OT134: Open Zed

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

1. 26 teams have signed up for the adversarial collaboration contest so far! But don’t feel overwhelmed; if people flake out at the same rate as last year, there will still only be 10 or so final entries. I’m curious why the second post was so much more successful at encouraging signups than the first. Was it the rule that only people with A-M names could propose? The rule that nobody could post non-proposal comments in the comments section? Or did people just need more time?

2. I’ve been taking more advantage of a feature where any comment that more than three users report gets removed until I can check it over for appropriateness. Most of these comments are inappropriate but not worth banning people for, so I usually just keep them removed and take no further action. I know people don’t like moderator actions without transparency, but I don’t have enough time/energy to moderate in a transparent way and so you are stuck with this for now. Sorry.

3. Related – I want to remind people that it’s almost never a good choice to go too general. If a post like Against Against Billionaire Philanthropy is getting too many comments like “This proves that government is bad at everything” or “You are a free market ideologue too blinded to see that the free market has killed millions of people”, something has gone wrong, and it’s probably me not banning enough people. Feel free to report posts like this, though I may not ban all of them. I might crack down harder on this in the future; for now, re-read Arguments From My Opponent Believes Something.

4. Two new sidebar ads this month. 21st Night is a study program that combines spaced repetition with error logging. Sparrow is a charity app that links automatic donations to events in your life – for example, you can set it to donate 10% of your restaurant bills to ending world hunger.

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874 Responses to OT134: Open Zed

  1. robirahman says:

    In a totally-not-self-interested manner, I’d like to petition for a broader distribution of the prizes at the end of the adversarial collaboration contest. If there are ten or fifteen final entries, I don’t think the winning team should get half the prize money. Maybe it could be proportional to votes, with bonuses for your favorite and the one that wins the reader poll?

    (If I win any money, I’m donating it to AMF, so I won’t personally benefit from any rule change. I was actually going to suggest this even before I saw there were so many teams entering.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Proportional to votes is actually a really good idea.

      I am worried that “a chance to win $5000!” sounds better to the biased human mind (and draws more people in) compared to “a five times higher chance of winning $1000”, and so this might lower the prestige and attractiveness of the contest. I’ll have to think.

      • sclmlw says:

        Yes, but if last year is any guide, you also want a strong incentive for teams to finish and deliver a quality product. If half the prize money is delivered proportional to votes received, with the other half given to the winner, you might get the best of both worlds.

        In particular, you want to incentive teams that produce a solid essay they both agree on, but that they’re both disappointed in because the result wasn’t what they expected to arrive at based on their priors. (Not just everyone moves to the center, but “both sides were wrong and we don’t know how to fix this”, or other permutations of an unsatisfying but enlightening conclusion.) This helps us get an outcome even when neither collaborator thinks they can win, but the exercise is of significant interest to the community.

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

        The standard way to trumpet this is “$5000 prize fund!” Left to the fine print is the fact that no one person can win more than $700.

      • Tatterdemalion says:

        I think that weighting prizes more heavily towards the best few entries is more likely to result in people making an effort to produce high-quality entries.

        • silver_swift says:

          Possible, but given that last year only 4 out of 12 teams ended up handing anything in and given that all 4 of those were of high quality, I think it might be more important to encourage people to actually finish their project even if it doesn’t look like it will be good enough to beat the other 25 teams.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Perhaps if you got one person to argue the $5000, and another to argue five $1000s, and got them to collaborate…

  2. Sniffnoy says:

    2. I’ve been taking more advantage of a feature where any comment that more than three users report gets removed until I can check it over for appropriateness. Most of these comments are inappropriate but not worth banning people for, so I usually just keep them removed and take no further action. I know people don’t like moderator actions without transparency, but I don’t have enough time/energy to moderate in a transparent way and so you are stuck with this for now. Sorry.

    This seems like exactly the sort of thing that you don’t want to be transparent about. Like, I’m worried that now that you’ve said this, bad actors may create extra accounts to get comments they don’t like removed.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I still check over every post and unremove the ones that were reported wrongly.

    • Acedia says:

      Yeah, this would have been fine if he’d kept it to himself. Now there’s going to be a sharp uptick in malicious reporting.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        It’s also still super easy to accidentally report comments. There are two report buttons (or is that just me..?) and only one of them has a confirmation dialogue – the other just goes right through

        • Nick says:

          Are reports anonymous or named? As long as it’s about as easy to ban malicious reporters as commenters, this won’t on its own be a big deal. The biggest worry as I see it is that assholes might abuse Scott’s long delays to disrupt a conversation. Like suppose I want to inform everyone of the virtues of vim and some emacs devotee keeps mass-reporting my post. Any replies get orphaned, or my post just disappears before anyone else even sees it. If I complain, my emacs stalker reports that too. Scott could come by and bring back all my posts, but if that’s three days later, the discussion’s already been successfully sabotaged.

          Incidentally—I was inclined at first to agree mentioning it was a bad idea, but on second thought I’m not sure it matters. I’ve seen more than one mention of posts disappearing lately, and I was beginning to privately suspect something had changed. If I can figure it out, anyone here can.

      • Enkidum says:

        I mean Scott hasn’t given any stats that I’m aware of, but I feel like most of this community is sane enough that there isn’t a lot of outright maliciousness here, and you don’t get a lot of things like people reporting comments they find objectionable because of simple disagreement.

        • Aapje says:

          The people abusing this don’t have to be from this community. There are outsiders who hate a peer community to this site so much that they have started a literal sneer club.

    • Nicholas says:

      Came here to say exactly this!

  3. youzicha says:

    Here’s a question/idea to some of the SSC resident military experts.

    Currently the U.S. is debating whether to develop a new ICBM, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). But do we really need a separate land-based missile? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to standardize on the Trident D5? We could call it “Trident Ashore”. The Trident D5 has enough range to strike Moscow and Beijing from Wyoming, and its size (59 tonnes) is similar to road-mobile Topol-M (47 tonnes) or the rail-mobile BZhRK Barguzin (45-50 tonnes).

    If the land-based deterrent is a hedge against improvement in anti-submarine warfare, then we could rely of SLBMs for now, and move some of the missiles inland if and when an adversery nation seems to improve their ASW capabilities. (This would be similar to how Russia adapted to increasing U.S. ASW capabilities by first retreating to a bastion strategy and then by emphasising mobile ICBMs). It would presumably take a decade or so for an adversery to build up their ASW forces, so one could maybe leave the development of a TEL vehicle until a need became apparent. (In the 1980s, the U.S. started developing the Peacekeeper rail garrison in 1986 and expected to deploy it in 1992, so it only had a 6 year lead time.) Or if that is too risky, one could develop a prototype railway car or road-mobile TEL vehicle as a hedge now, but not start mass-producing it until needed. Or, if we really need missiles on land right now, it still seems one could save money by only developing a new TEL and use the existing Trident production line for the missiles, instead of developing an entirely new type of missile as well…

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t know the specifics, but I would expect that the design choices made for a sea-based missile would not be appropriate for a land-based missile and vice-versa. In particular I expect the difference between a steam-launch and a launch from the ground to be significant.

    • John Schilling says:

      Several of my colleagues and I have privately looked into this, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why a downloaded (1-4 warheads) Trident D5 wouldn’t be a perfectly reasonable ICBM.

      When the prospect has been raised through official channels, the official response is “Trident is heavier than Minuteman, so the transporter would collapse some of the bridges on the access roads to the ICBM base, we wrote the requirement with a weight limit so that wouldn’t be a problem, Trident doesn’t meet the weight limit so it doesn’t comply so shut up and go away”. This is as silly as it sounds; it would be far cheaper to rebuild the bridges.

      The sensible objection, to the extent that their is one, is that it reduces redundancy. If it turns out that there is a design flaw in the Trident, or if the Russians or Chinese get an agent into the factory that builds critical components, we lose two-thirds of our deterrent force rather than one-third. But Trident has been in service long enough that this shouldn’t be a problem.

      The real reasons the USAF would prefer to pay many gigabucks to traditional USAF contractors to develop a new USAF-specific missile, instead of paying a smaller sum for a marginal production increase for a USN missile, are left as an exercise for the student.

      • youzicha says:

        thank you!

      • gbdub says:

        Even the Trident 2 is 30 years old at this point… is doing one new ICBM every 3 decades really that crazy?

        • Murphy says:

          I do kinda wonder, surely when the original version was designed there were some tradeoffs along the lines of “well we’d love to do X but there’s no materials that can…” or similar where the constraint no longer applies.

          • gbdub says:

            I’m not sure the new one will be any “better” from a performance perspective, but easier / more reliable probably.

            I also think there’s some merit in doing a clean sheet design once a generation to make sure you still can. By the time GBSD deploys, everybody who designed Peacekeeper and Trident II will be retired and most of the people who designed Minuteman will be dead. Part obsolescence (i.e. literally can’t get equivalent spares anymore) is also a serious issue.

          • cassander says:


            Part obsolescence (i.e. literally can’t get equivalent spares anymore) is also a serious issue.

            That’s less of a problem for the Trident because it’s still in production. Not very rapid production, granted, but they are still making them, which means they have an intact supply chain.

          • gbdub says:

            Sure, but how many parts are only being used on Trident II? How many have currently available equivalents that will stay available after Trident II production stops?

        • bean says:

          But in that case, why not build a Trident II replacement for the SSBNs, and then fit it in silos?

      • cassander says:

        Glad to know that I’m not the only one pointing this out. Couldn’t you also reduce weight by eliminating some of the pressurization system? Or would that futz with the balance too much?

      • AlphaGamma says:

        I think the UK ”considered” land-based Trident, in a ”here are all the plausible alternatives, here is why they aren’t feasible” sort of way when deciding to build the Successor SSBNs- link to the Trident Alternatives Study which includes the amusing line

        dirigibles were excluded because of… credibility issues


        However, they deliberately excluded any form of land-based mobile (road or rail) launcher due to both the cost of developing one- the UK has never had one, and neither the US nor France do at the moment- and the “operational risks associated with protecting, basing
        and moving such a platform within the UK”- I suspect this is partly because, with the UK’s small size, the increase in resilience that a deterrent gets from being mobile isn’t actually that big. So the only land-based option they consider is Trident in a silo- which they don’t consider for that long before realising that (with the geographic constraints of the UK) it is too vulnerable to a first strike.

        • cassander says:

          which they don’t consider for that long before realising that (with the geographic constraints of the UK) it is too vulnerable to a first strike.

          I’ve never quite understood the geography issue here. the UK isn’t exactly a small country and plenty of it is relatively de-populated. I could see not having enough space during the cold war with the soviet arsenal staring you down, Wales is roughly the same size as the south dakota missile field, surely you can scatter a couple hundred warheads in sheep pastures.

          Now, if you conclude that the vulnerability of any land based system is such that you need to have many more missiles than you would for a sea based deterrent, I can see objecting on cost grounds, but the UK isn’t Israel. I really don’t get how geography can constrain their current arsenal.

          • Lambert says:

            Most of those white areas on the map are mostly uninhabited for a reason.

            They’re all uplands/mountains. There’s a lot of rainfall, snowfall, fog, high winds and general bad weather.
            They’re boggy, andmoorland fires are not uncommon. Train lines were plagued by rockfalls and landslides.

            Politically, it’s a non-starter, for environmental reasons.

        • bean says:

          The ICBM Dirigible is one of my favorite things ever.

          One of the serious problems with mobile ICBMs is security. They looked very seriously at rail-mounted versions of MX and Minuteman, and neither got anywhere partially because it would have been a giant headache for the rail dispatchers to randomly lose sections of their lines for missiles. The same goes for trucks. If you have the political will to override that, it’s OK, but there are limits on what you can do in the US, and I’d guess that it’s even worse in the UK.

      • aiju says:

        Several of my colleagues and I have privately looked into this, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why a downloaded (1-4 warheads) Trident D5 wouldn’t be a perfectly reasonable ICBM.

        I can’t resist but:
        You wouldn’t download a missile.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Currently the U.S. is debating whether to develop a new ICBM, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD).

      Is it time already?

      One of my first grown-up paid programming jobs was part of the “we cant build the MX, extend the lifespan of the LGM-30 instead” effort, working on contracts to replace boxes designed and built by Boeing in the 1950s that were full of hyper-expensive cutting-edge 1950s tech with on-the-outside identical boxes full of acceptable COTS 1990s tech that cost 1% as much and worked 1000x as well and was 10x times as tough. (A few times some USAF airman would screw up and accidentally drop one down the launch tube. It scraped the matte finish on the enclosure a bit, but otherwise the guts of box were undamaged.)

      The work was to take the LGM series from 1955ish to 1995ish, keep most of the systems engineering, and do tech refreshes to double that to 2035ish, with a mid round of intermediate future tech refreshes starting around 2020, which was way out far in the future.

      Oh wait. Crap.

      And that, folks, is as close as my working career has gotten to John Schilling’s.

      The most personally memorable moment was dangling in climbing harness attached to a cable attached to a power winch attached to a modified loader, holding onto a testrig and debugging glitches in cable interconnects. Inside an LGM-30 launch tube. The test rig in my hands was NOT as droprated as the boxes we were designing.

      One of my fears is that my work at that jobs will be the work I’ve done that has the most actual impact on the world.

  4. MillionairePhilanthropist says:

    An elderly relative of mine is selling a property and wants to donate a substantial amount of money ($500,000 AUD = $340,000 USD) to “basic science”, by which they mean something industry or academia probably would be reticent to fund otherwise. They are aware of my interests in Effective Altruism and my training as a scientist and thus want me to take care of it entirely. However, I am very junior and have very little experience applying for grants let alone allocating money. Any recommendations for how I should go about most efficiently getting this money into the hands of some scientists doing potentially high-impact basic science? Bonus points for doing it in a manner that would be tax-deductible in Australia.

    Particularly good recommendations are likely to have a substantial impact on how this money gets allocated, so if you think you have a good idea I’d very much appreciate it. I can’t just give the money to AMF or the EA Funds, it has to be at least indirectly allocated to basic science research. I’m not sure who to ask – I’d speak to my PI, but it seems extremely awkward to go “hey, so I have this big potential source of funding that I can influence but it’s not necessarily for us, any advice on how to give it away to others?” I’d be happy to direct the money to be thrown into a bigger pile if there’s another group I haven’t heard of that either solely funds basic science or will let me allocate the money to that end.

    • gwern says:

      My immediate thought is that you should google ‘high risk’ or ‘blue sky’ research and look for institutions like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute or the UK Biobank or Wellcome (which helped fund the UKBB and many other things of value, including initiatives towards greater reproducibility & replicability), and then see which ones take donations from individuals. This will go to basic science by any definition, and given most funders’ risk-aversion, it’ll be something they are ‘reticent to fund’, definitely.

      • salvorhardin says:

        This was my thought as well. It does not look like HHMI takes individual donations, but Rockefeller University does, for example.

        • gwern says:

          Of course, there are few institutions which if you walk up with a $340k cashiers check will still insist on not taking the money. It just means you’ll need to put more work into getting it to them in the proper fashion, if you’re really set on donating to them.

    • doubleunplussed says:

      There are charities, but they are all for specific things, like the Australian Cancer Research Foundation or the Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. I do not know how efficient they are with their funding.

      I don’t think you can donate to something general like the Australian Research Council, but even if you could, I wonder if the effect would just be a corresponding reduction in funding from the government.

      I’m in atomic physics research, which is pretty basic science, but it already gets funding. We would always love more of course, but it’s not exactly ‘something industry or academia probably would be reticent to fund otherwise’. Quantum computing has the potential to make simulating protein folding and complex chemical reactions tractable which would be pretty great for medical research/drug development, but yeah, it gets funding already, and particularly the US is pushing hard on quantum computing at the moment, including private companies.

      Just a few thoughts.

    • J says:

      You probably already know that universities skim off a huge chunk of donations, and with baumol et al I’m not inclined to shovel money their way these days. So my first thought is to directly select and fund some promising grad students in important yet underfunded research areas.

      • mustacheion says:

        Yeah, it would be great if you could do this. It could really change a couple people’s life for the better. Unfortunately I can’t think of a good way for you to connect with those deserving grad students. And I feel like a some people would be rather skeptical of your intentions, feel like you are trying to do something shady, or simply be jealous and so throw a wrench in that plan.

        • Matt M says:

          I was under the impression that donations to universities can be incredibly well targeted and include ridiculously specific conditions. Like, you can endow a scholarship for black military veterans raised by single moms named Aaron, and the university has to either give that money to black military veterans raised by single moms named Aaron, or give it up. They can’t just take it and spend it on a new climbing wall at the gym…

        • doubleunplussed says:

          Deserving grad students in Australia get a government-paid stipend. With a scholarship you might incentivise someone who wasn’t going to do a PhD to do one despite the pay cut compared to what they were planning to do. And you might remove the temptation for a grad student to do teaching work to get extra money, and thus focus on their studies more. And of course with more money their lives would generally be easier and that could make their work better. This is all worthy and could make a difference – my life was easier during my PhD due to such a ‘top up’ scholarship on top of the government one – though I still did teaching work because the money was too good to refuse, so it didn’t make me focus on my research exclusively.

          But yeah, I think the number of very capable people in Australia who really want to to a PhD but are not able to due to lack of funding is small. So @MillionairePhilanthropist may want to instead look to ‘top up’ the funding of existing students.

          Without wanting to doxx myself with too many details, I believe my department (it wasn’t the whole university, just the physics department) has a ‘bequest’ from a wealthy dude that was donated some time ago, that sits in index funds or similar earning returns, and using the returns they pay one PhD student and one Honours student per year a scholarship on the order of $5000 – $10000 per year (the PhD one is ongoing for the duration of the PhD). It’s not much, but it helps many people over time. And then it is up to the department to decide which students to give the money to, and it’s basically who gets the best grades, which honestly seems like as good a metric as anything.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Unfortunately I can’t think of a good way for you to connect with those deserving grad students.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Friend-of-the-blog Sarah Constantin does longevity research and has some information on her most recent study here. She says “Lifespan studies on anti-aging interventions are underfunded by both academia and industry, and could result in massive human benefit.”

      And LetsFund is an EA group that highlights small sciencey projects that need more funding. Their current highlights are a meta-science project and some research into renewable energy.

      Consider these “interesting things I have heard about and bring to your consideration” type recommendations, not “I have evaluated them and they are definitely the most effective thing”. I will let you know if I come across any other interesting-looking projects.

    • metacelsus says:

      As Gwern mentioned, the Wellcome Trust would be a good option. (They fund the research for the lab where I work.) See here:

      They’re pretty well-funded already though, and as Scott mentioned your donation may have a greater impact in less-funded areas. Still, Wellcome is a safe choice and will not waste your money.

    • The Magic 16-Ball says:

      Depending on how important/underfunded you view AI risk, you could donate to MIRI or other organizations in that space.
      Not to be too tongue in cheek, but I think Scott’s adversarial collaborations count as an underfunded, potentially valuable pursuit. You could offer to donate to the prize pool so as to incentivize more effort in this area.

      • MillionairePhilanthropist says:

        Thanks for all the responses so far everyone, I’ll look into all of these things.

        Gwern – I’ll have a hunt through HHMI/Wellcome/other equivalent organisations. I too am skeptical that people will say no if the money is worth their time. I was also intending to look into groups like the Bill & Melinda Gates’ antimalarial research work.

        Doubleunplussed – cancer & Alzheimer’s already gets a ton of funding globally and in Australia. I’m all for more work here, and if I knew who could work out how to develop CAR-T therapies that would work on solid tumours I’d be tempted to fund that, but I think this will all get funded regardless.

        J – I am both aware of how much universities skim off of donations/bequests and how their allocation methods are often a lot more biased towards politics/prestige than ‘most effective allocation of resources to improve long-term global wellbeing through science’. I’d happily donate through a university for the tax-deductible donation status, but I wouldn’t want to leave the allocation process in their hands.

        Scott – I’ll look through Sarah’s work and plans, ditto for LetsFund. I’d appreciate knowing about any other projects you come across. I’m trying to be systematic, but there aren’t exactly guidelines for this and am not sure I won’t miss things unless people point them out to me.

        The Magic 16-Ball – I am keeping MIRI and AI organisations in mind. While I love Scott’s adversarial collaborations, I don’t think they qualify as basic science research so much as literature reviews (unless the contestants this year intend to do a lot more work than last year).

    • Murphy says:

      >“basic science”

      any particular focus? saving lives/advancing tech/advancing knowledge?

      Any preference for things where you can see the effect of the individual donation vs throwing it into an existing pot?

      If you want to go for safe and boring: The Welcome Trust finds a huge amount of good basic science. For long enough that they’ve probably had a fair impact on human civilization as a whole.

      It’d be a drop in their ocean since they’re giant with a huge pile of money anyway but they’re a good solid institution that has been funding research for a long time from the proceeds from their trust fund.

      If the donor would like to see some concrete effects from their specific donation then finding a specific smaller fellowship or scholarship program already funding the kinds of research they like that funds a few phd students or academic positions and adding it to the fund may be the way to go.

      Most of the time some kind of long term thing that invests the money and then runs research from the proceeds forever is a good option but the total quantity of money you’re talking about isn’t enough to make an independent fund workable so finding an existing one that the donor likes the look of and adding to it may be the best option.

    • sty_silver says:

      I’ve asked Kelsey Piper about recommendations for the most effective environmental charities, and her response was linking an article which argues that the most effective intervention is actually investing in research and development of technology.

      The reason is basically because

      – It’s extremely under-prioritized at the moment (very surprisingly so; even though everyone agrees it’s good, few countries actually put money into it)
      – It has a chance to impact the future footprint of countries like China, which most interventions wont do and which might have a gigantic impact

      This seems close enough to basic science to be a candidate.

    • Garrett says:

      Silly idea, but one way would be to find out what kind of datasets would be useful to many kinds of researchers and then find a way to fund them. Hypothetical example (may not be legal/ethical): getting medical records & genetic samples along with required permission from a large number of Australian Aborigines and available for public researchers.

  5. johan_larson says:

    Just as there are amateur writers out there, there must be amateur video game makers. How ambitious a game can one devoted but not fanatical (so, 10 hours a week or so) amateur produce with current technology?

    • Bugmaster says:

      Honestly, 10 hours a week is probably not enough to produce anything of value. That said though, by now I personally prefer amateur indie games over mega-corporate AAA titles. It’s the same problem that the film industry is facing: endless sequels, style over substance, production driven by marketing committees… The results are reasonably visually impressive and either absolutely boring, or incredibly exciting in all the wrong ways, to wit, “how will this piece of borderline malware melt down my PC today ?”.

      That said, creating a good indie game is relatively easy. Making money on it is virtually impossible, fluke success stories such as Minecraft notwithstanding.

      • chrisminor0008 says:

        “Something of value” in the sense of getting other people to give you money for it is a pretty high bar, when there are two decades of games you can buy on sale for no more than a few bucks.

        But the dev tools and computational resources are much better today than they were 30~40 years ago. It took a team of geniuses pushing the hardware to the limits to make Super Mario Bros. in 1984, but there are talented people who could make a clone today in a month’s worth of working on the weekends.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Yes, there are lots of old games you can even get for free — but many of them made a decent amount of money when they were new. Yes, you could clone them in a weekend given modern resources, but I wouldn’t count that as a “worthwhile” production. Certainly, it would be worthwhile to you, but it probably wouldn’t interest many other people, even for free.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Worth noting too that the world has changed since Minecraft came out. Back then, there were relatively few good indie games being made, so if you made one your chances of success (not Minecraft success, but buy a modest home and pay the bills for a couple of years success) was pretty good. Since that time, huge numbers of experienced, highly skilled people have left their jobs at soulless AAA companies to set up indies and work on their dream projects, and as a result, the market is saturated and most of them lose their shirts. I have two different friends who made highly successful games; one left the industry earlier this year, and the other will do shortly.

      • Matt M says:

        Really? I actually feel the opposite these days. It used to be that nearly every title you’d get exposed to was a big dev/AAA title, and in the rare cases that an indie game showed up on the radar, you knew it was because it had done something particularly well.

        But now with steam, there’s an absolute glut of low-priced (even before sales) indie games that were clearly made by 10 dudes in a basement, built entirely around some mildly clever gameplay mechanic with very little thought/effort put into production values, UI, etc.

        More and more I’m adopting an attitude of “ignore the indie stuff, any group of dudes sufficiently good would have been bought out by EA already, focus on the AAA titles where even if I’m probably not getting anything groundbreaking, at least I know a certain minimum amount of polish, testing, QA, etc. has definitely been done.”

        • EchoChaos says:

          I find mid-grade publishers do what I want best.

          Paradox/Firaxis/Projeckt Red/etc.

          Not big enough to have succumbed to “EA Syndrome”, but not small enough to put out unpolished trash.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Sure, there’s a glut, but the cream rises to the top. The trick is skimming off that cream.

          Hollow Knight. Dead Cells. Salt & Sanctuary. The Messenger. Cuphead (which did get bought out by MicroSoft, so there’s your “good enough to have been bought out” metric).

    • J says:

      The winner of the 2018 interactive fiction contest, “Alias ‘the Magpie'” was delightful and I believe written by a single person. Modern text adventure tools make it much more about writing than programming.

      Puzzle games like Tetris can be coded up in a weekend.

      At the other end, there are also fancy toolkits like unity for making 3d worlds, so you could start with generic items and then spend your hobby hours on 3d modeling and textures.

      In the middle, there are arcade game toolkits if chip tunes and pixelated sprites are more your style.

      • mwigdahl says:

        I’ll second the interactive fiction recommendation. Many (most?) of the IF games produced with modern toolsets are single-person ventures. Check out tools like Inform 7 or TADS if you are interested in parser-based titles with a detailed world model, and something like Twine if you are interested in a more choose-your-own-adventure style of title.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It seems plausible to me that there are still great simple games (comparable to tetris or minesweeper) yet to be invented. I don’t know how much development time they’d take, but surely much less than games with realistic video.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I agree, it sure seems plausible, but is it really ? I don’t know the theory behind this. How can you quantify the probability of inventing the next Tetris ?

        • Clutzy says:

          Flappy bird was recently invented by 1 guy IIRC.

          • Loris says:

            Flappy Bird was an easy clone of an ancient mechanic which got lucky.
            Inventing (or discovering) gameplay is significantly harder than copying it. The original designer of Tetris probably spent quite a bit of time fiddling to get the gameplay working nicely. I seem to remember hearing that they started off with pentominos, and found that they just didn’t tile well enough.

            But I’m sure there are more – many more – fun “conceptually simple” games still to be invented.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I can’t quantify the probability of inventing the next tetris– it’s probably fairly low, which is just as well for the human race.

      • nadbor says:

        Could it be that tetris-caliber indie games are being released every month but you just never hear about most of them because the competition is so harsh?

        If tetris was not this iconic thing and was made and released today, do you think hundreds of millions of people would play it like they did in reality? I think not. I think in the best case scenario it would be 2048-level successful. Even with its iconic status who really plays tetris anymore?

    • tossrock says:

      If you’re an experienced game developer / digital artist, you can produce quite ambitious games entirely “on your own”, because the key technologies are all available to individuals – ie game engines. With Unity or UE4, a single (experienced, talented, motivated) person can create a game that doesn’t look or play too different from a big studio game. For example, OMNO is the work of a solo developer and compares favorably to plenty of big games:

      Of course, what qualifies as “amateur” is an open question. Someone with zero previous game development experience certainly couldn’t make OMNO 10 hours a week, at least not for several years.

    • Lambert says:

      Modding is a lot more practical for an amateur than building something from scratch.
      And there’s some pretty impressive mods out there.

    • nadbor says:

      That sounds like a good time to plug
      It’s a nerdy browser game I made a few years ago ona 10h-per week basis. If you can get past the not very intuitive interface, I think you will enjoy the puzzles (they get harder quickly).

      Being a much more experienced programmer now, I think I could do something like this at 50% the effort. 20% if I paid someone to for the graphics assets instead of drawing stuff in photoshop.

      Plus, it’s much easier if you’re making a game in one of the popular formats – like a platformer. In such cases a game engine takes care of, dunno maybe 80% of the code you’d have to write. It’s still a lot of work to become proficient with the game engine but once you do, you can churn out another mario clone every week.

    • jgr314 says:

      Are you familiar with Ludum Dare? As I understand it, developers are challenged to create a game over a weekend. Here are the results of LD 44 from April this year.

    • Garrett says:

      Making cell phone games can be done easily in one’s spare time. I know one guy who’s managed to make some passable money doing this while holding down a full-time software engineering job doing unrelated work.

    • JPNunez says:

      Something of value is relative. Flappy Bird was a super short project.

      That said, most successful indie projects are not Flappy Bird. I think that in 10 hours a week you can produce something that can be evaluated for further investment, something that will see a couple of sales at or the phone platforms and that’s it. I recommend doing it anyway, then releasing it. Completed projects look better in the resume for when you get a good idea and try to convince people to work with you/give you money for a full on indie game.

      • Matt M says:

        Flappy Bird also wasn’t the least bit new/original. I was playing something almost exactly similar to it in flash, in my browser, like 5 years before it was a thing.

        Flappy Bird is entirely a story about marketing/virality.

    • dndnrsn says:

      What is meant by amateur? There are one-man operations on Steam that I presume involve more than 10 hours a week, that produce solid games – but I would be surprised if it’s possible to earn a living selling a 10 dollar game on Steam, especially considering that a lot of people will be getting it on sale. Presumably their ability to keep the lights on and afford food and so forth comes from somewhere else. Are they amateurs?

    • AG says:

      14 best games developed by one person

      Don’t know how many of these work with the “10 hours a week” requirement. But you also have the entire field of clickers, which are mostly all one-person products. Candy Box, Universal Paperclips, A Dark Room, etc.

      However, one field that definitely applies is platformers. Platformers are pretty darned cheap these days. You have the whole swath of I Wanna Be the Guy and its spinoffs, but even more definitively, you have Mario Maker. Before Mario Maker 2 came out, the lack of updates and new features actually drove a good number of level creators to get into Mario ROM-hacking, which itself was a community with a long history that likely incentivized the creation of Mario Maker.

      There’s a vibrant community of Pokemon ROM-hacks, too.

      • dodrian says:

        I was about to list a couple of these games as suggestions.

        Also, the bar for an indie game isn’t necessarily 10 hours a week until full release – it’s 10 hours a week until you have enough of a product to pitch for funding it full time – Kickstarter, Steam Greenlight, or selling the IP to a small/mid-sized studio are a few options.

      • cassander says:

        Without rimworld, that list is just…hollow.

    • dick says:

      I’m working on one, putting maybe 10 hours a week in, and using no dependencies, libraries or tools. Ask me whether it’s any good or not in a year or two!

  6. MissingNo says:


    Suicide or murder?

    Place your bets!

    Both are plausible right now.

