      July 2010, Buy $1000 of BTC at $0.008/BTC = BTC 125,000
      Today: 125,000*$10,000 = $1.2 billion

      Does a bitcoin wallet count as an object? maybe a single cold storage wallet with 125,000 BTC if I need to rules lawyer it.

      • rubberduck says:

        Yeah I considered adding an addendum saying “no bitcoin”, since it’s not a physical object, but I guess the cold storage counts.

      • Well... says:

        Wouldn’t buying that much BTC in 2010 change how much it’s worth now?

        • Eric Rall says:

          That’s a problem with any historical object that’s valuable primarily for its rarity. For example, rubberduck’s 1c Magenta would probably be quite a bit less valuable as one of two surviving stamps of the issue compared to the current value of the one known surviving stamp.

          125k bitcoins are about 0.7% of the total current bitcoin supply (17.3M, including about 4M lost bitcoins). A substantial chunk, but not so much that you couldn’t sell then gradually without eroding too much of their paper value.

          A bigger concern would be the effects on the bitcoin market of buying up so many of them back in 2010. I don’t think the market was particularly mature or liquid back then, so buying them up would be a laborious process with substantial ripple effects.

          • rubberduck says:

            Time your stamp-purchase right and you can catch the guy who got the second one, thus ensuring yourself as the only owner of that particular stamp. Heck, with a bit more effort you could get something even more valuable, like an entire mint sheet of some other valuable stamp (I am not a philatelist and don’t have any examples).

          • achenx says:

            (I am not a philatelist and don’t have any examples)

            Well, you know what they say: philately will get you nowhere.

    • mendax says:

      My choice: travel in time to 1856 British Guiana, buy a 1856 British Guiana 1c magenta, send it inside an envelope postmarked with a normal stamp to my 1856-era relatives with an explanation of my time-travel and additional information about the future and/or them to make them believe me, and trust them to hold onto the stamp and envelope until 2020.

      What will you do when a stranger comes around asking to see your time machine? With convincing proof that you have altered the timeline and lowered the value of the stamp?

      (not an attack, just a similarity to a fun little book)

    • Erusian says:

      If I get to prepare, I’d go back to the United States just before or after the Civil War. Basic knowledge of modern physics and engineering would allow me to make significant advances in technology in a framework that’s at least somewhat culturally and economically familiar. Additionally, capital would be available for investment if I could credibly convince some well-to-dos that I am an inventor (which is something they are culturally predisposed to consider a normal investment.) There’d also be economic and industrial booms coming. And no income taxes or significant regulation.

      From there, I could purchase whatever item I wanted and put it in a bank lockbox owned by a trust that would get my net worth/patents/etc. There are trusts that date back to those times and banks/safes in continuous operation so it wouldn’t be terribly unusual. In modern times I could reclaim the trust and item at leisure. The lockbox poofs out of existence and I pay a small fine.

      I’m not sure what I’d get. Maybe Twain’s Lost Works? Or Liszt’s Geneva Manuals? I’m not sure how much value something from the past can have that isn’t cultural.

    • DeWitt says:

      I think the actual amount of money I’d receive should be enough for me to bribe some people to look the other way long enough that I’ll be able to do away with the shroud of Jesus; if I’m particularly morbid or otherwise strong-stomached of a person, I might even get away with a whole femur. It’s not as if the local rulers are very fond of him, anyway.

      The bigger issue is preservation. Whether cloth or bone, burying the items inside properly sealed boxes should make them last the ensuing two millennia just fine, but I’m not too confident about my ability to bury them somewhere that they won’t be found by anyone but me. Most places with the kind of soil I could actually dig in are going to be farmed at some point or another, I don’t want to bury them somewhere that’s very prone to floods, and it can’t be a place that’s going to suffer two millennia’s worth of earthquakes for me to completely lose my tin box afterward.

      The best bet is likely to head somewhere that won’t be populated too much for too long a time and bury the box there. Croatia has a bunch of isles that I know are uninhabited right in the Adriatic, which my remaining bribe money can hopefully let me travel towards, so I’d try spending a couple days digging a hole deep enough that there’s no dumb tree roots or whatever about to disturb my box and head there in the present day to dig it up.

      • S_J says:

        You might find a way to sneak your artifact into the Qumran caves….though I don’t know how to identify the right one. If you’re arriving around the time of the Crucifixion, it’ll be 40-or-so years until the Romans sack the Masada fortress. So the Qumran community will be pretty active, and may be visiting the caves occasionally.

