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Open Thread 136

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

1. Thanks to everyone who’s helped organize upcoming meetups. I still need people to volunteer for the following cities: Cambridge (UK), Detroit, Dublin, Munich, Oxford, Pittsburgh. If you live in those cities and are willing to host an SSC meetup, please post below and/or email me with location, date, and time. I’ll try to have the big list of times and locations up later this week.

2. Related: the Less Wrong team now has a feature where you can add your location onto a world map and see if there are other people in your area interested in meeting up (or get notifications if someone else organizes for your area). See the thing on the top of https://www.lesswrong.com/community.

3. I’ve previously been refraining from enforcing the comment policies too hard on people who otherwise produce good content. And when conversations degenerate and everyone breaks the comment policies in a way where it’s hard to disentangle who started it, I’ve been leaving most of the people involved alone. But I think discussion quality has been degenerating here lately, so I’m revoking both those policies. The following people are now banned for multiple violations of the comment policy (linked after their names):
– Conrad Honcho indefinitely (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
– Dick indefinitely (1, 2, 3, 4)
– Matt M for three months (1, 2)
– Deiseach for three months or until you guys whine at me to reinstate her enough (1, 2, 3)

The following people are on thin ice and should consider themselves warned:
– Brad
– Le Maistre Chat
– JPNunez
– EchoChaos

4. AI safety organization Ought is looking for an engineering team lead (and, uh, offering a big referral bonus, so if you apply, mention my name).

5. I got a chance to talk to the author of the Times article I reviewed in Don’t Fear The Simulators. He wants to clarify that the presentation in the Times was necessarily condensed and simplified, and that if you’re really interested in this topic he has a paper, The Termination Risks Of Simulation Science, which explains his arguments in more detail.

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1,245 Responses to Open Thread 136

  1. gww says:

    Let’s meet up in Oxford:

    The Gardener’s Arms
    39 Plantation Road,
    Oxford,
    OX2 6JE

    http://www.thegarden-oxford.co.uk

    Thu 19th, from 6pm.

    Apparently it’s “the only 100% vegetarian & vegan pub menu in Oxford”.

    I’ve organised one of these meetups before, in Birmingham UK, but I’m new to Oxford so feel free to suggest a better location.

  2. rahien.din says:

    Ran into this situation the other day. What would you do :

    You are going to conduct a business deal with someone at a coffeeshop. If they are not on time you will be seriously inconvenienced – to the degree that you would rather have cancelled the meeting. But you also know that if they show, even late, you will feel beholden to give them your full attention, even though it will mess up your day. If you leave now, you will probably miss them, but you’ll have the rest of the day the way you want it.

    An afternoon shower is blowing up and you feel like they’ll wait until it is over to show, thus delaying the meeting and messing up your day.

    Their phone goes to voicemail, and the critical timepoint arrives. Do you stay or go?

    • Randy M says:

      It differs by culture. In urban America, I think you’re obliged five minutes beyond specified time, but not more. Obviously a voice or text message is required if you want to cancel.
      The implication is that the deal doesn’t profit you much, if you’d rather not attend than be delayed. So you probably leave.

    • Nick says:

      I think I’d leave them a voicemail and go.

    • zoozoc says:

      For a USA context (west coast).

      I think it is pretty normal to be late by 5, even 10, minutes. I think leaving past 10 minutes would be fine if you leave them a voicemail/text saying that you have to go. If you really need the meeting to be on time, you should mention that while setting up the meeting.

  3. Randy M says:

    Are paragraph indentations going away? When writing long form on-line I try to retain them, but WordPress, for one, really fights against that, and I think most bloggers accept this new standard.

    Will this bleed over into print, as extra ling breaks replace the thumb-width spacing before a new paragraph?

    What’s your preference as a reader? This is pretty trivial, so I understand if tempers flare, but try to be civil. Let me know if this needs to be saved for the next CW thread.

    • Aftagley says:

      Fully support.

      A hard return between paragraphs, or even taking an Fishing trip between them as randy suggests, is sufficient. We don’t need a weird indentation to let us know when we’re at the next logical grouping of sentences.

      • Randy M says:

        Of course I can’t make a post about punctuation without typos.

      • Nick says:

        an Fishing trip

        • Aftagley says:

          Ha, good catch!

          That’s the prime benefit of living in a glass house – you can see all sorts of cool people to throw stones at.

          • Randy M says:

            Ah, I asked for it

            Be gracious with typos or translation errors unless they accidentally say something really funny

            Ha, good catch!

            Intentional, I hope.

          • Nick says:

            While I’m admiring the view, here’s how I would emend your post:

            Fully support.

            A hard return between paragraphs, or even taking a fishing trip, as Randy suggests, suffices. We don’t need a weird indent to let us know when we’re at the next logical grouping of sentences.

            I can’t say that I like the term “hard return,” though. Strictly speaking, we often separate paragraphs with two hard returns, like in these comments. But a lot of styling is a single hard return with margins or padding. Microsoft Word’s dreadful default is 8pt spacing after each paragraph, for instance.

          • Randy M says:

            Dude, now you’re teasing me.

          • Nick says:

            It’s actually Aftagley I’m teasing, but I’ll tackle yours, too, if you want. 😀

          • Randy M says:

            Piles of words doubtless laden with to-my-eye invisible typos and suboptimal description of situations mundane and fantastic are but a click away.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I’m used to tech-style non-indented paragraphs, such as we see in this blog. But I’m equally happy reading normal printed material, with indented paragraphs.

      It’s possible that when reading on a screen paragraphs separated by blank lines are easier to read. In that case the e-book phenomenon may wind up killing off indented paragraphs. (Both local libraries now have material only available in e-book form, and some authors seem to be publishing some works as e-reader only.)

    • Nick says:

      I don’t know that indentations are going away; I think most printed material retains them, which I’m perfectly fine with, and if I were styling my own blog I might just retain them. The thing is that, as you say, some platforms rather aggressively push line breaks. And in other cases, we just can’t style our own text, and starting whitespace might be automatically stripped.

      I do prefer line breaks, but my preference is not firm and might be wrong.

      • Randy M says:

        And in other cases, we just can’t style our own text, and starting whitespace might be automatically stripped.

        In this case, it’s worse–it’s inconsistent stripping of extra white space. I think that comes from pasting from MS Word and only some of the invisible formatting language applies.
        Ah, smrt technology.
        Since no one seems to think going with the new trend when publishing on-line indicates a philistine ignorance of civilized custom, I’ll edit out the indentations WP decided to keep, since I can’t convince it to keep the ones I’m trying to edit in.

        • Nick says:

          Invisible formatting is my mortal enemy. You have my sympathy.

          I’ve been maintaining a little wiki for my college role-playing group. When I was comparing tools to use, a big rule was no opaque formatting wizardry. The one I went with, gollum, just needs a file type that can be rendered to html. So I store everything in markdown or html, and edit in vscode, and life is good!

          • DinoNerd says:

            +100

            *sigh* Ten years ago, my employers used various wikis. All used markup languages of some kind. Now confluence pretty much owns that space – and while you can to an extent use markup to create text, it then becomes invisible, uneditable, etc.

            Now the wikimedia foundation seems to be pushing their wiki software in the same direction.

            Apparantly vendors think “normal” people are too stupid to use markup – but somehow smart enough to see and use the invisible stuff. Or perhaps they are so dumb that the only way they can modify content is to retype it all from scratch – which is pretty close to what often needs to be done with confluence, if you want a consistent appearance.

          • Viliam says:

            It is fascinating how Atlassian succeeds to replace pre-existing free open-source software with their own inferior paid proprietary products.

            Also, so horribly designed! It’s like every single button was designed by a different person; one team made a toolbar at the top of the screen, another team made a competing toolbar at the top-right, and then some jerk said “screw this” and puts his button into the page header. Clicking “edit” sometimes opens a pop-up dialog, sometimes goes to another page (with no indication of context), and sometimes inserts the extra inputs into the current page. On the other hand, pages for completely different things look visually exactly the same, as if it’s illegal to use an icon or a different color or a few words in the page title to indicate what type of object you are currently viewing.

            Confluence can’t even decide whether it wants to be a wiki, a directory structure to upload files, or a primitive database. I guess this is probably desirable from the perspective of a technically illiterate manager, who can upload their Word or Excel file and boast about editing a collaborative wiki.

          • Nick says:

            When I was looking at wiki software, I looked at Confluence briefly, then ran very fast in the opposite direction.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Space between is more readable, IMO.

    • Lambert says:

      ℐ think William Morris was correct, in that we should use little leaves as pilcows. Starting new paragraphs with illuminated letters or switching between black and red (as per the Book of Kells) are also good ways of doing things.❧ ℳodern typesetting is so boring. We need more arabesques and rubrication and little doodles of knights on snails.

      🙠 🙠 🙠 🙢 🙢 🙢

      • Randy M says:

        I’ll check WordPress settings again, I may have overlooked a “start paragraph with knights on snails” option, but I think I’d have noticed–and used–that.

        There is a “drop cap” option to make the first letter 3x bigger, but I was told once that that was annoying even once per page.

    • Viliam says:

      I visually prefer indented paragraphs with a slightly (i.e. not twice) larger space between the paragraphs — just enough to make you notice that something happened there.

    • When I write, I use a blank line instead of a paragraph indentation, then change it before publishing. I find it easier to keep track that way.

  4. gettin_schwifty says:

    Dang it, my town went my whole life without any real tornado hits, but that’s over.

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/09/11/sioux-falls-south-dakota-tornado/2283760001/

    Quick summary: Some buildings damaged including an auto parts store losing a wall and a hospital’s behavioral health building losing a roof, some widespread outages, fortunately no deaths reported.

    Some pictures:

    https://www.keloland.com/weather/storm-damage-in-sioux-falls/amp/

    I guess every picture after a bad storm looks the same, but seeing it so close to where I grew up is about a hundred times crazier.

  5. Le Maistre Chat says:

    The percent of dogs and other domestic animals killed at shelters is plummeting. (NY Times, hopefully not paywalled for anyone.)

    Nominative determinism alert: they cite the advocacy of Bob Barker.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      FYI It *does* requires a login, which i suspect is a foot in the door for constant email notifications and $ solicitations as well. Technically not a paywall but no thanks, No offense to the NYT.

    • j1000000 says:

      Not exactly related, I suppose, but a couple years ago I briefly explored getting a dog, and the shelters near where I live (suburban blue tribe area) were shockingly demanding — they weren’t just looking for basic assurances that you would feed and house the dog. Some wanted to do home visits, some wanted to make you sign pledges that you’d only feed your dog natural food, some wouldn’t give you a dog unless you could prove someone would be home every day, etc.

      I was surprised because they were importing a lot of these dogs from states with kill shelters, which functionally to me meant they preferred to have dogs die rather than place them in slightly sub-optimal situations.

      • Randy M says:

        That’s interesting. They probably recruit animal loving volunteers who, since they aren’t a kill shelter, don’t see the consequences of being too choosy.

      • I actually discussed that in one of my books [search on “kittens”], although my experience was cats rather than dogs.

        My conclusion was that part of what the shelter did to get volunteers was make the volunteers feel important, put them in the position of people handing out scarce favors to petitioners. If they just gave a cat to anyone who wanted one, probably the right decision given that the alternative to adoption was death, they would get less free labor.

  6. Jake R says:

    I’ve been shopping around for a new cell phone lately and I’ve run into an interesting problem. I really don’t care about the quality of my phone’s camera, but camera quality seems to be about half of all phone advertising and one of the main focuses of every review. I want my phone to have a camera, but I’m fine with it being the same quality camera as my phone from 2008. I can’t for the life of me see why it needs to have 3 different cameras, which seems to be the minimum. The end result is a vague feeling that I’m wasting money on any decent phone because of all the camera crap.

    I also seem to be very much in the minority here. As far as I can tell there’s not enough of a niche for anyone to bother making a decent phone with a crappy camera. It looks like the Essential Phone might have tried this and were immediately and universally blasted for their crappy camera, and have improved it in later versions.

    I recognize that cameras are one of the few hardware features for companies to compete on, but is there really no niche for people who don’t aspire to be amateur photographers? Are cameras just really cheap and don’t contribute much to the overall production cost, so why not throw in a fancy one? That would at least make me feel better about shelling out for a nice phone. I can’t help feeling like I’m missing something here.

    • Lasagna says:

      +1. +1000, actually. If you ever find it, can you post it here? I’m really getting so fed up with the expense of replacing these things (and so much of the expense seems tied up with the camera) that I’m willing to try just about anything.

    • Matt says:

      I’m with you. I have a DSLR for taking nice photos, and my cell phone camera is mostly for taking ‘notes’: Picture of hair product I want to buy more of, picture of lawnmower so I can google the oil change process, picture of dental insurance card to send to HR for reasons, picture of big scary bug I found to send to my wife and daughters, etc. I try to avoid ‘this is how I make memories forever’ photos on my phone.

      My understanding is that cell phone cameras are very good at taking video, however. Because they have more computing power than most consumer-level video cameras and can better adjust to lighting and determine the intended subject? My SLRs take video but it’s not great.

      My main disappointment with the phone market is that you can’t get a swappable battery anymore. So I still have my Galaxy S5.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Its the only hardware feature that matters to the typical user. Processor speed, memory only matters if you are shooting video, ect.

      None of that is going to make apps run noticeably faster, because processor or memory intensive apps are extremely rare, sound quality is mostly a question of how much money you spend on your headset, and the signal hardware is specified within a micron of its life.

      But a better camera matters. It gets you better pictures and better video.

      What I am saying is, if you dont care about the camera, you most likely in fact do not care about any aspect of the phone at all, except battery life and still being supported by the manufacturer, and should just buy something very cheap.

      • Jake R says:

        I think that’s where I’m coming around to. My concern is that if I buy a cheap phone general OS bloat will mean the processor won’t keep up and the phone will start to chug sooner than I would like. I mean it’s still probably the right call. A $150 phone a year is still cheaper than a $800 phone every 4 years.

        Your comment increases my confidence that I won’t regret buying a cheap phone. Now to find one that still has a headphone jack…

        • The Nybbler says:

          Your comment increases my confidence that I won’t regret buying a cheap phone. Now to find one that still has a headphone jack…

          Buy refurbished. Or just plain old used, if you don’t mind scratches and such. This puts off the headphone jack issue and can get you a cheap and good phone.

          • Jake R says:

            I’m pretty off of refurbished phones. My first smartphone was an iPhone 4 in 2011. It lasted me several years. My next 3 phones were refurbished and none of them lasted more than a year. The wifi would go out or the battery would stop working or something would go wrong. I finally gave up and bought a new 6s and it’s lasted me 4 years. I’m only looking to replace it because I dropped it and it cracked recently and the cell signal has been bad ever since. Also for other reasons I want to switch to android.

          • Dragor says:

            I can endorse used. I have used all my phones many years and I really only ran into issues when apps stopped supporting my phone—and I am not sure that was even so much my phone as a nudge to get me buying. I bought my Pixel 1 right around when the Pixel 3 came out, and, other than the horrors of how Mainland China manages to nerf that phone, I have been happy. My friend who recommended it told me he bought it because repair guys said it was the easiest to repair, but I didn’t personally speak to any repair guys, so do your own research.

            Afterthought: I Actually did look at the Samsung J line, and they seemed ok. They have a dual sim function, and mainland China doesn’t nerf them to hell—both features I would have loved living in China.

            EDIT:My pixel was refurbished though, so maybe it’s not what you are looking for. New J7 is quite cheap. Same price as a refurbished Pixel last I checked.

    • Steven J says:

      “Are cameras just really cheap and don’t contribute much to the overall production cost, so why not throw in a fancy one?”

      This is the case. In the bill-of-materials breakdowns I’ve seen, the camera module typically accounts for only 5-10% of the manufacturing costs (and an even smaller fraction of the retail price). The incremental cost of a fancy camera over a crappy seems to be less than $10 in most cases. The expensive components are the display, flash memory, and the processors (applications processor and the baseband processor).

      • Jake R says:

        Well now that cancels out all the confidence I got from Thomas Jorgensen’s post above. The display and the processor are basically all I care about. It’s possible you’re both right but that still leaves me with no idea whether I could make do with a cheap phone or not.

      • zoozoc says:

        As someone in the industry, I can attest that the camera quality is a very small part of the total expense of the phone.

        As someone with a cheap phone as well (I got a $60 BLU phone from Amazon when they had those), I highly recommend getting a cheap phone. You don’t have to go that cheap, but it is almost always better to get a cheaper phone and upgrade it as you see fit rather than spend a ton of money up front and sit on it for several years. The hardware is still getting better year after year and prices are still going down (the same hardware gets cheaper by a lot as time goes on). So paying a premium for the latest, cutting edge phone is not worth it from my perspective.

        Though if you do get a cheap phone, make sure to get a case/cover (that probably applies to all phones, but definitely more so with cheaper ones).

    • Dragor says:

      Woah…yeah. I had the same problem before I bought my pixel. I basically want a phone that will run modern (but not fancy—no gaming or anything) apps and allow me to function in modern society. I need a camera good enough to text a photo to a friend; it doesn’t need to be HD.

      …I ultimately learned from other people the camera on my Pixel was pretty good, bit the fact I learned from other people tells you something.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I watched part of Apple’s new product announcements yesterday. Apparantly one selling point of their new phones is that buyers get to own cameras with which professional photographers can do wonderful things. I think the idea is for Joe Random to imagine he’s a professional photographer.

      Meanwhile, I took an iPhone XR on vacation with me a couple of weeks ago, and repeatedly wished I had a cheap analog camera from 20 years ago. It’s really “smart” – like a dog that does what it wants rather than what you tell it to. It emphasizes and enhances anything it thinks is a face; the new ones will do the same for some common house pets. By default it produces not still photos, but something called a “live” photo. The control to change that behaviour is an icon that means nothing to me. The button to take pictures has extra effects depending on whether it thinks you pressed it, or pressed and held it; the newer iPhones have *different* effects from the same “gesture”.

      The interface to look at your photos seems to autonomously upload them when it has internet access – and delete them from the phone, so you can’t see photos you took that morning, if you’ve gone on and then offline since. (But I can’t be sure of that, because simply displaying [thumbnails of] all the photos I took this morning, in the order I took them, requires knowing exactly which settings to pick in the photos UI – otherwise it tries to create an interesting visual effect/mosaic of thumbnails, varying sizes and order.) The actual mechanics of taking photos routinely switched modes on me, so I wound up with videos and I don’t know what all else, even after I figured out “live” mode and disabled it. This interface also creates “memories” for you – and then the search function produces memories ahead of single photos. The “memories” appear to be created by an AI which has no model whatsoever of how I would really group my photos, perhaps because I’ve never used their album UI. So I get its defaults, which are useless to me, and they get priority of placement over things I actually control.

      I presume android cameras are just as frustrating, but haven’t tried to use one recently.

      • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

        On Android there is F-Droid open-source app repository, which carries OpenCamera, and this application is not a quickly-changing one. On most phones it works without problems. No idea what is the state of the dark art for the manufacturer-installed camera apps…

    • Falacer says:

      The gold standard for finding a phone you want is GSMArena. They have a phone finder form that lets you select from an exhaustive list of details that you want, down to chipset or 4G band support.

    • Lurker says:

      if you find a decent phone with a crappy camera, please share! I have the exact same problem each time I need a new one.

  7. Enkidum says:

    I just crushed and boiled ~48 cups of grapes because there are a bunch of vines in our backyard and why leave them for the mangy raccoons? After straining, I have a gallon or so of very hot juice sitting in my fridge, which I will turn into jam tomorrow. Never done it before, hopefully it’s not too awful.

    • GearRatio says:

      Isn’t the PB&J stuff with just the juice jelly? I’m not 100% up on my fruit goo but I think it needs chunks to be jam.

    • Robin says:

      Cultural difference: In Europe, people don’t put anything hot into the fridge, because they think it costs a lot of electricity, the fridge will break, the other food in the fridge will heat up, or other drama.
      In America, they do, because they think outside the fridge the food will be infested with dangerous bacteria, and a different drama.

      Why cool it down, just to heat it up again tomorrow with the jam sugar? Just make the jelly immediately. Some people add the jam sugar, let it sit overnight and boil the next day.

      Don’t worry, it won’t be awful. It’s hard to spoil jam. Maybe add a little lemon juice as antioxidant (to preserve nice color).

      • acymetric says:

        Anecdote: I partially thawed all the stuff in my freezer once by putting in a bunch of burritos I had cooked up in there without letting them cool down enough first. It was a lot of burritos though, like 2 drawers full plus some overlflow…probably ~30% of the freezer volume.

        Most of the food refroze seemingly without issue, but the bread I had in there was never the same.

      • DragonMilk says:

        I’m in America, and I tell everyone not to put hot things in the fridge/freezer.

        Reason being that fridges/freezers don’t cool very effectively, so the hot item might raise the temperature of the whole thing before the cooling is finally done. Might as well put it on the radiator with the fan on etc.

        Temperature is different from wattage/change in temperature!

      • The Nybbler says:

        I let stuff with high thermal mass (e.g. large portions of sauces) cool down before putting them in the fridge, and I’m American.

      • quanta413 says:

        I too try to avoid putting hot things in the fridge.

        But you’re not wrong either. I also worry about dying horribly of dangerous bacteria. So I try to choose what to do based upon how hot the item is, how big it is, how long it needs to be left out, and what it is. Either way, I can’t win. :p

      • FLWAB says:

        I once worked in a cafeteria style kitchen (in America) and was required to get my “Food Card” which meant going through food safety training with the state. Though the training was about a lot of basic food safety topics, one of the most prominent and hammered in concepts was about food temperature. All food must be kept at above 145 F (63 C) while being served. Once food service is over the food must IMMEDIATELY be put into shallow pans (so they cool faster) and placed in a fridge or freezer. Any food temperature between 41 and 145 F (5 and 63 C) was called the “danger zone” and we were required to minimize the amount of time spent in the danger zone as much as possible. This was repeated in multiple ways, and was one of the main things they asked us about during the test at the end of the training.

        I wonder if European commercial food safety standards are as stringent?

        • Aftagley says:

          How serious are those warnings?

          Does your average home chef actually have to be worried about that kind of temperature control for food safety, or is this just a case of “the odds of it happening are low, but we don’t want to be sued”?

          • FLWAB says:

            Well since we were serving food to about 200 children on a regular basis, it pays to be extra cautious. Food poisoning is no joke. If it happens to you at home, well, you only have yourself to blame and the damage is probably limited. But if a commercial kitchen lets the mac-and cheese go bad and several hundred people get food poisoning…well that’s bad for everyone. So the food card safety program was pretty extreme, I think.

            In my personal life I don’t follow those recommendations at all. I leave food out for hours after cooking, chillin’ in the danger zone. I get by just fine: I don’t think I’ve ever given myself food poisoning. But then again, that’s my risk to take. When you sell food people expect it not to poison them.

        • Viliam says:

          The safety standards for preparing food probably reflect the safety standards for selling food — the worse stuff you can legally sell, the more careful you have to be at handling it.

          For example, in USA the meat industry is powerful enough to make selling salmonella-infected chicken legal. [1] [2] The reasoning is approximately that getting rid of salmonella would be too costly for the producers, and if you are really really really careful you can process the meat safely anyway. You just need to operate your kitchen like a biohazard lab — it’s technically possible, so everyone can do it, except for the stupidest 99.9% of the population. It is your duty as a customer to educate yourself how to survive being sold infected food. (And your duty as a restaurant worker, to avoid poisoning your customers with the infected food you were sold.)

          Nanny socialist states like EU simply ban selling salmonella-infected chicken, just like they love to ban so many things. As a result, Europeans don’t have to use a flamethrower every time they take something out of the fridge.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @Viliam
            I read both of those links, and I understand neither one. Both of them say that salmonella is illegal in some of their comments, and the opposite elsewhere. In the Guardian article, the proponents of US law state that it is impossible to completely eliminate bacteria, which sounds reasonable to me, but the Guardian implies that the law allows producers to sell meat with salmonella, with the implication that the producer knows the salmonella exists. The lawyer appears a little more nuanced, but he also seems to say opposite things.

            I wonder if there is a another link with a clearer view of the law.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        And the food safety people want it cold as fast as possible. And a standard consumer refrigerator is not cold enough to get hot food cold enough fast enough to prevent bacteria to grow in the food and thus create toxins that survive being cold. But it’s still better and safer than letting it cool down in the ambient air. The Europeans are wrong.

        My hands-on experience in this was prepping food for some burning man camps that were large enough to require Nevada Div of Public Health certification.

        The process is after the food is cooked, it’s put into a *salted ice bath*, with a thermometer stuck into it and timers set.

        There are charts and formula that specify the minimum time spent in the danger zone, and specify the minimum dT/dt of the temperature T as it’s crash chilling.

        If there was a economically sane magic machine that could drop the temperature of large pots of hot food from 230F to 0F in one second, every department of health in the US would immediately mandate it’s use. Until then: ice water.

        As soon as the food is down to the saltbath 28F it gets transferred to the chest freezer to get it down to below 0F or lower, or a kitchen freezer to get it down to 20F if you don’t have a chest freezer. Which is where it is supposed to stay until it’s pulled out and reheated.

        The Nevada DPBH is getting more and more strict, because it’s discovered that it can’t trust rando Burners to not take this stuff as seriously as they should, and both the DPBH and the more serious people in the BM kitchen lead “club” all know the day is coming when some camp that didnt take this stuff as seriously as they should give a bunch of people botulism poisoning.

      • JustToSay says:

        Well I’m an American who fits the American description there. I give things a bit of time to cool down, especially if it’s four quarts of chicken stock or half a lasagna or something, but I am pretty obsessive about most foods not spending time between 40 and 140. I worked in food service, and I’ve almost lost someone to food poisoning, so I don’t mess around.

        If I put something hot in the fridge though, I move several ice packs from the freezer to the fridge – near, but not touching, the hot items. Later I’ll put the ice packs back in the freezer to re-freeze. In my mind, I’m balancing out the thermal mass and helping it cool more quickly. No idea if it helps, really.

      • Enkidum says:

        Late to this reply, but you’re supposed to cool it in order to prevent crystals forming. I should have waited until it cooled to near room temperature for sure, though.

  8. Well... says:

    This is tangential to the banning discussion:

    I was banned from the SSC Discord server about two and a half years ago. The ban was over something stupid, and I didn’t receive fair warning. The ban was supposed to last a month but whoever admins the channel never unbanned me — probably out of forgetfulness, but who knows.

    The catch is: I have a problem with self-control in certain parts of the internet, and chatrooms are particularly trappy to me, so that wrongful ban was very good for me in the end. It gave me a lot of my life back.

    I don’t know if that speaks to anyone else, and I suppose there’s no way for any of the banned people to tell me if it speaks to them, but I hope it does and that being banned gives them the push they need to go do important things in meatspace (like clean their houses, or spend time with loved ones, or read actual books, or get work done) rather than sit around typing messages on a blog for hours each night the way losers like me do.

    • Dogeared says:

      I got banned from my football club’s forum for speaking my mind – best thing that could have happened in retrospect. It was a place full of cynicism and depression even after winning. My suspicion was that it was heavily infiltrated by other club’s fans, but then again, no one can whine like a football fan.

  9. BBA says:

    I agree with the bans – although, out of sheer morbid curiosity, I wonder if we could give Dei a furlough of a few days in late October (or whenever Brexit gets delayed).

    I also would like to apologize for using my mental health issues to garner sympathy around here. I find it unseemly when others do it, and it’s wrong when I do it too.

  10. Tenacious D says:

    or until you guys whine at me to reinstate her enough

    Or whinge?

  11. Doctor Mist says:

    Is it possible to see which (if any) of my comments have been reported?

  12. Le Maistre Chat says:

    There’s something in fiction I’ll call the Expanded Universe Principle, where every member of an alien species turns out to be just like the one from the original story. Named of course for print Star Wars stories where every Wookie was enslaved by the Empire because Chewbacca once wore chains in A New Hope, every Hutt is a crime boss, every male of Greedo’s race is a bounty hunter, etc.
    What a boring waste! Imagine how much more interesting the aliens from Predator would be if it turned out that the hunters from the original movies were as peripheral to their way of life as hunters are to First World humans.

    • Nornagest says:

      I just thought of this, but: why is Jabba “the Hutt”, anyway? He’s a Hutt, sure, but Chewie’s formal name isn’t “Chewbacca the Wookie”, now is it?

      • Snickering Citadel says:

        Maybe so he wouldn’t be confused with Jabba the jawa or Jabba the human.

      • Randy M says:

        Well he was one of only two on the planet, right? Seems cromulent to me.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        @Nornagest: I would guess that George Lucas intended Hutt to be a title (i.e. if the same person was King of France he’d be Jabba le Roi, species name undefined) and other writers applied it to all giant slugs with opposable thumbs as they introduced them. Evidence would require a deeper lore dive than I could give a damn about, though.

        • Lillian says:

          Jabba was originally cast as a fat human, but the scene was cut from the original Star Wars, and only reintroduced (with CGI) in the Special Edition. So it may indeed be the case that it was originally a title rather than species name.

      • bullseye says:

        I figure the Hutts are a crime family who happen to be the only surviving members of their species.

        Side note, in the prequels they look like they’re the actual ruling family of Tatooine, even though everyone still calls them gangsters.

        • TakatoGuil says:

          I don’t think that such a portrayal is entirely inconsistent – Tattooine in the prequel era may well be an interstellar Tortuga. Or perhaps the Galactic Republic, myopic as it is, is entirely willing to cast any governments beyond its control as little more than barbarian chiefs who abuse their hordes.

          • bullseye says:

            I think it would be fair, for example, to call Kim Jong Un a mob boss, but it’s not the most important thing about him.

            In the tv shows and comics, it’s made clear that the Hutts are crime bosses, but also that they control a large area of space. Jabba in particular seems too important to be dealing directly with a small-timer like Han.

    • Viliam says:

      Imagine how much more interesting the aliens from Predator would be if it turned out that the hunters from the original movies were as peripheral to their way of life as hunters are to First World humans.

      So the next movie would be about humanity factory-farmed for meat? Nice.

      (Spoilers: Gur Cebzvfrq Arireynaq)

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I mean, yes. That’s a good horror premise.
        One of the last SF TV shows I tried to get into before moving out on my own and killing my TV was Stargate: Atlantis. I’d been enjoying the first Stargate series, so I tuned into the pilot and… the evil aliens (“the Wraith”) were hunter-gatherers with FTL and teleporters whose diet consisted entirely of humans. So when there weren’t enough wild humans, they all put themselves on ice. In other words, they never learned to farm.
        I checked out in disbelief by the time the pilot’s credits rolled.

        • Nick says:

          For me the Wraiths might have been the weakest part of that show. Was never a fan of them as Big Bads.

        • Protagoras says:

          The Wraith are terrible villains. But the protagonists on SG:Atlantis are, I think, the most interesting set of protagonists of the various SG series. So I put up with the Wraith.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          They WERE farming. Large human populations take a long time to grow, so they hibernated until harvest time.

    • Lillian says:

      One of my disappointments on that vein is to learn that as far as the Expanded Universe is concerned, Toydarians are generally resistant to Force mental manipulation, because Watto proved strong willed enough resist Qui-Gonn and proclaimed, “I am Toydarian, mind-tricks don’t work on me, only money.” Like if a guy saw through a scam and said, “I’m an Englishman, confidence tricks don’t work on me!” you wouldn’t assume that Englishmen in general are immune to cons, just that this Englishman in particular was hard to trick. Yet when an alien says something about his species, people assume he is automatically both correct and truthful.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I think the TV Tropes for that is Planet of Hats

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        One of my disappointments on that vein is to learn that as far as the Expanded Universe is concerned, Toydarians are generally resistant to Force mental manipulation, because Watto proved strong willed enough resist Qui-Gonn and proclaimed, “I am Toydarian, mind-tricks don’t work on me, only money.” Like if a guy saw through a scam and said, “I’m an Englishman, confidence tricks don’t work on me!”

        Yep, it’s like if the first human in a movie made by aliens was James Bond. Other writers would decide that humans are a promiscuous species of mostly-hairless bipedal spies with pale skin and a mane of black hair who have affinities for handguns and martinis and speak in one of several British accents.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        As a counterpoint, I’d propose that whenever you introduce magic into a setting, it’s generally a good idea to set limits as to what it can do – otherwise you’re always running into “why didn’t the magic-wielding protagonist use magic to solve the problem” (and solving all problems with magic is boring).

        Given what we know about the Force (it’s omnipresent, but some beings are more sensitive to it than others) it isn’t too big a stretch to be told that certain species are more resistant to it than others. In fact, the very first time we witness a mind trick (in ANH) we are told by Obi-Wan that it affects the “weak minded” (and one might expect that someone principally used to taking orders – such as a stormtrooper; or Bib Fortuna – would be a prime target). Later, in ROTJ, Jabba explicitly comments on Fortuna’s weak-mindedness and laughs at Luke’s attempts to mind trick him (Jabba being someone who does the telling, rather than being told – which seems to be true of Hutts in general).

        Given what we can glean about Toydarians from our exposure to Watto, it’s certainly plausible that – leaving aside any special Force-related considerations – Toydarians as a race are simply too self-interested, suspicious and cynical to fall for such petty trickery.

        • bullseye says:

          We see some more Toydarians in the Clone Wars, and none of them have Watto’s personality. I think the more recent material (including Clone Wars) is better thought out and doesn’t run into the issue the OP was talking about as often.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            That’s quite likely. I haven’t really seen that much of the Clone Wars, so I can’t say.

            Still, the idea of an entire alien species being immune to mind tricks is not something I find particularly troubling on a conceptual level. It’s a big galaxy out there, after all.

    • Corey says:

      TVTropes calls this “Planet of Hats” IIRC, it pops up a lot and I agree it’s boring.

  13. Randy M says:

    GearRatio reminded me of a question I had after filling out applications recently.
    Employers, possibly only of a certain size, are required to collect demographic information–race, ethnicity, sex, veteran status, and disability are common.
    In each case, there are various options, as well as a “decline to state.”
    As someone unlikely to be eligible for any sort of official or unofficial affirmative action during his working life, what is the optimum selection if the only concern is to get hired?
    I assume saying I am a disabled Samoan veteran will get my application a second look, possibly better chance at interview, during which they would discover I was a liar and throw me out. Also, I’m not terribly fond of being a liar.

    So basically, is there any difference between selecting the majority and true option, or declining to state? I’m not ashamed of any characteristic, but I’m not against playing the game in a not strictly lying way if necessary. (Obviously not the place to discuss the optimum rules for the game policy wise, nor the motives of anyone else in the system)

    • Lambert says:

      I think this is the kind of question that inevitably leads to CW.

    • Aftagley says:

      Your assumption only holds true if you are A: a member of the majority and B:believe that the least beneficial option possible is being majority. If this is the case, then yes: decline is probably treated as defaulting to majority.

      On the other hand, if you’re a minority and believe it’s possible there could be some bias in the system which might result in your racial status causing you to not be considered, then the decline to state option removes that potential hurdle.

      I basically see the “decline to state” option as a steam relief valve: whatever you are and whatever you think the biases are, it allows you to escape them.

      • Randy M says:

        I basically see the “decline to state” option as a steam relief valve: whatever you are and whatever you think the biases are, it allows you to escape them.

        I’m not sure it does. It might get around “no X biases” until you actually get the interview.
        But I think automated screening handles a lot of this first glut (I should note these are on-line applications), and it seems likely to me that they are move demographics needed for whatever quota the EEOC or their own diversity policies want to see higher in the queue.

        I think the reason it is included is to give you, the applicant, some false assurance and way to protest the collection of the data.

        • Aftagley says:

          I think the reason it is included is to give you, the applicant, some false assurance…

          I think we actually agree here.

          When I say it acts as a steam relief, I don’t mean it actually does anything constructive when it comes to combating bias, I just think it lets a concerned applicant feel like they are escaping bias.

      • Z says:

        One time I applied to a tech company that required my demographic information. I declined to state. They then pressed that I state, so I did. Then my application was rejected.

        ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • S_J says:

      When I was younger (and had spent lots of time reading about and watching Star Trek), I would often find the “Racial Identification” list, check “Other”, and write “Human” in the blank line adjacent to that listing.

      I don’t do that as much anymore, but maybe I should begin doing that again.

      Would that be considered lying on an official declaration-of-Race form?

      If so, why?

      • Viliam says:

        If so, why?

        Because the people evaluating the form would decide so, duh.

        (The relation between clever ideas and social reality is usually like this.)

    • Eric Rall says:

      I’ve been involved in the hiring process as an interviewer at a couple different large software companies. The information on those forms never reached me: I got a resume and sometimes feedback from earlier interviewers, but never the EEOC form or information from it.

      I’m pretty sure the form is only used for statistical purposes by the HR department and the federal regulatory agency that mandates the form. The more the attentions of the hiring decision-makers are called to a candidate’s demographics, the more the company is exposed to liability for discrimination claims.

      Of course, by the time you’re actually being interviewed, your race and gender will probably be pretty obvious to the interviewers either way.

      • Well... says:

        I’m pretty sure the form is only used for statistical purposes by the HR department and the federal regulatory agency that mandates the form. The more the attentions of the hiring decision-makers are called to a candidate’s demographics, the more the company is exposed to liability for discrimination claims.

        I am not an HR professional, but my understanding is this is true and accurate. I’m 99.999% sure nobody with decision-making power over whether or not you’re hired ever sees how you answer those questions, or is even allowed to see how you answered them. Even if they somehow saw accidentally, it would be illegal for them to take that information into consideration when making their decision.

        Therefore how you answer those questions is completely irrelevant to your objective of getting hired. To that effect you can answer them however you see fit.

        • cassander says:

          There are certainly exceptions to this rule (government employment is more explicit about points), but but it fits with my experience generally. Now, if I were getting pressured by my boss to hire more women/minorities, the way I would probably go about doing it by being more willing to grant women, but If I were to do that, I’d almost certainly do it based on their names, not the form they fill out.

        • Randy M says:

          Therefore how you answer those questions is completely irrelevant to your objective of getting hired

          I believe that is true, but it isnt’ logically necessary from the premise that the hiring manager doesn’t see it, since it’s possible the right answers get you passed on by the automated screening easier.

