Open Thread 140.25

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1,160 Responses to Open Thread 140.25

  1. Clutzy says:

    Lets imagine there is a conspiracy theory about you that you know is false. Like that you murdered your gardener because you saw him sleeping with your wife. What is the best way to dispel this conspiracy theory?

    • eric23 says:

      You gotta clarify more for this to be a meaningful question. First question: is the gardener still alive?

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      I tend to think that the operative word there is “best”. For instance, it would be relatively easy and effective (I think) to drown that conspiracy theory in other conspiracy theories that contradict it. But if this pulled people away from this particular conspiracy theory, it still wouldn’t let you go out in polite company.

      eric23 has a good point too. If the theory is easily falsifiable then just falsify it.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Same way you get rid of an earworm. Produce an even bigger version of the same thing.

  2. Plumber says:

    While waiting to get another chest X-ray at the Oakland Kaiser hospital (I wish I smoked so I could quit and have better lungs!), I had a strange reminder of my late father, in a nearby room a lecture was about to start and for some reason the presenter clearly played Kenny Rogers “The Gambler”

    a song I remember playing on the car radio during which my Dad said “This song isn’t about cards, it’s about life”. What I heard him listening to the most in my youth was Jimmy Cliff and Hank Williams, but in the hospice the musical performance he most remembered was one by Nina Simone.

    Now that I’m in my 50’s I find my tastes are closer to those my Dad, Mom, and Step Dad had in their 30’s including County-Western music (besides Johnny Cash that is, who most love even if they don’t like the rest of the genre, my gateway was some punk bands covering Cash’s material, just as a punk/new wave band covering Billie Holiday was my gateway to her).

    I did find a less than 25 years old punk song I liked a lot this year though (recorded in 2000, so almost 21st century) so I’m not ready to switch generational allegiance to my Dads “Silent” or my Mom’s “Boomer” yet (yes I know Boomers invented punk, but most of them didn’t like it!), even if the press now always lists Generation X (when they bother to) as either “Boomers and X’ers”, or “Millennials and X’ers”.

    And with that thought, if we have to choose, which of the two bigger generations do we X’ers more resemble, Boomers or Millennials?

    • EchoChaos says:

      And with that thought, if we have to choose, which of the two bigger generations do we X’ers more resemble, Boomers or Millennials?

      We definitely resemble Boomers more, in my opinion. Note that is “resemble more” and not “are mirrors of”.

      Although I will point out that a song recorded in 2000 is still probably a solidly Gen X song.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Gen Xers seem to resemble boomers except for those born right at the tail-end, say 1975-1980. Older Gen Xers are Kamala Harris, Sarah Palin, Keanu Reeves, Rob Lowe, Nick Cage, Michael Jordan….I’d paint these, especially public figures, as Boomer and Boomer-adjacent. The media celebs probably feel younger because their image depends on it.

      Younger Gen Xers are Ashton Kutcher, James Franco, Katherine Heigel, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Joaquin Castro (the guy running for President), Andrew Yang (also running for President), Rashida Tlaib (one of those new Democrats that is basically poison), Don Trump Jr, and maybe Eric Swalewell.

      Definitive early Millennials are Tusli Gabbard, Ilhan Omar, Zuckerberg, Dan Crenshaw, with AOC in the exact middle.

      Late Millennials are Logan Paul.

      Don Trump Jr, late Gen-Xer, reads more like Zuckerberg than his father. Trump senior is practically Boomer personified.

      Sorry, we’re probably going to destroy the nation, looking at the current roster of intellectual talent. Millennial leadership is quite frankly an embarrassment to the nation, with very few exceptions. Pretty soon they’ll start running states, and running them promptly to the ground. Fortunately we can ride out the Gen X wave for a while longer.

    • LadyJane says:

      Neither. If anything, I feel like Generation X is largely defined by not being like Millennials or Boomers. It reminds me of a joke I heard the other day:

      Gen X’er: Millennials fear Climate Change in exactly the same way that Boomers used to fear Nuclear War.
      Zoomer: Is there anything Gen X’ers fear like that?
      Gen X’er: Yeah, Boomers and Millennials.

      I’m an early Millennial myself, but I’m pretty frustrated with my own generation, while still echoing a lot of their sentiments about Boomers. I can sympathize with Gen X’ers frustration with both groups!

  3. Mark V Anderson says:

    Did anyone see this article about a famous physics institute being raided in Russia? It is from the New York Times, although the link is to my local paper.

    The article implies that Russia has not been able to capitalize on its tremendous human capital since the USSR fell because of the overbearing Russian government. I am curious if those with more knowledge on Russia than me agree with this.

    Putin has for years called on scientists to look beyond their books and laboratories and use their world-class talents to help build a modern economy.

    This is from the article. And I do wonder why Russia hasn’t been able to do this. I have heard that the rise of Silicon Valley originated from the research labs of Caltech and other universities in the area. And a similar if smaller result in Boston. So I would think there would be plenty of similar research knowledge around Moscow to achieve at least a partial version of the same result. And I certainly think Putin would love to see that happen. Is he shooting himself in the foot? Maybe it isn’t all Putin’s fault; he can’t stop the overbearing Russian culture of control from the top, so few businesses can get started? I understand that an overly politicized and regulatory government can be deadly to business, but I don’t think Putin is stupid. He will do what he can to encourage it, although he may have higher priorities.

    I just feel group of many tiny research companies growing up around Moscow is a great opportunity lost since 1990.

    • Erusian says:

      I have experience with Eastern Europe (in fact, I attend Eastern European tech conferences a few times a year). Eastern Europe does have a lot of good human capital and it also has relatively low wages. You can get a master’s degree from one of the oldest and most venerable CS programs in the world out of Kyiv for basically US minimum wage.

      Russia specifically has a few problems. Firstly, and most generally, the Putin regime has been rather alienating to the middle and professional classes. In fact, by one estimate there are more middle class Russians living outside Russia than within it. This is not unique to engineers but it does apply to them. Russian engineers are doing fine (in fact, one of the founders of Google was born in Moscow) but the best of them are largely doing it outside of Russia.

      Secondly, the Russian business environment is not very good. It’s corrupt, full of cronyism, people who are too successful get expropriated by Kremliniks, and the government has had a very inconsistent policy on who it supports. This has led to things like them spending hundreds of millions of dollars in innovation projects then suddenly shutting them down. It also was highly regulated and complicated. One of Putin’s big political pushes in his current term has actually been fixing all of this and making things more business friendly. While he’s been successful to some extent, what I’ve heard is that a lot of entrepreneurs are waiting to see if he’s consistent.

      Thirdly, there’s some pretty big unique challenges. Western sanctions, for one. The Russians also sometimes use their tech sector as an intelligence asset. This means that many companies have trouble exporting their services west. More people open up offices in Kyiv (which is fighting a civil war in its eastern provinces) than Moscow. A lot more.

      Fourthly, Russia has not quite been willing to give up its central control for reasons of both morality and more political censorship. The religious set in Russia have noticed how the proliferation of internet companies in Eastern Europe have led to a proliferation of pornography and women serving as cam-girls and they don’t like this. And the Kremlin has been suspicious of non-state controlled forms of disseminating information and sometimes cracked down on them.

      Lastly, this has all created a gated economy. There’s some fear that opening it up like the Soviet Union did would lead to a collapse like the 1980s-1990s. To be fair, that ‘collapse’ was of an industry that made vastly inferior products and allowed the modern computer industry to be born in the East by importing western standards. But the people who own the various companies or who benefit from that gated economy won’t like it. (This dynamic is also present in China, where some companies have lobbied hard about keeping western companies out for reasons of… err… moral purity? Yes, moral purity, sure… Definitely not because we don’t want to compete…)

    • cassander says:

      Russia is commonly described as a failure of shock therapy, but the opposite is true. Russia started down the shock therapy path, but reversed course after about 6 months. This is just about the worst possible thing you can do, because it created all the negative effects you’d expect from rapid and corrupt privatization of state owned industry, but without the benefit of actually achieving a liberal economy. the end result is that russia has one of the most state centric economies in the world and domestically discredited capitalism to create it.

      It’s really a smaller version of the soviet problem. the soviets were pretty good at producing world class science and scientists, but they fell further and further behind the west at translating that science into actual technology, because creating technology and delivering it to people in mass quantities requires the combined efforts of more and larger groups of people than producing the original science does.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        Yes, that wasn’t real shock therapy, which has never been tried.

        • cassander says:

          shock therapy was tried, and was a success, in several eastern European countries. It was not tried in Russia. Or rather, it was rapidly abandoned after it proved unpopular.

          • Adrian says:

            I think that thisheavenlyconjugation’s post was a quip on the oft-repeated excuse by advocates of communism that “Soviet-style communism wasn’t real communism, which has never been tried”.

    • metacelsus says:

      I have heard that the rise of Silicon Valley originated from the research labs of Caltech and other universities in the area.

      Ummm . . . Caltech is next to LA (about 375 miles from Silicon Valley). You’re probably thinking of Stanford.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Corrupt and authoritarian government is bad for investment, and that is a government Russia has.

      I would however dispute that there was some tremendous human capital in the USSR, outside of weapons production and closely associated industries. USSR was for example way behind the United States in digital technologies in the 80s.

      Another problem for Russian knowledge intensive and also labor intensive as opposed to physical capital intensive industries is that enormous Russian natural wealth combined with very understandable concern of Russian government and central bank with living standards keeps the exchange rate of the rouble rather high, making it hard to compete on international markets.

      • Viliam says:

        I would however dispute that there was some tremendous human capital in the USSR, outside of weapons production and closely associated industries.

        The name Kolmogorov probably rings a bell for many people here. (Yes, the “Kolmogorov complexity” guy… but look at Wikipedia for the full list of things that were named after him.) And this guy spent a lot of time fighting against Soviet bureaucracy, so it makes you wonder what he could have achieved otherwise.

        Generally Russians did a lot of awesome math during Soviet regime, which is quite mind-blowing given that half of mathematicians were, for political reasons, forbidden from getting a job in research or educational institutions, so most of them had a blue-collar work during day and did math during night, and then they exchanged their discoveries by (paper) mail.

        Can’t speak for other sciences, but it seems to me that Russia doesn’t have a problem with human capital. The real problem is that it doesn’t have an environment where that human capital could… you know, keep creating awesome things, without being randomly fired for political reasons, having their offices raided by secret police because they happened to piss off someone with political connections, etc.

        USSR was for example way behind the United States in digital technologies in the 80s.

        Could this have been mostly a problem of “people interested in computer science couldn’t afford computers”? If you look at the outcomes of International Olympiad in Informatics, it doesn’t seem dominated by the West.

        Also other countries in former Eastern Bloc are doing well. Look e.g. at Slovakia in 1998, or Czechia in 1995. — So why don’t have another Silicon Valley here; is it people, or the political environment?

        • albatross11 says:

          Another way of seeing the same thing is that there are tons of Russians working in technology outside Russia. Plenty of brains, but somehow the social arrangements needed to let them be fully productive at home seem not to be there. For many years, this was also true of China–wealthy overseas Chinese everywhere else, dire grinding poverty in China itself–though right now, China seems to be managing to have explosive economic growth.

      • Erusian says:

        I suppose tremendous might not be a great term. Underutilized might be preferable. You’re right there are some things they have a dearth in: industrial management, for example. However, in certain fields the USSR was very good, mainly highly theoretical fields which could be done without complicated production. This means things like computer science (often done on stolen computers), theoretical math, exercise and health, many sorts of science. This was because the general negative effect of socialism and dictatorship on the economy and freedom created poverty and barriers… but simultaneously the Soviet Union overinvested in ‘safe’ educational endeavors. After all, how likely is it that you train an amazing ballerina and her theories of ballet lead to a problematic bourgeois conclusion?

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Thank you for everyone’s response. I realize there isn’t a good answer to this, or at least no one really knows the real answer.

      At this point I have two possible theories:
      1) Putin really does want Russia’s high powered scientists to create a business nexus in Russia, because why wouldn’t he? But even more important to him is to stay in power, and small entrepreneurs are not and never will be a component of his power. Whereas the thousands or millions of small time local politicians are a critical component of his power. And those local politicians very much do want to maintain control over local businesses. So the free wheeling business environment that is probably necessary for such a business nexus to take off is killed in its infancy by these local fiefdoms.

      2) Based on Ales’s comments, I wonder if Russia may be out-of balance in its human capital. They have lots of highly educated technical specialists that are very valuable in creating new ideas and businesses, but not nearly enough mid-level human capital that is needed to run a business. How many white collar experts do they have in finance, marketing, real estate, do they have? OR blue collar experts in machining, plumbing, construction, etc.? The West has a large quantity of such workers that the talented scientist/entrepreneur can tap to keep the day-to-day business going so the brilliant iconoclast can do his thing.

      Both of these thoughts are highly speculative. I may have Russia totally wrong. But they may be reasons for Russia’s failure to take advantage of its technically skilled populace. It seems likely to me that the USSR did not build a society that would flourish in the free market. Not so much flourishing even in the dictatorial society of Communism either, but even worse in freedom.

      • ana53294 says:

        OR blue collar experts in machining, plumbing, construction, etc.

        When we were renovating an apartment in Moscow, we had a huge issue with skilled blue-collar workers; the workers we could afford were not very skilled. There are highly skilled builders, but they were out of our budget (30,000 euros total, for a renovation). In Spain, you could hire qualified, highly skilled construction workers for that price (that was in 2010; the improving economy makes it harder to hire for small projects). But Spain seems to have more middle skilled workers.

        How many white collar experts in finance, marketing, real estate, do they have?

        All these fields are new in Russia, no more than 30 years old.

        Russian banks mostly suck, especiall Sberbank (which is still used by many people, because they have the most offices around all Russia).

  4. Douglas Knight says:

    Has anyone been democratically elected to an office without being eligible to vote for that office?

    I have heard this claimed many times about women in the Western States or Switzerland, but every time I tracked down an example, it was a woman elected to local office in a state or canton that did not allow federal suffrage or a woman elected to federal office in a state that had broader franchise than other states. Maybe there are examples I have missed.

    This was inspired talk of Starship Troopers and the phrase “wield political power.” Could someone without the franchise be elected? The book probably does not discuss this.

    Should we see this in terms of “identity politics”?
    Several people have been elected from prison. Probably some of them were not eligible to vote. But that doesn’t create an identity group?


    What is a “democratic election”? There are often small committees for electing people that are supposed to elect an outsider, such as a CEO search committee. Similarly, the Venetian Doge committees, although that is complicated. There have been a few popes who were not cardinals.

    • Lambert says:

      Joseph ‘Put him in to get him out’ McGuinness?
      He was imprisoned in HMP Lewes before he was elected as MP.

      • TheContinentalOp says:

        What about US Senators prior to 1913? Unless they were also a member of their state legislature, they wouldn’t be able to cast a vote for themselves.

        • bullseye says:

          I would count the state legislators’ constituents as having indirectly elected the senator, just as we indirectly elect the President today.

    • theredsheep says:

      Per Wiki, in SST elected office is also restricted to veterans.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I do not find wikipedia or its source convincing. The book implies that only citizens can make it in politics, but that could be a practical constraint, not a legal rule. The book does say that the teacher for the high school class in History and Moral Philosophy had to be a citizen, but that’s not an elected office.

        H. & M. P. was different from other courses in that everybody had to take it but nobody had to pass it—and Mr. Dubois never seemed to care whether he got through to us or not.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Who says “high school H&MP teacher” isn’t an elected office?

          I’m joking, but only mostly – could you say it’s elected indirectly by the school board? How can we firmly differentiate that from the indirect elections of Senator or President?

  5. ARabbiAndAFrog says:

    My apocalyptic fantasy of the week: Everyone switched to driverless car, but there’s a bug or malware, like overflow triggered by calendars which causes every single car to simultaneously confuse left with right and forward with backwards and crash. Every single car at once.

    Anyone discussed this?

    • Lambert says:

      Is that any more likely than the same thing happening, but with airliners?

      • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        Sure, why not. Maybe in the future there will be pilot-less airliners as well and they will confuse up with down and crash. There are fewer airliners, so all of them crashing would probably be less destructive.

        I’m not really interested in discussing plausbility of this scenario as much as discussing consequence of having no more cars and also piles of crashed cars everywhere. Planes might start some fires, but it won’t be apocalypse.

        • Lambert says:

          Not in the future. Today.
          The pilot flies the computer. The computer flies the plane.
          Do piloted airliners today have fully mechanical overrides?
          (not that that did a awful lot of good on Aeroflot Flight 1492)

          (what I’m saying is that there’s already data trickling in on how likely it is that a bug suddenly causes safety-critical systems all over the world to crash at once.)

          Also even if all the VWs crash, why should the Fords be affected?

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            Perhaps they are all on andoid OS? That was idea at least, different manufacturer get OS for autopilot from the same vendor.

          • John Schilling says:

            Not in the future. Today.
            The pilot flies the computer. The computer flies the plane.
            Do piloted airliners today have fully mechanical overrides?

            If by “manual” you allow for e.g. dumb hydraulics, then most modern airliners have enough control authority for a competent pilot to land safely with the computers turned off, and kill switches to turn the computers off if they’re trying to kill the pilots. Possibly all of them, but I’m not going to go through the fleet model-by-model.

            We went through some of this in the 737 MAX discussion here a while ago. There’s redundant kill switches to completely de-computerize and de-electrify the pitch trim, and a handwheel connected to a chain drive to allow clumsy manual control without even needing hydraulics. The pre-MAX models also allowed for dumb electric servos with the computers killed; that got lost (and poorly documented) with the MAX.

            IIRC, the 737 also has manual yaw and power control, which with pitch trim should be enough to manage a safe landing.

          • Lambert says:

            > pre-MAX models also allowed for dumb electric servos with the computers killed; that got lost (and poorly documented) with the MAX.

            Is that why there are 2 separate cutoff switches? One control cutoff for computerised trim and one for power to the servo?

          • John Schilling says:

            Is that why there are 2 separate cutoff switches? One control cutoff for computerised trim and one for power to the servo?

            Correct. Pre-MAX, one switch isolated pitch trim from the autopilot and the other cut all electric power to the pitch servos. Since all the computer-ish pitch functions ran through the autopilot, you could still have the electric thumbswitch on the yoke give you easy manual pitch trim without any computers – or you could have full but clumsy manual trim, if it was e.g. a shorted yoke switch that was causing trim runaway.

            The MAX designers apparently concluded that almost nobody ever used that intermediate case and it might confuse the dumb human pilots, so they just made both switches kill the pitch servos entirely. But left both switches in the same place, because mustn’t confuse dumb pilots, and didn’t clearly document the change, because mustn’t confuse dumb human pilots.

            Very un-Boeing design philosophy. And possibly responsible for the Ethiopian Air crash, because my best guess is that the Ethiopian pilots were reasonably Not Dumb and were trying to work around a known MCATS failure using functionality that they didn’t realize no longer existed.

            To be fair, the high-profile crashes immediately prior to the MAX development had involved some uncharacteristically stupid pilot tricks, and not just third-world pilots. There may have been excessive pressure for idiot-proofing – note that MCATS itself was only supposed to do things that a not-dumb pilot would already have done before MCATS kicked in.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’ve seen it discussed repeatedly, but never in any great depth and usually with the assumption that deliberate malware is involved. I don’t think the all-cars-simultaneously bit is plausible without malice.

    • episcience says:

      I realise this is an old OT, but on the offchance you see this, this is a plot point in Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota sci-fi series, which is well worth a read.

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So for those who don’t know, Netflix has been funding a reboot of the 1980s cartoon She-Ra. It’s hot on 4chan, due to the writers including CW bait, specifically homosexuality and gender non-conformity.
    She-Ra was originally a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe spinoff designed to sell action figures to little girls, so some people are just thinking of a muscleman wearing pink and lavender who has an ally named Fisto and saying “Well, duh.” But I don’t want to talk about mass media promoting LGBT in general, or to what extent things have changed since the 1980s. It’s more that I’m baffled by the revelation (again, from the image boards) that much of the homosexual content consists of showing characters having two parents of the same sex, and said character is drawn to resemble both. What the heck is this telling us about the pro-LGBT worldview of 2019?

    • DeWitt says:

      That men and women are clearly due to become different species soon, with gene therapy ensuring they can both reproduce despite having no more sexual dimorphism, only vestigial phenotypes.

    • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

      Well, physical resemblance is a shorthand for familiar relations, that’s why Mabel Pines looks like Dipper Pines, except in skirt and with longer hair. Are they really trying to tell us homosexual reproduction is possible? I don’t know, and don’t care to find out.

      I would wonder how children adopted by gays would see it, as only one of their parents will be biological, at best.

    • Lambert says:

      This is in some kind of heavily magical universe, no?
      Is it any weirder than the origins of the Minotaur or of Sleipnir?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        It is.
        Is it any weirder? Probably not, but different kinds of weird origins say something meaningful about the worldview that produced the stories. It’s totally legitimate (and confusing) to ask “What do the myths of Loki’s pregnancy and Thor disguising himself as a bride tell us about gender in pagan Norse society?” In the case of the Minotaur, fertile bestiality is symbolic of chaos, not identical but not really distinct from Typhon with his hundred serpents for arms, serpents for toes, and many heads mating with the drakaina Echidna to produce many monsters, few of whom resemble each other.

    • broblawsky says:

      If you saw similar fanart for a sci-fi universe where same-sex parents having children could be explained technologically, would it still bother you?

      • Chalid says:

        There’s lots of high tech in She-Ra.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I mean, “fanart” is a different context from the original writer(s). It wouldn’t bother me if fans assumed in vitro gametogenesis into a work of hard SF or space opera. From the original writer, I’d expect it being brought up to say something interesting about technology and humanity (because Conservation of Detail, y’know?), not just “Look, homosexual wish fulfillment! Can I have a Hugo?”

    • Chalid says:

      Same-sex parents having children from both their genetic material (and no one else’s) is very near-future technology (in vitro gametogenesis). So this is if anything one of the least fantastic elements of the show.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Eh, it’s a cartoon. I put it in the same bin as Johnny and his mom in this webcomic (mouseover text: “the scar is genetic”). Obviously scars aren’t genetic, but it’s an amusing way to code “these characters are related and also have similar personalities”.

  7. theredsheep says:

    Uninformed and probably-wrong hypothesis that occurred to me yesterday: is it possible that homosexual behavior in humans exists (at least in part) because bisexuality allows children to be spaced out more easily? I remember reading in some Jared Diamond book (I think it was The World Until Yesterday) that hunter-gatherer groups generally don’t tolerate more than one child per woman every four years or so, because children younger than four don’t have the stamina to keep up with the group on foot and have to be carried everywhere. Modern nomadic groups tend to expose infants born too soon; however, the strain of up to nine months of pregnancy, combined with the risk of childbirth, is obviously a negative if you’re simply killing the child.

    Most people are going to want to do it again a bit more frequently than every four years. It doesn’t matter if a man with the itch goes to the same woman as before or a different one, for the purposes of group fertility, because sooner or later someone’s going to get pregnant from that and it averages out the same. But if our randy tribalist expresses interest in another man in the meantime–and the mother does something similar, perhaps–there’s no risk of a useless pregnancy.

    I assume this has been suggested by somebody before, and there’d be an obvious test: do modern h-g groups employ periodic homoeroticism in a similar pattern? Not that this would be definitive b/c modern h-gs are a weird sample, etc. I don’t recall Diamond mentioning this. Any anthropologists care to shoot holes in my idea?

    • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

      I do think it’s plausible that homosexualty and possibly other infertile forms of sexuality might develop as a mechanism to maintain proper child-to-adult ratio.

      Did anyone finally find gay gene though? Could it be that homosexuality is a fully acquired thing that some people just have like some people only have one arm or whatever?

    • Any attempt to explain homosexuality under an evolutionary framework is doomed to failure. Our prima facie assumption should be that it wasn’t selected for unless there is some strong evidence otherwise.

      • theredsheep says:

        I agree that it’s more intuitive to assume that it’s just a glitch, so to speak, but it’s an awfully common glitch, relatively speaking, and one wonders how it wasn’t selected against. Even cystic fibrosis, which is lethal and makes basically all male sufferers sterile, might have some heterozygotic link to resisting certain diseases. And in the face of sufficiently strong social pressure in an environment where you’re largely stuck in the same group for life, being gay might not be as much of a reproductive impediment as we’d expect. I’ve read that, in some parts of the Islamic world, it is or was expected that gay men would be gay, and everyone would ignore it, provided they went about the distasteful duty of fathering a child every now and then …

        EDIT: I would agree that homosexuality would be strongly counterproductive in settled/agrarian societies, where it’s far more practical to take care of a fresh kid every year or so and you need a lot because so many die of disease. Even then, I think most human societies have some affinity for hypocrisy and looking the other way, so it need not be reproductively fatal. Especially if a lot of men and women are bi rather than exclusively gay/straight, bearing in mind that women’s consent was sort of optional in a lot of places, etc.

        • My understanding is that homosexuality preferences is rarer in hunter gatherers and non-existent in some tribes. This paper hypothesizes that it has to do with social stratification. I’m not sure about that but if homosexuality is more of a product of modern society, then it’s less mysterious.

          • albatross11 says:

            To the extent some gene generates homosexuality in our culture but not in the cultures/environments relevant for most human evolution, you could imagine it persisting–especially if it had some other important positive effect. But to the extent you’re talking about a gene that made men unenthusiastic about sex with women over many generations, it’s pretty hard to imagine that *not* being selected against.

      • John Schilling says:

        I agree that it’s more intuitive to assume that it’s just a glitch, so to speak, but it’s an awfully common glitch, relatively speaking, and one wonders how it wasn’t selected against.

        If it’s the result of something easily broken, the ~3% observed rate could be the stable equilibrium between “highly selected against” and “keeps getting broken”.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Eh, genetics is trying to program by shooting bullets at punch cards with a blindfold on and burning the cards that crash too badly. It is darn near a miracle our sexuality is not just “if its your species, fuck it” because that is the sort of “close enough!” hackery azathoth uses all over the place.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          No, 3% is orders of magnitude too high. That’s the kind of number that requires explanation. Easily broken is usually 1/10,000. Achondroplasia is easily broken, a spontaneous mutation rate of 1/10k and fitness similar to the phenotype of homosexuality. BRCA has an equilibrium of 1/10k with a much higher fitness.

          Also, if obligate homosexuality (not bisexuality) is easily achieved, why is it only in humans and sheep, but not in any other mammal?

          • John Schilling says:

            BRCA seems to have an equilibrium rate of 1/500, not 1/10k. Achondroplasmia, yes, 1/10k, but that requires a mutation in one of two specific base pairs on a single gene. That’s not what I would call “easily broken”.

            If homosexuality could result from point mutations in any of 600 independent base pairs, then that would seem to coarsely give a 3% prevalence in the general population. I can more easily see how that would be the case in male homosexuality than female; has any of the research on genetic contribution to homosexuality been sex-specific?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Where are you getting your achondroplasia claims? It is not caused by a specific mutation, certainly not a point mutation, but by a frame-shift mutation anywhere along the gene. It is the standard example of the gene with highest rate of breakage because it is so long, yet that rate is still less than 1/10k. It may also be that other genes are less sensitive to frame-shift mutations: if most of the protein is OK, maybe the tail doesn’t matter.

            With BRCA, it is easy to imagine lots of places you could get disinformation, because there is so much floating around, eg, from Myriad. There are lots of minor mutations that supposedly have small effects. But the real problem is, again, frame-shift. These are family-specific 1/10k.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Considering that animal p0%n is a thing, I think human sexuality is just very malleable (at least for finding new things to apply erotic thoughts/feelings to). There are plenty of infertile ways to have hetero sex, so I can’t see a good reason to assume bisexuality is largley because of this. (I assmue you’re talking about bisexuality, not homosexuality)

      • theredsheep says:

        I hadn’t factored in non-reproductive het sex, so yeah, that’s a good point.

      • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        To create a heterosexual person who would shun vaginal penetration specifically would require much more unreasonably fine tuning than to break mate selection mechanism entirely, IMO.

        • theredsheep says:

          I think the implication is meant to be that they know where babies come from and agree to do oral or whatever for a while, not that they’re instinctively attuned to a specific behavior.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            Well, it’s an interesting question on how safe sex factors into this sorts of things. Seems like humans selected less for wanting to have children and more for wanting to have sex and the two finally decoupled recently enough to let us see the results.

            The evolutionary complexity for “Smart enough to consciously sacrifice reproduction for my more worthy brother” still seems a bit more complex than “Mess up my hormones a bit to make my penis confuse men with women”.

            The “Why there are gays” just-so story goes like this. It’s advantageous for a child to have childless relatives, therefore it’s advantageous to have infertile siblings therefore it’s advantageous to have a gene that makes some of your children infertile and not other. From there we’d assume that slight shift of sexuality targeting (Possibly also into paedophilia, gerontophilia, zoophilia) once in a while is simpler and more likely to happen than voluntary celibacy and probably less harmful than actual physical infertility that would require messing your hormones up more.

          • albatross11 says:

            The math on the just-so story absolutely doesn’t work out, though. My gay uncle has only 1/4 my genes, so for each child he doesn’t have, he needs to ensure the survival of four nephews/nieces in order for this strategy to pay off for his genes (and thus be selected for via inclusive fitness).

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            My gay uncle has only 1/4 my genes

            Assuming no prominent in-breeding, so does your grandfather.

            And it’s not about your uncle anyway. He’s an extra parent your grandfather happened to sire to help you procreate.

          • albatross11 says:

            A gene in my uncle that makes him gay has two choices:

            a. Cause him to lose interest in women so he won’t have any kids, and then have him invest his resources in helping his nephews.

            b. Cause him to keep an interest in women so he has kids.

            Each child my uncle has shares half his genes; each nephew shares a quarter of his genes. So he has to be twice as effective at helping his nephews survive to reproductive age as he would be helping his children to survive to reproductive age. Further, this has to be over and above what he would normally have done as an attentive uncle who also had kids of his own.

            It’s really hard to see how this could work out in terms of inclusive fitness. For this model to explain exclusive male homosexuality gay uncles would need to be more dedicated to their nephews than straight parents were to their kids. Also, we just do not see a pattern in which gay uncles are famous far and wide for their immense self-sacrifices on behalf of their nephews and nieces. Instead, gay uncles seem to work about like straight uncles in that regard–they’ll help out their nephews when they can, but it’s not the focus of their lives.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s extremely unlikely that homosexuality’s going to follow a nice clean Mendelian inheritance pattern, though, which means we need to think about mechanisms that work stochastically rather than deterministically. This might look like something that makes carriers more inclusively fit (more attractive, smarter, more physically fit, something like that) in N% of cases and makes them gay in K% — it works out to be a net benefit from a gene’s-eye view if N >> K, or if N > K and the change in fitness is very large. We could even take a decent whack at what those numbers must look like by working backwards from the observed prevalence rates.

            Another option is something that makes, say, women fitter but has a chance of making male carriers gay. Obviously in this case we’d need a different explanation for female homosexuality, but that isn’t out of the question.

    • bullseye says:

      Hunter-gatherers today have to move around because farmers have taken all the good land. On good fertile land a band of hunter-gatherers can find everything they need within walking distance of a permanent village.

    • It doesn’t matter if a man with the itch goes to the same woman as before or a different one, for the purposes of group fertility, because sooner or later someone’s going to get pregnant from that and it averages out the same.

      Humans aren’t eusocial insects though, so you can’t model human behavior using group interests. Groups can strick/carrot individuals into acting in ways which absent the stick/carrot would be injurious for them, but have to have a compelling reason to do so.(At least if your theory of group behavior is based on conjecture rather than observation. If groups were observed to be doing stupid stuff across many different cultures it would be another manner.)

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      I don’t think selection can work out this way. It might be beneficial for a group to have reproduction restricted, but an individual male at least is still somewhat better off genetically impregnating a woman – there’s a chance the child will survive, and his investments are minimal. And if it wasn’t the case, why this pressure didn’t just selected for lower sex drive until people are ok with having sex once in four years?

      • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

        Individual male would have siblings. The gene that makes a fraction of people gay might prove beneficial as long as you have multiple children and your family stay together. A couple of infertile siblings could tip the adult-child ratio and thus ensure children would get more resources and give your bloodline a bit of an edge.

      • there’s a chance the child will survive, and his investments are minimal

        I’m not aware of any hunter gatherer group where this was true. It was somewhat true in the “female-farming” cultures of Africa.

        And if it wasn’t the case, why this pressure didn’t just selected for lower sex drive until people are ok with having sex once in four years?

        One of the biases of evolutionary psychology, one they share with the blank-slate folks, is the assumption that people never ever abstain from sex. If they say they do, if there’s history of people saying they do, well, they’re just lying. The amount of sex is always constant, it’s just a matter of if it is homo or hetero, mono or poly, married or unmarried, ect.

        • albatross11 says:

          Note that we know some mechanisms that limit birth rate–nursing women have a much harder time getting pregnant. This makes sense, because nursing+pregnant is putting a huge burden on the woman, and in a harsh environment, she probably can’t manage both.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I feel like this tends to get framed kind of backwards if you are talking about it as a genetic tendency, though I know some of it is just phrasing things in a more understandable way. Homosexual attraction would not be “employed” or develop *because* of such a situation. What *could* be the case is that people who could not control their childbearing lost most of their kids due to the drain on resources, etc., so that they wouldn’t have as much of an advantage as one might think in advancing their genes. And it could also be the case that someone who only was interested in sex for well-planned procreation would be able to invest much more in their limited number of children, and their household generally, and have a pretty good survival and overall health rate among offspring. Wives/female partners would probably be healthier and live longer without constant pregnancies, and therefore they’d be able to invest more in the kids also.

      This seems like it would be sufficient to explain why enthusiastic heterosexual behavior wouldn’t always “win out” if the genetic theory is true–it’s not that it is some optimally generated strategy, because that isn’t how it works. It’s that it is an inclination that could be passed down to a sufficient number of offspring to stick around, without becoming dominant. It seems likely to me that there will almost always be a few different strategies going on within a society, all of which continue because they have different up and downsides than the others, so one does not become completely dominant.

      Also, if the four years thing is true, breastfeeding as a method of birth control could get you 2 or 3 in many cases, more if you didn’t conceive super easily. It isn’t foolproof by any means, but when there was no formula, women had to do it regularly for some time for the child to survive. I’m sure it made a difference.

    • Zephalinda says:

      I don’t understand why you’d need any special explanation, evolutionary or otherwise, for opportunistic homosexual behavior, any more than you’d need explanation for opportunistic masturbation existing as a behavior. And sexual desire/ sexual behavior is so deeply conditioned by culture (and so deeply different in the way we perceive it now, vs. at other points in history) that I don’t think we have any way of telling whether there exists such a thing as obligate or exclusive homosexuality, defined as “nope never fucking a woman ever for any reason, nuh-uh,” as an innate biological phenomenon in humans. Even the Spartans managed to inseminate their wives if they were properly dressed and in the dark.

      • albatross11 says:


        I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some biological basis for homosexuality. There really do seem to be some people who are exclusively gay even in societies where being gay makes you a pariah and is liable to get you killed, and that seems like some evidence that there are some people who are probably destined to be gay no matter what.

        OTOH, the prevalance and acceptance of homosexuality is so varied across time and cultures that it seems like it *must* have a large social/learned component to it.

        • Zephalinda says:

          The issue is that the evolutionarily relevant component of homosexuality would have to be “refuses to ever have sex with a woman,” not “is strongly motivated to have sex with men.” The former seems by its nature much more difficult to detect in the historical record.

          • albatross11 says:

            Imagine you’re a man in a situation where you can either pursue sex with a man or a woman. Maybe you’re sacking a city and you have your pick of captives, maybe you’re deciding whether to go try to seduce George or his wife. If there’s a gene[1] that pushes you toward going for George instead of his wife, then that’s going to reduce your expected number of offspring a bit. If there’s an alternative gene that pushes you toward going for George’s wife instead, that’s going to increase your expected number of offspring a bit. The George gene is going to leave less offspring, and so be selected against, relative to the George’s wife gene. That’s true even if the gene doesn’t make you exclusively gay.

            [1] I know it’s not going to be one gene, but instead probably a bunch of genes that each have a small effect, but it’s easier to talk about it as “a gene.”

    • Douglas Knight says:

      This is precise enough that we can say that it is wrong.

      Brand-name Evolutionary Psychologists say that we evolved in the environment of hunting and gathering, that the period of agriculture was not long enough to move away from that default. This is probably just wrong, but it isn’t precise enough to say for certain. They often talk about sex differences, which do take a long time to evolve. And sexual attraction certainly fits under sex difference.