        Do you think you could leave behind evidence that will convince the scholars of 1948 (who discover the scrolls in the Qumran collection) that you left them there as a time-traveler?

        • DeWitt says:

          I thought the point was to leave it behind to myself. If I want to leave the shroud behind as something other people can put to use I might try lobbing it at a figure like Paul or somesuch.

          • S_J says:

            True, if you’re trying to save it for yourself to find, you’ve got a much harder problem.

            Are there other caves in that area which weren’t used by the Masada community (or whoever), but would likely allow your object to remain unobserved from then until now?

          • DeWitt says:

            I’m not very familiar with the area, which is why I mentioned the uninhabited isles off the Croatian coast. My $1000 hopefully can get me enough for a bribe, a boat ticket or two, a tin box, and food to spend the time digging a hole and then heading back to the present.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Bitcoin is hard to beat for personal gain.

      For societal usefulness, go back to Bronze Age Crete and hire scribes to write out a clay tablet of a text in Linear A, along with the same text in Cretan Hieroglyphs, and again in a language that modern scholars can read (probably Egyptian Hieroglyphs or Hittite Cuneiform). Linear A and Cretan Hieroglyphs were used in parallel for about a century, and during the time period Crete had significant trade with both Egypt and the Hittites, so I should be able to find scribes who can write the three languages. The goal is to allow translation of the currently-unreadable corpus of Minoan documents. Just knowing what the language is will tell us quite a bit about who the Minoans were (e.g. if their language was related to any other known language family), and the contents of the corpus could fill in a lot of gaps in our knowledge of the ancient world in general and the lead-up to the Bronze Age Collapse in particular.

      For bonus points, make the corpus an account of some important Minoan myth or historical event, to give additional context about their culture.

      Bake the tablet so it will survive getting wet and seal it inside a jar with a chunk of copper. Bury the jar in a remote area or dump it overboard in water. I’m not sure where would be best. If I want to be the one who finds it, probably some exact number of nautical miles directly north or south of some particular landmark (*), then go back to that location in the present and search the area with a metal detector. If I don’t care who finds it as long as it gets into modern scholarly hands, that’s a much easier problem: bury it in the future path of the Suez Canal (**).

      (*) Nautical miles are minutes of arc along a great circle. I should be able to measure that based on the elevation of the North Star. I’d need prep and practice before traveling back in order to figure out how to make a good enough astrolabe, quadrant, or sextant with period tools and materials to determine my latitude with enough precision to make the search area tractable, but it should be doable.

      (**) The Suez Canal was dug in the mid-19th century, with hand tools, under the direction of a French company. A number of artifacts were found during the excavation.

      • Matt M says:

        Bitcoin seems less liquid (and less in favor among the respectable authorities) than a lot of other things. Why not just figure out what stock had the highest overall return in the same amount of time and go that route? Or bet on an unlikely sporting event outcome (Leicester City literally re-wrote the rules of what sort of odds bookies were willing to take on these events)

      • DeWitt says:

        Coinage is a moderately recent invention, so I don’t know if bronze age Crete is going to get you anywhere. You may very well be able to just collect hand-me-downs of tablets nobody is using anymore though.

      • Evan Þ says:

        One small problem with your “bury it at a known location” plan: In the relevant era, there was no North Star. You’d still be able to estimate based on the elevation of surrounding stars, but it’d be more complicated.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Good point. You could also use the height of the sun at noon.

          It’s less convenient to take sighting of (you only get one shot per day, and you need to do math to compare one day’s sightings to another), but it’s easier from an instrumentation perspective (measure the shadow of a vertical object on a horizontal surface, then do the trig to get the angle). “Vertical” and “horizontal” to the required level of precision is tricky, but I feel better about making a plumb bob or even a spirit level with period materials than I do about making a sextant.

        • Two McMillion says:

          Huh. I’d heard of precession, but I’d always thought it occurred on the scale of millions of years, not thousands.

          • Lambert says:

            The Great Pyramid points to α Draconis (Thuban) which was, at the time, the closest thing to the pole.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Edit: Ninja’d by DeWitt

      I would go to 1st century Roman Palestine and use part of my $1000 to buy the true cross.

      Then I would try as closely as possible to replicate this method of petrifying wood using Roman technology. I would have to invent the blast furnace first, get enough argon or other noble gasses somehow (helium is found in some natural gas deposits so maybe start there?), and hope that the technique scales from a 1 cubic centimeter piece of wood to a massive cross. But all of that is less implausible than time travel so for these purposes let’s say that I can do those things.

