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### 1,047 Responses to Open Thread 134.25

1. Nick says:

Are the ads on the right gone now for anybody else? They haven’t been appearing all day for me, but when I tried turning off adblock they came back. Any reason it decided to block them now? Perhaps the number of ads on the page crossed a threshold or something? It’s the Adblock Plus Chrome extension, if that helps.

• anonymousskimmer says:

No. Ublock origin (Firefox) with 1 request blocked on this page. Does the Adblock extension auto-update itself or its filters?

• Scott Alexander says:

I’m having the same issue, not sure what to do.

2. Deiseach says:

Tim O’Neill taking a hatchet to some more crappy history again.

I like him because (a) he’s a curmudgeon like myself (b) he cares deeply about historical accuracy, and I too think this is important – we’re discussing the NYT series on slavery downthread and how the sociologist writing the shock, horror straplines is getting it wrong and how this distorts, or at the very least has nothing whatsoever to do with, his thesis (c) he’s honest – he’s definitely an atheist, I’ve heard him say some very rude things about the Church and religion elsewhere, but he won’t do the double-dealing of “Sure this is wrong, but it’s a useful tool to promote atheism, and atheism is correct, so the end justifies the means”.

I’m recommending this post for anyone who wants to know “So why did ancient people believe such silly things?” They had reasons according to their lights, they didn’t just pull it out of the air, and O’Neill does a good job explaining this.

• Enkidum says:

I’ve encountered O’Neill before but had forgotten who he was. Thanks for reminding me. I second your recommendation.

3. Le Maistre Chat says:
• Nornagest says:

Police Chief Danielle Outlaw

I’m not sure if this is nominative determinism or the opposite. Cool name, though.

• Nick says:

I was distracted at the end of the session watching the news on this. Andy Ngo has a thread on it.

• Enkidum says:

It’s interesting reading someone like Ngo who is as fundamentally dishonest as the main pro-antifa accounts… leaving out things like the guy who was “attacked with a hammer” was actually attacked with the hammer he had brought to attack others with that was taken from him.

I want the violent side of antifa about as much as y’all (I hope) want the Proud Boys and American Guard. Not really sure what the solution is. But ultimately I find it hard to shed tears when a violent thug has his weapons stripped from him and is hurt in the process.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

It’s interesting reading someone like Ngo who is as fundamentally dishonest as the main pro-antifa accounts…

That proves he is a real journalist!

• quanta413 says:

I think it’s more just carelessness/ignorance for both types of journalist. He may have missed part of the fight. Much like how many stories I read in the more regular media display a deep ignorance of whatever they’re talking about that could be fixed by learning about what happened before the story they’re covering.

• albatross11 says:

Since Ngo got assaulted (and hospitalized) by antifas in the recent past, I think it’s pretty-much guaranteed that he’s going to see and report them in the worst light possible. That would probably have been true anyway, given his own ideological position, but the violent assault made it certain.

My qualm here is that it’s not clear where I would go for an honest report of what happened. Any suggestions?

• Nick says:

Yes, I want the American Guard and the like gone as much as you want the antifa gone; the two are symbiotic and drive each other to escalating violence.

• albatross11 says:

Every time I see coverage of street battles between right and left wing thugs, I think “why aren’t the cops arresting these idiots?” I mean, rioting, assault, vandalism, etc., are already crimes, and the police can definitely show up with enough force to overpower both groups if they need to.

This seems like a much better response than trying to decide whether everyone would rather be pushed around by antifas or proud boys.

I think there are two ways this could look:

1) Essentially indistinguishable from any two groups of thugs brawling. My impression is that the cops are about as diligent and aggressive in these cases as they would be sans the ideological content.

2) A brawl at the edge of a protest / counter-protest type situation. Here I think the cops are less aggressive, because no cops anywhere–west/non-west, democracy / dictatorship–wants to be seen as using excessive force against protestors. It’s one of the few things that can rouse a populace.

• Trofim_Lysenko says:

@albatross11

I -wish-, but “the police can definitely show up with enough force to overpower both groups if they need to” is not necessarily true in these cases. In the cases where it is true, it requires a level of use of force that is going to inevitably lead to at least some serious injuries on one or both sides of the rioters/proesters. It means heavy use of CS/CN/OC and similar chemical agents, water cannons, baton rounds, and good old fashioned blunt force trauma. Contrary to what a lot of people like to say most police forces in the US and even moreso their political masters at the city and state level, are wary of that sort of mass use of force, if only because the showy, concentrated nature of the display can lead to political backlash in a way that even regular single incidents of excessive force don’t. The police officials who -are- willing to go in like gangbusters like that (e.g. Joe Arpaio) also tend to be the sort of people who end up on criminal charges and with terminated careers or both, further serving to discourage others.

Thus the general approach of “containment”, only escalating to dispersal and/or mass arrests where containment fails and you start getting either A) deaths or B) lots of property damage.

• albatross11 says:

Fair enough. I’m sure the cops don’t want to look like they’re beating up peaceful protesters, and that probably makes them back off in some of these cases. OTOH, there’s a point where the cops actually need to show up and restore order, rather than allowing street battles or letting thugs intimidate their political enemies into silence or beat them up.

• The Nybbler says:

@albatross11

It’s Portland. The politicians are on Antifa’s side; they’re perfectly happy with Portland being known as a city where you can’t be openly right wing. That is also why the Proud Boys show up; they like to fight. From the Portland politicians’ point of view, it’s best if Antifa successfully chases off the Proud Boys and gets away with it, so there’s no point in intervening unless the Proud Boys seem to be winning and can be arrested for it.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

It’s Portland. The politicians are on Antifa’s side; they’re perfectly happy with Portland being known as a city where you can’t be openly right wing. That is also why the Proud Boys show up; they like to fight. From the Portland politicians’ point of view, it’s best if Antifa successfully chases off the Proud Boys and gets away with it, so there’s no point in intervening unless the Proud Boys seem to be winning and can be arrested for it.

This this this.
Peaceful people who support Republicans just keep their heads down, because they know Antifa work (unpaid) for the Mayor. The Proud Boys come to exercise their First Amendment rights because they know they’ll get beat up for it with the City Council’s approval, and they like punching back… or even striking first.

• The Nybbler says:

Where the hammer came from is disputed. Certainly someone on the bus had it, and antifa had it; it’s not clear how many times it changed hands.

What is clear is Antifa was attacking the bus.

4. Theoretical physicists have been unsuccessfully trying to reconcile gravity and the Standard Model for decades. What if it is just impossible? Would that have any wider ramifications?

• MissingNo says:

Perhaps the creators of this simulation were under the agreement that physics only had to work well enough for life to operate. Perhaps there are some fudge factors where the equations took too much computational power to work.

That is….actually my bet. Research *can’t* operate like that’s the case. But that’s my bet.

I’m glad I wasn’t born today. Living in the illusion of true reality for a time is the best way to start.

• danridge says:

This would be something we could predict and test for though, right? These theories essentially try to fit the universe to a consistent mathematical model, work through the ramifications of such a model, and check the fit of observations to the model. At least that’s my understanding, as someone who doesn’t really know either advanced math or physics. I recall reading as a child about an experiment meant to test a certain hypothesis of a theory which modeled the 3-dimensional space we experience as a projection from an underlying 2-dimensional reality; the model would predict that the granularity (I believe related to Planck units) of observations would downscale in a measurable way in this projection; if I recall this was disproved by the experiment.

That’s the beauty of mathematics, it IS an ideal and could not be constrained by the reality of a particular simulation/universe we inhabit, but you know exactly what any particular model would predict should it describe our universe. Rounding, “fudging”, random or not-so-random filling in of quantities: these are all things which can by analyzed by mathematics, and so the better our observations, the better we can test the validity of any model we may hypothesize. If you have random elements in the model then technically I suppose you can only gain greater confidence in its validity with more data, but it’s not as if we don’t have ideal mathematical models of all sorts of random and pseudorandom events.

I guess I didn’t say before, but my beef was with your assertion that “Research *can’t* operate like that’s the case.” If you can be specific about these fudge factors, e.g. “The end of physics is a pseudo-random routine that a hack programmer had to throw together the day before launch”, that will have observable ramifications at some scale, even if it requires repeated observation to analyze the random element. So you can absolutely design experiments to test such a hypothesis. This may not prove we live in a simulation, but it could disprove that we’re not in one.

I don’t understand it that well, but perhaps incompleteness/uncomputability could result in a mathematical model in which certain quantities can’t be analyzed or predicted, but what would run a simulation that is uncomputable? Again, I don’t understand this stuff very well, so if anyone who does wants to try explaining why all of this is stupid I’d love that!

• MissingNo says:

I don’t think you will ever get total “proof” of a simulation by looking at the equations. You just get a lot of really really odd coincidences that don’t obviously have a reason to be favored.

My favorite oddity is that how the laws of gravity and electricity are so simple. Why are there so many equations that just involve a square or a square root? Physics in this universe is…very neat.

There are also some extremely strange meta-reality coincidences.

• danridge says:

I’ll need to find time to check that video out, but I think that inverse square laws are a simple consequence of 3D space. As a ‘wave’ of such a force emanates from a point in 3D space, it goes off in time as concentric spherical shells; the area across which the force is acting at any point is increasing with the square of the distance from that point, as the are of the shells goes up proportional to their radius squared. If the same ‘quantity’ of force acts as it emanates out, since it is spread over an area increasing with r^2, the force at any point will be proportional to 1/(r^2).

If you were in a 2D universe, these laws would all involve concentric rings, and therefore they would be simple inverse laws, dropping off with 1/r. So I wouldn’t regard the similarity of these equations as being any kind of coincidence, but a mathematical necessity given one of the basic assumptions of the universe. It’s also instructive to imagine changing some of these things which we DO know about our universe to see what that would imply. Beyond having 1/r laws in place of 1/r^2 ones, I think it’s generally acknowledged that 2D space could not support basic mechanisms of life (one issue is that a digestive tract would simply bisect an organism in 2D space). This would mean that if the universe were 2D, we couldn’t be around to note that.

It gets weird thinking about this cosmologically, but consider that we don’t need to ask “Why are planets spheres? Does this imply that a sphere-desiring being designed them?” because given the space they inhabit and the forces acting on them, it’s easy to see how given any initial state, all matter in such a universe would tend to form spheres. The existence itself of gravity may not be explained, but the laws governing it are a necessary consequence of basic facts about space. It’s also possible that facts like “There are 3 spatial dimensions” are more or less necessary mathematical consequences; perhaps other configurations are less stable, such that a universe which was not like this one would have to become like it.

Again, haven’t seen the video yet, but I wouldn’t cite inverse square laws as coincidences. They are just how you have to do things in 3D space, whether you were creating a universe, simulating it, or if it just somehow accreted by some unposited metaphysical mechanism.

• Lambert says:

>how the laws of gravity and electricity are so simple.

Solomonoff induction.

If you want to list all the possible physical laws, the simpler ones tend to go near the top of the list. (because that’s how you enumerate transfinite stuff)

Since the sum of the prior probabilities of all those possible laws on that list has to equal one, those priors have to tend pretty quickly to zero, otherwise the sum wouldn’t converge.

Therefore, simpler hypotheses tend to be more likely.

• anonymousskimmer says:

What if the fundamental substructure of the universe (i.e. the multiverse, or brane) is simulating the universe we live in, but is doing so naturally (e.g. the Oklo natural nuclear reactor)?

How would that change your philosophical perspective?

It already seems implausible that we could technologically interface with the brane/multiverse. So we’re effectively already trapped in a system. Whether it’s natural or artificial makes what difference, now?

• The Nybbler says:

Then it’s not a simulation, just another layer of reality, the way the bulk properties of materials are the result of lower-level interactions.

• anonymousskimmer says:

Could we ever tell the difference though? What’s a programmer’s kludge, and what’s the result of unknown precursors generating their own kludge (e.g. bulk properties of materials)?

And what are the odds of the natural “simulation” occurring, compared to the odds of this being an unnatural simulation?

• Alejandro says:

The are two different issues that should be disentangled in your question.

One is: is there a unified theory describing both gravity and the Standard Model as part of a single underlying set of principles? It is indeed possible the answer is negative. The most promising attempt at quantizing gravity (string theory) is such a unified theory, but it might be wrong. In this case there are no wider ramifications, except “physics is not as pretty as we hoped”.

The other is: is there a quantum theory of gravity? And the answer here essentially must be positive, because by “a quantum theory of gravity” we just mean a theory that can describe what happens at scales at which both gravitational effects and quantum effects are important (i.e. the Planck scale, according to our current understanding of each of these theories separately) and there must be something that happens. For example, what happens to a black hole in the last stages of its Hawking evaporation process, when it reaches the Planck mass? What was happening in the universe a few Planck times after the Big Bang? These are questions that have inconsistent/nonsensical answers if we approach them with our current theories, but that must have some kind of correct answer. Whatever the framework for describing the answer is, it would IMO be worth calling a quantum theory of gravity, even if it is not like what most physicists have been having in mind when thinking of such a theory.

5. Ant says:

I would argue that the problem of Africa are in large part due to the European destroying the existing african nation to replace them with a system in which a few white people extract everything from the local population in a very inneficient manner, system that was sometimes rejected after the independance of the country, but often forced on the population by the next government.

There isn’t any pride to have here.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

But Subsaharan Africa wasn’t economically equal to Europe when colonialism started.

• anonymousskimmer says:

How is this measured?

When was the last time Sub-Saharan Africa was equal to Europe? When was the last time it was greater? Did the massive wealth of Mali in the 1300s help destroy Africa’s wealth in later centuries the way that Spain’s massive influx of gold and silver eventually lead to its decline (through trying to maintain the empire built with that gold)?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Technology, infrastructure. GDP per capita if we have information with any real epistemic value.
The rain forest zone and far south were still populated by hunter-gatherers until the Bantu showed up, introducing an economy of independent villages with blacksmiths. This left the area way behind the rest of the Old World. It was only in the 1400s that states emerged in the region, long after the Islamic slave trade started.
The Sahel was more advanced than the Bantu regions. State formation lagged well behind Eurasia, but kingdoms like Mali were doing fine relatively soon after Islam conquered North Africa.
Subsaharan state formation happened quickest in Ethiopia. Aksum was considered a major power by the Romans and Sassanids, and would have remained integrated with Christendom had history gone differently. As late as the Crusades, it may have been more advanced than Europe in some ways, less in others. The kings of Ethiopia were aware that the Crusaders had lost Jerusalem and carved Lalibela out of solid rock as a substitute Jerusalem, while European knowledge of Ethiopia was limited to “a Christian kingdom on the other side of Dar al-Islam, probably full of magic.”

• anonymousskimmer says:

Thanks for the history.

• Walter says:

That doesn’t seem plausible, been too long since colonization for it to be responsible.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

Ah, the classic argument from incredulity!

• The original Mr. X says:

No, because he gave a reason for his incredulity. If he’d just stopped after “That doesn’t seem plausible”, then it would be an argument from incredulity.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

“it’s been too long” is not a good reason. It’s just restating the claim: the sentence could be rewritten as “That doesn’t seem plausible, it’s implausible that colonisation could be responsible after this long a time”. There’s no evidence provided.

• The original Mr. X says:

An argument from incredulity, as the name suggests, is an argument in which the speaker rejects a conclusion based on personal incredulity. If the speaker gives a reason for their incredulity, then it’s no longer an argument from incredulity, but an argument from whatever reason they give. This is the case regardless of whether or not the reason is a good one, or whether or not the speaker provides sufficient evidence to back it up.

It’s just restating the claim

“That doesn’t seem plausible” and “it’s been too long” have different meanings, and hence one cannot be just a restatement of the other.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

I agree that in a purely logical way, sentences of the form “that doesn’t seem plausible, because [reason]” are not necessarily arguments from incredulity. For example, if Walter had used LMC’s justification above and said “that doesn’t seem plausible, because Subsaharan Africa wasn’t economically equal to Europe when colonialism started” then that would be a perfectly fine argument. The difference is that LMC’s reason carries extra information but Walter’s does not; to a large extent exactly what “too long” means in this context is the entire point of contention. By the standard you’re applying, “that doesn’t seem plausible, because that kind of thing doesn’t happen” isn’t an argument from incredulity because the reason is not a literal statement about plausibility. But I think most people would agree that it is, and so so is the comment above.

Another way of looking at it: suppose you wanted to argue against Walter’s claim. Would you do so any differently if he’d instead just written “that doesn’t seem plausible to me”? I don’t see how.

• Nick says:

Another way of looking at it: suppose you wanted to argue against Walter’s claim. Would you do so any differently if he’d instead just written “that doesn’t seem plausible to me”? I don’t see how.

You could make an argument from analogy. Like Protagoras did, directly below your comment.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

I think he could’ve equally well made that argument without the second part of Walter’s.

• Nick says:

He certainly could have, but he would have had no reason to think the length of time was the reason for Walter’s incredulity; it would have been a shot in the dark.

• Protagoras says:

There’s research suggesting one of the important reasons northern Italy is so much more prosperous and less corrupt than southern Italy is the difference in how they were governed at the time of the Renaissance, and endless knock-off effects since. Long traditions of good government are major contributors to continuing good government, and conversely for bad government.

This sounds like a great comparative study. Do you have any sources where one could read about that? Blog preferably, my book list is threatening to turn into a homunculus soon if it keeps growing.

• Viliam says:

I wonder if being a neighbor to someone with significantly better/worse government only makes the difference greater in long term.

I mean, how likely it is that “our society works like X, as opposed to those strangers around us” becomes a part of identity, and then even criticism of obviously bad things is easy to interpret as an attack to the identity. (“He only says he hates corruption, but obviously he actually hates our culture, and the corruption is only a pretext. Don’t listen to him!” “These people suggesting we copy some good ideas from another country, are traitors. If they like the system in the other country so much, why don’t they leave?”)

There is an opposite hypothesis, that cultures copy ideas from the more successful ones, and this is how cultural evolution works. But, dunno, maybe there are some assumptions behind the process of copying, which were historically true, but not anymore. Maybe national states, with mass media inside and language barrier outside, make it more difficult to copy foreign ideas, but make it easier to attack them. (Like, copying an idea from the next village feels okay, but copying an idea from another country feels wrong. Or, the mass media unify the culture of the entire country, so if a village at the border tries to copy ideas from across the borders, they will be considered weird by the rest of the country, and the resulting status hit will hurt them more than the copied ideas will benefit them.)

• Douglas Knight says:

This kind of argument is pretty vulnerable to corruption via the winners write the history book.

• Liberia was never colonized and yet its one of the poorest countries in the continent. Ethiopia was temporarily taken over by Italy for less than a decade and it looks just like it’s neighbors. East Asian countries were just as poor as SSA 60 years ago and now they aren’t. There’s a bunch of other things that illustrate how colonialism just doesn’t have any explanatory power.

• EchoChaos says:

Liberia was absolutely colonized. It was just colonized by blacks. It’s still definitely a colonial nation.

Ethiopia wasn’t ever colonized, so it’s a stronger counterargument, as is Southeast Asia.

• It’s government was founded by Black Americans but it wasn’t an American colony in the sense that the Philippines or Hawaii was. It still doesn’t fit the narrative. If America got rich by exploiting Native Americans, then why didn’t the Liberian colonists turn Liberia rich? If we’re looking at an analogous country, it would be Haiti.

• The Nybbler says:

Liberia was certainly colonized: it was founded as a colony of the United States, by a group called the American Colonization Society. <snark level=maximum>It owes its entire existence to slavery, so it’s even more evil than the US.<snark level=normal>

• edmundgennings says:

Some individual countries plausibly match on to that description like the Belgian Congo. But many colonies where much more protectorate situations where this account does not work. And there are also a lot of mixed cases where colonial rule was not purely benevolent but also far from purely extractive and involved a lot of institution building and some amount of economic development which was in some ways less than ideal but was real economic development.
There is some evidence that more extractive colonies have worse post colonial outcomes but Botswana was not incredibly poor upon independence because of colonialism. British control was always very minimal and non-extractive. Now some amount of other former colonies not adopting Botswana’s policies plausibly is the result of styles of former colonial rule, but it is important to avoid denying the agency of African governments. And even now Botswana is relatively poor.

• cassander says:

Ah, yes, the theory that colonialism caused European wealth. If colonialism was the source of europe’s wealth, technology, ect., how did the first colonizers get started? Why was it Europe sending ships to Africa and not Africa sending ships to Europe?

The answer is that they lacked the ability to do so. Only Europe had the ability to colonize, and they chose to. That requires that their edge came before the first conquistador set foot on foreign soil. Now, you could argue that colonialism empowered further colonialism, but then you have to explain why so many earlier colonizers like Spain and Portugal were supplanted and surpassed by late colonizers like the Dutch and English.

• ana53294 says:

Colonialism doesn’t have to benefit European nations in order to destroy African ones.

The same way slavery was bad for the countries that had it, as well as the slaves. And a lot of slave owners.

The fact that Spain did not benefit or become rich by taking all that silver from Peru does not mean it was good for Peru.

• cassander says:

Colonialism doesn’t have to benefit European nations in order to destroy African ones.

This seems to imply that the African nations were rich before the Europeans showed up. They weren’t. Prior to 1500, every society in history was desperately, unimaginably poor by modern standards. then starting around then, European societies started to get rich* for the first time in history. This process did not happen first in the places that got the most colonies, indeed, colonies tended to follow wealth more often than not. the dutch, for example, had the world’s largest fleet of ships decades before they acquired a single colony, and their prosperity always had far more to do with hauling bulk goods around the Baltic than the VOC.

Now, you aren’t technically wrong that it’s possible the colonies were unhelpful for everyone involved. Indeed, that’s accurate in a lot of cases. But the implication of the OP was clearly that the Europeans extracted wealth from the colonies for their own benefit.

* Rich is defined here as a societies that are productive enough that you don’t need to devote ~90% of labor to making food.

The fact that Spain did not benefit or become rich by taking all that silver from Peru does not mean it was good for Peru.

Silver inside a mountain does the Peruvians absolutely no good. I’m not sure they even knew it was there, but even if they did, it was useless without technology they didn’t have and wouldn’t have gotten any time soon were it not for the spanish. that’s not to say that the spanish were good for peruvians, but it’s silly to claim that the worst part of the spanish presence was them taking the silver.

• ana53294 says:

No, the African countries (with the possible exception of North Africa) were not rich before colonization.

The bad part of the Spanish taking the silver was how they treated the people who were working in the silver mines. They even had to import slaves because the local indigenous groups were dying too fast.

I do think that Spain was greatly harmed by having an empire. The massive inflation due to all that silver and the heavy dependence of the Crown on the extraction of American resources instead of taxes on the local economy meant Spain remained one of the poorest regions of Europe, despite being in a privileged position to trade.

I don’t see any reason to believe that England, the Netherlands, or other European countries, benefitted to colonialism as opposed to trade.

One of the main reasons why colonialism may have been slightly good was that many countries were skeptical of foreign trade, getting a permission to trade was difficult, so conquering them was a much easier to trade. But as opposed to just having more free trade, I don’t see the European countries benefitting from colonialism. Some Europeans did, but so did the Africans who sold all those slaves.

• Enkidum says:

the implication of the OP was clearly that the Europeans extracted wealth from the colonies for their own benefit.

1) The main thrust of OP is clearly that colonialism was bad for the colonized, not that it was good for the colonizers. No idea where you’re getting the reverse idea from, it’s just not there.

1b) Colonialism was really, really bad for a lot of Africa in particular, and had extraordinarily negative consequences for many other places (e.g. turning all of Southeast Asia into a massive drug dealing operation had clear effects that persist today, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia is the go-to book here). I don’t think you dispute that, though I suspect you disagree with me and several others in this thread about the magnitude and relative importance of these persisting effects.

2) I think you’d agree that at least the people doing the wealth extraction thought it was for their own benefit (and were in most cases correct). It didn’t help the countries as a whole, necessarily (see ana53294’s various comments), but it sure as hell made a lot of Europeans very, very rich.

• cassander says:

@Enkidum says:

1b) Colonialism was really, really bad for a lot of Africa in particular,

This depends on what you mean by “africa in particular” and “bad”.

The immediate consequences of colonization were unquestionably worse for latin america than africa, or almost any other colonized place, due to the effects of disease. That africa today has worse outcomes than places that had worse colonization strongly suggests that how bad colonialism was for you is not a good predictor of modern outcomes, at least not in a linear way.

You could argue that africa has suffered more because, e.g. it got just enough colonialism to disrupt old systems but not enough to build new ones, or some argument like that, but that’s a very different case from what I think you’re claiming.

Second, while one can easily point to negative outcomes from colonialism, one must not ignore the negative outcomes that would have continued without it. This is not just the big obvious examples like suttee, but the simple fact that, in the 16th century, pretty much every society was a brutal nasty place run by exploitative autocrats, and that for the average person it didn’t much matter if those autocrats were locals or Europeans.

2) I think you’d agree that at least the people doing the wealth extraction thought it was for their own benefit (and were in most cases correct).

They definitely weren’t correct most of the time. There actually is logic to mercantilism in a pre-industrial society. If the supply of goods is relatively fixed, then fighting over control of them (if you win) might be your best economical option. That said, most of the colonies didn’t make money once you consider the cost of acquiring and keeping them, and the payoff generally got worse as time went on.

• Enkidum says:

Spain did benefit and become rich by taking all that silver. It just wasn’t sustainable, and someone who knows more than me about economics can explain how it, combined with various poor choices, ultimately screwed them over.

• ana53294 says:

The Spanish Crown did not use that silver to improve Spanish roads, improve Spanish productivity, invest in invention by giving prizes (like the British did).

For me, Spain is the combination of all the people of Spain, Spain as a nation, not the Spanish Crown. I don’t care about the Spanish Crown, and I’m ready to stipulate that the Spanish Crown and government, including all those grandees, may have benefitted from it.

But the massive inflation that silver brought was no good. The lack of need of the crown to actually tax the country meant a huge underinvestment in Spanish productivity.

For me, the good of a nation is the increase of productivity, health, longevity, freedom of the overall population, not just the extractive elite. And American silver was harmful to all those things. How could the Spanish crown have quashed all those farmer’s revolts in Catalunya if it wasn’t for the tercios paid with American silver? And maybe the Spanish Crown having to negotiate with Spaniards would have meant we would have some kind of Magna Carta centuries earlier.

• Enkidum says:

That’s a very good response. I don’t exactly withdraw what I said, but I agree with your more detailed characterization (well, you appear to know more about the details than I do, and what you say sounds more than plausible to me).

• ana53294 says:

Although, ironically, Spanish colonies benefitted the Netherlands and other countries that were more productive than Spain, as investment was increased there.

EDIT: There probably were benefits to Spain from colonialism, such as all those secondary sons who left Spain and became rich in American by trade or conquest, came back and invested in their homeland.

But not from silver. The massive inflation that all that silver brought to Spain has overall been found bad by most historical accounts I’ve read.

• Lambert says:

>Spain as a nation, not the Spanish Crown.

I think this is the key insight here.
Resource curses, like Spanish silver, Saudi oil or Southern slaves, let the ruling elite maintain their positions without doing anything to invest in or improve the lives of the the ordinary people.

• cassander says:

@ana53294 says:

That’s not a particularly accurate history of the Spanish Empire. First, you have to remember that the spanish empire wasn’t a unitary state, it was a collection of various crowns that strenuously resisted integration. Of all of them, castile was the largest and most important, and it actually was quite heavily taxed, much to its detriment. It was the other kingdoms that generally were able to resist taxation.

Furthermore, the idea that taxation leads to investment in in productivity is not something born out by early modern history. You did tend to get heavier taxation in the places where more investment going on, but that was because those were becoming richer societies that could afford it, not because early modern monarchs were plowing their money into road building.

There is a point to be made about the political process, the free Spanish silver removing the need to reform domestic institutions, but reform in this era consisted of centralizing autocratic states crushing local government and representative institutions to extract more money for warfare, so it’s hard to see how that would have made lives better for the inhabitants. As noted, the Castilian got that with both barrels, and it went poorly.

• ana53294 says:

Yes, I know that Spain was not a single nation until the XIXth century Constitution, which crushed local autonomy, and the civil wars that followed that. It’s just a detail most people think is inconsequential, since we had the same monarch.

One of the reasons the Basque Country is one of the richest parts of Spain (other than the heavy English investment due to the good quality iron) was that we had what amounted to a free trade zone.

I don’t think taxation led to investment; it’s just that the Spanish Crown had so much silver coming from the Americas, they could always use it to crash any attempt to gain or mantain autonomy or more economic freedoms. The stationary bandit usually has an incentive to, per Wikipedia, “encourage some degree of economic success as he expects to remain in power long enough to benefit from that success”. But the Spanish monarchs did not care much about trying to extract future rents from Spain, because they had all that American silver, and a bit of an unhealthy obsession with becoming the Holy Roman Emperor, to which they dedicated a ton of money, obtained from taxes in Spain and American silver.

The silver, in general, was no good for the farmers, the journeymen, the masters, the merchants of Castille, Aragon, Catalonia, Asturias, and other parts.

• cassander says:

@ana53294 says:

I don’t think taxation led to investment; it’s just that the Spanish Crown had so much silver coming from the Americas, they could always use it to crash any attempt to gain or mantain autonomy or more economic freedoms.

There I would disagree strongly. Again, the standard pattern of strong 15/16th century monarchs was stamping out local autonomy, and outside of castile spain is famous for not doing this. See the failure of things like the union of arms.

What the silver did was allow Spain to play the part of a great power without developing the constitutional infrastructure that, say, France would under Louis XIV. This would, in the long run destroy the Spanish monarchy outside of Spain, because once the money ran out, the locals felt little communal identity and were able to shrug off spanish demands for it that came far too late.

The stationary bandit usually has an incentive to, per Wikipedia, “encourage some degree of economic success as he expects to remain in power long enough to benefit from that success”. But the Spanish monarchs did not care much about trying to extract future rents from Spain, because they had all that American silver.

They extracted very large rents from castille. It was everyone else that they mostly let off the hook.

The silver, in general, was no good for the farmers, the journeymen, the masters, the merchants of Castille, Aragon, Catalonia, Asturias, and other parts.

Sure, but not for the reasons you’re arguing.

• ana53294 says:

Charles I, V of Germany, was a bit obsessed with becoming the Holy Roman Emperor; towards that, he spent a huge amount of rents that came from Castille, and the American silver. He also never had a court in Spain, and when he came to Spain, he came from the Germanies, with his own court, and he gave the most important positions of his court to foreign noblemen. He was disliked and seen as a foreigner; one of the conditions the court gave him to give him money was that he learn Spanish.

He did not build any common identity; when his imperial chancellor died, he did not name any new ones; he was the thing that unified his territories, and he only saw Castille as a source of income towards his goal of reigning over a peaceful Europe that could fight against the Ottomans.

Towards that, there were many taxes in Castille, and American silver was used. His son Phillip continued this approach.

I am not sure he could have continued this hands down approach of governing, without the American silver.

What the silver did was allow Spain to play the part of a great power without developing the constitutional infrastructure that, say, France would under Louis XIV.

American silver allowed the Spanish Crown not to build institutions, yes.

The loss of colonies is probably the greatest thing that happened to Spain.

• cassander says:

@ana53294 says:

He also never had a court in Spain, and when he came to Spain, he came from the Germanies, with his own court, and he gave the most important positions of his court to foreign noblemen.

As an adult, he never had a permanent court anywhere, but he spent more time in spain than anywhere else.

He was disliked and seen as a foreigner; one of the conditions the court gave him to give him money was that he learn Spanish.

Which he did.

He did not build any common identity; when his imperial chancellor died, he did not name any new ones; he was the thing that unified his territories, and he only saw Castille as a source of income towards his goal of reigning over a peaceful Europe that could fight against the Ottomans.

I didn’t claim otherwise. In fact, I said explicitly that he and the 150 years of hapsburgs post Charles V failed to do exactly that.

I am not sure he could have continued this hands down approach of governing, without the American silver.

Well, Charles V didn’t get all that much silver until the tail end of his reign. the huge silver flows were more a Phillip II & III thing. But his style of rule WASN’T hands down. He generally respected local institutions.

• albatross11 says:

This is touched on in _The Dictator’s Handbook_. If the king/president/emperor depends on the productivity of his people to be able to afford the things that let him stay in power (including bribes to the other powerful people in the country who might challenge him if they became unhappy), then he wants the country to be more productive. Roads, ports, schools, investments–he will want to do those things, to increase his own take from taxes. But if his main source of wealth for staying in power is some extractive thing (oil, diamonds, silver from the New World), then he doesn’t have to care about the country’s productivity. If he’s looking to hire tercios, it may even be better for him that the country is poor so there are few alternatives for young men.

• cassander says:

@albatross11 says:

that line of reasoning makes sense in modern country. But in pre-modern economies, 90% of everyone is a farmer, so there’s not whole lot you can actually do to increase productivity of the country as a whole. Of your state, yes, but not the broader society.

• ana53294 says:

@cassander

But the XVIIth century, while pre-industrial, was close enough that investment could have helped.

