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Open Thread 137.75

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1,274 Responses to Open Thread 137.75

  1. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Eldritch Century is a third-party 5th Edition D&D RPG book where you play subjects of a two-in-one Communist monarchy (not to be confused with dual monarchy) led by the daughter of famously-celibate Nikola Tesla.

  2. anonymousskimmer says:

    Spoiler for the ‘catch’ to the fourth and final season of The Good Place.

    This catch seemed obvious a day or so after watching the first episode of season 4, and is becoming far more evident after episode 2. Rot13 encoded 3 TIMES for safety. Do not read unless you want the surprise spoiled.

    Gur sbhe crbcyr orvat rinyhngrq ner gur fnzr sbhe crbcyr jub unir nyjnlf orra rinyhngrq.

    • cassander says:

      All of this has happened before and it will all happen again?

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Ab, whfg n pbagvahngvba bs gur svefg rinyhngvba (jura gur whqtr ernyvmrq guvatf jrer uneq, naq gur flfgrz znl arrq gb or punatrq gb nppbhag sbe gur qvssvphygl bs orvat tbbq).

        Vg frrzf yvxryl gung Wnarg naq Zvpunry ner va ba vg, ohg pna’g fnl nalguvat.

        Gur bayl phevbfvgl va zl zvaq vf gur fpbcr. Vf vg whfg Ryrnabe, Gnunav, Puvqv, naq Wnfba jub ner orvat rinyhngrq? Be qbrf gur rinyhngvba vapyhqr gur Zvpunry, Wnarg, naq gur whqtr nf jryy – vf gurer n “tbq” nobir gurz?

    • ana53294 says:

      Rot13 encoded 3 TIMES for safety

      Is this a joke, or did you do this mostly pointless thing? Internet jokes are sometimes hard to get.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      V gubhtug gung jnf xvaq bs nyernql fcryyrq bhg. Vs gur Znva Sbhe pnaabg fubj gung uhznavgl vf fnirnoyr, gurl tb qverpgyl gb uryy jvgubhg cnffvat tb.

  3. Viliam says:

    In one of the previous Open Threads, some people mentioned The Good Place series positively. I don’t really understand why.

    I have enjoyed the first season — the setting, and the conclusion. But everything that happened later felt like… trying to squeeze more juice from a lemon that is already dry. There was tension in the first season; and it was completely resolved at the end of the season. Then, the beginning of the second season was like “try again”, “oops again”, “try again”, “oops again”, which is funny the first time it happens, and then becomes quite boring, especially when it seems like the rest of the series will probably consist of variants of this. There was the hilarious episode about the trolley problem… and that’s probably the last episode I actually enjoyed. I have watched the rest of the second season and maybe also the beginning of the third one, but it was all like “lets try the same thing over and over again, with minor variations, and hope the audience stays”. So, I am surprised to see that some audience actually stayed and enjoyed it.

    Question for those who liked the series (beyond the first season) is: why? Does it later get better? When approximately? Or do you simply not agree that after the trolley episode it became worse?

    • honoredb says:

      There’s something so human about taking something great and ruining it a little so you can have more of it.

    • gbdub says:

      The plot picks up quite a bit toward the end of the second season through season three. I agree that the first part of season two dragged a bit.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      I like the characters.

      I also enjoy learning more about the architectural setup of the milieu.

      I didn’t particularly care for the trolley episode, so our standards differ.

      (In the previous OT I opined that Chidi was a 6w5. He’s obviously a 5w6 with a connection to 7 in the chili episode. And Jason is likely a 9w8. BTW, Jason is “dumb” like Ashton Kutcher is “dumb” – not so much.)

  4. Dragor says:

    Anybody have any advice on how one might go about learning notetaking? Any notetaking systems to recommend? I have a student who is in one of the rare-yet-awful classes where there is no followed textbook or other corpus of information that contains the information he should know, so the only material he can rely on for tests are the notes he takes. I would like to be able to give him guidance beyond my personal compensation strategies which are to A) rely on people who take better notes, or, even better B) run like hell from those classes.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      What area? I think the answers if it’s maths are very different to if it’s theology.

    • Viliam says:

      I’ll just throw a few links here, hope that something help. Seems like people have different strong opinions on this:

      https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/d9TKbcko8GsBihvxG/how-do-you-take-notes
      https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/wiLaYDcshYr97R8Lr/tiddlywiki-for-organizing-notes-and-research
      https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/NfdHG6oHBJ8Qxc26s/the-zettelkasten-method-1
      https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/wg9xC2BdjMXwbYNxb/what-s-your-favorite-notetaking-system
      https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17892731

      My own approach: if the notes will only be needed in short term (e.g. you take an exam and then feel okay to forget it), buy a separate notebook, keep writing the information as it comes to you, underline keywords and important ideas with color. Perhaps at the end try to process it, and write some summary.

      If it is the “information you want to keep forever”, I would do that electronically, and choose a system that supports internal hyperlinks. Now it depends.

      If you believe you will always be online, I would probably go with MediaWiki (the software Wikipedia uses), because it is thoroughly tested. My experience is that 10 times out of 10 someone recommended me a “better wiki”, sooner or later I found an annoying bug; usually it screws up formatting when you edit the page later. You can set up MediaWiki to be private, it supports hyperlinks and templates.

      Offline, WikidPad seems like a nice choice. It automatically creates a navigation tree, and it supports categories. For example, if you add “category: contacts” in your page, you will automatically find it listed under “contacts” category. The categories themselves can be organized in a tree structure. (One annoying thing is that it uses a lot of markup, so if you write e.g. computer code, you have to do a lot of escaping manually.)

      I actually use my own software, Notilo, because I wanted a combination of traits that I didn’t find elsewhere (plain text with no markup, hierarchical structure, Unicode, both Windows and Linux), but it is still missing a lot of features and I am currently rewriting it from scratch, with no end in sight.

  5. johan_larson says:

    Our friends with the giant spaceships have decided they want Earth money. To that end, they have scooped up the island of Manhattan in the middle of a work day, put it in a safe place, and are holding everything and everybody on it for ransom. If our friends negotiate shrewdly for the return of some or all of what they took, how much might they get?

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Literally whatever they ask for. They’ve just demonstrated the ability to scoop up the entire island of Manhattan; not returning it comes right at the bottom end of the list of things they can threaten us with.

    • The Nybbler says:

      With that kind of power, there’s nothing simply purchasable with money and furthermore nothing movable that they need negotiate for, so they seem quite irrational. There’s certainly enough rich people in New York during the day for families to be able to raise hundreds of millions in ransom, perhaps billions. The buildings and rock likely won’t get them much, if anything, more. We might see tens to hundreds of millions for the contents of the museums.

      I’d offer a straight trade for DC, with a few extra megabucks thrown in if they’ll leave us the Smithsonian.

    • Lambert says:

      If they were to scoop up the whole of the UK, for instance, would Sterling count as money any more? Who’s there to back it?

      Holding the whole of Manhattan to ransom would surely devalue the dollar a bit. It took a hurculean effort after 9/11 to prevent a mild financial crisis.

      Can we give them arbitary nominal amounts of money but make sure it can’t get into the economy? Kind of reminds me of the Hawaii overprint notes, which were to become worthless if Japan invaded.

    • Phigment says:

      If they scooped up all of Manhattan, they scooped up the NY Stock Exchange.

      They already HAVE all of our money. By an alternative reading, they have already destroyed vast quantities of our money.

      Frankly, at this point they can demand all the dollars in the world for the safe return of Manhattan, and it’s a coin flip whether we give them everything they ask for or nothing, on the theory that we don’t negotiate with alien terrorists. But either way, those dollars are pretty much worth the paper they’re printed on now.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I’d stop thinking in monetary value and start thinking in long term wealth. Say you hold 100 Bill Gates-types for ransom. Rich as fuck, right? Wrong – most of it is stock, and since it’s not really a hush hush operation, stock will plummet the instant this happens.

      So you want to go with a partnership. Take all those rich guys you just kidnapped to dinner, and tell them this is a hostile takeover, but they can be 10x richer if they play it right. Then ask for (minority? controlling?) stock in their businesses and give them the right level of tech to make them filthy rich without blowing things up.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      “‘The Ransom of Red Chief’ is a short story by O. Henry first published in the July 6, 1907 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. It follows two men who kidnap and demand a ransom a wealthy Alabamian’s son. Eventually, the men are driven crazy by the boy’s spoiled and hyperactive behavior, and they pay the boy’s father to take him back.” — Wikipedia

      I kid because I love.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      … For pretty – wallpaper purposes, I suppose? The answer is “How much would you like?” onto the limits of the supply chain of suitable paper and ink. An alien armada is quite sufficient cause to roll the printing presses and then declare a jubilee and rebasing of the currency after they leave.

    • Protagoras says:

      You see, everyone? This is why the last time we needed to get the Yamato and arm it with a wave motion gun. Precisely so we’d be prepared to fight back in the event of this kind of nonsense.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      As soon as it hits the news, the US dollar value drops faster than the ruble did in the 1990s. Luckily, the US is prepared for this contingency, and promptly announces a new currency before the market has enough time to react. Some damage is still done – the currency necessary to buy back Manhattan fills several shipping containers – but it’s still there, in several barges parked off Long Island, ready to go.

      Trump’s dealmaking is his usual, which is to say, utterly incomprehensible. Even to the savvy aliens. The only pattern they can discern is Trump’s frequent defaults to “doing something”, which apparently involves offering ever more containers of the new currency in exchange. Given that their aim is to get as much Earth money as possible, the aliens gesture in their equivalent of a shrug and press the farce of a negotiation until they think no more containers are forthcoming.

      The shipment is trivial to move, though they have to find extra storage, as their cargoship is currently occupied by an island. The aliens can’t believe their luck. They have crates spilling out of their cargo hold and filling up nooks and crannies in every hallway and living quarter on every vessel in their fleet. Alien kids are rolling around in the strange new currency – trillions of spheres, about the size of a human finger, stamped “In God We Trust”, and marked with pretty anti-counterfeit fibers that gleam when held up to light of our star.

      Which then spontaneously open, revealing drones the size of mosquitoes, swarming the fleet. Within seconds, every object with a heat signature is injected with a tailored virus, deactivated with a code only Trump knows. The aliens are had. They never should have trusted their idiotic captain, with his idiotic accent and combover…

      Sacking their leader within seconds, the aliens offer a new deal, which Trump is only too happy to accept. He secretly knows he can always reactivate the virus later, but mostly he just likes making another deal. The aliens carefully redeposit Manhattan, in return for the code. Soon, the alien intercom plays the kill word throughout the fleet:

      “Covfefe.”

      Relieved but humbled, the fleet departs, having traded the remaining unopened spheres for one last keepsake: an Earth wallet containing approximately twenty-four US dollars.

  6. Machine Interface says:

    Renegade Cut is a youtube channel whose sole contributor specializes in analysis of films and film genre from an explicitely social justice point of view. These analysis tend to be well researched and, as far as I can tell, relatively nuanced (to the extense that they are still 100% embracing at least the academic, respectable version of social justice ideology).

    In a recent, 20 minutes video, he develops an argument that christian horror films, that is, horror films with supernatural elements that are based on christian beliefs (such as demonic possession or witches), in spite of being generally made by liberal filmmakers who, if not atheists, are generally not strongly practicing christians, have in fact a tendency to work as christianism apologetics, because they systematically present a universe were not only christian beliefs in the supernatural are true, but where the occurence of the supernatural is always shown to be directly the product of a lack of faith and/or dabbing into occult practices/foreign religions directly condemned by christianity, and where a skeptic character is always introduced just to eventually be proven wrong; he goes as far as implying this has revisionist implications toward the history of witch hunting — since in these movies, witches are real and they are evil, it means the witch hunts were in fact justified.

    Do conservative readers agree with this analysis? Do you think christian horror films actually work as a force to promote christianity?

    Edit: as a time of me typing this, there are exactly 999 comments on this thread. Coincidence???

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Do conservative readers agree with this analysis? Do you think christian horror films actually work as a force to promote christianity?

      Unknown, but anecdotally, Christopher Lee believed that he could do evangelism as a horror actor by telling his directors to play up the power of Christian symbols against supernatural horror.

      Edit: as a time of me typing this, there are exactly 999 comments on this thread. Coincidence???

      The Beast is doing a handstand.

      • Dino says:

        Unknown, but anecdotally, Christopher Lee believed that he could do evangelism as a horror actor by telling his directors to play up the power of Christian symbols against supernatural horror.

        The Wicker Man would seem to be a counter-example of this.

    • Randy M says:

      Edit: as a time of me typing this, there are exactly 999 comments on this thread. Coincidence???

      Yes, unless you were standing on your head.

      There are plenty of horror films that don’t deal with the supernatural. Often these still have a moralistic element as the promiscuous/bullying/however troublesome get mangled first. Perhaps humans just instinctively don’t want to see innocents slaughtered.

      I agree with your point in as much as there is often a tactic (if hardly orthodox) Christian back ground to the spiritual element. I don’t think this has a large impact on the culture or the way witch trials are viewed.

      There’s also a lot of entertainment that portray witchcraft positively, like Buffy and that recent Sabrina show.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Do you think christian horror films actually work as a force to promote christianity?

      They work as a force to promote cultural Christianity. I don’t think they promote genuine religious knowledge. If you try brandishing a crucifix at a real demon the demon is just going to laugh at you.

      • Nick says:

        If you try brandishing a crucifix at a real demon the demon is just going to laugh at you.

        Have you tried lately?

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        If you try brandishing a crucifix at a real demon the demon is just going to laugh at you.

        Can you expand on that?

        As a non-Christian whose knowledge of demonology is very limited, I’d be interested in learning more about the mechanics of how “real demons” are dealt with.

        • hls2003 says:

          I think it would be very analogous to Acts 19:11-16, specifically from verse 13 on:

          11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

          13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

          A crucifix is a piece of wood. Without the authority of Jesus channeled through a faith-filled person empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Bible suggests the empty symbol alone would be no protection.

          • Randy M says:

            “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?”

            I don’t think there’s a line in a horror movie that tops that.

            Also, this conversation reminds me of the scene in the Mummy where the treacherous sidekick is trying one Holy symbol after another to placate the unholy abomination.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            Ah ok, that makes sense.

            Is there a source that goes into detail on how close a connection with God you need to drive out demons? Saint Paul’s used handkerchiefs can exorcise demons, which is described as extraordinary. And at least some members of the clergy are supposed to be able to exorcise demons, at least according to Catholics. But what about a Christian layman, like if an observant but not saintly Christian was the only one available to perform an exorcism would they be mocked and beaten or could they successfully drive out the demon?

          • hls2003 says:

            Is there a source that goes into detail on how close a connection with God you need to drive out demons? Saint Paul’s used handkerchiefs can exorcise demons, which is described as extraordinary. And at least some members of the clergy are supposed to be able to exorcise demons, at least according to Catholics. But what about a Christian layman, like if an observant but not saintly Christian was the only one available to perform an exorcism would they be mocked and beaten or could they successfully drive out the demon?

            For relatively detailed codifications about exorcism, you really have to talk to the Catholics. I don’t know the details of their doctrine on the topic. From a Protestant perspective, I think that it varies by denomination, and also varies significantly by circumstance. I’d say the general Protestant perspective is that there is a “priesthood of believers” inasmuch as a Christian layman has just as much authority as a Catholic priest, and doesn’t require a special mediator other than Jesus to intercede for them. I would say that also applies to a possession situation; a faithful believer’s prayer is no less powerful than a minister or elder’s prayer.

            However, exorcism is a deadly serious business by most Biblical accounts, and not really laid out in a D&D rules ‘n’ rituals type of way. There is a passage in the Gospel of Mark 9:14-29 that makes it pretty clear that there are a lot of factors at play:

            When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

            “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

            A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

            “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

            So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

            Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

            “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

            “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

            Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

            When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

            The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

            After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

            He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” [some manuscripts “prayer and fasting”]

            I do not think that I have the faith of a disciple, even the confused bunch before Pentecost. So that’s sobering. On the other hand, once Jesus rose and sent the Holy Spirit, Jesus is even more “personally present” with all believers than he was with the disciples. And in the Resurrection, Jesus permanently triumphed over death, Hell, and all its minions. So I think the Protestant perspective is, be very wary – but not mortally afraid.

            ETA: I think I didn’t address your actual question of whether if a faithful Christian layman was the “only one available,” could he do it. I think the Protestant answer (and I suspect Catholic too though I don’t know for sure) is “Yes, if God wills it” because it’s not the person acting, it’s God acting through them.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @hls2003,

            Thanks again, that’s very helpful.

            I hope this came across but I wasn’t trying to trivialize your beliefs, just trying to sound the depths and get a feel for how this works.

          • hls2003 says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal:

            No problem. And certainly the request came across as respectful inquiry; it’s not a topic I think a lot about and it’s interesting for me too to think through the implications.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @hls2003:

            A crucifix is a piece of wood. Without the authority of Jesus channeled through a faith-filled person empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Bible suggests the empty symbol alone would be no protection.

            On the other hand, one of the things the goats say in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is “Did we not case out many demons in your name?” Since the goats in this parable represent those who are going to Hell, it looks like at least some non-faith-filled people can cast out demons as well.

            @Nabil:

            And at least some members of the clergy are supposed to be able to exorcise demons, at least according to Catholics. But what about a Christian layman, like if an observant but not saintly Christian was the only one available to perform an exorcism would they be mocked and beaten or could they successfully drive out the demon?

            If a goat can cast out demons, I expect that an observant but not saintly layman could as well, at least under some circumstances. But all the Catholic treatments of exorcisms I’ve come across strongly advise anybody who suspects a case of demonic possession to call for an exorcist rather than try and do the job themselves, since the risks of being mocked and beaten, or even possessed themselves, are just too great.

          • hls2003 says:

            Since the goats in this parable represent those who are going to Hell, it looks like at least some non-faith-filled people can cast out demons as well.

            Well, for one thing, it is explicitly a parable, not a history. But we can see some indication elsewhere that invoking Jesus’ name and authority is not the only way God chooses to exorcise demons. E.g. Matthew 12:27 “And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.”

            I think the implication is that in every case, God is acting, not the individual alone. It seems to me that if a person deceives themselves into thinking that their own power or authority are what succeeds, then that may work for awhile – God may still work through that vessel – but it will work until it doesn’t. Then they’ll find that their power and authority are not real, and they may end up like the the seven sons of Sceva.

          • Phigment says:

            To wander around the point hls2003 is making, which I agree with:

            To my recollection, most or all of the exorcisms in the Bible fall in to two categories.

            1. Person demands demon leave possessed subject. Demon refuses. There is a fight. Sometimes the demon loses and gets cast out, sometimes the demon wins and you get the sons of Sceva.

            2. Person demands demon leave possessed subject. Demon agrees to leave peacefully, often while pleading for mercy.

            The difference between Case 1 and Case 2 seems to be whether the demon likes its odds of winning a fight and/or taking the victim out with it.

            When Jesus casts a demon out of a person, his negotiating posture is “leave voluntarily, or I will MAKE you leave by force”. Being Jesus, he is fully capable of backing up those words with action, and most demons decide to go peacefully.

            When non-Jesus people invoke the name of Jesus in an exorcism, they are taking a negotiating posture of “leave voluntarily, or I’ll call my big, strong friend Jesus who will make you leave by force”. Jesus has well established reputation for being big and strong amongst demons, so the key bit in this demand is not whether Jesus can make the demon leave, but whether the exorcist is actually close enough friends with Jesus that Jesus will come over and beat up demons on his behalf.

            Cases like Mark 9:14 are when the demon was stubborn and refused to leave voluntarily when the disciples told it to go; it required an actual fight.

            The Sons of Sceva were, by invoking Jesus through Paul, essentially saying “leave peacefully, or we’ll call our friend Paul, who will call his friend Jesus, who will totally wreck you”, and the demon responding with “I don’t believe you actually know Jesus well enough that he’s going to come wreck me on your say-so”.

            It’s like a bar fight. “I’m a champion MMA fighter” is a very compelling argument for people not messing with you. “My friend here sitting next to me is a champion MMA fighter” is also pretty good. “I know a guy who knows a champion MMA fighter” is not.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Are you sure? Way back in the day, Athanasius recommended to non-believers that they make the sign of the cross as a way to test out his claims:

        Anyone, too, may put what we have said to the proof of experience in another way. In the very presence of the fraud of demons and the imposture of the oracles and the wonders of magic, let him use the sign of the cross which they all mock at, and but speak the Name of Christ, and he shall see how through Him demons are routed, oracles cease, and all magic and witchcraft is confounded.

        The rest of the tract is Platonic-style proofs. This is the only experiment he recommends.

        • FLWAB says:

          This connects to a fun hypothesis I’ve been floating around.

          I’ve often mulled over the fact that cases of demonic possession seem extremely rare in the West, while in the the East (and moreso the further east you travel, it sometimes seems) such cases become extremely common. An exorcist in America or Germany is a rarity to be marveled at, but in India, Malaysia, and the like they are far more common. My brother is studying to become a Bible translator, and he has traveled to missionary conferences across the world. In India he heard account after account of exorcists driving out demons. There was one man who was an extremely successful church planter, going from village to village and leaving behind churches in each one. It seemed that his primary method was to travel into a village and inquire as to whether there was anyone there possessed by evil spirits, and villagers would usually seriously and solemnly point them to some unfortunate person who was afflicted. He would then cast the demon out, and the family of the victim would be so amazed by his ability to cast out spirits that they would soon convert and start the core of a new church. He recounted exorcism after exorcism, and he wasn’t the only one.

          Assume, for the sake of fun theorizing, that demons exist and actually do possess people in greater numbers in the East than the West. One common theory as to why this would be the case is that the Satan, ruler of evil spirits, has commanded his legions of darkness to work subtly and in hiding in the West, limiting themselves to temptations and the like. That way they can stay hidden from empirical science, and thus trick more people into becoming atheists. I never quite liked that theory, and an alternative presents itself to me. What if there are less possessions in the West because there are less demons, and there are less demons because Europe spent the last two thousand years putting crosses up everywhere. They consecrated land, baptized babies, said their prayers, and put the sign of the cross up on steeples on practically every inch of land from Constantinople to Edinburgh. And then they move to America and the first thing they do is put up more crosses, and say more prayers, and build more churches, and baptize more babies. And what if all that, apart from actual faith itself, is intolerable to evil spirits and have driven them away or weakened their power significantly? What if through the power of the mute crosses “demons are routed, oracles cease, and all magic and witchcraft is confounded” even to this day? What if the reduced numbers of possession cases isn’t due to the advance of science, but the vanguard of crosses that proceeded it? And what if Western Europe today, almost devoid of real faith, is still protected by the churches they won’t tear down, even if they don’t attend them? It’s a fun theory. At minimum it would make a good setting for a modern fantasy.

          • Leafhopper says:

            An interesting way to investigate this theory would be to look at the rates of demon possession in countries/regions which have burned or demolished some of their churches (e.g. when Republican Spain burned churches, was there a brief upswing in possession?). Also, “crosses and baptisms make things hard for demons” and “Satan is working subtly in the West” are mutually compatible. Perhaps the Prince of Darkness is working subtly in the West because his strength is far weaker there, and he has to use his resources cleverly.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m too lazy to look up sources now, but apparently there’s a growing demand for exorcists in the West… Maybe the idea that Christian faith keeps demons away really does have something going for it, and the decline of said faith is leading to a resurgence in demonic activity.

            ETA: Fortunately, @Jaskologist has already sourced an article below: Catholic Exorcisms are Gaining Popularity in the US.

          • Dog says:

            I’m currently serving with a Bible translation organization in Papua New Guinea, and there is definitely a much greater fear of spirits here than in the west. In some cultural groups spirit possession is a big concern and is traditionally viewed as incurable, except on occasion it is considered possible to make a bargain with a greater spirit that will then drive the lesser one out. Where I’m stationed people are mostly afraid of sorcery being practiced against them by another person, and sorcery revenge killings are a major problem.

      • Dino says:

        If you try brandishing a crucifix at a real demon the demon is just going to laugh at you.

        Little Willie was a wizard,
        Little Willie is no more,
        What he thought a pentagram
        Just made the demon sore.

    • lvlln says:

      In a recent, 20 minutes video, he develops an argument that christian horror films, that is, horror films with supernatural elements that are based on christian beliefs (such as demonic possession or witches), in spite of being generally made by liberal filmmakers who, if not atheists, are generally not strongly practicing christians, have in fact a tendency to work as christianism apologetics, because they systematically present a universe were not only christian beliefs in the supernatural are true, but where the occurence of the supernatural is always shown to be directly the product of a lack of faith and/or dabbing into occult practices/foreign religions directly condemned by christianity, and where a skeptic character is always introduced just to eventually be proven wrong; he goes as far as implying this has revisionist implications toward the history of witch hunting — since in these movies, witches are real and they are evil, it means the witch hunts were in fact justified.

      Do conservative readers agree with this analysis? Do you think christian horror films actually work as a force to promote christianity?

      I haven’t watched the video and am not in a position do so for quite a few hours, but based on your description of it, this looks less like analysis and more like an empirical claim about reality. The claim being that Christian horror films promotes Christianity in real life, with the mechanism being that the depiction of an in-movie universe in which Christian supernatural beliefs are true in a way that fits into Christian narratives (e.g. “the supernatural is always shown to be directly the product of a lack of faith”) leads viewers to see real-life Christianity more favorably.

      I’ll have to check out the video later to see if this person presents any empirical evidence in support of this claim. But without seeing such evidence, I see no reason to take this claim any more seriously than any other bald, unsupported claim about reality. If the claim were based on a mechanism that’s well evidenced and documented, there might be some reason to consider it more plausible, but the alleged mechanism of (roughly speaking) [depiction of X as true in movie worlds] -> [audience is more favorable to X as being true in real life] also lacks evidence supporting it, from what I’ve read.

    • Phigment says:

      As a Christian, I tend to think such films are not effective as propaganda for actual Christianity. They’re probably mildly counterproductive.

      Horror movies tend to slap Christian, and more specifically Catholic, imagery on to things willy-nilly, while completely ignoring the actual religious underpinnings of any of that imagery.

      Essentially, media tends to treat Christianity in horror movies as magic; show this sign, or speak this chant, and you’ll counter the magic being used by the evil thing. Crucifixes are a thing that repels vampires, just like garlic, so carve little crosses into your bullets and dip them in garlic oil, then shoot them at the vampires! Easy! No actual religion required!

      Buffy the Vampire Slayer is sort of the ideal example of this; in the course of seven years of television episodes, the characters constantly use crosses to repel demons, they burn vampires with holy water, they actually use blessed swords, and actual relics of actual saints, but nobody goes to church. Nobody even brings it up as a possibility, like, “Maybe, given that Christian iconography has power over the evil creatures, and Christian religious authorities are able to create, easily, commonly, effective anti-evil countermeasures like holy water and hand it out for free, we should consider whether these Christians are on to something here?”

      Religious icons in this view are just charms; no different than iron horseshoes hanging over your door to repel fairies. They don’t mean anything; monsters are just allergic to them. The “Holy” in Holy Water means exactly as much as the “Cold” in “Cold Iron”.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Buffy the Vampire Slayer is sort of the ideal example of this; in the course of seven years of television episodes, the characters constantly use crosses to repel demons, they burn vampires with holy water, they actually use blessed swords, and actual relics of actual saints, but nobody goes to church. Nobody even brings it up as a possibility, like, “Maybe, given that Christian iconography has power over the evil creatures, and Christian religious authorities are able to create, easily, commonly, effective anti-evil countermeasures like holy water and hand it out for free, we should consider whether these Christians are on to something here?”

        +1
        Orthogonal to my religious beliefs, I really dislike dumb fantasy like that.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Not really a Buffy fan per se, but allow me to interject a slightly off-topic recommendation of The Dresden Files as Urban Fantasy that I think manages to do a rather better job depicting pious Christians in a modern day setting where magic is real. And the ways in which religious faith is fundamentally different from the sort of magic the main character does is examined from several aspects.

          To quote the most recent book, in which a Knight Of The Cross is discussing the swords of his order with the main character:

          Michael smiled at me a little. “You’re a good man, Harry, but you’re making the same mistake Nicodemus always has – and the same one Karrin did.”
          “What mistake?”
          “You all think the critical word in the phrase ‘Sword of Faith’ is ‘sword.'”

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            This is like the third recommendation I’ve gotten for Dresden Files. I’ll source a copy of the first volume, unless for some reason that’s not the best place to start?

          • Phigment says:

            The Dresden Files books are generally good, and I enjoy them.

            That said, the first few have some rough patches. Don’t be surprised when they aren’t flawless. They’re fast-paced action and adventure, and good at it, not philosophy. Strong page-turners, though.

            I’d say start with Book 1, Storm Front. It’s fun. It’s quick. Many of the later books are stronger, because Butcher became a better writer, but they aren’t better starting points.

          • CatCube says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I really enjoy the Dresden Files and just finished reading the series for the third time recently, but it does unfortunately heavily lean in to the sin you complain about: strong generic belief of any variety is sufficient to power “holy symbols” of whatever faith the wielder believes in. For example, the main character has a pentacle amulet from his mother, and it can function as a holy symbol because he believes in the generic power of Magic. He can’t use a cross because he doesn’t believe in it.

            The Christian (mostly Catholic) characters are well treated and some of the most powerful opponents of evil. I do enjoy the series, but I’m willing to overlook this particular bit of heresy in my fiction, especially the tapdancing around how Harry Dresden sees Michael stomping on fallen angels but still refuses to believe in God (as well as, y’know, fighting fallen angels). It might be worth reading a few chapters of the first book in the library before investing in any of the books, but if you can get over this niggle, I’d heartily recommend the series.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @CatCube

            One minor quibble, Cat. Harry believes, or more to the point knows that the Christian God exists. What he doesn’t have is faith in that god, in his benevolence, the idea that there is a divine plan, or that if there is one that it is a good one, and that is one of the fundamental conflicts between his worldview and his christian allies like the Knights of the Cross, Father Forthill, etc.

            That crucial distinction between “belief that” and “belief in”.

          • silver_swift says:

            @CatCube: I think that is a different thing from what Phigment describes.

            In the Dresden Files, crosses don’t work because of divine intervention, they work because emotions and beliefs have power. Deep religious faith (regardless of what religion it comes from) and the objects and symbols that represent it have the power to ward of certain types of supernatural beings, but that’s in principle no different from the way thresholds work.

            So vampires don’t like crosses, not because they are magically allergic to orthogonal line segments, but because of the faith those crosses represent.

            Now, that is not the same as God intervening on behalf of pious followers (though there is some evidence that He does intervene on occasion, eg. the Knights of Cross’ ability to always be in the right place at the right time), but I do think it’s a little more dignified than how it is handled in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or various similar works.

            Edit: So, I now see that this is exactly what hls2003 describes below, but my point is that “religious objects have magical properties because magic” and “religious faith has power that can be channeled through religious objects” are two different tropes.

            Dresden not being religious despite hanging out with archangels is I think just the difference between matter-of-fact-knowing something exists and believing in something.

            @Le Maistre Chat: I think the standard advice is either to start at book 4 or read book 1 to get familiar with the world and the characters and then skip to book 4, depending on how much you want to invest in giving the series a shot.

            Books 1-3 are standalone stories that just aren’t on the same level as the rest of the series.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @silver_swift

            While I’ll agree that book 3-4 is where Butcher really seems to hit his stride, I have to disagree that the first three are “stand-alone”. Without spoilers:

            -Books 1-4 describe a through-arc in one aspect of Harry’s growth and development, and how it impacts his relationships with others, most especially Murphy.

            -Book 1 establishes most of the basic building blocks of the setting, and skipping it would lead to missing out on things like some nuance in the characterization of Morgan (think of his actions towards the end), and the significance of Susan Rodriguez.

            -Book 2 is probably the most “stand-alone” of the early books, but even here there are a lot of elements that are further developed. Karrin and Dresden’s working relationship. The introduction of Billy, Georgia, Andy, et al. Further development of Marcone, etc.

            -Book 3 is one of the worst books to skip, precisely because it is where the really big long term plot elements of the series roll into motion. The introduction of Michael Carpenter, the character that started this digression. The first appearance of The Leanansidhe, and the first real explanation of Harry’s relationship with (and debt to) her. Pretty much everything that happens at Bianca’s party (Gur svefg nccrnenapr bs Pbjy naq Xhzbev, naq gurve tvsg bs gur Arzrfvf-gnvagrq Ngunzr gb Yrn. Gur vagebqhpgvba bs Gubznf naq Whfgvar. Gur pncgher naq sngr bs Fhfna Ebqevthrm naq gur jne orgjrra gur Erq Pbheg naq gur Juvgr Pbhapvy gung Uneel raqf hc fgnegvat orpnhfr bs vg, naq ba, naq ba.).

            If you’re the sort of person who likes to skip ahead, I’d say books 1-2 are skippable if you must, though skipping them robs several later books of their full emotional and narrative impact at various points, but 3 is definitely NOT skippable.

      • hls2003 says:

        I agree. In addition, a lot of times it’s basically a variant of “the power of heart” – strong-willed faith in something is the power, not the thing believed in. Christians, Shaolin monks, New Age crystals, shamans, Wiccans, even just “believing in yourself” are all equally valid paths to mystic power. To the extent Hollywood religion is praised, it’s usually in the context that some religious people have true spirituality, not that some spiritual people have found true religion. Usually to find “true spirituality” in this setting one has to cast off any trappings of merely parochial religion to find the “true power / truth hidden within.”

      • EchoChaos says:

        nobody goes to church.

        Technically not true! Buffy’s college boyfriend Riley arrives at a church to save the day in the episode “Who Are You?” because he is going to church there.

        But yeah, general point is absolutely correct.

    • Aftagley says:

      Doesn’t horror generally present a fairly conservative perspective? In pretty much every instance I can think of, whatever evil thing that comes after the protagonist always represents a punishment either for a moral transgression or pushing past certain natural laws.

      It doesn’t shock me that Christian horror would therefore represent a conservative christian viewpoint.

    • Urstoff says:

      Seems to me that cultural touchstones like Christianity can just be easier to work within and for the audience to understand than completely unknown/religions cultures (plus, if you make a horror movie about those, you might be accused of cultural appropriation).

    • Zephalinda says:

      Horror films, with the possible exception of the very simple torture-porn kind, are always anti-materialist and anti-rationalist. (In fact, horror as a genre emerges precisely as a reaction against the Enlightenment view of both the world and the human psyche as bright, rule-abiding, solid and knowable.) Thus, horror films are good evangelization against smug materialist Enlightenment-style anti-Christianity.

      There’s also another vein of anti-Christianity on the other side, though– the mystical, New-Agey kind that says demons and magic are not only real but super powerful, in fact maybe we should be worshipping them instead– that horror films are not effective against at all. I wouldn’t think the explicitly religious content would have much to do with it either way.

      If I recall correctly, C.S. Lewis has a good analysis of the two types in _The Screwtape Letters_.

    • Jaskologist says:

      RedLetterMedia just did a review of The Exorcist, and one of the things they mention is the the practice had largely died out at the time of the movie, but regained in popularity due to it.

      I couldn’t find backing for that claim, but exorcisms are on the rise in America:

      Father Vincent Lampert, the official exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, told me in early October that he’d received 1,700 phone or email requests for exorcisms in 2018, by far the most he’s ever gotten in one year. Father Gary Thomas—a priest whose training as an exorcist in Rome was documented in The Rite, a book published in 2009 and made into a movie in 2011—said that he gets at least a dozen requests a week. Several other priests reported that without support from church staff and volunteers, their exorcism ministries would quickly swallow up their entire weekly schedules.

      The Church has been training new exorcists in Chicago, Rome, and Manila. Thomas told me that in 2011 the U.S. had fewer than 15 known Catholic exorcists. Today, he said, there are well over 100. Other exorcists I spoke with put the number between 70 and 100. (Again, no official statistics exist, and most dioceses conceal the identity of their appointed exorcist, to avoid unwanted attention.)

    • Lambert says:

      Haven’t we already had this discussion about how Scooby Doo is anticatholic?

      • Nick says:

        That’s not what I remember….

        • Machine Interface says:

          Ah, I missed that discussion. I would have pointed out that “The Monk” actually doesn’t fit nicely into the mold of “anti-catholic gothic novels” as described by the article for at least two reasons:

          1) The supernatural elements are not debunked — on the contrary, the book portrays ghosts and demons as very real and very dangerous.

          2) This is the only novel I know of where the Spanish Inquisition are portrayed as the good guys, who arrive at the end like the cavalry to finally put an end to the deviance of the “evil clergy”, which in the book is clearly not evil by merely being catholic, but quite explicitely because they deviate from their own rules and faith and fall prey to temptation.

          • My understanding is that the Spanish Inquisition were the good guys in the witch hunts, insisting on serious standards of proof and light sentences for those convicted. Their concern was with Jews and Muslims pretending to be Christians after the expulsion, and they viewed witchcraft hysteria as an undesirable distraction.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            My understanding is that the Spanish Inquisition were the good guys in the witch hunts, insisting on serious standards of proof and light sentences for those convicted. Their concern was with Jews and Muslims pretending to be Christians after the expulsion, and they viewed witchcraft hysteria as an undesirable distraction.

            In fact the Spanish Inquisition was generally considered more lenient than the secular courts, so much so that there were examples of people trying to get their cases transferred to the Inquisition’s tribunals because they thought they’d get a lighter punishment.

          • Nick says:

            @Machine Interface
            I suppose you’re right about The Monk. If you have better examples, let me know.

    • Well... says:

      in spite of being generally made by liberal filmmakers who, if not atheists, are generally not strongly practicing christians, have in fact a tendency to work as christianism apologetics

      One thing to keep in mind about filmmakers is they work under an incredible array and volume of constraints. In the end shortcuts have to be taken somewhere, and when writing horror scripts these are often taken by falling back on symbolism and Schelling points the filmmakers can reasonably expect the audience to understand and use as a launchpad for whatever few novel concepts the filmmaker has come up with.

      Do conservative readers agree with this analysis? Do you think christian horror films actually work as a force to promote christianity?

