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Open Thread 134.75

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

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1,125 Responses to Open Thread 134.75

  1. albatross11 says:

    Antifa community college professor fired.

    Firing people for their stated political views seems like a generally bad idea, and one that is probably applied against the left as often as for the left. (It’s always possible there was some evidence of actual crime or threat from this guy I don’t know about, but it looks from this story like he was fired for his affiliations.)

    Arrest him if he bashes someone over the head with a bike lock, but don’t fire him for having the wrong political views or the wrong associates.

  2. mdet says:

    In thread below, Radu Floricica said “[For companies with a culture like Google] any ideas not woke enough just get shot down before they even reach the level of proposals. And after making a few examples, it becomes risky to even put non-woke ideas in writing. I have a strong suspicion this is how you get diverse casts.”

    I wanted to respond to that last sentence because I think it both is and isn’t right. That is, it’s no secret how we get diverse casts: acting is a largely racially segregated profession (and it’s undeniably a gender-segregated profession).

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like race-neutral casting calls are uncommon. I believe the race and gender of a major character is something that usually gets decided by the writers and producers before auditions even begin. In 2014, Chris Rock wrote an essay about race in Hollywood where he said “When it comes to casting, Hollywood pretty much decides to cast a black guy or they don’t. We’re never on the ‘short list’. We’re never ‘in the mix’. When there’s a hot part in town and the guys are reading for it, that’s just what happens. It was never like, ‘Is it going to be Ryan Gosling or Chiwetel Ejiofor for Fifty Shades of Grey?’… Or how about True Detective? I never heard anyone go, ‘Is it going to be Amy Adams or Gabrielle Union?’ for that show. I didn’t hear one black girl’s name on those lists. Not one.”

    I don’t think that’s entirely unfair — a character’s race, gender, and cultural background impacts who they are, so most people consider a certain amount of racial and gender discrimination to be appropriate in the casting process. I’d be very surprised if this kind of demographic-specific casting started in the 2010s. I doubt there’s a timeline where an extremely talented black actress beats Mark Hamill to the role of Luke Skywalker, or an Indian man beats Sigourney Weaver to play Ripley (and those aren’t even demographic-specific roles!). Those ideas got shot down before they even reached the level of a proposal.

    So yes, I agree that “diverse casts” are the result of the writers and producers explicitly deciding to cast people of a certain race & gender in certain roles, but I’m pretty sure “non-diverse casts” are ALSO the result of writers and producers explicitly deciding to cast people of a certain race & gender in certain roles. Given that some amount of racial and gender discrimination is inherent to casting, it seems to me that a movie with a “non-diverse” cast is easier to get made in 2019 than one with a “diverse” cast would have been a generation ago. Consider the casts of 2019’s Endgame, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Midsommar, Godzilla, It 2, The Art of Self Defense, The Irishman, Ready or Not, Zombieland 2, Ad Astra, Knives Out, etc.

    [Edit: I’m using “diverse” to mean “lots of women and/or non-white people” even though that’s not “diverse” literally means because I expect that’s how Floririca was using it. The Farewell and Us did not have casts that were diverse in themselves, but still contribute to the diversity of Hollywood casting taken as a whole.]

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I’ve seen “any ethnicity” casting calls with my own eyes. Does it happen for leading men and women, the way Chris Rock complains about? Maybe not, and that could reflect a heightened awareness of what races are most popular in your market. The less-woke suits at the big studios probably keep files of analytics on how popular white leads vs. black vs. Asian are in NorAm, China, and so on. Conventional wisdom seems to be that Asian audiences prefer actors who look like themselves with white Hollywood stars being second preference, while blacker casts make the most money from NorAm. And some Hollywood actors transcend whatever bias exists to become global draws, like Dwayne Johnson. They might not cast a black guy as Male Lead in Dumb Action Movie X, but the Rock would be interchangeable with a white action hero.

      • mdet says:

        True, I probably overstated my case by calling race-neutral casting “uncommon”. But that point cuts both ways — to the extent that “any ethnicity” casting calls are common, Hollywood execs aren’t deliberately pushing diversity. But in the cases where they clearly are pushing diversity, demographic-specific casting calls aren’t a secret, they aren’t new, no one considers them beyond the pale, and it’s still both speakable and fathomable to have a big blockbuster movie with a largely white male cast.

        Edit: To give some credit to the people who are annoyed by diversity in Hollywood, what I think IS new and different is movies where the main selling point is the cast’s demographics. Casting a man as the lead role in Die Hard wasn’t considered a selling point precisely because casting a woman would’ve been unfathomable (Well, not quite unfathomable since Aliens had come out already. But pretty close.) Today, it’s very plausible to have a major action movie be led by either a man or a woman, which turns the lead’s gender into a marketing decision in a way it wasn’t before.

        • AG says:

          Chris Rock’s point is that neutral casting calls rarely produce a diverse result, because the minority actors aren’t considered seriously. They have to be twice as good to overcome the implicit bias.
          I’ve seen it happen in my own tastes, where growing up, my original characters defaulted to white males. It’s not until I started actively interrogating if they could be of different demographics, that I started considering other races/genders/sexualities.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There are also many other explanations. If a neutral casting call has 10% of its applicants as black and then 1/10 of the side characters ends up black you get claims of tokenism, or if you have 3/4 really good auditions who happen to be similar gender/ethnicity then its almost impossible to have a ‘diverse’ cast. When you have large differences in representation in auditions it is going to be rare that a truly diverse cast is settled on via merit alone.

    • Erusian says:

      Who watches movies? They skew disproportionately young and minority. This effect is even more pronounced among frequent moviegoers (as opposed to those who go occasionally or for big event movies). There’s basically two groups that buy tickets: young adults/teenagers and families with children. If you assume teenagers get to exert influence on what movies their family sees, the 12-24 crowd produces almost a supermajority of ticket sales.

      So let’s imagine you’re a producer in Hollywood. You want to make as much money as possible on the film, which means catering to your audience’s tastes. What’s popular with people 12-24 who are more minority than average? Social justice. Your largest market is choosing to consume those products so you give them what they want. (Now, I do think there is an issue that Hollywood types want to make thinkpieces about the oppression of sensitive artists and their audience wants more red meat stuff like Black Panther. But that’s unrelated to diverse casting, which is something their audience genuinely wants ime.)

      You can also see this in how, in roughly the past decade, Asians have become the highest per capita movie-going population. And suddenly, more and more movies about Asia and Asians. People talk about the Chinese market but it’s not just that: it’s coming from drivers in the US too. (Indeed, movies like Crazy Rich Asians are targeted at Asian Americans very specifically.)

    • bullseye says:

      With Star Wars, I’ve read that they originally wanted to make Han an alien, then they wanted to make him black (and had a black actor picked out), then changed him to white because his romance with white Leia would have been controversial at the time. Of course that doesn’t reflect today’s Hollywood.

        • mdet says:

          This is actually really interesting. Not sure to what degree I should revise my assessment of how fathomable it would’ve been to have a blockbuster with a Force Awakens style cast in the 70s & 80s, because clearly it was something that George Lucas considered, but at the end of the day he couldn’t make it happen.

          • Aapje says:

            I wonder if the Princess Leia role was also open to other races and once they selected a white person as Leia, Han solo had to be white too.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Aapje: It sure would have changed the Skywalker family if Mark Hamill had played Luke but open casting of Leia got them a non-white actress.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, that would have required altering some of the later-invented aspects of the story, but I don’t think Lucas had them pegged as separated-at-birth siblings (or Luke as Vader’s son) when he wrote the first movie, so there wasn’t a constraint then. (There might have been a marketability constraint for having an interracial couple as the romantic lead in your movie, though.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @albatross11:

            I don’t think Lucas had them pegged as separated-at-birth siblings (or Luke as Vader’s son) when he wrote the first movie, so there wasn’t a constraint then.

            No, of course there wasn’t. And the need to not retcon very different-looking actors into relatives would have imposed different constraints when writing the RotJ script (nothing revealed in Empire places any constraints, as Vader is never seen unmasked in the same film that establishes he’s Anakin Skywalker).

          • The Nybbler says:

            No problem: Vader is revealed as…. James Earl Jones.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        So were they already planning to do a Han/Leia romance in Episode IV? In that movie, at least, I always thought it looked more like a Luke/Leia relationship was on the cards.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The original movie sets up a rivalry between Luke and Han for Leia.

          • JPNunez says:

            The original sequel to Star Wars was

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splinter_of_the_Mind%27s_Eye

            And it’s all Luke and Leia flirting, with no Han on sight.

            Lucas discarded it and went to write (aided by some people, some of whose work was discarded) Empire.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @JPNunez,

            You’re missing a critical fact there: Harrison Ford didn’t sign on that he would do a sequel, while Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamil both did.

            George Lucas genuinely didn’t know whether he could get Harrison Ford back for Star Wars 2 when he wrote Splinter of the Mind’s Eye so including Han would be a big risk. Once it was clear that Star Wars was a huge hit, they went back to the drawing board and wrote a script knowing that they could get the whole cast and a bigger budget.

    • Aapje says:

      @mdet

      but I’m pretty sure “non-diverse casts” are ALSO the result of writers and producers explicitly deciding to cast people of a certain race & gender in certain roles.

      In SJ, there is a fairly commonly used concept of men/white people/etc being ‘the default,’ where the claim is that people don’t even consider the alternative.

      I think that it is incorrect to refer to this as explicitly deciding.

      • mdet says:

        Scrolling through the big action-adventure movies of the 70s and 80s, the only ones I saw that didn’t have a white man in the lead* were Aliens, Beverly Hills Cop, and Lethal Weapon (and Terminator, but Sarah Connor is more of a horror movie Final Girl than an action lead).

        Would I be typical-minding to presume that the filmmakers were aware of this? Not saying that they were bigots who were casting this way out of malice, but I imagine that everyone was aware “white guy plays the lead, black guy plays the sidekick” was the convention.

        *I don’t hold any movie’s demographics against it in terms of quality. The reason I think the characters demographics matters is because I think storytelling is how we build culture, and I think people of all demographics should play a role in that culture-building process.

        • Aapje says:

          @mdet

          The evidence very strongly points to greatly increased ‘wokeness’ on the left, so at the very least, white people of the past seem to have been less concerned with this sort of stuff.

          I don’t know whether this also means that they had less awareness. It seems pretty clear that they had a lot of awareness when (explicitly) casting black roles, but that doesn’t mean that they had awareness when casting (implicitly) white roles.

          Presumably, Woody Allen didn’t consider a black actress for Annie Hall, while Louis CK chose to cast his ex-wife as black in his semi-autobiographical TV series, even though his actual ex-wife is white. To me the former seems fairly normal, casting to reality, while the latter seems to go out of ones way to make a point.

          Not that there is necessary anything wrong with that, but it is not race blindness or racial ignorance, but deliberately making a choice.

          I think people of all demographics should play a role in that culture-building process.

          Well, in my country the ‘woke’ people are working hard to eradicate the black role that already existed in a cultural tradition, because it had some problematic elements, that have pretty much already been addressed/changed. Yet as those were changed, the complaints changed to mostly historical and contemporary falsehoods.

          My strong impression in general is that anti-racism often seems to latch onto a scapegoat, whose eradication supposedly will make a major change. These scapegoats then get mythical status as a symbol of oppression and get blamed for things that have nothing to do with it and being opposed to it becomes in itself a sign of virtue. So it must be destroyed, regardless of fact or reason.

          I don’t see how PoC can become a normal part of culture-building when culture involving non-white people can’t just evolve organically and/or reflect the complexities that culture typically embodies, but have to result in immense improvements to racial disparities that are not just unreasonable, but even contradictory.

        • albatross11 says:

          How about Lethal Weapon. Arguably two leads, one the crazy white guy, one the non-crazy black guy.

        • Jaskologist says:

          The US was 83% white in 1980, and only 12% black. How many big action-adventure movies did you scroll through?

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      I personally have a couple of problems with “woke” casting (that is: casting specifically to get a “diverse” cast). I suspect I’m not the only one who thinks along these lines. I’ll focus on black/white, since you brought up Chris Rock.

      1. Most places and times aren’t twenty-first century America and twent-first century American politics shouldn’t be influencing casting decisions for anything that isn’t set there. As I recall, the whole discussion started with the Wheel of Time – a fantasy setting where the main cast (at least initially) is not particularly diverse – and, yes, they were most probably seen by the author as white (we can’t really ask, though, unless there’s a medium in the room). Casting for diversity in this case seems to be pure politics of the most odious sort.

      2. Even in twenty-first century USA, whites make up 72.4% of the population, as compared to 12.6% black (numbers from the 2010 census). If we were to go by pure statistics, we’d expect one black person for every 5.7 white people in a cast. Except that’s not really true either, because realistic proportions would depend on social milieu (this can actually skew heavily black, depending on the kind of story being told).

      3. Tied to the previous point, and perhaps closest to what Chris Rock has to say in the linked interview, you can’t actually have it both ways. You can’t have African Americans both have this special status of historical oppression that is so dear to the SJW crowd – and is hard to escape evoking even for a smart guy like Chris – and be considered interchangeable with white people who have the special status of historical oppressors. That’s why you don’t get black people on the short list, Chris. White women want to have sex with black men, no doubt about that, but that’s not Grey. The dynamic here is very different and it shall remain so until the black community changes its fundamental character. You want to be “in the mix” with whites, you have to become “white”. Asians are most of the way there, I suspect. So long as the black/white rift remains in American society, deciding whether to cast a black person or not is very much a sensible decision to make before you begin the calls.

      At the end of the day it all boils down to the story being told and the fact that who you chose to portray a particular role does matter. What would we say to a movie set in the 60s Chicago blues scene (Chess records et al.) with a couple of white actors cast in the role of some of the (black) musicians? Not white people in blackface or any other sort of makeup, just straight up white people playing black people. If that don’t sound right, you know why “diversity” casting grinds my gears.

      So perhaps what’s needed is more black writers? Give us great stories with black protagonists and we’ll pay good money to see them.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        1. Most places and times aren’t twenty-first century America and twent-first century American politics shouldn’t be influencing casting decisions for anything that isn’t set there. As I recall, the whole discussion started with the Wheel of Time – a fantasy setting where the main cast (at least initially) is not particularly diverse – and, yes, they were most probably seen by the author as white (we can’t really ask, though, unless there’s a medium in the room). Casting for diversity in this case seems to be pure politics of the most odious sort.

        This is particularly egregious in the case of period dramas. Liberal fantasies aside, black people made up a negligible portion of the population in most of Europe before the second half of the twentieth century, and none of the nobility of the period were black. Looking at some productions, however, you’d think medieval Europe was a multicultural paradise.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I strongly support race-blind casting on stage, and have for decades. There are lots of very talented non-white actors, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t get a chance to play Lear or Macbeth.

          And then I grit my teeth and resign myself to the fact that it would be the worst possible sin today for a white man to play Othello.

          I also know that these days “race-blind casting” is widely considered a euphemism for white privilege. Woke theater companies seem to be making casting decisions not just to give all actors a fair shake but to make a broader point about the modern world. The result kind of reminds me of Dick Shawn’s performance in The Producers.

          • Aapje says:

            How popular is acting among African Americans? My impression is that a very large percentage of black actors in the US are actually British.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Idris Elba may be hot right now, but Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman have all been huge stars too, often dominating the box office.

          • Aapje says:

            These are all British:
            – Thandie Newton
            – Chiwetel Ejiofor
            – David Oyelowo
            – Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei)
            – John Boyega (Finn)
            – Daniel Kaluuya
            – Letitia Wright
            – Naomie Harris

      • Matt M says:

        I mean, even taken at face value, “representative” casting faces a major hurdle from the start in simply asking the question “representative of what/where”?

        Say you have a new TV show set in modern Los Angeles. Should the casting be representative of the population of Los Angeles? Of the state of California? Of the United States of America? Of the entire Earth? Where you draw the line matters a lot.

        And what if the show is a sitcom about a Hispanic family? Well, great, you’ve probably used up all of your Hispanic representation on the main characters, so now everyone else in the show needs to be white or black or Asian. But is that representative? A Hispanic family would have a Hispanic extended family. They would have lots of Hispanic friends. Maybe chance would place them with a Russian or an Indian neighbor or coworker, but not enough of them to make the casting “representative.”

      • AG says:

        So perhaps what’s needed is more black writers? Give us great stories with black protagonists and we’ll pay good money to see them.

        This is what current entertainment-centered SJ is calling for now. This thread is mostly engaging with outdated arguments on diversity.

        • albatross11 says:

          And yet, there certainly are public protests and outcries w.r.t. lack of representation in acting jobs, casting someone of the wrong race/sex/sexual orientation/sexual identity for a role, etc. That’s happening independent of the push for more minority writers.

          Now, personally, I think a focus on the race/sex/sexual orientation/etc. of a writer is mostly a mistake. What matters is whether they’re producing a good, interesting, well-written story. Just as it was dumb for SFF fans in the past to prejudge female authors (and thus encourage women to write under male pseudonyms), it’s dumb in the present to prejudge authors based on their identity instead of their writing, which is the important thing.

          • mdet says:

            @Faza, AG, and albatross, I agree that I’d prefer for “lack of diversity in Hollywood” to be addressed letting Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele, Barry Jenkins, Steve McQueen, Ava DuVernay, etc. (and whoever’s making all these Asian-American movies I’ve been seeing recently) continue to do their thing than by dropping a black woman into Renaissance Europe period piece. I wouldn’t complain about the latter, especially if I’m going in purely for entertainment with no expectation of historical accuracy, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

            @albatross I welcome filmmakers to make movies about people unlike themselves, but it’s also not a coincidence that the directors I named have tended to make movies about black people. I don’t think the demographics in front of vs behind the camera are unrelated.

          • albatross11 says:

            mdet:

            Fair enough. I’m sure they’re not unrelated–just as I’m sure the audience demographics and preferences are related to the demographics of the actors cast.

            My goal is good art–movies, TV shows, novels, short stories, plays, etc. For that, I think what I care most about is the quality of the writers and actors, not their race or gender or other background. Now, some people have background knowledge and experiences that let them do a better job writing some stories. But the quality of the stories is what matters to me, not the ethnic mix of actors/characters.

            I recognize this is probably an easy position for me to take–I’m a straight white guy, so there are tons of movies and books and such that focus on people like me. But I’m also happy to read and watch stories about people not like me–indeed, I often find them really interesting and fun. They just need to be good. And I think that this is what will matter in the future, too–people don’t read Jane Austen’s novels now mainly because she was a woman, but rather because she was an amazing writer.

  3. Viliam says:

    I find myself having to choose between morality and sanity.

    Without sanity, there is no morality, only Brownian motion. And Twitter is probably systematically anti-correlated with both.

    So I’m morally compelled to go full SJW.

    Read something about Lavrentiy Beria. The guy was literally the boss of an organization created to reveal, torture, and murder people deemed insufficiently left-wing; under his leadership, millions were eliminated. You can’t get more SJW than that! Now go ahead and read something about his sex life… What does this morally compel you to do?

    And we don’t have to go back to history. Stories how “a professional male feminist turned out to be a rapist / child molester / whatever” are quite common. I prefer not to post links, because I don’t like online vigilantism, and would really hate to mix a few false accusations along with true data; I am just saying that going from STEM to SJW would be like going from a house with a leaking roof into a thunderstorm.

    In the previous paragraph, by “professional male feminist” I don’t mean any random guy who happens to agree with some of the feminist ideas, but rather someone who does it as a job, i.e. someone who actually has an income based on being the wokest woke among all the wokes, and who typically spends a lot of time attacking the less woke males. If you ignore ideology and look at psychology, it actually should not come as a surprise that a person who enjoys hurting others for a job turns out to be someone who enjoys hurting others after closing hours, too.

    I belong to the classes of people who are responsible for everything wrong with society today … I’m an atheist Jew

    Heh, okay.

    Oh, and I’ve probably given enough information here to dox myself.

    Well, if you’ll really go full SJW, and then one day you’ll decide you had enough and quit, your former comrades may use this to hurt you. Anyone else probably won’t care.

    (You could ask Scott to censor your comment if you feel strongly about it.)

  4. Ketil says:

    The prodigy meets the wall thing – I think it is pretty common. I was never prodigal, but generally managed to get good enough grades with little effort – until suddenly I couldn’t anymore. At university, I was surrounded by people equally smart, but many of them had developed actual work habits, too. From then on, it took effort to get anywhere.

    The guilt trip? Be glad you are white! If you were black, you would be responsible for Idi Amin, Rwanda, and Robert Mugabe, if you were Asian, you would be responsible for Pol Pot and Nanjing, not to mention Genghis Khan. Which is to say, you take responsibility for your own actions, and those alone.

    And while I haven’t been at MIT, I’ve been in tech and academia for decades. I have never seen or heard about anybody, eh, employing? a prostitute, nor any underage persons (except parents bringing their kids when school or daycare is closed) and even the parties tend to be on the dull side.

  5. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Everything is problematic An honest cartoon on a moderate social justice blog.

    One of my problems with Social Justice is that for some people, it means that privileged people are obliged to feel bad all the time. I have been badly affected by this. I’m bad because I’m white and financially comfortable. I’m bad because I resent being told I’m bad. (see white fragility) I’m bad because I refuse to be an ally, since being an ally means an unlimited obligation to help in exchange for nothing– not courtesy, not explanations of what’s wanted, absolutely nothing.

    In terms of obsession, I have not found a way out. Qi gong and such can eliminate the impulse to attack myself, but it’s very temporary.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve mentioned this to some of my friends who agree with social justice, and they’ve been surprised in a way which suggests that they have a different take on the ideas, but I haven’t yet gotten up the nerve to ask them how they think about it.

    It wasn’t easy to write this for ssc.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Come to the right side. We have cookies.

    • Protagoras says:

      Despite the stories about anti-cookie extremists, I still find myself being offered plenty of cookies by my fellow leftists. Don’t fall for rightist propaganda that they have a monopoly on cookies!

      • The Nybbler says:

        Gluten free vegan cookies do not count.

        • Protagoras says:

          Metaphorical cookies are always gluten free and vegan, and it’s absurd to suggest they don’t count. But even confining ourselves to the literal cookies, those I get are only rarely gluten free and vegan, and even when they are gluten free and vegan, they sometimes end up being tasty. Again, right-wing propaganda utterly fails to match reality.

      • Nick says:

        Why, it’s the leftists who want a monopoly on cookies! They’re going to seize the means of production—ovens, natch—and distribute them via central planning.

    • DinoNerd says:

      *hugs and sympathy* *cookies too*

      I haven’t encountered people expecting me to feel like a bad person. But I’m on the autistic spectrum; they’d probably have to say so clearly and explicitly before I noticed. Also, I’m somewhat pre-vaccinated against that – as an undiagnosed child, most of my symptoms were attributed to wilful misbehaviour.

      Is it possible a lot of what you’re experiencing as “privileged people should feel bad” is just one possible interpretation of social hints, that would be understood differently by someone of normal social skills raised in a slightly different subculture?

    • Lambert says:

      Is this a scrupulosity thing?

      SJ evangelism being in lawyer-mode for normies who don’t take ideas so damn seriously; you have to really drum the idea of privalege etc. into most people to get them to allign even moderately with SJs.

      Then there’s the internet and the fact that internecine debates about deep SJ theory, woker-than-thou point scoring and preaching to the unconverted and uncertain are all happening through the same channels.

      • Protagoras says:

        I’m assuming it’s a scrupulosity thing. I don’t get much crap from lefty friends for being a straight white guy, and what crap I get I just ignore (it is nothing compared to the rest of the crap I get from numerous friends who are just argumentative for the sake of it, and I’ve built up a considerable tolerance over the years due to spending huge amounts of time with argumentative people). At least IRL; getting into political discussions on the internet is begging for more crap. But mostly it seems that certain people just have a hard time due to taking things a lot more seriously than they should. Such people should especially avoid the internet; IRL, some friends may notice that you’re hypersensitive about certain things and try be nice by avoiding pushing your buttons, but nobody on the internet will ever cut you that kind of slack.

  6. Deiseach says:

    Since today seems to be my day to repost tidbits from the papers, here’s a case of SPACE CRIME! Can Space Cops be far behind now?

    (Turns out to be the fallout of a messy divorce case and a ‘she said/she said’ about stalking versus checking the family finances FROM SPACE, not anything more interesting, unfortunately).

  7. Deiseach says:

    In today’s episode of “Brexit: What tнē #$*! D̄ө ωΣ (k)πow!? “, I’m going to quote two stupid newspaper articles, and for once The Sun is not the stupider of the two.

    First, the “well, that didn’t take long” piece from The Independent, where there is an increasingly desperate as it goes along article by John Rentoul as to “No honest, this is how we can kick Boris out of the job in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit and/or general election, and replace him with the steady hands of a caretaker prime minister – Ken Clarke”.

    Yes, give Boris the boot after an entire month in office while you flail around looking for a replacement and the EU will naturally have no objection at all to giving you another indefinite extension while you try to hold a general election to pick the fourth prime minister (Cameron – May – Johnson – ?) who will for sure this time finally and completely Brexit. Or not. This will definitely happen!

    This is such a fantasy piece that I can only think Rentoul wrote it to order for Evgeny Lebedev, which makes me wonder why the falling out with BoJo after they were such good pals that they partied together. On the other hand, the shambles of a no-deal Brexit would probably hit them in the pocket, and Russian oligarchs are going to put the do-re-mi first.

    The second one is “I’m laughing to keep from crying” and I’m deliberately using The Sun report rather than another since it is the level of ludicrousness this deserves. Part of the Brexiteers’ strategy is that leaving the stranglehold of the EU will allow Britain to develop its own trade agreements with markets such as the US and China on equal terms as independent parties. There’s going to be a bonanza of new deals to be made, with the rest of the world eager to snap up The Best of British, they assure one and all. Boris himself is making much of how they’ll be able to sell their goods to the US. Such value-rich items as – pork pies.

    Yes, this is how post-Brexit Britain will stimulate its economy: selling shower trays and pork pies to the Yanks! Something tells me that there could be a slight imbalance in who the senior and who the junior partner in such a trade deal might be, with the UK having to agree to imports of US agricultural goods (which come under much different standards to the EU ones currently in place) and open up its market even more to US imports, while the UK will promise that the NHS is not going to be privatised and divvied up between private US companies, honest guv, and the economic clout of the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association Ltd. will ensure a hefty balance of trade deficit in the UK’s favour.

    So listen up, America! If you want British cauliflower and to let your armed forces buy British tape measures, you better play nicely with Boris or else no dice in the lucrative trade agreements a liberated post-Brexit Britain will use to create a new Golden Age!

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Yes, give Boris the boot after an entire month in office while you flail around looking for a replacement and the EU will naturally have no objection at all to giving you another indefinite extension while you try to hold a general election to pick the fourth prime minister (Cameron – May – Johnson – ?) who will for sure this time finally and completely Brexit. Or not. This will definitely happen!

      Clarke is a well-known Remainer, so anybody who wants to make him PM instead of Johnson presumably doesn’t want to “finally and completely Brexit”.

      • Lambert says:

        Yeah. It’s a plan to avoid no-deal under Johnson.

        The idea is that if a deal looks impossible, Tory remainers, Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and all the other remain parties will call a vote of no confidence and then form some kind of ’emergency’ GroKo under Clarke or Corbyn to cancel brexit or something.
        This Government will, of course, be entirely unstable and our prime-ministerial turnover shall approach positively Australian levels.

        • Deiseach says:

          our prime-ministerial turnover shall approach positively Australian levels

          I honestly don’t know if it would be worse or better if it achieved Italian levels of stability and permanence. But the idea that coming up to three years of faffing about, that the EU would put up with even more foot-dragging and delay for a general election/another referendum/the descent of the Archangel Gabriel with a message from God as to how to draw up a deal is bonkers; stay or go, and the UK has been insisting it’s going to go, but not doing it.

          There cannot be an infinite amount of indefinite “take your time to make up your mind” extended by the EU, and this “maybe if everyone forms a grab-bag alliance and we get them to promise to support Clarke and then we can undo the past three years worth of activity in order to go back to pre-2016 state as though nothing had happened” is pure fantasy.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “maybe if everyone forms a grab-bag alliance and we get them to promise to support Clarke and then we can undo the past three years worth of activity in order to go back to pre-2016 state as though nothing had happened” is pure fantasy.

            I don’t know; the EU would presumably be glad to avoid setting a precedent of countries leaving the Union, so if a British government came along saying “We’ve changed our mind, can we pretty please come back?” I think they’d say yes. The real problem with such a move, as I see it, is that it would be too controversial, and the government in question too weak, for there to be a credible commitment to actually stay in, since for all anybody knows the Brexit Party might sweep the next general election and leave anyway.

    • hls2003 says:

      Question from an outside observer: what would happen to UK society if Parliament, by some means, simply said “no more Brexit, sorry for wasting everyone’s time – we’ve decided it’s a bad idea and we aren’t doing it anymore.”

      I mean, I get that certain individual politicians would rise and fall. I’m too far outside to even know most of them. I’m just thinking more big-picture. Would there be full-on riots? A general election, either peaceful or marred by violence? A full-on party realignment, perhaps UKIP fully replacing the Tories? A collective yawn as the Brexiteer voters are too elderly to get out on the streets much? Calls to restore absolute monarchy? Other?

      It feels like just forthrightly stating “We believe the referendum reached the wrong result, and anyway should not have been held; we are therefore ignoring it from now on” ought to have some sort of society-shaking consequences, but Britain seems like a pretty politically jaded place in many ways, and maybe it wouldn’t amount to much.

      Since it’s postulating the future, of course it’s unknowable for sure, but I’d be interested in broad-brush guesses.

      • Protagoras says:

        I get the impression that by far the largest effect would be a number of political careers ending, or at least being seriously disrupted. Beyond that, I tend to agree that it probably wouldn’t be all that dramatic, but since the political careers in question are those of the people who would have to make the decision, that consequence is enough to make such a decision unlikely, and they’ll invent any other excuse to avoid it.

        • hls2003 says:

          It seems like the sort of thing you’d want to make someone else do. But it seems like the alternative of no-deal Brexit is seen as equally career-destroying (presumably why Parliament can’t get anything passed). Perhaps whichever happens first becomes the immediate evil to be defeated, so whichever unthinkable option (no-deal or null-referendum) happens second becomes more palatable by being further removed. I suppose that might be a version of the Boris Johnson gambit, where the Tories pick Johnson to sacrifice himself on the altar of no-deal so that they can later join to vote against the referendum (which a majority certainly wants to) to avoid immediate no-deal consequences.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I mean, I get that certain individual politicians would rise and fall. I’m too far outside to even know most of them. I’m just thinking more big-picture. Would there be full-on riots? A general election, either peaceful or marred by violence? A full-on party realignment, perhaps UKIP fully replacing the Tories? A collective yawn as the Brexiteer voters are too elderly to get out on the streets much? Calls to restore absolute monarchy? Other?

        Most likely a political realignment, although with the Brexit Party rather than UKIP as the main beneficiaries.

        • hls2003 says:

          Do you think, in such a scenario, anger at dust-binning the referendum result would likely be enough to propel the Brexit Party to convincing victory? Or would everyone just ignore the ugly procedure and vote based on their pre-existing pro- or con-Brexit stances?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Well, they managed to practically wipe out the Tories in the 2019 European Parliament elections less than four months after being founded, which is quite a big achievement. Admittedly EP elections are usually treated as “non-serious” by the British electorate, and hence a good opportunity for protest voting, but even if they don’t manage to supplant the Conservatives, I could easily see them splitting the vote enough to cause a Tory wipe-out, much as the Liberals ended up losing their status as a major political party in the 1920s.

  8. Plumber says:

    From The New York Times I just read How Medicine Became the Stealth Family-Friendly Profession

    “Female doctors are more likely than other professionals to have children and keep working. The reasons offer lessons for other jobs….”

    , which was interesting, and I'(d like to learn others opinions on the piece (for thr record, I’d like it if most everyone’s jobs were more “family-friendly” whether women, men, doctors, lawyers, butchers, bakers, or bricklayers, and get to have families while still in their 20’s would be nice as well, and also have ponies, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting).

    • Viliam says:

      If I type “I agree”, will I forever ruin my chances with Google?

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’m pretty sure the idea that all jobs should be “family-friendly” is squarely within the Google orthodoxy. Only getting down to the details of how that happens my change that. (And wanting ponies is definitely within the orthodoxy.)

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Right. If you want to pop down to the Googleplex Maternity Ward® on your lunch break to pop out a brat and deposit them in the Google Creche® to visit every other Thursday over coffee, then you’re gold.

          Now, if you want a family outside the loving embrace of the Google® campus, then you might run into trouble

          • The Nybbler says:

            Jokes aside, the Google Creche (or rather the day care, it was not actually called “Google Creche”) in Mountain View was actually so expensive that it strained the budget of Google engineers (sorry, I don’t remember the numbers), and also was very limited in enrollment. I don’t know if they still have it at all. Google has the generous maternity and paternity leave policies you’d expect from a Modern Progressive Corporation; as brad says they rely mostly on employee conscientiousness not to take more leave than working time. But Google is easily woke enough that any female engineer who wanted to take advantage of that would be reasonably assured of still having a job (though likely not good advancement prospects) once she was done having kids.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      People having children in their 20s increases the population far more significantly than if people have children in their 30s and 40s.

      Hypothetically let’s say that people live to 120, and each couple has two children (twins) born at 20 or 40, and all else held equal:

      Then for every 2 119 year olds you’ll have:
      2 – 119
      2 – 99
      2 – 79
      2 – 59
      2 – 39
      2 – 19 (pregnant with twins)
      for a total of 12 people

      or
      2 – 119
      2 – 79
      2 – 39 (pregnant with twins)
      for a total of 6 people.

      Spreading out the population seems like a good idea to me. Though there is the benefit of having equal numbers of working-age and retirement-age people in the first scenario.

    • quanta413 says:

      It was interesting, but the actual concrete details were not as encouraging as I had hoped. The average hours worked by all female doctors under 45 was 48 hours, and not a single profession they showed on the graph had people working less than 40 hours on average. Of course, some people will work less than 40 if the average is 40, but…

      And at least one person in the piece had flexibility and a nanny. Pretty sure that’s not going to be widely available to people below the upper class.

      So I feel like what I’ve learned is that if you spend an extra 5-10 years to enter a profession controlled by a powerful professional guild (the AMA) and with restricted entrance, you can now have a lucrative career and children starting at age 30-40. I guess that’s better than not having that option if you want big bucks and kids, but if you want to have more than 2 kids that’s still pretty meh.

      I think getting an engineering degree of some sort is still actually a more plausible path to being moderately wealthy and having kids in your 20s. You’ll be done with school at 21 or 22 instead of 26 or 27, you’ll have no residencies and although you won’t be paid as well as a specialist doctor pay is pretty good for a lot of engineers. And a lot of engineering jobs aren’t going to require being on call. Some may even allow for doing part of your work remotely.

      But if you want lots of kids, reverting to the traditional arrangement of Dad works and Mom stays home and takes care of the brood still seems like the most efficient choice. Short of being so rich you can hire round the clock servants. Theoretically you could switch Dad and Mom’s role, but in practice that’s much less convenient for various biological reasons.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I think getting an engineering degree of some sort is still actually a more plausible path to being moderately wealthy and having kids in your 20s. You’ll be done with school at 21 or 22 instead of 26 or 27, you’ll have no residencies and although you won’t be paid as well as a specialist doctor pay is pretty good for a lot of engineers. And a lot of engineering jobs aren’t going to require being on call. Some may even allow for doing part of your work remotely.

        But if you want lots of kids, reverting to the traditional arrangement of Dad works and Mom stays home and takes care of the brood still seems like the most efficient choice. Short of being so rich you can hire round the clock servants. Theoretically you could switch Dad and Mom’s role, but in practice that’s much less convenient for various biological reasons.

        +2
        I didn’t do either the first or second paragraph in my 20s for… reasons, but rationally they check out.

      • brad says:

        Between generous maternal leave policies and reluctance to fire returning mothers, I bet a women that worked for a FAANG out of school and started having her 3-4 kids at 26-27 could earn millions more in a ‘repeatedly go out on leave and then return and do the bare minimum vs a ‘quit before the first child strategy.

        Plus if you do finally quit after you’ve used all the leaves you want to use (and before being pushed out) your resume looks that much better if you decide you want to go back after the youngest hits grade school.

        The problem with this strategy is the people it would benefit mostly have too much conscientiousness to pull it off.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I have a notion that in general, the world is more dependent on people’s conscientiousness than it’s willing to appreciate.

        • baconbits9 says:

          My wife doesn’t work for a FAANG level company, but she does work for a tech that has quality maternal leave, and she has taken 3 of them in the 7 years she has worked there. It is obviously very difficult to promote someone who is doing this (and by this I don’t mean taking advantage intentionally, I just mean someone going on maternal leave).

          My wife was promoted while 6-7 months pregnant with our 3rd child, and it was very difficult for her, us and the company. Once she was on leave a choice had to be made between filling open positions on her teams without significant input
          or not filling them, and major directional decisions had to be made without her around. These sound small but she ended up going back to work being 3 months behind in understanding what was going on (significant in tech companies), with multiple open positions that she had to fill, and she was behind on sleep, and had to breastfeed/pump while working 50-60 hour weeks to catch up.

          From the other side the rest of her team had to pick up her slack from not being there, and pick up the slack from the open positions that weren’t filled, train the people for the open position that was filled and do so without their manager. This lead to some attrition that meant more open positions, more work for everyone and more training. 7 months later and things are starting to calm down and she is back to 45+ hour work weeks.