The Spanish empire lasted a very long time. In the late period, there was a lot of institutional inertia, and other issues, but Spain needed investment.

Inflation was a big problem during all that time – and since the inflation did not bring growth, and jobs creation, it was very harmful.

Sure, maybe they couldn’t have invested any of the money to increase productivity – although I don’t believe that. Pay foreign masters or journeymen to come and start new trades, found new cities, build roads, and many other investments in productivity were available to kings even in the medieval era, much less in later eras. They didn’t do any of those things – and investing in Spain could have helped.

Silver brough high inflation, and no growth. Without the silver, Spain would not have experienced such a massive inflation. Maybe, an absence of colonies could have meant the creation of better institutions earlier – since the imperial aspirations of the crown would have required a stronger economy and the resources of a more unified nation, a precursor of a nation state.

• I’m not sure if the people talking about the terrible inflation due to New World silver have looked at the numbers. The average inflation rate was 1% to 1.5%/year, pretty close to stable prices by modern standards.

• anonymousskimmer says:

@David Friedman
That may be a stable inflation when you can contract, manufacture, ship, sell, and collect within half a year, but is it stable under 17th century conditions (especially given the lack of patents, trade secrets, insurance, etc… which can be used to boost prices or decrease risk)?

• ana53294 says:

@David Friedman

It wasn’t just the inflation, or “price revolution”; there was also an absence of real growth, and a big differential with other countries, where Spain lost competitiveness.

1.2% may be low, but prices sextupled in 150 years, and that was unusual in a time when specie was used as money.

• @ana:

I’m not arguing that the inflation didn’t matter, only that it didn’t correspond to what moderns see as the problems of a high inflation rate since, by our standards, it was a very low inflation rate.

One way in which it did matter was the effect on what were in effect fixed price long-term contracts, such as feudal dues fixed in money.

• anonymousskimmer says:

Eastern Europe was indeed colonized, that’s why Islam is such a major religion there (from both the Turks and the Mongols).

Exchange, whether through war or through trade, generally leaves the survivors technologically better off.

• Machine Interface says:

Islam isn’t really a major religion in Eastern Europe. The Baltic countries, Poland, Belarus, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova all have less than 1% Muslims. It’s mostly the southern Balkans, and that’s entirely the Ottomans; earlier waves of Turk invaders left very little cultural traces and were largely assimilated into Christian Slavic and Hungarian populations

As for the Mongols, they were (and still are) Buddhists. But the ethnic Mongols were the ruling class — the troops were in majority conquered Turkic tribes.

• anonymousskimmer says:

Thanks for detailing my point.

• Erusian says:

It may be true that an uncolonized Africa would be wealthier than it is today. What I find more interesting is that Africa was not colonized nearly as long or intensely (and much less wealth was extracted) than other places like India, the Southeast Pacific, and the Americas. European colonization of Africa only lasted about a century.

In 1880, Europe controlled less than 10% of Africa, and, by some estimates, it was lower. A lot of that comes from France in Algeria, by the by. African decolonization was completed by 1977. There are only about a dozen (out of fifty four) countries where Europeans had significant territorial control for more than 97 years.

It’s often stated technical advances like machine guns and quinine allowed the Europeans to rapidly colonize Africa. I put much more weight on machine guns than on quinine. Europeans colonized malarial swamps like Tidewater, I doubt it was squeamishness about letting soldiers die. When Europeans tried to conquer African states (and they did try), more often than not the Africans successfully resisted prior to that point. And that’s something I think that often gets overlooked. Africa successfully resisted colonialism longer than any other region in the world. And this was an active, conscious effort by the Africans, not something that just sprung from Africa’s characteristics.

• quanta413 says:

Yeah, but wasn’t malaria in the U.S. mostly vivax and malaria in Africa is mostly the more deadly falciparum?

There may be other differences that meant disease control was easier in the tidewater than it would be in sub-Saharan Africa.

• AG says:

How does Hong Kong fit into this model?

6. benjdenny says:

Question for the lower income (<$50,000ish) folks: Is "don't burn bridges" advice valid re: getting rejected from jobs? I get a lot of general "be very polite, you never know when they will call back" advice from the mob, and lots of "I'll keep your name in a handy drawer for future opportunities!" chirping from HR people, but I've never actually been contacted by a company for anything besides the particular job I was applying for. I'm sure this doesn't apply for people with rare or in-demand skills; I would expect the "keep you in my rolodex" thing to be true for programmers, engineers and the like. So, that's my question for the can't-afford-new-cars crowd: Has anyone ever actually got a call back after the fact, or would it be just as productive to yell curses during every rejection call? Note: I do not and probably would not curse at HR people regardless. • LesHapablap says: I suppose it depends on your industry. People in most industries love to talk about the crappy CVs they’ve seen or the completely loony job applicants: you don’t want word of your cursing to get around. • benjdenny says: Part of what I’m talking about is that I don’t believe this. Pretty much any job that ties you to an industry that’s small enough that you might be talked about by your entire name boss-to-boss and keep you from getting hired pays a living wage, at least in a metropolis. I’m a secretary; there’s just no realistic way (outside of, like, arson or murder) that I could get a reputation that would affect my hiring prospects positively OR negatively. People with skills specific enough to tie them to an industry small enough for reputations to be a thing generally make more money than what I limited this to. • Viliam says: I am a software developer, my salary is <$50,000, the industry is small enough that you sometimes meet people you know — I have met former colleagues, partners of former colleagues, former classmates, even former students.

Oh, and I work in Eastern Europe. So probably the number in your question needs to be adjusted to the region, because I assume you didn't actually mean people like me.

• b_jonas says:

You say that you don’t work in a small industry where everyone knows everyone else, so you can’t get a reputation. You would have been right if you said this twenty years ago. But today, we have the internet. If you piss a manager off too much, they might make sure that the next time you apply to a job, when the interviewing person searches information about you on the internet, they find shameful stories about you.

• benjdenny says:

This is kind of what I’m talking about: this doesn’t in fact happen. Where are the searchable forums where employers are listing first and last names of bridgeburners complete with stories? If this kind of public, findable name and shame happens it is certainly vanishingly rare.

• anonymousskimmer says:

Realize that HR people jump from company to company. They may remember you at their new employer.

And they may post on reddit as well.

• benjdenny says:

I don’t believe this is a statistically significant threat; I’m not 100% sure I’ve ever even seen someone on an HR sub use someone’s full, real-life name. I’m not sure mods would let them; even if they did, I’m not convinced a statistically significant amount of HR people would see it.

I’m not saying I can’t be convinced of this, I’m just saying I won’t believe it unless I have examples of it actually happening in real life. My whole thing is that the older I get the more it seems like this is just something people say.

Maybe there’s something wrong with the way you’re doing job hunting? Everything I know says that the best way to hire/get hired is networking (in the larger sense). Sure, you can avoid it all your career, and you’re right that it’s more likely in low skill / low value jobs, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s the anthropic principle at work here: maybe that’s part of the reason you’re still in low skill/low value jobs? Easiest way to get a job with more responsibility is a leap of faith on somebody’s part, and it’s unlikely that’s going to happen with cold interviews.

Somewhat offtopic, it’s very funny to hear <50.000 considered lower income. In my neck of the woods that's very much high end.

• benjdenny says:

I’d be interested to hear how one networks at the lower level when one’s social network is useless for this (no sarcasm, I’m interested).

Less than 50,000 was more “low end for here, where a lot of people are in psychology or programming”. • Radu Floricica says: I’m far from being a salesperson – my profession is programming. But I’d guess the best bet is a combination of making good impressions with people you work with, and making a small effort to keep in touch. It doesn’t really take active effort – actually, actively trying to network somebody is most likely a put off, unless you’re good or it’s a proper context. It’s more like the exact opposite of your post – keep any and all doors open. In time it adds up. Sorry I can’t give any more specific advice. But I can go off a wild tangent if you want 🙂 The topic reminds me of what Jordan Peterson said about religion – it comes from a time when we had no idea what’s the right thing to do or why, but we did notice that doing certain stuff makes people do better. Well, mostly it was cultural evolution in action – people simply copied successful people, and certain common behaviors got distilled into Things to Do. People that killed tended to end up dead themselves, and so on. There may be people that can understand networking and how to do it. But from my (non-people-person) perspective, it’s much safer to treat it like religion. Be professional, be polite, have a good Uber rating, grab an occasional beer with coworkers but don’t be pushy and so on. Results should be visible in time. • benjdenny says: I wonder a lot – it’s one of the main things I think about – how much of the conventional networking advice only works, or works a lot better, for people who are tracked to be in the professional caste. Like taking me: I’m a secretary; there aren’t a lot of other secretaries in most secretarial positions, so it’s not like sales where you are one of 100 salespeople looking for jobs and you can ride each other’s coat-tails, or like engineering or coding where head-hunters are a thing and opportunities get passed on quite a bit. You’d have to take my word for it, but I’m generally the best-liked person in any office I’m in, and I’ve never been fired from a job (besides temp jobs where job itself stopped existing). It’s not like I’m flying off the handle; I’m relatively even tempered. So I have this conflict where I know people who I know aren’t lying telling me networking is great and they get all their jobs from work friends or people they know, but it’s so absent as a meaningful thing from my life that it’s filed away in the same mental box as scratchers tickets. The one time this has happened a friend got me an interview for accounting clerk at a non-profit, but they ended up going with somebody with more experience and a degree, which was understandable and fine. Besides that, I’m an increasingly old guy for whom “don’t burn bridges” and “network” are mostly imaginary concepts. • A Definite Beta Guy says: It’s rare but it can happen. At that range, at least in office jobs, you need someone with a lot of motivation and want to capture your “rising stars” fast. If you have a lot of motivation and don’t QUITE fit the technical mode, they might slide you somewhere else. This happened with one of our new employees. Everyone really liked her, we juggled her around departments until we found an opening that fit her. • benjdenny says: This is an exception I do believe in; if I was trying to lateral within the company, I definitely see not burning bridges being a thing. • Deiseach says: Think of it from the other side, you’re a secretary, maybe you’ve had to do the same yourself – write refusal letters/email unsuccessful candidates/talk to them on the phone. “We’ll keep your name on file” is the polite way to try and soften the blow, because a bare “yeah you didn’t get the job” is too blunt. (And in some jobs, that ‘file’ really does get called on in emergencies). Now, from being on the other side of the phone, how would you have felt if a disgruntled interviewee had yelled and cursed at you? You don’t have the authority to hire’n’fire, or to interview people. All you do is take in the applications and pass them on or sort them into a list and then pass them on. While it’s understandable that the person is blowing off steam, yelling at you is doing nothing except making you the secretary stressed and upset. If they want to burn their bridges, they should yell and curse the person who interviewed them (and that has its own dangers because can you be sure you’ll never hear from them again, or that they won’t pass your name on to somebody else looking for a secretary even if their own department didn’t hire the candidate that time?) I get it. It’s frustrating, and you know that the “we’ll keep your name on file” is only a polite fiction. I’ve wanted to yell at people myself. But I’ve been that person on the other side of the phone, in the retail/customer service/front-facing job, and I know exactly how powerless I am, and how the person yelling abuse at me may be relieving their stress but they’re piling it on me instead. Don’t do it. Yell at the wall, punch a cushion, have a long and passionate conversation with yourself about how the company is managed by pieces of refuse, but don’t yell at the poor minion on the other end of the phone. • benjdenny says: To be clear again, I don’t actually yell at hirers unless they’ve actually done something that warrants yelling in real life; I.E. I have but it was for a reason unrelated to getting hired/not hired. It’s more the myth or non-myth of “bridges” I’m interested in. • Deiseach says: It’s more the myth or non-myth of “bridges” I’m interested in. From my various jobs, there is definitely one place where they did pull from the “we’ll keep your name on file” folder, but that was for teachers. Schools (well, Irish schools) get a lot of speculative CVs sent in by newly-qualified teachers, and sometimes there are vacancies to be filled at short notice – maternity leave (though that tends to get advertised for), people out on sick leave, somebody quits and you need cover while you’re interviewing for a replacement, etc. So the principal would regularly ask “did we get any applications for teaching English and Geography?” or the likes – at the time, which is over ten years ago, Home Economics teachers were like gold dust, for some reason you just could not get a Home Ec teacher for love nor money. I imagine that’s changed since. But the broader point is that there are indeed bridges and you should be careful what you decide to burn – the place you think might never call you back could indeed turn up with an opportunity. But it is evidence that • Vitor says: I once applied for a job, got rejected, then got called a couple of months later and pretty much directly offered the job. It turns out that the guy they hired instead of me did not work out, to put it mildly. I took the job and spent a year cleaning up the mess he left behind. This was in the shipping industry, i.e. a white collar job with no specific degree needed, but there was a nontrivial amount of industry work experience I was bringing to the table. • Incurian says: Yes, you may sometimes get a late callback. Even though it’s rare, it’s never too early to not destroy your reputation. • albatross11 says: Don’t burn bridges because it’s possible you will cross paths with the people you interviewed with again later, or be considered for a job there in the future. Don’t curse out the person giving you the bad news because it’s a shitty, classless thing to do. • benjdenny says: The latter I agree with; the former is my actual question; I’m not particularly disagreeing with the virtue judgement behind biting one’s tongue and just taking it; I get that’s the adult thing to do. I just don’t really buy that, like, a data entry guy is statistically likely to be very much affected in the future if he shits in the parking lot on the way out. • anonymousskimmer says: Statistically you’re probably right. But is the miniscule payoff of venting in that way worth the odds that you’re wrong? Every day someone wins a lottery somewhere. No one is going to remember the person who didn’t respond at all to not being hired. Some will remember the person who responded positively, and a minute fraction of these will have good outcomes. Nearly everyone would remember the person who blows up, and the likeliness of any good coming from this is more remote than winning Powerball. • benjdenny says: I think this model works, but I think it works more for a world view that assumes A. That potential employers do no wrong in the process, or B. Potential employers do wrong at times, but that making the internal statement of “Well, I’m powerless here and abused; I will take this with no response, so weak and powerless am I that even a 1/10000 chance of retribution outweighs any dignity I might save by responding in kind” is in all cases non-harmful to the person making it. I think B. is conditionally true; there are people for whom fighting back is more harmful than swallowing it; and there’s people for whom swallowing it is more harmful than fighting back. The single instance in my life where I have burned a bridge had to do with a company that brought me in for an interview; the boss who was interviewing me then was an hour late because she was picking someone up at the airport, had known this in advance and just decided it was probable I’d wait. The boss then set up a second interview knowing I’d have to take a vacation day to schedule for the only day she was willing to be available; she then cancelled it after the day-off was locked in so she’d have more time to pack for a vacation she had planned. She then scheduled the new second interview a month out, flaked out on that, and then I got an HR call telling me they had gone with someone who they were more comfortable with on account of having two interviews. That particular company I forced to call me and apologize. In a strict monetary sense, there’s a very low chance they will one day hire for the same job, remember I humiliated them, and I’ll have a non-chance of getting the job instead of a slim one. But in a strictly psychological sense, I think I have some long-term benefit from having held them accountable for treating me poorly that outweighs the super-slim chance I’d be able to get a job at a company that treats people in a horrifying way. • anonymousskimmer says: Good god. In that case you may have even created goodwill among the other members of the organization who knew your situation. Props to you for forcing them to apologize. This is one of the cases when things are reversed – they failed their interview with you, not the other way around. I’ve been fired for speaking up (threatening to use my lawful employee-employer rights), and am permanently blacklisted. Fortunately the company I am permanently blacklisted from typically only employees people at a lower job classification than I now have. I wear that crown with pride, and so should you. • baconbits9 says: That particular company I forced to call me and apologize. In a strict monetary sense, there’s a very low chance they will one day hire for the same job, remember I humiliated them, and I’ll have a non-chance of getting the job instead of a slim one. I think you have a different definition of burning a bridge than many do, in this case the company (or the one person) was burning the bridge, perhaps you only alerted them to the fact that they had set it on fire. • The Nybbler says: The “bridge” in this analogy can only be burned by the less powerful party. Because the company doesn’t care if J. Random Applicant swears he’ll never work for them… and if it comes down to it, he won’t be able to keep the oath anyway. • John Schilling says: and if it comes down to it, he won’t be able to keep the oath anyway. Citation needed. There are definitely employers I will never work for again, and I’m not sure why you think otherwise. • baconbits9 says: The “bridge” in this analogy can only be burned by the less powerful party. Because the company doesn’t care if J. Random Applicant swears he’ll never work for them… and if it comes down to it, he won’t be able to keep the oath anyway. In this case there is no bridge to speak of. • The Nybbler says: Citation needed. There are definitely employers I will never work for again, and I’m not sure why you think otherwise. Yes, we’ve been through this. You are someone who is at least somewhat known and respected in your field. You’re unlikely to be facing a choice between working for CrappyCorp and being unemployed, at least not for any length of time. This thread is about those making less than median, who may have less in the way of choices. If they’re out of a job and CrappyCorp is the only one in town hiring, they’ll most likely work for CrappyCorp because the alternative is extended unemployment. CrappyCorp knows this. • John Schilling says: I’m “known and respected” enough in my field to have been blacklisted across a relevant chunk of it by a former employer. And it’s being known that makes that possible; if nobody knows who you are then nobody will remember that they are supposed to blacklist you. The person who isn’t known and respected in their field is by same token not looking for a job with the narrow selection of employers that know and respect them; they can work for basically anyone in any vaguely relevant industry. If they’re unemployed and desperate, they will probably be sending a hundred applications to a hundred job openings. If that turns into ninety-nine resumes because they burned one bridge, or even ninety because that boss was talkative and vindictive, then they haven’t lost much. And what they have lost are the known bottom-of-the-barrel jobs in that pool. I can understand a person reasoning, “maybe the only job offer I will ever get is that lone bottom-of-the-barrel posting; I won’t risk it”. I disagree with the assertion that this is the only possible or practical approach, that no one can reasonably say “I’m confident I will get one of those other ninety jobs, and those are the ones I will want”. “Burning bridges” is unlikely to cause serious harm to your future employment prospects unless, A: Your optimal employment prospects particularly narrow due to very specialized skills or network effects, or B: You annoy e.g. the primary employer in a company town to which you are socially tied, or C: You burn your bridges in a sufficiently ostentatious way that people who would otherwise never have heard of you, will recognize you as That Guy. • AG says: Yes, we put out a call for one position, hired A, called back B for a different position later. However, part of it was that we knew the second position was going to open up and thought B was a better fit for it. These were for lab technician positions. • benjdenny says: Given the kind of positions with rewards/retribution for this that have been reported for this my new model is: A. Not burning bridges is completely a matter of virtue unless B. You work in a job that either has few employers or a limited supply of the kind of employee you are. • baconbits9 says: 1. What are the benefits to burning bridges? Basically none. 2. Potential costs- new job opens up quickly. 6 months ago my wife interviewed someone she loved, but they needed something very specific that he didn’t fit. Less than a month later a different team had an opening and she told them to interview him, and he had the job a week later. Above Your pay level criteria but it definitely happens. 2b On the lower level, ie entry level/minimum wage/restaurant work some notable % of hires are gone in a few weeks. They stop showing up (or never show up), show up late every day or demonstrate some nasty personality trait that didn’t come across in the interview. If they actually liked you they will call you rather than interview 10 more people for the spot. 2c People move jobs. The HR guy at a small company this year could be the HR guy at a large company next year. A blow up at a 25 person firm could blackball you from ever working at a 1,000 person firm. 100-1 against for these to happen might be real, but this is actually a Pascal’s wager scenario. It costs you nothing to behave well and gains you nothing to behave badly. • benjdenny says: See my response to anonymousskimmer above; it’s relevant to this. • John Schilling says: 1. What are the benefits to burning bridges? Basically none. It boosts your self-esteem, satisfies your sense of justice, and in so doing it makes you feel better. It probably also makes other people you care about feel better, when they hear about it. And that’s basically the only benefit anyone anywhere can ever ultimately receiver from anything ever. It’s the thing that matters, that everything else is in service of. Now, there’s a very good case to be made that burning bridges means forgoing a lot of makes-you-feel-better in the future for a meager dose now, and ill-advised on that basis, but the benefit is real and direct and immediate. If your reasoning was, “I do not count or anticipate an increased number of dollar bills in Bob’s possession, therefore Bob does not benefit from this”, then you might get a passing grade in ECON 101 for that, but you’ll fail any higher-level class and/or the game of life. • If your reasoning was, “I do not count or anticipate an increased number of dollar bills in Bob’s possession, therefore Bob does not benefit from this”, then you might get a passing grade in ECON 101 for that Surely not, since on that approach all consumption would be viewed as irrational. • MorningGaul says: If you’re at the lower income, you probably wont get called back or recalled (tho you really never know, I got my internship because the guy that interviewed me needed an intern for a company he had invested in). However, you never know when you‘ll call them back, and when you do, you dont want to be on a blacklist of some sort. Also, staying polite during rejection is good practice for, you know, staying polite all the time, which is useful to not get to the rejection phase. • imrahjl says: I’m not exactly in the bracket that you describe, so I can’t give personal experience – the advice has actually worked for me. However, I know of this having happened for friends in the bracket that you describe, where months later they were called and offered the job. You never know what will happen down the road, maybe the person that they hired turned them down or was fired. 7. Douglas Knight says: Nornagest’s mention of Pournelle’s Iron Law reminds me of Robert Conquest’s Three Laws. Where did he assert them? Google books has 3 hits 1994-1996, which make them sound word of mouth. For example, Jacob Weisberg cites Kingsley Amis, as if he’s not sure that Conquest really said it. Perhaps Amis molded it from an earlier form that I can’t find because it had different words. (Or maybe JW just wants an excuse to memorialize the recently departed.) • The Nybbler says: As far as I was able to tell Conquest only asserted two of the laws, and not the most famous one. 1) Everyone is conservative about what he knows best. 2) The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies. John Derbyshire (formerly) of the National Review seems to have attributed “Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing” to Conquest as Conquest’s Second Law. References older than that to Conquest’s Second Law refer to some version of the “organizations are secretly run by their enemies” one. Conservapedia (yeah, yeah) claims that law was formulated by John O’Sullivan, also of the National Review. O’Sullivan claims Conquest’s First Law goes back to the 1970s, and the Second Law was coined in private correspondence between himself and Conquest. Amis, in 1991, quotes Conquest’s First as “Generally speaking, everybody is reactionary on subjects he knows about”. He also appears to quote this without the “generally speaking” in a 1977 work . So it appears the most popular formulation of the laws is due to Derbyshire, the law about organizations becoming left wing is actually due to O’Sullivan, and first law originally said “reactionary” and not “conservative” I would guess that this law appeared at some point in Conquest’s writings, but it is possible it was shared only privately with Amis among others. The “controlled by its enemies” law was shared privately with O’Sullivan, who then published it, if we assume O’Sullivan is telling the truth. • Douglas Knight says: Thanks! You don’t have to rely on Conservapedia, since they provide a link to O’Sullivan claiming to reprint a 1989 article coining the term. But I also believe Derbyshire when he says that Conquest asserted it, in particular gave different examples. [Actually, they are the same examples, which suggests that Derbyshire simply remembered wrong.] If O’Sullivan coined his law in 1989 and Conquest coined his second law in response, it’s not so surprising that the earliest citation is 1995. What is this 1991 work of Amis? How do you know what Amis says in the 1977 collection “Harold’s Years”? Could you give a more specific citation? It’s a collection of essays from the Spectator, which are available on the web (and the New Statesman, which is gated?). So most of it isn’t by Amis. Unless it’s an introduction to Conquest’s essay? Dale Salwak edited a collection Kingsley Amis: In Life And Letters which reprints a 1969 Listener Profile by Conquest of Amis. In it Conquest writes “what he has been kind enough to call Conquest’s Law—that, generally speaking, everyone is ‘reactionary’ on things he knows about.” Some letters between Amis and Conquest have been published, but google books doesn’t think that they’re relevant. • The Nybbler says: The 1991 work is called “Kingsley Amis: Memoirs” or just “Memoirs”. It’s mentioned in another article which attempt to track down Conquest’s Laws. The _Harold’s Years_ quote is from the book’s introduction, so it is by Amis. You can find it by searching on Google Books, it’s a parenthetical phrase “(to quote Robert Conquest’s celebrated Law: Everybody is reactionary on subjects he knows about)” • Douglas Knight says: Thanks! There are so many examples of google books searches where you and I did slightly different versions and it made all the difference. I want to issue a correction to my earlier comment. I missed that O’Sullivan published Conquest’s second law in his 1989 column where he published his own column. So there wasn’t even the delay to 1995. • Douglas Knight says: Ron Unz has a searchable (but not viewable) collection of magazines, so we can confirm that O’Sullivan did write in 1989. But, to my surprise, there was no earlier mention of Conquest’s law (everyone is conservative or reactionary) in NR before 1989, even though it seemed to be floating around for 20 years. (Neither NR nor any other magazine Unz scanned, but I don’t know what those are. Apparently not the Listener. Probably his British coverage is poor.) 8. proyas says: Why doesn’t Google Earth use small, cheap UAVs to make maps? I’m imagining a ScanEagle UAV with a few cameras pointed down out of its belly at the ground along with a LIDAR camera to precisely measure the heights of ground objects. The UAV would do a standard aerial survey flight pattern over areas to be mapped. https://diydrones.com/profiles/blogs/how-to-plan-missions-for-aerial-survey So why are some Google Earth maps so blurry? I’d imagine that the kinds of UAVs I’m imagining could produce extremely crisp maps of places. • John Schilling says: Why doesn’t Google Earth use small, cheap UAVs to make maps? Because small, cheap UAVs aren’t allowed to operate over populated areas without expensive-ish human pilots within line of sight. We’ve got a guy here who will very enthusiastically explain how unfair and unresonable it is, but it’s the law and not even Google can change it. At present, UAVs are not sigificantly cheaper than manned aircraft for aerial surveillance over most of the United States. And manned aircraft with automated cameras could give you the kind of survey you are talking about, but not broad rapidly-updated coverage at a cost that can be paid for in the extra advertising clicks from increased resolution (really, how many people are going to care). And I doubt that would change next year if the regulations were changed tomorrow. There’s a serious capability gap for the really small cheap drones, which are basically toys. And the heavier drones that can serve as stable camera platforms for prolonged periods in adverse weather, are heavy enough to hurt or kill people if they fall on their heads or fly into the air intakes of their jetliners, so we’re back to safety pilots or a very expensive crash program in improved automation technology. • Incurian says: Would it be [relatively] cheap to bolt on cameras to commercial planes? ETA: Or for that matter, how expensive/difficult would it be for Google to buy/operate some surplus U-2s? I’m guessing that there are simple solutions to getting better imagery, there just isn’t enough demand to justify them. • Douglas Knight says: It has always been the case that most of the imagery is from airplanes. • Incurian says: From regular passenger planes? I always assumed the bulk of the imagery was from satellites. • The Nybbler says: Neither. Smaller aircraft than passenger planes, flown for the purpose of mapping. Using satellite imagery has various problems, including that there’s a legal limit on the resolution companies are allowed to use. You’re also limited by whatever sensors are on the satellite. The US Geological Survey has (or hires) planes to do aerial mapping, as do various municipalities and commercial companies (including Google) • Paul Zrimsek says: Aerial-photography customers ordinarily want blanket coverage of a wide area, taken from a relatively low altitude (5000′ AGL is pretty typical). One of the things I did when I worked for the FAA was coordinate photo missions; these were typically flown by a light twin such as a Cessna 421, flying back and forth in a raster pattern with the rows maybe a mile apart– this could vary according to how oblique a view the customer could tolerate. • The Nybbler says: We’ve got a guy here who will very enthusiastically explain how unfair and unresonable it is, but it’s the law and not even Google can change it. They can, and they probably will get a change in those regs (just for themselves, of course), but not even Google can make the FAA relax restrictions quickly, which is why they did a lot of their development and testing in other countries. Meanwhile for aerial mapping the Google fleet with human pilots works. • proyas says: Could Google sidestep these problems by using balloons with downward-facing cameras tethered to them? The balloons would have some simple technology that would allow them to maintain an altitude of about 5,000 ft. The cameras would be lightweight. The balloon units would have GPS trackers and simple computers. The balloons would be released during fair weather and would be carried by the prevailing winds. They would be programmed to deflate themselves and to land over unpopulated areas. If they unexpectedly popped and fell to the ground, they wouldn’t be heavy enough to kill anyone unless they directly struck a person in the head. Humans being paid minimum wage would use GPS to find the downed balloons, load them into trucks, and mail them back to Google for reuse. • CatCube says: I guess I still don’t understand what you think the benefit to Google is for this. Slurping up a bunch of poor-quality photos of random bullshit in the middle of nowhere doesn’t have any potential to make them money. I say “poor-quality” because merely having high resolution isn’t enough for this. Orthorectification of the photos will be required, and that’s going to be a lot tougher if you don’t control the locations, elevations, and direction of the camera (“wherever the wind takes me is where I go!”) @Paul Zrimsek above discussed the maximum tolerable obliquness of a photograph, and the orthorectification requirements are what’s controlling that. There’s a reason that photogrammetry is its own profession, and sometimes even licensed–their output may be used as part of a legal land survey. If you want higher quality information on a piece of land, you’re going to have to pay a lot more, enough so that the need will have to be justified. Not quite photography, but consider elevation data. I don’t know how to do a pretty link for The National Map to point you at a specific location with a specific view, so if you’re interested let me show you an example. Search for “Cougar Reservoir, OR”, then go to the “Level List” button (third one from the left in the green menu bar at the top). Turn on the “3DEP Elevation – Hillshade” layer. If you look closely, you’ll see some visual artifacts surrounding the reservoir. There are a bunch of weird line segments surrounding it, where the terrain hillshade gets a lot “sharper”. If you go to the layer list and turn on “3DEP Elevation – Index” you’ll see a dark orange area that outlines exactly this “sharper” area; this dark orange area is the 1/9th arcsecond resolution, while the rest is 1/3 arcsecond. There’s a band of tighter resolution because that reservoir is there–the Corps of Engineers needed better mapping in that area for our own operations, so we MIPRed money to USGS to create a higher-resolution elevation dataset, which they then published the data for on their public data source, because once it’s collected, why not? The rest of the area is in the standard 1/3 arcsecond that USGS uses as a default for the entire lower 48. I think in the fullness of time, they’re going to upgrade all of the US, but areas with an immediate need, especially for other agencies paying them to do it, have priority. If you zoom out, you’ll also see that more populated areas have the finer data sets as well. Maps, aerial photos, and the like don’t just happen–they’re exactly as good a quality as somebody needs for some purpose. Google is primarily slurping up open-source data sets, which is why the “snowmobile trail” thing happened in my comment below–the GIS database they sucked up had that trace marked on it, and the computer has no way to tell that that’s not an advisable route. (IIRC, their terrain layer uses the data set I just pointed you at) Google does do their own checking when they send their Street View vehicles down a road, but they’re checking only a tiny percentage of the total length of roads in the US, primarily focused on cities because guiding people there is where they get the most bang for their buck. Same thing with the aerial photos. They get most of their traffic for people looking at stuff in cities, so why pay a lot of money to have high-resolution photos of random-ass farm fields? • CatCube says: The same reason Google Maps will send you down a snowmobile trail* near the town where I grew up–they don’t make enough money on the 95% of the land area of the country that isn’t city, so they aren’t particularly fussed about whether or not it’s actually totally correct. * FU is the snowmobile trail–it’s not a good idea to take that without a 4WD vehicle or a dirtbike/4-wheeler during the summer and it’s absolutely impassible to wheeled traffic in the winter, and it’s definitely not legal to take a regular vehicle at any time of year. The “longest” drive is the correct road, and is actually the shortest drive, but because Google’s database doesn’t have speed limits on any of those, it assumes that the shortest path is the fastest. I will say they’ve actually improved things some. It used to be if you were traveling from Ishpeming to Republic or other points south, it’d send you down 478, because that cut off the right angle between US-41 and M95 at Koski Korners. The back road didn’t have a speed limit marked in the database so the shortest-time algorithm would make the mistaken assumption that you could go the default 55 mph that you can on the highways so taking the back road was the “preferred” path. Which isn’t wrong in the way the snowmobile trail is wrong, but it was funny seeing people get out of their cars when they saw you working in the yard and you could tell that they thought they heard a wolf howling and a banjo plinking in the distance when they were asking if they were going the right way. This is your periodic reminder to not trust the magic box if you’re traveling through rural areas, and why people might give you directions instead of an endpoint. • Our google maps failure was on I80 in Nevada, so rural but not back road. It showed a gas station that wasn’t there and pretty clearly had never been there. Fortunately, we managed to make it to Wendover. • gbdub says: Say yah to da UP eh! • metacelsus says: I gave a big FU to Google. (Well, actually what I did was I used the “feedback” feature on Google Maps to report a problem.) It may not get fixed, but at least I tried. 9. johan_larson says: Our merry band of Go players over on the Online Go Server, SlateStarCodexers, has grown to 12. Thank you to everyone who has been playing handicap games with me. Other beginners would be most welcome to join us. A month in, I have kept my promise to play Go every single day. A lot of the games have been on my phone; I need to get over my anxiety about playing live games with a clock on OGS. I’ve also worked my way through Kano Yoshinori’s Graded Go Problems for Beginners (vol 1). Currently on Janice Kim’s The Way of the Moving Horse. • Well... says: • jgr314 says: Are you in our OGS group? If not, that’s probably why you aren’t merry… 10. Randy M says: The discussion about colonization and natives below made me think of this question (although up front I’ll acknowledge that the plagues explorers brought complicates things a lot). What is the least dense and area of land can be occupied by with a legitimate claim? I don’t expect anyone to have a numeric answer handy, but do you think the question has relevance? Morally, that is. Practically it comes down to power and international politics. But if a group of settlers are going from a sparsely populated country to a densely populated one that can barely feed itself, even if those settlers are facing persecution at home we are probably going to have more sympathy with the natives. This isn’t a reference to anything, I’m establishing the boundaries of a scale. On the other side, if you have the settlers heading for a small continent with ample resources occupied a single nomadic tribe, does it get harder to justify saying this is illegitimate theft of land? • Radu Floricica says: I don’t think the morals should be a part of that. Actually, I kinda cringe thinking that either answer would have the blessing of morality. Most of my instincts revolt against this kind of morality. Some choices just suck, and that’s the way it should be. Also that’s the agrarian society vs hunter gatherer dilemma. Agrarian has a much higher population density, but with what looks like a lot worse conditions – backbreaking work, worse nutrition, higher die-off risks, kleptocracy etc. Also, it lead to the current civilization where we have no hunger, less work and will probably eventually get rid of death. So yeah. This makes the right choice is obvious, but I wouldn’t really call it moral. • Randy M says: I don’t think the morals should be a part of that. Actually, I kinda cringe thinking that either answer would have the blessing of morality. Most of my instincts revolt against this kind of morality. Some choices just suck, and that’s the way it should be. Morality isn’t always about identifying the easy option (No, don’t take money from the orphans for your lunch). It’s just as much about finding the best of bad options (Do I return the dropped money to the rich looking person, even though I can’t afford my own lunch?). Also that’s the agrarian society vs hunter gatherer dilemma. A bit, yeah, but if that is the overriding concern we could construct the hypothetical in a way to hold that constant. • Radu Floricica says: It’s just as much about finding the best of bad options In this case, I’m guessing it’s very much about the specifics. Also it’s not really theoretical, come to think of it. There are still tribes in the amazon forest that are living hunter gatherer lifestyle on what could be much more valuable agricultural land. But the reason we instinctively tend to consider their position as moral is that they’re not just owner of the lands, but are rare – pretty much last of that lifestyle. When America was colonized it was probably the reverse – europeans could easily see themselves as bringing the embers of civilization in an ocean of wilderness. So I guess there’s a lot of criteria… doubt you’ll get a straight answer. • anonymousskimmer says: To be fair the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of some Amazoners is what happens to the survivors after an empire is destroyed. Prior to European colonization it was denser with people: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/amazon-jungle-ancient-population-satellite-computer-model/ Even the missionaries weren’t concerned with bringing civilization to the natives. They were concerned with bring GOD to the natives. The conquistadors were just in it for the riches. That perception has endured despite 16th-century accounts of large, interconnected villages that go against modern assumptions. Disease and genocide wiped out entire villages, and many others abandoned agriculture altogether. “They had to be on the move constantly,” • anonymousskimmer says: This depends on the local climate and local uses. It also depends on whether the environment itself gets consideration (e.g. do we want parks, forests, and other regions the endigenous flora and fauna can maintain themselves, and maintain themselves with, without dependency on people). In general I’d guess that it hasn’t historically been the case that modern civilizations have had to deal with this issue, with the possible exceptions of Andaman islanders. Those lands that were conquered were conquered even though they were already being well used (e.g. Terra preta in the Amazon). To answer your question: If they have more people than us they have a right to it. If they have less people than us we have a better right to it. No, the question isn’t that relevant. The relevant question is how much people are allowed to disrupt other people and non-human things, and if so, which purposes-for-disruption are most salient to the particulars. Another relevant question is how things will change with or without the intervention in the foreseeable future. Kill half the species and all of the indigenous people, but this allows the invaders to technologically stop a volcano that would have wiped every bit of life out? • AG says: If they have more people than us they have a right to it. If they have less people than us we have a better right to it. How specific a context does this apply to? Isn’t this an argument for land-based wealth redistribution? Or is this a proxy for “if they have more military power (which not always about number of bodies) they have a right to it?” • quanta413 says: Land-reform has worked out decently sometimes although it may work out badly more often. I don’t know. The U.S. forced it on Japan post WWII with (to my cursory understanding) good results. It probably depends on the population having the productive skills to do something with their new land. So that means it probably only has a chance of working if your society still has a lot of farmers. • anonymousskimmer says: Proxy. I’m being historically cynical. And of course it’s not about “us” or “them”, it’s about the political classes that control the militaries. 11. Urstoff says: What’s the public choice term for “The most likely person occupying a high state position will be a true believer and thus will try to expand the power of the institution”, and what are the options for mitigating that phenomenon (aside from the particular institution not existing in the first place)? • Matt M says: Why does it even have to be a high state position? Your local letter carrier and DMV clerk are probably statistically less likely to be libertarians. That’s probably less of an issue since they have less power. Then again, maybe they don’t, given that those are the agents of the state most of us will most often actually have to interact with. • Urstoff says: You’re right, I guess I just meant any position of authority/power, which DMV clerks have, even if a tiny amount. Although I think a distinction can be made between true believers who exercise power because what they think they are doing is good and right and just people who exercise power because they have power and like to exercise it. • Nornagest says: I don’t know if there’s a public choice theory term, but this sounds a lot like Jerry Pournelle’s iron law of bureaucracy. • Urstoff says: That sounds close; also, the (possibly apocryphal) Oscar Wilde quote: “The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.” [This was in Civ IV, too, wasn’t it?] • Le Maistre Chat says: Yes. Every time you discovered a technology, Leonard Nimoy would read a quote, and that was one of them (Civil Service). (The one for Priesthood was the Priestly Blessing from Leviticus.) • Urstoff says: The main disappointment of subsequent Civ games was that they got someone else besides Nimoy to read the quotes. • Gobbobobble says: They got Sean Bean for 6 which, while not topping Nimoy’s “beep … beep … beep”, is pretty good • Le Maistre Chat says: Isn’t Sean Bean typecast as “hairy guy who dies in the Middle Ages”? That seems inauspicious for my Civ game. • Nornagest says: (The one for Priesthood was the Priestly Blessing from Leviticus.) Where “live long and prosper” meets “west side”. • Lambert says: He did manage to survive the Napoleonic Wars, once. • Aftagley says: This sounds like common sense. If you’re hiring for a position, unless you’re actively trying to destroy an institution, why would you select the person who doesn’t seem to care about the organization? You wouldn’t. You’d pick someone who’s qualified and passionate about the job. I don’t really get what you’re advocating for here. Only hire people who don’t care? • Viliam says: To hire people who are not enthusiastic about expanding the institution, I guess. You can appreciate the services of an institution without desiring to sacrifice everything else to it. Just keeping a balance would be nice, but it doesn’t seem to work in practice. • Aftagley says: Maybe, but what kind of weirdo would screen for that characteristic in a job interview? Think about it this way: you’ve been elected president with a clear mandate from the people to enact your vision of ensuring that the people in charge of our high state positions will not be true believers and won’t try to expand the power of their institutions. You’re the president, however, and too busy to do this yourself. Therefore, you establish a task force. You’ve narrowed down the commissioner of this task force down to two candidates. On paper, they’re equal in every way. When asked why they want the job they give the following answers: Candidate one: “I deeply support your mission to control the size of the bureaucracy. Too long have unelected officials excreted unjustifiable control over the American people. I think this task force has the power to really help turn around this culture of waste, and I’m already developing proposals about the next steps this organization could take after we’ve replaced those departments’ senior leadership staff.” Candidate two: “Eh, I don’t really care one way or the other about this task force, but hey, a job’s a job and the pay seems good.” Who do you hire? • Nornagest says: This is starting to remind me of Frank Herbert’s idea of a branch of a well-developed government bureaucracy devoted to sabotaging all the other branches. • Incurian says: That’s what judges are for. • And there lies the contradiction of civilization. We need institutions to deal with modern problems but those same institutions will use their authority to gobble up as much power as possible. No ones how to stop Moloch. • Deiseach says: Aftagley, no joke, in that scenario I’d hire No. 2. Why? Because he or she will clock in, do the job and no more, then clock out. No. 1, on the other hand, is zealous to the point of having Plans For The Next Phase, plans you the president had no hand, act or part in. Already they’re exceeding their remit and you haven’t even hired them yet! Such Plans will entail broad and sweeping powers to achieve the goals quickly and efficiently, and taking over from some of those departments and concentrating the power in the hands of No. 1, and inevitably hiring on new staff for the expanding remit. Maybe some of that staff will be hoovered up from the now-defunct senior leadership staff, in which case as senior staff they will need their own support staff. And suddenly your brand-new task force to reduce bloat and feather-bedding is growing like a weed and adding extra layers of bureaucracy and regulations that the other departments have to comply with, which takes up their time and means they need to hire on new people to handle all this – or if there’s a hiring embargo, that they pull people off the everyday work of the department they’re doing to do this, which means that work gets backlogged and so the service is more inefficient. That’s how you end up with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. EDIT: Too long have unelected officials excreted unjustifiable control over the American people – that’s a wonderful Freudian slip or autocorrect 🙂 • Nick says: That’s how you end up with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. My university introduced an Office of Institutional Effectiveness while I was there. In my mind, its purpose was to generate paperwork for every department to justify how much paperwork they were generating. • Seth B says: In the context of businesses/economics, the tendency/desire for leaders to build larger businesses/departments than profit-maximizing would require is called “empire building” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire-building • Thomas Jorgensen says: You do not. Hiring people who are not true believers has catastrophic consequences, in terms of the job their agency is supposed to accomplish not getting done, pure and simple graft, and so on and so forth. At the very least the person in charge must be a dedicated professional. What you can do is to give them latitude in doing internal reorgs and not let them hire on more bodies. The new boss wants to throw more labor-years at a problem? They can, as long as they can free it up from somewhere else. – Which is usually doable, as advancing art (technology, increased routine, methods) will lessen the man power requirements of some tasks, and other problems just stop being a problem. • Deiseach says: Hiring people who are not true believers has catastrophic consequences Eh. I’m betwixt and between on this; on the one hand, I do get your point. On the other hand, stock interview advice is to sell yourself to the prospective employer and part of that is pretending it’s been your dream and passion since infancy to work for Wilkinsons Widgets and that you eat, breathe and sleep widgets and if they hire you, you will spend 28 hours a day concentrating on nothing but making the world’s finest widgets at the least cost and the greatest efficiency. Whereas the truth is that for most jobs, people apply for them because “I need a job to live, this position seems not too crappy, and I have the skills/experience for it”. Not a lot of people have the luxury of “this is my dream job and my passion and I’d do it for free, I love this work and believe in this cause so much!” Most of us just want a steady job, conditions that are not absolute shit (including bosses and co-workers), and enough money to pay the bills with a bit left over. We’re not True Believers and if a better job came up elsewhere, we’d happily leave for it. • Thomas Jorgensen says: And that is well and fine for the average employee. For a minister or department head, not so much. • Clutzy says: I don’t really understand your point. Hiring someone who hates the culture of a place and the mission of a place would almost always make them better, assuming they don’t get fired right away for expressing these ideas. The perfect example is video game balancing. Some companies are really bad at this because everyone is the same. They have the same obvious blindspots and you will consistently see them make the same mistakes. Riot games is one example, another is Niantic. 12. Nick says: Can someone—@Deiseach, perhaps—tell me what the hell is going on here? I’ve been reading a bunch of Chesterton again, and I’ve been noticing a common theme: he’s a fan of the French Revolution, of all things. I haven’t seen him talk directly about it much, but he keeps bringing it up in asides. • Also, I think, of Napoleon: And the man who seemed to be more than man we strained against and broke; And we broke our own rights with him. And still we never spoke. (From “The Secret People“) I think the poem provides some explanation. Also, I believe GKC’s friend Belloc was very pro-French. • FrankistGeorgist says: He believed in democracy and pretty staggering amounts of redistribution. I get that around here he’s a metonym for conservatism and reaction but he clearly detested the power structures of industrialized England which had all the worst parts of old and new. Napoleon, as the great synthesizer of reaction and revolution, probably seemed to him like a symbol of keeping the good of both old and new. Also Napoleon’s just got sex appeal. Sooo many people were drooling over him at the time. Some still do. • Deiseach says: he’s a fan of the French Revolution, of all things Well, I think not so much a fan as (a) look, he came out of a Liberal background and that’s Whig(gish) and they’re Enlightenment and y’know, a lot of people looked to the American and French Revolutions as “this is the way to do things”, same way as you get young people nowadays all “yeah but Communism, c’mon, give it a chance” (b) his idea is “the French are a very logical people, when they come under intolerable conditions they do something about it, even if that means wading in blood up to their armpits; by contrast, the English will grumble but carry on under conditions that would choke a dog, but we like to pretend we are so superior and have a better way of life than the unfortunate Continentals” (think of Hogarth’s The Roast Beef of Old England; well, there were plenty of English people at home who never got a sniff of the roast beef, but so long as you could mock the Frogs what matter?) Napoleon is more a symbol of France and that spirit; not the Napoleon who made himself Emperor but the ideal of Napoleon as the figurehead of France and Liberty, who shook the thrones of Europe; for the same kind of reasons Beethoven idolised him (until the famous disillusionment around the Eroica symphony), and Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote her poem: Napoleon! — ’twas a high name lifted high: It met at last God’s thunder sent to clear Our compassing and covering atmosphere And open a clear sight beyond the sky Of supreme empire; this of earth’s was done — And kings crept out again to feel the sun. And here is Chesterton on Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning: She is by far the most European of all the English poets of that age; all of them, even her own much greater husband, look local beside her. Tennyson and the rest are nowhere. Take any positive political fact, such as the final fall of Napoleon. Tennyson wrote these profoundly foolish lines — “He thought to quell the stubborn hearts of oak Madman!” as if the defeat of an English regiment were a violation of the laws of Nature. Mrs. Browning knew no more facts about Napoleon, perhaps, than Tennyson did; but she knew the truth. Her epigram on Napoleon’s fall is in one line “And kings crept out again to feel the sun.” Talleyrand would have clapped his horrible old hands at that. Her instinct about the statesman and the soldier was very like Jane Austen’s instinct for the gentleman and the man. • Phigment says: Chesterton does not map cleanly onto modern political alignments. He was morally conservative and socially progressive in a lot of areas. Informed by his religion, to no small degree. So he was a big fan of trade unions. He has no end of snarky comments disparaging millionaires, or government officials selling out to business interests. There’s a thread through the writing of his that I’ve read which is essentially affection for the common man and distrust of elites. Chesterton didn’t think kings and dukes and lords were born to rule over less-titled men, nor did he think that rich people deserved dominion over less rich people, and he frequently took jabs at the elites of his society. See, for instance, the entirety of The Man Who Knew Too Much. So, he had a lot of sympathy for the ideals espoused by the French Revolution, even if it turned out badly. It was, at least in part, the regular people rising up and throwing out their useless and malevolent rulers. And in most of the instances of which I’m aware, his expressed opinions in his writing aren’t “Yay! The Revolution was a triumph we should seek to emulate!” so much as “Why are we, regular English people, going and fighting and dying in Europe at the behest of English nobility to uphold the interests of European nobility?” It’s not that Chesterton thought England should have joined up with Napoleon, and more that fighting Napoleon was never in the interests of the regular English person. Sort of the equivalent of “Why were we overturning governments in South America on behalf of fruit corporations?” • Nick says: Thanks, everyone! 13. proyas says: Does anyone know what this is? 40.431013, 90.777782 • Matt says: A very large factory in China? • The Nybbler says: It appears to be a building adjacent to a very large pit, so I’d say a mine. • johan_larson says: The thing that looks like a very large set of swimming pools? Some sort of mining. I think the green areas are evaporation pools. • Urstoff says: Salt production facility? • CatCube says: Looks like evaporation ponds for some kind of mineral processing. There’s a potash plant in Utah that looks similar: 40.731323,-113.976781 • Tenacious D says: And a lithium(?) mine in Chile at: -23.5167199,-68.3905665 • Aftagley says: The Luobubozhen facility. It has a Wiki page. Looks like it’s a dried up lake, former nuclear test site, current potash mine. • proyas says: Are those irrigation channels radiating out from it to the northeast bringing water IN to the mine, or moving water OUT of it? • Aftagley says: Follow the channel up to 40.629011°N 90.891038°W. That looks like a dam and from the direction of the water coming out of the spillways, I think the water is flowing Southwest. That would imply the irrigation channels are bringing water IN. • Incurian says: Bad former officer humor: my first thought was “go ask an IMINT guy, I’m not a fucking analyst.” 14. EchoChaos says: Donald Trump wants to buy Greenland: Link • Conrad Honcho says: This has got to be a Lex Luthor plot. 1. Buy Greenland. 2. Do global warming 3. Profit! • EchoChaos says: 4. Steal forty cakes. And that’s terrible. • A Definite Beta Guy says: I was initially confused, but the article describes it as a legacy item for Trump. From that POV, I guess it makes sense. Relatively unpopulated icebox that’s nearby: he probably thinks it is Alaska 2.0. • EchoChaos says: And to be fair, it apparently isn’t something out of the blue. The United States has wanted Greenland since the 1800s. • JonathanD says: I mean, this, but unironically. In 200 years, Greenland will very likely be much nicer than it is today. If we could get a hold of it now, we’ll* very likely be glad of it later. *We the country. Probably not we the current commentariat. • JPNunez says: These news made me look Greenland in wikipedia and goddamn, does Mercator lie. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenland Check how Greenland is positioned on the globe! • Randy M says: Makes me wonder if there’s some geographic usefulness in the event of a war with Russia. Which would be somewhat ironic as a Trump motivation. • JonathanD says: The Northwest Passage is beginning to open. As that accelerates, naval bases in Greenland could be very useful to monitor and protect navigation and trade. Or is that the sort of thing we just do by satellite now? • Clutzy says: We already have a military base there. So it is indeed strategically useful. • Aftagley says: Or is that the sort of thing we just do by satellite now? Kinda depends. If a boat hits an iceberg, you can’t go out and save it via satellite. You need some kind of naval/air presence within a few hundred miles to ensure safe navigation. That being said, even with the thawing northwest passage, there’s still no real need to go near Greenland. Canada does a good enough job maintaining navigation through the Labrador sea. Maybe if the US really wanted to contest Russia’s growing military power in the arctic then naval bases there would make sense, but you’d think if that was the strategy then you’d start by shoring up the arctic coastline we already own. • Deiseach says: The Northwest Passage is beginning to open. Holy cow, the dream of centuries could become a reality? That would be amazing! (Well, apart from the downsides about climate, but still)! • John Schilling says: Deepwater shipping is still the most efficient way of moving freight per ton-mile, but modern railroads are pretty close and the US has a very good freight rail system(*). So we don’t really need the Northwest Passage. Europe could make good use of the Northwest Passage if it wants to e.g. trade directly with the Pacific Rim, because trans-Asian rail networks aren’t quite so well developed. If the United States feels a need to interdict such trade, then sure, we could use Greenland for that. Possibly that’s one of Trump’s much-vaunted eleven-dimensional chess moves. No, wait, that would only be two-dimensional. * Which means we have a crappy passenger rail system, almost by definition. Pick one. • Nick says: It looks like Greenland has been permitting China to mine it for rare earth minerals, thanks in part to which China accounts for 95% of the world’s supply. Maybe this is Trade War: Phase II. ETA: While I’m shitposting, perhaps MAJESTIC-12 has manipulated Trump into buying Ultima Thule so they can maintain permanent operations at the cities of the Elder Things. • Le Maistre Chat says: Who says there are Elder Thing cities buried at Ultima Thule? I mean, if they had a global civilization we can infer it, but… • Nick says: I don’t have an authoritative source; just a guess that given the remoteness there would be intact Elder Thing cities there. • Hoopyfreud says: If Trump is worried about elder things trapped under the ice, he’s looking in the wrong hemisphere… • Randy M says: Siberia or Antartica? • Nornagest says: Keep an eye out for albino penguins auks. • John Schilling says: thanks in part to which China accounts for 95% of the world’s supply. China accounts for 95% of the world’s supply of rare earth minerals because China is the industrialized nation willing to look at the health and environmental costs of rare-earth ore processing and say “sure, no problem, we’ll take that”. Especially if it gives them a monopoly. If anyone else is willing to take that hit, it won’t be the geographic distribution of rare earth ores that holds them back. • JPNunez says: It’s definitely a great idea, except for the part that Greenland already has owners. Trump arrived way too late. I often wonder how the world would look like if Russia hadn’t sold Alaska to the USA. Well, they would probably have lost it at some point, but then again, maybe they’d have it still. • EchoChaos says: Psh. Paying everyone in Greenland to vote for membership in the US at a million dollars a piece is only56 billion. Not a problem.

