Open Thread 139

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

1. Comment of the week last time was an argument that the severity of the opioid crisis was exaggerated; reader Digital Cygnet wrote a counterargument that you can read here.

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736 Responses to Open Thread 139

  1. Bamboozle says:

    Just wanted to say Atlas that if I was you, and this probably wasn’t on your radar anyway, but i wouldn’t move to the UK.

    I was talking to a Canadian friend i’ve made in my year out in Australia who told me she haaaaated living in the UK. She said she was brought up to always be polite and direct, so living in a country where as people grow to like you they become meaner to you was very difficult. If people don’t like you here you get nothing but politeness and a cold distance, and if someone likes you they’ll often tease you and talk shit about you to your face.

    I guess what i’m saying is a lot of this is cultural. Another example would be if someone british says “With the greatest respect” What they really mean is “Listen up you total spanner.” and “quite good” means ” a bit disappointing.”

    • LeSigh says:

      Heh, we posted rather similar comments at almost the same time, but mine was from the perspective of a yank with a family I’ve always considered rather stereotypically “Britishy.” Stiff upper lip and all that.

  2. ana53294 says:

    So it seems Putin is a demon.

    I wonder what it means that the Kremlin is scared of a guy claiming to be a shaman who was walking 8000 km across Russia to exorcise Putin. Is he losing popularity?

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Nothing much really, that’s just a general policy of arresting or blocking or otherwise disrupting anything that gains publicity and is opposed to the regime (with “opposed” in some cases extended to mean “doesn’t show enough support to the regime”). Besides, it’s more likely he was arrested by the local authorities as a precaution or attempt to show loyalty, rather than by a direct order from someone in Moscow. Putin’s rating are more or less stable afaik – although it’s hard to judge in the absence of trustworthy polls – and in any case it’s hard to imagine they would be affected by the shaman more than by ruined economics, social policies and other things more perceptible for an average citizen.

      Regardless of anything I think this shaman is awesome AF though.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Also, it’s not like the Kremlin lacks shamans on their side.

  3. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    So it looks like Google has made a quantum computer that works.

    I’m somewhat optimistic that the news story is true.

    My mind immediately goes to the notion that the crypto our banking system depends on is doomed, I tell you, doomed. This is extreme because at this point, the quantum computer is very expensive. Who knew that room temperature superconductors could be a threat to civilization?

    Anyway, what do you think about the current possibilities for quantum computers?

    If you were a supervillain and you had the best quantum computer, what could you do with it? If you were a more normal greedy person (you want money rather than destruction, maybe even sustainable money), what could you do with the best quantum computer?

    Is there a basis for crypto which couldn’t be broken by quantum computers? On the smaller scale, what happens to bitcoin?

    • jermo sapiens says:

      Is there anybody here that has even the faintest clue how quantum computers work? I dont mean the typical stuff you hear how about qbits can have superimposed values. I mean what does the hardware look like? Is there a conventional computer? What is holding the Qbit? How does one program a quantum computer, does it run on assembly or some kind of instruction set? What happens when the program runs?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      You can factor numbers quickly with a quantum computer. But it involves building a big enough quantum computer, on the order of billions of gates, when we are still struggling with a hundred.

      Symmetric encryption is (relatively) secure against quantum algorithms, because of Grover’s algorithm. Because of the overhead of quantum, it will likely be a long time before anyone manages to break symmetric algorithms using quantum.

      I’m sad to say I’m unsure if it’s known (either way) if all public encryption is subject to efficient quantum attacks. I just checked ECC and it is vulnerable.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        because of Grover’s algorithm.

        10 NEAR FAR
        20 GOTO 10

      • albatross11 says:

        All the commonly used public key crypto is vulnerable to some plausible future quantum computers (not anything anyone has now, as far as anyone public knows). But there’s stuff that’s been around since the 70s that is not vulnerable to quantum computers: hash-based signatures and coding-based cryptography.

        Coding-based crypto is fun: you generate an error-correcting code that you can decode, and then scramble it in a way that leaves you able to correct errors but looks random to everyone else. The random-looking version of the code is your public key, the easy-to-decode version is your private key. To send you an encrypted message, I send you a message (something that will be hashed to get a key, for example), and XOR an error vector into the message with as many errors as your code can correct. Since only you can correct the errors, only you can get the original message back out. A decent tutorial on this stuff is here.

        Hash-based signatures are similarly cool–you can use a hash function to make a “one-time” signature scheme (a public key signature scheme that’s secure as long as you only use it to sign one message). Then, you generate a huge set of one-time keys, hash them all in a tree structure called a Merkle tree, and use the hash as your public key. Each time you want to sign, you use a different one-time key to sign, and then send along a kind of proof that this one-time key is included in your public key.

    • albatross11 says:

      Yes, there’s a bunch of crypto that’s still secure with quantum computers. The current cipher used to encrypt most stuff is AES. If you use it with a 256-bit key (which is available in the standard and is widely implemented), you get security against quantum computers. Even the more widely-used 128-bit AES is probably secure against any quantum computer anyone will ever build. Similarly, our hash functions (imaginatively named SHA2 and SHA3) are secure against quantum computers. In general, symmetric cryptography should be okay even in a world with quantum computers. (There’s an algorithm (Grover’s) that lets you do keysearch/preimage search much faster than on classical computers, but it’s easy to choose symmetric crypto algorithms that will still resist the attacks, and anyway, Grover’s algorithm doesn’t parallelize nicely, so it’s probably not even a threat for something like AES128.)

      Most of our public key stuff is not secure against quantum computers, because it’s ultimately based on either the difficulty of factoring large integers, or the difficulty of computing discrete logs. (That is, I tell you g^k mod p and you know g and p, and you find k.) All the commonly-used public key encryption, key agreement, and digital signature algorithms are based on one of these two problems, one way or another. (And the problems are closely connected.) There’s an algorithm that will very efficiently solve these problems (Shor’s algorithm) on a quantum computer.

      There are public-key cryptosystems that appear to stand up to quantum computers. Mostly, people looked into these as possible public key schemes many years ago, but the number-theory-based stuff was more efficient, so they didn’t use them. The most promising post-quantum public key schemes now look to be based on lattices (approximately solving big systems of linear equations with too few equations or random noise or rounding added in to prevent you just solving them by Gaussian elimination), coding theory, or solving big systems of nonlinear equations. There are also signature schemes based only on hash functions, but they’re pretty big and inefficient. The Lattice stuff started in the 90s, the multivariate stuff in the 80s, and the coding-theory stuff in the 70s, so this has all been around for awhile. One big problem with all these new schemes is that they’re less efficient than existing public key schemes–either they’re slower, or their keys are way bigger or their ciphertexts/signatures are way bigger. That makes it a challenge to swap out the older stuff and replace it with new algorithms. Also, we need to figure out which algorithms we want to use, which takes time.

      NIST (the US government agency that does crypto standards for non-classified stuff) has a pretty good overview of the issues with quantum computers and crypto here, though it’s a few years old. They’re running a competition to select new public key cryptosystems that will be secure against quantum computers. People have been working on/thinking about this problem for several years now.

      As I understand it (I know crypto pretty well but not quantum computers), the Google stuff is quite limited–they’re claiming they can generate values from a distribution that would be very computationally expensive to simulate classically. The major problem with building a full working computer is handling errors–you have to build a set of quantum gates that include error correction, so you need many more physical qbits than you have logical qbits. As I understand it, we’re not at all close to having working quantum computers that can factor RSA moduli at sizes we currently use (generally 2048 or more bits). But it’s (almost) certainly possible, just a hard and expensive engineering problem. The worry I’ve seen people express is that encrypted traffic recorded today could be broken in the future with a quantum computer, and that the sort of government agencies that might have the black budget to build one without telling the world (NSA and its equivalents around the world) are also just the sort of folks who would be up for recording lots of encrypted traffic now and breaking it in a few years when they’ve got a quantum computer up and running.

    • Lambert says:

      I don’t think we really know what’s inside BQP yet.
      It’s worth noting that we’ve yet to prove P!=NP.
      i.e. we can’t prove that most crypto works at all.

      • The Nybbler says:

        P != NP isn’t even sufficient to prove RSA works; factoring is not known to be NP-hard (and is generally believed not to be). The same goes for the discrete logarithm over either finite fields or elliptic curves.

        • Lambert says:

          I mean that it’s necessary to prove any crypto outside otp/shamir secret sharing etc. work.

          • albatross11 says:

            Not quite. P and NP are talking about worst-case complexity as the size of the problem gets ever larger.

            Give me a public key cryptosystem where I do N operations to generate a key or encrypt / decrypt a message, and an attacker must do N^4 work to break it, and I’ll have a pretty workable system. (N=2^{25} gives you 100-bit security, and if the operations you’re doing are, say, hash computations, this is entirely practical on desktops/laptops/tablets/phones.)

            ETA: Merkle puzzles get us almost there–the users do O(N) and the attacker does O(N^2). If we could do a little better, we’d have public key encryption based on symmetric crypto only.

  4. Björn says:

    I am looking for an article that was linked somewhere around here. It was about treating diseases with drug cocktails. The argument was that when you have several different drugs that lower the replication rate of e.g. HIV, the point is to combine those drugs so the replication rate becomes negative. The author was very puzzled that the medical community took rather long to figure this out, even though from a mathematical perspective, this is obvious.

    • helloo says:

      Not seeing anything relevant when I search for cocktail + HIV + this site, but it isn’t as obvious as you think.

      Drugs do not exactly behave independently of each other.

      Besides the issue of possible interactions, note that mathematically another way to lower replication rates is to generally just increase the dosage of a drug.
      This tends to be the way drugs are used, but not for everything as it can be at times to be too harmful to the non-diseased parts.
      And if it doesn’t work, then it could imply either the disease/drug has differing areas/hideouts which are unaffected, though can be mitigated through multiple drugs, stops the simple mathematical part from being true.

    • Viliam says:

      What exactly was the mathematically obvious idea? Trying to achieve a negative number by multiplying a large number of small but non-negative ones? 😛

      • Björn says:

        You have something that grows exponentially, like a bacteria colony in a patient. If you assume the size depends linearly on the size of the bacteria colony, you can model this with the differential equation f'(t) = a*f(t). The solution is obviously f(t) =exp (a*t). If you introduce a drug that decreases the growth factor a, the effect on the patient differs greatly whether a stays positive (he might still die) or a becomes negative (patient has the chance of healing). Thus, one should focus on getting the growth factor negative, which can be achieved by attacking the bacteria with a drug cocktail where each single drug does not turn the growth factor negative.

    • Statismagician says:

      Going from this desciption only, I think the author might not know what they’re talking about. Combination therapies have been in common use for various conditions since the 1960s, IIRC; new drug approval always lags theory because [FDA], and HIV/AIDS has only relatively recently been getting anything like the funding and attention it needs, but the basic principle of ‘throw multiple complementary drugs at problems to make them go away’ is not a new one.

      • albatross11 says:

        Was HIV the first disease where they tried to use multiple medicines with different mechanisms of action at the same time to prevent the rise of resistance? It seems like the sort of thing someone might have done before with either antibiotics or chemotherapy for cancer.

        • Statismagician says:

          Probably not, but it depends a lot on what you mean by ‘preventing the rise of resistance’. The first combination therapy work I’m aware of was indeed for leukemia in the mid-1960s; see e.g. paper title, summary article. By definition (successful) cancer treatment is at least partially about preventing resistant cells from simply replacing nonresistant ones, but you might also plausibly claim that cancer treatment is sufficiently different from viral or bacterial condition treatment to not be entirely the same thing.

          Antibiotic combination therapy is as I understand it relatively more recent and less popular; the trend had been sequential therapy, where if first-line drugs don’t work, you throw the next drug up the specificity/efficacy chart at it depending on specifics. Unfortunately, inappropriate antibiotic stewardship has lead to the current multidrug-resistant strains of [everything], so we’re having to look outside the box, including back at particular cases where combination therapies might be effective. We have a lot more sensitive tests now than we did in the 1980s, obviously, and we know a lot more about how our drugs and the organisms they’re targeted at work, so hopefully there’s lots there to be found, but the basic idea has been around for a while.

          Specifically for HIV in the context of preventing resistant strains, combination therapy has been talked about since at least 1998, so again not exactly a novel concept. It’s possible the article referenced is talking about something more subtle, of course.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’d think of cancer evolving resistance to chemotherapy drugs and HIV viruses evolving resistance to AZT et. al. as being very similar.

          • SamChevre says:

            At least one antibiotic combination is a very common first-line and has been since the 1980’s years – amoxicillin and potassium clavulanate (“Augmentin”).

            Not sure if it counts, though, since potassium clavulanate isn’t an effective antibiotic on its own.

          • Statismagician says:

            @albatross11 – Oh, so would I, I just didn’t want to give the impression I was wedded to the idea. Oncology is different from ID for a good practical reasons; I wouldn’t object to somebody arguing there’s philosophical ones as well.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Wikipedia claims that combination chemotherapy was inspired by combination antibiotic therapy for tuberculosis. Indeed, here is an (open access) 1952 paper on polychemo in mice that cites TB as an inspiration.

          The principle of combined therapy with two or more chemotherapeutic agents, acting independently, has been used successfully in infectious diseases, particularly in the treatment of tuberculosis. If the frequency of mutation to resistance of a cell, bacterial or cancerous, to drug A is 1 X 10⁻⁶ and a frequency of mutation to drug B is 1 X 10⁻⁵, only one cell in 10¹¹ will simultaneously develop both mutations. Thus, doubly resistant mutants have a negligible probability of emerging from a susceptible tumor or bacterial population in the presence of two or more effective chemical or physical agents which exhibit different mechanisms of action.

  5. Well... says:

    Anyone here read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy? What did you think? (I’m specifically asking about the book, not the movie adaptation.)

    • MrApophenia says:

      I really liked it. Very, very bleak. It’s not the fun kind of post apocalypse. But I thought it was a rewarding read.

      I am also a heavy Audible user and I think Cormac McCarthy is hugely improved by being in audio form. The gimmick where he refuses to use punctuation and writes the way he imagines someone just telling the story aloud in natural language annoys the shit out of me if actually reading it, but it turns out that it actually does work well in audio, so I guess he’s not wrong about how it sounds out loud.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      I hated it along essentially every metric it is possible to judge a book by. Tedious torture porn that never rises to the level of being interesting. Grey grey okay fire cannibals okay grey Eli okay grey fire vermiculite trout.

      But that was a while ago, and I’m open to that being an adolescent opinion, but I wouldn’t read it again for vigorous love nor stupendous amounts of money,

    • Well... says:

      If MrApophenia’s rating is a 10 and FrankistGeorgist’s is a 1, I’d give it an 8.

      I’m listening to the audiobook, which is really nicely performed by some leathery-voiced actor whose name I can’t keep in my head. I’m halfway through disc 5 of 6, which if the content is evenly spaced means I’m about 3/4 through the book.

      I agree this story seems like it would be much less enjoyable to read than it has been to listen to, both based on the style and what I’ve heard about McCarthy’s formatting preferences. I like the uncompromising brutality of it, and I think it uses its tediousness and repetitiveness to great advantage. It takes its own premise very seriously, which is nice. I also like McCarthy’s apparent reluctance to get too specific about certain details of the setting, which to me feels instinctively like the right decision. As a kind of dark love letter to his son — really in some ways it’s just a book about a parent’s undying, unconditional commitment to his offspring — this book works perfectly.

      My main criticism is it seems like it lacked an editor. There are so many extra words and verbose descriptions, tacked-on similes, when I would have gotten the point from something much simpler. It feels as though McCarthy didn’t trust me to understand him the first time he described something, when I’m sure I would have. Or maybe this is actually the fault of the editor, who might have looked at a sparse manuscript and encouraged McCarthy to beef it up. I don’t know how many pages the hardcover is, but I can’t imagine it’s much over 200; I’ve heard publishers are often leery of putting out novels that are too short.

      My second criticism is I don’t feel like I’m gaining a whole lot from it. I think the book offers few insights most thoughtful people wouldn’t intuit on their own if they were asked to sit and focus on a realistic, non-Hollywood, non-glamorous depiction of what post-apocalyptic life would be like. As I think I mentioned a few OTs ago when someone asked what people look for in [science] fiction [and fantasy], I want to get new insights either about the way the world works or about storytelling. I’m not getting a whole lot of the latter from this book, and basically none of the former. But it’s still an interesting, enjoyable read listen, at least once, and it’s definitely a breath of fresh (foul?) air from all the naive romaticism about how a post-apocalyptic world would be exciting or fun or cool (e.g. Mad Max, Seveneves, etc.) instead of just inescapable bleakness and waiting for death.

      • Aftagley says:

        My second criticism is I don’t feel like I’m gaining a whole lot from it. I think the book offers few insights most thoughtful people wouldn’t intuit on their own if they were asked to sit and focus on a realistic, non-Hollywood, non-glamorous depiction of what post-apocalyptic life would be like.

        This was my feeling also. I kept waiting for something to happen that would explain the fervor around this book and it just didn’t. Kinda slow, kinda boring interspersed with absolutely gruesome stuff to read.

        I’d give it a 3 – not compelling enough to be a fun read and not meaningful enough to be worth pushing through.

    • Erusian says:

      My take: there’s apparently a lot of money to be made in being a respectable, literary author the academy likes who apes genre fiction. (See also: Margaret Atwood and her insistence The Handmaid’s Tale is not sci-fi, the magical transformation of Lord of the Rings into ‘literature’…) Basically, if you’ve not read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction and enjoy gritty grimdark ideas then you’ll like it. if you have read a fair bit of post-apocalyptic, then you’ll find it rather pedestrian and derivative.

      • Nick says:

        (See also: Margaret Atwood and her insistence The Handmaid’s Tale is not sci-fi, the magical transformation of Lord of the Rings into ‘literature’…)

        John C Wright has claimed that magical realism like Borges’ is basically just weird fiction as we know it from pulp writers.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          John C Wright has claimed that magical realism like Borges’ is basically just weird fiction as we know it from pulp writers.

          Wasn’t Borges open about being a Lovecraft fan?

          • Nick says:

            He wrote a Lovecraft pastiche, but the only comment about the man I remember is this:

            Fate, which is widely known to be inscrutable, would not leave me in peace until I had perpetrated a posthumous story by Lovecraft, a writer I have always considered an unwitting parodist of Poe. At last I gave in; the lamentable result is titled ‘There Are More Things.’

            ETA: Looking around, I see Barton Levi St. Armand has a whole book about Borges and Lovecraft, wow. Also, this quote, from a 1978 interview with Borges:

            I like Lovecraft’s horror stories. His plots are very good, but his style is atrocious. I once dedicated a story to him.

            Buchanan says St. Armand alludes to other, more disdainful comments about Lovecraft, though.

      • Urstoff says:

        In parallel, speculative fiction has for the last 20 years trying its damnedest to become “literary”. Oddly, horror, mystery, and crime fiction does not seem to have similar aspirations. There’s also much less of the culture war nonsense in those genres, so maybe there’s some sort of explanation there.

    • FormerRanger says:

      I have read most of McCarthy’s work, and “The Road” is the only one I have no desire to re-read. When I read it I could not read for too long before I had to take a break. I finished it and was impressed, but just no interest in experiencing that again.

      On the other hand, I have re-read “Blood Meridian,” which is equally bleak, multiple times.

  6. Lancelot says:

    The concept of responsibility in general is not about whose actions directly caused a problem, but instead about who is designated to be blamed for it, i.e. who has the liability. Such a statement by an author is therefore not an assertion of some fact, true or false — it is a request to the reader to place 100% of the liability on the author.

  7. b4mgh says:

    Forgive me for digressing from the discussion at hand, but do you keep that internal soliloquy going during the whole workday? Isn’t that distracting or tiring?

  8. Radu Floricica says:

    Lancelot is a bit direct, but I don’t disagree with him. Taking things less seriously helps.

    This being said, I switched from an introverted that literally pondered for years if the right amount of people in a gathering is 2 or 3, to hosting parties with 20+. All it took was finding the right people. The difference it makes in unbelievable.

    As an aside, what you’re describing is, among other things, a very good pickup technique. I think it’s called “Cocky and Funny”. Not my cup of tea, but when I force myself to use it it really works (in the sense that the partner enjoys it). With kids as well.

  9. gbdub says:

    The point of an acknowledgement section is to thank the people that helped you, primarily those that don’t get a formal credit on the cover (and who are often unpaid, or at least underpaid, for their contribution). So the author says “these people deserve to share in my credit, but I will personally accept any blame”. The intent is not to set up your contributors for blame. In bird culture, that is considered a dick move.

    Nobody actually believes that none of those contributors made any mistakes. It’s just a nice way to say, “feel free to give these people kudos, but if you have an issue bring it to me”. Most people are fine with and prefer this arrangement.

    The elevation of strictly literal truth above all other virtues is one of the things I find most baffling (and a big turnoff) in the “rationalsphere”. Being honest (ha!) I find it a very immature way of looking at the world. For one thing, it confuses the map and the territory (language can describe the truth, but it is not itself “true”… interpreting metaphor and social grace is critical to understanding true human communication)

  10. FLWAB says:

    I was hoping to get some perspective on a “problem” I’ve been dealing with.

    We are all likely familiar with the trend of news and opinion pieces referring to how millennials are living in their parents basements and can’t make it in life. Those sting whenever I read them because I’m currently a millennial living with my in-laws. But I don’t feel like I’ve “failed” in any meaningful sense of the term. I got here due to a series of sensible decisions.

    First, right when my wife and I got our bachelor degrees and got married we were looking for jobs and ended up heading to a different state. We had heard that the recession wasn’t as bad there, and that’s where her parents lived. At this time her parents had actually finished degrees in a new professional field, as they had decided to change careers a few years earlier. In order to further their new careers they moved to a new city, put their old house on the market, and got a small two bedroom apartment. We moved into that apartment and we split the rent 50/50. It just made sense: rents are high where I live, and we would have needed to get roommates anyways.

    As it turned out living with my in-laws worked out well. We get along just fine. After a couple of years we got our own apartment and moved out. A year after that their house finally sold and they were able to buy a new house and move out of the apartment. Now that they had a house to themselves an idea was floated (I can’t remember who thought of it first) that we could move in with them. We would have more space, better amenities, and the rent would be half what we were currently paying. At the time our rent was about $1,000 a month and we were making about $36,000 a year, so halving our rent would be a significant improvement to our budget. We get along so well and we’d be getting more space for less money: it seemed like the most reasonable thing to do, so we moved in. And we’ve been staying there ever sense. What is more, the deal has become sweeter since the birth of our daughter. It has been extremely convenient to have her grandparents easily available for childcare help.

    Recently my in-laws have been planning on doing a major remodel and expansion of the house. They would like to know if we plan on staying permanently: if so they would design the expansion with that in mind. No matter how I look at it logically it seems like the best choice is to stay. But emotionally I am having difficulty with the idea of being one of “those millennials” who live with their parents. I try to remind myself that in many cultures it is traditional for multiple generations to live together. But I still feel a twinge of shame whenever I tell someone that I live with my in-laws, or when my own parents ask whether I will be buying a house soon. I feel like a failure when I consider that I may not ever buy my own house and may simply live with my in-laws until they pass away decades down the road.

    Am I making too big a deal out of this? Is it just my pride that is pushing me to consider other options? It would be nice to get some different perspectives on the situation.

    • Business Analyst says:

      If they are doing a major renovation, would it be practical to make a duplex or some sort of similar shared/separated residences? That might not cost much to modify, and would let you finance your living space in all manner of different ways in the future (or allow either party considerably more flexibility in use of the second unit should either side’s current statuses change in the future).

      Some zoning ordinances allow two unit building on single family zoned land, others require a change, but it might be worth considering in either case.

    • Randy M says:

      The problem is not living with your parents. “Living in mom’s basement” is shorthand for being unable to make decisions, having no prospects, and being unable to support yourself. If you and your wife have income and could move out, but are invited to stay and choose to do so for efficiency, more power to you.

      Things might get more difficult if you decide to have a child (edit: assuming it remains a two-bedroom set-up); on the other hand, depending on the in-laws, it might be an easier transition than otherwise.

      I have friends whose livelihoods I fear for if their parents ever pass.
      And I’ve had times when I’ve been quite jealous of the financial success of some couple hosting, say, a child’s birthday party, only to later find out they lived with their parents.

    • Erusian says:

      This is a cultural thing. The expectation that moving out means independence is an ingrained part of American society, going all the way back to the founding of the country. Multi-generational households have been the norm in much of the world and remain common in many parts. If it works for you, it works for you. The complaint is split into two parts: one is that millennials are settling in different patterns than previous generations. This is probably fine on a society-wide level. The other is that they’re not working and remaining reliant on their parents &c. Insofar as this is true (and I’m skeptical of that), that would be a legitimate problem. But that doesn’t appear to be your situation.

      • Nick says:

        This, pretty much. @FLWAB in particular should be pleased with the free childcare, which IME is a win for the grandparents, too.

        If it helps, when you’re the one paying the bills you can consider it as your in-laws living with you more than you living with your in-laws. (“Living with” is a funny phrase; it ought to be commutative but isn’t.)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          This, pretty much. @FLWAB in particular should be pleased with the free childcare, which IME is a win for the grandparents, too.

          This, this.
          Do what’s rational. It’s good to have home equity rather than paying your in-laws rent, but the free child care alone could make up for that!

    • John Schilling says:

      I think you’re on pretty solid ground here; the implication underlying the whole derogatory “millennials living with their parents…” thing has been the implication of “…for free or paying only token rent, as a charity case”.

      • Viliam says:

        Also, that there is not enough space for so many people (therefore they live “in the basement”).

        From my experience, women usually feel very territorial about kitchen, so if there are two families with one kitchen, that’s a fight waiting to happen. A big house containing two kitchens would be okay, though.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Your situation sounds lovely to me. It really makes modern culture seem perverse that “living together with family you love” causes any kind of grief. I say reject the individualist and commoditizing forces and reap the benefits which are already clear to you. If “living with family,” “saving money,” and “free grandparent childcare” are parts of being “those millennials” then there’s quite a lot of cultures which have been “those millennials” for millennia.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        If “living with family,” “saving money,” and “free grandparent childcare” are parts of being “those millennials” then there’s quite a lot of cultures which have been “those millennials” for millennia.

        Ohoho, I see what you did there.

    • Jake says:

      I’ll agree with what most people are saying here, that it sounds like a good deal all around. The ‘living in the basement’ stigma is more of a shorthand for people who don’t have any other options. This is especially so, if they still allow their parents to make all the important decisions for them. It can be a huge red flag for dating, but you are married already, so you don’t even need to worry about that.

      From personal experience, I’ve moved back in with my parents for a short term, and it was great, so I ended up moving my family just down the road from them. My in-laws actually moved in with their parents to save on living expenses and it also has worked out well for the most part. As long as you are contributing your share to the family, I don’t see why there is anything wrong with the arrangement, and like I said earlier, the person who would probably care the most is already married to you, and I’m assuming, on board with it.

    • WarOnReasons says:

      Not sure I totally understand your question. Do you actually feel ashamed for prioritizing your family’s wellbeing over conforming to a social stereotype? Or are you just worried that the emotional discomfort you feel from being judged by strangers might outweigh the benefits to you and your family?

      • FLWAB says:

        Do you actually feel ashamed for prioritizing your family’s wellbeing over conforming to a social stereotype?

        Well when you put it that way…I guess that does seem pretty silly.

        I guess I just kept feeling like a failure so I kept wondering if I was making good choices. But that really is just about me, isn’t it? When you look at it from the outside it doesn’t seem complicated at all. I guess it’s just hard to look at things objectively from the inside perspective sometimes. If I feel bad about something, I start to wonder whether there is something bad I don’t know about. Right now I feel rather sheepish: like a man who just asked someone to check to see if a spider was crawling up his back when there is nothing there.

    • broblawsky says:

      If your pride is the only thing that’s causing you suffering in this situation, your pride is the problem. The only thing I’d add is that you should probably ask your wife how she feels about the situation.

    • aristides says:

      I am in the process of renting a house together with one of my parents. Personally, I think it’s a stupid, outdated cultural practice to move out of my parents. The stigma is there, but I just ignore it. The ability to have your children spend more time with their grandparents is invaluable. I am planning on staying permanently and I suggest you do to. I think the stigma will eventually go away.

    • Papillon says:

      I’d definitely stay with them. Multi-generational houses are vastly superior to the American culture’s model: they’re cheaper, a better use of land, great for child-rearing, great for mental health, great for fighting atomisation. And 10 years down the line, when you’ve saved enough, you can enjoy signalling your good financial fortunes.

    • JayT says:

      I’m going to go against the grain a little bit here, but first I will say that, from what you describe, you are not the person people have in mind when they talk about millenials in their mother’s basement, so you shouldn’t worry about that particular issue.

      That said, I think you should be very careful in this situation. First off, does your wife have any siblings? If yes, your living arrangement almost certainly will lead to resentment, and possibly even fractured relationships with them. Secondly, I am a strong believer that you should never tie your finances to your family. Things might be fine now, but who knows what will happen to your in-laws in the next downturn. Will they feel obligated to dip into their savings to keep subsidizing your lifestyle*?

      Next, it’s hard to live with someone for a really long time. Living with three other people (not to mention children) is even harder. What happens if one of the four people involved is no longer happy in the situation? I feel like the odds of a breakdown go up the more people you introduce.

      I think the idea of the remodel including an actual separate unit (that you pay market rates for) is the best chance for this arrangement to work long term. If that isn’t an option, I would strongly consider moving out (but try to stay close to keep the childcare help).

      I grew up in a similar situation to what you are describing, and it was not a sustainable arrangement.

      * I’m assuming $500/month isn’t the actual going rate for rent, and obviously they are heavily subsidizing your childcare costs.

    • blipnickels says:

      A few thoughts, hopefully helpful.

      As long as you and your wife could move out and support yourselves at any time, you have nothing to be ashamed of. “Those” millennials don’t have a choice, you do and you’re making a smart one, especially if you have a daughter.

      My observed and personal experiences of living with family are uniformly positive but it can introduce tensions, although that’s more in situations where one or both parties weren’t working. Adults need their space. Just be careful you’re not stepping on each other’s toes.

      we were making about $36,000 a year

      I just want to clarify that this is no longer the case. Two people making $36,000/year altogether is a potential cause for concern

      • FLWAB says:

        we were making about $36,000 a year

        I just want to clarify that this is no longer the case. Two people making $36,000/year altogether is a potential cause for concern

        At the time my wife was working an unpaid internship as a requirment to get her master’s degree. Now she’s working in her field (and I found a better job as well) and together we bring in just over $100k before taxes. Which is good, because she took out over $90k in student loans in order to get her degrees (I would have heavily advised her against going into so much debt, but she took out most of those loans before we got married and her bachelors degree was professionally useless unless he went on to get her master’s in the field. Given that, the only way out of debt seemed to be to acquire more so she could get a job that paid enough to pay it all off in a reasonable amount of time. So far that plan has worked, but I’m not celebrating until it’s all paid off). Right now we’re putting the majority of our income into paying those loans off, but it’s had me thinking about the future and whether to strike out on our own since we will have more than enough money to do so.

    • Etoile says:

      I don’t think that those comments have you in mind, at least for most people who say those things. Your set-up is enviable in lots of ways, not least that the friction between you and your in-laws is negligible and you are having no issues. (Even with my excellent in-laws or parents we would have friction if we lived together – not insurmountable, but not insignificant.) I think it’s just a shorthand for someone who is indeed single and in many way postponing, by choice, what we would consider normal adult milestones.

      And I think there really is a non-negligible trend in our generation of postponing things. Whether you see this as harmless, or artificial prolonging of adolescence, or liberating from constricting social norms, it seems that in our generation, it is a lot more likely than in previous ones to see behavior such as: “we’ve been together 12 years but I don’t know if I’m ready to get married”; literally treating dogs like kids, complete with strollers; getting upset that you’re not having 6x-weekly kinky sex with two small kids; etc. “Living in parents’ basement” is quite reductionist, but I think it’s fair to remark on and comment on both the pros and the cons of these trends.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        getting upset that you’re not having 6x-weekly kinky sex with two small kids; etc.

        I don’t think millennials expect to do that, thank God!

      • Aapje says:

        getting upset that you’re not having 6x-weekly kinky sex with two small kids

        You might want to rephrase that to not imply NAMBLA behavior 😛

    • Aapje says:


      But I don’t feel like I’ve “failed” in any meaningful sense of the term. I got here due to a series of sensible decisions.

      I think that the strong case and/or steelman for ‘failure to launch’ isn’t so much a criticism of millennials themselves*, but rather the circumstances that makes their sensible decisions lead to greatly extended childhood.

      For example, in my country, housing prices have risen immensely, rent controlled housing has wait times that often approach a decade or more and jobs have become so ‘flexible,’ that most millennials don’t have the paths available to them that their parents did, like: move out of their parents’ house or student housing in their 20’s into a crappy, cheap rental, save up a bit and then buy a crappy house, then move to a better house and have children.

      If millennials would try that today, most could not even get a rental house, because the waiting list for rent controlled housing is too long and they don’t have enough income for the free market rentals. Similarly, the barriers to buying a ‘starter house’ are much higher than for their parents.

      So the result is that many millennials make fairly sensible decisions like these:
      – Never move into student housing to save money
      – Move back from student housing to their parents to save money (or just to have a house, since they have no other options)
      – Live in faux-family communes/group homes that inhibit dating/family formation
      – Delay (serious) relationships & especially kids to save up money for a house
      – Taking/loaning lots of money from their parents** (a large number of which greatly benefited from rising housing prices and have a lot of house equity) to buy a house, creating a strong moral dependency between parents and children (hard to tell your parents to mind their own business when you have a €200k rent-free loan from them (and could perhaps greatly benefit from more financial help in the future)).

      Anyway, ‘failure to launch’ describes statistical trends and consequences of those trends. There are plenty of people who are nevertheless able to ‘launch,’ because they are lucky to have rich parents and/or other circumstances where they can sensibly make the decision to progress in the typical life goals. Or they decide to flout social norms by ‘launching’ when society deems them not to be ready for it.

      You seem to have an above average level of social norm floutiness, as well as being very lucky to have in-laws that are good roommates, so you chose a path that allowed you to ‘launch’ very successfully. However, you also seem sensitive to social norms & being stereotyped to feel like a loser.

      * Although I think that an issue is that millennials are often blamed/judged by generations who don’t understand the new circumstances, which makes things worse, as demanding the impossible makes people unhappy and results in bad decisions to reduce blame/judgment.

      ** Which creates huge inequality/intergenerational success, as the children of the well-off get a huge head start.

  11. HowardHolmes says:

    If you are interested in truth, start here: Everything that happens to me is solely my fault.

  12. OriginalSeeing says:

    At the end of many Japanese light novels the author will write out extensive apologies to the readers about their own failures in deadlines and meeting different standards.

    I don’t know how seriously to take their writing and to what extent it reflects how they really feel and think about the situation. I often feel quite bad for them.

    (note: these may be edited out of the official english translations, but appear on fan translations)

  13. Lambert says:

    What’s the word for a being that you ought to give moral consideration to?
    Not agents (but probably a superset thereof). e.g. lab rats, newborn babies, &c. are not moral agents, but they have to be treated ethically.

    • roystgnr says:

      Is “sentient” far off? Usually people use that word for conscious intelligence, where “sapient” might be a better fit, but “able to perceive or feel things” is a pretty good fit for “deserves moral consideration of what we make them perceive and feel”.

      It’s a fuzzy category, especially since on the edges of it we don’t actually *do* anything on behalf of some groups of sapients after the aforementioned consideration, but we at least tend to think about whether there should be ethical restrictions before deciding the answer is “no”.

      • Tarpitz says:

        That is a substantive claim about what things belong in the category which many people might disagree with, and as such probably not a good term for the category – at least prior to consensus about what belongs in it.

    • episcience says:

      Doesn’t “being” get you there?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Some people use the term moral patient.

    • Randy M says:

      It reminds me of Orson Scott Card’s hierarchy of foreignness, though that wasn’t quite what you are looking for. But basically in his fictional universe for Speaker for the Dead they adapted four nordic words for stranger to differentiate how much cooperation one could expect from an alien.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Not sure if helping or derailing, but often moral consideration depends on the giver much more than the recipient. I couple of weeks ago I decided not to kill a fly. I definitely don’t consider it worthy of any form of consideration, but I do think it reflects a lot on the kind of person I see myself / want to be. Well, plus of course 90% random fancy – just didn’t feel like killing right then.

    • Papillon says:

      Surprised that “personhood” hasn’t been mentioned. I think that’s the denotation most common in philosophy. Although, now that I think about it, one might like to extend moral consideration to something they don’t consider a person, like the composite ecology of the earth (“mother earth”). And it may not the ideal word if you want to extend only limited consideration (“partial personhood” may not be palatable).

    • b_jonas says:

      I call them “persons” or “people”. I’m not big at animal rights, so I consider non-human animals barely relevant for moral issues. However, I distinguish between persons and humans even if right now they’re the same. If I want to be fancy, I say “free people” instead.

  14. Nick says:

    I don’t know, am I making a mountain out of a molehill out of people’s enjoyment of making playful mountains out of molehills?

    Yes, you are.

    First, there’s nothing dishonest about it. As Scott says, this countersignaling works because it’s obvious to both participates that the statements made are not serious. There is such a thing as a jocose lie—say, lying to lead someone to the right place for a prank—but this doesn’t even rise to that level, because you aren’t intending to deceive, and you indicate by tone of voice or exaggeration or the like that it is unserious.

    It seems that what it really comes down to is not dishonesty, but that you prefer direct expressions to oblique. That is noble, but not all of us are so noble, and don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The oblique expression is a lesser good, but not one from which we’re prohibited.

    Second, it’s not a “pointless fiction,” it’s fun. One of the ways of bonding with people is having fun with them. Yes, the oblique expression taken in respect of affirming one’s trust and respect, it is not as good as direct expressions. Taken in respect of having fun, it’s very good indeed. I know you find them dull, but the rest of us don’t! Based on the exchange you related, maybe your coworkers just suck at it. Like, Hypatia broke a fundamental rule of improv, which is that you have to give the other person something to work with; I’ve heard this as the “yes, and” rule, I think. “Shut up, I never lie” ends the conversation, there’s nowhere to go with it. What is Diotima supposed to say, “Uh, yes you do”? Better might have been “I’d tell you the facts if you could take them” or Diotima’s own later “I’m just telling the facts, you’re the one tryna confuse things.” Still not great; the problem might lie with Diotima’s opening, or I’m just uncreative this morning.

  15. EchoChaos says:

    I don’t know, am I making a mountain out of a molehill out of people’s enjoyment of making playful mountains out of molehills?

    Yes. As others have said, this isn’t a big deal.

    But if you want to bond with people and such lies bother you, an easy way to do so is to enjoy being the “George Washington cherry tree guy”. Mock seriously tell the strict truth. Do it in your best Jeremy Irons/Brian Best impression for maximum HAM!

    Get a laugh, engage with their conversation and be part of it.

    The biggest way to get engagement is to be engaging. The topic doesn’t matter, the true/false valence of the conversation doesn’t matter.

  16. Silverlock says:

    Paging Deiseach. Deiseach to the green courtesy phone, please. (Yeah, I know she can’t answer right now.)

    I don’t know how I had missed this little gem until now, but there was an April Fool’s Day joke in 2014 based around the (fictional) discovery and disposal of Brian Boru’s remains, complete with references to Star Trek, a caption reading A wretched hive of scum and villainy, aka ‘the northside’, and potential reinterment of the remains in full Munster Rugby regalia.

    The piece is slow and dry at the beginning — nice, academic-style writing — but it eventually heats up and delivers some excellent lines. And there is no telling what I missed that an Irishman would pick up on.

  17. MorningGaul says:

    Why should they do this?

    Because the ultimate decision to use the insights provided (excluding the cases where unhelpful insights receive thanks as pure politeness) rest on the author, not on the friends and colleagues. If they provided wrong informations, then it was the author’s responsability to figure out the error before writing using it.

  18. noyann says:

    > … state that any remaining errors are, of course, solely their responsibility. Why should they do this?

    To make sure the reputations of helpful experts don’t get tainted, esp. as errors and deviating opinions are likely to exist in not peer-reviewed publications. You also don’t want your helper to get entangled in having to defend some shit they have not authorized.
    Also it’s simply polite to keep any need for justification or explanation away from them, if it is not their work.

    Your harsh demand for truth here would disincentivize helpers and in a small way lower the quality of the publications.

  19. eric23 says:

    Why would anyone else volunteer their help if they ran the risk of getting blamed for errors in the resulting book?

  20. Lancelot says:

    I’m a fairly introverted fellow. However, I recognize the practical value of making friends, connections and acquaintances, and will try to become at least somewhat more proactive in talking to and befriending others as I get serious about being a responsible adult.

    Here’s an uncomfortable truth: if you want to actually get much better at communicating with people, the first thing you have to do is to lose this attitude of faux-superiority.

    But this sort of dialogue, which I find to be quite common, is different. It requires dishonesty, which I really, really dislike—relatively innocuous dishonesty, yes, but dishonesty nonetheless.

    This is not a “relatively innocuous dishonesty”; instead, this is not a dishonesty at all, except in the most technical (read: irrelevant) sense. Do you really think that, for instance, acting on stage in theater is an act of lying?

    I also frankly find it juvenile in others to enjoy making up pointless fictions.

    The superiority complex is strong in this one. Regardless, they are not pointless, for the reasons that you actually noticed yourself: a) they are typically enjoyable for participants, and b) they convey at least some useful information via counter-signalling.

    Furthermore, these mini-dramas seem, to me, extremely pointless, dull and repetitive, even when compared to other oft-maligned subjects of conversation like sports, the weather, popular movies and tv shows, etc.

    Show me someone who claims to have his mind working at peak capacity 24/7 and I’ll show you an actual liar. Think about how a lot of (perhaps even the most of) actions we do in our day-to-day life are dull and repetitive, then notice how it causes no issues whatsoever except in a few select cases. The conclusion? Your dislike for these activities has very little to do with their simplicity.

    Every now and then I get to see someone rant about having to endure small talk, but then they happily proceed to doing an equally brain-dead (but introverted) activity like browsing reddit, or something to that effect.

    Ditto for the intense dislike some people have for interacting with whom they perceive to be lesser minds: the vast majority of objects and interfaces one interacts with daily are far far simpler than even a completely retarded human, yet it bothers no-one.

    I don’t know, am I making a mountain out of a molehill out of people’s enjoyment of making playful mountains out of molehills?

    Yes, most definitely.

    • Randy M says:

      I’m surprised that you drew this inference from the sentences you quoted.

      However, I recognize the practical value of making friends, connections and acquaintances, and will try to become at least somewhat more proactive in talking to and befriending others as I get serious about being a responsible adult.

      Maybe it’s the word practical, where you might be admitting some day to day utility in allowing other people into your life despite preferring to keep other humans at an arms length?

      Maybe it’s the formal and careful speech gives the impression you don’t emotionally feel it is a genuine problem, or the assumption that someone anti-social is that way because others aren’t worth their time.

      To your larger point, I’d be hesitant to make the kinds of joking conversation you recount for fear the recipient would suspect it was based on my actual impressions and I was using humorous exaggeration to express a legitimate concern. I’m not going to complement my wife’s cooking with “Nice to see you finally putting in a little effort” or something, for fear she’d quite justifiably worry I had some complaint about her contribution I wanted a deniable way to express.

    • Lancelot says:

      Perhaps this is true, but I’m surprised that you drew this inference from the sentences you quoted.

      I drew this inference from the entire text, not the particular sentence I quoted there. What I inferred from the sentence is that you wish to somewhat improve your social skills, hence the advice.

      Or, to put it another way: I would, in all honesty, much, much prefer to straightforwardly talk to people less intelligent than me about relative trivialities like the weather or traffic than to engage in this kind of fictitious teasing banter with people as or more intelligent than me.

      The thing is, if this preference stands in the way of your goals or your well being — which I assume it does, otherwise why even start this thread — then the smart thing is to try and get rid of it, and the first step to that is to realize that there is no inherent value in it: people value honesty for the reasons that are completely and entirely irrelevant to this particular case.

      • Aapje says:

        I don’t think that most people who say that they value honesty, actually do. They typically seem to mean a strictly curated section of the truth.

    • LeSigh says:

      @atlas I totally empathize with where you’re coming from re: not enjoying this kind of conversation. But I do agree with most of what Lancelot said. Others have also covered most of the related points I was going to make, which leaves me with but one: have you considered this may be, in part, a cultural difference? The differences in vernacular in your example are what raised this flag for me.

      I am pretty sure some of my dislike of this conversation style comes from my upbringing in an introverted, stoic, WASP-y family. We are Serious Intellectual People. If we find something funny, we smile (maybe an audible chuckle it it’s truly hilarious). This meant I fit comfortably into my role as a nerd in my mostly-white suburban community, excelled in school, etc. It wasn’t until later I life when I started to actually get to know people from other cultures that I realized how common & normal this dynamic is for people from other backgrounds. That realization helped me become much more tolerant of it, even if it’s still not my cup of (proverbial, Very Puritan/Quaker-influenced) tea.

  21. johan_larson says:

    You are invited to give us a brief description of your country, as might be found in the study notes of a bored youngster a thousand years from now.

    Canada: Northern half of North America. A colder Australia.

    • cassander says:

      New Zealand: Australia’s Canada.

    • Silverlock says:

      USA: psychosis writ large

    • EchoChaos says:

      The United States: A bunch of farmers LARP as Rome.

      • Statismagician says:

        Made the mistake of reading this while I was walking into the office, now have to explain why I can’t stop giggling.

    • John Schilling says:

      Not at all harmless

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      USA: A pretty big deal while it lasted.

    • The Nybbler says:

      USA: The last significant barrier to the modern world-state (translated from the Mandarin).

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Romania: kinda always between Europe and the bad guys.

    • Aapje says:

      Netherlands: Atlantis

      Netherlands: City state

      Netherlands: Amsterdam and surroundings

      Netherlands: province of the EU

      Netherlands: province of the NEU (northern EU)

    • Loris says:

      The badly misnamed United Kingdom

    • Chalid says:

      USA: short-lived successor to the British Empire

      • eric23 says:

        The British Empire was declared in 1533. USA was found in 1776. It’s now 2019. So the British Empire predated the USA by 243 years. Coincidentally the USA has existed for the same 243 years, and counting. So I would dispute your phrase “short-lived successor”…

        • Chalid says:

          The US could be only be called the dominant global empire for maybe 80 years. For most of its history it was too small or too inward-looking to count, and the world will become too multipolar in the not-to-distant future.

          • Lambert says:

            The world was quite multipolar during Pax Britannica.

          • Statismagician says:

            The Pax Britannica was also specifically about the safety of British maritime trade, not anything else – there were like four and a half major European wars alone during the relevant time period. It’s not clear what the Pax Americana is about, or if it’s usefully separable from broader globalizing forces plus nuclear proliferation – the Pax Americana equivalent to WW1 is plausibly the reserve currency of Africa switching to the yen, rather than a new era of great power conventional warfare.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Russia: the only country which is both cold and sucks to live in.
      I’m not actually the author of it, it’s a common joke

      Russia: oil pump with lots of nukes.

      Russian Federation: sequel of the USSR which tried to appeal to more mainstream audience but mostly just scared off even the fans of the original.

    • Bamboozle says:

      Scotland: The most wretched, miserable, servile, pathetic trash, that was ever shat into civilisation!

  22. Aapje says:

    Trickster God/Marvel supervillain concept: Autistes / Doctor Literal

    Has the power to force people to literally act according to what they say. Say: “I’ll be there in 5 minutes” and you can be forced to blow through red light and drive crazy speeds if you were being too optimistic, even though you know better. Say: “my phone died” when you didn’t want to answer a call and you feel an irresistible urge to smash that phone. Say: “we should have more diversity” and you will hire the crazy homeless person you pass on your way to work. Better not say: ‘fuck this shit’ or scat will result.

    For extra villainy: the trickster can force people to act on their ideology, even when inconvenient or absurd.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      Say: “my phone died” when you didn’t want to answer a call and you feel an irresistible urge to smash that phone.

      Person is immediately forced into a lifetime of research attempting to give phones life, so that they can kill theirs.

      Although really, “my phone died” is past tense, so they should smash/animate and kill their phone before they say that, not know why, and then understand later on when they say it. But you’d think having that happen would change their future actions, so from their perspective it looks like they were magically influenced into the whole thing, including saying “my phone died”: they’d have no idea that they were going to say it if that whole thing hadn’t happened. Some weird causation issues there.

      • Aapje says:

        Yeah, a more accurate description is that people can be forced to bring reality into conformity with how they describe reality and/or what they claim to want reality to be.

    • roflc0ptic says:

      Anti-heroine: Epiphanypus. Arch Enemy: Autistes

      Epiphanypus is a tortured anti-heroine who bestows a single quantum of self awareness on anyone she has sex with (but without any special source of self awareness, herself). Her charms are difficult to resist. The self awareness can be on mundane topics – e.g. you’re trying to lose weight, but less-than-consciously acting out self defeating behaviors. Epiphanypus will make it conscious, irreversibly. The self awareness can also be existential. Before she understands how to use her power, she leaves a trail of damaged partners, who are first addicted to the self knowledge she provides, then destroyed by *knowing too much*.

      On earth 32 Epiphanypus battles Autistes for the future of the world by seducing his victims. Autistes targets MGTOW/Incel forums to create his army. Empowered by Autistes, the incels all refuse her advances. Epiphanypus levels up, and discovers that the antidote to Autistes power is ultimate self awareness, a.k.a. Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience. She learns to use her powers bestow PNSE (well. the outcomes are actually 50% PNSE, 50% persistent vegetative state. The technology is still in alpha.). She starts a buddhist cult, and creates her own army to combat the incels. Her teachings and tactics receive heavy censure from The Buddhist Council, in the form of an extended lovingkindness meditation. Doctor Literal’s involvement is suspected.

      • roflc0ptic says:

        I was feeling really pleased with myself for this comment, but then I started wondering if it’s too crude for context. If so, apologies. The hero was invented by some roommates, in a moment of frustration with an overly persistent ex. I was just really excited about how well Doctor Literal’s powers jive with Epiphanypus, and all of the callbacks it enabled. Self awareness is hard.

  23. Aapje says:


    Probably to reduce drama and people making assumptions. For example, you may have talked to Jane who is an expert on X and thanked them for their help, but that doesn’t mean that a mistake about topic X came from them. Even if it does, an author who wants reliable information ought to check multiple sources. If he doesn’t, it’s on him.

    By taking the heat away from contributors, it’s more likely that people will contribute in the future.

  24. GearRatio says:

    You don’t have to like that kind of conversation, but I think you’d really be well served by being more honest about it; I don’t mean passive honesty, where you can state the truth without any work but instead active honesty that requires a little work.

    You understand on some level that when I say that a beautiful girl is the wind, the smell of flowers remembered years later that I’m not saying she actually is these things. I’m using metaphor. Because I know that my audience either will or should understand that I’m not actually saying she’s atmospheric pressure differentials or old plant smoke, I’m not lying. Anybody who presented me as being dishonest in that situation is one, some or all of lazy, stupid or dishonest.

    Similarly, someone saying “I would never, ever EVER write poetry; I value honesty too much, and I wouldn’t hurt that poor girl by making herself think she’s a wind, or my friends by making them think that she’s the aroma of remembered bouquets” doesn’t have much of a point. He’s accusing me, the poet, of trying to hurt them when I was trying to do the opposite – I was trying to deepen my connection to the girl, and introduce a positive emotion to the group.

    Now to your situation. This is what’s often considered “Joshing” or “Teasing”. Sure, there’s bad versions of it in the same way I could written a poem intended to hurt (A girl, I felt, remembered as one feels and recalls cleaning dog-messed shoe treads), or even read the same poem with a biting, hurting sarcasm driven by clear intent to harm. But understand this: the part where you understand that these people like each other and like the teasing and play occurring is also the part where you should start to actually do the hard work of considering there might be more complex things happening than somebody just lying and trying to hurt their friends.

    What’s happening here is that people, even very bright people, don’t always have deep and philosophically meaningful conversations locked and loaded. Even if they did, they wouldn’t always be in the mood for them. Even if they were always in the mood, it’s important to still note that it’s possible that even incredibly intellectual conversations have limited utility in most contexts.

    Play has a place; fun has a place. Intent matters. Friendships have genres. Some people speak in code because that’s the only way they can speak; others speak in code because that’s the only way they can be understood by their audience. When you hit a cue ball with a cue, sometimes you hit it off center because you suck, and sometimes you it off center because a certain amount of English makes you more effective in certain situations.

    I won’t speculate on which of the three options I presented before you are participating in, but I will say it’s not very charitable to get down on people for being hurtful to other people in a post where on several occasions you very strongly imply you find them to be little more than studies in stupidity and dullness.

    • Matt says:

      If you don’t understand it, definitely don’t try to participate in it.

    • JayT says:

      I think I’d draw a distinction between the two cases: when a poet says of his beloved that she is the wind, he can be honest that he feels that she is like the wind. By contrast, if I tease someone who I don’t actually find annoying that “you’re so annoying!,” I’m not exaggerating something that exists in a different form, I’m making something up with no basis in reality (albeit in a harmless way).

      I would say that in most cases when playfully teasing someone it absolutely is exaggeration, and not something that isn’t based in reality. In your scenario, you would call someone “so annoying” when they did something that actually was mildly annoying, but you blow it way out of proportion for comedic effect.

  25. Ketil says:

    The cost of nuclear power. I see that the EPR being built in Europe consistently run over budget and schedule. Intitially priced around USD 3-4 billion, they run to 8 billion (Finland), 12 billion (Flamanville), and twentysomething for the two units at Hinkley Point C. Obviously, this fuels the argument that nukes are too expensive, and therefore wind and solar. The counterpoint is Taishen 1 and 2 in China, the same reactor built more or less to budget and on time (8 billion for two units in ten years).

    Why is this?

    a) European regulators keep changing the requirements and asking for new safety features
    b) European industry and contractors suck
    c) The Chinese are fudging the budget, taking safety risks, and/or abusing the workforce to make reality match the budgets
    d) Something else (please specify)

    • Cerby says:

      My gut instinct says “all of the above”.
      Also, government projects are known to inflate in price, both because the people who start them underreport the price to make it more palatable, and because as time goes on you get an unhealthy mix of “shit happens” and “we didn’t think of this shit”. Basically, if someone actually knows how to balance a budget, they go corporate, not government.

      • SamChevre says:

        Corporate projects frequently run way over budget too. It’s not just a government problem.

        • tocny says:

          I think this is generally it. Projects are hard, whether they are something tangible like a power plant or a new software project (something like The trick is that if a government project goes wildly over budget, it makes the headlines, while if a corporate project does I think it generally does not.

          • JayT says:

            Though, one big reason that the out of control government projects get more press is that there aren’t too many private companies that can afford to go as far over budget as the government is willing to go. Something like the Phoenix Pay System is probably on the outer bound that an average, large, private company is willing to do.
            Overages that something like the California High Speed rail has had would be hard for even an Apple or Google to pay for.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      d) government contracting sux in general, and when you compound it by the magnitude of the project and the (political, PR) risks involved… you kinda expect this results. From what I understand it’s not a fixable issue.

      The only kind of gov agency that does this type of thing well would be FAA, but it has the benefit of a high number of low-casualty accidents and even more zero-casualty incidents from which to learn and adapt. Nuclear safety is at the opposite spectrum, so… you can’t really use that ww2 strategy of only reinforcing the parts of the plane that don’t have bullet holes, when you have just 3 bullet holes in total.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I am not aware of any instances of a), so I guess d) mentioned by Radu. Government contracting ways are the problem.

      It is not surprising or outrageous that EU nuclear projects cost twice of Chinese, workforce is far more expensive and safety is probably higher priority, but giant cost overunns indicate that procurement procedures are broken in some way.

      • Ketil says:

        workforce is far more expensive

        True, having people welding pipes and pouring concrete is going to be more expensive in Europe. But I’m surprised if that constitutes a majority of the cost, or of the overruns – it should be predictable in advance, and thus budgeted for, unless bad planning meant the reactor container had to be reconstructed a number of times, or something like that.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      b) and c).

    • Aapje says:

      Wikipedia suggests that the Finnish plant had severe problems with incompetent subcontractors, who didn’t built stuff to the right standard, as well as poor instructions to subcontractors.

      In 2013, the building consortium reduced the workers and subcontractors suggesting that they had trouble finding good workers and/or coordinating so many people.

    • EchoChaos says:

      My guess is 90% (c), with the caveat that even at European safety levels, Chinese labor is substantially less expensive.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Combo B and C, but “B” is not just “European.” Supervision and project management are hard skills, which is why people who do them well and can make a lot of money. It looks like a lot of the reactor work was subcontracted to people who didn’t know exactly what they were doing, and not knowing exactly what you are doing is kind of a huge problem. Plus, different groups not talking to each other.

      Ex from second-hand knowledge. My friend worked on a project where the GC value-engineered the concrete by removing a good chunk of the rebar. They also decided to speed up construction by pouring the concrete and planned to drill holes for plumbing and electrical later. Which they did. Damaging what little rebar was there. They then had to reinforce huge areas with steel posts because they had damaged the rebar.

      • Aapje says:

        An issue with (EU) subcontracting rules* is that demands for competence have to be ‘objective.’ You can’t just exclude a contractor because you judge them to have a poor track record or because you prefer a contractor with a good track record, but have to write objective norms in the tender. Even then, you can’t demand that the contractor has a good record of working with your company.

        The legal ban on judging contractors subjectively or granting jobs to companies that you have a long term relationship with, strongly encourages rule-lawyering by contractors, where they technically obey the tender, while exploiting every loophole that the tender forgot to cover off.

        * Applicable to government, but also certain sectors, including the energy sector.

        • CatCube says:

          The other part of this “objective” criteria being needed to judge contractors is that it reduces incentive to do a good job. If doing a great job and coming in ahead of schedule and under budget has zero bearing on whether you’ll get the next contract, well, you may as well take what you can while you can.

          I remember we had a small business contractor that we sole-sourced for two jobs (which you can do for small businesses under certain conditions) and they had done excellent work–you could hand these guys a napkin sketch and get what you wanted (note: what you wanted, not what you asked for) on budget and on time. We obviously wanted to use them for the next job, but our contracting or legal offices (I don’t remember which one) wouldn’t allow it because it would create the appearance that we were on the take for awarding a noncompetitive contract to the same firm three times in a row. Doing good work was literally zero guarantee of being able to continue to get work.

          Once you realize that government contracting rules are designed to appear to be fair (“objective criteria”), not to award to the best contractor, it starts to make more sense.

    • gbdub says:

      Do wind and solar plants actually do better in terms of meeting budget and projected performance? Anecdotally it seems like there are a lot of solar and wind projects that either break down earlier / more often than planned or fail to ever meet production targets.

      One thought is that the tougher regulation and inspections for nukes will tend to suss out any construction errors as they happen. This front loads a lot of extra cost and schedule slip. But once they are up and running, they tend to more or less just work.

      Wind and solar meanwhile have less stringent initial quality control which means less delays till initial operation, but if the construction is shoddy you’ll suffer more degradation of the system over time.

      • Ketil says:

        Do wind and solar plants actually do better in terms of meeting budget and projected performance?

        Not sure about construction budgets, but from what I’ve seen, many of them fail to turn a profit. I guess operations cost are harder to predict (and easy to under estimate) here.

  26. Matt says:

    Modesty and generosity are virtues and should be encouraged (in my humble opinion). However, I think they ought not be pursued at the expense of truth.

    Allow me to vote in favor of telling falsehoods in order to be more modest and generous. It’s not even particularly false to tell a falsehood that no one will believe. It’s just tactful and kind.

    This is like objecting to giving gramps a “World’s Best Grandpa” shirt. Everyone knows that there can’t be a million ‘Best Grandpas’ out there, but almost every grandpa would love for his granddaughter to indicate that she thinks she has the best one. Even if he knows she gave the same shirt to her other Grandpa(s).

  27. Matt says:

    I do this all the time, mostly with my kids/family. Yesterday I was tickling the dog and scared her so she cried out. Today I asked my daughter if her mom told her about how she (Mom) made the dog cry yesterday. Part of this is just for fun – I enjoy my wife getting indignant over the situation and telling the ‘real’ story. Part of it is training for my daughter – she needs to know that, while she can trust me, she really needs to examine critically what is said to her, even by me.

    I’ve got my kids pretty well trained – they can immediately call BS on me when I say “Who wants [fav restaurant that is always closed on Sunday] for dinner” if I say it on Sunday. Because they’re thinking about what I say.

    I’m not sure I can offer you any advice, though. If you don’t like this sort of thing, then don’t engage in it. Is there an issue where you have difficulty sorting playful friendly teasing from mean teasing?

    • Ketil says:

      I do it with children, a lot. But always so outrageously that they are supposed to see through it. Part of it is that it is fun, and part of it is that I totally dislike it when children 100% trust every word coming out of the mouth of an adult.

      On the other hand, my girlfriend does it to me, often pretending to do something she knows I don’t want because of some (uncharitable) interpretation of what I said. Totally frustrating¹, and gets me every time – she’s pretty good at faking sincerity. But also I’m a little impressed by how easily she does this, and while annoying, I feel — like the children — that I need to develop my filters better.

      ¹ Oh yeah, footnote: I’m pretty much extroverted. I bet it feels just as confusing or humiliating for extroverts to be the target for a joke I don’t get, perhaps even more so.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      “Part of this is just for fun – I enjoy my wife getting indignant over the situation and telling the ‘real’ story.”

      Might it be worth your while to ask your wife if she’d rather you didn’t do that?

      • Matt says:

        She generally enjoys it and has her own playful teasing behaviors. For instance, I am on the computer more often than her, and so it’s my job to predict the weather. As the weatherman, she will ‘blame’ me when the weather is worse than predicted. — “You said it wasn’t going to rain today”

    • Nick says:

      The issue I’m having is that it seems like, say, 20-45% of conversations in certain contexts are based on this sort of teasing. I’m not really sure how to participate in them, but it seems hard to hang out with people if you spend 30% of the time that they’re talking in mute silence.

      I have to ask—do you like these people who are doing it, or do you kind of hate them? I don’t want to say everything you said above was rationalization, but I think it could easily color how much this bothers you, in a social allergy way. See also my below about your coworkers Doing It Wrong.

    • roflc0ptic says:

      It’s okay to just avoid those contexts.

      Also, adjacent to the social skill of charisma, there’s a skillset around helping other people feel comfortable being sincere and having open, unguarded conversation. It’s not a magic trick, and there are plenty of contexts that will be resistant towards intervention.

      Instead of framing the thing as “juvenile”, you could also frame it as a conversational skills gap. These humans clearly want to connect with each other, but they’re limited in the tools that they’ve got. You might take it as an opportunity to experiment with gently influencing others. One social strategy: you could try being (again, gently) affirming and kind, as an antidote to the friendly negging. You can also provide friendly criticism in a joking tone: “jeez, always picking on hypatia.” All very context dependent on whether or not any of this is a good idea.

  28. pancrea says:

    I wouldn’t put up with that style of conversation either.

    My approach has been to go to meetups and meet lots of people, and get contact information for the ones I would want to be friends with. It takes a lot of effort but does eventually work.

  29. Plumber says:

    @Plumber says:

    “…For years as a personal ritual every October I read something vaguely Halloween themed so Bradbury’s The October Country and Something Wicked This Way Comes, Leiber’s Conjure Wife, and Poe, I’ll probably go with Lovecraft this year and/or the rest of MacBeth (last year I only read the scenes with the witches)”

    I went with Something Wicked This Way Comes (which I last read in the 1980’s for my October read this year, and it’s been great!

    It’s been almost more poetry than prose, so it works well as a re-read.

    That I didn’t re-chisten myself “Jim Nightshade” back then during my brief time in a punk band “Abra Cadaver” (no we didn’t record any songs, and I don’t remember us playing much besides “E.S.P.” and “Blitzkrieg Bop”) seemd a dereliction, but reading it now gives me a greater insight and empathy for the Charlie Halloway character rather than just Will and Jim giving it an extra depth it didn’t have for me back then.

    Anyway, recommended:
    Something Wicked This Way Comes by Bradbury.

    • Anaxagoras says:

      I’m not generally big on Bradbury, but that one I liked. It’s got a lot of memorable images and the feel of a good creepypasta.

      You might like some stuff by Joe Hill. He’s Stephen King’s son, but his work usually reminded me more of Bradbury, particularly in his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts.

    • OriginalSeeing says:

      I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight every Christmas. It’s a Christmas story.

  30. Protagoras says:

    I forgot which book it was, but at least one person has put in their acknowledgements “so and so read and commented on the penultimate draft, and is therefore responsible for any errors that remain.”

  31. chrisminor0008 says:

    It’s just basics of good leadership. Praise in public. Criticize in private.

  32. proyas says:

    “The best unarmed, hand-to-hand fighting style is to do whatever the best MMA fighters do, but with all the illegal UFC moves added in.” 

    Who will disagree with this? Explain the reason(s) for your disagreement. Come at me, bro.  

    • hash872 says:

      I mean sure, I basically agree with that. I’d zoom out a bit and say that ‘whatever…. MMA fighters do’ are a series of best practices for mostly gross motor movements. Even if you your goal was to be the best at ‘unarmed, hand-to-hand fighting’, I still think you’d spend 95%+ of your time training the way a normal MMA fighter does- wrestling, grappling, striking, etc. For one thing, you can practice these things against a resisting opponent, whereas say striking sparring but with groin kicks added in is not really practical. BJJ grappling plus eye gouges definitely ‘works’, but you can’t really practice eye gouging on your training partners in the gym. So the ‘training’ reverts to old-school TMA, you simulate this activity while your partner doesn’t really fight back- not exactly the optimal way to build athletic skills, much less for an extreme pressure situation.

      Ironically (as someone that watches a lot of MMA), modern MMA has definitely proven that illegal techniques are highly effective. Fights get stopped all the time due to groin strikes or eye pokes- and you have to consider that UFC fighters are obviously wearing a cup when they’re kicked in the groin, and yet are still unable to continue! So illegal strikes definitely ‘work’. They’re just tough to train

    • No idea if it’s true, but if it is you could just as well say “I can win a fight against a world champion in MMA. My strategy is to bring a gun.”

      • Protagoras says:

        Yeah, if you’re just trying to win at any cost, use a weapon. If you didn’t bring a weapon, pick up something handy to use as an improvised weapon. It is unclear what circumstance would ever produce a “no weapons, but do anything else to win, however risky or damaging to the other party or sleazy” fight except this sort of artificial thought experiment, and since such circumstances don’t seem to come up in real life, there’s not really any empirical evidence to go on.

        • onyomi says:

          A bit tangential, but I think one of the best features of Jackie Chan movies like Rumble in the Bronx is his commitment to using a bunch of random stuff as one might find in such urban environments as a grocery store.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Even though his fighting style is for comedy, it’s still very logical no-guns fighting.

        • Adrian says:

          It is unclear what circumstance would ever produce a “no weapons, but do anything else to win, however risky or damaging to the other party or sleazy” fight except this sort of artificial thought experiment […]

          How about: A fight is imminent and you have no time to go and look for a weapon, because taking your eyes off your opponent makes you immediately vulnerable for an attack?

          Sure, if you’re in a crowded pub, there’s always a beer bottle within reach, but it’s not like there are tons of loose, weaponizable objects just lying around on an open street. Go outside and take a look! Or open Google Street View on a random street in your favorite city. Good luck finding anything usable within a 10 m radius. And no, trash bags don’t count.

    • tossrock says:

      Well, “whatever the best MMA fighters do” is pretty varied, covering more than one style. There’s not really one dominant style that you can just add headbutts and eye gouges to. At the highest level, you could say that it’s a mixture of grappling and striking, but that’s too broad to be useful. The best grapplers use combinations of stuff like folkstyle wrestling, olympic wrestling, brazilian jiu jitsu, judo, sambo, etc. The best strikers use techniques from boxing, muay thai, kickboxing, and even the occasional exotic style like, karate or wing chun. So your quote boils down “the best fighting style is a combination of the most effective parts of all other combat fighting styles, plus headbutts” which isn’t a tremendously useful insight.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Not really familiar with UFC specifically or unarmed combat more generally, but UFC fighting styles are adjusted for these rules. “What UFC fighters do” will be different when you add in illegal moves. For instance, if the best fighting move is to kick the other guy in the groin, but that’s banned, there will be a whole “art” developed that’s possibly useless as soon as you are allowed to kick each other in the groin. Then it just becomes a fight to see who can kick the other guy in the groin first, and the new art will look nothing like the old art.

      Of course, if you eliminate the rules and have a “real” fight, your first move against a random opponent is to throw sand in his eyes, pick up the nearest closest heavy object and hit him over the head with it, and run away as soon as he is on the ground and disabled.

      • GearRatio says:

        This is kind of true, but I think there’s some angles to it you aren’t considering.

        Max Brooks once wrote a book about zombies in which trained soldiers were terrible at killing zombies because they had been trained to shoot at center mass, so it was hard for them to shoot them in the head, said Max Brooks. I asked a soldier about this and he said something analogous to “Well, who do you think does better: the guy who has to change the part he’s aiming at, or the guy who doesn’t have the toolset to hit anything at all? We understand the words “shoot them in the head”, you know.”

        Ditto fighting, to an extent. It might be that these guys are conditioned to kicking legs and torsos, but they still are really, really good at kicking stuff really hard. To the extent kneeing somebody in the nuts is similar to kneeing somebody in the sternum, a lot of the training transfers.

        Another story: I took Karate for a while, and there was a trope a lot of instructors would participate in where they’d say “Oh, if a guy was doing a choke hold on me, I’d just bit him, he doesn’t understand the streets”. Meanwhile if you ask a trained grappler about that, they make the point that they can bite and gouge and all that too, but it’s really a lot easier when you are the guy who has superior positioning/leverage/athleticism.

        Ditto weapons; if you can grab a chair, so can the guy who is trained in modern kinesthetics who is really good at establishing range, maintaining distance and understanding what you, his opponent, can and can’t do.

        To the extent that pretty much every fighting style has sparring rules that ban eyepokes, chair smashing and sand-throwing for injury related reasons, the best fighting style is the one that respects physics and reality the most with the broadest ruleset (See: MMA). Note: this changes if you believe Krav Maga teaches effective chair smashing and the like; I’ve found Krav Maga to be mostly woo, but there’s good and bad gyms for everything and YMMV.

        To the extent that MMA means “Use physics, the accumulated experience and knowledge of a sport, and athlete-specific customization of various proven moves to win”, surprisingly little changes – we’d still say MMA is the best fighting style in a no-weapons yes-groin-kicks, because it’s basically “do whatever works in the situation you are in” and we can safely presume they’d adjust the fastest to the new rules, since adjusting to broad rulesets is sort of their specialty in the first place.

        None of this means you are wrong, I just am saying I’m unconvinced that MMA training isn’t close enough to reality that they could just say “hey, aim for the head” and be 05% done with the adjustment phase.

        • Ketil says:

          Well, who do you think does better: the guy who has to change the part he’s aiming at,

          True. There also seems to be people who think hitting somebody with their keys will be a successful defensive technique. But if you can’t already hit somebody with your fist, you can’t do it while holding an object either, and you’ll probably only going to hurt yourself trying.

        • albatross11 says:

          You can see situations in MMA fights where the strategy of the fighters is definitely affected by rules against groin kicks and eye gouges and kicking a downed opponent, but if those things were allowed, I think an MMA fighter would be able to adapt to them and would still have a really effective arsenal for winning an unarmed fight. My not-all-that-informed sense is that things you can practice at full speed/power are things you’re going to be able to do in a real fight much more reliably than things you can’t practice or have to practice going really slowly and using no power to avoid injuring your training partners.

      • Lancelot says:

        For instance, if the best fighting move is to kick the other guy in the groin, but that’s banned, there will be a whole “art” developed that’s possibly useless as soon as you are allowed to kick each other in the groin. Then it just becomes a fight to see who can kick the other guy in the groin first, and the new art will look nothing like the old art.

        Makes me wonder just how much more deadly the martial arts will become if the humankind develops Matrix-style virtual training environments, where one would be able to train all the “forbidden moves” without the risk of harming his sparring partner.

    • psmith says:

      If you want to make it work in a fight, you have to be able to practice it a lot at pretty near full force on a resisting opponent–you have to be able to spar. Eye gouging, to take one example, obviously fails under this criterion, whereas collegiate wrestling (for example) fares pretty well even though its rule set is in fact quite restrictive.

      And, furthermore, any martial art that claims to teach techniques too deadly for sparring degenerates into bullshido.

    • Michael Handy says:

      Assuming practical fighting as opposed to sporting duels, the answer is “there are no unarmed battles.” The optimal strategy is “delay with environmental obstacles until you can glass him with a beer mug.”

      The English school of rapier combat showed this, with such subtle techniques as teaching the art of throwing a chair at your opponent.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The English school of rapier combat showed this, with such subtle techniques as teaching the art of throwing a chair at your opponent.

        We need to see more of this martial arts school in movies and/or RPGs.

    • meh says:

      Lets first enumerate how unarmed hand-to-hand fighting differs from UFC.

      1. illegal moves
      2. regular consistent space (always fighting in octagon)
      3. round structure

      I don’t know how these 3 considerations would alter the best MMA technique, but I’m not sure it would just be additive (MMA + add illegal moves).
      How can we be sure that the addition of illegal moves won’t change the base style of ‘whatever the best MMA fighter do’?

    • Matt says:

      Let me add one more change, in addition to what others have said.

      “The best unarmed, one-on-one hand-to-hand fighting style is to do whatever the best MMA fighters do, but with all the illegal UFC moves added in.”

      MMA guys know going in that they are one person, fighting one person. If you’re 3 guys taking on 4 guys, you probably want to do something different. If you think you’re 1 guy taking on 1 guy and it turns out he had a friend you didn’t know about, you better not take him to the ground or you’re likely to get kicked in the head or something.

    • Ketil says:

      The best unarmed, hand-to-hand fighting style

      Fighting for what? In what situation?

      For self defense, your best bet is being a good runner. For the opposite, your best bet is to sneak up on your vict^H^H^H^Hopponent and push them in front of a train.

      Less facetiously:

      Many martial arts will claim to be “realistic”, and one great thing MMA did was bring some new views to that discussion. I don’t know the history that closely, but my clear impression is that Brazilian ju-jitsu (very grappling-oriented) dominated early on, but as more strike-oriented MAs have adapted and learned to counter the most common techniques, things have evened out a bit.

      In general, I don’t think you are wrong, MMA being competition oriented and with fairly few limitations. Some caveats I’d add is that you would probably break your hand if you punch full power into bone (forehead, elbow) without gloves, and like somebody pointed out, you don’t get on the ground if there is a risk of more opponents or a need to exit quickly.

      Another consideration: time to learn. You could argue that if you know the full ju-jitsu catalog perfectly, it is the “best” MA, since it basically encompasses everything. However, it will take you a lifetime or more to learn – so the “best” fighting style is probably one with a limited number of effective techniques. And one more consideration: fighting style is one thing, but the way you train it another. A good MA (i.e. effective for actual fighting) should have realistic sparring and ideally competitions. Standing in rows and performing elaborate moves with perfect precision into the air isn’t really going to help you much.

    • Aapje says:


      In real fighting, people tend to wear more clothing than just shorts.

      There is a substantial difference between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with and without a Gi, as with a Gi, one can pull on clothing and use the clothing for submissions. Also, the clothing increases friction and makes certain attacks less feasible. For example, a foot lock is likely to merely pull off the shoe of a person wearing shoes and is thus less effective than against a person with bare feet.

      Note that the Gi was designed to more or less mimic Japanese clothing, which is stronger than modern clothing. If I were training for the streets, I would train with regular clothing that people commonly wear in the place where I expect to fight.

      • Lambert says:

        IIRC, the gi was inspired by the clothes worn by Japanese firefighters in Kano’s time.

      • OriginalSeeing says:

        Creating a martial art that depends on someone wearing a GI also makes way more sense back in the time and place where everyone was wearing kimonos and clothing similar to GI.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Creating a martial art that depends on someone wearing a GI

          I can’t help picturing this as someone wearing a US soldier as a backpack. Then I wonder where the legs go and think maybe the GI is wearing really baggy WWII pattern khakis and the other person put their legs in them too…

      • proyas says:

        That’s probably the best point I’ve seen here so far.

    • OriginalSeeing says:

      UFC styles are designed for fighting similarly sized opponents with a number of gentleman-like conduct added in (even excluding the illegal moves). I think drastically different style would be used in some sort of underground, unarmed caged deathmatch or two men in the wilderness who want to murder one another.

      The best hand-to-hand fighting style is of course going to depend on the situation. A fighting style for all situations would likely contain many of the concepts that MMA fighters use as a basis but look much different.

      Gentlemanly conduct (other than the obvious stuff like eye gouging, crotch shots, etc.) prohibits hysterical screaming, making yourself stink, threatening the person’s family, attempting to break their bones, actions like skin twisting that just inflict a whole lot of pain, immediately attacking their windpipe, neck, and weaker places on the head, and far more.
      If you read about historical fighters, then you find all sorts of stuff like people showing up to battle naked, wearing battlepaint that looks like blood, and intentionally cutting themselves beforehand to freak out their opponents. You would need to add in all sorts of things like those back in to get peak efficiency.
      Also, MMA revolves around two fighters of similar weights fighting one another. A middleweight fighter (6.1″ 180 lbs) trying to fight someone like Shaq (7.1″ 325lbs) will need to use very different methods than their normal MMA style.
      A deathmatch cagefighter who could be set up against any type of opponent would train to take all of that into consideration.

      I can easily imagine a very high mastery of some mix of wrestling, brazilian jiu jitsu, judo, and other takedown methods alongside limb breaking, neck breaking, choking, eye gouging, extreme heavy punching, etc. could be very useful. However, people are very dangerous on their feet and moves like pulling someone’s hair can be extremely disabling.

      You might also start seeing a lot more fast and hard moves aimed at breaking people’s softer bones like their hips and collar bone, or shattering their nose into their head in order to throw them off.

      UFC is far closer to deathmatch fighting than boxing is, but it’s still a sport quite distant from the highest effective level of violence.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Also, MMA revolves around two fighters of similar weights fighting one another. A middleweight fighter (6.1″ 180 lbs) trying to fight someone like Shaq (7.1″ 325lbs) will need to use very different methods than their normal MMA style.

        Bruce Lee and his jeet kun do can be seen as a pre-MMA understanding of how situational fighting needs to be. In one of his movies, he wrote himself having to fight Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s character, who has huge weight class and reach advantages but turns out to have a visual disability he can exploit by keeping his distance and knocking the windows open.

    • sfoil says:

      I don’t really disagree with it, but it’s useful ask: the best at what? By far the biggest advantage of the UFC rules is that they are an excellent guide to what can be trained using maximum-resistance sparring. They’re also by extension a pretty good guide to what not to do if you’re trying to avoid escalating a fight from “brawl” to “lethal duel”. I once won an…informal match using a headbutt in a clinch, but there’s no way I would ever use some of the pinch/tear/rip techniques on display e.g. here before I reached for my pocketknife. The point is that if you’re training to win any type of unarmed fight you’re likely to be in, cultivating discipline, building fitness and toughness, etc, you probably don’t really need to spend much time “training” those illegal moves.

      The schools that emphasize these techniques appear to mostly originate from pre-gunpowder (especially pre-repeating-firearms) eras with strict restrictions on possession of weapons by civilians yet substantially higher levels of violence at the hands of bandits and the like. I sort of regard them as swordless “fencing” — martial arts centered on militarily obsolete weapons. You’ll note that in the absence of actual combat with swords, fencing evolved into a highly stylized/ritualized form, and the same thing looks like it happened to a lot of Chinese martial arts. There may have been a time when a master of these arts might have actually had experience using them in lethal encounters, but that is not so today. So even if you do choose to train in these methods, it’s probably better to have plenty of full-contact-sparring training to help you distinguish when you’re being taught the unarmed equivalent of Olympic foil as practical technique.

    • blipnickels says:

      Disagree (somewhat seriously).

      If I’m doing illegal moves, it’s probably a real street fight. And if it’s a real street fight, I should run. I should run because I obviously don’t have an overwhelming advantage, like a bunch of friends, or a weapon of some kind. This means the fight is at least somewhat fair, which is bad, because I want to win which means I want an unfair fight.

      I’m pretty sure pre-modern military concentration of force = ‘You and your friends go beat up that one guy while his friends are elsewhere”.

      Also, in general, I’m very suspicious of the effectiveness of the average MMA practitioner for the average person. I won’t claim to be an expert but I remember hearing a lot of controversy over transgender athletes in MMA because of physical advantages but those advantages pale in comparison to what you see in the general population. Even ignoring Male/Female differences, the average dude’s weight can vary from 150-250 pounds, their stamina can range from couch to marathoner, and their strengths can vary widely. Most newbies in the gym might bench 80-90 lbs but it’s not hard to get to 180-190. That’s a really big variance. Meanwhile, everyone in the MMA is pretty much in peak physical condition, I’d be surprised if anyone was more than 10% stronger than anyone else.

      I see lots of MMA guys (used to be Judo) who don’t do any other exercise and I just can’t believe they’ve got enough skill to overcome a big physical gap.

      • sfoil says:

        Fighting above your weight is definitely a handicap, but the narrow weight classes of competitive matches simply reflect the narrow skill distribution of competitive fighters. In reality, a well-trained fighter can almost certainly beat an unskilled opponent who’s 50 lbs heavier, even if the latter isn’t completely out of shape. It’s entirely possible that e.g. a skilled grappler might get the snot beaten out of him by a +50lb boxer with comparatively basic training (or vice versa), but training/skill absolutely makes a difference and when the training difference is extreme it can compensate for extreme differences in size. If you don’t believe me, then go to a gym and ask for a demonstration — they should be happy to show you, it’s simple good advertising.

        Most martial arts training is good stamina training on its own — I’d go so far as to say that if it isn’t, it’s not real training — and any serious fighter will spend a lot of time on raw physical conditioning on top of that.

  33. Anaxagoras says:

    I’m likely going to be presenting at a conference on children’s online protection in Ghana at the end of the month, and I figured you all might have strong opinions about youth rights and the internet.

    Here’s some questions I’d particularly like your thoughts on:

    1. Do you think there’s any content online that, say, a ten year old should not be able to access?
    2. If you listed anything for 1, do you think you would have tried to access it anyhow?
    3. How can anyone tell you’re a kid online?
    4. What would you do to reduce online bullying?
    5. What’s the best and worst thing you’ve seen done to protect children online?

    • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

      1. I don’t feel like I have enough understanding and lean towards nihilistic worldview that not all children are going to make it and perhaps subjecting larger number of children to something that may ruin some is better than santizing their enviroment until they become maladapted
      2. I learned early enough that a lot of things I’m not supposed to access are just gross. On the other had, I would and I did.
      3. If you post your photo. Maybe if you are stupid, but there’s a lot of false positive.
      4. Tell children to not feed the trolls. Unless they know them in real life, but that’s just real life bullying as well.
      I’m not sure what criteria you expect me on 5th, especially for worst. Worst as in failing to protect children? As in negatively impacting adults?

      • Anaxagoras says:

        What do you mean “not all children are going to make it”?

        I think with 3. I’m more trying to get thoughts on a company like Facebook having better assurance of its users’ ages than them just checking a box that they’re 13+.

        Worst in either sense is fine; different people may have different criteria. I’m including both “Please kids, don’t come to our awesome site on how smoking is cool!” and “Sorry, we have to ban that counterrevolutionary content… for the children.”

        • Aapje says:

          I’m not ARabbiAndAFrog, but I think that producing a very sanitized environment tends to make some kids incapable of dealing with risky things/people well. On the other hand, certain content can damage children. Pick your poison.

          Anyway, I think that it’s more important that the kid has trusted and trustworthy adults and peers that he or she can turn to, to get help/advice.

        • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

          What I mean is that there’s no universally effective way to raise every child, different children would have different level of stress or pressure work better or worse for them – it’s impossible to anticipate and it’s also impossible to ensure this will be the level they’ll be getting, and for some nothing will work because they are born unfit to live and will get sick, physically or mentally in the future and will never amount to anything. Parents are having a few kids now and face unreasonable expectations to raise their children well, which in turn makes them demand environment to be changed to protect their kids, which won’t actually help them anyway, so whenever they get their way, they won’t stop pushing.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      1. Yep
      2. Some categories, probably. 10yo me would have been digging for crude humor not porn
      3. Can’t reliably, nor in an automated fashion (at least without making vast swathes of the internet unacceptably cumbersome to access)
      4. Don’t let my kids on social media until an appropriate age. Stress the importance of anonymity.
      Alternatively: teach them not to give a fuck about randos and respond to cyber-bullying by people they know like any other form of bullying.
      5-Best: parents not letting small kids use the internet unattended
      5-Worst: literally anything done by parties outside the child’s home

      • Anaxagoras says:

        What sort of stuff for 1? Crude humor and porn?

        For 4, how would you advise them to respond to normal forms of bullying from people they know? I do see some disanalogies in that cyberbullying will not be physical, and can be anonymous but definitely from someone who knows the victim well.

        5-best: Small kids defined how?
        5-worst: Could you picture a well-done internet safety lesson from a school?

    • rubberduck says:

      No strong opinions here but I’ll answer anyway.

      1. The predictable answers: hardcore pornography, drug/weapon marketplaces, snuff films, extremist propaganda.
      2. Personally, no, but I was never a rebellious kid. As long as nothing in 1 is hyped up by adults as a Super Dangerous Thing You Must Not View I doubt most kids would seek such content out on their own.
      3. Fortnite references. (No but serious answer: I have no idea. There are a lot of stupid adults and a bright child could probably pass for an adult if they really wanted to.)
      4. Not sure, because it’s easier to think of methods for the victim to cope/avoid exposure than to stop bullies from saying mean things on the internet.
      5. No opinions on “best”, but “worst” (as in least effective and most annoying) would be Tumblr callout posts along the lines of “User XXXXXXX is a pedo bc five years ago they reblogged a piece of fanart where Party A is 16 and Party B is 18.”

      • Anaxagoras says:

        1. Those are pretty common answers, though I’d be interested in hearing why you think that drug or weapon marketplaces are a particular risk for kids.
        2. Yeah, that framing tends not to help. I think porn is one area where that’s not necessary for kids to be interested in seeking it out. Any idea at what age kids might try to find it?

        • rubberduck says:

          1. Honestly I don’t think they’re a *particular* risk, but they’re still something I don’t think 10-year-olds should have access to.

          2. No idea, but it seems like the sort of thing somebody’s probably researched already.

    • Fade says:

      Perhaps an easier way to do this is with a link to a google docs survey.

      In any case:
      1. No
      3. Very hard. Voice can be a giveaway, if you use voice chat, but grown women can also sound like young children. Usage of certain age-related insults (‘yeah ok kid’) is a strong clue, but again not foolproof.
      4. Nothing, I don’t think it is a problem. As long as your platform allows users to mute each other. I can’t think of one that doesn’t.
      5. Best: The EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’. Worst: Banning or heavily limiting online time; I haven’t seen it happen up close, but it sounds like a good way to raise an adult who is unaware of all the opportunities the Internet gives us and is inefficient at squeezing out facts from sophistry and clickbait

      • Anaxagoras says:

        1. To tease this apart a bit: do you think it would be /fine/ for an 8-year old to read a bunch of ISIS recruiting material, or do you think that it should be /permissible/ for them to access it?
        5. What do you like about Right to Be Forgotten? How do you feel about some of the more controversial cases, such as this one?

      • Ketil says:

        Perhaps an easier way to do this is with a link to a google docs survey.

        +1 for this. These threads get cluttered enough, I’ll fill in surveys and you (the plural, who want to survey stuff) will summarize results the next OT.

        • Anaxagoras says:

          Fair enough. I wasn’t really expecting this much of a response, and I honestly hadn’t thought to make a survey.

          I guess for post-hoc justifications, I think people are more likely to answer if they don’t have to click on a link (and if it takes up space in the thread), and I like being able to ask follow-up questions. But those are definitely post-hoc; using Google or Qualtrics or something hadn’t occurred to me.

    • pancrea says:

      1. Yes. Probably self-harm or drug related.
      2. No. I was an unusually obedient kid.
      3. I remember when I used to play in a World Of Warcraft guild, and I thought most of them were annoying and dumb. Then one day we all got in an audio chat program, I think it was Ventrilo, and I discovered they were all kids, and I felt that explained a lot.
      4. Never use your real name. Never use any fragment of your real name. Never tell anyone you know IRL what your forum name is. Periodically abandon your forum name and create a new one.

      • Anaxagoras says:

        Regarding 4, what about stuff through social media? Do you strongly anti-recommend social media for kids? If so, would you like it to not be an option?

        • Lancelot says:

          Do you strongly anti-recommend social media for kids?

          Yes, both from the information security perspective, and because whatever dumb shit you publicly post in the social media as a kid may haunt you for the rest of your life.

          If so, would you like it to not be an option?

          Full censorship is not necessary here; what’s necessary is refraining from making publicly visible posts and keeping social media separate from the rest of the (properly anonymous) online life.

        • pancrea says:

          Yes, children (and also adults) should avoid any Searchable Public Real Name social media.

          I’d like it to not be an option, but there’s not actually a way to pass a law to prevent this: there’s not a good way to identify if someone on the internet is a child, and there’s not a way to prevent someone on the internet from revealing their true name and address if they decide they want to.

          We shoudn’t pass laws unless there’s a good way to enforce them.

          I do think I would like it if, on signing up for a social media account, you had to listen to a brief video explaining about all the horrible things that someone can do to you if they have their true name, and asking you politely not to reveal your true name online.

        • pancrea says:

          I should note that my schoolteacher friend tells me he thinks children have gotten nicer to each other with the advent of social media. So maybe there’s something to it. Still shouldn’t use real names though.

    • helloo says:

      1. A generalized filter without creating a walled garden of sorts? I’m not sure there’s any that would not be also bad (for certain definitions of bad) for older humans that would be included in most definitions of that filter, and that policies will likely try and attack those medium in general. So you will likely need to answer the broader question of what content should be restricted in general anyway/first.

      3. How do you tell anyone who’s anyone? Not rhetorical or saying it can’t be done, but rather, the ways that are used to identify others – technological, pattern matching, etc – are mostly the same for kids. The main one that’s somewhat specific to them is that they probably know less about semi-dated culture.

      4. Maybe localized commenting? People seem to be someone more respectful in person, then again, we’ve seen how YikYak played out and Facebook in general… (which shows that neither anonymity, nor not knowing them prevent these types of behavior)

    • Lancelot says:

      When I was a kid, I had a full access to a computer with internet, and my parents didn’t bother to censor it; they only asked me to avoid entering any personal data. This one simple idea is pretty much the only protection you need on the Internet.

      1. Yes: the illegal content that’s censored for everyone.
      2. No: I have no interest in accessing it now, and neither was I interested in it back then.
      3. Unless a kid writes something that immediately reveals their age, I don’t think that is usually possible. When I was a kid I often participated in discussions on various online forums, LARPing as a young adult, and the only time someone was able to see through it was the time when I accidentally entered my actual year of birth somewhere in the profile, so it doesn’t count. Granted, I was likely more articulate than your typical 10-year-old; but anyway how would you discern a kid from a naive/dumb adult on the Internet?
      4. See above: if you’re anonymous you pretty much can’t be online bullied in a meaningful way.
      5. The best: a lecture on the virtues of anonymity; the worst: any kind of measure that forces you to reveal your identity or enter any sort of true real-world information.

  34. Fade says:

    How does the research look on exercise for thin people?

    Every time I’m doing squats I’m thinking that perhaps all I’m achieving is priming my knees for arthritis down the line. It’s hard to tell if I’m truly anxious about trading off slightly better heart attack rates against risk of injury from exercise, or if I’m just reaching for convenient excuses.

    • Papillon says:

      This is a pretty good summary:

      If you’re concerned about joint problems caused by lifting — a justified concern, as I can personally attest — you could just stick to low-impact cardio (cycling, swimming) and you’d still get most of the benefits of exercise.

      • Fade says:

        Oh, I remember reading this a couple years ago! Nice to look over again and compare to my routine, but the focus is more on showing you how to get started with exercise, not on weighing injury risk vs health reward.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Since you mentioned squats, I’m assuming you’re doing strength training. If it’s working, then you should be getting stronger over time, as demonstrated by how much weight you can handle in the same lift. Strength is pretty central to the health benefits of weight lifting, as the other major benefits are all either secondary to strength (ability to handle a higher activity level, stronger muscles around your joints making those joints harder to injure, etc) or correlated with strength gains (cardiovascular conditioning, etc).

    • sidereal says:

      Are you aware of evidence that shows weight training to have negative outcomes w.r.t. to joints? My understanding is that it tended to have the opposite effect, i.e. strength-training with good technique actually reduces incidence of injury and arthritis later in life.

      One smallish concern I’ve never seen discussed is the increased metabolic rate, usually seen as a good thing, but that – under my really limited understanding of the related issues – may lead to a decreased lifespan? But a superior healthspan, in any event.

      On balance I’d have to say that the majority of people, especially those here, would benefit from a strength-training programme of some sort, and would wish they had started sooner. (I started out quite thin, like 150 @6’2″, now I’m a lean 180 and TBH weightlifting is the most unambiguously positive thing I’ve ever done for myself. )

      • Fade says:

        Wasn’t aware of the state of the evidence w.r.t. joints in either direction. I was just concerned from my common sense understanding that joints wear out over time and with use.

        Thanks for the link, the contents were surprising in a good way. I followed up on the Framingham study mentioned (Physical Activity and Knee Osteoarthritis in the Elderly/McAlindon et al) and strength training would fall into their ‘heavy’ category,
        for which they do find negative effects.. but only over much longer durations than your typical exercise session. In any case, it is getting late and I guess I’ll look up the rest of the studies mentioned there tomorrow. It stands out that most of the findings mentioned are about walking and running*, not strength training.

        Regarding benefits, I am concerned that people often conflate the health aspects with other stuff when praising it. It’s automatically a good choice for most people just because of the boost in appearance and confidence. But I’m specifically interested in the (direct) effects on health.

        In any case thanks again for getting me started on my literature dive.

        * admittedly running being good for the knees is also surprising to me, but I haven’t fully read through the running study yet

  35. RubusArcticus says:

    I’m going on a vacation to London for a week this November, and would like recommendations for unusual activities.
    By “unusual activities” I mean things that are not: Museums, palaces, well-known attractions, standard walking tours (e.g., Harry Potter tour, Jack the Reaper tour, etc.), parks and musicals. Also, please leave out food-related and sexual-related activities.
    What I do mean is things like:
    1. Taxidermy workshop
    2. Tour from London to Norfolk to watch seals
    3. Buddhist meditation class
    Note that the activities I’m looking for don’t have to be unique to London. For example, one could go to a meditation class wherever one lives, but since I don’t have such activities where I live, I found it a nice thing to do on my vacation.

    • I’m not sure if it qualifies, but there used to be, and probably still is, an open air museum near London. It consists of buildings. When there is a medieval building in the way of a new highway, they disassemble it and reassemble as part of the open air museum.

      Also, I have enjoyed the early morning trade fairs in London–a very mixed collection of antiques, junk, etc. But I haven’t been to one for a very long time, so don’t know what they are now like.

      • RubusArcticus says:

        That looks really nice! I just looked into it, and, too bad, it’s closed on November.

      • Lambert says:

        Sounds like Spon Street in Coventry.
        It’s where they put the few historic buildings that were left after the Luftwaffe were were done implementing their surprise urban redevelopment plan.

        Yeah, there’s some weird stuff at various indoor markets. Would recommend.

    • rubberduck says:

      I don’t have any specific recommendations but Atlas Obscura is an excellent website for lesser-known/unusual attractions.

    • Lambert says:

      What kind of radius (or rather, maximum travel time) around London? Here’s a list of some that might appeal to the kind of person who reads SSC.

      Don’t do these things:

      Check if anything good’s on music-wise at the South Bank Centre.
      Might as well take a TfL ferry on the Thames at least once, if it’s an option for you to get where you want to go.

      • RubusArcticus says:

        If it’s in a 2-hour drive distance, I’m interested.
        Thanks for the links, (un)fortunately I’m familiar with everything Matt & Tom (nice guys!) suggests.

        • Lambert says:

          You’re driving in london!?

          I’ll add Kew Botanic Gardens.
          And Camden Market.
          There’s plenty of castles within a couple of hours of London, if you’re from somewhere that doesn’t have them.
          Same for excavated Roman sites.

          What kind of stuff are you interested in?
          Also when in Nov? Around the 5th, there’ll be a load of fireworks displays, and christmassy stuff will be starting up at the end of the month.

          • RubusArcticus says:

            No driving, I’ll use public transport (so what I really mean is 2-hour travel time, using public transport).
            I’m pretty eclectic, or even eccentric, with regard to what I’m interested in, as (I think) my examples above demonstrate. As I already traveled to several European countries at a younger age, I try to find activities that would be somewhat different from the usual tourist attractions.

    • michael.feltes says:

      I would really love to visit Novelty Automation in Holborn, which features strange arcade machines built by Tim Hunkin. If you ever saw the great Channel 4 program The Secret Life of Machines in the late 80s or early 90s, that’s the guy.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      While it is technically part of a museum, you can ride the Mail Rail– a formerly-unmanned miniature railway that was used to carry mail through tunnels under London.

      A lot of the interesting outdoor things are seasonal, as you found with the Open Air Museum. For instance, while it might be possible to go punting on the Cam if you visit Cambridge (which is 50 minutes from London by train, or about an hour and a half by car), I wouldn’t recommend it at that time of year.

      Similarly, there are no performances at Shakespeare’s Globe in November (though you can take a tour of the theatre). However, there will be performances in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on the same site, which is a replica of an early 17th-century indoor theatre lit by candles. Depending on when in November you visit, you could see Henry VI (all three Parts in one performance, presumably abridged) or Richard III.

      One final question- you talk about travel times by car. Are you actually planning to rent a car in London? I would strongly advise against that unless you are visiting somewhere outside London and inaccessible by train. I don’t know where you’re from so don’t know how used you are to driving a manual transmission car and/or driving on the left- but even for those of us who are, driving (and parking) in central London is unpleasant at best, though perhaps not quite as bad as New York or Paris.

    • Something we did a long time ago, that may or may not work for you, was to rent a car, get a copy of the ordinance survey maps, and wander around England looking at random castles.

  36. salvorhardin says:

    Of the various types of combustion engine in wide use *on land* (so excluding planes and ships, but including non-transportation uses of combustion engines), which would/will be the most technically difficult to replace with electric motors and why?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Generators in fossil-fuel fired power plants. Because perpetual motion doesn’t exist.

      After than, I’d guess heavy construction equipment, which needs to be powerful, durable, uses large amounts of energy, and might be rather far from a source of power. The energy density of batteries and/or recharging time would make them impractical.

  37. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I just happened to see this excellent article by albatross11 about every lie incurring a debt to the truth.

    I’ll add that lying about your emotions also has a cost if you’re pretending like something you don’t like or to dislike something you do like– there are reasons for doing so, but it’s unfair to blame people for believing you when you’ve been trying to deceive them.

    This being said, there’s the other half– it’s important to not make it costly for people to tell the truth. It’s a complex situation because sometimes you want to discourage a behavior.

    Have a very low probability story about a lie being surprisingly costly.

    • Cliff says:

      Please summarize, I don’t want to have to listen to a 25 minute episode

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        A man was in a motorcycle accident at age 18. He lost all his memories except that he recognized his twin brother. He could speak and understand English, but he didn’t know what specific objects were.

        His brother told him about a reasonably nice childhood.

        His mother died. The man with amnesia was grieving– his relationship with his mother was pretty good, but he noticed no one else was crying.

        When he and his brother were clearing out her house, they found some very disquieting photographs. It turned out that their mother had been very and repeatedly sexually abusive to them, and the twin who remembered was shielding the one who forgot.

        At first, the one who remembered just confirmed that the abuse happened, but this left the one who forgot imagining all sorts of things. Eventually, the one who remembered went into more detail on a television documentary (Tell Me Who I Am, from Netflix) which I haven’t watched yet. The one with amnesia didn’t want full details, but he did want some information.

        Also, the lying damaged the relationship for a while.

        • Cliff says:

          Did he ever get back any of his memories? I didn’t think persistent full amnesia was really a thing.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            He never got his memories back. At all. We’re talking about accident at 18, currently in his early 30s.

            I watched the video, and I recommend it, but it’s longer than the podcast, which I think is just selections from the video.

            The parents were worse than I realized– the boys weren’t permitted in the house while either of the parents were alive. They lived in a shed on the property.

            Also, while this doesn’t compare to extensive sexual abuse (including sending the boys to the mother’s friends), the mother snagged all the gifts from other relatives that were given to the boys. The gifts were found when the sons were able to get into the house.

            Another detail about memory: the twin with amnesia remembered how to ride a bike (with some prompting to try) but didn’t remember any local geography.

        • gdanning says:

          I saw this. I have a different take. The injured twin essentially forced the other to relive childhood trauma that he did not want to relive. And to what end? Was the injyred twin harmed by not knowing the details of the abuse? It seems to me that the truth was more harmful than the lie (ir, more accurately, the omission)

    • Aapje says:

      @Nancy Lebovitz

      If they don’t believe you when you tell the truth and you don’t want to lie, then isn’t schizoid behavior a logical choice?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        What do you mean by schizoid behavior?

        • Aapje says:

          A lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary or sheltered lifestyle, secretiveness, emotional coldness, detachment and apathy.

          Basically, if one is in a lose-lose situation with regard to interacting with people, a sensible approach is not to play.

          • albatross11 says:

            Maybe a better solution is to find people with whom you can be honest?

            And at the very least, don’t lie. Don’t talk about your beliefs if they enrage your neighbors, but it’s better not to pretend to believe what you don’t.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            Aapje said

            Basically, if one is in a lose-lose situation with regard to interacting with people, a sensible approach is not to play.

            Great suggestion. I can add that based on my practice for the past seven years, it works.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            albatross11 said

            Maybe a better solution is to find people with whom you can be honest?

            It is not the other person that keeps us from being honest.

    • albatross11 says:

      A major point I took away from the Live Not By Lies essay (which I really recommend reading if you haven’t) is the moral power and importance of remaining silent. That is, when everyone around you is affirming some idea you disagree with, you’re not obliged to argue with them, but honesty at least requires that you don’t join in on the affirmations. That might be not joining in on the pledge of allegiance[1], or remining silent during a group prayer, or not joining in when a bunch of your coworkers are discussing politics or religion or something and you disagree.

      There’s a lot of power in being able to acknowledge to yourself that you disagree with what everyone around you is saying, but it’s hard to do that when you are forced or strongly incentivized to mouth whatever slogans everyone else is mouthing. I think it’s corrosive to your own independence of judgment to do that–mouth the slogans you’re supposed to mouth often enough, and you’re halfway to convincing yourself there’s some truth to them. Spend your time surrounded by propaganda, even propaganda you know is propaganda, and it affects your worldview. Being able to refuse to affirm those slogans and to walk out of the rally where everyone is preaching something you don’t believe is part of keeping your reason intact and independent.

      To my mind, this ties in with the right to refuse to take part in something you think is wrong, whether that’s gay marriage or execution of prisoners.

      Another thing I took from it is that societies where you can expect to be punished for failing to affirm group beliefs loudly enough are bad societies to live in. Compelled speech and compelled agreement are bad things. Forcing people to violate their conscience to eat or stay out of jail is terrible; forcing them to violate their conscience to have a nice job or house is shitty even if it’s not USSR-level awful.

      [1] The pledge of allegiance has always seemed kind-of un-American to me, TBH, though I’ve said it a million times.

      • Ketil says:

        That might be not joining in on the pledge of allegiance[1], or remining silent during a group prayer, or not joining in when a bunch of your coworkers are discussing politics or religion or something and you disagree.

        Que Death of Stalin (last week’s movie), with plenty of votes where everybody grudgingly assented (making the vote unanimous) when they realize there is a majority and the vote will pass anyway.

    • pancrea says:

      When I think about honesty, I often think about

      To get a job, I’m expected to claim that I’m enthusiastic about working for a company for some reason other than “they’re going to pay me money”. This is mostly a lie. I am willing to tell this lie anyway.

      I’d like to claim that my personal life is more honest, and I think I’ve avoided explicitly lying to my friends. But some of my friends are pretty woke; they have beliefs I find wrong and annoying, but at the same time they’re good company. I’ve had occasions where I’ve carefully avoided speaking my mind.

      I would like it if I could be honest all the time but I frankly don’t think it would be worth it.

      • albatross11 says:

        The standard of Live Not By Lies is that you stay silent rather than affirm beliefs you disagree with, don’t take part in political rallies you don’t agree with, etc. There’s no requirement to pick fights with people, it’s enough to just not lie to fit in.

    • brad says:

      I think there’s a serious Chesterton’s fence problem on this issue. Lying, in general and in the specific way being alluded to, is extremely widespread across every society I know of. That cries out for an extremely compelling steelman before concluding that nonetheless the manifold positives are outweighed by the negatives. And that’s something I just don’t see in the linked post or analogous arguments.

      • Aapje says:

        Indeed. Lying by commission or omission may be what keeps us from killing each other.

        • albatross11 says:

          It sure seems like there’s some kind of distinction to be made between social lubricant type lies (not telling your wife that the dress makes her ass look fat, telling your mother-in-law you’re glad to see her when she comes to visit for Christmas) and pretending to believe things you don’t actually believe to avoid getting fired or sent to a gulag. Every society has a lot of social-lubricant/politeness kinds of lies. Does every society also have a lot of the second kind, where you’re required to claim to believe stuff you don’t believe to get along in daily life? Do all societies have the same amount of that sort of thing?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            What about the kind of lie where you pretend you don’t mind being teased?

          • brad says:

            Does every society also have a lot of the second kind, where you’re required to claim to believe stuff you don’t believe to get along in daily life? Do all societies have the same amount of that sort of thing?

            Every culture I’m aware of, including subcultures, has something along those lines. (Counting here only “natural” communities, something like 4chan might be a counterexample.) I agree the extent varies along with the severity of punishment for non compliance but if you don’t think there are *any* pros to such a phenomenon then I’d respectfully suggest you don’t understand it well enough to propose removing it.

          • albatross11 says:


            How do you feel about the need to lie about your sexual orientation, gender identity, and (lack of) religion to get along in daily life. ISTM that people *not* having to do this has been an enormous win, and that we’ve actually run the experiment to see whether society fell apart when we allowed people not to lie about those things, and it turns out that society kept running just fine.

          • brad says:

            Maybe I’m missing something but this seems like an unusually bad argument.

            If we accept arguendo that there was zero social value in pressuring gay people to stay in the closest that doesn’t imply that there’s zero social value in pressuring racists to stay in the closet.

          • Aapje says:


            Does every society also have a lot of the second kind, where you’re required to claim to believe stuff you don’t believe to get along in daily life? Do all societies have the same amount of that sort of thing?

            You seem to be moving the goal posts and/or claim.

            The extent to which this exists and/or is necessary is a different question from whether it is necessary. I know of no society or (sub)culture that goes without it, which suggests that it has great value.

            How do you feel about the need to lie about your sexual orientation, gender identity, and (lack of) religion to get along in daily life. ISTM that people *not* having to do this has been an enormous win

            You are cherry picking topics and even then, seem to favor people being able to freely state certain positions on those topics.

            A typical part of culture/social norms is the idea that it is very bad if people (have to) lie about X, should tell the truth about Y, should lie about Z and should not even believe A.

            If you have internalized the surrounding (sub)culture and/or fit the (sub)culture so these restrictions don’t feel stifling, then you aren’t so much free, but rather: compatible. I think that most people have a hard time noticing restrictions that they are very comfortable with.

            If you travel to a different (sub)culture that you are not compatible with and that feels oppressive to you, you will typically find people who don’t consider those restrictions to be stifling, but consider yours to be.

            Note that this doesn’t mean that all (sub)cultures are equally good at however you wish to judge cultures, but rather, that there is no truly objective judgment of cultures.

          • albatross11 says:


            Is your claim that it is a good thing for lots of people to be compelled to lie about their beliefs regularly? Or that society requires widespread lying about beliefs (not just remaining silent, but actively lying) in order to function well?

            Because we have this nice worked example where a bunch of stuff people used to have to lie about (religion, sexuality) changed into things people didn’t have to lie about, and it seems like that made our society work better, not worse. That looks to me like evidence against the claim that this kind of lying is necessary or even valuable.

            Now, perhaps it was just that that older society was forcing people to tell the wrong lies, and our current society is forcing people to tell the right lies and so everything is fine now. But I sure don’t see why that’s the way to bet.

            There are some substantial costs to forcing people to lie about their beliefs–not just the discomfort of the people forced to lie (which may be balanced by the comfort of those who find the lies comforting), but also an incorrect picture of what people in the society actually believe, an inability to coordinate on policies that make sense given actual widespread beliefs, the opportunity for people to update their beliefs based on conversation with other like-minded people, and (most importantly) all the places where there are beliefs about reality that should be influencing actions, only people can’t coordinate on them because saying what they actually think is going on is as much as their job is worth.

            Against that, I think it’s not so easy to see the benefits. Forcing people to affirm beliefs they don’t hold may be good when it’s forcing people with bad/incorrect beliefs to pretend to believe good/true things, but it’s not obvious to me why we should expect social pressures to converge on good/true.

            I think the Chesterton’s fence idea is interesting–maybe there’s some reason why we can’t keep a society all pointed in the same direction without mandatory lies about beliefs. And yet, if we apply that same reasoning to the specific beliefs you hold, it’s clear that those have changed quite a bit over time and are different now in different places.

            Should everyone pretend to be a Christian even if they don’t believe in God? We did that for awhile in many parts of the US, and then we stopped, and things seemed to keep working. Should everyone pretend to believe that Diversity is Our Strength even if they think the whole idea is dumb? We didn’t do that anywhere until recently, and now do it in a few places. Chesterton apparently assembled that fence last week, so maybe we don’t have to give it as much deference as we should have given the religion fence.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Because we have this nice worked example where a bunch of stuff people used to have to lie about (religion, sexuality) changed into things people didn’t have to lie about, and it seems like that made our society work better, not worse. That looks to me like evidence against the claim that this kind of lying is necessary or even valuable.

            We didnt go from lies to no lies. We went from lies A to lies B.

            If you’re trying to evaluate whether our society works better now than 50 years ago you’re going to need to wait a little longer. There’s no reason to believe that the effects of social change should all kick in immediately.

            Now, perhaps it was just that that older society was forcing people to tell the wrong lies, and our current society is forcing people to tell the right lies and so everything is fine now. But I sure don’t see why that’s the way to bet.

            This is precisely what is occurring right now. There are a ton of lies that are not just encouraged by society, they are mandated by law (at least here in Canada). This being a CW-free thread I will not name any, because the lies we’re forced to tell are CW by definition.

            Against that, I think it’s not so easy to see the benefits. Forcing people to affirm beliefs they don’t hold may be good when it’s forcing people with bad/incorrect beliefs to pretend to believe good/true things, but it’s not obvious to me why we should expect social pressures to converge on good/true.

            No, we absolutely should not.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think we’ve also seen substantial variation in how many beliefs must be affirmed over time and across societies. Maybe one way to proceed is to look to see whether the “everyone must affirm many beliefs whether they believe them or not” societies work out better, worse, or the same as the “only rarely must anyone affirm a particular set of beliefs whether they believe them or not” societies.

          • Does every society also have a lot of the second kind, where you’re required to claim to believe stuff you don’t believe to get along in daily life?

            Possibly relevant. In the middle ages, essentially everyone in western Europe was Catholic. I am told that the number of seats in the churches was much smaller than the population, which implies that only a fraction of the population actually attended services.

            That suggests the further conjecture that many people were nominally Catholic but did not really believe in the religion, did not, in Orwell’s expression, believe in Heaven the way they believed in Australia (except, of course, not Australia in the middle ages).

            One way of explaining the extraordinary success of Islam in its early years is the military advantage of a population much of which really does believe in its religion.

          • Aapje says:


            Or only a fraction got a seat…

            Building/expanding a church was often an immensely costly and slow affair, so with continuing population growth, there may have been a chronic mismatch between church size and population size.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It’s plausible to me that a lot of people were standing rather than sitting in medieval churches, so it might be worth looking at the amount of floor space.

          • Nick says:

            It’s plausible to me that a lot of people were standing rather than sitting in medieval churches, so it might be worth looking at the amount of floor space.

            Medieval churches didn’t even have pews, so the question of sitting shouldn’t even come up.

            There were also several masses. I don’t know what numbers David is relying on, so it’s impossible to say whether the mismatch was only, say, 4x (which is easily explained by having 4 masses on Sunday), or, say, 10x or 12, but that may suffice to explain it.

          • I’m going by memory, probably something Larry Iannacone told me. He’s an economist whose specialty is economics of religion. I expect he took account of how many people would fit in the church, but I don’t know any details.

      • quanta413 says:

        There’s a lot of variance in how often people lie though within any society and across societies.

        People usually lie because it benefits them. I don’t think there’s a Chesterton’s fence to worry about here because people usually aren’t lying by convention. The problem is not that people tell lies everyone knows are lies and just politely pretends not to notice. I think the Soviet example is a bad one because that’s usually not what’s going on; it’s too pathological an example.

        It’s really hard to enforce “don’t lie”, and many lies are not that big of a deal. It’s just not worth the effort to worry about most of the time. I think it’s also hard to encourage not lying when lots of little random things you think or do that are mostly harmless might be considered “bad”. You usually won’t be punished severely for these things, but admitting to them will sometimes make your life more inconvenient or irritating.

        If we want less lying, I think it’d be easier to work on the other side of things. Trying to get people to be less worried about what mere acquaintances or strangers think or do.

    • Matt says:

      My mother-in-law has dementia, but not so bad that she can’t live on her own, still, with some help. If we were to tell her the strict truth throughout every conversation we probably couldn’t have a relationship with her, and her life would get significantly worse. We invite her over for dinner every weekend and we’ve taken to picking her up, where she used to drive over to us. We do NOT tell her that we’re doing this because we believe that she is a hazard to herself and others while driving after dark. We make up a lie about how we were already out so we can pick her up and we don’t mind dropping her off after because we have a couple of redboxes to return before 9pm anyway.

      On Christmas just before lunch, she told us “I’m hungry because I didn’t have breakfast this morning” we did NOT respond “You came over here at 8:30 and we served you 2 kinds of breakfast casserole, fruit, and home-made cinnamon rolls”. I said something like “Well, everybody’s busy on Christmas – do you want any tea with your lunch?”

      • Aapje says:

        Dealing with mental illness is a bit of a special case, though.

        Also, things not to tell people with dementia if you can help it: that their partner is dead.

    • DinoNerd says:

      *sigh* There are times when I feel as if my whole life is required to be a lie – simply because I’m on the autistic spectrum, and need to pretend to be “normal” to be acceptable in a professional context. Or more correctly, to be successful – I could probably manage to stay employed – as the last hired, first fired – if I were to behave naturally – and that’s in a field historically kind to geeks and nerds. It would be a lot worse if I were also hiding membership in the wrong nationality/religion/sexual orientation/gender identity etc..

      Seriously speaking, most people require some amount of lying from everyone around them, and keeping silent often isn’t good enough. Those most insecure about their preferences require everyone around them to loudly share the same preferences – and retaliate even against those who merely keep silent. The Boss (TM) requires at least enthusiastic body language in support of their latest decision, regardless of what you may remember happening the last time something similar was done. Everyone requires blaming some people – but not others – for the identical behaviour. (It seems to depend on status, primarily – the more powerful or connected to powerful people you are, the better we’re supposed to find your behaviour, however bad it really is.) And then there’s the problem of “spin” – it can be hard to control the urge to literally laugh out loud at e.g. my own employer’s advertorial claims, and too often they require even technical people to parrot those claims, rather than keeping silent.

      Being honest is rarely entirely safe. Even keeping silent about obvious falsehoods can get you in trouble, at least to the point of being the first person tossed under the bus, when doing so seems useful to the powerful. Most people have an advanced faculty to believe things that are repeated a lot around them/important to those with power over them; my ASD limits my ability to do this, though not entirely. (To my shame, I believed a lot of claims about Canada’s tolerance etc., until the chronic abuse of native Canadians became a political issue – even though I was aware of what should have been enough hints to recognize the problem.) So as someone who gets flak for “wrong thinking” a lot, I’m more aware of the problem than most.

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t know your situation, but I have to tell you, if your work environment actually requires lying all the time about factual questions in order to avoid trouble, it sounds pretty damned toxic to me.

        • DinoNerd says:

          I’m mostly thinking of things like “I’m enthusiastic about “. And it’s cousin “this time will be different”.

  38. Clutzy says:

    I would like to solicit psychiatrists opinions (including our host obviously) on Andrew Cutler.

    • Dino says:

      You need to be more specific – there are many Andrew Cutler’s out there. I’m guessing you’re not asking about the MD that’s my PCP, and not a psychiatrist.

      • Clutzy says:

        TBH, I cannot really help. I am going to a speech as a result of my sister being invited. She is a Psyche RN and is very excited, as he is apparently a “Top Ten” person in something related to this. The only other thing I know is he is possibly Florida based.

        I just want to do my job as “brother who is supposed to be smart”.

  39. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I put my thought on the latest The Good Place on 138.5, here. Spoilers for episode 4.

  40. LewisT says:

    I serve on the board of a small, local nonprofit. As the most tech-savvy person on the board (not difficult, as I’m 30–45 years younger than the rest of them), I have been asked to try my hand at creating a new website. We currently have a 12-year-old site on a .org domain, so my goal is to create the new website on a .com domain, then move it over to the .org domain once it’s finished and have the .com domain redirect there. I would, however, prefer not to have my name attached to the website in any way, out of general privacy concerns. I know several different companies offer anonymous domain registration, but I have no idea the pros and cons of the various companies. Would any of you recommend any particular company to register through?

    • Lambert says:

      Can’t you register as the nonprofit? Hide behind the corporate veil, as it were.

    • Erusian says:

      They all do the same thing: they replace the DNS record with something that points to them instead of you. It’s an undifferentiated service other than the possibility of a data breach. However, you are required to put a point of contact person.

      That said, there’s nothing stopping you from putting your contact either as one of those anonymizing services or as “Washington, George. Email address Please refer post to 3200 Mount Vernon Hwy, Mt Vernon, VA 22121.” Well, other than the fact if you ever get locked out and need to verify you’ll need to prove you’re George Washington.

  41. Etoile says:

    I’m trying to collect together for myself a list of “America”-themed songs. I’ve got a bunch: The Star-Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, God Bless America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee (to the tune of God Save the Queen, hehe), “This Land is your Land”. But one I’ve heard before I’m having a lot of trouble finding. I’m looking for the lyrics, video, recording, sheet music, *anything*, of this song, and I just can’t find it on Google. My searches just take me to Star-Spangled Banner or other irrelevant things.

    The words go approximately like this, from memory:

    Keep watch o’er the ramparts of our fathers’ land
    Guard it and preserve it from the tyrant’s ruthless hand
    One nation united, brave in unity
    And we never will surrender the ramparts we watch.
    Stand forth for liberty until eternity
    God bless America now and evermore.
    For freedom and for right
    Always we will fight,
    And we never will surrender the ramparts we watch.

    Anyone know this song?

    • Fillmore says:

      Looks like it could be “The Ramparts We Watch”, music by Gordon Beecher, lyrics by J.S. Tolder, written for a 1940 movie of the same name.

      • Etoile says:

        Thanks! Surprised there are no easily available lyrics posted on the Internet… looks like it’s a physical library for me :p

    • Alethios says:

      ‘America’ by Simon and Garfunkel surely has to be a part of any American canon.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Confusingly, the band America seems to be irrelevant for this.
        Very relevant to horses and unicorns, though.

      • PedroS says:

        Also by Simon and Garfunkel, the beautiful “Amercan Tune”

        • Don P. says:

          “American Tune” is a Paul Simon solo song, not S&G.

          Also, interesting fact about S&G’s “America”: unusually for a popular song, it has no rhymes.

      • Dino says:

        US Blues by the Grateful Dead.

        “I’m Uncle Sam,
        that’s who I am,
        been hidin’ out
        in a rock and roll band.”

        “Wave that flag,
        wave it wide and high…”

    • rubberduck says:

      If you want old patriotic songs, “You’re a Grand Old Flag” sounds like an obvious addition.

      If patriotism isn’t a requirement and neither is being made by actual Americans, consider Rammstein’s “Amerika” (Featured lyrics: “We’re all living in America/ Coca-cola, Wonderbra.”)

      • Etoile says:

        I’m looking more in the “Patriotic” line, especially catchy ones.
        And I’ve heard “You’re a Grand of Flag” melody before, but didn’t know the lyrics – thanks!

    • Doctor Mist says:

      I’ve always been partial to Jerry Herman’s “Milk and Honey” from the musical of the same name. Here are the full lyrics; here is the Limeliters performing it.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      The entire soundtrack from the musical 1776 seems like it would qualify for your list.

      I’m now a bit curious as to how big that list is, and what’s on it.

      • Etoile says:

        Basically what’s here in these comments, plus:
        -Stars and Stripes Forever
        -Marines’ Hymn
        -Battle Hymn of the Republic
        -Proud to be an American
        -“Courtesy of the Red White and Blue”

        I guess I could take a short-cut and use lists like these ( but that feels like cheating.

        I wasn’t brought up in an English-speaking household, so I don’t know a lot of these songs, other than what I’ve heard in school. And while I’ll introduce my kids to songs from “old country”, I don’t really want to raise them on it or make it their primary identity.

        • SamChevre says:

          I’d note that “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (AKA the jihadi hymn) is considered a patriotic song by Northerners, but not by Southerners.

          I might add “Battle Cry of Freedom” – there are Northern and Southern versions.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Southerner here.

            I consider Battle Hymn of the Republic patriotic. I think its use as an anti-Southern anthem has basically completely faded.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Don’t forget regional songs as well. They are as critical to the American experience.

      “Yankee Doodle”, “Dixie”, etc.

    • Plumber says:

      Etoile says:

      “I’m trying to collect together for myself a list of “America”-themed songs…”

      The top two that I can think of (that haven’t already been mentioned are the Gospel song: “Lift Every Voice and Sing

      “Lift every voice and sing,
      Till earth and heaven ring,
      Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
      Let our rejoicing rise
      High as the list’ning skies,
      Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
      Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
      Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
      Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
      Let us march on till victory is won.

      Stony the road we trod,
      Bitter the chast’ning rod,
      Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
      Yet with a steady beat,
      Have not our weary feet
      Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
      We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.
      We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
      Out from the gloomy past,
      Till now we stand at last
      Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

      God of our weary years,
      God of our silent tears,
      Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
      Thou who hast by Thy might,
      Led us into the light,
      Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
      Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
      Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
      Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
      May we forever stand,
      True to our God,
      True to our native land”

      and the Rock ‘n Roll song “Back in the U.S.A.“:

      “Oh well, oh well, I feel so good today,

      We just touched ground on an international runway
      Jet propelled back home from overseas to the USA

      New York, Los Angeles, oh how I yearned for you
      Detroit, Chicago, Chattanooga, Baton Rouge
      Let alone just to be at my home back in ol’ St-Lou

      Did I miss the skyscrapers? Did I miss the long freeway?
      From the coast of California to the shores of Delaware Bay
      You can bet your life I did, ’til I got back to the USA

      Looking hard for a drive-in, searching for a corner cafe?
      Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day
      Yeah, and a jukebox jumping with records like in the USA

      Well, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the USA
      Yes, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the USA
      Anything you want, they got it right here in the USA”

      I’d also give honorable mention to Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing

      “Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
      All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
      Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
      Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
      A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
      Chair’d in the adamant of Time.
      I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
      Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
      The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
      The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
      The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
      The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
      The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
      The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
      Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
      The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
      Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs”

    • Lambert says:

      Life can be bright in A mer i ca.

  42. Freddie deBoer says:

    Forgive me if this is spammy but I think some people here might be interested – my book is available for preorder.

    • quanta413 says:

      Thanks for the link Freddie. I think it’s likely I’ll buy your book eventually, although I may wait a while hoping for a paperback.

  43. Back in the 60’s, when the “cool” people rebelled, they were actually doing something subversive. Today, people pretend to rebel by doing all the safe approved things, which of course completely defeats the purpose. People doing actually subversive things are low status. Should we think of this as a transitory state where there are two possible paths: either real rebellion becomes cool again or people stop pretending to rebel? Or is this just what we should always expect from now on?

    • eyeballfrog says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by this. Examples?

      • Most socially conservative ideas are like this. The quintessential example is people tripping over themselves to talk about how brave someone is for being anti-Trump.

        • ajakaja says:

          This is dripping with ideology, and rather baiting — probably not appropriate in the visible open threads, and a disingenuous line of questioning besides.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          My motto for maintaining relative serenity in this era is that everyone is defensive because everyone is being attacked. This doesn’t mean everyone is being attacked equally, but sticking your head up carries some risk of being told you’re an awful person.

          It’s worth remembering that no matter how reasonable you’re being– or that you think you’re being, you’re probably dealing with people whose nerves are raw because of previous experiences.

          Yes, it does mean I’m doing more emotional labor than a lot of people seem to be doing, but from my point of view, what I’m doing is less work than dealing with the consequences of being openly hostile.

      • Erusian says:

        I present to you Halsey, bragging about being “high on legal marijuana”. I’m not sure I agree with the rest but that seems like an example. Like, she’s specifying that it’s legal. “Watch me obey the law! But like, in an edgy way.”

        • Fingerspitzengefuehl says:

          Some edginess remains there: Halsey is still able to tick off socially conservative, anti-marijuana folks with that line — mildly subversive, in an age when giving offense to others is a cardinal sin.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Rebellion is low status pretty much by definition, until it succeeds and the rebels establish themselves as the new elites.

      Modern pseudo-rebels just copy the esthetics of the former rebel elites, which, of course, is a way of signaling conformity and allegiance to those in charge.

      • The Beetles are a pretty strong counter example. They were definitely not something approved by the powers that be.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Is it so? I mean, I’m sure there were some pearl clutchers who disapproved of them, but were any serious attempts to discredit or censor them? I know the BBC didn’t play an individual song , but as far as I can tell the band received almost undivided praise by the powers that be.

          It’s also worth noting that the Beatles were quite harmless as rebel went. Sure, they put lots of references to sex and drugs in their songs, but they were remarkably apolitical. Compare with much more political artists such as Bob Dylan, who weren’t as successful.

          • Lack of censorship doesn’t mean they were approved of.

            Singing about sex and drugs was a much bigger deal back then. It wasn’t just some mischievous thing they did.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            My impression is that their “long” hair (maybe 2″ long) was enough to shock people.

            The freakability of mundanes is a fragile and irreplaceable resource. Maybe it’s not completely irreplaceable, but it regenerates very slowly.

          • @Wrong Species

            Talking about this in terms of the “powers that be” obscures the much simpler story of what’s going on though; one half of the populace among which sex and drugs and rock and roll are popular triumphing over another half of the populace that hates that stuff (conceptually). Throughout the entire process, a huge portion of the populace approved of the 60s counter-culture. It was a counter-culture not because it was unpopular, but because it divided society until it triumphed.

            Lots of modern cultural groups fool themselves into thinking that they are part of a counter-culture because they are unpopular and suppressed, even though part of what allows a counter-culture to even become such is it being a major alternative to the existing culture; aka a popular alternative that has a fanbase, and a means to supplant the existing major culture.

            The Beatles (and the wider movement around them) shocked conservative old people. They did not shock liberal young people. It’s not as if something shocking comes along and then everyone adopts it because shocking things are cool. It’s because things that are cool to young people are often shocking to old people, at least until you run out of new things.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The Beatles didn’t start out singing about sex and drugs, their number 1 hits in order (google results) go

            1. From me to you
            2. She loves you
            3. I want to hold your hand
            4. Can’t buy me love
            5. A hard days night
            6. I feel fine
            7. Ticket to ride
            8. Help
            9. We can work it out/Day Tripper

            Basically that is 2 years with 6 #1 songs before you get into sort of maybe drug references with Ticket to Ride.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            If you’re wearing a cape and a plush shoulder dragon that you bought in a dealers room, I’ll probably think you have good taste, but I’m not going to think you’re “weird”. And I wouldn’t have thought so twenty years ago, either, even though sf wasn’t nearly as mainstream as it is now.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            @Forward Synthesis

            one half of the populace among which sex and drugs and rock and roll are popular triumphing over another half of the populace that hates that stuff (conceptually). … The Beatles (and the wider movement around them) shocked conservative old people. They did not shock liberal young people.

            I don’t think it was anywhere near a half and half split, or even a old vs young split. The higher ups at BBC, CBS and all the popular press weren’t exactly young hippies, yet they praised and promoted the Beatles.

            It’s hard for nostalgic millennials like most of us to realize how positivist and modernist people were in the 60s.

            Think about it, anybody who was over 30 in the 60s had lived through the Great Depression and one to two world wars, probably fought in them or had relatives who did and may not have come back. Their youth was not something they cherished. By contrast, the 50s and 60s were a time of unprecedented growth in the West: the Atomic Age, the Space Age, the Green Revolution, the rise of the middle class, Brutalist architecture and planned cities, affordable cars, washing machines, freezers, TV sets. Most people were progressive, in the literal sense of belief in the inevitable progress: material, technological but also social, which all seemed to go hand in hand (e.g. oral contraceptives, in addition to the aforementioned washing machines and freezers, were instrumental to women emancipation and sexual liberation, readily available LSD became a much more potent source of “mystical experiences” than any traditional religion could ever hope to be). Outside few Christian strongholds, conservatism was a minority ideology.

            It wasn’t until the late 60s and the 70s, with the peak of the Vietnam war and the oil crises caused by the wars in the Middle East that many people started to really not like the direction Western society was going, which is why hard counter-culture is mostly associated with the 70s rather than the 60s.

          • @viVI_IViv

            The thing where young “liberals” shock old “conservatives” goes back to Roman times. Not having lived through the 60s myself, I imagined it culturally as involving a lot of square haircut types bemoaning pinko youth influences, until there was a critical tipping point in ’68. Then during the mid 70s when Anglosphere economies got real crummy, it started to readjust back the other way, bringing us into the 80s.

            The point about the war and a genuine widespread belief in progress is something I hadn’t considered though. I don’t know if there has been a nearly universal belief in progress in my lifetime, except during the 90s, but I was a child for that period. 2000s onwards has all been pessimism and intense cultural, sexual, racial, and age divides. Some people tell me it’s unprecedented, but then others say it’s always been like this, and I don’t know who to trust, because I lack a reference point to measure their stories by.

          • Aapje says:

            @Forward Synthesis

            It seems quite obvious to me that Obama’s campaign and election involved an immense amount of hope for progress. Not just in the US, but among (left-)globalists in general (see Obama’s Nobel prize).

            Some have argued that the later radicalization and pessimism was a response to Obama’s failure to make good on this sentiment, like how things might seem particularly bleak and disappointing when drugs wear off.

        • JayT says:

          The Beatles first TV appearance in the US was on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, so I don’t think you can say that the powers that be were really against them. They definitely had opponents, but there wasn’t a strong pushback against them like there was for other counterculture icons.

          • Come on. You know that “I want to hold your hand” is a completely different beast than “Lucy in the sky with diamonds”.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There was more than a 3 year gap between their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

          • JayT says:

            Sgt. Pepper was the #1 album for 15 weeks at release, sold 2.5 million records in three months, and was the Beatles biggest hit. Radio stations would play the entire album and it won multiple Grammys. If the “powers that be” were strongly against the Beatles as of 1968, they did a really bad job of showing it.

          • @jayt

            You seem to think having success and not being censored disproves the idea that something is subversive. That’s obviously not true. Alex Jones runs a very popular radio station and I would not call him mainstream.

          • JayT says:

            Assuming Google/Facebook/Twitter are a part of “the powers that be”, Alex Jones has absolutely been censored, and I agree he’s definitely not in the mainstream.
            However, the Beatles were obviously mainstream, they didn’t face any real censorship, and they were celebrated by the press. Yes, they were subversive (to a degree), but they are kind of the exact opposite of someone like Alex jones.

            I guess I just don’t really understand what powers that be you’re referring to.

          • Ketil says:

            Yep. I strongly suspect the long hair and such were faux-provocative, carefully aimed to offend some a very tiny number of prudes, possibly even as a deliberate PR stunt. Later on, they became more overt with the new age spiritualism, psychedelics, and free sex – which diverged more from mainstream. But by then, they were already bigger than Jesus.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          They were definitely not something approved by the powers that be.

          They were on the Ed Sullivan show for God’s sake.

          • Why do you think this means anything? They clearly changed from their clean and preppy early days. The Beatles used their popularity to be able to experiment and that was what was subversive.

            I honestly don’t know why my point is so contentious. The Beatles were clearly rebelling against the main culture. “But they were popular”. Yeah, because they helped change it. People today call themselves rebels no matter how safe their actions are.

          • JayT says:

            Because they were not considered “clean and preppy” when they were on the Ed Sullivan Show. There was outcry over their long hair and suggestive lyrics. However, even though there was outcry, there was never any real attempt to censor them, or discredit them by the “powers that be”, but rather, by the amount of coverage they got there was tacit approval of them.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The Beatles were soft counter culture in their music at their hardest, Peter, Paul and Mary mocked them (gently) in 1967 in a song, Lennon and Yoko did their war protests from high end hotel beds. Folk music was more of the counter culture voice than rock/pop during the time the Beatles were still together and RnR was becoming part of the establishment (in no small part thanks to the Beatles).

          • LadyJane says:

            @Wrong Species:

            I honestly don’t know why my point is so contentious.

            Probably because it’s objectively false. The Beatles were never genuinely counter-culture; they didn’t even really pretend to be counter-culture. Their politics never got more radical than a general opposition to war (which was shared by much of the American and European populace), and their lyrics never got more controversial than some veiled references to sex and drugs. Their entire aesthetic was custom-tailored to appeal to popular youth trends of the time, and they received massive amounts of support from major media outlets. They were unique, for sure, but they were unique in a way that fit in with mainstream Western youth culture. And even among the older generations, I’d imagine very few people were actually offended by the Beatles. For the most part, they faced almost no real opposition.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        And we can cherry-pick the successful parts of the prior revolution. Not showering was part of the 60s rebellion, too. It was low-status then and is low-status now.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Also, NAMBLA being part of the gay liberation movement isn’t something which you see celebrated at modern prides and Sonewall memorial celebrations.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah, it’s easy for everything the ’60s rebels did to look like a success if you put effort into memory-holing the parts that failed.

        • Also, note the really successful part was to do with something humans have wanted since the dawn of time. Not exactly a hard sell to young people feeling stifled.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      To my eye the 1960’s counterculture and the 2010’s woke are pretty similar.

      A lot of powerful and influential people in the 1960’s were sympathetic to Marxist ideology, the same as today. It was taught openly in college classes, sung about on the radio and in sold-out concerts, read daily in newspapers and bestselling books, and seen daily on television. The efforts of the 1950s had reduced, but not eliminated, the extent of communist infiltration of the federal government but outside of the armed forces and Hoover’s FBI I wouldn’t call any agency actually anti-communist.

      The hippies really were dupes and followers, just as much as their contemporaries are. The sexual revolution they led was one which benefited the new media and financial elites of the postwar era at the expense of the health of the society they parasitize, just as the awakening today is in an even less healthy society.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      1) That is CW.

      2) Hippies and other subversives in the 60s were also low status, at least as far as I know.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Back in the 60’s, when the “cool” people rebelled, they were actually doing something subversive. Today, people pretend to rebel by doing all the safe approved things, which of course completely defeats the purpose. People doing actually subversive things are low status

      When I think of the 60s and rebellion I think of hippie culture which was mostly low status with the exceptions of musicians (etc) who were popular and embraced some aspects of hippie culture.

    • Eigengrau says:

      I think this is generalizing and oversimplifying a lot. What is subversive or not is entirely dependent on the specific community in which you find yourself.

      Expressing gender non-conformity may be a “safe approved” thing in ultra liberal urban bubbles, but a man in rural Tennessee who paints his fingernails as a rebellious expression against gender norms might have a tough time socializing. Just because something is “safe approved” for some doesn’t mean it isn’t divisive or subversive for others. Indeed, isn’t it divisiveness that defines a rebellion? The 60s counter-culture movement was famously mocked and put-down (sometimes violently) by the conservatives of the time, while also enjoying massive mainstream popularity and influence.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Bingo. See also MAGA hats.

      • Obviously it’s oversimplified but we can look at generalities. Imagine that we had a “rebel-ometer” that measured how subversive something was against the establishment at the time. Are you honest to god going to tell me that something like “This is America” would score higher than “Back in the USSR”?

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Expressing gender non-conformity may be a “safe approved” thing in ultra liberal urban bubbles, but a man in rural Tennessee who paints his fingernails as a rebellious expression against gender norms might have a tough time socializing.

        But many more people live in ultra-liberal urban bubbles than rural Tennessee, so on average a random American expressing gender non-conformity is more likely to receive approval than disapproval.

    • The standard response to questions like this is to ask the question again in the next hidden open thread since it’s CW.

  44. a tim from the office says:

    I have a possibly-dumb question somebody here might be able to help me with: how is it possible that there’s so much variety in chess from game to game?

    I’ve played chess mostly as a kid and very very casually, and it’s striking to me how every game seems to feel significantly different despite there being no randomness or hidden information on either side and identical starting positions every time. This is pretty easy to explain when it’s noobs like me playing: my ability to evaluate the strength of potential moves with any confidence is so poor that my plays might as well be based on whim a lot of the time, and of course that’s going to lead to unpredictable games. But it seems like things don’t get that much more predictable with Grandmasters. I remember seeing a video of Magnus Carlsen being shown chess positions and trying to guess which game from history the position is from. The fact that this kind of quiz is even possible implies that games end up being fairly unique even when both players are highly competent.

    My brain just can’t make sense of this fact, and I’m hoping someone can help give me the intuitions to understand it without me having to learn a bunch of chess theory. It seems like for a game to end up in a position that few other games have reached before, one of the players must at some point make a “weird move”, i.e., one that an experienced player will not have seen countless times before. But if a move is rarely played then that implies to me that it’s either much worse or much better than what the average player would do in that spot: I can’t think of a reason to make a weird move other than someone fucking up (it’s so bad nobody else has even considered it before) or someone having a stroke of genius (it’s so smart nobody else has ever thought of it before). But this seems like a bad explanation for the “every game is different” phenomenon because it implies that major blunders and/or unprecedented brilliancies are an everyday occurrence; the former sounds unlikely in high-level play, the latter is unsatisfactory because surely once a great new move is discovered everyone else copies it and it isn’t unique any more, plus even if the store of good novel moves is very large it can’t be infinite and chess being as big as it is you’d expect that store to be exhausted pretty quickly?

    I feel like I’ve explained myself pretty poorly but hopefully I’ve gestured well enough at the thing I’m confused about that people get why I’m confused and hopefully someone can help me understand.

    Some partial hypotheses:

    1. Maybe there’s a much higher number of decent moves in the early game than you’d think at first glance, and the win-percentage difference between them is small enough that they’re all basically interchangeable, so that if you’re good enough to know which moves are suicidally crazy and avoid them you can pretty much do whatever you like. So players can “express themselves” with novel moves early on without being punished, which leads to novel late games. Maybe? This seems weird though, I get the impression chess openings are one of the most studied parts of high-level play, it would be surprising to learn that choices early on are so unconstrained and low-impact? And in competitive play surely a move only has to be like 0.5% better than the rest to be worth choosing every time?

    2. Maybe surprising your opponent by making moves they won’t have seen before is a major source of advantage, so much so that it often outweighs the “objective” advantage of playing a safe but predictable move. This is pretty plausible I think, the main problem being it’s not a thing I’ve seen anyone talk about when they talk about chess strategy. Chess players usually describe themselves analysing positions and looking for the objective best move in each scenario. My point is, if everybody’s doing that then where do the novel scenarios come from to be analysed?

    3. Maybe it’s not even true that there’s a lot of variety in chess at the highest levels of play and most games have only small surprises if any. This would make sense of the fact that draws seem to be very common in major tournaments. However this would be the most unsatisfying of my three hypotheses since it would imply that chess is kind of a shitty game.

    • Lancelot says:

      If one player wins the game, and the other loses, then the latter doesn’t have the incentive to play the same way in the same position.

    • drunkfish says:

      Caveat: Very mediocre player who likes to watch high level chess

      I think both your 1 and 2 are true. 1 especially for play below the very top level, early decisions just don’t matter *that much* and there are so many possible moves that the number of lines blows up exponentially. Openings are studied because there are always suicidal moves, like you mentioned, as well as non-suicidal but damaging moves, and identifying those is pretty important when the number of moves is way too big for a human to fully analyze every time.

      Re: 2, I can’t remember who it is, but I remember watching a grandmaster commenting on preparing for the candidates tournament (basically the highest level you can get to below world champion) and saying something like “novelties are your currency”. Preparing for games at that level, competing GMs will study the hell out of everything their opponent has ever done, and they’ll have gameplans for huge numbers of possible ways the games could go. If you watch commentated world-championship level competition, commentators will point out when players leave their “preparation”; you can tell because the pace of play is wayyy faster when players have prepared, because they don’t actually have to do much thinking (if you watch a game at this level and see one player with all the time they started with, and the other halfway through their time, that’s probably because one of them is still in lines they studied). The way players break out of their opponents prep is by having come up with moves that their opponent hasn’t seen yet and hasn’t studied. Then, the person making the “novelty” will have an advantage because they’ll have more prep on that front. Of course, you don’t always get to use your novelties, because you need to get to the right position for it to be useful.

      • WashedOut says:

        What games/players would you recommend watching? I’ve watched a fair bit of Ben Finegold’s more lighthearted videos, where he discusses chess but isn’t actually playing a serious game, but he probably isn’t the best teacher.

      • Fitzroy says:

        The way players break out of their opponents prep is by having come up with moves that their opponent hasn’t seen yet and hasn’t studied. Then, the person making the “novelty” will have an advantage because they’ll have more prep on that front.

        I’m less than mediocre, but I used to play chess occasionally at university with a FIDE Master. He said he enjoyed playing me because I was in the sweet spot of ‘not so bad as to continually make stupidly suicidal moves, but not good enough to really know what I was doing’. As a result I apparently introduced a lot of novelty.

    • brad says:

      Opening books are really long these days but even grandmasters have limits to how many lines they can memorize. At some point every game enters the mid-game where moves are picked by analysis rather than from memory. It depends on the board or course, but generally speaking in the early mid game there are going to be a fair number of moves that are at least pretty good and no obvious slam dunks. A few rounds of each player picking essentially arbitrarily from, say, in one of five decent moves and it’s already a decent chance that’s it’s a never seen before in tournament play board.

      • johan_larson says:

        People also sometimes play odd or unpopular moves just to get the opponent “out of book,” so they have to play unmemorized moves.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Not in chess, but in other games I will say “I bet this won’t work, but, let’s see what happens.” I’m nearly always right and take the L. So I either learn that the move was dumb for a reason or get a nice surprise.

    • For any given non-tactical position there are 2 Mainline moves and 2 sidelines. 4^X grows so fast that by move 15 you probably ended up in a position that has never been played before (except if you played in some sharp well-studied line).

      I’ll start with the first move to explain

      2.6 million Masters+games

      Main Moves E4 D4

      Side Moves C4 Nf3

      I’ll go over the most Common line possible by inputing in the most common move and in parentheses i’ll put in the other common moves italics if they are significantly less common than the main move (played less than 10% of the time)

      E4 (D4, C4, Nf3), C5 (E5, E6, c6), Nf3(Nc3, c3) , d6(Nc6, e6), D4 (Bb5+, c3), cxd4, nxd4, Nf6, Nc3, a6 (g6, nc6) be3( bg5 be2 ,bc4) e5(e6 ng4), nb3, be6 (be7).

      At this point only 12,000 master games have reached this position and this is among the most common positions in master games! we are 14 ply (7 moves) in.

      • a tim from the office says:

        This is really elegantly explained, and exactly the kind of “here’s how to re-calibrate your intuitions about this” response I was hoping I’d get. It looks like where I was going wrong was in assuming a false dichotomy of “there are clear best moves every step of the way” vs “there are tons of equally good moves every turn and the early game is basically a free-for-all”. But your example makes it clear how just a few degrees of freedom each turn can snowball into wildly unpredictable late games. It’s much clearer now, thank you!

    • Kindly says:

      Once even a small surprise happens, you’re out of book and can’t rely on memorized lines anymore. You can still get mileage out of the “principles” of the opening you chose (e.g. your goal here is to protect the d pawn, or to go for a queenside attack, or whatever) but there will be lots of variety. This is essentially why hypothesis 3 doesn’t work out.

      As for the other hypotheses: in a typical well-studied opening, White has the advantage of a tempo and Black is on the back foot, so at any point, White can make a decent but unconventional move and still be in a reasonable position. If you know the opening well (so you’ve played a lot of games with it) and your opponent only knows some standard lines, then you can take advantage of that. For Black, departing from opening theory is a bit scarier, but there are lines that are less well-analyzed.

      There’s no best opening because in general, you can’t rank positions linearly (maybe one position is a smaller but more certain advantage for White, and another is a larger advantage that will go away if it’s not exploited immediately) and because playing to your strengths is its own kind of advantage. So the opening theory branches a lot, and you’ll end up in an unfamiliar position eventually, no matter what you do.

    • mustacheion says:

      The number of moves becomes intractably large very quickly. Lets simplify things and look at just a deck of playing cards. If you are holding in your hands a deck of normal playing cards that has been sufficiently shuffled (which means > 7 decent riffle shuffles) then it is overwhelmingly likely that the specific ordered deck you are holding is unique: that combination of cards has never occurred and will never occur again.

      How do we know this? Because there are 52! ways to order a deck of cards, which evaluates to ~10^68. That number is big. Like number of atoms in a galaxy cluster big. It is so massively much larger than the total number of times all of the card decks in history have been shuffled, humans have only experienced a tiny imperceptible fraction of the total space of playing card decks.

      And I believe that the number of chess games is even larger than the number of card deck arrangements. Even though there are fewer pieces, there are more board spaces. And each piece can move in multiple different ways.

  45. Jeremiah says:

    As part of the SSC Podcast project, every fortnight we take one of the posts from the archive and create an audio version.

    This time around we did The Control Group Is Out Of Control. (Original post)

    Comments, criticisms, suggestions and even veiled threats are appreciated.

  46. Cptn.Penguin says:

    Hey Scott, I have a suggestion. Maybe I’m the only one – and if so you’re welcome to ignore me – but I really dislike the font you use for quotes. It’s very “nervous”, squiggly and slated. I find it hard to read and my eyes feel strained after reading a long section. I also have to reread sentences far more often than usual.

    I think it might be a good idea to change the font to a more easily readable one.

  47. So I have a subscription to a website which gives all sorts of statistics about hearthstone decks and their winrates however I am deeply concerned about accidentally P-hacking my way to incorrect conclusions.

    We have 130k Legend games, and 1.15 million Legend-rank 5 games , 1.9 million legend-rank 10 games and 2.6 million games total.

    With >20 different deck archetypes spread out over 8 classes I’m trying to pick a lineup of 3 different classes and also try to pick the best build of the given deck for my lineup. As well as decide on what decks I should Ban from my opponents side. HSreplay lets me look at every single archetype win rate vs every other archetype, and lets me look at the win rate of specific 30 card decks of those archetypes. (you can even get matchup breakdowns of 30 card decks but I consider that mostly noise when your sample size is like 50 per matchup)

    Now given this my current strategy is to look at maybe the top 10 performing archetypes and the 10 most popular (which will highly overlap) to find a lineup that is really strong against the field minus 1 deck. With the intention of banning that deck. I take lineups from previous tournaments and feed them into HSreplay’s meta% tool, then 0 out one of the decks to state “i’m banning that one” until I find the lineup with the highest aggregate Winrate

    My other gameplan is to take whatever the best performing set of 30 cards for that archetype is on HSreplay and register that, With caution added in if I believe a card was added in to beat the deck I banned I’ll pick the next highest performer until I find one without tech cards for matchups that won’t exist.

    How do I get a relevant sample for matchups without accidentally P-hacking my way into a mistake? The 15 most popular archetypes have only around 75k games in legend between them. INcluding rank 5 players in my sample seems like I lose relevance (matchups swing quite a bit between rank 5 and legend). I could slowly include lower ranks but including those lower ranks means I could easily accidentally P-hack if not careful

    I’m considering a total of 18 different decks, and in some cases, I only have n=56 in a given cell. If I lower my considerations to only 15 decks (about as low as I’m willing to go) Then I get to N=180 as my minimum in a given cell. If I consider players who are not legend rank I get a much higher sample size but the quality of the data deteriorates. One example is that at legend rank Secret Highlander paladin has a win rate of 51.92% while in rank 5-legend (inclusive) its winrate is 55.33%

    • Kindly says:

      What exactly are you worried about when you say p-hacking? My intuition is that p-hacking can’t really occur when you’re trying to pick the best of many options (as opposed to trying to see if any of the options are good).

      To take as an example: if you split up jelly beans by color to see if any of them cause acne, you can p-hack your way into getting a singificant result for one kind of jelly bean. But if you want to answer the question “which jelly bean color is the most likely to cause acne?” then it’s absolutely correct to conclude “green” based on data which gives the most acne in experiments with green jelly beans. It might still not be particularly likely to cause acne, but it’s the likeliest.

      So, if it turns out that you have a bunch of deck archetypes and their win rates are all in the range from 49% to 51%…

      (I’m simplifying from your more complicated situation, but the idea is the same)

      …then sure, it may be pretty likely that these win rates are noise and each match-up is random. Or maybe the win rates are 45% to 55% and the sample sizes are small, so you think there may be an effect, but a lot of it is hidden by the noise. It’s still true that the deck with the highest win rate is most likely to be the best deck, and it’s still true that the strategy of “play the deck with the highest win rate” is the likeliest to win.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      For the first part of your strategy I think it’s easier to use the vS report. For the second part, I don’t think looking at statistics for individual cards is likely to be that helpful: you’d need a very big sample size to be able to tease out the times that a single card makes the difference, and the difference the “objective” strength of a card can make can be dominated by the difference in how well you personally use it.

      • VS report has 30k games, of which 3k are played at legend

        HS replay has 1.1 million games at rank 5-legend and 150k at legend alone.

        Hsreplay can with highish(99%) confidence get within 0.5 % of a deck’s true winrate. Which givne that the best deck is at 53.5% while the worst of the 15 is at 45.7% that’s a big deal.

        Admittedly picking “the best decK” doesn’t matter as much as picking a good lineup by picking decks that target a specific set of problems. Some decks are only 35% against other decks so you can build really strong lineups based on trying to bust a specific deck. (the lineup I brought to my most recent tournament

        Also the second part (specific deck choice) is more for ease of use, it’s really hard to get a specific deck correct, and HSreplay’s highest performer is “close enough”

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          Yes, but I don’t think you need a particularly fine level of analysis for this purpose since (among other things) your winrate with a deck in a tournament setting probably won’t track the overall winrate that exactly. So you don’t lose much by using the VS report, but you get the benefit of a nice colour-coded grid that has already been filtered to only have popular decks.

  48. ARabbiAndAFrog says:

    Aliens have arrived on Earth and they want to use humans for entertainment. Each Monday they will contact 50 adult, able-bodied people and warn them that on Sunday they will be transported on an alien planet as part of a reality show. They promise the planet will have breathable air, edible plant and alien life and probably no pathogens compatible with humans or sapient life. New arrivals will never be more 100 m apart from at least one another, and every consequent arrival will be at least within 1 km from another living human (If any are still alive) Anything you are holding onto, including your clothes, bags will also be transported but also if it isn’t living and doesn’t extend further than 1 meter from your body (Living things will be left behind, non-living long things will be cut). The exception to “living” rule is any microscopic organisms.

    You have been selected for a first batch. What will you do for the rest of the week, how do you prepare? Will anything change if it’s been a while and you are in 10th, 100th or 1000th batch?

    If they see you are about to get killed or crippled, they will teleport you right away, but you will still arrive at the same time as everyone else in your group.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      What’s the objective?

      • Randy M says:

        Right, makes a big difference if the reality show is patterned on Survivor or the Bachelor.

      • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        You objective is to spend the rest of your life on alien planet while aliens presumably point and laugh. They didn’t give you any further information on what they want you to do, but this will be your life starting next week.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Are the surviving contestants allowed to reproduce ? Are new contestants dropped in proximity to the previous batches, or does each batch get a brand new zoo just for them ?

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            You have no reason to assume they won’t be allowed to, though it isn’t disclosed to you.

            As for distribution:

            New arrivals will never be more 100 m apart from at least one another, and every consequent arrival will be at least within 1 km from another living human (If any are still alive)

            It seems that I wrote it a bit awkwardly, Everyone from the same party will arrive no more than 100 meters apart from another new arrival (Can form long chains if this is what aliens want, but they promise not to place you on different continents etc) and within no more than 1 km from a living person who is already on the planet (assuming anyone is actually alive there).
            TL;DR People from the same week would be close together, and will be close, but slightly less to people from different weeks.

    • keaswaran says:

      I assume gravity will also be pretty comparable to Earth? One other important question is whether ambient lighting will be sufficient for long periods of time or whether we’ll need to plan for our own lighting (either because the daystar is too pale or hidden by weather or geographic conditions, or because night lasts for very long periods of time).

      Seems like one of the most important things is going to be communication and cooperation with the other humans. If they’re selecting humans uniformly at random from the earth population, then it’ll be useful to pack some translation manuals or the like for languages adding up to 90% of the world population. (It looks like ten languages get us about half of the world population if this list is to be believed:, so we’re likely to need information for another couple dozen languages and their writing systems.)

      I can’t tell if it’ll be good to bring something to generate electricity and some electrical equipment, or if it’ll be better to plan for no electricity.

      Would fuel also be abundant?

      • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        You are guaranteed that it will be livable. Most of everything else not outlined is not disclosed.

        I think as an additional revealed condition will be that you will be placed in forested area and winter is not expected any time soon. Though I never outlined it in my post, I always imagined it like this anyway.

    • Evan Þ says:

      How long will we be stranded on that new planet? Will we be transported back to Earth safely if we’re about to die?

    • pancrea says:

      In the first batch, I bring tents and tools and matches and seeds and books and weapons. We’ll need to cooperate and build a sustainable village. I assume there might be one or two jerks who want to kill or control the rest of us, but we’ll work it out.

      In later batches, I assume there’s already a sustainable village, and I think about what they might want. Food, entertainment, medical supplies, clothing. I try to have a hidden weapon in case it’s turned out to be a dystopia, but honestly if that happens I’m pretty screwed regardless.

      • Kuiperdolin says:

        Do seeds count as a living thing? They’re clearly not microscopic.

        Enough medication to last me the rest of my standard human lifetime would take a pretty full backpack already and they probably won’t last that long so guess I’ll just die.

  49. analytic_wheelbarrow says:

    Will mankind *ever* visit another solar system? Sending a probe that reports back to us is fine; putting a person on an exoplanet would be even cooler.

    Every so often I see reports/press releases about some new big idea that could make interstellar travel possible, but I assume these are mostly hype.

    If the answer is no, then I find this really depressing, and I think it solves the Fermi Paradox. I have trouble articulating why this makes me sad, but it does seem odd that even the most basic and realistic-seeming staple of sci-fi (being able to fly around to different planets & systems) isn’t even going to happen.

    Any informed opinions here?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I don’t have an answer, but as usual, I’m reminded of a science fiction story, “The Star Pit” by Samuel Delany.

      Do not expect much science from this story, that’s not what it’s for.

      There’s ftl available for travel inside the galaxy, but there’s a barrier around the galaxy, and only some schizophrenics can survive going past it. The viewpoint character, who’s rather an ass, feels very trapped and unhappy.

      This isn’t intended to reflect on you– I actually feel worse about the certain inability to travel to other galaxies than that humanity probably can’t get out of the solar system.

      • Ohforfs says:

        This isn’t intended to reflect on you– I actually feel worse about the certain inability to travel to other galaxies than that humanity probably can’t get out of the solar system.

        Do you mean that personally you feel bad about humanity being trapped in Milky Way Galaxy more than in Solar System?

        Well, good news, galaxies are much closer together than stars are, relatively speaking, so that’s a smaller problem, likely.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          “Do you mean that personally you feel bad about humanity being trapped in Milky Way Galaxy more than in Solar System?”

          Yes. I can’t say it’s logically defensible, but it’s a clear emotional reaction.

          • Ohforfs says:

            Well, as i said, while there are many, many galaxies that are most likely unreachable even theoretically (closing on the lightspeed in their relative movement away from MW, or, to be more precise, the space between us and them stretching so fast that it overtakes lightspeed), the closest ones are not very far, Andromeda being, iirc, only 10 times more away than the diameter of our own galaxy!

            Considering how much spaced away stars and planets are relative to their size, galaxies are packed very densely.

            And for the galaxies billions of years away from us, who are escaping at near-lightspeed velocity, well… at that point i think heat death of universe is more depressing thought.

      • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

        This isn’t intended to reflect on you– I actually feel worse about the certain inability to travel to other galaxies than that humanity probably can’t get out of the solar system.

        Nancy, I sympathize! I didn’t want to bring up intergalactic travel (for fear of sounding really weird), but it’s something I think about too.

        • MadRocketSci2 says:

          What’s wrong with speculating about intergalactic travel?

          When Johannes Kepler realized that the planets and moons of the solar system were other places, he dreamed about going there, and even wrote a little sci-fi novel about travel to the moon, called “Somnium”. (And, as was the trend back then, got into trouble with the catholic church over it).

          He didn’t know how to do it. Manned flight in any fashion over any distance seemed fantastic back then. But he didn’t fear sounding really weird. 😛

          We still don’t know what we’re really looking at with respect to basic stuff like QM. I think the things we’ll learn by the time we’ve choked down the solar system, much less the local galaxy, will change our picture of the hows/whys behind intergalactic travel significantly.

          Do we know how to do it today?: Not even remotely. Never say never though, IMO.

          I’m an engineer. That makes me more prone to Crazy Eddie syndrome than some.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            (And, as was the trend back then, got into trouble with the catholic church over it)

            How would he get in trouble with the church if it was published posthumously?

          • MadRocketSci2 says:

            Actually … I was going off a secondhand account from Asimov. I may be wrong about that. IIRC, Asimov said his wife was suspected of being a witch due to certain passages in Kepler’s work of fiction.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Well, was Kepler ever undead?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Kepler did get in trouble with the Catholic Church, but that was for being Lutheran during the Counter-Reformation, and it wasn’t him in particular that was targeted; all people in his village needed to convert or leave.

            Kepler chose exile. He ended up working with Tycho as a direct result, and together they turned astronomy into the first real science.

            (His mother was accused of witchcraft as well, which was a whole separate thing. I don’t recall which church was dominant in the area when that happened.)

          • Lambert says:

            If Kepler was Lutheran, how’d he wind up in incredibly Catholic Bavaria?
            His house is only a couple of streets away from a vestment shop.

          • Aapje says:

            Kepler never truly lived in Bavaria?!

            He was born in the state Baden-Württemberg, then got a job at the university in the same state, intending to become a Lutheran clergyman. However, he got into conflict with the local Lutheran church over various matters and was excluded from sacrament. Then a Lutheran school in Graz, Austria was looking for a math teacher, which he was pressured into taking, even though he was reluctant to leave his home region.

            In Austria, he did well, but got tossed out for not being catholic. Then he tried to go back to his old university in Baden-Württemberg, but was denied.

            He got a letter from Tycho Brahe asking for a visit. Kepler went to him, hoping for a job. This worked out and when Brahe died, Kepler got his job as Imperial Mathematician.

            His Austrian wife was homesick and the emperor seemed at risk of being deposed. He went back to Austria to work as a math teacher.

            A long time later, while traveling, he fell ill in Regensburg, Bavaria, where he died. So he never truly lived in Bavaria, he just died there by chance.

    • silver_swift says:

      *Ever* is a really long time. Will we ever send stuff to other star systems, probably (provided we last long enough). We have the technology to do it right now, the problem is that it takes a really long time to get there.

      Voyager I is going at a speed where it would reach Alpha Centauri in about 75000 years if it was going in that direction and that’s with 70’s technology.

      We can, at least in theory, make nuclear pulse propulsion rockets with current day technology that can get to appreciable fractions of light speed, which would cut down the travel times to under a century. It’s just extremely expensive and you need to find a country that is crazy enough to let you launch from their territory and look the other way while you are breaking a very long list of international treaties (nuclear pulse propulsion is essentially rocket jumping with nuclear weapons).

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        Could you circumvent “launch from their territory” by assembling the vessel in low (or maybe moderately high) Earth orbit, with parts delivered by conventional rockets, and then only using the nuclear pulses a safe enough distance away to not blanket anyone with nuclear fallout?

        • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

          Launching nuclear weapons into a stable orbit from their territory already puts them into violation of an international treaty.

          • Lambert says:

            Do the first 11kms^-1 using chemical rockets, so you’re never in a stable orbit.

          • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

            I guess you still need a state willing to violate Outer Space Treaty by putting weapons of mass destruction into space… Although there are some non-signatory states, especially in Africa.

          • I guess you still need a state willing to violate Outer Space Treaty by putting weapons of mass destruction into space

            That’s a little tricky–what defines a weapon?

            Is a stick of dynamite a weapon? It can be used as one, but that isn’t its design purpose or usual use. Any rocket able to put a satellite into orbit is a weapon, in the sense of something that could be used as a weapon, but rockets are not banned by the Outer Space Treaty.

            Is a spaceship whose propulsion method uses atomic bombs any more a weapon than one whose propulsion uses chemical fuels?

          • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

            @DavidFriedman OST doesn’t ban _all_ weapons, only WMDs, and apparently it specifically singles out nuclear weapons as forbidden WMDs

          • John Schilling says:

            Right, but the OST uses the phrase “nuclear weapon”, not “nuclear explosive”, and it doesn’t define weapon. Since no one in any other context defines “weapon” to include all explosives, it is not clear that the OST prohibits the placement of nuclear explosives in outer space for peaceful use.

            It is pretty obvious that anyone who tries it will be accused of violating the OST, by very suspicious people who are collectively far more afraid of having a nuclear sword of Damocles orbiting over their head than a handful of space cadets are enthusiastic about their Orion-drive spaceships. So, almost certainly a political non-starter.

    • MadRocketSci2 says:

      Robert Forward wrote a series of sci-fi novels about using laser lightsails to send a multi-decade mission to another star system.

      The requirements are severe, but his lightsail craft actually don’t require anything new in terms of knowledge of physics. It’s mostly engineering challenges and producing the required spaceborne structrues to launch the mission, and (a plot point in the book) – supporting the mission over the required timeline. By “mere engineering”, I mean we already have all the components, we just need to make them big enough and put a solar powered laser station in Mercury pseudoorbit.

      I meant this to be a reply to analytic_wheelbarrow.

      So: Expensive? Yes. Requiring a civilization capable of interplanetary travel and engineering, with a long attention span? Yes. Impossible? No.

    • MadRocketSci2 says:

      Also, to see replies…

    • John Schilling says:

      Will mankind *ever* visit another solar system? Sending a probe that reports back to us is fine; putting a person on an exoplanet would be even cooler.

      Yes, but probably not in your natural lifetime. We could probably build a starship in this century, that could deliver a small human crew to Alpha Centauri sometime in the next century, if we were willing to devote enough terabucks to the task; there’s no scientific breakthroughs required for that, and the technology (almost certainly beamed-power propulsion) could be developed in a few decades focused effort. But it would be ridiculously expensive for something with a payback so far in the future, when we’ve already got an almost completely undeveloped solar system waiting right outside the cradle.

      Starflight will probably wait until the most forward-thinking segments of humanity start to envision the mere solar system getting too crowded for them, within their own lifetimes. By which point, we’ll probably be much richer than we are now, and we’ll have developed much of the technology and infrastructure we’d need for other reasons. Also, we may have significantly longer lifespans.

      • Randy M says:

        This is what I’ve concluded too, though John’s ideas should be the weightier of the pair.

        We could probably do it, but it would be expensive and of no practical benefit to anybody living at the time. That’s why I had a rich, dead person do it in my fiction.

        It also requires having someplace useful to go to, and I don’t think there are any confirmed habitable planets near, though some identified exoplanets have a few necessary characteristics, ie, orbiting within a possible temperature band.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        We could probably build a starship in this century, that could deliver a small human crew to Alpha Centauri sometime in the next century, if we were willing to devote enough terabucks to the task

        The question of “why?” seems to loom large here.

        We could come up with a way to land a human crew on Pluto right now, if we devoted enough mega-bucks to it. But we aren’t going to do that because there wouldn’t be a compelling reason to send them on a one way journey.

        And even that would actually allow something useful to come out of it, with the communication times being non-prohibitive.

        It feels a little comparative to saying we could also launch a manned crew into the sun, as no one has ever been there either?

        • achenx says:

          we could also launch a manned crew into the sun

          No problem, we’ll go in at night.

          *gets yanked off-stage by a cane*

        • I don’t believe we currently have anything with enough delta-v to reach the sun. It is counterintuitively very difficult to do this.

          • Protagoras says:

            Looking it up, slowing down from earth orbital velocity to a dead stop is less than three times as much delta-v as escaping earth’s gravity. Obviously, if you plot your escape from earth’s gravity in the direction opposite earth’s orbital movement, that’s more than a third of the way there already. Since doing this in space means you can use extremely high efficiency, low thrust designs like ion engines to get the remainder of your delta-v (and such engines could get their electrical power pretty easily with solar power, since you’re starting at Earth’s orbital distance and just getting closer to the sun), it looks entirely feasible to design something which would accomplish such a dead stop, which would of course then eventually reach the sun due to the sun’s gravity. It does look surprisingly difficult, and if you did use ion engines rather than taking a multi-stage approach with chemical engines it would take a surprisingly long time, but it seems to be very far from “it just can’t be done” territory.

          • John Schilling says:

            8.6 km/s applied impulsively in Low Earth Orbit will get you to solar-system escape velocity. As you get arbitrarily far from the Sun, your relative velocity approaches zero and it becomes trivial to A: cancel your tiny lateral velocity and B: kick yourself back enough that you’ll fall directly into the Sun. So we can do that with chemical rockets, if you’re not in a hurry.

      • FormerRanger says:

        I’d be curious to hear how the program you outline works. Just for starters, while I can buy that beamed propulsion can theoretically get you up to a pretty high rate of speed, how do you slow down on the other end? Also, how does the crew and ship survive 100 years of travel: cryogenics? keeping an enclosed human environment up and running for that long?

        Not trying to be snarky, but would like a longer description of your idea, or a pointer to a more thorough treatment.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Magnetic sails can serve as “brakes” in space. If we have laser propulsion, we can have magsails. (They could even possibly be the same sail, but I am unsure of the engineering of that.)

        • MadRocketSci2 says:

          You can separate a craft into two pieces. One with a retroreflector for the beam which continues to accelerate, one with a sail that decelerates the payload at the target star-system.

          think two concentric lightsails – they’re together for the acceleration portion, and separate during deceleration.

        • Randy M says:

          Also, how does the crew and ship survive 100 years of travel: cryogenics?

          One problem with cryogenics is that frozen cells can’t repair mutations caused by radiation like living cells can–and radiation in space is a big problem.
          Also, it remains to be seen if we can actually recover a person so preserved with mind and body intact.
          So I would put that in the “maybe doable if we put a lot of research into it and it ends up being possible” rather than “surely doable if we throw enough money at it” bucket.

        • John Schilling says:

          A pure laser lightsail is inefficient for anything below 10-20% lightspeed, so we probably wouldn’t do that.

          The conceptually simple and efficient way is, build an array of lasers that can deliver a hundred billion or so watts of power across interstellar distance. Your starship is dominated by a large parabolic mirror that can capture that beam and focus it to a small point. You feed a trickle of liquid hydrogen through that point, where it gets heated to a few hundred million degrees or so, and incidentally ionized so that it can be expanded in a magnetic nozzle to produce thrust. And you can orient the magnetic nozzle either direction, to accelerate or decelerate.

          Lots of complications behind that, of course. Most of which make it harder, but a few that can make it more efficient if you are clever enough. And as Edward notes, there’s ways to use the interstellar medium for braking drag if you need it.

          Keeping people alive for a hundred years, yeah, cryogenics if we can pull it off, but that’s not a sure thing. Otherwise it’s Mark Watney, his potato farm, a bit of forethought into what we send beyond just potatoes, and a choice selection of girlfriends to A: keep Blondebeard from going completely off the deep end and B: ensure there’s a Mark Watney IV ready to actually conduct the exploration of the Alpha Centauri system. But cryogenics would be best.

          And really, best would be waiting at least another century for technology development before we start down this path.

          • Ohforfs says:

            I am more curious about the chances of having that laser working continiously for 30 years at least, no matter technical difficulties, and, perhaps more importantly, political.

            And that’s assuming a trip to the nearest exoplanet.

          • Randy M says:

            I recall a sci-fi story on the premise that the laser powering the ship was turned off mid voyage due to politicking on Earth. I can’t seem to identify it now, though.

          • John Schilling says:

            I am more curious about the chances of having that laser working continiously for 30 years at least, no matter technical difficulties, and, perhaps more importantly, political.

            People who can trust one another to collaborate over extended periods on high-risk, high-reward projects, can accomplish greater things than can atomic individuals who are afraid everyone else is going to screw them over as soon as they turn their backs. Fortunately, high-trust societies are within the demonstrated human competence base.

            Eventually, we’ll probably reach the point where a wealthy atomic individual who is that afraid of being screwed over, can build his own private self-contained starship to put a few dozen light-years between himself and all the people he doesn’t trust, but that’s probably going to take more than a hundred years. Probably long enough that all the star systems within a few dozen light-years have already been settled.

          • The Nybbler says:

            People who can trust one another to collaborate over extended periods on high-risk, high-reward projects, can accomplish greater things than can atomic individuals who are afraid everyone else is going to screw them over as soon as they turn their backs.

            Assuming, that is, they aren’t screwed over as soon as they turn their backs, the trusting fools. Which seems like the way to bet. Gee that laser’s costing a lot of resources that could be better used right here on Earth.

          • Concavenator says:

            I recall a sci-fi story on the premise that the laser powering the ship was turned off mid voyage due to politicking on Earth. I can’t seem to identify it now, though.

            That might be Aurora, of which I was complaining in the last OT. Although in that case (spoiler, I guess?) the laser being turned off only becomes relevant when the starship needs to come back to Earth.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I would answer “never”, with the caveat that “never” is a really long time — but, at least, not within the next 1000 years.

      I just don’t think that humanity is capable of such a monumental feat. The cost for sending a human to an exoplanet would be enormous; it would essentially require most of the population of Earth to work continuously on this project for many years (likely decades or even centuries). When was the last time you saw humans working together that much for that long ? I could maybe see it happen if there were massive financial incentives for the project; but there aren’t. The trip to an exoplanet is essentially one-way; there’s no way to recover any useful resources, other than some moderately interesting information (and even that will likely be decades old).

      In fact, I do not believe that humans will even walk on Mars within the next 100 years; though they might do it in the next 1000, I’m not sure.

      Of course, the above analysis does not hold water if we assume the existence of some sort of a quasi-magical superintelligent nanotech Singularity that can build anything out of anything else (and maybe break the laws of physics in the process), but I find the existence of such things even less likely.

      • Randy M says:

        here’s no way to recover any useful resources, other than some moderately interesting information (and even that will likely be decades old).

        Is the age of the information on Tau Ceti really the relevant factor of it?

        • Bugmaster says:

          Sort of. Any pertinent information that you can get in ~10 years’ time is likely to be useless by the time it arrives. If we’re talking about some interesting cosmological discoveries, then scientific advancements on Earth (including telescope technology) are likely to yield the same data, but much faster. If we’re talking about minutiae, like the fact that some rock on some continent on the exoplanet looks a little bit like Richard Nixon… then who cares ?

          • Randy M says:

            It’s hard to know what we’ll be able to find out on another planet that we couldn’t here. Depends on the planet we find, of course.

            I think if it has a thriving ecology, we could learn a lot about life in general that could enable advances and discoveries we’d otherwise never make. Whether or not we can make use of them here is another matter of course.

            On the other hand, physical/astrological research is indeed probably not going to be advanced on another planet since the technology & industry needed to produce the instruments will never be as advanced as Earth’s.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        Your analysis assumes no economical growth to speak of and that humanity will be confined to Earth over that time. There’s no reason they assume either.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I am uncertain whether humanity will be confined to Earth for 1000 years; I am pretty sure this will be the case for the next 100 years, though. I am also pretty sure that humanity will be confined to our Solar System for the foreseeable future.

          This is not the same thing as saying there’d be no economic growth, however. We’ve been confined to Earth for 100,000 years or more, and our economy kept growing during all that time. It’s still growing now, as new technologies allow us to exploit more and more resources — or create them out of thin air, as is the case with digital goods and services. Yes, obviously such growth cannot continue indefinitely, but I’m reasonably sure it can be sustained for at least 100 years.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            I am pretty sure this will be the case for the next 100 years, though

            How come? I mean, really, what’s your reasoning process here? SpaceX, NASA and Blue Origin are all working to make it not the case, and they think they have a good shot at it and they employ the best experts in the field. I’m far from saying that experts are always right or that those companies will certainly succeed, but I think it takes whole lot more knowledge than anyone can reasonably have now to be even remotely certain they’ll fail

            If you don’t postulate zero growth than what today takes concentrated efforts of the whole Earth population will take just one exentric quadrillionaire or sufficiently determined government few centuries later. If you postulate no substantial presence in space just for 100 years, than it means it’s possible 500 years from now we’ll have been routinely traveling between planets for 400 years. It’s a long time, it’s literally as much time as between now and the Mayflower. We’ve been traveling through air for about half that time (I’m counting balloons). Think of the Montgolfier brothers, or rather bystanders at the time of Montgolfier brothers, trying to imagine A-380 and SR-71, and then double that gap. In fact there’s no need to guess, because human flight on heavier than air apparatus was considered impossible up until the moment it was done.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I am pretty sure this will be the case for the next 100 years, though

            How come? I mean, really, what’s your reasoning process here?

            Not Bugmaster but I agree with them. Most simply I’m skeptical 100 years is enough time to work through all the unknown unknowns of human biology outside our native environment. Especially gravity.

            I suppose it depends on how you define “confined to Earth”: I’m interpreting it as “no self-sustaining populations outside Earth” – space will remain a place humans visit, not a place they put down roots, for a long time.

            For a concrete prediction: 80% no 2nd*-generation Martians/Lunaites/Spacers will exist in 2120.

            * Am I counting that right? Grandchildren of Earthborn colonists

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            But gravity is relatively trivial to solve even with modern technologies, just spin the thing up. Although if you’re going by 2nd generation born, I admit I’m more sceptical too. Not 80%, but I think it’s somewhat more than 50% against this happening. I was thinking more in terms of persistent industry producing something other than pure research.

            ETA: Industry which is commercially profitable and is there for reasons other than just being there.

          • Bugmaster says:


            SpaceX, NASA and Blue Origin are all working to make it not the case

            AFAIK SpaceX and Blue Origin are more interested in advertising their services than actually making any tangible strides in putting a human on Mars. NASA is much more interested with putting robots on Mars (which they had already done, repeatedly), as well as elsewhere in the Solar System. In fact, NASA’s philosophy seems to be that humans do not belong in space, period. So far, no one is anywhere close to being able to deliver anything substantial to Mars and then bring it back — and that includes humans as a payload.

            If you don’t postulate zero growth…It’s a long time, it’s literally as much time as between now and the Mayflower.

            There’s a lot of room between “zero growth” and “continuous exponential growth at the same rate as currently”. In addition, I don’t doubt that human travel to Mars is technologically possible; I doubt that anyone would actually do it. Mayflower-wise, Mars is totally unlike North America in two ways. Firstly, it contains no exploitable resources that couldn’t be obtained at a much lower cost right back on Earth, or by robots in space. Secondly, we know for a fact that any pilgrims who wanted to land on Mars would be unable to survive without massive technological support. This means that they’d essentially need to bring an entire biological/technological ecosystem with them. Again, this is not technologically impossible — merely prohibitively expensive. The money you’d need to spend on sending a settlement to Mars (or even a single human explorer, with the intent of bringing him back) will always be essentially wasted; whereas, by investing the same amount on Earth, one could reap a tremendous return.

            Things would be very different if Mars were made of gold, or uranium, or some kind of unobtainium, or at least arable soil… But it’s not. It’s just made of boring old rock.

          • AlexOfUrals says:


            AFAIK SpaceX and Blue Origin are more interested in advertising their services than actually making any tangible strides in putting a human on Mars. NASA is much more interested with putting robots on Mars (which they had already done, repeatedly), as well as elsewhere in the Solar System.

            Well that is simply not true for SpaceX and NASA. The fact that they don’t send people on Mars right now and more preoccupied with other tasks means that they can’t send people to Mars right now and have other tasks to do (which is especially true for commercial companies who have to be profitable most of the way to make it, and advertising is part of how a company is being profitable). Blue Origin admittedly lags behind, but on the other hand there’s a number of smaller companies working toward the same general direction.

            So far, no one is anywhere close to being able to deliver anything substantial to Mars and then bring it back — and that includes humans as a payload.

            How does that proves none will be in 100 years? 100 years ago none was remotely capable of building a nuclear reactor, let alone harvesting energy from it, let alone putting it on a submarine. Now quite a few countries are.

            There’s a lot of room between “zero growth” and “continuous exponential growth at the same rate as currently”.

            Yes, that’s why I said “no growth to speak of” in my first reply. If you have growth on the same order of magnitude as today my argument holds. If it’s orders of magnitude smaller, that’s what we today consider “no growth to speak of”. If it’s subexponential, it’ll also fall into this category very soon. Of course this can happen, but it’s a fairly specific future scenario, and isn’t the first thing that comes to most people’s mind when they think of future, so if you think it’s inevitable it’s better to say so explicitly and with some justification. My point isn’t that we’re guaranteed to fly to other stars, but that it’s a default, that’s what we should expect if everything goes on in roughly the same way and manner it did before.

            Mayflower wasn’t even intended as an argument in the way you seem to interpreted it, I mentioned it exclusively to show how very long 400 years is. Montgolfier, on the other hand, was intended as such an argument. To continue with the analogy, any sane person of late 17th century would’ve said that to build a hundred tons plane mostly of aluminium is not technologically impossible but prohibitively expensive (they would’ve think it’s technologically impossible to make it fly but that’s another matter).

            The money you’d need to spend on sending a settlement to Mars will always be essentially wasted

            Soooo? It’s not like humans are bad at wasting money. If anything, they are way too good at it. Not even it’s necessarily a bad thing, all kinds of philanthropy and art and records are “essentially wasted money” in your terminology. And the money don’t have to be wasted, there’s a number of ways Mars settlement can give some returns to its founders, not even mentioning such banalities as prestige and research. Obvious one is someone wanting to live outside of jurisdiction of any existing government, there can be as many reasons for that as there’s people. Another one is to diversify humanity’s risks (as Musk says he wants to do). Yet another one is just to visit goddamn Mars! Many people, myself included, would’ve paid a substantial (for them) amount of money for the opportunity, so for anyone capable of providing the flight it’s an investment opportunity. Of course none of these reasons is even remotely strong enough to cover expenses in the current day, but they don’t have to be, because we are not talking about the current day. Economical growth means the average person will have more resources in the future (or at least there’ll be more persons with such desires), and there’s plenty of incentives to develop spaceflight at the moment besides going to Mars, so the technology permitting it will also become better.
            And of course all that applies to interstellar flight too, just on longer timescales.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            AFAIK SpaceX and Blue Origin are more interested in advertising their services than actually making any tangible strides in putting a human on Mars. NASA is much more interested with putting robots on Mars (which they had already done, repeatedly), as well as elsewhere in the Solar System.

            Well that is simply not true for SpaceX and NASA. The fact that they don’t send people on Mars right now and more preoccupied with other tasks means that they can’t send people to Mars right now and have other tasks to do (which is especially true for commercial companies who have to be profitable most of the way to make it, and advertising is part of how a company is being profitable). Blue Origin admittedly lags behind, but on the other hand there’s a number of smaller companies working toward the same general direction.

            So far, no one is anywhere close to being able to deliver anything substantial to Mars and then bring it back — and that includes humans as a payload.

            How does that proves none will be in 100 years? 100 years ago none was remotely capable of building a nuclear reactor, let alone harvesting energy from it, let alone putting it on a submarine. Now quite a few countries are.

            There’s a lot of room between “zero growth” and “continuous exponential growth at the same rate as currently”.

            Yes, that’s why I said “no growth to speak of” in my first reply. If you have growth on the same order of magnitude as today my argument holds. If it’s orders of magnitude smaller, that’s what we today consider “no growth to speak of”. If it’s subexponential, it’ll also fall into this category very soon. Of course this can happen, but it’s a fairly specific future scenario, and isn’t the first thing that comes to most people’s mind when they think of future, so if you think it’s inevitable it’s better to say so explicitly and with some justification. My point isn’t that we’re guaranteed to fly to other stars, but that it’s a default, that’s what we should expect if everything goes on in roughly the same way and manner it did before.

            Mayflower wasn’t even intended as an argument in the way you seem to interpreted it, I mentioned it exclusively to show how very long 400 years is. Montgolfier, on the other hand, was intended as such an argument. To continue with the analogy, any sane person of late 17th century would’ve said that to build a hundred tons plane mostly of aluminium is not technologically impossible but prohibitively expensive (they would’ve think it’s technologically impossible to make it fly but that’s another matter).

            The money you’d need to spend on sending a settlement to Mars will always be essentially wasted

            Soooo? It’s not like humans are bad at wasting money. If anything, they are way too good at it. Not even it’s necessarily a bad thing, all kinds of philanthropy and art and records are “essentially wasted money” in your terminology. And the money don’t have to be wasted, there’s a number of ways Mars settlement can give some returns to its founders, not even mentioning such banalities as prestige and research. Obvious one is someone wanting to live outside of jurisdiction of any existing government, there can be as many reasons for that as there’s people. Another one is to diversify humanity’s risks (as Musk says he wants to do). Yet another one is just to visit goddamn Mars! Many people, myself included, would’ve paid a substantial (for them) amount of money for the opportunity, so for anyone capable of providing the flight it’s an investment opportunity. Of course none of these reasons is even remotely strong enough to cover expenses in the current day, but they don’t have to be, because we are not talking about the current day. Economical growth means the average person will have more resources in the future (or at least there’ll be more persons with such desires), and there’s plenty of incentives to develop spaceflight at the moment besides going to Mars, so the technology permitting it will also become better.
            And of course all that applies to interstellar flight too, just on longer timescales.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Regarding NASA, I have no doubt that they have all kinds of neat proposals on file, but they had stated repeatedly that humans do not belong in space; and thus their main focus is on drones. SpaceX, on the other hand, is a commercial company; their goal is to make money, no matter what they say.

            My point regarding the Mayflower is that the New World is qualitatively different from Mars, not merely quantitatively. North America had (or were thought to have) a bunch of readily exploitable resources, arable land being one of them. This made the place an ideal target for colonization. Mars is the exact opposite of that.

            Your point about aluminum etc. is, I think, self-defeating. You say that people back in the Montgolfier era could could not have predicted cheap aluminum — and you’re probably right. I do not doubt that there exist some technologies that we today are unable to predict, but that’s why you can’t postulate them to make your predictions come out. Otherwise, you’re engaging in faith, not prognosis.

            Philantropy is not a waste of money (if done correctly) because you can expect a tangible return on investment; for example, X money spent equals Y% of fatal disease eliminated, or Z people/month fed. An expedition to Mars has no ROI to speak of. Yes, “diversifying humanity’s risks” is a noble ideal, but it’s not nearly as attractive as pretty much any other investment. Even Slate Star Codex readers, I think, would rather invest in other things in practice (such as preventing AI risk or whatever).

            Finally, I simply don’t share your optimism regarding unbounded economic growth. In order to finance a manned mission to Mars (not even talking about a permanent settlement !), you’d need trillions (if not tens of trillions) of dollars (in today’s units). Even in 100 years, I doubt that such resources would amount to pocket change, as you seem to be implying; and, since the mission is so financially unattractive, they’d have to amount to pocket change (in corporate terms), or else no one would spend the money.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Not only do they have proposals on file, they develop a new crewed spacecraft and support private companies doing the same, and have 3 people in space right at this moment. To me it’s significantly more evidence than you saying they said something. And if SpaceX cares of nothing but profit, than the very fact they are working on space launches means their experts think there’ll be a big market for it in the near future. And that’s what I started from – that experts in SpaceX and NASA think it’s quite possible we’ll have active space industry in the near future, and their experts are more or less the best in this field. Not that one always has to defer to experts, but it takes a substantial amount of evidence to claim that they all are wrong and one is right.

            Mayflower wasn’t even meant to be an argument and I really really should’ve gone with the Thirty years war as a time benchmark.

            So you’re saying that some drastic technological improvements will certainly appear, but we don’t know which ones. Which is equivalent to saying that the only thing we can be sure of is that things will not remain unchanged. And then you go on to assume that the things will remain unchanged. Not for 100, not for 400, but for 1000 years as per your original comment. I think there’s a flaw in this reasoning.

            Philanthropy as done by most people is not about AI risks or eliminating diseases. And I genuinely don’t understand how “people more happy because of more arts/more equality/better clothes/etc” is more tangible ROI than “people more happy because of humans finally getting to Mars”. Likewise, helping people to find God is a noble ideal and many people indeed spend a lot of money on it no matter how better those money would’ve served preventing AI risks. Not all the world thinks like SSC commentariat – or like anything actually. People are different and have different values.

            In your first reply to me you said you’re “reasonably sure [growth] can be sustained for at least 100 years.”, and now you’re saying that “you don’t share my optimism about unbounded growth”. Uncharitably, you’ve just switched your position to support your argument. Charitably, you refer to some rather specific number between 2 and 3 percents, since the upper boundary for stagnation is considered to be around these numbers so it can be interpreted as either. Is it so, and if yes what’s your reason to concentrate all the probability in such a narrow range? Also the thing is, even at 2%, one trillion of current day dollars will amount to just a few combined yearly budgets of NASA and ESA in a 100 years. Technological improvements can bring this number down, and private companies can take up parts of R&D costs, and there’s other space agencies in the world.

            Finally, to make clear my own position. I’m not saying we’re guaranteed to colonize the Solar system and fly to other stars in the next millennia. I’m saying it’s what’s most likely to happen if the humanity doesn’t screw up drastically – by which I mean either total extinction or turning into a really shitty distopia. And I think these two possibilities are at best equally likely, probably “screwed up future” is considerably more likely. But combined they take up almost all probability so if we condition on humanity surviving next 1000 years alive and reasonably well then it’s most likely we’ll be able to travel to other stars by then.

          • To continue with the analogy, any sane person of late 17th century would’ve said that to build a hundred tons plane mostly of aluminium is not technologically impossible but prohibitively expensive

            They would not have described it as “not technologically impossible.” They would have said “Aluminum? What’s that?”

            Not discovered until the 19th century.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Isn’t it amazing how in every field, it looks like the Ultimate Total Diamond-solid Limit which can never be surpassed by mere mortals always lies just outside our current abilities? Like, we can probably solve cancer but never immortality. Fly to other planets but not stars. Have about human level AI but not vastly superior AI. And so on. Of course in the past centuries people thought that this limit was just outside their current abilities, but they were obviously wrong, yet it juuust so happens that Humanity-2019 reached nearly to the limit of its abilities in, well, everything.

      Sarcasm mode off, I think there’s a certain bias among most people to think like that (don’t know if there’s an official name for it) – they think in terms of slightly improved modern technology rather than long-term trends and physical limitations, and, naturally, end up with slightly improved modern technology. It’s obvious why it happens – saying that we’ll never go far beyond our current state sounds all wise and mature and reasonable and sceptical and other high status things. While if you believe that people can do something nobody ever seen, you’re obviously naive and young and gullible and otherwise low-status. But it’s no less frustrating because of that.

      As for the implementation, beam-powered propulsion and nuclear explosions were already mentioned and I’ll add that fusion drive is outside current technology but not physics and so is antimatter. And economy-wise, if we assume that such an effort would cost entire world’s GDP today and assume current growth rate, in about 250 years it’ll cost about the same fraction of the world’s GDP that NASA uses today, assuming no price drop due to technological advancements.

      • Bugmaster says:

        You mock, but sometimes such limits really do exist. For example, we can travel faster than walking; we can travel faster than a bird; we can even travel faster than sound… but we will never be able to travel faster than light.

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          Yes and we’re not even remotely near 1% of that limit which is precisely my point. Where physical limits do exist, they are so insanely huge that speaking even of 1% of them sounds like sci-fi. The fact that limits exist and are known doesn’t mean that you can assume them to be anything you like, it means exactly the opposite.

    • Sure, just get your standard O’Niel Cylinder, store enough nuclear fuel to last through the journey, and push it. What’s really hard is going fast, but that’s just a plus, not a must-have. It’d be a bit like premodern people calculating the distance across the ocean, realizing it would take 3 months, and then arguing over whether it was technologically feasible to bring it down to a week or less.

    • WayUpstate says:

      Not a direct answer to your question but I find the most serious discussions of the science behind interstellar travel here – The moderator for this blog does not hype any idea but is quick to point out the difficulty of any particular approach. I’m impressed with both the quality of the contributors and the feasibility (both positive and negative) applied by the moderator to new or updated proposals. There are a lot of smart people thinking about how we can get out of our solar system. Whenever I get in a funk about how inconsistent we, as a nation, have been about seeking to free ourselves of this rock and the pathetic (public) investments we’ve made since Apollo 17, I flip over to Centauri Dreams and am reminded there are lots of people out there that haven’t lost their ability to long for something more.

    • proyas says:

      Organic humans like us will probably never visit other star systems, but the intelligent machines we build someday probably will.

      • MrApophenia says:

        This was my thought. And if it turns out to be possible to upload human minds to a computer, interplanetary space travel by something which is arguably human suddenly becomes a hell of a lot more practical.

        • proyas says:

          It’s also possible that humans could be “assembled” on exoplanets as opposed to being transported there, whole body, from Earth. A tiny Von Neumann Probe would travel from Earth to the exoplanet, and then basically build a cloning lab that would make human zygotes from raw materials. The Probe would have some number of full human genomes in its files and would program the DNA of the zygotes to match.

          I’m not sure why this would be done, unless humans in our Solar System were all dead and the species needed to be resurrected elsewhere. I can’t assign odds to it happening.

  50. theredsheep says:

    I’d like to introduce my eldest son to the original Star Wars trilogy for Xmas; is it possible to get a copy that’s decent-quality but doesn’t have Greedo missing from three feet, ghost Hayden Christensen, goofy CGI musicals in Jabba’s throne room, etc.? I’ve heard some fan made what many people consider the “ideal” cut, but obviously that’s not available commercially. In fact, I’m guessing the answer to this question is a general “no,” but I thought I’d ask.

    • The Nybbler says:

      As far as I know the best available copy of the ORIGINAL original is the Laserdisc version. Good luck finding it and a working Laserdisc player. An MP4 copy of this is probably locatable on the usual alternative sources.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      There’s an article somewhere* about a father who made a tremendous project of introducing his sons to Star Wars, including somehow keeping them away from spoilers.

      *in other words, a quick search didn’t turn it up, and I’m hoping someone remembers it well enough to find it.

    • achenx says:

      Not commerically, but there is a fan edit called the “Despecialized Edition” that is a cleaned-up version of the original trilogy. Can probably find it online somewhere. I actually just introduced my oldest to the original the other day, using that version.

    • acymetric says:

      You can try to track down a VHS copy. There is also a DVD set out there somewhere that has the original unaltered movies as bonus content. Those may not pass your “decent quality” test as they would just be the original un-touched-up versions but they also don’t have any of the annoying edits (in addition to the whole Han-Greedo thing, the real damage was done in RotJ with the terrible song at Jabba’s palace and the bad ending song as well). Either of these options will also probably be somewhat pricey as they are no longer in production and people want them.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      As you’ve guessed, the originals in good quality are available only through backchannels. IMO, getting them this way is ethically unimpeachable, as long as you buy the commercially released ones too. For episodes 4 and 6, the best available versions were created by a group of dedicated fans who bought and digitized old 35mm prints. The search keywords to find them are 4k77 and 4k83. They’re not as polished as a studio release would be, but they still look pretty damn good.

      4k80 (episode 5) is still in progress; for that one, you have other options, including the Despecialized Edition mentioned above (which is reconstructed from various sources, as opposed to scannned from film).

    • MrApophenia says:

      Along the lines of the Despecialized Edition, for my money the best fan edit of A New Hope is Adywan’s Star Wars Revisited.

      It’s a labor of love by one person, so he’s been working on it for years and the only one he has done so far is the first one, but it’s very impressive – he didn’t just edit out the changes in the Special Editions, he did a bunch of additional remastering which improved the visual quality even further while restoring the original content.

      He has been working on Empire Strikes Back for years, and I see on the site now he is working on upgrading A New Hope to HD, since his original work was done on the DVD version.

    • Lambert says:

      Pretend to be a cinema and see if you can get the 35mm?

  51. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links post:
    Riverine warfare has continued, with the last part on China and a look at Europe and the Middle East.

    Continuing my visual tour of the Iowa, I’ve posted some pictures of officer’s country.

    Lastly, I’ve continued my series on aerial weapons with a look at JDAM, the mainstay of the US’s arsenal today.

    (Yes, it’s sequelville this time.)

  52. zenojjones says:

    My friend and I were watching Ken Burn’s country music and started asking each other “What happened to protest music? Is it just me or is it not as good as it used to be?” I looked into it and learned quickly that I was wrong.

    The New Protest Song

    I was taking the assumptions and expectations of the older protest songs that I was familiar with and tried applying them to the new, more complex songs from today. On top of complexity, new artists write protest songs just like any other song- with a more individualistic approach. We looked at individualism vs collectivism, how it isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, and how both can be used to call to action for a protester. I still love older music more than newer music, but I learned to appreciate where newer music was coming from and that made me able to appreciate the music itself.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ll suggest that popular music has moved away from melody to a large extent (definitely tell me if I’m wrong– with examples because I like melody), and this means the skills for writing a memorable melody aren’t as common.

      • Urstoff says:

        The rise of hip hop has de-emphasized melody in a lot of songs, but there’s still tons of pop music that is melody-based (it would be surprising if this weren’t the case). See, for example, Ariana Grande or Taylor Swift, two of the biggest pop stars in the world.

        Although I’m not sure how you’d get evidence for the proposition that there are fewer people that can write a good melody these days.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Recent Taylor is definitely trending towards less melodic songs, though.

        • AG says:

          What I find, though, is that for these top pop artists, the one lead single on the album with the great melody is written by Max Martin or one of his proteges, and then the rest are significantly less melodic and less good.

          • Urstoff says:

            Sure, but hasn’t that been true of pop music since it’s inception in the 50’s? It’s always been single-oriented, even if the artists still feel compelled to put out albums with non-single tracks on them for some reason. I’m really surprised the domination of streaming hasn’t led to more artists shifting from albums to EPs or singles only.

      • gettin_schwifty says:

        In the vein of “it’s not popular, but I think it should be,” I’ll recommend The Cactus Blossoms. It’s country pop but not at all like what you’d hear on the radio. The pop is more in the Everly Brothers style than anything modern. My favorite song is “Powder Blue,” so that’s as good a place as any to start.

        Edit: They have good melodies, I somehow didn’t mention the main point. Perhaps that got across with the Everly Brothers comparison.

    • cassander says:

      What happened to protest music?

      the genre reached perfection

    • J says:

      It’s not about singing along, but Flobots “Fight With Tools” is a pretty great album with an activist bent, including their most well known song “No Handlebars”

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I just heard Handlebars and it’s quite a song. Surprisingly, it isn’t about the relatively recent lack of respect for expertise which has led to a CW condition.

  53. The Nybbler says:

    In my area, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey has been running ads suggesting that you shouldn’t allow your teenager to be given opioids for wisdom tooth removal or a broken bone. As far as I know, there’s no credible information that use of opioids for acute short-term pain result in a serious risk for dependence, so I’d say the crisis is exaggerated, though that says more about the drug warriors than the crisis.

    As for the part tying the heroin and fentanyl crises to prescription opioids, when I’ve tracked down the claim in the past, it’s ultimately ended up at a survey of recreational opioid addicts which said that while the majority of them started with prescription drugs, they weren’t _their own_ prescriptions. While this is a link between prescription drugs and opioid abuse, it’s not the link the drug warriors often claim.

    • albatross11 says:

      It looks to me like we’re in the middle of a moral panic on opioids, with the usual accompanying phenomenon where people make a lot of unreasonable or untrue claims in public, but nobody wants to call them on it in public, because then they’d be off-message during the moral panic and probably get yelled at. A lower-intensity version of this is happening with vaping.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The vaping thing is apparently Bloomberg-driven puritanism. I still haven’t heard of any deaths that weren’t related to ersatz juice.

        • keaswaran says:

          I hadn’t heard of Bloomberg being involved in the vaping scare. I wouldn’t have expected him to be involved since his previous public health campaigns have been very much about looking at the health problems that affect the largest numbers of people, and that’s still smoking and related cancers rather than vaping and the acute injuries it might be connected to.

          • The Nybbler says:

            He’s involved

            It makes much more sense if you view Bloomberg’s goal as micromanaging people’s behavior and public health as a means to that end rather than vice-versa.

          • keaswaran says:

            The Nybbler – that article seems to show that Bloomberg is *not* interested in banning vaping. Some legislators want to introduce complete bans on vaping that would stop people from using them to quit smoking, while he only wants to ban the flavored products that encourage people to start using nicotine.

      • Jaskologist says:

        There may be a moral panic, but there’s a real underlying problem as well. Life expectancy is dropping, and that’s driven in large part by “deaths of despair” like opioid overdoses. I personally know several families who have lost a son to ODing.

        • Randy M says:

          But that seems confusing a symptom with a cause. If one is in existential pain, ODing on opioids may be a pleasant way to fade to oblivion; but if one is in physical pain, being denied effective pain relief may be a cause for that existential pain.

          (But FLWAB’s story down-thread is probably a better consideration than this!)

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      Are broken bones typically considered painful enough to require opioids? That’s not my experience in the UK (which is not to say that the drug warriors are correct).

      • Majuscule says:

        Pain being so highly subjective, I wouldn’t dare presume to know what injuries or procedures are “painful enough” to warrant strong painkillers. I made it through wisdom tooth extraction and even a c-section without taking the vicodin or percoset I was prescribed. It seemed pretty reasonable that they gave me the option, though- who would come out of major surgery thinking they’d feel fine with just some Advil? And who would have the nerve to assume someone else could do the same? I suppose this is why it’s so hard for even doctors to figure out what’s actually required and why it’s so easy for for ideas like “pseudoaddiction” to warp our view of things.

      • theredsheep says:

        I was given Percocet after my wisdom teeth came out, and used them mostly so I could sleep at night without the distracting pain. As I recall, they made me pleasantly sleepy, more or less, but not in a way that I felt tempted to abuse them. I can say it would have sucked to try and go through that without the opiates.

      • Theodoric says:

        I was given Peroccet when my wisdom teeth were removed. I did not like how it made me feel (like my mind was in a fog) and I only took it because it was better than completely feeling like I had my teeth ripped out. I remember wondering how people got addicted to the stuff.

      • Garrett says:

        Maybe? When I had my wisdom teeth out, I was given a prescription for Tylenol #3 (acetaminophen/paracetamol with codeine), to take 1 every 6 hours. They were oh so slowly doled out by my mother. After a day or so of being in pain I could barely tolerate, she phoned the doctor who said it was okay to take 1 every 4 hours which was far better.

        The problem is that how much pain is generated by a particular broken bone and how that pain impacts someone are all vastly different. I personally find the 0-10 pain scale stupid and prefer to look at it functionally – what does the pain stop you from doing? On the short term, if it’s a case of “it hurts when I bang my leg”, just stop doing that. If it prevents you from sleeping or from being able to think enough to perform basic tasks it almost certainly benefits from pain management.

      • bean says:

        I got Tylenol 3 when I broke my arm. I was only on it for maybe a day, and I spent most of that day really out of it. For wisdom teeth, got hydrocodone, which worked pretty well for a couple days without knocking me out nearly as badly as the Tylenol 3 did. In neither case did I come close to finishing the bottle. This was in 2008 and 2011 respectively, so I have no idea what they do today.

        • albatross11 says:

          I remember getting some kind of codeine thing for my wisdom tooth extraction, and it was awful–it didn’t completely deaden my pain, but it did make me too stupid to distract myself reading. Ugh.

    • FLWAB says:

      I don’t have an answer, but I do have an anecdote!

      I got my wisdom teeth extracted when I was about fifteen or so, and the doc gave me some strong tylenol and a generous prescription for oxycodone. I didn’t feel any pain in the affected area after the surgery (guess the drugs did their job!) Regardless, I took the oxycodone as prescribed (I think it was every twelve hours?) without fail. After all, it was medicine. You’re supposed to follow the doctors instructions, right?

      Anyway I had enough for several weeks. And after two weeks I noticed that I was looking more and more forward to when it was time to take the oxy. And that for a period of time after taking it I just felt good. Warm and happy, like there was a little sun inside my chest, filling my whole body with warmth and cheerfulness. And I started to notice that in the hours before it was time to take my pill I was getting more and more irritable. I remembered hearing on the news how Rush Limbaugh had been arrested for some kind of violation related to an Oxycontin addiction, and all the news coverage had come with the usual tv newscasters warning the public of the danger of addiction. So with that in mind I decided to play it safe and dump the rest of my Oxycodone. Better safe than sorry: I was raised in a very anti-addiction, teetotaler, just say no household, and I didn’t want to end up an “addict.” I put that in scare quotes because I didn’t know much about addiction at the time beyond that you didn’t want to end up as one of them.

      So…should that dentist have prescribed me a months supply of Oxycodone for wisdom teeth? Well no: I probably didn’t even need a weeks worth. But then again, most people are not me. And was I in real danger of stumbling into opiod addiction? I have no idea. I am very risk-adverse by nature, so I was probably going to be worried about becoming an addict regardless. Then again, if I hadn’t seen that news story about Rush then I probably would have dutifully kept taking my oxy until the prescription ran out, because that’s what I thought you were supposed to do when a doctor prescribes you medicine.

    • aho bata says:

      Are you talking about one specific survey? Could you link to it?

    • aiju says:

      When I had my wisdom teeth removed in Germany, all I got was high-strength ibuprofen, which worked reasonably well. I was a bit surprised to hear they hand out opioids for this in the states.

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      I had my wisdom teeth removed in my late teens, in California. I wasn’t as far as I can tell taking notes, so I’m trusting my memory here, but I don’t think I was even offered anything prescription – possible there was a prescription Mom could have filled if I needed it and didn’t because I didn’t, but I would remember taking anything unusual. My memory suggests I didn’t take anything – though I might have forgotten if I’d been taking tylenol or advil briefly. I had been warned that it would hurt horrendously and I wouldn’t eat anything with more texture than mashed potatoes and ice cream for a week; in fact I remember it as a bit of an ache, and the most notable effect being my mouth tasting like blood. I think I was back to normal, or at least a workable approximation thereof, in three to four days. I remember thinking the whole thing was much more minor than I’d been lead to believe.

      I had an unusually good experience – everyone agreed on that. Everyone also seemed to agree that the experience varied a lot, with me near one end of the curve and my mom (who was eating nothing with more texture than mashed potatoes and ice cream for a week) at the other. But FWIW, I certainly didn’t need opiods (which was fine, because I didn’t get any). This may not be a one-size-fits-all problem, in either direction.

      • JayT says:

        I had mine out around the same time, and I had a not particularly good experience(they had to break the teeth up into pieces), but I was back to eating normal food the next day. They did give me a whole bunch of Vicodin, but I think I only took one or two.

        • xenon says:

          I also had a pretty poor experience (wisdom teeth were in a tricky spot and were pushing out back molars, and had a post-op infection) but also was eating mostly normally in a few days, and despite the dentist giving me a 5-pill script for Vicodin, I never used them. I do have a pretty high pain tolerance, but it’s always been kind of surprising to me that other people need opioids after wisdom tooth extraction.

          Then again, one of my dogs needed to go on morphine after he was neutered because he was apparently in such overwhelming pain from a surgery most dogs recover from so quickly the hard part is keeping them still enough they don’t tear out their stitches…maybe experiences of pain are just that divergent.

          • Elissa says:

            Experiences of pain are incredibly varied, from what I (internal medicine doc) can tell. Opioid tolerance seems to make this worse. I have seen an addicted patient moaning and rocking and crying in pain from a garden-variety UTI.

  54. Elissa says:

    Thanks Cygnet; that comment pissed me off too. You unfortunately did also spell carfentanil wrong.

    • imoimo says:

      I feel justified now for taking the CPlusPlusDeveloper post with a grain of salt. I wanted to update strongly from it but it felt too one-sided. I am hoping for the discussion to continue though if there’s more to say.

      • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

        To me it looked like all the illustrations were about a more limited point «people with chronic pain [now I see one needs to require no prior addiction record] are an easily detectable group, and they are forced to suffer for reasons not actually applicable to this group».

        Then the criticism looks like a completely natural demand to not claim anything beyond the scope of evidence.

        Then I read the stories in another thread about opioids being prescribed for wisdom tooth removal without also offering a lighter option. These stories do sound like a problem with acute pain treatment.

        So all this gives me an impression that «opioids are overused for acute pain and underused for chronic pain but this is too much nuance to build a moral panic around». What are the main missing details in this picture?

  55. theodidactus says:

    We’re now 3 weeks in to IFComp #25,the 25th year of the largest and longest-running interactive fiction competition.

    This year, the variety and quality of games is absolutely unsurpassed: we’ve got old-school text-based puzzlers, murder mysteries, and absurd-comedic CYOA’s like you’d find on clickhole.

    As a contestant, I can’t tell you which games to play, but I can tell you that if you play and rate five games, you’ll officially have your scores recorded to determine the winner.

    I can also tell you about my game, which I’ve been working on for about 3 years now: Skybreak! is an utterly enormous choice-based RPG in a surreal science-fantasy setting. It’s the largest game I’ve made to date. Those who’ve played my previous games know my signature tends to be big, doomy settings where you die a lot…not this time.

    • Aftagley says:

      As a contestant, I can’t tell you which games to play, but I can tell you that if you play and rate five games, you’ll officially have your scores recorded to determine the winner.

      Knowing you can’t officially tell us which games to play, could you *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge* accidentally say a list of words that might correspond to a fairly good selection of titles to check out? I tried just hitting random and playing the first couple to pop up, but I kept getting unlucky and ending up with 3 games in a row that I absolutely loathed.

  56. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Discussions of the effects of badly thought-out electronic forms on medical practice, with emphasis on inadequate ability to accept information about side effects which aren’t allergies.

    Procrustean Epistemologies
    Part 1: The Allergy Problem

    Procrustean Epistemologies, Pt 2: Power’s Deformation of Data I found the middle section of this one too stressful to read– it’s is about the emotional effects of being expected to provide information one hasn’t got and/or that one thinks is wrong.

    Procrustean Epistemologies
    Metalogue 1: I Live Here

    Not to nag, but siderea has a Patreon, and the money she gets from it improves her quality of life and enables her to spend more time writing. This is a hint.

    • Majuscule says:

      Having worked on medical taxonomies and forms for collecting data professionally, I can tell you that designing something better than EPIC is in no way a simple task. Granted, some of the problems are business model problems; one company has a dynamite medical taxonomy which I’m sure identifies this person’s well-documented condition as a reaction rather than an allergy and it might be cool if EPIC systems could refer to that. But not only does EPIC probably not want to pay to license and implement that taxonomy in all of its already hilariously complicated software, but it might do more harm than good.

      The end user here is the staff providing direct care, and the question is “For how many users does a technical distinction between an allergy and a reaction *actually matter*?” Making the doctors and nurses go through the added step of distinguishing between allergies and reactions might cause more user error and harm significantly more people than it helps. After all, the information the nurse needs to avoid aggravating this lady’s skin isn’t “skin reaction is not literally an allergy” but an all-caps warning to “BATHE PATIENT ONLY WITH X”. So what is needed isn’t a system that makes meaningful distinctions between allergies and reactions, but something that generates a *care plan* in plain English that everyone can easily understand and review.

      Simplicity isn’t “dumbed down” if it avoids bombarding your night nurse with information that might be relevant to your doctor, but isn’t helpful in your moment-to-moment care. It’s distinctions like this that I think are most sorely missing from the development of systems like this. People who design this stuff are like me, basically librarians and software developers, and we tend to think about perfection and completeness before functionality or ease of use. They also tend to assume that there is a like mind on the other end of the system when most human beings don’t operate this way.

      The developers also don’t necessarily know much about the field they’re working for; my husband used to build medical software, and the only person on their entire 100-person staff with medical training was a nurse who was referred to for basically everything. It was much easier to ask her than to ask the end-users, who are generally terrible at describing their own needs (although they’re still better than anyone else). Even so, a lot of what got rolled out was simply the “common sense” of people without medical training. Software companies continue to be mediocre at best at walking their clients through analyzing their own requirements, if indeed their contracts let them do so. So you end up with codes and constraints to prevent human error in places where they prevent the collection of accurate information, and technical jargon where plain language would be much better, and no one actually empowered to correct the situation. Stuff also gets pushed out to the end users without adequate warning or training, which might be a far bigger problem than anything else. I hear this over and over again from everyone I know who works in a hospital and can’t imagine how much damage it causes.

      The big institutions that commission big systems (hospitals, governments) always seem to have organizational and budgetary constraints that lead to “all-in-ones” that are overly complicated and time-consuming and ultimately dangerously confusing. You also have the issue that in the US, the idea of standards of care may differ from hospital to hospital, so what you build for one client health system might need to be heavily modified for another. Most of the content for indications for medicines and treatments still needs to be crafted by hand, reviewed by experts, and arranged to show up only in specific contexts.

      That’s incredibly expensive and difficult, if you can even find people qualified to do it who want to work on software rather than as medical professionals. People who spend years in medical school and who love clinical practice seldom want to bail on that career to become software product owners instead. Pharmaceutical companies might have this easier since there is a better supply of people who get fried on research during their PhDs and who are happy to get paid well to write and collaborate with labs.

      Even so, all of the technical and diagnostic stuff could in theory be rationalized behind the scenes. If companies had financial incentives to share the data structures they’ve already built, that might help, but it’s still a lot of work. But I think what is really what is needed is two different things, two related uses of the same data: the patient and their doctors need a way to understand the exact mechanics of their condition and its treatment, while the nurse needs only a basic diagnosis but a detailed care plan with a crystal-clear instruction to “USE THIS SOAP”.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I think siderea touched on this issue when she wrote about people’s default ideas about allergies (nothing allergenic should be given because allergies are deadly), but she didn’t make the point explicitly.

        Does this mess overlap with James C. Scott? It seems like a destructive effort as legibility.

    • Garrett says:

      I run into similar problems when I have to fill out trip sheets for EMS runs. For patients who fall, there is an attempt to capture what kind of fall. From a ladder? Tripping or stumbling? Falling out of a chair? But there is no option for “fell out of the bed of a pickup truck”. You know: if you are standing in the back working on something and then fall overboard. But there *is* an option for “fall from an occupied spacecraft”. I’m desperately hoping to use that at some point.

      On the other hand, I agree with the allergies issue. I get a lot of people who tell me they have allergies to something, but when I ask them what happens, most of them say something like “it gives me gas” or “causes headaches”. I care about allergies because they can be immediately life-threatening, and more importantly, lead to legal liability. But if you tell me that you have an allergy to aspirin, I’m going to think twice about giving it to you if you are having a heart attack. Which is bad because it’s one of the few things which can be done which improves outcomes in heart attacks.

      I think the best option at this point is that every field should support an “other” option where something can be typed in manually. Which is only rarely available.

  57. sty_silver says:

    At one point I made a post in an open thread explaining a pet theory of mine. The theory is that the phonetic sound of words in particular languages is a major factor in shaping the discourse in the respective countries, and will generally have large causal effects. So for example, the word “evidence” sounds pretty cool and has very concise meaning in English (which is cleanly differentiated to the word “proof”). Now, typing

    Correlation is evidence but not proof of causation

    into google translate, the german version is “Die Korrelation ist ein Beweis, aber kein Beweis für die Kausalität”; basically “The correlation is a proof but no proof of causation.” On the other hand, Leo gives “Anzeichen” and “Hinweis” as the first two translations of evidence, before “Beweis”, which makes a lot more sense, but it doesn’t sound good at all. I claim this demonstrates my theory, because google translate prefers the good-sounding word over the more accurate word, and people are going to do the same, all the time. Anyway, last time I presented this, most people who responded didn’t buy it. But this theory feels more and more obviously true to me the more I think about it, so I want to make another, longer case for it.

    Most people implicitly have a model where everyone reasons strictly bottom-up. We think of what we want to say, then we choose the best approximation that’s achievable using language, then we say it. But this model is obviously false! We know (well, unless all those studies don’t replicate) that there is stuff like Rhyme-as-reason effect. But more generally, people want to say things that sound good. Putting words into the correct order is an art; poetry is largely about doing this in a way that sounds good, and we can enjoy the results immensely. I can report from the first-person experience that I’m not above getting into something purely because of the sound the words make and then later thinking a lot about what it means. I can also report that I’ve written things before that were primarily motivated by the sound of the words, and there were even instances where I’ve looked up some of them afterward.

    And even more generally, most people most of the time in most situations are just winging it. Most people do not consciously optimize anything, even stuff that would be extremely beneficial to optimize. Over the course of my life, I’ve updated downwards countless times on how much conscious thought I ascribe to people’s actions most of the time. On the topic of opinions, David McRaney puts it like this:

    We carry around what you would almost consider a meta belief. We have a belief about our belief, and that belief that we have about our belief is that we have acted like Gandalf and gone down into the bowels of whatever academic source and we’ve pored over the data and we’ve looked at all the original documents and we’ve written in our journal, a-ha, this is what I think about this. But we’ve never really actually done that for most things. Instead, we just had a belief that we’ve done that, and we have this emotionally charged opinion that is almost — it seems the purpose for having this opinion is to not have to spend time thinking about it. It’s heuristical.

    So on the topic of speech, it seems misguided to think the causal arrow goes exclusively in one direction, from the internal point to the language we use to express it. Certainly, that is part of the direction, but there also has to be a part – a big part! – that goes the other way. What we say is partially determined by the point we want to make and partially by what sounds good. Then after we said it, insofar as it diverts from the point we wanted to make, we rationalize it. (Although I want to bracket that I totally grant the existence of particular people for whom the causal arrow only goes one way, like Julia Galef. It’s just not the default mode.)

    Take GPT-2 as another demonstration, plus the claim that the way it learns is similar to how children learn. I think most people – certainly this was true for me at some point – would have expected an AI learning to write stuff to learn very much from the bottom up. Make elementary connections, then make more complex connections, and work up from there. But that’s not at all what GPT-2 does. It gets the very primitive level right (correct grammar) and it gets the high level right (correct style; it reliably recognizes whether it’s supposed to write a journal entry, a blog post, a newspaper article, or code etc. ). If it fails, it tends to be in between, in terms of the coherence between sentences.

    Another piece of evidence are, I think, the kinds of memes that can become popular. Think of “You can’t be reasoned out of a belief you haven’t been reasoned into” or “saying you have black friends makes you a racist”. I’d argue that both of these (and there are far more examples you could use) are just obviously completely false, but they’re quite popular. This seems to make a lot more sense in a model where the sound of words is a major factor in what is actually said.

    So given all of that, does the fact that “science” and “scientist” sound really crisp and cool and “Wissenschaft” sounds academic and boring and “Wissenschaftler” even more so change the way people will talk, which will then causally up-stream change all sorts of things? I can barely imagine otherwise. My favorite example is probably this quote from HPMoR, which is utterly impossible to translate into German. You cannot “do” Wissenschaft period, let alone with someone. It’s a word that only describes an academic thing, not a philosophy or an activity.

    You were doing SCIENCE with him? You were supposed to be doing science with ME! 

    So what do you think? Am I really off on this one?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’m willing to bet that people easily default to cliches, and cliches need to sound at least reasonably good or they wouldn’t become cliches, but I’m not sure how much discourse is shaped by search for euphony.

    • Maybe you have an unusually strong sense of the quality of a word, like a sort of synesthesia. For me and I’d assume most people, the vast majority of language is just neutral. Like, I totally don’t get how “science” is a “crisp, cool” word and “Wissenschaft” is an “academic, boring” word. They’re both just words. Your argument doesn’t work for me because the underlying perceptions you refer to just aren’t relatable.

      WRT GPT-2, you have a one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens situation. The fact that GPT-2 is obviously just working on a linguistic level and not achieving any semantic coherency in its writing is why I’m skeptical that artificial general intelligence can be achieved via an extension of its approach.

      • sty_silver says:

        Could be true; I’m not aware that my sense is unusually strong, though.

        Do you care at all about poetry? Have you ever heard something that you found truly fascinating just based on the arrangement of words?

        • I appreciate some poetry (not that much) but it’s difficult to extricate appreciation of the sound of worlds themselves from their meanings. Even if you are reading text without necessarily interpreting it as a coherent prosaic narrative, the meanings and connotations of individual words/phrases can contribute the aesthetic of the text in a similar way to their phonetic makeup, such that one feels that the text’s quality lies in its language (as opposed to its content) but it is still based on the more cross-linguistically universal semantics of words rather than their phonetics. So I don’t see appreciation of poetry or fascinating language as necessarily indicative of the perceptions you describe.

    • teneditica says:

      It’s definitely a struggle to express something like “evidence but not proof” in german. Still your examples only show that some things are easier to express in english, but you don’t talk about how that influences the views of english vs. german speakers.

      Thinking about how views differ based on language, the only example I can think of is continental vs analytic philosophy. Maybe that french as a language sounds beautiful explains that there is so much bullshit in french philosophy.

      • sty_silver says:

        It’s definitely a struggle to express something like “evidence but not proof” in german. Still your examples only show that some things are easier to express in english, but you don’t talk about how that influences the views of english vs. german speakers.

        Isn’t the only thing you need, after accepting that, that people will spend more time talking about things that are easier to express?

        I don’t think I would predict any particular difference in expert consensus. There are probably some, but I wouldn’t be confident about where, how often it happens, and in which direction it goes. If I had to make a testable prediction, it would be about the amount of times certain things are mentioned in different languages. And the effect is probably stronger outside of academia.

    • Lambert says:

      Isn’t this just Sapir-Whorf?
      Popular in the 20th c. but now more or less debunked.
      With the exception that when anthropomorphising objects, people who speak gendered languages will adopt a higher tone of voice with female objects than male ones.

      • sty_silver says:

        I’d have to read more about this before I can give a confident answer. From looking over the article, it seems like the idea that language influences opinions is similar, but the reasons and predictions are different. I don’t see the argument based on immediate gratification, which is core to my theory. I would not predict any macro effects of one language vs another, but many significant “local” effects based on particular words and phrases.

      • xenon says:

        The strong version Sapir-Whorf (you cannot think of things your language cannot describe) is thoroughly debunked, for obvious reasons, but the weak version (your language has some influence on your cognitive processes) has turned out to have some interesting but probably meaningless effects–Chinese speakers tend of think of time passing up-to-down, English speakers left-to-right, likely in reference to the direction of their writing systems; different cultures break the color wheel in different ways; speakers of languages with absolute directions–east, west–instead of relative directions–left, right–do seem to be much better at knowing which direction they’re facing relative to the compass points.

        • Skivverus says:

          The hypothesis may have limited empirically codified evidence, but that the effects it refers to are dramatic and obvious: consider programming in one language rather than another. You can write out your code in assembly, but it’s a lot harder for most things than Python. More subtly, you can use nested if-then statements, or you can use case statements, and the computer won’t care either way.

          Or, consider conversational written English, versus legalese, or versus texting and emojis.

          I’d suggest an intermediate Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: languages differ in which expressed concepts’ complexity exceeds the capacity of human working memory. Concepts exceeding that threshold in a given language will not occur, or will occur much slower, to speakers of that language under ordinary circumstances.

          From the other end, languages have finite vocabularies (bounded by learning time if nothing else), and assigning/importing a name to a previously complex concept takes time. (Evidence: CW topics)

          • albatross11 says:

            I think Steve Sailer has a nice take on this–basically, having a term for something makes it easier to think about and discuss. It’s common enough to invent or import new terms when you need them, so probably most of the time this isn’t a huge long-term barrier, but if you want to explain why you think some proposal doesn’t make sense, it’s a lot easier if you can use terms/concepts like moral hazard or hate hoax to describe them to someone else.


            I wonder about the impact on thought/discussion of having words and concepts that are tabooed or are especially favored. It seems like having a lot of complicated language taboos around a given topic makes it harder to discuss, but I don’t know where we’d look for data one way or another.

          • Nick says:


            I wonder about the impact on thought/discussion of having words and concepts that are tabooed or are especially favored. It seems like having a lot of complicated language taboos around a given topic makes it harder to discuss, but I don’t know where we’d look for data one way or another.

            Scott wrote about this and related things in Can It Be Wrong to Crystallize Patterns.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Scott Adams has said that no one ever recognizes themselves as the pointy-haired boss, but if someone says that an idea sounds like something out of Dilbert, it’s immediately and permanently shot down.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m not sure that it’s the sound of words so much as the fact that the words actually have different meanings.

      Taking your example of the English word science and the German word Wissenschaft, while the dictionary defines them both as science the actual meaning from what I understand (as a non-native German speaker) is subtly different.

      One traditional division in German is between the Naturwissenschaften which refers to the natural sciences and the Geistwissenschaften which refers to the “spiritual sciences” or humanities. The English word science as generally understood excludes fully half of the academic disciplines which a German would naturally consider a part of Wissenschaft. Science in English is tied to the scientific method but Wissenschaft in German can refer to virtually any academic pursuit from theology to particle physics.

      • albatross11 says:

        One place I wonder about this: in English, it’s easy to distinguish the difference between safety and security engineering. The security system keeps people from coming in without being authorized; the safety system makes sure they can get out in a fire. In many other languages (Spanish and Portuguese included), it’s the same word for both.

        Does this change anything about how people think about the two?

        • Ohforfs says:

          Does this change anything about how people think about the two?

          Certainly not, although it might be source of a confusion if context is insuffiecent. But that’s trivial statement about benefits and costs of more words in a language.

        • Lambert says:

          Also free as in beer vs free as in speech.
          (gratis vs libre)

        • Protagoras says:

          Another difference between English and German (and with other languages sometimes one way, sometimes the other; I don’t know a lot of other examples) is that German has different words for propositional knowledge (knowing that; wissen) and knowing by acquaintance (like knowing a person; kennen). Philosophers of language take the fact that some languages have two different words as particularly clear evidence that there’s a genuine ambiguity in English, but I have no idea if there’s any noticable difference in how people think between the languages with an ambiguous word vs. those with two words.

          • Aapje says:

            The difference allows you to distinguish between ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing of’ with a single word. In German and Dutch (which is similar), as well as English:

            Ich kenne es / Ik ken het / I know of it
            Ich weiß es / Ik weet het / I know it

            Note that Google translate uses English as an intermediate language, so if you translate “Ik ken het” to German, you get “Ich weiß es,” which is incorrect.

            I don’t think that there is an actual difference in what you can express, but that the main advantage is that you are less dependent on context and have less need to use very different sentence constructs to indicate the difference. The Dutch/German variant is probably less error-prone and quicker to read than English & leads to fewer lengthy sentences to clarify the difference (that use words like ‘familiar’).

          • Statismagician says:

            French has something like this as well; ‘savoir’ for concrete knowledge and ‘connaitre’ for familiar knowledge – you ‘savoir’ mathematics, you ‘connaitre’ Bill the postman.

            (Verbs deliberately not conjugated.)

      • Ohforfs says:

        Taking your example of the English word science and the German word Wissenschaft, while the dictionary defines them both as science

        I find it strangely amusing. The fact that science is defined as science, i mean.

        Surely, we should have used third language for that?

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Haha ok fair, I was being imprecise.

          I meant that if you go to an English-to-German dictionary or a web translation service it says something like “Wissenschaft (n) – Science” instead of elaborating on how the German term can refer to academia more broadly while the English term is more narrow. That’s appropriate for what people use those dictionaries for but if you consulted the Oxford English Dictionary or it’s German equivalent they wouldn’t define the word in terms of itself.

      • Protagoras says:

        Also, the German word contains a modern German word for knowledge (an overly literal translation would be something like knowership, on the model of leadership or similar words), while the English word is derived from a Latin word for knowledge. Perhaps this encourages Germans to apply it to a wider variety of knowledge-related things, while for English-speakers, mostly ignorant of Latin, it is just its own thing without any obvious connections or dependencies.

      • Watchman says:

        You can use science correctly in English for the humanities, although it would be confusing to do so. Science has a general meaning of knowledge (deriving from its source, Latin scientia), which has become more focused on particular fields, the natural sciences (the exact translation of Naturwissenshaften). Not sure why this change of meaning has almost happened in English, but in is not wrong to see science as a complete translation of Wissenschaften,.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The counterpart of the natural sciences are the social sciences, which are a much more restricted set than the humanities or Geistwissenschaften.

          Sociology and anthropology are social sciences, but nobody would call music theory or philosophy sciences. You need at least a pretense to following the scientific method, which most scholarship lacks.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          I think that “you can correctly use X to mean Y, though no one will understand you” is equivalent to “X used to mean Y, but the language evolved and it no longer does.” You’re correct about the etymology (I think), but the fact that the words used to be closer in meaning doesn’t make the modern translation any better.

    • pochti says:

      I do think people are probably a little biased towards more euphonic statements, but I’m skeptical about the impact. Any language will have multiple ways to express most ideas, one of which will at least sound ok. If there isn’t, a native speaker may invent one – after all, “science” wasn’t a verb in English until recently. Plus, what sounds good to the majority of native English speakers is probably going to be different from what sounds different to the majority of native German speakers.

    • I’m reminded of the first two lines of a poem written by another student in an undergraduate poetry course:

      I have no way with words, but words with me
      They have worse wiles than any woman born

      And the fact that I still remember that, fifty some years later, might be evidence.

    • merisiel says:

      There are some things I’m not convinced by here. First off, I should say that I’m not a native German speaker — I’m a fairly competent L2 speaker, but statistics is one thing I’ve never read about or discussed in German.

      The first thing is the use of Google Translate. To my non-native ear, the output sounds basically like a grammatical sentence of German, but the question is what people actually say to express this idea in German. I’m used to seeing “Correlation does not prove causation” in my native English, almost as a slogan of sorts — is there a rough German equivalent to that?

      Now, an actual native German speaker would be able to answer that question conclusively. But based on what I’ve found (googling related phrases and seeing what the German discussion looks like), the closest things I can find are the following excerpt from the German Wikipedia article on “Cum hoc ergo propter hoc”:

      Doch impliziert eine Korrelation noch nicht Kausalität (englisch Correlation does not imply causation), auch wenn der Zusammenhang kausal scheinen mag (Scheinkorrelation)

      Rough translation: “However, a correlation does not imply causation, even if the correlation may seem to be causal (spurious relationship).”

      and (from a blog post at

      Korrelation impliziert keine Kausalität

      (“Correlation doesn’t imply causation”; lit. “Correlation implies no causation” — there’s an orthogonal complicating factor here related to how negation works in German; some instances of what would be sentential negation in English have negation show up on the noun phrase instead)

      The other thing I’m skeptical of is the idea that “science” sounds cool and “Wissenschaft” sounds boring. Forgive me if I’m off-base — I’m new here — but you don’t say whether you’re a native speaker of German (or English, for that matter), and I think that makes a difference. If you are a native speaker of both, disregard this (though bilinguals do tend to have idiosyncratic emotional associations with each of their languages, depending on what contexts they use them in, so I wouldn’t expect one German-English bilingual’s aesthetic intuitions to be generalizable). People’s judgments of the aesthetics of languages not their own tend to be culturally influenced and biased (to Americans, Welsh sounds “poetic”, German sounds “harsh and guttural”, etc.). Even within one language, some aesthetic judgments are very idiosyncratic: there is the phenomenon of “word aversion”, where some people find certain words (e.g. “moist”, “gusset”, “chunks”) to sound SUPER GROSS — I’m one of them 🙂 — while others don’t see what all the fuss is about. And there’s also stuff like Tolkien’s “cellar door”.

      My stab at the HPMoR quote would go for some phrase like “Wissenschaft treiben”, maybe. But, again, I’m not a native speaker.

      • sty_silver says:

        I’m native German, but I think English sounds much better and I prefer talking and writing in English. I also think and dream in English a majority of the time.

        Ironically, I don’t think I move around in German academia enough to be qualified to say whether or not there’s an equivalent of “correlation does not cause causation”. I’m not aware of it. One of the things I would predict, though, is that fewer people point out that it’s evidence but not proof, precisely because it’s more cumbersome to say.

        • DarkTigger says:

          I mostly hear people refer to latin Post/Cum hoc ergo propter hoc, expecting the other to know that this is a fallacy.

        • merisiel says:

          Ah, interesting! Sorry for assuming that you weren’t; I guess I was biased by the lack of an “as we say in German…” kind of thing.

          But anyway, I don’t hear the “evidence but not proof” thing in English a whole lot either. What is common is the “slogan” form: correlation does not prove causation.

          Or, in fact, what I really hear the most is “correlation does not imply causation” – which I try to avoid using myself as much as possible. I understand that what’s meant by “imply” here is logical implication, but the alternative meaning of “imply” (to imply something socially/in a discourse, by saying something and expecting others to infer a certain subtext) is so salient in my mind that I disprefer it in order to not confuse the (hypothetical) listener.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Here’s my advice on how to translate technical terms (or homonyms or any time you want hand curation of precise terms). Look them up in wikipedia. Then click on the German language version of the page. On desktop, that’s in the left sidebar, just search for Deutsch. On mobile first click on the symbol under the title that looks like an A preceded by a symbol from an script I can’t identify.

          Anyhow, the corresponding page is the Latin phrase Dark Tigger mentioned, so that suggests that there is no standard German equivalent.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Interesting theory and I wondered along those lines myself, but do you have any evidence for it? Like, where culture A is more positive/negative toward some things than a culture B and the corresponding word in A sounds better/worse than in B?

      I remember someone on SSC said something along the lines “If you think ‘murder’ and ‘kill’ are the same thing, you’re going to become very confused very fast”. Which I found amusing because in Russian (my native language) there’s just one word (or rather one root) for this concept so it’s automatically assumed by the language they are the same. And, well, Russians, killing… you can perhaps argue that a lot of people in Russia were/are very confused about these things for very long time. But on the other hand, it’s very subjective and uncertain. And if you look at the culture closer, it doesn’t seem that anyone have particular difficulties telling different between concepts of taking another’s life justly vs unjustly or in an open fight vs secretly. Just that many people are much fonder of the former than they probably should be. Still, I think the vocabulary available may kind of affects how people think I’m different cultures, but even that is a wild guess with no evidence, nevermind euphony-discourse connection.

      • teneditica says:

        This relates to the debate of what the correct translation of the fifth commandment is. People sometimes chant the “thou shall not kill” version at anti death penalty protests, however it was probably meant as “thou shall not murder”, which would be consistent with the endorsement of the death penalty in genesis.

      • sty_silver says:

        No, I have not tried to actually look at quantitative data. It is ultimately just speculation.

  58. Aapje says:

    Public service announcement for tourists to Amsterdam:

    Only 1-2% of tulip bulbs that are being sold to tourists at the Bloemenmarkt (Flower market) and near the Keukenhof actually grow into a tulip. Those that do are usually not the same as on the packaging. So if you want to buy bulbs to take home, get them from the places where Dutch people buy them, like garden centers.

    • Garrett says:

      Why is this? You’d think it would be easy enough for these folks to go to a garden center, get a couple of trays of bulbs, mark the price up 3x and call it good.

      • DarkTigger says:

        Probably because you can just as well buy some garbage, that the garden centers reject, save money by not properly storing them, and then make the price up 10x.

      • Aapje says:


        What DarkTigger said. Basically: tourists tend to be way poorer at judging actual quality than natives as well as being much less price sensitive (in fact, tourists tend to over-rely on high prices being a signal of quality). So the optimum is to signal quality in a way that would result in a bad reputation with natives quickly, while actually selling crap in a fancy box, that would be overpriced even if it was genuinely good.

  59. slate blar says:

    Just binge read Unsong last week over 3 days. It was really great. The unique universe utility maximization argument for the existence of evil seems so obvious to me now, yet I never thought of it before. Lots of great stuff in there.

    Had a read of your editing post a few months ago and wanted to say that I thought the pacing was really good, again I binged through it in like 2-3 days and was never particularly bored by a plot. I can see how if you’re getting them drip fed 1 chapter per week people might want some plots to go away, but as a contiguous work it all seemed good to me.

    Anyway, thanks for a great novel. Hope you get it published in a shape you’re happy with.

    • Murphy says:

      I kinda like that God’s answer in unsong is a rewrite.

      The origional version was written much in the more uncertain voice that we’d recognize as Uriel.

      I think Scott took the criticism of that and re-wrote gods words to include more certainty, declaration and allegory.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m reminded of the Quiddity from Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show— it’s a source of enough joy to keep people going. I suppose it isn’t reasonable to expect the God from the article to supply that in all universes.

      • Cptn.Penguin says:

        The answer to Job or the version from Unsong are honestly the only even remotely satisfying answers to the question of theodicy I have ever read. I mean, I’m an atheist so in a way I don’t care if there is a good answer. But the fact that people who actually believe in their religion didn’t seem to have any good answers or sometimes any answer besides a shrug at all, had always bothered me.

        • FLWAB says:

          That’s because people don’t come to believe in God because of theodicy: they come to believe in God for other reasons, and then are faced with the problem of evil. So if you can’t come up with a good theodicy, then your average beliver will mentally shrug and say “Well there must be an answer somewhere. I know God exists because of reasons X, Y, and Z, so there must be a theodicy out there somewhere even if I can’t find it.” It’s the same way that someone might look at a complicated argument form a creationist or a perpetual motion enthusiest and say “I’m not educated or smart enough to answer your arguments directly, but I believe that you are wrong for a variety of other reasons and I will trust that there is a reason that you are wrong, even if I don’t know it.”

          C. S. Lewis, as always, puts it better than me in the first chapter of his book The Problem of Pain.

          …And what is [life] like while it lasts? It is so arranged that all the forms of it can live only by preying upon one another. In the lower forms this process entails only death, but in the higher there appears a new quality called consciousness which enables it to be attended with pain. The creatures cause pain by being born, and live by inflicting pain, and in pain they mostly die.

          If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit.

          There was one question which I never dreamed of raising. I never noticed that the very strength and facility of the pessimists’ case at once poses us a problem. If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human being ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator? Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that. The direct inference from black to white, from evil flower to virtuous root, from senseless work to a workman infinitely wise, staggers belief. The spectacle of the universe as revealed by experience can never have been the ground of religion: it must always have been something in spite of which religion, acquired from a different source, was held…

          …At all times, then, an inference from the course of events in this world to the goodness and wisdom of the Creator would have been equally preposterous; and it was never made. I.e., never made at the beginnings of a religion. After belief in God has been accepted, ‘theodicies’ explaining. or explaining away, the miseries of life, will naturally appear often enough.

    • Nornagest says:

      The unique universe utility maximization argument for the existence of evil seems so obvious to me now, yet I never thought of it before.

      Absolutely. I read a lot of theodicy in my youth while playing Obnoxious Internet Atheist, and that’s not only a take on it that I haven’t seen before, it’s better than 90% of them. Makes me wonder why it doesn’t have wider currency.

      • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

        I guess making humanity that not-special is a drawback of the argument from some points of view.

        (I guess if you want to go further in the direction of answering the question but stepping out of the overall context, you can try having a deity with omnipotence and omniscience and outside-time-ness but only a limited amount of total attention to divide between all the places and all the moments across the history of Universe; see also: a programmer debugging a program a week before release)

      • Douglas Knight says:

        What was the correlation between your assessment of the quality of a theodicy and its popularity? Were the top 10% of theodicies (ie, the peers to this one) pretty popular?

  60. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Jibo, a social robot designed to be lovable, is being shut down. “The Life Cycle of Software Objects” is mentioned in the comments.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Now, Jibo owners are scrambling to save their friend, explain its death to their children, and come to grips with the mortality of a robot designed to bond with them, not to die.

      Seems like they’ll learn a valuable life lesson. People have been all too enthusiastic about adopting these “as a service” gizmos, and the servicification of things which were once self-contained products. Time to relearn that you don’t control what you don’t own.

  61. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve had a notion that it would be great to have a website that kept track of science journalism so that you could find out what of those enthusiastic articles were about something which actually happened.

    This has gotten some interest, including people who would like to write for it if it existed.

    So I’m wondering what it would take to have such a site. Could the information be crowd-sourced? Would it need to have a critical mass of information before it would be interesting? Would it need AI crawling the web to at least make a crude effort at follow-ups? Might so few of the science articles pan out that the site would just be depressing, or could it be made tolerable by intelligent snark?

    • johan_larson says:

      You want a site that keeps a complete running list of scientific publications, and you want to be able to set up a set of search criteria to indicate your interests, and when a new article is published that matches those interests, you want to be notified. Is that it?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Actually, I was thinking in terms of keeping track of the outcomes from what’s reported in science journalism.

        What you’re describing would be a good thing and not easy, but less ambitious than what I have in mind.

        I’m almost surprised that what you describe doesn’t exist already.

        • Aapje says:

          I think that you are way too ambitious.

          Science doesn’t actually ever judge a paper as right. There are all kinds of proxies that many people use as if they indicate correctness, like being published in high-ranking journals or the ‘impact’ of a paper, but these are very flawed. See the replication crisis.

          You could track those proxies, but then you’d be strengthening the already problematic over-reliance on those proxies.

          I only see it as worthwhile if there is a simultaneous effort to improve those proxies and/or add better ones. For example, what I would like is for there to be a record of what replication attempts exist for a paper and what kind of replication attempt it is. For example, these are some possible replication methods:
          – same methodology, same data
          – same methodology, different data
          – different methodology, same data
          – different methodology, different data

          I have a dream where papers only get published in populist journals like Science and Nature after they’ve been replicated sufficiently, in a variety of ways, where the (quality) reviews also get credit for being published in a top journal, not just the first paper to make a claim.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m not looking for what is determined to be right, just what is right enough that people can build something useful based on it.

            I’m still kind of bitter about gasoline from turkey guts.

          • Aapje says:

            Now I’m imagining you standing on a heap of turkey guts, screaming into the sky: “Why, science, why?!”

            Seriously though, I don’t understand your example. They did make biofuel from turkey guts, it just isn’t that profitable and produced a lot of odor. It’s not an example of a scientific claim that turned out to be false.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It’s an example of enthusiastic popular journalism which didn’t pan out.

          • Watchman says:

            I’m not sure you’re not talking past each other. Nancy is talking about the popular press whilst Aapjeseems to be talking about actual journals…

          • Aapje says:

            I misread Nancy’s initial comment, but I still think that the example is poor.

            The typical scientific journalist error is to hype a new technology unreasonably. This is actually a case where the technology got extremely far, with a working factory. The factory failed in large part due to unexpectedly low fuel prices, which has little to do with the science in itself.

            Ultimately, it’s a general issue with journalism that they have a tendency to be steered by press releases and exciting news, rather than report back on failures. However, for this example, at least some journalists seem to have reported on the struggles of the factory.

            If you are interested in the follow ups to a story, you would be helped with a news aggregator, that notifies you about new stories for some key word(s). However, this would be useful for all journalism, not just the sciency kind.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m especially annoyed at headlines which talk about a cool thing, but there isn’t remotely a thing, there’s just a theory which isn’t even a hypothesis yet.

    • Lambert says:

      Don’t they keep good track of who’s been citing whom?
      Mostly to play the Fake ~~Internet~~ Academia Points game.
      Could you have a bot crawl the journals and notify you every time that paper you liked got cited?
      Crowdsource some kind of classification of citations like ‘refutes’, ‘confirms’, ‘builds upon’, ‘minor mention’, ‘partially refutes’ etc.

      Or build a big Pandora Radio-esque recommendation engine?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        What I’m looking for is keeping track of what cashes out as technology that people can use, not just what leads to more scientific articles.

        It definitely should be keeping track of what does and doesn’t replicate.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          I think the simple solution is to wait for the articles about the fabulous new technology in stores now, and skip the the “promising developments that could upturn the entire industry”.

    • Aapje says:

      @Nancy Lebovitz

      My dream and what seems to be both useful & to have a decent business case, is a site where reviews of scientific papers are public. Then people can see what criticism papers got and how the authors responded to those criticisms. This could be adopted by existing journals, providing a good source for content.

      The authors and editors could then be asked to review the reviewers, allowing quality reviewers to gain status. It may also lead to a better way to evaluate scientists, where their quality reviews are also taken into consideration. Furthermore, journals could seek to improve and eventually be judged on the quality of their reviewers.

      Eventually, one could also try allowing reviews by non-selected scientists or even lay people (clearly separated from the ‘official’ reviews), although those are risky features to add.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        That seems reasonable, and again, I’m a bit surprised it doesn’t exist already.

        If you don’t make room for reviews by non-scientists (see also scientists who aren’t experts in the field of the article), I assume they will happen somewhere else, possibly reddit.

        Would you expect all the writing to be done for free?

        • Aapje says:

          Reviews are already being done for free, which is an unreasonable burden on scientists IMO, since they don’t get credit for it (which would be a form of payment, in the highly competitive academic environment).

          The main issue with reviews by non-scientists is that it can become very low quality, so you need strong moderation. Even then it might be hard to achieve a level of critique that scientists are not going to see as a burden with too little benefit. One solution to this might be to let authors decide whether to open up their paper to lay criticism. Then authors in contentious fields and top scientists are probably going to turn it off, while small-time scientists may be willing to turn it on.

          PS. An issue with the idea of giving reviewers status and glory, is that it clashes with anonymous reviewing. Not sure what the best solution for that would be (or whether anonymous reviewing is even worth it).

          • albatross11 says:

            I do a fair amount of reviewing academic papers, either because I’m on a program committee for a conference or get asked to review something for a journal. This is always 100% volunteer work.

            I think adding a rebuttal phase (the authors get to respond to your review comments) and publishing the final review comments probably both make sense. However, they pretty-much need to be bound to the reviewer’s name in order for anyone to get credit for their good reviews. This also means that there’s a potential downside risk–you may get hammered either because your review was crap, or because your review was right but you took one side in an academic dispute, or because the author whose paper you rejected is mad as hell and feels like slagging on you, or because a bunch of not-very-informed members of the public jump in and comment/vote/whatever. All these things have happened in public discussions/processes that have been done in crypto over the last several years. (The IETF/CFRG discussion on selecting new elliptic curves was apparently a great example of how this can turn into a trainwreck.)

            Now, here’s the problem: I’m willing to review papers, because it’s part of keeping the system I live in working, and because it feels like the right thing to do. Sometimes I feel like I’m exactly the right person to review some paper. I put a fair bit of time into these reviews, and try to write helpful comments even when I’m recommending rejection.

            Add a 1% probability of the review blowing up in my face for some dumbass reason, and I’ll probably stop doing reviews. Life’s too short, and it’s not like I’m getting paid for this.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            If reviews were public and theoretically anonymous, how likely would it be for the authors to be recognized?

          • Clutzy says:


            The probability approaches 100% if there are dedicated parsers of the language used in reviews and if there are samples for machine learning to learn off of.

          • Aapje says:


            While that is true, there is also great value in transparency in reviewing, like:
            – teaching people how to do good reviews and how to respond to reviews
            – being more transparent about the disagreements in science and debatable choices
            – making it clear whether certain criticisms have been voiced and considered
            – showing more clearly how public funds are being spent

            It’s a rather typical human reaction to abhor transparency, but while that reduces risk for the individual, it is often creates more risks for the institution.

            I understand that you don’t want to become a target in this polarized climate, but secrecy also means that a disclosure of the worst thing that scientists do can very easily be interpreted as the typical thing that scientists do. Then you and all other scientists can easily be blamed for that.

            Anyway, my suggested system would probably have to allow journals to hide reviewers or make it the default, at first. However, I hope that many would see the advantages and that the reputational benefits would advance careers sufficiently to make the benefits worth the risk.


            And those samples would be called scientific papers.

          • Clutzy says:


            And those samples would be called scientific papers.

            I was thinking that too, but I am not sure that the cadence of writing translates as closely from those to a review. I know it works super well looking at people’s overall body of work and comparing it (like how we can pinpoint each author of The Federalist Papers). Plus, in my experience, so many scientific papers are mongrels of group efforts so they are much more disjointed than an Op-Ed.

            So, if that’s the only way you are getting samples its probably less accurate than the ones that can differentiate a Jen Rubin article from a Max Boot article.

    • drunkfish says:

      This sounds phenomenal, I want it to exist. I dunno if you’d have a use for me, I’m a PhD student studying planetary science, but I’d be very interested in helping (1-2 hours/week maybe?) if I could. Feel free to reach me at (just an SSC related gmail i made a while ago that forwards to me, if I hear from you I’ll give you a real gmail/am happy to prove my minimal credentials)

    • Bugmaster says:

      It’s a great idea, but I don’t know how achievable it is.

      What I’d really like to see is a website that allows me to paste either the full text of a news report or its URL, and that gives me the scientific publication that most likely inspired the report. It is usually possible to recover the original publication after a bit of research, but a). I’m lazy, and b). I’d like “usually” to happen a bit more often.

      This way, when some reporter says, “Scientists at the University of Timbuktu have discovered a way to channel PURE ENERGY from the SKY !!!”, I could immediately read the original article on arxiv that says, “Increasing photovoltaic panel yield by 1.2% via novel microlens geometry”, or something similar.

      • Statismagician says:

        The easy version of this is to assume any science reporting which doesn’t directly link to the original study is nothing but lies, or at least not usefully different from nothing but lies.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Well, yeah, that’s what I do now — because I have no better alternative. I’d like it if an alternative did exist, however.

        • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

          If an article names multiple coauthors of the paper it might still talk me into searching by authors…

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I found such a web site: Should you read this news article?

  62. johan_larson says:

    The third film in the SSC watch-along series is “The Death of Stalin.” We fear no spoilers here. I mean, we all know Stalin dies, right?

    What an odd and interesting film. Presenting the plotting within the senior ranks of the Soviet Union leadership as dark comedy rather than straight drama or tragedy was a really effective choice. And Beria, he really had it coming.

    Anyone know the history well enough to discuss how much of what was shown actually happened?

    And how’s Zhukov’s reputation faring these days, by the way?

    (Next week we’ll start the TV series “The Expanse,” season 1. Since the episodes are on the short side, we’ll do them two at a time.)

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I liked DOS but found it a pale imitation of some of his earlier work, most notably In The Loop. (Veep’s great too; I haven’t seen enough of The Thick of It to have a strong feeling.) It’s possible this is just random–sometimes it’s just not your best work–but I wonder if part of the problem is having to take this at least somewhat seriously.

      In The Loop got to take the piss out of whatever it wanted, and didn’t need to drive the plot any more than it wanted to; everyone could focus on building dark and funny scenes and wonderful one-liners. This movie sort of has to tell the story of Stalin, and has to spend at least some time pointing out how terrible things were…maybe this is a handicap?

    • metacelsus says:

      It’s a hilarious movie which I greatly enjoyed. I agree that presenting it as a comedy was key.

      From what I remember, most stuff actually happened but the timing was changed to make it a better fit for the movie.

    • Aapje says:

      I haven’t seen this movie, but those who like it may also enjoy A tanú (1968), a Hungarian satire about communism.

    • cassander says:

      They compress 5ish years of history into what feels like a couple weeks, and I can’t speak to most of the personalities, but they do cover the salient points of the history. Beria is initially in a leading position, but all the other senior leadership hates his guts. he does open up the prisons and launch some reforms in a bid for popular support, but the others turn on him, before turning on each other. Kruschev forces out other stalin cronies like Malenkov and Molotov with zhukov’s help, then sidelines him.

      The movie does a wonderful job with some iconic scenes:

    • John Schilling says:

      Anyone know the history well enough to discuss how much of what was shown actually happened?

      As already noted, they got the important stuff approximately right but compressed the timing enormously for dramatic effect.

      And how’s Zhukov’s reputation faring these days, by the way?

      Substantially improved by hiring Jason Isaacs and telling him to bring two hundred pounds of pure ham, I should think.

      More generally, the casting in this movie was superb throughout. Buscemi as Kruschev and Tambor as Malenkov in particular stood out, but everyone was played as the sort of person they’d have to have been for history to run the course it did while still being as darkly comic as Iannucci would have it.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I can confirm that brutal crowd control measures at Stalin’s funeral resulting in unkown number of fatalities have a basis in reality. They are rather hilariously depicted in memoirs of Czechoslovak reform communist leader Zdeněk Mlynář, who witnessed them as a student in Moscow.

    • johan_larson says:

      Was there some reason why the Russian communists were so keen on heavy-handed internal security after taking power? Were there a lot of attempts at counter-revolution or genuine subversion?

      • Protagoras says:

        Yes. Often supported by foreigners, even. Though this was particularly true early on; I suppose bureaucratic inertia, or the need to cope with the declining enthusiasm for the revolution when it seemed not to be delivering on its promises, caused it to continue and become harsher instead of easing up. Or maybe just Stalin’s personality; it did start to ease up under his successors. Another source of the phenomenon is that the tsars had had very heavy-handed internal security, and the communists had learned the practices of their predecessors.

      • cassander says:

        Virtually all revolutions end in blood, because once the state’s monopoly on violence is destroyed, it takes a great deal of violence to reestablish. But communists were particularly vicious about it, and given that all communists did it (to varying degrees) some of the answer must be found there.

      • albatross11 says:

        Hayek makes the argument that a centrally planned economy pushes even well-intentioned leaders toward tyranny. You’ve lost the internal incentives that were keeping people aligned at doing what needed to be done, and now all you’ve got is pride, propaganda, or threats.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Yes, and pride or propaganda doesn´t work particularly well outside unusual contexts like total war. Peaceful centrally planned economy is unsustainable without huge repressive apparatus.

  63. 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

    I want some advice on finding data (or arguments) to talk myself out of a random idea I had.

    Context: thinking of implications of (inside-country) economic inequality — trying to avoid relying on divisive value judgements.

    Jobs paying badly will probably be done by people not competent enough for them; jobs paying very well will probably be done by people good at applying for them (probably rather competent) but often not caring about the actual work being done.

    Intuitively, large inequality means that for many jobs, probably including some jobs with large negative externalities of not doing them well, at least one of the situations happens. I am a bit afraid that a service needing a few very competent people and also a global base level of people caring about outcomes can even have both problems at once for very large values of inequality…

    Any advice what data should I look for to disprove this idea?

    • mnov says:

      The kibbutz movement in Israel resulted in a lot of broadly competent / conscientious people working jobs that today pay very poorly. It’s hard to measure outcomes from 50 years ago but this is imo a great natural experiment (how was the QOL in the kibbutz vs. broader society, how much higher was output in low paying jobs that existed in both).

    • baconbits9 says:

      One consideration is that many jobs, including more important jobs, are filled internally. Getting a job because you interview well will translate relatively poorly into rising in that company if it isn’t combined with some level of competence.

      • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

        Well, it doesn’t matter that much if applications are internal or external, except that some specific kinds of incompetence are hard to spot with external applications (but it looks like some people good at self-promotion manage to disguise some other kinds of incompetence even in case of internal promotions).

        In any case, I specified that in this case there is some competence filtering, but I think there is still a risk of not-caring becoming a popular choice.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Rising in a company depends a lot more on skills related to navigating the company organization as opposed to any level of competence at the actual job you’re hired for.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I disagree here, the illusion is this way because most people are clustered around average competence, so out of that group whoever is the most competent at navigating the company within that broad range of people will be the ones who are promoted. However this ignores all the people who failed at that company and were fired, or encouraged to find a different job (ie no raises/small bonuses/the worst working hours).

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      I don’t understand the idea itself well enough to say what sort of data might bear on it– too many intermediate steps are missing. (How does inequality cause people in low-paying jobs to be less competent? If we fixed inequality, what sort of work would these people be doing?)

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I can believe that inequality could cause people in low paying jobs to be tired/ill/distracted/less well trained than they otherwise could be, and therefore less competent.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          I’d thought of a possible steelman along similar lines but involving high job turnover (people in low-paying jobs not being around long enough to get good), but I didn’t know whether that was what the OP had in mind, and it sounds now like it wasn’t.

      • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

        If most good X can quickly become mediocre Y and even being a bad Y pays better than being a good X, activity X can lose a large fraction of its most qualified practitioners to activity Y.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          The fact that Y pays more at least suggests that the need for qualified people is greater there, even if they do end up having to settle for what they can get.

          • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

            The question is whose need; I did say it is about externalities. I find it likely that the higher paying jobs are those where measuring and capturing the produced value is easier.

            And some of the work is long-term maintenance where estimating the need (comparative value of various amounts of work) for efforts right now seems to be hard.

      • LesHapablap says:

        I think he doesn’t mean inequality in general, but just within a given role like landscape architect. Companies that pay peanuts get monkeys, and sometimes those monkeys can make mistakes the screw a lot of people.

        This is common in government departments that end up with a poor work environment. They are somewhat fixed in what they can pay, and good people leave, making the work environment worse, which means more good people leave, and it all spirals. Because they have a monopoly on whatever work they are doing it can have big negative externalities.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          That was my best guess at what the OP had in mind. But the key point to me is that inequality is not responsible for the existence of monkeys. Given that they do exist, the only alternative to having them do low-paying jobs is either to have them do high-paying jobs, or not to let them work at all. Neither seems likely to be an improvement.

          • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

            Large inequality increases the weight of current pay level compared to caring about the thing one does.

            An improvement would be not turn people into monkeys-for-peanuts (even if they are not qualified, maybe they could do a job they don’t hate), and to have a few competent people around. A competent person who cares will catch some of the mistakes relatively early on their way to becoming a huge mess (and unqualified people who still care will not try to prevent this). If nobody gets it _or_ nobody cares, I expect things to be worse.

        • 6jfvkd8lu7cc says:

          If inequality level is high enough, you can get drain between more distant roles; both in retraining of various kinds and in initial choice of education.

          Also, government doesn’t always need to establish a monopoly; sometimes market forces for centralisation succeed just as well. The part of the company with the largest externalities might not be the same as the part most important for maintaining the monopoly.

  64. onyomi says:

    Will I be able to fly from Hong Kong to New York in less than 10 hours for a reasonable price in my lifetime? If so, in what area is the most important innovation likely to be (fuel economy, aerodynamics, etc.)?

    More generally, what do you think about Peter Thiel’s thesis that although tech innovation has exploded in recent decades, “meat space” innovation has stagnated, due to overregulation or some other such factors?

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      It looks like 15-16 is standard right now? Something like 9k miles. So you want to average 900 MPH, but given that takeoff and landing are slowed by needing to taxi, climb, etc, we’re talking about cruising something closer to ~1050-1100 MPH. Mach 1.4, for quite some distance. I’m not sure what the most efficient supersonic airplane ever built was, but Concorde (which to be fair did Mach 2!) which has to be up there did about 15 passenger-miles/gallon, where it seems a modern 787 does closer to 85-100. So you’re talking about a 5x cost disadvantage in fuel, putting aside the cost of the supersonic _plane_, putting aside scaling laws.

      John and Bean probably have a better sense than I, but I’d rate that as very difficult but not impossible as an engineering concern, but unlikely to cost less than business class today. And that ignores the political issues with supersonic flight, which are anyone’s guess.

      • onyomi says:

        unlikely to cost less than business class today

        Yeah, that was why the Concord went away, as I understand it: it’s not that we can’t build passenger planes that safely go that fast, it’s that fuel efficiency rapidly drops as you go faster due to the increased drag or some other aspect of physics I’m not competent to comment on.

        So I’m suggesting an innovation in fuel or airplane design or something is needed before a flight at Concord speeds could come close to today’s economy prices (one minor possible tradeoff, though I shudder to imagine economy getting any more cramped: leg room, meal service, etc. become less important when the flight is shorter). I’m sure there are other gains to be had by e.g. building more airports, etc. but I don’t imagine they’ll get us from HK->NYC=15 hours to HK->NYC=9 hours or less.

        • Lambert says:

          There’s a reason they called it the sound barrier.

          When an object travels through a fluid at subsonic speeds, the fluid in front starts moving out of the way before the object gets there. At supersonic speeds, that’s not possible.
          The plane ends up needing to smack a load of molecules out of the way. (i.e. dump enough kinetic energy into them that they can all get out of the way)
          This all leads to a massive increase in entropy and temperature at the shockwave.

          Also I’m doing some research into shock formation right now and the maths is pretty nasty.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          As I understand it, part of the problem with the Concord is that you can spend a lot of money to save a few hours and then lose them in traffic. The percentage improvement in travel isn’t as big as it looks if you just consider air travel time.

          • ana53294 says:

            Which means it would be much more efficient to just build a fast train from La Guardia to central New York. They seem to have buses right now from La Guardia, AFAIU.

          • johan_larson says:

            True. Improving the performance of the supporting transportation systems would make a real difference. It would be great to live in a world where you can head out an hour before your flight is scheduled to depart, and can expect to be at your final destination an hour after it lands.

            Right now, I head out at 5:30 for a 8 am flight, and if I have baggage and need a rental car at the other end, another two and a half hours is probably what it’s going to take me to get to my hotel.

          • brad says:

            A helicopter ride is well within the budget of any entity contemplating paying the equivalent of a full price for a transpacific business class ticket.

          • analytic_wheelbarrow says:

            Good point about air time only being part of the total travel time. It’d be great to make the trip from NYC to JFK/LGA/EWR faster, but a bigger consideration when you’re going to the airport is the variance. I’m not interested in reducing my mean travel time to EWR; rather I want to reduce my 99th percentile time (or something like that). It might take 45 minutes on average, but it seems like there’s something like a 15% chance that it’ll take twice as long and it might even take 3 times as long (in which case you miss your flight). So you really have to plan for these tail outcomes.

            It’s a lousy situation and it really makes flying more time consuming.
            That’s one small advantage of trains vs. buses to get to the airport. The variance for travelling by train seems pretty low, whereas buses are subject to jack knifed tractor-trailers on the XYZ bridge, etc.

          • albatross11 says:

            So, which is more feasible:

            a. Cutting two hours off the wait time due to checking in, dropping off bags, airport security, etc.

            b. Cutting two hours off the flight time.

            Somehow, I suspect (b) might be easier than (a), and that this says something important about the world.

          • cassander says:


            There is an italian plane called the avanti that has propellers, but can compete with business jets for travel time because while it’s a 150kts or so slower at cruising speed, for short trips that only adds a couple dozen minutes or so.


            It reminds me of something tyler cowen* said about congress once. Congress had, instead of passing an energy bill, moved daylight savings to achieve reduced emissions or something, and his comment was that there was something terrifying about a congress that found it easier to redefine time inself than compromise on spending.

            * It was on marginal revolution, anyway, and mentally I assign everything that’s posted there to Cowen.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:


            True. Improving the performance of the supporting transportation systems would make a real difference.

            Airports and the surrounding infrastructure can be a living nightmare (hi Denver). What I want is personal VTOL aircraft, which would have to be self-piloting because a pilot’s license is a labor-intensive skill and probably tilt-rotors (max speed Mach ~0.6) for fuel economy.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Judging from this subthread, the main problem with the Concorde is that the e kept falling off it.

          • keaswaran says:

            If you’re traveling London to New York, then you don’t have that much airtime for air speedup to matter. But if you’re traveling New York to Hong Kong or Singapore to Paris or something, then you do have a lot of airtime.

            The problem is that for these really long routes, you’re going over populated areas, which is a major no-no for supersonic travel.

            I wonder if there would be a market these days for fast travel between Los Angeles/San Francisco/Vancouver and Tokyo/Hong Kong/Singapore, that might not have existed in the 1970s.

            I guess there’s an important question of whether a plane can efficiently carry fuel tanks big enough to sustain supersonic speeds for these trips that are long enough to be worth spending the money on a super-expensive flight rather than just ground-side transportation speedups.

          • It would be great to live in a world where you can head out an hour before your flight is scheduled to depart

            I already have.

            Ithaca, N.Y.

          • @DavidFriedman

            Before flying out of Ithaca, I had never before ridden on a plane with propellers. It’s not the most comforting thing to see in the window.

          • onyomi says:

            Judging from this subthread, the main problem with the Concorde is that the e kept falling off it.

            It would lose it on the way from Charles de Gaulle to JFK, but pick it up again on the return trip. 😛

          • Did you watch them winding up the rubber band?

            In eastern Europe, quite recently, I think flying to and from Bucharest, I was on a prop plane.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Assuming we are not considering things like putting a nuclear reactor on a plane, we are stuck with burning fuel with atmospheric oxygen, I doubt that current designs could be made 5x times more fuel-efficient.

          So it boils down to how efficient we can manufacture fuel. Currently it’s manufactured by fractional distillation of oil, which is way cheaper than any other thing we know of, and yet fuel costs dominate the economy of aviation.

          If we could make lots of cheap heat and/or electricity then we could make synthetic hydrocarbons or perhaps even liquid hydrogen to power airplanes. I’m not sure that even going all-nuclear fast breeder reactors could make this economically feasible.

      • brad says:

        What about sub-orbital? Obviously energy intensive at take-off, but you’d save a lot of friction. I wonder what break even ends up being.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I’ve seen plans for suborbital jets that blast out of the atmosphere, then the engines shut off until it falls back into the upper atmosphere, then the jets come back on, repeat until you come in toward your runway. Seemed very elegant.

        • Lambert says:

          If shtf on a plane, you can quickly drop your altitude to where the air’s breathable and land in some at least somewhat controlled manner.
          Good luck doing that in space.
          Also you have to scrub and recycle all your air. And carry a load of N2 because passengers don’t want to get the bends.

        • pontifex says:

          Wasn’t that a plot point in The Man in the High Castle? Regular rockets providing passenger service for the Reich. The Germans were good at rockets, so the story checks out (well… enough to fool a software engineer, at least)

    • ana53294 says:

      Is technology the only bottleneck though?

      I have been on flights where we spent up to an hour in the air, circling an airport, to get permission to land. Modern airports are very busy. So for peak time flights, there will be the limitation of airport landing and takeoff, which is also frequently delayed by airports.

      And building more airports is hard. They may be able to get around it in Hong Kong, being part of China and all that, but New York? Building a new airport, or adding runways within the next 40 years? That’s impossible. Even places that are slightly more functional than New York, such as Berlin and London, seem unable to expand their airport capacity. New York is even worse than those cities, as far as I can ascertain.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I think at least one additional London runway, either at Heathrow or in the Thames estuary, will eventually be built – sooner if the next election yields a Conservative-led government, later if Corbyn gets in.

        • ana53294 says:

          But how long has that taken already?

          If you add up all the years it has been on the plans plus all the years until it’s functional, ~40 sounds like an approximate guess. And NY is worse.

      • ana53294 says:

        The limited airport capacity of New York, would be stretched beyond its limits by affordable overnight flights to Hong Kong and surrounding area, which includes the most populated places is Asia. Unless you increase airport capacity, prices will increase until demand is low enough to be covered by current capacity.

        New York would need drastically more capacity to be able to handle cheap overnight flights to Asia.

        • keaswaran says:

          Easiest way to increase runway capacity at New York – increase rail capacity to Boston and Washington, and massively increase rail speed and capacity to Chicago and Atlanta (and various cities along the way to those two).

          This is why I think California and Texas high-speed rail is so important – the airlines would love to cut those in-state routes and replace them with more long-distance flights.

      • John Schilling says:

        I have been on flights where we spent up to an hour in the air, circling an airport, to get permission to land.

        When and where was this?

        That would be almost unheard of in the United States, in part because airliners don’t normally carry extra fuel for an hour’s circle-and-wait. Yes, airports are very busy, but they are predictably busy, and the crowding is normally handled by not letting planes take off if there isn’t going to be a landing slot open at about the time they are scheduled to arrive. Holding for a few minutes because not everybody arrived exactly when they said they would is not rare, but an hour is pretty much right out. I would assume the same is true in the EU.

        • ana53294 says:

          Frankfurt airport. That was ten years ago, though; not sure if things have gotten better. The other times, it was quite less than an hour.

          Delays by not being allowed to take off still significantly add to the time of the flight.


          airliners don’t normally carry extra fuel for an hour’s circle-and-wait.

          AFAIU, European airlines carry quite a bit of extra fuel; when Ryanair had to have an hour-long diversion in Spain, when planes could not land in Madrid, and had a Mayday situation, they were severely criticised. Considering other airlines were able to fly this hour-long diversion without a Mayday, I guess they do carry extra fuel?

          So are US airlines as tight about fuel as Ryanair is? I find that surprising, considering their prices; I assumed they were more like non low-cost European airlines.

          • ana53294 says:

            ‘‘Having held over Valencia for 50mins, 68 mins and 69 mins respectively Ryanair’s 3 aircraft (following standard industry safety procedures) requested ATC permission to land immediately as they reached reserve fuel minimums, which allow each aircraft to operate for an additional 30 minutes (some 300 miles) of flying.

            So it seems they carry fuel for an extra hour and a half, and that’s with Ryanair’s push to save fuel.

          • bean says:

            There are a bunch of rules governing how much fuel airliners have to have in reserve. Some of it (the last reserve) is seen as a very serious business, and touching it is a big deal. I’d guess the problem in this case wasn’t so much how much fuel the Ryanair flights were carrying as how they used it. Normally, ATC prioritizes by fuel state even without the Mayday calls, and it’s possible that Valencia just did a bad job. More likely, Ryanair was still trying to sneak the airplanes into Madrid, keeping them in the air longer in hopes that the storm would lift. They waited too long, and had to declare an emergency.

          • John Schilling says:

            So are US airlines as tight about fuel as Ryanair is? I find that surprising, considering their prices; I assumed they were more like non low-cost European airlines.

            ICAO requirements for jet airliners are enough fuel for the flight as planned plus,

            A: 5% of planned consumption, and

            B: Divert to the planned alternate airport at optimal cruising speed, and

            C: Thirty minutes in a holding pattern, and

            D: Whatever else the pilot thinks is necessary.

            But category D costs money that the pilot’s bosses won’t want to hear about, so even major airlines are less likely to do that without some specific and justifiable reason.

            So, for say a 1000-mile flight (Madrid to Berlin, say) at 500 mph and with an alternate airport 200 miles away (Prague or Copenhagen), you’d get exactly sixty minutes of fuel after the planned completion of the flight, after which you’re flying a glider. If the pilot isn’t calling “Mayday” after forty-five minutes at the latest, he isn’t doing his job.

            If someone is yelling at the pilot for that, knock it off.

            If someone is yelling at the airline for that, OK, but then you all need to stop buying your tickets based on what Travelocity shows as cheapest and you need to knock it off with yelling at the airlines for not being “green” enough.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Airlines in the US (all of them as far as I’m aware, and probably those in Europe as well) will often file a fuel plan for an intermediary destination, then ‘refile’ while airborne halfway through the flight to their final destination. This allows them to takeoff with less fuel than would be legally required to go direct to the actual destination, with respect to the 5% planned consumption and flight to alternate that John mentioned above. It just means that occasionally if there are unanticipated headwinds or delays they will have to stop to refuel halfway.

            It is also very common for the captain to decide to take on extra fuel if there is weather to deal with. This may be where Ryanair is scrimping.

            It might also be worth mentioning that for extended over water operations with two-engine aircraft (ETOPS, Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim, I believe called EDTO these days) there are a LOT of additional fuel requirements. They take into account diversion on one engine time, as well as diversion with a depressurized cabin which necessitates flying at 10,000ft.

        • bean says:

          I could see it happening if you end up with significant disruptions (probably weather) at New York or maybe DC. You get a backlog, end up low on the queue, and bam, hour in the air circling. I’d guess that the airlines predict these things and fuel for them. Yes, there’s the obvious alternative of holding on the ground at the origin, but that has several issues. You may need to clear the gate, you definitely don’t want passengers just sitting on the plane (there are some nasty regs against that) and there’s always the chance that you’ll get lucky and land in 20 minutes instead of an hour, particularly if things go well while you’re airborne and en route.

          • SamChevre says:

            The one time I was on a long air delay (I’m pretty sure it was an hour-plus delay in the air) was in 2004, on a flight from Vienna to Washington. There was a massive set of thunderstorms on the East Coast; we were supposed to land in Washington at around 4:00, and ended up landing in New York City and not deplaning until after 9:00.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I’ve spent some rather long times circling over Atlanta, but I believe the ground delay programs have been significantly expanded since then.

    • johan_larson says:

      Here’s a company that’s working on making that happen.

      I’ve no idea how likely they are to succeed, but they’ve managed to get some venture funding, and they’re hiring.

      • onyomi says:

        Their web page says the fares will be similar to today’s long-haul, business class fares. I think that’s better than the Concord ever managed, but it’s still pretty unaffordable for most (for example, a round trip business class ticket from NYC to HKG runs around $8000, I believe).

        • johan_larson