          It can be done, but it is far from optimal and you have to expect as a person that if you are taking long absences for any reason that the company is going to be reluctant to increase your responsibilities.

          • brad says:

            That’s part of what I was trying to get at. If you lean in five years and quite deliberately coast to the point of not quite fired it is probably optimal from your family’s perspective. But whether or not it is an immoral strategy, which I think is a tougher question than it seems at first glance, it certainly *feels* like you are acting like a sociopath. So most well adjusted people aren’t going to be able to do it. They’ll instead stress themselves out trying their best.

    • Anthony says:

      At the other end of the economic scale, jobs which don’t pay more than about 50% more than the cost of childcare are also family-friendly, as they allow the parent to quit and stay home with the kid without any financial loss.

  9. BBA says:

    Today in weird corporate mergers: Hasbro is buying Death Row Records.

    (This is being reported elsewhere as Hasbro buying Peppa Pig, which makes a lot more sense. Both owned by Entertainment One Ltd, which is one of those Canadian media companies that nobody outside Canada has heard of.)

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Paying $4 billion for this company, same as Disney paid for Marvel or for Lucasarts?
      Popular number in the media industry these days.

  10. Hoopyfreud says:

    Reported to help ensure deletion.

  11. Hoopyfreud says:

    The following facts about the International Dota 2 Championships, which are concluding tonight, are true:

    The bracket is double elimination, which should decrease the variance in results.

    No player has won more than once.

    Only one player guaranteed top 3 has competed in all nine iterations of the tournament (and won once).

    One of the teams guaranteed top 3 started in the lower bracket of the tournament.

    One of the remaining teams has players who have never won. One of the other teams won last year with the exact same lineup.

    A Peruvian team (with one Bolivian) made it to top 8. Every other year a South American team qualified, they went out in the first round.

    90 of the game’s 115 heroes have been played in the main event. 112 heroes have been played in the tournament as a whole.

    All of this seems INCREDIBLY impressive to me. It’s rare that you see a game that’s so dynamic. Are there any other sports or esports where this sort of diversity appears over a whole decade? I can’t think of any.

    In the words of a grand finalist:

    Dota’s just a great game. You can do a million things and… everything CAN work.

    • Malarious says:

      Yeah, it’s quite impressive. I do really enjoy playing Dota; the space of total viable actions is just so massive, and while much of it feels like a game of incremental advantages and ruthless optimization, a single bad call or brilliant strategy from the enemy team can flip the situation in a second — and this happens at every level of play, too.

      An example: last night I played vs. Techies, a hero that places invisible mines that can be stacked and deal enough damage to oneshot an entire team if they happen to stand in the right spot. He can detonate them even if he’s dead, so with enough setup time, he’s incredibly effective at defending his team’s base, and it’s quite hard to counter. Our team didn’t have the overwhelming advantage required to push the high ground, and we lost one teamfight due to Techies mines already — the game was a stalemate. We had the enemy team locked in their base, but we couldn’t do anything else — losing one of our carries to cleverly placed mines would possibly lose us the game. So, I took advantage of an Illusion Rune that randomly spawns: it creates 2 illusions of your hero which are indistinguishable from the real one, until you attack them, at which point it becomes obvious that they aren’t real, since they take 300% more damage. Furthermore, I had an item which produced 2 temporary illusions. Crucially, the enemy was aware of this item. I used the item in their vision, sent the two illusions up to the high ground to die, and led the enemies to believe I had no more illusions. Then, I backed up out of enemy vision, and brought forward one of the illusions from the rune. I had our Wisp tether to it, which provides numerous buffs, including damage reduction, and moved it up onto the high ground. The enemy techies player thought this was my real hero (after all, he saw me use my other illusions already and the item should still be on cooldown, and the Wisp player was buffing it) and he immediately detonated his mines, killing the illusion. Without any mines, the rest of our team could safely move up onto the high ground and fight the enemy in their base: their Techies player had thrown away their major advantage. We won the ensuing fight, and then the match.

      Obviously, my friends and I aren’t ultra high skill elite Dota players, and the Techies player wasn’t very good (he could’ve waited for the rest of his team to kill the illusion, he could’ve reasoned that it might be an illusion from a rune) but it was a fun strategy to execute and pull off, and it was satisfying when it worked, and the entire game is filled with moments like that. The sheer number of game mechanics that exist, and the complexity of player behavior makes it so interesting. Sure, you can read your opponent and come up with strategies in every game, but for some reason, Dota’s the only one I can put over a thousand hours into.

  12. Conrad Honcho says:

    Everyone has given you good advice even though you asked for no advice, but I just want to give you a big penguin headpat because you’re a good guy trying to do good. Hang in there man.

  13. brad says:

    You and whoever it was that posted the “I’m miserable because of the conclusions I’m drawing from all these far right blog posts” a few months back have basically the same problem with the same solution.

    I wouldn’t say the internet is toxic for everyone, I think there’s more than a bit of Luddite in the full on “screen time” position, but it’s clearly toxic for some non-trivial percent of the population.

    Both you and the world will be fine if you don’t have at your finger tips all the details of the latest thing that’s “going on” and encyclopedic knowledge of all the various opinions on whatever the tastemakers decided we should have strongly held opinions about this week.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Just to get into the whole Christian morality thing, there’s the bit in the Screwtape Letters when the heroes are very glad The Patient is enraptured with far away goings on in politics and ignoring his mother.

      BBA, maybe you don’t have to save the world, you can just save somebody?

      A few years ago I got involved with a program for tutoring young men who had been involved with the prison system but are now going to college and trying to turn their lives around. I taught math and physics. No pay, all volunteer. And I didn’t tell anybody I was doing it, not friends not family. But whenever I would get down about the state of the world and those voices would say “Well Conrad, what the hell did you ever do to help?” I could point to those specific individuals. I can name names of men who wouldn’t have the success and the positive contributions to society they do today without me.

      So, BBA, maybe like brad says, ignore the latest media sensation and find something good to do near you. The little tragedies need just as much help as the big ones. More, really, because no one’s paying any attention to them.

      • eric23 says:

        Whenever I’m down, I remind myself of the approximate amount I have donate to the Against Malaria Foundation, and the approximate number of lives I have saved.

      • Deiseach says:

        the bit in the Screwtape Letters when the heroes are very glad

        Conrad Honcho – the devils are the heroes? I think you meant something else there 🙂

    • albatross11 says:

      Brad: +1

  14. Deiseach says:

    All this was going on while I was there, and I had no idea.

    Welcome to the club, this is what it’s been like being a Catholic when the first major stories about abuse came out.

    This sounds a bit over-the-top but how can I dismiss her as a conspiracy-monger when there’s already been a massive conspiracy exposed?

    Because a bad thing being true does not mean every accusation is true, and a “conspiracy” like that is more easily explained by good old sexism rather than “every single scientist since Thales was actually a paedophile, that’s why no women”

    nothing’s going to change at all until we smash the patriarchy

    Even if you can identify a Patriarchy to smash, this won’t do away with evil. Women can be abusers. Non-straight people can be abusers. Non-white, non-cis, people can be abusers. Every category of person can be an abuser. Smash the patriarchy and I guarantee, in the new gender-neutral non-binary world, someone is still going to want to fuck minors. This is humanity. All we can do is say “no, despite all your attempts to say ‘it’s an orientation’, it’s still wrong and we won’t make it legal”, and deal with the people who do it anyway and the victims.

    So I’m morally compelled to go full SJW

    No you’re not, see above re: smashing any -ism, -chy or -ny. Again, I guarantee you that in whatever organisation devoted to doing the right thing, somebody has done something dodgy. There is no pure, perfect ideology where everyone has no dubious background and has never done anything bad ever. You’re obligated to be a decent person and if you know about bad things to report them or tell someone in authority or register your opposition to going along with “c’mon man, everybody has to schmooze the wealthy for grants and funding, what harm to go to a party and nod along when the rich guy tells you his wacky theory in return for getting a shit ton of money for the department?”

    I can’t shake the notion that this is just putting my head in the sand, the kind of behavior that created this quandary in the first place.

    You can only do so much, and if you know what is going on. You are also not obligated to beat yourself up over “I should have known, I should have done something, I should be out there day and night looking for conspiracies and badness”. Do what good you can in the world, avoid doing harm, and don’t twist yourself into knots.

  15. onyomi says:

    Even assuming the worst-case-scenario with respect to the upper echelons of STEM academia, I’m not really sure how you get from there to

    as a person with pale skin and a penis I belong to the classes of people who are responsible for everything wrong with society today.

    Is keeping women out of the top tiers of STEM in order to cover for an underage sex ring the core of “everything wrong with society today”? Even a central-ish example?

  16. Plumber says:

    @BBA says:

    “…So I’m morally compelled to go full SJW. But I don’t like being an SJW – it’s painful carrying around the constant knowledge that as a person with pale skin and a penis I belong to the classes of people who are responsible for everything wrong with society today…”

    “Everything”? Maybe more than our share but I really doubt everything, regardless here’s what I did:
    Find someone without “pale skin and a penis”, do what you can to house them, love them, and help raise their kids, while the problems of a few little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world it’s something (and trying to fight all of the injustice in the world as like trying to empty the ocean with a teacup).

    Otherwise, just like a hundred years ago, despite their flaws I still judge the Catholic church and labor unions as probably the organizations that most promote social justice, but they’re plenty of others working to תיקון עולם‎ (“tikkun olam”) so some volunteer hours (if you may spare some) are a fine idea, just please don’t try to “punch a Nazi” and find you have instead assaulted an immigrant from Syria (perhaps the best way to avoid such an act is not to try to punch anyone in the first place) also ten years after most everyone it seems, I joined Facebook this month, and while seeing what old friends are doing is interesting, many send political messages, which are pretty damn tiresome, I already read newspapers to see things along those lines and I don’t need any “shares”, and if your idea of being “full SJW” is “online activism” please just don’t bother, and I think demonstrations and protest marches are largely a waste of time as well, instead (if you feel you must ‘do something’) go precinct walking door to door and talk to the older people who actually vote (and don’t do any phone banking, it feels soul crushingly futile).

    FWLIW, reading something in the news this last month started me feeling down as well so you’re not alone.

    • blipnickels says:

      I joined Facebook this month

      FWLIW, reading something in the news this last month started me feely down as well so you’re not alone.

      I mean, I know correlation isn’t causation but…

      • Plumber says:

        @blipnickels,

        Nah, the downward mood spiral started first, I joined Facebook to try to arrest it, and in one case it worked: an old friend who I feared would have O.D.’d and died in a ditch was instead married in 2015, got diagnosed for being bi-polar, and is looking well and happy, which was heartening.
        What was interesting was how many old friends became teachers, what’s annoying is how many send political messages, but it did help me see the truth of much of the SSC commetariat complaints

  17. Xeni Jardin (also ex-Media Lab) has been on a tear on Twitter these past few days, documenting the deep connections between Jeffrey Epstein, STEM academia in general, and the Media Lab in particular, and I can’t look away.

    One thing I find interesting is the zeal to blame “STEM” for these issues. Epstein gave money to STEM, but his industry was finance, yet you don’t see finance guys wringing their hands about it. Similarly, people saw the Ellen Pao-Kleiner Perkins lawsuit in terms of “STEM” rather than finance, despite the fact that it concerned a finance company, albeit one heavily invested in tech. STEM attracts a different crowd from finance, if you know what I mean.

    If someone’s giving you money and free trips to the Caribbean, you’re not going to ask questions about who these “young women” he surrounds himself with are.

    One thing you have to keep in mind is that most of this occurred before 2005, when relationships between older men and college-age women were not regarded as inherently sinful. So when people saw women who looked around 18 years old, they didn’t think to say anything.

    active efforts to keep women out and prevent the pedophilia rings that dominate the top levels of every field from being exposed. This sounds a bit over-the-top but how can I dismiss her as a conspiracy-monger when there’s already been a massive conspiracy exposed? And of course there are other Epsteins operating in plain sight, everyone knows, nobody says anything, and nothing’s going to change at all until we smash the patriarchy.

    What conspiracy? Everyone acts like a conspiracy has been revealed, but all I see is the already-known-about of wrongdoing by Epstein, some evidence of wrongdoing by Maxwell, and allegations that some prominent men like Prince Andrew may have had sex with underage girls while unaware they were underage. I personally don’t find the last group very blameworthy. What if you rephrase the conspiracy to be, instead of a male conspiracy, a Jewish conspiracy to keep gentiles out of the financial industry in order to prevent them from exposing the Jewish pedophile conspiracy? Epstein was Jewish, but I’d think your response would be that in that case, his membership in a demographic group has absolutely no relationship to his crimes.

    I’m an atheist Jew

    Aliyah? The political worldview of atheist Jews in Israel seems to differ quite dramatically from that of atheist Jews in New York for some reason.

  18. Machine Interface says:

    When a consistent application of your morality seemingly leads you to a path toward self-annihilation, it’s time to seriously consider embracing a nihilistic, anti-realist worldview.

    I’m not joking or saying that lightly. Going full moral anti-realist has made 90%+ my self-loathing disappear almost overnight.

  19. BBA says:

    @all:

    I recognize that I’m too angry to think straight and none of what I’m saying makes any sense. But if I was thinking straight years ago, I’d had to have reached the obvious conclusion that I wasn’t surrounded by people who knew about and condoned child abuse when I was at building E15, and yet here we are. I mean, shit, we had fundraisers there, it’s very possible I was in the same room with Epstein himself. If I had gotten my shit together and stayed on for a Ph.D. who knows what I’d have gotten involved in. I think freaking out is justified in these circumstances, no?

    Of course I don’t want to jump off the deep end, and find myself in the nonsensical conclusion that the Satanist daycares of the 1980s were real because I have to believe all victims. But “good judgment” and “common sense” would’ve led me astray here, which is getting me all paranoid about what else I don’t know I don’t know about.

    I’m probably misrepresenting Ms. Jardin’s views. I know her mainly as a writer for BoingBoing.net which is about as reputable as a group blog gets. She has longer pieces on the debacle there that are a lot less “Pepe Silvia” than I’m making her sound.

    Yes, I’ve discussed this privately elsewhere (with varying degrees of understanding).

    • quanta413 says:

      Not exactly comforting, but even though Epstein was a guy who not only engaged in his skeezy and immoral proclivities to the detriment of many girls and women and also probably collected kompromat on people who joined in with him, you were extremely unlikely to be a target/invited. Just judging by your temperament here, not even your actual views.

      That most people are kind of average rather than terrible is why it can be hard to detect who is actively bad if they put some effort into maintaining deniability. Although it seems like some people who are more actively immoral have some sort of second sense for who they can induct into their circles.

    • “But if I was thinking straight years ago, I’d had to have reached the obvious conclusion that I wasn’t surrounded by people who knew about and condoned child abuse when I was at building E15”

      And that would have been the correct conclusion to reach.

      • But if I was thinking straight years ago, I’d had to have reached the obvious conclusion that I wasn’t surrounded by people who knew about and condoned child abuse when I was at building E15, and yet here we are.

        I haven’t been following the story very closely, but it looks from a quick Google as though all that is established is that Epstein donated some money to the media lab.

        One woman claims to have had sex with Minsky, along with a very long list of other prominent people, but that was in the context of a civil case that settled, so the truth of her claims was never established.

        • Tarpitz says:

          It’s not even clear she claims that, as far as I can tell. I’ve only seen it reported that she claims she was told to have sex with Minsky, not that she did, and a third party has explicitly stated that Minsky turned her down.

    • John Schilling says:

      But if I was thinking straight years ago, I’d had to have reached the obvious conclusion that I wasn’t surrounded by people who knew about and condoned child abuse when I was at building E15.

      Right. That’s because you weren’t surrounded by people who knew about and condoned child abuse when you were at building E15. Only the people who actually attended Epstein’s wilder parties fall into that category, and not necessarily even all of them. That’s almost certainly a very tiny fraction of the MIT Media Lab – particularly post-2008.

      I mean, shit, we had fundraisers there, it’s very possible I was in the same room with Epstein himself. If I had gotten my shit together and stayed on for a Ph.D. who knows what I’d have gotten involved in.

      You’d have been asked to go to fundraisers and other relatively sedate parties with people who were also going to wild parties, and that’s about it. Epstein wasn’t throwing underage girls at the entire MIT Media Lab; he was throwing underage girls at people important enough to be worth blackmailing and worth the risk of exposure. And he was almost certainly using the sedate parties to select candidates who would be particularly receptive to the wild parties. If someone else now moves into that niche despite the increased scrutiny, they’ll have to be even more selective.

      By your description of yourself, probably nobody was going to ever invite you to one of the wild parties, and if they did Epstein certainly wasn’t going to waste prime jailbait on you. You’re not important enough, and you don’t come off as lecherous enough (at least if your persona here is any indication).

      The same goes for most of your colleagues at MIT, which is why you weren’t ” surrounded by people who knew about and condoned child abuse” and really shouldn’t be denegrating them in that way.

      I think freaking out is justified in these circumstances, no?

      You’re basically freaking out about the prospect of being in the same room as an ex-con who had done his time, and/or in the same room as other people who were in the same room as an ex-con who had done his time and weren’t themselves freaking out about it. So I’m going to go with a big “No” on that one. That may be distasteful, but it isn’t freak-out-worthy.

      • acymetric says:

        I think a simplified version could be: there are bad people who do bad things in every place and every field. That you now know specifically about such a person in a field you are connected to should not change your view of yourself or the field generally.

  20. DinoNerd says:

    One very common fallacy is that all people in the same category are the same. Grant for the moment that this conspiracy is real, and that all participants are both white and male. That doesn’t mean that you have been doing the same thing, or even that you’d be any more likely than anyone else to do the same thing, all other things being equal.

    But I don’t like being an SJW – it’s painful carrying around the constant knowledge that as a person with pale skin and a penis I belong to the classes of people who are responsible for everything wrong with society today.

    This attitude is bullshit, even if members of that class were responsible for everything wrong with society today.

    What makes sense for someone in your position is
    (a) Be aware that this kind of thing is going on. Don’t get sucked in. Avoid enabling it.
    (b) Don’t discard your critical thinking skills.
    (c) Avoid – to the extent you can – partaking in the fallacy. You aren’t the same as some social skills maven who failed every math class he ever took. Maybe you are more like some black female child prodigy with limited social skills.

    You can be against bad behaviour of all kinds, without being against everyone who looks like a badly behaved person – or even everyone that various evil doers identify with.

    There are, unfortunately, plenty of badly behaved people either making SJW claims, or simply belonging to categories current SJW folks tend to favour. Their existence doesn’t make e.g. Epstein any better. Both sides can be wrong – can even be evil – or at least have some evil members. Indeed, what would be amazing to me would be if any group big enough to be noticed didn’t have evil members.

    You don’t have to join either side, and you certainly don’t have to take on board ridiculous beliefs just because someone on “your” side insists on them.

  21. John Schilling says:

    @BBA: I sympathize with your discovery that you weren’t cut out for the academic path that you set out on, and hope you can find a different path that plays to your strengths and inspires more motivated effort. That’s got to be rough. However, you talk about choosing between morality and sanity, and I fear you are being tempted by a path that will end with neither.

    Jardin is suggesting that the lack of women in STEM isn’t just misogyny (let alone “pipeline effects” or “differing interests” or whatever sorry excuse the misogynists have this week) but active efforts to keep women out and prevent the pedophilia rings that dominate the top levels of every field from being exposed.

    She’s wrong. And you’ve been around here long enough to know that she’s wrong, and to know how to go about verifying that she’s wrong.

    This sounds a bit over-the-top but how can I dismiss her as a conspiracy-monger when there’s already been a massive conspiracy exposed

    Are you referring to the Catholic church’s sex scandals here? Because that really was a massive conspiracy, and I’ve commented here before on how surprising and unprecedented that was. So, did you react to the Catholic church’s sex scandals by deciding that, since one conspiracy theory was proven true, all related sex-abuse conspiracy theories must also be true and that you must devote yourself to bringing down all of them? And if not, then why would the relatively pathetic “conspiracy” of Jeffrey Epstein have such an effect?

    You can dismiss Jardin as a conspiracy-monger on the basis that the conspiracy she mongers is inadequately supported by the evidence she offer. You can dismiss Jardin as a conspiracy-monger because “X scary, X is true, and an all-powerful cabal hides all evidence of X” has two more unnecessary assumptions than “X is scary”, and so no rational person attempting to persuade other rational people would offer such an argument without substantial supporting evidence.

    So I’m morally compelled to go full SJW.

    And also hard right, right? Because Pizzagate is a conspiracy theory similar enough to Epstein that you can’t dismiss it, nor can you count on your fellow SJWs to defeat it that because too many of the alleged conspirators are on the pro-SJ side. So you’re going to have to do both, and that’s absolutely not going to work.

    Here’s the deal: I think you’re smart enough to know better, but I think you are intellectually adrift and vulnerable due to having had the rug of a comfortable career path jerked out from underneath you, and are being unreasonably receptive to anyone offering a new purpose for your life. Pizzagate, you rightfully dismissed as nonsense, the Catholic sexual abuse conspiracy you recognized as unique in its scope, and you’d have kept Epstein in the proper sense of proportion as well at any other time in your life. But Jardin comes along at just the right time to offer you what superficially seems to be a righteous crusade to replace what you have lost, and you don’t examine her claims as closely as you otherwise would.

    Maybe I’m wrong about that, but it’s my best guess as to what I am seeing. And if so, you’re doomed. As you have yourself noted, you’re not cut out to be an SJW. It doesn’t sit right with you, which will be a problem when it comes to committing 100% to the cause. Social Justice demands 100% commitment, and it eats its own when they don’t measure up. You know this. If you ask, they will offer you a comfortable place to recover from your recent loss in exchange for your enthusiastic support for the current phase of the current crusade, but you won’t be able to keep it up and it will not end well for you.

    I don’t have a better path for you, one that will bring meaning and happiness to your life while being a better match for your skills and drive than was the Media Lab. But I’m pretty sure this isn’t it either. Do please keep trying.

  22. Protagoras says:

    I have an anecdote relevant to this. I am reluctant to repeat any details because people might try to guess who I’m talking about, which I’m not sure I want even if they guess right. And I certainly don’t want anyone guessing wrong and developing a negative opinion about perfectly innocent people. So I will only say that I know of a case in academia which, while not involving anyone underage, otherwise suspiciously pattern-matches the Jardin theory you mention of badly behaving men deliberately trying to avoid having more women around for fear of their bad behavior being exposed. And the case I’m thinking of isn’t MIT. I would like to think this isn’t common, but it seems to be a thing that happens in some cases.

  23. Reasoner says:

    “In my fund-raising efforts for M.I.T. Media Lab, I invited him to the lab and visited several of his residences,” Mr. Ito said in the statement. “I want you to know that in all of my interactions with Epstein, I was never involved in, never heard him talk about and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of.”

    Source

    Is there any reason to believe Ito’s claim is false?

    Some say folks should’ve been suspicious of the young women Epstein was surrounded by. However, I feel like if they assumed that young women at a science event indicated something untoward, that would be considered sexist in a different way, don’t you think? We’ve heard many times about how it’s inappropriate to assume a woman at a tech conference is anything but a software engineer. By similar logic, isn’t it inappropriate to assume a young woman at a science event is anything but a young science enthusiast?

    I was sad to learn about Marvin Minsky though.

    • BBA says:

      Is there any reason to believe Ito’s claim is false?

      Yes. In particular, that Ito met with Epstein well after the 2008 charges against him were common knowledge. Maybe he’s technically telling the truth, that his relationship with Epstein was “pure business” but doing business with a known predator is damning enough.

      • but doing business with a known predator is damning enough.

        As best I understand the story, what Epstein pled guilty to was having sex with a prostitute — the charge wasn’t statutory rape, although I believe the woman in question was in fact underage.

        Do you think that doing business with someone known to have been convicted of having sex with a prostitute is damning?

      • albatross11 says:

        FWIW, I didn’t know who Epstein was until the current iteration of the story came up. It seems plausible that many other people may have just mapped him to “big money donor we have to entertain today to get some cash” and didn’t try to research him in-depth.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If I saw young women surrounding an old rich guy, I’d assume the same thing I’d assume if the rich guy was Hugh Hefner (well, when he was alive): that that the relationship was mercenary. Is that sort of behavior enough to refuse to take money from a guy? I would guess for most fundraisers… probably not.

      I was sad to learn about Marvin Minsky though.

      Gregory Benford on Minsky:

      Typical Crap Journalism from NYT:

      “In a deposition unsealed this month, a woman testified that, as a teenager, she was told to have sex with Marvin Minsky, a pioneer in artificial intelligence, on Mr. Epstein’s island in the Virgin Islands. Mr. Minsky, who died in 2016 at 88, was a founder of the Media Lab in the mid-1980s.”

      Note, never says what happened. If Marvin had done it, she would say so. I know; I was there. Minsky turned her down. Told me about it. She saw us talking and didn’t approach me.

  24. mustacheion says:

    I’m with you man.

    I was also a child prodigy that found great success early in life to be so easy that I didn’t need to develop good life skills, and so when I got to grad school I didn’t really have the interpersonal skills I needed to do research, and so ended up dropping out with an MA.

    There are many conspiracies, and some of them are true. But conspiracies are also independent; just because one conspiracy is true does not mean others are. Each has to be evaluated on its own footing. The Epstein conspiracy required there to be just one extremely charming guy who was able to manipulate a handful of people into not seeing something they didn’t want to see in the first place. It isn’t that far fetched. And it was true. But the Jardin conspiracy you are describing requires vastly more people to coordinate in a much more complicated fashion for a much more nebulous goal. Just because the one is true does not mean the other is true, or even that it is more likely.

    But the world is in a pretty bad place. What to do about it? Well, I don’t really know, but here is what I think has happened.

    A hundred and fifty years ago, the world sucked pretty bad for almost everybody. But pretty much everybody also had really low expectations, pretty much accepted that things were pretty bad and unfair and didn’t worry too much about it. But around seventy years ago, technological change was advancing so rapidly that people started to become wildly optimistic. Everybody started to develop much greater expectations of prosperity, and rightly so.

    But then came Moloch. I believe that today’s economy is incredibly inefficient, not because somebody bad did something bad, but because lots of mediocre people are constantly going about being mediocre. Our world is so full of fakery. So many fakers go around faking competence that nobody can even tell who is faking and who really knows what they are doing. I think the technology that we have right now has the capability of providing a prosperous life for every person on earth right now, without undue burden on the environment. But our mediocre bureaucracy ends up stifling that promise.

    And so these days everybody (rightly) believes that it should be possible for their lives to be prosperous. They have high expectations about their quality of life. But reality isn’t matching up to their expectations and nobody can quite put a finger on why. And so there is much anger and unrest. The fact of the matter is that we are all stuck together in a bad equilibrium. The techbros believe in the power of technology, but are naive about the necessary grinding burden of bureaucracy. SJWs know the techbros are naive but they can’t really see a path toward material abundance, and so they assume that the world is zero sum and resort to identity conflict.

    I fall more into the techbro camp. Though I believe that our existing tech overlords have been eaten by the bureaucracy, and I don’t have much faith in them any longer. I think SJWs are good people at heart, I think that I want to live in the same world they do, and I hope that they succeed in making the world a better place. But I really dislike their tactics and rhetoric, so much so that I cannot possibly ally with them.

    So what do I do to keep myself sane? I am working on low-tech. I am working on what I believe are simple and overlooked ways of accomplishing industrial tasks that could under-grid a novel society in harsh, marginal terrain with the hope of one day being able to break off from Western Civilization and build a wholly new society. It probably won’t work, but the aspiration keeps me sane. Anybody wanna help?

    • Lambert says:

      Which industrial tasks?

      I’ve no interest in Building the Galt Option or anything, but I’m always up for doing things that everyone expects to be impossible.

      • mustacheion says:

        I am focusing sunlight with lenses to generate heat. Lenses have some advantages and some disadvantages compared to mirrors, but very few people are trying them and I think they have potential. The heat could be used to generate electricity, but I am more interested in alternate options, like purifying/desalinating water via distillation, which is way too energy intensive to be competitive when your energy source is electricity or fossil fuel, but which might become competitive if you can mass produce tons of low-intensity essentially free heat from sunlight. Slightly more optimistic, I think I can use the heat to extract useful petrochemical feed stocks like methanol from biomass or perhaps even municipal garbage. And very optimistic: perhaps I can get enough concentration that I will be able to reach high enough temperatures that I can manufacture cement clinker or even run a metal foundry. Probably not, but that is the stretch goal.

        • Lambert says:

          Cool.
          I’m assuming you’re using fresnel lenses to get them big enough without requiring a tonne of glass.

          Getting something useful from biomass sounds cool. Lots of heating/cooking in India is done off methane released by decomposing manure.

  25. blipnickels says:

    I haven’t got a point here, and I’m not looking for advice. I just wanted to get all this off my chest.

    Ok. This does sound pretty messed up.

    Might I suggest you vent/discuss this with family or close friends in a private setting. Venting and potentially doxing yourself about CW stuff on the internet is…sub-optimal, especially if social skills aren’t your forte.

    I don’t know if you can delete this or edit it out but that’s probably the best choice for you.

    • Enkidum says:

      This is orders of magnitude more paranoid than one needs to be.

      Saying that one was once, years ago, a member of an organization some of whose members were once possibly involved with some nefarious shit is saying that one is a human in the modern world.

      To a first approximation, nobody cares. No one is going to use this comment as ammunition against BBA. Despite the well-documented misuses of quotations by internet hate mobs… there’s a lot that needs to happen before this supposed pile on occurs. We’re good.

      Also, BBA really doesn’t sound messed up. Just slightly confused, and prone to over-dramatizing situations. He’ll be fine. Or he won’t. But this post won’t make a difference either way.

  26. eigenmoon says:

    This sounds a bit over-the-top but how can I dismiss her as a conspiracy-monger when there’s already been a massive conspiracy exposed?
    Do you also feel that you can’t dismiss Alex Jones now? And if you can dismiss AJ, why not Xeni?

    nothing’s going to change at all until we smash the patriarchy
    I’ve no idea what it is exactly that you propose to do, but are you sure that criminals will be unable to do crimes afterwards?

    So I’m morally compelled to go full SJW.
    Assuming that your goal is to create an SJW world, and seeing increasing backlash of people who won’t like living in an SJW world, is it obvious that adding a new SJW would bring your goal closer?

    • blipnickels says:

      Do you also feel that you can’t dismiss Alex Jones now? And if you can dismiss AJ, why not Xeni?

      This, but without the snark. Lots of people are spinning the Epstien thing for their own ends. I’m not saying don’t update your priors, because the Epstien thing is shocking, especially if you had semi-personal connections to it, but:

      #1 Make sure you update all you priors for all the people who called this. I’m not saying you have to believe AJ now, but if Xeni is more credible and AJ isn’t then you might not be updating your priors properly on this evidence.
      #2 Same for traditional Christian morality. Lots of people called this or spun this, why does Xeni stand out? Because she tweeted?
      #3 Make sure you don’t enter a filter bubble before a few months have passed. This information may appear more or less important in 2-3 months.

  27. Matt C says:

    > I find myself having to choose between morality and sanity.

    Before I read any of the rest of this, I thought, “choose sanity”.

    > Jardin is suggesting that the lack of women in STEM isn’t just misogyny (let alone “pipeline effects” or “differing interests” or whatever sorry excuse the misogynists have this week) but active efforts to keep women out and prevent the pedophilia rings that dominate the top levels of every field from being exposed. This sounds a bit over-the-top but how can I dismiss her as a conspiracy-monger when there’s already been a massive conspiracy exposed?

    Was she already claiming this before the Epstein scandal broke?

    Because someone who comes up with a conspiracy theory that dovetails in with the latest surprising news after the fact is probably just talking shit.

    Ok, I looked a little (a little) at her Twitter. Of course Epstein had confederates. How is this an indictment against the entire STEM field? (I didn’t even see her claiming that, myself, but I usually bounce off Twitter pretty quick, and this was no exception, so maybe it’s in there somewhere.)

    It looks to me that you’re pretty deep in a bubble where you’re seeing things very differently than most people. (I think things are both better, and worse, than you seem to think they are.) I don’t think you need to rethink your life or your moral stances because of what happened.

    Sorry that you were sort of adjacent to some ugly stuff. Didn’t you post about this earlier also? Clearly it’s upsetting you quite a bit. You didn’t do anything wrong and there’s nothing you should have done differently. I hope venting helped some, and I hope you feel better soon.

  28. Enkidum says:

    There are those of us who go, to use your phrasing, partial SJW.

    I know plenty of women in academia with horror stories, and there are whisper networks surrounding various prominent men who go to conferences. It’s definitely morally wrong to ignore that.

    But, you know, you don’t have to be a member of the twitterati to live a decent life that is cognizant of the various risks faced to a greater degree by people from different demographic groups.

    Be there for people who need you. Don’t tolerate evil. But also, you know, try not to be annoying.

    • albatross11 says:

      Indeed, there are some of us who argue against SJW ideas in the abstract, but go out of our way to encourage and support female colleagues (especially younger ones) in our heavily-male-dominated field.

      Very often, I agree with what I perceive as the SJW complaint about how the world looks, but disagree with their apparent model of what causes it and how to fix it. For example, a model that says that the men are keeping the women out to prevent them finding out about the underage prostitutes at the wild sex parties runs into some pretty big plausibility problems for someone like me, who has spent his whole career in a male-dominated tech field without running into any of the wild sex parties or underage prostitutes. (Or overage prostitutes, for that matter.)

      Plenty of women have horror stories about various kinds of sexual harassment in the tech field, but I don’t think that’s more common in our field than in most others. Sexual harassment seems to me to mainly be about power differentials across lines of sexual attraction–when I have a lot of power over you and I want sex from you, there’s an opportunity for something ranging anywhere from a perfectly consensual relationship that looks sketchy from outside, to uncomfortable jokes and actions that you have to put up with, all the way to Weinstein-style “put out of you’re fired” ultimata. I think such power differentials are relatively common in academia (where an advisor can have a really huge amount of power over his/her students), but less so in technology jobs (where the employees are likely to have some reasonable options elsewhere if the boss won’t stop brushing up against them in the elevator and staring at their tits during meetings).

  29. Deiseach says:

    To understand what I’m about to link, there’s a Gaelic Football Final on 1st September between the teams of Dublin and Kerry. Dublin are seeking to make it a win five times in a row. Kerry are out to stop them. Now that’s out of the way:

    The Lord Mayor of Dublin wrote a letter of invitation to the Mayor of Kerry inviting him to a stay in the Mansion House for that weekend, with some subtle hints thrown in.

    The Mayor of Kerry wasn’t backwards about coming forwards in reply.

    It’s a good job local government don’t have anything other to occupy themselves with, isn’t it? 😀

    • Silverlock says:

      I had to do a bit of Googling to figure out the meaning of Kerry’s reply, but I am glad I did.

      • benjdenny says:

        Well, don’t leave me hanging, brother.

        • Deiseach says:

          This is Sam.

          This Wikipedia article explains how Sam has made the trip to Kerry 37 times over the past 116 years (from the tone, I am going to guess it was written by a Kerryman).

          The nickname for Kerry is “The Kingdom”.

          Dublin have also been very successful in Gaelic football, so there is a bit of rivalry between them and, well, pretty much every other team since they’re the Capital City and think themselves a cut above the rest of us culchies and boggers 🙂

  30. axiomsofdominion says:

    Alex Honnold is a fabulous example of nominative determinism.

  31. axiomsofdominion says:

    Alex Honnold is a fabulous example of nominative determinism.

  32. Douglas Knight says:

    Of the 4 US presidents who are Baby Boomers, the 3 older ones were born in one year, 1946. Clinton was born in August, Bush in July, Trump in June.

    I always had a vague belief about “the baby boom” that began after WWII. There was definitely a “birth dearth” during the depression, but when did it end? (I will restrict to America because I believe the answer varies.) The conventional answer is after WWII. Wikipedia has a graph (based on a table) that I find very unconvincing. Much of the recovery had already occurred by 1942. Why do we draw the line after the war?

    Recently I stumbled across a claim not about a crude year, but a specific month, July, 1946. Kieran Healy visualizes the monthly data. June 1946 had about as many births as June 1945. July had more births than the previous year. Come winter, normally fewer babies are born, but this year more were. Come spring, instead of speeding up as they normally do, births slowed down. July 1947 was more than 1946, but August 1947 was the same as August 1946 and September 1947 was less than September 1946. The thing we now call the boom continued, a sustained birth rate higher than the dearth, but it wasn’t at the rate it had been a year before. Taking annual averages smooths out and hides a real concentrated boom from mid 1946 to mid 1947.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The during-war boom is real, though much smaller than the Baby Boom proper. I imagine it’s largely a result of soldiers and their wives (or not-wives) wanting to get a family started before being deployed.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Maybe, but Healy has data for England&Wales. How would you predict the two compare?

        They have the same spike in late 1946, but are a little different during the war. Again, we should distinguish the general uptick from the spike. Both the US and UK have generally higher rates during the war than before; and also a short spike in the middle of the war. The UK speeds up in 1942, while the US in maybe 1941. The US has a short spike in 1942, but the UK in 1944. Wouldn’t you expect the opposite? Also, conscription started before Pearl Harbor, although maybe that doesn’t count as “deployed.” Also, US deployment was a lot bigger deal, requiring immediate home front action, than local UK deployment, which probably involved more home visits.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The peak of the US spike is September and October 1942, which makes sense. There’s some earlier than August, which couldn’t be caused by a triggering event in early December 1941, but it could be noise on top of the spike. I don’t know enough about what was going on in England and Wales during the war to say much, though I’m surprised there’s no 9-months-past-Dunkirk spike at all.