    • johan_larson says:

      This issue is inflammatory enough that it would be best to defer discussion of it to a CW-permitted thread. OT 134.25 will open on Wednesday.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I think that speculation as to “who?” is the only CW topic. “Why?” is obvious. “Whether?” and “how?” are interesting and controversial but unlikely to make people angry at each other.

        That said, I don’t think we have enough information for any real analysis yet.

    • John Schilling says:


      A murderous conspiracy would fail the basic argument against conspiracy theories, or it would require the people who want Epstein dead luck into having their small number of agents be in exactly the right place at the right time. There’s no evidence for any of that, and it is a priori highly unlikely.

      Suicide requires that someone who knows he is going to spend the rest of his life in prison with the prison status normally associated with kiddie-rapists, want that life to end quickly, and it requires that prison guards not be unusually vigilant in preserving the life of a known kiddie-rapist. The official report that he committed suicide constitutes evidence, if not proof, of this, and the priors are pretty high.

      • MissingNo says:

        I actually think conspiracies are fairly common.

        Just look at the top level of chiropractors. Its what…a group of tens thousands of people that have been in an organization for 20 years that (mostly) don’t break from it once in public after their level of salary hits a steady 50,000+.

        Medicine has tons of conspiracies! Its often an investigative journalist to break the story that a certain treatment is bunk.

        The food industry has lots of conspiracies with how well the animals are treated. It takes motivated people to investigate it.

        The cigarette company CEO’s told blatant lies for decades.

        MKUltra and everything that happened in it was a several decade conspiracy. That one is tricky because everyone who was a subject involved in the experiments was discredited in public and thus couldn’t go forward with the truth until enough top-people became morally disgusted.

        Most relevant, for some strange reason enemies of Putin keep getting cancer.

        But well then. Those might not count as conspiracies since we know about them….which is a strange argument that conspiracies don’t exist. But it at least shows that groups of thousands of people can just spew nonsense forever. Do they believe it? Some blend of not caring and wanting a dollar and motivated cognition explains a lot.

        But if groups of tens of thousands of people can spew nonsense for a living mostly harming others for a buck, its not impossible that a group of a few millionaires/billionaires with a risk of losing everything decided to off the guy.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Right. We know of enough actual proven real world conspiracies to know that the Basic Argument Against Conspiracies is just incorrect. You can, in fact, run a massive conspiracy with lots of people doing nefarious things and keep it secret for years or decades.

        • Tarpitz says:

          If he was murdered, I think it’s more likely to have been by an intelligence agency of which he was an asset than by one or more of his clients/marks.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Don’t forget Epstein’s own sex parties. That seems like the sort of thing which most people would initially dismiss as a ridiculous conspiracy theory.

        • Murphy says:

          “enemies of Putin keep getting cancer”

          The link has little to do with cancer. That was very much a power play between nations. Making it clear that they could kill a target if they wanted to.

          The problem with anything related to cancer is that people don’t get how high the base rate for cancer is. 1 in 4 of everyone you know will die from cancer. About half will die *with* cancer of some kind.

          Put another way : a full half of all of someone’s enemies can get cancer and have it still mean nothing.

          You may also be mixing delusion with conspiracy.

          Just because I think faith is bollox doesn’t mean that the thousands of senior people in the catholic church are running a conspiracy where they all lie about the whole god and jesus thing. If you select believers you can get a large group of true believers who believe what they’re saying publicly. similarly chiropractors can genuinely believe that they can treat cancer by altering magical energy flows.

          Doctors handing out a drug that turns out to have an efficacy of zero can strongly believe the drug works. Sometimes because patients randomly get better and the ones who do come back while the ones who don’t tend to go find another doctor.

          You also make a big overlap between people not caring and conspiracy.

          If the care standard in an old folks home or a farm is terrible that does not a conspiracy make. It can just be down to a collection of people not doing their jobs very well and nobody caring enough.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Most conspiracies are mostly made up of true believers. They’re the most reliable for a lot of reasons. To use the in the open example of the CIA, they select for true believers in American patriotism and research their background for their clearance to make sure they actually are.

          • MissingNo says:

            I mistyped I swear. Poisoning by radioactive material( that was the link I posted). I put in the word cancer which I suppose was a mental shortcut ~shrugs~

            L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, was quoted as saying this

            “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.”

            Its a comforting thought that large groups of people can’t just get together because they want a plausible-ly way of gaining a buck and then cover everything up after that.

            It makes you believe that all you have to do is give them your best argument and they will change their ways!

            It just keeps happening that for some unfathomable reason all these nonsensical medical treatments make those who sell it rich. What’s a large group of people who don’t care about XYZ and then cover things up here and there for money and reputation. A conspiracy!

            I’m not chalking up every group that is strange to sole monetary self interest. There is a slew of cognitive biases and research into memes and what gives rise to them that sociologists have pursued. Steven pinker has some interesting material on how if only 5 percent of people in a population will violently enforce an ideology it spreads to the entire community.

          • acymetric says:

            1 in 4 of everyone you know will die from cancer. About half will die *with* cancer of some kind.

            The 1 in 4 stat is scary, but a bit misleading. It is really closer to 1 in 5 (and going down as smoking falls out of fashion). Ok, 1 in 5 still doesn’t sound great.
            Additionally, a lot of those “cancer” deaths are really “died of old age”. It isn’t that 1 in 4 people will have a horrible battle with cancer and die some tragic early death at 32 years old. For most it will be when they are pretty close to EOL to begin with.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Have you adjusted the probability of getting cancer for the age of Putin’s enemies getting cancer?

          • DarkTigger says:

            That is exactly how I understood Murphy.
            This is why he emphaziesed “with” cancer, as opposed to “from” cancer.

          • acymetric says:


            The “with cancer” stat doesn’t count “died of old age, with cancer”, most of those will be considered “died of cancer”. Died “with” cancer would be someone who, say, had a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, a car accident, or some such (while also having cancer). I was referring to the “1 in 4 will die from cancer” stat not the “1 in 2 will die with cancer” stat.

            The deaths are always attributed to something (there is no “old age” classification in death statistics).

          • acymetric says:

            Have you adjusted the probability of getting cancer for the age of Putin’s enemies getting cancer?

            That would be helpful. The more important piece of information is figuring out how large the sample size of “Putin’s enemies” is. We hear about his enemies who die of cancer, but surely he has some remaining enemies. How many enemies does he have who do not have cancer? That’s what we need to figure out if the rates are in the ballpark of normal.

            Also, cancer seems like only a slightly better way to take down your enemies than lyme disease.

          • Lambert says:

            I bet a lot of the ‘with cancer’ stat is prostates.
            A large proportion of elderly men have incredibly non-agressive prostate cancer.
            The 5-year survival rate is 99%.

            The Litvenenko thing was acute radiation sickness due to Po-210.
            That stuff is only produced in any kind of quantity by the Russans at the former ‘atomic gulags’ of Chelyabinsk-40 and Arzamas-16, using somewhat upgraded versions of the reactors used at Chernobyl.
            It’s kind of a smoking gun.

          • acymetric says:

            The Litvenenko thing was acute radiation sickness due to Po-210.
            That stuff is only produced in any kind of quantity by the Russans at the former ‘atomic gulags’ of Chelyabinsk-40 and Arzamas-16, using somewhat upgraded versions of the reactors used at Chernobyl.
            It’s kind of a smoking gun.

            That sounds a lot more convincing than just saying “cancer”.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, that assassination was meant to send a message with a clear From: line.

        • acymetric says:

          Does this depend a bit on how we define conspiracies? I know Scott had a post about this exact topic (linked a couple posts up).

          Is anything that involves a coverup/misleading the public/hiding damaging information a conspiracy? If so, then yes there are tons of conspiracies.

          Even so, that seems like it might be far to broad to really capture what people are talking about when they are talking about “Conspiracies” (capital C). I’m not sure what the answer is, but we have to start there.

          For example, UNC Hospital recently had some pretty damaging info come out about their pediatric cardiology surgery department (mortality rates way above the norm for years). Was that a conspiracy, or was it just a hospitable with bad stats doing a bad job addressing the problem and failing to inform the parents of prospective patients that there was a problem?

        • Loris says:

          Most relevant, for some strange reason enemies of Putin keep getting cancer.

          Did you mean that? Is that a genuine misunderstanding- are other ‘enemies of Putin’ getting cancer or were you just being facetious?
          Because your link goes to “Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko”, which is unrelated to cancer. Acute radiation sickness is not cancer. The russian spy-based shit seems to be mostly esoteric poisoning; are there a load of political rivals being handled more discreetly?

          As to your argument that conspiracies are common… low level conspiracies are commonplace; “conspiracy to…” is a pretty standard prefix on criminal charges. It really just means that several people are involved.
          So you probably should clarify what your distinction is.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s not cancer. But AIUI, the polonium tea thing was meant to be a discreet method of assassination: it’s a near-exclusive alpha emitter, meaning that most of the radioactive particles it sheds are absorbed almost immediately and wouldn’t be detected by an external Geiger counter or other common sensors. It’s likely either that the techniques allowing us to test for polonium were unknown to Russia, or that the people responsible believed they wouldn’t be used (which is pretty reasonable; Litvinenko is probably the first person ever to be so tested).

            Now, when a prominent Russian dissident drops dead of apparent poisoning, the list of suspects isn’t too long. But if the poison hadn’t been detected, there wouldn’t have been much of a smoking gun to point to. Of course, now that it has, we can point to a specific nuclear reactor, in Russia, that it came from.

          • Loris says:

            the polonium tea thing was meant to be a discreet method of assassination

            I think it’s widely understood to be sending a message. See for example, Murphy and albatross11‘s comments in the thread just above.
            The fact that you can produce a list of russian dissident esoteric poisonings does suggest that if they’re trying to do it discreetly, they’re doing a piss-poor job of it.

          • Nick says:

            I think it’s widely understood to be sending a message. See for example, Murphy and albatross11‘s comments in the thread just above.
            The fact that you can produce a list of russian dissident esoteric poisonings does suggest that if they’re trying to do it discreetly, they’re doing a piss-poor job of it.

            First, “I think it’s widely understood” is simply ignoring Nornagest’s argument for why it was probably discreet. Second, you don’t know how many poisonings are going undetected, so it’s only “suggested” in a weak sense.

          • Nornagest says:

            By “discreet”, I meant that it was supposed to be hard to trace back to a specific poison, and hard to prove as a Russian government op. They botched that badly, but for understandable reasons.

            It was probably not discreet in the sense of being meant to look like an accident. Radiation poisoning symptoms are very hard to mistake for a natural illness.

          • Loris says:

            First, “I think it’s widely understood” is simply ignoring Nornagest’s argument for why it was probably discreet.

            I’m not ignoring it, I’m pointing out that the two explanations are pretty much diametrically opposed.
            The plan is either:
            1) Kill people, and no-one ever suspects your involvement. Because you just want rid of them.
            2) Kill people, and everyone assumes you did it. Because it’s a warning to others as well.

            If you’re going for (1), particularly on an ongoing basis on a roughly known set of targets, It seems like a pretty obvious, basic first rule that you don’t create unusual circumstances. And you should never, ever use equipment which directly points back at you.
            If you’re going for (2), you do the reverse. You use the wierdest equipment you have to kill people in the most James Bond film manner. Then you deny doing it.

            Second, you don’t know how many poisonings are going undetected, so it’s only “suggested” in a weak sense.

            I think that’s a good point. Which is why I already said it in my prior comment.

            Nornagest, thank you for that clarification.
            The idea that it’s hard to prove that it was the russian state apparatus is important to the ‘message theory’, but I’d call it deniability rather than discretion.

        • LadyJane says:

          Most relevant, for some strange reason enemies of Putin keep getting cancer.

          I don’t think that’s true? I haven’t seen any evidence for it, at least. And your link goes to a story about poisoning, not cancer. Seems bizarre to conflate the two. It’s also just a single person who was poisoned, it’s not a common occurence among Putin’s political enemies.

          Is there even any reliable way to deliberately induce cancer in someone within a relatively short timeframe? From what I can tell, most carcinogens only raise the risk that someone will get cancer, they don’t come anywhere close to guaranteeing it. And it could take years or decades for the cancer to develop, which is probably far too long for the purposes of a would-be assassin.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s also just a single person who was poisoned, it’s not a common occurence among Putin’s political enemies.

            I agree with the rest of your post, but this isn’t true. Roman Tsepov, a disgraced Putin associate, was fatally poisoned (with radioactive material, possibly polonium) in 2004. Viktor Kalashnikov was nonfatally poisoned in 2010, and Vladimir Kara-Murza may have been in 2017. Most famously, in 2018, a Novichok agent — a military nerve agent unique to Russia — was used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who both survived. Two Brits were also affected, one of whom died; they are thought not to have been targets.

          • LadyJane says:

            My mistake. Still seems quite strange that MissingNo would mention “getting cancer” to describe “being poisoned with military neurotoxins,” but maybe they were just using an unusual euphemism?

          • acymetric says:

            Right. Using “died of cancer” is a lot less useful (and less accurate) than “died of acute radiation poisoning” and is causing a lot of the confusion here (it certainly confused me).

      • MartMart says:

        What about a non-conspiracy murder?
        By conspiracy murder i mean a powerful person, or a group of powerful people have ordered or paid someone to kill Epstein so their secret will not be revealed. I don’t find this to be likely to the reasons you stated.

        A non conspiracy murder I mean that Epstein was killed by other prisoners (or even possibly guards) because people don’t like pedophiles very much. The guards who were supposed to prevent this either intentionally or unintentionally failed to do so, maybe because they didn’t like pedophiles very much.

        Then someone like the lead guard figured that this is a high profile prisoner, and likely to draw a great deal of attention, and thought that making it look like suicide would shield himself or his coworkers who failed to protect him. If any other prisoners were involved in the murder, they have a good reason to keep quiet about it.

        I’m not saying this is what happened, just that I find it plausible.

        • MissingNo says:

          Oh, I find plenty of different outcomes plausible with my current level of knowledge.

          Gwerns writeup on death note is the best thing I read for this.

          “In Light’s case, L starts with the world’s entire population of 7 billion people and needs to narrow it down to 1 person. It’s a search problem. It maps fairly directly onto basic information theory, in fact. To uniquely specify one item out of 7 billion, you need 33 bits of information because log2(7000000000)≈32.7”

          You apply bayes theorem every step of the way for each plausible outcome.

          For such a high profile prisoner there was likely a live-camera feed of him at all times along with a recording. Surely that will give us proof!

          OH FUCK

        • Definition of pedophilia. : sexual perversion in which children are the preferred sexual object specifically : a psychiatric disorder in which an adult has sexual fantasies about or engages in sexual acts with a prepubescent child.

          Perhaps I missed something, but as best I can tell the youngest woman with whom Epstein is accused of having sex was fourteen or fifteen. That might be statutory rape, depending on where and when it happened, but it isn’t pedophilia.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The sorts of people who murder other prisoners in prison may not care that much about the distinction, or be uninformed.

          • MissingNo says:

            No he was not a pedophile. For some reason people like claiming anyone who has sex with a girl under the age of 18 is a pedophile.

            I guess it sells.

          • Deiseach says:

            Apart from the fact that I do not consider a fourteen year old a woman (or a man, depending on gender), it’s technically hebephilia, but the distinction between paedophilia, hebephilia and ephebophilia is lost in popular usage.

            And yeah, while there may be wiggle room when you’re talking about a minor (meaning the person was eighteen or nineteen when the legal age of adulthood is twenty-one), if we’re talking about a man in his thirties fucking a girl of fourteen, I’m happy enough to say there’s no wiggle room there.

          • JPNunez says:

            There’s no wiggle room here; if a 18/19 y/o kid has sex with his 16/17 y/o girlfriend, ok whatevs. A guy trafficking 14 y/o girls for sex is a pedophile, there’s no discussion.

          • EchoChaos says:


            Absolutely agreed.

            Edit: The rest of my post was too nasty for the non-CW thread.

          • The Nybbler says:

            if a 18/19 y/o kid has sex with his 16/17 y/o girlfriend, ok whatevs. A guy trafficking 14 y/o girls for sex is a pedophile, there’s no discussion.

            Clearly there is discussion. There’s a reasonably clear (as clear as anything is in biology anyway) biological line between sexually mature and not sexually mature, and there’s a line between “ought to be prohibited from having sex” and “ought not be prohibited from having sex”, and these are not necessarily the same line. There is a strong desire among those who are very invested in that second line to insist that it’s the same as the first, but it still isn’t so. Taking the “jailbait” is not the same as kiddy-diddling.

            (and of course actual trafficking — that is, forcing people to work as prostitutes — crosses a different line regardless of age or sex)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Edit: since EC edited his comment I’ll redirect mine to JP.


            I think it’s the trafficking part that makes me agree with you more so than the age. Like, if you’re telling me a story about some 35 year old medieval lord who took a 14 year old as his wife I wouldn’t call him a pedo. I’d just shrug and say “yeah that’s what they did back then.”

            But then you’ve got Epstein, going for 14-year-olds specifically because they’re 14 and that sounds like a pedo.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            As a technical, non-CW point, marriages at that age were almost never consummated. Consummation would be delayed until they were sixteen to eighteen.

          • Randy M says:

            Clearly there is discussion.

            Being charitable, I think the people who want to use the same term for everything don’t really think about just how young a child can be when molested. There’s a difference in harm and degree of disorder between molesting a 14 year old and a 4 year old. Sadly, I know of instances among some relations where the latter occurred. Whether the law should view the two differently is another matter, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to discuss.

            (Then again, the law doesn’t have different evaluations for assault depending on if the victim is 100 lbs or 200 lbs, does it?)

            And it’s complicated by the fact that puberty is not an event, it’s a process. Likewise with mental and emotional maturation, and none of them are necessarily simultaneous.

          • Conrad Honcho says:


            Is that true, though? Didn’t LMC or Deiseach or one of those other smart people who knows a lot about history stuff post a story about a guy who married a young girl (like 11 or 12) and there was a dispute and some kind of court case, and they told the judge they consummated the relationship?

          • MissingNo says:

            >There’s no wiggle room here; if a 18/19 y/o kid has sex with his 16/17 y/o girlfriend, ok whatevs. A guy trafficking 14 y/o girls for sex is a pedophile, there’s no discussion.

            But there is wiggle room for discussion based off of the definitions of words! Its how lawyers do what they do! Some definitions of children where one can be a pedophile stop at the age of 12.

            What if you base your legal system of punishment on word definitions (which you’re going to have to do to keep it consistent and fair) and that there are different tiers of punishment for pedophile vs non-pedophile. Then if the definition of pedophile is at the age group above, Epstein wouldn’t have gotten the most severe punishment category.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Sex trafficking minors is more heinous to my moral intuitions than trafficking legal adults even though both are evil. Yes, “minor” is a social construct and the age of consent could be raised to 22 in the future… I’d still find trafficking 17-year-olds even more heinous than 21-year-olds. Developing brains are more vulnerable than fully mature persons. Sex trafficking the disabled would also be extra evil.
            There are reasons that marrying an adolescent in the past is morally different, and they’re all red herrings. Epstein was a moral monster.

          • hls2003 says:

            As a technical, non-CW point, marriages at that age were almost never consummated. Consummation would be delayed until they were sixteen to eighteen.

            I know it’s qualified with “almost,” but I wonder what the citation is for this. I immediately thought of Margaret Beaufort, married at 12, who bore Henry Tudor at age 13. I believe Eleanor of Acquitaine was married at 13 or 15, depending on her birth year, and there was pressure to produce an heir (annulment resulted later due to the failure to produce one).

            I’m not saying it was super common, especially since I think puberty onset was generally later in those days, but I’d be interested in the citation.

          • sentientbeings says:

            Count me as against linguistic creep rationalized by moral outrage.

            I think a few folks would do well to read The Rectification of Names from ESR and revisit a couple of Scott’s posts, like The Whole City is Center and Against Lie Inflation. Maybe throw in Orwell’s Politics and the English Language for good measure.

          • MissingNo says:

            >As a technical, non-CW point, marriages at that age were almost never consummated. Consummation would be delayed until they were sixteen to eighteen.

            Who took the statistics on that?

            That sounds like the statement that slave owners didn’t get sex from the arrangement.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I believe Eleanor of Acquitaine was married at 13 or 15, depending on her birth year, and there was pressure to produce an heir (annulment resulted later due to the failure to produce one).

            Let it be noted that badass Eleanor was more mature and worldly in her late teens than a lot of 21-year-old women today.

          • ana53294 says:

            Just because something happened in the past, it doesn’t make it not pedophilia, though.

            I consider the Russian 17th century practice of snokhachestvo (sleeping with the daughter in law) a case of pedophilia.

            For example, in the middle of the 19th century in Tambov Governorate 12-13 year old boys were often married to 16-17 year old girls. The boys’ fathers used to arrange such marriages to take advantage of their sons’ lack of experience.

            Sure, they were probably post-pubescent, but the fact that they were the daughters-in-law, makes it much more inmoral. It was also incestuous, although it is a very edge case of incest.

          • Nick says:

            +1 to what @sentientbeings said. Inflating the meaning of pedo is a bad, bad idea, folks.

          • albatross11 says:

            One tricky part of that is that there are many countries now (and many US states in living memory) with a legal age of consent of 14 or less. And there’s honestly no clear line to be drawn here–any line you draw will be pretty arbitrary. For example, the legal age of consent is 16 in Maryland[1], but I don’t really see a moral difference between pimping 15-year-old girls and 16-year-old ones. The law had to draw a line somewhere, and 16 seems about as good a place as any, but really it’s a fuzzy boundary. For that matter, if I see a romantic relationship between a 17-year-old girl and a 50-year-old guy, I’m going to suspect it’s somewhat slimy and that it’s not really in the 17-year-old’s interests, even if there’s no crime and we all agree there shouldn’t be one.

            [1] With some additional rules for younger defendants, so a 16-year-old doesn’t go to jail for sleeping with his 14-year-old girlfriend.

          • EchoChaos says:


            Sorry about that, but my citation is “memory of medieval studies”. I did a longer post on a completely different forum because this is a fairly standard “they did it better in the old days”.

            I recall the argument being that if you look at when nobles lived together and produced first children, very early births (13-15) are much rarer and swamped by 16+ births to a degree that is implausible if active sex is going on. A post-pubescent and healthy 13-15 year old is going to get pregnant if she’s having any sort of regular sex. Therefore, the fact that we don’t see tons of kids to 13-15 year olds tells us they weren’t having it.

          • JPNunez says:


            yeah, gotta agree

            edit: don’t think the precisions made by EC and others downthread do much to CH’s argument, still agree with him on this, tho I appreciate the details

          • On a related issue, as best I can tell, “trafficking” is routinely used to describe prostitution in order to make it sound non-consensual, as if prostitutes are actually slaves. There may be such cases somewhere in the world sometime, but it doesn’t seem to describe most what is called trafficking. And the term isn’t restricted to prostitution involving minors, where it might be more nearly justified.

            I see it as the modern update on “the White Slave trade,” rhetoric to justify the suppression of prostitution by pretending that prostitutes were women kidnapped and sold into Muslim harems.

          • Conrad Honcho says:


            …sure? But I don’t see why that clarification makes sense here. I believe the girls Epstein trafficked describe their “clients” as “forced on them.”

          • Matt M says:

            …sure? But I don’t see why that clarification makes sense here. I believe the girls Epstein trafficked describe their “clients” as “forced on them.”

            Given the cultural attitude, everyone who is caught engaging in prostitution has a very strong incentive to claim that they were “trafficked” or somehow otherwise coerced into doing so.

            Being able to convince people of that is the difference between being treated like a victim and being treated like a criminal.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            I think people are missing the forest for the trees a bit here.

            People aren’t outraged because he meets the DSM definition for a particular paraphilia. They’re upset because he ran a rape ring which forcibly pimped out barely post-pubescent girls to high-society bigwigs.

            It would be one thing if this was an academic discussion but as laymen talking about current events this kind of hair-splitting is overly pedantic.

          • Cliff says:

            I don’t see why that clarification makes sense here. I believe the girls Epstein trafficked describe their “clients” as “forced on them.”

            I have read numerous accounts of girls who were paid hundreds of dollars to give massages, got uncomfortable and decided to stop doing it, with no repercussions. At least one or two women did accuse him of rape, which is obviously heinous but not inherently trafficking, and I don’t think there was any buying or selling, or enslavement of people involved. Certainly there was recruiting, personally I don’t think that qualifies as trafficking.

            There’s no question it was not pedophilia. Many of the women were legal age and all were biologically adults. In studies (showing people pictures without saying their age), women are found to be most attractive at the age of 15. So being attracted to 15 years olds is completely normal. Having sex with them might not be right, but in no way does it make you a pedophile- which means sexual attraction to (biological) children.

          • albatross11 says:

            As a sideline, I think people went through puberty later in older times (though maybe not so much nobles/royalty, who presumably weren’t missing a lot of meals), so probably most of the time, a 12-year-old bride wouldnt present as a sexually mature woman until she was 16-17 or so. And most normal adult men are not going to be interested in sleeping with a prepubescent girl, even if they have no qualms about a particular age of consent being an issue and are assured by the local priests that the whole thing is 100% fine.

            Presumably, nobles/lords/princes/kings whose offspring made it into history books had a fair number of alternatives, so maybe you get married off to a 12-year-old in a dynastic marriage, maybe deflower her once in an awkward obligatory evening, but afterwards spend your evenings with your 22-year-old mistress until your wife matures enough to be appealing. By then, your mistress is getting a little long in the tooth, but you’ve got a hot 17-year-old wife waiting for you at home, along with any new mistress(es) you’ll also have lined up.

            Was it common for adult men to end up married to 12-year-olds in those days, or was that just the extreme end of the distribution?

          • albatross11 says:

            The “trafficking” label is a lot more likely to be accurate when applied to a 15-year-old than when applied to a 30-year-old.

          • Nornagest says:

            Was it common for adult men to end up married to 12-year-olds in those days, or was that just the extreme end of the distribution?

            IIRC, marriages that early were mostly upper-class, mostly political, and fairly rare. The middle and lower classes often put off marriage until as late as their early twenties, largely for economic reasons (dowries were expensive).

            (Epistemic status: half-remembered. I coincidentally just started reading a new book on medieval marriage, though, so I might have a better idea in a week or two.)

          • Randy M says:

            It would be one thing if this was an academic discussion but as laymen talking about current events this kind of hair-splitting is overly pedantic.

            Are you new here? This is what we do.

            And anyway, it’s not like we can increase or decrease the punishment for Epstein at this point.

            I think a distinction between sex with children and sex with sexually mature but under age teens may be relevant, not in modulating our outrage, but in dissuading the behavior. Possibly. Maybe neither can really be deterred, but it seems plausible there’s a different strategy when the impulse is extremely maladaptive versus ‘just’ very ill fitting for our current environment. (Of course, it also matters whether or not the statutory rape is forcible or not).

            IIRC, marriages that early were mostly upper-class and mostly political.

            Makes sense. If you are marrying to secure an alliance, you want to lock that down ASAP. For a fictional example, consider Robb Stark.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, it’s a lot easier to imagine a normal adult man accepting a dynastic marriage to a 12 year old than a normal lets-get-married-and-make-babies kind of marriage.

            Though it’s probably way too easy for me to assume my society’s standards are the standards of past times. Given the way people have felt about infanticde, homosexuality, sex with adolescent boys (even among guys who consider themselves straight), human sacrifice, slavery, etc., it’s not all that wise to assume my reactions are the same ones had by people in different times/places.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Seconding what most people here are saying that marriages to very young (below 16) girls was almost entirely confined to the upper class.

            Peasant marriages, IIRC, were pretty consistently men and women eighteen/nineteen to early twenties.

          • The Nybbler says:

            They’re upset because he ran a rape ring which forcibly pimped out barely post-pubescent girls to high-society bigwigs.

            Yeah, assuming the accusations are true he was a really nasty piece of work. But not all horrible things are the same thing. And it does make a difference, particularly since there are people who for some reason are very invested in treating statutory rapists like child molesters.

            (Maybe the reason is that they have teenage daughters, I don’t know.)

          • John Schilling says:

            At thirty-two comments in five hours, does this set an SSC record for volume of wholly irrelevant pedantry? The people who were going to make Jeffrey Epstein’s life nasty, brutish, and short, do not care whether his victims were above or below the age of biological puberty. Nor the age of legal consent in societies very different than their own. And academia has not invented a simple term that precisely encompasses the set, “alleged sexual improprieties that will predictably result in a male inmate being regularly anally raped in a US prison while the guards laugh”. If someone chooses to use ‘pedophilia’ as the closest available substitute, that should be close enough for context to make the usage and meaning clear.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @John Schilling

            For Internet reasons, sex with teenagers always sets this one off.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            In the southern US no so long ago we married them young. My grandmother was 15; my aunt was 14.

          • Aapje says:

            The upper class also often had mistresses, so they could marry a young firl for political or dynastic reasons, have sex with the mistress while waiting for the young wife to mature and then produce an heir with her.

          • bullseye says:

            Maybe you already know this, but if you tell a regular person that Epstein wasn’t a pedophile they’re going to think you’re making excuses for him. Even if you specify that he’s still an awful person.

          • I think a distinction between sex with children and sex with sexually mature but under age teens may be relevant, not in modulating our outrage, but in dissuading the behavior.

            The behavior I was hoping, perhaps vainly, to dissuade was the sloppy use of language for rhetorical purposes. For a broader discussion, see Orwell.

          • Maybe you already know this, but if you tell a regular person that Epstein wasn’t a pedophile they’re going to think you’re making excuses for him.

            I was aware of it.

            The risk that pointing out true facts will get you attacked makes it easier for lies to propagate. There are much worse examples than this case, but it happened to be the one that came up here.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @John Schilling

            At thirty-two comments in five hours, does this set an SSC record for volume of wholly irrelevant pedantry? The people who were going to make Jeffrey Epstein’s life nasty, brutish, and short, do not care whether his victims were above or below the age of biological puberty

            For the record, I’d like to point out the very first comment in this thread was mine:

            The sorts of people who murder other prisoners in prison may not care that much about the distinction, or be uninformed.

            I would like to submit this for the SSC Anti-Pedantic Post of the Week award.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t think anyone disagreed with that. The discussion moved on to other, related matters.

        • Cliff says:

          Well, honestly I don’t find the idea of paying a 16-year-old girl $300 to give you a massage in your underwear that terrible. It’s not a good look, but it’s way down my list of atrocities. Raping someone is way, way worse and assuming that’s true, he’s a rapist and that’s why he’s a terrible person. Calling him a pedophile is something completely different. If everyone was calling him a murderer, I would say wait a minute, no he’s a rapist. Would that be “making excuses”?

          • bullseye says:

            If everyone was calling him a murderer, I would say wait a minute, no he’s a rapist. Would that be “making excuses”?

            Some people would in fact think so. Remember the “terrorists are cowards” idea? It didn’t make a lick of sense, but good luck convincing people of that.