• DinoNerd says:

Paying everyone in Greenland to vote for membership in the US at a million dollars a piece is only $56 billion US treatment of Puerto Rico ought to dissuade anyone sensible from voting for US control. Of course people thinking of short term gains aren’t sensible in that way. But I certainly wouldn’t want to be a can’t-vote-unless-I-move pseudo-citizen of the US, with expectations that emergency aid basically wouldn’t be forthcoming at the level more favored Americans receive. Or does Trump want them to become an actual state, rather than a territory? • The Nybbler says: US treatment of Puerto Rico ought to dissuade anyone sensible from voting for US control. The Bahamas is the wealthiest country in the Carribean in terms of GDP per capita. Puerto Rico’s GDP is higher. They didn’t get disaster aid as expeditiously as Texas, but they did get quite a bit, and a good deal of the issue was their local government. And they don’t pay Federal taxes, nor of course do they need to provide for their own defense. Seems to me US control has not been such a bad deal for PR. • Nick says: Puerto Rico has a terrible education system, right? Is that down to federal or territorial neglect? • Clutzy says: @Nick All claims that an education system need to be fisked quite judiciously. Always recall Simpson’s paradox and comparing Texas vs. Wisconsin schools. Now, perhaps PR is an outlier even after adjustments, but I’d need to see. • John Schilling says: Paying everyone in Greenland to vote for membership in the US at a million dollars a piece is only$56 billion.

How much do you have to pay 50%+1 of Denmark’s legislators to wear “I turned a historic piece of Denmark’s sovereignty into a monument for Donald Trump’s ego, and all I got for it was a bit of money” T-shirts for the rest of their political lives? I mean, presumably there’s some sum of money that would make this happen, but it’s not going to be trivial.

• Cliff says:

US treatment of Puerto Rico ought to dissuade anyone sensible from voting for US control.

Quite the opposite. All PRs are U.S. citizens and more PRs live on the mainland than in PR. PR gets tons of free stuff and bailed out by the mainland and gives basically nothing back. As mentioned, they have the highest GDP in the Caribbean. PR would be a LOT poorer if it wasn’t a U.S. protectorate.

Now they did get a bit screwed now that the U.S. decided the mainland minimum wage should apply there (2 decades of economic contraction), so that’s a consideration I guess.

• Nornagest says:

Makes me wonder if there’s some geographic usefulness in the event of a war with Russia.

Thule Air Base, a large USAF installation, has operated there since 1951 — technically 1943, but it was little more than a weather station for a decade. Primarily a Cold War installation, it’s been used to base strategic bombers, as a site for the Nike air defense missile system, as host to a secret, and wonderfully James Bondian, but ultimately canceled nuclear missile basing concept, and to house early warning systems for ballistic missile defense. It continues in the latter role — most importantly, it’s one of the half-dozen or so sites for the AN/FPS-132 long-range radar.

So yes, it’s strategically important, but we’re already using it.

• pqjk2 says:

Here is an interesting map showing the true size of each country, superimposed on the mercator projection:

https://www.visualcapitalist.com/mercator-map-true-size-of-countries/

Huh. Russia’s not nearly as big as I thought. I bet we could win a land war there.

• Only one way to find out.

• quanta413 says:

A truly timeless thought.

• JPNunez says:

I am less concerned with the size and more worried about the position, where Greenland seems to be above Canada instead of vaguely to its side.

• Douglas Knight says:

Mercator correctly shows that Greenland is abreast of Baffin Island. The problem is probably thinking of Canada as homogeneous, rather than having large north-south diversity.

• Aftagley says:

Not a Trump fan here, but if this happens I’ll be forced to update my opinion on him from “always wrong” to “almost always wrong.”

I really, really, really would love for this to happen.

• quanta413 says:

But what you don’t see is that he really wants Greenland so he can encircle Canada. That’s the real prize. The success of the greater U.S. plan would prove him the greatest real estate developer of all time which was the goal all along. He’s only been acting like a lunatic for years so the Danes would be more willing to sell Greenland to him. That’s some serious 12-dimensional chess right there.

• JPNunez says:

Well, the USA already has the continental USA to the south, Alaska to the west, and now it’d have Greenland to the north. It lacks some territory to the east of Canada, though.

• quanta413 says:

You’re right. Maybe next the U.S. will build a large artificial island to the east. The Canadians will probably oppose the U.S. but it’ll be easier for the U.S. to win on the water than on Canadian territory and it’ll avoid damaging Canadian cities.

• Deiseach says:

I’ve always thought Alaska stuck way out to the side with Canada barring it from the rest of the USA was very unfortunate; if Trump/the USA can buy Greenland, and if there’s a no-deal Brexit and the UK is dependent on trade with the USA, then maybe they could get shot of Canada to the US?

That would mean a joined-up All North America plus former Greenland, and it would be much tidier 😀

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

Damn straight. 54’40 or fight!

• Tenacious D says:

Is Hans Island part of the proposed deal?

• FrankistGeorgist says:

Ooh let’s make it a full on state too, to cast the quirks of our system in even starker relief.

Two senators for Greenland. None for Puerto Rico.

It seems like it would be a good purchase for us but I can’t really fathom why the Kingdom of Denmark would trade their own land and the Danes living there for money. There’s no mortal threat to Denmark that requires them to have a few hundred billion in cash, at least not that I’m aware of.

That seems to be the tone of the Danish response, from the coverage I’ve seen.

• Machine Interface says:

Besides, Greenland has been a slow but steady process of gaining independence from Denmark. At this point, the government of Copenhagen only rules Greenland over matters of foreign affairs, defence and monetary policy (in the form of substantial subsidies that are planned to diminish over time). A notable peculiarities of this arangement is that even though Denmark proper is part of the EU, Greenland is not. Greenlandic has also been the sole official language since 2009 (although Danish and English have some legal recognition).

As Greenland develops its own economy and subsidies from Denmark eventually cease, it is expected that Greenland will achieve full sovereignty sometimes in the future, and the debates are mostly over how fast or slowly it should happen, rather than whether it should happen.

Given this, I don’t see the Greenlanders as very eager to give up all these slowly earned rights overnight to join the US, even against significant money grants (since even the threat of suddenly losing the Danish money grant doesn’t seem to deter the hardliners of a fast independence).

• Aqua says:

This would probably make a purchase easier

the US could give every single Greenland citizen $1 million, and the deal would only be$50B total..

Honestly I would probably take the deal if it was offered.

• nkurz says:

What if instead of buying it for cash, the plan was to swap it for other land. The US bought the Virgin Islands from Denmark just before WW1. I have to think that during the dreary Danish winter, some Danes wonder whether selling them and keeping Greenland was such a bright idea. Perhaps the Danes would take them back in return for Greenland?

Or thinking larger, how about Puerto Rico? Trump has a strained relationship with PR, and a lot of Puerto Ricans seem fed up with their status in the US. Maybe a swap of PR for Greenland could be win-win? Denmark gets a tropical paradise with some infrastructure issues, the US gets a rugged arctic wasteland with a working airbase.

• Gossage Vardebedian says:

This is just Trump’s usual game of asking for something ridiculous and then scaling back later.

He really wants the Faroe Islands.

• GreatColdDistance says:

Would that be so Tyr-able?

• Gwern had an article on how dumb the Danes were in not selling Greenland, most of which could also be said about Trump if he decides to buy it:

https://www.gwern.net/Greenland

If Trump wants an giant icebox for “legacy” reasons, he should claim Marie Byrd land:

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

15. Nick says:

The New York Times is launching a big project aimed at “demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”

It’s not clear to me how big it is—they say “in the days and weeks to come,” so does that mean like five essays or, given the title, a yearlong thing? Either way, how is this not really destructive?

• EchoChaos says:

Maybe they are just trying to get Americans to come around to the Confederacy?

After all, if slavery allowed us to make the most prosperous country in the world that is the beacon of freedom that defeated communism and Nazism, maybe it wasn’t such a bad trade?

Seriously, though. Slavery held the South back and is one of the reasons Brazil isn’t a world superpower. The South losing slavery was the best thing that happened to it (although it would’ve been nice had it happened without massive destruction) and it has grown faster than the North since then for a reason.

• gudamor says:

it has grown faster than the North since then for a reason.

Air conditioning? Catch-up growth after being held back/partially destroyed?

• EchoChaos says:

Air conditioning?

Partially yes.

Catch-up growth after being held back/partially destroyed?

This is what I meant, yes. Slavery was holding us back severely. Since then the catch-up growth has been huge.

• quanta413 says:

The contortions you have to go through to avoid noticing that a slave based economy is a long run path to being poor compared to an industrialized non-slave economy is kind of crazy. I’d bet segregation had a pretty negative effect on growth too although not as strong.

They should make an accurate left wing argument like “Taking all that land from various Native American tribes made America exceptional.” Since you can’t have a U.S.A. without that land having been taken, it’s pretty obviously true by definition. You can imagine some cities being bought from the Native Americans on the coasts, but that’s way short of the U.S.A.

EDIT: Like I mentioned below, in the short run, the guy with slaves has more wealth than if he didn’t have the slaves so it’s pretty clear why big slaveowners were so stridently pro-slavery. The long run effects take a lot of time to see, and even if people knew about them they’re unlikely to impoverish themselves to boost their great-grandchildren. Although in the end, they would’ve come out ahead if they didn’t have to be defeated in the Civil War.

Fine, conceded. Sooooooo are the left wingers going to give the land back to the Native Americans and everybody else goes back to Europe, Africa and Asia? No, they’re just going to rule it themselves instead? Oh.

• quanta413 says:

Obviously even the most bleeding heart would operate on a “possession is 10 tenths of the law theory”, but at least it would make for a series of true articles. Everyone would nod their heads sadly at the shame of it all, and maybe the Native Americans would get more casinos… Or – crazy idea – could get some Federally owned land back. A lot of that land is pretty undeveloped but could be made more valuable. And how many environmentalists are going to oppose turning some over to the Native Americans to do with as they wish? That’d be a bad look.

A lot of it would probably be left alone or is spiritually significant or etc., but some of it might be developed into new towns.

• Randy M says:

They should make an accurate left wing argument like “Taking all that land from various Native American tribes made America exceptional.” Since you can’t have a U.S.A. without that land having been taken, it’s pretty obviously true by definition.

The last clause makes the assertion less true. Certainly takes it out of the realm of obvious or axiomatic.

Taking land from natives made America. Yup.
Doing so was not particularly exceptional, however, and if you want to make the case that every good and/or unique thing about America is traceable to the geography, you have to actually make it.

I can definitely see the argument that not having powerful rivals close at hand made the US exceptional.

@Randy

I think it’s closer to, lots of land, plus limited population, which would have kept wages high in most all sectors (even the scarcity of slave labor in North America made slave treatment better by comparison to european serfs let alone another slaves)

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

Conquest is a (perhaps) necessary but (certainly) insufficient explanation of American exceptionalism. You need certain political, economic, and technological institutions in place to take advantage of the resources.

I don’t know which exact Native American Conquest we are talking about, either. You could go all the way back to Jamestown, obviously, but if you are talking about the initial land endowment of the US (east of the Mississippi), the US is still going to end up a major power.

• Matt M says:

Since you can’t have a U.S.A. without that land having been taken, it’s pretty obviously true by definition. You can imagine some cities being bought from the Native Americans on the coasts, but that’s way short of the U.S.A.

I wonder why I’ve never seen a map that shows the land area of the US, color-coded in categories of “How this land was acquired in relation to the Natives” (I know we have such maps that look at acquisition from the lens of western political acquisitions, like say, original 13 colonies vs Louisiana purchase vs Mexican war, etc.)

Categories could include “purchased legitimately, acquired through legitimate treaty, acquired through broken treaty, military conquest, squatted until natives driven off, etc.”

• hls2003 says:

Categories could include “purchased legitimately, acquired through legitimate treaty, acquired through broken treaty, military conquest, squatted until natives driven off, etc.”