    • Aapje says:

      @Randy M

      Note that many people who identify as black (in the West) are actually mixed race, with some being not much darker than slightly tanned white people. For example, this person identifies as black. So you may be able to argue that you are black.

      An even easier option is to call yourself Hispanic, as that is not a racial ethnicity. About half of Hispanics identify as white.

      Of course, in all cases, when pressed, state that you have a white father and you got your names from his side.

      • Randy M says:

        They can always call on the mortal enemy of my people–the sun–to testify against me.

      • JonathanD says:

        Assuming he’s American, it’s likely less that he *identifies* as black than that he *is identified* as black. It’s a society-wide assumption, a legacy of the old one-drop rule. We don’t think about it much, but we still do it. To pick the obvious example, it would have been deeply weird, in an American context, for Barack Obama to call himself white, despite having a white parent and having been raised by a white family. If he’s not from here, feel free to disregard, I don’t know how this stuff works other places.

        Edit: typo

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          To pick the obvious example, it would have been deeply weird, in an American context, for Barack Obama to call himself white, despite having a white parent and having been raised by a white family.

          White and Indonesian, even.

        • Aapje says:

          @JonathanD

          Is that still relevant after Jim Crow laws were abolished? I doubt that anyone will thoroughly investigate the ancestry of a job candidate, to see if there is a drop of black blood, unless the job is President.

      • Law schools are required to ask students, perhaps even applicants, about their race. One of the categories is black, another is mixed race.

        My guess is that most American born blacks are actually of mixed race, given how much lighter most of them are than people from sub-Saharan Africa. But apparently the people who make the relevant rules accept the usual rule that “black” means “enough sub-Saharan African ancestry to be noticeable.” Possibly with an exception for partial Asian or Amerind ancestry.

    • bullseye says:

      I feel like, if they did take your demographic answers into account, if you don’t answer they’d assume you’re not in the group they’re looking for, whatever that group happens to be. If I *have* to hire a specific race, I’m not going to take a chance on someone of unknown race.

  14. GearRatio says:

    I have a big job interview today, something like 147% of my current salary. In the spirit of me not freaking the fuck out for the next six hours until I can drive down there, I would love to hear examples of:

    A. Really bad interview advice you’ve gotten

    B. Really bad interview tactics you’ve been subjected to

    The more disastrous, the better for my sanity!

    • Dogeared says:

      An interviewer once asked me to cluck like a chicken.

      I’m uncertain of the reason, perhaps just to see how I reacted.

      I did a sort of quiet peeeerrrrrrk.

      And I didn’t get the job.

      • GearRatio says:

        Out of curiosity, what position did the interviewer have with the company?

        • Two McMillion says:

          “Result of Experiment: Applicants unable to determine difference between interviewer and random homeless person off the street.”

        • Dogeared says:

          I don’t recall. It was a sales and promotion type job however, so I guess it was a test to gauge outgoing personality and willingness to make a tit of yourself.

          On the plus side I didn’t end up wearing a big rubber chicken outfit in the high street selling KFC or something.

          • GearRatio says:

            I was assuming whatever explanation you gave would still give me room to go “that’s incredibly abusive” but that sort of makes sense, actually.

    • Lasagna says:

      I once got a former colleague an interview at my company for a plum spot. A great job with tons of qualified and eager applicants. She was less qualified, but they made time and space to interview her anyway on my recommendation.

      The job was for a high-level management position in a brand-new part of the company (I’m intentionally keeping this vague) and would involve hiring and managing a new team. When asked if she had any thoughts about how she would approach this team, she said “Yes! Lots of them.” When asked what they were, she refused to say before being offered the job. When they gently told her she wasn’t going to get the job offer without giving them information on how she planned to do the job, she got kind of nasty. Then they had to run out the clock for the remaining 45 minutes of the interview. Don’t do this.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        In her defense, I had a friend with the opposite problem. She kept going to interviews for digital marketing manager positions for companies juust a bit too small to really afford a proper digital marketing manager. Most of the interview was “how do you see the marketing strategy for our company?”. This being said, her approach definitely wasn’t correct. Especially considering she was there on a recommendation.

      • Wency says:

        Ha, I seem to recall Homer Simpson doing this in an old episode.

        Hopefully the recommendation didn’t come back to bite you. I’ve learned (from a few missteps like this) to be VERY careful in giving unqualified recommendations. It doesn’t really help anyone to give them unless you have very high confidence the person will excel (in both the interview and job).

        • Lasagna says:

          You’re not wrong. And it sure didn’t help me. But I did qualify it – “I know her and like her, but can’t speak to her strengths on X, Y and Z” where “X, Y, and Z” basically encompassed the entire job.

          But it was still a learning experience, and I should have known better and attached more caveats (“she’s nuts”). You walk up to a colleague and press a resume into their hands the chances just went up 1000% that that person is going to get an interview. I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to work out. I was just doing a favor for a colleague I hadn’t spoken to in years when I should have done a favor for my current colleague, you know?

    • Jake says:

      We once had a guy in a phone interview who obviously didn’t know the answer to the question we asked, so proceeded to ramble on for the next 20 minutes or so, not letting anyone else on the line get a word in edgewise. This was some grade A corporate lingo BS, to the point that we actually put the line on mute, and called other people into the office to hear what he was saying, and he would just not stop, no matter how many times we politely tried to move the conversation to the next question. Needless to say, he did not get the job.

    • Chalid says:

      I’ve been interviewing a lot lately, and a couple nights ago I had a dream in which I forgot the name of the company I was interviewing with and had to dance around the topic through multiple conversations.

    • rubberduck says:

      Best of luck on the interview!

      Hijacking your thread to ask my own interview/job app question: How bad/good is it to, in the absence of a specific skill, say something along the lines of “I have [close friend/family member/spouse] with X years experience in skill Y and plan to use their advice” (assuming it is true and you really do plan to do that)? Somebody is trying to convince me that this is absolutely a thing you can and should say but my gut says no, because the interviewer wants YOUR skills and anyway you need to sound independent. Thoughts?

      • Aftagley says:

        I probably would just take the hit and admit not having that particular skill, but if you feel like you need to mention it as a strength you could spin it as overall familiarity with the topic. Something like, “while I’ve never personally done X, my [insert person here] has been doing X for Y years and I’ve had the opportunity to learn a great deal about X from them.”

        I would not say you’ll continue to consult with this other person, you’re right. They don’t want someone who feels like they have to call home on every tough decision.

        If these people are your parents, I would only do this if you’re young. No one wants to here anyone over 30 talk about their parents.

        If this person is your friend, I probably wouldn’t mention it.

        If this person is your spouse, you can probably use this as an asset pretty far into your career, but I wouldn’t bring it up more than once over the course of your interview.

      • Plumber says:

        My uncle is a plumber and I grew up listening to him” worked, so sure.

      • jgr314 says:

        Avoid that (based on my experience interviewing candidates and managing many hiring processes).

        An alternative:
        (1) acknowledge that isn’t a skill you have
        (2) talk about related skills
        (3) talk about how you would acquire that skill

        Ideally, you would know before the interview if there is a critical skill required for the job that you don’t have and you’ll be prepared to address it.

        FWIW, it would be rare for me to bring someone in for an interview if I thought they were missing a key skill. It has happened a couple of times when I was asked to join someone else’s hiring process, though. Which reminds me that another bad strategy is arguing that the skill isn’t actually important for the job…

      • Randy M says:

        Seems like you would only get away with this if your [close friend/family member/spouse] was going to be on the job with you.

      • Lasagna says:

        Lots of really good advice here. I do a lot of interviewing, and to back up what others have said:

        1. I’ve never heard anyone say “I’ll rely on a third party you don’t know for X”. I’m not sure I’d respond favorably to that; it’s pretty weak. If you don’t have a particular skill, just acknowledge it. It’s safe to do that for two reasons: (1) if the skill was a dealbreaker and you didn’t have it, you wouldn’t have made it to the interview unless you lied on your resume; and (2) you don’t want the job if you don’t have the skills. But:

        2. If you want to spin your roommate’s/spouse’s/mom’s knowledge as a reason to hire you, you have to do it in a way that indicates you’re aware that it isn’t much. I’d say “my experience with X is pretty limited, though I’ve certainly heard a lot about it from my wife” and let it flow naturally from there (“oh? What does your wife do?”). And so on.

        3. The obvious caveat: All this advice is context dependent. I don’t know what skill it is you’re talking about; maybe advertising your wife’s skills WOULD make a big impression. Can I ask what it is specifically?

        • rubberduck says:

          I’m applying to a customer-facing job at a company making scientific software. My background is in the sciences and I have the lab+soft skills needed but no CompSci experience whatsoever (at least not beyond routine use of scientific software). The job listing mentions some CS skills that would be a big plus but ultimately asks for scientists, not tech folks, so I don’t expect my lack of CS experience to be a serious drawback. I think in this case mentioning my CS-experienced family member would not do me any favors.

          • Lasagna says:

            For what it’s worth, I think your instincts are right. It sounds like you should acknowledge that your strengths lies elsewhere. I’m nervous giving this advice, so maybe wait until someone in software/engineering comments – their thoughts would be worth more.

            But another thing, to take or leave: when an applicant acknowledges (deftly and mildly, just basically being cool about it) that they lack a helpful skill or area of expertise and will need to learn on the job, I like them more. Nobody is ever an exact match. If someone like that shows up, sure, they get the job, but nobody ever has; everyone needs to learn something important AFTER they start working.

            Applicants that fare the best are ones that (1) have enough of the needed skills that we can work with them; (2) seem trustworthy and honest and eager to work; and (3) seem like they’d fit in generally and be liked by their colleagues.

            ALL THREE of these need to be in every person we hire – it’s a very team-oriented place. You can have all the lawyerin’ skills in the world, but if I think you’re going to blame someone else when you make errors and make unreasonable demands on the organization or your colleagues, or if you’re not going to be able to take constructive criticism from others on your team and make people dread working with you, no way are we hiring you.

            Basically what I’m saying is don’t sweat not having everything list in the job description. Nobody does. It’s not up to you to determine what’s vital and what the company can do without. Be both honest AND put your best foot forward.

            Good luck!!!

          • gbdub says:

            Acknowledging that you have a (nonfatal) weakness that you are motivated to improve is good. Giving a plan to do it is even better.

            “CS specifically is an area where I know I don’t have a lot of experience, but I’m really fascinated in the field and interested to learn more. I have several good friends in the industry and they’ve recommended I do XYZ to build a basic fluency, and I plan to follow that advice”

    • SamChevre says:

      Not bad, exactly, but bizarrely memorable: the interviewer for an entry-level professional job whose opening was “I’m [name], and I have no idea why I’m talking to you–they never listen to anything I say.” I got the job, though.

      Not bizarre, just brutal: interviewing for a research assistant position–a full day of interviews. 10 45-minute interviews with PhD-level researchers, back to back, with a half-hour lunch break. And then dinner with the current research assistants. I didn’t get the job, and later heard informally that they weren’t sure I would be comfortable working with the other research assistants, since I had hardly said anything at dinner. (I was exhausted to the point of incoherence–I’m an introvert and the interviews were challenging.)

    • Lord Nelson says:

      My worst interview was with a prestigious engineering school. The interviewer told me a story about how one of his professors jumped off the top of a school building and committed suicide. It came completely out of nowhere and I had no idea how to respond.

    • RDNinja says:

      When I was interviewing for my current job, I mentioned that at my previous internship, one of my tasks was to measure the viscosity of paint. One interviewer asked “Did you used instruments for that?” I was a few hours into the interview process at this point, so I sarcastically replied, “No, I just ran my fingers through it.”

  15. Atlas says:

    Why is WOW Classic such a big deal? How did later additions to the base game make it actively worse, such that many people are excited to replay vanilla?

    • Aftagley says:

      1. Nostalgia – WoW is still kinda popular now, but back in the day it was an actual cultural force. For a bunch of people, wow classic was the first game they ever really, really got into. WoW classic lets these people go home again.

      2. Difficulty that forced interaction – WoW original wasn’t designed to be a game that an individual could succeed at. It forced people to work together which in turn, forced people to interact. This in turn led to pretty close-knit friendships/structures.

      3. It was a much less refined experience – I’d argue that the additions to the base game haven’t made it actively worse, they’ve just sanded off a bunch of the rough edges in a way that people are kind of medium on. Stuff like solo queuing (where if you want to run a dungeon alone you just click a button and the game puts you in a group then warps you to the dungeon) means it’s way easier to run dungeons, but running them is less of an event. I remember back in the day, if you were an alliance and wanted to run Scarlet Monastery it could be an all day event sneaking in and then summoning your allies. Today, you hit a button. Classes used to have far more defined roles and non-combat strengths, whereas today they’ve all blended together.

      This all being said, I think that WoW classic released today with no history behind it would fail. It’s too plodding, occasionally arcane and massively unforgiving.

    • By the time I stopped playing WoW, it had become a game where the leveling part was walking you through their not very interesting story, with very little in the way of challenges. You did that in order to get to top level, at which point the game was mostly raids, trying to acquire the better gear that the bosses dropped, with no interesting solo content.

      I mostly enjoyed playing solo. In the classic version, which I am now playing, getting to sixty takes a long time and the game is largely about the fun of doing so. You can do it faster if you have a group that works together, but in my case that means spending some of my time paired with my wife’s character, occasionally joining a random group doing a quest that is almost impossible solo.

      At least on our (RP) server, things are also a lot friendlier than they were in the version I left. Part of that is that, without cross server recruitment of raids, you are likely to see the same people repeatedly, so reputation matters. A lot of people randomly buff others, for instance.

      • Lasagna says:

        I loved WoW when it came out (and Everquest, and LOTRO, and City of Heroes… I tried way too many of these games), but, as with all MMORPGs, it spins off the earth too quickly. It required too much of a time investment to keep pace with everyone else. I ended up quitting all of these without getting far at all.

        And what I’d heard about how WoW has changed over the years confirmed what you’re saying: that the game more or less became a minor inconvenience to reaching the end-game so you could raid. I wouldn’t be interested in that – what I liked was the struggle to advance just a little further, the feeling that the world was huge and there were some seriously dangerous areas out there for me NOT to mess with.

        Obviously that makes me really want to give WoW vanilla a shot, but I know this song. I’ll play way too much for a week, not get enough sleep and zombie my way through work, give up, and regret it.

    • Clutzy says:

      I am late to the party and late to the thread so I hope I can still get engagement.

      Aside from obvious nostalgia, I think I would credit one large factor that makes classic WOW better than modern WOW:

      The tastemaker preference for reward. I think everyone on this forum knows the term tastemaker, but, in the videogame industry I think they generally like games with relative difficulty, novelty, and reward. But the reward they like is usually not something explicitly shiny, but something they decide is a reward. This, in combination with their relative hardcoreness, means they dont mind timesinks for rewards, and don’t even care if there is nothing official about the reward. They decide what the reward is. And I think WOW progressed away from that as it tried to keep players that tastemakers lured. Subsequent games have followed suit.

      I was lured to WOW originally because two of the best Diablo 2 LOD players I’d ever PVPed against said it was awesome. I am talking about people that organized on the D2 forums competitive 4v4 tournaments, crazy hardcore challenges, etc. We all went to one server, had a horde guild, and frankly I fell way behind. I didn’t have time or dedication. I went alliance for my real world friends and enjoyed it even more, but my friends never could have convinced me to pay the monthly fee on their own. That is who WoW classic appeals to, and I think a game can succeed on that style for a long time.

      The new game is objectively better in tons of ways for a casual guy, like i have been since, and I actually want to pick it up again (im way behind) once I fix my schedule because its fun. But the old game’s style is more appealing to a certain segment, even if addons have progressed so much that it makes the old game too easy for true hardcore people.

  16. Two McMillion says:

    With all the discussion of bans going on, I thought I’d share an experience that happened to me some time ago regarding moderation, internet forums, and how it affects the makeup of a forum. A while back I was a member of a certain forum which was devoted to a certain hobby. As these places often do, they had a subforum for off-topic discussions, and, as often happens, politics came up, and discussions got heated. Site administration responded by creating a new subforum and declaring that all culture war topics had to be discussed there. So far, so good.

    The Controversy subforum quickly developed a different flavor than the rest of the site. It was harsher, certainly, but it also produced some excellent discussion of different points. The lows were lower, but in my opinion the highs were higher as well. Over time, though, it felt like we got fewer highs and more lows. Threads becoming flame wars began to happen more and more often; insults became a more common occurrence.

    Over the course of several years, site administration tried several tactics to mitigate this course of events. They tried heavily moderating the forum, and were met with backlash and claims they were being partisan (in both directions). They tried lightly moderating the forum, and it became such a cesspool people were leaving the site. Finally, they declared a reign of terror: Be nice, or else; we’re not going to apologize for our decisions, we’ll try to be fair but if you disagree, you can GTFO.

    The reign of terror was quite successful in cleaning up to forum. Almost overnight it became a much nicer place with much higher quality posts and discussion. It also succeeded in almost completely driving away the right-wing voices in the forum. The moderators began by banning everyone with a reputation for being stupid or mean, which immediately removed almost half the right-wing voices in the forum. There was some mumbling about partisanship, but personally I don’t believe partisanship was an issue. I think they were legitimately and genuinely trying to remove the most toxic voices from discussion. It just so happened that most of those voices were right-wing. I say this as a conservative myself. Banning people who really did need to be banned had the net effect of removing conservatives from discussion.

    Now outnumbered, the conservatives who had not been banned began leaving the forum as well. I think they legitimately tried, but there’s a tremendous psychological effect that comes when you’re in a hostile space and your posts are getting replies from three times as many people who disagree with you. It was no longer fun, and most of the right-wingers left, myself included.

    On a whim, I popped my head in the forum the other day. It’s completely left-wing now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s more or less without the worst kind of trash that it used to have. But it’s no longer a place where engagement occurs between two sides of the spectrum. It’s completely a left-wing echo chamber, and I think they like it that way.

    I don’t know how reasonable it is to draw conclusions based on this one experience, but if it generalizes it might say some depressing things about having good online discussions. First, it’s possible that rules about niceness and civility inherently advance left-leaning voices. Why this might be, I don’t know; I can only assume the reason is cultural. Perhaps the red and blue tribes have different ideas of niceness, and somehow the left-leaning one is more prominent. Second, it might be the case that removing toxic voices on one side can have the effect, not of facilitating discussion, but making the discussion space less fun for the rest of the people on that side.

    I don’t know if this is some sort of general law, or if it was the result of factors unique to that forum. I do know that facilitating good discussion is hard; doing so online, even harder. And I know from experience that even an attempt to even-handedly enforce the rules and impose a norm of kindness can have unexpectedly hostile effects. I’m reminded of Scott’s old post about superweapons, and how even true things said about a group that cast it in a negative light can make the whole group tied together whether they like it or not. I’d hate to think that we’re so divided that we can’t even have an agreed-upon norm about niceness. But who knows?

    One thing I know, though, is that if I ever run a forum, I’m going to enforce a strict “no politics” rule.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Perhaps the red and blue tribes have different ideas of niceness, and somehow the left-leaning one is more prominent.

      Yes, this is bias in the definition of “niceness”. For example: “People in category X should be helped” is considered “nice”, but “people in category X should not be helped” or “…should be punished” is not. This is a very superficial definition of niceness, but it often holds sway. Often enough this is added to more obvious bias about how this only applies for some values of X.

    • DragonMilk says:

      On niceness, we should probably save that for the next hidden thread.

      • Nick says:

        ETA: On second thought, there’s nothing but downsides to pre-registering a contention. Just going to save my thoughts for next hidden thread!

      • Two McMillion says:

        Oh crap I forgot this was a visible thread.

        • Randy M says:

          Unfortunately, when Scott wants to make an announcement about comments, he does it on a visible thread, which is understandable, but discussing them often drifts CW, and visible threads are non-CW.
          It’s a bit of accidental entrapment to watch out for.

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M,

            The comment you responded to is relatively mild, but yes alot of this thread is now looks pretty “hot button” to me.

            I wish Wednesday’s 136.25 thread was here already, somehow “CW allowed” threads seem less rancorous.

          • Randy M says:

            The comment you responded to is relatively mild, but yes alot of this thread is now looks pretty “hot button” to me.

            Yes, because Scott started it with a discussion of banned posters and links to what they said–and an explicit invitation to whine about it, which implies this is a place to discuss comment policy and whether certain obviously CW statements were over the line.

    • I’m not going to even entertain the idea of a grand sweeping narrative of conservative meanness based on one unverified anecdote. There are dozens of examples of left intolerance.

      • axiomsofdominion says:

        I think it is more likely to be a composition problem and not a ideological problem anyways. One side just happens to have more or less nice people for reasons not related to ideology. That might be brigading from another community or some other cause. Then you ban those people and the balance of the community gets upset and one side leaves.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Not sure it applies here. We’re deliberately working on higher levels of discussion, with some success – or at least that’s how it felt when I joined the forum. The final goal is specifically to be able to discuss every topic, without turning it CW. (That’s why I’m choosing to respond to this instead of being a good boy and ignoring it until the next thread. Practice makes perfect.)

      Using Haidt’s definitions, which I like: left is all about caring about people, while right is equally balanced between more principles (that express differently in different people, and some expressions don’t really fit in the modern world anymore. Nota bene: not the principle itself. Carl Sagan or Richard Fenyman probably held quite a few things to be sacred, but this doesn’t make the extreme religious right very …. good).

      This means that if you use niceness (aka caring) as a measuring tape and cut away everything that doesn’t fit, the people that don’t get cut are mostly left. The right will occasionally hold its ground on various other moral foundations, and they’re by definition less nice than just being nice.

      Also, I feel I just said the same thing as Nybbler in a lot more words.

      • Dragor says:

        That’s…really bothersome—except actually I have heard a similar angle from left wing friends of mine saying demands for civility discriminate against the disenfranchised who should be able to express their pains in a manner comfortable to them. I think it’s been said elsewhere, but I think this maps to conflict vs mistake theorisms (where would that fit into Haidt’s paradigm? I know I would consider him a mistake theoretical foil to Jordan Peterson’s conflict theorist.)

        • Aapje says:

          @Radu Floricica

          Extreme niceness to one group often results in not being nice to another group, though. ‘Let’s save our women and children from all harm by genociding our outgroup’ is extremely nice and caring for ‘our’ women and children, in a way.

          What is considered nice is not universal, but is subjective.

          @Dragor

          Sure, but then you get the issue that being seen as disenfranchised allows one to burden others, without allowing others to burden you, which can easily be abused. Even if a person is disenfranchised and has a need, that still doesn’t make it just to victimize or very heavily burden a random person.

          For example, I don’t think that poor people should be allowed to just steal stuff, even if they have a (non-emergency) need. They get what the welfare system provides them and are allowed to argue that they need more, but they do have to respect limits that other people set.

          In general, that is what civilization is: the acceptance of limits*. If some people get to ignore the limits, they undermine civilization.

          * Note that this doesn’t mean accepting the status quo, but opposition to the status quo needs to follow the rules on how anyone gets to challenge the status quo.

          With many forms of disenfranchisement being hard to see/prove/etc, these exceptions seem to often be granted by stereotyping and/or to those who act according to a stereotype.

          From an individualist perspective, this is problematic.

          • axiomsofdominion says:

            Difficulty is when the rules themselves are being enforced unfairly. The people gaining from that unfairness are not going to admit it without a struggle for obvious reasons.

            How would this apply to a feudal society? There would basically be no way to fight back without violence. Many people argue the same applies in a modern society.

            Also if you are poor its just much harder to work the system than it is for the rich. Ergo you have to break the rules.

            This is what structural racism or structural classism or other arguments deal with. Whether a particular case is correct or not, the meta-argument is sound and has many proven cases.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Anecdata from English wikipedia – there’s a chronic running battle that amounts to (sub)cultural norms being applied to outsiders. Various words commonly used by working class British are beyond-the-pale offensive to many Americans, and worthy of an instant ban. Some of the language considered only mildly offensive by other Americans are beyond-the-pale offensive to those same British folk. An educated+ Brit expressing contempt or worse can appear to be barely annoyed at all to the kind of American extrovert who works sales. (Even this Canadian tried to say “this hoax needs to be deleted ASAP” and had it misread as “I think there might be something a bit iffy about this article”.) An American that’s mildly annoyed appears to be “yelling” at the Brit. And they all want to ban “bad behaviour”, and warn/discipline/ban offenders, who are often using normal speech and/or joking by their own lights.

            This isn’t the only reason good editors and admins get run off wikipedia, and others become cynics. But it’s worth keeping in mind, because class + nationality may correlate with political instincts (or at least what you see as ‘normal’). And a certain amount of the US CW seems to involve people proudly acting according to their own subcultural norms.

            And the above is almost always portrayed as being about “niceness” – or at least standards of good, friendly etc. behaviour. Even when it’s e.g. actually just about parts of the British Working class using the C word almost as punctuation – and many Americans being shocked and offended.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Aapje
            Yeah, but some things are harder to express as nice than others. That’s why I like Haidt, btw, and I don’t really care if he turns out to be 100% correct or 30% correct. For the first time it gives some structure to the they way I think about these things.

            Your example can easily be framed it as taking care of vulnerable people. Arguably that’s even what it’s really about – it takes almost no effort at all to express it like this.

            The right, with their more varied moral foundations / guiding principles / goals, goes into directions where you hold opinions that are Just Not Nice. Like the quote from wikipedia’s Fram you posted recently.

            Or, for a more extreme example, “I know minority X is in jail a lot, but maybe they shouldn’t break the law so much”. That’s a statement that can come from pure respect for authority – it doesn’t need anything else to come out like this (definitely doesn’t need racism, for example). But it looks racist af. You can express this nicely, of course, but you have to work at it. The raw feeling is “they shouldn’t break the law”, and it’s not a nice feeling.

            That was a bit extreme, indeed, but you can think of similar examples for fairness, loyalty, sanctity or liberty. The only one that’s inherently nice is Care. So it makes sense that an environment that selects for niceness above all else will in time favor the left.

          • Aapje says:

            @axiomsofdominion

            Difficulty is when the rules themselves are being enforced unfairly.

            One complication is that “unfair” is not at all objective. Your “unfair” is almost certainly not my “unfair.” In fact, I would argue that people’s definition of fairness tend towards the selfish (directly or indirectly) and people’s definition are thus themselves not fair.

            You also ignore that fairly applied rules can also be considered unfair. A consistently enforced rule that only rich people may vote will disenfranchise the poor, but not because of unfair enforcement.

            Furthermore, privilege is not black/white. Compared to the single most privileged person, we are all treated unfairly. So do we all get to use violence, except that one person?

            Furthermore, there is the huge complication that nature is not fair. People tend to believe that humans need to make up for this to some extent, where that extent is again very subjective (and people typically seem to feel that this should be larger when it benefits themselves). It doesn’t seem obvious to me that if someone feels entitled to more than others are willing to give, they can take that with violence or otherwise break the rules.

            Ultimately, IMO the ugly truth is that most humans are more motivated by selfishness than by altruism. Decent prosperity and human well-being for all requires that we find a balance between letting people indulge in this, so they are motivated to sacrifice in a way that benefits others, while clamping down on excesses and redistributing some of the personal benefits.

            That seems to work a lot better with democracy, than with violence.

            @Radu Floricica

            Your example can easily be framed it as taking care of vulnerable people.

            Very many things can be expressed thusly, but that doesn’t mean that it will be accepted. ‘Jews are in control and oppress and exploit gentiles’ has the same structure as ‘Men are in control and oppress and exploit women,’ but one of these statements is going to be accepted as a legitimate claim by way more people than the other.

            The raw feeling is “they shouldn’t break the law”, and it’s not a nice feeling.

            That’s because you don’t mention the victims in your statement. The meme is “Won’t someone think of the children!” for a reason.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Niceness in tone is a lot less subjective than niceness in content.

      A rhetorical techniques like sarcasm can generally be identified as such by any person regardless of their value system.

      But if you judge a statement by how it makes other people feel, regardless of what literary techniques are employed then a you have a very easy to exploit loophole. Supporting or opposing any state of affairs has winners and losers, and can be regarded as just or cruel depending on your value system. It that case it becomes impossible to make an argument because the argument is cruel at it’s core.

      Similarly any statement of fact or causality can come off as a value statement because people place certain positive and negative value on both causes and effects. To say X cause has Y effect will trigger a negative emotional reaction in someone if the value of X and Y aren’t either both good or both bad.

    • Jiro says:

      I think we’re getting the literal opposite here and on TheMotte. The left is ascendant everywhere and doesn’t need to conform to standards of decorum in order to be heard. People from the left end up behaving badly because the left gets away with it everywhere else. If a forum is actually policed for good behavior, you end up banning a lot of leftists.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        We really need the same topic in the next thread as well. I have a perfect reply and probably true, but half of it is actually waging CW instead of just discussing it.

    • Viliam says:

      Perhaps the red and blue tribes have different ideas of niceness, and somehow the left-leaning one is more prominent.

      There are many double standards, when a thing is considered okay when one side does it, but the analogical thing is considered horrible when the other side does it.

      (For example, “discussing benefits of slavery, especially in presence of black people” vs “discussing benefits of socialism, especially in presence of people from former Soviet bloc”; one is horribly insensitive, the other is perfectly innocent. Or criticism of Christianity vs criticism of Islam. Complaining about archetypal behavior of men vs complaining about archetypal behavior of women. Censoring some topics for greater social good vs censoring some other topics for greater social good. Etc.)

      And yes, all these double standards can be defended… in a way that sounds plausible to one side, and unconvincing to the other side. When you set the rules, it is easier for you to collect the points.

      • InvalidUsernameAndPassword says:

        (For example, “discussing benefits of slavery, especially in presence of black people” vs “discussing benefits of socialism, especially in presence of people from former Soviet bloc”

        Bias certainly plays a role, but I think you’re ignoring another major contributor to the disparity, namely that “Real slavery has never been tried” is not a thing (at least AFAIK).

    • CandidoRondon says:

      Was this alternatehistory.com? If not the same exact process occurred there – the admin finally got fed up with dealing with all the controversies and just started getting very strict with interpreting the rules banning most of the right-wing regulars. Where back in say 2008 you had a pretty consistent back and forth between the political sides ten years later the forum is a political monoculture.

  17. Chalid says:

    Near my old workplace is 270 Park Avenue which will soon be the tallest voluntarily demolished building in the world and the third-tallest destroyed building ever (after the World Trade Center of course); here is Wikipedia’s list of tallest demolished buildings.

    Lots of people have listed tallest demolished buildings but there are some other obvious metrics. Any idea what would be the largest demolished buildings by building volume? By floorspace? By volume, I’m thinking perhaps some kind of massive German or Russian factory or shipyard in WWII. By floor space it seems hard to beat the WTC.

    Here are various lists of largest (non-demolished) buildings.

    • jgr314 says:

      One of the largest buildings is this refrigerated warehouse: 2800 Polar Way. I know that area and can’t think of a reason why it would be good logistics to have a huge frozen food warehouse there. The press release says that it is convenient to an existing rail spur, which, sure, but it seems pretty far from both (needing to be frozen) food producing regions and population centers.

      • ksdale says:

        Having lived in Washington most of my life, I agree that it doesn’t seem like most of the food from there would need to be frozen, but there’s a gigantic amount of produce grown in that region and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was livestock within a few hundred miles of there as well.

        I’ve driven past a big Ore-Ida factory in Oregon or Idaho… and though potatoes generally aren’t frozen, I think every Ore-Ida package I’ve ever seen has been in the freezer section, so maybe it’s something like that.

      • Wency says:

        Having worked some in commercial real estate, I can say that siting a large warehouse is not as trivial as it might appear (it’s just a big box, put it anywhere!) Warehousing is a low-price, low-margin business, so all the economic factors need to be considered carefully.

        You often need a very large plot of flat ground that is available for sale, which in hilly or mountainous regions (like much of the northwest) can be surprisingly hard to find. You need good logistical connections. You need a large enough labor force with the right skills (or to not be in so dismal an area that no one will relocate there), willing to work for the right price. In the case of this refrigerated facility, I bet the costs of keeping it cool are substantial, so electricity rates are relevant (probably not a coincidence that WA has some of the lowest rates in the country due to its ample hydro power).

        And like any corporate presence like this, you of course hope to find a local government that wants to attract you there.

        • jgr314 says:

          That’s very interesting. One thing I’d thought would be an issue with that site is that E Washington gets very hot in the summer. West of the mountains is moderate/cool all year, but much harder to find flat space.

    • BBA says:

      Maybe a building associated with the old Denver airport, which closed when the current one opened in 1995. Airports take up huge amounts of land, and the terminals and hangars are very large buildings, yet when you look at a map of Denver today you can barely tell where the old one was. It’s just another neighborhood now.

  18. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing Links Post:

    First, I’ve started a new series on Riverine Warfare. The first two parts, covering North America and Africa, are up now.

    Second, I’ve wrapped up my series on the Spanish-American War with a look at the handful of actions after Santiago.

    The US military supports an incredible R&D infrastructure, and some of the facilities are worth a closer look. My favorite is the David Taylor Model Basin, where ship hull forms are tested.

    In the Falklands, the British troops have finally engaged the Argentinians at Goose Green.

    Lastly, I went to the Tinker Airshow back in June and finally got around to posting my photos.

    • EchoChaos says:

      First, I’ve started a new series on Riverine Warfare. The first two parts, covering North America and Africa, are up now.

      Excellent. I’m really looking forward to South America and the War of the Triple Alliance.

    • Tenacious D says:

      The riverine warfare series is interesting so far. Are you planning an entry for every continent?

      Does the David Taylor Model Basin give tours, or did your info mainly come from books?

      • John Schilling says:

        Riverine warfare in Antarctica: coming soon to a blog near you.

      • bean says:

        The riverine warfare series is interesting so far. Are you planning an entry for every continent?

        John beat me to the obvious joke here, and I don’t really have anything for Australia, either. The serious answer is that I am doing my best to take a global view of the subject, sorted by area. I seriously considered several different arrangements, and ultimately settled on geographic. The first three parts each cover a continent because they had about the right amount of material for that. The rest probably won’t. I expect China (the next topic) to run to 3 parts. SEA will probably take two. Not sure beyond that.

      • bean says:

        Oh, right. Forgot part of this. DTMB does give tours, and taking one is very much on my bucket list. But everything in that post came from books or the internet.

  19. soreff says:

    >until you guys whine at me to reinstate her enough

    I’d like to register a whine.
    I rarely agree with Deiseach,
    but I _always_ want to hear what she has to say.

    • Lurker says:

      me too!
      people like her take me out of my echo chamber and that’s worth a lot to me and I find her style funny, so if she writes something I reflexively disagree with, I’m more likely to seriously think about it because it also makes me laugh (maybe that makes me weird).

      [also, is there a reason why banning/warning someone can’t go by percentage? arbitrary example: if 5% of your comments cross a line, you get a warning, if 10% cross a line you get banned. that way, frequent commenters wouldn’t be at a disadvantage because more comments mean more chances for mistake, and the trolls that show up just to mess with people would still get banned as well.]

      I’ve also noticed interesting comments by Le Maistre Chat and EchoChaos and would be sad to see them go.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        is there a reason why banning/warning someone can’t go by percentage?

        If we had any expectation of due process, this might make sense. But it would require a massive amount of bookkeeping on Scott’s part; if he has a fixed budget of time he spends on SSC, it would reduce his posting considerably, which to my mind is not a good bargain.

        • Lurker says:

          if he has a fixed budget of time he spends on SSC, it would reduce his posting considerably, which to my mind is not a good bargain.

          I completely agree with that!
          I just figured that seeing the number of posts a person made on your blog in a certain time frame would be easy to see and then you just divide the number of posts that bothered you by that.
          But maybe that’s a feature that just sounds interesting to me, but no body else so no one implemented comment count per person.
          If it does exist the additional time you need to make the decicion to ban is maybe a minute or so. If it doesn’t then yes, the amount of time necessary to do this is unreasonable even if it wouldn’t take away from Scott’s blog writing time.

          [assuming something exists because it seems obvious that it should happens to me occationally and then I end up sounding unreasonable to people who know that it doesn’t. sorry.]

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I don’t think we’re in disagreement here, but I’ll just say that “number of posts that bothered you” by itself requires more bookkeeping than I would want to impose. My impression is that Scott is probably just using his native Bayesian processing: any obnoxious post raises his irritation level toward the poster, and at some point the irritation level is high enough for him to say, “All right, that’s it; out of the pool.” The final straw may not be a particularly egregious violation, as I think many people agree about the examples cited in the OP, but it was the final straw.

      • Witness says:

        [also, is there a reason why banning/warning someone can’t go by percentage? arbitrary example: if 5% of your comments cross a line, you get a warning, if 10% cross a line you get banned. that way, frequent commenters wouldn’t be at a disadvantage because more comments mean more chances for mistake, and the trolls that show up just to mess with people would still get banned as well.]

        Banning by percentages certainly seems fair. It’s a matter of fact that the more often one opens one’s mouth, the more chances there are for something to slip out that shouldn’t, and should someone be punished for that?

        My response is, sort of yes. It’s also a matter of fact that those who comment have more influence over the tone of the debate. I think it’s wise to hold them accountable for that.

        I also think that it’s worth a certain amount of charity on the duration of such bans, provided the offender genuinely adds value when they aren’t slipping. If “indefinite == permanent” then I think that’s worth reconsidering, but if indefinite is more “until I reflect upon it and/or hear from other commenters”, then we’re on the right track.

        • Lurker says:

          It’s also a matter of fact that those who comment have more influence over the tone of the debate. I think it’s wise to hold them accountable for that.

          Good point. I agree. One should be held accountable for one’s behaviour.

          (Assumption here for the following: the percentage thing is fast to do and/or easy to automate)
          But wouldn’t setting the percentage points relatively low achieve that?
          Or does an unkind/untruthful/etc comment from someone who generally follows the standards have a disproportionate impact? (if someone who’s never rude suddenly starts yelling at me or someone who’s always been nice to me is suddenly mean, this will have a much bigger impact on me than someone who’s always like that. Do internet comments work similarly?)