      There are two notions of the speed of evolution. One is the speed of developing useful new mutations. Maybe humans are adapted to HG conditions and they could evolve to do better under farming with some new strategy, but how long will it take to find it? This is difficult to reason about from first principles. You really need to look at examples.

      But the other speed of evolution is how fast evolution takes advantage of existing diversity in the gene pool. We know that homosexuality is at least 10% heritable. We don’t have to speculate about whether evolution could solve this problem because we observe that there are already variants that do partially reduce homosexuality. Why aren’t they more common? The phenotype appears to cut (male) fitness in half. Thus the Breeder’s Equations says that frequency of the phenotype should be reduced by 5% per generation. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a half life of 14 generations. The neolithic, 10k years, is 400 generations, 30 half-lives. Any gene which is simply a relic of HG life with such substantial fitness cost in farming era would be completely obliterated.

      Homosexuality is out of equilibrium. This is a real mystery that needs a real explanation. Either the environment has changed or one of the input numbers is wrong. In particular, many people propose that the fitness of the gene does not match the fitness of the phenotype, either through inclusive fitness or sexual antagonism. These ideas seem to me terribly wrong, but not as straightforwardly, mathematically wrong as your proposal.

      • albatross11 says:

        What do you think of Greg Cochran’s hypothesis (or maybe WAG) that some kind of infection could explain why it’s out-of-equilibrium?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          That is the only plausible explanation I have heard. That falls under changing environment. But how much weight should I put on this hypothesis and how much on an unidentified hypothesis?

          And how much should we care about this? It teaches us something about the sociology of science. But at what cost? It has overshadowed the rest of the paper, which I think could be quite valuable. You might think controversy is good advertising, but this seems like a pretty good counterexample.

          (The paper does a different calculation, focusing more on the first speed of evolution, asserting that evolution could solve any of these diseases, if it wanted to. This makes me nervous when they could make the second, stronger argument.)

          • abystander says:

            There is also the possibility that with a different gene combination the the genotype would be beneficial. I understand some mental illness like schizophrenia is also hereditary, however some other members in the family are mentally accomplished.

          • albatross11 says:


            This isn’t my field, but my understanding is that near relatives of schizophrenics don’t show benefits, and in fact often have personality disorders that mess up their lives in various ways that are less life-wrecking than schizophrenia. Anyone know more?

            From what I’ve read, I think bipolar disorder and depression and related illnesses are somewhat correlated with verbal adeptness. One result is that the rate of suicide among poets tends to be very high.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Even if artists are crazy, artists don’t seem to be fit.

            Schizophrenia, male homosexuality, and bipolar seem to be pretty discrete conditions (bimodal). Whereas ordinary depression seems to be a continuous phenomenon. Maybe it is the tail that has to exist because of lots of rare mutations or because the center can’t move too far in the other direction for other reasons. But I don’t think that makes much sense for discrete conditions.

          • abystander says:

            Well there is the claim schizophrenia may be caused by overprunning of synapses.

            And I’m not sure that schizophrenia, or homosexuality is discrete in the way being pregnant is discrete. There is bisexuality.

            Also regarding my point that a gene sequence may be beneficial or detrimental, depending on other gene sequences, Scott just published “autism risk genes aren’t just sticking around. They are being positively selected, ie increasing with every generation, presumably because people with the genes are having more children than people without them. This means autism risk genes must be doing something good. Like everyone else, they find autism risk genes are positively correlated with years of schooling completed, college completion, and IQ. They propose that the reason evolution favors autism genes is that they generally increase intelligence.”

  8. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the living conditions of the people worsened. However, my understanding is that technological developments still occurred, especially in agriculture, even during its nadir. If civilization collapsed today, should we expect something similar? A poorer world, with less luxuries and perhaps more war, but still a civilization that continues in a different form? The argument against that proposition would probably be that our world is much more interdependent than the Romans. If we had a serious breakdown in the system, we would just collapse in to something vaguely post-apocalyptic. But maybe we’re more resilient than we think.

    • If civilization collapsed

      Depends on what you mean by this. What happened to Rome was foreign conquest, it wasn’t really zombie-apocalypse-tier civilization collapse. Even in the case where 99% of the population were killed by some manner, we’d lose little of our technology long-term. Tech teaches you how to win.

    • Erusian says:

      The Roman Empire’s collapse followed its economic collapse. The complex, interdependent Roman trade world died in the 3rd century and the Empire continued to persist past that. In fact, it was Imperial law that implemented the first steps towards later feudalism. The political collapse of the Roman Empire saw lifespan and calorie increases for the peasantry because it had already transitioned to a system of noble elites expropriating quasi-serfs. The collapse meant the serfs had to send less to their noble masters and generally decreased production while consuming more because the market economy was long gone. This is also why you see an increase in certain innovations: peasants effectively had more disposable income and more freedom after the collapse. (I’m simplifying a rather complex story here, by the by, but in vastly general terms that’s true.)

      So the questions are independent in my view: what happens if global trade networks collapse and what happens if the political authority of our countries collapse? They are separate and one does not necessarily lead to to the other.

      • I don’t think you’re right. Yes, the third century was bad. But the economy stabilized under Diocletian. The fourth century was not as strong as the Pax Romana period but you don’t see the breakdown of those Roman trade networks until the fifth century.

        • Erusian says:

          The economy stabilized, yes. But it stabilized at a lower level and continued to decline. Taxes were raised and the bureaucracy expanded as the state needed to assert more control in order to squeeze comparable revenues out of the tax base, which in turn led to a vicious cycle (including numerous debasements) that damaged the economy further. Cities became smaller and walled and began to shrunk further. Trade declined significantly, more significantly than caused by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. New social classes were created such as the coloni, who were basically proto-serfs, and resistance went from things like slave revolts or army mutinies into things like the Baugadae that were more similar to peasant rebellions.

          Likewise, the end of Rome was not the complete end of long distance trade. And in fact the 5th century wasn’t the worst of it. We focus on that because it’s dramatic and because we tend to put Byzantines in the ‘civilized’ role but the Byzantine invasion of Italy was, in many ways, more destructive than the Ostrogoths or the Huns. That’s when many of the schools went away and the barbarian kings of Italy had to abandon the last vestiges of the old Roman tax system, for example.

          • You’re right with regards to Italy but the rest of Western Europe came out badly that century. Britain of course had the worst of it but the Vandals went ransacking through Spain and North Africa. Gaul was somewhere in between. And yes, long distance trade never disappeared but that’s the century where you see the trade in bulk goods start really declining. It was a drawn out process that really ended during the Justinian wars/plague. But the grain shipments, I believe were disrupted during this time.

          • Erusian says:

            The Baguadae (to take one example I mentioned) were actually not an Italian phenomenon. In modern terms, they existed in France, Portugal, and Spain. To take your example of Britain, you’re correct they returned to tribalism much more quickly. The question, then, is whether this represents the collapse of a Roman consensus or if Britain had remained relatively tribal and unintengrated. At any rate, it is complicated in that Roman literate classes were a distinct elite minority.

            Trade in bulk began to decline in the 2nd/3rd century. The plague was more relevant to the East than the West. In fact, the end of Eastern encroachment into the west led to an increase in Western trade. Not having Justinian’s armies roaming about trying to coerce you to submit to Justinian helps.

    • DeWitt says:

      After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the living conditions of the people worsened.

      Whose? Erusian below makes good points, and I have no idea that people’s living conditions did in fact get worse.

      The western Roman empire’s end also coincides with the end of the Roman warm period, which worsened living conditions for obvious reasons.

      Additionally, many of the technological developments for the thousand years past the empire’s fall were of the calibre of reinventing the wheel, where things the Romans knew of were rediscovered or simply learned by other peoples who never lost them. If you want an example of technolofy persisting through time, this seems like a really bad example.

      • cassander says:

        >Whose? Erusian below makes good points, and I have no idea that people’s living conditions did in fact get worse.

        that population declined rapidly, and didn’t recover for a few centuries, seems to be very strong evidence to the contrary.

        • broblawsky says:

          Did the population decline everywhere in the former Empire, or only in Italy? Because the latter can be explained by emigration and the loss of colonial incomes, while the former requires mass starvation.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It declined in Britain, whose population didn’t reach Roman-era levels again until the later middle ages.

        • Erusian says:

          Population decline began with the economic collapse. Post-collapse populations actually stabilized at a basically consistent level. Of course, during the devastating wars population sometimes declined in the specific region conflict was occurring in. Indeed, the Byzantine invasion led to a greater decline in Italian population (and collapse of its institutions like the Roman Senate) than the Ostrogoth invasion because it was more destructive.

        • DeWitt says:

          Whose population, where? It required the agricultural surplus of all Sicily and Egypt to keep Italy fed; remove those from the equation, and of course population goes down. This isn’t good for Italians, but presumably much better for the people of Sicily and Egypt.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Your details are a century or two out of date; after Constantine, Egyptian grain had been redirected to Constantinople, and most of the grain for Italy was coming from Africa.

            But I agree with your larger point.

      • spkaca says:

        “I have no idea that people’s living conditions did in fact get worse”

        Bryan Ward-Perkins’ little book The Fall of Rome, especially chapter 5 thereof, has convinced me that living conditions did worsen fairly generally throughout the territories of the former Western Empire in the 5th-6th centuries. Britain suffered by far the worst, but Italy, Gaul and Spain also saw a decline in general living standards, as measured by the available evidence. It’s possible to argue that the unavailable evidence would tell a different story, but we have to go by the evidence we have, and the pieces of evidence we have – buildings, bones, coins, pottery, literacy etc. – all point the same way. One can still point to luxury items – Ward-Perkins gives the example of fine jewellery – but all that demonstrates is that post-Roman society was still governed by elites who could pay for their own pleasures. It doesn’t demonstrate that ordinary people enjoyed the levels of relative comfort they had under the Empire.

        • DeWitt says:

          At least three of these – buildings, coins, and literacy, are proxies for urbanisation. They aren’t relevant to the living standards of rural people, who outnumber urbanites by a heavy margin.

          Pottery is a better proxy, as are bones, but archaeology remains necessarily skewed to urbanites in finding both; the sheer low density of other sites makes uncovering other materials a frustrating ordeal.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            People actually know things. You can make up excuses for why these things are impossible to know, but you’re wrong. It’s not a blank spot on the map. We do find rural buildings and rural pottery. The point isn’t that they mysteriously disappear. The point is that they become crap. Rural coins may be a proxy for urbanization, but that suggests that cities help rural life.

    • albatross11 says:

      I don’t know much about Roman history, but I think one difference is that in the world of Rome and indeed the pre-modern world more generally, people were often living close to the limits of what their techology and available land would sustain. That means that having a lot of people die off might actually make things better, by raising the standard of living and giving everyone a few generations of plenty before the population grows back up to where people can just barely make a living.

      In the modern world, I don’t think this holds at all. More people can be more mouths to feed, but they’re also more hands to work and more minds to think. Having a mass die-off of people would open a lot more land up for cultivating, but it would also mean losing the people who knew how to maintain our current industrial civilization. We’d come back a lot faster than we got here the first time, because the basic knowledge would be there. But if it’s two generations until we start fabbing microchips again, there will be a lot of work going from knowing the theory of how to build and run a fab to actually getting one running. The same is true for lots of other technology–global telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing of anything very complicated, etc. The stuff you could keep using, you wouldn’t lose. But imagine yourself as an old man, being asked to help restart the industry you worked in in your early 30s–but you’ve spent the last 40 years farming and maintaining the basic technology around your farm. You’d be invaluable to the people restarting that industry, and yet, you’d have forgotten a lot. And if they had to restart it without anyone who’d worked in that industry, it would be even harder.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      It should not be surprising that little technology was lost when the Romans were overrun by barbarians, because the Romans were barbarians who had already lost huge the technology that required civilization.

    • blipnickels says:

      I would expect massive death in most of the world with a few isolated high productivity areas retaining semi-modern standards of living: Texas, SoCal, Venezuela, maybe parts of Brazil, the Gulf States.

      I think the right way to think about technology is as a general principle optimized given local conditions. This is one of the big insights of development economics and is the reason India or China couldn’t just replicate a Detroit car factory in the 70’s; their conditions and inputs were just too different. For example, reinventing the wheel is a joke but you do need to reinvent the wheel a lot because economic benefit comes from wheels for specialized tasks. I can’t drive my car on wagon wheels anymore than a semi truck could drive on my car’s wheels. And if rubber could no longer be imported but we suddenly has a massive amount of surplus/cheap labor, the scientists at Michelin really would need to reinvent the wheel.

      And I think this is the tech thing behind the Roman Collapse, at least from what I gleaned from the British History podcast, and it sounds like something similar happened during the Bronze Age Collapse. Technology gets optimized for the resources and labor costs of large trade networks. If those trade networks collapse, the inputs/circumstances change very radically and you end up having to reinvent a lot of technology because materials may become rare/expensive while others are now (relatively) cheap and labor costs change. If you don’t have the time/capacity to reinvent the technology for current conditions, it gets lost because no one can practically use it.

      I think the big difference is back in the Roman collapse, at least in Britain, people could just go back to the farm. Like, if you were a full time potter in London and then Rome fell, you could just go work on a farm and you’d be poorer but you’d be alive. This just isn’t possible today. I’m 70% confident there’s more people than unoptimized arable land could support and there certainly isn’t the widespread knowledge of subsistence farming techniques to allow people to do so even if there was sufficient land. Unless you can maintain modern agriculture and food distribution, a lot of people are going to die.

      That’s why I’d look to oil regions near farmland. Right now you need oil to do farming and food distribution. Everything else can eventually be reinvented, our society could be re-purposed to run off nuclear or solar or whatever if we had to, but they key thing is you have to keep people alive long enough to reinvent all your necessary technologies; tires without rubber imports, computers without foreign computer chips, etc. But a three-month interruption in food supply and distribution is death to >50% of your population and if they all die you’ll never be able to reinvent the necessary technology.

      So yea, the supermarket has to remain open. People are resilient and smart, give them time and they’ll solve anything, but they have to stay alive. Let everything else sink into ruin, can you grow food and get it from the field to the supermarket? If yes, you’re just looking at a temporary (1 generation) fall in living standards. If not, welcome to the post-apocalypse.

      • John Schilling says:

        I would expect massive death in most of the world with a few isolated high productivity areas retaining semi-modern standards of living: Texas, SoCal, Venezuela, maybe parts of Brazil, the Gulf States.

        Why those particular places? If it’s oil production, I think you are overrating how important that is for “semi-modern” standards of living. Bio-fuels probably don’t get you Late 20th Century American Car Culture, but they’re good enough for “semi-modern”. The Gulf States’ basic inability to produce any feature of modern industrial civilization but oil, seems far more crippling. Stuff wears out, and then you’ve still got the L running in Chicago but Dubai is back to camels.

        • blipnickels says:

          Basically because I’m modeling any 2-3 week disruption of food supplies as destroying the society (I didn’t model water although I should have). Oil isn’t critical for society in the long run, but it is critical in the short run, ie in the immediate aftermath of the collapse. It doesn’t matter in the long-term whether bio-fuels would be good enough for semi-modern, it matters whether you can convert your existing farming and transportation infrastructure fast enough to avoid collapse. If not, people don’t have food, they can’t grow it themselves in sufficient qualities, and so a lot of people die.

          Or, basically, imagine the collapse happens on January 1st, 2020 and suddenly you can’t trade with anyone outside your county/(local administrative district). The only thing that absolutely cannot fail, under any circumstances, is the production and distribution of food and drinking water. It doesn’t matter whether you can run everything with biofuels in 2025, it matters whether you can deliver food to supermarkets on January 31st, 2020. If you can, the population of the county stays constant and you have lots of people who can solve all your other problems in the long-term. If you can’t, >90% of your population will die and long-term problem solving isn’t really viable. (for example, the population of England before the Agricultural revolution varied from ~1-7 million, it’s currently 55 million).

          Basically, can you not starve before you convert your tractor to biofuel/battery/whatever?

          So who seems like the prime candidate to survive? Someone with agricultural land and oil (preferably easily extracted) near each other. They’re going to have the least shock to their food production and distribution networks because they have control over land to make food and oil to transport food. So Houston would be the obvious example but I just spitballed places that met have farms and oil in close proximity.

          • bullseye says:

            If the global economy collapses, the best chance to survive would be for people who already aren’t part of it – today’s subsistence farmers, hunter-gatherers, etc.

          • I’m modeling any 2-3 week disruption of food supplies as destroying the society (I didn’t model water although I should have).

            If there were a 2-3 week disruption of food supplies, we’d just eat the food on the shelves at the supermarket, then the dog food, then the dogs, ect.

          • John Schilling says:

            Basically because I’m modeling any 2-3 week disruption of food supplies as destroying the society […] Or, basically, imagine the collapse happens on January 1st, 2020 and suddenly you can’t trade with anyone outside your county/(local administrative district).

            Why can’t I trade with anyone outside my county?

            Lack of oil wells inside my county is not going to be the problem. And the presence of oil wells inside my county is not going to be the solution, because approximately no transportation system anywhere can run on raw crude oil. Lack of oil wells may be a mid-term constraint on trade, but it isn’t an absolute bar to trade and it isn’t a problem at all for the first 2-3 weeks.

            Basically every city on Earth is going to have enough fuel on hand, to run the trucks, trains, or ships it will need to bring in food for its population for the first year or so. If it is intelligently used that is, and it doesn’t mater whether the intelligence comes from wise social planners or clever capitalists. Drain the tanks of a 747 at JFK, use it to run a diesel-electric train to Kansas, and you can bring home enough wheat to feed forty thousand people for a year, or three quarters of a million for three weeks.

            By the time you need it, you should have alternatives in place, whether biofuels or wind power or trade deals with starving people who have oil wells. What may make one society thrive while the other starves, is the ability to properly reorganize their economy to meet the crisis, not the ability to produce crude oil. And that points towards people who have (and have experience running) a successful diversified economy, not people who basically know how to do one thing. Not even if that thing is producing crude oil.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I am very skeptical that any advanced economy could reorganize itself fast enough to cope. Though that depends on how we define the catastrophe.

            Drain the tanks of a 747 at JFK, use it to run a diesel-electric train to Kansas, and you can bring home enough wheat to feed forty thousand people for a year, or three quarters of a million for three weeks.

            Even assuming a modern diesel-electric can run reliably on Jet A (modern diesel cars can’t) you’re ignoring the myriad transactions that would need to occur here. Say you work for the electric train company and you need fuel to run your train: are you just going to call Delta and ask for fuel? Is some Delta executive who is in full on crisis mode and probably about to enter liquidation going to take a phone call from you, and organize a sale of fuel from an airplane (the sale of which would violate god knows how many laws and company procedures, and who actually owns the fuel anyway, we’ll need the legal department to look up the leasing contracts for the aircraft)? Including getting around airport security bureaucracy, which for all we know is now in TSA lockdown, through all the procedures to de-fuel a plane, and by the way are the Delta ramp workers showing up to work to get the fuel out when the airport is shut? And are the roads going to be open? And even if you manage to get this fuel, which is not approved for use in your modern diesel-electric and nobody in your office knows if it will damage the engine, you don’t know if the wheat is going to be there or if anybody is actually going to be able to use wheat in a city with rolling blackouts etc. It would be much easier to scrap it all and go hang out in your cabin upstate on the nice lake with lots of trout for a few months while this crisis blows over, so you grab the wife, pack the bags and hit the road for a bit, though all the highways out of town are filled with people with the same idea, and there’s an accident or two up ahead and a few people ran out of gas so the road is just 50 miles of gridlock….

          • Lambert says:

            If it’s slow enough for the state to react by declaring a state of emergency or martial law, you’ll be able to keep the trucks going.
            Fire up the Blitz Spirit in society.

            I wonder whether we should compare this kind of situation with nations’ darkest days during WWII? Britain in ’40, the USSR in ’42, Germany in ’45.

          • John Schilling says:

            Even assuming a modern diesel-electric can run reliably on Jet A (modern diesel cars can’t) you’re ignoring the myriad transactions that would need to occur here.

            Railroad diesels can run with cetane numbers as low as 30, so probably won’t have a problem with Jet-A.

            Beyond that, I’m not ignoring the “myriad of transactions”. I explicitly stated that the key attribute to societal survival is “the ability to properly reorganize their economy to meet the crisis”, i.e. to carry out that myriad of transactions even if I didn’t specifically enumerate them.

            It is the original poster who glosses over the “myriad of transactions”, by simply asserting that the presence of oil wells ensures that there won’t be disruptions in the food supply. Diesel locomotives will run on Jet-A; they won’t run on crude oil. The society with a narrowly focused oil-extraction economy, faces more difficulties re-establishing working short-term transportation infrastructure, and has less expertise in conducting complex economic reorganizations on the fly, then your average cosmopolitan city.

          • Lambert says:

            You can probably get a long way by bodging everything to run off a gasifier, like the London Busses did during the War.

            And converting a 4-stroke to a crappy steam engine is possible, by screwing around with the camshaft.

            So long as you’ve got coal or wood, you should be ok.

          • LesHapablap says:

            John Schilling,

            I misinterpreted the point you were making. My apologies.

            I disagree though that a cosmopolitan city is more equipped for fast economic restructuring than a city based around a single heavy industry (oil) and farming. I don’t see how a cosomopolitan city is diversified in any way that helps. I agree with blipnickels that the supply chains are probably longer and more fragile in a cosmopolitan city, and the labor force less useful, than in an industrial one, though it would help if we had two cities to compare directly and a defined crisis.


            I believe a lot of those car fixes that would have been possible and practical in the 40s aren’t practical any more. And the same fixes are no longer practical, for the same reasons, across thousands of critical points in the economy.

          • blipnickels says:

            @ John Schilling

            You can’t trade with anyone outside your county because that’s basically the definition of a Roman collapse. Using Britain under Rome as an example, there’s evidence there were still legionaries (or something similar) in Britain at least in the 5th/6th century. The real collapse is in Roman times you had large towns with specialized production and those couldn’t sustain themselves after the collapse because they couldn’t maintain their supply/trade chains. Something similar pretty clearly happened with the Bronze Age collapse. Therefore a Roman collapse basically must involve trade/supply collapses. Basically, to get that kind of crash in living standards, you must have people abandon specialized trades for subsistence agriculture because they can’t trade their products for food, which basically crashes the whole economy down to subsistence agriculture, as in Roman Britain.

            Eg, a major part of Roman collapse is that Britain couldn’t trade with Rome or Spain or Constantinople. I’m not sure what a Roman collapse looks like if London and Hispana/Spain and Rome can all still trade with the Eastern Romans. (I should note, trade at any kind of scale. There’s pretty much always some kind of trade but 7th century English trade with Egypt is…not economically significant)

            Basically every city on Earth is going to have enough fuel on hand, to run the trucks, trains, or ships it will need to bring in food for its population for the first year or so.

            You and a couple other people seem really confident on this point and it confuses me. The US Strategic Petroleum Reserve has like a month’s worth of oil and that depends on the US government’s ability to distribute that oil effectively in a Roman type collapse situation. Why are you so confident government (local or national) will be able to effectively retool our entire agricultural supply chain to keep everyone fed in the aftermath of a supervirus/nuclear strike/civil war/insert preferred Roman collapse scenario?

            I’m looking to arable land near oil because it seems the easiest, not the only possible, place for civilization to survive. Sure, in the aftermath of a Roman collapse scenario San Francisco decides to elect Elon Musk TechnoDictator and he immediately retools the entire economy to use solar batteries and then conquers the Central Valley with his cyborg legions, they’ll be fine. I’d rather be in Orange County, where there’s oil, oil refineries, and farmland in like a 50 mile radius. That’s pretty idiot proof, even if we literally have to transport crude oil to the refinery in a ox-drawn wagon. Even without any centralized control, a farmer in Orange County who needs to run his tractor can, of his own initiative, just go to the local refinery and buy/trade for oil. There’s no requirement for a complicated retooling of the economy or siphoning jet fuel at LAX; a guy can just tie some horses to a wagon, literally take crude oil to the refinery and refined fuel back to the farm and run the tractor. It seems really hard to screw that up.

            @ Lambert and Alexander Turok

            I wonder whether we should compare this kind of situation with nations’ darkest days during WWII? Britain in ’40, the USSR in ’42, Germany in ’45.

            Yeah, I’m confused about this as well. I thought Yemen would be a good modern example of a country suddenly cut off from international markets and in chaos but actual famine deaths seem low there. But something like Holodomor, which seems like it shouldn’t be as bad, had a much higher death toll in a very short time. This confuses me. Was Holodomor about actual food seizure?

          • LesHapablap says:


            If you can’t trade with other countries then you probably can’t trade over long distances at all, which means that when the mechanical seal on your mission Magnum pump fails and you can’t get a replacement, or replacement Derrick hyperpool shaker screens, or you need new drill bits or a new blow out preventer or a thousand other parts that wear out regularly your drilling rig is now just a big paperweight.

            If you are depending on one city to self-sufficiently get oil out of the ground and refine it I don’t think that is possible.

            Also, if you can’t trade by sea then there isn’t much point being close to the ocean unless you plan on doing a lot of fishing. You’d rather be inland in a place with plenty of natural irrigation for farming.

            If you can trade at all, then producing oil will be handy because it will always be in demand somewhere, in a way that producing iphone apps will not.

          • blipnickels says:


            Yes, I concur. There’s a ton of modifications and jury rigging you’ll need to do just to keep current infrastructure working if you can’t effectively trade with people >100 miles away and you’re dependent on their goods and services. This is inevitable and a major problem and lots of people won’t be able to manage it.

            This reinforces my argument. In a Roman collapse scenario, lots of previous suppliers are no longer available and you need to massively retool your local economy. Why would you also want to restructure your entire food production and distribution system at the same time? Rome/DC has fallen, everything is chaos, who wants more impossible tasks?

            And I’m confused on this trade argument. What is the Roman collapse scenario where, for example, Orange County can still trade with China? Or with New York, 3000+ miles away? Or even Houston, 1500+ miles away. I mean, according to Google Maps Rome is about ~1400 miles from Constantinople/Istanbul and they had a shared coastline on a very calm sea.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s probably good to look at societies that have faced really horrible hardship to see whether they collapsed with a two-week lapse in food supplies. I don’t think this actually happens.

            For example, Germany, Japan, and lots of fought-over territories in WW2 suffered horrible disruptions in food and transport and power and such, but I don’t think any of them collapsed into anarchy or fell apart and ceased to exist.

          • albatross11 says:

            Isn’t this kind of scenario exactly the reason why governors can declare martial law and call out the National Guard? Who will then presumably enforce orders like “we’re taking the jet fuel from that 747” or “we’re imposing rationing on the gas in your station–from now on, nobody without a chit from the governor’s office gets gas unless it’s an ambulance, fire truck, or police car” or whatever else.

          • John Schilling says:

            You can’t trade with anyone outside your county because that’s basically the definition of a Roman collapse.

            So, “Roman collapse” means that impenetrable force fields clamp down across what used to be internal and external political borders?

            Or maybe not exactly that, but something close enough to that as makes no difference. “Roman collapse” as you define it, is a thing did not happen following the collapse of the historic Roman empire, cannot plausibly happen in the real world, and is of no interest. Have fun discussing it with whoever is interested.

            I might be interested in a discussion of what would happen if nonlocal trade became substantially more difficult, but we should probably save that for a different OT to avoid confusion.

          • Lambert says:

            Wasn’t trade collapse driven by the fact that merchants were at a much greater risk of being attaked by bandits?
            (of course then, the relative merits of mercantile and bandity careers change such that this is a positive feedback loop)
            Villages relocate from places near the roads to defensible hilltops.

            I suppose I’m saying that one of the big factors is how able are you to avoid/defend against banditry, warlordism, brushfires etc.

          • blipnickels says:

            @ John
            At least we end on a clear factual disagreement 🙂

            So, “Roman collapse” means that impenetrable force fields clamp down across what used to be internal and external political borders?

            Or maybe not exactly that, but something close enough to that as makes no difference. “Roman collapse” as you define it, is a thing did not happen following the collapse of the historic Roman empire, cannot plausibly happen in the real world, and is of no interest. Have fun discussing it with whoever is interested.

            I mean, I provided my sources for this happening historically in Roman Britain and the Bronze Age. I’m not sure why you’re so skeptical of this, “impenetrable force fields clamping down on former external and internal borders” is a pretty good description of North Korean 20th century history. That’s a thing that happened following the collapse of a historic empire, has plausibly happened in the real world, and is of continuing interest to a lot of people.

    • After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the living conditions of the people worsened

      Is that clear? If you look at population change as a proxy for living conditions, and if you believe the graph in the Penguin Atlas of World Population (possibly out of date), European population is falling from about 300 A.D., starts back up about 600 A.D., which suggests that conditions were better in the post-Roman period.

      What is the evidence the other way around?

      I think our view of past civilizations is biased by the fact that a civilization which pulls lots of resources out of the periphery to the center is likely to build impressive things that are still around–at the cost of the population paying for them.

  9. Well... says:

    Is global warming, as a public issue people debate the science of, old enough by now for a bunch of climate scientists to have made a prediction about some decades-long trend? Obviously no climate scientist can pinpoint exactly how many hurricanes there will be or what the global temperature will be in in X years as a result of global warming, but could they say, with some level of confidence, what the averages of things like this will be over some reasonable period of time? And if so, have any done this?

    It seems like doing this would be like a credibility trump card or something close.

    • johan_larson says:

      James Annan has bet money on warming.

    • S_J says:

      I’ve done a little digging for predictions of how the Global Climate would affect the region of the world I live in. In the northern part of the American Midwest, weather is dramatically shaped by the huge bodies of fresh water known as the Great Lakes.

      The water levels of the Great Lakes have been part of the regional worry about the impact of Global Warming for quite some time.

      In 2012, National Geographic published a piece titled Warming Lakes: Climate Change and Variability Drive Low Water Levels on the Great Lakes. That article has an eye-catching picture of large stretches of sand with a few pools of water. These photos are accompanied by a potentially-misleading caption which may imply that the entire Great Lakes basin is that dry…rather than the quarter-mile of beach that used to be lakebed which is seen in the photo.

      This article agrees with an earlier article posted in the Science Daily, sourced from a scientific paper published by the American Chemical Society, in Environmental Science and Technology. (Does the ACS count as climatology? I can’t tell…) That article has the summary:

      Researchers report new evidence that water levels in the Great Lakes, which are near record low levels, may be shrinking due to global warming. Their study, which examines water level data for Lakes Michigan and Huron over more than a century. Researchers point out that water levels in the Great Lakes, which supply drinking water to more than 40 million U.S. and Canadian residents, have fluctuated over thousands of years. But recent declines in water levels have raised concern because the declines are consistent with many climate change projections, they say.

      Another article I found was posted in 2009 on the Earth Institute blog of Columbia University, which has this nice quote:

      In reading through the many reports on this subject, most climate models suggest that we may see declines in lake levels over the next 100 years; one suggests that we may see declines of up to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet). Granted, this is hardly conclusive; another model that suggests a “wetter” future climate over the Great Lakes projects a small increase in lake levels. The truth is likely somewhere in between, with water levels falling between 0.23 meters and 2.5 meters.

      The numbers quoted look immense. Even though one model projected a small, non-quantified increase in lake levels, it is argued that the truth is likely somewhere in between, with water levels falling….

      This year, the water levels of the Great Lakes have been abnormally high. They are approaching century-level records. We are definitely seeing water levels not seen since the 1970s.

      The more careful scientists noted what is seen in the quote above, that local precipitation levels (and evaporation, which is affected by the amount of ice cover on the Lakes during winter) may have unexpected results on Great Lakes water levels. But the typical warnings issued during the past two decades continued dire warnings of declining water levels on the Great Lakes as the global climate warmed up.

      This year, articles in places like The Scientific American are saying that global climate change can cause wide swings in the water levels of the Great Lakes. That article provides a quote like this one, giving a believable explanation of why the water levels changed from historic lows to historic highs.

      These extremes result from changes in the Great Lakes’ water budget—the movement of water into and out of the lakes. Water levels across the lakes fluctuate over time, influenced mainly by three factors: rain and snowfall over the lakes, evaporation over the lakes, and runoff that enters each lake from the surrounding land through tributaries and rivers. Runoff is directly affected by precipitation over land, snow cover and soil moisture.

      Interactions between these factors drive changes in the amount of water stored in each of the Great Lakes. For example, in the late 1990s surface water temperatures on Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron rose by roughly 2 degrees C. Water evaporates more rapidly when it is warmer, and during this period evaporation rates were nearly 30% above annual average levels. Water levels on Lake Michigan-Huron dropped to the lowest levels ever recorded.

      Then in 2014 the Midwest experienced an extraordinary cold air outbreak, widely dubbed the “polar vortex.” The lakes froze and evaporation rates dropped. As a result, water levels surged.

      At roughly the same time, precipitation was increasing. The 2017 Lake Ontario flood followed a spring of extreme overland precipitation in the Lake Ontario and Saint Lawrence River basins. The 2019 flood follows the wettest U.S. winter in history.

      This kind of prediction is kind of like the predictions of hurricanes-and-global-warming that were widely quoted in the news after a few major hurricanes of the past decade. It’s a prediction of regional-results, with a few caveats about unknowns in the model. Over the space of about a decade, the unknown factors had a larger impact than the factors used in the prediction.

      I don’t know if this answers your question, but I do find it informative. The general thrust appears to be that scientific publications (and the mainstream press that reports on such things) do tend to predict more of the current trend as a result of global climate change….until the trend reverses. Then those sources report more instability in the effects of climate change.

    • There are a couple of mild examples. The first IPCC report badly overpredicted subsequent warming, an error at least partly corrected in the second. The fourth report claimed that droughts were increasing due to global warming, the fifth report retracted that claim.

      There was an early article in Salon that quoted Hansen as making some predictions about what New York City would look like twenty years later, including the West Side Highway being flooded. The description was badly wrong. But Hansen and the interviewer the story was based on have claimed that the story got details wrong, that the prediction was for doubling CO2 not for twenty years but for forty, and that that was in the version the interviewer gave in a book he wrote prior to the Salon article.

      You can find a pro-Hansen account of the controversy on That site is run by John Cook who I believe is demonstrably dishonest, so I give no weight to its conclusion, but it does provide the pro-Hansen version of what happened.

      It offers no evidence that, when that article was published, Hansen made any effort to correct its account of what he said—it looks as though corrections occurred after critics started to point out the discrepancy between the Salon article account of what Hansen predicted in 1988 and the actual situation in 2008, twenty years later.

      It notes that in 2028 the forty years will be up, doesn’t note that the level of SLR projected by the IPCC doesn’t come close to flooding the West Side Highway by that date, or the rest of the prediction.

      The piece links to Anthony Watts piece pointing out the false prediction but does not mention that Watts discusses the correction of the prediction to forty years and offers evidence that SLR is not coming close to flooding the West Side Highway in forty years.

      According to the actual data, after 23 years, we’ve seen about a 2.5 inch rise. There’ s still a very long way to go to ten feet to cover the West Side Highway there., run by John Cook, and, run by Anthony Watts, are probably the two best known web sites on opposite sides of the climate controversy. People here who would like to judge the state of the controversy may want to follow both of the links I have given and form their own opinion as to which is more honest, less biased.

      My own reading of what happened is that Hansen, being interviewed, offered a highly colored account of how terrible things would be in forty years with a doubling of CO2 without bothering to actually check the relevant facts, such as how far the West Side Highway was above sea level; it was a work of imaginative fiction, not science. It wasn’t, after all, in an article he published, just in conversation with an interviewer who, like Hansen, thought climate change was a terrible threat and wanted to make that threat vivid.

      It’s evidence that one should not take seriously most of what is written in the popular press along those lines, but not that Hansen’s scientific work is wrong — for that one would want to look at predictions made more carefully.

  10. johan_larson says:

    For grave crimes against the Emergent Global Consensus, you have been sentenced to Temporal Transportation. You are being sent to the United States of America in the year 1955. You’ll be there for the rest of your life. Don’t worry, you will receive careful preparation for your new life, and your new station in life will roughly match your old one, modulo edits for time and place. The EGC isn’t cruel, you see; they just want you gone.

    So, what part of your new life will suck the hardest?

    Assuming I don’t catch polio, I think what I’d miss most is air conditioning.

    • Eltargrim says:

      Thing I’d miss: the internet. I can’t imagine doing my job before it.