I think the difficulty is that there is often no category, or multiple categories, that will apply to various acquisitions. I recently read Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, which while being guided loosely by the genealogy and biography of Quanah Parker (the “last great Comanche chief”), was more about the broader settlement and Indian Wars on the southern Great Plains. What is striking (and this also coincides with other descriptions I’ve read) is just how tragically inevitable it all was as a clash of cultures; and how concepts like “legitimately acquired” had practically no meaning.

Comanches were not organized top-down, and were never more than a few tens of thousands in total population. They were formidable only because of their mastery of the terrain and horsemanship. “Chiefs” basically came in two varieties – war chiefs, i.e. any warrior who convinced some men to come raiding with him, and a sort of camp chief who was usually an elder but didn’t really control warfare, which was almost exclusively the realm of the anarchic war chief system. Meanwhile there were half a dozen branches of the Comanche, some in blood feud, some loosely affiliated, but all with shifting feuds and alliances with each other and with other local tribes. They were a recently risen culture which had mastered the horse to an unusual degree and used that mastery to butcher and enslave other tribes, including notably the Apache, who hated them.

White settlers would come, squat on land, be occasionally butchered by war chief raiders, and occasionally pay ransom to avoid being butchered. Comanche were fine with this system, as both butchery and bribery were their goals. (There is little of the “noble savage” mythology in the book; it is quite clear-eyed with regard to the utter brutality of both the tribes and the white settlers). Occasionally the white settlers would send white soldiers after the Comanche; if they became a problem, often there were negotiations. These negotiations were by people who, on both sides, either had no intention or no power to keep their promises. The whites would ask to talk to the leader; usually a quasi-local war chief or elder would show up, with no power to speak for anyone even within his local couple-hundred-strong group. The whites would promise goods delivery in exchange for no raids and/or giving title to land and settling on reservations; the Comanche would usually agree, “giving away” land that wasn’t even in their usual territory, with no authority or means to prevent any random Comanche warrior from forming a war band and raiding anyway, and often with every intention that this would be an annual ritual where they would return to get more scalps and/or tribute the next year. The white negotiators, meanwhile, would often act in bad faith, often failing to deliver future promised goods, and blame the current negotiating band for every atrocity committed by any Comanche at any point, while lacking the authority or will to keep settlers from further encroachment.

The concept that the result of any such “negotiations” could be a “legitimate acquisition of territory” strikes me as a category error. I walked away saddened at the inevitability of it all. I couldn’t really come up with any imaginative way where the intersection of those two cultures doesn’t result in the extermination of the basically Stone Age nomadic culture, whether by conquest, settlement, or assimilation.

The concept that the result of any such “negotiations” could be a “legitimate acquisition of territory” strikes me as a category error. I walked away saddened at the inevitability of it all.

This has largely been my understanding of the situation too. I imagine the first ships from Europe approaching the New World, the crew is cheering, and then the lookout says “wait, wait, wait…there’s some people in loin cloths on the beach. Place is full. Guess we better screw off back to Europe.”

That was not going to happen, so the end result was basically inevitable and the massacres and the treaties and the betrayals and the diseases were just details along the way.

• Matt M says:

Well yeah, it would clearly be difficult. And it would obviously be imperfect.

But an attempt would almost certainly produce a better result than what we have today, which seems to be an assumption that literally 100% of land area in the US is “stolen land” or that 0% of it is.

The reality is clearly quite different, and very complex, and a visual medium that could convey this level of complexity would probably be quite useful.

• quanta413 says:

Conquest is a (perhaps) necessary but (certainly) insufficient explanation of American exceptionalism. You need certain political, economic, and technological institutions in place to take advantage of the resources.

This is pretty much what I mean. Although I’d say definitely necessary. No land, no country.

The last clause makes the assertion less true. Certainly takes it out of the realm of obvious or axiomatic.

Taking land from natives made America. Yup.
Doing so was not particularly exceptional, however, and if you want to make the case that every good and/or unique thing about America is traceable to the geography, you have to actually make it.

It’s not that the act of taking the land makes the U.S. exceptional since conquest happens a lot (although like Conrad said having no serious competitors nearby is a pretty big deal) as that it’s a necessary precondition to the U.S. being exceptional.

The larger amount of land available in the U.S. meant Americans were healthier than European peasants if I understand correctly. The British class system didn’t really carry over which I think is partly due to all the sparsely populated land.

There are other important things that together helped make America exceptional (founded primarily by British instead of Spanish), but without the land nothing happens. Although maybe if you swap the British with the Spanish, the U.S. would look more like Mexico or Chile so maybe that’s necessary too.

• Randy M says:

That was not going to happen, so the end result was basically inevitable and the massacres and the treaties and the betrayals and the diseases were just details along the way.

I agree, but check out Pastwatch for an interesting alternative.
In that novel, characters go back in time to try to mitigate the harms caused by the European colonization.

@quanta413

it’s a necessary precondition to the U.S. being exceptional.

Very well. Your original statement sounded much more categorical and all encompassing than this. Sure, having access to a huge area of sparsely populated land was a great advantage.
Having the technological superiority and cultural unity to overcome the sparse but fierce population that was on that land was another.

without the land nothing happens.

Maybe. Britain was sure exceptional for a time, and they had (initially) not all that much land compared to the US. They went and took more and used it to build their empire… but being able to do that presupposes a certain amount of exceptionality, doesn’t it?

• Matt M says:

Yeah, pointing to conquest as “what made America exceptional” is even more absurd than pointing to slavery.

“America was formed by conquest, not at all like Europe where national boundaries were decided by reason and negotiation and territorial wars were non-existent” is just a nonsensical statement.

• hls2003 says:

That was not going to happen, so the end result was basically inevitable and the massacres and the treaties and the betrayals and the diseases were just details along the way.

That’s probably true, and that’s part of it, certainly. But in my earlier comment I was thinking as much about cultural power, persistence, and content as just the bare fact of “Europeans were always going to keep coming with guns, germs, and steel.” Once the last Indian Wars were concluded, and the tribes were on their reservations, you’d occasionally get interviewers who’d talk to the now-settled tribesmen. What they said was often a variant of “I just want to hunt the buffalo again, to feel the wind in my hair, the sun above my head, to feel the thrill of raiding my neighboring tribe and to count coup on my enemies.” These were nomadic and warrior cultures. If you take the “nomad” and the “warrior” out of them, what’s left? I think they’re still just as dead.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you had a group of nomadic natives who (miraculously) have something close enough to the concept of “owning” land that they make a good-faith treaty with the U.S. They agree to give up their nomadic ways, live on the reservation, and the government will provide them with food, technology, schooling, and support. In exchange, they give away their own land (and for real, not “yeah sure, as far west as you can go, even though I’ve never seen it”). Both sides keep their bargain. Imagine the U.S. doesn’t have endemic hellish Bureau of Indian Affairs corruption, and really does provide good food, schooling, etc. to the tribe as promised. And imagine the tribe really does live on the land and learn to grow wheat. Nobody reneges, nobody massacres anybody, everybody keeps their promises and tries hard. Even if you could say that the U.S. “legitimately acquired” that land – probably more closely than most treaties, in our hypothetical – that culture is pretty distinctly dead. It might be better for the tribe; probably their living standards improve in our hypo; but there was really no peaceful way to preserve their “way of life” as long as that way of life was largely characterized by following the herds, raiding, warfare, and indiscriminate roaming.

I’m no anthropologist, I don’t believe in preserving cultures in amber, and I think a big part of any culture is how it interacts with foreign cultures (purist, adoptionist, rejectionist, syncretist, etc.) But such a big part of the native nomadic cultures seems to have been a set things that are incompatible with a peaceful resolution. If a huge part of your identity as a people is “warrior,” how can you peacefully coexist with your neighbors? If a huge part of your identity as a people is “I wander under the sky and recognize no boundaries,” how can you peacefully sell (or even “own”) your land and settle down?

• quanta413 says:

eah, pointing to conquest as “what made America exceptional” is even more absurd than pointing to slavery.

“America was formed by conquest, not at all like Europe where national boundaries were decided by reason and negotiation and territorial wars were non-existent” is just a nonsensical statement.

I’m not saying it’s exceptional in and of itself, but at least unlike slavery, it’s a required step.

There are very few countries that weren’t taken partly by war, but rarely is replacement of the original people thorough. More commonly, just the elite turns over. The difference is largely due to disease wiping out something like 50-90% of the Northern Native Americans even before the English really got rolling.

The U.S. is also big compared to any European country. It’s like all of Europe in land mass. It only has half the total population of Europe, but it’s got over 2x the population of the largest European country Russia and about 4x the population of the second largest European country Germany.

Europeans had to fight other Europeans to gain or hold territory. The U.S. curb stomped vastly outnumbered and outgunned Native American tribes. The U.S. got the same advantage as the Spanish did in taking South America and was then much more successful in the development step afterwards.

Very well. Your original statement sounded much more categorical and all encompassing than this. Sure, having access to a huge area of sparsely populated land was a great advantage.
Having the technological superiority and cultural unity to overcome the sparse but fierce population that was on that land was another.

I don’t think the technological superiority and unity was that unique as far as conquest goes. The Spanish carved out a huge empire in South America against considerably tougher opposition, faster, and with less of a technological advantage than the English had later. The Native Americans just weren’t going to do very well against many cultures and peoples from Eurasia. The lack of disease resistance alone almost clinches it.

On the other hand, the English and Americans did much better with what they conquered.

Maybe. Britain was sure exceptional for a time, and they had (initially) not all that much land compared to the US. They went and took more and used it to build their empire… but being able to do that presupposes a certain amount of exceptionality, doesn’t it?

Sure, the English were indeed exceptional. But if Americans are to be exceptional compared to the English they’ve got to have something added. In this case, that’s probably getting such a large amount of relatively unoccupied land when they split from the English.

Of course, the U.S. isn’t that different from Canada, Australia, or New Zealand in that sense.

There is a question like you say of “How much land did America have to take to be exceptional?” Maybe the Eastern seaboard would have been enough, but I kind of doubt it. That currently only holds about 1/3 of the U.S. population. Population size and territory matter. And the U.S. is by far the biggest of places settled by English. It’s 5 times bigger than the U.K. in population and 10 times bigger than Canada.

Roughly speaking the U.S. conquest on its own isn’t unique (compare it to South America, Australia, or Canada) and its culture and technology weren’t unique (compare to Europe or Japan), but the combination of those two factors and its sheer size (Canada and Australia have a lot more marginal land) make it pretty exceptional.

• Randy M says:

I don’t think the technological superiority and unity was that unique as far as conquest goes.

There I was just pointing out that while conquering the middle part of North America from the native tribes was a prerequisite for being the world power it is now, being able to do so was not a forgone conclusion. If the natives had united against the colonists, or had more industry when they arrived, that conquest, and the land and power it brought, may well have been prevented.
Of course technology and unity are not unique aspects of America; but in general I think America’s uniqueness is built of a combination of factors that may not themselves be unique.
~
Even beyond power, though, you have a point about the “Indian territories”. Another aspect of American exceptionalism is an independence and self reliance born of the settler/pioneer experience, and having a dangerous but valuable frontier for a bit more than half it’s existence was surely a factor there.

• Matt M says:

The U.S. is also big compared to any European country. It’s like all of Europe in land mass. It only has half the total population of Europe, but it’s got over 2x the population of the largest European country Russia and about 4x the population of the second largest European country Germany.

It sounds like one could make an argument that different European groups/culture opting for cooperation over conflict is what made America exceptional.

In Europe, the English and the French and the Germans and the Spanish spent several centuries fighting bloody and brutal wars to try and expand their national borders. In America, the puritans and the quakers and the borderers and the cavaliers all decided to ally together and have one really big nation.

So, what makes America exceptional is federalism and state’s rights. Have fun getting THAT published in the New York Times!

Of course, that’s hardly an original insight either. I think De Toqueville beat me to it by a couple centuries.

• bullseye says:

In Europe, the English and the French and the Germans and the Spanish spent several centuries fighting bloody and brutal wars to try and expand their national borders. In America, the puritans and the quakers and the borderers and the cavaliers all decided to ally together and have one really big nation.

That still comes down to having lots of land. No need for those groups to fight each other when they can expand westward.

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

That still comes down to having lots of land. No need for those groups to fight each other when they can expand westward.

Not all groups expanded Westward. Even so, these groups will come into conflict quickly given how quickly people arrive.

• The original Mr. X says:

It sounds like one could make an argument that different European groups/culture opting for cooperation over conflict is what made America exceptional.
In Europe, the English and the French and the Germans and the Spanish spent several centuries fighting bloody and brutal wars to try and expand their national borders. In America, the puritans and the quakers and the borderers and the cavaliers all decided to ally together and have one really big nation.

I don’t really think you’re comparing like with like, though. In terms of cultural etc. differences, I think “Puritans and Quakers” would be more akin to “northern and southern English”, “northern and southern French”, “Prussians and Bavarians”, etc., which groups have shown themselves perfectly capable of allying together into a bigger nation. Conversely, if you’re looking for people with as much cultural difference as French and Germans, I think that (say) Americans and Mexicans would be a more fitting comparison, and I don’t see many examples of exceptionally close co-operation between those two countries.

(In fact the most analogous situation I can think of is Canada, which saw English and French settlers ally together to form a bigger nation. Canadian exceptionalism FTW!)

• johan_larson says:

French and English Canadians didn’t really ally, though. The English conquered New France and ran the country it was folded into. But there were enough French that the population didn’t assimilate and become just plain Canadians as, say, Ukrainian immigrants did.

• The original Mr. X says:

French and English Canadians didn’t really ally, though. The English conquered New France and ran the country it was folded into. But there were enough French that the population didn’t assimilate and become just plain Canadians as, say, Ukrainian immigrants did.

But the French Canadians didn’t constantly rebel against their English overlords, and the English Canadians didn’t try and stamp out French culture and religion. Maybe it was an alliance of necessity, but it was still an alliance.

Though since the original post I’ve thought of an even better example: Switzerland.

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

Perhaps union between the original colonies isn’t super-remarkable, but the Americanization of our immigrants certainly is. Our “white” population comes from nations that spent most the 19th and 20th centuries trying to kill each other. If you want to know how difficult this is, a lot of our maintenance department came over from the Balkans in the 90s, due to that whole “ethnic cleansing” thing. A lot of these guys should probably hate each other, but they get along pretty well, and their kids are probably inter-marrying and making Generic White Babies.

That covers the entire timespan of the European Union, in which the French still speak French, the Germans still speak German, and the English have entirely buggered off from the union.

Basically, if you want an actual European Union, it exists, and it’s called America.

• ana53294 says:

The New York Times is launching a big project aimed at “demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”

I googled “exceptional” and found it defined as “unusual, abnormal”. The meaning I am used to may be influenced by the very similar Spanish word, “excepcional”, which is defined as 1, “an exception” and 2, “extraordinary, privileged”. So now I am confused what the word means, because I always projected the Spanish meaning to it, that is, exceptional being something out of the ordinary in a good sense.

Do they mean it in a negative sense? As in the comparatively high levels of violence, obesity, drug addiction, inequality, poverty, a poor education system, and everything else is due to slavery? Or being the richest, most powerful, freest country in the world is due to slavery?

Or being the richest, most powerful, freest country in the world is due to slavery?

This one.

This article series is a terrible idea, and false, but hey man, stoking phony racial hatred and resentment sells clicks and gets votes so why not.

• Randy M says:

Basically they are saying “Everything you like is bad.”

• ana53294 says:

That seems patently false to me. The US does not seem to have benefitted much from slavery, in the same way Russia’s development and human capital was dragged down massively by lack of freedom.

I could see an argument that classical Greek culture or Roman culture was due to slavery (although the cultures around them also practiced slavery, so they were not an exception in that sense; they were exceptional in the higher freedoms of the non-slaves). But the US?

All the weird Puritan inventors were abolitionists. And a lot of the industrialization happened thanks to scientific and technical inventions.

And why say slavery was good for anything? Slavery was bad for everybody.

And if somebody (say, the leaders of North Korea) actually are stupid enough to believe that slavery will make their country as rich as the US? that seems just irresponsible to me.

• quanta413 says:

And why say slavery was good for anything? Slavery was bad for everybody.

It’s economically good for the guy owning a lot of slaves compared to the counterfactual of slavery having been abolished just before he inherited slaves. From a relative economic perspective rather than absolute one, It’s also going to trigger all sorts of human comparisons based on rank and make a slaveowner feel powerful and elite.

But I agree it’s probably economically bad for the guy with slaves compared to the counterfactual of slavery having been abolished 3 or 4 generations before his time.

And obviously it’s bad for everyone else right then. Slaves most obviously but also free labor and maybe even guy who only owns one slave. So it’s morally terrible and probably not even selfishly effective over a hundred or two hundred years, but I don’t think it’s hard to see why not many wanted to give it up in the short run. It’s definitely an advantage to the guy with slaves compared to his neighbors over the course of one generation.

• bullseye says:

Google failed you. Exceptional almost always means better.

• Well... says:

I would interpret this as the NYT desperately flailing for clicks except I can easily imagine them publishing something exactly like this pre-internet. So I guess mainly I’m just puzzled about the strategy behind it. (Because yes, I take it as given that anything the NYT publishes is part of a strategy to make money rather than [stifled laugh] provide a public information service. [unstifled laugh]) Maybe they figure the audience most approving of this type of content is also the audience most likely to renew their subscriptions and pay for extras?

• viVI_IViv says:

Clickbait predates the Internet, it was called yellow journalism or tabloid journalism back then.

• Well... says:

Oh yes, definitely, but “clickbait put out by old-guard newspapers specifically as part of a desperate effort to remain competitive in an age of online news” does not predate the internet.

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

From what I understand, the NY Times (along with the WAPO) have pulled in a large number of digital subscriptions in recent years, and might actually be profitable!

To continue rolling on this, they probably need to keep appealing to the Educated White Liberal Crowd, which has become quite woke in the last decade.

• Nick says:

I would think NYT’s audience runs older, and would be a bit more classical liberal than woke, but for all I know that’s no longer true, or digital subscriptions run the opposite way.

ETA: And maybe it’s just naivete on my part anyway. After all, the folks pushing to paint over that Washington mural were the woke, and the ones who painted it were the older generation.

• viVI_IViv says:

The New York Times is launching a big project aimed at “demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”

The elephant in the room of these discussions about the Atlantic slave trade is that, as bad as slavery was for the actual slaves, it was a boon for their present descendants, compared to present West Africans who were not enslaved.

• Well... says:

I think that’s a great point. It’s what makes discussion of slavery’s legacy so fraught.

Given two options, which is worse:

A) You are free, and so will be all your descendants, but nearly all will suffer lives of extreme poverty, ravaged by war and crime, in a backward corrupt part of the world. A majority of them will wish to leave that part of the world but will lack the means.

B) You are a slave and your life will be unspeakably miserable, and so will be the lives of your next five generations of descendants, but after that they will be free. They will live in the most prosperous, orderly part of the world. They will still experience some persecution and injustice, but they will be in the top 5% in basically all measures of well-being.

• Cliff says:

You are free, and so will be all your descendants

Weren’t most of them slaves already? And there was lots of slavery in Africa, so they couldn’t even get this guarantee

You are a slave and your life will be unspeakably miserable, and so will be the lives of your next five generations of descendants

Slavery is terrible, and no doubt many slaves suffered terribly and were willing to risk a lot to escape.

• viVI_IViv says:

Slavery is terrible, and no doubt many slaves suffered terribly and were willing to risk a lot to escape.

There is no doubt that slavery was bad for the slaves, the point is that the present debate is framed as slavery keeps damaging the descendents of the slaves many generations afterwards, implying that they are entitled to some kind of reparations, while in reality these people not only are not damaged by the enslavement of their ancestors, but arguably benefit from it more than anyone else.

• Urstoff says:

Playing that counterfactual game is never going to work, though, as the retort will be the counterfactual whereby the European powers were never colonialist in the first place and therefore West Africans would be much better off today. Evaluating that counterfactual is pretty close to impossible, but it seems like the most likely response.

• EchoChaos says:

Places in Africa that weren’t colonized aren’t substantially wealthier than places that were.

• Urstoff says:

Not saying it’s a good argument, just the likely response.

• DarkTigger says:

You mean Ethiopia? Because there is no where else that “wasn’t colonized”.

And even that has been conqured in the 20th century.

• EchoChaos says:

@DarkTigger

Yes. And as for being conquered in the 20th Century, so were France and Germany and cetera. That didn’t slow them down much.

• Well... says:

Plus, not being colonialized probably means less to your quality of life when every single country around you was.

• EchoChaos says:

@Well…

Doesn’t seem to have hurt Thailand too badly to be non-colonized but surrounded by colonizers.

• Protagoras says:

We have exactly one example, and apart from the massive risk of noise that ensures, it obviously isn’t random; some of the factors that prevented Ethiopia from being colonized may have also contributed to its lack of prosperity. Hard to see that case as providing much meaningful insight into what could have happened elsewhere.

@DarkTigger

This would be a fair point, but you can compare different african countries based on the ‘degree’ to which they were colonized. [and there are a few proxies for this]

Here’s a paper which does just that.

____________

Another point to make is that formerly colonial states (UK/France) are not noticably wealthier than non-colonial european states today. So wealth appears to be the cause rather than the effect of colonialism.

• Machine Interface says:

One factor is colonisation. The other is communism. Countries that have been colonized and/or communist are generally in poor shape today. There is 0 country in Africa that hasn’t been either colonized or communist. Thailand has been neither.

Actual counterfactual would be Taiwan and South Korea, which were colonized (by Japan), but nowadays are successful countries on par with western ones.

• Eponymous says:

@Protagoras:

some of the factors that prevented Ethiopia from being colonized may have also contributed to its lack of prosperity.

What factors do you have in mind? I’m no expert, but I thought that Ethiopia remained free due to being a reasonably advanced and well-organized state, not because they weren’t worth conquering or something like that. Keep in mind that Ethiopia hadn’t been as isolated historically as most places in sub-saharan Africa.

• I don’t think northern Somalia was ever really colonized either. It was a British protectorate for a while, but the only substantial British intervention seems to have been defeating a local religious leader who was trying to build himself an empire in an essentially stateless society.

I’m not sure of the scale of Italian involvement in southern Somalia.

• An Fírinne says:

@Machine Interface

>Actual counterfactual would be Taiwan and South Korea, which were colonized (by Japan), but nowadays are successful countries on par with western ones.

Taiwan and South Korea are relatively rich today solely because they were the pet projects of the United States. If the USA never pumped money into these places they’d be just as poor as everywhere else.

• viVI_IViv says:

Because West Africans were doing so great before Europeans showed up, weren’t they?

Btw, I’m aware that they anti-Europeans would use that argument, but it’s a much weaker argument, IMHO, than pointing at the underperfomance of black Americans compared to white Americans and saying “muh slavery”.

• Eponymous says:

the retort will be the counterfactual whereby the European powers were never colonialist in the first place and therefore West Africans would be much better off today.

Not just colonialism. One argument is that the slave trade itself devastated West Africa. Suddenly the way to wealth and power was to buy guns from European traders and use them to raid your neighbors and sell them into slavery. Political instability, violence, and depopulation resulted. Think of the effect on development of having a lucrative cash crop or oil (resource curse), but now the crop is…people.

• Incurian says:

Really good point, hadn’t heard that before.

• Urstoff says:

A particularly disturbing resource curse.

• EchoChaos says:

The resource curse always seemed pretty implausible to me. The United States, Australia, Norway, Sweden all had massive and plentiful mineral reserves and none of them have had major problems because of it.

• JPNunez says:

Well, Norway and Sweden were european so they didn’t really have problems about european powers coming to colonize them.

Australia and America also didn’t have problems with europeans coming to colonize them…unless you count the native people living before the europeans.

• Randy M says:

Resource curse doesn’t typically refer to colonization, just when countries focus their economic development on resource extraction rather than industrialization.
In this case, Urstoff is using the term unusually, but it fits as the countries in question are selling their people rather than developing more productive skills.
EchoChaos is then pivoting away from slavery/colonization to wonder if the term is really meaningful in the broader sense.

It may be that a resource curse can’t strike the first nation to find or invent a use for a resource, because doing so will require coming up with a practical use for the resource and the industry to transform it; but other countries can then sell that resource to them, trading it for money that could be invested but could also be squandered on, eg, palaces for the rulers.

• EchoChaos says:

@JPNunez

@Randy M

Precisely. The resource curse has always seemed fairly implausible to me as a general thing. Certainly Saudi Arabia wasn’t colonized and they’re the poster child for “resource curse”. On the other hand, Botswana, one of the best-run African countries, has tremendous natural resources that it has very effectively used to develop its people and its society.

• John Schilling says:

The resource curse always seemed pretty implausible to me. The United States, Australia, Norway, Sweden all had massive and plentiful mineral reserves

Most of those mineral reserves required substantial effort to extract, and outside of Norway’s oil none of them represented even a large minority of their respective nations’ economic output. The United States was primarily an agrarian nation until it was primarily an industrial nation; never a mining nation.

The Southern tobacco-and-cotton plantation economy gets you into resource-curse territory, particularly if you consider “slaves” to be a fortuitously available natural resource rather than a form of human capital. And sure enough, if you’re looking for the most generally backward and economically underdeveloped part of the United States, for most of its economic history…

• EchoChaos says:

@John Schilling

That is a really interesting way to think about it. I’m not sure I 100% agree (Botswana seems a really solid counterargument, and lots of both Australia and the US’s minerals are really easy to reach), but the point about the South holds pretty true as well.

It isn’t something I’ve looked into a ton, but thanks for an interesting idea.

On thought is that it seems to me somewhat circular. After all, the reason that Saudi Arabia has 40% percentage of its GDP tied up in oil but Australia has only 6% in mining is because Australia has a solid non-mining economy. Per capita, Saudi Arabia gets from oil only about 4 times what Australia gets for mining. Not so far different, despite the massive total per capita difference in the total country. And if Australia didn’t have a diversified economy, they would definitely mine more.

• Atlas says:

The New York Times is launching a big project aimed at “demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.”

And yet, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are all fairly similar to America, despite having few if any slaves. Cuba, Mauritania and Brazil had many slaves, and are quite dissimilar to the US.

It’s not clear to me how big it is—they say “in the days and weeks to come,” so does that mean like five essays or, given the title, a yearlong thing? Either way, how is this not really destructive?

Indeed. An interesting observation that Steve Sailer has often made is that the Woke Left is much more interested in blacks than Hispanics as avatars of “diversity,” even though there are already more Hispanics than blacks in the US (~17% vs ~13%) and the gap is only going to increase in the future.

• Aapje says:

About half of Hispanics consider themselves white, so stoking racial hatred identity politics probably doesn’t work that well on them.

• EchoChaos says:

It’s that low? I thought white Hispanics were far more than 50% in the United States.

Edit: I checked and it’s only 53%. I learned something today.

• Clutzy says:

But how many do that on college applications?

• EchoChaos says:

Most of them, probably. Hispanic whites still get Hispanic affirmative action.

• Randy M says:

It is sometimes a completely separate question. Select race, then select ethnicity.

• Matt M says:

Yeah, as far as HR forms go, “Ethnicity” seems to be a category that was invented solely and exclusively so Hispanics can claim to be white, but still get preferential treatment.

• Hoopyfreud says:

Yeah, it definitely exists so that Hispanics can claim to be white and also get preferential treatment. That’s why that distinction exists.

The number of Hispanics that claim to be “white” without qualification has fallen significantly since the Civil Rights Movement, with ~40% claiming “some other race” now, and with tiny gains in the number of Aztlan-ists and other whackos. I don’t think it’s a matter of, “they consider themselves white, so idpol doesn’t work,” but rather, “they think it’s stupid, so idpol doesn’t work.”

• Atlas says:

Probably relatively few of them are white in the sense of having majority European ancestry, though. The US census doesn’t have great options for Hispanic respondents, because Americans aren’t terribly interested in how race works south of the border. I do agree that Hispanics don’t tend to get overly worked up about American identity politics, as e.g. voter turnout and candidate selection in the 2016 vs. 2012 election shows.

I do think it’s important to note, although it’s not necessarily what Aapje was suggesting, that the “different groups will increasingly identify as white in the future like Ellis Island immigrants” theory seems highly questionable. Does Jorge Ramos market himself as a white guy? President Obama had equal amounts of European and African ancestry; which side do you think he publicly identified with, and which side do you think identifying with advanced his career?

If identifying as white deprives you of cultural and economic goodies then only proud or principled fools would identify as white if they could at all help it [Luckily the ‘white race’ appears to have plenty of those]

What you might get is, what are commonly referred to as ‘white presenting’ hispanics and Asians identifying as their respective non-white categories for AA points but also identifying as ‘Americans’ and waving the flag and all that jazz. In distinction with those who would strictly identify as POC and who will either be explicit in viewing the US as a purely economic unit, or that they want to reconfigure the US to more align with the egalitarian/multicultural/emma-lazarus interpretation of US history.

• Deiseach says:

The goal of the project is to deepen understanding of American history (and the American present) by proposing a new point of origin for our national story.

Well, that’s good. It’s necessary for a mature historical understanding for people to take a look at national foundation myths and examine them. Reality is more complicated and complex than “on Date at Place, Great Man arrived/fought battle/made discovery and our Special Nation continued on its upwards way of Progress and Niceness”.

In the days and weeks to come, we will publish essays demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.

Annnnnd they’re going to do that by replacing it with a new foundation myth. That’s not helping, NYT.

• Urstoff says:

Just following where the winds are blowing in academic history. It’s a major theme of the “new history of capitalism” despite the critiques of economic historians.

• sharper13 says:

It lists such fun facts as how double-entry bookkeeping actually started (hint to the NY Times, it wasn’t on plantations) and about the Anti-Capitalist Ideology of Slavery tied up in George Fitzhugh’s writings defending slavery.

• Deiseach says:

It lists such fun facts as how double-entry bookkeeping actually started (hint to the NY Times, it wasn’t on plantations)

I read that, went “you can’t possibly mean they’re claiming accounting was invented in America by the slave-holding states”, read the linked article, and boy howdy.

But then I saw this, which tells me the article was written by:

Princeton University sociology professor Matthew Desmond

Oh. Sociology. This is where I start ranting about making history a compulsory subject in school, to the point that if you want to go to college and do a degree in any subject at all under the sun, I don’t care if it’s STEM, you intend to make a fortune working in Silicon Valley and you don’t have to learn to write gooder because that’s what spell check is for, I want an actual law passed that chains you to the seats in the lecture hall while you are all made to do a basic course in European and American History.

It may not stop idiots writing dumb articles, but at least the general population will know when the historical parts are dumb, and it is to be hoped they will discount the rest accordingly.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

I read that, went “you can’t possibly mean they’re claiming accounting was invented in America by the slave-holding states”, read the linked article, and boy howdy.

They aren’t. Did you read any more of the article? In context (for instance, if you read either of the adjacent sentences) it is clear that

When an accountant depreciates an asset to save on taxes or when a midlevel manager spends an afternoon filling in rows and columns on an Excel spreadsheet, they are repeating business procedures whose roots twist back to slave-labor camps.

is not claiming plantation owners invented accounting in general, but rather that they invented specific accounting techniques and were the first businesses to use some modern management methods.

• Deiseach says:

In context (for instance, if you read either of the adjacent sentences) it is clear that …is not claiming plantation owners invented accounting in general, but rather that they invented specific accounting techniques and were the first businesses to use some modern management methods.

“In context” is a blunt shock, horror newspaper headline that goes on about slave-labour camps and modern business methods, then backs off on that to the less sensationalist claim that slave-holding plantations invented certain methods of running their affairs that are ancestors of some modern business methods.

Do you know what else those slave-labour camps used? They recorded their processes using WRITING in ENGLISH, the very same way that modern Americans still communicate to this very day! If the NYT is going all-out on “modern business is run on slave-labour lines”, then it has to include itself and its “using writing in the English language” as one of the terrible, horrible, no-good things that came out of slavery.

It’s clickbait disguised as scholarship, and I have no intention of reading any more sloppy not-even-thinking than I absolutely must.

• DarkTigger says:

@thisheavenlyconjugation
In more complete context (see sharper13 below), yes it is exactly what they claimed.

[…] but many of these techniques that we now take for granted were developed by and for large plantations.

This simply wouldn’t even be true with the caveat that we talk about feudal European Manor style plantations, because for all we know they were used for mines and shipping operations.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

@DarkTigger
No, it says “many of these techniques” not “double-entry bookkeeping”.

• DarkTigger says:

I guess you can’t read it that way. But please know, that I find it very hard to not answer with something snarky.

• Lambert says:

Do you have the original quote on double-entry bookkeeping?
The lack of direct quotes from the NYT source of that ‘fact’ suggests it’s an exaggeration or something taken out of context.

If, OTOH, it’s a true reflection of the NYT’s position, I’ll laugh rather a lot at how they’re trying to fight racism by claiming that double-entry bookkeeping was invented by white people.