            Saying Epstein isn’t a pedophile runs into the additional problem of most people actually not knowing the technical definition of the word.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Doesn’t the Lolita Express itself fail the basic argument against conspiracy theories? There seem to be a lot of sex scandals coming out lately that would fail that test.

        • John Schilling says:

          Not sure which other sex scandals you are thinking of, but the basic argument against conspiracy theories applies to alleged conspiracies which are A: committing misdeeds with the moral valence of a common-law felony within the conspirators’ own community and B: large, probably dozens or more people, and C: known only to the conspirators and the conspiracy theorists but not to police or journalists on the relevant beat.

          Epstein’s peddling underage girls in hopes of favors or blackmail photos meets the first criteria. But the number of people involved at that level was maybe half a dozen in Epstein’s operation, not counting the victims. And if you count the victims, it adds up to a large number of small conspiracies (Epstein’s operation plus one girl aimed at one target) where the success or failure of one does not greatly impact any of the others. And Epstein’s dealings went from “everybody in the community knows that skeevy parties were happening but not explicitly that the girls were underage” to “everybody on the planet knows that Epstein was peddling underaged girls”; there was never a part where the conspiracy theorists were claiming privileged understanding that had eluded the police or media.

          Epstein got away with a bunch of petty conspiracies, until the cumulative weight of minor breaches meant he couldn’t get away with anything at all. That clearly is a thing that can happen, and regularly does.

          The theory where Epstein was a figure in the Clinton Deep State and Kiddie Sex Community whose R&R from the stress of undermining the Trump Administration involves everyone agreeing to get together at Comet Ping Pong on Tuesday nights, Epstein’s private island on Thursdays, and Area 51(*) on Saturdays, would constitute the sort of conspiracy ruled out by the Basic Rule, if anyone were to allege such a thing. Primarily because the explicit collusion among the kiddie-diddling aristocrats would push it into “too big to succeed” territory.

          * For the green-skinned underage alien space babes, of course.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The Catholic Church’s sex scandals are the first that come to mind, which fit under two broad categories of covering up abuse of minors, and covering up abuse of seminarians. Both of these would actually count as multiple scandals for this purpose, being widely distributed and involving a number of different groups deciding to keep quiet.

            Rotherham had an estimated 1,400 victims. I don’t think we can leave them out of the calculations, and whatever the size of the perp group, we certainly need to include the many people in the state apparatus who decided to look the other way.

            Jerry Sandusky and Penn State is smaller scale, but again involved a lot of people choosing to look the other way.

            And now Epstein, who may have had half a dozen support staff, but we also need to count the people he was gathering blackmail on, which may well include a former and current president of the United States.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Murder. But as on the Orient Express, there are far too many suspects to even hazard a guess who. (I don’t expect the answer to be the same as the Orient Express, either).

      • MissingNo says:

        I would place a bet on murder. It seems he could have had so many plea deals with bringing down so many people into an easy prison sentence.

        But who knows. Could just be suicide easily.

        • albatross11 says:

          No way was any prosecutor ever going to offer him anything that looked like a sweetheart deal again, after all the publicity and outrage and the frigging secretary of labor having to resign in disgrace over having previously given him a sweetheart deal. They might have offered him better imprisonment conditions, but he was never getting out. To allow him to walk, even after implicating a dozen prominent important people, would have been career and political-future suicide for the prosecutor who did it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            If it was political suicide for the authorities to accept a Jeffrey Epstein plea bargain, that raises the probability of literal suicide a lot. More utility in killing yourself than in being anally raped and brutally beaten while prison guards do nothing because such is the will of the people.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            If it was political suicide for the authorities to accept a Jeffrey Epstein plea bargain, that raises the probability of literal suicide a lot.

            I gotta go along with this. I remarked in the hidden thread that suicide would mean he gave up surprisingly early, considering how much money he could throw and how many strings he could pull in pursuit of a bargain or even an acquittal. But if these really were not in the cards…

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            There might not be a sweetheart deal, but there could be something. Politically, no one cares about taking down Epstein, they care about taking down Epstein’s clients.

            That said, if they’ve got Epstein’s clients on video doing the bad things, they may not need Epstein at all.

    • Clutzy says:

      If this gets locked, I already started a convo in a previous thread.

      My breakdown would be:

      Suicide 35%
      Suicide assisted via bribery:50%
      Rest: 15%

      • albatross11 says:

        AFAICT, the only reason to suspect murder here is that Epstein had a lot of people with both substantial resources and a plausible motive for killing him. I’m not sure what fraction of those people would have resources useful for having him killed inside prison without a big risk of getting caught. (You don’t want to get rid of someone who can blackmail you for sleeping with underaged girls, and replace them with someone who can blackmail you for premeditated murder.) And I’m not sure how much it would help them to get rid of him–that depends on details we don’t know. (Basically, how much incriminating data did he leave behind in a form the FBI can use?)

        I think the right way to think about this is to start with a base rate of some kind. This chart (the first thing I found in a Google search) says 31% suicide, 2% homicide, 3% accident, and the rest natural causes. (Though the natural causes may often involve dying because they don’t get their medicine because the guards DGAF or the prescription order gets lost in the works or something.)

        So, let’s put the odds at .31/.05 ~= 6:1 odds in favor of suicide.


        a. Lots of motivated and resourceful enemies who might want him dead to shut him up.

        b. Lots of guards and other prisoners who might want him dead for pimping 14-year-olds.

        c. Plausible motive for committing suicide, including previously-reported suicide attempt.

        d. Formal claim of death by suicide by prison authorities.

        (i) This could be an ass-covering lie for carelessness that let another inmate kill him, or a guard decide to do an impromptu execution.

        (ii) The authorities presumably would have known that this high-profile of a case would get some investigation.

        (iii) OTOH, prison authorities f–king up and letting an inmate die though neglect or malice short of intentional murder stand very little chance of getting in any serious trouble.

        (iv) There’s apparently going to be some kind of FBI investigation into his death, which has a better chance of detecting any holes in the story than anything else I can think of.

        (c) and (d) lower our odds of homicide, by quite a bit. Let’s imagine that at least 90% of claimed prison suicides are actual prison suicides[1]. That gets us to

        6/1 * 9/1 = 54/1 odds

        (a) raises our odds of homicide. I’m not sure how much. ISTM that it’s pretty rare for people in prison who can turn on important other people to actually die in custody. You get some cases like that (the alleged anthrax bomber is the creepiest example I can think of in recent times), but as far as I can tell, it’s quite rare. So I think our base rate should be very low here. Plenty of people in prison know stuff that various mafia/drug cartels would rather not have known, and most don’t die, even though mafia and drug cartel leaders have way more of the right kind of resources to order a prison hit than prominent politicians or hedge-fund billionaires. If my 9:1 odds for alleged suicides being real is anywhere close to being right, then I think there’s no way the offset of Epstein’s enemies wanting him dead gets us down very far. Let’s be really generous and say that when someone dies in prison that had powerful enemies with a motive to want him dead, it’s murder half the time. In that case, we’re still left with something like 27:1 odds against murder.

        (b) also raises our odds of murder–maybe the guards / other inmates wanted to carry out an impromptu execution. What fraction of people in prison on similar crimes die in prison by homicide or suicide? I don’t know the number, but even if half of people in prison for child sex offenses were murdered in prison, we’d still be at something like 13:1 odds in favor of suicide.

        Even weighing the dice heavily in favor of murder, ISTM that we still end up with a low probability that it was murder. That can change if there’s more evidence that comes up–the FBI investigation has a good chance of discovering some of this if it’s there.

        [1] I have no idea how to get good numbers on this, so I’m taking a SWAG that seems internally consistent with reality.

        • John Schilling says:

          So, let’s put the odds at .31/.05 ~= 6:1 odds in favor of suicide.

          That denominator suggests you are taking “Jeffrey Epstein accidentally hung himself by the neck until dead” as part of an unmodified base rate.

          • albatross11 says:

            I thought it was simpler and more conservative to roll all non-suicide non-natural cause deaths into one number. Basically the questions is “suicide or not?” In the whole calculation I tried to be extra-generous to the non-suicide hypothesis. (Similarly, no way are half the sex offenders in prison murdered, or half the prisoners who have powerful enemies.) I don’t see any way to get a substantial probability that it was anything but suicide.

            Now, more evidence could come out that made murder much more likely. (Think of those Guantanamo inmates who all committed suicide on the same day, and all gagged themselves before they did so.) But it sure doesn’t look like the way to bet given what’s come out so far.

            OTOH, my vote for the pithiest phrasing of the “it was murder” hypothesis comes from John McAfee (noted serious commenter on the internet): here

        • nkurz says:

          The numbers you posted are for “local inmates”. For state and federal inmates, the ratio of suicide to homicide is much lower. See Table 1 here: For state, suicide is 6% vs 2% homicide. For federal, it’s almost equal at 4% suicide vs 3% homicide. The remaining large percentages are mostly “natural causes”. Epstein (I believe) was a federal prisoner.

          • albatross11 says:

            Thanks! That changes my numbers by a lot. (Why on Earth are local facilities so horrible at preventing suicides? And for that matter, every other kind of bad thing?)

            Epstein died in Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison, so we should use those rates. That would drop the initial base rate (again rolling accidental deaths into homicides so we’ve got suicide on top) to 1/1, and thus leave my (very generous to the not-suicide hypothesis) calculation around 2:1 in favor of suicide. So still the way to bet, but not by nearly as much.

            OTOH, all my modifications of the base rate were chosen to be generous to the not-suicide hypothesis, so I think 2:1 significantly understates the likelihood of suicide.

            If you find out someone died of non-natural causes in a federal facility, you should expect about even odds it was suicide vs everything else. (If you exclude accidents and just deal with suicide vs homicide, it’s 4:3 odds for suicide, so close enough either way.).

            Then we should modify our estimate by considering the reasons why suicide is more or less likely.

            The official claim of suicide, Epstein’s previous suicide attempt, his huge recent fall in quality of life, and his extremely bleak prospects for the future all should make us think suicide is more likely.

            His long list of extremely powerful enemies who wanted him silenced before he made any deals with the feds, the offense for which he was in prison (pimping underaged girls), and the extreme notoriety of his case should all increase our probability of homicide. (But the extreme notoriety of the case should also make us suspect the guards and especially prison administration would be very uneasy about taking any part in killing him. Taking part in doing away with Jerry Epson the low-level nobody in for pimping underaged girls would be way safer–nobody would much care. Jeremy Epstein’s death was sure to get some serious attention/investigation.)

            Murder could be motivated by a desire to shut him up by his previous blackmailees, or by guards/inmates seeking to mete out some vigilante justice. To split between these, we probably need to know:

            a. What fraction of sex offenders get murdered in prison.

            b. What fraction of people with very powerful enemies get murdered in prison.

            A quick google search didn’t yield me anything useful for (a), but from this link, about 10% of federal prisoners are sex offenders of some kind. If all the murders in federal prisons were done to sex offenders, we’d have a 30% probability of a sex offender being murdered in prison. That’s an absolute upper bound–the real number must be much lower.

            I’m not sure how to get a handle on that second one. It seems obvious that most people who have powerful enemies (including powerful enemies who control prison gangs) make it through their incarceration alive, but I don’t know where to get good numbers to calibrate this question.

        • Clutzy says:

          Just to clarify, my 15% at the time included a lot of things not including conspiratorial murder because I had only seen a few reports of cause of death and still thought things like OD or natural death were on the table.

          But even homicide doesn’t have to be conspiratorial homicide. It could just be an inmate or guard that was pretty angry.

    • bullseye says:

      I figure it was suicide, plus someone on the outside pulling strings to make a successful suicide more likely. I also don’t think we’re ever going to hear any solid evidence for anything but the official story (suicide + guards made a mistake).

    • JPNunez says:

      Even Eliezer is on the conspiracy side

      I feel it’s not CW until you start pointing fingers at possible culprits.

    • Randy M says:

      I don’t know enough about how prisons are run to speculate about opportunity.
      There does seem to be plenty with motive.

      Unlike less plausible conspiracy theories, this one doesn’t take a large number of otherwise professional people keeping quiet about things that would normally outrage them.

      A few bribed prison guards keeping quiet about the death of an “everyone knows he did it” pedophile seems like the kind of thing that could be kept under wraps. As opposed to 9-11 conspiracy theories that posit a fairly large number of US officials and agents being willing to go along with the deaths of a large number of Americans for presumably little personal benefit to most of them, which seems quite implausible to me. Even moreso the “chemtrail” stuff. “Fast and Furious” was plausible from the beginning because it was something that a few agents could put together and act on without the expectation that they were directly causing a lot of harm.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Suicide: 90%

      Murder: 6%

      Tiger got him: 3%

      Other: 1%

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Why not both? The guy wanted to kill himself. Facilitate a slight episode of not-even-incompetence, really, and get him off the suicide watch. A frequentist would even say it’s withing the national average for competence, if you disregard the rather important prior for how big the case is.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Assassination, p = 1.

      It’s a little disappointing, not because he didn’t deserve death but because this means that the powers that be aren’t as vulnerable as it seemed. The fact that he had lived this long, and that as many names had come out as they did, had gotten my hopes up that this would be another 2016-esque upset. If he had gone to trial and the full list of his co-conspirators had come out, that could have single-handedly taken out half of the transnational ruling class.

      I would have suspected assassination regardless of how he died, but the brazenness of the lie is what makes it a dead giveaway. He was attacked in jail, the guards claimed it was a suicide attempt and whisked him off to where he couldn’t be observed, and… oops, guess his second attempt was successful despite supposedly being under 24/7 surveillance. Move along, nothing to see here.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The fact that he had lived this long, and that as many names had come out as they did, had gotten my hopes up that this would be another 2016-esque upset. If he had gone to trial and the full list of his co-conspirators had come out, that could have single-handedly taken out half of the transnational ruling class.

        I don’t share Nabil’s confidence, but I echo that this is really disappointing. If it was suicide, the incentive structures were off-kilter: why couldn’t he plea bargain down to a sentence of “don’t let me get raped and beaten to death in general pop OR kept in solitary for years in exchange for enough evidence to arrest the President, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and up to half the American ruling class?”

        • baconbits9 says:

          A plea that named all the most powerful names isn’t any good without holding something back for protection when you escape prison. Naming Bill and putting him in prison leaves you walking free with lots of Bill’s old associates angry at you, plus all the effort involved in getting the DA to buy your story at the outset.

        • albatross11 says:


          Perhaps leaving him in awful conditions for awhile was how the prosecutor was planning to soften him up for a deal that put him in a less awful prison in exchange for giving up the goods on some prominent (political-career-making) previous customers.

      • Matt M says:

        Agree on prediction and probability.

        I’ll also add that, from the moment he was arrested, a huge amount of people predicted this specific outcome.

        It’s one thing for people to call me a crazy conspiracy theorist if I predict something that has not yet materialized. But I expect to be treated with at least a minimum amount of respect if my crazy conspiracy predictions actually come true!!!

        • dick says:

          I don’t think you get credit for predicting something you don’t have any special info on. Betting on the winning horse makes you lucky, not clever.

          • Creutzer says:

            So you only get credit for having special information, not for how well you make use of the information you have? That doesn’t seem right.

      • Nornagest says:

        Assassination, p = 1.

        You know as well as I do that if you frame 0 or 1 as a probability, Eliezer Yudkowsky will come in the night and burn your house down.

      • albatross11 says:

        If he was running a blackmail operation alongside his pimping-underaged-girls operation, wouldn’t he have left some trusted people with the ability to reveal his blackmail information, in case he died in suspicious circumstances?

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I will put up $5 against $50 that it wasn’t assassination. That goes for anyone who wants an easy $5.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          There are two big problems with this bet:

          The first is that I don’t gamble.

          The second is that if you buy the official story that he committed suicide, I can’t imagine any possible evidence that could convince you that he was assassinated short of the responsible parties openly admitting it. If and when more incriminating evidence comes out, the government and the media are going to reply “nuh uh” and evidently a flat denial is good enough for you.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hoopyfreud can speak for himself as to what evidence would convince him that this was a political assassination. What plausible evidence would convince you that it was suicide?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I’m not saying I buy it. I’m saying that I think the odds it’s true are better than 1:10. If the autopsy results, surveillance cameras, or guard testimony suggest foul play (and the guard testimony isn’t anonymously given to Project Veritas), or if anyone either goes on trial or mysteriously dies before going on trial, I’ll conclude that the balance of probabilities lies in your favor and pony up. If I’m out $5, I’ll consider it the price of admission to the greatest show on Earth.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @John Schilling,

            My “p = 1” was mostly hyperbole to express how obvious a hit this was, but there’s an element of truth in that I can’t think of anything that the government could claim that would change my mind here short of releasing video evidence of him hanging himself. Ideally with a camera angle that shows that he was actually alone, with nobody holding a gun off-camera.


            If the autopsy results, surveillance cameras, or guard testimony suggest foul play (and the guard testimony isn’t anonymously given to Project Veritas), or if anyone either goes on trial or mysteriously dies before going on trial, I’ll conclude that the balance of probabilities lies in your favor and pony up.

            See, this is what I was talking about.

            If the government investigates and says that there’s foul play, you’ll believe them. If they deny that there was foul play, you’ll accept their autopsy reports or interview transcripts or whatever other official-looking documents they produce at face value. Because if there’s one thing that we know for sure about the US government and mainstream media, it’s that they’re scrupulously honest and would never lie to the public.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            If the government investigates and says that there’s foul play, you’ll believe them.

            If any evidence from any source appears, I’ll evaluate it. If a coroner’s assistant leaks to the New York Times, I’ll believe that. If a guard livestreams a confession on Twitch, I’ll allow it. If Julian Assange tells me Jeb Bush personally sniped Epstein in the throat with a beanbag, collapsing his trachea, I’ll at least think about it. But I don’t plan on taking Weekly World News at its word, on on sticking my fingers in my ears.

          • albatross11 says:


            The US government as a whole will lie about some things, and individual agents/employees of the government will lie about many other things. But most employees of the government involved in the case have no incentive to like about this. A small set of very powerful and rich people have that incentive, and they may successfully bribe, blackmail, or otherwise convince some of those employees to lie in their service. But getting this to happen isn’t trivial, and has risks. Given how things went for Trump in the Russia investigation, what odds would you give that Trump could have arranged his death and also could keep the investigation from finding any evidence of foul play, with no leaks?

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTM that the safest way to have murdered him would be to induce him to go along with the suicide–that would limit the possibility of forensic evidence contradicting the suicide claim. If someone convinced him that they were planning to see him repeatedly raped/beaten by guards/inmates, made a credible threat in this direction, and then offered him an already-tied noose and a conveniently-located chair as an alternative, it seems awfully plausible that he’d take the offer.

      • John Schilling says:

        Assassination, p = 1.

        So, you can’t possibly be wrong.

        I would have suspected assassination regardless of how he died, but the brazenness of the lie is what makes it a dead giveaway.

        And anything that looks like evidence that you might be wrong, will be taken as proof that you were right because that’s what the Conspiracy wants people to think.

        Is this not a central example of being mindkilled?

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          If tomorrow morning you heard that some disgraced member of Kim Jong-un’s entourage known for having collected blackmail material on everyone in the inner circle of North Korean politics had died in prison, you wouldn’t have any trouble understanding what had happened. Even if the Norks had said “oh no, he totally committed suicide, pinky swear!”

          Ok, now repeat the thought experiment but this time it’s a former member of Putin’s entourage with blackmail material on the Russian oligarchs. Does that actually change anything? Isn’t it still obvious what actually happened?

          Our political elites aren’t as murderous as the Kims or even Vladimir Putin, which is no small blessing, but it’s absurd that you can’t connect the dots here.

          • albatross11 says:

            Probability 1 means absolute certainty–that there is no way this guy (who plausibly can anticipate brutality and abuse for the remainder of his life inside awful prisons) would have voluntarily committed suicide. I don’t see how you can have anything like that level of certainty.

          • Enkidum says:

            It’s equally (some might say substantially more than equally) absurd that you can’t accept that a former billionaire whose entire life has been destroyed, who has been utterly abandoned by his friends, who is facing decades of physical, mental and sexual abuse, might consider suicide.

            You are moving way, way too quickly.

          • John Schilling says:

            The United States is not Russia or North Korea. Many things that are plausible there are not plausible here, and vice versa. In particular, bribing multiple law-enforcement professionals to coordinate on committing or covering up a high-profile murder, is not plausible in the United States.

            Joaquin Guzmán is not exactly short of bribe money, and he couldn’t even get the guards at MCC to leave a door open for him, never mind committing first-degree murder with a body and murder weapon left waiting for the investigators. Nor John Gotti, among many others, before him. To a first approximation, American prison guards cannot be bribed to do things that require collusion between multiple guards and will predictably result in high-level scrutiny, no matter how much money you have.


            but it’s absurd that you can’t connect the dots here

            You forgot to call me “sheeple”. Seriously, if you lack the self-awareness to realize how closely you pattern-match a deranged Qanon conspiracy nut here, I’m not sure there is any point in debating a subject that hinges on your confidence in your own evaluation of a conspiracy theory.

          • dick says:

            It’s equally (some might say substantially more than equally) absurd that you can’t accept that a former billionaire whose entire life has been destroyed, who has been utterly abandoned by his friends, who is facing decades of physical, mental and sexual abuse, might consider suicide.

            +1, thanks for putting this concisely. I’m open to the idea that he got some assistance in his suicide, once some evidence in that direction crops up, but the idea that he offed himself to avoid the life ahead of him seems eminently believable.

          • Another Throw says:

            How confident are we that he hasn’t already been raped in prison? That very well might have the effect of strongly focusing the mind.

          • Another Throw says:

            To a first approximation, American prison guards cannot be bribed to do things that require collusion between multiple guards and will predictably result in high-level scrutiny, no matter how much money you have.

            To a first approximation, American prison guards cannot be bribed to do things that they don’t want to do that require collusion…

            It isn’t exactly unheard of for prisons to have an area where the cameras just never seem to work where prisoners just always seem to get the ever living fuck beat out of them.

            ETA: Which is to say, I would definitely rate “the guards were teaching him a lesson and accidentally killed him” as, you know, just a little bit more likely (/s) than “Bill bribed the guards to whack him,” which are both way, way less likely than suicide.

          • John Schilling says:

            To a first approximation, American prison guards cannot be bribed to do things that they don’t want to do that require collusion…

            The first thing American prison guards don’t want to do is to lose their nice cushy jobs as prison guards, with all the perks like getting to beat people up without repercussions.

            The zeroth thing American prison guards don’t want to do, is become American prison inmates.

            If you offer a group of American prison guards the slightest opportunity to do either of those things, and the only price you offer them is the chance to beat up one more particularly VIPish scumbag, they will say “no”. Throw in $100K, and they will still say “no”. One American prison guard might say “yes”, but add in the modified prisoners’ dilemma where they each having to trust all the rest but an early defector faces no punishment, and it’s “no” all around.

            It isn’t exactly unheard of for prisons to have an area where the cameras just never seem to work

            Yes, in places where those cameras are overlooking impotent nobodies whose mistreatment is highly unlikely to result in prison guards losing their jobs.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            @John Schilling

            If you offer a group of American prison guards the slightest opportunity to do either of those things, and the only price you offer them is the chance to beat up one more particularly VIPish scumbag, they will say “no”. Throw in $100K, and they will still say “no”. One American prison guard might say “yes”, but add in the modified prisoners’ dilemma where they each having to trust all the rest but an early defector faces no punishment, and it’s “no” all around.

            But all this doesn’t apply in case of murder by suicide. You can bribe the interrogator to be overly zealous in describing how awful Epstein’s life in prison will be – that’s what interrogators do anyway. And you definitely can bribe a prison guard to forget to check on Epstein in time and take him off suicide watch – because that’s what they actually did and the alternative hypothesis is that they did so because of sloppiness or tiredness or some other reason way less compelling than a 100k, or a million dollars cash. There’s no prisoners dilemma either, one prison guard can forget to check and get his money without others cooperating or even knowing, and he can always attribute it to forgetfulness if caught.

            Another, more grim and conspirological possibility, which is also not ruled out by your reasoning – paying money isn’t the only way to get people to do what you want. You might blackmail them – perhaps with the same videos of the beating impotent nobodies that you mentioned. Not that someone from political establishment would have such videos, but the head (chief? director? no idea) of that prison plausibly can, and that gives you just one person to bribe. Threatening those guards lives, or their families, while even more conspirological still not entirely impossible and will solve the coordination problem and counterweight the risk of them going to jail.

            Also, you asked an interesting question of what will it take to convince someone believing it was a murder that it wasn’t. For me, I think the most realistic thing that will do is something like that: some of the suspects, say Trump, decides to use it as a leverage against his political enemies and shouts tweets that it was a murder indeed and, say, Clintons did it. Clintons shout back that yes it was a murder but it’s Trump who’s to blame and they never new a thing of the Epstein’s island. Both sides spend considerable amount of time, money and effort to prove the other side murdered Epstein, but fail to produce any convincing evidence of that, or in fact any convincing evidence that it was a murder. Of course that’s pretty unlikely to happen, but that’s natural – if you think X is unlikely, you think anything convincingly proving !X is also unlikely or you should’ve shifted your opinion already. I can also think of number of smaller and (individually) more likely pieces of evidence which combined could shift my opinion from “most likely murder” to “likely not murder”.

          • John Schilling says:

            But all this doesn’t apply in case of murder by suicide. You can bribe the interrogator to be overly zealous in describing how awful Epstein’s life in prison will be – that’s what interrogators do anyway. And you definitely can bribe a prison guard to forget to check on Epstein in time and take him off suicide watch – because that’s what they actually did

            But most inmates – even the ones that are facing life in prison as a sex offender – neither commit suicide nor are murdered. This is not a reliable way to eliminate Epstein. The most likely outcome of this plan is that you just scare Epstein, make him more eager to cut a deal for whatever he knows in exchange for even less in return, and add to the mix a couple of prison guards who may be either honest enough or paranoid-skeptic enough to testify that you tried to get them to incite suicide.

            For me, I think the most realistic thing that will [convince me this was suicide rather than murder] is somethink like, Trump, decides to use it as a leverage against his political enemies and shouts tweets that it was a murder indeed and, say, Clintons did it. Clintons shout back that yes it was a murder but it’s Trump who’s to blame [etc] Both sides spend considerable amount of time, money and effort to prove the other side murdered Epstein, but fail to produce any convincing evidence of that, or in fact any convincing evidence that it was a murder. Of course that’s pretty unlikely to happen,

            It is unlikely to happen because both sides(*) know perfectly well it was suicide and not murder, so they aren’t going to waste time looking for evidence that doesn’t exist. There will be a professional investigation by the Justice Department, because that’s there job, and some journalists will poke around parts of it because ditto, but that’s about it. Your criteria for being persuaded that this was suicide has an embedded Catch-22 in that it requires people who know far more than you about the Epstein case in particular and the plausible bounds of murderous conspiracies in general to strongly believe that it wasn’t suicide.

            * Trump may believe it was murder, but the people on his team who have the attention span to carry out an investigation know better.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            @John Schilling
            Just to remind you, an investigation about potus being more or less an agent of Russians has ended just a few months ago. Which, if true, would’ve been far bigger conspiracy much more obviously impossible following your logic. So either such a conspiracy doesn’t look so impossible for people at power, of they’re much more willing to throw effort on investigation of obviously false accusations in order to slander their opponents, than you suggest. Either will make my scenario possible, and it doesn’t need to be probable for the reasons I mentioned.

            But most inmates – even the ones that are facing life in prison as a sex offender – neither commit suicide nor are murdered. This is not a reliable way to eliminate Epstein.

            Fair enough, but this also means that any theory making (observation of) suicide much more likely than a chance gets a big probability increase from this observation. What I’m saying is that at this point it’s a question of carefully calculating the probabilities rather than just applying the standard arguments against conspiracy theories, because the assumptions do not hold: it’s not necessary big, it’s not long running and it may be in individual interest of each or most people involved to work toward the goal.

            and add to the mix a couple of prison guards who may be either honest enough or paranoid-skeptic enough to testify that you tried to get them to incite suicide.

            Doesn’t that disprove any crime scheme involving more than two people?

          • John Schilling says:

            Just to remind you, an investigation about potus being more or less an agent of Russians has ended just a few months ago. Which, if true, would’ve been far bigger conspiracy much more obviously impossible following your logic.

            And, as it turns out, it wasn’t true.

            Yes, Mueller et al investigated it. It’s their job to investigate, starting with the crap that Trump et al unambiguously did and seeing where it lead them, neither affirmatively believing nor affirmativey disbelieving the people shouting “Surely this will lead to proof that Trump is a Russian Agent! Connect the dots!”. What, given that this predictably turned out not to be true, is your point?

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            @John Schilling
            The fact that those people shouting were about all of the Democrats, I guess? And that some movements were made and many things said on the highest level in preparation to impeach Trump if the conspiracy were proven.

            I.e., exactly what I said in the first message: “either such a conspiracy doesn’t look so impossible for people at power, of they’re much more willing to throw effort on investigation of obviously false accusations in order to slander their opponents, than you suggest.” My personal opinion is that’s the latter. And, to be very clear, this argument is not intended to support the claim that Epstein death was a conspiracy, only that the scenario which I describe as required to definitely persuade me that it isn’t is possible – because something very similar, just one sided, already happened very recently.

          • Enkidum says:

            @AlexofUrals – Speaking for myself, and probably for a few of the other skeptics in this case, I don’t think most of us would argue that it’s impossible that Epstein was murdered. Or, much, MUCH more likely, but still orders of magnitude less likely than a “pure” suicide + guard just screwing up, that the guard schedule was jiggered by a supervisor to maximize his chances of killing himself, and the suicide watch removed for that reason.

            There are lots of conspiracies out there, for sure. I doubt this is one of them. But absolutely, murder is within the realm of possibility. Given the evidence available, I’d say it’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of 0.1%.

          • Clutzy says:

            And, as it turns out, it wasn’t true.

            Yes, Mueller et al investigated it. It’s their job to investigate, starting with the crap that Trump et al unambiguously did and seeing where it lead them, neither affirmatively believing nor affirmativey disbelieving the people shouting “Surely this will lead to proof that Trump is a Russian Agent! Connect the dots!”. What, given that this predictably turned out not to be true, is your point?

            No no. John, the conspiracy was true. It just was a totally different conspiracy uncovered by Devin Nunes, Kim Strassel, etc and it was called a “conspiracy theory with no evidence” for 3 years. It took yew-mans work of many, mostly non-mainstream, people who were marginalized by the media and not given cooperation by the civil service. All we’ve gotten from official sources so far are two CYA memos (IG report and Mueller Report) with a 3rd CYA memo incoming (IG report #2). What if we gave Chris Christie $40 million in government funds to investigate these things with the explicit goal of getting convictions? Its already a proven conspiracy. How many convictions could he secure?