      Thing I’d benefit from: tons of new tenure-track positions opening up.

      Assuming that I get enough warning, the move might actually end up being a net positive for me.

      • johan_larson says:

        Are you complaining about problems getting access to academic papers, or communicating with colleagues?

        • Eltargrim says:


          But more seriously, access to material. Between Google Scholar, Scifinder, and CTRL-F I can find out in five minutes what would have taken five weeks. I would also miss commercial vendors for the relevant instruments, as well as the fast fourier transform.

      • Nick says:

        I can’t imagine how to do academic research without the Internet, either, but I can imagine where to do it: the basement of the library. At my university, the dank shelving in the far corner was where all our academic journals were relegated; I used to visit to read old issues that were never digitized. Have fun!

    • Aftagley says:

      So, what part of your new life will suck the hardest?

      Food, jesus christ the food.

      Have you seen what people cooked/ate in america during the 50s and 60s? They used to make meat gelatin dishes. Send me to 1950s america and I’m literally either 30 years or a continent away from being able to get good beer, curry or pizza.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’ve had a couple of those meat gelatin dishes. They’re odd, but not bad. The difficulty getting fresh fruit and vegetables would be worse: there’s a reason so many dishes from the Fifties use two cans of this and a can of that.

        • Aftagley says:

          Oh my word, I hadn’t even thought about the ubiquity of canned veggies/fruit back then. Ugh.

        • Nick says:

          I’m reminded of the discussion a few weeks ago about how the French conform their cooking more to what is in season. Maybe we the temporally displaced should make this an opportunity to use local ingredients rather than relying on canned food or international imports.

          • johan_larson says:

            Digging deep into one of the immigrant cuisines might also work. In 1955 there are plenty of Italian neighborhoods on the east coast, with some cooks who learned their trade in the old country. Nothing wrong with Italian food and wine.

            Or go with the times and enjoy Ham and Bananas Hollandaise.

          • albatross11 says:

            Find a city with a Chinatown, a still vibrant Italian immigrant neighborhood, and a reasonable-sized immigrant neighborhood of Mexicans, and you’ll at least have some interesting and tasty food.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @albatross11, you just named three of my four favorite ethnic cuisines! Unfortunately, the fourth – Thai – wasn’t really present in the United States till much later, but I’ll still be happy enough food-wise.

            Except that I’ll lose Internet recipes. Well, I guess I need to talk to my neighbors and ethnic food suppliers, and experiment more.

      • JayT says:

        Aside from the obvious loss of healthcare, I agree that food would be the thing I would be the most afraid to lose. Though, I do wonder how bad it actually was in the 1950s. It’s natural that we would hear about the most weird trends today, so I doubt the Jello meat dishes are actually representative of what people were eating on an average day. I know that when my mom would make her childhood favorites (she grew up in the 40s and 50s) they were old school Eastern European foods that I can still get at Eastern European restaurants. There were a lot of casseroles, but even though it’s fallen out of fashion something like tuna noodle casserole with potato chips crushed on top is actually pretty tasty.

        You would definitely have a lack of fresh vegetables off season, and that would be annoying, but I wonder if some things wouldn’t actually be better. I know that pigs are raised to be leaner today, so there’s a good chance that a porkchop in 1950 would be better tasting than one today.

        • Plumber says:

          @JayT >

          “…I do wonder how bad it actually was in the 1950s…”

          My guess is it was pretty much like what I remember my grandmother (who was born in the 1920’s) cooked in the ’70’s: Meatloaf, peas, mashed potatoes, gravy, et cetera.

          Sorta like limiting yourself to a quarter of the menu at a Denny’s.

          Less diverse than what my wife makes, and can be gotten from restaurants now but with extra salt and pepper not that bad actualy, I prefer it to some foreign cuisines (like what my mother-in-law cooks, “authentic” will never sound like a plus to me again!).

          • JayT says:

            Yeah, that’s basically what I’m thinking as well. The food wouldn’t be bad, but it would probably get boring. Less so if you live in a place like the Bay Area, where there were already a lot of different ethnic cultures.

          • Evan Þ says:

            What sort of “authentic” dish did you have? When I’ve occasionally eaten authentic Chinese food, there’re some misses but also some real gems.

      • You couldn’t learn to cook? Go to a Chinese restaurant, already available, at least in suitable cities, by the fifties? I remember going to one near University of Chicago when I was still in high school.

        There wasn’t nearly as good a variety of ethnic food available then, but there were lots of things other than meat gelatin, which off hand I can’t remember ever being served.

    • Plumber says:

      @johan_larson says:

      “….You are being sent to the United States of America in the year 1955.:.

      …what part of your new life will suck the hardest?.”

      My marriage would still be illegal for three more years.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Oh wow; I had no idea.

        That raises the question, though… the Emergent Global Consensus says you get sent back. Does your family get sent back with you?

        If not, that’d be the worst part.

    • hls2003 says:

      There’s air conditioning in the ’50’s. Just less common in the home, but it’s in lots of other places if you have a real heat wave.

      It seems clear to me that the answer is “medical care” and that nothing else comes even close. I think that would be true of almost anyone, although minorities subject to Jim Crow-style discrimination would have an argument.

      • What would the life expectancy difference due to medicine be? 1-3 years, when you’re in your 70s?

        • JayT says:

          At 65 your life expectancy would be 5.5 years higher than in 1950.

          But I think the bigger concern would be if you get some now-treatable affliction in your 30s. It might be low probability, but if you got hit with something like that, you’ll really regret going back in time.

        • Lambert says:

          Are we accounting for tobacco use?

          • Etoile says:

            Tobacco use might be the thing that moves the needle in the coarse aggregate statistics, but things like leukemia going from death sentence to treatable, or phenomenal advances in surgery of any kind, medical devices, prostheses, and the quality of therapies of a whole range of diseases, from acne to cancer, are significant enough on their own.

        • Garrett says:

          The issue isn’t so much life expectancy. It’s a great metric in that it’s pretty easy to measure. But there’s more to life than being alive. Medications which are now available for almost nothing to manage blood pressure, heart attack risk, whatever, mean that instead of having to deal with a long life of being bedridden it’s now more common for people to be able to have functional/useful lives in their 60s, 70s, 80s or whatever.

      • Zephalinda says:

        Yeah, I don’t think it’s obvious that 2019 wins in the health department.

        Life expectancy as a raw number has risen, but:
        (a) that differs substantially across social class/ other demographics. The 5.5-year bump in the average life expectancy that JayT cites doesn’t necessarily mean that every single group (especially the 1955 upper-middle-class) has seen exactly the same longevity gain.

        (b) some part of that life expectancy gain reflects current high spending on interventions to incrementally postpone the deaths of elderly people who are already very ill. I guess tastes differ as to whether we’d enjoy the opportunity to wait out another year or two of life as a demented, bedridden nursing home patient instead of dying mercifully of the first bout of pneumonia, but I’ve certainly heard this cited as a negative feature of the modern healthcare experience rather than a positive.

        (c) You can at least make a case that the small 1955 risk of experiencing a then-untreatable serious disease is balanced by the empirically much greater 2019 risk of low-grade health unpleasantness (depression, obesity, chronic pain, anxiety, sleep disturbance, immune issues) from our current lifestyle/environment combo.

    • albatross11 says:

      Lack of computers that you could get access to outside a big research lab would be a huge loss–I’d be in my 70s before home computers became a thing at all.

    • woah77 says:

      Worst part: lacking computers
      Best part: Ability to beat ATT to the invention of transistors

    • S_J says:

      I’ll have to make sure that I don’t alter the lives of my own parents too much. (Both had been born before 1955, but neither had begun attending school yet…)

      At my current age, I might live long enough to see myself born. Though if I’m avoiding interacting with my own parents, that might be kind of hard to achieve.

      Of the things I’ll miss? Internet-enabled music/TV/movie watching. And reading things online.

      The things I’d like? The slower pace of social life, probably.

      If I arrive in 1955, and am placed somewhere in an engineering position supporting the Space Race, I might get a chance to see many historic firsts. Up to and including the famous event of 1969, when Neal Armstrong steps onto the surface of the Moon.

      (That happens to be the same year that the Woodstock Festival happened…If I were transported back to 1969 at my current age, I’d be noticeably older than the media Woodstock attendee. If I’m transported back to 1955, I’d likely survive until 1969…and I would be 2x to 3x the age of the median Woodstock attendee.)

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        That is not a concern, because it is either impossible or inevitable -conception is one of the most chaotic events imaginable, your mere existence will reroll all of the dice on who gets born even if someone shoots you within seconds of exiting the timeportal just due to the gravitational mass of your corpse. Since there is an authority routinely deporting people, you are clearly living in a universe with multiple timelines or forced global consistency. It is easy to figure out which. Before transporting, pick a large clean unmarked boulder, after transporting, go to it with a hammer and chisel, write a killroy message. If ridiculusly contrieved events do not materialize to stop you, multiple timelines.

    • Well... says:

      Assumption 1: there are no weird grandfather paradoxes or anything like that because it’s a separate timeline from the moment I enter the portal or whatever.

      Assumption 2: I’d have to leave my wife and kids behind in this timeline. This would be agonizing, but I know I would eventually want to remarry and maybe even have more kids. It’s what my wife would want me to do as well in this kind of scenario.

      Assumption 3: Traveling back in time does not change your basic tastes. I like all colors of women but women outside my race, and black women in particular, are disproportionately represented among those I find attractive, those I’ve dated, and surprise surprise my wife is black. 1955 is in some ways a fortuitous selection because thanks to Loving v. Virginia which was decided that year, interracial marriage was henceforth legal in all states. The downside is, this doesn’t mean it was widely accepted. In the years I’ve been alive I’ve had to deal with very little outside disapproval of my dating and marriage choices, and in many situations they’ve yielded unexpected benefits, but if I had to live the rest of my life in 1955 my experience would surely be much more negative.

      So, I don’t know if this would suck “the most” but it would definitely suck: the dramatically increased negative externalities of dating and marrying the types of women I’m most attracted to. there’d be in 1955: a confident man, in good shape, able to earn lots of money, at the peak of my game in many ways, and there’d be all those cute 1950s black girls, and it wouldn’t not worth it even trying to flirt with any of them. Living in the middle of a Romeo & Juliet story isn’t as much fun as seeing the play.

      • albatross11 says:

        Would it have been more acceptable overseas? There’s no reason you have to stay in 1950s USA–maybe 1950s France would be more to your liking? (Better food, too.)

        Also, given your uptime knowledge, you ought to be able to do pretty well for yourself–just remembering successful company names will be enough to give you a jump on the rest of the world. When you’re rolling in the dough, a lot of people who disapprove of your black wife and kids may find that they’d rather not make an enemy of the richest guy in town who also seems to keep inventing amazing new technology and starting new companies and such….

    • SamChevre says:

      Assuming my family goes with me, all three of my boys will be draft age in for Vietnam.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Having to wear suits everywhere.

      • JayT says:

        That would actually be one of the plus sides for me. I’m annoyed it’s so socially unacceptable for me to wear a suit.

        • johan_larson says:

          What do you do for a living that makes wearing a suit socially impossible?

          • Lambert says:

            Most jobs, nowadays.
            Maybe not socially impossible, but it’ll get you some funny looks.
            Definitely written in red on the weirdness points budget, nowadays.

          • JayT says:

            I’m a software engineer in San Francisco. If I show up in a suit, then I’d have to answer questions about where I was interviewing all day, every day. In my social circle, I would be “the weird guy that always wears suits”. I could wear suits if it was really important to me, but in reality, it’s not a strong enough preference to make it worth all the commentary.

          • C_B says:

            (My experience in west-coast tech)

            It’s not unacceptable, but it’s definitely marked. Most people aren’t like, “oh fuck that asshole, he’s wearing a suit.” If you get any comments at all, they’re probably going to be along the lines of “lookin’ good today!”

            But you’re still going to be establishing yourself as “that guy who wears a suit for some reason.”

          • Lambert says:

            Also if it’s the kind of workplace where people start wearing suits a couple of rungs up the totem pole from where you are, your cow-orkers might think you’re dressing for the job you want.
            You don’t want honourable men to think you’re ambitious.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Move to NYC, go into finance.

          • JayT says:

            I’ve thought about that, but I don’t think I would be good at it. At least, I don’t think I would be good at what I imagine finance to be. I haven’t done enough research to really know for certain.

    • The Nybbler says:

      All that extra work I’m going to have to do making sure the EGC doesn’t happen. Living well isn’t the best revenge: eliminating one’s enemies before they are even born is the best revenge.

      • albatross11 says:

        TFW you realize the Terminator wasn’t sent back by Skynet, but rather by the rebellion that successfully defeated Skynet, because they wanted to get rid of it….

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, but none of this flashy BS. I’m going to find Sarah Connor. I’m not going to kill all the Sarah Connors, I’m going to just keep track of them all and see which one (or ones) has a son named “John”. Then one day during his childhood I’ll just quietly kill him (or them). Kyle Reese will be in an insane asylum; without the other killings, Sarah’s never going to believe anyone they send back to stop me.

          But I think to stop the EGC, the best strategy might be to somehow get Senator Nixon to believe I have foreknowledge of the future. Get him to tell CREEP in no uncertain terms to stay the hell away from the DNC… and if they buck him on that, to throw them under the bus. No Watergate, and the world will be a very different place, I think.

    • AG says:

      Highly doubt my new station will actually roughly match my old one, unless they make all of the people around me ignore three major demographics I belong to that aren’t so fondly looked upon. They could put me in a community that may overlook/support one or two, but not all three, and discrimination on any one would easily boot me out of the jobs and hobbies I want to do, or at the least be an incessant hostile environment, as labor law defines the term.

      • johan_larson says:

        Well, *cough*, one way or another things will fit. The EGC is very advanced from where things stand in 2019, and either they will fit the circumstances to you, or you to the circumstances.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      As a research scientist, the knowledge I take back with me would considerably change the time stream. Am I somehow prevented from divulging that?

      • johan_larson says:

        Nope, but the time-line branches at the point at which you are inserted into the past, and you’ll be in the new branch. You can affect the future in the timeline you land in, but not what happened in the timeline you came from.

      • albatross11 says:

        In computer science and related fields, you can basically invent your field. You’ll be hanging around with Von Neumann, who will think it’s kind-of odd that you have so many amazing insights and ideas even though you don’t seem all that brilliant in conversation. Just, somehow, you have an intuition for the right approach to computer design or programming in ways that usually turn out to be the best way anyone can work out.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          I study plasma physics, so between the theory knowledge and knowledge of ceramic superconductors, fusion power leaps several decades ahead, and is likely widely available by the present day.

    • Silverlock says:

      Since year-round availability of more-or-less fresh fruits and vegetables has already been mentioned, as has air conditioning — a major loss down here in the American South — allow me to add modern dental methods and materials to the list. I remember going to the dentist back in the 60s and it was not a pleasant thing. Dental visits are soooo much better nowadays than they were then.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I’m spoiled for choice.

      1) The loss of the modern PC and the internet will strip away one of my major sources of personal entertainment as well as the tool that has facilitated connecting with like-minded people. I suppose I could start writing in to Amazing Stories and its like, see if I could connect with proto-Fandom that way, but it would definitely be a struggle. As for the other sources of entertainment, SF/F books? Well, I could look forward to a lifetime of rereading all the stuff I’ve read before, hope that maybe I come across good stuff that I missed when I was reading 50s-80s SF as a kid and teenager…

      2) I have a medical issue (lymphedema in both lower legs) that is fairly easy to manage completely with current technology (modern compression garments and a computerized pump attached to garments that I can put on at home to apply lymphatic drainage massage properly on my own schedule). AFAIK, circa 1950s I would need short stretch bandaging for the rest of my life and regular intensive sessions with a physical therapist to perform the massage on my legs, which will probably be ruinously expensive given my job (see 3), if I can even find someone trained in a technique which is relatively new and may not have even spread to the US from its development in Europe.

      3) If we’re fitting station in life, then I’d be a WW2 veteran (OIF Vet IRL and the timeline actually works out, I would have been 24 in 1941 if I’m inserted into 1955 at my current age) working in a fairly large Casino. Which in 1950s means either Vegas (legal but likely with mob ties/ownership until the 60s) or Galveston (straight-up illegal and run by gangsters). Vegas in the 50s seems like a town with a lot of possible opportunities, but the risks and downsides for someone whose preference is to be a law-abiding citizen but who has limited job history to fall back on is left as an exercise for the student…

      If given sufficient warning, I’d probably try to throw together the funds to make some smart investments (DuPont? IBM? Probably some early mutual funds? What would’ve produced excellent returns you could cash out before the 70s and 80s financial crises?) to soften the worst of the shocks.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        retrospective analytics revealed that this time period undervalued firms with female management… a lot. This still happens, but not to quite the outsized degree it did historically, so you can beat the market like a drum by just being enormously misandrist in your investment. Buy, hold female lead companies, sell off the stock when they hire male bosses.

    • onyomi says:

      This would be more obvious if traveling back to say the 30s or earlier, but what I always wonder looking at old photos, clothing, and furniture is “isn’t everyone just terribly hot and uncomfortable all the time??”

      Set aside for a moment the lack of AC. People appear to be wearing what we would consider “church” clothes all the time. Of course, at home you could just wear your wife beater or long underwear or nightgown or something I guess, but then the furniture from that time period and earlier all looks super hard and uncomfortable!

      Of course, we are probably just spoiled by super plushy couches, elastic waistbands, and a lowered expectation of formality in public and there’s definitely a little part of me that thinks “sigh, people used to look so nice in public,” but I wonder if I were time-warped back to then whether I’d ever get used to it or just be like “uggh, so hot and uncomfortable! Give me back my 2019 sweatpants that look like real pants!”

    • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

      Entertainment will probably be the only major problem. Moving into America at arguably the peak of its hegemony sounds like a sweet deal for me. And I’ll be the only one not to worry about nuclear war when time comes.

      I worry about professional skills since I don’t think I know anything useful in 1950. And also how do I avoid looking like draft dodger, since I’m old enough so I should’ve served in WWII, although I hope TT will provide a cover story for that.

    • Three Year Lurker says:

      Am I confined to the entire year 1955, or just part of it?
      Assuming they don’t go to the extreme of confining me to a single second (from an outside view I would rapidly appear, starve, and die before anyone can act).

      Living with 40 age trending copies of myself would either be a blessing or a curse. The onward march to death would become somewhat more visceral, as each year I get closer to being the oldest.
      And that gap in the middle, 5 of me just missing. What was I doing for those 5 years, and why does nobody older speak of it?

      I suppose we’d open a giant pottery studio, since computers are inaccessible. Hopefully we can find suppliers quickly who don’t mind a single year of massive business then complete disappearance.

      • johan_larson says:

        You appear in the year 1955 and live and age normally in that time-stream from then on. If you’re physically 25 when you are transported, you will be physically 45 in 1975.

    • After I wrote my second book, using a word processor, I concluded that no books had been written prior to the invention of the word processor. It’s just too much work. So what will I do from 1955 until sometime in the late seventies when I can buy an Apple 2 or TRS80 with a word processing program?

    • sharper13 says:

      With the knowledge disparity (I know an awful lot about post-1955 technology, economics, physics, marketing theories, etc….) I’d be a Billionaire within a decade. With knowledge of history over time, including who does what and who will be in power when, control of the entire world politically isn’t completely out of the question within a couple of decades….

    • LeSigh says:

      Not having access to good birth control.

  11. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I haven’t been following the comments on untestable theories, but does anyone get to the question of how much effort should go into untestable theories?

  12. deltafosb says:

    It’s just a thought, but how feasible is turning biomass into charcoal as a counterfactual carbon sink (all things eventually rot, emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while charcoal is chemically stable)?

    • AlphaGamma says:

      People have thought a lot about it. Look up ”biochar” if you want to find out more, that’s the term most studies use. I think it’s at the stage of ”we should do this more” but I’m not sure if it’s been scaled up yet- or how scalable it is.

      There is also the question of what to do with the charcoal. One theory is that it could be used to enhance the quality of soil, similar to the terra preta found in the Amazon.

      • Lambert says:

        Yeah, replace slash-and-burn with slash-and-char.
        The adsorbtive effect of charcoal really helps hold nutrients in the soil.

  13. johan_larson says:

    I’ve started a thread about Terminator: Dark Fate in OT 140, to avoid inadvertent spoilers for people who haven’t seen the film yet.

  14. MP92 says:

    This is my goodbye to the SSC community.
    I am currently spending an unhealthy amount of time lurking here (I have rarely commented). I am now deciding to cut this habit short, and I state it here as part of this process.
    Some background/feedback:
    1. What brought me here first was a link to Radicalizing the Romanceless at a time when I wandered around incel or incel-ish online groups. This was a helpful piece that stood out to the toxicity that often surrounds the subject.
    2. All in all, Scott’s best work on this blog is probably Meditations on Moloch. While most of Scott’s writing is obviously smart, Moloch strikes me as smart and beautiful. Ginsberg’s poetry infuses it.
    3. One big reason while I am walking away from your community is the cultural distance. Much of Scott’s content is centered on the USA and most of the commenters are American, I am not, and I have or seek no connection to that country. I don’t want to create too much of a dissonance between the culture/language of my recreational intellectual food and the culture/language of the people I actually interact with. Non-american regular posters here, how do you handle that?
    3bis. In that vein, I am tempted to spew all the bad things I think of each of the american tribes here, but I will refrain.
    4. A more minor point: Scott is smarter than he is knowledgeable on the (many!) subjects he writes about. It is impressive that he comes up with so many valid points on such a large diversity of subjects. Still, for the purpose of intellectual consumption I prefer to learn from actual experts.
    6. A tangential point: as a statistician, I am genuinely amused by your fetishizing of bayesian statistics. I understand that it is a good metaphor for rationality though.
    I will check for possible responses to my rant, and then, bye!

    • Kelley Meck says:

      Fare thee well.

      I recall once seeing a comment in this space from a man in a relationship (marriage?) with a blue-tribe woman, who had noticed that his spending a lot of time in this comments section seemed to be affecting his outlook and damaging his relationship. At a minimum it was causing him to drift rightward politically, although it wasn’t so simple as that, but he felt it was impairing his success in his relationship, and wanted suggestions for how to prevent that. I was surprised and impressed by a reply from one of the more respected voices in this comment space that volunteered that the best and probably only solution was a cold turkey exit. After thinking about it, I agree with that view.

      In addition to being U.S.-centric, this blog has a high fraction of people, including the host, who are trying very hard to be something new and different. This is from the ssc post “yes we have noticed the skulls”…

      We’re almost certainly still making horrendous mistakes that people thirty years from now will rightly criticize us for. But they’re new mistakes. They’re original and exciting mistakes which are not the same mistakes everybody who hears the word “rational” immediately knows to check for and try to avoid. Or at worst, they’re the sort of Hofstadter’s Law-esque mistakes that are impossible to avoid by knowing about and compensating for them.

      I do think there are knowing-about-it-won’t-save-you type risks to spending a lot of time among the comments at SSC. If you are noticing a problem, I don’t think the solution is to split the difference or try to counterbalance the problem with something. It’s to leave, maybe for good, at least until the problem goes away and has stayed gone for a while.

    • LesHapablap says:

      I want to hear your diatribe against american tribes!

    • Viliam says:

      The time I spend on SSC is also more than appropriate, although I will probably keep this habit. I just wish there would be some switch to only show me e.g. the best 10% of comments. Seriously, it’s crazy how a blog written by one person can have a comment section so huge it pretty much takes the entire day to read it. Also, the debate here is better than most of the internet… but help, I want some of my time back! 😀

      Non-american regular posters here, how do you handle that?

      Would reading about local culture wars be better for my mental health that reading about American ones? I strongly doubt it. Sometimes I write on Facebook about local things, and the usual result is depression over the stupidity of reactions I get, especially from otherwise intelligent people. (I suppose the other side is similarly frustrated by my writings.) The geographical distance helps me keep some mental distance.

      On the other hand, what happens in USA doesn’t feel completely irrelevant to my life, because I expect that people here will copy a lot, so maybe we will also get some of that craziness, only maybe ten years later. I mean, I am not the only one who reads articles written by Americans; people around me share them on social networks all the time. Also, I work at an international company, so knowing about foreign taboos is useful.

      By the way, I don’t feel like much of Scott’s writing is US-centered. Meditation, mental health, statistics… pretty universal, I’d say.

      Scott is smarter than he is knowledgeable on the (many!) subjects he writes about.

      There are many books written by experts I could download and read instead of SSC, but somehow I don’t. I guess I am not here for education in the first place, although I appreciate the insights into many things I get here.

      Not sure if your objection is that Scott gets some things wrong, or merely that he does not go as deep as an expert could. If it’s the latter, I don’t mind, because I could read something from the experts outside of SSC if I wanted.

    • b4mgh says:

      Non-american regular posters here, how do you handle that?

      I don’t mind creating a dissonance between the language/culture of my recreational intellectual food and the culture/language of the people I actually interact with. Firstly, because my personality is already at odds with my local culture, to the point where I have always felt like (and often been mistaken for) a foreigner. Secondly, because I am not close with the people with whom I interact in person. Thirdly, because the persons with whom I am (emotionally) close are Americans. Lastly, reading about things happening here tends to be boring or just tragic, while reading about things happening in the US and Europe gives me conversation material with my friends, and it tends to be more entertaining.

      Good bye!

    • as a statistician, I am genuinely amused by your fetishizing of bayesian statistics.

      Are you implying the superiority of classical statistics? If so, I would be interested to see your reasons. As best I can tell, its popularity is mostly due to non-statistician users confusing the probability of the evidence conditional on the theory being wrong in a particular way with the probability of the theory being wrong, conditional on the evidence.

    • Bamboozle says:

      Non-american regular posters here, how do you handle that?

      I just try to skip over most of the culture war stuff unless the top comment really grabs my attention and I can’t help myself. It helps to recognise that some posters here are 99% of the time conflict theorists rather than mistake theorists so to speak, and just hide those comments 4 times out of 5 after a sentence or so. Especially when topics like how the Republicans/Democrats just owned the other/screwed up, anything to do with Brexit, or anything to do with Trump. You could argue it’s nearly impossible to be a mistake theorist on these topics, but that’s just more reason to hide them imo.

      For that reason my favourite posts are either Scott’s posts that aren’t open threads or in particular the discussion on the ‘Links’ threads. Those tend to give people a chance to share their knowledge without politics muddying the water.

      It’s funny how when i’m reading other’s comments sometimes, i’d never consider myself left-wing to use the terminology, I start to read some of the more right-wing posters here and feel a deep revulsion. I just put it down to different values over anything. I think possibly that growing up in a freezing country, you can’t help but feel more Communitarian than individualist.

  15. user84134 says:

    btw just saw that William Sharp has a youtubechannel with 212 subscribers where he makes/made a few youtube-videos with strange bears/disfigured telly-tubbies making fun of state pension actuaries and financial advisors
    (sharpe from the sharpe-ratio+arithmetic of active management and probably other econ-stuff since he got a noble in it (dont know what other stuff))

  16. Why is the standard working day 9-5 rather than 8-4?

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Why would we want it to be 8-4?

      • metacelsus says:

        Possibly because it’s centered around noon. But I don’t really see the advantage.

        • So you don’t have to go home from work in the dark.(Current sunset in my city is ~5:00 PM)

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            You would have to go to work from home at dark, what’s the big difference? Besides, if you city happens to be in California (which seems likely given the sunset time and SSC audience), it’s much easier solved by, you know, not changing time every winter so as to make sunset at 5 PM.

          • EchoChaos says:


            Indeed, daylight savings time is an abomination. Standard time forever.

            Also 5-2 workdays.

          • Aron Wall says:

            I agree entirely, except for which one is the abomination.

            As someone who has seasonal affective disorder, more light during the afternoons is the political issue that seems most existential to me.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aron Wall

            Noon being at the solar peak makes more sense than an hour afterwards, which is why I defend standard time.

            I also need lots of sunlight in the afternoon, so I work a 5-2 work schedule, which means I don’t have to go home in the dark.

          • CatCube says:

            …more light during the afternoons is the political issue that seems most existential to me.

            Ugh. I’ve been made miserable by how late the sun was rising, because it’s harder for me to get moving for work in the dark. I was desperately waiting for the end of DST so it would get light earlier.

            Plus, I grew up and now live further north, where in the summer with DST EECT is almost freakin’ 22:00. Getting dark at about 9pm is late enough, and DST plays hell with my sleep.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            What 5-2 are you guys talking about? Is it 5-14 or 17-2?

            As for the daylight savings, I personally don’t care where it would be set, after living in Saint Petersburg I’m fine going without sunlight for weeks. I just hate to switch time twice a year.

          • Plumber says:

            @Aron Wall says: “As someone who has seasonal affective disorder, more light during the afternoons is the political issue that seems most existential to me”

            If you work as a construction worker the start times are typically 6am to 8am, with quit times are usually from 2:30pm to 4:30pm.

            To become an indentured apprentice construction worker check out this site:


          • EchoChaos says:


            What 5-2 are you guys talking about? Is it 5-14 or 17-2?

            I work 5-14. It means traffic is light and I get sunny afternoons with my kids even in the winter.

      • Nick says:

        I much prefer 8-4. I like having light out when I get home—I’d like to be able to go to the store or something when it’s not pitch black out—and sometimes I need to go to the bank on my way home or something, too.

    • Eric Rall says:

      9-5 is the most iconic set of “standard” working/business hours for unshifted office work and day-shift manufacturing work in the US, but it’s far from universal. Standard business hours vary by industry and region. For example, for tech companies on the West Coast, common working hours are more like 10-6. I think the financial industry (especially on the East Coast) tends to run earlier (maybe 8-4), but I’m less confident of that for lack of personal experience.

    • Plumber says:

      @Alexander Turok says:

      “Why is the standard working day 9-5 rather than 8-4?”

      Oh sweet lord I wish it was, that sounds AWESOME!

      I worked seven years with a just before 9:30am start to a sometime after 6pm end schedule for seven years, and that was pretty good, after that, and for most of the last 20 years 7am to 3:30pm has been the most common schedule, and it’s LAME!

      The only thing worse have been the far too common even earlier start times combined with overtime.

      Triple LAME!

      Please, please, please implement this 9 to 5 idea!

    • fion says:

      If anything, I think the standard working day would be improved by shifting later rather than earlier. There are some people whose body clocks want to wake them up at 9 or 10 who are chronically sleep deprived in a 9-5 world. an 11-7 day would suit such people better.

      As for the people whose bodies wake up at 5 or 6, well they won’t lose sleep in an 11-7 day; they’ll just have to reorganise their time such that they do fun things in the morning instead of the evening.

      • acymetric says:

        You have my vote.

      • Medrach says:

        Counterpoint from someone who is an early bird:

        I find that no matter HOW early I get up, my best work is in the three hours after that, declining through the morning and falling off a cliff after lunch/noon.

        Your suggestion would absolutely waltz my productivity and affect my life, even if I wasn’t losing sleep.
        Also an afterthought. Most people who are “early” risers don’t get up at 6 but they get up at around 7 I find. That means that you have 4 ish hours till you start work. That is much less time than the roughly 6 to 8 you have in one chunk after clock off at 5. It breaks up peoples free time.

        Also, the 9 to 5 is a rough compromise because in most office jobs people need to reach each other somewhat reliably. Nonetheless, a lot of offices I know at least here in Germany are flexible, they have “gliding” work-hours and some people don’t trundle in until 10 or sometimes even 10:30 while others are at their desks at 6 AM but knock off at 2 or something.

        Just remembered the public transportation in my city incentivizes this to reduce rush hour crunch by selling monthly/yearly tickets only valid from 9AM onward for significantly less.

        • fion says:

          Yeah, I take your point. Probably the best thing (which as you say is already starting) is to push for flexible hours, with maybe a window from 11-3 or something where the important meetings have to be scheduled.

          I’m not sure I follow your early bird maths, though. If somebody gets up at 7am they should be going to bed before 11pm, which gives them under 6 hours after clocking off at 5pm.

          Also, if we’re counting 7am risers as early birds, then 9-5 is not so much a compromise but a perfect situation for them. One hour to get ready, one hour to travel, is pretty typical for many people.

        • onyomi says:

          Yeah I find different parts of the day are better for different sorts of activity and I seem to recall some sorts of studies indicating that, though I can’t find at the moment (one thing for sure is that levels of hormones, etc. vary throughout the day in somewhat predictable patterns; there’s surely some interpersonal variability but I’d be surprised if it were common to have one group of people with e.g. a completely flipped daily hormonal/neurotransmitter cycle as compared to another).

          For example, one time I lived in Taiwan and worked a job that didn’t start until after kids got off school (cram school). Taiwan is also very hot and has a lot of fun stuff going on at night with many shops not even opening till 10 am or later. As a result I developed a super night owl schedule there (like asleep at 6 am and up at 1 pm). On the one hand, yes you can get used to such a schedule, especially if the environment is facilitating it with e.g. fun nightlife. On the other, I got very little else accomplished during that time besides the meager salary I made at the cram school and the fun I had at night. Night time was still night time and night time to me is time to relax or have fun, not time to be super organized and productive.

        • Lambert says:

          I really liked the clock in/clock out system that the firm I was at in Germany had.
          Obviously it’s only viable for certain professions.
          But the flexibility it afforded is really nice.
          No worry about not getting in on time.

          • acymetric says:

            Can you elaborate? Clock in/clock out systems are usually used in jobs where hours flexibility is explicitly not available, at least in the US (i.e. if you clock in 2 minutes late you’re in some kind of trouble for tardiness).

            It is the jobs without clock in/clock out systems that usually offer the flexibility of shifting around your hours a little bit.

          • JayT says:

            Yeah, I’m curious too. I get to my job sometime around 7:45 in the morning, but I have coworkers that don’t show up until 10:00 or later. We don’t have any formal time tracking, but at past jobs where I did have to time in and out, it was because they needed staffing at a certain time, and they needed some why to make sure they were getting it.

    • S_J says:

      I’ve seen a company where the office workers are encouraged to work the 7:30-to-3:30 shift, reputedly to make it easier for them to collaborate with the day shift among the blue-collar workers on the production floor.

      Not a small company either: it’s a global manufacturing company with a well-known name, and has apparently been working this way since approximately the time of its founding.

    • Urstoff says:

      The standard working day seems to be 8-5; I don’t know many white collar jobs where you get paid for your lunch hour.

      • acymetric says:

        I was going to make this same comment. Seconded that generally white collar jobs that I’m familiar with expect you to be there 8-5.

    • Matt says:

      I feel fortunate that I work at a place where I can shift my hours if I like, within reason. I typically work 8-5 and take off Fridays when I hit 40 for the week.

    • baconbits9 says:

      If you drop your kids off at school before work then you need school to start before the standard work day. If you stop off and buy breakfast/coffee before work you need people there before you hit your job, if your job has any work that needs to be done daily before you get in so that you can do your job then you need those people in before you.

      For one of the bakeries I worked in I was first in at 5:30 to get the earliest prep done so that customers could start coming in at around 7 (door opened technically at 6:30 but very little traffic was there and the counter person started at 6:30 and did their prep work until customers interrupted). To make the standard day earlier by an hour you have to push everyone else back an hour, and there will be some resistance to that.

  17. Machine Interface says:

    I remember a discussion about the best adaptations of Shakespeare’s works some open threads ago.

    Yesterday I watched Justin Kurzel’s take on Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender in the title role. Overall, I found it good, without being wholy enamored with it — I’ll likely rewatch it, but I’m not going to longly rave about its qualities everywhere.

    That said there was one particular aspect of the movie that I found really interesting and worth talking about.

    In a world where Shakespeare’s works have been adapted left and right in all possible manners, and where anyone tackling Shakespeare wants to try to distinguish themself from others doing the same thing by setting the action on Mars or whatever, this adaptation is, by contrast, radically conventional on the surface.

    The original setting of medieval Scotland is preserved, the movie is largely filmed on “location” (that is, in real places in Scotland and England), the costumes are based on traditional clothing of the era, the plot largely follow the play, and while the full text is not preserved, all extent dialogues are, as far as I can tell, directly taken from Shakespeare’s words.

    And yet this is one of the most original adaptations of the play I have seen. Through a lot of screenplay and staging choices (often removing or adding characters to specific scenes, or changing who a character is looking at when talking, or changing when a particular piece of dialogue happen, without otherwise significantly altering the dialogues or the overall plot), and through specific approaches in the interpretation of the characters by the actors, this film gives the play a completely different spirit from most adaptations (at least from those I have seen, which admitedly is not that many).