• sharper13 says:

@Lambert & @thisheavenlyconjugation,

Desmond’s theory seems to be that “the American economy is uniquely severe and unbridled” and that the cause is “… the gnatty fields of Georgia and Alabama, to the cotton houses and slave auction blocks, as the birthplace of America’s low-road approach to capitalism.”

Desmond posits that Slavery was where the wealth was, and that:

“Given the choice between modernity and barbarism, prosperity and poverty, lawfulness and cruelty, democracy and totalitarianism, America chose all of the above.”

That’s the framing. It’s followed by descriptions of slavery and ongoing nuggets like “An origin of American money exerting its will on the earth, spoiling the environment for profit, is found in the cotton plantation.”, effectively blaming everything Desmond sees as wrong with American capitalism as originating with slavery.

It’s within the above context that he ties factories and the start of the Industrial Revolution in the north to practices born in the cultivation of cotton.

So in that context, here’s a larger quote:

Everything is tracked, recorded and analyzed, via vertical reporting systems, double-entry record-keeping and precise quantification. Data seems to hold sway over every operation. It feels like a cutting-edge approach to management, but many of these techniques that we now take for granted were developed by and for large plantations. When an accountant depreciates an asset to save on taxes or when a midlevel manager spends an afternoon filling in rows and columns on an Excel spreadsheet, they are repeating business procedures whose roots twist back to slave-labor camps. And yet, despite this, “slavery plays almost no role in histories of management,” notes the historian Caitlin Rosenthal in her book “Accounting for Slavery.” Since the 1977 publication of Alfred Chandler’s classic study, “The Visible Hand,” historians have tended to connect the development of modern business practices to the 19th-century railroad industry, viewing plantation slavery as precapitalistic, even primitive. It’s a more comforting origin story, one that protects the idea that America’s economic ascendancy developed not because of, but in spite of, millions of black people toiling on plantations. But management techniques used by 19th-century corporations were implemented during the previous century by plantation owners.

That sounds like a pretty clear statement that despite slavery’s omission from histories of business management (’cause what would those business management historians know about the history of business management, right?), Desmond’s theory is that in America, it all has twisty roots back to slavery instead.

He continues with examples of how big plantations operated like a business and used things like paper spreadsheets to track stuff. He also specifically claims slave plantations invented depreciation. Compare:

they also developed ways to calculate depreciation, a breakthrough in modern management procedures

to an article like Asset Impairment and Depreciation before the 15th Century in an actual accounting history journal, arguing whether depreciation was invented in 1399 or 1299.

My conclusion:
Large slave plantations were businesses, therefore they operated like other similar-sized businesses did at the time, with the knowledge and techniques available. Later, factories and industrial companies in the north also operated based on what was known about running a business at that time, and because those happened later in time (despite the difference in geography), Desmond claims those businesses wouldn’t have known all that stuff without the slave plantations figuring it out for them. This, of course, completely ignores the long history before slave plantations and at the same time as slave plantations in the form of non-slave plantation businesses.

He’s trying to tie two dissimilar things together to reach a negative conclusion which he held before he considered any potential ties. A form of the argument “I don’t like Bob. Here’s why you shouldn’t like Bob either. Bob carries a briefcase, walks, breathes, sleeps at night. Hitler and Stalin did all that stuff before Bob did, therefore Bob must’ve learned it from Hitler and Stalin. Everyone should feel bad towards Bob because clearly Bob admires Hitler/Stalin and they are the same in many ways.”

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

The criticism is that typical treatments of American history place the development of American business practices, including things like modern accounting and scientific management, in the late 19th century, particularly railroads. The implication is that businesses prior to this, including plantations, were poorly run enterprises.

The pushback is that the Southern plantations actually made use of accounting and time studies, at least the larger ones, essentially doing both decades prior to the traditionally-marked start of the modern scientific management movement.

The modern scientific management movement, though, is largely de novo, and a lot more rigorous than what slave-owners did. Like, plantations didn’t have time and motion studies, and they didn’t have Gantt charts, and their costing is damned primitive compared to what would later come.

That’s also leaving aside that Southern plantations that used depreciation, used it because a Scottish nerd who spent a decade-long stint in the North decided to write a book about accounting for Southern plantations. If you’re going to credit the South for “inventing” depreciation, it’s a pretty glaring omission to leave out that the South just bought the book of a Scotsmen.

Also, it’s the matter of scale and implementation that make the difference. The South didn’t invent any of this.

• DarkTigger says:

It lists such fun facts as how double-entry bookkeeping actually started

This is funny, in Germany the Great-Man-Myth about double-entry book keeping is that Jakob Fugger invented it some time during the late 15th centruy. And everyone with some historical education is telling them: Nope it was the Italians in the 13th century and maybe the Arabs befor that.

But the American slave state? Seriously?

• MorningGaul says:

Either way, how is this not really destructive?

Well, it seems very constructive if you want to re-start slavery. After all, it worked pretty well, the NYT says so!

• Are you really surprised here? They’ve been pushing the narrative that America is inherently evil for a while. It’s not shocking that they would attempt to give “evidence” for it.

• DinoNerd says:

I wonder what they mean by “exceptional”.

One thing that’s interesting about US history is stridency about freedom, statements like “all men are created equal” in foundation documents – at the same time that some men (and women :-() were slaves.

That’s not very common. Most places either have subjects (with or without also having human property), or they have freedom. Or they have some explicit deal like ancient Sparta, or Athens, with a minority of citizens and no path to citizenship for anyone else. They don’t talk about freedom as a general right, and at the same time keep slaves.

That’s certainly exceptional, taken literally. I’m not sure that many other US peculiarities follow from it though. Perhaps an argument could be made that this nurtured a unique capacity for self deception and double think, leading to an unusual level of distrust of other people’s statements, particularly of those in authoritive positions. Hence the contempt for government and anything it does, so frequently represented in this blog. Hence also the essential legality of completely false advertising, along with the special growth and innovation of the advertising industry.

I don’t find myself convined by those arguments. The timing is wrong, and better arguments have been made attributing these things to other causes. But that might be a non-insane, and not really “woke” path for the NYT to explore.

• Matt M says:

Just in case anyone reading this isn’t aware, “American exceptionalism” is a loaded but popular phrase, generally used by the right, to describe a general sense that the US is distinctly “better” than all other nations (specific criteria are typically not provided). And not just in the “I was born here so I love it” sense, but it implies that this is a matter of ojbective fact.

My guess is that the NYT is using the phrase “exceptional” as an explicit rejoinder to this concept. In other words, they want to yell at red tribe, but instead of yelling “You’re wrong – America sucks” they’ve decided to yell “Even if we accept your premise that America is the best, it’s only the best because of something everyone knows is wicked and evil.”

The entire exercise is made even more absurd due to the existence of slavery being one of the least exceptional things about America. Prior to very recently, slavery was a universal human institution. It existed in every society, on every continent, etc. It’s the equivalent of claiming that humans are only exceptional, compared to apes, because they are warm blooded.

• Eponymous says:

I wonder what they mean by “exceptional”.

Without reading what they wrote — one area where social scientists have argued that the US is exceptional due to slavery (and racism more broadly) is in its relative lack of a social safety net and lack of a labor/socialist party, as found in Europe. The argument is that social programs tend to be more generous in more ethnically and culturally homogeneous places (there’s evidence for this, though one can argue about its quality).

• Eponymous says:

demonstrating that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery

And they’re right in a way. Imagine how much better off the US would be if it hadn’t been for slavery!

Though there’s something very odd about this. If you want to talk about national crimes that built the US, seizing the land and expelling the native inhabitants was about 1000x more important to us, and 1000x more destructive to them, than slavery. So why focus on slavery instead of expropriation of the land?

• Eponymous says:

Expanding slightly on my second point: some variation of “nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of the Western Frontier” is probably actually true. Ironically, this includes slavery itself, which would have been unnecessary absent the Frontier, and whose end was driven by conflict over the disposition of the western territories (the Republican Party wasn’t an abolitionist party, it was a free soil party).

• ECD says:

Nearly everything exceptional about Batman flows from the murder of his parents. Clearly murder is a good thing.

• BBA says:

I agree with the thesis, but what are they trying to accomplish? Yelling at white people about how terrible we are feels good, but it only works on like 30% of us and we already feel terrible all the time. (Possibly overextrapolating from myself to all white liberals on that last bit. Eh whatever.)

• EchoChaos says:

we already feel terrible all the time.

Come to the Dark Side. We feel great about our heritage and love ourselves.

• BBA says:

Your heritage isn’t (((mine))). And if I was a Southerner, I’d rather be Leo Frank than Judah Benjamin.

• Cliff says:

I’m a bit puzzled about why any white person should feel guilty about something done by other white people long ago. What’s the logic there?

• The Nybbler says:

We can get kosher cookies if you want them.

• Eponymous says:

@BBA:

Then I’m a bit puzzled. Why do you define your heritage in such a way that you feel guilty about the bad parts, but not proud of the good parts? It seems to me that the only consistent positions are either a radical individualism (ala Cliff), or else to recognize both good and bad parts of your heritage (at various levels of granularity).

• EchoChaos says:

@BBA

Then you should definitely be proud of it.

As the great statesman Disraeli once said: “Yes, I am a Jew, and while the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”

• anonymousskimmer says:

Echoing Cliff.

I can understand being proud of someone you have mentored (your children, your students). But I do not understand being proud of those who mentored you (your parents and more distant ancestor).

I can understand thinking your heritage is neat. I can even understand being proud of yourself for continuing a tradition. But actual pride for the actions of your precursors?

Doesn’t the emotion of pride necessarily indicate a responsibility for what it is you are proud of?

Edit to add: I think I might get it now. People feel shame for things they have no control over, and pride is the converse of shame. So I guess for those people who can feel shame for things they have no control over it should also be possible to feel pride for things they have no control over.

So since people can’t feel responsible for things they have no control over, do they instead feel accountable for those things? Is this were the pride and shame stem from?

• The original Mr. X says:

I can understand being proud of someone you have mentored (your children, your students). But I do not understand being proud of those who mentored you (your parents and more distant ancestor).

I don’t think people say that they’re proud of their ancestors (or glorious traditions, or country, or what-have-you) in the sense of “Look at my achievements, isn’t that great?”, but rather in the sense of “It gives me pleasure to be connected in a special way to these ancestors” (and in some cases, “and this connection makes me better than people who aren’t so connected”).

• anonymousskimmer says:

@X

I hear that, I just don’t get that use of the word “Pride”.

• Chalid says:

The typical attitude is to feel proud of the good parts of your heritage and have no shame or other negative feelings about the bad parts.

If you can see why this is silly, you can probably see why it’s silly to have the inverse set of emotions.

• anonymousskimmer says:

It’s a quite amorphous connection that this pride and shame stem from. Pride and shame through consanguinity alone. I’m limited to mere feelings of “neatness” or “coolness” with regard to consanguinity.

• albatross11 says:

I agree with Cliff. What my ancestors did or didn’t do has nothing at all to do with my moral status, and other than how their actions shaped my situation, nothing to do with my choices, either. Their fights[1] aren’t my fights, their triumphs aren’t my triumphs, their crimes aren’t my crimes. And even though I recognize intellectually that people often feel differently, it’s hard to make myself believe it, deep down.

Feeling guilty or proud about what people two or three or more generations back did? Or what random people way the hell back in your ancestry did? Or what people who looked kinda like you did? I honestly just don’t get it.

[1] My ancestors were mostly Irish, so this may be somewhat literal.

• Doctor Mist says:

Eh. It’s a human thing to feel a connection to one’s ancestors, to feel that their triumphs are your triumphs, too. Evolutionarily it has something to do with cohesiveness in tribal units; you may not have much in common with Og, but if you share great grandparents then at least there’s that. And we know prestige is communicable in very slight ways: “Wow, you’ve actually met Diana Krall? Cool!”

It’s fair to be interested in where it comes from, and even to argue that it’s irrational or even obsolescent. But you’re gonna be fighting the current.

• Nornagest says:

I think apple pie would be more traditional.

• Protagoras says:

Yeah, overextrapolating. Or at least when I feel terrible it’s because of depression, not because anyone’s convinced me I’m terrible because I’m white. And I even get cookies, sometimes from the nonwhite friends I have who basically never tell me I’m terrible.

• Eponymous says:

we already feel terrible all the time

I would like to suggest to you that this is not a psychologically healthy response.

• BBA says:

No it’s not. But it’s the only possible result from making our newspapers retell these stories again and again. Even if it convinces everyone who’ll listen that we need to radically reconstruct our society to address the ills caused by four centuries of slavery, “everyone who’ll listen” is not enough. We need a majority.

• The Nybbler says:

Might I suggest a different news source?

If the newspapers are going to keep telling stories about how horrible white people are, and reading such things makes you feel terrible all the time and have no or insufficient counterbalancing positive result, the rational thing to do is to not read them. There’s probably better choices than the three I’ve linked — even the Bezos Washington Post is less prone to this stuff than the NYT is.

Anyway, you said you’re Jewish. Chances are your heritage doesn’t include slaveowning in America anyway (I know mine doesn’t). Why feel bad about it?

• quanta413 says:

Even if it convinces everyone who’ll listen that we need to radically reconstruct our society

These are almost never good words. Giant piles of skulls and all that.

• anonymousskimmer says:

These are almost never good words. Giant piles of skulls and all that.

It depends on the time line.
I’ve been imagining time travel recently (the non-controllable kind), and what it would be like to live in the year 1900. That is a radically different society. I would not be happy.

16. onyomi says:

Recently there was discussion of how “suicide watch” is practically torture and so easy for someone with good lawyers to get taken off of, because it’s so burdensome, especially because you need to be checked on something like every 15 mins, even while asleep.

Instead of that why couldn’t someone deemed a suicide risk just be set up with some kind of portable heart monitor that sends signals to guards and medics somewhere nearby and sets off an alarm if the heart rate or other measure fluctuates too wildly or suddenly stops altogether (the latter possibly indicating the prisoner has taken it off)? It seems really hard to commit suicide without your heart rate going up or down a lot: if you’re preparing to hang yourself it will almost certainly go up. If you’ve taken a heavy dosage of barbiturates it will go down noticeably before you die, etc.?

• Well... says:

What kind of heart monitor? Because an implanted one sounds like it would be pretty burdensome too.

• Lambert says:

Same form-factor as a smart watch. Non-invasive.

The issue would be if you managed to remove it and put it on somebody else.
So you need something like an ankle monitor for suicide.

If you can get it cheap and convenient enough, this might be a really useful product for people with a variety of health conditions.
A smart watch that can detect seizures, strokes, heart attacks etc. and automatically text your GPS location to the emergency services could be a real lifesaver.

If nobody’s done this yet, I might see if I can get the local biomed engineering faculty interested.

• John Schilling says:

1. Prisoners on suicide watch don’t want to sleep 24/7. And during their waking hours, they’ve probably got nothing better to do with their time than to screw with the guards (who will be doing the same to them regardless).

2. How many ways are there to kill yourself with a cheap heart monitor? I’m going to guess the answer isn’t zero.

• onyomi says:

I don’t understand what you’re getting at with 1.

Re 2. If you take off or break the monitor it signals the medalert team to come check on you. Can you kill yourself with a heart monitor device in <5 mins and without getting your heart rate way up in advance? Sounds pretty McGyver-ish to me.

Plus, there's a matter of incentives: if we have a method that prevents 99.9% of suicide attempts but is so invasive and unpleasant that judges can rarely justify using it for very long then that may be inferior, in terms of total suicides prevented, to a much less unpleasant method that only stops 90% of attempts.

• John Schilling says:

Re 2. If you take off or break the monitor it signals the medalert team to come check on you.

And you said you didn’t understand what I was getting at with #1.

• beleester says:

What I think he’s getting at with #1: How do you distinguish a sudden increase in heart rate due to the prisoner being about to choke to death, vs a sudden increase in heart rate because the prisoner was bored and restless and decided to do some push-ups? Prisoners aren’t sleeping 24/7, so their heart rates will fluctuate in the course of whatever they’re doing to pass the time.

• Lambert says:

>screw with the guards

Screw with them how?
By making them check on the guy every 15 minutes?

17. johan_larson says:

Here’s the most jargon-dense sentence I’ve encountered in the wild for a long time:

Haskell, at its core, is simple: it is just a polymorphic lambda calculus with lazy evaluation plus algebraic data types and type classes.

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

How is it “polymorphic”? Surely not in the usual OOP sense with interfaces and method overriding?

• Nick says:

It’s a bit of an odd way of phrasing it, since I would think he means typeclasses enable polymorphism.

• Peffern says:

Haskell’s typeclasses are sort of similar to golang’s interfaces where the statement that “type X implements interface Y” is separate from both the definition or X and the declaration of Y, so I guess that’s what they mean?

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

The type system is parametrically polymorphic: i.e. you can write a general identity function with type $\forall a . a \rightarrow a$ rather than having to write separate identity functions for every type.

• bzium says:

The sort of polymorphism you think of in the context of OOP is subtype polymorphism.

Some form of parametric polymorphism is provided in some mainstream OO languages in the form of templates or generics.

Typeclasses are a mechanism for function overloading, which is yet another thing and it’s sometimes called ad hoc polymorphism (though Haskell’s approach to this is rather principled and not very ad hoc at all).

• Nick says:

Heh, the Hacker News discussion of that post lambasts him for that sentence:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20712646

18. Deiseach says:

The Democratic presidential candidates are the trainwreck that keeps on giving. (And this isn’t, I hope, Culture War; this is an incredulous query as to “how in the name of God did an allegedly smart ‘he’s our technocrat candidate who is the nearest thing to a Libertarian we can reasonably hope to get elected’ guy ever think that this was a good idea to start, then when in the hole, keep digging until he hit the subterranean diamond layer“?)

Andrew Yang going for a winning strategy on policy explaining UBI pretending he is a ripped jock.

EDIT: He’s also insulted some of his current rivals within the party (deliberate or not? probably not) such as Bernie, Joe and Elizabeth who are older and probably not so able to run a mile, as well as previous candidate Hillary – remember the questions about her health? Do we think she could run a mile? What would be the opinion if Trump or one of the other Republicans had said this on the campaign trail?

I don’t think Hillary Clinton could run a mile. Would you guys enjoy trying to watch Hillary Clinton run a mile? That’d be hysterical. Watch that woman try to run a mile and be — oh my gosh, that would be so amazing for the American people, to try and watch Hillary — I say she passes out at like the quarter mile mark.

I’ve seen some comment trying to find the most charitable interpretation of this, that Yang is trying to replicate what Trump did in the last campaign in order to ‘get his retaliation in first’ because this is where Trump is strong (ridiculing his opponents and causing the voters to take them less seriously), but even there it’s weak. Trump knows how to make such comments zingers: they may be mean, but they’re also funny – “Lil’ Marco, Pocahontas, Low Energy Jeb” – whereas Yang just comes across as mean: “He’s fat, gosh he’s so fat and gross, fat people are so yucky” which maybe is not the greatest way to try and win over the undecided middle of the voting public (who might like to eat turkey legs at the State Fair themselves).

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: when the Cosmic Woo Lady is the one sounding more statesmanlike than you, then you’ve got problems.

I think he’s trying to dispel all the notions that he’s too weak, timid, or unmanly to serve as President. I’ve certainly heard enough people make those sorts of complaints about Yang: he’s too quiet, he’s not enthusiastic enough, he’s not assertive enough, he doesn’t seem like someone who’s willing to stand up for himself. Back when people were discussing whether his microphone had been turned off during the first debate, I remember one person going on a tirade about how “if that was me, I would’ve stood up and walked across the stage and demanded they do something about my microphone, I wouldn’t just sit there like a loser!”

I’m not saying that Yang made the right move; this whole thing comes across as cringeworthy, especially when the people he’s criticizing are 30 year older than him and can’t realistically be expected to be super-fit. And on top of that, he still comes across as fairly milquetoast, which just makes his newfound braggadocio come across as obviously disingenuous in addition to being petty and mean-spirited. But I think I understand why he did it.

• Cliff says:

Anything that gets him in the news is a good move, basically. You have to stand out and people have to know who you are

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

Yang is pretty bad at this. I’m not really sure this is a strategy to make himself look like a jock, because he’s not even advertising himself as really healthy, and he mentions his “intellectual” abilities as well. Pretty sure this is just some off-the-cuff insulting. Is it a strategy? Sure, sort of. He’s a cool guy. You can have a beer with him.
Does it really work? Nah.
There’s no need for a Real Man (TM) candidate in the Dem side, it’s not a selling point. De Blasio would have picked up more steam than he did if that were really in demand. Out of the leading candidates, the “manliest” is probably Kamala Harris, or Joe Biden if you can overlook his age. I guess Cory Booker might apply in Coastal Craziness, but the man won’t have brats or beers, so I’m not sure he is even allowed in the state of Wisconsin.

• Deiseach says:

Well, if his “vote for president on looks and fitness” appeal takes off, I know who is going to be the next Democratic President 😀

• Deiseach says:

I’m not really sure this is a strategy to make himself look like a jock, because he’s not even advertising himself as really healthy, and he mentions his “intellectual” abilities as well.

Yeah, it looks to me like he started off making a joke about him eating the turkey leg at the state fair (‘can’t do that every day’), turned it into a jab at Trump, decided halfway through that it wasn’t working but stopping would be even worse, so ploughed grimly on through to the end and lobbed in an ‘intellectual’ challenge as well. If he’s going to go for “I can do one-liners” he needs professional scriptwriters who can write funny as well as pointed material and lots of coaching on “how to deliver a joke”.

Trump has the instinctive knack for this, Yang doesn’t. And he got at least one online media product producer mad about mocking fat people:

After a reporter asked him if Yang would be up for a challenge with Trump, Yang kept rolling with the high-brow, very funny jabs. According to the Atlantic, an aide tried to pull him away, but like any idiot who has stepped in a pile of shit, he seemed to think the only logical move was to just keep going.

It’s a tricky conundrum; candidates need to project a “man (or woman) of the people” aura when on the campaign trail so they have to engage in ‘quaint rural rites of the indigenous folk’ but on the other hand it’s always a minefield for a politician to be snapped eating because it sets up jokes like:

The exchange had started with Yang reminiscing about the giant turkey leg he’d eaten at the Iowa State Fair the day before. It ended with him daring Trump to run a mile, but the food photo is what made the rounds. “I can’t think of a better metaphor for Andrew Yang’s campaign than a photo of him literally biting off more than he can chew,” the Late Late Show host James Corden cracked on Monday night.

I imagine Ed Miliband is still ruing that bacon sandwich!

It’s a tricky conundrum; candidates need to project a “man (or woman) of the people” aura when on the campaign trail so they have to engage in ‘quaint rural rites of the indigenous folk’

Which again is among the reasons I like Trump. He did not try to project a man of the people aura or engage in the quaint rural rites of the indigenous folk. No one on earth would believe it and it would look ridiculous. Instead he wore a suit, flew in on a helicopter with his name on the side, took one bite of the pork chop on a stick and threw it in the trash, then gave helicopter rides to the kids and told them he was Batman.

Into the helicopter went William, 9; Sean, 6; Brendan, 5; and Henry, who just turned 3. Their mother went with them. Henry got scared just before takeoff and left the aircraft to be with his father. The other boys remained. William brought a GoPro camera to capture the experience; a clip later wound up on Facebook.

“Mr. Trump,” he said, aiming the camera at his benefactor.

“Yes,” Trump said, pulling on the lapels of his jacket.

“Are you Batman?” the boy asked.

“I am Batman,” Trump said.

• Deiseach says:

Which again is among the reasons I like Trump. He did not try to project a man of the people aura or engage in the quaint rural rites of the indigenous folk.

That’s what is not understood, with all the hand-wringing about “he’s so uncouth” and the sneering about “he eats his steak well-done with ketchup, what a rube, what a moron, let us all look down our noses at him”.

Well, I eat my steak well-done with ketchup! So thanks for letting me know your real opinion of the “classes we want to help, honest, why do workers keep voting against their interests, the Democrats/liberals/progressives have your true best interests at heart” appeals that turn up in the papers and social media come election times.

Trump may be brash and crude and all the rest of it, but that means he does not come across as a phony. If he eats burgers, it’s because he genuinely likes burgers and is not doing the “eat pleb food for the photo shoot on the campaign trail” thing. If he flies in by his own private helicopter, it’s because he’s rich enough to have his own private helicopter, and if we the ordinary citizens could afford it you bet we’d have our own private helicopters. You can certainly dislike him, but what you see is what you get.

• acymetric says:

but that means he does not come across as a phony.

Oh god, I’m having Catcher in the Rye flashbacks.

• Matt M says:

I mean, there was that “I LOVE HISPANICS” post on Cinco De Mayo of him eating a taco bowl in Trump Tower.

I think that was his attempt at being a man of the people. But since it’s Trump, well…

• Deiseach says:

Oh god, I’m having Catcher in the Rye flashbacks.

Yeah, that’s legitimately terrible, but unfortunately we don’t have a good replacment word for the concept: “fake” is too broad, “hypocrite” isn’t correct, “play-acting” or “pretending” don’t get the kind of tinny tawdriness across, even “LARPing” doesn’t quite fit.

I mean, there was that “I LOVE HISPANICS” post on Cinco De Mayo of him eating a taco bowl in Trump Tower.

Yeah, but can’t you imagine that Trump really would eat taco bowls because he genuinely loves them? Whereas if somebody else tried it, it would seem fake. Maybe Trump hates tacos, who knows, but his image is of someone who likes fast food and convenience food in a way that other politicians can’t quite pull off.

My guess is that Yang is trying (and failing) to counteract stereotypes of Asians that would hurt his electoral chances.

Asian men typically look boyish and effeminate, and he personally fits that stereotype to a tee. This wouldn’t be an obstacle for a cabinet officer or even a vice president, but the president needs to project strength and authority befitting the leader of the free world. So he’s got a huge disadvantage right out of the gate.

Positioning himself as the athletic and capable young candidate in a field of women and old men could help mitigate this if it was done with any kind of subtlety. But openly bragging about being more physically fit than Hillary Clinton is just incredibly sad.

• Aapje says:

He forgot about the first rule of visual media: show, don’t tell.

[EDIT] Paul seems to have the same association, below.

• viVI_IViv says:

Asian men typically look boyish and effeminate, and he personally fits that stereotype to a tee.

Then the man needs to step up his kung fu game. Running a mile? That’s hipster soyboy stuff. /s

Btw, the general trend seems to be going towards Wakandan ritual combat succession, which will eventually result in President Camacho winning the election.

Then the man needs to step up his kung fu game. Running a mile? That’s hipster soyboy stuff. /s

This, but unironically.

I think that right now his biggest problem, even beyond being the “math” candidate who can’t do arithmetic, is that he looks and acts weak. If he had a black belt that would be something to lean on when people ask if he’s capable of holding his own with guys like Putin. Not because anyone expects the president to fist-fight foreign heads of state, but because there’s a psycho-spiritual aspect to combat training which implies that a skilled fighter will be calm and controlled in tense negotiations.

Plus it’s a great landmine. If anyone made fun of counterfactual-Yang for knowing Kung Fu, he could hit them with a very credible accusation of racism. Not very effective against Trump but that could get a lot of milage in the primary.

So there’s hope, then? When faced with an existential crisis, President Comacho did not consult polls or lobbyists or religion or his gut. He found the smartest man in the world, tasked him with solving the problem, and (after a few hiccups) implemented his solutions and gave the man full credit. There has never been a President as caring, as trustworthy, and as competent as Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho and I don’t think there ever will be.

• Matt M says:

Aside from all that, the current “thing is he known for” is attracting primarily nerdy/technocratic supporters due to his nerdy/technocratic UBI proposal.

But even if he wins 100% of the nerdy/technocratic vote, that doesn’t take him above like 3% in the Democratic primary. So if he wants to have any hope at actually going somewhere, he needs to expand beyond the nerds, and soon…

• Paul Zrimsek says:

He should go for the shirtless Putin shot next.

Yang strong! Strong like bull!

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Yang is the Chinese word for “sun, masculinity, active power.” I don’t know why Andrew flouted nominative determinism.

• Deiseach says:

I don’t know why Andrew flouted nominative determinism.

Not just with his surname but with his first name, Andrew:

The word is derived from the Greek: Ἀνδρέας, Andreas, itself related to Ancient Greek: ἀνήρ/ἀνδρός aner/andros, “man” (as opposed to “woman”), thus meaning “manly” and, as consequence, “brave”, “strong”, “courageous”, and “warrior”.

He got the double dose of it, so yeah, where are your bulging biceps, washboard abs and pictures of you shooting big manly guns on the range, Andy?

Even 93 year old Queen Elizabeth enjoys traditional country sports like attending the grouse shoot (alas, cancelled this year because too few grouse) and knows which end of a gun goes “bang” 😀

• Lambert says:

She’s the only head of state left who served in the War, too.

• Deiseach says:

He should go for the shirtless Putin shot next.

Not without hitting the gym first, he’s got his own little bit of middle-aged pudge round the tummy and, if the Googled figures I found are correct, at 5′ 11″ tall and 165 lbs, he’s within normal weight BMI limits (BMI 24) but towards the high end of normal. A few too many turkey legs and lemonades and he’s tipping over into “overweight” himself 🙂

Wait. The UBI guy is the Democrat’s most Libertarian?! God, I’m so happy I don’t live in US. I don’t see you guys doing well in 20 years. Here in EU on the othe… actually, never mind.

• John Schilling says:

Yang is the most ostentatiously Grey Tribe; that’s not the same as being the most Libertarian. The most Libertarian candidate who can plausibly run in the 2020 Democratic primary is the one who says “Obviously we’ve got to roll back most of Trump’s more obnoxious (to Democrats) policies, but other than that I’m just going to try and run a competent administration that doesn’t try to radically transform American society or economy”.

Probably Biden. Or maybe Williamson, but Google Translate doesn’t seem to have a handle on her native tongue yet so it’s hard to be sure.

19. AlexOfUrals says:

What’s the rationale behind the Sparrow donation app Scott advertised in the previous OT? When I first read the description I thought it can be a good idea to link donations to some things you want to do less – buying junk food, or drinks, or video games, or whateve – i.e. using it as a self-imposed tax. But apparently even though it allows to donate every time you buy a drink, the donation amount and charity for the given event are fixed, and all the events are preset and many are external to you and the app is generally not about that. So the question is – what it is about? Why would I want say to donate to women’s empowerment each time Beyonce posts something, as opposed to just donating to women’s empowerment? (It also supports a number of just periodic donations, those obviously make sense but don’t really require an app)

And the second question. I still like the original idea of self-imposed tax, although it does have some obvious drawbacks I want at least give it a try. Anyone know any tools which can help in that? I don’t think there’s something that will automate the process completely, but I hope to make the process as streamlined as possible. Like, something that donates a preset sum of money to a preset charity (small sum, so some pooling to avoid incurring transaction costs on the charity is desirable) by a single click. If it’s possible to link to a specific type of transactions from my credit card that’d be perfect, but I’m probably asking too much. Something similar but linkable to things like web surfing or visiting preset sites will also be great. Any recommendations, or is it hopeless even to look?

• Aapje says:

@AlexOfUrals

I think that your mistake is to look at the app as something to make you behave better, rather than feel better.

The goal of the app seems to be to allow you to (partially) offset a negative consequence of behavior, whether that is negative behavior by yourself or by others.

I suspect that this app is most liked by people who fear that the world is deteriorating because of human behavior, get very upset over hearing about the negative impact of the behavior of themselves and other people & are made to feel much better by supposedly offsetting that harm, so they can convince themselves that they are making a positive contribution to the world.

• Deiseach says:

Why would I want say to donate to women’s empowerment each time Beyonce posts something

Ah. It’s trying to monetise airheads for good causes. Think of all the gushing acclaim about that Lemonade album (or whatever it was) when it came out with people carrying on as if this was a new sculpture by Michaelangelo; imagine if every time a 20 year old white female arts graduate in an urban centre sipping her trendy caffeinated beverage of choice retweeted how Strong Independent Woman Beyoncé and so on, a small amount went out of their bank account to a shelter for victims of domestic violence, then you’d have a small but handy sum of money.

It’s literally “if I had a nickel for every time….”

20. b4mgh says:

My first thought is a mechanism for moving a dwelling as a whole or its parts.

One idea is to have a castle that is approachable and assailable by a single direction. It can be a type of cave castle on a rocky cliff side. When there is trouble, the whole castle turns and the back of the castle (made out of rough local rock) is facing outwards, so that it looks like a continuous surface with the rest of the cliff face. Except for the road leading up to it, that is. It would mean that the people in the castle would be in total darkness while they were in this defensive position, but if you can turn a castle lighting is the least of your worries.
Another defensible option is to make a huge dome that closes over the castle when there is trouble. Maybe it’s a two-part dome that closes like an eyelid, or an intricate flower-shape dome that when not being closed for protection serves as an adornment or monument.

It could be that someone really likes natural sunlight, so they make their manor/tower turn in order to follow the sun across the sky.

You could have multiple towers in a castle, and the mechanism changes their relative positions to one another, such as rotating them, or altering their heights. This could apply to rooms inside a building as well: the eccentric lord doesn’t like walking so he makes it so his bedroom door can lead straight to the dining room, or the office, or the library.