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      This seems like the kind of thing where Bayesian Analysis TM would actually be useful. Estimate a base rate for suicide vs murder, then condition on it being Epstein rather than a random inmate and the various shifty-sounding things in terms of lax attention from guards given that he was supposed to be on suicide watch, his cellmate being moved, cameras being off etc.. I can’t be bothered to put numbers on it now, but even just thinking about it from this perspective is interesting; it suggests to me that one of the big unknowns is P(suspicious evidence | murder). This is surely higher than P(suspicious evidence | ~murder), the question is whether we would expect it to be high in absolute terms (because getting away with murder is hard) or not (because an actual conspiracy would’ve done things in a less obvious way).

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Reports are that he committed suicide by hanging a bedsheet noose from the top bunk. He was no longer on suicide watch, which may explain why there was a cloth sheet.

      Not the easiest thing to do. Seems like he would have strangled, not broken his neck?

  7. Odovacer says:

    What would it take for Silicon Valley and the Bay Area in general to stop being such a hotbed of startups?

    I moved to the Bay Area earlier this year to work for a startup in a very interesting and novel field. However, when I think about the long term I become somewhat miserable. Maybe this is just sour grapes on my part, but I’ll most likely never be able to buy a house nearby. I don’t think I can live here long term, because I want more than one child and to be able to afford a decent house

    I don’t know. Maybe if I lowered/changed my standard and lived in a small apartment or in a group home, then it could work, but I really don’t want that.

    On a side note, how does it make sense for VCs to invest so much in Bay Area companies where money doesn’t go as far in terms of salary, rent, etc? Is the local population that much more valuable?

    • The Nybbler says:

      What would it take for Silicon Valley and the Bay Area in general to stop being such a hotbed of startups?

      A prolonged economic downturn. Right now it’s a hotbed of startups because all the ingredients are there — VCs with money to burn, engineers, starry-eyed founders with 99+% dumb ideas, BigTech companies to snap up startups for a relatively quick payoff, and all the rest. And there’s positive feedback bringing more of each in all the time. Basically to stop it you’re going to have to break a bunch of it at once, and the most likely way for that to happen is a general economic downturn. Really bad tax policy could do it too, but given that CA already has the highest income taxes around, it would have to be _really, really bad_. Like New Jersey level bad.

      It’s not the only place there are startups. I work for a former startup in NYC. Which area is (almost unbelievably) significantly cheaper than the Bay Area; my house just over an hour from work is probably worth about $500k. But obviously the Bay Area has the most startups by far.

      • Garrett says:

        Out of curiosity, what makes New Jersey especially bad in terms of tax policy? I’m passingly familiar with the tax policy of a few States, but have no specific knowledge about what makes NJ bad, other than being comparatively high tax rates.

        • The Nybbler says:

          NJ has high property taxes, moderately high income taxes, moderately high sales taxes, and (most relevantly) high business taxes. There’s also a whole raft of various different business taxes that apply in specific circumstances (e.g. a petroleum industry gross receipts tax), so it’s not only confiscatory but byzantine (as is the regulatory environment).

    • nkurz says:

      What would it take for Silicon Valley and the Bay Area in general to stop being such a hotbed of startups?

      I think a severe enough natural disaster might do it. If there was an earthquake that resulted in the entire area being without power for a month, how long would it take it to recover? It would depend on secondary effects (like resulting civil unrest) but I wouldn’t be optimistic.

    • johan_larson says:

      If some of the major players in the tech industry started moving significant numbers of staff out of the area to save money, that would throw some cold water on the hotbed. With fewer engineers around, there would simply be fewer people available to form the next generation of startups. But there’s no sign of that happening yet.

      The New York financial industry eventually realized that it didn’t make sense to have all their back-office staff in the five boroughs, and started moving it to cheaper places. Perhaps one day the Bay Area tech companies will have the same insight. Ruth Porat, the CFO at Google, who used to work for Morgan Stanley, is the sort of person who might drive the transformation.

      The other thing that might do it is for computing to get tapped out. Once computer technology stops making dramatic advances, there will simply be fewer opportunities to strike it rich. There used to be hotbeds of innovation in aviation and automobiles, but those are now mature industries where only incremental progress is possible, so their major centers are nothing like the Bay Area.

      • emiliobumachar says:

        Very good points.
        Only for the sake of pedantry: the electric-car revolution is ongoing.

      • Garrett says:

        The challenge is that though Google is indeed growing its engineering base outside of silicon valley, getting high-level promotions effectively requires being in the Bay Area.

        The real trick would be to do something which chases the CEOs out of the area. Perhaps an annual wealth tax on residents with over 50M assets or something would do it.

        • johan_larson says:

          I guess it depends on what you mean by high level. When I was at the Waterloo office in Canada, several people got to Staff, and I think one person got to Senior Staff while I was there.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Senior staff isn’t really high level. Even low-level or mid-level management isn’t really going to do anything. You basically need VP level or higher.

    • Watchman says:

      Time. Some factor or combination of factors will make San Francisco less attractive than some other place(s), or in fact reduce the need for a single hub. To guess what the factors will be though probably requires an understanding of what factors cause San Francisco to act as a start-up hub in the first place, and whilst I guess this has been studied, has there been any sensible suggestions on this front?

      Alternatively we could suggest it will last till Plumber’s patience with all the in-comers runs out and he chases them out of town?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Maybe he can organize a plumber’s strike and everyone but the homeless will flee to cities with working toilets.

        • noyann says:

          Google would deploy an army of autonomous rat robots to unclog from the sewer side. As a side effect they would analyze the sediments and biofilm strata to get a kind of history of the house; the data will finance the rat army. And when a rat succeeds and sees the light, you will wonder why you are suddenly flooded with hemorrhoid treatment ads on the web.

      • Aapje says:


        Now I’m imagining a plumber army, wielding plungers* that get used as anal probes.

        * That we call a plopper in Dutch, which is a way better name. Of course, the word is onomatopoeic, referring to the plunging sounds: plop, plop, plop.

    • Lambert says:

      If SV wasn’t a startup hub, somewhere else would be and you’d be complaining about the housing situation there instead of in the Bay Area. Can’t have your cake and eat it.

      Startups tend to concentrate in hubs because there’s a really strong network effect of founders, tech workers, investors and ideas bouncing around.

      • Odovacer says:

        If SV wasn’t a startup hub, somewhere else would be and you’d be complaining about the housing situation there instead of in the Bay Area. Can’t have your cake and eat it.

        Maybe, but hopefully the other hubs wouldn’t have ridiculous COLs and insane housing costs. Seriously, even the fruits, vegetables, and milk at the grocery store are almost double the price of the last place I lived.

        • peterispaikens says:

          No, that’s the whole point – if some other place became the hub, the large influx of people and (most importantly) money would spike the cost of living. The big semiconductor companies built their facilities in what became Silicon Valley because that was an affordable place to do so.

          • johan_larson says:

            Yes, any other place experiencing the Bay area’s success would see rising prices. But things don’t have to be as bad as they are in the Bay Area. The area is really uniquely hostile to growth and build-out. Another place with more flexible rules about development and taxation could simply accommodate demand by letting landowners build up and out. It would still be an expensive place, because the demand is vast, but there is no reason things have to be as expensive as they are in the Bay area.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Yeah. Glance at the satellite view of the Bay Area and notice how much woodland there is even ten miles from Google.

            I mean, I really love the woodlands. But I’m not kidding myself about about how much open space is built into my purchase price.

          • and notice how much woodland there is even ten miles from Google.

            The claim I have seen is that between ninety and ninety-five percent of the Bay Area is unavailable for people to live on, due to the combined effects of parks, zoning, building restrictions, et. al.

            I don’t know that the figure is true, but I have seen it (some years back) both from a source that thought more land should be available and from one that thought less should be.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        I think you are all are describing Austin (for good and for ill) and Seattle (for ill).

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Is there any particular reason you have to live in the Bay Area? It’s not exactly like we are poor in the rest of the nation.

      • EchoChaos says:

        We live in crippling penury and nobody from the Bay Area will ever be happy anywhere else!

        Don’t tell them they can leave, you fool!

      • Odovacer says:

        The nascent industry I’m in is located in the Bay Area. While we’re not an industry full of coders, the fact that it started here probably has to do with the large amount of VC money in the area, as well as people here being more open to “wacky” ideas. Long term, I’m skeptical that it makes sense to be here, both for me and the industry I’m in.

    • badspeler says:

      On a side note, how does it make sense for VCs to invest so much in Bay Area companies where money doesn’t go as far in terms of salary, rent, etc? Is the local population that much more valuable?

      It’s everything- access to capital, talent, infrastructure. If I need something for my startup, I can pick out a company that did the same incubator as me, and talk to them for advice, connections, and huge discounts on their product. The cost of living isn’t that big of a deal if you’re serious about business.

  8. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I just saw the Rifftrax (final cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 before the Netflix reboot) of a 2017 film called Star Raiders: The Adventures of Saber Raine. One of the entertainingly bad things to latch onto was that “[they chose] to make a movie entirely from ’90s CD-ROM cut scenes.” As a child of the ’90s who grew up with such things… yeah, that was accurate. Never having heard of this bad movie before seeing it heckled, I did a Google search and found this:
    They needed $22,123 for Kickstarter to pay for the visual effects! Maybe that explains the 1990s computer game look, but just raises further questions! Is that really all the money it costs to add CGI visual effects to a movie? That’s a few months of one programmer/artist’s salary. I can imagine that computers have improved so much in the past 25 years that one guy could do all the effects from, say, Babylon 5 at home in a month or two per episode, but would they actually look like that show’s 25 year old CGI given the relative power of a 2019 desktop and a mid-’90s CGI workstation?
    Just how do inputs and cost in the computer graphics industry work?

    • Bobobob says:

      Not qualified to answer your question, but how does Rifftrax compare to MST3K? Is it worth watching?

      • Urstoff says:

        Depends on how much you liked the interleaved skits. Rifftrax is just the jokes, and it about the same quality as MST3K, with some episodes being better than the others. The live shows are generally pretty good. I, myself, prefer Rifftrax to the new MST3K, although I do enjoy the latter.

        Rifftrax does have a twitch stream where you can watch for free.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Also, the best of MST3K was better than the best of Rifftrax even if you don’t care about the interleaved skits. They had more comedians watching the movie (far as I can tell, Rifftrax consists entirely of the three riffers, Mike Nelson’s wife Bridget, and Mary Jo Pehl, about half the MST3K Season 8-10 writing team). But the Mike/Kevin/Bill team has much better chemistry than the reboot trio, which is to be expected as they’ve had decades to polish their act and Netflix MST3K has had two seasons.
          There are two main types of Rifftrax: blockbusters and B-movies. If you have Amazon Prime, some of their best B-movies can be watched for free there. Try starting with Birdemic or The Guy From Harlem.

          • Bobobob says:

            I actually really like the MST3K reboot on Netflix–“Yongary” is a classic.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Is that the one with the “every country has a monster” song? Because that felt like when the reboot proved it could deliver the full MST3K formula.
            I also liked the peplum and ’80s barbarian movies, The Loves of Hercules and Ator the Fighting Eagle.

            Shot of guards playing a dice game
            “I’m a 1st level guard.”
            “(crestfallen) Me too.”

          • Bobobob says:

            Yes, that’s the one. Another great episode is Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, which may have my favorite MST3K line ever:

            (Incomprehensible sequence of weird glowing sky gods blasting each other with cheap special-effect superpowers)

            Crow: “And that’s where babies come from!”

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I want to like the MST3K reboot more than I do. I think the problem is that the riffing is just way more frenetic than in the original, which at its best walked a fine line between “here is a hilariously bad scene presented without comment” and “here is a funny joke this scene made me think of”. The reboot is almost all the latter, sometimes to such an extent that you can no longer follow the movie, which sabotages the attempts to make fun of it.

            The addition of big sets and production values also removes the illusion that you’re just getting together with some funny guys to laugh at old movies. Kind of like when Garrison Keillor stopped being about the quiet week in Lake Wobegon and started being about current events.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I want to like the MST3K reboot more than I do. I think the problem is that the riffing is just way more frenetic than in the original,

            The common opinion is that this spoiled almost every Season 11 episode (every fan has an exception, usually Yongary or Cry Wilderness) and they improved in Season 12. Like I said, nothing the Netflix trio has done compares to Mike, Kevin & (Trace/Bill) at their most polished, like Space Mutiny or Hobgoblins with Bill.

  9. haroldedmurray says:

    This NYTimes opinion column regarding the reactions to the article in The Cut on Bruce Hay and the “paternity trap” reminded a lot of the sort of things Scott talks about here. Sometimes both sides can admit that a story is factually true, but only one side will think that it’s representative of a meaningful deeper trend while the other side is keen to write it off as non-significant.

    • Clutzy says:

      The only thing I’ve found interesting in this ordeal is the premise of the original NY MAG Subtitle:

      “A Harvard Law professor who teaches a class on judgment wouldn’t seem like an obvious mark, would he?”

      Yes, he kinda would. Most academics strike me as pretty good marks. Particularly if your skills aren’t all that good against the elderly for some reason.

      A good mark needs money. Elite academics have money. You might say, “but they are smart” most people with money are smart though, and I’m not one who thinks that scamming rich car dealership owners and salesmen is going to be profitable. Those guys are better scammers than you, otherwise you’d be doing it legit. Academics also have a lot of free time compared to a lot of people with money. Doctors and lawyers are notoriously overworked, also both those professions deal with liars everyday. Often your job depends on not falling for lies, or exposing other people’s lies.

      So, maybe I’m naive, but other than old people, athletes, lottery winners, and trust funders, who is better to scam?

  10. eigenmoon says:

    > I’m curious why the second post was so much more successful

    I have counted 58 proposals last year and 56 this year. YMMV.
    There were 12 registrations last year, meaning that the registrations/proposals ratio grew from 21% to 46%. Impressive!

    As for the reason, my guess is the difference between the vibe of keeping up an established tribal tradition vs. the vibe of doing a weird experiment that’s going to end up with nobody knows what. Or one could simply say that the presence of the 4 examples gave everyone a comforting frame of reference.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I meant why the second post this year telling people to make teams went better than the first, but your data are interesting too!

    • silver_swift says:

      Or one could simply say that the presence of the 4 examples gave everyone a comforting frame of reference

      I think this is actually the more likely explanation. It’s much easier to get people to sign up for something if they have a good picture of what is expected.

      People tend to not mind trying weird new things, as long as they aren’t afraid that people will start thinking of them as weird for having tried it (which seems unlikely in this case) and in this community “doing a weird experiment that’s going to end up with nobody knows what” is basically upholding a tribal tradition already.

  11. bzik says:

    I gave up on reading Worm for the second time, after roughly a year-long break. Apparently, my patience runs out after 10 arcs or so.

    I’ve seen it referred as something to read if one liked HPMoR, UNSONG and such. But why? Behind the scenes plotline is quite fascinating (and is the reason I went back to it) but everything else is so underwhelming. The best parts were always the interludes for me, but the rest of the plot, characters and their development, and above all the writing style are just depressing.

    I’d love to hear what others’ impressions from it were like. I’ve got to arc 22 in case you don’t want to spoil the contents.

    • Falacer says:

      I really enjoy it, and getting to read the new chapters (of Ward now) is a highlight of my week. There’s something about the sort of grounded internal view of the characters and their understanding of the world that really drew me in, along with the slow persistent worldbuilding. I especially like how the interludes highlight that basically everyone in this setting feels frustrating to fight against, that it’s all balanced just-right so that the viewpoint character always feels on the back foot. This further helps the way in which every character feels like a viable protagonist, with rich inner thoughts and development arc. I’m also apparently in the minority here, but I really like the fight scenes. I like seeing a character’s skills and powers operate on a second-by-second basis.

      That said, I’ve had almost no engagement with the fanbase at all, and whenever I have I found that they focus on totally different parts and seem to be getting something entirely different out of the story, so I couldn’t really tell you why other people like it. It’s really nothing like other “rationalist fiction” though, and I suspect it gets included mostly because the systematic attempts to wring the most effectiveness out of powers makes it look rational compared to a lot of other cape media.

      • Murphy says:

        though, and I suspect it gets included mostly because the systematic attempts to wring the most effectiveness out of powers makes it look rational compared to a lot of other cape media.


        It has a real feel of the characters having their own goals and how they use their powers is a lot more like how someone who’d sat down and thought about it would.

        There’s definitely a lot of wankery in some of the “rationalist fiction” where characters just spout exerts from rationalist blogs…. but the better stories seem to sum up as “because if you were [character] then you would [thing they actually do in the story]”

        Compared to most stories where every character forgets their abilities any time it would be inconvenient to the plot.

    • Murphy says:

      I felt like there was a section after skitter had to switch to butterflies that felt much weaker than the rest. Like both the stakes and the threats had suddenly been downgraded and everything became a bit less coherent.

      If worm ever gets turned into a proper book I could imagine the section getting a shears taken to it.

      Looks like around about where you stopped.

      I think part of the love for it is that the actual ending is possible one of the most satisfying I’ve encountered in any story. Which makes people forget/forgive the weaker section before it.

      • bzik says:

        Correct, this is pretty much where I quit again. Because I felt I couldn’t handle another high octane action sequence of “the guy in *brightly colored clothing item* and *another clothing item* was shooting *projectiles* out of his *body part and/or orifice” to surprisingly little effect”.

        I get a weird impression as if this whole thing is a written down campaign of some tabletop game. Where players are often covered in layers of plot armor to the point of being nigh immortal. Where they try to minmax but often miss the crucial details, and plot has to take bizarre turns to accommodate them, including enemies and NPC’s having sudden attacks of impassable stupidity. With plot hooks left hanging in the air because the party just forgot about them.
        While it can be interesting to participate, it doesn’t make for a compelling narrative.

      • JPNunez says:

        Yeah, that’s around the part where the story starts to drag. I still like it enough to keep reading, thankfully soon after that comes the Behemoth fight, which is the best fight in the series.

        Worm is weird cause Skitter spends A LONG TIME fighting Coil. When you finish the series and start remembering it, Coil seems like such a tiny part, but when actually reading it, Coil is the main villain for what…half the series?

      • AG says:

        Another co-sign on how the Weaver section got bloated. Anything to do with the Las Vegas or Irregulars capes could not hold my attention.

        The key to reading the back half of Worm is to recognize when the prose is getting bogged down in second-by-second details, and skimming those sections until the next actual relevant character moment.
        I’d know from the chapter count that a certain segment wasn’t going to be all that significant in the grand scheme of things, so I’d deliberately skim read with low text engagement. Like, if during a single fight there’s stages A B C D, then B and C are kind of filler with a general “constantly in danger and kind of feeling hopeless!” theme, while A and D have the actual setup, payoff, and turns meat.

    • mwigdahl says:

      I enjoyed Worm a great deal and agree with the other folks that said that the ending was strong and satisfying. The worldbuilding, plotting, character concepts and creativity here are first-rate. Writing quality is generally strong as well.

      The weakest part for me, and the part that eventually exhausted my patience with Ward, was the excessively prim and verbose internal narratives. The Characters Kicking Ass sections of the books always came off feeling much more well-paced and strong than the Characters Dealing with Issues or the Characters Getting Real and Setting Boundaries With Each Other sections. Unfortunately, it feels to me like this aspect of the writing is much more prevalent in Ward than in Worm.

      In Worm there was enough payback that it rewarded the effort of continuing to read through to the end. In Ward, I eventually just felt that the characters were spending too much time rehashing their pain for the amount of progress they were making with their problems, and stopped reading.

    • Jiro says:

      I’m in the Worm fanfiction scene (which is mostly on two sites with insane censorship, but that’s a separate problem).

      The qualities that make a series good fanfiction bait are not the same as the qualities that make it a good story. An inconsistent world, unexplored characters and settings, flaws that need to be corrected, plot holes, etc. in an otherwise popular series are prime fodder for fanfiction, and Worm has that in spades.

  12. Aapje says:

    I wrote a comment in the Links thread about how the seats are distributed in the Dutch elections, according to the proportional system. However, since that thread is mostly dead and it may interest people, I’m reproducing it here as well:

    The way it works in my country is that before the election each party registers an ordered list like this:

    Example Party
    1. Bob
    2. Mary
    3. Jack
    4. Anna

    After the election, the electoral council first calculates the electoral quota: the number of votes required for a seat. This is done by dividing the number of votes by the number of seats, so 1000 votes and 100 seats = 10 votes per seat.

    So if the Example Party gets 30 votes, they get 30/10 = 3 seats. When the votes for a party are not an exact multiple of the electoral quota, these votes are distributed to the parties that are closest to a full vote, unless parties agree to share votes (which politically aligned parties can choose to do, to keep seats away from parties they oppose (more)).

    Once it’s determined how many seats each party gets, the representatives are selected. First, the preferential quota is calculated. Any candidate who meets the preferential quota gets a seat and the remaining seats get chosen by ranking. The preferential quota is a percentage of the electoral quota that is set by law. For the House of Representatives, this is 25%. For European Parliament, it is 10%.

    So for our example, 10% of 10 votes would be an preferential quota of 1 vote. So if these are the votes for the Example Party:

    1. Bob 20 votes
    2. Mary 0 votes
    3. Jack 0 votes
    4. Anna 10 votes

    Then Bob and Anna meet the preferential quota of 1 vote and get a seat. The party has 1 seat left. This goes to Mary, because she is ranked higher on the list than Jack.

    Note that this is just one possible model. Also note that European Parliament elections use national election systems* to assign the seats, so a vote in France is counted differently than a vote in The Netherlands.

    * Although there are some minimum requirements, including using a proportional system.

    • ayegill says:

      What if the votes for the Example Party are

      1. Bob 17 votes
      2. Mary 1 vote
      3. Jack 2 votes
      4. Anna 10 votes

      ? In this situation, the number of candidates meeting the preferential quota is greater than the number of seats assigned to the party. How are they assigned? Do Bob, Mary and Jack get the three seats, because they are highest on the party’s list, or do Bob, Jack and Anna get the three seats, because they got the most votes?

      • Aapje says:

        In that case, the seats go to Bob, Anna and Jack. Mary is out of luck since she got the fewest preferential votes, even though she is above the threshold.

        In practice this never tends to happen because voters tend to heavily favor the top two spots (the leader for obvious reasons and the second spot is often a woman due to feminist reasons*, so she tends to get votes from those who wants more women in politics**). There may be a couple of very popular people lower on the list that get enough preferential votes, but never enough to fill all seats with preferentially voted candidates.

        * Some parties interleave the seats, with a man, woman, man, woman, etc.

        ** Although some feminist activists realized that voting for the women in the 2nd spot is merely symbolic and they started a campaign to vote in women too low on the list to get voted in by rank on the list, to push out a man in favor of (any) woman.

    • JPNunez says:

      Yeah we do something similar to this in Chile now. Main problem is that people really hate the “dragging” of unvoted people into the parliament (Mary), so there is a discussion to move to simply assigning X amount of seats per district, and just assign them to the candidates with more votes, no dragging whatsoever.

      I like the system, regardless of dragging.

      • Milo Minderbinder says:

        Is the resentment from the specifically undemocratic nature of the “dragged” MPs, or are those dragged generally of poorer quality? It intuitively seems the former, but politicians finding a way to use this as some kind of patronage system would be extremely unsurprising.

        • JPNunez says:

          I think it’s the undemocratic part; the dragged representants seem to be better at their job in assistance, law projects started, and a few other metrics, from what I remember a newspaper study on the issue (maybe biased?), probably overcompensating for the undemocratic part.


          Ah, didn’t think it wouldn’t be a problem in other places.

          People here haven’t made much of representants leaving to fill posts in ministeries or other government posts, but there is a fight brewing over whether this is constitutional at all, since some people say that representants aren’t allowed to quit (which imho it’s ridiculous), but it hasn’t made it to the courts yet, and maybe it won’t ever make it there.

          The hate for the dragged representants very probably comes because we evolved this system from one that was exactly the same … except each list could have only 2 candidates.

          That made the dragged candidates extremely undemocratic; once the lists became longer, the system became a lot more representative as a whole.

      • Aapje says:


        There is no significant sentiment of that sort in The Netherlands. A bigger issue is when people leave shortly after an election, letting their seat be filled by someone way lower on the list. This regularly happens when a party was hoping to govern and put people with government ambitions on the list, who don’t want to ‘just’ be a representative. So they regularly leave for a private sector manager job or a job in international politics if the party doesn’t get to govern.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      When the votes for a party are not an exact multiple of the electoral quota, these votes are distributed to the parties that are closest to a full vote, unless parties agree to share votes (which politically aligned parties can choose to do, to keep seats away from parties they oppose (more)).

      Are these agreements publicly announced before the voting or hashed out in a backroom during the counting?

      • Aapje says:

        Hmm, it seems that this possibility was removed from Dutch electoral law in 2017. Missed that one, although, in my defense, the government forgot to update its website with information about the elections, to remove this feature, so they missed it too.

        Anyway, it had to registered before the elections and would be printed on the ballot as “(combined with list Other Party)”

        In general, all information has to be registered in advance, before a certain date. Then you have a short period where parties can appeal. After the appeal period ends, nothing can be changed. We had an election where the leader of a populist party was murdered just before the election, but he was still on the ballots, because the murder was after the cut off date.

        Note that sharing votes seems to benefit smaller parties.

  13. tailcalled says:

    I’m curious why the second post was so much more successful at encouraging signups than the first. Was it the rule that only people with A-M names could propose? The rule that nobody could post non-proposal comments in the comments section? Or did people just need more time?

    In my case, I just needed more time. I got several collaborators for the first post, but I needed time to pick someone to work with.

  14. silver_swift says:

    I’ve been thinking about systems for medicine patents a bit recently and I was wondering: Has any country ever tried a system where anyone can sell patented medicine, but (for the duration of the patent) the customer is charged a mandatory extra X% on top of the normal price and that money goes to the patent holder. For high enough values of X this still gives an effective monopoly to the patent holder, but if the patent holder gets too greedy their competitors can start undercutting them.

    It seems like an effective way to let drug research companies recoup the cost of R&D, while still putting some upper bound on the prices they can ask, yet I’ve never heard of anyone proposing something along these lines, so what am I missing?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      R&D can be a few orders of magnitude higher than production costs. If you need to price a pill at $10 for 5 years to recoup R&D, it doesn’t really help you if somebody comes and manufactures it for 10 cents, sells it for 20 cents, and gives you a percentage of that.

      • silver_swift says:

        To be clear, I don’t mind X being some mindbogglingly high number (10000% in this case), but I suppose the more general issue that there isn’t a fixed ratio between development costs and production costs is a problem. 10000% works if the drug costs 10 cents to produce, but is ridiculously high if it costs $1 and way to low if it costs 1 cent.

        It sounds like that problem should be fixable, but I can’t think of any good fixes that don’t immediately introduce even worse problems, so maybe that’s just my mind having trouble letting go of a clever idea.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          so maybe that’s just my mind having trouble letting go of a clever idea.

          Older I get, more likely it is to use it as a prior 🙂

          Anyways, to move the conversation a bit, I don’t think the problem in general with government is finding good ideas, but with the process of 1. verifying they’re good ideas and 2. gathering the political will to implement said ideas.

          I’d be very happy with an inefficient process as long as it’s trackable and makes sure it implements at least the obviously decent ideas. As it stands, we have a mash of electorally palatable with profitable to lobby, which is only accidentally good for society.

    • Murphy says:

      >charged a mandatory extra X% on top

      How is X chosen?

      If it’s the same across the board then you push companies to look for drugs that require lots of doses.

      If it’s varied by drug then you’re creating a negotiation stage very very roughly equivalent to a public health authority negotiating prices…. except where the negotiating body then doesn’t see that price come out of their own budget which is going to have bad effects.

      If it’s flat across the board…

      Imagine 2 different drugs.

      One ,acne-ine, slightly reduces acne when 3 doses are taken per day.

      The other AIDS-ine cures AIDS with a single dose.

      With a flat X% on top you reward the discoverer of the former and give squat to the discoverer of the latter with an associated effect on where R&D funding is shifted.

    • Steven J says:

      Yes, this has been tried by several developing countries.
      Not for all medicines, but on a drug-by-drug basis.
      The system is called “compulsory licensing”, if you want to Google it.
      Developing countries are allowed to do this under WTO rules, and some of them have used the threat of compulsory licensing to improve their position when negotiating with pharmaceutical companies.
      Here’s a paper that gives an overview of the relevant issues.
      Since the compulsory rates tend to be quite low, R&D incentives would be severely imacted if the use of compulsory licensing were expanded.

    • helloo says:

      Generally such discussions for such systems deal with compulsory licensing, which is pretty much is what you are asking for.

      That is, the patent holder cannot hold monopoly power but is forced to license the patent to be used by third parties through a license.

      One issue with your specific version is that it is tied to the sells price, which might reward manufacturing effectiveness a bit too much. (Ie. should reducing 50% on the cost also reduce 50% on the license fees? Or should it be something more fixed?)
      Another issue is regards to medicine patenting is that of the FDA which often holds the true monopoly power for these drugs. It is often from the procedures and policies of the FDA that you hear the horror stories of a life-saving drug suddenly increasing in price 100x despite being out of patent. Not like we haven’t had controversy from the other end, such as when it was revealed a new-ish hepatitis c vaccine costing 20000.

  15. Ryan says:

    There seems to be a bit of hunger for decent longform podcasts.

    To this end I run one called The Good Timeline which has featured some people well known in the community, including Robin Hanson, Daniel Ingram, Aella, Andres Gomez Emilsson (Qualia Computing)

    We have a vague rationalist/transhumanist lens and cover topics such as Consciousness Research, Psychology, Economics, Interstellar Space Travel, Ibogaine/Psychedelics, Meme Theory, Music, Sexuality and Rationalist Buddhism.

    Feel free to have a peruse here

  16. Pulsifer says:

    A lot of people complain about advertisements, and a lot of people use ad-blockers, but a lot less work has gone into helping websites make money without advertisements.

    On the technical side, The Direct Monetization Network has been working on an open protocol for websites to accept anonymous micro-payments while offloading the payment-processing work to a third party.

    On the qualitative side, they’re running a consumer survey to validate their assumptions about how people use ad-blockers, pay-walls, etc. Taking it would really help them (us) out!

    • DinoNerd says:

      Interesting survey. I’m sorry it didn’t include mention of the malware problem – I’m intransigent about adblockers for that reason, as well as the obvious. And one of their hurdles may be convincing people that their infrastructure/protocol won’t create security issues of its own.

      Also relevant to the “Would I pay for this” problem – click bait. If I have to pay to find out if the article is really about what it claims to be about, I won’t be a customer for long 🙁

      Personally, I’d prefer a subscription model, with the ability to sample a few before paying, for news etc. – and a way to permanently purchase any other media – again, with the ability to read a few pages, hear a few bars, etc. before buying.