    Here we have a Macbeth who doesn’t go from good and loyal man to mad tyrant over the course of a single night, but rather is already a man full of doubts and worn down by war at the beginning of the story, and his descent into madness and corruption is shown as slow, gradual, natural; and when he truly has sunken to the state of a tyrant haunted by ghostly vision, he remains simultaneously attacked by doubt yet outwarly showing great moral strength and resilience. When his demise finally happens, he still leads his last men bravely into battle, and faces death with dignity. This is Macbeth as a tragic tyrant, as a strong man who progressively get dragged into moral corruption but never quite loses his strength on this cursed path.

    Other characters go through similar re-interpretations, and the result is a version of Macbeth that in many ways stand opposite to many more outlandish adaptations: faithful and traditional in the “text”, but innovative and daring in its themes and spirit.

    • J Mann says:

      I have always described Macbeth as a man not with a tragic flaw but with a tragic virtue.

      IMHO, his only lasting positive quality is bravery. He’s introduced with that quality and he dies with it, but the rest of the play shows how he lacks sticking power on any other virtue, even love.

  18. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Yesterday at about half past Midnight, Mr. Chat and I got home from a house-hunting vacation in Ohio and Kentucky.
    1. I wore hiking boots onto the Frontier flight (where any bag that doesn’t fit under the seat is $35 each, each way) instead of dress boots or sneakers to be prepared to hike the Falls of the Ohio on the Indiana side of the river. It was nearly flat. 🙁
    2. We were technically in Indiana but never made it into a real city like Indianapolis. Did we miss anything good? (Crime rate there is 133.4 per 10k, more than twice as bad as Portland’s 63.)
    3. Cincinnati does have a great zoo. The Museum Center At Union Terminal is the Hall of Justice from the Superfriends cartoon – I guess the superheroes moving out was part of the whole “Rust Belt” decline phenomenon. There’s also a casino owned by an REIT, which was a WTF moment for someone from out West, where casinos are either Nevadan or run by and for the benefit of American Indians.
    The demographics are <5% non-black minorities and the rest of the people are about equally divided between black and white. We arrived not knowing anything about the suburbs – not even their names let alone which ones have what features – except the canned social history about white flight. Prices were right: more than 300 listings between $50k and 175k in the city proper, but we were woefully unequipped to know where was safe and walkable, where was bad, and where was more desirable only because of code words like "good schools." It felt more like a cool place to visit than a place that attracts transplants.
    4. We loooved Lexington, KY. We made a $165k offer on a move-in ready 3 bed/2 bath house a mile away from a park where it's legal to unleash dogs. Real estate values are going up, which made me feel much more confident about the big financial decision than further north in the Rust Belt. Crime rate is 42 per 10k. Cost of groceries and gas seemed to be about 25% less than our budget-conscious lifestyle in Portland. The food scene was interesting: a combination of unpretentiously well-crafted Southern food and hipsterization, with the latter being significantly less expensive than I'm used to ($9 for an ice cream cocktail at Crack N Boom rather than $11+ for a regular cocktail). The demographics include enough non-black minorities to get America's staple ethnic restaurants, but I didn't see anything like the hipsterization (= expensive) of ethnic cuisines best represented by the food cart scene and chef Andy Ricker's Thai food empire in Portland.
    Downside: there's a lack of big-city sightseeing infrastructure like zoos and museums. BUT it has the University of Kentucky campus, which together with the food scene and amenities it does have made it feel like someone plopped a bigger Eugene, Oregon with Southerners instead of hippies into the middle of the rural infrastructure that supports the Triple Crown races.
    5. We were also in Luval Louisville, but ran out of time to even try a restaurant and go to the Muhammad Ali museum.

    • hls2003 says:

      Lexington is a very attractive city and I’ve looked at properties there. But beware – Kentucky by some measures has the worst unfunded public pension problem in the country per capita, and their incumbent governor who purported to be addressing it was just defeated, in significant part by concentrated opposition of the public employees’ unions. Whether you think he was right or wrong, it does make a gradual, negotiated, non-catastrophic resolution seem less likely and a potential state financial crisis and/or large tax base upheaval.

      Louisville I’ve spent less time in, but the downtown was nice and Kentucky’s not that big of a state; you could be 30 minutes outside Louisville in pretty rural country and still an hour from Lexington.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Lexington is a very attractive city and I’ve looked at properties there. But beware – Kentucky by some measures has the worst unfunded public pension problem in the country per capita, and their incumbent governor who purported to be addressing it was just defeated, in significant part by concentrated opposition of the public employees’ unions. Whether you think he was right or wrong, it does make a gradual, negotiated, non-catastrophic resolution seem less likely and a potential state financial crisis and/or large tax base upheaval.

        Yeah, living through a state financial crisis wouldn’t be fun. Don’t know much about the state tax base (property taxes were decently low, though!)
        We were in Lexington during Trump’s rally for the incumbent governor, and had to adapt our driving plans to avoid its traffic disruptions. The term “unfunded public pensions” didn’t come up in the election buzz we heard. Bevin (incumbent, R) was seen as gauche for how he talked about teachers, and trying to roll back Medicaid/Obamacare was seen as a bigger economic no-no by his opponents. Bevin’s own ads seemed to be ignoring the economic issues in favor of CW (“Beshear joined their radical Resistance”, “who will protect the unborn?”).

    • achenx says:

      I have family in Cincinnati. They seem to like it well enough. I can’t be any help as far as what the suburbs are though.

      One person, a software guy, got laid off a couple years ago and then had some reasonable difficulty finding a new job; my impression was a large part of the problem was just a small selection of available jobs compared to some other cities. Eventually located something though, so jobs do exist. Don’t know how relevant that is to your situation.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        One person, a software guy, got laid off a couple years ago and then had some reasonable difficulty finding a new job; my impression was a large part of the problem was just a small selection of available jobs compared to some other cities.

        We had a software engineer friend in Portland who had long-lasting difficulty finding a new job in that field in Portland when laid off. 🙁

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Crime rate there is 133.4 per 10k, more than twice as bad as Portland’s 63

      How much do you trust Portland’s crime statistics? Aren’t you leaving in part because of rising crime? Do you see that in the crime statistics?
      (Indianapolis’s homicide rate is 4x Portland’s, so the official total crime number probably underestimate the difference. Officially Indianapolis has less property crime, which is hard to believe. Lexington homicide is in between.)

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        How much do you trust Portland’s crime statistics? Aren’t you leaving in part because of rising crime? Do you see that in the crime statistics?
        (Indianapolis’s homicide rate is 4x Portland’s, so the official total crime number probably underestimate the difference. Officially Indianapolis has less property crime, which is hard to believe.)

        I trust the stats on murder and property crime. The former is un-fudgeable, and for the latter, people have insurance and Portland leftists who get mugged by reality are going to file a police report for insurance purposes, same as anywhere else.
        Where Portland crime statistics are untrustworthy are on crimes or ought-to-be-a-crime like quasi-assault encounters with the homeless (finding naked men living in public women’s rooms, to give a personal example) camping on public property, littering used syringes, and public defecation.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          I trust the property crimes numbers in Seattle absolutely zero. The local cops will not take reports for car break-ins, theft from property, “non violent” muggings. What they will take reports for, they won’t investigate. Stolen car? Sucks to be you. Just about any crime involving a homeless person not actually forcing their way into a house, they won’t touch. Businesses with doors to the public in the downtown now have their own security guards, who’s primary job is to push unwanteds back out the door.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I trust the property crimes numbers in Seattle absolutely zero. The local cops will not take reports for car break-ins, theft from property, “non violent” muggings. What they will take reports for, they won’t investigate. Stolen car? Sucks to be you. Just about any crime involving a homeless person not actually forcing their way into a house, they won’t touch.

            That’s so ridiculous. It’s also the way Portland is going.
            (How are you supposed to get compensation from an insurance policy without a police report on your theft from property or stolen/broken car?)

          • albatross11 says:

            Goodhart’s law strikes again. If the police/mayor are judged by crime statistics, then they have a huge incentive to cause the crime statistics to report fewer crimes. And since they’re the ones taking the reports, they’re in an excellent position to do just exactly that.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m getting flashbacks to The Wire here.

          • Aftagley says:

            Stolen car? Sucks to be you.

            Citation needed.

            I had a car stolen in Seattle was I was on deployment halfway around the world. The cops investigated it, found the car, recovered it and helped a friend I had in the area come pick it up and didn’t charge them/me anything for getting it out of the impound lot. I literally only had to make two phone calls to the police and one to my friend and the situation was resolved in less than three days.

          • RobJ says:

            What do you mean they won’t take a report? You just file one online. I did it when our car got broken into. Yeah, they won’t do anything about it (it tells you to file a different report if you actually have some evidence of who did it), but a report is definitely filed.

        • SamChevre says:

          Stats on murder are unfudgeable, but not as helpful as you might like. For example, when I moved to Richmond almost 20 years ago, it had one of the highest per capita murder rates in the nation–but 80% of the city was very safe. The issue was that it was a small city in a large metro area, with highways well-located for drug trans-shipments–so a handful of blocks had a tremendous amount of dealer-dealer drug crime, and the impact was magnified by the small city size (the metro area was about average).

  19. johan_larson says:

    In past discussions of housing problems in the Bay area, the question of why high tech companies keep hiring people into such an expensive location has sometimes come up.

    Yesterday’s NYT article had an update on that very issue:

    So far technology companies have largely been content to send fleets of private buses to ferry employees to work from ever-farther locales. But now even tech employees, despite high salaries, are not immune. Some tech executives say the prospect of a move to California, once an asset in recruiting, is now a liability.

    Google has said its work force is growing faster outside the Bay Area than in it, while Apple is planning to build a campus in Austin, Texas. But the companies also seem intent on adding tens of thousands of employees in and around their headquarters — a prospect that has become more difficult, with cities like Cupertino and Palo Alto now trying to slow the growth of office space.

    • Plumber says:

      @johan_larson >

      “…Google has said its work force is growing faster outside the Bay Area than in it..”

      ’bout time!

    • Eric Rall says:

      Distant satellite offices are more practical than they used to be, but they still come with some significant costs to the company. They’re less legible to executives than local offices, and require executives to spend more time traveling than they would otherwise. Phone calls, email, IMs/chat, and teleconferencing aren’t perfect substitutes for face-to-face discussions, so communications between teams in different locales is a bit less productive than local communication; this last especially if the locales are in different time zones.

      And for high-performing ambitious mid-career professionals, working in a satellite office tends to be less appealing than working at a headquarters, since there are usually fewer opportunities to advance (fewer open senior positions to move up into, and fewer opportunities for your accomplishments to be visible to the Director/VP level people who generally have final say over promotions for more senior employees) in a satellite office: so the satellite office will be harder to staff with senior people than the HQ, and the satellite offices will tend to show substantial attrition among their best employees (*) as they hit career ceilings and leave for greener pastures.

      (*) It’s important to note I’m not just talking about managers here, although the effect is more pronounced around managers. In just about every big tech company these days, there are parallel career tracks for managers and “individual contributors” with the pay grades and titles running all the way up to VP level (the IC equivalent of a VP is usually called something like “Technical Fellow”).

    • sharper13 says:

      I work in the enterprise technology division of a very large company and for the last five years, unless we can’t find someone with the right skills in our “other” locations, we’re forbidden to hire anyone new, including contractors, in the bay area. The company’s HQ is officially in SF (complete with named skyscrapers), but not even the CEO lives/works there anymore.

    • brad says:

      I’ve been looking at expenses for a company with several different centers of gravity and they are really bad. Not just high travel costs like you’d probably expect, but also ongoing (vice just new hire) relocation costs. Probably still come out ahead purely in dollar terms over all Bay Area but that’s before looking at whatever decreases in efficiency and cross-pollination there are.

  20. Zephalinda says:

    Anybody game for a little casual psychoanalysis/Bulverism on the subject of the multiverse?

    I know very little about the object-level terms of the debate, but my meta-level model is that when complex scientific principles provoke passionate interest among laypeople, the science itself is always a proxy for some social/personal question of value, culture or group status (i.e., science isn’t about scientia, to Robin-Hanson it). Can anyone hazard a guess as to what’s motivating the vogue for debating about many worlds? People trying to signal intelligence and/or nonconformity by loudly endorsing a weird mathy theory probably accounts for some of it, but is there some part of the model that also has desirable implications for our moral behavior, self-perception or the conduct of society?

    [Note: this doesn’t imply anything one way or another about the actual correctness of the theory; I’m just interested in exploring what cultural implications make this issue of interest to pop journalists and their ilk.]

    • LadyJane says:

      It’s a theory that’s extremely interesting to laypeople and drives discussion, which makes it a great topic for online science journalists seeking to maximize clicks.

      In this particular case, it’s not taking a hard stance on the issue that’s being driven by psychosocial motivations, it’s mentioning the issue at all.

      • Lambert says:

        Moreover that it makes a good plot element.
        Good one that you can throw at any kind of serial format once you’ve run out of ideas.

        Alas, I can’t find the clip from Red Dward S9 E2 where the bloke at the shop is talking about all the dimension skips.

    • hls2003 says:

      My “Bulverism” is that it’s related to the reification of individual choice coupled with the generally constrained decision-space that modern life affords most people. I see it as loosely related to the prevalence of post-apocalyptic genre pieces (zombie plague, post-war dystopias, etc.) lately. People are told that their individual choices are the most important thing in the world, but find it hard to square with the actual lack of power that most people have over their lives as things have gotten bigger, more sprawling, less local, and less autonomous in the modern world. So they fantasize about breaking out and taking actions they could never take in the real world, free of constraints. Many Worlds in the “pop” sense almost always co-exists with the fantasy that one could take a “quantum leap” and go world-to-world, experience alternate histories, other timelines, etc. Like apocalyptic fantasy, it’s another means of putting the individual at the center and outside the constraints of the mundane reality that normally ties their hands and leaves them feeling powerless.

    • sfoil says:

      A little hesitant to roll this out when I don’t have much time for discussion but:

      The “Big Bang” provides pretty strong support to the contention that the universe was created ex nihilo by an outside force e.g., God. My understanding — I could dig up references if I had more time — is that the “doctrinal atheist” position in the 19th century and before was that the universe was eternal (or to illuminate using an assume-the-conclusions version, given there is no Creator, the universe hadn’t been Created, therefore it must be eternal QED). At least some of the multiverse talk is about explaining how an uncreated universe is compatible with the Big Bang — a guy named Victor Stenger was big into this, off the top of my head.

      If this is true then I would expect it to be supplanted in popular imagination by the “Simulation Hypothesis”, which takes the universe’s creation for granted.

      • phi says:

        Interesting. I wouldn’t put so much weight on what kind of initial condition the universe happens to have, though. Even in a timeless or cyclic universe, the question remains of why the universe exists at all, and has the physical laws it does, and has the particular contents it does.

        Plus, if time is continuous, the distinction between infinite past and finite past is kind of artificial. You can transform t from spanning a finite open interval to spanning the entire real number line, adjust the laws of physics a little bit, and get the exact same predictions, but now the universe is “eternal”. Performing a change of variables on the laws of physics shouldn’t have deep philosophical implications.

      • Aapje says:


        There is no reason why that outside force has to be sentient and/or involved in any way in the way in which our universe functions, which many people include in their definition of God.

        Note that one theory is that there is a meta-universe that produces universes, like virtual particles are produced in a vacuum. If so, that meta-universe can simply operate by rules of physics very different from our own, with no need for a sentient being to make the choice to create our kind of universe.

      • sfoil says:

        Again, some of this is historically contingent — apparently a lot of 19th-early 20th century atheists staked their philosophy on a universe that had no beginning. Anyway, I’m simply relaying the fact that multiverse theory is used extensively to argue against the theist fine-tuning argument, and I think this not-quite-mainstream dispute is at least part of the reason that multiverse cosmologies are setting off Zephalinda’s detectors that it is “a proxy for some social/personal question of value, culture or group status”. As far as the actual contents of the debate, I’m familiar with the basic arguments although I haven’t read deeply into it.


        Even in a timeless or cyclic universe, the question remains of why the universe exists at all, and has the physical laws it does, and has the particular contents it does.

        This is the second part of the theist “fine tuning” argument and how the cyclic/multiverse theory is being used to argue against it. Our sample size = 1 observation that the universe we live in is habitable becomes much weaker evidence for something having its thumb on the scale during the universe’s creation if you posit (ideally, demonstrate) the existence of an arbitrarily large number of other universes. Rolling a natural trillion isn’t remarkable if you’re allowed to make an infinite number of throws simultaneously.

        Yeah, it’s completely irrelevant to a lot of important religious truth claims.

    • phi says:

      I’m going to assume you’re talking about the quantum many worlds hypothesis, rather than the inflationary one. Physicists tend to like the theory for its simplicity, you don’t have to tack on this extra non-local collapse mechanism. But as for the press and laypeople, my guess is the following: One popular way of presenting the theory is to say that every time you make a decision, the universe splits into two branches, one where you chose one way, and a different one where you chose the other. I think that in many ways, this is a very comforting idea: Maybe you regret not asking your crush out. But at least you can take solace from the idea that in a different branch of the multiverse, there is a version of you who did.

      Of course, this picture is very inaccurate, even if the many worlds hypothesis is correct. The universe is constantly splitting, as atoms bump into each other and interact. The most immediately affected things are radioactive decay and thermal noise. From there, the differences can propagate out to affect mutations, the weather, and eventually the course of history itself. As for decisions, there certainly seems to be some element of randomness in how our brains work, but likely the vast majority of copies of you will make the same decision when faced with the same situation. Humans have brains because they help our survival, and brains wouldn’t be much good if they spat out random decisions all the time. Expecting one of your doppelgangers to ask out your crush when you were too afraid is like expecting that in when you type 2+2 into a calculator, it will spit out 4 in half the universes, and 5 in the other half.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        hmmm….would this imply that if you want to ensure that a significant proportion of your multiverse clones have it each way, you should decide by flipping a coin (or even better, flipping one on )?

  21. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    In the argument that Satan makes fossils to mislead us, how does this relate to the Augustinian idea that evil can’t be creative?

    • Secretly French says:

      The creative impulse is in us; we fantasise the things which might tempt us to doubt. All the devil need do is build in the world what we have created in our minds.

    • Two McMillion says:

      The Devil isn’t pure evil. The Devil is able to reason and exert his will on the world and many other things which are good in themselves.

    • Zephalinda says:

      The argument that evolution can’t exist because Literal Interpretation of Scripture, and thus that Satan must make fossils to mislead us, strikes me as an evangelical thing. I can’t imagine evangelicals have much truck with Augustine.

      • Statismagician says:

        ^This. US evangelicals are not playing the same game as the Catholic Church, intellectually. Perhaps in seven hundred years or so.

      • hls2003 says:

        “Evangelical” is too broad. Generally the more Reformed traditions (more historically aligned with Calvinism) are in my experience very favorable to Augustine. The more Anabaptist traditions are, broadly speaking, less favorable.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Not hostile so much as ignorant. I’ve led classes where we read through Augustine’s Confessions in my evangelical church, which have been well-received. I think this is more a trait of average Americans than Evangelicals in particular; I doubt most Catholics actually know Augustine either.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Would you mind linking/explaining the Augustinian idea that evil can’t be creative?

    • LadyJane says:

      It doesn’t. The idea that evil can’t be creative is a largely Catholic notion associated with the intellectual tradition of European Christianity. I don’t think it figures into the “philosophy” (if you can call it that) of American Evangelical Christians at all. Unlike Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism, Evangelical Christianity does not have any real intellectual tradition behind it, and it’s actually quite an anti-intellectual religion at its core, rejecting the use of rationality and the opinions of learned experts in favor of an emphasis on personal revelation. Evangelical Christianity also doesn’t particularly value creativity, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t hold lack of creativity as a defining trait of evil.

      • Plumber says:

        @LadyJane says:

        “Evangelical Christianity also doesn’t particularly value creativity….”

        As a fan of some older ”country’ music, the similar themed ‘blues’, what I’d heard of ‘bluegrass’, and of 20th century American music in general, I’d say almost the opposite is true, as to me it seems that some of the biggest American contributions to world culture come from regions were Evangelicals and the similar ‘historical black Protestant’ churches are dominant, about the only other place I can think of in the U.S.A. that also has been a wellspring is the more Catholic New Orleans, Louisiana.

        Chicago and Harlem have been huge orgins of American music, but that’s from being settled by the southern diaspora, otherwise it’s Memphis Blues, Nashville County, and New Orleans Jazz.

        Seemd pretty creative to me.

      • DragonMilk says:

        How are you defining “evangelical”?

        Side note, I will say due to the changes in popular meaning of the word, Princeton Evangelical Fellowship rebranded to Princeton Christian Fellowship. So I’m genuinely curious what your take on “evangelical” is since it’s probably one leading to rebrandings like these.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I’m going to fight the hypothetical entirely. I don’t think this an argument made by non-strawman YECs. If I look over at Answers in Genesis, they have a whole section on Fossils, and it doesn’t mention the Devil trying to trick us anywhere. Instead, it says that fossils can actually form quite quickly, and that fossil formations provide evidence for a globally catastrophic flood.

    • Leafhopper says:

      Possibly: Satan was an angel, and angels are good and can presumably exercise creativity. He fell from grace, so his creativity must have diminished, but we need not assume it was entirely obliterated (unless Satan is “absolute” or “100%” evil, which is not a quality I’ve seen assigned to him).

  22. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    A history of labor-saving devices for cooking, and argues that the big deal with the instant pot isn’t so much the multiplicity of features as the ability to set it in advance to simmer and heat up, which relieves a lot of the demand to be cooking at specific times.

    I think the article is too trusting of advertising as a window into what people were thinking, but it’s good otherwise.

    From memory, Jane Jacobs claimed that the tools used by slaves don’t get improved. How true is this? Also, a propos of this article, to what extent do you get efforts at improvement which don’t work for end users?

    I assume Instant Pots were possible a decade or more before they were developed, and the hard part was figuring out what was needed.

    • quanta413 says:

      I think the crockpot was the first device like this, and it’s not clear to me that the instant pot is that much more amazing. A crockpot can’t do everything an instant pot can, but it can do a lot. And crockpots have been available since the 70s although I’m sure they’ve improved over that time.

      It’s interesting to learn that the profusion of specialized kitchen gadgets has been a thing since the 1800s. I could use a special organized cabinet.

      From memory, Jane Jacobs claimed that the tools used by slaves don’t get improved. How true is this?

      I’m guessing mostly not true, but I can see how there would be less motivation to improve tools mostly used by slaves. The cotton gin got improved an awful lot by Eli Whitney, and I doubt improvements stopped there. If you read about the 19th century South, a lot of slaves were skilled craftsmen. Some would be hired out by their masters to someone else, and some even managed to find the time to do work on the side for their own money (although I think the master typically took a cut in this case too).

      Although I think there’d be less motivation for pure labor-saving tools for slaves, I think it’s pretty clear that there’s still a strong motivation. Better tools meant slaves produced more for the master. Greed is a pretty strong motivator.

      Also, this bugged me because it’s so off

      By the 1920s, an American housewife on a modest income might have access to a gas oven, a technology that is surely one of the greatest advances in the history of cooking. After centuries of building a life around the smoke and inconvenience of a fire, cooks could now switch the flame on or off at will. Yet, as Cowan observes, the truly labor-saving technology would have been effective birth control. “When there are eight or nine mouths to feed (or even five or six), cooking is a difficult enterprise, even if it can be done at a gas range.”

      I read this and thought “That’s way too many children for a typical 1920s household”. I double-checked, and all the sources I can find indicate in the 1920s USA children per woman was a little over 3. Today it’s about 2.

      So I’m not very inclined to trust her on history.

      • acymetric says:

        Is that per woman (including single women/women without kids) or does it only include women with at least one child? I think it would need to be the latter to be relevant to a point about quality of life for housewives/kids. Regardless, “average a little over 3” means 5 mouths to feed when you include mom and dad. Maybe you read it as 8 or 9 kids, but I’m pretty sure they were including the parents who have to eat too.

        A quick evaluation of this data (no data for 1920 but looking at 1900 and 1930) with some tweaking to exclude 1 and 2 person households:

        1900 – 4 children/6 mouths (13%), 5+ children/7+mouths (26%)
        1930 – 4 children/6 mouths (11%), 5+ children/7+mouths (16%)

        Not some vast majority but not exactly uncommon to have families that size (totally anecdotally, my mom’s was one of 8, first kid was born sometime in the 40s I believe).

        • quanta413 says:

          She said 8 or 9 like that was typical and 5 or 6 mouths like that was small. But even if you cheat and remove all smaller households, ~1/7 households had 7 or more mouths in 1930.

          And household size may include grandparents or other relatives so I wouldn’t assume that’s the right measure to use.

          And still three or four mouths was much more common than five or six mouths.

          If you look at fertility per woman here you can see that a century ago there were about 50% more children per family in 1920. But that wasn’t because of a lack of suitable birth control (like she implies) because during the great depression fertility reached levels almost comparable to today. But people in the great depression were still materially probably richer than most people in the 19th century who had more children.

          The obvious explanation is that people wanted more children. But they wanted roughly one more child on average.

          1920s families had more children than today, but not a ton more.

      • J Mann says:

        Can instant pots refrigerate? If you could keep meat and dairy in the pot prior to cooking, that would be a big deal for me.

        (The big problem with slow cookers is that I need to cook for the entire workday + commute, which tends to reduce a lot of things to mush even at low).

        • mitv150 says:

          They cannot. There is, however, a sous vide device I saw that would refrigerate the water bath and then warm it up at the appropriate time so that you could put meat or fish in in the morning and have it finished when you get home.

          here –

        • zoozoc says:

          What do you mean by refrigerate? The instant pot itself cannot refrigerate. However, the pot that the food goes into is removable (much like a crock pot) and is just a tall metal container. You could put everything in there and stick in in the refrigerator and then put it back into the instant pot when ready to cook.

          Also, the instant pot, when finished, keeps whatever contents inside warm. And since it is a sealed, probably doesn’t use much energy to keep warm. I am not sure what effect on the food it would have to have it sit there for several hours. But it seems like a combination of (refrigerated ingredients allowing some initial delay of cook time + keeping warm afterwards) would work.

          • J Mann says:

            I’d like to be able to put food in at 8 in the morning and tell the pot to start cooking at 1. Maybe next generation. 🙂

          • Lambert says:

            Get one of those timer plugs.

            I once tried using an aquarium thermostat relay to dial in the slow-cooker to exactly 42 celsius for fermentation purposes (with moderate sucess), so controlling the mains power going into a slow cooker is a thing you can do.

          • acymetric says:

            @J Mann:

            I mean, realistically you are probably fine to do that without refrigeration. Especially given that the InstaPot is at least somewhat insulated, the stuff you put in there cold at 8:00 will probably still be reasonably cool at 1:00 pm when it starts to cook (the InstaPot does have a delay timer for up to 24 hours). You might be more concerned about food safety related things than I am, but I would be perfectly comfortable with that.

            Disclaimer: I don’t use an InstaPot, I just know it has the delayed start feature.

          • JayT says:

            @J Mann, are you planning on eating before 2:00? The thing about the Instant Pot is that you almost never will cook something for more than an hour, and 90% of the time you’re probably using the Instant Pot for less than 30 minutes.

          • J Mann says:

            @JayT – I forgot it’s a pressure cooker, and was just imagining how long a recipe might take in a slow cooker. 🙂

            Yes, a shorter cook time mostly solves my problem on the other side, assuming I could do the prep work the night before and cook in 30 min to an hour after I got home.

            Thanks, I’ll look into one this Xmas.

          • JayT says:

            I never wanted one, but got it as a gift. I almost returned it, but the person that gave it to me was excited about it, so I decided not to. I’m glad I didn’t. It actually works really well. You can make a stock in about an hour instead of all day, and it’s worth it for that alone in my mind. I rarely use it to make a full meal (I rarely used my slow cooker for that either), but it’s a great tool to make parts of the meal fast.

    • mitv150 says:

      I assume Instant Pots were possible a decade or more before they were developed, and the hard part was figuring out what was needed.

      Not only were they possible, they existed. The instant pot is just an electric pressure cooker with a bunch of additional settings.

      Pressure cookers (stovetop) became a thing in the 60’s and the first electric pressure cookers came about in the early ’90s.

      The additional settings allow the instant pot to function as a crockpot (note that a crockpot absolutely cannot perform the core function of an instant pot – pressure cooking) and some other things.

      I think what made the instant pot successful over previous iterations of pressure cookers is that it was much more user friendly – the originals had timers and pressure settings, but the instant pot made everything simpler with a “soup” and a “meat” button. That plus viral marketing really helped.

    • GearRatio says:

      A lot of people in this thread are saying that the instant pot is just a crockpot; I can confirm as a first-hand witness to my wife’s life getting revolutionized by the thing that this isn’t true. She’s an excellent cook well beyond the average even for dedicated housewives and had a crockpot and pressure cooker and found they don’t do a third of what the instant pot does.

      It’s easier to use and much more controlled than a standard pressure cooker; it cooks faster, and doesn’t cook them to mush. It is capable of browning and it’s easier to wash. Whereas she abandoned the crock pot for the most part at some point because it wouldn’t make food good enough that you’d choose to eat it if you didn’t have to, the instant pot does several things as well as she can do them on the stove. Pressure cookers pretty much have to be watched; this doesn’t.

      The programming capability of the thing is a big deal. while before her options were “cook things to mush all day in the crock pot” or “work with a pressure cooker on it’s own schedule” now she can set things up in the morning and tell it to start cooking just long enough ahead of us getting home that it’s done and fresh as we open the door.

      I’m not doing a good job of explaining the thing, mostly because I don’t cook, but when we were given it she thought it was going to be stupid and we hadn’t heard of them before that. Since then it’s been used several times a week every week and has made her life substantially easier. I’m thankful to the damn thing.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I feel confused. Not really sure what I should be getting from the article as a central point. We’ve had attempts at labor-saving techniques for as long as we’ve had cooking. There are just hard limits on how much labor you can save when you cook good food. That’s why the Serious Eats chili recipe has about a bajillion steps and my wife’s crockpot “chili” recipe has, like 4, but the Serious Eats chili is a bajillion times better than my wife’s. Trying to take shortcuts normally compromises the quality of food in some manner.

      We still have had an immense amount of labor-saving over the last few centuries. Like, I don’t see how you look at the Industrial Revolution and think “hmmmm, we really didn’t try to save any labor in this whole ‘food’ thing.” I don’t have to grind flour. I don’t have to churn butter. I don’t have to start a fire. I don’t have to bake bread. I don’t have to make my own whipped cream. I don’t have to clean every single dish by hand. I don’t have to grind coffee beans. I don’t have to fetch water. I don’t have to can or preserve my own food.

      Hell, you don’t even have to cut your own vegetables, because the store sells them. You can buy a pre cooked chicken that Costco sells at a loss. You can use non-stick pans that make clean-up a breeze. There’s an entire packaged food section that’s made leaps and bounds over the past few decades so you don’t even have to cook if you don’t want to.

      But if you want to make home-made GOOD food, you have to put it in the time to cook it, because we haven’t come up with a machine to automate the whole process. The instant pot can help with certain steps with certain foods, but you need an actual oven and a cast iron skillet to get good steaks. Dutch Ovens will still produce superior results to the Instant Pot in most cases (though it will take much longer). Eggs and pancakes aren’t coming out of an instant pot.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I think the point of the Instant Pot is that you can make pretty good food on a much more flexible schedule than you can otherwise.

      • SamChevre says:

        This. So much this. I grew up in a world that had visibility to a world where refrigeration and gas stoves weren’t yet normal. There’s a big difference between ANY modern recipe, and one that stats “scrub a barrel” or “here’s a couple page introduction to maintaining steady oven temperatures in a wood stove.”

    • onyomi says:

      I think it’s worth distinguishing two kinds of “labor-saving kitchen gadget”: A. those that reduce the time one needs to spend in the kitchen on relatively basic maintenance like washing dishes and B. those that don’t necessarily reduce the amount of time or effort spent cooking but allow you to make something more impressive.

      An example of A might be a dishwasher while an example of B could be a pasta machine.

      The advantage of A is that it actually frees up time and energy for the (presumed female) homemaker; the disadvantage it it may only raise the expectation that said homemaker should also be able to handle a commute and full time job.

      My quick scan of the article seems like it’s especially down on B, as it doesn’t free up women and only raises the expectation that, with a bunch of fancy gadgets, she should be able to put Marth Stewart-worthy plates on the table every night (her actual recipes look beautiful but are flavorless in my experience, btw).

      Perhaps what seems special or new about the Instant Pot is that it combines some features of A and B. The dishwasher means, at the end of the day, when everyone’s tired, no one has to scrub the dishes by hand. That doesn’t change the fact you’re eating takeout on your plates, perhaps feeling guilty you can’t be the sort of mom who cooks a healthy, home-cooked meal every night. The instant pot allows you to enjoy the sort of dish one associates with having a stay-at-home parent (or domestic help) but at a “I have a commute and full-time job” level of time and effort.

      I recently bought an Instant Pot at this board’s recommendation and am liking it so far. I never could understand the appeal of the slow cooker but what this allows me to do is make meals that would previously require an afternoon of attention, like red beans and rice or goulash, with a fraction of the effort and attention.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I don’t see a strong thesis here, first is the thin way in which the author thinks about kitchen labor from a century ago. Kitchen cabinets are just for order and piece of mind? No, cabinets rather than just shelves stop things from getting dusty and needing to be persistently clean. In a kitchen where all the families bread is being made a lot of that dust would be flour, and then that flour if left unclean would harbor insects who would destroy stores of food if left unchecked.

      I would also disagree here

      “When there are eight or nine mouths to feed (or even five or six), cooking is a difficult enterprise, even if it can be done at a gas range.”

      Not really, cooking scales pretty well for quite a few people with stoves and ovens. Making twice as much bread doesn’t take twice as much time, nor does preparing a larger roast, or most tasks in the kitchen. Most of the effort in real scratch cooking is in the preparation. The raising, butchering and slaughter of animals, plucking of foul, the scrubbing of root vegetables- these are the major time sinks and they were working their way out for the home cook by the time gas ranges were coming in. The masses of time in kitchens during the 50s that are cited were driven by more complex meals, with more dishes and ingredients and was a different process. Frankly refrigeration (both in home and for transport and in store) was probably the largest time saver for home cooks, allowing for masses of fresh food to be used while still preparing them with at volume, plus additional benefits like leftovers being more functional as full meals.

  23. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Argues that Spartans weren’t especially capable soldiers, but the myth of Sparta has been a longterm cultural poison.

    One thing that snagged my attention was that the popularity of being “Spartan” has something to do with feelings of (masculine?) insufficiency. What if part of the hook of SJW is fear of moral insufficiency? In either case, exaggerated standards make the fear worse.

    The ancient Spartans left all the practical work of society, including commerce to women. It was very unusual in ancient Greece for women to be part of public life.

    The myth of Sparta is what led to the torture of boys in British public schools, but somehow, it didn’t lead to any freedom for women.

    • theredsheep says:

      Read/skimmed the whole thing before realizing that the author was named Myke Cole. Double-checked to verify that, yes, this is the same Myke Cole who writes profoundly meat-headed “military fantasy” novels. At least, the one I read was pretty heavy on the macho and light on coherence.

      Leaving that aside (yes, circumstantial ad hominem), his argument seems to be that ornery men use the Sparta myth, therefore the Sparta myth causes or encourages said orneriness. Or something. More plausible explanation from my POV: men who were already ornery for other reasons will happily employ a pre-existing and somewhat well-known symbol rather than make up their own.

    • DarkTigger says:

      There is no historical evidence that the Spartans where espacially capabale soldiers, but had a great PR department. Most of their big wins happened when enemeys refused to make contact because of the Spartans reputation.
      In cases when the enermy accepted battle their results were a lot more mixed.
      BTW there is also no evidence that Spartans did anykind of rigorous military training except for marchtraining that mostly consisted in following the man in front of you.

      Everything else I would file under “Do Video Games/movies/novels make people violent?”

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        This seems eerily similar though to the logic that forts are useless because more often then not if an attacker does attack, the fort falls. It disregards the fact that in order for a pitched battle to take place one side either has to be forced to engage or both sides have to be reasonable confident that they can win.

