Open Thread 139.75

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703 Responses to Open Thread 139.75

  1. DragonMilk says:

    I ask this from time to time…anyone do Board Game Arena?

    • Machine Interface says:

      I have an account there. Don’t use that much, but if you want to play any of Carcassonne, Kingdomino, Jaipur, Russian Railroads or Nippon, I’m always avalaible for asynchronous play.

  2. Lambert says:

    Shower thought:
    I’ve been thinking about renewables and pumped hydro and giant flywheels a lot lately.
    And it occured to me that the best way to price electricity in a world of distributed, intermittent generation is very diffrerent form back when you just shovelled more coal when everyone in the country wanted to put the kettle on.
    What kind of economic systems out we put in place to account for a world in which our electricity supply changes hourly in ways that are hard to predict, due to the weather?
    Trading 48 hour futures on electricity?
    Telling your tesla to wait till it’s windy to charge so that the electricity is cheaper?

    • albatross11 says:

      Opportunistic Bitcoin mining? (This only works if the depreciation on the capital costs is very small relative to the power costs….)

    • Incurian says:

      Distributed batteries?

      • J Mann says:

        What happened to Elon Musk’s Powerwall project? Some friends of mine were super excited about that a few years ago.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The cost of a battery is about equal to the retail cost of electricity that will be sent through it over the course of its lifetime.* If you had free electricity, it will just pay for itself, but over the course of years, with no interest on the capital. The innovation of Powerwall was to bring lithium-ion down to this price and to make a low-maintenance appliance. If you want to be truly off grid, not even bringing in fuel for a generator, it’s great. If you want backup power for a small amount of critical equipment or short outages, it’s pretty good, buy maybe you should get a generator for full power for long outages. Musk claimed that it was competitive with several grid applications, like gas peaker plants. But consumer-grade appliance-level low-maintenance isn’t so relevant for industrial applications, so if power plants wanted batteries for this application, they could have done it before.

          Under the hypothetical that retail consumers faced large price swings over the course of the day, powerwall would make more sense. (I have seen proposals for CA for three prices regimes, peaking at 45c/kWh.) Distributed batteries only make sense if power generation and consumption are both distributed. Of course consumption is distributed. But if generation is centralized, you might as well put the batteries next to the generator. But with rooftop solar, consumption is next to generation and putting the battery there saves transmission loss.

          * lifetime is about 3000 power cycles. If you cycle once a day, that’s about 10 years and interest on the capital matters. If you cycle more often the lifetime is shorter and the interest rate hurdle is shorter. But I don’t know any applications that fit that. Maybe some place has two cycles of wind per day.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Actually, distributed batteries are the right thing to do, even without distributed generation because it’s better to have the transmission loss when electricity is cheap than when it’s expensive.

            Anyhow, the point is that Powerwall is only slightly better than older batteries, mainly in directions that appeal to consumers, and I don’t think transmission losses should be the deciding factor. Thus when batteries become a good idea, the electric company should do it before the consumer. If electric grids are not building battery installations then either (A) it’s not a good idea; (B) electric companies are incompetently run; or (C) government regulation prevents good investments. My guess is all three.

        • Aftagley says:

          The cost of a battery is about equal to the retail cost of electricity that will be sent through it over the course of its lifetime.

          How set in stone is this rule? Are there any advancements on the horizon that might break this equality, or has this proved to be a hard and fast rule for some reason?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It’s not set in stone at all. Retail prices can be changed at any time. The price of batteries is steadily falling. It used to be that they were more expensive than the cost of electricity that they would store.

    • Ketil says:

      What kind of economic systems out we put in place to account for a world in which our electricity supply changes hourly in ways that are hard to predict, due to the weather?

      Why would you need to change the economic system? Prices would just fluctuate a lot, and industries or activities that can take advantage of low price periods would benefit. You need to be able to communicate the spot price to the consumer (so that cars can be charged and washing machines run at the opportune time), but that’s a technical issue.

      Albatross11’s point about capital costs is often overlooked, a dam used for energy storage is a dam not used for electricity generation, a factory only running when prices are low is a factory that is idle a lot of the time.

    • Corey says:

      The best way from an economist / wonk point of view would be to have the pricing sort-of reflect costs.

      So there would be a big monthly flat fee to cover the capital-intensive stuff (connection to the grid, maintenance thereof, etc.) and a much-smaller-than-today’s-usual per-kWh rate that would fluctuate as a spot price. Ideally a home energy management system would coordinate with the spot prices and e.g. heat up water and top up your car when electricity is cheap, and let your house get hotter/colder than usual (depending on season) when electricity is expensive.

      And approximately every customer would hate it, because they would assume the price fluctuations were for the sole purpose of “screwing them over” rather than an efficiency incentive.

    • Murphy says:

      the problem with “Distributed” is that once you throw the word in… people stop doing math and stop thinking about how things have to be practical.

      Desribe building a giant pumped storage plant for X billion and people reject it because it’s obviously too expensive.

      Desribe an over-complex system where everyone pumps some water into an extra tank in their ceiling and then runs it through a mini-generator…. with total costs 10x for 1/10th the power storage and people will ignore the cost and practicality because “Distributed”

      in practice the world needs a hell of a lot of energy storage. but that’s expensive.

      All that stuff about using peoples car batteries to run the grid? it’s just hiding the cost of wear on the batteries and the massively expensive extra infrastrcuture behind “distributed”

      We’d need spectacular amounts of generating capacity, more than we actually use, and spectacular amounts of storage. Both being extremely expensive.

      Nobody really wants to shell out the kind of money for the vast infrastructure projects really needed.

      So they say “distributed”

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      The answer is that it just does not work. Okay, let me qualify this. Intermittent energy supply is worthless to the grid, absent a miracle in the field of energy storage. The quantities of energy requiring storage are just unfeasibly large.

      Intermittent supply has industrial uses. If you are making ammonia, the economics of slapping down a solar plant in an equatorial desert with 300 plus high quality sunshine days a year, use that supply to electrolyze sea water and buffer the hydrogen in great big tanks so you can run the rest of the process in continuous mode pencils out pretty well. (Well enough that the second someone breaks ground on a plant, I am buying stock.) There are other processes with low capital and high power costs that could be hooked up to a high-quality renewable power source and underbid the present approach a lot (Renewable power is really cheap if you go location shopping!) Electric Steel smelting runs in 4 hour batches, for example.

      But the grid does not need hydrogen or some other power intensive product that can be fairly trivially stockpiled by the hundred-tonne. The grid needs electricity. The more electrified our economy gets, the more inflexible the demand for electricity also gets. Electric cars? Sure, they make the day-night cycle easier to balance, but they also mean now you cant have brownouts without stranding people.

      Presently, this problem is “solved” by using natural gas turbines when the wind does not blow nor the sun shine at our convenience. But for a true low-carbon grid, there really just is no viable options other than nuclear, geothermal, and hydro.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This basically can’t work at the retail level. Managing costs like that is multiple full time jobs at the companies which do it; a person who has a life to live literally doesn’t have time for that. If there was an energy market, electricity retailers who exposed their customers to the full glory of the spot market would be out of business in short order. Since there isn’t, regulators will avoid it because their bosses constituents don’t want to be subject to a torch-and-pitchfork (no spot pricing there) mob the likes of which haven’t been seen since Gray Davis.

      • johan_larson says:

        Probably true. But something a bit gentler might work. The phone companies were able to run multiple tiers of long distance pricing based on the time of day back in the 80s. I seem to recall the cheapest long distance was after 11 pm at night.

        Something similar could probably be done for electricity. People who wanted to save a bit of money wouldn’t run their dishwashers and dryers during prime time.

        • acymetric says:

          More recently: Evening/weekend minutes.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yes, these work (though are generally not well-liked) because they’re at least predictable. But the problem here isn’t demand, which is where “prime hours” come from. It’s supply, depending on the vagaries of wind and sun. Electricity prices that go up because there’s a stationary front 200 miles away aren’t predictable in that way.

      • J Mann says:

        My power company offers a rebate if you let them install a regulator on your AC that turns it down during peak hours.

        I think consumers would revolt if exposed to full market pricing, like they did with Uber’s surge pricing model, but they would probably accept more limited exposure, something like “power is discounted at these hours.”

      • Ketil says:

        This basically can’t work at the retail level.

        Why not? Given intermittent energy production, and consequently fluctuations in supply and therefore price, the utility can either raise their fixed (well, long term) price to cover risk, or start metering by the minute.

        Whether consumers will respond to this by using programmable/connected chargers and appliances that react to prices is up to them, of course.

        In general, I suspect prices will not be allowed to get too large, as too many people would protest. In addition, renewables are often subsidized, so the biggest change will be electricity that is very cheap at certain times, and not so much high price peaks. If you can take advantage of low prices, good on you, and if not, you only pay a bit higher tax for renewable subsidies, like everybody else.

      • pqjk2 says:

        [quote]
        If there was an energy market, electricity retailers who exposed their customers to the full glory of the spot market would be out of business in short order
        [/quote]
        In fact there is an energy market, and in fact there is a retailer that exposes their customers to the full glory of the spot market, and in fact they very possibly may be out of business in short order. Google “Griddy”, a spot price retailer which saw Texas customers paying over $100 per DAY for a few weeks this past August

    • Vitor says:

      Trading futures is already being done. Electricity is sold in tiered markets (long term + short term). The challenge is that physical constraints of the grid must be respected at all times. https://academic.oup.com/oxrep/article/33/4/589/4587939.

      Telling your tesla to wait each time prices go up obviously has huge friction, but the basic idea is sound if you train an automated agent to make those decisions for you. Vaguely falls into the cluster of ideas known as the “smart grid”.

    • lvlln says:

      Trading 48 hour futures on electricity?

      In the USA, we already have something like that. In the industry, we call it the “Day-Ahead” market, where companies place bids a day ahead in advance, for hour-long blocks (IIRC – or was it 15 minutes?). There’s also the “Real-Time” market, which allows companies to bid on and buy power in the wholesale market in 5-minute increments.

      Here’s an example of the New England ISO (Independent System Operator – a company that manages & regulates the electrical grid) page on their Day-Ahead and Real-Time markets.

      I’m not sure how well the system can handle losing the base load – i.e. the cheap coal & nuclear power plants that are basically always on – but the market infrastructure is there. It’s invisible to regular “retail” consumers; these are wholesale markets, from which your local utility company might purchase power to then resell to you, so we as the end consumer don’t have to deal with the sometimes-extreme day-to-day or even hour-to-hour price fluctuations.

  3. Tatterdemalion says:

    Where would semi-radical scepticism – that is, assuming that anything that there is a general consensus is true is true and anything that there is a general consensus is good is good, but treating all questions with significant numbers of people on each side as uncertain rather than trying to use near view to resolve them – look like as a worldview?

    I’m happy to limit it to “consensus among the living”, because while the living are not necessarily any wiser than the dead, they have access to better information, and requiring consensus over time as well as space would be too crippling.

    Things I think are points of general-enough agreement (not universal, but with enough of a consensus to go with them) include:

    :- The basics of a scientific worldview – atomic theory, germ theory, evolution, etc.
    :- Basic charity (feeding the naked, clothing the hungry, housing obnoxious diagnosticians, etc) is good.
    :- Murder, rape, theft etc are generally bad, and punishing most people who do them at least somewhat is good.
    :- Slavery or forced labour except as a punishment for a crime is bad.

    What would a life lived according to these and similar beliefs, but not disputed ones, look like?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Arguably “consensus of the living” is harder than consensus through time that treats living dissenters as weird, possibly harmful outliers: see C.S. Lewis’s “Men Without Chests.”

    • albatross11 says:

      It’s also worth asking how people came to their opinions. The opinions of everyone before the invention of the microscope on the cause of pneumonia isn’t worth anything, and no clever way of summing those opinions up to notice historical skepticism about the cause of TB will usefully inform you.

    • The problem with the consensus of the living comes about if we conceptualize beliefs more as fashions than knowledge. If we wanted to learn about the best music, you wouldn’t want to limit it to only people alive today. The perspective is too narrow. Of course, beliefs aren’t either pure knowledge or pure fashion but somewhere in the middle.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I’m not sure it would be any different from the life I’m already living, except to the extent that someone else disagreed with me about consensus, or in the few cases where I believe I have good evidence that the consensus view is irrational/wrong.

      Now if everyone did something like this – and there was (ahem) consensus on the contents of the consensus, that would be a lot more interesting. There’d be a lot less opportunity to exploit people’s irrational/”fast system” tendencies for gain, and advertisements and similar might feature meaningful details, rather than emotion-invoking but meaningless phrases, seasoned with outright lies. Politicians who said one thing and then did another – or campaigned on policies the office they were running for could not control/affect – wouldn’t get votes. Evidence-based descisions would involve real research, without incentives to “prove” whatever the funders wanted to be true.

    • An Fírinne says:

      For a lot of “skeptics” their skepticism is a mere skepticism of unpopular opinion. Their religion is the church of general consensus, any such deviation from this is heresy to science.

      You have all these so called skeptics like Michael Shermer who are not skeptics. Their conclusions are kneejerkingly presumed and they work backwords from their conclusion which is antithetical to the way of science. They accuse others of incredulity when it comes to accepting science like evolution but are themselves incredulous of any strange or out there idea by virtue of it being such (everybody knows the universe is boring and menial). They are like vampires cringing at the sight of sunlight preferring to live in castles of self-satisfying narrowmindness

    • Zorgon says:

      The question isn’t really how a radical skepticism would work, but how it could distinguish itself from Idiot Skepticism of the kind expressed by the “debate professor” in this video: https://youtu.be/YjvmIFrX1xQ?t=260 .

      (I’d call it Straw or Weakman Skepticism but, I mean, this guy apparently won the US National Debate Championship twice.)

      • Viliam says:

        Without the video, the student would be like “for example, my professor literally taught us that [content of the video]” and everyone else would interrupt him “no, obviously you are just strawmanning the [group]!”.

  4. johan_larson says:

    I would like to improve my MtG game. I’ve read the Level One articles, and I’m following the weekly Limited Resources and Tap Tap Concede podcasts. What else would be useful?

    Alas, no one has taken the time to write “The Strategy and Tactics of Magic: An Analytical Approach, Volume I: Fundamental Concepts.” 🙁

    • SylvanScrying says:

      It’s hard to give specific advice about what to do to improve without a sense of where you’re at currently.

      Do you understand card advantage? Inevitability? Combat?

      Do you know how to play against with and against each of the major deck types? (Aggro, Combo, Control, Aggro-Control, Ramp, Midrange)

      Do you know how to resolve discard spells? How to play against counterspells?

      Do you know how to alter your play when you’re ahead vs. behind and how to asses that?

      Do you know when to cast spells mainphase vs. during their combat step vs. at their end of turn?

    • Randy M says:

      This is out of date and possibly beneath you, but a great overview of some of the complexities of MtG
      https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/370207/what-i-know-about-magic-gathering

    • Vitor says:

      Well, I don’t play magic these days, but general concepts will go a long way. Most importantly: playing to win [0]. This means that you should actually do the thing that maximizes your chance of winning. Sounds obvious, but many players get hung up on pursuing sub-goals for their own sake. “I just need to manage to cast this planeswalker / kill that planeswalker, and the rest will sort itself out, somehow.” Other failure modes are refusing to do things that are “unfun”, or perceiving certain playstyles as your nemesis (you feel comfortable in your role against that style, but not being that style).

      A few more concepts that are hugely helpful in getting into the right mindset: understanding tempo/pressure, inevitability, and risk management. The efficiency of your plays is highly context-dependent. It doesn’t matter why you put a card into your deck, how perfect its optimal use case looks like. The only thing that matters is the best way to use your resources, from the position you’re actually in right now. E.g. card advantage: getting a 2-for-1 can be nice, but maybe you can’t afford to set it up. Sometimes, you should even take a 1-for-2 just to lock up a game where you already have an advantage. There’s no bonus points for overkilling your opponent, so the better your position, the more you should worry about tail risks. The classic article who’s the beatdown [1] is a good starting point in this area.

      If you’re unsure how to apply these concepts, don’t worry about it just yet. Just do what strategy articles tell you to do, but observe critically what happens, and try to see the deeper patterns underlying the surface plays. The faster you build up intuition about these things, the more you’ll grow as a player.

      Parting thought: good players always think about why they really won/lost after each game, and never use luck as a scapegoat. Adopt that mindset.

      [0]: http://www.sirlin.net/ptw/
      [1]: http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/fundamentals/3692_Whos_The_Beatdown.html

    • moonfirestorm says:

      Alas, no one has taken the time to write “The Strategy and Tactics of Magic: An Analytical Approach, Volume I: Fundamental Concepts.” 🙁

      Patrick Chapin’s book Next Level Magic might be what you’re looking for. I can’t vouch for how useful the book itself is, but Chapin is an excellent player so it may be worth reading about how he looks at the game.

      But the best way to get good at Magic is to just play a ton of Magic. Using online tools like Arena or MTGO is generally good here, because it will expose you to a more expansive metagame while also letting you always find someone to play. Specific tips:
      – Play multiple formats: old draft formats, Standard, Modern, Legacy, maybe even EDH. This will help you get better at evaluating cards outside of a vacuum. This is especially important for Limited, where the value of a card will change wildly based on the speed of the format.
      – Don’t feel like you need to rush through a game: you’ll need to play within the limits of the various turn clocks, but take some time to plan out what your gameplan is for the next few turns, what you’ll do if your opponent removes your creature, etc.
      – Get in the habit of predicting what your opponent has. Is he holding a trick? It’s Turn 3, how many lands do you think are in that hand? If you’ve got a friend who will play paper games with you, you can take it slow and actually make guesses, and have him confirm or deny after the game is over.
      – If you play Constructed, familiarize yourself with the decklists of every meta deck. This ties back into the previous point, because if you know their decklist within ~5 cards you can be a lot better at predicting what they have.
      – Analyze your own mistakes in sequencing and when you walk into traps. This is also easier with a friend who can point out your mistakes, either from the other side of the board or just hanging out watching the game.

  5. SkyBlu says:

    Today in Unintended Side Effects on Social Media: Applebees’ presumably paid Twitter a lot of money to promote their #25centBonelessWings, which led to everyone roasting their “wings” in that tag.

    • acymetric says:

      So, after casually browsing the tag for a minute or two, it didn’t seem overwhelmingly negative. They probably got more than their money’s worth.

      As far as “boneless wings are really just chicken nuggets”…well yeah I mean that’s true, but basically every place that does wings does boneless wings. A big whatever for me.

      • matthewravery says:

        The best boneless wings are chunks of chicken thighs lightly fried with a sweet and spicy sauce.

        It’s basically General Tso’s Chicken less the rice.

  6. Procrastinating Prepper says:

    Effortpost time! Several people in this comment section have mentioned or recommended Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers. So I went and read it, now I’m reporting back.

    Robert Jackall bills his book as a “sociological study of bureaucracy”. Since he only examines the kind of bureaucracy practiced by large American corporations, and only from the point of view of people in the middle-to-upper echelons, we can instead treat his work as a study of managerial and executive culture in American big business. It was published in 1988; my edition had one extra chapter that was added in 2010. My key question going in was how corporate morality has evolved over the intervening 20 years in response to more globalization, less trust in companies and scientists to serve the public interest (think Enron or anti-vaxxers) and most especially the financial crisis of 2008 and impending climate crisis.

    This book did not answer that question at all. Instead it answered an entirely different question: how do the organizational structure and modern practices of large companies affect the moral intuitions of the people inside them? I took two main takeaways from the book-length answer to this question, plus some case studies on whistleblowing that I’ll share if people are interested.

    First, the pyramidal shape of the hierarchy and the number of levels in it both matter a lot. The fact that that most companies have a pyramid-shaped organizational structure means that the higher you go, the more competition you face for fewer spots. Because metrics for measuring competence cannot differentiate between people at such high levels, further advancement is based on playing political games with each other. Managers develop patron/protégé relationships, make secret alliances and intentionally withhold information from bosses and each other while waiting for the chance to impress somebody important.

    When there are more than 20 levels of rank between the production line employee and the chairman of the board, this means that ambitious people need to hold more than a dozen jobs over their careers to climb the ranks from entry-level to the top, staying in no job longer than 2 years. The rapid rate of promotions for ambitious managers rewards extremely short-sighted management styles. For example, if you “milk” a manufacturing plant for two years (run machines and people hard, skimp on maintenance) you can earn outsized profits and get yourself promoted. By the time the plant breaks down from neglect, you’re long gone and it’s someone else’s problem. The lack of accountability is aggravated by managers’ remarkable tendency to give direction verbally and leave no written records. I was interested in how these practices have been changed by personal computers, which allow cheaper storage of documents and better access to archived information, but the 2010 update did not contain any followup fieldwork.

    Second, there is a sharp distinction between what Jackall calls “substantive rationality” and “functional rationality”. Substantive rationality, which we each practice as individuals, means picking the most effective option to achieve your goal. Functional rationality, which is practiced in any large coordinated team, means acting to fulfill some command or maximize some metric that your leader believes will achieve a shared goal. In other words, a distributed rationality where each constituent part follows simple or arbitrary functions, invisible-hand style. As a subordinate, practicing functional rationality means coming up with acceptable rationalizations for every action. The rationalization might depend on the audience: to your boss, substituting a benign additive for a toxic one is about reducing costs or liability. To the public, it’s about protecting the consumer and the environment. To yourself, it’s about making your mark on the company and, again, impressing somebody important.

    (Continued below)

    • Procrastinating Prepper says:

      In very large teams, functional rationality can become hostage to coordination problems. When every group is trying to cut operating costs at once, the subtle inefficiencies or increased risk exposure can increase costs for the company as a whole. This is why private companies have a complicated relationship with their regulators. On the one hand, regulations take away agency and competitive advantage from people. Even if the mandated behaviour turns out to be the correct one, you get no credit for making a decision you were forced into. On the other hand, regulations can cut right through coordination problems, not only between companies but within companies. They provide an alternate, but equally acceptable, rationalization for doing something that your boss wouldn’t have let you do otherwise. The regulators that came up over and over in the book were OSHA and the EPA, which often impose extra costs on everybody in the interest of reducing tail risk.

      Now for the discussion section. If you took every socialist’s worst stereotypes about business, old saws like “credit flows up and blame flows down” or “business only cares about short-term profit”, and spent 300 pages explaining the historical and psychological underpinnings of each one in a dense academic style sprinkled with 1980’s business aphorisms, you’d understand what reading this book was like. Jackall himself didn’t give off a very partisan impression; while he points to Reagan’s influence for various backslides in occupational health and environmental protection, the Democrats get the blame for both causing the 2008 financial crisis and later using it as an excuse to swell federal debt and authority. As an aside, I wasn’t sure how seriously to take the 2008 section. While it certainly illustrates the corruption and irresponsibility Jackall wrote about 20 years earlier, his interviews were all in the manufacturing sector, which has either matured or been outsourced since then. He talks quite a bit about psychological and practical differences between the work of making things and the work of managing others, but knowledge work like tech and finance don’t quite fit in either category.

      While Jackall goes into loving detail on the psychology of whistleblowing or public relations, he also skims past what I consider more impactful topics. He devotes only one paragraph the use of universities as intellectual and psychological proving grounds, paying no attention to the effect of such credentialism on business or society. He devotes one line to the fact that national or globe-spanning companies only promote those who are “unusually willing to stay geographically mobile”, leaving me wondering whether all this moving around had a hand in the formation of the so-called rootless elite.

      My verdict is that this book’s focus was a lot narrower than it could have been, in a way not related to Jackall’s acknowledged difficulty in securing study subjects. However, if you are very interested in rationality, I think you should read it. This book tells the stories of particularly rational, motivated and tech-savvy men working in an extremely irrational environment. These men don’t try to change the system they’re in but direct all their mental energy toward gaming the system in various ways and portraying themselves as smooth and sophisticated persuaders. Now you knuckleheads get out there and hit your numbers! It’s a dog-eat-dog world, so you’d better be a team player and get down to brass tacks. Take the ball and run with it. Show those fellas at corporate where the real profit center is and I’ll see you all in corner offices with round-bottomed secretaries by this time next quarter!

      • albatross11 says:

        I think the different kinds of rationality you get in large organizations probably shape our world in all kinds of subtle ways we usually don’t even notice. Even small groups will often behave in ways that are not rational in the way a single non-crazy human would be rational. Some of this falls out of the Arrow theorem, I think, but there’s a lot more than just expecting preferences to work the way they do for sane individuals.

        This sounds like a really interesting book!

      • teneditica says:

        > If you took every socialist’s worst stereotypes about business, old saws like “credit flows up and blame flows down” or “business only cares about short-term profit”, and spent 300 pages explaining the historical and psychological underpinnings of each one in a dense academic style sprinkled with 1980’s business aphorisms, you’d understand what reading this book was like.

        It’s an interesting book, but it would be mistake to use to argue against capitalism. There is no reason to believe that government bureaucracies work better. If anything, in government bureaucracies there is not even a need to escape responsiblity, because no one is trying to hold you responsible anyway, if you, say, slowed down the approval of a drug, leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

        • acymetric says:

          If you took every socialist’s worst stereotypes about business, old saws like “credit flows up and blame flows down” or “business only cares about short-term profit”

          I’m not convinced that these are explicitly, or even predominately, socialist views.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Yes — I’ll repeat what I said on the other thread. A lot of the problems that those opposed to “capitalism” attribute to it are not problems caused by markets, but pre-existing problems that are actually restrained by competitive markets. Remove the market or the competition and the problem will intensify, not lessen. The dysfunctions discussed in Moral Mazes aren’t caused by the company’s need to earn a profit; they’re hurting the company, not helping it. The problem isn’t the market, the problem is that the managers have managed to protect themselves from its workings; turn up the heat and the company either throws them out on their asses or it dies. You don’t need a market to be plagued with courtiers, which is what these managers basically are.

          (…of course, it’s easy to say “turn up the heat”, but how to actually implement that without causing other negative effects is a problem. So, uh, be careful going too far with this. Still, the general point that the market is not causing such behavior, but rather keeping it in check, stands.)

          Of course, a bunch of the problem here is that the word “capitalism” here is used to mean rather different things by different people (and really I’d suggest avoiding its use). Like, here I’m talking about markets, and specifically competitive markets. But leftists who complain about “capitalism” really mean something else by the term. (I think part of the confusion is that they refer to “capitalism” as a “system”, but they mean something different by “system” than everyone else — they seem to use the word to mean something more like “equilibrium”.) But I also suspect they’re conflating the two to a substantial extent, so…

      • Corey says:

        wondering whether all this moving around had a hand in the formation of the so-called rootless elite

        Probably. I see a few factors in play:

        – Jobs are all temporary (the book’s analysis probably needs to update on this); rather than move up in the same company, you change companies to move up, and you don’t expect to work at any one place for long.

        – Industries congregate: e.g. once you relocate to the Bay Area, Raleigh, Hyderabad etc. there are enough programming jobs that you can switch companies without moving, probably. If you want to manage factories you can move to Shenzhen and there are plenty. So you might could put down roots in a hub for your industry. But:

        – Industries come and go, so if/when your industry dries up you will probably have to relocate as well as break into a new industry.

        (We had a discussion a few threads ago about why Big Tech doesn’t just do everything in India, and the consensus was (mostly) positive agglomeration externalities in the Bay Area. Someone explicitly said that you could get someone cheap who put down roots somewhere else, but you don’t want to.)

        Back when fear of globalization / the Invisible Hand ruled my life, I assumed that the trend of jobs becoming temporary would lead to an end to homeownership, since everyone would have to move every couple years as they changed jobs. That has not yet happened and might never.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Oooo, this sounds interesting and rings true, though seems to come from an entirely different POV from what I’d spin. Both of your key observations definitely match reality.

      1. “Superstars” are promoted rapidly and are expected to produce breakthrough results. They will eventually hit some sort of ceiling, but staying in a position for 2 years (or less, or sometimes slightly more) is expected, particularly at lower levels. However, while you might categorize it as people essentially pumping the factory for money and running it into the ground, I’d describe the majority of these superstars as actual superstars. Most people are merely average at their job. Some people perform truly extraordinary things and create breakthrough change. At our factory, we reduced our wage budget by 15%, increased overall efficiency by 20%, reduced consumer complaints, eliminated unneeded outside contractors, and prevented future sales cuts, through utterly normal practices.
      We had a few superstars responsible for this, who were promoted and moved to another factory. They doubled operational efficiency at that plant, while reducing overall wage spend by about 20%. They are legitimately superstars. Our factory regressed without our key performers, so one of these superstars received another promotion to come back and manage us.
      Most jobs are not complicated. Most of us do not do rocket science. Adept project managers with both high social intelligence and high general intelligence will succeed in most positions, because they will identify changes quickly. However, most people are shockingly incompetent, or shockingly lazy, or both. I mean, our factory requested tens of millions of dollars in capital projects without so much as a cost benefit analysis. What the hell are you supposed to do with that? I just walk into a meeting and people ask me to justify spending millions of dollars on projects I’ve never seen before. That’s just lunacy. And they “just know” these projects will work.

      Superstars are different. They really, truly are.

      2. I don’t quite understand your point on rationalizations. There are generally team goals that do not match individual goals, and it is difficult to coordinate with your team because you do not have perfect knowledge. In addition, if you want to convince people, you need to frame your argument to the way they view the world. In our factory, we cannot pitch projects solely based on cost savings, because the actual emphasis at a corporate level is on capacity. You also cannot pitch capacity and cost savings to factory leadership, because their primary concern is manufacturing simplicity and easy-to-audit standards. It also means, if I want to pitch a cost savings idea, I primarily need to pitch simplicity to factory leadership.
      Everyone thinks about things differently, but that’s why we use cross-functional teams, because everyone’s perspective matters.

      3. This goes into the superstars, but credit does not flow up and blame does not flow down, except with crappy managers (or I guess with your occasional Steve Jobs or whatever). Maybe this is Midwestern style of business, but every manager I’ve been with, even the crappy ones, push credit down to their team and do their best to take the blame for their team. The only exception I’ve ever seen is one extremely obnoxious team lead, a guy so utterly nasty that were he on fire I wouldn’t piss on him to put it out. The best way to be successful is to have a good team, and treating your team like crap in a <4% unemployment rate economy is a great way to lose your team.

      4. Regulations may help, but what's the cost benefit analysis? I am not really confident government agencies are doing robust cost-benefit analyses when they pass new regulations

      • The Nybbler says:

        The way the credit circle is squared is that the successful managers give lip service to giving credit to their team, but the team members get from that anything from good feelings to small one-time bonuses, while the successful managers get the big money and promotions. I don’t know if this is just understood implicitly to be the way things are supposed to be, or if said managers take all the credit for themselves when talking to the higher-ups with the team not present.

        • quanta413 says:

          From a certain perspective this makes sense. There are X team members and 1 manager, so if you accept that the manager is more important than any single team member then if a team does unusually well and if you can ignore all the other factors in the system so then the manager is more responsible for success than any team member.

          Some pretty big ifs though.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s easy to rationalize, but those rationalizations feel pretty thin to the team members after it happens a few times. Some go into management, the rest become Wally (and their next manager doesn’t do so well).

      • CatCube says:

        To take your 4th point first, I don’t think that even nominally-private* organizations that write building codes in the US do a cost-benefit analysis for their regulations. For this, I unfortunately don’t have a link, just a recollection of a comment thread that I can’t find with Google at idighardware.com (whose proprietress is employed by door hardware manufacturer Allegion as an expert in building code requirements and is involved in code updates) where Lori Greene answered somebody asking about when costs get considered with basically, “Costs typically aren’t considered in considering new requirements for hardware, just feasibility” (not a direct quote).

        As to why this is: Megan McArdle wrote a column in the aftermath of the Grenville fire counseling doing a cost-benefit analysis prior to haring off into writing new regulations, and she still has idiots following her around on Twitter shrieking that she wants people to die in fires.

        Many of these regulations are basically deontological. There’s little point in doing a cost-benefit analysis, because you’ll get a lawyer to tug at jury’s and appellate judges’ heartstrings until they arbitrarily crank up the costs until your CBA no longer pencils out. See the Ford Pinto.

        For your faith in CBAs for cutting maintenance costs, I will at least illuminate the other side. I’m working on things with typically a 100 year nominal lifespan, and it is super easy to make costs cuts that don’t catch up with you for much longer than two years, and sometimes you can coast for a couple decades. For example, we have some programmed maintenance welding and painting that was planned in the original design of some of our hydraulic steel structures back in the early 20th century that was kept up faithfully until the 80s, and the structure was like new until then (and a replacement set sitting in a maintenance yard bears this out). Cost cutting measures meant they stopped this and got rid of the paint crew that was responsible for this, and we’re now faced with deteriorating structures that could have lasted (literally) forever if they’d kept it up. However, the people who decided to do this were able to coast until (literally, again) they retired and left us holding the bag, where it’s now a much more expensive cost to replace instead of keeping it up.**

        Of course, maybe what you’re working on has a much shorter life cycle and you know it. I just want to point out that there are certainly circumstances where you can slash costs and coast on the savings for a bunch of promotions.

        * Government employees are usually at least a fraction of the organizational membership that considers these, so there’s a debate about how “private” these are. They do operate as non-profit organizations, and they only write proposed regulations that have to be enacted into law to have any force, though.

        ** To be fair to them, they were faced with increasing costs and shrinking budgets, and probably did this to funnel the money to things that were literally about to kill somebody. Of course, once you start this process, you can end up in a spiral where everything is more expensive to fix on an emergency basis instead of as programmed maintenance, so you defer programmed maintenance to make the fixes, which means that now due to the deferred maintenance you’re going to have some new crisis to consume the programmed maintenance funds, and around and around we go.

        • Ketil says:

          To take your 4th point first, I don’t think that even nominally-private* organizations that write building codes in the US do a cost-benefit analysis for their regulations

          For regulations, I think there is a big difference in that the costs and the benefits apply to different entities or people. OP talked about the lack of CBAs for internal company projects, I think.

      • EchoChaos says:

        What the hell are you supposed to do with that? I just walk into a meeting and people ask me to justify spending millions of dollars on projects I’ve never seen before. That’s just lunacy. And they “just know” these projects will work.

        Superstars are different. They really, truly are.

        Also, sometimes the superstars “just know” too. They just have a way better sense for what actually works.

        Which can be frustrating for people who aren’t superstars wondering why these guys are getting listened to while they are stuck where they are for years.

  7. theredsheep says:

    Homeopathy is arrant quackery which doesn’t work, and I’m here to defend it.

    The main reason alternative medicine flourishes, IMO, is not plain ignorance or stupidity. It’s that in spite of many decades of progress, conventional medicine can only do so much, and when you’re sick and hurting, “I’m sorry, but this is all we can do,” is not acceptable. Take the flu. We mostly treat the symptoms. There’s a vaccine, and it’s partially effective, but if you get the flu, the main prescription medicine for it, oseltamivir, is quite expensive and (per pharmacists I’ve spoken to) might shave a day or two off your recovery time, if you take it quickly. Otherwise, yeah, you lie in bed popping Tylenol and hurting anyway.

    Enter Oscillococcinum. That Wikipedia page is actually somewhat entertaining; some doctor convinced himself that the Spanish Flu was caused by a bacterium, and that it could be cured by duck liver. But it’s a homeopathic preparation, so there’s no actual duck liver in it anyway. So we’ve got the gold standard of wrong, here: it fails to contain an active ingredient that wouldn’t work to kill a pathogen that doesn’t exist. But it’s much cheaper than Tamiflu, and has accumulated a significant fanbase who swear it knocked their flulike symptoms right out of the park.

    On one level, this is infuriating, since they’re peddling ludicrous lies to sick people. But sick people are often desperate, and the placebo effect appears to do something, or at least not hurt. And the beauty of homeopathy is that we can be absolutely assured it does nothing. It’s water. We can be as certain as we are of anything that water, unless ingested in utterly massive quantities, will not hurt a patient.

    The same cannot be said of other remedies. People are always coming up with some new cheap/common substance which has amazing health benefits everybody’s overlooked until now. The latest is turmeric, which is probably also harmless, but given the sheer number of drugs out there it’s not impossible that a person could ingest a bunch of turmeric pills and have it interact with something else they’re taking. It’s not like we’ve studied every possible interaction in detail, after all, and enough common garlic can do weird things to your birth control. St. John’s Wort has become famous for jacking up the way your liver metabolizes (IIRC) roughly half of all known drugs.

    So what will NatureVibes Patented Medicinal Tablets with eight different traditional herbs do to you? Hell if I know. Probably nothing, is my guess, but if you take enough I suppose it could upset your stomach, maybe. I can’t even assess the odds of it achieving the desired results, assuming the pills weren’t made in some Chinese cancer village. No, asking the pharmacist will not get you a different answer. She’s got enough work keeping track of the effects of actual tested medicine.

    Next to that, what’s a little homeopathy?

    • metacelsus says:

      Yes, I guess it’s better than someone demanding their doctor prescribe them antibiotics. But I still think it’s a net-negative, since having homeopathic products widely sold in stores legitimizes an anti-science mindset.

      • theredsheep says:

        In the internet era, I’m not sure it would matter that much. Both because word gets around that way, and because you can order it that way. Anyway, people don’t get their ideas of medical reputability from Walgreens; they get it from their friend who’s a CNA and always takes Vitamin C and Echinacea. If somebody asks the pharmacist about an herbal remedy, s/he will say, “I only deal in FDA-approved medicine. I can’t tell you anything about that.” If you try to explain that it’s quackery, you’ll lose a lot of time you could be spending filling scripts, and also possibly offend or get in an argument with a patient, because their friend is a CNA and takes Vitamin C and Echinacea and blaaaaargh.

        • Garrett says:

          “I can’t tell you anything about that.”

          Hogwash. They can also tell you it comes in a yellow box in isle 5, half-way down on the left.

    • Murphy says:

      There’s no tag equivilent to the /s sarcasm tag to indicate weariness and the coldness of describing the depths to which people will stoop preying on others but just assume I’ve tagged this as such.

      Yes, people want miracle cures. And when its just a case of the snifflles its not a big deal.

      But when your kid gets a terminal diagnosis those same human vultures don’t relent or step back for the sake of decency. They smell blood, they smell a payday and crowd closer.

      I hope you never have the experience of a loved one being diagnosed with something extremely terminal with no cure…. but if you ever do, the people around them will often fall into a few buckets. There’s the ones who just trundle on day to day and seek routine. Those who learn everything there is to learn about the condition. There’s the ones who deny their loved one is really dying. And there’s the ones who desperately seek out miracle men.

      And human society is such that anyone in that last set will be fed a stream of stories about miracle men from those around them in their community, people honestly just tryingt to help who believe in various woo.

      Sometimes people change buckets over time. And for the ones inclined to seek out miracle men….. there are shysters with marketing custom designed to target every flavor of person.

      YES YOUR CHILD CAN BE CURED! The FDA hates us because they’re in the pocket of BIG PHARMA and they don’t want you to know we have a MIRACLE TREATMENT! STEM CELLS! IMMUNO-SOMETHING! Secret syrum! CLEANSE the TOXINS! Powdered crystals thrice blessed under moonlight and mixed with holy water! Homeopathic Remedies made from phoinix tears!

      Whatever scrap of woo you might be slightly inclined to believe in whether it’s a vague belief that the government is keeping sciency medical things from you for no reason, mysicaly channels of magic energy in the body, magic healing water or a belief in spirits. They will find that crack and hammer it open to make you believe that your child/wife/sister/mother can be CURED through their magic.

      For the low low price of a house. Likely your family home. If you don’t have those kinds of saving, don’t worry, those kinds of “clinics” often provide helpful guides on how to run local fundraisers so that your loved one will get to LIVE!

      And your loved one will go out, get some anonymous syrum, a flask of water, get chanted over by the very highest of druids.

      Often they will be told to stop taking any real medecine they’re on.

      And then they will die. Leaving the family deeply deeply in debt and the shysters significantly richer.

      It’s such a common pattern that anyone dealing with deadly conditions primarily affecting younger people…. it’s normal to lose a large fraction of patients to it.

      On the surface it’s just a harmless bit of water. Underneath it’s one of the acceptable faces of a beast like an angler fish that feasts on human suffering, luring in victims with false hope.

      • EchoChaos says:

        +1 so very, very hard.

        Charlatans pitching snake oil has a long and illustrious history.

        I even like making people less likely to take medicine as I think we’re overmedicated as a society.

        But peddling snake oil isn’t the way to do it.

      • Corey says:

        There’s the ones who just trundle on day to day and seek routine. Those who learn everything there is to learn about the condition. There’s the ones who deny their loved one is really dying. And there’s the ones who desperately seek out miracle men.

        And human society is such that anyone in that last set will be fed a stream of stories about miracle men from those around them in their community, people honestly just tryingt to help who believe in various woo.

        I see this in the autism-parent community (the disabled kind of autism, not the neurodiverse kind). For the last set, antivaxxers have fertile ground of course, and going gluten-free is popular. I see some denial but of course those people aren’t particularly tied to the autism-parent community.

        There’s another species of denial – that the condition is even a thing (surely the kids are just being insufficiently-spanked brats or whatever). I don’t see it personally much anymore as my daughter has aged out of it, she presents as more obviously special-in-the-Olympics-sense.

        • Murphy says:

          >There’s another species of denial – that the condition is even a thing

          this exists even for the deadly conditions. Possibly especially for the deadly ones. “there’s nothing wrong with my child, the doctors are wrong, everything will be OK and my child will live a long happy life!!!!!!!!!”

      • theredsheep says:

        Wow. Obviously, I was not expecting to disturb these deep, dark waters quite so quickly. My initial claim was that, taking it as a given that some percentage of the population will never be satisfied with the pace of medical research, it is better for them to be receiving an inert substance than a potentially active and thus potentially harmful one. Now, it’s plainly far from ideal for them to be paying for phony meds in the first place, but given that it will occur, I stand by my statement in the limited context of common retail OTC woo.

        I don’t have any experience with the phenomenon you describe, thankfully, so I can’t comment too much, but I would consider it distinct from common woo-peddling. I called them lies, but I suspect that, on balance, most manufacturers of alternative medicine legitimately believe they are helping people, because most humans are not so maladjusted as to make a career out of deliberately hurting other humans for no reason, and the ones who are seem likely to be temperamentally ill-suited to running a reputable mass-market business.

        In my limited experience, these people are typically not especially clever, nor especially dumb, but have a sort of naive faith that there’s an answer out there to every problem and we could get to it if we’d only get in the right frame of mind or read the wisdom of some dead guy who lived in India five hundred years ago. They are by turns smug, close-minded, and paranoid, but never malicious. I do not conceive of most of them as predatory in the way you describe, and it doesn’t seem fair to lump them together just because they’re both selling hooey.

        • Murphy says:

          I called them lies, but I suspect that, on balance, most manufacturers of alternative medicine legitimately believe they are helping people

          The large fraction of UK Chiropractors willing to make absurd claims like being able to treat things that very definitely can’t be treated by back rubs like colic, cancer or HIV implies to me otherwise.

          You don’t have to crack the backs of many people with AIDs before you should realise it’s doing exactly nothing to help with their HIV.

          • theredsheep says:

            I’ve met a few chiropractors. I don’t know if they think they can cure AIDS, but they didn’t strike me as malicious. Also, you should not underestimate people’s ability to believe in manifestly stupid things. I just read a clickbait the other day noting that astrology, of all things, is booming. Homeopathy itself is quite popular in spite of contradicting basic chemistry and the commonest of common sense–less of the drug makes it more effective and water remembers some, but not all, of the substances its molecules happen to rub up against. I’m quite sure lots of people really believe in it, because they buy the stuff. Is that any less dumb than curing AIDS by manipulating limbs? How do you even compare these things?

          • Enkidum says:

            I think you greatly underestimate the power of self-delusion.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            I became addicted to chiropractor videos on youtube recently and I never noticed any of them promising anything insane. Their promises mostly amount to “Your posture, muscles and joints will improve which will improve blood circulation and nerve system and it would be good”. I don’t know how true it is, but it’s well within realm of sanity.

            I guess they might be incentivized to hide their insanity to lure in new more sceptical customers. Are they just lying in wait, waiting for me to visit, and when I relax they’ll sprung on me and promise to cure all ailments?

          • albatross11 says:

            I don’t know what fraction of the woo sellers are actually sociopaths who know they’re screwing over their dying victims, and how many are true believers. But I’ll point out that we’ve had physicians for about as long as we’ve had civilization, and up until the mid-1800s, they were basically wrong about *everything* and you were probably safer never seeing one. (If only because they hung around sick people all the time and had never heard of germs.) During that time, lots of physicians did expensive, painful, harmful things to their patients trying to cure them, and while some probably knew they weren’t helping much, I expect that most of them thought they were doing their best to treat diseases that were just hard to treat. Hell, surgeons doing radical mastectomies thought they were doing something good for their patients, too, and they were actually real doctors who knew something about what they were doing.

            There’s a lot of internal bias toward continuing to believe in something that lets you make a good living and see yourself as a good person. And human brains are just *terrible* at the kind of reasoning that lets you determine whether treatment X helps with disease Y–for any kind of subtle effect, you need a whole big complex experimental protocol to keep the doctors from fooling themselves. It’s very easy for me to believe that many of the people selling woo really believe they’re helping. I’m sure there are also sociopaths who just look to max out their take, and probably they’re concentrated among the people who most aggressively sell their fake miracle cures to desperate people. But I bet most of the people involved think there’s something to what they’re doing.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            up until the mid-1800s, they were basically wrong about *everything* and you were probably safer never seeing one

            This is backwards. Physicians knew a lot for thousands of years. They were good at diagnosis and prognosis. They didn’t have many treatments, but they didn’t offer harmful ones, either. Over the course of modernity they became arrogant and offered more harmful treatments. They were more dangerous at the end of the 19th century than at the beginning.

            Why do you mention the mid 19th century? Are you thinking of Semmelweis? One person having a good idea isn’t worth much; he died in a madhouse. Anyhow, the problem with pueperal fever wasn’t bad treatment by doctors, it was concentration of doctors in hospitals. Even if doctors were making progress, the prestige of that progress concentrated them and made them dangerous.

          • albatross11 says:

            Douglas Knight:

            How do you suppose an English physician in 1500 compared, in terms of danger or helpfulness to his patient, to a modern homeopath?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It is widely claimed that homeopathy flourished because it was safer than the 19th century alternative.

            I have no idea what a modern homeopath is. Is it a substitute for a GP or is it a specialist? If the homeopath has normal medical training or the patient first sees a GP, then there is little risk, not only compared to a normal doctor, let alone of physician of 1500.

            I thought that European homeopathy was mainly done through pharmacies. Americans complain about European pharmacists prescribing antibiotics for the common cold. Better that they prescribe placebo.

          • DeWitt says:

            Americans complain about European pharmacists prescribing antibiotics for the common cold.

            They complain about what? That’s rich. Americans buy antibiotics without prescription at all like it’s candy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Americans buy antibiotics without prescription at all like it’s candy.

            Say wha?

            Are we talking about anti-bacterial soap or something?

          • Nornagest says:

            You can buy antibiotics without prescription for use on animals, but the only people that do it, aside from those raising animals, are preppers looking for a 5-year supply and nerds looking for a cheap life hack. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you could do the same in Europe.

          • DeWitt says:

            Have things changed in the last decade? Someone I used to game with back in high school said he had a cold, once, and that his mom got him antibiotics. I asked about prescriptions and he confusedly told me she just bought them at the store. I asked some other people and they basically went yeah, why not. Is it all very different now or is something else going on?

          • John Schilling says:

            The most likely explanation is that your friend or your friend’s mother were wrong, maybe using “antibiotic” as a generic for “stuff that treats disease” when they were really dealing with a symptomatic rather than germ-killing treatment.

            Basically all antibiotics intended for internal human use require a prescription in the United States, and that’s been the law since antibiotics were invented. And pharmacists can’t prescribe; you have to go to an actual doctor for that. Prescriptions aren’t that hard to get; basically any doctor (e.g. our host) can prescribe antibiotics, and most doctors who are taking the time to talk to you professionally would rather authorize a pointless Z-pak than listen to another fifteen minutes of you whining about how your child’s cold is really really bad and needs special treatment. But you do need to get a doctor’s signature, and that is a roadblock to the sort of casual use you are describing.

            Some topical antibiotics can be bought OTC, soaps and creams and the like, to prevent minor wounds from becoming infected. And veterinary antibiotics can be purchased OTC or online, if you don’t mind your sick kid taking pills made for dogs. But I don’t think the latter is at all common practice, and it’s probably not what your friend was talking about.

          • DeWitt says:

            I’ve no way to confirm, but alright. That’s good to know.

            For what it’s worth, southern Europeans do hand out antibiotics very freely. I’ve walked out of pharmacies with the stuff without ever seeing a doctor while in Spain.

          • acymetric says:

            Americans complain about European pharmacists prescribing antibiotics for the common cold.

            I’ve never heard that. I’ve definitely heard Americans complain about overprescription of antibiotics, but it was directed at American doctors as much as anyone else.

            I asked about prescriptions and he confusedly told me she just bought them at the store. I asked some other people and they basically went yeah, why not. Is it all very different now or is something else going on?

            I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that these people are using the term antibiotics for things that aren’t actually antibiotics, and were talking about things like Emergen-C, Airborne, various things with zinc in them. Or even just Nyquill/various cold/cough syrups. You definitely cannot, and could not at any point in my lifetime go down to a store and buy antibiotics. At least, not a store that has a sign, takes credit cards, and shows up in Google searches.

            Edit: I see I was ninja’d on this by John Schilling.

        • theredsheep says:

          For comparison, consider the local pastor and someone like David Koresh. You can believe they’re both selling nonsense and still recognize that they’re very different people.

      • albatross11 says:

        It seems to me that this comment of Murphy’s is an instance of the value of not living by lies, and in particular an example of why spreading socially beneficial lies with the best of intentions can easily make the world a worse place. (Also, note that high-prestige serious institutions now have departments of “integrative medicine.” I’m not an expert, but I rather doubt those departments are spending their research dollars well, and their institutions’ prestige will be available when the woo-sellers want to convince the uninitiated to spend money on some chakra alignment.)

      • b_jonas says:

        Yes, there are evil people who get the worried parents’ money by promising a miracle cure. It’s often even worse than you describe. Those quacks offer miracle cures not only when the child has a terminal disease, but when they have a permanent disability that requires continuous expensive care. In that case, it’s not just the parents who end up worse by losing their house, instead the child will end up much worse because they can’t get the actually useful everyday services that would make their lives easier and let them develop.

        (sarcasm) Let me point to one mitigating factor though. During the last eight years, there’s been an advertisment in the swimming pool about one of these fundraisers that you mention. It says that they need money to travel to China for some life-saving operation of their nine year old daughter (imagine photo of cute smiling child here). Rather than asking for money, they were collecting caps of plastic bottles. That child is an adult now, so whatever harm the quacks did for the unfortunate child and her gullible parents is long done. But bottlecaps is an issue that I actually care about. Everyone throws plastic bottles into the trash with the cap screwed on and the bottle inflated, and this absolutely infuriates me. Collecting bottlecaps is generall sponsored by the companies that transport trash, and they pay genuine small change for the caps. The bounty is not because the caps are worth anything, but because the trash that they transport will be half a liter smaller for every cap that they get. This is a goal that I can totally stand behind, so in some way the fundraiser has done something useful.

        • JayT says:

          I am always very careful to never throw away a bottle with a cap on it thanks to the time I was working as a garbage man, and I had the pleasure of experiencing a 2 liter bottle of grape soda exploding in my face while I ran the trash compactor.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Murphy brings up a serious problem with homeopathy claiming to actually cure things. But I wonder if we can get the benefit of placebo without the lying. Would you still get the effect if the pharmacist handed you a bottle of pills full of “specially prepared” water and told you that although it won’t cure your flu, it may help mitigate the symptoms while the flu runs its course? None of this is actually a lie–certainly putting it in gel capsules is a rather special way to prepare water, it won’t cure your flu, and it might help (through the placebo effect). It’s a little misleading, but it’s not like most people understand how medicine works anyways (and the ones that do aren’t buying homeopathic remedies to begin with).

    • Ant says:

      There was recently a huge debate about wether or not homeopathy should keep being reimbursed in France (strangely, the rationalist side won and those will no longer be payed by the social security.
      There are multiple problem with doing what you suggest:

      First, the cost of those placebo quickly add up. Some were paying for more than 150 euros per months in sugar.
      Secondly, this errodes the confidence of vulnerable people toward real doctors, and they then won’t have a good safeguard against snake poil salesmen.
      Thirdly, and the debate show that, what you suggest doesn’t work. French tend to take too many medecines, despite also being important buyers in homeopathy: homeopathy trains you to take medicament for every problem. Then you either also believe in conventional medecine and pressure your doctor to give you useless treatment, or you don’t and you and your children risk dieing of an easily preventable disease(French also have the record of people doubting the efficiency of vaccine in the developped world).

      In conclusion, Homeopathy makes you take too man medicament and made you suspicious of the ones that work.

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      But if you get the flu, the main prescription medicine for it, oseltamivir, is quite expensive and (per pharmacists I’ve spoken to) might shave a day or two off your recovery time, if you take it quickly. Otherwise, yeah, you lie in bed popping Tylenol and hurting anyway.

      Very minor side point, but that seems like an odd description; I got the flu for the first time this winter, and IMO Tamiflu is the closest thing to a miracle drug that I’ve ever taken (with a possible exception for antibiotics; they’re about as effective but seem to have more side effects). My fever stopping climbing and started dropping once I took a pill; the first day or two, this was followed by a brief upward trend shortly before I needed to take the next one, but that vanished in pretty short order, and even then it was never as high as it had been before the pill. I was off Tylenol after about the first day (and capable of being bored, which is my “fever just stopped being scary” marker); I got much better very quickly until I ran out of pills, at which point I defaulted to ordinary disease recovery times. And I didn’t start taking it early; I was untreated for a day or so after full symptoms developed.

      (Also, the two very exposed people in my household who hadn’t got the flu yet got put on Tamiflu as a preventative, and well, neither of them got it. Unless the flu spreads less effectively than colds, I consider that moderate evidence; usually if one of us gets a cold, we’re all likely to get it.)

      Possible I reacted better than most people, but… hard to see how you get closer than that experience to a neon sign displaying This Medicine Is Working, which is why I was surprised to see it as your example of a place that conventional medicine falls down.

      • theredsheep says:

        There’s not a lot of clinical evidence that it’s super-effective, is what I am told. Haven’t looked into it very closely myself, but yes, your experience would be atypical.

    • b_jonas says:

      This argument for homeopathy may work for people who don’t have cheap access to doctors and medicine. But the luckier people who do have access to doctors can get the placebos right from doctors. Look at me for example. I’m taking vitamins, minerals, allergy pills and a blood pressure medication, all of which are very likely harmless placebos. They work better as placebos than homeopathy because a doctor recommended each of them to me. If I ever feel that the dose is not enough, I already have recommendations on what to take for my joints and my eyes. I wouldn’t trust a doctor who recommends homeopathic remedies, no matter how fancy their lab coat is and how the expensive remedy is sold in ordinary pharmacies, so they just wouldn’t work as well for me.

  8. J Mann says:

    Is there an easy way to calculate the following probability:

    I roll a 20 sided die twice and take the higher roll, then roll a 4 sided die and add that to the result. What is the probability that the final number is 10 or higher?

    Thanks!

    • Vitor says:

      For the first part, imagine a 20×20 table. The maximum function is a series of nested corners in this table (i.e., only the bottom left corner is 1, but both entire upper edges are 20). The probability of the maximum being x is thus (2x-1)/400.

      To chain it with the next die roll, just split it into 5 buckets: 5- (0% chance to get 10+), 6 (25% chance), 7 (50% chance), 8, (75% chance), 9+ (100% chance).

      Then add everything up. This is not very compact, but it’s easy in the sense that it’s completely obvious that everything you’re doing is correct.

      EDIT: even easier. first throw the d4 (call the result x). to get a result of 9 or less, both dice need to be below 9-x. this has probability ((9-x)/20)^2

      So you want to average the result of the formula 1 – ((9-x)/20)^2 over all 4 possible values of x.

      • J Mann says:

        Thanks (and thanks to everyone else who responded)! I was hoping there was an easy formula, but you’re right that calculating the 4 probabilities based on the outcome of the 4 sided die and adding them up is manageable.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      Im defining P(X,Y) to be the probability that a die having X sides rolls at least the value Y.

      P(20,Y)=y/20.

      So P(20,<Y) = 1 – y/20.

      The probability of having the 20 faced die being less than 10 twice is (1-y/20)(1-y/20). Therefore the probability of having at least one roll of the 20 faced die being at least 10 is 1-(1-y/20)(1-y/20).

      For y = 10, that probability = 1-(1-10/20)(1-10/20) = 1 – 0.5×0.5 = 0.75.

      So the probability P that you’re looking for is at least 0.75.

      Then you do the same thing for y=9 (for the 20 sided die) and multiply by 1 (the probability that the 4 sided die rolls at least a 1), and you add it to P.

      Then you do the same for y=8 (for the 20 sided die) and you multiply by 0.75 (the probability that the 4 sided die rolls at least 2), and you add it to P.

      Then you do it for y=7 and you multiply by 0.5, and you add it to P.

      Then you do it for y =6 and you multiply by 0.25, and you add it to P.

      EDIT: This is wrong sorry. When you do the calculations for y=9,8,7,… you need to calculate the probability for having the highest roll being those exact values. I believe the rest is good.

      2d EDIT: The probability of having the 20 faced die being less than 10 twice is (1-(y+1)/20)(1-(y+1)/20).

      • jermo sapiens says:

        Ok this is more complicated than I thought. The above is all wrong. Apologies to anyone who read it.

    • Murphy says:

      I’m not too familiar with easy ways to calculate it… but there’s handy tools online:

      https://anydice.com/program/1861c

      output [highest 1 of 2d20] + [highest 1 of 1d4]

      In this case it’s 89.13% chance of being at least 10

      He has articles about writing calculators if you’re interested.

      https://anydice.com/articles/

      • souleater says:

        This seems like the easiest method, there is a little ramp-up time to understand the syntax, but its much easier than performing the calculations yourself

    • Incurian says:

      The Monte Carlo Method.

      • bean says:

        This is a case where it’s easy to explicitly simulate all of the relevant states in Excel, so Monte Carlo isn’t really necessary, and would probably take longer.

        • Incurian says:


          do 10000 times:
          a = max(ran(1,20), ran(1,20))
          b = ran(1,4)
          if a+b > 10
          then x = x+1

          print x/10000

          This seems pretty easy to me, and doesn’t require any thought, and could probably be easily modified to accommodate other scenarios that are more difficult to solve exactly.

          • Murphy says:

            import random

            x = 0
            for i in range(1,10000) :
            a = max(random.randint(1,20), random.randint(1,20))
            b = random.randint(1,4)
            if (a+b) >= 10 :
            x = x+1

            print( x/10000)

            Comes out as 0.8971 so not too far off the real value of 89.125%

          • An easier brute force solution would be to have three for loops and calculate the exact probability of all outcomes, then divide the ones that work by the total.

      • matthewravery says:

        Monte Carlo is almost always the right approach for questions like this if you’re familiar with something like R or Python.

        In R:

        set.seed(20191031)

        nsim <- 100000

        out <- c()

        for(i in 1:nsim){

        out[i] <- max(sample(1:20, 2, replace = T)) + sample(1:4, 1)

        }
        mean(out[i] <= 10) # 0.890203

    • nadbor says:

      Easier to calculate the probability of the opposite event and then subtract from one.

      1 – (8*8 + 7*7 + 6*6+5*5) / (20*20*4) = 1426 / 1600

      • J Mann says:

        It turns out the right answer is smaller than that:

        Based on the discussion above, I went with adding the four cases based on the outcome of the four sided die.

        4 sided die = 1, so the 20 needs to roll 14: .25 * (1 – (13/20)^2) = .144375
        2: .25 * (1 – (13/20)^2) = .16
        3: .25 * (1 – (12/20)^2) = 0.174375
        3: . 25 * (1 – (11/20)^2) = 0.1875

        The sum of those four probabilities = .66625

        • Murphy says:

          those numbers are definitely wrong.

          .25 * (1 – ((13/20)^2)) is not equal to .16

        • nadbor says:

          That is not quite right. Your 4 terms should be:
          .25 * (1 – (8/20)^2) = 0.21
          .25 * (1 – (7/20)^2) = 0.22
          .25 * (1 – (6/20)^2) = 0.23
          .25 * (1 – (5/20)^2) = 0.23
          Which is the same as my formula and adds up to 0.89

          • J Mann says:

            Thanks and mean culpa: I forgot my original problem and was calculating for 15! 🙂

            (And as Murphy pointed out, I also wrote the equations wrong. This is not my day.)

    • rahien.din says:

      Vitor’s post-edit realization helped figure this out.

      n = sides of the smaller die (here, 4)
      i = the result of a single roll of the smaller die
      M = sides of the larger die (here, 20)
      H = the threshold (here, 10)
      P = probability of getting at least H, given that you combine the first roll of an n-sized die with the higher of two rolls of an M-sized die

      The total space contains 1600 (20*20*4) possible combinations. The smaller D4 roll determines the permissible region within this space : a square with a side length equal to the desired threshold minus one minus the D4 roll. This is easier to show graphically… but it’s (H – 1 – i)^2.

      Writing each of these out and combining them algebraically (while realizing what things should turn into n) gives a generalized answer.

      Start with [(H – 1 – 1)^2 + (H – 1 – 2)^2 + (H – 1 – 3)^2 + (H – 1 – 4)^2]/(n*(M^2))

      Each of those squares will take the form A^2 + B^2 + C^2 – 2AB – 2AC + 2BC

      The A^2 terms are H^2 + H^2 + H^2 + H^2. Rather than this being 4*(H^2), this is n*(H^2). Likewise, for the B^2 terms, 1^2 + 1^2 + 1^2 + 1^2 is not 4, but n.

      Likewise the -2AB terms come to -2*H*n.

      Other algebraic reformulations are needed for certain other terms. The C^2 terms are 1^2 + 2^2 + 3^2 + 4^2. This is the sum of k^2 from k=1 to n. This is known to equal (2n+1)(n+1)n/6.

      The -2AC terms are -2*H*(1 + 2 + 3 + 4), and the 2BC terms are 2*(1 + 2 + 3 + 4)/. (1 + 2 + 3 + 4) is the sum of k from k=1 to n. This is known to equal n(n+1)/2.

      QED

      Final result in Excel notation :
      P = 1-(n*(H^2)+n+(n*(2*n+1)*(n+1)/6)-2*H*n+(1-H)*((n^2)+n))/(n*(M^2))

      Edits : fixing my errors

    • broblawsky says:

      Casting guidance a lot, huh?

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Let’s use this as a way to introduce pmfs (probability mass functions), cmfs (cumulative mass functions), and characteristic functions. The pmf is a function that gives the probability of each outcome, while the cmf is a function that gives the probability of getting a result that is at most that value. They are related in that p(X) = c(X)-c(X-1). The characteristic function is the polynomial p(i)z^i, where you sum over i and the sum runs over all possible values of the outcome. These are useful for two reasons. First is that you can take derivatives of it and evaluate at z=1 to get the mean, variance, skew, and other such quantities. The second is that the characteristic function of the sum of two random variables is the product of the characteristic functions of the two random variables individually.

      To find the pmf of X when X is the higher of two rolls of an N-sided die, first note that the cmf of the random variable is the probability that both rolls are at most X, which is (X/N)^2. Applying finite differences gives the pmf of X: p(X) = (X/N)^2 – [(X-1)/N]^2 = (2X – 1)/N^2. The characteristic function is then [(2i-1)/N^2] z^i summed from 1 to N.

      The pmf of Y when Y is a single roll of an M-sided die is, of course, p(Y) = 1/M. So the characteristic function is z^i/M summed from 1 to M. Of course, what we actually want is the pmf of X+Y, whose characteristic function is given by the product of the ones for X and Y. Multiplying out the polynomials is a little annoying to do by hand, but WolframAlpha will do it for us. This gives us the probability for each possible outcome, so you can add up the ones you want (in this case it’s easier to add up the ones you don’t and subtract them from 1). This gives 1 – (1 + 4 + 9+ 16 + 24 + 32 + 40 + 48)/1600 = 713/800 = 89.125%

      Finding pmfs then using WolframAlpha to multiply out your characteristic functions is one of the better ways to find probability distributions for sums of random variables with different distributions, as these tend not to have nice formulas anyways.

    • Probability that 9-20 is the highest number: 1-(8/20)^2

      Probability that you get n as the highest number = 1/20 * n/20 + (n-1)/20*1/20 = (2n-1)/20^2

      So:

      1-(8/20)^2 + (2*6-1)/20^2*.25 + (2*7-1)/20^2*.5 + (2*8-1)/20^2*.75 = 0.89125

    • eigenmoon says:

      This is basically a clarification of Vitor’s answer.

      Given

      1 <= x <= 20, 1 <= y <= 20, 1 <= z <= 4

      observe that failure happens when

      max(x, y) + z < 10

      which is the same as

      x < 10 – z /\ y < 10 – z

      or, even better,

      x <= 9 – z /\ y <= 9 – z

      Geometrically, this is a square frustum (can you see it?). For a given z it has (9-z)² points. So its total number of points can be calculated simply as 8² + 7² + 6² + 5². For the final answer, this needs to be divided by 20x20x4 and complemented because the frustum contains failures, not successes.

      But since you’ve asked for a formula, let me note that 1² + 2² + … + n² = n(n+1)(2n+1)/6 (EDIT: ninja’d by everybody), so

      8² + 7² + 6² + 5² = (8 (8 + 1) (2 * 8 + 1) – 4 (4 + 1) (2 * 4 + 1)) / 6

  9. ana53294 says:

    What is the importance of the Amazon Synod? I must say, when I read the news, it reads like important, but I don’t really get how binding it is, and why Pope Francis allowed it.

    I don’t understand the call to allow Catholic priests to marry, but just in the Amazonian region. Is this a Trojan horse attempt? I get that some priests may disobey bishops, and break celibacy vows, but isn’t obedience and celibacy supposed to be a thing for Catholic priests?

    If the issue is that local communities are not engaged enough, and they want to engage and energize local religious communities by sending married families that would lead a commited Catholic life, and would help form Catholic communities, the Church already has the Neocatechumenate and the families in mission. Why do they need priests to live there? Why isn’t it enough to have priests come for the rites once per month or so? Some missionaries say that strong communities are not in constant need of a pastor. Shouldn’t the Church focus on creating commuties, rather than allow rule-breaking priests to get away with it?

    I get that followers of The Way tend to stir trouble, like they did in Japan, but wouldn’t allowing priests to marry, just in the Amazon, bring even more trouble, not just locally, but globally?

    • Plumber says:

      @ana53294 >

      “…allowing priests to marry, just in the Amazon, bring even more trouble, not just locally, but globally?”

      In the U.S.A. starting in the 1980’s already married former Episcopalian priest that convert to Roman Catholicism may be Catholic priests, but limited to two per diocese, so married Catholic priests are uncommon but not completely unheard of. I suppose that a Catholic priest could become Anglican, get married, and then return to Catholicism but as far as I know that has never happened.

      Allowing those who are already Catholic priests to get married and stay Catholic priests seems a bigger deal to me but I can’t articulate why.

      • Lambert says:

        I don’t think anglican priests can marry.
        It’s only that married people can become anglican priests.
        (or was this just a Civil War-era thing. I seem to remember learning it in a history lesson alongside arguments about whether communion wafers were just Jesus or bread and Jesus.)

        • Tarpitz says:

          Pretty sure they can.

          • albatross11 says:

            A whole lot of Jane Austen novels say you’re wrong….

          • hls2003 says:

            A whole lot of Jane Austen novels say you’re wrong….

            I don’t know much about Anglican orders, but I know a little something about Jane Austen. The most famous example I can think of offhand is Mr. Collins – clergyman, seeking a wife after taking orders (per the instruction of his noble patroness, Lady Catherine DeBourgh). Edward Ferrars is also installed as a clergyman prior to marrying Elinor Dashwood.

          • albatross11 says:

            Married ministers are all over the place in her novels, and ISTR that Austen herself was the daughter of a minister. Definitely in Mansfield Park and Emma, as well as Pride and Prejudice. I’m probably forgetting some others….

          • hls2003 says:

            @albatross11:

            I think perhaps I misread you. I agree that Austen (to the extent her books are still relevant to modern orders) supports that Anglican clergy can marry, and in fact do so all the time, including after they become ordained. That would be contra Lambert above, and in agreement with Tarpitz. Are we in violent agreement on this?

          • albatross11 says:

            hls2003:

            Yes, we’re in agreement–it didn’t occur to me that it wouldn’t be clear which post I was responding to!

        • Statismagician says:

          If only there was some way to check.

          (Yes, per CoE canon law, priests can marry).

        • Plumber says:

          @Lambert says:

          “I don’t think anglican priests can marry.
          It’s only that married people can become anglican priests…”

          Sorry, I was being U.S.-centric (which is why my post began “In the U.S.A…”), and I was using “Anglican” as interchangeable with “Episcopalian”, that is The Episcopal Church in the United States of America (who’s priests may marry) prt of The Anglican Communion, which spun off The Church of England (which I know less about) in 1785 after the American Revolution.

          FWIW on the (stereotype) difference between Catholics and Episcopalians I’m reminded of an old joke:

          Father Kelly: Good to see you again, but can you tell me why your husband never comes to church?

          Coleen O’Brien: Oh, well you see he doesn’t have a good suit and he’s ashamed.

          Father Kelly: Well if that’s all that’s stopping him tell him I know a tailor who will make him a fine suit for no charge

          Coleen O’Brien: Oh, that will be wonderful! I’ll surely tell him!

          Three weeks later…

          Father Kelly: Mrs O’Brien, what happened? Your husband got a new suit but he still hasn’t come to church.

          Coleen O’Brien: Oh, you see he said he looked so rich now he was going to go to the Episcopalian church instead.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Ah, that kind of makes sense. Even though I live in the US, I still use Anglican to refer to the Church of England and its direct/close descendants (the Episcopalians). This is whatt comes of being raised in Canada.

        • JonathanD says:

          I think this is adequately covered below, but since I happen to have relevant life experience, Anglican priests can definitely marry, because I dated and then married one.

          You may be thinking of the Orthodox, who, at least in this country, follow the rules you mentioned. My wife was in seminary with a few (she went to an Episcopal seminary, but there were some Orthodox students) and she told me that this led to the somewhat comical sight of her Orthodox classmates taking new degrees or extra classes or stalling one more year before graduating, hoping to find a wife before they were ordained and out of time.

    • DinoNerd says:

      IIRC, the Catholic church has historically accepted married priests off and on in specific circumstances. One modern example would be Anglican clergy who convert after marrying. And of course if you go back to the schism with the Orthodox church, which had nothing to do with marriage of priesthood, they were both OK with with priests beign married. (But it gets complicated – IIRC, with the current Orthodox church, you can become a priest while married, but you cannout become married while already a priest. They also have two types of clergy, one of which cannot be married. No idea if any of these details applied to the Roman church before the schism, but I rather doubt it.))

      • Nick says:

        That’s right, there are cases of married priests today. Not so much in the Roman rite, but they exist.

        The theological arguments I’ve seen for prohibiting married clergy I find implausible, to be honest. May be a case where I don’t understand them, so I don’t have a firm opinion on it, but I’m not convinced a married priesthood in itself is a problem.

        (Please keep this moderate opinion in mind, folks, when I tell you what I think of the Amazon Synod….)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          (Please keep this moderate opinion in mind, folks, when I tell you what I think of the Amazon Synod….)

          Is it Prime theology, with two-day shipping to any parish in the world?

          • albatross11 says:

            Geez, just wait till the Congregation for the Propogation of the Faith gets wind of that. *Nobody* will expect them!

        • Randy M says:

          A married preisthood is one liberalization the Pope could institute that would have my sympathy, though I guess that’s not surprising from a Protestant.
          I know you guys love your traditions–heck, that’s one thing I admire–but this might be a case to take a look at scripture and then carefully consider the current utility of the fence.

          • Anthony says:

            At least one reason for priestly celibacy in the West was to prevent priests from trying to make their jobs heritable. In the modern world, that may not be as much a problem, though in more familial/clannish societies, preferences for the sons of priests may become a problem.

            However, married priests will *not* solve the priest shortage problem. The Eastern Orthodox churches in the U.S. have at least as bad a priest shortage problem as the Catholics, even though their priests are *expected* to be married. That is, however, not the problem in the Amazon.

          • Randy M says:

            At least one reason for priestly celibacy in the West was to prevent priests from trying to make their jobs heritable.

            Which is easier to enforce? Priestly celibacy, or no second generation ordination? Seems like the celibacy is a hedge that creates worse problems than it solves.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The motivation of stopping priests from making their jobs heritable is over-rated, IMHO. Celibate clergy had long been the norm in the West, even if not universal, based I presume on St. Paul’s teaching about the superiority of the single state.

          • Randy M says:

            Celibate clergy had long been the norm in the West, even if not universal, based I presume on St. Paul’s teaching about the superiority of the single state.

            That’s a tough passage for me. I get the reasoning, that one devoted to a mission may want to eliminate other obligations. On the other hand, two can accomplish what one cannot, and marriage can and should be a source of strength. Then there’s instructions to Timothy that a leader in the church be married.

            I suppose you can get the … best? of both worlds by having a married and celibate clergy, like in Card’s Speaker novels.

          • Nick says:

            I suppose you can get the … best? of both worlds by having a married and celibate clergy, like in Card’s Speaker novels.

            Since I’ve been quoting him a bunch lately—canon lawyer Ed Peters is actually of the opinion that celibacy is disciplinary (as many have already stated), but continence is not. In other words, we could allow married priests, but canon law instructs them for some theological reason or other not to have sex, anyway. Same goes for permanent deacons, incidentally, who can already enter the diaconate married. I take it married but continent is what you mean by married but celibate; I haven’t actually read Card’s novel.

            Peters points to canon 277§1, which is pretty unambiguous:

            Can. 277 §1 Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy. Celibacy is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbour.

            Peters doesn’t go into detail about why clerical continence is more than disciplinary, though. So I can’t even begin to say whether there’s something here.

          • Randy M says:

            I take it married but continent is what you mean by married but celibate; I haven’t actually read Card’s novel.

            I don’t think so; there was an order of monks that had to be married but abstain from sexual intercourse with their spouses while members. It was weird, but intentionally so.

          • Which is easier to enforce? Priestly celibacy, or no second generation ordination?

            Celibacy in the sense of no sex is hard to enforce. But the rule “priests are supposed to be celibate, so if they have sex it has to be covert, which makes it harder to establish familial dynasties” may be easier to enforce than no second generation ordination.

          • Randy M says:

            Celibacy in the sense of no sex is hard to enforce. But the rule “priests are supposed to be celibate, so if they have sex it has to be covert, which makes it harder to establish familial dynasties” may be easier to enforce than no second generation ordination.

            Now we just have to make sure there’s no unintended side effects of the inevitable reveal of that covert sex.

          • Anthony says:

            @Randy M

            Which is easier to enforce? Priestly celibacy, or no second generation ordination?

            That depends on circumstances. In our modern age, with fast travel, instantaneous communications, etc., no heritable ordination is easy enough to enforce. But in the Middle Ages, when the local lord, who considers direct inheritance of office to be right and natural, may have had as much or more influence as the diocesan bishop? Especially when the local bishop is likely to have come from the local nobility?

    • Nick says:

      Why do they need priests to live there? Why isn’t it enough to have priests come for the rites once per month or so? Some missionaries say that strong communities are not in constant need of a pastor. Shouldn’t the Church focus on creating commuties, rather than allow rule-breaking priests to get away with it?

      Priests are genuinely important, though, since they are necessary for the sacraments, and regular participation in the sacraments is a source of grace for Catholics (to say nothing of all the sociological benefits).

      The question of how this will impact rule-breaking priests is a good one. Among the priests that Amazonia does have, there is a problem of de facto marriages and siring children and so on. In other words, priests there are not taking their celibate vow seriously. To say that it turns out the celibate vow no longer applies to them…. well, that sounds like a disciplinary disaster, even if the effects of new priests for these communities are otherwise salutary. I don’t have an answer here; I genuinely don’t know how much to weigh this factor.

      I don’t understand the call to allow Catholic priests to marry, but just in the Amazonian region. Is this a Trojan horse attempt?

      I mean, if you want my personal opinion, yes. This was being pushed for and funded by the German bishops, and the synod was stacked and led by known progressive bishops in order to see a particular conclusion. The German church is very wealthy because of a church tax that Germany levies on people who identify to the government as members of particular churches. So the German church, despite having disastrous numbers (like much of the rest of Europe) on metrics like attendance, vocations, and belief, has a lot of clout in the Vatican. Germany’s bishops conference has been very pushy about things like ordaining married priests and giving communion to Protestants (!! I am not joking about this!), even going ahead with a synod in their country after Pope Francis told them not to.

      Charitably, the German bishops want married priests in their country because of their very steep vocations crisis. That doesn’t mean that it’s okay just because they think they need it, or because it might help; theological concerns trump here. Like I said to DinoNerd, I have no opinion on married priests per se—I’ve heard arguments against a married clergy, but I find them kind of implausible. I’m still very much not a fan of the German church’s machinations here.

      This is all setting aside, of course, what else is going on with the synod—the questions of women deacons (short answer: another German thing, a bigger deal, and a bad idea), inculturation (a good thing abstractly, but concretely I have concerns), and the statues thing in particular (a disaster for everyone on all sides).

      • quanta413 says:

        I know this isn’t the point of what you’re talking about but this totally mystifies me

        The German church is very wealthy because of a church tax that Germany levies on people who identify to the government as members of particular churches. So the German church, despite having disastrous numbers (like much of the rest of Europe) on metrics like attendance, vocations, and belief, has a lot of clout in the Vatican.

        What? Why would anyone tax themselves if they’re not even going to show up? If you don’t get taxed as a member of a church does some other exactly equal tax occur anyways? Is it just sheer inertia? Is it that some Germans don’t even realize by identifying as a member of X church they’re taxing themselves?

        • Nick says:

          Good question, and I don’t know. I know that at least in America, Catholic identity tends to be pretty sticky, but I’m not sure that applies in Germany, where the Catholic population in places like Bavaria is a little more autochthonous.

          • ana53294 says:

            There are Catholics (at least in Spain), who go to church for weddings, baptisms, confirmations and funerals. I’ve heard (not sure of this), that if you don’t identify as a Catholic in the census (and thus pay taxes), you won’t be allowed things like getting married in the church, or funerals.

            So not paying taxes would be a move that is a lot more drastic than not going to church.

        • Aftagley says:

          I looked it up, and I’m flummoxed.

          Basically, if you are a member of a religion an extra 8-9% is added on top of that. It is compulsory if you’re registered in that religion and if you want to opt out, you have to formally notify the state you are abandoning your faith. Doing so apparently forestalls your ability to get the benefits attendant with your faith (IE, some churches won’t bury or marry you if you aren’t a dues-paying member). This practice isn’t just don’t in Germany, you also apparently see if throughout the nordic countries. Wikipedia says the practice grew out of Germanic traditions where the local ruler was expected to support the church, but I’m not sure.

          Apparently the state has a bunch of ways of getting you to register as having a religion – parents fill it out for their kids, immigrants are asked it while being processed. Reading between the lines, it sounds like it also might be kind of difficult to de-register yourself.

          I’m not sure if German parishioners are still expected to give at church/tithe. I know i certainly wouldn’t, but maybe this lets them double-dip?

          • ana53294 says:

            Not letting people get buried sounds very wrong to me.

            My family has a plot of land in the cemetery. That’s were grandpa and grandma are buried. When the time comes, my father too, and my mother. So what if my mother is not Catholic? Why would she be denied the right to be buried beside my father (she’s baptist Russian Orthodox, and they had a church wedding)?

            Even atheists care about things like that. Although there are many people who get cremated, many people still wish to get buried (my parents have expressed a firm desire).

            In Spain, we basically don’t have atheists burial grounds. I guess Jews and Muslims got their own ones, but most people just get buried in a Catholic cemetery, if they’ve got a spot. Since they are municipal, I get the feeling you wouldn’t be denied even in the case of suicide, even though the cemetery is attached to a Catholic church.

            If I emigrated to Germany, I guess it would be easy for me to say I’m not a Catholic. I would rather get buried and married in Spain, if I choose to have a church marriage anyway.

            But this seems like emotional blackmail.

          • Nick says:

            Refusal to bury surprises me. I Googled about it and landed on a 2019 America magazine article where the bishops conference stated that all baptized Catholics are entitled to a Catholic funeral service (and a fortiori a Catholic burial plot?):

            The bishops stressed that all baptized Catholics are entitled to a Catholic funeral service regardless of whether their relatives have Christian beliefs. “The right of a Catholic to the celebration of a funeral liturgy does not cease even if surviving relatives have no regard for church norms when choosing a burial form or place,” they wrote.

            On the other hand, a 2012 BBC article reports that refusal to pay the church tax… results in refusal of Christian burial:

            Without a “sign of repentance before death, a religious burial can be refused,” the decree states. Opting out of the tax would also bar people from acting as godparents to Catholic children.

            It’s possible the 2012 decree was replaced. It’s not at all clear to me. At any rate, that suggests that refusing Christian burial was done recently, at least.

            The whole thing is pretty outrageous to me because excommunication for not paying the church tax is ridiculous in the first place. Canon law places obligations on Catholics to support Catholic institutions. It does not place an obligation on paying some particular tax or even tithing on Sundays. Like, per Ed Peters, here are our canon law obligations:

            1. The Christian faithful are obliged to assist with the needs of the Church so that the Church has what is necessary for divine worship, for the works of the apostolate and of charity, and for the decent support of ministers. 1983 CIC 222 § 1.
            2. The Church has an innate right to require from the Christian faithful those things which are necessary for the purposes proper to it. 1983 CIC 1260.
            3. The Christian faithful are free to give temporal goods for the benefit of the Church. 1983 CIC 1261 § 1.
            4. The faithful are to give support to the Church by responding to appeals and according to the norms issued by the conference of bishops. 1983 CIC 1262.

            I guess that per the fourth one the conference could require it? Still seems sketchy to me. The German church is incredibly wealthy; it’s not like it’s hurting for money.

          • Aftagley says:

            Oh crap – I should specify that the source I was reading was talking about German churches in general that benefit from this tax occasionally refusing to bury, not necessarily Catholic churches. I’ll try and research more to see if the Catholics in particular have done so.

          • ana53294 says:

            Do German Catholics only bury Catholics?

            Outside of Germany, do Catholic cemeteries deny non-Catholics Christians who are in communion (such as Eastern Orthodox) burials in Catholic Cemeteries?

            And it’s not like people don’t have good reasons not to be in a database of religions by the German state.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            an extra 8-9%

            It’s 8-9% of income tax, not 8-9% of income. It’s not tithing. In most countries it’s a flat tax of 0.5-2%, but in Germany it is progressive, just like income tax and it does ultimately get up to 4%.

          • quanta413 says:

            It’s 8-9% of income tax, not 8-9% of income. It’s not tithing. In most countries it’s a flat tax of 0.5-2%, but in Germany it is progressive, just like income tax and it does ultimately get up to 4%.

            Thanks for clarification. My eyes almost popped out when I read 8-9%. 4% is still pretty high at the high end but not nearly as bad.

            The burial thing sounds really weird too.

          • Anthony says:

            In the United States, non-Catholics may be buried in Catholic cemeteries – my father is buried in one, even though he was baptised Greek Orthodox, never converted, and was mostly an atheist as an adult in the U.S. My mother is Catholic, though, so there’s a connection. I don’t know if that cemetery or other Catholic cemeteries would allow someone without Catholic family to be buried there.

          • Medrach says:

            I’m not sure where to put this, because the whole conversation has kind of side-tracked but I don’t know of many denominational cemeteries in Germany. Churchyards sometimes are and sometimes aren’t cemeteries but the general trend seems to be that cemeteries are separate and somehwat agnostic/non-denominational.

        • eigenmoon says:

          Because if you don’t want to be taxed, you must confess to be a non-Catholic before the officials. This is a big no-no. Christians were reporting themselves as believers even when that immediately made them lion food.

      • ana53294 says:

        I didn’t know German bishops had such a big influence. It also surprises me how progressive their bishops are.

        In Spain, bishops make the most conservative branch of the Church, even though Spaniards are not that conservative. I always assumed bishops would be more conservative than their parishioners; they are more commited to the church, after all. German Catholics I’ve met didn’t seem that much more liberal than the average Spanish Catholic (if you exclude the ones who practice The Way and the Opus Dei ones).

        Among the priests that Amazonia does have, there is a problem of de facto marriages and siring children and so on. In other words, priests there are not taking their celibate vow seriously. To say that it turns out the celibate vow no longer applies to them…. well, that sounds like a disciplinary disaster, even if the effects of new priests for these communities are otherwise salutary.

        I think that’s a really important factor. Isn’t obedience (to Jesus and the Church) supposed to be important in a Catholic’s life?

        And while I think it would be OK for the church to allow priests to marry, giving those that broke the rules absolution without repentance seems wrong. So the priests who married while being Catholic priests, or sired children while being priests, should lose the priesthood. The Church allowing priests, who should be examples, to get away with such behaviour won’t do much in saving souls in the Amazon.

        And also, because they’re less commited, they’re allowed to be less commited? I though you weren’t supposed to pick and choose, and that was what got Biden denied communion.

    • SamChevre says:

      Probably worth noting that the issue of married priests in the Roman Rite is legal, not theological. (In other words, it is by definition subject to change.) That’s why other Catholic rites have married priests–differences between rites cannot be theological.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      What is the importance of the Amazon Synod?

      Having not checked the news yet, the first thing I thought was that Bezos was getting really out of hand.

      (“Alexa: excommunicate my guests.”)

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        While no one was looking, Jeff Bezos took forty parishes. That’s as many as four tens. And that’s terrible.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I don’t understand the call to allow Catholic priests to marry, but just in the Amazonian region. Is this a Trojan horse attempt? I get that some priests may disobey bishops, and break celibacy vows, but isn’t obedience and celibacy supposed to be a thing for Catholic priests?

      I think the idea is that, once married priests are allowed in one part of the world, it will be much harder to refuse when the German bishops say “Hey, we’ve got a priest shortage as well, can we ordain married men?”

      Former Anglicans (and I’d assume Eastern Orthodox as well) are a bit of a special case, because they were married and ordained before even joining the Catholic Church. Plus, with the creation of the Ordinariates, the former Anglicans have their own separate juridical structure, apart from the mainstream Latin Rite. So they’re much less useful as a precedent for ordinary Catholic dioceses ordaining married men as a matter of course.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Plus, with the creation of the Ordinariates, the former Anglicans have their own separate juridical structure, apart from the mainstream Latin Rite. So they’re much less useful as a precedent for ordinary Catholic dioceses ordaining married men as a matter of course.

        I just wanted to note that the complexity of Roman Catholic bureaucracy bugs me about the faith: “rites” for Eastern Christians who accept Papal Supremacy, but “ordinariates” for the same thing vis-a-vis the English. Grrr!

        • SamChevre says:

          But a rite and a use are different. The ordinariates are a use, not a rite–we’re still part of the Roman rite.

        • Anthony says:

          The Catholic Church bureaucracy is amazingly simple and uncomplicated for an institution which has not had a revolution in 1700 years.

    • eigenmoon says:

      There’s an increasing number of people who would invite the cheapest priest they can find rather than a priest from their own denomination. AFAIK, in theory only the Communion requires a properly ordained priest; baptism, marriage and burial can be done by everyone. And even that assumes that anybody still cares about the theory. If you think anybody there still cares, check out Santa Muerte and Pachamama.

      By making Catholic priests scarce, the Church has increased the price of their services, but that just priced them out of the market. So they must find more priests or suffer the market consequences. The worst thing that can happen is everybody converting to Byzantine Rites.

      But look, somebody stole an idol of Pachamama from a Catholic church (!) and threw it into a river, and Vatican is pissed and wants the idol back (!). Isn’t that more worrying?

      Scott, we need Deiseach back for this.

      • Nick says:

        I mentioned I was more concerned about the statues above, but no one took the bait.

        • eigenmoon says:

          I didn’t realize that was about a statue of Pachamama, or I’d take the bait 🙂

          • Nick says:

            Well, I said statues because I didn’t want to call them idols*, and I didn’t want to dwell on the point there. They sure look like idols to me, and a bunch of people including a Franciscan were seen bowing all the way to the ground to them in a ritual in the Vatican gardens (!!!), but Francis claims the statues (which he identifies as Pachamama) were being displayed “without idolatrous intent.” I’m very concerned, but I’m not prepared to call the pope a liar.

            *that is, assume for the purposes of the discussion, when it’s precisely what’s disputed

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Nick

            a bunch of people including a Franciscan were seen bowing all the way to the ground to them

            Wow, this gets better and better (or maybe worse and worse).

            I think I saw in “Around the World in 80 Faiths” a Catholic priest sacrificing a llama to Pachamama. Can’t verify because it seems to be off the major video sites.

            “Hey Aaron, what’s that?”
            “Well it’s a golden calf, but totally without idolatrous intent!”
            “Ah OK then.”

          • Nick says:

            Here’s the video circulating from the Vatican gardens. You can see the foremost guy is in a Franciscan robe. We can’t even get Catholics to genuflect before the Eucharist, and these people are dropping to the most submissive possible pose in rituals before statues of a pagan fertility goddess.

            You can see Pope Francis sitting down in the background watching.

          • Aftagley says:

            Hmm, I don’t what I’m more surprised by: that a Franciscan was caught genuflecting before a South American fertility goddess, or that a Jesuit wasn’t.

            (just kidding, in case one of god’s marine’s is reading this. Y’all are still my favorite).

          • Nick says:

            (just kidding, in case one of god’s marine’s is reading this. Y’all are still my favorite).

            No love for the Lord’s Hounds? 🙁

          • Aftagley says:

            Eh, I’m afraid not. At least not as much. My high school was run by the Sisters of that particular order and familiarity, shall we say, bred contempt.

          • Nick says:

            Ah, sorry to hear that.

          • Anthony says:

            “Well it’s a golden calf, but totally without idolatrous intent!”

            Is the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow with or without idolatrous intent?

          • cassander says:

            The Dominicans were founded to stomp out Albigensianism, the Jesuits were founded to stomp out Protestantism. When’s the last time you saw an Albigensian?

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Anthony

            Is the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow with or without idolatrous intent?

            That depends. How many people performed ground bows to it?

            Also, did bishops publish prayers to the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow? I’m referring to this and this:

            Missio, the pastoral agency of the Italian Episcopal Conference, published a prayer to Pachamama in an April 2019 publication devoted to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region.

            The prayer, described as a “prayer to Mother Earth of the Inca peoples,” reads:

            Pachamama of these places, drink and eat this offering at will, so that this earth may be fruitful. Pachamama, good Mother, be favorable! Be favorable! Make that the oxen walk well, and that they not become tired. Make that the seed sprout well, that nothing bad may happen to it, that the cold may not destroy it, that it produce good food. We ask this from you: give us everything. Be favorable! Be favorable!

  10. Tenacious D says:

    So Twitter is no longer going to accept political ads. (Facebook took the opposite approach and decided not to try to act as a referee of political ads). They are including not only ads from campaigns or in support or opposition to a specific candidate but even issue-based ads. The obvious next question is what counts as a political ad:

    Enforcing the policy could be difficult. A former executive for Facebook said on Twitter that banning “issue ads” results in also blocking “every well-meaning NGO.”

    At a time when it seems like almost any issue can be seen as political (just look at how frequently posters here are questioning if {Topic} is too CW for an integer open thread) I think this is a foolhardy move by Twitter. But hey, it’s their platform.

    • Randy M says:

      Enforcing the policy could be difficult. A former executive for Facebook said on Twitter that banning “issue ads” results in also blocking “every well-meaning NGO.”

      By definition!

      • albatross11 says:

        It may even block a few good-doing NGOs.

      • John Schilling says:

        Our side has Grass-Roots Activists(tm), it’s only the other side that has to use Advertising and Lobbyists and Paid Shills. Clearly we can stop their nefarious ways while getting our message out in its full moral purity.

        Says both sides.

        And there is gamesmanship one can play with trying to tailor the rules to favor the sorts of campaigning you think your side is better at while restricting the sort of campaigning the Other Side is best at. Possibly Twitter’s top brass think their preferred causes will be able to use unbanned organic activist tweeting better than the causes they oppose. But that is a fine and dangerous line for them to try and draw.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I think it’s about as sensible as anyone hosting a party and declaring a “no political discussions” rule. Everyone has a fairly good sense of what’s political, as well as a sense of how much of a food fight is likely to start, and so they have a norm for putting a lid on them. I think Twitter’s appealing to the same sense.

      What’s weird here is that only ads are banned. Political tweets are presumably still going to abound. So while we will see people happy that poli-ads won’t fill their feeds, worried that everyone’s drowning in the Wrong Party’s money, we will also see people worried that the Wrong Party’s twitter giants will dominate instead.

      My cynical hat says Twitter was seeing the Wrong Party gearing up to make maximum use of their platform, and called “no ads!” to hold it at bay. Readers are invited to guess who the Wrong Party is, but I think this is the unlikely case anyway, unless they start banning specific users who I think make ads largely moot.

      • The Nybbler says:

        unless they start banning specific users who I think make ads largely moot.

        They’re not about to ban @realDonaldTrump; if they did, Gab would go from gadfly to real competitor overnight.

      • Aftagley says:

        My cynical hat says Twitter was seeing the Wrong Party gearing up to make maximum use of their platform, and called “no ads!” to hold it at bay.

        I think your cynical hat here is incorrect. Isn’t the more reasonable explanation that they saw the public drubbing facebook was getting and figured this was a low-cost way to seem better by comparison?

        • albatross11 says:

          Woke principles are probably a lot less important to Twitter’s management right now than the possibility of some kind of attempt to regulate social media sites.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Well, the point of my cynical hat, after all, is to find the most cynical explanation, which isn’t necessarily the most correct or plausible explanation.

          That said, sure, maybe Twitter’s trying to win prestige by taking the high road, but they’re still going to need to justify that to their creditors.

          • Aftagley says:

            How much could political advertising matter to something like twitter? Does anyone have any good estimation of what % of their revenue is political stuff?

            I could see a world where it’s a rational business move to ban political advertising, it makes money, sure,, but it also has a definite cost attached to it.

        • Tenacious D says:

          I suspect you’re correct about the motivation. But they’re more likely postponing their drubbing than avoiding it, in my view. Eventually there’ll be edge cases that people will complain were allowed or disallowed unfairly.

      • Garrett says:

        The flip-side is that Ads were a way around “community standards”. This results in the relevant companies going back to shaping the debate by refusing to allow the types of material or people who demonstrate support for something other than approved positions.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      What would be the harm if they were overzealous and banned even some obviously non-political ads?

      • chrisminor0008 says:

        IMO, none. I’m categorically against all ads; I think they’re a disease that’s harmful to the recipient and corrupts the medium that presents it.

        If you ask me “Should we ban ads of category [X]?” My answer will be yes, for all values of X.

    • MorningGaul says:

      I can’t decide if it’s a move that will favorise the side throwing the less money in the ads, because it removes an expense source, or the side that throws the most money in it, because it prevent them from throwing their money on a medium that won’t yield any result, and free the fund for better prospects.

      Or have no significant effect because nobody smart was really advertizing on twitter.

      • sharper13 says:

        It’s a move which favors the political views of established celebrities and media figures, as those are the people who will still be able reach large masses of people on twitter with political content, while someone who disagrees with them will not even be allowed to pay for the privilege of doing the same.

        See also the similar effect of campaign finance limitations which in actual effect:
        1. Limit challengers to incumbents because they tend to not already have the same name recognition
        2. Increase the power of “news” political content remaining after the paid content is restricted.

        • Anthony says:

          This is not always true. Had the Clinton campaign been limited to spending as much as the Trump campaign, they probably would have lost New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Nevada, too.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I think this is a foolhardy move by Twitter. But hey, it’s their platform.

      Given Twitter’s leanings, I just took it as an excuse to ban ads they disagree with, and let slide those they like.

    • An Fírinne says:

      Well there had always been bans of ads from certain political undesirables so at least they’re being consistent now.

    • b_jonas says:

      I don’t know if it’s a good or bad to ban political ads. But I think it’s a worthy experiment to try, because it’s quick to revert. If Twitter decides that they want political ads again, they can change their terms of service back and get saturated with political ads within a month or two again.

  11. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Inspired by the New Atheism article but too tangential to post there:
    I think “material causes” vs “God Did It” is a false dichotomy. Material effects always seem to have material causes: something like telekinesis is outside our experience (this has also been expressed logically rather than evidentially as the Interaction Problem in dualism). However, the most fundamental material things are dependent on the laws of physics and mathematical entities for their existence. As mathematical entities and laws of physics are immaterial, non-temporal, it’s parsimonious to think of them as existing in a mind prior to the Big Bang.
    An example of how this cashes out scientifically: eyes somehow evolved by material causes, rather than God telekinetically arranging the molecules in the first male and female animals to have them. Or theologically: God isn’t going to directly materially cause the End of the World, rather if there’s a Last Day for humans, it’s because God thought into existence laws of physics that make the production of nuclear weapons possible and rational animals who could choose to mass produce them.

    • quanta413 says:

      I agree with the thrust of your argument that it may be false that God is separate from material causes. Assuming that God exists.

      However, the most fundamental material things are dependent on the laws of physics and mathematical entities for their existence.

      But you’d have to put me on the rack to get me to say this isn’t backwards.

      Mathematical entities are abstract formal systems invented by humans that are sometimes very useful for describing what we see and predicting what we will see. The existence of a rock doesn’t depend upon the existence of mathematical entities.

      You could say physical law is in some sense logically prior, but not in reference to the physical laws that humans have come up with. We know those can’t be true because they aren’t even compatible with each other (quantum field theory and general relativity have not been united), and are an approximation at best. I expect that even if we did unite those two, it still wouldn’t be true that the physical laws humans come up with are the same thing as “true” physical law.

      Is there some unknown set of “physical laws” that is logically prior to the rock? That sounds almost like metaphysics to me. I’m not even sure the question is answerable or even sensible.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Mathematical entities are abstract formal systems invented by humans that are sometimes very useful for describing what we see and predicting what we will see.

        The iPhone was invented.

        Kepler’s Laws were discovered.

        Do you believe the Pythagorean Theorem was discovered, or invented?

        • Statismagician says:

          A set of geometric definitions out of which falls the Pythagorean Theorem were invented. It was discovered that these definitions happen to more-or-less match up with unaided human experience, if you fudge a bit. Consider other geometric systems.

        • quanta413 says:

          That is the conventional language, but you don’t discover scientific laws the same way you discover an island. I feel like there should be a third word that signifies what’s distinct about the case of using induction and intuition to come up with approximate generalities, but I don’t know it.

          Islands are tangible objects that exist. Kepler’s Laws are a powerful description of our knowledge with respect to a collection of tangible objects. Kepler’s Laws are more like a map of the island than the island. They’re an incredible map that even lets you peer into the future in a way, but they aren’t precisely true. You can measure the perturbations in various planet’s orbits due to other planets. On top of that, the predictions of the extremely accurate Newtonian theory noticeably deviated from the data on the perihelion precession of Mercury. Which was later explained by general relativity. But like I said before, we know general relativity can’t be exact either.

          I wouldn’t say an approximation of the behavior of an object is prior to the behavior. There may be a small set of exact rules that governs the behavior of all physical objects, and I think it might make sense to say that if those exist, then those rules are logically prior to physical objects. But we don’t know those, and can’t be sure they exist.

          Do you believe the Pythagorean Theorem was discovered, or invented?

          I don’t think either word as commonly used quite captures what’s going on here either.

          If you started with the postulates, you could say you discovered Pythagoas’s Theorem. It logically followed from the postulates in a specific logical sense that Kepler’s Law does not logically follow from the orbits of the planets. Deduction vs induction in other words. On the other hand, coming up with the postulates is nontrivial.

          And like statismagician says above, there’s also an empirical sense in which you could consider the Pythagorean theorem.

          • albatross11 says:

            One difficulty here is that we only know how our own minds understand things. For a mind like ours with math like ours, Kepler is a pretty compact and elegant explanation of planetary motion. But it’s possible that there are other kinds of minds or maybe even other systems of math in which Kepler would seem very complicated and gnarly and there was some simpler way of thinking about the problem that gave equally good or better answers.

            This goes to the question of whether we’re discovering or inventing those natural laws. If any intelligent mind that observed planetary motion would come to Kepler’s laws, then we discovered them and many other civilizations probably also know them. If only our weird kind of mind could have discovered those laws, though….

    • lvlln says:

      I was under the belief that the “God Did It” in the “material causes vs “God Did It” dichotomy specifically referred to divine intervention of the “God telekinetically arranging the molecules in the first male and female animals to have them,” or “God came down from Heaven and stopped these motherfuckin bullets” sort. What you describe seems akin to deism which I didn’t think really had any contradiction with “material causes.”

    • broblawsky says:

      That sounds rather Spinoza-esque.

  12. albatross11 says:

    PhD Comics on nuclear nonproliferation. This all looks plausible to me, but I wonder what our regulars who know something about it will think.

    • John Schilling says:

      Generally sound, but they miss the importance of gas centrifuges.

      At the time the IAEA, NPT, and international nonproliferation regime were established, uranium enrichment required absurdly large and expensive industrial facilities that only the (mostly already nuclear) Great Powers could afford and that nobody could hide. Conventional wisdom was that covert proliferation would have to use plutonium breeder reactors, which are cheaper but still can’t be practically hidden because of the heat output. Thus the “covert” part would come from piously claiming that the reactor was for research or to generate medical isotopes or whatever. That’s the sort of thing an inspection agency like the IAEA is really good at addressing, and on a modest budget. We know where your reactor is, and you signed a treaty saying you’d let us take samples here and put tamper-proof seals on that and 24/7 cameras wired to Geneva over there, so open up or we’re ratting you out to the security council.

      The development of gas centrifuge technology in about 1980, changed the equation and made uranium enrichment the preferred proliferation path. Now enrichment can be done in a facility that will fit in a large warehouse or cave, with a footprint and signature indistinguishable from ordinary industrial activity. And in the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan not only filched that technology for Pakistan’s use, but sold it to pretty much every wannabe nuclear power on the planet – possibly even including India. So now nonproliferation requires tracking down facilities that are actually hidden, rather than just policing ones that are known. The IAEA basically can’t do that without assistance from national intelligence agencies, and if they accept help from national intelligence agencies they get accused of being spies for those nations. So, yeah, “Our job is to make sure people are doing what they say they are doing with nuclear technology”, now as then, but now it’s more likely the people doing nefarious things with nuclear technology say nothing at all until it’s time to say it in a way anyone with a seismograph will understand.

      Also, “Presumably no country with nuclear weapons will attack another for fear of retaliation”, appears to have been written by someone who has never met human beings.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        @John Schilling –

        If I’m an acknowledged and accepted nuclear power is there any reason to use gas centrifuges to generate my HEU? I would expect on priors plutonium breeding to be better, because chemical separation is way easier than any sort of mass spectroscopy [1], but I’m not clear about the practical details or what the major countries actually do.

        (Okay, okay, if I’m an acknowledged nuclear power I already have enrichment technology, but you know what I mean.)

        [1] C’mon, you can totally call gas centrifuges a weird mechanical mass spec 🙂

        • John Schilling says:

          Because that sort of thing leads to your top law-enforcement people staring down your nuclear-weapons people over rifle sights, each saying “Dear God, what do you maniacs think you are doing!”

          Chemical separation, actually is kind of tricky when you’re dealing with metal oxides because you need high temperatures and corrosive reagents. When you are dealing with recently-half-burned reactor fuel, now you’ve got a mix of metal oxides and assorted volatiles and all of it intensely radioactive, and now you’re running hot, corrosive, volatile, intensely radioactive fluids all through your process, and getting that even a little bit wrong can be catastrophic. And you have to keep cracking open hot nuclear reactors just to get at the raw materials for the process, also catastrophic if you get it a little bit wrong. Believing that you are your nation’s last, best hope against total annihilation and thus above petty “safety” or “environmental” concerns, is highly conducive to getting it wrong. Hence Rocky Flats, and see also Windscale and Chernobyl.

          Gas centrifuges really aren’t that hard, and you do all the processing before you do any nuclear burning so there’s much less radioactivity to deal with.

          • bean says:

            Rocky Flats wasn’t even doing the Plutonium separation work. That was all at Hanford, which is still a mess today. The cleanup at Rocky Flats was easy by comparison.

            (They run tours sometimes if you’re in that part of the country. The Manhattan Project tour is great, the full-site tour somewhat less so.)

    • Erusian says:

      One thing it leaves out: nuclear weapons are still very much a two power game. The United States and Russia each individually have enough deployed to destroy every other nation’s deployed and stockpiles individually. Further, each individual part of their respective nuclear triads could overwhelm any other country’s entire stockpile. And on top of that, only America/Russia and their respective spheres of influence have the complete supply chain. (China, for example, imports its uranium mainly from Central Asia, which is at the moment still in the Russia sphere of influence.) You could maybe add Britain or France but that’s debatable. North Korea probably does but it’s probably not particularly good at it and kind of got lucky in that it has uranium reserves. (Iran does not: they import from Central Asia either directly or via China.)

      If the United States and China got into a nuclear exchange and Russia sat it out, the United States could nuke all of China’s nuclear sites three times and still have enough to hit every city with a population over 100,000 people three times before it had to draw on its reserves. In other words, Trump has enough missiles ready to launch within minutes to completely wipe out China. (The same is true of Russia.) In contrast, if China fired every single nuke at the United States they could not hit every city with a population of over 100,000 even once. They simply don’t have enough.

      A lot of the authority behind the IAEA is that the United States and Russia (who together hold basically a duopoly on large scale nuclear production and supply chains) have mutually agreed proliferation is bad and also to limit the amount of missiles they produce and deploy. But this is increasingly difficult as advances in technology and nuclear science means it’s increasingly easy to develop nuclear weapons or hide them.

      Also, in more paranoid terms: Russia is a declining power in terms of population and economic capacity but it still has the capacity to wipe any nation off the earth. So what happens when China tries to start expanding into Russia’s sphere of influence or possibly to even expand into its borders? Imperial Russia took territory from China that Russia still holds. What happens when Russia is faced with a wealthy nation with ten times its population that is cutting into its sphere of influence and borders and has ambitions to expand its nuclear stockpile to rival Russia’s? I doubt they could win a conventional ground war very easily. But Russia can position nuclear weapons within 800 miles of Beijing. Within 400 if Mongolia (which has territorial disputes with China) sides with them. They could hit basically everything in China inside of ten minutes. And that presumes Russia wants to nuke periphery areas like Tibet: it’d be even shorter if they just want to hit 90+% of the Han Chinese population. And do you really think that the United States would be inclined to launch at Russia for the sake of China? Knowing that Russia could still launch back?

      • Tatterdemalion says:

        In contrast, if China fired every single nuke at the United States they could not hit every city with a population of over 100,000 even once. They simply don’t have enough.

        I do not think “they could only nuke most of our cities, while we could nuke absolutely all of theirs” is as significant an inequality of power as you make it sound.

        Frankly, once you’ve got the power to nuke just one city that’s already a pretty significant deterrent. And if someone isn’t deterred by the first hundred cities you nuke, it’s unlikely that the next thousand are going to put them off either.

        • Erusian says:

          Frankly, hitting most cities once is the ideal scenario for China. The United States does have some interception capability and in a real strike scenario the US is going to focus on taking out their ability to retaliate first.

          Another way to think of it: the United States can nuke every known Chinese missile site and everywhere they suspect a missile site to exist and still have thousands of missiles left over. China can’t even nuke a fifth of the US’s deployed missiles, let alone the entire stockpile. And that would mean forgoing any damage to other military or civilian infrastructure.

          You’re right it would still be a deadly, destructive war. That doesn’t change the fact that Russia could send multiple nukes to every major population center and military asset the United States has while China could not. The distinction is important.

          • Nornagest says:

            The United States does have some interception capability

            Pretty limited. We’ve only got one system deployed with any proven capability against intercontinental-range weapons (the higher and faster a ballistic missile goes, the harder it is to hit). That system could stop, if everything goes as advertised (this is unlikely), maybe ten or eleven missiles — we’ve got 44 ABMs deployed but they’d normally be salvo-fired in groups of four. China’s got a lot more missiles than that, and it’d probably still have a lot more missiles after the dust settled from a counterforce strike.

            Maybe this will change — the Navy’s allegedly going to start testing its SM-3s against midcourse ICBMs starting next year. But for now, American interception capability is definitely strategically insignificant against any player bigger than North Korea, and quite possibly not even that.

          • Erusian says:

            You’re overestimating how many missiles China has. The high estimate is three hundred nuclear weapons with half being missiles. The low estimate is about a hundred with dozens of missiles. Additionally, Chinese missile technology is relatively primitive.

            I completely agree that interception capability is insignificant against a major exchange with Russia. But China’s just not there right now. The US absolutely could conceivably take out a significant portion of China’s arsenal or intercept a significant portion of the exchange because of how limited it is.

            If Russia fires off a few thousand, though, we’re screwed.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          You’re not wrong, but 1,000 nukes is a war-fighting arsenal, not a minimum deterrence strategy. The problem is that if your opponent isn’t deterred by your minimum deterrence strategy, you really want the extra 1,000 nukes to start hitting key strategic targets. Because your opponent at that point has clearly demonstrated that he is willing to accept mega-deaths, so you really, really, really need to wipe out his war-fighting capacity, really, really fast.

          There are almost definitely scenarios during the Cold War where the US was willing to accept mega-deaths. There are probably scenarios today where the US will accept mega-deaths. Really dangerous game.

      • helloo says:

        You’re forgetting India, which has it’s own uranium and who’s not in the NPT and are in an off and on aggression with Pakistan which as John mentioned, also has them.

        • Erusian says:

          India’s nuclear industry is not sufficient to meet its needs. It relies heavily on imports. Only something like a quarter to a third of its domestic needs are met by domestic production.

          You’re right that Pakistan and India are the most likely source of a limited nuclear exchange (except perhaps North Korea because they’re a bit batty). But neither country has enough of an arsenal right now to wipe the other out, let alone the rest of the world. That could change in the future.

  13. A question about expressing expected value: say you bet $100 for a 20% chance of winning $1000. Is it correct to say the bet has an EV of $200, or a (net) EV of $100? i.e. do you include the original stakes (on average, you get $200 back from making this bet) or just the profit (on average, you net $100)?

    • lightvector says:

      My feeling: you should just use language precise enough to convey what you mean. The EV of “a 20% chance of winning 1000 dollars” is 200 dollars. You can pay 100 dollars to acquire that chance, therefore the EV of the action “betting 100 dollars to acquire that chance” is 100 dollars. The word “EV” doesn’t inherently suggest one or the other, it depends on whether you’re talking about the overall action or the thing you get for paying the cost as part of the action.

      Similarly for the word “make”: imagine one can invest 100 dollars to get back 200 in a year’s time. I’d would not be surprised to hear someone describe that as “so if I do this I make 100 dollars”, but neither would I be surprised to hear someone say “so if I pay 100 I make 200 dollars” even though the literal number that follows the word “make” is different in each statement.

      Same with “cost”. Say you can buy an appliance for 100 dollars and there’s a 20% rebate that you can easily get afterwards. One might hear “it costs 100 dollars but you can get 20% back” or you might hear “so basically it costs 80 dollars”. The word “cost” doesn’t dictate one usage or the other, in practice it’s up to the communicator to be clear and/or for the listeners to understand via context.

      • Taleuntum says:

        OP’s question was: “Is it correct to say the bet has an EV of $200, or a (net) EV of $100?” And the answer to this is that it is only correct to say that the bet has an EV of $100.

        The EV of “a 20% chance of winning 1000 dollars” is 200 dollars

        True, but it is not that relevant to OP’s specific question as OP is asking about the EV of a bet. The word “bet” includes that you bet/risk some money yourself, so when calculating the EV of a bet, you can’t ignore your part. A “bet” without you risking any money is not a bet, it is an opportunity to possibly win money.

        Note: all of your statements are technically true, I’m basically just emphasising the relevant part to OP’s question. (And I’m also not saying that what you wrote is completely irrelevant as OP says that their question is about EV, I just thought that your answer is a bit confusing when talking about the specific question of OP and that’s why I clarified.)

      • Thanks, this makes sense. I’m using the example in a context where people may not have encountered EV before, and I thought $200 would be more intuitive (don’t even need to do the math). So I think I’ll stick with that, and just be precise in the phrasing.

        • meh says:

          I would present it by asking how much they would pay to play the game, and leave the $100 out of it.

  14. proyas says:

    If California buried all its power lines, wouldn’t it end the risk of electric infrastructure sparking wildfires?

    • Nornagest says:

      Not end, but greatly reduce. But burying power lines is expensive, and California is a big state.

    • John Schilling says:

      It would substantially reduce that risk, at very least.

      It would also cost somewhere north of half a trillion dollars, which the state government will not allow the power companies to recoup through increased rates. And it would increase the vulnerability of the power grid to earthquakes and flooding. And all the wildfires would happen anyway, because pointing to a hundred thousand acres of tinderbox and saying “there shall be no sparks here!” is hubris of a degree even Canute(*) would have balked at.

      Also, when the fires inevitably do start, it is imperative that there be some Evil Greedy Deep-Pocketed Billionaire to blame and sue. This is California; we’re not going to blame it on the common man, and we’re certainly not going to blame God, and we need someone to sue. If we bury the power lines, who do we sue when the forest catches fire and burns all the nice expensive houses on the nice forested hillsides?

      * Yes, yes, I know

    • JayT says:

      In addition to it just being an unreasonable ask (there are ~240,000 miles of distribution lines in California), my understanding is that the big high voltage lines basically can’t be buried in California, due to the earthquake risk.

      • Anthony says:

        This isn’t entirely true – bringing lines above-ground to handle movement along faults creates a lot less exposure than aerial lines. But the construction cost of burying transmission lines is much larger than burying distribution lines. Any trench in the US more than 4 feet deep must be sloped (move much more dirt) or shored (expensive equipment), and transmission line trenches have to be bigger and deeper than distribution line trenches. It’s also harder to find breaks, and more costly and slower to repair once you’ve found the break.

        Also, while I don’t know how big a factor this is, there are more transmission losses when you have your line with a bunch of conductive material (wet soil) close to the line than when it’s far away (up a tall tower).

        • JayT says:

          This isn’t entirely true – bringing lines above-ground to handle movement along faults creates a lot less exposure than aerial lines.

          I don’t quite understand what you’re saying here. Are you agreeing, or disagreeing that earthquakes are an issue with burying transmission lines?

          But the construction cost of burying transmission lines is much larger than burying distribution lines.

          Yes, I was just saying that in addition to the cost, I had read that earthquakes are a big issue for transmission lines.

          • Anthony says:

            It’s not that difficult to bring an underground line to the surface and build in enough slack that fault movement won’t damage the lines. It’s not free, and in Southern California, you might miss some of the buried thrust faults, but it’s doable.

            Take your horizontal conduit, put a 90-degree elbow, go straight up about the maximum fault movement you expect (the worst case is about 10 meters), put in another elbow, cross the fault, another elbow, back to ground, and one last elbow to return to horizontal. Make sure the connections at the elbows are free to rotate, but not slide off. Before the earthquake, it’s all co-linear. After the earthquake, you have a triangle. This also accommodates fault creep.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Anthony

            What are the reasons for burying or elevating a line versus “bringing it to the surface” over the entire transmission route (exception for roads)?

          • Anthony says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            When I said “Bringing it to the surface”, I wasn’t being entirely accurate. Transmission lines need to be kept away from people; that means either burying them or putting them high up in the air. For a buried line to cross a fault, it may be easier to have it cross above ground, thus the “bring it to the surface”.

  15. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Southwest Airlines has been profitable for 46 years straight, but the 737 MAX could undo them.
    Airlines that committed to the 737 MAX are stuck eating the costs. They can’t buy Airbus’ competing airplane, the A320neo, because it has over 5,000 backorders; an order placed today won’t arrive for three years. They can’t afford to lease, because the market for large-body airliner leases shot up 40% when the 737 MAX was grounded.

    Personally, I’m going to try hard to avoid air travel after my next trip, and this is actually the first time I’ve paid for my own plane ticket since 2008 rather than consenting with fear and trembling when a relative offers to pay. though that’s not really Boeing’s fault: it’s the bump up to “arrive at the airport two hours before your flight departs so we have time to treat everyone like a terrorist rather than doing profiling.” The collusion between government and big business to make everyone’s life worse feels like a parody of Fascism.

    • Statismagician says:

      I mean, I hate air travel for all sorts of reasons and prefer to drive or take the train if it’s even vaguely practical, but my experience is that the two-hour thing has been standard for ~15 years and that my personal unnecessary-time-spent-in-airports meter has gone down lately. Have you been having more trouble with this recently, or just finally got fed up?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I get more and more fed up every time I fly, yes. I just don’t remember seeing “2 hours” on my “print your boarding pass” emails before. I thought it had been “90 minutes” since the Department of Homeland Security was created.

        • Chalid says:

          I just finished an international trip, and the recommendation was to be at the airport 90 minutes before departure if I had baggage to check, otherwise to be at the security gate 60 minutes before departure. I wonder why yours was so much more conservative.

          I’d just ignore it if I were you. For domestic flights I usually arrive an hour before departure and have lots of time.

          • albatross11 says:

            I fly a lot, and I do try to get to the airport early (I don’t mind working in an airport with my laptop, and usually am more worried about traffic than TSA), but even when I arrive < 1 hour before departure, I make it. It has been like a decade since I missed a flight, and that was from being stuck in the bathroom. It probably helps that I almost never check bags.

            Sometimes airports will warn passengers to arrive early, because there's some expected disruption (like one of their security checkpoints is closed for renovation or something).

          • Aftagley says:

            …and that was from being stuck in the bathroom.

            What?

          • Randy M says:

            Probably got the Ruby’s Cheesburger Queso dip. That almost did it to me.

          • AG says:

            I’ve had shit go wrong with enough frequency that 2 hours is too little time to react to things going wrong (mainly, re-booking flights that get cancelled). For a lot of those, if I had just been able to book smidge faster, I could have had a much more optimized time. Instead, it’s usually resulted in my losing up to a day in my plans. So I have to budget in buffer days, too. This has occurred across 4+ airlines.

        • A1987dM says:

          The 2-hour suggestion is supposed to take into account all reasonably possible delays. In practice, if you’re not checking in any baggage, IME even if you arrive at the airport 45 minutes before the scheduled take-off, you’re far more likely than not to be able to board the plane.

          “If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re spending too much time in airports.” — Umesh Vazirani

      • matthewravery says:

        Relevant factors when considering how early to aim to arrive at the airport:

        – Whether you’re checking a bag (need to have that in at least 40 minutes before take-off!
        – Variability in your trip to the airport (More chances for delays on the road –> you need a larger buffer)
        – Security (as little as 3 minutes if you’re at a tiny airport and have pre-check, as long as ??? if you’re leaving LAX at peak time and you’re suck in the take-off-your-shoes line)

        Basically, when I know the airport, the trip there has few steps/chances for delay, I’m not checking a bag, and I have a better place to be (ie, sleeping later in the hotel, staying in house, etc.), I’ll target as little as 60 minutes prior to take-off. But it really depends on circumstances.

      • cassander says:

        Delays are definitely up because with the Maxes all grounded, there’s a lot less slack in the system if there are mechanical difficulties.

    • bean says:

      It’s going to be more like 8 years than 3 years for an A320neo order. And there are other reasons not to switch, such as fleet commonality. But there are a lot of airliners sitting idle in Washington waiting for delivery. The pain will pass when the regulators are done posturing and let the MAX back in the air.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Savings from fleet commonality getting passed on to consumers was mentioned in the article.

        The pain will pass when the regulators are done posturing and let the MAX back in the air.

        Not if a significant people are scared to fly on it. Though they could just change the name so no one knows what they’re flying on, which was also mentioned.

    • JayT says:

      I never show up to the airport more than an hour in advance for domestic flights, and I’ve never missed a flight. The two hour thing is just the airline covering their ass so that they don’t have angry customers in the random case that something goes wrong.

  16. albatross11 says:

    This Twitter thread discusses a photo album found in Germany by an American soldier after the war. It was a photo album of the staff at Auschwitz. Looking at all those pictures really undermines the idea (which I guess we get from movies and books) that an evil person will somehow have that evil show. These cheerful, smiling folks, flirting with the girls and singing along with an accordion, were running a murder factory. I bet most of them slept just fine at night–at least, they didn’t look particularly haunted or upset or grim in these pictures.

    The first lesson from this is that evil people don’t look evil. If you were a German kid at the time, they’d have looked like respectable adults living just the way they were supposed to–patriotically defending the country and even managing to have a good time.

    The second and more disturbing lesson is that doing evil, even really awful things, probably doesn’t feel all that evil when you’re far enough into it. These people don’t look like people carrying a terrible burden of guilt around. They don’t look hunched over, they don’t look like people who are having trouble eating or sleeping. They look like a bunch of military functionaries doing some innocuous thing–if someone had told you they worked on logistics or something, you’d buy it.

    You and I are probably not any more immune to being swept up into terrible evil than these folks were. That’s one reason it’s important to listen to the warning of your heart, when you find yourself bending your principles a little to get along. Most functional human systems don’t bend normal humans into this kind of behavior, but some do, and if you’re caught up in one and let it happen, you may be the next guy playing the accordion with Joseph Mengele.

    People no worse than most of us have done terrible things over the years. It’s well to remember that, and think about how to avoid adding to their number.

    • teneditica says:

      I think the picture we have an mind of an evil person, is a person that acts against the values of his society.

      Koestler talked about people wearing an invisible leper bell. The people he talked about were prosecuted and despised intellectuals, certainly no one we would consider evil. But they fit this picture perfectly.

      • albatross11 says:

        I have met a few people who seemed evil in the sense of being sociopaths–like here’s a guy who not only would cut my throat for $100, but would be honestly puzzled that anyone *wouldn’t* cut some stranger’s throat for $100 if they could reliably get away with it.

        The point is, mass organized evil[1] is almost never manned by sociopaths. Neither the Nazis nor the Soviets nor the Red Chinese nor the Khmer Rouge had to empty out their societies’ prisons and mental institutions, or recruit mainly from hardened criminals, to fill out their apparatus of torture and murder. It was mostly ordinary people, following the rules of their society into horror. Not everyone followed the rules of their society in that way, and some people actively opposed it. But there were plenty of people who saw the symbols and social context of doing something respectable and took up their places as prison camp guards, and many more who knew what was going on and turned a blind eye to it.

        I, personally, do not want to ever find myself doing that stuff. And yet, I’m unlikely to be any more immune to it than a random German in 1938. So it’s worth thinking about how to make sure I don’t go along with evil because it wears a socially respectable face and receives salutes and smiles by pretty girls.

        [1] If you don’t think the holocaust was evil, I suspect our moral systems are too different to meaningfully discuss the question.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          “It was because he wanted there to be conspirators. It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy.

          You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn’t then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them.

          It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone’s fault. If it was Us, then what did that make Me? After all, I’m one of Us. I must be. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. We’re always one of Us. It’s Them that do the bad things.”

          – Terry Pratchett, Jingo

        • EchoChaos says:

          The Soviets actually did, and using criminals to intimidate political prisoners was a substantial part of their technique.

          I am substantially less familiar with Red China or the Khmer Rouge, so I won’t speculate there.

          The Germans had to weed out people very aggressively to get SS guards. I don’t know the exact process, but they were very selective.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      “evil people don’t look evil’

      A possible explanation is that they are not evil. After all, they do not claim to be evil. Their evil is a product of your judgement. I would recommend spending less time on questioning what is wrong with others and more time on introspection. Socrates and I claim that no human is evil.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      That’s one reason it’s important to listen to the warning of your heart, when you find yourself bending your principles a little to get along.

      Thing being that many of these people were acting on principle. Things like “Respect the Fatherland and protect it from its enemies.”

      As I have said repeatedly before, our principles are in tension with each other.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Of course, another possible takeaway is that there’s no such thing as evil — it’s selectively applied empathy all the way down. Concentration camp guards do not feel any guilt nor remorse because they haven’t hurt anyone they have empathy for. They haven’t betrayed their own principles, they haven’t acted against some natural moral instinct, on the contrary, they did what most people tend to do: protect the ingroup by any means necessary, up to and including exploitation and destruction of the outgroup.

      The same people who officially condemned the nazis as evil were putting their own population in labour camp, raped “liberated” nazi victims, firebombed and nuclear bombed civilians. Your outgroup doesn’t count, evil is only the people who hurt your ingroup (and what counts as your ingroup is arbitrary and variable).

      • Viliam says:

        You seem to confuse “there is no non-evil tribe” with “there are no non-evil individuals”.

        • Machine Interface says:

          I fail to see how that’s a meaningful difference. We see an individual as evil because they hurt us or people from our ingroup. We see a tribe as evil because a significant portion of the individuals who hurt us or our ingroup come that tribe.

          • albatross11 says:

            Machine Inference:

            I dunno. I think the Khmer Rouge were pretty damned evil, even though their victims weren’t really members of any ingroup I can think of closer than “humans.” I think the US torture program was evil, even though the people who were tortured were outgroup members, many of whom intended harm to me and mine. I think plantation slavery was evil, even though black Africans living centuries ago are absolutely not my ingroup.

          • Machine Interface says:

            You can possibly nuance my position to “anyone the outgroup hurts is a honorary ingroup”. Communists are the outgroup, anyone hurt by communists receives the temporary benefit of our empathy, and thus allows us to renew our belief in the evilness of the outgroup.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Machine Interface

            I feel like that’s pretty uncharitable. I’m a Southern American, but I continue to be strongly against the chattel slavery practiced in the Antebellum South even though it was perpetrated by my ingroup against my outgroup.

            And I know a lot of the lefty commentators are against Stalin, who is more ingroup than the average Orthodox Russian Christian to them.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Your outgroup doesn’t count, evil is only the people who hurt your ingroup (and what counts as your ingroup is arbitrary and variable).

        There’s a potential implication here, that evil can be defined as any negative act upon one’s outgroup. Or, to simplify out the “negative” term: any act upon one’s outgroup that one would not do upon one’s ingroup.

        This would mean that anyone with an outgroup at all is at risk of committing evil. Which syncs interestingly with the Christian adage that “we are all tempted toward evil”.

      • albatross11 says:

        And yet, I bet if you had asked those folks a decade earlier about their views of the Armenian genocide, they’d have had very different feelings about the matter.

        • Machine Interface says:

          That’s because muslims are the outgroup. If the muslims hurt someone who isn’t regularly in our ingroup, then they get a temporary promotion so that we can renew our hate of the outgroup — the west cared a lot about the Armenian genocide, not so much about the life conditions of poor Armenians immigrated in the west.

          By contrast, compare how much discussion there is in the west about the century long period of ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Balkans, Crimea and the Caucasus. There isn’t much, because Muslims are the outgroup, whereas those who ethnically cleansed the Muslims are a fargroup and a potential honorary ingroup.

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.

      Terry Pratchett, Small Gods.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology. Ideology – that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes…. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations… Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.

      – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  17. The original Mr. X says:

    Is it worthwhile sending your CV to one of those free CV review companies? My suspicion is that it’s not, since they’ll just tell you it’s bad in order to make you pay them to “fix” it, even if it’s actually fine, but I’m open to correction from someone who knows more than me.

    • cassander says:

      depends how terrible your CV looks, but you could probably get at least as good an answer by asking people you know in your field.

    • sharper13 says:

      Probably not worthwhile for you, as it’s clear from your post that you have a decent grasp of English and can likely format a basic document.

      I just hired someone last week and in the process reviewed about 90 resumes. Others may do things differently, but from a hiring manager’s perspective this is what I’d recommend you pay attention to:
      1. Use a PDF or word doc, as those will most commonly be “normal” for your target HR system. This interaction is the first one your target audience will have with you. Make it an easy one.
      2. Don’t do anything terribly unusual in terms of listing your previous jobs, education, certifications. You want this information to be easily located and cognitively processed by someone who is used to a “standard” resume. They’re not just reading your resume in isolation; again, make it easy on them to get the info they need from your resume.
      3. Some people had long lists of skills at the top, presumably to pass HR reviews. I treated them as spam and skipped right over them, because the vast majority of what was listed was irrelevant to the job they were applying for. YMMV, maybe this helps with the recruiters.
      4. Stand out by making sure your work experience job titles and descriptions demonstrate what you did fit the requirements (especially) and optional nice-to-haves of the position. Emphasize what you did in that job which applies to the job you’re looking for. If they ask for X years of Y as required, make it obvious you meet that qualification, not that you sort-of did something which might be interpreted that way or not.
      5. Try to show a pattern of you took a job and then succeeded at it, getting a promotion, more responsibility, etc… People look for that as a signal you’re competent.
      6. Most Important: Signal the intangible personality/interest stuff you can guess the employer is actually looking for. For example:If it’s a technical position, describe what you do on your own time related to the technology involved. That signals you’re actually interested in it! If it’s sales/customer service, find a way to include how friendly you are, how you’ve been a leader in Toastmasters for 5 years, or whatever sets you apart as the perfect person-type for this specific role.

      • Randy M says:

        . Some people had long lists of skills at the top, presumably to pass HR reviews. I treated them as spam and skipped right over them, because the vast majority of what was listed was irrelevant to the job they were applying for. YMMV, maybe this helps with the recruiters.

        The resumes or that section?

        • sharper13 says:

          Just that section of the resume. I mentally skipped over it if it was present, because if there were 2-3 things in the long list which I cared about, I still wanted to be able to determine they were demonstrated by the other sections. Existing in a bare list of generic skill names didn’t seem to add any value for me.

          So it didn’t hurt, necessarily, because I somewhat understand why people do it, but a story with context is always better than a list in terms of being convincing to the reader.

          • Corey says:

            But putting in the real reasons (“grep bait” or “for automated scanning”) signals cynicism, which is generally to be avoided.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Corey

            As a hiring manager for a software team, if someone put “grep bait” on their resume with their keywords, they would be a near instant hire.

          • Anthony says:

            If I were applying somewhere that I didn’t already have an in, I’d put the skills list in, but at the bottom. I see that in lots of resumes. I’d be more careful to make it grep-friendly if I thought the initial screening was by computer.

          • Randy M says:

            I’ve been advised to basically copy the job posting into the resume in tiny font white text to get picked by the automated searchers.
            I haven’t done this because it seems dishonest and kind of embarrassing. Anyone heard of that being useful?

          • sharper13 says:

            @EchoChaos,
            I’d guess that “grep bait” gets that reaction because (as in #6 above) it signals the right things about the applicant, like they’re comfortable with an *nix command-line and have approximately the right attitude to fit in with the job culture.

  18. albatross11 says:

    In the last OT, we were discussing a “race, genetics, and pseudoscience explainer.” I wanted to point out that Noah Carl has written a partial response.

    The discussion in the previous OT seemed to peter out with all of us agreeing that there are some dumb simplistic models of race that aren’t consistent with available data/science, but then maybe getting bogged down in the details of what is consistent with available data/science.

    One important point I’d make: I think there are a lot of serious thinkers in the broad human b-odiversity world who have a pretty sophisticated view of race and how it relates with genes. The other critical point I’d make is that the way to decide if a concept or category is meaningful is to see if it’s useful. It may be that socially defined race, coma scale scores, Apgar scores, 100 m dash times, and many other things are not exactly cutting nature at a joint, and yet they’re useful for making good predictions or good decisions. If so, they’re probably worth keeping in your mental toolkit.

    I’d also say: beware of people who demand that you discard a useful concept or category on moral grounds or on appeal to authority grounds.

    • meh says:

      I think using language other than ‘a social construct’ would go a long way. Calling it a social construct makes it sound like we’re experiencing a collective hallucination (even if that’s not at all what it means).
      If instead they say it is a real, well defined, yet arbitrary grouping based on outward characteristics society has decided upon, there would be less automatic dismissal, and more openness to engage with the argument.

      • quanta413 says:

        That assumes that the argument that the original authors were interested in having is with people who don’t understand that lumping vs splitting is messy, that phenotypes imperfectly correlate with ancestry, that older classifications are not a perfect map of the territory, etc.

        Despite not saying who is the intended audience, they start off with early attempts at classification including those of earlier scientists

        As Europeans explored and colonised the world, thinkers, philosophers and scientists from those countries attempted to apply taxonomic structures to the people that they encountered, and though these attempts were many and varied, they typically reflected sharp geographic boundaries, and obvious physical characteristics, such as pigmentation and basic morphology – that is to say, what people look like.

        This is not the sort of thing that is relevant if you’re trying to educate people who don’t have a grasp of genetics or evolution or who were making racial classifications based upon “arbitrary groupings based on outward characteristics society has decided upon” rather than writing an essay aimed at people who were thinking of somewhat less arbitrary choices of characteristics. 19th century scientists trying to systematize race would have understood that something like religion would be a poor choice of characteristic for building a biological grouping, and they had some idea of the problems of convergence of physical characteristics (although it would have been harder to deal with back then). They would have used multiple characteristics for classification and attempted to pick biologically significant characteristics. Many of the morphology based ideas and methods used back then on all sorts of animals and humans have been improved since then but not thrown out and are still used today. So… why bring these scientists up? How are these scientists relevant to the question of arbitrary classifications that don’t have something to do with biology?

        Then the original essay subtly shifts target to “colloquial” categorizations while implying early scientists (pre sequencing) were wrong and none of that attempt has anything to do with biological categories

        Research in the 20th century found that the crude categorisations used colloquially (black, white, East Asian etc.) were not reflected in actual patterns of genetic variation, meaning that differences and similarities in DNA between people did not perfectly match the traditional racial terms. The conclusion drawn from this observation is that race is therefore a socially constructed system, where we effectively agree on these terms, rather than their existing as essential or objective biological categories.

        This paragraph ranges from an isolated demand for rigor to a claim that one should engage in radical skepticism depending on how you read it. “Perfectly match” is a ridiculous standard. The claim that “(black, white, East Asian etc.) were not reflected in actual patterns of genetic variation” is hard to interpret as true unless you apply the “perfectly match standard” and otherwise say there is no correspondence between the patterns of genetic variation and the categories.

        If the authors applied the same standard to the study of fossils, they’d consider any paleontological classifications where we didn’t have DNA left as not being biological categories. The upper boundary for how old a DNA sample can be is ~ 1 million years. The Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs was ~66 million years ago. I.e. if the authors are serious, they’re pretty much honor bound to say “all life that occurred more than ~1 million years cannot be biologically classified as of now”.

        Put simply an implication of what they are writing is that paleontology is basically garbage. But I’d bet these scientists would largely accept the classifications of paleontologists as “biological classifications”.

        They’re also implicitly arguing against categories like subspecies and such, but that’s somewhat less interesting.

        EDIT: Although the idea of classifying animals into subspecies is almost exactly analogous to early scientists trying to group humans into races. Argument about subspecies mostly boil down into arguments about semantics and the usefulness of the concept, rather than arguments about the substantive facts. Kind of like the idea of biological human races, the subspecies concept is messy and has known issues but is often surprisingly hard to improve upon.

      • Anthony says:

        What we have is social constructs built on biological foundations.

        This is much more true of gender than of race, but it is true for both.

        • meh says:

          what does ‘more true’ mean here?

          • albatross11 says:

            I’d take it to mean that the biological foundations on which gender is based are much stronger and more profound than the ones on which race is based.

          • meh says:

            @albatross11
            I’m still not sure what that means. Does that mean the markers we’ve chosen for categorization have more predictive power for other markers in gender than they do for race?

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @meh
            Briefly, yes. If you are biologically male, you have a y-chromosome and only a single copy of an x-chromosome. If you are biologically female you have no y-chromosome and two x-chromosomes. This leads to a number of easily-observed physical differences that separate most humans into one of two distinct categories.

            In contrast, if you are white (as opposed to black, or asian, or…) then you have….a number of differences across your genome that lead to less melanin production and a number of other physically distinguishing features, but none that serve as nearly such a distinct classifier as presence/absence of a womb does for sex. Races are far less clean biological categories.

        • Corey says:

          Gender IS the social construct, and sex the biological foundation.

          Sex is the reason I shave my face and my wife doesn’t.
          Gender is the reason she shaves her legs and I don’t.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Sex is the reason I shave my face and my wife doesn’t.
            Gender is the reason she shaves her legs and I don’t.

            Good formulation.

            FTR, laziness is the reason I dont shave my face.

          • Cliff says:

            Historically, this is false. They both have the same meaning. Recently people have tried to create this distinction with some success

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Cliff

            I’ve seen many claims that transgenderism has been around for millenia. Why would Deuteronomy have a proscription against transvestism if a separation of sex and gender did not exist? (Except in the few necessity cases, what was once seen solely as transvestism is now considered part of transgenderism.)

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            I believe Cliff that until recently, the words “sex” and “gender” were used synonymously. However, I think that the recent distinction people are trying to create is a useful one, and thus I try to use the terms distinctly as Corey describes when relevant.

          • Plumber says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid says: “…until recently, the words “sex” and “gender” were used synonymously”

            Sure, but Mrs. Smalls (my high school Latin teacher in 1983) told us: “Words have a gender, people have a sex”, and my English and German teachers said much the same back in the ’80’s.

    • broblawsky says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this topic flat-out banned on this site?

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        I believe that discussing the propositions of what the authors of the linked paper have called:

        [a] small number of researchers, mostly well outside of the scientific mainstream, [who] have seized upon some of the new findings and methods in human genetics, and are part of a social-media cottage-industry that disseminates and amplifies low-quality or distorted science

        is indeed off the table.

        So it’s a good thing that that’s not what’s under discussion here.

        Instead, this is a meta-level discussion about the sort of bad arguments respectable, mainstream scientists shouldn’t be making – even with the best of intentions – because it is worse than unhelpful; it may well be counterproductive.

      • albatross11 says:

        No. The term is banned, but the topic is not, and we’ve discussed human b-odiversity/muggle realism many times in the past. There are people, here and in the wider world, who think this topic should be off limits everywhere, and even some people who think that it would be better to lie about human b-odiversity adjacent ideas to the public rather than allow the public to get the wrong ideas by learning about racial differences in average IQ, crime rates, etc., and that’s an idea I’ve argued pretty strenuously against.

        • ECD says:

          I don’t get involved in these discussions because I’m not able to be civil, but I will say, from my observation of them, the percentage of people who think

          t it would be better to lie about human b-odiversity adjacent ideas to the public rather than allow the public to get the wrong ideas by learning about racial differences in average IQ, crime rates, etc.,

          are very low and almost always responding to someone asking, ‘well, if I’m right, should we talk about it?’ (not a direct quote) rather than suggesting it sua sponte. Far more common is people who think that a lot of the above is far more influenced by society and that the data is compromised by the existence of institutional racism and its effects on the subjects of the study. I am not going to engage on the substance of this point, the only purpose of my comment is to avoid what I believe to be a misinterpretation of your comment.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Eric Raymond makes what I think is a good point about Horrible Bad Discourse: rational people (like us, presumably) ought to talk about it seriously (and civilly), because if we taboo it, we cede the ability to learn about it to the people who are motivated by prior beliefs. They’ll draw the lessons that we consider harmful, claim they’re upheld by science, and we’ll be unprepared to argue the point.

            Obviously, this being Scott’s forum, I prefer to follow his rules in spirit rather than skirt them, but I think there are ways to refer to the topic seriously and also avoid bringing Scott a lot of undeserved heat.

          • ECD says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            Like I said, I’m bad on this topic, so I’m not going to engage at the object level, however, I tend to think of this like holocaust denial. Yeah, someone needs to do the hard work on deconstructing and disproving holocaust deniers arguments.

            It doesn’t have to be me and I don’t have to be part of that conversation and I don’t have to hang around the ‘we correct holocaust deniers’ forum. That is neither fun, nor enlightening for me.

            Please note, I’m not saying that the holocaust denial is the same as the discourse in question here, but rather that I think this position generalizes into one that is bad for this forum, in my view.

          • albatross11 says:

            Paul Brinkley:

            I agree with Eric, but I’ll also point out that, as a society, we *don’t* avoid the topic of racial differences–we talk about them all the time, from the biggest megaphones around, but we do it while excluding a lot of relevant and known facts. Discrimination and racism and the legacy of slavery are always acceptable explanations for differences in educational outcomes, for example, however thin or even contradictory the evidence.

            If we’re trying to avoid inflamatory discussions that might increase racial tensions, then we ought not to have mainstream media sources attributing all kinds of bad outcomes of blacks to white racism with no evidence. And if we have that kind of claim in mainstream media sources all the time (and we do), then I’m pretty skeptical that not wanting to inflame racial tensions is the reason for avoiding discussions of racial average IQ differences or crime rate differences or other stuff.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            @ECD

            I don’t have to hang around the ‘we correct holocaust deniers’ forum. That is neither fun, nor enlightening for me.

            If it helps, I’ll say I’m in your boat. I wouldn’t enjoy it either (I’ve honestly never gotten very deep into it, but I’ve seen some denial arguments and I’m sure I’d need months of reading to get up to speed). But then, cleaning out the gutters on our house is also not very enjoyable, and yet, someone has to perform such tasks.

            Doesn’t have to be you or me, even so. However:

            I think this position generalizes into one that is bad for this forum, in my view.

            Then you’re saying this is a forum for discussing… what? If rationalism is to be the key to cracking tough issues, well, here’s a tough issue, no? Sure, it’s useless if too many people are arguing from emotion, but what about the people who want to argue from reason?

            If you’re worried that it would swamp the forum, I agree that’s an important concern – which is why I’d propose FAQs to quickly route inquiries away. Joe asks question #28, refer him to answer #28. If people keep asking, report them for not reading upthread, rather than for asking taboo questions.[1]

            If you’re worried that SSC would be come the witchcatcher for every Tom, Dick, and noob question about extremely hot-button topics, then maybe the thing to do – supposing we were in charge of the garden here, as opposed to Scott – would be to maintain SSC as a sort of “intro to rationalism and good discussion”, where the FAQs for witches are all bunched up under a meta-FAQ that says people need to go to a more advanced forum for people who want to use rationalism to really belt-sand on the tougher issues.

            Which is to say, maybe there needs to be a forum for “industrial rationality”, somewhere. Maybe we don’t have to make it, but someone will, and we’ll have to know to point people over there. I hesitate to dump on them, but TheMotte subreddit is the closest I know of. Or maybe Eric’s blog (when the subject arises).

            @albatross11

            [A]s a society, we *don’t* avoid the topic of racial differences–we talk about them all the time, from the biggest megaphones around, but we do it while excluding a lot of relevant and known facts.

            This is precisely why I think Eric wants good people to control that space, rather than ceding it to a no-man’s land of newcomers who stumble into it and just get upset and panicky, and people who go there on purpose, as a resource to support their agenda. If you’re the only one who’ll look at the gutters, you become the gutter expert.

            [I]f we have that kind of claim in mainstream media sources all the time (and we do), then I’m pretty skeptical that not wanting to inflame racial tensions is the reason for avoiding discussions of racial average IQ differences or crime rate differences or other stuff.

            If that’s so, then what do you think is the reason? To hide good information behind innuendo and propaganda? (I can’t tell if you’re agreeing with Eric’s point or making a new point I’m missing.)

          • albatross11 says:

            I think there are two things going on:

            a. Once a narrative is established on some issue in our dominant media, it becomes self-re-enforcing. Contradictory facts, ideas, etc., tend not to appear, and the 100th story on some issue tends to have the same basic narrative as the first five or so. The narrative on the black/white performance gap was largely established during the time of school segregation, when blacks in many places were being given crappy education in underfunded schools, and when desegregation was part of a moral imperative alongside other ways of getting rid of Jim Crow/American apartheid type policies and practices. The facts on the ground have changed a lot, but the narrative has stuck around.

            b. Racial IQ differences have been largely tabooed from polite society, complete with books and arguments that don’t really hold together but give people an excuse to dismiss the question without thinking about it. Taking those differences seriously is a pretty good way to find yourself out of a job as an NYT reporter or opinion writer, and the target of a lot of public outrage. That strongly encourages reporters on these issues to steer clear of any mention of that stuff, even when it would be relevant. (It’s very relevant for school performance differences–IQ scores are really good at predicting school performance.)

            There are also a fair number of people who think the whole topic is so toxic and socially dangerous that it should never be brought up in public except maybe by specialists in jargon-laden academic publications. Among them are included some reporters (Megan McArdle is on record saying that scientists should be banned from studying the subject) and editors and many other people. Presumably reporters and editors who think IQ statistics are probably true but socially destructive to discuss try to avoid discussing them in their articles. Further, experts in education who think that IQ differences are driving educational performance differences won’t give reporters quotes supporting that if they either think that the subject is too toxic to be discussed in public, or if they think discussing it in public will get them fired.

      • broblawsky says:

        Both @Faza (TCM) and @albatross11 have given me diametrically opposed versions of the current ban-status of witch-talk on this board, so I’m reporting the top post in hopes of getting clarification from @ScottAlexander. No animus intended, though.

        • Nornagest says:

          You could just read the actual rules. The relevant section is (bowdlerizations mine):

          I have censored a couple of terms that usually indicate posts that aren’t going to contribute to a productive discussion. Aside from the usual range of racial slurs and pointless insults, I have added “Dr*mpf” and “f*ke news” to celebrate the recent election, and “neore*ction”, “Gamerg*te”, and “human biodiv*rsity” as topics I am trying to get people to avoid. Comments containing a censored word or phrase will fail to appear.

          That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but by my reading it falls short of a topic ban.

          Anyway, no one’s ever been banned for evading the censor list. A couple people have been banned, and a couple more warned, for spamming the associated topics in an unusually single-minded and obstinate manner, but as long as you aren’t a one-trick pony and you’re reasonably polite, I think you’re probably safe.

          • broblawsky says:

            Well, now I feel dumb – it honestly didn’t occur to me to just check the rules. Thank you for your suggestion.

  19. Purplehermann says:

    Is drinking desalinated water unhealthy long term?

    I didn’t see anything about health risks on WHO, but have heard from multiple people that there is long term damage from drinking desalinated water (as your primary water typqe) long term. Prof. Yona Amitai also seems to thinks it’s a real issue (found by a quick google search) so it’s not just a local superstition.

    • kaakitwitaasota says:

      That seems kind of unlikely on the face of it–isn’t all rainwater ultimately seawater desalinated by evaporation?

      I could certainly buy that osmosis does a subpar job in ways that are not healthy long-term.

    • Lambert says:

      What exact minerals are the problem?
      If it’s deficient in a certain ion, you can always dissolve some of the relevant salt back in.
      If it’s rich in e.g. Hg+, that’s a bit different.

    • ana53294 says:

      I know that desalinated water is terrible for soil long term, because it leads to an over accumulation of boron. But humans have kidneys, and AFAIK boron is not particularly harmful.

    • KieferO says:

      Part of the time that I was in college I ended up doing a lot of homework in the materials science lab. It had a deionized water faucet that I ended up filling up my water bottle from it, mostly because it was far more convenient than the water fountain down the hall. Other than having to pee way more often than I otherwise should have, I didn’t notice any ill health effects beyond what one would expect from being a sleep deprived oft-hungover college student. But that was the “cheap” deionized water, we were warned to treat the mili-Q water as if it were acid. I believe that if you tried to drink that there would be short term (like order seconds) health effects.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      It causes nasty outbreaks of EPA.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      Definitely better than salinated.

  20. johan_larson says:

    It’s confession time. What’s the worst dirt your industry or sector does? And don’t tell us about here-today gone-tomorrow scandals. Tell us about the day-in day-out grind of ruined lives and wasted fortunes.

    My industry is software, and more broadly computing as a whole. I guess the worst dirt on us is that we enable surveillance on a really unprecedented scale, commercially for the high and noble purpose of effective ad targeting, and by the state for crime control and (by the more authoritarian governments) suppression of dissent.

    Farther afield, some of the workers assembling electronics overseas sure are pushed hard and apparently there are some pretty nasty industrial processes involved in making the shiny shiny hardware, but I know a lot less about that stuff.

    • The industry I recently retired from is legal academia. The law school industry routinely transfers from poor to rich, the opposite of what the ideology of most law school professors supports. I discuss the pattern, and the reasons for it, in an old blog post.

    • AG says:

      Five specimen sample sizes as the standard.

      Then again, I feel like a whole lotta grad students just do one specimen per configuration, so that’s even worse.

      And once a product is finalized from research to actually being sold to customers, there’s ongoing QC data, so it’s not completely bad. But even then , the sample size is still spread such that a whole lotta material within-batch variation has a good chance of not showing up.

    • matthewravery says:

      Doing proper statistics is wicked hard, and as a result, it’s mostly not done correctly. This is true of p-values, but it’s also true of literally anything you could use instead of a p-value. Effect sizes, confidence intervals, whatever. If you want to do inference, you’ve either got to be meticulous about both how the data are generated and how you do your analysis or you’ve got to collect a crazy amount of data.

      Instead, you get overly-simple models fit haphazardly because time and expertise are in short supply. You fit the model that’s fast and that the software knows how to do.

      This isn’t universally true by any means, but if you want to be really rigorous, you should almost be programming a model from scratch each time.

    • J.R. says:

      I’m in manufacturing.

      Something is always on fire. We never have the resources to get our best engineers out of firefighting mode because you have production folks hounding them to get the machines up as quickly as possible to maximize efficiency (read: $$$). Root cause fixes don’t get done or performed correctly because some other fire pops up in an engineer’s area just as they finish containing the first one. God help you if an engineer with 5+ years’ experience in an area leaves.

      The worst part is the cycle. You arrive, and you realize how toxic the system is. You swear up and down that you’ll never be like those engineers who only think in the short-term. Then you finish your meager training and get put in the hot seat for the first few times. You struggle, but you get the first few fires fixed and locked down for real. Then the day comes when you’re battling 3 things at the same time and you’re just staying afloat. And then that period just never ends as more and more things fail and you still don’t get help. In fact, your productivity actually declines because you’re forced to go to meetings to explain what the status is and give everyone ETAs on when things will come up again — ETAs that will inevitably be revised a few hours later once you actually do the work and run into roadblocks. Eventually, the desire to be proactive or even the ability to be proactive is erased. Your main goal, then, is just surviving to the end of the day.

      The only time root cause fixes are made a priority is if a problem creates a quality issue that is too embarrassing for management to ignore.

      • woah77 says:

        I second this post. Every bit of it. I’m trying to get out of the industry specifically because of this. Everyone relies on tribal knowledge and turnover is high so substantial quantities of time are spent gaining familiarity with poorly documented systems in order to find an issue. Everyone puts in overtime, works weekends, etc and nobody ever manages to get ahead. I managed to get some of our paperwork (ECRs) done because I needed to work from home for unrelated reasons. I hate only thinking short term but I don’t have to ability to make any systemic changes that will give us the time to actually fix systemic issues with how engineering cycles are done.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Yeah, this is an issue. We actually had 100% turnover in our Engineering department after the Engineering Manager was attritioned out and the position was combined with Maintenance Manager. They are not the same thing, but everyone in Operations thinks they are the same thing and Engineers get pulled for short-term fire tasks.

          This ties into my post on Industrial Engineers a while ago. I really like my IEs because they try to formalize the tribal knowledge, and they really try to put data to intuition. It’s unfortunately a really long, tiresome process, because a lot of lifers in Operations do not have this mindset.

          Our company is now attempting to solve by this by completely removing Engineers from the Operations reporting and evaluation structure. I’m not sure this is really going to help. You really just need people almost solely devoted to strategic analysis and keep them out of the tactical problem-solving, or else they will be entirely involved in the tactical problem-solving.

          Also, I see the same stupid graph at least once a quarter. We spend most of our time on fire-fighting. If we can fix root cause, then we can spend most of our time on improvement projects!

          Yeah, you aren’t the first person to have that idea.

          My life the last 6 months is basically trying to pick up nickels in front of a steamroller. Pretty sure that’s never going to change. That’s who I am now. Eventually I’ll get flattened, but unemployment is under 4%.

    • S_J says:

      I write software. Most of the time, software for custom-hardware-devices that are sold to companies that build cars.

      It’s not really a secret, but few people grasp how many programmable controllers are hiding inside their car. From engine to instrument-cluster, internal-lighting to door-zone-modules to climate-control to entertainment…there are likely a dozen, possibly two or three dozen pieces of electronics-plus-software controlling the behavior of the car.

      And it’s low-quality software, compared to the stuff written for avionics-controllers in the airplane industry.

      • Incurian says:

        Are any countries or brands known for relatively high quality software?

        • S_J says:

          Well, first you have to figure out what percentage of components in that GM/Ford/VW/Toyota/Honda/Fiat-Chrysler car were designed by Denso/Bosch/Harman/Delphi/Visteon/Continental… And then figure out where the hardware/software design was done for each.

          Most automotive suppliers are global companies. Many of them have home offices in Germany/Japan, and subsidiaries with engineering centers somewhere in the U.S. Sometimes the design work is done overseas, and sometimes it’s done at a local office. The software team might be at the same office as the hardware-design team, or they might be at the office of a software-contracting company in India.

          The quality of software usually rises to “doesn’t cause the car to do unexpected things”. It’s easy to keep things at that level if the in-car network is not connected to an outside network.

          But in-car-entertainment often includes such things as USB-media devices, Bluetooth phone/media, smart-phones that connect and use the in-car-display, and special “customer service” hotlines with a built-into-the-car cell phone network connection. All of those things are gateways for outside computers to try to connect to the car electronics and do nefarious stuff.

          Did you ever see this story? To my knowledge, duplicating that attack still requires access to inside-the-industry data about how to manipulate the internal-to-the-car electronics. But it’s scary how those hackers utilized holes in the cell-phone-data-network, some sort of remote-login port that was left open, and lack of authentication of software updates to get remote access to a car. And then turn the car’s engine off.

          That story also includes a possibility of what @johan_larson wrote about: there’s a GPS antenna in that kind of car, and there is a software/hardware module that is intended to make it easy for the car-buyer to subscribe to an always-on-Wifi-hotspot. That combination of hardware has all the tools in place for the car company–or a data-aggregation service that they hire–to spy on where the car-owner is driving, when, and how often.

    • Bamboozle says:

      I’d say the scale and variety of tax-avoidance strategies that are only open to people with >£10m or even just >£1.5m. In the UK people have ISA’s and LISA’s and pension sacrifice and other strategies and I guess it’s just the scale of it that bothers me but somehow those all seem fine, yet putting £10m into a trust in the Isle of Mann to gift a child tax free just always seems unethical to me.

      Tax avoidance strategy is something i wish was much more common knowledge, but it seems impossible to get people to care about things that don’t directly affect them.

  21. jermo sapiens says:

    I had an epiphany last night about the notion of race as a social construct. Would like to hear if others had the same idea and if you can poke holes in this idea it would be great. I imagine that for some this will be trivial, but for me it wasnt.

    There is obviously a biological basis to race. There are many different levels at which biology is meaningful, and there are only a few of these levels at which there is a social importance attached to the biology. For example, I’m french-Canadian, so my ancestors came from France about 400 years ago, and lived in difficult conditions having to suffer harsh Quebec winters without electricity. I’m not sure if my DNA could be distinguished from that of a French person whose ancestors never left France. Let’s assume that it could be. Silly discussion on the particular faces of French Canadians here. FTR, in some cases I can tell somebody is french canadian just by their face, but not in most cases.

    Anyways, the point is, nobody really cares about these distinctions. The biological differences between Canadians of French, British, German, etc. descent does not matter at all socially. Socially I am white. That’s where the biological differences intersect with social construction of races to create meaningful categories.

    Same thing could be said about other races obviously. My buddy from Hong Kong claims to be able to tell a Chinese from a Japanese by looking at them. But when I see a japanese or chinese person all I see is “asian”. And I’m sure in Africa people make distinctions between west africans, east africans, this tribe, that tribe, at a much finer level than what we care about in North America. Just look at Obama, a descendant of slave owners on his mother’s side (I’m not 100% sure on this but I recall seeing it somewhere), and a Kenyan, with literally zero shared ancestry with 99.9% of american blacks.

    So to recap my point:
    -social construction of race depends on the biological reality of race
    -biological reality can be relevant at different levels of shared ancestry
    -social construction is the selection of the level at which the biological distinctions are given social importance.

    • EchoChaos says:

      My buddy from Hong Kong claims to be able to tell a Chinese from a Japanese by looking at them. But when I see a japanese or chinese person all I see is “asian”.

      Interestingly, as a white guy who lived in Korea as a child, I can fairly easily tell the difference between East Asians (Koreans, Chinese, Japanese). Southeast Asians I can’t. I have no idea the difference between Thai and Vietnamese, for example. My father may be able to since he served in Vietnam, but I don’t think so.

      I suspect it has to do with childhood learning of facial distinctions. I can usually tell the difference between American blacks and Africans, because I grew up in the South and on military bases with lots of American blacks and few Africans.

      I probably couldn’t tell the difference between different types of Africans except in dramatic extremes (Ethiopians v. Nigerians).

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Yes, that’s pretty much the bog-standard understanding of what “race is a social construct” means. People who claim that the phrase means that it rejects the idea that genetics affect you at all aren’t correct.

      a descendant of slave owners on his mother’s side … with literally zero shared ancestry with 99.9% of american blacks.

      If he is a descendant of slave-holders, his shared ancestry with “American” blacks is higher than this.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        People who claim that the phrase means that it rejects the idea that genetics affect you at all aren’t correct.

        I suspect there is a motte-and-bailey thing going on with that.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        If he is a descendant of slave-holders, his shared ancestry with “American” blacks is higher than this.

        Yes, in the sense that American blacks have some European DNA.

        • At a slight tangent, one of the standard classifications is “mixed race.” Logically speaking, that should apply to virtually all Afro-Americans.

          But as our society classifies things, people with mixed African and European ancestry are blacks, people with mixed Asian and European ancestry are mixed race.

      • albatross11 says:

        The usual way I see “race is a social construct” used is as a counter to the claim that some observed racial difference in outcomes or performance (especially IQ differences) might be genetic in origin. That quickly falls apart when you recognize that race is a social construct which is based in observable biological differences, which themselves are based on genetic differences and are also correlated with a bunch of genetic differences.

        That doesn’t mean those visible differences in outcome or performance are genetic in origin–for most such differences, there are plausible arguments either way given what’s known right now. It just means that “race is a social construct” doesn’t give us much help in deciding the question. You can’t refute Murray and Jensen by pointing out that American racial categories have a large social component–you have to do some more work than that.

      • albatross11 says:

        Note that you can have completely socially constructed things that correlate strongly with biology. For example, holding a PhD in math is a socially constructed thing with no biological essence. And yet, whatever the biological correlates to intelligence are, people holding PhDs in math surely have a lot more of them than the general population. Similarly, playing professional basketball is entirely socially constructed. And yet, whatever the biological correlates to height and athleticism are, people playing pro basketball surely have a lot more of them than the general population. And so on.

        You can also have entirely biological things that strongly correlate with social stuff. For example, physical beauty is mostly just genetics + health + youth. But the physical beauty of a girl in high school has a strong positive correlation with her social standing.

      • quanta413 says:

        Yes, that’s pretty much the bog-standard understanding of what “race is a social construct” means.

        It isn’t even close to what many people mean when they say that; as far as I can tell, most people who say “race is a social construct” do not mean what jermo sapiens means. For example, take this article responding to David Reich’s book Who We Are and How We Got Here which has 67 people signing it – mostly Professors and other researchers in the areas of History, Anthropology, Sociology, or adjacent areas.

        For example, among other things they say

        Their robust body of scholarship recognizes the existence of geographically based genetic variation in our species, but shows that such variation is not consistent with biological definitions of race.

        It’s pretty hard to reconcile this with jermo sapiens bullet point 1.

        I’m not pulling a quote out of context either, and I linked the article above so people can confirm. I could go on and on from that article or other articles that are hard to reconcile with jermo sapiens definition of the idea “race is a social construct” (and I could choose plenty more that were written by historians, scientists, etc.), but I’d rather see if you’d like to respond.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I was looking at the three points as tied together. The “race” we generally use colloquially is the third point.

          Point 1 I would simply restate as: distinct historical geography and ancestral lineage has led to distinct genetic legacies.

          So we can say things like: Ashkenazis are susceptible to Tay-Sachs disease. This doesn’t mean that “Jews” have Tay-Sachs, nor that Tay-Sachs is Jewish.

          We can also say that “The Scots and the Irish have an increased prevalence of a series of recessive mutations in the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), a gene located on chromosome 16, and therefore may have red hair.”

          We could also say that most Europeans have the same variant for the SLC24A5 gene which causes cells to make less pigment, resulting in paler skin.

          Does having that variant make you “white”? It depends.

          • quanta413 says:

            I was looking at the three points as tied together. The “race” we generally use colloquially is the third point.

            You mean what you mean, but do you see what I’m saying by that doesn’t read like what these 67 people mean?

            In the context of that essay, the authors are responding to a book by David Reich (geneticist) and they explicitly say

            Their robust body of scholarship recognizes the existence of geographically based genetic variation in our species, but shows that such variation is not consistent with biological definitions of race [emphasis mine].

            They may switch meanings in other parts of their essay, but the overall thrust is pretty clear. They are very much challenging “biological definitions of race”.

            Point 1 I would simply restate as: distinct historical geography and ancestral lineage has led to distinct genetic legacies.

            This is true, but I think it’s only half of point 1. The second half of point 1 is “These distinct ancestral lineages are often very similar to how people made social classifications of race which also tended to be based upon ancestry and lineage, but not with the same rules”.

            For example, people in the U.S. tend to group whether or not someone is “black” upon whether or not they have any black ancestors. This is nonsensical from a biological point of view since every ancestor counts (except maybe ones whose genes don’t manage to recombine their way into you). But since most “whites” in the U.S. tried really hard not to mix as equals with “blacks”, they managed to keep the two groups much more genetically distinct than they would be otherwise.

            Their social rules changed what the biological pattern would be in the future, but they still had a dependence on the same sort of physical facts as the biological definition.

            Does having that variant make you “white”? It depends.

            To me the answer is clearly “no” even if the correlation is perfect. The gene may make someone’s skin whitish pink or beige but that’s not the same thing. A single gene may be 100% correlated with race (although no examples come to mind, it’s possible and a few genes have high correlations with some groups), but the biological definition of race is about ancestry and most colloquial usage is too. Although the colloquial usage doesn’t have the same dependence on ancestry, which I believe is where point 3 comes in.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Here are the next three paragraphs after the passage you quoted, claiming they are making a different point than I am:

            Reich critically misunderstands and misrepresents concerns that are central to recent critiques of how biomedical researchers — including Reich — use categories of “race” and “population.”

            For example, sickle cell anemia is a meaningful biological trait. In the US it is commonly (and mistakenly) identified as a “black” disease. In fact, while it does have a high prevalence in populations of people with West and Central African ancestry, it also has a high prevalence in populations from much of the Arabian Peninsula, and parts of the Mediterranean and India. This is because the genetic variant that causes sickle cell is more prevalent in people descended from parts of the world with a high incidence of malaria. “Race” has nothing to do with it. Thus, it is simply wrong to say that the higher prevalence of sickle cell trait in West African populations means that the racial category “black” is somehow genetic.

            The same thing goes for the people descended from West African populations whom Reich examined in his work on prostate cancer. These people may have a higher frequency of a version of a particular gene that is linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer. But lots of people not from West Africa also have this same gene. We don’t call these other people a “race” or say their “race” is relevant to their condition. Finding a high prevalence of a particular genetic variant in a group does not make that group a “race.”

            In other words, they are making exactly my argument about jermo’s point 1. The fact that point 1 is true doesn’t mean that “race” isn’t socially constructed (point 3).

            As to whether the absence of some very specific genes make you “black” or “white”, let’s look at these twins.

          • quanta413 says:

            Apologies for the very long response. I’ve tried trimming what I can, but I’m running out of steam.

            Those paragraphs are arguing against a biological definition of race. They might be reconcilable with what you said, but they disagree with what jermo sapiens said which was “social construction of race depends on the biological reality of race”. You skipped a bit between the sentence I quoted and those three paragraphs which I’ll put here for context

            …Nor does that variation map precisely onto ever changing socially defined racial groups.

            Reich critically misunderstands and misrepresents concerns that are central to recent critiques of how biomedical researchers — including Reich — use categories of “race” and “population.”…

            You’d think that in the following paragraphs you quoted, the authors would answer or refute some sort of mistaken or incorrect way Reich uses the concept of race. Have you read Who We Are and How We Got Here or Reich’s NYT opinion piece? Because those three paragraphs show that either many of the responding authors didn’t understand what Reich wrote or something worse.

            Reich does not say in his article or book that the “black” or “Sub-Saharan African” race is a thing because of a few diseases that are associated with Sub-Saharan African Ancestry. That would be backwards. He doesn’t categorize races by disease prevalence. So all those paragraphs are countering claims that he does not make.

            Reich says that the difference in disease rates is sign that race/ancestry is a useful concept for helping people. Summarized his claim might be “race/ancestry is correlated with phenotype, and so knowing someone’s race/ancestry can be useful for inferring things like disease risk which is a reason we should care about race/ancestry”. That’s not the claim the authors are answering.

            A little further down, the authors lose his point more thoroughly.

            Human beings are 99.5% genetically identical. Of course, because the human genome has 3 billion base pairs, that means any given individual may differ from another at 15 million loci (.5% of 3 billion). Given random variation, you could genotype all Red Sox fans and all Yankees fans and find that one group has a statistically significant higher frequency of a number of particular genetic variants than the other group — perhaps even the same sort of variation that Reich found for the prostate cancer–related genes he studied. This does not mean that Red Sox fans and Yankees fans are genetically distinct races (though many might try to tell you they are).

            In short, there is a difference between finding genetic differences between individuals and constructing genetic differences across groups by making conscious choices about which types of group matter for your purposes. These sorts of groups do not exist “in nature.” They are made by human choice. This is not to say that such groups have no biological attributes in common. Rather, it is to say that the meaning and significance of the groups is produced through social interventions.

            At the risk of sounding crazy, this also doesn’t answer any claim in the book or the article. It’s facts without context responding to claims that haven’t been made. Humans and chimps are ~96% identical by genes, but that doesn’t mean that humans and chimps only 8 times less similar than two randomly chosen humans. Knowing the % of shared DNA doesn’t tell you much about anything.

            Reich’s book is about the way human populations move around, split, and merge over time. Reich defends the use of the concept of “races” because it’s a good rough categorization in many cases for the history of these populations (whether geographically separated for tens of thousands of years or through something like many generations of socially enforced endogamy).

            The reason no one thinks of red sox and yankees fans as two different “races” and it being hypothetically possible separate them by genotyping isn’t relevant is because that doesn’t match the way anyone has ever used race. Because red sox fans and yankees fans aren’t long separated distinct mating populations nor do red sox and yankees fans correspond to those in the past.

            It makes no sense to compare races as a group classification to classifying people as based upon what baseball teams they like unless you are denying that racial classifications based upon shared ancestry are biologically sensible. It’s a big part of what scientists study in other animals all the time, but the claim is it doesn’t make sense in humans. There’s a reason that most modern scientists since Darwin group animals in clades by ancestry (inferred or measured) and not by qualities like color or body temperature or favorite baseball team except in as much if you pick a big enough basket of qualities and are careful you can infer ancestry with some success.

            As to whether the absence of some very specific genes make you “black” or “white”, let’s look at these twins.

            You’re using it here to mean “skin color”, while I was using it to mean “ancestry”. But I was clear beforehand about which meaning I was talking about

            The gene may make someone’s skin whitish pink or beige but that’s not the same thing.

            And my own example of the difference between biological and social classifications was this

            For example, people in the U.S. tend to group whether or not someone is “black” upon whether or not they have any black ancestors. This is nonsensical from a biological point of view since every ancestor counts (except maybe ones whose genes don’t manage to recombine their way into you).

            I don’t see how your response is to something I said. We both know that a few genes can change the color of your skin. But that’s not what is biologically or colloquially meant when David Reich (or me or most people) use “white” to refer to race. An albino Mbuti wouldn’t be considered “white” by race because they have “white” skin. Which meaning is usually clear in context, although people are often inaccurate about others because they are guessing.

            Walter White was considered “black” by those who knew who his relatives were even though his skin and hair were “whiter” (by color) than many “whiter” people (by ancestry). The one drop rule is weird, but it’s still based on ancestry. On the other hand, a dark skinned person of Indian descent would not be considered “black” in the U.S. except by the ignorant or as a mistake.

            If your point is that people now may be considered “black” or “white” by race using a modified rule than a century ago, that seems like point (3) which we agree on. But race still refers to ancestry. The article calls the twins “biracial” when referring to their race.

            If you want to talk about how “white” (really what anthroplogists used to call Caucasoid) is a weird biological cut to make, I’m totally happy to discuss that. There is human variation between Europe and Asia in partially cline like patterns which makes the sharp cut of categories have issues. But the linguistic choices of colloquial language being somewhat poor is less interesting.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You’d think that in the following paragraphs you quoted, the authors would answer or refute some sort of mistaken or incorrect way Reich uses the concept of race.

            Reich’s main thrust in the article seems to be about the medical implications of knowing that your ancestry is West African, Northern European or Southern European (with some rather bizarre divergences into schooling and intelligence which he then seems to immediately repudiate).

            The examples I quoted are literally a response to his contention that the medical implications of West African descent validate the concept of “races”.

            So I’m not sure where you are getting that they present no argument of his being incorrect. Essentially no one is arguing for ignoring reasonable proxies to help determine relative risks, but that doesn’t mean that the black race or white race are valid as concepts rooted in biology.

            As to the twins, your contention is that both those girls are simply mixed race. That would mean that the vast majority of African Americans are mixed race (and not a small number of the whites as well). But that certainly isn’t how the word “race” is used.

            Similarly, we haven’t mentioned East Africans yet, as Reich has leaned exclusively on the term West African in an attempt to validate that “black” is valid as a racial concept. But in the US, Black is primarily a proxy for Senegambian and West-Central African descent. A second generation American Ethiopian isn’t likely to be well served by that proxy.

            I understand Reich to be saying he is using the available tools to improve human health, and “race” is useful to him in that. But it’s only useful as a local proxy for the things that he actually cares about.

          • Cliff says:

            quanta413, I’m not sure what the disconnect is, but to me that article clearly says the opposite of what you think it does. I.e., race is biological. It’s sort of like the opposite of damning with faint praise- praising with faint damnation? “Yes they’re biological, but there are some problems with the way people are selected for surveys so we can’t be totally sure how valid it is”

          • quanta413 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            Thanks for sticking around this long. I apologize for how long-winded I am.

            The examples I quoted are literally a response to his contention that the medical implications of West African descent validate the concept of “races”.

            That is not what Reich is saying which I have attempted to clarify. He may have left too much out and communicated poorly. I am trying to improve upon his communication, but it is turning out to be difficult.

            You and the authors responding do not understand what he is saying. He’s saying that medical implications mean the concept is medically useful. This is not the same as saying the medical implications “validate the concept of race”. Race didn’t have to turn out to be medically useful. Human populations could have differed in ways that were less medically relevant, and biological division into races could have still been relevant. Or humans could have varied purely in a continuous manner. Imagine all humans long lived and still do on one continent easily traversable east to west but somewhat less so north to south so that people slowly vary physically as you travel north to south. Also no population is socially endogamous. This would make division into a finite number of races completely artificial, but the continuous variations could have been medically relevant. A finite division in actual humans ends up being less artificial due to strong geographic barriers impeding travel and social barriers impeding mating in many places.

            If you read his book (which the authors say they are responding to, it’s not just a response to his NYT opinion piece), you’ll see that he thinks the biological concept of race/ancestry is valid for the same reason any other biological division based on ancestry (like clades) is valid. Because lines of descent are useful groupings because evolution occurs along lines of descent.

            He also thinks that that means biological races (or ancestry which is a synonym in biology) are temporarily useful groupings in the same way that birds that descended from dinosaurs aren’t categorized as Velociraptors or Stegosaurus (not that these specific dinosaurs left descendants, but you get the idea). Because that would be useless. The book is about population splitting and mixing forming new populations, how the mixing of previously separated populations is reflected in the genome of one individual, and how the splitting of a population is reflected in the genomes of the many descendant individuals. Generally, the smaller the division of species/subspecies/clade the shorter of a time it applies to. That means any human race has a very short timespan from a biological point of view, but often a decently long timespan compared to the length of a human lifespan.

            So I’m not sure where you are getting that they present no argument of his being incorrect. Essentially no one is arguing for ignoring reasonable proxies to help determine relative risks, but that doesn’t mean that the black race or white race are valid as concepts rooted in biology.

            They present an argument. However, it’s not an argument answering a claim that Reich actually made. Red Sox vs Yankees fans is a division that doesn’t map to divisions by ancestry. Even social divisions based on ancestry with bizarre rules meant to keep more slaves.

            As to the twins, your contention is that both those girls are simply mixed race. That would mean that the vast majority of African Americans are mixed race (and not a small number of the whites as well). But that certainly isn’t how the word “race” is used.

            I already spent paragraphs discussing how the social definition differs from the biological one in using hypodescent rather than all ancestors and how this makes it less biologically valid.

            But the social definition that is less biologically valid than a biological definition is still much more biologically valid than categorizing people by baseball fandom. Not to mention people do/did not always group people just into white/black in the sense of ancestry. They weren’t consistent in using hypodescent to define race, which is a sign they understood race was more complicated than their legal definitions and instead depended on ancestry. People now sometimes use terms like “happa” or “biracial” or if they want to be precise say how their parents or grandparents are classified. People in the past sometimes used terms for gradations of ancestry of white and black like “mulatto”, “quadroon”, and “octoroon”.

            Similarly, we haven’t mentioned East Africans yet, as Reich has leaned exclusively on the term West African in an attempt to validate that “black” is valid as a racial concept. But in the US, Black is primarily a proxy for Senegambian and West-Central African descent. A second generation American Ethiopian isn’t likely to be well served by that proxy.

            On this we agree; I don’t think the match between social and biological categories perfect, that’s partly because of social rules that don’t count ancestry the same way as a biologist would but partly because people don’t make social categories for groups of people they’ve never met and have no knowledge of. For example, Chang and Eng Bunker were obviously not white (they were Chinese), but despite racial prejudice they became plantation owners, married white women, and ended up being part of Southern aristocratic society. And it’s a super weird case, but it’s interesting how it compares to the typical case in U.S. regions where there were more than 2 Chinese people.

            There haven’t been and aren’t many Ethiopians in America. The differences between West Africans and Ethiopians wasn’t salient to most Americans because Ethiopians were very rare. However, if there had been a lot of Ethiopians, people likely would have noticed the differences and been much more aware.

            If a biologist has never seen a member of a subspecies of a species, they might make the same sort of mistake of categorizing a member of one subspecies into a previously existing category. So I don’t think the fact that humans social categorizations of race have a similar failure mode shows something distinct about the way humans make social categories of race. The distinctness comes in the loss of precision (not that subspecies is a super precise thing either) and how humans use different social rules for counting ancestors. But the very important commonality between how human societies tend to think of race and how biologists do is they are still trying to judge by ancestry.

            @Cliff

            quanta413, I’m not sure what the disconnect is, but to me that article clearly says the opposite of what you think it does. I.e., race is biological. It’s sort of like the opposite of damning with faint praise- praising with faint damnation? “Yes they’re biological, but there are some problems with the way people are selected for surveys so we can’t be totally sure how valid it is”

            I think that’s a somewhat Straussian reading of the article responding to Reich when the article says things like “such [genetic] variation is not consistent with biological definitions of race” and compares the differences between races to the differences between Red Sox vs Yankee fans.

            I think the article is incoherent because it’s trying its best to deny that race is any more sensible as a biological grouping than Red Sox vs Yankees fans, while simultaneously (like you say) admitting that race is sometimes medically useful. Red Sox vs Yankees fans wouldn’t be very useful medical categories. You ought to think that there’s a strong concordance between social definitions of race and biological definitions of race when (A) you say that certain population groups have been separated well enough and long enough to have different mutations spread to very different frequencies as a result of different selection pressures in different places and (B) we can largely identify who descends from what group(s) by asking them for their colloquial race.

            But since the authors state the opposite in several ways and come up with comparisons that make no sense if they don’t believe the opposite, I’m not going to assume they realize the implications of a few parts of what they’re saying.

    • Incurian says:

      Sounds reasonable.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Yes, or at least mostly yes. Some differences matter socially, and are generally exaggerated out of all reality, and emphasized as invariant – not “people in category X are statistically more likely …” but “every single person in category X is …”. Other differences are socially irrelevant, and ignored. A few are noticed and often celebrated, but not very relevant – like Irish ancestry on St. Patrick’s day (in North America). And to complete the set, the same differences have different social effects in different places.

      As a liberal, I summarize this as “race is socially constructed” and sound bite it as “race is bogus”.

      If I were a conservative already committed to favouring those in their own social category and/or wishing to preserve their grandparents’ social attitudes, I’d presumably summarize this as “of course race is real” or even “science proves the existence of races”.

      Same data; different interpretation. Mistake theory only explains the hanger ons, who simply echo/believe the sound bite versions from their friends/family/political associates, and have never really thought it through. With the rest, it’s somewhere between a personality trait difference, and conflicting moral/ethical beliefs.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        As a liberal, I summarize this as “race is socially constructed” and sound bite it as “race is bogus”.

        If I were a conservative already committed to favouring those in their own social category and/or wishing to preserve their grandparents’ social attitudes, I’d presumably summarize this as “of course race is real” or even “science proves the existence of races”.

        Maybe it’s my own conservative bias acting up but your conservative sound bites are more compatible with the nuanced explanation than your liberal sound bites.

      • quanta413 says:

        As a liberal, I summarize this as “race is socially constructed” and sound bite it as “race is bogus”.

        If I were a conservative already committed to favouring those in their own social category and/or wishing to preserve their grandparents’ social attitudes, I’d presumably summarize this as “of course race is real” or even “science proves the existence of races”.

        You’re conflating empirical and moral claims. Why do that? I’m mixed race. I think race is a sometimes useful classifier, but I’m not interested in preserving my grandparents’ social attitudes (which cover a fairly broad spectrum already making it unclear how I could even preserve all of their attitudes) much less something more extreme.

        Nor do I find race very relevant or useful in my daily life. But it’s about as meaningful a concept as culture which I wouldn’t soundbite as being a “bogus” idea.

  22. DragonMilk says:

    I’ve noticed that Fox News will from time to time go hard on California.

    This time it’s about shoplifting (last time it was homelessness). Those who actually work in/know people who work in retail in California, how big of a thing is this actually?

    Anecdotally, on the homelessness point, even my liberal friends from there acknowledge it can be pretty out of control, that homeless people will key their cars if you don’t give them money and there’s no name to report/police couldn’t care less.

    • JayT says:

      I live in the Bay Area, and my impression is that shoplifting has gone up quite a bit, because stores are putting more stuff behind locked areas than I am used to. Not just more expensive stuff like electronics or liquor, but stuff like deodorant or shampoo is going behind lock and key.

      As for the homeless, they are everywhere, and I’ve had some make aggressive gestures toward me for not giving them money, but they’ve never done anything like keying my car. They tend to stick to certain places though, and they are places I don’t have a lot of reason to go to, so I don’t have a lot of interaction with them. I’m careful to never leave anything in my car though, because I’ve known a bunch of people that have had their windows broken over stupid stuff like pocket change.

      All in all, the problem isn’t as bad as the media makes it look, but it’s also worse than any other state I’ve visited.

      • DragonMilk says:

        I’m definitely an unusually unobservant person and saw no more homeless than NYC when I visited two summers ago, but perhaps I wasn’t in the “right” neighborhoods.

        • JayT says:

          The number of homeless has also gone up by ~30% in the last two years, so it’s possible that it’s now noticeably worse to out of towners. It’s also been five years since I’ve been to NYC, so my comparison there is out of date.

          • DragonMilk says:

            I’d say over the last three years it’s gotten much more “visible” if not worse.

            That a city so mismanages an over 50k/year/homeless person budget is one of the top reasons I’d like to peace out ASAP.

    • Clutzy says:

      Not from Cali, but in Chicago shoplifting is a massive problem in my area. All the stores have armed security officers (who I assume are off duty/retired cops), and from my understanding they have to detain caught shoplifters for hours and essentially write the police reports for the police before they will be picked up and taken for booking.

  23. The original Mr. X says:

    Exciting news for all you history buffs out there: archaeologists have finally finished working their way through a major hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure, dating from the seventh century.

    There’s some interesting discussion in that article about possible Jewish or pagan Roman origins of the episcopal head-dress. The helmet has pretty clear Roman antecedents, too.

    • S_J says:

      That is interesting.

      Was the hoard the result of despoiling the losers of a battle? Was it a lifetime collection by one of the regional kings? Can it be connected to anything known or suspected from that period of history?

  24. JohnNV says:

    So I was listening to spotify while working today and heard something novel that I really enjoyed. I switched to the app, looked up the band name, and then tried to find out who they were. The page for the band lists dozens of albums released only for streaming, no members, no tours, no pictures except for their nondescript album covers and it got me thinking… I suspect there are actual human beings behind the music but I can’t be 100% sure. Perhaps this “band” doesn’t actually exist, and someone out there is just generating hundreds of songs with an AI, and using the like and play counts on spotify to serve as feedback for the creation of the next generation. It’s an interesting idea.

    • Well... says:

      What kind of music was it?

      Computer-generated music is easy to spot, ridiculously so if you have an ear for it, though I suppose it could theoretically be made more sophisticated to hide some of the telltale give-aways. Also, some instruments are easier to synthesize than others, and of course a human voice is extremely difficult to synthesize realistically, especially if there are lyrics and not just “Ooooooh”.

      • Aftagley says:

        I actually went on a computer-generated music kick a little while ago and I think I’ve got a knack for picking them out now, but I’d be interested in knowing what you listen for.

        My biggest tell is that the songs don’t really go anywhere; they’ll establish a theme and maybe even build it up, but there’s no real resolution.

        • Well... says:

          If I were going to try to hide the computer-generatedness of my music, the first thing I’d do is create some kind of randomization so that any given note does not line up exactly on a beat, but rather a few milliseconds before or after depending on the instrument. The amount it varies from the exact beat should be randomized too, within some narrow range so it doesn’t sound poorly performed. I would also add randomness to the levels of attack, etc. This will give it a “feel”, as if it’s performed by a human.

          The next thing I’d do is impose a structure to each song. It doesn’t have to (and for interestingness’s sake shouldn’t) be ABABCB, but it should have some kind of structure that’s interesting and leads somewhere, with the later repetitions of each part containing variations of the earlier ones, in a way that builds over time.

          And of course every song needs its moment or three of catharsis.

      • JohnNV says:

        It’s jazz so there aren’t vocals. Diving into it more deeply, it sounded suspiciously like the piano/bass/drum track here: https://openai.com/blog/musenet/, but with a little more substance – and actual soloing. So still not sure.

        • Well... says:

          What was the instrumentation? Piano/bass/drums?

          It should be hard to synthesize bass realistically. For example if you’re familiar with the instrument and what’s being played on it you’ll be able to hear string noise (little squeaks and whispers) at appropriate times, such as while the performer is shifting between positions. Also, listen for occasional notes that are out of tune, especially during really fast passages.

          You might also be able to tell by whether the music is quantized — i.e. every note played falls exactly on a specific beat, rather than a few milliseconds before or after, the way humans perform it.

          Listening to some of the samples at the Musenet page, the narrowness of the dynamic range is telling.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      More likely scenarios:
      (1) Bad import. Try googling the band and seeing if more information comes up. If it only exists on spotify, that is interesting.
      (2) Computer generated band/label, but human music. Probably repackaged from some other source, perhaps legally, perhaps not. Try listening to the other albums and seeing if they sound like a single band. Try using some other service to identify the music.

  25. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I saw my doctor for a regular check-up. She asked about my diet, and I said I was eating vegetables, and lots of protein. I track everything I eat and hit my protein targets.

    “Oh, like, 50 grams a day?” she asked.

    I laughed because I take in around 4x that. She was amazed I could keep that up and concerned I was eating sausages all day. But it is not very hard to take that that much protein given I am on a bulk taking in 3300 calories per day anyway. I do not even need much meat.

    She was a little uneasy about my kidneys, but my labs all came back fine. She still recommended cutting my protein to 1 gram per kilogram, which is like half my current intake.

    Is the recommendation still 0.8 grams per pound?

    • tossrock says:

      0.82 is the number I’ve seen beyond which there is unequivocally no benefit, but the evidence for benefit after 0.65-0.7 it isn’t exactly slam dunk.

      • Three Year Lurker says:

        I’m noticing all the studies cited refer to bodybuilding and strength training. How applicable is that to something like intense short period (2 minute activity, 30-60 second standing rest) aerobics?

        • mfm32 says:

          Some observational evidence: that’s broadly similar to 800m running. 800m runners are generally tall and lean, not fundamentally different from distance runners, so exceptional amounts of protein like bodybuilders consume are probably not advantageous.

          Then again, the greatest 800m man of all time is a Masai, who are famous for eating a diet almost entirely consisting of red meat. Though I don’t know that David Rudisha follows that custom.

    • Eric Rall says:

      The 50g/day figure your doctor had in mind comes from the federal RDA formula: 0.8g/kg (0.34g/lb), applied to an approximate “healthy” target weight for an average-height adult, which works out to 46g for women or 56 for men. Average the two and round to a convenient number, and you get 50.

      This comes from a misunderstanding of what the RDA is for. It’s not the optimal amount, but rather the amount needed to reliably avoid nutrient deficiency diseases. You’re trying to optimize your diet for strength gains from hard exercise, and for that Tossrock’s link is consistent with my understanding of the science around the question.

      The kidney function worries come from people eating very high protein diets in an effort to avoid both fats and carbs. If you have existing kidney problems, a high-protein diet can make it work. Likewise, if you aren’t drinking enough water, the combination of that and a very high protein diet can trigger kidney problems. In that light, your doctor’s decision to order kidney function tests in your bloodwork strikes me as reasonable, but continuing to chide you about your protein intake is not.

      • DarkTigger says:

        The kidney function worries come from people eating very high protein diets in an effort to avoid both fats and carbs.

        There was also one of those 60 year old dieatery studies, which sugested that raised protein intake increases kidney activity. Which at the time was seen as putting the kidneys in danger of beeing overworked.
        No studies have shown, that athletes with high protein consuption have a higher risk of kidney damage. At least not those that don’t have other health issues or dope.

  26. reallyeli says:

    Does anyone know if the Robbers’ Cave experiment from https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/04/the-ideology-is-not-the-movement has been replicated?

  27. CatCube says:

    Just because I saw it and now feel an evil compulsion to make other people see it: Hellvetica

  28. salvorhardin says:

    If you look at life expectancy by country over time in Google’s public data viewer and compare the US to other rich countries, you get some interesting results, e.g.

    https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=sp_dyn_le00_in&idim=country:PHL:THA:VNM&hl=en&dl=en#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=sp_dyn_le00_in&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:FRA:USA:AUS:CAN:CHE&ifdim=region&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false

    The major patterns I see here are:

    1. Until the early-to-mid 1980s the US kept up pretty well with the pack, so to speak.
    2. Then US life expectancy flattened out from the mid 80s through the mid 90s while peers kept steadily increasing, so a gap opened up.
    3. Then there was a period through around about 2010 where everybody seemed to be going up at about the same rate but the gap didn’t close.
    4. Then since 2010 the US has been flat at best while the others kept going up and converging.

    (4) is famously attributed to “deaths of despair” but I’ve seen very little discussion of what happened to cause (1) through (3). I could speculate– different changes in smoking rates? population shifts e.g. from immigration?– but that’s no more than speculation. Does anyone know of research that gives some evidence of causes for these?

    • Nornagest says:

      Smoking’s probably part of it. A couple years ago I dug into a dataset that broke out causes of death by nationality, and found that the US was a big outlier in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which basically only happens to heavy smokers. That confused me at the time, since Americans don’t currently smoke a lot relative to the rest of the First World, but on further investigation that hasn’t always been true: until after the Surgeon General’s report, Americans were unusually heavy smokers, and COPD and lung cancer don’t usually show up until decades later.

      • broblawsky says:

        This seems reasonable. In public health terms, smoking is like World War II, every year, forever.

        • quanta413 says:

          Like, U.S. WWII levels of casualties right?

          What public health issue would be Russian level casualties in WWII? I mean, if a country did badly at it.

          Breakdown of sewer systems? The end of effective vaccinations?

          • sharper13 says:

            Vodka, aka Alchoholism?

          • broblawsky says:

            Current estimates give WWII’s death toll as roughly 66 million over 6 years, or approximately 11 million per year. The WHO estimates that smoking kills about 6 million people per year, estimated to rise to about 8 million per year by 2030. So the public health impact of tobacco should be roughly comparable to WWII as a whole, including civilian casualties on all fronts.

          • The Nybbler says:

            So the public health impact of tobacco should be roughly comparable to WWII as a whole, including civilian casualties on all fronts.

            It isn’t, though, for a couple of obvious reasons. One, while smoking causes some minor damage to infrastructure, it’s nothing like artillery and bombs and incendiaries. And the other, while war tended to kill the young, who would otherwise have some decades ahead of them (including among them the raising of their own children), smoking mostly kills people late in what would otherwise be their lifespan.

          • quanta413 says:

            @sharper13

            Vodka, aka Alchoholism?

            Dark.

            @broblawsky

            Current estimates give WWII’s death toll as roughly 66 million over 6 years, or approximately 11 million per year. The WHO estimates that smoking kills about 6 million people per year, estimated to rise to about 8 million per year by 2030. So the public health impact of tobacco should be roughly comparable to WWII as a whole, including civilian casualties on all fronts.

            I understand now. I thought you were making a comparison for why the U.S. did worse and so I was thinking of U.S. deaths and was not thinking about the global impact of lighting up.

          • broblawsky says:

            It isn’t, though, for a couple of obvious reasons. One, while smoking causes some minor damage to infrastructure, it’s nothing like artillery and bombs and incendiaries. And the other, while war tended to kill the young, who would otherwise have some decades ahead of them (including among them the raising of their own children), smoking mostly kills people late in what would otherwise be their lifespan.

            The CDC estimates that smoking costs the US more than $300 billion per year, including lost productivity and premature deaths. I’d estimate the direct cost (both medical care and actual tobacco spending, but not lost productivity) at about $180 billion per year. The Marshall Plan cost about $100 billion in 2018 dollars. Obviously, the Marshall Plan didn’t completely replace Europe’s infrastructure, but it still represented a substantial industrial investment.

          • The Nybbler says:

            You can compare two numbers that don’t refer to anything like the same thing all you want, it won’t change the blatantly obvious fact that smoking is in fact nowhere near as damaging on an annual basis as WWII. It’s so obvious that if you come out with numbers which indicate that it is, you probably should check your methodology.

            If you could wave a magic wand and have permanent conflict on the level of WWII, in exchange for making all smoking disappear forever, would you?

          • broblawsky says:

            You can compare two numbers that don’t refer to anything like the same thing all you want, it won’t change the blatantly obvious fact that smoking is in fact nowhere near as damaging on an annual basis as WWII. It’s so obvious that if you come out with numbers which indicate that it is, you probably should check your methodology.

            It’s the WHO/CDC’s methodology, not mine. And is it really “blatantly obvious”? If it’s a constant drain on our lives and productivity, and it’s been there for decades or centuries, we might not notice it, but it’s still there. About 9% of American health care spending was on smoking-related illnesses in 2010. It isn’t unreasonable to compare the health effects of the tobacco epidemic to other national disasters.

            If you could wave a magic wand and have permanent conflict on the level of WWII, in exchange for making all smoking disappear forever, would you?

            No, because global-scale conflicts are harder to stop than the tobacco industry. Also, because smoking mostly only kills people who have voluntarily begun smoking, while global conflicts kill people mostly involuntarily. The health effects of the tobacco epidemic might seem more fair because they’re primarily visited on people who accept that risk (at least today), but they’re equivalent in population and economic drain to a serious global war.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s the WHO/CDC’s methodology, not mine.

            They are the source of the smoking death numbers. The WWII comparison appears to be yours

            And is it really “blatantly obvious”?

            Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

            There are innumerable problems with your comparison.

            No, because global-scale conflicts are harder to stop than the tobacco industry.

            Doesn’t seem so. WWII lasted a mere 6 years; the tobacco industry’s been fighting for much longer than that.

          • broblawsky says:

            I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Smoking’s probably part of it.

        Hmm. So that would imply that over the next couple of decades, you think the life expectancy graph will change dramatically so the US passes up European countries? That would be fascinating if it happens, but I don’t expect it.

        • Nornagest says:

          Don’t know. The effect might already have run its course; as I said this was a while ago, and I don’t remember how old the statistics I was looking at were, or how wide a range they covered. I’m fairly confident that smoking contributes, or contributed at some point, to lower American lifespans relative to Europe, but that’s as much as I can say with the data I have.

          FWIW, the other big outliers were trauma (read: violence and accidents) and obesity-related diseases. Accidents are going down, but violence has trended a bit upward since ~2015, and I think obesity’s still going up too. I don’t remember seeing anything obviously related to opioids in the dataset, but they’d matter now too: famously, deaths by overdose recently overtook car accidents as a killer of Americans.

    • sharper13 says:

      Just be aware that comparing statistics for life expectancy at birth can be misleading based on the different ways countries treat births and birth statistics. For example, you’re much more likely to be “born” in the United States at a premature age and tiny birth-weight that in other countries would leave you unborn. That in turn leads to a very misleading number of infant deaths.

      You can get a more nuanced view from looking at the distribution of survival, but I don’t know where you’d get that data for other countries to compare.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Maybe it’s unfair to compare rates of infant mortality, but that doesn’t mean that it affects life expectancy for developed countries. The difference between American and Australian under 5 mortality is 0.3%. Multiplied by a century lifespan and that’s just a third of a year, out of a 4 year life expectancy gap.

        And that childhood mortality gap is falling over time. Today it is twice the Australian rate, while in 1960 it was only 1.3x, which could be interpreted as a relative regress, on its own terms. But what contributes to life expectancy is the absolute gap, which was 0.8% in 1960, more than 2x today.

        • sharper13 says:

          Life expectancy is typically calculated as an average, so I’m not sure it’s quite that simple.

          It’s highly possible if infants are treated the same way, the U.S. has much better infant mortality stats than Australia does. For example, even though Japan has an official infant mortality rate much lower than Australia and less than half of the U.S., when they tracked and compared survival based on birth weight, the U.S. was actually much better than Japan for every birth-weight range.

          Different countries have different practices in terms of what they consider born alive (and thus can die and show up in the stats) and an even larger difference in at how many weeks of gestation they’re willing to attempt to keep am infant alive.

          If a tiny 20-week baby is born in the U.S., but they don’t even hit the stats in another countries because there is no attempt to save them, that has a huge impact on infant mortality rates. A better measurement methodology which has been proposed to replace infant mortality is fetuses-at-risk.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Life expectancy is a technical term. You can look up the correct definition. The World Bank and I are using the same definition.

            But, really, can you think of any definition in which this tiny infant mortality would have a relevant effect on life expectancy?

  29. onyomi says:

    Maybe this will be accused of being just “boo outgroup” with no content, but it was a disturbing enough indicator at least of where my mind is at (and maybe some would say I’m paranoid) that I’ll report it:

    I’m a professor and I subscribe to an e-mail list related to Chinese studies (but aimed more at the English-speaking China studies academic crowd). Today in my inbox I saw a link to a news story titled “Professors beware, ‘A Student Information Officer’ Might be Watching.” Only after I clicked the link did my slightly sleep-addled brain realize “oh, they’re addressing professors in China.”

    Evidence I may not be the only one: They changed the title from the above to the less ambiguous “Professors, Beware. In China, Student Spies Might Be Watching.”

  30. Plumber says:

    Okay SSC’ers, especially the younger ones, I’m looking for your take.

    For the record I’m an early Generation X’er, and while I don’t feel much as much cultural affinity with early Boomers, I feel a stronger cultural affinity with latter Boomers such as Mr Obama (and my wife who’s just a couple of years older than me but just over the generation dividing line) than I do with latter X’ers, and younger. 

    Anyway, long quote from a New York Times opinion piece that looks like a big difference in culture to me:

    Obama’s Very Boomer View of ‘Cancel Culture’

    Old, powerful people often seem to be more upset by online criticism than they are by injustice.

    By Ernest Owens

    Nov. 1, 2019

    When Barack Obama talks, everyone listens.

    That’s why I paid close attention to his remarks about young people and our activism on social media at a Tuesday Obama Foundation event, and why I gasped at what I heard: “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff. You should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids. And share certain things with you.”

    He doubled down on his finger-wagging, criticizing college students in particular who, in his view, think, “The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people and that’s enough.”

    “That’s not activism,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”

    But the former president’s disdain for the kind of criticism that has become popular to dismiss as “cancel culture” (which is a term that, as Osita Nwanevu wrote for the New Republic, “seems to describe the phenomenon of being criticized by multiple people — often but not exclusively on the internet. Neither the number of critics, the severity of the criticism, nor the extent of the actual fallout from it seem particularly important.”) is misguided. His eagerness to dismiss one part of what happens when young people stand up for what they believe in as “casting stones” is a reminder of a largely generational divide about whether it’s impolite to speak out in favor of the most vulnerable among us and the world we’d like to live in. While there’s some debate about which generation Mr. Obama belongs to, he’s solidly in the older camp.

    Boomers and Gen-Xers, along with a handful of younger people with more regressive views, have been agitated by the way many young Americans — and especially young people of color — use social media, the only platform many of us have, to talk about the causes we care about.

    But they are going to have to get over it.

    The issues that my fellow millennials, along with even younger people in Gen Z, tend to be “judgmental” about are the same ones many of our parents and grandparents have been debating for decades. Being outspoken about climate change, women’s rights, racial justice, LGBTQ inclusivity and gun control — and critical of those who stand in the way of progress on these issues — is work that’s been left to us.

    As a millennial who has participated in using digital platforms to critique powerful people for promoting bigotry or harming others, I can assure you it wasn’t because they had “different opinions.” It was because they were spreading the kinds of ideas that contribute to the marginalization of people like me and those I care about. It was because I didn’t want them to have a no-questions-asked platform to do this.

    The R&B singer R. Kelly deserved to be “muted” after decades of sexual abuse allegations against him. Similarly, harsh scrutiny of Hollywood heavyweights Harvey Weinstein and Roman Polanski is appropriate. The National Football League doesn’t deserve my viewership after blackballing former player Colin Kaepernick for standing up against racist police brutality. Dave Chappelle should be ridiculed for making transphobic jokes, especially at a time when black transgender women continue to be murdered. It’s not rude or intolerant to say Kevin Hart’s homophobia isn’t funny.

    Yes, Mr. Obama, we know that some of these people very likely “love their kids.” It doesn’t make a difference.

    What members of older generations now dismiss as “cancel culture” — or, as Mr. Obama put it, “being judgmental”— is actually one of many modern-day iterations of protests they took part in when they were younger. Students at the University of Pennsylvania using social media to push for the cancellation of a campus event including a former Trump administration Immigration and Customs Enforcement director is not totally unlike college students using bullhorns to criticize apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. Hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MuteRKelly, #MeToo and others that were created by black women online aren’t all that different from the picket signs and petitions our parents used to demand racial and gender justice. Of course, we take part in more traditional activism, too. But today we have additional tools. Why wouldn’t we use them?

    It’s telling that it’s the powerful and privileged people in society who are most agitated by this form of online activism, and most convinced that it represents unnecessary evil that is tearing away at our civil discourse. The group that Mr. Obama joins in his scolding of outspoken young people is dominated by white straight men, far-right conservative talking heads, and celebrities who feel entitled to audiences who appreciate their art and dutifully ignore their missteps. It’s no surprise that Fox News fretted that his comments were “snubbed” and didn’t receive sufficient coverage from broadcast television networks.

    What people of Obama’s generation don’t understand — or don’t want to understand — about the ways in which younger people use the internet to make our values known, is that we’re not bullies going after people with “different opinions” for sport. Rather, we’re trying to push back against the bullies — influential people who have real potential to cause harm, or have already caused it. At the very least, we can speak up to send a message to vulnerable people that the bullies’ bigoted or backward views aren’t the only ones out there.

    Mr. Obama is right that “the world is messy.” But the messiness we see looks like people who are suffering because others stubbornly reject progress and refuse to show compassion. Millennials and Gen-Zers are doing what we can to take down the Goliath many of our parents have been rightfully casting stones at for decades. We have a tool that has helped democratize public debates about these issues, and we hope it will move us to a more just world.

    It’s called social media. And we’re going to keep using it.”

    My first instinct is that (as Obama suggests) civility and some compromise is more effective than not, but I”m old.

    So youngsters, what shall we older folks make of this?

    • Nornagest says:

      Boring, smug, self-serving, vacuous, take your pick. I was expecting “it’s just a few idiots on Twitter; log off and you’ll be fine”, but I guess that stops being credible when those idiots’ talking points get repeated in presidential primary debates; this isn’t much better though.

      What’s missing here is a justification for the content of online activism as currently practiced. All this does is draw an equivalence to the forms of Sixties student radical movements. An equivalence that’s valid as far as it goes — activism is in fact activism — but you know who else marched in the street? Yeah, that’s right: 4Chan.

    • onyomi says:

      Kids nowadays are against niceness, community, and civilization.

      • quanta413 says:

        Haven’t kids often been against that though? Luckily, we don’t have Red Guards.

      • eric23 says:

        Ah yes, “kids nowadays”. “Get off my lawn”. etc.

        I promise you that kids nowadays equally think that adults nowadays are against niceness, community, and civilization…

    • cassander says:

      The issues that my fellow millennials, along with even younger people in Gen Z, tend to be “judgmental” about are the same ones many of our parents and grandparents have been debating for decades. Being outspoken about climate change, women’s rights, racial justice, LGBTQ inclusivity and gun control — and critical of those who stand in the way of progress on these issues — is work that’s been left to us

      the lack of self awareness here would be stunning were it not so typical.

    • quanta413 says:

      I’m younger than you, but maybe I was born old at heart.

      I don’t see what’s gained by grouping R. Kelly and Roman Polanski with Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart, but that’s me nitpicking.

      The issues that my fellow millennials, along with even younger people in Gen Z, tend to be “judgmental” about are the same ones many of our parents and grandparents have been debating for decades. Being outspoken about climate change, women’s rights, racial justice, LGBTQ inclusivity and gun control — and critical of those who stand in the way of progress on these issues — is work that’s been left to us.

      They speak as if “debating” was all that had happened. “…work that’s been left to us”? If you’re going to go that way how about “Work that’s been passed on for us to continue.” Racial justice and women’s rights movements have been going on for over a century. Not only did your parents and grandparents generation have people fighting for that, your great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents probably did too. If your ancestors didn’t win that battle (maybe they were on the losing side), then someone else’s ancestors around the same time did and they got the lion’s share of the job done on those two. Maybe grandma and grandpa know what they’re talking about. Maybe Obama does too.

      What people of Obama’s generation don’t understand — or don’t want to understand — about the ways in which younger people use the internet to make our values known, is that we’re not bullies going after people with “different opinions” for sport. Rather, we’re trying to push back against the bullies — influential people who have real potential to cause harm, or have already caused it. At the very least, we can speak up to send a message to vulnerable people that the bullies’ bigoted or backward views aren’t the only ones out there.

      Almost nobody likes Roman Polanski or Harvey Weinstein so those two can’t be who are being talked about. I don’t think Dave Chappelle is endangering anyone, but I haven’t watched his new act so what do I know?

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        I don’t see what’s gained by grouping R. Kelly and Roman Polanski with Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart, but that’s me nitpicking.

        More than a nitpick, I think. The lumping together of people who committed serious crimes with people who made insensitive comments is entirely damning, and should be cause for some self-reflection by the author about the state of mind that results in failing to make that distinction.

        • John Schilling says:

          For many, many years, Hollywood and its allies very explicitly denied that Roman Polanski had committed a serious crime. And the period in which they said this, overlaps the period in which e.g. Clarence Thomas’s behavior was considered one step short of seriously criminal.

          There is a consistent standard that could encompass both of those, and Kelly and Chappelle and Hart and most of the rest.
          And can encompass everything from 1977 to 2019, in which the difference between then and now is only one of “OK, we won’t imprison these people, but we’ve discovered we can cancel them”. No hypocrisy required.

          But it’s a standard in which the whole range of sexually-related offenses from saying the wrong sexually-charged thing in mixed company up through actual illicit sex with thirteen-year-old girls, is compressed into a very narrow band of “cancel them all, let God sort them out”. Well, except for their mostly being atheists. And with prison maybe theoretically still on the table for the worst, but I get the sense that once a Weinstein is properly cancelled, people stop paying attention to whether or not they are going to jail.

          • Lillian says:

            I am pretty sure that if Harvey Weinstein is found not-guilty the media will completely flip their lid about it. There will be a million editorials about how this proves society is still hopelessly misogynistic and nobody takes women’s pain seriously, and lengthy ranting about rich and powerful old white men. Mind that most likely he will be found guilty, but there are sufficient weaknesses in the case against him that it will not be completely bizarre if he walks.

            Looking into it just now, it seems the judge has allowed the prosecution to do the same thing against Weinstein that they did against Bill Cosby. Letting an accuser testify about what he did to her even though he is not being charged for it because the assault is past the statute of limitations. Hey if it worked on a guy everyone liked, it’ll probably work on a guy nobody liked. Makes the case stronger than the last time I checked, when one of the charges was straight up dismissed.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      So youngsters, what shall we older folks make of this?

      What qualifies as “youngster”?
      I am in my early 30s, which makes me an older Millennial. These particular people are gravely mistaken. They do not demonstrate compassion. They buy into delusional worldviews and want to cosplay civil rights warriors over increasingly minor issues. Most are basically bullies drunk on their own minor power and greatly overvalue their intellectual achievements, which are scarce (if existent at all).

      There’s no particular reason to listen to this particular young man at all. He certainly has the God-given right to criticize a former President, but the former President is an actual accomplished man. This particular opinion writer has no accomplishments of note. Who cares? Because the NY Times published him? That’s a reflection on the poor judgment of the NY Times.

    • Guy in TN says:

      Consider this, Plumber: How many people commenting disapprovingly on this post would identify as a left-wing or socially progressive?

      If drawing hard lines was an effective tactic against the Right, what sort of response would you expect from conservative/libertarian commentators on SCC? “Oh yes, he’s absolutely right, it’s a very effective tactic to use against me”?

      People don’t work like that. Their anger and disapproval is your answer.

      • Nornagest says:

        People don’t work like that. Their anger and disapproval is your answer.

        So, you can judge abstract strategy by who it upsets? People don’t work like that. Leaning into things that piss people off doesn’t make you a Machiavellian genius. It makes you an asshole.

        And I don’t ID as conservative or libertarian, by the by.

        • Guy in TN says:

          I would say an enemy getting upset when reminded of an attack is a reasonable indicator that the attack was effective, absent hard data.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s a reasonable indication that they have been attacked. Or that they otherwise see something as malicious or unfair — more the latter in this case, I’d say, since no one here is a Boomer. It’s a very imperfect indication of effectiveness — especially in politics, where so much depends on coalition-building and on building up your own side without excessively encouraging the opposition.

          • John Schilling says:

            I would say an enemy getting upset when reminded of an attack is a reasonable indicator that the attack was effective, absent hard data.

            Right, like the way the Union got upset when the Confederates shot up Fort Sumter.

            The enemy getting upset is a reasonable indicator that the attack had an effect, not that the effect will bring you any closer to victory. It is, however, a reasonable indicator that you are making progress towards a future where if you don’t achieve victory, your defeat will be crushing and absolute.

            Now, maybe try formulations where you don’t describe half the population of the country you live in as “the enemy” so that you can feel good about making them feel bad.

          • Guy in TN says:

            It is, however, a reasonable indicator that you are making progress towards a future where if you don’t achieve victory, your defeat will be crushing and absolute.

            The die has already been cast. Politically, it’s win or be crushed. It’s not like if the Left stopped throwing punches, mid-20th century centrist-consesus politics would just re-emerge from the ether. The result of attempting to compromise would be our crushing defeat.

            Our tactics are responding to political trends. If there were different trends we would adopt different tactics.

          • Cliff says:

            Our tactics are responding to political trends. If there were different trends we would adopt different tactics.

            No, those tactics created the political trends. I.e. Trump, the alt-right, the rise of general right-wing populism.

            The bottom line is most people do not like the tactics because they are disgusting and depraved. Most people are not so cynical that they will pretend to like something monstrous because in some abstract way they expect it to be to their advantage in the long term.

          • Guy in TN says:

            No, those tactics created the political trends. I.e. Trump, the alt-right, the rise of general right-wing populism. The bottom line is most people do not like the tactics because they are disgusting and depraved.

            Would you allow any other ideologies get the same treatment from you? Can I say: “Hey, I wouldn’t be such a radical, open-border, anti-nationalist, social progressive if it wasn’t for the disgusting and depraved tactics of the Right. Really, my ideology is their fault.

            Or does this just seem like a craven attempt to goad the Right into voting for more moderate policies under false pretenses?

            Like, don’t you think its reasonable to assume that most people’s ideologies are based on some underlying philosophy (or at least social circle), rather than empty spite?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Would you allow any other ideologies get the same treatment from you? Can I say: “Hey, I wouldn’t be such a radical, open-border, anti-nationalist, social progressive if it wasn’t for the disgusting and depraved tactics of the Right. Really, my ideology is their fault.”

            Maybe my memory’s playing tricks on me, but I was under the impression that the rise of SJW-ism predated the rise of right-wing populism. So I don’t think the claims are analogous: “Right-wing populism was the result of SJW-ism” may or may not be true, but it’s at least possible, whereas “SJW-ism was the result of right-wing populism” is chronologically impossible.

        • axiomsofdominion says:

          Are you expecting people who are active on this site to believe you are left wing? No one cares what your label is. We can read your direct opinions.

          • Plumber says:

            @axiomsofdominion says:

            “Are you expecting people who are active on this site to believe you are left wing? No one’s cares what your label is. We can read your direct opinions”

            I don’t know which opinions of @Nornagest you’re referring to and I don’t know your definition of “left wing”, but as some posts of mine were cited by others as examples of “right wing horribleness”, some other posts of mine have been called examples of “leftist irrationality”, and I’ve been called a “troll” because “no one who believes that would also believe..”, this hits on a nerve for me.

            For the record, I don’t call myself a “leftist” as I use that term for those further ‘Left’ than me, but “Left wing”?

            Compared to what?

            In the last 20 years my politics has moved Left, I’m pretty sure I’m a bit to the Left of the median American voter, and I think I’m pretty much in the median of Democrats my age and older, but when younger Democrats are included I’m probably in the more Right half of Democratic voters (when the young bother to vote that is), so you could well call me a “Left wing American, and a “Right wing” Democrat, I have a long list of opinions that are sins that keep me from both the Right, and the further Left, and part of what keeps me on the Left is which issues are most important to me, and which issues I think are actually in play.

            I know what I do in the voting booth, and I know which candidates I’ve knocked on doors campaigning for.

            If the issue is “Should Affirmative Action be abolished?” I fail the test to be “Right” as I still think African Americans have had a raw deal and a hand up is I good thing (though I also think ancestry based AA may be replaced with neighborhood and/or family wealth based AA and do the same or more good), if instead the issue is “Should borders be open?” I now fail the test to be “Left” (and with how many his administration deported so would Obama when he was President).

            I’ll also add that I personally have known plenty of guys who, while they agree with one Party on nine-out-of-ten platform positions, the tenth issue is one they’re so passionate about that they vote for the other Party. 

            What makes you a better judge of which side of the aisle someone belongs than their word?

          • axiomsofdominion says:

            @plumber

            I can read his posts? He is a prolific comment poster. His opinions aren’t secret. I didn’t say he was a conservative or a libertarian.

          • Plumber says:

            Sorry @axiomsofdominion, ’cause of some old baggage a nerve of mine was hit.

            Still not understanding, but eh that’s a lot of things.

          • Nornagest says:

            I didn’t say he was a conservative or a libertarian.

            No, but Guy in TN did, or at least implied it. That’s what I was objecting to there, not the notion that I’m not on your side here. I’m not, insofar as “on your side” approximates to “friendly to online social justice as implemented post 2015”, but it annoys me that some observers apparently feel comfortable taking this fact and using it as an excuse to round my politics off to Pat Buchanan’s.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Plumber might also consider that “if it’s an effective tactic, they will complain” is not at all the same proposition as “if they complain, it’s an effective tactic”. Not unless your goal is getting them to complain, anyway.

      • Erusian says:

        Hey Guy in TN. I wasn’t going to comment but then you said this. Now I feel I have to. Let me start by saying this: I’ve voted for both Democrats and Republicans. I do not like Trump. I was one of the few people who took his campaign seriously from the very beginning. I remember being very upset when Jon Stewart treated it like a joke. I thought Trump represented a danger to the dignity of the office he was running for and that his populist revolt had some elements that threatened American values. I did not vote for him.

        I’ve also been involved in what could be called progressive causes. In particular, I’ve been involved in felon reintegration and re-enfranchisement in Florida. I’m a small part of the reason non-violent felons will be able to vote in 2020 in Florida, which I hope you can appreciate is something the Democrats have been desperate to accomplish for a long time. I also was involved in the Maryland campaign to open up the marijuana industry to more minority owners.

        I still get cast out as not being progressive enough. I have been threatened, had people cancel contracts, had things thrown at me, been insulted, and numerous other things by radical progressives. I once had a server spontaneously insult me. Twice I’ve had women outright ask me about politics and end the date when I refused to talk about politics on a first date.

        These people are a minority even among Democrats. This is not my day to day experience. But they aren’t a small minority. And they’re loud and hostile and morally self-righteous. They are profoundly alienating to people like me. People, frankly, the Democrats need if they want to be a majority party. This is not just my opinion, by the way. Pelosi has said the same thing: that progressives need to stop attacking independents and moderate Democrats (and ideally moderate Republicans that might defect).

        If you think these tactics are effective, they are and they aren’t. They’re effective at creating an ideological consensus in the Democratic party which marshals the party behind certain objectives. For example, there are almost no pro-life Democrats left but there are pro-choice Republicans. This is a victory for pro-life Democrats. But these tactics are not effective at winning elections or implementing a left-wing agenda because they are constantly narrowing the Democratic base of support. (Yes, yes, I know Clinton got the popular vote. Clinton was also the more moderate option.)

        That’s what Obama’s focus is on. He was a community organizer and a politician and he thinks in terms of getting things done. Obama is undoubtedly pro-choice but I suspect he’d rather have the extra votes on nine out of ten issues with a pro-life Democrat than have no support on any of his agenda with a pro-life Republican. Like, I suspect Obama would work very hard to keep Joe Manchin in West Virginia. The woke progressives would not because purity itself is important. Or perhaps because their bubble is so tight they believe an AOC style candidate has a snowball’s chance in hell in West Virginia.

        Most of the bigwigs on the Democratic side are telegraphing they believe this purity spiral leads to electoral defeat in key swing districts and swing states. I suspect they’re right.

        • Guy in TN says:

          @Erusian

          This is a victory for pro-life Democrats. But these tactics are not effective at winning elections or implementing a left-wing agenda because they are constantly narrowing the Democratic base of support.

          How does this square with Scott’s post on the current trends in ideology? Or the 2018 midterm results? Or macthups against Trump for 2020?

          An honest reading of the data points to the Left’s modern tactics as very successful. As in, the most successful they have been in perhaps decades.

          Like, there are times for introspection. To step back and analyze where you are doing wrong, and maybe try a novel direction. This is not one of those times. If anything, these new, successful tactics need to be amplified and expanded, since they appear to be working better than anything we did before. Come back when the left is on a downward trend, and maybe you’ll find a more sympathetic ear.

          Also, I couldn’t help but notice, that nowhere in your post did you self-identify as a Leftist or social progressive. In fact, you conspicuously only said that you had been “involved in what could be called progressive causes”. Well, I have been involved what could be called conservative causes myself, broken clocks and all that. I strongly suspect that shifting the Democratic Party ideology and tactics to accommodate whatever ideology you have, would lose more people than it would gain.

          • Erusian says:

            Would you say the left-wing is being particularly successful in implementing its agenda at the moment? How about over the past decade? I’m actually curious to hear your argument because the way I hear it the left feels rather weak right now. Obama faced massive backlashes and I know a lot of people who have defined his legacy as (at best) moderately successful. Even Biden is running on ‘completing’ it. Genuine question, by the by.

            And no, I’m not a Democrat or a left-winger in a principled way. I’m quite open about being a swing voter. Most elections I go one way or the other. But I’m certainly not a Republican, which is what you were
            saying. My point is not that I’m on your side. My point is that I’m persuadable and that I’ve helped your side achieve very important goals in very important places. And that I find certain things alienating and I know I’m not even remotely alone in that among other people who could swing key states.

          • Clutzy says:

            To the extent that it is more currently successful than before, what % is tactics, and what % is the old John Judis prediction of, “the emerging democratic majority” actually getting closer to demographic reality? And particularly how those are more pronounced in certain states which allow for extreme victories there?

          • John Schilling says:

            Would you say the left-wing is being particularly successful in implementing its agenda at the moment? How about over the past decade? I’m actually curious to hear your argument because the way I hear it the left feels rather weak right now.

            Which “left-wing agenda” is that, exactly?

            Because gay marriage is now the law of the land, beyond challenge, and the only remaining question is how many hoops the few remaining dissenters will have to jump through to be excused from baking cakes to celebrate gay marriage. And I distinctly recall that being at the top of the most publicly visible left-wing agenda for about a decade. Well, aside from protecting Roe v. Wade from it’s eternally imminent demise but, yep, still RvW still standing.

            Obviously, having decisively won the last war, the left needed to find a new cause or two. Apparently, that’s transgender rights, and Medicare for All because Obamacare for All isn’t good enough. Or maybe fourth-wave feminism and Medicare for All. And, yeah, the left hasn’t won decisive victories there yet.

            If you constantly redefine the “left-wing agenda” to ignore last year’s victories and count only this year’s struggles, then sure, the left is always struggling. And, apparently, whining about how they have to struggle for victories.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            The medicare for all thing is, near as I can tell, basically.. “You want war? Okay then, going to burn down your house and salt the earth”

            Obamacare is, as opposed to the previous state of affairs within the norms for how to do health care in a western nation-state, and could in theory be reformed until it in fact covered everybody, and is cheaper too.
            Wouldnt take much, send a few study groups to Switzerland, take notes on how to make this sort of market work better.

            Only, the first thing the republicans did when elected was to try to tear it down, and individual states under republican rule acted against the clear interests of their citizens just to sabotage it. It seems unlikely that is going to stop. That makes improving on it via gradual reform basically impossible, and means it can go away after any election if the republicans get a majority solid enough to get their way.

            This means there is basically zero incentive for the progressive side of the issue to compromise. Why go for the “market/industry” friendly option if said industry is just going to fill your enemies warchest, and any gradual progress you make is ever going to be at risk of vanishing like dew in the morn?

            M4A is more politically stable because it burns down the private medical insurance industry. Firms that no longer exist make no political donations, and actual industry is going to yank the republican chain good and hard if they try to offload the responsibility for medical insurance back onto their shoulders once the government has taken over that job and they have pocketed the savings from firing the accountant that negotiated insurance cover.

          • cassander says:

            @Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Wouldnt take much, send a few study groups to Switzerland, take notes on how to make this sort of market work better.

            coming up with a plan that’s better than the status quo is easy. passing a plan that’s better than quo, however, means breaking rice bowls of powerful and sympathetic players, which means it’s practically impossible. And the existence of the ACA almost certainly makes it harder not easier, because it creates its own set of clients.

            Only, the first thing the republicans did when elected was to try to tear it down, and individual states under republican rule acted against the clear interests of their citizens just to sabotage it.

            How dare they try to undo something they don’t like and spent 6 years promising to undo!

            This means there is basically zero incentive for the progressive side of the issue to compromise. Why go for the “market/industry” friendly option if said industry is just going to fill your enemies warchest, and any gradual progress you make is ever going to be at risk of vanishing like dew in the morn?

            What makes you think they were filling republican warchests? The medical industry contributes to everyone.

            And if you want to secure your gains, maybe actually gain something, instead of passing highly controversial legislation that doesn’t actually do much to improve most people’s lives? If the ACA had just been a medicaid expansion, it would not have gotten 1/10th the opprobrium it got, and would be pretty unassailable. But the Obama administration always preferred looking like it was doing something big to effectively doing something small.

            Firms that no longer exist make no political donations,

            No, but the millions of providers still do, and they will do just what they do currently, lobby ceaselessly and successfully for more money until the money runs out. That’s not stability, it’s a recipe for disaster.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Okay then, going to burn down your house and salt the earth

            When I hear that sentiment, I definitely think “those guys should be in charge of my health!”

          • John Schilling says:

            So, Erusian’s “the left feels rather weak right now”, is because they aren’t strong enough to burn down the right’s institutions and salt the earth so that they can never return?

            OK, granted, the left isn’t currently strong enough to do that right now. May it ever be so.

          • Plumber says:

            @Eurasian says: “…Would you say the left-wing is being particularly successful in implementing its agenda at the moment? How about over the past decade? I’m actually curious to hear your argument because the way I hear it the left feels rather weak right now…”

            I’m not @Guy in TN, but my take is that it deoends on which parts of a “Left agenda” you use to measure “successfully”.

            Of the top of my head in my lifetime the E.P.A., O.S.H.A., Medicaid expansion, and the Earned Income Tax Credit I’d count as “wins”, as well as a bunch of cultural/social issues that I either don’t care about or think if they’re implemented or not should’ve been the decision of local voters instead of Federal courts.

            As losses I’d go with the continued decline of union jobs (especially in the private sector), the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the Reagan, Bush, and Trump tax cuts, international free trade agreements (though I suppose communist China’s admission into the W.T.O.may be called a Leninist-Left victory of sorts), the destruction of public housing, and the elimination of “welfare as we know it”.

            On partisan politics I’ll quote Thomas Edsall: “During my political lifetime, there have been four moments when the continuing viability of the Republican Party has been cast in doubt: the 1964 landslide defeat of Barry Goldwater, Watergate, the 1992 defeat of George H.W. Bush and the 2008 loss by John McCain.

            In each case, Democratic ascendancy proved fleeting, and conservative Republican forces struck back with devastating impact.

            This is not, I should add, a problem exclusive to the Democratic Party.

            On Nov. 3, 2004, the day after that year’s presidential election, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee declared that his party had built a “hundred-year majority” in the House. It lasted two years…”

            I expect no lasting triumphs of Left or  Right.

            If history rhymes, judging by the previous leftward peaks in the 1940’s and 1970’s and the subsequent rightward peaks, I judge the next Left peak will be about five to ten years from now and the next Right peak as about fifteen to thirty years from now.

          • cassander says:

            As losses I’d go with the continued decline of union jobs (especially in the private sector),

            This I’ll give you, though it was self inflicted, and the rise of public sector unionism is a huge, if not entirely offsetting, win.

            >the repeal of Glass-Steagall,

            the separation of commercial and investment banking is so pointless that no other country bothers to do it, because it makes no sense.

            >the Reagan, Bush, and Trump tax cuts,

            You can’t count these without including the Bush, Clinton, and Obama tax hikes. Overall, taxes are at roughly the same level they’ve been at since the korean war., 17+/-1% of GDP

            the destruction of public housing,

            where was public housing in the US not a disaster?

            international free trade agreements and the elimination of “welfare as we know it”.

            these two I’ll give you.

            In each case, Democratic ascendancy proved fleeting, and conservative Republican forces struck back with devastating impact.

            Virtually all the leftwing gains those administrations got were maintained, I’d hardly call the striking back “devastating”

            I expect no lasting triumphs of Left or Right.

            You’re conflating left and right with democrats and republicans. Neither party will triumph forever, but the achievements the left wins tend to be permanent, while the right’s achievements tend to consist of staving off the the left’s latest plan. The only place where the right as moved the needle in the last 50 years are gun control, crime policy, and monetary policy, and all but the last of those are still contested.

          • albatross11 says:

            In terms of numbers, I’m pretty sure the public sector union employees don’t begin to make up for the industrial union employees.

          • cassander says:

            @albatross11

            Not in raw numbers, no, but they’re much more politically effective than the industrial unions were.

          • Plumber says:

            @cassander says: “…Not in raw numbers, no, but they’re much more politically effective than the industrial unions were”

            Effective? 

            I’d say a hollow shell of what once was, from CNN.com
            “…Since the Democrats chose to host their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, in a state that has not been hospitable to unions, organized labor is going to have a rally to focus attention on its key issues in Philadelphia on August 11.
            The rally is meant to send a message to the Democratic leadership, as well as to Republicans, that many workers feel as if they don’t have a voice in the two-party system. As AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said to members, the rally will “give us an opportunity to connect the faces of ordinary Americans to the basic issues affecting working people in our country while providing an important liftoff to our Labor 2012 political program for the fall.”
            The rally is indicative of a larger tension that has plagued the Democratic coalition for several decades. Since the 1960s, organized labor, once the pillar of the Democratic Party, has often been taken for granted or even treated with hostility.
            Union leaders frequently complain that they have second-class status in the party compared with other groups such as environmentalists or suburban voters. During the battle over public employee unions in Wisconsin, most national Democrats were noticeably absent from the debate. Before the Wisconsin gubernatorial election that followed the recall, President Obama was willing to tweet his support for Gov. Scott Walker’s opponent, Tom Barrett, but unwilling to actually visit…”

            “…Democrats won the support of workers as a result of the surge of legislation that helped working- and middle-class Americans find economic security.
            The Wagner Act (1935) cemented this marriage as the federal government legitimated the right of workers to organize in unions. Labor leaders like Sidney Hillman from the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, who helped found the CIO, established the first political action committee to help FDR win re-election in 1944. During World War II, most of the major unions were a key part of the homeland effort, assisting the administration as it moved to convert factories to wartime production.
            In 1948, President Harry Truman would not have won re-election had it not been for organized labor, which in the final weeks of the campaign mobilized its troops to defeat New York Gov. Thomas Dewey. “Labor did it!” cried Truman, who won the vote of 89% of the automobile workers, recounted historian Nelson Lichtenstein.
            Although a Republican was in the White House for most of the 1950s, organized labor helped a growing number of liberal Democrats win office in the House and Senate. They promoted proposals for civil rights and health insurance for the elderly that gradually gained support in the House and Senate.
            In addition to supporting Lyndon’s Johnson’s election campaign in 1964, the AFL-CIO, which had formed in 1955 when the two major coalitions of unions decided to merge, proved integral to lobbying for Johnson’s domestic proposals. George Meany, the president of the AFL-CIO, and Walter Reuther, the vice president of the AFL-CIO and the head of the United Auto Workers, were regular visitors to the White House, helping Johnson not only with bills directly related to labor but with other parts of his domestic agenda, ranging from the War on Poverty to civil rights.
            When he feared there were not enough votes among Democrats for the war on poverty, LBJ relied on organized labor to pressure business in Pennsylvania to push liberal Republicans in the state to support the bill. Even Jimmy Carter, who in 1976 ran as an outsider and railed against traditional Democratic interests, depended on unions to bring out the vote and on unionized workers to vote for him in key industrial states for his victory on election day.
            The relationship between labor and Democrats frayed after the 1970s. One of the reasons was that organized labor simply lost much of its muscle. Membership declined dramatically from the highs of 30% of the work force in the 1950s and the 1960s to a little over 12% today. With fewer members, more Democrats were tempted to look elsewhere to build their electoral muscle.
            Organized labor also suffered as Democrats reached out more aggressively to different constituencies, middle class suburbanites, consumer activists, young Americans and African-Americans, who didn’t have as much connection to unions and often saw them as an “entrenched interest” that didn’t have the best interest of the party in mind.
            These tensions started to play out in the 1972 election, when Meany endorsed Richard Nixon rather than Democrat George McGovern. Some working-class Americans proved to be more conservative on cultural issues and often opposed to civil rights policies that Democrats had promoted. And some union leaders felt that Democrats were becoming too dovish on foreign policy.
            The tensions continued to affect the electorate through the 2008 primary, when Hillary Clinton tried to appeal to working-class Democrats who felt that Obama favored other factions in the party.
            Finally, the expansion and strengthening of the lobbying world since the 1970s vastly increased the number of interest groups who favored business. These groups provided financial support to members of both parties and often made it difficult for Democrats to take a pro-union stand…”

          • cassander says:

            @Plumber

            Public employee unions have very different priorities than the old blue collar unions. I don’t dispute that they’re much less good from your perspective, but they get a hell of a lot more of what they want from their perspective.

    • Nick says:

      As a millennial who has participated in using digital platforms to critique powerful people for promoting bigotry or harming others, I can assure you it wasn’t because they had “different opinions.” It was because they were spreading the kinds of ideas that contribute to the marginalization of people like me and those I care about.

      This might be the stupidest thing I have ever read. ETA: To put it more charitably: this juxtaposition is the article in a nutshell.

      It’s fitting that Owens relies on Nwanevu for his take on cancel culture. Nwanevu’s article, as progressive journalist Jesse Singal wrote, carefully avoids engaging with any possible criticisms of its argument, an increasingly common style Singal called slalom punditry. Owens is doing the same.

      Just look at the way he describes cancel culture:
      “when young people stand up for what they believe in”
      “whether it’s impolite to speak out in favor of the most vulnerable among us”
      “use social media, the only platform many of us have, to talk about the causes we care about”
      “Being outspoken … — and critical of those who stand in the way of progress”
      “using digital platforms to critique powerful people”
      “I didn’t want them to have a no-questions-asked platform”
      “using social media to push for the cancellation of a campus event”
      “use the internet to make our values known”
      “trying to push back against the bullies”
      “we can speak up to send a message”

      Only in the rosiest terms, of course. He completely ignores the question whether these are reasonable descriptions of the mob justice we see today. He completely ignores whether the targets of his “critiques” and “push back” are always powerful people, or whether there are ever consequences, much less serious or disproportionate ones. He sidesteps the question of effectiveness, even, which as you note is the concern Obama was raising.

      The irony, meanwhile, is that those whose words he thinks “have a real potential to cause harm” can do it, too. If he gets to ignore the consequences of ginning up mobs, well, so can they. If he gets to characterize his speech in the meekest possible way, so can they. It’s the most self-defeating strategy he could possibly advocate.

    • DavidS says:

      Seems to confuse criticising individuals for doing things (Weinstein) and individuals for disagreeing with you. Fundamentally because a distinction isn’t made between causing harm by e.g. assaulting people and causing it by advocating views that (in the view of the canceller) would be bad to adopt.

      A libertarian can argue someone advocating high tax is more of a threat to property rights than a thief and a social democratic can argue those r rejecting universal healthcare will lead to more deaths of than a mass murderer. But neither should call for the other to be locked up (or bully them into submission).

      There may be a point at which ideas are such a clear and present threat that we ignore this principle but people at the moment identify that point miles too early (and the same people decry overseas censorship or McCarthyism – to me this is like people who think third world states or early modern states are barbaric for using torture when facing major threats to government, and then think the risk of a terrosit killing a few people justifies us taking ‘exceptional methods’ – it’s a total lack of perspective.)

    • dodrian says:

      I am a millennial, though I suspect Owens would label me as one of the ones with “move regressive views”, his preemptive way of wanting to signal cancelling me I suppose.

      The R&B singer R. Kelly deserved to be “muted” after decades of sexual abuse allegations against him. Similarly, harsh scrutiny of Hollywood heavyweights Harvey Weinstein and Roman Polanski is appropriate. The National Football League doesn’t deserve my viewership after blackballing former player Colin Kaepernick for standing up against racist police brutality. Dave Chappelle should be ridiculed for making transphobic jokes, especially at a time when black transgender women continue to be murdered. It’s not rude or intolerant to say Kevin Hart’s homophobia isn’t funny.

      Sure! I agree with Owens here. If he doesn’t want to give attention or patronage to people or groups he disagrees with, then more power to him. As long as he realizes that people will disagree over how important these “cancels” are. I ate a Chick-Fil-A this week – I’ve decided that supporting a company which is leading their industry in providing a good environment for their workers is more important than opposing them because their founder believes some “regressive” things about the LGBT community.

      […] It was because they were spreading the kinds of ideas that contribute to the marginalization of people like me and those I care about. It was because I didn’t want them to have a no-questions-asked platform to do this.

      This is where I really disagree though. I don’t see cancel culture as being about using social media as a platform to ask questions of the powerful – that’s fine of course. Cancel culture is about silencing voices. It’s about pushing a professor out of his job for saying not-on-message things. It’s about vociferously protesting events (debates, guest speakers, etc) with the explicit goal of ensuring that no-one gets to hear what would be said. It’s about dragging up decades old offenses when someone gets on the news for an entirely different reason in order to try and discredit them.

      I suspect this was what Obama was speaking against. But it’s not what Owens is responding about.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I suspect this was what Obama was speaking against. But it’s not what Owens is responding about.

        I agree they are pretty much talking past each other.

    • theredsheep says:

      I’m 36, and this writer largely confirms the worst stereotypes about SJWs: s/he piously “speaks for others” (and never mind what the others would say for themselves), reframes opposing argument as tantamount to violence, privileges speakers based on aspects of identity like race and sex which they can’t control, etc. Obama’s remarks were to the effect that this attitude is A. uncharitable and B. counterproductive. Author’s reply is to claim, in a somewhat muddled way, that Obama did it first, and also nuh-uh. If the people s/he attacks weren’t guilty, they wouldn’t act defensive when attacked.

      There may be good defenses of woke culture out there, but this isn’t one of them.

    • DeWitt says:

      25 years old. Should make me about half your age, so I think that counts.

      So youngsters, what shall we older folks make of this?

      That journalists are the devil, I guess, no matter where you find them. The irony is that the NYT is going to be read by almost no young people at all and disproportionally middle-aged/old people, so it’s not even like he’s talking to his own people.

      I don’t have the full text of Obama’s speech in handy so I don’t really care to comment on it. Even so, bitching about things you dislike is a fundamental human thing, one that’s not confined to people under the age of fifty getting opinion pieces in the NYT. Justifying your bitching as brave and necessary is only somewhat less fundamental. It’s silly and wrong but it’s the sorts of silly and wrong that’s so ubiquitous that mr Owens is boring rather than unique.

    • Björn says:

      What members of older generations now dismiss as “cancel culture” […] is actually one of many modern-day iterations of protests they took part in when they were younger

      I think this is true, but the author does not realize what this implies. I see the whole digital activism of the last 10 years as similar to the culture of the hippie era. Forgive me that what comes now is from a quite German perspective, but I don’t know as much about hippie culture in America.

      In West Germany in the 60s, the Hippies (or “Achtundsechziger/68er”, as they are often called there) where a much needed revolution. 1960s Germany still was full of old Nazis teaching in Universities, being judges in the court, etc. A classical slogan from that time is “Unter den Talaren/Muff von 1000 Jahren” (“Under the gowns [of the professors]/mildew of a 1000 years [thousand years is an allusion to Hitler’s 1000-year-reich]”). The “68er” radically broke with that tradition. They also broke with the stuffy sexual morals of the 1950s, which was adequate for when you have birth control pills.

      The problem is, they did not stop there. In reaction to the ultra-authoritarian pedagogy of the Nazis (that lived on in the 50s and 60s), the “68er” developed an education theory of absolute freedom, where you let the children do what they want. A million bizarre political groups cropped up that where Stalinist, Maoist, or even worse, which even led to a ban of specific political activism in German universities (this law still stands in Bavaria).
      I haven’t even gotten to the worst groups. In the climate of sexual liberation and anti-pedagogy, pedophile groups where able to promote “sexual liberation for young children” and to gain access to some children. And some of the communists became terrorist, the most famous group is the RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion, not the Royal Air Force).

      So even if their is genuine and reasonable political concern, very bad things can grow from a political movement, even more so if their is an “anything goes” attitude. We haven’t gotten any trans terrorist group yet, and I’m not sure if we will, but I think the tendency of the social justice people for bizarre which hunts and super specific splinter groups is quite similar to the “68er”-movement. I believe that the “68er” did lots of good things in Germany, and many of their more constructive members ended up founding the Green Party in Germany. But I also must say, the dumb hippie ideas are only now fading from pedagogy, when the hippie generation is retiring.

    • Viliam says:

      Dave Chappelle should be ridiculed for making transphobic jokes, especially at a time when black transgender women continue to be murdered. It’s not rude or intolerant to say Kevin Hart’s homophobia isn’t funny.

      I agree that it is okay to make fun of people you don’t like.

      If that is the only thing “cancel culture” is going to do, I have no objection.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Dave Chappelle should be ridiculed for making transphobic jokes, especially at a time when black transgender women continue to be murdered.

      Every group continues to get murdered, and black transgender women are nowhere near the top of that list in murder rate (8 per 100k for black transwomen vs 32 per 100k for cis black men).

    • brad says:

      Very late Gen X here, decided more sympathetic to at least the general aims of the contemporary left than most here.

      To me this is the key point Obama makes:

      “That’s not activism,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”

      If you tell me your an activist, I like to know how you changed the world. And if you start waiving your hands about “raising awareness” or something like that, I’m going to think you have nothing real to point to. The height of the Vietnam protests were the better part of a decade before the withdrawal from Saigon. Occupy Wall Street accomplished less than nothing. The NAACP integrated the South. I know which of those movements I’d want to emulate if I claimed to be an activist.

      Bringing about the end of Harvey Weinstein’s reign of terror among starlets isn’t nothing but it isn’t Brown v. Board of Ed either. And that’s just about the *most* successful part of contemporary activism. I agree 100% with Obama that most contemporary activists seemingly prefer to be right than effective.

      • Plumber says:

        @brad >

        “…if you start waiving your hands about “raising awareness” or something like that, I’m going to think you have nothing real to point to…”

        +1

        This last year a freshmen Congressional Representative said in criticism of older Democrats: “When it comes to defending why we don’t push visionary legislation, I hear the line so frequently from senior members, ‘I want to win,’ but what they mean by that is, ‘I only want to introduce bills that have a 100 percent chance of passing almost unanimously.’ But for new members, what’s important isn’t just winning but fighting. I don’t care about losing in the short term, because we know we’re fighting for the long term.” and this really bugged me, Obamacare is one of the few legislative bright spots in recent decades, but now it’s deemed “insufficient”, which sure yeah, but it’s better than what was the status quo and it actually got enacted, and what I see too much now from the younger Left are “Overton window” moving exercises that I’ll be dead before they bare fruit, probably my son’s will be dead before then as well, and they sure look like they’ll alienate so many that the country will move further Right instead before then as well.

        Madness.

        • cassander says:

          ,Obamacare is one of the few legislative bright spots in recent decades, but now it’s deemed “insufficient”, which sure yeah, but it’s better than

          It costs $150 billion a year, didn’t improve health outcomes, and made hospitals more crowded. I’m not seeing how that’s an improvement.

        • brad says:

          But for new members, what’s important isn’t just winning but fighting.

          This sums up in a nutshell the reason I am so contemptuous. It’s some kind of bizarre virtue ethics, but with no willingness to bite that bullet.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Eh.

            A healthy political group needs both kinds of action. Obama is talking about getting the best possible outcome, but the editorialist is talking about changing what outcomes are possible.

            We can easily look at the gay rights movement to see exactly this duality. Inside of a generation it went from something like a given that, of course, gays were people, but in much the same way that lepers are people, to where we are today.

            Strident activism that insisted on the wrongness of the former position was a vital part of that movement.

            Changing one’s mind is uncomfortable! Absent being forced to confront discomfort in maintaining the exisiting position, the lure of the status quo is very strong.

          • brad says:

            The Gay Rights Movement circa 1989 was trying to win, not just trying to fight for the sake of trying to fight. It’s just that what they were trying to win (mostly the right to use experimental AIDS drugs) was different from what the movement was trying to win circa 2010 (Gay Marriage). Those two different goals had different sets of effective tactics.

            Even if there is a place for a kind of good cop/bad cop activism (the typical example here is MLK & Malcolm X) I don’t see how a legislator voting for laws that have zero chance of passing makes for an effective bad cop.

        • Guy in TN says:

          But consider this: Weak-sauce Obamacare was all that could be mustered when Dems had control full control of government. They literally didn’t need to convince Republicans of a single vote, Dems had both houses. And this was all we got, a pale comparison to the reforms of FDR or LBJ. If the Democrats would have been sufficiently left-wing, we could have had Medicare for All in 2009. Hell, even just a public option was too much for Joe Lieberman.

          Clearly, defeating Republicans in elections isn’t enough. The ideological content of the people we elect matters. Because you know, the Dems might actually win, and then they have to govern.

          • brad says:

            And therefore what? You want to weaken the incumbent Democratic Senator from West Virginia? That’s going to mean a Republican in that seat, not the second coming of AOC.

            The ineffective self declared activists are throwing around their weight like they are in a position of massive strength and just need to exercise some discipline on wayward Representatives. It’s utterly inane. They are utterly inane. We are going to get a second Trump administration in no small part thanks to them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Elizabeth Warren and whoever decided it was a good idea to throw this Ukraine thing at Trump (and catch Biden in the blast) probably deserve more credit/blame for that, I would think.

          • Guy in TN says:

            Joe Manchin is fine. I’m glad he’s a senator, and I’m glad he won. But he’s the last of a dying breed, not an example of something we can emulate across the nation. He’s the just vestiges of the old Blue Dogs. There were coal-mine counties in east Kentucky that voted for Obama in 2008 too, not because they agreed with Obama about much of anything ideologically (except maybe labor issues), but rather they were still playing catch-up to the switch the rest of the rural south underwent in the 90’s.

            My point is, there are lot of basically “safe” blue seats out there. And we should think about the content of the people we populate those seats with, because not all “D’s” are made equal.

          • Plumber says:

            @Guy in TN > "...this was all we got, a pale comparison to the reforms of FDR or LBJ" 

            True. 

            "If the Democrats would have been sufficiently left-wing, we could have had Medicare for All in 2009..."

            Maybe. 

            First off thank you for presenting a view contrary to most in this thread, I’m still gonna argue with you, but I welcome your efforts to change my mind.

            I doubt that enough “sufficiently left-wing” Representatives would’ve been elected in the first place.

            To achieve a House majority in 2006 and 2018 Pelosi recruited moderates to run in “purple” districts, and without that majority even a “weaksauce” agenda wouldn’t have passed.

            As it was after the “weaksauce” there were massive congressional losses for Democrats in 2010 (mostly of the moderates), progressive Democrats (like my Representative Barbara Lee) remained, so a “purer” party that was able to do..

            …actually I don’t remember progressives as the minority party being able to do much more at all beyond extended unemployment insurance (which kept my family housed!), in return for agreeing to extend Bush tax cuts, and as it was the “weaksauce” of Obamacare only survived being repealed because one Republican in the Senate voted with Democrats

            In the words of Speaker Pelosi: “What works in San Francisco does not necessarily work in Michigan, what works in Michigan works in San Francisco — talking about workers’ rights and sharing prosperity. Remember November, you must win the Electoral College”

            Speaking of Michigan and the electoral college, the latest polls show that Sanders beats Trump in Michigan where Biden is even with Trump, and Trump beats Warren there, but in the other “battleground” states (where Trump narrowly beat Clinton) of Arizona Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Biden polls higher than Trump, Sanders polls (slightly) higher than Trump in just Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (where Warren is even in the polls with Trump), and Warren only (narrowly) beats Trump in Arizona. Biden isn’t popular with Democrats under 45 years old, but so what? Are they going to vote Republican instead?
            It looks to me that among the leading Democratic candidates the two leading “Left” candidates are less likely to win the Electoral College than the leading “moderate” one (but Sanders does slightly better than Warren so there’s more than just ideology involved).

            Speaking of ideology some Left proposals are popular with voters:

            installing workers’ representatives on corporate boards,

            raising taxes on very high incomes,

            raising the Federal minimum wage,

            and

            giving federal jobs to all the unemployed are popular with the majority of voters.

            But not all “Left” proposals are popular with voters:

            decriminalizing border crossing

            extending health-care benefits to undocumented immigrants,

            and

            abolishing private medical insurance are not popular with the majority of voters. 

            The tide must be swimmed with, going against the popular will loses elections and invite backlash.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @Plumber
            I am very skeptical of the links you provided showing the majority of voters supporting all these outrageous things. The one Pew poll on the minimum wage looked like it might be right, but the all the other polls described by the nymag url sounded like wishful thinking for them.

            And thank god little of it is true. IF all those things happened in the US, I think we’d have a noticeable decrease in prosperity in this country, which would hit rich and poor alike.

          • Plumber says:

            @Mark V Anderson says: I am very skeptical of the links you provided showing the majority of voters supporting all these outrageous things. The one Pew poll on the minimum wage looked like it might be right, but the all the other polls described by the nymag url sounded like wishful thinking for them…”

            Oh sure, most of those there just hasn’t been much public debate on, and except for the minimum wage (which voters already know what it is) it’s likely thar they were those polled first exposure to the ideas, and if voters had heard them discussed more (cable television, talk radio, et cetera) “Huh? Oh sure, that sounds good” may easily turn to “I heard about that, and it’s a bad idea”, my larger point was that the unpopular “Left” ideas are what’s now being heard on the campaign trail, and this worries me, I remember the ’80’s too well, and I fear a Left overreach followed by a Rightward triumph (yes @cassandra, I suspect you’ll say “Not rightward enough”, but my memories of the ’80’s are of increased beggars and gunfire, and I don’t want a repeat, and while I also suspect that too Left too fast is something to be wary of, if the choice is that or a return of Paul Ryan-ish attempts at a furtherance of the Reagan revolution I know which I fear more). 

            My gut instinct is that promising the continued defense of popular government benefits (Medicare, Social Security) plus a little extension of them is an easier win than bigger changes (the elimination of private insurance).

            Now Obamacare wasn’t popular, until it was, but it barely passed, and barely survived repeal, but the 2010 congressional and especially statehouse losses were massive, what may have been done in those six years instead? 

            “…IF all those things happened in the US, I think we’d have a noticeable decrease in prosperity in this country, which would hit rich and poor alike”

            Though I suppose they had lots of “urban renewal dropped from 10,000 feet up” first, my understanding is that the Germans have been fairly prosperous with one of those ideas, but really I’m underwhelmed with prosperity, m supposedly the nationwide rate of homelessness is down, but in California, and especially in Alameda County (where I live) homelessness went up 43% from 2017 to 2019 (more than in the last recession!) despite giant apartment towers going up at a rate higher than I’ve ever seen, the jobs and new apartments the more beggars and tents there are, plus traffic is relentless, frankly we have a surfeit of it, prosperity needs to go somewhere else in the U.S.A.!

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            my understanding is that the Germans have been fairly prosperous with one of those ideas,

            Yes the Germans have done well despite buying into the whole “stakeholder” morass. It just goes to show you how strong German culture is. Just think how well they’d be doing if they let their large corporations alone and didn’t decide to junk their nuclear power based on a tsunami in Japan. Every country has some bad ideas (as you discuss yourself about San Fran and environs). The USA has plenty of them, but it is still doing better than most because it still has a culture that mostly values productivity.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @Plumber
            On lefty things the majority want:
            I thinking you are on to something. During the hight of the so called “Refugee Crisis” one rather conservative Paper with a lot of reach in Germany (the Bild am Sonntag) made a poll about what political topics interessted the readers. Migration came in place 11 (of 18). Still migration was the only topic the media and politican where talking about. My position then, and now is that the raise of the rightwing populist party AFD is strongly compounded to this. People who feel misrepresented vote for those that say the opposite of those that misrepresent them.

            @Mark V Anderson
            Sorry Americans value productivity? Let me cite a friend of mine who is officer on an container ship:
            “American habours are worse than Arabian once. Same work moral, same bureaucratic idiocy, but at least no one shits you on deck.”

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      One thing that i think gets overlooked in celebrity cancel culture is that art is, to the consumer, effectively post-scarcity compared to 30-40 years ago. Watching Chappelle’s last special and hearing him bemoan the fate of Louis C.K., all I could think was “there’s got to be thousands of decent stand-ups on YouTube who aren’t compromised who are funny enough to substitute, why should Louis C.K. be in the spotlight vs. any one of them?”

      Purity is a luxury good, in the sense that it takes time and effort to keep one’s media stream free of artists who do not meet a particular moral standard. Nowadays though, the effort needed to discover and censure misdeeds is dramatically less. So too is the opportunity cost, as alternatives are both more numerous and closer at hand.

      It may be that this form of protest is happening now because it simply can, and culture is again downstream of technology (e.g., people in the 60’s would have canceled “problematic” artists if social media existed then, and they had the plethora of alternative movie/music/comedy options we do, which didn’t exist in an era dominated by radio and 3 TV stations).

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Youngster here. Unfortunately I broadly agree with Mr. Obama and the consensus (?) here that making noise on twitter doesn’t accomplish much towards your actual objectives. (Assuming that your actual objectives are your stated goals of making the world a better, fairer place.)

      Looks like everyone’s already picked apart that article pretty well, so I’ll share a story of an argument I had with a friend a few weeks ago. We were eating at a picnic table on the quad, and a line of people came in from the distance chanting slogans along the lines of “No more coal, no more oil! / Keep that carbon in the soil!” and “Climate change is not a lie! / Please don’t let our planet die!” As we moved inside where we could actually hear each other talk, I mentioned my annoyance at what seemed to me like a mostly-pointless protest. My friend objected:

      “But climate change is important! Don’t you think we need to do something about it?”
      “What do you think we should do?”
      “Invest in renewable energy, limit the emissions of the biggest polluters, and stop subsidizing and divest from fossil fuels.”
      “Eh, I’d prefer just taxing carbon. But in any case, I don’t think those…protesters? are doing any of that by parading around the quad.”
      “They’re raising awareness!”
      “We’re on a college campus. Do you seriously think anyone here doesn’t believe climate change is a problem?”
      “Well, you seem to think not.”
      “I didn’t say it’s not a problem! And even if some people here don’t believe it’s real, I doubt they’ll be convinced by this protest, no matter how catchy its slogans.”
      “You’re awfully cynical about this.”
      “Oh, you haven’t heard the half of it. Even if you did convince people on campus, no one here’s a congressperson, and you’re not convincing enough people to vote Democrat to flip a district.”

      At that point, I was wise enough to change the topic.

      [sidenote: When you recount your own past conversations, you get to edit your arguments to be maximally articulate and witty to boot. I can see why Eliezer likes doing it so much!]

      • brad says:

        That’s just about how I feel every time I see a protest in Union Square (NYC). Who are you trying to convince?

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Who are you trying to convince?

          You’re trying to convince members of your ingroup that you’re a very devout follower of your ingroup religion, and your status within the ingroup should be raised accordingly.

        • Randy M says:

          Doesn’t Union Square get a lot of tourists and media coverage? Or is that a different NYC square?

          • brad says:

            That’s Times Square, home of the Naked Cowboy and life sized Elmo. Union Square is essentially one of NYU’s quads.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        [sidenote: When you recount your own past conversations, you get to edit your arguments to be maximally articulate and witty to boot. I can see why Eliezer likes doing it so much!]

        I love this comment. Self awareness is an under-appreciated virtue.

  31. onyomi says:

    Since Plumber below has linked to an essentially Alinskian argument for a conflict theory approach to social progress, I’ll take this opportunity to give my thoughts on Alinsky’s arguments for an “ends justifies means” approach to tactics (this being a followup to my take on his tactics here).

    Alinsky repeatedly balks at the phrase “the ends justify the means.” He insists a better question to ask is “do these particular ends justify these particular means?” This strikes me as question begging because he’s assuming that utilitarianism is right.

    I don’t want to go into utilitarianism vs. deontology here, but do find him remiss wrt a big, but frequently hidden part of the equation (one with which SSC readers are well familiar), namely the burning of the commons that allows an assumption of good faith debate. I wouldn’t tell the utilitarian “don’t weight pros and cons,” but rather, think of the value to society of good faith debate and ask whether this ends is worth chipping away at that.

    Alinsky does realize that it’s valuable for those organized to actually believe in the virtue of what they are doing rather than to think of appeals to morality as cynical power grabs (presumably the “organizer” is sufficiently enlightened to wield this power). And we should expect peoples’ reason to steer them towards ethical conclusions that benefits themselves, as Alinsky points out.

    However, I think he misses something important here: I’m sure my reason tries to reduce cognitive dissonance by steering me towards ethical conclusions that don’t require me to give away all my possessions and wander the desert. But reason and ethics still exert some restraint on my thinking and behavior.

    That is, even if I (A) try my very best every day to live up to the ethical standards my reason tells me are best I will still end up skewing slightly selfish. However, I think my behavior in that scenario would still be quite different from scenario (B) in which I decide: morality is just a tool for controlling others; it is right for me to cynically appeal to others’ morality while myself taking whatever action I estimate will best advance the interests of myself and those groups and causes I care about.

    Alinsky seems to suggest that, at the end of the day everyone’s going to do (B) consciously or unconsciously, so you might as well be conscious about it. This seems to me to ignore a “meta” aspect of cognition. To use the old Freudian model: knowing that your ego is going to steer your superego and that others will try to use your superego to steer you doesn’t mean you should just throw out your superego entirely.

    • cassander says:

      Alinsky repeatedly balks at the phrase “the ends justify the means.” He insists a better question to ask is “do these particular ends justify these particular means?” This strikes me as question begging because he’s assuming that utilitarianism is right: a sufficiently important end can justify a means that would be repugnant if not carried out in the pursuit of a valuable goal.

      I would phrase this the other way. Ends are the only thing that can justify means, and the question one must ask always ask himself is “is this juice worth the squeeze?”

      • onyomi says:

        Sorry for the ninja edit, but I agree it’s somewhat meaningless to try to separate means from ends.

  32. johan_larson says:

    The Christian doctrine of the Trinity states that God has three parts (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), and these parts are distinct but always together. Pretty much all Christians today believe this, but over the years a bunch of other notions have appeared, only to be rejected (sometimes violently) by church authorities.

    If one accepts the rest of core Christian beliefs, but rejects the notion of the Trinity, are there some larger theological consequences? Are there other core doctrines that no longer fit?

    • Nick says:

      The Christian doctrine of the Trinity states that God has three parts (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), and these parts are distinct but always together.

      Come on, man, this is one of those violently rejected heresies. The doctrine of the Trinity states that there are three persons in one God. The persons are not parts; there are no parts in God.

      I’m not sure about larger consequences, but the first question is how to reconcile various things said in the Bible itself. For instance, what did Jesus mean when he was going on about the Father? Was he talking about God alone? Does that mean Jesus isn’t God? Was he just a prophet? That would have consequences basically everywhere.

      • DavidS says:

        I think its pretty clear that the father is god, and other Jews had referred to god.as a father. My understanding is that the just a prophet idea can’t with any plausibly fit with the Bible which talks.about the pre-existenxe of the Word.

        Moderns are attracted to the ‘just a.man chosen by god’ thing and perhaps some.early Christians were too but if you want to keep the Bible you need to make Jesus in some sense divine, just perhaps an aspect or first creation along the lines of various Jewish ideas about the role of the Logos or of Sophia. As I understand it this is broadly what JWs do?

    • DavidS says:

      As nick said, like almost anyone talking about the trinity you’ve tripped over a heresy (see also https://youtu.be/KQLfgaUoQCw)

      As for the question, I think it depends why you reject it and in which direction. The debates about the trinity historically have rarely focused on the holy spirit so the question is essentially about the status of Jesus. The implications of this in turn depend on your model of salvation but if you think it requires Jesus as the second Adam (i.e. a human) dying fand suffering or the sins of humanity it’s pretty important that he’s actually a man and actually suffers for instance.

    • eigenmoon says:

      Every God who’s transcendent (non-intersecting with the Universe and non-comprehensible from within it) should have at least one immanent aspect (something to poke the Universe with) or otherwise we would never have any idea whatsoever about him. So for Brahman that would be Ishvara, for Ahura Mazda that would be the six Amesha Spenta, for Allah that would be the Qur’an.

      The Jews had a concept of Memra/Word/Logos as the immanent aspect of God (see in Jewish Encyclopedia). In Christianity this is Jesus. But if you want to get rid of this doctrine, you need something else to replace it.

      In Eastern Orthodoxy, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are also transcendent and grace, or God’s energy, is the only immanent aspect of God (see Palamism). This comes with consequences on salvation and the purpose of life (see Theosis).

    • smocc says:

      Pretty much all Christians today believe this, but over the years a bunch of other notions have appeared

      My contention is that almost no one does actually believe in the Nicaean conception of the Trinity because when you ask them to explain what they mean they almost always end up explaining it “wrong.” My interpretation has been that this is evidence that it does not have significant consequences. Though it’s a good question and I am interested in answers from people who do think it’s significant.

      Of course, my personal bias is that I’m a Latter-day Saint and we explicitly reject the concept of the Trinity. The Father and the Son are one in the way that Jesus told the apostles to be one: in mind, in purpose, in love. If we need to understand God as a single entity we may understand it as a title for a unified group of individuals. Jesus is God because he is has an equal share of the glory of the Father, because he participated in the Creation, because he deserves our worship. The Father is God because He created our spirits, because he directed the Creation, because He is all that is good. The Holy Ghost is God because He perfectly communicates the mind and will of God to us. We often talk about “the Godhead,” referring to this unified body of persons collectively.

      Incidentally, does anyone have any thoughts about which classical heresy this is? I’ve tried but it never seems exactly like any of them.

      • eigenmoon says:

        No classical heresy is compatible with the Mormon notion of God as a superhuman, but I can give you some pagan parallels. The Indo-European society was strictly divided into 3 castes: priests, warriors and peasants. They also believed that their gods have a society along the same lines, so there would be:
        – priests’ gods, whose job was to wield supreme power and issue laws
        – warriors’ gods, whose job was to perform tasks ordered by the priests’ gods
        – peasants’ gods, whose job was to nurture and sustain life.

        Now compare that with the Trinity (Father wields supreme power, Son performs tasks given by Father, Holy Spirit gives life). Clearly that looks suspicious.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Incidentally, does anyone have any thoughts about which classical heresy this is? I’ve tried but it never seems exactly like any of them.

        Polytheism.

    • Björn says:

      I think the problem is the following. Jesus Christ is very important in Christianity, so you want to know what he is. If he is a prophet, that means an ordinary man chosen by God, you can integrate him into Jewish theology very easily, since there are many Jewish prophets. But then Jesus Christ is not important enough, and Christians want to see Jesus as more then just a prophet.

      So then Jesus needs to be divine in some way. This gives us a huge problem. Judaism is monotheistic, and Christians want to keep it that way, so Jesus can not be another god. Either you accept that Jesus is subordinate to God in some way (a logical and consistent solution) or you come up with the Holy Trinity (illogical, but cool).

      If you lose the Trinity, you lose many things. You cannot straightforward pray to Jesus anymore, you need at least a workaround like the Catholics do with the saints. Jesus stops being a pretty cool guy who performs miracles and doesn’t afraid of anything. He becomes a divine subcontractor who gets to perform miracles because God does it for him.

      • bullseye says:

        The Muslim solution is to declare your founder the best prophet.

      • johan_larson says:

        I guess the three things you really need to explain if you are going to build a faith around Jesus are a) why was he special, b) why did he meet such a gruesome end, c) what’s the significance of his (brief) return.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I think all of those are fairly easy. He is the Messiah. Mashiach ben Yosef (Messiah, son of Joseph) is meant to suffer. That he returns is simply a sign that he is also Mashiach ben David, the Messiah who will appear at the end of days and usher in the kingdom of God.

          It’s precisely this that creates the issue, that it arises from Judaism. Judaism doesn’t say that God is coming, but someone separate from God. So how do square the circle of Jewish unitary monotheism with the Christian belief in Christ as God?

    • brad says:

      As I understand it there were fierce debates that came to armed conflict over whether or not Jesus and the disciples owned anything individually or collectively. But that the modern view is that these were really proxy wars over the wealth of the then contemporary Church. Were all the big fights over Christology really about something else, or were people actually killing each other over whether or not the holy ghost proceeded from just the father or from the father and the son?

      • bullseye says:

        My take, perhaps overly cynical, is that wars over doctrine are really wars about who gets to decide doctrine.

      • eigenmoon says:

        proceeded from just the father or from the father and the son
        First of all, that’s not Christology. When filioque became relevant, it was already possible to wage war between countries with the exact same faith (see: Bulgaria vs. Byzantines).

        Christology didn’t really bring wars but it was dependent on the results of the wars, specifically on the relative political weight of Antioch, Alexandria and Rome. With Antioch and Alexandria in the hands of Muslims, the Emperor agreed that Rome got it right and has always had it right and it will always have it right and whatever else the Pope says. Thus ended the great controversy on Christology.

    • GearRatio says:

      So semi-interesting fact: I’m a pretty mainstream christian in a pretty “normal” church who is about 90% not a trinitarian – I don’t think the bible supports the holy spirit as a third part of God. But you will find that doesn’t matter – if you make the holy spirit an arm of God rather than God-in-the-same-way-as-God-and-Jesus, it doesn’t effect much. Nobody really prays to the holy spirit, that’s a Jesus-or-God show. There’s still an influence from God with us either way, it’s all pretty much the same.

      If you take Jesus out instead, it’s a pretty big deal. If nothing else, it’s a pretty big deal because it determines who you are worshiping. If Jesus is just some dude, or just God’s kid, you don’t worship him – God-the-father is pretty clear on the only worship me thing. Meanwhile, working within that only-worship-god ruleset, people worship Jesus in the Bible and he says nothing about it; that’s now not just not-God, it’s a guy-who-takes-God’s-worship, which is a pretty big deal.

      There was a guy in the 90’s whose name I don’t remember who said given the stuff Jesus said about himself, he was either crazy, an evil liar, or the son of God; the first two aren’t mutually exclusive with each other but they are both mutually exclusive with the third.

      If you talk to boomer protestant Christians about Mormonism or JW’s, they will tell you that the biggest difference between them and Catholics(who most boomer protestants think of as Christians) is that Mormons and JW’s both downgrade Jesus into a really cool guy.

      The really short version of all of this is that if you don’t believe Jesus is God, you are now part of a religion separate from Christianity as it’s generally defined in the same way you would be if you thought God was secretly Buddha or Shiva – you are worshipping an entirely different figure. So when you do that and try to keep all the other costume pieces of the religion in place, it looks an awful lot like you are trying to trick believers away from the truth by giving them something similar-but-neutered that still “smells” like the truth. That’s likely why you see the sometimes-violent-always-severe reaction against people going “What if God isn’t… God? What if he’s just, like, a good dude?”.

      • bullseye says:

        There was a guy in the 90’s whose name I don’t remember who said given the stuff Jesus said about himself, he was either crazy, an evil liar, or the son of God

        That guy was probably quoting or paraphrasing C.S. Lewis. “Lunatic, liar, or Lord”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis%27s_trilemma

        • Viliam says:

          And what exactly is the problem with the “crazy” option?

          • EchoChaos says:

            His philosophy is such a massive improvement over prior philosophies and is so life-changing that if he was crazy, he was a very special brand of crazy.

            “He revolutionized morality and human interaction for the next two thousand years” is a pretty incredible achievement.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not convinced that his philosophy was a massive improvement over Judaism, especially rabbinic Judaism. The principal improvement was that it extended its benefits to a much larger population, but that’s mostly the work of the people who came after Jesus. And it isn’t clear that their ability to do this, was highly dependent on Jesus’s sanity or divinity.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @John Schilling

            A philosophy that is so insular that in 2000 years it has grown its number of adherents by less than an order of magnitude is inherently worse than one that is evangelistic if we measure by actually improving human lives.

            And since Jesus is the one who gave the Great Commission, so I think we can safely say that it is his vision they were executing.

    • Aron Wall says:

      I’d say that without the doctrine of the Trinity, almost nothing else in Christianity fits together properly.

      Let’s start with the Ethics. First of all, the highest virtue in Christian theology is Love. But Love, especially altruistic love, is something that one person has for another. God is Love (1 John 4:8), and therefore (we believe) God has to include multiple Persons (not parts, as Nick correctly says). So the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that even before God created, he was Love in his essential being. (Since God is Creator, the universe depends on God but not the other way around.) So if you don’t have an analogue of the doctrine of the Trinity, then the highest thing in the universe might have been Power, but it couldn’t really be Love. He might still command love, but he wouldn’t BE Love.

      The Trinity also affects our notion of what human beings are. Human beings are created in the image of God. But we aren’t monads either; we were created to be in relationships with other human beings, and with our Creator, because when we do we reflect the love that is in the Trinity.

      Now let’s take the idea that God suffers for the sins of the world. If anything less than God suffered on the Cross, then it wouldn’t have atoned for the tragedy of existence, because atoning for sin requires reconciling divinity with suffering, not just saying that one particularly righteous person met a bad end. That by itself hardly counts as “good news”. As one of the early church theologians said, “That which is not assumed [i.e. in some way incorporated into God] is not healed.” So to be a Christian you have to believe that God became Incarnate as a human being, in order to heal the world.

      But recall, we also believe that human beings were created to live in communion with God. If God were only a monad, then he couldn’t actually become a proper human being, because a human being who had nothing higher than himself to look up to would be an abomination. At any rate, that person wouldn’t be very much like Jesus, who became incarnate as a religious Jew; and who always acted in communion with, and submission to, the entity he called his Father.

      After Jesus defeated death, he ascended to be with the Father, which means that a person who shares our humanity, is now, in some unimaginable way, also fully glorified in the presence of God and interceding for us. I don’t see how we can even talk about this doctrine, without making a distinction between the Father and the Son.

      Finally, what is the point for us? When he ascended to Heaven, Jesus sent his followers the Holy Spirit from God—the same Spirit that created the universe, spoke through the Jewish prophets, and worked miracles in Jesus’ earthly ministry—so that he could continue to dwell inside of us—the Church—after he left. If the Holy Spirit isn’t fully divine, then that means we’ve been abandoned to our own devices. But if the Spirit is divine, then that means God is dwelling inside of believers, and making us holy, just like Jesus is in relation to his Father.

      As C.S. Lewis said, the Trinity is like a dance that we have been invited to enter (becoming by unmerited grace, what the Son is by nature). Eternal beatitute consists of entering more and more deeply into the inexaustible riches of this dance. This turns out be the awesomest thing ever, among other things because it involves participating in perfect Rationality and Beauty. In other words, blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

      People have, of course, tried to construct various Unitarian versions of Christianity. But without the Trinity, in practice pretty much the only thing that ends up being left (unless you revert back to Judaism, or pagan polytheism) is the idea that it’s nice when people are nice to each other. Which is not really Christianity.

  33. Thomas Jorgensen says:

    So, Trump is relocating his primary residence to Florida.

    Chunks of the more left leaning internet are theorizing that he is doing this due to the utterly bloody ridiculus homestead clause in Floridas bankruptcy law. – that his tax returns being published will reveal that he is deeply, deeply in the hole, and cause all his creditors to descend on him en-masse to claw back everything they possibly can.

    This would be a fairly straightforward reason he has been fighting their publication so hard, so I am putting the probability of this particular bit of internet conspiracy theorizing being correct at.. well, at least a double digit percentage.

    Question: how much damage does ssc think it would do to Trumps popularity if it were revealed he has, in fact, blown every cent his father ever made and a matching fortune of other peoples money on top of that? In general, to you, to his base?

    • Incurian says:

      Trump’s appeal to me is wholly determined by the alternatives.

    • broblawsky says:

      Not Trump’s base, but I can’t see it doing too much damage to him politically. Also, I doubt this is why he’s doing it – one thing Trump doesn’t do is plan for failure.

    • Cliff says:

      Isn’t the difference in income tax rates a more likely reason?

      • sharper13 says:

        The difference in income tax rates is a good reason, and certainly going to be a major one for choosing Florida.

        The proximate motivation for doing it at the particular time likely involves to stop giving so much money to the people in NY who have been going all out to personally target him. Why remain in their jurisdiction and fund them?

      • Clutzy says:

        And estate rules. He’s following in the footsteps of a few billionaires.

    • LesHapablap says:

      The only things that will hurt Trump with his base are bad things that democrats/lefties/blue tribe do not consider bad. So it would have to be a violation of a red tribe value which the blue tribe don’t criticize him for. Giving up the Kurds in Syria was close, and if the left had praised him for it at all it probably would have cost him his base.

      Disclaimer: I pay no attention to this stuff. Just throwing it out there.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        … Because that would be a facist show of strength. Going publically, spectacularily broke would be more like emptying all twenty one rounds of a fn five seven at AOC on a public street, missing every shot, and then getting pistolwhipped by her with his own gun. – that is, a spectacular display of weakness.

  34. salvorhardin says:

    Looking for recommendations of a survey history of the United States that has the following properties:

    1. It was originally written in a non-English language for a non-English-speaking audience.
    2. It is available in a good English translation.
    3. It is good enough to be worthwhile reading for an American looking for perspective on how those relatively culturally distant from Americans view US history.

    Histories with the above properties that focus on particularly interesting parts of US history (e.g. the Revolution or the Civil War) would also be interesting. Thanks!

    Motivation: I’ve read a fair number of histories of non-English-speaking places written in English, by native English speaker authors, for English-speaking audiences. I think it’d be enlightening to see what it’s like to be on the other side of that cultural exchange, so to speak.

    • metacelsus says:

      Democracy in America (or, La Démocratie en Amérique) by Alexis de Tocqueville is a classic work (published in 1835 with a second volume in 1840). It would certainly fulfill all 3 of your criteria.

      • salvorhardin says:

        Fair enough, and I did read it long ago. I should have specified that I am looking for something more contemporary– say, written in the last 50 years, ideally the last 30.

  35. proyas says:

    In Star Wars episodes 4 – 8, the Empire’s/First Order’s fleet doctrine makes no sense to me. Their opponents, the Rebels/New Republic are few in number, have few capital ships, and are instead fighter-centric and rely on hit-and-run tactics. In light of this, it seems like a waste for the Empire/First Order to build anything bigger than a Star Destroyer. The Super Star Destroyers had no peer opponents, and the resources devoted to them would have been better spent making more smaller ships and fighters.

    The Empire/First Order also suffered because of the firepower gap between its principal fighting spacecraft: There are massive, overpowered Star Destroyers that the enemy can face with only a few equivalent capital ships, and then it drops all the way down to small, underpowered TIE fighters that are clearly inferior to the enemy’s fighters. There is nothing in between, which I think has got to be a major doctrinal mistake.

    The Death Stars/Starkiller Base also seemed like major misallocations of resources. If the Empire/First Order wants to kill everyone on a planet, is it necessary to blow the planet into little bits with one shot? Wouldn’t it be wholly adequate to instead have a fleet appear out of hyperspace and to destroy all the population centers, shipyards, and important infrastructure through orbital bombardment in less than an hour? A fleet of that size and strength–including capital ships with weapons strong enough to destroy and defensive shield on the ground–would probably require fewer resources than Death Stars/Starkiller Base, would be more use-flexible, and wouldn’t have the single point of catastrophic failure problem.

    This is what I think the Empire/First Order should have done:
    1) Abandon all plans to build and warships larger than the Star Destroyer.
    2) Drop the “Star-” from the names of all ship classes since it is understood that they are all in space and meant for space combat.
    3) Rename the “Star Destroyer” class of ships as “Heavy Cruisers.” This would still leave room for bigger “Battlecruiser” and “Battleship” classes to be built in the future (if the need arose) without reclassifying everything.
    4) To save resources during construction and operation, use the Heavy Cruiser chassis as a basis for three variants of the ship:
    (a) Heavy Cruiser, General Purpose – This is an unmodified Star Destroyer, with its anti-ship lasers, small defensive lasers, and a moderate number of TIE fighters.
    (b) Heavy Cruiser, Super Laser – This is a Star Destroyer, but built around a single, large laser weapon powerful enough to destroy the biggest Rebel/New Republic capital ship in at most 2 shots, and to quickly destroy the most powerful ground-based shields (like what the Rebels had at Hoth). The vessel would carry a trivial number of TIE fighters, and would only have small defensive lasers meant to stop enemy fighters. It would need escort ships for adequate protection.
    (c) Carrier – Even though “Heavy Cruiser” is not in its class name, it would still be built around the latter’s chassis. The Carrier would carry very large numbers of fighters, transports, and corvette-sized ships like the Millennium Falcon. It would only have small defensive lasers and would need escort ships for adequate protection. Note that an even bigger “Supercarrier” could be built if the need arose in the future.
    5) Invest more into fighter pilot training, and build better fighter planes. In particular, the Empire/First Order would have benefited from heavy attack planes like the Y-Wing. Squadrons of them armed with bombs could have posed a major threat to the Rebels/New Republic’s middling- and smaller-sized capital ships.
    6) Create a “Destroyer” class of capital ships that have about 20-25% the size, crew, and firepower of the Heavy Cruiser class. These would be used for secondary and rear-echelon duties, freeing up the Heavy Cruisers. Destroyers could also take on similarly sized Rebel/New Republic capital ships (most of them looked smaller anyway). Again, several ships would share the Destroyer chassis and their roles would mirror those of the Heavy Cruisers’:
    (a) Destroyer, General Purpose
    (b) Destroyer, Super Laser
    (c) Escort Carrier
    (d) Destroyer, Anti-Fighter (packed with weapons designed to shoot down enemy fighters and corvettes)
    7) Instead of having a Death Star/Starkiller, the Empire/First Order should have used a tactic of having a fleet of hundreds of Heavy Cruiser class ships simultaneously emerging from hyperspace next to a planet and bombarding it. Many of the ships would have been Heavy Cruisers, Superlaser.

    • Lillian says:

      Your point about how the Empire could do with some smaller class combatants is a valid one. Most likely the best thing they could do to counter rebel tactics is to deploy some gunboats and small anti-fighter captial ships in order to counter the heavy rebel fighters. Most of the rest of your proposal seems unnecessary though. Especially since it’s pretty clear that the Empire prefers fewer standardised ship classes for general deployment, possibly for economic reasons since they have a lot of star systems to patrol. It might be economically unviable to deploy too many different ship classes, so we really want to keep this to the minimum required to close the gap. A smaller capital hull with an anti-fighter and an anti-ship variants seems like it would cover the requirements.

      Some nitpicks however:

      The Death Stars/Starkiller Base also seemed like major misallocations of resources. If the Empire/First Order wants to kill everyone on a planet, is it necessary to blow the planet into little bits with one shot? Wouldn’t it be wholly adequate to instead have a fleet appear out of hyperspace and to destroy all the population centers, shipyards, and important infrastructure through orbital bombardment in less than an hour? A fleet of that size and strength–including capital ships with weapons strong enough to destroy and defensive shield on the ground–would probably require fewer resources than Death Stars/Starkiller Base, would be more use-flexible, and wouldn’t have the single point of catastrophic failure problem.

      The Star Wars EU originally established that it takes months-long sieges to break a planetary shields. If that still holds, it means that the Death Star constitutes a massive increase in capability, since it can do that in a single day. It’s like the increase in capability given by the atomic bomb. Sure the US Army Air Corps in 1945 could still raze a city to the ground without it, but it was a huge game changer to be able to do it by sending one bomber instead of hundreds.

      Starkiller Base is definitely weirder though, and it’s unclear why they couldn’t have just built a Death Star without the crippling one shot weakness. Frankly if I had been writing The Force Awakens, the new super-weapon would have been a miniaturized super-laser that can be mounted on a Super Star Destroyer. The EU actually did that with the Eclipse class, and I thought it was an interesting way to up the ante without re-hashing the Death Star. It would also fit with the New Order being the underdogs this time around and being forced to rely on hit-and-run tactics, since a hit-and-run planet buster would be pretty terrifying.

      2) Drop the “Star-” from the names of all ship classes since it is understood that they are all in space and meant for space combat.
      3) Rename the “Star Destroyer” class of ships as “Heavy Cruisers.” This would still leave room for bigger “Battlecruiser” and “Battleship” classes to be built in the future (if the need arose) without reclassifying everything.

      Why exactly does the Empire gain by adopting a ship classification system that’s intelligible to you? It’s clearly intelligible to them, and i see no reason why they ought to change it on your account. Also note that Han Solo calls them “Imperial Cruisers” so I think Star Destroyers are already considered cruiser-class ships. The “destroyer” there isn’t in the sense of “destroyer-class” but in the sense of “thing that destroys”. It’s like complaining that a blaster rifle isn’t a rifle because it doesn’t have rifling, well yeah it doesn’t, it’s a rifle in the sense of “long hand-held firearm”.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        Most likely the best thing they could do to counter rebel tactics is to deploy some gunboats and small anti-fighter captial ships in order to counter the heavy rebel fighters

        I’d like to introduce you to the Lancer-class Frigate from Legends, which is pretty much exactly this. Slap 20 sets of Millenium Falcon-esque quad guns on a small capital ship, and you’ve got something that can shred fighter groups.

    • ECD says:

      Star Wars tactics/doctrine have never made much sense and can’t so long as the premise remains ‘magic knights with laser swords (but not super-cosmic powers) are a relevant force at the 1-2 person level in modern combat.’ I mean, the right answer to ‘jedi knight on the field’ is ‘airstrike.’

      That having been said, I’ve heard two responses to the argument you raise, which are somewhat contradictory. Explanation one, based on EU materials is that the Emperor was never really focused on the rebels, but on an extra-galactic threat, which was why his forces were so badly designed to fight rebels, they weren’t built for that.

      Explanation two, the Emperor’s manpower was actually extremely limited and a massive fleet, though far more effective than a single death star, also required a larger number of people (as well as a larger number of officers, any one of whom could recognize, ‘wait, I’ve got a fleet and I can carve out this entire sector and rule it as emperor myself’) who he either couldn’t get, or couldn’t trust.

      The First Order…I have no comment on. Honestly, if I call episode 7, episode 10 in my head, it makes things a lot better, as I’m uninterested in investigating a brand new EU and without it, nothing about that makes much sense.

    • INH5 says:

      The Death Stars/Starkiller Base also seemed like major misallocations of resources. If the Empire/First Order wants to kill everyone on a planet, is it necessary to blow the planet into little bits with one shot? Wouldn’t it be wholly adequate to instead have a fleet appear out of hyperspace and to destroy all the population centers, shipyards, and important infrastructure through orbital bombardment in less than an hour?

      Just looking at the movies, we know that a shield projected from a relatively small installation on the forest moon of Endor was able to totally deter a Rebel space assault on both the still under construction Second Death Star and the moon itself. Extrapolate this up to the kind of defenses that you could construct on a fully developed planet, and it seems very open to question whether orbital bombardment from Star Destroyers would actually be effective. Assuming that the defenses in place on the hastily constructed and surely designed to be temporary and easily evacuated base on Hoth represent the “most powerful ground-based shields” seems like a mistake to me, akin to looking at an Al Qaeda base camp in the mountains of Afghanistan and assuming that it represented the pinnacle of modern military defense technology.

      From what I understand, the old EU did in fact establish that most major inhabited planets had planetary shields that could stand up to any firepower less powerful than a Death Star. With that in mind, a Death Star really would be a total game changer. I have no idea if this is still canon, though.

      In any event, if we accept episode 8 as canon, then the existence of hyperspace ramming totally breaks Star Wars space warfare as we know it. Hyperspace missiles should be very common weapons, and only ships small and agile enough to evade them would be used in combat. Anything remotely approaching the size of a Star Destroyer would just be a giant target, like sending the Goodyear Blimp into battle against modern jet fighters.

      • bullseye says:

        I don’t recall any planetary shields in the new canon, but Endor is still canon so the tech must still be there.

        In the new comics, just after the Emperor’s death, Imperial fleets receive orders to depopulate planets (without the firepower to blow them up entirely). It’s mentioned that Naboo can’t defend itself because the Emperor ordered it “demilitarized” years earlier, which I suppose could include dismantling the shield.

      • proyas says:

        Just looking at the movies, we know that a shield projected from a relatively small installation on the forest moon of Endor was able to totally deter a Rebel space assault on both the still under construction Second Death Star and the moon itself. Extrapolate this up to the kind of defenses that you could construct on a fully developed planet, and it seems very open to question whether orbital bombardment from Star Destroyers would actually be effective. Assuming that the defenses in place on the hastily constructed and surely designed to be temporary and easily evacuated base on Hoth represent the “most powerful ground-based shields” seems like a mistake to me, akin to looking at an Al Qaeda base camp in the mountains of Afghanistan and assuming that it represented the pinnacle of modern military defense technology.

        From what I understand, the old EU did in fact establish that most major inhabited planets had planetary shields that could stand up to any firepower less powerful than a Death Star. With that in mind, a Death Star really would be a total game changer. I have no idea if this is still canon, though.

        Very good points. However, the Empire didn’t have the Heavy Cruisers with Superlasers that I hypothesized. If something the size of a Star Destroyer channeled all of its energy into a single laser beam, it might have cut right through the Hoth shield.

        This can be scaled up arbitrarily by adding as many Heavy Cruisers with Superlasers to the attack fleet as is needed to penetrate a shield by shooting at it simultaneously.

        Even after considering what you said, I still think the Death Star was overkill. I can’t believe that a Superlaser that is powerful enough to penetrate a planetary shield would also need to be powerful enough to blow the planet into little bits. If the Empire wanted to build a space-based weapon strong enough to destroy any known planetary shield, surely it would have been smaller and weaker than the Death Star. Doctrine: Use the space weapon set to maximum power to destroy the planetary shield. Then, once the shield is down, turn the power way down and start shooting at cities, factories, spaceports, etc.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          The Doctrine behind the Death Star was pretty much laid out by Tarkin in A New Hope:

          “Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station”.

          He ordered the destruction of Alderaan, again, as a symbolic gesture and as a demonstration of the Empire’s willingness to utterly *crush* resistance. No one who matters cares about Hoth, Tatooine, Dantooine, but Alderaan is a relatively well known system even without dipping into EU sources.

          In other words, it was as much or more about psychological warfare and propaganda as it was military practicality.

          • proyas says:

            And using a capital ship fleet to reduce Alderaan to a smoking ruin where 80% of the population was dead would have accomplished the same goal.

          • Lambert says:

            Hiroshima and Nagasaki accomplished what firebombing Tokyo did not.

    • bullseye says:

      Actually defeating the Rebels would bring peace, which the Emperor doesn’t want. He wants to fight forever. His ideology demands conflict. Given the enormous resources at his disposal, he needs terrible inefficiency to look like he’s trying without actually winning.

      The First Order is just stupid; they’re Empire fanboys doing whatever the Empire did.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Can’t believe I’m getting into this conversation. It’s a damn movie, that’s why.

      Anyways. The Death Star was built “to keep the systems in place”, or something like it. The Universe wasn’t split into Empire and Rebellion – as usual, there was a silent majority that went with the current big shot. Biggest threat to the Empire was that those systems would start putting real weight behind the rebels. That’s why Alderaan needed to be made an example – not just defeated, but utterly defeater.

      • DavidS says:

        Makes sense. Like how Hadrian’s wall was partially for the purpose of signalling what a massive wall you can build, rather than impermeability.

    • Machine Interface says:

      The Empire does in fact have smaller, intermediate-size ships in the extended universe, including the Raider-class Corvette, the Arquitens-class Light Cruiser, the Quasar Fire Carrier and the Gozanti-class Cruiser, as well tougher fighter-scale ships like the TIE Defender and the VT-49 Decimator.

      [several of those were originally created for Star Wars miniature games or video games where army structure needed to make a bit more sense]

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        Not to mention the Skipray Blastboat and the Lancer frigate, both of which were explicitly designed to counter rebel fighter superiority alongside the Defender.

    • proyas says:

      To be clear, I don’t know about the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and have only seen the films. I think it’s opening a can of worms to consider the EA material as being canonical to address the issues I’ve raised here.

    • Erusian says:

      My knowledge is out of date, but from reading as a teenager:
      -The Empire’s fleet doctrine was developed during the Clone Wars and then to fight a series of rebellions by disobedient star systems. The Empire does not have a monopoly on violence in the Star Wars universe. There are multiple constituent star systems, some of which who are loyal to the Empire, that have their own conventional militaries. These systems defecting is how the Rebels pull together a fleet of capital ships. So the Imperial doctrine is based on defeating conventional forces, something they have to regularly do and are very good at.
      -The Empire explicitly goes for a terror doctrine. The galaxy is so large they cannot effectively police all of it outside of a core of rich systems. Multiple small independent powers exist simply because the Empire hasn’t gotten around to dealing with them. The Imperial admiralty explicitly considers things like Executor classes a substandard use of resources but the political side believes that overwhelming force keeps the systems in line. Thus large, immediate displays of force are necessary. They are trying to send a message: You have no chance, not even a real chance of fending off the initial assault even temporarily. So don’t try. Giant invincible ships are useful for propaganda purposes there.
      -The Empire developed the Star Destroyer as a uniform ship class to serve basically as an all purpose gunboat. Whatever the situation, a Star Destroyer is equipped. It has a regiment of Storm Troopers, significant fighter compliment, and can go toe to toe with most capital ships and come out on top. It’d be more efficient to have specialized roles but because the Empire is spread so thin the Empire doesn’t know which missions the Star Destroyer will need to perform. Indeed, especially in the Outer Rim it was normal for a Star Destroyer to stay out on patrol for years and suppress multiple problems from small rebel cells to pirates to rebellious local rulers.
      -As the Empire shifts to fighting the Rebellion, it does attempt to create new classes of ships. The Rebels explicitly sabotage this. The Nebulon-B frigate, for example, was meant to be a rapid response anti-fighter ship for the Empire to counter small bomber task forces. The Rebels stole the fleet the Empire was building and destroyed the plans and shipyards to prevent them from deploying that weapon.
      -On your last point (that the Empire should show up with a large number of ships in overwhelming force), this is actually what the Empire does. However, it’s canon that you can detect ships approaching from hyperspace and that gravity (and certain gravity weapons called interdictors) can limit hyperspace access. This means that most planets get to at least raise shields if not do some initial deployments.

      I agree the First Order is less well thought out in general. The Death Star makes sense as a way to bypass months long planetary sieges and a terror symbol. Starkiller makes much less sense in the same vein, especially considering they aren’t the dominant power at the time.

      • Erusian says:

        By the way, to take a less in universe view: the Star Wars Galaxy is Feudal Japan mixed with a pulp adventure setting. Planetary shields are canon and serve a purpose similar to fortress walls. They keep the enemy out, allow smaller forces to hold out, and require months to years of uncertain siege work to penetrate. This is why the Death Star is so useful that it allows the dissolution of the Senate: George Lucas spoke of it like the effect of cannons on old feudal walls. Once the central authority has enough cannons to batter down the walls instantly it doesn’t need to pretend it respects the smaller powers. This is also why the Empire keeps a huge conventional force around: there’s a lot of smaller daimyo (systems) with their own armies that need to be kept in line.

      • proyas says:

        Given the fact that the Empire lacks the military resources to police all its territory, wouldn’t it make sense for them to abandon the outlying and/or poorest parts of it and to focus on consolidating the best star systems? Build from there, strengthen, and then maybe retake some of the abandoned parts of the galaxy when the time is right.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Probably, and the idea of huge, impressive weapons platforms with symbolic importance as important as their tactical or strategic value has always been a bit dubious, but both are fairly common mistakes in real life, and in fact both were pursued by one of the main inspirations for Empire (Nazi Germany).

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Death Star and Super Star Destroyers are easily explainable if we suppose that normal Star Destroyers do not have capabilities to easily destroy fortified planets and installations. Inferiority of TIE fighters to Rebel ships also might be explained away by a fact that imperial ships were mass produced and needed to be cheap, while Rebel manufacturing focused on quality. Also Rebels could have access to some better technology because reasons.

      Much bigger problem of the Imperial Navy is that design of Star Destroyers, with critical systems and personnel absurdly exposed to enemy fire, makes zero tactical sense. (great videoexplainer of various design problems with SW ships).

    • The warfare in the world of Star Wars, excepting the whole Jedi-swordplay stuff, maps closely onto WWII-era warfare.

      Star Destroyers -> Aircraft carriers

      Frigates -> Battleships and auxiliary ships for the aircraft carriers

      Tie Fighters ect. -> Piloted aircraft

      Death Star -> Maybe the Manhattan project?

      Despite having seemingly human-like robots, it never occurs to any of the combatants to have them piloting the fighters,(though they do exist to support the human pilots for some reason) nor does it occur to anyone to have them be piloted remotely.(Though in the prequels the ships were piloted by droids, it never occurs to any of the other factions to employ robot fighters) The Death Star has a massive laser, but it doesn’t occur to anybody to use a (much smaller) massive laser to poke holes in enemy capital ships. And like most science fiction warfare where you can go FTL, it never occurs to anybody to us this to create a kinetic weapon, though perhaps “hyperspace” only allows you to exit at close to zero velocity.

      Thinking about how WWIII would go down today, WWII era warfare was probably the peak of the heroic age of warfare, where one man in an airplane can drop the bomb on the aircraft carrier which wins the battle which wins the war. It was mechanized warfare but the machines were always under the direct control of a human. If you were killed by a tank you’d know that there were men inside the tank aiming it, reloading it, driving it around. If you were killed by a bomb dropped from an airplane you’d know that it was piloted by a human, with a human looking through the bombsite, pulling the lever. If you were killed by artillery it was a little different as the man who fired it might be miles away and not visible to you, still, you’d know he was in the battle area and might reasonably be able to visit the area he shelled if the battle went the right away. Contrast that with the experience of a crew in a submarine, living in this artificial environment under water, arming an ICBM whose target they would never see. That’s harder to make a heroic movie about. On land there’d be more human-to-human gunfights and tank battles and encircling cities and all that, but the soldiers would fight with the thought in the back of their minds that it could all be for naught if a tactical nuke was headed their way. You’d have drone warfare where two guys are sitting in rooms, piloting a drone or debugging the program which autopilots the drone. In WWII you had radar, but radar told you that there was a machine containing a human heading toward you. In drone-drone warfare, you’d be staring at the GUI of one machine to remotely control another machine in order to bring down another machine. Much more impersonal and less heroic. So I don’t think the parallels with WWII were just a matter of lack of imagination.

    • theredsheep says:

      Sure, I’ll play: It seems clear from the movies (especially if you include Rogue One, though I begrudge it) that the Rebel Alliance is a relatively new and minor thing at the start of ANH. It therefore seems unlikely that the Imperial fleet was, in fact, built to contend with the RA. More likely it’s a mass of general-purpose heavy ships built to meet any need, the need generally being to look scary, then pulverize pirate bases or isolated rebellions. As the last war (even more begrudgingly allowing prequels) was an extended galactic civil war, it’s a truism that human generals always prepare to fight the last war, and the Empire is run exclusively by humans, it makes sense that everybody’s incorporating hardware that worked great against separatists.

      Add in that 4-6 don’t take up all that many years, and that the Empire, being a massive and presumably corrupt despotism, is probably not in position to pivot quickly. It takes time to redesign your armed forces, and a lot of people have privileges to protect. Those ships cost money to build and maintain, and ship maintenance costs can be used to hide a whole lot of stables full of Twi’lek hookers and Kessel spice. TIE fighters are crap, obviously, but if the Empire still has clone soldiers they can probably lose an awful lot of pilots, so the economics of it might work out better to treat them like a kind of missile. Or it could be that the TIEs were a late boondoggle designed to counter the rebel threat, then sabotaged by infighting, resource starvation, or incompetence. The EU hinted in that direction.

      The Death Star is a bigger and sillier version of the Imperial fleet, with a critical design flaw due to probable neglect from it being an excuse for monstrous graft (yes I’m ignoring Rogue One selectively, sue me).

      Everything after ROTJ is a rolling fustercluck put together by poorly-organized committees and I don’t care if it makes no sense.

      • Lillian says:

        The Death Star is a bigger and sillier version of the Imperial fleet, with a critical design flaw due to probable neglect from it being an excuse for monstrous graft (yes I’m ignoring Rogue One selectively, sue me).

        Honestly I felt the explanation from Rogue One was really good. It being deliberate sabotage by one of the chief scientists working on it explains why the Rebels were able to find the flaw so quickly after getting the plans, while the people making the damn thing did not notice it. The Rebels were told that the flaw existed and so knew what they were looking for. The Imperials did not until the Battle of Yavin, when they analysed the Rebel attack and wondered why exactly they seemed to be aiming for the thermal exhaust port. At that point they too came to the right conclusion pretty swiftly, since now they knew what to look for, but by that point it was too late to do anything about it.

        • theredsheep says:

          Pre-Rogue One, it’s entirely possible that the DS was one big mass of little weaknesses, and the Rebels merely picked the most promising or straightforward. A project that big would tend to accumulate glitches over time; as Vader lost patience and strangled several project heads in succession, it would become a dumping-ground for overambitious fools and people who made the wrong enemies in Imperial Engineering Academy. As for the flaws being missed, suppose it’s five or ten years into construction and you’re some systems analyst who’s noticed that it would be hella easy to blow the whole thing up. How many shit lists would you end up on by pointing this out? And how many people would get force-choked as a result, assuming it got all the way up to Lord Vader?

          I found the bit where whatshisface’s hologram says something like, “if you hit the reactor it go boom,” and neglects to provide a straightforward diagram remarkably silly, personally. Like, seriously, mofo, you could have sketched it on a bar napkin and held it up for the holocamera, if nothing else. Any and all additional information would have been useful, and it doesn’t seem like it would have been that hard. All those rebel spies had to die because of your abysmal communication skills.

          • I got the impression that the unstable reactor and the unshielded exhaust port were two independent design flaws which combined into a fatal weakness. Whatshisface only knew about the first one, since he didn’t supervise each and every detail of the exhaust system. He just had to hope that there was some way for the Rebels to exploit the flawed reactor design.

          • theredsheep says:

            George Lucas’s original novelization (if that’s not canon, it’s close enough) specifies that it’s not feasible to particle-shield the exhaust vent because it’s designed to emit particles, or something. But it is ray-shielded to protect against blaster fire, which is why they have to use proton torpedoes.

            Anyway, couldn’t whatshisface have looked up the specs? He was fairly prominently placed, and if he didn’t know about a means of hitting the reactor, knowing it’s delicate is kind of useless. What are the rebels going to do, sneak into the DS and shoot it with stormtrooper rifles?

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            I know you are being sarcastic, but that would actually be a fairly good plan. Clip board, officious attitude, a fake uniform..

          • JPNunez says:

            I too dislike Rogue One making the Death Star flaw an intentional one, but hey, I can live with that. Sabotage happens.

            I cannot live with the saboteur sending a heartfelt hologram to hint where the plans of the death star were, instead of just saying “shoot it in this small trench!”. What’s more, the huge operation to get the plans from Scarif basically yelled at the Empire that the rebels knew of a weak point, maybe it was time to send Darth Vader to do a huge audit for weak points instead of sending Darth Vader to rush the project into production.

            In the final minutes of the Death Star, there is this one officer approaching Tarkin and going “actually, there is a potential danger to this station that the rebels could exploit”, so all that Darth Vader had to do was to go “ok, honesty moment, no repercusions, does anybody know of a fatal weakpoint in this star base?” and said officer would shily raise his hand.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            As for the flaws being missed, suppose it’s five or ten years into construction and you’re some systems analyst who’s noticed that it would be hella easy to blow the whole thing up. How many shit lists would you end up on by pointing this out? And how many people would get force-choked as a result, assuming it got all the way up to Lord Vader?

            Indeed, it’s not like things like this don’t happen in real life.

            (I am now imagining Boeing engineers being force choked by Darth Vader.)

      • proyas says:

        Excellent response.

    • LadyJane says:

      The most obvious answer here is simply that the Imperials weren’t rational actors, either individually or as an organization. That goes all the way up to Palpatine himself, who was a paranoid, psychopathic, megalomaniacal sadist largely driven by scorn and disdain for everyone that wasn’t him.

      Yes, it would have been more efficient to build a fleet of smaller and quicker ships, especially when fighting a rebellion. Yes, it would have been vastly more efficient to focus on improving the fleet rather than wasting an extraordinary amount of time and resources building a Death Star that could be destroyed by a single starfighter. But that would go against the very ethos of the Galactic Empire. A larger fleet would have required more captains and more admirals, and Palpatine sought centralization above all else. This was partly for practical reasons – the Empire was filled with power-hungry schemers who held no real loyalty to the Emperor or the Imperial cause, and each new captain would’ve been another potential threat who couldn’t be trusted and needed to be kept on a very short leash – but it was mostly just because Palpatine was the type of person who who sought centralization of power for its own sake.

      Likewise, other people in this thread have asked why the Empire even bothered trying to maintain tight control over the outer systems, as opposed to trying to consolidate their power in the core worlds. And again, the answer is simply “because that’s the point;” at least in the minds of people like Palpatine and Tarkin.

    • NTD_SF says:

      As other people have pointed out, in the old EU there were many escort-class ships used for support or other roles. I don’t remember where I found it, but there was a theory (or possibly a paragraph from a book?) that the reason escorts weren’t seen in the movies is because there were cost overruns and the Empire prioritized star destroyers over everything else. This left them with ships intended to be the core of a fighting force operating without protection from fighters, and is why the Rebels were so successful with their tactics. The Star Wars wiki has an “Order of Battle” that talks about the intended proportions of ships.

    • Michael Handy says:

      Outside of the movie the Empire does indeed have smaller ships, in both old and new canons.

      They have 2 classes of Star destroyer (the light Victory-class and the larger Imperial class) the former acts as a Cruiser/Heavy Frigate, showing local power on imperial owned worlds and stomping on crime and rebellion. hence the genral purpose weaponry.

      The larger is meant to act as a rapid response craft to dominate a revolting planet. It shows up, kills everything in orbit, and lands stormtroopers to mop up.

      There are also small assault cruisers (patrol boats or corvettes) for anti piracy operations, often in groups with an interdictor class light cruiser (a ship designed around an anti hyperspace generator) acting as a command vessel.

      If you think of star destroyers more as an up gunned marine expeditionary force carrier, Imperial doctrine makes more sense. It’s about coverage and power projection in orbit above worlds, and various small anti piracy actions. They don’t expect large capital ship battles and the Mon Calamari declaring war was a shock to them.

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Have you read David Weber? It sounds like you want David Weber.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Since travel time between any system is never shown to last more than a day or two, why do they need capital ships?

      Wouldn’t the space equivalent of the B-52 Stratofortress (TIE Defenders?) + some hyperspace-capable fighters suffice? Just keep the starfighters in the Core around Coruscant or whatever, and whenever there is a local rebellion, piracy or Rebel Alliance activity deploy them and get rid of those who dared the security and stability of the Galactic Empire

      • bullseye says:

        They’re always pretty vague about travel times. My gut feeling is that, since Space Is An Ocean, some trips should take months.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Obi Wan, Anakin and Luke traveled between different systems in small starfighters (notably Obi Wan traveled from Coruscant to Kamino, which is canonically outside the Star Wars Galaxy). Presumably they didn’t sit in the cockpit for months.

          • acymetric says:

            The out of universe answer is that space travel takes exactly the amount of time the narrative requires (this is especially notable in the prequels where it frequently appears to be near instantaneous).

            Kamino is also not outside the galaxy, it is just past the outer rim.

          • JPNunez says:

            In Rogue One the rebels call an X-Wing strike on another planet and the ships are there in … minutes? very shortly I think. Apart from the fact that the Rebels can attack an enemy base with mostly impunity, the travel time was reduced to ridiculous lows.

            At least if you told me Obi Wan went to Camino in 8 hours, 7 of which were taking off, leaving the planet, getting far enough for a jump, then appearing far away from Kamino and approaching again and rendevouzing with the planet’s orbit, that’d be somewhat reasonable.

  36. Supposedly the U.S. has ~6,000 nukes. How do we know the government isn’t lying about the number, and actually has significantly more than that? Or that it has 6,000 functioning nukes but 12,000 “dismantled” nuclear weapons that could easily be put back together should the need arise?

    • Protagoras says:

      Russian or Chinese spies would have found out and publicized how the U.S. was cheating on its treaty obligations.

    • DavidS says:

      As a Brit I’d be more inclined to pretend my submarines had missiles when actually we hadn’t replaced them.

    • Erusian says:

      1.) The US is subject to the same checks as other powers and the other nuclear powers have their own nuclear expertise and no incentive to cover for the US. Particularly Russia.
      2.) The US has little strategic incentive to cheat. It can overwhelm any country except Russia easily and it can hit basically everything it cares about in Russia and their allies two to three times. Part of the logic behind SALT was that all those weapons weren’t necessary even to absolutely destroy the other side and all their allies three times over.
      3.) The US does retain the ability to ramp up production in case of a war or to convert more of its conventional forces to nuclear ones. This is not a secret.

      The next step in the arms race is either to develop a first strike so devastating and fast it can take out the enemy before they can retaliate or to develop interception capabilities. Neither has been possible technologically though the US has tried.

      • “The US has little strategic incentive to cheat. It can overwhelm any country except Russia easily and it can hit basically everything it cares about in Russia and their allies two to three times. Part of the logic behind SALT was that all those weapons weren’t necessary even to absolutely destroy the other side and all their allies three times over.”]

        This was not true even at cold war levels of nuclear weapons, it certainly isn’t true with the nuclear stockpiles of today.

        • Erusian says:

          This was not true even at cold war levels of nuclear weapons, it certainly isn’t true with the nuclear stockpiles of today.

          Bold assertion, Cotton. Got any evidence?

          Because by my reading, Russia officially has 166 cities with over a hundred thousand people in them and 114 military bases of any kind. This includes a tiny outpost in rural Siberia and all their bases abroad. But let’s say they’ve got twice that in hidden bases. That’s 394 targets. We have 1,200 missiles ready to go when Trump thinks the red button is shiny enough. If that doesn’t work, we have five times that number in reserve. How many nuclear weapons would we need to completely destroy them exactly? Does Russia not counted as destroyed if the largest city left is Zelenodolsk? Do we have to make sure we get the twenty thousand people in Naryan-Mar too?

          And yes, Russia would absolutely destroy the US too. That’s the logic of MAD. But it’s not like Russia would get away lightly.

          • Another Throw says:

            Because that’s not how these things are done.

            Like every artillery fire mission, you need to look at the circular probable error and the kill radius of your ordinance, and then shoot as many of them as needed to drive the probability of destroying the target down to as many nines as you need. When you’re talking about nuclear retaliation installations, that are specifically hardened against nuclear missiles, or logistical infrastructure such as rail yards, that are really just insanely hard to destroy, the kill radius is tiny compared to the circular probable error of a missile launched from the other side of the globe.

            Then you need to factor in that, unlike regular space launches which are assembled and tested right before launch, nuclear missiles sit in a tube for decades. Regular space launches have a noticeable failure rate, so it stands to reason that your missiles will also have a failure rate. What that rate is is a closely guarded secret.

            Then you need to factor in ballistic missile defense systems, which destroy some of those missiles before they can reach their targets. How effective these systems are is a closely guarded secret.

            (etc)

            The end result is that you need lots and lots of warheads in order to actually destroy targets instead of making a fireworks show for the people that can actually do the math and are about to nuke you in return.

            I think it pencils out into the dozens, or up into the hundreds for really tough nuts, per target you actually care about.

            And if it turns out that you underestimated your missile failure rate or the effectiveness of their missile defense systems (etc), you just gave them a pretty fireworks show and they’re about to nuke you in return.

          • albatross11 says:

            Cities aren’t hardened targets, and if you nuke every city with a population above 100K in either the US or Russia, there won’t be a functioning country left at the end of that process. There will still be a military with nukes at the end, which is why this isn’t a strategy for winning a war (just for making sure your country gets destroyed second). For the sake of MAD, that’s probably enough, and if it isn’t, then knowing the other side will finally manage to kill even the guys in the underground silos and wreck the major highway and rail hubs probably isn’t either. Once you’ve destroyed my country and killed me and everyone I know, I don’t much care how many more times you bounce the rubble, and my only consolation will be knowing that your country is a similarly-situated radioactive wasteland.

          • Absolutely destroyed means it’s gone to the point where it can’t meaningfully retaliate against you. According to this list and excel, those cities have 74.3 million people:

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

            Unrealistically assuming every target hits the city and every strike kills every single person in those cities, you have 68.6 million Russians left. For reference that’s about the population of Germany in 1938. Yes, they’d be the less educated rural population and their industrial base would be gone, but so would yours.

          • John Schilling says:

            How many Russians do you believe we would need to kill to declare victory in the sort of war you envision? Is eighty percent of the population enough? Ninety percent? Do we have to kill every last man, woman, and child lest one of the children grow up to avenge Russia’s dead upon us?

            You seem to want dispassionate quantification here, so let’s hear the quantitative metric you are shooting for.

          • Erusian says:

            I generally agree with Albatross and John Schilling. But I’d just like to point out there’s something absurd about saying, “Well, there will still be survivors in the rubble after we’ve every population center and military asset with a dozen nukes. So we didn’t actually annihilate them!” Especially when the starting point of this argument was that a dozen nukes wasn’t enough but three dozen would do the trick.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The problem is “every last target we care about” is a big ass field of targets. In particular, you aren’t going to drop just one nuke on a city to get every single target. It depends on what level of “absolute destruction” you’re looking for, but if you killed 90% of Americans, you’d be left with 30+ million Americans. That’s a lot of Americans. If you leave them any industrial capacity, any port capacity, any viable river navigation, some state Universities to train engineers and run agricultural annexes, maybe a state capital or two to organize anyone who is left, some old mines that can be repurposed, and you have a nation that can rebuild itself in 2-3 generations. You would ideally want to destroy all of it.

          • ana53294 says:

            How many Russians do you believe we would need to kill to declare victory in the sort of war you envision? Is eighty percent of the population enough? Ninety percent? Do we have to kill every last man, woman, and child lest one of the children grow up to avenge Russia’s dead upon us?

            The children will come for vengeance, for sure.

            You would need to destroy enough Russians to make sure that they can’t rebuild Russia in the next hundred years, because once they do that, they are coming for revenge (same for destroying Americans). Or you’ll need to occupy Russia, and that was hard even for the Soviet Union.

            A nation state has memory. If you destroyed almost everybody in the grandparent’s generation, that’s not the kind of thing people forget. Japan and Korea are engaged in a very petty but very serious trade dispute, in part over the issue of comfort women and those forced to work for Japanese companies. And although Japan didn’t kill 80% of Koreans, Koreans still remember.

            If you go to those levels of destruction, you need to either occupy the country, like it was done with Japan and Germany after World War II, or be prepared to re-fight the war in 50 years, like Germany after World War I.

          • Nornagest says:

            Japan and Korea are engaged in a very petty but very serious trade dispute, in part over the issue of comfort women and those forced to work for Japanese companies.

            But they aren’t actually in a shooting war. And if two countries who were involved in the worst shooting war in history seventy years ago, have a long and brutal history of colonialism, invasion, and atrocity, and are frequently pretty damn racist towards each other aren’t in a shooting war and probably won’t be anytime soon, then I don’t think we can count on the radioactive mutant descendants of the USSR gunning for the USA fifty years after a nuclear exchange or vice versa.

          • Viliam says:

            if you killed 90% of Americans, you’d be left with 30+ million Americans

            In short term, yes. But I would expect that within a year or two 90% of the survivors would be dead, too. Destroyed infrastructure means you don’t have food and fresh water in cities. The radiation from nuked cities will spread by rain and by rivers.

            And the survivors will likely create gangs and start fighting each other, rather then rebuild the civilization to enact national revenge.

            And then the zombies will come…

          • Plumber says:

            @Villiam > says: “…The radiation from nuked cities will spread by rain and by rivers.

            And the survivors will likely create gangs and start fighting each other, rather then rebuild the civilization to enact national revenge.

            And then the zombies will come…”

            Zombies?

            Pshaw!

            What will follow has been predicted and prophesied: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
            “…Where there is fire, there is smoke. And, in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch and conspire and plot and plan for the inevitable day of man’s downfall. The day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble. When the sea is a dead sea and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity. And we shall build our own cities in which there will be no place for humans, except to serve our ends. And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you… now! ..
            ….Tonight, we have seen the birth of the Planet of the Apes!

            Those MANIACS!

            DARN THEM! DARN THEM ALL TO HECK!
            (or something like that)

            It’s always the apes.

    • brad says:

      Granted I’m American, but I’m not sure why anyone should especially care. It doesn’t make much difference to me if Russia has 12,000 vs 6,000. I’m just as fucked if they decide to lob a significant fraction US-ward either way. I guess if I lived in plausible target number 8000, I might feel differently, but what’s the 8000th plausible target in Russia or China (or the US for that matter)?

    • John Schilling says:

      The United States used to have ~20,000 or so nuclear weapons, which gets around the objection that nuclear-weapons-producing infrastructure on that scale is really hard to hide from people with professional spies and satellites. Theoretically, when the DOE said it was dismantling all of those weapons, it could have been just shipping them off to that same warehouse with the Ark of the Covenant.

      But, first, we don’t have useful delivery systems for that many nuclear weapons, and that’s something we can’t hide. If the plan is that the United States is going to have 405 ICBMs and 336 SLBMs and 18,000 hydrogen bombs that we can drop from airplanes, sure, we can hide as many bombs as we want in bunkers and warehouses, but it’s not going to be worth the bother because the sort of war that would involve more than a small fraction of those bombs being used, is going to have most of our bombers and related support infrastructure destroyed in the first day or so. And a secret arsenal of ten thousand long-range nuclear missiles, is not the sort of thing we can hide.

      And second, the United States can’t keep secrets worth a damn, not at that level, even without having to worry about foreign spies and satellites. That’s the sort of thing that would have Snowdens and Mannings going public a dozen times over, seeing themselves as champions of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. Which, seeing as how the United States has very publicly and legally committed to not having that sort of arsenal and the only even vaguely plausible use for such being some damn fool plot for world conquest, they would be.

      Too much pain for no real gain, playing that game.

  37. bullseye says:

    I noticed on the Financial Incentives post there were a lot of comments making the same two points. Were these people not reading each others’ comments? Or were they supporting each other by knowingly posting the same points? Or did they just not care that others had already made the same points?

    • Robert_Barlow says:

      When a thread has 300 comments it’s tough for someone uninterested to read them all. I doubt there was any coordination.

  38. Has there ever been a work of science fiction about sub-replacement fertility in a far future society? I don’t mean due to infertility or anything, but due to the fact that despite prodding its inhabitants simply don’t want to have kids? Thinking about the Star Wars discussion below the world of Star Wars is very childless. The Jedi have a reason to be childless, but the villains, too, have few children; the Emperor fathers none, nor does Vader after the death of his wife. Those who do have children have only one or two. They’re all too busy to do so.

    Imagine a world like Star Wars where there’s WWII style combat between “Imperialists” and “Rebels” and Ion Cannons and all that jazz, but in the middle of it the elites of the Imperial and Rebel societies are not reproducing and there’s concern and fretting about it, extrapolations and arguments about heritability. Proles in the Rebel and Imperial cultures are having more, while cultures on the fringe of both are having many, with Imperial and Rebel policymakers debating whether they should suppress these high fertility cultures or try to woo their people into the cause. The high fertility subcultures would include many indifferent to the war, believing it a giant waste. In the minds of these policymakers they would be willing to do anything to get those fertility numbers up, of course they wouldn’t really, as both cultures have sacred cows they dare not touch.

    • eric23 says:

      I think a lot of the reason you see few kids in Star Wars is 1) the scriptwriters not wanting the bother of having to flesh out too many characters, 2) the scriptwriters not wanting audiences to have to deal with the complexity of too many characters. Not necessarily anything that reflects on society in an intentional way.

      • Well... says:

        The practical issues of dealing with child actors makes everything 3x harder. The paperwork you have to fill out every day, on-set accommodations you have to provide, regulations you have to comply with, etc. are part of this, not to mention a film set is just not a very kid-friendly place by default. Plus for whatever reason child actors capable of performing at the level where they don’t demand a huge suspension of disbelief are much harder to find.

        So even if screenwriters include child characters initially, they have been known to get cut from the story.

        [ETA] Of fiction writers in general, I think they just don’t think about kids much. I’ve found this especially true of young writers and those from big cities, who inhabit a relatively childless existence to begin with. If you don’t have kids, and if few or none of your friends do, so that in a given week or month or year you are unlikely to interact with any kids, then you might be less likely to include child characters in your work.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      This is common in the Dying Earth genre. Maybe not prodding, though.

    • I see someone never read the Jedi Prince series!

      • moonfirestorm says:

        Or Young Jedi Knights, whose characters made it into full Legends canon as major characters.

        A lot of the Jedi Prince stuff had to get retconned, but Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin were fairly important in later books.

    • b_jonas says:

      Yes, and such a great piece of fiction too. Isaac Asimov’s short story “Blind Alley”. This may not be what you’re looking for though, because the focus isn’t on the societal conditions and consequences of the infertility. You do get at least some explanation for why the aliens do not bear children anymore.

    • JPNunez says:

      The Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy deals at some points with this kind of issue. The big answer, without spoiling much, is basically try to assimilate the newcomers and onboard them the local culture, but accept you are gonna be overrun.

  39. Plumber says:

    Once or a dozen times I’ve pondered here about places that (surveys say) are happier and/or folks live longer than California, specifically Costa Rica, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Utah. 

    Costa Rica: No standing army, heavily Catholic, fairly rural, poor, but fairly long-lived and happy especially considering the lack of wealth. 

    California with most of the cities gone, as well as most of the population gone except for the farm workers? 

    Scandinavia: They tax and spend, pretty secular with most of the populations grandparents being Lutheran. 

    Minnesota as ruled by Bernie Sanders?

    Utah: The only U.S. state were the majority are members of the same sect (Alabama is the most religious, but they’re mostly Christians of different denominstions without one sect being a majority). Most of the population are Mormons descended from New England Puritan Yankees.

    Mormonism is a distant second after Catholicism among religious adherents in California, but more like Utah seems harder than more like Scandinavia, and as hard as turning California into Costa Rica. 

    So Switzerland

    I saw this today from The New York Times:

    The Happy, Healthy Capitalists of Switzerland

    Forget Scandinavia. Switzerland is richer and yet has a surprisingly equal wealth distribution.

    by Ruchir Sharma
    Nov. 2, 2019, 2:25 p.m. 

    “Like many progressive intellectuals, Bernie Sanders traces his vision of economic paradise not to socialist dictatorships like Venezuela but to their distant cousins in Scandinavia, which are just as wealthy and democratic as the United States but have more equitable distributions of wealth, as well as affordable health care and free college for all.

    There is, however, a country far richer and just as fair as any in the Scandinavian trio of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. But no one talks about it.

    This $700 billion European economy is among the world’s 20 largest, significantly bigger than any in Scandinavia. It delivers welfare benefits as comprehensive as Scandinavia’s but with lighter taxes, smaller government, and a more open and stable economy. Steady growth recently made it the second richest nation in the world, after Luxembourg, with an average income of $84,000, or $20,000 more than the Scandinavian average. Money is not the final measure of success, but surveys also rank this nation as one of the world’s 10 happiest.

    This less socialist but more successful utopia is Switzerland.

    While widening its income lead over Scandinavia in recent decades, Switzerland has been catching up on measures of equality. Wealth and income are distributed across the populace almost as equally as in Scandinavia, with the middle class holding about 70 percent of the nation’s assets. The big difference: The typical Swiss family has a net worth around $540,000, twice its Scandinavian peer.

    Switzerland did draw 15 minutes of media attention around 2010, when Obamacare was still new — but only for its health care system, which requires all residents to buy insurance from private providers and subsidizes those who can least afford it. Admirers said Swiss health care had something for everyone: universal coverage for liberals, private providers and consumer choice for conservatives.

    But for the most part, intellectuals ignore Switzerland as a model, perhaps put off by its exaggerated reputation as a shady little tax haven, where Nazi gold and other illicit fortunes hide behind strict bank secrecy laws. In 2015, Switzerland agreed under pressure to share bank records with foreign tax authorities, but that has not slowed the economy at all. Switzerland always was more than secretive banks.

    Capitalist to its core, Switzerland imposes lighter taxes on individuals, consumers and corporations than the Scandinavian countries do. In 2018 its top income tax rate was the lowest in Western Europe at 36 percent, well below the Scandinavian average of 52 percent. Government spending amounts to a third of gross domestic product, compared with half in Scandinavia. And Switzerland is more open to trade, with a share of global exports around double that of any Scandinavian economy.

    Streamlined government and open borders have helped make this landlocked, mountainous country an unlikely incubator of globally competitive companies. To build wealth, a country needs to make rich things, and an M.I.T. ranking of nations by the complexity of the products they export places Switzerland second behind Japan, well ahead of the Scandinavian countries, whose average rank is 15.

    The Swiss excel in just about every major industry other than oil, often by targeting specialized niches, such as biotech and engineering. The country is home to 13 of the top 100 European companies, more than twice as many as in the three Scandinavian nations combined. And most top Swiss firms dwarf Scandinavian peers. Nestlé, with a stock market value of $320 billion, is 15 times larger than its closest Scandinavian rival.

    Though major multinationals are concentrated in big cities, the Swiss economy is as decentralized as its political system. Traveling southwest from Zurich to Geneva recently, I was struck by how many iconic Swiss exports also originate in its provinces — Swiss Army knives from Schwyz, watches from Bern, St. Bernard puppies from a mountain pass in Valais, cheese and chocolates from Fribourg. Small companies anchor the economy, accounting for two of every three jobs. Only one in seven Swiss work for the government, about half the Scandinavian average.

    No other nation’s currency has been rising faster against its trading partners, and normally a rising franc should erode Swiss exports by making them more expensive. Instead, while most rich countries (including Scandinavia’s) saw their share of global exports fall over the past decade, Switzerland’s continued to rise. Such is the reputation of its engineers and chocolatiers that customers readily pay more for Swiss goods.

    The premium the world is willing to pay for Swiss goods and services helps deter capital flight and stabilize the economy. Switzerland has not been hit by a domestic financial crisis since the 1970s; the Scandinavian countries were wracked by crises in the 1990s and suffered sharper downturns than Switzerland did following the global crisis of 2008.

    If there is any fault line, it is that in trying to slow the rise of the franc, Switzerland cut interest rates to record lows ahead of its European peers, triggering a lending boom that has driven private corporate and household debt up to 250 percent of G.D.P., a risky height. No paradise is perfect.

    For all its local charms, Switzerland is worldly in the extreme. The Swiss are a polyglot mix of German, French and Italian speakers, many intimidatingly fluent in multiple languages. The foreign-born population has been increasing for more than a century and accounts for a quarter of the whole, 40 percent non-European Union.

    True, the rise of anti-immigrant parties across Europe has an offshoot in Switzerland. The country has always been choosy, accepting new arrivals based on their professional résumé more than family ties or humanitarian need. But Australia and Canada also filter immigrants to fill jobs and are widely studied models of how rich economies can survive the aging of their domestic work forces.

    Switzerland has been welcoming more immigrants than any Scandinavian country since the 1950s. It is on track to accept more than 250,000 immigrants between 2015 and 2020, expanding its population by 3 percent. That immigration rate is nearly double the Scandinavian average, and one of the highest among large, developed countries. Immigrants are also significantly more likely to hold jobs in Switzerland, in part because most are required to land one before they arrive.

    The Swiss labor force gets an added boost from a meritocratic public school system that starts steering students as young as 12 toward their academic strengths. The world-class universities charge average annual tuition of only $1,000 and leave graduates thousands of dollars less in debt than many Scandinavian schools.

    Die-hard admirers of Scandinavian socialism overlook the change of heart in countries such as Sweden, where heavy government spending led to the financial crises of the 1990s. Sweden responded by cutting the top income tax rate from nearly 90 percent to as low as 50 percent. Public spending fell from near 70 percent of G.D.P. to 50 percent. Growth revived, as the largest Scandinavian economy started to look more like Switzerland, streamlining government and leaving business more room to grow.

    The real lesson of Swiss success is that the stark choice offered by many politicians — between private enterprise and social welfare — is a false one. A pragmatic country can have a business-friendly environment alongside social equality, if it gets the balance right. The Swiss have become the world’s richest nation by getting it right, and their model is hiding in plain sight”

    Looking for suggestions on how California may become more like Switzerland (or Costa Rica, or Scandinavia, or Utah)

    Oh, there’s also Singapore, a place where folks are relatively happy, but what I know about Singapore and it’s success (and what that may say about humanity) scares me.

    • blipnickels says:

      A couple ideas:

      First, splitting up California. California is currently more populated than Costa Rica, Switzerland, Utah, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark combined. It’s larger than a lot of modern states and there seems to be a real sweet spot for national happiness between 5-10 million. I understand for power reasons why nation states don’t divide but I’m unclear why states/administrative districts don’t. This one is also, arguably, quite practical. There’s been a couple proposals to split California into multiple states, most recently Cal 3, which was popular enough to make the ballot but struck down by the state supreme court.