      No, or at least if they do they’re not doing a great job. Also, in the most famous (and best) demonic possession movie ever, the protagonist who saves the kid in the end (by sacrificing himself) struggles a serious crisis of faith throughout the film. This crisis might even be the reason he elected to sacrifice himself. The main atheist characters (the kid and her mom) survive at the end, while the consistent believer (the older priest) is slain. Not exactly pro-Christian propaganda, at least read on that level.

      Even if my take is totally wrong, it’s still possible for the takeaway from these possession movies to be “Sheesh, Christianity sure has a lot of scary stuff in it. Glad I don’t believe in all that!

      The big problem with reading stuff like this into movies is that movies are art and any art of marketable quality is going to contain some level of ambiguity, so it’s possible to find evidence for whatever you want. Thus all the amusing theories about the true meaning of “Citizen Kane”, “Inside Out”, etc. Movies therefore can be a useful way to illustrate concepts, but I don’t think (in most cases) it’s possible to point to movies as significant sources of social patterns.

  7. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    China isn’t going to want Trump to win in 2020. I’m imagining that the election will be at least partly China vs. Russia.

    Is this reasonable? Are there Democratic nominees which China is likely to prefer?

    • Randy M says:

      You mean likely nominees? ‘Cause one obvious, if unlikely, choice comes to mind.

      • jgr314 says:

        I have no idea who you have in mind. perhaps rot13 it to avoid unnecessary CW? Or use another cipher to make it more of a game…

        • Randy M says:

          Andrew Yang.
          Not to imply I think he’s a secret agent or anything, but Chinese government may feel they would have some cultural ties that would be advantageous.

          • Nick says:

            His parents are Taiwanese, actually.

          • Randy M says:

            Just wikipedia’ed that actually. I was worried he was Japanese and I’d look like a real idiot.
            Would an American born Taiwanese feel more affinity for mainland China than, say, Warren? Would the Chinese leadership think so? I don’t know. It seems to me that on issues other than Taiwan itself he might. How likely is that to come up in the near future?

          • tossrock says:

            My experience with American born Taiwanese people is that they don’t like China more than the average American, and the cultural ties are pretty weak. My experience with Taiwanese immigrants is that they really don’t like being mistaken for Chinese. This might not apply to Yang in particular.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            “Yang” is not a Japanese surname. Japanese has no “ng” sound, and most Japanese surnames are polysyllabic (though I did know a Japanese person whose surname was Ai, which is two mora but would generally be pronounced monosyllabically by Americans and arguably most Japanese).

          • onyomi says:

            Interesting to imagine how average Chinese and Chinese government would react to a Yang victory. My guess is it would be something like a Cuban reaction to a Marco Rubio victory (my limited knowledge of those communities says that the Miami Cubans are virulently opposed to the Castro regime but that might not stop average Cuban in Cuba from feeling a twinge of pride if a Cuban American were to win the US presidency).

            I’m pretty sure the average Chinese would see it as some kind of spiritual win for themselves, regardless. How the CCP felt about it might depend on Yang’s actual views on Taiwan, which I have no idea about. As others have said the average Taiwanese is more anti-CCP than the average American but Yang strikes me as less interventionist or bellicose than the average US presidential candidate.

    • Aftagley says:

      I’m not sure. Put yourself in China’s shoes: yes Trump is an unstable actor and your economy is being undercut by his actions, but from a propaganda point of view, he’s a goldmine. China’s whole argument against a US-style democracy is that the instability it leads to would potentially harm the nation’s overall rise in standards of living. Having Trump to portray as an embodiment of that chaos is really, really useful for them. In interviews with Chinese nationals, you’ll constantly here Trump and uncertainty referenced.

      Furthermore, despite hitting china on their trade practices, Trump has been noticeably silent on their human rights abuses. He’s signaled he doesn’t care about the crackdown in Hong Kong or the repression in the western provinces. This isn’t even going on the knock off gains china can make internationally as US prestige decreases globally. OBOR has stepped up in the bast 3 years largely as a result of US retrenchment. Any democrat would/could score easy points by going against China on these fronts and would be much more capable of rallying the international community against China than Trump has been.

      All-in-all saying that China is unabiguously anti-Trump is simplistic. They don’t like him, they’d prefer to have an ally in Washington, but they can deal with having him here.

      Compare that to his likely challengers: it’s hard to see China ever complying with Warren’s Trade Proposals and Sanders would likely take similar action. That being said, its possible that China would prefer to work with a moderate democrat like Biden or Butiegeg, but only if they aren’t forced to adopt a Warren style approach to trade.

      All in all, I think China likely sees no reason to involve themselves in this election in dramatic support of one candidate or another. If they do, it will be subtle and mostly involve some soft cash around the margins aimed at influencing specific policy goals, not overall candidacies.

      • Ttar says:

        Yeah, I feel like all non-allies would rather see the internal strife caused by Trump continue rather than end.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I was thinking in terms of covert support, not dramatic support.

        • Aftagley says:

          Right, but covert support follows the same logic as overt support: you only give it if there’s an obviously preferable outcome that your support will help achieve.

          I’m arguing that China wouldn’t get a clear benefit out of a non-Trump candidate, so they’ve got no motive to assume the risk of being caught meddling in our politics.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I’m not sure. Put yourself in China’s shoes: yes Trump is an unstable actor and your economy is being undercut by his actions, but from a propaganda point of view, he’s a goldmine. China’s whole argument against a US-style democracy is that the instability it leads to would potentially harm the nation’s overall rise in standards of living.

        But you don’t need a scapegoat if your economy is doing well.

        • Aftagley says:

          Counterpoint: In unequal societies, the benefits of a booming economy are distributed unevenly. Scapegoats are massively helpful to divert public anger in that scenario.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The masses in China don’t have nearly the influence or power as the elites do, so the elites have more incentive to have things go well and the power (allegedly) to implement it.

          • Aftagley says:

            …and the elites maintain their position of privilege over the masses via propaganda and attempts at thought control. Having a dramatic and mostly accurate example of the pitfalls of representative democracy helps them fend of their own people from demanding a similar system.

    • broblawsky says:

      It depends on what happens with the Chinese economy in the next year. If the PRC follows the rest of the developed world into recession in 2020, they may decide that more competent leadership is preferable to continued trade uncertainty. OTOH, slower (but continuous) growth may be a price the PRC is willing to pay in return for the US essentially ceding hegemony in the Pacific to China.

      Note that this ignores the possibility of the PRC and the Trump administration coming to some kind of agreement. I’d evaluate the probability of a real trade deal coming together any time before the election at ~20%. Any kind of compromise is less valuable to Trump than the political value of appearing to fight China on trade; only a complete surrender on the part of the PRC would be better, and the PRC will never surrender.

      • Cliff says:

        I disagree. Trump would love to have an agreement and even if it’s crap he’ll just say it’s a complete victory like with Mexico. He would much rather say he accomplished something others couldn’t by being tough than that he accomplished nothing but hardship for Americans by failing at Chinese negotiations for two years

        • broblawsky says:

          If that was all he wanted, he’d have it already. Xi would be perfectly happy to increase farm purchases and make a few token reforms if it meant making Trump finally shut up and leave them alone to dominate the Pacific and Central Asia. Trump does appear to have some actual demands that Xi is reluctant to grant, although most likely they’re Lighthizer and Navarro’s ideas.

    • China’s 150,000$ in Facebook ads versus Russia’s 200,000$ in Facebook ads, it’s gonna be a massive battle!

    • Paper Rat says:

      Why would Russia want to see Trump re-elected? I’m not aware of any benefits his presidency brought to Russian bigwigs. The only reason that comes to mind is that Trump makes US in general weaker due to his incompetence (or perceived incompetence).

      • Oscar Sebastian says:

        Well, they wanted him elected, so unless he’s outlived his usefulness, there’s no reason for them to stop trying to have him in office.

      • Aftagley says:

        The only reason that comes to mind is that Trump makes US in general weaker due to his incompetence (or perceived incompetence).

        You are dramatically under-estimating how important this is for the current Russian administration.

        • Paper Rat says:

          @Oscar Sebastian

          From what I gathered the reason for supporting Trump in the last elections was that he promised at least some positive dynamic in Russia-US relations as opposed to Hillary, who was straight adversarial. Seeing as Trump didn’t deliver on diplomatic front, I see no reason for Russian establishment to expend resources supporting him, seeing as that might compromise relations with his rival (in case of Trump not getting re-elected). Not saying they will try to stop Trump, just maybe won’t actively help him.

          @Aftagley

          You are dramatically under-estimating how important this is for the current Russian administration.

          I’m a russian, who lives in Russia. I’m not sure how much Trump weakens US, and in what way him being in power is important for our government. Can you be more specific?

          • John Schilling says:

            From what I gathered the reason for supporting Trump in the last elections was that he promised at least some positive dynamic in Russia-US relations as opposed to Hillary, who was straight adversarial.

            The Russians didn’t support Donald Trump; they opposed Hillary Clinton. The Wikileaks dump was pure “Hillary is corrupt in ways that should make Democrats want to not vote for her”. The social media stuff was also more anti-Hillary than pro-Trump(*). And this was happening when the smart money had Trump’s prospect of electoral victory at less than 20%. The probability of Trump winning, believing himself indebted to Vladimir Putin for that victory, and then actually returning that favor, is laughable because this is Donald Trump we are talking about.

            In hindsight, we can say that this election was so close that in the zero-sum game of politics, Putin attacking Hillary gave the win to Trump. But that’s our hindsight, not Putin’s foresight. If we’re trying to guess his motives, guess something that makes sense in 2015 or early 2016, and that’s not going to be “President Donald Trump will do favors for Moscow”.

            Russia’s reason for meddling in the 2016 electoral campaign was almost certainly just to opportunistically weaken POTUS-45 by amplifying the domestic opposition they would face from day one. Actually arranging for POTUS-45 to be the weaker of the two candidates, was a nice bonus along the same path. No eleven-dimensional or even three-dimensional chess required, just “It is in our favor if our adversaries’ leadership is weak and distracted”.

            The same will hold in 2020; the only question is what opportunities Moscow will have to arrange a weakened US leadership for 2021-2024.

            * And there was some anti-Trump stuff too, now mostly forgotten. Also the Steele Dossier, which never would have made it out of Russia without the Kremlin blessing a dump all over Trump. Whoever won, Moscow wanted weakened.

          • cassander says:

            @Oscar Sebastian

            Unless you have a similar list of Clinton associates to compare it to (to which a similar level of effort has been devoted), that list is largely meaningless.

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTM that we’re pretty good at arranging weak, divided leadership for ourselves….

          • Paper Rat says:

            @John Schilling

            The Russians didn’t support Donald Trump; they opposed Hillary Clinton.

            Considering there were only two competitors, the distinction seems meaningless to me.

            The probability of Trump winning, believing himself indebted to Vladimir Putin for that victory, and then actually returning that favor, is laughable because this is Donald Trump we are talking about.

            Sure, I never said that Trump would do some special favors towards Putin, just that Trump’s rhetoric was friendly-ish towards Russia, when Hillary’s wasn’t, so helping her win would seem counterproductive.

            Also the Steele Dossier, which never would have made it out of Russia without the Kremlin blessing…

            This assumes some scary level of competence of Kremlin intelligence. I’m not sure they have such a fine control of the information flow.

            No eleven-dimensional or even three-dimensional chess required, just “It is in our favor if our adversaries’ leadership is weak and distracted”

            I would agree with that, except I’m not quite sure that Russian government actually wants adversarial relations with US, sure our local hawks and military contractors are probably pleased with current state of affairs and all, and they likely get a decent amount of say in our foreign politics, but this situation hurts a lot of more trade-oriented oligarchs, who likely have some serious influence as well. To me it seems that it’s the US military complex (and NATO) who benefit most from having an external enemy to point at, although of course I might just be biased.

          • The Russians didn’t support Donald Trump; they opposed Hillary Clinton.

            Considering there were only two competitors, the distinction seems meaningless to me.

            It isn’t meaningless if the question is whether they would support him against a different opponent–which was the question that this thread developed out of.

          • Paper Rat says:

            @DavidFriedman

            It isn’t meaningless if the question is whether they would support him against a different opponent–which was the question that this thread developed out of.

            I disagree, in a situation with only two competitors you can support one by hindering the other. Calling it a different name tells us nothing about the underlying motive.

          • John Schilling says:

            I disagree, in a situation with only two competitors you can support one by hindering the other.

            Yes, but now we’re talking about a new contest with a different set of competitors. If we’re trying to predict who Putin will favor in 2020 based on his actions in 2016, it does matter whether his 2016 actions were driven by his favor for Trump (who is running in 2020) or his disfavor for Clinton (who is not).

            Bob and Alice run for class president; Malevolent Mike sneakily undermines Bob’s campaign and Alice wins. Next year, Alice is running against Charlie. What will Mike do? If Bob meddled the last time around because he lusted after Alice and wanted to win her favor, he’ll probably try to undermine Charlie as well. If Mike went after Bob because he hates Bob, then meh, Alice/Charlie maybe doesn’t matter so much. Or maybe he also hates Charlie, or maybe he likes and will support Charlie, but “Mike’s helped Alice when he trashed Bob!” tells us little about what Mike will do in the Alice/Charlie race.

          • Paper Rat says:

            @John Schilling

            Yes, but now we’re talking about a new contest with a different set of competitors. If we’re trying to predict who Putin will favor in 2020 based on his actions in 2016, it does matter whether his 2016 actions were driven by his favor for Trump (who is running in 2020) or his disfavor for Clinton (who is not).

            Yeah, but the fact that “Russian involvement during 2016 election hurt Hillary more than Trump” doesn’t tells us if the goal of Putin was to hurt Clinton or aid Trump, cause the action taken satisfy both those goals. Calling it “Trump support” or “Hillary hindering” doesn’t actually give us any new information, so the distinction is meaningless.

            Your Alice/Bob example tells me that there seems to be a communication problem, rather than factual disagreement. Not sure how to solve it.

          • albatross11 says:

            The point is that the Russian operation was intended to weaken whichever person ended up as president, largely by stirring up internal conflict.

      • I can think of some rational reasons: Putin wants to impress voters by making them believe the Russia got Trump elected story even as he publicly denies it. Or he wants the relationship between America and Europe to remain strained.

        But ultimately I don’t think that really explains it. This is my model for most of Gee-Oh-Politics: it’s a jobs program. During the Cold War America was a facing a real threat in the Soviet Union. All that propaganda, all those suitcases worth of money funneled to some third world despot, it might not have been wholly wise, but at least the goal made sense. After the cold war, it stopped making sense. But people like to keep their jobs. So the solutions went looking for more problems, picking more fights. We need an alliance with country X to contain country Y! And why do we need to contain country Y? Look at their attempts to undermine our alliance with country X! It was much the same in Russia. The 200,000 in Facebook ads I mentioned above, that provided employment to a half dozen Russian poli-sci grads. What are they supposed to do, learn to code?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          This is my model for most of Gee-Oh-Politics: it’s a jobs program. During the Cold War America was a facing a real threat in the Soviet Union. All that propaganda, all those suitcases worth of money funneled to some third world despot, it might not have been wholly wise, but at least the goal made sense. After the cold war, it stopped making sense. But people like to keep their jobs. So the solutions went looking for more problems, picking more fights.

          I… think I have to agree. So many of our post-1991 fights look incoherent, half explained by prejudice (“Russia is evil because it’s conservative! Let’s go tell the McCain wing of the other Party to keep hating them for old time’s sake!” “Let’s invade Iraq to impress my dad!”) and half by random noise.
          Can’t just cut those State Department jobs.

          • cassander says:

            I don’t have figures handy, but as I recall the state department did have substantial reductions post-cold war. As did the military. Defense spending as a share of GDP fell almost half, the navy went from 600 ships to 300, the Army 18 divisions to 10, the Air Force went from 700k to 500k airmen.

        • cassander says:

          You’re mistaking idiocy for conspiracy. Most US foreign policy is driven by reaction, not calculation. Various buzzers go off, and the white house responds, almost always with an eye far more on the domestic implications than the international ones. It’s not calculated, it’s not a jobs program, it’s inertia leavened with knee jerk responses. And it’s also the area of policy that is by far the most actively managed and calculated. Everything else is almost pure inertia.

    • Oscar Sebastian says:

      Well, Trump illegally asked them to investigate Biden and Warren for him, so I imagine their viability went way up from the perspective of the Chinese.

      • Aftagley says:

        At this point, what do you think the odds are that he would trade such an investigation for a ceasefire in the trade war?

        • Oscar Sebastian says:

          It is illegal to ask foreign powers to dig up dirt on your political opponents purely for political purposes. Unlike Ukraine, there is no Hunter Biden (let alone a Warren child) employed in China, so even that paper-thin, blatantly obvious excuse doesn’t apply here.

          • I saw a piece recently which described Hunter Biden’s involvement with China. As best I recall, he accompanied his father on an official trip there, shortly after which a firm he was connected to got permission from the Chinese government to do something they wanted to do.

            That’s by memory, but I think correct.

            What was your reason for asserting the opposite?

          • sharper13 says:

            @Oscar Sebastian,

            The Hunter Biden/Joe Biden China episode has been all over the news, but perhaps you just missed it. It may be a sequence of coincidences (or even partially wrong), but this randomly selected article contains most of the allegations:

            Hunter accompanied his father on a 2013 trip to Beijing catching a ride on Air Force 2. Days later a private equity firm called BHR Equity investments raised 1 billion dollars, later raised to 1.5 billion dollars, in funding from the Chinese government. The company’s largest shareholder is…the Bank of China. Guess who sat on the board of that company? Mr. Hunter Biden.

            And get this. while in China, Vice President Joe Biden shook hands with a man named Jonathan Li in his lobby. Hunter Biden got a coffee with Jonathan Li, which his lawyer claims was just a social call. Weird though, because Jonathan li went on to become….the CEO of BHR holdings which won the loan from the Chinese government.

            Even better he [Hunter Biden] bought 10% of the company in October 2017, shortly after his father left the white house.

            This is what Trump was referring to, so that same excuse seems to apply.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Which Democratic candidate(s) would be mostly likely to end the trade war, or at least tone it down?

  8. Lightveil says:

    What defines a good conversation?

    Here, by conversation I mean “small talk/attempting to know someone better/etc”, not for a specific purpose. My usual attempt is to optimize so that the other person is enjoying the conversation, whatever that may imply (listening more, being more expressive, being humorous, etc, etc.).

    The trouble is divining if the person *is* enjoying the conversation. My rough metric for this is if they come back to talk to me again, which is slightly complicated by stuff like if they’re a longterm friend, if they interact daily with me, etc, basically reasons not directly related to “they want ot talk to me.”

    I guess the specific question is are there better metrics to determine if someone enjoyed a conversation?

    P.S. is this a good place to post these kinds of things? I’d like to ask a few more questions about these sort of things in the future, so if open threads aren’t the right place please let me know.

    • Randy M says:

      The easiest way to tell if your partner is enjoying the conversation is to stop talking for a bit. If they either say something on the same topic or ask you a question, they were probably enjoying it, or want to flatter you.

      P.S. is this a good place to post these kinds of things? I’d like to ask a few more questions about these sort of things in the future, so if open threads aren’t the right place please let me know.

      Seems fine

      • Enkidum says:

        The easiest way to tell if your partner is enjoying the conversation is to stop talking for a bit.

        Also one of the most important parts of being a good conversationalist – conversations shouldn’t (usually) be monologues.

      • Lightveil says:

        Interestingly (or unfortunately?) most of the conversations I have with the people I know are in a responder/listener role. In these cases, just active listening and asking questions seems to be sufficient. I’m actually not very sure if they just expect interest, or also expect information?

        In the extremely rare cases that I decide to talk about something totally different than what people want to talk about, it is almost always something that I know the person has had experience in (their own interests, problems that they’ve experienced if it’s a closer friend, etc, etc…), and rarely my interests (mostly because discussing SSC-like content in a high school setting is…not ideal.)

        I guess it just feels like, in the vast majority of cases, just being attentive and asking relevant questions makes me think people think they’ve had an interesting/relevant conversation, and I’m not really sure if information from my side is useful or required.

      • kochihabaya says:

        If they either say something on the same topic or ask you a question, they were probably enjoying it, or want to flatter you.

        Depends on the person though, some people will try to keep the conversation going out of politeness and others will barely respond even if they are enjoying it

    • EchoChaos says:

      is this a good place to post these kinds of things? I’d like to ask a few more questions about these sort of things in the future, so if open threads aren’t the right place please let me know.

      Yes. These are great topics.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      A body language book I read stressed that before doing any interpretation, you need to get a baseline for that person.

      I try to use active listening, and I also try to encourage it. I use (or I engineer) breaks in the conversation, and go “what were we talking about?”. I avoid like hell “taking turns conversations” – they’re the least enjoyable type. You know, the ones where you wait for the other person to stop so you can say something in turn. Much better to find a common topic, or at the very least a neutral or abstract one.

      Pauses in conversations are much underrated. You can let the conversation stall and see where the partner goes – if he asks something about the current or a previous subject, you’re on the right track.

      This painfully reminds me of a previous relationship – one of the earliest signs that it wasn’t working anymore was that she stopped wanting to talk about me. All conversation breaks took the topic went back to her or a neutral one. The reverse is probably a pretty good sign of romantic interest.

    • Urstoff says:

      Are they lightly biting their lip, are they gently brushing your hand, are their pupils dilated, are their nipples erect…wait, what were we talking about?

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Define the good you say? Engaging robot brain. Follow me into the realm of spherical cows. Consider Grice’s Maxims as a starting point:

      Quality: the speaker is saying something that they believe to be true
      Quantity: the speaker contributes enough information about the topic. Not too little, not too much
      Relevance : the speaker is staying on topic, or moving logically or at least appropriately between topics
      Manner: the speaker expresses themselves well enough for the context

      These maxims are usually presented descriptively, as an observation about how people naturally communicate crystallized into rules (which is confusing, none of them are rules). Specifically I was taught that they were rules Listeners assume the person speaking to them to hold to. This is part of the Cooperative principle of conversation. Now if we pretend these are 4 factors of some Platonic ideal of conversation, I think we can play with them and find some informative things.

      First, they’re largely content neutral, which is good, because we want our Platonic Conversationalist to be able to converse about anything. Whether one is discussing themselves, the weather, sports, food, or film, the 4 maxims can be invoked.

      Second, it’s real dry. Fine if we’re considering conversations as information transfers, but so inhuman. Especially in the context of small talk.

      How do these relate to enjoyment of conversation as your question suggests?

      That’s where flouting the maxims comes in. Choosing to defy parts of the 4 factors to create color, delight, or maybe bile. This is where Irony lives, and her daughter Sarcasm, doing creepy incestuous lesboid things with one another while Bragi watches from a corner.

      Some people hunger for quality, they want information to be transmitted about the topic (which could be the speaker)
      Some hunger for quantity, they want beautifully distilled information, Goldilocks porridge.
      Some hunger for relevance, they want strictly delineated information which builds on itself logically and elegantly.
      Some hunger for manner, they want things expressed clearly.

      A person may have different hungers in different contexts. Multiple hungers which modulate each other and guide the rhythm of the interaction. One can see the outline of the Form of Conversation, an ideal interaction where the words are fair and delightsome, the topic stimulating and clear, a vector across which personality and information flow ecstatic and pure. The marriage of true minds. A land love might call home.

      But wait, nobody thinks about these things, and I’ve had conversations so effervescent and riff-y and downright dank that not one of these rules applied except maybe relevance because the person I was speaking to vibed off me so well everything was relevant. And to that I say the cow is growing shapely udders and we must leave the garden of forms.

      But, there’s 4 questions one can now ask in an attempt to bridge the gap and discern another’s enjoyment.

      Do they like the topic under discussion? Do they meet quality with quality? Fact with fact. If not change it or puncture it or take the hint and walk away.

      How are they contributing? Do they meet quantity with quantity. Is there an imbalance in the weight of the conversation. Sometimes the flow of conversation requires more of one party than the other at a given time, most dramatically when retelling a story. Conversational gaps can help find that line. The rhythm of turns might be culturally dependent, but there should probably be turns taken. The speaker will try and give the relevant information, but if you listen actively your own questions will inform just how much information you require. This is a mutual exchange.

      Are they staying on topic or wandering? How do they manage relevance? Some people are annoyed by changes in topic, some people get bored if conversations don’t move with enough haste. You can try going deeper on a topic or changing the topic. With strangers, non sequiturs are riskier. We can’t all be manic pixies.

      And how are they talking? Mind your manner. Don’t parrot your interlocuter’s style but at least try and be on an adjacent level.

      And remember that the maxims aren’t applicable just to spoken language but to body language too! How excitingly dense this all gets!

      My advice is to pepper sapphic incest into the conversation to see if anybody’s listening. I don’t know, people are weird, life is hard, if you think about how to converse too much the brain starts to ferment and it’s hard to talk to anyone.

  9. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    It suddenly occurs to me that hunters need carrier bags almost as much as gatherers do. One man could carry a whole antelope back, but what about larger game? It’s possible that the whole tribe walks to where the mastodon was killed, but it might make sense that it was butchered and taken back in pieces. Anyone know about modern hunter-gatherers and large game?

    Le Guin; The Carrier-Bag Theory of Fiction

    “Human history, or so conventional wisdom goes, is a story of violent, merciless competition. We have come to embrace the idea that a succession of one thing defeating another literally is history, whether that’s between species, political leaders, or conflicting ideologies. In our inherited notion of human history, our caveman — and he is always a man — comes home from a hard day on the plains with a wildebeest or a deer slung over his shoulder. His adoring cavewife and cavekids tuck into the prize around the campfire, as the winner recounts the tale of his courage and heroism. Just as significant as the prize, that hard-won carcass of meat, is the story. “

    • Lambert says:

      Trick is to peel the mastodon, tan the outards and make a bag to carry lumps of the next mastodon, children, water (big one for persistence hunting) etc. Wicker baskets are also nice and low-tech, as are string nets.

      Bring a stick and you can use it as a yoke so your arms don’t get tired.

      If you’ve just killed a wooly mammoth, elephant seal etc, sleds are also an option.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Game comes with leather. Big game hunters maybe dispatched a runner to tell the gatherers and children to come camp by the carcass long enough to tan the hide with piss, etc. Then next big kill, you may not need the hide because you made bags last time.

      • Cliff says:

        If you can create leather with piss, why were there incredibly toxic tanneries all over the place polluting everything and killing everyone for hundreds or thousands of years?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I think the toxic tanneries made superior leather?
          People were working hides in the Paleolithic, but surely people came up with superior leather-working inventions with toxic side effects later.

          • Lambert says:

            Keratin is tough because it’s around 15% cystiene. Cystiene is an amino acid that contains sulphur and readily forms crosslinks with other cystiene units in the protien. Using nasty chemicals to break the disulphide bonds makes it a lot easier to remove hair from the hide before tanning.

            Traditionally, ‘vegetable’ tanning was done using tannins. These were derived (both chemically and etymologically) from tree barks.

            Around 1840, chrome tanning was developed. It uses chromium (III) compounds to bind the collagen protiens in the skin together, forming leather.
            While chromium (III) is not terribly dangerous, chromium (VI) compounds are quite carcinogenic. I suspect that chromium (VI) contamination is/was an issue in the past and the developing world.

            Both veg and chrome tanning is used nowadays.

            Fungicides etc. are also widely used to stop the skin from rotting before it’s tanned. These are another source of pollution.

  10. RalMirrorAd says:

    This was an article written in July of this year, the author isn’t super popular and i don’t remember it being discussed.

    https://mattstoller.substack.com/p/why-private-equity-should-not-exist?utm_source=substack&utm_content=topposts

    It also sites this report by marco Rubio of all people:
    https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2019/5/rubio-releases-report-on-domestic-investment

    I don’t see myself as necessarily enamored with the free market, whatever that means, but I’m inherently skeptical of people describing schemes or something as a scheme where i can’t understand how or why it would succeed. So for example i can understand how Ponzi Schemes would work both at a financial and psychological level. I can also understand something like pump and dump.

    “PE” was by my understanding simply when a group of people buy out a company they think is mismanaged. I can conceive of said group of people being rich and ignorant and causing the company they buy to go out of business, but (and this is the reason for my post) can someone explain how PE can or could amount to a company being bought, looted, and bankrupted, and this somehow benefiting the people that own the stock of the company?

    • Murphy says:

      I think the principle is that of taking advantage of limited liability. Owning a company with a net value of negative 1 billion dollars isn’t very different to owning a company with a net value of negative 10 dollars.

      You start with a company with low net value (priced as such) with significant assets but also significant long term liabilities.

      (But that’s still a going concern.)

      So on paper the company may have a billion in assets but it also owes close to a billion to creditors like employees owed some kind of long term benefit, ideally poorly secured with the debts belonging to the type of creditors with little power/clout to audit the company. ie employees.

      You, along with a group buy the company and quietly strip out the assets, sell the buildings etc to other firms owned by the group of equity firms for a price chosen to be sorta-market rate… but decidedly at the lower end of “market rate” and then have your other firms rent the property back to the firm being stripped nominally at market rate but at the upper end of “market rate”.

      Report it as an attempt to “free up equity” for the company to do something.

      Money and real assets trickle out. Eventually the company ends up with vastly more debt than assets but with a slow-ish decline without creditors having any clear claims on any of the assets transferred to other companies .

      They file for bankruptcy the creditors, aka employees have to go cap in hand and take pennies on the dollar for the debts owed to them.

      Meanwhile the real assets end up elsewhere.

      It’s basically a scam targeting the firms creditors for the benefit of the firms shareholders and their other holdings. ideally done well enough it can be hard to prove that it’s not just mismanagement.

      After all, in companies that aren’t doing this it’s sometimes logical for owners to shift assets to different subsidiaries for management or tax reasons.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I think the principle is that of taking advantage of limited liability. Owning a company with a net value of negative 1 billion dollars isn’t very different to owning a company with a net value of negative 10 dollars.

        Acquiring a company with a net value of 1 billion is a lot different from one of negative 10 dollars.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I think his point is that you acquire a company with a net value of 10 dollars and drive its net value down to negative 1 billion dollars by legally moving the billion dollars worth of assets away and keeping the billion dollars of debt.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You can’t really do that either.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @baconbits9

            I genuinely don’t know. I’m not a PE guy or a lawyer.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Lets put it this way, if a company was value at assets minus liabilities, and it could split the two every shareholder meeting would end with selling off all the assets and paying all that cash out as a dividend as that would increase the value to the shareholders by roughly the amount of debt held.

          • DinoNerd says:

            It looks to me as if “activist investors” routinely do exactly what baconbits says doesn’t happen, but with a bit more sophistication.

            One trick is not to invest in the future – stop developing anything new, and use what you would have invested to buy back shares, raising the stock price. Sell your shares while they are high, before the lack of new profits kills the company’s revenue.

            The classic method is to load the company up with debt, that’s only (barely) sustainable as long as interest rates remain low – and gets a lower rate today by having that rate be adjustable. Sell your shares before rates change – after once again using the money to raise share prices. (Alternatively, try Murphy’s suggestions for extracting the money, but I believe that’s got a lot more potential to get you in legal trouble.)

          • Chalid says:

            There are lots of ways that a company can increase the value of its equity at the expense of its creditors, though not so blatant as a direct transfer of assets.

            In general, creditors’ upside is limited; it makes no difference to them if the company barely survives or if it does great, since they get paid first. For equity holders it’s the opposite – they have unlimited upside but their downside is capped at zero. It makes little difference to the equity holders if the company goes bust at -$1B or -$10B, but it makes a tremendous difference to the bondholders.

            So anything which increases the *volatility* of future outcomes hurts bondholders and helps equity holders. Even negative expected-value changes to the business can help the value of the equity.

            This effect is especially significant for the case where the business isn’t doing well. If my company is on the edge of bankruptcy, spending a ton of money on a risky and expensive investment makes sense for the equity holders – if it succeeds they get to reap the benefits, and if it fails, it just means the creditors don’t recover as much as they would have. And the equity holders of course are the ones who control the company and make decisions.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The classic method is to load the company up with debt, that’s only (barely) sustainable as long as interest rates remain low – and gets a lower rate today by having that rate be adjustable. Sell your shares before rates change – after once again using the money to raise share prices. (Alternatively, try Murphy’s suggestions for extracting the money, but I believe that’s got a lot more potential to get you in legal trouble.)

            So who is lending this money? If the loans are barely sustainable why in the world are people buying these companies bonds? When have interest rates risen? They have been decreasing for nearly 40 years now.

            These types of debt fueled stock buybacks are more or less an arbitrage on central bank policy, as long as CBs keep pushing rates lower ever cycle then bonds at the current rates will increase in value, and equity prices will likely be higher.

          • baconbits9 says:

            In general, creditors’ upside is limited; it makes no difference to them if the company barely survives or if it does great, since they get paid first.

            This is not true for several reasons. First bondholders care about the value of their bonds for the whole life of the bond, not just for the last moment when it pays out. A company that is on the edge will see its bonds fall in value, and a company that is doing well can see them rise quite a bit.

            Secondly not all debt is equal, debt holders who are first in line care a lot about one margin, and those that are last in line have an entirely different margin.

            If my company is on the edge of bankruptcy, spending a ton of money on a risky and expensive investment makes sense for the equity holders

            Your company cant spend a bunch of money it doesn’t have, if you are on track for bankruptcy you have to borrow to put such a plan in action and those lenders should care what they are lending for. The situations where this can happen are very rare, and when they do happen they can be prevented by bondholders with a takeover (this is one reason why private equity is so important, it allows takeovers to protect bondholder’s interests in such situations, and a fair number of bids in such cases come from bondholders).

          • rlms says:

            Lets put it this way, if a company was value at assets minus liabilities, and it could split the two every shareholder meeting would end with selling off all the assets and paying all that cash out as a dividend as that would increase the value to the shareholders by roughly the amount of debt held.

            But typically shareholders believe that they will make a better return from their company using its assets than from selling its assets and investing the proceeds elsewhere; in a sense the entire point of being a shareholder (from their perspective) is getting a share of some sweet assets-being-used-productively action.

            However, in situations where this isn’t the case there’s no general principle that prevents shareholders selling assets. In general this is a good thing! It’s not at all implausible that a company might be not be the optimal owner of its assets! Sometimes the benefits are less clear, at least for people with insufficient faith in the Market who sentimentally disapprove of forcefully turning a family-owned bakery/community hub into a strip joint even though it’s evidently the Optimal and Maximally Efficient thing. Sometimes it seems unlikely that there will be a benefit to anyone other than the party doing the takeover, for instance if they’ve bet a lot of money on the company they’re buying going bankrupt. And sometimes it’s obviously evil, for instance when the the “mismanagement” by the previous owners consisted of deciding to pay their employees pensions even though they could just not do that since their employees probably wouldn’t be able to sue them successfully.

          • John Schilling says:

            However, in situations where this isn’t the case there’s no general principle that prevents shareholders selling assets. In general this is a good thing! It’s not at all implausible that a company might be not be the optimal owner of its assets!

            The case for, by Danny DeVito.

          • Chalid says:

            This is not true for several reasons. First bondholders care about the value of their bonds for the whole life of the bond, not just for the last moment when it pays out. A company that is on the edge will see its bonds fall in value, and a company that is doing well can see them rise quite a bit.

            Irrelevant, we’re talking about the decision-making and incentives of the equity-holders at a particular point in time.

            Secondly not all debt is equal, debt holders who are first in line care a lot about one margin, and those that are last in line have an entirely different margin

            All true but completely irrelevant to the equity-holders.

            Your company cant spend a bunch of money it doesn’t have, if you are on track for bankruptcy you have to borrow to put such a plan in action

            No it doesn’t, say the company has $250M in cash and $500M in debt coming due at the end of the year. The company can spend that $250M in cash.

            This idea that volatility is good for the equity holders and bad for bond holders is literally a finance 101 concept. In finance language, equity holders have a call option on the firm’s assets and options’ value increases with volatility. Bond holders are short a put and therefore volatility is bad for them.

          • baconbits9 says:

            But typically shareholders believe that they will make a better return from their company using its assets than from selling its assets and investing the proceeds elsewhere

            This doesn’t hold up. If you expect to make more by holding onto the assets why wouldn’t a potential buyer then be willing to pay that amount for said assets (at least discounted in the same way the equity holder would be discounting etc), and since that owner wouldn’t be also taking on the debt there could be a net benefit to both the buyer and seller to the tune of the amount of debt held by the seller.

            However, in situations where this isn’t the case there’s no general principle that prevents shareholders selling assets.

            That depends on the structure of the company and the debt etc, bondholders can have protections in these cases (ie convertible bonds).

          • baconbits9 says:

            Irrelevant, we’re talking about the decision-making and incentives of the equity-holders at a particular point in time.

            You made the incorrect statement that bondholders don’t care if a company makes $1 a year in profit or $1 million, this isn’t true and your chain of incentives on both sides is incorrect because you are using a wildly oversimplified model for how asset prices work.

            No it doesn’t, say the company has $250M in cash and $500M in debt coming due at the end of the year. The company can spend that $250M in cash.

            Sure you can invent scenarios where it might work, but in such a situation the bondholders have a large incentive to buy out the shareholders. The academic bright line between share and bondholders is blurry in reality, many shareholders are also bondholders, and many bondholders have options like convertibility.

            This idea that volatility is good for the equity holders and bad for bond holders is literally a finance 101 concept

            Yes, and its a great reply for getting credit on your finance 101 test, or for using as a basis for understanding how companies actually get structured, but it is not so great for understanding what actually happens to companies that were structured by bond and equity holders who understood this concept going in.

          • Chalid says:

            You made the incorrect statement that bondholders don’t care if a company makes $1 a year in profit or $1 million,

            I not make this statement. I said “it makes no difference to them” in the context of discussing their cash flows, which is correct.

            I’ve worked professionally in both equities and in fixed income, I do understand that this is a simplification, but simplified models are how you illustrate the important dynamics.

            The academic bright line between share and bondholders is blurry in reality, many shareholders are also bondholders, and many bondholders have options like convertibility.