    • onyomi says:

      Something funny I’ve noticed recently about “boomer” as a colloquial term is that it seems to perpetually mean something like “middle aged,” “those people who had it easy,” and/or “people my parents’ age,” where “me” could have been born any time between 1980 and 2000.

      For example, I recently saw someone in his late 40s referred to as a “boomer,” when, of course, he was very squarely Gen X. Actual boomers are now around 70+, but it seems like the word retained some of its referent from say, the 80s and 90s, while the generation actually in it aged out of that bracket.

      • Lambert says:

        The exact same thing has happened regarding the Millenials, who are mostly in their thirties by now.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’ve gone into great detail before about how Millennials and Zs, unless they hit the job market at the peak of the Great Recession, don’t actually have it worse in any way than Xers and Boomers. Furthermore, they tend to attribute to “boomers” things that were actually from generations older than that — the common claim that boomers got jobs by walking in cold, making eye contact, giving a firm handshake, and asking for a job, for instance. Someone like Don Draper might have gotten a job that way, but he’s older, he fought in WWII. (And maybe that line was BS even back then)

        Also, Gen X is so small it basically doesn’t matter anyway.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Millennials and Zs, unless they hit the job market at the peak of the Great Recession

          It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Gather ’round, children, let me tell you of all the job offers pulled at the last minute, the years of temp work calling up people late on their car payments, the utter hopelessness of graduating in 2009.

          And you, children, graduating in 2021, in the next recession, will know our pain, and we will drink as brothers, once you all finally reach your proper wage levels in 2030.

          • brad says:

            ’02 and ’09 here.

            There are other factors, but all told I’m about a dozen years behind. So it goes.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The peak on unemployment in 1983 was higher, though — sucks to be a late boomer. The 1992 peak I graduated into wasn’t so bad, but it still wasn’t much fun.

            And yeah, if Trump doesn’t cool it with the China stuff, the 2021 peak will be pretty darned bad. Tariff spats are just good clean fun, but talking about invoking the International Emergency Economic Powers Act is like casually tossing around a nuclear hand grenade.

        • Lillian says:

          Furthermore, they tend to attribute to “boomers” things that were actually from generations older than that — the common claim that boomers got jobs by walking in cold, making eye contact, giving a firm handshake, and asking for a job, for instance. Someone like Don Draper might have gotten a job that way, but he’s older, he fought in WWII. (And maybe that line was BS even back then)

          Don Draper fought in Korea, actually. Also if you read Scott’s review of On the Road, it seems evident that in the 50s you could in fact get a job pretty much anywhere just by asking for it. The entire lifestyle of the book’s characters depends on it:

          “Even more interesting than their ease of transportation to me was their ease at getting jobs. This is so obvious to them it is left unspoken. Whenever their money runs out, be they in Truckee or Texas or Toledo, they just hop over to the nearest farm or factory or whatever, say “Job, please!” and are earning back their depleted savings in no time. This is really the crux of their way of life. They don’t feel bound to any one place, because traveling isn’t really a risk. Be it for a week or six months, there’s always going to be work waiting for them when they need it. It doesn’t matter that Dean has no college degree, or a criminal history a mile long, or is only going to be in town a couple of weeks. This just seems to be a background assumption. It is most obvious when it is violated; the times it takes an entire week to find a job, and they are complaining bitterly. Or the time the only jobs available are backbreaking farm labor, and so Jack moves on (of course abandoning the girl he is with at the time) to greener pastures that he knows are waiting.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Ah, that’s right, it was Korea. Still too old for a boomer. The youngest Boomer was by definition born in 1946, and was unlikely to be looking for a job before 1960.

          • Lillian says:

            Yes the golden age of being able to get a work just by asking for it seems to have ended after the 1950s. However it’s unlikely to have ended abruptly. So in the 60s and 70s, when the Boomers had their first experiences finding work, while one might not have been likely to get a job simply by wandering in and asking for it, making a solid first impression could still do it. Indeed that fits with the advice they give, they don’t say just go somewhere and ask for a job like the characters of On the Road do, they say find the manager and try to make a good impression. That probably became gradually less and less true as time went on, until we get the modern hyper-competitive world where nobody will give you the time of day if you don’t file the paperwork correctly.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I expect it DID end abruptly… when the Boomers hit the job market, and suddenly employers had more applicants than they could handle.

          • One possible explanation is the gradual shift away from legal rules of freedom of contract. Hiring someone who might or might not work out makes more sense if you know that if he doesn’t you can fire him, with no risk of being sued for doing so.

      • acymetric says:

        Actual boomers are now around 70+

        The very oldest ones are in their (early) 70s. Most are in their 50s or 60s.

        I’ll also echo @Lambert above, this happens with all generations and works in both directions.

        • DinoNerd says:

          I am 61. As a child in Canada, I was post Baby Boom. In my 30s and 40s in the US, I was towards the end of the baby Boom. Now it seems that even my younger siblings are Baby Boomers.

          My mother was born in 1936. She was a child when WW II ended. By the time she began having children (quite young), WW II had been over for more than a decade. And while my father did serve in that war, he certainly didn’t come straight home and conceive me.

          The whole thing seems frankly absurd and meaningless. Actual Baby Boomers are the children of returning service people, from marriages (and etc.) before, during, and especially immediately after WW II.

          Some of those couples may have kept on producing children for quite a while, blurring the edges a bit. But children born in the 1960s are not Boomers – not even if their mother married a returning serviceman in 1945.

          Real Baby Boomers arrived into a world where there were more children than available services for them. They went to school in trailers parked on the school grounds, for lack of sufficient class rooms. (By the time I came along, new buildings had been completed, and worries were more likely to be about over capacity and expense.)

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Actual Baby Boomers are the children of returning service people, from marriages (and etc.) before, during, and especially immediately after WW II.

            No no, that may be part of the explanation of the baby boom, but there was an actual baby boom, which occurred way after WWII ended. The peak of the births was in 1957. I was born in 1956, and my very large peer group bulging in school, college, and then the job market was very apparent during my life. This was in the US, maybe it was different for you in Canada. By the way, my dad was in WWII, even though I was born 11 years after it ended. But my parents had their first kid in 1950, and just kept having kids. This was pretty common amongst other kids I knew when I was a kid, I think most of them had dads in WWII.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @Mark V Anderson

            Interesting. That was my original belief – that the Baby Boom peaked earlier in the UK than in Canada, and earlier in Canada than in the United States.

            This thread had pretty much convinced me otherwise – that “Baby Boomer” now meant “old enough to be the speaker/writer’s parent” or something equally non-specific and relational.

            I guess this time I adjusted my beliefs a bit too enthusiastically.

          • Plumber says:

            @DinoNerd says: "...This thread had pretty much convinced me otherwise – that “Baby Boomer” now meant “old enough to be the speaker/writer’s parent” or something equally non-specific and relational.

            I guess this time I adjusted my beliefs a bit too enthusiastically"

            IIRC when the “baby boom” was thought to begin was always 1946 and when it was ended was adjusted upwards during my youth until 1965 was settled as the end, which is where it’s stayed for decades, so my Mom (born in ’46) has always been a “boomer”, my Dad was “a Depression baby”, and my Step-dad a “war baby” (both Depression and war babies later lumped into the “Silent Generation”), as soon as it was named I was lumped into “Generation X”, and I married a “late boomer” (though only a couple of years seperate us), my best friend in childhood was also “X” but his older brother (born just three years earlier) is similarly “boomer”, and its all pretty arbitrarily, not much cultural difference between someone born in ’64 than there is someone born in ’66.

            Usually when I see essays on “how the generations vote” we “X’ers” (usually thought of now as those born between ’65 and ’81, but earlier thought of as those born after ’59) are lumped in with either “boomers” or “millennials” (likely depending on the age of the author).

          • Aapje says:

            This discussion makes me a little sad, since the baby boom is really quite easy to see on graphs. There is a really sharp increase in births in 1946 and a little less sharp, but still rapid fall that starts slowing down in 1965/66.

  33. sharper13 says:

    An amusing data point to tack on to the Billionaire charity thread from Frank Luntz:

    Justice Ginsburg was successfully treated for a pancreatic cancer tumor at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC.

    Sloan Kettering has a 23-story treatment facility named after David Koch, who donated $150 million in 2015 and battled prostate cancer throughout his own life.

  34. MissingNo says:

    So. Here is my question. Were the sci-fi authors in the 60s who were mostly at the top of their classes yet…just gave up and started writing correct?

    Does the scientific merit system know where its going with its inventions? Or is it just…producing and sees what happens.

    >In May 2019, researchers at Samsung demonstrated a GAN-based system that produces videos of a person speaking given only a single photo of that person.[62]

    What is this going to do to society in the next 15 years? Anyone?

    • Enkidum says:

      You have quite a few questions specified with different degrees of precision.

      Were the sci-fi authors in the 60s who were mostly at the top of their classes yet…just gave up and started writing correct?

      I’m not sure what “correct” means here. Do you mean that they saw no value in being researchers, or something like that? In which case I highly doubt that many of them were (a) actually at the top of their classes or (b) thought that research was useless. I think they felt strong creative impulses, realized how important technology and science were for the future of the human race, and wanted to think about this in ways that were not particularly easy to do in traditional academic or research environments.

      Does the scientific merit system know where its going with its inventions? Or is it just…producing and sees what happens.

      I’m not sure what a scientific merit system is. Is your worry that people should be more concerned about the ethical import of their scientific results? I suppose that is true. However it’s very difficult to channel discovery into purely helpful domains, and we cannot ever recognize the full implications of our own discoveries. This is almost definitionally true.

      What is this going to do to society in the next 15 years? Anyone?

      The era of being able to reliably determine the likely truth of an event based on a photograph or video is over. Soon there will be completely plausible videos created, to order, of whatever we want, that will be indistinguishable from real videos by all but extremely savvy experts (and perhaps not them).

      This will make determining which publications to trust, among other things, much more difficult.

      However it’s perhaps important to note that (a) the era of being able to use photos or videos for anything at all lasted only 150 years. Humans got a lot accomplished before that. (b) Even during this era, most people are pretty terrible at determining adequate standards of truth and falsity, which is why a site like this one is such a breath of fresh air.

      I’m not saying that there aren’t obvious (and non-obvious) problems arising from our new capabilities regarding images. This is true of all technologies. It’s very much worth considering what these are, but I think the future is less awful than you seem to, reading between the lines.

      • MissingNo says:

        It goes more tiers deeper than “video/audio” age is over.

        Which simulation are you stuck in?

        What game is this?

        What is the “selection metric” to go to a different tier of reality?

        If you want to create a “new entity” how do you introduce them and what personality and intellect tests do you give them?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four
        https://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html

        Here we go.

        https://twitter.com/ESYudkowsky/status/1129239018430840832

        “You know how, a few years back, it started to get hard to tell the difference between Onion headlines and reality? Well, now it’s getting harder to distinguish reality and SCP Foundation logs.”

        • Enkidum says:

          There’s… a lot involved in creating a convincing, reactive simulation, even a purely visual one. Current technology is nowhere near it.

          I’m not saying it’s a complete impossibility, I kind of hope it isn’t. But nothing we’ve ever created has come close.

          I mean, maybe that would have a massive impact on society, but I think it’s really unlikely to do that in “the next 15 years”. At least at this level of the simulation, blah blah blah.

          • MissingNo says:

            In my life I got to see technology go from barely passing NES games to advanced oculus rift tech with…convincing deepfake video generated from a single photo, with deepfake audio created by a machine that averages out what it thinks the person will sound like based off of just fitting the patterns from every person on earth talking.

            What a smashing coincidence, right? To live in the first time this has happened.

            What has been is what will be,
            and what has been done is what will be done,
            and there is nothing new under the sun.

            Ecclesiastes

          • Plumber says:

            @MissingNo says: "In my life I got to see technology go from barely..."

            I don’t even know what the “technological advances” you list are, can you translate what any of that means?

            While the phone I’m using for communicating with you is impressive, compared to 1917 a lot had changed before I was born, but between now and when I was born in 1968, after the ’69 moon landing not much is very different technology wise that effects how we live much, my grandfather experienced far more significant changes in his first 51 years.

          • Enkidum says:

            What a smashing coincidence, right? To live in the first time this has happened.

            There seem to be a lot of implicit arguments backing up this what I assume is a sarcastic question?

            I’m not sure what the coincidence is. Yes, technology has gotten better recently, some of it VR and other image-generation tech like deep fakes, and some of it other things that would be necessary for a convincing simulation, such as AI (though you would probably need a true singularity god-style intelligence for a convincing simulation).

            But, so what? If we’re in a simulation, it makes no difference what the level of technology within the simulation is. Because that’s, you know, simulated. It depends what the level of technology is outside, and by definition we have no access to that.

            deepfake audio created by a machine that averages out what it thinks the person will sound like based off of just fitting the patterns from every person on earth talking.

            No offence, but the level of understanding you have of the technology, as evidenced by you writing things like that, suggests to me that you’re not really that aware of how it works. Which is fine, but I’d be very wary of making sweeping pronouncements based on this. Chill, dude.

          • MissingNo says:

            @Enkidum

            Project just…a few years into the future. Just a few. Not very many.

            DeepFakes generated from a single photo?

            Deep Fake Audio easily and immediately used to impersonate major figures?

            You mean google maps literally has such a good knowledge of traffic that it knows each individual street density along with speed traps…due to somehow knowing where the cops are? And your once paranoid alex-jones uncle keeps posting retarded hillary/trump theories instead of the much more blatant stuff going on?

            Like every major tech company knowing the precise location of everyone on earth? They care about benghazi bullshit and not *this*?

            Is it because everyone appreciates the internet to look up their preferred fetish porn without embarrassment?

            ~gasp–what a line~

          • Enkidum says:

            Not really sure what you’re asking or implying at this point.

          • Plumber says:

            @MissingNo,

            I imagine that there’s a larger point your trying to make with the random looking facts you cite? What it may be is going over my head, so please tell what conclusions you want drawn.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Does the scientific merit system know where its going with its inventions? Or is it just…producing and sees what happens.

      Science is not about inventions. Basic research is about increasing understanding.

      Research and development organizations are in the business of directed invention. They have some science types – or at least folks with scientific training – along with job lots of engineering and applied science people.

      Some political types don’t understand the difference.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I find that most people don’t distinguish between the four STEM categories, even the ones in science.

        Especially between the ST and SE categories.

  35. Hoopyfreud says:

    When we talk about “art”, and especially “good art”, we tend to fall into discussing themes. “It’s interesting because it explores x, it’s valuable because it represents y.” Those are analogies. “Why is Invisible Man good?” It’s about existentialism, if you’re white and in a library. It’s about race relations, if you’re white and on a date. Neither is right, it’s about both, it’s not because of both that it’s good, I get this is obvious, it must be said. Aesthetics are hard and this is hasty, but if I wanted to jerry-rig a definition for “good art” it would be “art for which all philosophical analysis can only be an analogy.” That includes metaphysics, religion, politics, all of it. Not that it doesn’t contain those, but for which a list of themes, purpose, intent, biography, etc. would fail to exhaust why it is good. Try to describe what makes Hamlet good. “It’s mellifluous.” Sounds stupid, completely accurate.

    In Which there are Ghosts

    Man, sometimes I read Samzdat and find a way to say something I’ve been trying to articulate on my own for a long time.

    • Plumber says:

      @Hoopyfreud,

      Sam[ ]zdat previously gave me an insight into the source of so much political dissatisfaction and rancor:

      From On Social States:

      “…Partisans of both the Left and the Right agree on one thing and one thing only: the enemy is running the country. Both are right, which is why both can produce graphs. The Left is winning the culture war, and the Right is winning the economic war…”

      and it didn’t take my looking at polls long to suss out that more Democrats support their parties economic agenda than the social one, and more Republicans support their parties social agenda than the economic one, so each side has been winning what’s less important to most of their side, and winning on the issues that are less important to most of their side, so embitterness

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I think it was me that linked you that.

        For what it’s worth, I’m pretty confident that the thing the democrats and republicans organize around would flip if their respective dominions did.

      • cassander says:

        “…Partisans of both the Left and the Right agree on one thing and one thing only: the enemy is running the country. Both are right, which is why both can produce graphs. The Left is winning the culture war, and the Right is winning the economic war…”

        Decent theory, but not based in reality. the right manifestly is NOT winning the economic war. Pointing to lower marginal tax rates is meaningless, taxes are as high as they’ve ever been and are more progressive than every before. Social welfare spending is growing in virtually all categories, as is government regulation of basically everything. The right is at best barely holding its own on economics, while getting completely thrashed on culture.

        • Chalid says:

          On the other had, inequality is higher than it has been since before the second world war.

          • cassander says:

            Unless you think that inequality is a specific goal of Republican policy, then that’s irrelevant.

          • DinoNerd says:

            From outside, inequality certainly looks like a Republican revealed preference, if not outright goal.

          • cassander says:

            @dinonerd

            Is there any substance to what you’re saying besides “out group bad”?

            At worst, you can accuse Republicans of in
            Indifference to inequality, and then only certain types.

          • quanta413 says:

            Roughly speaking, the gini coefficient is highest in the coastal metropolises (the very blue California and the populated populous states of New England) and the deep south (very red). It’s in the middle range in the in the Rust belt (not particularly blue or red). And lowest in the midwest (which is more mixed), mountain states (mostly red, some purple), and less populated Northern coasts (blue).

            So if you were going by revealed preference you’d find… not much. Although you could maybe make a weak argument that the reddest and bluest states were more unequal.

            Although I think realistically what you’re looking at is more related to ethnic composition of each state.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @quanta413:

            Roughly speaking, the gini coefficient is highest in the coastal metropolises (the very blue California and the populated populous states of New England) and the deep south (very red). It’s in the middle range in the in the Rust belt (not particularly blue or red). And lowest in the midwest (which is more mixed), mountain states (mostly red, some purple), and less populated Northern coasts (blue).

            Yeah, it’s like DinoNerd has never been to San Francisco, which has the most homeless per capita and most billionaires per capita of any community in the United States. You can also look at its left-wing copycats all up and down the West coast, although in e.g. Portland’s case, we’re poor enough that the inequality is between millionaires and homeless. 😛
            The Red tribe doesn’t want to throw tax dollars at the inequality that’s the legacy of slavery. The breathtakingly extreme Blue tribe inequality is innovative.

          • eric23 says:

            The middle classes are priced out of major Blue cities due to NIMBYism. This doesn’t affect the rich, or the homeless, or the poor minorities who still live in urban slums where gentrification hasn’t reached. It does affect the middle though, leading to a high level of inequality.

    • hls2003 says:

      The way I conceptualized it, I believe it was after reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, was that the most proper and true response to a great work of art is not analysis, but the creation of another great work of art.

    • mdet says:

      Reminds me of an Adam Neely [music theory youtuber] video where he says that he’s heard some incredibly complex electronic music, but that musical academics have no respect for the genre because traditional music notation has no way to formally transcribe a lot of what electronic music is doing. It’s hard to evaluate something when you don’t have the language to describe it.

      Themes are easy to write about, subjective beauty is hard to write about, so “good art == good themes”.

      • AG says:

        I love some of the really technical stuff enabled by music production tech. Consider some of the things listed in the video descriptions here: 1, 2
        Precisely constructing timbres to make frequency spaces for specific instruments, to ensure perfect aural clarity! How cool is that!

        The craft behind mixing and mastering absolutely has not been respected by classical academics, who instead get caught up in abstract nonsense like “what if the cello played on a helicopter far away while piping the sound through speakers into the concert hall? PHILOSOPHICAL SPACE”

        • mdet says:

          That’s not quite how Neely characterized the academics. He was criticizing them for the fact that, having studied classical music for so long (“classical” here being “music that we know from being written down rather than from being recorded”), they’ve become obsessed with how music is written rather than what the song actually sounds like.

          The people listening to cellos on a helicopter would at least be appreciating the sound of it.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          To be fair, however galaxy-brained the Helicopter String Quartet may be, Stockhausen, with his enormous mixing desk, his obsession with projecting sound in three-dimensional space, and his habit of adding several seconds of silence at the beginning and end of the CD releases of his work so that the electrical background noise of the equipment used to record it could be faded in and out, cannot really be categorised as someone unconcerned with the craft of mixing and mastering.

          • AG says:

            But it matches with mdet where Stockhausen isn’t concerned with what the song actually sounds like. The emphasis is all about the philosophical implications of the mixing and mastering, rather than finding new timbres and structures that still resonate with the audience as music, and not as an art piece.

    • gdepasamonte says:

      Doesn’t the definition apply to a lot of bad art too, at least when the badness is not just a lack of technical competence? No list of themes or intent or whatever exhausts or even really touches on the essential badness of Mendelssohn’s St Paul or Domenichino’s St Agnes or (can’t think of a literary example right now). This is just because their badness is aesthetic, like the goodness of Hamlet. So many intangible things have gone wrong at once that it’s impossible to begin real criticism. You can only gesture at what is wrong in a more-or-less unsatisfactory way.

      • Deiseach says:

        Okay, I looked up Domenichino’s St Agnes (I’m not competent to talk about the Mendelssohn you quoted, but I’d be very interested to hear your opinion as to why it’s bad) and why do you think it is so essentially bad? It’s not the greatest example of art, but it’s a competent piece in the popular style of the time. The subject is conventionally treated, the architectural space is a little crowded and not thought-out well, but Domenichino has plainly worked carefully on the figure of St Agnes and planned out her positioning and stance to get the contrapossto right (even the foot resting on the plinth is accurate and makes sense according to the logic of the scene, unlike marbles where the necessity for supporting the figure means that a tree or rock has to be randomly inserted for them to lean upon).

        You can certainly object to this pink-and-white, chocolate box type of painting, but it’s not the worst example I can think of (Bavarian pastel baroque churches tick that box for me) and even within pictorial treatments of this kind, it’s not the most gloopy, sugary one.

        I get the impression Domenichino here is hitting for you the same button that John Rutter is pushing for me 🙂

        • gdepasamonte says:

          I apologise, I meant the Martyrdom of St Agnes.

          St Paul is the canonical example of bad good music, to reverse Orwell’s phrase. (A good bad book is one like Dracula or Sherlock Holmes that is good despite its indifferent craftmanship, lack of taste etc; a bad good book is then one that is masterfully crafted but somehow still unreadable. I think Orwell cites a Wyndham Lewis novel as an example, though I’ve not read it.)

          Mendelssohn was indisputably a master, there aren’t many questions of technical competence in his music. You can’t say St Paul is bad because the voice-leading is ugly or the plan is incoherent or the music has nothing to do with the story or anything like that. But although in Mendelssohn’s time it was his most important composition, hardly anyone has enjoyed listening to it since.

          Now the reason everyone gives for this is that St Paul’s is “religious kitsch” – it evokes only some false and trite religious sentiment instead of a true one. I think this is mostly true, but it isn’t the reason it is bad (although it has something to do with that). This can’t be the reason it is bad, because Puccini’s Messa di Gloria is kitschy out of this world, and is great fun to listen to (highly recommended).

          You can try to be more specific about the kind of kitsch involved, but at the bottom you’re never going to get around the actual reason St Paul is bad, which is the cumulative effect of a large number of aesthetic choices that don’t work. Or to put in another way, for any list of problems of the “philosophical analysis” type that you could make about a work of art, there is probably an actually good work of art which has all those problems. The badness is somewhere else entirely.

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, I’ll agree that the Martyrdom is throwing everything plus the kitchen sink in, and in the case of that painting less would definitely be more. But I don’t see that it’s bad; it’s not to my taste, and some of the choices are definitely on the saccharine side, but Domenichino is visibly in the Classical tradition of painting (as against the Mannerist school, where I think El Greco pulled it off wonderfully – the evolution of his style from the conventional artisanal icon-writing of his early career to how it flowered at his peak shows how Western style much more suited him than Eastern – and Parmigiano not so much), and some of those figures are definitely quoting Michaelangelo, but then again that is what was expected (to allude to, if not copy, recognised great works), and the strong colouring gives it more interest than the agreed rather tepid treatment otherwise would evoke.

            I’m going to have to put this one down to a divergence of taste, not that I’m going to be a big fan of Domenichino, but that other works/artists are more irritating to me. Though I’ll say that Giovanni Lanfranco’s St Peter Healing St Agatha is a better work, even though he went overboard with the Caravaggio-style strong chiaroscuro due to not quite digesting his new influences – St Peter could be a little less shaded – but the choice of interpretation and presentation of the theme is much better, stronger, and more tender.

            As for Mendelssohn’s St Paul, I haven’t listened to it yet (just the overture so far) and it’s biggest fault seems to be a conscious striving for gravity and grandeur and too much wearing Bach on its sleeve. I think it fell out of favour the way works do go in and out of popularity; if the rest of it is worse than the overture then I could see why as tastes changed it fell out of favour, but who knows? In fifty years time it could be “revisited” and rehabilitated and part of the repertoire once more – maybe in English not German, for amateur/semi-pro choirs looking for something other than the old warhorse of Messiah for a concert? 🙂

          • gdepasamonte says:

            To pick on one point, I think the colouring of the Martyrdom is bad, and that most people, given the time and chance to compare against the Venetian painters for example, would feel this way too. But this is the sort of aesthetic issue that you can’t really argue for. All you can do is point to what you think is good, and let curiosity and time do their work.

            As far as I understand, this is pretty much the only useful way we have of talking about aesthetics – you teach people by giving them a canon of stuff that is widely accepted as good, and things are judged against standards intuited from the canon. Obviously this isn’t ideal, but as Sam[]zdat says, “aesthetics is hard”.

            Anyway, even if you disagree about these particular works, I’m sure you can supply examples of your own. My main point is that the definition doesn’t cleave good and bad art. More like “art” and “non-art, plus incompetent art, plus one-trick conceptual art which is nothing but a philosophical/political premise to start with”.

          • Deiseach says:

            To pick on one point, I think the colouring of the Martyrdom is bad, and that most people, given the time and chance to compare against the Venetian painters for example, would feel this way too.

            Certainly it’s not Venetian, but do you mean the stronger horizontal division between the shaded and light parts versus the vertical ascent from dark to light? That is noticeable and maybe not successfully pulled off, but he uses four main colours – blue, red, a kind of green and a brown/gold – and to my eye balances them out evenly enough around the canvas. The mirroring of the recumbent postures of St Agnes and Christ, and the pose of the upper torsos of the angel receiving the emblems of martyrdom with the clearly Michaelangelo-influenced kneeling women with the child are well-worked out (though again involving a degree of artifice which does strain the position of Christ).

            I think we’ll have to agree to differ on grounds of personal taste; you find this an example of bad art, I find it an example of ‘meh, competent workmanlike’ art 🙂

            I’ll give you in return a sample of something which has much more lurid colouring and shapes which are stripped down to blocks (look at those “clouds”) but which I absolutely adore, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz by El Greco 😀

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Here’s a quasi-quote I haven’t been able to source, but I believe it’s true.

      –Criticism at its best is an effort to identify the qualities which accompany success.–

      This is important because it has a proper humility– the excellence of a work of art isn’t about not getting things wrong, and as you say, it’s not about the themes.

      Stephen King has a book about writing where he says that when he started out, he thought theme was external to the story, but he later came to believe in writing first, then discovering the theme, and editing the story to make the theme clearer.

      C. S. Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism has it that instead of judging readers by whether they like the right books (or, I suppose, dislike the books they’re supposed to dislike), it’s better to judge books by whether people love them– and by loving books, Lewis means rereading them many times.

    • AG says:

      This seems to completely discount the role of craft/technical skill in the creation of art. Things can be so entirely style, that the style becomes its own form of substance. Samzdat’s description seems hung up on art being representational, but things like music, food, clothing, or dance can absolutely pursue “absolute” artistic standards, not being “about” anything but themselves.

      • mdet says:

        Did you read the full post? Because that’s exactly the reaction I had on reading the excerpt, but in reading the whole thing it turns out that the point he’s intending to make is exactly the one you made.

        He’s rebutting someone who says that good art communicates some message, some complex set of themes and values, to the audience. He argues No, that’s called “rhetoric”. That’s “non-fiction masquerading as art”. Art is about the form, the aesthetics, the stuff that can’t be captured in a philosophical analysis of the work. He compares it to evaluating a horror movie: saying “It’s really a metaphor for the struggle of eating disorders” doesn’t actually tell you whether or not it’s a good *horror movie* in the same way that talking about the unsettling-ness of the sound design would. He says “That quality of work = [philosophical] complexity is not a mistake, nor is it a mistake that we interpret that as the ‘purpose’ of art. We have a faith in the efficacy of information and that alone. ‘People act based on facts’ and art’s purpose is thus making them know the facts. Hence art which discusses [theme] and [such other theme] is no longer good art plus those, it’s good because of those.” “You can identify themes and plots and [whatever], but the ultimate experience of beauty is primary, it’s trying to describe qualia, which we have no respect for.”

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Was that unclear in the excerpt? I thought it was a good summation of exactly this point.

          • mdet says:

            When I read the excerpt, I interpreted it as “Good art is art whose meaning is so deep that words can only scratch the surface. You can’t fully explain the meaning of good art, you can only hint at it through analogy”.

            My initial response, like AG’s, was “So is dance not art? Most dance doesn’t have ‘meaning’ or ‘theme’, but we still consider it an art form.”

            The passage makes more sense when you see what he’s contrasting it against. “Good art has complex meaning that can be analyzed philosophically” vs “Good art comes from all the qualities that *can’t* be analyzed philosophically”

          • AG says:

            Thanks for clarifying Sam[]zdat’s actual position.

  36. proyas says:

    Even if we COULD be a Kardashev Type 1 civilization, would we want to be?

    A civilization only achieves that status if it has harnessed all energy sources on its planet, which would mean destroying the Earth’s biosphere by damming every river, covering every spot of land with solar panels, and even covering the seas in floating solar panel platforms.

    In addition to that, we’d have to keep the uranium and coal mines running to not let those planetary energy sources go to waste, and to send them to the appropriate power generation facilities (which would presumably also be covered in solar panels to not waste the sunlight hitting their roofs and walls).

    Unless human aesthetics radically change and we turn completely evil and efficiency-focused, I don’t see how we will voluntarily become a true “Type 1” civilization.

    • AG says:

      Just how strict is the requirement on energy conversion. Because if we’re maintaining the ecosystem in order to best provide the edible matter our bodies need, that’s a form of energy conversion that doesn’t reduce everything to electricity generation. Does photosynthesis not count as harnessing solar energy?

      If mining things causes more entropy than the benefits of converting the results to usable products, isn’t that an indirect form of going to waste?

    • Eric Rall says:

      As I understand it, the Kardashev scale is about using planets, solar systems, and galaxies as benchmarks for a civilization’s energy budget, not necessarily prescribing how to get that budget. So any civilization with an energy budget of about 1.74×10^17 watts (the energy the Earth receives from the Sun) is a Type I civilization, regardless of whether they get there by paving the Earth with solar panels, or by beaming in power from swarms of solar collector satellites, or by building oodles of fusion reactors.

    • Lambert says:

      I think it’s more of an orders of magnitude thing.
      They won’t take away out Type I card for designating 10% of the Earth as national parks, or something.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Why? Just build a solar panel with area equal to Earth’s cross section somewhere in L3, and do something useful with that energy. Or any other way to use as much energy as Earth receives, it doesn’t have to be literally the same energy.

      • proyas says:

        That doesn’t answer the question since a Type 1 civilization is defined as one that uses all the energy sources of its planet. Sunlight hitting the planet’s surface is just one source of energy. What about the potential wind, nuclear, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy the planet could generate? Also, how many fusion reactors could it contain?

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          The Kardashev scale isn’t about how much energy a civilization uses, but about how much it is technologically capable of using.

          • proyas says:

            Yeah…but as bullseye mentioned, that definition leads to problems of its own.

            The richest 10 countries in the world could decide tomorrow to pool their money and start mass-producing and installing solar panels so they can harness 10% of the sunlight hitting the Earth. In theory, they are CAPABLE of doing that, yet they choose not to because they would rather use their money for other things. Does that mean we are already a Type 1 civilization?

            This discussion has convinced me that the Kardashev scale has no value.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            It’s not a merit badge. It’s descriptive, not prescriptive. A civilization that is using something like a planet’s worth of energy, whether they get it by paving the surface with solar panels or by setting up lots of solar satellites, is going to look a lot different from a civilization that is using something like a star’s worth of energy.

            But the scale is just a way of describing the scope of the continuum. Nobody is going to encounter an alien race and argue about whether they are really level 2 or maybe just 1.8. Why bother?

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Even if you harness an earth’s worth of energy via conventional means, with the expected effect on the environment, consider: you’re getting an earth’s worth of energy to play with.

      For perspective: all human-generated power on earth today is around 17 TW. A solar panel the size of earth, at earth’s distance from the sun, receives about 130000 TW. Imagine everyone on the planet getting to do about 7000 times as much as they do today.

      The thought of Type 1 just gets me hyped for Type 2.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Can != have to. We can chose to “use” part of the available energy to.have a healthy biosphere. We’re not the borg, after all.

      • bullseye says:

        Under that definition, isn’t every civilization “using” all of its planet’s energy?

        • Lambert says:

          I think it’s a matter of ‘we *could* cover this with solar panels or algae farms or whatever if we wanted, but we choose not to.’

        • Radu Floricica says:

          For a quick yardstick, think of the Low Countries or Scandinavia. When all land is used / let wild in more or less the same way as there, we’re at the point where we can say there’s a choice involved. Right now nobody has the money or the will to do anything with Sahara, so it’s a choice only in the way I’m choosing not to be a Shaolin Monk.

    • There were a bunch of predictions made in 1900 about the twentieth century, many of them predicting harshness and efficiency for the future:

      There will be No C, X or Q in our every-day alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary. Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas, and will be more extensively spoken than any other. Russian will rank second.

      There will be no wild animals except in menageries. Rats and mice will have been exterminated. The horse will have become practically extinct. A few of high breed will be kept by the rich for racing, hunting and exercise. The automobile will have driven out the horse. Cattle and sheep will have no horns. They will be unable to run faster than the fattened hog of today. A century ago the wild hog could outrun a horse. Food animals will be bred to expend practically all of their life energy in producing meat, milk, wool and other by-products. Horns, bones, muscles and lungs will have been neglected.

      As people become richer, they tend to become less focused on efficiency above all. When there are fewer pressing problems, challenges seem less like obstacles than like opportunities to signal ability or morality. Thus, we don’t exterminate wild animals even when they inconvenience us, and while spelling reform was a common subject of discussion in 1900, it is rarely advocated seriously today. If our descendants are rich, smart, and inhabiting a non-Malthusian world, they may continue this pattern, caring even more about signalling than we do today. Alternatively, they may see our signalling as irrational and stupid. Even then, I doubt they will want to permit their planet from growing too alien from what their ancestors experienced. They won’t want to live densely-packed into skyscrapers topped by solar panels, and they will want to occasionally experience nature. If you assume they on’t want to live in cramped conditions, this puts a limit on how far their population can grow. As I wrote in my book Posthumanity:

      Land is the most obvious constraint on population growth. In England in 2012, 10.6% of the land was classified as urban. Of this urban land 54% was greenspace – parks, allotments, sports pitches and so on.[ix] If you assume that in the posthuman era 33% of the world’s land area outside of Antarctica and Greenland will become urban, and that the population density of people per square mile of urban area will be the same as in England, then the population in the posthuman era will be 175 billion. If you assume that half of the land will become urban and that urban density will be three times England’s present value, its population will be 797 billion.

      What about other constraints on population growth? With nuclear fusion, energy is essentially limitless, with deuterium extractable from the sea lasting far longer than the shining of the sun.[x] However, all energy generation will produce waste heat, this is inevitable by the laws of thermodynamics. In 2015, Americans used 3.26 terawatts of power.[xi] If you assume the posthumans will have the same energy consumption as modern Americans, then the 175 billion posthumans will produce 1777 terawatts of power. At twice the consumption level of modern Americans, they will produce 3555 terawatts. In comparison, it has been estimated that use of 4800 terawatts would heat the planet by 3ºC.[xii] Note that this only refers to additional heat not produced directly or indirectly from the sun. Renewable forms of energy such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy would not add to this total, but in asking how much those sources can contribute, consider the magnitude of these numbers in comparison with the 18 terawatts the earth consumes today and the fraction of this which is renewable.

      https://posthumanitybook.wordpress.com/2018/07/21/chapter-5-population-and-family-planning/

      • proyas says:

        Won’t we find ways to convert the waste heat back into electricity?

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Up to a point, perhaps, but never forget the three laws of thermodynamics:
          1. You can’t win.
          2. You can’t break even.
          3. You can’t get out of the game.

          • proyas says:

            I think you’ve posited a better proxy for “Type 1 civilization” than Kardashev did.

            If we get within an order of magnitude of making so much energy on Earth that the waste heat from the energy production is causing the planet’s temperature to rise to levels harmful to our civilization (“uneconomic growth”), then it can be said that we’ve harnessed our planet’s available energy resources.

            Note that this definition ignores the warming effects of greenhouse gases. It assumes that we’ve gotten so advanced that we’re not net GHG emitters anymore, and are probably using huge amounts of solar power or fusion.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            But, as I said above, there’s no merit badge. We continue to try to use energy in order to accomplish things. If we get to the point where we are using something like a planet’s worth of energy, the payoff is the things we will be accomplishing, not any prize we get for attaining K-1.

          • helloo says:

            You are assuming the Earth is a closed system here.