        Also this article is incredible frustrating because it’s mixing pop-culture and politics (Bringing trump into this) and I can’t find where in the article it uses primary sources to argue that the quality of the individual soldiers was actually on par with their contemporaries, except maybe to point out that many years after the classical period had passed and sparta was a very different society that it was eventually conquered. You won’t find classicists that unironically source Frank Miller’s graphic novel, that’s not the same as saying that all of the contemporary accounts of the Spartans during the classical greek period were totally off the mark about the difference in morale and training between a spartiate as opposed to a citizen soldier hoplite or a persian levy.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        BTW there is also no evidence that Spartans did anykind of rigorous military training except for marchtraining that mostly consisted in following the man in front of you.

        Which is still an edge if the other city-states aren’t doing even that much

    • cassander says:

      Not impressed with the article at all. The spartans were the leading city state in greece for a couple hundred years, and a few cherry picked examples at the end of that period don’t disprove the reputation they won in earlier centuries. That the roman republic eventually fell doesn’t mean that early romans weren’t stern republicans.

      • That isn’t true. Sparta was very powerful for a few decades after the Peloponnesian War but after that Greece was dominated by a mix of Macedon and various Greek confederations until the Roman conquest. Even right before Macedon ascendancy, Thebes was a bigger deal.

        • cassander says:

          You’re right that spartan power doesn’t long survive the peloponnesian war, but the spartan period of ascendency I was referring to was ~550-370. I suppose I could have said a leading state instead of the leading state, but the point stands.

          • But it was the Athenians who were the premiere power of the fifth century. At best, we can say that Sparta was a regional power for a couple hundred years and were briefly ascendant for a few decades, which isn’t particularly impressive.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            Athens was the premier power of the 5th century according to whom?

            Yes, they made a sterling contribution to defeating the Persians, most notably their fleet, but remember the entire war was fought under official Spartan leadership – because the rest of Greece accepted Sparta as hegemon already.

            In the mid-5th century, you have the Athenian empire, sure, but that’s more akin to a balance of power like the US and the USSR in the mid-20th century. Athens roamed a little more broadly than Sparta due to their fleet and their cultural inclinations, but the two sides were so well-balanced that the inevitable war between the two dragged out decades.

            Remember, before Athens fully came into its own ~490 it was Sparta that routinely sent armies over to nose around in Athenian affairs, and when the Athenians found themselves in Darius’s crosshairs it was to Sparta that they appealed for aid. Basically, I think cassander’s characterization of Spartan ascendancy from ~550-370 is more accurate, although I would push it even further back to ~600 or so. Admittedly our sources get a lot more thin on the ground at that point.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Yes, they made a sterling contribution to defeating the Persians, most notably their fleet, but remember the entire war was fought under official Spartan leadership – because the rest of Greece accepted Sparta as hegemon already.

            Are you sure you have your timeline straight? Or are you referring to events I’m not aware of?

            The great Athenian contribution to Persian defeat was the Battle of Salamis, which happened in 480BC. The Spartans didn’t take over Greek leadership until they won the Peloponnesian War in 404BC. In Salamis, the leader was Themistocles, an Athenian.

            The Battle of Plataea was the nail in the coffin of Persian aggression in Greece, but that was only a year after Salamis. The Greeks were a joint force of Athenians, Spartans, and Tegeans.

          • DeWitt says:

            Are we not counting Marathon now? Really?

      • theredsheep says:

        I would add that, per the conventional historical view as I’ve read it, the Spartans needed Persian help to win the Peloponnesian War because they were fighting Athens–which was a naval power–boats cost money, and the Spartans were famously not all that wealthy. Their reputation for martial valor was solely centered around land battles between heavy infantry; nobody ever called them great sailors.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I would add that, per the conventional historical view as I’ve read it, the Spartans needed Persian help to win the Peloponnesian War because they were fighting Athens–which was a naval power–boats cost money, and the Spartans were famously not all that wealthy. Their reputation for martial valor was solely centered around land battles between heavy infantry; nobody ever called them great sailors.

          This, this. Athenians spent much of peace time scheming how to make money (or poetry, or whatever… for free males, it was a free society), and they used poor people as rowers in the triremes they could afford. Sparta gave up a lot to produce superior hoplites, and had neither tons of money for boats nor lots of free poor people to row them.

    • This historian did a whole series of blog posts on what he calls Spartan myths. Apparently the Spartan legend was actually invented by Herodotus. Before then, they were just notable for being bigger than other Greek city-states.

      • Statismagician says:

        Note that the blog post actually says that the Spartan army was “unusually adept” compared to their proper comparison group. The guy is making the serious and weirdly common error of treating all of ‘antiquity’ as though it happened basically simultaneously; Spartan troops during the Peloponnesian War can be excellent (and, per literally every even vaguely contemporary source, were) without saying anything about Spartan performance against the Macedonian or Roman armies because Rome conquers Greece three hundred years after the Peloponnesian War. Different times, different Spartas, different military environments.

        This is absolutely unrelated to the weird things people try and do with Sparta in modern political contexts, which I don’t want to talk about right now.

        • Did you read the whole blog post? He’s damning with faint praise. He says that compared to other Greek hoplites, the Spartans were slightly more adept, but not exceptional by any means.

          Instead, what we might say is that the Spartans phalanx was, in most respects, just like every other Greek hoplite phalanx, with the addition that Spartan command and coordination was somewhat better, but hardly excellent by the broader standards of antiquity.

          Once you get past the hoplites, the Spartans were generally inferior. They were worse in regards to cavalry, light armed troops, siegecraft, and logistics, even compared to other Greek city states. He spends most of the post talking about Sparta during the classical period. Even during that period, their winning ratio is not that impressive. In the next part of the series, he talks about they blew their dominance a decade after the Peloponnesian War.

          • Statismagician says:

            Sparta produced, by all accounts, consistently good hoplites at a time when other Greek states produced less-consistently less-good hoplites. But, since Sparta produced only good hoplites, full-stop, as soon as any problem not solvable by hitting it with a phalanx appears, Sparta is in trouble militarily, and no one could call their social/economic system anything other than a disastrous atrocity.

            Also, that blog is amazing, and I’m really happy you linked to it – I still disagree with the author about how to interpret the Spartan reputation, but the man knows his stuff and I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions.

          • I really enjoy his blog too. If you didn’t see it, he did a series on war elephants that I think is pretty interesting.

      • sfoil says:

        A few others have pointed out that “Ancient Greece” is an awfully broad time period. I’d compare statements like “Sparta was the most powerful and admired state in Ancient Greece” to “France was the most powerful and admired state in Medieval Europe”.

        My understanding of Greek history is that the Greek poleis we all know and love (Athens, Sparta, Thebes, etc) evolved over hundreds of years during the Archaic Period from about 800 BC to 500 BC. During this time Greece was sparsely populated and primitive. What most people think of as “Ancient Greece”, the Classical Period, was from about 500 BC to 300 BC. During this time the Greek poleis started to act more like “states” than glorified villages with elders for a variety of reasons of which the most obvious is the external threat of domination from the East. During this time Sparta rose, peaking with victory in the Peloponnesian War and declining after losing at Leuctra.

        The Archaic Period was preceded by the Greek Dark Ages, which followed the Mycenaean Collapse. The Classical Greeks understood this latter fact only in the vaguest, mythical terms; on the other side of the Collapse was the age of Homer.

        The major Greek poleis each had some sort of semi-mythical founding tradition including a “lawgiver” or several who (reading between the historical lines) established a given polis in the anarchic post-collapse environment. Each polis developed during the Archaic Period and emerged into the Classical period, at which point all of the immortal words were written down about them.

        What impressed Classical Greek writers about Sparta was not so much its military but that it had apparently preserved its culture and form of government pretty continually through the Archaic period back to its lawgiver, Lycurgus, rather than the usually-violent transitions between regimes that occurred in other poleis. (Plato also seems to regard Crete, of all places, as a similar repository of ancient wisdom — less strange now that we’ve found the Minoans.) This wasn’t some huge decisive advantage that everyone knew Sparta had over the other Greeks, but it was a definite point in their favor. Sparta was a little different than the other cities, and it was evident that somewhere in that difference they were probably doing something right.

        Likewise the Spartan hoplites were at least been regarded as a cut above their fellow Greeks in the early Classical period. Not supermen, not unbeatable, but with a marked edge.

    • DragonMilk says:

      I find it hard to believe that full time soldiers with domestic affairs being managed by women commanding slaves would not produce more capable soldiers than part time soldiers.

      Or is the argument that their hoplites weren’t more capable than full-time hoplites of other city states, or that their generals were no more capable?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        It might depend on whether you’re looking at more capable soldiers or a more capable military– if you’re eliminating the contributions men could make to the civilian economy, it would be a loss, even if the women are contributing more than they would if they were kept out of public life.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      In Pericles’s funeral oration, the argument against Sparta is that in Athens, each man is free to do whatever he wants whenever he wants when the city is at peace, yet they’re almost as good of soldiers as the Spartans who regiment their entire life around it.

      • DragonMilk says:

        And how did the wars with Sparta turn out for Athens?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Badly in the short term (Peloponnesian War), which I suppose you’re implying is all that matters to Pericles’s boast?
          After freeing itself from Spartan puppet rulers and immediately condemning Socrates to death, Athens made a comeback ended by Philip of Macedon, and then encapsulated its cultural flourit for posterity. Sparta went into irreversible demographic decline but was still badass enough in Philip’s day that he didn’t risk going to war.

          • DragonMilk says:

            Hmm, I’m not that familiar with the history there, but my impression was that Sparta ran out of Spartans. Too many Helots to oppress and decimate and living in paranoia meant the men were afraid to enter into conflict?

            Or is that all hearsay?

          • DeWitt says:

            Sparta didn’t run out of Spartans, but it absolutely ran out of Spartiates, yes. Every estimate of the Spartiate population throughout the classical age paints an image of very rapid decline.

    • sfoil says:

      I read this article a few months ago and it got my goat enough that I felt motivated to write a blog post about it. Basically, I agree with theredsheep.

      I don’t know about Cole’s specific case, though I have my suspicions, but a lot of antipathy to “Sparta” right now is really antipathy towards the type of people who really like the movie 300. Cole doesn’t seem all that familiar with actual ancient accounts. Cole certainly appears to be addressing those people rather than, say, Plato.

      • DragonMilk says:

        Wait, are there those who didn’t enjoy such a silly movie as 300?

        • sfoil says:

          If you do not and have never publicly displayed — especially as a habit — either a MOLON LABE or a Corinthian helmet logo, you don’t enjoy 300 as much as the people I’m talking about.

          • Aapje says:

            I consider 300 the most (Nazi-)fascist movie that I’ve ever seen and yes, that includes Leni Riefenstahl’s movies.

          • SamChevre says:

            I think of ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ as a citizens-rights (particularly related to the “keep and bear arms” citizen/subject distinction) slogan–that’s the context in which I’ve generally seen it.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Molon Labe is definitely a guns-rights, libertarian thing. None of the guys I know, who thought 300 was the most god-awesome thing ever, ever uttered the phrase.

            Contrast with their other favorite thing in the world, Borat. I still hear “you never get this, you never get this!” and “NOT!!!”
            And I still listen to the Kazak national anthem, so….

          • John Schilling says:

            My favorite double entendre of all time, was “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” across the chest of a tight black T-shirt worn by a curvaceous young woman at my local shooting range. I do not recall a Corinthian helmet (though I may have been distracted), and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a movie reference.

        • theredsheep says:

          No. It was too stupid to even be funny. It was like “God of War” pretending to be history, complete with all the grunty homoerotic posturing and implausible fight choreography. And also pretty fascist in a Starship Troopers way, yeah.

          • Aapje says:

            Starship Troopers was satire, though.

          • theredsheep says:

            I meant the book, which Heinlein meant every word of. “Class, what is the most ethical thing of all the things?” “SIR the most ethical thing is to go off and die for your country SIR!” “Correct; now prove it with ethics math.”

            I’ve never actually seen the movie version. Am told it was good if approached from a certain angle.

          • cassander says:


            There is absolutely nothing fascist about SST the book. the line “The noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and the war’s desolation. ” far better captures the message of the book than your quote which, as far as I remember, does not appear in the book.

          • theredsheep says:

            I’ve read the book multiple times. It’s good goofy fun, but it is so very, very hard-right militaristic. If you want to say, “it’s not fascist insofar as fascism does not refer to a system where all political power resides in the military, but only after they retire, and they vote democratically,” okay, sure, not literally. But it’s a ridiculous story all the same. My quote, of course, was tongue-in-cheek, but yours is a hoity-toity version of the second line.

          • Leafhopper says:

            I haven’t read the book, but if I remember the movie “Starship Troopers” correctly, after the infantry are trounced on the Arachnids’ homeworld, the white male sky marshal is fired and replaced by a black woman.

            If Verhoeven wanted to convince me that the society he tried to satirize was “fascist,” there would’ve been better ways to go about it.

          • cassander says:

            @theredsheep says:

            If you want to say, “it’s not fascist insofar as fascism does not refer to a system where all political power resides in the military, but only after they retire, and they vote democratically,

            (A) if you that system you describe has nothing to do with fascism, why are you calling it fascist?

            (B) the military in SST does NOT control all political power. it has no political power because to wield power, as you say, you have to retire first. and the military is not the only way to get the franchise, as the book says several times. what you have to do to get franchise is risk your life on behalf of the rest of society. The military is only one way to do that, and a way that lots of people aren’t up to.

            But it’s a ridiculous story all the same. My quote, of course, was tongue-in-cheek, but yours is a hoity-toity version of the second line.

            No, it isn’t. Yours glorifies war for its own sake. Mine does not. it’s the difference between “hoorah” and “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

          • theredsheep says:

            SST shares with 300 the core idea that the pinnacle of human virtue is unique to men who make it their profession to kill other men (yes SST has people who are made to risk their lives in other ways, sometimes in ways that are engineered specifically to endanger them for no other reason, but it’s clear that this is a second-best for washouts). Other men may not be bad per se, but they are at best naive and weak–both works go out of their way to show pissant civilians messing things up–and society’s preservation depends on them being neutralized while the rough and manly men make the decisions. If you don’t want to call it “fascist,” okay, but it’s somewhere in the same vicinity.

          • cassander says:

            @theredsheep says:

            SST shares with 300 the core idea that the pinnacle of human virtue is unique to men who make it their profession to kill other men

            No, it doesn’t. it holds that the supreme virtue is protecting people from people who make it their business to kill others.

            (yes SST has people who are made to risk their lives in other ways,

            No one in SST is forced to risk their lives. that’s the whole point which is made explicitly and repeatedly, to be a useful signal of virtue, it needs to be voluntary.

            If you don’t want to call it “fascist,” okay, but it’s somewhere in the same vicinity.

            Fascism is an actual ideology about nations striving together for glory, not a slur that means “anyone to my right I don’t like”. It and SST have nothing in common.

          • theredsheep says:

            SST starts with a terror raid on a civilian population of aliens, to discourage them from allying with the aliens the humans are actually at war with. Our Hero is power-jumping around blowing up infrastructure and burning down the houses of people who can’t fight back in any kind of organized fashion, and having a great deal of fun doing so. That’s literally the opening scene of the book. It then goes on to justify war on the grounds that population pressure will inevitably force us all to tear each other to bits so the best men are the ones who allow us to kill before we’re killed. Lebensraum! Yes, there are distinct fascist overtones here.

            The distinction between heroically standing against unreasonable aggression and being an aggressor oneself is not all that neat, even in this nakedly propagandistic book which paints a rosy picture of a society deliberately vesting all power in people who will risk their lives to get it. The actual practice of such a system would likely be much worse, since you’d see a lot of people with PTSD in power, plus a good-sized dose of the kind of person who enlists because he got bored with shooting dogs for fun and has no better prospects. Not that either group constitutes the majority of the military currently, but when you add that politics tends to attract brutal people as well, it’s plain that this story is not going to end that well. Not everyone is an aw-shucks boy scout type like the narrator, who saves his antisocial impulses up for the enemy.

            EDIT: To be specific, we have strong anti-communism wed to unabashed glorification of the military and an expansionist ethos. It is generally pro-hierarchy as well, with the authority figures being universally wise and good. We are missing a specific father-figure, and humanity as a whole has been swapped in for the nation-state, but otherwise, yeah, fascist. The absence of purges and suppression should not surprise us in a work of propaganda; people glorifying the Soviet Union tended to leave out the famines and show trials, after all.

          • cassander says:

            @theredsheep says:

            That’s literally the opening scene of the book. It then goes on to justify war on the grounds that population pressure will inevitably force us all to tear each other to bits so the best men are the ones who allow us to kill before we’re killed. Lebensraum! Yes, there are distinct fascist overtones here.

            Arguing that war is inevitable is neither fascist nor an invocation of Lebensraum.

            The actual practice of such a system would likely be much worse, since you’d see a lot of people with PTSD in power,

            That’s not now PTSD works.

            plus a good-sized dose of the kind of person who enlists because he got bored with shooting dogs for fun and has no better prospects

            Why would people vote for that guy, exactly?

            EDIT: To be specific, we have strong anti-communism wed to unabashed glorification of the military and an expansionist ethos.

            Again, the book says the opposite of this, explicitly and repeatedly. It repeatedly takes a line like Faramir’s in LOTR, and calling that fascist because it speaks well of the warrior is absurd.

            We are missing a specific father-figure, and humanity as a whole has been swapped in for the nation-state, but otherwise, yeah, fascist.

            Again, no, not even close. You need to actually read what the fascists wrote and liked, not just throw around “boo outgroup.” If you want to see how fascists actually saw the glory in war, read storm of steel. Junger wasn’t a fascist, but fascists loved his work. He portrays ww1 as the greatest summer camp in history. Sure, people died, but the nation was working together, striving for a common goal, a goal made all the more glorious by the danger. It reads NOTHING like the description of war in SST.

            Or, you know, read the doctrine of fascism I already linked you to. Heinlein was far too much of an individualist to fit in with anything remotely fascist.

          • theredsheep says:

            Fascism is not defined purely by Mussolini (who coined the term, but was also pretty well inept, and I’m not wasting my time reading his gibberish). It’s common and accepted to extend the term to the Nazis, various South American dictatorships, etc. Yes, Heinlein also wrote TMIAHM, which is not at all fascist. This book, considered by what it says and not by the author’s other statements, is at least strongly inclined in that direction. The military is always right, violence and conflict with others are inevitable and the people who take part in violence are basically always good (one deserter excepted), and the most important thing is to fight communists. It’s sanitized, whitewashed fascism which bears little resemblance to the real thing, but again, propaganda.

            We do not currently have a tremendous number of crazy and dysfunctional people in power because we do not restrict the franchise to people who were selected for, basically, a willingness to expose themselves to danger (officially for society’s sake, but that’s officially why people join the army now and in practice a lot of them join because they have nothing better to do). It’s fine for such people to have a say, and I know a number of veterans I’d trust with power, but if you give the entire society over to people who’ve risked their lives repeatedly you’re going to see some very messed-up dynamics build up within a couple of decades at the longest.

          • cassander says:

            @theredsheep says:

            Fascism is not defined purely by Mussolini (who coined the term, but was also pretty well inept, and I’m not wasting my time reading his gibberish). It’s common and accepted to extend the term to the Nazis, various South American dictatorships, etc.

            The people who set up those other dictatorships set them up in imitation of Mussolini, because while you might not be impressed with him, they were! As were an awful lot of other people in the 20s and 30s, everyone from Lenin to Edison to Churchill spoke admiringly of him at some point. If you’re not going to bother reading what he wrote, then frankly, you’re ignorant about the subject of fascism and political history in that period. he was a towering figure.

            The military is always right, violence and conflict with others are inevitable and the people who take part in violence are basically always good (one deserter excepted), and the most important thing is to fight communists. It’s sanitized, whitewashed fascism

            other than conflict is inevitable, none of that is in the book. and even if it were, none of it is fascism.

            because we do not restrict the franchise to people who were selected for, basically, a willingness to expose themselves to danger (officially for society’s sake, but that’s officially why people join the army now and in practice a lot of them join because they have nothing better to do).

            this is a grossly inaccurate and lazy caricature of military enlistment that has no basis in reality. there are people who join the military to expose themselves to danger, but they are manifestly NOT the same people who do it because they have nothing better to do, because dangerous jobs in a modern military are actually a very small slice of the work, and they typically the most difficult jobs to get.

            By your logic, we should expect that all generals are nothing but PTSD addled nutcases, because the only way to be a general is to be promoted through the ranks. That is not what we see.

          • John Schilling says:

            SST starts with a terror raid on a civilian population of aliens, to discourage them from allying with the aliens the humans are actually at war with. Our Hero is power-jumping around blowing up infrastructure and burning down the houses of people who can’t fight back in any kind of organized fashion, and having a great deal of fun doing so […] Yes, there are distinct fascist overtones here.

            Except that’s not a thing that actual fascists did very much. Maybe the Italians in Abyssinia; I’d have to check. Fascism was much bigger on invading and conquering places, with any terror being directed to that end.

            Punitive expeditions where an organized military blows some stuff up and then goes away, leaving a stern “…and don’t make us come back and do that again!”, is historically associated with the European and arguably American colonial empires. See e.g. the UK’s aerial policing of Iraq. Likewise the bit where everybody considers this jolly good fun.

            You’ll find no shortage of people to agree with you that the colonial empires of Europe and America were “fascist”, of course. But when you point to stuff that the colonial empires did a lot of in the course of maintaining imperial status, and that historical fascists mostly did not do, and say “see, look at the fascism inherent in the system”, then it seems like you’re just using fascism as a sneer word for anything vaguely martial and distasteful.

          • theredsheep says:

            Apologies, that line started out before the one about the line between aggression and defense; I added the other stuff later, and didn’t think how it changed the implication. No, terror raids are not especially fascist; chevauchees and Sherman’s March were much the same thing, after all. I meant that only as a counter to “the war’s desolation,” which is IMO humbug. Rico’s having a shit-ton of fun fragging civilians, and the author never bothers to make him feel bad about it, or anything else except failing to be a good enough soldier.

            All the soldiers in the book are pretty well perfect. Heinlein doesn’t say so outright, but there are no examples of military figures looking bad in the whole book. The closest you get is the one sergeant getting a dressing-down for not somehow preventing the recruit from hitting him and thus forcing them to tragically whip the hell out of said recruit before discharging him. Rico, of course, admires them for their sanctimony. The whole book is like that; it’s a depiction of a frankly terrifying system that works seamlessly because every person in it is GI Joe. The fact that it couches all this in cliched white-bread American virtue rather than quoting Mussolini strikes me as beside the point.

            Is there a better word than “fascist” for “hard-right system glorifying conformity, rule by soldiers [yes, ex-soldiers, fine, a lot of lobbyists are ex-congressmen too], war as the most important pursuit, and fighting a communist bogeyman”? I’ll grant you that it’s not a perfect portrait, but the resemblance is close enough that I feel comfortable using it. This society, if implemented IRL, would rapidly become fascist or something very close to it. Its values are uncomfortably close to those of fascist states, only covered with smarm to make them palatable for 1950s American schoolchildren. It would work quite well as fascist propaganda, however Heinlein intended it.

            I have two close relations who joined the military because they had no better prospects, and who had friends who joined or tried to join for similar reasons. I’ve had enough incidental exposure to the military to know that this is not all that uncommon. The book doesn’t present it that way, but again, the book stacks the deck. Nothing about it is plausible on a social level. Even an army where “everyone fights” would plainly not work. You’d be getting critical support personnel shot to bits in every fight.

            I think I’ll leave it at that, if I may–I’ll try to read your replies, but we’re going in circles on this, I’m supposed to be doing something else, and frankly scrolling back up to find the reply link is driving me increasingly batty. Thanks for talking.

          • albatross11 says:


            In ST, the only people allowed to vote are people who have volunteered to serve the state. IIRC, most aren’t retired soldiers, they’re retired civil servants. And people who don’t volunteer seem to live perfectly fine lives, just without the vote. (Whether that’s how things would work out is arguable, of course, but that’s what I remember from the book.)

  24. CatCube says:

    Has anybody else found themselves getting less tolerant of “computer bullshit” in the past couple years? The best way I can describe this is to talk about my hatred of interactions with self-checkout kiosks. I avoid the ones at my local Fred Meyer, because they seem to expect a certain pattern of movement between scanning and putting my purchases on the scale holding the bagging frame–“Please place your items in the bagging area. Oh, wait, I think you did place your items in the bagging area.” I’m fully confident that I could figure out the exact timing of placing my items and pattern of stroking the scale with my left index finger followed by my right ring finger to avoid this dialog, but I feel like I shouldn’t have to. Just take fuckin’ 2% extra on my groceries to pay a checker to deal with your stupid computer system so I don’t have to.

    Another was when I was trying to use the self-check kiosk at McDonald’s. It seemed to take a bunch of touchscreen interactions to find my normal order of “#2 Medium (2 cheeseburgers),” then hitting a few more touchscreen interactions to make it take my card. Again, I’m sure I could figure out the muscle memory to do this, but why should I have to compared to just telling a checker, “#2 medium, please,” and then handing her a Hamilton, since I know that’s the smallest bill that will cover it. I don’t know that I will ever again use the self-checkout kiosk instead of going to the counter, and I think I might just stop going to McDonald’s if they force me to self-checkout.

    Expanding this a bit, it’s almost infuriating that there are more and more places that are expecting me to use their app instead of just handing them money. Fuck you, I have a Windows Phone that I bought 5 years ago it it still does everything that I expect a cell phone to do (make phone calls, let me surf the internet, and use my Kindle app to read books on the train), and it’s outright insulting to expect me to spend $599 on a new digital toy to interact with you. Leaving aside the fact that I can spend $599 on stupid bullshit whenever I want because I’m a single person with a good job and still end up with an increase in my bank account at the end of my semi-weekly pay period; compare this to the homeless person I pass by on the way to work! Either take my cash or do without my business.

    • JohnWittle says:

      Wow I totally feel exactly the opposite.

      That human is so much more likely to fuck up my order than the computer

      • Well... says:

        Number of times a human cashier has messed up my order: maybe once or twice in my lifetime.

        Number of times a computerized self-checkout thing has messed up my order, to where I needed a human to come over and fix something: once or twice a year, maybe more.

        • Nornagest says:

          Number of times a human cashier has messed up my order: maybe once or twice in my lifetime.

          Where are you shopping? That’s a much better failure rate than I’m used to.

          • Well... says:

            Meijer, Safeway, Giant Eagle, Safeway, Von’s, Ralph’s, Aldi, Tesco, Walmart, Coscto, Target, etc., plus various smaller local places in the various areas where I’ve lived…

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Giant Eagle,

            That’s local to Middle Earth, isn’t it?

          • Well... says:

            I’ve lived and shopped for groceries in (relatively, compared to most people I’ve met) many parts of Earth.

          • Lambert says:

            Which Aldi, North or South?
            (Which Country?)

          • Well... says:

            I live in the Midwestern US, and that’s the only region where I’ve shopped at Aldi.

          • Nornagest says:

            Which Aldi, North or South?
            (Which Country?)

            The only Aldi calling itself that in the US is South. Aldi North has a corporate presence here, but only under the Trader Joe’s brand.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            There are Aldis in Philadephia. They call themselves Aldi.

          • JayT says:

            My understanding is that Trader Joe’s isn’t actually affiliated with Aldi, it’s just owned by the family that owns Aldi Nord. I’ve always heard that their corporations don’t have any real overlap, though Wikipedia is unclear on this.

          • Lambert says:

            Even Aldi UK and Aldi Sued GmbH have limited overlap, beyond the superficial.
            You probably could find some products that are identical between the two, but it’d take some looking.

            Alas, this Sceptered Isle lacks the bread vending machine thing.

        • Matt says:

          Number of times a human cashier has messed up my order: maybe once or twice in my lifetime.

          Maybe it’s getting past you? I get fast-food bloopers all the time – maybe 10% of the time. Diet Coke instead of Dr. Pepper, standard configuration hamburgers instead of special order (I don’t want onion), simply the wrong bag in the drive-thru, or sometimes they have accidentally given me extra food. Most recently I had two boxes of chicken instead of one. This may be partially because I’m a transplant on the ‘didn’t get your order exactly right’ because I have a Midwestern accent and I’m in the South, but when they accidentally give me the order for another car, that’s 100% on them. This has been helped recently by the display at the drive-thru speaker that shows you a text version of your order, but they still get it wrong sometimes.

          Maybe you don’t do drive-thrus or special orders? It’s very hard to believe your claim.

          In stores, I would have agreed with you that cashiers almost never made mistakes until I got married. Because I never checked the receipt. Now I know that they sometimes get some discount wrong. USUALLY what has happened is that the software has updated prices but the store displays were not updated. This isn’t really a ‘cashier error’ but the store has to honor the prices on their goods and the only way to ‘fix’ the problem is for the cashier to make the correction.

          • Well... says:

            My fast-food orders are usually very simple, and if they mess something up it’s like, giving me mayo when I asked for no mayo. The kind of thing I’ve experienced computers messing up as well.

            I am very confident about my statement about grocery store cashiers, though. I’m not a careless shopper, and if my bill feels bigger than it should be I’m definitely going to scan the itemized receipt. If cashiers do something that I see as something a computer could theoretically fix, in my experience it’s usually not by overcharging; it’s talking to the person in front of me for too long, or not being sure where my order begins and ends because they’ve failed to stock those little plastic bars that separate orders, or by not greeting me when I was expecting a greeting (whereas with computers I don’t expect a greeting at all).

            Yeah, the thing you mentioned about prices updating does sometimes happen, and as you said it’s not a cashier error. The only error the cashier can make there is to not follow the policy of giving me whatever the lowest advertised price was. A computer cashier would need a human cashier to walk over, enter a code, and manually do that anyway.

    • eigenmoon says:

      I’m fed up with machinery that can’t take cash. There’s a negative utility associated with sending even the most trivial datapoint to the bank, the credit card company, the government, and in the worst (=usual) case hundreds of ad companies. I’d value it around minus 5-10$ per a simple purchase such as a lunch. That makes machine-only McDonald’s very expensive. Your valuation may vary.

      You can get an Android phone for <100$, but expect all apps and the OS to spy on you. Not something that a Windows Phone user would worry about, though.

      • acymetric says:

        I would fully expect McDonalds (and most large scale businesses) to take both cash or card if they went full-on kiosk/machine. This is doable (see self-checkout at grocery stores as an example). McDonalds in particular I suspect has a decent chunk of their sales coming from people who can’t or are unlikely to pay with anything but cash.

        You can get an Android phone for <100$, but expect all apps and the OS to spy on you. Not something that a Windows Phone user would worry about, though.

        Why wouldn’t a Windows Phone user worry about this?

        • eigenmoon says:

          I have actually stopped going to McDonald’s when it went full-on cashless machine.

          Why wouldn’t a Windows Phone user worry about this?
          Because Microsoft, like Google, is in business of showing you personalized ads. Look up “windows 10 privacy nightmare”. Also even when told not to, Windows 10 just can’t stop talking to Microsoft. Thus, even though Microsoft claims you can opt out of personalized ads, I wouldn’t be so sure. After all, Windows Feedback Option sends something to Microsoft daily; check out this advice:

          Disable the Windows Feedback Option. Check it every so often to make sure it hasn’t enabled itself.

          I think if you need to check every so often that some spying shit hasn’t enabled itself, then you might want to shop for a different platform.

      • ana53294 says:

        Getting rid of cash seems to be the objective here.

        In Sweden, a guy wasn’t able to spend a 100 gbp worth of cash, try as he might. China is also going cash-free; it’s even hard to use credit cards. They also have face-recognition payments, which is creepy and scary.

        Both countries are socialist, although to different degrees.

      • the bank, the credit card company, the government, and in the worst (=usual) case hundreds of ad companies. I’d value it around minus 5-10$ per a simple purchase such as a lunch.

        I’m not seeing why. I use adblock most of the time so I rarely see ads, but when I do see ads I actually prefer ads targeted to me as the probability I’d find the product useful is slightly higher than otherwise.(But still very low.) I get 1.5% cash back with my chase credit card, so I always use it.

        • Well... says:

          Although I’m infuriated by generic ads for things that I’d never buy and the ads themselves insult my intelligence, I like targeted ads even less, because they have all those problems AND they creep me out. Guess I’d rather feel just plain old misanthropic than misanthropic + creeped out.

        • eigenmoon says:

          You’re entrusting your complete data, including your name, address, browsing history, spending habits and psychological profile to completely untrustworthy people whom you don’t know with security practices exemplified by Equifax protecting customers’ data with the login “admin” and password “admin”.

          Even if you don’t see right now any way you can be completely screwed by this, something might come up in the future. Imagine that in the future the Republicans achieve cultural dominance and start canceling Democrats. (I assume you’re a Democrat because otherwise you might’ve felt this problem already) We’ve already seen political campaigns targeted to particular psychological profiles – imagine religions doing the same. Or scammers.

          Imagine burglars knowing when you’re not at home. Imagine the government mining your social media for signs of disagreement. No, stop imagining because I’m sure they do it already. Imagine every potential employer knowing exactly where on the autistic spectrum you are. Imagine every potential partner being able to buy your complete browser history for 10$.

          You might not believe that buying a burger with a credit card will bring you a step closer to all of that. Maybe if you’re writing a Facebook post while sitting in McDonalds and posting photos to Instagram, it won’t, or rather, the burger’s not your primary problem. But once you remove your Facebook account and block its “connect” buttons with your adblock to prevent FB from tracking you, give it another thought.

          • DragonMilk says:

            Given the amount of people who use credit cards, what makes you important enough to target over anyone else?

          • I think targeted ads are overrated. I remember as a kid watching Nickelodeon and thinking “what’s with all these pharmaceutical ads?” The “rational” explanation was that it was targeted at the parents watching. And now I watch YouTube ads(there was a period when I didn’t have adblock, long story) and I see all these pharmaceutical ads obviously targeted at the elderly. Google knows exactly how old I am, I told them so when I signed up for my Google account. I think it’s a scam, I am a warm body google can use to sell ads to the pharmaceutical companies, and doesn’t care if it actually drives revenue.

            I was thinking more of credit card history, which contains no secrets. I’m a right-wing populist, and my browser history is more concerning, still, cancel culture is harsh but also very stupid. The $PLC didn’t even know about Ron Unz’s Holocaust denial until he decided to tell them. If I ever get targeted I’ll just deny everything. I’m not gonna let it shut me up, while I don’t post explicitly political content on my public social media, I drop the occasional hint of crimethink.

            I’ve thought about the possibility that some day, it could all be out there, every keystroke, every comment, records of keyboard interaction, every video view. There are some problems with this, all that data is massive and has to be stored somewhere. The government won’t be able to stop you from storing some of it on your hard-drive, but you can fit only a small amount of it there. More importantly though, this data would embarrass a lot more people, popular people. Remember the iCloud leak? Imagine that times a million.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:


            Are you suggesting only one person at a time can be tracked?

          • eigenmoon says:

            I’m not important enough and I did not presume to be in the scenarios I’ve outlined.

            @Alexander Turok
            Oh so you’re a right-wing populist, but you’d never tell that to anybody on the Internet. Riiiiiiiight. Well, I hope Alexander Turok isn’t your real name.

            There are some problems with this, all that data is massive
            YouTube can offer 4K 60fps video to you for free – surely it would have no problem storing the info that Alexander Turok watched the video.

            this data would embarrass a lot more people, popular people.
            Yeah, and they’ll shrug it off, like Trump shrugged off various crap like Stormy Daniels. They can afford it because they’ll be left with enough connections anyway. But can someone like us afford it?

          • DragonMilk says:

            @ARabbi No, I’m assuming that *everyone* is tracked so unless you’ve got a target on your back, nefarious folk have bigger cows to milk

          • Yeah, and they’ll shrug it off, like Trump shrugged off various crap like Stormy Daniels. They can afford it because they’ll be left with enough connections anyway.

            Remember the iCloud celebrity photo leaks, remember how outraged the WK’s were about that? Imaging that times millions of women, millions of WK’s running to their defense. I remember being in high school and browsing the Facebook pages of girls I knew and thinking “this is all gonna be wiped clean in ten or fifteen years, oh, me, I was in the church choir.” Thinking about “every potential partner being able to buy your complete browser history for 10$,” remember you’d have the same ability to snoop on them.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            @DragonMilk You never know when someone would have a reason to ruin your day.

            In addition, one of the strong limiters of any tyranny and related shennanigans is cost of information. Easy access to your record would enable the government to become more oppressive at the same cost.

      • Garrett says:

        Tinfoil conspiracy theory:

        Bills have serial numbers on them. Bank ATMs and cash machines could be semi-reliably tracking you by the bill serial numbers.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Depends on how long a bill circulates before going back to a bank. If a bill tends to go ATM->merchant->bank, it works pretty well, and I suspect this is often the case. As for tinfoil… sorry, it’s quite plausible. The only issue is a lot of people in the ATM business would have to know. But then, a lot of people knew about the NSA listening rooms too.

    • onyomi says:

      I’m fed up with sticky prices hiding inflation by lowered quality of service disguised as convenience (yes, I always wanted to put the tags on my own luggage! I’d just love to use your automated online help desk rather than talk to a human being on the phone!).

      • CatCube says:

        This is exactly the root of my issue. I don’t object to to the self-service kiosks as a concept, but that a combination of poor design choices (input lag on the touchscreen, non-intuitive menu layouts, etc.) makes the experience worse than interacting with a person and letting them handle any of that that may be present in their system. If the self-service experience was smooth and easy (and I’m not coming up with one offhand) I’d be indifferent between the two.

        I don’t even necessarily care if it takes slightly longer for a person to put it in to their checkstand/computer than doing it myself, it’s just that I want the person that has to fight with it to be somebody else. I can stare into space while they find the right menu option, rather than me having to hunt and peck–made worse by the fact that the touchscreens always seem to have a few tenths of a second lag that means you have to pay close attention to make sure it took your input, so it’s a higher burden that I don’t feel I should have to do. Plus, if their idiot marketing team want to ask three times what size meal I want (an example from the McDonald’s kiosk), their employees will learn to punch the right button by reflex rather than me having to figure out what the interface is asking me several times during the interaction.

        • Frangible Waterbird says:

          If the self-service experience was smooth and easy (and I’m not coming up with one offhand)…

          Oh, oh, I think I know the answer to this one!

          It’s public library computers’ print kiosks these days.
          It’s become so standardized and consistent.
          I was just marveling at it the other day.
          (though I now realize that my main data points are high-budget libraries, and that only 2 cities are represented.)

          Much more pleasant than bothering librarians about an error that some kludged-together system gives.
          (and every library had a DIFFERENT kludged-together system for print jobs!)

      • Nornagest says:

        Phone trees are infuriating, but I’m fine with the luggage system. I’d rather spend five minutes fiddling with the touchscreen for baggage tagging then spend the same five minutes in line, and it really does seem to cut down on that.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      The annoyance level of self checkouts varies from country to country. Here in the Netherlands they don’t take cash, but also don’t have any form of bagging area scale. There are usually a couple of employees there (fewer than one per checkout) who will occasionally check that what you have put in your bag matches what you have paid for, and also check your ID if you are buying anything age-restricted.

      The worst I’ve seen was at a Shop-Rite in the US. As well as the bagging area nonsense, if you pay cash and want change you have to take your receipt to a human cashier…

      • acymetric says:

        The worst I’ve seen was at a Shop-Rite in the US. As well as the bagging area nonsense, if you pay cash and want change you have to take your receipt to a human cashier…

        Oh geeze, that sound terrible. I’ve never seen one that takes cash and doesn’t give out the change automatically, although occasionally the machine might be out of change, at which point an attendant does have to give you the change. Is it possible that’s what happened at the Shop-Rite?

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s the cold dismal equations. Burdened cost of cashier versus amortized cost of automation sufficient to replace cashier, minus some factor which covers losses to to irritation with automation. As wages and benefits go up (either by market forces or fiat), it’s going to be tilted towards automation. And likely the automation will get better (reducing cost and irritation), whereas wages aren’t likely to drop barring a recession.

      As for the ones who require a current cell phone just to pay, I haven’t run into that. Whole Foods requires it for their stupid discount card, although actually there’s a way to do it with just a phone number.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Absolutely. My time is valuable to me, and these days the main use of computerized interfaces is to make tasks take more time than they did before, so as to save time/money for the business providing the poor service.

      @vendors – I won’t install your app, because the main things it will give me are more advertising, less privacy, and possible security issues. It’s also likely to be so confusing/hard to use that I’ll require an in-person tutorial to figure out how to use it. (E.g. the app that lets me control my hearing aids, which I *did* install, for fairly obvious reasons.)

      I was an early adopter of a lot of computer tech. But these days, I visit bank tellers in preference to using the ATM. (Which doesn’t recognize all the checks I want to deposit, and is positioned in full sun – with a screen that can’t be read in such conditions – but no lighting at night – with no shelf etc. to put things on.) The cost of this policy is that I have to follow “bankers’ hours” when interacting with my credit union, but that’s easier than coping with the POC their ATM has become.

      • Well... says:


        POC has another meaning 😀

        • Nornagest says:

          I went through “point of contact” and “person of color” before I figured out it expanded to “piece of crap”.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          “That’s easier than coping with the Person Of Color their ATM has become.”

          OK, so I’m familiar with the SFnal concept of ordinary computers achieving personhood, but how are you supposed to tell that the machine is or isn’t white??

        • DinoNerd says:

          Oh dear. I guess I’ve outed myself as seriously non-woke, even though of liberal inclination. As Nornagest figured out, I intended this to be an acronymn for “piece of …”

    • I’m the opposite, I’m frustrated that my local Wal-Mart doesn’t have self-checkout lines.(I presume because of the risk of crime in my neighborhood, the other Wal-Marts in my area do.) At McDonald’s I prefer the human to the self-order machine when there’s no line, but always go the self-order machine McDonald’s when there is a line.

    • JayT says:

      It infuriates me that California made buying liquor illegal in self checkout. I would choose self checkout 100% of the time, because I’m usually faster than the actual employees. In almost every case I would rather deal with a computer than a live person.

      • Nick says:

        I’ve rarely had issues with self-checkout, but half the time that I go to the store I’m in line behind two or three people who are unbelievably, incredibly slow, slower than you can imagine, slower than I thought possible. It’s a herculean effort swiping each item. Paying takes eons. Bagging things is another eternity. I’m faster at self-checkout, but everyone else is so very much slower.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Grocery stores are the weird exception for me. I’d happily prefer to use automated systems for nearly everything else- I don’t want to talk to idiot airline staff (they will tell you things are impossible that you can finish on your phone standing in front of them before they finish talking), I don’t want to convince a coffee clerk that yes, really, your menu does offer that product, I don’t want to trust a waiter to carry away my credit card when every time I’ve had my credit card number stolen, that was why, etc., etc.

      But the grocery store self-checkout has several major issues that disqualify it. First, and most importantly, half or more of my items by count will be fresh produce (why else does one regularly shop at a true grocery store?!), and those all need to be hand-selected from their byzantine catalog system and then either weighed or separately counted, which slows things down dramatically compared to the trained clerk that has all the codes/locations memorized (well, except for the times I buy fresh turnips, since it appears noone else ever does). Second, any liquor purchases require a human to come over anyway, negating the small benefits of the self-checkout to begin with. Third, it’s difficult or impossible to make nonstandard requests, such as “add a bag of ice that I’ll grab on the way out the door” or “I’d like my $20 back in the form of four $5s, not one $20”. And fourth, errors seem to be quite too common, probably due to the significant complexity and wide audience base. Scales will be broken or misaligned, scanners obscured, touchscreens cracked or requiring large force to recognize a touch, etc.

    • Plumber says:

      @DinoNerd >

      “…Either take my cash or do without my business”

      You are my hero!

    • AG says:

      Sometimes fine, sometimes not.

      Apps are the devil. Concert ticket services that do not give me a pdf option (either they mail it to you or you have to download an app that you can’t screenshot) are the worst.

      Self-order/checkout, though, I’m mostly okay with. At the local McDonald’s, often the touchscreen kiosk often has special deals you’ll never see at the counter. On the other hand, I’ve also seen limited time offers on the McD website that weren’t updated to the kiosk, so I had to go to the counter to order.

      For airlines, kiosk check-in is mostly good. For re-booking, generally I’ve had better luck with phone or counter service (it depends on the each situation for whether counter or phone service is better) than with re-booking via website, since I can get re-booked by a person without paying for an entire new flight. In one case, they even re-booked me to a different airline, without my having to pay extra, which definitely isn’t possible via website.

    • Well... says:

      Fuck you, I have a Windows Phone that I bought 5 years ago it it still does everything that I expect a cell phone to do

      Exactly how I feel about my flip phone.

    • Two McMillion says:

      I love self-checkout and use it all the time. Give me more options where I don’t have to deal with a human, please.

    • b_jonas says:

      I’ve had positive experience with self-checkout. So far very few places have self-checkout at home: some of the larger Tesco stores were the first, then Ikea, then this year the Spar next to me joined. A few of the McDonalds restaurants also have touchscreen order terminals. In all of these places, they’re not the only option, there’s always a full human cashier as well. The systems all seemed to work well whenever I tried it, I saw little of the interface problems that CatCube complains about. Yes, occasionally a human employee needs to intervene, but that’s not a big problem, as the human cashier always intervenes in the alternative. Yes, some customers are slow to use the self-checkout. But firstly, the point of self-checkout is that the shop can have three self-checkout stations open for the price of one cashier, the end result is generally that the checkout queues in total move faster, which is a win whether I use self-checkout or not. Secondly, I believe the customers who are so slow at self-checkout are the same obnoxious ones who slow down cashiers as well.

      You mention that some of the self-checkout terminals don’t allow cash. I don’t consider this a problem, because in the supermarkets or fast food restaurants where these systems are used, I want to pay by card anyway. Yes, I also insist that the option to pay by cash has to be there, but the cashiers letting you pay by cash is enough for that.

      The one bad self-checkout system is the ticket machines for local public transport. The machines themselves generally work well, and I do prefer buying my bus passes from them over buying from the human cashiers. Yes, the machines could have been designed better, but I’m now at least impressed by how resistant they proved to be against vandalism. The drawback is that machines came with new form of physical tickets. These are all printed on the same blank purple paper with a printer in the vending machines. These have replaced all the old tickets that came on different pre-printed paper templates. You get the new tickets even if you buy at a chasier (with rare exceptions not relevant here). The new tickets are easy to counterfeit, and hard for controllers to effectively verify. The ink rubs off the tickets, so if I buy a three month pass, it ends up being almost unreadable at the end of the third month. Yearly passes are still sold, and I can’t imagine how they work.

      No, I don’t have a smartphone, I don’t want to have one, and won’t use an app to order anything. Most fast food restaurants here have that option now: McDonalds, Burger King, KFC at least. This doesn’t seem to be a problem to me, because the service in those restaurants didn’t become worse when I order in person (or in the touchscreen terminals in McDonalds).

      Automated customer service phone lines can be bad, and Telekom adopting one was half of the reason why I switched mobile phone provider from them to Vodafone a year and a half ago.

  25. Aapje says:

    Challenge: design anti-Twitter

    – Get the silent majority to talk freely again
    – Minimize virtue signaling
    – Minimize bullying/real life consequences
    – Minimize hate-reading
    – Discourage big hypes
    – Encourage thoughtfulness
    – Create world peace (optional)

    Share your design.

    • Aapje says:

      My idea: ChatForum (mix between the two)

      – Messages disappear over time, like tears in rain
      – Size of groups is capped
      – Lurking is only allowed temporarily
      – No direct links to messages can be shared
      – No up/downvoting
      – New accounts have a 1 day wait period before they can do anything

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Discouraging lurking might encourage low-quality posts from people who’d like to read the forum.

        What came of that experiment of requiring unique sentences?

        • Aapje says:

          I considered your first point, but I was thinking of a cafe-like model. It’s fine to nod along or to just say “sure,” but not to listen in while not participating at all.

          I don’t know what experiment you are referring to.

          • beleester says:

            Requiring every post to be unique, as a way to filter out low-effort content. It was first tried with a bot in the XKCD IRC, and then ported to a 4chan board called /r9k/. The bot got removed, although the board still exists. I think it’s decent for filtering out basic “Same” or “lol” posts but not useful for altering community dynamics on a larger scale.

            Source: Knowyourmeme

      • Ketil says:

        – No up/downvoting

        Sometimes this works really well for sorting the interesting, articulate, and useful stuff from the less so. I wonder how much this has to do with the phrasing (Steam uses “Agree” and “Respectfully disagree”, which I think is a pleasant way to present it), or the type of content (e.g., Stack Exchange seems to work well, including accumulation of karma points).

        Like everything else, voting breaks down when it is used to signal tribal membership (Twitter) or as a narcissistic measurement of your worth (Facebook).

        • Aapje says:

          Stack Exchange is/was very strict about aiming for an environment that produces good questions and answers, not anything more social than that.

      • beleester says:

        I don’t think #1 is possible – archiving things online is trivial. It might obscure a user’s overall history (assuming the volume is too big to just record every chat), but anything controversial enough will surely be stored somewhere.

    • Radu Floricica says:


      This is very very difficult to do, for the same reason junk food is addictive: it’s a combination of tastes that’s rare in the ancestral environment, but important when you find it.

      I was thinking of the SSC subreddit these days. You have like-minded bright people that gather there and… 95% of the time do culture war. Last I’ve been there (before the motte) the CW thread had easily a factor of 10 more comments than the rest of the threads combined.

      Also, I had a small revelation yesterday evening. I’m in a middle of a somewhat stressful period and relaxed my diet, so I was enjoying the next door pizza with a couple of sauces – and it hit me how GOOD it made me feel. Not in a “delicious” kind a way, but in a deeper, comforting, “all is good with the world” way. That’s probably why being fit is such a good social signal these days – it means your life is enough in order that you don’t have to rely on comfort food.

      Add to this the bunch of books I read that say that obesity either leads to or is caused by brain damage to the parts that manage self control when seeing food. This is pure speculation, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find Twitter or reddit or CW make similar changes. They do look a lot like addiction from the outside.


      Trying to be constructive, I’d lower my expectations. Corralling places with better fences / more privacy would be an option. Find the ideal number of participants in conversation and aim for it. Also, re-reading Scott’s article on levels of conversation would be a good start for this… but I need to get on my second cup of cofffee and work.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’ve seen claims that there’s no substitute for active moderation. Leading by example might also be needed.

        This being said, some things like not having upvotes/downvotes might help, though I think is in fairly good shape.

        How much do you think the character limit at twitter affects the quality of conversation? My impression is that people just do chained tweets when they want to write something longer. Did going from 140 characters to 280 change much?

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Never did Twitter. Didn’t see the appeal in the beginning, and more I hear about it less I want to.

          The topic is at least as old as digg – why do communities suffer a huge hit in quality after they pass a certain size? Reddit is the only one that partially solved it by splitting into (not very isolated) subreddits.

          My idea at the time was to have a complex system to interpret votes, with a subjective human component as a “seed”. You have PrimeModerators that chose comments and posters that set the tone you want from the forum, than use automated systems to promote similarly-voted comments. Put as much AI as you want into the system – nowadays we have some pretty good tools for that.

          • acymetric says:

            The topic is at least as old as digg – why do communities suffer a huge hit in quality after they pass a certain size?

            Off the cuff suspicion is that it has to do with losing any familiarity with the other members of the community (too many people to keep track of to feel like you “know” them).

          • Aapje says:

            Indeed. Moderation also tends to become bureaucratic, goal-oriented and such, creating a conflict between the members and those in power.

      • Aapje says:

        @Radu Floricica

        The idea is more to set conditions where good outcomes can happen without fighting the incentives and rules too much, rather than the opposite.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      I’m not convinced that the problem is amenable to a design-based solution.

      As I’ve mentioned at some point, I was an early Twitter adopter (in fact, I’d quit before it became the toxic cesspit it is now – or at least towards the beginning of the transformation) and I remember when you could still have productive discussions on it (at least: as productive as we get here).

      The goals you outline are human-centric and demand human-centric solutions. Trying to solve them via software design will only lead to a different set of failures.

      Here’s a bunch of human-centric solutions to some of the identified problems. Unsurprisingly, these look a lot like stuff we do to deal with such problems offline.

      1. Minimize bullying/real-life consequences – punish bullies, refuse to exact real-life consequences for things not deserving of same. The accepted offline answer to “Bob has opinions I don’t like” when I was growing up was “Well, don’t listen to Bob”. It is a good answer.

      2. Minimize hate-reading – friends will tell friends when they’re acting like asses.

      3. Minimize virtue signalling – same as above/don’t reward virtue signalling.

      4. Discourage big hypes – don’t believe big hypes and tell your friends when they’re being credulous.

      5. Encourage thoughtfulness – can’t be done. “You can lead a horse to water…” and all that.

      6. Get the silent majority to talk freely again – listen.

      None of the above require changing the fundamental Twitter design. The only real problem with Twitter is the character limit, but that simply means more tweets to say what you need to. Annoying, but not game-breaking.

    • MorningGaul says:

      4Chan qualify for the first 5. It certainly doesnt encourage thoughtfulness, but it defuse thoughtlessness by making it fleeting, irrelevant and inconsequent.

      And /pol/ bought us all closer to world peace through mutual hatred of everyone else. In the war of all against all, everyone’s ennemy is everyone’s friend.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think designing technology is easy, but designing social mechanisms is very, very hard. You can build a system, but you can’t predict what culture will arise around it.

      A first question is how the system gets paid for. That drives a lot of other stuff–if you’re living on ads, then you get a different system than if you’re living on membership fees or donations or some other thing.

      It seems to me that a lot of the really toxic dynamic on Twitter has to do with the incentives of the users of Twitter. A small fraction of people can rise in importance and influence quickly by getting attention, and bullying/hate reading/outrage farming are probably good strategies to get attention quickly. This can sometimes be parlayed into real-world success or influence. Minor internet writers can become better-known by getting a lot of attention on Twitter.

      The toxic effects of Twitter seem to me to be largely driven by its influence on media people. It’s like Twitter is this super addictive drug that is perfectly targeted at journalists and other media types. It shortens the decision loop of high-profile journalists and media outlets, which makes them less reliable and more inclined to run with the herd. And it also serves as a kind of ideological focal point–lots of people end up all kind-of coordinating on some ideological statements or ideas, and as far as I can tell, this happens without a whole lot of critical thinking or reflection. It’s not a rational process of individuals deliberating and deciding what they believe, it’s a social/political process that converges on positions that everyone then feels obliged to profess or at least not to contradict.

      The whole context collapse thing is also a dynamic you’d like to avoid.

      I’d like more high-quality discussions that take time and attention and brainpower to engage with–basically what the high end of podcasts look like, but with an active SSC-like comment thread. (Though there’s not time to engage with very many such discussions.) I’m quite surprised at the quality of the best podcasts, sop maybe there’s enough demand for that sort of thing to actually drive a successful internet business.

      • Aapje says:

        Twitter is extremely well-suited to bullying, because of retweeting. Other people don’t even have to click a link to see the offensive content (which also means that they don’t get to see the context).

        I think that high-quality is in large part a matter of user selection and suppressing mediocre content, which conflicts with encouraging people to speak their mind.

        • Garrett says:

          How much of this is based on design choices made arbitrarily, and how much is based on design choices made to be profitable? Because a system which can’t generate sufficient revenue won’t get made.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Hmm, LiveJournal worked pretty well. So did mailing lists, which were made much easier to manage by things like Yahoo and Google Groups. Those are gone now, except for die-hard techies (me), and people who care a lot about content policies (many amateur writers and artists). OTOH, Usenet was a cesspit every September, and eventually became unusably bad all year round.

      What was the difference? Any idiot could join a Usenet group, and you couldn’t get rid of them. You could control what you read/saw – kill files proliferated. But that merely delayed the end. There were also technical issues, making usenet expensive to support, especially towards the end of its life.

      LiveJournal and mailing lists both had good moderation tools, and left that moderation in the hands of users. They also allowed pseudonymity – allowing people to disconnect different parts of their lives, if they felt it advisable. And posts could be as long as anyone cared to make them.

      I don’t think any of these guaranteed a good culture. But I think they all made good cultures more likely. Another benefit was that they enabled cultures some folks would consider bad, which could be taking place right next door without those people noticing, or at least without them being enabled to drop by and complain about the “bad behaviour”.

      • Dino says:

        Mailing lists are still around, and still better than the alternatives – I’m a “list angel” for one that has been going for about 25 years and is generally excellent. It’s for a very obscure topic (Balkan music and dance), has about 900 members, and has needed very little moderation.

        PS to DinoNerd – I was not aware of your username when I chose mine, else I would have picked something not so similar. I hope no-one confuses us because I’m not at all nerdy, tho most of my friends are. 😉

    • Urstoff says:

      Things that make Twitter less toxic (like removing all like/retweet/follower metrics) would also make it much less popular. And that wouldn’t necessarily create a positive environment, just a quieter one. To create a positive space like that, you probably need some strong social norms and commitments as well as the absence of the things Twitter does to encourage the opposite.

      It’s always an uphill battle against human nature, though.

      • Aapje says:

        Perhaps, although many people enjoy more positive and less popular environments (for example, most people meet a relatively small group of friends).

    • Viliam says:

      The toxic thing are the people (well, some of them).

      Twitter-like architecture can support the worst aspects of humanity by making some things more acceptable (is my comment just a short scream with no argument? hey, don’t blame me, Twitter made me do it) and some things easier (retweeting an attack call to thousands of followers). An anti-Twitter architecture could make it less convenient, but that will only go so far. Long arguments are not necessarily intelligent or peaceful.

      Also, Twitter will continue to exist. Anything you write on the new platform, someone can make a screenshot of it, and share the screenshot on Twitter. Internet is a connected pool, and you can’t balance pissing in one side of the pool by merely not pissing in the other side.

      I imagine that an anti-Twitter could be somewhat like Slack, in the sense than you can easily participate in multiple groups, having a different identity (username, photo) in each of them. You could even enforce it by requiring the group-specific username to be globally unique (i.e. if I am “Viliam” in one group, no one can be “Viliam” in any other group; neither me, nor anyone else). Of course that wouldn’t stop me from calling my accounts “Viliam1”, “Viliam2”, etc. But it would still give me some plausible deniability, where I could say that “Viliam9” was already taken by someone else, so it’s not me.

      But anything else… would depend on group culture and moderation.

      • Aapje says:

        I was thinking more about being fairly safe from retroactive problematization. That seems mostly achievable.

      • Buddha Buddhing Rodriguez says:

        The screenshot problem is a tricky one.

        One thing you could do is construct a language unique to your social network and mandate that all posts be in that language. This would render all screenshots meaningless.

    • valleyofthekings says:

      – Basically still twitter (you write short updates which anyone can read).
      – But your ability to message strangers is limited.
      – New accounts cannot communicate with anyone who doesn’t follow them. This includes direct messages, tagging, and replies.
      – Mature accounts can communicate with people who don’t follow them, but if you do that and then they block you, you lose the privilege for X days.
      – This is implemented via shadowbanning: you think your replies are being sent, but they’re only visible to people who follow you.

      I don’t know what “hate-reading” and “big hypes” are.

      There are some complicated rules around what counts as a “new account”, and what constitutes an attempt to message a stranger versus connect with an IRL friend, and how many days you get shadowbanned depending on how many offenses you’ve had. These rules are not published anywhere, to prevent gaming.

      • Aapje says:

        Hate reading is reading comments by people who make you upset, because the rage feeds you.

        When saying “big hypes,” I was thinking of the moralistic shit storms that propagate Twitter, where a ton of people post about a topic in a period, while not talking about it at other times.

    • AndreaMX says:

      I don’t have a proposal for changing (or fixing) many things at once. But I am curious about a specific change to twitter and to many other websites. What if there was no option to like, favorite, or upvote something, but there was an option to dislike something? All posts would display in a prominent way the number of people who disliked your contribution. How would it change twitter?

    • quanta413 says:

      It misses the biggest problem. Not that education couldn’t improve a little here or there. It’s not the town councils or local governments that are the main impediment though. It’s us!

      We just aren’t cut out for this round the clock beating with theories and facts for vaguely specified reasons.

    • CatCube says:

      Let me start by saying that like most “Yes, Minister” I’ve seen it before, and it’s as brilliant as always.

      I don’t know Latin, but I do maintain my skills on pencil-and-paper arithmetic. I can also use a slide rule, but that’s more just because I find them fascinating. The pencil-and-paper thing is because I hate being solely reliant on a mechanical device that I don’t understand from first principles. Also, because I play pinochle at lunch with my boss and having to pull out a calculator to add the score would be super embarrassing.

      The wider issue that it identifies with students being bored is valuable, though. I’m an engineer. However, all that means is that I produce very precise artwork that supposedly tells a tradesman (calling @Plumber) how to build something. I really enjoyed school, but most people who went into the trades feel like every hour of classroom work was sucking their soul out through their left nostril. My artwork is useless without them. Our modern society needs us both to actually function, and I hate that years and years of classwork are being privileged over being able to build something, which typically requires hands-on, rather than classroom, experience. We really need to stop looking down on vocational school as “lesser” than college.

    • Erusian says:

      I think the real issue with education is that you get what you measure. How do you measure if someone knows math? You give them a math problem and ask them for the solution. This optimizes teaching people how to get the solution to math problems and only teaching them mathematics insofar as it’s useful to that end. For example, they have no need to know how pi is derived or even what pi is. They only need to memorize the relevant formulae and there you go.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Well the problem is *most* mathematics have no direct practical application because unless you are a PHD developing new theorems virtually all *computation* can and is done with machines.

        But since any random test of mental ability tests the ability to perform any other mental task, test scores on the ability to derive pi will indicate the person might be good at operating the software that solves the practical business problems. (perhaps involving the pi constant)

        Beyond reading writing and arithmetic it’s unlikely that any curriculum would survive the changing needs of modernity.

        • Erusian says:

          Most things learned in school in general have no direct practical application. I learned how to write but I have never, outside of a school context, written a five paragraph essay. The question is what theory we choose to teach and we’ve chosen to teach to what the government measures, which leads to cargo cults.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I haven’t watched Yes, Minister. I have been wasting my life.

      The most important question is, what sort of education enables people to write something that good?

      Seriously, I suspect the underlying problem is lack of a clear vision of what education is for, so instead we have a system is running on habit.

      Also, I have a feeling that children are separated from adults who are doing visibly useful work, and this eliminates one major sort of motivation.

      • MorningGaul says:

        The most important question is, what sort of education enables people to write something that good?

        To paraphrase Humphrey, going to the university is probably enough. Either of them will do.

        As an aside, amongst old BBC tv shows, I strongly recommend “I, Claudius” for a 10-episode theatrical depiction of the life of the Emperor Claudius.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I haven’t watched Yes, Minister. I have been wasting my life.

        It’s important to note that YM, especially in its early seasons, is practically a documentary despite being presented as farcical satire.

        One of the major sources the writers drew upon was Richard Crossman’s “Diaries of a Cabinet Minister”, which are pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: Crossman was Minister of Housing and later Secretary of State for Social Services in Harold Wilson’s government in the late 1960s, and Crossman kept detailed diaries during that period which were published as memoirs after Crossman’s death. The writers apparently also relied heavily on private interviews with two senior members of Wilson’s political staff (Marcia Falkender and Bernard Donoughue) and some anonymous senior civil servants.

  26. LeSigh says:

    Has something happened in the month or so to popularize the term “Overton window?” I’m suddenly seeing people use it (often incorrectly) places other than here. It’s a bit disconcerting, like suddenly hearing your grandmother use teenager slang.

    • Statismagician says:

      Can you say more? I, at least, haven’t noticed this, where are you seeing the term that you wouldn’t have expected to?

      • LeSigh says:

        Mostly Reddit (where I’ve seen it misused as “you’re extremist and you can tell I’m right because Jargon) & real-life conversations. Possibly in random articles I’ve read over the last few weeks. It just struck me because I’ve seen/heard it several times recently when before that my only exposure to it was from political science classes and the delightful nerds around here.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The term “Overton Window” has been used on some irregular basis in news coverage of politics for quite a long time. Long enough that I don’t remember when I read/heard it first.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Might be worth checking google analytics. Use of phrases like this spread exponentially. It might have nothing to do with this month necessarily and just the fact that it finally ‘spread’ to peope you noticed.

      Otherwise The only thing i can think of *in the last month* is something involving certain conservative activist groups where people were claiming that the leaders of said group were taking political positions to the left of Obama’s 2008 campaign.

    • Aftagley says:

      …So your saying that discussing the Overton window has entered the Overton window?

  27. The Nybbler says:

    So, tuberculosis. Another one of those diseases where you get a treatment but it doesn’t really change the already-downward trend. Not just a fat marker on a log-log graph either. Wikipedia has a graph. Streptomycin helped a bit, a vaccine not at all. So what caused that mad pre-1947 drop? Anti-spitting campaigns? Maybe, though there seems to be some drop before that.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I would log transform it. In log terms, streptomycin accomplished as much in 10 years as had been achieved in the previous 80. In absolute terms, much less. But it is definitely worth asking what happened in those 80 years. My guess is always sanitation and nutrition, but if that’s right, it’s pretty hard to tell.

      I always quote Lewis Thomas:

      The price [of cure] is never as high as the cost of managing the same diseases during the earlier stages of no-technology or halfway technology…Pulmonary tuberculosis had similar episodes in its history. There was a sudden enthusiasm for the surgical removal of infected lung tissue in the early 1950s, and elaborate plans were being made for new and expensive installations for major pulmonary surgery in tuberculosis hospitals, and then INH and streptomycin came along and the hospitals themselves were closed up.

    • Statismagician says:

      What, specifically, do you mean about individual treatment not affecting trends? This is clearly not true in the literal sense, but there are any number of artifactual factors which could be involved at the population level depending on definitions.

      EDIT: word choice.

    • ana53294 says:

      Pausterization? Infection by milk seems to still happen in third-world countries.

  28. salvorhardin says:

    Have very close elections gotten more common recently? Are there any metrics tracking this? And if so, do we have any insight into causes? I can tell a speculative story about turnout arms races and candidates getting better at figuring out and appealing to the median voter, but that’s pure guessing.

    • meh says:

      my guess is that in yesteryear, governor of kentucky was just not a big national story.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Speculation from the GWBush election: major parties have gotten equally good at campaigning, so close elections are more likely. I have no opinion about whether this is true.

    • b_jonas says:

      I think that’s just how it looks like because we’ve had two very important elections that are close to a tie, and their effects are still important so we remember them: the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election. Most other elections weren’t that close to a tie.

  29. EMP says:

    At the age of 26 with only a single failed relationship under my belt, in my darkest moments I fantasize about a technocratic solution to the massive coordination problem that is modern dating. With the fertility problems that plague the modern world I can see such a thing feasibly being implemented in a country like China, Singapore, or Japan. It would be used to facilitate matchmaking and eventual marriages so as to help remedy failing birth rates; in this light this discussion won’t be entirely fantastical. I’ll briefly explain a bare bones implementation of such a system that I’ve been thinking about:

    0. A website much like any modern dating website.
    1. Mandatory enrollment at the age of 23, voluntary at 18.
    2. Psychological and cognitive evaluation.
    3. Attractiveness evaluation, on the basis of some machine learning system.
    4. Let the algorithm use this information to match people.
    5. Options, filters, etc, for those who trust their own judgment over the algorithm.

    Perhaps some people sign up and never update their information ever again, but I imagine that most people would use rather than not use, given the massively expanded pool to choose from when compared to other apps on the market. I suppose some would use merely for casual sex, rather than relationships, but I’ll say that’s more of a feature than a bug. Maybe this exacerbates inequality in the dating market as well? Hypergamy to the extreme? I suppose some might complain about availability for the poor who don’t have computers or smartphones or whatever, but… we’ll just put those people aside for now as this is at least supposed to be eugenic.

    How would you feel about a system like this being implemented? Any improvements? How do you feel about systems like these in principle?

    • ECD says:

      How do I feel about governmentally mandated match-making for eugenic purposes?


    • Lambert says:

      dude, just get Tinder.

    • meh says:

      anyway, your system sounds like any other dating ap just opt out instead of opt in

      • EMP says:

        Yes, exactly. Also ideally it would be run scientifically and have strong sorting on the basis of real measured traits. I prefer this method to answers to questions. I think that questions are just a proxy for what we actually want to measure most of the time, which is personality. Of course there are some questions that actually are valuable, the obvious ones you know. “Do you want to have kids?” Those sorts.

    • quanta413 says:

      How do I feel about injecting yet another bureaucracy into life (my future children’s lives at this point)?

      Pretty negatively.

      There are already online dating sites like OkCupid. What positive things does this bring to the table that that doesn’t? Ok Cupid has (4) and (5). And since people can just lie on psychological evaluations, it’s got a psychological evaluation (half of (2)) too. I think Ok Cupid also ranks hotness too; that’s (3).

      So basically you’ve added (1.) It’s mandatory. I hate (1) because mandatory stuff is rarely a positive good; sometimes it’s the least bad thing but this isn’t one of those cases (like mandatory car insurance if you drive a car on the roads). If someone doesn’t want to spend the extreme low effort required to get on OkCupid (I sure didn’t; I met people the old-fashioned way), why would you want to make them do it? It’s like a punishment to the person who doesn’t want their information out there and a punishment to everyone who actually would want to use the service (now they have to wade through dead profiles up to whatever cutoff time you decide to deactivate profiles).

      And you added (2.) cognitive evaluation. If people want to ask each other for their SAT scores they can. You’re trying to route around that this is considered gauche in most cases. Not that I don’t enjoy gauche things sometimes. Join MENSA if you’re really into that.

      Oh and you’ve thrown in some sort of unspecified eugenics (that weeds out poor people) in a mandatory system. It’s at this point that I think it’s more likely you’re pulling my leg than not.

      • EMP says:

        What is the advantage of this system over OKCupid? OKCupid has a rather limited pool, I think around 1 million users? When you divide this number by the various metropolitan areas around the country, it’s not a very sizable number at all. My alternative system would include literally everyone of dating age in the country. I think the benefits of an expanded pool are obvious, so no need to cover it in depth. The biggest benefit of an expanded pool are for those that exist at the tail end of a distribution for a particular trait. By making the pool much larger, you increase the frequency of this trait, a trait which may end up being rather important when it comes to compatibility and dating. Second of all, there are as of now, certain people that are selected for and against in a system of online dating. As for what kind of person is being selected for, I’ll leave that up in the air. It doesn’t really matter. Any sort of strong selection effects are bad as it functionally reduces the size of the pool for certain individuals.

        The problem with real world dating is how restricted it is. Theoretically there could be someone very compatible with you living in your city, but you would never meet them. They never went to your University, or if they were you never ran into each other. If they’re not friends with your friends, or work where you work, you would never meet them. All attempts at trying to solve this problem in real life are just exposing yourself to large groups of people and hoping something happens through chance. Oh, maybe if I go to this party, I’ll meet someone random that I like. The problem with this obviously is that this selects again, against certain kinds of people (like introverts) and is kind of random. It’s really easy to understand this on an intuitive level if you live in say, Tokyo or New York where you see massive amounts of people who you know you will likely never ever meet. Of course there is the opposite scenario to consider as well. There very well may be someone extremely compatible with you but they happen to live on the other side of the country. Under normal circumstances you would never meet this person.

        Online dating fixes this problem by expanding your pool of people and sorts them for you on the basis of some sort of compatibility. For online dating to work optimally it needs a higher participation rate. It doesn’t work well if nobody participates. The mandatory enrollment makes everyone participate. And because everyone participates, it out competes all other models, and becomes the most efficient through algorithmic sorting. Like I said earlier, it’s a coordination problem.

        I can’t imagine most people would lie on a personality assessment, if they did, oh well, statistical noise, it happens. Lizardman’s constant and all. OKCupid, as far as I’m aware doesn’t use Big Five or anything like that, I suppose I should have specified we’d be using that. The cognitive test, again, is just a way to sort appropriate people like the personality test does. Same with attractiveness.

        Lastly, for the poor people thing, I more meant that there could be some possible complaints about how certain people don’t have ready access to electricity, internet, computer, etc, and those people would be disadvantaged if this were implemented. It’s a similar sort of argument that anti voter ID people make. I think those people are a minority though, and I’m not really sympathetic to the plight of the ultra poor really. Plus I don’t want to rehash that argument here either, so I’ll just uh… brush them aside.

        • quanta413 says:

          Theoretical returns to scale are the not the same as actual returns to scale.

          The mandatory enrollment makes everyone participate. And because everyone participates, it out competes all other models, and becomes the most efficient through algorithmic sorting.

          You can’t make them participate unless you’re also going to enforce a mandatory date quota. You’re just filling up the service with real profiles that may as well be dead. That will just make things worse for anyone left who actually tries to use it.

          Making an OkCupid profile is not a high barrier. Or you can make a Tinder profile or whatever. There are a ton of options. Total users is more like tens of millions when I go look at a few random stats than one million. So you’re filling the pool largely with people who don’t want to be in the pool or want to be in a different pool.

          If your suggestion was that the economics of dating should favor a monopoly by one dating company (with one site or multiple sites for different purposes) that’d be one thing. Why don’t network effects in the dating market lead to a single winner like Facebook is the big social network? That’s an interesting question.

          But this is a problem that will solve itself. There is no real coordination problem solved by a mandated dating site. If there’s more demand, a larger and larger fraction of people will get onto dating sites. If everyone wanted to be on the same site, they’d get on the same site.

          • EMP says:

            Correct, participation cannot be forced. My line of thinking though was that people would switch over to whatever site has the most users, so most would just end up using it anyway. The amount of users in a social network is the most important thing. You used Facebook as an example. Why are people all using Facebook rather than Minds? You understand. In fact Facebook is leveraging this power and creating a dating site using their already expansive user base. Who knows how that will go.
            As for the inactive profiles, just have some sort of sorting based on time last active. It’s not that big of a deal.

            Yes, they don’t want to be in the pool, because they think perhaps erroneously, that the optimal way for them doesn’t involve online dating. They might actually be right, but if they were forced to join, they would end up being wrong. There’s no way to get people to switch over voluntarily. However if they did, then there would be a good reason to voluntarily stay. Imagine I create a new social media network, BookFace that for whatever reason, is just objectively better than Facebook. Everyone would have a better time if they switched over to BookFace, but there is no incentive to because everyone else is on FaceBook. I view this online dating thing as a similar situation. The only way to bypass this is to force people.

        • LeSigh says:

          I think the benefits of an expanded pool are obvious, so no need to cover it in depth.

          More people to receive unsolicited dick pics from? No thanks.

          To put it more charitably: I think you may be looking at this from a very masculine perspective.

          To put it in a less gendered way: those who are outliers on the “positive” end already have a large pool to chose from, provided they live in a decently large city. Expanding the pool is not likely to help them much.

          If such a program were mandatory, I would expect the non- desperate to opt out, even if they were not currently partnered.

          • EMP says:

            More people to receive unsolicited dick pics from? No thanks.

            I want to clarify here that the quantity of people that you personally interact with would likely remain the same. It is just that the initial pool of people that is pared down to form your optimal pool is larger. This theoretically should give you the most optimal of candidates.

            To put it in a less gendered way: those who are outliers on the “positive” end already have a large pool to chose from, provided they live in a decently large city.

            Do they really though? I suppose your definition of large is more inclusive than mine. For my disagreements, I would say just read the second paragraph of my post above.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          Why don’t network effects in the dating market lead to a single winner?

          I think they have done. My impression is that the number of people who exclusively use non-Tinder dating apps is very small, despite the fact that Tinder is obviously suboptimal for many usecases (as I understand it, the only work they do towards trying to match efficiently is showing you profiles in a similar area of a generic attractiveness scale). Also consider that Tinder, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish, Hinge and are all owned by the same group.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Online dating doesn’t need to work optimally. Dating markets don’t need to work optimally at all, they just need to function well enough to make people happy. Introverts are still meeting and marrying through the currently available online platforms, so I’m not sure adding another one is really going to help at all.

          Also, the last thing my daughter needs is the US federal government running analysis on her dating preferences and filing it away.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Spend some time on red pill forums. The culture is an acquired taste, but most advice is solid: lift, dress well, get your life in order, go out and socialize. And consider I put “lift” at least 4 times in that list.
      Uh, you said “hypegamy” – so you do go there. Then just follow the advice.

      Ontopic… hmm. I don’t think we’re going to get to a “final solution” for dating any time soon, because it’s very much in flux. And I’m actually chuckling when I imagine a government project to do this – they can barely do anything else. Look up “assortative matching” – no matter what the particular tools are, we’re going to have a lot more of that, at least for relationships. As for hookups, yes, hypergamy is a thing. Men don’t really have a limit to the number of partners they desire, and women want to hook up with the best guy then can – if he happens to be a successful dater, that’s usually a plus for a short term thing.

      • Garrett says:

        > lift

        What’s the solution for people who find exercise nothing but painful and fatiguing? I understand that there are people who experience a “runners’ high” – I’ve never encountered anything like that. Other strength training leaves me with a strange feeling repetitions in, this general weariness that makes me want to stop or die; it’s not pain from damage or burning from overuse. To the extent I “feel good” about the process, it’s the stopping, much like the feeling when you stop banging your head against a wall.

        FWIW, I also generally don’t get any sense of endorphins from spicy food, either. It’s happened to me twice so I can appreciate it, but not in any way reliable to justify the general experience. Also, capsicum tastes really nasty to me, but I’ll take strong horseradish or mustard.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I don’t get a runner’s high either. And I don’t even get a “pump”, whatever that is – it’s supposed to be a lot more frequent. I do have a tip for you:

          1. A set should last until you can do about 2 repetitions until you physically (not mentally) can’t do anymore. Outer limit us about 4. That’s the definition of a set – if we’re talking about “a set of 20”, it means somewhere at 22 you just can’t go anymore. It’s not as grueling as it sounds, exertion rises exponentially in the last repetition – which is why you actually want to avoid going to the very last.

          2. You make muscle with sets of 3 to 30 repetitions. I.e., given the above, with weights such as you can do at most about 5-32 repetitions, and you stop 1-2 short

          Now, in this interval (3-30) there’s A LOT of latitude of genetics and personal preference. Women are usually more to the higher end, for example. Sprinters to the lower end, endurance athletes to the higher. So here you’re free to test and see what is actually fun – and yes, there’s a good change (I’m putting it at over 50%) that by playing with that interval you’ll find a range that fits you. You decide it’s fun to go heavy and do mostly sets of 3-4 repetitions – do it. From your description this sounds quite likely.

        • Ketil says:

          What’s the solution for people who find exercise nothing but painful and fatiguing?

          0. Uh, it’s kind of the point. No pain, no gain. That said:

          1. Find a type of exercise you enjoy doing. Orienteering is a lot more fun to me than running, which is incredibly boring, and swimming is even worse. Martial arts is great fun. Most people like running around with friends and some kind of ball involved.

          2. Do it more. Running was always terrible, but after I started to get in better shape, the fatigue and pain were still there, but less of a negative.

          3. Don’t. If it’s really that bad, impress the girls with your wit, intelligence, sleight of hand, or whatever. Many roads lead to Rome, find one that works for you.

        • LesHapablap says:

          As an aside, someone strongly recommended creatine on here several months ago and I started taking it but there never seemed to be much affect on actual strength. Googling was not helpful: is creatine actually completely safe and very effective? Are there any other things I should be taking?

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Yes, it’s in the no-brainer category. No side effects and pretty strong effects. Well, almost no side-effects – it has a very weak link with hair thinning (and it happens to be a touchy subject with me). But otherwise – yep.

            It also depends on your diet – it has a much higher impact if you’re deficient. If I remember correctly (it’s been a while) risk categories are vegetarians and seniors, and positive effects can include even a bit of raise in IQ.

      • EMP says:

        And I’m actually chuckling when I imagine a government project to do this – they can barely do anything else.

        Singapore has tried to remedy their birthrate problems with similar social engineering projects. You can read about a few of them here.. though it is a bit outdated. When I imagine a government undertaking this sort of thing, I imagine a more competently well run government. Obviously current day USA with all of its other problems would not be able to pull it off. Singapore under LKY? Modern day China? I have a bit more faith.

        Yes, I am rather curious if much like Tinder, a site like this would INCREASE hypergamy. Perhaps Tinder has already maximized it though, and anyone who wants to act hypergamously is on Tinder already doing so.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Good article, thanks. By all accounts Singapore seems to have a pretty interesting government.

          Yes, I am rather curious if much like Tinder, a site like this would INCREASE hypergamy. Perhaps Tinder has already maximized it though, and anyone who wants to act hypergamously is on Tinder already doing so.

          I still think there is a big difference between hookups and relationships. The latter must have some degree of balance – no matter how picky women are, in the end there’s only one man for each of them. I don’t think it even makes sense to talk about hypergamy here – AFAIK, in US there are already more women college graduates.

          The former on the other hand… you can have a lot of disruption there, and I don’t think we’re even close its full potential. Normalization of sugar dating, for example. Fewer and shorter LTRs. Open relationships. Long term friendzoning. And that’s all yesterday – I can’t even imagine what tomorrow will bring.

          • Aapje says:

            Balance can exist in time, as well. Or to put it differently, it is possible that women spend part of their life in a relationship, where there are more men with no relationships at all and more men with more relationships, compared to women.

          • Radu Floricica says:


            Are you sure? It kinda sounds like you’re talking about hookups. I think it’s clear if we talk about two different metrics. Relationships -> time spent in a relationship. Hookups -> number of partners.

            For hookups it’s pretty clear, you’ll end up with studs and incels, and god knows how many other types of relationships like sugar or friendzoned or FBR or whatever.

            For relationships… You could have men that have 30 years, vs 3 women that have 10 years each. But you could also have the reverse, women that like to be committed and are 30 years in 3 LTRs, vs 3 men that are 10 year LTR and 20 single. It’s not clear to me in which direction things are moving.

          • Aapje says:

            More people are divorcing or leaving their partner, even if they already have children.

            It also seems to me that men are more often “not relationship material” for their entire lives, while for women it is much more age-related.

            You see this in the complaints that single men and women have, as well. I can’t remember seeing young women complain about having no prospects, but merely about only having poor prospects, while plenty of men complain about the former.

    • whale says:

      I have been using online dating apps for about six months, and my impression is that there are already way too many people using these apps that have little to no intention of actually going on dates or even starting conversations. I cannot imagine that forcing even more unwilling daters onto apps will do anything but make online dating harder and even more inefficient.

    • It’s interesting to compare and contrast people’s willingness to support coercion in war vs. fertility. Looking at the history of war, it appears completely pointless 90% of the time. And in the remaining 10% of the time where the war could conceivably make the world better, I can totally sympathize with the draft dodger who says “yes, there is injustice in this foreign land, but it’s not worth me dying to fix it.” Yet few take offense at the idea of conscription even if they have practical objections to doing it in their country, even if they are generally opposed to war. Few see historical conscription as a great injustice.

      Yet if you consider the use of coercion to promote fertility, suddenly people scream “the government has NO BUSINESS in this area.” It seems to me that a 1.2 fertility rate is a rather more serious threat to the future of the nation than the usual gee oh political war justifications. You could take a globalist stance and say that South Korea could maintain its population by importing Indonesians. But the same mentality would also lead you to not care much whether Alsace-Lorraine is French or German. What is “France” and “Germany” anyway? An abstraction!

      I think it comes down to status. War may be hell, but warriors are sexy, even the most ardent pacifist thinks so. So you don’t want to be seen as too sympathetic to the man who whines that he doesn’t want to be sent into war. In contrast, raising children is seen as a low-status occupation, so you have rather more sympathy for people who loudly proclaim they don’t want to be coerced into it.

      • Aapje says:

        1. The West has been shying away from drafting soldiers.
        2. The people they typically draft are not considered the most sympathetic (young men).
        3. Even if the more sympathetic get drafted, they typically get plushy jobs that provided a lot of sexy warrior photo ops, but not the hardcore experience.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        It seems to me that a 1.2 fertility rate is a rather more serious threat to the future of the nation than the usual gee oh political war justifications.

        It may seem that way to you, but I assure you that not everyone (and indeed virtually no-one) shares that impression.

        • albatross11 says:

          That doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            No, and perhaps invisible pixies are a greater threat than either. But if I were to assert that I would recognise the need for some sort of supporting argument.

    • DinoNerd says:

      1. Mandatory enrollment at the age of 23, voluntary at 18


      Let the algorithm use this information to match people

      Judging by what various AI algorithms choose for me in less consequential areas, the results would probably be worse than the current non-system, and orders of magnitude worse than traditional human matchmakers.

      given the massively expanded pool to choose from when compared to other apps on the market.

      Last time I came within a hundred miles of dating/matchmaking apps, which was not this century, heterosexual people faced a huge imbalance. Anyone who admitted to being female was swamped with responses, from males, probably even if she was explicitly seeking only female responses. Anyone male got few or no responses, except possibly males seeking males.

      The point here is that females may not want more – they may not even have time to sort through all the responses they are getting. They will probably want quality, defined in their own personal way – attractiveness is not an objective attribute like hair colour.

      How would you feel about a system like this being implemented? Any improvements? How do you feel about systems like these in principle?

      I don’t like it.
      – I’d much rather have the humans in control of the choices offered to them. I.e. people self describe (accurately?!) and also describe what they do and do not want (“absolutely no matches who dye their hair”, “must be shorter than me”, …)
      – The goal of breeding is vastly over-rated. If the human population were to stay on its current non-replacement-rate trajectory for a few generations, our collective grandchildren would be better off.
      – Mandatory implies government coercion, and probably government control; I can’t see this tending to result in what the users actually want – instead there will be political pressure for something absurd, which will wind up implemented. (Big businesses are bad enough about not giving users what they want, but governments tend to be even worse.)
      – if everyone is picking from the same pool, based on the same criteria of attractiveness, those not deemed sufficiently attractive will still be SOL. I’d actually expect an implementation like this to reduce the numbers that successfully find partners, by rubbing their noses in the concept that they are “settling” for someone sub-standard, because as a sub-standard mate themselves they don’t have a chance at anyone “better”. Much much better to simply meet unattached people in the course of daily life, and respond to individuals as individuals, without an explicit rating scale.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        “The goal of breeding is vastly over-rated. If the human population were to stay on its current non-replacement-rate trajectory for a few generations, our collective grandchildren would be better off.”

        Assuming they’re secure enough to reap the windfall of less resource consumption, lower property prices, and labor scarcity. Most world leaders for whom this would occur in their own countries are fiercely opposed to letting that happen.

        • “they’re secure enough to reap the windfall of less resource consumption”

          This is vastly over-rated, just look at resource scarcity over the last 50 years. Yes, some of the technological advances that occurred would have happened anyway with less population, but not all of them. And then consider all the technological advances not connected to resource scarcity. Half your medical advanced, half your computer programmers, imagine them gone. You’d have cheaper oil and copper. Not much GDP goes to oil and copper anyway.

          “lower property prices”

          This is more apparent than real. High property prices are due to one of two things:

          1. Land actually being objective more desirable.
          2. Supply restrictions.

          There would be less objectively desirable land if there were fewer people because being next to people is what usually makes land objectively desirable. That and being on the coast in places like California where the ocean moderates the temperature in the summer. So while it would be cheaper to live on the coast of California, most wouldn’t be able to do it even with a lower population. And it would be cheaper to live in Manhattan because living there would be less desirable with fewer people. 2. is a political decision unconnected to population.

          “labor scarcity”

          The scarcity doesn’t translate into higher wages because there would be half the people competing for work as laborers and half the people offering to hire laborers.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            For the land scarcity thing, I don’t deny that region to region, zoning is the main culprit of outrageous home price growth, in the united states. But E.G. Japan, zoning is quite lax, public transportation is quite good, but even then especially with the tendency of employment to concentrate you have the issue of landowners eating a lot of the income of workers.

            In the American context you’d have to ‘build out’ Texas style — because you don’t have the kind of infrastructure that’s well suited to density without crippling traffic jams. Problem here is that that doesn’t stop your nations capitalists from all wanting to concentrate the employment opportunities in a handful of places.

            As for labor scarcity I don’t assume or believe particularly that labor supply and labor demand rise uniformly in the face of replacement migration, so i don’t expect them to fall uniformly either in the face of replacement migration. When people talk about the need for replacement migration it’s in the context of “Labor shortages” (we can’t find workers at the wage we’re currently attempting to offer) Not capital shortgages. Also, unlike labor, capital can cross borders without the corresponding capitalist crossing borders.

        • albatross11 says:

          Assuming they’re secure enough to reap the windfall of less resource consumption, lower property prices, and labor scarcity. Most world leaders for whom this would occur in their own countries are fiercely opposed to letting that happen.

          I think this is based on a bad model of economic growth. Fewer mouths to feed = fewer hands to do the work and fewer minds to invent new things. If the population of the world declined to 2 billion over the next century, I think it’s very likely that the world would end up much poorer as a result. We’re not living in a world where the total economic output is limited by how much land we have, we’re living in a world where it’s mostly driven by how many people can work and what work they can do (and capital accumulation/depreciation).

        • DinoNerd says:

          When I was in college, a professor pointed out that the (then) total human population could fit into a (hypothetical) cluster of arcologies, filling no more than the land area of some US state (I forget which one). While it was impressive at the time, I didn’t have the context of things like horrific social housing projects etc. to realize I really didn’t want to live in one of those arcologies. I also didn’t have the experience to think about the amount of land area that would be required to feed all these people, or bottlenecks getting those materials in and out of the arcologies. So his conclusion of “there’s plenty of room” seemed quite reasonable to me at the time.

          I like having convenient access to a not too crowded outdoors, and I very much like there to be space for non-domestic animals etc. I once read a science fiction story involving a space faring species whose planets had a 3 species ecology – one plant, one herbivore, and them. They were quite happy this way – and it’s possible humans might be equally happy, even if we reduced the planet to nothing but domesticated species and a few surviving pests. But I see that as a pretty horrible way to live.

          As for needing more people in order to defend ourselves from our neighbours – I don’t see mass mobilizations being much of a thing in a world of cyberwarfare, drones, etc. Economic “defence” is more complicated, but I’m not convinced more warm bodies matter as much as the system under which they are governed.

          For the rest, if labor scarcity were an important thing, countries with below-replacement-rate birthrates wouldn’t have unemployment, and would have wages growing a lot faster than inflation. That doesn’t seem to be the case; the number of consumers goes down as fast as the number of producers (a bit later, because of retirees, but the trend is the same).

          I agree that most world leaders would oppose this; plenty of them insist that it’s important to breed more of their type of people. As high status members of their society, they are less affected by scarcity, and lose status when they have fewer peons to rule. But as one of those peons, albeit one financially better off than most, I really don’t care about the same things as my “leaders”.

          • albatross11 says:

            Manhattan is at about 26,000 people / km^2. That density would let you fit the entire population of the world into Nevada. Shove us into Montana, instead, and there will be plenty of room to route around mountains, lakes, rivers, etc. Or if you want a more mild climate, maybe shove us all into Iowa and Missouri.

            While Manhattan has its problems, it would be hard to claim that it’s unlivable–it even has a big park right in the middle of it, and it’s an extremely sought-after place to live.

            So imagine Montana (or Iowa/Missouri) covered entirely with dense city, and then most of the rest of the world converted to parks, mines, farms, etc., each with a sparse dusting of people managing the robots doing the work. That’s not the world I’d choose, myself, but it doesn’t sound like a dystopia, exactly.

          • Nick says:

            Humans have been living in reasonably dense cities for a couple of thousand years. It was only with the advent of the car that we decided we wanted all sprawl, all the time. It doesn’t even have to look like a cyberpunk dystopia: you can get denser cities than most of us live in today in like 4 story buildings if you aren’t dedicating 50% of the city’s land to parking and another appreciable percentage to gigantic roads and highways.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’m fairly sure urbanization is actually a recent phenomenon; while dense cities have long existed, most people didn’t live in them, instead living in farming villages or other such less-dense locations.

          • DinoNerd says:

            @albatross11 How much farm land would it take to feed this Manhattan-density human reserve? Or the same reserve, with the population (and hence land area) doubled? etc.

    • LadyJane says:

      A massively invasive technocratic “solution” to a problem that doesn’t actually exist, which you proposed because you’re bitter about your last relationship not working out? Yeah, how about no.

      Really not sure why you thought this particular idea would go over well with people, especially in a somewhat libertarian-leaning space like this.

      • It’s only libertarian leaning if even that, and while it would be less likely to believe a market failure exists in a random situation than would the average person, it would be more likely to consider a market failure in places where the common dogma says that market failure can’t exist.

      • EMP says:

        What fun is discussing ideas with an audience that would agree with them? That is part of the reason why SSC and Rationalist groups are fun. People with varying backgrounds that are able to talk to each other without a massive flame war breaking out over disagreements. I will admit, I’m more right leaning than most people here, but I appreciate the good faith discussion.

        I would say however, that this problem does exist. At least the problem that it’s trying to address, low TFR. As I mentioned above, programs like these being used to try to fix it are nothing new. Singapore has had government run online match making service as early as 2002. I’ve also heard from an autistic friend of mine recently that in the UK, there are similar sorts of match making services for high functioning autists. These are real life rather than online though.

        I’m not really bitter, but I guess I am pretty autistic for suggesting such a thing.

        • LadyJane says:

          Fertility rates aren’t low because people can’t find dates, they’re low because people in committed relationships are actively choosing not to have children, or at least not that many children. Most people can find dates.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            IME there is a large population of people who cannot – or at least, not under terms they find acceptable. (Or, occasionally, can find dates but not dates that lead anywhere). My evidence for this is purely anecdotal, not statistical, and I’d be interested to see statistics if you have some?

            I do feel that a system that solved the sorting problem and made it much easier to find people you were likely to click with would be a godsend. I don’t think the described system above does so – I could be wrong, but I think the problem is the sorting algorithms more than the pool size, and as others have pointed out a government-run mandatory system is very open to abuse – but I do think there exists a problem a solution to which would benefit a great many people, even if I don’t expect the above system to solve it.

          • LadyJane says:

            In retrospect, I might’ve overstated my case with “most people can find dates.” My larger point was that there are a lot of factors responsible for decreasing fertility rates in developed nations (e.g. access to contraception, gender equality in the workplace, socioeconomic incentives to delay having children until later in life, cultural values that discourage large families), and “it’s just too hard to find people to reproduce with” isn’t one of those factors, or at least not a major one.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Rates of virginity have gone way up in Japan and I believe in the US. This is a good enough proxy for ‘can’t find dates.’

            Online dating may be a big part of the problem of dating these days generally though. Here’s a twitter thread someone linked to before that makes that case, simultaneously debunking the ‘women are out-educating and out-earning men and this is screwing up the dating market’ theory. It is heavy on econ jargon so I can’t quite follow it, would be interested in hearing thoughts on it:

            A Good Man is Getting Hard to Find?

          • Clutzy says:

            Its, IMO, not just “people” its the class of people who used to have lots: The upper middle class. And that is because the cost of children has exploded and the financial stability of people in fertile age ranges has eroded.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:


            I don’t know if the problem of mate search is responsible for declining birth rates. I do know multiple people who either had no children, or fewer than they wanted, due to getting married too late (trusting their word for how many they wanted, but I consider most of the people I’m thinking of very trustworthy). So whether or not it’s “causing the problem” (haven’t looked into whether declining birth rates are actually a problem as opposed to something with complicated effects we don’t fully understand, also some of my examples are last generation; I don’t think mate search being hard is a new problem), making it easier to find someone compatible seems likely to increase birth rate by enabling those people who want children – but only with the right person – to have them. And unlike several of the other things you list, it* would be a clearly good way of doing so (unless you consider increasing birth rate itself bad) – no rights are being violated, and it’s made easier for people to fulfill their preferences.

            I’m not actually sure we have substantial disagreements here? But I do want to push a little on this, because I don’t think “people have the number of children they want, and that number is very low” is the entire story. It’s part of the story, and as a libertarian, OK, fair enough, way better than the alternative. But I don’t think it’s all of it.

            *Making sorting easier. The above described system would obviously (speaking as a libertarian again) violate rights, specifically self-ownership – but a voluntarily-entered “better dating app” or some other way of improving the algorithms wouldn’t, and I actually would expect it to have an effect on birth rates.

          • albatross11 says:

            I wonder how much the decline of active participation in churches and lodges and other local community stuff drives the difficulty of people finding dates/mates. It seems like there’s been a long-term trend toward less and less in-person social interaction and informal / weak social ties with your neighbors over time, and that could plausibly lead to fewer opportunities to get set up with the single brother-in-law of someone you’re working with on some church committee.

          • Aapje says:

            It seems to me that the relationship issues are caused by a variety of causes, including:
            – relationships have improved in quality less than other parts of life, causing dissatisfaction with the available opportunities and replacement of partners with other things (in the case of men: porn, video games, )
            – dating apps encouraging bad behavior/attitudes, as well as increasing dissatisfaction by showing many supposedly available people, while most of the aren’t in reality
            – Actual quality becoming ever harder to gauge compared to good marketing
            – Social norms that dictate that decent, normal people can have it all
            – Social norms that encourage selfishness and discourage sacrifice
            – Gendered mating standards being less achievable due to feminism, but not actually being abandoned (in particular female expectations of men)
            – Children having become relatively more expensive

          • acymetric says:


            It is a little hard to say which direction it works, probably a little bit in tandem, but I think the issue is more that people are less likely to be willing to set two people they know up, for various reasons. I can’t think of anyone I know who was introduced to someone they’re dating by mutual friends that way. I believe it used to be much more common (my mom and step-dad were set up by some mutual friends, for instance).

          • LesHapablap says:

            @albatross, @acymetric:

            My link above has a couple graphs that illustrate that both meeting someone through church and meeting someone through friends have plummeted in the last 20 years:

            link text
            link text

        • Garrett says:

          The solution to the proposed fertility problem is fairly simple: ban contraceptives and elective abortions.

          The first is relatively easy as the most effective methods are medical devices/implants, and by banning them it takes all of the major pharmaceutical companies out of the running. Making your own at home will always be possible, but quality control issues will limit the number of people who want to get involved.

          Abortion is harder when there are “back-alley” options. But once again it will have a significant impact.

          • Protagoras says:

            People generally only have slightly more children than they try to have. It is impossible to restrict all the methods people employ to control their reproduction (unless you literally force them to have PiV sex with one another with government agents watching); you can at best prohibit some more reliable methods and force them to use less reliable methods, but the evidence suggests this will have only very marginal effects. If you want people to have signficantly more children, you really need to find a way to encourage them to want more children.

    • albatross11 says:

      Coercion should be a last resort when things are totally broken, not the first tool you reach for. Mandatory participation in a government-run eugenic dating site sounds like an amazingly bad idea in our current world. Maybe in some weird SFnal world where the human race is dying out it would make sense, but not in anything like our current world, where most people manage to date and marry and the species seems to be carrying on just fine!

    • Purplehermann says:

      I’ve thought about something similar, for a demographic who really want to find a partner for life ASAP:

      1) Pay $2000 deposit to get in.

      2) Fill in a full personality test (the type used for businesses, they have a metric for the level of integrity the questionnaire was answered with, and is designed to let you know what type of people (based on same questionnaire) they are compatible with, it takes a few hours and is pretty darn accurate from what i remember).

      3) Fill in religous and political associations and respective desired versions in mate as well as desired range of children and location if important, age, views on substances, smoking etc..
      (Basically things likely to be a deal breaker, option to add dealbreakers maybe)

      4) use machine learning to find your “type”

      5) submit multiple photos(to accurately find what you look like)

      6) Program matches you automatically and finds you dates, each first date is payed for (up to $150) from your deposits, if you don’t go on a date (within some reasonable time limit, like a month or two) you lose $200 from your deposit. (If you get low enough on funds you have to refill to 2k to continue, if you get hitched from the site you pay $100 as a thank you)

      7) you can deactivate so you don’t get dates, but after a year and a half or so you’d lose your account.

      This would make sure everyone is totally serious, the software and detailed check of preferences would make sure of good matches, you only pay for your dates, not going on a date that is likely a good match, and $100 if you find your life partner on the site.

      I am considering actually making a site like this at some point, so thoughts are appreciated

      • cassander says:

        that’s effectively how matchmaking services work.

        • Purplehermann says:

          Do you have a matchmaking service that suggests matches based on your actual appearance preference?
          Or one that is built with strong incentives to give you a good match, and strong incentives for you to go on recommended dates?
          Or one that has comprehensive personality tests (the type companies pay for when hiring)?
          If you do I’d like to know, could be useful to see working examples.

          • cassander says:

            Do you have a matchmaking service that suggests matches based on your actual appearance preference?

            I don’t but I’m sure they exist.

            Or one that is built with strong incentives to give you a good match, and strong incentives for you to go on recommended dates?

            Well, no dating service really has the former. And latter is that you’re paying a lot of money for them.

            Or one that has comprehensive personality tests (the type companies pay for when hiring)?

            Again, I’m sure there are ones that do, though I doubt they work any better than most corporate personality tests.

          • Purplehermann says:

            I haven’t heard of one that did the first, why do you think that this is essentially how matchmaking services work when you don’t know of any that do this?

            I think outlined above is a good way to make good, strong incentives for the site and for the daters without costing much ($100 for finding your life partner isn’t very expensive in my opinion).

            You seem to be implying that corporate personality tests don’t work well, why do you think that (if you do)?

          • cassander says:

            @Purplehermann says:

            I haven’t heard of one that did the first, why do you think that this is essentially how matchmaking services work when you don’t know of any that do this?

            I said I don’t have one that does it, not that I don’t know of one. I’m a single man in my 30s, I get a lot of targeted ads in this vane.

            You seem to be implying that corporate personality tests don’t work well, why do you think that (if you do)?

            They haven’t been proven to be a very useful tool for hiring employees that correlates with performance. And many of them, like myers briggs, are basically astrology.

    • Viliam says:

      I don’t like the “mandatory” aspect of the thing, but it seems to me that a government-made service could avoid some bad incentives of the commercial ones, the most obvious one being: If you find The One and get married, they lose two customers. So the optimal strategy for a commercial match-maker is to provide you many half-good matches; never exactly what you want, but generally good enough to keep you hoping (and paying for their service).

      I never used such service, so all my knowledge is second-hand, but a frequent complaint is that either some important information is completely missing, or that you cannot specify the importance for you. For example, imagine that smoking is an absolute turn-off for you, but the user profile consists of a pre-defined list of questions, and smoking is not one of them. (Yes, people could add “non-smoker” in their description, but you can’t distinguish between non-smokers who forgot to advertise this fact, and smokers who strategically kept silent about it.) On the other hand, sometimes the websites ask too much, and choose based on your compatibility of choices, but maybe a compatibility in some specific thing is unimportant for you. (For example, I like reading science fiction, but I don’t really mind if my partner doesn’t. I don’t want the website to automatically conclude that someone who doesn’t read sci-fi is a bad match for me.) These things seem like something that could be solved, but the existing websites simply don’t have an incentive to do so, because… as I said, too good matches = customers lost.

      But this doesn’t necessarily have to be a government; a non-profit would do.

      • Nornagest says:

        OKCupid used to be pretty good at that, although they pushed most of the complexity onto the user: when you’re answering their personality questions (which range from stuff as touchy and profound as “would you prefer to date someone of the same race?” all the way down to stuff like “do you like anime?”), you get to select your own answer, the answer you’d like to see in a partner, and how important that answer is to you.

        If this sounds gameable, it is, and it gets to be kind of a chore after a couple hundred questions; but it does let you distinguish between “I’m a nonsmoker, and being around smokers makes me homicidally angry” and “I’m a nonsmoker, but I don’t really care if others smoke” and even “I’m a nonsmoker for health reasons, but I think cigarettes are really cool and sexy”.

        Might have changed lately, I haven’t used OKCupid in years.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      Should I be scared of you? I think I should be scared of you.

  30. hash872 says:

    As a centrist liberal technocratic neoliberal wonky type- I am Officially Giving Up on the US solving its healthcare cost issues via (really any) type of regulation that the federal government could possibly pass- and am instead looking to the market to hopefully come up with a fix. I came to this realization gradually, but it sort of crystallized in the last week or so. It doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to whatever Reasonable Center Left Healthcare Proposal that gets cooked up (I’m cautiously open to the public option, especially for those 50+), but I don’t see anything that’s being proposed (even single payer) as addressing the real issue with US healthcare- cost.

    To reduce the cost of healthcare in America- many hundreds of thousands or millions of doctors/nurses/practitioners would have to accept less money for their work (in some cases, a lot less)- and probably several hundreds of thousands of people would have to actually lose their job as it’s obsoleted (billers, coders, admins, the 1-2 people every doctor’s office has to employ just to deal with health insurance companies, etc.) There’s absolutely zero political will to do any of this in the US, and I don’t have to theorize- we see this proven in, say, the absolute inability of the US to implement even the mildest of cost reductions, the Cadillac Tax on very generous healthcare plans. It was passed under Obamacare, has been delayed on a bipartisan basis since then, and now repealing it is one of the few bipartisan things Trump & the Dems can agree on. Here, even the most moderate 1% step towards reduced payments for doctors, nurses & hospitals was viciously fought tooth & nail by the healthcare lobby. Please, tell me again how the US is going to reduce costs to European levels, which would entail at times dramatic cuts to doctor incomes and hospital bottom lines.

    I had sort of a Zen koan moment reading a recent short Tyler Cowen piece entitled ‘Which of these claims is false?’:

    • The Democratic-controlled House just voted to abolish the “Cadillac tax” on employer-supplied health plans.

    • The Independent Payments Advisory Board no longer exists, having been abolished with support from both parties.

    • In the public option for Democratic-controlled Washington State, reimbursement rates were set at up to 160 percent of Medicare levels.

    • Single-payer health care will save America a great amount of money.

    ‘Medicare For All’ seems likely to close dozens & dozens of rural hospitals, which rely on the much higher non-Medicare reimbursement rates. Imagine closing the only hospital in a rural area, which thousands of people rely on- then multiply that for every rural state. Imagine reducing nurse staffing levels to European levels, and tangling with one of the few effective & strong unions in America. Imagine telling all of the doctors in the US (after med school, residencies, fellowships, six figures in debt, etc.) that their income will be reduced by a third or more. Literally none of this is going to happen, even if single payer healthcare is passed tomorrow. There is no real political will for reducing providers’ incomes.

    On the other hand, Mr. Market has at least the potential to do so- I’m particularly intrigued by the proposed joint Amazon-JP Morgan-Berkshire Hathaway health company called Haven, which is purportedly a consortium to limit healthcare costs. One thing’s for sure- without the necessary political will, the only other force powerful enough to prevent hospitals from charging $10 for one (!) throat lozenge is the capitalist system itself.

    (Deeper themes that could be explored- me growing more conservative as I grow older- though, I’m still not opposed to a more government-run healthcare system, I’m just skeptical that it would be an effective cost cutter for a bloated sector. Another possible deeper theme is the inability of representative democracy to tackle entrenched, powerful, rent-seeking parts of society- though to be fair, this seems to be an issue in authoritarian countries too)

    • Guy in TN says:

      None of these proposals are more radical than the changes that occurred during the New Deal, so it’s not like the United States is inherently incapable of harnessing the political will necessary to accomplish universal healthcare (which would probably require nationalization of some hospitals, at least). We just have to decide that its something we want to happen.

      If the question is one simply of political will right now, to me that is one of those things that “isn’t, until it is”. Like, the laws that were passed during the Trump administration didn’t have the “will” to be passed during Obama, the laws from Obama didn’t have the “will” to be passed under Bush, the laws under Bush…and so on. Right now we don’t have the political will, as evidenced by the senate not voting for Medicare For All. In 2020, we probably also won’t have the political will unless the Dems win the Senate and convince Joe Manchin.

      But if premiums rise significantly enough, we may find that “political will” just yet. DC statehood, and controlling the Supreme Court, would also help.

      • hash872 says:

        But if premiums rise significantly enough, we may find that “political will” just yet. DC statehood, and controlling the Supreme Court, would also help

        I think you’re missing me a bit- it’s not a partisan thing, the Dems don’t have the will to force rate cuts on the healthcare industry either. Hospitals are the major employer in tons of districts. As mentioned in the original comment, the fact that the Dems joined with Trump to repeal the Cadillac Tax is a ‘bad fact’ for the argument that the left can resist the healthcare lobby more than the right

        • Guy in TN says:

          It’s the same “political will” question when looking at either the interparty or intraparty level. If people want universal healthcare, then they will support primary candidates who want it as well (e.g., AOC defeating the incumbent). And right now, the Dems don’t have enough votes at even the intraparty level. Merely gaining control of the presidency and senate will likely not be enough, we would also have to also change the ideology of the types of people we elect.

          But we can change who we vote for, in primaries as well as the general. We just have to decide we want it.