            I don’t think this is significant. The company employees are mainly paid in stock and stock options and not bonds. On the institutional side, most stocks are owned by pure equity funds and most bonds are owned by pure bond funds; there might be cross-ownership at a higher level (e.g. Fidelity has both stock and bond funds) but the bond people in Fidelity don’t talk to the stock people. Yes you get the rare hedge funds that own multiple parts of the capital structure but this is not the typical case. And of course individual investors are irrelevant here.

            Convertible bonds are a small fraction of the market.

            I invite you to make the case that the stuff you’re talking about is actually significant.

            not so great for understanding what actually happens to companies that were structured by bond and equity holders who understood this concept going in.

            So yes, everyone understands that what I’m talking about is an important effect. That doesn’t mean people don’t try to screw each other using it.

            In particular, the interest rate a company is being charged reflects bondholder expectations about how the company is going to be run, which in turn reflect the bondholders’ understanding of the company’s management (based on the managers’ history, their claims both formal and informal about how they will run the company, their particular style and expertise, etc). If a new owner comes in and replaces the management, he can run the firm differently than the bondholders expected in a way that hurts them.

          • baconbits9 says:

            @ Chalid

            You didn’t mention cash flows, you said

            In general, creditors’ upside is limited; it makes no difference to them if the company barely survives or if it does great,

            Restricting it to ex post cash flows, yes you can make that statement, but that statement misses large chunks of how the bond market operates. The statement that bond holders no longer care about the company after their last payment is received is true, but uninformative for this discussion. Bondholder behavior will be based on all of their incentives, not on a portion of their incentives in isolation.

            That doesn’t mean people don’t try to screw each other using it.

            People sometimes try to screw each other, but in most cases it is prevented through a variety of mechanisms.

          • Chalid says:

            seriously, you leave out the part of the quote about them getting paid?

            More importantly, though, all of this is irrelevant. You can have a complicated capital structure and dozens of bond maturities and what have you and it will still be the case that an increase in the company’s asset value volatility will hurt all of the bonds and help the equity. Yes it will hurt different bonds differently based on their maturity and seniority and other terms but it will definitely hurt them all.

            It’s not enough to assert that complexity exists, you have to make a case for it mattering to the question at hand. And you are conspicuously not doing that.

            I’m done with this discussion.

          • SamChevre says:

            I think the discussion of bondholders is missing the point.

            In general, bondholders are fairly sophisticated, and bond covenants are clear and enforceable. But the PE model is claimed to be bad for creditors, not bondholders–and a lot of creditors and quasi-creditors are not sophisticated, and don’t have clear covenants that are easy to enforce.

            Someone once defined PE as focusing on “monetizing implicit contracts.” When it is problematic, that’s the problem. A high discount rate pushes toward valuing short-term payoffs relative to long-term, and so PE tends to make business more profitable for owners/managers now, but less stable for employees and surrounding communities long-term.

      • jgr314 says:

        Apologies, I don’t have time for a full reply or to even read the entirety of the article. I’m just going to address some considerations around “asset stripping.”

        First, a key provision against removing assets and then declaring bankruptcy is “fraudulent conveyance.” The obvious strategy of owning a company and then giving yourself the assets is prohibited. The bankruptcy court has the power to reverse the transfer of the assets. More complicated schemes to effect the same outcome are also subject to getting reversed. This becomes contentious when there is a sale to a third party: (a) is it really a third-party/arms length transaction and (b) was fair value obtained for the asset.

        Second, creditors generally have covenants in their lending agreements that prevent the dissolution of company assets.

        Third, the easiest way for creditors to avoid losing money is to not lend. Standard underwriting is to check the value of the assets, the business plan and prospects of the company, the health and prospects of the sector, the experience, incentives, and intentions of the owners and managers.

        Fourth, the real upside in equity investing is usually selling a business for a multiple (> 1x) of earnings. In general, the value of the hard assets of a company is not worth nearly as much as the business as a (successful) going concern. Just to give a concrete example (with #s that might not be quite right, this isn’t my field/disclaimer/disclaimer), Amazon at Dec 2018 had book assets of 163bn and liabilities of 119bn. That means book equity of 44bn (if someone shut down the business and could realize the book value of the assets and pay off the liabilities). If someone were able to steal all the assets and default on all the liabilities, they would keep 163bn, a lot more. However, the market value was around 740bn, so that was 4.5x more.

        Of course, the world is a big and complicated place, there are lots of companies and lots of PE firms, lots of lenders, etc, etc. There are certainly people who try to cheat, gray areas in the rules, and probably some sneaky things that shouldn’t be allowed. Mistakes are certainly common and bad acts also exist. However, given the incentives, the thoughtfulness of people involved, the accumulated history and knowledge of moves/counter moves, it seems unlikely to me that this is a systemic problem in the economy or cause of “good companies” getting destroyed.

    • Ketil says:

      “PE” was by my understanding simply when a group of people buy out a company they think is mismanaged.

      Didn’t read the whole thing, but I think the article agrees. It seems to boil down to PE buying something cheap and by hook or by crook, selling it at a much higher price. To which I will reply that:

      – illegal practices should be curbed by the system of justice
      – harmful practices should be curbed by law
      – if a company is priced lower than its inherent value, then yeah: somebody will buy it and realize the value

      Maybe it’s good for the workers in the short run if Toys’R’Us¹ continue to operate while bleeding cash, but it’s bad for the economy as a whole, and it’s only postponing the inevitable. And if you disagree, you are free to buy it – in fact, why didn’t you do so already, if you assert it assets are so much more valuable than its price tag?

      This boils down to the usual whining that somebody else’s money should be used to scratch my particular itch.

      ¹ Used as an example in the article, I have no knowledge or opinion on that particular case.

      • baconbits9 says:

        It seems to boil down to PE buying something cheap and by hook or by crook,

        Toys R Us was sold at an 8% premium to the stock price (which went up after news of a potential sale) and for ~20% more than for the first offer made. PE firms typically buy above market price, not below, the whole ‘buying cheap’ part comes from buying struggling companies not from actually buying things ‘cheaply’ how most people mean it.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Was surprised to find myself agreeing with the article.

      . The goal in PE isn’t to create or to make a company more efficient, it is to find legal loopholes that allow the organizers of the fund to maximize their return and shift the risk to someone else, as quickly as possible.

      I’ve only had time to read the article diagonally, unfortunately, but I think I understand the main issue. Let’s take a fictional example: we make a company together in which I own 51% and you own 49%. I have a controlling majority and am free to use it to manage the company. Question is: how is profit going to be split between us next year?

      1. In repeated prisoner dilemma, it’s going to be 51-49. Because that’s how the ownership is, and we’ll just pay ourselves dividends. Everybody’s happy and we keep doing business.

      2. In non-iterated prisoner dilemma, I just pay myself consulting fees and you get nothing. The split is 100-0. If this seems too brazenly illegal to you, I just add a couple of layers. Point is, with a controlling majority I also control where the money goes, which means I can also (legally) split the profit however I want.

      The article is saying that most of our system works as iterated prisoner dilemma, but there are out there investment funds that work by exploiting the loopholes with hit and run tactics. Which I have to admit is probably very possible.

      I wouldn’t mind a libertarian with better economic knowledge than myself give 2 cents on that. @David Friedman ?

      • baconbits9 says:

        No, a 51% owner of a company cannot do anything they want and direct money anywhere they want.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Main gist is short vs long term relationships. I’m pretty sure the 51-49 scenario is actually possible with enough sophistication, but for another example:

          Company X is supplying a number of clients. Over the years, they became part of its supplying chain. Investment fund comes, buys company X, and renegotiates all contracts with the harshest possible terms, burning all bridges behind. In theory, clients should have backup plans and clauses against price gauging. In practice, a handshake and knowing your supplier for a long time is more likely.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You are positing asymmetrical power here. Investment funds tend to pay a premium for companies when they buy them, why do they suddenly have all kinds of leverage over the other companies in the supply chain? Realistically this only happens when the expected short term value of the company exceeds the expected long term value of the company (discounted etc) which typically happens when a company is already in fairly steep decline.

    • baconbits9 says:

      There are multiple accounts of the Toys R Us sale available, most of which contradict the impression that the article gives.

      First is the health of Toys R Us at the time, it wasn’t particularly good. The company had been restructuring for years

      That started to change in the late 1990s and accelerated with the 2005 buyout. “They cut payroll costs, cut out different positions. I saw a lot of my peers lose their jobs,” Beard said.

      McGee said that the company started eliminating non-manager full-time staff even before the buyout. Toys R Us, in his view, started following the lead of retailers like Circuit City, which fired thousands of employees over the years leading up to that retailer’s collapse, trading out well-paid sales staff for part-time newcomers.

      In the spring of 2004, McGee was at a manager training meeting at the company’s New Jersey headquarters when he received a corporate email outlining a plan to move toward 70% part-time staffing, with most of those staff earning minimum wage.

      and the toy stores weren’t very profitable, almost all the profit was coming from their Babies R Us segment (from 2005)

      In fact, Babies “R” Us accounts for three-quarters of the company’s operating income, despite logging just 15 percent of the company’s total sales in the previous fiscal year.

      and

      The prospects for toy retailing are gloomy. Pummeled by competition from Wal-Mart, the few toy stores left have been struggling. In 1993, Wal-Mart had only 11 percent of the nation’s toy business, while Toys “R” Us had 21 percent, according to Sean McGowan, a retail analyst who covers toys for Harris Nesbitt. Last year, Wal-Mart’s share was 25 percent, and Toys “R” Us had shrunk to 17 percent.

      Thirdly it does not appear that the company was loaded up with debt, but that it was purchased with debt (ie borrowed money). A different PE firm apparently put in a bid that was higher than the stock valuation of the company, and the board then reached out to see if it could get an even better deal for its shareholders.

      Fourthly the article doesn’t even establish that Bain made money on the acquisition, it says Toys R Us made payments totaling 500 million to Bain, but that number is well below the purchase price, and below the sale price minus the debt portion of the sale.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      A lot of people assume Amazon or Walmart killed Toys “R” Us, but it was selling massive numbers of toys until the very end (and toy suppliers are going to suffer as the market concentrates). What destroyed the company were financiers, and public policies that allowed the divorcing of ownership from responsibility.

      It really doesn’t take a lot of Googling to see that Toys R Us revenue declined by billions of dollars over the last decade. Store count wasn’t decreasing, so unless you severely cut your expenses, you aren’t going to make profit on your revenue (BTW, revenue and profit are two different things).

      It’s really frustrating that people don’t understand small changes in % can really throw off numbers. Today, I spent all day in Excel, trying to figure out why our volume was 2% off. People were curious why. Well, our savings target is typically 3% of our budget. So a 2% difference is basically the entire difference between “we’re good on our savings goal” and “everyone gets summarily fired.”

      PE and LBO aren’t necessarily the same thing. PE and activist investors are good at unlocking value previously undiscovered. For example, our factory is tremendously more expensive than our sister factories. That’s because our sister factories were bought out by a PE some time ago, and the PE cut stuff to the bone, whereas we have a ton of fat. They eliminated a lot of salaried positions that aren’t all that important, they hire a ton of temps in positions that can be done by unskilled labor, they source a lot of their production from Mexico where it makes sense, and they invest capital in areas where it actually is cost-effective. They also have substantially fewer fringe benefits and market-rate wages, rather than paying $45 an hour to people who cannot speak English and barely graduated high school.

      (though thank god we don’t have to deal with unions)

      LBOs are an entirely different story, but these aren’t necessarily bad, particularly for companies that do not carry a lot of debt.

  11. GhostUser says:

    i mentioned last time how i was getting so tired of politics and culture war and maybe i came across in a certain way or whatever, so i just wanted to explain better, its always getting worse and its just so exhausting when the first thing i see when i wakeup is this on my facebook feed: “First off THERE WAS NO FUCKING HOLOHOAX. 271314 SO CALLED PRISONERS DIED FROM DISEASES. THERE WERE NO FUCKING GAS CHAMBERS AND THERE WAS NO FUCKING HOLOHOAX.”

    and its not like it was just one crazy person, a few argued back but everyone just ignored them and most of the replys agrees with it:
    “Holohoax, political bullshit.”
    “Holohoax!..sheep!”
    “The holobunga”
    “LOL. Hoax”
    “he was after fake jews..but was actually puppets by.fake jews and ended up killing 200 , 000 orthodox jews. But not by gassing! Typhoid. Cyanide [ zyclon – B ]as used to ‘delouse’ clothing in little rooms. Lice spread disease and that’s how they died . they cremated the dead..teah sone were cruek..but any war their is cruelty..siciopaths need ‘ployment , too!”
    “yesterday jim carry hero today crying about holohoax 😀 You are sheeple!”
    “Where is the proof that millions died other than from Jewish historians.
    Did you know that you can not even question that’s facts weather they are right or wrong”

    but i dont want ppl to think im just singling out and attacking the right bc i think its important to keep in touch with public opinion and know what both sides are thinking so i follow both conservatives and leftists and i see the same kind of shit coming from the other side, like heres something else that came up on facebook a few days ago:
    “I uphold Stalin.
    I support China, The Dprk, Laos, Cuba, and other socialist states.
    I don’t support anarchists, leftcoms or ultras of any kind.
    I believe in establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat and a strong socialist state to defend the gains made by revolution.”

    or these comments in reply to a post about how centrist liberals should be sent to gulag (there was a leftbook meme showing the screaming sjw girl from the Triggered meme in the prison camp and had pepe the frog with stalin mustache and military cap in front)
    “gulags were small villages in siberia that had a military presence and political education programs”
    “God, we need those gulags. Hell, I hate myself and this civilization so much, I’d willingly surrender myself to the revolutionary proletariat to be incinerated in one.”
    “liberals are more or less right of center, left wing only in social regards and only when it benefits them and/or profits they may make
    and absolutely in favor of systems like monarchism so long as they’re allowed to get fucked up in opium dens with any sex partner they want and can feel good about themselves
    the left have no problems punishing the liberals as well especially for enabling the reactionaries and far right wing
    especially since the liberals literally do not do anything or contribute anything unless directly affected
    when it comes to pushing for any sort of human rights”

    or picture of tenament square with protester standing in front of tank captioned “what if we kissed during the event where nothing happened”

    or sometimes i cant even tell if the political stuff is left or right or both or neither, like all the people i know in 4chan boards and discord chat rooms talking about how the incel beta uprising will happen now that the JOKER movie is out and all theyll gun down all the chads and stacys and normies

    and i just feel so burnt out and so tired of it all, and its not even just politics, its everything, its the reason the right and the left and the others all become this way, something is just deeply wrong with society and with human nature and with EVERYTHING, and i dont know whats at the root of the problem or what the solution is, i just know that the right and left are both wrong and horribly missing the point, its not because we lack traditional values or because workers are exploited by capitalists or any of that shit, those are the symptoms and not the cause

    and i cant see the whole picture and im driving myself crazy straining my mind to comprehend the enormity of it… sometimes if i squint i can see the outline of it in the shadows… its hard to describe but i think Samzdat comes the closest to Getting It, and Bailoc and LastPsychiatrist/HotelConcierge highlight some aspects of it, SlateStarCodex himself touches on it a few times with his essays on Moloch and the toxoplasmosis of rage or more recently the article about how humans didnt evolve to be rational

    i think im slowly going insane, having trouble believing the news or believing anything I hear is real and dont mean that as hyperbole, just feel so burned out, it all feels like a fiction, like a sloppy, incoherent, badly told story… scary thing is, i get how people end up becoming flat earthers or whatever, theres just so much information, no one knows who to trust or what to believe, it all just feels so unreal… what happens when everyone has unlimited information at their disposal? used to think people would become smarter and developed better critical thinking skills to sort fact from fiction, but that doesnt seem to be how most people are inclined, they just unravel… its becoming increasingly hard for any one person to verify much of anything on their own anymore… people literally don’t have the time or energy or mental capacity to learn about every issue in detail, and in a society this interconnected, every issue affects every other issue, i always keep putting off research projects because i feel like they’d be incomplete without more information, studying any one thing requires studying everything, its just an endless rabbit hole

    if there’s one thing our society really emphasizes, its the removal of limitations, and without limitations, everything just kind of blurs together into an undifferentiated mess… people can’t handle freedom, or information, or even convenience, like the escalator dilemma in that medium piece about optimizing ourselves to death, so instead…? i dont know, i dont know the answer or the question or the problem or the solution, cant solve for X here when the whole equation is undefined

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I don’t know whether this will help, but you are allowed to choose your inputs. You are allowed to be on your own side.

      My impression is that you haven’t been in the habit of being on your own side, and that can be a hard habit to change, but it’s worth taking trouble over.

      You don’t have to be on Facebook or any of the chans. However, I’m on facebook and my feed includes people on the right and the left, and none of them are as awful as the sample you’ve shared. It’s possible to go a good bit milder than my feed. too.

      I’m not denying that there are people who write the kind of things you just shared, but I don’t know whether there are enough of them to be important. Or at least not very important– some of them do try to spread misery out into the normal world.

      Part of what’s going on is what I call the rise of troll culture. These are people who are optimizing for upsetting normal people. You’re free to not voluntarily give them headspace.

      You’ve probably got a point about it being hazardous to just remove restrictions– anything, whether it’s more restrictions or fewer restrictions, has to be in service to people’s lives.

      • GhostUser says:

        i feel like id be deserting my post if i did that, it would be abandoning the responsibility tasked to me… i want and need to understand Humanity and you cant do that by ignoring the parts you dont like, the chan trolls and the holocaust deniers and the stalinists are part of Mankind too, they say aloud what the rest of us are really feeling deep down… its only when all restrictions have been lifted that our true nature is fully revealed, when we arent held back by standards of politeness and decency, thats why characters like the joker have such an appeal and why hes so popular among the 4chan crowd

        if i just ignore the right wingers, then im no better than the left wingers in their echo chambers and vice versa, and if i ignore them both then im just completely out of the loop and stumbling in the dark… how can i afford to ignore these people when they vote and run for office and influence global politics?

        plus i feel like it would go against rationality to ignore any theory no matter how ridiculous it sounds, even holocaust denial and anti vaxxers and flat earth… i read about how changes in culture are caused by the 11 year solar cycle because sunspot flares and cosmic rays have influence behavior, and it seems like nonsense but if youre truly objective then its just as valid as anything else… empiricism is useless because everything is too complicated to be understood through direct observation, and you cant rely on expert opinions because all the experts are biased or corrupt or lying or just plain wrong, and the fringe crackpots who say they have the real answers are lying or wrong too, so where does that leave you? nowhere, falling through an endless void of random and incomprehensible chaos with no clear meaning or purpose, with only the consolation that no understanding is better than a false understanding… except not really, because placebos and divination and witch doctor potions really work, they just work by making people believing false things and you cant make yourself believe something you know to be false

        i cant even work on research papers anymore because its impossible to gain a complete understanding of anything because its all connected, you cant fully know one subject unless you have an understanding of all the others, you cant understand the totality of economics without also understanding psychology and politics and statistics and philosophy and biology and physics, so its pointless to try to study or research or learn anything because you can never have a complete picture and Truth will forever remain out of your grasp

        • phi says:

          It seems like you are exaggerating the incomprehensibility of the world for dramatic effect. The world really isn’t all that incomprehensible. Pick up a rock. Drop it. It will fall. Repeat the process as many times as you like, and the result will always be the same. Some things are more complicated, but you would be surprised at how often you can think your way through the complications. Doubting everything is all very well and good, but even if our entire reality is an illusion, you might as well just sit back and enjoy that illusion while it lasts. And it certainly seems like this is an illusion where rocks fall to the ground when dropped, and do not hover in the air or accelerate upwards into the sky.

        • Enkidum says:

          plus i feel like it would go against rationality to ignore any theory no matter how ridiculous it sounds

          NONONONONONONONONO

          Absolutely not.

          It can be worth it as an intellectual exercise to engage with some particular insane theory. Do a deep dive on the existing literature against it (and there is always a lot, if it’s a popular theory), educate yourself on the relevant science/history/whatever, this is super healthy and useful for you. But there’s no point in making this your day job. There’s real stuff out there to learn.

          Never pretend that all ideas are equal, or all people are equally worthy of being taken seriously. Dumb, as well as actively malicious, people are very real, and what they say is not worth the same as what smart, or at least sincerely kind, people say. Feed your brain with healthy food.

          EDIT: I’m pretty sure you’re relatively young, right? So, one thing you already know, given some of the commitments to rationality etc you’ve already presented, is that you don’t know everything that is important to know. And you never will, because there’s an infinite amount of knowledge out there and you are a very finite creature, and probably in less than 80 years you’re going to be worm food. If you are committed to learning what you need/should know, then every minute you spend dealing with someone saying THE JEWS DID IT or whatever is a minute you aren’t spending learning quantum theory or reinforcement learning algorithms or how the Chinese invaded Vietnam in order to force them to withdraw from Cambodia in 1979. Or even just masturbating, because at least that’s pleasurable. This IS a zero-sum game. Please, play on the winning side, where “winning” means becoming a healthier and better-educated person.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          i feel like id be deserting my post if i did that

          You’re allowed to take a break for mental health. I’ve said the same on your last post: cutting my social media was the best decision I made this year. And a funny thing is that when you come back after a couple of month… it just doesn’t have the same hold on you.

          I decided I’m ok with Facebook in the weekends. So last weekend I go online and half an hour later I’m in a foul mood. And I’m like… “why?”.

          That’s not the real world. That’s just shadows on the wall and echo chambers. “Winning” there won’t change much, for the simple reason people are already moving away. It used to be “hip” not to own a TV, some 20 years ago, because TV was the common denominator, opiate of the masses, “idiot box” etc. Guess what’s the next candidate for that.

          More people are on SM (Facebook, instagram, chans, reddit), closer to a common denominator it becomes. That’s a story as old as the Internet itself. Usenet, slashdot, digg, 4chan, reddit, facebook…
          I remember the reaction of Hacker News whenever it made the news somehow and got an influx of new visitors was to have a couple of days of Erlang stories, just to make sure the normies didn’t stay on.

          If you allow me to get philosophical a bit, we’re living a time of change. During our lifetimes we’ll go through more societal changes than the world usually sees in a millennium. Most are good, but some of them are bound to be honey traps, because that’s how life and people are. So I think it’s important long term to be always critical of life habits and always judge them through other lens than just their dopamine hit. And we should be more ready to move on than our instincts tell us to.

          “Feed your brain with healthy food.” – very well said.

        • Viliam says:

          The people in your Facebook feed, are they someone you met in real life? Because if no, I’d say there is no harm in dropping such “friendships”. You are building your bubble, except it’s a bubble of negativity. Some of them may not even be real people. There is a fraction of humanity that is irreparable; about 1% people are born psychopaths, and many more are simply dumb as fuck. No need to surround yourself with them, even virtually. And if you cast your net too wide, these people can generate more content than you could read during 24 hours a day. Sometimes even one stupid person is enough to take away like 20% of your life energy. Leaving them is not a loss, it’s a victory.

          By the way, guessing by your writing, you seem to suffer from something… depression, I guess? Not sure which came first — the exceptionally insane social network bubble, or your obsession with them — but it’s a cycle you need to break somehow. Preferably by leaving social networks (let’s say only for 3 months, as an experiment), and some kind of therapy at the same time.

          Your time is limited. You can’t fix everyone. Rationality is not “all or nothing”; you can improve incrementally, but spending time on social networks is the opposite of improving.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Villiam, I don’t think GhostUser’s drive is to fix everyone, it’s to understand everyone. Equally impossible, but different things.

        • Secretly French says:

          Hey GhostUser I think you’re going to end up having a nervous breakdown if you don’t chill; I personally recommend permanently deleting your Facebook account (it worked for me, whereas not deleting, and merely promising to step away for a while, did not work), and Instagram and Twitter too if you do that.

          it would be abandoning the responsibility tasked to me…

          Tasked to you by yourself, I expect? You are cruel. By the way you talk I infer that you value the truth: I seriously hope you don’t get lost in the wilderness of the historical truth of WWII when you engage in these discussions with holocaust deniers; their primary motivation certainly isn’t historical accuracy. Their objection to the holocaust story is a political one, not a historical one. That’s not to say that they aren’t incensed by matters of putative fact (wooden doors, which open inward no less, cremation ovens, elevators, chimney attached to nothing, electrified floors, pedal powered brain bashing machines, literal rollercoasters, the plaque, soap lampshades and shrunken heads, to name the first that come to mind) but if you want truth, get the FUCK away from Facebook of all places man, what are you thinking?? Holocaust deniers are revolting against ideology first and foremost.

          I’d be happy to talk to you (or anyone) more about holocaust denial, as well as flat-earthism and anti-vaxxism; not that I’m going to engage in any of it, but unlike the vain shrieking harpy left, I pride myself on not pretending all my ideological opponents are inconceivably evil monsters who couldn’t possibly have a soul or deserve human rights.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          Here’s the prob: You say “i want and need to understand Humanity”. Humanity is easy to understand. You don’t want to understand it; you want to control it. Humanity is not controllable. Understand that and you will understand humanity.

        • Leafhopper says:

          Just a small comment: you say “its only when all restrictions have been lifted that our true nature is fully revealed, when we arent held back by standards of politeness and decency,” but isn’t it in our nature to impose restrictions on each other, and to hold each other to standards of politeness and decency? Somehow, we got from being Australopithecines on the savannah just learning how to use fire to being in present-day civilisation, and we didn’t do that by acting like 4chan and Leftbook trolls. The social structures that suppress trollish behaviour are just as “true” a part of our nature as is the behaviour itself. When you’re investigating human nature, I don’t think you should equate “worst” to “most true.”

    • phi says:

      The vast majority of people are not Stalinists or neo-nazis. Perhaps not even the people who wrote those posts, seeing as the lizardman constant is a thing. So the question is, why are you devoting so much time to reading posts written by groups comprising such a small percentage of the population? Is it because you think they have unusually interesting things to say? Because it doesn’t sound like you think that. Is it because you follow those people on facebook? Unfollow them. They don’t have any good ideas, or even any interesting ones and they are too few in number to matter much in any other way.

    • Robin says:

      Aw come on, you cannot argue with the trolls. That’s just feeding them. It’s like standing in the middle of the Reichsparteitag in Nuremberg and saying: “This is all wrong. Biologically races don’t even exist, least of all a ‘Jewish race’.” I don’t think that could be the beginning of a fruitful discussion.

      In the Facebook groups, if you argue, you’ll be ignored or kicked. And you know what people are like. There have been journalists who have hunted down an internet troll, visited him at home and written an interesting portrait about what makes these people tick. If you want to argue with people, do it outside the forums in which you cannot expect a fair discussion.

      Within Facebook, you can only report the posts. But Facebook is not known for working very hard on such complaints.

      • Viliam says:

        Biologically races don’t even exist, least of all a ‘Jewish race’.

        So what you’re saying is that, scientifically speaking, holocaust didn’t happen because it’s logically impossible?

        (just kidding)

    • Lambert says:

      Why are so many people here so intent on listening to *words that got ate by the spam filter* and *a certain subreddit* and other people who hate us?
      You all ought to set up a support group or something.

    • Enkidum says:

      For what it’s worth, as I’m sure you know your FB feed is very specifically targeted to what makes you engage. Mine looks nothing like that. Like I’ve literally never had any posts as bad as you mention.

      I recommend the FBPurity plugin, with certain words/phrases blocked.

      Also, the large majority of those posts are not being made by genuine actors. Or, rather, they are being made by genuine actors, i.e. bots and paid trolls working in various Eastern European countries (from my understanding, particularly Kosovo, Moldova, and the Ukraine) and Russia, as well as China and other nations, with the express purpose of sowing discontent in Western nations. (I’m sure there are equivalents paid for by “us” posting in Russian and Chinese nations, but I choose for my own sanity to believe that they are more focussed on subtly increasing doubts in the existing systems rather than just universal discord.)

      When I say “the large majority”, I’m really pretty sure this is true – the whole point of these posts is to create these feelings of confusion and disillusionment in people like you (as well as arguments between you and other people). There are very good studies on this – one of the “nicest” ones showed that almost all the awful posts created after a Swedish Muslim player scored an own goal in the last World Cup were by these type of foreign agents. Every now and then you can get one of these people to engage with you, and you realize they’re cannot possibly be who they claim to be.

      So… these posts are part of a long-term investment by hostile foreign powers, and given your post they appear to be having their desired effect.

      I realize this sounds paranoid, but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you, and in this case the weight of the evidence is very clear.

      Steer clear of this poison, son, it ain’t helping you.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Firstly, dear God please use proper capitalization and punctuation. This is almost painful to read.

      Secondly, just unfollow people who post things like that. I unfollow everyone who posts political screeds on Facebook, it makes my life a lot better not having to see the daily poorly thought out political views of every one of my acquaintances.

    • MorningGaul says:

      Have you considered that you may be giving too much credit to (mostly) over-the-top shitposting which only tenuously correlate with actual beliefs?

    • albatross11 says:

      Maybe find less crazy people to follow online?

      Online interaction seems to make some people act crazy who are perfectly nice folks in person. But you still don’t want to read their crazy screeds day after day.

    • gettin_schwifty says:

      I get it. I don’t have the answers, but I do have a link for you.
      https://samreuben.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/therapy/
      You may recognize his name from the samzdat comments.

    • DragonMilk says:

      How certain are you that you’re reading actual posts made by individuals rather than troll farms?

    • Peffern says:

      Ghost, this isn’t the first time I have deeply empathized with one fo your posts. I can tell by yout writing style and some things you’ve said that you are a very similar person to myself. And so I feel a need to help you with this problem since I have it as well.

      The answer is to find a friend with whom you can trust your true political beliefs. They don’t have to match yours, for me it was my former roommate, a hardcore fundamentalist Christian (I am a bisexual Jew). But find someone you can trust not to call the thought police on you and sharr bad takes you find on the internet with them.

      The act of going “wow look at what this idiot posted on facebook” out loud, to a person you trust, helps satisfy the urge to sample unorthodox and strange opinions while helping to shield you from the cycle of depression you get when you realize the world is crazy.

      This is hard to say as an introvert, but don’t be alone for long periods of time. Not necessarily solitary, but id you aren’t having meaningful interactions for a long time you get sucked into this kind of spiral. I know. I’ve been there.

      Tl;dr: find someone to share bad takes with so they don’t just sit in your brain and fester.

    • Plumber says:

      @GhostUser >

      “…facebook feed…”

      Oh good lord man, your feed is scary! 

      FWLIW, I joined Facebook two or three months ago and I haven’t looked at it in a couple of weeks, but last I looked my “feed” looks nothing like that!

      The majority of my “Friends” are friends that I had thirty years ago, plus I “Follow” news from the San Francisco Labor Council (I’m a union member), and I do get political messages, about six-to-one “Left” messages (mostly from ladies I used to know who are now public school teachers) for every “Trad conservative” messages (a couple of guys I used to know), most are frankly boring (one “I really don’t like Harris”, six “I really don’t like Trump, and I’m tired of paying for pencils for the kids out of my own pocket”), the union messages are seldom “hot button” (or seem that way to me), I have gotten a couple of pro-Antifa “memes”, and one former friend I suspect of being a member, the furthest “Left” stuff came from a guy who moved to Alabama, no far Right messages (from my perspective) though I suppose the couple of “trads” would be regarded as such by some of the teachers and the guy who moved to Alabama.
      About a half dozen of folks who’ve posted little but political messages I’ve unfollowed for a month, and then unfollowed most of that group for another month, I have newspapers for that stuff! I joined Facebook to talk about old times, find out how people’s kids are doing, what the places they moved to are like, watch a few videos of their dogs and cats, et cetera.

      What has been interesting, is ths t folks I knew 30+ years ago definitely swing more Left (especially the girls) than most of the people I encounter daily face-to-face now, surprising how much more political some have become as I wouldn’t have guessed it, nor would I have guessed some folks current leanings, I’m not Facebook “friends” with anyone I still encounter face-to-face (I like to keep that seperate, plus I don’t want to share some “old times” stories with folks I still work with!) so they may be surprises there if I bothered. 

      Personally I would “unfollow” a lot of your feed @GhostUser, when I want to argue and learn disperate views of politics I come here, when I want to learn more I read a newspaper or magazine, other than getting a better sense of who believes what nothing political I’ve seen on Facebook has been informative or particularly interesting, though it has confirmed some guesses and given counter-examples to others: the “blue-tribe” is indeed most girls, the “red-tribe” more boys, jobs done correlates with politics, but I have to “adjust my priors” on ones politics correlating with where you live, it now looks like politics correlates more with where you grow up.

      Facebook, school, work most are apolitical, of those that voice political opinions on Facebook the moderate Left predominates, next the further but not fully far Left, and a sprinkling of anarchists, moderate Right, far Left, but no far Right, for my school years it was much the same as Facebook but with more anarchists, what work moderate Right is the plurality, moderate Left a close second, a couple of Libertarians, no anarchists, a couple far Right, a couple far Left, and very few further but not fully far Left at work and in the neighborhood. 

      So conclusions about folks politics based on those who I knew in my teens and early 20’s and those I’ve known since?

      Girls I knew (and my wife’s friends) mostly like Warren, a couple like Harris, guys I’ve known are more likely to be Republicans or Biden Democrats, with a couple guys being far Left or Right; so most men about 55 to 60% Left or Right, with a slight bit more Rightward, most women seem about 70 to 75% Left, a couple women 80+% Left, and a few guys 90+% Left or Right,

      @GhostUser, with all the far Right, and far Left messages you see, you must’ve known quite a wild bunch in your youth!, but if they’re instead messages from strangers, and you don’t know much about them, what do you care, and why are you following them?

      There’s seven billion people so someone somewhere believes most everything, if you want crazy talk go listen to the drug and schizophrenia fueled rantings from loud sidewalk beggars, no electricity required! 

      Seriously, unfollow crazy strangers.

      • John Schilling says:

        FWLIW, I joined Facebook two or three months ago and I haven’t looked at it in a couple of weeks, but last I looked my “feed” looks nothing like that!

        Yeah, pretty much nobody has a Facebook feed like that. Facebook is really quite good at giving you what you “want”, in the sense of engaging with strongly and not turning away. If you don’t have friends like that, you don’t get posts like that. If you have friends like that but you only engage with their family-update posts and not their latest-political-outrage posts, you’ll see more of the former and less of the latter.

        And as pretty much everyone else here has been saying, it’s not healthy to dive into that morass, made even worse by the positive feedback of Facebook’s algorithms piling on even more of the crap you are drowning in, because you are drowning in it. Seriously, this is not normal and it’s not good and it’s not necessary.

        If you see that sort of crap in your Facebook feed, ask to see less of it, block it, if necessary unfriend the people who are sending it. You aren’t turning away from the fundamental evil of mankind that all good men must fight, you’re refusing to engage with a tiny fringe of ideological inbred freaks whose only power is your inability to ignore them. Then go look at what everyone else is doing. Which mostly seems to involve cute children and/or cats.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I relate to this….and I know what you mean by “the whole equation is undefined.” It is very hard to articulate, but the wording you use resonates:

      “i just know that the right and left are both wrong and horribly missing the point, its not because we lack traditional values or because workers are exploited by capitalists or any of that shit, those are the symptoms and not the cause and i cant see the whole picture and im driving myself crazy straining my mind to comprehend the enormity of it… sometimes if i squint i can see the outline of it in the shadows…just feel so burned out, it all feels like a fiction, like a sloppy, incoherent, badly told story…studying any one thing requires studying everything, …everything just kind of blurs together into an undifferentiated mess… or even convenience…”

      I quit social media for the most part a while ago, and I tune out obvious trolls, but my everyday interactions are full of non-troll versions of this kind of nonsense, which is bad enough. And they are pretty educated, intelligent, successful people, which is what makes it painful. It’s not so much that things are bad as that they are “badly told”—like you can never actually get the problem in view, or be satisfied with any information you receive. So even with the self-awareness to avoid becoming a flat earther, it’s still disorienting. Everyone is missing the point, which causes a weird kind of frustration. That people are irrational is not news, nor is it necessarily even that big a deal—I’m plenty irrational. But the way in which that irrationality is channeled right now, due to the incentives of the current system, creates a special kind of hell that really gets to a certain type of person. Some irrationality takes a lot of work, and watching/accommodating it causes burn out. As others have recommended, the solution seems to be finding at least a few like-minded others, but boy is it tough.

      I also totally get what you mean about feeling a responsibility, though I disagree strongly that being rational means dealing with 4chan and everything else. You have to accept you have limited energy and should channel it wisely. But a drive to engage intelligently with life makes it hard to automatically filter out anything that makes it onto your radar. I feel like I’m always pulled in, even though I’ve made a lot of effort to disconnect from the media generally. It seems like I have a responsibility to try and at least warn people I know away from really bad information/reasoning when they bring it up directly with me, but that requires me to dive in to it…

    • Hoopdawg says:

      I feel that you’re getting all the wrong answers here, all those thought-terminating cliches like “it’s trolls, just don’t read trolls, man”, “they’re crazy”, or even some “it’s organized foreign propaganda”. (I second everyone pointing out that your mental health comes first, though.) I’m not sure I can meaningfully explain anything, but you deserve at least an attempt.

      all the people i know in 4chan boards and discord chat rooms talking about how the incel beta uprising will happen now that the JOKER movie is out and all theyll gun down all the chads and stacys and normies

      I’ll start with this, since it’s the clearest, most straightforward and obvious one and should be the easiest to grasp. There is a large and growing (though maybe it’ll stop now that the movie premiered) contingent of outright paranoia about the new Joker movie in fairly mainstream media, imagining exactly this kind of influence the film will have on the unwashed masses. Obviously, the fans have noticed. (The sentiment is not just 4chan either, I went to a perfectly normie box office forum to check how the film is doing – really well, BTW – and there’s plenty of jokes of the “look at what kind of dangerous behavior this film inspires” variety. 4chan just puts no brakes on things.) The reaction is part satire, part in-joking, part venting frustration, part a desperate plea for sanity. It’s what you do when you feel all attempts at civil, serious discourse are bound to fail.

      Think of it as adopting satanism in response to christian fundamentalists and their moral panics about metal or DnD. “Look,” you’re demonstrating, “I am a living, breathing embodiment of all your paranoid delusions, and yet nothing is happening, I live my life just fine and the society keeps functioning as usual. Just snap the fuck out of it.” This tends to work, even with occasional setbacks when someone decides to actually burn a church or something – for about the same reason that pride parades tend to work. Once you show and substantiate yourself, you’re grounding the discourse in reality, rather than in someone’s wild imagination.