            I do not know of a good cheap way of radiating the excess heat to space to just get rid of it (in an environment that’s livable for normal humans), but it’s hardly an impossible thing especially for an advanced civilization.

  37. baconbits9 says:

    A thought that has been rattling around my head for a few days, just putting it out there without having fully investigated it.

    Over a long time span decreasing interest rates is deflationary, and increasing inflationary. If you borrowed a million dollars to open a factory with a variable interest rate then a decrease would lead to lower operating costs and therefore in a competitive market would lead to lower prices for the goods you produce.

    • Eric Rall says:

      If you borrowed a million dollars to open a factory with a variable interest rate then a decrease would lead to lower operating costs and therefore in a competitive market would lead to lower prices for the goods you produce.

      That matters less than you’d think, since in this scenario I borrowed to finance fixed costs, not variable costs. It’s only variable costs (specifically, the marginal cost of producing the last item you sell) that affect the equilibrium price in a perfectly competitive market.

      Fixed costs do affect the equilibrium by making the market less than perfectly competitive, by presenting a barrier to entry by new firms, but I’d expect the effects of interest rates on prices from this to be fairly minor compared to other effects. Especially the classic inflationary effect that cheaper borrowing leads to people being more willing to buy stuff on credit.

      • baconbits9 says:

        That matters less than you’d think, since in this scenario I borrowed to finance fixed costs, not variable costs. It’s only variable costs (specifically, the marginal cost of producing the last item you sell) that affect the equilibrium price in a perfectly competitive market.

        You would still see a deflationary force from decreasing interest rates over the long term as every new factory would have lower costs than the previous generation from this alone and that would continually push down the marginal cost of production which should lower prices.* The effect should still be deflationary, though there might be a longer lag.

        *Also you are assuming no possibility of early repayments, I have a ‘fixed’ rate mortgage but because I can refinance at anytime I effectively have a variable rate downward.

        • Eric Rall says:

          *Also you are assuming no possibility of early repayments, I have a ‘fixed’ rate mortgage but because I can refinance at anytime I effectively have a variable rate downward.

          That’s not what I meant by fixed costs. A fixed cost in the context of microeconomics or in the context business finance is a cost that doesn’t scale with production, such as the capital costs for the factory. As opposed to variable costs, which increase or decrease roughly in proportion to production.

          For example, let’s say your factory makes 100 widgets an hour while it’s operating, and it takes 10 employees to operate it. Running it 12 hours a day instead of 8 hours a day gets you an extra 400 widgets a day, and it costs you an extra 40 hours worth of wages to keep it running those four hours. But your capital costs for building and tooling the factory are the same either way. So wages would be a variable cost (along with things like the raw materials you make your widgets out of, electricity to run the machines, and postage to mail your completed widgets to your customers), but the capital costs would be fixed.

          Fixed costs don’t affect equilibrium prices in a competitive market because unless you have monopoly power to restrict production to keep prices high (which is definitionally not true in a competitive market), it will always in your interests to make and sell one more unit so long as the market price is more than your marginal costs. Variable costs factor into your marginal costs, but fixed costs don’t. If you limit what you produce and sell based on your fixed costs, then you’re falling victim to the sunk cost fallacy.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Decreases in both fixed and variable costs drive down prices, a decrease in fixed costs reduces the barrier to entry for a new firm, decreasing the price of competitive equilibrium. Prices only approach the marginal cost of production in a competitive equilibrium anyway.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Decreases in both fixed and variable costs drive down prices, a decrease in fixed costs reduces the barrier to entry for a new firm, decreasing the price of competitive equilibrium.

            That’s what I meant by this part in my original reply, although in the rest of my posts I was focused more on competitive markets (since I thought that was what you’d been trying to talk about).

            Fixed costs do affect the equilibrium by making the market less than perfectly competitive, by presenting a barrier to entry by new firms, but I’d expect the effects of interest rates on prices from this to be fairly minor compared to other effects. Especially the classic inflationary effect that cheaper borrowing leads to people being more willing to buy stuff on credit.

            So yes, reducing fixed costs in an oligopolistic market could drive down prices by allowing new firms to enter the market. But while cheaper credit would make it easier to buy equipment to set up to enter the business (having a disinflationary effect), it would also increase demand and bid up prices for the equipment being bought (having an inflationary effect). I suspect the latter effect is going to be at least as big as the former in most cases.

          • baconbits9 says:

            So yes, reducing fixed costs in an oligopolistic market could drive down prices by allowing new firms to enter the market

            I don’t know if we are talking past each other or not, but prices only meet marginal costs in a perfectly competitive market, and a perfectly competitive market has no barriers to entry. This doesn’t mean that any imperfectly competitive market is oligopolistic.

            But while cheaper credit would make it easier to buy equipment to set up to enter the business (having a disinflationary effect), it would also increase demand and bid up prices for the equipment being bought (having an inflationary effect). I suspect the latter effect is going to be at least as big as the former in most cases.

            It could happen this way, but prices could drop without any new purchase of equipment. The threat of new firms entering can be enough for existing firms to keep lowering prices, and even without that threat there will often be opportunities to gain market share by lowering costs. Additional net production isn’t required.

    • Yosarian2 says:

      On the other hand if interest rates are high (and inflation is not), you are less likely to open the factory in the first place. If you could make 8% interest a year by keeping your money in the bank or otherwise loaning it out to people, you wouldn’t risk your own money starting a factory unless it was making significantly more than 8% a year in your profit/ return on investment. So fewer factories get built, and the ones that do get built have to have a higher profit margin or else they can’t attract investors, and that means much more expensive products, which increases inflation.

      • baconbits9 says:

        On the other hand if interest rates are high (and inflation is not), you are less likely to open the factory in the first place. If you could make 8% interest a year by keeping your money in the bank or otherwise loaning it out to people,

        This is a contradiction, you can’t keep your money in a bank account and earn 8% unless someone is borrowing the money at 8%.

        • JPNunez says:

          Yeah but maybe your factory isn’t a 8% a year business, but some stupid app is. For a while at least.

        • Yosarian2 says:

          Right, high interest rates means someone is borrowing money at those rates.

          It’s also true that higher interest rates on the banking/ lending side tend to discourage other kinds of investments, unless the other investments are very safe or have a very high rate of return.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It is not obvious that the high rates are the cause for lack of investment, or the lack of investment opportunities the cause of high rates.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Lower interest rates are not necessarily deflationary, just disinflationary. If real interest rates stay constant and inflation falls, the nominal interest rate will fall as well. So you’ll still have increasing operating expenses.

      If all prices were perfectly flexible, your variable interest rate is going to fluctuate at the same level as your operating expenses, if real rates hold steady. However, your interest expense will still decline because you are still paying off principal.

  38. Steve? says:

    Does anyone know of a good maximalist research-focused plan to address climate change?

    Background:
    I’m sold on the idea promoted by Noah Smith, among others, that the best contribution the US can make against climate change is on the research front. Our emissions aren’t high enough for policies limited to lowering our emissions to make a dent. However, if we develop low enough cost batteries, solar cells, etc. then for purely economic reasons the rest of the world would shift to those technologies and reduce their emissions.

    For me, the question then is how much money can we effectively pump into research and how would we use it. I just read in a Kevin Drum article that Warren proposes spending $40 billion a year on research (without much specificity on how it’d be spent). Drum then says that he considers $500 billion per year to be the “baseline for seriousness on R&D”. I’m a researcher and I’m all for research, but $500 billion is an absolutely bonkers number. Right now the whole NSF is $7 billion a year. The whole Department of Energy is $30 billion per year (and much of that goes to nuclear weapon stewardship). Even Warren’s plan would constitute a total reshaping of the research landscape. I don’t know how you would even spend $500 billion per year. That’s the entire research output of 500 R1 universities (and right now there’s only 131 of them).

    This brings me to the question at the top of the post. Are there any studies out there that game out how we could best spend another $40-100 billion a year on research preventing climate change? My thought would be that much of it could go into increasing the Department of Energy national lab system, adding new labs focused on specific classes of technologies. It’d need to have some sort of a workforce development strategy too — we’d need a lot more people with the relevant training to perform the research. Above all else, I wonder at what level the marginal returns to more funding approach zero. At what point do you run out of work that can be done in parallel? At what point to you run out of researchers of high enough quality to matter?

    • Matt M says:

      I’m a researcher and I’m all for research, but $500 billion is an absolutely bonkers number. Right now the whole NSF is $7 billion a year. The whole Department of Energy is $30 billion per year (and much of that goes to nuclear weapon stewardship). Even Warren’s plan would constitute a total reshaping of the research landscape

      The proposed federal budget for 2020 is nearly $5T. If you’re going to argue that climate change represents an existential threat to the continued survival of the human species then, I dunno, maybe you can come up with an argument to justify spending 10% of the total federal budget on it?

      • quanta413 says:

        Because first we have to do geoengineering trials on Mars for safety reasons. But Mars isn’t like earth. That means terraforming Mars first. All of this will be very, very expensive.

        But it’s totally awesome, so we should spend 10% of the total federal budget per year on it.

        My plan’s not significantly more poorly justified than Elizabeth Warren’s number or Kevin Drum’s number. And my plan nets us a colony on Mars (*waves hands*).

      • Steve? says:

        My question isn’t whether we should commit a large fraction of the government budget to combat climate change (I think we should, or at least we should consider it). The question is whether the last $100 billion per year out of $500 billion actually gets you anything (or even the last $400 billion). If it doesn’t, then we should spend it on something else (either climate related like consumer subsidies or other causes like healthcare).

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          This. The question is, if the US Department of Energy increased its zero-carbon technology R&D budget to the research output of 500 out of 131 research universities, what would we get? Would it be highly effective stewardship of the taxpayers’s money, or would it be so much more money than the system can handle that engineering professors would have to roll up $100 bills to snort cocaine off the thighs of affirmative-consenting sexy Asian grad students?

          • Controls Freak says:

            I want to connect this with broblawsky’s claim that we’ve already run out of researchers. The slight modification is that we’ve already run out of researchers who are any good. The literature is already jam-packed with mediocre-to-poor papers from grad students who don’t have anything interesting to say but are nevertheless required to say something to satisfy the conditions attached to the money that is currently rolling in. There are still good people who have good ideas and who could accomplish a lot with additional dollars, but given the performance of our current system in allocating research dollars, I think it’s unlikely that a massive influx of money is going to be remotely as efficient at driving those good ideas as people would like to hope.

          • acymetric says:

            …Did I choose the wrong career path?

          • John Schilling says:

            The slight modification is that we’ve already run out of researchers who are any good.

            Even more precisely, we’ve got lots of researchers who are good. It’s just that what they are particularly good at is A: stuff that won’t actually help with climate change and, B: convincing the people in charge of distributing the funds that their work is good for dealing with climate change after all. Including, yes, some who are good enough at that to convince the funding authorities to ignore the expensively consenting sexy Asian grad students.

            So that’s where most of the money would go, even if the “funding authorities” consist of a committee of the most enlightened rationalists of SSC. Building the sort of institutions that can effectively spend $500E9/year in a particular field without squandering most of it, is a really hard problem and not made easier by haste or publicity. We barely got NASA to the $50E9/yr level before it ossified into uselessness, and we had a much clearer idea what we were setting out to do in the first place.

          • Matt M says:

            what would we get? Would it be highly effective stewardship of the taxpayers’s money

            I mean, do you think it would be any less effective then whatever else the government is choosing to spend $500B on?

            From my POV, sure, it would probably be a useless waste of money. But so is nearly everything else they do, soooooo….

          • John Schilling says:

            I mean, do you think it would be any less effective then whatever else the government is choosing to spend $500B on?

            You know it doesn’t work that way. You still have to pay for everything else the government is currently paying for, every penny of it. The extra $500B means an extra $500B in taxes, and $500B less money for everyone who isn’t the government to spend on what they want. Or else it’s $500B closer to finding out what happens when the Magic Money Tree shrivels up and dies.

          • albatross11 says:

            Funding basic research is worthwhile, but has a lot of built-in overhead. But it seems like we might be able to get somewhere by offering prizes for some specific bits of technology we’d like to have. Something like demonstrating energy storage technology with some set of characteristics (J/$, J/kg, J/L, plus durability and such), or solar power installations which provide an average of X J/day at such-and-so location, at such-and-so cost.

            I don’t know enough to know how to write the requirements, but if the challenges were for stuff that’s within reach, we’d likely get universities and big companies working toward it, both for the prestige and for the cash. (Though if it’s something that’s a near-term business opportunity, businesses already have a big incentive to develop it….)

    • broblawsky says:

      I think we’ve already run out of researchers. I can attest that it is pretty easy, at least as of a year ago, to get money to start a company to work on energy storage research, either for EV or grid storage applications.

      • quanta413 says:

        Climate-scale geoengineering is pretty much totally untapped though. But since that’s almost the start of an entirely new field, I expect the payoff would take many decades.

        Field trials for that would be phenomenally complicated and expensive. You’d probably have to buy vast tracts of wasteland. The safety precautions necessary incredible, etc.

        Could probably burn tens or hundreds of billions on that.

        Maybe start by trying to greenify a desert.

        • hilitai says:

          “start by trying to greenify a desert”

          Imagine the environmental impact studies required for that.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Here is an (open-access) paper about irrigating the Sahara. It that warns that desert dust currently fertilizes the Atlantic and the Amazon. And locusts.

          • quanta413 says:

            Better get started. Really, no way to even make the environmental impact studies realistic without greenifying a little chunk first.

      • eric23 says:

        How can we can have run out of researchers, when the vast majority of people who enter the sciences fail to become professor and eventually have to settle for low-paying technician jobs, or else leave for the private sector? Many of them would love to keep doing research, but the economics do not allow for it.

        • John Schilling says:

          Almost everybody who “would love to keep doing research” as a professor, envisions having a bunch of technicians to help them with the job. And rightly so, for most research.

          What matters is not the number of people with the title “professor” and a salary to pay the mortgage while they tinker with whatever, but the number of properly-supported research teams, which include managers, administrators, professors, assistant professors, postdocs, research assistants, lab technicians, etc, in the proper proportion. Plus physical infrastructure, of course. And organizational structure that doesn’t emerge spontaneously if you just put a bunch of these people in an auditorium in the proper proportion and which can be grossly dysfunctional if you try to do a rush job of building it.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            But right now many of those ‘technicians’ have BS, or even MS, degrees, when they really don’t need more than an AS or even a brief apprenticeship in order to function as a technician.

            However: https://guzey.com/how-life-sciences-actually-work/

            Had there been a career path towards “Scientist Researcher” as you mention in your article, I most certainly would have taken it. As it is, I have worked for a half-dozen PIs and never once envied their job. I am quite good at implementation of research, but terrible at the networking and idea-generating aspects of a good PI. However, while my skills are undoubtedly valuable to a research lab, it is incredibly difficult for someone like me to find a stable job because of the funding issues and lack of recognition of the value of a supertech position.

            Do you have evidence for believing that effective organizational structure couldn’t spontaneously form?

        • albatross11 says:

          The current structure of researchers is based on what gets rewarded now with tenure–high paper output in top venues, success at getting grants, etc. There are a lot of worthwhile researchers who don’t do well at either of those, and so end up never getting a permanent job in their field, or who end up in a teaching job where they can do a little research around the edges.

          Some of that research requires large teams of assistants–usually a mix of grad students and technicians. But there’s a wide range even within the same field, and between different fields you can have a huge range. There are people who do really important work on minimal resources, more-or-less alone. There are others whose work requires huge amounts of funding and a big staff to even get started.

          I wonder if there’s a good way to fund more of that small-scale, small-group research, so you can allow someone to keep doing research who is only producing one or two papers a year and maybe has one grad student working with him. I think doing that (which might or might not work well in the relevant fields for cutting CO2 emissions–I don’t know) might let you substantially expand the number of working researches from the current stock of available scientists.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I’m sold on the idea promoted by Noah Smith, among others, that the best contribution the US can make against climate change is on the research front. Our emissions aren’t high enough for policies limited to lowering our emissions to make a dent. However, if we develop low enough cost batteries, solar cells, etc. then for purely economic reasons the rest of the world would shift to those technologies and reduce their emissions.

      I know this wasn’t your question, but its almost certainly not going to make a large impact. If the US develops and introduces cost effective sustainable energy then you will functionally lower demand for fossil fuels, lower their costs for other countries. You have basically cut US emissions, but not world wide emissions unless you come up with ‘super genius plan’ that makes sustainable energy cheaper than extraction of fossil fuels, which seems unlikely as they can’t get it down to even cost competitive yet. Given that it is likely to take decades for such research programs to actually get us to where the paranoid actually think we need to go it seems unlikely that such an effort would ever succeed in a meaningful way.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        There are a couple of ideas just in this thread. Geoengineering is one direction – we have a carbon problem, there are X natural things that sequester carbon and Y artificial things. Have a go at 1000 solutions that have the potential to fix things if you pump a trillion – give a mil to each, and 500 mils to the top 10. Then you’re very likely to have a carbon solution with a 1 Trillion price tag, when you’re willing to spend it. Not a bad deal.

        The other is energy. Lots of stuff – starting with the very obvious – we need a couple of competing designs for next gen nuclear reactors. Battery tech. Ways to make combustion engines cleaner. Ways to make combustion engine fuel cleaner. Ways to convert combustion engines to methane (btw, why aren’t we all burning methane? it’s a hellof a lot less polluting). Ways to burn other stuff as fuel.

        Third would be… new stuff. Fundamental research, materials tech (super duper important), completely random things that have the potential to come with something innovative. That’s also a great way to leak all that research money in more useful other directions.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Have a go at 1000 solutions that have the potential to fix things if you pump a trillion – give a mil to each, and 500 mils to the top 10. Then you’re very likely to have a carbon solution with a 1 Trillion price tag, when you’re willing to spend it. Not a bad deal.

          If you attempt to do this on a short time scale you are basically just going to end up throwing tons of money at people without the ability to solve the problems. Hey all we need are 1,000 extra highly competent people to run these projects… can’t be to hard to find… right?

          • Radu Floricica says:

            You are going to do that anyways, that’s kinda what this program will inevitably do. I’m not even pretending it will work – you have the government handing out money.

            Hmm. Prizes maybe? DoD does have a moderately successful tradition, I think most of pre-google self-driving car research was due to their yearly competition.

        • Steve? says:

          I think your assumption that your plan has a high chance of yielding a carbon solution. Out of the ideas that you only give $1 million a year to, you’re unlikely to get much progress on a quick time scale (that’s like 7ish grad students a year). That means that you’re really counting on your top 10. There’s no guarantee that any of them will work. There’s no physical law telling you that geoengineering on the necessary scale is possible without too many unwanted side effects.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Financing the 1000 is only to find the top 10. Well, it also has side-effects like creating interest, attention and grad students more familiar with the topic.

            Like I said in another comment, I’m not a believer in this kind of gov spending. I was just saying that if you want to spend the money, there are ways to do it that aren’t completely bonkers. Personally I’d bet more on prizes.

          • John Schilling says:

            Prizes can be useful at the margin, but they do have their limitations. In particular, they are a very high-risk revenue source on which to base a business plan, especially one that requires large up-front loans from hard-nosed bankers. You can do everything right, and come away with a big loss just because someone else was a little bit righter in pursuing the same prize. Or you can decide not to take that risk.

            We saw that with the original Ansari X-Prize, where once it was clear that Bert Rutan was making a run with Paul Allen’s money, everybody else basically stopped trying.

            You can also wind up with a “solution” that is narrowly tailored to the prize rules and rather less useful than you might have hoped. We saw that with the Ansari X-Prize as well; the intent was to foster the development of a vehicle that would then go on to bootstrap a commercial space-tourism industry, the rules were written to that end, and Paul Allen had cut a deal with Richard Branson for the tourism follow-on before the prize was won. But the vehicle Bert Rutan developed was tailored very specifically to the prize requirements, now fifteen years, at least half a billion dollars, and four deaths later, we still don’t have a tourist spaceship.

            And contested prizes can turn into discontent and litigation, with destructive effects. This isn’t unique to prizes; at this point “losing contractor files a protest lawsuit” is pretty much baked in to major defense procurements. But if there’s serious money at stake, we’ll see the same thing in prize competitions. The Lunar Lander Challenge only involved a couple of megabucks, so nobody bothered hiring lawyers, but I’m pretty sure the hard feelings over that one were part of what led Carmack to shut down Armadillo Aerospace a few years later.

      • Steve? says:

        My understanding is that in many locations solar and wind are near parity** with fossil fuels [ref] I agree with you that if the US reduces its fossil fuel consumption then that lowers the price worldwide. However, I *think* that extraction/refining/transportation costs represent a large fraction of fossil fuel prices. I don’t think we’re in the old OPEC days where there’s a ton of readily extractable oil but the price is high due to a cartel. If you accept that we’re near price parity now and that research can bring costs down by say a factor of 4, I’d be shocked if fossil fuel costs could drop by that much and not be overwhelmed by fixed costs.

        ** Parity on the margin. Of course fully switching to wind/solar would require energy storage at a scale that is still too expensive.

        • baconbits9 says:

          ** Parity on the margin. Of course fully switching to wind/solar would require energy storage at a scale that is still too expensive.

          Its not just storage for wind, its location availability. Hydro electric is cost competitive in many locations, but naturally all the best locations were converted to damns first so additional damns are further out on the margin.

          The main issue is that while solar/wind have made lots of in roads in terms of cost for electrical production they are far away from replacing natural gas from heat and gasoline for cars so you still end up with increasing C02 concentrations, only at a slower rate.

          • Steve? says:

            I agree with you on the location availability part. That’s an additional headwind to contend with.

            I’m not very familiar with cost comparisons for heating, but you might very well be right that non-fossil-fuel approaches are far away from being cheaper than natural gas.

            For electric vehicles though, I think the cost crossover point is coming fairly soon. At least that’s what a recent Bloomberg report said.

            I agree that improved emission-free technology isn’t a panacea, but I think that you’re being a bit overly pessimistic about its potential impact.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Your linked article claims that we are 3 years out from cross over in cost between gas and electric vehicles for SUVs in Europe. Europe has substantial gasoline taxes already, acting like a carbon tax, which are close to doubling gas prices there. If we are 3 years away from one type of car being competitive in a high tax area we are much further away in terms of most cars in most areas.

      • albatross11 says:

        The model you’re hoping for is replacing wired phones with cellphones. In a lot of places, the wired phones are crap due to corruption/ineptitude/dysfunction. But the cellphones work. You can imagine something like that also working for solar + batteries in various third-world countries–the national power monopoly is a pit of dysfunction and the wires keep getting stolen for their copper anyway, but if a household can have its own power system affordably, that will see widespread use.

        At the extreme end, you get countries that are currently spending a lot of their limited hard currency importing gasoline instead having some options.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The experience curve says that there’s not much you can do. The big thing is whether you can jump from a stagnant equilibrium to an exponential equilibrium, where people invest in improving things because there’s demand, because people expect better products in the future. But solar voltaics have been on that exponential curve for 50 years, exponentially increasing deployment and exponentially decreasing price. Thus the money required to bring it forward by a year has been exponentially increasing that whole time. Now it’s way too much to manage and there’s nothing we can do to invest in solar research. It will be driven purely by final demand. A measure of the customer expectation is that the state of California bought a solar plant not to be delivered for 5 years that will be cheaper than gas (at that latitude and climate). Do Warren and Drum know that? If they don’t believe in the existence of ongoing research, how can they possibly say anything about subsidizing future research?

      There are things that the US could do to stimulate demand, which would keep the experience curve running farther. It could encourage projects which consume marginal power, such as that run only for a few hours in the morning. For example, CA could build desalination plants and encourage people to water their lawns. Or build long-distance transmission lines.

      Solar is basically done. It’s cheap and it’s still getting cheaper. Batteries are falling in price, but they are still way to expensive for most energy storage. There’s a lot of room for them to expand, so it’s easier to imagine research investment. But I’m skeptical. It’s probably too big at this point. If you want to switch from lithium ion to batteries more suitable for immobile storage, then it’s easy to imagine investment helping, although it would take a long time to catch up. Or storage totally unlike batteries.

    • Ketil says:

      An extra $500B means hiring something like five million researchers, compared to the existing 6.9 million of scientists and engineers in the US. There are probably not that many candidates available, so a dramatically increased budget would lead to two things: scientists doing whatever wound now frame their research as climate related in order to get the pork, and wages would increase, especially for scientists good at reframing. And the bar for being hired as a climate scientists would be lowered (in order to fill all the positions you promised to fill in the grant proposals). So three things, with only the third actually increasing research capacity, and probably not in a very effective way.

      Actually, we have some of this situation in machine learning, it being a hot topic, there is usually money available. Since there are few candidates to hire, the result is that other research grabs the ML label: bioinformatics is now machine learning, optimization is machine learning, statistics, physics, you name it. The best people are already working for big tech at 10x the salary of academics. So smart academics rebrand their work, while the less smart ones (i.e. me) make an effort to actually switch fields, but will never really compete in the top league.

      I think whatever number the vote-buying democrat politicians can come up with should go to machine learning. Unlike climate change, there exists a talent pool in industry which could probably be recruited if the salaries were made more competitive.

    • MorningGaul says:

      I’m sold on the idea promoted by Noah Smith, among others, that the best contribution the US can make against climate change is on the research front. Our emissions aren’t high enough for policies limited to lowering our emissions to make a dent.

      What?
      According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions_per_capita, the US are 11th on the per capita CO2 emissions, with overpopulated industrial leaders such as Luxembourg and Saint Martin ahead of them. If the US cant make a dent on climate change, then who can?

      • eric23 says:

        More to the point, the US is #2 in absolute quantity of emissions, behind China. The US is about 14% of world emissions, and China about 29%. And a good deal of China’s emissions is from manufacturing stuff for the US.

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

      • baconbits9 says:

        Per capita doesn’t mean anything, total CO2 emissions is all that matters per country, and no, no one country can stop climate change.

        • Ketil says:

          High per capita emissions means that it is more opportunities for reduction. Total emissions means that the impact of reductions would actually matter.

          The US has per capita emissions of two to three times most European countries, and the EU has managed to cut emissions by 22% compared to the 1990 start point. I fail to see any good reason the US couldn’t do the same if they actually wanted to. This would cut global emissions by 3%, and I can’t think of any equally semi-plausible policies that beats it.

          I’m not at all certain, but I believe the EU’s success here is due to cap-and-trade quotas. (Agree? Disagree?) How hard would that be to implement, really? But no, environmentalism has turned into a lunacy contest, with GND and MMT and DSA and all kinds of garbage ideology baked in, the worse the better. This used to be the country that put people on the moon. France replaced all their fossil electricity with nukes in ten years, and is one of the greenest countries in Europe. Don’t tell me the US couldn’t do the same – easily, cheaply, and quickly – if it wanted to. [End rant]

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            How much of the EU’s success is a result of people being less spread out?

          • Steve? says:

            For certain broad definitions of “easily” and “cheaply”, the US could get down to EU levels of emissions (assuming we had the political will to do so, which is a very large assumption). However, as you say, that decreases global emissions by 3% — that is, by itself it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. Any solution to climate change has to a sizable chunk of the world’s population. One route to that is a worldwide binding treaty. However, for many reasons that’s a tough sell. Another route is to make non-emitting technology cheap enough that that is displaces fossil fuels. Getting the whole world to reduce emissions by free-riding on technology developed via a US-based research program can have a much larger effect than the US simply decreasing our own emissions (although we should do that too!).

          • baconbits9 says:

            High per capita emissions means that it is more opportunities for reduction.

            Why is that? Does the US have high per capita emissions because it is wasteful? Or does that imply that reducing emissions would come at a larger economic cost? The latter sounds more likely, the more dependent a country is on fossil fuels the more difficult it is likely to be to make a shift away.

            Beyond that a 22% reduction in Co2 emissions for the EU did basically nothing for world wide emissions, lower demand in the EU was largely swallowed by higher demand in other countries. Again no one country can make a large difference as lower demand in one place allows for consumption to shift.

          • albatross11 says:

            US per-capita emissions are probably somewhat baked into our population distribution, which is very spread out (so private cars are about the only sensible transport method) and heavily concentrated in places that are really miserable without air conditioning.

  39. baconbits9 says:

    Who has opinions on Powell’s speech and the strong market reaction?

    • broblawsky says:

      The reaction wasn’t to Powell’s speech. It was to Trump’s latest tweetstorm. Specifically, I think it’s this:

      Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA. I will be responding to China’s Tariffs this afternoon.

      The market responds strongly to trade war escalation headlines. If a deal is now impossible due to tit-for-tat retaliation, then everyone’s in trouble. I think this might be the tipping point.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Sure it is immediately related to Trump’s tweets, but the general reaction to Powell was muted and the fact that Trump just spewing without even proposing additional tarriffs is suggestive that the markets are fragile.

        • broblawsky says:

          Well, they’ve been range-bound for the last 18 months, and we were near the top of that range yesterday. I guess it depends on whether Trump announces additional/sped up tariffs later today.

          The real question is, why are markets so range-bound? We’ve had a decent earnings season and dovish trade war/Fed headlines for the last few weeks, we should’ve seen a break-out from the May heights. But it hasn’t happened, and now this is going on.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I wouldn’t say the markets were range bound for 18 months, the recent S&P peak was an all time high and the draw down into Dec ’18 was significantly lower than the low for the previous 10 months.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I think this might be the tipping point.

        I don’t think so; it’s still just blather. It fits Trump’s pattern of a bunch of escalation that ultimately leads essentially nowhere (e.g. “renegotiating NAFTA” or the Mexican tariff threats which left him getting the same deal he’d already got). There’s always the danger that this gets out of control, though, which is probably part of why the market is reacting.

        And there’s the 2.5D chess idea that he’s doing this to keep the markets down temporarily so the Fed is more likely to lower rates.

        • broblawsky says:

          I agree that it might just be blather, but only if Trump doesn’t step up his tariff schedule today/next week. The key is to avoid further upping of the ante.

    • jgr314 says:

      Speech: pretty standard stuff.

      Market reaction: not entirely sure what you mean. SPX is down about 1.7% on the day, which isn’t an unusual move, and was initially flat around Powell’s speech. Timing-wise, a decent part of the drop coincides with Trump’s anti-Fed and China tweets (which sounds a tempting explanation given earlier headlines from China), but I don’t think causation is knowable (or worth arguing).

      • baconbits9 says:

        I was personally thinking about how the Fed said ‘we know how to handle everything except Trump’s trade stuff’ and then the market had a sizable (especially when you consider gold’s jump and bond rate drops its quite broad) reaction.

      • broblawsky says:

        The timing on the drop is pretty precise. The “I hereby order” tweet was at 10:59 AM EST; between 10:55 AM and 11:15 AM SPX drops 1.39%.

  40. johan_larson says:

    Greyhound can get you by bus from New York to LA in three days, driving more or less non-stop. Has anyone here taken such a multi-day journey by bus?

    • Randy M says:

      Yup. In college I was part of a group that was going to Peach Tree City in Atlanta, GA, from the similarly fruity Orange County, CA. I was too late in activating my credit card, and so couldn’t afford the plane tickets. Bus was the only affordable option.

      It was quite uncomfortable, I was sweaty and smelly afterwards, and my watch was stolen (or fell?) off of my wrist as I slept. But it was cheap! I did a lot of reading, although I don’t remember what. That was before I had any portable electronics for entertainment (2002). I think modern buses might have chargers, which would make is more bearable.

      And I learned that however big you think Texas is, it’s bigger.

      In contrast, the trans-Pacific flight I took in business class ten years later was paradise.

      • Nick says:

        Greyhounds today have chargers, yeah. I charged all my devices beforehand for nothing. My ride was only a few hours, though.

      • Randy M says:

        As a lark, anyone want to guess what activity that group did? I’ll give a hint: in college, my two organized extracurricular activities were exact opposites in one sense.

    • Buttle says:

      About 20 years ago I went from Boston MA to Las Cruces NM by bus, stopping only as much as the bus schedule required. It was a fine way to travel — more legroom than a plane, and chance to walk around during smoke/fast food breaks every few hours.

    • AG says:

      Feel like we did a ski trip, Texas to New Mexico or Colorado, that was multi-day on the bus.
      Also did bus from Georgia to Massachusetts that was at least overnight.

    • littskad says:

      I once took the bus from Bemidji, Minnesota, to Detroit, Michigan, which necessitated an overnight stop of 4 hours in the Gary, Indiana bus depot, waiting for a bus change. It wasn’t a very big station, and they only had these uncomfortable plastic orange chairs to sit in, much less comfortable than the seats on the bus. Two different people tried to sell me drugs, and I had a fairly long conversation with a bored prostitute whose proposition I had turned down. To avoid trouble, it probably helped that I’m a fairly big, somewhat intimidating looking guy, and I think it was pretty obvious I didn’t have anything worth taking. Highly not recommended. (This was in the 1990s, so things might well be different now.)

      • johan_larson says:

        Surely someone has already made a film called “Bus Station”, which features varying collection of strangers who strike up conversations on a variety of subjects between arriving at the station and getting on their buses.

        I’m thinking there would be a completely still camera pointed at a row of seats with an institutional background, and no music but some background sounds and occasional announcements to establish the setting as a bus station.

        Maybe it’s too art-house.

      • Protagoras says:

        I was under the impression Gary was one of the worst of the rust belt cities; not quite Detroit, perhaps, but not much better off. Perhaps that was a contributing factor.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Gary is probably worse than Detroit, but since it’s much smaller it doesn’t get compared head-to-head with it.

          • littskad says:

            Yeah, I’m from Detroit, so I’m used to its brand of squalor, but the bus station at Gary was really bad. It was also really small, so I remember wondering to myself why they didn’t have me wait and change buses in Chicago instead. Looking up the Greyhound routes now, in fact, that’s what they do.

    • Enkidum says:

      I did two or three days from San Francisco to Buffalo, back in my dirty hippy days (I think 1997). This was after hitchhiking from Houston to SF,, which was more interesting, but the bus trip was kind of fun too.

    • bean says:

      Yes. Once, in college, I missed my flight home, and ended up on a 44-hour bus ride because it was the cheapest way back. Overall, it wasn’t nearly as bad as you might expect, although it was St. Louis – Spokane via the northern route, and the ratio of crazies was lower than I’d expect it to be further south. Still not an experience I’m eager to repeat.

  41. LadyJane says:

    Can someone explain the precise differences between Universal Basic Income, Citizen’s Dividend, and Negative Income Tax? I mentally group them all together as “UBI-like programs,” and I have some basic idea of how they’re all distinct from each other in theory, but I’m still somewhat unclear on the details and I don’t really know how they’d look different in practice. What are the benefits and drawbacks of each of them?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Under standard definitions AIUI, UBI is a lump sum for everyone. NIT is a smooth-sloping progressive payment, where people making $0 get the max and people making $XX,XXX dollars or more get nothing. Citizen’s Dividend is explicitly linked to tax revenues, unlike the other two, which are payouts set by fiat.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        Well, in a simplified system, negative income tax says that the net amount you get from the government is

        T = r ( I – O)

        where T is the effective tax (can be negative), r is the tax rate, I is your income, and O is the offset subtracted from your income before taxes are assessed. In UBI, the net amount you get from the government is

        T = rI – U

        where T is the effective tax, r is the tax rate, I is your income, and U is the UBI. For a flat r, these are identical. For a progressive r, they aren’t, but they still convert into similar schemes by factoring/distributing the r. In the NIT tax case, the effective UBI rO increases with the tax rate. From the other standpoint, the effective NIT offset U/r from the UBI decreases with increasing r. This has the interesting effect that the UBI is actually more progressive than the NIT for the same tax schedule.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          T = r ( I – O)

          I don’t think this is actually true; it creates a weird situation where the highest payout goes to a person whose income isn’t at zero and the net pay graph is sigmoid, assuming your r is some exponent of I. I think you instead want something more like

          T = r*I – r’*O

          Where r’ = x-ar

          If x, a = 1 that’s way too progressive but you get the idea.

      • AG says:

        Citizen’s Dividend seems to have some nice competing incentives: lower earners would want higher taxes to have a higher dividend, but the higher earners would want to raise more people out of the lower classes so that less people would want to raise taxes. Is this how it has empirically played out?

        • Matt M says:

          Isn’t “the poor want the rich to pay more taxes, while the rich want the poor to get off the couch and get a job” pretty much the default incentive structure we already have everywhere?

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Those same competing incentives exist under progressive taxation. You tell me.

          • AG says:

            True, but dependent on the progressive taxation being a direct payment to recipients, rather than indirect benefits via funding welfare programs. Currently, revenue is just as much benefiting the middle and upper classes (such as through funding government contracts and paying government employees), so the incentives are muddled.

            Like the difference between a company doing direct profit sharing, or spending profit on workplace comforts.

  42. DinoNerd says:

    In all the discussion about Trump’s desire to buy desirable territory, why am I not reading anything about the idea of self-determination? We’re currently seeing the results of China (re-)acquiring Hong Kong against the will/desires of some (large?) portion of its residents. China makes no claim to be a free nation in any way – rights don’t exist, more or less. The US does make such claims – but no one’s talking about the Greenlanders having a right to determine their own government.

    Purchasing territory has historically involved subjects – not citizens. Citizens vote to join other countries – or don’t. Trump figures Greenlanders are – or should be – for sale, at least in job lots. They apparantly don’t have any more right to self determination in his mind than e.g. polar bears. Except maybe they can emigrate after sale, the way a worker can get a new job when their division is sold to another company.

    I’m surprised not to encounter any indignation about this attitude.

    • Matt M says:

      why am I not reading anything about the idea of self-determination?