      • Pulsifer says:

        I haven’t been able to figure out a trustably-anonymous “first x pages free” mechanism. Certainly open to ideas.

        Segregating some content as free and some as paid (or tip-jar) is certainly possible and likely, but has it’s own problems.
        Regarding “permanent” purchases: would you rather save the media to your own computer, or for the provider to promise you that it would always be available?

        • dweezle says:

          I would like to ask anyone who prefers the latter method of accessing “permanent” purchases to explain why. It seems to me like the quotation marks are only really necessary because you are putting cloud storage and local storage in the same category of permanence, when they just really aren’t.

          There are several cases i can remember of services dissolving, rendering a product completely defunct due to DRM. As a low hanging example, people who bought juicero cant even use their stupid money wasting machine even if they wanted to since the company evaporated. A more fitting example might be when Microsoft shut down its MSN music store/streaming service

          Worth noting that Microsoft offered a grace period for, i assume, people to download their stuff and gtfo, but thats really no better than just letting customers store locally from day one. (unless you want to inject ads into the stream)

          I don’t know of any products/online libraries that have deactivated DRM after things went bad, in a way that would make someone concerned about this type of thing happy. though i would love an example.

          • Pulsifer says:

            Straight face: I included the quotation marks because we’re all going to die someday.

          • dweezle says:

            you know, when i was typing the first few lines of my reply i briefly considered that you were making that point/joke, but that got in the way of my burning rage for advertisements and seeping further and further into my media.

            real talk i hope your research is fruitful, because god knows the endless ads vs adblock wars must be tiring for most involved.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @Pulsifer – I have a fair number of books I inherited from my parents, and some CDs inherited from a deceased aunt.

        • dweezle says:

          i wanna point out that i tried to get people to take this surevey offsite and people were absolutely disgusted when they saw the title screen, dunno if thats your doing or the site you are on but people that have opinions dont like sites that tell them “lets help marketing get stronger”

          maybe obfuscate this stuff a bit. literally the opening screen is saying “do you wanna help advertizers” which is similar to saying “do you wanna help the people that annoy you”

        • DinoNerd says:

          I want it saved on my own storage. The provider is likely to go out of business, or fail to adequately provision their server. And I’m likely to intermittently have a poor internet connection, or none at all. (And yes, I do routine backups – automated so I don’t forget.)

          Also relevant: a paper book won’t last forever – I have some already yellowing – but it’ll last better than any e-media has done so far.

    • Matt M says:

      I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the only real answer to this is something of a charity/patreon sort of model. Media is trivially easy to pirate. Paywalls are trivially easy to work around. The way to get people to pay for your stuff is to make them want to pay for it. Even when they know they don’t have to.

      Create content so good that people feel a moral compulsion to throw money at you. Does that mean that a whole lot of modern media would disappear and go out of business? Yes. Because it turns out that a whole lot of modern media is truly mediocre. Not terrible necessarily, but “replacement level,” to borrow a concept from sports.

      • Pulsifer says:

        I don’t think pirates are the deciding factor between paywalls and tip-jars. Anyone who was going to leave a tip is unlikely to pirate, and visa-versa.

        (In a pay-per-click situation, plagiarism is a concern, but it’s not a new concern.)

        Part of what I’m trying to accomplish is to make the marketplaces of “stuff online” slightly less winner-take-all. There’s a limit to how cut-throat we’d want the industry to be. Strictly as a thought experiment, think of the market-places like a evoltionary optimizer. If we were trying to find a single persistent maxima, then we’d “anneal” the search process (make the market more cut-throat). But that’s not what we want; we want to find lots of maxima, and we assume they’ll move, fall, and rise over time. So we want to keep lots of room for “good enough” players to survive.

      • dodrian says:

        There are a number of content creators I would love to support with a few bucks a month, and I probably would have joined Patreon a while ago if I considered them trustworthy. Mainly they had a few data breaches a while back which they handled poorly. Partly because more recently they’ve been throwing their weight around in political spheres in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think the makers of Brave had some proposed scheme to pay websites without showing you ads. I haven’t looked into it, though.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        I started playing around with Brave a few weeks ago. The idea is that it’s essentially overriding the ad system: it ships with an adblocker by default, so you’re not seeing the stuff the sites want you to see.

        Instead, the Brave Rewards feature is something you can turn on where it injects its own ads, at a configurable level. Brave is going to curate that stuff itself, presumably more effectively than existing ad networks. It then takes a cut of that ad revenue for itself, and lets you distribute the rest of the revenue to the sites you’ve visited. It defaults to just splitting it up by your usage time, but you can adjust that or cut a site out of the revenue entirely (useful for clickbait sites you don’t want to reward). They’re using an Ethereum-backed system, which I guess website owners will need to set up to receive.

        I like the idea, but unfortunately it’s not live yet: the existing system is just Brave popping up desktop notifications at configurable intervals to generate this currency, which I found tremendously annoying and turned off about 2 days in.

    • helloo says:

      Isn’t the user donations (first with paypal, then towards crowdfunding and now mostly (afaik) shifted to Patreon and the like) similar to what you’re mentioning?

      Also can be seen with the rise and fall of Youtube monetization and the various sponsored videos, donation backed creators.

    • AG says:

      Ad-blockers weren’t inevitable. I resisted using one for a long time.

      What changed is that Web 2.0 design got fucking unbearable. Resource hogs, malware delivering, redirecting the screen, invasive sound, things that actively reduced the quality of the content. In comparison, TV ads are outright benign. Also, TV ads tend to be somewhat interesting and don’t repeat the same ad every single commercial break or even within the same break.

      But yeah, I think that direct monetization is a superior option. Rooster Teeth got started with selling merch (T-shirts, to be specific), and have consistently grown off of direct support from their fans.

      The technical side of online ads is what has gotten rotten, not the presence of any ads.

      • Matt M says:


        Scott has ads here. And he also has a Patreon. What’s somewhat atypical is that he has no middle-ground “pay to remove the ads” option, specifically because why would anyone bother, because his ads are so incredibly un-obtrusive that even the people who intrinsically hate advertising don’t seem to be bothered by them.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I was a very early adopter of adblocking technology, and did so before I (or many non-specialists) had any idea of online ads as malware vectors, let alone as denial-of-service attacks in themselves.

        Once upon a time, there was a computer game. It was an early play-in-your-browser MMORPG. Like many such games it was free to play to a certain level, with a subscription model for additional content. Unlike many, the level you could get to was quite high. But there was a catch – it had ads unless/until you subscribed. And the ads were distracting enough to impair one’s play – so the person who introduced me to the game also introduced me to adblock.

        I eventually bought a subscription, and later moved on to other games. But adblock was all or nothing – I didn’t see ads on any web site. So on the one hand, I got spoiled – I got used to the non-distracting experience of adblocked web sites, and the adaptations I’d made mentally to ignore ads in e.g. magazines kind of atrophied. And on the other, I didn’t experience later “enhancements” to the ad experience – instead of being a slowly boiled frog, I was shocked and distressed on the rare occassions I used browsers without adblocking.

        Now I’m adamantly and angrily opposed to ads, which I regard as externalities imposed on me to steal my time, attention, and concentration – not even in any real hope of selling whatever the ads are peddling, but because the site makes money off misdirecting my time and attention. Malware risks are the largest rational part of this. But mostly it’s the arms race – I don’t mind ads on the side of busses, or most billboards – but I also don’t generally notice them, unless I’m very bored. But those online ads “improve” faster than I can train myself not to notice them, as well as consuming very real resources (bandwidth, cpu cycles, memory) that I’m paying for.

        There’s also the legal environment, which appears to be “advertisers can do no wrong” and/or “business can do no wrong”. I regularly receive phone calls, interrupting me for the purpose of telling me – using a recording, not a person – that someone has something I would not have sought out on my own, that they hope I’ll buy and/or contribute to if only they interrupt me often enough. My paper mailbox is full of rubbish, some from companies I otherwise do business with (grr!) and some from companies that carefully package their ad spam in envelopes that don’t reveal the source. This teaches me that advertisers as a class believe they have a right to consume my time and attention, even without providing me anything in return. (Not the case of a web site with real content I might actually want.) This context overflows into my attitude to any advertiser – even if Brand X only advertises in ways involving a real exchange of value, I haven’t got the time, attention or motivation to distinguish them, leaving them all in a race to the bottom, with no incentive to stop.

        Some of this behaviour was illegal in my home country, at least when I last lived there, and the laws were actually enforced. And that’s perhaps the real reason I arrived in the US without my current extreme aversion to advertisements and advertisers.

    • gwern says:

      You might be interested in the surveys I’ve already run asking about adblockers & ad preferences:

  17. Machine Interface says:

    The soundtrack of the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger was composed by Basil Poledouris, with an orchestral, almost operatic score that earned a lot of praises, to the point of being later transcribed and covered by various orchestras and musicians, as a self-standing piece.

    However, there is one piece of music in the movie, heard when Conan and his party are sneaking into the Tower of Set in an attempt to steal valuables, that differs markedly from the rest of the soundtrack (and in fact it is heard nowhere else in the movie and doesn’t appear on most official soundtrack albums), consisting only of a couple of bowed instruments with an ethereal voice and a few quiet percussions, delineating a strange and complex evolving melody with middle-eastern or central-asian echoes. It fits the scene, and it fits the movie’s vision of this fantasy world as a mixture of early-medieval Europe and central-Asian steppes, but it so different from the rest of the soundtrack that I began researching it.

    As it turns out, not only it’s not an original composition by Poledouris, but apart from the addition of voices, the version heard in the movie is not even an original performance! Rather, what can be heard in the movie is a 1976 instrumental recording of the cantiga 166 from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a 13th century collection of sacred Portuguese-Gallician songs:

    It’s always interesting to hear how “oriental” medieval iberian music sounds (albeit for obvious reasons), although since the original music notation is often pretty minimal, it’s hard to tell how much of this represents a genuine tradition and how much is modern performers interpreting it that way.

    • Ouroborobot says:

      Wow, cool catch. Conan is one of my all-time favorites precisely because of its perfect marriage of music and film, but Poledouris did shamelessly lift from other composers. The one that’s always been most obvious to me is “The Orgy”, which almost directly duplicates large sections of Holst’s Jupiter. I believe the main title theme also borrows a section from the same.

    • That’s pretty cool. It’s hard to tell sure, but I’d lean towards most of its sound being interpretational, however. I bet if you went back in a time machine you’d be surprised in all sorts of ways.

      This film has an absolutely ace soundtrack either way. It elevates it a lot. Battle of the Mounds from this movie is one of my favorite musical pieces in a film but… for some reason in the Blu Ray they deliberately change the sequence where you hear the voices that sound like“HARPY!” in the original. The result is way less epic and impactful. It sounds like there’s a hole in the music. No idea why they made that choice. I feel like I’m the only person in the world that’s noticed this.

      • Machine Interface says:

        I had not seen the bluray version yet. That is indeed weird. Especially since the chorus eventually does kick in so it’s not like they just forgot a track while remixing the music or something.

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        Also various versions of it seem to be missing one of the tracks at the very climax of “Mounds” when the chaos comes in, the highest singer on the note of Haught HEE” gives this unbelievably high wail in the background and one or two of the singers are missing/inaudible on some versions.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Thanks very much– Conan the Barbarian has one of my favorite soundtracks.

      What’s more, I posted cantiga 166 on facebook and asked about other music that sounded like it, and got a spectacular version of the thing I was trying to remember. Lamento di Tristano – La rotta If you just want the fast and passionate part, skip the slow and lovely bits and go to 4:30.

  18. Jeremiah says:

    As part of the fortnightly dive into the SSC archives. We have recently turned not one, but two(!) old posts into audio versions on the podcast.

    Against Bravery Debates (Original here)
    All Debates are Bravery Debates (Original here)

    Also I have gone back and added a [Classic] label in the title to all episodes that are pulled from the archives. If anyone is just getting in to SSC that’s a great way to catch up on the top posts.

    • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

      Love the podcast. Thanks for doing it!

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

      Those titles make a nice syllogism.

      Scott is against bravery debates.
      All debates are bravery debates.
      ∴ Scott is against debates.

      • Nick says:

        I’m disappointed “In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization” doesn’t include an ad for Civ V.

        • Randy M says:

          That would make a good motto for a Civ forum.

          • Nick says:

            Just so you know, Randy, I am reading your serial. Just haven’t commented yet. Sorry about that!

            I did notice it’s kinda first draft. Do you want typos pointed out, or would you prefer criticism be about substantive things?

          • Randy M says:

            Be merciless, but mostly I want to know if it is interesting enough to continue or is it boring exposition that needs conflict? Characters believable and/or memorable? Are there blatant any errors in depictions of different cultures or technology?

            And I’m coming to believe everything is kind of a first draft until a second or third pair of eyes has looked at it to point out the the mistakes. (But I know how to spend my lunch break ;))

      • Jeremiah says:

        Indeed! If only it had been intentional…

  19. Bobobob says:

    Not sure if it’s been discussed in this forum before, but Cerebus the Aardvark seems like it would appeal to a lot of people here (and for all I know, Dave Sim is a regular SSC visitor). I only made it about halfway through the run, in perfect-bound book form, but I’ve been thinking lately about the two volumes of “Church and State,” which wormed their way into my subconscious 25 years ago. Any other Cerebus fans/critics?

    • J Mann says:

      I got about halfway through and then read the rest of the plot on Wikipedia. Funny in parts, touching in parts, and the jailhouse essay to liberty still gets me in the feels.

      Also, I’ve always wondered whether “His play ended not so much with a grand finale as with a grand ‘finally.'” is original Oscar Wilde or Dave Sim writing on Wilde’s voice.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Is there a link for the jailhouse essay to liberty?

      • J Mann says:

        I can’t find it anywhere. It’s the end of the “High Society” arc, which you can read in the graphic novel of the same name. There are a couple pages linking to scans of the page, like here and here, but it looks like the page hosting the scans is down.

        The arc involves the main character finding himself at the head of a brief-lived democratic revolution, with a lot of the narration excepted from a history written by one of the characters, Suetonius (sp?) Po and published much later. Cerebus ultimately loses everything, getting set back to square one, and the arc ends with his aide, Po, in prison, writing his history/manifesto on his prison wall. You can't read most of it, but the end is lifted directly from JFK:

        … we shall pay any price, bear any burden meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty

        At the time, I hadn’t heard the JFK quote, and it stuck with me ever sense.

    • Enkidum says:

      I’ve read it all, though the last 50 issues or so are a real slog.

      Some parts of it are, frankly, among the best artistic creations I’ve ever encountered. Other parts of it… less so.

      The fact that Sim went batshit insane about 1/2 the way through makes it extra interesting. Even by the standards of most of the commenters here, I suspect his anti-feminism is over the top. He sincerely believes that female-ness is the primal nullifying destructive force of the universe, that ruin all that is holy and worthwhile. This is not, so far as I can tell, a metaphor or way of expressing a complicated truth – women are just inherently evil, and that’s the way it is.

      Of course this only comes out after he’s written 100 or so issues featuring some of the most fully-realized female characters I’ve ever read written by a man. If you read the letter pages, there are some hints as to what was going on in his life (he had at least one schizophrenic episode, and broke up with his longtime girlfriend, among other things), and after this point all women are only written as ultimately evil and/or worthless (though frequently they are very well written examples of such characters). By the end, he’s become a kind of fundamentalist Christian/Muslim in a church of one, writing screeds about how the success of the Iraq War (ha. ha. ha.) is proof that God supports Bush Jr. The last few dozen issues are essentially him proselytizing, and contain such highlights as Cerebus copying out large segments of holy texts in order to better educate us. It’s… an interesting change from the first couple of hundred issues, to say the least.

      Church and State is one of the high points, but there’s plenty of others. I thought Jaka’s Story was one of the best presentations I’ve seen of the frustrations associated with being a sheltered girl (this was pre-shit-publicly-hitting-the-fan, and presumably before his opinions changed). Guys is written long after everything went weird, but is still one of the funniest things I’ve read, it is a perfect encapsulation of what it is like to hang out with a bunch of, well, guys, and get drunk.

      He’s a superb writer, Neil Gaiman once said that other than Jeff Smith (Bone), Sim is the best pacer of jokes he’s ever read. He’s also a wonderful draftsman, and there are almost perfect panels long after the words became something I could no longer pay much attention to.

      So, yeah. Mixed feelings. Definitely worth it.

      • Randy M says:

        Even by the standards of most of the commenters here, I suspect his anti-feminism is over the top.

        Try me.

        He sincerely believes that female-ness is the primal nullifying destructive force of the universe, that ruin all that is holy and worthwhile.

        Well okay then. I’ll give you that one.

        So, yeah. Mixed feelings. Definitely worth it.

        Come for the jokes stay for the trainwreck? Oddly tempting.

        • Enkidum says:

          Come for the jokes stay for the trainwreck? Oddly tempting.

          Definitely come for the jokes. His take on Groucho Marx is also one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and his versions of The Beatles and Rolling Stones are pretty great (including Mick n Keef snorting up driveway gravel when they run out of drugs). And that doesn’t even get into the spoofs of other comics, which occupies probably 10% of the first 2/3 of the series.

          I can think of multiple panels off the top of my head and start giggling instantly, and I haven’t read it in a few years.

          It should be tempting to read. It’s really one of the unique artistic creations out there, as Sim was fond of pointing out, a similar kind of sustained effort on his part as Proust put into A La Recherche Des Temps Perdu, but a lot more jokes.

          As for the anti-woman stuff – yeah, one reeeeally wants to read it as some kind of rhetorical over-exaggeration or something like that. But you read the letter pages, where people write to him saying things like “Hey, my wife and I are both fans of your stuff, and I just wanted to let you know that not all women are they way you write them, ” and his response is simply to double down, with no detectable trace of irony. It’s… really quite something. I’m no psychiatrist, but there’s clearly some kind of psychosis involved (although he’s been very angry about people saying stuff like that, but honestly he’s lost any right to complain at this point).

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      I sort this under “Jung is a hell of a drug.” It’s work I find at times compelling and at times insightful, but never both at once.

      It gets points for experimentality, and the artwork reaches some sublime highs. I would be impressed if I saw it on someone’s shelf, and I’d hope to god “yin and yang” wouldn’t come up in any subsequent conversations.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ve only read some of the earlier sections and the last two volumes (skipping the anti-woman material). On the last two volumes, there was something about the cross-hatching which seemed to be good for my soul, and I was pleased to find out that Sim didn’t do the inking.

      One thing that sticks with me was his description of realizing he could draw *anything* he wanted, instead of the rather uninspired Conan parody. The first thing was a harlequin-patterned gargoyle. I don’t know whether this has been reprinted.

      After a while, I got tired of the wordiness of the Groucho Marx and Foghorn Leghorn parodies, but the wordless issue of a giant picking Cerebus up and throwing him sticks in memory, and so does the one of Cerebus (a very dangerous dictator by then) standing in a painful position because that’s what the sculptor making a statue of him wants.

      One of the last volumes has an interesting essay about the three stooges having impeccable timing they developed in vaudeville.

  20. Tenacious D says:

    Does anyone have advice about bats? I’ve woken up in the middle of the night a couple of times recently to one flying in circles around my bedroom. I’m not sure how it got there; my best guess is crawling through a three-quarter inch gap under the door, but that still leaves the question of how it’s getting into the house. Each time I trapped it in a bucket the next day while it was sleeping. The first time I released it outside but this time I’m less inclined to do so.

    • broblawsky says:

      Where do you live? Because if it’s somewhere where rabies is endemic, this is a serious rabies risk.

        • Eltargrim says:

          Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick have all had confirmed cases of rabies in bats in the last five years, Ontario and Quebec this year as well. If you have no obvious bites, consider consulting your family doctor or an urgent care clinic as to whether you should be vaccinated. If you have obviously been bitten or scratched, seek the vaccine immediately.

          • broblawsky says:

            Just to reinforce this: rabies is very treatable via vaccination before symptoms show up, which can take months. Once symptoms show up, AFAIK, the only treatment is induced coma, which only has a ~50% survival rate and can lead to brain damage even if it succeeds.

          • Lancelot says:

            Once symptoms show up, AFAIK, the only treatment is induced coma, which only has a ~50% survival rate and can lead to brain damage even if it succeeds.

            The survival rate for the induced coma procedure is less than 10%.

    • herbert herberson says:

      They’re entering your living space from the attic, probably via a chimney gap or by getting in the walls and following them down through an unfinished basement. The only surefire way to handle them is to exclude them from your attic by hiring a guy to go over the exterior and either cover their entry-exit points or install one-way doors on them (you don’t want to trap them inside the attic, for reasons that range from regulatory, to humaneness, to practical)

    • metacelsus says:

      As broblawsky said, this is a serious rabies risk. If you can, try to capture/kill the bat and take it to your local animal control center for testing (they need its brain in order to test, so if you kill it yourself, make sure to leave that intact). If you can’t, I would get the rabies shots just to be safe. Bat teeth are small enough that they can bite you without you noticing it.

      When I was young, a bat hid in my brother’s shoe and bit him when he put it on. We brought it in for testing, and thankfully it didn’t have rabies.

    • Enkidum says:

      Very unlikely they’re getting in from the door. As others have said, the attic is the most likely. It can be a real pain in the ass to seal off properly, but once it’s done, you never have to do it again.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Thanks for the advice everyone. I’ve arranged to get the bat tested tomorrow and I’m looking into getting the vaccine (no obvious bite or scratch marks, but it sounds like a case where it’s best to err on the side of caution).

    • Well... says:

      Does anyone have advice about bats? I’ve woken up in the middle of the night a couple of times recently to one flying in circles around my bedroom.

      I think of myself as someone who like bats but Jesus Fucking Christ.

      Also: a 3/4″ gap under your door?!?! Do you live in the bathroom facility at a public campground or something??

      • acymetric says:

        I don’t think that is all that unusual for internal doors. He’s talking about the bedroom door, not the front door.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I think that you may be confusing 3/4 inches (3/4″) for 3/4 foot (3/4′ or 9″). A 3/4′ gap under a door would be insane, but a 3/4″ gap is pretty normal.

        • Aapje says:

          That’s almost 2 centimeters, which is a very large gap. Then again, American building standards seem poor, so perhaps it is normal where you live.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s probably the result of flooring changes. Some of the doors in my house have about a 3/4″ gap under them, but the floors used to be hardwood or tile with a raised threshold at the doorway. Now some are continuous tile (same floor from foyer to powder room), and others are joined wall-to-wall carpet with no threshold. The main bathrooms (which are tile-to-carpet) retain a threshold, and have a smaller gap. I believe 1/4″ above the finished floor (or threshold) is more typical.

            Apparently in some new houses they rely on the gaps under the doors for HVAC return (to save money on ducting), and then the gaps have to be enormous. I would hope that’s only in very low-end houses, because that would look horrible.

          • Randy M says:

            Legacy of shag carpet?

          • Cliff says:

            Apparently in some new houses they rely on the gaps under the doors for HVAC return (to save money on ducting), and then the gaps have to be enormous. I would hope that’s only in very low-end houses, because that would look horrible.

            I have a high-end house that I built and yes the gaps are about 1″ for HVAC efficiency and it looks completely normal.

        • Well... says:

          No, I meant a 3/4 INCH gap, which is huge — but I assumed he meant an exterior door, not an interior one.

          • acymetric says:

            Just to make sure, you’re reading that as “0.75 inches” and not “three to four inches” right?

            That would definitely be really weird for an outside door but I would guess is pretty common for interior doors where being a tight seal not only isn’t necessary but may actually be undesirable.

          • Well... says:

            Hah, yes. 0.75 inches.

            Yes, I agree with your second paragraph.

      • Tenacious D says:

        To clarify about the door, it is indeed an interior door. The floors are hardwood, but I think at some previous point in the life of the house (before I owned it) there was carpet on top. In addition , the house was built in the 1930s, so some things have shifted and settled enough over the years that tight clearances would be prone to bind.

      • Beck says:

        Nybbler’s right; doors are sometimes undercut up to around 1″ to provide return air ventilation in rooms with closed doors. I’m not sure how well it works.

    • Polycarp says:

      I had a bat in the bedroom one night. I closed the door to the rest of the house to keep it contained. It flew in circles and one of my cats knocked it to the floor a couple of times and tussled with it. I eventually caught the bat and brought it to a vet the next day to be tested. It was rabid. (The cat had had her shots and got a booster. No problem there.)

      I don’t think it bit me, but the county health department convinced me to get the series of shots. First day: a dose of human rabies immune globulin and the first of three rabies vaccine shots. The other two vaccine shots were spaced out over the next two or three works. (It’s been a few years.) The shots were not a big deal, but they were expensive (and covered by insurance).

  21. Elliot says:

    Has anyone tried a ketogenic diet for >1 month? If so, did you notice any cognitive changes?

    The cognitive benefits seem to have weak scientific but strong anecdotal support. I have a friend with fibromyalgia who reckons it greatly improves her tiredness and brain fog. I don’t have any diseases like that, but I am tired and brain foggy a lot. I’ve tried sleep and exercise interventions, with some success, but I decided to try keto. It’s supposed to take a month for your metabolism to adjust, and after about 3 or 4 weeks I had a 2 week period where I felt extremely high energy and happy, and did the best work of my PhD.

    I then fell out of keto by making a few mistakes, and the effect went away. I travelled a lot shortly after, so didn’t try to maintain it, but now I’m going to try it again to see if it was coincidence or not.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      I had a solid 4 month run of picture perfect Keto, followed by a month and a half of increasingly bad keto unto failure. The physical effects by the second month were pretty clear. My breath tasted revolting and gastrointestinal attitudes changed, and I was losing weight. To me the most distinct “cognitive” effect was a complete and total lack of blood sugar spikes. This has a stabilizing effect on my mood. But I’m already sort of stoic to a fault so it felt like almost overly neutral.

      It made the anhedonic episode I was having at the time less miserable, but really took away a lot of the joy of food and eating. I feel it was a success for a bit of weight loss and really keying me into what exactly blood sugar feels like (it’s a constant background noise that I thought I knew from binging on snacks and the subsequent crash but there’s a whole spectrum of more subtle effects that I’d never have attributed to blood sugar).

      Brain fog it decidedly did not help. Exercise was the thing I needed there. I’m of the opinion that keto is just not that sustainable (god forbid you want to meet friends for drinks or dinner), but it’s worth a try.

      • acymetric says:

        My (lay) understanding is that keto really isn’t a sustainable, healthy diet for otherwise healthy people (not is it intended to be). It is intended to treat/reduce symptoms of certain conditions that are worse than the effects of keto.

        I could believe that a sort of…keto-based or keto-lite type diet could be beneficial, but full on keto is a medical treatment, not a healthy way to live.

        • j1000000 says:

          “full on keto is a medical treatment, not a healthy way to live.”

          This may be the standard advice of doctors, but it is not what the keto evangelicals on the Internet believe.

          • acymetric says:


          • Nicholas says:

            The Swedish government apparently officially recommends a low-carb, moderate to high fat diet rather than the ‘standard western’ low fat, high carb diet. So maybe it depends on where your sample of ‘standard doctors’ live (and perhaps how much agro business lobbies there) ?

          • acymetric says:

            There is a huge difference between “low-carb, high fat” and a full-on keto diet.

    • chaosmage says:

      I guess I could report somewhat better homeostasis. Less distraction by background feelings of appetite and elation that I now know were caused by blood sugar. But to be fair the effect is so subtle I’m not confident I could distinguish it from placebo.

      For me the most pronounced effect is a reduced need for sleep. I think that counts as a cognitive benefit because it gives me more hours of cognition per day. Many, but not all keto eaters report having this effect, and I seem to have gotten more of it than most. I’ve gone from feeling great with eight hours of sleep and okay with six to feeling great with six and a half and okay with five.

    • Nicholas says:

      My wife and I were keto for about 2 years, with the exception that we never kept keto when traveling internationally (why go to Italy if you’re not going to eat the pasta?). I didn’t see large cognitive effects, but I did notice a lack of blood sugar related mood effects (e.g., “hangry”). My wife felt this effect to a more extreme extent, and is actually the reason we ended up leaving keto; she felt her mood was over-regulated, curbing her high end as well as her low end.

    • sentientbeings says:

      Has anyone tried a ketogenic diet for >1 month? If so, did you notice any cognitive changes?

      Yes, and yes (and they were positive changes). The strength of the effect is confounded in my experience by the fact that I’ve typically stuck to a rigorous strength training regimen while following a ketogenic diet. Exercise has cognitive effects as well.

  22. Concavenator says:

    Economy-related question from someone who knows absolutely nothing about economy:

    What would be the flaws and benefits of an energy-backed currency? Say, something like a 100-kilojoule bill that can purchase any good or service that takes 100 kilojoules to produce or perform.
    One obvious flaw is that while I imagine energy-cost would model supply decently, it wouldn’t follow demand very well, as a vial of CancerCure™ and a sufficiently large pile of dirt would have the same price even though everybody would want the former and nobody the latter. This page proposes a system where the price of electricity (and presumably other forms of energy) varies according to the market, but the government adds or withdraws money to keep the $/kWh ratio within a preset range and under a guaranteed price. How workable/useful would that be?
    This post claims that it would prevent fractional-reserve banking, which I heard is important for economic investment (but wouldn’t that also be true of gold-standard currency?)
    It would make for a fixed exchange rate in international commerce, but unlike the gold standard it wouldn’t privilege countries with deposits of a specific resource, since energy comes in many sources and forms that can be objectively measured and compared. It would also assure that everyone has at least some amount of money by virtue of being alive.
    (Great advances in information-capturing technology would cause inflation, but I couldn’t tell how frequent or severe it would be.)

    • Anthony says:

      Any commodity-backed currency fixes the nominal price of that commodity, but nothing else. Having an energy-backed currency will not automatically result in the price of anything else being at, or even near, the energy required to produce it.

      The first big result will be to shut down production of what are now high-priced sources of energy, since printing dollars at a cost of $1.05 isn’t a business worth being in.

      However, as energy is a big input into almost all products, the price of any product or service in a competitive market will tend to approach the energy required for its production, because energy is required for all inputs, including secondary, tertiary, etc. inputs.

      By the way, that vial of cancer cure will have a really high energy cost because it has to pay off all the R&D that went into its creation as well as the manufacturing. But so will the pile of dirt – dirt weighs a lot, and lifting it out of the ground takes a lot of energy. (For a reasonable small pile, you’ve taken dirt that was an average of 3 feet below ground and moved it to an average of 2 feet above ground. A cubic foot of dirt weighs 120 pounds. So that’s 600 foot-pounds per cubic foot, or not quite 30 kJ/m^3.