      (Now, this is pretty much the same for leftists roleplaying This Godless Communism. It may seem less wise to joke about gulags when there actually were gulags, but encounter enough people who decided to hold a view straight out of This Godless Communism no matter what you say or do (I’m now looking pointedly at certain people here), and you realize you’re not really losing anything by it. You weren’t going to change their mind anyway.)

      having trouble believing the news or believing anything I hear is real

      This is a healthy reaction, you should be skeptical of anything and everything. You just need to get used to the idea and its implications. Which are not “reality is unknowable”, but rather “the map is not the territory, especially when map-makers are biased ideologues”.

      The problem with people who became genuine holocaust deniers or anti-vaccers or whatever is not their skepticism in mainstream sources, it’s their lack of skepticism in whatever alternative source they first encountered. They’re falling for the same instinctive trap that they tried to escape when they turned their backs to official sources. The same trap that seems to trouble you. Seeking certainty. There’s none. Accept it and become free.

      • GhostUser says:

        the trick w conspiracy theorys is that if you ask what the world would look like if the theory is true, the answer is exactly the same as our world because thats how the conspiracies want it to look… if the jews controlled everything it would still look like holocaust happened because they planted all the evidence for it, if the earth is flat then people would still think its round because thats what the antarctican cabal living in the ice wall made everyone believe… the ultimate conspiracy theory would be if none of this exists at all and theres just an alien boltsman brain making us all think we exist, and how do we know thats not the case?

        i dont really believe any of that but you dont even have to go that far, just look at issues like vaccines or climate change or cigarettes… theres no way to directly observe whether vaccines hurt or help, or whether the the earth is warming or cooling or staying the same as a result of carbon smoke, or whether tobacco causes cancer, you just have to trust the experts and the experts have repeatedly proven that theyre not trustworthy, like when they said that cigarettes were okay for so many years…! just look at nutrition science, it jumps back and forth every five or ten years… meat is bad and everyone should be vegetarian, no actually meat is good and thats all you should eat, carbs are bad, no carbs are good and thats all you should eat, fat is bad, no fat is good and its sugar thats bad, theres no way to tell if youre eating healthy or eating poison anymore

        thats why it makes no sense when people say that you shouldnt pay attention to politics, because all of your life decisions affect politics and are affected by politics… the liberals say immigration and outsourcing is good because it gives opportunity to third worlders and makes everything cheaper for first worlders, but the conservatives say its putting first worlders out of work and the leftists say its exploiting third worlders, and they all have their own self serving justification for why you should believe them and favor the group they care about over everyone else, but the truth is that theyre all right because every option screws someone over and theyre all wrong because none of us actually know enough to do the math and figure out whats really best in the utilitarian gods eye sense, so just choosing whether to buy local or buy from the big international megacorp becomes a huge moral issue that cant be solved, because we need context to make any kind of moral or ethical or pragmatic decisions but we dont have it!

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          So far as I know, there really is a difference in the world because of vaccines. I admit I haven’t checked, but I’ve been trusting that diseases become much less common if a vaccine is deployed against them. This leaves the possibility open that vaccines or some vaccines are doing subtle damage.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Childhood measles used to be almost universal and now it’s almost universally absent. But at some point Scott posted a disturbing article with graphs of the death rate from measles and other childhood diseases. It fell over the course of decades, probably due to nutrition and sanitation, but the effect of the vaccine was not visible on the graph.

            (There is also a theory that measles in particular, not mumps and rubella, makes children vulnerable to deaths from other causes.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            The drop in death rate from smallpox shows up fine. The thing about the childhood diseases is they generally aren’t all that lethal. Measles kills about 1 in 1000 nowadays, and I think it’s the worst of them. If sanitation and better general care brought that down from 1 in 100 (completely made up number) during the period vaccination came into play, that extra bit from reducing infections might be hard to see.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            First of all, I don’t remember the paper, so it might not have been about measles or vaccines. It definitely was about more than one disease.

            If sanitation saved 90% of the lives and then the vaccine saved 99% of the remaining lives, then you can say that the vaccine didn’t save as many lives and we don’t celebrate sanitation enough. But I don’t think it would be hard to see that the vaccine saved a large percentage of the remaining lives. In an appropriate log graph, the vaccine is doing twice as much and it’s doing it much more quickly. The main obstacle I can see is discretization error, if the number of deaths is < 10/year, which it is eventually, but I think that was later.

            Wikipedia has a graph and it’s a linear graph, so I can’t tell what the vaccine did, but it’s obvious that I can’t tell, rather the effect of the vaccine being swamped by the long-term trend. I’d guess that, contrary to my previous claim, the vaccine did not occur in the middle of the long-term trend, but after it was pretty much over. It looks like there was a very noisy reduction of 90% of mortality 1915-1935, followed by another 90% reduction in the next 20 years, this time smooth. But because of the linear nature of the axes, I can’t really tell what happened after 1955 and maybe the trend continued in log terms, matching my original claim.

            FWIW, the figures wikipedia claims are 50 million cases averted and 5k lives saved, so 1 death per 10k cases.

        • Plumber says:

          @Ghost User >

          “…thats why it makes no sense when people say that you shouldnt pay attention to politics,”

          Sure it does, you have limited time and limited political influence. I’ve gone door to door and “phone banking” as a political volunteer so I’m not immune to the sirens call, but if what you want to do is good in the world you can lend your back, hands, and pick-up truck and help a friend move, roll out the garage bins on trash day for the old lady next door, treat someone to dinner, et cetera – you can do more real good by paying attention to folks in front of you than what’s happening in Sacramento or D.C. 

          “because all of your life decisions affect politics and are affected by politics…”

          I suppose (but I’m I government employee, so there’s some direct effects, plus my failures at preventing some things have gotten into the newspapers), but so what? Sure, try to be a good citizen, but for most folks being a good child, co-worker, neighbor, spouse, et cetera, is more important.

          “…we need context to make any kind of moral or ethical or pragmatic decisions but we dont have it!”

          Outsource most of that, let your labor union, fellow parishioners, family, neighbors tell you how to vote, and what social mores are – if you don’t trust them why are you with them? If you’re neighbor on the northside of your house and the neighbor on the southside of your house support different candidates I suppose that’s a problem, but most in a neighborhood share political leanings so that seldom comes up, and when it does it’s usually folks of different ages, or different kinds of jobs, the cop and nurse I live next to now have a bit different leanings than the teacher that used to rent that house, but not that much, usually folks from different generations have greater differences in leanings, but other than teenagers arguing with their parents no one’s going to get in the face of the oldtimers or argue with passionate youngsters anyway.

          Personally I get my list of endorsements from my union, listen to who and what my wife wants to win, split the difference and call it good, I used to read up on the arguments for those decisions, but I seldom bother anymore, when a city council candidate came to my door and asked me what I’d like, I didn’t have much in the way of things to ask for that was in his power, the local library already re-started Sunday hours, the police come when called, what I want government to do is a block and a half away where I’d like a stop sign so I could get thru the intersection more safely, and 3/4’s a mile away where there’s tents and shanties, both of which are outside my cities limits, frankly there’s only so much that what government I can vote for do – could move a couple of blocks, and try to influence that cities government as a voter or I can just bring a bag of canned foods to the library lobby donation bin, or over to the St.Ambrose food pantry collection or just write a check – any of which I judge to be more helpful. 

          On a national level?

          I live in California, “every vote matters” is far from true here, my local union has already endorsed Harris (who was nice to one of are members), and she seems as fine as any of them, of more likely winners Biden, Sanders, and Warren have all said some stuff that sounds good (as well as some stuff that doesn’t), Trump every now says some good sounding things about starting new public works projects, maybe he’ll finally make a deal with McConnell and Pelosi, but frankly following all that is a hobby, I can do good for my family and neighborhood on my own without voting or arguing politics at all, and I can probably do more good for other people at by studying plumbing catalog more and the newspaper less.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            what I want government to do is a block and a half away where I’d like a stop sign so I could get thru the intersection more safely, and 3/4’s a mile away where there’s tents and shanties, both of which are outside my cities limits, frankly there’s only so much that what government I can vote for do

            They can talk to the public works people next door. Just as with actual neighbors, it would pay to be considerate.

      • mtl1882 says:

        This is a great post, and I think you are right about all the dynamics involved. I have found, though, that abandoning the desire for certainty has not felt freeing. As GhostUser is expressing, we have to live in a world in which we are constantly affected by other people who *are* seeking certainty, and who act on those views in ways that affect us, and a level of understanding of their views is necessary to function on a meaningful level (for all but a tiny number of people).

        It *is* right and healthy to be skeptical, but when you are in that mode 24/7, it is exhausting and probably becomes counterproductive, because you have to make decisions based on incomplete information all the time. If you can moor yourself to certain values to prioritize these things, this causes less anxiety–you know the world is uncertain and uncontrollable, but you do the best you can under that system. But not having any direction at all is way more destabilizing than moving uncertainly in any direction.

        I think this is partly generational–the amount of noise and interconnection that young people were raised with is just a lot higher. I was able to keep myself separate from these traps growing up, but the last ten years, which were my twenties, seems to have bound me up with them. Adapting to the working world made me lose my bearings outside of the system, even though I was becoming more skeptical the whole time. There’s no way to have a productive conversation, though I don’t particularly worry about knowing the truth about everything on earth. It’s just hard to interact with people who apparently have no such doubts, and who build the world around this view–I find this much harder than dealing with the extremist movements you describe, because I agree with you about the dynamic that drives them.

    • Bamboozle says:

      @ghostuser

      I felt exactly the same way when i was in my early 20’s, wanting to understand everything there is to understand. Being driven to seek new outlooks, new facts, new understanding. I guess the good (or bad) news is that as you get older and start to think about a family you’ll naturally start to think something along the lines of :

      ‘right, i’ve been trying to understand this great big mess of the world with grand dreams of deriving some kind of helpful or unique truth, however small, that would help make sense of it all. The world it seems is just far too big to keep entirely in one head, so instead of trying to fix everything how can i just look after myself and those I care about.’

      Obviously keep caring about the issues you care about and keep trying to understand other viewpoints but without a more attainable goal in mind, you’re gonna go mad.

  12. In the climate change a few threads ago it is posited that terrorism might result if climate change is really bad:

    “Climate change will be a disaster. Those worst affected will resort to war, terrorism, etc.. The average first world inhabitant will be drafted, and/or know people killed in terrorist incidents, or similar.”

    https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/09/24/open-thread-137-25/

    This seems implausible to me. The worst effected are going to be the ones without much power and economic resources; for this reason they won’t be able to threaten the first world militarily in conventional warfare. What about terrorism? If you ignore the “lone-wolf” style terrorism and look only at organized terror groups such as the IRA or the PLO, they always have the following:

    1. A clearly defined group organized on ethnic or class lines which is supposedly being oppressed.
    2. A clearly defined oppressor group.
    3. A clearly defined goal.

    Those most negatively impacted by climate change are not a clearly defined group, nor are those who caused the problem. It’s more fuzzy than notions of “class” in communism, where wage-earners and tenant farmers could easily be set against bosses and landlords across many countries. The goal is also unclear. The more likely scenario is that the very poorest will focus on surviving, begging for aid from the rich world, and if they make war, will wage it against other very poor people they could conceivably beat. If there is a globalized ecoterror movement, it will be organized and led in the middle and high-income countries, much as the communist movement against the alleged evils of imperialist capitalism was led by middle-income Russia.

    I think there’s a tendency to assume that if a group is screwed over by an action they will take violent action. Call it “pickle ree bias.” You see it in the failed predictions of crime and political instability due to the lopsided sex ratios in China, India, and South Korea. In that case you had the selfish decisions of one generation biting the next in the a**. I think part of this bias comes from the idea of karmic justice, people want to see the old farts who caused the problem suffering a crime wave they have only themselves to blame for. But for the low-status man who can’t find a wife, there’s no personal incentive to engage in crime; the police provide the same disincentive no matter the sex ratio.

    You also see this in predictions of socialist revolution or racial conflict. Certainly both things are possible and indeed common in history, but the socialists or identarians who predict them often act as if they are inevitable. But even if the predictions of ever more horrid capitalism or ethnic oppression are correct, why should we assume the response should be violence rather than grovelling? Might the poor simply work harder to make ends meet, might the oppressed group work harder to quietly evade (rather than openly rebel against) the restrictions imposed by the oppressing group? In the case of emerging technologies such as genetic engineering, you hear that if the rich can afford them and the poor can’t, they will riot over the inequity. But if they aren’t rioting over current inequality, why would they riot over that?

    • Malarious says:

      I really don’t see any potential for serious eco-terrorism in rich, Western countries, largely for the reasons you stated. Environmentalists are very interested in convincing everyone that climate change is literally the end of the world and the human species as we know it because that kind of apocalyptic framing is the only thing that might actually motivate us to do something. The issue is that the sacrifices that would be required of us to avert or reverse climate change are so immense, it really does require “the end of the world as we know it” for these mitigations to even be on the table. (Consider: even if the USA could magically become carbon neutral tomorrow, it wouldn’t be enough. Any successful mitigation would require unprecedented international cooperation, or military intervention.)

      The reality, last I checked, suggests that GDP growth in rich, Western countries will slow slightly, and then likely return to normal as we adapt, while poor regions are absolutely devastated. I predict “how much we should do for countries ruined by climate change” will be the most predictive question of someone’s political allegiance, probably even the primary dividing line between left/right — and I don’t think the empathetic view is going to win, when push comes to shove. So, obviously, if you care about those people, the time to try to help them is now, and probably in the minds of many, any kind of exaggerated, apocalyptic rhetoric is worth it if it increases the chance that we avoid billions of deaths in the future, and the threats and handwringing about eco-terrorism tie into that.

      • “The reality, last I checked, suggests that GDP growth in rich, Western countries will slow slightly, and then likely return to normal as we adapt, while poor regions are absolutely devastated.”

        What’s the logic behind this? What will selectively devastate them and not the rich countries?

        • ECD says:

          The same reason natural disasters kill tens of thousands in third world countries and tens of people in first world countries (yes, there are exceptions both ways, but the general pattern is clear).

          • Juanita del Valle says:

            “absolutely devastated” is much too strong. Something which is barely a blip on GDP growth for a developed nation does not translate to existential crisis for a developing nation – especially when we’re talking about slow-moving change. Smart and adaptable people are everywhere.

            Plus by the time any significant impacts of global warming are felt, the amount of poor people in the world will be dramatically lower than it is today – Bangladesh, for example, the poster child for global warming impact, is on the growth track to comfortably be a developed nation by 2100.

          • Ketil says:

            The same reason natural disasters kill tens of thousands in third world countries and tens of people in first world countries

            Viz. poverty. So to what degree is it worth it to curb economic growth in order to reduce GHG emissions?

        • Malarious says:

          Well, it helps that most developed, Western countries are located far from the equator, in the northern hemisphere, with lower average temperatures than some of the more populated equatorial regions, so warming isn’t going to hurt us as much. We also have much better energy infrastructure, and our people are richer, so air conditioning is reliable (if expensive) and tens of thousands of people won’t die if we get 50 degree heat waves or whatever. People can be evacuated from poorer coastal regions that are prone to flooding, and rich coastal regions can just build seawalls. We have a huge amount of arable land far inland, and we’ll unlock more as temperatures rise; just look to the Canadian prairies. Our food situation is secure. What else is there to kill us? Hypercanes could be problematic if temperatures rise that far, but I don’t know of any reasonable models that predict the level of warming that would require.

          Really, the biggest threats are political in nature. War and black swan events like extensive civil instability leading to total breakdown of effective government. If that happens, then we might be in danger.

          • Juanita del Valle says:

            Note that the effects of warming are substantially more pronounced further from the equator – the expected temperature change is greater for Canada and Russia than it is for Ethiopia.

        • The one large group that is predictably hurt by climate change is people currently living in very hot climates, hot enough so that another few degrees C would make some areas close to unliveable. The obvious exaple is India, which is indeed a poor country.

          People in very low lying areas are also at risk, but unless sea level rise is substantially larger than the IPCC projections in the most recent report, that isn’t a very large group—on average, coastlines should be shifting in by something like a tenth of a mile, more in some places, less in others. And that’s over most of a century.

          On the other hand, the most predictable large effect is the increase in crop yields due to CO2 fertilization, and that would be a larger benefit for poorer people, since poorer people spend a larger fraction of their income on food. Unlike most of the other consequences people talk about, that doesn’t depend on uncertain causal links between warming and effects such as hurricanes or rainfall–it follows directly from the CO2 increase that drives everything else.

          What would hurt poor people is if the developed countries somehow got poor countries to abandon fossil fuels, making the rise out of poverty much more difficult. But I do not think that is at all likely to happen unless some alternative technology that is actually competitive with fossil fuel develops, in which case it isn’t a problem.

          • Lambert says:

            Is raw temperature the problem?
            I’d have thought the bigger issue was semi-arid regions like the Sahel slowly becoming full-on desert.

          • Ohforfs says:

            Raw temperature is potential problem in specific sense, at least when we’re talking about the issue DF pointed at – in some, especially already humid climates, a not even very high rise in temperature causes human body to cease being able to manage heat dissipation by sweating resulting in inevitable heat stroke.

            Some parts of most densely populated areas on Earth (South and South-East Asia) would not require a much higher temperature for such conditions to persist for months which would make them very hard to survive for humans in practice.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Raw temperature is potential problem in specific sense, at least when we’re talking about the issue DF pointed at – in some, especially already humid climates, a not even very high rise in temperature causes human body to cease being able to manage heat dissipation by sweating resulting in inevitable heat stroke.

            But in hot humid climates increasing the temperature requires much more heat because water has a high specific heat and heat of vaporization.

          • I’d have thought the bigger issue was semi-arid regions like the Sahel slowly becoming full-on desert.

            Why would you expect climate change to have that effect? One of the consequences of CO2 fertilization is to reduce water requirements for plants, since they don’t have to pass as much air though the leaves in order to get carbon for photosynthesis. That fits what seems to be actually occurring–not desertification but greening.

          • Lambert says:

            Higher teperatures will put more energy into the Hadley Cell, and grow the horse latitudes. Air pressures will rise in the Sahel, bringing dry air and reduced precipitation.

            Maybe you’re right about climate change on a global scale, but I’d not want to be a farmer in Chad or Mali in 50 years.

      • LesHapablap says:

        I looked up the price of carbon credits the other day since we are considering making our aviation business carbon neutral. I was surprised at how cheap it was: <11 USD per metric ton of CO2 (from http://www.terrapass.com). That worked out to 5% of the cost of our fuel. Granted I'm in New Zealand where fuel is more expensive (~2.15 + GST per litre)

        Could we really solve most/all of our CO2 emissions with a 5% fuel tax? That seems pretty easy, especially given most countries already have much higher taxes on fuel as it is.

        • Ketil says:

          I looked up the price of carbon credits the other day since we are considering making our aviation business carbon neutral. I was surprised at how cheap it was: <11 USD per metric ton of CO2

          I regard UN carbon credits as a scam, little different from indulgences. By handing a little cash to the chur….UN system, which hands some of it off to ostensibly good causes, you get the comfort of a clean conscience – and very little else.

          Maybe this is uncharitable? I have more faith in EU’s cap and trade system, because, you know, cap. Cost of emissions seems to be about twice, and there is still a danger of emissions export – i.e. importing high-emission goods from third parties instead of manufacturing them under the quota regime.

        • Pepe says:

          “Could we really solve most/all of our CO2 emissions with a 5% fuel tax? That seems pretty easy, especially given most countries already have much higher taxes on fuel as it is.”

          It is that easy to be able to claim that you are doing your part, which is why many companies, cities, college campuses, etc. have jumped on the opportunity. With that said, I do not think that carbon credits do much, if at all, to reduce emissions. Sure, they might encourage more wind/solar to be built, but usually that is on top of the regular energy sources as opposed to instead of them, plus carbon credits don’t encourage the development of storage and distributed energy, which would be necessary for a wind/solar heavy energy supply system.

          A somewhat related interesting read:

          https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032117312546

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think not. If you want to reduce carbon emissions substantially the tax (or other system) is going to have to hurt. A tax that only hurts a little can only produce a little change, almost axiomatically. The main problem is there’s no substitute. If producing carbon based energy cost $100/energy unit and producing energy using non-carbon-based fuels cost $200/energy unit, a tax that brought the carbon-based-fuel cost up to $300/energy unit would likely result in a substantial reduction of carbon based fuel use. But since the alternatives to carbon-based fuels don’t scale (for various reasons both technical and political), the alternative to carbon-based fuel use is shivering in the dark. People will pay a lot to avoid that, so your taxes are going to have to hurt a lot.

          • ana53294 says:

            the alternative to carbon-based fuel use is shivering in the dark.

            But once* the taxes are big enough that some people** start shivering, the same politicians will give them free energy***.

            *Already happening.

            ** Poor people and the elderly

            ***Or energy credits, or will ban electricity companies from disconnecting debtors.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Trying to solve the “some people shivering in the dark” problem by giving out free energy vitiates your energy tax. If the government is using the proceeds of the tax to buy energy, the reduction in carbon use caused by the tax evaporates.

            But really, I’m not talking about “some people” shivering in the dark. I’m talking about reducing energy usage to the point where almost everyone is shivering in the dark. Industries shutting down, the economy grinding to a halt, etc. That’s not a consequence of the mechanism; that’s a consequence of the goal (unless scalable alternatives are found, and I believe that any that are will be shut down by any government that thinks a carbon tax is a good idea).

          • eric23 says:

            But since the alternatives to carbon-based fuels don’t scale

            Nuclear scales.

            You may say there are political obstacles to it. But there are also political obstacles to a carbon tax, particularly a large one…

          • The Nybbler says:

            Nuclear is an example of a probably-scalable alternative (there’s still transportation fuels, but this is almost certainly solvable in the near future for land transportation) that “will be shut down by any government that thinks a carbon tax is a good idea”.

            And they are tied. There’s large overlap between anti-nuclear and anti-carbon environmentalists. There are some pro-nuclear anti-carbon environmentalists, but I doubt the sincerity of some and I suspect the others would trade away nuclear before anything else.

        • John Schilling says:

          Could we really solve most/all of our CO2 emissions with a 5% fuel tax?

          As with everything else in the market, the price of carbon credits will increase with demand. The first carbon credits are dirt cheap, because they basically are dirt. Find some forest-adjacent farmland that’s barely worth the bother of farming, buy it for a pittance, throw down some acorns and add a covenant saying this land is now and forevermore an old-growth forest preserve. Bam, instant 200 tons/hectare carbon sequestration. But there’s a finite supply of such marginal farmland available, and as it is “consumed” for this purpose, you have to ramp up to more expensive sources, er sinks.

          Right now the demand for carbon credits is a tiny fraction of the world’s carbon emissions. If we were to try to “solve” most/all of our CO2 emissions this way, we could do it but it would wind up averaging rather more than $11/ton/ Probably quite a bit more.

          Also, as Ketil notes, fraud. The supply of carbon credits will always include the sum of honest carbon credits that map to actual carbon sequestration, and fraudulent carbon credits that slipped past whatever safeguards were in place. No matter how good the safeguards are, there will always be some fraud. So to completely solve the problem, you’d have to buy things claimed to be carbon credits at >100% of carbon emissions.

        • LesHapablap says:

          So the answer seems to be that $11 per ton is the low-hanging fruit price, and that if you suddenly tried to use carbon credits to reduce CO2 and methane by X% (X% being the amount to stop warming), the costs for each ton would be way higher than $11, and so the price of the credits would necessarily be way higher.

          I’m curious how the numbers shake out: what is X%, and how does the cost go up for reductions if carbon credits were bought on a much larger scale? There has to be ceiling, like the cost of running those machines that just create big bricks of carbon from normal air. And surely if the demand goes up for carbon credits that would spur more innovation?

          For reference, the terrapass site has this explanation for how they do things, and this is where all my knowledge of carbon credits comes from: https://www.terrapass.com/climate-change/climate-changecarbon-offsets-explained

          Lastly, if my company were to buy carbon credits to offset all of our emissions, is that an effective way to help the world or is it just virtue signalling (assuming the bad about climate change)?

          • John Schilling says:

            There has to be ceiling, like the cost of running those machines that just create big bricks of carbon from normal air. And surely if the demand goes up for carbon credits that would spur more innovation?

            Right. For example, we know that we can pull one ton of CO2 out of the air and sequester it in a geologically stable manner by digging up 1.6 tons of olivine, crushing it to sand. and spreading it somewhere moist where it will turn into magnesium carbonate rock. Ideally, someplace like an unsightly old open-pit mine that would look a lot better if it were filled back up to grade.

            Olivine is a fairly common rock, and mining it probably isn’t any harder than mining coal. We can mine coal, process it, and deliver it to power stations for about $40/ton, so if we can deliver crushed olivine to sequestration sites for the same price, that’s $64 per carbon credit. Maybe a bit more if we need a better final disposition than “spread it around an old open-pit mine and forget about it”, but somewhere in the high two-digit range.

            And as you note, with innovation we can presumably do better. Maybe not $11 for all and for ever, but not an order of magnitude more than that either.

            Lastly, if my company were to buy carbon credits to offset all of our emissions, is that an effective way to help the world or is it just virtue signalling (assuming the bad about climate change)?

            A brief look suggests that Terrapass is doing real carbon sequestration. That could just mean they buried the fraud one step deeper than my brief look can find, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for now. Buying carbon credits to offset your emissions would be an effective way to avoid making the world worse. It’s global warming, and/or climate change, so one ton of CO2 plus negative one ton of CO2 equals zero impact. If you were making the world worse, you’ve stopped doing that. Thank you, and go signal it so everyone else knows and doesn’t hassle you for crimes you’re not committing against Mother Nature.

            If you want to actually make the world better, you have to A: buy more carbon credits than you need to offset your emissions and B: be right about the badness of climate change.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Thanks.

            We primarily land in a national park, and the department of conservation is raising our landing fees 700%, to what will amount to about 4% of our revenue. There is also an ongoing dispute with them regarding access to the park full stop. So we (us and the other operators around here, heli and fixed wing) were considering taking our case to the media to garner support. This seems like an awful time to be doing that though with climate strikes and lots of panicked crowing about aviation causing the extinction of humankind. It could easily backfire: we could be seen as “a bunch of rich tourist operators, taking rich foreigners on expensive tours which create a noise all over the national parks and given nothing back to the people, and by the way killing the planet.”

            With that in mind, calling ourselves carbon neutral would certainly give us good publicity, possibly resulting in more business for us just riding on the back of climate change hysteria. Then on top of that there’s the possible political benefits in our negotiations with the department of conservation.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Les: Interesting business model, and sounds like fun. I agree that advertising carbon-neutrality is likely to be worth the cost of the credits if you’re flying tourists into a national park; I’ve seen dive boat operators prominently adopting biodiesel fuel for the same purpose.

        • Tenacious D says:

          As another data point, the carbon tax in Canada is $20 per tone CO2e, increasing to $50 per tonne by 2022. This is in addition to existing taxes on fuels.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’m inclined to think that when people say “bad thing will lead to violence”, there’s frequently no reason to think it will lead to violence. People who say that may have a feeling that bad thing isn’t getting enough attention, so maybe adding a threat will lead to some action to make matters better.

  13. mdet says:

    Related to ex-officer Guyger being convicted of murder — a number of people I know are objecting that 10 years in prison is too light and lenient a sentence. The most common reasoning is “This person committed and equal/lesser offense and got a much longer prison sentence, therefore her sentence is too short.”

    This is only a relative argument, justifying one sentence by comparing it to another rather than providing solid ground for how sentencing ought to work in general. As I mentioned a couple threads ago, I’m inclined to think that prison sentences might generally be too long — ten years locked in with the shittiest segment of society seems like plenty time to break and/or rehabilitate a person, if either of those are your goals. So instead of a relative argument, does anyone know of / would anyone care to come up with an argument for how long prison sentences should be based off principles? So something along the lines of “The goal(s) of a prison sentence should be X. Here’s what I think is necessary to achieve X, and here’s what I think would be excessive. A murder sentence should probably be about Y years long in order to accomplish X”.

    • ECD says:

      The Sentencing Commission Guidelines may do some of what you’re looking for. But generally, I don’t think this is likely to be successful.

      Honestly, I sympathize with the ‘this is too light’ crowd, but I’ve tried to train myself into a different reaction. This is probably a just and appropriate sentence. I try to wish people who did not have her advantages would get it as well, rather than that she be punished as excessively as they.

      • acymetric says:

        This is the approach I try to take as well. I would even have understood if the sentence were a little shorter, I think 10 years is about right (a awfully long time, but she can still have a legitimate life when she gets out if she makes it though the first year or two after getting released).

        It is frustrating to recall or see examples of people who probably deserved as light as sentence or lighter given the circumstances of their crimes who didn’t for…reasons.

      • brad says:

        I think the federal sentencing system *before* the Supreme Court declared them advisory was the right approach. The problem with broad discretion isn’t a matter of “bad” judges. You are never going to get consistency from hundreds of judges without strong rails no matter how “good” they are.

    • Ketil says:

      Related to ex-officer Guyger being convicted of murder — a number of people I know are objecting that 10 years in prison is too light and lenient a sentence.

      To me, it seems obviously too harsh. Assuming she was genuinely mistaken, and given US laws that are very lenient on excessive violence for defense in general. Being removed as a cop is a must, found guilty is just and should include prison, but ten years is a long time for what was basically a fuckup with extreme consequences. And I don’t think there is much risk that she’ll go out and do it again, or that the length of the sentence is much of a deterrence to others.

      Edit: Actually, one reason for a harsh sentence is to avoid criticism of lenience resulting from racism.

      • Enkidum says:

        I follow quite a few (real) people who think it’s too lenient on Twitter, I have to say I don’t agree with their logic, but I do understand it. The constant things they keep pointing out are various people (mostly black) in jail for much longer for selling weed, firing warning shots at an intruder in their own home, sending their child to a school outside their catchment area, or committing voter fraud (supposedly accidental).

        And I agree the disparity is real, and disgusting, whatever sentence Guyger gets should be worse than the ones that those individuals get. But the correct solution is not to raise her sentence, it’s to lower the others.

      • Murphy says:

        “Assuming she was genuinely mistaken”

        I’m pretty sure that once found guilty you lose the presumption of innocence.

        The point is that the court decided it’s wasn’t remotely plausible that she accidentally walked into someone elses house and simply had to shoot the guy eating icecream on the couch in his shorts watching TV.

        The whole problem is people being entirely unreasonable in extending such extreme degrees of charity to her.

        She walked into someone elses home and murdered them while they were eating icecream and watching TV.

        Part of the point of the public backlash is that, not to put too fine a point on it, had that same neighbor walked into her apartment and shot her while she was eating ice-cream in her underwear the chances are basically nil that he’d be extended the same ridiculous level of charity.

        And the local cops certainly wouldn’t have made sure to try to justify it by pointing to a few grams of weed in the apartment.

        I personally don’t think the sentence is particularly extreme either way but I suspect people are worried that she’ll get the kid gloves from the probation service and be out in 3.

        • Ketil says:

          “Assuming she was genuinely mistaken”

          I’m pretty sure that once found guilty you lose the presumption of innocence.

          I didn’t say innocent, I said “mistaken”. In other words, that she walked into the wrong apartment by mistake and overreacted, rather than say, invented an elaborate scheme to murder the neighbor with the wrong skin color.

          It boils down to what people think justifies sentences, whether it is protecting society by keeping harmful people away, exacting revenge for wrongdoings, dissuading others from harmful behavior by setting an example, or evening out societal injustices (which seems to be the more fashionable one these days).

          Obviously, I emphasize 1 and 3, but if your main beef is 2 or 4¹, then sure: lock her up and throw away the key.

          ¹ Both white and a woman? From an intersectional point of view, she should get life times twenty. 🙂

          • albatross11 says:

            I think prison sentences are both random enough and have enough weird inputs that it will always be possible to find outrageous-sounding cases–some really outrageous because the judge/jury/random number generator came up weird that time, others really outrageous because the legal requirements are goofy but that’s what the judges have to follow, and still others not at all outrageous but the reason why is down in the details nobody looks at closely.

            Which means that for almost any case you can think of, you’ll be able to find minor crimes for which someone went to prison for life and major horrific crimes for which they got a slap on the wrist.

        • Randy M says:

          I’m pretty sure that once found guilty you lose the presumption of innocence.

          It was mentioned elsewhere that Texas does not have a distinction between First and Second degree murder, but that such things are considered during sentencing that her actions would otherwise meet the criteria for second degree murder. Hence, the recourse to her being mistaken is not to say she is innocent, but that the being in the lower portion of the sentencing is reasonable due to lack of prior motive.

        • She walked into someone elses home and murdered them while they were eating icecream and watching TV.

          Is there any evidence that it was deliberate, that she had a reason to want to kill him? Absent that, it was a mistake, pretty clearly an unjustifiable mistake, but not what we usually think of as murder.

          • JPNunez says:

            It seems she testified she had the intention to kill Jean, despite having other options.

            edit: it’s probable there’s a mismatch between what we understand for murder and texas law, though

          • Eric Rall says:

            Is there any evidence that it was deliberate, that she had a reason to want to kill him?

            As far as I know, there’s some negative evidence that indicates against a mistake, but no positive evidence in favor of a motive for her having a reason to want to kill him.

            The negative evidence being that Jean’s apartment door looks very different from Guyger’s (illuminated door numbers, Jean had a brightly-colored doormat) and I’ve seen a claim that at least one neighbor testified to hearing someone banging on the door and a female voice shouting “let me in” shortly before the gunshots, which seems to contradict Guyger’s testimony that she found the door unlocked and seems inconsistent with even an unreasonable mistake on her part.

            That being said, unless there’s other evidence I haven’t heard about, it sounds like the jury did the right thing convicting on the basis of an “unreasonable mistake” theory of events. The negative evidence is suggestive that there might have been something more going on here, but it doesn’t sound like it’s anywhere near establishing conscious premeditation beyond a reasonable doubt.

          • My reading of the news stories is not “she had the intention to kill Jean” but “she had the intention to kill the stranger she believed she had encountered in her apartment.”

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          She walked into someone elses home and murdered them while they were eating icecream and watching TV.

          My understanding is that she didn’t know he was just eating ice cream and watching TV. Rather, he got up and approached her, with unknown intent. (I can’t tell from the articles I read whether the forensics support this account.) If he’d just sat there on his sofa with ice cream spoon halfway to his mouth and a “wtf??” look on his face, I suspect she would have been confused, then mortified as she finally realized she was in the wrong apartment, holstering her weapon and apologizing profusely and backing out, and this never would have made news.

          • Ketil says:

            My understanding is that she didn’t know he was just eating ice cream and watching TV. Rather, he got up and approached her, with unknown intent.

            Why? If you are sitting quietly in your home when the door bangs open, and a uniformed police officer rushes in pointing a gun at you – what do you do? “Approach with unknown intent”? How is that in any way credible?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If you are sitting quietly in your home when the door bangs open, and a uniformed police officer rushes in pointing a gun at you – what do you do? “Approach with unknown intent”? How is that in any way credible?

            It’s situations like these that I think are good exercises in “walking in someone else’s shoes”.

            She moves in, gun drawn, expecting an intruder in her house (after having, erroneous IMO, failed to verify her own location), sees one moving toward her.

            He is sitting at home, relaxed, when suddenly a silhouette of someone with light build appears in the doorway, gun drawn.

            I suspect he didn’t know it was a cop. (Did she announce “Police! Freeze!”?) In his position, I could easily see him judging his best chance was to get up and attempt to disarm, or even to approach slowly, trying to calm her down.

  14. Le Maistre Chat says:

    “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) … signifies the subjective experience of ‘low-grade euphoria’ characterized by ‘a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin’.”

    “Psychologists Nick Davis and Emma Barratt discovered that whispering was an effective trigger for 75% of the 475 subjects who took part in an experiment to investigate the nature of ASMR … personal attention was an effective trigger for 69% of the 475 subjects”

    This makes me suspect that there may have been entire civilizations where ~75% of men went about their domestic(/farming) lives in a near-perpetual mild euphoria because the local gender roles made women speak softly and give them personal attention (women might have been receiving this euphoria from someone too though that’s less obvious). Implications for utilitarians?

    • Aftagley says:

      This makes me suspect that there may have been entire civilizations where ~75% of men went about their domestic(/farming) lives in a near-perpetual mild euphoria

      I’ve gotten this response a few times, and (at least in my experience) it’s not perpetual or near-perpetual. Something sets it off, you experience it for a few seconds, and then it’s done. Continued stimulus doesn’t extend it.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I’ve gotten this response a few times, and (at least in my experience) it’s not perpetual or near-perpetual. … Continued stimulus doesn’t extend it.

        Thanks. That could reduce the euphoria gains by about 3 orders of magnitude.
        @AG: If this is a short-term effect, singing traditions evolving to activate it would be interesting and sufficient.

    • Ohforfs says:

      I don’t think male peasants in ages past spent significant amount of time getting their nails trimmed by women 😉

    • AG says:

      There’s a Lana Del Rey/Bilie Eilish joke to be made here somehow…

      More indirectly, there’s something to be said for how various singing traditions have favored the head voice, and that style has made a relatively recent comeback in pop music. That nasal timbre isn’t whispering, per se, but in conjunction with modern mixing techniques, you do a sense of the voice more directly in your ear, without the lower frequencies that comes with projected chest voice.

      Combine that with a little Max Martin magic, and, well, Britney Spears’ Toxic is some good shit for good reason.

  15. What are the merits of your standard wealth tax as Warren is proposing, versus the estate tax? It’s interesting because Yang recently criticized the wealth tax proposals of Sanders and Warren. His points are all reasonable, yet won’t all of them apply equally to the estate tax? I think the reason Yang is criticizing the wealth tax rather than the estate tax is status quo bias: the Democratic Party has been for the estate tax for many years and criticizing it would put him at odds with the rest of the field, while half the field is still opposed to the wealth tax.