      Once I have the petrified true cross, I would sink it into an Irish bog deep enough that nobody would dig out the peat surrounding it for 2000 years. Then, quantum leap back home and have fun trying to convince people that it’s real and their reliquaries are all fake.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I feel like both of you left out the part where this is “useful.” How do you convince anybody that you have the actual true cross/shroud, and what’s the play if you do? Use the blood samples to clone Kahless Jesus?

        • DeWitt says:

          Clearly I’ve been succesful in doing this already; you didn’t think he actually rose from the dead, now did you?

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I feel like it’s at least as useful as a collectable postage stamp.

          The process of speed-petrification would definitely destroy any DNA left behind so there would be no possibility of cloning Jesus. The only real use would be as either an object of veneration or as a museum piece depending on whether other time travelers had proved or disproved the resurrection. Either way it would be worth an absurd amount of money.

          Also I’m assuming that the true cross doesn’t actually have miraculous properties. If it does, presumably God wouldn’t let me stick it in a bog since it’s supposed to be broken up into pieces and scattered around Europe as reliquaries. That said, a miraculous cross would be much more useful.

          • acymetric says:

            Assuming it doesn’t have miracles, how do you verify it?

            “This cross was miraculously preserved using techniques unknown to the people of the time and then stashed in a bog” sounds more like a hoax than most actual hoaxes.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Radiocarbon dating and the depth of the peat should both be able to firmly establish the age at least.

            The discrepancy between the recent age from carbon dating and the fact that wood takes millions of years to petrify naturally would demonstrate that it was likely artificially preserved. The drill marks would also definitely help with that case.

            As for proof that it’s the true cross, yeah that’s definitely the hard part.

          • acymetric says:

            I’m saying that the evidence of it being artificially preserved in a manner not “possible” in that time period will be used as evidence that it is a fake.

            You would be better off if you can figure out some way to naturally preserve it (something unlikely, but plausible like “they just happened to throw the cross in this weird pit that prevented it from rotting until we discovered it thousands of years later).

          • Jaskologist says:

            While you’re wasting your time making actual relics that nobody will believe in, I’ll be burying an actual copy of Q in the Qumran caves. Or, if I can’t find one, a note addressed to myself with words to the effect of “The Q Hypothesis is disproven. PS: buy bitcoin.”

          • albatross11 says:

            This all sounds like the setup for an Indiana Jones movie.

          • rmtodd says:

            albatross11: Or possibly a SF novel by German SF author Andreas Eschbach. (Really good book, both it and its sequel, pity no US publisher has come out with an English edition…)

        • Deiseach says:

          I agree with Jaskologist: we already have a shroud and alleged relics of the cross, and it’s a minor cottage industry for skeptics to explain how one was faked up by Leonardo da Vinci and the other is “so many pieces, enough to build the Ark! *pause for hearty guffaws*” – to the point where an irritated and obsessive guy named Charles Rohault de Fleury did Trojan work listing all verified relics, then calculating the mass and volume and rebutting this joke.

          Even if you successfully acquired, stored, and received in the future the real Shroud and/or Cross, the likes of the Amazing Randi, Penn Jillette, the New Atheists, and everyone from Voltaire onwards would be coming up with ‘more plausible’ explanations of how these are fakes (e.g. “come on, if a guy can build a time machine, you’re telling me it would be too difficult for him to hoodoo a piece of cloth? oh it’s the real cross because miracles? hey I’m a professional magician, I can do miracles too, watch me change water to wine!”) Nobody will believe you except the nuttier faithful, and you may not want to be lumped in with the Sindonologists.

      • JPNunez says:

        If we are going to this extent, I’d just somehow save Jesus. Probably by bribing the corresponding authorities.

        Just cash your $1000 in some gold coins.

        • DeWitt says:

          $1000 in today’s money is going to net you about 20 grams of gold. No inconsequential amount of money, but I don’t know if it’s bail out a guy who pissed off the Romans kind of money.

          • Lambert says:

            Just offer Judas 60 pieces of silver.

            Side question: How much was 30 pieces of silver worth in ancient Jerusalem?
            I saw the question in r/AskHistorians once, unanswered.

          • DeWitt says:

            It likely refers to the Denarius, which was worth a day’s unskilled labor. Offering him 60 of them is doable, but if the Romans keep making better counter-offers you’re definitely gonna get outbid.

          • JPNunez says:

            I assume reverse inflation means $1000 in today money is more money relatively than ~2000 years ago.

            But yeah, prolly enough to bribe Jesus’s guards, or Judas.

            The hard part is probably trying to convince Jesus himself of leaving. Maybe the dude would pull off some Socrates shit.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I was deliberately allowing for the possibility that Jesus is actually resurrected. I don’t believe it, but I also don’t want to be the moron who guessed wrong and got cursed for all eternity.

          If God is real and Jesus was God, messing with the cross is pretty blasphemous but probably just regular blasphemy. Trying to nab Jesus on the second day and stick him in a vat of formaldehyde is double secret blasphemy.

        • rubberduck says:

          FYI this is the “bring something cool back to the present” challenge, not the “CHANGE HISTORY!” challenge. Both history and Jesus Himself are pretty set on Jesus dying and getting resurrected, or at least on a large number of people truly believing that he was. I don’t know how the world could work around that and arrive at a recognizable present if you got Jesus freed, never mind bringing him to the present.

          • rmtodd says:

            Well, you could just wait for the resurrection and then bring the resurrected Jesus forward afterwards. I mentioned Eschbach’s novel Das Jesus Video up above; well, in the sequel Der Jesus-Deal the somewhat looney billionaire character funds a project to build a time machine so they can do just that, travel back to the first century and bring the resurrected Jesus here so he can bring about the Second Coming. Seriously, that’s the guy’s plan. (Well, part of it, the rest of the plan is even more insane.) Things don’t go as planned, however…

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Go back to Alexandria in 81 AD, join the Christian community, buy a scroll the same length Jews use to copy the Torah, transcribe as much of the New Testament as I can, try to remember an existing modern find site in the Egyptian desert and bury my papyrus scroll close enough that the people who used the site after me won’t see it but it’ll enjoy very similar preservation chances.

    • S_J says:

      After reading Beowulf, and learning about its textual history (and the damage by fire), I’d like to try to find a way to preserve a better copy of that piece. Certain sections were likely re-written by later scribes, and the only copy of the original was damaged in a fire at one point in its history.

      This gives two options:
      1. Try to find, and preserve, the pre-edited texts.
      2. Try to find, and preserve, a copy of the manuscript before it was burnt in a fire.

      If I go for option 1, find might be hard. Should I visit the court of Alfred the Great, or the cultural centers of Danelaw, or the sciptorium of Malmesbury Abbey? Would I abscond with the old copy after the editors/copyists finish creating a new copy, or would I try to pay them to produce an extra copy for me?

      If I go for option 2, I think I’d want to get access to the script sometime before it was bundled into the the Nowell Codex, or shortly before the fire at the Ashburnham House in the 1730s. It might be possible to find a noble family that could preserve the text in a different library, and I can fortuitously discover the text when I visit them in the near future.

      Preservation, in either case, would likely be a wooden case with lead lining, with wax used as a seal. Working with lead sounds dangerous to my health, but I might be able to do so safely.

      • Lambert says:

        Metallic lead’s really not that dangerous.
        Especially if it’s only one thing you’re doing.

        The problems come when you put organic lead compounds in petrol, or you use it for plumbing.

      • Deiseach says:

        Would I abscond with the old copy after the editors/copyists finish creating a new copy, or would I try to pay them to produce an extra copy for me?

        You really need to be sure you have permission to copy any texts first, else you can get in real trouble over that (and require the High King to issue a copyright decision) 🙂

    • Matt says:

      something something Infinity Stones…

    • aristides says:

      Go to Alexandria in 55BC and read as many scrolls as I can find. Copy the one that seem most interesting, and bury somewhere I can try to find later. Even is archeologists find it before I do, I can make an enjoyable career of being a classics professor from the knowledge I would gain at the time.

    • honoredb says:

      The cheaty answer I haven’t seen yet is to create an interesting object, which would make it much easier to find a secure way to smuggle it to the present day. Go back to where your house is before that area was inhabited, carve some nice and accurate prophecies into some rocks, bury them deeper than anyone has ever dug. Plenty of ways to make a fortune off of that, but all you’re really contributing to society is proof of the existence of time travel.

      I think the most legitimately valuable thing you could preserve would be an interview with an enigmatic historical figure. There are some places and times that might have secret lost technology (preserve a Silphium plant somehow?) but that’s quite a risk for your one trip.