    • MartMart says:

      I’m not sure how big of a problem this would be in practice, but at least in theory its interesting
      Energy demand fluctuates thru the day (for electricity) or on different days of the week and year (for gasoline)
      If we nominally lock the price of electricity, that means that other prices will fluctuate in relation to it in a cyclical pattern. Prices for normal goods will fall in the afternoons and weekends. A hot memorial day would be the ideal time to buy expensive goods.

    • eigenmoon says:

      There are already cryptocurrencies backed by data storage (Siacoin, Storj, MaidSafeCoin) and by computing power (Golem). But who’s using them?

      Suppose scientists finally nail fusion. What will happen? I guess roughly the same thing that happened when Spanish galleons brought lots of gold from the New World back to Europe. (It wasn’t pretty.)

      • Suppose scientists finally nail fusion. What will happen? I guess roughly the same thing that happened when Spanish galleons brought lots of gold from the New World back to Europe. (It wasn’t pretty.)

        Incidentally, what happens to the electronics industry in 21xx when spaceships bring lots of rare earths back from asteroids to Earth?

    • broblawsky says:

      The biggest risk is that Nwabudike Morgan might buy the planet.

      And when at last it is time for the transition from megacorporation to planetary government, from entrepreneur to emperor, it is then that the true genius of our strategy shall become apparent, for energy is the lifeblood of this society and when the chips are down he who controls the energy supply controls Planet. In former times the energy monopoly was called “The Power Company”; we intend to give this name an entirely new meaning.

      • Matt M says:

        “Resources exist to be consumed, and consumed they will be! If not by this generation than by some future.”

        Sorry, that’s all I can remember off the top of my head.

        • sentientbeings says:

          I plan to live forever, of course. Barring that, I’d settle for
          couple thousand years. Even five hundred would be pretty nice.

          From the Longevity Vaccine secret project video, I think?

      • Concavenator says:

        Life is merely an orderly decay of energy states, and survival requires the continual discovery of new energy to pump into the system. He who controls the sources of energy controls the means of survival.

        … Not gonna lie, this is exactly why I was thinking about energy-backed currency in the first place. In fact, I’ll quote:

        In context, SMAC posits that in the future, currency is represented as energy credits… So, presumably, an energy credit is the right to some number of Joules derived from one of those sources… Wealth, for [Morgan], is energy; the latent power to shape the universe to his will. And there’s no opting out of the game. If you fail to come up with enough energy, you die… Wealth and profit, as properly measured by net energy produced, are necessarily good. In fact, Morgan would argue that it’s the only coherent idea of what “doing good” could possibly mean, for humans embedded in physics. Profitable trade is therefore good because it is positive sum. When denominated in energy credits, it is tautologically true that more overall energy is captured from the environment because of the exchange than would have been available otherwise, or the two parties would not have made the deal.

    • Nicholas says:

      This is basically a technocratic update to labor theory of value, with all of the accompanying theoretical problems. For instance: how can you tell, looking at a pile of widgets which were produced efficiently and which weren’t? Or, a perfectly cooked cake becomes actually cheaper than a dry, burnt one that was left in the oven too long (using more energy). Same with day old doughnuts, which had to be moved more times than fresh ones…

      Since value is actually subjective, pricing schemes based on inputs always leads to the “mud pie problem”.

      • sentientbeings says:

        This is basically a technocratic update to labor theory of value, with all of the accompanying theoretical problems.

        That is not at all what it is. Rather, it is similar to other commodity-backed currencies, but uses a commodity guaranteed to always have non-negligible value because of its use as an input to literally every production process – everything that humans want requires it. Even under scenarios in which energy becomes extremely cheap, it is essentially impossible for it to fall into the “too expensive to track” range of abundance. There are a lot of interesting points of analysis in terms of pros/cons, but they basically fall into the normal categories of analysis for what makes a good or bad money.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          The version described at your link is somewhat similar to other commodity-backed currencies, though if I’m understanding it correctly it would require a given amount of energy delivered in one form (say, a liter of gasoline) to trade at par with the same amount of energy delivered in any other form, which would raise some serious Gresham’s Law issues.

          But I’m not seeing, at the link, the additional requirement which you appear to have added:

          a 100-kilojoule bill that can purchase any good or service that takes 100 kilojoules to produce or perform.

          This would only be analogous to commodity money if, for example, a gold standard required that every item bought or sold be priced, somehow, in proportion to the amount of gold it contains. (Or perhaps you meant this as a prediction rather than a requirement? If so, it’s pretty obviously a false one.)

          • Concavenator says:

            It wasn’t there; the link was just an example of one proposal of energy-backed currency, a milder and more practical one, certainly. The kilojoule bill would be part of a more “extreme” implementation.

          • sentientbeings says:

            I think there was a mix-up in order of replies, but your comment made me realize I should clarify something about my response to Nicholas. I was discussing a general concept of energy-as-monetary-backing, which is similar to other commodities, but interesting for some of the same reasons as data-storage- and computing-power-backed monies, mentioned by eigenmoon.

            There might be certain problems related to Concavenator’s idea or at his links (which I haven’t yet read) that run into the problem Nicholas mentioned (or others).

        • Nicholas says:

          “Say, something like a 100-kilojoule bill that can purchase any good or service that takes 100 kilojoules to produce or perform.”

          You seem to be proposing bean-counting joules during production, then setting the consumer price equal to their sum. This is an input-derived value scheme plain and simple.

          An energy-backed currency might be a futures product redeemable for 100 kilojoules at some date, or a pure commodity exchange could be actually paying in energy stored on batteries: instead of swiping a card, plug your wallet in and let the store drain a few joules out. But crucially in either of these cases, prices float based on subjective value regardless of their energy inputs to produce.

      • sentientbeings says:

        As a further explanation, consider the difference between doing useful work and just expelling heat from a system. Igniting fuel in an internal combustion engine is valuable because people want to move about; setting that fuel on fire in a trash can in the middle of a desert is the mud pie analogue.

        Energy as a commodity is the stored ability to do useful work; LTV equivalent would be including waste heat as valuable. They’re basically physically opposite propositions.

    • Phigment says:

      What does “Energy backed” mean, in this case?

      Traditionally, when a currency is backed by something, it means you can literally trade that currency for a quantity of that thing.

      I.e., if your currency is backed by silver, a person can (un theory) take a dollar bill, walk in to the Federal Reserve Bank HQ or whatever, and trade it for a slug of silver.

      So, imagine your energy-backed currency. Where are you going to take your dollar bill, hand it to the teller, and get a few kilowatt-hours of energy? How is it going to be delivered, how are you going to transport it, how are you going to store it? How are you going to resell it?

      If you’re using a commodity to back currency, you want to use a commodity that has stable value, and a reasonably long shelf life. That’s why precious medals are historically a very useful currency backing, and grain or timber are OK, and fresh fish are pretty bad.

      Energy strikes me as closer to acting like fish than it does to acting like gold. You usually want exactly the amount of energy you’re going to use right now, it doesn’t store well, and it doesn’t transport easily without lots of infrastructure.

      That’s setting aside all the questions about the merits and demerits of a backed currency vs. a fiat currency.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Not really sure what you are attempting to accomplish. The post Bretton Woods system has worked decently well. Nations not responsible enough to run their own currency tend to dollarize.

      On the specific question of fixing exchange rates between nations, that’s not really desirable. Monetary freedom, free capital flow, fixed prices: pick two. Why should I pick Fixed Prices over Monetary Freedom? I think Monetary Freedom is important to deal with economic slowdowns.

    • John Schilling says:

      What would be the flaws and benefits of an energy-backed currency? Say, something like a 100-kilojoule bill that can purchase any good or service that takes 100 kilojoules to produce or perform.

      No good or service takes just 100 kJ to produce or perform. Any good or service of real value requires some quantity of energy, plus labor, capital, and non-energy raw materials to perform. That being the case, your proposal seems to require that all goods and services be sold below cost, and drives all productivity to raw energy creation. Someone who otherwise would have e.g. produced a taco to sell to someone who wants to eat a taco, will instead focus on the part of the process where they amass a taco-producing quantity of energy and then reason “now I can skip the rest of the process, like buying expensive taco ingredients, and just turn this energy into kJ banknotes and demand someone sell me a taco (to consume or resell) with no further effort on my part”. No tacos will actually be made, everyone will starve. Or deal on the black market, because I think you may have introduced a literally infinitely deflationary currency.

      If you skip the part where the 100 kJ note can purchase any good or service that takes 100 kilojoules to produce or perform, you just have a commodity-based currency with all the flaws and benefits thereof. We’ve already shown that commodities can work tolerably well as the foundation of a currency, particularly if you keep them deeply buried the way foundations are supposed to be and live your daily economic life several layers of abstraction above the foundation. See e.g. the gold standard.

      But, commodity-based currencies tend to distort the market for that commodity, which we would probably rather do with something marginal like gold rather than something central like energy. You’re going to have to define a particular form of energy for actual currency use, e.g. 480V three-phase AC electricity, because unlike gold, energy comes in many non-interchangeable forms at greatly varying costs. And while it is possible to use perishable commodities as the basis for a currency, that does magnify the instabilities inherent in such. Energy is particularly perishable, in that I don’t think we don’t have a good way to even store energy a single day without the storage reservoir costing more than its energy content. That’s going to be a problem for the store-of-value function of money.

      Not recommended, I should think.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      A masterpiece painting by a famous artist and a crappy amateur painting of similar size made with a similar technique require about the same amount of energy to be produced. Are you going to price them the same?

  23. dndnrsn says:

    Hello, and welcome to a special bonus installment of my effortpost series! The next installment, Luke-Acts, is probably going to be a little longer in the proofreading stage than expected. However, I decided to pull out and present separately, now, one thing I was planning to include.

    Both Luke and Acts (overwhelmingly thought, both by Christian tradition and by secular scholarship, to have the same author) begin with a foreword of sorts, addressed to a “Theophilus”. The name “Theophilus” means, in Greek, “lover of God” or “beloved of God” – it was not an uncommon name in the Greek-speaking world of the period. This person isn’t identified, and one question is obvious: Who is this? This mini-installment addresses a few of the scholarly attempts to answer that question, and looks at one of the issues it raises.

    The simplest explanation is a fairly obvious one, namely, that Theophilus was a patron or otherwise important person, for whom the author wrote. This person is now unknown to us. Another theory is that “Theophilus” is an idealized reader, or a metaphor for a community of believers, or of all believers, in the same way as an author might address a reader as “friend” or “dear reader”.

    There’s another scholarly theory which is a bit more interesting. Theophilus is addressed in Luke by the same mode – “most excellent” in English – as is used a few times in Acts to refer to Roman governors. This indicates, they posit, that the Gospel of Luke and Acts were written for a Roman official.

    Why? One explanation is that Luke and Acts were intended to show that Jesus’ life and the new religion weren’t against or a threat to the Roman status quo. Supposed evidence is offered for this from Luke: Pontius Pilate arguably looks better than in the other synoptics, and while Mark and Matthew have the centurion comment, after Jesus’ death, that he was the son of God, in Luke, the centurion actually says that Jesus was innocent. Meanwhile, in Acts, while Paul gets in trouble with the authorities, it is not because he has done anything wrong – it is because others agitate against him and cause trouble.

    There are counteraguments to this. One is that writing so much addressed to someone who is not already a favourable audience doesn’t seem especially believable. Another is that the Roman authorities aren’t presented in a uniformly positive way – neither Pilate, nor the authorities that go after Paul; while the centurion notes that Jesus is innocent, the Roman soldiery still abuse him. However, it raises an interesting point – even if Luke and Acts are written for a Christian individual or community, the books might have an apologetic purpose. Christians might face the charge that their religion is antisocial and a threat to the established order – perhaps the intent is to equip them with arguments against that?

    In any case, that’s a little taste of the scholarship surrounding the question of who, exactly, Luke and Acts are addressed to. Next up, I’ll do Luke and Acts more generally.

    • Randy M says:

      There’s another scholarly theory which is a bit more interesting. Theophilus is addressed in Luke by the same mode – “most excellent” in English

      I was surprised, I think pleasantly, that this post didn’t end up being a “Bill and Ted” joke.

    • eigenmoon says:

      Some questions from the top of my head, so I might not be able to provide you with references for them:

      1. What’s the relationship with Luke and Marcion’s Gospel? Despite the church claiming that Marcion’s version is shortened Luke, it also suspiciously could be expanded Mark. What’s the chance that Luke is expanded Marcion?
      2. Why there are two versions of Acts, the longer and the shorter one?
      3. Why the Apostolic Council’s prohibition to eat blood is in every manuscript of the Acts but not in any quote by Christian writers?

      • dndnrsn says:

        Let me look at my books when I’ve got a moment. I know one talks a bunch about the longer/shorter Acts manuscript stuff, which is the opposite of the usual pattern.

      • dndnrsn says:

        1. Scholars seem to mostly back the idea that it’s a cut-down Luke. I don’t really know enough about it to have an informed opinion.
        2. I’ll talk a bit about this in my next installment.
        3. My understanding is that it’s largely a reinforcing of the Noahide rules, so maybe considered as a given? I’ll poke around a bit more – I’m not firing on all cylinders right now.

    • S_J says:

      I’ve seen thought-pieces claiming that the Gospel of Luke and/or Acts of the Apostles were drafted to aid in the legal defense of Apostle Paul, when he appealed to Ceasar.

      It fits some of the evidence about how the Roman authorities are presented in the book, and may even fit the honorific “Most Excellent”…if there was a Roman official who was friendly to Paul, and who would be willing to accept the book as something to use in aiding in the defense of Paul.

      That also fits as an explanation for why the book of Acts ends where it does, instead of continuing with Paul’s trial and its end-result.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I suppose analyzing this would require knowledge of how Roman courts and so on worked – which I don’t have. Would a legal defence have looked like Luke-Acts? I don’t know.

  24. fr8train_ssc says:

    Interesting take on class/culture presentation at Yale, which reminded me of a sort of inverted version of Right Is The New Left from five years ago.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think she veers towards getting the reason why what is happening at Yale is happening, but then moves off from it again:

      In effect, a large fraction of the administrators form a revolutionary class within the rest of the university structure. They use both their existing power and new ideological mandates to expand their own domain at the expense of other players. The purpose of the administrators is to shape, tear down, and rebuild the university on the institutional level, which lets them act on ideological goals in a way students and faculty generally cannot. The people filling these expanded roles often come from the student body itself, having served in student government or activist student organizations before transitioning into their bureaucratic roles after graduation. This is the human institutional structure behind the ideological phenomenon.

      She can see it in the institution but she fails to see it amongst her student peers (probably also for the same reason she hadn’t a clue her ‘dear friend Marcus’ could buy and sell her, or how he sees their ‘friendship’ – she may go to visit him, but does he ever go to visit her? she’s his token “but really, I did know an Actual Poor at university” story to share with his peers to show off his bona fides): Natalia, the students are not abdicating power because they’re not sure they want to have it, they’re uncomfortable with being the elite, and so on: this is power, this is the New Power, they’re the children of the elite and they recognise when power is changing form and hands; by morphing into the woke Champagne Socialists, they are ensuring that their hands are the ones that New Power is running through, just as their forebears had their hands on the traditional levers of power.

      Noblesse oblige and stepping up to take on the sober adult mantle of responsibility is how power was transferred yesterday, but today power is wokeness and protest and allyship. The elite children are doing what the elite always do: chameleon colouration. The children of billionaires with their own private penthouses and bodyguards while attending Yale? Playing at povery, slumming it? This is how they will survive the transition. The billionaires will be philanthropists as they always were; the Good Causes will merely change from “saving fallen women” to “sex positivity and removing the stigma of sex work”, but the social credit and protection engendered will remain, so instead of calling for the rope and the lamp post there will be earnest pieces about how no, really, honest it’s much better if Joff Zuckates gets billions after tax and then donates a slice of that to Good Causes rather than the people uprising and dragging Joff off in a tumbril.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Good comment. A small point:

        The elite children are doing what the elite always do: chameleon colouration.

        Probably selection at work, more than anything else. The ones that will manage to inherit the elite status are the ones that have the luck/insight to ride the right wave. Probably more luck than insight.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This looks pretty culture-warry.

    • Peffern says:

      I just want to say that, as an Ivy League college student right now, this might be the most hard hitting thing I’ve read recently. It’s extremely, painfully accurate. Give it a read if you care about what happens on campus.

    • haroldedmurray says:

      Can anyone sum up the article? I really can’t stand long form journalism!

      • acymetric says:

        For me, long form journalism is fine. I can’t stand turning everything into video/audio content (I don’t mind making that available as a supplement). Let me read what there is to be said at the pace I can read, don’t make it take 10 times longer by making me listen to you actually say it.

        • haroldedmurray says:

          I don’t agree, but I can understand that some people might feel that way about audio (also I liberally use the speed feature of audiobooks. Increasing up to 1.3 speed is still very understandable, and much faster).

          For me, long-form journalism always sounds so pretentious, like they’re trying to make it sound like they’re saying something deep and profound. It also sounds like they’re trying to pad the content with descriptions and accounts that aren’t really necessary, and ultimately just make me have to skim through more stuff. Just get to the point already! I wish they at least included a TLDR section.

          For the record, I love Scott’s writing and don’t think it’s long-form journalism, because it’s really long but isn’t stretching. It’s long because it’s exhaustive in covering all edge-cases and hypotheses, and has something to say.

          • gettin_schwifty says:

            I’m partway through and it’s closer to Scott than fluff, although the intro had me worried.

            The interesting part to me is that it’s clearly not egalitarian. “Elites have power” and “the middle class is powerless” are baseline assumptions. No democracy here.

      • Deiseach says:

        Can anyone sum up the article?

        Bare bones of it: author went to Yale on a scholarship as actual middle-class not loaded person. Many of her classmates and others there were slumming it but she thought they were genuinely as penniless as herself and she had a bit of a rude awakening about that.

        The rest of it is “why are these children of billionaires and millionaires pretending they can’t afford to go out to lunch on Sunday while they’re at eye-wateringly expensive universities?” and “how come all the protesting and agitating on behalf of the underprivileged and poor is being done by scions of the loaded, plus somehow real poor people never seem to get any of the fruits of all this protesting?” and she thinks it’s because the new generation are uncomfortable with their position of privilege, don’t really want the responsibility that goes along with power, and are adopting wokeness as a means of social and psychic defence: if they can convince themselves they’re not privileged/are fighting The Man, they can ignore the cognitive dissonance that they are being groomed to be The Man and that their social and familial circle is The Man.

        • albatross11 says:

          It’s not unheard of (or a bad parenting technique) for parents with money to let their kids go to college without a lot of spending money, so they learn they can live in a dorm and eat cafeteria food (or live in a crappy student apartment and eat what they cook themselves), and it won’t kill them. Being able to afford nice things is great; thinking you can’t live without nice things is making your servant into your master.

          • zzzzort says:

            But still you’ll never get it right,
            ‘Cause when you’re laid in bed at night,
            Watching roaches climb the wall,
            If you called your Dad he could stop it all.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I would say that the take is mostly formed on the biases of the writer, and it shows a fair amount of naivete.

      1. She meets someone who has an eating disorder and is plausibly abusing alcohol and likely self medicating with cigarettes. Bayesnian proirs, this guy is just a hard core cos player or he has a mental disorder that he has found an acceptable social cover for? This guy lies with every part of his being down to his physical health, Bayesian prior is that he is 100% hones with his words when he talks to you or also likely to lie about what he does, is and why?

      I had attended a summer program at the Center for Talented Youth at Princeton and befriended a well-spoken boy of 17 from Hartford. The other students mocked him—not for being poor, but for being too rich. They would elevate their voices into a high-pitched taunt to mock his prestigious prep-school. I was angry, but didn’t know what to say at the time. I had no idea that these students were themselves from Harvard-Westlake, a prestigious and prohibitively expensive private school in Beverly Hills. I had no idea that these kids were even richer than the boy they were mocking. The only difference was that my friend showed the tells of his class.

      If they were even richer than he was then the only difference is not your friend showed tells of his class, it was that they were from different strata of the upper class. She uncritically things that rich people are, or ought to be, generally the same, which is/was generally a knock against the rich when they assumed homogeneity across the poor.

      Her insights generally get clouded by this naive world view and makes me pretty suspicious of her conclusions.

      • Deiseach says:

        If they were even richer than he was then the only difference is not your friend showed tells of his class, it was that they were from different strata of the upper class.

        I think you’re correct there; it’s the same as pupils of particular public schools mocking kids who went to slightly lower in the pecking order public schools in the UK (which apparently extends even into so-called adult life); see this excerpt from a Guardian article of 2014 on the struggle to succeed to the leadership of the Conservative Party from David Cameron, with two camps around Michael Gove and George Osborne on one side and Boris Johnson on the other:

        Even Mr Gove’s most newsworthy observation this weekend is best seen in the context of the efforts to prevent Mr Johnson from becoming leader. There are too many Old Etonians in the Prime Minister’s inner circle, the Education Secretary said yesterday in an interview in the Financial Times. This was interpreted as an attack on Mr Cameron, and it is certainly true that the Tory leader does not like seeing his old school traduced.

        Yet Mr Gove and Mr Cameron are close friends, and the education reforms they have introduced in government are aimed in large part at kick-starting social mobility and reversing the trend of recent decades in which top private schools have reasserted their dominance in public life.

        Rather than attacking Mr Cameron, it seems more likely that in mentioning Eton, Mr Gove was seeking to make another point. A Tory MP said yesterday: “Who else went to Eton? Boris. Gove is saying don’t pick another Old Etonian as leader after Cameron. George went to St Paul’s.”

        Indeed, Mr Osborne was nicknamed “oiky Osborne” by some of his associates at Oxford, on account of him having attended St Paul’s School in London. While it is one of the top schools in Britain, it is more traditionally one for children of the ambitious west London middle classes, whereas Eton is regarded as being socially more elevated. On such small and ludicrous differences – irrelevant to most voters – are Tory feuds built.

        It sounds much more like the Harvard-Westlake kids were mocking the “oiky” Hartford boy, but because she wasn’t from those circles, she had (and has) no idea that was what was going on.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      I think there may be some real and valuable insights in this article. But it makes me uncomfortable because I think the author would see my behavior and lump it in with the dynamic she is describing, but I can see my motives from the inside and they’re not about posturing at all. I am a graduate student right now at an Ivy League institution. When my friends go out to lunch, I stay in and eat stuff I brought from home. If they ask why, I might say “I can’t afford it.” On the other hand, mostly due to my grandmother’s generosity, I have five figures of wealth I could call on if necessity demanded. Am I a hypocrite, pretending to be poor when I actually am part of the upper class?

      I don’t think so. What’s happening is that I am keeping a budget. My parents taught me the importance of living within your means, and saving money for later, and the power of compound interest. I have enough wealth to fall back on, but not enough wealth to squander. So I and my wife are living on my graduate student stipend, still trying to squirrel away money for later, and that is a tight, lower-middle class budget. And I’d suspect that this behavior is typical of much of the upper-class: not, perhaps, the catastrophically rich sort that Scott Alexander has been writing about recently, but the “have several million dollars in the bank and make six figures” upper class. A hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money and you can do a lot with it, but you still have to set boundaries for yourself, and you want to set them tightly enough that you’ll still be okay if something extremely bad happens.

      • Randy M says:

        Just like “I deserve it”, “I can’t afford it” doesn’t say as much about someone’s situation as it does about the person speaking, because everyone’s standards are different.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Yes, but even more than this rich people who are refusing to consume with good amounts of savings are not acting poor, they are acting rich. Rich people have much higher savings rates, which is one of the reasons they can become and stay rich.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, this, exactly.

            If you really want to act like a poor person, the correct way to do it is “spend every available dime you have on consumption goods, then borrow as much as lenders are willing to give you in order to consume even more.”

          • Randy M says:

            That’s true. But one person saying “I can’t afford it” means their credit cards are maxed and if they try to purchase it they’ll get tossed from the store.

            Another person means that if they take this expense then they have to go back and move some numbers around in the budget in order to meet their savings targets for the month.

          • Nornagest says:

            This isn’t entirely a class thing, there’s a personality element too. Class has its fingers on the scales, but there are savers and there are spenders; I’ve only once in my adult life had less than a couple months of expenses in the bank, for example, while my sister, with exactly the same class background, has lived paycheck to paycheck for most of hers. And she was a better student than I was in school, so putting it all down to conscientiousness doesn’t quite work either.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Matt M

            Interestingly, a serious problem with ex-poor sports stars. I want to say that something like 60% of NBA players go bankrupt within five years of leaving the league.

          • Matt M says:

            Broke: Don’t go to fancy brunch because it’s too expensive and you’re too poor to afford it
            Woke: Don’t go to fancy brunch because it’s kind of expensive and you want to signal that you’re not a rich elite
            Expanding brain: Find the money to go to fancy brunch because you’re poor but you want to fit in with the rich kids
            Galaxy brain: Going to fancy brunch with the rich kids is properly classified as an investment since you’re networking with the future elite

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            I mean—I agree that budgeting is a thing that keeps rich people rich (more generally, it preserves or increases personal wealth), and that this is an important part of what keeps the wealthy from becoming poor. But importantly, it isn’t a rich person behavior because of signaling, it is rooted in direct economic sense (at least as long as money does a decent job of holding its value).

          • If you really want to act like a poor person, the correct way to do it is “spend every available dime you have on consumption goods, then borrow as much as lenders are willing to give you in order to consume even more.”

            That isn’t the category of poor person the author of the essay is thinking of. She is “poor” in the sense of being from the bottom quintile of the income distribution. Her parents are, I think, Russian immigrants.

            So upwardly mobile immigrant poor, not welfare class poor.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That isn’t the category of poor person the author of the essay is thinking of. She is “poor” in the sense of being from the bottom quintile of the income distribution. Her parents are, I think, Russian immigrants.

            That would be her family, but no necessarily the families of everyone else in the neighborhoods she lived in.

      • Deiseach says:

        Am I a hypocrite, pretending to be poor when I actually am part of the upper class?

        No, but there is a great difference between “I can’t afford it because all my grant stipend has gone on paying necessary bills and I only have enough for a tin of beans until three months from now when I get the next payment” and “I can’t afford it because I am frugally living on a budget, but if I really needed to, there is plenty of money at home to support me”.

        So long as everyone, including yourself, is aware that you are being frugal and not trying to pass yourself off as “you took the subway? luxury! I always walk because that’s all I can afford” in order to rack up wokeness points over somebody else, then you’re not being a hypocrite.

        But this is what is at the heart of the Pulp song “Common People”:

        Rent a flat above a shop,
        Cut your hair and get a job.
        Smoke some fags and play some pool,
        Pretend you never went to school.
        But still you’ll never get it right,
        ‘Cause when you’re laid in bed at night,
        Watching roaches climb the wall,
        If you called your Dad he could stop it all.

        There’s the “frugal can’t afford it” who, if they needed to, could call a family member to bail them out, and there’s the “really can’t afford it” whose family members can only offer sympathy but don’t have any slack themselves to bail them out.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          There’s the “frugal can’t afford it” who, if they needed to, could call a family member to bail them out, and there’s the “really can’t afford it” whose family members can only offer sympathy but don’t have any slack themselves to bail them out.

          Even then there are shades – my family couldn’t spare anything to help me out if I asked for it, but barring a problem that costs me my job, I’m able to afford most things. I’d simply be unwise to spend on them. My back’s a few inches from the wall, but I still wouldn’t call myself broke or poor.

          • SamChevre says:

            And don’t forget the “I could always go home, and have enough to eat and a roof at least, but eating rice with eggs and corn oil is better.”

            That was me.

            (A 10-pound bag of rice, 2 dozen eggs, and a bottle of corn oil and you have 2 weeks of food for about $15.)

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          There’s a level worse off than “family can only offer sympathy”– “family is tapping you for money”. For purposes of this discussion, it doesn’t matter whether the family is careful with money but has very little income or the family just spends everything that comes in.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        But the guy in the article she’s describing has nine figures of wealth.

      • haroldedmurray says:

        I agree a little. I also would say “I’m broke” because I didn’t want to go out to eat, or it didn’t fit into my budget. But I also was made to feel shame for being more well off, and felt like I should (and one time I did) publicly apologize for being more privileged than someone. It’s possible that all the anti-well-off sentiment bubbling underneath the surface of all my interactions made me more likely to say “I’m broke” as a way of making myself feel less shame for my well-off(ish) upbringing.

    • Shion Arita says:

      I read the whole article earlier today and marinated on it a bit before replying. Upon reflection, a lot of the claims made sense, but they were the ones that I’ve heard elsewhere and already agree with (like the wokeness thing is largely a signaling game in general, and rarely helps anyone it’s supposedly there to help. Also it is kind of a basilisk in that it increases in power by threatening to target you unless you come on board too). But a lot of things really didn’t make sense, and I’m in a position where I have experience with similar things myself.

      A lot of the claims of rich people pretending to be poor and/or hiding they’re rich really didn’t jibe with my experiences. Now, I went to a high-tier private school (though not Yale specifically), and I graduated in the early 2010s rather than the late 2010s. So it is possible that Yale is different than my school (which I’d rate as kind of unlikely) and it’s also possible that things have substantially changed over time (which seems more likely to me but I’m still skeptical.) However, by my estimations, this whole Wokeness thing really took off in 2014, by which time I was no longer an undergraduate. I did go to graduate school at a similarly-ranked university, but I did not interact with the undergraduate students in a way that I would be able to really get the scoop on what was going on with them. I did notice more social justice stuff happening on campus in general, like protests or whatever, but that also extended to the graduate student groups and stuff like that as well, so maybe it is just a sign of the times.

      So what was my experience with the wealthy at my school? They certainly were there; most students were ‘upper-middle class’, with a decent number of ‘upper class’ ones as well. The upper class ones didn’t really try to hide their status, but didn’t flaunt it either. Like we would know ‘oh so and so is the son of [whoever]’, and people would know that, and know they had a lot of money, but people also wouldn’t talk about it that much because it really wasn’t that interesting. Also sometimes people would say things like “my roommate is really wealthy and his parents got him a really expensive condo, and I’m living there rent free.” and also some people you could kind of tell they were aristocratic Chinese or Indian or whatever, but again, this was usually just kind of background information that you had but didn’t really pay that much attention to. There also were some people who came from poorer backgrounds, and again sometimes they would talk about it but it didn’t really mean much. To be honest, they way it came up most for me was shocking people with stories about all the shit that went down at my inner-city high school. But that was kind of just an urban/suburban thing essentially.

      Basically, I guess what I’m getting at was that I did see a good number of wealthy people, and saw no people who tried to hide their economic status, nor tried to particularly signal about it at all one way or the other. To be honest, I think that this is because in college your family’s wealth doesn’t really factor that much into your status in those social circles, so it’s just not a point of focus at all. I think this is kind of unique to college specifically, because as a college student you don’t really have any personal wealth yourself and you’re essentially socially independent of your parents.

      In my experience, the whole wokeness thing is largely pushed by middle class/upper middle class people, and the wealthy only sign on to some extent and mostly just to avoid being targeted.