    • cassander says:

      both are bad ideas, but the wealth tax is much worse one. Wealth is much easier to hide than income, so the tax will almost certainly be grossly inefficient.

      • teneditica says:

        I agree that both are bad ideas, but I don’t think wealth is necessarily easier to hide then income. If you’ve already hidden the wealth it’s straightforward to give your children access to it.

      • eric23 says:

        Taxes ranked from most to least justified are as follows:

        1. Pigovian taxes, where the tax is equal to the harm you do to society. For example, if you drive a car, the exhaust tends to give people around you asthma and cancer. Experts should calculate how much these diseases cost society, and tax car drivers in an amount equal to this harm. A gas tax might be a good way of doing this.

        2. Estate tax. It’s the only tax that doesn’t take away from the person who earned the money.

        3. Income tax

        4. Wealth tax

        Suggestions for additions to this list are welcome…

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          Land Value Tax

          Also frequently despised like the estate tax for how cruel it is to hypothetical widows in mansions.

          • brad says:

            I used to be enthusiastic about the LVT, I’m not especially worried about land-rich cash-poor widows, but I’ve become convinced that they are impossible to administer well. It’s hard enough calculating full property values, but at least houses sell. How do you calculate land values in an area that’s already built up?

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s despised because people like private land ownership, and a Georgist land value tax essentially abolishes it. A 100% tax on the imputed land rent is equivalent to a market rate lease from the government.

          • John Schilling says:

            A 100% tax on the imputed land rent is equivalent to a market rate lease from the government.

            so don’t do 100% land tax rates. We’ve learned to not tax lots of stuff at 100% if we want people to keep doing it, because it would be stupidly destructive to tax stuff at 100% of value. We’re actually pretty good at that, even if there’s always some idiot somewhere saying “We hates it, so tax it 100%!”.

            So if we’re going to do taxes at all, “Taxing it at 100% would be stupidly destructive and there’s some stupid idiot who wants to do that!” is not an argument against land taxes.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m replying to someone with the username FrankistGeorgist, and the 100% LVT is the central plank of Georgism.

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            @John Schilling
            Fair since it’s simply the justness of the tax under discussion and not the just rate. The benefits of LTV over property taxes still hold at the rates it’s been tried at.

            @The Nybbler
            Fair since it is in the username but also given the username my response is don’t throw me in that brier patch.

          • eric23 says:

            A similar issue:

            California’s Prop 13 severely limits property taxes (both in percentage of property value, and the rate at which assessed value can increase). This limit has caused local government in California to be chronically underfunded, leading to massive deterioration in the quality of schools and other public services. It has also distorted the real estate market and affected land use in unhealthy ways.

            Prop 13 was and is popular, due to the argument that it prevents older homeowners from being kicked out of their homes due to rising taxes on a fixed pension income.

            However, I think there is a good way of accomplishing this without Prop 13. Allow the tax to rise without restrictions, but also allow the extra tax due to be deferred until the owner’s death. While alive, people would pay the Prop 13 rates and never be kicked out of their homes. But for a lot of people, once they died, the house would have to be sold to pay the accumulated tax, rather than inherited by the kids to create a local aristocracy.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Or a bit harsher: If an area has severe housing shortages because that is where all the jobs are, retired widows damn well should be economically pressured to sell and move someplace which is less of a productivity kettle.

          • eric23 says:

            That is probably not politically viable.

            Anyway kicking out a few widows will not solve the housing crisis. Only relaxing zoning limitations can do that.

          • This limit has caused local government in California to be chronically underfunded, leading to massive deterioration in the quality of schools and other public services.

            Is per capita local (or state and local) expenditure substantially lower than average in California? The first thing I found with a quick google showed state and local expenditure per capita in 2016 in the range $7,500-$10,000, when the average is $9,081, which suggests that California is around average.

            For education in particular, in 2015 California spent $1856 per capita on elementary and secondary education, compared to a national average of $1904.

            That site shows overall state and local expenditure for 2015 as $10,514 for California, compared to a national average of $8,845, so by that measure above average.

            California seems near average, not “chronically underfunded.” Do you have data to support your description?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Are those averages adjusted for purchasing power parity? I know that parts of California are as cheap to live in as any other random part of the country, so the locale specific averages may be more important than the statewide averages.

        • cassander says:

          estate taxes are really just taxes on heirs and it would be simpler to tax those heirs on the income they derive from any assets they get as regular income instead of building up a complicated, and relatively easy to avoid, second system of taxation. Just eliminate basis step up and you’re basically there.

          • eric23 says:

            But then you only get a 20% or so tax rate, when really a 50% or 80% rate would be more appropriate. (Not because I like high taxes, but because a high estate tax allows lowering other less justified taxes, for a given level of government funding.)

            I don’t see any evidence that the estate tax is easier to avoid than income tax…

        • The Nybbler says:

          Pigovian taxes are theoretically interesting but in practice the net externality is incalculable. And you have to apply it to everything or it’s not really doing its job.

          • eric23 says:

            (To take my example) we already have estimates for how many people get asthma due to car pollution, how much their medical expenses are, how much they lose in productivity, and how many gallons of gas are burned each year. That’s all you need to create a Pigovian tax on gas to pay for asthma medical expenses and lost productivity.

            Of course this calculation would not be exact, but it would be much *more* exact than the current Pigovian tax of zero. (One is reminded of Asimov’s quote that it’s wrong to say the world is either flat or spherical, but if you think those statements are equally wrong, you are more wrong than either of them.)

        • ana53294 says:

          2. Estate tax. It’s the only tax that doesn’t take away from the person who earned the money.

          That may be true, but estate taxes are very hated by people who would like to give stuff to their kids. This means that money and resources are spent on avoiding this tax, and resources are inefficiently allocated. At least an income tax more or less discourages all activities equally.

          In the UK, agricultural land is exempt from inheritance tax. This means that a big part of the agricultural land gets bought by rich people so they can avoid paying inheritance tax. This leads to even more concentration of lands into fewer hands.

          While land accumulation seems kind of inevitable, since all attempts of land reform have failed to work in putting smaller patches of land into poor people’s hands. There is probably some benefit to land accumulation. While I don’t want to do land reforms, since they tend to end up badly, I don’t see why the over concentration of agricultural land ownership should be incentivised.

          In other countries, attempts to avoid inheritance tax probably also lead to all kinds of inefficient resource allocation, although the UK example is the one I am familiar with.

          Just eliminate inheritance tax, with the step up benefit. You could even make it so people have to pay capital gains tax on the capital gains attained by the property the moment they inherit, instead of the moment of sale (for all liquid assets, such as publicly traded shares and cash; for the others, wait for the sale).

    • mdet says:

      One of Yang’s arguments against the wealth tax was that wealthy people would just move themselves and/or their money to other countries where it couldn’t be taxed. For that to apply to the estate tax, wouldn’t the heirs have to move themselves out of the country before the wealth-holder dies? Seems much less practical as a tax-avoidance strategy.

      • acymetric says:

        Not just themselves but the wealth holder as well, right?

        I’ve never been totally satisfied with the claim that wealthy people will all just pick up and move to (some country) to avoid taxes though. I mean, some people probably would (some people already do!) but things would have to be astronomically bad before it was happening en masse.

        • JayT says:

          I don’t think most people are too worried about people up and moving, but rather moving a large portion of their money out of the country. This already happens, and it’s bad for the country because it moves investment that could have been in the US to other places. A wealth tax would exacerbate the problem.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I’ve never been totally satisfied with the claim that wealthy people will all just pick up and move to (some country) to avoid taxes though. I mean, some people probably would (some people already do!) but things would have to be astronomically bad before it was happening en masse.

          Lets take the generic argument, and ignore the specifics to show what happens with a wealth tax.

          Lets say I have 1 billion dollars in cash, and decide to buy 1 billion dollars worth of government bonds, currently yielding 2% (30 year us treasury closed last night at 2.04). A 1% wealth tax effectively means my income drops from 2% on that money to 1%, making it roughly the same as a 50% capital gains tax on those earnings. If interest rates fall to 1% it is the same as a 100% capital gains tax, and if interest rates are at 5% then its a 20% tax.

          One way to describe a recession that is reasonably accurate is that it is a period where the expected return on investment is zero or negative, which marks a dramatic shift between a wealth tax and an income or capital gains tax, with the wealth tax being intact at those rates. These are the times when you see capital flight from countries, so while yes things need to be bad for a wealth tax like this to drive money out of the country, there actually are times when it happens and those are exactly the times you want investment to stick around and pick up, so there is risk for a vicious cycle of declining returns, leading to capital flight.

          • Don P. says:

            You’re computing an “effective interest rate” by mixing a fixed cost that would happen no matter what (the 1% wealth tax) with the return from an investment. I don’t think that’s valid. Once they’ve taken the 1%, you’ll get 2% better return (on the remaining 99%) by buying the bonds than you would by doing nothing at all, so that’s your incentive to buy the bonds. Unless I misunderstand the proposal.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You’re computing an “effective interest rate” by mixing a fixed cost that would happen no matter what (the 1% wealth tax) with the return from an investment. I don’t think that’s valid. Once they’ve taken the 1%, you’ll get 2% better return (on the remaining 99%) by buying the bonds than you would by doing nothing at all, so that’s your incentive to buy the bonds. Unless I misunderstand the proposal.

            The point is the strength of the incentive to get the capital out of the area with the wealth tax is higher during bad economic times.

        • sharper13 says:

          It’s useful to look at the examples elsewhere of what happened when wealth taxes were imposed.

          Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Sweden all had wealth taxes not so long ago. All of them repealed them not much later.

          Before repeal, European wealth taxes — with a variety of rates and bases — tended to raise only about 0.2 percent of gross domestic product in revenue, based on Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data. That is only 1/40th as much as the U.S. federal income tax raises.

          Basically, wealth taxes are difficult to enforce and relatively easy (yet wasteful) to evade (you can rack up debt to officially offset your wealth). They ultimately exist to fund lawyers and accountants a bit more. Anyone who is actually seriously affected certainly has the resources to shift themselves and/or assets in order to eventually evade it (revenue raised declined rapidly over time). In empirical experience from where it was attempted, people did move if that was the only way to evade the taxes.

          In the end, the wealth taxes were a net money loser, because the wealthy who moved themselves or their assets also stopped paying other taxes to the country involved:

          As the wealthy moved abroad, the government lost revenues from a range of other taxes they would have paid. Pichet calculated that while the wealth tax raised about 3.5 billion euros a year, the government lost 7 billion euros a year from reductions in other taxes.

          There appears to be a blind spot in which American policy proposals sometimes completely ignore the experiences with similar proposals in the rest of the world, but a claim that “this time it’ll be different” should also include an argument as to why the results would change.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            But doesn’t the US require taxes from all citizens, regardless of residence? Including taxes when someone surrenders their citizenship?

          • sharper13 says:

            @anonymousskimmer,

            They try to yes, but when it comes to extremely wealthy individuals, what that translates to in real life is to increase the funding of the appropriate tax lawyers and accountants to develop the strategies and do the associated paperwork.

            An actual citizen only owns wealth if they want to. To most of us, the distinction doesn’t matter (we want to), but Corporations, partnerships, LLCs, trusts, charitable organizations, etc… are all able to own wealth as well. Given the right financial incentives (IRS will take $10M, or you can spend $250K to avoid that), other arrangements can be made for what to do with your wealth.

            The irrevocable trust has always been a good standby. Cosigning a loan to an offshore company you control and pledging your assets (stock, etc…) against the loan (so now you have a net $0 of wealth, but the offshore company has the proceeds of the loan) is also fairly common. Transferring intellectual property around has been big as of late.

            When there is lots of wealth involved, the wealthy individuals find a way. For example, currently you can just pay an exit tax based on your current capital gains to renounce U.S. Citizenship if you have over $2M in assets and then be free of American tax liabilities (while not a resident).

            Also, don’t ignore the public choice implications. Politicians want to be seen as sticking it to the rich, but also want those same rich to continue to fund their campaigns. The bureaucrats writing the rules want to get along with the lawyers they see all the time. The public doesn’t actually read the rules. Solving for the equilibrium, you end up with rules to “stick it to the rich” which the rich can avoid.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Wealth taxes and estate taxes aren’t the same. A wealth tax is a tax on your current wealth, and an estate tax is a tax on your distribution of income to other people.

      For instance, if I buy $100,000,000 of Amazon stock and realize a net loss when it falls to $80,000,000, it is ridiculous to pay a wealth tax on it. It is equally ridiculous to continually pay a wealth tax on it as it continues to fall until it reaches the magical $50 million Elizabeth Warren discovered by pulling it out of her ass.

      However, I cannot give you $80,000,000 of stock without paying a tax on it, because that is effectively income to you. The fact that I realized a loss on it is irrelevant. I cannot give you $80,000,000 of stock. I cannot give you $80,000,000 of stock, even if I die. However, I can give whatever value of stock I want to my wife if I die, because that’s not a taxable transfer. Whether this is an ethical tax is a different story, but the reason we tax estates is not so that we can seize Jeff Bezos’ money, it is so Jeff Bezos cannot give money to his kids.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        the magical $50 million Elizabeth Warren discovered by pulling it out of her ass.

        I sure wish I had her elderly ass!

      • matthewravery says:

        For instance, if I buy $100,000,000 of Amazon stock and realize a net loss when it falls to $80,000,000, it is ridiculous to pay a wealth tax on it

        Can you elaborate on this? My car is a depreciating asset, and I pay taxes on it each year. Why is Amazon stock different?

        • EchoChaos says:

          Technically you only pay taxes to use it on the roads.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Do you pay taxes on it? I pay a registration fee, which is a user fee. I only paid a tax when I first purchased the car.

          The kind of tax people are familiar with is a property tax, either personal or property. Ultimately, governments are going to tax with what they can get away with taxing, but taxing land value is actually economically useful because imputed land rents are economic rents. Taxing improvement value or personal property taxes are a different story, but it’s an easy way for local governments to tax people who are more able to pay taxes. Plus property taxes are local, and local taxes go to local services. I do not mind my property taxes because they go directly to my schools and my parks and my police. I can choose my property tax burden based on the services I would prefer.

    • Urstoff says:

      My impression is that VAT+LVT is the best “efficient progressive” taxation scheme. Harder to sell politically, though, when whipping up your base against “the rich”.

      • Ttar says:

        People want to tax the rich just for having money, whether or not they ever spend and thus get to enjoy it. The little old lady who worked 60 years as a secretary and invested every spare penny and saved up $10 million to donate to charity when she died? Tax it baby!!!

        Wealth taxes have nothing to do with efficiency or revenue or fairness or even covetousness of nice things. It’s about status.

        • Oscar Sebastian says:

          The little old lady who worked 60 years as a secretary and invested every spare penny and saved up $10 million to donate to charity when she died?

          Where did this little old woman work that she earned six figures a year as a secretary? I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t turning an actual secretarial wage into 10 million on investments without insider trading or something.

          (EDIT: Accidentally saved instead of finishing the post.)

          • ana53294 says:

            @Oscar Sebastian

            Where did this little old woman work that she earned six figures a year as a secretary?

            You don’t need to make six figures. You do need to save every penny.

          • Oscar Sebastian says:

            WWII vets had a fiscal advantage or two a secretary wouldn’t, though, even with the low-paying jobs he worked otherwise — and $8 million is not 10.

            But hey, I suppose Ttar is describing a type of person that might, by the time the sun explodes, have one or two actual examples. So yeah, I’ll say it: tax the shit out of whatever the fuck Madam Secretary is up to on the stock market. Sure, she’ll only have $6 million at the end of her miserable life instead of $8, but it’s the thought that counts and maybe when her money goes to a library like the one Robert Read went to, it won’t be one that had to cut back hours because of years of budget cuts, but one that was funded properly in the first place.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      An estate tax is a whole lot different from a wealth tax. An estate tax takes money from people who are dead. Sounds like the least obnoxious tax ever to me. Or one could say it takes money from the potential heirs. That doesn’t sound so bad to me either.

      So why is Warren favoring a wealth tax instead of just upping the estate tax? Just because it sounds new and different? I suppose it will take a little longer to get the rich’s money with an estate tax, and she wants to start spending their money right now.

      I am actually against estate taxes because they are so complicated and incent the rich to put their money into portable (hideable) wealth that isn’t as good for society. But as far as effects on the taxed, and causing of distortionary economic effects, I do think estate taxes are the least bad of all taxes.

      • brad says:

        I’d be happy to trade an estate tax for eliminating the step up basis at death (and the burden of proof should be on the taxpayer as to the original basis).

      • Enkidum says:

        So why is Warren favoring a wealth tax instead of just upping the estate tax?

        There’s an awful lot of very easily accessible reasons why wealth taxes are currently in vogue. Mostly stemming from Piketty and Piketty-esque ideas.

        • zzzzort says:

          Piketty was mostly concerned with inter-generational wealth accumulation, which is (in theory) dealt with well by an estate tax. A lot of Warren’s criticism has focused on people who amassed a fortune over one lifetime and use that fortune to exercise outsize control of social/political spheres. A wealth tax is better at preventing large accumulations of wealth in a winner take all economy where a few people will reap enormous rewards.

          Really, I think the reasoning behind the wealth tax is political. Republicans have effective propaganda around a ‘death tax’ and ‘double taxation’.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Estate taxes kinda have bad optics, don’t they? It’s easily spun as ghoulish, insensitive, etc.

    • brad says:

      The wealth tax is my biggest objection to Elizabeth Warren. Not because of any policy objections I might have, but because it’s blatantly unconstitutional. An ex-law professor proposing a wealth tax without prominently mentioning that it would require a constitutional amendment is something close to lying by omission.

  16. Procrastinating Prepper says:

    The Vancouver meetup this past Sunday went very well! Aside from me, everyone who attended were new to the local rationality scene and had not attended the previous year’s meetup.

    It came out in conversation that people didn’t know about the many rationalist-related groups in Vancouver, so I’m posting some links here. Please comment if you attend or host a local group I don’t know about:

    Vancouver LessWrong: https://www.facebook.com/groups/VanLWmeetup/
    Vancouver Effective Altruists: https://www.facebook.com/groups/vancouvereffectivealtruists/
    UBC Effective Altruists: https://www.facebook.com/UBC.EA/

  17. Le Maistre Chat says:

    If you came across a tabletop game called “Powered by the Apocalypse”, what would the name lead you to expect?
    I’d be expecting to play magicians in a near-future setting where the only fuel for magical power is human sacrifice, so nudging increasingly apocalyptic events into happening unlocks increasingly powerful spells.

  18. johan_larson says:

    Is there some sort of rule of thumb for determining how big a mortgage you qualify for based on your annual household income, assuming no credit rating issues and a reasonable down payment? Or is this issue just too complicated for such a rule?

    • hls2003 says:

      Yes. I haven’t house-shopped in some years, but my recollection is that it is usually 28% of your pre-tax income in mortgage payments with less than 36% pre-tax income for overall debt payments which will qualify you for a set amount of mortgage.

      These rules of thumb can sometimes be reconsidered in special cases or with large enough down payments.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Where does a rule of thumb with weirdly precise numbers like that come from? I would expect increments of 5%, or at least something that approximates a simple fraction

        • hls2003 says:

          As Eric Rall noted below, it comes out of Fannie/Freddie rules for conforming loans. Basically, you standardize the underwriting requirements to make the packaged loans more similar in risk profile. It’s like getting eggs all approximately the same size to put in a carton.

    • Eric Rall says:

      There’s a formula like that, except it gives you total housing payments (property taxes and homeowner’s insurance as well as your mortgage payments) instead of a mortgage balance.

      The rule is that your PITI for your primary residence should not exceed 28% of your gross income, and the sum of your PITI and minimum payments on all your other debt (car payments, consumer debts, etc) should not exceed 36% of your gross income. This rule is baked into the Fanny Mae/Freddy Mac underwriting criteria for conforming mortgages.

      How that translates into a mortgage payment is too situation-specific for a one-size-fits-all formula, since it depends on property tax rates, insurance prices, interest rates, and your loan’s term.

    • Erusian says:

      How big you qualify for? (And not what would be wise?) That depends on the individual lender. The others are right about the percentage but that’s not exactly what you asked.

      Let’s presume no big HOA fees or unusually high other home expenses, no credit issues, full downpayment, and no other significant debt. In that case, you’re generally going to end up somewhere around pretax income times 4.5-5.5 for the loan. Not the loan plus the downpayment, just the loan the bank finances. Add in the 20% downpayment and you’ll end up with roughly 5.6-7 times pretax income for total house price. That’s a maximum: banks will always lend you less than they’d be willing to.

      Of course, this is dependent on interest rates, the market, etc etc.

    • John Schilling says:

      Note that the rules others are (correctly) describing are often modified upwards in cities where housing costs but not other living expenses are extraordinarily high. You can probably get a mortgage with payments of 40% of pre-tax income in San Francisco or Manhattan.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      Others are giving you more precise answers but not specifically answering your question. The basic rule of thumb is that barring other issues, a bank will usually approve you for a loan of around 5 times your annual pre-tax salary. You’re a fool to take out this much, though. Yes, your effective tax rate increases with more income, but it’s balanced out by the fact that you need a smaller portion of your salary for the necessities of life.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Depends on whether it’s a jumbo mortgage or not, income trajectory (like resident going to become doctor), and your other outstanding debts.

      You should instead think personally if you can afford it, This seems to be a reasonable calculator. If you have good credit, then banks tend to let you borrow more than you can afford, so that’s not the actual constraint.

  19. The original Mr. X says:

    Fresh dispatches from the front lines of the culture war, where a British tribunal has just found that “belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others” (para. 197).

    (Background info can be found here.)

    • acymetric says:

      In this case, “belief in Genesis 1:27” is shorthand for

      a. “His belief in the truth of the Bible, and in particular, the truth of Genesis 1:27:
      “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him;
      male and female He created them.” It follows that every person is created by
      God as either male or female. A person cannot change their sex/gender at will.
      Any attempt at, or pretence of, doing so, is pointless, self-destructive, and sinful.
      (“Belief in Genesis 1:27”)

      as is clearly established much earlier in the document. Whether that is the standard interpretation of that verse or not I can’t say, but this is much less inflammatory than suggesting they are actually just banning various Bible verses.

      • hls2003 says:

        I’m not sure how much that matters, other than to assess how many people the decision could impact. Cut out the shorthand Biblical reference entirely, and you’re left with “lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”

      • Radu Floricica says:

        On the other hand, it also includes

        Lack of belief (i) that it is possible for a person to change their sex/gender, (ii) that impersonating the opposite sex may be beneficial for an individual’s welfare, and/or (iii) that the society should accommodate and/or encourage anyone’s impersonation of the opposite sex (“lack of belief in Transgenderism”)

        Which IMO is much worse than a certain interpretation of the Genesis quote.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          It’s also pretty absurd if taken literally. Like, presumably small children who’ve never heard of transgenderism “lack belief” in those propositions, so is every baby in a state of continuously violating human dignity?

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        So this medical doctor doesn’t believe in the accuracy of what he’s been taught about the existence of intersexed conditions?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Or he simply believes that all intersex people can be so sorted (though perhaps not by him). Transgender is not intersex; most transgender people have no intersex condition.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The “human rights” of very tiny minorities, being deontological, can reduce total happiness, freedom, or some other universal good, if a right is interpreted as forcing everyone else to give up some freedom or stymie their own happiness.
      I don’t know if that’s why Jeremy Bentham called “the rights of man” “nonsense on stilts”, but it’s a thing he said.

      • broblawsky says:

        This is the kind of argument those of us on the autism spectrum should be very cautious about making.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If there’s anything the culture war proves, it’s that supporting the rights of other minorities in no way guarantees reciprocity. As one SJW once said to me (paraphrased) “Because I care about women in tech, not stinky MRAs like you”.

          • souleater says:

            Its remarkable how quickly the victims calling for tolerance can become the bullies demanding conformance.

            I wonder if I’ll pass that particular test, if my tribe ever becomes dominant.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            The meek shall inherit the earth. They’ll rule it with an iron fist, too.

      • albatross11 says:

        ISTM this is just utilitarianism vs rights. If we consider the question of how much accomodation must be made for very rare minorities by the majority, I suspect we often get different answers from those two systems.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I would disagree with that. This isn’t about rights, it’s about “positive rights” versus rights.

          Everyone, even a doctor, has a right to free speech and the free exercise of religion. That right doesn’t place a positive obligation on any other person, the only thing that the government has to do is not to prevent him from speaking or holding his beliefs. And because of that he can live peacefully in society with other people who say and believe completely opposite things because their rights can’t conflict.

          If transgender people have a positive right for other people to address and refer to them in a manner of their choosing, that is an entirely different kettle of fish. That alleged right would place a positive obligation on everyone else they encounter, and the government is obliged to compel those people to speak in a particular way. And because of that transgender people can’t live peacefully in society with other people who say or believe that they aren’t their chosen sex because their rights are in direct conflict.

          • brad says:

            In this case the doctor seems to be asserting a positive right. He isn’t complaining about being thrown in jail for his beliefs, he is asserting an entitlement to continued employment.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think it’s more accurate to say that he’s asserting a right not to be fired for this reason. Presumably if he lost his job for another reason — say, because the office he works at closed down and all its staff were made redundant — he wouldn’t be complaining to the courts.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Not *just* utilitarianism vs. rights, surely, since it’s quite possible to build up a rights-based system in which either there’s no such thing as a right to be addressed by your preferred pronouns, or there is but such a right doesn’t trump others’ rights to conscientious objection.

        • albatross11 says:

          Fair enough.

          Legal issues are usually resolved in terms of who has some legal right to do something. A good example is courts deciding that intellectually disabled kids have a right to be mainstreamed into a public school classroom. This often gets to a different decision than you’d get to if you were weighing the impact of this decision on all the kids in that classroom. (Depending on the kid–many kids should be mainstreamed, but some are quite disruptive and probably shouldn’t be.).

    • ECD says:

      This is an interesting way to describe a decision which concluded that no, religion is not an excuse for a doctor working for the Department for Work and Pensions as a Health and Disabilities Assessor to refuse to use the preferred pronouns of the people he was assessing for public benefits (as I understand my skim of the linked opinion).

      • Nick says:

        He’s not “describing” it, he’s literally quoting the decision itself. That is indeed the context, but I don’t see how that excuses it.

        • ECD says:

          He’s quoting part of it, while linking to (thanks!) but not including (boo!) the context needed to understand what it means. As to why it excuses it, it’s unfortunately phrased, but take a look at the discussion below and I think it becomes much less troublesome.

    • John Schilling says:

      Wow, that’s tone-deaf. Or deliberately confrontational. If it had been “expressing a belief in…”, particularly in a professional context, sure, OK, the United Kingdom doesn’t do freedom of speech the way the United States does. But they did sign up for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 18 is pretty specific about the right to freely hold and change religious beliefs.

      If an entire class of high-status professional jobs is officially declared off-limits to people who hold a particular explicitly religious belief, then that’s a pretty unambiguous foul. Even if, as acymetric suggests, it is only a particular interpretation of Genesis 1:27 at issue, you’ve still got the Crown telling Christians how they are to interpret the Bible in the privacy of their own mind.

      No, they can’t enforce it at that level. But even to demand it, under the color of law, is a grave offense against human freedom.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        If an entire class of high-status professional jobs is officially declared off-limits to people who hold a particular explicitly religious belief, then that’s a pretty unambiguous foul. Even if, as acymetric suggests, it is only a particular interpretation of Genesis 1:27 at issue, you’ve still got the Crown telling Christians how they are to interpret the Bible in the privacy of their own mind.

        No, they can’t enforce it at that level. But even to demand it, under the color of law, is a grave offense against human freedom.

        +1
        The rulers of the UK are going against the UDHR, utilitarianism, and libertarianism. The question is, does this brand-new interpretation of “human rights” trump all three?

      • acymetric says:

        you’ve still got the Crown telling Christians how they are to interpret the Bible in the privacy of their own mind.

        I’ll disagree, they’re just saying you can’t express that belief at clients/constituents/whatever while acting in an official capacity as a government employee. Obviously there’s room for people to disagree with this as well (are/should government officials be obligated to perform same sex marriages comes to mind), but its a little different that what you’re describing.

      • ECD says:

        “Nor do we have any doubt that he also genuinely (and fervently) held the beliefs we set out in full at (6) or his entitlement to hold those beliefs.

        263. What this case concerned is whether he was entitled to manifest those beliefs in the circumstances that applied here. He accepted that his beliefs meant that insofar as a service user was a transgender individual within the meaning of the EqA, that whilst
        he did not wish them to, his actions would cause offence and potentially breach the EqA. We find that if the service user also held a full gender recognition certificate Dr Mackereth’s position was that he would also potentially breach the GRA for the reasons
        we give above.”

      • John Schilling says:

        I’ll disagree, they’re just saying you can’t express that belief at clients/constituents/whatever while acting in an official capacity as a government employee.

        They may be saying that in one place, but in another place they’re saying that the belief itself is intolerable. Not the expression of the belief, but just the existence of the belief. And the place they’re saying it is in the top-level summary of the ruling, with the word “express” conspicuous by its absence no matter how much you want to put it in.

        That was, as I say, either very tone-deaf or deliberately confrontational.

        Also, that thing they don’t want people to believe, er, express even though they said believe, that has a definition. They really, really ought to have just spelled out that definition rather than blatantly saying “Chapter 1:27 of your holy religious book; yeah, that’s what’s verboten”.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not meant for the doctor’s tribe, but rather the tribe of those demanding the pronouns.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        It’s neither, rather it’s technical language that is misleading when viewed out of context. Both “belief in Genesis 1:27” and “compatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others” are have specific meanings, referring to the defendant’s interpretation of Genesis that “Any attempt at [changing sex/gender], or pretence of, doing so, is pointless, self-destructive, and sinful.” and the legal definition of “philosophical belief” from the case mentioned in paragraph 157 respectively.

        In context, paragraph 197 is *not* making any claims about what beliefs are legal to hold in certain situations. Instead, it’s saying that the defendant’s beliefs are not a protected characteristic that can be used as the basis for a complaint about discrimination because (to condense things somewhat) they are themselves discriminatory.

        Also, I’m not sure where you’re getting that paragraph being a “top-level summary” from. It’s 30 pages in.

      • Murphy says:

        Rights are weighted against each other.

        in this case his boss said “be nice to the trans clients”

        he threw a hissy fit and tried to paint it as some kind of sacred religious right/duty to be rude.

        But in the UK religion doesn’t automatically win.

        He’s entirely free to sit in church chanting anything he wants about trans people.

        This ruling merely says that the department of work and pensions isn’t obligated to pay him to do so.

        No more than if you run a gay bar and one of your bartenders keeps insulting your customers and ranting that they’re gonna burn in hell. You are allowed fire them for insulting your customers and if they cry “RELIGION!!!!” it doesn’t automatically win.

        That doesn’t even bar that person from being a bartender, it merely bars them from being a bartender in any establishment where their boss will fire them for being rude to gay customers.

        There is no “offense against human freedom” here in any way shape or form.

        There’s just someone being unprofessional in their job and getting fired for insulting customers.

        • souleater says:

          I think in the US the employer would be asked to make reasonable accommodations for the physician.

          It doesn’t seem so unreasonable to me to send trans clients to one of the other Drs. on staff.

          • ECD says:

            The opinion addresses exactly this issue:

            We find that it was his
            view that if a HDA sought to pass a customer to another assessor having discovered that person was transgender that, however sensitively this was handled, the customer would be offended. This was because the transgender person would see this as the assessor treating the transgender person with the same lack of understanding with which he, she (or by whichever pronoun by which that individual wished to be described), felt they had been treated by society and thus, the customer would be offended.

            Now you may feel that is insufficient under these circumstances, but no, you don’t have the right to continued employment if you offend your clients/customers.

          • souleater says:

            I think that finding out a patients gender assigned at birth, and their preferred pronouns are reasonable questions for incoming patient, and they can route those patients appropriately.

            For those that are transitioning while under that physicians care, I have had my physician switched on me often enough that I don’t think it would necessarily be obvious it is in relation to gender dysphoria.

            you don’t have the right to continued employment if you offend your clients/customers.

            I actually don’t think that’s true.
            In the US, I don’t believe that customer offense is sufficient to fire someone for practicing their religion. If I walk into a restaurant, then complain to the manager that my waitress is wearing a headscarf, I don’t think she can legally be fired.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          “Be nice to trans clients” is a pretty tendentious way of phrasing “Deny elementary human biology”.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I suspect the liberals here do not believe that if the complainant were a transgender woman who kept correcting all his Genesis 1:27 customers to use female pronouns instead of male or be transferred to another employee and was fired for doing so, the commission would in fact support such a firing.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            For this liberal the more serious concern (in the US, at least) are various laws and regulations that constrain the medical advice a physician is allowed to give to a patient, or mandatory ‘medical’ advice that a doctor must supply to the patient even if the doctor believes it to be factually untrue or potentially dangerous.

            Conservatives lawmakers are currently more guilty of this (AFAIK) than liberal lawmakers, though I think I recall liberal instances of this too.

          • Plumber says:

            @EchoChaos > “…I suspect the liberals here do not believe that if the complainant…”

            The U.K.’s population is over 66 million people, which is even more than California’s nearly 40 million people, and both are over my personal bias that no polity with a population larger than The City of New York (about 8 million people) should enforce these kinds of social issue decisions over it’s entire area (people who want it one way should be able to live in county “A” that has it that way, people who want it the other way should be able to live in county “B” that has it the other way, all in my general “Salt Lake City and San Francisco shouldn’t have all of the same rules” mindset).
            As to how I would vote on this stuff for my local polity?

            Whichever way my wife tells me, I ain’t King Solomon!

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            No, but that’s a completely different issue because the basis for the discrimination on the part of the employer would be sexual identity not belief. If the complainant was instead correcting the pronouns that customers were using to refer to third parties then it certainly would be both legally and ethically acceptable to fire them.

          • Controls Freak says:

            that’s a completely different issue because the basis for the discrimination on the part of the employer would be sexual identity not belief.

            I don’t follow. Isn’t sexual identity, itself, a belief? “I believe that I am a man/woman, and I believe that you should address me with male/female pronouns.” From the opinion,

            5. In addition to the above, the First Respondent notes the General Medical Council’s (“GMC’s”) Code of Conduct, Good Medical Practice which states, amongst other matters, that:

            “47. You must treat patients as individuals and respect their dignity and privacy.

            48. You must treat patients fairly whatever their life choices and beliefs…

            Here, their life choice would be wearing certain clothes, hairstyles, etc. Their belief would be, “I do this, because I believe that I am a male/female.”

            157. In the case of Grainger v Nicholson UKEAT/0219/09 Burton J gave extensive consideration to the meaning of “philosophical belief” having considered previous House of Lords authority (in particular that of R. (Williamson) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment [2005] 2 AC 246 HL), a number of authorities in the European Court of Human Rights and the case of Eweida v British Airways plc [2010] EWCA Civ 80, he said this:

            “24. I do not doubt at all that there must be some limit placed upon the definition of “philosophical belief” … I shall endeavour to set out the limitations, or criteria, that are to be implied or introduced by reference to the jurisprudence set out above:

            (i) The belief must be genuinely held.

            (ii) It must be a belief and not, as in McClintock [v Department of Constitutional Affairs [2008] IRLR 29], an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.

            (iii) It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.

            (iv) It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.

            (v) It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others (paragraph 36 of Campbell [and Cosans v United Kingdom [1982] 4 EHRR 293] and paragraph 23 of Williamson).”

            Transgender folks have a sincerely-held opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available to them. Or, as DSM-5 puts it, the present state of information available to them is, “A marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender,” and their sincerely-held opinion or viewpoint is that they should be considered according their experienced gender.

            Or we could consider how our host describes this issue:

            An alternative categorization system is not an error, and borders are not objectively true or false… The project of the transgender movement is to propose a switch from using chromosomes as a tiebreaker to using self-identification as a tiebreaker… You draw category boundaries in specific ways to capture tradeoffs you care about.

            He gave an example of “The Hair Dryer Incident,” where a person believed every morning that she had left the hair dryer on, even though the fact of the matter was the other way ’round. He turned aside the ‘rationalist schtick’ of “[we’re] trying to believe what’s actually true, not on what we wish were true, or what our culture tells us is true, or what it’s popular to say is true,” not by saying, “Hair Dryer lady doesn’t believe that she left her hair dryer on,” but instead by focusing on compassion and trying to improve life outcomes. He turned aside “trans-Napoleonism” not by saying, “This guy doesn’t believe that he’s Napoleon,” but by saying,

            I could argue that questions about gender are questions about category boundaries, whereas questions about Napoleon – absent some kind of philosophical legwork that I would very much like to read – are questions of fact.

            That is, at best, it’s a discussion about where one believes the category boundaries should be, not questions of fact. In any framework, I don’t see why we should consider sexual identity to be something other than “a belief”.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @Controls Freak
            “I am black” is also a belief, but if someone who (truthfully) held that belief was unjustly fired they would sue for discrimination based on race not belief. It sounds like you think the situation is different for sexual identity in that there is no “real” thing that corresponds to race:

            In any framework, I don’t see why we should consider sexual identity to be something other than “a belief”.

            but this is obviously wrong. I’m pretty sure you believe “that I am a man/woman, and I believe that you should address me with male/female pronouns” but it seems (assuming you are cisgender) unlikely that you would be discriminated against for expressing it.

            It’s not relevant to my point above, but your comments about the quote are wrong. It says

            It must be a belief and not, as in McClintock [v Department of Constitutional Affairs [2008] IRLR 29], an opinion or viewpoint

            and besides I’m pretty sure identifying as a gender wouldn’t count as “a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour” anyway.

          • Controls Freak says:

            “I am black” is also a belief, but if someone who (truthfully) held that belief was unjustly fired they would sue for discrimination based on race not belief. It sounds like you think the situation is different for sexual identity in that there is no “real” thing that corresponds to race

            I am aware that there is a push for total anti-realism. Obviously, if the anti-realists win the day, then literally all things will be “beliefs”. I think most people still think there is such a thing as race (or perhaps some objective stand-in like ‘color’, which would suitably do the trick for this type of law). But, whether you, um, believe in realism or anti-realism concerning sex, I don’t think there’s much of an argument left that sexual identity is not a belief. You didn’t address any of the quotes from Scott’s post (sorry, I realized now that I left out the link). Even there, he’s trying to hold onto an underlying realism, while professing an anti-realism for the categories, leaving us with sexual identity being a belief.