  24. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    Thoughts on San Francisco so far (limited to SOMA, Cow Hollow, Presidio, Haight, Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, Financial District, and obviously excluding Tenderloin):
    1. Not surprising that people like it here. The weather is pretty good, everything is dense and walkable, there are lots of good restaurants. Almost all the people are young, attractive, and fit. I think I have seen only one obese person and my mildly overweight frame would probably be in the 90th percentile of weight.
    2. The traffic seems trivial. Your peak rush hour seems to be 1hr30 minutes between SF and San Jose. The average seems to be an hour. This is 55 miles. It takes 2 hours to get from my house to the Chicago Loop, and I live only 30 miles away from the Loop.
    3. The homeless are incredibly well-behaved. I have only heard one rant about how the Ethiopians are the true lost tribe of Israel and the Israelites are not true Jews. Not a single person has pan-handled. Several homeless folk had brooms to clean up after themselves. Granted, I have gone out of my way to avoid some areas, so I have not come across any major encampments, for instance.
    4. I have seen only 2 Golden State Warrior shirts, and nothing of Steph Curry. I do not understand. Golden State is in a dynasty. This is like going to Chicago and seeing no Michael Jordan jerseys at the peak of the Jordan era. There are also no 49ers jerseys, and only a few Giants jerseys. I see more Chicago Cubs jerseys than I see San Francisco jerseys of ANY stripe.
    5. SF water tastes horrible.
    6. Green spaces are large when there are green spaces, but good lord other than that there is nothing. Maybe if you go through some neighborhoods they have some small element of greenery. A lot of homes in other areas have small front lawns that have a bit of greenery to them, which I’ve only seen in the Pacific Heights on the East side of the island.
    7. Despite the large number of people, it has never actually felt crowded. I don’t quite know how to explain this. This might be because I am not going through Financial District during a morning commute, though.
    8. There are families, but there are practically no large (>2) families that I’ve seen.
    9. There are a huge number of cars, and many of these cars do not seem particularly high quality. Like, if you fork over millions of dollars for a 3 bed/2 bath, I don’t see why you’d have a Toyota corolla instead of a Lexus IS.
    9a. Where are the convertibles?
    10. The garages are pretty large, at least the ones I have peeked into. It almost looks like they take up the entire first floor? Maybe these are just renos?
    11. What are the notable Bay Area breweries? I’ve tried some of the local beers and have been uniformly disappointed.
    12. There seems to be more construction in my suburb of under 100,000 people than there is in this entire city. This not only applies to the housing construction, but even the road construction. Okay, SLIGHT exaggeration, but outside of maybe a few things in the Financial District, this feels like a city that’s entirely stuck in its current state.
    13. So. Many Hills.

    • johan_larson says:

      What are the notable Bay Area breweries? I’ve tried some of the local beers and have been uniformly disappointed.

      How local does it need to be? Sierra Nevada is up in Chico, and their pale ale is great.

      Don’t worry about the water tasting funny. As far as I can tell, the local water always tastes a bit off when you move to a new place. Eventually you habituate.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The traffic seems trivial. Your peak rush hour seems to be 1hr30 minutes between SF and San Jose.

      Wait, what? Is this some alternate universe SF?

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Going off Google Maps along with what local television has said. Perhaps this is seasonal, or otherwise inaccurate?

        • Anthony says:

          Try it sometime. Also try coming in to San Francisco from somewhere in the East Bay during commute hours, or going back in the afternoon. I live 14 miles from my office which is about 2 miles south of downtown SF. I leave home at 5:45 to get in before 6:30 – usually closer to 6:15. If I leave almost any time after 15:00, it will take an hour to get home.

        • salvorhardin says:

          It’s somewhat seasonal. The worst traffic is during the rainy season. I haven’t done SF -> San Jose then, but SF -> Sunnyvale, for example, can easily take two hours or more on a rainy December morning.

          • Plumber says:

            I never drove San Francisco to San Jose in the afternoon, but I did go the San Jose to San Francisco commute ten to twenty years ago and IIRC the day of the week mafe a big difference, on Mondays 40 minutes was pretty common, on Thursdays 150 minutes was regular.

          • Anthony says:

            Six months (or more) of no rain is plenty of time for every single Californian to forget how to drive in the rain.

            And they all make different mistakes. If they all made the same mistakes, they’d probably crash into each other somewhat less.

    • Matt M says:

      9a. Where are the convertibles?

      It rains like 200 days a year.