      • Gossage Vardebedian says:

        This is a good comment. I would only add that many of these upper-middle class kids, or lower-upper, or whatever, don’t think of themselves as wealthy, because like everyone else, they see wealthier kids and think those are the rich people. Most kids in their high school were just as wealthy as them. It’s the same conversation we’ve had around here a dozen times.

  25. hash872 says:

    There was a brief discussion about negotiating down healthcare provider bills I think last week. Does anyone want to share any tips or best practices? Do you just call the billing department of a hospital chain and say ‘hey I don’t have the money, want to negotiate or get nothing’? I have a four figure bill from an MRI with contrast dye injection that I’d like to whittle down- especially as I had the exact same procedure twice last year (at different hospitals), and it cost $500 and $1000 respectively (after insurance).

    I actually do have the money to pay the bill, and I am in no way poor- so if they ask to see my tax return from last year or something (like, ‘oh we have a low income plan’ or something), I will be out of luck. I’m self-employed and have a high deductible Obamacare plan. I just feel….. punchy enough to want to get a better deal (I spent 5 figures on healthcare last year!), and I have absolutely zero compunctions about lying about my financial status, making ultimatums, making threats that I won’t pay and will disappear to Outer Mongolia, etc.

    What has worked for everyone else?

    • Randy M says:

      Yeah, my daughter fell off a horse a month back, and we’re looking at about $600 for a single X-ray, after insurance. That’s not exactly a horror story, but since it’s for a simple procedure it seems very high. I’m glad we held off on the CT scan or whatever else it was that was recommended when they first saw her.

      Sorry, though, I don’t have any advice. I’m bad at negotiating and will probably just pay it.
      Next time we’re going to the chiropractor and letting him X-ray it in a similar situation, though.

    • ksdale says:

      Just FYI, in our experience at a couple different hospitals, the “low income plans” give discounts up to a much higher income than most people would think of as “low,” especially if you have kids. It’s probably worth asking about, just in case.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      This works less well for actual emergency emergency medicine, and pays off the most when you are doing something “out of network”, such as if you walking into prompt service clinic:

      1) BEFORE seeing the provider
      2) when they ask for your insurance information
      3) do not give it to them
      4) ask them for the low-income out-the-door cash rate
      5) pay it (with your credit card)

      now you can see the nurse, doctor, etc

      6) keep ALL the paperwork. Stop at the desk on the way out and ask for the complete and final billing statement.

      7) later, but soon, within the week if possible, go to your insurance company’s web site
      8) search for “direct claim reimbursement” or similar. It will be buried deep in the site.
      9) fill out the forms. They may be online web forms, they may be non-form PDFs.
      10) if they do online form submission, do that, but still keep hardcopies of all of their forms. Otherwise they will ask for postal mail. Send them copies, keep all the originals.
      11) if a check does not show up within 8 weeks,
      12) set up an efax account or have an actual fax machine ready, loaded with ALL the paperwork
      14) call them, get to operators as fast as you can. you will have to do this several times. You are trying to reach a “claims payment agent”. If you are really lucky, you will reach someone who wants to be Robert Parr.
      13) Once you are on the phone with them “do you have my claim and the information?”
      14) “Yes? When can I expect the check? What is the confirmation code?”
      15) “No? What is the fax number were you are right now? Ok, I just faxed it all to you. When can I expect the check? What is the confirmation code?”

      • hash872 says:

        Thanks for the effortpost man! I doubt that option’s available to me as I’m in-network and they already have my insurance info. I think I’m just going to call them, spin a tale about being ultra-poor and having the lowest credit score known to humanity, and threaten to pay them nothing if I don’t get a substantial discount. If successful I’ll leave an effortpost detailing my triumphs

        • berk says:

          I would echo ksdale’s sentiment that low-income may not be as low as you think. Sutter Health hospitals here in Berzerkeley consider you in need of discounts if you make below 4X the federal poverty level (FPL). Depending on your household size, this can be quite a decent income. While they do use previous year’s tax filings to determine income, you are self employed so maybe you can spin a tale of recent financial woes. I am curious to see if the threat to go to small claims court works, and would be VERY interested to know the conclusion to your saga, so please update us!

      • Theodoric says:

        Some insurance won’t cover anything out of network. Are those provisions usually negotiable, or will this strategy not work with those insurances?

        • Mark Atwood says:

          If you are absolutely sure that your insurance won’t cover it, stop at step 6. You still come out ahead, because otherwise the provider will bill your insurance, your insurance will refuse to pay, and then the provider will send you a bill for more than what you would have negotiated at step 4.

    • FLWAB says:

      I can’t say that this works all the time, but as a general rule of thumb if you billed insurance for it then its much harder to get the number reduced after the fact: a lot of providers have contracts with insurers that stipulate that they can’t bill insurance for a high price and then reduce the price after the fact when insurance doesn’t pay. It varies from place to place though. You have the most wiggle room if you went to someone out of network, as they almost certainly don’t have a contract with your insurer or they would be in-network.

      Generally what I do is I call them up, ask to talk to billing (it might be a different company entirely that does the billing) and then I say “Nobody quoted me that price before going in, and I’m not going to pay it. I’m willing to pay something, since the doc did provide a service, but I never agreed to that price. I think $X is a fair price, will you take it?” It helps if you can look up what Medicare will pay for the procedure, and then offer a bit over that: if you theoretically went to court then what Medicare pays will be considered a good schelling point for what the procedure is worth. Be willing to haggle, but feel free to tell them that if they think what you’re offering is not fair then we could go to small claims court and see what a judge thinks is fair. Most billers don’t want to bother with that.

      Of course this only works if you really weren’t quoted a price beforehand: some places make you sign a form stating how much things cost and that you agree to pay that amount. In that case you should probably just try to appeal to their sense of charity.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Nobody quoted me that price before going in, and I’m not going to pay it.

        Man. I’m glad I’m not a doctor.

        • FLWAB says:

          Are you must a Phd then, Dr. Mist? 🙂

          I do billing for a doctor (technically a psychologist but what the hey) and most doctors have bigger problems to worry about. If you work for a hospital or clinic then you don’t worry about whether clients pay their bills, you just get your huge salary and go home. If you run a private practice then you have to be more involved, but in my experience doctors who run their own businesses are pretty savvy: they’ll make the prices for their services clear in the paperwork and have you sign off on it before seeing you.

          The simple fact is that in this day and age somewhere north of 80% of all of a private practice’s revenue comes from insurance companies. Just about everybody has insurance, and if they don’t then they don’t come in (of course its different if you run a clinic aimed at poor clients). In this business you’re very lucky if you bring in even 70% of what you bill to clients: many clients just never pay, and it’s rarely worth it to chase them down and take them to court. So generally a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush: if a client calls up and says they’ll pay some of their bill, that’s better than having to write off the whole thing. Especially since the insured clients are bringing in plenty of money. Most practices could write off 100% of client bills and still do just fine money wise thanks to insurance payouts. I mean they’d be crazy to do that, but most could. As a biller, is my time better spent hunting down the guy we saw three months ago and never paid his bill, or is it better spent wrangling with insurance companies who owe us ten times as much? It’s almost always wrangling.

  26. Atlas says:

    What are some classics of prison and/or exile fiction (in any media)? Stuff like Ben-Hur, Papillon, etc.

  27. proyas says:

    Does anyone know of any free software programs that I could use to make a family tree? I have a lot of unorganized data about my extended family and ancestors that I’m currently keeping in a messy-looking, ad hoc family tree in Google Sheets.

    • Randy M says:

      Not offline. But I’ve used the one at and it seems nice.

    • FLWAB says:

      Though it’s not software, I have found WikiTree to be a very useful site. It’s non-profit, the tools are pretty intuitive and get the job done, and its best feature is that while your family tree is only publicly viewable if you want it to be, if WikiTree finds that a person you have put in your tree matches a person someone else has (name, birth date, birth place, death date, etc) then it will send you each a message and if you both agree that it’s the same person then you can connect your family trees. Which often means discovering a lot of new and useful information! My wife recently got hooked up with her grandfather’s brother thanks to the site, which was amazing news because her grandfather was adopted and nobody on our side knew where his brother had ended up or much of anything about his parents.

    • eigenmoon says:

      $ apt search genealogy


    • AG says:

      Microsoft Powerpoint has SmartArt, including tree diagrams. They’re called Organization Charts, under the “Hierarchy” category of SmartArt.

    • S_J says:

      I’ll second the mention of Gramps.

      However, I’ll warn you that Gramps isn’t a family-tree-making tool. Instead, it is a genealogy-database tool that can also build family trees. It can generate “ancestor tree”, “descendant trees”, a timeline chart, and several other kinds of charts/reports.

      One confusing detail is that some of the trees it generates are only readable if you tell it to spread them across multiple pages. But Gramps doesn’t have a good preview-tool for doing that. But the trees only only hard-to-read if you have lots of branches, or several centuries of genealogy…so I don’t know if you’re dealing with that problem.

      There is a database format called GED that is intended to be interchangeable between most genealogy-database tools. Gramps can definitely import and export GED files.

      I suspect that FamilyTreeMaker and GeneWeb can do that also. If you find yourself wanting to try out several programs, you may want to input all the data into one program, then use GED import/export to put the data into other programs.

      • noyann says:

        Gramps can definitely import and export GED files.

        It adds own data on the supported format. Gramps export, then import again can result in data loss. Read the docs, and have backups in gramps own format.

  28. SkyBlu says:

    I’m going to be at PAX west Friday through Sunday, and hopefully PAX dev earlier in the week. I’d love to meet up and chat if anyone else is going!

    • Mark Atwood says:

      I will probably blow through PAX west, mostly to watch the kid play a raid of XIV and get her t-shirt, and then do one lap through the dealers, one lap through the artists, and then do one slow pass through the indy games section (my favorite section).

      I used to be able to three days of a con, but those days are in the past.

  29. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Thesis: the setting of The Lord of the Rings is only barely pre-Christian.

    1. The Latinized Danish name Frodo (Old Norse: Frōði; Anglo-Saxon: Frōda) is the name of several mythic Danish kings, the first of whom primary sources say was a contemporary of Caesar Augustus. This isn’t a false friend of the hobbit name Frodo, as hobbits are meant to be identified as Old English commoners.
    2. Rohan is also an Anglo-Saxon or more broadly Germanic tribal country.
    3. There is no evidence of Germanic-speakers outside of Scandinavia and extreme north Germany, aprox. Holstein to Rostock, before the Jastorf B culture (6th century BC). This rules out the “thousands of years BC” Tolkien claimed in letters.
    4. When the character Aragorn openly fights the character Sauron with an army, his name changes to Elessar. El is of course a Hebrew theonym, the work of a Christian redactor identifying him as God’s essarCaesar? He is anxious to distinguish this monarch from the evil spirit king (Es)sauron, due to the shared root. The evil one is attempting to conquer these Germanic areas northwest of the strategic fortress city of Gondor with an army of orcs from the volcano-rich country of Mordor (Italy?), evil men from the East and evil men from the South… exactly as you’d expect Germanic-speakers to villify a multicultural Roman army.

    Therefore, it seems that this is a story of the late 1st century BC or early 1st AD about Germanic tribes uniting to fight Caesar Augustus/the divine Caesar, which has been edited with a happier ending by a Christian redactor (the divine ghost of Caesar, who it’s better to die than worship, is utterly destroyed and all positive feelings Christians have toward the name Caesar are transferred to the Germanic hero).

    • LHN says:

      In the appendices, Tolkien explains that all the Anglo-Saxon, Gothic etc. names are rough translations of the “real” Westron names with the same sense. So Samwise Gamgee was really Banazîr Galpsi (with the first name having the same sense of “half wise”.) So the apparent linguistic similarities are misleading.

      (One place that runs into issues is the name of Orthanc, which has a dual meaning in Elvish and actual Anglo-Saxon that’s referenced in the text. Maybe by sheer coincidence “orthanc” means “cunning mind” in both Rohirric and the eytmologically unrelated Old English.)

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        In the appendices, Tolkien explains that all the Anglo-Saxon, Gothic etc. names are rough translations of the “real” Westron names with the same sense. So Samwise Gamgee was really Banazîr Galpsi (with the first name having the same sense of “half wise”.) So the apparent linguistic similarities are misleading.

        Aw man, you’re right.
        (“Sam was really ‘Banazir Galpsi'” is an impressive level of background work.)

      • JPNunez says:

        IIRC Elessar is his actual name, tho.

        I think that only the hobbits and regular men and english-sounding things are affected by Tolkien “translating” their Westron names; the elvish is supposed to be literal so when Aragorn is named Aragorn Elessar, that’s what he was really called.

        May be wrong on Aragorn, Elessar was an elven, thus literal, word.

        Of course, if I was trying to link Aragorn and Christianism I’d go with Elijah over Caesar.

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      That’s an awesome pattern match. I always liked the view that it was a revanchist Byzantine fantasy, wherein assistance from Pontic steppe tribes relieves a besieged Constantinople (Minas Tirith with its legendarily impregnable fortifications, bordered by Mordor as the Sultanate of Rum/Ottomans, take your pick), then the true Christian Caesar (as you say, but here representing the supremacy of the Greek church) reunites the Eastern/Western empires.

    • Deiseach says:

      El is of course a Hebrew theonym, the work of a Christian redactor identifying him as God’s essar… Caesar?

      No, it means “Elf-stone” and it’s one of a long list of titles and names that Aragorn accumulates, both from things he himself does and as part of his heritage and ancestry.

      If Tolkien wanted “el” to make us think of “God”, he would have said so; he invented his languages purposefully and he was blue in the face telling people “No, this is not an allegory; no, the Ring is not the atomic bomb, etc.”

      Sauron is very much not “(Es)sauron”, please don’t mess with Tolkien’s carefully worked out etymologies unless you want his wrathful corpse to arise from its grave and smite you. He has a whole letter (No. 297 in the Carpenter collection) about people who think they know what he really meant better than he did:

      It is therefore idle to compare chance-similarities between names made from ‘Elvish tongues’ and words in exterior ‘real’ languages, especially if this is supposed to have any bearing on the meaning or ideas in my story. To take a frequent case: there is no linguistic connexion, and therefore no connexion in significance, between Sauron a contemporary form of an older *θaurond- derivative of an adjectival *θaurā (from a base √THAW) ‘detestable’, and the Greek σαύρα ‘a lizard’.

      Investigators, indeed, seem mostly confused in mind between (a) the meaning of names within, and appropriate to, my story and belonging to a fictional ‘historic’ construction, and (b) the origins or sources in my mind, exterior to the story, of the forms of these names. As to (a) they are of course given sufficient information, though they often neglect what is provided. I regret it, but there is no substitute for me, while I am alive.

    • zzzzort says:

      But how did all the germans get to ethiopia?

  30. Lambert says:

    Hong Kong:
    What’s going on there?
    What’s China’s likely reaction?
    Is there anything I can meaningfully do to help the people there in their fight for freedom?

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      Epistemic status: American who reads western media sources (Economist, Reuters, etc.)

      1. What began as protests over a bill allowing for Honk Kong citizens to be extradited to China proper has expanded into a general expression of distrust and dissatisfaction with Chinese guarantees of Hong Kong’s special privileges generally. The inciting bill itself has been withdrawn, but Chinese responses to the protests have fueled more protests in a typical vicious cycle. Disruption of the airport for the last several days have heightened tensions further, as this represents pretty concrete economic damage. Military vehicles have been spotted massed near the Hong Kong border.

      2. If China is at all image-conscious, they will employ heavy police violence without the use of the military proper. While difference on the ground may be negligible (live ammo is live ammo), the imagery of police riot suppression will allow the CCP to retain the claim of suppressing internal dissent (with recent CCP language assigning at least partial blame to outside forces for fueling the protests. The extent to which this is meaningfully true or relevant is left to the individual reader, I claim no special knowledge of what governments aid what foreign protests when, beyond educated guesses). CCP can combat imagery of on-the-ground brutality with similar scenes from Western riot suppression in the last few decades (scope insensitivity will likely be in full force). Use of explicitly military-branded materiel would not only be in-and-of-itself more hostile-seeming to international audiences, but would feed the narrative of Hong Kong as a distinct polity, requiring military (foreign) rather than police (domestic) force types.

      3. I too would be very interested in an answer.

      • Zeno of Citium says:

        As another American reading Western news sources, this jibes with what I’ve read. The attempt to put Hong Kong under mainland Chinese law (which the extradition bill would effectively do) was a wild overreach. General dissatisfaction with Chinese rule exploded into generalized protests. The people of Hong Kong want democracy, or at the very least a reaffirmation of the rights they have as a holdover from when they were a British colony.
        I have no idea how this ends without basically a military occupation unless Beijing capitulates. They might! Hong Kong has special legal status and they bring in a ton of money to China as a whole. Replacing Carrie Lam (Hong Kong’s chief executive) would help, letting her be elected by the people of Hong Kong in a honest-to-God free and fair election – with open candidacy, not candidates hand-picked by Beijing like it normally is – would be a huge step. I have no idea how plausible any of these are, but at this point Beijing must be pretty eager to put an end to this whole thing.
        Maybe call your representatives in Congress and tell them you support the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong? I have no idea what anyone outside of China can do to put pressure on Beijing, but I’m hoping my Senators might think of something.
        Hot take: the Hong Kongese are basically fighting a guerilla war against the Beijijng backed forces, but without actually hurting anybody.

        • MorningGaul says:

          Hong Kong has special legal status and they bring in a ton of money to China as a whole.

          According to a quick search, when Hong Kong was let go in 97, it’s GDP was 18% of China’s, and only 2.8% today. It used to bring “a ton of money” to China, hence it’s special privileges. Today, not so much.

          • zzzzort says:

            And given that a lot of Hong Kong’s value was as a financial center and connection to the west, the fact that the shanghai stock exchange is now bigger makes their situation even worse.

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        To the extent they rely on local police, tey leave it open that the protesters can just outlast and exaust them.

        The Yellow Vests managed to achieve this, officers who where working regular hours during the week had to do back to back weekends with notable declines in moral, energy and an increase in sick days. Also when officers work overtime you have to pay them for that overtime making extended stretch of protesting a budgeting nightmare.

        France overcame this by bringing officers in from the country side and deploying the gendarmerie (blend of military and police whose distinct function i still don’t quite understand) which seems purpose designed for such events (because of course: France).

        But if what you say is true then in Hong Kong the government has no such options, there are no other police forces and bringing in police or the army from the mainland would be an international incident.

        Interestingly we’re seeing the same tactical evolution on the part of the protesters in hong Kong as we saw with the yellow vests. Hong kong protesters are hiding their faces, using respirators, drilled movements, and even lasers (to blind caneras).

        Simply put the age of the professional vetran rioter as skilled as the cops is here.

        • MorningGaul says:

          Regarding the yellow vest: The gendarmerie is not specialised in crowd-control, (probably even less than the regular cops of the Police Nationale, since they’re mostly working on rural areas). The units you seem to refer to, the CRS (or “Republican Security Companies”), are part of the Police Nationale, not of the Gendarmerie.

          Also, if anyone got outlasted and exhausted, it’s the yellow jacket. From 300 000 at the start, less than 10 000 kept protesting in the end, while I havent heard of any significant drop in police readiness.

    • sentientbeings says:

      There’s already some evidence that police are infiltrating the protesters and possibly instigating violence. Violence among protesters will provide ample opportunity for the authorities to escalate their use of force in a “justified” way. Beyond that escalation, I have no idea what to expect from China.

    • BBA says:

      I expect that very soon the protests will end, or rather, be ended. I can only pray there will be minimal bloodshed. Hong Kong will be ruled as part of mainland China, de facto if not de jure, before the year is out.

      There is nothing that America or any other country can do about it. Hell, China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs as we speak, and nobody is lifting a finger. And why would we? We all need China more than China needs us. (No, unilateral tariffs aren’t the answer. That’s just shooting ourselves in the foot after the horse has left the stable, to mix a metaphor.)

      Please let me be wrong about this.

      • Enkidum says:

        Hong Kong will be ruled as part of mainland China, de facto if not de jure, before the year is out.

        I think this might be overstating it, but this is likely wishful thinking on my part. +1 to your post in general, though.

      • ana53294 says:

        We all need China more than China needs us.

        While I agree with the rest of the statement (sadly), I think you underestimate the degree to which China depends on external commerce. Especially considering that most countries are America’s bitch and big corporations will thus obey all sanctions America imposes. They did do so with Iran, didn’t they?

        I think that the reason we don’t do anything about the Uyghurs is because nobody with actual power cares enough about the Uyghurs, partly because, with the media’s complicity, few people know about the Uyghurs.

        • John Schilling says:

          China is one of the few economic powers that could take on the United States in a trade or monetary war and plausibly “win”. It would at least be interesting to watch from a safe distance. But there’s also the bit where China needs Hong Kong (and the Uighur) to be subservient far more than we need them to be free, so the roughly evenly-matched trade war isn’t going to happen. At least, not over those issues.

          • ana53294 says:

            The US would not be willing to go on a full scale trade war with China by going full Cuba on China over Hong Kong, no. Trump, for all his antipathy to China, seems to consider it an internal matter.

            But I do think that the US (and the EU) could do a lot more than they are doing if they cared. They don’t and they won’t, but that doesn’t mean they can’t.

            I don’t think China could win over a united US-EU trade war.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There is functionally no chance that China could win a trade war with the US (most likely outcome is both lose), their economy is large but in terms of GDP per capita it is modest, and much of their growth is in infrastructure to handle future expected growth. A major blow to their economy could look like the GD in the US with little flexibility and lots of suddenly on the edge people making dramatic changes to their spending/work/investing habits.

          • LadyJane says:

            most likely outcome is both lose

            To policymakers who have a zero-sum view of the world and see the world in terms of relative rather than absolute wealth, this outcome may very well seem like a victory.

          • baconbits9 says:

            To policymakers who have a zero-sum view of the world and see the world in terms of relative rather than absolute wealth, this outcome may very well seem like a victory.

            Only if they remain in power.

          • Laukhi says:

            At the moment, it does not seem as if China is doing particularly well, correct? My impression is that growth is slowing strongly, and I have heard of multiple bank runs in recent times.

        • BBA says:

          I see it as a collective action problem. The US alone doesn’t have enough clout to influence China, either on silly feel-good issues like human rights or on important stuff like industrial policy. If we could form some kind of trade alliance with the EU, or one with similarly minded countries in the Asia-Pacific region – a trans-Pacific partnership, you might say – that could be a real counter-balance to Chinese influence. Unfortunately our trade negotiators are stuck in the ’90s and the actual Trans-Pacific Partnership we got was a steaming turd, full of the same lousy policies that got us here in the first place.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        No, unilateral tariffs aren’t the answer.

        I have it on good authority that tariffs are the answer to all problems political or economic.

      • EchoChaos says:

        My understanding is also that mainlanders are particularly upset now because of the televised violence against mainlanders.

        This might allow a crackdown to be a bit harsher than otherwise.

    • Tibor says:

      My two cents:

      I visited HK 5 years ago (pretty much exactly) when the umbrella protests were starting. I met an acquaintance from HK who told me with a lot of resentment, as the very first thing when we met there, that half of the people in the streets (Hong Kong Island, forgot the MTR station but it was either Admiralty or Central) were Chinese. The way she said “Chinese” gave no doubts about her feelings towards the mainlanders.

      A few days into my visit the protests broke out fully, Admiralty and several other stations were blocked completely. The protests were big (although nothing compared to the currents ones) but over the course of the following months they gradually died down. The people, initially mostly supportive, gradually grew tired of all the traffic blocades and the numbers of protesters dwindled. Eventually, there were too few of them and too many people were annoyed by them for a more direct police action to bother anyone.

      However, I doubt this scenario will repeat itself. First – clearly more is at stake this time and more people realize this. I haven’t been to HK since but the estimates I read speak about some 2 million people taking part in the protests, that’s more than a fourth of the total population of HK (including the New Territories) and so it is massive, more akin to a revolution.

      Because of this, it is unlikely these protests will die out the way they did 5 years ago and so Bejing will be forced to react. They can either go Tiananmen on Hong Kong but I doubt they will do that even if they are amassing tanks at the HK border (I think that is mostly a way for them to scare HK into submission and a bluff). The international backlash would be too big in this case. The economic outlooks aren’t so great for China as it is and this would have real consequences. HK has a special status not only within China but also towards the outside world. HK has very low to no tariffs and similarly, very little trade restrictions are imposed against it – this is helpful as a backdoor to the PRC. So even if HK is not as important to the Chinese economy as it used to be, in practice it is still very significant. If this status were revoked it could very well have a serious impact on the PRC economy. And of course, suppressing democratic protests in a quasi-foreign country (where everyone has a – still – unrestricted internet connection and a camera in their phone) with tanks would be a horrible PR, the backlash would probably resemble the sanctions against Russia after their invasion of Crimea.

      On the other hand, Hong Kong is an island of freedom in an oppressive totalitarian regime (special economic zones like Shanghai or Shenzhen notwithstanding – even those are not anywhere close to the level of freedom the west is used to and the rest of the country is even worse). If you’re Xi Jinping, that’s a big thorn in your side, despite all the propaganda, mainland Chinese do go to HK and they see a very clear alternative to the way China is run. Hong Kong is the Chinese West Berlin and if Bejing shows weakness and allows the protesters to reach their goals, pro-freedom activists in China will take notice and be encouraged by that. Combine that with less than stellar economic outlooks in the PRC and this could create a springboard for serious unrest within the PRC itself.

      So I think it’s hard to say what will happen. I’d like to support the protesters somehow myself. I guess the best one can do is to support them financially but it is not quite obvious who to send the money to.

      I don’t think “we need China more than China needs us” is really true. I’m not sure how stable China really is. While a recession can be bad, it is not likely to lead to a regime change in the west nowadays. But in the PRC it very well might. I think the whole reason the communist party is still in power in the PRC is that they have maintained a sustained economic growth all the way since (shortly before) Tiananmen. Interesting things could happen once this is no longer true.

  31. Douglas Knight says:

    To what extent are medical residents receiving education from the hospital and to what extent are they providing valuable work to the hospital? Do residents work long hours for their education, or are the hospitals exploiting them?

    Residencies, more than medical school slots are the choke point. The AMA is, more or less, a cartel limiting the expansion of medical schools in the USA, but foreign schools are acceptable. For example, Scott has an Irish MD and managed to get a residency in America. The limit on the number of residency slots is more mysterious.

    Hospitals claim that they lose money on residents, despite the long hours. They refuse to take more residents, except as subsidized by medicare, $100k/year. Is this their revealed preference? Or is this collusion, that they refuse to lower the price? Another window into this is that hospitals occasionally sell the right to this medicare funding. The recent bankruptcy of Hahnemann Hospital lead to an auction of its ~550 slots, which sold for $55 million, that is $100k/slot. That doesn’t sound like much to me.

    (This was not a very liquid auction. They only accepted bids for the whole set of residencies, so there weren’t many bids. I think that the winners were a large consortium that will spread them thinly, while other bids were a chain of hospitals that would have divided them up into a few clumps and a company that wanted to (re)create a whole hospital.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Not an expert on this, but my impression is hospitals are telling the truth and residents lose money.

      I agree this is mysterious, since you get to hire doctors for much less than usual salary. I think the considerations are:

      1. The doctors are almost useless for a year or so while they learn basic skills.
      2. It probably takes almost as much attending labor to oversee and teach residents as it would have taken to just treat the patients in the first place.
      3. Residents are rotating in and out of different positions so frequently that you can’t always count on having X residents in a position. Often hospitals will try to make their wards self-sustaining without any residents, and then they don’t have to worry about how many residents will or won’t be there any given month.
      4. The government requires residents to do a bunch of different rotations, and often your hospital will not be able to handle all of those. For example, all psychiatry residents have to do an geriatric psychiatry rotation, but the hospital I trained at didn’t have a gero psych ward. So they had to get another hospital with gero psych to take their residents for that rotation. I think that probably involved both paying the other hospital money for their trouble, and continuing to pay my salary even though I wasn’t at their hospital that month.
      5. The government often requires residents do a month on various random things they will never use in real life. For example, I had to do a month of ECT. But I started off knowing nothing about ECT, and you can’t become a good ECT practitioner in one month, so realistically that month was me following an ECT doctor and nodding my head so we could check this off the list. I wasn’t producing any profit for the hospital that month, but they still had to pay me. A surprising amount of residency is like this.
      6. Because of the need to check off various rotations, hospitals might have to start programs that aren’t economically viable, just to give their residents exposure to those programs. For example, it was clearly an economic mistake to have an emergency psychiatry program at my hospital, but the ACGME requires it and starting it ourselves was easier than paying another hospital to take our residents for it, so we did.

      My preferred solution to the economic problem would be changing the requirements to say that a psychiatry resident must do X years of psychiatry, but they don’t necessarily have to do exactly one month of every single subfield of psychiatry the ACGME can think of. But until someone makes that change, residencies will keep being net losses.

    • MissingNo says:

      If you can get away with saying you somehow *lose* money on cheap labor you do. That’s my immediate suspicion (the labor also appears to be subsidized) . But someone who is purely in training obviously can’t contribute. And as the comment above says, if the hospital is self sufficient without a single resident then all the residents are effectively in training, so….

      Who is norming the accuracy of diagnosis of residents vs doctors on the job for a few years?

      I’m sure that for the most motivated doctors they improve in quality every year. But perhaps the average one who isn’t obsessed with self-improvement and is now happy with the steady salary actually declines with age, as everyone does?

      But as a hospital does not gain income for curing you its questionable that the best doctor makes the hospital more income. Socialized medicine(that keeps in mind you still need to pay competitive wages) is uh…obviously a good decision with that in mind.

      Relevant comment

      “The Institutes of Medicine report on Graduate Medical Education funding and reform released last year says pretty much the same things you are saying. Indirect funding is grossly unaccounted for and seems to be more than enough to cover any of the costs incurred by having a physician-in-training, considering that there is just about a universal desire for the government to increase GME slots.

      I recently attended a talk on this topic by the representative of a state-wide Hospital Association. He made the claim using some figures that seem to have no transparent origin that hospitals actually lose a considerable amount of money for each resident they train. In an interesting article aimed at administrators in the hospital industry, they’re very clear about the fact that nobody knows because nobody with access to the proprietary hospital accounting data has ever bothered to ask.”

      • Cliff says:

        Yes it’s AMAZING how doctors can’t survive without subsidized training, but every other profession somehow manages to make do. How can I lobby for government rules that every lawyer needs on-the-job training for every law specialty, and also every law firm gets $100k/yr to subsidize us for training new lawyers.

      • MissingNo says:

        Not actually implying the newest of all residents are the best decision makers. Of course not. That thought really had no baring on the post.

        What does it even mean to make a hospital more money? Doesn’t something seem off with that statement?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        “Who is norming the accuracy of diagnosis of residents vs doctors on the job for a few years?”