There could be giant statues that wave or make religious signs, or actually move around the land so that the whole population can enjoy their glory instead of just the people in the capital.

Dragon scarecrow. Scaredragon.

A colossal siege weapon intended to block the light of the sun from those besieged for psychological warfare reasons.

• b4mgh says:

I meant to relply to this comment, I’m sorry.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

No big deal. I like the thought you put into this.

21. Hoopyfreud says:

So apparently GE may be in a bit of trouble.

Market manipulation or actual investigative journalism?

• Aftagley says:

Reading it now. First impression: this guy is a terrible writer.

Edit: Finished reading it, I’m not sure I fully understand the specifics of what he was saying. If I’m reading it right, he’s claiming that GE: isn’t putting out accurate financial statements, is carrying more debt than it’s letting on, and is far less profitable than it’s claiming. If this is the case, then yes, it looks like GE may be in trouble.

That being said, the amateur way in which this report has been put out makes me skeptical. He keeps calling it a whistle-blower report, yet all of his information came from public data sources? He’s supposed to be some master in fraud detection, but he doesn’t know how to use a comma?

• Hoopyfreud says:

The GE VS Madoff bar chart is amazing tbh.

But yes, I agree with everything you say. It’s sketchy. It’s also strangely compelling. Full disclosure: I got it from /r/wallstreetbets.

• Aftagley says:

The GE VS Madoff bar chart is amazing tbh.

Oh my god, I didn’t look at the slides. That’s priceless.

• SamChevre says:

I’ll try to answer in more detail later, but reading this as an actuary gives me that “if they are right, they are right by accident” feeling.

The key problem is that loss ratios (claims/premiums) aren’t useful or helpful measure for long-term contracts with reserves. As the block ages, the loss ratio skyrockets–but if the reserving has been done correctly, the income is stable.

Now–it’s definitely true that reserves and premiums for LTC were far too low industry-wide, due to a combination of overestimating lapses and overestimating interest rates and a high-risk policy design- but “company with older policyholders has higher claims and lower reserves and premiums” is exactly what I’d expect.

Disclosure: I used to work for GE Capital, worked with LTC actuaries although I wasn’t one, and my current employer has reinsurance treaties with ERAC.

• John Schilling says:

From the first paragraph: “It’s been 17 years since WorldCom so we’re long overdue for something like GE. As you read our slide deck you’ll see that GE utilizes many of the same accounting tricks as Enron did, so much so that we’ve taken to calling this the ‘GEnron’ case.”

So, every seventeen years we’re supposed to pick a corporation as the “next Enron” because it’s time? This isn’t even guilt by association. And it’s a press release. Why is it a press release? It should be a private report to Markopolos’s client in this matter, for them to release or not. Or it should be a private report by a concerned citizen to the SEC. Or an article in Forbes or the Wall Street Journal. Without being able to fully vet the accounting details of this, a press release from a guy who repeatedly reminds us he’s the guy who took down Bernie Madoff, telling the world he’s going to take down GE, stinks of anything but honest disclosure or whistleblowing.

It may not be deliberate market manipulation, but I’d bet it’s at least a premature accusation motivated by a desire to recapture the fame and glory of Markopolos’s younger days.

• albatross11 says:

I guess the next question to ask is whether Markopolos has already tried the private report to the SEC, and now he’s trying to drum up publicity to get public pressure on them to investigate. Though you’d think a report from him would get the attention of the SEC pretty easily, given the history w.r.t. Madoff.

• Hoopyfreud says:

I guess the next question to ask is whether Markopolos has already tried the private report to the SEC

Why would he do that first? Dude’s shorting GE. It going public is the plan. But yes, the report claims he sent a more detailed version to the SEC.

• ordogaud says:

Somewhat skeptical given that he’s partnered with a hedge fund to short GE. I wonder what the legal repercussions would be if the report turned out to be false, but they still make a bunch of money by shorting the resulting sell off. Would it be like libel where they’d have to prove they published the report knowing it was inaccurate?

22. Le Maistre Chat says:

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to design a geared machine whose function requires it to be large enough for a man to jump inside. It can’t just be oversized for show, because then Dracula your employer wouldn’t let it be built with such a security flaw.

• Nornagest says:

Jump between the gears, you mean?

The first thing that comes to mind is the traversal mechanism for heavy artillery, like you might find on big coast defense guns or (hi, Bean!) a battleship. I used to hike in a park that had casemates for a pair of WWII-era 16″ guns; the guns themselves were long gone but the pits for them were big enough to park a Winnebago in, with room for lawn chairs and a barbecue. A lot of that would have been filled with machinery back in the day.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Yes, jump between the gears. I’m trying to devise a relatively logical multi-environment dungeon, with an igloo town carved out of a glacier on an active volcano, melt water feeding a river, a rich mine in a different type of rock adjacent to the igneous, mechanical area, etc.

Yeah, those traversal mechanisms must have been huge, for casemates ~38′ long.

• The Nybbler says:

Very traditionally, then, the gearing for the gates for a large dam.

My first thought was a large telescope (basically similar to Nornagest’s artillery idea), but that doesn’t work underground.

• CatCube says:

The gearing for many of them are probably a little smaller than needed for this, but in the right range.

Both that and the gearing for lock gates are probably pretty good. The bull gear to operate a high-lift miter gate, like the ones on the Columbia River, is about the right size, but the biggest gear in the set is horizontal. (Google “Panama Linkage” for how they work)

I can’t find many good pictures, and most of the ones I took at work I’m not going to post on the internet for what I hope are obvious reasons. However, a sense of scale can be found in the pictures here:
https://www.gicaonline.com/Images/Interior/mike%20park%20usace%20nola.pdf

A general shot of the operating machinery is on page 15. A close-up of the failed bull gear driving the repair project is on 16, but it’s tough to tell scale from that. Slide 18 has fabrication of the replacement equipment which will give you a sense of scale, but it looks like they converted it to a hydraulically-operated Ohio linkage.

Edit: One other thing of note–if you want to see architecture that looks like it belongs in The Lord of the Rings, try to visit a lock that’s been unwatered for maintenance. It literally feels like seeing the Black Gates of Morannon from The Return of the King movie. (Those were obviously based on real miter gates.)

• Lambert says:

Volcano?
How about a gearbox for a giant archimedes’ screw, used to pour large quantities of magma on unwelcome guests, unsuspecting pachyderms etc.?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Impressive.

• beleester says:

Someone has been playing Dwarf Fortress…

• benjdenny says:

The mine is flooded by the river, which has cut a river-sized tunnel through the igneous rock. The mine itself is the damp cavity left when the massive, gear driven platform that diverts the river is rotated.

• Nornagest says:

I think that mine’s going to be your best candidate, then.

Machines for crushing ore can get pretty huge. Stamp mills aren’t quite big enough on their own, but the driving machinery for a big enough battery could get into the range you want. You could also have hydraulic or wind power — or steam, if tech level allows — geared to hoists, water pumps, trip hammers, et cetera.

And I’ll just leave this here. You can probably figure out what to do with it.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Machines for crushing ore can get pretty huge. Stamp mills aren’t quite big enough on their own, but the driving machinery for a big enough battery could get into the range you want. You could also have hydraulic or wind power — or steam, if tech level allows — geared to hoists, water pumps, trip hammers, et cetera.

Yeah. I was thinking gold-bearing ore, to attract people to the site. It’s not rare for gold mines to also be copper mines, which metal being 1,000-10,000x more abundant would mean many more meters of tunnels and bigger batteries of ore-crushers.

As to steam, I’m undecided. Maybe geothermal steam engines, but maybe instead of knowing how to build a steam locomotive, a pre-industrial tramway that goes down from the mine entrance to a farming settlement by gravity and back up by gears and cable.

And I’ll just leave this here. You can probably figure out what to do with it.

Ha. What does “level above Huelva” mean? Apparently it’s the site of a Roman-era mine in Spain between Gibraltar and Portugal, but what’s the referent of “above”? River, water table?

• bean says:

Unlikely. The gear on the turret ring was big, but the driving gear was pretty small, as were the teeth. The reduction gears are also a bit too small, and the teeth much too small.

How about something like the gears on the shuttle crawler-transporter?

• Phigment says:

Large, heavy gate, designed to be operated by a human being, but sturdy and heavy enough that it can withstand a small army of angry villagers attempting to storm the castle with pitchforks and torches.

All the gearing is to allow a human to crank it up or down relatively easily and quickly. When the mob comes, disengage the counterweight and they’ll need heavy equipment to lift it themselves, giving Dracula time to flee.

Quality illustration of concept

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Nice!

• johan_larson says:

How about an old-fashioned windmill, the kind for grinding grain? They were essentially machines the size of buildings, with room inside for the operators.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Good thinking; do we know how many and large of gears were typical for old-fashioned windmills?

• Nornagest says:

The gearing for old-school windmills is pretty boring, unfortunately. There’s a pair of large gears at the tops, but below that there’s nothing but a straight shaft running down to the millstone.

• Aftagley says:

Uh, yeah: but this is over an active volcano. Turn the windmill sideways and have it be powered by the air movement caught from a geyser (or just hot air rising from the lava). Now you’ve got a reason for those gears to be a floor-level and jump-throughable.

• johan_larson says:

You can always complicate things. Maybe the winds are variable, and you can’t always drive the big millstone. So you have a smaller millstone for light winds, and you need a gearbox to control which one to drive.

Or maybe the mill can do many different types of work, and the gearbox controls whether the widget flunger or the wadget napper gets torque.

• Chalid says:

Just found this article citing a number of gears in the 13+ meter range. Seems like mining is the biggest application.

• bullseye says:

Giant clock? I guess they don’t serve much purpose now that everyone carries around their own clock, but they used to be useful.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

I thought the whole mechanism inside a clock tower was barely bigger than a human, excluding bells where applicable.

• beleester says:

Yeah, even Big Ben’s gearing is only about 15 feet long, which is nowhere near big enough for a fight scene.

Although a platforming challenge across a series of gigantic bells could be fun – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that one in a Castlevania game.

23. fr8train_ssc says:

Reposting article I found on class/culture presentation in this thread per the Nybbler and quanta413’s recommendation that this was culture-warry enough to be in this thread instead of whole number Open thread.

Some interesting comments in the old thread. Like some, I don’t agree with all of her points, but was more interested in how the author drew some similar conclusions as Scott did (mainly how class fashion propagates) several years ago.

• Aftagley says:

I was Yale-adjacent during the time period the author is talking about here. I crashed on couches in dorms, I dropped into classes and attended (read snuck-into) a bunch of the various matriculation events they have. Long story as to why I was doing this, but I got a pretty good first-hand view of the Yale culture and made a bunch of friends with people who ended up graduating who I still keep in touch with now.

The one, crucial mistake the writer of that piece makes is thinking that Yale still gives you or reflects some kind of power or elite status. Maybe it used to, back in the days when that state department, CIA and officer corps of all services branches pretty much exclusively from the Ivy Leagues. Back when a Yale degree was the only thing you’d need to get into law school; where having one would get you whatever job you wanted, but not any more. The education they got was within striking distance of what you could get online and virtually equivalent (and in some cases inferior) to what I got at my decidedly non ivy-league Academy. Five years on, virtually everyone I know who graduated from Yale (who isn’t a mega-billionaire) is now living the life of an office drone. The rising tide of college graduation rates has, at least imo, stripped away the prestige from any degree, even one from Yale.

For my money, the protests, the outrage and the constant hullabaloo was just boredom. You’ve got a system that actively recruits intelligent, type-a people from a vaguely leftist crowd, sticks them all together in a dumpster of a city (sorry New Haven) that virtually ensures they are only going to associate with other Yale students and then gives them maybe 4 hours or work to do a day while bending over backwards to cater to their every whim. Of course they are going to start trouble.

Edit: see below

• johan_larson says:

Five years on, virtually everyone I know who graduated from Yale (who isn’t a mega-billionaire) is not living the life of an office drone.

Is that “not” a typo? The typical Yale graduate is living the life of an office drone?

• Aftagley says:

Yep, good catch. Ty.

• Randy M says:

Five years on, virtually everyone I know who graduated from Yale (who isn’t a mega-billionaire) is not living the life of an office drone.

not, or now?

edit: Beaten by seconds. You win this time, Mr._larson

24. James says:

A couple of software development questions, one on React Native and one on ‘contracting’.

I have some work coming up on a freelance/contract basis for an app development agency. They have about a week of work for me and if they like me they will probably give me more in the future. I really want them to like me because the work situation is pretty close to my ideal – being on a freelance basis, it would leave me enough time to pursue my own projects (pretty much my primary desideratum right now), and the money is rather nice, certainly better than the web-based freelance work I’ve done before.

The work is in React Native, in which I have been doing a little bit of work, but it’s not really my background—previously I’ve mostly done backend development and (old school, non-frameworky) web stuff. So I’m feeling a little bit imposter-ish as a javascript dev, and I’d like to spend the intervening couple of weeks brushing up on what I can to hit the ground running and maximise my chance of passing for a competent javascript dev.

Does anyone have any suggestions for good topics to brush up on, or particular stumbling blocks, or gotchas that might get me?

I think my core Javascript is up to scratch, though I’m probably not perfectly fluent in ‘modern’ js – I’ve done plenty of work in a by-now-quite-dated style of js, and I’ve developed one (small-ish) app in React Native this year.

In that app I used, though only cursorily, a few of the core APIs of React Native: AsyncStorage, Animate, fetch()…. I’m OK with JSX. I think I’ve got my head around async/await/promises passably well, though I hadn’t worked with them before.

I’ve never used a javascript build system per se, but people don’t seem to use them for React Native. Or am I wrong about that? I have used npm a little but I don’t feel like I grok it perfectly, so that’s one thing to brush up on.

And as for non-js-specific dev tools, the only thing that I might need to know I can think of is git, which I know.

Is there anything glaringly obvious that I’m missing and should read up on?

My second question is even more nebulous than the first one:

I’ve done freelance work before, but it was mostly on a relatively casual basis (and paid accordingly). I’ve also had regular jobs as an employee. I was thinking of this one in the same vein as my previous freelancing, but actually it’s a bit different in that they’re referring to me as a ‘contractor’, and expect me to work on-site.

I vaguely sense that this is a slightly different world to the freelancing I’m used to, so I feel like I don’t know exactly what to expect, or what they’ll expect of me. I guess my question is: to what extent does ‘contractor’ reflect a genuine difference to ‘freelancer’ in expectations, or in culture? Does anyone have any advice for an inexperienced contractor turning up to his first day on a new contracting gig?

tl;dr a prospective React Native contractor trying to fake it just long enough to make it.

• Peffern says:

This depends on your programming background, but async/await is (almost) monadic and if you imagine await as analogous to “<-" in Haskell's "do" notation, it makes more sense.

• James says:

When I learn Haskell, I’ll bear that in mind.

• James says:

Now I feel like my other reply to this looks a bit snarky, which was not my intention—I was only playing. But there is something amusingly SSC-ish about explaining a mainstream-ish concept in a mainstream programming language in terms of a niche, difficult concept in a niche, difficult language.

• dick says:

One big difference between a freelancer and a contractor is how your requirements get to you. Freelance often means “we will give you a completely elaborated set of requirements, you go into a cave for two weeks and send back something that meets them.” Contractor means you go to meetings and ask questions about use cases like a normal developer.

There are as many unique ways to build/test/deploy a React app as there are stars in the sky, no one can fault you for not being familiar with every tool and dependency they use, but the basics of node and npm will be helpful. Examples would be how to use nvm to deal with different apps needing different node versions, and understanding what all the stuff in the package.json file does. If you grok this you’re probably good:

“scripts” { “build-and-test”: “npm run build && npm run test:ci && npm run test:ui –prefix ./tests” }

Good luck!

• James says:

This is just the kind of stuff I’m after, thanks.

If you grok this you’re probably good

Only vaguely, which makes that a great metric. Now I have something to aim for!

• dick says:

Making a simple node app, adding a testrunner like mocha to it and a linter and a few other dependencies, and then getting some tests to run against a React hello world might be instructive. But it sounds to me like you’re pretty well ready, and just need to worry about impostor syndrome less.

• James says:

need to worry about impostor syndrome less

So you’re saying I’m not really an imposter and I just have imposter imposter syndrome syndrome?

Possibly. It’s not so much generalised imposter syndrome as really wanting to get this one, so keen to do whatever I can to improve my chances.

Testing is definitely a weakness of mine—we didn’t have any at my last job and it’s a long time since I’ve done any—and I hadn’t thought of it, so that’s definitely a good idea.

• dick says:

I’ve never worked on React Native so I don’t know whether/to what extent it needs to be tested on real devices, but I would imagine people probably use Selenium for it like everything else. Although I’m very impressed with Cypress, if you want to try something newer.

(I assume that when you said you didn’t have any tests at your last job, you meant integration or ui tests, not unit tests, right? You should absolutely be writing good unit tests, and if they use some kind of mocking, learning how it works will be non-trivial and something you could be getting up to speed on beforehand)

• James says:

I assume that when you said you didn’t have any tests at your last job, you meant integration or ui tests, not unit tests, right?

Nuh-uh. No tests.

I was a lone developer developing/maintaining a bespoke CRM in a non-tech business. I inherited it from a slightly crazy, not-very-experienced developer who hadn’t written any tests for it, and I never got around to writing any while I was there. Not my finest hour, I admit, but there was always something more pressing to work on.

I have written tests (integration and unit, with mocking), but that’s going back like three jobs ago now, so I’m rusty.

• dodrian says:

The last role I took was as a contractor – I took it because the client had a reputation of being an excellent employer who hired heavily from their contractor pool.

My day to day was mostly the same as the employees. In the office, meetings, etc. I had a specific project I was working on for the company, but that was about it.

• sharper13 says:

Contractor= Like an employee, except you get paid hourly, not salary, which means you should maximize your hours worked (if the company doesn’t mind), you aren’t allowed to qualify for any of the normal employee recognition programs (legal reasons), your manager can’t call any meeting you’re invited to a staff meeting (so it becomes the “weekly” meeting, or something else like that), if they like you they’ll many times figure out a way to hire you as an FTE, if they can’t, you’re going to be looking for a new gig soon because they usually have an HR policy that they can’t keep you around longer than 18 months without a bunch of exceptions (legal reasons again).

• James says:

Interesting. I wonder how this’ll play out. I’m primarily interested in contracting as a way to avoid being a FTE, so I really hope they don’t try to make me one.

I should have mentioned in my first post that I’m in the UK. I wonder to what extent the legal reasons for those HR policies you mentioned are

25. Aftagley says:

So, the yield curve has inverted, European banks are giving negative interest loans, Warren Buffet looks like he’s taking his cash out of the market, and the trade war is still lumbering on (although apparently delayed until Christmas now). Questions:

1. Do we think there’s an imminent recession?
3. Even more speculatively: If there is a recession, what industry do you think we’ll look back on and say was the problem behind this particular collapse? (IE, if 2000 was dot-com, 2008 was real estate, what’s 2019/2020 going to be?)

• fr8train_ssc says:

1. If by imminent, you mean “about to happen” No. Credit-Suisse says the average time from inversion to recession is 22-months. A lot could happen that stalls the recession off for awhile.

2. That being said, I think the best condition that will happen is that we’re stalled growth-wise for the next few years. No shrinking of GDP, but nothing close to the 2-3% that’s been happening.

3. If I’m wrong, it’ll be because I underestimated Taleb’s correctness of fragility in global trade. Over-globalized supply chains would be a major cause. Nations specializing in particular industries for comparative advantage benefits vis-a-vis globalization create massive volatility problems. Thus, when some event such as a natural disaster or trade war hits one country, it has the potential to disrupt entire sectors of not only that nation’s economy, but the global economy as well.

• baconbits9 says:

The Fed cut rates prior to each of the last 3 recessions, in 2007 it cut in August and the recession officially began in december, in 2000 it cut in december and the recession started in March. The 1990 recession had a cut in may of 1989 and a recession in July of 1990, so an average of about 7 months across those 3 from a Fed cut to a recession. The fed was raising into the 1980 and 1975 recessions, and cutting right at the start of the 60 and 57 recessions.

The Fed cutting and another cut being likely could indicate that we are much nearer a recession than in previous years.

The S&P peaked in october 2007, 2 months before that official recession, and it peaked about 4 months before the 2000 recession, and the 1990 peak was right at the start of the recession.

Now this totally contradicts something I posted here the other day, so I might as well go a little deeper and actually take a stance, rather than straddle.

The 10-2 inversion in 2006 first happened while the fed was still raising rates, as did the 2000. This inversion occurred 8 months after the last increase, and the other inversions all occurred right around or after that increase (all the other inversions of this curve). This might well imply something different about the inversion.

If late July was the last peak prior to the next recession it seems pretty likely to start within 6 months. This is where I am leaning now, the 30 year has fallen and is setting all time lows, and there is no real reason to use the 10-2 specifically instead of any number of other inversions like the 5 year/3 month one that occurred in March. Taking a mid point (for reasons) then we are ~4 months past inversion, and the S&P peak of 3 weeks ago would plus the average time to recession from the Fed raising rates of 7 months would put us starting a recession within the next 6 months.

This is far from definitive, but this is where I am leaning. Sooner rather than later.

• broblawsky says:

1. Do we think there’s an imminent recession?

Not right now, but maybe by the end of 2019/beginning of 2020, IMHO.

Impossible to say. The Fed doesn’t have as much room to cut rates, which implies that it’ll be worse, but maybe the level to which they cut is more relevant that how much they cut. In terms of monetary policy, we’re in uncharted waters.

3. Even more speculatively: If there is a recession, what industry do you think we’ll look back on and say was the problem behind this particular collapse? (IE, if 2000 was dot-com, 2008 was real estate, what’s 2019/2020 going to be?)

Some combination of a) corporate junk bonds, b) Trump tariffs, c) Brexit fallout (assuming no-deal Brexit).

• Cliff says:

The Fed doesn’t have as much room to cut rates

As we now know, this is no problem. Worst case scenario, nothing the Fed is doing is working, they can print money and buy every asset in the world with it, so you end up with deflation because the Fed is useless, but ALSO the Fed owns all assets worldwide, so… not too bad.

• The Nybbler says:

The lack of an obvious touchpoint is what makes me slightly hopeful we’re not going to see a bad recession. I suspect Buffett would try to cause a recession if he thought it would get Trump out of office in 2020, so I’m not really willing to use him as an indicator. The trade war seems pretty phony at the moment… Trump makes big pronouncements, then backs them off. In the end, prediction based on yield curve inversion is technical analysis; there’s no inevitability about it.

Still, all good things must come to an end, and Buffett’s actions might indeed spark a recession, so it seems more likely than not.

• Aftagley says:

The lack of an obvious touchpoint is what makes me slightly hopeful we’re not going to see a bad recession.

I agree! I get that the point of a bubble is that you can’t see that you’re in a bubble, but I really don’t see anything that stands out right now as being particularly over-valued (other than everything being over-valued).

I suspect Buffett would try to cause a recession if he thought it would get Trump out of office in 2020, so I’m not really willing to use him as an indicator…. Still, all good things must come to an end, and Buffett’s actions might indeed spark a recession,

Really? I mean, I don’t follow him that closely, but I don’t remember Buffett frothing at the mouth against Trump. I know he’s not a fan of protectionist policies, but I’ve never read his distaste for the president as being intense enough to try and sink the global economy.

• Matt M says:

I don’t know much about Buffet specifically, but I think a whole lot of people in places of great economic power are going to do everything they can to intentionally tank the economy in Summer 2020 to try and get rid of Trump.

It wouldn’t shock me at all if they succeed.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

On what basis do you make this extraordinary claim?

• Deiseach says:

I think a whole lot of people in places of great economic power are going to do everything they can to intentionally tank the economy in Summer 2020 to try and get rid of Trump

Wouldn’t that be stupid, though? Great, they trounce Trump and President Niceness of the Democrats wins; now their preferred candidate is faced with running a country where the economy is in shreds, so all the bright shiny new social programmes they campaigned on not alone can’t be funded, there’s going to be cutting and slashing of the existing ones, and then all the progressive elements who voted in Niceness are going to spend four years shrieking like Gorgons about austerity budgets and belt-tightening and how Niceness is a fascist racist no-good just as bad as Trump?

Doesn’t sound a very attractive prospect: ‘in order to save the country for niceness, we had to destroy it’?

• Paul Zrimsek says:

Is capitalism even allowed to have kulaks and wreckers?

• Incurian says:

President Niceness of the Democrats wins; now their preferred candidate is faced with running a country where the economy is in shreds, so all the bright shiny new social programmes they campaigned on not alone can’t be funded, there’s going to be cutting and slashing of the existing ones

I think you have this precisely backwards.

• Clutzy says:

Wouldn’t that be stupid, though? Great, they trounce Trump and President Niceness of the Democrats wins; now their preferred candidate is faced with running a country where the economy is in shreds, so all the bright shiny new social programmes they campaigned on not alone can’t be funded, there’s going to be cutting and slashing of the existing ones, and then all the progressive elements who voted in Niceness are going to spend four years shrieking like Gorgons about austerity budgets and belt-tightening and how Niceness is a fascist racist no-good just as bad as Trump?

Doesn’t sound a very attractive prospect: ‘in order to save the country for niceness, we had to destroy it’?

Nomination for most naive post I’ve read.

Inheriting a crises is the best possible situation for an economic progressive. See: Roosevelt, Obama. The recession is the reason people need your programs (rhetorically), the corporations and rich are the cause of the recession (rhetorically), and people are wanting of change and see the ballot box as an outlet.

• Deiseach says:

Incurian, Clutzy, if the money is not there, then it is not there. You can borrow your way out, but that only kicks the can down the road and leaves the next administration with a ton of debt to service. You can try taxing the rich, but those rich enough will move everything offshore and themselves to an exile in a tax haven.

When there is genuine need for more social intervention programmes but the money isn’t there from the tax base because firms are not hiring, jobs are being outsourced or made redundant, and it’s ‘tighten your belts or crash’, then while it might be the ideal opportunity to make you and your party the patron of all those welfare clients, there’s not much room to do it.

When was the last giant public works programme that created construction and other jobs for the mass of people? Obama called for one after the 2008 election and proposed it again in 2010, and in the 2015 budget, did the stimulus package do what it was supposed to do? The legacy of “build on a recession to grab the client voters” grand spending plan(s) wasn’t able to get Hillary elected versus Trump.

• Clutzy says:

@Deiseach

The money is there, it just lies in the middle class that are traditionally hard to convince to tax. But given an economic downturn and enough of an electoral victory, you could get a VAT or national sales tax (they are similar in end result) through paired with medicare expansion the same way the PPACA was passed. I think the VAT would probably be the goal as it is a revenue machine, plus its more hidden.

• Matt M says:

Is capitalism even allowed to have kulaks and wreckers?

Yes, but we call them “the federal reserve.”

• anonymousskimmer says:

@Deiseach

US specific.

Yields on corporate junk bonds are around 5 – 6 % on somewhere between 1.2 to 6 trillion dollars*
https://money.usnews.com/funds/mutual-funds/rankings/high-yield-bond
(*- https://www.investopedia.com/why-the-corporate-debt-bubble-may-burst-sooner-than-you-think-4587446)

Meanwhile yields on consumer credit cards are north of 10% on a total of ~1.07 trillion dollars* (with payday loans adding some billions to that)
https://cardflash.com/news/2019/03/credit-card-q4-yield-for-the-big-6-u-s-issuers-hit-a-5-year-high/
(*- https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/15/more-use-credit-cards-for-purchases-under-10-but-cash-is-still-king.html)

The Fed that literally prints money can start lending a bit more directly to consumers, thus allowing them to refinance to reduce their interest payments, and consequently increasing spending and/or their general welfare. All without needing to raise taxes or risk losing money (assuming that the average credit card balance is at least as likely to be paid as the average junk bond).

(Yes, I understand that taxes collected from the banks will reduce if they lose part of their credit card cash cows, but it’s relatively minuscule.)

• John Schilling says:

if the money is not there, then it is not there. You can borrow your way out, but that only kicks the can down the road and leaves the next administration with a ton of debt to service

Which, if you are the sort of politician who actually wins elections, is what you will do. And then it is the next administration’s problem, lather rinse repeat. How is this a bad thing for this administration, and why are we talking about it like it isn’t as inevitable as death and taxes?

but I think a whole lot of people in places of great economic power are going to do everything they can to intentionally tank the economy in Summer 2020

I have a feeling quite a lot of those people in places of great economic power don’t really dislike Trump that much, not when compared with the well of economic potential that is the democratic primary. Also trying to tank the economy probably means losing money if they succeed, and definitely losing quite a lot of money if they fail.

• The Nybbler says:

I agree! I get that the point of a bubble is that you can’t see that you’re in a bubble

That’s not true, certainly. Everyone was talking about the excesses of the housing bubble, and of the dot-com bubble, before the crash. The only thing similar now seems to be college, and I don’t see how that could cause a recession. The other way around is possible — a recession could cause defaults of college loans, which could worsen the recession if it resulted in college loans being cut off, institutions being starved of funds, etc. But college loans are provided by Uncle Sugar and more, not fewer, people go to college during recessions. So even a college loan crises worsening the recession seems unlikely, short of total economic collapse (in which case I hope you’re a prepper)

• Gobbobobble says:

I wasn’t news-conscious at the time of the original so can’t properly compare, but the tech world feels like it could be dot-com 2.0. Silicon Valley is positively swimming in other peoples’ money VC funding. There are crazy valuations on internet-advertising platforms and on “gig economy” net-services. People going crazy for “do X but with a smartphone” is the latest iteration on “do X but with a computer”

I don’t have the finance background to say how or why it would pop soon, but it feels like a bubble from the inside

• Matt M says:

Yeah, silicon valley VC stuff is definitely a likely candidate.

I can’t recall who it was from and I wish I could so I could credit it, but I recently saw a tweet that went something like “If you’re a millennial who took an uber to your wework office and ordered doordash to bring your lunch, your lifestyle is dependent on three companies who lost a combined 10 billion last year” I don’t know enough about the inner workings of the economy to know exactly how that translates into whether or not a recession is imminent, but uh, it certainly doesn’t sound very sustainable… having a lot of people whose lifestyle depends on the notion that all of these “gig economy” and other similar platforms will continue to function despite being unprofitable seems to me roughly similar to having a lot of people whose lifestyle depended on the notion that house prices will always go up. • Nick says: @Matt M This was the tweet. • acymetric says: What about advertising/marketing (and, tangentially related, “big data”)? Also kind of but not fully connected to Silicon Valley. • Aftagley says: What about advertising/marketing? I’m don’t know enough about these industries to speculate on whether or not their viable, but are they an important enough segment in the economy where their collapse would drag the whole system down? • Matt M says: A massive shift in corporate America’s willingness to purchase online ads would be devastating to Google/Facebook/Twitter, and once those started going down, my guess is a whole lot of tech would be dragged down with them. • FrankistGeorgist says: @Gobbobobble I work in the finance side of tech and I can’t believe how gilded and vaporous this whole era feels. The amount of money I’ve seen handed to people selling tech that demonstrably doesn’t work is baffling. But hopefully I’ve just got a limited perspective on the bad deals. • Lambert says: You’re probably right about almost all the bad deals. But it only takes one Google in a million duds to profit. Or it might all be a load of hot air, there’s no way to know. • The Nybbler says: It’s nothing like the original dot.com hype, epitomized by “drkoop.com” and “pets.com”. • Matt M says: It’s nothing like the original dot.com hype, epitomized by “drkoop.com” and “pets.com”. The thing is though, pets.com wasn’t a bad idea. A website that sells pet accessories is pretty clearly a moneymaker. It was just massively overhyped, particularly for the time. But ultimately it was a legit business plan. • RalMirrorAd says: @deiseach – 1. Deficits don’t matter 2. high unemployment is going to make people more receptive to assistance in any form [we can be confident that people will not do their homework and realize the kinds of assistance the new government wants to give probably won’t affect those unemployed] (reparations bill?) 3. The fiscal stimulus argument goes into play during a recession. Whereas the irresponsible GOP cuts taxes when the economy doesn’t need that boost. (2017). (Not commenting on the reasonableness of this argument, only that it will be made and it will likely be compelling given the circumstances) I’m not confident in the idea of intentionally causing a recession, but, given a recession, it will make the electorate more receptive to fiscal stimulus [in any form] I think Brexit + Trade War + overdue for a recession is enough to eventually cause a recession whether or not the fed wants to spite trump. (And is competent and cynical enough to do so) • baconbits9 says: There are some obvious points of issue. Government debt is very high and household+government+corporate debt to GDP is 16 points higher than it was on the eve of the 2007 recession, so in some ways leverage is much higher. Home prices are higher by ~ 15% as well, though adjusted for GDP they are only where they were in 2005, though those were historically high prices at the time and the fall took them back to ~2001 prices. • baconbits9 says: The touchpoint here is most likely that the whole equities market is overvalued vs debt. Debt to equity ratios are near all time lows, while corporate debt to US GDP is at an all time high*. This suggests that debt to equity is low due to an overvaluation of equity, and the last time it was this low was in 2000. *It is definitely possible that due to globalization US firms are generating more revenue from not the US than in the past. • broblawsky says: The current glut of negative-yielding debt, especially corporate debt and the oxymoronic negative-yielding junk debt, is definitely reminiscent of the pre-GFC housing market. • Hoopyfreud says: Cheap money and overleveraging across sectors is my best guess. If cash flows are not enough to service debt things will get wild. Money has been cheap for a decade, and everyone should have known that some people have been ODing. • baconbits9 says: Its generally not cash flow to debt service that causes issues these days, as the fed aggressively cutting rates makes debt servicing easier in a recession. It is the inability to roll over debt when liquidity dries up that crushes the market. • Hoopyfreud says: I get that inability to roll over debt gives you a liquidity crunch, but does the danger to over-leveraged companies come from that crunch or from or from debt service? If your revenues don’t support it and you aren’t holding cash, one turns into the other in the end, doesn’t it? • baconbits9 says: Liquidity crunches tend to be relatively short lived, maybe a year or two. If you are making partial payments with a balloon payment that you intend to roll over there are often sources of funding (cash on hand selling off a portion of the business, selling more equity) that can get you through multiple payments. If you need to rollover in a crunch there is just no other option, no temporary stop gap, in most situations. • Hoopyfreud says: Thanks. Why do companies sign up for panned rollovers/ballooning debt, though? Is it just that the interest rates are lower? Are the terms meant to deter companies that internally assess their own position as risky? I can’t really wrap my head around the sort of expenses a business wants a balloon loan for, unless they think that interest rates are going to dive soon. • baconbits9 says: If you are are a homebuilder then a lot of your income is going to come in a lump late in the process. Almost all capital intensive processes are going to make some sense with this type of structure, lots of upfront costs and then eventually a stream of income or a lump of income on the back end. • Hoopyfreud says: That makes sense for people who sell the product that they take out the loan for the materials to make, but why is it appealing for more normal capital goods? I’d have expected those to be better financed as long-term debts. • baconbits9 says: Even long term debt often have balloon payments, they can be interest only with then principle to be paid at final maturity. You can sell bonds to build a factory explicitly on the idea that once the factory is up and running you raise a bunch of money through issuing new shares of stock to pay back the principle. Long term fixed debt is generally not a good idea for lenders. A lot can happen to a company or interest rates in 30 years. • Hoopyfreud says: Got it. What’s the interest premium long-term debts carry, then? Is it like 5%+? • baconbits9 says: There was another large inversion today with the 30 year closing lower than the 1 month, interestingly the 1 month jumped up 10 basis points despite every other maturity closing lower (2, 3 and 6 month, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 20 and 30 year). • Shion Arita says: I saw talk of this inversion as well. and how it has preceeded the most recent several recessions. But my immediate question is how good a predictor is it really? What about the other way around? How many times has there been this inversion and a recession did NOT follow? If there were a lot of these i think it means a lot less, but ive not seen anyone mention this crucial piece of information about it. • baconbits9 says: What about the other way around? How many times has there been this inversion and a recession did NOT follow? Once I think, around 1996 • broblawsky says: Since 1976, the 10Y-2Y spread has only inverted once without there being a recession in the next 2 years, in 1998. That’s 1 false positive and 4 successful positives. 26. J Mann says: One more data point for the billionaire philanthropy discussion: Apparently, Michael Blumberg is financing law school programs that recruit and pay for lawyers to join state Attorney Generals’ offices to file climate change lawsuits on behalf of the states. I can’t say I’m as outraged as Powerline, but I haven’t thought it all the way through. • souleater says: Oof! I’m pretty outraged… These lawyers, compensated outside the executive structure of state government, are embedded in state governments to pursue lawsuits that fit Bloomberg’s liberal agenda. First of all, this source seems to have a clear right wing bias. I wouldn’t be surprised if parts are exaggerated. But assuming accurate, paying off state attorneys to harass your enemies or political opponents is a clear case of bribery, Whats the difference between this and if I paid my local attorney to find some charges to file against my annoying neighbor. Those lawyers need to be disbarred at the least, and the state should pay restitution to the oil companies for the frivolous charges that were filed. I don’t think its hyperbole to say that the rule of law under attack. • J Mann says: Yes, Powerlineblog’s writers are very right wing. They’re smart and I think they try their best to be intellectually honest, but their work is inevitably going to be biased. For me, the question is supervision. If the story is (a) some State AG would like to devote more access to climate change but doesn’t have the funds to make it a priority and (b) Bloomberg offers to fund the activity, then Bloomberg can sway policy to some degree but he’s not directing it. If it’s (a) Bloomberg and the law schools he funds are going to hire and supervise lawyers, but (b) the State AG will allow these lawyers to speak for the government, that would be worse. But it raises so many ethical issues I find it hard to believe they would structure it that way. • souleater says: The quote about lawyers being compensated outside their jobs at the government seems to indicate they’re being paid directly for their work at the state attorny’s office directing lawsuits So my understanding is They’re State Attorneys employed by the Gov’t of New York They are also being personally compensated based on what cases they prosecute. • Aftagley says: That’s not what’s happening. These are people being brought on by State AGs to pursue climate cases on the understanding that Bloomberg, not the AG’s office, will pay their wages. • souleater says: That’s important context. I still don’t approve of the situation, and see a lot of potential for abuse by citizens offering to pay lawyers to “help” the DA find the resources to prosecute their personal enemies. But it’s very different than the outright bribery I initially thought was going on. • Aftagley says: If I’m reading it right (and it was difficult to find a non-right wing aligned source talking about this) it’s more nuanced than how powerline is describing it. The program does is provide what essentially amounts to free legal assistance to State AG’s offices that want to work on pursuing climate issues. Basically State AGs that want to pursue this topic will approach Bloomberg-funded law school programs and get access to research and free labor. No state AG is being payed by Bloomberg and the impetus to pursue these policies starts with the state AGs. It just lets already left aligned people pursue left-aligned causes without having to devote their funding/manpower to them. I suppose there is some concern about rich people making it effectively free for state AGs to pursue certain lines of inquiry (like, I’d be pissed if I found out the Koch brothers were funding labor and research State AGs to make pursue oil-friendly lines of inquiry) but that’s a far cry from accusations of bribery. • anonymousskimmer says: like, I’d be pissed if I found out the Koch brothers were funding labor and research State AGs to make pursue oil-friendly lines of inquiry They don’t need to. Business has always been free to sue on behalf of their economic interests, lobby on behalf of their economic interests, and file friend of the court briefs on cases taken up by friendly AGs. • anonymousskimmer says: Historically how does this differ from rich landowners (e.g. George Washington) directly recruiting and equipping armies to fight for the state? Or the historic (and still somewhat current) practice of allowing citizens to sue on behalf of the state? (Qui tam or Private attorney general) In years past this would be seen as a fundamental right and duty of the rich. I’m personally glad we’re tending away from that (I believe in equality under the law and with the law), but any ‘originalist’ conservative should be okay with this tradition. • Ghillie Dhu says: The only difference I see is that in the Bloomberg case his involvement is being laundered through the actual government, whereas in your examples the non-state actors’ involvement is explicit. • anonymousskimmer says: Relevant point. • abystander says: It could be that the statutes actually have to have a private attorney general provision in them as mentioned in the wikipedia article, which is why the involvement has to be laundered. I believe suits by private individuals for a number of cases such as Trump violating the emoluments clause are not allowed because of standing. 27. Matt M says: Has anyone here ever tried to do any online retail arbitrage? I was referred to some online seminar about it, and while it reeked of “work from home scam” to be sure, I have to admit I’m pretty intrigued. I mean, I know that I personally buy products from Amazon that are not sold by Amazon, and that are definitely “overpriced”, but I do it anyway because I like the convenience of buying everything on Amazon. And the whole “There are no20 bills on the ground because someone would have picked it up already” logic does depend on someone actually picking it up, right?

Like, there *are* no-name third party sellers selling products on Amazon. And I would assume that most of them are capable of basic accounting and wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t at least a little bit profitable. Has anyone ever tried this? Am I nuts for thinking there may actually be something here?

• pqjk2 says:

my no-research guess is that there is profit to be made, but it’s probably on the same order of magnitude as profit/wage made by other occupations with low barrier to entry and self-defined work schedules. (such as driving for Uber, dogwalking, etc.). In other words, could be a way to earn a few bucks in your spare time, but it’s probably not viable as a get rich quick scheme.

• Matt M says:

I guess I’d expect the potential returns to be a bit above things like that, because in this case you aren’t really working “below the algorithm.” Uber is wage labor. It’s incredibly flexible wage labor, but it’s wage labor nonetheless. People get tricked by confusing its flexibility for something resembling entrepreneurship, but it’s really not. You are given minimum standards for work, and are paid piecemeal for your efforts.

In this case you the individual still have to find the products, invest your own capital, and flip them for a profit. There is no algorithm telling you what to buy next or how to price it. You still have to make the key decisions yourself. Which is a different sort of skillset entirely.

Half the reason I’m interested in this is because I feel like entrepreneurship is very important, and I’m really bummed and depressed that I’m over 30 and have never really tried it. I feel like I need to try something in this space. Even if I lose money, I need to dip my toe in the water and see what happens.

• Cliff says:

I read an article about this recently where people drove all over finding clearances, checking bar codes with Apps to see if they could get a profit on Amazon, engaging in arbitrage, and as I recall the profits they were reporting were pretty modest. Like $50k-$100k full-time, mostly at the lower end of that range, as I recall. And that’s with driving around everywhere.

I think this is a good business plan for 10 years ago, nowadays I’m sure you can still do it but I wouldn’t expect to make a ton of money. That said, these people do have an incentive to under-report how much they are making to avoid competition, but I find that generally that’s a tough line to hold.

• souleater says:

A quick google suggests there is money to be made.. But this guy is going to Target/Walmart etc. himself and doing in store retail arbitrage. Which is more of a mixed bag.

• Erusian says:

I’ve done arbitrage (one of my favorite stories was when I made a decent heap of money arbitraging chocolate between warehouses). And I know some people who do it online/Amazon. I’ve also helped plenty of people launch ecommerce including FBA. There are, in my opinion, two wrong ways to look at it.

Wrong way 1: “Jeez, it’s all just a scam. Anyone trying to give advice is just lying and selling you some BS course. Nobody ever starts businesses, no one ever makes money unless they’ve got connections and billions. Nothing ever really happens guys, just give up all hope!”

Wrong way 2: “I just bought this course from the #1 FBA Guru on the internet. He showed me exactly how to become a millionaire within a few months with $0 and working ten hours a week. I’m going be the next Bill Gates! Later suckers!” Anyway, like most businesses you need some defensible advantage to really get anywhere. You can decide what that advantage is and maximize it but it needs to exist. Likewise, you need to build an actual business that can handle everything. If you want to work ten hours a week, it’s usually because you’ve hired people. As for results, the majority of FBA businesses fail. Among those that don’t fail, most end up making profits in the$100k-500k range over the long term (meaning when they are mature, ie, have been around for a while and not died). If that sounds like a lot, keep in mind that’s still legally classified as a ‘very small business’. However, most of those transition away from arbitrage and into more traditional selling (if they started there at all). Is there a reason you want to do arbitrage rather than, say, putting the money towards selling a specific product on Amazon?

• Matt M says:

Is there a reason you want to do arbitrage rather than, say, putting the money towards selling a specific product on Amazon?

Because I happened to stumble upon a course that was selling a “learn to arbitrage” product? And because I don’t really have any domain specific knowledge about any particular product? And because it seems to require minimal amounts of initial investment or sunk costs?

I’ve also helped plenty of people launch ecommerce including FBA

What sort of help? Would you consider speaking to me sometime in exchange for some modest compensation for your time/expertise? Maybe I’m nuts but “random SSC commentator who claims to have done this” strikes me as more credible/less scammy than the people who sell these courses for a living…

• Erusian says:

Because I happened to stumble upon a course that was selling a “learn to arbitrage” product? And because I don’t really have any domain specific knowledge about any particular product? And because it seems to require minimal amounts of initial investment or sunk costs?

Those are bad reasons. I saw earlier upthread this comes from a desire to be an entrepreneur. Maybe Amazon FBA is for you. Or maybe there’s another opportunity that’d be better. You should take fuller stock of your resources, needs, and interests.

What sort of help? Would you consider speaking to me sometime in exchange for some modest compensation for your time/expertise? Maybe I’m nuts but “random SSC commentator who claims to have done this” strikes me as more credible/less scammy than the people who sell these courses for a living…

It’s not nuts. What are the chances I hang out here specifically to scam people? This is a community for rationalist discussion. It’s not exactly full of rich bored housewives. Anyway, if it’s just an hour call or whatever I won’t charge for that. If you want something longer or more involved that’d be different. Drop me your email and I’ll reach out.

(Also, just to be clear, I’ve assisted people launch or improve FBA businesses and know people who own them. I don’t have one myself.)

• Matt M says:

Those are bad reasons. I saw earlier upthread this comes from a desire to be an entrepreneur. Maybe Amazon FBA is for you but you should take fuller stock of your resources, needs, and interests.

Resources: Available cash I can invest and afford to lose, above-average general intelligence, enough knowledge of economics and accounting to inherently appreciate principles like sunk costs, opportunity costs, marginal analysis, etc.

Needs: Something that can start small and scale up (as in, I’m too risk averse to quit my job and devote my full time to starting a business, it needs to be something I can start building while working full time, and if I prove the concept, maybe I can quit the 8-5 and devote more resources to it later)

Interests: Nothing that seems relevant, but e-commerce makes the most sense since I don’t have great social skills and would prefer to deal with people as little as possible.

Given that, do you have any recommendations aside from FBA arbitrage that may be a better fit?

• Erusian says:

Given that, do you have any recommendations aside from FBA arbitrage that may be a better fit?

This is all a bit vague, honestly. Like, what are your interests? What do you naturally gravitate towards doing when you have free time? Do people ever exchange money in its general vicinity? How much would you need to quite your job? How much time do you have that’s really free outside of work? What skills do you have (since you have a job, you must have some)?

Ecommerce might be the right answer but it should be a conscious decision out of multiple alternatives.

This’ll go faster over the phone, if you’re interested. If not, I’ll field what questions I can.

• Matt M says:

Thanks for the offer, you can email me: maester_miller at Hotmail and we can set something up. I’ll work to take no more than 30 minutes of your time.

• dick says:

Is it too late to invest in this unicorn-in-the-making?

• johan_larson says:

My first thought is, “What’s your advantage?” What are you particularly good at in the retailing space?

My second thought is, “How can you get inventory for less?” In a large enough city I suppose there would be enough retailers going out of business that you could make money buying their remaining inventory at deep discounts and selling the stuff online at slightly smaller discounts.

Presumably you’re not going to try to buy stuff at retail and sell it at a markup online. That sounds like a losing proposition. Any regular retailer could do what you’re doing, and they’re paying wholesale.

• Matt M says:

My first thought is, “What’s your advantage?” What are you particularly good at in the retailing space?

Nothing. As I said, I’ve never tried it. But I don’t suppose I’ll get any better unless I do try, right?

My second thought is, “How can you get inventory for less?”

The answer offered by the experts here seems to be that you just keep looking at enough things and eventually you find something that has “slipped through the cracks”, so to speak. But yes, that would be the million dollar question.

• aristides says:

My wife does this, with the twist of only buying and selling a niche product she has an expertise in. Her net is approximately $25,000 annually, but she only works around 20 hours a week and spends the rest of the time doing housewife things. It’s a really good option if you value flexibility, but I think if you tried to make it a full time job, you’d get much less returns with the additional hours since you already exhausted the best deals. • Lambert says: >buying and selling a niche product she has an expertise in That’s not a twist. That’s the crucial advantage she needs in order to compete with anyone else who wants to enter the market. Right now, Matt M’s USP is “stumbled upon a ‘learn to arbitrage’ course”. That’s not a high barrier for somebody else to go and clear. • pontifex says: I had a co-worker once who made some money off of price mistake arbitrage. Basically, he would wait for some data entry drone to fat-finger something (like listing a PC for sale for$200 instead of \$2000) and then buy that thing. He would always use rush shipping to try to minimize the chances that the company would figure out its mistake and decide to cancel the offer.

Normally he was limited in how many items he could buy at once, so the profit was more limited than you might think. Dell won’t field an offer for 1000 PCs from their website, for example, without it getting noticed at corporate. Maybe you could buy 2 or 3 at once before the system flagged you as someone sales should follow up with (which you definitely don’t want, in this case). Another thing that happened to him gradually over time is that he got banned from buying from certain online sites. I think Dell was one– I’m not sure what the others were.

Normally, once the item shipped, he could count on collecting it. But not always. For example, Wal*Mart got one of his orders cancelled by FedEx even after it had shipped. He claims the item made it all the way to his driveway, and the driver turned around.

There were (are?) websites where people gathered to share price mistake details. I think FatWallet was one. Basically people would be scouting for this information, and they would share it with the forum when they got it. Then everyone would all try to jump on it before the company fixed it.

In order to make a profit, of course, he had to resell everything he bought. I think he sold a lot of it on eBay. I never learned how much he made off of this operation. Supposedly he was keeping the profits quiet in order to avoid paying lots of taxes.

I met him because we had both joined the same startup company in hopes of riches. He wrote a lot of the early code in the company, and eventually settled into a role where he maintained and made incremental improvements to it. (It wasn’t pleasant code to work with, honestly… the company eventually tried to make me co-owner of this subsystem, but I didn’t want any part of it. One of the reasons I left…)

Over time, the company we worked for settled into a holding pattern where it was neither wildly successful, nor unsuccessful enough to be worth shutting down. He used to come to the office early in the morning to do his second job, his secret job. I somehow doubt that the money he made really paid for his time, but maybe it eased his frustration and boredom.

28. EchoChaos says:

Culture war time!

The Amazon version of Wheel of Time has just announced its casting of the main characters. For those who don’t know WoT, all the main characters but one are from the same small village. It is actually critical to the story that this region is a small, homogeneous and isolated population.

They have cast the characters as a diverse cast, almost all dark-skinned. It fits neither the author’s intent (when Jordan was asked what actors he envisioned for the parts, they were all white), the fan’s image (almost all fan-art has them as white) or the history of the world (which requires this village to be racially homogeneous).

It’s even more infuriating because the book has lots of non-white characters that are available throughout the series. Jordan was pretty aggressive about putting them in in order to show how the world had fractured in different ways than ours had.

I already expected it, because modern TV, but it’s still frustrating.

• viVI_IViv says:

They have cast the characters as a diverse cast, almost all dark-skinned.

So they aren’t actually diverse, are they?

• EchoChaos says:

They are diverse. There are many origins of dark skin. One actress is part Aboriginal Australian, another is Nigerian.

The actors are diverse, with one being Dutch, another Southern European and the last black.

Did a quick google. They’re very much not fitting with being from one village.

• lieronet says:

Let’s see how everything looks after makeup, costuming, and post-production.

• J Mann says:

It’s pretty much a trope of modern Sci Fi that populations appear to have diverse origins even when there’s not much way to explain it. It might look like a plot hole, but it lets you cast more widely.

That depends on how well the required casting ratio fits the acting pool, if you consistently require a higher proportion of a particular group then there are hirable actors then the larger group of actors is under-capacity and the smaller group of actors is over-capacity.

• The Nybbler says:

I’m currently watching _Defiance_ (2013-2015). Pretty much white people (I think one black guy), even though a diverse cast would be easy (in fact, easier) to explain since it’s post-apocalyptic and set at the location of St Louis. And there’s aliens. (and the show’s pretty bad, but it’s something to watch on the train)

The diversity in the _Wheel of Time_ cast wasn’t to cast more widely; it was specifically woke casting.

• Randy M says:

I’ve seen some of that show. Lost my interest after awhile, but it made me consider how I would react to giving large alien groups the right to settle on Earth in a future where we don’t have space travel ourselves.
It probably says something about me that this makes me quite uneasy.

• J Mann says:

Jacob Clifton’s reviews convinced me there was more to Defiance than met the eye – I still remember it fondly.

• sentientbeings says:

That’s frustrating. Pretty much eliminates the ability of other characters to plausibly infer their associations together/with the Two Rivers.

Ultimately if they stay true to the behavior of the characters, it shouldn’t matter that much, but the change could imply they aren’t too focused on the details, which for a WoT adaptation is surely a tragedy.

I cringe thinking how they will change things about “Lews Therin’s women.”

• EchoChaos says:

I mean, I’m still going to watch it. I’m just annoyed.

• broblawsky says:

I don’t mean to call you out specifically, but I think this reinforces my hypothesis in @Le Maistre Chat’s thread below regarding the intensity of Red Tribe feeling about the politics of entertainment.

• EchoChaos says:

I think that most people aren’t willing to sacrifice good entertainment because of politics on either side.

I don’t think it’s either Red or Blue. As discussed below, Iron Man 2 was as un-woke as it is possible to be and it made piles of money.

Since the people in control of our entertainment apparatus are more Blue, you get more cases of this in the Blue direction, but the general folk just don’t care that much.

Eh. Think of your favorite comic hero, that isn’t really political in any way. And maybe he’s explicitly an atheist. A red triber gets the job of writing the movie adaptation. For no reason important to the story at all he rewrites your favorite hero as an evangelical Christian. When you complain “this is dumb. That’s not who the character was” all the red tribers get to pile on you for being an anti-religious bigot.

In the grand scheme, is it that big of a deal? No. Is it a naked power play to cram someone else’s culture politics into your favorite hero’s mouth? Yes.

• broblawsky says:

Eh. Think of your favorite comic hero, that isn’t really political in any way. And maybe he’s explicitly an atheist. A red triber gets the job of writing the movie adaptation. For no reason important to the story at all he rewrites your favorite hero as an evangelical Christian. When you complain “this is dumb. That’s not who the character was” all the red tribers get to pile on you for being an anti-religious bigot.

In the grand scheme, is it that big of a deal? No. Is it a naked power play to cram someone else’s culture politics into your favorite hero’s mouth? Yes.

That actually might be enough to stop me from watching that movie, in fact.

• EchoChaos says:

@broblawsky

Captain America was made specifically Christian in Avengers. While it fit his character, it was different than the comics, which don’t much address it.

Did that make you boycott Avengers?

• Aftagley says:

Captain America was made specifically Christian in Avengers.

Was he? The only thing I remember him saying that was vaguely religious was that “there’s only one god, but he doesn’t dress like that” line. I guess that implies he’s monotheistic, but I always just assumed he was Zoroastrian.

• EchoChaos says:

@Aftagley

Touché.

• broblawsky says:

Captain America was made specifically Christian in Avengers. While it fit his character, it was different than the comics, which don’t much address it.

Did that make you boycott Avengers?

Captain America has always been explicitly Christian (and probably Protestant). This was a (minor) plot point in J.M. DeMatteis’ Captain America run, when Cap was dating a Jewish woman, as well as in Infinity Crusade (which is terrible).

What you’re describing would be more like Tony Stark (an explicit atheist, per Fear Itself) being rewritten as an evangelical Christian, which actually would bother me.

• AG says:

Nightcrawler from X-men was retconned into his devout faith.

• anonymousskimmer says:

Ultimately if they stay true to the behavior of the characters, it shouldn’t matter that much, but the change could imply they aren’t too focused on the details

I hope so. I may actually watch this next time I subscribe to Amazon prime.

I binged Wheel of Time back in 2001, and ended up taking about 2 hours each to read through the then last two books in the series, as I wasn’t interested in any character other than Mat Cauthon (still the only character whose name I can recall), and he wasn’t in those two books (or was only briefly mentioned).

• March says:

I personally don’t think the fans’ image really matters all that much. Fans of Earthsee envisioned Ged as white and fans of the Hunger Games envisioned Rue as white, even though they were canonically black. Just because they’re readers doesn’t mean they read thoroughly.

Canonically, lots of the characters they cast have brown hair and brown eyes. You’d expect them to be somewhat dark in skin tone, because when they meet the blonde, light-eyed, white-skinned, prone-to-sunburn Aiel (who still somehow live in the desert), they all think they look weird and pale. Rand is supposed to be the odd one out, paler than the rest. It’s just a leeeetle weird that they cast Mat lighter than the other Two Riversians except Rand, but wasn’t it implied that he has stronger blood ties to the old empire than the others?

I never got the impression that the village is supposed to be physically very homogeneous, especially once you come to know more about the history of the world. Any ‘you must be from place X’ can easily be explained through accent/mode of dress/ways of acting. That said, I was never much of a fan and read Jordan on fast forward most of the time. So even though I’m a reader, doesn’t mean I actually read thoroughly. 😉

• EchoChaos says:

I never got the impression that the village is supposed to be physically very homogeneous, especially once you come to know more about the history of the world.

A couple of times people from the Two Rivers are able to pass as related to outlanders. Mat and Egwene once and Nynaeve and Egwene another time if I recall correctly.

• Nornagest says:

My mental image when I was reading the books had the Two Rivers kids looking Southern French and Rand looking Irish, but I don’t really care about their skin color; canon doesn’t make much sense there anyway (the Aiel have lived in a desert for the last two thousand years, and they’re red-haired and blue-eyed?). But the Two Rivers kids should look similar to each other and a little bit (but not very) different from the characters from the rest of Andor, and Rand needs to look different from everyone that we’ll meet in the first season. Important plot points stop making sense if Rand doesn’t look physically different; it matters less for the rest of the Two Rivers cast, but it still comes up pretty often.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

I don’t really care about their skin color; canon doesn’t make much sense there anyway (the Aiel have lived in a desert for the last two thousand years, and they’re red-haired and blue-eyed?). But the Two Rivers kids should look similar to each other

This reminds me that I love the Dinotopia picture books, but the amount of diversity James Gurney paints makes a negative amount of sense: the human population was introduced by Minoan (or earlier) shipwreck, new genes are only introduced the same way, and nobody is racist. Yet the small population is divided up into smaller groups (British, Yoruba, Tibetan, sundry unnamed diversities) that look like their ancestors never once mated.

• Dan L says:

It is actually critical to the story that this region is a small, homogeneous and isolated population.

To elaborate and call out the exception – Two Rivers folk are described as having a dark coloration, but later contrast with the Seanchan makes it clear that they’re more swarthy than black. Rand is straight-up ginger, and this is a plot relevant contrast. IMO, with a little stretching they probably could have gotten away with any of the casting choices in isolation if they committed, but juxtaposing Madeleine Madden and Barney Harris is too much.

I’m more interested in what they do with the gender dynamics. They’re complicated enough in WoT that it’s hard to claim either gender is presented as superior, but hoo boy are they not “equal”.

• EchoChaos says:

Well said.

I am also curious how they do the gender stuff, which is very clearly not woke in the slightest in the original books.

• AKL says:

What a strange thing to be upset about.

Will you be frustrated and infuriated if the show doesn’t devote 5 full seasons to Faile’s interminable attempts to escape from the Shaido?

• EchoChaos says:

What a strange thing to be upset about.

Ah yes, changing the essential nature of the main character’s homeland is completely strange to be upset about. Had Wakanda been cast as diverse nobody would have cared at all, right?

Will you be frustrated and infuriated if the show doesn’t devote 5 full seasons to Faile’s interminable attempts to escape from the Shaido?

Faile’s capture by the Shaido is pretty critical, yes. Shortening plot points is not the same as entirely changing them.

• AKL says:

It is strange that you think the essential nature of the main characters’ homeland is that the inhabitants are homogenously white.

I mean, the essential nature of Wakanda is that the inhabitants are homogenously black…

• EchoChaos says:

It is essential to the homeland that it be homogenous. It’s a plot point that comes up multiple times and is critical to three of four of the native Two Rivers characters. Nynaeve and Egwene because their homogeneous isolation has made them stronger in the Power than the rest of the world and Mat because the blood running true in him is what gives him his flashes of the Old Tongue.

It is essential they be white because Rand must be plausibly the biological son of one of them.

It is strange to me that you can’t understand why I think that.

• AKL says:

You think racial homogeneity is essential to the story. If your takeaway from the books was that all the main characters need to be white, obviously I’m not going to change your mind. But your focus on their whiteness doesn’t reflect the opinion of the community at large, which just doesn’t focus on race at all.

I don’t think EC necessarily thinks they all need to be white, it’s that the different areas need to homogeneous.

• AKL says:

I don’t think EC necessarily thinks they all need to be white

EchoChaos says:
August 15, 2019 at 7:37 am

It is essential they be white

• EchoChaos says:

@AKL

Also, please stop calling my opinion “strange”. It’s unnecessarily hostile. It’s clearly not a strange opinion since people on the left and right here agree with it.

You are using other-ing language for no other reason than to be offensive.

• Oscar Sebastian says:

It is essential they be white because Rand must be plausibly the biological son of one of them.

Dude already allegedly has an outlander mother (okay it’s not allegedly but everyone thinks it’s the wrong woman for a book or so), so if they get a white actress for her and Tam is more in the Barney Harris end of the spectrum, Rand won’t seem especially implausible at all. It was already in the book canon that he only resembled the rest of the cast because of a farmer’s tan and that the others didn’t tan like he did at all – Elaida calls him out for claiming to be from Two Rivers for this exact reason.

Also maybe this sounds horrifically racist but I can’t help but feel that with some good costuming and makeup, the Two Rivers folks as cast will be able to look plausibly like “a type”. It’s not the type Jordan anticipated, but since his fucking widow is an executive producer on this show and is clearly running a tight ship after what happened with The Winter Dragon, if she’s fine with it I don’t think anyone has any business saying it’s a problem. The TV show is a different turning of the Wheel and it doesn’t have to be completely identical to the last go around.

Per Rafe, Rutherford’s audition had people in tears and Robin’s tape was a unanimous pick. If they’re the best actors who auditioned, why should their skin being marginally darker than what Jordan may have had in mind be that big a deal? Why is it that conservatives tell people of color, “Oh it’s not that big a deal what skin color someone is, stop being so sensitive” when they say they want representation, but as soon as someone isn’t white it’s a problem?

You are using other-ing language for no other reason than to be offensive

Dude, if you think being called strange is offensive othering… Jeez.

• AKC:

If your takeaway from the books was that all the main characters need to be white, obviously I’m not going to change your mind.

Later, in support of that, AKC writes:

EchoChaos says:

August 15, 2019 at 7:37 am

It is essential they be white

As you can see from the above, AKC’s “they” is “all the main characters”

But in the passage he quotes from EC, “they” are
“three of four of the native Two Rivers characters.”

AKC is either reading carelessly or deliberately quoting out of context.

• Oscar Sebastian says:

@DavidFriedman

Or, AKL has read the books and knows that of the six characters with the highest number of POVs, one is Rand (who Echo clearly thinks it is essential he be white), one is a thus far uncast character named Elayne (who has close enough familial ties with the cast that while it would not be especially striking if she weren’t white, it would likely get EchoChaos’s goat for much the same reason), and four are the four characters up for discussion right now, who EchoChaos has said it is essential that they be white.

Instead of leaping into conversations you don’t know about to accuse people of arguing in bad faith, how about… not doing that? At all?

• EchoChaos says:

@Oscar Sebastian

I have never said that they aren’t good actors. But no matter if he’s the best actor in the world, nobody is going to cast Danny DeVito as T’chaka in Black Panther. The actor they pick had to plausibly be Chadwick Boseman’s father (and John Kani did great).

Being a good actor isn’t the only qualification for a part and everyone knows it. Pretending it is only when white parts are rewritten is racism, pure and simple.

• Oscar Sebastian says:

@EchoChaos: So Harriet McDougal is racist. Gotcha.

• EchoChaos says:

@Oscar Sebastian

I rather enjoy good faith discussions.

• Matt M says:

Wasn’t there a huge controversy when a white actress was cast to play a nominally Asian character in some recent live action anime movie?

And then again when Scarlet Johanson was cast as a transgender man?

This was considered incredibly objectionable and was quite loudly protested. IIRC in the latter case the project was cancelled entirely.

And yet, “Heimdall, guardian of Asgard, is black now, because Idris Elba is popular” was not considered controversial. Nobody objected, nobody protested. It was considered entirely appropriate that an obviously white character could be played by a black actor.

• Oscar Sebastian says:

@EchoChaos:

I do too. We can have one if you’ll address my points in my larger post in full, or at least more fully than you have so far. If you ignore such important points as “Robert Jordan’s widow is not going to let anyone fuck up her husband’s legacy after Winter Dragon and so this casting choice is clearly something she, the person most able to represent the author after his demise, approves of,” to focus on how it’s Hollywood being racist, there is no good faith discussion to be had.

• quanta413 says:

@Oscar Sebastian

Also maybe this sounds horrifically racist but I can’t help but feel that with some good costuming and makeup, the Two Rivers folks as cast will be able to look plausibly like “a type”.

It doesn’t sound racist, but it does make you sound either half-blind or over-signalling your lack of racism or something. In a “I don’t see color” type of way.