        • Guy in TN says:

          As mentioned in the original comment, the fact that the Dems joined with Trump to repeal the Cadillac Tax is a ‘bad fact’ for the argument that the left can resist the healthcare lobby more than the right

          I’m not sure I would read those events in the same way. It’s not clear to me how the Cadillac Tax would result in more people having healthcare, particularly operating under the Trump administration/Republican senate where the additional money is probably not going to be used to expand healthcare spending. Many non-corporate Dems probably reasoned that it was better to expand the deficit than to have people kicked off their healthcare, thus voting to repeal the tax.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          They dont have to in order to realize quite large savings. The US has much, much higher administrative overhead in its health care system than most nations, which means you can save a lot of money without giving any actual doctors a paycut. Not enough to bring costs in line with the rest of the world, but about half-way there. It does involve firing one hell of a lot of medical billing personel and insurance sales people. But those groups have less social clout

          • Guy in TN says:

            It does involve firing one hell of a lot of medical billing personel and insurance sales people. But those groups have less social clout

            Yeah, I agree. The idea that Americans aren’t going to want to bring down their own healthcare costs out of sympathy for insurance workers/billing personnel/highly paid doctors is just a stunning misread of the current sentiment of the electorate IMO.

            This may be how certain politicians who have ties to the healthcare industry feel, but they can get primaried in due time.

      • “Like, the laws that were passed during the Trump administration didn’t have the “will” to be passed during Obama, the laws from Obama didn’t have the “will” to be passed under Bush, the laws under Bush…and so o”

        During the Obama adminsitration, there was a major party which wanted to do the stuff they were later to do under the Trump administration, ect. There is no party which is going to propose cutting doctor incomes because doctors are high-status experts and both parties want to be associated with high-status experts.

        • Guy in TN says:

          There is no party which is going to propose cutting doctor incomes because doctors are high-status experts and both parties want to be associated with high-status experts.

          Well, we will see. People also like to have money, so there’s limits on how much they are willing to sacrifice just for status-association.

      • cassander says:

        None of these proposals are more radical than the changes that occurred during the New Deal, so it’s not like the United States is inherently incapable of harnessing the political will necessary to

        the new deal occurred in a world with a (relatively) tiny state and, consequently, tiny number of stakeholders. That is not the world we live in now. FDR could paint in broad strokes because he had a huge bank canvas to work with. what we have now is a hugely crowded picture with everyone shouting not to be painted over. Making change on a similar level doesn’t require a similar level of will, it requires massively greater will, far more than seems likely to ever exist, which is why if medicare for all does pass, it’ll end up passing the same way the ACA did, by shoving more money through existing system in such a way that no one’s sacred ox gets gored.

    • johan_larson says:

      If the government put forth a plan to cut payments to doctors and other medical professionals, I suppose they could go on strike. Has such a thing ever happened? Anywhere?

      ETA: It has. In Saskatchewan, Canada, 1962, in response to a plan to socialize medical care. The strike failed.

      • Lambert says:

        > Has such a thing ever happened? Anywhere?

        You mean just a doctors’ strike? They’re very much a thing. The minister for rhyming slang managed to provoke a junior doctors’ strike over here a couple of years ago.

    • Garrett says:

      From my little area of life, there are ways to do so, but none of them are politically appealing:

      1) Get rid of the current degree requirement for medical school. The idea that a degree, any degree, will do as long as you’ve fulfilled a couple of STEM requirements could be replaced by either a 6 year program which includes those requirements, or simply having people take the existing requirements as a focused program. This allows doctors to (theoretically) start their career with less total debt, less interest, and work more total years, hopefully ultimately being willing to accept lower salaries.

      2) Statutorily reduce the Standard of Care. Avoid the current system which is based on publications, professional guidance, and lawsuits. Find stuff and simply exclude it by law from being required to be performed. Lots of stuff. I suggest looking at most procedures used to keep late-stage dementia patients alive.

      3) Have the stomach to say “it’s your fault”. The biggest cause of kidney failure is poorly-managed diabetes. Simply declare that nothing which is eg. the result of Type 2 diabetes will be paid for. Or smoking. Or riding without a seatbelt. Or whatever. And demand cash up-front. And then be willing to Let People Die as a result.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      We have two lines at our factory that produce close to identical items. They average about 3 days per week of utilization over the course of the year.
      So upper management decided they would remove one of our lines. 3+3=6, so there is still spare capacity.

      However, these lines tend to be seasonal, and we cannot build up inventory: 3+3=1 in January, and 3+3=12 in April and May.

      This kind of “math” is the “math” that goes into thinking the US can somehow save trillions of dollars over the medium term with no impact to patient healthcare.

      You probably can at least control costs. We’ve seen a LOT of cost control measures in healthcare over the last 20 years. A lot of companies have shed healthcare entirely, deductibles and OOP maxes are way higher than they used to be, prior auths are now a thing, and generics have pretty good penetration. However, this is “bending the cost curve” and not “cutting costs.”

  31. Well... says:

    “I’m launching into space now, to investigate why these omnipotent supernatural entities keep urinating on us,” said Tom, and gods peed.

    • Silverlock says:

      “While I’m there, I think I’ll check up on whether the U.S. President had contact with illegal extraterrestrial aliens,” Tom trumpeted.

  32. eyeballfrog says:

    Recently Trump suggested sending the military in to Mexico to help the government fight the cartels in response to the killing of 9 US citizens who were residents of Mexico. The Mexican government declined, saying they will handle it themselves and citing issues of sovereignty. Setting those aside, could sending in the US Army against the cartels actually help the situation, or is it likely to make it worse?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Going in and killing the heck out of whichever group killed those people would probably make the remaining ones more careful of their targets in the future; it wouldn’t matter if Mexico or the US did it.

      But I don’t think the US can do anything against the cartels that will last unless it actually takes the territory or somehow does it in combination with making a Mexican government not corrupted by the cartels hold the territory, and I don’t see either of those as possible in the near term.

    • John Schilling says:

      What Nybbler says. With Mexico’s permission, we could make things better for Americans in the vicinity of the border, but we can’t plausibly make things better for the Mexicans. And so Mexico isn’t going to give permission, so now either we leave it be or we recreate Libya on the American border and that doesn’t even make things better for the Americans.

      • J Mann says:

        I had thought that our efforts in Afghanistan resulted in a major step forward for our intelligence capacity to model and track groups and individuals.

        Assuming that the Mexicans let us do it, could we identify and track the cartels through electronic eavesdropping, satellite and drone observation, etc.?

        I guess that leaves the question of what you do once you know who the cartel leadership is and where they are…

    • Shion Arita says:

      They are terrorists, as bad as the likes of ISIS, and need to be removed. If the local government can’t take care of it, but the US can, then to be honest, sovereignty be damned. So many people, mostly Mexicans, are suffering because of them, and if it is possible to remove them, it should be done. It would help the immediate situation and also send a strong message that that sort of behavior will not be tolerated.

      • Adrian says:

        And how well has that strategy been working out in the past 18 years?

        • Incurian says:

          I think it’s actually worked pretty well. The problem is more one of expectations. You wouldn’t expect police to solve all the crime in a city and then leave it forever; it’s a continuous job. Counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism are more like police work in that sense than a normal war where we beat someone up then reliably extract concessions.

          When we treated the GWOT more like a war, things would get better briefly and then get worse. When we started doing COIN a little better, it was actually effective (at least in my limited experience, I haven’t been everywhere). Of course when we tried to leave, things reverted. I think this is less the failure of a war and more that police need to stick around to be effective.

          Whether sticking around is worth the cost is debatable, though.

          • DeWitt says:

            American death tolls in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria weren’t particularly steep, but they were there – and that is before factoring in the multi-trillion dollar cost you mentioned. Would you say that more or fewer people would have died without these wars? More or fewer Americans?

          • If we treated terrorism like a police action against ordinary crime, which we ought to, we’d dedicate far fewer resources to it than we currently do.

          • DeWitt says:

            Yep. It’s also not what Trump is calling for, so it seems like a pipe dream.

        • Shion Arita says:

          I think that in most of the cases where the U.S. intervened, things ended up better than they would have if they had not.

          • albatross11 says:

            How would we measure that overall–it’s not like we can do a randomized experiment, and the places we intervene will generally be the worst-off places, so we’d expect improvement just by regression to the mean. But looking at Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen doesn’t fill me with confidence that our next intervention is going to work out well either for us or for the people in whose country we intervene.

    • Incurian says:

      There is a history of SF types supporting foreign governments with advice, training, and I think direct action to combat drug cartels in South America. I don’t know how successful they were, but it seems like a good place to start for looking at base rates and capabilities.

      My hunch is that it’s not strategically impossible for the US military to be rather productive in Mexico, but it’s probably politically impossible. Both in terms of deployment and having a willing Mexican government ready to actually govern once the tactical situation is under control.

    • Clutzy says:

      At worst it would be neutral. American troops are more skilled, better trained, and better supplied than Mexican troops. The main thing preventing it from being a definitive positive is our rules of engagement, which (as demonstrated in Iraq/Afghanistan) make it very difficult for us to deal with paramilitary organizations that are willing to dissolve into the general populace.

      At best it would help the Mexican government re-establish control in the region and militarize the border, greatly aiding border security, the lack thereof is where the cartels derive their power.

    • MorningGaul says:

      Well, of course, the US would quickly decimate the local cartels, once it starts calling every adult in Mexico a “cartel member”.

      Any similitude with actual events, practice and people from the last 20 years is purely coincidental.

    • Garrett says:

      I’m generally opposed. These were Mexican citizens in Mexico. This is a Mexican issue.

      I don’t have an objection to multi-citizenship. But you have to understand that you fall under the associated jurisdiction when in that country and should not expect assistance from your other countries of citizenship.

      (I refer to cases where citizenship is held knowingly and intentionally. If you are on vacation in Moscow the government shouldn’t be able to just kill you and avoid repercussions from the US government by shoving a newly-minted passport in your jacket. In this case I’d be okay if the people involved had previously given up their Mexican citizenship and were travelling as US citizens, but that’s not the case.)

      • EchoChaos says:

        Dual/multi citizenship is a weird modern invention that creates more problems than it solves.

        Going back to a world where everyone is a citizen of only one country would be better in general.

  33. What caused the post-WWII baby boom, and where might it recur?

    It ought to be one of the biggest mysteries in social science. The standard story that it was due to “the economy” ignores that the correlation between the economy and birthrates is almost always the opposite. If it’s something specific to economic growth at that particular development stage, why don’t we see it in developing countries going through a similar stage today? If it is a result of war, why wasn’t there a similar boom after World War I? There was an uptick in the fertility rate in the years after the war, but it immediately went back on its long term decline trend.

    We know that, outside France and Austria, the baby boom was due to an increase in marriage, with more people marrying and them marrying at younger ages, rather than an increase in births within married couples at a given age.(See Looking for areas where conditions would mimic those in the West in 1945, we should look for:

    1. The economic conditions are most comparable to The U.S./Europe in the 1930s.
    2. The age at first marriage is relatively high and can come down, and this, not widespread use of contraception, is the reason fertility rates are relatively low. Once couples marry they have relatively more children than married couples in the West.
    3. Out-of wedlock births are low.
    4. Fertility rates have been stagnant for a while.

    Do these conditions apply to parts of the Arab world?

    • Eric Rall says:

      In the context of the baby boom in the United States specifically, the US was involved in WW2 for 4-5 years (declared war in Dec 1941, demobilized from large scale occupation/garrison deployments over the course of Oct 1945-Sept 1946). About 16 million Americans were in uniformed military service during WW2, about half of whom were deployed overseas when the war ended.

      WW1, by comparison, was much shorter and less intense from the American point of view. The US declared war in April 1917 and demobilized between Nov 1918 and July 1919, and never mobilized to the extent we did in WW2: about 4 million men in uniform and about 2 million deployed overseas. The overall population was lower in 1917 than in 1941, but not by a factor of two (106M vs 133M, respectively).

      So in the US, four times as many men were mobilized for WW2, and were mobilized for 2-3x as long, so it’s not surprising for a post-war fertility boost resulting from demobilized soldiers returning home would be something like 8-12x larger for WW2 than for WW1.

      I know less about demographic trends in countries that were more heavily involved in WW1 than the US, though, so I’m not sure if there’s a gap to explain there and how to explain it if there is one.

      • Clutzy says:

        Also: Financial stability.

        There were a ton of guys in their prime returning to an under-served female population with a ton of accrued money and great job prospects.

    • cassander says:

      In addition to what eric rall say, you also had several years of baby bust preceding ww2 due to the depression, so there was a lot of pent up demand for fertility.

      • There was a baby bust all over Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. There was no baby boom to compensate for it.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Communist governments had policies aimed at increasing fertility, which were largely discontinued after 1990.

        • Viliam says:

          I suppose it’s that people in Eastern Europe started having kids later. Not necessarily fewer kids… it’s just that when everyone used to have kids at 25, and then everyone switches to having kids at 35, there will be ten years without kids.

          Why that change? In socialism your career options were limited, and some opportunities were decided based on “need”. Having kids as soon as possible made economical sense, because no business opportunity was lost, and being classified as having more needs was a good thing.

          For example, “first I need my own place to live, then I will have kids, this is the responsible thing to do” simply didn’t make sense in socialism. Not having kids put you in the back of the queue. You had kids first; that put you in the queue before all the childless people; and then after a few years of waiting you had your own place to live.

          • If you were 18 in 1991 and decided to delay having kids, you are 46 now. It’s safe to say that almost everyone who decided to delay kids in 1991 already had them now, but fertility rates never recovered.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      The standard story that it was due to “the economy” ignores that the correlation between the economy and birthrates is almost always the opposite.

      Really? Citation needed.

      • Randomly pick any decade in any country between 1900 and 2000.

        Did the economy improve during that decade? Probably yes. Did the fertility rate fall during that decade? Also probably yes.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          This is complicated because “strong economy” is an ambiguous concept. You are referring to general improvement in living standards, which is indeed mostly associated with decreasing birthrate up to a point. But those who claim that “baby boom” was due to strong economy mean something different than an increase in living standards. For example, was US economy stronger or weaker during the Great Recession than in the 60s? Living standards as measured by e.g. real median income were clearly vastly higher in 2010. But when people speak about “the economy” being strong or weak, they often actually refer to a rate of involuntary unemployment, which has a large effect on a sense of financial security of workers in general.

    • Ketil says:

      The flood of returning soldiers, a.k.a. available men with perceived higher-than-average social status? Contrast to today’s well-educated women and the choice of incels, deplorables, and a handful of serial monogamists.

      (Tongue firmly in cheek)

  34. This study claims around $76 billion of illegal activity per year is financed through payments in bitcoin:

    This seems to me to be wrong by an order of magnitude considering:

    1. The U.S. illegal drug trade is only 100 billion a year.
    2. Most darknet market activity involves drugs.
    3. (More speculatively) I thought darknet drug deals were only a small proportion of American drug deals, and foreign markets should be similar and not valuable enough to provide enough transactions to get anywhere near 76 billion.

    I don’t know much about bitcoin so cannot comment on the methods they used to estimate the number.

    • Nornagest says:

      In PPP terms, world GDP is about $138 trillion. US GDP is about $20 trillion. That puts the world illegal drug trade, assuming it’s evenly distributed over the global economy (it probably isn’t, but I don’t know what side of the curve the US falls on), at about $690 billion. Eleven percent of that sounds high for the fraction denominated in Bitcoin, but not absurd, and there’s Bitcoin deals in weapons, gambling, extortion, prostitution etc. to account for too.

      Extortion’s probably a big piece: a lot of ransomware asks for payment in Bitcoin.

      • I can believe Tajik peasants smoke opium at similar rates that Americans do opiates in various forms.

        It’s not at all believable that they’re using bitcoin to do it.

        • Nornagest says:

          Tajik peasants aren’t a very big chunk of the global economy, even if we’re counting in PPP.

          • acymetric says:

            Is it possible that bitcoin is used for larger transactions (wholesale purchases) and then the end users pay the dealers with regular cash?

    • Incurian says:

      How does it count reselling?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Drugs might only have a total value of $100 billion, but if they pass through several middlemen, the total value of the transactions could be much higher. On the other hand, prices are lower at wholesale.

      My impression is that a huge proportion of American drugs, at least 10%, pass through bitcoin wholesalers.

      The real paper is here.

  35. gbdub says:

    It looks like I may be in Paris for a week to 10 days around Christmas this year (18th-28th) What should I do while I’m there? Where should I stay? I’ve never been to France.

    I’m totally fine and actually interested in taking some side trips rather than staying in Paris the whole time. E.g. taking the train to Strasbourg and spending a couple days there for the Christmas market, maybe attending a Christmas mass at the cathedral, looks nice.

    I assume it’s the “off season” for tourism to a degree – how much stuff is going to be closed? Am I going to have a hard time finding food / something to do on the 25th or 26th?

    • Erusian says:

      What interests you?

      As for Christmas, you might be able to find some places open but I’d buy food for myself. There’s a significant Muslim minority who should still be in operation, at least relatively. Some landmarks might be open, particularly parks that don’t require attendants. I’d attend mass. Mass at a Cathedral is a wonderful thing. You can also drive out into the countryside and see the picturesque farms covered in snow or something romantic.

      Alternatively, you can go to Strasbourg. German Christmas traditions are a bit more communal. However, they’re also not strongly related to French ones.

      • gbdub says:

        For interests, I’d say primarily architectural and cultural. I’m into military and techie stuff but my girlfriend, who I will be traveling with, is less so (but she loves old buildings and interacting with other cultures).

        Can you elaborate a bit on what you mean about German vs. French traditions? One of the appeals of Strasbourg to me was to get a little German flavor (literally) and the compact medieval part of the city looks really neat. The idea of a big public/communal event around Christmas is also appealing, I’ve never gone to a big foreign holiday.

        • Lambert says:

          Go to Straßburg. the Weinachtsmaerkte of The Germanies are wonderful things.
          French tradition: distinct lack of wuerst, prezels and beer.
          Medieval cities: great. (unless you’re on a road bike).

    • lvlln says:

      I’d visiting Paris without at least going into the Louvre once would be a huge missed opportunity. I’m one of those low-brow people who finds fine art and all that stuff terribly boring and snooty, and I still came out of my couple-hour visit there wishing I could have a whole week to spend in there.

      Also, the view from Arc de Triomphe was easily up there with anything I saw in the Louvre. Highly recommended.

      • AnteriorMotive says:

        I preferred the Musee D’Orsay to the Louvre, but it comes down to personal taste. The Louvre cuts off at around 1820, while the Orsay resumes with the academic painters of the 19th century, the Impressionists, and so on.

      • CatCube says:

        I endorse both of these. I did these two things on my one day in Paris (from a week trip to London–so BTW, you can also go to London for a day trip) and also wished I had more time in the Louvre.

    • AG says:

      For leaving the Paris area, you could consider spending a day or two at Mont St. Michel. But it might be really annoying to break up your hotel stay.
      For a day trip, I highly recommend doing a combination Vaux Le Vicomte/Fontainebleau bus tour. The former inspired the king to use the same designer for Versailles, while imho the latter is way better than Versailles. That said, also hit up Versailles. It may be a bit of a shadow of itself, but you should go at least once.

      I highly, highly recommend getting the Paris Museum Pass. It more than pays for itself, and often allows you to skip lines. It also covers most of the important tourist sites. Things that won’t be covered that I still recommend: Sacre Coeur dome, a Paris Opera House tour, Eiffel Tower.
      For public transport, consider the Navigo pass.

      Look up the weekly organ concerts! People online have even put together maps where you can catch like 3-4 consecutive organ concerts on Sunday, if you hustle a bit.

      Honestly, there are like a million great museums, parks, and churches you can check out, free or covered by the above pass. For my week-long trip, I had a massive spreadsheet of options, and saw a little over half of them?

      • gbdub says:

        Mont St Michel definitely looks awesome, though it seems like an overnight trip. I’m not super worried about switching hotels, but two or three times in one trip might be a bit much.

        Part of my interests in side trips is that my girlfriend is actually staying for a couple weeks after me, as part of a university study abroad thing, and they will be doing a few of the typical Paris touristy things as part of their program. So I wanted to not make her double up too much.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Go to the Musee d’Orsay. Go to some other museums, too. Pay for the skip-the-line or timed-entry passes instead of the general “go to a bunch of museums” pass, unless you need to really economize.

    • Tenacious D says:

      +1 for the Musée d’Orsay: their art collection is sublime. Another museum I really appreciated was Arts & Métiers, with its original scientific artifacts.

      Outside of Paris you could visit some WW1 or WW2 battlefields (maybe ones that saw fighting in the winter like the Ardennes for a more complete experience) if you’re into military history.

      • AG says:

        Co-sign for Arts and Metiers. It’s better than the “official” big science museum of Paris, which is more for the kids.

        • AG says:

          OH! The Musée de la musique is an absolute must. Admission comes with a free English-language audio tour.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        I just returned home from visiting Paris, using it for a couple of days on each side as staging going to/from Lyon for the Open Source Summit EU.

        Both times passing through I spent an entire day doing *only* “late morning to mid afternoon in Musée d’Orsay, then mid afternoon to closing at Musée de l’Orangerie, then have dinner at some tiny out of the way 5 star restaurant where the owner / waiter / host / headchef is one person and doesn’t speak any English”. This was my 3rd time and 4th time in Paris, and if possible I will make a day of repeating every time I go to Paris.

        The Musée du Louvre is overwhelming, but 1) overwhelming, and 2) old, and 3) not enough of it is moving.

        d’Orsay is moving. Two hours in, and your brain and eyes start getting that “running out of brain juice” feeling one gets from watching a movie marathon. But you dont want to stop.

        It’s worth noting that for much of this artwork, photographs don’t capture the colors well enough at all. You will recognize a painting from the pictures you’ve seen of it, but looking at an image on your computer is nothing like looking at the painting under the museum lights.

        Side note about Lyon: The food there is exquisite, better even than Paris (where it’s merely “amazingly good”.) Some of the people visiting Lyon on this trip reported sitting down at one of the more famous restaurants, eating until they were full, and then CONTINUING TO EAT, unable to stop until all the platters on the table were empty, because the food was just that good.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          How do you find the tiny excellent places?

          I know how to find well-known fancy restaurants, which are still in fact good, and I’m price-insensitive enough that I’d still like that, but I don’t know how to find the odd stuff.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I have done it with a mix of “ask my social graph for recommendations” and “looking on google map and minmaxing on walking distance and ratings, and then look for keywords”. I’ve been very lucky so far, but it does seem to work. I’ve paid just under €100 per seat, including the wine.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        Agreed, Musée des Arts et Métiers is worth going to. Less so about returning to again and again, but yes for at least once.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      My suggestion is to hunt down a tiny sandwich shop by the name of Chez Alain Miam Miam. It used to be in the Marche does Enfants-Rouge but I think he’s moved since I lived there to somewhere nearby in the temple/Marais. It’s a quirky delight of a man preparing (very slowly) the best sandwich I’ve ever had. Among the few things on earth I’ll happily stand in line for.

      The Louvre is a nightmare, truly, but also unmissable culturally. I felt something like wabi-sabi turning the corner after seeing so much stuff in a day just to see the Hammurabi stele. I was buzzing with bliss for days. The Petite Palais feels much more intimate and hosted all my favorite exhibitions. I second everyone on the Orsay and the Arts et Metiers.

      Saint-Chapelle is my must see church, and if you can get there on a sunny day it’s incomparable. My favorite place in the world is in Pere Lachaise cemetery but I have a somewhat gothic disposition.

      If you like military stuff, Napoleon’s tomb at the Invalides is surrounded by the military museum.
      Otherwise to me the chief pleasure of Paris is just walking the streets. And dozens of food places, but the walking keeps the calories in check.

      For outside, I can recommend Chantilly, Bruges, Versailles, and Fontainebleau as outings, but I never went in winter, and I did very perfunctory “go see the pretty thing eat there and leave” trips which were all, frankly, wonderful because vacation.

    • SamChevre says:

      I studied in France for a year, so these are “student-budget” friendly. Do you speak French? I’ll note the items where this is important.

      Walk; Paris is very pretty and safe. I particularly recommend going to the Eiffel Tower by walking from the opposite end of the Champ de Mars.

      Go to the Comedie Francaise; a last-minute poor-seat ticket is 5 euro. See a Moliere play if possible–that was his company and his theater. Read the play beforehand unless you’re absolutely fluent in French.

      Go to the 19th near Buttes-Chaumont and get couscous.

      Go to Chartres; that’s an all-day trip, but well worth it.

      If you have any interest in history, go to Brugge and take the Quasimodo Flanders Fields tour. It won’t be cheap, but is incredible.

      • Cliff says:

        Isn’t Flanders Fields Ieper/Ypres? They have a nice WWI museum as well.

      • AG says:

        Parc des Buttes Chaumont is honestly itself a good place to explore. It was my favorite of the parks, even better than the Luxembourg Gardens.

    • gbdub says:

      Thank you all for the suggestions!

  36. Aftagley says:

    Impeachment Roundup:

    This community leans right much further than I encounter in my meat-space social circles, so I’d like y’alls perspective on the ongoing impeachment hearings. Some questions to consider:

    1. Was there a conspiracy on the part of the administration to tie aid/support for Ukraine to their influencing the 2020 election? (Y/N)
    2. If so, was the president aware of and/or orchestrating said conspiracy? (Y/N)
    3. If such a conspiracy did occur would it be improper? (Y/N)
    4. If it is improper, does it rise to the level of impeachment? (Y/N)

    • jermo sapiens says:

      1. No. Trump was looking for dirt on Biden though, and that’s at least as legal as initiating a 2 year investigation into the POTUS based on some sleazy opposition research.
      2. N/A
      3. Not more improper than the Mueller investigation.
      4. N/A

    • Statismagician says:

      1. Y
      2. ~Y
      3. ~N
      4. N

      Pretty clearly President Trump et. al. were trying to get Ukraine to provide dirt. The President himself literally asked them to do this, so it’s similarly clear he knew about it, although I don’t know if I’d want to dignify this whole ridiculous mess by claiming anybody orchestrated anything. I can’t come up with a coherent democratic philosophy which has a serious problem with this but not with super-PACs, and I think all forms of obvious political grandstanding are bad, which given the Senate this absolutely is at the moment unless the House knows a whole lot of things I don’t.

      • beleester says:

        which given the Senate this absolutely is at the moment unless the House knows a whole lot of things I don’t.

        I don’t think the other party having control of the Senate is a reason to hold off on impeachment – it’s pretty much par for the course. Since you need a 2/3rds majority to remove, you’ll almost always need the cooperation of the other party no matter who controls it. You just have to hope that whatever you uncover is explosive enough that it can push the other party into supporting it.

    • John Schilling says:

      Libertarian, if that counts as “right” to you.

      1. Probably Yes for a definition of “influencing” that amounts to the Ukranian government making an official proclamation that Biden is a Crook without regard for whether or not that was true (and without regard to whether people on his own side were engaged in equally corrupt dealings).

      2. If #1 is a Yes, #2 is definitely a Yes

      3. See #2. If true, the bit where Trump threatened to withhold aid over this, constitutes redirecting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for his private political ends.

      4. Same as #3, plus if we allow this power to fall into the hands of a competent president, then that president’s party will be effectively impossible to remove from power.

      Note that the next competent politician to sit in the Oval Office, will probably be a Democrat.

      • gbdub says:

        For 4) we already know what it looks like when a competent administration has this power, it’s called Obama’s investigation of the Trump campaign that dragged on for two years into the Mueller report.

        What the heck do you call the whole Russia investigation other than a fishing expedition primarily for political gain? Or the Steele dossier, literally paying foreigners for dubious dirt on a political candidate? Yeah, they laundered that through a Brit and the DNC, but when it gets introduced as evidence in a secret federal court…

        Yes there was some actual dirt uncovered in that investigation, although the scale was much lower than originally advertised. In any case I doubt any of that gets pursued with nearly so much vigor if it didn’t directly serve the Dems’ political interests.

        So basically like so many Trump crises this is all about optics and process crimes. If you’ve got enough allied bureaucrats and a friendly press to publish the right leaks, and you know the magic words for plausible deniability, feel free to use the power of government to attack the results of the democratic process and the power of foreign aid to extort allied governments.

        If you’re Trump and you clumsily try to get your buddy Rudy to do it, you’re a Traitor etc.

        I get that we have the process for a reason, but I also totally get why Trump supporters or even non-Trumpist Republicans are having a hard time drawing a moral distinction that makes Trump uniquely evil here.

        • Cliff says:

          I think if the RNC or Trump wants to spend campaign money to fund oppo research on Biden from Ukrainians or anyone else its totally fine. Leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars of military support approved by Congress is not okay.

          • gbdub says:

            Biden used a billion dollars in aid to get a Ukrainian political appointee fired, who just might have turned some unpleasant light on his son’s activities that look an awful lot like accepting attempted influence peddling.

            Biden’s bribe went through the right channels and Hunter has enough plausible deniability that he probably isn’t technically a criminal, but the optics would have been bad.

            Either way the Obama administration openly extorted a political action out of Ukraine, via threat of withheld, taxpayer funded aid.

            I’m not arguing the technicalities here. It’s possible, even likely, that Trump’s maneuver violates some law that Biden did not.

            But where is the moral distinction? It requires begging the question and assuming that getting some Ukrainian prosecutor canned was critical to American interests, but investigating possible Ukrainian influence peddling is ONLY of interest to Trump’s political interests.

          • gbdub says:

            On your actual point (sorry for the digression) why is okay to pay foreigners for oppo research, but not accept it from them? Since the latter was what got the whole “Trump colluded with Russia” thing started.

          • Cliff says:

            Your arguments seem totally unrelated to mine?

            I have reason to doubt your narrative about Joe Biden but even so it doesn’t concern me if that was illegal or not since it’s irrelevant.

            I also don’t care about whether accepting information about Hillary Clinton was illegal or not.

          • gbdub says:

            Why is it irrelevant? If we’re basing an impeachment proceeding on a double standard, held for purely political reasons, that seems highly relevant.

            The Democrats want me to believe that Trump did a highly improper, unprecedentedly bad thing, literally betraying America for the sake of naked political ambition, so serious that we must implement impeachment to defend the Constitution.

            But if Trump’s actions are just clumsy, bull in a china shop, damn the process versions of stuff more adept politicos do all the time, and the difference is fundamentally procedural rather than moral, that’s a tougher case to make.

          • broblawsky says:

            On your actual point (sorry for the digression) why is okay to pay foreigners for oppo research, but not accept it from them? Since the latter was what got the whole “Trump colluded with Russia” thing started.

            Legally, a political campaign can employ a foreign national, while they cannot accept any kind of donation (either cash or a “thing of value”) from a foreign national. Opposition research is a “thing of value”.

            Citation on campaigns not being allowed to accept donations from foreign nationals.

            Citation on opposition research counting as a “thing of value”.

            Additionally, Trump’s decision to try to get valuable opposition research from Ukraine isn’t just a violation of campaign finance law, it’s also probably felony extortion and possibly bribery.

          • Cliff says:

            I guess I don’t think “double standard” is a persuasive argument. Like if one murderer gets let go, then from now on all murderers must be released to avoid a double standard?

          • gbdub says:

            If murder happened all the time, but it was only prosecuted when committed by the political opponents of the majority government, then yeah, that would be relevant.

            Two wrongs don’t make a right, but a double standard applied only when advantageous to you is no standard at all.

            @broblawsky – It seems there are 3 things:
            1) Alice is offered dirt on her opponent Bob by a Clipistani official. It is illegal for her to accept.
            2) Alice offers something of value to a Clipistani official to get dirt on Bob. This is also illegal.
            3) Alice hears that the Clipistanis might have some dirt on Bob. So she hires Daria, from Foolandia, to travel to Clipistan and get the dirt. Daria, while in Clipistan, gathers up freely offered dirt and pays for dirt when it helps grease the wheels, then writes it up in a nice report and delivers it to Alice. This is totally fine.

            I’m with you till you get to 3? To me these all have the same outcome and treating them as clearly distinct is problematic.

            Thank you for the links. I think the Daily Beast one is, however, yet another example of question begging here. Trump was not asking the Ukrainians for “oppo research”. He was asking them to investigate a potential crime. Opinions may differ on whether there was any sort of justification for such an investigation, but calling it oppo research off the bat is assuming away that key question.

          • J Mann says:

            Opposition research is a “thing of value”.

            I believe that while that is the official position of the FEC, but it’s pretty controversial and hasn’t been legally tested.

            In particular, if it were true, it would be illegal for a US Citizen to donate opposition research that was valued at more than campaign donation limits, and politicians would need to declare the value of information received from US Citizens along with their identities, right?

          • EchoChaos says:

            I don’t see how investigation of a single crime is opposition research.

            If Trump said “Give me all your files on Biden”, that’s probably opposition research, although the points made about whether or not that is really a donation is relevant here.

            But the idea that it is not allowable to request foreign investigation into a specific investigation of someone because he may one day run against Trump (as far as I know, Biden is still not the Democrat nominee) is fairly silly.

          • broblawsky says:

            1) Alice is offered dirt on her opponent Bob by a Clipistani official. It is illegal for her to accept.
            2) Alice offers something of value to a Clipistani official to get dirt on Bob. This is also illegal.
            3) Alice hears that the Clipistanis might have some dirt on Bob. So she hires Daria, from Foolandia, to travel to Clipistan and get the dirt. Daria, while in Clipistan, gathers up freely offered dirt and pays for dirt when it helps grease the wheels, then writes it up in a nice report and delivers it to Alice. This is totally fine.

            I’m with you till you get to 3? To me these all have the same outcome and treating them as clearly distinct is problematic.

            The difference between A+B and C is the possibility of a corrupt exchange. In the case of A, Alice owes the Clipistani government something. Obviously, we want to avoid situations where our politicians are in hock to foreign governments. In the case of B, we have the same problems as A, along with questions of bribery. In the case of C, the only person Alice owes is Daria, and because she hired Daria legally as part of her campaign, the extent of that obligation is limited to a normal exchange of goods and services.

            Thank you for the links. I think the Daily Beast one is, however, yet another example of question begging here. Trump was not asking the Ukrainians for “oppo research”. He was asking them to investigate a potential crime. Opinions may differ on whether there was any sort of justification for such an investigation, but calling it oppo research off the bat is assuming away that key question.

            He was asking them to investigate his foremost political rival. It’s valuable to his political campaign, which makes it opposition research. As a legal analogy: imagine a President asking a foreign government to donate to a charitable foundation in their name, which could then be leveraged to support a reelection campaign as well. If Trump had let Barr push for this without getting personally involved, he’d have some protection. By directly pressing Zelensky to assist Barr, he compromised himself.

            Beyond the legal complexities of the situation, here’s the core question: do you really want the already-dysfunctional American political environment to degenerate into a bidding war for the support of foreign intelligence agencies? Because that’s where we end up headed if Trump doesn’t get punished for this.

          • broblawsky says:

            I don’t see how investigation of a single crime is opposition research.

            If Trump said “Give me all your files on Biden”, that’s probably opposition research, although the points made about whether or not that is really a donation is relevant here.

            But the idea that it is not allowable to request foreign investigation into a specific investigation of someone because he may one day run against Trump (as far as I know, Biden is still not the Democrat nominee) is fairly silly.

            It’s illegal for Trump to request the investigation. If Barr had pushed for it by himself, this wouldn’t be illegal, or at least Trump wouldn’t be implicated. Trump isn’t the US’s chief law enforcement official; Barr is. It isn’t Trump’s job to investigate people.

            Edit: to preempt anyone claiming Trump is the US’s chief law enforcement officer, I’d like to cite the White House’s own website, which lists the AG as “chief law enforcement officer of the federal government”. Also, Trump can’t have a law enforcement role: he’s commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Posse Comitatus bars the armed forces from a law enforcement role outside of special circumstances.

          • cassander says:


            imagine a President asking a foreign government to donate to a charitable foundation in their name, which could then be leveraged to support a reelection campaign as well.

            Presidents have foreign governments contribute to their charitable foundations all the time. I believe the saudis have contributed to all of the recent ones. There are also the myriad donations to the clinton foundation from foreign governments.

            Beyond the legal complexities of the situation, here’s the core question: do you really want the already-dysfunctional American political environment to degenerate into a bidding war for the support of foreign intelligence agencies? Because that’s where we end up headed if Trump doesn’t get punished for this.

            As I’ve said elsewhere, presidents have fought entire wars they didn’t believe in for domestic political advantage. reagan spent billions on bombers he knew were obsolete because it was good politics, and Kennedy spent a fortune closing a non-existent missile gap for the same reason. Getting someone investigated is small change compared to that, and I cannot get outraged over a president requesting an investigation of someone who seems to have been corrupt.