            I’m pretty sure you believe “that I am a man/woman, and I believe that you should address me with male/female pronouns” but it seems (assuming you are cisgender) unlikely that you would be discriminated against for expressing it.

            I have no clue what potential discrimination or non-discrimination has to do with the status of things as beliefs.

            It must be a belief and not, as in McClintock [v Department of Constitutional Affairs [2008] IRLR 29], an opinion or viewpoint

            Good catch. I have no doubt that I’ll lose this argument to folks yelling, “MY IDENTITY IS NOT AN OPINION,” so, I’ll concede it in advance.

            and besides I’m pretty sure identifying as a gender wouldn’t count as “a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”

            I’m 100% sure those folks will disagree with you there. They are very very consistent that their sexual identity is an extremely weighty and substantial aspect of their human life and behavior. I’m not sure how to demonstrate this other than a poll of trans folks?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “I am black” is also a belief, but if someone who (truthfully) held that belief was unjustly fired they would sue for discrimination based on race not belief. It sounds like you think the situation is different for sexual identity in that there is no “real” thing that corresponds to race:

            But isn’t that (the thought that there’s no “real” thing in sexual identity, it’s all subjective and culturally-determined) the belief that’s causing this case in the first place? If you think that there is some biological difference between men and women, then it’s quite reasonable to say “I don’t care if you believe you’re a woman, your huge bushy beard and set of male genitalia tell a different story”.

            and besides I’m pretty sure identifying as a gender wouldn’t count as “a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour” anyway.

            If gender identity isn’t a “weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”, then why is refusing to use a person’s preferred pronouns treated as such a serious offence?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m 100% sure those folks will disagree with you there. They are very very consistent that their sexual identity is an extremely weighty and substantial aspect of their human life and behavior. I’m not sure how to demonstrate this other than a poll of trans folks?

            The fact that people are willing to undergo quite extreme surgery in order to look more like their preferred gender suggests that they do think it an important aspect of their life.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @Controls Freak
            @The original Mr. X

            I’m 100% sure those folks will disagree with you there.

            If gender identity isn’t a “weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”, then why is refusing to use a person’s preferred pronouns treated as such a serious offence?

            In point (iii) of the quote, “weighty and substantial” seem to me to mean that the belief must be a general claim about human life and behaviour, not just that you feel strongly about it. Remember, this is a definition of “philosophical belief”. For example, “parents should love their children” might count, but “I love my children” wouldn’t and similarly neither would “I identify as x gender”.

            @Controls Freak

            I have no clue what potential discrimination or non-discrimination has to do with the status of things as beliefs.

            It’s relevant because we’re talking about the law around discrimination in employment, no? It’s obviously true that “I identify as male and prefer he/him pronouns” is a belief just as much as “I am black” is. My point is that neither of those beliefs would come up in an employment tribunal. This is true both in the sense that the law lists “gender reassignment” and similar things as protected characteristics, and in that gender identity — as in the thing that trans people get discriminated against for having — really is not just a belief (it’s not as though the list had “platonist” listed separately from “religion or belief”) since cis women are not discriminated against for saying “I identify as female and use she/her pronouns”.

          • Controls Freak says:

            In point (iii) of the quote, “weighty and substantial” seem to me to mean that the belief must be a general claim about human life and behaviour, not just that you feel strongly about it. Remember, this is a definition of “philosophical belief”. For example, “parents should love their children” might count, but “I love my children” wouldn’t and similarly neither would “I identify as x gender”.

            You’re just messing with levels of abstraction in a way that happens to suit you. There’s no reason why a person couldn’t say their belief is, “I shouldn’t address you as a male/female,” or, “Self-identification is the method by which humans should determine sex.”

            It’s obviously true that “I identify as male and prefer he/him pronouns” is a belief just as much as “I am black” is. My point is that neither of those beliefs would come up in an employment tribunal.

            I still can’t make sense of this. I’m glad that you’re admitting that sexual identity is a belief, though. That was really my point, so I’m glad we agree.

            This is true both in the sense that the law lists “gender reassignment” and similar things as protected characteristics

            The law also lists religious beliefs.

            and in that gender identity — as in the thing that trans people get discriminated against for having

            Wait, just having a gender identity is what people get discriminated against for? What?!

            gender identity … really is not just a belief … since cis women are not discriminated against for saying “I identify as female and use she/her pronouns”.

            Whether or not people are discriminated against for having a belief does not determine whether or not it is a belief.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @Controls Freak

            You’re just messing with levels of abstraction in a way that happens to suit you. There’s no reason why a person couldn’t say their belief is, “I shouldn’t address you as a male/female,” or, “Self-identification is the method by which humans should determine sex.”

            Um, obviously those are also beliefs that people can have. I really don’t understand what your point is. I don’t know what “messing with levels of abstraction” is supposed to mean either. I’m saying what I think the only plausible interpretation of a legal opinion is. If you think there are other plausible interpretations, please feel free to argue for them.

            I’m glad that you’re admitting that sexual identity is a belief, though. That was really my point, so I’m glad we agree.

            If that was your point then it was entirely irrelevant to my original comment and also doesn’t seem at all interesting or controversial.

            To recap, my original comment was saying that while the doctor in the case in question was accusing his employer of discriminating against him on the basis of his beliefs, whereas EchoChaos’s trans woman would be accusing her employee of discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Therefore the implication that liberals are being hypocritical or inconsistent in supporting one but not the other is false.

            You then appeared to say that actually the trans woman would also be making an accusation of discrimination on the basis of (a kind of) belief and only that. I think this is obviously not true from a legal perspective; the court proceedings will refer to “gender identity” or similar, not “belief”. And it isn’t true from a philosophical perspective either, because cis women who believe “I am a woman who should be addressed with she/her pronouns” aren’t discriminated against for it, so holding that belief cannot be the only reason trans women are discriminated against (i.e. the fact that they were not assigned female at birth is also part of it).

          • Controls Freak says:

            I don’t know what “messing with levels of abstraction” is supposed to mean either.

            You’re selectively choosing one level of abstraction for the belief you like, while choosing a different level of abstraction for the belief you don’t like, because you think this puts one in-bounds and the other out-of-bounds. But there’s no reason why we couldn’t flip that.

            To recap, my original comment was saying that while the doctor in the case in question was accusing his employer of discriminating against him on the basis of his beliefs, whereas EchoChaos’s trans woman would be accusing her employee of discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

            And to recap, my point was that the latter is also a belief, so there’s no distinction here. You’re saying, ‘[T]he doctor in the case in question was accusing his employer of discriminating against him on the basis of his beliefs, whereas EchoChaos’s trans woman would be accusing her employee of discrimination on the basis of [her beliefs].’ Therefore the implication that liberals are being hypocritical or inconsistent in supporting one but not the other is true.

            the court proceedings will refer to “gender identity” or similar, not “belief”

            The fact that the court is willing to play similar games with level of generality is why I’m claiming that they’re wrong.

            it isn’t true from a philosophical perspective either, because cis women who believe “I am a woman who should be addressed with she/her pronouns” aren’t discriminated against for it

            That is absurd, and is not a philosophical perspective. I’ll bold it this time, so you don’t skip it again. Whether or not people are discriminated against for having a belief does not determine whether or not it is a belief.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @Controls Freak
            OK, I can see what you’re disagreeing with now. But you’re wrong.

            Whether or not people are discriminated against for having a belief does not determine whether or not it is a belief.

            This is missing the point. Let me put it another way: if gender identity is *just* a belief, then there must be literally zero difference between trans women and cis women. But that clearly isn’t the case, as evidenced by the fact that we give those groups different names.

          • Controls Freak says:

            if gender identity is *just* a belief, then there must be literally zero difference between trans women and cis women. But that clearly isn’t the case, as evidenced by the fact that we give those groups different names.

            This does not follow. You might as well say, “If religious identity is *just* a belief, then there must be literally zero difference between Catholics and Protestants. But that clearly isn’t the case, as evidenced by the fact that we give those groups different names.”

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @Controls Freak
            Catholics and Protestants believe different things. Trans women and cis women believe the same thing (“I am a woman and should be addressed with she/her pronouns”). I thought that was obvious.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Let me put it another way: if gender identity is *just* a belief, then there must be literally zero difference between trans women and cis women.

            No, it would mean there must be zero difference (other than belief) between trans women and cis men.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Trans women and cis women believe the same thing.

            No, they don’t. A trans woman thinks, “I am a trans woman,” and a cis woman thinks, “I am a cis woman.”

            Catholics and Protestants believe different things.

            This shows that you’re playing fast and loose with levels of generality again. Could say that they both just believe, “I am a Christian.”

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @The Nybbler

            No, it would mean there must be zero difference (other than belief) between trans women and cis men.

            Well, yes and no. Under the “gender identity = belief and nothing else” definition, trans women and cis women are exactly the same. On what grounds are you disputing that? My whole point is that defining gender identity i.e. what our hypothetical trans woman is making an accusation of discrimination about i.e. being a cis woman/cis man/trans woman/trans man to depend only on belief and not e.g. assigned sex at birth — as Controls Freak is apparently doing — is nonsensical. So you can’t dispute it on the grounds that trans women and cis women differ in physical ways.

            This definition also implies that the only difference between trans women and cis men or indeed trans women and trans men is belief, but that’s just because those groups evidently differ in gender identity and we have (stupidly) defined gender identity as just being belief. I get the impression that you were trying to reference a hypothetical definition of *gender* (not *gender identity*) where belief is the only component, but that’s not at all relevant to the discussion — our hypothetical trans woman is claiming to be a victim of transphobia (= gender identity) not sexism (= gender).

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @Controls Freak

            No, they don’t. A trans woman thinks, “I am a trans woman,” and a cis woman thinks, “I am a cis woman.”

            And that’s the only difference between them? If a trans woman believed “I am a cis woman” she would suddenly become one? And gender identity has a totally circular definition; someone’s gender identity doesn’t tell us anything about them except their gender identity?

            To clarify, I was going off your original statement of the relevant belief:

            Isn’t sexual identity, itself, a belief? “I believe that I am a man/woman, and I believe that you should address me with male/female pronouns.”

          • Controls Freak says:

            No, they don’t. A trans woman thinks, “I am a trans woman,” and a cis woman thinks, “I am a cis woman.”

            And that’s the only difference between them?

            I did not say. You think there are other differences?

            And gender identity has a totally circular definition; someone’s gender identity doesn’t tell us anything about them except their gender identity?

            What else do you think it tells us?

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @Controls Freak

            You think there are other differences?

            Obviously, for instance assigned sex at birth. I get the feeling that you think admitting this is some kind of gotcha that puts me in opposition to the mainstream liberal line that trans women *are* women. If so, that’s wrong. People who think that both trans and cis women fall in the same category don’t believe there are no differences between them, that’s like saying Catholics and Protestants must be exactly the same because they’re both Christians.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Obviously, for instance assigned sex at birth. I get the feeling that you think admitting this is some kind of gotcha that puts me in opposition to the mainstream liberal line that trans women *are* women. If so, that’s wrong.

            You’re not great with your feelings. You would do better to stop trying to predict some argument you think is going to be nefarious and just stick to what I’ve actually said.

            People who think that both trans and cis women fall in the same category don’t believe there are no differences between them, that’s like saying Catholics and Protestants must be exactly the same because they’re both Christians.

            I’m glad you agree with me. People who think that trans/cis women and Catholics/Protestants all fall in the same category of “humans” don’t believe that there are no differences between them. We can slide up/down levels of generality in order to include more/fewer individuals. I’m not sure what your disagreement is anymore. It sounds like you’re saying, “A trans woman thinks, ‘I am a trans woman,’ and a cis woman thinks, ‘I am a cis woman.’ Also, if we move up a level of generality, I believe we should categorize them both as ‘women’.” That’s all in accord with what I’ve said.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            You’re not great with your feelings. You would do better to stop trying to predict some argument you think is going to be nefarious and just stick to what I’ve actually said.

            What was the purpose of your question then? Given that the answer is obvious I’m not sure what else it would be, and nothing in your most recent comment clarifies it.

            I’m not sure what your disagreement is anymore.

            I’m disagreeing with this:

            The fact that the court is willing to play similar games with level of generality is why I’m claiming that they’re wrong.

            Trans people are not discriminated against solely for having beliefs, because the characteristic of being trans is not solely a belief (and I really don’t understand how you can possibly claim otherwise). Therefore EchoChaos’s analogy is false, just as if he’d said “I suspect the liberals here do not believe that if the complainant were a black woman who kept correcting his customers not to use racial slurs and was fired for doing so, the commission would in fact support such a firing.”.

          • Controls Freak says:

            What was the purpose of your question then?

            To learn what you think. You’ve now answered. This is how normal conversations work. You don’t need to make accusations of nefarious questions.

            the characteristic of being trans is not solely a belief

            It turns out that your answer is that the portion that is not a belief is “sex assigned at birth”. Of course, a Catholic could have been assigned to be a Protestant at birth. Not sure why this matters.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            To learn what you think.

            But what other possibilities were there? Did you seriously think I might say “no, literally the only difference between a trans woman and a cis woman is their identification as trans and cis respectively”? I really don’t understand what other plausible answers there are to that question.

            It turns out that your answer is that the portion that is not a belief is “sex assigned at birth”.

            Yes… Do you agree that trans women and cis women differ in their assigned sex at birth? If not, please please explain why.

            Of course, a Catholic could have been assigned to be a Protestant at birth. Not sure why this matters.

            This seems like a complete non sequitur. Perhaps you’re trying to get at the idea that being a Christian is also not solely a belief, in which case you really should have said that rather than making the absurd claim that gender identity is.

            I would certainly agree that that being a Christian involves more than just belief! And had the doctor in question been fired because his employer discovered he attended church regularly or had been baptised, then he could have sued based on the non-belief part of being a Christian, which would be comparable to our hypothetical transwoman’s case. But that was not the situation.

          • Controls Freak says:

            But what other possibilities were there?

            There are a variety of ways you could have phrased a response.

            Perhaps you’re trying to get at the idea that being a Christian is also not solely a belief… I would certainly agree that that being a Christian involves more than just belief!

            I was not actually expecting the conversation to go in this direction. That’s why I asked the question.

            And had the doctor in question been fired because his employer discovered he [took an action motivated by his belief], then he could have sued based on the non-belief part of being a Christian, which would be comparable to our hypothetical transwoman’s case.

            I guess we’ve arrived, because that was the situation.

            (I suppose I should follow your example and add something like, “Unless you think that a person can be discriminated against based on a belief that never makes any observable mark on the world outside of one’s brain.” Or, maybe we could both back off the snark; there’s no one left watching for you to show off in front of.)

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            There are a variety of ways you could have phrased a response.

            That continues to not be an answer to my questions in this thread, a fact that does not reassure me that you were acting in good faith.

            I guess we’ve arrived, because that was the situation.

            No it wasn’t. An easy way to see this is the fact that the court had to deliberate about the content of his beliefs, because his case depended on discrimination against them. In comparison, if he’d been fired for a matter of purely religious identity, such as going to church or wearing a crucifix, there would’ve been no need to consider the definition of “philosophical belief”.

          • Controls Freak says:

            An easy way to see this is the fact that the court had to deliberate about the content of his beliefs, because his case depended on discrimination against them.

            So, when a court deliberates on the content of a trans woman’s series of beliefs, “I believe am a trans woman; I believe trans women should be categorized as women; I believe that I should be referred to as she/her,” that implies that the case depends on that, rather than just the person’s assigned sex at birth? (FYI, there are a variety of alternative reasons why a court would deliberate about the content of his beliefs, but the reason he’s being discriminated against is because of the behavior that results from those beliefs; how do you think they can discriminate against a belief that has no observable effects outside of his head?)

            In comparison, if he’d been fired for a matter of purely religious identity, such as going to church or wearing a crucifix, there would’ve been no need to consider the definition of “philosophical belief”.

            You’re just trying to shortcircuit the link between, “I have a philosophical belief that I should go to church, so I go to church.”

    • Zephalinda says:

      I am very confused by the text of the judgment. Par. 197 reads to a layperson like a big sweeping statement meddling with private conscience: it seems to treat “transgenderism” (=??)as a state-endorsed orthodox doctrine and literally says that “lack of belief” in the articles of that doctrine in itself constitutes a violation of human rights.

      If random employment tribunals in Birmingham have any precedent-setting force (no idea if that’s the case), then that language would seem to lay the ground for persecution of any number of people beyond despised Christian witches. For instance, if I’m a hardcore physicalist and publicly assert that gender identity in the present mystical/subjective sense is straight-up imaginary, ’cause only chromosomal sex can be empirically verified… bam, human rights violation. Ditto if I’m a lesbian who declines to sleep with a woman when I find she’s trans. Or a researcher who proposes exploring the etiology/risk factors of gender dysphoria (since even to consider that kind of research would suggest unbelief in the metaphysical model of transgender as a condition of 100% non-pathological mismatch between the gender of your spirit and the gender of your body).

      On the other hand, paragraphs further down:

      262. Nor do we have any doubt that he also genuinely (and fervently) held the beliefs we
      set out in full at (6) or his entitlement to hold those beliefs.
      263. What this case concerned is whether he was entitled to manifest those beliefs in the
      circumstances that applied here

      seem to retreat into the more moderate position that this judgment only pertains to public behavior by a state employee, not to private conviction. So which is it? Or is it (c) dumb case, provincial judge, not an important document either way?

      • Murphy says:

        Keep in mind the context. An employment tribunal where the issue was whether the employer had the right to fire him for his behavior: being rude to clients.

        If your religion dictates that all black people are soulless p-zombies you’re perfectly allowed to have that religion.

        But if you have a job where you deal with clients and refuse to refer to black clients as anything other than “mr/ms soulless husk” then your employer is in fact allowed to fire you.

        • Garrett says:

          > anything other than “mr/ms soulless husk”

          I would *love* to read that court case, should it ever occur.

        • John Schilling says:

          Keep in mind the context. An employment tribunal where the issue was whether the employer had the right to fire him for his behavior: being rude to clients.

          Nobody cares why this one guy was fired, except that guy. That’s not why we’re having this conversation. We’re having this conversation because we’re wondering why the next hundred guys will be fire. And, you know, even the tribunal that ruled on this case was mostly concerned with what sort of precedent they would be setting for the next hundred guys.

          And in that context, if Bob believes X and does Y, and Y is something we all agree is reprehensible and Bob is properly fired for doing Y, a court saying “…and of course believing X is also a reprehensible thing that it is totally OK to fire people for” is a serious threat to human freedom. They could have stopped at saying that it was just OK to fire Bob for doing Y, but they chose to go beyond that.

  20. EchoChaos says:

    In the spirit of implausible missions:

    Your mission is to invade a country using the military, firefighters and paramedics of the city of New York.

    NYPD and FDNY have fixed all fires and crimes in New York City and have decided to conquer a small country. They are mystically given a beachhead which connects to New York via magic portal.

    NYPD and FDNY have all their equipment and can purchase spares from their budget if expended, but they don’t get a budget increase and still cannot purchase any arms not already available to police in the USA (i.e. no stealth fighters).

    What is the largest country they can conquer and hold for a year? There are no international repercussions or embargoes from this because of their totally justified casus belli.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      NYPD and FDNY have fixed all fires and crimes in New York City and have decided to conquer a small country. They are mystically given a beachhead which connects to New York via magic portal.

      I think this is the premise of the “Mirror” Marvel Universe.

    • johan_larson says:

      using the military

      Do you mean the police? Or do you mean units of the actual military (army, navy, air force, etc.) that are stationed in the city of New York?

    • Eric Rall says:

      I think they could probably take Panama. Panama abolished their regular army following the 1989 US invasion, and now they rely instead on a security guarantee from the US and a small paramilitary security force. The former is nullified here by your “no international repercussions” provision. The latter fields about 4000 border troops (including 3 companies of special forces) and about 22,000 armed police officers.

      NYPD has about 36,000 armed polices officers, including about 500 SWAT officers in the Emergency Service Unit, so they outnumber Panana’s Public Forces by about 3:2. Whether that’s enough or not depends on 1) the effects of the strategic surprise the NYPD gets from showing up through magical portals, and 2) how well regular NYPD officers stack up in training and equipment against the non-special-forces part of Panama’s border force. My guess is that NYPD’s SWAT teams are roughly on par in equipment, training, and numbers with Panana’s special forces, and NYPD’s armed police officers are comparable or slightly better off than Panama’s Public Forces police, but the border force is the big wild card. If they’re close to a proper military unit, they could prove a major obstacle to the NYPD. If they’re mainly a customs patrol, then I think NYPD can handle them. Especially if NYPD teleports into a beachhead close on hand to Panama City and the Canal Zone and has a few hours to secure key positions, disarm the civil police, and prepare to receive a counterattack from the border force.

      Assuming NYPD wins the initial invasion, they’ll be occupying a country of about 4 million people, or about half the size of the city they’re normally tasked with controlling. As an occupying army, they’d face more determined and organized opposition than they face back home, but they’d also have fewer restrictions on methods and rules of engagement (assuming that the constitution doesn’t follow the flag here). That could go either way, but I suspect they could hold for at least a year unless the Panamanian Resistance gets significant outside assistance.

    • Nornagest says:

      The NYPD has 36,000 uniformed officers and about 9000 vehicles; the FDNY adds about 15,000 uniformed employees and 800 vehicles. In purely numerical terms that means New York’s emergency services are bigger than the active forces fielded by medium-sized European countries such as Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands, but it certainly couldn’t take them on head-to-head as is, since it lacks armor, artillery, air support, and even most crew-served weapons. And they don’t have the training or doctrine to use them, although there are enough veterans in most police forces that they could probably develop it given time.

      They do, however, have a larger budget than many European militaries at about $7.6 billion combined — higher than Sweden’s military budget but lower than the Netherlands’. No crime in New York means they can free up a lot of that budget that’d otherwise go to maintaining precinct stations and the like. The magic portal solves most of the logistical problems they’d otherwise have. And a lot of heavy military equipment is technically available to police departments in the US, even if they presently have no good reason to buy it. That presents an opportunity.

      Cross-referencing against Wikipedia’s list of countries by land area, I’d give them good odds against the DRC, maybe Kazakhstan at a stretch, but only if they have a couple years to restructure, retrain, and buy equipment. If they don’t, they probably couldn’t handle any significant military opposition, so we’re limited to failed states, micronations, countries that don’t have military forces, and maybe the odd island. Iceland might be a good choice.

      • EchoChaos says:

        In purely numerical terms that means New York’s emergency services are bigger than the active forces fielded by medium-sized European countries such as Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands, but it certainly couldn’t take them on head-to-head as is, since it lacks armor, artillery, air support, and even most crew-served weapons.

        But it might be able to capture some in the initial assault, depending on how well defended the bases are.

        Does Belgium typically have sufficient defense to stop an army of 36,000 from overrunning bases with no support from the rest of NATO? I tend to doubt it.

        Norway is probably safer due to geographical distribution of their military assets.

        And I was unclear if I meant largest by population or land area. For land area, Kazakhstan seems plausible since they probably rely heavily on Russian support for defense. For population, Belgium may be their best bet.

    • Incurian says:

      How much re-organizing can we do? What about training?

      • EchoChaos says:

        As much as needed in… six months, let’s say.

        • Incurian says:

          That’s probably enough time for [an accelerated version of] basic and advanced training, plus a CTC rotation.

          I think their major difficulty is going to be dealing with armor. Air and artillery will be of somewhat limited use in urban areas against light infantry, plus most countries have near-zero capability to actually employ them in a timely and accurate manner.

          What’s the biggest country without a large armored contingent?

    • CatCube says:

      Do they have either strategic or tactical surprise? That is, does their target have, say, 6 months of warning? That would enable them to at least start pulling in reserves and conscripts, spending money like water to fix broken equipment and to move into forward positions away from their bases.

      Or, for tactical surprise, if the NYPD just shows up to another country on a random Wednesday afternoon, they could probably conquer a pretty good-sized country, even with a good military. Armor doesn’t do you any good if it’s sitting in the motor pool while everybody is off at the bar at the end of the workday, and the NYPD could burn most of it to the ground with Molotov cocktails before starting to actually take ground outside of the target country’s military bases.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Do they have either strategic or tactical surprise?

        Total on both counts.

        Or, for tactical surprise, if the NYPD just shows up to another country on a random Wednesday afternoon, they could probably conquer a pretty good-sized country, even with a good military.

        Remember that they only get the one entry point. Capturing bases on both sides of Poland, for example, isn’t going to happen.

        All of Belgium might.

    • John Schilling says:

      Let’s keep in mind that the NYPD and FDNY are predominantly white people who speak English. That’s going to be a disadvantage if we send them out to conquer and hold a nation of substantially different ethnic and linguistic background. On the other hand, it’s an enormous advantage when it comes to pre-invasion intelligence and infiltration. So let’s go with that.

      Ireland has a population half that the NYPD has historically P’d all over. It has an army with roughly one-quarter the manpower of the NYPD et al, and very little in the way of armed police or other paramilitaries or of an armed citizenry. And the NYPD’s particular brand of Anglospheric heritage is still disproportionately Irish in nature.

      Politically, we can imagine it is going to spend 2020 caught between a post-Brexit UK and an EU that’s more interested in using Ireland as a tool to stick it to Boris than in actually defending the interests of Ireland, so that implausible “no international repercussions” bit may be slightly less ludicrous.

      Ireland has no combat aircraft, three glorified coast-guard cutters, and fourteen light tanks. Plus a hundred-ish of armored cars, two dozen howitzers, and a bit of other military hardware that would pose a problem for an NYPD armed with nothing more than rifles. But in peacetime, all of that gear is going to be secured in maybe four or five places and not at a high state of alert. If the NYPD can predeploy a thousand or so Little Blue Men in the guise of tourists, they can probably neutralize those facilities before they can be operationally deployed to resist invasion.

      This will require superb intelligence, and complete strategic and tactical surprise. Fortunately, lots of New York cops who can pass as Irish at need. And, Dublin’s agent in place for warning against anti-Irish conspiracies organized on SSC has been temporarily neutralized. But they’ll have to move fast, or they’ll be defeated just by language harsh enough to leave hardened NYPD veterans hiding under the bed.

    • Fitzroy says:

      I wonder if it would be stretching the ‘no international repercussions’ stipulation but:

      Greenland.

      Greenland is massive, has a tiny population (56,000) that would be almost outnumbered by the occupiers and, most importantly, has no standing military forces of its own, as defence is the responsibility of the Kingdom of Denmark.

    • JPNunez says:

      Well you can always try to get one of those small principalities in Europe. The most interesting target is, of course, the Vatican City. You could take a bunch of tourists and monuments as hostage and hold out for a good while. Maybe the NYPD can install their own Pope.

      The stupid part is that the Vatican is maybe too small to hold all the police / fire fighters. A better idea is to use the mystical beachhead to go in, storm the place, kidnap the pope, steal some art, and go back.

      There is, of course, the very real possibility of just storming any embassy in New York, even without magical portal. None will count as “conquering” a country, of course, but they could easily coordinate an attack on a fuckton of countries. Or just plain old attack the UN building while some delegations are in.

      • Ketil says:

        Having just bought tickets to the Vatican sights, I think NYPD should just keep the racket going and use the funds to finance the invasion of the rest of Italy. It shouldn’t take long with the prices they charge…

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Take the Pope hostage or let him go?

        He’s a really valuable hostage, but there are a lot of Catholics in New York City who might be against that. For that matter, your police force might be unwilling to conquer Vatican City.

        • JPNunez says:

          The Vatican city is so small that you could probably not include all the catholics or conscientious objectors in the NYPD and still be able to conquer it easily.

    • JPNunez says:

      On second thought, I was thinking too small. The NYPD is in a good position to conquer…the United States of America.

      With some luck and good timing and preparation, they could convince Donald Trump there is a coup brewing. Invite him to give him some prize, or wait until he visits, take out the secret service, show him some prepared fake video evidence and convince him the secret service and Pence were against him, and that the NYPD is the only loyal to him. Depending on how much people they need to take down to put the chief of police as VP, then organize Trump’s death. Done.

      edit: but JP, that’s not how succession works

      just use the beachhead to storm and dissolve congress

      • EchoChaos says:

        Thinking outside the box. Nice.

      • woah77 says:

        This is along the lines of my opinions on how fragile the government is to internal takedown.
        36000 is more than enough to bring the entire nation to its knees.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I expect it would be a lot harder than this sounds. No resistance from the US military?

          • JPNunez says:

            The idea would be to keep Trump semi kidnapped. Basically surrounded by cops, and told/being shown proof that the high command of the military is against him. The necessary conspiracy theories would be seeded for him before hand. Best case, Trump would tell the military to stand down, or give orders that help the cops in the end.

            The beachhead could be used creatively to make it look like the secret service in conjuction with some foreign power did an attack on congress, thus giving a casus belli to Trump, then the military, without congressional oversight, would probably obey.

      • Ttar says:

        The state governors would send their national guard
        contingents in if Congress were dissolved/massacred and the President were unresponsive. The regular federal military branches would potentially be paralyzed if POTUS and the Pentagon were giving conflicting orders, but only the military high command would have the infrastructure needed to actually do anything with the armed forces. Trump could command them not to obey the generals but the most that would do is keep like 50% of them at home, while the other 50% would probably follow the chain of command until it stopped (short of POTUS in this example). If NYPD took out basically all of DC and also all of the military commanders between Washington and then Pentagon somehow, there would still be plenty of colonels stationed around the country and the world who could coordinate a response, and the assumption would be that any commands from any officials in NYPD-occupied territory were being made under duress.

    • Another Throw says:

      (i.e. no stealth fighters).

      Are you actually sure about that? The 1033 program gets an awfully bad rap for providing military equipment to the police. Maybe the NYPD could order up a couple F35’s; I certainly can’t tell because nobody seems keen on reporting what equipment is actually on offer. (Well, obviously not F35’s because they’re not being disposed of. A-10’s maybe? It looks like demilitarized mods are starting to pop up. (The A-10 obviously isn’t a stealth fighter, but once the AF finally gets their way in killing it there is a possibility they may start popping up in police departments. Surviviability against ground fire in high intensity drug traffic areas sounds like exactly the kind of justification that might work.))

  21. Basil Marte says:

    I don’t know if anybody tied these concepts together, but here goes nothing: AI, consequentialism/deontology, and the latter’s extreme.

    The standard AGI concept is to have the agent build a model of the environment, predict the consequences of taking a number of possible actions, evaluate the consequences with the utility function, and choose the action leading to the highest expected value. In online mode, in real time. What do you do if this doesn’t work, even in terms of the actually-implemented utility function (I’m not writing about alignment)?

    Perhaps the agent is just too computationally limited. Perhaps its world-model is systematically garbage and produces incorrect predictions of actions’ consequences. Perhaps its “simulated” evaluation of its utility function over the predicted consequences is broken.

    One obvious thing to do is to simply move the computation offline. Create some environments*actions->consequences table in advance, evaluate the utility function over it, pick the best action. And now that you have an environments->actions mapping, do clustering on it, “to fill in the gaps” of sparsity. (And you hope that the world is merciful, that your utility function has low derivatives.)

    This is deontology. The agent now only has to recognize what environment it is in.

    However, so far this only takes care of the first objection: computational limits. To handle the other two, one would have to say: let’s observe agents try various actions in various environments, and score the actually realized consequences by actually applying our utility function, rather than simulating applying our utility function to imagined consequences. This “extreme deontology” is, I think, at the core of.

    Writing out the above also reproduces the standard objections, as well as some unusual ones.
    Standard: We used clustering to “fill in” our environments->actions map. Clustering can be broken by intentionally constructed counterexamples, as well as by technology throwing up situations far outside the “training set” used to construct the clustering.
    Unusual: We buried the utility function pretty deep in our deontology. If the agent doesn’t have exactly the same utility function, it would have to redo a whole lot of computations, on an extremely large set of data, which it presumably doesn’t have (the environments*actions->consequences table). Without doing this, on the other hand, the agent experiences predictable regret.

    • Incurian says:

      I like the idea of thinking about ethics through the hypothetical of “how should we program a robot?” That seems to make it easier to shed my biases/mood affiliation/whatever and consider the problem with an open mind. I guess at some point you run into the problem of “we can’t re-program humans, so those biases need to be taken into account when doing ethics,” but I think it would still be helpful for considering certain aspects.

      I know that’s not where you were going with this at all, but it’s just a thought I had as I read your post.

  22. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to describe the most Lex Luthor plan you can imagine Jeff Bezos carrying out.
    He’s made public speeches about how Blue Origin is about baby steps toward the infrastructure for building O’Neill habitats for a trillion people. Could he get as far as a mass driver on the Moon before old age or cancer from carrying Kryptonite takes him?

    • AG says:

      Bezos decides that AmazonFresh-grocery should expand to offering baked goods. However, to cut costs, he decides that stores should be stocked via covertly re-directing deliveries from another franchise (it’s a simple process, by having Alexa change the GPS directions of the shippers). Across the country, one delivery of cake is stolen per hour of the weekday work week, when no one was looking.

      And that’s terrible.

  23. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    A lot of people have been talking about abuse of the codeword system or otherwise over-classifying documents to prevent them from leaking.

    Putting aside the specifics of the Trump / Ukraine situation, what would the proper precautions to prevent leaks be? If the White House staff and Intelligence Community are ideologically opposed to a sitting President and have demonstrated that they’re willing to leak any potentially embarrassing or politically damaging information that they have access to, how is a President supposed to deal with that situation within the rules?

    People’s tones imply that the answer isn’t “there isn’t one, neener neener” so I’d like to know what the actual answer is.

    • EchoChaos says:

      People’s tones imply that the answer isn’t “there isn’t one, neener neener” so I’d like to know what the actual answer is.

      The actual answer is “there isn’t one”, unfortunately.

      The original idea of the bureaucracy was the spoils system, which meant that everyone would be ideologically aligned with the President. For obvious reasons, this meant government performance was bad.

      So we went to the “apolitical” government employee with the protections implied in that. Unfortunately, this led to the fact of the government drifting to one party (left-right is irrelevant here, but once one party is captured, it reinforces itself).

      This means that the non captured party will always be at a disadvantage.

      • Aftagley says:

        The original idea of the bureaucracy was the spoils system, which meant that everyone would be ideologically aligned with the President. For obvious reasons, this meant government performance was bad.

        This argument fails, however, given that in Trump’s administration it’s been his staff (IE political appointees (IE Spoils)) who have been doing the leaking. The actual bureaucrats, on the other hand, have mostly practiced commendable infosec.

        For an example of this, consider how the details of a recent meeting with Trump’s appointed DHS secretary leaked to the NYT, but there still hasn’t been an IRS employee who’s leaked Trump’s tax returns.

        • EchoChaos says:

          For an example of this, consider how the details of a recent meeting with Trump’s appointed DHS secretary leaked to the NYT, but there still hasn’t been an IRS employee who’s leaked Trump’s tax returns.

          The IRS is specifically very commendable here. But I haven’t heard that it is mostly political appointees. Where are you getting that from? As far as I know, most sources are still anonymous.

        • Aftagley says:

          Yes, the sources are still anonymous, but almost all of them have been branded as a source within the white house. That means it’s a someone in the administration, not a public employee. Really, other than people in the military, the president doesn’t really interact much with non-political appointees. The entire staff at the west wing serves at his pleasure, as do the heads of the major agencies. Anything you see leaking about Trump doing or saying something in a meeting almost certainly came from someone he hired.

          That being said, at this point your just trusting my word for it. Let’s see how to prove this claim…

          Well, if you take this recent Axios rundown of the top 10 leaks from his administration as being representative, 6 of them could only have come from people in his administration (all the ones about personal meetings or internal disagreement) , 3 of them were either people in his administration or elected republicans (or their staff) (the ones that mention his discussion with lawmakers) and one of them could maybe have come from a person in the IC, but also could have been from his staff (the leaked calls with Mexico and Australia from the start of his presidency).

          • EchoChaos says:

            Thanks. That is very helpful.

          • detroitdan says:

            But there have been many false “leaks” from murky sources not in the Trump Administration, including many which formed the basis for Mueller’s investigation. See The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story.

          • Aftagley says:

            The basis for the Mueller investigation was Trump firing James Comey. That prompted the Acting Attorney General to appoint him as a special prosecutor. AFAIK this had nothing to do with a leak.

            If you’re talking about the FBI CI investigation, that was started after the gov. of Australia approached the US and told them that one of their diplomats had been told by a drunk Trump adviser that the campaign had Russian contacts.

        • J Mann says:

          there still hasn’t been an IRS employee who’s leaked Trump’s tax returns

          It’s possible that’s thanks to information control. If there’s a pretty limited set of people who have access to Trump’s returns and a log of who views them, it makes leaking much more risky.

          • Aftagley says:

            You’re almost certainly correct… but that’s also kind of my point.

            The IRS, as a bureaucratic organization is mature/regimented/developed/whatever enough to prevent it’s members from accessing non-essential data and then sharing that data with unauthorized recipients.

      • matthewravery says:

        The original idea of the bureaucracy was the spoils system

        Are you claiming that the reason government agencies were created and staffed was “the spoils system”? That the current bureaucracy is run by “the spoils system”?

        The latter is unambiguously false for over 99% of it. (Per Wikipedia, there were about 4,000 political appointees in Federal positions as of 2016 vice over 2 million federal civilian employees. (That number does not include the 600,000 postal service employees.)

        “Can those political appointees do spoils-by-proxy?”, you might reasonably ask. Well, political appointees are concentrated in leadership roles, many of which have hiring privileges. They have some privileges to reassign/move around non-appointee civilians, though that’s not usually done without some type of internal process to recommend the change in structure, and even then you don’t get new billets to fill unless the folks you reassigned actually end up quitting. But most Federal hiring requires its own diligence and administrative/bureaucratic process, which you don’t get to just ignore/change overnight. This means that for most roles, the political appointee doesn’t get to choose whomever they want based on ideology. In a four-year or eight-year term, there’s very limited change you can effect on personnel throughout an organization, even with a concerted effort.

        As for the historic purpose of “the bureaucracy”, the purposes are are diverse as the extant organizations and the programs they administer.

        I’ll add that the Federal bureaucrats that I interact with take their jobs seriously, and in most cases, have turned down more lucrative private-sector jobs to work a harder job because they view the mission as important. They are politically diverse but I don’t hear much discussion of politics in the office. (The exception to this rule being the political appointees.) They don’t view their positions as “spoils” but rather as the earned result of long service and dedication.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Are you claiming that the reason government agencies were created and staffed was “the spoils system”?

          Originally the latter. It was seen as a perk of your guy winning the office that he gave out jobs to his supporters.

          That the current bureaucracy is run by “the spoils system”

          Absolutely not. Most Federal bureaucrats are in fact not on the spoils system.

          • matthewravery says:

            I think it’s a bit more subtle than that. Sometimes you give out positions as perks/rewards, but just as often, you give them out to accomplish a policy goal. Perhaps this is a “spoil” for some of your constituency or something, but I don’t think that’s what’s traditionally meant by “spoils system”. I think of old-school Machine politics or Andrew Jackson when I hear “spoils system”, which was about favors more than accomplishing policy goals.

            So, for example, if you have a constituency that thinks that Federal fracking laws are too stringent, you don’t want to appoint some rando who gave you money or hosted some campaign events to run the agency in charge of fracking laws. You want to appoint a skilled bureaucrat who know how to efficiently re-direct the non-political bureaucracy to loosen regulations. If you’re giving this job away as a political favor for prestige or a subtle quid pro quo, you’re not being a very effective politician. Maybe the person you appoint helped campaign for you or endorsed you or something, but you should choose them for reasons beyond (or at least in addition to) those. So it’s a bit more subtle than that is all I’m saying.

      • onyomi says:

        we went to the “apolitical” government employee with the protections implied in that. Unfortunately, this led to the fact of the government drifting to one party

        I wonder if this isn’t also sort of what happened to academia

    • jermo sapiens says:

      how is a President supposed to deal with that situation within the rules?

      I’m not aware of all the specific legal rules governing the President’s authority to classify things, but I’ve heard that the President is the ultimate classifying/declassifying authority, and also that classifying things as secret to avoid embarrassment is a crime (see @EchoChaos below).

      Personally I like the idea of giving the President alot of leeway to classify documents as he sees fit, in part for dealing with leaks, but also as a general principle. If a President starts classifying too many things as secret, there will be a political price that will/should be paid.

      I particularly dislike the idea that classification should be criminalized based on some vague standard like whether the information is embarrassing, specially given our elite’s tendencies for prosecuting Republicans and letting Democrats off the hook.

    • Aftagley says:

      Two minor quibbles about your question:

      A lot of people have been talking about abuse of the codeword system or otherwise over-classifying documents to prevent them from leaking.

      As far as I’m aware, they weren’t putting it in the codeword system or over-classifying the documents to reduce leaking per se; they were doing so in order to restrict access to potentially leak-able information. This might sound like I’m arguing over semantics, but it’s an important distinction.

      If the White House staff and Intelligence Community are ideologically opposed to a sitting President and have demonstrated that they’re willing to leak any potentially embarrassing or politically damaging information that they have access to, how is a President supposed to deal with that situation within the rules?

      Unless I’m forgetting any, I’m pretty sure only a few leaks have come out of the Intelligence Community. Almost everything we’ve seen get to the press has come from political appointees and staffers. As far as I remember, Reality Winner is the only IC member who’s gone to the press.

      Anyway, on to your question:
      There are three basic strategies:
      1. Only hire people who are motivated and dedicated to you and your cause. These people aren’t going to leak.
      2. Actively hunt down and punish people who leak to such an extent that the risks of doing so are perceived to be unacceptably high.
      3. Get really good at compartmentalizing information. The fewer people who know something, the less likely leaking becomes.

      The thing is, Trump can’t do any of these things.

      1. He’s already had trouble attracting talent, especially talent with any kind of experience. He’s been able to attract some conventional republicans, but these people aren’t loyal to him, so they leak.

      2. AFAIK, he hasn’t punished anyone too stringently for leaking, despite constantly tweeting about it. Even the secretary he fired for talking trash about Tiffany got a relatively nice goodbye. I don’t know if he doesn’t want to punish people for leaking, or if he can’t.

      3. Compartmentaling information takes discipline and control. You’d need an empowered chief of staff who has the authority to tell people “no, you can’t see this call transcript or by on the line.” You’d need a President who knows when he’s saying stuff that needs to be controlled and doesn’t go off in public meetings.

      He/His administration can’t do any of the above things, so leaks will continue to happen.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        There are three basic strategies:
        1. Only hire people who are motivated and dedicated to you and your cause. These people aren’t going to leak.
        2. Actively hunt down and punish people who leak to such an extent that the risks of doing so are perceived to be unacceptably high.
        3. Get really good at compartmentalizing information. The fewer people who know something, the less likely leaking becomes.

        The thing is, Trump can’t do any of these things.

        More generally, no President can do any of these things, to an extent that will make a difference. A President can hire maybe ten people who will never leak, which is enough to run two and a half games of bridge, but not enough to direct ten departments full of the thousands of people necessary to conduct investigations, implement trade sanctions, handle reporters, etc. That also includes the people necessary to hunt down and punish the people who leak; try to bind them, and one of them ends up leaking. And the sheer amount of information generated by any administration dealing with over a hundred other administrations on behalf of over 300 million people flatly precludes the type of compartmentalization that would permit any sort of effective coordination or even the President’s awareness of all those compartments. The best you can do is spot check here and there, varying certain key reports and watching the other end of the pipe like a mid-series Tyrion Lannister.

        All of which is probably a good thing.

        Furthermore, a good administrator in the Machiavellian sense wants leaking. It’s vital. You need certain information to get out through disavowable channels, and you can’t have that if you start punishing all your leakers or failing to disavow one or two when they do.

        • Aftagley says:

          More generally, no President can do any of these things, to an extent that will make a difference.

          Well, it depends on your definition of difference. As far as I remember, the previous president tried to do #1, arguably overdid #2, and took a reasonable stab at doing #3. As such, it definitely seemed like we had less “he said, she said” leaks come out of the white house.

          Sure, stuff still leaked, but not as much and it was not as gossipy.

          • cassander says:

            There are two sides to news stories about leaks, someone wanting to leak something and someone wanting to write about it. All the evidence I’ve seen points to a considerably higher level of willingness to do the latter when it comes to the trump administration. Probably more of the former too, but I lack direct evidence on that.

          • Aftagley says:

            Maybe, but that’s only a meaningful observation if there are similar events going on behind closed doors in both administrations.

            Say you’ve got two presidents: one is boring, doesn’t talk much and when he does tends to be overly careful and professorial. This president tends to surround himself with equally boring, or at least careful people. The second president, on the other hand, is known to say inflammatory stuff and hires a host bombastic personalities.

            That the press will want to write more about the goings-on of the second presidency is obvious, and not, IMO, evidence of an agenda-based conspiracy.

          • cassander says:

            You seem to be assuming that reporters don’t have intrinsic motivation of their own. Obama smokes, seems to have tried to quit but never managed it completely, and worked hard to keep it on the DL. The press seems to have cooperated with him fairly well on that front. Do you doubt that if trump smoked and tried to keep it discreet, we’d have a cottage industry dedicated to people trying to sneak pictures of him smoking and publishing them?

            I don’t doubt that Trump says more things that the average member of the press corps doesn’t like than obama did, but that’s not the only factor at play.

          • zzzzort says:

            You’re putting a lot of faith the consistent agenda of the media, which is far from monolithic.
            -Partisan media outlets exist on both sides, so everyone has a friendly ear for damaging leaks
            -Most media outlets are desperate for traffic, and would sell out their own mothers for a click.
            -Not all scandals are equally compelling. Having trouble quitting smoking is not really a scandal, whereas suggesting shooting immigrants in the legs to slow them down (to pick one example from just this weeks) has that clickbaity quality, even if it’s unlikely to have been meant literally.

          • cassander says:

            @zzzzort says:

            You’re putting a lot of faith the consistent agenda of the media, which is far from monolithic.

            not a consistent agenda, but a consistent attitude and culture. And the research backs me up on this one.

            -Partisan media outlets exist on both sides, so everyone has a friendly ear for damaging leaks

            Not really. I mean, there are partisan outlets, but even the people working the republican institutions are far more blue tribe than the average republican, by education if not by upbringing.
            And most outlets are commenting or riffing on stories reported on by a few core institutions, the AP, Reuters, Washington post, NYT, etc. They are even more overwhelmingly blue tribe.

            -Most media outlets are desperate for traffic, and would sell out their own mothers for a click.

            Sure, but the things deep blue thinks of trying to get clicks is notw what deep red would.

            -Not all scandals are equally compelling. Having trouble quitting smoking is not really a scandal,

            My point is that it would be a scandal, if trump were doing it.

    • Aftagley says:

      Two minor quibbles about your question:

      A lot of people have been talking about abuse of the codeword system or otherwise over-classifying documents to prevent them from leaking.

      As far as I’m aware, they weren’t putting it in the codeword system or over-classifying the documents to reduce leaking per se; they were doing so in order to restrict access to potentially leak-able information. This might sound like I’m arguing over semantics, but it’s an important distinction.

      If the White House staff and Intelligence Community are ideologically opposed to a sitting President and have demonstrated that they’re willing to leak any potentially embarrassing or politically damaging information that they have access to, how is a President supposed to deal with that situation within the rules?

      Unless I’m forgetting any, I’m pretty sure only a few leaks have come out of the Intelligence Community. Almost everything we’ve seen get to the press has come from political appointees and staffers. As far as I remember, Reality Winner is the only IC member who’s gone to the press.

      Anyway, on to your question:
      There are three basic strategies:
      1. Only hire people who are motivated and dedicated to you and your cause. These people aren’t going to leak.
      2. Actively hunt down and punish people who leak to such an extent that the risks of doing so are perceived to be unacceptably high.
      3. Get really good at compartmentalizing information. The fewer people who know something, the less likely leaking becomes.

      The thing is, Trump can’t do any of these things.

      1. He’s already had trouble attracting talent, especially talent with any kind of experience. He’s been able to attract some conventional republicans, but these people aren’t loyal to him, so they leak.

      2. AFAIK, he hasn’t punished anyone too stringently for leaking, despite constantly tweeting about it. Even the secretary he fired for talking trash about Tiffany got a relatively nice goodbye. I don’t know if he doesn’t want to punish people for leaking, or if he can’t.

      3. Compartmentalizing information takes discipline and control. You’d need an empowered chief of staff who has the authority to tell people “no, you can’t see this call transcript or by on the line.” You’d need a President who knows when he’s saying stuff that needs to be controlled and doesn’t go off in public meetings.

      He/His administration can’t do any of the above things, so leaks will continue to happen.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Nothing new in any way here, except well, Trump. The current system deals with this by stomping on the source of the leak, hard. And it works, in the sense that leaks are rare. Very rare, actually, considering all the opportunity.

      “Trump” means… well, nothing non obvious. People in the bureaucracy vote predominantly Democrat and the media is ridiculously biased against him, but on the other hand he’s so erratic and they’ve cried wolf so many times that he’s almost immune to scandal. This applies just as well to whistleblowers: if he tries to deal with them the exact way Obama did they’ll try to skin him alive, only to find there’s no skin left.

    • J Mann says:

      Powerlineblog has an interesting article related to this point.

      The author’s contention is that pre-9/11, information was much more restricted within the bureaucracy to try to reduce leaks, but post 9/11, we’ve transitioned to a lot more sharing (inside the security bubble) to try to increase collaboration and reduce siloing.

      Unfortunately, that means it is pretty hard to lock down information that your political opponents in the bureaucracy have an incentive to leak.

    • hls2003 says:

      I’ve no experience with the classification guidelines, and I’ve been wondering something similar since reviewing the transcript notes. I was initially pretty surprised to see the release, because whatever else there is, there’s frank discussion and/or negative treatment of (1) potential military purchases by a foreign state (which is fighting Russia); (2) potential military assistance from EU countries; (3) Merkel and Macron’s lack of follow-through or commitment; and (4) ongoing Ukrainian investigations into corruption.

      To my untrained eye, this looks like the textbook definition of a communication I think should be highly classified. It reveals elements of Ukraine’s military posture or planning to its adversary Russia; it reveals the EU’s strategic planning with regard to its eastern front; it could affect relationships with our allies; and it could alert potential corrupt persons to investigations coming their way. At the very least, I would think that leaking of a transcript like this might be expected to threaten real national security and/or foreign policy consequences, and so I would see higher classification to avoid leaking as itself an understandable rationale.

      I’m not saying this was the rationale or that it’s appropriately classified or anything else, because I know little about the process. My question is, if this doesn’t qualify for pretty heavy classification, why not? What further elements would be required to justify a higher classification level?

      ETA: If asked if this means I don’t approve of the Trump Administration’s decision to release the transcript, the answer is “correct, I don’t.” I think it was a bad idea, although due to the President’s powers of declassification probably not illegal.

      • John Schilling says:

        To my untrained eye, this looks like the textbook definition of a communication I think should be highly classified.

        I’ve already linked to the State Department’s official guide to what they think should be highly classified.

        And very little of what Trump and Zelensky discussed would qualify. In particular, things like the United States selling Ukraine anti-tank missiles is almost never classified, even if it includes the exact number and model. That’s usually public information, regularly reported in the trade press. You’d need to get into e.g. the engineering details of the weapons to merit a SECRET.

        Same deal with the existence or negotiation of defensive alliances. Details like “…and so the 82nd airborne will parachute in to defend the Debaltsev salient” are SECRET; the simple fact that the US is lining up to help guarantee Ukranian territorial integrity while the EU is still wishy-washy is not going to rise above the default CONFIDENTIAL for any direct communications between heads of government.

        You could probably find an excuse to mark one or two paragraphs with an (S) if you really tried, but it would probably be a stretch and it would probably look like a stretch. The whole document, no.

    • Garrett says:

      It was once pointed out to me that stuff which was done in the White House tended to get leaked. But stuff done at his Golf Courses tended not to get leaked. Thus a serious incentive to to golfing on a regular basis.

    • beleester says:

      The other commenters have covered the general issues with preventing leaks, but I’d note that the most recent scandal started with a whistleblower, not a leak – AIUI, the person who made the complaint went through the correct legal procedures for reporting something that they thought was illegal, various lawyers and officials looked at it and said “Yes, this was a legal reason to blow the whistle”, and eventually Congress got wind of it and started asking questions.

      So there isn’t really a remedy for that one beyond “change the law to remove the legal route for whistleblowing” and that’s obviously a can of worms you don’t want to open.

      • cassander says:

        This isn’t exactly right, they changed the rules for whistleblowing, and then he went through those new rules. what was done wouldn’t have been legal (or, at least, valid) a year ago.

          • cassander says:

            I don’t see what you think that proves. It’s not (as far as I know) disputed that the old form specifically told whistle blowers not to report information second hand without proof, and the new one did not. And I am not aware of claims that the WB has first hand knowledge of the events in question, though I haven’t been following closely.

          • ECD says:

            You:

            This isn’t exactly right, they changed the rules for whistleblowing, and then he went through those new rules. what was done wouldn’t have been legal (or, at least, valid) a year ago.

            IC IG:

            Although the form requests information about whether the Complainant possesses first-hand knowledge about the matter about which he or she is lodging the complaint, there is no such requirement set forth in the statute. In fact, by law the Complainant – or any individual in the Intelligence Community who wants to report information with respect
            to an urgent concern to the congressional intelligence committees – need not possess first-hand information in order to file a complaint or information with respect to an urgent concern. The
            ICIG cannot add conditions to the filing of an urgent concern that do not exist in law.

            Now previously:

            At the time the Complainant filed the Disclosure of Urgent Concern form with the ICIG
            on August 12, 2019, the ICIG followed its routine practice and provided the Complainant
            information, including “Background Information on ICWPA Process,”

            Which included the language being referenced, however, you obviously can’t change the law with form instructions. As to why the change occurred now:

            In 2018, the ICIG formed a new Center for Protected Disclosures, which has as one of its primary functions to process complaints from whistleblowers under the ICWPA. In early 2019,
            the ICIG hired a new Hotline Program Manager as part of the Center for Protected Disclosures to
            oversee the ICIG’s Hotline. In June 2019, the newly hired Director for the Center for Protected
            Disclosures entered on duty. Thus, the Center for Protected Disclosures has been reviewing the
            forms provided to whistleblowers who wish to report information with respect to an urgent concern to the congressional intelligence committees. In the process of reviewing and clarifying those forms, and in response to recent press inquiries regarding the instant whistleblower complaint, the ICIG understood that certain language in those forms and, more specifically, the informational materials accompanying the forms, could be read – incorrectly – as suggesting that whistleblowers must possess first-hand information in order to file an urgent concern complaint with the congressional intelligence committees.

            Also, even if the requirement was for first hand knowledge before it rose to the level of urgent concern

            As part of his determination that the urgent concern appeared credible, the Inspector
            General of the Intelligence Community determined that the Complainant had official and
            authorized access to the information and sources referenced in the Complainant’s Letter and
            Classified Appendix, including direct knowledge of certain alleged conduct, and that the
            Complainant has subject matter expertise related to much of the material information provided in
            the Complainant’s Letter and Classified Appendix. In short, the ICIG did not find that the
            Complainant could “provide nothing more than second-hand or unsubstantiated assertions,” which
            would have made it much harder, and significantly less likely, for the Inspector General to
            determine in a 14-calendar day review period that the complaint “appeared credible,” as required
            by statute.

            But, even if it had failed that test, that would not mean the whistleblower had done anything invalid, or improper, or illegal.

            ETA: None of the above is legal advice.

          • cassander says:

            @ECD

            The old language wasn’t clarified, it was radically altered. Someone explicitly laid out that you couldn’t report hearsay, and someone decided to change that. Whether or not the change was accompanied by a formal change in regulations seems rather besides the point to me.

          • ECD says:

            I think you’re reversing the order and the burden. At some point (unknown, based on the coverage I have seen, though I’d be interested to know when and why) this instruction was added, without change in law or regulation to support it. This was recognized and removed at a later date. That did not require a change in law or regulation.

  24. DragonMilk says:

    So what do people think of the judge in he Dallas Cop trial hugging the convicted and giving a bible, along with a brother-of-victim hug?

    • Randy M says:

      I think a white judge would probably not have been able to do that. But I didn’t catch whether the killer showed any particular remorse. This implies she did.
      So long as the judge ruled fair, expressions of compassion are probably usually beneficial. It’s probably the best end something like this can have.

      • acymetric says:

        She broke down crying (enough that they had to call a recess I think) several times during her testimony. It isn’t hard for me to believe that she feels really bad about killing an innocent man in his apartment. No problem from me with some compassion from the brother and the judge when it comes to a tragedy that ended one life and ruined another one.

        • albatross11 says:

          +1

          This woman killed a random stranger sitting in his own apartment watching TV. She did it, not from any particular malice, but just because she made a terrible mistake and then made bad decisions that disastrously compounded it, until a potentially funny misunderstanding ended with one person dead and another looking at a decade in prison. By all accounts, she was genuinely remorseful, just as any non-sociopath would be in this awful situation[1]. The laws of Texas presumably required something like the outcome here, and there are good reasons to try to discourage others from making such bad decisions that lead to shooting an innocent person dead in his own home, but it’s still basically destroying her life, and her victim is already dead (with all the damage that did to his family and friends and community).

          Hugging her and giving her a bible doesn’t seem crazy in these circumstances. Showing her compassion is the decent thing to do, a way for the judge to express that he had to send her to prison given what she did, but he still sees the human inside. And her victim’s brother hugging her is a genuine burst of human kindness in the middle of an awful situation.

          [1] I suspect she’d have had a good chance of staying out of prison if she had been more sociopathic, and thus willing to stick to the usual police script of “I was in fear for my life, I thought I saw him reaching for a gun and had to defend myself.” It probably speaks well for her as a human being that she couldn’t stick with that script, though the shooting indicates she should never have been walking around with a gun, let alone a badge.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I am not terribly emotional, so saccharine displays like this don’t do much for me, but if it helps the victim’s family, they can engage in whatever display they need.

      I find the judge doing it modestly inappropriate, but not worthy of any censure.

    • broblawsky says:

      The brother-hug is certainly a positive thing; if forgiveness helps him move on, he has every right to express it in whatever way he feels best. The judge should’ve stayed on the bench.

    • J Mann says:

      I thought it was very touching and heartwarming. On a purely formal note, it’s probably not legally appropriate for a state official to give a defendant a Bible.

    • Aftagley says:

      Eh, sentencing hearings always tend to be a bit looser than actual cases. Once guilt is established a bunch of the previous rules on formality become less important.

      That being said, not sure why the judge felt the need to get involved but, eh.

    • John Schilling says:

      Of particular note, it looks like the judge was following the brother’s lead in the hugging department. And that the legally significant parts of the trial had concluded. Mercy and forgiveness are usually good things; endorsing someone else’s offer of mercy and forgiveness even more so.

    • zzzzort says:

      I’m definitely for more forgiveness/reconciliation being part of the justice system, especially (as pointed out by Schilling) when it is led by the victim’s family. However, I worry that this a bit of a bad example, as society is already very willing to sympathize with (and the justice system gives a lot of deference to) police officers who shoot people.

  25. viVI_IViv says:

    What do you think of the movie Ad Astra?

    It received stellar reviews (pun intended) from the critics (save for a few ranting about toxic masculinity), so I watched it expecting a good hard(ish) sci-fi flick, and I was disappointed.

    The movie has amazing visuals, mostly in the backgrounds, but that’s about the only thing that I’ve enjoyed. It feels like a sequence of largely disconnected scenes that look individually good and even introduced some good ideas, just to throw them away and never mention them again. E.g. gur ovt-nff beovgny nagraan gbjre gung Oenq Cvgg snyyf bss va gur bcravat frdhrapr. Pbby fprar, ohg gura jura ur unf gb pnyy uvf qnq bss va Arcghar, ur unf gb tb gb Znef. Jul pna’g ur pnyy sebz Rnegu, vs gurl unir nagraanf guvf ovt? Vs gur genafzvffvba unf gb tb sebz Znef, jul pna’g gurl whfg ebhgr gur fvtany sebz Rnegu?

    Ohg naljnl, gurl unir gb fraq Cvgg naq fbzr bpgbtranevna qhqr (Qbanyq Fhgureynaq) gb Znef gb ernq n cer-jevggra zrffntr, naq gurl unir gb fgbc naq punatr ebpxrgf ba gur Zbba, orpnhfr bs ernfbaf. Gur fcnprpensgf nyy ybbx yvxr gur Ncbyyb cebwrpg: zhygv-fgntr ebpxrgf, cbjrerq ynaqref. Qvq gurl sbetrg gur ovt-nff gbjre? Jul ab fcnpr ryringbef? Gurl jbhyq jbex rira orggre ba gur Zbba naq Znef.

    Ba gur Zbba gurl qba’g rira ynaq ng gur fnzr fcnprcbeg gurl jvyy qrcneg sebz, vafgrnq gurl unir gb geniry ba gur fhesnpr, ba Ncbyyb-fglyr ohttvrf, juvyr gurl trg nggnpxrq ol “cvengrf”. Gur Znq Znk-rfdhr ybj tenivgl pne punfr ba gur Zbba ybbxf pbby, naq gur vqrn bs gur fcnpr orvat n ynjyrff jnfgrynaq bireeha ol cvengrf pbhyq unir orra na vagrerfgvat cerzvfr, rkprcg gung vg’f arire zragvbarq ntnva.

    Naljnl, Cvgg naq Fhgureynaq znxr vg gb gur fcnprcbeg, rkprcg gung Fhgureynaq unf na urneg nggnpx naq pna’g pbagvahr. Jryy, qhu, nera’g nfgebanhgf fhccbfrq gb or culfvpnyyl svg? Rfcrpvnyyl vs gurl ner gnxvat cneg gb n zvffvba gb fnir znaxvaq. Gurl unzzre vagb hf gung Cvgg unf gb pbafgnagyl gnxr culfvbybtvpny rinyhngvba grfgf, bgurejvfr ur’f qravrq gb syl, ohg gur 80-fbzrguvat thl jvgu n jrnx urneg pna gnxr ebpxrgf naq or punfrq ol cvengrf.

    Fb Cvgg tbrf gb Znef jvgu n perj bs zrgu-nqqvpgrq vqvbgf. Qhevat gur wbhearl gurl cvpx hc n qvfgerff fvtany sebz n ovbybtvpny fcnpr erfrnepu fgngvba, juvpu jnf whfg beovgvat gurer, va gur zvqqyr bs abjurer. Gurl fgbc gb vairfgvtngr, rira gubhtu gurl jrer fhccbfrq gb pneel bhg n fhcre-vzcbegnag zvffvba. Gheaf bhg gung gur fgngvba unf orra bireeha ol zbaxrlf, jub nccneragyl znhyrq nyy gur perj (jr qba’g npghnyyl frr nal pbecfr), gur zbaxrlf znhy gur pncgnva, Cvgg rfpncrf, gur enovq fcnpr zbaxrlf ner abg zragvbarq rire ntnva, nabgure qebccrq cybg cbvag.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      (cont.)

      Ba Znef ur farnxf vagb gur fnzr ebpxrg gung vf abj tbvat gb Arcghar gb oybj hc uvf qnq, gur vqvbg perj gevrf gb xvyy uvz ol hafgenccvat gurzfryirf qhevat yvsgbss naq oenjyvat jvgu uvz naq fubbgvat uvz jvgu n tha. Gurl fubbg n tha vafvqr n ebpxrg. Boivbhfyl gurl nyy qvr, rkprcg Cvgg orpnhfr ur jnf jrnevat cybg nezbe.

      Svanyyl ur trgf gb Arcghar nsgre gelvat gb onqyl cyntvnevmr 2001 npvq gevc frdhrapr (thrff ur sbhaq gur perj’f qeht fgnfu). Gurer vf fbzr grpuavpny fghcvqvgl urer (cnexvat uvf fuvc ba gur jebat fvqr bs gur evatf, yrggvat gur fuhggyr sybng njnl, whzcvat guebhtu gur evatf jvgu n zrgny cnary nf n fuvryq, rgp.), ohg zl znva tevcr jnf jvgu gur erfbyhgvba bs gur znva cybg nep: Jung vf tbvat ba jvgu uvf sngure naq uvf nyvra yvsr frnepu zvffvba gung jnf ybfg 30 lrnef ntb naq vf abj gelvat gb sel Rnegu jvgu nagvznggre RZC ZpThssva chyfrf? Qvq ur svaq nyvraf naq jnf ur oenva-jnfurq ol gurz? Qvq gurl nyfb oenva jnfu gur fcnpr zbaxrlf sebz orsber? Jnf ur vafgrnq gelvat gb svtug gurz fbzrubj? Jul qvq gur perj zhgval? Gheaf bhg gung gurl qvqa’g svaq fuvg, gur byq zna jrag penml naq fravyr naq zheqrerq nyy uvf perj jura gurl gevrq gb yrnir, gur nagvznggre ZpThssva ernpgbe whfg oebxr naq vg’f whfg enaqbzyl selvat Rnegu (ybbxf yvxr n qnatrebhf cvrpr bs rdhvczrag gb chg va fcnpr).

      Fb gur byq zna whfg qrpvqrf gb or n wrex gb uvf fba sbe gur ynfg gvzr naq gura pbzzvgf fhvpvqr. Cvgg ernyvmrf gung ur fcrag nyy uvf yvsr gelvat gb tnva gur nccebiny bs uvf sngure, ohg ur arire arrqrq vg orpnhfr uvf sngure jnf na n-ubyr, naq ur unf gb or n orggre zna naq pner sbe bgure crbcyr, lnqqn lnqqn lnqqn, V’ir frra guvf n zvyyvba gvzrf orsber, qbar orggre. Ubj znal qverpgbef ner fnygl gung gurl qnqf qvqa’g nccebir gurve jrveq negvfgvp pnerref?

      Overall, the characters hardly speak, instead we get this continuous voiceover with Pitt rambling, stream of consciousness inner monologue.

      Anyway, rant over. What are your opinions?

    • Elephant says:

      In brief, I thought it was a visually beautiful movie with a terrible plot, minimal and shallow. A minimal plot can be great (2001, for example), but Brad-Pitt-wants-to-find-his-dad-and-whines-a-lot has hardly any depth to it. I don’t really care about the technical / science-ish objections you wrote about. I just want a good, thoughtful story, and this wasn’t it. On a big screen, though, it was gorgeous.

      • Why is that the people in Hollywood are only capable of talking about two interpersonal relationships: romance and fathers?

        • acymetric says:

          They also do stories about friends, mothers, coworkers, neighbors, and rivals.

          Which relationships exactly do you feel are underrepresented? I’m pre-registering that it is almost certainly some kind of confirmation bias.

          • Obviously, I’m exaggerating. Those other movies do exist. But the things I talked about are certainly over-represented.

            “We have this character that seems cool, but we need to give them a vulnerability that affects their ability to connect with others. Here’s a crazy, unique idea: their dad was emotionally unavailable and never thought the kid was good enough”.

            “We have this cool high concept idea but we don’t think it can stand on its own. I know, let’s dedicate most of the screen time to a romantic sub-plot and say the movie was really about love the whole time.”

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Because most directors and screenwriters are artsy men who spent their youth not being laid and getting told by their fathers to get a real job?

        • Well... says:

          “Fathers” does seem to be what a lot of popular space sci-fi movies are about. Contact, Interstellar, etc. Lots of people looking for their dads. I’m not sure I buy vIVI_IViv’s explanation for this, at least not in many cases.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I really liked it. I liked the visuals, notably for their inventivity in terms of staging and editing — it didn’t feel like watching yet another sci-fi space film stuck in the shadow of 2001; this felt more like the cinema of Dennis Villeneuve or Terrence Malick, who are building their own cinematographic language and codes, than of Nolan or Ridley Scott, who desperately want to be the next Kubrick.

      It seems to me that the negative critics missed the point of the movie. Sure the plot is bare-bone simple — it’s about man trying to find his father — and the science-fiction is minimal (with the science itself not particularly solid), but that’s not what the story is about, that’s not the theme of the movie.

      The movie is about a confrontation between a worldview where one has to be independent, self-reliant, unbending and single-goal focused versus a worlview where people have to be social, mutually supportive, charitable and participating in the full range of human experience.

      Gur fva bs obgu sngure naq fba va guvf fgbel vf gung gurl rzoenpr gur svefg ivrj fb enqvpnyyl gung gurl raq hc znynwhfgrq naq qlfshapgvbany, ohg va jnlf gung qba’g vzzrqvngyl fubj hc — gurve eryragyrffarff cnffrf sbe pbasvqrapr naq va n abezny raivebazrag znxrf gurz frra nf pbzcrgrag urebrf — hagvy gurl unir gb snpr n pevfvf naq fhqqrayl gurve orunivbe orpbzrf jubyl znynqncgvir naq pernfgrf n pbafvqrenoyr nzbhag bs qnzntr nebhqa gurz.

      Gur sngure qvqa’g qrpvqr gb nggnpx Rnegu jvgu gur nagvznggre chyfrf, ohg vg’f uvf hapbzcebzvfvat zvffvba-sbphf gung riraghnyyl yrq gb zhgval nzbat uvf perj, jvgu qvfnfgebhf erfhygf.

      Gur fba qbrfa’g jnag gb svaq uvf sngure gb tnva uvf nccebiny (V’z abg fher ubaarfgyl ubj lbh pbhyq neevir ng gung ernqvat — ur pyrneyl gehfgf uvf sngure naq gehfgf gung uvf snure jbhyq or cebhq vs ur xarj nobhg uvf tebja hc fba), ur jnagf gb svaq uvf sngure orpnhfr gur npphfngvbaf ntnvafg gur ynggre ner na nggnpx ba uvf ebyr zbqry. Gur fba zbqryyrq uvf orunivbe ba gur fnzr cevapvcyrf nf uvf sngure, naq fb ur pnaabg pbaprvir gung guvf jbeyqivrj jbhyq ghea uvf sngure vagb na rarzl bs gur uhzna traer, orpnhfr gura guvf jbhyq unir gur fnzr vzcyvpngvba sbe gur fba.

      Ohg qhevat vf vapernfvatyl hauvatrq wbhearl gb svaqf uvf sngure, gur fba qvfpbiref gur xvaq bs qnzntr ur pna qb jura sbyybjvat uvf jbeyqivrj, ur raqf hc xvyyvat frireny crbcyr — gung’f gur jubyr cbvag bs gung fprar, gb fubj ubj qnzntvat gur jnl ur npgf vf, naq gura gb unir uvz geniry nybar gb ernyvfr (naq gur vaare zbabybthr rkcyvpvgryl zragvbaf guvf) gung gur gbgny fbyvghqr ur gubhtug ur jnagrq, njnl sebz nal bgure uhzna jub pbhyq “oheqra” uvz, vf npghnyyl n avtugzner.

      Naq fb jura ur ernpurf uvf sngure, uvf ivrj bs gur jbeyq vf nyernql oebxra — naq frrvat uvf sngure nf n oebxra, harzbgvbany uhfxf, jub’f bayl pncnoyr bs fnlvat gb uvf fba gung ur unf ab srryvatf sbe uvz be uvf zbgure, abg gb uheg uvz, abg bhg bs fcvgr, ohg nf n pbyq znggre-bs-snpg fgngrzrag, vf bayl gur svany pbasvezngvba bs gur fba’f eriryngvba — ur zhfg punatr, be vaqrrq orpbzr yvxr uvf sngure, jub jnf fb sbphfrq ba uvf tbny naq fb hasbetvivat naq hagehfgvat bs bguref gung ur raqf hc nybar, univat qrfgeblrq rirelguvat nebhaq uvz naq abg rira univat orra noyr gb frr gur inyhr bs jung ur unq sbhaq ng gur rqtr bs fcnpr.

      —–

      Bgurejvfr, V qvqa’g frr n ceboyrz jvgu gur rcvfbqvp angher bs gur svyz, abg rirel zbivr unf gb sbyybj n ol gur ahzore guerr npg fgehpgherf, naq ryrzragf orvat vagebqhprq gura sbetbggra vf n abezny cneg bs zbivrf pragrerq ba n wbhearl; vg’f jbeyq-ohvyqvat, vg’f abg gurer sbe gur cybg, vg’f gurer gb tvir qrcgu gb gur havirefr. Gung’f yvxr pbzcynvavat gung Uneevfba Sbeq be Eboreg Qhinyy bayl fubj hc sbe bar frdhrapr va Ncbpnylcfr nsgre juvpu gurl pbzcyrgryl qvfnccrne sebz gur zbivr.

      Nf n uneq fpvrapr-svpgvba svyz, vg zvtug or ynpxvat, ohg vg’f ntnva abg gur cbvag — gur zbivr pbhyq unir orra frg nyzbfg naljurer, gung gur fgbel unccraf va fcnpr vf zbfgyl vapvqragny.

    • mdet says:

      Relating to two of the issues you pointed out:

      Gurl pna’g fraq gur fvtany sebz Rnegu orpnhfr gur Rnegu nagraan jnf qnzntrq ol gur fhetr. Gur Znef rdhvczrag jnf zbfgyl haqretebhaq, naq fb fgvyy shapgvbany.

      Gurl qvqa’g ynaq ng gur fnzr Zbba onfr gurl qrcneg sebz orpnhfr gur bgure Zbba onfr jnf gbc frperg, juvpu nccneragyl zrnaf lbh pna’g geniry gurer qverpgyl sebz Rnegu.

      I thought the movie was good, but not great. A slow, lonely, melancholy drama + pretty space visuals + two or three action scenes which are more about making sure you’re still awake than directly contributing to the plot, and which hint at interesting ideas that are never followed up on. Then again, given how episodic James Gray’s The Lost City of Z* is, “episodic” might just be his style. Glad I went see it, but I don’t see myself coming back to it.

      *Now that I think about it, the protagonists of TLCoZ and Ad Astra are pretty similar too. Is Ad Astra just “The Lost Dad of Space”?

  26. viVI_IViv says:

    What do you think of the movie Ad Astra?

    It received stellar reviews (pun intended) from the critics (save for a few ranting about toxic masculinity), so I watched it expecting a good hard(ish) sci-fi flick, and I was disappointed.

    The movie has amazing visuals, mostly in the backgrounds, but that’s about the only thing that I’ve enjoyed. It feels like a sequence of largely disconnected scenes that look individually good and even introduced some good ideas, just to throw them away and never mention them again. E.g. gur ovt-nff beovgny nagraan gbjre gung Oenq Cvgg snyyf bss va gur bcravat frdhrapr. Pbby fprar, ohg gura jura ur unf gb pnyy uvf qnq bss va Arcghar, ur unf gb tb gb Znef. Jul pna’g ur pnyy sebz Rnegu, vs gurl unir nagraanf guvf ovt? Vs gur genafzvffvba unf gb tb sebz Znef, jul pna’g gurl whfg ebhgr gur fvtany sebz Rnegu?

    Ohg naljnl, gurl unir gb fraq Cvgg naq fbzr bpgbtranevna qhqr (Qbanyq Fhgureynaq) gb Znef gb ernq n cer-jevggra zrffntr, naq gurl unir gb fgbc naq punatr ebpxrgf ba gur Zbba, orpnhfr bs ernfbaf. Gur fcnprpensgf nyy ybbx yvxr gur Ncbyyb cebwrpg: zhygv-fgntr ebpxrgf, cbjrerq ynaqref. Qvq gurl sbetrg gur ovt-nff gbjre? Jul ab fcnpr ryringbef? Gurl jbhyq jbex rira orggre ba gur Zbba naq Znef.

    Ba gur Zbba gurl qba’g rira ynaq ng gur fnzr fcnprcbeg gurl jvyy qrcneg sebz, vafgrnq gurl unir gb geniry ba gur fhesnpr, ba Ncbyyb-fglyr ohttvrf, juvyr gurl trg nggnpxrq ol “cvengrf”. Gur Znq Znk-rfdhr ybj tenivgl pne punfr ba gur Zbba ybbxf pbby, naq gur vqrn bs gur fcnpr orvat n ynjyrff jnfgrynaq bireeha ol cvengrf pbhyq unir orra na vagrerfgvat cerzvfr, rkprcg gung vg’f arire zragvbarq ntnva.

    Naljnl, Cvgg naq Fhgureynaq znxr vg gb gur fcnprcbeg, rkprcg gung Fhgureynaq unf na urneg nggnpx naq pna’g pbagvahr. Jryy, qhu, nera’g nfgebanhgf fhccbfrq gb or culfvpnyyl svg? Rfcrpvnyyl vs gurl ner gnxvat cneg gb n zvffvba gb fnir znaxvaq. Gurl unzzre vagb hf gung Cvgg unf gb pbafgnagyl gnxr culfvbybtvpny rinyhngvba grfgf, bgurejvfr ur’f qravrq gb syl, ohg gur 80-fbzrguvat thl jvgu n jrnx urneg pna gnxr ebpxrgf naq or punfrq ol cvengrf.

    Fb Cvgg tbrf gb Znef jvgu n perj bs zrgu-nqqvpgrq vqvbgf. Qhevat gur wbhearl gurl cvpx hc n qvfgerff fvtany sebz n ovbybtvpny fcnpr erfrnepu fgngvba, juvpu jnf whfg beovgvat gurer, va gur zvqqyr bs abjurer. Gurl fgbc gb vairfgvtngr, rira gubhtu gurl jrer fhccbfrq gb pneel bhg n fhcre-vzcbegnag zvffvba. Gheaf bhg gung gur fgngvba unf orra bireeha ol zbaxrlf, jub nccneragyl znhyrq nyy gur perj (jr qba’g npghnyyl frr nal pbecfr), gur zbaxrlf znhy gur pncgnva, Cvgg rfpncrf, gur enovq fcnpr zbaxrlf ner abg zragvbarq rire ntnva, nabgure qebccrq cybg cbvag.

    Ba Znef ur farnxf vagb gur fnzr ebpxrg gung vf abj tbvat gb Arcghar gb oybj hc uvf qnq, gur vqvbg perj gevrf gb xvyy uvz ol hafgenccvat gurzfryirf qhevat yvsgbss naq oenjyvat jvgu uvz naq fubbgvat uvz jvgu n tha. Gurl fubbg n tha vafvqr n ebpxrg. Boivbhfyl gurl nyy qvr, rkprcg Cvgg orpnhfr ur jnf jrnevat cybg nezbe.

    Svanyyl ur trgf gb Arcghar nsgre gelvat gb onqyl cyntvnevmr 2001 npvq gevc frdhrapr (thrff ur sbhaq gur perj’f qeht fgnfu). Gurer vf fbzr grpuavpny fghcvqvgl urer (cnexvat uvf fuvc ba gur jebat fvqr bs gur evatf, yrggvat gur fuhggyr sybng njnl, whzcvat guebhtu gur evatf jvgu n zrgny cnary nf n fuvryq, rgp.), ohg zl znva tevcr jnf jvgu gur erfbyhgvba bs gur znva cybg nep: Jung vf tbvat ba jvgu uvf sngure naq uvf nyvra yvsr frnepu zvffvba gung jnf ybfg 30 lrnef ntb naq vf abj gelvat gb sel Rnegu jvgu nagvznggre RZC ZpThssva chyfrf? Qvq ur svaq nyvraf naq jnf ur oenva-jnfurq ol gurz? Qvq gurl nyfb oenva jnfu gur fcnpr zbaxrlf sebz orsber? Jnf ur vafgrnq gelvat gb svtug gurz fbzrubj? Jul qvq gur perj zhgval? Gheaf bhg gung gurl qvqa’g svaq fuvg, gur byq zna jrag penml naq fravyr naq zheqrerq nyy uvf perj jura gurl gevrq gb yrnir, gur nagvznggre ZpThssva ernpgbe whfg oebxr naq vg’f whfg enaqbzyl selvat Rnegu (ybbxf yvxr n qnatrebhf cvrpr bs rdhvczrag gb chg va fcnpr).

    Fb gur byq zna whfg qrpvqrf gb or n wrex gb uvf fba sbe gur ynfg gvzr naq gura pbzzvgf fhvpvqr. Cvgg ernyvmrf gung ur fcrag nyy uvf yvsr gelvat gb tnva gur nccebiny bs uvf sngure, ohg ur arire arrqrq vg orpnhfr uvf sngure jnf na n-ubyr, naq ur unf gb or n orggre zna naq pner sbe bgure crbcyr, lnqqn lnqqn lnqqn, V’ir frra guvf n zvyyvba gvzrf orsber, qbar orggre. Ubj znal qverpgbef ner fnygl gung gurl qnqf qvqa’g nccebir gurve jrveq negvfgvp pnerref?

    Overall, the characters hardly speak, instead we get this continuous voiceover with Pitt rambling, stream of consciousness inner monologue.

    Anyway, rant over. What are your opinions?

  27. viVI_IViv says:

    What do you think of the movie Ad Astra?

    It received stellar reviews (pun intended) from the critics (save for a few ranting about toxic masculinity), so I watched it expecting a good hard(ish) sci-fi flick, and I was disappointed.

    The movie has amazing visuals, mostly in the backgrounds, but that’s about the only thing that I’ve enjoyed. It feels like a sequence of largely disconnected scenes that look individually good and even introduced some good ideas, just to throw them away and never mention them again. E.g. gur ovt-nff beovgny nagraan gbjre gung Oenq Cvgg snyyf bss va gur bcravat frdhrapr. Pbby fprar, ohg gura jura ur unf gb pnyy uvf qnq bss va Arcghar, ur unf gb tb gb Znef. Jul pna’g ur pnyy sebz Rnegu, vs gurl unir nagraanf guvf ovt? Vs gur genafzvffvba unf gb tb sebz Znef, jul pna’g gurl whfg ebhgr gur fvtany sebz Rnegu?

    Ohg naljnl, gurl unir gb fraq Cvgg naq fbzr bpgbtranevna qhqr (Qbanyq Fhgureynaq) gb Znef gb ernq n cer-jevggra zrffntr, naq gurl unir gb fgbc naq punatr ebpxrgf ba gur Zbba, orpnhfr bs ernfbaf. Gur fcnprpensgf nyy ybbx yvxr gur Ncbyyb cebwrpg: zhygv-fgntr ebpxrgf, cbjrerq ynaqref. Qvq gurl sbetrg gur ovt-nff gbjre? Jul ab fcnpr ryringbef? Gurl jbhyq jbex rira orggre ba gur Zbba naq Znef.

    Ba gur Zbba gurl qba’g rira ynaq ng gur fnzr fcnprcbeg gurl jvyy qrcneg sebz, vafgrnq gurl unir gb geniry ba gur fhesnpr, ba Ncbyyb-fglyr ohttvrf, juvyr gurl trg nggnpxrq ol “cvengrf”. Gur Znq Znk-rfdhr ybj tenivgl pne punfr ba gur Zbba ybbxf pbby, naq gur vqrn bs gur fcnpr orvat n ynjyrff jnfgrynaq bireeha ol cvengrf pbhyq unir orra na vagrerfgvat cerzvfr, rkprcg gung vg’f arire zragvbarq ntnva.

    Naljnl, Cvgg naq Fhgureynaq znxr vg gb gur fcnprcbeg, rkprcg gung Fhgureynaq unf na urneg nggnpx naq pna’g pbagvahr. Jryy, qhu, nera’g nfgebanhgf fhccbfrq gb or culfvpnyyl svg? Rfcrpvnyyl vs gurl ner gnxvat cneg gb n zvffvba gb fnir znaxvaq. Gurl unzzre vagb hf gung Cvgg unf gb pbafgnagyl gnxr culfvbybtvpny rinyhngvba grfgf, bgurejvfr ur’f qravrq gb syl, ohg gur 80-fbzrguvat thl jvgu n jrnx urneg pna gnxr ebpxrgf naq or punfrq ol cvengrf.

    Fb Cvgg tbrf gb Znef jvgu n perj bs zrgu-nqqvpgrq vqvbgf. Qhevat gur wbhearl gurl cvpx hc n qvfgerff fvtany sebz n ovbybtvpny fcnpr erfrnepu fgngvba, juvpu jnf whfg beovgvat gurer, va gur zvqqyr bs abjurer. Gurl fgbc gb vairfgvtngr, rira gubhtu gurl jrer fhccbfrq gb pneel bhg n fhcre-vzcbegnag zvffvba. Gheaf bhg gung gur fgngvba unf orra bireeha ol zbaxrlf, jub nccneragyl znhyrq nyy gur perj (jr qba’g npghnyyl frr nal pbecfr), gur zbaxrlf znhy gur pncgnva, Cvgg rfpncrf, gur enovq fcnpr zbaxrlf ner abg zragvbarq rire ntnva, nabgure qebccrq cybg cbvag.

    Ba Znef ur farnxf vagb gur fnzr ebpxrg gung vf abj tbvat gb Arcghar gb oybj hc uvf qnq, gur vqvbg perj gevrf gb xvyy uvz ol hafgenccvat gurzfryirf qhevat yvsgbss naq oenjyvat jvgu uvz naq fubbgvat uvz jvgu n tha. Gurl fubbg n tha vafvqr n ebpxrg. Boivbhfyl gurl nyy qvr, rkprcg Cvgg orpnhfr ur jnf jrnevat cybg nezbe.

    Svanyyl ur trgf gb Arcghar nsgre gelvat gb onqyl cyntvnevmr 2001 npvq gevc frdhrapr (thrff ur sbhaq gur perj’f qeht fgnfu). Gurer vf fbzr grpuavpny fghcvqvgl urer (cnexvat uvf fuvc ba gur jebat fvqr bs gur evatf, yrggvat gur fuhggyr sybng njnl, whzcvat guebhtu gur evatf jvgu n zrgny cnary nf n fuvryq, rgp.), ohg zl znva tevcr jnf jvgu gur erfbyhgvba bs gur znva cybg nep: Jung vf tbvat ba jvgu uvf sngure naq uvf nyvra yvsr frnepu zvffvba gung jnf ybfg 30 lrnef ntb naq vf abj gelvat gb sel Rnegu jvgu nagvznggre RZC ZpThssva chyfrf? Qvq ur svaq nyvraf naq jnf ur oenva-jnfurq ol gurz? Qvq gurl nyfb oenva jnfu gur fcnpr zbaxrlf sebz orsber? Jnf ur vafgrnq gelvat gb svtug gurz fbzrubj? Jul qvq gur perj zhgval? Gheaf bhg gung gurl qvqa’g svaq fuvg, gur byq zna jrag penml naq fravyr naq zheqrerq nyy uvf perj jura gurl gevrq gb yrnir, gur nagvznggre ZpThssva ernpgbe whfg oebxr naq vg’f whfg enaqbzyl selvat Rnegu (ybbxf yvxr n qnatrebhf cvrpr bs rdhvczrag gb chg va fcnpr).

    Fb gur byq zna whfg qrpvqrf gb or n wrex gb uvf fba sbe gur ynfg gvzr naq gura pbzzvgf fhvpvqr. Cvgg ernyvmrf gung ur fcrag nyy uvf yvsr gelvat gb tnva gur nccebiny bs uvf sngure, ohg ur arire arrqrq vg orpnhfr uvf sngure jnf na n-ubyr, naq ur unf gb or n orggre zna naq pner sbe bgure crbcyr, lnqqn lnqqn lnqqn, V’ir frra guvf n zvyyvba gvzrf orsber, qbar orggre. Ubj znal qverpgbef ner fnygl gung gurl qnqf qvqa’g nccebir gurve jrveq negvfgvp pnerref?

    Overall, the characters hardly speak, instead we get this continuous voiceover with Pitt rambling, stream of consciousness inner monologue.

    Anyway, rant over. What are your opinions?

  28. Well... says:

    For someone who wants to increase flexibility in basically every joint, which is better, assuming this person is a complete novice to both: yoga, or a straightforward stretching routine?

    • Aftagley says:

      For increase in basically every joint – Yoga.

      For quicker results in a few specific stretches – Stretching Routine.

      Yoga is basically just a really broad, (overly mysticized) stretching routine. It’s benefit, IMO, is that it tends to get you to stretch muscles you otherwise wouldn’t notice and then hold that stretch for longer than you would normally. You’ll end up with more overall flexibility over 6 months.

      That being said, if you spend 15 minutes doing focused stretching a day, you’ll likely be able to touch your toes in around 3 weeks, while an equal amount of time doing yoga probably wouldn’t lead to those kind of results.

      • Viliam says:

        Could you recommend a good source for learning Yoga at home? At least on the beginner level.

        • Aftagley says:

          Honestly, unless it’s physically not possible, I’d recommend just going to a class. Every one I’ve ever gone to has been super friendly and welcoming for new people. The class environment also seems better, because it gives you the added social pressure to actually hold a pose long enough instead of giving up. A good teacher will also know how to modify certain poses to make them easier or harder, depending on what you need.

          If you live in any moderately sized city, I guarantee there will be at least 4 free yoga classes in the next week, so the up-front cost is really low.

          If you can’t do it in public, the youtuber Bad Yogi is ok, and most of her stuff has a minimum woo quotient, but again – I’d really recommend just getting out and doing it.

    • broblawsky says:

      Yoga classes will also improve your balance, and they’re a good way to meet people. Go for yoga.

      • Aftagley says:

        they’re a good way to meet people.

        Really? I haven’t found this to be the case. It’s an activity that doesn’t involve interacting with anyone during it and afterword you’re sweaty / kinda tired.

        I do some Yoga, and it hasn’t led to me meeting people, but maybe I’m doing it wrong.

        • acymetric says:

          I feel like the kind of people who meet people at yoga are the kind of people who would meet people doing basically any activity that involved proximity to other people.

          That said, I guess you are more likely to meet people doing yoga in a class than you are stretching by yourself in your living room.

          Other group classes that are a little…higher energy I think have a higher rate of meeting people (spin classes, for example).

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Not saying that it’s the best way, but resistance training is an extremely underrated way to improve flexibility. Catch is you should do it with a full ROM (Rage of Motion), which is how you want to do it anyways for maximum muscle growth. Not only you move your joints to the end of their natural position, you do it in a dynamic, controlled way with a weight on top. So pretty much perfect 🙂

      And a couple of negative points: static stretching is not only useless, but it’s actually bad for you. And foam stretching does improve your flexibility… because it’s so painful it lowers your sensitivity to pain. Seriously, it doesn’t do much else.

      • woah77 says:

        ROM (Rage of Motion)

        I find this typo to be hilarious and entertaining. I could certainly see a veteran Marine personal trainer using the phrase to encourage who ever he’s training at the time. “You, Worm, ensure to go through the entire rage of motion with every rep. Every rep you dirty dog!”

      • Well... says:

        I think we’ve hashed out on here before whether static stretching is good or bad for you. I believe “good for you” tended to come out on top in those discussions.

    • jgr314 says:

      I am also interested in studies/data in this area. I have done/tried the following things:
      (1) yoga
      (2) stretching, sometimes trying to follow Kurz’s Stretching Scientifically
      (3) massage and foam rolling
      (4) mobility exercises in the spirit of Functional Movement from Gray Cook.

      My personal results have been:
      (1) yoga: unclear effect on flexibility/mobility, mostly improved my balance. I personally found it hard to allocate the time to group yoga classes and only occasionally will do a quick routine on my own.
      (2) stretching: as a kid, did a lot of this in the context of martial arts classes and had pretty good results. As an adult, I found it very hard to maintain as a habit.
      (3) M&FR: these have been critical tools for me to deal with pain and maintain an ability to keep a consistent exercise routine. However, I don’t directly see them increasing flexibility. BTW, for me, any massage that is pleasant during the experience is essentially a waste of time.
      (4) functional movement: the biggest source of benefit. I was really lucky to work with a group of trainers who were very focused on mobility. For me, I think this has been the best approach, but I wouldn’t have been able to create the right program on my own.

      Finally, I think optimization is more subtle than just “more flexible = better.” Consider, what’s the difference between toned muscle and tight muscle? For joints, where do you see “flexible” vs “stable?”

      • Well... says:

        I see “stable” as having to do with well-developed muscle around the joint, along with healthy tendons and ligaments. I see “flexible” as having to do with being able to bend the joint comfortably over a wide range of motion.

        I lift weights 5 days a week to take care of the former. I’m trying to be more strategic than I have been in the past about how I tend to the latter.

    • onyomi says:

      When you say increase flexibility in every joint, I assume you mean increase the flexibility in your major muscle groups so that the range of movement around, e.g. your shoulder joint is greater (since actually increasing the flexibility of the joints themselves is both difficult and undesirable outside a few special cases)?

      If so I think it’s really just about learning and doing a lot of stretches consistently. If you don’t know how to stretch going to yoga class will certainly teach you some ways to do so, but it’s a rather indirect approach as a lot of yoga isn’t stretching or not primarily about increasing flexibility.

      To actually increase your flexibility in a more long term-ish way you should hold stretches for a fairly long while. Two minutes is a good target to aim for. And this kind of static stretching is also largely best done at or near the end of a workout as the muscles are already warmed up and it can actually make you a bit weaker temporarily. That said, as some others have mentioned, some exercises are themselves good stretches; this exercise, for example, is a good stretch for the hip flexors of the opposite leg to the one working (this channel also has a lot of good stretches, incidentally).

      One area especially overlooked is flexibility of internal hip rotation. This is basically what allows you to squat deeply without rounding your back or lifting your heels off the floor. There are some static stretches I’ve figured out for this but it does seem to be one that responds well to a more dynamic approach (indeed, doing e.g. goblet squat with good form can itself be a good stretch for this area).

      • Well... says:

        My goal is to not be really stiff when I’m older. And I’m already getting older.

        • onyomi says:

          Yeah, then it is muscular flexibility you’re after, not joint flexibility per se. I’m not old, but I’m no longer very young, and I manage to maintain a pretty high level of flexibility just by running through various stretches for about 10 or 15 minutes at the end of my workout, which is only about 3-5 times a week.

          Having met a fair number of Chinese martial arts practitioners who managed to maintain a high level of flexibility and mobility into old age, consistency seems to be the key, as opposed to intensity. If your morning tai chi routine takes you through a lot of deep squatting and other stretched positions and you’re consistent about doing it it seems like you can just keep on doing it almost ad infinitum.

          And it doesn’t even have to be something slow like tai chi (in fact, the way a lot of people do tai chi doesn’t take you through big ranges of motion and so may not be useful for it). But if you “fall off the wagon,” so to speak, at seventy, whether due to illness, injury, or just lack of consistency, it seems to be a lot harder to get back where you were than it would have been at 50 or 30. That’s where tai chi may be good: the slowness reduces risk of injury and injury is the enemy of consistency.

          Swimming also seems to be a good one, though I personally find it a bit boring to keep up consistently.

        • onyomi says:

          Related tangent (as in, more info than anyone wanted): lots of people mistakenly say of contortionists “he/she must be double-jointed!” when in fact most of the moves contortionists do simply require a high degree of muscular flexibility.

          “Double-jointed” just means hypermobility of one or more joints and, while more common in those with a genetic predisposition to high muscular flexibility, e.g. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, is not the same as having flexible muscles, nor particularly useful, healthy, or desirable, other than as a parlor trick or if you’re trapped in a straight jacket or something.

          So, for example, nothing you see here requires being “double-jointed,” though the type of person for which this high level of muscular flexibility comes easily is also more likely than average to have hyper-mobile joints; as you can see, these girls often have elbows that easily pass 180 degrees.

          Pulling your shoulder out of its socket is a case of true joint hypermobility or “double-jointedness,” but again is not something easy to achieve or worth pursuing for most people if it isn’t something you were just born being able to do (as I can randomly pop my left thumb in and out of its socket, for example).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I have a notion that connective tissue varies a lot from one person to another, and one axis of variation is how long the connective tissue is compared to the skeleton and another is how strong it it.

            Hypothesis: contortionists have long, strong connective tissue.

            People with Ehlers-Danos syndrome have weak connective tissue– possibly also long connective tissue.

            Any thoughts about whether cats have long connective tissue and that’s why they’re so flexible?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Argues that restricted movement is more likely to be a matter of the nervous system than the fascia

            “Moshe Feldenkrais, one of Tom’s teachers, repeatedly showed that supposed “physical restrictions” in the body were actually habitual parasitic muscle tensions that could be eliminated simply through a few minutes of low amplitude client-directed movements to bring awareness to those parasitic actions. Joanne Elphinston in her excellent text Stability, Sports and Performance Movement takes us critically through many of the stereotypical aberrant movement patterns we in the fascial world have always credited to fascial “restriction.” She shows how these are often related to and corrected by addressing weakness in stabilization strength and stabilization strategies. She also shows how weakness in stabilization in one area of the body can demand compensatory and inefficient movement patterns elsewhere in the body. Like fascia, movement strategies are also global whole body phenomenon, and weakness in one area can result in visible movement compensation across joints distant from the weakness. Not only are these compensation strategies clearly visible, but being inefficient, often lead to pathology and injury, again distant from the underlying problem. Without fascial work these problems can be reversed through skill and strength acquisition.”

          • onyomi says:

            @Nancy,

            I don’t know whether there’s a lot of variability in length and strength of connective tissue; one thing I do think is a common misconception (used to be more common, less so now) is that muscular strength and muscular flexibility are somehow mutually exclusive, when actually, I believe, the nervous system is more “willing” to allow stronger muscles to lengthen precisely because it’s less “concerned” they might go too far and allow injury.

            I think there may be a tradeoff wrt joint flexibility and joint stability; many contortionists do have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (as did, I think it’s conjectured, successful amateur wrestler Abe Lincoln), and as a result are more prone to suffer joint pain and injury if they aren’t more careful and/or assiduous about developing the muscular strength they need to keep their joints from moving too far.

            I don’t know much about fascia, but I have found trigger points to be a useful concept–basically just points of chronic muscular tension that result from imbalances in posture, movement, daily habit, etc. and respond well to massage and strengthening since the chronic tension restricts blood flow and ultimately results in pain, though sometimes referred away from the problem point itself (you probably already know about this but others may find it helpful to check out e.g. Davies’ “The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook”).

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Scott Sonnon’s IntuFlow and Ageless Mobility are good– they’re based on taking every joint (or at least all the major joints) through their range of movement 3 or 4 times once a day.

      Feldenkrais Method (gentle repeated exploratory movement) can produce dramatic improvements in flexibility.

  29. Fitzroy says:

    So November 19 is International Men’s Day.

    My wife’s employers are planning to do something for it and she asked me for suggestions. As she’s in the health sector I suggested focussing on the fact that men are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than women, or how invisible men are as victims of domestic abuse. But because she’s in the health sector they are already covering this stuff. My wife wanted things to celebrate about men and manhood.

    And honestly, I drew a complete blank.

    I can’t think of any man, or anything uniquely masculine, to celebrate. There are plenty of inspiring men whom I consider genuine heroes – men like Chiune Sugihara, Stanislav Petrov, Jonas Salk, Alan Turing – but the fact that they are men is merely incidental. And it’s always hard (for me at least) to shake the idea when celebrating such heroes, that there may be a woman being overlooked somewhere (indeed, as soon as I typed Turing a voice in the back of my head said “Don’t forget Ada Lovelace”) or the faint worry that there may be some yet hidden controversy waiting to burst into toxic bloom. It’s equally hard to think of uniqeuly male activities that aren’t also likely to be ripe for criticisms of toxic masculinity.

    As an aside this is an interesting look into how thoroughly captured I have been by woke culture (which I thoroughly object to most of the time) that the mere idea of celebrating the male is impossible to process.

    So, SSC commentariat, how would you celebrate International Men’s Day?

    • viVI_IViv says:

      There are plenty of inspiring men whom I consider genuine heroes – men like Chiune Sugihara, Stanislav Petrov, Jonas Salk, Alan Turing – but the fact that they are men is merely incidental.

      Certainly it wasn’t incidental for Sugihara and Petrov, as they were military officers, probably it wasn’t incidental for Salk and Turing either, but saying it aloud would get you into Summers-Damore-Strumia troubles. Anyway, it’s certainly no more incidental than any women hero being celebrated on Women’s Day being a woman is incidental, so go ahead and celebrate them, and if any SJW complains just ignore them.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      [H]ow would you celebrate International Men’s Day?

      I wouldn’t and would advise against doing so for reasons I’ll outline in just a bit.

      As an aside this is an interesting look into how thoroughly captured I have been by woke culture (which I thoroughly object to most of the time) that the mere idea of celebrating the male is impossible to process.

      On the conrary, this shows that you haven’t been captured by it, because celebrating the male, qua male, in a way that would be socially acceptable (i.e. not touching sex), is dumb.

      It’s really obvious if you think about it (and you even said it yourself):

      the fact that they are men is merely incidental

      When we celebrate people who happen to be men, we celebrate them for what they did or who they were (the virtues they represented). We don’t celebrate them for their, to put it crudely, reproductive apparatus, ‘coz that’s nothing to be proud of.

      A hypothetical Stanislava Petrova would be just as praiseworthy and for exactly the same reasons as her spear counterpart in our reality. The fact she is a woman would neither enhance nor diminish her value.

      The reason we have an International Men’s Day at all is that we have a – much better known – International Women’s Day. IWD dates back to 1909, IMD to 1992. As for the November 19 date – first time I’m hearing it.

      Per wiki:

      The objectives of celebrating an International Men’s Day, set out in “The Six Pillars of International Men’s Day”, include focusing on men’s and boys’ health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting male role models. It is an occasion to highlight discrimination against men and boys and to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular for their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care.

      That, frankly, doesn’t sound like a particularly appealing celebration of masculinity. Most of these things, if I may be permitted to stereotype, seem like issues women care about. Somehow I don’t expect “improving gender relations” to mean letting men be men (even if it makes the women in the room uncomfortable*) or “promoting gender equality” being a call to abolish gender-based affirmative action or to reform the way family courts award custody. “[C]elebrat[ing] [men’s] achievements and contributions, in particular for their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care.” also sounds a lot like “this is what we (women) expect of men” as opposed to “this is what we (men) are proud of in particular”.

      In short, the question leads to contradiction. I can’t think of any way “things to celebrate about men and manhood” doesn’t map to “this is why men are better than women” – which is a complete non-starter.

      You can’t avoid this. If thing X doesn’t imply men are better than women, then either:
      a. thing X isn’t something to actually celebrate (I can’t think of any reason why I should enthuse about beards, for example),

      b. both men and women are equally able to do/have thing X, so there’s no reason to celebrate the fact that men, specifically, are (if thing X is especially desirable, it would be more sensible to celebrate thing-X-ers).

      And yes, the foregoing applies to IWD, as well. Make of that what you will.

      * Just to be clear, I’m not talking about anything like unwanted sexual advances. I’m talking about men frankly exchanging views (including views on women), humour, etc. Working in a woman-dominated company I’m witness to a fair amount of male-targetted sexism in everyday conversation. It would never occur to me to try to force a change. On the other hand, I have – on more than one occasion – heard demands that a male-majority community that functions well change its ways in order to be more inclusive (appealing) to women. None of those communities were overtly hostile to women. They simply didn’t care that you happened to be a woman.

      • Well... says:

        “[C]elebrat[ing] [men’s] achievements and contributions, in particular for their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care.” also sounds a lot like “this is what we (women) expect of men” as opposed to “this is what we (men) are proud of in particular”.

        Speak for yourself. Sure, I want men to do all the extreme awesome things that revolutionize our experience of being human (invent technologies, land on the moon, create amazing works of art, etc.) but I’m fine with just a few outliers doing those things. For everyone not way out on the right tail of whatever bell curve, I’d like them to contribute to communities, families, marriages, and ensuring future humans aren’t horrible, or at least not sacrifice these things in vain efforts to create perpetual motion machines or run a 3-minute mile whatever. I have to live in those communities with my wife and kids too, ya know.

        So, “celebrate men” could either mean celebrate those weird outliers, or it could mean celebrate what half the population does, or at least what we’d like them to do.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          Yes, but that’s called “being a decent person”, not “being a praiseworthy man“.

          Unless you don’t believe that women contribute to these things to exactly the same extent and in much the same way.

          • March says:

            I think it makes sense to link it back to being a good man (perhaps not necessarily praiseworthy because it should be something that’s considered doable and worthwhile, not something only the bravest and best can pull off), because the whole problem is that the old-fashioned male ways of family- and community-building aren’t cool anymore and the extant ways of family- and community-building are considered girly/effeminate/unmanly, so there’s a need for reconnecting the masculine image to that type of work.

          • Well... says:

            I agree with March, and also I do think men contribute to these things in not exactly the same way as women. A dad is different from a mom, in more than just the fact of which one of them the baby comes out of.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            We do have a Father’s Day as well as a Mother’s Day.

            The problem, as I see it, is that “extant ways of family- and community-building are considered girly/effeminate/unmanly” exactly because actual masculinity isn’t particularly desired and no amount of image reconnecting will help until you let men be, y’know, actual men.

          • Well... says:

            I don’t know if you have kids, but as someone with a couple of them I can tell you masculine traits are necessary to be a good father.

            Two traits I consider fairly masculine are compartmentalization and emotional self-control. It takes a lot of those to deal, for example, with a tantruming grade-schooler in a way that is both effective and doesn’t leave the child feeling traumatized or unloved.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Well…
            I’m in full agreement with you on that. I still contend that’s what Father’s Day is for.

          • Well... says:

            Excepting whatever sentiment is expressed in the feel-good phrases companies put in commercials and on cards, I don’t think either Mother’s Day or Father’s Day is about much else than selling stuff. Dedicating an “international day” on the other hand brings to mind an opportunity for something more thoughtful than mega-sales at jewelry or hardware stores.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Honestly, if IMD becomes about selling stuff, I’d count it as an achievement.

            Father’s Day is as international as these things get (differing dates between countries notwithstanding). If it’s not serving its purpose as a celebration of fatherhood, it’s not through obscurity. We have no reason to believe that whatever circumstances are the cause of it not being up to our expectations will miraculously not apply to IMD.

            Or, to use an unkind, but hopefully eye-opening formulation: “You already got a celebration of fatherhood and ruined it, why should you get another one? Fix the one you have.”

            (General “you”, of course.)

            Now, it so happens that International Women’s Day is as big in Poland as these things get – at least partly because the communist authorities of yesteryear pushed it hard as part of trying to establish a secular counterweight to the Catholic traditions firmly embedded in the culture. What’s keeping it afloat these days – apart from inertia, of course – is that it’s a convenient date for political action by feminists and feminist-adjacent groups (the marriage of socialism and feminism that birthed the event in the first place still has some strength, 110 years on). In spite of all of this, it’s a holiday everyone celebrates (workplace observance is widespread), that doesn’t really have much meaning beyond observance of the forms.

            International Men’s Day has none of the advantages of IWD. It was thought up by a random dude (Oaster), whom I don’t know and have no reason to care about. It’s date is another random dude’s (Teelucksingh) dad’s birthday – why is that a date I should assign any significance to? The only readily apparent political angle is Men’s Rights Activism – and that is considered toxic. In short, the whole thing strikes me as being on roughly the level of Talk Like a Pirate Day, except talking like a pirate is fun and requires no expensive components.

          • Well... says:

            Well, I agree with that last part. I’m not a proponent of any of these “X days”. I mainly was trying to contribute ideas, given that IMD is a thing that isn’t going away.

      • A1987dM says:

        That, frankly, doesn’t sound like a particularly appealing celebration of masculinity. Most of these things, if I may be permitted to stereotype, seem like issues women care about.

        By that logic, should we not celebrate e.g. female scientists on Women’s Day because e.g. science is stereotypically something men care about?

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          And yes, the foregoing applies to IWD, as well. Make of that what you will.

          ETA:
          That IWD is a political event first and foremost was never under any doubt, was it?

        • Ketil says:

          By that logic, should we not celebrate e.g. female scientists on Women’s Day

          Do we? I looked over the slogans from last year, and it is roughly a) general expressions of solidarity, b) against various sexual transgressions/metooisms, c) against trafficking and prostitution, and then to a lesser degree d) pro transgender, e) pro Palestine, f) pro minority women, g) against war/crime/violence, h) pro shorter workdays.

          If anything, I think pushing feminine values onto men is a better fit for IWD than celebrating women in traditional men’s roles.

          (Disclaimer: This is here, YMMV elsewhere in the world)

    • Well... says:

      You can’t have kids without sperm. Research also tends to show that without dads around, kids turn out pretty lousy.

      Those seem like two pretty good starting points.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Stereotypical men crap. Blast “Danger Zone” all day long, people dress up as 80s action heroes, guys grilling outside (just because it’s November and snowing doesn’t mean it’s not grilling weather) with other guys running brats to and for while cracking Dad jokes. A strong-man competition outside with a huge crowd drinking Bud Lite shouting various lewd, off-color, politically incorrect comments.

      It’s America, we celebrate by going over the top and leaning aggressively on stereotypes.

      • EchoChaos says:

        It’s America, we celebrate by going over the top and leaning aggressively on stereotypes.

        I changed my mind, this is the right answer.

        • Zeno of Citium says:

          Agreed, this is the right answer. The employer is already doing things to help actual problems faced disproportionately by men and we already have a bunch of holidays that celebrate specific awesome men, so there’s no need to treat Men’s Day as a day to do some sort of social justice work. Drinks, grilling, and dad rock are something that everyone can get behind but are still, if not “manly”, at least “guy stuff.”

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        The 19th is a Tuesday. My plan for a beer-fuelled 80s action flick marathon is shattered! Curse you, useless calendar!

      • Plumber says:

        @A Definite Beta Guy says:

        “…Blast “Danger Zone” all day long, people dress up as 80s action heroes, guys grilling outside (just because it’s November and snowing doesn’t mean it’s not grilling weather) with other guys running brats to and for while cracking Dad jokes. A strong-man competition outside with a huge crowd drinking Bud Lite shouting various lewd, off-color, politically incorrect comments…”

        So basically The Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Fridays after work, but with Mullet hair cuts?

        This has my approval!

      • The Nybbler says:

        (just because it’s November and snowing doesn’t mean it’s not grilling weather)

        First time I did that was when I was in high school, my parents weren’t home (probably delayed by the snow, but I don’t remember now), the power was out (electric stove), and someone had to feed me and my younger siblings. I shoveled the foot or so of snow off the deck (the storm itself had pretty much passed), fired up the grill, and we ate that night. I don’t know if that’s a particularly male solution… but it does feel like it is.

    • Watchman says:

      Find a way to reassure men it is OK to be themselves. Maybe something as simple as running some traditional male games (open them to women as well – it’s celebrating that it’s fun to do traditional things). Note though this is probably a local cultural thing: how men expressed masculinity varied across place. Just recreate some old local ways of relaxation and let people play.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      So, SSC commentariat, how would you celebrate International Men’s Day?

      Get a bunch of the guys together with a case of beer and act like idiots for the night? Maybe visit a strip club in an alternate universe where I’m the sort of person who goes to strip clubs.

      The problem with International Men’s Day isn’t that there’s nothing worth celebrating about men or masculinity, but that it and all of the other “holidays” in that vein are ridiculously artificial and forced. Like who gets jazzed up for Arbor Day? It’s a fake holiday so any celebration is also going to feel fake.

      Anyway, a real celebration of men would probably look more like a cross between fathers day and a secular bar mitzvah than anything. Welcoming young men who have just gone through puberty into manhood, and showing them examples of the kind of men they should aspire to be, with a special role and emphasis given to the fathers who guided them through boyhood. We’re in dire need of coming of age rituals and fathers don’t get much respect from society so it would kill two birds with one stone.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        That’s probably the best argument for such a holiday I’ve come across.

        However, I wonder if just a plain coming of age tradition wouldn’t be better for this purpose. A Men’s day will necessarily encompass everyone and an emphasis on the father/son/father-to-be dynamic excludes a fair portion of those supposedly being celebrated.

    • EchoChaos says:

      the fact that they are men is merely incidental

      Probably not. Testosterone is a hell of a drug.

      I can’t think of any man, or anything uniquely masculine, to celebrate.

      Uniquely is doing a lot of work there and should probably be removed. 99% of what is celebrated about women is also not unique.

      Celebrate fatherhood, of course, but also heavily masculine endeavors like heavy labor, “Dirty Jobs”, construction, etc.

      There was a great poster that someone put up in New York: “Everything you see was built by men providing for their families”. That sentiment is a great one.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        There was a great poster that someone put up in New York: “Everything you see was built by men providing for their families”. That sentiment is a great one.

        QFT

    • silver_swift says:

      “My wife wanted things to celebrate about men and manhood.”

      So up until reading this post I wasn’t aware that international genderday was a thing for either gender, but this strikes me as the wrong approach. We don’t actually want to celebrate the differences between men and women, putting to much emphasis on those differences is what got us into this mess in the first place. You could celebrate that over X% of male athletes perform better than their female counterparts or that 100% of people that have walked on other worlds were men or that the majority of historic scientific breakthroughs were made by men, but all of that is intensely unhelpful.

      It seems to me that if you want these kinds of things to be something other than a “Look, my tribe is just as good/better than yours!”-kind of thing, it makes more sense to focus on the problems that are unique to people of the appropriate gender. For women those problems include a lack of decent historical role models, so putting a spotlight on the female heroes we do have is appropriate even if there was nothing uniquely feminine about their achievements (Ada Lovelace’s achievements weren’t any more uniquely female than Alan Turings achievements were uniquely male). For men that problem just doesn’t exist, so there is no reason to try to solve it. Your initial reaction is probably the place I would start as well.

    • aristides says:

      The main masculine activities I would celebrate are men’s outsized contributions to war and sports. Those are both activities that biology contributes, and are not just incidental. That said, in America we honest have enough holidays honoring our soldiers, and athletes get paid and celebrated enough, that I don’t think they need a special day. If you are in a country that’s doesn’t have multiple separate days to honor your military, I would consider that, but I’m personally going to ignore the holiday. Honoring someone for being born a certain gender seems odd to me.

    • ana53294 says:

      In Russia, the Defender of the Fatherland