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Example #1 doesn’t seem to me like a rule violation, given the context to which she was responding.

  20. Skeptical Wolf says:

    In a previous open thread, I mentioned that there are some valuable skills for professional software developers that CS programs are frequently bad at teaching (and vice versa for boot camps). Ilate asked me to elaborate, but I took too long to get back to the thread, so I’ll post my answer here.

    Disclaimer: I do not work in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley software development has a different culture and focus than most other software development. Use an extra grain of salt if trying to apply my advice to SV.

    Skills professional software engineers need that fresh CS graduates usually have to be taught:
    Unit Testing Test Driven Development is still not ubiquitous, but unit testing in some form is. Your preferred language probably has a library or utility named ***unit (junit for Java, pyunit for Python, xunit or nunit for C#, etc). You can probably learn to use it fairly easily from youtube tutorials and blog posts (if you try this and have trouble, flag me down in an open thread and I’ll help if one of the other local techies doesn’t get there first). For a second step, look for a mocking library that works with your unit testing framework (mockito for Java, unittest.mock for Python, etc). Being comfortable with those tools will put you several steps ahead of other fresh bachelor’s degree recipients. Also, learning what is hard to test and what is easy to test will help you become a better programmer (hint: good code is easy to test). It is frequently better to show no code samples at all than to show code samples without unit tests.
    Naming things descriptively This is hard even for the most seasoned professionals, but it’s also an absolutely essential skill that is frequently overlooked by CS professors. Clean Code by Robert Martin is a good book to start with for this and a few similar practices (though I tend to disagree with him about exceptions). Alternatively, try revisiting an old project, restructuring the code and renaming things until someone looking at it for the first time can clearly understand you intent with no comments. This is not a purely academic exercise – as a professional software engineer, I feel that I have failed if I have to comment anything beyond a module’s public api.
    Agile practices / team dynamics Even the slowest dinosaurs of the industry are either turning agile or pretending to. Being passingly familiar with some of the basic practices and principles will help you get up to speed on a professional team much faster (and help you get through the interview). If you can get access to a Safari account, Neal Ford’s Agile Engineering Practices videos are a great place to start.
    Splitting things up into small units This is closely related to naming in that it falls under the giant umbrella of “writing readable code”. A lot of new engineers I’ve met (this one applies both to CS programs and bootcamps) have a tendency to write everything in one method/function. In professional practice, there is almost never a reason to do this. Breaking things up into smaller units lets you achieve consistent levels of abstraction and communicate a lot more of your intent with descriptive names. In practice, I generally assume that any method that runs longer than 10 lines needs to be broken up (and being smaller doesn’t make it safe). Neal Ford recommends four lines as the safe size, which isn’t always practical in every language, but communicates the concept very nicely.

    If people are interested in more of this content, I’m happy to answer questions or do a similar post for what bootcamps tend to miss.

    P.S. – Ilate, I also answered a couple of your more specific questions back in OT135.75. Apologies for the delayed response.

    • Enkidum says:

      Thanks for this. I can’t imagine writing all my methods in 10 lines or less, but it’s an interesting thing to aspire to. Unit testing is the next tool I think I need to master.

      To give you an example of where I’m at in programming, I’m quite good at writing code that does things, but I created my first class maybe four years ago, and only now feel somewhat comfortable with the main concepts of OOP. So I’m only thirty years out of date…

    • brad says:

      In general good advice, but some pushback:

      Unit Testing
      I don’t think excessive mocking is valuable. You end up encoding your assumptions in your mocks and then test that your code embodies your assumptions. If you find yourself doing a lot of mocking consider integration/ETE tests instead.

      In terms of testable code being good code, to the extent we are talking about the functional style, I mostly agree. But I find that testable code seems to have less encapsulation (freer access) than otherwise good code would. @VisibleForTesting displeases me.

      Agile practices
      There are some good ideas there. Don’t make like a crossfitter please.

      Small Units / Clean Code
      I seem to recall CC not only recommends four line functions but wants them to each take one argument. No one wants to read three hundred line functions with a dozen string arguments but this is going way overboard in my opinion.

      caveat
      Although I’m not in SV, I do work for a company headquartered there.

      • Enkidum says:

        No one wants to read three hundred line functions with a dozen string arguments

        Oh no I’ve made a horrible mistake… many, many horrible mistakes

        • Skeptical Wolf says:

          Everyone makes those mistakes when they’re starting out. They’re something to learn from, not be ashamed of.

          If you could tell me what language you’re working in, I might be able to recommend a book or two to help you ramp up a bit faster.

          • Enkidum says:

            Matlab for data analysis, C#/Unity for experiment design/control (I’m a psychologist/neuroscientist, doing experiments with quasi-realistic environments/stimuli, hence Unity). Some R/python, currently those are weaker skills, but I recognize that they’re the optimal tools for analysis.

            I recently went through Modeling Software with Finite State Machines — A Practical Approach by Wagner et al, which was incredibly useful for my current task. And it happened to match a bunch of my preconceptions for how software should work, which is always a plus.

          • quanta413 says:

            It’s been a while since I’ve used Matlab, and I am not a software engineer but my recollection is that Matlab encourages horrible habits. I abandoned it for Python after porting one small project over to Python and seeing the difference. I feel it helped me improve my coding habits a lot even though my code is still not at the level I’d want if I was working in a group rather than mostly hacking together one-off scripts and notebooks for data analysis. Never looked back.

            Last time I used Matlab, you couldn’t call anything but the top level function of a .m file from another file which encourages building huge functions that contain as much functionality as possible or using the top level function as a sort of wrapper for functions lower down the file. I didn’t try using Matlab classes though.

            I also found the lack of namespacing very frustrating.

          • Enkidum says:

            Both your recollections are correct. There are a few things that Matlab has going for it:

            – sunk cost, just huge amounts of people are fluent in it and it takes time and energy to retrain them, particularly in some branches of engineering and (for odd historical reasons) experimental psychology, which is where I’m at
            – the GUI. Everyone keeps telling me that in recent years python has made leaps and bounds here, but I find the Matlab gui so much better than anything else I’ve tried for examining data that it’s really hard to switch.
            – the help files and function references. Seriously, they are amazing. Again, this is something that in the past decade or so has hugely improved in lots of other languages as well.
            – dealing with matrices, Matlab is short for Matrix Laboratory, after all. Yes, yes, numpy and so on, but I’ve never found anything as intuitive for manipulating n-D stuff.

            There are a few other positives as well. That being said, it’s ridiculously slow, and as you said it encourages terrible code. I am guilty of this, though I’m improving a lot.

          • roflc0ptic says:

            @Enkidum I kind of want to suggest caution when applying Skeptical Wolf’s words here to your own work – the qualifier “for software developers” is pretty important. There are many contexts in which quickly writing low quality code is the rational strategy.

            Code written by scientists is usually “bad” code – things aren’t named well, they aren’t split up into small units, they aren’t unit tested (or testable). However, these “problems” are only problems in the context of long-lived, often-modified code in a sizeable codebase. It’s not cognitively cheap to write good code, nor is it a cheap skillset to pick up.

            I believe [citations needed] all of the practices Skeptical Wolf is pointing to emerged from people working on teams trying to coordinate with each other on how to modify and re-use code. That’s certainly where their value lies.

            I’m not saying you should avoid learning about software development. It’s pretty great. But with more knowledge comes more ways to accidentally waste time.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Enkidum

            I totally agree on the costs of retraining and a lot of the GUI being nicer. Matplotlib is powerful but also often a pain to deal with compared to Matlab’s plotting interface. I’ve also heard that building standalone apps with Matlab is less painful than breaking out PyQt or some other full blown graphics toolkit. I’ve never had to do either. I really like Jupyter notebooks and widgets which Matlab didn’t have anything like, but I’ve been bitten by breaking updates or weird cross-platform or cross-browser bugs in Jupyter widgets enough times that I don’t recommend it in general.

            The matrix notation in matlab is nicer, but I find it’s a relatively minor issue.

            I actually feel the opposite way about Matlab help and documentation though. When I go off the happy path of Matlab to write some marginally more complicated algorithm that isn’t just matrix manipulation or I need some little used feature, I find the documentation quality drops steeply. I once tried to help my wife debug some code using image processing routines and some of the help pages weren’t even clear on things like “what numeric type does the input matrix need to be and what type will the output be” or “what do these optional arguments do”?

            Although numpy’s docs aren’t as friendly, I find they’re more likely to cover all the details I need. Although a more fair comparison might be scikit-image which IIRC has some of the same issues with not always making it obvious what will happen to the numeric types of matrices going in.

            That being said, it’s ridiculously slow…

            Fortunately, it’s not that slow at matrix multiplication although string processing and other things might be pretty slow (not sure). You probably don’t have to worry about this much unless you are doing a lot of really heavy computational work.

            It’s roughly the same speed as numpy. Give or take a factor of 2 usually. Which is usually within an order of magnitude of typical C code, or for some routines can be as fast as can be since both it and numpy can be configured to call into BLAS/LAPACK routines.

          • Enkidum says:

            In terms of Matlab’s speed, one of the big issues is apparently the way loops are handled. I didn’t fully understand all of this when it was explained to me, and that was a long time ago, but if I remember correctly they’re not using the super-efficient C++ methods for looping. There are (I think) actually good reasons for this, because Matlab loops tend to involve a lot of things (like matrix manipulation/indexing) that don’t necessarily play nicely with the way most software engineers expect loops to work. (I’m way above my pay grade here, so take that with a large grain of salt).

            The speed definitely becomes an issue for me, even with just eye tracking data, which is not particularly massive (say, a few gb per participant-hour) the kinds of analyses I tend to do can take minutes for 50 participants. For most neural data, you’re looking at an order or two of magnitude more, and the analyses often get more complicated. So I should (a) optimize my code better, and (b) start migrating slowly to python and r, really.

            Finally, in terms of whether I should even bother thinking about things like unit testing – actually yeah, I should. Even internal to our lab, there is a significant amount of code sharing and re-use, and debugging other people’s code (and other people debugging mine) is a huge time sink. We need to learn to do it better. Plus I’ve started releasing open source code for the research community to use, and this is something I need to get up to a decent, readable standard. But better practices always take the back seat to getting stuff done quickly, as noted.

          • quanta413 says:

            In case you weren’t already aware, Python loops also have a lot of overhead, and I’m not sure about R but I suspect the same thing. The solution always boils down to calling into a library that loops for you which is what calling basic stuff like * or functions on matrices does.

            It’s not a big problem to loop as long as the amount of work inside the loop is much higher than the overhead. I’ve used Python’s profiler to decent effect a couple times when needed.

            If you really have just a few tiny operations inside a loop and can’t deal with the overhead, you’re basically stuck with dropping down to a lower-level language like C or C++ or a much less popular language like Julia (or Haskell or Common Lisp). I’ve played with Julia a bit, and it’s pretty easy to write code for and you can make small loops in it that are performant because it compiles stuff fairly efficiently (LLVM is the same backend a lot of C++ code is compiled on), but it’s relatively new and has a different set of issues.

            Finally, in terms of whether I should even bother thinking about things like unit testing – actually yeah, I should. Even internal to our lab, there is a significant amount of code sharing and re-use, and debugging other people’s code (and other people debugging mine) is a huge time sink. We need to learn to do it better. Plus I’ve started releasing open source code for the research community to use, and this is something I need to get up to a decent, readable standard. But better practices always take the back seat to getting stuff done quickly, as noted.

            I 100% support this. Even working alone, I found building some tests useful. Did I obtain 100% coverage? Not even close, but something is better than nothing. Similarly, even if I’m only running a script once to munge some data, I prefer a format like an SQL database where I can easily embed constraints that prevent the data from being the wrong type or violating some bounds to munging data from one spreadsheet into another spreadsheet and having to hand write all the error-checking functions.

            If there’s already code re-use going on between people in your lab, hopefully other people are interested in writing tests too! There was some reuse going on of my code in my lab, but I was the only one writing helper files or little pseudo-libraries and it’s harder to motivate yourself then.

            One thing I found tough about writing tests for scientific code was that it was much harder to write an oracle that could confirm a function I wrote was correctly implemented than any example I’d find on the web. I ended up instead using two somewhat more complicated approaches.

            1. Very amateur fuzzing where I’d generate random inputs (in a hopefully not too stupid manner) and then check that after feeding them into my functions that the outputs didn’t violate constraints that ought to have remained true or approximately true. Like conserved quantities should be conserved (to within floating point error) after time evolving them, or the first moment and second moment of a distribution would be some function of its parameters.

            2. Checking reduced cases. If I know solutions for special cases by hand or certain special cases have relatively easy algorithms to write, I can check my code doesn’t fail fail for these cases. Usually this is still combined with (1.)

            I later learned there’s a Python library called Hypothesis that helps with fuzzing, but I haven’t used it yet.

          • Skeptical Wolf says:

            roflc0ptic is right to urge caution when applying my advice outside of software engineering. These techniques come from a body of practice that has heavily optimized for developing and maintaining large (by the standards you’re used to) applications in teams over a long period of time. They are tools very well suited to that job. Outside of that niche, they offer trade-offs that may or may not be valuable to you.

            One of the useful metrics for figuring out how to optimally spend your effort here is this: if you could double the time you spent writing the code in order to halve the number of mistakes you make (and thus the time/cost of debugging), does that sound like a good deal?

            When you’re first starting out, you’ll face an initial learning curve of a few months where things are just slower (as with adopting any new paradigm). After that, you’ll break through to a point where that’s about the result you can expect (100% increase in development time, 50% reduction in bugs). After that, if you keep practicing, you’ll slowly improve to the point where you’re getting something more like 50% increased development time with a 90% reduction in bugs. Getting to this point will take at least 2 years, though.

            In terms of books, I can’t recommend anything for Matlab or R, but the general Object Oriented list will help a lot with C# and won’t hurt with Python (though their applicability may be limited, depending on what type of Python you’re writing).

            The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master is the most succinct book I know that tries to explain the differences in thought between competent non-specialists and top-tier professionals. It’s a little old, but still relevant and an interesting look into how a group of people tends to think.

            Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code Writing about how to turn bad code into good code is what put Martin Fowler on the industry’s radar. The second edition was recently released and is much more approachable than the first.

            Clean Code Already mentioned above but it’s worth mentioning again. This book is the reason Robert Martin is commonly known as “Uncle Bob” in software circles. Somewhat Java-focused, but almost all Java techniques and concerns translate directly to C#.

          • Enkidum says:

            Thanks to all for the useful discussion and suggestions! At the very least I will read some of the suggested books, and see where they take me.

            I never expected that my research career would be 7/10s software engineering, but here I am. There’s little that pleases me at work these days as much as well-written, efficient, and clean code, so I might as well keep pushing myself in that direction.

          • A1987dM says:

            @roflc0ptic:

            However, these “problems” are only problems in the context of long-lived, often-modified code in a sizeable codebase.

            Sure, but for smaller values of “long”, “often” and “sizeable” than you seem to be implying. Sometimes I edit my own code which I haven’t seen for a couple of months and I have to spend more time figuring out how to change something without breaking other stuff than I would have spent making the original code more editable in the first place, even in ~ 1 kloc projects.

            But yeah, if you’re writing code you’re pretty sure no-one will use again including yourself writing “write-only code” can be a net saving of time.

          • roflc0ptic says:

            @A1987dM

            The problem with most discussions about software development methodology is that they’re heuristic driven, and basically everybody gets to be right. I spent a lot of words to say that there’s some point on an imaginary Effort vs Reward Over Time curve where trying to write good software is net benefit; before that it’s net loss. Skeptical Wolf does a better job elucidating the tradeoffs I was pointing at.

            Based off of more information – namely that Enkidum wants to release OSS, I think learning about testing is a fabulous idea. Trying to get an org of scientists to Write Good Code sounds Sisyphean, but perhaps there’s value in the attempt. I’m happily agnostic about that. Pretty curious to hear how Enkidum’s journey goes, and hope they share more about it.

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        Unit Testing
        If you end up encoding assumptions about your unit under test into the mocks, that’s definitely a problem. However, if you’re using some form of dependency injection (which is pretty ubiquitous now, fortunately), then I find mocking to be an excellent way to isolate what you’re testing. Integration testing is also valuable, and e2e tests are sometimes the least-bad option, but I still find a great deal of value in testing units individually. Perhaps I should have mentioned SOLID principles (including IoC/DI) in the initial post, but that’s much more relevant specifically to the Java/C# world and there are a lot of JS and other jobs out there as well.

        Regarding the functional paradigm, I’m a big fan of writing in the paradigm of your language. Good code being testable also applies at least to OO as well, and I’d be inclined to look for it in any enterprise toolset.

        Agile Practices
        Could you elaborate on what “making like a crossfitter” means? I’m not familiar with that reference in this context.

        Small Units
        I agree that four lines with a single argument is going overboard in practice. The most aggressive team quality standard I ever worked with was 20 lines and 2 arguments. 30 and 3 is more common (and I believe the most common defaults in static analysis tools). 10 is my rule of thumb, but even that has to be broken sometimes. Four lines and one argument makes an interesting academic challenge for a small project, though.

        • brad says:

          What I meant is that there’s no need to enthusiastically embrace the cultish trappings. The key idea is short development cycles that deliver concrete incremental improvements to end users.

          • johan_larson says:

            As far as I can tell, when a company goes “agile”, the practices they actually adopt are daily “stand-up” progress meetings, and grouping work in two-week “sprint” intervals. Nothing else changes. What they don’t adopt is the adaptability and flexibility that agile is all about, so they end up doing a weird sort of cargo-culting.

          • Skeptical Wolf says:

            This varies quite a lot from company to company. The difference between one that actually adopts agile practices vs one that just throws the latest buzzwords around is how they deal with change. There’s a huge difference between structuring your teams so that they can and will respond quickly to changing requirements vs trying to prevent requirements from changing (just doing it on a shorter cycle).

            The shorter cycles have value in their own right (even mini-waterfall is a better development process than full waterfall) and are an essential part of the reactive process.

            Brad’s point about avoiding cultishness is well-taken. Agile is a good philosophy and an encapsulation of a lot of learning in the field, but anything can have its value drained by reducing it to “bow before the sacred buzzwords”. I don’t think agile practices are unusually prone to this, but they’re certainly not immune to it either.

            In general, though, a new developer can get a leg up in an interview by showing that I won’t have to explain that a stand-up is not a status meeting or why we estimate in points rather than hours.

          • Robin says:

            @johan_larson: I’m wondering whether you are aware of the cargo cult agile buzzword, or have you just invented it independently?

          • johan_larson says:

            @Robin, I think I came up with that on my own.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          I don’t think it makes sense to give language-agnostic standards about number of arguments and lines (except to the extent that the size of a typical screen is a relevant unit). The ideal values depend on things like the extent to which the language encourages OOP (for number of arguments) and simply how verbose it is (for number of lines).

      • Nick says:

        I seem to recall CC not only recommends four line functions but wants them to each take one argument. No one wants to read three hundred line functions with a dozen string arguments but this is going way overboard in my opinion.

        Yeah, came here to say this. Having to bounce around a hundred different functions to understand what’s going on can be just as confusing as reading a single function, especially when the code is linear anyway. I’ve seen this described as “risotto code.”

      • JPNunez says:

        I’ve come around against short functions. You end up with a ton of cascading functions that each do a small part of the logic. I am pro long functions of logic with functions abstracting the I/O, calls to other services, etc, but trying to keep the flow in one place.

    • liate says:

      Thanks for the effortpost!

      I have had classes try to teach all of these except Agile stuff, but not very effectively. The unit testing that’s been in any of my classes hasn’t included much writing of our own unit tests, and was more used as a system for grading coding projects than anything else. There is a Software Engineering course that I haven’t taken yet which is supposed to teach all of these things, but who knows how well that works.

      (nitpick: my username is “liate”, not “Ilate”; swap the I and the l and preferrably leave it all lowercase. (It’s based on a calculus mnemonic, but is also in this xkcd.))

      Edit to add: Also, thanks for the book recommendations!

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        Sorry for getting the name wrong, I could distinguish the bolded letters and guessed wrong. Thanks for the link to the nice XKCD, though.

    • mfm32 says:

      How much of the utility of these practices, particularly the granularity of splitting things up, is driven by the fact that lots of professional software development is (in my non-professional experience) glue / interface code vs. actual “value-add” code (in a Lean sense)?

      I’m sure I am not as good at modularity as I should be, but I struggle to see the utility of breaking up most functions into 10-line units. Of course there are many functions that naturally are that small, but for others, I see a way to do it but question when I would ever call the “child” function in another context.

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        This has very little to do with the divide between framework/logic code. It has a lot more to do with the fact that very little professional software engineering is greenfield development and almost none of it is done solo.

        You code needs to not just do what it’s supposed to, it needs to also be easy for someone who isn’t familiar with it to understand, debug, modify, and expand. And remember, after a few months on other projects, you won’t be familiar with that particular piece of code anymore either.

        10 lines isn’t an absolute rule so much as my rule of thumb. A more advanced way to think of it is that each method should do only one thing, that what it does should be obvious from its name, and that how it does it should be obvious from its body. If your method is too big to understand easily, find a piece of logic you can pull out into another (well-named) method.

      • Enkidum says:

        +1 to Skeptical Wolf’s response.

        I write thousands of lines of code as part of my day job. A lot of this is collaborative, and the advantages of short, simple methods for collaborative projects should be obvious.

    • Robin says:

      “Clean Code” is a great book. I also loved “Working effectively with legacy code”, especially for some specific insights:
      * “Legacy code” is defined as “code which is not unit-tested”. Really great when you think about it… If there are no unit tests, you don’t dare change anything, out of fear to break some corner case you don’t understand. Unit tests relieve you of this fear.
      * Mocking is the only thing I’m missing in that book, but you can fit it in yourself, with the idea of “seams”… Seams are a point in the code where you can snip snip snip out a part and put it in your little petri dish for unit testing, separate from the rest. This is why you do dependency injection, for example. It makes you think a little differently of how to organize your code.

      About the number of lines and arguments per function… I always wanted to — but so far never got around to — do some “object calisthenics”. Programming a little project with some really REALLY strict rules. Of course this is nothing for real life, but the exercise (so they say) is very instructive.

      • Garrett says:

        Do you have any suggestions for dependency injection support for high-performance/kernel code? It’s one area where I’ve worked where the mechanisms required to support doing so add overhead which people don’t want because of the performance impact.

        • Robin says:

          Is your kernel code in C or C++? I have used some lightweight mocking framework, e.g. hippomocks, for replacing function calls by a mock. It does some nasty things to the function tables under the hood, but “just works”.

      • Viliam says:

        Programming a little project with some really REALLY strict rules.

        Once I found a section in Eclipse settings that allows you to display warnings for various things. So I was like “yeah, let’s turn everything on and see what happens!” Suddenly the project was full of warnings.

        Some of those warnings didn’t make much sense. Like, some settings were mutually contradictory (e.g. “always use ‘this.’ for members” vs “never use ‘this.’ for members”, if I remember correctly). Each of them could make some sense separately (“always make using members explicit” vs “never shadow variables”), and I couldn’t choose, so I turned these off. But I decided to apply the “Chesterton fence” approach, and only turn off a setting if I feel I understand fully why someone could want to have it this way, and I happen to disagree with that decision.

        I learned a few interesting things that day. It is especially interesting when you are shown an example of something exotic in your own code.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      And learn basic git if you don’t know it already.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Interesting. I’ve still never been forced to do “agile”, so I can’t speak to its benefits – but daily meetings don’t attract me, particularly start-of-day meetings. Agile seems to me to be a mix of common sense, magic pixie dust, and an attempt to make extroverts like engineering better, at the cost of making introverts like it less.

      Maybe it works, in a medium sized team that’s actually working on a common project – but that’s rarely what I’m really doing. The team’s either 1-3 people, and agile is just silly overhead – or it’s 60+, with overlapping sub-teams, most of whom are involved in multiple projects at once – meetings are going to be beyond unwieldy. And I’m working on 2-6 of these things at the same time, counting ongoing bug fixing activities.

      In my recent positions we aren’t going to be regularly revising our interfaces based on feedback etc. And there’s no manageable sized set of people with whom I share responsibility for releasing some single ‘thing’. There aren’t developers, QA engineers, human interface designers, and managers all trying to work together to make some feature or release happen – or at least, not at the scale where anyone can remember all their names, let alone manage a participatory meeting with all of them present.

      • Aapje says:

        I think that, if done properly, the daily meeting is quite introvert-friendly, since it is supposed to be very quick and well structured, as everyone is supposed to answer these questions:
        1. What did you do yesterday?
        2. What will you do today?
        3. Are there any impediments in your way?

        Aside from developers, testers and someone responsible for keeping the meeting on track (who can be a developer as well), a product owner should be present. This person is responsible for making clear demands of the developers. To do so, this person often speaks with many stakeholders and condenses their diverse demands and needs into actual tasks with enough detail for the team to be able to perform them.

        You are correct that these methodologies are not designed for developers that work on many projects or alone/in very small teams. Scrum used to advise a team size of 5-9 and now advises 3-9.

        Agile seems […] an attempt to make extroverts like engineering better

        No, I think that it attempts to force people out of problematic behavior. For example, it forces introverts to give frequent updates and discuss problems they have. It bans people-oriented extroverts from approaching developers directly and getting high priority for their tasks by exploiting social conventions/pleasing behavior. It encourages process improvements, rather than people sticking with what they are used to, by having regular retrospectives. It demands quick feedback loops to reduce the cost of communication errors. Etc, etc.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Hmm. Just for giggles/cycnicism, I’m going to answer those, for yesterday, which was on the bad side of normal:

          1. What did you do yesterday?

          2 hours of one-to-many meeting attendance. 2+ hours fighting with an undocumented process I was using to do a routine task [that should have taken 15 minutes] because of bugs in the normal one. 1 hour being distracted by an overly chatty colleague in our 12 person (if full) workspace; he also lacks an indoor voice. At least 1 hour on email, some of it low priority. At least half an hour dealing with two managers giving me mutually contradictory orders about the same task, and one of them chatting me up in slow mo by IM. Half an hour hiding in a conference room trying to get rid of the headache. Maybe as much as an hour on my actual top priority task, which is probably insoluble in the projected time frame.

          2. What will you do today?

          Hopefully meet with the relevant tech lead about the top priority problem. Dig through too much email. Fend off managers looking for daily status; it would help if the IM user actually understood the problem. Make sure I’m not blocking anyone else, who has a task that isn’t an emergency-visible-to-management yet but will have one eventually if they aren’t unblocked. Look at incoming bug reports, prioritize them, and then get a manager to do the actual assignment to release targets for me (company culture blocks non-managers from doing this at this stage of the release). If there’s any time left over, actually work on the top priority problem.

          3. Are there any impediments in your way?

          The open office effect costs me up to 50% of my productivity. (I measured when they moved me in.) This includes Mr. Chatty.

          I don’t have the right background knowledge to understand the symptoms seen in the top priority task in detail, and there doesn’t seem to be any documentation other than the source code, much of which is only accessible to me via a painful to use online interface. (No, I can’t just “git clone” things too far outside my organizational location.)

          Additional bugs in the routine task made my best debugging machine semi-unusable for some hours, so I was using the backup laptop. My fault for not postponing it, I suppose, but there’s always some mini-crisis, and it was overdue.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            one of them chatting me up in slow mo by IM

            That one’s always fun, isn’t it?

            A colleague of mine, though otherwise an all around fine chap and competent professional, has an absolutely exasperating style of IM that goes something like this:

            “Hi.”

            (pause)

            “I have an issue/question…”

            (long pause)

            [Details of issue hopefully follow here. On bad days they are prefaced by further niceties and pauses. Invariably, the entire thing could be put in a one-liner.]

            His way of communicating is a running joke in the company. We have pointed the problem out to him, but I don’t think it has stuck. It’s just the way he is.

          • Nick says:

            There ought to be terms for this, like Ask vs. Guess culture. Rush vs. Dawdle culture, maybe.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Interesting the discussion on IMers who won’t get to the point. I have a constant issue with this with foreigners. I am sure I seem rude to many of these folks. But many seem to feel obligated to make three or four introductory comments before getting to the point. It is common to start all Skypes with “Hi.” I don’t know if this is how it is everywhere, but at least in my company that is the culture. I do that. But then after Hi I see “how are you doing?” “I hope you are doing good,” and maybe some more. And there is often a minute between these comments. I want to yell at them to “just ask the question, man!” But as I said, I am probably considered rude for asking my question right after “Hi.”

            I am in US, in case it wasn’t clear

          • Aapje says:

            @DinoNerd

            Have you considered wearing headphones, to block out the sound of Mr Chatty et al?

            Anyway, your challenges do suggest that Agile may help (with the caveat that it would require a reorganization). For example, you wouldn’t have to deal with managers giving contradictory orders, as that would be the job of the product owner to sort out. Similarly, prioritizing bugs would be her responsibility as well.

            In a retrospective or daily stand up, you could make it clear to the product owner how much time the routine task unnecessarily takes and suggest that a developer is given time to fix that task. You can also address interpersonal impediments during the retrospective, like Mr. Chatty’s chattiness or the slow IM style of someone you have to deal with.

            Addressing your lack of background knowledge for your top priority task in the daily stand up might prompt another developer to offer to help or the product owner to find someone from elsewhere in the company to help you.

            Note that when I read your comment, I see a rather typical problem where priorities are set partially by you as a programmer and partially by no one (or Moloch), with the result that you waste a lot of time and do a lot of tasks that I doubt your superiors actually want you to do. A key aspect of Agile is to make a single person responsible, to reduce such waste.

  21. Zephalinda says:

    Modest proposal for an EA-style charity: mining the positive utility of schadenfreude in social media.  

    The recent Passages from Ages of Discord post interestingly affirmed the prosocial value of shared hatred: members of enemy groups can unite peacefully IF given the opportunity to redirect their aggression towards a new mutual outgroup.  As I understand it,similarly positive effects obtain from opportunities to exercise hatred and contempt on an individual level.  People who feel relatively higher-status (which is to say, people who get lots of opportunities to smugly triumph over lower-status peers) experience a large happiness and health boost regardless of their absolute material circumstances.

    The rise of social media seems like a golden opportunity to engineer this kind of relational utility.  IRL any benefits from hating or harming perceived inferiors come at the cost of stress to the other people being hated and harmed.  But with so much of everyone’s social lives played out via largely imaginary people-proxies anyway, it could be fairly easy to quietly introduce artificial “chew toy” accounts– accounts ostensibly for mildly-less-successful people, for weird, ugly, or pathetic people, for people just on the annoying edge of a different Overton window than the current CW one– to drain off some of that excess hateful energy and leave the real people with a pleasant sense of being comfortably near the top of a personal pecking order.

    (Worth noting is that social media currently has exactly the reverse effect, stressing us out by artificially exposing us to lots of seemingly higher-status people than ourselves.)

    I think I’m only like 10% joking here.  Could something like this work?  In general, why do social policies seem to take so little account of the utility effects of perceived status?

    • John Schilling says:

      This was a major subplot in Karl Gallagher’s Torchship Trilogy, which got some discussion here when it was fresh. It worked fairly well, until suddenly it didn’t and a bunch of people who had long thought they were comfortably above average, well, OK, not too unbearably below average, suddenly learned they were at the very bottom of their society’s real-person status ladder and that they’d been essentially pranked for years by the elites.

      So, do consider the failure modes, and how this will look to the targets of your altruism if they figure it out. And don’t get cocky about your ability to run elaborate internet hoaxes on a grand scale without getting caught and called out.

    • Dan L says:

      IRL any benefits from hating or harming perceived inferiors come at the cost of stress to the other people being hated and harmed. But with so much of everyone’s social lives played out via largely imaginary people-proxies anyway, it could be fairly easy to quietly introduce artificial “chew toy” accounts– accounts ostensibly for mildly-less-successful people, for weird, ugly, or pathetic people, for people just on the annoying edge of a different Overton window than the current CW one– to drain off some of that excess hateful energy and leave the real people with a pleasant sense of being comfortably near the top of a personal pecking order.

      I know this is already in use in some online games – both Fortnite and PUBG (mobile) were known to seed low-level early matches with bots, to the point were it’s not unusual for the humans to have an average K:D ratio of 5 or higher. Of course, this was primarily in service of getting new players hooked with easy wins rather than any utilitarian optimum.

      • It’s done routinely and openly in WoW, and I assume many other games. The NPC’s exist, in part, to make the player feel like an elite, since he can beat them up.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          I think NPC versus PC is a little different: it’s pretty clear to the player that they’re not representing other humans, and often exploiting specific aspects of their behavior is a core game mechanic. The entire concept of the tank in WoW is that NPCs have a fully predictable targeting system, so you can force their attention onto the player most built to survive it.

          Maybe there’s still a power aspect, but I’m not sure you can disentangle that from “winning at games” in general. If we’re tying this back to social standing, I’d expect the NPCs to be more like prey in a hunt than social hierarchy. Especially when many of the NPCs aren’t human or humanoid.

          Interestingly, they’ve introduced some new pseudo-PvP AI in the latest expansion’s Island Expeditions (3v3 resource collecting race, which also has a full PvP mode). The NPCs try to use some of the tactics you see in PvP, with a targeting model more advanced than “who has the most threat”, moving around to avoid attacks, and using much more crowd control. I’m not convinced anyone is being fooled into thinking they’re real players though.

    • Aapje says:

      @Zephalinda

      Does it actually drain off hateful energy or does it make people feel entitled to threat others as inferiors?

      Furthermore, if you teach people that they are higher status than they are, and they go into the real world, will they get in trouble for being uppity?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      As I recall, something like that was one of the premises of the Torchship Trilogy.

    • aristides says:

      SMBC had a similar proposals called Suckbook. Like many SMBC comics it ends with robots enslaving us all, but hopefully your venture goes better.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Heard somewhere– If only desperation made people more attractive.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Broadcast News, the Albert Brooks character:

          Wouldn’t this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If “needy” were a turn-on?

  22. Well... says:

    [Epistemic status: 100% certain.]

    A person riding a recumbent bike is recumbing. He is in a state of recumbance. He recumbs because it is recumbent upon him to practice recumbance.

    • thasvaddef says:

      If he falls off, did he get his recumbuppance?

    • Well... says:

      We’ve established that one recumbs while riding a recumbent bike — so what does it mean to cumb? Or to practice cumbence? What does a cumbent bike look like?

      Is someone is already on a recumbent bike, is it an incumbent recumbent? Conversely, if a person has never ridden a cumbent bike but is trying it for the first time, then is he a newcumber?

      If we signal to him to start riding, can we call that cueing the cumber — cucumber for short?

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        If we signal to him to start riding, can we call that cueing the cumber — cucumber for short?

        You’re trying too hard. Nothing about that was cumbulent.

        (…If he has to fix a flat on it, does he have to use a cumberjack?)

  23. Christophe Biocca says:

    How we survived 5 years in the most dangerous market in the world, by a friend who ran a cryptocurrency market-making and arbitrage company until recently.

    Primarily interesting as a case study in using the ideas in Taleb’s writings (“The Black Swan” and others) in practice.

    • Aqua says:

      Thanks for the link, don’t have time to dig deep at the moment, but adding to my reading list

      What happened recently that changed things?

      • Christophe Biocca says:

        What happened recently that changed things?

        Nothing terrible, just the decision that the good-but-not-exceptional returns (there’s a lot more competition nowadays and so less profit margin, but the risks remain as high as ever) weren’t worth the high stress from running the business. He decided to fold the operation, return the funds to investors, open source the code and see if there’s a market in consulting for those bigger players that are now the space. Or something along those lines.

  24. Mark Atwood says:

    Does Conrad has a social media presence or a reddit presence?

    He very quickly had been admitted to the set of commentators that I specifically searched for and read before working thru the rest of the unreads. (The other ones being Deiseach, John Schilling, David Friedman, and Freddie deBoer.) The comments by those 5 in union have been invariably usually more valuable than all the other comments. Combined. Including my own.

  25. Nearly Takuan says:

    Greene writes:

    If the inhabitants of an ancestor simulation learn that they inhabit a simulation, and this has a significant effect on the course of human history, then the value of the simulation for answering counterfactual social-scientific questions is destroyed.

    This to me feels like a pretty big leap, more so than many parts of the paper he seems to admit are speculative. I can see how the sim we live in might lose its value to the basement reality if we discover we live in a simulation, but if it’s possible to nest simulations then we’re far more likely to be in a nested simulation than an unnested one, right? And if that’s so, then our direct simulators, who have also determined that they live in a simulation, must be interested in studying a civilization that is aware it’s in a simulation, since that would actually parallel their society more closely.

    Additionally, the whole point of the probes is that they’d only work if it turned out that we live in a kind of crappy low-resolution simulation where we can observe arbitrarily tiny stuff like bosons and quantum entanglement but, oops, somebody forgot to #DEFINE __cosmic_radiation_9c__, or else wow, isn’t it weird how we can make our computers simulate any detail or collection of details about reality, except that if we try to simulate everything at once the program just crashes for no reason. If we find that we’re able to detect our own simulated-ness by such rudimentary methods, doesn’t that imply that the simulators have thought ahead and imposed good bounds on the program to keep us from getting terminated? Or at least detected when we got close to this point, paused the simulation, and applied a hotfix before things got worse?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      “If the inhabitants of an ancestor simulation learn that they inhabit a simulation, and this has a significant effect on the course of human history, then the value of the simulation for answering counterfactual social-scientific questions is destroyed.”

      That’s reasonable, but if it’s more of a “start it and see what happens” sim, then the inhabitants discovering it’s a sim would be fascinating. What will they do next?

  26. hls2003 says:

    Has anyone ever heard of a group or state employing the following PR strategy? I would call it something like “false flag annoyance.” Assume that you’ve got a conflict with two sides; India vs. Pakistan, or Russia vs. Georgia, or China vs. the Uighurs, or something like that.

    Step 1: Retain online ad developers with very limited scruples (or hackers if you’ve got access to them);
    Step 2: Develop a campaign based on spam and pop-up ads which ask for support for the other side, in a way that looks a lot like either a scam or a virus. E.g. you visit a mobile site, and a flashing pop-up disables your phone saying “Support the Kashmiri freedom fighters in their war against India! Click Here to give!!!” Or an email arrives with a suspicious-looking link purporting to be from a Kashmiri citizen who needs your bank account number to unfreeze some funds for the revolution, they’ll give you a cut.
    Step 3: Everyone associates your enemy with annoyance and spam; they become a punchline, at best, like Nigerian royalty.

    I can’t think of any such campaigns I have heard about, but I don’t follow online stuff that closely. Does this sound like something bad actors have tried, or might try?

    • BBA says:

      Back in the Usenet days it was called a “joe job.”

    • Nearly Takuan says:

      When Russian agents spread propaganda for the 2016 US elections,

      The Mueller report lists IRA-created groups on Facebook including “purported conservative groups” (e.g. ‘Tea Party News’), “purported Black social justice groups” (e.g. ‘Blacktivist’) “LGBTQ groups” (‘LGBT United’), and “religious groups” (‘United Muslims of America’).

      So, yes. At least one group supporting the Trump campaign masqueraded under a false flag, in this case pretending to be maximally annoying caricatures of “social justice warriors” and/or some other outgroup that certain people already hated or feared.

      • hls2003 says:

        That’s kind of like it, although at first blush that looks like third-party imitation of caricatures of both sides. And specifically I was looking not just at the false flag part, but the focus on intentionally looking like spam. I assume these guys were trying to look like legit annoying outgroup members.

  27. Donald Hobson says:

    I am a student In Cambridge UK. I have a room in a shared hostel you could use, so long as not too many people turn up, and I might be able to book a college room. Any time from the 3rd to the 6th of October would be ok. Let me know if your interested. I’m looking for an idea of numbers and date/ times that people would prefer.

    • mingyuan says:

      Hey Donald, someone actually stepped up to organize the meetup, so no need to do the logistics, but thanks for volunteering and I hope you can make it to the Cambridge meetup!

  28. Dragor says:

    Hey, so I gave a decent attempt at trying to find the NYC meetup on lesswrong, but I failed. Any tips?

  29. aashiq says:

    Similar to @GreatColdDistance, I’m in favor of the ban. Wouldn’t normally comment, but I am attempting to remedy some selection bias in who chooses to comment, since those against the ban will experience asymmetric outrage.

    The most relevant article for my reasoning is this one from Scott. Niceness is critical for creating a community that can productively disagree, and snark is more evil than any political ideology for this end. In the linked comments, the commenters have chosen to use rather inflammatory rhetoric where a kinder phrasing could have conveyed the same information. Rather than making it about red tribe vs blue tribe, this is really about mistake tribe vs conflict tribe. In my opinion, the main reason that this comment section is so pleasant to read is that conflict tribe is somewhat suppressed. People talk about choosing one of kind, necessary, true, but in my view it would be fine to hold the forum to a higher standard of 3/3 if that’s what Scott desires.

    One data point that I would love to see is: what is the probability that a conversation “devolves” given that a certain person comments. Devolves could mean that more ad hominem is posted, more culture war is waged, or that many short replies lacking original analysis get posted in response. If you consider online discourse as a dynamic system, there is a powerful attractor of ad hominem / Godwin’s law, and certain people push the conversation towards it and are drawn to it. If you identify 15 threads that have “devolved” and commenter X started every single one, that is a powerful argument for banning commenter X, even if their comments don’t have anything you can pinpoint that’s wrong about them. From what I’ve seen, the linked commenters tend to comment in rapidly devolving threads, even though they often share valuable insight in the process. In my view, this is simply the price of civility.

    • Viliam says:

      Unfortunately, rules can be gamed. If the rule is “ban people whose presence correlates highly with threads becoming horrible”, all you need to get someone banned is to make any thread they participated in become horrible, by different people in different threads. If Y1 and Y2 want to get X banned, for each thread X participates in, they flip a coin, one of them joins and makes it bad, the other one abstains. Now the badness ratio is 100% for X, and 50% for both Y1 and Y2.

      This doesn’t have to be coordinated as an explicit conspiracy against specific X. All that is necessary is for Y’s to come from a culture that has a rule that any [type of comment X is likely to make] must be met with an attack, but if it already was addressed adequately, it is not necessary to join the fight. Thus, instead of flipping the coin, the reaction will be decided by who visits the website first after X has posted their comment.

      In some sense, yes, following this rule would result in a nice debate, by having all X’s removed.

      (Now less meta: I see the current bans as neither necessary nor harmful. It would work either way. So it is nice to have one person in change who can make the judgment, as opposed to e.g. having a vote with opinions split 50:50, and endless debate about what is right to do.)

      • aashiq says:

        These are really good points, and I admit that my last paragraph suggests a criterion that is prone to really pernicious false positives if the commenter has an underrepresented ideology. It’s plausible that (for example) the only vocal Trump supporter could experience exactly the conditions you describe in the second paragraph.

        I guess it really is crucial to identify a tendency for misbehavior in excess of how others react. Also, if you have an ideology that is common on this site, you probably have plenty of people to help you defend your ideas. If you have a more rare ideology, you will be attacked from all sides, making you more likely to slip up, even if you would be well-behaved on a forum where everyone is like you.

        I totally agree with your last point. Really glad that we have one person in charge rather than being bogged down in endless debate. This blog is engaged in a survival of the fittest competition with others, and if some other blog leader does a better job of moderating people might eventually move.

        Do you know of any online communities that are more democratic or at least rule-based, without discussion devolving frequently? I’ve found some communities that are like this when they are homogeneous, but things deteriorate if they find popularity.

      • beleester says:

        That only works if X either (1) exclusively starts the kind of threads that can be expected to become horrible, or (2) always responds with equal vitriol when attacked, even when the topic is something non-controversial. If X is generally fairly chill and has evidence of being non-horrible in other threads, then he won’t be 100% bad and the Y’s will look like they’re trying to stir up shit in other threads.

        I think the reverse norm is far more gameable – if you don’t punish people for creating predictably horrible threads, then you incentivize X to make inflammatory posts and then act surprised when other people get upset. We want people to think carefully before stepping into a conversational minefield.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      Those banned are people whose comments tend to have an edge; personally I like this, but Scott obviously doesn’t.

      I do feel it is harsh to leave the bar open late, then ban those found speaking loudly upon shutting it.

  30. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Most Hollywood directors make films. Who are the exceptions?
    Spike Lee joints.
    M. Night Shamalyan tweests.

  31. JonathanD says:

    With the caveat that of course this is your blog and your rules, as with several other people, I would like to object to the bans. It’s typically your policy to warn someone, then ban them, unless they’re being particularly obnoxious, which doesn’t seem like it was the case here.

    I’d like to specifically request a commutation of sentence for dick. I grant that he gets worked up, but he’s a lefty, and not that long ago, you announced that lefty commenters would be held to a lower standard, due to their relative dearth. To follow up that announcement with a warning-less indefinite ban seems very unfair.

    As dick was one of the few house lefties who regularly rouses himself when the local commentariat starts going on about how bad we are (eg divorced ponies in cartoons), I feel his contributions were particularly valuable and will be particularly missed.

    • GreatColdDistance says:

      I’d like to specifically request a commutation of sentence for dick. I grant that he gets worked up, but he’s a lefty, and not that long ago, you announced that lefty commenters would be held to a lower standard, due to their relative dearth. To follow up that announcement with a warning-less indefinite ban seems very unfair.

      As dick was one of the few house lefties who regularly rouses himself when the local commentariat starts going on about how bad we are (eg divorced ponies in cartoons), I feel his contributions were particularly valuable and will be particularly missed.

      I would second this

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Dick’s ban takes the looser standards for lefties into account. I can think of at least three lefties who would have been banned already if not for those standards.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      Most bans on SSC have come and gone without me noticing much. Dick is an exception. I understand and respect the urge to combat negativity directed towards one’s in-group (or even a group one simply feels some degree of empathy for). But the thing that makes SSC my favorite place on the internet for discussions like this is that here (not universally, but more than anywhere else) people tend to take the high road. Rather than countering stereotypes with worse stereotypes, we try to address both the problematic behavior and the assumptions that underlie it. Dick never seemed to get that memo; all I ever saw from them was sarcastic, uncharitable repetition of the same tired cliches I see in plenty of other places.

      Perhaps I missed their best comments, or am letting negativity bias drive the worst examples to prominence in my memory. If this is the case, I’d love to see some links or quotes to their comments that added to a conversation. But in the meantime, thank you Scott for not letting your desire to tack left override the thing that makes this community unique and wonderful.

    • beleester says:

      I don’t object to the bans either, but I do notice I haven’t seen Scott use the bright red warning text in a while, and I wonder if earlier warnings could have headed this off at the pass.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        If someone were interested in doing the data mining, I think it might be very interesting to see what fraction of warned people are subsequently banned. If the fraction is large, it would indicate that warnings aren’t really worth the trouble, especially since the practice of warnings seems likely to incentivize brinkmanship — be as obnoxious as you like, as long as it hasn’t yet triggered an explicit warning.

    • Dan L says:

      To follow up that announcement with a warning-less indefinite ban seems very unfair.

      I think I’m mostly in favor of these bans, but the specific fact that the indefinite bans went to regulars* with no priors (or even warnings) while both recipients of temp bans have previously earned lengthy time-outs feels like a failure of modship. Good moderation is both time-consuming and emotionally exhausting and I empathize with Scott’s desire to have a life outside of the SSC comments section, but enforcement is the primary feedback commentators get as to what is and is not acceptable.

      * I’m strongly against regulars getting preferential treatment in general, but I do think summary bans should be reserved for new, obviously incompatible posters.

      • quanta413 says:

        I know the original saying is tongue in cheek, but you can also use sudden strong enforcement “pour encourager les autres”.

        Used sparingly, it doesn’t affect many directly, but it can be a strong deterrent. I think those banned were being fairly egregious violators on a somewhat consistent basis.

        • Dan L says:

          Deterrence is an attractive strategy in that it promises Authority that it can force-multiply its efforts without having to deal with more individual cases. I’m skeptical that it works out in practice. (I have a pithy one-liner about how you can learn this by surveying decades of criminal justice data, or talking to one mediocre dog trainer.)

          It strikes me that it’s particularly unsuited to use on the internet, where for the users alternatives are a click away and for the admins you can’t actually get rid of people for good. It’s a case of removal rather than rehabilitation, and a game of trivial inconveniences. #JusticeForSidles

          • quanta413 says:

            I agree it doesn’t work with dogs (although that’s partly because dogs are kind of dumb).

            But I think an internet forum is the most favorable situation for this strategy to work. Unlike real life, rehabilitation is a totally unnecessary luxury, and no one is hurt badly by even the harshest punishment (permaban). And the cost of consistent enforcement in a large comments section (which may the be ideal strategy if you don’t count costs to the owner) is very high in time and sanity.

            On the other hand, if you’re still trying to grow a comments section it’s probably the worst idea.

            It’s true you can’t get rid of a determined troll for good, since there are too many ways to make new accounts and hide your identity but there is no strategy that accomplishes getting rid of those.

            I’d probably roll with year long bans as a first warning in the deterrence strategy rather than permabans although I’d expect the effect to be much the same, but Scott’s blog Scott’s rules.

      • eigenmoon says:

        This. I think that permanent ban without warning for (even multiple instances of) drive-by dissing the outgroup is too harsh. The problem is, once the punishments reach the maximum, there’s this effect:

        Chen turns to his friend Wu Guang and asks “What’s the penalty for being late?”

        “Death,” says Wu.

        “And what’s the penalty for rebellion?”

        “Death,” says Wu.

        “Well then…” says Chen Sheng.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Yeah, but there’s no way for somebody to actually topple Scott. Plus, Scott isn’t actually imposing death.

          Also, “If I’m late, I might as well rebel” isn’t a very good parallel to “If I’m rude, I might as well be really rude”, if only because being late might well be out of your control, but being rude surely is not.

  32. Nick says:

    How small a world is it?

    I remember remarking to a friend in my sophomore year of college that I’m surprised I’d never met any classmates into an old MMO I used to play. I figured there had to be someone in, for instance, my CS major who played. He did an estimate based on how many sophomores there were in my major, the likelihood they’d join that major, and how many active players there were back when I played. He concluded it was very unlikely.

    Later that year I learned one of my classmates, Nick, was a big fan of it. What’s more, we had a mutual friend.

    I’m reminded of this because despite the Internet having a billion or so people, I still run into folks I know in other places. Deiseach, soon may she return, commented on a bunch of other blogs I visited. albatross11 downthread mentions Making Light, a blog several SSC commenters used to frequent. And I’ve got more wild coincidences like the above. So how small a world is it? Do you folks have other small (or not so small) world stories like that?

    • Plumber says:

      @Nick,
      The world is small indeed, as I’ve mentioned before I have:

      “…1) Met William Shatner (“Captain Kirk”/”T. J. Hooker”/Master Thespian extraordinaire!

      2) Met Patrick Troughton “Doctor Who”

      3) In ’83 I met both Dana Meese and her father Edwin Meese (who was President Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General), so one degree of separation between me and the then current President of the U.S.A.

      4) Met Barry Goldwater (’64 Presidential candidate)

      5) Met then Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown

      6) Met and have worked with dozens of other people who met Kamala Harris (besides Willie Brown) and I replaced plumbing fixtures in her old private bathroom) – one degree of separation.

      7) Have worked for seven years with a guy who was personally thanked by the man who is now Governor of California (one degrees of separation).

      8) Met lots of other local and State politicians and a couple of the Police Chiefs of San Francisco

      9) Met Science Fiction/Fantasy author Fritz Leiber

      10) Met Science Fiction/Fantasy author Michael Moorcock

      11) Met Science Fiction/Fantasy author Larry Niven

      12) An ex-girlfriend of mine has met Archbishops, et cetera who met the Pope (two degrees of separation)

      13) Was friends with Green Day’s original drummer (and my name was Tweeted by their current drummer this year)

      14) Knew a guy a who knew a guy who met Joseph Stalin (two degrees of separation)

      15) Knew a guy who knew a guy who met Leon Trotsky (two degrees of separation).

      16) At least three old friends became published authors…”

      • bullseye says:

        A few months ago I got a letter from the Democratic party asking for money, with Obama’s name signed. I joked to my neighbor that Obama had sent me a letter, and he didn’t realize I was joking, because his mother used to write letters to Obama and he’d respond.

        Also my neighbor is a plumber.

    • SnapDragon says:

      At a local SSC meetup of about 20 people, I met the wife of a prominent community member. It turns out that she and I both raided in an endgame guild as an Alliance Resto Druid on the same small WoW server back in the classic days. (There are fewer than 10 people in the world that match this description.)

      Now, of course, the Garden of Forking Paths needs to be kept in mind. Clearly I didn’t go looking to meet people with this exact set of matching criteria in mind, a priori. And meeting a fellow WoW raider at a rationalist meetup is fairly likely. However, once we started talking about WoW, this was exactly the relevant set of features I would be interested in. I think that even with a proper rationalist skepticism of coincidences, this was still among the most unlikely things that has happened in my life.

    • J Mann says:

      Running into the same commenters doesn’t seem as surprising. If you have the same interests and both enjoy commenting on blogs, it seems likely you’d both show up at LessWrong, ThingofThings, etc.

      If you ran into Deiseach at AllRecipies or in a StackExchange discussion of carburetor repair, that would be a little more surprising, but we’re clearly all internet connected folks with some free time, so even then, not fantastically surprising.

      • Randy M says:

        I think the surprise comes from the assumption that people who enjoy commenting is a much larger category than it is.

        That is, given that internet access is pretty widespread, my naive assumption based largely on projection is that a sizable majority are leaving comments. What’s the point of reading something if you don’t talk about it? So it’s kind of surprising to see familiar names show up in other places, especially unrelated, unlinked like mtgsalvation (hi sniffoy!) or twenty-sided tales or Quora (where you can follow David Friedman).

        But I suspect that much of the public is passive consumers of internet, using it for videos or information without bothering to read the comment sections, let alone fill them. I also suspect this will change as people get more used to getting interaction on-line.

        • J Mann says:

          Not directly relevant, but I didn’t realize mtgsalvation was a thing, so I ran it through Rot13 and got more confused. 🙂

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          But I don’t comment here OR at Twenty Sided! D:

          I’ve run into some old Advance Wars Bunker people here. I like it because it reminds me they’re alive (I hope jaime’s still alive, he hasn’t commented in years…).

          And I’ve run into some SSC people at Realms Beyond.

    • Kuiperdolin says:

      I bumped into the same Chinese woman (an actual Chinese citizen, not a N-generation immigrant) at a summer internship in France and a few years later, at a University in the USA. We did not have the same major and it was the only class either of us took outside of our major.

    • James says:

      On seeing commenters elsewhere: I used to see names I recognised from here over at Language Log.

      I think I recognised the name of one of our Eastern European commenters, a programmer, over at Hacker News (but that’s not so shocking—pretty much the same demographic as here).

      Øyvind Thorsby, a webcomic artist, showed up here a while ago. He and I both used to be on a webcomic forum with only a few dozen regulars.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      The world is huge; it’s just folded over lots of times.

    • One of the people who came to one of our south bay meetups turned out to be the sister of a renaissance dance person in the SCA my daughter knew of, probably had met. The sister lives in Canada.

      Many years ago, when Betty and I were living in New Orleans, we went to a public lecture on something. One of the women in the audience asked a question that was both a good question and wittily put, so we kidnapped her back home to socialize. Sometime after midnight, as best I recall, she discovered whose son I was and I discovered that she was the daughter of Warren Nutter, the first person to get a PhD with my father on his committee and a fairly well known economist, pretty much the only person to get a reasonably accurate picture of the Soviet economy by not believing the official statistics and using proxies instead.

      She later met the men she ended up married to in our encampment at Pennsic—she was with us, he was visiting.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The world is large but alike people cluster. When I worked at Google, not only were there several people I knew from the computer lab at college (a large state school, so not SO unlikely), but at least one person I knew in elementary school. At my current (smaller) company there’s someone who went to my kinda small high school in a different area (though not at the same time).

      And I have a weird connection to Moldbug.

      • axiomsofdominion says:

        Google was always interesting to me. I know/knew like 10 people from different parts of my life who worked there and I was always curious if they knew each other.

    • BBA says:

      One, ah, quirky commenter we had here a while back reminded me a lot of a similarly quirky commenter on a mainstream Dem blog I read from several years ago. She denied a connection, but I’m pretty sure it was her. She ended up getting banned from both blogs, unsurprisingly.

      Less surprisingly, I’m sure many people here used to read the same webcomics I did when I was into webcomics, and are involved with lots of other nerdstuff I do (e.g. MIT Mystery Hunt) but that’s more “big world” type stuff.

      In real life, my family was on a cruise ship a few months ago and an acquaintance of my late grandfather’s was also on board, which my mother only found out about when she met his wife at one of the shipboard events.

    • Dan L says:

      I recognize a bunch of commenters here that I’ve interacted with on a few sites that are at least two steps removed, but I use a screen-name on most of those as opposed to an initial and I’m not in a hurry to merge online identities. I’ll occasionally slip in an oblique reference to that fact in my replies as a hat tip to the intended audience.

    • Jaskologist says:

      August Jassid, Henry C. Chang, are you lurking out there somewhere?

      Or anybody who remembers those pseudonyms?

    • tossrock says:

      Years ago, I had a friend and coworker who I knew had gone to Notre Dame. Separately, I had a friend in a totally disjoint friend group who also went to Notre Dame. Over time, the friend groups got integrated, and at one point while the three of us were talking, I brought up their shared alma mater as a conversation topic. It turned out that not only had they been in the same dorm, but they had had the same room – just separated in time.

      Another one – my sister was working at a small, < 20 person startup in the Bay Area, and struck up a friendship with the CTO. They bonded over their lapsed Catholicism, and my sister stated that hers was the greater lapse, because her father had attended a junior seminary (and then not taken holy orders, obviously). The CTO said aha, but no! My father too attended a junior seminary! But, wait, no – surely not? But of course, yes, in fact – they had both attended the same junior seminary (in Illinois, no less), and were even in the same class, and remembered each other. They'd gone their separate ways decades ago, and then here were their children, running into each other completely unbeknownst – and getting to know each other well enough to realize the connection.

      And then there was documented time I ran into a guy who made a WC3 map that I’d gotten into the credits for on HN, and he was able to verify by checking the old code on his github.

      One of my favorite things about this phenomenon is that it’s well predicted by the graph properties of the human social network but still feels magical when it happens.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      I’m reminded of this because despite the Internet having a billion or so people, I still run into folks I know in other places. Deiseach, soon may she return, commented on a bunch of other blogs I visited. albatross11 downthread mentions Making Light, a blog several SSC commenters used to frequent. And I’ve got more wild coincidences like the above. So how small a world is it? Do you folks have other small (or not so small) world stories like that?

      I’ve lost count of how many different forums and comment sections I’ve seen gwern commenting on. But this is hardly surprising: if there are like 4 or 5 degrees of separation between two random people on the planet, then it’s not unlikely that people with similar interests who like commenting on the internet all cluster together.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      There’s a guy who used to comment on Megan McArdle’s old blog(s), and who still does on a football website I frequent, which should have pretty minimal overlap. I did and do, too, and neither of us has ever made note of it.

    • Plumber says:

      In terms of noticing folks posting to these comments and to another site, I noticed one guy posting here and at a Dungeons & Dragons Forum (same user name and interests)

      • Lasagna says:

        Ah, D&D. I’ve been wanting to get a campaign going since I decamped for the suburbs a few years ago. I just can’t find enough people with both the interest and the time. It’s a shame; I think I have some good campaign ideas running through my head.

        What forums do you like? At the very least I wouldn’t mind yacking about it.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I remember attending a pianowarming party being thrown by a friend of mine from community theater. I knocked on the front door and was greeted by another friend of mine, from ultimate frisbee. “Duude! What are you doing here??” “I live here!” Turns out the former friend had moved in with the latter without my knowing, and without either of them knowing that the other knew me. …Once I’d surveyed the crowd there, I noticed more ultimate frisbee friends than community theater friends.

      On a rationalist note, I walked into a DC meetup only to be greeted by… another friend via community theater. She had met the host via some random mixer.

      Years ago, my startup got an application from someone who listed Eric Raymond as a character reference. Turns out they both lived near each other in Pennsylvania. I later found out this guy’s sister was a fellow CS major of mine in Texas – a double connection.

      Decades ago, I used to hang out on a Usenet group for Tom Clancy fans, and found out one of them was organizing a party in honor of her piano teacher, who had taught me when I was growing up in rural Texas.

  33. broblawsky says:

    For anyone who’s interested in the commercial implications of tax policy, I give you the answer as to why White Claw Spiked Seltzer is a big deal now.

    I’m interested in any other substitution products for other markets, whose niches were created by vice taxes. Can anyone think of anything else?

    • Aftagley says:

      This article over simplifies the argument. Yes, brewed beverages are taxes less than distilled beverages and that conceivably explains why company’s would like to make and sell this product, but it doesn’t explain why consumers want to buy it. As the article points out, plenty of other beverages have gone down this same road before (natty lite, mikes hard, smirnoff ice) with limited success, and the “use sugar if you don’t want a malt taste” trick has been around for years.

      Why did this particular product succeed when most of the (similarly incentivized) products didn’t?

      • broblawsky says:

        I think the author argues that White Claw was able to make something that tastes better than normal hard seltzers without having to add sugar after brewing; hence White Claw’s success.

    • oracel says:

      The reverse happened in Japan, where beer taxes made canned distilled ‘chu-hi’ drinks (like Suntory’s Strong Zero, which imo is far superior to White Claw) the go-to cheap alcohol.

    • zoozoc says:

      Can’t this rise in hard-seltzer simply be explained by the rising popularity of normal seltzers? At least from my perspective, non-alcoholic seltzers seem to be much more popular the last few years than they were previously.

    • J Mann says:

      There’s Cincinnati product, “Bubbles,” which is made with fermented fruit juice, plus some unfermented juices for flavor. However, for reasons that escape me, adding juice to a cider would make it subject to tax as a wine, so instead the brewery has somehow made it an ale.

    • BBA says:

      I touched on this last thread with my post about the “wine products” only found in New York State. That’s exploiting non-tax regulations but it’s clearly a related phenomenon. Alcohol laws are weird, dood.

      Notably, most “alcopop” type products have different formulations outside the US. Mike’s Hard Lemonade was originally a mixture of vodka and lemon soda in Canada, but became a lemon-flavored malt beverage for the US market because there’s such a discrepancy in tax rates between beer and spirits here.

      For a non-booze example: gambling is illegal in Japan, but pachinko parlors can give “prize tokens” to winners that can then be sold back for money at an “unaffiliated” shop next door.

      Example of such a scheme thwarted: every cigarette sold in the US in the last 20 years has been “class A.” The larger “class B” cigarettes, if any were to be produced again, would be taxed at a higher rate, because the tax rate is based on the number of cigarettes rather than total weight of tobacco. Without the different rates, it’d be easy to sell packs of 10 double-sized cigarettes to be broken in half, thereby halving the taxes from the standard pack of 20.

      • DarkTigger says:

        Notably, most “alcopop” type products have different formulations outside the US. Mike’s Hard Lemonade was originally a mixture of vodka and lemon soda in Canada, but became a lemon-flavored malt beverage for the US market because there’s such a discrepancy in tax rates between beer and spirits here.

        It went a similar way in Germany.
        They had a little more alcohol content then beer (5-6%) and a lot less then wines. They were heavily marketed to “young adults”, and although they contained liqour they were often sold to minors. (It is legal to sell wine and beer to persons over sixteen here, so sales assistants could claim ignorance to the difference).
        After a lot of alarmist media coverage about binge drinking teens, the goverment tightend the youth protection laws concering alcohol, and raised an extra penalty tax for alcopops. They became replaced by beer based mix-drinks very fast.
        Some of which have half the alcohol content of normal beer (aroud 2.5%) and some have the same alcohol content (4.9%).

  34. fr8train_ssc says:

    Hey Scott. I’m the one currently organizing a meetup in Pittsburgh with our google group, but we’re still waiting for responses on optimal time and date for the next month. Once a consensus is reached I’ll send you that information.

  35. GearRatio says:

    On effective resistance to the new bans for a particular kind of objector:

    If you, like me, are conditioned to believe that most internet-comment bans are specifically directed at right-leaning views and those with right-leaning viewpoints for whatever reason, then you want to object to these bans. If they are unfair then there are two obvious reasons why this might be, which require (at minimum) one specific action per.

    1. Scott is more hostile to conservative views/conservatives or is more afraid of the left’s retaliation than he is of being unfair.

    If this is true, you need to document people on the leftish side behaving badly so you have ammo next time a mostly rightish ban list pops up. Being able to say “hey, you just ignore bad behavior on the left” is vital to exert pressure here.

    2. Leftish people report things more than rightish people

    If this is the case, this isn’t going to balance out unless you report all the bad leftish behavior you see. This is less useful than 1. for me, because “shut the other guy up equally” seems evil to me, especially since I’m aiming for “everyone can talk”, the effective opposite.

    The solution for 1. is necessary for both causes, regardless – start keeping a spreadsheet or something, folks.

    Quick edit: I’m not sure if I made this clear, but I want to be open that I’m not sure if I think conservatives get more of this here because that’s what’s happening, or because I find that to be generally true of the internet and it makes me think that’s what’s happening – thus the “document things” direction of my advice.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      1. Scott is more hostile to conservative views/conservatives or is more afraid of the left’s retaliation than he is of being unfair.

      If this is true, you need to document people on the leftish side behaving badly so you have ammo next time a mostly rightish ban list pops up. Being able to say “hey, you just ignore bad behavior on the left” is vital to exert pressure here.

      If this is true, I don’t know how to help fix it. As an Aspie, I find Scott hard to read. He aspires to be fully rational, but he’s very emotional about belonging to the Bay Area. I can see how this leads to other cognitive biases, but I fear the consequences of stating my thoughts, since it seems to be 3+ times harder for me to write without causing offense than if I was neurotypical with the same verbal IQ.

      • GearRatio says:

        I’m not so much saying “let’s fix Scott” or even “Scott needs fixing” as I am “If you think Scott is broken, your first step is to document that he’s treating one side worse than another”. Scott might be fine and I might just be easily spooked, I honestly dunno. But if I want to say he’s being unfair, the first response I’ll get it “nuh uh, he treats everyone equally per-capita” and it’s my responsibility to have data if I don’t want my complaint to wither on the vine.

        • PedroS says:

          There ate so few vocal leftists here that you will find it harder (even if the offense rate is the same) to find ban-worthy leftist comments tnah right-leaning ones. dick is vocally left and he was banned for his unproductive utterances. I don’t think, thrrefore, that you should bascribe bad motives or bias to Scott

    • Aftagley says:

      Didn’t Scott at one point explicitly say he’s going to give more leeway to leftists than rightists as a way of balancing out what he perceives as the rightward tilt this place has?

      I think I remember that being a part of the Reign of Terror, but I don’t remember if it was ever rescinded.

      • Lasagna says:

        I remember that too. I thought it made sense. Any bookie will tell you you’ve got to adjust the odds if you want to increase the action.

        But I’m not sure this place leans as far right* as a lot of the comments here suggest. Didn’t the results of the last SSC survey show that we lean mostly left? Or maybe it’s just that the people who choose to comment tend to be right-ish, while the people who read the blog do not?

        *Christ, I cannot tell you how happy I will be when we’ve finally all acknowledged that this left/right divide doesn’t describe anything useful anymore.

        • Jiro says:

          It seems like a bad idea for some of the same reasons as actual affirmative action. If women disproportionately are not interested in X, you should expect there to be few women doing X, and that isn’t something to be corrected, or at best, something to be corrected by trying to get the women more interested. If they refuse, then so be it.

          If leftists are disproportionately uninterested in rational discussion, you should expect to see fewer leftists on a blog dedicated to that. At best, you can try to get leftists interested in that, but if they’re not, they’re not.

          • albatross11 says:

            I don’t think leftists or SJWs are uninterested in rational discussion, and I think assuming that is mindkilling yourself. As best I can tell, SJWs in particular have a very different (and maybe narrower) Overton window than most SSCers, and so don’t feel like there’s any rational discussion to be had with a human b-odiversity type or an alt-riter or a neore-ctionary or even a bog standard Trump supporter. But that’s different from not being interested in rational discussion within their window.

          • Enkidum says:

            @albatross11 – thank you, sincerely, for your continual efforts to actually engage in steel manning/charity. It’s something which is particularly difficult for me and you provide a good example of how to do it.

          • GearRatio says:

            @albatross11

            Something I’m trying to work out how to say:

            Isn’t there a point at which refusal to talk to anyone who disagrees with you substantially precludes having rational discussion? Is a flat-earther who not only refuses to listen to evidence but also refuses to talk to anyone who isn’t a flat-earther having “rational discussion within their window”?

            I’m not saying this isn’t a thing at all (like, I wouldn’t want to spend a ton of time talking to rapists about how rape is great) but if we agree that both those bookends are valid for “can’t have a rational discussion within my window” and “can have a rational discussion within my window” there has to be a switch-over point somewhere where you are now refusing to listen to enough dissenting views that what you are doing isn’t rational anymore.

            Note: I’m NOT making an argument that where SJW, ect are on either side of the line. I’m just saying that I want to know where that line is.

          • Enkidum says:

            Orwell has an article (from the late 30’s, if I remember correctly) where he says something like “you can imagine a reasonable argument being made by a Catholic, a fascist, a communist, or a socialist, but you could not imagine a reasonable argument being made by a member of the Ku Klux Klan” (at least, not about the domains to which their group membership is relevant). I’m not sure where the line is, I spent quite some time a couple weeks back arguing that Alex Jones supporters are outside it, but everyone is going to draw it somewhere different.

            But you’re asking the opposite, I suppose. And I think you also have a point. Given that the average person listens to close to no dissenting views charitably, I think we can say that there isn’t a lot of rationality going around.

          • albatross11 says:

            GearRatio:

            That’s a good question. I guess my point is that there’s a difference between “My Overton window doesn’t contain your position–I don’t think it’s something about which reasonable people can disagree” and “I don’t value rational discussion.” Everyone has such a window.

            I do think there’s a failure mode of human minds where we rule more and more possible ideas out of bounds pre-emptively and so end up blinding ourselves. In the extreme case, you get people who get totally captured by some conspiracy theory, to the point that all evidence against the theory turns out to just be more subtle evidence for the theory. (And I suspect that there are mainstream political views that aren’t so distant from that.).

            It’s important to try not to let your window narrow to the point that you are closing out reality because it’s inconvenient to your existing beliefs.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            If leftists are disproportionately uninterested in rational discussion

            This suggestion is, frankly, quite offensive.

            But this allows me to raise, without escalating the conflict (oh, don’t try to tell me yours was just a hypothetical), the possibility that it’s the rightists who are uninterested in rational discussion (only, being a vast majority here, they have the means to simply flood out the opposition, while perpetuating the aura of rationalism in discussions about less politically charged topics). At least that’s my impression after numerous attempts to present any anti-capitalist point whatsoever and mostly receiving stock dismissive responses from within a limited set of [Stalin, Kim, Venezuela].

            I would guess, to repurpose other poster’s words, people here “have a different Overton window, and so don’t feel like there’s any rational discussion to be had with” anti-capitalists. I should note that, contrary to some of the voices here, I don’t consider this phrasing a steelman, but rather a description of a mindset that is closed to discussion and anti-rational. I expect rational people to be able to present and examine their positions down to the bare axioms and assumptions about the world.

            And I genuinely understand the urge not to do this. The world is messy and complicated and when it comes to explaining one’s reasoning, people with simple, far-reaching, hard-to-falsify assumptions have a large advantage. It’s extremely tempting to decide that someone’s reasoning has crossed some metaphorical event horizon and became impenetrable by facts and reality, then just dismiss them. It’s also extremely easy to do, because all it takes for mutual incomprehensibility is an unspotted rejection of one of your own basic assumptions.

            But then you’re just leaving people with simple, far-reaching, hard-to-falsify assumptions unchecked while they proselytize. And, due to the aforementioned advantages, they’re good at it. Reality invariably impedes them, but on many occasions not before they brought some horrible disaster upon everyone. Refusing to engage them is not just irrational, it’s irresponsible.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            At least that’s my impression after numerous attempts to present any anti-capitalist point whatsoever and mostly receiving stock dismissive responses from within a limited set of [Stalin, Kim, Venezuela].

            Hi Hoopdawg,

            What is your dividing line between capitalism and not-capitalism? Is it the extent of the social safety net, or is it having industry in private hands vs government?

            Isn’t reasonable to consider that the current wealth of the USA is due in large part to capitalism, and isn’t reasonable to compare non-capitalist societies to the USA? What nation should we look to as an example of a successful non-capitalist nation, if not the USSR, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, China (pre-capitalist reforms), Cambodia? Why should we overlook the millions of dead and the shocking human misery these regimes created?

            I’m not trying to be dismissive of your ideas, and I understand that capitalism is far from perfect, but so far its track record seems far better than anything else.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @jermo sapiens

            Very CW. Please reroute it to the next CW enabled thread on Wednesday.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            @EchoChaos

            Apologies, you are correct.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            I will likewise refrain from responding. At least on object-level issues.

            But I really cannot refrain from noting how I was just hit with all the stock thought-terminating cliches in response to a complaint about the very same thought-terminating cliches.

          • You were hit with the question of why certain arguments should be classified as thought-terminating cliches rather than as reasonable arguments. If you want to be taken seriously, you should answer that question (in the next CW permitted open thread), not dismiss it.

          • sentientbeings says:

            Hoopdawg said:

            …the possibility that it’s the rightists who are uninterested in rational discussion (only, being a vast majority here…

            Am I the only one thoroughly confused by this assertion (that rightists are the vast majority here)? I’ve seen something akin to it a few times in relation to the recent ban discussion. Hasn’t that been thoroughly documented not to be the case in the successive annual surveys? Did I miss a recent demographic shift?

            Hoopdawg, have you seen the prior annual surveys? What numbers do you have to support “vast majority?” Do you count libertarians as rightists? Do you think there could be a definitional mismatch between your categories and others’ here? Do you doubt the survey results?

            I would doubt your claim even if I judged it on my personal observation reading this blog for years, but the actual attempts at quantification have been fairly consistent, to my recollection.

          • Jiro says:

            But this allows me to raise, without escalating the conflict (oh, don’t try to tell me yours was just a hypothetical), the possibility that it’s the rightists who are uninterested in rational discussion

            My proposal explains away a phenomenon. Your supposedly similar proposal does not, unless you claim there are few right-wingers here.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I guess my point is that there’s a difference between “My Overton window doesn’t contain your position–I don’t think it’s something about which reasonable people can disagree” and “I don’t value rational discussion.” Everyone has such a window.

            If everyone has such a window, doesn’t it follow that everyone pretty much values rational discussion, where rational is defined as being within their window? (I’m not counting people who genuinely just post snark or jokes with others to have a good time.)

            There are apparently Klansmen who have built up a worldview coherent enough to discuss on online forums. Same for pedophiles. So, contra Orwell, I can very much imagine a reasonable argument from a KKK member, even though I’d have to entertain some starting premises I would care not to.

            The only people who I truly can’t see having reasonable arguments are loners who only log on to forums to rant, or who keep to themselves about their nefarities (serial killers, Ed Gaim, etc.). But even the Unabomber had thoughts he deemed worth writing down.

            Compared with these, anti-capitalists are extremely reasonable.

            [T]his allows me to raise […] the possibility that it’s the rightists who are uninterested in rational discussion […]. At least that’s my impression after numerous attempts to present any anti-capitalist point whatsoever and mostly receiving stock dismissive responses from within a limited set of [Stalin, Kim, Venezuela].

            This is probably an artifact of having a critical mass of commenters here for whom the question of “capitalism: pro or con?” is settled. Anyone not settled on it is going to look like a fish out of water if they post something. One, the pro-caps probably assume the newcomer is being unreasonable on purpose. Two, the newcomer might assume the same of the other commenters, and the newcomer is about to share the evidence that will finally set them on the correct path.

            To put it another way, there’s no commonly recognized way to approach a group of seasoned experts and ask them to question any of their basic premises as an expert with different perspective, and also have the call for discussion sound friendly or academic. …Or there is, but it requires dispensing with brevity. But if that’s your aim, this forum is the place for it…

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          If I remember correctly: Comments lean right, with the most frequent commenters leaning further right. Readership skews slightly left. Higher libertarian-ish propensities in both readership and commentariat than the general population.

          And yes, my understanding is that Scott explicitly intends to hold right-leaning posters to a higher standard in terms of “niceness”/rhetoric, specifically in order to attempt to close the gap between readership and commentariat, and to encourage more left-leaning readers to comment more regularly.

          • Plumber says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko,
            That’s plausible (and I’d assume my a bit more Left than Right leanings are how I’ve escaped a ban), but our host has banned a fair number of Leftists lately, a further Leftist comes readily to mind, his comments didn’t seem high quality to me, but he did lend ideological ‘diversity’ if that’s the goal.

            And on that note, among frequent commenters I’d say there’s a few Warren/Sanders Democrats, a few Trump Republicans, and a lot of Ron Paul Republicans, among the less commenting readership (judging by the survey) Warren/Sanders Democrats are probably a plurality, but not a majority, but if commenters matched the general U.S.A. population there’d be some more Warren/Sanders Democrats, even more Trump Republicans, a lot more Biden Democrats, and all would be out numbered by people who didn’t follow politics, so maybe more cooking, movies, sports, and television posts – which looks like the general trend of the last few visible Open Threads (except this one) anyway.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I’d assume my a bit more Left than Right leanings are how I’ve escaped a ban

            I’ve literally never read a Plumber comment that failed to give me some measure of joy. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you interact with anyone in any but the most polite and good-cheered manner imaginable, so I can’t imagine you being anywhere near the ban list at all.

            I think your voice is one of the most valuable on this forum. This is coming from probably one of the most right-wing lurkers here.

          • Plumber says:

            @Chevalier Mal Fet ,

            Oh wow, thanks for some very kind words!

            I have posted my share of cranky/ranty posts (and I credit @DavidFriedman for pointing out that I should re-consider some statements I’ve made).

            On some stuff I’m probably to the ‘Left’ of most Americans, on some other stuff I hear some of parts of the ‘Rights” wishlist and think “Is that all you want?”, “I wouldn’t even bother to bargain hard before I compromsed over and gave them that!”

        • People will always complain about “far right dominance” until the left completely controls the conversation. It’s meaningless.

          • Enkidum says:

            Not when there is empirical data to support it.

          • There’s no evidence of far right dominance. The most frequent commenters are more to the right than the typical browser. But that’s not going to stop people complaining about the “far right”.

          • Enkidum says:

            OK, “right dominance” then, where “far” is in the eye of the beholder?

          • DinoNerd says:

            IMO, people will tend to complain that people in their outgroup are dominant.

          • Jack says:

            No no, not far right dominance. Far right dominance. What you need is empirical support for the italics.

          • JulieK says:

            This is the sort of sweeping statement that we should try to avoid.

          • OK, “right dominance” then, where “far” is in the eye of the beholder?

            You’re conflating “dominance” with being the majority, obviously not the same thing. If a leftist wants to comment here, they are free to do so. There are no real world repercussions if they say the “wrong” thing. The only keeping them from commenting is themselves. I’ve never been given an answer about why I should care that this place leans right. If you don’t care that the universities are dominated by leftists, then there is no principled reason to care about a small website comment section.

          • Enkidum says:

            You’re conflating “dominance” with being the majority, obviously not the same thing.

            That’s a fair point. I’d say that there tends to be a bleed-through of having a majority to having dominant-ish tendencies, both in general and specifically in discussions here. But it’s far from complete, and obviously left-wing people get plenty of points in.

        • Hoopdawg says:

          It’s more that the left/right divide describes several widely differing things at once.

          Sometimes, it’s liberal vs. conservative, in which case this place leans left, but neither strongly nor decisively.
          Sometimes, it’s Blue vs. Red, in which case this place is, obviously, Grey.
          But often, it means socialism vs. capitalism, and here, this place is pretty much evenly divided between “privatize everything” market fundamentalist libertarians and radical centrist neoliberals, making the usual scope of discussions further right than at any venue currently in the mainstream.

          • Plumber says:

            Hoopdawg says:
            September 10, 2019 at 1:33 am

            “…here, this place is pretty much evenly divided between “privatize everything” market fundamentalist libertarians and radical centrist neoliberals, making the usual scope of discussions further right than at any venue currently in the mainstream”

            Quoting this now to remind myself to ask for some working definitions in the next “hidden” fractional Open Thread that doesn’t have the “…please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics…” request.

          • fr8train_ssc says:

            But often, it means socialism vs. capitalism, and here, this place is pretty much evenly divided between “privatize everything” market fundamentalist libertarians and radical centrist neoliberals, making the usual scope of discussions further right than at any venue currently in the mainstream.

            Also quoting this to remind myself for the culture war thread. Like @Plumber, I have a hypothesis that depending on whether you use the definition “People who believe workers should own the means of production/wealth generation” vs “People who agree with >80% of Marxism-Leninism(-Maoism)” you will get different membership numbers.

          • Plumber says:

            “…Quoting this now to remind myself to ask for some working definitions in the next “hidden” fractional Open Thread that doesn’t have the “…please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics…” request.”

            Now asked in the 136.25 “Hidden” Open thread

        • Garrett says:

          IDK – whatever happened to our Marxist participants? A number of them came across as acerbic to me, but I was hoping that at some point I’d get a “feel” for their type of analysis. I’ve been hoping to see more of them around.

          • Aapje says:

            I remember one getting banned for being a full-on Stalinist.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aapje

            I am pretty sure he was banned more for being a one-note ass than being a Stalinist per se.

          • baconbits9 says:

            They showed up to a forum with higher than average economic literacy, and with a few posters who could quote Marx back to them (people who had read and understood Marx’s arguments, not those who were quoting incorrect versions of the labor theory of value). They showed up naked to a knife fight and their entire strategy was to claim that they had a gun in their pocket. It was an untenable position.

          • Nick says:

            Worth noting that same username was banned numerous times on the subreddit under obvious pseudonyms (note the last header in the table of contents). Honestly, I found it a wonder they weren’t banned here just on name recognition; I wouldn’t have blamed Scott for it.

          • Plumber says:

            @Aapje says: “I remember one getting banned for being a full-on Stalinist”

            There was another Stalinist who’s posted in the last year (something like “citizen Cockaigne or Cockayne”) who didn’t get banned, he just tapered off his posting.

          • Randy M says:

            Speaking of bans, this remark always cracks me up:

            – Scott Alexander for one week (10/7 – 10/14) for reasons

          • Nick says:

            @Randy M
            My favorite is blacktrance’s.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            They showed up to a forum with higher than average economic literacy

            This statement, the entire post really, is extremely symptomatic of the local standard of discourse, and I hope everyone can figure out what the problem is.

            and with a few posters who could quote Marx back to them

            I recall you in particular quoting Marx (found it – https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/03/26/book-review-twelve-rules-for-life/#comment-613782) and, to refrain from using stronger language, it was not particularly impressing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I recall you in particular quoting Marx (found it – https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/03/26/book-review-twelve-rules-for-life/#comment-613782) and, to refrain from using stronger language, it was not particularly impressing.

            I like how you made snide and inaccurate remarks and remember that as a victory for yourself. You specifically made one claim that could be tested against Marx’s writings and were shown to be wrong where you said

            I especially love the part where Marx’s restating of a bourgeois strawman of communism is taken as his actual position.

            I quoted the broader passage surrounding that claim which demonstrated that it was not a straw man, and quoted the surrounding passages for every quote I had to allow anyone reading to evaluate for themselves your claim that I was taking them out of context.

            So I note that in two instances now regarding Marx you have dropped in with insulting comments with zero actual content, and wonder why anyone would give two figs about you being impressed or not by my knowledge of Marx.

          • Jack says:

            @baconbits9 Regardless of your disagreement with Hoopster about your presentation of some Marx quotations, the apparent fact that Hoopster (and, it seems, benwave back in that other thread) were unconvinced by your use of Marx is evidence against your initial claim, something like that the Marxists left when embarrassed by their own ignorance.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            @baconbits:
            After I pointed out your Marx quotes are taken out of context, the discussion in question immediately ended with benwave (an impartial participant claiming to neither be a Marxist nor having read Marx previously) stating he’s “largely unconvinced they say what you propose they say”. In light of this, it’s extremely weird for you to claim I was “shown to be wrong”.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @baconbits9 Regardless of your disagreement with Hoopster about your presentation of some Marx quotations, the apparent fact that Hoopster (and, it seems, benwave back in that other thread) were unconvinced by your use of Marx is evidence against your initial claim, something like that the Marxists left when embarrassed by their own ignorance.

            The discussion was mostly with poster benwave who specifically said he needed to read more Marx, and also said he wasn’t there to defend the Communist Manifesto. Hoopdawg specifically accused me of taking Marx out of context, refused to provide the context himself, and added nothing to to the discussion.

            I had a perfectly reasonable discussion with someone who disagreed with my interpretation of Marx but who was not themselves defending Marx. The people who were defending Marx in that thread dropped out as soon as quotes from Marx were presented.

          • baconbits9 says:

            After I pointed out your Marx quotes are taken out of context, the discussion in question immediately ended with benwave (an impartial participant claiming to neither be a Marxist nor having read Marx previously) stating he’s “largely unconvinced they say what you propose they say”. In light of this, it’s extremely weird for you to claim I was “shown to be wrong”.

            You made a direct statement that was testable by the text

            I especially love the part where Marx’s restating of a bourgeois strawman of communism is taken as his actual position.

            I quoted the broader text showing that Mrx did not think it was a straw man and heartily endorsed the idea. Since your post added no other substance there was nothing to directly refute, my discussion with benwave was separate and he neither mentioned your post nor defended your accusation.

          • Aftagley says:

            The discussion was mostly with poster benwave who specifically said he needed to read more Marx, and also said he wasn’t there to defend the Communist Manifesto.

            Ok, let’s go through this. Here is Benwave’s post you’re referencing:

            @baconbits I have a lot to learn about late-career Marx, it would seem. But I’m not here to defend the communist manifesto.

            Following that, you were accused of selectively quoting by HoopDawg. You posted more context and, low and behold (according to Benwave, emphasis mine)

            I still probably have to go through and read the whole thing (sigh) but with the context around them, I am largely unconvinced they say what you propose they say.… (he then presents a nuanced argument from the text against your claims.)

            So, yes, while he technically did say the things you are claiming he did, you are ignoring the final entry in the discussion which largely did not end in your favor. On a meta level, it’s also kind of funny that in an argument about whether or not you engage in posting selective quotations, you’re defending yourself by selectively quoting someone.

          • baconbits9 says:

            So, yes, while he technically did say the things you are claiming he did, you are ignoring the final entry in the discussion which largely did not end in your favor.

            I never claimed that the discussion with benwave ended in my favor, my first post was a comment about the average economic literacy and knowledge of Marx being stronger here*, and a discussion between two non Marxists would highlight, rather than contradict, that point. My later statements were directed at a specific poster who had made a verifiable claim- that I had misread a strawman argument for Marx’s position as his position, as well as his otherwise insulting and content free comments.

            Poster Jack then said

            Regardless of your disagreement with Hoopster about your presentation of some Marx quotations, the apparent fact that Hoopster (and, it seems, benwave back in that other thread) were unconvinced by your use of Marx is evidence against your initial claim, something like that the Marxists left when embarrassed by their own ignorance.

            To which I responded that benwave does not appear to be a Marxist or even a Marxist sympathizer, so the claim seems to be that since HoopDawg has attempted to insult me twice without providing any content that Marxists aren’t leaving this place due to higher rates of knowledge.

            *PS more or less I was recalling some of David Friedman’s responses to Marxists when I wrote that, not mine, but that is just a side note.

          • Jack says:

            @baconbits9 I mean I assumed in the other thread Hoopsie didn’t respond to your last comment (“dropped out” as you put it) because the additional quotations you provided supported Hoops’ view. User benwave was not as specific as Hoop-dawg about what was wrong with your use of the quotations, but seemed to more or less agree with H. And just to add, because I’m not sure anyone has spelled this out, “Marx thinks there should be no individuality” is the strawperson while “Marx thinks there should be no ‘individuality’ where ‘individual’ means ‘no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property'” is what Marx said in the fuller quotation.

            That said, this is all you defending yourself against Hoopser’s criticism of your own quoting of Marx. If you want to evidence your original claim, it would likely be more productive to find a situation of a non-Marxist out-Marxing a Marxist, as it seems you recall Friedman has done.

        • aristides says:

          The readers leans left and the frequent commenters lean right. My hypothesis is that This in one of the few places on the internet that intelligent right wingers can have a calm discussion without fear of being banned or downvoted solely based on their view points, so we flock here and comment more. I read a lot of reddit, but I never comment politics, because I worry about being downvoted, or even receive ad hominem attacks based on my post history.

          • +1

            No idea why people on the left are so obsessed with this place.

          • Plumber says:

            @Wrong Species says: "+1

            No idea why people on the left are so obsessed with this place"

            I’ll bet with great confidence that the overwhelming vast majority of “Leftists” (as well as Rightists, Centrists, Upists, Downists, Allaroundists, Hokeypokeyist…) are completely unaware that this blog exists let alone are “obsessed” with it (Sorry Scott).

            I expect the word “Some” was missing, but with big enough categories of peoole in a big world “some” is true too often to mean much.

          • Enkidum says:

            No idea why people on the left are so obsessed with this place.

            It’s a blog for intelligent discussion of many things, including politics, written by a reasonably standard example of a left-wing thinker. Why wouldn’t left-wingers come here?

            EDIT: “standard” yes yes Scott is very clever and special (not meant sarcastically), but many/most of his articulated political positions are bog-standard left wing.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            No idea why people on the left are so obsessed with this place.

            Obviously, Plumber is correct, but I see your point that the existence of SSC bothers alot of the leftists who know about it more than what you might expect. I think it has alot to do with the level of intellectualism and the ideological distribution of the commenters, as well as the posts tagged “things I will regret writing” (always the best ones).

          • Aftagley says:

            Do you have any evidence of these claims? I’m a leftist, read leftist stuff and enjoy this place (although I wouldn’t call myself obsessed).

            I think Scott’s anti-SJW stance might have been enough to poison some of that crowd against him, and I could see someone who only had that exposure having a negative impression of this space, but nothing I’ve seen implies that lefties overall have dislike SSC.

          • Randy M says:

            “Scott’s critics are leftists” and “Leftists are Scott’s critics” are two very different generalizations. The first is definitely more true than the second; Scott has been opposed from the left for such posts as Untitled and for allowing banned discourse, but many prominent leftists also link to and discuss Scott’s work, in Vox, the Atlantic, and so on.

            Even then, to be fair, some of Scott’s critics do attack him from the right, if you check back in on old posts that show some hate mail. I wouldn’t venture a prediction on relative quantities with high confidence.

          • Plumber says:

            @Randy M,

            FWLIW, the first time I came across SSC was from a link in a Ross Douthat column in The New York Times, I read some but didn’t get to the comments section, the second time was a few years later from a link in The Atlantic Monthly (unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the author), I regard Ross as a token Rightist in a center-left-ish newspaper, and The Atlantic as a bit closer to center, both aren’t The National Review Right, or The Nation Left, I’d call those publications “collegiate class mainstream” which these days is usually thought of as more left than right.

            Personally how left or right I lean depends on how much alcohol or caffeine is in my blood at the moment.

          • quanta413 says:

            It’s a blog for intelligent discussion of many things, including politics, written by a reasonably standard example of a left-wing thinker. Why wouldn’t left-wingers come here?

            I feel Scott is a left-wing thinker by the standards of the last 5-10 years only by a very loose definition. He’s more like a bleeding heart libertarian except not on the Social Justice bandwagon. I’m not saying that prescriptively, this is not an ideal outcome. Steven Pinker would’ve been obviously important left-wing thinker until fairly recently, and now I don’t see many counting him as such.

            Scott’s got some anti-SJ stances to the right of my own. And I’m not a bleeding heart.

      • GearRatio says:

        @Aftagley:

        I’m not sure that matters to me much – somebody going “this one group gets preferential treatment because they don’t put in as much effort” doesn’t really appeal to me in the first place, and complaining about that starts with the same steps or else “Well, it’s a moot point anyway, considering….” arguments defeat the complaint.

        • Aftagley says:

          I guess, but when that someone is the person who sets and enforces the rules for the community, I feel like you’re setting yourself up to run into a brick wall.

          • GearRatio says:

            Depends on what your win conditions are. I think mine are:

            1. Make sure I’m right.

            2. =if(1.=true, “Show that I’m right”, 3.)

            3. State I’m wrong and back off.

            My principle here is that if someone is wrong, showing they are wrong is worthwhile even if you aren’t going to change them, so other people have the option of making an informed decision about how seriously to take them. Certainly “ignore the whole thing” has the lowest chances of my preferred 1. – 2. outcome or any change happening, so I’d be less likely to do that.

          • Aftagley says:

            I mean, feel free to keep any spreadsheet you want my friend I’m just skeptical that it will result in any useful, much less actionable data.

    • GreatColdDistance says:

      I don’t agree with your position (to me the most prolific commenters here tent to be right wing, so any crackdown is going to disproportionately hit them), but I do strongly endorse your methods as being the best way to deal with the situation.

      • GearRatio says:

        Yeah, they are sort of exactly designed to be the lawful good response to your position. If you go “This is a pretend problem based on population”, I sort of have to show Scott ignoring “reality has a well-known liberal bias” type statement.

    • souleater says:

      I’m a conservative-libertarian, but I don’t think there is is any justification is accusing Scott of being bias or unfairness. This post seems to be neither kind, necessary OR true.
      edit: GearRatio didn’t accuse him of anything, and I regret my poor manners.

      SSC commenters are overwhelmingly right leaning (although interestingly enough, also very blue tribe). So it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the ban list was also overwhelmingly right leaning. however, out of the 8 people named, only 5 could be described as being on “the right”

      It seems to me that if anything, the comments section will be more right wing going forward. If you want more voices in this community, we should be advocating the the right be held to a higher standard than the half-dozen left leaning commenters we have here.

      edit: The above isn’t intended as a personal attack on you, and it may be a little harsher than necessary. but I see a number of people implying conservatives are receiving unfair treatment, and this is just the post I happened to reply to. rereading your post, I wonder if I mistook a challenge for data as a call to arms.

      • GearRatio says:

        Reread the post and note that I specifically didn’t accuse him of anything, and made a point not to do so.

        • souleater says:

          I actually just did reread your post and I see I besmirched your character unfairly. I apologize, and take full responsibility for the error.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Note that the conservatives banned are notably Red Tribe in a very Blue/Grey place, which may be one of the reasons.

        The other very prolific Red Triber is me. Plumber is Red Tribe adjacent and he and I get each other a lot despite disagreeing fundamentally on a lot of political issues.

        It would not surprise me if dick was also liberal Red Triber based on his style, which makes me wonder if it’s a tribal style thing on reflection.

        • Plumber says:

          @EchoChaos says:

          “…Plumber is Red Tribe adjacent…”

          As a rough guess I’d say at least 60% of the guys I’ve ever known are “Red-Tribe”, and for the majority of “Blue-Tribe” guys that I’ve known well I knew them decades ago, or they are the husbands of my wife’s friends and I just don’t encounter them that often.

          Women that I’ve known though have been at least 90% Blue Tribe, my initial though on reading our host’s list of “tribal features” was: “Isn’t this just some differences between most men and most women? “, but I guess there’s more to it than that.

          “…he and I get each other a lot despite disagreeing fundamentally on a lot of political issues…”

          Likewise, and tbf given our differences in age and neIghborhoods I think it would be weird otherwise, without getting into “hot button” specifics, the U.S.A. is a big place and policy wise I don’t think “one size” fits all on many things, even San Diego and San Francisco, as well as Salt Lake City and San Antonio.

      • Dan L says:

        SSC commenters are overwhelmingly right leaning

        I think I probably spend more time staring at those numbers than anyone, and I wouldn’t say that – I wouldn’t be fully comfortable advancing any particular overall orientation as dominant. But it’s definitely true that there are right-aligned positions that are overwhelmingly represented on SSC, and that could have a similar effect if they’re what conversation tends to focus on.

    • Nearly Takuan says:

      I support the idea of a score-keeping spreadsheet because, I hope, any lefty ideas that survive the process will be more likely to receive attention, or at least sympathy, from non-lefty types. I am a little apprehensive, because there’s lately been a weird culture war over at StackExchange (and especially Meta) where the pendulum seems to swing wildly between “increase engagement and community outreach, even if that means allowing low-effort posts to pollute the space indefinitely” and “remove any contributions perceived by frequent users to be low-quality, even if that means disproportionately driving away anyone who doesn’t speak a specific vernacular.” But I’m hoping this community can do it better. I’d be tempted to think it couldn’t be worse, but the first internet forum I ever commented on was GameFAQs….

    • ECD says:

      This sounds an awful lot like you’re recreating opposition research for this forum. I will also say, as a lefty who is relatively uncomfortable commenting here, the proposal to have (righties, presumably?) make a spreadsheet of all the stupid/evil/cruel things lefties say, is not something that makes me more comfortable commenting here, nor I think is it likely to engender the sort of community it appears Scott wants.

      Honestly, I think it almost directly parallels some of the worse (though not worst) excesses of social media more generally, which this forum has generally and repeatedly condemned.

      • as a lefty who is relatively uncomfortable commenting here

        Could you explain why?

        Part of my general curiosity about why so many people read but don’t comment.

        • Dan L says:

          It should be noted that commenting in general is rare among the readership, but there are very strong biases in who doesn’t make that jump. Speculating why from my own experiences would immediately go CW or ECD can summarize it pretty well, I guess.

          I’d be strongly in favor of questions being added to the 2020 survey to this effect, both specifically asking as to participation in the (hidden) open threads, and why not as applicable.

        • ECD says:

          A combination of things.

          1) A general lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to do the research necessary to have an independent position on the topics most of interest to this forum.

          2) General support for the topics which are quasi-taboo here (SJW related).

          3) A recognition that this place skews hyper-literate and extremely good at argument, which combined with (1) and (2) makes any engagement difficult and potentially counter-productive in searching for truths of interest to me. Especially as, on the few areas I do know something about, law, bureaucracy, federal government service, law school, universities, ‘blue-tribe’ politics, the picture presented is so completely alien to my experience that despite good argumentation, I cannot take it at face value.

          In the main, I find the SSC commentariat useful whenever I start getting into my own bubble and want to see how other, smart, people think and what they think about. They make an excellent mirror to society, even if it’s a funhouse one. But I don’t feel comfortable engaging here, because I have little interest in seeing myself so distorted.

          If any of that makes any sense at all.

          Oh, and one more, even though it’s extremely unfair:

          (4) A tendency for a LOT of extraordinary claims to go entirely without challenge, even as some extremely minor claims get challenged five rows deep with thirty paragraphs. Silence isn’t agreement, but it’s very striking to see (examples are not quotes):

          “Slavery would have died on its own”->Silence, not “Even granting your premise, which I don’t necessarily, how many people would have suffered slavery, which is to say, rape, torture, theft and murder, until then?”

          “A college student said something stupid/signed a petition/tweeted something”->Fifty paragraphs of discussion about SJW’s and how college is pointless and we really just need coding schools.

          • eigenmoon says:

            3) I would absolutely love to meet hyper-literate and extremely good at argument people with completely alien views to my own, assuming that they are willing to talk to me long enough. This would be potentially very productive in searching for truths. I’m a libertarian and I’ve had a good talk with conservatives on this forum, and I’ve learned something new about their perspective even though I still disagree with it. I have never met a leftist in my life who would be both capable to defend leftist views at least to the standard of this forum and willing to stay long enough to actually do it.

            4) how many people would have suffered slavery, which is to say, rape, torture, theft and murder
            I assume that the amount of murders would be less than that of the Civil War, which is why I would not challenge the “slavery would have died on its own” claim.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            For what it´s worth, I also find it implausible that slavery would have died on its own in CSA without Civil War, I just didn´t want to get into extended argument with those guys in last thread.

          • Aapje says:

            @ECD

            “Slavery would have died on its own”->Silence

            Your recollection is false.

            That you seem to have merely remembered the comment you found offensive, but forgotten the push back, suggests that your perception may be skewed.

            , not “Even granting your premise, which I don’t necessarily, how many people would have suffered slavery, which is to say, rape, torture, theft and murder, until then?”

            The Civil War also involved rape, torture, theft and murder. However, looking back at the thread, no one seemed to be directly arguing that it would have been better if the Civil War hadn’t happened, but rather, Matt M and EchoChaos seemed to merely argue that the Civil War was not necessary to end slavery.

            Perhaps you were interested in a different discussion than they, but I don’t see how they are obligated to anticipate that in advance. It’s up to you or other commenters to raise issues they want to address. If you/they don’t, then you are stuck with what those who do comment want to talk about.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Backing up Aapje, lots of people debate all sorts of things here, so if you want something specific debated, feel free. We bust out sources and everything!

            Although this particular topic is best left for a partial number thread because it unfortunately still gets pretty heated.

          • Corey says:

            +1, I’m in the same situation. I’m a few PhD’s short of being able to meaningfully contribute, and lefty enough that anything I do have to contribute will be suspect.

            The form of right dominance this comment section has is via group consensus. Every group either comes to consensus on issues that people disagree on, or has endless flamewars / latent flamewars about them (for a trivial example, aquarium fora have to come to consensus about whether to mention plecostomus catfish as “pleco” or “pl*co” thanks to a Usenet-era superstition).

            In SSC comment sections (especially open threads, though topic threads have this to a lesser extent), the group consensus is on the right-wing side of every issue where you could meaningfully assign left/right to the positions.

            To come back to the topic, this manifests as: stereotypes of liberals are Obviously Correct no matter how unflattering, stereotypes of conservatives that could conceivably be interpreted as negative are terrible slurs that must be rebutted.

            I think naive counting of number of comments (as Scott tends to do) misses this dynamic.

          • ECD says:

            @Aapje

            That wasn’t actually the thread I was referring to. That wasn’t the first time this has come up. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out how to do a search of the hidden threads (which is probably why they are ‘hidden’) so I’m having some difficulty finding examples. If you like, I’m happy to go back through the open threads for some examples.

            However, that thread is representative of another related topic that is a different reason I comment infrequently, though it’s somewhat difficult to go into specifics on the non-CW thread, but generally boils down to a certainty that the commenters input is valuable. These are two economics papers, but unless I’m misreading the thread, none of the local folks who know about economics are actually involved.

            But succumbing to the same tendency myself, I will point out two things about that thread, it started with links to two articles. The first goes into great length about the deadweight loss, which he defines as “the loss in utility of forcing slaves to provide more labor than they otherwise would” and the tax (in the form of slave patrol). This is a good argument (as far as a non-economist can tell) that the slave-owning society would have been better off if they’d been a free society (at least a free society with approximately the same population where everyone worked). But it doesn’t prove what everyone seems to be assuming it says, namely that slavery made them poorer. But for slavery, the slave-owning society in question has approximately half the population it had in reality. The effects of that on the economy are not even considered in this counterfactual (nor does, I followed an economically sub-optimal path to my present, comfortable life==college education/buying coffee/whatever stupid/uneconomic shit I do which is part of me, made me poorer. No the package made me middle-class and the uneconomic shit was part of the package, even though not wholly responsible).

            The second I can only access the abstract, but it states: “The data shows that slave use is negatively correlated with subsequent economic development. However, there is no evidence that this relationship is driven by large scale plantation slavery, or that the relationship works through slavery’s effect on economic inequality.” which is not actually relevant to the question of current value of slavery to slave-owning societies.

            And, since I’m listing reasons I comment infrequently, I’d say the endless, wearying cynicism on any political/academic/’elite’ topic in the comments section at least, wears on my soul.

            @eigenmoon
            RE, (3)
            Sure, and in areas where I know things, I’m happy to have a debate. But for things where I don’t, getting into a debate with a hyper-literate, excellent arguer is as much a waste of time as trying to learn martial arts by trying to fight a guy with a gun unarmed. In any number of these discussions, I am definitely the unarmed man in Churchill’s (or Twain’s, a cursory internet search gives me differing results) quotation.

            RE: (4) We’re drifting real hard into CW territory here. But I’ll leave it at two points, my point with the example was two-fold, first there’s, in my view, though I have provided no evidence for it, only my impression, a difference in how things are responded to (which isn’t any individual’s responsibility, but does help shape an atmosphere I’m generally uncomfortable with). The second point is that, the specific claim I raised as an example here was indeed addressed. However, the problem is not that it was addressed, but that it ignores the underlying moral question at issue, which is, at least in part the cost of not acting.

            Assume they are correct and slavery would have ended on its own. Brazil is the usual example given, so lets assume the same timetable, even though I think that overly optimistic. Slavery ended in Brazil in 1888. The civil war had approximately 1.4 million dead and wounded (which included quite a few slaves). There were approximately 4 million slaves in the US in 1860. I honestly have no idea how to weigh the torture, rape, murder and enslavement of 4 million people for 28 years against the death of 1 million and the injuring of 400,000 and neither do you, but the conversation there dodged the entire issue. Given that this is the non-CW thread and I’m not a mind reader, I won’t speculate as to why, but it’s one reason I don’t comment here often and it’s part of what I was getting at with that unfortunately chosen example.

            People are allowed to be interested in what they’re interested in, but it does shape the atmosphere of this place into one where I don’t comment very often.

            ETA: typo correction wearing->wearying. Oh, and all numbers are being pulled from Wikipedia (please note, they count captured very strangely, so the 1.4 is my attempt at extracting a casualty figure from their numbers, it could be as high as 1.6)

          • Garrett says:

            Especially as, on the few areas I do know something about, law, bureaucracy, federal government service, law school, universities, ‘blue-tribe’ politics, the picture presented is so completely alien to my experience that despite good argumentation, I cannot take it at face value.

            Then please, please contribute to the conversation. Perspectives not exposed cannot be considered. Providing your experience can help shape the scope of discussion.

          • albatross11 says:

            ECD:

            I think it’s useful to separate out the moral question from the factual question. If the CSA had successfully seceded (the Union said “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”), would they have ended slavery a couple decades later on their own? That’s a *factual* question that’s kind-of interesting to consider, though I’m not so confident in anyone’s ability to answer it with a lot of certainty.

            But that’s separate from the *moral* question of whether that would have been a good trade. Slavery is a moral atrocity, but war is also pretty horrible. That’s a worthwhile discussion, but it’s a *different* discussion. (I’m not sure how you’d balance the suffering of war and the suffering of slavery–probably try to do some kind of utilitarian calculation.)

            For that matter, I’m pretty sure that a grand compromise that preserved the Union, avoided the civil war, and ensured that slavery would end everywhere in the US as of, say, 1880, would have been seen by most abolitionists and the great majority of Northerners as a great victory. That doesn’t mean it was the best moral outcome, obviously, but it does suggest that people on the ground at the time would probably have found it acceptable.

            It’s notable that we absolutely do allow horrible things to happen in the world when it’s too expensive to do something about it–go ask the Uighurs and Rohinga if you don’t believe me. It’s not obvious to me what the moral calculus there should be–invading Myanamar to force them to stop ethnically cleansing Rohinga would have extremely high cost.

          • Aapje says:

            @Corey

            If everyone would only comment if their claims are backed by supposed consensus, there would be no real debates, but just an echo chamber, with people making claims and others agreeing or making minor nitpicks.

            Every group either comes to consensus on issues that people disagree on, or has endless flamewars / latent flamewars about them

            If the only options/behaviors that you see are consensus or flamewar, then your view/perception is very different from mine.

            stereotypes of liberals are Obviously Correct no matter how unflattering, stereotypes of conservatives that could conceivably be interpreted as negative are terrible slurs that must be rebutted.

            I see a lot of push back against stereotypes of liberals.

            The main complaints about them seem to be more that they shouldn’t be made in the first place, not that they aren’t rebutted.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @albatross11

            I would love to have this discussion on Wednesday in the next fractional thread.

          • eigenmoon says:

            the conversation there dodged the entire issue. Given that this is the non-CW thread and I’m not a mind reader, I won’t speculate as to why, but it’s one reason I don’t comment here often

            I still got no idea what the entire issue is. Let’s wait for the CW thread.

          • Corey says:

            @Aapje you make a good point, not every issue is divisive enough that it fractures groups. “issues that people disagree on” did too much work and excluded the middle. I’d say “the sort of issue that fractures groups” but that’s circular. Probably a good example of not being good enough at argument.

            As for stereotypes, obviously any examples would be too CW, and then gather defenses on the grounds they’re Obviously Correct 🙂

          • Aapje says:

            @ECD

            Searching for old SSC comments is hard. I usually use Google, but quite often don’t find what I’m looking for (like U2).

            When searching for the comment I presented to you, I also found a months old thread where the same claim was made and where it also was rebutted. So even if you are correct that there was another thread where the claim was not rebutted, such claims still seem to be often rebutted. So I think that this disproves your claim that “a LOT of extraordinary claims to go entirely without challenge.”

            The rest of your comment abandons the meta-level debate in favor of arguing the issue itself, which I see as going off-topic and which IMO also violates the no-culture war rule for this Open Thread.

            I stand by my earlier claim that the burden is on people who want to discuss an aspect of a multi-faceted issue, to bring up that aspect.

            However, I also think that it is perfectly reasonable to want to focus on one specific question. Note that this is how (good) science often works as well, by limiting itself to one aspect of an issue and examining that very thoroughly, rather than examining many aspects more casually. Such an approach doesn’t mean that one considers those other aspects irrelevant.

          • Randy M says:

            the group consensus is on the right-wing side of every issue where you could meaningfully assign left/right to the positions.

            I don’t believe this is true. But maybe cultural issues from a few years ago have now conquered the right to the extent that they don’t count anymore.

          • Erusian says:

            Hey ECD. You’re sort of getting dogpiled, so I’d just like to say (insofar as I, a random stranger, get to ask you for favors) I’d really like to see more people like you post. Kind, thoughtful social justice types who are willing to engage in good faith. I really enjoy talking with (eg) LadyJane and I wish there were more people like her hanging around.

          • Enkidum says:

            Seconding Eurasian. There’s a lot of left-wingers lurking, and I think that this can be a more pleasant home if we’re careful about the meta-debate. I’d like to see you and others post, and would do what I can to make it comfortable, at any rate.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            In SSC comment sections (especially open threads, though topic threads have this to a lesser extent), the group consensus is on the right-wing side of every issue where you could meaningfully assign left/right to the positions.

            For what it’s worth, I have the complete opposite impression, with the exception of SJW-identity politics type issues, but even then it’s pretty close.

          • the group consensus is on the right-wing side of every issue where you could meaningfully assign left/right to the positions.

            Part of the problem with deciding if this is true is how you classify libertarians. If you include them on the right, there are very few positions to which you can meaningfully assign left/right.

            The most obvious example is probably immigration. In current U.S. politics, opposition to immigration is right wing. But practically the only people willing to support the opposite position, free immigration, are libertarians.

          • PedroS says:

            contra Corey, above, I do not think that in SSC the default consensus in CW matters is overwhelmingly the “right-wing-coded one”: the comentariat is generally pro-LGBT rights (Conrad Honcho’s decision to make his home free of Glee and other pro-LGBT fare was widely reviled here and as far as I am aware no one agreed with him), pro-free trade, anti-Trump wall, anti-SJW and probably anti-interventionist (regarding US use of force in international affairs). In abortion matters, I sense a general ” pro-choice is the obvious stance” vibe in spite of a strong Catholic contingent who defends the pro-life side of the issue.

          • Randy M says:

            the comentariat is generally pro-LGBT rights (Conrad Honcho’s decision to make his home free of Glee and other pro-LGBT fare was widely reviled here and as far as I am aware no one agreed with him)

            This is true and something I had in mind when objecting to the “universally conservative” (paraphrase) character of SSC commentariat; as to the example in parenthesis, though, I tried to out flank him on it; but it’s not a view I want to argue about vociferously here. (Linked thread also demonstrates how perennially SSC’s favorite topic–our relative faction strengths–reoccurs.

          • Nick says:

            Social conservatives are a prolific but definite minority on SSC. I can’t explain why it is we stay when other minority opinions, like our communists, get exhausted and leave.

          • ECD says:

            Okay, well, that will teach me to go to work instead of staying home and responding to forum messages. The above is sarcasm.

            @ various folks who said nice things about me: Thank you, that’s nice. The above is not sarcasm.

            @eigenmoon “the entire issue” there was that whether or not slavery would have died out on its own doesn’t answer on its own the question that people seem to be pulling from it, namely whether the civil war was justified, or the related question of what the impacts of slavery on the US have been.

            @albatross11: Yes. There can be value in splitting debates into different points. I was not asked, what would be best for this area, or what would produce the most truth, or what would allow the cleanest debate of abstract points of history. I was asked, why are you uncomfortable. One part of the answer is that this is a place that often, though not always likes to focus on an abstract, or meta-level debate without getting into the morality, or the effects on individuals. For a less CW example (which is mostly on me), one of my few other comments was on the thread about the horrors of dealing with the bureaucracy around human experimentation, pointing to the study wherein a psychologist chose to attempt (and succeed) in inducing stuttering in a bunch of orphans, via belittling their speech abilities (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster_Study#Criticism).

            Also, oh boy is there a difference between things my country does and things my country doesn’t prevent.

            @Aapje: The above response to albatross is partly a response to you. I collapsed a few things into that point. However, my broader response is that one reason I am uncomfortable commenting here (though not necessarily advocating for changes to this forum) is this exact conversation. Let me walk through it from my perspective.

            1) Someone advocates keeping a list of alleged misbehavior of leftists (and only leftists, which keeps getting glossed over somehow, this is not advocacy for a neutral list of misbehavior to compare rates of banning).

            2) I respond, that that seems like a bad idea and is part of the reason I feel uncomfortable commenting here. To the extent I recommend any changes to this place, it would be this, don’t make a change to add a bad-leftists spreadsheet.

            3) DavidFriedman asks why i am uncomfortable.

            4) I give a list of reasons one of which is “A tendency for a LOT of extraordinary claims to go entirely without challenge, even as some extremely minor claims get challenged five rows deep with thirty paragraphs.” I give two examples, one of which was clearly a bad idea (my fault) because it was CW and because it was similar to a topic which had been on a recent open thread (and I had seen that thread). I do however make it clear I’m not quoting and I thought I made it clear that these were not intended to be evidence, but explanation of the phenomena in question.

            5) You say one of my examples is false, linking to the CW thread in question and say:

            Perhaps you were interested in a different discussion than they, but I don’t see how they are obligated to anticipate that in advance. It’s up to you or other commenters to raise issues they want to address. If you/they don’t, then you are stuck with what those who do comment want to talk about.

            6. At this point I’m moderately pissed. I was asked why I feel uncomfortable. I explain what helps create an atmosphere that causes me to feel uncomfortable (I even label the thing in question “extremely unfair”) and you respond by telling me that I’m trying to obligate other people to respond in ways I want, or discuss things I want. And so, I respond, explaining my position and stating:

            People are allowed to be interested in what they’re interested in, but it does shape the atmosphere of this place into one where I don’t comment very often.

            7) You respond by saying that, since you’ve rebutted my randomly (badly) chosen example

            I think that this disproves your claim that “a LOT of extraordinary claims to go entirely without challenge.”

            Except, no you haven’t. Because that’s not actually how things work. Rebutting an example, does not disprove the underlying argument and you know that. You haven’t disproven anything. Again, you don’t have to, but this is pretty irritating, especially since I offered to find other examples and you decided instead to double down on the one I admit was bad. Then you go on to say:

            The rest of your comment abandons the meta-level debate in favor of arguing the issue itself, which I see as going off-topic and which IMO also violates the no-culture war rule for this Open Thread.

            I stand by my earlier claim that the burden is on people who want to discuss an aspect of a multi-faceted issue, to bring up that aspect.

            However, I also think that it is perfectly reasonable to want to focus on one specific question. Note that this is how (good) science often works as well, by limiting itself to one aspect of an issue and examining that very thoroughly, rather than examining many aspects more casually. Such an approach doesn’t mean that one considers those other aspects irrelevant.

            8) At this point, I am honestly pretty furious, because, putting aside how condescending this comes across as, I had literally said “People are allowed to be interested in what they’re interested in, but it does shape the atmosphere of this place into one where I don’t comment very often.” in the comment you’re responding to. I was not asked “How should we change SSC’s comment section?” I was asked “Could you explain why [you’re uncomfortable commenting here]?” And that’s the question I answered.

            So, in the interest of answering the question I was asked, and doing “good science” please understand that this thread is a good example of why I don’t feel comfortable commenting here often.

            Have a nice day.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nick: Well in my case, I heard of Less Wrong through Mr. Chat, decided that Eliezer was very wrong (“Raising the Sanity Waterline” made me quantify him as “Richard Dawkins and a Singularity believer had a baby”), but this one guy Yvain seemed pretty smart in a non-arrogant way. That is, Yvain/Scott was like the only prominent person there who could lure social conservatives.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            [F]or things where I don’t [know things], getting into a debate with a hyper-literate, excellent arguer is as much a waste of time as trying to learn martial arts by trying to fight a guy with a gun unarmed.

            I think one fallacy here is assuming you’re fighting a gunman who wants to kill you. I don’t think you are. The gunman here doesn’t want to kill you; he just wants to prosper, and that might include using his gun to help you blow a hole in a nearby wall to a room with enough money for both of you.

            Or to keep it real: someone with better arguments and debate practice than you may still want to be right, even if that means changing his mind. You’re smart enough to point him at evidence, or in a direction to seek evidence. You might even say you’re not sure, but something about his evidence doesn’t quite add up, and as long as you can draw a tighter circle around what’s bothering you, he can check it, state it another way, etc. Now, if you lack the time or energy to do even that much, then yeah, that would be on you; at some point you have to come partway. But in the meantime, no one should be here to just score points. We’re here to convince, or to understand.

            And to echo others here: if you’re worried about your ability to make quality comments, don’t. You just did.

          • Nick says:

            @Le Maistre Chat
            I started reading Scott’s blog back in the Livejournal days because Leah Libresco at Unequally Yoked would link to it once in a while. That was high school; I’ve graduated twice since then….

            ETA: @Paul Brinkley
            Well said, and +1!

          • eigenmoon says:

            @ECD
            Sorry for what you’re going through here. But I’m still confused! Please don’t be furious at me.

            You say that the entire issue is that people tend to assume that A implies B but actually it doesn’t. OK. Above you’ve shown a calculation demonstrating that A does not obviously imply B but ended it with “… but the conversation there dodged the entire issue”. That’s what confuses me. Hasn’t your calculation nailed the entire issue?

            Let me ask more directly: suppose that to “Slavery would have died on its own” somebody replied “Be that as it may, please note that it doesn’t necessarily imply that the Civil War was unjustified because [your calculation]”. Would that be the kind of comment that would make the athmosphere more comfortable for you? If not, could you write such a comment?

          • Aapje says:

            @ECD

            One part of the answer is that this is a place that often, though not always likes to focus on an abstract, or meta-level debate without getting into the morality, or the effects on individuals.

            Yes, but that is a nerd trait, not a right-wing trait. In plenty of left- and right-wing spaces, attempts at meta-level debate will usually quickly result in responses based on morality. There are also left- and right-wing dominated spaces where meta-level debate will frequently ignore morality.

            You seem to express a discomfort with nerd behavior in general, rather than making a claim that the commenters have a strong bias to invoke morality for some topics, but not for others. I think that the latter complaint/perception would be a fair reason for a leftist to feel unwelcome, but that the former is not. So I’m wondering to what extent this specific discomfort truly derives from your leftism.

            Someone advocates keeping a list of alleged misbehavior of leftists […] I respond, that that […] is part of the reason I feel uncomfortable commenting here.

            I don’t understand why you bring this up in a response to me, when I have never implicitly or explicitly addressed it. You gave a bunch of reasons why you feel uncomfortable here. I only responded to one of these and never said that you specifically or leftists in general are wrong to feel uncomfortable commenting here.

            You haven’t disproven anything.

            You gave an example that in your eyes, demonstrated that “a LOT of extraordinary claims to go entirely without challenge.” I found that your example of a supposedly entirely unchallenged claim, was challenged very recently. You are correct that this doesn’t disprove your claim per se, however, your anecdotal evidence also wouldn’t be sufficient to prove your claim, if it were true.

            If anything, I think that the inaccuracy of your example, provides a bit of evidence in favor of the possibility that your perception is due to bias on your part, because you presumably tried to give a strong example.

            and you respond by telling me that I’m trying to obligate other people to respond in ways I want, or discuss things I want.

            I said neither of those things. My point was that this seems like something that is to a large extent under your control.

            Imagine a bar in 1930’s Germany that doesn’t serve Jews. If Baruch then goes to that bar with his gentile friends and feels uncomfortable because he is the only one without a drink, then it is fair to say that this discomfort is caused by the environment.

            Now imagine Baruch going with gentile friends to a bar in 2019 Germany, where his friends get a drink, but where Baruch is too anxious to get a drink. Now, I would attribute feelings of discomfort and the lack of a drink in Baruch’s hands to something that only he can truly solve. If there was a claim that 2019 Germany is hostile to Jews, I would not consider Baruch’s situation to be evidence for that.

            I think that this distinction matters a lot, in light of the repeated discussions that people have been having about the supposed hostility to leftists of this forum.

            I was not asked “How should we change SSC’s comment section?” I was asked “Could you explain why [you’re uncomfortable commenting here]?”

            Yes, but the context of this question was why leftists tend to be uncomfortable here and I was trying to figure out to which extent your discomfort is actually due to your leftism.

          • ECD says:

            @eigenmoon

            To be clear, I’m not furious with you.

            You say that the entire issue is that people tend to assume that A implies B but actually it doesn’t. OK. Above you’ve shown a calculation demonstrating that A does not obviously imply B but ended it with “… but the conversation there dodged the entire issue”. That’s what confuses me. Hasn’t your calculation nailed the entire issue?

            Let me ask more directly: suppose that to “Slavery would have died on its own” somebody replied “Be that as it may, please note that it doesn’t necessarily imply that the Civil War was unjustified because [your calculation]”. Would that be the kind of comment that would make the athmosphere more comfortable for you? If not, could you write such a comment?

            Yeah, a lot of the discussion about (4) is confused by a combination of my collapsing a couple of related issues and a bad choice of example (as well as other people’s issues). To be clear, none of the below discussion is intended to obligate anyone to do anything, it’s merely an attempt to explain. I’m sure anyone here can come up with explanations about why each of these points doesn’t mean anything and shouldn’t have any effect on me.

            So I wouldn’t say the entire issue is that A implies B, but rather a combination of a couple of points which build an atmosphere:
            1) What topics end up being raised.
            2) What topics end up being discussed instead of left at a no response depth (and this one especially is open to interpretation, does no responses mean “obviously true,” “boringly false,” “you commented at the wrong time”?).
            3) How those conversations tend to go. Note the discussion above about single topic conversations and their value. Note the immediate “derailing” of this thread, which made a specific suggestion (keep a list of bad things leftists do on this forum) into a question of SSC demographics, bias against ‘red tribers’ and a number of other points that this forum likes to discuss endlessly without much of anyone pointing out both how valueless a list which addressed only leftist bad behavior would be, or what effect it would have on the selection of people so monitored.
            4) And then there are the tone issues which pissed me off so much yesterday.

            On the question of, would the proposed comment make me more comfortable? Probably? It would depend what the responses were (please note, not what any individual response was).

            Honestly, this is part of the reason I am so irritated with Aapje. Their comment that

            I stand by my earlier claim that the burden is on people who want to discuss an aspect of a multi-faceted issue, to bring up that aspect.

            has a lot of truth in it. It’s certainly the responsibility of people (like me) who’d like this forum to change to make an effort to cause/support that change (at least, as we prioritize this preference amongst our other priorities). But again, I was not actually proposing any action for that, trying to play by the rules and address the issue raised.

            As for what action would work, I think the bans/suspensions are a step in the right direction. Otherwise, despite my comment below, I’ll try to comment somewhat more frequently myself. For actions other people could take…

            Most of it is basic etiquette stuff, which this place is mostly good on. Then there’s just the ‘right but what would that mean on the ground?’ question and the ‘well, if this seems so stupid no one could possibly do it, why was it done?’ which gets asked about cultural practices supported by this forum’s zeitgeist (with liberal references to chesterton’s fence and the recent post on culture as science), but somehow doesn’t get asked about the cultural practices it doesn’t and never gets asked about governmental practices.

            Other than that, this place does a lot of calling out of “virtue signalling” but, oh boy does it love its’ “cynicism signalling,” “cool guy signalling” and “intellect signalling” (terms made up, I believe, by me). A one-line response saying ‘ha-ha you really believe reporters/big business/governments are neutral?’ (not a quote) does not, in my view, do much that’s helpful.

            A final thing would be to try to bring some good news to a thread, as similar to most places, the high profile stuff tends to be ‘something is wrong’ not ‘something went right’. In that interest, a weird one that sticks in my mind:

            I made it to 30 without ever learning to drive, mostly by living walking distance to work/school while in small towns, or using public transit in the one big city I lived. My then-new boss insisted I learn to drive, in case he needed to send me out into the field (the emergency that needs a real estate/cultural resources lawyer, but no one else is a bit tricky to imagine, but some creativity will get you there). So I took some driver’s ed training (at 30, which was actually surprisingly pleasant, though I did arrange individualized teaching, rather than being part of a class of 16 year olds), then gave my local DMV a call, because they let you schedule appointments (I believe, it’s been a couple of years). Their office was clean, they were pleasant, there were no/minimal lines and I was able to take and pass (if barely, oh boy am I a bad driver) both tests in less than an hour. It took longer for me to walk too and from the DMV than to deal with them.

            This is not an interesting story, but I offer it as a positive experience with local government.

          • ECD says:

            @Aapje

            Me:

            you respond by telling me that I’m trying to obligate other people to respond in ways I want, or discuss things I want.

            You now:

            I said neither of those things. My point was that this seems like something that is to a large extent under your control.

            You earlier:

            I don’t see how they are obligated to anticipate that in advance. It’s up to you or other commenters to raise issues they want to address.

            I stand by my earlier claim that the burden is on people who want to discuss an aspect of a multi-faceted issue, to bring up that aspect.

            However, I also think that it is perfectly reasonable to want to focus on one specific question. Note that this is how (good) science often works as well, by limiting itself to one aspect of an issue and examining that very thoroughly, rather than examining many aspects more casually. Such an approach doesn’t mean that one considers those other aspects irrelevant.

            I’m sorry, but if you are unwilling to see how claiming it’s perfectly reasonable to do something which I have literally said is something you’re allowed to do (“People are allowed to be interested in what they’re interested in, but it does shape the atmosphere of this place into one where I don’t comment very often.”) and it’s on me not you to change the place is suggesting that I’m trying to change the place and put the burden of that on other people, then I don’t know what to tell you. It may not have been your intent, but it was (and is) very much how I read this interaction.

            Also, oh boy do I not appreciate the mind reading about how uncomfortable I am with nerd culture, as you choose to define it.

            Also, all of this is a really good example of reason (3) I’m uncomfortable commenting here. See :

            You gave an example that in your eyes, demonstrated that “a LOT of extraordinary claims to go entirely without challenge.” I found that your example of a supposedly entirely unchallenged claim, was challenged very recently. You are correct that this doesn’t disprove your claim per se, however, your anecdotal evidence also wouldn’t be sufficient to prove your claim, if it were true.

            Except, wait, in the comment I responded to I said

            I give two examples, one of which was clearly a bad idea (my fault) because it was CW and because it was similar to a topic which had been on a recent open thread (and I had seen that thread). I do however make it clear I’m not quoting and I thought I made it clear that these were not intended to be evidence, but explanation of the phenomena in question.

            I literally said, in the comment you’re responding to that the examples weren’t intended to be evidence. I was not attempting to prove a claim. If I’d meant to do that, I would have provided links, citations and argument, as I did in arguing (probably improperly on this page) over the civil war/slavery issue.

            Honestly, this is starting to feel like we’re playing by the rules of formal debate and you’re trying to score points and that’s really not something that’s interesting to me.

            ETA: typo correction and completing a thought (finishing the final sentence)

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            ECD,
            At the risk of being unkind, what is it that you would like?

            What I’m getting from this – and please correct me if I’m wrong – is that you don’t like the way the SSC commentariat discusses things and this is why you usually choose not to comment.

            That’s fair enough.

            However, there does seem to be an underlying theme in your posts along the lines of “the reason you don’t like the way the SSC commentariat discusses things is because we’re doing it wrong”.

            I’m sorry, but the problem with your slavery/Civil War example isn’t that it’s CW, but rather that you are introducing morality (specifically, the moral value of war/inaction) into the discussion in a way that very much implies (a subset of) the SSC commentariat is immoral for not sharing your intuitions on the subject.

            Generally, you will get pushback for calling people immoral. What we’ve seen in this thread so far is as kind a reaction to that as you’re likely to get anywhere. Aapje, for example, brings up evidence against your specific accusation (“Slavery would have died on its own”->Silence). If you don’t want to provide evidence for your assertion, the polite thing to do is withdraw it. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a spiral of “they think I don’t like them, so they don’t like me”.

            My overall impression of the SSC comments section – especially the open threads – is that you can expect to get challenged on anything here. That’s what, to my mind, makes this place so valuable.

            If you aren’t comfortable with being challenged on certain issues, it’s probably best to avoid them.

            If you find that something challenge-worthy isn’t being challenged, be the one to challenge. This place is at its best with diverse voices, which is why the bans are causing such a stir.

            ETA:
            Regarding “pushback for being called immoral” bit – since you mentioned no names, but wrote of the comments section in general, it’s probably worth pointing out that a lot of commenters may have felt implicated by association, even if you weren’t thinking of them specifically at the time.

          • ECD says:

            @Faza

            I don’t particularly want anything, indeed the one recommendation I started with was not changing something. When expressly asked for recommendations for how to change this place to, I think, improve it, I gave some in my response to eignemoon above.

            I’ll also point out I have repeatedly said that the example I gave was not intended as evidence and was badly chosen, yet we continue to discuss it. I’m not sure how much more withdrawing you think I can do of that example.

            But, to be clear, I do think this forum chooses the places to discuss morality with a certain focus, which I do not share. See, how downright puritan it can be on the subject of divorce vs human experimentation, for example.

            ETA: I have repeatedly said people can focus on what they want, but that does shape the atmosphere here. If you can understand how general comments about the atmosphere here might offend people, can you see how repeatedly suggesting I’m doing something I have expressly disavowed might be offensive to me?

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            ECD,
            Right, got it, thanks.

            Sorry if you felt offended. It wasn’t my intention, I was trying to understand your position better.

          • quanta413 says:

            See, how downright puritan it can be on the subject of divorce vs human experimentation, for example.

            This may sound weird or sarcastic, but I’m completely serious.

            Can you please link me to a time we discussed human experimentation around here? It sounds very interesting. Although it occurs to me now you may mean something like Scott’s post about IRB’s which I found only mildly interesting and kind of humorous, whereas I’m thinking more like… a serious discussion of the ethical justification of unwillingly modifying someone to have a chainsaw arm to fight zombies in a hypothetical zombie apocalypse.

            SSC really seems like a place that would have long discussions of the ethical justifications for making human cyborgs. Or Bruce Campbell.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            SSC really seems like a place that would have long discussions of the ethical justifications for making human cyborgs. Or Bruce Campbell.

            I take the position that you don’t need any ethical justifications for making Bruce Campbell if you’re Mr. and Mrs. Campbell.

          • Lasagna says:

            quanta413 said:

            I’m thinking more like… a serious discussion of the ethical justification of unwillingly modifying someone to have a chainsaw arm to fight zombies in a hypothetical zombie apocalypse.

            Come on, man. You’re bringing up an impossible hypothetical. Who would be unwilling to undergo surgery to implant a chainsaw arm to fight zombies? That would be fantastic. I think a better topic would be “let’s talk about how awesome chainsaw arms are at fighting zombies”.

          • Witness says:

            @ECD Thank you for putting so much effort into your responses here. I’ve gotten a fair amount out of reading this and I don’t think I’m the only one.

          • ECD says:

            @quanta413

            Yeah, it was mostly the IRB threads, which aren’t too bad, though I don’t think they really address what I’m trying to get at. I think it’s come up at least once since then. There was a thread in an open thread a while back in which Deisach brought up a case in Ireland, which I can’t find for the life of me (though a news article on the story is here: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/without-consent-five-women-who-had-gynaecological-work-to-be-contacted-1.3936362). Honestly, that thread, as I recall it, wasn’t bad at all. There may also have been a recent thread about the work done in China a while back, along with more general griping about holding back the glorious transhumanist future which awaits us all (that last part is mostly a joke, here).

            @Faza

            You haven’t offended me. But I will ask. If I was going to attempt to answer the question asked, ‘why do you feel uncomfortable commenting here?’ was there a way to do it (besides simply saying it’s my issue) which wouldn’t, at least potentially be offensive to the people for whom this is a good environment?

            Take the example issue. I shouldn’t have given any, and let my explanation stand on its own. But, do you really think if we go through the last 135*3 fractional threads I can’t find an example of what I’m talking about? And if I do, the response won’t be, ‘that’s a single incident, what’s needed is a broader review’ which no one has time to do? The whole exchange on that is a really good example, in my view, of reason (3) which I don’t comment here often and of which I am not innocent myself. I encouraged the drift into CW territory, which Aapje rightly declined to continue and continued to fight, even though the example did not matter to my broader point. I would amend it slightly to add to hyper-literate and good at arguing “and enjoys arguing, at least from my perspective, for the sake of arguing, or argument itself,” but again, that sounds to my ear, pretty mean/offensive, which is part of what I’m trying, and failing, to avoid.

            ETA: typo correction “me”->”my”

          • eigenmoon says:

            @ECD

            I’ll also tell you a story. One theater troupe went on a tour through Russia. They gave a play in a remote town when the electricity turned off. The actors initially thought that it’s the end of the show. But it was a common occurrence in that town, so everyone in the audience brought a flashlight. The play continued. Soon the actors realized that the attention of the audience is very much not where it’s supposed to be. The flashlights were shining not just on the action, but on attractive actors. Well, that’s the end. I guess the message is that other people’s attention is weird and sometimes uncomfortable. I think this is roughly what you mean.

            Your plan to comment more is solid. Go ahead!

            Note the discussion above about single topic conversations and their value. Note the immediate “derailing” of this thread,
            Yes, this is a big problem. This blog is unique in that Scott conducts experiments with new formats such as Adversarial Collaborations, where two people from opposite tribes lock themselves together and don’t fight. I think this is a great thing and I’d love to see more of that, not necessarily as heavy-effort as ACs, maybe just interviews. But to illustrate the communication problems, here’s an AC proposal from a leftist:

            Hi, I want a partner for a collaboration on whether or not to call American migrant detention centers concentration camps (I think yes). I write things online mostly anonymously and I am therefore in no place to put conditions on who you are; besides, I have contempt for you just because of your position, but I believe your idiocy is so farcically self evident that I can work with you to put your racist “still calling wolf” ass on display. I will work hard at making sure you get a platform provided I’m on that platform too: I will be serious about producing a decent essay. All you gotta do is not be a coward in the face of my actually held beliefs about your character, authoritarian temperament, and so on (if a racist is racist I want to believe the racist is racist, but I can work with racists.)

            Then there’s just the ‘right but what would that mean on the ground?’ question
            Often leftists speak in very abstract terms, so I’m afraid this is a necessary question. An example from Jack on this page:

            ECD in this thread was I think describing something similar: a discussion of slavery with the perspective of slaves being missed.

            What could that mean? My perspective on slavery is that it sucks. Slaves’ perspective is… slavery really, really sucks? Even now that (I think) I know what you mean I still have no idea what Jack means.

            This effect is much, much worse with SJWs. Wouldn’t you want to ask about meaning on the ground when you hear something like this: “disempowering the oppression of structural equality enables unbiased solidarity of intersectional voices”?

            but somehow doesn’t get asked about the cultural practices it doesn’t
            Like what? Maybe you could make an interesting post out of this.

            and never gets asked about governmental practices.
            That is because unlike the free market and cultural evolution, which are both superintelligent processes, governments are pretty stupid. The Left seems to believe that there is something superinteligent about governments as well, but they’ve never explained to me what it is. This is one of the biggest problem I have communicating with the Left: they seem to have two separate languages to talk about government – one positive, another negative – but I don’t see the difference. So when I’m told “the corrupt powers-that-be gave away lots of money to the rich, so we should tax the rich to get this money publicly accountable”, what I hear is this: “the corrupt bureaucracy gave away lots of money, so we need to return this money under the supervision of the same corrupt bureaucracy”.

            Other than that, this place does a lot of calling out of “virtue signalling” but, oh boy does it love its’ “cynicism signalling,” “cool guy signalling” and “intellect signalling” (terms made up, I believe, by me).
            Sure (except I don’t know how to signal cynicism). There’s the book “The Elephant in the Brain” by Robin Hanson which says that pretty much everyone signals something pretty much all the time.
            See also the conversation between Hanson and Tyler Cowen. Usually people here (and at LW) love Hanson in general and this theory in particular.

            The problem with virtue signaling is not that it’s signaling, but that it’s very counterproductive if you want to search for truth or the optimal course of action. Intellect signaling, on the other hand, might even help. Cool guy signaling may or may not help, and I’m not sure what cynicism signaling is.

            A one-line response saying ‘ha-ha you really believe reporters/big business/governments are neutral?’ (not a quote) does not, in my view, do much that’s helpful.
            Agreed. Scott might ban for such a response.

          • ECD says:

            @eigenmoon

            The problem with virtue signaling is not that it’s signaling, but that it’s very counterproductive if you want to search for truth or the optimal course of action. Intellect signaling, on the other hand, might even help. Cool guy signaling may or may not help, and I’m not sure what cynicism signaling is.

            In response to the comments of this thread, I’d actually challenge this. If you want to search for truth, at least the kind of truth of interest to me, what other people consider virtuous, or their society wants them to consider virtuous seems extremely relevant.

            Additionally, just as virtue signalling can silence, or derail, so too can intellect signalling. More than once in my life I have accidentally shut people down, hard by engaging in moderately accidental intellect signalling. I’ve caused real problems for people I was trying to help by not realizing I need to code-switch and stop using the scrabble words and just be clear.

            On cool guy signalling, I very much doubt I need to tell anyone here how it can effect people.

            On cynicism signalling…I’m honestly not sure I can explain what I mean, but there’s two quotes from Lois McMaster Bujold which I try to remind myself of whenever I start drifting towards ‘the world has always been shit and it will always be shit.’

            “Now there’s this about cynicism, Sergeant. It’s the universe’s most supine moral position. Real comfortable. If nothing can be done, then you’re not some kind of shit for not doing it, and you can lie there and stink to yourself in perfect peace.”

            “Cynicism did not seem nearly so impressively daring to her now as it had when she was twenty.”

            That is because unlike the free market and cultural evolution, which are both superintelligent processes, governments are pretty stupid. The Left seems to believe that there is something superinteligent about governments as well, but they’ve never explained to me what it is. This is one of the biggest problem I have communicating with the Left: they seem to have two separate languages to talk about government – one positive, another negative – but I don’t see the difference. So when I’m told “the corrupt powers-that-be gave away lots of money to the rich, so we should tax the rich to get this money publicly accountable”, what I hear is this: “the corrupt bureaucracy gave away lots of money, so we need to return this money under the supervision of the same corrupt bureaucracy”.

            This is another place I’d push back. The government isn’t some thing somehow separate from culture or markets, it’s part of them.

            On your referenced positions of the left, it’s hard to answer at an abstract level, but all the conversations I’ve seen have an intermediate step you seem to be skipping, that is, stop ‘corrupt’ gifts to people. I don’t want to shove us back to the object level, but I guess I don’t see that as notably distinct from, ‘the government need a big military to protect us from X,’ ‘I need my guns to protect me from the government.’ To the extent there’s a contradiction, it may be because someone assumes an unstated step is obvious.

            I mean, one of the stereotypes of the left is that we’re regulation crazy. That isn’t limited to outside the government. One of the more irritating aspects of my job is doing legal reviews of conference requests (that is, requests by a federal employee, who has already received travel approval) to go to a conference. Limiting what the government can do with money goes a long way towards bridging this gap and most people assume that the folks on their side will not be actively corrupt, at least.

            On the conferences thing, just because it irritates me often, this isn’t crazy, it’s a reaction to the GSA conference scandal, but it’s one of those things where the cure might be worse than the disease. Is it worth spending a big pile of money to prevent the misuse of some, maybe smaller pile of money? Maybe, maybe not. What about the loss of public confidence if you waste a smaller pile of money? What about the man who spent time in jail for that? Would it have been avoided with clearer rules and processes? Or would he just have violated those as well as the law? I honestly don’t know, even as I spend a moderate amount of time cursing the existence of these rules and the requirement that a lawyer sign off on the requests.

            Anyway, I don’t really have a great conclusion to this conversation. As I hope I make clear, there’s always issues with derailing conversations, but likewise issues with having conversations which are too narrow. I don’t think there’s some perfect balance. Every place is going to be uncomfortable for some people, if only the terminally shy. That’s not necessarily bad. It can be, but doesn’t have to be (examples removed to avoid argument).

            With much less irritation than before, have a nice day, folks.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @ECD
            We had a nice conversation. I’ve answered to the points that you explicitly labeled as “challenge” and “push back” here and here.

          • ECD says:

            @eigenmoon

            I meant to say and didn’t, this is a great story and very helpful!

            I’ll also tell you a story. One theater troupe went on a tour through Russia. They gave a play in a remote town when the electricity turned off. The actors initially thought that it’s the end of the show. But it was a common occurrence in that town, so everyone in the audience brought a flashlight. The play continued. Soon the actors realized that the attention of the audience is very much not where it’s supposed to be. The flashlights were shining not just on the action, but on attractive actors. Well, that’s the end. I guess the message is that other people’s attention is weird and sometimes uncomfortable. I think this is roughly what you mean.

          • LeSigh says:

            All of this. And also casual misogyny.

        • Jack says:

          I’m going to pretend this question was asked generally to people fitting the category. Here is my attempt to explain one reason I am relatively uncomfortable commenting here. There is a phenomenon where taking a certain stance about a person or group of people in a certain way gets described as “denying their existence”. By this is meant denying some basic aspect of their identity. It’s a kind of social death, a kind of skepticism of the perspective of another that fails to respect its validity, and dealing with it (as a person whose perspective is being dismissed) can range from exhausting to deeply depressing. There’s not much point discussing kinds of knowledge that have emerged through lived experience and consciousness raising with people who simply reject these forms of knowledge. It can simply be a waste of time as well as disheartening. Experiences I have personally had on this forum include: sure you say you can be happy in polyamorous relationships, but probably you’re wrong or disturbed. And, sure you say you don’t like homophobia but maybe it’s not so bad. Are the gays really sure they weren’t better off in the closet? ECD in this thread was I think describing something similar: a discussion of slavery with the perspective of slaves being missed. (ECD knows better, but I read their repeatedly bringing up the violence against slaves as predominantly a demand for recognition of their equal moral importance.) None of this is surprising to me, given the sexual and racial demographics of this forum.

          • Is your complaint that at least one person on the forum “denies your existence” or that everyone does? If the former, then what you want is an echo chamber (on that particular issue), a place where everyone agrees with you or keeps silent. This forum is very poorly suited to someone who wants that, for practically any issue.

            If your complaint is that everyone here denies your existence, then polyamory is a poorly chosen example, given that Scott is openly polyamorous.

          • @Jack

            That sense of social death you are describing is a minuscule fraction of what conservatives experience on campuses and cities every day. Every single day.

          • Plumber says:

            Wrong Species says: “@Jack
            That sense of social death you are describing is a minuscule fraction of what conservatives experience on campuses and cities every day. Every single day”

            Around Berkeley in the 1980’s sure, but at most every jobsite in and near San Jose the decade I worked there the loudest and most abrasive guys were by far usually Republicans, and often that guy would be the foreman or his buddy who carpooled with him (usually from Stockton), and the only time I saw much push back was in 2004 when the occupation of Iraq was going badly, even now (though not to the same extent) that’s still the case with my working in San Francisco (even though it’s possibly the most “Blue-Tribe”-ish of cities), but among my wife’s friends the opposite is true and Democrats dominate.

            I suspect that you spend much of your time around white collar people and/or women, get a job working construction, or with cops to experience a different “bubble” if that’s your goal.

          • Corey says:

            @Wrong Species: interestingly, my experience here is what led me to appreciate that perspective – it’s tough when intellectual spaces that are not explicitly partisan are hostile to your ideology.

          • mitv150 says:

            @plumber
            Isn’t it reasonably the case (as a generalization) that cops and construction workers are not the typical inhabitants of the “campuses and cities” to which wrong species is referring?

          • @Plumber

            The funny thing is that I don’t live in a particularly liberal area and the people in my social groups are not raging SJW’s but it still is something I have to censor myself on. For example, I’m ok with gay marriage but I don’t like the whole “being forced to bake them a cake” issue. If I ever said that out loud, I would probably be accused of being a homophobe. Why risk it?

            @Corey

            I appreciate the sentiment, but people on the left have no idea how easy it is to be a leftist. The schools reaffirm your views. The major news organizations(with one glaring exception) reaffirm your views. All the movies, tv shows, and music you consume reaffirms your views. You now get corporate sponsorships. If you say something too leftist, you might be admonished slightly, not turned in to a pariah. You might even be called “brave”. You don’t receive an overwhelming barrage of vilification. You have to go out of your way to experience something that challenges your views, like here. But it’s like a nice little camping retreat. When you’re done browsing, you go back to the comfort of the real world.

          • Corey says:

            @Wrong Species: The glaring exception is the highest-rated news network by far. And Republicans control multiple veto points in the Federal government and at least one in most States, probably permanently. And essentially all the money in the world is on that side. (I know there are differences between “right”, “Republican” and “conservative”)

            That’s why both sides feel persecuted (h/t Yglesias): right is dominant in policy and cares about culture, left is dominant in culture and cares about policy.

          • Randy M says:

            That’s why both sides feel persecuted (h/t Yglesias): right is dominant in policy and cares about culture, left is dominant in culture and cares about policy.

            That’s well put. I’m not sure if there’s anything to it beyond “everyone wants what they don’t have.”

          • Fox news is the highest rated cable news because it’s the only conservative one. If you add all the others together, they outnumber Fox. It would be like me saying that Protestants are the most prominent Christians in the United States and you arguing against that by pointing out Catholics have the largest denomination. Yes, but they make up 20% of Christians.

            I don’t want another tedious debate about who’s winning. I’m just saying that for a liberal, it’s trivial to block out conservative views while with the reverse, it’s nearly impossible.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Corey, Wrong Species
            Imagine being a libertarian. You’re surrounded by statists. Your tribe controls nothing. You just want to get out of here but there’s nowhere to run.

          • And essentially all the money in the world is on that side.

            I don’t think so. My not very expert impression is that a lot of rich people are left of center.

            That sense of social death you are describing is a minuscule fraction of what conservatives experience on campuses and cities every day.

            “every day” and “minuscule fraction” would be considerable exaggerations of my own, possibly sheltered, experience.

            But I am reminded of a conversation I had in 1964 and have probably discussed before. It was with a friendly stranger who wanted to know how I could possibly support Goldwater. We went through a bunch of issues, on each of which it was clear he had never heard the argument I was offering and had no immediate rebuttal.

            At the end, he asked me, in a “don’t want to offend” tone, if I was taking all of these positions as a joke. The political equivalent of “what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”

            The pretty clear implication was that, in his world view, there were no intelligent and articulate people who supported Goldwater. I did not exist.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @eigenmoon
            And yet my impression is that libertarians very rarely experience the feeling described by Jack and Wrong Species.

          • quanta413 says:

            And yet my impression is that libertarians very rarely experience the feeling described by Jack and Wrong Species.

            When I was very young, people I spent all my time around were to my right in many ways and I was careful about expressing many of my beliefs. And since my early or mid-20s most people have been to my left and I’ve become careful about expressing a different set of my beliefs. I hid different things each time, but it pretty much felt the same either way.

            It’s awkward and a bit tiring.

            But you’re right that I don’t feel like it’s “social death” like Jack or Wrong Species. I have other complaints in my mind that feel more significant to me than that. And not because anything bad has happened to me. Just that other ordinary things that almost everyone deals with have bothered me more. Although I probably deal with those things more poorly than the ordinary person because I’m kind of odd.

          • Wency says:

            I’m not sure if there’s anything to it beyond “everyone wants what they don’t have.”

            There are similarities, but the core asymmetry is an impending sense of doom widespread on the right. Between unfavorable demographics and the remarkable pace of leftist cultural victories, the right feels cornered.

            The left also sometimes feels threatened and in retreat in response to right-wing victories, such as state-level victories on abortion. I call this the “Kerensky impulse”, after Kerensky’s paranoia of a right-wing counterrevolution even as he was on the verge of being overthrown by forces to his left.

            But while there are pessimists on the left, the left also has a triumphalist current, a sense that ultimate victory is inevitable, that setbacks are temporary, that no compromise is needed as their enemies will eventually crumble. Very few people on the right have this feeling about their own side. If they are opposed to compromise, it’s because they feel it’s impossible.

          • Plumber says:

            @mitv150 says: “…Isn’t it reasonably the case (as a generalization) that cops and construction workers are not the typical inhabitants of the “campuses and cities” to which wrong species is referring?

            Oh sure, but except for maybe big name universities I’m doubtful that the “typical” folks @Wrong Species is referring to are all that typical, I’m pretty confident that in most “blue” as well as most “red” areas the majority aren’t anti-conservative or anti-liberal as they are anti-political and would rather talk family, movies, sports, the weather, et cetera.

            @Wrong Species says: “The funny thing is that I don’t live in a particularly liberal area and the people in my social groups are not raging SJW’s but it still is something I have to censor myself on. For example, I’m ok with gay marriage but I don’t like the whole “being forced to bake them a cake” issue. If I ever said that out loud, I would probably be accused of being a homophobe. Why risk it?

            Censoring yourself is normal, though usually I can guess someone’s leanings (most folks are apolitical, bosses usually lean Republican, younger women usually lean Democrat, et cetera), and I can usually think of something to say that they’ll likely agree with spurring them to talk more (or they’re doing the same trick and humouring me), though increasingly I’m out of my depth with youngsters as I don’t know the movies, music, and now video games they do, but there’s always traffic and weather. 

            “…people on the left have no idea how easy it is to be a leftist…”

            Probably not, but I suspect that your vastly overestimating how much Leftists agree even with each other, the term “circular firing squad’ was coined for a reason.

            “…I’m just saying that for a liberal, it’s trivial to block out conservative views while with the reverse, it’s nearly impossible…”

            I don’t doubt you about “the reverse” being “nearly impossible”, but as to it being “trivial to block out conservative views” I suppose my Dad worked that trick by living in a public housing project in Oakland and rarely going outside – I think that’s called being unemployed and a hermit, in my experience if you’re a man working around men you’re going to hear conservative views and if you pursue women for romantic partners in California you’re going to hear liberal views unless you’re really limiting who you have social interactions with somehow, which just seems like way too much work for not much reward.

            @Corey and @Randy M

            +1, I have no doubt you’re correct

            @eigenmoon, @DavidFriedman, and @thisheavenlyconjugation

            I strongly suspect you’re correct

          • @Wency

            Leftists failure to see this asymmetry is just bizarre. Trump winning doesn’t look like the beginning of some conservative “counter-revolution”. It looks like the last gasps of resistance. What’s bewildering is that leftists say this all the time and yet they also simultaneously act like he is an existential threat.

            The idea that conservatives “control” the government is obviously absurd. The abortion example is telling. Progressives have won about 95% of the issue and yet the fact that a few states have put up some restrictions is equated to conservative “dominance”. It’s patently ridiculous, and yet its too late to dislodge the narrative.

          • Plumber says:

            @Wrong Species says: “…failure to see this asymmetry is just bizarre…”

            It depends on which individual issues are most important to you, I’m pro-union, the legality of the issue you cite is far from the top of my priorities, and in my 51 years I count more economic/political losses than wins, as to the social changes in my lifetime that’s way too hot button for this thread.

            I think I’ve posted my views before at length in previous months but please remind me of this topic with Open Thread #136.25

          • eigenmoon says:

            @thisheavenlyconjugation

            Imagine that somebody you know is a libertarian experiencing the feeling described by Jack and Wrong Species. What would be your estimation of the probability that you know he’s a libertarian?

          • Wency says:

            @Wrong Species

            Leftists failure to see this asymmetry is just bizarre.

            I use the Kerensky example to point out it’s not unique to our culture. I’d posit that it’s not so different from our instinctual resistance to the idea that the “snake is more afraid of you than you are of it”.

            I hate snakes, and I’ve killed more than one with a shovel in my day. And while I’m aware intellectually that the snake is little threat to me as I’m in the process of bashing it to death, emotionally I imagine it might have some hidden reserve of strength and be just about to lunge at me right up until the moment that I can see its guts or sever its head. I suspect this is an ancient primate impulse.

            And so it is with politics.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @eigenmoon
            Pretty high, certainly higher than if we were talking about a conservative.

            I’m not intending to disparage your lived experience if you are a libertarian who feels that way. But in my experience that is unusual. I think it’s an outgroup/fargroup thing; I believe the same is true for n r x types and commies.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @thisheavenlyconjugation
            I’m not really feeling this way, no. I guess the Left and the Right feel “The collective doesn’t accept me. This is a tragedy!” but I’m processing it like “The collective doesn’t accept me. Well, screw the collective then!”. Maybe this is common for libertarians.

            But that doesn’t mean libertarianis are a happy bunch. Here’s something written in 1970:

            One who is half-free and half-serf dwells in a psychological no-man’s land. He knows too much and thinks too independently to play servile status games with conviction and success, yet remains too immersed in, and influenced by, that culture to achieve success/satisfaction on his own terms.

            The libertarian who wrote this went to live in earth-houses he dug in some forest in either California or Oregon for the pleasure of never having a contact with a government agent. Nobody knows what happened to him since he broke all contact.

          • Jack says:

            @DavidFriedman There’s a difference between agreeing with someone (and thus qualifying for echo chamber membership with them) and taking their view seriously. Good judgement and good conversation require taking others’ views seriously. What does “taking seriously” mean? It’s complicated.

            The phenomenon I’m describing is, I think, that sometimes enough people here don’t seem to take me or people like me seriously that I have a bad time (unproductive and/or it hurts) and then other times when I think about reading the comments or replying I say to myself, “but remember last time… never mind”.

            I have queer friends and we talk about queer stuff and disagree. For instance I recently read, and then discussed with a number of friends, an article arguing that the proliferation of PrEP was allowing gay men to talk to and care for each other less as there is less of a sense of collective responsibility for decreasing HIV transmission. So maybe PrEP is a mixed blessing. This is kinda similar to the recent homophobia-vs-STIs “conversations” being hosted here. Yet we were quite able to discuss it without too many echoes, but also without people feeling unheard or like they were wasting their time.

            A related distinction is between lived experience and other forms of knowledge. The two examples I gave in my above comment were not examples of people failing to echo my view, they were examples of people baselessly questioning a matter of fact where lived experience was very likely to be the best available evidence. In this forum this can look like selective demands for rigour, related to a phenomenon EDC described of an apparent pattern in what goes unmentioned and what incites a twenty post thread. The comments on the polyamory article were a memorable example, where many people came away with the sense that (what one user called) “arbitrary scepticism” was at play. People can be pretty good at applying rhetorical methods associated with rationalism yet still do so inconsistently.

            @Wrong_Species I thought this might come up. I find it odd that you think you can make a comparison between the experiences of different people in this way. I have no idea which is a minuscule fraction of the other. That said, I grant that it can be a similar situation and I think when anyone is suffering, that matters. I’m not sure it is the same, for two reasons. In RL, I’m not sure that failing to consider a perspective seriously because of its content is the same as failing to consider a perspective seriously because of who it comes from. More relevant in this interwebs forum (where you can’t see my MAGA hat), is that failing to take a person’s claim about their own experience seriously is different from failing to take a person’s claim about the rest of the world or some policy implication seriously. Being consistently disagreed with can suck, but it goes beyond sucking and into being dehumanizing when the kind of disagreement is, “I do not trust you even when it comes to your lived experience”.

            That said these are definitely some slippery distinctions.

      • GearRatio says:

        Let’s imagine for a moment that the worst-case scenario (for the right-ish) is true and Scott mostly bans conservatives, is more likely to ban those with conservative viewpoints (as far as has been represented in the thread goes, this seems to be his stated policy) and lowers the bar so it’s harder to get banned if you have a more left viewpoint.

        If that’s the case, your appeal looks something like “Well, couldn’t you guys just shut up while you get banned? It makes me uncomfortable when you point out the double standard”.

        Now let’s look at the best (for the leftish) case scenario: Banning happened because people are dicks, conservatives are more likely to be dicks, and there’s more conservatives and there’s no other way this could go, statistically. For the conservative who doesn’t believe the worst case, how could he know it’s untrue without data?

        I think either scenario could be true, but understand if the first one is true it’s true either because:

        1. Scott is letting a bias seep through and doesn’t know.

        2. Scott is letting a bias seep through and knows, but wants to be perceived as even-handed to a certain extent.

        In both those cases, the only counter is data; in the first case for convincing him he’s doing wrong and in the second case for shaming him by revealing the truth.

        In the case of the conservative who doesn’t believe it’s his own fault when it is, he either:

        1. Really doesn’t believe this or

        2. Knows that the bannings are the conservative’s own fault and fair but won’t believe it

        In both cases, the only counter is data, first to show him the truth and second to show others he’s being dishonest.

        It’s certainly possible that the cure is worse than the disease here and the data shouldn’t be gathered, but I’m not sure the banned members would agree. To the extent that anything should be done, I do believe that this is the course of action that would be productive.

        For context, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to being uncomfortable posting places; when I was younger and (much) dumber I used to participate in a curated discussion series on The Atlantic back when they still allowed discussion; this resulted in people implying they’d go after my job, although this never seemed to happen. More recently someone made a weak but real attempt on my life due to (very likely) my internet commentary. I’m not saying “your discomfort is nothing”, I’m just saying to the people who are getting banned, it’s a choice between you feeling uncomfortable and them being banned. I’m not sure yours outweighs theirs.

        • Enkidum says:

          You can look at the people who were banned, and see it’s pretty close to evenly split between right and left, and the frequent commenters here skew right. Thus this whole thread is proposing solutions in the absence of a problem.

        • ECD says:

          Except, you aren’t proposing to gather “data” that would be a spreadsheet of all bad behavior. You’re proposing to do opposition research, that is, bad behavior of your (presumably) opponents.

          If you want to maintain a spreadsheet of all bad behavior, I’ll still think that’s silly, and moderately creepy, but it’s a different thing than a spreadsheet of explicitly leftist bad behavior.

          • The problem is that “bad behavior” is in part a subjective category and one affected by the biases of the person doing the rating.

          • ECD says:

            @DavidFriedman
            That is one reason I would find a list of all bad behavior silly and moderately creepy. It’s not my objection to a list of specifically leftist bad behavior.

      • jgr314 says:

        @ECD: do you now feel more inclined to comment in the future, the same, or less?

        • ECD says:

          See above for my lengthy response, but about the same. This went approximately how I expected, down to the usual digressions into endless discussion of ‘percentage of readers’ vs. ‘percentage of commenters’ vs. ‘percentage of comments’ which never gets resolved, despite being debated every time this comes up.

          • axiomsofdominion says:

            Personally I think it would be interesting to have a leftists only open thread as well as the standard thread at the same time. But, despite the libertarian leanings of many here I am not sure that would ever happen.

          • Corey says:

            I wonder if it will be the next topic Scott has to ban 🙂

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I wonder if it will be the next topic Scott has to ban

            I say the sooner, the better.

          • quanta413 says:

            I agree it should be banned. “How right/left/libertarian is SSC?” leads to the most long and boring discussions here.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Thirded.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Allow it, but only if you also include statistics to back up your point.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I believe there was a leftists-only open thread (on the honor system), but I can’t find it because the likely keywords are too common.

          • jgr314 says:

            This isn’t all-encompassing, but it looks like a decent chunk of the response (and, personally, what I find problematic in the comments generally) is commenters arguing with someone rather than trying to convince them.

          • Enkidum says:

            I would like to apologize to everyone concerned for any of my attempts here or in previous threads to discuss the proportion of right vs left wing people on SSC. I don’t even care that much, as I came to realize reading this thread.

          • Plumber says:

            @ECD says: “…the usual digressions into endless discussion of ‘percentage of readers’ vs. ‘percentage of commenters’ vs. ‘percentage of comments’ which never gets resolved, despite being debated every time this comes up”

            @quanta413 says: “…“How right/left/libertarian is SSC?” leads to the most long and boring discussions here”

            @Jaskologist says:“Allow it, but only if you also include statistics to back up your point”

            As far as I’m concerned the results of the 2019 survey and the charts that @Dan L kindly provided based on those results satisfy as an answer, the total readership leans slightly Left (about 63%), once a week or more commenters lean slightly Right (about 58%), and Libertarians are the biggest contingent of the Right.

            I’ll point out (again) what seems obvious: on individual issues sometimes someone who chooses “Social Democrat” among the options in the survey may argue what is now usually the position of the “Right” against someone who identifies as a “Libertarian” who is arguing a position that is now regarded as on the “Left” (I’m too lazy to look up the specific thread right now, but keyword “Utah” if you must) ’cause many aren’t all-in on every little thing on our “sides”, and on that note: “Leftists” and “Right-wingers” aren’t monoliths on their opinions anyway.

            Also @ECD, I really hope to see more of your posts.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Plumber

            Yes, I agree that those are the current best statistics we currently have. But imagine how different the complaints would look if they had to reference the statistics.

            “This comments section is 58% right-wing (counting the libertarians). That’s so slanted!”

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      I looked at a couple of the ban-worthy comments and I think Scott is overly focused on sarcastic political generalizations.

      Personally I would only ban for generalizations (or specific comments) targeted at particular other commenters. I have made such specific comments here and have never received even a warning (I recall being particularly harsh toward vVvVv, or whatever that name was, when annoyed by a comment, and recall bandwagoning another commenter over something else).

      • acymetric says:

        Worth pointing out that those were samples of recent posts that fit a pattern, not exhaustive lists of all bad posting on the part of those banned. Some of the people (on the banned/warned list) had been making top level posts matching the examples provided in basically every OT for seemingly months (some of which ended up deleted, although I’m not sure if that was self-retraction or Scott removing the posts himself). I would suggest that top-level posts making sarcastic political generalizations (which wouldn’t be targeted at a specific poster) are just as bad (maybe worse) than making a sarcastic generalization in response to a comment from another poster.

        I am in the (apparently minority camp) that feels @Deiseach should serve her full term. I’ll be glad to have her back once it is over as I do enjoy some of her posts, but she’s either got to dial it back from 11 a little bit or stop making so many multi-paragraph top level rant posts that basically distill to “outgroup is dumb, how can they be so dumb, and they’re probably evil too”. That isn’t really the kind of thing we want posted here prolifically even if the snark is amusing. It isn’t just that the discussion in those specific comment threads turns nasty immediately, it bleeds over into other threads/conversations.

        I wish @dick’s punishment were commuted to 3 months as well (maybe with a short leash upon his return), I viewed his offending posts as somewhat similar to @Matt_M’s (who I will also be glad to have back as probably the conservative leaning poster I was most likely to find myself in agreement with on a wide range of issues).

        If it were me, I would make the 3 month bans one month, and the indefinite bans 3 months and call it a day, but I’m glad something was done to nip this in the bud, I was really not enjoying the tone of the OTs the last few weeks.

  36. Paul Brinkley says:

    Those of you who enjoy Metroidvania games like Hollow Knight should give Supraland a try. The author (seriously, one guy – he took the Unreal 4 engine and put a full game on top, did the music, everything) touts it as pulling from Metroidvania, Portal, and Zelda.

    I managed to beat it without hints – there’s enough hinting in-game to figure everything out. (There was one mechanic that I could have used a bit more reinforcing, though.) It’s especially gratifying to me that features interact to the extent that I can try something that seems new (the coloring machine is especially grand for this), and it just works.

    Supraland 2 is in the works, and my only regret is that I missed the Kickstarter funding window. Woulda loved being a beta tester.

    • Aftagley says:

      I saw screenshots and read reviews of it. Despite the absolutely glowing coverage, I bounced hard off of it purely as a result of aesthetics and didn’t end up getting it. Is the gameplay good enough to where I should still check it out, despite being massively put off by it’s visual design?

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I don’t know your personal sweet spots in gaming, but I found the gameplay good enough that, like the reviewer on Rock Paper Shotgun, I found myself thinking about the game puzzles even while not playing the game.

        As you’ve probably read, the combat isn’t great; it’s a momentary distraction, not very hard, and not slowing you down too much either. As a result, getting gun and sword powerups are only exciting because you figured out how to reach another chest, not because you can finally defeat that boss you couldn’t beat otherwise. But for me, that was okay; the fun was virtually all in exploring and solving puzzles.

    • Dogeared says:

      Crazy looking stuff! I’ll check it out some more. I’m looking forward to Dying Light 2, I’ve spent more hours than I care to mention playing Dying Light, which is just so well designed that one can play it repeatedly and form different experiences as you might from a game of chess.

  37. Randy M says:

    CS Lewis made the following poetic argument for the divine: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

    Unfortunately for the persuasive power of the statement, I think there’s another explanation that may be more probable.

    If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, it may be that evolution discovered that continual striving the best way keep me alert and stockpile resources while seeking ever more mating opportunities, and thus to transmit my genes, and therefore satisfaction of desires was always only an illusory promise.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      Religiosity seems to be clearly correlated with fertility: here, and here.

      It doesnt mean Lewis was wrong, whatever evolution produces is still the work of the God for those who believe in God.

      • Randy M says:

        My thinking was more about the nature and purpose of desire than the compatibility of evolution and divine creation.
        It’s not logically necessary for a desire to have fulfillment if unfulfilled desires are even more motivating.

    • andhishorse says:

      There isn’t even a need to invoke evolution, only imperfection. Consider the logic of:

      “If I find in my house a phone which no charger in my neighborhood can charge, the most probable explanation is that it was made for another world.”

      First, there is the observation that nothing can satisfy the desire; my version makes it explicit that “nothing” actually means “nothing in the limited set of things to which I have access and have tried”, but Lewis, barring some great and comprehensive cross-cultural survey of which I am unaware, has the same limitation, only it is unstated.

      Second, there is the assumption that the desire is functioning correctly; that there is not a deficit, either unique to the object or common to the object’s design[^1], which simply renders it incapable of satisfaction. This is clearer in the case of a phone, because a phone is something which we generally understand can be broken; desires, too, can be broken or ill-designed, but this is less intuitive.

      [1]: Design here meaning pattern or generalized structure, in a way that does not imply a designer, but only a statistical commonality which can be used to cluster entities into a class.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        [1]: Design here meaning pattern or generalized structure, in a way that does not imply a designer, but only a statistical commonality which can be used to cluster entities into a class.

        Whoa, hold on there. “only a statistical commonality which can be used” seems to be doing unjustified heavy lifting there. Without a concept of forms, how do you know which entities in the material world to cluster? What is the statistical commonality that justifies clustering some of the entities into a set? A steel machete is a knife, a machete’s shape made out of other matter with good cutting properties is still a knife, any steel blade marketed as a knife is also a knife[1]… if you walk past a local hick and see that he’s whittled a very sharp stick <12 inches long, is that a knife?

        [1]This is the point where Crocodile Dundee asserts his subjective judgment as reality-defining.

      • FLWAB says:

        I have to object a bit. Lewis spent much of his life trying to satify the desire and found nothing (this still fits in your metaphor of the neighborhood not having a charger for his phone) but he also searched and found no evidence that anyone who ever felt the desire had found satisfaction for it. I can’t find the exact passage at the moment, but I remember in some of his writing about Joy he said that he found lots of peopel who either spent their whole lives searching for satisfaction (running from one thing to the next, traveling from place to place and relationship to relationship searching for the real thing) or turning to cynicism about the desire and concluding that there is no satisfaction (like an old man who says “Yes, young people do feel that way some times. I did myself until I grew out of it and stopped dreaming of castles in the air!”). Which means you metaphor would be more accurate if Lewis not only could find no charger for his phone in the neighborhood, but no record of anyone having found a charger, despite finding records that many people, perhaps most, have had the same type of phone as him. It is not unreasonable to conclude then, as he did, that the charger must exist (because the phone exists, and needs a charger, and nobody manufactures a phone that needs charging without also designing a charger) but that for some reason it exists somewhere where nobody can get to: out of our world, if you will.

        As you said, a phone is not a perfect analogy. And of course it is possible that some people have found the fulfillment of Lewis’s “Joy” and he just never met them or heard about them. But it doesn’t seem to me that the world if full of fulfilled peopled, but instead the opposite. So it seems more likely to me that either Lewis was right and the fulfillment exists somewhere outside our world, or Randy’s idea is right and there is no fulfillment at all and it is a trick: the phone is a marketing promotion and the charger never existed.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          Seconding this. I think the underlying thought experiment is reasonable, in the sense that there’s no logical necessity that a need can be answered, and (per the parent comment) there are plausible reasons that an unsatisfiable need could exist. However,

          First, there is the observation that nothing can satisfy the desire; my version makes it explicit that “nothing” actually means “nothing in the limited set of things to which I have access and have tried”, but Lewis, barring some great and comprehensive cross-cultural survey of which I am unaware, has the same limitation, only it is unstated.

          This seems to me like an isolated demand for rigor. It is true that inductive reasoning not only lacks a definitive proof, but can (in some cases) be mistaken. On the other hand, some ability and willingness to generalize from what is observed to other ‘similar’ cases is critical, not only to the scientific method, but to function in the world at all.

    • FLWAB says:

      As you noted it is a poetic argument, not a logically compelling one. By compelling I mean the literal sense of the word: the argument does not compel the reader to accept a position. There are alternative explanations that could be brought forth. Similarly the moral argument, for instance, is not logically compelling, but seems highly effective.

      I also think it depends on the sort of person you are. Lewis called his pangs of divine desire “Joy” and I often wonder if they are universal pangs or particular to certain people. I know I feel them. I understood exactly what he meant when he described them. The longing that is better than all the satisfactions I have ever known: the sadness that is better than happiness. It hits you suddenly and unexpectedly: you can’t seek it out or capture it, but must let it land on you gently in its own time. It is a hurt better than comfort, a ray of sun breaking through dark clouds that never part. I felt it a week ago when I was hiking and took a turn and suddenly the entire valley opened up before me, full of the bright colors of autumn. And I looked at it and I longed. I couldn’t say what for: the valley was so beautiful that it hurt to look at it, because it reminded me of something I have never seen, and of a place I had never been to.

      So when Lewis writes about Joy, I feel it too. Maybe it is just a twist of mental wiring, preserved by natural selection. If so, how terribly sad. It would be better that the desire point to something somewhere, even if I never find it, then that it points to nothing at all. But given the two options, the only reaction you can have to Joy is either belief (and the hunt for the divine that must follow) or cynicism (the rose is only a common weed, and my mind is only a box of useful cogs assembled by a blind and idiot watchmaker).

      • Randy M says:

        Lewis called his pangs of divine desire “Joy” and I often wonder if they are universal pangs or particular to certain people. I know I feel them. I understood exactly what he meant when he described them.

        Yeah, I get you; this is what I try to describe with words like “wistful” and “melancholy”, except with more positive, hopeful tint.

        But given the two options, the only reaction you can have to Joy is either belief (and the hunt for the divine that must follow) or cynicism (the rose is only a common weed, and my mind is only a box of useful cogs assembled by a blind and idiot watchmaker).

        I’m not sure. Maybe I just don’t feel as strongly generally, but my reaction is more of a “It would be nice… so I will believe it. I hope it is so.”

        And I looked at it and I longed. I couldn’t say what for: the valley was so beautiful that it hurt to look at it, because it reminded me of something I have never seen, and of a place I had never been to.

        The other day, I mentioned here the Tule Elk preserve as a place that lived up to the hype (it was recommended to me here after asking about San Fran vacation sites). Recollecting on it, I view my few hours there with my daughters as one of the best days of my life for bringing this sort of feeling.

        • FLWAB says:

          Maybe I just don’t feel as strongly generally, but my reaction is more of a “It would be nice… so I will believe it. I hope it is so.”

          Though Lewis’s argument does not compel us to believe, it is still has it’s uses. It is a recognition of a fact about reality that has to be taken into account: these desires seem to exist, and there seems to be no fulfilling them. What do we do with this fact? On its own it is not enough to convince anyone of the existence of the supernatural, but taken with other facts that point in the same direction it can add weight to a conclusion. As I believe Chesterton once said (paraphrasing, I couldn’t find the quote) “A man is less convinced of something by five arguments than he is by one argument, one sunset, one book, one letter from a friend, and one song.” If you think the evidence is strongly against the existence of the supernatural, and God in particular, than Lewis’s Joy is just an odd phenomenon that is likely to have a mundane explanation. But if you are like Lewis was, and find oneself more and more convinced that God does exist, then this is one more fact in favor of the conclusion. So it’s more than “It would be nice, so I will believe it” but rather “And here’s another thing! It fits exactly what I would expect to find if God is real.”

          And now that I’ve had time to think about it, I think the evolutionary explanation is very weak. It’s simply another evolutionary “just-so” story: something that could be true, but could just as easily be made up ad-hoc. Yes it is possible that unfulfillable longing has a reproductive benefit, but do we have reason to think so? It’s a bit like saying “God did it.” Well sure, God could have done something, but do we have reason to think He did? An evolutionary explanation seems likely only if we already have reason to think a supernatural explanation is impossible (or unlikely). So again, it is not a compelling argument but I would say that Lewis has the stronger side of the argument compared to an evolutionary explanation. Either way it depends on your priors: if God does not exist than it must be evolution, regardless of how ad-hoc an explanation that is.

          • g says:

            The evolutionary explanation is weak only in the same sense as Lewis’s is. I think you agree, but just to be explicit: If lots of people have an apparently unfulfillable sense of longing, “it could be because actually it will be fulfilled, for a perhaps tiny fraction of them, in some other state of existence after their bodily death” is no less ad hoc than “it could be because a state of longing encourages them to do things that make them more successful reproductively”. In fact, the version of Lewis’s explanation I just gave is no explanation at all (on the face of it the fact that something may be fulfilled later can’t be a cause for its existence now); it needs to be something more like “it could be because a super-powerful being has made it so in order to encourage those people to look beyond the affairs of this universe”, which is even more ad hoc (and also open to the objection that if a super-powerful being wanted to do that then surely there would be more effective ways).

            The main asymmetry here is that Lewis is actually trying to use it as an argument: lots of people have this feeling, therefore there must in fact be some sort of future state or something in which it will be fulfilled for at least some of them. Whereas literally no one is saying “lots of people have this feeling, therefore evolution is real”.

            To invalidate Lewis’s argument, another ad hoc explanation suffices perfectly well.

            In fact I think Lewis’s argument is invalid even without a specific alternative explanation in hand. Longing in general is frequently fulfillable, so nothing very special is needed to explain our ability to feel it; and then all it takes to generate unfulfillable longing is for the wires to get crossed a little. Similarly, it’s not so unusual for people to have sexual desires that can never truly be fulfilled, or the urge to eat things that aren’t (and couldn’t be) nutritious. That doesn’t mean that there’s a future realm in which every fetish or pica will be gloriously realised, it just means that sometimes the wires get crossed a little.

            (Pedantic note: “future” isn’t quite the right word; in much Christian thought that glorious postmortem state is more extratemporal than future. This doesn’t change anything I’ve said above; I’m just acknowledging it to forestall possible nitpicks.)

          • FLWAB says:

            It is important to recognize Lewis’s argument for what it is, and what it is not. It is not a logical proof. It is, however, weak evidence for the supernatural and stronger evidence for Christianity in particular, provided that you are willing to accept the existence of the supernatural. It “fits” what we would expect the world to look like if Christianity is true. Christianity makes many claims and among them is the idea that this world is not our home. It was once perfect, but has become corrupted (the Fall). Man once walked with God, but now is separated from Him by sin. Jesus came to found a kingdom not of this world. Someday this world will be consumed by divine fire (metaphorically, or possibly literally) and will be replaced with a New Earth and a New Jerusalem (again, literally or metaphorically). All this and more points to an idea of separation between man and the divine when the natural state of man should be to be in union with the divine. These doctrines were not invented as a response to the sense of longing Lewis and others have felt (at least not explicitly) but they provide an answer to why those longings exist and why they seem to have no satisfaction in this world. As such they match what the Christian “model” would predict.

            And of course this was very personal for Lewis. He grew up feeling a longing that seemed more intense and important than any other feeling he had ever felt. When he tried to find the satisfaction of that longing he found that everywhere it landed was a dead end or a red herring. As an atheist didn’t know what to do but to set it aside and try to ignore that feeling for years. When he became a theist it began to look as if his longings did have a meaning and a purpose, and when he became a Christian outright they obviously did. Now he could place those desires: he had a framework that could understand them satisfactorily. But it wasn’t his longings that brought him to Christianity; they just confirmed his destination once he was there.

            Whereas literally no one is saying “lots of people have this feeling, therefore evolution is real”.

            True: but it does argue weakly against evolution (or more specifically materialism), insofar as one might reasonably ask “Why would evolution produce in man a longing that cannot be satisfied?” Of course you can provide answers to that question that are not incomprehensible or inconsistent but it does raise the question. It does not look like the sort of thing we would predict that evolution would do if we did not know that the phenomenon already existed.

          • g says:

            One might, indeed, reasonably ask “why would evolution produce an unsatisfiable sense of longing?”. And one might reasonably answer as Randy M does, that it seems plausible that such a sense of longing might provoke behaviours that on balance increase reproductive fitness; or as I do, that it’s obvious enough why evolution would produce a capacity for longing, and that it seems plausible that once you’ve got that various miswirings or misfirings might trigger that sense of longing even in the absence of any way of fulfilling it.

            To whatever extent those answers are as plausible as the answers to “why would God implant in us an unsatisfiable sense of longing?”, there isn’t evidence for theism or against evolution here. I think they are in fact about as plausible, and accordingly I don’t think the existence of unsatisfiable longings is much evidence either way.

            And I think we would, or at least should, have predicted that this sort of thing would happen. For the miswiring-or-misfiring reasons I describe, we should expect unsatisfiable longings, and appetites for things that don’t nourish, and pains that don’t result from any fixable damage to the body, and curiosity about questions we have no way of finding the answers to. And, on the flip side, feelings of satisfaction that don’t arise from the meeting of any actual need, and deliciousness of things that don’t nourish, and pleasures that don’t result from the achievement of anything useful, and feelings of enlightenment not accompanied by any actual increase in ability to navigate the world successfully. Happiness and sadness that come out of nowhere and don’t result from things going well or ill for us. Itches that aren’t the result of insects we could get rid of by scratching. Pick any sort of emotion or feeling, and there should be cases where it arises in the absence of the things it’s usually “for”. And, lo, so far as I can see this does in fact turn out to be true.

    • Atlas says:

      Razib Khan cites this book as worthwhile on the subject. (I have not read it myself.)

    • Atlas says:

      Unfortunately for the persuasive power of the statement, I think there’s another explanation that may be more probable.

      If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, it may be that evolution discovered that continual striving the best way keep me alert and stockpile resources while seeking ever more mating opportunities, and thus to transmit my genes, and therefore satisfaction of desires was always only an illusory promise.

      I think this is true, and also applies to a variety of both poetical and logical arguments for the existence/active intervention of God or the truth of particular religions. The theory of evolution through natural selection at least suggests a mechanism through which living beings are “designed,” allowing one to recognize that there may be “purpose” in life without necessarily agreeing that such purpose is supernaturally ordained.

      An interesting example of this was in a discussion between Ed Dutton and E. Michael Jones. Dr. Dutton, who I don’t think is particularly religious, innocently thought that he could find common ground with Dr. Jones, a very devout Catholic, by pointing out that religious belief and related behavior might be adaptive. However, Dr. Jones was very unenthused by this argument, I think because he recognized that it provides grounds to doubt the veracity of religion without also maintaining (as the New Atheists do) that religion is a net negative for human society.

  38. crh says:

    I’ve previously been refraining from enforcing the comment policies too hard on people who otherwise produce good content.

    Without expressing an opinion on any of the particular bans that resulted, I’d like to applaud this change in policy. I think it’s very bad for a community when the regulars know they can get away with conduct that would get a newbie banned.

    • quanta413 says:

      I’d like to signal boost this comment. My belief is that even if some valuable commentary was lost, that this will encourage enough of an increase in civility going forward to be worth it.

    • LeSigh says:

      Agreed. Though I do prefer the public warnings to jumping straight to bans. It’s reassuring to see toxicity countered in the same moment that I read it, and I think it can serve as a reminder to all of us that we can do better.

  39. gettin_schwifty says:

    Recently I’ve started working on my abs. I’ve had a low-level disgust with myself for not being able to do a sit-up. I can do many ab exercises without a problem, but the sit-up has always been out of reach. I blame it on gym teachers for letting me BS the exercise by throwing my body up with my back, never engaging my core, but that’s beside the point.

    Would anyone like to share a similar example? I’m talking about specific things being hard to do despite being good at the general thing. For me, it’s being generally fit but not being able to do a sit-up, for you it may be something like good math understanding but being baffled by matrices or something. If your response is “if you can’t do a sit-up then you’re not really in shape,” I would say “fair point.”

    For what it’s worth, the fix seems to be to start in the sat-up position and slowly lean back, repeat over time until you can lay down smoothly. My body starts shaking pretty badly pretty quickly, so it seems I have a long way to go.

    • Aftagley says:

      Sit-up advice: Find something that you can use to brace your feet under (or have someone hold them down). Yes, it’s not as great as doing them normally but it decreases the difficulty just enough to where it feels possible whilst you’re starting out.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Try planks. I have a very bony tailbone and certain surfaces feel like I’m scraping skin off. It’s also much harder to mess up a plank.

      Another thing I do – the pants heuristic. I am determined never to buy new pants and have a pair of what I’ll call “measuring” pants. If they get tight, I know I need to decrease my caloric intake and possibly even exercise. Otherwise, I keep gorging.

      • Randy M says:

        certain surfaces feel like I’m scraping skin off

        Yup, rug burns are the reason laziness doesn’t get to be alone in preventing me from doing sit ups more often.

    • hls2003 says:

      It’s cardio for me. A bunch of body weight exercises that I like to do are limited more by getting winded than by the muscles involved, which has persisted despite trying to do more cardio work. Thus far the advice I’ve gotten is simply to do more of the full-body work and less isolation.

      • FLWAB says:

        I have had a similar problem, and a few years ago I realized I probably have undiagnosed exercise induced asthma. Do you quickly get out of breath when doing cardio? Does the inside of your mouth start to taste a little like blood? Do your lungs burn long before your muscles do? All that happens to me, and as a result I mostly just avoid cardio. But it might be worth seeing a doctor, because if you do have exercise induced asthma they could probably hook you up with medication for that.

        • hls2003 says:

          I don’t think so, but it’s worth a look. I’ll check out the symptoms and see if I have enough to talk to my doctor.

      • Dogeared says:

        Agree with this – forget work outs and repetitions, best thing you can do is go for long walks and then jogs

      • GearRatio says:

        I have this problem. I get gassed afterwards, not during, though. It’s like I do whatever, and then later on my muscles put in the order for the replenishment and I’m suddenly completely winded a minute or so after the exercise itself.

        One of my friends is a competitive bodybuilder, and his recommendation for this is “more weight, less reps”. If you are super winded in a way that keeps you from doing 50 squats, add weight until you are only going to be able to do 5; it doesn’t matter if you get winded if it’s not an endurance thing to begin with.

        My actual lived experience with this is that if you do it every day, it eventually gets better; you get better at the exercise so it gets “cheaper” to do it even if you aren’t stronger overall yet.

        • Jon S says:

          Not relevant for 1 minute after exercise, but for later: your body is able to recover better from endurance exercise if you immediately start to refuel your body after the workout (depending on factors, usually a combination of carbs and protein). I think the same is true for body building with different specifics. Likewise for adequate sleep, etc.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’ve come to believe that a lot of my problems with exertion are from being so tense that I never get a deep breath.

        I’ve cleaned my breathing pattern up to some extent, but my habit was to tighten my abdomen when I inhale so that the only thing which could expand was my chest.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          I’ve come to believe that a lot of my problems with exertion are from being so tense that I never get a deep breath.

          You’re probably not alone. I took a class in ringen (medieval German grappling) a couple years ago, and the first thing my wrestling partner said to me was, “breathe”, and I noticed I was in fact holding my breath while I strained against him. Then I noticed I did it a lot during other exercises, especially jogging. I tuned out the music and just listened to myself breathe, and tripled my jogging distance before feeling winded.

          So for everyone feeling out of breath, do yourself a favor and at least make sure you’re not simply tensing up. It could save you an embarrassing amount of money in doctor visits and meds.

    • sfoil says:

      This is just my personal/anecdotal experience, but I would avoid situps. I suspect that they cause lower back injuries, or at least make minor injuries much worse. I’ve switched to doing various exercises while hanging from a pull-up bar, of which the easiest is probably to touch your knees to your elbows.

      For someone who can’t do a single sit up though, if you’re obese then change your diet to lose weight. Others have had success with using an “ab wheel” and I think planks are an effective exercise, although I don’t really prefer them.

      • Enkidum says:

        I have heard from people I trust that situps should be avoided for exactly the reason that they can injure you. Then again these people were not kineistheologists or physiotherapists. So… looks like this comment wasn’t much use.

      • gettin_schwifty says:

        I don’t think I’ll make sit-ups a regular exercise, but I want be able to knock out a few if I feel like it. I have also heard of the health hazards, I guess it’s more of a pride thing than any particular muscle or aesthetic reason. It would make sense if I were obese, but I’m 6 foot 170 pounds, so (I tell myself) there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to do them.

      • Well... says:

        I heard the solution is to do crunches instead of sit-ups. Crunches are like sit-ups’ more ergonomic sibling. Instead of lifting your whole back off the floor, curl upward from the shoulders, compressing your ab muscles. At full flexion, your shoulder blades should be about 4″ off the floor. Hold that position for a second, then go back down and unflex, retaining control over the motion.

    • FLWAB says:

      I have always had trouble with push ups. I’m not exactly a strong guy, but I can do a lot of exercises with at least minimum competence: chin ups, bench presses, etc. But push ups are my bane. I think the most push ups I’ve ever done in a row is 5, and that’s not for lack of trying. My arms just give out. I’ve never understood it.

      Also this isn’t the case anymore but for the longest time I couldn’t understand why printing more money caused inflation. That is to say, I understood the theory and the principle, but I just couldn’t get over the idea of “Whose actually counting the money? How the heck does a grocer in Alaska know that a mint in Pennsylvania rolled out an extra $1,000,000 dollars?” It took a very long time to realize that nobody needs to count because when salaries go up people buy more stuff, when more stuff gets bought sellers raise prices to meet demand, and viola you have inflation. That bugged me for a long time.

      Also quantum physics. Just the whole idea of a particle being in two different places until observed. I’ve read explainers about how this was discovered, with the double slit experiments and such, but I still don’t get it. Why do we believe this is true? It seems ridiculous on its face but it must have something going for it because all the people smarter than me believe in it.

      • bullseye says:

        Going off completely on a tangent, there’s this one issue in physics that just seems so dumb I can’t believe that physicists actually believe it; the people explaining it to me must be getting something wrong.

        So there’s an experiment where they make two particles. One particle has one property and the other has the opposite property, but they don’t know which is which until they measure one of them. Then they measure the other and of course it has the other property, and this is interpreted to mean that the first particle, upon being measured, communicated its property to other.

        • hls2003 says:

          Not a physicist, and I lack the math to explain it precisely, but what you’re describing as the “of course” answer (i.e. there’s a red marble and a blue marble in the bag, I find the red marble, “of course” I instantly know that the remaining unseen marble is blue) is known as the “hidden variables” explanation, and it appears to be precluded* by experimentally confirmed violations of Bell’s inequality.

          Also, I don’t know if “communicated” its property to the other is quite the right term either – information cannot be transmitted faster than light in this scenario, so if “communication” implies information, that is not the case, as I understand it.

          *Edited to add: Precluded, or extremely constrained as to what the nature of such variables could be.

          • Viliam says:

            You are right. It’s not that “the particles already have the properties, but the physicists don’t know until they measure them”. It’s that before the measurement, the property itself… somehow… wasn’t determined.

            The only thing that was determined was that the two particles will have the opposite property, but which one has which property, that was not.

            As an analogy, we can imagine two enchanted coins. Each one of them is a fair coin; before you flip it, there is no way to tell whether it ends up heads or tails. But the enchantment makes them both provide the opposite values (once; then the enchantment wears off). So you could leave one coin at Earth, take the other one to Mars, agree to flip both of them at the same time… and then by looking at your coin you would also know the result on the other one — instantaneously — faster than the information from the other coin could arrive to you.