EchoChaos is making a mountain out of a molehill, but those actors aren’t going to look like the geographically isolated people of a bunch of tiny villages short of prosthetics and extremely liberal modification of skin color. In a way that’s now usually pretty controversial if you do it outside of painting an actor’s skin green.

• AKL says:

@DavidFriedman

EchoChaos says “all the main characters but one” are from that one village, and that everyone from that village must be white.

I’m not sure who they would identify as the final main character (if Aviendha or Elayne, I believe they would also insist she be white).

Regardless, I believe it’s safe to say I have not misrepresented EchoChaos’s position. Of course, they can clarify / correct me if I have.

@EchoChaos

It’s not quite that I’m trying to “other” you. But it is a good thing if your viewpoint here is seen as strange. The Wheel of Time is not about race. Race is not an important or even tangential theme. To the extent it is not strange to complain about the race of actors, it should be. Especially because there are SO MANY other things to talk about that are SO MUCH more important to the show: has any fantasy series where the mechanics of the magic are so central ever been successfully ported to screen? Is there even a chance that the show gets the budget and runway to reflect the awesome worldbuilding of the books? Is this actually going to be the adaptation that gets made? etc. etc. etc.

• EchoChaos says:

@AKL

I am talking about the main characters in the first book. Lan is a main character and is not white (he’s Asian of some sort, probably Subcontinent).

Wheel of Time is repeatedly about race. The fact that Rand is racially Aiel is critical to the plot. The fact that Moiraine is racially Cairheinen is critical to the plot. The fact that Lan is racially a Borderlander is critical to the plot. I don’t have any idea how you can read Wheel of Time and think “Race isn’t critical”.

I do think that everyone from the Two Rivers should be white. I’ve stated that before and it’s my position. I believe it’s a reasonable one.

But it is a good thing if your viewpoint here is seen as strange.

It’s a bad thing by my values. And given the number of people discussing it here, it clearly isn’t strange by any metric other than “I am trying to make it seem that your values are foreign”. Please don’t do that.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

And yet, “Heimdall, guardian of Asgard, is black now, because Idris Elba is popular” was not considered controversial. Nobody objected, nobody protested. It was considered entirely appropriate that an obviously white character could be played by a black actor.

Exactly. The double standard where only straight white people can lose roles, and any other casting change is a moral outrage, is just racism.

• Cliff says:

“Robert Jordan’s widow is not going to let anyone fuck up her husband’s legacy after Winter Dragon and so this casting choice is clearly something she, the person most able to represent the author after his demise, approves of,”

This seems like baseless speculation on your part

• dick says:

And yet, “Heimdall, guardian of Asgard, is black now, because Idris Elba is popular” was not considered controversial. Nobody objected, nobody protested. It was considered entirely appropriate that an obviously white character could be played by a black actor.

This is not true, many people complained, and it was discussed on SSC several times. (Here was Scott’s humorous response to it) If you google “idris elba cast as heimdall” many of the top results are articles about (okay, articles criticizing) the complaints.

• Matt M says:

If you google “idris elba cast as heimdall” many of the top results are articles about (okay, articles criticizing) the complaints.

Indeed. And yet, the articles about Scarlet Johansson being cast in Ghost In The Shell have the complete opposite tone, one which accepts the complaints as legitimate and does not criticize them.

• dick says:

You said no one objected. If you’d said, “many people objected to Heimdall being black, but their objections were not taken seriously by the media” then I would agree. AFAICT the objections to Scarlett Johansson playing an Asian android were taken more seriously, but it’s not like it was a major controversy.

• The Nybbler says:

Just because there were articles criticizing the complaints does not mean there were a significant number of complaints.

• EchoChaos says:

@dick

No culturally significant people object and people objecting are treated as pariahs and cranks when a straight white character is changed to minority. e.g. this thread.

When it’s a minority changed to straight white (or left as is and PLAYED by straight white), objections are valid, serious and sometimes cause the end of the project.

This is an asymmetry based on race/sexuality.

• dick says:

This is an asymmetry based on race/sexuality.

Uh huh. Did someone say there wasn’t? I’m not sure why you said this to me.

ETA: When I said the thing about people complaining about the black Heimdall, I wasn’t arguing… whatever it is you think I was here, I was pointing out because Matt M said the opposite. It was a pretty brief and unimportant controversy, I assumed he just missed it.

• Paul Brinkley says:

Wakanda may have been people’s idea of a homogenous black nation, but design-wise, the Black Panther film was all over the place.

There was an answer I read on Quora several months back, written by an apparent expert on African continental art, who showed how the various costumes and buildings and artifacts in the movie borrowed from Xhosa, Bantu, Igbo, Yoruba, Swahili, Zulu… if there was a focus, it was sub-Saharan Africa, but still using the entire bottom part of the continent. It would’ve been like making a movie about Euriopia featuring designs from everything from the Volga to Lisbon.

I wish I could find that Quora link now.

• albatross11 says:

The thing is, the books have a fair bit of description of what people from different areas look like. You could change that for casting your movie, but if so, you should change it in internally consistent ways.

The Aiel are tall, blonde desert-dwelling warriors, the Sea Folk are black seafarers with rigid discipline, the Shenarians are more-or-less Japanese, etc. The Two Rivers is more-or-less rural England (formally part of Andor). Rand should be very tall and blonde, Perrin and Mat should look like English boys. I think Lan is somewhat dark-skinned and dark haired–Malkier has some India-like cultural bits, so think Northern Indian features. Later on, the Sanchan show up–they’re a mix of racial appearances, but Tuon is described as very dark-skinned, and they all speak with a thick Southern drawl. Most of the people we see in the first book before we get to Sheinar should look like white Englishmen.

• EchoChaos says:

Minor nit: Rand is a redhead and the Aiel are more often red-headed than blond, although they are both.

Otherwise correct.

• March says:

More like the Black Irish or ‘dark’ Bulgarians than white Englishmen, though. Mostly dark hair, dark eyes, non-pale skin. I agree that the black actors are probably not what Jordan had in mind, but he did have loads of fun inverting expectations. More-or-less-rural-England in culture but with dark-colored people! Desert tribes who are your stereotypical British Isles phenotype! Fishing cultures that are all black!

• EchoChaos says:

@March

The Two Rivers is culturally the Appalachians with the coloration of the Black Irish or Welsh, pretty much.

• anonymousskimmer says:

@March

Fishing cultures that are all black!

This works given vitamin D is plentiful in fish.
https://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2010/07/vitamin-d-hypothesis-and-ancestral.html

• albatross11 says:

OTOH, by the end of the series, Jordan (and later Sanderson) had so many viewpoint characters that they could barely cover a month of real time in a book, and a lot of those subplots were pretty annoying. Faile’s captivity is useful for developing Perrin’s character, but it’s one of like a hundred little side-quests in that series.

And to echo EchoChaos, the Wheel of Time books have this whole imagined history that explains why people are shuffled around like they are. The Two Rivers being mostly isolated from everywhere else for many centuries is important, as is the rest of the world-building. Shaking that up a *little* wouldn’t mess with too much. In fact, making most of the native Two Rivers people look similar in some way (like making them all light-skinned American blacks) would at least fit with the idea that they’re all descended from the survivors of Malkier a couple thousand years ago. Similarly, if we see Tar Valon, the Aes Sedai should *not* all look or sound alike, because they’re drawn from every land.

You can ignore that in casting, but doing so breaks some of the world-building that the story is based on.

• EchoChaos says:

descended from the survivors of Malkier a couple thousand years ago.

Manetheren. Lan is the survivor of Malkier.

I’m sorry. I can’t stop myself.

• albatross11 says:

Arghh! Yes, you’re right–I was thinking of Lan and Malkier before and got them mixed!

• SamChevre says:

Very best summary of WoT, from memory: “the right final book would have been a thousand pages–a half-page version of Tarmon Gai’don from each character”

• Phigment says:

Honestly, it’s kind of inevitable. I mean, yes, you’re correct that it would be hard to sell all those people as being from the same small village, but Hollywood was never going to be able to stick with the level of detail and fiddliness that Robert Jordan used in the books.

There were half a dozen different nations and tribes and people-groups around in the WoT books, and they all have pretty distinct phenotypes, modes of dress, construction styles, accepted standards of behavior, etc.

It’s a recurring thing that people identify where other people are from by their accents, or how they trim their beards, or the style of dresses they wear. Hollywood does not have the numbers or the attention span to do that. Heck, most authors of fantasy books do not have the attention span to do that.

We’re going to see a lot of diversely generic fantasy villages and cities, because that’s what it’s possible to portray. WoT was one of the best series of books for having a world that actually felt like it was the size of a whole world. But TV can’t be the size of the whole world.

• albatross11 says:

No, that’s just silly. Movies cast people to look at least more-or-less the way they’re expected to look all the time. Was Wakanda full of whites?

• Phigment says:

Wakanda was one single country, which we saw almost nothing of the culture of, in the course of a single movie.

Seriously, Wakanda being a genericly African ethnic monolith is a simple problem compared to portraying a whole bunch of different cultures crashing into each other across a whole continent.

The problem is not that the people making the series couldn’t cast the Two Rivers as relatively homogenous. It’s that they couldn’t do that, and then also cast everyone from Cairhien as a distinctive enough phenotype that informed people look at Moiraine and say “yup, she’s distinctively Cairhien nobility”, and then also cast the Borderland nations consistently enough that people can look at Lan and say he’s distinctly a Borderlander, and cast the Aiel consistently enough that everyone looks at Rand the first time they meet him as says “that guy totally looks like an Aiel, if an Aiel dressed like regular folks”.

Which are all things that happen consistently. Pretty much everyone in the series who has personally encountered Aiel has an instant reaction to Rand of “that guy looks like an Aiel”. But I sincerely doubt that the show runners are going to find enough people with red hair, blue eyes and serious tan lines to portray an ethnic monolith. Nor do I even think that would be a particularly good use of their time and resources.

It’s just something that’s going to get lost in the transition to visual media. Same as different cities being paved in distinctly different ways, or the houses having distinctly different roofs, or different nations having distinctly different styles of dress.

• EchoChaos says:

We’ll see how they deal with it.

If they have everyone say “Rand doesn’t look like he’s from the Two Rivers” and “He looks Aiel” constantly like they did in the books but the Aiel look like a casting call for a Gap commercial that will be a lot worse than if they ignore it entirely.

• Deiseach says:

If they have everyone say “Rand doesn’t look like he’s from the Two Rivers” and “He looks Aiel” constantly like they did in the books but the Aiel look like a casting call for a Gap commercial that will be a lot worse than if they ignore it entirely.

I don’t care one way or the other about the Wheel of Time adaptation (I could not finish the series, gave up around seven books in) but I agree on this: it makes no sense to do it that way.

What would be great would be if anyone did a kind of Mel Brooks version of a fantasy movie or TV series (like When Things Were Rotten) where you had that played up deliberately:

“You don’t look like you come from round here”
“Well duh, nobody looks like they come from round here”

*cut to Typical Fantasy Small Isolated Backwards Inbred Peasant Village where the entire cast busily going around their business in the village smithy, tavern, marketplace etc. are all Heinz 57 Varieties of races, colours and ethnicities*

It would be even funnier if they did something like the pub scene in the Father Ted episode where Ted, through a series of hilarious misunderstandings, is called a racist because he unintentionally managed to offend the Chinese community of Craggy Island; you know, the typical ‘stranger wanders into the bar, all the locals turn to stare at them with suspicion because they don’t look like they’re From Round Here’, with the locals being the aforesaid Heinz 57 varieties.

• mitv150 says:

Well, to be fair, Rand at least should look markedly different than Mat and Perrin.

Also, from a modern PC standpoint, casting the Aiel will raise huge flags with either the PC crowd or those who want things true to the books. They are pale skinned, light-haired, light-eyed desert dwelling people.

• Unsaintly says:

So, as a big fan of the Wheel of Time series and someone excited for the upcoming show I’ve been thinking about what you really can’t change without changing the story. For race, my thoughts are that the only ones you really should keep as they are in the books are the Aiel. Being light skinned is a significant genetic clue to their origin story, and makes it tie into the reveal a lot better. And if the Aiel are light skinned, you need to keep Rand light skinned due to people frequently mistaking him for an Aiel in the early books. Other than that, I would like to keep the Andoran royal family white, because their hair color provides cool character symbolism but it’s not really that important.

• EchoChaos says:

Once the Aiel are white (I agree with you there) then Rand is white. If Rand is white, the Two Rivers has to be at least white enough that he could plausibly be half-Two Rivers.

The Andorran Royal family ALSO has to be white as well because Ur vf npghnyyl gur fba bs na Nvry puvrsgnva naq n qnhtugre bs gur Eblny Snzvyl.

Other than that, I agree there is a decent amount of flexibility.

• dick says:

That sounds rough. Do you think Dr. King would’ve marched on Selma, if he had known the what the costs would be?

I kid, I kid. What I mean is, what a wonderful day it would be if this was the extent of the Culture War. I hope you enjoy your show anyway!

• Chalid says:

A ton of the Wheel of Time’s story is going to get cut. It’s over 4 million words. The story beats that you think depend on the homogeneity of the Two Rivers people might not make it to the screen at all.

• Aftagley says:

A ton of the Wheel of Time’s story is going to get cut.

This is the main thing that has me excited about the TV show. I’ve seen how much some of my friends love this series but every time I’ve picked them up I’ve gotten 3 or 4 books in and then given up. There’s just too much extraneous nonsense going on for me to care.

• Nick says:

If you want to read insanely long epic fantasy series, pick up Malazan Book of the Fallen instead! It’s only 3 million words!

• Nornagest says:

I picked that up at the height of my tolerance for doorstopper fantasy, and I still couldn’t get past the first book. It’s not even the length that’s the problem, it’s the almost total lack of context for everything.

• Nick says:

The first book has serious problems, lack of context being one of them. Killing off a main character, probably the most relatable, halfway through was another one.

The second book, though, I consider one of the best in the series. I really like 4, 5, and 6 too.

• Randy M says:

Killing off a main character, probably the most relatable, halfway through was another one.

Ned Stark says “Hold my beer.”

• Nick says:

In line with ScarJo above, I’m fine with having Sean Bean play Tattersail.

• Chalid says:

You should just feel free to skip chapters. So if Elayne starts doing something you’re bored with, just skip every Elayne chapter until you see she’s moved on to doing something new and hopefully more interesting. Sure, that means there will be stuff you don’t understand, but that would be true even if you did read everything. That’s part of the fun of reading fantasy.

• Aftagley says:

Wait, is that allowed? Do people do that?

I love fantasy, and reading in general, but I’ve always thought of it as more of a death march kind of procedure: either your slog your way to the end or you drop off halfway. Do people really just bounce through books like that?

• Hoopyfreud says:

@Aftagley

I started skipping Daenerys chapters in A Dance with Dragons. No ragrets.

• Nick says:

• EchoChaos says:

@Hoopyfreud

I started skipping SoIaF books after book 2 and have no regrets either.

• Hoopyfreud says:

@EchoChaos

You haven’t missed any payoffs. You have missed some neat stuff, though.

• Jake R says:

I blew threw the first few books, slogged through the next couple, and about halfway through book nine realized that I no longer gave a shit about any of the viewpoint characters plot lines. I might finish it one day just out of completionism but for now it sits in the cloud. Shelves would have long since crumbled under the weight.

• quanta413 says:

Indeed Brother Nick. The heretics must be rooted out and brought back to the light for the good of their immortal reading souls.

I shall prepare the eyelid clamps, restraining chair, and necessary inducements that shall help return them to the true path.

• Nick says:

@quanta413
They’ll thank us for it in the end, when St. Peter, in the guise of their eighth grade English teacher, asks them what the green light by Daisy’s house means.

• Hoopyfreud says:

@Nick

Don’t lie, you know it’s Yuggoth.

• Nick says:

@Hoopyfreud
…Now that you mention it, The Call of Cthulhu is set in 1926 and The Great Gatsby was written in 1925. Was Fitzgerald one of the poets and artists whose dreams were filled with strange murmurings?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@Nick: I loved his short story “Beatrice Bobs Her Hair Because It’s the Tonsure of Yog-Sothoth’s Priestesses.”

• Machine Interface says:

Isn’t WoT also a rabidly anti-religious story? I’m surprised that you would care about it all, regardless of casting choices.

• Nornagest says:

Not particularly? It’s got a faction with a sort of Puritan witch hunter schtick, but they’re sidelined for most of the story — I wouldn’t be surprised if an adaptation cut them. The metaphysics of the setting is basically Manichean, and most of the characters are vaguely spiritual in the way that a lot of fantasy is if it doesn’t want to deal with religion.

You might be thinking of His Dark Materials. The Sword of Truth books dabble in anti-religion later on too, but more as a side effect of the series turning into an Objectivist tract.

• Machine Interface says:

Oh right. His Dark Materials. Which is also getting a series. Nevermind then. I was indeed confused.

• EchoChaos says:

And you’re right, I don’t care about that one.

• Phigment says:

Yeah, I wouldn’t call them anti-religion at all.

If anything, they’re completely irreligious in the most inoffensive way possible. They’re clockwork-universe deists.

There is exactly one creator god, who everyone believes in universally, but there are no churches, no religious rituals, no religious authorities, and no religious texts or dogmas.

No one debates or discusses the existence of the Creator in any way, or expects the Creator to intervene in any situation up to and including the complete destruction of the whole universe by the devil. No one even acts like that would be desirable or conceivable.

Religion is just not a thing in the Wheel of Time, even to the level common in fantasy stories; there aren’t even any nature spirits or anything.

I saw The Lion in Winter with Laurence Fishburne as the main character. It was a great production. There’s no need to be so literal minded.

• EchoChaos says:

Theater is definitely a different animal when it comes to casting. I saw a production of Man of La Mancha where the entire cast was disabled. Having an Aldonza who is paralyzed from the waist down get thrown out of her wheelchair during the rape scene was incredibly powerful.

I still don’t want a Man of La Mancha film to have an Aldonza who can’t walk, it doesn’t fit the book or time period as well.

Why do you think film should be more constrained to a “realistic” retelling of stories than stage productions?

• John Schilling says:

Film has all of Hollywood to cast from, and if necessary beyond, for the one production that everyone in the world will see. They can be expected to get it “right”. Stage may have twenty people in a local amateur troupe, and the only way they can put on any play that isn’t written specifically for their available cast is if they are allowed to shuffle age and race and gender at need. Or maybe “stage” means a major Broadway production and associated tour, but their collective ethic grew out of small local troupes and pretty much everybody has decided to cut them some slack in that department.

I don’t see what’s necessarily “right” about slavishly sticking to the source material. In some cases, sure, it makes for a much better film. Game of Thrones sucked where it diverged from the books (even if that was partly because there was no more books). But in other cases–I don’t see why Man of La Mancha, but where everyone is disabled can’t be done in film and be great.

• I don’t see what’s necessarily “right” about slavishly sticking to the source material.

“Necessarily” is too strong.

But, out of tens of thousands of stories that have been told, a handful were good enough so that we still remember them and want to do them as plays or movies. What are the odds that the random modern director has a better feel for how to tell a good story than the author of one of the handful of survivors did?

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

What are the odds that the random modern director has a better feel for how to tell a good story than the author of one of the handful of survivors did?

Very high, because what a telling a good story involves varies based on cultural context. Not many Shakespeare productions cast teenage boys as women anymore, and that’s good.

29. hash872 says:

Open request for Scott- I’d be interested in hearing your perspective as a mental health professional on ‘red flag laws’ which are now the rage even on the right, much less the left. I’ll be honest- my priors are as a left-libertarian, and I am very skeptical if not outright hostile to the idea. Declaring someone a ‘danger’ pre-actual crime sounds like the most vague, handwavey, authoritarian-state nightmare idea I can come up with. I am deeply concerned at the reasoning faculties of people who make arguments like ‘everyone who was a mass shooter did X, so we just have to screen for X and then take their guns!’ (Can’t believe I have to spell this out, but- how many non-shooters also did X? How many completely innocent people who’ve never hurt a fly have done X?)

Other angles I hate this idea from:

Militarized police violence. The GI Joe-wannabes who make up SWAT teams are basically never going to wait for the person to go outside for a cup of coffee, and then briefly detain them while they go in the house and get the guns. That’s not why they became cops! They’re going to ram the suspect’s door, throw flash-bang grenades, kill their dog(s), round up their family members and zip tie them, and then take the guns. America needs much, much less of this, and not more.

Bullying loners/misfits/weirdos. Anyone who’s a little odd, doesn’t have a ton of friends, wears all black or suddenly came to school with dyed hair- and maybe owns a gun, of which there are 300 million in America!- can be targeted for above-mentioned SWAT team thuggery. My faith in judges not simply rubber-stamping red flag applications is pretty low- especially as there’s no real downside to a false positive, whereas the occasional false negative will be all over the news/social media (‘Judge Brown could’ve stopped the killer, but he chose the 4th Amendment instead, and now 18 people have been shot!’ Etc.)

But- in the interest of fairness, it did occur to me that we already have involuntary commitment laws for those who are a danger to themselves, or others. So, someone could certainly argue that this is simply a reasonable extension of those. I’d certainly be interested in hearing from a practicing psychiatrist (and of course others!) how those involuntary commitments play out in actuality- and how the process could be grafted onto gun removal, I suppose?

• Lillian says:

As is often the case with gun control legislation,a lot of the laws they want more or less already exist, they’re just pretending they don’t so that they can push for even more draconian versions while acting like it’s the already extant reasonable version. The most relevant items are that anyone who has been convicted of a felony may not own a gun, anyone convicted of even misdemeanor domestic violence may not own a gun, and anyone who has ever been committed to a mental institution may not own a gun. That is already the law.

Going beyond that is depriving people of their rights without convicting them of a crime first, which is both morally wrong and likely unconstitutional.

• MissingNo says:

He already actually did a post on this! And its really good but I forgot what its called.

More or less, you can use various forms of sociological data and previous history (and some immediately obvious extrapolations) to predict which people are at X risk of committing a crime.

People who have IQ’s below 85 with very high testosterone are at a very high chance of committing an impulsive murder with a gun. People who have been hospitalized for psychosis are also at a much higher chance of murder. Its important to note that both decrease with age. A 70 YO who had the above factors at age 20 is probably a calmed down older guy. And each passing year without an event for the latter reduces the risk each passing year(I even believe the military starts allowing exceptions for jobs after 7 years without an event for the mentally ill)

But you can use statistics and set risk factors and probability curves. All the predictive data is out there and just takes some sorting through.

Now would society as is implement this according to a way that is both fair and appeals to most peoples intuitive moral sense? Eh…

Kvu doo gjjs kvul mpqzcp n dzcczfe mbfxl.

• Grek says:

If you’re going to use code, please either use rot13 (as is traditional) or specify the method for decryption. Making us guess isn’t helpful.

• Gobbobobble says:

People who have IQ’s below 85 with very high testosterone are at a very high chance of committing an impulsive murder with a gun

“Very high” as in 0.02% compared to 0.002% for the general population?

• albatross11 says:

If you apply the logic of red flags and pre-crime to ordinary crime, you’ll end up with stop-and-frisk and racial profiling, with all the injustice that implies.

• AlesZiegler says:

Here in European countries, you usually have to prove to authorities that you are mentally fit in order to be permitted to own a gun. I do not think that we are somehow dystopian totalitarian nightmares because of that.

Involuntary locking up people in psychiatric institutions without a trial strikes me as far more dangerous abridgment of personal liberty.

• souleater says:

Maybe not yet, or maybe not ever.

But I can imagine a government that wants to restrict its populations access to firearms slowly over the course of 10 years creating an arbitrarily high bar for someone to prove mental fitness. The letter of the law would be followed, but at the end of the day it would just be gun control by another name.

• gbdub says:

“I want to purchase a gun”
“I’m sorry, I can’t sell you one, since you are clearly insane”
“What?”
“You see sir, as we all know, no one needs a gun, as guns are only tools for killing, so if you want to own a gun, you must be murderously insane.”
“Uh, okay then, here’s this doctor’s note that says I’m perfectly sane”
“Ah, well then you must not really want a gun, so I don’t think I should bother filling out all the paperwork to sell you one. Guns are a responsibility you know, so I can’t sell you one if you aren’t committed to ownership”
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22”

• Gobbobobble says:
• AlesZiegler says:

You are aware that gun owners exist even in European countries with mental health tests for them, right?

• DeWitt says:

Europe doesn’t have Democrats, so it must be paradise.

This view is related to its opposite, that it must be paradise because it has no Republicans.

• gbdub says:

It was a joke guys. I’m aware that there are places in Europe with gun owners.

The truth in the joke is that it’s going to be hard to get people to trust a new mental health test for gun ownership when some of the people calling for said test make it clear that they believe anyone who wants a gun is at least a little off / inherently irresponsible (“no one needs a gun” “I found out so-and-so is a gun owner and now I’m not comfortable being around them” etc.)

More broadly there’s the history of carry permits, where “shall issue” laws had to be passed at state levels else anti-gun local officials would do exactly what was feared here, look for any excuse to avoid issuing permits to any but the politically connected.

I’m not saying the putting the burden of proof on the other side is inherently going to result in ownership being heavily restricted – just that I don’t think that the fear is unreasonable, despite the reality in (some) European countries with different cultures being different.

I think the poster below who compares it to things like election or abortion law is right on – notionally fair laws can become unreasonable if administered by people hostile to the right being regulated.

• albatross11 says:

This is more-or-less parallel to the concerns that a qualification test for voting will be used to disenfranchise blacks, or a hate-speech restriction on speech will be used to shut down whole political movements by defining them as hate speech, or extra-stringent public-health restrictions on abortion clinics will be used to shut down all or nearly all abortion clinics in a state.

Even when you see the value in some kind of regulation if done by well-intentioned, competent people, you still may oppose that regulation if you think it will fall into the hands of incompetent or ill-intentioned people. Or into the hands of your enemies, who will use it to accomplish by regulation what they couldn’t manage by legislation.

I think one of the things that’s usually missing in US mainstream political discussions when we’re in “there oughtta be a law” mode or “someone’s gotta do something right now!” mode is a consideration of how the powers we’re setting up will be misused. Weirdly, even when like half the country thinks we’re ruled by a wannabe fascist, it’s still moonbat-level crazy to oppose any new power of government (or propose rolling back existing powers) on the theory that it might be misused.

• DinoNerd says:

Yeah. It would be nice if the US had a tradition of public service, rather than what it seems to have instead. (Spoils system; zero-sum political competition, etc.)

Even with good traditions and ideals, bad things get done – but at least some what less blatant, and somewhat more readily corrected.

And with US media dominance, a lot of US norms get turned into world norms, or at least norms of the English speaking world.

• souleater says:

@DinoNerd
I have a sneaking feeling that almost all societies have eras of public service and eras of spoils systems. To me, that means that even a good law made in a good era, could, be abused in a later, bad era.

The current era we happen to be living in has no bearing on whether or not we should be making abusable laws.

• DinoNerd says:

@souleater

Anything can be abused – including absence of laws.

• EchoChaos says:

I do not think that we are somehow dystopian totalitarian nightmares because of that.

A far higher percentage of European governments have become dystopian totalitarian nightmares than American governments.

• acymetric says:

I feel like you think Europe is literally the government from V For Vendetta.

• EchoChaos says:

Europe doesn’t have one government, and obviously some European governments are not dystopian totalitarian nightmares.

North America has had zero dystopian totalitarian nightmares. Europe has had many (Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Tito’s Yugoslavia, Ceaușescu’s Romania, etc).

That is a far higher percentage than zero.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

@EchoChaos
Growth mindset!

• Lambert says:

How many North American governments are there to compare that to?
Like, 4, including the CSA?

Of course they’re less likely to have had a few totalitarian states than a region that’s had like, 10 different French States.

• EchoChaos says:

I feel like Mexico has had as many governments as the French.

• DeWitt says:

A far higher percentage of European governments have become dystopian totalitarian nightmares than American governments.

Was there some sort of point here, or are you making blanket statements that may be vaguely true for the hell of it?

• Thomas Jorgensen says:

EchoChaos: The CSA is a a very, very strong refutation of your point, here.

• Nornagest says:

The CSA wasn’t a totalitarian society. It was a society based on slavery, and that’s arguably worse (certainly the average American slave had it worse than the average citizen of, say, Mussolini’s Italy), but totalitarianism has a meaning and it’s not “political system I really, really disapprove of”.

It did lack some of the protections that the Union government had, and I’m not just talking about civil rights for African-Americans here, but that’s a much weaker statement.

• EchoChaos says:

@Thomas Jorgensen

The CSA wasn’t totalitarian. And if it was a nightmare, so was the Union. Their civil rights were fairly equal through the war. The CSA had some the Union didn’t, and vice versa (the CSA never suspended habeus corpus, for example).

But I can add “in the last century” to make you feel better and my statement still holds just fine.

• Lambert says:

Now you’re down to 3 governments.
And still outnumbered by France alone.
(3, Vichy, 4, 5)

• albatross11 says:

Specifically, if the CSA was a nightmare for having slavery, then so was the USA up until the end of the civil war.

• Anthony says:

Mexico has probably had more governments since Independence than France has had since l’Ancien Regime, especially if you count the moderately successful separatists.

But almost none of them have been competent enough to pull off a totalitarian dystopia.

• DeWitt says:

No, really, was there some sort of point here?

Congratulating the US for not going totalitarian feels a little like praising Australia for not having waged any wars of religion, or something.

• viVI_IViv says:

Yes, in fact the internment of Japanese-American citizens during WW2 never happened, because the Japanese-Americans were able to fight off the government using their privately owned guns. /s

Why would they need to fight when they could just, ya know, leave the camp…

• cassander says:

(A) I’d bet that the firearms ownership of the japanese in 1941 was considerably below the national average.

(B) I’d also bet that if the US had tried to intern, say, texas germans, the process would have gone considerably less smoothly, possibly badly enough to create enough of a political storm to stop it from happening.

• thisheavenlyconjugation says:

@cassander

(B) I’d also bet that if the US had tried to intern, say, texas germans, the process would have gone considerably less smoothly, possibly badly enough to create enough of a political storm to stop it from happening.

They tried and succeeded.

• viVI_IViv says:

Why would they need to fight when they could just, ya know, leave the camp…

How so?

@cassander

(B) I’d also bet that if the US had tried to intern, say, texas germans, the process would have gone considerably less smoothly, possibly badly enough to create enough of a political storm to stop it from happening.

Would it? Look, these treasonous immigrants are attacking our brave soldiers! Sure they deserve to be imprisoned, or worse.

• EchoChaos says:

@viVI_IViv

How so?

Japanese-Americans were only excluded from certain militarily critical zones. They were free to just relocate to another part of the country and many did. But some preferred to wait in the camps until the war ended.

What EchoChaos said. They weren’t prison camps, so they wouldn’t need to kill anybody in order to leave. They might need to kill somebody to go back to the west coast if they didn’t get special permission, but they could also just move to Ohio. About 25% did.

ETA: I’m not saying it was good, I’m just saying it wasn’t totalitarian enough to justify murder.

• viVI_IViv says:

Japanese-Americans were only excluded from certain militarily critical zones. They were free to just relocate to another part of the country and many did. But some preferred to wait in the camps until the war ended.

The “military critical zones” consisted in most of the West coast, where the wast majority of Japanese-Americans lived.

From Wikipedia:

“March 2, 1942: Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt issued Public Proclamation No. 1, declaring that “such person or classes of persons as the situation may require” would, at some later point, be subject to exclusion orders from “Military Area No. 1” (essentially, most of California, Oregon, and Washington to about 100.2 miles (161.3 km) inland), and requiring anyone who had “enemy” ancestry to file a Change of Residence Notice if they planned to move.[18] A second exclusion zone was designated several months later which included the areas chosen by most of the Japanese Americans who had managed to leave the first zone.
March 11, 1942: Executive Order 9095 created the Office of the Alien Property Custodian, and gave it discretionary, plenary authority over all alien property interests. Many assets were frozen, creating immediate financial difficulty for the affected aliens, preventing most from moving out of the exclusion zones.[18]”

So their assets were seized and they were given the option to either relocate hundreds of miles away, with no means to support themselves, or be interned in a government camp. Sounds exactly like the sort of dystopian government infringement of personal liberties that private gun ownership is supposed to prevent according to gun rights supporters.

• baconbits9 says:

They tried and succeeded.

This link doesn’t support the statement. From the wikipedia numbers ~11,000 germans were interred out of 1.2 million native born germans living in the US, so ~1% of all native born germans and ~0.2% of all native born germans + US born to two native born german parents. The US government made no effort to round up every, most or really even some german born residents.

• baconbits9 says:

So their assets were seized and they were given the option to either relocate hundreds of miles away, with no means to support themselves, or be interned in a government camp. Sounds exactly like the sort of dystopian government infringement of personal liberties that private gun ownership is supposed to prevent according to gun rights supporters.

You are apparently unfamiliar with what EXACTLY dystopian governments do, and are building a strawman as to how effective a tiny fraction of the population could reasonably be.

• Hoopyfreud says: