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Open Thread 134.75

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1,125 Responses to Open Thread 134.75

  1. Sniffnoy says:

    So, I remember reading an article some years ago about how nobody knows how the genetic code is actually stored, and the obvious answer “it’s the tRNA, duh” isn’t actually correct. I haven’t been able to find it again recently. Does anything know about this? Is this still actually an open question, or has it been solved in the intervening years, or has this not actually been a mystery in decades and the article was just wrong?

    Like, OK, I have managed to find that the “it’s the tRNA” answer is wrong because nothing on a given tRNA actually specifies the amino acid, only the codon. Instead you need aminoacyl-tRNA synthetase, which is what actually matches the amino acid and the tRNA. So that’s definitely something along those lines.

    All that seems to be old, well-known stuff though. Is that indeed all there is to it, and the genetic code is stored in the combination of tRNA and aaRS (and the DNA that codes for these things), or is there some additional question? Was that article I read just totally wrong? Thanks!

    • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

      It is indeed only the combination of tRNA and aaRS, nothing else. Fun fact: there are now new combinations of tRNA and aaRS invented (I’m mostly familiar with the ones based on stop codon suppression, but with whole genome synthesis these days there are others) which allow us to introduce “unnatural” amino acids into proteins.

      A minor point of pedantry: genetic code in not a physical object, it is an abstract concept. Thus it can not be “stored” like a cookie in a jar. It can be “implemented”, or perhaps it “manifests”.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I see! Well if we at this point know how to modify it, I guess that answers that then. No idea what that article was going on about (other than the aaRS, that certainly is surprising, but it made it seem like there was more).

    • Lambert says:

      You mean which bases code for which amino acid?

    • Randy M says:

      I don’t know that article, but I don’t get the argument. Can’t the code be stored in the system generally, a few separate critical parts that work together?
      English was a language before the first dictionary.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        “Stored” is perhaps the wrong word here. “Implemented” may be better. None of what you’re saying answers the question at hand, which is, what are the parts of the system that determine the specific code to be used? How is the codon-to-amino-acid mapping implemented? Apparently, the answer turns out to be not just tRNA, like one would expect, but also aaRS! Which means there’s also this odd intermediate layer that doesn’t seem to get talked about much…

    • Lambert says:

      I wonder whether we could take an existing genome and change up the codon table, by substituting the DNA codons and modifying the aaRS genes.

      So they’d be phenotypically almost identical, but have an entirely different genome.

      I’m guessing you’d get some kind of viral resistance, at least temporarily.
      And you could only transfer genes (with sex pila or plain old sex) with similarly modified organisms.

      • Algirdas Vėlyvis says:

        I wonder whether we could take an existing genome and change up the codon table, by substituting the DNA codons and modifying the aaRS genes.

        Yes, see here. This is what I meant by “with whole genome synthesis these days there are others” above.

        I’m guessing you’d get some kind of viral resistance

        Greg Egan has a short story about this. And I think this same point was discussed in one of the open threads over the last few months, unless I’m misremembering something.

  2. Paul Brinkley says:

    A NABE survey cites about 38% of economists predicting a recession in 2020. This has obvious implications on the 2020 election. OTOH, recessions are hard to predict.

    What I haven’t been reading in articles such as WSJ and FiveThirtyEight, though, are how quickly recessions are confirmed once underway. As I recall, we don’t know for sure until 3-6 months in. (In the UK, it’s six months by definition.) So if it starts in July, it’s not confirmed until January 2021. So that news itself can’t affect a November election.

    So what’s the chance that voters would vaguely notice a recession before then?

    • Nornagest says:

      I feel like I can’t do anything with this information without knowing how many economists predicted recessions in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016…

    • Eponymous says:

      There are a number of “nowcaster” indices that try to determine whether the economy is currently in a recession using current data. The ADS index is one I’m familiar with. There are also surveys of forecasters, plus official forecasts from the Fed and such.

      Obviously financial markets are to a large degree predictors of business cycle conditions. So drops in the stock market and a negative yield curve (indicating investors think interest rates will fall, which is a prediction the Fed will cut them, indicating recession) are classic indicators of a recession.

      I assume popular sentiment is driven mainly by what people see on the news, which is mostly going to be (1) stock market movements and (2) reporting of “bad numbers”, but especially unemployment / job losses, and headline GDP growth. This stuff is put out monthly, and an increase in the headline unemployment number or reports of high levels of job losses would make for bad headlines for Trump (plus would rock markets). Unemployment and GDP are somewhat lagging, because companies usually delay layoffs, and entering a recession usually leads to downward GDP revisions later on (plus the big reports are quarterly, so less frequent).

      Recessions are usually not confirmed until 3-4 quarters after they start. The business cycle dating committee wants to wait for data revisions to come in, etc. There’s little cost to waiting — it’s not like politicians are putting pressure on them to declare a recession!

    • Matt M says:

      If the stock market crashes and at least one bank fails, voters will notice.

      That’s how they noticed in 2008 even though the data weren’t “official” yet…

    • Ouroborobot says:

      My expectation is that the merest whiff of recession will be exhaustively covered in the media leading up to the election, and the technical definition won’t really matter as much as perception to the average voter.

      • Matt M says:

        And yes, this is obviously true. Any hint of bad economic news and CNN will have no shortage of “experts” on to tell us that “obviously we are now in a recession.”

      • Nick says:

        Can you cause a recession by talking incessantly as if there’s a recession? Not a rhetorical question, I genuinely don’t know whether this should be a concern.

        • Matt M says:

          According to Scott Adams, this is basically the only thing that can cause a boom or a recession!

        • baconbits9 says:

          It’s a theory without any real evidence.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Probably not, as evidenced by the number of people saying we were going to have a recession anytime now over the last 8 years. People need to have actual legitimate fears about something to increase their currency and savings demands, otherwise they are just going to ignore the Cassandras and keep on spending and investing.

          • Etoile says:

            But if the Cassandras’ reach extends to a sufficient audience, couldn’t that be enough to sway more people to change their behavior, who would otherwise have ignored the “experts” or just not have been reached by them?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            From a top-down level? Theoretically possible, but that requires things like the CEO of GE to not invest in his company because some New York Times Opinion Writer says a recession might happen, or for young new couples with new jobs and a declining unemployment rate to put off buying or renting and still living with their parents because of the same article.

            I don’t think anyone has the influence necessary to throw the economy directly into recession, except maybe Trump. I don’t know enough about Fed internal governance, but even they would have to reach a majority opinion to start changing federal funds policy (IIRC).

            Right now, economists are guessing at a recession because of people’s behaviors(yield curve inversion, index of leading indicators), not because economists just decided there would be a recession. That’s putting the cart before the horse. Not too long ago we were raising interest rates, a strong indication that we thought the economy was over-heating, not about to have a recession.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            .. Its an indication. But central banks are generally way, way too eager to jump that particular gun. So I would not call it a strong indicator. More like “We will not actually be laughed out of the room if we talk about the economy overheating”.

    • broblawsky says:

      People tend to figure it out before the government officially weighs in. Consumer sentiment, before the 2008 recession, started collapsing a couple of months before the official start date, December 2007. That start date, BTW, wasn’t decided on until December 2008, a year after the recession officially began. As a general rule, when the unemployment rate starts increasing year-over-year rather than decreasing, a recession is on the way.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      People vote their wallet, not what the man on TV says is in their wallet. You saw this in 2016 where the TV kept talking about low unemployment but didn’t account for underemployment, stagnant wages, and people dropping out of the workforce. Even then, it’s not those metrics that matter to an individual voter. How am I dping? How’s my wife doing? Is her brother off the oxy? Did my buddy get that raise? If the answers to those questions are positive then it doesn’t matter what the man on TV says, he’s out of touch or lying. If the answers are negative, won’t matter what Trump says, hello President Biden.

    • jgr314 says:

      This has obvious implications on the 2020 election.

      Not to criticize, but I am interested in evidence that this is true. When I looked at top-down election forecast models, almost everything was explained (explainable) by simple incumbency/# of terms rules and the economic factors were very weak/irrelevant.

  3. Randy M says:

    What are the unwritten rules of SSC commenting? I ask not because I want to call anyone out–indeed, I’m not thinking of a particular failing–but because I want to check my intuitions and like talking about words, manners, and so on.

    Obviously, it’s the written rules that tend to get you banned; the unwritten rules might get you banned, but generally just make people less happy to engage with you.

    Here’s how I see it. I’m may be going too far with these; I error on the side of self-doubt and introversion.
    -Keep a continuous identity, though pseudonymity is fine.
    -Don’t try to skirt the edge of the formal rules
    -Don’t be intentionally provocative, or at least bring up controversial topics with respect to dissenting opinion and what might get Scott in trouble
    -Don’t drag arguments with an individual from one discussion to another, but restarting a discussion on a more active thread is fine if there’s interest
    -Don’t start too many top level posts in any one thread; let other people start their discussions without being drowned out.
    -Similarly, don’t reply to yourself, except to clarify after the edit window
    -Don’t edit a response that has been replied to
    -Don’t pile on if one person is in a heated discussion with several others, unless there’s some point in particular you feel has gone unaddressed. Refresh the comments before posting during active periods to avoid this. If you do, editing in an acknowledgement is good form.
    -Generalizations should be supported with commonly accepted examples or linkable studies. You can post without these, but be prepared to supply them or retract your point when challenged.
    -You are not required to respond to any comment, nor should you expect someone else to; internet life is secondary to real life. But if you post argument X and someone posts a counter argument, it should be refuted or accounted for if you want to assert argument X in the future.
    -Reporting should be done rarely and not for mere disagreement. Try actually stating your disagreement in a calm way rather than reporting, unless you think it will derail the thread too much. New posters may be excepted to that if it is blatant trolling.
    -Well expressed/effort posts should be rewarded with recognition, but follow up comments are better if they touch on some substantive point; but a +1 is acceptable now and then
    -Be gracious with typos or translation errors unless they accidentally say something really funny (I’m hoping that’s the rule, otherwise I owe some apologies). Proofread your own posts, and if something is called out by the spell checker, run it past google to get the right spelling.
    -You’re allowed basically one contentless joke post per open thread–none on a front page post. Make it worth it.
    -When you post a link, try to do it in a way that starts a discussion here, rather than just directing people elsewhere.
    -When someone does post a link, try to at least skim it before talking about the specifics. Asking questions that are answered in the link already provided is poor form.
    -Rot13 spoilers on current work or if you feel you must. Personally I’d prefer it to go away entirely, but that doesn’t appear to be the consensus.
    -Don’t drag unrelated issues into a thread. If you must, make a new topic and mention what it is relevant to.
    -Don’t use unusual formatting. If you want to emphasize a word, use bold. If you want to emphasize a sentence, use a line break.
    -Quote, don’t paraphrase, except explicitly and with care.
    -Try not to start the same conversation on a new thread just because you missed one. Wait while to revive a dead horse, or at least find something new to bring to it.
    -Don’t assume a particular poster will take a particular side of an issue just because they sided with that team before. And in fact, the way an issue is phrased might well change people’s position because we often care about being precise.
    -Be quick to concede a valid point that disagrees with you, but concede an argument only after a counter point of sufficient strength is brought.
    -You’ve got a few seconds to delete a post after posting it, but remember some people will still see it in their e-mail. Deleting after that is bad form but may be the lesser of two evils.
    -Don’t speak of the banned. They can’t respond, and shouldn’t be taken to represent any side anymore. Exceptions for people who have their own platform elsewhere, if you must.

    • Nornagest says:

      -Don’t use unusual formatting. If you want to emphasize a word, use bold. If you want to emphasize a sentence, use a line break.

      Italic for emphasis, not bold, unless you want to emphasize something inside a blockquote. Bold isn’t unknown but it’s a lot rarer — Plumber’s the only frequent user that immediately comes to mind. I do see it for topic headings in effortposts sometimes.

    • Nick says:

      -You’re allowed basically one contentless joke post per open thread

      Wow, if this is a rule, I’ve been shamelessly violating it.

      Surely “Text is strongly preferable to video” is one.
      ETA:
      -Behavior that doesn’t rise to the level of a ban is often discouraged with a “Less of this, please.”

      • Randy M says:

        Wow, if this is a rule, I’ve been shamelessly violating it.

        It’s possible some of these are primarily rules I try to hold myself to, rather than object to from others. But I do feel like I’m violating the standards if I make just a throw away pun.

        • Nick says:

          It’s possible some of these are primarily rules I try to hold myself to, rather than object to from others.

          There’s definitely a difference. One rule I try to abide by (which I’ve been pretty bad about lately, I should say) is always marking whether I’ve edited a post, even if it’s just “ETA: typo”. I wouldn’t try to hold anyone else to it, though, since I don’t think it is a local norm!

          This raises the question how a personal rule like mine might become a norm. Does it all come from the top? Do folks adopt, sometimes unconsciously, norms that they think are good? I don’t have a good sense of this.

          • Randy M says:

            This raises the question how a personal rule like mine might become a norm.

            Find a couple of instances where the violation matters semantically and politely call attention to them.

            If none of these are forthcoming, we can take a cue from the American legal system and attempt to rig some test cases.

            Edit: Removed profanity, ad hominen, and peacock references.

    • Nornagest says:

      Maybe something about how fisking’s discouraged? It’s not totally unheard of, but usually appears deep in a nasty debate after tempers are running high (and generally signals there’s nothing more in that thread worth reading); the more typical house style is to pull one to three quotes that represent the crux of an argument or weak points in it.

      • Randy M says:

        the more typical house style is to pull one to three quotes that represent the crux of an argument or weak points in it.

        This can bug me sometimes when someone takes one point and argues against it while ignoring what I think is the stronger point. Like, are you conceding the rest, or do you feel like it’s not worth responding to?

        But all in all if someone is doing this honestly, it’s probably best practice.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah, it’s good practice when your interlocutor is actually responding to your strongest points, and pretty annoying when they aren’t. One thing that helps here is making it crystal clear what your strongest points are. A little structuring of your argument, like “Here’s the crux of our disagreement:”, goes a long way.

          Personally, though, I don’t feel it should be normative. There are times when I feel it’s not going to be helpful responding directly to my interlocutor’s arguments, and want to come to the crux from the side, as it were. Do you know what I mean? Like with the abortion debate last thread I really wasn’t interested in debating “is birth a Schelling point.” If I were to step into those discussions, it was going to be by disputing something very different. I guess that’s a longwinded way of saying that yeah, sometimes I think your strongest point just isn’t relevant. :p

        • Nornagest says:

          ETA: moved between comment levels

          • DinoNerd says:

            ETA? To me, that means Estimated Time of Arrival.

            You pretty clearly mean it to imply editting. If you want to use it to mean “editted to add” (my best guess) you need to publicize this equivalence. And it can’t mean “edited to *add*” in the above context.

            In case it does usually mean “editted to add” – what’s wrong with “[Edit: added foo bar and baz]” rather than “ETA: foo, bar, and baz”? The former requires less acronymn awareness from your readers, and isn’t very much longer.

          • Nick says:

            I don’t know why ETA became standard here, and I have the same qualms about saying addition when edits can be deletions or updates too, but norms are norms, and Chesterton’s Fence implies I’m better off not touching it!

            ETA: wording.

          • acymetric says:

            I see “ETA” used this way all over the Internet, not just here, so it isn’t uniquely an SSC issue.

            That said, I agree that “Edit: [blah blah blah]” is more clear/useful (and only one more letter!).

            More importantly, a feature I’ve wished for here is that edited posts become “new” again.

            If someone edits a post after I’ve read it, I probably never end up seeing the edit.

            “ETA:” Actually, the fact that edits don’t make the post “new” would be a good reason to support making a second followup post for clarifications/additions so that people actually see it. Leave “edit post” for fixing spelling/grammar and broken links (or retracting something you decided was wrong/inappropriate).

          • Ketil says:

            Another proposed rule: try to err on the side of being too explicit, and avoid needless abbreviations and internal jargon without explanation.

          • A1987dM says:

            WTH would be wrong with using “P.S.” like our grandparents did?

      • GreatColdDistance says:

        Is it bad? My understanding is fisking is meticulously responding to every piece of an opponent’s argument, which seems to me to be a good thing. Or am I missing an obvious problem with it (or defining it wrong)?

        • Nornagest says:

          Can only speak for myself here, but fisking has some of the qualities of a Gish gallop — if you’re fisking a long post, most of the points you’ll make in response end up being restatements, or references to other points, or just generally weak, but the length of the response gives a false impression of strength. And although it implies that you need to respond point-by-point, nobody’s really got time for that after a round or two, so it tends to degenerate into dueling quips.

          It is annoying when someone takes a supporting argument, or something you didn’t intend as an argument at all, and tries to argue it like it’s the main point, but I think that’s better dealt with by narrowing the scope of your responses.

          • Plumber says:

            I had to look up both “Fisking” and “Gish Gallop”,

            Fisking seems fine to me, I’d rather someone did pull quotes of just what they’re arguing about rather than the statement over again.

            I’d have to see more examples of “gush galloping” before I really had an opinion on it.

          • Nick says:

            Gish Gallops are a real problem in debate formats with limited time for each side; I haven’t seen it so often in a text conversation, though it can happen. The problem in debate formats is that your opponent might literally not have enough time to respond to everything, while here your response can be as long as it needs. Not that it’s always worth responding, especially if, as Nornagest says, many of the points are just weak or restatements of other ones.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Gish gallops are a bit subtle, as they’re not simply long lists of arguments for the receiver to rebut, while such long lists are often pattern-matched as “gish gallops” anyway. The idea of a gish gallop is that it overloads the receiver with arguments that often invalid or irrelevant, whereas a long list of arguments might be all valid and germane, because the claim they counter really is that full of holes. If the list’s author instead picked one or two main points, and the receiver rebutted them, the author now looks like they didn’t bring enough guns to the gunfight, and if they bring up anything else on their list, they now look like they’re “moving goalposts”.

            Meanwhile, I’ve seen people say “gish gallop” and it looks suspiciously like “I’m trying to get out of having to refute all your points with as little effort as possible”.

            It ought to be respectable to say “there are a lot of things wrong with your claim, but I’ll present the following few first”, and follow up with the next few later if needed. Maybe that’s the way to go.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Can only speak for myself here, but fisking has some of the qualities of a Gish gallop

            No it doesn’t, they’re completely different things.

            if you’re fisking a long post, most of the points you’ll make in response end up being restatements

            Only if you do it badly.

            or references to other points

            Ditto.

            or just generally weak

            I disagree.

          • Plumber says:

            @thisheavenlyconjugation,

            I like what you just did. ^

            More like that please

        • Nick says:

          Fisking has a way of losing sight of the big picture. At its worst, it treats each part of an argument to the exclusion of the other parts; when this is combined with evincing confusion at what your interlocutor is getting at or building toward, it is immensely frustrating:

          “All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal”, huh? Sure, most men are probably mortal, at least the ones I’ve met, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything. And Socrates is a man? Yeah, but he wasn’t always a man: once Socrates was a boy, and before that he was a toddler, and before that he was an infant…. If you mean “male” you should say so. And Socrates is mortal? How’d you arrive at that that? Curious really that you line up these unrelated statements like this.

          There was a guy on a forum I used to frequent that did this. You cannot imagine how annoying it was.

          The truly hopeless cases aside, though, it can also focus on mistakes that don’t affect the point. It’s not that it’s strictly worthless to correct them, but it can distract from the real flaws, if any, in the argument.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      “Less of this please” is an appropriate response to shitty, low-effort posts, especially outgroup-bashing ones, especially especially when directed at another commenter (including obliquely). Some amount of derision for the offender (iff tied into what they’ve actually said) is appropriate. It’s virtuous to defend your counterparty, but not necessarily expected.

      Don’t call people out for talking like a dying wizard or otherwise make fun of them.

      Moralizing is fine; demonizing isn’t.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Bertrand Russell would like a word with you about writing down the set of unwritten rules.

      • Randy M says:

        I try to do three impossible things before breakfast. Was running behind today.
        But perhaps it’s allowable since it’s a “hidden” thread.

    • -Similarly, don’t reply to yourself, except to clarify after the edit window

      I think it’s ok to do this if you ask a general question to the commenters and also have your own answer. That way all the top level replies are to your original question and not about disputing your answer.

    • Plumber says:

      @Randy M,
      Wow that’s a long list!

      I’ll try again tomorrow to memorize more of it (no promises that I can though!).

      My own request is for folks to avoid using “blockquote” when it’s a sub thread of a sub-thread (because the quote above usually unreadable unless I copy and paste it elsewhere) and to use another method to indicate quoting something (I’m partial to “italics” + “bold” or “code”).
      -Thanks

      • ana53294 says:

        +1
        Yes, it’s very annoying when reading on the phone. I’d also like to make this a rule.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Good to know. I’m always on desktop, so it doesn’t affect me. I’ll try to make that change.

      • Randy M says:

        I’ll try again tomorrow to memorize more of it (no promises that I can though!).

        Oh my, I’m sorry, please don’t.
        Like I said, it was a discussion prompt, not a coup or anything.

    • Etoile says:

      I also wonder what the “official” norm is for editing your own posts.
      I often need to edit for spelling or punctuation, especially when posting on a phone and using auto-correct; I almost NEVER catch every mistake I/it makes the first time. Is it generally expected that you explain this in the post?
      (Relatedly, I wonder how often in the past I’ve judged someone on the internet using, say, “it’s/its” incorrectly and it was just their auto-correct? Mine has incorrectly added apostrophes before.)

      • Plumber says:

        Multiple times Auto-correct has changed “Poul Anderson” to “Poultry Anderson” on me, yet it doesn’t correct “snd” to “and”! 😠

        • Aapje says:

          That’s because it assumes you were talking about the Scottish National Dictionary.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Multiple times Auto-correct has changed “Poul Anderson” to “Poultry Anderson” on me,

          Auto-correct is Circe, and thinks it’s funny to change people into poultry.

      • Randy M says:

        Is it generally expected that you explain this in the post?

        I don’t think so. If the meaning is changed even slightly then you should note the edit; if you just clean up syntax and formatting, I don’t feel that requires being so stated.
        Similarly, if you quote an obvious typo, I’d consider it good manners to correct it without drawing attention to it. But you have to be really sure that doesn’t alter the meaning even slightly; misrepresenting people’s actual words is pretty poor form. It’s why I sometimes wish English had a different punctuation for paraphrasing.

        • Lambert says:

          You don’t need different punctuation, just different conjugation.

          Several languages use different verb forms to indicate that you’re reporting or paraphrasing someone else. German changes all the verbs into Subjunctive I.

    • bean says:

      The most important rule, IMO, is probably “try to elevate the discussion, not diminish it”. The exact implementation is obviously complicated, but you can derive most of the more-specific rules from that.

      Another one, which I think HBC came up with, is “the high-status act is to explain something well, the highest-status is to do it so well that someone changes their mind.” Completely endorsed.

      Lastly, text is better than video.

  4. proyas says:

    It’s said that a major obstacle to regulating assault weapons is the difficulty of defining in words what an “assault weapon” is. However, I think I might have solved it.

    “An ‘assault weapon’ is any firearm with the following characteristics:

    1) Is semi-automatic [meaning each pull of the trigger fires one round, and the user doesn’t have to perform any mechanical operation after shooting one round to enable the second round to be fired], and;

    2) Accepts a detachable magazine, OR has a fixed or internal magazine that can hold more than eight rounds, OR has a belt-feed system, and;

    3) Is designed to be held, steadied, and fired with more points of contact applied to the weapon than one of the user’s hands.”

    Criterion #3 distinguishes “assault weapons” from “handguns,” which are meant to be fired one-handed. A foregrip that the user is meant to grasp with his non-firing hand would be an example of a second point of contact with the weapon that would qualify it as an ‘assault weapon’, as would a buttstock pressed against his shoulder, a forearm brace, or any creative ‘body harness systems’ that anyone invents to skirt the law. Also, if the weapon is designed to be fired while resting on an object or while attached to a vertical post or other heavy object, it would count as a second point of contact (this would prevent gun companies from skirting the law by making things like “one-handed AR-15s on quick-detach 4-foot long monopods extending down from their handgrips”).

    Note that I haven’t listed any cosmetic features included in many assault weapon laws, like bayonet lugs and folding buttstocks.

    • Nornagest says:

      Any particular reason you couldn’t have posted your edits to 134.5? I think blowing up one thread with this was more than enough — especially since you don’t seem to have otherwise engaged with any of your criticism.

      • acymetric says:

        Seconded. If anyone wants to continue having this out in the previous thread that’s fine, but I’m not sure why it needs to be a top level post in two consecutive threads.

      • S_J says:

        If you can attach an extended magazine-tube, you can make it into an assault-weapon (per the rules proposed by @proyas).

    • S_J says:

      Thank you, but I think you should edit point 1 to

      1. is capable of automatic fire [meaning weapon will continue firing as long as the trigger is pressed].

      United States law allows a limited number of such guns in circulation, per the rules of the National Firearms Act of 1934, as modified by the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It appears all you’ve done is close the one-handed rifle loophole. In doing so you have arguably included handguns (especially larger ones) in your ban. But you have not addressed the substantive objections from the previous threads.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      All handguns are designed to be held, steadied, and fired with more points of contact applied to the weapon than one of the user’s hands. They are designed so that they CAN be used one-handed if necessary. They are INTENDED to be used in a two-handed grip.

      See also your failure to engage with any of the criticism in the previous thread.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Repeating this discussion seems unnecessary and monomaniacal. Let’s take a break.

  5. matthewravery says:

    Surprised to see nothing about the recent fluoride paper in JAMA:

    https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2748634

    The punch line:

    In this study, maternal exposure to higher levels of fluoride during pregnancy was associated with lower IQ scores in children aged 3 to 4 years. These findings indicate the possible need to reduce fluoride intake during pregnancy

    My (strong) prior is to be skeptical of results like these. There are lots of obvious pit-falls that one can fall into with something like this, and the topic is obviously going to be controversial.

    The effect size is in some ways small and in others quite substantial. At a population level, a 3.5 point change is huge, but for an individual, I don’t even think its measurable. They control for maternal education and net income but don’t have any paternal data nor actual maternal IQ. Their sample is pretty big, but given that they’ve got to sample regionally (fluoridated region vs. unfluoridated), I do wonder about selection effects. There’s also potential selection bias among the ~100 mother/child pairs who weren’t included because they didn’t have data on whether their water was fluoridated/they drank tap.

    The statistical analysis actually seem okay from what I can tell. It’d be nice if they would publish their data and code, but perhaps there is PII in there or something.

    The biggest reason I’m not ready to worry about this just yet is that their results show a sex-dependent effect, with maternal fluoride exposure only effecting males. AFAIK, the biological mechanisms they discuss (this is not my area of expertise) wouldn’t lead you to expect any effect to be sex-dependent. Nor would the other studies the authors cited.

    So I would put this in the category of “preliminary and not likely to matter much at the individual level.” That said, I’m not sure what action I would actually recommend were my wife currently pregnant.

    • benjdenny says:

      I’m assuming they must have controlled for “poor people drink more tap water”, but how robust was this?

      • matthewravery says:

        They have a couple different measures, including a direct measurement of fluoride in maternal urine (they brought the moms in like 3 or 4 times during their pregnancy to measure this) and a self-report measures about how much tap water (including tea, coffee, etc.) the moms drink. The latter, along with the amount of fluoride in the tap water gives an estimate for exposure.

        Neither are perfect but they’re both reasonable.

        • benjdenny says:

          I guess I meant “poor people have lower IQ’s, generally, and drinking tap water is a poor person thing; how are they controlling for the part where you’d expect this result anyway?”

          • quanta413 says:

            It’s not paywalled. I think they think they tried to adjust for enough, but I still find your objection (or something similar) cogent (since it’s always going to be hard to really filter out such effects without a strong model) and am too lazy to read the whole thing.

            Covariates

            We selected covariates from a set of established factors associated with fluoride metabolism (eg, time of void and time since last void) and children’s intellectual abilities (eg, child sex, maternal age, gestational age, and parity) (Table 1). Mother’s race/ethnicity was coded as white or other, and maternal education was coded as either bachelor’s degree or higher or trade school diploma or lower. The quality of a child’s home environment was measured by the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment (HOME)–Revised Edition19 on a continuous scale. We also controlled for city and, in some models, included self-reported exposure to secondhand smoke (yes/no) as a covariate.

            Further down, the most relevant point is probably that apparently the group in fluoridated communities was marginally more educated which you’d expect to be weakly correlated with higher IQ. On the other hand, they are measuring child IQ at age 3 or 4. It’s not very stable measure at that point as far as I understand.

  6. S_J says:

    A little while back, I saw an article posted by a writer named Clayton Cramer. (Our host has reviewed Cramer’s book on the history of treating the mentally-ill in the United States…)

    One of Cramer’s more recent history projects is building a database of mass-murders in the history of the United States. He has done most of his work by mining news articles from digital archives of newspapers.

    One of the results of that research was this post, with a short summary and a graph. Apparently, mass murders show up at a low-but-noticeable rate in most years since 1800 in the United States. There’s a noticeable spike in number of mass-murder-events in the 1860s-to-1890s. Another spike in incidents happens in the 1920, and a general upslope in number-of-mass-murder-events since the 1970s.

    He has another graph that counts events ‘categorized as related to mental illness’. Since his source material is old newspaper articles, that linkage may not be easy to tease out in every case.

    The graph for number-killed-in-mass-murder-events has a huge spike around 2000. From eyeballing that graph, I suspect he has the September 11 attacks as an entry in his list of mass murders.

    Another side-note is the variety of weapons used: arson, poison, knives, axes, explosives, and firearms. A disturbing number of mass-murder incidents in the United States were fires in entertainment venues. Or even someone falsely shouting fire at a crowded event.

    The overall point that Cramer is driving at is that firearms are not the only tool used in mass-murder. Nor are they the most dangerous, in terms of people killed per attack.

    Another overall point is that the United States has seen large waves of mass-murder in its history. The post-1860s wave appears to be linked to un-diagnosed cases in PTSD in returning veterans from the bloodiest war in American history. No such wave of mass-murders is detectable after World War II. There may have been a smaller wave after World War I, but Prohibition-era mass shootings might be masking them. The modern wave is harder to explain, but it may be linked to the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill, staring in the 1970s in the U.S.

    Overall, it’s an interesting–and saddening–thing to study.

    • EchoChaos says:

      One thing that may be affecting today is increasing density. If someone in 1910 America goes crazy, the likelihood that he is able to affect enough people to be “mass” is lower simply because the number of people living so closely is lower.

    • quanta413 says:

      The post-1860s wave appears to be linked to un-diagnosed cases in PTSD in returning veterans from the bloodiest war in American history

      Although technically possible, I really doubt it. Is there some evidence that can link this to PTSD? I feel like there are a lot more plausible post Civil War factors than PTSD.

      • spkaca says:

        Speculating, but surely KKK murders would be a major factor for the period 1865-80?

        • quanta413 says:

          I dunno about the KKK specifically (one of the peak lynching decades the KKK was actually at a nadir), but yeah I’d expect a spike in that sort of thing.

          We’re talking about very rare events (murders of three or more people by one individual in 24 hours), so I’d expect some revenge killings for slavery during or shortly after the war too.

          Plus the economy of the South had collapsed, and a bunch of African Americans migrated to cities. This must have had all sorts of knock on effects. I’m pretty sure Northern workers were not excited by the newcomers.

    • broblawsky says:

      This doesn’t appear to be attributable to lead poisoning, or the level of mass shootings would’ve diminished in the late 90s along with the rest of the crime rate.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Post acw mass murders… This is mostly going to be the clan. That is, straight up domestic terrorism.

      • John Schilling says:

        It’s plausible that the KKK was more murdery than most American political movements (compare e.g. “Days of Rage”) because its membership was dominated by recent veterans of a very bloody war coming home to a society with inadequate mental health care, but even so the issue should be addressed with explicit recognition of the klan-violence aspect rather than just saying “PTSD”.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The definition given above (“murders of three or more people by one individual in 24 hours”) excludes most Klan murders; the Klan usually murdered people in ones or twos, and nearly always acted in groups

        • John Schilling says:

          Right, but it also excludes most non-Klan murders for the same reason. The klan murdered a lot of people, they weren’t scrupulous about doing it one at a time, and no way do you get to point to a big spike in “mass” murders ca. 1865-1885 and say “Must have been the PTSD, obviously”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It excludes most non-Klan murders because of the “three or more people” exclusion. I think it might exclude a greater proportion of the Klan murders because of the “by one individual” criterion.

          • John Schilling says:

            If so, it should be easy to show with at least modest fidelity.

  7. helloo says:

    Some more questions regarding genes and chromosomes

    Why is there an X and Y chromosome? As in why is it that they are very different in shape and number of genes than its pair, rather than say X1 and X2?
    Why is it almost always part of the sex-determining chromosome?
    This is true not only for humans, but most animals that engage in sexual reproduction from what I understand.
    There’s some that are instead X0 or ZW, but even then, it’s the case that one pair is substantially different in shape and gene count than its counterpart that’s not true for any other chromosome.

    Is it possible/common for genes to suddenly change transcoding/how it is processed?
    It is common to refer to DNA and genes as a blueprint. But does that mean that you could change how it’s read or decoded to change what it does?

    Is it possible/common for genes to either reverse in dominance or just “move” to another chromosome?
    I know of some birth defects that are the result of the later, but as a real beneficial change?
    For example, red-green colorblindness is one of the more common sex-linked genetic disorders. Is it possible for that gene to transfer its encoding to another chromosome and thus no longer be sex-linked (and thus much rarer)?
    I see many issues regarding compatibility for future generations even if it works, and presumably, the position and which chromosome it is on is of significance in itself, but nature can be weird.

    • Randy M says:

      Why is there a Y chromosome?

      Something has to determine sex consistently but randomly*, might as well be a chromosome. (*Okay, doesn’t have to be random. There was a fascinating reference in the parasite thread about a species with another method, check that out.)
      But chromosomes are divided up randomly in meiosis, and making one copy of the pair the sex chromosome is a elegant way to balance the population.

      As in why is it that this chromosome is very different in shape and number of genes than its pair?

      This one is easy. You can’t have anything critical on the Y, because women don’t get it. It’s basically (someone correct me if I’m wrong) just a control mechanism for genes that rely elsewhere.

      Why is it almost always part of the sex-determining chromosome?

      Kind of alluded to this, but if we use one copy of a chromosome pair to signal sex, it can be otherwise pretty empty. But I’m not sure what “it” refers to here?

      Is it possible/common for genes to suddenly change transcoding/how it is processed?

      This is going to need a longer reply than I have time for. Real quick, the control of genes is done by the same material as genes themselves, and vulnerable to the same mutating agents (modulo accessibility). Mutations are rare and copy editing occurs, but you have so many genes copied so often some persist. Most are neutral or negative, though.

      Is it possible/common for genes to either reverse in dominance or just “move” to another chromosome?

      Possible, at least for the latter. The former depends on a how exactly the trait manifests. If light hair is recessive because it codes for a defective pigment (no insult implied, I love blondes), then there’s not really any way for that to override the presence of a pigment from the other parents chromosome when both are expressed.

      I know of some birth defects that are the result of the later, but as a real beneficial change?

      Again, almost all mutations are negative. Many are neutral. What is positive depends on the environment, too, but is possible.

      • helloo says:

        This one is easy. You can’t have anything critical on the Y, because women don’t get it. It’s basically (someone correct me if I’m wrong) just a control mechanism for genes that rely elsewhere.

        Given that A) in the ZW, it is the opposite where ZZ is male (and Z has more genes than W), B) there are male XX and female XY due to imbalances in hormones and diet or such, I’m really doubtful on this.

        Also, I mean like one gene suddenly coding for a different protein or something like that.
        I’m not referring to basic mutations of genes from replication errors or the shuffling that can happen during the creation of gametes.

        I’m referring to much lesser known things like
        Mobile_genetic_elements

        • Randy M says:

          Given that A) in the ZW, it is the opposite where ZZ is male (and Z has more genes than W), B) there are male XX and female XY due to imbalances in hormones and diet or such, I’m really doubtful on this.

          for A, it doesn’t matter which sex is getting the short chromosome, the one that one of the sexes doesn’t get can’t contain critical information.
          for B, I’m not sure of the relevance. You’ll notice that what you don’t find is a YY anything. Because the critical information is on the X.
          But when thinking about why a system evolved the way it did, I think the typical case is more relevant than edge cases. Typically the Y is just a flag.

          It’s certainly possible to imagine a different system. But there are advantages to the one we have, and, given that the absence of a single specific chromosome determines sex, it’s absence cannot leave the individual lacking in other traits.

        • Ketil says:

          This is biology, it’s not like computer science or math. Everything is incredibly complex, and whatever you can imagine, you can bet it happens in some dark corner of biology.

          B) there are male XX and female XY due to imbalances in hormones and diet or such,

          You will get a female phenotype (to various degrees) XY if the Y fails to signal the sex properly (maybe it got broken by some mutation). You will get male phenotype XX if the X chromosome from the father somehow crossed over (i.e. got fused with bits from) the Y chromosome.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XX_male_syndrome
          https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/8538/46-xy-disorders-of-sexual-development

          There are many different genetic mechanisms for sex determination. Some species (e.g. fish) have much more flexible sex determination than mammals, and some can change sex during their life time.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I think you’re missing the thrust of the question. Why a whole chromosome for sex determination? Why not just SRY or a similar gene on an otherwise typical chromosome?

        • Randy M says:

          I think you’re missing the thrust of the question. Why a whole chromosome for sex determination? Why not just SRY or a similar gene on an otherwise typical chromosome?

          Maybe because of mobile genes and the like. It’s got to be much more rare for an entire chromosome to be mixed up–and still result in a viable gamete–than just a single gene.

          I’m being vague–hopefully someone else can be more helpful here.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Is that not just down to an easy and mostly-guaranteed way to get a 50-50 split? Once you’re isogamous (E: or anisogamous), it seems like the most robust mechanism.

          Of course, then you get into the question of, “why isogamy?’ which is WAY above my pay grade, but seems to be at least somewhat addressed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_sexual_reproduction#Advantages_of_sex_and_sexual_reproduction

        • albatross11 says:

          Are there any species where sex is determined by a single gene instead of a whole chromosome?

        • A1987dM says:

          If SRY was on (say) chromosome 1, you wouldn’t get ~50% male children, you would get ~25% male if it was recessive and ~75% if it was domin…never mind. I had forgotten that each child has one male parent and one female parent, so if SRY was dominant, ~100% of males were heterozygous, and ~100% of female were homozygous with both alleles inactive, then you could indeed get ~50% male children with SRY on an autosome.

    • Eponymous says:

      I’m no biologist, but (I think) I know why the Y is small. It’s because of Muller’s ratchet, since the Y doesn’t undergo recombination/crossing over (since nobody ever has two), whereas X’s do.

      Basically, negative mutations accumulate at a certain rate each generation, but “reversing” a mutation through an offsetting mutation is vanishingly rare as long as the mutational load is small (which it generally has to be for an organism to function). Thus a simple replicator will tend to see errors accumulate over time (the ratchet).

      Nature’s solution is sexual reproduction and recombination: now each organism has two pairs of chromosomes, and they get shuffled during sexual reproduction (like a deck of cards). Thus mutations can be removed by selection: some kids get less mutations than others, and selection causes them to pass on their genes more often, cleansing the gene pool of mutational load.

      Since the Y doesn’t recombine, over time it degraded and was stripped down to the bare minimum needed to basically just the boolean male = true.

      My understanding is that there’s a problem with mitochondrial DNA which also don’t undergo recombination. But now we’re definitely getting out of my depth.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        The Y chromosome apparently recombines with itself through gene conversion as a method to slow degradation.

        • Eponymous says:

          Thanks, I didn’t know this (like I said, not a biologist). Though I assume this is much less effective, and thus doesn’t invalidate my main point?

  8. He’s obviously saying it because it’s true. He’s been crowned by the Israelis.

  9. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So what new and exciting excuses for Trump’s severe deficiencies as a human being, let alone elected official, can you all come up with for him literally declaring himself “the Chosen One”?

    He’s just repeating what his Jedi mentor yelled at him?

  10. eyeballfrog says:

    Have you considered not posting in an overly hostile and holier-than-thou manner?

  11. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    I’ve heard of “wages for housework” as a 70s feminist movement. Was it ever a concrete policy proposal?

    • eyeballfrog says:

      How would that even work? The person paying the wages would presumably be the husband, but that doesn’t do anything because of community property.

      • Don P. says:

        Much to my surprise, only 9 US states (pardon the USA-centrism) have community property; I don’t immediately see if all of those even did in the 1970s, although the linked article here doesn’t mention recent history so maaaaaybe none of them are recent converts (apparently it’s derived from Spanish law).

      • Even without community property, husband and wife are pooling resources, with the detailed terms up to them. Housewives get wages in the form of their part of the joint consumption. Tax exempt wages at that.

    • Erusian says:

      It was a Marxist-Feminist movement out of Italy. There the concrete policy proposals amounted to ‘overthrow capitalism’ and ‘institute the Zhenotdel, but like correctly (according to my Communists beliefs) this time’. The goal was not to pay women for housework in their own home, it was to professionalize housework as their interpretation of Marxist theory demanded.

      When it reached the US, it transformed from a collectivization movement to basically an entitlement/redistributive one. For example, all women would be paid a wage and lesbians would receive additional wages due to (though they didn’t use this term) oppression. At least until socialism came. Likewise, it was folded into the reparations movement and black women were to receive more than white women. Etc etc.

      It was part of a wider movement that was broadly similar to modern UBI proposals in the 1960s and 1970s. Specifically, it was a late stage of it, where having proposed social wages (basically a national income) individual groups began to fight over who would get more or if they deserved it even if the general public didn’t.

      • Viliam says:

        Sounds like UBI, but for women only.

        Question for male UBI proponents: do you think that a world where half of the population gets UBI is a better place than a world where no one does?

        (This is somewhat analogical to the classical question whether a society containing both rich and poor people is better than a society where everyone is equally poor. Are your answers on these two questions consistent?)

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          These questions are not analogical, at least not under the usual assumptions. Money to pay for UBI come from someone, so if you take any the world as is and institute UBI for half (or all) of the population, the world will remain just as prosperous on average as it was (not accounting for the second order effects), so that’s a question of redistribution of the fixed amount of resources between people.

          But if you have two worlds, with equal number of people in each, and in one world you can divide them into “rich” and “poor” groups, and in the other world everyone individually is as poor as the average person from the “poor” group in the first world, than the second world is net poorer, so it’s a question of whether it’s worth it to have more resources at the cost of them being distributed less evenly.

          So to your question (though I’m a UBI proponent only in theory in some hypothetical future, not in the present day US) – I think that redistributing resources based on an inborn trait (which is not a disability) is wrong, and the equality/prosperity trade off may come out either way in theory depending on its sides, but usually is worth it in practice.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          1. Does the differential treatment affect behavior in ways more adverse than the ‘control group’
          2. Does the perception of fairness have secondary social effects that make people worse off in the long run? Can that perception of fairness be altered.

          My attitude with these things is that inequality is not intrinsically bad, but certain kinds and certain magnitudes of inequality can create enough social instability to threaten the survival of the system as a whole.

          ‘kinds’ of inequality is important because asking whether it’s fair to have one’s wealth determined by some combination of noble descent and/or martial prowess for one’s liege or not is not equivalent to asking whether wage and savings discrepancies are acceptable in the context of a market economy.

          Paying married non-working women might be tolerable in the same way that paid maternity leave and tax-breaks for married couples was seen as tolerable. Paying women not to get married might pass in a more radical society but the potential social fallout from subsidizing that kind of atomization would be severe.

          That being said, if you’re a breadwinner cohabitation successfully with someone who does housework of various sorts, the breadwinner is usually expected to pay the way for said individual. It’s then a question of how much payout is expected.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          We already have something like an UBI for old people, called tax-funded retirement pensions (Social Security in the US). For me answer to your question is yes in principle, as long as UBI receiving half is the older half and as long as it is fiscally affordable.

      • An Fírinne says:

        >‘institute the Zhenotdel, but like correctly (according to my Communists beliefs) this time
        Communists universally accept the Zhenotdel was a success so there’s no correcting to be done.

        • Erusian says:

          My somewhat flip line was just meant to convey they were not necessarily doctrinaire Stalinists. They had a variety of opinions on Zhenotdel and… let us say varying degrees of support for the Soviet Union.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Awesome answer, thanks! A satisfying answer to what turned out not to be the simplest question, plus an interesting tie-in to more recent affairs.

  12. Doctor Mist says:

    Sure, I’ll bite.

    First, have you actually watched the video where he said this? It’s perfectly obvious that it’s just a rhetorical flourish. He’s talking about how overdue he thinks America is in getting tough with China, and how it falls to him to do it because his predecessors were such wimps. Despite the momentary glance heavenward, only somebody who hated him already would imagine he was announcing himself to be God’s instrument in any metaphysical sense, if only because he looks so annoyed to find himself in this position.

    Second, he’s a blowhard, but he’s our blowhard.

    Third, notice that I haven’t made any claims about plots by his opposition. The liberal press seems to have gone insane about this, but no plot is required — just their well-established individual animosity. Carry on.

    • Oscar Sebastian says:

      only somebody who hated him already would imagine he was announcing himself to be God’s instrument in any metaphysical sense

      Or someone who within the last twenty-four hours also saw him declare himself the Second Coming of God, but only for the Jews.

  13. theredsheep says:

    So, I have many fond memories of The Oregon Trail, and so do many other people my age. But I can’t recall ever hearing of any imitators, beyond the same company making various sequels and knockoffs (e.g. The Amazon Trail, or that one about the dogsled race which I also remember from elementary school). Were there ever any attempts to make similar games–focusing on tight management of limited resources to achieve a long-term goal, with less emphasis on combat or action?

    • dodrian says:

      There’s the Organ Trail, a zombie-themed clone released early 2010s.

    • Eric Rall says:

      The classic 1985 edition of Oregon Trail you’re probably thinking of was actually a sequel/knockoff of a much earlier text-based game. Here’s a good article by the designer of the 1985 game, describing the original game and the design decisions involved in updating and expanding it.

      Were there ever any attempts to make similar games–focusing on tight management of limited resources to achieve a long-term goal, with less emphasis on combat or action?

      My first thought on this was Lewis and Clark Stayed Home, another action-light game based heavily on resource management. It’s more of a sandbox than Oregon Trail: rather than following a fixed trail, you’re exploring a tile-based map in a manner similar to the exploration aspect of early 4X games, or to some of that era’s CRPGs (particularly games 1-5 of the Ultima series). But when I looked it up, it turned out to also be from the same publishers as Oregon Trail.

      Further afield, the Rogue-alike subgenre of CRPGs does have a fair amount of combat and other action (much more than Oregon Trail or L&C), but at heart they’re more resource-management games than action games. That seems to have carried over into the broader CRPG genre: for example, the early Ultima games had resource management as some of their main challenges (combat featured heavily in the games, but was much more a resource-management challenge than a tactical challenge), and it was only towards the midpoint of the series that tactical combat and plot and problem-solving puzzles took over and relegated resource management to the background.

      • theredsheep says:

        If it comes to that, I remember the original Final Fantasy was often about husbanding sparse resources; your magicians only had so many spells in them, potions were weak and you could only hold 99, and spellcasting artifacts took up very limited inventory space shared with the stuff you were wearing. So you struggle through the marsh cave, wondering if you’re going to get out before you run out of antidotes and the poison kills your whole team. I actually kind of enjoyed that aspect of it. Not so much the power-leveling.

        I suppose most console RPGs prior to 1993 or so were like that, which is what made them actually vaguely challenging. Then they made it so you could carry 500 potions, ethers, phoenix downs, and what-have-you, so if you died halfway through a dungeon you had only yourself to blame.

        • Randy M says:

          The RPG leveling mechanic has bleed over into every genre, and I suppose it’s good on net, since it allows players to set their own difficulty setting mid game.
          But it would probably make for a better game to cut out plentiful experience and have the characters only advance via plot points so the difficulty could be more carefully calibrated. Combine that with respecing skill selection and you could have bosses be more intellectually challenging.

          • Matt M says:

            But why would you want “carefully calibrated” difficulty when you know that the skill/experience of your playerbase is all over the place?

          • Randy M says:

            Of course the skill is all over the place. Skill rises with experience.
            Players will often pursue power at the expense of fun. Then they will call your game boring.
            If you want variable difficulty, have a settings menu, don’t make the player kill sixty rats to make the boss slightly easier.
            Maybe this is a result of having so many games to choose from. If one is too hard, instead of improving at it, players will move on to another. Which is fine, I suppose, there’s no virtue in experiencing frustration with your entertainment.
            I like character advancement as much as the next guy who has sunk absurd amounts of time into Dragon Fantasy Tactics I-9b, but I prefer it to come from increasing the range and type of abilities rather than raw numbers that simply make the attrition slower.
            (I wish some of those sentences actually fit one coherent response so I could use paragraphs. Apologies)

    • herbert herberson says:

      Faster Than Light and Banner Saga

    • littskad says:

      King of Dragon Pass has a similar gameplay, I think.

    • Aftagley says:

      I think your discounting just how important combat, or at least some analogous system like combat, is in games like this. Without it, you’re basically playing a choose your own adventure book: either you picked the correct starting values of resources or you didn’t. Either you figured out an the proper way to expend your resources or you didn’t. The play style it results in is one of forced optimization. That’s fine, but it’s not really repayable; once you’ve figured it out, you’re done with the game.

      RNG can somewhat solve this problem, but not in a healthy way. If just adds an element of “will I arbitrarily win or lose this auspiciously tactical game.” Furthermore, there aren’t that many random levers the game can pull when there’s no combat; it’s either “X happens, you now have less resources, or Y happens, you now have more resources.” Neither of these options is particularly compelling.

      Combat smooths over these systems enormously. It hopefully disrupts otherwise boring optimization strategies, it gives the game more levers to pull in terms of introducing RNG, it lets the game give or take away resources without it feeling arbitrary and overall greatly expands the games replayability.

      Also, don’t forget, hunting in Oregon Trail (which I remember being really important) is just combat by another name.

      • beleester says:

        Hunting in Oregon Trail was fairly simple, IIRC, and depended mostly on the location you chose to hunt in. If you see a deer, it’s not too hard to hit and you’ll get a reasonable amount of food. If you see a buffalo, you’ll always get more meat than you can carry. If there’s no deer or buffalo, your only choice is tiny, fast-moving animals that will either be a waste of ammo or a pathetic amount of meat.

        It was definitely more fun to point and shoot instead of just clicking the “hunt” button and getting a random amount of meat, but in terms of overall strategy a hunt is mostly a die roll to see what animals the game gives you rather than a test of skill.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Early-game Dwarf Fortress is kind of like this. Of course, before long the resources you collect will outweigh the resources you chose to start with.

    • helloo says:

      I’m guessing you’re looking at something a bit less broad because there’s a lot of possible fits.

      Sim-type games
      A number of them are open-ended, but plenty of them have set end goals.
      These range from Populous to Sid Meiers Civ to farm sims or restaurant sims to dating sims
      Some of these have strong combat focus such as Civ, but plenty do not.

      Puzzle games
      Plenty of puzzle games can be seen as “get to point B with these limits” and most have minimal combat
      Some examples that have some degree of both freedom and story are – Zachtronics games like SpaceChem/Infinifactory, or Factorio

      Survival games
      This is possible what you are intending to look at, as Oregon Trail can also be considered to be one of its predecessors
      Most of these have some degree of combat, but not always as the main goal (such as hunting in Oregon Trail)
      The Long Dark is one fairly recent example which is similar in concept but is open ended.
      Subnautica is another which actually has an ending, though you really don’t find out about it until fairly late so it doesn’t really fit either.
      There are a lot more board games that fit this but I’m assuming you’re looking at computer games.

    • beleester says:

      The Flame in the Flood might be what you’re looking for – it’s a bar-filling survival-crafting game, but it’s about journeying towards a destination (going down river on a raft, getting off periodically to search for supplies) rather than building a base like most other survival games.

      There is a decent bit of combat with wild animals, but you frequently want to avoid them or drive them off instead.

  14. The Nybbler says:

    He must have been depressed that day. Usually he thinks he’s God, not a mere messiah.

  15. hash872 says:

    Trading in financial markets question: if I’m using a no-fee trading platform…. why can’t I just purchase an equity, and then set a stop loss order at the price I purchased it at (or like a bit under?) Isn’t that basically all upside? Either the stock gains in value, and I profit, or it falls and I automatically cash out- and, no commissions for trading in this scenario. Yes I understand it may fall a bit before rising later in the day (can just keep purchasing), and yes I understand that in heavy volatility my order may not be fulfilled at my stop loss price (so there is some risk). But it seems like, there’s more upside than downside in this scenario….. Why doesn’t everyone just do this- what am I missing?

    (Yes I read a Random Walk Down Wall Street, yes I understand EMH, yes I know about index funds, etc. etc. I’m just more curious about this one specific question. Why not just buy volatile stocks like Telsa with a stop loss order and try to either profit or leave the trade roughly where you entered it?)

    (Yes I know this is at the intellectual level of ‘why don’t they just make the whole ship out of lightsabers’, but I am genuinely curious)

    • zoozoc says:

      I’m not some kind of super smart financial guy, but what do you do in the case when the stock you buy immediately goes down? Do you just sell it right away? What if you have the stock for several years and it plunges during a recession, do you sell? Especially in the second case, you have actually lost money due to inflation. So your “downside” would be (a) loss due to inflation and (b) loss due to the money being tied up in the stock when it could have been used elsewhere.

      If I am misunderstanding your question then just ignore my answer.

      • hash872 says:

        I think the upside of a volatile stock is way, way, way higher than inflation or the opportunity loss of where else I could’ve put it

        • zoozoc says:

          The whole problem is the “volatile” part. If it is a “volatile” stock then you expect it to swing up and down by a large amounts. But if you sell it as soon as it swings down, you don’t benefit from any upside.

          How do you decide when to sell this “volatile” stock besides if it goes below your initial price? Do you just hold it until the next recession and sell when it slumps? Do you hope it never ever goes down to your initial price or lower? What do you do with all of your money when things are on a down-turn. That is when you are suppose to buy stock, not just when things are heading up.

          • AG says:

            Could you exploit the volatility with high-frequency trading? So long as you keep your buy/sell cycle on the upswing part of the wave each time, it’s continual gain, even if you’re not maximizing it.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Even without commissions and other platform-imposed trading fees, there’s still a “house edge” baked into the mechanics of the underlying market in the form of the bid/ask spread. Basically, at any given time the best available price to buy a stock on the open market (the “ask” price) is slightly higher than the best available price to sell it (the “bid” price). So as soon as you buy the stock, you’ve already down by the difference between the two prices. If your stop-loss price is the price you bought at, you’ll always immediately sell at that slight loss unless the price ticks up by more than the bid-ask spread before the stop-loss order takes effect. You can set the stop-loss price a few ticks less than your purchase price to avoid this, but you’re now exposed to at least a small loss.

      The magic is where you set your stop-loss price and your profit-taking price relative to your purchase price. The smaller your loss exposure relative to your potential profit, the more likely you are to take that small loss rather than the somewhat larger profit. A 50 cent potential loss vs a $10 potential profit still loses you money if you win less than 5% of the time.

      You can still win, if the stock’s likely to trend up overall, or if you have a structural advantage over other traders in terms of executing trades or setting your strike prices. In the former case, you might as well just buy the stock and hold it medium-to-long term. And in the latter case, you almost certainly don’t have a structural advantage on either front: there’s a big business in executing trades faster and getting in line first for the best prices, and there’s another big business in analyzing and predicting intraday volatility and taking profits by smoothing it out. “Market making”, “High-frequency trading”, “Arbitrage”, and “Quantitive trading” are the search terms here. If there are any $20 bills lying on the streets here, you’ll need to be really fast to pick them up first.

      • Dan L says:

        +1, quoting key points for agreement:

        The smaller your loss exposure relative to your potential profit, the more likely you are to take that small loss rather than the somewhat larger profit

        It looks like all upside because the strategy is only half-finished. Define the exit strategy, and the expected value returns to index.

        And in the latter case, you almost certainly don’t have a structural advantage on either front: there’s a big business in executing trades faster and getting in line first for the best prices, and there’s another big business in analyzing and predicting intraday volatility and taking profits by smoothing it out.

        A stop-loss will always settle some amount beyond the trigger. To the extent that you can move faster than the rest of the market, you have a genuine competitive advantage. This is reinventing HFT.

    • Erusian says:

      Let’s say you buy a stock (HASH) that’s $10. You set a stop-loss order to sell at $9.9. The stock goes down and you’ve lost $.1. This is a return of -1%. Iterate this ten times and you’ve got a return of -9.5%-ish.

      Now, if that stock jumps up 100% then your losses will be insignificant compared to your gains. But that’s always true.

    • Anatid says:

      To make the strategy explicit, let’s say you buy at $100, and plan to sell if the stock drops to $99 to cut your losses, or sell if the stock rises to $110, to take your profit. So you will either lose 1% or gain 10%.
      If you do the math, averaging over the possible random future trajectories of the stock, you find that the “lose 1%” outcome happens ten times more often than the “gain 10%” outcome, so on average your return is 0%. [The reason is that $100 is much closer to $99 than it is to $110, so the randomly-moving stock is likely to hit $99 before it hits $110.]
      This is a standard homework problem in a math class on Brownian motion and related stuff.

      This is all in the ideal world of zero transaction costs. When there are transaction costs (commissions or a bid/ask spread, for example) your expected return becomes negative.

      • hash872 says:

        The reason is that $100 is much closer to $99 than it is to $110, so the randomly-moving stock is likely to hit $99 before it hits $110

        I think I framed this wrong, by making it sound like I’m just talking about 1 trade with 1 stock. What I meant was- if I picked 20 or 40 or 80 volatile stocks, with my downside capped and upside theoretically unlimited, wouldn’t it come out a winner overall….?

        If you do the math, averaging over the possible random future trajectories of the stock, you find that the “lose 1%” outcome happens ten times more often than the “gain 10%” outcome

        I feel like the range for volatile stocks (say, Tesla) is larger than the number of stocks I’d include in this portfolio. Just looking at the last 6 months of Tesla, its low was $176 and its high was $379. Let’s say for the sake of argument that I put the 20 most volatile stocks I could find Hash872’s Basket. If their downside is capped at 1% as per your example- so 20% down as the maximum downside- I need 1 to have at least a 21% return to achieve a profit- yes? Or, more likely, some combination of multiple other stocks to have a lesser return.

        Here’s the key concept- I don’t need any 1 stock (Tesla) to be up 21% *overall* for any period of time. I need that 1 stock (or combination of lesser stock returns) to be up 21% *at some point*- at that point I sell. I.e. Tesla briefly peaks 27% on some good news before dropping down, but the fact that it dropped down doesn’t concern me because I’m already out at 21%.

        (I am thinking this out as I type it out, and also my math is barely lower high school level, so I’m totally fine with harsh criticism here)

        • Elephant says:

          Anatid’s comment that the “‘lose 1%’ outcome happens ten times more often than the “gain 10%’ outcome” is wrong, for the reason that also covers why your reasoning is wrong. The likelihood of getting a fluctuation that’s 10 units above the mean isn’t just 10x lower than getting a fluctuations that’s 1 unit below the mean, it’s (probably) much lower. Flipping 100 coins, the odds of getting 47 heads (3 below the mean) are much more than 10x greater than getting 80 heads (30 above the mean). (In fact, it’s about 100,000,000x greater.
          Simplistically, the probability distribution of outcomes for your stocks is Gaussian, and you can calculate for yourself the relative probabilities for various outcomes.

          • hash872 says:

            Volatile stocks are simply not on the same distribution as flipping coins.

            Simplistically, the probability distribution of outcomes for your stocks is Gaussian

            Now all of us have to live in fear that Nassim Taleb will find your comment and yell at us through the Interwebz…. seriously, Taleb wrote two very well-received books complaining quite belligerently about Gaussian distribution in financial matters. Not a stock expert, but I’m willing to wager a bit that the distribution for volatile stocks (i.e. not Consumer Packaged Goods Consortium from the 1950s) does not map so cleanly.

            I mean, I understand that I’m wrong and that eventually I’ll understand why this ‘low downside/high upside’ strategy wouldn’t work- I do understand and basically follow EMH. Most of my money is in index funds. But I suspect that the math is a bit more complex

          • Elephant says:

            @hash872: Yes, I’m well aware that the distribution isn’t actually Gaussian — hence “Simplistically.” The point is that whatever the likelihood distribution is, it would be remarkable if it has the properties that would be required for your scheme to work. (I.e. that the likelihood drops only weakly as a function of distance from the mean.) Feel free to write down what you think the distribution function is, if you want to justify your mocking tone.

        • Anatid says:

          if I picked 20 or 40 or 80 volatile stocks, with my downside capped and upside theoretically unlimited, wouldn’t it come out a winner overall….?

          1) “upside theoretically unlimited” is too vague. At what point are you going to sell and take your profit? If it’s at +10%, you’re 10x more likely to hit your -1% stop loss than to hit your +10% threshold. If it’s at +100%, you’re 100x more likely to hit your -1% stop loss than to hit your +100% threshold, etc.

          2) Adding more stocks doesn’t help: your expected total profit is the sum of the expected profit on each stock, and the expected profit on each stock is zero.

          @Elephant:

          Flipping 100 coins, the odds of getting 47 heads (3 below the mean) are much more than 10x greater than getting 80 heads (30 above the mean).

          For the strategy I described, I think a better coin-flipping analogy is that you flip a coin and track

          X = (heads so far) – (tails so far)

          and stop when either X = -10 or X = +100.

          It really is exactly 10x more likely that you hit -10 before you hit +100 than the other way around.

          • Elephant says:

            @Anatid
            “It really is exactly 10x more likely that you hit -10 before you hit +100 than the other way around”

            Thanks for the clarification of this coin-flipping scheme. I agree with your assessment, and I also agree that a first-passage-time calculation (which value are we more likely to get to first) makes more sense given what I think the poster is proposing than a calculation of the “equilibrium” distribution of values. Can one actually monitor the fluctuations fast enough to catch the “first passage?”

          • hash872 says:

            OK cool, thanks for engaging with me on this man. I still can’t, just based on intuition, 100% agree- I’m like 90% of the way with you- it just doesn’t make intuitive sense to me how a volatile, popular stock like Tesla or a pharma company that can jump 10-20% in a day has to have 10 or 20 corresponding down days in exact equal measure. I feel like your ‘10% up has to be matched by 10 down days, so expected return is zero’ has to be describing the properties of the broader stock market in general- the stock index taken as a whole. But I could totally be wrong.

            Anyways, metacelsus and Jon S below described the practical issues with my idea. I always knew that I was basically wrong (otherwise why wouldn’t everyone do this?), but I just had to talk/write it out to understand why

          • EchoChaos says:

            @hash872

            It does if the stock is staying approximately level.

            If instead the stock is on a steady upward trend with random walks of volatility throughout that trend, then you are right that they won’t balance. But if you’ve found such a stock, you’re better off just buying and holding anyway.

      • Ketil says:

        To make the strategy explicit, let’s say you buy at $100, and plan to sell if the stock drops to $99 to cut your losses.

        When do you buy a stock? I.e., what’s preventing your system from buying the same stock, now at $98, and then immediately selling it at $97, and so on? Alternatively, what about stocks that dip 1%, and then rocket up to $110?

        Is there a hidden assumption that stocks will move for some minimum time/value in each direction before turning? I don’t think that holds.

    • Chalid says:

      All the other answers relate to practicalities. But I imagine what you’re getting at is really the financial mathematics question – imagine your stock price was a perfect Geometric Brownian Motion (GBM) with no real-world issues about bid-ask spreads and discrete prices, why is a stop-loss order of this type not a guaranteed profit?

      And it’s been a *long* time since I looked at this type of math, and even then I didn’t know it very well at all, so I can’t reproduce the real proof. But I think the intuition was that if you sample your GBM at discrete intervals and sell if the stock price is below the starting price, then you have a probability of selling and a certain amount of loss given that you sell; you also have a probability of profiting from the stock going up if the stop-loss is not triggered, so your expected profit is zero. If you sample the GBM more frequently, then the loss given that you sell goes down (you catch the stock before it has time to fall much below the limit price) but the probability of selling goes up. For an ideal GBM you take the limit and sample infinitely quickly, and your probability of selling becomes 1 and your loss given that you sell becomes zero.

    • J Mann says:

      Generally, the math works out that by setting a stop loss limit, you are exhanging relatively equal values of making money* for a large chance of losing a small amount and a moderate chance of making a larger amount, but with the same expected value.

      In other words, if you buy a stock at $100 and set a stop loss order at $98, there’s a very good chance that you will lose $2, just due to normal volatility. There’s also a chance that the stock will never drop below $98 and you will make money, but my guess is once you work through the math you have a very similar risk adjusted expected value.

      * Relative to a comparable investment.

    • metacelsus says:

      One additional point that I haven’t seen mentioned here: a stop loss order doesn’t guarantee that the stock will be sold at the stop price. The actual selling price could be substantially lower, if the market is moving quickly.

      • Jon S says:

        Yea, not just could be, but is highly likely to be at least a little lower. Stop loss orders aren’t magic, when they’re triggered, your broker just sends a market sell order for you. You still cross the spread and sell it on the bid. Depending on the exact details of your strategy, you’re just going to lose about the bid/ask spread the majority of the time (maybe well upwards of 90% of the time).

        On top of that, US stocks realize about 30% of their variance outside of market hours. When you don’t just lose the bid/ask spread, it’s usually going to be because your stock opened one day substantially below your stop price (or had news intraday and gapped well through your stop price).

    • John Schilling says:

      I think you are modeling stocks as moving in broad, smooth curves where you can efficiently find useful maxima by looking for the d$/dt crossing zero in the downward direction, and ignoring the very strong impact of short-term volatility.

      Eyeballing the FAANG stocks, it looks like Amazon had a pretty good year in 2015; up 119.5% between the opening bell on 1/2/15 and the close on 12/31/19. But if you’d bought AMZN at the opening bell on the 2nd, you’d have auto-sold it by the end of the day. And if you’d bought it again the next day, you’d have sold it again within hours. Even ignoring intraday volatility, if you’d adopted a policy of buying AMZN, selling whenever it drops below your buy, and reinvesting the next day, you’d have sold half a dozen times before you entered a steady “hold” period. If you’re losing ~1% to every transaction, that’s a 6% absolute hit to your ROI. Probably double that when you include intraday volatility, but I don’t have data for that. And that’s not an artifact of the start point; it looks about the same whenever you start in 2015.

      Which is fine if you know you’ve invested in a stock that’s going up 119% in the coming year, but you don’t. And for any plausible stock-picking strategy, taking a 6-12% absolute hit for the sake of capping your losses, isn’t going to give you much in the way of gains.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Eyeballing the FAANG stocks, it looks like Amazon had a pretty good year in 2015; up 119.5% between the opening bell on 1/2/15 and the close on 12/31/19.

        I’m very interested in talking to you privately and learning what other stock closing prices will be on 12/31/19. Or did you mean 12/31/16?

  16. littskad says:

    My middle-school aged, home-schooled son has expressed interest in trying to write his own (necessarily simple) computer game. Does anyone have any useful advice about this sort of thing? He has very little experience with programming, and my own experience is mostly limited to things like Matlab and Mathematica (and Pascal and BASIC 30 years ago). Has anybody used Carnegie-Mellon’s Alice?

    • quanta413 says:

      I have not used Alice. Haven’t programmed games either, but Python has PyGame. Personally, I find Python really pleasant to program in although my experience is limited to Netlogo, Matlab, a semester of C++, and a touch of Java. Netlogo and Python are the only ones that I actually enjoy using overall but Netlogo isn’t very useful if you don’t want to make agent based simulations. Al Sweigart’s “Making Games with Python and PyGame” can be gotten for free in PDF off his website. I’ve found his writing very understandable. He’s focused on explaining what you need to know to do something interesting and not on theoretical computer science in and of itself. I think that’s ideal for most people starting off.

      Hopefully someone with more experience than me has better ideas and info.

      • beleester says:

        I’m torn about Pygame. On the one hand, it’s pretty good for a basic game, something like Tetris or Snake, and it’s not too hard to set up. It might take a little effort to learn the graphics-programmer lingo – why is “flip” the draw command, what are “dirty rectangles” and why should you care? – but for a middle-school project it’s about the right complexity, and it has some very convenient tools for working with sprites.

        On the other hand, as soon as you try to take it bigger, it’s really easy to run into performance problems, and suddenly you have to care about all the ugly graphics-programmer stuff and it’s not fun at all. It also has no good UI libraries. Again, probably not a concern for a middle-schooler, it’s just that when I as a 20-something decided to take up game programming again, and decided “I’ll use Pygame, I remember that being a good game library,” I got a bit of a shock.

    • Viliam says:

      For a beginner, I think that Ren’Py is a quick start towards making a game, as long as they are okay to start with the type of game that is easiest to make there. (It is possible to later proceed towards different types of games, and the experience includes learning Python, which is a generally useful and quite popular programming language.)

      The easiest type of a game is an animated story (called “visual novel”). You make a few screen-sized background pictures, and a few characters, as if you are going to play a puppet theater. The engine provides you a very simple scripting language to say e.g. “show this background, and this character on the left; write this; now show also another character on the right; say this”. You write the text, each phrase either as a narrator or as one of the characters; you can make characters appear and disappear, move left and right; you can switch to a different background. You can turn any story into an animation.

      Now, by following a few instructions, you can compile this into a standalone game (for Windows, Linux, Mac, I think also Android), which upon installation will allow you to start the animation, proceed reading texts at your own speed, and at any moment save or load the game.

      This all without writing any algorithm whatsoever. If you make a decent story and pics, your friends will be impressed.

      From here you can continue by adding a few choices and branches. Like, at some moment of the story the program will ask you “do you want to do this, or that?”. Depending on your choice, you get a different ending. The only thing in script is adding an if-then-else command, and labels for the endings. Simple to understand.

      Now you can put there many choices, have the branches separate and join as you wish. (You will probably need to design the structure of the story on the paper, if it gets complicated.) One example how you can use this, is to allow the character to walk on the game map, by adding options “go here; go there” in every room, to the adjacent rooms.

      A third thing to learn is how to use variables. Now the game can remember what you did, and evolve accordingly. For example, you can open the door only if you have previously picked a key. To achieve this, you make a variable “key = 0”; when you take the key in the room containing it, you set “key = 1”; and in a different room if you have “key = 1”, you will get (branch into the section of the script containing) the new option “unlock door”, which sets “door = 1”, etc. Hey, I am not saying that this is how professionals are supposed to do variables. But it is simple to understand, and now you get an actual adventure game where you can walk around the map and solve problems.

      Or you can make a story progressing in time, where your available options on day 2 depend on which actions you took during the day 1.

      From the programming perspective, this is all pathetically simple. Yet, you have a playable, and potentially interesting game. With pictures, and very simple animations. You can also add background music and sound effects.

      (Warning: this is mostly used for making erotic games, because that is the kind of game that benefits most from having an engine that encourages using many pictures and very simple algorithms. The engine itself is perfectly innocent, but when you go online and search for “games made in Ren’Py”, don’t be shocked.)

    • tayfie says:

      The most important question is if your son cares more about the “game” aspect or the “computer” aspect. You can do a lot of game making without touching a computer and you can do a lot with computers besides games.

      In terms of writing his own game, doing so from scratch is a lot of effort unless you are aiming for something known with a simple and well defined set of rules (e.g. tic-tac-toe). If he wants to work on something more substantial, I suggest looking for modding communities for games he already likes. There needn’t be a lot of original “writing”, but making modifications to existing games can teach a lot about the games are structured internally.

      If your son wants an original game that looks nice to show to friends, absolutely find an existing language/framework that supports that kind of game. However, it can happen that such specialized tools are an unsatisfying black box because not understanding how the tool works can feel like not really building something yourself.

      • dick says:

        Seconded on the idea of modding a game he’s in to. If he plays Minecraft, then you should absolutely get yourself a minecraft server and start learning how the modding for it works so you can help him get started.

      • David Speyer says:

        Games more interesting than tic-tac-toe which would be reasonable to write from scratch as an amateur project: Tetris, Minesweeper, 2048, Blackjack. It seems to me that a big part of the question is what kind of game he wants: If he is thinking DOOM, that’s a whole different level than if he is thinking “guess what number I’m thinking of”.

        I spent a lot of time in middle school (mid 90’s) cloning and modifying games like Tetris; I had a lot of fun and learned a lot. I used Pascal, but I am way out of date as to what are good languages now.

        • JPNunez says:

          Doom, even the old PC game is even today a tall order for a kid.

          Wolfenstein 3D or other basic raycasting/voxel games seem like a lot lower order, and I’ve seen decent implementations in little, understandable code.

    • Malarious says:

      Casey Muratori has been running a weekly stream called Handmade Hero for the past 5 years which covers basically everything you need to know about programming a modern game from scratch. It’s the kind of resource I wish I had at 12, and is exceptionally detailed, explaining every layer of abstraction. Handmade Hero’s written in C/C++ and the early episodes are focused largely on Windows, setting up your developer environment, and just kind of grokking the *process* of programming: every line of code is written on screen, so when something doesn’t work you get to watch a pro go through the problem solving process, which is just incredibly useful.

      FWIW, I tried to pick up programming many times when I was younger with languages like Python, Javascript, and Ruby. It never clicked. Then, the first time I stepped through a program written in C with a debugger attached, watched the registers update, and actually *saw* what was going on, everything made sense. I program in mostly Python now and still really hate it, but learning C is what kept me interested enough to keep going in the first place.

      It’s probably worth finding out why exactly your son wants to program a game. Does he just want to make something, or does he want to understand how it works? If it’s the latter, I think Python and other frameworks are going to be way too high-level to really be satisfying.

    • Incurian says:

      Unreal Engine is surprisingly easy to use, with lots of tutorials and templates freely available. There is a very thorough visual scripting system, too.

    • KieferO says:

      I’ve worked somewhat with PyGame. It’s floor is very low, which is important, because the hardest part of getting started in game programming is getting started. The barrier between you and bliting your first pixel to the screen is a lot of complex systems that you don’t care about, like the dynamic library loader of your operating system or dealing with the culture shock of moving from the task based model of smartphones to a fully general purpose computing device like a desktop. PyGame is nice, because there’s relatively little of that.

      He should also at least consider javascript + canvas. This has pretty much zero setup costs, but finding good advice about javascript is much harder than finding good advice about python.

    • jgr314 says:

      We haven’t used Alice, but my kids have done a lot of work with Scratch (mostly) and Pencilcode (an implementation of coffeescript, which itself is a modification of javascript).

      Scratch has some nice features: easy to start, there is a robust community with tutorials and example games. My kids really love Scratch and I think the community structure is a big part of the reason.

      Even though the system seems like very simple and dumb blocks, the things people have been able to create are remarkably sophisticated and fun to play. Platformer games are especially popular.

      That said, it isn’t “real” programming (it is almost entirely drag-and-drop blocks). Some of this is good for the young learner (like not having to hunt through code to find a misplaced punctuation mark or errant extra blank space). I’m not sure that it helps build the full range of skills required for using other platforms/languages. However, there is some thoughtful guidance about where to go beyond scratch from within the Scratch community (Seasoned Scratcher).

      With some minimal pointers and guidance, your kid will probably be off and running independently in Scratch in a week or so.

      Pencilcode is a bridging step. You can drag-and-drop blocks of code, but it is intended that the programmer will see and understand the code structure itself. I don’t know how active or supportive the community is right now or how easy it is to find example projects. Several years ago, I was very active and, even so, the ease with which I could find or share projects, exchange ideas with other users was orders of magnitude less than Scratch.

      To be honest, I was using Pencilcode more for the geometry/math (it can be seen as a version of Logo) than the programming.

      For what it is worth, MS/Google’s project “Girls who Code” originally focused on Scratch and has moved to Snap (I think). Their curriculum is pretty thoughtful and, I would guess, can be followed independently by a motivated learner.

    • JPNunez says:

      Godot is great.

      It will have you putting stuff on the screen very quickly, the editor doesn’t require a lot of computing power, it has a Python like language for logic, but you can get very far with just the main editor, and the visual editor for logic. You can deploy to desktop with no problems, and to phones with just some small problems (mainly having a mac for iphone). There are a bunch of examples to start from, and the documentation is good.

      Löve 2D is also great, but it is code-oriented so your kid may have some hard time at the start. I have my problems with Lua too, but a lot of people like it just well so you may give it a try.

    • littskad says:

      Thank you, everyone, for the thoughtful and useful replies. He’s got pretty broad taste in games: for instance, he’s played a lot of Breath of the Wild, various Elder Scrolls games, Stardew Valley, Heroes of Might and Magic, the Nancy Drew games from HerInteractive, etc. He’s spent a lot of time making his own levels in games like Age of Empires and Zoo Tycoon.

      @Viliam: Ren’Py looks like it would do very well for making a Nancy-Drew-type game, but, man, you weren’t kidding about its community being dominated by erotic games. My son’s at an age where these topics are starting to come up, but that rabbit hole goes really deep really fast.

      @tayfie, dick: He once tried writing a mod for Oblivion (I think it was), but get really frustrated really fast, as there was just too much he didn’t understand and the whole process was just too complicated. We’d need something that starts at a more basic level.

      @Malarious: Those Homemade Hero videos look really useful. Thanks for pointing them out. My son ultimately wants to have a game that works, but understanding what’s going on is also part of our homeschooling goals.

      @jgr314: Scratch looks interesting, like something in the general neighborhood as the level editor in, for example, Age of Empires, but a lot more flexible. Would it be possible to make something like a Nancy Drew or Monkey Island style game in it? What about a simple 2-d platformer?

      Thanks again, everybody.

      • jgr314 says:

        2-d platformer is definitely popular on Scratch. I don’t know Nancy Drew (as a game) or Monkey Island.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      I got started programming around that age with GameMaker and would highly recommend it (assuming it hasn’t changed too much). It’s drag and drop like Scratch (with an optional traditional language) and has lots of good tutorials so it’s easy to get started. But it’s a lot more powerful than Scratch; the dragging/dropping teaches you real programming skills like OOP. And the inbuilt editors for levels/graphics etc. make it easier to actually make games with than alternatives.

    • beleester says:

      My high school (class of 2010) used Alice to teach beginning programming classes. It’s simple, and works well for teaching, but IIRC it’s more meant for animations than for games.

    • Matt C says:

      Lots of good suggestions, but one I don’t see yet is Invent Your Own Computer Games With Python, which is available for free online, and is suitable for someone with no previous programming experience.

      https://inventwithpython.com/invent4thed/

  17. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I just finished reading Lent by Jo Walton, a fantasy novel (with some science fictional overtones, I think) about Savonarola. I liked it tremendously, and I’m especially interested in what Catholics think of it.

    However, it has a major plot twist in the middle, and I find that reading threads with a lot of rot13 is annoying. As I recall, reddit has a better spoiler system. Would people like to discuss it there?

  18. nkurz says:

    Last night I read an interesting review of “Bronze Age Mindset”:

    “Months later, the tech entrepreneur and anti-democracy blogger Curtis Yarvin brought to a small dinner at my home, in lieu of the more traditional flowers or wine, a book—one I had never heard of, called Bronze Age Mindset (hereafter BAM) by a person calling himself “Bronze Age Pervert” (hereafter BAP). A few weeks later, I took it up in a moment of idle curiosity.”

    https://www.claremont.org/crb/article/are-the-kids-altright/

    That lead me to reading a couple more reviews:

    https://jacobitemag.com/2018/06/12/beach-nietzsche-a-review-of-bronze-age-mindset/
    https://medium.com/@TXHart/book-review-bronze-age-mindset-5dd5b79bead1

    It seems like a relatively large phenomenon, but I’d never heard of it. Strangely, I don’t think I’ve seen it mentioned here. The reviews were fun, but does anyone have insight into whether the book is actually worth reading?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I’ve never heard of this book, but…

      “Months later, the tech entrepreneur and anti-democracy blogger Curtis Yarvin brought to a small dinner at my home, in lieu of the more traditional flowers or wine, a book—one I had never heard of, called Bronze Age Mindset (hereafter BAM) by a person calling himself “Bronze Age Pervert”

      Well I’ll be. Satyrs do exist!

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Never heard of it, but it sounds like a good book. The barbarian impulse is a good one (although the lifestyle is stupid), and I hope that it makes a foothold for itself. Dynamism and un-self-consicous pride are good.

      All that said, master morality is just as bankrupt as slave morality, and no movement that defines itself as rebelling against or achieving dominance over can stand on its own. Decentralized hierarchy is as stupid as it sounds when you think about it for five minutes. Insofar as this project is an opportunity to assert that, I’m even more happy for it.

    • broblawsky says:

      Nobody has ever managed to convince me that virtue ethics aren’t an excuse for hypocrisy and egotism, and it doesn’t look like this book will either.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I can see where you’re getting egotism from (I’m a deontologist myself), but hypocrisy?

        • broblawsky says:

          It’s easy for human beings to convince themselves that whatever they want to do, or whatever society tells them they should do, is virtuous. Hence, hypocrisy.

          • Ketil says:

            …and of course, it could never happen that a utilitarian convinces himself that whatever benefits himself, actually is a great thing for the common good? I think we are all hypocrites.

      • Eponymous says:

        In my case it’s even worse — nobody’s managed to explain virtue ethics to me in a way I can understand.

        • theredsheep says:

          I went over the three ethical system types in a basic college ethics class years ago, and virtue made the most sense to me because it fit in with what I knew of Orthodox Christian ethical thinking–things are right or wrong as manifestations of one’s inward nature, and act to gradually perfect or deform that nature over time. This makes sense in a system based on supernatural revelation, but I can see how it could be confusing and/or silly from a naturalistic perspective, where there’s no predefined goal or purpose to human existence. A priest later confirmed that intuition, that Orthodox ethical thinking is about virtue.

          Then I looked up Virtue Ethics sometime later on Wikipedia, and said WTF is this? So maybe it can be used to refer to very different systems, or perspectives. IDK.

        • Two McMillion says:

          Well, maybe I can give it a try…

          All ethics tries to answer questions about how we should decide what to do. Deontological ethics says, “There’s a list of rules, and we should follow that.” Consequentialism says, “We can look at what happens when we do certain things, and choose our actions based on that.”

          Virtue ethics begins by slapping both people in the face and telling them that they’re stupid. To the deontologist, the virtue ethicist says, “You idiot! You think that morality can be boiled down to a list of rules? Use your eyes, man! Can’t you see that every rule is full of exceptions, nuances, situations where the rule can’t possibly apply? Oh, it might be a fine thing to sit in your basement contemplating the contours of the Good, but give me a list of rules that can completely govern thirty seconds of actual functioning in the real world. Give me a set of rules for my friendships, my work, my business that won’t leave me looking like a monster half the time. You can’t, and no refinement of your rules will fix that. Your list of rules is itself the problem.”

          To the consequentialist, virtue ethics says, “Oh, you think that what comes after is the judge of what comes before? Fool! When did you become better than other men, that you know what the future holds? You didn’t contemplate the outcome, you created an image in your mind and molded it to match your arrogance. Your logics and speculations are ashes and garbage, lies to conceal from your arrogance that you don’t know what comes after, that none of us do. You know nothing, you judge nothing, you only play games in your mind. Sit down!”

          Deontology and consequentialism both push the question of what we should do to a source outside of people. The virtue ethicist says that this is stupid. The only way we ever come to know about ethics is from inside ourselves, so looking for an external list of rules or to external consequences is looking in the wrong place. Virtue ethics emphasizes our personal experience of right and wrong as the source of our information about what right and wrong are. Just as our experience of the physical universe is evidence that the physical universe exists, so our experience of right and wrong is evidence that right and wrong exist. Where deontology says we should find out what we should do by looking to a list of rules, and where consequentialism says we should start by looking at the consequences of our actions, virtue ethics says we should start by looking in our consciences. Looking at something outside your conscience is like taking someone else’s word for something- there are times when it’s appropriate, but it shouldn’t trump the primary source that is your conscience. Virtue ethics argues that this is what other systems of ethics are actually doing when they try to develop moral precepts or judge consequences, and that we should just cut out the middleman and ask our consciences directly. We shouldn’t try to treat ethical judgments as if they were some special part of the human experience- they are just a part of the human experience, just like eyesight and hearing are parts of the human experience, and just as our eyes and ears give us information about the world, so our consciences are also a source of information. You are not a machine with an ethical experience slapped on top; the ethical experience is a fundamental part of who you are, and it should be treated as such.

          In this framework, guilt or shame is seen as something similar to a headache or an upset stomach: it is a sign that something has gone wrong. Your self is no longer functioning in harmony, and it is sending you the message that you ought to change your behavior to remove the unpleasantness. (The “ought” here is generally taken to be self-evident.) You feel guilty because your actions and your conscience are not in harmony, just as you feel nauseated when your stomach and what you ate are not in harmony. So the virtue ethicist says, “Just as I strive for harmony between my body and what I eat, so I also ought to strive for harmony between my conscience and my actions.” This seems very simple when you say it, but if you try to put it into actual practice you run into all sorts of difficulties. Virtue ethics says that if you encounter something about yourself that seems wrong- for example, if you lie around on the couch all day and feel like you’re wasting your life- then you probably are wasting your life, and you should stop doing that and do something else. Listen to your body when it has pain, and listen to your soul when it feels guilt. This is the foundation of doing what is right.

          • broblawsky says:

            This assumes that you can trust your conscience to reliably tell you when you’re doing something wrong. I suspect that anyone who has a sufficiently reliable conscience doesn’t need virtue ethics to compel them to do what’s right, and anyone who doesn’t can’t rely on virtue ethics to compel them not to do what’s wrong. The human conscience is malleable, based on personal circumstance and societal mores.

          • Tenacious D says:

            Virtue ethics begins by slapping both people in the face and telling them that they’re stupid…

            Just wanted to say that the couple of paragraphs starting here was one of the more compelling explanations of virtue ethics I’ve read.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @broblawsky

            As a hardline deontologist, I can’t imagine trusting human conscience for anything at all.

            “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” – Jeremiah 17:9

          • Eponymous says:

            I think there’s some good stuff in here, but I’m a little suspicious that the position you describe can easily reduce to “follow your conscience” which seems awfully close to “do what you feel is right”, which seems to verge on Emotivism which I remember MacIntyre criticizing and seeing as a key step in the descent of Ethics into its dark age that he so memorably describes.

          • Nick says:

            Broblawsky is basically right. Conscience is dangerous without right formation. And right formation does not consist in ignoring everyone else’s direction. That would be remarkably terrible advice to give young children, for instance.

            Anscombe wrote in Modern Moral Philosophy, in her brief statement of objections to recent ethics writers, “Butler exalts conscience, but appears ignorant that a man’s conscience may tell him to do the vilest things.”

            ETA: @Eponymous
            Actually, you’re thinking of Moorean intuitionism, where ethics consisted in the precise apprehension of the Good in each act. Emotivism was in MacIntyre’s view a later generation identifying what the Mooreans were really doing when they thought they were precisely apprehending the Good, viz., expressing their attitudes. See my snip of the relevant section of After Virtue.

          • Deiseach says:

            Virtue ethics begins by slapping both people in the face and telling them that they’re stupid. To the deontologist, the virtue ethicist says, “You idiot! You think that morality can be boiled down to a list of rules? Use your eyes, man! Can’t you see that every rule is full of exceptions, nuances, situations where the rule can’t possibly apply? Oh, it might be a fine thing to sit in your basement contemplating the contours of the Good, but give me a list of rules that can completely govern thirty seconds of actual functioning in the real world. Give me a set of rules for my friendships, my work, my business that won’t leave me looking like a monster half the time. You can’t, and no refinement of your rules will fix that. Your list of rules is itself the problem.”

            To which Deontology invokes St Nicholas then slaps Virtue right back and goes “That’s what moral theology is for, twit! You think I don’t recognise nuance, hard cases and so forth? But if there’s no list of rules that will cover all cases, neither will virtue on its own – I can give you contradictory cases where your virtue will look like a monster half the time no matter which choice you make, because the choice you make depends on what your insides feel, and somebody else’s insides will feel differently. If we were all perfect rational beings this might work since we’d all have the same internal “burning in the bosom” to guide us to an agreed upon ‘this is right and this is wrong’, but since we’re fallen humans in an imperfect universe, a list of dos and don’ts is as far as we can get to a workable basis.”

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            I can give you contradictory cases where your virtue will look like a monster half the time no matter which choice you make, because the choice you make depends on what your insides feel, and somebody else’s insides will feel differently.

            But they won’t look like a monster to themselves. There’s no biting bullets in virtue ethics, except where you have to go ahead and admit that people whose virtue is corrupt have to be attacked and torn down. Even if those people are you. Amor fati is the faculty that allows you to assent to this.

          • iridium says:

            suspect that anyone who has a sufficiently reliable conscience doesn’t need virtue ethics to compel them to do what’s right, and anyone who doesn’t can’t rely on virtue ethics to compel them not to do what’s wrong.

            From the inside in my experience, virtue ethics as I understand it doesn’t feel like compelling yourself to do the right thing, it feels like actually wanting it. Whereas consequentialism and deontology (to me) do feel like forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do. Ie the big difference is that virtue ethics includes some sort of actual motivation besides guilt.

            It’s possible that this is just because it’s less popular: nobody has tried to force their personal flavor of virtue ethics on me, but it happens all the time with the other two.

          • Deiseach says:

            But they won’t look like a monster to themselves.

            And neither will I look like a monster to myself for stating the rules, even if the other person or an onlooker goes “That’s so mean!” So Virtue’s criticism is no criticism at all. Either Virtue cares about looking like a monster to outsiders, or does not so long as they have done what is right by their lights. Then they don’t get to critique me for doing what I feel is right by my lights, even if I look like a monster to outsiders.

        • FLWAB says:

          I didn’t like everyone else’s explanations so I thought I’d add my own.

          It really just comes down to a question of how we know something is wrong. Deontologicalists say we know its wrong if it’s against the rules. Consequentialists say we know something is wrong if it has bad consequences. Virtue Ethicists say we know something is wrong if it makes us worse people.

          That necessarily implies that there is a “better” and a “worse” state for humans: that it is better to have “virtues” than to have “vices” (virtue can be roughly translated to mean strength, vice as weakness). This idea is foundational to Virtue Ethics: that it is better to be just than unjust, that it is better to be wise than foolish, that it is better to be brave than cowardly, that it is better to be loving than cruel, etc. Different people might have different ideas about what is the ideal moral state of man that we should strive for, but probably not as wide a variance as you might think (there are very few cultures that specifically advocate for injustice as an ideal over justice, for instance, even if some cultures are more unjust than others in outcomes). Without the idea that there is an objectively better or worse state for man to exist as Virtue Ethics doesn’t make much sense.

          Once you have an idea of what is Good for man, then you judge things based on whether they make you more like that ideal or farther from it. You treat people fairly, regardless of the consequences, because that makes you more just: on the flip side, if you treat people unfairly then you become more unjust and stray further from the ideal. Why should you stand and fight instead of running away? Because the ideal man is courageous and loyal. Why should you tell the truth, even if it will hurt people? Because the ideal man is honest. And why should you try to be like the ideal man in the first place? Because it is better to be Good than Evil, just as it’s better to be healthy than sick, or better to be alive than dead.

          Following your conscience is a big part of this because the ideal man has integrity, but you need to make sure your actions really are coming from what you believe is the right thing to do and not from internal weaknesses (vices).

          The ancient Greeks (and by extension, the Roman Empire) generally believed there were four virtues: Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Fortitude (basically courage with a side of stoicism). So the virtuous man, the man we should all strive to be like, is just, wise, disciplined, and brave. The Christians came along and added three more, Faith, Hope, and Love. Christianity ran with virtue ethics in a big way. For example you have the nine “fruits of the spirit” which are the qualities a Christian strives to have, and will be filled with through faith and obedience: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Jesus says “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” In other words, strive for moral perfection, to reach the ideal state of character. Christians regularly seek to be “like Christ,” that is to say to strive to have a character like Christ. Etc.

          Read “The Abolition of Man” by C. S. Lewis to get a little more of the view of this. It’s not a book on Virtue Ethics, but it is a book that assumes Virtue Ethics as it’s foundation.

          I prefer virtue ethics because I do believe their is an ideal moral state we all need to strive for, and also because I believe it has less paradoxes than consequentialism and is more robust than deontological ethics. Ultimately I think the three approaches are complimentary to each other: if you want to become more virtuous, it can help to make rules and stick to them, and you have to consider the consequences of your actions before making a moral decision or else you’re acting shortsightedly, which is probably a vice.

          • Deiseach says:

            Once you have an idea of what is Good for man, then you judge things based on whether they make you more like that ideal or farther from it.

            The two problems there are:

            (1) How do you have an idea of what is Good for man? How do you know that is universal, and not based on your particular situation in space and time? It used to be virtuous to slay your enemy in a duel, today we consider it virtuous not to kill someone for insulting us (rather, resort to law or other means of repairing reputations). If you are not resting on Christianity, then what is your exterior objective standard?

            (2) If you are judging on “does this bring me nearer to or take me further from the ideal?” then you have rules. “Do not be a coward in battle” is a rule, just as much as any deontologist. Virtue ethics may then explain “do not be a coward in battle BECAUSE…” but so too does deontology have reasons to explain “do not break this rule BECAUSE…”

            I think deontology is compatible with Christianity, as is virtue ethics, as is consequentialism (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”). I think Christianity is also more than any or all three of them, and I think if arguing outside a moral and ethical religious framework, then the critique of Virtue versus Consequences versus Rules as posited in the face-slapping post aren’t so simply resolved as “do what makes you feel good, duh!”

            As Lewis pointed out, a man may feel exquisite pleasure in skinning a cat. If we’re equating virtue with “what makes you feel good/what your conscience approves of”, in such a case that man might feel that he is being perfectly virtuous as he enjoys the act and his conscience does not upbraid him. Virtue ethics then has to reach for more than “what makes you feel good” and go for “this is wrong, and it is wrong because…” which brings us back to rules and consequences.

          • FLWAB says:

            The problem of figuring out what the ideal Good is for man to strive towards is a very real one, but I think it is important to establish that Virtue Ethics requires a belief that there is a Good: that there is a particular way to be, and a particular character to have, that is superior to others and is to be striven for. That’s the main thing that sets it apart from other ethical systems. Figuring out what that ideal man is like is the hard part, but at least you know what you are looking for. Christianity claims that the ideal can be found in Christ, and I agree. But the important thing is first acknowledging that there is an ideal to strive for somewhere.

            And like I said, I think the three approaches are complimentary. I just think that Virtue Ethics is more foundational than the other two: we are striving to have a certain kind of character. In service to that we can create systems of rules to help us, and we should consider consequences to others if we consider (as I do) that Love and Prudence are virtues we should strive to posses.

            But as far as “do what feels good” goes, I agree with you. That’s why I made this post, because I didn’t like all of what Two McMillion had to say, particularly about conscience. Conscience is important, yes, but it is not the foundation. Specially conscience works like Socrates’s Daemon: it only tells us what not to do. The rule isn’t “do whatever feels like the right thing to do” but rather “If something feels like it is wrong, don’t do it.” Even if it isn’t against the rules, or if nobody will get hurt. But Virtue Ethics as a whole should be anathema to the idea of “do what you feel like” because the whole point is that what we do shapes us and we need to do the things that will make us more virtuous, not less, which requires wisdom and discernment.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think deontology is compatible with Christianity, as is virtue ethics, as is consequentialism (“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”)

            “Do unto others…” isn’t a consequentialist ethic, thought. Or rather, you could no doubt argue for it based on consequentialist grounds, but I don’t think Jesus does.

      • quanta413 says:

        Bronze Age Mindset sounds more amoral or as theredsheep below says, fascist. Doesn’t sound like an endorsement of virtue ethics to me.

        I mean, compare crazy internet troll to Marcus Aurelius (who seems a more central example of a philosopher of virtue ethics than some random internet troll). Meditations is full of exhortations like behave justly to others, do not be angry, learn from others, be modest etc. I’m sure he didn’t perfectly fulfill his philosophy, but you can say that about anyone with respect to any philosophy.

        EDIT: Also, I think it’s funny that your critique of virtue ethics is basically that it’s an excuse for… a lack of a particular virtue (in that it encourages egotism). There’s no moral reason for a deontologist or consequentialist to care that someone has an inflated sense of self. Only aesthetic or second-order reasons to.

    • theredsheep says:

      Read the first review, skimmed the second and third. I’m sorry, but this really does sound an awful lot like an apologia for an essentially fascist mentality, of the kind I’ve only ever seen endorsed by extraordinarily juvenile, unreflective, and emotionally maladjusted young men on the internet. And by fascist I don’t mean “offensively reactionary,” or “not progressive”–I am far from leftist by today’s standards–but “straight out of Hannah Arendt’s description of the mentality that gave rise to totalitarianism.”

      The kind of thinking that delights in being provocative and offensive not because the provocative statements are necessarily right–frequently they’re barefaced lies, or ridiculous overgeneralizations–but because they are offensive to a ruling class for whom one no longer feels the slightest respect. It’s far less important to be factually right (the very concept is suspicious) than it is to appeal to the right attitude or induce the right emotional state. Blech.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Moldy really seems to like trolling people with Bronze Age Pervert. I remember him bringing it up in an interview with some legacy media rag a few years back and it was pretty lulzy to see them trying to explain it. Not the best trolling but funny nonetheless.

      That said, I don’t think that I would want a book-length version of BAP. Twitter is exactly the right length for post-ironic humor and aside from the withering of your soul it’s free.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Trolling the Atlantic seems pretty different than trolling the Claremont Review. And trolling an interviewer seems pretty different than presenting a book in person to Michael “Flight 93” Anton.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Teller of Penn and Teller claims that one of the principles of magic is “Make the secret a lot more trouble than the trick seems worth. You will be fooled by a trick if it involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker) would be willing to invest.”

          I suspect a similar principle applies to trolling.

      • Deiseach says:

        That kind of trolling only works when the other person can’t troll back in a similar way. If someone hands you a copy of “Bronze Age Mindset”/recommends it to you, say “Sorry, I get my Bronze Age mindset from this” and hand them in return/recommend to them a copy of the Bible 😀

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      Huh, I guess I’m not the only one thinking this. As I said in an earlier open thread, I think this is at least in part caused by a retreat from civil society. As your relevant social sphere homogenizes (filter bubbles, a stronger “culture” of an individual workplace), social forms which predominated among similarly homogenous groups (i.e., bronze age societies) arise.

    • BAP’s beliefs are a mess. He claims to support modernity and yet he wants our societies ruled by bandits.

    • Aftagley says:

      Adding to the general noise on this topic, Politico released an article about BAP and his book today. For politico, it’s mostly neutral, although the author clearly isn’t a fan.

  19. blipnickels says:

    Does anyone have a good book/blog post on how to model institutions which are both strong and weak? I’m talking about the way a lot of news/art/advertising industries create and define what’s popular and interesting, but also spend immense amounts of time and expertise trying to predict what their audience will find most interesting because almost all culture industries are low profit and brutally competitive, at least in the internet age.

    For example, imagine a company called Mox Media, which publishes news/culture war clickbait (replace consonants as desired). Imagine the front page of Mox Media is a story about how C-List outgroup celebrity’s rhetoric is dangerous and harmful to…let’s say llama doctors. I’m torn between two things.
    #1 Mox Media’s story is going to shape a lot of people’s perception both their outgroup and llama doctors, as well as genuinely making life more dangerous/stressful for llama doctors. Mox Media is active, controlling, elite, powerful.
    #2 Mox Media spent a lot of time, expertise, and focus groups specifically to choose which story to put on the front page to drive the most clicks and ads to their website because these decisions are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and Mox Media genuinely believes llama doctors are the hottest thing right now. Mox Media is reactive, following trends, sheep, weak.

    These things both appear true but I have no good way to model this or think about it and every time I try, I keep trying to identify one as the “dominant” causal factor or “truer” thing, which doesn’t fit how I see the data. Mox Media is genuinely powerful and ‘determines the narrative” but companies and writers are metaphorically dying like flies, in a genuinely brutal business, and everyone’s fighting hard to stay alive.

    So has anybody written about this effectively and broken down the factors involved, especially somebody with good reference memes like “Moloch” or “Motte and Bailey”? I want some way to understand what’s going on, because my mental models aren’t really built to explain feedback loops where everyone, audience and writer, both is and isn’t all powerful and helpless.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      For my money: https://samzdat.com/2017/02/01/on-social-states/

      And the followup posts

      E: this is more about describing the phenomenon you fingered, not so much the mechanisms of it.

    • Aapje says:

      @blipnickels

      These things both appear true but I have no good way to model this or think about it and every time I try, I keep trying to identify one as the “dominant” causal factor or “truer” thing

      I think that your mistake is to try to identify a single factor.

      People typically try to optimize over a range of goals. Assuming that they try to optimize a single goal is not going to let you model their behavior.

      For example, take a musician whose dream is to make jazzy music. This dream future actually has several aspects to it, where I added relative priority numbers between parenthesis:
      1. getting to play an instrument all day (100)
      2. getting to make the kind of music he most likes (30)
      3. getting recognition/fans (30)
      4. Having enough money for basic necessities (500)
      5. having enough money to buy nice things (50)
      6. finding a partner/having lots of casual sex (or both) (60)
      7. having children (60)

      If this person fails at gaining success playing his kind of music, there is a good chance that he will try to become a ‘sellout’ by playing more popular music. Another musician with who gets way less satisfaction from making any music, is far more likely to stop being a musician altogether or to accept a life of relative poverty and obscurity, just to be able to make his kind of music.

      You can model journalists similarly. Some are (strong) activists who really care about pushing a message. Some strongly care about status/respect (which can look a lot like caring about an issue, but they will adopt/abandon issues based on their popularity). Some care very much about just getting to write professionally. Most have multiple things they care about, to various degrees.

      Note that goals can also require achieving other goals. For example, even if a journalist doesn’t care about how many read her writing, her employer may and his job may thus depend on having enough readers.

      Also, some goals are not completely compatible, so may require compromise. A journalist may want to write story after story on an unpopular topic, but may thereby get himself fired, as well as having few people to preach to. So then he may compromise by writing far less about that topic than he prefers, which means that he keeps his job and helps to preserve readership who tolerate his limited agenda-pushing, but who still get exposed to that agenda.

      It can also be true that a profession is both highly competitive in some ways and very uncompetitive in other ways. For example, when YouTube decides that certain content is forbidden, there can be fierce competition to get viewers for content that is allowed, but a lack of competition to get viewers for the disallowed content.

  20. Hoopyfreud says:

    So if anyone wants to short a company, boy howdy do I have something for you

    https://www.theverge.com/2019/8/15/20806366/we-company-wework-ipo-adam-neumann

    • Matt M says:

      I’ve been putting most of my disposable speculation funds into shorting FB, but this seems at least as good!

    • Deiseach says:

      So four layers of shell companies? Yeah, this is looking to me like “planning for when any or all of the constituent bits have the wheels fall off, we the founder(s) will hang on to the money we’ve creamed off and the creditors can have lots of fun trying to squeeze blood out of a stone by suing the company running the properties leased out to another company holding them on behalf of the original company we sold them to after I bought them by a different one”.

      Make your money fast now, Hoopy and Matt! The We Company/WeWork/New Thing Founded Yesterday and Incorporated in Liechtenstein won’t be around too long by how this looks! 😀

    • dick says:

      WeWork may well be a house of cards, but houses of cards can stand up for quite a while sometimes. If you’re wondering why anyone would invest in this in the first place, the Stretechery write-up is very good.

      • Aftagley says:

        Holy crap, that write-up made me even more skeptical of We than I was before.

        Quoting his quote of We work’s S-1:

        In the 111 cities in which we had locations as of June 1, 2019, we estimate that there are approximately 149 million potential members. For U.S. cities, we define potential members by the estimated number of desk jobs based on data from the Statistics of U.S. Businesses survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

        To that, Stretechery only says:

        The sheer scale of this ambition again calls back to Amazon Web Services.

        But that’s a massive understatement. We is literally claiming that its market is anyone who sits at a desk… that’s the excuse they give for their continuous acquisition of property. I’m all for disruption, but that’s just insane.

        • baconbits9 says:

          How about this one

          WeWork’s (Lack of) Competition
          This point around competition is an important one, and one of the more compelling reasons to be bullish on WeWork’s opportunity.

          The obvious competitor is a company called IWG, with 3,306 locations and 445k workstations at the end of 2018. WeWork, in comparison, had 528 locations and 604k workstations as of June 30, 2019.

          No, the obvious competitor is every office building and management company in existence already.

      • Deiseach says:

        WeWork may well be a house of cards, but houses of cards can stand up for quite a while sometimes.

        If I believe these articles, it may be on the verge of tumbling down. Get in, make your money fast, get out!

    • Aftagley says:

      This is only tangentially on topic, but I found it funny enough to be worth sharing:

      Quote from FT’s summaryof the We Work IPO:

      The first time I expressed skepticism about WeWork’s model in an article, a representative from the company called to tell me that I had hurt his feelings and clearly didn’t care about changing the world for the better.

      • Matt M says:

        Isn’t that basically what Theranos did to its critics as well? Only with slightly more legal threats?

        • Aftagley says:

          I think they stressed the “you don’t care about saving the world thing” more than the whole “you hurt our feelings” side.

          That being said, from interviews I’ve seen, I don’t think even the best Theranos PR shill would have much luck convincing anyone that Elizabeth Holmes HAS feelings, so that strategy probably wouldn’t have worked anyway.

      • Deiseach says:

        a representative from the company called to tell me that I had hurt his feelings

        Oh goodness, that sounds like nothing so much as the video making the rounds of the DSA bunfight in Atlanta, where there were jazz hands instead of clapping and every five minutes someone raised a point of personal privilege about not doing stuff to trigger them.

        You want to change the world by revolution and taken on the entrenched forces of capitalism, but you can only overthrow the running dogs so long as they don’t applaud you?

        You can only make it in a ruthless, cut-throat world of real estate acquisition and management as long as your rival always carries a box of tissues to hand you when your feelings are bruised?

        That does not sound like you’re cut out for the kind of job you’re undertaking!

  21. johan_larson says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to give one person a time-out. This person will disappear from their daily life and reappear six months later, with no memory of the intervening time. Making ordinary people disappear is no great chore, but if the person you choose lives in a highly secured environment, a plausible set of security failures (guards asleep, cameras malfunctioning, …) will be devised that makes it at least vaguely plausible that they simply left in a mundane way.*

    So, who gets the time-out?

    [*]: They didn’t, of course. Our friends with the space ships the size of small moons are at it again. Teleporter, stasis field, cloaking field. You read science fiction; you know the drill.

    • Lambert says:

      Does Xi have a clear sucessor, or would there be a power vacuum?

      • Aftagley says:

        I don’t know if it would rise to the level of power vacuum, as the CCP has been pretty good about maintaining itself, but there definitely isn’t a clearly established successor yet and Xi has been consolidating power around himself lately. The current money for who’s next is Hu Haifeng, some of former president Hu Jintao, but he’s a long way off from being a real contender.

    • Eponymous says:

      This person will disappear from their daily life and reappear six months later, with no memory of the intervening time.

      Sounds more like giving the world a time out from them, than giving them a timeout to think about what they’ve done.

      Can I pick my son? (Kidding, kidding…)

    • The Nybbler says:

      Alex Jones, for the lulz.

    • Deiseach says:

      Ordinarily I’d disapprove of this kind of interference in someone’s life (why do you want to make A disappear for six months?) but right now I’m strongly inclining to have it happen to Boris.

      I know this story is from The Sun which means it’s total crap and I know it’s been discredited by Downing Street and I know they used the old device of “a senior unnamed anonymous source says”, but (a) there are too many on the UK side who do think the Republic should just meekly trot along after Britain and do what our former masters tell us and (b) Boris is angling for a general election and is setting the terms up such that if a no-deal hard Brexit happens, he can blame the Paddies for being spoilers and wreckers and the EU for being intransigent (right now it looks like they are setting up Macron and Merkel as the Baddies here) and that it’s not at all the fault of the British who were being nice and generous and fair all along.

      Why are the Irish being stubborn about the backstop? Well, first, this version is the one you guys wanted, when you capitulated to the DUP, which you are now calling “undemocratic” and all the rest of it, and second no we don’t trust your promises of magic pixie dust technology to run the border without the need for patrols or stops or anything at all, and thirdly and most importantly of all, we don’t trust you, we don’t trust your “oh you don’t need anything written down, surely you can just take the word of an English gentleman for it?” because you lot always break your agreements, so we want it all written down with carefully spelled-out conditions and as binding as it can be made (even though you’ll still try to break it anyway, look what you’re doing with the Good Friday Agreement which is an international treaty).

      • Aftagley says:

        Oof, that Telegraph article is behind a paywall, but even that first paragraph is hard to get through…

        What is tough is watching the ridiculous behaviour of the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his foreign minister, Simon Coveney, trying to destroy, like wilful children, relations with an ancient and friendly neighbour.

        I’d buy the ancient part… but friendly? That’s a questionable word choice.

        Are this kind of sentiment among the English still common towards the Irish?

        • Deiseach says:

          Well, Bruce Arnold is what we’d call a West Brit if he were actually Irish or even Anglo-Irish – the part about “I have lived amongst and loved the simple quaint natives for sixty years until they got uppity notions” gives you the gist of how some English viewed, and apparently still view, us.

          The Republic is an independent nation, and that sits badly with some of the Unionist (not Ulster Unionist, these are the people in the rest of the island left stranded after Partition) tendency: they pine for the good old days of being British subjects of the World’s Greatest Empire and the chance that if they licked enough boots long enough they might get a knighthood in the end.

          In the 80s and 90s there were quite a few would-be movers and shakers, particuarly those in the newspaper media who thought of themselves as opinion-formers, who leaned ‘unionist’ because they aspired to London-style lifestyles and levels of sophistication, and so always compared Ireland and England to the disadvantage of Ireland. They wanted the English to like and love them, so they went for the “nationalism is so passé and provincial, why did we have a revolution at all, why can’t we be best pals with the British and thank them for al they did for us?” Again, the pre-Republic term for them would have been Castle Catholics. One fine example, Eoghan Harris (who is still at it) even boasted about his children converting to Protestantism (even though he was an atheist and ex-Catholic himself); you see the strain of thinking here? Religion may be bunk, but it’s only badwrongterrible if it’s Catholicism; Church of Ireland Protestant has nice Anglo and British connotations of higher social class and status and respectability, so he’s boasting of rising above his station in life by proxy.

          That’s harsh but I am a bit miffed about the constant “why can’t the Irish be English?” refrain whenever the Brits put their foot in things and cast about for someone else to shift the blame onto.

  22. rubberduck says:

    I have a serious sweet tooth and want to do something about it, because although my weight is healthy, I won’t be young and have a fast metabolism forever. On top of that, I’m scared of diabetes and my teeth are already pretty bad. However, I have been eating candy almost daily since childhood so I anticipate that breaking this habit will be difficult.

    Rather than struggle against the temptation of buying sweets every time I enter a grocery store, wouldn’t it be easier to just eat a bunch of candy and give myself mild food poisoning immediately after? I’m thinking drinking slightly expired milk or something similar- it shouldn’t be enough to require hospitalization, just to feel bad for a couple hours. Even if it wasn’t the cause of the sickness, I find that food always becomes permanently much less appetizing if I get sick after eating it, so logically if I get sick after eating candy it should be an easy way to stop desiring sweets.

    This seems like an obvious solution, yet I have never heard of anyone even suggesting it, let alone attempting it. Is there some obvious concern that I am overlooking? Am I underestimating the dangers of slightly expired milk? Alternately, has it already been demonstrated not to work?

    I realize that my idea probably wouldn’t do much about the cravings that are at the heart of the problem, but I’m trying to cut back on sugar specifically, not go on a diet, so I don’t mind candy being substituted with something else provided it’s less sugary/more nutritious.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Please don’t try and poison yourself. I doubt you can do it that easily and I doubt something as base as a sugar craving will respond to this idealized Pavlovian training. You’ll just find something else until you forget about the association.

      I do not trust in your ability to dial in the appropriate level of food poisoning. I foresee you drinking a lot of spoiled milk to no effect.

      My suspicion is that at least part of these cravings have to do with blood sugar fluctuations. Especially if you say you eat candy everyday, your body is probably in a rhythm of spiking blood sugar. If you want my “just easy” trick, it’s fast on just water for a full day if you can, then start taking fiber such as Metamucil and drinking lots of water every day while eating normally. This keeps the stomach feeling full, fiber and water are good for you, and hopefully some days of this will tune you in to a different blood sugar pattern.

      Replacing candy with fruit is ideal, but in my experience as a former binger the lustful rush of sugar and sweetness and texture isn’t similar enough and I could never actually do it. Do you drink artificially sweetened drinks? Stop that immediately (at the very least switch to plain sugar), as artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar and tend to warp one’s palette. Calorically they may be godsend, but for cravings no.

      The really hardcore thing is to cut out sugar entirely, go keto for months at a time. But that’s for people with willpower and no non-keto friends.

      And of course, non of this touches on any of the more psychological reasons you may be craving sugar.

      • rubberduck says:

        Thanks for the thorough response! I will try some of your suggestions.

        I don’t drink sweetened drinks and generally think I’m good at avoiding “hidden sugars”- I avoid pre-made sauces, cereals, etc. It’s more like craving a chocolate bar or fruit gummies every evening, except if you eat one bite of chocolate then fifteen minutes later the blood sugar drops and you want another and before you know it you’ve eaten the entire bar. I really mostly want to get rid of the impulse to eat something sweet and having the blood sugar drop afterwards.

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          Well if sweet gummies are one of the triggers, maybe incorporate a fiber/probiotic gummy. Less sugar spike, same toothsomeness.

        • AG says:

          Start chewing gum instead of eating candy?
          Do jumping jacks/pushups/stretches when you get a craving outside of meal times?
          Or the popular asian solution: drink green tea whenever you get a craving? (and slowly ratchet down the amount of sweetener in it?)

      • Matt M says:

        Please don’t try and poison yourself.

        Why we love SSC: Because it’s a place where even a statement like “Don’t poison yourself” is inevitably followed by a multi-paragraph explanatory defense.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      Reminiscent of the Sinclair Method for breaking alcoholism.

    • Atlas says:

      Well, I think I read that method described (though perhaps not suggested) as a way to remove interest in cigarettes in Jeph Loeb’s run on Hulk. It sounds (in my completely amateur, unprofessional opinion) like it might be effective, but you’d need a fair amount of willpower to make it work.

      Two suggestions:

      1. You can try “incremental” tapering off of a craving/addiction. That is, instead of trying to get rid of the desire overnight, you start by saying “I’m just going to cut back to indulging it 2/3 days.” That requires willpower and some discomfort, but much less than going from eating sweets everyday to trying to completely abstain from them. Then, after a few weeks, once you find that you don’t have any problems only eating sweets 2/3 days, you try to only eat them 1/2 days. And a few weeks later, you move to 1/3 days, and so on and so forth.

      I’ve found this method, which was suggested to me by a very wise fellow I know, quite effective because it puts forth manageable challenges.

      2. Try thinking about this, and various other things in life, slightly differently. Instead of, “I want to do something but I need to exercise willpower and make myself unhappy to not do it,” look at it like “I have a short-term desire to do this, but if I indulge that desire it will conflict with other, more powerful, long term desires of mine, so it’s in my enlightened self-interest not to do so.” I generally tend to be skeptical of these kind of “framing effects,” but at least personally I’ve found this a very useful way of looking at things.

    • fraza077 says:

      I think I remember someone writing in the Open Thread a couple of years back of a technique that involved buying copious amounts of the food, then chewing and spitting it out, for about 15 minutes each day. I kept thinking I should try it, but I never have.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      My method of choice is the same I use for getting rid of earworms: replace it with something else you like.

      Hopefully there are nutritious foods that you like, particularly fruits and vegetables, including cooked versions. If not, I encourage you to go find them; I think it likely that you’ll find many candidates. For instance, I like yellow squash or zucchini, sliced and steamed, and combined with sausage. Or wild rice with a few carrots or peas. Or ramen with chopped broccoli and ginger, with a dash of lemon juice. Or potatoes, celery, and carrots in a light broth, in a crockpot.

      Once you find such a thing, indulge in it whenever you feel like having candy. It will distract you until you feel sated.

      After a few weeks, you may find you’re effectively off candy.

    • iridium says:

      You are overestimating the effect of spoiled milk: it nearly always goes bad via lacto-fermentation, so it’s basically like drinking lumpy runny yogurt. Not pleasant but won’t make you sick either.

      Also if you eat two things right before getting food poisoning, and one of them is obviously suspicious on a gut level and the other isn’t, don’t count on the association covering both foods. Source: once I got food poisoning after eating wild mushrooms stuffed with bacon, and I *know* it’s because I undercooked the bacon, but my gut disagrees. I enjoy bacon as much as ever but find that species of mushroom totally unappetizing now.

      Is there some easily available drug that causes nausea? That would be a more reliable way to get the same effect.

      • rubberduck says:

        I chose the examples based on personal experience. I recently got sick from slightly spoiled milk, and I have also had the association transfer to unrelated foods. I realize this is a sample size of one but my gut is the only one meant to be influenced here anyway. Though you’re probably right that a drug would be more reliable.

    • Elementaldex says:

      My solution was to switch from using sugar when I cook to Swerve (processed erythritol). Since a large portion of the sweets I eat are homemade this has resulted in a substantial drop in my sugar consumption with no apparent side effects.

    • Deiseach says:

      wouldn’t it be easier to just eat a bunch of candy and give myself mild food poisoning immediately after?

      No it would not. You would need to repeat this several times to condition yourself into associating candy with unpleasant consequences, and even then it might not work – how many people swore to never drink again after their first hangover, then went right out and did it again? You could deliberately overeat candy until you make yourself sick, and you might feel bad enough to quit it for a couple of days, but then you’d get right back to the bad habit again.

      Also, you know that this is an artificial condition – that it’s not the candy making you sick, it’s the spoiled milk you are drinking, and this won’t fool the body: ‘ha ha, right, I still want delicious yummy candy, loser!’

      Also also, do not mess around with food poisoning. You might intend to only give yourself a mild dose of salmonella and end up with something worse. This is akin to trying to develop bulimia and it is a very bad idea.

      • Anthony says:

        It only took me two incidents with scallops to decide I don’t ever need to eat scallops again. First time it happened was at a past-its-prime restaurant, and about 3 – 4 hours after having scallops, I vomited up the entire dinner rather vigorously. Several months later, at a Chinese restaurant I’d never been to, the same thing happened.

        It’s entirely possible I was just unlucky (I thought that after the first incident), but it’s been over 15 years since I’ve eaten a scallop.

        • acymetric says:

          Food aversions can definitely develop faster than some are giving them credit for in this thread.

          That said, you knew it was the scallops. Have you also stopped eating or drinking everything else you had during that meal for the past 15 years? (I’m assuming it wasn’t literally just a giant plate of scallops with no sides/garnishes and nothing to drink). That (and not how quickly food aversion works) is why this plan wont work.

          @Deiseach already covered why it is a terrible idea even if it would work.

          • Matt M says:

            Food aversions can definitely develop faster than some are giving them credit for in this thread.
            That said, you knew it was the scallops.

            This. I feel like a “trick my body into having an aversion to X” is very unlikely to work when your mind knows it’s a trick.

    • onyomi says:

      Even if you succeed at making yourself temporarily grossed out by e.g. doughnuts, I don’t think you’ll be able to make yourself grossed out by the category “sweet.” Evolution wouldn’t let you develop an aversion to a whole category of some of the best blood sugar providers.

      Also, if you don’t have a weight problem now I question the need/desirability of trying to anticipate your body’s future needs by changing eating habits in advance. I had a pretty strong sweet tooth as a teen and 20-something. Now, in my late 30s, I’ve noticed I have less of one despite no effort. Best guess is my lower metabolism simply craves less sweet. Also unironically enjoying gin martinis is something I wouldn’t have expected in my 20s.

      I do eat more fruit now than I used to so another possibility is that whatever nutritional “box” I had previously checked with cookies is now getting checked by pineapple, etc. If you really want to try something, eating fruit when you crave sweet is probably innocuous at worst.

    • mustacheion says:

      I also have quite a severe sweet tooth. I can eat a filling dinner until I am completely full, and yet I cannot find myself experiencing satiation until I eat something sweet. And I can’t be comfortable and relax or sleep until I get that satiation.

      But I have found that I can substitute Medjool dates for candy. Five or six dates an hour after dinner is enough to satisfy me just fine. And I have much less craving for them during the rest of the day as a snack than I would for candy. It worked for me for about two years, although in the past few months I have fell off the bandwagon a bit with ice cream. Though I blame that partly on increased life stress.

    • blipnickels says:

      Look at the sugar in different kinds of candy and identify those with lower sugar. You can probably lower your sugar consumption dramatically with small changes.

      For example, Skittles have 43 grams of sugar.
      A Hershey Bar has 24 grams of sugar.
      Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup’s have 8 grams each.

      I mean, if you can quit candy, do so and tell me your secret. But if you’re primarily worried about diabeetus and your teeth, just switching your candy preference can have a significant impact with minimal investment. In general, look for chocolate, peanut butter, or other candies with more fat and less sugar.

  23. Eponymous says:

    Somewhat random question I was wondering about recently:

    Are there any historical examples of a country deciding to wholesale adopt the laws and institutions of another country to try to imitate its success? What were the consequences? And do you think this would work? What are the obstacles / why don’t people do this?

    This thought occurred to me a few months ago when I was thinking about what I would do if I were put in charge of a poor country.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Japan westernized real fast after WWII. Worked out okay for them. Still no IRL Gundams though, so maybe they’re not that great.

      • Eponymous says:

        How extensive was the adoption of western institutions? I know they shifted to a democratic form of government, but did they rewrite their legal code and so on?

        Regarding its success — I thought Japan very successfully industrialized before the war. Was post-war growth really so much faster than in this phase?

        • ana53294 says:

          My understanding is that the Japanese laws regarding fundamental rights of those prosecuted, are severely lacking from a Western point of view.

          The CEO of Renault, Carlos Ghosn, was arrested, not allowed to see his lawyer, interrogated without a lawyer, not released on bail despite it being extremely unlikely he could flee Japan, not allowed to see his wife all the time he was in jail.

          And this appears quite common in Japan, and not an exception made for Mr. Ghosn.

          • Aapje says:

            Being interrogated without a lawyer is fully legal in The Netherlands (for adults).

            Administrative detention exists in various countries, including the UK and US, although not for the type of crimes that Ghosn is accused of. However, it seems that Ghosn’s long detention resulted from abusing a loophole, by staggering indictments, each resulting in a new period of detention for each indictment.

            not released on bail despite it being extremely unlikely he could flee Japan

            Ghosn was provided homes in Tokyo, Rio, Beirut, Amsterdam and Paris. His wife tried to get access to the Beirut home during his detention.

            His lifestyle was that of a globetrotter, flying all over the place. If he isn’t a flee risk, then who is?

          • ana53294 says:

            So can they arrest you and interrogate you without a lawyer even after you ask for a lawyer, and refuse to talk without a lawyer? Can they deny your lawyer access to you and deny you access to legal counsel? If so, that would make the Netherlands seem a much worse country than I thought it was.

            Obviously, in Spain, and the US too, you can be interrogated without a lawyer, if you don’t ask for one. You have to ask for a lawyer before you get one. In Spain, people have been detained for a period without letting family/lawyers/doctors see them, and there have been credible allegations of torture. I find that such secret questioning leads to police getting away with lots of questionable things, and I think that it is something Spain should correct, even when it comes to terrorists.

            He would not have his passport; Japan is an island.

            Boarding a boat or a plane is much harder than driving a car through the border, or even walking through the border. Puigdemont took his car and just drove it across the French border until he was in Belgium, although he did it before he was officially indicted. Escaping by plane/boat is harder, and requires contacts with illegal smugglers.

            When Ghosn was released on bail, before his re-arrest, he was only allowed to go from his home to his lawyer’s office; he was denied the right to see his wife, and he couldn’t get out of home. How can a man like that escape, especially considering he is so famous in Japan that he would be immediately recognizable by anybody who sees him? He wasn’t allowed to use his phone, internet, or have visitors.

          • Aapje says:

            They have to let you talk to a lawyer after your arrest and before you are interrogated, unless you waive that right. There is no right to have a lawyer present during the interrogation (of an adult).

            He would not have his passport; Japan is an island.

            Which means that you can leave by boat. I doubt that it is hard to get on a sailing boat and ‘accidentally’ sail to China.

            Escaping by plane/boat is harder, and requires contacts with illegal smugglers.

            No, only if you cross a border in a direction where smuggling is common and the police are working hard. Even then it’s probably not that hard if you use a method that smugglers tend not to use. It’s probably quite doable to get from my country to the UK using a small boat without a passport, but much harder if you use the methods that Africans tend to use.

            How can a man like that escape, especially considering he is so famous in Japan that he would be immediately recognizable by anybody who sees him?

            It’s very common for people to wear surgical masks in Japan. If he’d wear that, perhaps with sunglasses, he looks just like every other old white gaijin.

        • FLWAB says:

          You are correct: Japan started westernizing waaaaay before WWII. Generally the Meiji era is considered as the era of major westernization in Japan, and the cultural change that came from that, and the Meiji era goes from 1868 to 1912. It really is a fascinating story: here’s the cliff notes.

          After sorting out the warring states period, Japan was remarkably stable and secure: the shoguns had finally established themselves firmly as the political rulers of Japan, and most of the old Samurai class that was used to civil war had been wiped out during the invasion of Korea (which was most of the point of invading Korea, but that’s another story) and things were getting chill. However weird barbarians from the west kept showing up, and Shogun Iemitsu decided that their strange ideas and foreign religion was a destabilizing element so he banned almost all foreign trade, stamped out Christianity, and started a period of near total isolation that would last from 1639 to 1853. In that long period Japan stagnated, getting soft and set in their ways (much like neighboring China, but more so). Suddenly in 1853 a bunch of American ships show up and say “We want to sell you stuff, and we won’t take no for an answer.” Their ships were bigger and tougher than anything Japan had to fight before, and their cannon outranged and outgunned Japanese cannon: they fired exploding shells! The Shogun soon realized that Japan had no way to defeat this small group of ships, and was forced into signing a treaty ending isolation.

          This humiliation was a huge wake up call to Japan. They couldn’t just sit around and do things the old ways anymore: just a decade before the Chinese had been forced into a humiliating treaty with Great Britain during the Opium Wars, and now this! If China can’t beat the westerners, than who can? The mainland was being carved up by western powers as they watched, and Japan was next on the plate. Things needed to change, and the new Emperor Meiji was just the man to do it.

          Japanese Emperors had been made powerless figureheads hundreds of years before, long before the warring states period. But now the Shogunate was weak, and Meiji had enough ambition to try to seize power. It was a bold move: imagine if a few hundred years from now the King of England suddenly wanted to become an absolute monarch again. He almost succeeded to, and he definitely succeeded at destroying the Shogunate. After he forced the Shogun to step down he formed a new government and issued the Five Charter Oath, which was a huge deal. Basically it said “You know all the cultural and political insitutions that have sustained us for the last three hundred years or so? Yeah, we need to throw all those in the dumpster and import new ideas so we can get strong like the Westerners.” They destroyed the remaining class system and basically tried to import a rough democracy wholesale from western counties: people’s assemblies, meritocracy, the whole enlightenment shebang. Meiji specifically wanted to stop “evil customs” from the past and seek out anything that would make Japan stronger. It was a time of immense social upheaval, but it ultimately worked. Japan sent scholars to study in the West, and they imported back any idea that would work: a western military structure, western dress, western industrialization, western political institutions. By 1890 the government was now a constitutional monarchy, with Meiji presiding over a National Diet with a Prime Minister and everything. He tried to make himself an absolute monarch at the same time, but in the end neither project worked out the way he hoped. You can’t change society completely, and a group of old elite families managed to gain effective control of the new government. Things got worse when Meiji died, as his son Taisho was generally quite ill and was too weak to throw his weight around: by the time his son, Hirohito, became Emperor the throne had last almost all of it’s power again, and the democratic government was mostly a puppet controlled by the military.

          But man did thing work out pretty well materially! Japan went from being full of peasant rice farmers to having railroads, factories, power plants, battleships, a modern military, the whole works. As far as tranplanting institutions go, it went very well: sure the whole democracy thing mostly failed because it was captured by elites and then the military, but hey democracy is pretty fragile as is. I mean look what happened to the French Revolution! What’s remarkable is that almost all this change from enforced from top down, and Japan went from the sleepy old man of East Asia to the Tiger of East Asia, one almost as strong as any Western power in the region.

          • Ketil says:

            Thanks for this!

          • b_jonas says:

            > You know all the cultural and political insitutions that have sustained us for the last three hundred years or so? Yeah, we need to throw all those in the dumpster and import new ideas so we can get strong like the Westerners.

            Were there also a few of those old institutions that would have been worth to keep, but got thrown out because they were associated with the old regime? I’m asking because there were a few such victims here in Hungary in the 1990s.

          • FLWAB says:

            Were there also a few of those old institutions that would have been worth to keep, but got thrown out because they were associated with the old regime?

            I’m not sure. It’s hard to run a counterfactual: maybe it would have been better to keep some of the institutions they threw out, but if so who knows which ones. In fact, you could argue they didn’t go far enough: religiously they rejected the idea of importing Christian ideas, and instead Meiji tried to restore the old Shinto religion back to it’s previous glory (Buddhism was dominant for most of the period of isolation, with Shinto relegated to a few old shrines and peasant customs). But that didn’t work out super well, and Japanese Buddhists started modifying their doctrines to import select ideas from the west (particularly Hegelianism) while also importing a lot of Zen ideas to create a new Japanese Zen Buddhism that became religiously dominant by WWII. I don’t know if that answers your question or not, but it’s interesting!

            A lot of the things they threw out really were kind of, well backward. At least in terms of competing with the West. They had a rigid class structure that had ensured social stability during the long period of isolation, but the fact is that meritocracy works better, and you can’t keep the peasants on the farm if you also want to start industrializing. Plus it’s hard to get industrial robber barons if you still have old fashioned barons hanging around acting like they own the place.

            If they remained as they were they would have ended up like China, completely dominated by the West with little political or economic control over their own affairs. As it was their reforms turned them into a major power in the region, and the only Eastern nation that could compete with the West: they were able to defeat Russia at sea, and fight them to a stalemate on land. Nobody else could do that. On the other hand, they ended up trying to conquer all of East Asia, committed countless atrocities, and were ultimately conquered and humiliated for their trouble. So was their Westernization a good thing or a bad thing for them? It’s a funny question: would you rather be Poland during WWII, or Germany? Germany was better in every way, except for the fact that they were evil, and in the end Germany ended up occupied just the same as Poland. It’s a impossible to quantify question.

    • bean says:

      The closest example I can think of is probably the Mejii Restoration in Japan. They managed to produce a superficially-western nation in a very short time, although I can’t shake the feeling that this might have set up tensions which ultimately lead to some very bad ideas in the 40s.

      The basic problem with wholesale adoption is that laws don’t exist in isolation from the rest of society, and institutions are even more intimately tied into the basic social fabric. To make them work, you need people who accept them, and that acceptance either has to be developed or enforced. The latter sort of works, but tends to lead to bad places. The former takes time. It’s something that can be developed, but it’s not going to happen just by changing the laws on the books.

      • bean says:

        To give a more concrete example of this, take tipping. In the US, tipping is the major source of income for waitstaff, and 15% or more is traditional. (This is not a defense of this practice. How good or bad an idea this is is outside the scope of this example.) This means that there are special rules involving pay and taxes that take this into account. It’s legal to pay them below minimum wage, assuming that they’ll make up the balance in tips. If you imported this law to a place with the tipping norms of Europe it wouldn’t work because everyone there assumes that the restaurant pays the waitstaff and tips are minimal/optional.

        This is a fairly simple example. The problem is that every law is like this.

        • EchoChaos says:

          To be fair, waiters and waitresses in the US are required to be brought up to minimum wage at the expense of the restaurant if their tips didn’t meet that margin.

          But yes, it would be a far less desirable job if that were the case.

          • Aftagley says:

            To be fair, waiters and waitresses in the US are required to be brought up to minimum wage at the expense of the restaurant if their tips didn’t meet that margin.

            Wait, really?

            Huh, apparently yes! I’ve been getting in arguments with people for years about tipping and I never knew this and it’s never come up. I always just assumed that waiters were SOL if they didn’t get tips.

            Thanks! I just learned something. I need to think about if this influences my opinion on tipping now.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aftagley

            I am glad to have added to the aggregate knowledge of the world today!

          • acymetric says:

            Waiters/waitresses are also supposed to be paid minimum wage if they spend more than [some percentage…maybe 30%? I forget] on “side-work” like rolling napkins or cleaning where they won’t have the opportunity to earn tips.

            In practice, these rules are hardly ever followed, and good luck barking up that tree and winning the battle if you’re the waiter getting shorted.

          • Aftagley says:

            @Acymetric

            How does that work? Employers will only pay out the tipped wage and refuse to pay up to the regular minimum?

            I’ve been operating under the general assumption for my entire life that if I don’t tip someone, they will only make $2.03/hr for the sum total of their interactions with me. Thus, if I think their service was worth more than $2.03/hr, the onus was on my to increase that to what I thought was equitable.

            If, on the other, my choice is “either I pay that guy minimum wage, or the company that’s already charging me for this sandwich will” the likelihood that I’ll tip decreases dramatically.

            So, which is it?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aftagley

            Employees who are spending that much of their time on side work are supposed to have a base rate of minimum wage and then get tips.

            Employees who are waiting most of the time get a very low minimum wage and then get tips.

            In either case, nobody will ever be paid as little as $2 an hour to interact with you, because the restaurant will make it up. However, most waiters would be very disappointed in only getting minimum wage for their work, because the average tip puts them far above it.

          • acymetric says:

            Yes, either they just flatly refuse and bank on the fact that the employee will never file any kind of complaint or if they do nothing will end up happening (both seem like reasonably likely outcomes, or maybe at worst they end up having to pay out the extra money or something).

            Or, if they want to be a little more legally covered, they do what employers do when they want to avoid paying overtime and move things around so that it appears the employee got minimum wage.

          • Plumber says:

            @Aftagley,

            Have you never worked for private industry?

            What’s legal and what you may get without being fired/layed off aren’t the same thing at all!

            OSHA safety rules, and the the reporting of job induced injuries spring readily to mind.

            Who gets what doesn’t depend on laws as much as it depends on how tight the labor market is and who has the whip hand at the moment.

            If you haven’t figured this out already I’m kinda envious of you.

            Look to what’s done not what’s written, i.e. any box with a sign that reads “suggestions are welcome” that management puts out may as well have a “drop a note in here if you want to be fired” sign as that’s what it really usually means.

            This is basic stuff.

            I’m guessing that you’ve never dated a waitress?

            If you don’t tip the employer will make it up if the employee knows their legal entitlements and may make them stick, but getting back wages will take months, more likely years, wrongful termination awards are a pittance, and meanwhile the rent is due now.

            Also, you pretty much tip where you’re a regular to keep spit out of your food.

          • helloo says:

            Yes, either they just flatly refuse and bank on the fact that the employee will never file any kind of complaint or if they do nothing will end up happening (both seem like reasonably likely outcomes,

            Is it common enough to be considered a likely outcome? Perhaps its optimism but though I dont doubt this happens, I dont feel it happens enough to be considered normal expectation.

            Is there any data on how many people in service jobs are being paid less than minimal wage after tips on their income tax?
            Remember that for the US, you are supposed to file for tips in income tax, though there’s the failure point where someone could be lying on how much tips they get. It might be difficult to figure out how to align tips with hours worked, but this seems like to be a common enough question for someone to have done the work for it.

          • acymetric says:

            @helloo

            Years of being in close to the service industry in various ways, including a lot of close friends and romantic partners mostly.

            Is there any data on how many people in service jobs are being paid less than minimal wage after tips on their income tax?

            There might be, but I don’t know where it is. Yes tips are reported to the IRS, but hours worked is not.

            Regardless, that doesn’t answer this question anyway. The requirement is on a week to week basis, not annual (which makes sense, because for someone working in the service industry making $30 one week because you got a run of bad tippers or the restaurant was just really slow could be disastrous financially).

          • Aftagley says:

            @ Plumber

            Yes, I work in private industry, yes, I currently tip everywhere I go (not just because of spit), and no, but I have a waiter.

            Look, I’m not shocked by the idea that an employer will try to reduce the amount they have to pay. Restaurants being somewhat terrible employers that will try and underpay their waiters and waitresses is exactly what I thought was happening. I just had no clue that they were doing it in violation of the law and there’s basically 0 public outrage.

            Take your OSHA example. Yes, it’s not particularly well enforced and lord knows I’ve done some work in places 100% not OSHA compliant, but people still know it exists. You still occasionally see people violating OSHA get punished. I legitimately didn’t know this minimum wage protection existed until now and have never heard of someone successfully suing to ensure they got it.

          • Deiseach says:

            To be fair, waiters and waitresses in the US are required to be brought up to minimum wage at the expense of the restaurant if their tips didn’t meet that margin.

            But does that work? That kind of work is precarious, and I could see an employer reasonably (if the reason the waiter isn’t making tips is because they’re bad at the job) or unreasonably (because they’re a bad employer) deciding to fire the waiter rather than pay the legal requirement. What is the waiter going to do, take them to court? That would require them to have enough money to pay a lawyer and time to pursue the case in court, and if they’re working as a waiter how likely is that?

            There have been some controversies (most noticeably one about a swanky posh restaurant in Dublin) over tips and who gets them; it’s more normal to put a service charge on the bill instead of tips and then the staff are supposed to get that distributed amongst them, but some businesses keep that for themselves/the owners.

            Unless you have a union backing you, as an individual it seems it would be more difficult to get your legal entitlements out of the boss; I know restaurants and hotels over here constantly claim they can’t get enough staff, but I also know that this is because of a perception that it’s poorly-paid work in bad working conditions where the owners will screw you over (and the cases I have personal knowledge about, this is exactly what happens). So there’s high staff turnover, and the jobs are often filled by students wanting part-time/summer work which they will then give up when they return to college, so for all those reasons, bosses tend to prefer to let people go, because they can always hire on some warm body to replace them. Waiters would have more power if they could all walk out of a restaurant that didn’t pay the legal rate and they couldn’t be replaced, but if the owner is gambling on “somebody will be desperate enough for work to apply” then it’s no skin off their nose if an unhappy employee leaves, because the churn is so high anyway and they’re easily replaced and probably won’t have the resources to take them to court.

          • acymetric says:

            The reason you don’t really see people suing over it is because (at the scale of a given week) you’re talking about maybe $50-$150 in compensation. Which is enough that it sucks not to get it, but probably not enough that it is worth initiating any kind of legal action (not to mention the risk of losing your job and possibly getting blackballed in the local restaurant industry as the person who sued their boss over wage issues).

          • CatCube says:

            The other limb of this is that the employee may actually be making good money based off of tips, and have budgeted for that. Even if the employer were to make it up to minimum wage, if they’re normally making a good multiple of that, losing the tips will hurt.

            Of course this isn’t as big a concern if you’re the only one doing it in a one-off transaction, but especially in a higher-end restaurant, a table of people who don’t tip could represent a severe income shock to the waiter, even if the employer complies with the law.

          • Aftagley says:

            I get the reasons why the average waiter or waitress wouldn’t want to potentially disrupt their employment over a few hundred bucks, but that’s not the same as understanding why there’s seemingly none who have. I just expected there to be outliers here.

            You’d think at least one lawyer would have gone trolling through this issue for a class-action suit, or some politician would have pressured the DoL to better enforce this as a way of signaling allegiance with low-income workers.

          • Anthony says:

            @Deiseach – deciding to fire the waiter rather than pay the legal requirement.,

            A restaurant in most places in the U.S. can say “your tips aren’t enough, so you’re obviously not giving good enough service for our customers, and you’re fired”, but they are also legally required to make sure the person actually earned a total that’s at least minimum wage for the time they actually worked.

          • ECD says:

            This is a moderately hilarious conversation. The term you’re looking for is wage theft and it’s an extremely common cause of action (see e.g. https://www.spigglelaw.com/employment-blog/restaurants-sued-often-breaking-wage-hour-laws/ a plaintiff firm, talking about the cases), as well as an extremely common form of government intervention. See for example, the Wage and Hour Divisions news releases: https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/whd

            And see their nice website explaining the $304 million recovered last FY in back pay (not just on tips, obviously): https://www.dol.gov/whd/data/

            Wage theft is a major issue in a large number (I can’t say the majority as I haven’t studied it) of hourly/overtime-eligible positions.

            Edit: add link I left out of original response and correct a minor error (referred to this year, not last FY in the recovered back pay numbers)

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Two somewhat random examples:

      United States of Mexico adopted what was a close copy of US constitution in 1857, altough it was somewhat longer document.

      Czechoslovakia after 1948 strived to imitate Soviet Union in all institutions as closely as possible. I am not sure whether you would count that as imitation of success, but Czechoslovak communists certainly thought about it that way.

    • Another example is Turkey. After WW1, the leader Musfafa Kemal Ataturk went all in on Westernization, changing the country both socially, economically and economically. He even went so far as to adopt a new written script based on the latin alphabet. I don’t know all the specifics but it does seem like it was successful.

      • Matt M says:

        I’m hardly an expert, but my understanding of modern Turkish history is that it was only successful because, when the masses inevitably decided to start electing an Islamic government, the military would institute a coup, get rid of all the elected politicians, and tell the electorate to try again with someone secular.

        And that Erdogan seems to have successfully broken this cycle.

        • Machine Interface says:

          Having studied the history of Turkey myself, my understanding is that the previous coups were more against politicians who were seen as too liberal and reformist, and Erdoğan was the first time an openly islamic politician was even allowed to run at all.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Atatürk’s reforms aimed at transforming the ruins of the Ottoman Empire into a modern Turkish Republic notably involved throwing out the entire Islamic-based Ottoman body of law and adopting a civil code based on that of Switzerland and a penal code based on that of Italy. This was supported by radical reforms in all aspects of society, including adopting the Latin alphabet, adopting the western calendar, giving equal voting rights to men and women (in 1934!), banning islamic head-covering, removing Arabic and Persian loanwords from Turkish vocabulary and replacing them with native coinages, etc.

      This did radically transform Turkish society in only a few years, though did not really into a liberal democracy, as Atatürk’s authoritarian methods also instigated a tradition of one party rule and military intervention into politics, and ultimately created a lot of ressentment among the more religious part of the population; the continued popular support for the increasingly authoritarian Erdoğan is essentially the result of decades of suppressed religious opposition to secular elites suddenly bubbling up to the surface — even if Erdoğan itself is careful to never present himself as openly and explicitely against Atatürk’s spiritual inheritance, since that would essentially be attacking a foundational myth of the Republic.

      Edit: dang, ninja’d.

      • Eponymous says:

        Thanks. This sounds like a very good example of what I’m talking about.

        I am curious why more countries haven’t tried something like this, and (given that it’s unusual) why Turkey did. Was it just that WW1 and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was so traumatic that it allowed Ataturk to institute such sweeping changes? Was Turkish/Ottoman governing culture unusually flexible/pragmatic/open?

        • Aftagley says:

          IIRC it was a bunch of things that led to it.

          1. There wasn’t really a Turkey before Ataturk. He was the general that expelled the allies and directly led to the creation of the Republic. Being literal actual George Washington helps get your preferred policies enacted.

          2. Prior to his reforms, Turkey, well, the Ottoman Empire, was incredibly out of date and everyone knew it (at least the younger generation, who ardently supported him) did. Public sentiment was definitely on the side of reform.

          3. This one is my opinion, but I think it might be easier to implement these kinds of changes when your current policies are hopelessly out of date or at least massively different than the ones that your seeking to implement. I don’t think it’s likely one liberal democracy would ever willingly abandon its laws and implement someone else’s, but we’ve got a few examples of feudal monarchies (Japan), theocratic sultanates (Turkey) or failing communist states (eastern Europe/Russia) doing so.

        • Machine Interface says:

          In complement to what Aftagley said, it should also be noted that Atatürk’s reforms didn’t come out of a vacuum, many of the things he did were things the preceding government of the Young Turks tried but mostly failed to implement due to political inertia and infighting.

          The whole project of replacing the Arabic alphabet with the Latin one was an old idea, and not just in Turkey — this was being done throughout Soviet Russia, in the Balkans, and there were even later proposals to do so in Lebanon and Egypt (even further, even China and Japan had movements of reformers who wanted to have the Latin alphabet replace the local systems).

          Many governments of Muslim majority countries tried to do similar things, but eventually ran afool of a revolting religious population (Iran is the classic case — the Shah’s brand of agressive secularism fueled enormous ressentment that eventually led to the Iranian revolution being deeply religious in nature).

          I think the reason they all failed (and the reason Turkey can be seen as a partial faillure too, in light of recent years), is because all these countries took cues from France, but overlooked something very important: in France secularism started as a bottom-up, not top-down impulsion.

          France on the eve of the Revolution was in a state of profound religious crisis: entire provinces were dissatisfied with the authority of the Church and of the King (as a divine ruler), and many people were effectively irreligious in all but in explicit confession. When the French revolution turned violent and started persecuting the Church, this wasn’t just a bunch of elites trying to “free the people from their superstitions”, this was the reflection of a large scale hostility to the church deeply rooted into large swaths of the French population.

          And even like this, it took more than a century from there for France to finally vote a law separating Church and State, in 1905, with in between no less than ten regime changes in the country!

          Trying to make the same change happen in a few years in countries where 90%+ of the population is still deeply religious seems, at best, optimistic.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      The Acquiss Communautaire is essentially this, formalized into a process with external verification.

      And it works pretty well. Of course, it is also tied up as all heck with the EU.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I don´t think that meets specified criteria, since it isn´t the law of any single country transplanted to another country, but something analogous to US federal law.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          The Acquiss is far more than just laws, it is the building of institutions on the European model. That is pretty explicitly a very large chunk of why the fall of the iron curtain was followed by expansion of the EU – it is a road map to follow if you want to transform your society.

    • lvlln says:

      What about South Korea? I actually know very little about the government there, but the way it’s structured with a president, legislature, and an independent judiciary seems to have largely been copied from the USA system. This seems to have been implemented in the 80s, and so far South Korea seems to have found some decent success since that time, though the sense I get is that its politics are still more corrupt than the USA’s.

    • blipnickels says:

      The Chinese tried this and failed repeatedly

      The Qing Dynasty tried this following the embarrassing Opium Wars and failed pretty hard.

      The early Chinese communists were heavily influenced by the Soviets, until they were all massacred. Mao’s rural/peasant movement grew because those were the only people outside the urban/proletariat purge zones.

      I’ve heard that the Whampoa Military Academy basically taught Soviet/German military tactics and that the early National Revolutionary Army that Chaing Kai Shek led was basically a small army trained to decent Western standards. This was super effective against Chinese warlord armies but as those warlord armies surrendered/joined the Kuomintang, the quality got diluted.

      Most of Justin Yifu Lin’s writing on Chinese growth suggests that most Chinese modernization is not based on copying Western methods/standards but on home grown innovation. Basically, China has different cost and production structures than the West and it’s environment is different than what the West had, ie the West didn’t have highly industrialized foreign markets to compete against. ChinaEconTalk has a similar theses in a recent podcast on Chinese bureaucracy and business development.

      But yeah, from the 1850’s to probably the 1990’s the Chinese have been trying to copy foreign imperialists or Soviets and basically failing nonstop, save small military units. They kind of tried to copy the US under Deng, although it’s better to say they copied Singapore, but now they seem pretty confident in their own hybrid system. The best example of wholesale adoption is probably the early Chinese Communist Party, who’s was very dependent on Moscow and got wrecked for it.

  24. Aftagley says:

    I was recently talking about the ongoing fracas between the fed and the current administration with some fellow millennials and I realized that, with 0 exception, none of them knew what the interest rate was or why it mattered.

    I’ve kept asking friends and acquaintances about this topic and, IMO, the results have been nuts. With the exception of either people who directly work in finance, of the 26 people I’ve asked, none of them have a good understanding of what it is or why it matters. For reference, these people are all college graduates, most of them either work in government or media and have expressed above-average interest in the workings of the USG.

    I’ve got three hypotheses that would explain these results:
    1. The federal interest rate isn’t as important as I originally thought.
    2. My results were anomalous and my friend group is just preposterously uninformed on this topic.
    3. (my pet theory) The federal interest rate is important, but since the decisions happen behind closed doors and it’s largely seen as an apolitical decision, there’s no culture war around the topic, which means average people don’t care.

    What do you think?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      4. Virtually nobody knows anything that isn’t directly relevant to their daily life / work.

      I work with graduate students and PhDs as well as medical students and MDs at a world-class institution with numerous Nobelists. My friend group outside of work includes a surprising number of Ivy-educated FAANG employees. I wouldn’t expect any of those people to be able to explain what the Federal Reserve does or why it’s important. It doesn’t matter to them and they’re not intellectually curious enough to look it up for themselves.

      Those of us who actively seek out trivia are the weirdos. Even very smart people generally just don’t care about this stuff.

      • Aftagley says:

        4. Virtually nobody knows anything that isn’t directly relevant to their daily life / work.

        Right, but there’s clearly a threshold for this, right? I mean, look at the rest of politics. Most people know about the hot-button issues even if the connection to their daily life is pretty tenuous. If nothing else, you need to know about some topics to not feel like an idiot at dinner parties. Why do some topics rise to that level and this one doesn’t?

        • I think you’re right that the fed isn’t as obviously political as something like abortion but it’s also the fact that it’s considered boring and esoteric and people don’t like talking about boring things.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I don’t think that most people do know about politics beyond being able to regurgitate talking points on cue.

          I’ve had bewildering conversations with people who feel strongly about some political figure of the moment but clearly have no idea who the person in question is or what they did to inspire those feelings. They know how they’re supposed to feel and what they’re supposed to say but nothing beyond that.

          • Gossage Vardebedian says:

            Second this. If someone brings up a topic of the moment and you respond with any detail; that someone usually looks wide-eyed at you as if to say, “I wasn’t prepared for an actual discussion!”

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            “The US has more aircraft carriers than all the other nations combined!”
            “Well, we do have a need for more carriers. You see-”
            “I don’t care”

            An actual conversation I have had, circa 10 years ago

        • Gobbobobble says:

          If nothing else, you need to know about some topics to not feel like an idiot at dinner parties.

          Lots of people are perfectly happy to just talk out their ass about any topic that comes up

          • Back when I was in the habit of arguing climate issues on FB, I came to the conclusion that almost nobody on either side of the argument understood the greenhouse effect. Almost everyone thought CO2 was simply an insulator, like a blanket. It didn’t occur to them that, if that were the case, it would block the incoming light as well as the outgoing.

            I wonder how many people take it for granted that wrapping ice cubes in a blanket would make them melt faster.

          • AG says:

            Lots of people are perfectly happy to just talk out their ass about any topic that comes up

            Which end of a choco-cornet do you start from? And which side’s the head? The fat end or the thin end?

          • lvlln says:

            Which end of a choco-cornet do you start from? And which side’s the head? The fat end or the thin end?

            Darling please, put down the sweets and go buy sausage.

          • bullseye says:

            Well dang. It occurs to me that *I* have no idea how the greenhouse effect works. I know how actual greenhouses work, but that’s different. I don’t argue about it though.

    • Matt M says:

      I complained a few topics ago that something seems to have happened within the last 15 years or so such that the federal interest rate no longer seems to be nearly as directly correlated with the average savings account, car loan, etc.

      If true, then what’s the point of knowing what the federal rate is when it doesn’t seem to actually affect your actual life in any way. If the fed raising interest rates by 0.5% doesn’t result in your savings account yielding 0.5% more, then who even cares?

      • ana53294 says:

        What the Fed or ECB does doesn’t seem to affect the interest rate on the mortgage you get, and in any case, most mortgage contracts have a floor (despite negative interest rates, nobody gets a free mortgage).

        But it does seem to affect the yield you’re able to get on deposits; deposits suck right now in most developed countries.

        • Matt M says:

          deposits suck right now in most developed countries.

          Yes, and my point is, this wasn’t always the case.

          Like, I’m going off memory here and not data, so maybe I’m wrong. But my perception is that back in say, 2007, I had a savings account and it was yielding something like 4%. Then, a recession happened, and every so often, I’d see a news article saying “The Fed lowered interest rates by 0.25% and, sure enough, when I checked my savings account, the interest rate was lower by 0.25%” This kept happening until the rate fell to something like 0.25%.

          Then, we supposedly started having a recovery. I’d see articles saying “The Fed has raised interest rates by 0.25%”, but if I checked my account, the yield remained unchanged. Despite report after report of the fed raising rates, I don’t think that particular account ever went above 1% ever again. It certainly never got back to anywhere close to the 4% it was at in 2007…

          • ana53294 says:

            On the other hand, despite ECB interest rates being negative, deposits never go below 0. It hasn’t happened in the US but at least you know that.

            In Spain, because we had a lot of problematic banks, the deposit rates usually would depend on how much the banks need cash deposits.

            For me, an above market deposit rate is a sign that the bank is in trouble, as the banks that had high deposit rates (such as Banco Popular, which was acquired by Santander for a euro), ended with problems. And although in theory Spain has the equivalent of the FDIC, nobody wants to be the one who waits to get compensated, because the Spanish government and judiciary are not known to pay up fast.

          • DragonMilk says:

            And that’s when I (belatedly) moved my savings out of big banks (BoA) and opened online bank accounts.

            That seemed more related to banks having enough assets and thinking they can get away with paying nothing on them.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m talking about an online bank account!

          • Dan L says:

            Your bank is screwing you. It’s trivial to get 1.9% at Ally, and not that much harder to crack 2% at a few other places even before looking into CDs.

          • Matt M says:

            I already made that switch.

            But I don’t want 2%. I want 4%. Or higher. Why could I get that in 2007 but not now?

          • Dan L says:

            I’m not sure what the question is.

            I complained a few topics ago that something seems to have happened within the last 15 years or so such that the federal interest rate no longer seems to be nearly as directly correlated with the average savings account, car loan, etc.

            Despite report after report of the fed raising rates, I don’t think that particular account ever went above 1% ever again.

            Interest rates crashed and savings accounts followed, but in 2016 the Fed started raising rates again, nine times, a quarter-point at a time. Some banks klept their rates near zero for Reasons, but others raised theirs appropriately and now you can get 2%. You can’t get 4% because that’s not where the rate is at. “Why is the federal rate at 2.25% instead of something higher?” is a much broader question, and probably requires looking upstream of the Fed.

        • Deiseach says:

          deposits suck right now in most developed countries.

          That’s very noticeable, and it’s not just right now, it’s going back at least a couple of decades. When I was a small child, putting your money into the bank to save it was considered frugal and prudent because you would earn interest on it – not huge amounts, but a nice little extra that would add in to the money you socked away every year.

          Then at some time, that deposit rate went down like a stone in the sea but borrowing money meant the interest rate was going up like a helium balloon with the string cut. And although borrowing rates are somewhat better today, the deposit rates are useless, such that you might as well keep the money under the mattress. I don’t know enough to know how or why this happened, but I do think banks realised they could jiggle things a bit downwards for this and a bit upwards for that, and the difference would be profit for them, and then they kept on adjusting until now we’re as good as paying them to hold our money which they then lend out at profit to themselves.

          I don’t object to banks earning profits and I do realise we need to pay them for storing our money and providing services, but the money they are lending out is ours not theirs. (Yes, I know that banks nowadays are lending out more than they can possibly hold in customers’ deposits, this article explains that nicely, but I’m grumbling here, don’t expect me to stick to just the facts).

      • Randy M says:

        I suspect that indirectly the federal interest rate (which is the rate at which the federal reserve loans money to banks, right?) will affect me, but since I can’t affect it, and I can learn about the more proximal factors of relevance (ie, the rate on my particular credit card or similar offers), going any deeper doesn’t seem to help me any.
        Maybe if I was about to buy a house it could clue me in to whether it was better to finance now or wait a few months, but the general state of the real estate market seems more important to consider.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I suspect that indirectly the federal interest rate (which is the rate at which the federal reserve loans money to banks, right?) will affect me

          That’s the discount rate. The Federal Funds rate is the rate at which banks lend each other money on a very short term basis (“overnight” — the loan term from close of business to open of business the next day, I believe) to cover their reserve requirements. The rate the Fed sets is the target for this rate, the actual rate of any given loan is set by negotiation between the banks and the Fed changes it indirectly.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The prime rate for business loans slavishly follows the Federal Funds rate. The average mortgage rate follows it roughly. Part of the reason you might see it not being so correlated is it hasn’t changed much lately.

        Chart

    • ana53294 says:

      What the interest rate was or why it mattered.

      I must say, despite my efforts to understand it, I don’t think I know much about it. I have a vague idea that somehow increasing interest rates -> decrease inflation/decrease monetary mass, and more printing money -> lower interest rates.

      A lot of what the Fed (or the ECB) seems like dark magic to me. How has the Fed managed to keep positive interest rates despite an expansionary monetary policy, while the Eurozone has negative interest rates?

      After asking it in an open thread some time ago, I got an explanation why investors buy negative interest bonds; namely, the impossibility of burying the money in the backyard (problematic with billions of dollars), and the FDIC (and european equivalent) only applying to amounts much lower than a million dollars. I still find it hard to believe it though.

      I think a lot of people don’t understand how it works because it’s hard to understand, and is frequently based on unintuitive explanations. Especially MMT.

      • Aftagley says:

        I must say, despite my efforts to understand it, I don’t think I know much about it. I have a vague idea that somehow increasing interest rates -> decrease inflation/decrease monetary mass, and more printing money -> lower interest rates.

        This level of comprehension is approximately 1000% more than I got from most people I asked. Do you think that maybe the wicked complexity of the entire system just put people off from learning anything about it?

        • ana53294 says:

          Most people are scared of everything that relates to money.

          I was genuinely shocked when I met British people who had studied in university by getting a loan, and had no idea how much money they owe.

          Like, literally, didn’t even know even the order of magnitude of what they owed. Most of them didn’t expect to ever pay it back (UK student loans are only repayed after a certain income threshold, and if not repayed, are cancelled after 25 years).

          I mean, I get that you may find it unnecessary to make extra payments towards the loan, despite the high interest, if you expect it to be cancelled. But I personally find it very strange that people are OK being saddled with debt, on a promise it will be forgiven by the government.

          Maybe they trust the government more? I wouldn’ trust the Spanish governments’ promise to give me something in 25 years for anything.

          • Randy M says:

            Litany of tarski vs ignorance is bliss.

          • ana53294 says:

            I don’t get the reference; could you give a link?

          • Eponymous says:

            It’s an eliezerism.

            “Litany of Tarski” is a sentence of the form “If X, then I desire to believe ‘X'”. Thus “If the sky is blue, I desire to believe the sky is blue.”

            It’s named after Tarski’s phrase, “‘Snow is white’ is true iff snow is white.”

            Note that litany of Tarski is logically equivalent to semantic theory of truth plus view that you should always seek to believe true things (which is arguable, e.g. ‘ignorance is bliss’).

          • Lambert says:

            Really?

            The whole thing was a national scandal for the Lib Dems, when the Coalition raised tuition from 3k to 9k per anum.

            It’s the reason there’s a famous autotuned apology from the then deputy PM.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUDjRZ30SNo

            And I don’t think it’s the kind of thing where the government can unilaterally change the terms that way without provoking a massive backlash.

          • Nick says:

            @Randy M @Eponymous
            I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, the Litany of Tarski doesn’t preclude rational ignorance, and ignorance prima facie doesn’t imply false knowledge, right? On the other, not all knowledge is propositional, so you may e.g. act inconsistently with some truth without even realizing you ‘believe’ or don’t ‘believe’ it. Suppose I’m a carpenter who uses 22/7 in place of more accurate approximations of pi. And suppose I don’t know whether 22/7 is pi or not; still, I work as if it is. (Maybe not the best example, of course, since approximations like 22/7 work fine a lot of the time.) Am I violating the Litany of Tarski?

            ETA: Tags

          • ana53294 says:

            I don’t believe in the Spanish government’s ability to keep paying decent pensions. Why would I treat any other permission by the government differently?

            The thing is, loan forgiveness will happen in 25 years. That is a lot of years. A lot of things can happen in 25 years.

            The government constantly breaks promises; how can anybody trust the government’s promise to do the right thing in 25 years?

          • ana53294 says:

            @Lambert

            Most western governments, including Spain and the UK, have a demographic problem, and huge debt. Despite some people believing that debt doesn’t matter, I believe it does.

            I am not saying people should repay their student debt despite it not making economic sense on the assumption that it will be written off in 25 years. I am saying people should know how much they owe, and have a contingency plan, and some savings, towards paying the debt if the government does not keep its promise.

            By, for example, putting some money towards paying the student debt into a stock ISA, that could cover the debt completely if it is not forgiven.

            Same thing you should do with your pension; calculate how much NI pension you expect to get at your desired retirement age, and try to make a budget and get a private pension that makes it possible to live OK without it.

          • Randy M says:

            @ana53294,
            A lot of people–and I have this inclination–will feel a lot better ignoring even immanent problems. Problems which would be better handled with a plan and rational knowledge, but that requires facing the problems and worrying about it ahead of time when you could be spending that thought time on something pleasant.

            For instance, in High School Economics, we had a group project to plan a business and do a presentation on it. I, the introvert, ended up without a group. Thinking about the project required facing some unpleasant facts about my grades, social skills, etc. Instead, I could think about something else, then deal with the problem when it came by mumbling that I didn’t do the project, averting my gaze when questioned about why not, and getting by on test scores for the semester.

            People who are allowed to borrow a sum that they can’t imagine a plan to pay back are probably taking a similar irrational strategy.
            Actually it may be rational if you account for significant future discounting, but on the whole I’d prefer to train myself to consider harsh truths ahead of time.

            edit:@Nick

            Suppose I’m a carpenter who uses 22/7 in place of more accurate approximations of pi. And suppose I don’t know whether 22/7 is pi or not; still, I work as if it is. (Maybe not the best example, of course, since approximations like 22/7 work fine a lot of the time.) Am I violating the Litany of Tarski?

            I have to agree with you–that’s not a great example. 😉 Because you the carpenter there have a justified belief that your assumption is correct–it works for you. I don’t think rationality requires you to dig deep into every thing you think you know, even when it works, but is more about being open and observing when facts don’t work together. Notice when you are confused, and seek to resolve the dissonance (with effort proportional to the significance). The carpenter who consistently has to go back and file down his cut lumber because his assistant is measuring incorrectly but doesn’t want to consider that possibility because of the hassle in finding a replacement or w/e could use this idea, though.

          • Lambert says:

            Once I’ve got 70k lying around, I’ll make sure to put it in a passively investing ISA.

          • ana53294 says:

            @Lambert

            And that vague plan is miles ahead of many people, who aren’t even aware of how much they owe.

            Sure, if you don’t have even a hundred bucks to spare towards a savings plan (although that usually means you spend too much), don’t save, but you should be aware of the future, and plan for things.

            EDIT: Due to compound interest, and stocks having high gains on average, you may need quite a bit less than the money you owe to pay it off.

          • Lambert says:

            The student loans have an interest rate of RPI+3% or something.
            So one can’t count on them getting inflated away.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Is the British government really going to call in all at the debt at 25 years, or will they just keep up the same payment terms until the debt is exhausted?

            I mean, if you are planning for Britain NOT forgiving the loans and automatically calling all debt at 25 years, why not 20 years or 15 years or 10 years?

          • ana53294 says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            The current system is set up so payments are only made as a percentage of your income if you earn above a certain income threshold. And if you never pay off, debt is written off in 25 years.

            What I would expect to happen is that the government may decide to remove its guarantees and say, sell the student loan to a debt collection agency. You then have to negotiate with the company on repayments.

            In any case, I don’t expect a balloon payment; but I do think payments continuing, or the income threshold being lowered, could be a thing.

            The same way I don’t expect the government to stop paying pensions completely, just to lower or inflate its way out of them.

            @Lambert

            And the S&P average growth is 10%. For long term purposes (25 years), you will get something quite close to that.

            Especially with Brexit coming, as long as you invest in stocks which don’t have their main business in the UK, you may be able to get a lot more money in GBP than you can buy now with USD or EUR.

          • Lambert says:

            Are pensions contractually-agreed in the same way that student loans are?

            And there’s no point in selling the debt. It’s taken straight out of our paychecks with all the de-jure taxes.

          • ana53294 says:

            @Lambert

            Is there a literal contract you sign, that you get a copy of, detailing all conditions? I looked into the Student Loan Company, but could not find any contract, other than “Terms and conditions”, which to me seems like stuff than get changed all the time.

          • Aapje says:

            In The Netherlands, shorty after increasing student debts a lot, the government extended the period before the remaining debt is voided from 15 to 35 years, although only for new students. However, they also reduced the maximum percentage of the income that they can garnish.

            Still, with the increasing housing prices, this effectively seems to result in low earning graduates (or worse: non-graduates with student debt) being priced out of owning a house/apartment, unless they have wealthy parents who chip in.

            People get letters with the money they owe, so they should know their debt unless they refuse to look at their mail.

    • Elementaldex says:

      A weak contrary anecdote. I have only a few friends that I talk about interesting things with but 100% of them can give a basic explanation of what the Fed does and why. That being said my bubble may be very different from yours given that I have a econ background and currently work in finance.

    • John Schilling says:

      2. My results were anomalous and my friend group is just preposterously uninformed on this topic.

      Your results are typical, your friend group is rationally ignorant of this topic, and nobody with serious influence has decided to make federal interest rates a hot-button issue that everyone thinks they understand.

      Your results here are anomalous in that you are hanging out with a bunch of fanatical nerds and wonks who go out of their way to learn far more about this sort of thing than they can put to practical use, along with a few professionals and a retired econ professor.

    • The Nybbler says:

      By my recollection, general obsession over the Federal Funds rate began in the run-up to the Great Recession, and has pretty much gone away since the end of the recession. Now it’s back to being fairly esoteric and nobody worries about it unless they are either into this sort of thing or are reasonably knowledgeable _and_ looking for a mortgage. It does get a fair amount of play on the local news, but I’m in the NYC area, so there’s a LOT of people in the finance business.

      Trump’s first apparently successful attempt to pressure the nominally-independent Fed to lower the rate was big news for a bit, but probably got lost in the general Trump outrage.

      Aside: I recall a time when it was the discount rate, not the Federal Funds rate, which wonks obsessed over. I’m not sure what changed.

      • Matt M says:

        Trump’s first apparently successful attempt to pressure the nominally-independent Fed to lower the rate was big news for a bit, but probably got lost in the general Trump outrage.

        Alternatively – the only reason it made the news in the first place was because it tied in to general Trump outrage.

        • Aftagley says:

          Yeah, this was my read of it as well. But even then, the negative response from the left wasn’t because they disagreed with Trump’s demands to cut rates, it was because he was “politicizing” the Fed.

          You’ll notice that this negative response requires 0 knowledge of the fed or interest rates.

          • Matt M says:

            But even then, the negative response from the left wasn’t because they disagreed with Trump’s demands to cut rates, it was because he was “politicizing” the Fed.

            Krugman had a bizarre column where he basically said “The economic situation is such that cutting rates is probably a good idea, but then it would look like Trump successfully politicized the fed, and that would be bad, so in order to prove that they haven’t been politicized, the fed should avoid cutting rates (even though cutting rates would be the non-politicized optimal policy.)”

          • Plumber says:

            @Matt M,

            I’m pretty sure I read that column, and a lot of “Here comes a recession” ones lately, and I had a momentary “This means Trump is less likely to be re-elected, good” thought till self-reflection, and I then thought “Did I just wish people mis-fortune so my ‘team’ could win?”, “Oh jeez that’s thinking like the further Left”, and then shame hit me.

            I suspect that kind of thinking fuels a lot of this, and on that dark thought, we are overdue for a “correction”, come the 2022 mid-term election I strongly suspect that we will be in Recession and whichever Party holds the Presidency will lose big in the House, bleeding off the moderates from that Party, I expect the other Party to intensify partisan rhetoric in reaction (and if Biden or another perceived “moderate” Democrat is nominated and loses I expect much the same), I expect more Gilroy/El Paso/Dayton style domestic terrorism, I really don’t predict things getting better again on that score in my lifetime, and I’m just plain sad and weary, as the news this last month has really sent my mood south.

          • Eponymous says:

            @Matt M:

            Didn’t see that one. That’s a pretty severe case of TDS! I’m trying to imagine him making that argument if the president was Obama. “Bernanke should cut rates, but Obama is asking him to, and so he should not cut to prove his independence!”

      • broblawsky says:

        The Fed wasn’t particularly important, post-GFC, until they started thinking about raising rates.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          2% is not a safe place for the federal funds rate to be at the peak of the business cycle. It sure as fuck was important, but it was also out of the spotlight.

    • Deiseach says:

      Mostly number 3. Unless you’re borrowing money or repaying something like a mortgage, as an ordinary person you won’t know or care until it hits you in the wallet. It’s just “one of those things the government does” to keep the country running, and it’s certainly not as fun or interesting as trying to buy Greenland, so why would you care about it?

    • broblawsky says:

      I vote for number 3. I believe I know more about finance and economics than the average person, I think, and the only reason I know as much as I do about economics is that I have family members who work in financial journalism, and I’m still regularly bewildered by stuff like FX and modern credit market shenanigans. Finance, and especially credit markets and currency exchanges, is a rabbit hole whose complexity is on par with modern physics, IMHO.

    • Anthony says:

      Your friends aren’t buying houses.

      The Federal Funds Rate and the Discount Rate have a significant and direct effect on mortgage interest rates. But if you’re not looking to buy or refinance a house, and/or don’t have an adjustable-rate mortgage, the effects of changes in those rates on you is a second-order effect, at best.

  25. Atlas says:

    So, a Yale computer science professor named David Gelernter wrote an essay in the Claremont Review of Books arguing that Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection has been discredited. This, along with various repackagings by other outlets and a video interview he did with the Hoover Institution, has been making the rounds on certain parts of the internet. What do SSC commenters who are knowledgeable about biology, chemistry, paleontology and/or other relevant scientific fields think of his allegations?

    Well… linked the video interview in an OT a couple weeks ago, and quanta413 had an excellent effortpost response to part of Gelernter’s argument.

    • DinoNerd says:

      There are a lot of people with a strong desire to discredit evolution. When a person without training or professional standing in a field writes something claiming that fundamental concepts from that field are wrong, my priors are to predict that they don’t actually understand what they are critiquing. If it’s also a field where some people have a strong desire to believe whatever the amateur is claiming, the odds that they are a crackpot or troll are farther increased. I’m overall disinclined to bother reading their ideas, as I’m not a professional debunker of crackpot theories.

      If people who are professionals in the field start taking the amateur seriously – or if professional debunkers with experience in the field find themselves stuck – I might look into it. But that’s pretty much what it would take.

      Of course I’m not a professional biologist etc. I’ve followed some of the developments in biology since my long-ago classes in the area, but I’m specialized as a computer scientist/engineer. So I’m not really the kind of person you want to hear from. OTOH, I’d be unsurprised if I found that I knew at least as much about it as Mr. Gelernter – and came to a diametrically opposed conclusion.

      • Well... says:

        In fairness, Gelernter describes himself (in the video anyway) as a reluctant critic of evolution, that he was a big fan of it and felt a lot of sorrow upon “discovering” it to be flawed. He says he never set out to debunk Darwin.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      “What proportion of these many polypeptides are useful proteins? Douglas Axe did a series of experiments to estimate how many 150-long chains are capable of stable folds—of reaching the final step in the protein-creation process (the folding) and of holding their shapes long enough to be useful. (Axe is a distinguished biologist with five-star breeding: he was a graduate student at Caltech, then joined the Centre for Protein Engineering at Cambridge. The biologists whose work Meyer discusses are mainly first-rate Establishment scientists.) He estimated that, of all 150-link amino acid sequences, 1 in 10^74 will be capable of folding into a stable protein. To say that your chances are 1 in 10^74 is no different, in practice, from saying that they are zero. It’s not surprising that your chances of hitting a stable protein that performs some useful function, and might therefore play a part in evolution, are even smaller. Axe puts them at 1 in 10^77.”

      These tornado-in-a-junkyard arguments have been around since the 90s and I thought they had been conclusively discredited around the late 2000s, but it seems that somebody is trying to resurrect them.

      Anyway, the usual refutation still applies: evolution doesn’t proceed by uniformly sampling random proteins from the space of all possible long amino acid sequences. Evolution creates new proteins by duplication and specialization, as a result, biological proteins are structurally related.

      New evidence reinforces this view. Specifically, it supports the recently proposed omnigenetic model, where almost any gene influences almost any trait. This implies that for any trait that is subject to a selective pressure, evolution has plenty of genes that it can modify or duplicate and specialize to strongly affect it. Moreover, since the effects of individual genes are usually small and additive, the fitness landscape is mostly smooth, which combined with its high dimensionality enables efficient optimization (essentially for the same reason why artificial neural networks are easy to train).

    • FormerRanger says:

      quanta413 covers the combinatorics arguments well. Those same arguments have been proposed and shot down about 10^77 times, and basically not changed. Is it possible Gelernter has never encountered them? Is it possible he doesn’t understand them? (He is at Yale, after all…)

      Gelernter says: “Intelligent Design, as Meyer describes it, is a simple and direct response to a specific event, the Cambrian explosion.” As a matter of history, this is utterly false. In fact, the argument for “I.D.”, when first proposed as such a few decades ago was that life could not evolve without help because it was “Irreducibly Complex.” Each step of the evolution of creature, even a primordial bit of RNA, has to survive the “intermediate” steps to being a human or fish or mouse, and they deemed this impossible.

      Long before the Cambrian Explosion was proposed and understood, creationists were going on about how you could never evolve a watch, or produce a mousetrap in intermediate steps that were “fit” to survive. On the contrary, for fun, here is a an example of a mousetrap that “evolves”: A Reducibly Complex Mousetrap. Creationists don’t natter on about “irreducible complexity” as much as they used to (although in the end they all recycle the same arguments regardless).

      Now creationists (Meyer, anyway) say “Our uniform experience of cause and effect shows that intelligent design is the only known cause of the origin of large amounts of functionally specified digital information.” Really? Does he support this statement? No. In effect, he is saying, “DNA is coded in a ‘digital’ way, and computers are coded in a ‘digital’ way, therefore they must have the same origin.” This is what is generally called “the argument from ignorance.”

      Further, “functionally specified” assumes that something functional must be “designed.” Our whole understanding of reproduction, a process which began with extremely small molecules and extremely simple reactions, is based on the fact that these sorts of ‘digital’ information can arise naturally and change over time. That is, they are not “functionally specified,” they arose by chance when they were still very simple, and have survived because the changed molecules were able to survive. Computers, in spite of being digital, did not arise by chance, and don’t change incrementally, bit by bit.

      Computer designs actually change quickly in big chunks, as he appears to think the Cambrian Explosion happened. In fact, there is increasing evidence that in the pre-Cambrian era there were precursors to the “exotic” Cambrian species. (We can blame the late Stephen Jay Gould for some of the confusion on this. In his book about the Burgess Shale, “Wonderful Life,” he exhibited a tendency to declare various Cambrian species to be different phyla when in fact they have on further examination turned out to be ones we already knew about.)

      In any case, there is nothing whatsoever new about Gelernter’s view. He is just the latest person to recycle slightly polished versions of old creationist tropes, sometimes with a little extra polish or glitter on them.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      OK, here’s my problem

      He estimated that, of all 150-link amino acid sequences, 1 in 10^74 will be capable of folding into a stable protein.

      That’s all well and good, but if we presume the existence of bacteria, they already have a bunch of functioning proteins in it. The mutations are on already properly folding proteins. What’s the odds that a mutation in a properly folded protein leaves it as a properly folded protein? I’ll bet it’s not 1 in 10^74. This could be an argument against abiogenesis, but Darwinian evolution has nothing to say about that anyways.

      I’m also confused what he’s arguing for. Multicellular life suddenly shows up in the Cambrian, and this is considered an argument against evolution from a universal common ancestor. But what about the rest of the fossil record? Did multicellular life pop into existence, then follow Darwinian evolution for speciation? That’s certainly an interesting position, but it sounds like he’s saying this happens repeatedly, with Darwinian evolution filling in the gaps. But on what timescale? Take the evolution of humans among the great apes. Was that all Darwinian? Was there intervention at the split of Orangutans? Gorillas? Chimpanzees? Archaic humans? If the designer is interfering a lot, why do we see all this vestigial stuff that seems to be the product of natural selection? If the designer interferes rarely, then Darwinian evolution has to explain the speciation in between–so why can’t it explain all the speciation?

      In fact, at the end of the piece, he provides his own objections

      If Meyer were invoking a single intervention by an intelligent designer at the invention of life, or of consciousness, or rationality, or self-aware consciousness, the idea might seem more natural. But then we still haven’t explained the Cambrian explosion. An intelligent designer who interferes repeatedly, on the other hand, poses an even harder problem of explaining why he chose to act when he did. Such a cause would necessarily have some sense of the big picture of life on earth. What was his strategy? How did he manage to back himself into so many corners, wasting energy on so many doomed organisms? Granted, they might each have contributed genes to our common stockpile—but could hardly have done so in the most efficient way. What was his purpose? And why did he do such an awfully slipshod job? Why are we so disease prone, heartbreak prone, and so on? An intelligent designer makes perfect sense in the abstract. The real challenge is how to fit this designer into life as we know it. Intelligent design might well be the ultimate answer. But as a theory, it would seem to have a long way to go.

      So the argument is “Darwinian evolution has a bunch of questions that aren’t fully answered, therefore it’s wrong. Our alternative theory also has a ton of unanswered questions, but apparently that’s totally OK in this case.”? If so, color me unimpressed

    • Deiseach says:

      I would say that discrediting Darwin does not discredit evolution. Darwin worked with the data he had and the science of the time (and the mindset about progress and moving towards an end and so on) and he phrased his theory accordingly.

      That further research and better knowledge refined it, so that the crude Darwinian position is no longer held, is not to say “there’s no such thing as evolution”. Nobody (I hope) goes by pure Freudian theory these days in psychiatry, but that does not take away from Freud as being the first (or one of the first) to attempt a theory of mind and to systemise the practice into something that would become psychiatry and psychotherapy and all the offshoots we have today.

      Being a creationist (Catholic version), I’d be more sympathetic to the intelligent design crowd, but they can’t argue that it all happens afresh every time without something like evolution at work, we know that is just not the case. (Special creation is a different matter).

      • eric23 says:

        Freud is pseudoscience.

        Darwin is actual science. Darwin’s work is better compared to say Newton’s work on gravity, which was incomplete, but still provided us with a great deal of real insight.

  26. Matt M says:

    Somewhat related to the recession conversation below: What do we make of various “permabear” economic commentators?

    My go-to example here is someone like Peter Schiff. He’s well known in and his ideas are fairly representative of Austrian economics circles. If you aren’t familiar with him, search on Youtube for “Peter Schiff was right” for a classic video of him literally being laughed off the set of various financial news shows for predicting the housing boom in 2007/2008.

    Now, critics of his would say something like “A broken clock is right twice a day.” And it’s basically true that as soon as 2010, he was right back to saying “A huge recession is coming and it’ll be even worse this time!” And clearly, he’s been wrong about that every year since. Of course, he never says when it’s coming, and his core logic is something like “The government and the fed can use a variety of sneaky tricks to prop up a boom for a while, but eventually it catches up with them and the economy crashes.” This line of thought explains what happened from 2004-2009 just fine. And if we have a huge recession tomorrow, it’ll look about as good again.

    So how do you determine if there actually is something to the theory, or if he’s just a crackpot who does nothing more than “cry wolf every day and when a wolf actually shows up, declare your own genius.” Especially when, if you asked him, he isn’t really crying “Wolf here!” but is rather crying “We are vulnerable to a wolf attack!”

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Austrian economics is crackpottery end to end, so you ignore him on those grounds.

    • Atlas says:

      Skin in the game is a useful heuristic. Do the bears, personally, have major investments conditional on their views being correct? Have they made more money off of previous crises they’ve accurately predicted than they’ve lost from crises they’ve previously imagined? That doesn’t tell you everything, but it tells you something useful.

      It would be nice if more commentators in general would follow Scott’s example of making calibrated, unconditional predictions and Bryan Caplan’s example of making public bets.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        My understanding, possibly misinformed, is that Krugman went to all cash when he made his famous remark that the market would probably never recover from Trump’s election. If true, it raises my respect for him (though to be sure it was pretty low to start with).

        Edit: I see below that he apparently walked back that prediction mere days later, which suggests that I am in fact misinformed.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        I know of precisely one economist of note who was a successful trader: Keynes.
        And he did not do it by timing the economic cycle, since he considered that a mugs game – he was a value investor, and one of the inspirations for Buffet.

    • The problem is that contradictory narratives can all “explain” what happens during a recession. Unless you’re a serious macro wonk, the only thing you can go by is the predictions. Most economists know this, which is why they always hedge. Austrians are the only ones who have done us a favor in making bold predictions that have gotten falsified.

      If we have a recession tomorrow, it doesn’t prove Schiff right because he also predicted high inflation from low interest rate policies. It would take an extremely improbably series of events to get people to take him seriously.

      • baconbits9 says:

        When it comes to macro econ + predictions + falsification I would say that the general Austrian approach did better than any other approach based on public pronouncements prior to the 2008 collapse.

      • Matt M says:

        Austrians are the only ones who have done us a favor in making bold predictions that have gotten falsified.

        On the night of the election, Krugman predicted that the stock market would crash, and would recover never!

        Did that permanently discredit Keynesianism? Why or why not?

        • Eponymous says:

          Well, it sure discredited Krugman…

          I mean, I already knew he was extremely unreliable on things related to politics. Pretty good on macro though.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I find Krugman to be worthless on Macro as he rarely makes predictions, and nearly always has ‘on the one hand this might happen, on the other hand this might’ posts on the same subject.

          • Eponymous says:

            @bb

            He had a pretty good record in understanding 2008 and the aftermath. He was very early in realizing that the zero lower bound on interest rates was a big problem (his 1998 paper on it basically launched the modern literature). He didn’t foresee the financial crisis (though he did see there was a housing bubble), but once it was underway he mostly got things right. He called for a bigger stimulus, predicted a long and slow recovery, predicted that austerity in Europe was a bad idea, and diagnosed problems related to the Euro.

            Main wrong prediction was predicting the breakup of the Euro. But that was due to his misreading politics rather than economics — the PIGS were in terrible economic straits due to the Euro, but decided to stay in despite this.

            I’ve followed him less lately, and clearly Trump has driven him crazy. I always found his analysis of politics pretty mistaken. Though I guess he was right about Iraq/Bush.

          • Matt M says:

            He didn’t foresee the financial crisis (though he did see there was a housing bubble)

            He “saw there was a housing bubble” in the sense that he called for it to be created!

          • Eponymous says:

            @Matt M:

            I’m not sure what you’re referring to. I can easily believe he called for low interest rates in 01-02.

          • Matt M says:

            Here’s the link.

            To fight this recession the Fed needs…soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. [So] Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.

          • Eponymous says:

            That was written on election night. The next day:

            What about the short term? My own first instinct was to say that Trumponomics would quickly provoke an immediate economic crisis, but after a few hours’ reflection I decided that this was probably wrong. I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks, but a best guess is that there will be no immediate comeuppance.

            The following day:

            He will, in fact, be a disaster on every front…. But it’s important not to expect this to happen right away. There’s a temptation to predict immediate economic or foreign-policy collapse; I gave in to that temptation Tuesday night, but quickly realized that I was making the same mistake as the opponents of Brexit (which I got right). So I am retracting that call, right now. It’s at least possible that bigger budget deficits will, if anything, strengthen the economy briefly. More detail in Monday’s column, I suspect.

            Fleshing out his argument a week later:

            But will the extent of the disaster become apparent right away? It’s natural and, one must admit, tempting to predict a quick comeuppance — and I myself gave in to that temptation, briefly, on that horrible election night, suggesting that a global recession was imminent. But I quickly retracted that call. Trumpism will have dire effects, but they will take time to become manifest.

            In fact, don’t be surprised if economic growth actually accelerates for a couple of years.

          • baconbits9 says:

            He had a pretty good record in understanding 2008 and the aftermath. He was very early in realizing that the zero lower bound on interest rates was a big problem (his 1998 paper on it basically launched the modern literature). He didn’t foresee the financial crisis (though he did see there was a housing bubble), but once it was underway he mostly got things right. He called for a bigger stimulus, predicted a long and slow recovery, predicted that austerity in Europe was a bad idea, and diagnosed problems related to the Euro.

            I would argue that Krugman was essentially wrong on all of this.

            1. The ZLB has been breached, it is clearly not a hard line as he indicated prior to 2008.
            2. His stimulus calls have no real backing. I don’t believe that he ever published his own direct projections, but he referred to CBO projections in supporting his call for stimulus and the actual outcome was well outside their margin for error in their predictions. I am not in fact aware of any single Keynesian prediction made based on the expected stimulus package that was within their error bands.
            3. Keynesians generally switched their definitions of austerity during the crisis. Pre-crisis it was generally accepted (which fit with the theory) that the appropriate measure of stimulus was based on the pre-recession levels of spending and output. Most post crises measures have been based on measuring from mid crisis which is not the same at all. Even granting that position Krugman was wrong in time and place. Here he is worrying about a double dip recession in the US in 2010 citing the austerity of cutting UE benefits and using 1937 as a comparison. This double dip never happened in the US and from the time of him writing that on there was nearly a straight line decline in the UE rate. He didn’t make any predictions in this 2013 piece, but he claims that the US was engaging in Austerity then, and if you follow the series you can see that there was continued decline (though it slowed and flatlined in 2014) through Q2 2015. This period saw a decline in the UE rate from 7.5% to 5%, and the slight increase that occurs after Q2 2015 is associated not with a faster rate of decrease in the UE rate but a slower rate of increase.* Not quite as wrong as he could be, but clearly not what you would expect given Keynesian theory, and this is using a metric he selected.

            * I am sure given the wide range of countries and frequent comments he has made you can find some situations where he was correct, just as I am sure I can find more where he was incorrect.

          • Chalid says:

            That Mises article showing Krugman “calling for a housing bubble” is amazingly silly. It has Krugman sarcastically calling for a bubble once. (Note that two weeks after he said that, he posted a full op-ed about how bad a housing bubble might be. The Mises institute does not present this, which, you know, shows you how interested in the truth *they* are.)

            It then goes on to conflate calling for lower interest rates or other similar policy in 2001 with calling for a bubble, notes that Krugman supported lower interest rates, and then claims that he called for a bubble. It’s like claiming that someone supporting financial deregulation was calling for a bubble.

            Yes, lowering interest rates work partly through increasing housing demand, but they work through lots of other channels too, and there are other policy levers one can use in conjunction with rates in order to reduce the impact on housing.

            Then, even sillier, it quotes Keynes in favor of low interest rates, says Krugman is a Keynsian, therefore he must support lower interest rates, therefore he supports a housing bubble because that’s the likely outcome of lower interest rates. Seriously!

            And then there’s a link to a Spanish-language interview which doesn’t work at the moment for me, but even if it did, you can’t possibly believe that if Krugman was trying to promote a bubble the best video evidence of it would be of him in Spain.

        • I’ve got a feeling that you’re simplifying what Krugman said, although I have no interest in defending him.

          However, if that is true, it’s obviously not a reflection of anything taught in economics classes. There is no Keynesian theory anywhere that says “the mere election of a populist will cause a permanent recession.” In fact, it’s obviously at odds with mainstream economic theory that says in the long run, supply side factors rule. And while many left-leaning economists were wary about Trump causing a recession, most of them didn’t say it was necessarily going to happen.

          You said yourself that you are confused about why there is no inflation. You should update your beliefs away from the people who said it was going to happen.

          • quanta413 says:

            I’ve got a feeling that you’re simplifying what Krugman said, although I have no interest in defending him.

            You know, it’s not a bad suspicion to have, but…

            https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/opinion/election-night-2016/paul-krugman-the-economic-fallout

            It’s not like it’s a short opinion either where Matt M could plausibly be misinterpreting Krugman. Krugman goes on for 7 short paragraphs.

            EDIT: FIRST. Beat Nick. XD

          • Nick says:

            It looks like Krugman did predict a big global recession if Trump was elected, then backed away from it later. From a middle-of-the-night November 9th piece:
            It really does now look like President Donald J. Trump, and markets are plunging. When might we expect them to recover?

            Frankly, I find it hard to care much, even though this is my specialty. The disaster for America and the world has so many aspects that the economic ramifications are way down my list of things to fear.

            Still, I guess people want an answer: If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.

            So we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight. I suppose we could get lucky somehow. But on economics, as on everything else, a terrible thing has just happened.

            He’s mentioned several times since then that he retracted the claim three days later.

          • Eponymous says:

            Sorry — comment posted above meant for here. Links to three Krugman pieces written in the wake of the 2016 election.

          • quanta413 says:

            Krugman had to retract, but that’s more of a footnote. He said something monumentally, incredibly, but most foolishly of all objectively stupid in writing for the NYT (I think only the website though). In multiple paragraphs just in case his meaning was unclear.

            In a way, he’s lucky he made such specifically stupid predictions (failed in 9 hours…) though so he could see his mistake and then attempt to blow it all off as a moment of passion.

          • Deiseach says:

            That Krugman piece in the immediate aftermath of the election is a wonderful piece of writing, you can just see him sprawled on the sofa slugging straight from a bottle of gin, going “I warned you damn fools but you wouldn’t listen, now it’s too late, let’s all don our white robes and ascend to the top of the mountain because the End Times are here!”

            Then as you say, three days later he sobered up from the bender and after he’d washed his face and had some coffee, he read what had been published and went “I said that? I don’t remember a thing from that night, what happened?” 😀

        • Plumber says:

          @Matt M,
          IIRC, Krugman did an apology for that prediction within two days (unless I’m confusing it with a similar Krugman prediction folowed by a quick apology about what the Brexit vote will lead to).

          But the sins of the proponents of a theory doesn’t necessarily change how likely it is to be true.

          Since I’ve heard various historical events cited as proving or disproving Keynesianism, my guess is that whether you believe it or not is based on whether it feels convincing or not, it’s convincing to me but YMMV.

          • baconbits9 says:

            IIRC, Krugman did an apology for that prediction within two days

            So 1.5 days after he was proven wrong?

            I kid, the 2016 prediction was a knee jerk thing, and clearly not economics based. It was bad, but I don’t consider it discrediting outside of ‘theories can be correct, but people will still make mistakes’ sort of way.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It doesn’t matter whether there’s something to the theory or not. If all it can predict is “there will be another recession in the future”, we already know that. It’s just not a useful theory.

      • Matt M says:

        Technically speaking, what the theory predicts is “We will continue to have these boom and bust cycles so long as the federal reserve is artificially manipulating the interest rate.”

        The fact that the theory cannot tell you precisely when the bubble will burst is largely irrelevant to the greater point. And technically you can’t really prove or disprove it unless you’re willing to end the fed and see what happens, which nobody is.

        • Have you heard of the infamous Bryan Caplan-Robert Murphy bet? Murphy bet that by 2015 we would see inflation at 10% year-over-year and of course we saw nothing of the sort. He claims that it doesn’t say anything about Austrian Economics in general, except his prediction was one of the tamer ones. He predicted merely high inflation instead of hyper-inflation. If that’s not falsification, then I don’t know what is.

          • Matt M says:

            I read Murphy’s blog and listen to his podcast regularly, so yes I am familiar.

            The notion that his underestimation of inflation wholly discredits all of Austrian economics is absurd.

          • High inflation is one of the predictions that Austrians have called for over and over again. They all said that the Fed’s low interest rates would cause high inflation.

          • baconbits9 says:

            High inflation is one of the predictions that Austrians have called for over and over again. They all said that the Fed’s low interest rates would cause high inflation.

            This is not necessarily what the theory says though.

            In a nut shell ABCT says that when a central bank stimulates the economy it will flow to certain sectors first/fastest creating growth in that sector which relies on continual stimulation to maintain its growth- ie a bubble. The economy will reorganize some of its capital around that bubble, and the end of stimulus will eventually end the bubble causing a general depression due to the loss of value from that capital.

            What people like Schiff and Murphy did was add on the response that they expected from the Federal Reserve and the expected outcomes of that response, which certainly casts doubt on their ability to forecast but is not the same as falsifying ABCT.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ll also add that to this day, it’s not entirely clear to me how the fed so massively increased it’s balance sheet without resulting in massive inflation.

            The most plausible answer seems to be something like “none of that money ever hit the economy, it just sat in bank vaults going unlended.” Which is all well and good, except for the fact that, if true, it didn’t get the chance to “stimulate” the economy at all and the entire exercise would have been pointless and done nothing (which, given how long and slow the “recovery” was, seems plausible, but begs the question as to why they even bothered going through the motions of stimulus that wasn’t ever going to actually stimulate)

          • @Matt M:

            Surely part of the answer is that the Fed started paying interest on excess reserves. In effect, it printed money and then borrowed it back from the banks.

          • This is not necessarily what the theory says though.

            But all the prominent ones, including the “respectable” Austrians, were saying it was going to happen. I was really in to this stuff in 2012, and I kept waiting for the inflation that never materialized. The only one who was willing to make a falsifiable prediction, one of those respectable ones, was completely and utterly wrong, and I’m supposed to listen to the guys who continue to give these vague apocalyptic predictions?

          • Eponymous says:

            @Matt M

            I’ll also add that to this day, it’s not entirely clear to me how the fed so massively increased it’s balance sheet without resulting in massive inflation.

            When the interest rate on short-term debt is ~0, then a T-bill is just the same as a dollar. So swapping T-bills and dollars (through open market operations) makes no difference.

            As to why they did it — note that QE involves buying assets besides short-term debt. Also Fed actions may work through expectations. Bernanke is quoted as saying that QE works in practice but not in theory.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I’ll also add that to this day, it’s not entirely clear to me how the fed so massively increased it’s balance sheet without resulting in massive inflation.

            A few points

            1. We don’t have a good definition of the money supply. In a theoretical economy where gold is money and nothing else is you can build a quantity theory of money that functions. However that world does not currently exist (and may never have), and there are many things that end up ‘money like’ at the very least.

            2. The Fed specifically created an amount of money that they thought would offset the losses to the money supply and the decline in velocity, and further they did not print via helicopter drops which would likely have had a different effect. My guess is that Schiff, Murphy etc (including a younger me) basically just assumed HD style printing while the actual Fed position had a lot more nuance and understanding than that.

            The most plausible answer seems to be something like “none of that money ever hit the economy, it just sat in bank vaults going unlended.” Which is all well and good, except for the fact that, if true, it didn’t get the chance to “stimulate” the economy at all and the entire exercise would have been pointless and done nothing (which, given how long and slow the “recovery” was, seems plausible, but begs the question as to why they even bothered going through the motions of stimulus that wasn’t ever going to actually stimulate)

            The primary purpose of the Fed’s actions was to prevent bank runs, and then recapitalize them/prevent further losses, not push the economy from 10% UE in year one to 4% UE in year 2. If you look at it from this perspective a lot of their actions make sense. For example the IOR program. Initially IOR was very small, effectively like 0.1%-0.25% for an extended period of time. Given that 30 year mortgage rates were ~5% it can hardly be argued (despite Scott Sumner having a good go of it) that these payments were preventing banks from lending. If you think of these payments as a stabilizing force, with the Fed essentially covering some basic operating costs (or FDIC insurance costs) that would prevent banks from rejecting or trying to dump deposits.

          • baconbits9 says:

            But all the prominent ones, including the “respectable” Austrians, were saying it was going to happen. I was really in to this stuff in 2012, and I kept waiting for the inflation that never materialized. The only one who was willing to make a falsifiable prediction, one of those respectable ones, was completely and utterly wrong, and I’m supposed to listen to the guys who continue to give these vague apocalyptic predictions?

            The issue I take here is that these guys made multiple correct predictions, followed by some number of incorrect predictions, and you are treating it like they went 0/1 and are basically tossing the baby out the window.

          • AG says:

            How much of this might be observer effects? The bets are public, and so relevant figures taking those predictions into account when making their decisions.

            Like how telling your rock-paper-scissors opponent what you’re going to throw beforehand changes the game.

            So if economists predict “The Fed does X, will result in Y,” that assumes “The Fed does X, and nothing else,” but The Fed might choose instead to do X+A to avoid Y.

          • The issue I take here is that these guys made multiple correct predictions,

            Besides the recession, which can easily be explained by the broken clock theory, what else were they right about?

          • baconbits9 says:

            When the interest rate on short-term debt is ~0, then a T-bill is just the same as a dollar. So swapping T-bills and dollars (through open market operations) makes no difference.

            This doesn’t explain anything since starting from this logic the decline in interest rates toward zero would be in effect increasing the money supply. You would still expect inflation then you would just be saying that falling interest rates was the cause and not QE.

          • And by the way, they were also wrong about the “next” recession, which is central to their theory. If you have a theory that says the Fed keeping low interest rates is going to lead to a horrific recession, and it’s been one of the longest expansions in American history, that’s a big thing to be wrong about.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Besides the recession, which can easily be explained by the broken clock theory, what else were they right about?

            They were right about the causes of the recession, specifically citing the housing bubble and predicting that it would lead to large issues across the financial industry and spilling over in the broader economy. I believe many people who talked about the housing bubble prior to 2008 predicted that it would be limited in scope, and wouldn’t have major spillover effects.

          • Eponymous says:

            @bb

            This doesn’t explain anything since starting from this logic the decline in interest rates toward zero would be in effect increasing the money supply.

            You’ve got the causality reversed. Increasing the money supply is how the Fed lowers interest rates. But once they hit zero, that implies that the marginal dollar held by the private sector has zero excess liquidity value over a T-bill. So buying more T-bills using dollars doesn’t have any effect.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And by the way, they were also wrong about the “next” recession, which is central to their theory. If you have a theory that says the Fed keeping low interest rates is going to lead to a horrific recession, and it’s been one of the longest expansions in American history, that’s a big thing to be wrong about.

            You are going to have to cite this.

          • Matt M says:

            ABCT doesn’t suggest “low interest rates lead to recessions.”

            It suggests low interest rates lead to unsustainable booms which are inevitably corrected via recession.

            Pointing to the fact that the economy is booming right now hardly discredits them. The existence of the boom is what they set out to explain in the first place, while the Keynesians act as if booms are just the natural default state of things and recessions are random outliers that happen for no particular reason.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You’ve got the causality reversed. Increasing the money supply is how the Fed lowers interest rates

            No, there is a straight forward implication here. The Fed might increase the money supply to lower interest rates, BUT the theory that at zero coupon T-Bills become money implies that the Fed is creating EVEN MORE money by lowering interest rates. You can’t get to a point where the Fed is swapping out one money for another money logically without them creating even more than the standard measures of MS claim.

          • Eponymous says:

            the theory that at zero coupon T-Bills become money implies that the Fed is creating EVEN MORE money by lowering interest rates.

            I said that dollars and T-bills become equivalent assets *at the margin* when rates are zero.

            The private sector has certain demand for assets with transaction value (money). Printing money doesn’t magically impart transaction value to T-bills. It does however sate the private sector’s needs for cash to conduct transactions. Once you’ve exhausted that, to the point that a *marginal* dollar just gets held in a bank’s vault, printing more dollars and swapping them for T-bills makes no difference.

            So it’s less that you’re turning T-bills into money, and more that there are enough dollars in circulation that any more just act like T-bills.

          • rmtodd says:

            MattM:

            I’ll also add that to this day, it’s not entirely clear to me how the fed so massively increased it’s balance sheet without resulting in massive inflation.

            Well, one possibility is that there is some serious inflation, but the official government statistics aren’t showing it. According to the guys at shadowstats.com, inflation’s running at something like 10% right now. Okay, the shadowstats guys may be a bunch of random wackjob economists with a website, but they claim to be doing the inflation computations using the same methodology the federal government used up till 1980. Now it’s possible that the feds switched their methodology in 1980 (and apparently again in the 1990s) for good and sound reasons, but it’s also possible that the feds like the new methodology because it allows them to claim lower inflation while letting the federal government borrow shitloads of money.

          • @Matt

            It suggests low interest rates lead to unsustainable booms which are inevitably corrected via recession.

            First of all, people like Schiff were acting like the recession was going to happen soon all the way back in 2012, so a recession now isn’t going to vindicate them. But the idea is that the longer this “unsustainable” boom goes on, the worse the recession is supposed to be. If we get a recession and it’s relatively mild, are you going to update your beliefs away from Austrianism? Because the existence of recessions is not evidence that Austrian economics is right.

          • @baconbits

            They were right about the causes of the recession,

            I asked specifically about another right prediction they made that isn’t about the recession. You claimed they made multiple correct predictions. What are they?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Shadowstats CPI is basically “Take official CPI-U, add 7”, although they use a lot of words to get there.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I said that dollars and T-bills become equivalent assets *at the margin* when rates are zero.

            The private sector has certain demand for assets with transaction value (money). Printing money doesn’t magically impart transaction value to T-bills. It does however sate the private sector’s needs for cash to conduct transactions. Once you’ve exhausted that, to the point that a *marginal* dollar just gets held in a bank’s vault, printing more dollars and swapping them for T-bills makes no difference.

            This is largely a moot point because the majority of securities bought by the Fed had positive coupons.

            If in year X the Federal Government issues $1 billion in T bills at 2%, then the Federal reserve increases the MS to the point where interest rates drop to zero, then in year X+1 the Federal government issues another $1 billion in T bills at 0% then according to the ‘at zero rates money and bills are interchangeable’ theory the federal government is now effectively increasing the money supply with these new bonds.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Wrong Species

            You said

            Besides the recession, which can easily be explained by the broken clock theory, what else were they right about?

            Broken clock theory is that if you say ‘recession’ every year you will eventually be right. Saying ‘Housing bubble will lead to recession’ is already one major step beyond broken clock theory, and housing bubble will lead to major recession with predictions of a much larger recession than your average prediction is two steps removed from being a broken clock. Finally saying housing bubble->major recession -> massive expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet is another step beyond.

            Counting multiple correct predictions as only one because they were on the same subject is basically going to doom all economists to bad track records.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Well, one possibility is that there is some serious inflation, but the official government statistics aren’t showing it. According to the guys at shadowstats.com, inflation’s running at something like 10% right now.

            If Shadow stats 1980 inflation metric is right we have been in recession for 25 years now, a recession that at its peak was -10% real GDP growth over multiple years. Look around you, does this feel like something 2-3x worse than the great depression? Why don’t we have persistent unemployment which most countries have when inflation exceeds growth by 5-10% every year?

        • And technically you can’t really prove or disprove it unless you’re willing to end the fed and see what happens, which nobody is.

          “Prove or disprove” is a high standard, but the theory is about economics, not just about the American economy in the early 21st century. So you can get evidence for or against it by looking at U.S. economic history prior to the creation of the Fed or other economies with other institutions in other times and places.

        • Rob K says:

          The existence of a boom and bust cycle before central banking would be a telling point, though.

          Not a universal rule, but theories that don’t provide some useful explanation of reality are questionable stuff, especially when the theory is of the form “you can’t prove it or test it, but a thing I dislike causes much of the badness in the world.”

    • J Mann says:

      Now, critics of his would say something like “A broken clock is right twice a day.”

      My preference would be to repurpose the Paul Samuelson joke and say that he’s predicted twenty of the last three recessions.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I found Megan McArdle’s turn of phrase (circa January 2008) even more glib: “Paul Krugman, who’s predicted eight of the last none recessions…”

    • broblawsky says:

      The problem is that economics in the post-Great Recession world hasn’t behaved as one would expect, especially in terms of inflation and monetary policy. Austrian economics is predicated on conventional monetary theory, which under the current levels of government debt and the global low interest rate regime should result in substantial inflation. It hasn’t, though, and people who still believe in conventional monetary theory have had to resort to greater and greater contortions to justify why inflation is just around the corner, or even already here.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The financial crisis destroyed a lot of paper assets. This barely shows up in M3 (probably because most of those assets weren’t liquid enough to be counted), but I suspect it’s still having an effect of some sort.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Schiff is a great example of someone basically lucking into part of their worldview being right, and this is despite the fact that I am very sympathetic toward the Austrian School approach to economics.

      In late 2007 I opened an investment account with Schiff’s Euro-Pacific capital and got a mock portfolio done. At the time it was done I had been interested in economics casually for a few years, and knew little about investing and yet the portfolio they mocked was obviously awful given their economic predictions (I think I still have the mock in my email history as well). This was the basic view

      1. Housing bust was coming. Absolutely nailed it.
      2. Very large recession along with it. Absolutely nailed that to.
      3. Fed would aggressively expand the money supply. Nailed that one.
      4. High, and maybe hyper, inflation would follow. Completely wrong here, but the kicker was

      5. Investments centered heavily around Canadian Natural Gas production. This threw me, and pulled me back from my enthusiasm. The thesis that the US is going to go into a massive recession is completely at odds with investing in a commodity that is heavily consumed by the US. Even if his inflation call had been right this still didn’t make a lot of sense as Natural Gas isn’t as ship-able as your average commodity, and almost all Canadian Gas at the time was used in Canada or piped to the US.

      The question about guys like Schiff* is not ‘how well does he pick recessions’ but how well he positions his clients given his assumptions, and how well does that work out. My personal experience (looking back on the mock which I did years ago) was that his suggestions were bad outside of his call to hold gold, and including gold they were below average, but the approach of ‘their macro calls + their micro calls’ gives you way better information than just looking at their macro calls.

      *Technically my mock up came not from Schiff but from one of his employees.

      • baconbits9 says:

        If anyone here is particularly interested and wanted to check the recommendations I got here is my mock portfolio, emailed to me on October 12, 2007 Name and fraction of allocation

        Arc Energy 3/26
        Pembina Pipeline 3/26
        Bluenote Mining 1/13
        Uranium One 1/13
        Vastned Office 3/26
        Singapore Post 2/13
        Babcock and Brown Power 3/26
        Macquarrie Infrastructure 3/26
        Teliasonera 3/26

  27. Atlas says:

    What do folks think of Sherlock Holmes’ theory of knowledge? (Not sure which story this was from, Steve Sailer shared it on his blog.):

    [Sherlock Holmes’] ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge.

    Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

    “You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

    “To forget it!”

    “You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order.

    It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

    “But the Solar System!” I protested.

    “What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

    This seems pretty convincing to me. I like reading about abstract stuff like history, philosophy, economics, geopolitics, etc. for its own sake, but I have to admit that it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in my day to day life. It would probably be more useful to have more knowledge about things like home repair, dancing, fashion, ways to game the local tax system, etc. instead. It really, really deeply frustrates me when I see a video on YouTube titled something like “Epic comedian Owen Benjamin DESTROYS the evolution, moon landing and nuclear weapons HOAXES!,” but I also realize that those things have no practical relevance to my, or his, life. Skin in the game is important. (Although incidentally Taleb does a bit of a motte-and-bailey thing with SITG, where sometimes he says that people, individually, are dumb/uncool because they don’t have SITG, but when challenged he retreats to saying that SITG is only an evolutionary filter that applies to systems as a whole.)

    By the way, here was Steve’s response:

    In terms of time, there’s some truth to this idea — time spent reading astronomy books is time that can’t be spent studying how to distinguish between the scores of brands of cigar ash that killers might leave at the scene of the crime.

    Nonetheless, I think Holmes’ view is fundamentally fallacious. The more and more accurate models you have in your head, the easier it is to remember facts because the truth all fits together. You can crosscheck facts and ideas more easily.

    For example, these Harvard grads [who believe that the Earth has seasons because of distance to the Sun rather than the tilt of its axis] have a model in their head that says that if their new employers send them off to the New Zealand office in July, they should have take their swimsuits and tropical weight business suits because the earth is closest to the sun in July. Maybe they’ve heard that it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere when it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but facts are a lot easier to remember if they function as examples for a theory in your head, rather than as just random bits of data.

    For example, it’s hard to remember what your previous phone number was because it’s meaningless digits. In contrast, it’s not that hard to remember the atomic weight of, say, carbon or oxygen if you understand why the periodic table of elements is laid out the way it is.

    Similarly, you can remember a lot more facts about modern life if you keep simple models in your head about certain taboo topics such as race, gender, and IQ. If you think honestly, you can think better because the truth all fits together, one fact leading to another. In contrast, politically correct myths are all intellectual dead ends.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I think that in this case the common wisdom is correct. You may have limited time to spend learning, but you don’t have limited space to store knowledge. So the fictional Holmes is just being silly.

      And deciding to learn and believe simplifications – while intentionally ignoring that they are simplifications – is less likely to lead to effective decisions than keeping a mental flag that says “if this is ever important, check the details” .. perhaps along with some extra notes like “especially in this area”.

      Beyond that, we all make decisions not to spend time deepening our knowledge in some areas, and some of us start out incredibly shallow. Much of the time, nothing worse will happen than getting yourself held up as an example of an ignorant outgrouper. Sometimes you’ll miss out on a job offer for lack of cultural fit. And worst case you’ll do something seriously harmful to yourself or others, because you just don’t know [piece of suddenly relevant trivia, like what the start of a tsunami looks like on the ground]

      FWIW, my exclusion areas are sports and fashion. I don’t care what the cool kids are wearing this year, or who is the current star in my local team – or even the name of that team, for that matter. I used to also ignore politics, but decided in the last decade or so that it had far too much potential to bite me if I didn’t stay aware of it. None of these are absolute – I’m aware that the cool kids are currently wearing pants with missing knees, because of last year’s fad for pants with only a few strands crossing the knee caps – but it was hard to miss, and it’s hilarious to see early career techies dressed as if they can’t even afford the nominal prices at e.g. the Good Will store. (Any late career techies that bought last year’s fashion have already replaced their fail wardrobe, but the youngsters probably can’t afford new fashionable clothes this soon after the last batch.) And I could probably name some of my local teams, maybe even associate each with the right sport.

    • Plumber says:

      @Atlas,
      I don’t think memory works like that at all!

      Intence trauma or joy will spark memories, skill comes from practice, and little factoids that you find interesting will filter in (and convincing yourself that something is interesting is hard, studying the California Plumbing Code was hard because it’s incredibly boring).

      Oh, and for what it’s worth, what you experience from abiut 15 years old to 25 years old will stick in your memory stronger than earlier and later, even if trivial, I remember riots, girls, and long dead people from 30 years ago too well, last week hardly at all.

    • Randy M says:

      Nonetheless, I think Holmes’ view is fundamentally fallacious. The more and more accurate models you have in your head, the easier it is to remember facts because the truth all fits together. You can crosscheck facts and ideas more easily.

      This is where my thoughts went when reading the Holmes quote, too. A new bit of information may not require as much ‘storage space’ if it builds off of another bit; you can house them together rather than needing separate buildings for each, to mix metaphors in a way that may well be less helpful.

      But one has to be careful to differentiate between facts and trivia. I’m not sure the brain has practical storage limits (clearly it isn’t infinite, but it might be time limited rather than space limited, or expand with use to beyond likely reach). But positive effects that may accrue from having a complete picture of reality are only going to be gained from true facts of some significance.

      Which, frankly, may not even describe most of my knowledge. If I wanted to right now I could spell out so much trivia from video games, cartoons, comic books, and novels as to be embarrassing, and precious little of that would have much impact on my ability to evaluate the truth of any statement I’m likely to come into contact with or make an optimal decision. At best it can give me a notion of what I happen to enjoy and by extension some theory about fun for humans generally, with maybe a smidge of insight as to the ‘human condition’ more readily obtained from history or philosophy.

      I think the workings of the solar system are just on the side of useful fact for me, but may well be trivia for many others, and are obviously extremely important and of everyday impact for a select but increasing few that put satellites into orbit or similar feats of engineering.

    • Drew says:

      Holmes – as a fictional character – takes things too far. But I think he’s moving in a useful direction. He’s focusing his energy on information that he’s in a position to use and test.

      In the current era, I notice a lot of people spending time “learning” about current events. But, often, the learning doesn’t pay off in any sort of anticipation of future events. So how do they know they’re learning accurate things?

      Let’s take science reporting, as an example. Scientists will say something like, “This paper shows a potential connection between eating strawberries and cancer.” And the headline will read, “Scientists link Strawberries to Cancer.”

      When the Scientist says, “potential connection” they have an image in mind that includes all kinds of caveats and uncertainty. “Potential” has lots of room to hedge (eg. “The experiment didn’t strictly disprove that this is possible”), and there are lots of ways that things can be connected. A non-scientist will say the same words (“Strawberries might be connected to cancer”) but understand them to mean something very, very different. A typical person interprets “connection” as “strong link”.

      Worse, there’s no easy way for a normal person to notice or correct that error in their understanding. They’re unlikely to see newspaper articles about replications, and they won’t be making dietary decisions for large groups of people.

      This all leads to a weird kind of pseudo-learning; people can learn collections of phrases that will let them score well on various “how educated is the public?” exams, while developing mental models of the world that are basically inaccurate.

      Holmes’ direction seems better. We learn (in the sense of “actually understand”) things that we interact with. Everything else should be relegated to “I’m repeating a phrase, but am not sure I’m interpreting it correctly” until we’re willing to do a deep-dive into the topic.

    • Deiseach says:

      First, I think Holmes was pulling Watson’s leg about this list (from a within-universe perspective); he quotes literature all the time, after all.

      Second, there is something to it – you need to have a systematic method of selecting, learning and retaining important information, for such topics as were necessary for his profession, because higgledly-piggedly jumping around at random picking bits you like and ignoring the boring slog parts of learning your trade isn’t going to do anyone any good, and definitely as you get older you are less able to learn and retain new information, so you do need some spare room for shoving in new data.

      But I think it’s more a case of what you choose to retain rather than how much; there must be a limit to how much the brain can hold, but I don’t know what it is or if anyone has studied how much data the brain can hold. Rather, if you fill up on a lot of junk, it’ll have the same effect as the effect on your waistline as filling up your stomach with a lot of junk. It’s no harm to have trivia stacked up alongside useful information, but if all you have is trivia, then unless you’re going to make a career out of being a professional TV gameshow contestant, it will have a bad effect – you won’t know how to wire a plug but you will know the Top Ten for August 1991.

      • Randy M says:

        First, I think Holmes was pulling Watson’s leg about this list (from a within-universe perspective); he quotes literature all the time, after all.

        Having a character with an understated trickster sense of humor like this seems tricky for an author to pull off well. A lot of readers will just assume he’s being inconsistent with the characterization of Holmes, or that Holmes makes some distinction between the literature he knows or the broader category he claims ignorance of.

        • Matt M says:

          Having a character with an understated trickster sense of humor like this seems tricky for an author to pull off well.

          Well, we are talking about one of the most well known and widely beloved characters in the history of fiction.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you — Trotsky

      When you say that politics does not matter to your life, you mean that politics has low observed variance. But if you take a broader view, politics obviously lives in extremistan. The people on Less Wrong most interested in politics were Yugoslav refugees. Taleb is also a refugee. Isn’t that his origin story, his interest in extremistan?

      • viVI_IViv says:

        You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you — Trotsky

        Is the attribution to Trotsky correct? The Internet says that the quote is usually attributed to Pericles, but actually it started circulating in the 1990s.

        • Plumber says:

          @viVI_IViv,

          I read it as “..but History in interested in you” instead of “Politics” back in the 1980’s, and it was attributed to Trotsky even back then (source: books given to me by my batshit crazy parents when I was a teenager).

          • Lambert says:

            Now I want to know what kind of parent you have to be such that your child rebels by becoming an ardent trade-unionist.

          • Plumber says:

            @Lambert says: "Now I want to know what kind of parent you have to be such that your child rebels by becoming an ardent trade-unionist"

            Oh, they were basically hippies, with my Dad from a working-class background, and my Mom from a middle-class one (who divorced my Dad, and married a middle-class background man who didn’t earn much money either but had a college education like my Mom did), between the two of them my Dad was the crazier one, i.e. self described “enemy of the State” and an anti-English Celtic nationalist despite being born in New Jersey, very blue-collar and otherwise fairly Hank Williams listening “Red-Tribe”, but it was my Mom who first dumped a bunch of Trotskyist comic books on me when I was around 12 years old in ’79 or ’80 (but she’s a lot more moderate now), and my having “only trade-unionist consciousness” and thinking “vanguardism” is hooey and dangerous is me being more centrist than my parents were in my childhood, though 15 year old me was much more “Right” leaning (there’s a High school picture of me in the Young Republicans club that I barely remember standing for), so I guess that was my rebellious period, 16 year old me started dating Anarchist girls (they were just so cute!), though I don’t think I ever believed in that.

            I’m now 51 and I’ll probably vote for Biden in the primary (still open to someone else though).

          • Deiseach says:

            my having “only trade-unionist consciousness” and thinking “vanguardism” is hooey and dangerous is me being more centrist than my parents were in my childhood

            Like Gabriel Syme from “The Man Who Was Thursday”? 🙂

            He was one of those who are driven early in life into too conservative an attitude by the bewildering folly of most revolutionists. He had not attained it by any tame tradition. His respectability was spontaneous and sudden, a rebellion against rebellion. He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions. One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else. His father cultivated art and self-realisation; his mother went in for simplicity and hygiene. Hence the child, during his tenderer years, was wholly unacquainted with any drink between the extremes of absinth and cocoa, of both of which he had a healthy dislike. The more his mother preached a more than Puritan abstinence the more did his father expand into a more than pagan latitude; and by the time the former had come to enforcing vegetarianism, the latter had pretty well reached the point of defending cannibalism.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Deiseach:

            One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else.

            “Modesty is a delusional and oppressive concept created by Bronze Age shepherds. tips fedora

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Wikiquote is unable to trace the the snappy version earlier than the 1988 novel “Dark Star” by Alan Furst (about war). It leads us to DeLong whose commenters find that Trotsky does say
          in A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party (in his book) Trotsky does say (p49/53):

          Burnham does not recognize the dialectic, but the dialectic recognizes Burnham, that is, extends its sway over him.

          (following a letter in French, also collected there)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            One of DeLong’s commenters suggests that Trotsky’s reconnaît/recognize is evoking Nietzsche’s abyss.

            Here is an unattributed(?) 1931 version, fully developed to politics/interested. I’m often suspicious of the dates that google puts on snippet books, but it’s visible in the image. Also, 1945.

            Here is the politics version in a 1949 book attributing it to Arthur Schnitzler (d 1931). If it weren’t for the previous version, I’d think he had the attribution wrong, but maybe not.

            Here is a 1957 book (if you trust google’s date) giving the word “interested” from Trotzky to Burnham (still dialectics). What happened between 1940 and 1957, I don’t know, but I think this is probably key in the merger of the two quotes.

            Several people in the 70s attribute the “politics” version to Marshall Berman. In Politics of Authenticity (1970) he seems to write a dialogue including the line “dialectic is interested in you.” But he has Kierkegaard deliver the line to Trotsky, not vice versa‽

            The “war” version seems to be from Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars (1977), explicitly modifying the adage, not putting words in Trotsky’s mouth.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            That was based on Google Books, which doesn’t have such great coverage of magazines. Ron Unz has a searchable (but rarely viewable) collection of magazines. It doesn’t turn up much more, mainly “absurdity is interested in you” from Donald Barthelme, “A Shower of Gold,” 1963.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I don’t think Pericles said it. I think the closest he got was from the funeral oration, not realpolitik, but democracy:

          Our public men have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, regarding him who takes no part in these duties not as unambitious but as useless, we Athenians are able to judge at all events if we cannot originate, and, instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all.

    • Deiseach says:

      For example, these Harvard grads [who believe that the Earth has seasons because of distance to the Sun rather than the tilt of its axis] have a model in their head that says that if their new employers send them off to the New Zealand office in July, they should have take their swimsuits and tropical weight business suits because the earth is closest to the sun in July. Maybe they’ve heard that it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere when it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but facts are a lot easier to remember if they function as examples for a theory in your head, rather than as just random bits of data.

      I’d disagree with Sailer on this; facts as examples for a theory work better if your mind works that way. If you don’t have the STEM/techie mindset, then thinking of “Christmas on the beach!” images for New Zealand/Australia as example of how the seasons are backwards will work a lot better for you than trying to stick an astronomical model into your noggin and attempting to work out which end of the tilt you will be on. Some people don’t have visual memories, for example, so they can’t picture the neat little image of the tilted Earth in their head and plan their wardrobes accordingly. Plus, it’s not just the tilt, it’s the position of the Earth on its rotation around the Sun at a particular time of the calendar year plus the tilt that causes the seasons, that’s why the Harvard grads he’s poking fun at associate “July” with “summer”:

      Over the course of a year, the angle of tilt does not vary. In other words, Earth’s northern axis is always pointing the same direction in space. At this time, that direction is more or less toward the star we call Polaris, the North Star. But the orientation of Earth’s tilt with respect to the sun – our source of light and warmth – does change as we orbit the sun. In other words, the Northern Hemisphere is oriented toward the sun for half of the year and away from the sun for the other half. The same is true of the Southern Hemisphere.

      Sailer is showing his own bias here: ‘this is how my mind works best so plainly it’s the best way for everyone’. No, Steve, sorry; if you’re going to force me to choose, then I’m sticking with Sherlock 🙂

    • JPNunez says:

      I have to side with the “Holmes is joking with Watson” side; IIRC Holmes ignorance does not really come up as relevant in other ways later on?

      Besides, he knows of and maybe has read Moriarty’s “The Dynamics of an Asteroid”, so if he has tried to understand that, he probably has had to understand how the solar system is built.

    • crh says:

      “Every time I learn something new some of the old stuff gets pushed out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course and I forgot how to drive?”
      “You were drunk!”
      “And how.”

  28. meh says:

    Recommendation for best sunlight therapy lamp? Don’t mind spending 100-200 if necessary, but don’t need some $10k medical grade solution.

    Thanks in advance

  29. Deiseach says:

    In today’s ‘turning history on its head’, are we really Irish at all? If it weren’t for the Vikings introducing new blood and presumably the old hybrid vigour, would there be any Irish left at all? 🙂

    News story here, research article here (if you have access to Elsevier to get the whole thing).

    Dr. Rowan McLaughlin, Research Fellow from the School of Natural and Built Environment, explains: “Millions of people lived in Ireland during prehistory and the earliest Christian times.

    “Around the year 700, this population in Ireland mysteriously entered a decline, perhaps because of war, famine, plague or political unrest. However, there was no single cause or one-off event, as the decline was a gradual process.”

    He adds: “The Vikings settled in Ireland in the tenth century, during the phase of decline and despite being few in number, they were more successful than the ‘natives’ in expanding their population. Today, genetic evidence suggests many Irish people have some Viking blood.”

  30. 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:

      Great Gatsby surely.
      Animal farm?
      Speaking of Orwell, 1984’s ending is super intense but famously it’s the book people mostly pretend to have read so maybe they only know the opening and the ending.

    • The Nybbler says:

      _A Tale of Two Cities_ has famous opening and closing lines. So does _1984_. My guess would be the former has a more famous opening (“It was the best of times…”) and the latter a more famous closing (“He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother”). Neither really allow for a sequel.

      This site has a few. Certainly _Animal Farm_ (which has an unremarkable opening) and _The Wonderful Wizard of Oz_

      • matthewravery says:

        My first thought for a book with a famous closing line was AToTC. But as you correctly note, the opener is a far, far more famous line.

    • Aftagley says:

      A Christmas Carol, for sure.

      And so, as Tiny Tim observed, “God Bless us, everyone.”

    • AG says:

      Does tv or streaming have different selection pressure than movies?

      We see this playing out in the episodic-release vs. bingeing models. When something is being doled out a portion at a time, as a serial, such as in broadcast format, there’s pressure to be sensational, things that will make viewers tune in week after week, to see how the latest cliffhanger will resolve. However, this may result in a longform whose parts are greater than the sum, and have a more temporary legacy. Think Glee, Empire, the latter seasons of GoT, Westworld.
      At first, the binge model meant that more attention was paid to the season long arcs. In practice, people started making seasons as one really long movie (which I hate). But because the goal is to make viewers tune in the once, get them hooked for the binge, they don’t need a sensational twist every episode, just a really strong set of initial episodes, whose good will they’ll run off of for the rest of the season.

    • Anatoly says:

      1. Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.

      “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

      2. James P. Carse’s “Finite and Infinite Games”.

      “There is but one infinite game.”

    • b_jonas says:

      The easiest way that this can happen is for non-first books in a series. If the first book has proven itself worth to read, then the reader may be willing to give you credit at the start of the sequel, so you don’t need such a snappy opening line. Examples of such books with particularly memorable closing lines are *Fiasco* by Stanisław Lem and *Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows* by J. K. Rowling.

      Discounting those, there are some books where the closing scene is more memorable than the opening scene, but it’s not so easy to find a suitable one if you insist on the opening and closing *line*. The best example I can name is one of my favorite books, *Giver* by Lois Lowry.

    • eric23 says:

      I think the closing line is more important than the opening line.

      If you’ve picked up a book and started reading, you are probably invested enough that the opening line no longer needs to grab you.

      The closing line, though, is the author’s last chance to make any sort of impression on you, and it’s what will stick with you the longest.

      Perhaps my favorite is from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” It brings to mind the line which was not said: “Isn’t it accurate/reasonable to think so?” and thus puts the focus on how one of the main characters’ lives has been full of delusion.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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?

  35. 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.

  36. onyomi says:

    Related to this post, to what extent is “woke capitalism” (companies choosing to “make a statement” on culture