            Is this a “faster-than-light communication”? In some sense it is; I know the value of the other coin before the signal from it could have reached me (assuming the other person actually flipped it at the predetermined time). On the other hand, I cannot use this mechanism to actually transmit information; for example, I couldn’t use it to find out what the weather is like on the other planet. All I get is a random number… that is the opposite of the number on the other planet. It would be more proper to say that the information was instantaneously generated at both places, but it wasn’t instantaneously communicated. All we got is “faster-than-light generation of related random numbers”. I suppose it could be useful for cryptography, but you can’t build a phone or a teleport on top of it.

            Now another question is how does the reality itself “communicate the outcome of one coin to the other”. How does reality itself know, when the Earth coin is being flipped, that the Mars coin already landed some way a fraction of second ago (not enough time for the light to get here from Mars), so that the Earth coin must land the opposite way? This is a different question, but the laws of physics we know so far suggest that the speed of light is a limit for reality itself, so it is relevant.

            I have no idea what could be an answer in Copenhagen interpretation. But in many-worlds interpretation, I guess it’s something like this… when you flip the coin on Mars, you create two realities “Mars: head” and “Mars: tails”. If at the same moment you flip the coin on Earth, you also create two realities “Earth: head” and “Earth: tails”. Now what reality has to do is to connect these realities together properly; instead of making all four combinations, to only connect “Mars: head” to “Earth: tails”, and “Mars: tails” to “Earth: head”. This connecting could actually happen at a later moment, when the signals from these two places reach each other. So the reality not only has multiple branches, but those branches are local patches that expand at the speed of light and somehow merge properly with other patches. (As opposed to the idea that many worlds split instantaneously in Newtonian absolute time.) As far as I know, this is not a part of the standard many-worlds interpretation, but could be understood as an extension of it.

          • bullseye says:

            Thank you for your replies. I’m going to go look up Bell’s inequality now.

      • Viliam says:

        I started exercising a lot a few years ago. It is fun seeing how various parts of my body get stronger, and how I can do things I could never do before. It’s like being in Matrix.

        …except for the push-ups. Zero progress there.

        Just the whole idea of a particle being in two different places until observed.

        If you want to get less confused about this, I would suggest to stop using the word “observed”. It sounds like a human eye is somehow the magical component (and then all kind of mumbo jumbo follows), but the actual meaning of this word when used by quantum physicists is something like “having interacted with many other particles”.

        A particle has a distribution of where it is and where it goes. Actually, it is a bit more complicated than this, and complex numbers are involved. When two particles interact, their individual distributions create a join distribution. When zillion particles interact… it’s the same story, but because of the law of large numbers, some patterns are statistically extremely likely to happen. These patterns are known as the classical physics, and because we and everything we interact with is made of zillions of particles, we have the intuition that classical physics is how things should be. But actually, they are not.

        It’s like always rolling zillion dice and observing that their sum follows the bell curve… and concluding that the same must be true for each individual die.

        The particles were never in a fixed place; it’s just difficult to notice because most of their distribution usually is in a very small interval (the size of an atom), and you are too big to notice those rare situations when the particle unexpectedly appears at an unexpected place. But even before quantum physics we already knew there was the thing called radioactive decay, where a particle in an atom nucleus just randomly decides to go away. Also, that electrons in an atom are not literally rotating around the nucleus (because they would gradually lose energy and fall into the nucleus), they just somehow exist an area around it.

        Quantum physics explains these: The electrons cannot fall into the nucleus, because they are not at one place, and when their distribution gets as close to the nucleus as possible… well, that’s what the orbitals are. (Plus some more rules, such as there can be only two electrons in the same place.) The particles disappear from a radioactive nucleus because a part of their distribution goes far outside the nucleus; actually this is true for all atoms, it’s just that for some of them that part of distribution is much larger than for others (i.e. all atoms are “radioactive”, only some of them so slowly that the chain reaction in real life never happens).

        • FLWAB says:

          It just seems so bizarre to me. I guess what I really don’t understand is how people came to such a seemingly ridiculous idea that particles don’t exist in any particular location but rather in probability fields. I’ve read up on the double slit experiment several times and I still don’t get how their results demonstrate the conclusion.

          • Corey says:

            My understanding is that it’s indeed ridiculous, but less so than other known explanations that fit the data.

          • smocc says:

            Here’s my simplest explanation:

            First suppose that the state of an electron is fully described by a probability distribution in position and velocity space. This is the classical physics assumption — we assume that the electron does have a well-defined position, and the distribution represents our uncertainty about its position. The probability distribution you end up when you shoot an electron through one slit is a peak in front of the slit. Call this probability distribution P1(x), where x covers all the different possible places on the screen the electron can hit.

            When you add a second slit classical probability theory suggests that the new probability distribution should be some combination of P1(x) and P1(x-a), the same distribution shifted over a little to account for the second slit. If the electron were equally likely we’d guess that the new distribtuon should be (P1(x)+P1(x-a))/2. The key thing is that the two probability distributions we combine are both positive or zero for every x and when we add them together we get a new distribution that is also positive or zero everywhere.

            But in reality when we add the second slit the resulting distribution of electrons has zeros (dark spots) where neither individual distribution was zero before! Somehow we’ve combined two positive numbers and gotten zero.

            This is the evidence that fully describing the state of the electron requires more information than just probability distributions in position space (including perfect knowledge of the electron position / momentum, which is just a special case of probability distribution). The only solutions that anyone knows to this problem require postulating the existence of a “wavefunction” that, unlike a probabilty distribution, can take on positive and negative (and complex) values. The state of the electron is fully described by the wavefunction, not by the resulting probability distribution.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            The double slit experiment can be performed with a single photon being fired at a time, and you still get an interference pattern. So the only explanation is that photons are interfering with themselves as they (the wave) pass through the two slits. You get similar results with electrons or things that are more commonly thought of as particles.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If this isn’t bizarre enough for you, look up the “delayed choice quantum eraser”.

          • FLWAB says:

            Here’s my simplest explanation:

            First suppose that the state of an electron is fully described by a probability distribution in position and velocity space.

            That genuinely made me snort with laughter. It was just such a whiplash from “simplest” to “probability distribution in position and velocity space.”

            I think I understand what you’re getting at. At least, I understand it a little better. It still doesn’t make sense to me…shouldn’t there be multiple possible explanations as to why two slits results in particles in unexpected patterns? I can only assume that all the other possible explanations have been refuted if the one we ended up with was “the particle doesn’t actually exist in any particular place until it bounces off something.”

          • smocc says:

            shouldn’t there be multiple possible explanations as to why two slits results in particles in unexpected patterns?

            Maybe? One one level, it’s always a question whether there’s some other completely different model that explains all the same stuff as the “right” model. On another level, the actual pattern that you get on the screen really, really, really looks like there’s a wave somewhere. That just leaves the question of what the wave is.

            … “the particle doesn’t actually exist in any particular place until it bounces off something.”

            Let me suggest an alternative phrasing. I like “there are more states for electrons on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Or, less poetically, an electron is always in a state that doesn’t have perfectly defined position in the same way that you can never point to the exact location of an ocean wave. But when you put an electron near an electron-position-detector it forces the electron into a state that has a much better defined position (determined by the resolution of the detection device).

            That doesn’t explain all the weirdness of quantum mechanics, but it might help as a start.

          • FLWAB says:

            Or, less poetically, an electron is always in a state that doesn’t have perfectly defined position in the same way that you can never point to the exact location of an ocean wave.

            Maybe we’re getting a little closer to my crucial point of misunderstanding, because that doesn’t make sense at all to me. Of course I can point to the exact location of an ocean wave. Like literally: I can stand on the shore and say “Look, I’m pointing at the exact location of that ocean wave.” That seems trivially easy.

          • Enkidum says:

            Warning: this is me sounding vastly more confident about what I’m saying than I have any right to. I haven’t taken a physics course since high school.

            Like literally: I can stand on the shore and say “Look, I’m pointing at the exact location of that ocean wave.” That seems trivially easy.

            No. You can point at a general location. But what is the exact location of the wave? Like, down to nanometers? It’s a meaningless question.

            More to the point, what might be an more appropriate example is to think of something like a wave on a guitar string. When I pluck it, where is the wave? The answer is, everywhere along the string, though its magnitude is less as you get further away from the point of plucking.

            Think of the string as all of space, and the electron as a wave that propagates through that space. This is a highly inappropriate analogy for all sorts of reasons that are well above my pay grade (I am not even remotely an expert on this stuff), but it gets to the point at hand: asking “where is the electron” is kind of a bad question.

            Except when it isn’t, which is when you have particle-like behaviour. No one said quantum mechanics was easy.

          • FLWAB says:

            When I pluck it, where is the wave? The answer is, everywhere along the string, though its magnitude is less as you get further away from the point of plucking.

            Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. When I said I could point to the exact location of an ocean wave I was using (and thinking) the world wave in the way most people use it: the peak of amplification at a particular moment in time. As in, here comes one ocean wave. Here comes another one. Oh, that was a big wave! You know, taking each individual peak as one particular wave.

            But (if I’m following) you and smocc are using “wave” to mean the entire pattern of shifting peaks and valleys at the same time, irrespective of the physical medium that wave moves through. I guess it would be impossible to point to a specific place such a wave is.

            On further reflection, I think my biggest problem is that when I think of particles, I think of very small things. Like an atom, but smaller and weirder. But I think quantum mechanics is saying that particles are not discrete things at all. Which I could accept, except apparently they become things after interacting with something an arbitrary amount? I’m confused again.

          • Viliam says:

            But I think quantum mechanics is saying that particles are not discrete things at all. Which I could accept, except apparently they become things after interacting with something an arbitrary amount? I’m confused again.

            Particles are discrete in their number. You can have an electron, you can have two electrons, but you can’t have 1.5 electrons.

            Actually, this is where the word “quantum” comes from. If I remember correctly, someone observed radiation of a perfectly black body with high temperature, and their explanation of the results was something like “energy cannot be divided infinitely; it comes in little packages called photons, and you either get the entire photon, or nothing, but you cannot get half of a photon”. (I am not an expert here.)

            What isn’t discrete is the position and the momentum of the particle. Like, you have one electron, and it’s “mostly here, but also a little bit over there”.

            Okay, what it means for an electron to “be somewhere”? It kinda means that it has a chance to interact with some other thing that is also there. So, the electron that is “mostly here, but also a little bit over there” has a high chance to interact with another thing that is “here”, and a small but nonzero chance to interact with another thing that is “over there”. But not with both of them at the same time! So the electron is not actually stretched between those positions; it rather is “most likely here, and somewhat likely over there”, but talking about probabilities is also not exactly correct, because it becomes weird when we try to add them. Turns out, you need to do the “probability” math using complex numbers to get it right…

            Well, I wanted to address the “discrete” part. The particle itself is discrete (i.e. indivisible), but its position and momentum are not, and even its interactions with other particles happen with certain probability-but-as-a-complex-number.

            So what prevents this all from becoming an utter uncertainty, where anything could be anywhere? That part is called entanglement, and it means… well, let me give you a toy example. Let’s have two particles, called A and B. Each of them can be in the position X or Y. And maybe they interacted with each other, or maybe they didn’t.

            If you do a Cartesian product, you would get 8 combinations: 2 (particle A at X or Y) × 2 (particle B at X or Y) × 2 (interacted, or not interacted). But because interaction happens only when the particles are at the same place, only 4 of these 8 combinations are actually possible: [A at X, B at X, interacted], [A at X, B at Y, didn’t interact], [A at Y, B at X, didn’t interact], [A at Y, B at Y, interacted]. So, as the uncertainty expands the space of possible combinations, entanglement again reduces it somewhat. And each of these 4 combinations has its probability-but-as-a-complex-number. (Okay, I will stop here.)

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @Viliam

            What isn’t discrete is the position and the momentum of the particle. Like, you have one electron, and it’s “mostly here, but also a little bit over there”.

            That’s a real interesting idea. I’ve never heard quantum physics explained that way before. But it does sound kind of what Enkidum was saying too, that an electron is a wave that is spread out. I’ve always thought of quantum physics as kind of fishy, like when they say that a particle doesn’t really exist in a certain place until it is measured. This concept sounds more coherent to me, that quantum particles really do cause effects over some larger areas of space than they are normally thought of as particles. I am thinking the main difficulty here is how quantum particles are normally modeled as like tiny balls. Maybe a better representation is kind of a force that affects a certain area, and not really like a particle at all, except in that you can count how many of them there are.

          • Enkidum says:

            But (if I’m following) you and smocc are using “wave” to mean the entire pattern of shifting peaks and valleys at the same time, irrespective of the physical medium that wave moves through.

            That’s definitely true for me at least, with the fun complication that “particles” don’t need a physical medium to move through – they are perfectly wavy in vacuums. (You may have read of this being one of the biggest controversies in physics about 1900ish, I believe.) Or, I dunno, maybe in some sense space-time is the medium? I defer to someone who knows what they’re talking about.

            As someone else put it in this thread, you’re probably going to have to relax your definition of what a “thing” is. What Austin called “medium-sized dry goods” are what we’ve based almost all our folk ontologies on, but why should we assume that our parochial experience of such clearly definable, locatable, and discrete objects is something that generalizes to all scales?

            What things like the double-slit experiment clearly show is that these experiences do not generalize. There is no way you can tell a story in which electrons are little billiard balls that makes sense of the results. Whatever the fundamental constituents of reality are made of, it’s not “things”, at least not in the sense that we’re used to “things”. But you get enough of them together, and squint a little, and the collection starts acting fairly thing-like.

        • smocc says:

          Oh, that is a key issue! Here, I made some pictures of different possible wave shapes. Can you tell me the exact position of the wave in each case? Waves

          Hopefully this helps clarify that “exact position of a wave” isn’t a concept that makes sense or is useful. That then extends to the state of an electron.

        • smocc says:

          There’s two ways to proceed:
          1. Decide that you are being two limited with your definition of “thing.” Accept that just because you can’t fully describe it just by giving its position and speed (as you would a tiny ball) it can still be a real thing. Sometimes it is a thing that has a pretty well-defined position, sometimes it is not. That’s okay, “things” are under no obligation to behave the way we expect them to.

          2. Get into the Bohmian interpretation. Bohm’s interpretation says that electrons really are tiny balls that always have exact position, and there is also a thing called the wavefunction. The wavefunction ripples like a wave and “pushes” electrons around like little balls floating on the ocean. The “spread out” behavior of electrons is due to tiny uncertainties in their initial position magnified by interaction with the wavefunction. Additionally, the wavefunction always knows exactly where every electron is at all times and responds to their motion instantaneously.

          I have tried to make 1 sound appealing, but you have noticed something I have been eliding: electrons are not exactly like ocean waves. When you shoot an electron-wave at a particle detector it tends to suddenly contract to a different wave shape localized at only one spot on the detector. Ocean waves don’t do that.

          Quantum is weird, there’s no way around it. But the first step involves adding more things to what you count as “real thing.” Either accept the wave-like nature of electrons being their true nature, or accept the existence of the Bohmian Wavefunction. Or invent a way to explain the interference pattern in the double slit experiment and why electrons don’t collapse into the nucleus and why atomic spectra are discrete while only imagining point-like electrons.

          • littskad says:

            It’s very confusing that there were three prominent physicists who made important early contributions to quantum mechanics named Born, Bohr, and Bohm. Is it possible that they were just different states of the same person?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Very tentative, but could there be something wrong with your hand position and/or how you apply force?

        • FLWAB says:

          Oh probably, but beats me how to do it right. 4 years of high school gym teachers never seemed to have a problem with my form, just my lack of success. And it seemed like my peers had no trouble. Then again, one of the failure modes I am prone to is assuming that there is some secret knowledge I am missing whenever I run into an obstacle. So I guess I’ve taught myself to be suspicious of the idea that I’m just missing information, since that’s what I tend to assume anyway and I have usually been wrong.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Here’s one that’s sort of in the category and rather crazy-making: The fourth exercise in The Five Tibetans. (4:07)

        I have trouble getting much height, and it doesn’t feel good. My theory was that my arms are short compared to my torso and my shoulders are tight… but I did one good one and I have no idea how.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        Look up the two slit experiment (e.g. Wikipedia article on ‘double slit experiment). It shows how the interference patterns we expect of waves are found to apply also to the things that seem like pretty pure particles, and goes on to explain the implications of that – which are that individual particles seem to be able to ‘sample’ multiple independent paths through an apparatus.

        • FLWAB says:

          Yeah, no, I’ve read up on the two slit experiment. I just don’t “get” why the conclusions follow logically from the experimental results.

          My mental process is roughly like this when reading about the experiment:

          Wiki: So they shot particles through a slit and measured where they ended up.

          Me: Got it.

          Wiki: And then they added another slit and expected the pattern to be basically the same but double.

          Me: I’m following you.

          Wiki: But it wasn’t: the particles were not ending up in places where they used to end up with just one slit.

          Me: That does seem surprising.

          Wiki: Which means that particles don’t actually exist in any particular location but rather in a field of potential possible location, and these possibilities collapse into a reality only at the point in which the particle interacts with the sensor.

          Me: You’ve lost me.

          Wiki: Well you see, the results only make sense if the particle was interfering with itself.

          Me: Ok.

          Wiki: So the particle must exist nowhere in particular but instead in a field of potential locations until the waveform is collapsed.

          Me: But how can it interfere with itself when it doesn’t exist?

          Wiki: It does exist, just not in any particular location.

          Me: Everything I know exists exists in a particular location. That’s kind of how I know it exists: if it isn’t anywhere, then it doesn’t exist.

          Wiki: No, you see, it does exist, just as a probability field.

          Me: I don’t follow.

          Repeat ad infinitum.

          • I think the problem is that your (and my) intuition about what things are like is based on large objects moving slowly. It turns out that large objects moving slowly are a special case, and the rules that apply to them do not apply more generally. Objects do not, in the general case, have a precise position. It’s just that the imprecision for large objects, such as grains of sand, is too small to notice.

            Do you find relativity as puzzling as QMech? For the obvious example, consider the addition of velocities. If you are on a train moving at 40 mph and walk forward at 4 mph, your velocity relative to the ground is 44 mph–that seems obvious and necessary. But if you are on a spaceship moving at .75c and you run forwards at .5c (admittedly difficult), your speed relative to the outside world is not 1.25c. Velocities don’t add.

          • Viliam says:

            Objects do not, in the general case, have a precise position. It’s just that the imprecision for large objects, such as grains of sand, is too small to notice.

            Specifically, the imprecision is usually about the size of an atom. Which is not a coincidence, but rather the size of atoms happened as a result of this imprecision — that is what prevents the particles in the atom from getting even closer to each other.

          • FLWAB says:

            Do you find relativity as puzzling as QMech?

            As a matter of fact, I used to. Relativity was as equally baffling to me as quantum mechanics. The theory seemed ridiculous on its face, but it must be true since everyone smarter than me agrees with it. Plus GPS works. And no matter what I read on the subject it still didn’t make sense. The thing that finally gave me an “Aha!” moment was this post on the subject. It finally made me realize that if we accept that nothing can go faster than light, and motion is always measured relative to another point over time, then the only way your speed could stay constant regardless of the observers relative position was if the time value of the equation was different depending on the observer. That made me pretty happy when it finally clicked together.

            I think some things are just extremely difficult to understand if you can’t do the math. Relativity only made sense because that guy was able to dumb it down enough to be close to algebra.

            I do appreciate all the comments by the way. I still don’t get it, but I appreciate the effort. And by “get it” I mean “understand internally without having to really completely and totally on taking it on authority.”

    • Well... says:

      Every exercise I do at the gym, I’ve gotten stronger at and been able to gradually increase the resistance.

      Except bench press. No matter how regularly I do it, the amount of weight I can bench press — both my 1RM and my regular amount to do a full set — goes down and down almost every time I try. It leaves me angry and depressed.

      And I do mean the bench press in particular, done with the barbell and plate weights on either end. My dumbbell press is fine, and I can press heavier dumbbells now, in the same motion, than I ever could before.

      • Nornagest says:

        Odd. I have trouble building up my OHP, but bench press has never been an issue for me.

        How often do you bench, and what other exercises do you do targeting the same muscles? I’ve been doing 5/3/1 and hitting bench on OHP days for 5×10 @ about 55%, which seems adequate.

        • mitv150 says:

          I believe this is not uncommon. In my mind, strict press (e.g., overhead press), is the most difficult of the major lifts.

          I suspect that the reason for this is that there is less “slack” in your strength for this lift. By this I mean two things: 1) failing a strict press is not traumatic and it is therefore easier to work closer to our strength limit; 2) strict press doesn’t feel heavy until you are pretty close to your working limit.

          When we begin a lifting cycle, a portion of our weight increases are due to true strength increases and a portion are due to simply taking up the “slack” as we get closer to our current working limit. Because of the two items above, any strength cycle for strict press starts closer to our working limit and thus we reach failure earlier and feel as if its harder to make progress.

          That’s just my theory.

        • Well... says:

          I’m near the end of having taken a month off, but I was doing a split routine, with one day devoted entirely to the chest group. I was doing dumbbell presses flat, inclined, and declined, and then also dumbbell flyes — usually with a slight incline, though I’d switch up the exact angle from week to week. As I said, I was able to increase the weight of those dumbbells fairly steadily.

          I didn’t do barbell bench presses all that often — maybe once every month or two. And each time I did them, even though I was in the midst of increasing my resistance for dumbbell press — my barbell bench press kept having to get lighter and lighter for me to complete even one rep. It usually ended with my angrily shaking my head and cursing under by breath as I reracked the plates.

      • Cliff says:

        That sounds basically impossible as you present it. Dumbbell press is confounding because there are so many little muscles involved in balancing. Do you ever do cable flys? Like bench press they primarily work the pectorals (although bench press also works triceps- flys shoulders/biceps)

      • gbdub says:

        Is it really that surprising that you are not improving at an exercise you only do once a month? Swap out dumbbell press for bench for a couple months and see if the issue goes away.

        When you bench press to failure, which muscles give out? Which ones are most exhausted the day after? What about on dumbbell presses?

        Theory: your all dumbbell routine is not effectively training the muscles that are actually limiting your bench. I would guess that your dumbbell workout is doing a good job of activating and training the smaller muscles in your arms that are critical for balancing and stabilizing a dumbbell one handed. It also, of course, doesn’t allow one weaker arm to cheat. If these muscles are your limiter for the dumbbell press, you could be strengthening them without doing much for your actual chest. But barbell bench press isolates your pectorals more, and if that’s your failure point…. short version you may have strong arms but a relatively weak chest.

    • quanta413 says:

      If your response is “if you can’t do a sit-up then you’re not really in shape,” I would say “fair point.”

      Holy cow! you’re psychic.

      More seriously you sound like you’ve got the right mindset. There’s no point in worrying about anything other than improving from wherever you are now. Comparing yourself to others is a mug’s game. I’m still trying to get used to running about as fast as would be needed to pass the state fitness standards set when I was in high school.

      I’d second the recommendations above about having someone hold your feet. I also like your lean back idea. You can combine the two by using one of those sit up benches or something to imitate it. Then you won’t need a friend to hold your feet and the leaning back can be a bit harder depending on the angle.

  40. GreatColdDistance says:

    There’s a common failure mode where people who feel the need to complain will speak out, but those who are happy with things will stay silent as “I agree with the consensus” is a boring thing to say.

    So I feel the need to register that I agree with the bans above. The lengths of ban feel excessive, but that’s a side effect of Scott not having much time to police the comments I suspect. It’s difficult, because each banned user has brought meaningfully good, enlightening content that has opened my mind of some significant issues, but they also consistently seem to violate the comment policy on a fairly regular basis. Also, before complaining about bans, please actually read the comment policy.

    Unfortunately, hostile snark begets hostile snark, and if you cut certain users slack because they contribute to the overall conversation their tone will set the norm for others who come to this blog to comment. The conversation drifts towards the lowest common denominator.

    It really sucks because users like Desi have a unique style that adds a lot to the comments, and that style involves a certain amount of abrasion. I almost think that such users would be better off starting their own blogs where they can run (relatively) wild with their own style, because while a little bit of snark can make comments much more interesting, Scott has the right to run his comment section according to the comment policy posted.

    It is also important to note that bans aren’t necessarily a moral judgement. A comment can be perfectly fair and valid, and the commenter a good person, but simply be not the kind of thing that is appropriate under the rules of a given space.

    • souleater says:

      I see where you’re coming from with the bans being justified, But considering that “True” and “Necessary” are to a certain extent in the eye of the beholder, A perma-ban seems to me to be a permanent solution to what could have been a temporary problem.

      • GreatColdDistance says:

        Very true! This is a really tough problem. All I can say is that at least for CH, I noted them making statements which violated comment policy far more often than has been cited here.

        • “True” has an important ambiguity–does it mean true in reality or true in the belief of the poster? One of the linked examples for one of the bans was a statement which I am pretty sure was false, but suspect the poster believed true. Does that justify it?

          • EchoChaos says:

            Does that justify it?

            I strongly think it does. Otherwise we get all wound up in comparing the quality of sources and fighting there.

            But this is Scott’s sandbox, so his rule on that is more important than my thoughts.

          • liate says:

            Well, according to the fifth paragraph of the comments policy page, true seems to mean more-or-less “uncontroversially true”:

            Recognizing that nobody can be totally sure what is or isn’t true, if you want to say something that might not be true – anything controversial, speculative, or highly opinionated – then you had better make sure it is both kind and necessary.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            It means true in reality; “don’t lie” is not a very high bar. Getting “wound up in comparing the quality of sources” is exactly what people should be doing. The policy is supposed to be stringent: if you make an unkind or unnecessary comment that is also untrue that violates it, even you believe it’s true and even if that’s not an unreasonable thing to do.

          • Bamboozle says:

            I don’t think it does. Isn’t rational discussion largely about comparing sources for things? If not then making sure it’s kind or necessary first seems like the other option

          • DinoNerd says:

            I think there’s a kind of “reasonable person” test implicit here.

            Crackpots shouldn’t get credit for “true” when posting beliefs that are ridiculous to most, no matter how sincerely they believe them.

            People who aren’t specialists should get credit for “true” if they repeat something that’s in fact over simplified or out of date – at least until someone with specialized knowledge informs them.

            But I’m not sure where the boundaries should be. I suspect it will always be a judgment call.

          • Garrett says:

            Crackpots shouldn’t get credit for “true” when posting beliefs that are ridiculous to most, no matter how sincerely they believe them.

            A general way to turn something from contentious to “true” is to speak from an individualized perspective. It’s the difference between “blue is the best color” and “I think blue is the best color”. At that point either the claim is true or the poster is intentionally lying because there is nobody else who is able to speak to their own internal state.
            It also has the benefit of increasing civility. The first is generalizing and normative. The second is usually not.

          • Randy M says:

            A general way to turn something from contentious to “true” is to speak from an individualized perspective. It’s the difference between “blue is the best color” and “I think blue is the best color”.

            That’s a little weaselly though.
            “I think ideology X is corrosive to public decency and should be opposed in every instance.”
            “Dude, where’s your evidence for that?”
            “Evidence that I was thinking it?”

        • GreatColdDistance says:

          Reading the policy, I would interpret the requirement of truth to mean that either it has to be uncontroversially true, or you have to back yourself up with solid evidence. If you want to say something that isn’t kind or isn’t necessary, it should either be undeniably true or you should show your work on how you got there.

          I may believe any number of things, but if they aren’t common beliefs and I can’t prove them, they don’t meet the test. Note that it is still possible to post things which fail this “Truth” requirement, as long as they are kind and necessary. This seems reasonable to me.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think this standard for truth is so high nobody can meet it. How about plausible speculation based on currently available data? If someone tells me there’s no God, do I get to demand that they shut up about it until they can *prove* God’s nonexistence?

          • Nick says:

            Plausible speculation based on currently available data or writing on the assumption that God does or doesn’t exist are perfectly fine. It’s when you do so while at the same time chucking out “kind” or “necessary” that you have a problem.

          • Randy M says:

            Good point. True should be a strict standard, because other wise it frees people to be unkind or derail threads. (When starting a top level post in the open thread, I think you are granted latitude with necessary for free, too).

          • jgr314 says:

            @albatross11
            If I were allowed to negotiate for the non-theist side, I’d say, “sure.” My guess is that no one on the other side will be convinced by an argument of the form “Because God, therefore..” or “Because no God, therefore.”

            In contrast, I think it should be allowed for someone to explain their own conclusions in a related form: “Because I believe/don’t X, therefore I take action/believe ….”

      • baconbits9 says:

        The problem isn’t necessarily ‘poster x is posting badly’, it is ‘there is always some number of posters posting badly’. The problem is broad behavior that grows out of individuals behavior.

    • scherzando says:

      For similar reasons, I’ll note that I agree this set of bans is basically reasonable. (I’m glad that Deiseach’s is only temporary, though, and hope she’ll return to commenting eventually.)

      I am admittedly a) a liberal, and b) mostly a lurker and a very infrequent commenter, though, so take with whatever grains of salt you wish.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      A blog for people who were banned from ssc might be entertaining.

      In order to not incentivize people to write ban-worthy posts here, I suggest that a consensus among the original members would be enough to allow people in who weren’t banned.

      • Randy M says:

        I don’t think that ever turns out well.
        The Motte sub-reddit is already a thread for people who want to break certain rules (against excessive CW topics).
        There was once a conservative blog called little green footballs that switched to a liberal blog around the time of the Obama admin. Basically it was run by a moderate who was supportive of the war on terror who got a bit more liberal and was opposed to all the other conservative positions being discussed in his comments. In the course of a year or so there were dozens or hundred of bannings (some of which clearly intentionally provoked). Two off-shoot forums resulted. I don’t know how long they lasted, but that’s not a very good way to select members, even if a there were some very good commenters in that pool of banned folks, for all the reasons Scott has described in that post about witches and free speech and what not.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        A blog for people who were banned from ssc might be entertaining.

        For comparison, I’ll note that there’s a subreddit for people who were kicked off /r/TheMotte. I checked it out a few times, and found it very unserious. The name of that offshoot alone encourages unseriousness. An abattoir of ranting.

        I won’t say you can never have an intelligent forum formed as a counterpoint to another, but I will say that the very method of formation would appear to make it very unlikely.

        • The Nybbler says:

          There’s actually two such subreddits, CultureWarRoundup and the other one. Neither is restricted to those kicked off the Motte, however, and the other one is pretty explicit about being not serious. The main problem with CWR is that most of those there basically agree on culture war matters (which isn’t conducive to discussion), and those that don’t are mostly just there to stir shit up (which also isn’t conducive to good discussion). That may improve as moderation at the Motte gets worse.

  41. mingyuan says:

    Someone under the name Sortition posted a link on the last Classified Thread (back in April) to a book of humanist poetry they wrote. I read it and really liked it, and I’m considering using it in a secular solstice event I’m running this year. If Sortition or anyone who knows them is reading this, I’d love to get in contact!

  42. Randy M says:

    I want to make a partial (let’s say, oh, 30%) retraction to an overly long argument I had in the comments of a post two and a half years ago.

    I was given the book “Not your parents’ offering plate” to read as a part of our church stewardship committee (don’t all fall over yourselves from shock at my immense gravitas. You too could go places with a tolerable appreciation of spreadsheets and a free night once a month!). It’s by a former pastor turned consultant for fund raising primarily for churches, and in the beginning he talks about successful fund raising campaigns by non-profits, such as a new building at a college or a hospital seeking funding and how they contrast with typical requests for funds from churches–at least struggling ones–which, perhaps ironically, tend to be the drier approach of giving numbers and asking for help in a straightforward way. For churches this probably stems more from a desire to be honest and transparent than to promote rational discourse, but mostly it’s probably naivete.

    What the author argues, pretty convincingly given what we know about human nature, is that those kinds of appeals don’t work compared with anecdotes–preferably with photogenic moppets–demonstrating success in the mission of the organization.
    But this is not as manipulative as I was framing the Refugee Assistance Project’s pitch (providing they are true anecdotes, of course). People–normal people, anyway, EA types may be excepted here, maybe not–want to know what you want to accomplish and whether or not you can. They do not care about your budget numbers, how efficient you are, what your logistics look like.

    Now, I still think this approach is a-rational in as much as it is promoting a mode of knowledge that doesn’t give as accurate an impression of the world as, say, a carefully constructed chart. But it’s irrational not to use it, at least in large part, if it is successful, and it could be done in an honest way.

    • quanta413 says:

      I think this depends on a means/end distinction. On the one hand, it’s bad to exploit emotions in order to extract money from people. On the other hand, almost no one really acts like a utilitarian, so almost the only way to fund any good but charitable cause is going to involve “anecdotes-preferably with photogenic moppets” as you put it. The other strategy is hooking a very rich donor, but very rich donors appear to largely choose their projects based upon what’s already popular anyways. It’s like you’re selling people the ability to feel good about themselves in order to actually do some good. Which isn’t wrong as long as you’re not lying. They want you to do some good with their money; you go do good. Everything in the world operates on some level of trust and ignorance anyways, so that hardly makes fundraising unique.

      It reminds me of a post by Greg Cochran reviewing the book “The Germ of Laziness” about the eradication of hookworm in the U.S. Although rather than photogenic moppets, they apparently carried around some dead roundworms in a bottle which they called hookworms so that people would be more impressed by the eradication of hookworm in their town.

  43. sarth says:

    I’m absolutely baffled by the first two bans. Didn’t want to put in the time to micro assess the rest.

    What is going on? What is wrong with those comments? I genuinely can’t see it and it makes me wonder if there’s some gaping hole in my ability to assess communication accurately, or if Scott is just kinda being a scaredy-cat.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      Look at the first two linked comments by the first two people. In terms of technicalities, neither is kind or necessary. In terms of the actual reasoning, both fail to be these quite gratuitously: both are provocative snark without any substantive content.

      • axiomsofdominion says:

        Pretty much what I was going to say. Dick particularly was clearly not intended to add anything of substance to the conversation but was just being nasty/snarky to the participants.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Looking at the first Ban: Yes, more often than not there were reasoned arguments in the writing but it had to be saturated with sarcasm and the kind of tone that usually encourages poor quality responses.

      There are plenty of people historically who don’t want to hear factual statements irrespective of how politely the writer tries to put things, (I won’t give examples because this is the visible open thread) but I don’t believe SA is one of them.

      The second one it’s also a case of lots of uncessary sarcasm [and less argument]

  44. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve been having less fun at ssc, and I’m not sure what the problem is– it isn’t so much a matter of difficult posters, though the comments tend to be more rightwing than I like, it’s a loss of bounce and sparkle. The big problem isn’t too much bad, it’s insufficient good.

    Perhaps the problem is just people running out of new ideas. Perhaps the lightning comes down in a place but it doesn’t stay there.

    Perhaps it’s realizing that becoming more rational doesn’t do as much good as one might have hoped– once you’re fairly rational, the improvements come from more conscientiousness and more knowledge.

    • Lambert says:

      Reversion to the mean+Sturgeon’s law means that nothing isn’t crap for a long time/

    • albatross11 says:

      I also think the general nature of public discussions has gotten worse over the last few years. The rhetoric is hyped up to 11, Orange Man Bad is in the white house, and a bunch of hungry ambitious companies have figured out that they can monetize outrage. That’s probably bleeding over into SSC, as I think it also bled over into the Making Light comment threads over time.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        albatross11, I don’t think those specific problems have hit ssc especially hard, but it’s possible people who don’t want to get caught up in the emotional maelstrom are tired and depressed.

        Making Light seems to have settled down into a reasonably good moderate traffic place.

      • Nornagest says:

        Making Light got intolerably political for me as early as, like, 2009? Whenever RaceFail happened, anyway. I gave up on it about the time I discovered Less Wrong.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        Since when was Making Light ever good?

        It arguably is the exact precise pinpoint epicenter of how and when and where Everything Went Wrong. It was the spark of the match that became Racefail. It was the first reenforced rebout of online SJ. Making Light was created because someone with some small amount of community cred (they had less than they thought, and also thought they deserved more than they had) thought “its really fun to have a forum where geeky people chat with each other, but only if those Bad People who have Bad Thoughts that make The People That I Like have the Feel Bads are excluded by mockery”.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Making Light is a matter of taste– so is here, and I’m generally not going to post links from one at the other.

          However, I’ll put up with a fair amount (possibly too much) if people are interesting.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Perhaps the problem is just people running out of new ideas. Perhaps the lightning comes down in a place but it doesn’t stay there.

      Or perhaps you have been here long enough that there are no ‘old ideas’ left that are new to you, plus you know some posters well enough that you can see where they are going sooner and so the post itself sounds less new.

    • axiomsofdominion says:

      I have had the feeling that Scott is making fewer interesting, to me, posts, but it is also possible I caught up on the backlog. I only check here once or twice a week now and even then I’m usually not met with new interesting content. The culture war to me hasn’t really gotten much worse, so I concur with Nancy that it is less about being put off and more about being not sucked in.

      I’ve also become more and more certain of my belief in the essential statistical nature of the world. That to me explains most of why rationality isn’t as valuable as it should be, or rather its very useful on the societal level to have more and more rational members but the individual benefit of becoming more rational is largely subject to extreme diminishing returns. Random factors are simply too significant.

      For instance I was given a reference to get me an interview at Google, and this was primarily based on luck in connecting with someone from an unrelated activity I was engaged in. I declined because I know myself well enough to know I would not succeed at Google but it certainly greatly expanded my feeling of the lack of structure in human affairs. Nearly anyone here could have engaged successfully in the actions I engaged in to impress the person who gave me the reference if they had the opportunity.

      • Majuscule says:

        Funny, I’ve been rather enjoying the posts lately. I think this might be because there have been several about history, which is my thing. I know a lot of other folks might favor the posts about AI and futurism, which I still find interesting but less so. One of my favorite parts of this blog is the analysis of methodologies behind scientific studies, something I always wonder about but am not quantitatively equipped to do myself. History doesn’t lend itself to that too well, so maybe you’re missing some of the great back-and-forth from the many science-minded readers who comment on those posts? I do wonder if the kind of bold and eloquent social analysis that put this blog on the map simply doesn’t bear repeating when you get it so right the first time. I also wonder if blazing new trails in that area might feel a bit fraught given the exhausting-sounding scrutiny Scott apparently received last year. In any case, I’m hoping this place can last and that we can keep it the rare corner of the internet with enough “ambient civility” to examine genuinely fraught scientific and social questions.