      Because if you travel too far down this rabbit-hole, the light at the end of the tunnel is “the south should have been allowed to secede?”

      Self-determination offers very little benefit to most existing governments. Because it wouldn’t be zero-sum. If Greenland can vote to leave Denmark and join the US, we may map that roughly as a loss to Denmark but an offsetting gain to the US – or zero-sum to “existing world governments in general.”

      But if they can do that, why can’t they vote to leave Denmark entirely and form their own nation? And if they can do that, why couldn’t Texas do that? Or Hong Kong?

      • EchoChaos says:

        the south should have been allowed to secede

        Indeed.

        • AG says:

          Only if all of its peoples had strong exit rights.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Only if they voted for it. The white males of Texas did, but everywhere else secession was chosen by conventions, many of whom had been elected as Unionists and changed their minds while at the conventions.

          (Also don’t forget that Mississippi and South Carolina enslaved absolute majorities of their population, and four other Confederate states enslaved above 40%. If they had been asked, I’m sure secession would’ve been roundly voted down.)

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Mississippi and South Carolina enslaved absolute majorities of their population

            I don’t doubt you, but I notice that those states now have comfortable white majorities, and in fact no state is currently majority black, which makes me curious what happened. Was the exodus to the north massive enough to account for that? Or did whites just outbreed blacks in the south?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Doctor Mist, eyeballing Wikipedia, the percentage of Black population went down steadily through the Great Migration era – so it looks like, yes, the migration really was that huge.

      • Aftagley says:

        Because if you travel too far down this rabbit-hole, the light at the end of the tunnel is “the south should have been allowed to secede?”

        … I don’t know if “respect for the principles of Self Determination” is a quality I’d assign a would-be nation with 40% of it’s population enslaved.

        But if [Greenland] can [vote to join the US], why can’t they vote to leave Denmark entirely and form their own nation?

        They can. Per the self-rule law of 2009, Greenland is only one referendum away from achieving sovereignty. They don’t want to, however, given that they’re currently financially dependent on Denmark.

    • Randy M says:

      Purchasing territory has historically involved subjects – not citizens. Citizens vote to join other countries – or don’t.

      Has this happened before? Citizens may vote among themselves to attempt to overthrow their current rulers, but not a lot of referendum for succession have actually occurred.
      Possibly Brexit, though anti-Brexit would probably say that’s absurd. Some areas of the UK have tried this, but it’s unclear how the implementation would have unfolded.
      I don’t think any of the US’ land was gained or lost this way, save Texas, which is a bit more complicated than that–the had to first fight to leave Mexico, and the they there includes a lot of recent US emigres.
      Self-determination seems to be a principle primarily advanced to destabilize other areas, not brought up when it might constrain ourselves.

      I’m surprised not to encounter any indignation about this attitude.

      It’s an improvement over the historical territory acquisition method as it requires consent of the current rulers, and hence is also unlikely to go anywhere. Greenland’s sparse population (56,000, 10% of Denmark’s population) may also be a reason.
      (edit: lots)

      • DinoNerd says:

        Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949. It was somewhat of a shotgun wedding, because Newfoundland’s budget was a complete shambles after WW II expenses. But there was a referendum etc.

        It’s not quite your case – Newfoundland was sovereign at the time. But it is my case – citizens voting to give up sovereignity.

        [Edit to add…] We also have (failed) secession referendums in Scotland and Quebec. Unlike the US of a century ago, Great Britain and Canada in modern times don’t seem inclined to keep unwilling territory in their union by force of arms.

      • nkurz says:

        Denmark has about 5.5 million people; Greenland has about 55 thousand people. 55,000 / 5,500,000 = .01. That is to say, Greenland has 1% of the population of Denmark, not 10%.

    • Aftagley says:

      What do you mean you’re not reading anything about self-determination? Denmark’s response to this whole debacle was “we can’t sell Greenland because it’s not ours to sell.” A large part of the anger over this topic in Greenland and Denmark was about the very ideas of self-determination.

      Admittedly that didn’t make the headlines here, but I’d argue that’s likely due to the fact that no one actually thought this was a serious proposal. I’d bet with a large amount of confidence that in the alternate universe where Denmark went along with this farce you’d see people in America vocally concerned about the rights of Greenlanders.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Trump cancelling the state visit to Denmark immediately after this proposal was rejected changes my perception of it from “throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks” to as serious a proposal as Trump is capable of. (He’s not good at details like normal diplomatic protocol etc.)

        • Aftagley says:

          Idk. WaPo had a pretty compelling theory that this entire dust-up was just an excuse for Trump to cancel the Denmark trip. Apparently Obama is scheduled to visit there the week after Trump and the white house was nervous about the contrasting receptions they’d get. This conceivably shifts the narrative from”Danes like Obama more than Trump” to “Trump stands up to nasty prime minister.

          Then again, that theory falls victim to the same critique that always applies whenever anyone writes a “he’s secretly playing 4d chess” article – none of his behavior thus far makes it look like he’s capable of this kind of planning.

          • Matt M says:

            What about my (still incredibly simple and consistent) theory that he cancelled the trip following a perceived slight by the Danish PM in the media.

          • Aftagley says:

            Your theory is still likely the correct one.

          • dick says:

            I would also entertain the idea that the Danish PM addressed it with the intention of getting Trump to cancel. Does any European leader really want Trump to visit? What do they get out of it, other than police OT and traffic jams?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Well, they would get a good look at the least Danish person on the planet. So there’s that.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      It’s hard to be indignant about any particular thing when you’ve been in a state of constant indignation for three years straight. If Trump is a an FSB asset setting up concentration camps who eats his steak well-done with ketchup, how is there any room left over to be indignant about his indifference to the political will of Greenlanders?

      That said, any actual negotiations for purchasing Greenland would inevitably include representatives for Greenlanders as well as Danes. If anything, having both groups at the table strengthens the American bargaining position because we can take advantage of their existing desire for independence, offering Greenland more autonomy and political influence than they currently have in the Kingdom of Denmark. If Greenland came into the union as the 51st state, it would become more influential than Denmark itself.

      I don’t think that they would take the deal, there’s no reason strong enough to overcome national pride, but I don’t think offering it is insensitive.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The Greenlanders do have a right to determine their own government, but their government is the Unitary Realm of Denmark and their sovereign is the King of Denmark. There’s absolutely no compelling legal reason that Denmark cannot suspend the self-rule that Greenland has been granted, because Greenland is not sovereign.

  43. Nick says:

    I learned recently about the Standard Ebooks project. The idea is to produce quality, libre ebooks for works in the (US) public domain. They have a typography manual and scripts to correct things like archaic spellings—you can start with a transcription from somewhere like Project Gutenberg and bring it up to standard from there. And being libre, source code for all the tools and books is available online.

    Here’s an example one: The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Contrast with, uh, certain alternatives.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I’m very unimpressed by Standard Ebooks, and that The Napoleon of Notting Hill file is a perfect example of why. Sure, it looks good compared with a text file alternative, but look at the original Project Gutenberg version from which it was made. Standard Ebooks removes the original cover, the illustrations, the formatting (note how the dedication loses its italics) and for what, exactly? What benefit do I get from it over Project Gutenberg’s epub version of the book?

      • Nick says:

        The formatting of the poem changed because they have their own manuals, like I said. I don’t know why they removed the illustrations, though; that’s a shame.

        The benefit is a standardized format for the ebooks. When it changes the formatting, produces a new cover, and so on, it’s really no different from what Heritage Press or the Folio Society does. Project Gutenberg is really uneven by contrast—some will have the images, others won’t, some will have the cover, others won’t, some will have page numbers, others won’t….

  44. Le Maistre Chat says:

    In honor of Democratic front-runner for President Joe Biden, WTF is wrong with Amtrak? In theory, I like trains, but if I look at your booking website and getting from Portland to the Midwest takes 50+ hours and I have to pay as much each way as round-trip on a plane… come on.
    Is it that the only infrastructure planes need is the airport, rather than every mile between destinations being a gigantic exercise in cost disease? I don’t think “airlines compete and Amtrak is a monopoly” is sufficient, because what makes it a monopoly is that private industry finds passenger rail unprofitable.

    • blipnickels says:

      Partly, I think it’s a scaling issue on a limited number of tracks. I know it takes roughly 10 hours to drive from SF to Portland but about 20 by train and the explanation I’ve always heard is that passenger trains have to move aside for freight trains. If you doubled the number of trains along that route without building more railway tracks, things get very complicated. 20 planes a day from SF to Portland only have to organize around taking off and landing, everything in between is pretty free form. Trains seem like the have those complications the entire way. I’d guess the ways around it are to make sure all the trains are on time but airplanes and cars that can pass each other sure have a lot more slack in the system.

    • onyomi says:

      Near the top of the list of reasons I voted for Obama the first-go-round, after Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and McCain, was Biden’s campaign (quasi-?)promise to build high speed rail. That they did seemingly nothing on that front while largely continuing the policies I disliked of the aforementioned ended my brief flirtation with supporting the Democratic Party.

    • CatCube says:

      I don’t know how much of it is cost disease on that trip, because most of the rail was built out many years ago, and is maintained by the freight railroads.

      I know the railroads hate Amtrak. The stated reason is that the fees that Amtrak pays for trackage rights doesn’t cover the cost of hosting them. Amtrak maintains that they do cover their costs; I don’t know enough about the economics to know who’s telling the truth.

      Food for thought, though: there’s a display in the St. Louis Union Station (now a museum) that pointed out that passenger trains in the US were never profitable on their own, even in the 1800s. They were seen by the railroads as advertising their actually-profitable freight business, and lines that didn’t present that advantage (e.g., to a small town not likely with many freight customers) were slow and miserable to travel on, typically as a mixed freight and passenger train. If they weren’t profitable when their main competition was Conestoga wagons, it’s not hard for me to believe that’s the case when highways and planes are a thing.

      Like you, I’ve investigated taking the train from Portland to the Midwest. I really think I’d enjoy the trip, but man, if I’ve only got 7 days of vacation, I don’t know that I’d like it enough to spend 60% of it traveling.

      There is probably a component of network effects, though. If few people travel on it, then the people who do travel by train need to pay more to cover the fixed costs…which means that fewer people are willing to travel by train! This is a vicious spiral.

      Here’s some other food for thought that I look up every time something like this comes up: everybody preens about how good Europe does passenger rail. Go to https://amtrak.com and look up Los Angeles to Chicago. I did this for September 17th, and got a departure of 18:00, and an arrival on the 19th at 14:50, or about 43 hours. I go to Google and do a search for train travel times from Paris to Moscow. I just did that on https://plan.rail.cc and got a departure of 13:10 on the September 17th, and an arrival at your destination of 06:42 on the 19th, or about 41 hours. These are the same distance. So exactly how much better is Europe doing?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Here’s some other food for thought that I look up every time something like this comes up: everybody preens about how good Europe does passenger rail. Go to https://amtrak.com and look up Los Angeles to Chicago. I did this for September 17th, and got a departure of 18:00, and an arrival on the 19th at 14:50, or about 43 hours. I go to Google and do a search for train travel times from Paris to Moscow. I just did that on https://plan.rail.cc and got a departure of 13:10 on the September 17th, and an arrival at your destination of 06:42 on the 19th, or about 41 hours. These are the same distance. So exactly how much better is Europe doing?

        Huh. I wouldn’t be surprised if some countries have high-speed rail while others have Amtrak-level crap and what’s bringing the average down is border stops (even countries that are now in the EU together can be running on different gauges). We also have to bear in mind that it’s more appealing to build high-speed rail if the political unit is small enough that crossing it by land is competitive with traveling to the airport, going through Security Theater, flying, and traveling from the airport to the downtown area a rail station would run to.
        Living in a big country, trains slow for you…

        • CatCube says:

          There’s absolutely a break of gauge at the Russia/Poland border, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it was at the German/Polish border. (The train I found went through Strasbourg, but I don’t know anything else about its route) I point this out to demonstrate that not even Europe has cracked this nut for the lengths of travel we have to contend with in the US. I find that people don’t really realize that, again, Paris to Moscow is around the same distance as Chicago to LA.

          The other thing to think about is that a hub-and-spoke system probably works better for airlines than trains. That is, it’s relatively easy to add, say, Iowa City to your airline by connecting through Minneapolis or Chicago (or even DFW!) That’s…less possible with a train. When you have a bunch of empty space to travel through, but still have to stop to service the people who live there, that can really start to bite into the economics.

          If we do have any Europeans who use the train system there: has something changed? This comparison I did used to be really easy–go to Eurail and get the schedule. Now getting the times for Paris to Moscow is more difficult, and required about 10 or 15 minutes to find a website. Has the political situation made reserving tickets for this trip in one shot dicier, or some other contractual change?

          • Robin says:

            Finding the times is easy, e.g. http://bahn.de — Paris -> Moskva takes at least 33 hours, whereas Moskva -> Paris takes 42 hours. Go figure.
            You cannot book the tickets there, because German railway cannot book some foreign trains, such as the French TGV or Thalys. Either book these separately on their web pages, or ask a travel agency.

        • Jake says:

          To keep the comparison in-country, I checked out a route between Chicago, IL and Creston, IA (630km) on the California Zephyr and compared it with a route from Hamburg to Munich (613km) on the ICE. Amtrak takes 6:41 and costs $89 for the cheapest trip, the DB takes 6:13 and costs E109 for the cheapest trip. They seem pretty comparable to me in terms of speed/cost.

          IMO, the big advantage the European system has is usability. The Amtrak route, goes once per day, and once you get to the endpoint, there is likely going to be no public transportation to get you anywhere else. The DB has two trains leaving every hour, and when you get there, you will likely be able to take a regional train, s-bahn, or u-bahn to wherever you want to go next.

          It also helps that if the train you are trying to catch is delayed for some reason, a lot of times you can just book the next train, where on Amtrak, I remember trying to catch the tail end of the California Zephyr once, and it was more than 30 hours delayed, making it faster and easier to just drive where I needed to be.

          • CatCube says:

            Yeah, despite my shot at Europe about trains, reliability is a big deal. When you look at a European rail website and it gives you a time not much off from the US, it matters a lot that the train in Europe will actually meet that time, while Amtrak is more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, it really depends on what your endpoints are. Some cities just don’t have a direct or even semi-direct route between them, so you end up taking a long roundabout set of connections with potentially large amounts of time between arrival and departure.

            Trains are much more comfortable than flying (unless you fly first class, and maybe even then depending on the flight).

          • Aftagley says:

            IIRC, the issue with long distance travel on Amtrak isn’t really the relatively slow nature of travel (I’d take an overnight train over a red eye flight any day of the week) it’s the friggen layovers.

            I tried to game out a train trip from Seattle to the East Coast a few years back and I had almost a 1:1 ratio of “time in trains” to “time hanging around train stations in weird cities”

      • Aapje says:

        @CatCube

        Here’s some other food for thought that I look up every time something like this comes up: everybody preens about how good Europe does passenger rail.

        European railways tend to be strongly focused on national transportation, so international travel by train is usually going to be bad, aside from a few specific lines (mainly (or only?) Eurostar & Thalys).

      • AlesZiegler says:

        “European” train service is very good in Germany, France and countries between them. In postcommunist countries it´s not great, sometimes terrible. British trains also don´t have great reputation, but I never travelled on them so that is very much second hand information.

        • ana53294 says:

          Spanish and Portuguese trains are quite good (as long as you avoid the empty bits of Spain).

          British trains have issues with cancellations, but there is usually an alternative route that takes you up to an hour more, except for exceptions like extreme weather, or fire on tracks, or people commiting suicide.

          Trains in Sweden and Denmark are also quite good.

          Trains in Russia are actually quite reliable, if old.

        • Lambert says:

          UK trains are run by the exact kind of public/private sector hodgepodge that best encourages crony capitalism and revolving doors.
          One operator’s petty fiefdom franchise might be better than another’s.
          All of them are better than Southern Rail.
          And the ticket pricing system is positively byzantine. Friends of mine have saved money by buying a journey in two parts, even though they’re both on the same train. (Buying London to Doncaster, then Doncaster to Edinburgh, rather than just London to Edinburgh)

          That said, it’s generally ok. I think we just like complaining.

        • A1987dM says:

          In certain parts of Italy too (trains from Rome to Milan —same distance as Los Angeles to San Francisco— take 3 hours and there tens of them every day).

    • edmundgennings says:

      I think trains are just inherently slower, more expensive, and less flexible than planes. Western Europe can cope with this to an extent because of a high population density but even there trains generally only compete by being a nicer experience and being able to go into city centers.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        The killer app for trains is capacity. A train station can handle numbers that would cause an airport to implode, catch fire, and vanish into a sulfurous crack in the earth. This is, for example, why China builds so very much rail – Look up their traffic numbers, now imagine the air-ports that would be required. If you succeed, congratulations, you can imagine the actually impossible.

        Those are the conditions under which you build high speed rail because you do not have an actual bloody choice. Short of that, it is the only low carbon transit method which can reach acceptable speeds, so if we want a low carbon future, we are going to be building a whole lot of rail.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The higher volume of trains is not nearly as impressive when compared to the potential of Airplanes+roads. High speed train projects take priority for natural choke points like mountain passes, rivers, etc, and so make road traffic far less efficient, while also being wildly less flexible than air travel.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            … You did not look up those actual passenger numbers, did you? Because trains handle volumes beyond what can be carried by roads, by far.

          • baconbits9 says:

            No they don’t, roads can be expanded far wider for the same traffic than rail can because individual cars can change lanes far easier than a train can. A single train track is not at all analogous to a single lane of highway, and you can more easily and effectively double, triple or quadruple road traffic while switching destinations than you can rail. The point was also that you can do road + flight easier than road+rail

          • baconbits9 says:

            So actual passenger numbers

            China’s high speed rail ~2 billion passenger trips in 2018
            US road system 411 billion road trips per year plus ~ 1 billion passengers

            Even just counting long distance road trips in the US they were at 2.6 billion road trips plus ~ 1 billion on flights, putting it well above China’s high speed rail system for total use with China having 4X the population.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Train’s aren’t far beyond even considering a single lane. Small vehicles cannot approach train capacities, but the Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane and the Amtrak North River Tunnels (both carrying passengers from New Jersey to Midtown) are of similar capacity.

          • eric23 says:

            The “US road system” includes every little street anywhere in the US. That’s 6.58 million km of roads, so 411 billion road trips is about 620 trips per km per year.

            Meanwhile, Chinese HSR carries about 2 billion people on 29000 km of tracks, about 69000 trips per km per year. So Chinese HSR is over a hundred times more efficient, measured in this way.

            Measuring another way: a lane of road can carry about 1800 cars per hour (that’s a 2 second gap between vehicles). Generally the cars will have about 1.3 passengers each (unless it’s a carpool lane), for a total capacity of about 2300 people. A train track takes up about the same space, but can carry 2000 passengers in a train every 3 minutes. That’s a 17x higher capacity. Of course it is normal for roads to have more than one lane per direction, but in big European and Asian cities it is equally normal to have more than one track per direction. The car lanes are limited to about 70mph everywhere, while even “low speed” trains typically go 100mph (outside the US) without needing special HSR right of way.

            As for convenience in getting to your destination, it varies. Trains do much better here than planes, because they typically stop downtown, and because they quickly accelerate and decelerate which permits a number of stops along the route without significantly affecting trip time. Cars typically do better than trains, but not always: in downtowns, or anywhere in extremely large cities, the traffic and parking difficulties outweigh the inconvenience of needing to transfer from the train.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The “US road system” includes every little street anywhere in the US. That’s 6.58 million km of roads, so 411 billion road trips is about 620 trips per km per year.

            Meanwhile, Chinese HSR carries about 2 billion people on 29000 km of tracks, about 69000 trips per km per year. So Chinese HSR is over a hundred times more efficient, measured in this way.

            This isn’t a useful comparison because no one lives at those train stations, every station requires hundreds/thousands/tens of thousands of miles of roads to get people to and from the stations. Comparing door to door for one and not door to door for the other is biasing it heavily for trains.

          • Jake says:

            @eric

            The “US road system” includes every little street anywhere in the US. That’s 6.58 million km of roads, so 411 billion road trips is about 620 trips per km per year.

            I think you missed the decimal point in that calculation, since 411 billion road trips/6.58 million km of roads is ~62,000 trips/km*yr, which is comparable to the train numbers you quoted. The other calculations you made in that post seem right though, and I would bet that the trains also have a much larger utilization if you checked something like people*km/km*year that actually measured how far each trip was.

          • mfm32 says:

            @eric23 Your capacity analysis seems really inflated.

            Wikipedia suggests that the maximum capacity of a Chinese HSR trainset is ~1,000 passengers, with many substantially smaller than that. Even assuming 1,000 per train, we are down to an 8x advantage for trains.

            Unless I am missing something, you can’t possible have a train every 3 minutes because the train needs to stop at a station for people to get on and off. If this takes longer than your inter-train time, the train behind will hit the one stopped at the station. It seems like a station dwell time of ~8 minutes is more reasonable, and that’s not for a 1,000 person monster train either. Let’s say 9 minutes to make the math easy and you put in a 2x safety factor, so 18 minutes between trains. Note that I have never personally seen HSR trains operating so close. Now we’re at a 1.3x advantage for trains.

            As for horizontal space, obviously the railway needs more space than just what the train itself takes up. A CA HSR advocacy group says it would take 100-ft, which seems to me like a 4-lane interstate with 10-ft shoulders. But they say that’s a “2-lane farm road,” so we’ll take that. Now we’re at a 0.67 capacity for trains, which flips it back to a disadvantage. The need for much shallower turns, less flexibility in covering hills, and the colossal stations you’d need to offload 1,000 people in <10 minutes would add considerably to the train's overall footprint.

            It's really quite hard for the math of trains to make sense.

          • eric23 says:

            “This isn’t a useful comparison because no one lives at those train stations, every station requires hundreds/thousands/tens of thousands of miles of roads to get people to and from the stations”

            Trains are not useful for every trip, and nobody is proposing replacing every residential street with a train track. However, for long distance or high capacity travel, trains are much more efficient. A typical trip in Europe or Japan involves a short road trip, then a long train trip, then another short road trip. Would you classify that as a road trip? The large majority of travel distance occurs on the train.

            “I think you missed the decimal point in that calculation, since 411 billion road trips/6.58 million km of roads is ~62,000 ”

            Correct, thank you. It’s worth noting that a high fraction of the road trips are very short (e.g. from your front door to the supermarket) while most HSR trips are hundreds of km long. So the amount of travel done in km, per road/rail length in km, is still drastically higher for HSR (which is why I did not catch my decimal point error).

            “Wikipedia suggests that the maximum capacity of a Chinese HSR trainset is ~1,000 passengers” etc.

            We are getting a little confused here between HSR and other forms of rail. Suburban trains in Paris carry 50000 passengers per hour on a single track (roughly speaking, 30 trains per hour with 1666 passengers on each). Compare that to 2300 passengers per hour in the road lane – still an advantage of more than 20 to 1. HSR is limited to perhaps 40% lower frequency than suburban rail, so its advantage is about 12 to 1.

            “As for horizontal space, obviously the railway needs more space than just what the train itself takes up. A CA HSR advocacy group says it would take 100-ft,”

            HSR trains, traveling at 200mph, may need 100 foot right-of-ways (though aerial photography suggests that European HSR uses about half that, comparable to a one-lane road with shoulders). Normal speed trains, which are the natural competitor for normal speed cars, don’t need more space than the tracks.

          • albatross11 says:

            Couldn’t you just have lots of parallel stops at the railway station?

          • Aapje says:

            @mfm32

            Four to five minutes between trains is perfectly doable for single track (if the trains run on time very well). As albatross11 notes, with multiple platforms, you can increase it. Even more so when outside the station, not all trains squeeze on the same set of rails.

            It’s quite typical for larger train stations to have multiple tracks/platforms, sometimes even up to 30.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Trains are not useful for every trip, and nobody is proposing replacing every residential street with a train track. However, for long distance or high capacity travel, trains are much more efficient. A typical trip in Europe or Japan involves a short road trip, then a long train trip, then another short road trip. Would you classify that as a road trip? The large majority of travel distance occurs on the train.

            The metric you used implies that we should treat train trips and road trips separate. You cannot measure the ‘efficiency’ of train trips by taking miles of train track and passenger miles and ignoring the trips to and from the train station if the train trips require travel to and from the station. Doing so artificially makes train travel look more efficient because you are hiding necessary costs.

          • eric23 says:

            You cannot measure the ‘efficiency’ of train trips by taking miles of train track and passenger miles and ignoring the trips to and from the train station if the train trips require travel to and from the station.

            OK. It’s hard to make a perfect comparison, when so much of the data you’d want for a perfect comparison is not easily available online. But let’s try again.

            The Tokaido Shinkansen is a HSR route between Tokyo and Osaka, Japan. It carries 452000 passengers per day. Its right of way is about 15 meters wide, corresponding to a freeway with 1 lane and a shoulder in each direction. If this freeway was occupied to its maximum capacity 24 hours a day, that would be a total of 110000 passengers per day. So the actual ridership of the train is 4 times higher than the theoretical maximum of a similar road. (The theoretical maximum of the HSR train is much higher – perhaps 12 to 1 as in my previous comment.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            So the actual ridership of the train is 4 times higher than the theoretical maximum of a similar road. (The theoretical maximum of the HSR train is much higher – perhaps 12 to 1 as in my previous comment.)

            No, it’s that much higher than the theoretical maximum of a similar road with passenger cars on it. The North Hudson Tunnels (rail) carry something like 200,000 passengers per weekday, and they are at capacity as to number of trains during peak hours (just under 24 trains per hour). The Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane carries 73920 passengers per weekday. It is also at capacity as to number of vehicles (roughly 1850 per day, or 462 per hour). It only operates in the morning, so we can see that the road lane has roughly 3/4 the capacity of the rail tunnel.

          • baconbits9 says:

            OK. It’s hard to make a perfect comparison, when so much of the data you’d want for a perfect comparison is not easily available online. But let’s try again.

            The issue is not that your comparison is not apples to apples, it is that you are slashing pertinent information which makes ‘efficiency’ meaningless. If your question is ‘which is more efficient for moving people from point A to point B’ then your answer would have meaning, but travelers are not interested in moving from train station A to train station B except as a portion of moving from point C to point D.

          • Protagoras says:

            But if you build train stations, people build housing and places people want to go to near the train stations on purpose. It is in certain ways an advantage to buses that they can connect any two places where enough people wanting to travel to or from congregate, and of cars that they can connect any two places arbitrarily, but in practice this tends to lead to congestion in some places, underused roads in others, and encouraging people to spread out so that they need more transport to get between more widely scattered locations.

          • eric23 says:

            The Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane carries 73920 passengers per weekday.

            Now that we are shifting back to urban transit – I already mentioned Paris commuter rail which carries 50000 passengers per hour. Extrapolating to a 24 hour day, this is 16 times higher than the Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane. (I don’t compare to the North Hudson Tunnels in my calculation, because New Jersey Transit is incompetently run and could do much better with its rail service.)

            If your question is ‘which is more efficient for moving people from point A to point B’ then your answer would have meaning, but travelers are not interested in moving from train station A to train station B except as a portion of moving from point C to point D.

            But that’s also true for car travel. Nobody wants to travel to a parking lot or garage, they want to travel to a destination which is reasonably close to the lot or garage. When the vast majority of a trip is by car, we call it a car trip. Why shouldn’t we use the same standard for rail?

          • baconbits9 says:

            But that’s also true for car travel. Nobody wants to travel to a parking lot or garage, they want to travel to a destination which is reasonably close to the lot or garage. When the vast majority of a trip is by car, we call it a car trip. Why shouldn’t we use the same standard for rail?

            A car trip takes the mode of transportation with them. If you take a car trip from your driveway to work the amount of time walking is minimal. If you take a half hour train ride you can well have half an hour of walking getting to the station and then getting to work from the station. If you want to build up a road/parking system so you can drive to and from stations then you are dramatically increasing the costs of building an effective rail system, but your metric will hide that.

            Being on the train or at a train station is not an end value, which is what is necessary to make people miles/traveled per train/per hour a useful metric. Imagine a long stretch of track where a train could get really up to speed and cover the distance very quickly, but every passenger had to get off and backtrack half the distance by another means because it overshot their destination.

          • baconbits9 says:

            But if you build train stations, people build housing and places people want to go to near the train stations on purpose.

            This isn’t all roses though, the best locations for stations/train lines aren’t always the best for shops/living, and living near train lines in general is not enjoyable.

            but in practice this tends to lead to congestion in some places, underused roads in others, and encouraging people to spread out so that they need more transport to get between more widely scattered locations.

            This is more true for trains than other forms of transportation. Stations become massive choke points for congestion and the least used roads get less use.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I already mentioned Paris commuter rail which carries 50000 passengers per hour. Extrapolating to a 24 hour day, this is 16 times higher than the Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane. (I don’t compare to the North Hudson Tunnels in my calculation, because New Jersey Transit is incompetently run and could do much better with its rail service.)

            Now you’re comparing an entire system to one link. NJT is incompetently run, but this does not manifest as a significant reduction in utilization of the North River Tunnels.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            If you take a car trip from your driveway to work the amount of time walking is minimal.

            That depends very much on the parking infrastructure. I bet that if you work in Manhattan, that isn’t true at all.

            Infrastructure with lots of parking space is very sprawly & has huge downsides when it comes to efficient use of space, especially in areas with high land cost, that people seem increasingly drawn to.

            ‘Apple Park’ where 14,000 people work has more parking space than office space. It cost 5 billion. Imagine replacing most of that parking with (light) rail + bikes (note that they already have the latter). They could pack more companies in Silicon Valley, which in turn makes the travel distances from the rail station to those companies less.

            Of course, if Apple would want to do so, they would run into the issue that the infrastructure they would connect to is lacking.

            Yet choosing to have that infrastructure is a choice that can be made.

            If you take a half hour train ride you can well have half an hour of walking getting to the station and then getting to work from the station.

            Which is…because the US lacks infrastructure for bicycles and/or lacks a cycling culture. People typically cycle three times faster than they walk, so adding bicycles triples the range of a train station.

            My country has just increased the capacity of the bicycle parking at Utrecht Central Station to 12,500 spots, making it the largest in the world. People are not forced to do this either. Dutch train stations have traditionally lagged behind offering enough bicycle parking*, as very many Dutch commuters prefer to go to the station by bike.

            The national train company also has a bike rental system that is available at many stations.

            * One solution that some people use is to keep a bike in the parking near work, during the night/weekend. So they use two different bikes, one to go to the train station near their home & one to go from the train station near their work to work.

          • eric23 says:

            If you want to build up a road/parking system so you can drive to and from stations then you are dramatically increasing the costs of building an effective rail system, but your metric will hide that.

            Not really. You only need a single lane road with some buses running on it.

            Now you’re comparing an entire system to one link.

            I’m not. My comment was unclear, but 50000 passengers per hour is for a single line.

            NJT is incompetently run, but this does not manifest as a significant reduction in utilization of the North River Tunnels.

            Incorrect. A more competent operation would run 30 trains per hour not 24, and have longer and more efficiently filled trains, and would run trains in equal quantities in both directions so frequencies could be high all day long rather than the trains sitting in a yard near downtown for the entire middle of the day.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Not really. You only need a single lane road with some buses running on it

            Your whole position is that rail transports 10-20x as many people per hour for the same width road, you can’t reasonably get that many people into and out of your train stations if those ratios are correct with a single lane road.

            Even if you could you are just punting one more time, and you have to organize and build the infrastructure to get all those people onto buses. To get high volume bus transport you need everyone to get on and off at a very small number of stops, which presents exactly the same issue, just one more kick of the can.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Which is…because the US lacks infrastructure for bicycles and/or lacks a cycling culture. People typically cycle three times faster than they walk, so adding bicycles triples the range of a train station.

            You’re in the flat Netherlands, right? I’m in relatively flat New Jersey. The nearest station is 2.7 miles away…. with 400 feet of climbing. Most people aren’t going to do that for a commute. The nearest major station is 3.5 miles and 530 feet of climbing, or 4 miles and 450 feet of climbing. And now once I’ve got the bicycle to the station, what do I do? I can’t take it on the train (no bicycles except folding bicycles — which are much heavier, so a worse climb — on rush hour trains, very limited on non-rush hour). If I leave the bike at the smaller station it’ll be stolen often. And then there’s winter, and 90+ degree days in summer.

            There is a parking lot next to my office in Manhattan. But they don’t pay me enough to use it, nor to get through Manhattan traffic to reach the entrance.

          • baconbits9 says:

            That depends very much on the parking infrastructure. I bet that if you work in Manhattan, that isn’t true at all.

            And places like Manhattan have all their own issues with trains, the average rider on NYC public transportation spends 87 mins a day just riding. The comparison here is between high speed trains and highways, not between subways and street driving in dense population centers.

            ‘Apple Park’ where 14,000 people work has more parking space than office space. It cost 5 billion. Imagine replacing most of that parking with (light) rail + bikes (note that they already have the latter). They could pack more companies in Silicon Valley, which in turn makes the travel distances from the rail station to those companies less.

            Apple’s parking is largely underground on that campus, so unless you are proposing that highly paid tech workers are going to be staffed in basements its largely a moot point. Plus Apple, and most (all?) of the large tech companies are already running free commuter buses for their employees in SV, the infrastructure issues are largely about regulations/ordinance issues.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Which is…because the US lacks infrastructure for bicycles and/or lacks a cycling culture. People typically cycle three times faster than they walk, so adding bicycles triples the range of a train station.

            And your country is not a good proxy for 9X% of the US. The populated areas of the Netherlands are very flat, and temperatures are moderate. Almost every major US city is going to have at least one of significantly hotter summers, significantly colder winters, significantly more elevation change, or significantly more precipitation. Just looking at the closest major city to me (Philadelphia) it appears that we have colder winters, hotter summers, more elevation change and ~25% more precipitation. My wife was commuting by bike (~4 miles) for multiple years was willing to ride down to 20F and up to 90F and she still had to drive (or be picked up at work) ~6 weeks out of the year due to temperature, snow or hard rain, and this is a moderate climate in the US, and much more pleasant in terms of extremes than the one I moved here from (Cleveland).

            Your country has a specific niche that would not work for US citizens at all.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Googling for answers

            Amsterdamn appears to get 1-4″ of snowfall a year, Philadelphia averages ~13. My brother visited from Cleveland this summer and couldn’t fathom how 90% of parking in the area was street parking because in Cleveland they get 54 inches a year which means street parking is a no go.

            There is no amount of infrastructure, absent a massive tunnel network, that would make Clevelanders able to bike like residents of Amsterdam can. Bike lanes would end up filled with snow/slush to often for it to be a primary mode of transportation, and that is without considering how much colder and hotter Cleveland gets (and my guess would be windier as well).

          • The Nybbler says:

            Incorrect. A more competent operation would run 30 trains per hour not 24

            No, they would not, as these limits are set by the FRA and Amtrak, not NJT.

            and have longer and more efficiently filled trains

            No, they would not, as the train length limits are due to Penn Station platform and interlocking limits.

            and would run trains in equal quantities in both directions so frequencies could be high all day long rather than the trains sitting in a yard near downtown for the entire middle of the day.

            Unfortunately the passengers are a bit picky about this; the bulk of them want to go towards Manhattan in the morning, out of Manhattan in the evening, and to stay where they are during the day. If you ran equal quantities of trains outward in the morning, you’d find you didn’t have the equipment available for the evening commute.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The Tokaido Shinkansen is a HSR route between Tokyo and Osaka, Japan. It carries 452000 passengers per day. Its right of way is about 15 meters wide, corresponding to a freeway with 1 lane and a shoulder in each direction. If this freeway was occupied to its maximum capacity 24 hours a day, that would be a total of 110000 passengers per day. So the actual ridership of the train is 4 times higher than the theoretical maximum of a similar road.

            “This is merely transit efficiency. Surely you’ve heard of it? It levitates bullet trains from Tokyo to Osaka.”

          • Aapje says:

            @All

            My point is that the high density areas that people are increasingly migrating to, which has many density-related benefits, makes cars both very expensive to park and less beneficial in use (due to congestion, many traffic lights, low speed limits, etc). Furthermore, parking lowers density of houses and services, so cars work against the trend, which means that as the trend continues, cars can be expected to get more expensive and less usable in the high density areas.

            We already see a lot of businesses acting on this reality, by bringing rental bikes and scooters to cities. Note that this actually followed subsidized schemes that perhaps proved the existence of that market and showed what works and what doesn’t.

            I do think that snow is a decent counterargument, although studded bike tyres exist (I’ve mounted them on a bike for a family member). Warm weather or rain less so. Cycling is cooler than walking with the same vigor, because of the cooling air the higher speeds produces. Note that Amsterdam actually has considerably higher humidity than Philly or NYC. Rain can be dressed for.

            @The Nybbler

            Electric bikes can make cycling up an incline a breeze, although with the higher costs, they are more attractive for thieves. Of course, you can have secured bicycle parking (or valet parking, to make it properly American).

            As for where to leave your bike, that is a matter of parking infrastructure, as I explained.

            @baconbits9

            Apple’s parking is largely underground on that campus, so unless you are proposing that highly paid tech workers are going to be staffed in basements its largely a moot point.

            Doesn’t Apple provide laundry, gyms, fitness, theaters, etc? Why not put that underground?

            @All

            America traditionally has a ‘can do’ reputation, but I feel that there is too much ‘can’t do’ attitude here. I feel that if cars were new (and there were no garages, knowledge about winter tyres, etc), you guys would complain how the rubber tyres don’t work that well in winter, that street parking cars doesn’t work in Cleveland (completely ignoring the possibility of building garages), that there are no good roads for cars, etc. All those rebuttals were actually solid arguments when cars were new, however, they clearly could be solved. If people would have given up on all new technology due to problems with it, we would still be walking everywhere and living in caves.

            Again, my point is that you need infrastructure for alternatives to work. All the complaints that bikes or other alternatives don’t work due to lacking infrastructure is not a rebuttal to the alternatives being viable after a concerted push to build infrastucture.

            One may not believe in such a concerted effort in general or with the current government, but that doesn’t mean that the alternative is technically impossible.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Aapje:

            America traditionally has a ‘can do’ reputation, but I feel that there is too much ‘can’t do’ attitude here. I feel that if cars were new (and there were no garages, knowledge about winter tyres, etc), you guys would complain how the rubber tyres don’t work that well in winter, that street parking cars doesn’t work in Cleveland (completely ignoring the possibility of building garages), that there are no good roads for cars, etc. All those rebuttals were actually solid arguments when cars were new, however, they clearly could be solved.

            I mean… it looks to me like the whole objection is that America has empirically lost the ‘can do’ it had when cars were new, when the Eisenhower Administration funded the interstate highways, and so on. The current President literally got elected on a platform of “Make America build great infrastructure again! Good jobs making stuff, that you won’t have to compete with illegal immigrants for!” And I’m not seeing new infrastructure.

          • baconbits9 says:

            America traditionally has a ‘can do’ reputation, but I feel that there is too much ‘can’t do’ attitude here.

            Lol. This isn’t about infrastructure, places in the US have 40-50 C swings. You are taking one of the most pleasant places to ride bicycles year round and using it as a baseline instead of as an exception, your opinion that the US doesn’t bike enough being about infrastructure is just wrong.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Interesting as the bicycle discussion is, I think the conversation’s in danger of getting side-tracked by it. The real issue, after all, is about public transport, with bicycles being relevant mainly as a way of getting to and from train stations and the like. Since lots of countries, including ones with less of a cycling culture than the Netherlands, manage to have decent, high-capacity public transport systems, a flat geography and temperate climate clearly aren’t prerequisites for decent public transport.

          • The Nybbler says:

            My point is that the high density areas that people are increasingly migrating to, which has many density-related benefits, makes cars both very expensive to park and less beneficial in use (due to congestion, many traffic lights, low speed limits, etc).

            The dirty little secret is everything’s more expensive and less beneficial in use in high density. Except the shank’s mare, which doesn’t scale. Cars and buses get caught in traffic. Cars have trouble with parking. Trains need to make too many stops or serve insufficient locations. Bicycles are stolen because there’s no secure parking.

            The New York metropolitan area is by far the most dense in the US. It has by far the largest transit share. And by far the longest (in terms of time) commutes. Density is the problem.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The dirty little secret is everything’s more expensive and less beneficial in use in high density.

            One you reach a certain denseness, maybe, but there’s a happy medium in density as in other matters. And of course, good public transport networks can help ameliorate some of the disadvantages of crowded living — you mention New York, but I don’t think anyone would suggest that transit times would get better if everybody stopped using public transport and switched to cars instead.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbits9

            This isn’t about infrastructure, places in the US have 40-50 C swings.

            Yes, but very few people live in Alaska and such. I’m talking about mainly the east and west coast, where you have most high-density areas.

            @The Nybbler

            The dirty little secret is everything’s more expensive and less beneficial in use in high density.

            There are also many upsides to density.

            Upsides and downsides change differently for different things, as density increases.

          • The Nybbler says:

            A swing of 50 degrees C is a swing of 90 degrees F. We absolutely have that on the East Coast.

            There are also many upsides to density.

            Mostly that accrue either to people who like density for its own sake, or to people who can afford the enormous amount to alleviate the negatives.

          • Aapje says:

            Mostly that accrue either to people who like density for its own sake, or to people who can afford the enormous amount to alleviate the negatives.

            No, having lots of choice in the shops is nice for pretty much everyone and in itself has no downsides that I can see (unless too much choice is a downside).

          • hls2003 says:

            A swing of 50 degrees C is a swing of 90 degrees F. We absolutely have that on the East Coast.

            Chicago this year had lows below -30C (-23F) and highs of 35C (95F). Also terrible road clearing services. So despite optimistically devoting a whole lane of streets in the Loop to bicycles, and having a take-a-bicycle program, it doesn’t seem to do much good.

        • Ketil says:

          In Norway, trains transport 3.7 billion passenger kilometers, while cars transport 61 billion passenger kilometers – i.e. about sixteen times as many. Buses weigh in about the same as rail, air travel a bit more. Interestingly, the infrastructure costs for rail and roads (investment and maintenance) are more comparable, with 27 and 37 billion NOK in the state budget, respectively.

          Of course, Norway is a sparsely populated country with long distances, so this may not generalize well.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            … You have to cost in the cars. Just because they are not on the state budget does not mean they are free. Bit over 3 million cars and vans in Norway, which comfortably makes it a more expensive mode of transport per km, even without counting in fuel costs

          • Ketil says:

            … You have to cost in the cars.

            Well, I explicitly said infrastructure, but the point that it is only a part of the total is well taken. This goes for all modes of transport, the trains aren’t free either. Some numbers:

            Vy (national railway) turnover: ~ 22bn
            Total car sales: ~123 bn (2015)
            Repairs/maintenance: ~32 bn (but includes trucks etc, I think)
            Government income from taxation of cars: ~50bn
            Car fuel costs, maybe 50 bn? (estimated from passenger km)

            This is of course an incredibly rough estimate, but adding these (and subtracting taxes), car transport costs around 200bn in total, while rail costs about 50bn.

            So by this estimate, it looks like rail is on average approximately four times as expensive as cars. What is your basis for claiming rail is cheaper?

    • Chalid says:

      Northeast corridor Amtrak makes sense. I used to take it all the time between NYC and Boston, and occasionally to DC. In these cities you go straight into a major transit hub in the city center. And the journey is far more pleasant than an airplane or car while taking a comparable amount of time.

      The rest of the system exists because congresspeople in the rest of the country won’t let Amtrak shut it down.

    • John Schilling says:

      Railroads work best if all the trains are travelling at approximately the same speed. Most trains are freight trains. Freight doesn’t have to move fast. People who are willing to pay extra to move fast, are probably going to use airplanes. So there has never been much market for high-speed passenger trains, except prestige.

      And prestige can sometimes be enough. If, e.g., it’s enough to elect a president or a prime minister, then you’ve got someone who might be able to use tax revenues or even print money to pay for fast passenger trains, shoving the freight aside or building dedicated track, with no need to ever turn a profit. Or a freight-rail company might use fast passenger trains for branding in a competitive market.

      In the United States, trains haven’t really been a prestige thing since we invented airplanes, and until a Green-tinted segment of Blue Tribe latched on to them for environmental and let’s-copy-Europe reasons. In the United States, trains are built and operated by Red Tribe and have to run through mostly Red Tribe territory.

      • Theodoric says:

        In the United States, trains are built and operated by Red Tribe and have to run through mostly Red Tribe territory.

        Is this part of why the Northeast Corridor is better than most other areas trainwise-it passes through lots of Blue Tribe territory?

        • Clutzy says:

          The real advantage is that it doesn’t pass through much territory at all.

        • CatCube says:

          It’s probably more that it has the density to make it worthwhile for Amtrak to actually own the track itself, meaning it doesn’t have to contend with the speed mismatches.

          Another it the infrastructure legally required for fast train speeds. Passenger trains in the US used to run much faster on many routes in the US back in the 40s. After a bad wreck, the federal government mandated specific wayside equipment (automatic signalling equipment) for running faster than 79mph. The equipment was expensive, so the railroads mostly said “fuck that” and capped train speeds. The few roads that installed the equipment often eventually ended up ripping it out to avoid having to maintain it. I think the ones that did keep it were stuff like commuter trains, which often didn’t run that fast to begin with, but the Wikipedia page is the limit of my knowledge there.

          Because Amtrak owns the track, they’re going to spend the money on that infrastructure. The freight roads, not so much.

    • Matt M says:

      I don’t think “airlines compete and Amtrak is a monopoly” is sufficient, because what makes it a monopoly is that private industry finds passenger rail unprofitable.

      It’s probably worth distinguishing between monopolies where, if not for the monopoly, there would be lots of competition – and monopolies where, if not for the monopoly, there wouldn’t be any competitors at all.

      If not for the heavily subsidized AmTrack, the time/cost of getting from Portland to Chicago by rail would be essentially infinite, because nobody would consider it worthwhile to even attempt to provide such a service.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        It’s probably worth distinguishing between monopolies where, if not for the monopoly, there would be lots of competition – and monopolies where, if not for the monopoly, there wouldn’t be any competitors at all.

        Indeed!
        I find myself kind of torn on this: in theory I love trains. Dinner cars and sleeper cars have an old-fashioned romance about them. OTOH airliners have been invented and nobody but nobody has the vacation time for a train that takes more than one night each way. I’m not a libertarian, but of all the things we could use Big Government for, theoretically aesthetically pleasing travel that hardly anyone uses as it exists has got to be near the bottom of the list. OTOH, if climate change is that negative, shouldn’t we be putting brilliant engineers into looking at a replacement for air travel (haha no, because we’ll never overcome Cost Disease, so anything governments force their people to give up for climate will go unreplaced).

        • Matt M says:

          Dinner cars and sleeper cars have an old-fashioned romance about them.

          My understanding is that “rail travel as entertainment” services (where you board an old timey looking thing and travel around some relatively scenic area for a couple hours and a waiter serves you decent food and wine) exist, and are provided privately, in various locations. So if you’re into that sort of thing, you can get it.

          The problem is that the sort of stuff that makes travel fun/romantic is usually anti-correlated with the sort of stuff that makes it quick/efficient/profitable, and the vast majority of customers are going to solve for the latter.

        • Nick says:

          Wrath of Gnon on Twitter, one of whose main purposes is all about showing that traditional urbanism is more sustainable, has a great love of trains. They’re definitely more picturesque (which aids one of his other purposes, showing that traditional urbanism is more beautiful!), but I haven’t been persuaded we can do anything to bring them back so long as all our lives are built around cars. New Urbanists like James Howard Kunstler want to bring them back—trams, too, which are even more picturesque—but they’ve pinned their hopes for revival on Peak Oil.

    • baconbits9 says:

      In honor of Democratic front-runner for President Joe Biden, WTF is wrong with Amtrak? In theory, I like trains, but if I look at your booking website and getting from Portland to the Midwest takes 50+ hours and I have to pay as much each way as round-trip on a plane… come on.
      Is it that the only infrastructure planes need is the airport, rather than every mile between destinations being a gigantic exercise in cost disease? I don’t think “airlines compete and Amtrak is a monopoly” is sufficient, because what makes it a monopoly is that private industry finds passenger rail unprofitable.

      As everyone else has mentioned there are a lot of factors. At an average of 60 mph you can cover 3,000 miles in 50 hours, and the majority of amtrack trains can travel at over 100 mph. The main trouble is that passengers on trains have to stop frequently, not just when the trains stop for frieght or in a city, but also waiting for another train. Visiting family in Cleveland from Philly for me is over 12 hours of travel time by train (not including extra travel to and from the train station) and 6.5 hours of driving straight through, with most of the difference waiting for trains at other stations. You really have to commit to train passenger travel to make it work, and it is long term growth inhibiting when you do.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      I have a very different perspective on, and experience with, the passenger trains. In Russia, and the former USSR in general, regular, i.e. not high-speed, passenger trains are very common and is the primary mode of long-distance transportation for anyone with income around or below the median (modulo some regional differences and nuances). The tickets are usually about 2-3 times cheaper than a plane for the corresponding destination and class, for the places allowing you to sleep. For sitting places it’d be more like 4-5 times cheaper but for obvious reasons there’s no such thing as a sitting train for travel times more than 20 or so hours, which corresponds to the distance of 600-800 miles. Speaking of which, the speed usually averages at about 30mph – but that’s including all the stops and the fact that a train goes ~24 hours a day. There’s plenty of small cities and towns which have a train station but no airport, and the only cases of the reverse I’ve heard of are settlements in the far north which are physically not accessible by anything but air (and maybe rivers). Most interestingly imao is that the passenger trains are one of the very few things that operate exactly on time in Russia. As in, a train which travels for 2-3 days routinely arrives within a minute or two of its scheduled time.

      Some of the reasons why they are so cheap are obvious. Engines and carts are produced domestically (almost no civilian planes are), infrastructure was built in the Soviet Union with no regard to economic efficiency and is now being reused. RZhD (“Russian Railways”) is an absolute monopoly heavily subsidized by the government – although it’s incredibly corrupt even by Russian standards so it’s anyone’s guess whether the damage from the corruption outweighs the subsidies. And of course the trains are less comfortable – I’ve never tried Amtrak but would be extremely surprised if it’s not the case. The cheapest class called Platzkart would deserve a post of its own just to describe what experience it is (and share my nostalgia for it, lol). Still, I’m very puzzled to see the trains here in the US being twice more expensive than planes, and people arguing that it’s their inherent property.

      For the record, high-speed rail does exist in Russia, bit it’s just another attempt to copy something good from Europe and completely uninteresting as such: a bit cheaper and somewhat worse than the original, uncommon or abcent anywhere but the central regions.

      • ana53294 says:

        Most interestingly imao is that the passenger trains are one of the very few things that operate exactly on time in Russia. As in, a train which travels for 2-3 days routinely arrives within a minute or two of its scheduled time.

        I have taken a train to a very remote location in Russia, and can confirm that’s the case.

        Part of the reason they are on time may be that there are many stops without any proper station beyond a platform, and winters in Russia are miserable enough that waiting for the train could be an almost deadly experience.

        But trains frequently have quite a bit of spare time in their routes; they usually plan routes so the stops in major cities happen on time and at a reasonable hour, so they sometimes just wait in some station at night for a couple of hours before reaching a major city (they do so in the Moscow-St. Petersburgh night train).

        If I was travelling withing Russia, and I couldn’t use an international airline, the prospect of having to travel on a Sukhoi would make me seriously consider train travel.

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          I have taken a train to a very remote location in Russia, and can confirm that’s the case.

          Where did you travel?

          Part of the reason they are on time may be that there are many stops without any proper station beyond a platform, and winters in Russia are miserable enough that waiting for the train could be an almost deadly experience.

          No it’s not. Bus stops are just as cold and may have no walls and in some cases nothing at all, just a sign. None gives a shit if you freeze your everything off while waiting for a bus being 40 minutes late, should’ve dress warmer you know.
          But yeah trains basically have plenty of slack in their schedule which allows them to make up for unexpected delays.

          If I was travelling withing Russia, and I couldn’t use an international airline, the prospect of having to travel on a Sukhoi would make me seriously consider train travel.

          Luckily Sukhois, or worse Tu-154s, are exceedingly rare even among the Russian airlines. Overwhelming majority of domestic flights are A320s and Boeing-737s.

          • ana53294 says:

            Moscow to Kandalaksha.

            The Ural airlines Moscow-Simferopol flight was on an Airbus; a bird strike (apparently due to an uncontrolled rubbish dump) almost created a deadly situation, although thankfully everybody survived.

            Russian airports don’t seem very safety conscious in other regards either, although I’ve flown to Domodedovo or Sheremetyevo OK.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            @ana53294
            Fair enough, I definitely wasn’t trying to say that flights in Russia are as safe as in Europe, just that they are not quite that more dangerous as to be served mostly by Russian planes.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Thanks very much for your report from Russia, as it’s one of the few truly huge countries that doesn’t have Anglosphere institutions/cost disease. Your different problems and solutions are interesting to hear.

    • BBA says:

      Amtrak’s finances are muddled, but roughly speaking there are three kinds of routes:

      1. The Northeast Corridor trains (Acela and Northeast Regional). These aren’t subsidized because they’re popular enough to make a profit.

      2. The long-distance trains, like the Chicago-Portland run. These, as discussed above, are totally useless as transportation, but might be nice as a vacation in themselves. They get federal subsidies.

      3. The short-distance trains that make up the majority of the system. These aren’t federally funded but get subsidies from state governments. Many of these could potentially be useful routes, but in practice it’s too expensive to provide enough service to be useful. For instance, Indiana recently eliminated the Chicago-Indianapolis train, which only ran once a day and was significantly slower than driving.

      If we had Shinkansen or TGV trains, and tracks and infrastructure to support them, a lot of the #3 type routes could be competitive with flying and driving, as #1 already is. It’ll never be practical to build high-speed rail over the Rockies, barring some extreme shock making oil several orders of magnitude more expensive.

      There’s also the Brightline, a privately funded train from Miami to West Palm Beach, supposedly to be extended to Orlando in the next few years. No idea if that’ll work out for its backers, but if it does it might push Amtrak out of the Florida market for good.

  45. Well... says:

    Simulation Hypothesis question:

    If our own universe is probably a simulation, and we’re eventually going to get good enough at computing to simulate other universes — as I understand the Simulation Hypothesis claims — then the people in those simulated universes will eventually simulate universes, etc. etc. all the way down. This means the Original Simulators have to get not only to a level of computing good enough to simulate an entire universe, but to a level of computing good enough to simulate an infinite number of nested universes. Doesn’t that make the Simulation Hypothesis recursive and therefore unlikely to be true?

    If I’m misunderstanding something key here, please tell me.

    If others have articulated a better version of this idea (or refuted it), please tell me.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      We can’t represent the state of an equivalently-large universe in ours. Therefore, any simulated universe will need to be of some sort of reduced dimensionality, or it will need to be significantly slower than the “real” universe. Or both.

      • Well... says:

        Going the other way, this means the Simulators’ universe must be even more expansive/complex than ours, making the notion that they exist and that this is a simulation even more farfetched. Right?

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          the Simulators’ universe must be even more expansive/complex than ours

          Yes

          making the notion that they exist and that this is a simulation even more farfetched.

          Eh. That’s up to your priors.

        • onyomi says:

          Doesn’t this make it fail the basic Occam’s razor test? I believe Eliezer once described it something like: “Thor did it,” though superficially simple, is actually a more complicated answer to the question “where does lightning come from” than the scientific explanation, because it simply adds another complex being into the equation, leaving the question of how Thor makes lightning in addition to the question of where Thor came from.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            Why would it? “There was nothing, and then there was something, and the something was made of space and time” is something you have to deal with at some point anyway.

        • Aapje says:

          @Well…

          They may compare to us, like we compare to a bacteria. What is immense in size for us, may be modest in size for them. Where bacteria are often unable to travel large distances on their own, and are then dependent on being transported or things coming to them; humans can travel great distances with planes. The Simulators may be able to travel the stars as easily as we travel to the supermarket.

          Or the simulator universe may simply be completely different and way more complex, similar to how we might simulate simple stuff like Conway’s Game of Life that doesn’t come close to capturing the complexity of (our) reality.

          • Well... says:

            Right, but this makes the possibility that The Simulators exist (and thus that this is a simulation) additionally farfetched, or at least additionally speculative, doesn’t it?

            In other words, I’m using a model like this: If I propose Theory A, which rests on 10 arguments, and 9 of them are farfetched but 1 of them is easy to accept, Theory A is less likely to be true than Theory B, 9 of whose 10 arguments are easy to accept and only 1 of which makes you raise your eyebrows in disbelief.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Well

            Like I said upthread,eventually you have to deal with the fact that

            There was nothing, and then there was something, and the something was made of space and time

            We don’t have any prima facie reason to believe that a universe complex compared to ours is substantially less likely to exist than ours is. And in any case, the anthropic principle lets us not give a shit about likelihood.

        • beleester says:

          Since we have no way to say how big the universe “should” be, I don’t think you can say the existence of a bigger universe than ours is farfetched. After all, a universe 46.5 billion light-years across sounds extravagantly big to me, but apparently we’re living in it, so…

          • HowardHolmes says:

            That is measuring from the inside. If we measure from the outside we have nothing to measure it against so it cannot be measured. Since its existence doesn’t reduce the amount of infinite space it does not occupy it could be infinitely small

    • John Schilling says:

      The law of conservation of computronium says that the number of raw events (bit-flips or their physical equivalent) in the whole history of the Real Universe will be greater than in all nested sim-universes combined, and the number of raw events in any sim-universe will be greater than in all sub-(sub^n)-sim-universes combined. This suggests that if an event happens, it probably happened only in the Real Universe.

      However, raw events are not the same as interesting events. It is likely that a simulated universe will have a higher ratio of interesting events to raw events, by virtue of being intelligently designed to simulate interesting events. For some TBD definition of “interesting”. It is possible that most interesting events will occur in sim-universes, and it is possible that the sim-designers will be particularly interested in e.g. the operation of introspective consciousness capable of asking “Am I in a simulation?”. If so, that question might be asked more often in sim-verses than in the Real Universe.

      Whether this is true depends on several unknown and possibly unknowable values, but does require that at least some of the sim-universes be intelligently designed to in a way that greatly increases the ratio of introspective consciousness to raw bit-flips. Whether our universe appears to be so designed, is left as an exercise for the student.

      • Well... says:

        Do you think these considerations weaken or strengthen the Simulation Hypothesis?

      • sentientbeings says:

        increases the ratio of introspective consciousness to raw bit-flips

        I’ve been trying to think of a way to phrase that, or very nearly that, for quite a while. I think I’ll just lift it from you going forward.

      • JPNunez says:

        There’s a page linked recently (https://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html) that proposes that computers in simulations just perform computations in real computers in the base universe. So bit flips in simulated universes just become a few more bit flips in the real one, sans, some tax for virtualization, coordination, security, etc. Depending on how good the simulation architecture is, this could get very close to 1:1. Maybe there is an optimum computation architecture that is constant across realities, so everyone agrees that x64 is the ideal architecture, and everyone runs on it, and everything just runs in virtualization.

        It also proposes that once a simulation uses enough computing power to rival what is using in simulating conciousness for the inhabitants of the simulation, the simulation may end cause there’s no point to it. This could be avoided, want to point out, by vastly limiting economic access to computronium in the simulations.

        This also means that as we start building more and more computers, “aliens” may come down from heaven and give us the perfect computer architecture, which even if deviated 0.1% from the spec will run 10000% slower, because it is the real universe architecture and they want to make sure we aren’t making the simulation too expensive.

        • Lambert says:

          They’d best have some real good sandboxing on that.

          Else everyone at Defcon would be dodging bullets and running around on the ceiling.

          • JPNunez says:

            I mean, a simulator that complex is already almost perfect or just cannot run at all. Which is one of my main objections; most systems cannot run for that long without disastrous failures. Uptimes of thousands of years are, by definition, unheard of, and MTTFs that big are also crazy.

            Of course, maybe the simulation just ends or rollbacks on any suspicion of security breach. From the inside of the simulation everyone would have more incentives to hack the sim to benefit themselves, so that’s not that bad, and would probably not know enough about the systems down turtle to do any damage that’s not a cause for a shutdown, so the anthropic principle says since we are still here, it’s not a problem.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      We may or may not be in a simulation, but I don’t buy Bostrom’s argument that we are more likely to be in a simulation because simulation will outnumber base universes because the amount of free energy[0] available to do computation in any layer of simulation is limited to the free energy in the “base” universe. Beings in the base universe can use free energy for life in their universe or life in a simulation, but there’s a total upper bound on how much life can be achieved.

      [0] This has some nuance because while the laws of physics might be different in the base, as long as they are time-symmetric, Noether’s Theorem says that energy is conserved. And Landauer’s Principle says that there’s a minimum amount of energy required for any bit flip, dependent on the temperature. And temperature can be computed in terms of entropy, which will definitely have an analogue for any laws of physics for which there are different states.

      • Well... says:

        Same question for you as for John Schilling, then: do you think this consideration weakens or strengthens the Simulation Hypothesis? (Intuitively, it seems to GREATLY weaken it.)

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Neither, it depends on implementation details. Like John said, it takes only a slight effort to greatly bias the simulation in favor of interesting events – for example, just skip computing the trip photons make to get out of the Sun’s core, and replace it with a random-based algorithm. This gives you a lot of room to play with.

          Now, is it necessary for this kind of tricks to reach “simulations all the way down”? Not really – as long as you have a couple of levels of simulations it’s already likely we’re living in one of those.

          Add to this game-like simulations, ones that put the focus on an already created society and don’t bother evolving life from scratch. That’s where the numbers really starts skewing. Ironically, I didn’t really believe in them until I watched/read Overlord (fantasy comedy anime/light novel). Kinda made a believer of me – once we have the computing power, there will be worlds where NPCs will be smarter and more independent, up to having years of “history” go by between Player dives – simply because economics go that way. That is really inevitable.

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          To be very clear, I think this consideration considerably weakens the Simulation Hypothesis. Bostrom’s original argument that simulated life vastly outnumbers “real” life I believe is just plain wrong. But are we in a simulation? I don’t know. Could be.

      • Soy Lecithin says:

        I don’t think this is quite right. Thermodynamic quantities aren’t absolute concepts; they are always defined relative to some partition of the variables into macrovariables and microvariables. The natural choice for what counts as macro and what counts as micro (and thus gets integrated out, contributes to entropy, etc.) depends on how the observers doing the computation or reckoning the amount of free energy are embedded into their particular universe. This could be very different between levels of simulation.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      I always thought the assumption is that the simulation doesn’t continue to run indefinitely. At a certain point the Simulators have achieved whatever goal they had and either just switch the simulation off, or if their standards of morality are closer to ours (which we maybe sort of can expect in case the Simulators are in fact humanity of a distant future simulating its past), do something less horrible such as let the simulated people into the real reality, or whatever.

      But now to think about it, the second case (simulated minds are “promoted” into the real world) completely ruins the simulation argument, since in this case eventually there’s going to be much more real minds than simulated ones and the minds presumably will live in the “real state” for much longer, so a mind picked at random is more likely to be a real one.

      • chrisminor0008 says:

        I don’t think there’s any reason the Simulators have the same sense of morality that we do, which was honed in our own peculiar evolutionary environment. And no reason to think the Simulators are even particularly interested in us at all, or are even aware of our existence in the simulation.

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          Well, the Bostrom’s argument suggests that they are humanity from the future, simulating its past. In this case they do share our evolutionary history – or, more precisely, vise versa – and we have reasons, though by no means guarantees, to expect their morality is similar enough to ours, and they are definitely interested in us since it’s the reason they run simulations.

          If that’s not the case, though, I completely agree with your first point. Not so much with the second, I’d expect that if someone runs a simulation detailed enough for something conscious to evolve and discover quantum physics, that’s because they’re specifically interested in technologically advanced conscious life, for just evolution of the universe on the astrophysical scale much cruder models should suffice.

    • Chalid says:

      People have alluded to the concept that you only simulate the important stuff, but aren’t generally taking the concept far enough.

      If you’re interested in simulating human society, at any given moment you don’t have to simulate anything that a person isn’t actually looking at. So that already cuts out 99.99999…% of the work.

      You get another enormous gain in simulation efficiency from limited human senses. The stuff I am experiencing can be approximated at an extremely crude level. When I’m drinking a glass of water, the simulator doesn’t have to do a full calculation down to the atomic level of all the fluid dynamics. It merely has to be close enough that I don’t notice the difference (or perhaps even easier, my experiences or memories can be hacked so I don’t notice the difference). If I pick up a stick and you want to simulate my experience of it, all you need is a couple variables for size, shape, weight, and various material properties; you’d only invoke the more detailed stuff about its internal molecular structure if I dragged the stick off to a lab for analysis. (And even then you’d not have to model all the molecules. You just have to model what my experimental apparatus might plausibly show, which is much much easier.)

      And then you get another several orders of magnitude of efficiency from not simulating everyone. If a simulator was interested in learning about me, then they’d have to do some work simulating my family and friends (when I was physically in their presence and paying attention to them), but my interactions with e.g. store clerks or SSC commenters could essentially be handled by a glorified chatbot. You don’t have to maintain the simulation of e.g. my workplace when I’m not physically present there; you just generate it on the fly when I arrive. etc. etc.

      • Lambert says:

        Good luck debugging all that.
        Just loading/unloading areas seamlessly is a big problem in game dev. Sure, the devs are some kind of highly advanced aliens, but the scope of simulating reality is so much bigger.

        And games almost always either reset the unloaded areas to some default state, or they freeze the state of it.
        The state of your workplace isn’t identical from one day to the next. It will also depend on what all your colleagues are doing. And if they’re in STEM, that could easily depend on some quite fundemental properities of reality.

        Radically simplifying a simulation in some areas is hard, even when the audience is actively suspending disbelief. When they’re actively looking for bugs, it’s downright impossible.

        Tl;Dr: Abstractions are leaky. If you jump from fundemental physics to higher-order emergent effects, it’ll leave all kinds of artifacts.

        • Machine Interface says:

          This can be gotten around easily if the simulators just hack our perception/cognition/memory so that we don’t notice/don’t remember incongruencies — not a very big stretch, we already do this to a greater degree when we dream, and the way our brain records memories even when it works normally is already extremely “hacked”, with the brain recording maybe 10% of what is actually going on before our eyes and then filling the blanks with what it expects to be going on in the rest of the visual space.

          • Chalid says:

            Another reason is that my perception of time is based on simulation time! Say I go to a new city and the simulation needs to freeze for a while (from the point of view of the simulators) to do calculations, load buildings, randomly create NPCs etc. If I’m frozen too there’s no way I’d notice this.

          • Lambert says:

            Sure, the time it says on the simulator’s 37 dimensional hyperwall clock make no difference to me.

            The problem is that when you make the NPCs etc, you have to invent their past anachronistically.

            Since there’s plenty of communication and travel going on between City A and City B, you have to make up details of stuff that could easily have effects on whatever you’ve already simulated.

            i.e. good luck retconning in everything about the new city you’ve just loaded.
            It’s a small world, and you’ve got to avoid ever six-degrees-of-Kevin Baconning yourself into a corner.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It’s a small world, and you’ve got to avoid ever six-degrees-of-Kevin Baconning yourself into a corner.

            I found out the other day that I am 3 degrees of Kevin Bacon.

          • Lambert says:

            Pseudonominative determinism strikes again.

          • Aftagley says:

            Does that mean I just found out I’m four degrees of Kevin Bacon?

          • Chalid says:

            Okay, we both agree that the fact that you don’t have to simulate everything allows you to turn physics issues (needing more computronium to simulate than what you’re simulating) into software engineering issues.

            I think pursuing the discussion further than that is just going to be a long and pointless rabbit hole.

          • Nick says:

            I have a Bacon number of 3 too. Still no Erdős number, alas.

          • Lambert says:

            Agreed.
            Given how vaguely we’re speculating about the simulators, we can’t say much more than ‘both options are incredibly hard’.

          • Plumber says:

            "...four degrees of Kevin Bacon?..."

            Mostly to justify my life to myself I’ve been thinking of the “degrees of separation” between myself and the famous and infamous a lot lately, I doubt all this list will be believed, but here goes anyway:

            1) Met William Shatner (“Captain Kirk”/”T. J. Hooker”/Master Thespian extraordinaire! 

            2) Met Patrick Troughton “Doctor Who”

            3) In ’83 I met both Dana Meese and her father Edwin Meese (who was President Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General), so one degree of separation between me and the then current President of the U.S.A.

            4) Met Barry Goldwater (’64 Presidential candidate)

            5) Met then Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown

            6) Met and have worked with dozens of other people who met Kamala Harris (besides Willie Brown) and I replaced plumbing fixtures in her old private bathroom) – one degree of separation. 

            7) Have worked for seven years with a guy who was personally thanked by the man who is now Governor of California (one degrees of separation).

            8) Met lots of other local and State politicians and a couple of the Police Chiefs of San Francisco

            9) Met Science Fiction/Fantasy author Fritz Leiber

            10) Met Science Fiction/Fantasy author Michael Moorcock

            11) Met Science Fiction/Fantasy author Larry Niven

            12) An ex-girlfriend of mine has met Archbishops, et cetera who met the Pope (two degrees of separation)

            13) Was friends with Green Day’s original drummer (and my name was Tweeted by their current drummer this year)

            14) Knew a guy a who knew a guy who met Joseph Stalin (two degrees of separation)

            15) Knew a guy who knew a guy who met Leon Trotsky (two degrees of separation).

            16) At least three old friends became published authors.

            Combine all that and I’m within three degrees of separation of a Hella lot of the famous and infamous, and I wear overalls most days, drive a ’91 Honda, and if my name is known by a stranger it’s likely because of where I swept the floor as a teenager. 

            Yeah, that still doesn’t help my mood.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Nick, I have an Erdos number of 8 if you count one paper I co-authored which never actually got into a peer-reviewed journal.

            Then, if you count my sister’s appearing as an extra in a movie, and my co-acting in amateur theater with her, I have a Bacon number of 3.

          • Nick says:

            @Evan Þ
            Can I co-author a paper with you? 😀

          • The Nybbler says:

            If we’re counting stuff that doesn’t really count, I think my Erdos number is 4. I was listed on a conference proceeding too far down the list of authors for it to be indexed.

            (However, my Jeff Dean number is legitimately 1. But no I won’t review your code)

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Nick, do you think Scott’ll accept a late entry for the Adversarial Collaboration Contest? 😉

          • Erdos number is defined by co-authorship of articles. All the other numbers being cited here seem to depend on simply meeting someone.

            Almost none of my work is coauthored—only two articles I can think of, and a recent book where two other authors contributed a chapter each—so by the strict definition I link to nobody I know of more famous than Richard Posner and whomever he has coauthored with.

            But by the loose definition, I link directly or through my father to lots of famous people. And I not only met Ed Meese, I debated him.

          • Nick says:

            No, the Bacon number requires you to appear in something with Bacon, or with someone who has appeared in something with Bacon, or etc. Like Erdős numbers it’s a bit stricter.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I haven’t met so many famous people as Plumber — a fair number of well-known people in CS and math, including Mandelbrot, Atanasoff (barely, I asked him a question at a lecture once), and Ted Kowalski of fsck fame. But I’m two steps from Arieh Warshel (2013 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry) and three from Neils Bohr (my father once lived in the same building as one of his granddaughters)

            Small world, I guess.

    • Walter says:

      I think you are misunderstanding stuff.

      When you think about simulationism, it is always helpful to imagine how it would work out from one level inside, right? Like, say a few hundred years go by and we build a version of Mario that is ‘a simulation’, in that it is a consistent universe with fee willed beings (or at least they think so) and its own timeout and coin based physics, yeah?

      So, ok, Well…Koopa states your objection. What terms would he state it in?

      “If our universe is probably a simulation, and we’re eventually going to get good enough at getting high scores to simulate other universes — as I understand the Simulation Hypothesis claims — then the people in those simulated universes will eventually simulate univers, etc. etc. all the way down. This means the Original Simulators ahve to get not only to a level of coins good enough to simulate an entire universe, but to a level of coins good enough to simulate an infinite number of nested universes. Doesn’t that make the Simulation Hypothesis recursive and therefore unlikely to be true?”

      and presumably WalterKoopa tells him to imagine a universe inside one of their Princesses dreams (a la Mario 2) and so on.

      But you get the problem, right? Like, your shadow’s objection is phrased in his universes terms, and is utterly laughable in ours. Imagine Final Fantasy Wells saying that the original simulators couldn’t possibly have enough Phoenix Down to bring infinite universes to life, or DC Univeres Wells saying that how could they possibly have enough Infinity Stones.

      Our simulators are no more constrained by computing power than we are by high scores or energon or essence or any of the nonsense we put in our simulations.

    • Conrad01010 says:

      The analogy to life on Earth might be helpful.

      The primordial ooze bubbles and produces a simple object that can make copies of itself. Its copies then make copies of themselves, and so on. Not all of the copies are the exact same, however, and so some are better at making copies of themselves than others. The copies keep competing for limited resources and developing methods that make them better at copying themselves. Eventually, over billions of years, the chain of copying ends up producing humans and elephants and turtles and whales and the countless scores of other organisms currently living on Earth.

      It all started from a simple structure made of just a few parts.

      If you were tasked with creating complex biological life on Earth, how would you approach the first object?

  46. Well... says:

    Repeating my bleg for good South African TV shows. I should modify this to good South African narrative video content, since I’d like to be able to watch it on Youtube, Hulu, or Netflix. It doesn’t have to be any particular genre, just has to be well-written/well-acted/well-produced. Could be documentary-style as well.

  47. onyomi says:

    Related to this post, to what extent is “woke capitalism” (companies choosing to “make a statement” on culture war issues as part of an ad campaign, casting decision, etc. more often associated with the left but arguably applicable to e.g. Chick-fil-A or Hobby Lobby on the right).

    a. primarily motivated by profit (near or long-term; if you take a calculated financial hit on a project you believe will improve your public image in a way that leads to bigger long-term profits that still counts)

    b. primarily motivated by activism (willing to make less money than theoretically possible because achieving some goal other than profit seen by the management and/or employees as socially desirable)

    c. something few people, customers or companies, actually wants, but arises as a result of a weird social dynamic like “dictatorship of the small minority“?

    We are, of course, speaking in general and admitting of the possibility of multiple conflicting motivations within individuals and corporations, so an answer might look like “70% a, 20% b, and 10% c.”

    • quanta413 says:

      You’re using “activism” in a weird way. Most corporations probably don’t really maximize profit due to various human concerns. I think a better description might be “moral or ethical beliefs”. Activism generally implies having to be in some sort of struggle with another group or community organization or something. But the owner can just decide not to maximize profit.

      And shouldn’t (c.) mostly operate by acting on (a.) or (b.)?

      For example, most people working at Chick-fil-A probably don’t care about being open on Sundays or not. But the owners certainly do. That’d be (b.).

      Or Taleb’s example, say you can sell kosher and non kosher lemonade. If they taste the same and it costs the same to make just kosher as to make just non kosher but less than making both, you may as well make only kosher lemonade. Then you might be motivated by profit (a.), but the reason that is true is (c.).

      • Randy M says:

        I think it’s worth differentiating activism, which is trying to convince people of your beliefs, from simply trying to live in accordance of your beliefs.
        A company that is closed on Sundays is not engaging in activism (on this point), whereas a company that makes a marketing campaign about being the only national chain to honor the Sabbath and thus more deserving of your patronage is.

        Although actually that example might be bad; that’s combining living your beliefs with seeking profits by appealing to those that already share them. Activism is about trying to get others to adhere to your values (preferably by adopting them themselves). And I wouldn’t include donations made privately from the earnings of executives here either, though if you don’t want to enrich your political opponents that’s understandable.

        A good example of corporate activism is boycotting a state when it passes a law you don’t like. Perhaps it’s a legitimate moral stand at great expense to profits, but that’s what activism looks like from the other side.

        For example, most people working at Chick-fil-A probably don’t care about being open on Sundays or not. But the owners certainly do. That’d be (b.).

        If they are getting enough hours elsewhen, they probably appreciate having a consistent day off that’s likely to align with their peers. The people who really dislike it are the employees Chik-fil-A doesn’t need to hire because they aren’t open then (though presumably these people are employed elsewhere, because consumers still eat on Sunday).

        • DinoNerd says:

          Minor nit – is activism really trying to convince people of your beliefs, or is it just trying to force (or at least encourage) people to make decisions that accord with your beliefs?

          E.g. suppose you try to pass laws closing all stores on Sunday. Let’s farther assume you are motivated by Christian religious beliefs, not by ideas about how there should be some common day for everyone to be off work together.

          You aren’t trying to convince your Jewish, Muslim, and atheist neighbours that Sunday is special. You just want to stop them shopping on what your religion considers to be a Holy Day or Day of Rest. You may even hope to have the happy (from your POV) side effect of encouraging them to move out of the political jurisdication.

          If there’s any convincing involved, it would be trying to get Christians who don’t care about the Day of Rest or figure it should be observed – or not – by personal choice – to move towards your idea of enforcing it. And that’s at least partly instrumental – you want what you want, and you need majority support to get it. You’ll also probably push the idea of having a common day off for everyone, not because you care about that, but because it’s the only way you’ll get non-Christian support.

          • Randy M says:

            Minor nit – is activism really trying to convince people of your beliefs, or is it just trying to force (or at least encourage) people to make decisions that accord with your beliefs?

            I agree, I stated it wrong in the first paragraph. Compliance is the goal, agreement a nice bonus.

        • quanta413 says:

          @Randy M

          I agree with your description of activism. I think that better fits what people usually mean. Like you say, we’re not talking about living according to one’s own beliefs when we talk about activism. Although, hopefully an activist does that as well.

          I would include donations from earning of executives or employees as very weak form of activism but on a personal level. Not something related to the company itself. Although I’ve heard of employers who will match charitable donations by employees up to some amount. That’s a little bit like a very soft corporate activism in favor of charity in general. Although it could be because that helps the corporation select employees that fit its business better. Which would be the profit motive.

          Minor nit – is activism really trying to convince people of your beliefs, or is it just trying to force (or at least encourage) people to make decisions that accord with your beliefs?

          I’d say currently it covers both like you describe and most activist groups work both angles, but I see what you mean by distinguishing the two cases. They are pretty different.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Are Chick-Fil-A / Hobby Lobby publicly traded companies? My vague understanding is that it’s the christian religiosity of their owners which gives them their particular business style.

      Is there a precedent of a previously a-moral publicly traded, for profit company, saying that they wanted to establish a christian-conservative theme?

      • dodrian says:

        I think this highlights it – a small or a privately held company is more likely to be motivated by (b), but that said I do think Chick-fil-As family values have contributed to their success (ie, profit) – it gives them a lower worker turnover meaning they can give a better customer experience.

        Then there are places like Black Rifle Coffee where it seems like the values of the company are part of why they operate how they do [(b)], but they’ve also identified an opportunity to carve out some market share [(a)].

        Someone like Nike is pretty blatantly motivated by (a). quanta413 gave a good example of (c), but I wonder if a recent push towards veganism/vegetarianism might be another. The first to market will probably get a nice profit boost (eg, Gregg’s in the UK got tons of free publicity for announcing their vegan sausage rolls, and Burger King in the US with the Impossible Whopper), but I’d bet others following suit are less likely to make money.

        • Lambert says:

          I don’t think vegan fast food is a publicity stunt.
          It sounds more like a way to broaden your group of potential customers.
          The vegans want fast food, and they are willing to pay money for it.

          • Matt M says:

            And if you’re worried that the greens in Congress are even a little bit serious about eventually passing a “meat tax” it’s probably a good idea to start building up some expertise and moving down the experience curve when it comes to non-meat alternatives…

    • Plumber says:

      @onyomi,

      If they’re not making money at it my best guess is whoever makes these decisions thinks that it will get them praised, help them avoid censure, and/or get themselves laid more easily, though I suppose maybe they’re worried about the fate of their immortal souls, but I kinda doubt that.

      (and good lord does it feel great to finally be cranky again instead of feeling sad, thank you SSC!)

      • onyomi says:

        good lord does it feel great to finally be cranky again instead of feeling sad

        The idea that making people cranky could actually be helpful in some cases makes me feel much better about my posting history!

      • EchoChaos says:

        and good lord does it feel great to finally be cranky again instead of feeling sad

        Welcome back cranky Plumber!

    • Radu Floricica says:

      It probably depends a lot on the dynamics in the company. If there’s strong leadership decisions might be taken strategically – for example Gillette lost me as a customer, but it may (or may not) have been a good idea long term to take a stand in the CW. Google on the other hand just has a woke culture – I doubt it bothers making this kind of decisions. Most likely any ideas not woke enough just get shot down before they even reach the level of proposals. And after making a few examples, it becomes risky to even put non-woke ideas in writing. I have a strong suspicion this is how you get diverse casts.

      • onyomi says:

        Most likely any ideas not woke enough just get shot down before they even reach the level of proposals. And after making a few examples, it becomes risky to even put non-woke ideas in writing.

        This sounds roughly correct to me. It leaves the question of whether or not they see themselves gaining, sacrificing, or coming out neutral, financially, as compared to a world in which their culture is less woke. My guess is that the idea that woke business culture is long-run unprofitable is itself somewhat incompatible with woke culture; therefore I don’t imagine those perpetuating that culture see themselves as sacrificing financially, even if they don’t necessarily assume they’re gaining by it.

        It also leaves the question of whether there is a big untapped market for unwoke movies, as Fox News found there was for conservative news. My guess is there may be but that it is prevented from coming into being, at least for the time being, by a cultural complex that coordinates in a largely unplanned way to prevent it happening (by e.g. ensuring that the first offender is punished badly by scathing reviews).

        Somewhat related, I watched the Angry Birds movie for the first time during a long flight recently, out of boredom and because I had heard a theory that it was secretly an alltrite kids’ movie… and it totally is! Not sure how that one slipped through.

        • Aapje says:

          @onyomi

          I think that you need to distinguish between unfathomable ideas and unspeakable ideas. Take this Vox article about an (illegal) women-only shared working space.

          If you read the article you see that it is considered immoral for poor women to be excluded, but that they do recognize that you can’t just make the space free or let people pay what they can afford. However, this recognition is merely visible in their actions (where a fraction of the poor get free membership, but most don’t & where they plan to introduce tiered memberships); as well as through vague statements like “nobody who goes to the Wing is naive to the fact that feminists have to contend with a capitalist society.”

          What they won’t do is explicitly say that they prefer to have a nicer space at the cost of excluding the poor, rather than a (far) less nice space with heavy wealth redistribution to the poor. This is unspeakable, but not unfathomable.

          In contrast, the idea that, given that they see benefits in women-only spaces, there may benefit in men-only spaces, is unfathomable. Similarly, the idea that women-only spaces can harm men. These ideas are completely incompatible with their world view.

          • Deiseach says:

            Wait a minute, that place is The Wing? That’s one of the companies that the WeWork/The We Company own/control/whatever, I recognise it from a comment Hoopyfreud posted!

            So I think it’s safe to say that in that instance, profit comes before principles. All the feminist founder ladies may quote (and indeed believe) the right doctrine, but the reason they’re not letting poor women in for free is that it comes down to the bottom line: their parent company is all about making the money under a veneer/glaze of right-on talk. Poor people don’t have the kind of money that The We Company is interested in getting people to spend. Such spaces are for the upwardly-mobile techies/creatives who are working on that app/screenplay that will make them a fortune.

          • onyomi says:

            I guess what I’m still not sure about is whether, in a pitch session for [new installment in franchise historically more popular with men but which has been updated to appeal to women], anybody says “I’m not sure the existing fans will like this and it’s a gamble whether we can attract a lot of new ones.” If nobody says that, do they think it but not say it? If somebody does say that is the response primarily “I think we can attract a whole new fanbase and make a big profit” or “but think of the positive message this sends to young women”? Or maybe, a little later, “I don’t think you’re a good fit for our company culture…”

          • CatCube says:

            I’m actually willing to believe that they’re not against having poor people there per se, but don’t drop their prices anyway because they’re owning property in New York City.

            The bank still wants its check every month, and they don’t give a shit if you’re helping poor people or not; you price your rent to cover your costs, make up the difference from somewhere else in your business, or they take the building back. You can’t do too much of the second one without other creditors eventually having a problem.

          • Aapje says:

            @Deiseach

            The We Company is a big enough investor that they are on the board, but they don’t control it.

            I’ve observed that many if not most activist feminists care about the impact of policies on number 1 on a visceral level, while caring about the impact on other women (or on men) in a more theoretical way. One can observe that the visceral often wins out, in that the policies that are chosen primarily favor themselves and their ingroup, even if they are very privileged (which most activist feminists seem to be), rather than other (often poorer and/or less educated) women.

            Call me cynical, but I wouldn’t even necessarily call that a case of self-interest over principles, since I think that many female activist feminists conflate the two, so they see anything that helps themselves (and thus a woman) as being feminist, as it helps women.

            @onyomi

            “I’m not sure the existing fans will like this and it’s a gamble whether we can attract a lot of new ones.”

            That is neither unspeakable or unfathomable. It’s a fairly common SJ position that the masses and/or men are resistant due to being uneducated and/or misogynist & that they need to be taught to transcend that. It’s also not a taboo to argue that it is difficult to find solutions or effective ways to teach people.

            However, if you do want to earn money by catering to, rather than preaching to people, or by having men or white people in charge, the successful blue tribe way to defend yourself from the more woke seems to be to evade the issue of whether most of what you are making/doing is problematic and to have a token thing to point to. Like a pro-diversity thing* or in this case, female-led movies. Then if people complain about Gay Panic Movie 2: Dickapalooza, you change the topic to Women Are Funny, Honest and exclaim that you are trying hard, but that there is resistance, that you fully support the goal of equality, yadda yadda yadda. Best is not to even acknowledge the actual criticism.

            Similarly, if people attack you for having mostly men or white people in charge, you don’t defend them/yourself, but instead start talking about your program to help women/PoC advance to higher positions.

            It seems to me that the large mass of leftish people is actually more easily swayed by vague political statements that sound awesome, but are mostly empty calories than by radical statements. The main reason why the radicals have so much power is because they have a level of stamina that moderates tend to lack, but this is less true as the more is at stake. It is far easier for radicals to take over a student union than a movie studio.

            * These concessions that are small for those in charge may be major for the little people, though.

          • onyomi says:

            @Aapje

            Thinking more about it, the womens’ club that doesn’t like to admit they like exclusivity is in some ways representative of a more general problem I have with many leftist arguments and policies, at least as usually presented. Much leftism sounds to me like “a country club for all!” not understanding that exclusivity is part of what people like about country clubs.

            For example, strong unions and protectionism, policies more often associated with the left, pretty much can’t make society or the world as a whole richer; they can only make some groups richer at the expense of others and probably make society or the world as a whole poorer, at least on some short-to-mid-range time scale (not killing the goose that lays the golden technological eggs by allowing disruptively rapid social change may make it better on a long enough time scale).

            I could respect this line of thinking a lot more if they were wiling to own it and basically be like “yeah, we’re protecting our nation’s farmers at the expense of the urbanites of our country and the poor of the world; we like our nation’s farmers and don’t want that way of life to disappear.” But that kind of rhetoric is quite incompatible with the universalism typically associated with leftism. May be why e.g. protectionism and immigration restriction are recently becoming associated with nationalism and conservatism more.

            In related news, support for Confucianism now correlates with support for leftist economic policies in China.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      I also want to propose a variant to A, it may be done as a way to placate key regulatory bodies by appealing to values particular to said bodies. Espousing these values might make the company look better in the eyes of those regulators involved in the company’s efforts at M&A, for example.

      • Matt M says:

        Indeed. I’d draw a line less towards something like M&A and towards something more specific/relevant like, say, an eventual gender bias lawsuit. Recall that Google of all companies has, I believe still pending, litigation alleging that they systematically pay women less than men.

        I’ve made this comparison before, but if you look at something like the energy industry, they have really strict rules about, say, holding the handrail when you use stairs. Even in corporate headquarters. Not because they’re worried about someone falling down the stairs and suffering a severe injury and suing them. Because they’re worried about the lawsuit that comes when an offshore oil platform explodes and kills dozens. What they want to be able to do, in that lawsuit, is say “Look, we have a safety-first culture. And we can prove that we’re super serious about safety because we even require employees to hold the handrail on the stairs in office buildings! So clearly whatever went wrong here was not the result of our company simply not caring enough about safety!”

  48. Viliam says:

    I am currently reading Pinker’s The Blank Slate. An interesting thing I found is how some roles in the culture war were the opposite from now a few decades ago. Saying that e.g. white people and black people are genetically the same (plus or minus some unimportant details, such as color of skin) was what got you called a Nazi and made progressive students attack you back then.

    Sounds crazy, but starts making sense when you see how exactly this evolved, mostly using arguments as soldiers in combination with wishful thinking. So, here goes the political logic:

    Premise: Patriarchy is bad.

    Let’s not worry about the exact definition of “patriarchy” now, and just say that every Western country is patriarchal. (Guessing by how the word is actually used, it seems to be a combination of “leaders are mostly men”, “physical violence exists”, and “social rules are frustrating”.) Most people don’t use exact definitions anyway.

    However, according to naturalistic fallacy — which most people accept as a valid argument — if patriarchy is natural (for humans), then patriarchy cannot be bad. Turning the implication around, because patriarchy is bad, it obviously must be against human nature. Humans, in their natural state, are unlikely to have disproportionally male leaders (they are either perfectly egalitarian, or prefer female leaders), and they abhor violence; also, outside of Western civilization everyone is happy all the time. Also, there is absolutely no such thing as a human nature; humans are infinitely malleable. (Don’t worry about the apparent contradiction between these two arguments; two arguments against patriarchy are obviously better than one.)

    How can we believe that patriarchy is against human nature, when it is everywhere around us? Most people in Western culture are only familiar with Western culture, so the easiest way is to assume that the rest of the world is not patriarchal. The working hypothesis is that patriarchy / Western civilization (now we can treat these two mostly as synonyms) is a historical aberration, that spread like a virus across a large part of globe, because of its evil violent ways, but in long term will be defeated, because nature always wins.

    In this situation you gain a lot of brownie points if you can deliver some evidence for your hypothesis. (Because people who travel abroad, and have a shred of critical thinking, are not going to do that.) Luckily, there is a superhero called Margaret Mead and a few of her followers, who travel across the globe into mysterious places, and find humans completely unlike anything we have seen. No dominant males, and a complete inability to even imagine violence. They completely lack emotions such as anger or jealousy. The hypothesis is confirmed; patriarchy has finally been scientifically debunked.

    Unfortunately, we already know that the most hopeful research usually doesn’t replicate. When a new wave of scientists wants to observe the magical people Mead found, they cannot find them anywhere. And when they do, after a short observation they often conclude the opposite: these noble savages actually have a higher murder rate than the worst parts of USA; they are sometimes angry and jealous; they steal and lie and rape; and their warrior leaders are mostly male. A powerful counter-argument is that these people were peaceful and innocent until a few years ago, but the recent contact with Western civilization has infected them with the violent virus of patriarchy. (Actually, you can accuse this second wave of scientists of intentionally corrupting these noble savages. That’s exactly what an evil mad scientist would do!) Also, there are always some allegedly untouched perfectly bio organic people on the opposite side of the globe (some village in China, if I remember correctly, but never the one you are looking at).

    So… this is how we get the situation where “people from other places are psychologically more different from us than aliens from Mars” becomes the left-wing position (promoted as the scientific truth at progressive universities), and “actually, people are mostly the same, and human nature sucks universally” gets called out as a horrible racist pseudoscientific opinion. “No, the non-whites are not the same as us, they are much better! You only deny their innate goodness because you hate them, you racist!”

    The more things change, the more they remain the same.

    By the way, I remember relatively recently reading a progressive blog article about how Aztecs were actually very nice people, certainly nicer than us, because in their culture people actually didn’t mind being murdered horribly. (That’s only our stupid prejudice that having your heart torn from your chest while you are still alive is somehow a bad thing. When a noble savage priest is doing it, it probably doesn’t even hurt much, and it gives a meaning to your life.) So, it’s not like this type of reasoning is gone completely.

    • broblawsky says:

      To me, this argument reads like a complicated series of straw men. Interlocking, nesting straw men, like a Matrioshka doll made of imaginary people.

      • quanta413 says:

        I don’t see the interlocking. If the idea in the first paragraph falls down (which I’m pretty sure it does), then the rest can basically be ignored. (EDIT: Wait, I guess that is kind of like interlocking?)

        I don’t think most people pay attention to cultural anthropology either. Even secondhand so to speak.

      • AG says:

        It’s more of a combination of weak-men/egg-men and reversed moderation, the latter of which is also arguably a bravery debate variant.

        There’s a pendulum on which arguments people perceive to be popular, and so they focus their advocacy on counter-arguments to those popular views. But then a new generation grows up only on the counter-arguments, and take those on their face without realizing the context those views were reacting to, which takes the pendulum swing too far for some tastes, so they start defending against the new egg-men in the opposite direction, without necessarily changing their intended endgoal. It’s a natural result of a consequentialist approach.

        See also the born-this-way/my-body-my-choice arguments wrt LGBTQ policy. Advocates will use whichever model better moves towards an environment with better outcomes for LGBTQ people for each particular situation.

        For Viliam’s case, it’s about going with whichever model that better reduces perceived mistreatment of racial minorities in America. For a while, the color/gender-blind model produced better results. It no longer does, so they’ve switched models. As per my first paragraph, intersectionality at first was just about introducing nuance to the existing situation, but then people grew up only learning intersectionality, without knowing the part that intersectionality was trying to moderate, so they took it to its extreme end, going the full horseshoe in the process.

      • Ketil says:

        To me, this argument reads like a complicated series of straw men.

        One thing I find sobering, is that whenever I want to present something as an opinion of some person or group, I try to find a (ideally notable) person actually expressing that opinion. Often, this is a lot harder than I initially thought, and I have to moderate my arguments. In my experience, this is an effective anti-strawman technique.

        • albatross11 says:

          If it’s just some rando on the internet, it’s a weakman.

          One difficulty here is that even serious thinkers sometimes just phone it in, or write something whose purpose is to get attention/clicks or rally the troops. For example, I think Elizabeth Warren is a smart and serious person, but right now, she’s saying anything she thinks will get her press time so she maximizes her chances of getting the Democratic nomination. (This is basically the job description of running for president.)

          There’s an opposite fallacy/rhetorical trick that you might call the “nowhere man,” related to the Motte and Bailey. This is where your side (however broad that is) makes all kinds of extreme and indefensible claims, but then when someone wants to argue with you about them, you keep inventing reasons why the person they’re quoting isn’t really a serious thinker holding a legitimate position on your side.

          It’s reasonable to say “Some people say stuff like that, but I don’t,” but it seems like there’s some kind of dodging of an argument you see where several prominent members of some movement make statements, you start disagreeing with them, and then other members of that movement complain that you’re cherry picking nonserious nutcases.

    • quanta413 says:

      I am currently reading Pinker’s The Blank Slate. An interesting thing I found is how some roles in the culture war were the opposite from now a few decades ago. Saying that e.g. white people and black people are genetically the same (plus or minus some unimportant details, such as color of skin) was what got you called a Nazi and made progressive students attack you back then.

      I don’t believe this was the case although I haven’t done a survey. For example, Lewontin famously made the incorrect argument that because there was more within-group than across-group variation people were basically all the same everywhere. Lewontin was left-wing and attacked others for being crypto-racists; he didn’t get attacked for being a crypto-racist. Could you give some evidence of the switch? Because from what I know, not much has changed in the argument battle lines since the 1970s.

      EDIT: And Margaret Mead probably said crazy things, but I don’t really see how that’s relevant to the first point so I’d prefer not move on until I find your first premise at least plausible.

      • quanta413 says:

        Just noticed, important clarification, Lewontin was talking about genetic variation specifically. Which is why the argument isn’t good. There is only a weak link between genetic variation (using the measurement he’s talking about) and phenotypic variation.

    • Plumber says:

      @Viliam says:

      “…I remember relatively recently reading a progressive blog…”

      Sorry, I just didn’t understand much of that @Viliam beyond [paraphrasing] “Here’s some nutty things people who either call themselves “progressives” or @Viliam calls “progressives” believe, sure its a big world with a lot of weird, knock yourself out finding examples, I did note that you knocked universities and if that means that resources will be directed away from universities and towards say getting the students at Kennedy High School in Richmond, California a replacement welding teacher (and more generally giving non-college bound young Americans more training in marketable skills) than I approve, but I’ve already seen what 50 years of ever rightward rule has done (and yes I still blame Governor Reagan in cahoots with an anarchist generation for almost every bad thing, starting with emptying the psych wards onto public streets by signing the Lanterman–Petris–Short Act, and yes the nominal Left is also responsible for the de-institutionalizing madness, Kennedy gave a speech in ’63 advocating it, and the ACLU has had a hand in the madness spreading), and at this point right/left/center/up/down/whenever anything looks to smell of advocating de-regulation and “liberty” looks very suspicious to me and since that’s usually what anti-progressive rhetoric aims for I’m suspicious of yours.

      Yes, “The Left” of the ’70’s went coo coo for cocoa puffs but I just plain remember the ’80’s all too well and who ultimately won, ruled and made this mess we sit in @Viliam.

      Please put your message into points that I understand beyond “Margaret Mead was a wacko” and maybe I’ll get something out of it, but if your point is just “boo progressives” then I got nothing.

      • Viliam says:

        Not sure if this explanation helps, but it was supposed to be an illustration of how arbitrary are specific beliefs (that people feel extremely strongly about, even willing to hurt other people because of perceived heresy), despite being generated by the same mechanism. The best way to illustrate the arbitrary connection between a group X and an idea Y is to show how a few years ago, the group X felt just as strongly about non-Y.

        The underlying mechanism that generates all this works approximately like this:

        You have a factually incorrect belief, e.g. “the moon is made of cheese”.

        You have some values you use as applause lights, e.g. “people should be nice to each other, and not hurt each other”.

        Now, because these are both things you believe, it feels like there is a connection between them; that the occurrence of both in the same political group cannot be a coincidence. Also, it feels like you should be able to scientifically prove your morals, because just saying that this feels right doesn’t seem good enough. So, sooner or later someone comes with a story, such as:

        “People are often nice to each other. And when they fight, it is usually over scarce resources, such as food. However, moon is made of cheese, and if we could cooperate and reach the moon together, there would be enough food for everyone. Therefore people should be nice to each other even when they feel otherwise, because that’s how in long term we all get enough food.”

        After everyone in your group accepts your theory, some asshole scientist flies to the Moon and reports that actually, the Moon is made of inedible rocks. And you feel like if people will accept this as truth, your entire moral reasoning will fall apart, and then no one will be nice to anyone else, ever. Therefore, it is a moral imperative to deny that the Moon is made of rocks. And the asshole scientist needs to be stopped, by any means necessary.

        (After much fighting, a few decades later, most people accept that the Moon is made of rocks. Everyone’s morality remains pretty much the same as before. People will find new silly beliefs, and connect their morality to those new beliefs, and feel that now it is completely different.)

        But perhaps this is only interesting to people who care about truth value of statements. “I know it is morally proper to say that Moon is made of cheese, but is it, you know, really made of one? I tried to calculate the weight of Moon and the density of the cheese, and there is something suspicious about those numbers… come and take a look. Hey, stop punching me!”

        • John Schilling says:

          This is a neat explanation of a key insight; I don’t have anything to add, so I’m going to spend a +1 on it.

          +1

      • brad says:

        It’s just bulverism. The typical, albeit non-productive, countermove is to point out that secular, highly online, anti-progressivism is just contrarianism run amok, or in other words a failure to outgrow know-it-all angst typical to bright teenagers.

        The winning move is not to play.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      I am currently reading Pinker’s The Blank Slate. An interesting thing I found is how some roles in the culture war were the opposite from now a few decades ago. Saying that e.g. white people and black people are genetically the same (plus or minus some unimportant details, such as color of skin) was what got you called a Nazi and made progressive students attack you back then.

      I have never heard this and doubt it.

      The idea of attacking biological essentialism in anything was a post-war [ww2] phenomenon and a response to National Socialist racial thinking. Blank-slatism would convince people that the observed races were a figment of the collective imagination, and all humans possessed innate equal potential, thereby protecting Jews and other vulnerable groups from harm. Pinker argues this actually backfires in the case of market dominant minorities since, well in the case of jews ~2% of the population shouldn’t be as influential or wealthy as they are in real life without resorting to some kind of trickery, or at least that’s what the blank slate would suggest.

      The only historical instance i can recall of the blank-slate being right wing was perhaps in the context of creationism vs evolution in the early days when, say, William Jennings Bryan argued that evolution would promote racism.

    • onyomi says:

      I periodically engage in idle speculation to try to pinpoint where the real fault-lines in US society or in politically polarized societies in general really lie, because any issue that can “switch sides,” as I think we’ve seen many issues do over time, seemingly cannot be an “essential” issue, assuming there is any sort of “essence” of leftism, rightism, conservatism, or liberalism/progressivism. Of course one can posit that it’s all tribalism and any position can become appealing if it’s the position your tribe professes, but generally positions need to fit into a larger worldview, which leaves the question of what those worldviews are and whether any aspect of e.g. the leftist or rightist worldview remains stable over time.

      Example theory (not saying this is exactly what I believe, just one sort of hypothesis I’ve toyed with): what really matters for Western politics of the past century or so is whether you identify with the mainstream and successful of your society or else identify with the weak and disenfranchised of your society. Something like Nietzche’s master and slave morality or an ingroup preference versus an outgroup preference.

      Thus when the “ingroup/masters” of mainstream US society were rich white capitalists, the “outgroup/slaves” were poor white laborers, and the fargroup foreigners and US black people, the natural thing for leftists to support was segregation and anti-free trade. After all, immigration, integration, and free trade are just methods for the rich capitalists to keep down the white working class by forcing them to compete with an unending stream of fargroup (foreigners and minorities).

      At some point foreigners and minorities became “outgroup” as far as mainstream white society (of the US and seemingly also Western Europe) was concerned (not sure who is fargroup to them now) was concerned, while the nation itself became the new ingroup. At this point those who identify with ingroup (rightists) become nationalists and support immigration restriction and tariffs, while those who identify with outgroup (leftists) support free trade and open borders, formerly a very not left-wing position.

      Such a theory may help resolve the perennial dilemma: “is fascism/national socialism a creature of the left or the right?” If what matters is not the positions on particular issues but rather where you draw lines and whom you identify with, then fascism can be fundamentally “right wing” while also supporting many of the same object level ideas as many leftists (but at the level of the mainstream culture of a nation rather than on behalf of the disenfranchised workers of the world, let’s say), which I think accords with most peoples’ intuition of what “fascism” actually means.

      Of course, this presents a danger of veering into bulverism: “you just support open borders now because of your reflexive psychological instinct to side with the outgroup/underdog.” “You suddenly support protectionism because of your reflexive need to justify the status quo and lionize the past.” At the same time, it feels hard to avoid when there are so manifestly forces at work other than the positions themselves (and I don’t exempt myself from this: I’ve felt myself pulled in different directions to diminish cognitive dissonance of being out of step with the people whose general outlook I identify with; certain issues seem more “vulnerable” to this than others, however).

    • ana53294 says:

      Patriarchy is bad, but it mostly doesn’t exist in the West anymore, with the exception of some Roma communities (where escaping may mean abandoning family).

      As I understand it, patriarchy is the system where the oldest male, the pater familias, holds most of the power in the family over everybody, including younger sons and all females.

      It is maintained by a (lack of) female property rights, male primogeniture, and a lack of economic opportunities outside the system.

      I don’t see how the current system of nuclear families, and ample protection for females’ and younger son’s right to inherit and own property can be called patriarchal. Women can own businesses, land, houses; how could men hold all the keys to power?

      In any case, most of the so called matriarchal families don’t seem to make the women involved that happy; I once watched a documentary on the Mosuo women in China, and their existence seemed pretty miserable to me, as they did most of the work.

      • DarkTigger says:

        Let’s say a lot of people who call themself feminist won’t agree with your definition of patriarchy.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Patriarchy is bad

        Relative to what? Rome was by far the most patriarchal nation of its time (the paterfamilias literally had the power of life and death). The result was pretty positive: it created the greatest Empire in history.

        Patriarchy may not be the most optimum system, but it’s at least top half.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          Most every society in the past was more patriarchial then what we have now. The romans were more patriarchial than most of the groups they conquered, but north western europeans were often less patriarchial then a lot of the societies that they conquered.

          Using patriarchy as a noun rather than an adjective isn’t very useful, and even using it as an adjective it’s hard to see where the historical optimum is/was by comparing the complexity or military prowess of some civilisations through time.

          • Lambert says:

            All of them that had oxen and ploughs and grains were.
            But there are lots of societies in the New World and Africa where women would grow yams, plantains, the Three Sisters, kumara etc. and gather, whilst the men hunted or fought.

            On average, these societies are a lot less patriarchal than traditional Eurasian and near-eastern societies, where only men were strong enough to deal with cattle/ploughhorses and farm crops intensively.

        • ana53294 says:

          Relative to a free capitalistic society with guaranteed property rights, legal equality, protection of illegitimate children, etc. Even sharia law, where the daughter gets half the share her brothers do, is better than the alternative of no legal protection or recourse for daughters’ property rights.

          The USA, since its founding, has not had a patriarchy as such; females did have property rights, and young sons had options beyond serving their fathers.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Sure, which is why we’ve replaced patriarchy with it. But Roman women in patriarchy had plenty of power and used it.

            “Not as good as our current system” is very much not the same as “bad”. Patriarchy allowed a tremendous amount of human flourishing relative to what preceded it.

            It’s like saying that the industrial revolution was bad. Relative to where we are now, it sucked pretty hard in a lot of ways, but we never would’ve gotten here without it.

            Lastly, note that by a definition of patriarchy this strict that basically nobody is advocating patriarchy, which feminists would mostly disagree with.

          • ana53294 says:

            I specifically said that I don’t believe that patriarchy as I understand it does not exist in the West anymore, and nobody advocates for it. It existed, and we got rid of it.

            Feminists argue against some kind of vague “patriarchy”, which does not seem to be reflected in the laws or mores of our society. My father recently wrote his will; he divided everything equally between me and my brother. I’ve never met anyone, religious or not, who thinks that women should not own property or vote.

            It still exists, although in different degrees of extremism, in the middle East, the Caucasus, Turkish countryside, some African communities, the Roma communities, etc.

            Sharia law was also an improvement to what they had before it, doesn’t mean it’s as good as what we have now.

            I can see why a patrilineal society has benefits in the form of higher involvement of men in child raising; the Mosuo women in China don’t seem to happy with having to do all the work.

            There’s “bad” and there’s “worse”. Patriarchy is bad; what preceded it may have been worse, but what we have now is much better.

            AFAIU, there are no conservatives who argue for eliminating women’s property rights, women’s equal inheritance rights, the return of the legal institute of bastardy and the concept of legitimate vs ilegitimate children. Some do argue for social stigma for single motherhood, but few religious people want to see innocent children punished or aborted due to the sins of their parents.

            I don’t think that arguing for a return to stable and earlier marriages, more women staying home if they so choose to, and a bigger role of religion in people’s daily life is wanting to bring patriarchy back.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @ana53294

            AFAIU, there are no conservatives who argue for eliminating women’s property rights, women’s equal inheritance rights, the return of the legal institute of bastardy and the concept of legitimate vs ilegitimate children.

            That’s just because of the Overton window. I have no problem with women’s property rights, but I do think that the concept of bastardy needs to return.

            As for women being unable to vote, that was the position of major Western countries in the lifetime of my father and not much before mine. In some cantons in Switzerland, within my lifetime and not democratically implemented.

            It is also my position and my wife’s position, and I believe it’s a rational one. So now you’ve met a conservative who doesn’t think women should vote.

          • ana53294 says:

            Why do you believe women shouldn’t vote?

            So are you OK with men being able to completely abdicate any kind of responsibility over their children? While I agree that having children within a marriage is the more desirable form, I do believe that sex should come with responsibility, and children are completely innocent of their parent’s sins.

            Who would support those children, if bastardy were to return, men were able to abdicate all responsibility for kids born outside of a marriage, and the mothers were unable to provide an adequate life for the kids?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @ana53294

            Why do you believe women shouldn’t vote?

            Because the short and long-term outcomes of women have been negatives for my values. Allowing women to be apolitical has also allowed women to get what they desire done while reducing marital strife.

            So are you OK with men being able to completely abdicate any kind of responsibility over their children?

            Over their bastard children, yes. If they didn’t sign up to be parents legally, they don’t have a responsibility. If they want to after the fact, adoption exists and is the traditional method.

            This is an excellent way to incentivize women to not do stupid things. Rewarding people who do stupid things with the same benefits as people who didn’t do those stupid things is bad policy.

            Who would support those children, if bastardy were to return, men were able to abdicate all responsibility for kids born outside of a marriage, and the mothers were unable to provide an adequate life for the kids?

            They would be adopted by families who didn’t have kids they can’t afford.

          • ana53294 says:

            @EchoChaos

            Unless you institute a very strict ban on abortions, it would just increase the rate of abortions. Would you be OK with that?

            In Spain, during the Republic, a lot of leftist were afraid of the women’s vote because they were afraid that would mean a right-wing win, as women are more church-going and conservative.

            If you believe bastardy should be a thing, do you also believe there should be no sex before marriage? What would you do if you yourself accidentally had a kid?

            They would be adopted by families who didn’t have kids they can’t afford.

            Well, but that frequently would not happen. Many poor families prefer to keep their children in objectively sub-optimal conditions over giving them away, so unless you use CPS (a not really conservative position) to take children away, there would just be an increse in child poverty. Are you OK with that?

          • Randy M says:

            Because the short and long-term outcomes of women have been negatives for my values

            In other words, you see political rights as instrumental, not terminal values.
            I think in contrast many people would prefer equality in civil rights regardless of the results. Or at least, claiming otherwise is forbidden.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @ana53294

            I mean, I’m also in favor of strict bans on abortion, which is hardly surprising. But we had that system before and bastardy rates were far lower than today without a shockingly higher abortion rate.

            I am also against sex before marriage, and I married my wife before had sex and had all our kids, but in a situation where that didn’t happen I would personally adopt my children legally. I am a man of honor.

            As for children in poverty, that’s bad, but the state enforcing contracts on people is worse. If parents wish to raise their children in poverty, that is their choice. We are all free moral agents.

            @Randy M

            True. Fortunately I don’t really hesitate to voice unpopular positions.

          • Nick says:

            @EchoChaos

            I would personally adopt my children legally. I am a man of honor.

            Unfortunately, we know from history that this didn’t always happen. I wish I had an idea how common bastards were. If someone has a clever deduction based on medieval baptismal records or whatever, do share.

            I don’t think stigmatizing fornication is necessarily wrong; I discussed the similar case of single parenthood ages back here. Unfortunately, as I said there, this isn’t anything like a slam-dunk answer.

          • Randy M says:

            Bastardy only applies to those born out of wedlock, not conceived, and so encourages a cultural norm of ‘shotgun weddings’ which provides some accountability for the men.

            How well this works in practice in all times and places in terms of satisfying marriage and caring parenthood versus whatever the alternative of governmentally enforced child support payments (humorously dubbed bureaugamy) I dunno.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            “I think in contrast many people would prefer equality in civil rights regardless of the results. Or at least, claiming otherwise is forbidden.”

            Yes but only if you define civil rights as adhering to a procedure rather than defining it in terms of results. The civil rights struggle for Women/POC continues because certain outcomes have not been achieved. Can we *really* be certain that people aren’t having their votes supressed or property rights abridged if electoral representatives and income/wealth [respectively] are all correctly apportioned?

            saying you oppose the idea of equal civil rights because you dislike the outcome seems a bit more honest then doing this sort of ‘no true scotsman’ approach where you don’t acknowledge a thing as having been achieved, because the outcome is not what you expected/wanted.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Nick

            Absolutely true. Encouraging women not to shack up with men who aren’t honorable is a feature, not a bug.

            @RalMirrorAd

            I agree with that.

          • quanta413 says:

            Over their bastard children, yes. If they didn’t sign up to be parents legally, they don’t have a responsibility. If they want to after the fact, adoption exists and is the traditional method.

            This is an excellent way to incentivize women to not do stupid things. Rewarding people who do stupid things with the same benefits as people who didn’t do those stupid things is bad policy.

            A not insignificant number of fathers out of wedlock already don’t pay child support anyways because they flee the state or they have almost no legal income anyways. Also let’s be clear about how how far back the tradition you suggest is going. Wikipedia says by the end of colonial American times a typical law required fathers pay to help support their bastard children, so you want to roll tradition back over 200 years. ~10 generations or more.

            I agree rewarding stupid people is dumb, but I don’t think punishing the child in order to punish the parent is even vaguely justifiable. I also suspect that the sort of person who ends up in this sort of situation is likely to be so foolish and/or selfish that punishing their child is an ineffective part of the punishment. Especially if you’re going to let one parent just run away scot free. Punish both parents instead. Why not imprison, flog, or execute the father if he’s going to be out of the picture anyways? That would be a much stronger deterrent. We’ve got DNA testing nowadays so it won’t be too hard to get ironclad proof.

            That idea would also be very authoritarian (and to me wrong). I’m interested in your defense of why bringing back bastard status would be ok, and if violently punishing fathers is on the table. In the Connecticut colony publicly whipping the father of a bastard (or mother if they couldn’t figure out who the father was) was one part of the punishment in the 17th century. Nowadays, it’d be much easier to find out who the father is so that deterrent ought to be much more effective.

            Also, same wiki article says starting in 1575 in England, justices could issue orders forcing a reputed father to pay for the support of his child. Although the child would be cared for by a monastery so that’s where the child support went. I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that in the past, the father was allowed to just walk away. It seems like he only got away because it was often hard to catch him, and it would be hard to confirm he really was the father. But we’ve got DNA testing so that problem is gone. It seems to me that in England and the U.S. in the past, they really would have liked to punish both parents and did when they could, but practical reasons prevented them. If you’re going to bring back tradition, shouldn’t you use the new technology on hand to better fulfill the spirit of the old traditions?

          • ana53294 says:

            Why not imprison, flog, or execute the father if he’s going to be out of the picture anyways? That would be a much stronger deterrent. We’ve got DNA testing nowadays so it won’t be too hard to get ironclad proof.

            I’d actually be OK with that (except for the execution bit). @Plumber has also expressed opinions of tarring and feathering divorced parents, maybe he would be OK with that?

            I also suspect that the sort of person who ends up in this sort of situation is likely to be so foolish and/or selfish that punishing their child is an ineffective part of the punishment.

            Yep, there are so many people who are absolutely careless about having children while being unable to provide for them. Absent strong CPS, giving them money and hoping some of it goes towards the care of kids is the best way of ensuring children get adequately taken care of.

            EDIT:
            A not insignificant number of fathers out of wedlock already don’t pay child support anyways because they flee the state or they have almost no legal income anyways.

            I get the people with no legal income or assets. But why would leaving the state make it possible to avoid child support? The IRS will make you pay your taxes even from abroad, can’t they use the IRS to enforce child support payments for delinquent fathers?

          • The Nybbler says:

            This is an excellent way to incentivize women to not do stupid things. Rewarding people who do stupid things with the same benefits as people who didn’t do those stupid things is bad policy.

            If you have bastardy, where a man has no responsibility for his out-of-wedlock issue, you’re letting men do stupid things and get the same benefits (and more) as men who didn’t do stupid things.

          • quanta413 says:

            I get the people with no legal income or assets. But why would leaving the state make it possible to avoid child support? The IRS will make you pay your taxes even from abroad, can’t they use the IRS to enforce child support payments for delinquent fathers?

            I am not sure exactly why; I think the problem is that child support laws are handled at the state level. So if whoever is collecting child support wants to collect, they’ll need to go to court, then locate the other parent so that the court where they live can enforce the order.

            There’s even a wikihow that outlines the procedure. So you know it comes up.

            So you can attempt to collect support if they flee the state, but it’s a pain in the ass and it’s slow.

          • ana53294 says:

            @EchoChaos

            What about children who come of rape?

            While I don’t believ rapists should get to be fathers, some women actually keep the children, and raise them.

            Shouldn’t they pay child support? Even if not convicted. Tons of men don’t get convicted in criminal court, that doesn’t mean much, except that they don’t go to prison.

          • Plumber says:

            @ana53294 says: "...@Plumber has also expressed opinions of tarring and feathering divorced parents, maybe he would be OK with that?..."

            IIRC it was “put in stocks and pelted with garbage” instead of ‘tarring and feathering’ (the tarring does seem a bit much), I’ve also previously advocated that a child’s parents should  automatically be legally married whether they like it or not (still bitter about a whole generation having broken homes), but since stigma’s against a child’s parents not being married may also hurt kids, and being a single parent is already hard, I really don’t have any confidence in a good solution.

            So far my generation and those younger get divorced less than my parents generation, but we also marry later and less, and have a lower birthrate, and don’t seem particularly happier.
            Too many wounds any which way.

            Maybe the Amish and/or the Mormons are happier?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @pretty much everyone

            I am absolutely in favor of laws punishing men for producing a bastard. Big fan. Paying child support to bastards I am somewhat open to, but it should be an amount lower than for a legitimate child.

            I am also willing to listen to Plumber’s idea that the parents of a child should be automatically married if they weren’t before, although this presents issues in the case of adultery.

            As for rape, I think that compelling payment in that case should absolutely be required, but only if they are convicted. Otherwise the mothers would always accuse “rape, I totally promise, but it couldn’t be proven in a court of law”, which is a bad standard.

          • ana53294 says:

            @EchoChaos

            Standards for rape in criminal and civil court are different.

            A preponderance of evidence should be enough to make a punitive compensation and child support order.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @ana53294

            Totally fair. I will concede that point. Someone found liable in civil court of raping someone should absolutely be required to pay full child support.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I am also willing to listen to Plumber’s idea that the parents of a child should be automatically married if they weren’t before, although this presents issues in the case of adultery.

            As for rape, I think that compelling payment in that case should absolutely be required, but only if they are convicted. Otherwise the mothers would always accuse “rape, I totally promise, but it couldn’t be proven in a court of law”, which is a bad standard.

            Taken together, this suggests that if a woman can’t prove rape to a standard of reasonable doubt, she’ll be forced to marry her rapist.

          • lvlln says:

            I am also willing to listen to Plumber’s idea that the parents of a child should be automatically married if they weren’t before, although this presents issues in the case of adultery.

            As for rape, I think that compelling payment in that case should absolutely be required, but only if they are convicted. Otherwise the mothers would always accuse “rape, I totally promise, but it couldn’t be proven in a court of law”, which is a bad standard.

            Taken together, this suggests that if a woman can’t prove rape to a standard of reasonable doubt, she’ll be forced to marry her rapist.

            I don’t think that’s correct. Rather, what it suggests is that if a woman claims her child was the result of her being raped and the government can’t prove it to a standard of reasonable doubt, then that woman will be forced to marry the person she is accusing of having raped her to produce that child.

          • Plumber says:

            @Hoopyfreud says: "...Taken together, this suggests that if a woman can’t prove rape to a standard of reasonable doubt, she’ll be forced to marry her rapist"

            Good point and a decidedly ugly prospect.

            I throw up my hands, as unsatisfying as the status quo is it may be what’s best, and improvement is hopeless.

            Well that just bites.

          • EchoChaos wrote, wrt women voting:

            Because the short and long-term outcomes of women have been negatives for my values.

            Gordon Tullock used to have a bunch of graphs of government expenditure over time in different countries, which he offered as a puzzle. The pattern was similar in different countries–a long period over which the percentage of national income that went to the government was reasonably constant, followed by a period in which it rose. What differed by country was the date at which the break occurred.

            I’m not certain, but I think Tullock’s theory was that it was a result of women getting the vote in different countries at different dates. I’ve never gone back and reconstructed his graphs to check if that is plausible.

            A priori, it makes some sense. The traditional division of labor had men working in the marketplace, women running a household. A household is a sort of miniature of a socialist planned society—the woman running it is allocating resources among herself, children, various familial objectives, possibly, if it’s a well off household in the past, servants. It seems plausible that to a woman in that role, the idea of the country as an expanded version of a household with a benevolent government in her position would seem more attractive than it would to her husband.

            Randy M. writes:

            In other words, you see political rights as instrumental, not terminal values.

            I can’t speak for EchoChaos, but I certainly see the right to vote in that way. I find it difficult to imagine a plausible moral theory in which some act is inherently right if supported by 51% of the population, wrong if supported by only 49%. The only arguments I can see for who should have the right to vote are instrumental ones.

            On the subject of bastardy, I note that Jewish religious law didn’t have our concept. A momser, sometimes translated as “bastard,” was the child of a couple who not only were not married but could not be married, for instance a married woman and a man other than her husband. The child of an unmarried couple who was not a momser had the same legal status as the child of a married couple. I’m not sure what obligations of support parents had in either case.

            And on the question of a woman marrying her rapist, note Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which is sometimes interpreted as requiring it, although it isn’t entirely clear if the reference is to rape or only seduction.

            Finally, on the issue marrying after conception but before birth, I’ve seen estimates for several European cities in the late 19th century suggesting that about a third of brides were pregnant.

          • Randy M says:

            I find it difficult to imagine a plausible moral theory in which some act is inherently right if supported by 51% of the population, wrong if supported by only 49%.

            I lean in your direction too, but I think the opposite point of view is that taking any action affecting a population while only accepting input from a portion of them is unjust regardless of that action in particular. “No taxation without representation” and so on.

            The less absolute version of this would be that the government tends towards unjust treatment of an excluded minority even if the actual polices at anyone one time are fair on the face of them.

            Similar arguments could be made about trial by jury, right to a criminal justice rights, and so on. Probably even what we regard as more human rights than civil rights–freedom of religion, speech, arms, etc. Is their abridging on its face unjust, or only likely to produce unjust results?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            on the question of a woman marrying her rapist, note Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which is sometimes interpreted as requiring it, although it isn’t entirely clear if the reference is to rape or only seduction.

            Is this meant to be an argument in favor of the practice? It strikes me as pretty evil either way. Like a lot of evils, it has precedent.

          • Theodoric says:

            @EchoChaos
            The campus Title IX tribunals operate under a preponderance of the evidence standard. Get ready for lots of morning after regret “rape” claims if successfully making one gets you money and prizes.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Is this meant to be an argument in favor of the practice? It strikes me as pretty evil either way. Like a lot of evils, it has precedent.

            If some guy seduces a woman and gets her pregnant, I don’t think it’s obviously evil to force him to take responsibility and marry her, particularly since in most ancient societies the woman would be considered ruined for marriage to anyone else.

          • albatross11 says:

            In other words, you see political rights as instrumental, not terminal values.

            I definitely think this for most political rights (rules for voting, separation of powers, exactly how representatives are chosen, etc.). I support liberal representative democracy because it seems to give pretty good results, not because I think it’s a moral imperative from God or something.

          • albatross11 says:

            It seems like jury trial and legal procedure is somewhere else where I care about results more than current formal rules. I want the courts to be accurate about whether the accused is guilty of what he’s accused of, but I don’t care whether that’s decided by a judge, a jury of 12 fellow citizens, or an AI, I just want accuracy.

          • Ketil says:

            Unless you institute a very strict ban on abortions, it would just increase the rate of abortions. Would you be OK with that?

            This sounds very close to saying that (some) women will have a baby if, and only if, they have the right to child support – i.e. profit economically from it. I am not sure this is a good motivation, and something society should encourage.

            In other words, [EchoChaos] see political rights as instrumental, not terminal values.

            Under the current system, women unilaterally decides whether to carry the child or abort it, which is arguably reasonable. But the decision comes with two decades of economic dependency for the father, who doesn’t get a vote (“patriarchy”, I guess). So you could argue this from the principle that if you have to bear the consequences, you should have a say in the decision.

          • ana53294 says:

            (some) women will have a baby if, and only if, they have the right to child support – i.e. profit economically from it they can afford to raise the baby in decent conditions

            Fixed it for you.

          • John Schilling says:

            Yeah, “profit economically from it” is poor phrasing. It’s true for the full economic definition of “profit”, where things like maternal love and a desire to create new sentient life go in the “plus” column and women will make babies so long as the material costs aren’t so cripplingly high as to outweigh the less tangible positives. But most people use the Econ 101 definition of “profit” where only monetary income counts and will take such a claim as indicating that the marginal mothers are just in it for the benjamins.

            Which, probably a few of them are. Mostly, we’re dealing with lots of women who want to make babies for all the reasons that everyone other than a hard-core anti-natalist will agree are the right reasons to make babies, but will reluctantly refrain from doing this good thing if the material costs would impoverish them to an intolerable degree. So we should maybe look at ways to make it so that doesn’t happen.

            That’s been one of the core functions of civilization since the dawn of civilization.

          • Plumber says:

            @EchoChaos says: "...If they didn’t sign up to be parents legally, they don’t have a responsibility. If they want to after the fact, adoption exists and is the traditional method.

            This is an excellent way to incentivize women to not do stupid things..."

            I think the old saying is “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”, and since creating a child takes two, and except for (infamously) Kirk Anderson in the ’70’s, men involuntarily performing the act to create a child is unknown to me, I’m gonna say that paying child support for not keeping it zipped is just, the incentives need to go both ways.

      • I’m not sure Roma culture is strictly patriarchal–my impression is that old women have a good deal of power.

        • ana53294 says:

          Even in the most patriarchal of societies some women will achieve positions of power and influence. Some of the patriarchs will love their mothers, sisters, wives or daughters, right?

          • I don’t think the power is coming through men in that case. Old people have a lot of status, and I think that if the grandfather dies or becomes unable to run things, the grandmother takes over.

            Also, Vlach Rom culture (which is what I know most about) has a pretty sharp division between men’s world and women’s world, so more a case of men running some things and women other things than men running everything.

    • Clutzy says:

      I don’t think you’ve drawn the lines then or now accurately. So I don’t think its very helpful.

      The left has always insisted on the lack of genetic differences both male/female and among races. They still do.

      The center right has always insisted on genetic differences in male/female and cultural differences in both male/female and among races. It still does.

      The mainstream has, for 60+ years engaged in explicit race blindfoldness on genes. The only difference was policy prescriptions. Now that the woke left and genetic-right are squaring off more publicly doesn’t change much.

      • albatross11 says:

        You can probably get otherwise-intelligent people to loudly proclaim that there are no genetic differences between races or sexes, but only if you get their brains hijacked with tribalism first. Otherwise, they’ll remember high school biology about XX vs XY, and they’ll remember that black parents do pretty reliably seem to have black children.

        Probably what you’re thinking of is the claim that the genetic differences don’t explain much or any of the observed differences in performance in various areas. That’s plausible for most, but not all, observed differences. (I’m very sure the Tibetans’ altitude tolerance isn’t just cultural. Similarly, with the much lower level of lactase persistence in blacks vs whites.).

        The differences that matter for US politics are mostly black/white difference in academic performance and crime rate, and male/female differences in math-oriented fields (math, physics, engineering, computer science, economics, statistics)–either due to different abilities or different interests.

        And the issue here is that:

        a. It’s a plausible hypothesis that biological/genetic differences drive much of any of these observable differences in outcome.

        b. Those hypotheses are strongly associated with some nasty people and political movements.

        c. Those hypotheses provide support for political polices that many mainstream people (especially on the broad left, which includes most journalists and most of academia) think are very bad policies that will make world a worse place.

  49. proyas says:

    The recent news about Greenland has me thinking: Are there any countries that WOULD be willing to sell territory to the U.S. for a reasonable price (i.e. – if a country is willing to sell a small, uninhabited island for $1 trillion, it isn’t a reasonable offer)? What territory is on offer?

    • cassander says:

      A related question. Were the last few exchanges of territory by outright purchase in recent history?

      • drunkfish says:

        Not sure what you consider “recent”, but the Lousiana purchase immediately comes to mind.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Here’s wikipedia’s list

        However, most of these don’t look like clean sales. A lot of them look like the settlements of disputed claims with financial settlements to the losers (e.g. Pakistan’s purchase of Gwadar from Oman in 1958) or end-of-war territorial changes that were paired with money going the other direction (e.g. America acquiring California and New Mexico at the end of the Mexican War, and similarly acquiring the Philippines at the end of the Spanish-American War).

        The most recent sale on the list that looks like a relatively clean sale to me is 1916, when the Danish West Indies became the US Virgin Islands.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          most of these don’t look like clean sales

          And despite that, it is an astonishingly short list!

      • SamChevre says:

        For the US, the USVI–bought from Denmark during the First World War. (My dad grew up there; a couple of his childhood friends were Danish citizens by birth.)

    • ana53294 says:

      An uninhabited island may be actually worth a trillion. If it happens to be in an important chokehold, and has a lot of valuable EEZ.

      The Kurils, while not uninhabited, have the population of a village.

      There are the South China sea rocks.

      Then there is, for example, the conflict between Spain and Morocco over Parsley island (literally a rock in the sea). There are also others.

      Nobody will sell land anymore. What is money, even a trillion? For the US, it’s just 4.5 % of its federal debt. The Iraq war cost ~ 2.4 $ trillion.

      I can easily imagine a stupid conflict over some small uninhabited rock in the South China sea developing into a war that costs a quadrillion in lives and money on all sides.

    • Erusian says:

      I’m not sure territory was ever really for sale in a general sense. Sales usually occurred due to other concerns. For example, Alaska was costing more money than it was taking in and it was indefensible against the British. It also didn’t notably compromise Russian defenses: it put more territory between the British and Russia.

    • blipnickels says:

      Two notes:

      First, the Gadsden purchase is probably the best example. It was shortly after the Mexican-American War and it does include modern Tuscon but at the time it was pretty worthless scrubland and the Americans just really needed it for the transcontinental railroad.

      Second, several small countries will sell citizenship. St Kitts and Nevis, for example, will sell individual citizenship for $150,000/person or $195,000 for a family of four, has a population of about 55,000 people, and is democratic. Therefore, theoretically, you could buy/invade St Kitts and Nevis with 60,000 immigrants for $9 billion dollars and then vote for…anything. This is well within the reach of megacorps. Unfortunately, US tax law allows the IRS to tax your worldwide income no matter where you are, so purchasing your own country to dodge taxes isn’t viable. (Or maybe it is, if you set the tax rate at 50% but since you “own” the government it comes back to you in subsidies, consult you tax attorney, this is not legal advice)

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Greece could have done that to help with its debt, but there was SO much paranoia that “Germans did it all on purpose to get our islands” that it would have been painful political suicide to mention it.

      Other than that… North/South Korea come to mind, but without a specific scenario. What is required is to have a country poor enough that a cash inflow would make a historical impact, and that has either a rich neighbor or islands.

      Also pretty much any piece of Africa and China – but rumor is they already own much of it already, and it failed to be profitable.

    • johan_larson says:

      Canada has way more territory than it can effectively use. I expect you could purchase some of the more remote bits of it, like the islands in the Arctic, if the price was right, and you were someone the government pretty much trusts. If Norway wanted to buy Banks Island, that would probably be a matter of agreeing on a price. Russia, not so much.

      And of course some of that land comes with unsettled aboriginal land claims.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      What value would the USA get out of annexing Greenland? It’s like proposing that DC annex Alexandria.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Rare earth metals and a strategic position, both of which will become more valuable as the ice melts.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          If Alexandria had rare earth metals, should DC annex it?
          Alexandria has a lot better strategic position than Greenland, yet DC gave it away to Virginia.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Not being familiar with Virginia geography, I thought that you meant Alexandria Egypt. This makes more sense.

            Anyway, the reason is that Denmark doesn’t pay taxes to the US federal government but still costs us a great deal of money and potentially lives to defend along with the rest of Europe. As we’re already paying that even now, adding Greenland to the US would generate considerable revenue without increasing the cost of defending it.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The people in Alexandria are much richer than in DC. Should DC annex it? If there were something valuable in Greenland, would it matter who taxes it, US or DK, any more than it matters who taxes Alexandria?

            But there isn’t anything worth taxing in Greenland. 50k Eskimos aren’t worth taxing. They don’t pay taxes to Denmark.

            Rare earth mines? OK, if your clients aren’t keeping out your enemies, that’s a reason to get involved. But why would you want to keep out China? Denmark is taxing these mines for all they are worth, which is nothing. Rare earth metals are badly misnamed. They are common as dirt. It is the processing step that creates value, but that is done in China.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Rare earths are available in the US proper, but too expensive to process due to environmental rules. China doesn’t care, so in some way it’s better for the US for China to mine the rare earths and sell them to us. But that also means China can cut us off (and they have threatened to do so). Rare earths in territory controlled by the US but not subject to US environmental regulation would be ideal.

          • eric23 says:

            Perhaps Denmark should sell Greenland to Canada – likely a more responsible steward than the US, a NATO member like the US, and already with geographical continuity to Greenland.

        • Ketil says:

          I’ve played Japan in Hearts of Iron, and you need to conquer everybody to get access to resources for your war machine – which you need to conquer everybody.

          But do you actually need to conquer to get access to resources these days? As long as we have global trade, isn’t it both cheaper and more efficient, not to mention a lot nicer to just buy what you need?

          Which means that global trade is perhaps the most important thing to help avoid armed conflict, Iraq wars notwithstanding.

          • Protagoras says:

            Hearts of Iron models trade very poorly. Admittedly, the international trade situation in that era was not nearly as efficient as it is these days, but it wasn’t as bad as whatever’s going on in HoI. It’s one of the things that annoys me about pretty much every incarnation of the game; certainly it’s terrible in 4, which is the one I’ve been playing most recently.

      • hls2003 says:

        Seems like an excellent hedge against global warming. Shouldn’t we expect that real estate up north would be getting more in-demand, and real estate further south and on the coasts declining in value?

  50. Machine Interface says:

    Is there a name for/is it a recognized sign/symptom of something when you find yourself spontaneously repeating outloud, to yourself, things that you’ve said to other people earlier?

    I often find myself spontaneously speaking to myself lines that I said earlier to someone, without having consciously decided to do so. It’s not interfering with my life, that never happens when there’s someone present, and when I notice I’m doing it I usually stop. But it happens semi-regularly enough that it makes me wonder what it’s about, if it’s about anything.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Tourette syndrome?

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      I do this all the time too. Not really sure why I do it either, but upon self-reflection it feels like a “quality check” of the previous statement. Like, my conscious mind can’t quite recall what I just said, but it’s still cached in some “recent statements” subconscious, so I repeat it to compare with the potentially faulty memory.

    • rahien.din says:

      Palilalia.

    • bullseye says:

      I do that sometimes, but not out loud.

    • Rolaran says:

      I do this semi-regularly as well. Not sure if this is relevant or not, but both previous jobs I’ve had and my current job involved a fair amount of “rote” conversation (along the lines of “Thanks for choosing Burger King, enjoy your meal!”) and I’ve noticed that it more frequently happens with either those phrases, or other things I anticipate I will need to say again. Also, I have done amateur theater for some time, and I find myself automatically evaluating these repeated phrases much the same way I would for a prepared script line (“Does the delivery sound natural? Did I enunciate that enough? Is there a better flow to it?” etc.)

      I’ve generally chalked it up to vocal exercise or calibration, and it didn’t really occur to me to worry about it.

  51. On the general subject of media bias, something I noticed recently. Lots of news stories quote Trump as referring to himself as “the Chosen One.” It is quoting something he said at a news conference, so spoken, not written.

    Spoken English doesn’t have capitals.

    If I correctly read the news stories, what he actually said was:

    “This isn’t my trade war. This is a trade war that should have taken place a long time ago by a lot of other presidents. I am the chosen one. Somebody had to do it. So I’m taking on China. I’m taking on China in trade, and you know what, we’re winning.”

    Which does not have the megalomaniacal tone of “I am the Chosen One.”

    • The Nybbler says:

      This one’s not the fault of the media. It’s clear in the clip that he meant it to be taken that way, though he was likely just clowning (and possibly trolling said media).

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, the video makes it pretty clearly and obviously a joke. Pretending that he meant it super literally is the media bias here.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Which does not have the megalomaniacal tone of “I am the Chosen One.”

      It doesn’t?

    • quanta413 says:

      No, that still sounds crazy and hilarious. I think it’s even crazier and funnier sounding in context. Although it’s hardly out of the ordinary for Trump. Grandiose over-the-top boasting is part of his schtick. Also his aesthetic. Just look at all the gold.

    • Aftagley says:

      It is quoting something he said at a news conference, so spoken, not written.

      Spoken English doesn’t have capitals.

      I suppose, but you can’t simultaneously claim that the intricacies of the written word don’t apply and then ignore the intricacies of the spoken word. Lets go back to his speech (which you aren’t quoting entirely correctly, but it doesn’t really matter):

      Previous sentence before saying the relevant quote: Trump is standing at a normal press pool facing the crowd of reporters. During this time, he’s speaking at his usual fast clip, making normal hand gestures.

      “…and not only that, if you take a look, IP theft. Add that too it. And add a lot of other things to it. so somebody, excuse me, somebody had to do it.”

      At this point he pauses for around a second to a second and a half. He then turns, looking away from the reporters and cameras and stairs into sky while saying “I am the chosen one.”

      He then turns back to the crowd and finishes his statement, resuming his previous tempo.
      “Somebody had to do it. So I’m taking on china. I’m taking on china on trade. And you know what, we’re wining.”

      Sure, it’s possible that this is a joke, but if it is, he’s being jokingly megalomaniacal. It wasn’t just some throwaway line or a poorly phrased way of saying he got elected for this; he’s clearly referencing some kind of higher power when he talks about being chosen.

      • drunkfish says:

        nitpick that feels relevant: I don’t think he was looking at the sky, I think he was looking at the white house, which could reasonably be said to symbolize the US choosing him.

        I hate the guy as much as the next blue triber, but that line really feels like a joke in the video.

        • quanta413 says:

          It’s actually a lot better than the average tweet I’ve seen from him. You see a couple of those, and then you’re actively trying to avoid clicking anything that might be a link to one of his tweets.

          Say the average of those is a 2/10. This was a like a 5 or 6/10. It wasn’t roll on the floor hilarious, but it wasn’t terrible either. Most Presidents aren’t very funny so that’s expected.

          • drunkfish says:

            yeah agreed, i heard he said something horribly dumb and went to watch (which i usually resist doing) and was shocked to see him make an almost-endearing joke

      • Phigment says:

        I just watched the clip there, and it looked like a pretty clear joke to me.

        The “I am the Chosen One” and dramatic pose were sarcasm. Particularly in the context of him saying “somebody should have done this years ago, but didn’t…”

        This was like a network administrator saying “our critical infrastructure runs on a rat’s nest of poorly-documented PERL scripts, batch files, and kludged-together Excel spreadsheet macros. This is awful. Someone has to fix it, and I guess I am the Chosen One.”

        It’s not humble, certainly, but it’s not asserting that he holds the Mandate of Heaven, either.

      • broblawsky says:

        It does read as genuinely sincere to me, not joking. Trump is rarely subtle when he tells jokes, and when he does, they’re almost never at his own expense.

        • Matt M says:

          Trump is rarely subtle when he tells jokes,

          And he wasn’t here either. You think looking at the sky, holding your hands out, and declaring yourself “the chosen one” is intended to be subtle?

          The fact that it’s over the top is how you know it’s a joke!

          Unless your theory is that Trump literally believes he has been chosen by the diety to save America, but has practiced great restraint by avoiding mentioning anything like that for the last 4 years or so, until this exact moment when he made a horrible slip-up?

    • JPNunez says:

      I do not see why the media should not take the american president seriously here; we just saw how Trump joked about buying Greenland, we all had a good laugh, we even had a thread or two joking about it here!

      But then he didn’t like when Denmark, who has to answer seriously, answered seriously, and then Trump cancelled his visit to Denmark, acting like he had been insulted. What started as a joke, had real consequences.

      Besides, the guy recently (the same day?) compared himself to the second coming of god, so if he calls himself the chosen one, why would you not think this is megalomania?

      • quanta413 says:

        I thought he was serious about Greenland but was making fun of it anyways because it wasn’t clear why he’d think of that or why Denmark would sell*. Thus my joke about “12-dimensional chess”.

        *I know Gwern has a post about why Greenland loses money and it’s irrational to keep it. Governments don’t operate as rational economic agents.

        • JPNunez says:

          My theory about Greenland is that he was serious about it at some point in the past year (I myself said it’s a good idea), discussed it with people in government who convinced him it’s not feasible, and now he put it in the backburner of his mind as one of the things that it’s safe to joke about because he is no longer thinking about it seriously.

      • BBA says:

        Apparently buying Greenland was Senator/2024 Presidential frontrunner Tom Cotton’s idea.

        • quanta413 says:

          Huh. He’s ex-military so maybe he wanted to revive that plan to build stuff under the Greenland ice sheets?

      • Matt M says:

        But then he didn’t like when Denmark, who has to answer seriously, answered seriously

        They didn’t just “answer seriously.” They answered seriously, then added an unnecessarily gratuitous personal insult towards him. His response to which was completely and entirely predictable.

        Trump rewards/praises those who speak well of him, and punishes/insults those who speak poorly of him. This has been 100% consistent behavior on his part since day one.

        • Aftagley says:

          They answered seriously, then added an unnecessarily gratuitous personal insult towards him.

          Unless I’m mistaken, you’re referring to the Danish PM’s use of the word absurd. The direct quote from the Danish Prime minister was:

          “It’s an absurd discussion, and Kim Kielsen (premier of Greenland) has of course made it clear that Greenland is not for sale. That’s where the conversation ends…”

          Forgetting, for a moment, whether or not it’s completely accurate to call randomly wanting to purchase sovereign territory from another nation absurd, that’s in no way a “gratuitously personal insult.”

          • Matt M says:

            When I searched for “Danish prime minister responds to Trump on Greenland” I get the following headline:

            “Danish prime minister: Trump’s idea to buy Greenland ‘absurd'”

            Now it’s true that she doesn’t write the headlines, but that’s almost certainly how Trump found out about her response.

            This definitely seems like a gratuitous personal insult. Why is it necessary? Why couldn’t she just say “We have no interest in the sale of Greenland.” Because that wouldn’t sufficiently signal the fact that she dislikes Trump.

            Further in the article, we get…

            “Greenland is not Danish. Greenland is Greenlandic,” she said, the AP reported. “I persistently hope that this is not something that is seriously meant.”

            So, in response to what may have been a serious business proposal, she publicly comments that the idea is absurd, and clarifies that it’s so absurd in fact, that the person proposing it can’t possibly be serious. Why is any of that necessary? What is its purpose, if not to insult him?

          • PedroS says:

            MattM said

            ” “Danish prime minister: Trump’s idea to buy Greenland ‘absurd’”

            Now it’s true that she doesn’t write the headlines, but that’s almost certainly how Trump found out about her response.”

            Statesmen should refrain to cancel state visits over something learnt from a headline. They have the obligation to decide based on complete knowledge and not over temporary passions. The full diplomatic corps exist exactly for that reason.

            “So, in response to what may have been a serious business proposal, she publicly comments that the idea is absurd, and clarifies that it’s so absurd in fact, that the person proposing it can’t possibly be serious. Why is any of that necessary? What is its purpose, if not to insult him?”

            You fail to realize that the initial “proposal” was itself insulting to the Danes and Greenlanders: it implies that Denmark is a colonial power over Greenland, that Denmark’s (and Greenland’s) sovereignty can be bought and that the will of the Greenlanders themselves is irrelevant.

            It wouldn’t have been as insulting if the proposal had been directed to the Greenland governtment. From the Danish (and European) point of view, the proposal to buy Greenland is akin to having some tycoon offering to buy your daughter for a few million bucks. Responding “I hope this is a joke, because it would be absurd otherwise” strikes me as an extremely measured response.

            PS: Would Trump find it acceptable if Canada/Mexico/Japan floated proposals to buy Maine/Alaska/New Mexico/Hawaii and stated that would be advantageous to the US because the federal government spends over 6.5 kUSD per capita every year in each of those states? Do you think he would only state that the proposals are absurd?

          • Matt M says:

            You fail to realize that the initial “proposal” was itself insulting to the Danes and Greenlanders: it implies that Denmark is a colonial power over Greenland, that Denmark’s (and Greenland’s) sovereignty can be bought and that the will of the Greenlanders themselves is irrelevant.

            Did Trump reach out to Denmark and make a formal proposal? Or is it something he discussed internally, behind closed doors, that was then leaked to and reported on by the media, at which point all he did was basically admit that yes, it was something under consideration?

            I mean you’re not wrong that Trump is crude and boorish and doesn’t behave the way a typical “statesman” does. But that’s hardly breaking news. He thought he was making a simple business proposal. He didn’t make it with the intent of offending the Danes or the Danish prime minister.

            Their response was, in fact, made with the intent of offending Trump. Whether he deserved that or not is almost beside the point…

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            You want to buy New Mexico? Do you want to take Alabama too? How much are you paying?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            $3.50

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Lots of news stories quote Trump as referring to himself as “the Chosen One.

      I’m sorry, I just can’t have any other opinion on this than “Remember when the Left called Dick Cheney Darth Vader? Who would have guessed that next Republican Administration, it’d be goofy narcissist Vader from the prequels?”

    • Radu Floricica says:

      *shrug* problem with the left in this CW (and the 99% left media) is that they went so far to demonize Trump that regular folk are just immune to this kind of thing. Once you get through it once or twice it’s not “What has Trump done this time!” but “Bleargh, what has the media claimed Trump has done this time?!”. Added to this that Trump is already inconsistent enough by himself (#cofevre) and it gives him de facto immunity.

      • Matt M says:

        Covfefe is entirely consistent with stuff like the Greenland meme, the “dear diary” Acosta tweet, and the “chosen one” reference, in that it shows he has (or at least that he wants to project that he has) a playful side that enjoys funny jokes (sometimes even at his own expense), participating in memes, etc.

        It humanizes him a lot among people who aren’t already predisposed to hate him completely.

  52. Plumber says:

    Websearch question:

    If I put quotation marks around someone’s name (“John Doe”) I still get some results that are just “John” or just “Doe” but the top results usually have that full name in the result, but if I do “John Doe”+”Some place” I get way to many irrelevant results, how may I narrow the results ti br all of my search terms?

    (Yes, have been “Googling” myself).

    • helloo says:

      Use the verbatim option.
      Tools -> All results -> Verbatim

      • Plumber says:

        @helloo,

        How do I get to any of that on a phone?

        • helloo says:

          Search tools is still there. You just need to scroll all the way to the right (which can be a pain but still).

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Specifically, take the row “all, images, videos, …” and scroll that row. If you grab anywhere else and try to scroll, nothing happens.

            Thanks!
            I didn’t know that. I would always “request desktop site,” which is a general purpose tool, but hard to explain

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Well, thanks for reminding me, but, it turns out that I was using “request desktop site” because some of the search tools really are only available on desktop. Specifically, when I restrict the time, I’m invariably excluding recent results, while mobile google only allows to restrict to recent results.

  53. Douglas Knight says:

    What books have more famous closing lines than opening?

    Who should invest more in which?
    They say that you need a good opening line to hook the reader. If you don’t do that, they don’t get to the closing line, so it’s more important. But you need to end with a positive impression for the reader to sell the next reader.
    If people are stuck in a movie theater, maybe the opening doesn’t matter as much as the closing. Does tv or streaming have different selection pressure than movies?

    How about nonfiction?
    selling books vs persuading

    There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

    • Matt M says:

      The closing line is also important as a sequel hook. Assuming you’re planning or even considering one.

      • Well... says:

        Yeah, I don’t remember the opening lines of “Rendezvous With Rama” but I remember the closing line as being something like “Ramans do everything in threes!”

    • Nick says:

      Since we’re talking about it below—After Virtue is a very obvious example:

      We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.

    • Randy M says:

      If people are stuck in a movie theater, maybe the opening doesn’t matter as much as the closing. Does tv or streaming have different selection pressure than movies?

      People aren’t stuck in a movie theater, but there’s sunk cost fallacy. For movies, though, I think that, if you can’t make an overall great movie, it’s best to make the best parts as good as possible so you can scrape together five minutes of stellar footage for the trailer. And in fact people will assume you do this anyway, so if the trailer isn’t great, it’s assumed the movie is meh or worse.

      For books, do we need to consider Amazon’s look inside feature which will often show the first couple of pages (& table of contents) of an ebook as equivalent to a trailer?
      If the debate is strictly opening lines vs closing lines, I’d focus on the opening. After you’ve read a paragraph, all you have to judge the book is a few lines. After you’ve read a whole book, individual lines aren’t going to make a big impact, and if the reader recalls enjoying a few tense moments in the middle, or the way overall the plot resolves, the actual diction of the last few sentences aren’t going to make a big deal in 99+% of the cases.

      If you do have a book where the closing line recontextualizes everything that comes before it, that’s a neat trick, but non trivial to pull off well.

      • The Nybbler says:

        If you do have a book where the closing line recontextualizes everything that comes before it, that’s a neat trick, but non trivial to pull off well.

        IIRC there’s at least one deal-with-the-devil story framed as the main character telling the story to another character, where in the last part the listener asks the teller what the Devil got from him in exchange, and the response is something like “He took from me the power of ever telling the truth again”

        Which is a neat trick, but still just a trick.

      • b_jonas says:

        > If you do have a book where the closing line recontextualizes everything that comes before it, that’s a neat trick, but non trivial to pull off well.

        I know any book where that happens. Short stories, sure, but not full books.

    • FrankistGeorgist says: