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Open Thread 140

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

1. Thanks to the six teams who sent in their adversarial collaborations by the deadline. I’ve received entries from:

– David and Alex on meat-eating
– Joel and Missingno on circumcision
– Doris and Andrea on calorie restriction
– Douglas and Erusian on automation
– Nick and Rob on space colonization
– Nita and Patrick on CRISPR

A couple of people have said they are going to be late but will be ready soon. I would feel cruel and unforgiving if I rejected their entries, but I’m also sensitive to the unfairness of extending the deadline when some people worked really hard to have it ready now. I think what I’m going to do is reset the deadline to December 1, but penalize all late entries by -2 points in the final evaluation phase. People who have already turned theirs in may (if they want) edit and resubmit it without penalty. After December 1st, there will be no more official deadline extensions, but I might not get around to posting all of them right away, and if you send me yours before I’m done posting them all I’ll add it in with an addition -2 point penalty. I realize this is unfair to a lot of people but I’m not sure how to better balance justice and mercy. Also, if you haven’t written yours yet, can you please send it to me as plain html so it will be easy to post on the blog?

2. Ozy of Thing of Things is doing informal research on polyamory. If you’re poly, please consider filling out their survey.

3. If one of you has my Evolutionary Psychopathology book, can you please return it to me?

4. Comments of the week: Enopoletus on South Asian economic growth and DP Roberts’ story on business consulting (no opinion on the politics metaphor, I just like the story).

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609 Responses to Open Thread 140

  1. johan_larson says:

    So, any takes on Terminator: Dark Fate?

    I read a review somewhere that said it’s the third-best Terminator film. That seems fair. There were two good ones, with Cameron at the helm, and then a string of disappointments, with the occasional bright spot here and there. This time, they got the band back together again (Cameron/Hamilton/Schwarzenegger) and it worked, mostly.

    Big plus for the action scenes, particularly the one in the plane. Although Davis vs Luna in the auto plant was pretty cool too.

    Minuses? Gotta wonder why they threw John under the bus. Maybe give him the Newt award. And somehow the T-101’s story about building a life for itself after killing John just didn’t resonate. It’s a killing machine, damn it. That’s what it does. That’s all it does.

    Since we’re in an older thread, post freely without worrying about spoilers.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I saw an interview with Tim Miller where he said they really couldn’t think of what to do with John because the movies were never actually about John. They were about Sarah, John was basically just what Sarah is fighting for. Plus, with Judgment Day averted, John’s great destiny is also prevented.

      So that whole thing became about what it meant for Sarah to have gone through all that and still lose her child, and what she becomes as a result. And it’s also a way to show right out the gate that the assumed rules don’t necessarily hold.

      I am not 100% sure it does everything they wanted it to, but it worked on me. I totally get why people were upset about it, but I guess I was an easy mark for it.

      Plus, it’s probably not like they could bring Eddie Furlong back for real and have it work.

      Regarding Carl, T2 establishes Terminators can learn and change(*). Not so much that they develop feelings, but Carl didn’t do that either – he says as much. But given 20 years with no new orders, it seemed to make sense that a Terminator could go pretty wild.

      Overall, I liked this a lot. I thought the action worked, and I really liked both Grace and the Rev-9. I thought it was really interesting how they showed Grace as both clearly superhuman, but also still vulnerable and limited in ways the Terminators aren’t.

      On a very nerdy level I was annoyed at first that in a completely altered history where nobody ever heard of Skynet, they were still calling it Judgment Day, and sending the “No Fate but what we make for ourselves” speech back in time… until I realized that Sarah takes Dani under her wing at the end, and Dani spreads this stuff to the rest of the new Resistance. There’s something interesting about that idea of information being transmitted from a defunct timeline into the new one.

      I am curious if something similar was intended with the similarities between Legion and Skynet – Miller has also said in interviews that he and the writers had a very detailed idea of the future and what is going on with Legion, but purposely didn’t include it so as not to box in future filmmakers if there are further sequels.

      (* – I know, there’s the deleted scene in T2 where they show the Terminator is read only unless you flip the switch to let it learn, but that scene was deleted, so…)

      • johan_larson says:

        But given 20 years with no new orders, it seemed to make sense that a Terminator could go pretty wild.

        Maybe it’s the notion of having no orders that seems strange to me. Soldiers are typically given specific mission orders, sure, but they are also given secondary targets to strike if the main one is inaccessible, and they have general orders to fall back on if even the secondary targets aren’t available.

        If I had to fanwank it, I suppose we could stipulate that Skynet wanted to disturb the timestream as little as possible, so it told the T-800 to kill one target and nothing else. But then it should probably have disposed of itself after the mission, since its very presence in the past was a continuing disturbance to the time stream.

        Meh. As I said, I liked the movie. It’s well worth watching.

    • anon679 says:

      The thing I found really unconvincing is that Grace didn’t stockpile on meds with absolute top priority right on arrival.
      Also kind of annoyed when riding on a freight train/running to a taking off helicopter, wind is somehow… not there?
      Otherwise, yeah, a good Terminator movie. I’m glad I have skipped the intermediate ones after T2.

      • johan_larson says:

        I suppose it’s possible her priorities were
        1. Find Dani.
        2. Get Dani to safety.
        3. Get supplies.

        The Rev-9 found Dani before Grace had a chance to properly prepare for the fight.

        Of course it’s possible the writers didn’t think that far ahead. (Jeepers. There are eight writing credits for this movie; five for story and three for the screenplay. I guess the script for this one came hard.)

      • Phigment says:

        It seems more strange to me that she doesn’t have some kind of internal drug reservoir.

        Clearly, she can carry arbitrary stuff back with her, because she’s already packed full of fancy cyber-bits. You’d think, given the known constraints, that the people who augmented her would have found a way to stick an auto-dispenser with a few doses of her drug cocktail in it.

        Although, heck, maybe they did. She seems to go through meds pretty quickly. One syringe per bout of superhuman activity. Maybe she just burned through all her resources dealing with those Mexican police at the beginning and in the first fight.

        Does make it pretty clear this was a suicide mission for her all along. Even if she got Dani clear, keeping herself running indefinitely through the apocalypse was not very likely.

        • johan_larson says:

          I suppose it’s possible she can recover after use of her superpowers even without the drugs. She’s just completely useless while doing so. Under this interpretation, the drugs speed up her recovery; they are not essential for it. It’s also possible she over-used her powers in the beginning of the film. Perhaps she could in a more ordinary fight recover more normally, and it’s just her overexertion that put her in danger.

          If she absolutely has to have her meds to use her powers, you’d think the people who designed her would have found a way to provide her with some, even if it meant sticking them up her butt.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I didn’t see it, and won’t, because I don’t care for movies that undo the earlier parts of their prequels. After seeing a few reviews and a few trailers the phrase ‘I’m Sarah Conner and I hunt terminators*’ pretty much voided any interest. In T1 she barely escapes a more basic type of terminator, with the help of a soldier from the future. In T2 she barely survives, and only due to the terminator walking away from her when she is helpless (a little plot armor there), due to the help of a terminator, years of preparation and a stockpile of weapons, and insanely good luck where a chase happens to end in one of the few places they could kill the terminator. The idea that a human would be able to successfully hunt terminators basically strips all possible meaning from the themes of the first two movies. Remember how Reese came back in time to fight a unstoppable killing machine one on one with no real hope of winning because he loved the idea of a woman? Its a shame he just wasn’t more bad-ass, then he could have just killed the terminator and gone off into the sunset with the love of his life. Or remember how Sarah Conner almost becomes a terminator herself in T2? Why didn’t she just use the time and planning that she spent going after Dyson to kill the terminator chasing them, and then go figure out how to stop judgement day? Her willingness to kill an innocent man partially stems from the time crunch and the seeming inevitability of the terminator’s success against them.

      In short I don’t see how you can reconcile this film with the previous two without coming to the conclusion that the first two were simply action movies about killing a killing machine with nothing deeper to them, and I can watch any number of mindless action movies with cool stunts, big explosions and weak plot and character without them having to come so starkly into contrast with actually well made movies.

      *From one of the trailers, might not actually be in the movie

      • johan_larson says:

        Terminators are still deeply scary in this film. We only deal with two of them, and both of them manage to take a toll.

        Sarah Connor can effectively fight terminators because she can get the sort of infantry weapons that even very free countries restrict to the military and she has a lifetime of experience fighting them and she knows where they’ll appear so she can hit them before they’re really ready. This seems reasonable to me.

        In the film, it’s clear that she did manage to stop Judgement Day. But she did it at a fearful cost. She lost Reese in the original, she lost Dyson in T2, and in this one she also loses John. To the butcher’s bill, add the tame terminator from T2 and this film’s warrior from the future, Grace.

        And in this one Sarah receives a new challenge, the opportunity to train another John-figure, Dani, the girl who will grow into the woman who will lead the resistance against Legion.

        What’s wrong with that?

        • MrApophenia says:

          Yeah, they do a pretty good job making it plausible. It’s also not like she’s going out every night and killing a Terminator. Every couple years she gets told via mysterious means where a Terminator will appear, and she goes and camps out with military hardware to kill it as soon as it falls out of the sky.

          And the first time she meets a really scary one, even that doesn’t work.

          This does render Original Flavor Terminators less scary, but since they’re mostly in the good guy role from T2 on, they’re filling the outmatched hero role now too, so that’s fine.

    • Phigment says:

      Dark Fate is clearly the 4th-best Terminator film. It’s better than Genisys, but worse as a Terminator continuation than T3. I’m leaving Terminator: Salvation out from this accounting because it’s not the same genre of movie, even though it shares world-building.

      It was a pretty solid action movie, although it has a fair bit of dumbness if you think about it too hard. It has the constant, ongoing problem of later Terminator movies, in that the more badass you make the evil robot physically, the stupider you have to make it to explain why it doesn’t instantly kill the humans. In this movie, the Rev-9 can use guns, because we’ve seen it try a pistol in the first attack, and it has ready access to guns because it keeps murdering law enforcement and military personnel and stealing their identities, but in every fight it concentrates on hand-to-hand combat with spikes for no obvious reason. It can even split into two terminators, and neither one uses guns, even though one doesn’t even have the slashy blades, just fists.

      That’s beside the point, however. If you like action movies, you have to make allowances for action-movieness. I can do that.

      The real problem with Dark Fate, that makes it inferior to T3, is that it doesn’t have anything new to say about time travel.

      Terminator had a clear idea of how time travel worked; it laid out the rules, followed them, and put a nice twist on them at the end, with the Ah-Ha! reveal of Kyle Reese being the father of John Conner. The state of time travel as of T1 is that it creates fixed loops. Skynet’s last-ditch desperation move to defeat its greatest enemy actually created its greatest enemy.

      T2 flips this on its head. As of T1, we know that the future is fixed; this is good, because we know that humans beat Skynet in the end, but it’s bad, because nuclear apocalypse. And then Sarah and John go and do the seemingly impossible; they take actions that unambiguously are not compatible with the future events laid out. They avert Judgement Day. No fate but what you make. In this view, we conclude that the apparent fixed time loop from movie 1 was an illusion; if there had been no time travel, Sarah would have had a son and named him John, but that John’s father would not have been Kyle Reese. That Sarah and John would be a lot different than the ones we actually see.

      The next Terminator movie, then, needs to ideally flip what we know about time travel on its head again. Which brings us to T3.

      T3, in a moment of pure narrative brilliance, ends with the time traveler flatly lying to John Conner about future events in order to ensure he survives Judgement Day and is in a position to help pick up the pieces. John sets out to change events using future knowledge, as was done in T2, and fails because his future knowledge comes from people deliberately manipulating him. Which takes the lessons of the previous movies, and casts them in a whole new light. Was Terminator a fixed time loop? Maybe it was! Did they change the future in T2? It’s impossible to say, because maybe their information about the future was accurate before they acted, or maybe it was the line of bullshit calculated to make them take the actions they actually took, and they’re still in the fixed loop.

      Dark Fate fails to do anything as interesting. Instead, it just goes with the future being changeable, but AI apocalypse having some sort of historical inevitability to it.

      • johan_larson says:

        Hmm, the impression I got from watching T3 was that the decision to go to Crystal Peak was more of a fortunate mistake than a decision guided by the T-800.

        In the scene where they get the RV, the T-800 tells the humans to get south to safety. It doesn’t want them to go to General Brewster at all. But they insist, in order to try to shut down Skynet. When they get there, General Brewster, as he is dying, tells them to go to Crystal Peak, but doesn’t say why. John interprets this as directions to Skynet’s core, but I don’t think anyone actually said so explicitly.

        Are there some specific scenes you could point to?

        Here’s an online version of the film, if that helps: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wg6fG6yQwfI

        • Phigment says:

          The most specific scene is at about 1 hour, 25 minutes, when John and Kathryn Brewster lay it out directly:

          “He had to know. Why didn’t he tell us?”
          “He wanted us to live.”

          Less directly, in the scene where General Brewster tells them to go to Crystal Peak, the terminator knows exactly what Crystal Peak is, down to its coordinates and description. It also knows exactly how Skynet works, having infiltrated numerous computer systems and not having a computer core that can be directly blown up. But it doesn’t say anything about that to John or Kathryn.

          There’s also a scene earlier, when the two humans are in the RV with the terminator asking it questions, and they learn that John is specifically not able to give it orders, and there is information it is not authorized to give him and questions it won’t answer for him.

          Then, we learn that Kathryn is its superuser, because she’s the one who sent it back, and therefore she also logically told it not to answer John’s questions, deliberately. Note that before Kathryn starts asking the questions, it pretty much parrots the same story we’ve gotten in previous movies, but it omits key details like “John Conner is dead in the future that sent this robot back” or “Kathryn Brewster is now the effective head of the Resistance”.

          Earlier, there’s also a scene where the terminator wants to drive them south to Mexico, John asks it if he’s really supposed to just hide in a hole in the ground and survive, and the literal-minded terminator tells him it is his destiny. Then he ends up at the end of the movie hiding in a hole in the ground and surviving…

          When you’ve got future people being deliberately squirrely with the information they send you, by, for instance, ordering the future robot not to tell you about your own death, well, it’s reasonable to think they’re trying to spin the ball.

  2. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I might fall down a rabbit hole about carnivorous plants…. any thoughts about why carnivory is so rare? It apparently only gets evolved in plants living in poor soils, but it seems like plants generally would gain from eating at least some meat.

    There are some 600 species of carnivorous plants— on beyond the usual 3 or 4. This video includes a plant with insect trapping roots and other that attacks underwater. I assume there are many more carnivorous plants which are hard for people to notice, and now I’m wondering plants that eat microbes. I bet they exist.

    This video about introducing pitcher plants into an ant colony is very entertaining, partly for what’s learned about pitcher plants and partly for an amazing job of getting viewers emotionally involved with this guy and his ant colony. And for raising a general question of what it might look like if people had a generally symbiotic attitude towards nature. And, of course, the possibility of a God who wants people but who isn’t very interested in individuals.

    Stop-motion of the growth of a pitcher plant’s pitcher.

    Detail about how Venus fly traps work

    Wikipedia explains why there aren’t more carnivorous plants. Carnivorous plants do it for the minerals, and in most places, minerals are abundant enough that there’s no point in using resources to trap animals.

    • Aapje says:

      Isn’t it a strategy to survive in situation when the soil has few nutrients? It seems like a difficult way to get fed.

    • metacelsus says:

      Carnivorous plants do it for the minerals, and in most places, minerals are abundant enough that there’s no point in using resources to trap animals.

      In particular, nitrogen. And some other plants (notably legumes) have evolved a symbiotic relationship with bacteria so they can use atmospheric nitrogen.

    • Lambert says:

      It just sucks.
      Look at a carnivorous plant. They really have to go all-in on the eating insects thing. That’s energy that would be much better spent on a slightly better root system to get more minerals or something.

      Also I think this kind of thing tends to have sharply diminishing returns. Once you have enough NPK, there’s no benefit to getting more.

      And you’re going to eat that fly eventually, once it dies and decomposes into the soil. (Unless you’re a Nepenthes living in a tree or a sundew in a bog that contains too much tannin for anything to decompose etc.)

      Obligatory: https://botanyshitposts.tumblr.com/tagged/carnivorous-plants

    • broblawsky says:

      There’s a lot of energy required for a plant to develop carnivorous capabilities, as well as a pretty high complexity barrier required to evolve them. There have probably been a lot of failed carnivorous mutations, and the adaptation itself isn’t advantageous enough to allow species that evolve it to proliferate massively.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Another possibility would be a plant evolves carnivory and then spreads outside its original poor-soil environment, but the cost of carnivory is apparently so high that there are plants that only eat meat part of the year, when they need it.

        • Lambert says:

          Carnivorous plants can live fine without nutrients from meat.
          They just can’t grow any bigger.
          It would be easier for them to just stay dormant half the year.
          And nutrient levels in soil are the kind of thing that takes years to change, anyway.

  3. Hypoborean says:

    Relating to the discussion of when Indian economic growth took off, THIS caught my eye in a recent New York Times piece:
    “India was a low-investment country for many years after independence in 1947. Investment did not exceed 20 percent of gross domestic product until the late 1970s. It crossed the 30 percent mark for the first time in 2004-05 and climbed to 39 percent in 2011-12. India had begun to look like, and grow like, an East Asian economy in the 1980s. But then investment started to decline, and by 2016-17 it was back to around 30 percent.”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/opinion/india-economy.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

    The timeline would fit with the actual observed change in the Indian growth trajectory.

    Possibly related: I’ve heard a few places that the USSR’s “rapid GDP growth of the 1950’s and 1960’s was unsustainable because they were running down their capital stock” aka low to negative net investment rates.

  4. Well... says:

    What are some movies or TV shows that show very realistically what it’s like to hang out with Army soldiers (not in combat)? Documentaries count too.

  5. Tenacious D says:

    What are some examples of products that used to be commodities but are now very niche if they are available at all? A couple that I can think of are frankincense and whale bone.

    • Nornagest says:

      Molasses, maybe. Whale oil definitely. Many types of hand tools — bit and brace, for example.

    • Urstoff says:

      Wampum? Although maybe that’s not really a commodity, but a product.

    • broblawsky says:

      Cowrie shells.

      • Tenacious D says:

        That’s a good one.
        Another, grimmer, example of muscle power as a commodity would be slaves (yes, slavery still exists today, but as far as I’m aware the trade is underground to the extent that it doesn’t really have the characteristics of a commodity).

    • Aapje says:

      Horse meat (in my country).

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Whale oil.

      Typewriter ribbons, floppy disks and 35mm film.

      Leaded gasoline.

    • albatross11 says:

      Slide rules and mechanical adding machines. Typewriters, correction tape, white-out fluid, carbon paper. Vinyl records and record players, 8-track and cassette tapes and players. Black powder and weapons that use it. Corsets and top hats. Actual transparencies for slide shows.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Possibly lace. To look at some times and places, you might think people had an unlimited appetite for lace. Rich people were just dripping with it.

      But when cheap lace could be made mechanically, people mostly lost interest in lace. There’s a small amount of vestigial lace on lingerie and people still make a little lace as a craft.

    • Statismagician says:

      Arrows, armor, pre-modern weaponry in general.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I was gonna be all edgy and say slaves, and then Tenacious D beat me to it. Then I decided to be all edgy in a different way and say swords, but Statismagician beat me to that.

      Tommy guns used to be commodities (until NFA was passed, I think).
      Lard’s a bit harder to come by.

      Waterbeds.
      Grandfather clocks.
      Milk bottles.
      Chemistry sets.
      TV antennas.
      Tractor feed paper.
      Mimeographs and accessories.
      Chalkboards.
      Cigarette lighters that actually plugged into your car.
      Rotary phones.
      Butter churns.
      Incandescent light bulbs.
      Encyclopedia sets.
      Porn mags and Playboys.
      EPROMs.
      Pince-nez glasses.

      • woah77 says:

        EPROM is still a commodity. Maybe you can’t buy them off the shelf, but most electrical components aren’t purchased that way today. I’d still say they’re commodities, since I can buy tens of thousands on digikey.

      • Nornagest says:

        Swords — speaking as a practitioner of a sword style — are about as much a commodity as they’ve ever been. I suppose there might have been a short period between the invention of cheap high-quality ferrous metallurgy and the invention of repeating pistols when they were more available, but for most of their history they were a bespoke thing, first by necessity and later for lack of demand.

        Now — and this is a fairly recent thing, over the last fifteen years or so — you can get a mass-produced but functional model out of a factory in China or Thailand for two or three hundred dollars.

        • Lambert says:

          Low-quality officers’ katanas from the 40s?

          • Nornagest says:

            Good catch. Yeah, that’d count. It’s a pretty unique situation, though, and the swords themselves were rather poor compared to what you can get now — they have value as militaria, but they don’t cut well at all. A lot of officers even remounted traditionally forged blades in military fittings for lack of a better option (there’s one of these floating around my dojo).

  6. proyas says:

    My neighborhood church is preparing for its annual junk sale, in which church members and anyone else can dump their unwanted things at the church during a week long time window, and then a team of church volunteers put price tags on everything and get it organized on shelves and in piles for the big sale. The sale itself spans a weekend, and is open to everyone. I’ve been to past events, and the wares are what you’d expect: cookbooks, old board games, tons of used clothes, automatic bread makers, etc. Most of it doesn’t sell, and I’m not sure what they do with the leftovers (it’s possible they store it somewhere and try reselling it the following year).

    I like volunteerism and can see how this yearly event has positive social value, but it is extremely inefficient from an economic standpoint. Doing the intake, pricing, and shelving of the donated goods is a waste once you consider how much human labor is required and how little money the church makes (something like a book or a dinner plate sells for 50 cents).

    This makes me wonder: What kinds of alternative group volunteer projects would yield the same social benefits, while making more economically efficient use of the volunteers’ time and energy?

    • Plumber says:

      @proyas says:

      “My neighborhood church is preparing for its annual junk sale…”

      Just as an aside, my wife has me drive her to lots of different churches “rummage sales” in a year (bargain hunting is her sport), which has been my what inspires my chief impressions of the character and demographics of the different denominations in my area.

    • Jake says:

      Depends on the skills of your volunteers, but we used to go around in the fall and rake people’s leaves for a voluntary donation. I think that was just as effective at raising money as our rummage sales ever were. I’ve also organized fund raisers where I told everyone what their target to raise was, and asked them all to raise the money in whatever way best suited them. If you are looking for just the cash value, that seems the most efficient way.

      That said, we also had a rummage sale every year, and once the sale was over, we would take all the leftovers to our local homeless shelter, and help them sort/distribute anything worth keeping, so it did provide a benefit beyond just the money we made from selling things.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I have been separately thinking about this on my own for my own reasons before you posted your question, so if you come up with good answers (besides what others have posted) I would love to hear them.

    • Anthony says:

      Not sure this it what you are looking for, but my Boy Scout troop sold Christmas wreaths. Some of the dads (and older kids?) would go up to the forest and cut a bunch of pine branches and bring them back, then we’d assemble wreaths using the branches and cheap wire. We’d sell them door-to-door. Back in the 80s, a lot of the kids would sell 50 or so at $6/each. We got to use the money to help pay for the bigger camping trips.

  7. Between 1890 and 1920, the age at first marriage in the United States declined, with little change from 1920 to 1940, and then an even sharper decline from 1940 to 1950.

    https://image.businessinsider.com/526d05ad6bb3f7dd0d114115?width=700&format=jpeg&auto=webp

    This was not a pan-Western phenomenon, the UK saw an increase from 1890 to 1940:

    https://qz.com/1602272/the-average-age-for-marriage-in-the-uk-is-now-over-30/

    Is there any non-Western country which has seen a similar pattern of the age at first marriage consistently falling as it did between 1890 and 1920? It doesn’t look true for China or India or Indonesia.

  8. johan_larson says:

    The Department of Rules of the Sake of Rules (DEPRULRUL) today commended the US Marine Corps for their policy of uniformly transitioning between sleeves-rolled-up and sleeves-rolled-down on two specific days of each year.

    https://twitter.com/USMC/status/1190798868369301504

    • Aftagley says:

      That rule is the stupidest thing in existence, although it’s not just Marines. If I remember correctly, Army and Coast Guard also follow versions of this rule. As dumb as it sounds, it’s even dumber in practice.

      I know people (specifically IT folks and intel weenies) who’s work spaces have to be kept cold year ’round due to the specialized computer equipment they use who only wear jackets during the summer – it’s too cold to wear short sleeves all day, but in the winter when they can unroll, it’s fine.

      When your rule results in thinking “hmm, summer is coming, better pull out my winter coat”, you’ve messed up.

      • Nick says:

        I know people (specifically IT folks and intel weenies) who’s work spaces have to be kept cold year ’round due to the specialized computer equipment they use who only wear jackets during the summer – it’s too cold to wear short sleeves all day, but in the winter when they can unroll, it’s fine.

        I live in no such office, but it’s still unreasonably cold. My coworkers are Siberians or something. Or I need to get in the habit of wearing sweaters.

      • Lambert says:

        Of course, if you’re working in a server farm, it’s half hot and half cold, all year round.

    • Beck says:

      I was never very spit and polish, but I never really minded this one. A bunch of Marines standing in formation; some with sleeves up, some down, would look pretty half-assed.

      • CatCube says:

        Yeah, as long as we’re all wrong, we’re alright.

      • Aftagley says:

        Eh, that’s taking a logical idea to an illogical conclusion.

        If you want everyone looking the same at formation than require it for formations and let them choose to unroll their sleeves (or have a second blouse) for when they aren’t at formation.

      • Incurian says:

        Meh.

        ETA: The benefit of this rule is that it takes away discretion from senior NCOs and minimizes the potential for bitching from various ad hoc policies coming into conflict.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          So, uhhh, I’ve never been in the army, but how much is “bitching” a concern? Like, I have pretty limited control over my hourly employees, but I imagine the army has a little more leeway with their enlisted men.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Perhaps coincidentally, I heard today that the US military is having trouble meeting recruiting targets.

          • johan_larson says:

            The recruiting troubles probably have more to do with the unemployment rate, which is really low right now in the US. Plenty of people are willing to work for the military, but prefer civilian employment.

          • acymetric says:

            @johan_larson probably gave the best explanation, but I also wonder what enrollment/recruitment trends (absent a draft) are after extended conflicts. How many prime military enlistment aged people grew up saying “yeah, I’m not getting stuck doing anything like that Iraq/Afghanistan business like those slightly older people I knew”.

  9. AG says:

    I watched all of Netflix documentary series “Fat Salt Acid Heat” yesterday. A few thoughts:

    1. The premise is that the four titular attributes are the key to making food delicious. There is zero talk in this series about nutrition. At one point, the chef suggests that people avoid iodized salt for taste reasons. I find this quite amusing. It’s also amusing how obviously the least healthy cuisine featured in the series is the fat-focused one, Italian, but that brings into question if the lifestyles that birthed each of these cuisines was really that different. The justification for richer foods has, of course, been that they were developed for the blue-collar class, but what about the blue collar classes for the other cultures, whose equivalent food developments didn’t end up leaning on fat as much? Did they make up for it in carbs (rice/corn)?

    2. At one point, the chef states that good food is universal, because to a degree, salt/acid/fat/heat is universal, though the exact vehicle for things per cuisine changes. But there’s immediately a tension in that premise. Cuisines are therefore defined by the availability of ingredients in the area, but the matching aspect of that fact is that cuisines are just as much defined by which ingredients aren’t available in the area. As such, surely there are regions whose foods are deficient in one of the four aspects. Would that mean there are cuisines that are inferior to others, as they could not have achieved a truly optimized flavor until trade made more ingredients available?
    The documentary points out one such example, of how the traditional Thanksgiving meal lacks notable acid (something to cut through the richness of all of the dishes), with only cranberry sauce offering the faintest bit of it. I’ve seen it postulated elsewhere that ketchup became such a staple of American/frontier food for similar reasons, as the primary acid game in town. Yet, we don’t see tomatoes incorporated into the Thanksgiving spread, and now with globalism, shouldn’t we see other sauces with more acid become more popular with our french fries and scrambled eggs? We did get pickles and mustard added to the burger, but not the fries, aiolis remain gentrified, but I guess Tabasco sauce is more and more common.

    3. Lol, African cuisine went ignored. The approach the series took was to lens each aspect through a specific cuisine. Fat/Italian, Salt/Japanese, Acid/Yucatan, Heat/American. I wonder which aspect a specific African cuisine could exemplify?
    It seems that African cuisines could be grouped along with South/east Asian cuisines as “spice-heavy,” but what kind of category would aromatics fall under? Or “spiciness?” Perhaps “spice” wasn’t featured in this series because it’s not universal enough as a requirement for deliciousness?

    4. A recurring event with the various chefs featured on the show was that when they attended cooking school, they were confronted with the French cooking style being so quantified and exacting, before returning to a much more flexible home cuisine. Has French cuisine notably improved relative to other cuisines for taking its techniques in this direction? Or was it more that French cuisine had to develop in this way in order to wring the most out of its available ingredients, which weren’t as easily flavorful as other regions? Did France lack easy access to Fat/Acid/Salt?
    The utility of the French style, perhaps, is like the utility of a formal training in the classics for actors or musicians. Gives you a systematic understanding of concepts, which then can be applied to more reliably enhance other traditions.

    • bullseye says:

      What about sugar? Everyone likes sugar. It’s certainly less of an acquired taste than heat.

    • JayT says:

      1) I think that fat and carbs are pretty standard stuff for all traditional peasant foods. In Asia you see a lot of cooking oil, in European a lot of dairy, South American uses a lot of animal fats, etc.

      2) It’s been a while since I watched this show, but I don’t think they were saying you needed all four in every food for that food to be delicious, just that those are the four common elements in tasty food. For example, something like a French fry only has three of the four (unless you dip it in ketchup or cover it in vinegar).
      As for Thanksgiving, I would argue that cranberries are extremely acidic, so that doesn’t really work as an example for me. Also, a large portion of the country included collard greens in their Thanksgiving meal, and those are usually made with a lot of vinegar.

      3) I would put most African cuisines in the “Heat” section, because you could focus on the all of the stews they do that take a long time to cook. Also, you could look at the cookware like tagines, that are unique to the region.
      I think that spice was left out because there are many cuisines that really don’t use spices, but they still make delicious food. I’m thinking of places like France or Eastern Europe.

      4) Obviously, it’s all up to personal taste, but in my mind French food is the most distinct cuisine, and it is the basis for so much of Western food ideals, and I suspect that is due to them taking food so seriously.
      I don’t know why they ended up being like that, but I don’t believe it was for a lack of fat, acid, or salt, because they use those three in very large quantities.

      • FrankistGeorgist says:

        I like the theory the French reputation for food is traced through one of my favorite historical characters, Talleyrand, and his chef Carême. European courts had historically enjoyed elaborate feasting (blackbirds baked alive into a pie and so on), and French culture had propagated throughout the nobility, but the must-have-a-French-chef thing came post-revolution due to Talleyrand understanding that global diplomacy of elites was best done over sumptuous meals.

        I’ve also heard that French cuisine needed a few injections from Italy via Catherine de Medici to really get going. That percolates through the aristocracy, gradually incorporating new ingredients and new markets with industrialization. From Carême developed the French haute-cuisine which passes through Escoffier until it eventually calcifies and gets stale. The high-flying 60s and perhaps some influence from Japan brings us into Nouvelle cuisine at which point we’re well on our way to New American.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      On your second point about comparing cuisines, foregoing geography a moment, the temporal example can be quite stark: What was Sichuan or Indian cuisine before the Columbian exchange brought peppers? Can it be called inferior? I imagine the culinary genius loci which produced the current excellence was putting out good stuff before hand.

      European cuisine used to incorporate much more spice and quite a bit more rose water than I find acceptable, but that changed not necessarily because new stuff was brought in so much as fashions changed. Makes it hard to say whether there’s a Whig history of food even if secretly I think there is.

      • Mary says:

        Before red peppers, Indian cuisine used black pepper.

        To be sure, within fifty years of Columbus sailing, we have a Indian poem hymning the wonders of the red pepper, “the poor man’s spice,” and black pepper was regulated to use in certain ritual dishes for Brahmans where the recipe was prescribed.

      • Ben Wōden says:

        Hang fire. I always get confused about terminology regarding pepper and chilli and what exactly is a subset of what, but I thought chilli peppers were peppers like red and green bell peppers are, and black pepper was a totally different thing that just happened to have the same name – on that basis, what you’ve written here would mean that chilli wasn’t part of Sichuan or Indian cuisines until the Columbian exchange, where it was imported (I guess from the Americas?) Is that the case? Is that what you’re saying here, or is my chilli/pepper confusion mucking me up? Because if chilli was imported to India from The Americas then that’s something I’d really like to know, but I want to make sure I’m not getting my wires crossed here.

        • mitv150 says:

          That’s right – the chilli pepper came to India and Asia from the Americas. Note also that the tomato came to Italy from the Americas.

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          You’re correct, and I was silly to not hold to the chili-pepper distinction.

          Chilis (and I think all sources of capsaicin, the chemical responsible for the burning sensation known as piquancy or spice) come from the Americas. Anywhere in the old world using them had to import them first. What was Hungary eating before Paprika? It’s practically tied into their identity. Proof I think that cultural touchstones can have surprisingly shallow roots.

          Pepper (whose “heat” comes from piperine) comes from Asia. Along with numerous other spices which are not capsaicin-spicy but are fragrant/flavoresome in other ways like turmeric and cumin and nutmeg. So the Old World had a broad palette of flavors before the Columbian exchange, but the profile shifted considerably afterwards.

          • Rob K says:

            Proof I think that cultural touchstones can have surprisingly shallow roots.

            Had a professor in college who told the story of a researcher who was gathering legends and was told one of the maize god giving maize to the people at the beginning of the world. This was in a part of Africa where maize had been in use for 100 years or less.

            Seems so neat and tidy that I’m slightly skeptical of it for that reason, but the professor who related the anecdote did that sort of research himself and seemed to regard it as legit.

          • theredsheep says:

            Compare the Irish loving potatoes, the British and their tea, or (branching out from the culinary) the central place of horses in Plains Indian culture. Cargo cults are pretty new, too, and apparently quite important where they’re observed.

          • Lambert says:

            More specifically, the British drinking C. sinesis var. assamica.
            That’s only really been going on since 1900 or so.

            The Revolutionaries were dumping green tea from China into Boston Harbour.

          • cassander says:

            In my experience, most storied and ancient traditions were invented in the late 19th century.

          • theredsheep says:

            Green tea? Ew. That’s indistinguishable from lawn trimmings, and deserves to be dumped.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This account says both black and green tea (all from China) got dumped. I doubt any of those came from var. assamica (which apparently grows in Yunnan Province in China, but none of those teas are from Yunnan), but certainly it would have been recognizable as tea to any modern English person.

          • Lambert says:

            Once brewed, it would probably be recognisable as a black tea.
            A modern westerner would probably recognise it as being close to Russian Caravan, which is the best known form of hongcha (chinese black tea) in the West nowadays.

            Of course, it would probably have been stored and transported as compressed bricks of fangcha, which is not something done much any more (outside of post-fermantation/ageing of pu’er, Yunnan’s most distinctive form of tea.)

            @theredsheep: You need to try a good gunpowder or something

          • DarkTigger says:

            @Rob K
            That might just be a case of either maize got so prevalent that the old wheat/millet/grain god became a maize god, or the word for maize just became equivalent to grain.

      • Rebecca Friedman says:

        European cuisine used to incorporate much more spice and quite a bit more rose water than I find acceptable,

        Is your acceptable quantity zero? – or if not, how do you know this? Most medieval cookbooks don’t give quantities, and IME the exceptions are usually Islamic.

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          Ambiguous sentence structure, sorry, “more than I find acceptable” refers specifically to rose water and yeah I can only handle a drop as a supporting role in applesauce or with strawberries before I start to wretch.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Spices are excellent, but I don’t think they are anywhere near as essential as salt/fat/acid/heat. Even frozen vegetables taste amazing if you throw in enough butter, enough salt, and a nice high burn. Steamed frozen vegetables tossed in dried basil taste offensive.

      You know what the secret to mashed potatoes is? Butter. A pound of butter for a pound of potatoes, and a liberal amount of salt in the boiling liquid. Spices? Not necessary.

    • Placid Platypus says:

      I’ve seen it postulated elsewhere that ketchup became such a staple of American/frontier food for similar reasons, as the primary acid game in town. Yet, we don’t see tomatoes incorporated into the Thanksgiving spread

      I’m pretty sure that in ketchup most of the acid is from the vinegar, not the tomato, right?

      • AG says:

        Interesting, then, that American ketchups have mostly evolved away from a more overtly acidic profile, instead dialing up the sweetness. Same with the cranberry sauce, as someone noted above. For ketchups, though, perhaps that’s more due to the corn lobby. With cranberry sauce, it’s probably more that insufficiently sweetened cranberries taste horrible, so they err on the side of more sweetening.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Did France lack easy access to Fat/Acid/Salt?

      Unlikely, given the quantity of butter in traditional French cooking (except in the South where it’s olive oil), the amount of wine (and also vinegar, but Samin Nosrat’s book certainly calls wine Acid) France produces, and the length of its coastline for making salt.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      It’s also amusing how obviously the least healthy cuisine featured in the series is the fat-focused one, Italian

      Italian cuisine is a carb-based Mediterranean cuisine, it uses less fat than French or American cuisine.

      Heat/American

      All cuisines based on meats, cereal grains and legumes use heat by necessity.

      Has French cuisine notably improved relative to other cuisines for taking its techniques in this direction?

      No, it’s just that the cooking style used at high-end restaurants and hotels developed in France, which is why they teach formal French cuisine (which can be quite different from how French people casually cook at home) at cooking school. In fact, “chef” and “cuisine” are French loanwords.

      The documentary points out one such example, of how the traditional Thanksgiving meal lacks notable acid (something to cut through the richness of all of the dishes), with only cranberry sauce offering the faintest bit of it. I’ve seen it postulated elsewhere that ketchup became such a staple of American/frontier food for similar reasons, as the primary acid game in town. Yet, we don’t see tomatoes incorporated into the Thanksgiving spread

      I think the acidic taste is mostly associated with preserved foods, Thanksgiving is a harvest celebration, hence it makes sense that it is focused on fresh foods. Still, Wikipedia says that Thanksgiving meal usually contains greens such as Brussels sprouts, in addition to cranberry sauce, and the Turkey stuffing can also contain fruits.

      • AG says:

        Perhaps it’s just that cheaper Thanksgiving dinner, as has propagated into the mainstream consciousness, was disrupted by a few trends? Greens were replaced by green bean casserole, further de-acidified by using canned beans, while stuffing got tamer and tamer, down to just the bread, onions, and maybe celery.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Cranberry sauce has quite a bit of acid in it: cranberry juice has about the same pH to vinegar (around 2.3).

        My family at least generally serves salad with thanksgiving dinner, and the dressing almost always has an acid-heavy flavor profile.

        Wine and cider are common beverages with thanksgiving dinner, both of which are moderately acidic (pH in the 3-4 range).

        • Aftagley says:

          I’m fairly certain this is a dumb question, but does pH of a substance directly correlate with the perceived sourness of its taste?

          Follow-up question: is there a taste associated with basic solutions?

          • Eric Rall says:

            Yes, sourness is directly related to pH. Sour taste buds directly measure the concentration of hydrogen ions, which is also what pH measures. Just about anything acidic will taste sour unless other flavors are strong enough to conceal it. There isn’t a perfect 1:1 correlation between pH and perceived sourness (even in the absence of competing flavors), for reasons I’m a bit fuzzy on (seems to be something to do with the chemical characteristics of the corresponding negative ion to the H+ ion affecting the taste bud response), but it’s still a pretty strong correlation.

            Alkalinity correlates with bitterness, but nowhere near as directly as sourness correlates with acidity. Many alkaline substances also taste salty, since “salty” taste buds are responding to ions of sodium and other alkali metals, which are commonly found in alkaline substances as well as in salts. Baking soda is a good illustration here: if you taste a little bit of baking soda, you’ll find it tastes both bitter and salty.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t think we really eat many base foods. I’m having a hard time thinking of any.

          • Statismagician says:

            The youths inform me that pumpkin spice is the most basic taste around. Seasonally-appropriate, too.

          • JayT says:

            From what I’m seeing online*, some common base foods are:
            Sweet Corn
            Tofu
            Some blue cheeses
            Egg whites
            Shellfish tend to be right on the border

            I’m not really seeing a common denominator there.

            *It’s hard to find good data, because there are a lot of people talking about an alkaline diet, in which they say lemons are alkaline, which is obviously absurd.

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            The textbook alkaline flavor is pretzel which distinguishes them from something like a bagel which is boiled but not alkalized.

            Ramen noodles are alkalized for textural reasons. Increasing the ph of foods often increases the rate they brown while cooking, as well as other fun chemical stuff. Baking powder makes chicken skin come out mighty fine.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Lutefisk apparently has a pH as high as commercial ammonia cleaning products.

            I have no idea what it tastes like, though.

    • Nick says:

      Nitpick:

      shouldn’t we see other sauces with more acid become more popular with our french fries and scrambled eggs? We did get pickles and mustard added to the burger, but not the fries, aiolis remain gentrified, but I guess Tabasco sauce is more and more common.

      I think sriracha has gotten more common in, say, the last ten years. I think I’ve even seen it on scrambled eggs.

      • Nornagest says:

        Most of the breakfast places I go to offer some kind of hot sauce, and they’re pretty much all acidic. Malt vinegar’s pretty common too, but it might be intended more for lunch.

        Anyway, American cuisine has lots of acidic sauces. Ketchup was mentioned, of course; but most forms of barbecue sauce are pretty acid-heavy too, especially the mid-Atlantic styles. Mustard. Worchestershire sauce. Marinades for meat or poultry. Salad dressing. Lemon juice.

    • georgeherold says:

      A nice book too. I’m been working on my ‘conveyor belt chicken’ technique.

  10. theredsheep says:

    What’s a good argument for having gen ed requirements in higher education? Meaning the array of low-level courses everyone has to take to graduate, even if they have no relationship to their major. The usual line is that it makes you “well-rounded,” but it really doesn’t; a cursory introduction to a half-dozen subjects gives you too little knowledge to be of practical use in any of them.

    I can see the use of teaching children a variety of subjects; it gives them exposure and helps them get a feel for what they’re interested in. By the time you’re college-age, though, you’re supposed to be settling into a course of study to build a career on, and you don’t benefit much from learning the basics of psychology if you’re getting a comp sci degree. The main effect of requiring it is that all the freshman psych students spend their first class mixed in with people who have minimal interest in the subject, and many psych professors have multiple sections of largely disinterested students.

    I’m guessing the latter aspect is more or less the point; in a world without gen ed requirements, each department’s course load would be heavily dependent on students selecting its subject as a major or elective. Supply could fluctuate dramatically from year to year. This way, there’s a steady supply of work for most departments, even the ones like math that almost nobody chooses as an elective. It’s just kinda crummy work, and wastes a lot of time and money for students. Is there a student-centered reason why gen ed is a good thing?

    • Nornagest says:

      I’m not going to go to bat for it as such, but the historical reason for it is that undergrad was designed to produce abstractly oriented generalists, not practically focused specialists. That makes some amount of sense in a world where undergrad is basically a finishing school for the upper classes: a broad, abstract intellectual toolkit isn’t great for solving problems in a timely manner, but it’s good at letting you understand them well enough to effectively delegate to people with the practical skills, and if your goal is a professorship or a high-status profession (doctor, lawyer, business executive, etc.) you’d still need those skills to wrangle your staff.

      It makes much less sense in a world where most of the people in undergrad are MC or even LMC and expected to end up in individual contributor roles if successful and flipping burgers if not. But culture moves slower than economics, and academic culture moves slower than the broader culture.

      • theredsheep says:

        Good point. I didn’t think we got here by having department heads sit around and scheme up a plan to guarantee butts in seats, mind you; as I see it, that’s just our main reason for continuing to bother with it now that it’s implemented. It’s good to look back at how we got this way, though.

    • JayT says:

      I would say that 90% of the time I spent on gen ed was useless beyond being a bit better at trivia night than I otherwise would have been. The useful 10% was being forced to write papers. I was decent at it by the time I got to college, but the sheer number I had to write really made me a better writer, and I doubt that’s something I would have worked on if left to myself.

    • Statismagician says:

      Since the average American high school is only a little more academically rigorous than a day care center at this point, many students’ first real exposure to many fields of study is through their university gen-ed requirements.

      • Right. And high schools are usually pretty limited in what they do offer.

      • Protagoras says:

        Related to this point, people entering college don’t necessarily know what they actually want to do (even if they think they do). The general education requirements may expose them to attractive possibilities they hadn’t considered. Not an enormously compelling reason, I don’t think, but not nothing.

    • AG says:

      Gen Ed in higher education, as with everything else, is about the execution.

      The current way it’s done, where students there to fulfill gen ed and people there for their own major take the same class, means that the teaching of the subject is geared towards the major. As such, the focus is on teaching theory and concepts to lead to higher-level concepts in later classes. This makes the class nearly useless to the gen ed students. They cram-and-forget some formulas to plug and chug during tests.

      Instead, if 101 classes were taught with more of an eye on being useful as a gen ed class, the focus would be on the specific subject being merely one example of applying general principles of reasoning. This way, students could see how the same abstract concepts of thinking were being applied in the same way to a variety of subjects, across their various gen ed classes.

      • theredsheep says:

        Just so I understand what you mean, how would a course in psych (to continue my example) be useful to a nursing, engineering, or foreign-language student, if taught in such a way?

        • AG says:

          Well, perhaps one of the assigned papers would be for students to choose a basic psychology concept and write how it would be relevant to their own major. When lectures teach a particular psychology concept, instead of focusing on the history of how the concept was developed, teach the concept through various modern applications. Then, students would get to see how the one psychology concept actually is important to a variety of majors, getting them started on multi-disciplinary thinking in the first place.
          Or in the opposite direction, focus teaching the history of how the concept was developed such that the student sees how they might develop concepts in their own field, detailing experiment and analysis design and how they could have been improved, etc.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            Then, students would get to see how the one psychology concept actually is important to a variety of majors, getting them started on multi-disciplinary thinking in the first place.

            Well, that would work if the concept is actually important to a variety of majors. If not, then forcing students to write about how it is will just generate a pile of BS essays with contrived connections. Psychology might be tangentially relevant to, say, computer engineering–computers need to be used by humans, and humans have all sorts of psychological quirks that affect how they use technology–but I think you’d have a lot of trouble actually drawing connections that aren’t incredibly contrived. And the problem is even worse if the gen-ed is something less useful like Greek Mythology.

            Part of my skepticism here comes from a freshman “intro to bioengineering” class I had to take in my own major. We had to analyze how each of the five tracks (cell/tissue, computational, biomechanics, etc.) could contribute to fighting a health issue (cancer, parkinson’s, etc.) each week. Even for this class entirely discussing biological issues, we often had to BS some of the sections when a track just literally wasn’t applicable to the disease in question. I can only imagine trying to connect e.g. Intro to British Literature to biology.

            A further issue is that even if a subject could be applied to every other major, the class won’t actually have time to draw all those connections and will have to either focus on some to the exclusion of others, or just focus on the basics of the subject like a traditional 101 course.

          • Lambert says:

            > Intro to British Literature to biology

            Bram Stoker and disorders of the haem synthesis pathway?

          • AG says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid

            This is what I was getting at, of how conflating “Introduction to” classes with “To contribute to gen ed” classes is part of the problem. My above reply to theredsheep is about a class design that would be explicitly purposed to gen ed. It necessarily could not be as comprehensive as an equivalent “Introduction to” class, because it’s emphasizing the multi-disciplinary aspects of the field, which may not be the actual core parts of the field.

            As Lambert’s example points out, some “Introduction to” classes inherently can’t be more broadly applied, they’re already specific applications of general techniques themselves. Every literature class would really be sharing their gen ed potential with linguistics class, of how to apply textual analysis to nonfiction writing relevant to the student’s major.

      • JohnBuridan says:

        Some universities have classes that are specifically for non-majors, but fulfill the gen-ed requirements. Often these are lackluster easy classes for jocks, but some departments turn them into fully realized courses for the average citizen. Both my Biology and Discrete Mathematics Course were like this, and I loved them.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        Isn’t there a cheaper and more effective way to teach general principles, if that’s the point? Like, have one course which teaches them specifically, drawing examples from wherever necessary, rather than multiple courses which teach different otherwise unrelated things applying the same principles? And for that matter, what are the principles you have in mind?

        • AG says:

          I’m not opposed to what you propose. It really annoys me when humanities majors try to justify their own existence with “we teach critical thinking skillz!!!” as if STEM classes don’t, and it would be nice if all students got funneled through a “Critical Thinking 101” class that offered both STEM and humanities examples for every concept (a true STEAM class, if you will).

          And students who test out of the class have to answer problems for the “other kind.” STEM students would answer humanities critical thinking questions, humanities students would answer STEM critical thinking questions.

          And the conclusion to be drawn for the final exam will always be “this field has a replication crisis, and also the journalism trying to extrapolate implications from this one study are all making horrible incorrect reaches to be sensational.”

    • slovakmum says:

      I am from Slovakia, we don’t have this general education at college level, and everybody seems to be OK with it.

    • JohnBuridan says:

      I think you assume your conclusion that only children need a wide exposure to a lot of different subjects. After many years of waffling, I think I am still a proponent of the liberal arts ideal. But let me try to steelman the position a bit.

      Learning the methods of many different fields of inquiry makes one more apt and able to navigate the modern world, than a mere specialist is able to. The hammer specialist will have the propensity to solve problems using only the hammer tool set without stopping to ask himself, “Is this a nail?”.

      Asking the right question is essential to finding a solution. And knowing the relevant questions to ask, requires a broad education. A broad education is not necessary for economic reasons, and is inefficient in the short term, but such broad education provides political and social goods. If we allow that the purpose of education is the formation of the full citizen, then that definition includes someone who both contributes to economy, upholds the social order, and intelligently considers legislation on a variety of topics before voting and taking political action.

      The problem that a broad education is trying to address is primarily a social and political problem. The fact that we are terrible at this is not a critique of the idea, only the implementation. We need, I agree, better ideas for solving the problem.

      • “The problem that a broad education is trying to address is primarily a social and political problem. The fact that we are terrible at this is not a critique of the idea, only the implementation. We need, I agree, better ideas for solving the problem.”

        They made the same point about communism: at some point you have to ask, if there’s this idea of doing something with humans and you can never get humans to do it right, maybe doing that idea with humans(if not the idea as applied to hypothetical intelligent beings) is inherently a bad idea.

      • SamChevre says:

        This.

        It can be done badly, but a liberal arts background should give the student a toolset and a good idea of what set of tools work for particular kinds of problems. For example, interface design in comp sci is looking at the questions that psychology helps with.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      Not a fan of gen ed requirements in general (they seem like another uniquely American? mildly bad idea) but I think “you don’t benefit much from learning the basics of psychology if you’re getting a comp sci degree” is a bad example.

    • metacelsus says:

      even the ones like math that almost nobody chooses as an elective.

      Informal poll: How many SSC readers took math as an elective? (I did; my primary degree was in Chemistry.)

      • JayT says:

        I did, but I was also a math major.

      • bullseye says:

        I did not. My major was computer science on my first try (which required calculus) and accounting on the second try (which required algebra and statistics; I used to know what a p-value is!)

      • Ransom says:

        Yes, more than one course. Major was also (physical) chemistry.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        My freshman year of college, I took two semesters of calculus, when one would have sufficed to fulfill any requirements. It was only fully an “elective” in retrospect, since at the time I was kicking around the idea of majoring in math (and it was Calc II that cured me of that idea, but to this day I sometimes wonder if I should have gone for it). I think I would have chosen to take it anyway, though; I certainly didn’t regard the time or effort as wasted.

        • Nick says:

          I did the same thing, since I was considering a minor in math. But I couldn’t continue after Calc II because class schedules kept conflicting with required classes for my major.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I did. Partly because I was showing off, and partly because my plans changed over time – I had originally intended a science major, which would have needed the math.

      • SamChevre says:

        Sort of–I was an economics student, and ended up with an applied math concentration (minor equivalent)–but I didn’t start off to be a math minor, I just liked math and found it useful.

        (Random but amusing: I’m too careless to be good at arithmetic, and my first algebra class is was in college–so when I started college I didn’t expect to be good at math.)

        • Lambert says:

          Arithmetic and maths are two different skills.

          At school, when we were doing stuff like integrating nasty trig, people would constantly be asking each other stuff like ‘what’s 11-3?’

      • Statismagician says:

        My college doesn’t have electives in the way you’re thinking of, but I do have a graduate degree in biostatistics; does that count?

      • Eltargrim says:

        I took enough to get a minor. It was beneficial, but not mandatory, for my main focus (physical chemistry).

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        Probably not going to have the time to take a specifically math elective, but one of the required courses for my CS minor was on discrete math for CS.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I started out taking the required math for my CS degree (calc 1 and 2), and then began taking more when the CS courses I needed were filling up before I could apply. (I was working a lot of co-op tours in the 1990s, and the course catalog wasn’t yet online, so I had to mail-order it.) I’d always found math super-easy, so I happily snapped up the lower-division prereqs to get to the fun stuff like number theory and complex analysis.

        One day, I found out I was about 18 semester hours away from my CS degree, but only 12 more hours on top of that would get me a math degree as well. Since tuition was only $24/hour at UT Austin (hi, I’m old economy Steve), it seemed like a bargain I couldn’t pass up.

        So in a sense, I got an entire math degree as an elective.

        • JayT says:

          This was my experience as well. I went for a CS degree and ended up with both CS and math. The university I went to offered different concentrations for their CS degrees, and one of my freshman teachers convinced me to do the “Math/science” option, because it was the hardest. The other options had business classes and networking classes instead of the extra math. I started doing it, and ended up only needing like three extra classes to double major, so I did that.

      • I did.

        But I was a chemistry and physics major, so advanced math was material that might be useful to me.

    • sharper13 says:

      The most interesting/useful courses I took in College were mostly non-major courses. I chose them based on my interests, but Business Law, Shakespeare, Various History classes, Communications, etc… were all useful to me.

      I majored in computer (as opposed to industrial or communications) electronics at a Polytechnic. One of my courses was assembly for 8-bit processors, if that sufficiently dates me.

      The technical “major” courses I took tended to be:
      1. From slightly to very out of date at the time taken
      2. Fun and easy, in part because I already knew most of what they were teaching

      Of the courses for my major, Boolean Algebra is the one which has kept the most value to me over time. I’m also more of an auto-didactic generalist than a specialist, although I have sufficient knowledge in multiple fields of knowledge to get by as a specialist in them.

      One thing to consider is that (like my daughter), some students don’t really know what they’re interested in when they start college, so if in the first couple of years they’re taking a broad spread of courses, that can lead them to understand where their interests and talents actually are.

      • theredsheep says:

        That is a splendid argument for electives, or perhaps for a period when undecided students are encouraged to try intro classes. It is not (IMO) a good argument for making all students do intro courses in five different subjects. I’m in my college’s respiratory therapy program, along with seventeen other students. There’s five semesters’ worth of courses which are only available to us … plus we have to take a basic math, a basic English, psych or soc, a few humanities electives, etc. We’re all quite certain we’re trying to be RTs, since the whole program is designed to prepare us for certification. The other courses are an annoyance, and my classmates frequently discuss the simplest way of satisfying requirements. Apparently there’s a music appreciation class … fortunately I’m a recovering English major and already have all that crap out of the way. I am confident that none of my old coursework will make me better at intubating someone, or giving them a neb treatment.

        • twocents says:

          @theredsheep Apart from any argument about being well rounded, isn’t it possible that some of these requirements may actually be useful to your chosen career? Like, basic math may be a useful tool when learning pulmonary physiology. And a psych class may have something worthwhile to offer with respect to working with patients who are sick, scared, and can’t breathe. Not saying that every gen ed class will be similarly useful, but you may find that choosing classes with an eye to relevance rather than just getting it over with might make you a better RT.

          • theredsheep says:

            It’s possible, but only in the broad sense that almost anything could potentially offer insights, and when you calculate extra fees, extended time in classrooms instead of earning and learning as an actual RT, and potential distraction from a fairly demanding core curriculum … no. So not worth it. In practice, we’re going to learn most of our skills at clinicals, not in the classroom.

      • pressedForTime says:

        One of my courses was assembly for 8-bit processors…

        Long live the Z-80!

    • Anthony says:

      ABET (the engineering school accreditation body for the US) requires a fairly substantial “general education” requirement, which apparently serves to develop students towards the following goals:

      (f) an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility
      (g) an ability to communicate effectively
      (h) the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global,
      economic, environmental, and societal context

      They’ve restated these more recently, but it’s essentially the same idea.

      As for “substantial” – when I was an undergrad, the requirement included 6 courses from the humanities and/or social sciences, only two of which could be English 1A/1B or equivalent. Basic foreign language courses did not count, but foreign language literature courses did. At least two had to be in the same department, there had to be courses from at least two departments, and there had to be at least two upper-division (3rd/4th year) courses.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The goal of having a well-rounded student isn’t to make you particularly useful, it’s to give you a basic idea of how that field thinks and the fundamental consensus and questions in that field. From a cynical POV, this allows the UMC to feel it deserves their unique social position due to their well-roundedness and understanding of the world, but that shouldn’t mean requiring a model liberal arts graduate to be at the bleeding edge of knowledge in any particular field. That’s what a PhD is for.

      I find Gen Ed courses enlightening and low stress. I listen to them as podcasts on the way to work. I also enjoyed my GenEd classes at school, though they taught me nothing that made me economically productive, which is pretty much the only reason I went to college.

    • Clutzy says:

      I would think there are two strong reason for a set of gen ed requirements at university. That is: 1) Ensuring all students can easily make up their mind about a future major having experienced an actually competitive environment; and 2) Ensuring students actually have a broad set of skills and don’t get into tiny bubbles of specialization and echo chambers.

      However, modern gen eds do neither. They are mostly joke classes that are not taken all in the freshman year, and also do not give students broad experiences, as liberal arts majors never have to take real technical courses.

    • Placid Platypus says:

      The biggest argument I can think of that hasn’t gotten much attention so far is that distribution requirements leave you in a better place if after the first year or whatever you decide that you were completely wrong about what you wanted to major in and need to come up with an alternative.

    • ana53294 says:

      In Spain, when you enter a degree, you have a pre-set curriculum with little leeway. In the third and fourth year, you can choose like 30% of your subjects from a pre-approved list.

      90% of the subjects are specific to the degree, with some basic knowledge thrown in. In my case, the basic stuff was Business finance (basically show us how interest works and things like amortization and depreciation), Law and Patents, a foreign language, and that’s it for non-degree specific stuff.

      I found my non-degree courses very useful, but not for my work. Still use the skills they taught me in Business Finance course to handle my personal finance.

      3-4 courses non-specific to the degree, while the rest being about the degree, sounds about right to me. I don’t really understand the US system, because you can enter University undeclared, which means you should choose a broad array of subjects that are useful for all degrees, I guess, the first year.

    • johan_larson says:

      Is there a student-centered reason why gen ed is a good thing?

      A student-centered reason? The best I can come up with is that a certain breadth and sophistication is a good thing. We are not just worker drones, we are citizens also, and we sometimes need to make decisions outside our immediate professions. It would be a fine thing if high schools provided that sort of education, but quite a few don’t, so if we want it done with present institutions as they are, it has to be done at the college level. And breadth requirements are how we do it.

      My preference would be to raise the level of primary and secondary education to the point that gen ed requirements at the college level are simply superfluous. In Larsonland, primary school is for basic skills, the academic track of secondary school is for breadth and sophistication in a liberal arts model, and any subsequent education (whether fairly straightforward or very demanding) is vocational.

      • AG says:

        And in Larsonland, what about the rich person who can just afford to do a deep dive on their niche interest for years and years?

        • johan_larson says:

          The intellectually devoted idle rich are not a sector the Larsonland educational system is designed to serve, so it’s a bit tricky. If this rich person wanted to do coursework more or less within the institutional framework, their best bet would be to apply to an independent study program. These are typically only found at the very largest and most diverse institutions, roughly the equivalents of major universities. To be accepted, as student would have to map out a plan of study across disciplines toward some goal that is not particularly well aligned with any existing vocational course of study. If their proposal was accepted, their studies would be subsidized just like any vocational course of study.

          If getting access to educational subsidies isn’t important, and the student were paying out of pocket, then the process would be much less formal, but it is likely the institution would treat the student as some sort of informal independent study candidate, but excused from progress requirements and the like. It’s hard to say what rates the school would charge; a student outside of a recognized course of study would not be subject to the standard rates negotiated between the education sector and the government. The school would probably have some sort of sticker prices for courses, perhaps designed for foreign students, and the rates might be negotiable.

    • Jon S says:

      At Caltech, general ed requirements include ~5 high level courses in math, 5 in physics, a couple in chemistry, biology, a couple other elective science courses, and 12 broad humanities courses (most of which can be economics or business if you want). Even English majors receive BS degrees, not BA.

      If someone has a Caltech degree, they’ve got a stamp that they passed all of those courses. If someone has a degree from a Liberal Arts university, they’ve got a certificate that they’re the sort of graduate that that university produces – the gen ed requirements help define what sort of person that is.

    • aristides says:

      I work in HR, and when I’m hiring, I completely ignore the what major you have unless it’s a STEM major. General Ed ensures you understand the basic vocabulary of a variety of different things you might encounter on the job, so it’s more useful than high school. A Bachelor’s over an Associate shows me you will unquestionably jump through stupid hoops because someone with status told you to, which is extremely important for employees, and means you have at least done some writing, even if it might not be good quality. Writing samples are too easily faked, unless you want them to write them on spot, which my employer, the government, doesn’t allow.

    • Aftagley says:

      I like Gen Ed, at least how my university implemented it, because it kind of served as a grease trap for people who legitimately didn’t deserve a college degree. Maybe my school was an outlier, but we had an attrition rate of over 40% and a majority of the people who failed out did so as a result of freshman-level chemistry and sophomore physics.

      By the time they get into their major, it’s too late. They could have picked an easy subject, or one so dependent on subjective grading that a soft-hearted professor gives them a C- just to not mess with their lives. I feel like you need some kind of objective measure of academic achievement that’s standardized across the student body in order to legitimize the whole undertaking.

      • JayT says:

        I’m sympathetic to that argument, but it doesn’t really explain why a chemistry major would have to take a history class. Chemistry majors have no shortage of weeder classes, and lower division history classes almost certainly won’t be a weeder for them.

        • johan_larson says:

          What portion of aspiring STEM majors just can’t research and write competent essays to save their lives?

          • Lambert says:

            The ones that quickly fail literature reviews, discussion sections of reports etc.

            (this is almost me. Anyone know how to learn to do academic writing well?)

          • JayT says:

            Well, there’s a reason I didn’t choose the gen ed English classes as my example. As I said above, I do think there is value in making people write a bunch of papers just to improve the student’s communication skills.

            However, my recollection of my gen ed history class (and about 4-5 other gen ed classes) was that I had a bunch of scantron tests, and one paper, and it almost would have taken more work to fail the class than pass.

        • Aftagley says:

          Well, yes, but you can’t just out and say that STEM classes are more challenging/intellectually rigorous than non-STEM classes so you have to pretend like they are all demanding in different ways or your humanities department will get up in arms.

          Everyone just has to then pretend to notice that almost no STEM students fail out as a result of History 101.

          • quanta413 says:

            True, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There is strong variation across classes and departments. A few of the lower division history classes where I went to college were some of the more difficult gen eds. If it had been cranked up to be a little harder or the department classes were uniformly that hard (I don’t know I only took three classes in it), it could have served as a filter. As is, there were seniors from other departments complaining that they were barely avoiding failing one of those classes.

    • Plumber says:

      @theredsheep says:

      “What’s a good argument for having gen ed requirements in higher education?…”

      As part of decades long “temporary staffing emergencies” the Oakland Unified School District hires BA’s and BS’s as teachers without thr teaching credential and I presume that the gen ed classes make for the knowledge to teach general education, in line with our great public school systems ongoing mission to prepare a subset of students to be public school teachers (I think our British readers call them “state schools”.

  11. proyas says:

    In the last Open Thread, we had a good discussion about the Star Wars Empire/First Order’s strategic choices regarding battle fleet composition and decisions to build planet-killing superweapons. Many factors that I hadn’t considered were brought to the fore, as was the simple argument that the Empire/First Order erred because neither was led by rational actors (e.g. – paranoia, megalomania, sadism, and a lack of real military experience lends itself to favoring super-ships and planet killer weapons).

    I’d like us to next consider that, at least in the case of the Empire, focusing on building a top-heavy fleet WAS the rational decision in light of the threat from the Yuuzhan Vong species. I haven’t read the Star Wars books, but from looking at online resources like “Wookiepedia,” I see that in the expanded universe, Emperor Palpatine saw intelligence reports that the Yuuzhan Vong existed, had a powerful military, and were poised to invade the galaxy. Thus, was his decision to build huge space ships and the Death Star actually the correct strategic choice given the fact that the Yuuzhan Vong were a bigger threat to him than the Rebels?

    Additionally, had the Emperor embraced a different strategic vision by canceling the Death Star and all ships bigger than Star Destroyers, and reallocating the resources to making larger numbers of small capital ships and better fighters, and assuming this would have defeated the Rebels or at least rendered them a marginal threat indefinitely, then would the Imperial Fleet had been worse off once the Yuuzhan Vong finally invaded?

    https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Yuuzhan_Vong_War

    • Erusian says:

      I’m not particularly familiar with the Yuuzhan Vong War or tactics or the story. From a brief look, I suspect the Empire has an advantage simply in that the Yuuzhan Vong wanted to perform a sneak attack followed by a rapid blitz. The paranoid, militaristic Empire would have a larger peacetime military force and be more alert to attack. They’d also be more open to harsher tactics. I could see the Empire burning entire systems as it retreated, civilians be damned. I doubt the good guys would do that.

      As to whether it makes sense, if these Yuuzhan Vong are religious fanatics with no ability to retreat or surrender, I’m not sure conventional terror weapons would work. And in particular, a weapon whose primary virtue is its ability to destroy planets for a migratory ship based force seems off. Maybe it was meant to destroy the world ships mentioned? But I can’t think of its advantage over taking the Death Star laser, strapping engines and point defense to it, and having it escorted around by a fleet made with the saved resources.

      The only advantage the Death Star would have is that it would be able to take more fire. And honestly, the fleet of smaller ships could just avoid getting hit in the first place. This is especially true because the laser can fire much farther than conventional weapons: the Death Star destroys multiple capital ships while they cannot return fire in Return of the Jedi.

      The Death Star laser is an eminently practical weapon if it’s sufficiently cheap to produce. The question is why all the other stuff is attached. Like, it should just be space artillery, sitting behind the lines punching holes in the enemy fleet and then wiping out their planets. Why did they attach everything else to it? Like, the US does not expect its artillery pieces to serve as APCs.

      On top of all that, if Palpatine was really secretly preparing for the Yuuzhan Vong… why didn’t he tell anyone? That seems like a massive propaganda coup. “Yes, we’re fascists. But you need us. The Vong are coming to wipe us all out.”

      • theredsheep says:

        Yeah, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense; the YV were created because, after fifteen years of post-ROTJ storylines, everyone was bored with the Empire as a villain. At least, everyone was bored with writing them. Personally, I stopped reading the EU stuff after the Republic-Empire peace treaty at the end of Hand of Thrawn.

        • AG says:

          Tangential, but this brings up a trend I’ve seen in franchise genre fiction: the need to have good narrative tension means that examinations of society will inevitably transition to an ALIEN INVASION!!! storyline.

          Lots of shows begin with a rich society, full of delicious political and social dynamics to explore, revealing and developing all sorts of complex dynamics which can drive many storylines for a few seasons. However, as things go on, our heroes are increasingly positioned to achieve their goals, which would mean resolving the political and social themes that the writers have been enjoying thus far. But you don’t want to hand-wave utopia in a way that will likely be disproven by reality, which would break the immersion of any future audience who knows better, thanks to history. On the other hand, shows that attempt to portray the difficulties of actually ruling well have tended to lose their audience, who mourn the more narratively satisfying days when our heroes were on the rise.

          The current solution favored by most writers seems to be to validate Watchmen, to become Ozymandias: introduce an external enemy for the home stretch. Ohhhh shit, here come the White Walkers! Time for a big climactic battle!

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            A problem Stargate had was they had essentially conquered gods and galaxies after 15 seasons across two shows. The follow-up, Universe, had to cut them off from that, and also play with issues of Earth being top dog and being the one getting their tech stolen and sometimes becoming bullies to their allies. The fans didn’t like it but there was nowhere else to go.

            The IDW Transformers comic book More Than Meets The Eye (iirc) deals with similar issues but the fans and critics seem to love it. There is no Great War, peace has been achieved, but lots of people are having trouble dealing with it. I would not have imagined it as a rich storytelling ground but the trade paperbacks in the series I have picked up have been solid.

          • Evelyn Q. Greene says:

            More Than Meets The Eye was great. They got a lot of mileage out of exploring the trauma gave the characters and the aimlessness caused by its ending (between the wackier sitcom-esque hijinks, anyway). It gets especially good after Megatron joins the ship and becomes an autobot.

      • Statismagician says:

        I think it works better to say, as the old EU did (or at least implied heavily) that the two main jobs of the Imperial Navy were to a) keep the influential core planets from getting any funny ideas, and b) that being necessary, to keep other parts of the Imperial Navy from getting any funny ideas. The Rebel Alliance is a nuisance threat/convenient propaganda tool, which explains why the fleet mix is so heavily biased towards designs which are great for smashing holes in other large warships. The Death Star is the natural evolution of this principle – command-able by a comparatively few loyal officers, and large enough to house enough troops to make sure they stay loyal, plus an irresistible weapon against anything within 12 parsecs hyperdrive range.

        • Erusian says:

          Wouldn’t have one station commandable by a few officers be worse? What happens if those few officers go hunting for Red October?

          • Statismagician says:

            Then either Darth Vader or full army corps of extensively indoctrinated stormtroopers on board has them Force choked/decapitated/shot, depending on specifics – this a reason why you don’t make your Death Star just the superlaser bit.

          • JDG1980 says:

            The second Death Star had a throne room on board. Perhaps the Emperor meant to move there full-time? This would put him in the best possible position to snuff out any dissidence or rebellion among the commanding officers, since he can sense their feelings in a one-on-one meeting (and best of all, they don’t know this). If one did try something, even if they somehow managed to suborn those red-robed praetorian guards, the Emperor himself has formidable abilities in close quarters combat that the mutineers won’t know about unless Vader told them.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s a pretty bare-bones throne room for the emperor of the galaxy, though. I’ve seen corporate offices that were more impressive, if you aren’t too blown away by the bottomless pit in the middle.

          • JPNunez says:

            It’s probably not a throne room, and just some spare storeroom or control room that happens to have an impressive window. Probably only while the construction finishes. Along with a suitable positioned shaft.

      • acymetric says:

        But I can’t think of its advantage over taking the Death Star laser, strapping engines and point defense to it, and having it escorted around by a fleet made with the saved resources.

        I think the answer is that the laser itself is still particularly large. The laser without all the extra fixin’s would still be on the scale of the Death Star in some dimensions, it just wouldn’t need to be a sphere (I mean, it probably didn’t need to be a sphere regardless, but whatever). At that point, when you’re building something that large, making it also a giant self-sufficient space base is probably somewhat practical (once you have accepted that a weapon of that size/power is practical at all).

        • Erusian says:

          That seems unlikely due to geometry. Let’s say the laser is 100 lengths long by 10 lengths high. If the laser is a cone (as it appears to be within the Death Star), it’s 2,600 units cubed. If it’s the diameter of a sphere, that sphere is 524,000 units cubed. That’s two hundred times larger.

          It’s possible all the rest of the Death Star is necessary to fire the laser. But then why is it stuffed with other military assets rather than having every square inch given over to laser control?

          • John Schilling says:

            In what sense is the Death Star “stuffed with” other military assets? I see a faint scattering of defensive gun emplacements on the surface, maybe a few hundred TIE fighters, a long-range tractor beam, and not quite enough Stormtroopers to provide adequate internal security.

          • Erusian says:

            Well, according to this Wookieepedia, it has two million staff on board plus half a million soldiers plus a capacity to store over a billion tons of equipment plus over twenty thousand guns plus tens of thousands of fighters and shuttles. I suppose if someone wants to do the math that might not be much given the size.

          • John Schilling says:

            A: All of that is less than 0.01% of the interior volume of the Death Star, and

            B: “Tens of thousands of fighters”, and they only brought maybe two dozen to bear in the final battle of A New Hope. Pull the other one.

          • Skivverus says:

            Not familiar with the precise size of the Death Star(s), but the smallest moon of Pluto* looks like it has about 500 square miles of surface area; three million people divided into that gets you about 6,000 people per square mile, or about the population density of Rochester, New York. From personal experience, I can attest that Rochester is not particularly crowded.
            I’ll allow that a thousand tons of equipment per capita might crowd things somewhat, but that’s presumably what the lower decks are for.

            *Or second-smallest, but the other candidate’s in the same ballpark

          • Incurian says:

            A: All of that is less than 0.01% of the interior volume of the Death Star, and

            B: “Tens of thousands of fighters”, and they only brought maybe two dozen to bear in the final battle of A New Hope. Pull the other one.

            Karen Traviss forever!

          • albatross11 says:

            They have tens of thousands of TIE fighters, but due to a snafu in Imperial HR, they only managed to get a couple dozen pilots on board.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          The laser without all the extra fixin’s would still be on the scale of the Death Star in some dimensions, it just wouldn’t need to be a sphere

          In EU canon, they were able to make a scaled-down “just the laser” Death Star called the Darksaber. It was only several kilometers long, and was just a cylinder in shape, so it’s a tiny fraction of the Death Star’s size.

          It was destroyed because the laser failed to fire at a critical moment, but the implication was that this was due to inadequate testing and budget components: they had a clone of the original Death Star’s designer, Bevel Lemelisk, running the show, and he at least thought it was a viable project at the beginning

    • baconbits9 says:

      Reading tactics into a fantasy story is, well, kinda silly.

      Consider the original trilogy, widely viewed as the best of the trilogies even if the next movie is unbelievably awesome. In the 3rd movie the emperor lures the rebellion into a trap. He analyses the trap and realizes that the one weakness is if the shield generator for DS2 is disabled, so he adds a layer of protection for that one point. The level of protection? A squad of guards. An entire Imperial fleet at his disposal and he adds what appears to be 20-30 armed guards to that generator. What could be better than that? Well lets say any number of guards > 30. Say 31 up to several million. Or a 2nd shield generator. Or moving DS2 away after he leaked its location.

      Issue #2 is that the Emperor’s plan is to turn Luke to the dark side. Clearly that is his win condition in the movie. What actually happens if Luke kills Vader in that fight and decides that evil really is groovy and what not? Well the Ewoks rebel, the generator is destroyed, and DS2 is destroyed and the Emperor is blown up along with Luke and its a bit of a Pyrrhic victory in all.

      • Plumber says:

        @baconbits9 >

        “…Consider the original trilogy, widely viewed as the best of the trilogies even if the next movie is unbelievably awesome. In the 3rd movie…”

        I saw Star Wars many times as a kid, The Empire Strikes Back I saw a few times as well, I thought both were great!

        I only saw Return of the Jedi once when I was 15 and it disappointed me (stupid greakin’ Viet Cong teddy bears!), I can’t tell though if it was because I was older and jaded, or if it really worse than Star Wars and Empire.

        Has anyone here seen all three at about the same age?

        What did you think?

        • Nornagest says:

          I saw all three of the original trilogy as a child, and at the time I liked Return of the Jedi most — probably because it’s the heaviest on spectacle, although Carrie Fisher in that costume didn’t hurt either. The shine wore off as I got older, though.

        • bullseye says:

          I saw all three for the first time in one sitting, but I wasn’t entirely awake for the last one.

          Rewatching Return of the Jedi, I enjoy trying to figure out Vader’s motives. There are only two Sith at a time, so recruiting Luke means one of them has to die. The Emperor’s goal is straightforward; he wants Luke to kill Vader, which would both pull Luke toward the Dark Side and open up the spot for him. Vader has previously expressed a desire to “rule the galaxy as father and son” which would presumably involve getting rid of the Emperor. But he actually stops Luke from killing the Emperor in a rage, and the Emperor plainly knows that Vader would do that.

          My fan theory is that despair is a Dark Side emotion, and Vader is full of it. He hates his obedience to the Emperor, but he doesn’t feel like he has any choice. Alternatively, the Emperor has a mind control power more subtle than the Mind Trick, and with a different restriction; instead of only working on nameless mooks, it only works on people consumed by the Dark Side.

          • Nornagest says:

            Was the “only two Sith at a time” rule canonized before the prequels?

          • Eric Rall says:

            Was the “only two Sith at a time” rule canonized before the prequels?

            I don’t think it was ever explicitly stated, but it fits both the Emperor’s and Vader’s actions towards Luke: both try to recruit Luke as an apprentice, but in a way that involves the other existing Sith dying. Vader wants Luke to join him and overthrow the Emperor (putting Vader into the “Master” role in the Emperor’s place), while the Emperor wants Luke to kill Vader and take over as his apprentice.

            I don’t know if Lucas had the Rule of Two in mind while writing the original trilogy, though. IIRC, Vader and the Emperor’s actions could be explained simply by Vader wanting the throne for himself, and the Emperor knowing or suspecting as much. Vader needs to recruit Luke (and wants to recruit him, because long-lost-son) because he’s not strong enough to defeat the Emperor by himself. And the Emperor finds Vader too useful to discard without a ready replacement, so he keeps Vader around until he can set up a scenario where Luke would turn to the Dark Side and get rid of Vader at the same time.

          • cassander says:

            You can always read darth vader’s blog

        • baconbits9 says:

          I think the Star Wars universe is just naturally a thin universe, lots of the story telling in the first one was visual (ie big star destroyer chasing a little ship, storm troopers destroy small rebel force, scary big man in black looms over us), and the opening of the second one, though the best movie, is the same. Small plucky rebels are on the run from the big scary empire, despite the fact that the rebels destroyed the main base at the end of episode 1. That pretty much abandons all pretense of a broader universe, the biggest, most dramatic underdog win changed nothing at all and it was going to be a straight up good vs evil story.

          Lucas was a good visual storyteller, not so good on the bad guy character development, space Nazis in Star Wars, literal Nazis by the 3rd Indiana Jones movie. I think that pretty much sums up the failures of the prequels, he tries to write a complexly motivated universe covering all holes with spectacle (we need a massive change in government, quick an impressive shot of the senate and one speech, lots of cheering a pithy remark), and its just not where his strengths lie.

          Following this almost all attempts to expand the universe that aren’t basic good vs evil stories will fail, as there is nothing to build on, and all attempts to explain the lore in these big features are quickly abandoned (midichlorians).

          • cassander says:

            Following this almost all attempts to expand the universe that aren’t basic good vs evil stories will fail, as there is nothing to build on, and all attempts to explain the lore in these big features are quickly abandoned (midichlorians).

            I agree with you on lucas, but disagree on this front. I think if you took someone who was a good writer who cared about building a relatively consistent universe who had some firm ideas about what star wars should be like you could build something there, sort of like how Ronald Moore took the pretty thin scraps that were the klingon empire and built them up into something more interesting over the run of TNG and DS9. the whole EU to cherry pick the best ideas out of, I think you could build up something at least as coherent as the MCU.

            It wouldn’t be lucas’s vision, of course, and of course fans would bitch about how favorite little corner was portrayed, but there would at least be something there, which would be a damn sight better than the hollow flailing we’ve gotten instead.

            I stand by my assertion that they should have made several star wars stories before starting up the episodes again, and used them to test the waters and build a core creative team.

          • JayT says:

            The first Indy movie had Nazis.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Oh yeah, so 2 of the first 3 Indy movies also had Nazi villains.

            @ Cassander- Yes you could make it work, you have just really been written into a corner. There are no bad guys left to fight (or there shouldn’t be), and there are a minimal number of developed side characters to explore. You have the force and you have the dark and the light side and attempts to make that simple concept more complex will need to be very skillfully handled, and without losing your core audience.

          • Nornagest says:

            You can introduce complexity without going hardcore into trade disputes; you just need to do it in such a way that the kids in the audience still see the good guys in robes and the bad guys in scary armor. We already know from the original trilogy that the Jedi aren’t above oversimplifying their little butts off when it serves their purposes; who’s to say they didn’t do that with the nature of the Force?

            Hell, we can even keep the First Order. Just drop the superweapons and make them a little more grounded: say, it’s twenty years on, and the galaxy’s been shattered into a hundred de-facto independent fiefdoms since every local governor and Imperial admiral tried to carve himself out a piece after Palpatine’s fall (the Rebels’ tiny little fleet wasn’t anywhere near capable of stopping them). Now this group of Space neoNazis is making trouble in some of the core systems, but unlike our neoNazis they have a real pitch: they represent order, stability, everything the galaxy hasn’t had for twenty years. On their own they’re a shitty little paramilitary, no better than the old Rebels, but they’ve got drive and organization and they’ve nearly turned the ear of a major regional power. Obviously something needs to be done.

            The New Republic Senate — mostly a rump state, but in effective control of a couple dozen systems — has its hands full with the next election, but there does happen to be one member, a war hero in a safe seat, who’s got a hot-dogging reputation and a husband with a fast ship and who’s desperately bored and frustrated. There’s just one complication: supposedly there’s a preacher involved with the First Order somehow, talking about balance in the Force…

        • JayT says:

          Jedi was by far my favorite when I was growing up, so some of my opinions are probably nostalgia based.

          That said, I think Jedi has the best acting in the series (not that acting is the high part of the series), and it has by far the best special effects. The story is not the strongest, but I think it has some of the best individual scenes. Overall it’s better then any of the Star Wars movies made since then, other than Rogue 1.

          • Nornagest says:

            Some of the individual scenes are very good. But it’s probably the least cohesive Star Wars movie. You can almost describe it as three short films spliced together: one about Jabba’s palace, one about Endor and the assault on the Death Star, and one about Anakin Skywalker’s redemption.

            These three have wildly different tones and wildly different strengths. Arguably they aren’t even the same genre: Jabba is planetary romance, Endor/Death Star is military SF, and Skywalker is space fantasy.

          • JayT says:

            Yeah, that is all fair criticism.

          • acymetric says:

            I’ll add yet another voice that Jedi was my favorite as a kid. As an adult, even though I’m supposed to think Empire is the best one I am partial to A New Hope. I’ve always had a preference for first movies in trilogies though (Batman Begins…other examples that I can’t think of at the moment).

      • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        i think Emperor’s plan was heavily reliant on actually luring rebel fleet to Death Star’s firing range which would require him to appear vulnerable. Otherwise rebels would try to do something else. Thus bringing significant force into the area was out of question.

        This plan worked perfectly, with rebels finding themselves on receiving end of some death starring while their ground forces being thwarted. The only reason Emperor’s plan failed are ewoks which seemed peaceful before they weren’t. Which teaches us all valuable lesson about importance of xenocide but isn’t exactly a condemnation of his original plan.

        • baconbits9 says:

          None of this actually fits the events depicted in the movie. The Emperor claims that he allowed the plans/information to leak, which means he controlled what was leaked, and there is no communication between the landing party on Endor and the fleet that makes the attack, so that landing party could have been wiped out at any time by any number of opponents without alerting the rest of the fleet. Finally the fleet jumps out of hyperspace and figures out it is a trap immediately, and yet the battle commences, again no deep subterfuge needed, no elaborate ruse to get them close to DS2 when by their own admittance the rebels are no match for the star destroyers.

      • albatross11 says:

        Baconbits: +1

        We can start with the elements of Star Wars and come up with a coherent set of laws of physics, limitations on technology, social context and history, etc., and produce internally consistent and interesting stories, but they won’t have anything to do with the actual movies we’ve seen, which were made by people who could not possibly care any less about internal consistency of technology, rules of the universe, characters, economies, etc., as long as they could make lots of big flashy space battles.

        • acymetric says:

          I’ll disagree that they didn’t care about the characters. I’m also not sure it distills quite so simply into “its all about big flashy space battles”. I do agree that they didn’t care much about any of those other things, though (or if they did, they did a terrible job of it).

      • gbdub says:

        But the Emperor sent “an entire legion of his best troops” to guard Endor. Not exactly specified, but presumed to be thousands of soldiers. We see at least one AT-AT, several AT-STs and lots of scout patrols on speeder bikes. Arranged against the roughly platoon strength of light infantry that the shuttle can land, that is certainly overwhelming force.

        The rebels win by gaining temporary local superiority at a geographically isolated “secret entrance” (which exists for reasons unclear), and even that requires a surprise attack by a large indigenous force that scatters the Imperials, and then a lot of luck in the form of Chewie capturing a walker, and then a really dumb Imperial officer opening the otherwise impenetrable bunker doors because Han asked nicely.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The number of troops and support staff for the DS2+the fleet above Endor would be in the millions to tens of millions. At best the Empire committed a fraction of a single percent of their available force to defend their most strategically valuable point for the entire battle, while also allowing a squad of determined terrorists to land on the moon. Oh and the terrorists don’t have to capture and control the base, just disable one of its functions for a period of time. Tactically its moronic (plus little stuff like why was the forest surrounding the base not cleared to prevent cover for guerrilla attacks).

  12. Statismagician says:

    I have just gotten engaged, and soon-to-be-Mrs. Statismagician and I are now beginning the wedding planning process.

    Bluntly, I don’t care about the details of the wedding. My goals for the event are to a) come out of it married to my fiancee, and b) put on an enjoyable celebration of that fact for a couple of hundred people, whatever that might mean. Neither of us are particularly religious (I’m CoE by upbringing and fairly agnostic as an adult, she’s a lower-case-a atheist), and I hadn’t in fact been to a wedding before last year when our friends started getting married (oldest cousin of a smallish family), while she got the usual blast of wedding-focused media and family obligations growing up and so is more attached to the “traditional*” American wedding.

    In theory, I’m fine with that – it doesn’t matter one way or the other to me, why not let the person with the preferences take the lead? – but the more we look at prices for things, the more I’m wondering about the cost/benefit of this event. I’m morally certain that largish events happen all the time for quite a bit less than weddings apparently cost. My questions are:

    1) Am I actually right that weddings are much more expensive than other events for a similar number of people?
    2) Does anybody know why this might be? Obviously [market forces], but where specifically is the difference coming from?
    3) Any cost-control tips for large events generally or weddings in particular?

    Thanks in advance!

    *Essentially all of which was made up in the mid-1900s by the people who sell wedding supplies, but w/e.

    • Randy M says:

      Congrats!

      2) Does anybody know why this might be? Obviously [market forces], but where specifically is the difference coming from?

      Your corporate HR rep or local charity event coordinator has not fantasized about the party they are hosting since they were five. It’s the same reason caskets are pricey.

      3) Any cost-control tips for large events generally or weddings in particular?

      If you can have services done as gifts, that’s helpful, like was the case with our cake, invitations, decorating, photography, and (I think) catering. Depending on your local connection, this may be less feasible.

      It would be nice if couples could plan weddings before they got engaged; I suspect the process can reveal a lot about a partner’s character.

      • Aftagley says:

        Your corporate HR rep or local charity event coordinator has not fantasized about the party they are hosting since they were five. It’s the same reason caskets are pricey.

        Who’s been fantasizing about having a dope-ass casket?

        • quanta413 says:

          For some reason, my family refuses to listen to any of my ideas about burial at sea by burning a boat or taxidermy so I can stick around watching.

          I’ll probably eventually get bargained down to dope casket, as it’s more and more clear none of my cooler dreams will be allowed.

          • cassander says:

            My dad likes to say that when my mom and he were dating, she loved it when they went out on the boat together, when they got married, she loved it when he went out on boat, and when they had kids she loved it when he sold the boat.

            They’ve retired now and live on a river. He’s thinking about trying to get another boat, and if he does, I have no doubt that she’d be fine with it going when he does.

        • Lambert says:

          I figure i’ll make my own once I’m better at woodworking.
          With a big spring under my back in case of grave robbers.

          Burial at sea is a bit old-fashioned. What’s half your weight times (11km/s)^2?

          • John Schilling says:

            Wimp. For a true Space Viking funeral, you need an Orion drive with a supercharge at the end of the burn. The radioactive crater at the launch site is your cenotaph.

        • Randy M says:

          Your stoic type men who are into wood-working. Ron Swanson, Hank Hill, etc.

          Okay, maybe that paragraph could have used some rearranging; point being, it’s an emotional time where people often believe, and are told, that thinking about the price sullies the affair.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Congratulations!

      1) Am I actually right that weddings are much more expensive than other events for a similar number of people?

      They can be, but they don’t have to be. Much of what can drive the cost of weddings above the cost of similarly-scoped events is that people are much more likely to opt for premium options for a wedding.

      3) Any cost-control tips for large events generally or weddings in particular?

      My wife and I got married at a full-service wedding venue (Westwood at Eagle Ridge, in Gilroy, CA), and I highly recommend it. The price for their basic package was very reasonable, and they had a decent selection of a la carte premium add-ons. Our wedding planning was a lot lower-stress than what I’ve seen friends and family members deal with when they’re booking each service (venue, catering, cake, music, flowers and decorations, setup/teardown, photographers, etc) separately. The full-service venue is both a single point of contact for most of the services, and there’s a lot less opportunity for things to go off the rails because the venue and their subcontractors are used to working with each other and have already worked out the rough patches.

      Other cost-control tips:
      – Keep the guest list on the smaller side. Many of the costs scale roughly linearly with guest count.

      – Consider booking the ceremony for a weeknight, if this wouldn’t inconvenience yourselves and your guests excessively. There’s often a discount from the venue because there’s less demand for weeknight events.

      – Since neither of you is religious, have one of your friends perform the ceremony rather than hiring an officiant.

    • bean says:

      Congratulations!

      I went through this a couple months ago, and while I didn’t get the worst of it, it wasn’t a fun process for my now-wife. The short version is that there’s a substantial wedding tax on most things, and it usually doesn’t come with good customer service. Beyond that, I don’t have much to add to what Randy and Eric have said. Volunteer/gift/friend labor can be really nice if you have it, but you’re going to be more stressed and busier than you think, so make sure that there are people around who can take care of stuff for you.

    • hls2003 says:

      1) Am I actually right that weddings are much more expensive than other events for a similar number of people?

      Yes and no. Yes, they tend to be more expensive, but that’s usually related to the stuff that is not similar to other events with a comparable number of people. Just for example, if you throw a Christmas party for 200 guests, you’re usually not going to print custom invitations, hire a professional photographer, spend thousands on flower arrangements, or have a specialty three-foot cake. At a wedding you do. But any similarly sized party is going to also be extremely expensive. The bulk of the expense for any wedding or similar party is usually the venue; and most venues have a basic “venue package” where you can book the venue only if you pledge to spend a minimum ($10,000 or $20,000 or whatever) and in return they’ll give you [venue alone] or [venue plus food] or [venue plus food plus booze] or whatever tier package you select. The prices will generally be the same for a wedding, a big birthday bash, or a corporate retreat – it’s just that most people will only ever have a fully catered party for hundreds of people at their wedding.

      That being said, there are two basic paths to cut your costs. The first is to “go where the money is” and attack the venue price. You could, theoretically, rent a tent and do an outdoor wedding at some place that is less expensive (e.g. public park if they permit it, someone’s home, etc.). Those are still pricey but less than a brick-and-mortar venue, and you then usually provide the catering a la carte and can shop around instead of having “one price packaging” required to rent a normal party venue. There are other ways to save on venue cost and they’re usually related to doing stuff yourself and/or a la carte, as much as possible divorcing the venue from the usual all-inclusive cost. Barbecue instead of cater. Etc. The second path is to try to save on the “non-venue” distinctions as much as possible. Good photographers cost thousands, and in my opinion are worth it, but it may not be to you. Nowadays everyone has smart phones; you could ask amateur friends to take photos for the ceremony, maybe ask everyone to take reception pics and upload to a Web site or something for you. Flowers are really expensive; you could get them at wholesale and do the arranging yourself. It’s time-consuming but if you have grandmothers or similar retired creative types, they might enjoy it. Instead of a single wedding cake, just get individual cakes for guests. Get a friend to DJ. Stuff like that.

      Wedding dresses are one area where I think you might be right, they’re just more expensive than their non-wedding counterparts. See if your fiancee can save money by finding a dress at a non-wedding shop.

      But it’s true that if your fiancee is looking forward to something she would recognize as an “American style traditional wedding” then you’re going to have trouble staying below a certain amount, since several of the suggestions above counter those expectations (cocktails, plated dinner, rich decorations).

      ETA: Also, congratulations!

      • Eric Rall says:

        most venues have a basic “venue package” where you can book the venue only if you pledge to spend a minimum ($10,000 or $20,000 or whatever) and in return they’ll give you [venue alone] or [venue plus food] or [venue plus food plus booze] or whatever tier package you select.

        Our venue had something like this, which was part of why it was so advantageous for us to book our ceremony on a Monday evening rather than the more popular weekend timeslots: the minimum was something like $10-15k for the weekend timeslots, but only $4500 for Monday afternoon/evening. That’s in addition to a percentage discount (I think it was 10 or 20%) to all the packages and a la carte items for booking on a weekday.

        Good photographers cost thousands, and in my opinion are worth it, but it may not be to you.

        Agreed. We booked professional photographers, and they did an absolutely fantastic job, but they charged accordingly and wound up being about 25% of our total budget.

        Wedding dresses are one area where I think you might be right, they’re just more expensive than their non-wedding counterparts. See if your fiancee can save money by finding a dress at a non-wedding shop.

        Also agreed. My wife found a white formal dress (that looks great on her, and is wedding-dress-like in style) on clearance for less than a tenth of what a “wedding dress” would have cost.

        • Anthony says:

          My first marriage, we did something like the traditional wedding. My second marriage, we had a very small ceremony first, then threw a couple of receptions – one where we and my family live, and one where her family live.

          For all three receptions, at least partly to save money, we went for nice but not gorgeous venues, where catering by the venue was not required. One was in a regional park building, where catering was not even offered. One was her family’s church’s hall.

    • JayT says:

      My experience is that as soon as you mention the “W” word, prices double. I was lucky/unlucky in that my wife had family with a very nice estate they let us use for free, but that also meant that all the vendors saw where we were getting married and assumed we would be spending a ton on everything else.

      You can have a wedding for cheap, but it probably won’t be the picture book American wedding. The biggest expense you could get rid of is the by having family do the catering. If you want a restaurant-style served meal though, I’d expect to pay at least $150/guest.

      • Ketil says:

        If you want a restaurant-style served meal though, I’d expect to pay at least $150/guest.

        Our alternative, since we were on a budget and already had a venue with kitchen facilities, was to hire a chef (and maybe an assistant or two) directly to do the cooking. This drastically reduced the marginal guest cost. I general, I expect package deals to be more expensive the more services are included, and if you (or your parents, I think many will be eager to contribute) can put in some work organizing things, you can save a lot without sacrficing quality.

      • JohnBuridan says:

        Our wedding’s total cost for everything from dress to venues, to food was 20k. We had 200 guests.

    • ” Does anybody know why this might be? Obviously [market forces], but where specifically is the difference coming from?”

      Anytime you have a market where the fixed costs are high relative to the unit costs and you can’t buy and resell the product, you’re going to get price discrimination. This is because it makes sense to give discounts to cheapskates who wouldn’t otherwise buy the product as selling an additional unit of product will increase your profit. It’s why cell phone service is provided for pennies on the dollar to the poor in Africa, and why prostitutes almost always negotiate individual prices with clients.

      I haven’t tried any of these nor seen them work for anyone else, it’s just my initial thoughts as an evil robot who could summon the collaboration of others as required:

      1. Get friends or family members to volunteer to provide a place to hold it, food, photography, ect. If challenged try to guilt trip by saying the family members really want to do it and would be crushed if they can’t.
      2. To the extent possible, avoid telling the people you’re buying services from that it’s for a wedding. You could get creative with this, for instance, you could have your mom order the catering for a random event, then when the company arrives apologize profusely and claim your mom didn’t say it was a wedding because she’s mad at you for marrying outside your supposed ethnic group. Or you could order a giant cake that looks like a wedding cake but isn’t really one for your special needs daughter.
      3. Is your family poor relative to your current income? If so, you could use it as an excuse not to spend too much money, you don’t want to seem like you’re rubbing your success in their faces.
      4. Wear worn out clothes and lie about your occupation when ordering things. If you’re of recent immigrant origin, appeal to the hardworking but tightwad immigrant stereotype. Some service providers try to avoid discussion of price, so bring along your elderly with hard-of-hearing or non-English speaking relative, act as their “interpreter,” and them respond to every question with “I’m sorry, but he wants to know about the price.”

    • bullseye says:

      I’ve read that you can save money by not telling the people you’re hiring that it’s a wedding. I’ve also read that they might walk out in that situation; screwing up a wedding is a big deal, and they don’t want to deal with that stress without the wedding premium.

      Two of my “brothers” had a super-cheap wedding at the frat house, but your fiance might not go for that.

    • ECD says:

      Someone I know was having some issues, mostly with the in-laws, on wedding size and cost, so they decided to have a surprise wedding during the time when the families were getting together for some photos and a ‘meet-the-in-laws’ brunch. It took less time than the photos would and provided a straightforward explanation for keeping it small (have to, to maintain surprise). Now, it meant they didn’t do the whole registry, big pile of gifts thing, but it worked out quite well.

    • DragonMilk says:

      I just got married in August and planned the whole wedding

      1) Assuming it’s the US, yes.
      2) Venues charge more for weddings because they can. I blame the tradition of bride’s family paying. Girls tend to get emotionally attached to wanting something on their special day and creates a rather inelastic demand curve.
      3) Talk to her about what she absolutely wants. My wife wanted everything pretty. Narrow it down. I focused on good food.

      Frankly, think of it as a write-off of a one-time marketing expense. Invest in a good photographer because that’s what lasts for the long term.

    • AKL says:

      Unless you do something really untraditional you will at a minimum need to provide a venue, food and drink, and music. We rented a restaurant on a Sunday of a long weekend (cheaper than a random Friday or Saturday night). They provided food, alcohol, the venue, and an event coordinator for a fixed fee. That was about half of our budget.

      The other half of our budget went to things that are totally negotiable. You (both, collectively) will likely care a lot about some of these things and not care a lot about others. Don’t spend money on what you don’t care about. You can easily spend (or not spend) thousands of dollars on each of these line items, or get materially the same thing for a hundred dollars or free.

      Custom wedding cake vs. Costco sheet cake
      Custom save the dates & invitations vs. [however you would invite people to a normal party]
      Wedding dress / new suit or tux vs. [whatever]
      Videographer vs. photographer vs. friends with smartphones
      Custom flower arrangements vs. no flowers or Dad’s garden cuttings
      Band vs. DJ vs. playlist and rented PA system
      Plated dinner vs. buffet
      Full open bar vs. beer & wine vs. cash bar
      Rehearsal dinner vs. backyard BBQ

      We spent money on: food, alcohol, photographer, and clothes, and saved money on invitations, cake, flowers, DJ, and rehearsal dinner. We spent a LOT of time on the playlist though and went overboard on a fancy PA system (which was still like $300 for the night or something relatively low).

    • CatCube says:

      I don’t have much for a wedding, per se, but I did do some planning for a military ball that used a wedding venue. This was a little different because we have to sell tickets to cover the cost, but some things will carry over. The things that won’t are that we weren’t nearly as driven by emotion about what it “should” be, which allowed more room for negotiation.

      Something that really helped: have a spreadsheet set up to spit out final costs. You’re going to have fixed costs that don’t much change (venue, dance floor, DJ, etc.), and variable costs that change per attendee (food is probably the biggest, but table rentals, centerpieces, etc. are some others). Depending on your venue, you may have a minimum. For example, the ballroom we used had a price per meal and a price per wine bottle with a $15,000 minimum. That is, if you bought enough food and wine to cover $15,000, you paid the food & beverage costs; otherwise, you paid $15,000. With judicious use of the MIN() function, you can start to get a handle on exactly what effect various changes had on how much things were really going to cost. If you have a spreadsheet set up like this, you can then change inputs to see what the final bottom line will be. In my case, it would output a final ticket price, where yours would probably be the total cost.

      This allows you to explore various options. Start with the average fixed costs for things like venue, DJ, etc., from your research, plus the average cost per plate from some caterers (or the venue, if full service). I’d start with assuming 8-top tables, with a bottle of red and white wine per table, and a rough guess of your guest count. Depending on how “fancy” your event will be and how crafty your friends, family, and fiancée are, I’d start with may $15 per centerpiece (not very fancy). Set the spreadsheet to figure out the total food cost, as well as the number of tables (don’t forget the CEILING()), and then you can get a cost for wine, table & chair rentals, centerpieces, etc. One thing I didn’t have to contend with was an open bar, but you’ll also need to figure that out (we just rented the bar space, and it was a cash bar for attendees).

      This will give you a total cost, which will probably make your eyes pop. You can then discuss, say, cutting the food budget by $5 per plate, or a cheaper venue, and see how that changes the bottom line. It will also allow you to see about fancier food/table wine vs. number of people, as I suspect that catering will be a bigger portion than you expect. Once you have this, you can sit with your fiancée (and her parents, if they’re paying) and make tradeoffs while seeing the results immediately. This can help you hone in on what you care less about and start either reducing the budget or zeroing it out.

    • SamChevre says:

      The expense of a wedding is driven by venue costs. There are a lot of options for cheap venues.

      First and most obvious, a church of which you are a member. Find a nearby Anglican (whatever it’s called in your country) church that has a social hall, attend for 6 months and give $50 a week, and you can probably have your wedding there for under $1000 for the venue.

      Second, a venue that is available for rent that isn’t primarily a wedding/corporate event venue. Older social clubs (Elks, Oddfellows, Knights of Columbus, etc) often have halls that can be rented much more cheaply than a real wedding venue. State parks, colleges, city parks if you are in a city with park buildings…

      The other thing is to get friends to do things that a really good amateur can do almost as well as a professional. Cellphone pictures are one thing, but a lot of serious amateur photographers can take near-professional photos–do you have a friend who’s a photographer and would be honored to be asked to take the official pictures? Similarly for wedding cakes, flower arrangements, dresses, reception food..

      (For context, there were about 200 people at my wedding; we spent under $10 a person. The wedding rings, and a plane ticket for my brother, cost almost as much as the reception. On the other hand, I did most of the cooking, which I don’t figure most people want to do.)

    • Etoile says:

      Congratulations! A few comments from my experience:
      -With regards to a ceremony, I personally think that the Church of England or other classic vows are the best, better than trying to write your own. We wrote our own, and they were nice, and it made sense for us (we came from much more different traditions); but all of the “in sickness and in health” stuff has a ring to it that is hard to recreate.
      -With regards to costs: you may save on alcohol if you keep it to beer and wine and provide your own, which the venue serves. Obviously different venues will or won’t let you do this. Also, we ditched the cake in favor of nice but normal-sized cakes in the plural.
      -Let the wedding party sit with the other guests; have a table for you two separately, rather than a “wedding party” table – especially if your bridesmaids and groomsmen have their own significant others who attend.
      -If you just pay some guy with a camera to do your photos – rather than a Photographer – you will likely get what you pay for.

    • Statismagician says:

      Thanks for the good wishes and the advice, everyone!

  13. disluckyperson says:

    I have a question about the Medicare for All debates. One of the biggest cost savings of Medicare for All, according to its proponents, will be on administrative costs. The multiplicity of insurers, with their different rules and prices creates the necessity for a huge bureaucracy, both on the insurer end, and the provider end. If there is only one insurer, with one set of rules, the administrative aspect will be much easier. Implicit in this proposal is the assumption that there is no advantage at all to having competition among the insurers, and even the insurers themselves lose out by bearing the burden of these useless administrative costs.

    My question is as follows: If this is such a huge cost saving, how come the insurance companies haven’t figured it out yet? Doesn’t this idea represent a gigantic cut in operating expense that could boost profits? There are a few ways this could happen:

    A. Why can’t the big insurance companies consolidate and form one mega insurance company, covering the whole country? This should have the same administrative cost saving effect as the proposed Medicare for All, and everybody gains. My understanding is that anti-trust laws do not apply to insurance companies, so there should be no legal problem.

    B. Even if this cannot happen, why can’t the various companies collude to standardize their rules and payments, achieving the same effect?

    C. Even if these cannot happen, we already have an example of a private, self-contained, single payer system, called Kaiser Permanente. I understand that they have their own exclusive network of doctors and hospitals. Therefore, for them, this administrative multiplicity should not exist. Surely they must have attained the savings that Medicare for All advocates are proposing. Is it true that Kaiser Permanente is much cheaper than other networks of health care, using other insurance companies? Have their costs fell to the level of single payer countries? If so, then why hasn’t everybody flocked to them by now? Why are the other insurance companies still in business? And if they are not much cheaper, why not?

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      There are standardized billing codes. CPT. ICD-10. I think these are the same billing codes that Medicare/Medical uses, having been promulgated by CMS.

    • Well... says:

      companies consolidate and form one mega […] company, covering the whole country

      Boy, that has a nice ring to it.

      • albatross11 says:

        This makes it clear what to expect: the benevolence and caring of vast corporate empires combined with the responsiveness and agility of huge government bureaucracies.

    • Statismagician says:

      A) is regulatory, not legal – insurance mergers require Federal and state regulatory approval, which are often not granted for reasons which make this fact essentially a de facto extension of antitrust laws to insurance.

      B) doesn’t work because it’s in no company’s interest to do this, and also if they did Commerce would probably sue them for anti-competitive practices.

      C) is complicated and deserves a better response than I have time to give.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Is it true that Kaiser Permanente is much cheaper than other networks of health care, using other insurance companies?

      Judging by the copayments my current and recent employers require/have-required for employees who opt for the Aetna/Premera/BlueCross PPO insurance coverage instead of Kaiser, yes, they’re significantly cheaper, at least compared to large-group PPO coverage.

      I suspect that more of Kaiser’s savings come from gatekeeping of expensive tests and procedures than from administrative savings. This suspicion is based mainly on a number of anecdotal reports from my friends and family members who have had Kaiser coverage in the past.

      Have their costs fell to the level of single payer countries?

      I’m pretty sure they haven’t: the Kaiser vs PPO price differences I’ve seen aren’t anywhere near the scale of US vs Single Payer Country price differences. Kaiser has two big advantages in common with Single Payer: a single administrative framework for billing, and near-total gatekeeping control over covered procedures. But there are also advantages Kaiser lacks that Single Payer countries have:
      1. Control of salaries for doctors and nurses. In a Single Payer country, if you’re a health care provider and you don’t like what your country’s willing to pay you, your choices are to suck it up, change careers, or emigrate. But Kaiser has to deal with doctors and nurses who have the option of working for any number of non-Kaiser hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

      2. Control of drug and equipment prices. Kaiser has similar leverage to other big insurance providers, but Single Payer countries have the additional leverage of “If you don’t take our prices, you can’t sell to our country at all” and “If you don’t take our prices, we’ll nationalize your patent and license it to someone else”.

      3. Health care regulators and insurance administrators in Single Payer countries work for the same boss who has reasonably strong incentives to keep regulations from unreasonably driving expenses. Those incentives are weaker for the State and Federal agencies whose regulations Kaiser must comply with.

      If so, then why hasn’t everybody flocked to them by now? Why are the other insurance companies still in business?

      A bit part of why many people (myself included) pay extra for PPO plans instead of Kaiser is the perception I mentioned earlier that Kaiser gatekeeps tests and procedures more aggressively than PPOs. In part, I want the option of a higher standard of care even if the benefit is likely to be marginal. I also loathe the personal administrative burden of jumping through gatekeeping hoops, and it’s worth some extra money to me to not have to worry about that as much.

      • JayT says:

        In my experience with Kaiser, there are actually fewer hoops to jump through to get treatment or tests. That said, I’m in generally good health, and the kinds of treatments and tests I’ve had have been for pretty routine things, like checking if it’s a badly sprained ankle, or broken. If you had some unusual disease, I suspect they are much harder to work with. Though, that is the same complaint I’ve always heard (and witnessed) with single payer systems, and that’s one of the main reasons a lot of people in the US don’t want that type of system.

        • Eric Rall says:

          From what I hear, Kaiser seems to optimize their experience for people who are generally healthy and people who just have common, well-understood ailments to manage. All the horror stories I’ve heard have involved unusual diseases/disorders that Kaiser kept trying to interpret and treat as something more routine.

          • Anthony says:

            It’s not really a horror story, but trying to get talk-therapy mental health services from Kaiser is really kind of a shit-show. You’re lucky to get appointments more frequently than every four weeks if you’re not a clear danger to yourself. Consistency of therapists is also sometimes a problem.

            But I don’t think it’s any better with other health coverage, and it’s not even that easy (in the East Bay) if you’re a cash customer.

      • disluckyperson says:

        I generally agree with your answer. In #2, you say “Single Payer countries have the additional leverage of ‘If you don’t take our prices, you can’t sell to our country at all'”. I don’t see why this can’t work with Kaiser (or any other health insurance company). They should also be able to say “If you don’t take our prices, we won’t pay for your drugs at all”. After all, it works for countries with smaller populations than some of these health insurers. However, your next line would answer that “If you don’t take our prices, we’ll nationalize your patent and license it to someone else”, which would certainly not work with health insurers.

        • Eric Rall says:

          I don’t see why this can’t work with Kaiser (or any other health insurance company). They should also be able to say “If you don’t take our prices, we won’t pay for your drugs at all”. After all, it works for countries with smaller populations than some of these health insurers.

          The main difference is that Kaiser’s threat to do that is less credible. If Kaiser follows through with that threat too often, they risk losing customers to competitors next open enrollment period. A single-payer country’s “customers” are locked in by law, and can only avoid paying their “premiums” by emigrating or by committing tax fraud.

          • disluckyperson says:

            So basically, the only way a national system lowers drug costs is by taking their own customers hostage “You don’t give me a 50% discount, then Johnny here doesn’t get his heart medicine, and we won’t let him switch insurance, so he will die and you will get no money”. That wouldn’t be a great way to sell Medicare for All to the public, but you can’t deny that it works!

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s not so much Johnny’s heart medicine that he’ll die without, as Johnny’s mother’s antianxiety medicine that the nice doctor on TV says is the only brand that will save her from being super anxious all the time and that she will be super anxious if her HMO doesn’t pay for. Or, if it is Johnny’s heart medicine, it’s usually not the heart medicine that he will actually die without, but the specific brand of heart medicine that the doctor recommends and therefore Johnny’s mother will anxiously believe her son will die if he doesn’t get.

            Hyperanxious parents don’t inspire nearly as much sympathy as dead children, but they get the pharma companys’ point across.

          • Lambert says:

            If Johnny’s sufficiently middle-class, and he’s in a system with both nationalised and private healthcare, he can always go to a private practise for his fancy stuff.

            In the UK, it’s not terribly uncommon for umc people to supplement their NHS care with a bit of private stuff. I have innately bad teeth so I go to a private dentist. My taxes will still go to towards NHS dentistry, which I don’t use. But I don’t object to that.

            But I think the US has managed to mung itself into a weird path-dependant situation where something sensible like that willl never fly politically.

          • albatross11 says:

            We already have a program for poor people to get medical care, called Medicaid. It’s not very well-funded and I gather it’s hard to get doctors to accept Medicaid patients because of the low re-embursement rates, but it exists.

            It has always seemed to me that a very simple health care reform would be to extend eligibility for Medicaid to every citizen. People with private insurance can keep it, everything else keeps working as before, but there’s an option to take bottom-tier government-provided health insurance if you need it.

          • albatross11 says:

            disluckyperson:

            Sure, but the only way a drug company raises drug costs is also to take their own customers hostage, right? Give me a 50% increase or you don’t get your heart medicine. You can frame this as a heartless government bureaucracy or a heartless greedy corporation, depending on how you’re trying to spin the argument.

            Ideally, we’d like to keep incentivizing drug companies to invent new useful drugs, without letting them game the system to charge hundreds of dollars for stuff that used to cost $20, and without letting them simply demand an unlimited amount of money. We absolutely have to negotiate with drug companies, or they’ll just be able to demand all our money.

        • disluckyperson says:

          Trying to respond to albatross11. Yes, I agree everything can be framed in a good or evil way. I think the point that Eric Rall is making is that Kaiser does’t have the same bargaining power as the NHS because its customers clearly don’t want that. If Kaiser starts demanding the same prices the NHS does and encounters trouble (as the NHS sometimes does), its customers are not forced to stick with it through the most trying times. And they won’t. The NHS has a captive customer base. If it encounters trouble negotiating, and is not able to obtain a medication, its customers cannot switch.

          Suppose Kaiser made a 20-year contract with its customers requiring them never to switch, no matter what happens. Such a contract would no doubt be deemed exploitative in the extreme, and probably illegal as well (I’m not a lawyer so correct me if I’m wrong). But if Kaiser was able to pull that off, it would be able to “negotiate” in the same way the NHS “negotiates”.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            The NHS has a captive customer base. If it encounters trouble negotiating, and is not able to obtain a medication, its customers cannot switch.

            This isn’t true though. Private healthcare exists in the UK, around 10% of the population are privately insured.

          • disluckyperson says:

            Responding to thisheavenlyconjugation. If you are right, then Eric Rall is wrong.

            It just brings me back to the original question I asked Eric Rall. How does state provided insurance have more negotiating power with multi-national pharma companies than private insurance, in a world where under either system, people could switch insurance? (which is what you allege is the case with the NHS)

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Well, you can’t switch provider in that you still have to pay taxes that fund the NHS even if you have private insurance (although you can sometimes get halfway there with insurance companies that will reimburse you if you opt for NHS treatment). But there’s no “if” or “allege” in terms of whether or not private insurance exists, as a quick Google will confirm that it does.

    • sharper13 says:

      Unless Medicare-For-All is also going to run every single Doctor’s office and Hospital and Lab, they’re still going to require pretty much all the same administrative paperwork. The Medicare-for-all plans I’ve seen don’t include an entire industry takeover, so they’re unlikely to eliminate that. Also, it’s not like the VA has a reputation for reduced administrative costs, even though they run about a third of their service providers directly.

      Per person, Medicare already has slightly higher administration costs than private insurance (even after using the SSA for the enrollment/tracking side of everything for “free”), but they’re lower as a percentage because of the huge medical bills senior citizens rack up. So that percentage is not necessarily going to translate straight-over to a completely different coverage population.

      In terms of just profit, private health insurance companies range from 4-5%, about half or a quarter (depending on who you believe) of the extra Medicare loses to fraud (which they don’t count as Administrative costs, although working to save money by preventing fraud does count as Administrative costs), so you wouldn’t even save money there.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      From my understanding, Kaiser Permanente is just your typical HMO. Americans do not like HMOs. They made a movie of Denzel Washington going to a hospital, holding everyone hostage, and threatening to shoot people. He was the good guy, because he was fighting a HMO.

      HMOs are cheaper but they are definite draw-backs. The major health care networks that try to operate as HMOs typically have to ration care. When I had sudden hearing loss, my substitute primary care physician incorrectly diagnosed it as “allergies” and when I tried to book an appointment with a hearing specialist through the healthcare network, they wouldn’t see me for weeks. A non-network doctor took me the next day, correctly diagnosed the ailment, and started me on a shotgun therapy, which is the correct standard of care. This likely preserved about half of my hearing.

      Repeat for any out of the ordinary illness, and good luck getting prior auths for certain medications.

      Also, do you live near the Kaiser health-care providers? We are enrolling back into a HMO network next year, run by a decent health-care network. However, their nearest pediatrician is 30 minutes away, which is going to be real fun when it’s a blizzard and you need to take Baby in for her shots. Much easier to have a PPO that lets you go to a much wider range of doctors, like the one that’s 5 minutes away.

      Finally, I don’t know how the hell they figure Medicare is so damn good at administration. Or Medicaid. I dealt with these systems. They are the most god-awful poorly run systems I’ve ever fucking seen, and in my factory I’ve seen someone use a jalapeno can to stop airflow because he was too lazy to fix a damper. I guess on a percentage basis they might be good, because they pay for every damn old person’s every single ailment, so they run up HUGE bills.

      • Anthony says:

        The main difference between Kaiser and other HMOs is that Kaiser is an insurance company, a medical group, and a hospital chain. With a non-Kaiser HMO, I go to a doctor, who sends me to a lab two miles away for tests, and to a specialist in another part of town who doesn’t have any appointments until next week if I’m lucky, and then I go to a drugstore to get my pills. With Kaiser, the lab is downstairs, the specialist is in the same building, and often there’s one available the same day instead of next week, and the pharmacy is *also* in the same building. And I can go online to have refills mailed to me.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          There is good (not complete, but good) evidence that having doctors on salary instead of pay-per-service results in better care at better cost. But someone has to absorb the risk of unlucky patients, and only a large group like Kaiser can do that.

          • Garrett says:

            The flip-side is that you have to balance the institutional goals with the patient and provider goals.

            Most doctors I know would love nothing more than to be able to sit down and spend an hour or so with a patient to address all of their needs and concerns, with charting separately. But you can’t run a decent healthcare facility where your primary care doctors only see 6 patients a day. So you need some kind of incentive for doctors to balance their preferences against a functional medical system. But doing so by dictate is going to be a problem, too.

            It’s much akin our previous conversations about software engineers preferring to re-write everything from scratch rather than to have to work with an unfamiliar legacy codebase. Absent business incentives, it’s all going to be rewriting followed by discarding due to boredom.

    • AKL says:

      One of the biggest cost savings of Medicare for All, according to its proponents, will be on administrative costs.

      To the extent that people are making this claim, they are wrong.

      Big picture, a single-payer system can be cheaper because that single payer has more power in price negotiations than any individual insurer. Today, each of the ~500 insurance companies negotiates with each of the ~500 hospital systems (and pharmaceutical companies, and lab companies, and … … …) over the price for essentially every service and device. In markets (cities) where a single insurance company is dominant (very rare) they can negotiate lower prices because the local hospitals, doctors, etc. cannot afford to lose the business of, say, 3/4 of the local patient population. But that situation is exceedingly rare. More typically, negotiating power is skewed towards the providers. Most markets will have one or two dominant hospital systems but a dozen or so insurance companies. The hospital systems don’t need to lower prices because the insurance companies have no alternative, and the losing 5% of the customer base represented by any one insurance company is just not a huge deal.

      Contrast this with a single payer model. Where one “insurance company” represents all the patients, hospitals and providers have essentially no leverage in price negotiations. They can either accept the prices offered by the insurance company, attempt to accept only cash-payments only, or go out of business. Realistically, the affect of this will be lower salaries all around for providers (doctors, nurses, etc.), lower profits for hospitals and health systems, less capital spending on the latest and greatest medical technology, less R&D spending, and lower costs for patients.

      Interestingly, Medicaid kinda/sorta works this way. Medicaid reimburses providers at the lowest rate they have negotiated independently with any other payer. So the government is not ‘mandating’ prices or negotiating as a single payer, but instead just saying “we get the best price you’ve proven you’re willing to offer.” So to get a very rough idea of potential savings from Medicare for All, one way would be to look at the per-capita cost of Medicaid.

      ETA: One interesting policy idea is allowing individuals to buy in to their state Medicaid programs.

      • Statismagician says:

        I don’t agree with this. There are entire departments on the provider side dedicated to arguing with insurers about [stuff], and vice-versa. I know this because I’ve worked for both sides, and there are absolutely significant* savings to be made by centralizing the arguing-about-insurance chunk of things under CMS or whoever.

        Moreover, health insurance is a purely parasitic industry**. I work for a health insurer at the moment. We aren’t doing anything that couldn’t be done more efficiently at the state or national level; this is an unavoidable consequence of how risk pools work in a world where we can’t deny coverage to people for pre-existing conditions. Whether or not it actually would be done more efficiently is an entirely separate question, and one worth looking at very critically, but the status-quo is… not great.

        *Not, like, gigantic or anything, but you know what they say about a million here, a million there…

        **Our only net value contributions are capital (the government has more) and negotiating power ([Universal Plan Here] would have more, as would CMS if they weren’t prohibited from negotiating properly by statute).

        • disluckyperson says:

          Based on what you are saying, and what Eric Rall said above, it seems like there would definitely be savings if the whole country switched to a Kaiser-type system. But Eric Rall also mentioned that the savings are not that much, and that many people prefer to pay a little extra for the more administratively intensive insurers and providers, because of alleged disadvantages with Kaiser. Would those disadvantages (gatekeeping, etc) disappear under a state-run system?

          • Statismagician says:

            Revealed preference doesn’t work when demand is inelastic. Nobody is making a rational free choice of insurer; you take a) the government one you’re allowed into (the VA, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.), or b) the one your employer offers, or c) the marketplace plan which covers the things you expect to need in the coming year, which you d.1) can’t usefully predict, because [accidents and new diagnoses], and d.2) is subject to significant regulatory oversight in the first place – there’s all sorts of things every insurance plan is required to cover whether you think you need them or not.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            People also get their health care on a tax-preferred basis.

          • Anthony says:

            @Statismagician – in California, many large employers offer choices in health coverage (it’s really not “insurance”), and when there are only two choices, it’s Kaiser and some other HMO or PPO. There are people who will leave jobs if they drop Kaiser, and others who will leave jobs if Kaiser is the only option.

            Part of what happens is that when you have a bad experience with your doctor, you don’t blame Blue Cross or Aetna, but you do blame Kaiser.

        • AKL says:

          Suppose under Medicare for All we lower healthcare spending to the average of the per-capita spending in the 15 countries besides the US with the highest healthcare spending.*

          Total savings would be 44% of our current spending ($4300 per-person savings on current $9900 pp spending).

          Currently, administrative costs account for about 9% of non-government administered healthcare expenditures. Administrative costs are presumably lower for large-scale government administered programs like traditional Medicare, but I couldn’t find any data on that (if you don’t agree that administrative costs are lower then obviously there are no administrative cost savings to be found, which makes my point).

          Let’s be generous and assume that 9% of overall healthcare spending goes to administrative costs. Even if we could reduce that to nothing at all under Medicare for all, that accounts for only 9/44 = 20% of the savings that are on the table.

          Twenty percent is not nothing, to be sure, but even under maximally generous assumptions towards the “administrative costs drive savings” argument, they are only a quarter as important as the actual lowering of prices that come from a single payer system.

          * Basically Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and Japan.

          • cassander says:

            Suppose under Medicare for All we lower healthcare spending to the average of the per-capita spending in the 15 countries besides the US with the highest healthcare spending.*

            The only way to do that is with massive reductions in the salaries of providers, either because you’re paying them a lot less or firing a ton of them because you’re buying fewer services. That is not politically possible. the best that can possibly be hoped for for medicare for all is that it will slow the growth of future costs, not lower current costs. Given that current medicare totally fails to slow the growth of costs, it’s ludicrous to believe that medicare for all will, especially given that US medical spending aren’t exceptional when you consider US high US incomes(scott had a post on this a while back, IIRC). Those savings are not on the table in any meaningful sense. If they were, the single payer system we already have would be realizing them.

          • AKL says:

            I agree that the savings would be driven by reductions in the salaries of providers, and that it’s not politically possible.

            To be fair though comparing Medicare for All to Medicare as we know it is basically nonsensical.* The finances of a healthcare program that is delegated to individual insurance companies, is statutorily prohibited from negotiating lower prices on behalf of the entire risk pool, and that serves exclusively an elderly population has no bearing on the finances of a reasonably designed single payer system.

            That being said, it’s a political impossibility like you say so not really worth getting too worked up about either way.

            *I could have this totally wrong because I haven’t actually paid attention to Warren’s Medicare for All plan, but I assume the point is that it’s a single national payer. If it’s literally just signing everyone up for Medicare as-is, then I take this all back.

          • Statismagician says:

            I think you may have the wrong citation – that’s about the MLR, which isn’t just (total costs-admin costs), there’s a whole eminently gameable ‘quality improvement activities’ piece to the equation, even setting aside profit and the famously weird things you have to do to assign useful dollar amounts to anything health care related in the first place. Besides which, I’m not sure where you’re getting the 9% figure from; I see 2016 MLRs as low as 86.1%, but since CMS wasn’t kind enough to give market share figures I can’t calculate a useful average. I have seen private admin cost figures of ~12% compared with Medicare at ~3% (or 11% and 2% at e.g. here; perhaps that’s what you were thinking of? Everybody is fiddling with their admin cost figures for Goodhart’s Law reasons, but it should be vaguely in the right ballpark.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Warren’s Medicare for All DOES depend on reducing the salaries for providers.

          • cassander says:

            @AKL says:

            To be fair though comparing Medicare for All to Medicare as we know it is basically nonsensical.* The finances of a healthcare program that is delegated to individual insurance companies, is statutorily prohibited from negotiating lower prices on behalf of the entire risk pool, and that serves exclusively an elderly population has no bearing on the finances of a reasonably designed single payer system.

            Medicare IS a national single payer system, just not universal one. it doesn’t delegate the financances to individual insurance companies*, and it doesn’t negotiate prices with anyone because it sets prices by administrative fiat. And any medicare for all plan, beyond just the name, will absolutely end up looking a lot like medicare for reasons of path dependency if nothing else.

            More fundamentally, the idea of negotiating prices is a mirage. We should no more expect medicare to get volume discounts for nationalized healthcare than we expect departments of education to get good deals on education, and for the same reason, there are not serious economies of scale with goods that are highly labor intensive to produce.

            If you could negotiate such discounts, there is little reason to think that medicare wouldn’t already be doing so given its enormous market share, unless there’s some structural reason preventing the government from doing that. If you think that’s the case, you need explain how your plan will change that, bearing in mind that the lobbying efforts of interested will certainly increase if you make the government more important to their financial well being. You can’t just stipulate that magic will happen.

            * medicare advantage does this, but the rest of medicare does not and individuals choose whether or not to go on advantage.

            @Statismagician

            If you’re looking at medicare admin costs, you can’t leave out fraud and mispayment rates, which are extremely high, almost none of which is ever recovered.

          • Statismagician says:

            @cassander – Very true. I want to go look at the literature on this, I’m not really sure what we know about Medicare fraud.

          • AKL says:

            @Statismagician if you claim that admin costs are 11% or whatever I won’t quibble, but it doesn’t change my argument.

            @cassander saying that “Medicare is a national single payer system” doesn’t hold water. A single payer system is one where all the people have the single payer. Not one where two-thirds (trad vs. advantage) of twenty percent (Medicare-eligibles) of people are on one payer. 35M people have traditional Medicare while 29M people have Anthem. Does that mean that Anthem is a national single payer system too?

            You say

            More fundamentally, the idea of negotiating prices is a mirage… there are not serious economies of scale with goods that are highly labor intensive to produce.

            The mechanism by which a single payer system results in lower prices is not via economies of scale or (directly) lowering the cost of production of [health care services]. It is by re-allocating the economic surplus from providers to shareholders of that single payer (i.e. taxpayers). The price of basically any health care service in the US is way higher than the marginal cost, and that surplus feeds, ultimately, provider compensation and corporate profit that are way out of line with the rest of the world. A single payer has the negotiating power to capture an arbitrarily large share of that surplus. Reallocation of that surplus is the mechanism by which single payer lowers prices, not lowering the marginal cost of production.

            (yes this means that providers, device manufacturers, pharma companies, etc. are all big big big losers in any transition to single payer, not to mention insurance companies who are obviously the biggest losers of all) <– why I agree that getting from where we are today to single payer is not realistic

          • Statismagician says:

            @AKL – I don’t think we really disagree on anything; I’m not claiming admin savings is the main thing and you’re not claiming they don’t exist, it’s just a matter of emphasis, if I understand correctly.

          • AKL says:

            @Statismagician yup I think that’s right, but I’m loathe to let that stop me from arguing.

          • cassander says:

            @AKL says:

            35M people have traditional Medicare while 29M people have Anthem. Does that mean that Anthem is a national single payer system too?

            I’d say that Medicare is a single payer system that subcontracts out some of its operations. They money is ultimately coming from a single payer.

            A single payer has the negotiating power to capture an arbitrarily large share of that surplus. Reallocation of that surplus is the mechanism by which single payer lowers prices, not lowering the marginal cost of production.

            Most of the discourse on this subject does not envision things happening that way, and imagines various efficiencies leading to lower costs. That does not reflect on you of course. More philosophically, I do object a little to calling that sort of power negotiating power given that membership of the payer is compelled and providers aren’t allowed to walk away. And from a purely practical point of view, it be must not be forgotten that providers will sit on both sides of that table.

          • johan_larson says:

            @cassander wrote:

            The only way to do that [lower healthcare spending substantially] is with massive reductions in the salaries of providers, either because you’re paying them a lot less or firing a ton of them because you’re buying fewer services. That is not politically possible. the best that can possibly be hoped for for medicare for all is that it will slow the growth of future costs, not lower current costs.

            I wonder about that. Can we find some examples of prestigious occupations that have had to accept reductions in pay recently? The only one I can think of off-hand is airline pilots. Being a pilot used to be pretty lucrative, back before deregulation. These days it’s apparently more mixed; you can still make good money flying the largest aircraft, but entry-level and mid-career jobs, flying small and mid-sized aircraft for regional feeder airlines, pay quite poorly.

            Auto workers had to make due with less, too, but I wouldn’t call their jobs prestigious.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think we can find many cases where a prestigious well-paid industry/class of workers lost a lot of wealth and status due to technological and economic change. Most recently, this has happened to cab drivers and medallion owners due to Uber et al. But whole industries and giant companies die off all the time–the whole film industry has more-or-less withered away in my lifetime, for example. Wal-Mart and similar companies basically put locally-owned stores for day-to-day stuff in small towns out of business nationwide. Amazon has wiped out a lot of local bookstores, and Starbucks has wiped out a lot of independent cafes.

            One difference here is that the changes we’re contemplating to the health care industry will be imposed politically, which means the millions of people and companies who stand to lose will be able to fight them politically. Another difference is that it’s very possible for the political change to simply make everyone worse off, whereas market-driven changes normally make some people worse off but others much better off. (The customers are happier with the new options they have; the people in the old industry are unhappy–see local bookstores, cab companies, film developers, slide rule manufacturers, etc.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s not just that the cramming down of wages is political. It’s what we are planning for it to happen and have the knowledge ahead of time.

            Lots of sectors have had their wages crammed down, and in retrospect it’s obvious what caused it (Uber, globalization, technological progress). But it’s not always obvious before it happens. Medallion owners were in denial about the effect Uber would have until it was too late.

            Doctors could handle a cramdown in wages better than all those other sectors. Something that caused it to happen would generally be good. But I see no reason for doctors to play along.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think we can find many cases where a prestigious well-paid industry/class of workers lost a lot of wealth and status due to technological and economic change. Most recently, this has happened to cab drivers and medallion owners

            I’m going to push back a bit on cab drivers being “prestigious”. No, I’m going to push back on it a lot. They aren’t, not even the ones who are well-paid.

            What they are, is easily replaceable. In the United States at least, basically every adult has the skills and can pick up the certs with a bit of paperwork. So the bit where taxi drivers say “you must not allow Lyft and Uber or our industry will be decimated and we will be unable to provide you with the services you demand”, gets taxi drivers ignored and/or laughed at. Which is the default state for taxi drivers anyway.

            Doctors, are very prestigious, and very scarce. If some of that scarcity is artificial, fine, raise that objection but it’s still a fact and it is a fact that will take decades to change. On the timescale of e.g. an Elizabeth Warren presidency, doctors are irreplaceable. So if the ones we have, the only ones we can have on that timescale, don’t go quietly along with the plan to cut their salaries in half, they will not be ignored and they will not be laughed at.

            Given a choice between, A: her signature initiative crumbling into ignominious failure and B: borrowing another ten trillion dollars to pay doctors (and RNs, etc) their current wages for another eight years, I’m not betting on President Warren choosing Plan A. Or Sanders, if it comes to that. And once Plan B is in place, it becomes Plan A.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            As I understand it, there was a time in NYC when individuals owned taxi medallions and could make a decent living from it, but eventually, the taxi medallions were bought up by companies and the drivers made very little money.

      • JayT says:

        Of course, what ends up happening with the Medicaid only paying the lowest price is that it incentivizes providers to never lower their prices, for any reason, and it leads to higher prices overall.

    • Murphy says:

      I’m sure the US will reach some awful state worse than the current one and somehow less optimal than anything anyone would choose or even things people wouldn’t such that you don’t get any dividends from doing it properly while also spending vast sums on doing it poorly….

      But at least in the NHS part of the cost saving is that there simply isn’t a billing department.

      If a homeless man turns up and needs care and walks out a few days later healthier than before, success. Nobody wastes time and money trying to figure out where to send the bill. No debt collectors waste their time trying to contact him. No lawyers waste their time trying to sue him. Everyone gets on with their lives.

      A previous SSC post talked about how the doctors have staff purely for filling in reams of forms to ask for money from insurance companies with different forms for each company, how they have to chase companies for payment. How the companies try to shortchange them etc etc etc.

      Along with all the bullshit paperwork the doctor has to spend time filling in and signing.

      The companies wouldn’t lose their incentive to try their damndest to avoid paying.

      The doctors mostly just want to get on with treating patients.

      Letting them do so without needing multiple dedicated staff just to try to get paid for their work is likely to make it easier for them to get on with their work.

      • Statismagician says:

        +1. I’m going to go ahead and nail my colors to the mast on this; anybody saying there aren’t significant administrative savings to be had through universal coverage does not know what they’re talking about.

        Whether any particular proposal would be well-organized or well-run is an entirely separate question, which is still very much worth thinking about, but… guys, there are multiple layers of very profitable middlemen between you and your doctor. I’m one of them. We aren’t providing any service that a rational human person actually wants (except for very basic, very easily duped provider vetting). Stop letting us convince you that insurance is complicated, the math is actually extremely simple, and the more people* in any given risk pool, the cheaper your personal cost will be, as an actual mathematical fact. I trust you all to make the obvious inference.

        *Assuming population-representative distribution of illness, obviously.

        • disluckyperson says:

          Since it’s not letting me reply to your response comment, I figured I would respond here. You mention that revealed preference doesn’t work here, because under employer sponsored insurance, people take what their employer offers them. I assume you are responding to why more people don’t pick Kaiser if it is cheaper. But my experience has been that many times, large employers do offer a choice of health plans. I know several people who have the choice of Kaiser, but instead pick a Carefirst PPO. Is this not common in your experience?

          • Statismagician says:

            The point is that your decision space is extremely constrained. You can ‘choose’ between Kaiser or Carefirst, but you didn’t pick those two out of the set of all health insurers because they’re the best, your employer did because they offered the best cost/benefit from their perspective, which may or may not have anything to do with yours. It’s an illusion of choice – which of two deliberately obfuscated options people pick is not remotely the same thing as either a free market selection or an efficient population-level system for managing health care availability.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Yes – my health plan has an amazing _4_ choices – all unattractive to me.

            As it happens, I pick the one I expect to result in least total cost for me – and it’s not Kaiser, and not anything called an “HMO”. It’s also not a high deductible plan – I tried that one year, and didn’t notice the small print where prescription costs were much higher than the same drugs from the “PPO”.

            Of course I value my time. An appointment with a “primary care” doctor for the purpose of getting permission to see a specialist is not a good use of that time.

            I also value my health. The doctor with so few patients that they are on all the “in network” lists, accepting “negotiated” low low rates may not be the most competent or effective choice, and almost certainly isn’t the doctor I’ve been seeing for more than a decade, regardless of what network(s) she was in at the time, and which of those my employer would let me access.

            And then there’s the problem where there are very few in network providers for some specialty in a reasonable distance, and appointments are not available in a remotely timely manner.

            Bottom line – even financially, the “traditional PPO” is usually the least expensive option for me, and better able to handle unexpected problems. It also wastes less of my time.

            Having everything under one roof would be nice, and would indeed save time. But it’s not worthwhile if it comes with the usual restrictions I’ve encountered with HMO plans in the US.

        • SamChevre says:

          Assuming population-representative distribution of illness, obviously.

          That’s an amazing assumption, and a misfeature of the new and disastrous Obamacare regime. In 2010, it was very much not the case–and insurance similar to what I have now was available at ~10% of the current price.

          • Statismagician says:

            If you don’t want to deny coverage based on prior conditions, then the risk pool should be as large as possible. if you do, then insurance is indeed very cheap for healthy people – and not available for sick ones.

          • CatCube says:

            @Statismagician

            If you don’t want to deny coverage based on prior conditions, then the risk pool should be as large as possible. if you do, then insurance is indeed very cheap for healthy people – and not available for sick ones.

            Of course, if you don’t exclude people with conditions that existed prior to the procurement of health insurance, than it’s also not “insurance,” any more than taking out a fire insurance policy on a building that’s on fire is “insurance.”

            Because if you’re charging your customers the actuarial cost of covering them (that is, the cost of their condition times the odds of them having it), then people with pre-existing conditions should be getting premiums of their health costs: 100% × costs of their condition.

          • albatross11 says:

            This is why not charging for prior conditions has to come bundled with mandatory coverage. If I’m allowed to not pay for insurance until my heart attack/cancer/diabetes diagnosis, and then I can apply for insurance and they give me the same rates as everyone else and start paying for my care, then the right strategy is not to carry insurance until you get very ill, which means that the premiums on insurance will become insanely high.

        • Garrett says:

          This sounds vaguely like the soviet model of “getting rid of wasteful advertising to improve productivity”. It’s possible that indeed it’s truly all waste, overhead, and waste with overhead. But I suspect that there’s actual value there, even if not seen at first-glance. I’m not sure what it might be, though. Waste or fraud detection? It’s a lot easier for a single insurance company to kick a provider out of a network than it is for a monopsonist government to do so (At least, under the 14th Amendment).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m reminded of someone I used to know who was pleased to do software for a company which wasn’t doing marketing or advertising. The company eventually went under.

      • Aftagley says:

        +1

        I spent a good portion of my life under socialized medicine (TRICARE) and my experiences with it, while not perfect, were so much better than virtually all of my non-TRICARE friends that it’s not even funny.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think a lot of complexity is getting swept under the rug here by framing the question in terms of socialized vs. non-socialized medicine. I’ve only dealt with truly socialized services in passing, but I’ve had ongoing relationships with an independent rural GP, my university’s student health system, an urban doc affiliated with a major hospital whom I found through my insurance, and a network of clinics run on a subscription model.

          These all provided more or less the same services, but with tremendous differences in availability, customer service, and volume of administrative bullshit and head-patting condescension. The clinic network was the best, but also the most expensive. After that, the rural GP. Then a big gap before the student health system, and another big gap before the urban doc.

        • cassander says:

          Tricare is also so insanely expensive that it consumes almost 10% of the defense department’s budget and is growing faster than any other item in it. It’s almost $60 billion a year. For comparison, the entire procurement and R&D budget for aircraft and aircraft systems is $70 billion, the same for ships is $30 billion. It’s $6,000 per year for every member. US household spending on healthcare only averages $5,000 a year.

          • Statismagician says:

            Raw averages don’t really work here; the Tricare population has significantly higher exposure to the sorts of things which cause very expensive medical problems than the average American for obvious reasons. What I wouldn’t give for a good public admin dataset…

          • Aftagley says:

            +1

            That’s my read of it also; I’m also curious about what the effect is of mandatory healthcare is on costs.

            In most (all?) services, you don’t get sick days unless you go to a doctor and get an SIQ chit. This is done to prevent malingering, but also means that for most things that an average person would just stay home for, someone under TRICARE is going to see a doctor and get issued at least a Cold-Pack.

          • cassander says:

            @Statismagician

            most of the people on tricare are the family members of servicemen, not the actual servicemen. They’re younger than the average population, which generally means lower costs, but also a lot of kids getting born. the comparison is definitely murkey, but it’s still a LOT of spending anyway you slice it.

          • woah77 says:

            I’ve known tons of service members who’ve needed knee or hip replacements by 25. While most of the family members are young, the service members probably cost more than most people two to three times their age. And those who stay in the service will quickly cost more and more healthcare costs the longer they stay in.

          • Statismagician says:

            @cassander – less than I would have thought, apparently, on the age breakdown at least. But yeah, lots and lots of money, probably not being spent optimally.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Tricare is lavishly funded, well-run (IME), and contracts services through private providers. Most Medicaid programs are not well-funded, not well-run, and usually only limited providers accept patients.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        A previous SSC post talked about how the doctors have staff purely for filling in reams of forms to ask for money from insurance companies with different forms for each company, how they have to chase companies for payment. How the companies try to shortchange them etc etc etc.

        If there was just one company, there would still be forms to fill out, and there would still be issues where the company wants to argue with the doctor’s office on whether the procedure was authorized/appropriate/whatever.

        Now, say we wave a magic wand and somehow did move everyone onto one insurance company so working with it is always the same. If the motivation was to have a common system, should new companies be allowed to start up if they follow the same system?

        (I am not necessarily against a single-payer-system.)

        • disluckyperson says:

          If I’m not mistaken, this is the system in Germany and some other countries, where there are multiple insurance companies, but they all follow the same rules, and participation is mandatory for citizens.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        You know, every other business in the world deals with this, and it somehow doesn’t break the bank.

    • disluckyperson says:

      Addendum:

      I found something which might help give a general idea of administrative costs in Kaiser vs other insurers: And it seems as if they indeed have significantly lower administrative costs. Here you can find medical loss ratios for various insurers in California in 2017. Kaiser has the best ratios for individual and small group plans by far. For large group plans, they are the best out of all plans regulated by CDI, but not by much. For large group plans regulated by DMHC, they are third best, after Cigna and Health Net of California.
      There is also something else there called administrative ratios. I am not sure exactly what it represents, but again, Kaiser has better administrative ratios than the other big insurance companies (5% for Kaiser vs 10%-15% for the others).

      • Statismagician says:

        The Health Net numbers should be taken with a grain of salt – they’re a relatively tightly integrated subsidiary of a larger company. Unless the report is unusually well-designed, it will have underestimated Health Net’s admin costs.

  14. Randy M says:

    I just found out my brother is in the hospital having surgery after an ATV accident. He lives in another state. A fundraiser has been set up for him for medical bills. (This isn’t a request for your money–I’m sure we all know someone who could use help.)

    The thing is, however much this runs, it’s way more than he has and probably more than his family and friends have to spare. I’m not sure if he has insurance, but I’d be surprised. Likewise credit to speak of.
    My personal financial situation is comfortable, but that’s more due to low standards and discipline than income worth talking about.

    I’m wiling to help out from savings, but I get the feeling anything we can spare is going to disappear into a black hole of medical bills without making any impact on my brother’s quality of life. (And yeah, I recognize the bias drawing me towards that conclusion). I suspect he is going to be treated regardless, and going to have bill collectors after the fact regardless. What’s the best strategy here?

    • Nick says:

      If you’re uninsured, providers will often offer discounts; for big bills I’ve heard numbers ranging 30-80%. He has to say he’s a self-pay patient or uninsured, or that he’d like to apply for financial aid; usually one of those are the magic words. And discounts like that might bring the bills into a range where family and friends can actually help him pay it off (in which case I’d recommend giving!).

      There are downsides to going that route, like providers can be really stingy about getting their money on time and threaten to pull the discount.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      My limited understanding is that medical debt is some of the easiest to discharge. If a laborer owes $500,000 he might as well owe $50 million for all it matters to the hospital. A BK lawyer might be the path to negotiate all that down: better for the hospital to get something rather than nothing if he goes through BK.

      You holding onto your money until after this is over makes good sense. He is not allowed to dispose of assets before BK, but there is obviously no requirement on you to wait to give gifts until after it’s over.

    • hls2003 says:

      Don’t give him money before the bills are incurred. Don’t sign anything saying you will guarantee his debt. There are really only a few options, depending on his financial resources (or insurance) and the scale of his medical bills:

      Option 1: He’s got insurance, bills will be his deductible / copays / generally manageable. In this case, there’s not really a problem, and if he needs help with the deductible etc., you can usually work out a payment plan.

      Option 2: No insurance, bills are relatively manageable. Unlikely given the surgery and hospital stay.

      Option 3: No insurance, bills are unaffordably high. He needs to let them know ASAP that he is self-pay and ask if they have any financial assistance programs. Odds are good that will cut the bill by 2/3rds or more. At that point, he can reassess the affordability. If it’s still unaffordable, he needs to declare bankruptcy if he has things to preserve (like a home and his wages); if he’s got nothing they can garnish or attach (i.e. unemployed, rents, no savings) then he might not even need to bother with BK, they’ll just trash his credit and he’ll have to be careful of default judgments if he should come into money in the future.

      Under none of these scenarios does it help for you to give him money before the process plays out. The medical providers have no claim upon your resources or his family and friends’ resources. All suits and judgments will be against him personally. That means that if anyone is to go bankrupt, it should be him – that will wipe out the debt – and then after the BK when he has credit troubles and is wiped out of savings etc., then you can give him money to rebuild without creditors being able to claim a penny.

      • Murphy says:

        Ya, I think this is the sensible option.

      • Nick says:

        Under none of these scenarios does it help for you to give him money before the process plays out. The medical providers have no claim upon your resources or his family and friends’ resources. All suits and judgments will be against him personally. That means that if anyone is to go bankrupt, it should be him – that will wipe out the debt – and then after the BK when he has credit troubles and is wiped out of savings etc., then you can give him money to rebuild without creditors being able to claim a penny.

        This is sensible, and consider it an addendum to what I said above.

  15. Is the true Great Stagnation now beginning? For the last forty years, there’s been a slowdown in productivity. But there was always an asterisks to that, because we could point to developments in computers. But even that doesn’t appear as impressive anymore. Is my impression there wrong? If not, is there any reason to think the trend of low growth will reverse?

    • cassander says:

      Remember that productivity is basically calculated as dollars of gdp(or some other measure of national income or output)/hours worked. If we’re overstating inflation (which we are), when we’re understating productivity growth.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Your link supporting overstatement of inflation is complete nonsense.

        #1. If a freeze in Florida causes the price of oranges to skyrocket and then that impacts the inflation rate then the next year there is no freeze in Florida will cause prices to drop.

        #2 is flat false, hedonic adjustments have been used for some time.

        #3 would be completely reasonable, and if you wanted to include the massive price reductions of new technology you would first have to include a one time up charge on the introduction of such prices.

        #4 Outlets don’t have the same products, at the same prices and costs to consumers.

        • cassander says:

          that was actually the wrong link

          but more philosophically, hedonic adjustment is, at best, an extremely imperfect science, and I’m not sure what you mean by point three.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Point 3 is simple, if you want to have the cost decreases of a laptop included in the CPI at some point you have to go from having no laptop in the CPI to having a laptop. That would then be a large increase in the cost of the basket of goods and a large, one time, increase in inflation.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This link also doesn’t talk about the meaningful problems with CPI. From an individual investor’s perspective almost nothing he talks about matters unless you expect to have exactly the average exposure to price changes every year of your life. No one actually experiences that, and so its pretty close to a moot concept for the individual investor.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m pretty sure you can’t tell you’re in the Great Stagnation until you’re well into it. Any short-term stagnation could be just that: short term.

    • Well... says:

      In stagnation, is there supposed to be deflation as well? Does purchasing power go up?

    • DarkTigger says:

      The fact that some companies pulling back production to the West, because producing here with higher degrees of automation is cheaper, I think there are still low hanging fruits to pick.

    • Related question: If we are currently in the Great Stagnation, what are the most promising ‘enabler’ technologies that might kick us out of it?

      • JayT says:

        Self driving cars seem like a pretty obvious example. I believe “driver” is the most common job for Americans. So, if the predictions of fully autonomous cars are true, a large portion of them would be out of job, productivity would go way up.

      • Garrett says:

        I suspect (though have no way of quantifying) that we’ve “eaten” a good deal of our productivity and economic gains via regulations of various sorts. An economically-efficient company would want to avoid sexism/racism because it would requiring from a smaller pool of employees and thus drive up hiring and retention costs. But they would probably tolerate a small amount simply because the costs of getting rid of all of it are high, much as stores simply have to budget for “shrinkage”.

        With current labor laws that isn’t a choice. And given the costs and risks for failure to comply, companies are effectively required to have mandatory training programs to reduce their liability. So that have to pay for an approved training program. And they have to pay every new employee to participate in it.

        • Aftagley says:

          Nah, this burden your talking about is maybe a day or so during your employee onboarding week and between half a day to two days annually thereafter.

          I find it highly unlikely that even if this training was literally flushing time and money down the drain that this is posing some insurmountable economic cost on our businesses. Going one step further, it’s likely that some if not all of the loss imposed by these trainings are recouped by the potentially negative behavior they prevent.

          • EchoChaos says:

            The actual cost/benefit is if the average employee quality of racists that you won’t be able to hire is higher or lower than the average employee quality of minorities that you will be able to hire.

            For example, the Dodgers in the 40s started hiring blacks and lost racists who wouldn’t play with blacks. It turns out that black baseball players were on average better than racist baseball players, so this was a good tradeoff.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think internal proliferation of paperwork is a major productivity-sink.

            Where I work, the training people realized a few years ago that with online training, they could just keep adding mandatory-for-all trainings and it didn’t cost them anything. It’s pretty obvious to me, as an outsider, that there’s nothing like a cost-benefit analysis happening to decide whether making every employee from the janitor to the CTO take a 2-hour online training is actually worth 2 hours of everyone’s time.

            Everyone I know spends hours a week responding to emails–some of that is improving productivity, but a lot of it is a loss.

  16. merisiel says:

    I’m wondering if this phenomenon has a separate name: it seems to be a form of correspondence bias, but with a weaker link. That is, you observe someone doing something and you think it gives you deep insight into their psyche based on something symbolic. For instance, if an accounting professor brings in one of those wooden puzzle thingies and tells the class that if they can solve it, that means they’re “good at creative problem-solving” and will therefore be better accountants. “Observed solving (physical) puzzle -> good at solving puzzles in general -> good at solving (abstract) accounting puzzles” is fairly similar to “observed angrily kicking vending machine -> angry in general” if you squint at them — it’s just that there are additional steps in the logic. Or perhaps leaps in the logic. 😉

    I’ve noticed it in myself, too: there’s this Chinese takeout place I frequent where the food is served cafeteria-style. The main lady who works there, whenever she sees me, says something like “You want General Tso’s chicken, right?” And she probably thinks she’s being nice and anticipating my order. But I only actually want General Tso’s chicken maybe a third of the time, so I often find myself having to say “actually no, I’ll have the beef with broccoli” or whatever. And I have this feeling of being underestimated as a person, somehow — I’m like “those people who only have one dish at any given place that they’re willing to eat, what a sad and hidebound way to live one’s life, whereas I have many different things that I like.” Which is a really stupid thing to think about people based on their totally inconsequential eating habits, but there it is.

    Maybe the Chinese food thing is a little different, because I don’t think I know any actual people who have exactly one meal they’ll order per lunch spot — it’s like a stereotype, something you’d see in a movie to characterize someone as exactly that kind of sad and boring person. So maybe these are cases of people overapplying fictional logic to their real lives? (Which reminds me of something else I happened to read recently.)

    • Elementaldex says:

      There are lots of restaurants at which, after trying several promising sounding dishes, I pick one and just eat that dish at that restaurant.

      • Statismagician says:

        I also do this.

      • mdet says:

        Going to a restaurant for one specific dish seems normal. Never eating at any other restaurants ever is probably what the “boring” stereotype is getting at. I’ll generally order the same one or two dishes at a restaurant, and have a few small spots where the employees recognize me, but I still have a dozen or so restaurants that I rotate through.

      • JPNunez says:

        Yeah, after a few tries I get to the optimal dish at a restaurant and will keep ordering that forever. If I want something else I’d go to another restaurant. Only failed me at the high end restaurants which have a wider menu of things to sample.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I assure you that boring people like myself who order exactly one meal per lunch spot are quite real. I’m pretty sure there’s a ton of people who do that at the pizza place I frequent for instance, largely because they have a $5 special which encourages it (not only is it cheap, it’s usually quick and fresh because a lot of people order it).

      • Nick says:

        In my experience, if I have a place I go to a lot, I’ll mix it up, but if it’s a place I go to like once a month, I get my favorite thing every time. A craving for that particular thing can even be what sends me there.

        • JayT says:

          Yeah, it’s the same for me. At restaurants that I frequent, I’ll rarely get the same meal two times in a row, and I’ll have probably tried the entire menu. If there are places that I rarely go, but I know they have a dish I’ll like, I’ll usually just stick to that dish, because it’s either the reason I’m going to that restaurant, or because I don’t want to miss out on something I like, but probably won’t have again any time soon.

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      I’m confused. Wouldn’t it make sense to always order the same thing? Different restaurants are good at different things. I like to eat maybe 12 things out, otherwise i cook. Few restaurants make more than 1 of those things. On rotation, I visit each restaurant on the list maybe once/month. Eating a dish once a month doesn’t seem ‘boring’

      • albatross11 says:

        I prefer having some variety, but at restaurants I like well, I typically have three or four dishes I’ll alternate between. Today, maybe I’d rather have the grilled chicken sandwich than the burger; tomorrow, maybe the fish and chips sound best.

    • Unsaintly says:

      I have at most two meals per spot I go to, with most having only one with slight variation on add-ons (such as if I want fries or chips or whatever). Even with sit-down restaurants, I will find something I like and order it every time I go there. Many of the fast food places I frequent have picked up on this pattern and it is slightly convenient.

    • John Schilling says:

      I would very much like it if there were a local restaurant that served a wide enough variety of high-quality food that I could go there often enough that they would recognize me and yet still order something different every time, but there isn’t. And I don’t think there’s much value in e.g. ordering a different cut of steak every time I go to the local steakhouse, once I’ve figured out which of their offerings I prefer. So, yeah, there’s a couple of places where when I show up, they just double-check that I want my usual order and that’s that. And there’s other places that I don’t go to often enough for anyone to recognize me.

    • Silverlock says:

      I rarely have just one favorite dish that I always get at a particular restaurant. At the Oriental place my lunch group hits up once every couple of week, I love the Hunan chicken, the vegetable Egg Foo Yung, and a couple of other selections. (Fortunately, my overall favorite — their hot and sour soup — I can get as a side on whatever dish I order.) My companions, though, each have their one dish they always get. I think the staff make it a point of pride to learn the customers and their “usuals,” and my cohorts seem to enjoy that as well. Different strokes and all that. Speaking as someone with a truly wretched memory, it impresses me.

  17. Anaxagoras says:

    Last week, I traveled to Accra, the capital of Ghana, for a UN conference on child online protection (thanks, SSC commentators for giving your thoughts on that topic!). The trip went pretty well.

    I’d never been to Accra before, and indeed, this is my first time traveling overseas solo. Making the trip a bit easier, I have been to another West African nation, Gambia, and Ghana is primarily English-speaking. Plus, while I was traveling alone, my girlfriend’s mother was also at the conference, and she was somewhat familiar with the area. I took a red-eye direct flight, and while I didn’t sleep much, the flight from South African Airlines went fine. I had had some concern that I wouldn’t be allowed into the country, as I’d neglected to get a pretravel visa (I did say I’m an inexperienced international traveler), but fortunately I was able to get a visa on arrival. Don’t bet on that; I could only do so thanks to the effort of the UN hosts.

    At the customs desk, I was amused by an exchange I heard between the customs officers and a Ghanaian expat who was also getting a visa-upon-arrival. The officers asked her for the $150 fee, and she was quite annoyed: “Since when does Ghana do business in American dollars? You should be asking for it in cedis [the currency in Ghana], and I’d tell you that of course I don’t have that and you’d tell me the equivalent amount of American dollars and I’d pay that!” I was pleased to note that when an American visitor didn’t have the amount in dollars, the officials told her the correct amount to withdraw in cedis to pay.

    I stayed at La Palm Royal Hotel, which was okay. The room had a slightly odd smell, and there was a bit of mold under the air conditioning unit, but otherwise it was comfortable and a reasonable place to stay. My girlfriend’s mother was also staying at the hotel (hence why I chose to stay there), and so we met to plan my talk and plan for the conference. The hotel had a tasty Ghanaian buffet lunch that unfortunately suffered from sticker shock. The meal was good, but not ~$35 worth of good. I’d also find out that the rest of the menu at the hotel, while much more reasonably priced, was also pretty mediocre. I did go for a walk along the section of the beach outside the hotel, which was very disappointing. It was covered in trash, and almost wholly bereft of wildlife. The only living thing I found was a tiny, cute, and nearly invisible crab.

    With less than a day to get adjusted to the new time zone, and probably an unwisely small amount of sleep, I went to the first day of the conference. There were representatives from all over Africa, as well as a number of high-up folks in the Ghanaian government. The range of accents was a bit tricky to my ear, but I don’t think I missed much. Some of the representatives were from French-speaking countries, and so there were some translators in a booth in the back, who interpreted for each group through a headset. My duties included running a discussion among a group of school kids from around Ghana (though mostly from the Accra area), on the questionable reasoning that hey, I’m young too. I was able to get some good perspectives from them, though they definitely had a more paternalistic attitude towards child-rearing than I’m used to here.

    Day two was the day I’d administer a panel discussion with some of the students (day one was just me and all of them), as well as deliver my big presentation on international best practices. I was feeling kind of under the weather that morning, and it only got worse as the day wore on. Despite stepping out to rest before lunch, I was still extremely out of it, with no appetite, churning innards, odd chills, and little enough energy that standing was a chore. Fortunately, adrenaline is a wonderful drug, and I was able to get through both my duties in an energetic manner, after which I was completely out of gas. I went back to the hotel, had virtually nothing for dinner to go along with the same for lunch, and thereupon had a rather unpleasant night.

    I slept very late the next day, missing the third day of the conference, but fortunately, I didn’t have responsibilities for that day, and it seemed that overnight, my fever had broken, and I felt vastly better than I had the previous day, though still rather drained. I’m not quite sure what hit me, but I know it could have been a lot worse. That afternoon, my girlfriend’s mother and I went to the Woodin clothing store in downtown Accra. I’d gotten some of their shirts before, and so I was thrilled to go to their headquarters. These folks make some of the nicest-looking shirts I’ve seen, which also generally fit me better than American brands. To be honest, the prospect of going to their shop was a considerable factor on why I wanted to go to the conference. Unlike most American clothing stores, they also sell many bolts of interesting fabric for people to tailor into their own clothes.

    I was traveling back the next night, and I was fortunately doing better still. Not too much happened that day; I mostly hung out with my girlfriend’s mother and we went to a supermarket. It was pretty similar to every other supermarket I’ve been in, save that the brands were different and there was a decent hardware section. Even the produce was pretty much the same as here in America. That evening, we went to the pretty good Accra airport and I took a red-eye back home.

    A few observations from my trip:
    1. When traveling in Africa, it’s safest to only drink bottled water. Interestingly, all the bottled water in Ghana seemed to be domestic brands, possibly a result of protectionism from the government. All bottles also had a QR code sticker on the cap, the meaning of which I have yet to figure out.
    2. Mosquitos were much less of a problem than I was expecting based on my experience in Gambia. I’m not sure if it’s because I was traveling in October instead of December, or if they’re just less of a problem in Accra.
    3. My phone and credit card worked smoothly overseas with no translation process needed, making the trip very smooth and easy. Though I never called it myself, Uber works over there as well, though you’ll have to pay in cash.
    4. I would probably recommend the hotel Frankie’s over La Palm Royal, and would also strongly recommend Woodin for clothes.

    Anyone want to know anything else about the trip or the conference?

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      What were some of your main takeaways re: the topic of the conference? Any interesting speakers/ideas on child internet protection?

      • Anaxagoras says:

        Well, the most entertaining speaker was basically Concerned 90s Mom. She’d written blog posts about the dangers of occultism is Ghanaian schools, spoke approvingly of disciplinarian parents who forbade their daughters from interacting with boys, etc. She also had the immortal line “If it hadn’t been for the principles I set for myself when I was 13, I would probably be a huge lesbian right now.”

        Her aside, I found my conversations with the kids interesting. Granted, I was mostly interacting with a couple from the Accra area, so they may not be wholly representative of the country at large. As I said in my post, the kids also took a more approving view of parental oversight than I expected, though it depended on how I phrased it. They said that their parents did have their best interests at heart, and kids should respect their authority. Physical discipline is a lot more accepted over there, so notions of abusiveness are a bit different, but I know well enough that it definitely happens that a parent’s desires cease to align with their children’s best interests.

        Candidly, I didn’t get as much out of the conference as I would have liked. I was really exhausted on day one, getting increasingly ill on the second day, and the third day I missed entirely. Some notes:
        * Countries are concerned about cyberbullying, but there may not be much they can do about it, especially since culture around regular bullying is not where it perhaps should be.
        * I got into an argument with Ghana’s deputy police chief (great idea for your first time in a strange country!) about phone tracing powers. He felt that the police should have more expedited abilities to trace phones in kidnapping cases, and also cyberbullying ones. I argued that those were different in kind, and that the unreasonable delay for kidnapping ones didn’t mean that the police should be able to quickly trace phones in general. The Gambian representative bailed me out by talking about how police in his country were able to rapidly trace phones and used it to settle grudges, find people’s spouses, etc. Concerns about abuses by the police were part of my reasoning, but I didn’t have any perfect examples like that, and besides, I was too much of an outsider to be comfortable making that point.
        * Many of the same problems with laws in the US are present elsewhere. The South African representative presented a particularly horrible case where a teen girl was raped by a couple other teens who filmed the assault and posted it online. All three were charged with production of child pornography.
        * On a more positive South Africa-related note, their film rating system incorporates epilepsy warnings.
        * No one has really great solutions for this stuff. It’s really broad, technically very challenging, and there’s a lot of room for people (including me) to smuggle in their hobbyhorses that don’t really help with the goal of children’s online protection. There’s also a lot of bikeshedding and unhelpful buzzwords, but I think some of that is because a lot of people want to help and just don’t know how to.
        * Africa has some additional complicating factors. People are primarily accessing the internet via smartphones, there’s a ton of languages, literacy is low in some areas, and in many places traditional structures may not work well with the more liberal approaches civil society groups, the UN, and even the national governments themselves want.

        I don’t have the answers, and the forum if anything made that clearer to me. But it was a bit heartening because I may as well be an expert on this — everyone else is in the same boat. If I talk well, use my connections prudently, and think about the motives of the people involved, maybe I can do some good here.

        • The Pachyderminator says:

          Wait, a rape victim was charged with producing child pornography? As insane as it is to charge sexting teens with child pornography, doing the same to underage rape victims is a whole new level of horrible. Ugh.

          • Anaxagoras says:

            From the South African representative’s presentation:

            Two boys, aged 14 and 16 were arrested for the alleged rape of a 15 year old girl. The alleged rape took place at a school and was filmed by the boys on their mobile phones.

            All three children were charged with the contravention of section 15(1) of the Sexual Offence and Related matters Act and contravention of the FPB Act because of the recording and distribution of the sexually explicit video clip which is regarded as the creation, production, distribution or possession of child pornography.

            The charges were provisionally withdrawn and all three were ordered to attend a diversion programme.

            I was going to use the stupid charging sexting teens thing in my presentation to demonstrate how these anti-child pornography laws need to be written carefully, but this example was just insanely much worse.

    • SteveReilly says:

      I got curious about the QR code. Apparently it’s so customers can verify that they’re paying the right taxes: https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/ghana-news-gra-launches-app-to-verify-tax-stamps.html

      • Well... says:

        I’ve only seen those QR code things in my office cafeteria, where they’re put on food containers. When you check out, you put your tray on a little lighted platform and a camera reads all the QR codes of everything on your tray and tells you how much you owe.

        Maybe they’re used the same way in Ghana?

      • Anaxagoras says:

        Thanks! Glad to have a resolution to that mystery.

    • gbdub says:

      How did you get involved with going to UN conferences? My girlfriend is completing a masters in social work and is interested in working for / with the UN in the area of human trafficking. She was actually in Accra last December.

      • Anaxagoras says:

        This is the first I’ve been to. In this case, purely personal connections. My girlfriend’s mother is with the UN and was involved with the conference, and thought it was close to the privacy work I’ve done. She had previously encouraged me to register on their Roster of Experts, and so I was able to take part that way.

    • Acephalist says:

      Hey, I used to live in Ghana (although not in Accra). From my understanding, Mosquitoes aren’t a problem in a large urban centers like Accra because all of the stagnant surface water is too dirty for them to lay their eggs in. I drank cheap Ghanaian bottled waters and I only had one bout of water borne illness when I lived there.

  18. A Definite Beta Guy says:

    Have we talked about running a West Marches campaign before?

    2019 was supposed to be a big D&D year ’round here. Unfortunately, scheduling became a nightmare, so we’ve rarely put together the regular parties often enough to play. Myself and my friend (the other local DM) want to torpedo the current campaigns and roll out a joint West Marches campaign. The hope is that we can get more regular play without requiring the full party present at all times.

    But we haven’t run one before, so we don’t really know what we’re doing. In particular, we’ve never really done overland hex crawls, which seem like they’d be important to a West Marches setting.

    What are y’alls experience?

    • DarkTigger says:

      I never game mastered a true West Marches campaign, though I played a few sessions in one online. It was quite fun.

      But I have some experience playing Hex Crawls (Note: the original West Marches Campaing did NOT use hexmaps but Landmarks with known travel times between them) do you have any questions?

  19. Jeremiah says:

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

    This time around we did The Life Cycle Of Medical Ideas. (Original post)

    Thanks again to all the people listening. It’s nice to know that it’s being used.

  20. slovakmum says:

    @Scott Alexander, have you seen this article about how aggressive or self injurious behavior in autistic people is often caused by medical problems ? http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2016/08/when-autistic-children-are-aggressive.html?fbclid=IwAR16BEOfJlYFaraLBA-VUze9ZEWD0eZ5Xi7LHBbf-1Mc-QTMDKnKzdGtE5k&m=1

  21. John Schilling says:

    Not exactly new, but recently caught my attention: Australian raptors deliberately starting brushfires to flush out prey. I had thought that weaponized fire was a uniquely human thing. Fortunately, the birds haven’t figured out how to make fire from scratch. I find myself wondering what the easiest path to that end would be.

  22. Paul Brinkley says:

    Slate has an interesting article on code that made a mark on history.

  23. hash872 says:

    Anything new & exciting going on in the field of cartilage healing/regeneration? I understand its reputation is ‘has been 5 years away for the last 30 years’. Just was curious if there are any promising leads- SSC is a pretty medicine & science-heavy crowd- possibly along the lines of stem cells or anything else. Or peptides? The bodybuilding community is excited about stuff like BPC 157, though that’s obviously not a scientific position. (To my understanding these simple peptides can’t be patented, so there’s no incentive to spend money on researching their efficacy). I could have sworn I read something somewhere about another peptide that’s based on how sharks regenerate cartilage, and this in an actual scientific journal…..? Can’t find it now though.

    For example, my understanding as a non-expert is that cartilage won’t really heal mostly because it has little to no blood flow. Would repeated PRP shots to the affected area help with that….?

    • Elementaldex says:

      Frankly when I started looking into this a few weeks ago BPC-157 was the most promising looking thing I found too. I may try it for that sweet placebo effect if I can find a vendor I would feel comfortable buying from.

      • hash872 says:

        The idea of injecting it is just a bridge too far for me, personally. ‘Oh did how hash872 die/get horribly crippled/get an infected limb which had to be amputated?’ ‘Oh he bought a grey market research chemical off the Internet and injected it directly into his body’

        • MTSowbug says:

          For better or for worse, quite a few interesting therapeutics are grey market research chemicals off the Internet that you need to inject directly into your body.

          It’s risky business, but there are ways to make it safer. Peptides should come as lyophilized powder in a septum-sealed vial. The vendor should enclose an HPLC trace for quality control. Ideally, you’d shoot a portion of the sample onto your own HPLC to verify that it matches the reference. A mass spec would be even better. If you can confirm the identity and purity of a peptide, it should be as safe as anything else.

          Unfortunately, most people don’t have access to HPLC or mass spec. I strongly suspect that increasing access to analytical chemistry hardware will be a boon for biomedical research by making it safer to self-administer creepy internet medicine.

    • psmith says:

      [cw: broscience]

      BPC-157 is supposedly somewhat orally bioavailable.

      If you haven’t tried hydrolyzed collagen, I reckon it’s at least worth looking into. If nothing else, pretty benign side effects profile and not too expensive.

  24. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Food question:

    I cooked up a pork shoulder we had in our freezer for a few years. I was planning on doing pulled pork, but it didn’t come apart very well, so we just took out slices, and I tried pulling it apart after dinner.

    That mostly went okay, but many of the pieces are still big. I am thinking of tossing all the leftover pieces in a pot with barbeque sauce, and having it simmer for 5 hours until dinner, and tearing apart any big pieces I see after a few hours.

    Will this work? Will it horribly backfire?

    • broblawsky says:

      Cooking meat twice is a bit risky; you’ve already removed a lot of the good stuff from that shoulder, so it might dry out. Checking it every hour or so would be a good idea.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Five hours is likely to be overkill, given that you’ve already cooked it for some time. Touch cuts of meat go through stages of breakdown as you slow-cook them. This article is a good overview.

      I’m guessing from your description that your initial cooking achieved primary breakdown (producing a consistency like stew meat or pot roast), but not secondary breakdown (easily shreds), and you want the latter. A full five hours in addition to what you’ve already done would probably take you all the way to tertiary breakdown (pulpy mush). I’d put it in about 3 hours before dinnertime, check it regularly, and turn the heat off once the big pieces shred easily. Then bring it back to a simmer about 20 minutes before dinner so you can serve it warm.

      I chose 3 hours both as an upper limit to how much additional cooking it’s likely to need (1-2 hours is more likely). You don’t want to start it earlier (even with checking it regularly and taking if off the heat as soon as it’s done) because of food safety reasons: once it’s been off the heat for a bit, it’ll cook into the danger zone temperature range for bacteria growth. 1-2 hours in the danger zone is mostly harmless, especially if you reheat to pasteurization temperatures before serving, but much more than that bears an escalating risk of food poisoning.

    • You don’t say how you cooked it. I do shredded pork with BBQ sauce, starting with pork shoulder, using a sous vide device. About 24 hours at 165° (by memory–I’m out of town at the moment) gave me something pretty easy to shred.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I did it in the oven at 350-400 for about 3 hours. I could have done a slow cooker if my schedule had allowed it.

      • gbdub says:

        165 seems very low for pulled pork, although 24 hrs certainly helps.

        When I smoke it I usually shoot for more in the 200 degree range… lower and it is better for sliced pork.

        • JayT says:

          He’s using a sous vide, not a smoker though. You can go with much lower temperatures with sous vide. I’ll do brisket at 130 for 36 hours, but if I was smoking I’d be looking for something closer to 200.

    • WashedOut says:

      As a general/side comment, frozen meat produces really sub-par results from slow-cooking. If you’re going to go to the expense of buying a pork shoulder or beef brisket or whatever for slow-cooking, ideally you want to brine or season it when you bring it home from the butcher, into the fridge wrapped in cling wrap (or sitting in brine) for maximum one day, then let it spend a few hours out of the fridge prior to slow cooking. A 3.5 kg brisket will take about 7 hours on low (never use any other setting). Pork shoulder slightly less time.

      Source: hundreds of hours of slow-cooking trial and error.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This pork shoulder might be from 2013. I am pretty sure my wife bought it, and it ended up in our chest freezer, and I am trying to get our chest freezer empty enough to be thawed out before the winter.

        The tips here worked well. My wife said that she was not a fan of pulled pork but it seemed perfectly made and our eldest gobbled it up.

  25. proyas says:

    A question for people with wireless earbuds: How good are they at making you think sounds are coming from different points in 3D space (e.g. – directly in front of you, behind you, above you)? How do they compare to normal headphones and to TV speaker surround-sound systems?

    Does anyone have high-end wireless earbuds like the Klipsch T5?

    https://www.digitaltrends.com/headphone-reviews/klipsch-t5-true-wireless-review/

    • Bugmaster says:

      This is a little off-topic, but can anyone recommend traditional over-the-ear headphones that excel at 7.1 3D sound, and are compatible with most games ? I’ve tried out several models, and none of them were all that impressive.

      • acymetric says:

        I’m highly skeptical that any headphones can produce a surround sound feel accurately enough to be worth the cost, wired or wireless, but admittedly it isn’t something I’ve actually bothered to try.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Sorry, I should’ve been more clear: I am thinking specifically of the kind of USB headphones that come up as a 7.1 device from the OS’s point of view — not just a regular pair of headphones that somehow mock up stereo input into surround sound.

      • andrewflicker says:

        I’ve used the Logitech G930 for many years, and found it quite nice. I believe it’s no longer made, but I assume the newer versions are at least as good.

    • doubleunplussed says:

      I think this is more a function of the sound data than the headphones.

      Using your current headphones, does the “virtual haircut” sound 3D to you?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSgSEjoOMUE

      Anyone with wireless earbuds want to check if it works for them too?

      One thing that I can think of with bluetooth headphones is that if they compress the audio with a lossy compression algorithm, this can destroy phase relationships between the left and right signals that are inaudible separately (hence why compression often messes with them), but which are crucial for sound localisation. But the 3D sound works well for me on youtube which is doing some compression, so it seems some compression is OK, but it might depend on the specific compression algorithm.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      [epistemic status: I use headphones a lot, and took a music production class a year ago for fun]

      I think that in general, very little audio is actually designed to sound truly 3D when coming from headphones of any kind. The standard way to make it directional is to adjust the left/right balance–make it louder on the left to make it sound like its coming from the let and vice versa. If you have a surround sound system, this works perfectly–the sound will literally come from opposite sides of your room/car/theater/whatever. However with headphones, it’s less convincing and can even be a bit unpleasant when they crank it all the way to the left or right, since real sounds generally reach both of your ears to some extent. (The sound coming out of the left side of your stereo will reach your right ear.)

      To get truly 3-D*-sounding audio with headphones, the key is very slightly delaying the sound between the channels. When you hear a real sound from the left, your left ear hears it just before your right ear since the sound takes time to travel from the left side to the right side of your head. The delay usually isn’t added manually; binaural recordings are made by having two separate microphones a head’s width apart (often on either side of someone’s actual head).

      This headphone test (scroll down to “Binaural Test”) has a binaural recording of knocking on wooden doors that made me think someone was actually outside my room the first time I heard it. If you’re looking for a longer experience, Smarter Every Day made two binaural recordings while hiking around Machu Picchu.

      I suspect this kind of recording isn’t that common mainly because there’s a whole host of wonderful microphones that aren’t binaural. I’m also not sure how binaural recordings sound if played back on non-headphone speakers. I suspect it might not be great. Will experiment and report back later.

      *Well, 1D at least. We perceive forwards/backwards and up/down based on slight distortions to the sound based on the shape of our ears. If your binaural mics have modeled “ears” around them, you can replicate full 3D directionality.

      • Aftagley says:

        If, for some reason, you want even more Binaural sound-clips, a good percentage of ASMR youtubers use Binaural set-ups in order to increase the quality of their content.

  26. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing Links Post:

    The big news of the past two weeks is that October 27th was Navy Day, and, not coincidentally, Naval Gazing’s second anniversary.

    We also saw the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle ever.

    I’ve written the first part of a fictional account of a missile integration project to illustrate some of the bureaucratic hurdles that defense projects face.

    Lastly, aircraft weapons continue to feature with a post on cluster bombs, and a look at non-German guided weapons in WWII.

  27. theodidactus says:

    The Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology has launched a podcast!
    on this episode we talk about Kahler v. Kansas and the insanity defense, the use of emoji in a court of law, and a property law case that recognized the existence of ghosts.

    https://www.spreaker.com/user/11705275/j-list-ep-1-w-intro-edit

    • cassander says:

      please tell me they bring up the story of Henriette Caillaux, who shot a man who published embarrassing letters between her and her husband after her husband (who was the prime minister) refused to duel him. At her trial, her defense consisted of arguing that because her husband refused to duel Calmette, Henriette was forced into the man’s role in the relationship. But as a woman she had no male logic, and so could react only emotionally not logically, and thus could not be held responsible for her actions. The jury acquitted her on these grounds in less than an hour after a fantastical 8 day trial that ran from july 20-28, 1914. france would mobilize for war 3 days later.

      • theodidactus says:

        We didn’t but maybe we should have.

        Our primary case in that discussion is Breyer’s perennial thought experiment involving a dog/wolf. He’s asked some version of this hypo at least a dozen times in oral arguments and cases, and no less than FOUR times in the oral arguments for Kahler alone.

        Simple enough: Two men are insane. One man fires a gun at his neighbor and kills him, believing him to be a wolf. The other man fires a gun at his neighbor and kills him, believing that “the wolf”, a supernatural entity, has ordered him to kill. In some states, both men could argue they did not commit the crime, because they were insane. In some states, only the first man could do it (because the second man did indeed form the definite intent to kill a human).

        What’s especially interesting about your case (which I hadn’t heard of) is that the law had for many years recognized a similar defense that only men could use. The argument being that a man, upon seeing his wife in bed with another man, would be possessed of an irresistible impulse to kill one or both of them, and this should result in a much lighter sentence or perhaps even a complete defense.
        You can find a version discussed here:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provocation_in_English_law

  28. Well... says:

    I’ve seen several people claim we are moving away from consumer models where you buy things and own/maintain them, and toward subscription models where you pay some smaller portion of the costs but do so regularly over the life of the product or even your own life. This model, they claim, is expanding from things like Netflix toward everything from car ownership to basic commodities.

    To whatever extent this is true, what do y’all think of it? Is it a good thing? If it’s situational, what delineates situations where this is good vs. those where it’s bad?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Is it strange that my mind immediately went to marriage?

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s really good for something like Netflix. I suspect most people didn’t buy many movies (preferring to rent or watch in the theater), and even those they did buy only got watched once or a few times (big exception being kid movies). And there’s constantly new content being produced.

      For software I don’t like it. I do my personal finance on Quicken. I don’t want to be stuck paying them every two years to keep doing it. Especially when the last version I bought was Quicken 2007.

      For physical things it depends on whether you’re talking about leasing or replacing goods with services. Leasing I’m agnostic about. Replacing goods with services tends to mean adding friction to every use (going down the laundromat, finding a car-share car) and because the things are rivalrous, you’ll often find that when you really want to use it, it’s not available.

      • acymetric says:

        For software I don’t like it. I do my personal finance on Quicken. I don’t want to be stuck paying them every two years to keep doing it. Especially when the last version I bought was Quicken 2007.

        Adobe is another one that got in on this train. It ends up being more expensive in the long run (for someone who doesn’t necessarily need the latest version as soon as it comes out), and also creates the issue where if you don’t keep paying you lose access to your old work (where if you had a perpetual license for a given version, you can always use that software to open/edit/export your projects).

        More generally, it puts you at risk for whatever product/service you are using just going away (company goes under, or discontinues the product) in a way that wasn’t true when things were more based on the ownership model. This can be a problem for businesses as much (maybe more so) as for individuals.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        It’s really good for something like Netflix.

        As someone who likes owning movies, I don’t think this is a good thing at all. I’m currently buying as many DVDs and blu-rays as I can afford (which isn’t many) because I don’t know how long the option will be available.

        There are many disadvantages to relying on streaming services: you lose access to stuff at corporate whim, something even slightly obscure is often hard to find, picture quality is worse (I’ve never seen streaming video look as good as a well-produced Blu-ray – if it’s possible, it relies on ultra high speed internet that most people don’t have), etc.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Somewhat surprisingly, I’d noticed that exotic bird afictionados in international waters provide higher quality product than official DVDs/blu-rays. The file sizes are smaller; the audio/video fidelity is better; and there are often fansubs even when the official release did not come with subtitles.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            That may be true in some cases, yes. The mention of fansubs makes me think you’re talking about anime, which I’m not too familiar with. I don’t think it’s true in the general case: when the Blu-ray is the only source for the pirated version, the best you can hope for is an unaltered copy with its ~40GB weight. Re-encoding at a smaller size will invariably remove detail, even if it’s not very noticeable. Regardless, though, it’s disempowering to viewers to have to rely on backchannels for a need that the open market used to fill.

          • Nornagest says:

            exotic bird afictionados in international waters

            I have nothing intelligent to add, but I just wanted to say that I like the euphemism.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @The Pachyderminator:
            You’re right about re-encoding, in theory; but in practice, many maritime body-mod hobbyists apply deblocking and other filters to the source, which makes them look better. Others are able to procure and re-encode high quality raw files, although admittedly such files are rare.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I think for depreciating assets it makes a huge amount of sense.

      Renting has existed as a viable way of living for generations, so this is hardly a new discovery.

      Netflix is just a modernization of Blockbuster, leases on cars go back to the start of cars, etc.

    • ana53294 says:

      Adobe did that. Since Creative Suite 6, you can’t buy any of their product, you can only buy a lifetime subscription. Now, when you pay 3 years or more of subscription, you have already paid more than the CD price. And unless you really like the new features, you don’t really gain much.

      The thing is, for a lot of people, they don’t really need to renew software that much, and they’re OK with old stuff. A lot of people really prefer to keep things as they are, thankyouverymuch. I like software to keep the same GUI. I don’t like redesigns. There seems to be this idea among software companies that they need to redesign stuff radically every ten years or so. And when that happens, you have to relearn everything again. I hate it; and when I can get away, I use old programs. The issue with subscriptions is, they eventually upgrade your programs without your permission, or make your program unusable, even if it is compatible with youn OS.

      If it’s situational, what delineates situations where this is good vs. those where it’s bad?

      The inability to buy the product instead of getting a subscription. While you are able to keep the physical product, it’s OK.

    • I don’t understand how the economics are supposed to work out in regards to cars. There’s no way it would be cheaper than just owning a car. And it’s certainly not better than ownership. What’s the appeal?

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Your car spends most of its life parked. Depending on your exact travel patterns, it might be (a lot) cheaper to just Uber wherever you want to go, and rent for holidays. No interest, gas, maintenance, time lost and so on. Cars are actually a pretty good example.

        • VivaLaPanda says:

          Especially if you’re able to do a lot of your getting around via bike

        • The Nybbler says:

          Except that if I need a car between 9am and 9:30am, the fact that most peoples cars are parked between 11am and 11:30 am doesn’t help me; I need the car at 9, not 11.

        • John Schilling says:

          Unless you live in e.g. Manhattan, the cost of keeping the car parked is small compared to other ownership costs. And most people will wholly “consume” the operating life of multiple automobiles over their own lifetime. So if plan A involves turning say four cars into scrap metal during the ~5% of your life that you are driving a car, and plan B involves being one of the ten thousand people who collectively turn a shared fleet of forty thousand cars(*) into scrap metal, with Plan B also involving added transactional costs, it’s not clear that saving on parking will make Plan B a win.

          * Of which only ~1,000 are in service at any time, which turns out to have little impact on the economics.

        • Depending on where you live and what time, Uber is something like $10 a mile. Gas is a fraction of that. Unless you’re paying an ungodly amount for parking, the Uber costs will quickly surpass the costs for a new car. If you need regular car use, there’s just no way to make the numbers add up.

          And it can’t just match the numbers, it has to be even more cost effective. Uber is, for most people, an inferior experience to having your own car. It may be a good service, but if I want to head over to the store to get some milk, I would much rather drive my own car then wait for an Uber there and back.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            +1. Ubers in the suburbs often take up to 20 minutes to actually show up; for most errands I’d be there in my own car by the time the Uber arrives.

            For the first half of the summer, I carpooled through an hour of rush-hour traffic to my internship. Second half of the summer, the driver moved away and we had to take Ubers. It was a significantly worse experience; we had to get up 20 minutes earlier to get to work at the same time on a good day, or be 20 minutes late to work if the Uber driver couldn’t figure out how to navigate the interchange properly. (In their defense, it was kind of the interchange from hell. Still, our carpool driver figured it out after the first day and never had problems thereafter.)

          • JayT says:

            I don’t think anybody is saying that Uber is superior to owning a car in every situation, just that there are times and places where it would make sense.

            If you live in downtown San Francisco, a parking spot costs about $500-$1,000 per month. Add on your $500 car payment and $100 insurance, and Uber starts to look a lot better. Especially if you use the bus/train for your commute and Uber for everything else.

          • @Jayt

            How many people in the US do you think have similar incentives to a guy in downtown San Francisco? And of those people, how many of them would be better served by an expensive car subscription versus other options like taking public transportation, biking and the occasional Uber?

          • JayT says:

            Well, there are about 4 million people between SF, Manhattan, DC and Boston. The majority of those people would be good candidates for getting rid of their cars in favor of some combination of public transit for their commute, Uber for in-town movements, and rentals for long distance. I’m sure there are other cities where that kind of setup would make economic sense.

          • Anthony says:

            @JayT – fewer than half the people in the city limits of San Francisco would be good candidates for the car-free lifestyle. Friends of mine live in the Sunset, both take Muni trains to work, but between getting their kids to school, going shopping, and having a social life that extends into the East Bay and the Peninsula, being carless is not a realistic option for them, even though San Francisco is doing everything it can to make using a car inconvenient.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Huh. I guess things are very different there – $10 Uber a mile and cheap gas. I’m at the opposite side of the spectrum, where it absolutely makes sense to rent, financially – it’s just that culturally we like cars. In Bucharest there are no available parking spaces outside shopping centers, gas is… $4.68 per gallon, if I converted correctly and Uber is well under $1 per mile.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Any thoughts on time spent waiting for Uber vs. time spent looking for parking?

            I realize these are different issues since the Uber driver might not show up while looking for parking will eventually find a parking space.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            I think the takeaway here is that a combination of Uber, public transit, biking, and/or walking is viable for city dwellers, but incredibly impractical for anyone living in the suburbs.

          • JayT says:

            Certainly when you involve children, going carless becomes much harder, but I also chose those particular cities because they have very few children. San Francisco is down to 13% of its population under 18. Also, I chose those cities because they already have fairly low car ownership rates. Less than half of New York households have cars, for example. SF is at 30%, Boston and DC are in between.

            It wouldn’t surprise me if at least half the people that own cars in these cities would actually be better served by going with a combo of public transit and ride share.

          • quanta413 says:

            I think the takeaway here is that a combination of Uber, public transit, biking, and/or walking is viable for city dwellers, but incredibly impractical for anyone living in the suburbs.

            Even in a lot of American cities, that combination isn’t quite viable because the city is very spread out. It may be true if you just look at the city’s core, but a lot of the time there are industries that are concentrated outside the core.

            Unless you live really close to where you work you’ll want a car. For example, Los Angeles has spotty public transit coverage, and it’s very sprawling. So it’s not rare to have to drive 10 or 20 miles (or more) from where you live to where you work. And you’ll never have left L.A. In theory you could bike 20-40 miles every day, but it wouldn’t be very pleasant and maybe not very safe either.

          • Nick says:

            I live in a small to mid-sized city, and I walk or take the bus to work, church, the store, etc., and an Uber if none of those works. Would be really helpful, though, if the city weren’t so spread out. Like, I’m fortunate to have a grocery store about 15 minutes’ walk away. I’d be even more fortunate if I, and everyone else, had a grocery store 5-10 minutes away.

            I have mixed feelings about Uber because, while it’s doing me a service, I’m worried that it’s prolonging a move toward carless cities.

    • DinoNerd says:

      It seems true to me, but I’m very much involved in computer tech. I’ve given up on owning music, and I’m fighting a rearguard action with regard to other software.

      In my opionion, it’s a very bad thing for the consumer, and a great thing for the firms collecting ongoing rent on things they would have sold (rather than renting out) twenty years ago.

      When an attempt is made to justify this from a consumer POV, the excuse is that the rented software/entertainment gets frequent updates/upgrades, and this is desirable. If those updates didn’t generally introduce bugs, security vulnerabilities, and UI changes, and/or failure to run on low end hardware that was previously supported, I would at least not consider that to be an additional downside for the consumers, on top of the likely additional cost; as it is, I generally don’t want the updates either.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Why have you given up on owning music? I don’t think any options for owning music have gone away. It sounds like subscription offered you a better deal. Isn’t this an argument for subscription services?

        Have new devices appeared that aren’t compatible with old music? I think that a lot of people don’t understand how to get their old music on to phones and are buying subscriptions in part for the convenience of the connection. If this were the only advantage of streaming, it would be a terrible deal compared to the one-time cost of learning how to do it, but there are many other advantages of streaming. Also, such tech-unsavvy people are subject to other costs, like losing music that they owned. Anyhow, the point of your story is that you’re tech-savvy.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Why have you given up on owning music?

          Basically, devices that can play music I have on physical media are in short supply, and so are systems that can effectively convert from physical media to digital files, and then manage the music (i.e. get it on to random electronic devices).

          I’ve been through various generations of music ripping – from media that predate DRM, using devices that don’t enforce copyright against me (= “you can’t copy it, you only own the right to play that one tape/CD, if you had a working player for it”). The results haven’t been usable.

          OTOH, I haven’t tried very hard. I lived pretty much without music at home for a decade or two, and then gave up and subscribed to Primephonic – the only music streaming service that let me try it out before giving them a credit card number.

          • Jiro says:

            A “system that can effectively convert from physical media to digital files” is a computer with a CD drive. A system that can “get it on to random electronic devices” is a USB cable. I don’t see the problem.

          • AG says:

            Yep. My solution to many a DRM is “burn it to a CD-RW, rip it back.”

            There are also solutions akin to recording your screen for video, except you just record your “speakers.” DRM can’t do a thing about that, because you’re not copying the file directly.

      • Music is the best example of when it’s better to have a subscription then own it. I’m not buying a song every time I want to listen to it. But give me countless options for a monthly fee? If you have a smartphone and listen to music at least some of the time, there’s very little reason to own any music. Unlike Netflix, pretty much everything you want will be be on the service all the time. It’s a vastly superior experience to CDs.

        • JayT says:

          I agree. I’ve been discovering more new music in the month since I got Amazon Music than I had in the previous 10 years.

          I understand why people are worried about obscure films becoming hard to find, but I suspect it’s more likely that the NetFlix’s and Amazon’s of the world will trend towards more content, not less, and obscure films will end up overrepresented, if anything, because they will be cheaper to get the rights for.

    • It’s acceptable when it’s an actual service involving something that is done for you, such as having your haircut, but pretty worrying when it’s a product that you otherwise could possess ownership rights over or previously did. Things like Steam are good in one sense in that it makes buying games very convenient, but it’s bad in another sense, in that without physical media, it can be taken away from you or changed at any time. Discs also had the advantage that you being given the storage space for the product along with it.

      It depends on how much further it goes. As a general accelerating trend I think it could easily head into evil territory in which the general populace owns so little that their relationship with megacorps becomes analogous to the relationship with a socialist state. This would especially be so if the capital of small businesses and self-employed people becomes subscription based. If all small businesses are bought up or de-facto controlled by a few megacorps and no one owns their house or car, then the logic of capitalism falls apart. It brings to mind the GK Chesterton quote about too much capitalism meaning too few capitalists.

      • John Schilling says:

        This would especially be so if the capital of small businesses and self-employed people becomes subscription based.

        That’s a very good point. Even at the consumer level, I’m skeptical of the subscription-based model for reasons many other people have already stated. But if it becomes the norm for the tools of production, then it risks turning capitalism into oligopoly and becoming just another road to serfdom. But the serfs get shinier “circuses” to go with their bread ration, so presumably they won’t complain too much. If they do, meh, just don’t renew their subscription to any forum where they could complain.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Oh, I’m very worried that Netflix is already choosing what we’re watching. We can’t tell because the apparent selection is great (But there are thousands!) while the potential 99% of media that stopped existing for the average Joe is invisible and thus not missed.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            You can tell as soon as there’s something specific you want to watch that they don’t have.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Isn’t this already the case in many respects? The capital for businesses of all sizes is often owned by the bank, and same with houses. You’re renting the money from the bank to ‘own’ them, in some cases permanently, if equity isn’t going up over time.

          More directly, leasing capital equipment like airliners or helicopters or turbine engines is incredibly common. I don’t know what to think about that.

          • John Schilling says:

            Someone having a lien on a thing that you own, is not the same as someone owning a thing and renting it to you. If you borrow money from a bank to buy e.g. a house, then so long as you make the agreed payments it is your house and not the bank’s. The bank cannot change the rate on a whim, deprecate the “Dollars” the loan is denominated in and replace them with “NuDollars”, claim your house as its own and put it to what they think is a more profitable use, decide that you must put the house to what they think is a more profitable use, decide that single-family homes are passé and you are going to live in an apartment henceforth, or any other such thing. It’s your house and you get to decide what to do with it(*), so long as you make the payments. That’s fundamentally different from renting a house.

            * So long as you don’t e.g. deliberately burn it down, but only if that is explicitly in the loan contract at the start. Otherwise feel free to do even that, but you still have to make the payments or the bank can sue you into bankruptcy.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I don’t think the line is as well defined as you’re saying, at least for businesses. For example, many business capital expenditures are financed based on a five or ten year loan with a balloon payment at the end. Which means you have to roll over to new finance with new terms at the end of the period.

            Leasing equipment instead of buying is usually worse for business cash flow with the benefit being increased liquidity and decreased risk. Contracts for those sorts of things usually recognize the requirement for long term stability to both parties.

            Given the above, I don’t really see how leasing is necessarily leading to bad outcomes, but perhaps that is because in the above examples buying is still an option.

            A counter example though would be something like the Icon A5, which had a lot of pushback for its incredibly onerous purchasing contract. It is a recreational machine but I assume that all manufacturers who have a lot of liability risk would love to make similar restrictions on customers.

    • proyas says:

      Actually owning things will become more of a status symbol.

    • Netflix was able to take advantage of IP law. You can’t make seven copies of a movie and distribute them without paying the creators, but you can buy one and loan it out to seven different people over time.

  29. johan_larson says:

    In the continuing adventures of the SSC Watch-Along, today we’ll be talking about episodes three and four of season one of The Expanse.

    The “CQB” episode features a cool space battle between the martian flag-ship the Donnager and a group of mystery ships. The Martian crew should really have been in spacesuits in case of damage and decompression, though. Also, it seems really strange that some previously unknown organization could design and build and deploy ships so advanced it could defeat the flagship of a major military power. Imagine finding out that some unknown fleet had engaged the USS Nimitz, and sunk it. And then it turned out the fleet hadn’t been launched by any major nation but by Exxon. It would make no sense at all.

    More about the stealth ships here.

    Hey, it’s Valery Legasov guest-starring as a dock-worker boss.

    Does it make sense that a space colony would be short of water? Isn’t that something that can be recycled pretty much forever? Though I suppose any system would have some losses.

    I tried looking for sources for the Donnager, the Martian flagship. I found this bit, but I’m not sure whether it is a reference to a ship that appeared in a Traveller RPG book from the 1980s, or a more recent design based on rules from the same period.

    • deciusbrutus says:

      I recall there being a sale of Russian or Soviet naval vessels that was bought up by a private corporation, to be resold as scrap.

      A single nuclear-powered attack submarine could 1v1 the Nimitz, as could a squadron of aircraft with antiship cruise missiles- which is why the Nimitz doesn’t ever operate alone, it always has a support fleet around it containing vessels which, among other things, specialize in antisubmarine warfare and shooting down lots of cruise missiles at once.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Pepsi.

        It’s a pretty standard internet joke on the fact that in the late 80s, Pepsi was one of the largest militaries in the world.

        https://www.businessinsider.com/how-pepsi-briefly-became-the-6th-largest-military-in-the-world-2018-7

        • bean says:

          Yes, except for the fact that as far as I can tell, it’s completely false. There’s no sourcing other than one NYT editorial, and several places I would expect to find details are lacking them. I actually emailed Pepsi about that, but they’ve never gotten back to me.

          (But I can add Business Insider to the list of publications that I can claim to have higher standards than, because I actually tried to check with Pepsi on this, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t.)

          Edit: I will give Business Insider credit for managing to mangle the story even more than usual, by describing it as the “6th-largest military”. That’s idiotic by any standard. The usual descriptors are either 6th-largest fleet (trivially false, but at least vaguely in the direction of reality) or 6th-largest submarine force (possible, but I don’t feel like doing the work to verify it.)

          • deciusbrutus says:

            I’ll file the Pepsi Fleet under ‘probably didn’t happen’, then. But the fact that it was plausible makes the existence of privately owned military-quality weaponry plausible in fiction, and an unexpected attack even from inferior equipment can be very effective.

          • bean says:

            Actual military-quality weaponry never ends up unencumbered in civilian hands. If Pepsi did get those ships, they weren’t warships. They would have been scrap that had once been warships. The Soviets would have almost certainly removed a bunch of critical components that made them warships. (Besides the crew that is.) A ship with no weapons and no electronics isn’t a warship. Even if they didn’t, it’s hard to support a vessel with no crew, no spares, and no munitions. And when a private company is allowed to have actual weapons, it’s usually only to build them. There are strict controls, and Lockheed trying to sell F-35s to the general public will run into a whole host of problems. I’m not sure who will get them first, the FAA, the DoD, the Department of Commerce or the State Department.

          • cassander says:

            I would think the order would definitely the FAA, Commerce, DOD, and state last.

          • Garrett says:

            > have almost certainly removed a bunch of critical components that made them warships

            How small could a self-contained anti-ship missile system be made these days? An Exocet was effective in the Falklands war. Could one (or several) be “containerized” for loading on a standard container ship? Sure, it makes a terrible military vessel, but I suspect that it would give any warship pause when considering interference.

          • bean says:

            How small could a self-contained anti-ship missile system be made these days? An Exocet was effective in the Falklands war. Could one (or several) be “containerized” for loading on a standard container ship? Sure, it makes a terrible military vessel, but I suspect that it would give any warship pause when considering interference.

            Absolutely. Both Harpoon and Exocet are around 15′ long, and it would be pretty easy to fit a quad-pack into a 20′ container. Fit a couple of those somewhere on the container ship, box up the targeting system in another container, and you’ve got an anti-ship missile platform.

            There are a couple of problems. You don’t have nearly the sensors of a proper warship, or any other weapons. This means you need offboard targeting, and are very vulnerable to helicopters swooping down on you. And it still raises the issue of getting the missiles in the first place. Note that the British and French were able to keep Argentina from getting any more air-launched Exocets during the Falklands War. That was a nation, with the (relatively) deep pockets that implies, and they could work aboveboard. They also didn’t need the targeting systems or anything like that.

    • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

      There’s a lot of traffic on-and-off the station which can plausibly decrease amount of water on it. In particular, I believe they use water to produce more oxygen, and restock ships with it, although I once again not sure where it goes after that.

      Lack of spacesuits is probably solely a dramatic licence – you want to see actors’ faces. The same reason why everyone on TV has spacesuits with lights inside the helmets. But does it bother anyone else that they were standing magnetically attached to floors? The entire command was one high-G maneuver away from traumatic feet amputation.

      I’m not sure when it became known who built those ships, but megacorps is a staple of sci-fi. In addition UN is kinda bad at governing.

      • VivaLaPanda says:

        I do love it when space media handles G-force properly. Knights of Sidonia, for all its other flaws, has some good bits about having to move these giant capital ships in a hurry and how it basically destroys everything on them.

      • cassander says:

        presumably any maneuver violent enough to to amputate feet would, if you weren’t bolted down, throw you against a bulkhead and kill you anyway. And if that’s not the case, it’s easy enough to program the boots to let go at enough stress like ski boots do.

        • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

          Two officers on the command deck and holden were both strapped in, but captain Yao and Lt. Lopez were both hunching over some kind of table/console magnetizing to the floor.

        • LesHapablap says:

          One thing I always wanted to calculate but never got around to doing: if you fall from 3 meters in 1g vs. 5g, what’s the difference in velocity when you hit the floor?

          • smocc says:

            For constant acceleration starting from rest v^2 = 2ad. Using g ~ 10m, v = sqrt(60) ~ 7.7 m/s vs. v = sqrt(300) ~= 17.3 m/s. The resulting force you feel on impact will be roughly a factor of sqrt(5) bigger.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Lack of spacesuits is probably solely a dramatic licence – you want to see actors’ faces.

        The Honorverse, though it’s never been filmed, solves that problem by having the crew of a spaceship that’s expecting action wear spacesuits but leave their visors open (yes, that means you need space helmets with opening visors, but that’s not unbelievable). IIRC the rationale is that while you still have air having the visors open makes it easier for crew to talk to each other, and if your compartment does decompress you won’t suffer any lasting ill-effect in the time it takes to close your visor. They may even be designed to close automatically if the wearer loses consciousness.

    • mitv150 says:

      The drives in the Expanse use water as reaction mass. It’s super heated and tossed out the back for propulsion. Thus, any ship leaving the colony would take some amount of water with it that is non-recoverable.

      Its not 100% clear (to me at least) whether the Epstein drives work this way, or only the thrusters (“teakettle”), but it is clear that water is effectively their fuel.

      edited for equivocation

    • John Schilling says:

      Also, it seems really strange that some previously unknown organization could design and build and deploy ships so advanced it could defeat the flagship of a major military power.

      Previously unknown except that e.g. Chrisjen Avasarala knew about them. Didn’t know who they were, but the existence of an organization with major industrial resources building advanced stealth warships was not really a secret at this point and it was clearly only a matter of time before the details were going to be uncovered. Knowing who they turned out to be, I don’t have a problem with it.

      It is the second time stealth technology was used offensively in the series, which is one time too many. You can have a sneak attack on the Canterbury, or you can have a sneak attack on the Donnager, but you really can’t have the Donnager blundering into a sneak attack while responding to the sneak attack on the Canterbury. But they don’t push it any farther than that, and the battle itself is very well done aside from that.

      It also does a good job of setting up one of the core premises of the series as a whole; that four random misfits have private possession of a state-of-the-art warship, beholden to no government but somehow not pirates. That’s necessary to get the same core group of characters in the middle of all the important bits of action that are going to take place in three years of system-wide war. And it’s something most science fiction does poorly, handwaving in the direction of eighteenth-century privateers and suggesting that private space warships are going to be commonplace and normal because Space is an Ocean and we’re going to redo the Age of Exploration exactly like last time but with technobabble in place of mainsails. Expanse is better than that; Holden and company running their own warship is never going to be anything but an anomaly, a loophole that none of the Solar System’s governments quite bother to close because they’re never quite annoying enough (and occasionally useful enough) to make it a priority.

      Does it make sense that a space colony would be short of water? Isn’t that something that can be recycled pretty much forever? Though I suppose any system would have some losses.

      There are always losses, yes, and when you’re doing agriculture for millions of people, that’s going to be significant. Also, I don’t think anyone has yet come up with a good way to keep a spacesuit tolerably cool for more than an hour or two that doesn’t involve sublimating ice into vacuum. But having them use water as reaction mass for their main propulsion systems doesn’t square with anyone having to steal water to drink, so I’m not buying that explanation.

      A big issue for the whole series is that the belt being short of water is a Big Deal (hence “Remember the Cant”, and Miller’s distaste for water-thieves on Ceres), when we now know that e,g. Ceres is about one-third water. The first few books were written before Dawn reached Ceres to make those observations. The TV series tried to handwave its way out of that by having the Martians strip-mine all the ice out of Ceres to terraform Mars, which supports the Belter/Martian animosity in the story but doesn’t stand up to a minute’s quantitative thought.

      Also, Fred Johnson gets a solid introduction, and Joe Miller loses a partner as he follows Julie Mao to places Star Helix isn’t interested in following. Both well done.

      • mitv150 says:

        But having them use water as reaction mass for their main propulsion systems doesn’t square with anyone having to steal water to drink, so I’m not buying that explanation.

        Presumably the owners of the various space-going ships have the money to pay more for water than some poor schmoes in-colony. The constant need for water to drive/refuel ships creates a constant need for water to be shipped to the colonies. A scarce and in-demand resource costs money. If you don’t have the money, you have to steal.

        • John Schilling says:

          Doesn’t work on the basis of scale. If water is available for purchase in the quantities needed for spaceship propulsion, then it is too cheap to meter in the quantities needed for drinking and basic sanitation. You might as well argue that because farmers pay for irrigation water, water is a paid commodity in our society so obviously poor people are going to have to beg spare change for the coin-operated vending machines. Or that poor people can’t have cellphones because they can’t afford to charge them.

          That gets you into standard Hollywood “evil economics” territory, where some future society is pointlessly cruel to poor people just so the writers can show how cruel the plutocratic bad guys are.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            If I remember correctly the water isn’t actually expensive so much as rationed. Nobody exactly seems to die of thirst, but they don’t get enough for all the needs.

            Accusations that water rationing is a tool of political pressure also exist.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Rationing still sounds like Hollywood Evil Economics to me: the main reasons to ration would be either a shortage or an attempt at hydraulic despotism.

            Either one of those reasons is very shaky if water is available in sufficient quantity for spaceship propulsion. That implies no shortage on the scale needed for personal use. It also makes enforcing hydraulic despotism very difficult: if water’s available at reasonable prices for spaceship propulsion but strictly rationed for drinking, cooking, and washing, then it’s going to be very hard to suppress a black market in gallon jugs of spaceship water.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s mention of water rationing, but there’s also half-washed Detective Miller finding himself in rich girl Julie Mao’s empty apartment and treating himself to a Hollywood Shower. So money for aqua is clearly a thing; possibly the “ration” is a baseline minimum to ensure no unsightly corpses or wholly-unwashed indigents in the littering up the place.

            And that’s reasonable if water is strictly a health, hygiene, and agriculture thing. It’s much harder to square with e.g. low-rent Belters flying homebuilt hot-rod spaceships halfway across the Solar System just for the fun and glory, if indeed they are using water as reaction mass.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            There’s mention of water rationing, but there’s also half-washed Detective Miller finding himself in rich girl Julie Mao’s empty apartment and treating himself to a Hollywood Shower. So money for aqua is clearly a thing

            Hmm, I had interpreted that as her unit’s water ration had accumulated while she was away. Could maybe be a bit of both, where more expensive units get a larger water ration?

          • John Schilling says:

            Hmm, I had interpreted that as her unit’s water ration had accumulated while she was away.

            Rationing almost never works that way, because it defeats the main purpose of rationing – limiting actual consumption to sustainable levels. If users can roll over their ration indefinitely, and especially if they can transfer it even informally, then the water authority (or whatever) can be met with unpredictable surge demand at times that conflict with e.g. life-support necessity. Real-world rationing comes with expiration dates, example.

          • J Mann says:

            it’s going to be very hard to suppress a black market in gallon jugs of spaceship water.

            Isn’t that pretty much what we see? (And how we meet Diogo, who might be my favorite character?)

            Agreed with John that seems unrealistic to have personal water shortages, although evil economics is required to give the Belters a stronger moral case – presumably since the megacorps can sell water, they won’t sell the Belters any more than they need to. (The Belters apparently also need water for their rock hoppers, although I’m not sure how that plays into the economics.)

            For me, the biggest stretch is always that the five random people picked for an away mission from a dregs of the system ship happen to include the best engineer, best mechanic, best pilot, and best brawler in the system, plus an OK captain and that medic guy.

          • John Schilling says:

            For me, the biggest stretch is always that the five random people picked for an away mission from a dregs of the system ship happen to include the best engineer, best mechanic, best pilot, and best brawler in the system, plus an OK captain and that medic guy.

            Where, other than unreliably bragging narrators, are you getting any of these people being the best in the system at anything? They’re good, obviously, but nothing supports best-in-the-system good. And they are absolutely unique, but in ways that follow from being in the wrong place at the wrong time and not fucking it up, not from being the best of the best of the best.

            Except Holden. He maybe is the best in the system at being the captain of a private warship, on account of his arrogant righteousness makes him a predictably annoying-but-tolerable thorn in everyone’s side rather than an unpredictable menace that needs to be put down as a damned pirate. Just give him some refugees to save, and he’ll keep out of your way.

          • J Mann says:

            Where, other than unreliably bragging narrators, are you getting any of these people being the best in the system at anything?

            Sorry for being a late-comer. Are we allowed to discuss the series as a whole, or just the first four chapters? I agree that the first four chapters don’t prove my assertion.

          • johan_larson says:

            Are we allowed to discuss the series as a whole, or just the first four chapters?

            You can talk about the series as a whole.

          • J Mann says:

            Ok, then IMHO, across the entire series we never see a pilot better than Alex, an engineer better than Naomi, or a brawler or mechanic better than Amos.

            It’s possible that Alex and Amos are just a highly competent pilot and mechanic, respectively, and that there are better ones out there somewhere, but they both seem to reliably pull off miracles.

            (I don’t have as much problem if only Naomi is an out of control genius – one is an OK coincidence, and her backstory explains why she is where she is. So I guess if Alex and Amos are just in the top 5% of their fields, it makes a little more sense that they might plausibly be on the Cant, and once they’re there, they’re logical choices for the away mission).

          • John Schilling says:

            Ok, then IMHO, across the entire series we never see a pilot better than Alex,

            What, no love for Manéo Espinoza, who flew a slingshot across 50 AU from Ceres past Jove and Saturn to bullseye Abbadon’s gate, in a homebuilt ship with only a salvaged teakettle thruster?

            And aside from that, what other pilots do we see at all? Another slingshotter with maybe a minute of screen time, arguably Julie Mao except spoiler, Bobbie Draper who explicitly isn’t a pilot but can do basic maneuvers in open space. Beyond that, no pilots that I can remember.

            Ships, yes, but almost never ships that have to perform challenging maneuvers that would allow any comparison of their respective pilots’ skills. There is space combat in The Expanse, but very little in the way of space dogfighting. Fortunately.

            an engineer better than Naomi, or a brawler or mechanic better than Amos.

            Ditto Naomi. And Amos does not prevail against the assassins at the hotel on spoiler, IIRC, but needs to be rescued by Miller.

          • Tenacious D says:

            @J Mann:

            Naomi is a brilliant engineer, but in a very Belter-typical way of making do with limited resources at hand. When the Roci docks somewhere for repairs or modifications others work on her with satisfactory results.

            Alex is a good pilot, perhaps great. But the ship he’s flying has far more capabilities than most others we see (including a nav computer that augments his abilities to find a course solution), so it’s hard to claim he’s the best in the system.

            Alex is a competent mechanic but that’s at least partly due to following Naomi’s instructions. As a brawler he has few (but not zero) equals—largely because he doesn’t seem to be bothered by violence.

            Holden is Holden.

            What they accomplish is mainly from being in the right place at the right time, having the Roci, and their loyalty and trust within their team.

          • albatross11 says:

            If I recall correctly, Alex tells the others that he was a low-status transport pilot in the Martian space navy. He’s later surprised that he is able to rise to the challenge of doing some tough piloting. What I took away from that is not that Alex is the best pilot in the system, but rather that the MSN has really good training and really high standards.

          • John Schilling says:

            but rather that the MSN has really good training and really high standards.

            Possibly, and I hadn’t thought of that. I don’t think we see any other Martian ships being flown under tough conditions as a basis for comparison.

        • Tenacious D says:

          The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi is one work of fiction that has at least a bit of a sense of scale with respect to water resources (although it doesn’t fully avoid “evil economics” territory, iirc): long after Phoenix is a dust bowl without a functioning fire dept, it’s still rare for people to be literally dying of thirst there.

          • cassander says:

            was that any good? I loved Windup Girl, but everything else of his that I’ve read has been considerably less good.

          • Tenacious D says:

            I enjoyed it but I have a strong interest in the theme (studies water treatment in uni). It didn’t rise to the level of convincing me to seek out a bunch of his other books, but it had decent world-building and characters, and the plot kept moving. Also, it was a dystopian setting that felt kind of original.

      • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

        > It is the second time stealth technology was used offensively in the series, which is one time too many. You can have a sneak attack on the Canterbury, or you can have a sneak attack on the Donnager, but you really can’t have the Donnager blundering into a sneak attack while responding to the sneak attack on the Canterbury.

        I’m not sure how long did the entire incident (from the distress call to the loss of the Donnager) take, or what the Donnager was doing traveling alone in that area, or what did the Donnager’s crew think they were responding to, but the series made it feel fast enough that the stealth ships might have been missed in the confusion of the incident until it was too late.

        For example, if the bandits were cold-running during the incident itself (which seems probable), the Donnager wouldn’t have seen them on its own sensors, but rather would have needed the help of Martian Navy ATC, and I’m not sure how short is their time from complaint by flagship about possible stealth ships to them usefully informing the flagship about said stealth ships.

        • John Schilling says:

          If the Canterbury is attacked and the Donnager didn’t already have a track on the attackers, then the Donnager knows the Cant was attacked by a stealth ship. That’s tricky, but not out of the question. But it means Donnager knows it is approaching an area of operations that includes one or more lurking stealth ships, and there’s not much excuse for doing that in a way that leaves them vulnerable to ambush themselves.

          Particularly not when they are carrying auxiliaries like the Tachi to serve as pickets and/or conduct boarding operations, while the flagship stands off at a safe distance and on an unpredictable vector. A direct attack on the Donnager should have required the pirates to delurk well in advance, turning it into a stand-up fight in open space.

          I’ll buy the pirates being unusually lucky or Captain Whatshername being unusually overconfident, just this once.

          • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

            What destroyed the Canterbury could just as well have been an Evil OPA Mine(TM) with a blip enhancer – it’s not like the Canterbury’s crew could tell the difference.

            Of course, a more careful captain would have put their flagship far away from anything that looks like danger, or maybe just burned their engine on some random vector after docking with a suspicious ship, but Captain Whatshername’s was probably used to hunting pirates with a Donnager-class battleship and didn’t expect anything she couldn’t handle, making her overconfidence fairly believable.

          • John Schilling says:

            Passive mines don’t work in interplanetary space, and the Canterbury’s captain did take the step of standing off at a safe distance and sending an expendable auxiliary to make the high-risk rendezvous. Canterbury go boom, QED there’s a stealthy active combat platform armed with nuclear missiles lurking in the vicinity of the ex-Scopuli.

          • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

            > Passive mines don’t work in interplanetary space

            I would expect a remotely-turned-on torpedo to work sufficiently well to blow up innocent civilian ships. A remote observer could tell when the ship is near using civilian “A”TC, turn on the mine using something like a well-pointed laser, and program the ship’s signature into the mine. The mine could then turn on, detect the ship on a fairly simple sensor, and turn on engines. Maybe have a blip enhancer nearby to convince any survivors you are a stealth ship.

          • Incurian says:

            Naval incompetence is a thing. I checked.

      • Another Throw says:

        when we now know that e,g. Ceres is about one-third water. The first few books were written before Dawn reached Ceres to make those observations.

        We knew that before Dawn, though. Like, I feel like I knew that before Dawn.

        If you have an estimate of the mass and the diameter, penciling out a density and realizing that the only way to get that density is by having a significant fraction of ices is middle school science fair level straightforward.

        Whether it is big enough, and received enough heat early enough in its formation to form a differentiated interior with an icy mantle and rocky core is a harder question, but pointing the Hubble (and Keck, and Herschel) at about the same time as a stellar occultation brought the density estimate down (and icy fraction up) pretty quickly brought that possibility to the forefront. Which in turn fed into the debate about Pluto’s status. (As an aside, it’ll be interesting to see whether Hygiea makes the cut to the dwarf planet family. It’ll be embarrassing to Vesta and Pallas, which are larger and more massive, if it does, though.)

        But I’m assuming the first few books were also written before we started pointing the Hubble, and Keck, and Herschel telescopes at it and stopped relying on a density estimate from an occultation in the 80’s so I guess it is mostly a pedantic quibble.

  30. eigenmoon says:

    Unfortunately our team won’t submit an article for the competition. But I haven’t given up; on the contrary, doing AC has greatly improved my argumentation. I’d like to thank my partner, Andrew S.

    So, I claim that the Bostrom’s simulation argument is broken. This post is a short summary.

    Bostrom’s simulation argument relies on the “bland indifference principle”: our credence that we’re in a simulation should be equal to the ratio of simulated observers to all observers. So if you knew for sure that there exists exactly one simulated version of you and exactly one flesh-and-blood version of you and absolutely nobody else remotely similar to yourself, then you should believe you’re in a simulation with 50% probability.

    But here’s my counterexample to the indifference principle. Assume that we’ve managed to model a brain with a differential equation dx/dt = f(x), where x = x(t) is a vector, and we also fix x(0). We’re going to simulate the brain by integrating this DE using Euler method. The big question is: should our credence of being simulated by Euler method depend on the step size or not? The indifference principle says it shouldn’t, but I’m going to argue that the finer the simulation, the more credence should there be.

    Let’s say we build a computer, denoted A, that does Euler integration with a small step size h, which we can choose later. So A will compute a sequence of states that we’ll index by multiples of h:
    A(0) = x(0)
    A(t + h) = A(t) + hf(A(t))
    We leave it running until it simulates a brain-minute. Let S be the true solution of the DE; we need to pick h small enough so that |A(t) – S(t)| stays negligible for the entire run (more requirements on h below).

    We also build a second computer, B, that integrates with the step size of 2h:
    B(0) = x(0)
    B(t + 2h) = B(t) + 2hf(B(t))
    We run B until it simulates a brain-minute, which it does twice as fast as A does. We then restart B and run another brain-minute, this time indexed with odd numbers:
    B(h) = A(h)
    B(t + 2h) = (same as before)
    We need h to be small enough so that |B(t) – S(t)| stays negligible, and so does |A(t) – B(t)|.

    Now we have two computers with the same hardware, using the same amount of memory, running for the same amount of time, going through approximately the same states but in a different order, and yet A simulates one brain-minute and B simulates two. The simulated brain (assuming it knows the arrangement) should assign equal probabilities to being simulated by A and by B. This is because for every interval of length h in brain-time, both A and B contribute exactly one state and exactly one computation of f. So if the simulated brain has to bet on where it is at a particular brain-h-time-interval, the bet must be evenly split. Integrating that over all the simulated lifespan, we get that the entire bet must be split evenly.

    Conclusion: since the Universe simulates you with the finest possible precision, you’re overwhelmingly likely to not be in a simulation. Also if you really want to replace yourself with a simulation, pick an analog computer.

    • Incurian says:

      the Universe simulates you with the finest possible precision

      Why do we think this is true?

      • eigenmoon says:

        The word “possible” here does a lot of work. I basically swept all the problems under it.

        While the Universe does seem to evaluate something every Planck time, our differential equation is most likely not modelling the brain down to the quantum level. At some point it will break, and it’s not possible to say exactly at which point without the equation itself. Maybe it will break at the time necessary for an electron to flip its wave or something like that.

        The important question seems to be this: to what precision can we potentially measure delays introduced by neurons, axons etc.? My assumption – probably questionable – is that this intrinsic measurement error is much smaller than the clock ticks of a digital CPU.

        • deciusbrutus says:

          Why do you think that the step size/Planck time is a small value?

          • eigenmoon says:

            @deciusbrutus
            Is that division? But already (electron wavelength / Planck length) is not a small value.

            Is that a slash? But Planck time is a small value.

            Now as for the step size with which Universe simulates brains, the short answer is that I assume it’s small because it’s about thermal noise.

            Here’s a long answer. Let’s unroll a minute of brain computation by considering many copies of the same brain: brain_1, brain_2 and so on – and connecting axons (outputs) of brain_n to corresponding neurons in brain_{n+1}, This contraption would do the same computation as one brain does in a minute, but continuously. What should be the brain’s credence that it’s simulated by that thing (in comparison with a regular brain-minute)?

            We could do the same unrolling thing with digital gates, and in this case the answer’s clear: the unrolled chip is equivalent to (1 / clock frequency) usual chips. Note that this has nothing to do with the computation delays of the gates themselves.

            But what should the answer be if the gates are continuous? I don’t really have any way to measure it, but there should be some sort of temporal resolution that can be substituted for the clock frequency. It is not the speed of the gates themselves, but rather the precision to which the gates’ delays can be measured. At this point I assume that the thing that prevents us from measuring those delays precisely is thermal noise.

            Anyway. for us not to be in a simulation it’s just enough for the temporal resolution of meat to be finer than the frequency that it makes practical sense to simulate brain with, and that’s probably only a bunch of kiloherz anyway.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Sigh. Every time I read anything Bostrom-related I can’t help but think I’ve been living my life all wrong.

      When I read something like the “simulation trilemma”, you know what’s the first thing that comes to my mind? That there’s a fourth prong (should actually be the first on the list) conspicuously missing: “Running high-fidelity ancestor simulations isn’t possible”.

      This is an explicit rejection of Bostrom’s fundamental premise:

      Many works of science fiction as well as some forecasts by serious technologists and futurologists predict that enormous amounts of computing power will be available in the future. Let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are correct. One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations.

      Which reads to me like he should stop reading science fiction and (ptooie!) futurologists and try writing software for a change.

      Imagine, if you will, that the universe is a finite state machine. Why might we imagine that? Well, to the best of our knowledge, the universe has existed for a finite amount of time and has been expanding at a finite rate. This strongly suggests that it has a finite amount of stuff (matter/energy) in it. Moreover, the number of ways this stuff can interact with itself is also finite.

      We can also distinguish between possible universes and the actual universe. A universe where I didn’t write this comment is certainly a possible one (no physical law against it), but it’s also not the one you’re living in right now. Given that we have little reason to believe all those possible, but not actualised, universes exist outside our heads, it is not a much bigger stretch to imagine the universe as a finite state machine with only one transition path through its successive states – what we call the “arrow of time”.

      Indeed, going forward (to the future) in order to end up behind yourself (in the past), seems tricky not only in an engineering sense, but also philosophically.

      What’s that got to do with “ancestor simulations”?

      If the universe is a finite state machine, you cannot simulate a finite state machine of equal complexity within it. You don’t have the “free” states to do so. Let’s imagine an Ancestor Simulator that is capable of recreating any possible state of its parent universe up to time t when it is run. What possible states can the universe be in when we run the Simulator?

      Well, there’s the actual state of the universe – let’s call it AS – that exists independent of the simulator. Then there’s the state of the simulation itself – SS – that will depend on what we told it to simulate. The number of potential states is a product of all possible AS and all possible SS at time t.

      It’s looking a bit iffy already, but we press on. What happens at time t+1? Well, the “actual” universe is still doing its thing, but now the Ancestor Simulator is modelling a universe that contains itself, so it must not only contend with the possible states of the simulated universe, but also of the simulated Ancestor Simulator.

      One more step, to t+2. Now our “real” Ancestor Simulator must simulate not only the universe, but also itself again, which means it’s simulating a simulator simulating a simulator. It gets succesively worse with each iteration.

      Can anyone say “combinatorial explosion”?

      This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to simulate anything – only that the simulation must be vastly less complex (in terms of possible states) than the universe it is simulating.

      From this it follows that if we are to accept (for the sake of argument) that we are living in an ancestor simulation, we must also accept that the “real” universe is vastly more complex and fundamentally unlike anything in our experience.

      Except, I stop paying attention before this point.

      ETA, just in case this isn’t obvious:
      The finite set of states the “real” universe can possibly be in must necessarily encompass all the possible states the simulator is in (because the simulator exists in the universe) and that the possible states of the simulator must necessarily encompass all the possible states of any simulators it simulates, including – especially – when those simulators are themselves simulating simulators.

      • eigenmoon says:

        This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to simulate anything – only that the simulation must be vastly less complex (in terms of possible states) than the universe it is simulating.

        Bostrom agrees (from “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?”):

        Simulating the entire universe down to the quantum level is obviously infeasible, unless radically new physics is discovered.

        we must also accept that the “real” universe is vastly more complex and fundamentally unlike anything in our experience.

        Um… no? Continuing the quote:

        But in order to get a realistic simulation of human experience, much less is needed – only whatever is required to ensure that the simulated humans, interacting in normal human ways with their simulated environment, don’t notice any irregularities.

        In other words, the real universe would be quite like the simulated beings’ experience precisely because their experience would be engineered to feel like the real universe.

        including – especially – when those simulators are themselves simulating simulators.
        Yes, the simulation hypothesis might imply that once we start simulating humans, those who simulate us will run out of computational power and turn us off. Here’s the discussion of how scared we should be about it.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          In other words, the real universe would be quite like the simulated beings’ experience precisely because their experience would be engineered to feel like the real universe.

          You can’t have an experience that “feels like the real universe” without being able to map “states you can feel in the real universe” to “states you can feel in a simulated universe”.

          Which you can’t do on a 1:1 level for reasons already explained.

          Look it’s really simple: if the real universe can be in one of n possible states at any given point, it cannot contain a simulation that can also be in one of n states – because to do that it would actually have to be able to be in one of n^2 possible states. Except, if it is, then the simulated universe must also be able to be in one of n^2 states, so the real universe containing it must have n^4 possible states, etc.

          Whatever experiences such a simulated ancestor may have will be only a pale shadow of the “real” universe, because you simply can’t get anywhere near the amount of detail necessary in the simulation.

          This isn’t an engineering challenge. This is a physical prohibition.

          Here’s the discussion of how scared we should be about it.

          We shouldn’t, ‘coz we wouldn’t even notice (because Epicurus).

          • eigenmoon says:

            This isn’t an engineering challenge.

            Yes it is, and here’s how to do it: don’t simulate thermal noise. Every object with entropy H can be in 2^H states; just throw away this information and remember only its temperature instead. If anybody puts this object into some clever device that derives information from entropy, replace it with pseudorandom information.

            Whatever experiences such a simulated ancestor may have will be only a pale shadow of the “real” universe
            Are you able to experience thermal movements of molecules directly instead of feeling only temperature?

            We shouldn’t, ‘coz we wouldn’t even notice (because Epicurus).
            Even if my death would be so painless I wouldn’t notice, I’d still very much prefer not to die, Epicurus or not.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            You are assuming that there’s “noise” that can be discarded with impunity.

            I don’t even “feel temperature”, as such. I know if I’m hot or cold.

            Here’s the thing though, when you simplify your model (as you necessarily must, for reasons already expounded on at length) you are losing information about the object being modelled. This, I hope we can agree on?

            The problem with doing that is that the more such simplifications you perform, the further you get from the object you are modeling. A lot of the times you can get away with it – if the object being modeled is simple and behaves predictably – but the more complex and/or chaotic it is, the greater the danger of your model becoming completely divorced from your object of study. That’s a common failure mode in economics (among other things).

            The “pale shadow” phrasing is meant to convey all the information that’s being lost in the simplification (and believe me, there’s more than thermal noise you’ll have to discard).

            Even if my death would be so painless I wouldn’t notice, I’d still very much prefer not to die, Epicurus or not.

            If the simulation got switched off, you literally wouldn’t notice, because there would be nobody to notice, nor a universe wherein the noticing could occur.

      • gwern says:

        When I read something like the “simulation trilemma”, you know what’s the first thing that comes to my mind? That there’s a fourth prong (should actually be the first on the list) conspicuously missing: “Running high-fidelity ancestor simulations isn’t possible”.

        Premise 1 as summarized by WP:

        Human civilization or a comparable civilization is unlikely to reach a level of technological maturity capable of producing simulated realities or such simulations are physically impossible to construct.[4]

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          The wiki article on the simulation hypothesis gives me the following reading of first prong of the trilemma:

          The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage (that is, one capable of running high-fidelity ancestor simulations) is very close to zero

          Which you’ll note omits the key issue. I’d love to find out which one Bostrom actually used. Unfortunately, the references have link-rotted.

          The use of quotation marks on the Simulation Hypothesis article, suggests a direct quote. This also jibes with a further quote from Bostrom in that same article:

          If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity. If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation. In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3)… I note that people who hear about the simulation argument often react by saying, ‘Yes, I accept the argument, and it is obvious that it is possibility #n that obtains.’ But different people pick a different n. Some think it obvious that (1) is true, others that (2) is true, yet others that (3) is true.

          Notice that nowhere in the above does he acknowledge the possiblity that regardless of whether “posthumanity” is a meaningful concept (I, personally, tend to have a low opinion of people who use such terms unironically), “high-fidelity ancestor simulations” may not constitute a part of it – because they physically cannot exist.

          ETA The Simulation Argument FAQ restates the above understanding of the argument, which – again – completely omits the option of simulations not being possible at all.

          Given that impossibility of such simulations dissolves the argument, I find it telling that it is not being addressed at all.

          The closest we get is:

          So basically, the idea is that some of our experimental findings could be “faked” by the simulators, if they wanted to conceal the fact that we are in a simulation and if such faking was the most efficient way to conceal it.

          Except a simulated being has no access to the “real” universe, so the “faked” results are the simulated being’s actual reality.

    • Bugmaster says:

      This is a neat argument, but… does it matter ?

      Is there any evidence we could collect, even in principle, that will tell us whether we live in a simulation or not ? If the answer is “yes”, then we should go and collect some; doing so will settle the question much more definitively than abstract mathematical exercises. If the answer is “no”, then it’s irrelevant whether we live in a simulation or not, by definition.

      • eigenmoon says:

        Maybe if you please the simulators, they will rapture you and show you the real world. Or maybe if we start using too much computational power, we will be turned off. See also the guide by Robin Hanson on survival in an ancestral simulation. I think this is all in principle relevant.

        More generally, I think Popper’s falsifiability criterion should include being killed as a potential way to get evidence, even though strictly speaking there’s no one left to process the evidence in such a case.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Yes, but maybe if you fail to wear a proper beard, God will condemn you to Hell for all eternity. So, should I stop shaving just in case, or what ?

          In other words, it’s just Pascal’s Wager with some new paint on top.

          • eigenmoon says:

            Popper’s criterion doesn’t forbid you from gathering evidence in the afterlife, and therefore doesn’t protect you from God. The problem with Pascal’s Wager isn’t that it’s irrelevant, it’s that all possibilities tend to cancel out. For a God who likes hair (look at Sikhs) there would be a God who doesn’t (look at Buddhist monks). For a God who wants people to put their sins onto an innocent guy there may be a God who tempts people to do so but actually only takes those into Heaven who say: “This is screwed, I’d rather answer for my sins myself”.

            The same goes for generic simulation hypotheses like “what if we’re simulated by 4-D ant-like creatures who want us to make more music?”. Yeah, but what if we’re simulated by 5-D blob-like creatures who want us to play more chess instead?

            The whole point of ancestral simulations is that they don’t cancel out.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @eigenmoon:

            The whole point of ancestral simulations is that they don’t cancel out.

            How so ? Maybe the 5D “ancestors” want you to consume as much CPU as possible, since there’s a goal they’re trying to accomplish, and they want you to utilize their resources efficiently. Or, maybe they want you to consume as little CPU as possible, there’s a goal they’re trying to accomplish and you’re not contributing. Or maybe…

            But that’s not even the biggest problem with Pascal’s Wager. The problem is that the Simulators, like God, are completely inscrutable and therefore unfalsifiable. This makes speculating about them endlessly fun, but also totally pointless, since none of your hypotheses about them will ever be confirmed (by definition). Sure, if the afterlife does indeed exist, you might eventually go there; but now you’ve replaced one unknown (the Simulators) with two (the Simulators plus the afterlife). This isn’t making your case any stronger.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Bugmaster

            First of all, “ancestors” are supposed to be us and the simulators are supposed to be the “descendants”. And they’re not inscrutable like God, they’re just our grand-grand-…-grand-children with a lot of computing power.

            Second, I repeat that things that can kill you or turn you off are relevant even if it’s not possible to confirm them. Imagine a scientist who puts himself in a Schroedinger cat’s box: if a quantum coin toss gives heads, he’s vaporized and if tails, he gets out. After ten trials, the scientist concludes that the experiment designed in such a way always gives tails. There is an alternative explanation however, namely the scientist has just killed himself in 1023 quantum worlds out of 1024. I do not believe that the inability of the scientist to confirm which theory is right renders the question meaningless or irrelevant.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @eigenmoon:
            I think you are repeating yourself a little.

            And they’re not inscrutable like God, they’re just our grand-grand-…-grand-children with a lot of computing power.

            What’s the difference ?

            I repeat that things that can kill you or turn you off are relevant even if it’s not possible to confirm them.

            No, they are not, because I can invent a nearly infinite number of such things. We can have an intellectually stimulating discussion about angels dancing on pinheads, but ultimately our time would be better spent doing almost anything else.

            I do not believe that the inability of the scientist to confirm which theory is right renders the question meaningless or irrelevant.

            Again, what is the relevance ?

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Bugmaster
            What’s the difference ?
            The difference is that we can approximate what our descendants would do with a lot of computing power by guessing what we would do with it, whereas figuring out what God wants is notoriously difficult.

            Again, what is the relevance ?
            What if the scientist gets 100$ for going through a Schroedinger’s box? If the box always chooses to let him live, it’s a great deal, but if he’s killed half the time, it’s a horrible deal. How can a question be irrelevant if it can determine the optimal behavior?

            No, they are not, because I can invent a nearly infinite number of such things.
            Here’s one that I’m actually quite concerned about. Cosmic rays might create microscopic black holes. Microscopic black holes might initiate vacuum decay. Vacuum decay vaporizes everything in its light-cone. It is therefore possible that the Universe is destroyed all the time with a significant probability per second, we just don’t notice. I would very much like to know what probability that is. If it’s sufficiently high, I might start to value my present existence higher than my future existence and make life choices accordingly.

          • Bugmaster says:

            What if the scientist gets 100$ for going through a Schroedinger’s box? If the box always chooses to let him live, it’s a great deal…

            In this case, the relevant piece of information is “the box always rolls tails”, not “the box always rolls tails but also the many-worlds hypothesis is true”. It’s no better than the statement “the box always rolls tails but also Brahma watches us all”, or “the box always rolls tails but I had ice cream for breakfast this morning”.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Bugmaster
            The many-worlds hypothesis is very relevant to the question of how to interpret our existence as evidence. If it’s false, then our existence is a great evidence that spontaneous vacuum decay is unlikely to destroy the Universe. If it’s true, then that’s no evidence at all.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          Maybe if you please the simulators, they will rapture you and show you the real world.

          And how would they do that, exactly?

          Unless you’re assuming a simulated eternal soul (and I presume you aren’t), then a Sim has no existence outside their simulation. The simulation is their reality and the existence of any “higher” universes is of marginal interest, given that these are fundamentally inaccessible forever.

          Don’t believe me?

          Imagine for a moment that I have parted the skies before you and in a booming, but rather pleasant and manly baritone inform you that you have, in fact, been living in a simulation all along and in reward for your good efforts I shall transport you to another simulation that shall be much more to your liking.

          Being intelligent, and thus naturally skeptical, you ask how this shall be effected?

          Simplicity itself. I am already simulating one of you, so it’s no trouble for me to create a copy of that code and data and place it in a different simulated environment. In fact (parting the skies a bit more) I show you a window into this wonderful new existence where you can see a perfect copy of yourself having all your desires fulfilled.

          All that remains, I then say, is to complete the transfer, whereby you shall cease to exist in this simulated reality, so you can continue your existence in a world designed solely to make you happy. For this purpose, I produce a suitably large hammer.

          Do I have your agreement to carry out my plan?

          • eigenmoon says:

            And how would they do that, exactly?
            Just put the brain-emulating hardware into a robot, unplug its I/O from the simulated universe and plug it into the robot’s sensors and actuators. That’s it!

            Do I have your agreement to carry out my plan?
            Sure, but why a hammer if you can just pause the simulation? Moving simulations around is not hard, it’s done by admins all the time: see Virtual Machine Migration. No hammers necessary.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Sure, but why a hammer if you can just pause the simulation?

            Works for me.

            ETA:

            Just put the brain-emulating hardware into a robot, unplug its I/O from the simulated universe and plug it into the robot’s sensors and actuators. That’s it!

            Done! Please allow me to assure you your robot form is enjoying itself immensly.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Faza (TCM)

            As I believe in Everett’s multiple world interpretation, the thought of splitting myself doesn’t feel that weird anymore. Suppose that I’m offered a deal: a quantum coin is tossed, if heads, I get 150$, if tails, I lose 100$. I’d take it. But that would split the Universe into two quantum worlds, one with me 150$ richer and another with me 100$ poorer. The paths of the two copies of me might diverge from that point. But that’s OK because quantum coins shouldn’t be calculated differently from regular coins. In other words, splitting the Universe is totally worth 25$.

            Similarly, if you have a chance to copy yourself, you should totally go for it. Not doing it is the same as killing self with 50% probability.

    • Brassfjord says:

      When I wasn’t accepted to do the adversarial collaboration on simulation (the right decision by the way), I did my own collaboration with myself as my worst enemy. If anyone is interested you can read it here:
      https://pastebin.com/jPFbB37k

      • eigenmoon says:

        Thanks.

        I’d like to mention that I wasn’t the one not accepting you, there was another AC on simulation.

        Your position more or less agrees with Bostrom’s own assessment that our probability of being in a simulation is 20%-ish (source). My problem with the “why would somebody waste so much computational power on this?” is that I would ask the same question if somebody told me about real-time raytracing in games (yes, it’s a thing now).

        Why waste computer time on simulating my life, when there are so many historical persons and an infinte number of made up characters with more edifying or entertaining lives?
        Maybe those are the PCs.

        • Brassfjord says:

          I can see the added value to a game with real-time raytracing, but not with NPCs that have full brain emulations that gives them consciousness.

          • eigenmoon says:

            Full brain emulation may be the simplest (or the only) way to get a machine that feels like a human rather than a chatbot. Maybe not though: Westworld depicts AIs that feel human but aren’t brain emulations. But high-quality simulations might sell even if they aren’t actually distinguishable. For example, expensive wine does sell and experiments show it isn’t distinguishable. See also high-fidelity music.

            We also live in a world where chat apps (Slack, Skype) include a copy of Chrome browser just to render the interface. Yeah, it might eat an extra GB of RAM, but people use it anyway. The ease of development trumps everything else here. And also brain simulations, although computationally costly, might be much easier to develop then an AI that feels like a human.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Speaking strictly in terms of gaming, realistic NPCs would be a massive boon to most narrative games; this is something gamers have been dreaming about for ages. Fortunately, neither Strong AI nor whole-brain emulation are needed to achieve this. On the one hand, most humans exhibit NPC-like behaviour a lot of the time; on the other hand, even simple chatbots such as the original Eliza have been known to fool humans on occasion. Sure, you might not be able to fall deeply in love with an NPC, or spend hours in deep philosophical discussions with one about the nature of truth and beauty; but if you’re playing the game, you don’t need that level of depth anyway.

            Whole-brain emulation and Strong AI might be centuries away (if not longer), but fully interactive NPCs seem achievable in 50 years or so.

          • Brassfjord says:

            @eigenmoon

            I’m convinced that a whole-brain emulation will require much more programming and at least a trillion times more computer capacity and memory, than a program that can pass a Turing test.

            But I don’t know how to convince you of that.

          • Nick says:

            Sure, you might not be able to fall deeply in love with an NPC, or spend hours in deep philosophical discussions with one about the nature of truth and beauty; but if you’re playing the game, you don’t need that level of depth anyway.

            If “the game” doesn’t include philosophical discussions about the nature of truth and beauty, something is missing. Compare with any RPG campaign.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Nick:
            You and I play very different RPG campaigns 🙂

    • theifin says:

      Have you read “permutation city” by Greg Egan? It discusses exactly these type of experiments on software consciousness in great detail.

      I don’t get the step from your second last paragraph to your conclusion: how do you get from “the bet (between which of two possible simulations we are in) must be split evenly” to “you are overwhelmingly likely to not be in a simulation”? The initial argument seems to say that the simulated consciousness sees no difference between higher precision (step h) and lower precision (step 2h) simulations: this suggests there should be no difference between very high precision “simulation” (actually, reality) and less high precision (simulation). Am I missing something here?

      • eigenmoon says:

        I haven’t, but it’s on my waiting list.

        The bet must be split evenly between A (one high-resolution simulation) and B (two low-resolution simulations) which means that resolution does matter and there should be a difference between reality and simulation.

  31. robirahman says:

    What does a 2 point penalty mean? Is that a lot? What if one of the late entries is better than all of the initial ones?

  32. Athreeren says:

    A year ago, Sort By Controversial terrified me. Now, I can just watch the news: Hong Kong, Catalonia, Haiti, Chile, Lebanon, Bolivia, Indonesia, Iraq, Palestine… Violent protests are happening all over the world, in very different countries and territories. Of course, the deep causes for the protests are not new, and some among the current wave of protests are just the continuation of movements that had started earlier. Still, the extreme temporal proximity of some of these protests does make me think of some group tuning their own version of Shiri’s Scissor.

    • Murphy says:

      I suspect it’s worse.

      That the very nature of human interaction on the kind of social networks they enjoy interacting on most, ones which constitute supernormal stimuli for the social bits of the human brain… mean that even without intentional action by any evil overlords that that process will create Scissors statements and throw them to the top of discussions.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I have a notion that the easiest way to organize people is in opposition to some other group.

        Also, arguments and habits for not-opposition (peace and tradition) have been considerably weakened because the status quo is frequently bad. However, there’s a failure to consider that overturning the status quo might be worse.

      • VivaLaPanda says:

        Or maybe just that new communication technology (and technology in general) often leads to periods of violence, which then evens out as a new normal is found. I’d argue it’d be crazier to expect *no* violence in the aftermath of the WWW, just like it’d be wild to expect the printing press to have no effect on global power structures at the time. The WWW is *at least* as disruptive as the printing press.

      • Tenacious D says:

        The behaviour of cascade events can be affected by network properties. This paper says that

        When the network of interpersonal influences is sufficiently sparse, the propagation of cascades is limited by the global connectivity of the network; and when it is sufficiently dense, cascade propagation is limited by the stability of the individual nodes.

        If this kind of model is correct, increasing the connectivity of social networks can lead to a domain shift in the way disruption or unrest can spread.

        I also think that for people with mental illnesses, social media (whether via the filter bubbles they curate or the content served up by algorithms) can provide positive feedback on their flawed perceptions of reality in a way that’s a bit novel.

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      Is this a deviation from historical levels of controversy though?
      Like, you could have written Sort by Controversial right before the outbreak of any major conflict (especially WWI) and one would think the same thing?
      I’m not sure the new capacity for optimizing outrage through random selection+filtering is the best explanation, or how we could go about testing that hypothesis.

    • JPNunez says:

      Dunno about the rest, but in Chile the protests started because the Minister of Economy, and some other Ministers had the communication skills of Marie Antoinette. Nobody actually rised in _support_ of their sayings, so those are not really scissor statements.

    • AG says:

      Perhaps CW, but it seems that this assumes that the conflicts are actually about the scissor statement, instead of the statement being an excuse to fight on their issues they actually care about, just as World War isn’t really about the assassination of one person.

      The extreme temporal proximity of these protests can be linked to how the protesters involved are protesting against things that threaten their own livelihoods. It’s not about trivial controversy.

      Scissor statements are de-fanged when the people involved have most of their basic needs met. MsScribe is a wild story, but was anyone materially damaged by it? We should hope that MsScribe-style fandom wanks are the norm, though it should appear to be the height of scissor statement mania.

    • Lambert says:

      Are these not just a globalised version of 1848 Europe or 1991 Eastern Bloc or 2011 Middle East or….

    • Aftagley says:

      some among the current wave of protests are just the continuation of movements that had started earlier.

      This point is being understated massively. The thing about living in the present is that it’s always going to seem like the most dramatic time; it’s the only time we have.

      Haiti, Lebanon, Bolivia, Palestine, Iraq and Indonesia are all issues that have been simmering for at least 10 years, most of them far longer.

      I don’t know that much about Indonesia or Catalonia to comment.

      Of the ones you listed, I think the only new ones are Chile and Hong Kong, but those are pretty obviously special cases (Chile has < 30 years since it was a dictatorship, Hong Kong has < 30 years until it gets fully taken over by a dictatorship).

    • From Wikipedia’s category pages on the subject:

      2019 has 63 pages.

      2014 has 54 pages.

      2009 has 27 pages.

      2004 has 5 pages.

      1999 has 6 pages.

  33. AFallenBanner says:

    hey, does anyone else get the impression that David Wong’s What The Hell Did I Just Read is just a very complicated toxoplasma metaphor?

    • Nick Imrie says:

      I would like to hear more of this theory please! I love John Dies at the End and I enjoyed What the Hell Did I Just Read so I’m always open to fan theories.

      It’s been a while since I last read it but I think I can see where you’re coming from: the mind changing creatures can implant memories into people causing everyone to see different things, a bit like the way getting mindkilled by politics gives everyone a different narrative?

      • AFallenBanner says:

        SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS FOR ALL OF IT BELOW AAAAAAAHHH

        also:
        * the thing where killing the monster with fire is what causes the larva-pod-baby thing to actually hatch, the final stage in its life cycle
        * the Marconi deep wisdom quote that boiled down to ‘in their hearts, people love having something to fear and hate and generally fight against’
        * the protagonists ending up living with the monster like in their house and that just happening from then on, the moral probably being meant to be ‘actually, the real way to win/best thing to do is make peace with there just being “monsters” (ie. ppl you see the world differently from) next to you’
        * some other stuff i forget

  34. Prussian says:

    Sorry, I can’t resist this. I know it’s serious, but…

    doing informal research on polyamory

    just screams “unfortunate euphemism” XD

    No disrespect to your friend, and best of luck.

  35. Brett says:

    – Nick and Rob on space colonization

    Very interested in how this one turns out. My suspicion is that space colonization won’t prove long-term viable unless the colonies are functionally self-sufficient – even the big boosters tend to realize that there’s not much probability of a profitable export industry back to Earth (Zubrin thinks the Mars colonies will be a huge font of innovation somehow and will export patents back to Earth).

    • Bugmaster says:

      I’m hoping they rigorously define “colonization”. We’ve got people living on a space station now — does this mean we’ve colonized space ?

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Most thinking about space colonization suffers from an utterly fatal case of infection by the mythologizing of the US frontier, and in particular, and most misleading, the US war of independence. Not the actual war of independence, but the war of independence as foundational USA myth.

      To the point where if I was founding a permanent operation off earth, I would give considerable thought to just flat out refusing to hire US citizens to man it, lest the operation engage in suicidal american independence reenactment drama, now with weapons of mass destruction and habitats with tin can walls.

      I do not expect “independence” from earth to ever happen. Apex technology depends on vast webs of trade, there is no tech more apex that staying alive in space, and earth is always going to be the biggest market and the source of the best tech. But this also simplifies the problem immensely. All you need is a product which it is more economical to produce in space than on earth, and there are quite a considerable range of possibilities for that, especially if you can hammer the transport costs down far enough.

      Lofstrom Loops. The hilarious scheme with the ultra-high-altitude blimps. And so forth

      • Lambert says:

        > suicidal american independence reenactment drama, now with weapons of mass destruction and habitats with tin can walls

        Don’t forget the robot arms, sentient computers and polygamy.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          … This, but kind of seriously. So much science fiction which treats “rebelling against earth is right, just and inevitable” as an unquestioned axiom. To the point that I would be utterly unsurprised by people actually following that script in real life, even if it inevitably, obviously, is going to get them all killed.

          Or to put it another way, your space miners are going to need right damn thorough psyc evals, and a remote kill switch on their engines, lest John Jonson son of John persuades himself he is a hero in the war against tyrranical earth and does something really ill advised with his mining rig, because of how engraved that line of bullshit is in the culture

          • John Schilling says:

            This, but kind of seriously. So much science fiction which treats “rebelling against earth is right, just and inevitable” as an unquestioned axiom.

            Seriously, “so much science fiction” means one novel by Robert Heinlein over half a century ago and, what exactly?

            I don’t seem to have a catalog of my personal library handy, but I do have my Hugo spreadsheet. Of the 293 Hugo-nominated science fiction novels that aren’t “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, the only ones that fit your description are KSR’s “RGB Mars” trilogy, and maybe “Downbelow Station”. Which works are you finding particularly offensive in this regard?

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LibertariansInSpace

            .. warning, tvtropes. Also not the exact trope I was thinking of, but it does include a bunch of examples.

          • Eric Rall says:

            From TvTropes, The War of Earthly Aggression is a closer fit to what we’re talking about.

            The biggest examples I’m familiar with, apart from MiaHM and RGB Mars, are Babylon 5 (Mars had been under martial law due to a violent independence movement when the series began, and achieved independence late in the series) and Total Recall (pretty much the entire plot within the Mars reality).

            It might be helpful to consider as a comparison SF where the Moon and/or Mars have been colonized to the point of being viable societies, but do not seek independence from Earth or the independence movement are presented as villains.

            Of the former category, the two examples I can think of off the top of my head are Star Trek and the Honorverse. I can’t immediately think of any examples of the latter category.

          • Nornagest says:

            I can’t immediately think of any examples of the latter category.

            Gundam is the only example I can think of offhand, but Japanese media doesn’t tend to glorify rebellion to the extent that American does. Outside of Heinlein, though, I don’t think said rebellion usually takes the form of an American Revolution metaphor; anti-colonial (e.g. Mars Trilogy; often comes packaged with anti-corporate, especially in New Wave SF) or anti-imperial (e.g. Star Wars) plots are the usual setup, and many of the exceptions use a sanitized American Civil War metaphor (e.g. Firefly).

            I suppose there’s FTL if you aren’t too strict about an Earth-vs-outer-planets setup.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            We’re also discussing The Expanse on this very OT 😛

          • Nornagest says:

            I wouldn’t say The Expanse paints the Belters — or even the Martians — as the bad guys relative to Earth. It’s a lot grayer than the usual setup, with the Belter revolutionaries using terror tactics and the Martians picking up some military dictatorship coding, but most of our protagonists are from the Belt, their concerns are consistently portrayed as valid, and the actual plot-relevant villains are an unaligned paramilitary and (massive spoilers).

          • John Schilling says:

            but most of our protagonists are from the Belt,

            James Holden – Earth
            Naomi Nagata – Belter
            Alex Kamal – Mars
            Amos Burton – Earth
            Joe Miller – Belter
            Chrisjen Avasarala – Earth
            Bobbie Draper – Mars
            Fred Johnson – Earth
            Drummer – Belter
            Klaes Ashford – Belter

            And they’re pretty good about not saying any one political faction is the Good Guys or the Bad Guys; the obvious Bad Guys are all criminals by the standards of their own culture.

          • Incurian says:

            The Aristillus series is pretty good.

      • kurt9 says:

        Red herring. You are confusing political independence with economic autarky. They are totally different.

        Sure we are all interdependent. We interact with each other through a mechanism called the free market. I can be a manufacturer of analytical instruments in Vancouver Wa and with the largest market i sell into being the East Countries such as Japan, South Korea, China, as well as South East Asia. Modern forms of banking such as letter of credit can allow me to do business with both suppliers and customers without having to be in the same polity. Obviously I do not need to be in the same polity as others in order to engage in profitable relationship with such others.

        Likewise, space colonies could certainly be politically independent while trading and doing business with each other as well as entities on Earth. Think of each space colony being a space-based version of Singapore. In fact, the city-state concept is the one model that is most appropriate to space settlements.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Wars tend to greatly restrict trade between the opposing belligerents for the duration of the conflict, and it’s a very common tactic for one belligerent to try to interfere with the enemy’s ability to trade with nonbelligerents. During the American Revolution, per-capita GDP fell about 20% during the conflict and took decades to fully recover, partly due to direct devastation of war and partly due to the US economy being forced into near-autarky by the British blockade. And that’s for a mostly-agrarian society (*) 250 years ago, not an advanced technological society decades or centuries in the future.

          (*) The American Colonies immediately pre-independence had a very strong commercial sector (long-distance shipping, etc) by the standards of the day, but was still overwhelming agrarian by modern standards.

          • kurt9 says:

            Of course. This is the nature of war. So what?

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            War –> Economic independence, but political independence -/-> war, so this doesn’t refute the point you’re responding to.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Of course. This is the nature of war. So what?

            Unless I misread something, you were responding to an argument that economic dependence made political independence less likely, by arguing that political independence didn’t necessarily require economic independence. That’s true as far as it goes: Britain does have substantial trade with its former colonies, including those like the US which achieved independence through war.

            My point is that economic dependence makes political independence a lot harder to achieve. The level of economic dependence that a space colony would likely have on its Earthly mother country (at least until that colony was centuries old) effectively takes war and the credible threat of war off the table as ways to achieve independence. They could conceivable win independence through peaceful political means (many former colonies on Earth having done so), but I’d expect that to take a lot longer than if wars of independence were practical to at least threaten.

          • Lambert says:

            What about France and the American Revolutionaries?
            Even if you are severed from the metropolis, you can be dependant on *someone*.

          • kurt9 says:

            I think we’re talking past each other with regards to war.

            As far as political and economic independence is concerned, what you say is correct. if you have a company that is highly dependent on a single supplier or a single customer, then that entity is going to have a lot of influence over how you do business (e.g. product design, which components to use. etc.). Generally the solution is to look for more suppliers and customers. Space colonies, by their very nature, will be at the end of a very long and expensive supply chain. They will also not be built in the first place until they are largely self-financing by their founders (see my post about “Pilgrims, Saints, and Spacemen”). This will, by necessity, force some measure of autarky, at least until there is a network of such settlement sufficient to support their own trading networks. However, it is worth noting that such autarky will make it less likely that Earth based entities will even have the motivation to maintain political control over space habitats. Colonial policies are expensive to maintain. That’s why the old European empires collapsed.

    • kurt9 says:

      This issue was effectively address by Freeman Dyson in the September 1979 issue of L-5 Society magazine. The article titled “Pilgrims, Saints, and Spacemen” compared the cost of new settlement on the part of the Pilgrims and later Mormons based on the time of earnings needed for such settlement and concluding that space settlement will not happen until the capital cost of such drops to around $300-500K capital cost per individual (adjusted from 1979 to today). A lot of development, not just space transportation costs, but also the cost of fabbing and inhabiting the habitat as well. In short, space settlement will not happen until it becomes cheap enough to be self-financing by those interested in doing it.

      The L-5 Society itself concluding in the mid 1970’s that the only “products” of sufficient value that could be sold to Earth were space based solar power and PGM’s mined from asteroids.

      Needless to say, it will be decades before space settlement becomes feasible. I think 50 years.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Antarctica is my canary for space colonization becoming viable. Antarctica shares two of the big expected attractions of space colonies (virgin land, vast untapped mineral resources), and it has two huge advantages over anywhere else in the solar system: it’s orders of magnitude easier to get to, and it has a much more hospitable climate.

        The main reason I know of for colonizing anywhere in space before Antarctica is the one John Schilling brought up a few open threads ago: a highly-specialized lunar mining and manufacturing base for building stuff destined for space-based uses (space probes, LEO/GEO satellite infrastructure, etc, like the L-5 proposal you mentioned) without needing to lift the materials into orbit from the Earth’s surface. But as a place for a substantial number of people to go and colonize, I expect Antarctica to go first.

        • kurt9 says:

          Or seasteading.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I view Antarctica as boring and space as exciting. I would not colonize Antarctica. I would definitely colonize space.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Yeah but legally you’re not supposed to colonize Antarctica. This could of course change (it’s a fairly weak treaty as far as I can tell from wiki) but it could also mean waiting for the canary is vulnerable to false negatives.

          Put another way, we have plenty* of humans living in the Arctic Circle, is Antarctica substantially more difficult?

          • John Schilling says:

            is Antarctica substantially more difficult?

            Most people’s image of “Antarctica” is just the ice cap, which is in one critical respect much harder to settle than the Arctic – but also harder to settle than e.g. Mars and for the same reason: there’s literally no resources available other than ice, air, and whatever you brought from home. Tolerable for a scientific outpost, in which case the cheaper transport costs give Antarctica the edge, but scientists don’t make settlements.

            The Antarctic coasts, are no harder to settle than e.g. Svalbard (yes, including the weather), and we’d almost certainly have similar settlements dotting the Antarctic coast if not for the treaty.

          • Aftagley says:

            (it’s a fairly weak treaty as far as I can tell from wiki)

            I spent around 3 years of my life in a job that involved enforcing that treaty. Let me tell you, it’s not a particularly weak treaty. It is at least 70% of the reason that we haven’t seen Antarctic colonization.

          • CatCube says:

            @Aftagley

            If you ever get the time for an effortpost, that’d be fascinating to hear about.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Agreed that that sounds very interesting!

            I didn’t mean to imply it was ineffective, just my general impression from the wikipedia article was that it’d be littered with caveats and “if anyone else does we will too”s and the like.

  36. onyomi says:

    I’m not sure I have a lot to add to this post by Robin Hanson other than to say that I agree with it and agree it seems a major overlooked factor when considering why some succeed better than others (distinct from e.g. IQ and upbringing): namely stamina, energy, ability to function well on little sleep, etc.

    I think this could be as variable as IQ within the general population and arguably just as important. If anything, when you look at the most successful people in the world, I get the impression that, rather than spending all your points on IQ, you’d be better off designing yourself to have say 120 IQ and then dump the rest into “energy/stamina” and “charisma.”

    Personally I have very uneven energy levels and have been previously diagnosed with bipolar though it isn’t very extreme or disruptive to my life. Still, I think one reason I chose to go into academia is that it’s relatively forgiving of flexible schedules so long as a lot of work gets done at some time, so said work can be concentrated into intense bursts of focus, as are conducive to my energy.

    Therefore it seems like another aspect of “energy” or “stamina” to consider may be its predictability (that is, the most productive people will likely be predictably, consistently high-energy or hypomanic; the next-most will be either predictably moderate-energy or inconsistently high-energy like me; presumably the hardest challenge to overcome will be consistent low energy, perhaps associated with chronic disease of some kind).

    • quanta413 says:

      I mostly agree with it. I’ve known people who could sleep 3/4 as much as me while functioning just as well, or work an extra couple hours on average each day. It makes a huge difference if you can consistently average 50 hours of high quality work each week instead of 40, or 40 instead of 30, etc. I think most people can operate at peak output doing a very demanding task (whether intellectually or physically or requiring immense concentration and focus) for maybe 4 hours a day or less, then the rest of their workday is composed of lower intensity stuff.

      The selection process he speaks of seems sometimes very inefficient in a lot of cases though. For example, some types of doctors need to perform very lengthy complicated surgeries so they need a lot of stamina. But lots of types of doctors don’t need to do that, so why torture every resident with brutal hours? Why does a future pediatrician or general MD need to learn to work 12 hour shifts or worse? Nonspecialist veterinarians are not tortured with crazy 80 hour weeks as a condition for becoming veterinarians, and they’re roughly comparable to your primary MD. Obviously there are some advantages to having doctors with more stamina, but there are also a lot of disadvantages to having doctors or doctors in training who are so torched that they’re operating on half their brainpower. Mistakes in medicine can be a huge deal.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Until a couple of months ago I’d have said “probably”. I’m just coming out of a grueling period in my business, and to my surprise the combination of “my business” and “actually working” managed to take a completely different level of effort out of me, to the point where the main challenge was managing myself so I won’t break before it’s done. It was something like wake up, work until mid afternoon, take a 2 hour break to get out of the house, come back and work until late night, take an hour to unwind enough to sleep, sleep – with sparing use of zolpidem if I wake up too early. In retrospect I should’ve tried to add some very light regular exercise, but well, it went well enough.

      Thing is, I used to consider myself low stamina. I’ve always had a motivation problem – didn’t went the corporate way and worked at home most of my life, so getting enough hours of work out of me was always The major limiting factor. Not unusual at all in my line of work. And now, surprise – 13-14 work hour days are fun.

      I don’t challenge the main point of the article: the quantity of effort you manage to put out is probably the most important factor of success. Just add a small quantity of “don’t get yourself taken advantage of”, and you’re good. But I don’t think it’s a matter of stamina as much as motivation. Not just willpower… maybe drive would be the best word?

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, I think this is a good point. Differences in the nature and structure of the work one is choosing or required to do seem to have potential to elicit very different levels of “energy.”

        Ability to focus for a long time seems a big part of what is colloquially termed “energetic.” But maybe for any given level of innate “energy” there’s also a lot of variability depending on the task? Obviously loving your work or being passionate about it in some way helps while thinking one’s job is pointless does the reverse.

        Besides doing work I care about, I also find I can get a lot more done when I’m allowed to focus. If you tell me to spend three months working on Projects A, B, and C, all three projects will likely be less far along at the end of three months than if I were allowed to devote myself solely to Project A for one month, solely to Project B for one month, and so on. I attribute this to inertia problem of “shifting gears” (when you switch from task A to task B part of your brain keeps thinking about A and it takes a bit of extra time and energy to make a clean transition; Cal Newport talks about this a lot).

        Also related, of course, is ADHD and the pharmaceutical treatment thereof Scott has written a little about. On the one hand it doesn’t seem terribly problematic to me that we’re probably all getting more work done than we would in a world with caffeine, but on the other it bothers me to think we may be giving strong stimulants to children not because they genuinely need them for mental wellbeing but because we’ve designed curricula too tedious or meaningless to hold their attention without it (I think Scott has also suggested that what we might term “abuse” of e.g. Adderall is pretty rampant in certain professions).

    • Purplehermann says:

      I have to disagree on the 120 IQ, time and time again I’ve seen hard workers who are around that level of intelligence (a few people I’ve been in school with were tested and had an IQ thereabouts, I use them as a reference) who are very hard workers outpaced by smarter people who put in consistent work but much less. I’d take the same setup but take IQ 120 first priority, being consistently decently hard working second, IQ 140 third priority, consistent high level hardworkingness fourth, then IQ and charisma with whatever is left.
      Once you are hard working/ have good “stamima” every bit of charisma and IQ makes a real difference IMO

    • sty_silver says:

      I remember Elon Musk being asked about advice to be successful, and he said something like “if you just work twice as much as others, you have a big advantage, even if you’re not any smarter”

    • DinoNerd says:

      My stamina is inversely proportional to the number of people in earshot. Yet the PTB really love putting people who are not them into “open offices”. Stamina may matter to success, but employers don’t want employees to have it, AFAICT.

      • onyomi says:

        Newport is also a big opponent of the open office plan, as am I. My suspicion is that it just became a trendy thing to do among managers because it looks like you’re encouraging “synergy” or something. Or maybe the dirty secret is that once the internet became super entertaining managers basically had to have the ability to easily low-level spy on all the employees to make sure they weren’t spending the whole day on social media?

        • Eric Rall says:

          As far as I can tell, open offices appeal to decision makers for four main reasons:

          1. Legibility and pride: in an open-office setup, managers can look out from their desks and see all their busy little worker bees toiling