        It’s known that hospital deaths go up a bit on July 1st, the beginning of the residency “school year”, as new inexperienced residents take over tasks they’re not used to.

        But another study showed that heart attack deaths went down during the week of the national cardiology conference, when all the senior cardiologists were away and their residents were covering for them (presumably they have the most senior resident lead the coverage).

        I think this fits a model where new residents are worse than longtime doctors, but senior residents may be as good or better.

        • MissingNo says:

          Eeks! Ah, I found that and meant to edit my comment as just how talented the doctor is at diagnosing has not obvious effect one way or another at total income(besides lowered reputation). Which type of error(1 or 2) does it tend with age, how profitable the possible treatment can be. Its definitely my mistake for putting that in there in the first place.

          I think the model where the total newbies(who are obviously bad at the job) and those at the age near retirement are the worst with this type of skillset usuallyy peaking at around 35 works.

          But i’m just guesstimating based off of the fluid/crystalized level curves and what my (perhaps inaccurate) map of where they flow go.

    • aristides says:

      Residents are definitely an accounting loss for the hospital, but they have one major benefit that can’t easily be put into monetary terms. Residents present a strong potential pool to recruit future doctors. The hospital gets to see them in practice, teach them their practices, and often keep the best and the brightest. A hospital would much rather higher their best resident than a doctor from another hospital that has a good recommendation, since you can’t always trust the recommendations from outside your hospital. This makes hiring residents a net benefit for hospitals that have residency programs.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Another topic is whether residents want to stay in town. Scott recently said on reddit that undesirable locations don’t want to fund residencies because the doctors will just leave. But then an AR senator said that he believes that they will stay. (Not enough that he wants his state to pay for them, but it’s still something.) See also WWAMI, where the states do subsidize medical school (not residencies) because the doctors do stay.

    • MissingNo says:

      A bit more investigation

      “The average medical resident is earning $61,200 annually, according to Medscape’s Residents Salary and Debt Report 2019, an increase of 3% from the $59,300 they earned in 2018.”

      “Medicare subsidies for graduate medical education total about $10.1 billion annually, an average of $112,642 per resident. There is a lot of variation between hospitals because of the way the formula works, though, and the way the slots were allocated when their number was capped in 1997. This recent Health Affairs paper (by Dr. Mullan, Candice Chen and Erika Steinmetz) found that the Northeast is the biggest beneficiary of this legacy funding system.”

      112642 -61200 = 51442 net profit per resident.

      I’m sure the hidden costs somehow manage to add up to more than 52,000 dollars.(Yes yes I know about the other costs of employment like insurance. That’s not 52,000 worth of money. Health insurance bought in a mass group costs ~2500~ per person last time I checked.)

      Somehow everyone ends up rich while always losing money.

      So what’s going on?

      “administrative expenses adding another $25,000 to $50,000 per resident”

      Ah ok. Why does it cost so much? I don’t know. That’s a magic amount. 50,000 of administration expenses to add a sort/search on the computer and double-check if someone filled in their “I showed up to work” slot ok.

      • MissingNo says:

        “A revised AAMC Survey of Residents/Fellow Stipends and Benefits Report, 2018-2019 has been posted
        to the AAMC website. You can access this revised report below:

        Health Insurance~~~2500 per year

        Plus meals~~~another average 1500 per year(assuming a degree of cost-minimization in food sourcing)

        Random 1000 thrown about just around magically on average( can’t actually find many more legitimate costs whatever)

        5000 total in benefits above salary. net profit per resident ~~~45,000

      • CatCube says:

        I can’t seem to get that first website to open at work (it happens a lot) but it sounds like it’s talking about salary, not compensation. The resident might care about the salary, but it’s not important to the hospital; they care about how much money is going out the door per body, which is typically quite a bit more than the salary. @A Definite Beta Guy elsewhere in the thread points out that in his industry for every dollar of salary, there is another 67¢ on top of that that the payroll has to cover.

        That makes the compensation for that $61,200: 1.67*$61,200=$102,204. That’s a much more reasonable number for the cost of a person to an organization (Using myself as an example: I make $38.09 per hour base pay, but there’s an additional 65¢/$ of that for compensation, plus an additional 75¢/($ of compensation) for “indirect costs” and “general overhead”, so my fully burdened rate to a project is $110.09–significantly higher than looking at my salary alone would indicate)

        Given that, it’s easy to see that if they are making money on a resident, they’re not making much. It’s pretty easy for me to believe that a resident will cost more than about $10,000 per year in handholding.

        Edit: You have another website indicating that they only spend $5,000 above salary. I skimmed really quickly (at work, so obviously not going to spend too much time) but that seems very, very, far outside a typical burden above salary. Which tables had those numbers?

        • MissingNo says:

          Oh I know that Salary != to how much it costs to employ you. Health insurance is a big one(2000-6000 per year). Cost of food at where you work is one if its offered(500 to 3000). Parking and various expenses (100-1000). All that. Stock/401k or 403b

          It looks like money is being made per resident as adding all the largest identifiable known* components doesn’t add up to more than 10g. I’m wondering where the magic money is going. It just keeps happening in the field of medicine and university costs.

          *Unknowns in mind.

          • CatCube says:

            You’re forgetting vacation/paternity leave/sick leave. Again, using myself as an example (because the 0.65 multiplier is pretty close to the 0.67 mentioned elsewhere and I have the numbers literally posted on my cube wall), 0.11×base rate for Annual Leave (6 hr/2 wk pay period)–vacation–and 0.11×base rate for other leave recovery, which would be sick leave and paternity leave.

            They’re probably not getting much in the way of vacation, but according to your tables at most places (Something like 100/180 IIRC) they’re getting at least sick leave and paternity/maternity leave, and you do have to account for that. That alone would be probably close to 10% of salary.

            [ETA: Plus the “employer” half of SS & Medicare, or another 7.65%]

            Where I’m going with this is not in your wildest, drunkest dreams can you expect to pay somebody $65,000 a year and only pay another $5,000 on top of that for other compensation. Even $10,000 is not a reasonable number. If I have to pull a number ex ano, it’s going to be at least 50% of base pay, and barring better numbers I’d be much more inclined to use 67%, since I’ve usually seen that number thrown around for those calculations before.

          • MissingNo says:

            Sure those are in there. Those are days off that are built into the structure of the system(assuming the system is managed properly so half the staff doesn’t take the same week off).

            Its really hard to convert that to gained/lost income. Sure gained/lost hours. You can sorrrrtof include them in the final financial calculations but everything ends up really questionable.

            If a system is built to function adequately *without* a resident/intern in the first place(or without many)…then none of the calculations of “workers takes X days off means X product lost” that applies in the case of a steel miner really obviously work.

            You end up really thinking less about the total income gained/lost and more about if X workers take days off at a time is there a catastrophic failure/not enough time per patient/some patients turned away to another place/waiting time increase.

            Thinking in terms of money with all of that in just ends up…strange and just feels off the ball in anything but the simplest of cases where you have a manual labor guy.

            So while *sure* if you triple the amount of days off a hospital might have to turn away patients/customers(what?). But even thinking in terms of income feels off or convoluted and its absolutely in the financial interest of a profit-maximizing organization to turn every conceivable accounting trick into something that sounds like “Oh we need more money to run this place”

            So i’m still suspicious. This smells of accounting tricks to net a profit of at least ~35,000 per resident.

            What’s it mean if a CEO who *really* just needs to look at something once a week, takes a decision, and then sits on his ass the rest of the week watching hentai. Does he really need to be there 6 days out of the week? IDK. Does he lose the company money if he takes days off? Idk. Its just an extreme example.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            If the system is built to function perfectly without residents/interns, residents/interns are a complete waste of money. The system works without them: as the Bobs from Consulting say, what would you say…you do here?

            We actually have that a lot in manufacturing, it’s when a machine is designed to have 2 people running it, and Billy Bob invites his cousin Randy Mandy to come in for a weekend OT shift and now you have 3 people at a machine for 2. So one person is totally useless.

            I think your biggest issue is that training is a huge time sink, and double-checking someone else’s work is a huge time sink. It massively increases the workload of the other people responsible for training you/auditing you, which is very expensive.

          • acymetric says:

            We actually have that a lot in manufacturing, it’s when a machine is designed to have 2 people running it, and Billy Bob invites his cousin Randy Mandy to come in for a weekend OT shift and now you have 3 people at a machine for 2.

            Uh, maybe you specifically have that issue. There are definitely ways to prevent that.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The ways to prevent that involve management having the correct tools to identify the issue and the correct mindset to hold people accountable. Otherwise that behavior will continue unabated.

            It’s really tough to correct if you don’t have good a system like Kronos to manage your time, or if your supervisors/managers refuse to ever challenge crewing requirements, or hold anyone accountable.

          • CatCube says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            It’s worth considering that just because the machine was designed for two people doesn’t mean that it can actually be run efficiently by two people. The engineer might have made a mistake, or the salesman sweet-talked your purchasing agent with a little song-and-dance using some very optimistic assessments of his machine’s efficiency.

            I don’t know where you fit in with your shop. Are you able to go observe the machine operating for a shift or two and conclude that the third person is unnecessary, or are you just trusting what your computer is telling you? I’ve been out to jobsites plenty of times and seen that what made sense in my head when sitting in my office is unworkable in the field.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            We can and sometimes do. I spent some yesterday for this reason because production increased headcount by one on a machine (without telling me, and then complaining when they showed an unfavorable variance). However, you’d need really need to do a time-study and possibly a line rebalancing to relocate labor. It’s a hurdle, but the hurdle is there so the increase is actually cost-justified. That’s what your fresh-out-of-college Industrial Operations Engineers are for.

            Me just standing there and making a gut-check isn’t actually super-scientific, though it can work well enough if we only have time for gut-checks.

        • acymetric says:

          That only means they are not making money on the residents if the residents are providing literally nothing of value to hospitals. Having some doctors in the family and knowing what they did/how hard they worked while in residency I find that borderline impossible. I could buy that hospitals lost money on residents without the stipend, but with it? Sounds like an accounting trick. Like how none of the major sports programs in the NCAA are making money (*wink*).

          • CatCube says:

            Fair enough. However, we should be using numbers that should be closer to the truth before trying to dig in to the details.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I have a hard time believing they lose money with the stipend when one hospital sold these slots for money to another hospital. If you’re losing money, why are you paying good money for it?

            There are instances where this could be the case, but I’m still suspicious.

          • CatCube says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            That’s a really good point.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      I believe residency equivalents are also the bottleneck in the UK, so either the cartels have the same strategy in both countries or it’s a natural thing.

  32. baconbits9 says:

    Some thoughts on inflation spurred by some comments I’ve seen around recently.

    The Great Depression was likely initiated by the destruction of money, if you had $1,000 in the bank one day and then it went under the next then that money was largely gone. In the modern world this doesn’t happen so easily, FDIC insurance on its own will prevent a large amount of that destruction. Modern crises are largely about the velocity of money declining suddenly*, in fact you might describe them as having general increases of stock and decreases of flow.

    This combination of exploding stock and falling prices confused a lot of onlookers around 2008** and caused quite a few incorrect predictions. Looking back now a lot of it seems a lot more obvious to me now***, the Federal Reserve increases the money supply when velocity falls, in a way the decrease in velocity causes the increase in MS. In other ways this is also true, money flows into low risk bonds in high risk environments, bonds with a zero coupon are basically money substitutes, meaning that a decline in velocity that leads to a decline in bond yields can be conceptually approached as a decline in velocity causing an increase in the money supply. That is a technical consideration but it opens up the possibility that a decline in V can lead to increases in M, and that a rebound in V could therefore decrease M which would partially offset each move.

    This is not, however, the whole game. It is fairly easy to describe a scenario where a change in V or M has the opposite effect. If a government is printing to cover its debts then M is increasing, and holders of money are anticipating future declines in value and so move to avoid holding money, increasing V. Or V increases, which pushes up prices and the government prints more to cover its rising deficits.

    The long and the short of it is that M and V shouldn’t be treated as independent variables, or as having a fixed relationship. Naturally this makes predictions more difficult, but hopefully actually puts us on a path where more accurate predictions can be made.

    *Velocity and monetary stock both dropped during the GD.
    ** Including me
    *** Famous last words

    • Ghillie Dhu says:

      MV=PY is an identity (i.e., tautologically true).

      A recession is (roughly) when Y drops; due to sticky wages & prices, P only decreases slowly.

      When V plummets, Y will fall unless M increases quickly enough to offset. Conversely, no matter what happens to V, Y can be prevented from falling by increasing M enough to compensate.

      ETA: Y also can only increase so fast; if M grows too quickly (e.g., the debt monetization scenario you describe), P spikes. If V also starts climbing, hello hyperinflation.

      ETA2: None of these quantities are readily measurable; PY (aka NGDP) is the most so.

      ETA3: Variable definitions:
      P = price level
      Y = real GDP
      M = money supply
      V = money velocity

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Naturally this makes predictions more difficult, but hopefully actually puts us on a path where more accurate predictions can be made.

      I feel you may have accidentally jinxed the economy or something. BRB, investing in gold, rice, and ammo.

    • Robin says:

      Your words remind me of those of Michael Unterguggenberger, mayor of Wörgl in Austria during the great depression. He introduced a demurrage-charged local currency and wrote on the backside of the banknotes these dramatic words (rough translation by me):

      To everybody!
      Slowly circulating money has thrown the world into an unprecedented economic crisis and millions of working people in terrible misery. – The downfall of the world has (just from an economical point of view) taken its terrible beginning. – It is time to save the down-spiralling economy machine by clear recognition and decisive action, lest humanity be driven into civil wars, chaos and disintegration.
      People live from exchanging their YIELD. The slow circulation of money has stopped a great part of the exchange of yields, and millions of ready-to-work people have thus lost their living space in the economic structure. – The exchange of yields must therefore be increased again, and the living space for all those already expulsed must be won back. To this end serves the “work confirmation certificate” of the municipality of Wörgl:
      It alleviates misery, gives work and bread!

      Sure enough, if your money loses value all the time, you want to get rid of it quickly, which increases V.

      At least it worked fine back then… Unfortunately the idea is mixed up with some esoteric semi-crackpot ideas by Silvio Gesell, which has done a lot of damage to its reputation.

      What are the usual methods for controlling the velocity of money?

  33. edmundgennings says:

    I find that I have some tendency when in public places to rest my eyes on more physically beautiful people, and a strong tendency to rest my eyes on people I find ugly, as well as people that represent a higher degree of danger.
    Doing the first makes me happier much like smelling something nice would. The second makes me considerably less happy much like smelling something malodorous would. The last is neither pleasant or unpleasant serves some purpose, undoubtedly not much given my safe environment but some.
    Is there any good reason not to try to suppress my tendency to disproportionately rest my gaze on those I find ugly and or increase my tendency to disproportionately look at those whom it is enjoyable to see?
    I imagine that there is some amount of increased risk of crime from people I find ugly, but the effect is probably quite small and I probably already take too much precautions given the very low level of danger in my settings.
    As long as I avoid staring etc I imagine the people being looked at will not care.
    But I could imagine renorming being a problem.

    • Randy M says:

      Resting your gaze but not staring sounds like a difficult line to toe. I’d expect some occasional awkwardness here.
      More importantly, if you are literally avoiding seeing ugly people, you may do it metaphorically as well, overlooking the problems of someone you may have otherwise wanted to help, or missing the chance at a friend you don’t notice.

      But I definitely don’t think there’s anything weird about the behavior; wanting to look at good looking people is almost tautological, and ‘hacking’ yourself into thinking all appearances are equally aesthetically pleasing sounds impossible and likely to backfire. But indulging in it does make you sound shallow.

      • edmundgennings says:

        Yeah, though I have not had awkwardness from staring at people I perceive as ugly, though I have a strong enough halo effect that I do not perceive anyone who I am freinds with to be ugly. Hence there may be more of a risk of awkwardness.
        My goal would primarily be to reduce the time I spend looking at people I perceive as ugly to the amount of time I spend looking at people I find neutral though overshooting would have that risk.
        This is definitely shallow. One of the advantages of the internet is that one can get advice on these sorts of things

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      How’s your face (character, not quality)?

      I apparently look like I’m staring at whatever I’m looking at due to heavy eyebrows, sunken eyes, and a resting angry face (despite not being, like, ugly ugly – I think I’m pretty nondescript). I know it makes people uncomfortable, so I try to look out of windows.

      • edmundgennings says:

        I have a resting happy face. This has its upsides but I imagine will cause some awkward moments as my line of work involves a lot of funerals and will involve a lot more in a few years.

    • Lambert says:

      I think more or less everyone has these tendencies.

      It seems pretty adaptive, from an evolutionary standpoint.

  34. Hamish Todd says:

    Hey everyone, I am rewriting the opening of my okcupid profile. They’re below. I will be changing specific wording. Would appreciate input on, essentially, whether you think they’re a good idea either at the level of appealing to the people I’d like to date – or whether you think I’m being wrongheaded in my expectations about dating. Here’s the rest of my profile by the way: – hit me up if you’re in London!

    “Looking for someone to have long conversations with. Best if the long conversations involve respectful disagreements, because there’s nothing I like more than hearing facts and thoughts that I’ve not heard before! I’m privileged to know many intelligent, honest people, and when they express a subtle opinion that I do not agree with, it’s often connected to their knowing some set of things that I do not know, and so I get to hear what they are.

    Even in the boring situation where I am right and the other person is wrong, I find it’s rare that they’re *entirely* wrong, and I get to learn something anyway. And maybe the disagreements don’t get resolved, which doesn’t feel as good. The important and enjoyable thing, in my opinion, is to try to understand one another =)”

    • Nornagest says:

      Cut everything after “long conversations with”. And don’t use words like “disagreement”, “debate”, or, God forbid, “wrong” in whatever you replace it with. No matter how respectfully you qualify it, if you lead with something like that it’s going to sound like you’re itching to pick a fight over the breadsticks.

      You can talk about how much you like hearing other perspectives (ideally, in phrasing that positive or moreso) further down your profile. Way further down. Does OKC still have an “anything else you should know about me” section? Use that one if so.

    • Randy M says:

      I shouldn’t comment, for the obvious reason and also because I’ve never done the internet dating thing. Maybe this is a perfect opening to stand out with.

      That said, while I get from this that you aren’t looking for a quick physical relationship, it isn’t clear that you are looking for a romance of any kind.

      • Hamish Todd says:

        This is one of my main worries. My ideal of romance is basically fun conversations like the one I’ve just described, plus heartfelt cuddles and sex. I have had this before… but would you say it’s a rare thing?

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t think you’re alone in valuing all that. But is there a reason it has to come in one package?

          But that’s an aside, the point was just that from those two paragraphs (I don’t care to sign up for OKCupid for the rest, sorry) I don’t get anything but the search for intellectual debate partner. Perhaps on that medium, the rest is assumed, but consider that you might be turning off women (?) who are there primarily for romance. I’m also not sure if you’re looking for exclusivity or long term/marriage. (Apparently answered elsewhere)

          What about “I’m looking for a woman who will keep me intellectually humble with her wit and good humor as we grow old together, or at least keep each other entertained for a few fun dates.”

          edit: Someone should start a dating site with A/B testing as a feature for user pages.

    • J Mann says:

      I’d rewrite it to be more positive, unless you want to screen heavily. (And there’s nothing wrong with that).

      Something like:

      “I particularly like being exposed to new ideas, new challenges, and new things, and would love to meet someone who is interested in discussion and exploration.”

      (My internet dating situation is about 15 years old, so things may have changed, but my experience is that if you’re a man looking for a woman and not either gorgeous, wealthy, or both, you kind of need to hustle to get much interest, but a funny and engaging profile helps when the people you email check you out.)

    • Urstoff says:

      No matter how respectfully you write that sentiment, people are going to think you are the “Debate me, coward” guy.

      • Hamish Todd says:

        I’ve tried to rewrite it many times, and I think you’re right, and I also think you’re perceptive for realizing that this is the fundamental struggle. I think I just have to deal with the fact that people will have to deal with that.

    • ana53294 says:

      I think you have to choose.

      When I look at a profile, and I see:

      Looking for women for short & long term dating, hookups, new friends, and open to non-monogamy.

      I don’t know what I’m seeing. Too many options is sometimes bad. I would say, either lose the hookups, or drop the intelligent conversations bit.

      When I see “hookups” it doesn’t seem like a guy looking for an intellectual companion, but maybe that’s just me. But I do avoid guys who state hookups in their profiles.

      Flings with stimulating conversations and casual sex are already covered by “short term dating”.

      • Hamish Todd says:

        It’s not just you, it’s many people. “Hookup” and “long term dating” is sort of by definition exclusive things, it’s true. For various social reasons I would say your reaction is understandable.

        However, I can be (am) honestly looking for both from different people. If there was someone who made it clear that they were only interested in long-term relationship-based dates, and I suspected from their profile that I would be uninterested in them for a relationship but would be interested in them for a hookup, I would *not* go on a date with them, because it would be immoral to mislead and waste their time like that.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          It’s definitely reasonable to be looking for a mixture of things, but I think it’s probably wise to separate the different things across different apps — for OKCupid stick with “dating” or “relationships” and go to Tinder or wherever for more casual stuff (“new friends” can probably go in both but I’m not sure if people are ever successful with finding those on dating apps). This means you’ll lose people on OKCupid who are looking for hookups and are put off by you only mentioning relationships, but I expect there are far fewer of them than people looking for relationships who will be put off by the mention of hookups (even they are in the same position of looking for both!). I think “non-monogamy” also burns weirdness points unnecessarily. If you can put it in a separate field of “preferred relationship style” or whatever then that’s probably fine, but putting it in the main text sends the wrong signal IMO.

          • acymetric says:

            I think listing both hurts both ways. People looking for short term might be prone to reading it as “really wants a long term relationship but proposes short term in hopes of getting the hooks in and turning it into something long term”. Of course from the other way, people looking for long term are going to take the “short term” as evidence that you don’t really want something long term, you’re just saying that to get the short term that you actually want.

            Agree that splitting across multiple platforms might be good, except that a lot of the women will also be operating on multiple platforms, and if this description is slightly off-putting, having outright contradictory information across platforms will be even worse if any of them notice.

            Of course its a cliche, but maybe something along the lines of “not looking for something immediately serious but open to it if something develops” or some such. Kind of says the same thing but in a less “take whatever I can get” tone.

        • ana53294 says:

          Your profile does not say whether you want kids.

          But as a person who does, I think you have to take into account gender differences.

          A guy might not view as a waste of his time having a hookup with a girl he likes enough to hookup with her but not enough to date her. A girl looking for marriage and kids will much more likely find it a useless distraction to her precious fertile years.

          If you do want kids and a partner to have them with, even the very low cost signal of dropping hookups as an option from your profile is useful. You are almost into your thirties, and girls that age (especially as soon as they turn 30; it’s a magical number) start to hear their clock ticking.

          If you don’t want kids, keep it; it will scare all girls who have a ticking clock and you save them grief.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      This does not sound sexy at all.

      And is this honest? Like, is this what you actually want out of a girl? A debate partner? Or do you think this is what they want to hear?

      I’ve never done internet dating, but I’d go for the direct approach. “I like blondes. And stacked. No crazies. Hit me up.” May not work, but if anyone responds, at least I’m getting what I want.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Different people have different desires; news at 11

      • EchoChaos says:

        I met my wife on internet dating.

        I made it clear I was looking for an attractive religious woman who wanted to be the mother of many future children.

        That’s what I got. 10/10

        If you want a debate partner, you will probably get one. But as Conrad says, is that what you want?

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      It’s clear what you’re looking for, and I don’t think it’s impossible to achieve. But I agree with others that this is the wrong way of expressing it. Enjoying thought-provoking discussions is common, but something about being so deliberate and explicit about it seems weird — it reads a little bit like an application for a job which is not a good vibe. I’d rewrite to something along these lines:

      “Looking for interesting people to have long conversations with. Come tell me about [x], [y] or whatever cool thing you’re into!”

      where [x] and [y] are fairly specific things you’d be interested in. If you go moderately specific for [x] (e.g. Mexican history) and way over-specific for [y] (e.g. phonology of 17th century Norwegian) that adds a nice bit of microhumour.

    • Atlas says:

      I’m a rather unworldly young fellow, so feel free to discount my advice accordingly, but I think you might be somewhat misguided in your expectations. (Most of what follows will be a rehashing of some key points from the very insightful book Mate by Professor Geoffrey Miller and Tucker Max.)

      There’s no one size fits all model for what all women everywhere want, but there is a combination of traits that has decent predictive value for a man’s success in the dating market. (Professor Miller would contend that this has a lot to do with paleolithic selection pressures, but you don’t have to necessarily agree to find this model useful.) Unfortunately, being a smart, respectful conversationalist who enjoys thinking about and discussing abstract topics does not seem to lead to much success in most mating markets.

      I would say that this is because (unfortunately) most women are not looking for a partner who will be good at logically and politely sharing insight into abstract ideas. They are rather looking for men with traits like extroversion, athleticism, aptitude for dealing with real world problems, success in a prestigious, well-compensated field and high willpower and confidence (an often somewhat misunderstood concept).

      In other words, women are, naturally enough, looking for men who will add value to their lives. They want men who they can throw at broken, heavy, dangerous, confusing or scary things and trust to get rid of them. They want men who are good at and have (by normie standards) exciting and “fun” physical hobbies like kayaking/dancing/skiing that they can do together. They want practical, responsible men who will be good at co-running a household and raising children.

      This no doubt sounds like a lot, and it is, but this is the bear in the joke about stopping to put on sneakers. You don’t need to live up to this ideal, you just need to do a bit better than the other guys she’s considering as potential mates. It sucks, and it’s something I really struggle with myself, but it seems like that’s the world we live in. (If you can prove this theory wrong by finding a qt waifu who just enjoys long, thoughtful conversations, all the more power to you.)

      I’ll also suggest that, while online dating is fine, you might also want to try “incidentally” meeting women in real life settings that work to your advantage. With online dating, you’re describing rather than demonstrating your virtues to a woman, and you’re meeting her with the explicit intent of courting her, which is (for most guys anyway) fairly stressful. By contrast, if you do regularly do an activity where you hope to meet women, you’re showing rather than telling her your virtues, you can build a social network of friends who can vouch for you to her and it’s less stressful because you aren’t attempting to court a complete stranger out of the blue.

      In any case, I wish you the best of luck.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I think this is very good advice. Although I chuckled at “demonstrating your virtues” because it reminded me of the DENNIS system.

      • I would say that this is because (unfortunately) most women are not looking for a partner who will be good at logically and politely sharing insight into abstract ideas.

        As your “most” implies, women vary. My wife’s account of her reaction to our first meeting is “I’ve finally found someone interesting in this place” (VPI, where I was an assistant professor and she a grad student in a different field).

        But she almost certainly was not thinking in terms of romantic courtship, given how long it took me to persuade her to marry me.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I can see it now.

          DF: But dear, don’t you see that you need to discount your future happiness that you might find with another partner in two ways. First you have already (obviously) considered the time aspect, but have you considered that you hold a local monopoly on my heart? This will allow you to extract rents far in excess of what you would from your average expected future partner, so if I could refer you to figure 1.3 again, you will see the shaded area (here) that indicates the full extent of the rents that you could extract from our relationship. This figure will end up being quite large as I currently enjoy a very satisfying life and the implication of entering a voluntary agreement is that both of us will experience gains from doing so, leaving you to capture from a much larger utility function overall.

    • serench says:

      I can’t see the rest of the profile but for what it’s worth, I would be messaging you privately if I were in London or nearby. A conversation partner is what I’m looking for too and you seem interesting and genuine. My only advice about what you’ve written is to reduce the formality a little – try increasing the use of contractions rather than phrasings like ‘I do not’

  35. emiliobumachar says:

    The Passover Chapter of Unsong, without the first segment with the Unitarians, would make a good opening for the book.

    Maybe just the segment with Uriel and Moses.

  36. viVI_IViv says:

    I’ve been taking more advantage of a feature where any comment that more than three users report gets removed until I can check it over for appropriateness. Most of these comments are inappropriate but not worth banning people for, so I usually just keep them removed and take no further action. I know people don’t like moderator actions without transparency, but I don’t have enough time/energy to moderate in a transparent way and so you are stuck with this for now. Sorry.

    Once you say this feature exists, you create an incentive to abuse it.

  37. johan_larson says:

    I am disappointed to find that both the CIA and the NSA have recruiting videos on YouTube. Come on guys, you are supposed to be the secret masters. All-knowing. All-seeing. Learn to cultivate some mystique, for crying out loud.

    • John Schilling says:

      Those are actually the KGB and Mossad recruiting videos.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The CIA used to advertise jobs in the National Clandestine Service (which apparently is back to being called the Directorate of Operations, but whatever) on the radio. I figured this was to fill some sort of weird government requirement and they’d never recruit anyone they found that way.

    • Atlas says:

      I was going to and will probably make a post in the future about how disappointed I’ve been by reading a couple books about the actual history of the CIA (and intelligence services in general.)

    • johan_larson says:

      Is there some US security or intelligence service that is only rumored to exist, or even officially denied?

      This could be quite the conspiracy theory rathole, I suppose.

      • Aapje says:

        There is the British Secret Intelligence Service, but sadly enough their existence isn’t actually a secret.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        For the longest time the NSA was like this.

        The agency was formally established by Truman in a memorandum of October 24, 1952, that revised National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) 9. Since President Truman’s memo was a classified document, the existence of the NSA was not known to the public at that time. Due to its ultra-secrecy the U.S. intelligence community referred to the NSA as “No Such Agency”.

        The memo is still classified, and almost no one has seen it. Literally we don’t know what exactly the NSA is chartered to do.

      • Atlas says:

        From Kingsman: the Secret Service:

        [Valentine receives a notice that Professor Arnold has been terminated]

        Valentine : Fuck that guy, whoever he is! I’m gonna… He made me kill Professor Arnold. Goddamn loved Professor Arnold.

        Gazelle : Well the good news is we know the emergency surveillance system works.

        Valentine : You know what’s not good news? ‘My colleague died,’ that’s what he said. This is an organization and they’re all over us. Whoever you spoke to…

        Gazelle : I told you. I made contact with the KGB, MI6, Mossad, and Beijing. They all insist it wasn’t one of theirs.

        Valentine : Beijing. So freaky how there’s no recognizable name for the Chinese Secret Service. Now that’s what you call a secret, right? You know what? Fuck it. We need to speed things up. Bring the product release forward.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The NSA’s existence was a pretty badly-kept secret. They had (and have) their own exit on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the only signage being a dire warning that you probably shouldn’t be there. That was a little hard to hide. The dire warning is still there, but it’s complemented by a huge sign marked “NSA”.

        There were some others that were at least slightly less-well-known before becoming public.

        • albatross11 says: