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Open Thread 144

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

1. Voting for the Adversarial Collaboration Contest winner is still going on. I will leave voting open until this Friday, so try to vote before then.

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469 Responses to Open Thread 144

  1. Rusty says:

    the ‘evil genius’ behind Brexit and the UK’s education policy is a guy called Dominic Cummings. He is now Boris Johnston’s right hand man following the general election victory. He is a huge fan of this site and Less Wrong. Here is his latest blog post in case anyone is interested in a job. I’m sure Scott would be welcomed into the heart of the British government in a flash. Mean that unironically. https://dominiccummings.com/2020/01/02/two-hands-are-a-lot-were-hiring-data-scientists-project-managers-policy-experts-assorted-weirdos/

  2. johan_larson says:

    Was Schwarzenegger’s performance in The Terminator an inspired bit of minimalist acting, or just an artless nothing that any blank-faced meatboy could have managed?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Both? Say to some blank-faced meatboy who can’t act very well, “act like a robot” and he can probably do it.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Schwarzenegger most challenging roles outside “blank-faced meatboy” were probably Total Recall and Kindergarten Cop. Not very inspiring But plenty of actors have done “blank-faced meatboy” badly. So I’m going to reject your dichotomy; Schwarzenegger’s performance was not inspired, but he’s a very good actor within his very limited range.

    • Kuiperdolin says:

      It’s unironically one of the best performances of the 20th century, helped by inspired and decieveingly simple dialog. The latter movies more human-like Terminators are boring and misguided. Arnold barely passing as a human is a fascinating look at the uncanny valley before it was a thing. He’s a hulking robot with weird posture and a blank face, delivering lines that generally make no sense in a flat tone (“nothing clean right”). He’s a grotesque parody of human and a walking indictement of everyone who does not notice (i.e. our whole species). He’s the cuckoo chick and we’re the idiot birds feeding him even though it’s clear to anyone else he’s not one of our own, and is in fact killing our own brood.

      Man I love that movie.

  3. Plumber says:

    For the New Year…

    ….twenty twenty four hours to go, I wanna be…

    https://i.redd.it/3dwp41hqnz741.jpg

    I first The Ramones and saw them (on screen) in 1981 while viewing Rock n’ Roll High School soon after turning 13 years old.

    I finally saw them in concert in 1985 when I was not yet 17 years old.

    I met them (at a record store autograph event) in 1988.

    The East Bay Punk Digital Archives has me quoted (in a ‘zine of the ’80’s) as saying “This is the most fun I’ve had since The Ramones in 1985”.

    The Ramones – December 31, 1977 showing the Limeys real punk rock.

    U.S.A.!

    U.S.A.!

    U.S.A.!

  4. Well... says:

    A while back, in an OT, there was a post and subsequent thread about something along the lines of “in fiction, which space aliens are the most alien, i.e. most unlike anything on Earth or in common tropes about aliens?” If anyone here remembers that discussion and/or knows how to find it, can you please and then post a link?

    • ECD says:

      A search for Chanur would probably do it, if it’s the thread I remember and if you happen to have a link to the OT thread that had the nifty search OT’s tool (if anyone has that link, I’d appreciate it).

      • CatCube says:

        @The Nybbler made the tool, and this is the link:
        http://react-backend-ssc-comment-search.apps.ca-central-1.starter.openshift-online.com/

        I didn’t save the original post where he deployed it, though.

        • ECD says:

          Thanks! If it’s the chain I’m remembering it begins:

          johan_larson says:
          March 19, 2019 at 2:53 am
          John W. Campbell, the esteemed SF editor, famously asked of his writers, “Write me a creature that thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man.”

          What are some works where the writers succeeded?

          To start with an old chestnut, I don’t think even the most self-sacrificing human culture would be willing to endure the sort of casualties the Bugs in “Starship Troopers” accepted. Ditto the Buggers from “Ender’s Game” and its sequels.

          Other examples?

          and is here. If not, I’ve failed you, but CatCube succeeded. Thanks!

          • albatross11 says:

            I remember some of this discussion that isn’t at that link. I know I recommended Cherryh’s books (especially the Chanur books).

    • Lambert says:

      One hopes that ‘Stories of your life’ was mentioned.

      n.b. this comment was a performative statement. What does ‘hope’ even mean in a timeless worldview?

  5. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links post:

    Riverine warfare wraps up with a look at the American and French riverine efforts in Vietnam after WWII.

    Billy Mitchell is back, and I’ve finally gotten to the point where he sunk the Ostfriesland.

    Because one of the posts fell on Christmas, I’ve provided pictures of warships decked in Christmas lights.

    Lastly, aerial weapons continues with a look at anti-radiation missiles.

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    After two years of clashing with the mayor who hired her, Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw is running away from Portland to become the Philadelphia PD chief.

  7. savebandit says:

    I was thinking about dieting the other day.

    It feels like we have two tracks for nutrition science. One deals with practical nutrition you might need in a hospital setting, such as knowing about allergens, food/drug interactions, pre-surgery diets, etc. We seem to be good at this. The second track deals with everyday nutrition, such as when to take meals and what type of foods to eat everyday. By contrast to the first track, it feels like the experts on the second track are mediocre at best and actively harmful at worst, and the real expertise lies with personal trainers, individual doctors railing against carbs in wordpress blogs, and people on reddit forums.

    I have a bunch of questions, not all of which I expect answers for. Is there even such a split in nutrition science? Do the people working on everyday nutrition feel that their research is just as productive as the people training nutritionists for hospitals? Is hospital nutrition science not that advanced, and I only think it is because I don’t spend enough time in hospitals? Or is everyday nutrition science more correct than I thought, and the obesity crisis has underpinnings that couldn’t be helped by the best efforts of school nutritionists and whoever designed the food pyramid?

    • GearRatio says:

      Perverse incentive structure. Take as a given that the “it’s thermodynamics, stupid” simple version of dieting is correct, and that anybody who is significantly overweight just has rewards they value more than being healthy – I.E. eating what they want is more important than being thin, they really dislike exercise, etc. In this scenario the advice you’d give is “Eat less; exercise more; there’s a slight variation in metabolism but in that case you’d just adjust your calories down/exercise up again after a month if you didn’t see effects. Any long-term failure is a failure of willpower”.

      Whether you agree with that version or not, we can agree that it’s been around for a while; everyone basically knows of the existence of that philosophy of weight loss. There’s not a whole lot more you can do with it, and you aren’t going to write any trendy books about it (unless you veil it as something else and are already a celebrity).

      Now, say you want to make money/be famous/do groundbreaking work on weight loss. Whether the thermodynamics theory of weight loss is true or not, you have to reject it. Failure to lose weight is a function of a hidden pitfall you’ve discovered and only you know how to skirt. Maybe hormones make you eat more than you want! You need to eat food X that suppresses that effect in some way. Maybe you should eat just meat, or just bread, or intermittent fast, or cleanse, or eat six meals a day instead of three, or not cook your food, or eat more nuts, or whatever. Any of these could be true or false, the important thing here is that they are interesting divergences from “eat less food than you want; exercise more than you want – this is what makes you into what you by default aren’t”.

      Thus you get your Atkins and your Keto and your South Beach. Some of them might be right, but since the whole game is optimized for “new and novel” you aren’t going to see people who are optimized for “correct but not concerned about being boring” except in a right-two-times-a-day way.

      This is before you factor in blue-tribe tendencies to want things like obesity to not be considered the personal fault of the sufferer, and the sufferer’s tendency to find theories which deny any failure on their part appealing. This pushes things in a “hormones, metabolism, food deserts and financial resources” direction further than it would perhaps otherwise go.

      TLDR: The second track you mention is optimized for novelty and graciousness, not accuracy.

      • savebandit says:

        I agree with most of your points. I don’t think that fully explains it. I’m still struck by how little information gets passed on by experts in lifestyle nutrition (thanks to another commenter for that excellent term) compared to non-experts.

        For this discussion, “experts” means credentialed people or sources from people paid to do lifestyle nutrition that I have personally encountered. They include my grade-school nutritionist, my HS health class textbook, and the food pyramid. “Non-expert” means an uncredentialed person who advises you on health (or sources from them). These would include many personal trainers, diet ads, etc.

        When you eliminate the more obvious fraud or quackery from the non-credentialed people (and there is a lot of it, a point against them), they seem to have much more actionable and detailed advice than any of the expert sources.

        Some advice I have received from experts:

        – Eating more than your recommended daily calories will cause weight gain
        – Limit candy and processed foods
        – Exercise daily

        Advice I have received from non-experts:

        – All of the expert advice
        – Weight loss is predominantly controlled by diet, not exercise
        – Eating predominantly complex sugars will cause your body not to break down fat so easily, since your body prefers to store fat if there is an alternative energy source
        – Time your meals so that you give your body time to start breaking down stored fat, unless you are happy with your body fat percentage
        – Eat a high-protein diet if you want to encourage muscle gain, in conjunction with exercise.

        Now, I’m sure all of the non-expert advice is something that could be communicated by the experts. But it largely hasn’t been. There is certainly a perception (at least to me, but I don’t think it’s only me) that the best advice will be found outside of expert sources. I don’t think that all of it can be explained by a desire to be cautious; none of the non-expert advice I listed is very controversial. I’m curious if lifestyle nutritionists are being cagey or if they don’t realize that their advice is too broad to be really useful.

    • Randy M says:

      One deals with practical nutrition you might need in a hospital setting, such as knowing about allergens, food/drug interactions, pre-surgery diets, etc. We seem to be good at this.

      My wife made a ruckus when she was in the hospital recovering from major abdominal surgery because she didn’t want to drink the sugary concoction they were giving her unless they could tell her the benefit of the ingredients. Hospital food in our experience isn’t much less junk than elsewhere.

      But I think you mean by this track more of identifying and eliminating acute hazards?
      It’s easier to demonstrate a harm from a source that kills you, even as one part of a two part system, than from a source that contributes to a chain reaction that makes you slightly less healthy many years down the line.

      There’s also political influences in setting food policy for the entire nation. If corn or cattle caused a hard to prove increase in morbidity, it’s going to have some very motivated reasoning arguing opposite that.

      • Garrett says:

        My favorite example is the continuing education courses for EMS providers, including the one on self-care. Food was provided by the sponsoring hospital. None of the appetizing stuff was healthy and none of the healthy stuff was appetizing. Think greasy pepperoni pizza and iceberg lettuce/bland tomato salad from a wannabe Italian place. I really wish these organizations could put together demos of food which was healthy, tasty, satiating and affordable. Yet even hospitals seem to struggle with this.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I really wish these organizations could put together demos of food which was healthy, tasty, satiating and affordable.

          I believe the only examples of this are unicorn steaks, and purple squirrel stew. “Tasty” and “satiating” work against “healthy”, and “affordable” chops off what remains.

        • HarmlessFrog says:

          I really wish these organizations could put together demos of food which was healthy, tasty, satiating and affordable.

          I think you described “eggs”. 🙂

          • A1987dM says:

            Huh, for some reason I find eggs less satiating (per calorie) than almost anything else

          • HarmlessFrog says:

            How do you prepare your eggs?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Tasty, satiating, moderately affordable (though I’d argue they need accoutrement like either meat and cheese or some choice herbs to really shine, increasing their cost some as a meal), but they’re far too high cholesterol to count as “healthy”.

            The 3-4 egg breakfast is considered a bad idea for a reason.

          • Randy M says:

            Last I heard, dietary cholesterol was no longer considered a risk factor for high blood serum cholesterol.
            But, looking this up, it’s contradicted by another dietary correlation study last year. So idk.
            They are nutrient rich, though, good for kids at the least.

          • HarmlessFrog says:

            @Trofim_Lysenko
            @Randy M

            Dietary cholesterol doesn’t really matter. The human body just regulates internal production and absorption according to intake. Look at this guy, for an extreme example.

    • AKL says:

      Source: my partner is an inpatient dietitian at a large hospital.

      Most of their job is making sure that people in the hospital receive sufficient nutrition to meet their acute needs. For the most part this doesn’t mean “instructing them to eat the right things.” Typical patients might include a burn victim in a medically induced coma. The dietitian’s job is to manage IV nutrition by e.g. determining the caloric needs and nutrient balance. Another typical patient would be someone who couldn’t swallow for whatever reason, e.g. esophageal cancer. The dietitian figures out how to prevent them from starving (i.e. foods easy to swallow, feeding tube, IV nutrition, etc.).

      A minority of their job is pre-discharge counseling for patients with specific dietary needs. E.g. they might counsel a patient with a heart condition to go on a low sodium diet, or help find a way for a pregnant woman with hyperemesis gravidarum (chronic nausea and vomiting) to get sufficient calories to carry the pregnancy to term.

      My impression is that their job as a hospital based dietitian revolves almost entirely around the resolution of acute issues, and that typically the evidence base for those interventions is strong and well established (that is, we know with high confidence that a low sodium diet will reduce the risk of a second heart attack).

      I don’t have any special knowledge about the state of “lifestyle nutrition” research (i.e. weight loss, overall health optimization) but my impression is that it’s almost impossible to study effectively for a variety of reasons. You can’t run blinded RCTs because people know what they’re eating. You can’t control what people eat anyways. Running a study of sufficient length (years? decades?) is basically impossible for cost if no other reason. End points are hard to define. Confounders are myriad. We can (in theory) answer questions like “what is the effect on weight of weekly counseling sessions where we tell people to each mostly vegetables” but that’s SO DIFFERENT than the question “what is the effect on weight of weekly counseling sessions where we tell people to eating mostly vegetables?”

      I believe this leads to a case where Responsible Scientists basically say “this is complicated, we don’t know much, you should probably eat mostly vegetables and exercise sometimes.” But there’s huge demand for more concrete guidance, so almost anyone willing to make strong claims will find an audience. So I think the idea that “real expertise lies with personal trainers, individual doctors railing against carbs in wordpress blogs, and people on reddit forums” is mistaken. In truth it is precisely their lack of meaningful expertise that allows them to confidently make strong claims. If they were really experts, they would know that the answer is “it’s complicated, hard to study, and we don’t really know for sure.”

    • HarmlessFrog says:

      Is there even such a split in nutrition science?

      Sorta. There is quite a big difference between the biochem-based guidelines that prevent overt nutrient deficiencies, and what will result in long-term health. The human body is quite resilient, but chronic malnutrition will eventually overcome its resistance to long-term abuse. Just because you can keep it alive and well for the stay in the hospital, doesn’t mean you can do it over a lifetime, using the same rules.

      Relatedly, hospital food is crap, and may be an important factor in in-patient mortality.

      Do the people working on everyday nutrition feel that their research is just as productive as the people training nutritionists for hospitals? Is hospital nutrition science not that advanced, and I only think it is because I don’t spend enough time in hospitals?

      Most doctors don’t get much training in nutrition, if at all. I’ve checked a prestigious local university. Their physician program apparently included no classes directly related to nutrition. To learn about nutrition, you have to do a nutrition degree, not a physician degree. A similar situation seems to exist in other western countries. At most you get some biochem basics, it seems.

      Or is everyday nutrition science more correct than I thought, and the obesity crisis has underpinnings that couldn’t be helped by the best efforts of school nutritionists and whoever designed the food pyramid?

      The food pyramid was/is substantially formulated to cater to the needs of commercial interests, not public health. It’s not even under the patronage of some health agency, but the Department of Agriculture. Bit of a conflict of interest, there. Even the current iteration remains regrettably free of much needed evidence basis.

      The real split here is between policy and literature. Policy is governed by the Old Guard, who invested their entire lives and careers into the low-fat, low-saturated-fat, low-meat, plant-based, high-carbohydrate, low-salt paradigm. They’re not going to roll over and make way or change their minds just because scientific knowledge has advanced, and largely disproven the hypotheses the guidelines were based on. The only way I see improvement happening here is them dying of natural causes, and being replaced by the folks fighting them tooth-and-nail right now.

      • Lambert says:

        Wow. compared to everything else in healthcare, better food sounds like a remarkably low-cost improvement.

        > them dying of natural causes
        Cirrhosis of the liver related to excessive HFCS consumption, if there’s any justice in this world.

        • GearRatio says:

          Wow. compared to everything else in healthcare, better food sounds like a remarkably low-cost improvement.

          I’m not sure it would work out like you think; to the extent it matters in the short term, hospitals have it worked out: flood people with calories if they are burned, make sure they don’t die of starvation if they aren’t.

          In the long-term, that goes back to people controlling their own food intake. Doctors pretty consistently tell patients some version of “don’t literally eat yourself to death” and they don’t listen to that. There’s no reason they’d listen to “eat a lot of oranges” (or whatever) any more than they’d listen to the kind of caloric-restriction advice that, if followed, prevents/corrects obesity.

          • HarmlessFrog says:

            In the long-term, that goes back to people controlling their own food intake. Doctors pretty consistently tell patients some version of “don’t literally eat yourself to death” and they don’t listen to that.

            The health-conscious people actually do try their best to follow the guidelines. The guidelines being bad is the problem. For the non-health conscious, you may with greater odds of success try to change their religion; there, the food environment they are in is the problem, and public policy is required to alter the food environment top-down, if they are to be helped.

            There’s no reason they’d listen to “eat a lot of oranges” (or whatever) any more than they’d listen to the kind of caloric-restriction advice that, if followed, prevents/corrects obesity.

            Caloric restriction certainly corrects the aesthetic aspect of obesity. There is also some reason to believe that it also corrects the chronic disease effects of obesity, although the evidence is sparse, because long-term reduced-obese using caloric restriction are so rare – somewhere in the low single digit percentage of obese who tried CR.

            CR unfortunately does not, by itself, correct the reason people are obese. They are obese because their lizard-brains are telling them they should be at a level of fatness far above what is healthy. Using caloric restriction to combat this is like wrestling with a robot who doesn’t tire and gets stronger the more you start winning. Guyenet has some pretty decent tips on how to avoid obesity, and all of them are about modifying one’s food environment, not directly trying to eat less.

          • GearRatio says:

            The health-conscious people actually do try their best to follow the guidelines. The guidelines being bad is the problem.

            If this is a health-conscious obese person, the guidelines aren’t bad – they are “eat less, exercise more, and lose that weight”. They aren’t any worse than telling a person on the brink of COPD to stop smoking; you are telling them to do the thing that improves their lung spirometry.

            You might think they need to be more encompassing in describing the lifestyle changes, but this amounts to a demand that doctors become lifestyle coaches; this work can be farmed out far more cheaply to actual lifestyle coaches.

            For the non-health conscious, you may with greater odds of success try to change their religion; there, the food environment they are in is the problem, and public policy is required to alter the food environment top-down, if they are to be helped.

            “Should the government make the kind of sweeping, severe changes in banning foods that we kinda know would be necessary since the whole food desert thing turned out to be pretend” is a little out of the scope of the “are doctors giving good advice by telling people to lose weight” conversation. If that kind of government change is necessary to put a dent in obesity, it doesn’t matter what doctors/nutritionists say in the first place, and this whole conversation is moot.

            Caloric restriction certainly corrects the aesthetic aspect of obesity. There is also some reason to believe that it also corrects the chronic disease effects of obesity

            There’s some wordplay trickery going on here. There’s plenty of studies and very consistent evidence of positive health benefits associated with weight loss; biomarkers typically improve even when the weight loss is modest. Do a google search for “biomarkers weight loss” and some related terms and scroll down for a bit; there’s no shortage of evidence showing weight loss improves health in the obese.

            So in the sense that there’s no shortage of studies on weight loss improving biomarkers and general health, you are incorrect. If you are saying something closer to “there’s not enough evidence that weight loss completely reverses all damage done by years of obesity”, I can’t disprove that, but that’s a different thing than “We don’t have good evidence that losing weight is anything but cosmetic”.

            Guyenet has some pretty decent tips on how to avoid obesity, and all of them are about modifying one’s food environment, not directly trying to eat less.

            I’m not super familiar with this man, but he’s dishonest in ways that make him non-credible and non-serious if that article is representative. Some examples:

            Nevertheless, the more I read, the more I’m convinced that excessive food reward and/or palatability is the elephant in the room when it comes to obesity and metabolic dysfunction. We live our lives surrounded by foods that are professionally crafted to satisfy our basest gustatory desires– to drive us to eat more, against the wisdom that our bodies have accumulated over millions of years. They do this by exploiting the hard-wired preferences that guided us toward healthy food in the natural environment…..

            Obesity is not always going to be 100 percent reversible. I know no one wants to hear that, but I’m not in the business of selling snake oil. Some people can reverse it completely; others won’t lose any fat at all; the majority can probably lose a substantial amount of fat but not all of it. Highly controlled diet studies in rodents show that obesity due to eating highly rewarding/palatable refined food is mostly reversible when they are placed back on low-palatability whole food, but they don’t usually lose all of the excess fat, and the longer they’ve been obese, the less fat they lose (1, 2, 3).

            So here he’s talking about weight loss as “reversal of obesity”, as shown by him verbally representing success/failure conditions as fat loss.

            His first dishonesty is very clear: He says that some people can’t lose weight. This is “nothing is your fault and there’s nothing you can do” hedging. He’s implying that caloric reduction doesn’t work; it simply does, and it simply never fails to do so, and it in fact can’t fail. Those who fail at it are those who, by definition, don’t actually reduce their caloric intake. The person he’s referencing that can’t lose any fat at all either doesn’t exist, or exists ungoverned by physics; he knows this, but lies about it because he can’t bring himself to say “among you, there are people who will not change their habits in the slightest”.

            If he were honest here, he’d say “Every single one of you could lose much or all of your weight by reducing your calorie intake; however, experience has shown me that most of you will not do this”.

            He then references three studies to show that weight loss is impossible for some. Taking just the first, he shows a bunch of mice they intentionally get fat with fatty foods and then put on an ad libitum diet of more regular foods. There are controls who never switch off the bad diet and controls who eat healthily the entire time.

            What are the results here? Mice who never amend their diets are at ~40% body fat. Mice who do amend their diets shrink down to about 21% percent body fat, compared to 16% body fat in “never fat” mice.

            If this dude were honest about the evidence he’s putting forward, he’d say “The evidence I’m showing shows that while you might not lose 100% of your weight and go from obese to skinny by adjusting your habits to those of an always-skinny person, you will be four times closer to the skinny person than someone who doesn’t try at all”. Instead he says some people won’t lose any weight at all, something he has no evidence whatsoever for.

            This is ignoring limitations of the study, and things the study itself ignored (I.E. the “diet” group was eating 1 k/cal per day more than the control group and 5/kcal a day less than the “fat” group, which is consistent with the maintained weight, the study was short (12 weeks), etc). But this isn’t a serious guy who is seriously contending with evidence and then accurately representing it – he’s a guy who says if you didn’t lose weight it’s because it was impossible then misreads a study to you so you can feel good about not dieting.

          • Lambert says:

            Maybe the US Gov’t could make the sweeping, severe change of just punitively taxing sugary foods.

            *checks notes*

            Ok, actually it’d be a good start to make the sweeping, severe change of not throwing billions of dollars of subsidies at empty carbs (corn).

          • HarmlessFrog says:

            @GearRatio

            If this is a health-conscious obese person, the guidelines aren’t bad – they are “eat less, exercise more, and lose that weight”. They aren’t any worse than telling a person on the brink of COPD to stop smoking; you are telling them to do the thing that improves their lung spirometry.

            Drinking/smoking is optional. Eating is mandatory for life. While you can enter a hungerless state with prolonged fasting while obese, you will have to eat again, eventually.

            Also, you will eventually stop being addicted if you stop using the substances. You will not become less hungry by eating less, while you are reduced.

            “Eat less, exercise more” is terrible advice. It amounts to prescribing the patient something that will be both highly uncomfortable, and also ultimately unsuccessful. Even something as drastic as bariatric surgery would be better, because that has some appreciable chance of transforming an obese person into a lean person.

            You might think they need to be more encompassing in describing the lifestyle changes, but this amounts to a demand that doctors become lifestyle coaches; this work can be farmed out far more cheaply to actual lifestyle coaches.

            This is a good idea, really. Doctors are burdened with this stuff that they can’t solve using classic doctor methods, like prescribing a pill.

            “are doctors giving good advice by telling people to lose weight”

            The advice to lose weight is a good one, but useless without a method that works. There are methods that work. These are not being all that commonly used, because people still think that CICO is be-all, end-all.

            There’s some wordplay trickery going on here. There’s plenty of studies and very consistent evidence of positive health benefits associated with weight loss; biomarkers typically improve even when the weight loss is modest. Do a google search for “biomarkers weight loss” and some related terms and scroll down for a bit; there’s no shortage of evidence showing weight loss improves health in the obese.

            So in the sense that there’s no shortage of studies on weight loss improving biomarkers and general health, you are incorrect. If you are saying something closer to “there’s not enough evidence that weight loss completely reverses all damage done by years of obesity”, I can’t disprove that, but that’s a different thing than “We don’t have good evidence that losing weight is anything but cosmetic”.

            You accuse me of “wordplay trickery” but you either did not understand, or are using some yourself. I meant weight loss expressly in the context of CALORIC RESTRICTION. There are non-caloric-restriction methods of weight loss. I don’t doubt that weight loss per se is beneficial. I also happen to know that there are important metabolic differences between lean, obese and reduced-obese people. It does not necessarily follow that a lean person is in the same metabolic health as a reduced-obese person; I *suspect* most of the benefit is there, but don’t know of any direct proof.

            I’m not super familiar with this man, but he’s dishonest in ways that make him non-credible and non-serious if that article is representative.

            I don’t think he is.

            His first dishonesty is very clear: He says that some people can’t lose weight. This is “nothing is your fault and there’s nothing you can do” hedging. He’s implying that caloric reduction doesn’t work; it simply does, and it simply never fails to do so, and it in fact can’t fail. Those who fail at it are those who, by definition, don’t actually reduce their caloric intake. The person he’s referencing that can’t lose any fat at all either doesn’t exist, or exists ungoverned by physics; he knows this, but lies about it because he can’t bring himself to say “among you, there are people who will not change their habits in the slightest”.

            If you put someone in a cell and ration out the calories, CICO will work. But absent putting people in cells and rationing out their calories, it approximately never works to permanently resolve obesity. People mostly eat as their internal fatness regulating systems tell them to, by manipulating their hunger level, their interest in food and their basal metabolic rate. Reducing calories consciously, absent altering that system to defend a lower level of body fatness, is setting yourself up to either fail, or making weight control a full-time job with no off-days.

            If he were honest here, he’d say “Every single one of you could lose much or all of your weight by reducing your calorie intake; however, experience has shown me that most of you will not do this”.

            And they’d be right not to. That’s torturing yourself for nothing.

            Instead he says some people won’t lose any weight at all, something he has no evidence whatsoever for.

            Have you considered that there are non-food-reward causes of obesity? Because there are. If you knock out either the leptin receptor in the hypothalamus or the leptin production in the fat cells, the subject will be permanently ravenous. Same thing with damage to the hypothalamus, f.ex. from brain cancer or treatment for it. Hypothyroidism may also result in weight gain. Taking any number of drugs, like insulin, can result in weight gain.

            But this isn’t a serious guy who is seriously contending with evidence and then accurately representing it – he’s a guy who says if you didn’t lose weight it’s because it was impossible then misreads a study to you so you can feel good about not dieting.

            No, you are saying it. And would you quit blaming the victim? Precious few people, aside from professional sumo wrestlers, want to be obese. The obese are trying what they know – eating less and moving more – because that’s what they’re told is the only path. And they reliably fail. After fifty years since the start of the obesity epidemic, I’m perfectly willing to consider this approach to be a complete failure, just on the basis that it has failed to slow, let alone stop, the progression of the condition. Obesity was not a major problem a century ago – the problem is the environment, not the poor saps whose lizard-brains are yelling at them to eat more if they weigh any less than 200kg.

          • HarmlessFrog says:

            @Lambert

            Ok, actually it’d be a good start to make the sweeping, severe change of not throwing billions of dollars of subsidies at empty carbs (corn).

            FWIW, I think the corn oil is worse than the corn carbs. But you’re right that removing that subsidy would take care of both.

        • HarmlessFrog says:

          Wow. compared to everything else in healthcare, better food sounds like a remarkably low-cost improvement.

          I dunno about the low-cost. The food industry would hate it to be fixed. There’s enormous profits in overeating, particularly processed foods. I’d estimate that if the food environment were to be fixed, about half of the food industry would have to find a new job.

    • Viliam says:

      Is this more general? Is medicine better at “saving life” than in “improving mediocre life”? Also psychology, etc.

      I can imagine many reasons. Priorities (saving lives more urgent than making people happy), which means more resources (for both cure and research). Better feedback (patient dead or alive vs patient vaguely less happy or vaguely more happy). Greater consensus (unbroken bone is better than broken bone, but how much muscle is optimal?).

  8. johan_larson says:

    Our friends with the giant spaceships are back. This time they want to trade. They want Australia. What should we ask for in return?

    Let me add that our friends have a reputation throughout the galaxy as slow, patient negotiators, who can almost invariably be trusted to adhere to the plain meaning of any agreement. They have announced their intent to comply fully with the Protocols for Asymmetric Negotiation, as amended and ratified by the most recent Galactic Congress.

    • Erusian says:

      Are these aliens Crassus-oids by chance? “How unfortunate your Australia is on fire. Well, if you sell it for the low, low price of a handful of sestertii, I can put it out for you…”

      More seriously: Do they want the physical landmass of Australia or the country of Australia or the people of Australia? Or all of the above? Do they want to take it or do they want to occupy it and have a permanent presence on Earth?

      If it’s just the physical landmass with no enduring presence or other negative externalities, the total wealth of Australia is about nine trillion. The economy is about 1.5 trillion, which at twenty years would be thirty trillion. I’d double that to account for things like undiscovered minerals or current reserves, so another thirty trillion. Add in a million dollars for each Australian as an incentive and to deal with any resulting unrest and you get another 25 trillion.

      So $94 trillion, or more than the economic output of the entire world. Maybe more: we don’t particularly need to sell Australia so we’re going to charge a premium. Plus it’s hard to see Australia itself consenting. If they want a better deal, offer them North Korea. That’s a real fixer upper without much in the way of fellow feeling allies.

      I suppose ideally payment would come in the form of training, scientific knowledge, and their sci-fi heavy industry. Especially in space travel, ships, etc. Perhaps agreements of defense and preserved sovereignty if the aliens are powerful enough that would be worthwhile. Time to… modernize? For lack of a better word.

      • johan_larson says:

        Are these aliens Crassus-oids by chance?

        No. They are negotiating in good faith.

        Do they want the physical landmass of Australia or the country of Australia or the people of Australia? Or all of the above? Do they want to take it or do they want to occupy it and have a permanent presence on Earth?

        They want the physical landmass. They aren’t saying what they plan to do with it, but they have indicated they are willing to discuss rules for use of unavoidably common resources like the atmosphere, oceans, and EM spectrum.

        They have no interest in the people or the state of Australia. It is our responsibility to move them elsewhere.

    • The Nybbler says:

      A practical method of interstellar travel, both spaceships and the technology by which we may build more spaceships. They’re shrinking the amount of territory available to us; we ought to at least get a chance to find more of our own. And if one is practically obliged to go armed when upon the spaceways, appropriate weapons as well.

      • Randy M says:

        That’s a half of a pretty good premise right there. Now, why do the aliens want Australia?
        Maybe they know that the rest of the galaxy is already claimed, and we can’t actually gain any ground in the galactic empire.
        It still might be a good trade, though, since that opens up the possibility for trade with this crowded galaxy.

        • Erusian says:

          I always thought an interesting premise would be: Aquatic aliens show up. They want the sea floor. We can still keep shipping on the water and that kind of thing but they want to set up underneath the waves. They have no interest in land since it’s as difficult for them to exploit as the deep ocean is for us. Soon we have parallel, basically mutually inaccessible societies.

          • Randy M says:

            Hmm… again, half of an interesting premise. For a story to occur, we need some conflict, and it sounds like we’re quickly just as separated as we were across star systems.
            Maybe they’re being hunted and we gain their enemies, or there are human factions that want to keep them off Earth, instigating a war?

          • Lambert says:

            It’s not easy to go and visit them, but there’s still meaningful contact to be made.
            They can give us manganese nodules or whatever in return for what they have an economic need for.

            I think the barrier to it being hard SF is thermodynamics. Without the sun, they need a source of low-entropy energy. And geothermal sources are not nearly enough for a spacefaring civilisation.

          • CatCube says:

            @Randy M

            I’d think that oceanic pollution would be a conflict–and possibly there’s pollution the aliens vent to atmosphere (e.g., sulfur dioxide) that they make as part of their geothermal/industrial processes?

          • albatross11 says:

            They could build a fusion plant and dump the waste heat in some not-used-by-them part of the ocean. They could mine under the sea for fissionables and run fission plants, too. Both will give plenty of energy for a high-tech civilization.

            Launching spacecraft will probably involve a surface-level presence, which will be to them like a deep-undersea or LEO station would be do us. Though maybe they’d just make a multistage rocket where the first stage went to the surface on buoyancy and then it launched from there. [ETA: This is probably a good point of trade between us–they employ several hundred humans keeping their surface stations working, which on their home planet was a constant dangerous and demanding job like keeping industrial plants in orbit working would be for us.]

            Physical visits would be hard but possible on both sides, with bulky environment suits. High speed communications are pretty easy to set up–more-or-less just undersea cables that terminate in an undersea alien city. We can trade in ideas and also negotiate trade deals. Sending things to them is mainly about making it denser than water and lowering it on a long cable; them sending things up is the equivalent the other way. We probably build “beanstalks” to get goods from their level to ours efficiently.

            What do the aliens eat? I imagine them farming the ocean vents, and perhaps making artificial ocean vents the way we might make a greenhouse with artificial lights on Mars or in Svalbard. I imagine them finding high-oxygen, lit, one-atmosphere environments incredibly toxic and dangerous, about like we find conditions at an undersea vent.

            I think a lot of undersea life depends on “ocean snow”–plankton that grew from surface-level conditions (oxygen/nitrogen and sunlight) and then died and sank to the bottom of the ocean. If they evolved in an environment like our deep oceans, they’ll probably need the same thing. In that case, they’re adapted to living on solar + geothermal energy for their biology, but the solar energy is at a couple more removes than ours is.

          • Aftagley says:

            Aquatic aliens show up. They want the sea floor. We can still keep shipping on the water and that kind of thing but they want to set up underneath the waves.

            This is basically the premise of the first “Flandry of Terra” novella (although in that case both the terrestrial and aquatic species evolved on the same planet).

            Launching spacecraft will probably involve a surface-level presence, which will be to them like a deep-undersea or LEO station would be do us. Though maybe they’d just make a multistage rocket where the first stage went to the surface on buoyancy and then it launched from there.

            Would it be possible to design a rocket that is full of pressurized liquid? Other than weighing more, is there any downside to this?

          • Lambert says:

            Most rockets are full of pressurised liquid.
            The space shuttle LH2 tank has an equivalent pressure to around 25m water.
            Say the aliens can withstand anywhere up (or down, depending on perspective) to 100m water depth.

            And you can fill up an Apollo CM with under 6T of water. Which is a challenge but not an insurmountable one.

    • John Schilling says:

      I believe the traditional price for Australia is the Son of Jor-El as planetary guardian. Should work just as well in reverse. And as Kal’s powers automagically scale to the plot-required level for a desperate last-minute victory against any foe, this does help with the “what do these aliens want with Australia in the first place?” problem.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      What should we ask for in return?

      Surely that’s up to the Australians?

  9. hash872 says:

    Slightly random question, but is there any general primer/textbook on intelligence officer tactics- just sort of a 101/202-level educational for someone intellectually interested? I.e. just the basics on tradecraft, covert communication, recruitment, surveillance, general tactics NOCs or other CIA officers employ in the field. Not really interested (but not opposed) to the paramilitary shooting stuff, but more the subtler aspects of tradecraft- much more Le Carre than James Bond. Wasn’t sure if there are manuals, instructionals, maybe YT channels out there

    • Aapje says:

      Current or historic? Some things seem to have changed a lot (for example, once upon a time, just reading and summarizing publicly available information from the country that the agent was stationed, seems to have been a major part of the work).

    • Sandpaper26 says:

      The availability of the most up-to-date versions of this information typically depends on your security clearance and need to know. In the US, these kinds of things are kept classified unless you enter into some specific programs (even the Army regs for parts of CI and HUMINT are classified). You could always try enrolling at the National Intelligence University or trying to contact someone there if you’re very serious about learning this. But in general, as a civilian you’d be better off reading some nonfiction books about specific historical intelligence/counterintelligence operations and extrapolating, or read some professional intelligence publications. It’s a rather dangerous thing for a government to allow you to pursue this academic interest, unfortunately.

    • Aftagley says:

      I’ve never been in the game, but from what friends who went to NIU have told me, the old standby here is Allen Dulles’ masterwork The Craft of Intelligence

      It’s a pretty broad level overview and depending on your prior experience some of it will be pretty basic, but if you want a great overview of the various disciplines of intelligence and how they all fit together, it’s a hard book to top. While some of the specific technologies are a tad bit out of date, it doesn’t really change the underlying value.

      That being said, it doesn’t focus just on HUMINT, which it sounds like you’re primarily interested in. For those, i’d either read memoirs/autobiographies of former officers or fiction written by former officers*. The CIA actually has a recommended reading list if you want to see what books they think are particularly helpful.

      * one of my favorite quotes from any book review ever is from the CIA review of Red Sparrow:

      But forget character development and motivation—this story excels when the protagonists take to the streets. An alternative marketing approach might have been to give it a yellow cover and call it “Tradecraft for Dummies.” The amount of tradecraft, particularly surveillance and countersurveillance, will make the in-house reader wonder how he got all this past the Publications Review Board. Matthews himself said in a recent interview that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the small number of redactions and described the tradecraft as “old, classic stuff that’s been around since Biblical times.”[1] The scenes in which Nate and Dominika course through urban landscapes in intricate, hours-long surveillance detection routes in order to get clean before a clandestine operational act are accurate, richly detailed renderings of anxiety-filled tasks conducted daily by intelligence operatives around the world.

    • ECD says:

      Depends which type of ‘intelligence’ you mean. For military intelligence, there’s always the army publications site, which includes ADP-2-0 Intelligence as well as a number of other historic and current publications. I haven’t worked in the area, but army and DOD publications vary widely in quality from excellent to barely understandable. You probably don’t want ARs (Army Regulations) but other types of documents may be useful.

      • Sandpaper26 says:

        When considering US Army doctrine, my general rule is to look for a TC, ATP, ADP, ADRP, then FM in that order, unless I know I need a TM or AR for something specific.

        In this case, what you may want is actually an STP, which lays out some standard tasks for Soldiers assigned to certain positions. The STP 34-35***-SM-TG series might fit the bill.

        And, of course, those with CAC access can always submit an RFI to CALL, which is helpful more often than not to get best practices and tactics, techniques, and procedures.

  10. Atlas says:

    2019, fittingly for the end of a decade [1], has seen concluding chapters in three of the most popular speculative fiction franchises, namely: Star Wars, Game of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, more content set in each universe will no doubt be produced, and some of it will likely be popular and/or good, but I think (happy to hear disagreement) that it’s a safe bet at this point that the box office grosses/viewership/cultural relevance of each will decline substantially in the next few years. What predictions, speculations, observations, conjectures, wishes, fears, etc. do folks have about this and its consequences for popular culture over the next few years/decade?

    [1] Yes, I am absolutely willing to die on this hill. Catch me in the CW thread, howbouthat?

    • acymetric says:

      [1] Yes, I am absolutely willing to die on this hill. Catch me in the CW thread, howbouthat?

      I don’t think you need to, you’re among a pretty vast majority of people.

    • cassander says:

      I remain fascinated by the success of the MCU, and the total failure of everyone else who has tried to imitate it. The model doesn’t seem to be all that complicated, but something about it must be tougher than it looks because everyone who tries seems to be falling flat on their face. There’s a wonderful book waiting to be written about the subject.

      • Matt M says:

        The core success of the MCU has been, and remains, that most of the movies are actually entertaining and good, in a core, stand-alone sense. If that wasn’t the case, everything else is trivial. And that’s the one thing its imitators have failed to replicate.

        • Milo Minderbinder says:

          It was amazing to watch Marvel/Disney get them down to a science. It gives me hope that in a decade or so the yearly Star Wars will be consistently good.

        • cassander says:

          Sure, but why? How did marvel manage to make over 20 movies in a row, all of which hang together relatively well as a coherent saga, all of which have been financially successful, and where the worst thing you can say about any of them is “meh, that was forgettable.” That is a hell of a run, there’s never been anything like it. Who else has ever made that many hits in a row?

          • acymetric says:

            Combination of:

            1) Right people in charge of planning/decisions/creative stuff

            2) Decades upon decades of source material to draw from

            3) Excellent initial casting decisions

            4) A coherent and intentional plan

            There is more to it than that, but those are 4 key things and I think most other franchises lacked at least 2 of the above.

          • cassander says:

            @acymetric

            I don’t think they had a plan, at least not before phase 2. I’ll grant that that’s also when they stopped producing relative duds like thor and ironman 2. I also think that the lack of an initial plan was part of their success. they were able to experiment a little, feel around for what worked and (more importantly) what didn’t. That meant when it came time to make a plan, there was a greater degree of confidence that it was the right plan, because the people making it had proven themselves. DC came in with too much of a plan too early, bet on the wrong people, and have been frantically trying to extract themselves ever since.

          • Unsaintly says:

            @acymetric
            I think having the right people in charge certainly helped, as they had some top talent in the right place at the right time. But I think your point about casting was the most important. I believe that without Robert Downey Junior as Iron Man, you don’t have an MCU – or at least not one remotely as successful. He stepped into a relatively obscure character and played it with so much presence and charm that he became synonymous with the entire genre.

            However, I will give credit to their plan. Whether or not they had the whole thing outlined from the beginning (I genuinely don’t know), they took the time to develop each of the headliners. By the time Avengers came together, every important character in the teamup either had a full movie of their own or at least a notable appearance in another movie. Avengers is the bad guy from Thor, the plot device from Captain America and the organization from Iron Man. Compare with DC’s movies. Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, then Justice League. Wonder Woman got a part in BvS, but not enough for a headliner. And Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg were essentially introduced in Justice League (barring tiny cameos in BvS). It may well have gone very differently if each hero had their standalone movie before the crossover episode.

          • Clutzy says:

            I think the key to the success is actually that early on, a lot of people were skeptical of its success. This meant that a bunch of the early writers/directors on the projects were real fans of the source material, and simply wanted to share the joy with other people.

            The problem for GOT appears to have been that the writers at the end just wanted it to end. Its similar to Star Wars. The prequels were (despite George having decades) oddly rushed, and Lucas clearly made them more out of a sense of obligation than a true passion for his scifi universe. Similarly, it doesn’t seem to me that Abrams or Kennedy were well verse in the Star Wars lore outside of the core movies, and Johnson appears to have that feature as well + a seeming active hatred for star wars fans.

          • Brett says:

            The Marvel division at Disney has a really good “Second Unit” team. That’s why they consistently make pretty good action sequences, and why they can bring in new directors with interesting ideas but little experience helming a big-budget film and give them a lot of room to play with (to a degree – Feige’s got the final veto on storytelling decisions) in terms of making films that don’t feel super-generic.

            Mostly, though, I think it’s the whole “make good individual movies” and “make a lot of them”. If something doesn’t work, drop it and pretend it never happened. Thor 2 is generally considered the worst MCU film, but nobody cares because six months later they brought out the first Captain America film, followed by the first Guardians of the Galaxy film a few months after that.

          • beleester says:

            Thor 2 was forgettable (I cannot remember what the villain’s plan was in even the broadest strokes), but the thinking-with-portals final battle is among the most creative in the MCU, which I suppose is a credit to the second unit like you said.

          • Tarpitz says:

            “There has never been anything like it.”

            Has Bond ever had a flop? Some bad films and critical pannings thrown in there, but I don’t think any of them failed commercially. Obviously spread over a much longer time frame, but it’s a similar number of films.

          • Another Throw says:

            Has Bond ever had a flop? Some bad films and critical pannings thrown in there, but I don’t think any of them failed commercially.

            No.

            The rule of thumb is, apparently, that the global box office to production budget ratio should be at least 2:1 for a movie to be considered commercially successful. I actually ran the numbers recently and they’re still in my autosave. If I scrapped Wikipedia correctly, the 24 Bond films made by Eon have all met that target.

            There has been a steady erosion of the ratio over the years, however. The first three films all did about 40 to 50x. The next seven where all in the teens. The next seven did about 5x. The last seven have all done about 3x (except Skyfall, which pulled off a 5x).

            The reason I looked into it, by the way, was that I was wonder whether this was an industry wide trend or not. I always had the impression that the return on investment for movies isn’t what it used to be, so I used the Bond franchise as a gut check. However, developing a methodology and finding numbers to go further than that was way more than my interest in the question could bare.

          • Enkidum says:

            There has been a steady erosion of the ratio over the years, however.

            Hasn’t there also been a rise in the amount of money, though? When you’re doing billions as opposed to millions, presumably it’s less of a concern.

          • Another Throw says:

            I didn’t get inflation adjusted figures so I couldn’t tell you about Bond specifically, but lists of the inflation adjusted top grossing films don’t seem to have an extremely evident recency bias, which would argue against that point.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Disagree here. Functionally the MCU worked because of Robert Downy Jr. From Iron man there was a complete bust in the first Hulk movie, then IM2, then a modest success of Thor, then a weak Captain America, then The Avengers and Iron Man 3 really blew the doors off. Dropping the Avengers you have 3 Iron Man movies making almost 2.5 billion at the box office on less than 600 million in production budgets and Hulk+ 2 Cap + 2 Thor movies bringing in roughly that same amount on 700+ million in budgets.

          Using these numbers Marvel has 6 movies whose box office was $1 billion+ more than the budget with RDJ in 5 of them, he is in 6 of the top 7 highest grossing movies. Iron man 1-3 basically kicked off and drove the MCU along with the Avengers for the first 6+ years while they found their footing.

          Also disagree on the ‘only make good movies’, Hulk, Black Panther and Captain Marvel were all bad movies with two of them largely riding on the success of the established universe and one of them flopping before the universe was established.

          • acymetric says:

            Also disagree on the ‘only make good movies’, Hulk, Black Panther and Captain Marvel were all bad movies

            You should probably drop Black Panther from that list. It may be a movie you didn’t like, and that’s fair, but that isn’t a particularly common take.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It is not a wild take, the audience score for Black Panther is 79%, its not a universally loved movie (it critical reception was massive though) by any stretch, and its story line, character development and effects are poor.

            Also, this isn’t a list of movies I don’t like, they are movies that I think can be argued are objectively bad from some level of story telling/production/acting (or all 3 in the Hulk case). I didn’t like plenty of these movies.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Also I would object to ‘no one else has figured it out’, the LOTR and Hobbit movies spanned 13 years and made almost 6 billion on 1 billion in production budgets, and those Hobbit movies really are going off the rails and still returned nice chunks of change. The Harry Potter series has spun off a pair of successful movies with a 3rd in the works, Despicable Me turned into the minions franchise which has been successful, they brought back the Jurassic Park franchise, the Fast and the Furious somehow became a 9 movie franchise (with 2 more planned?).

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Of the MCU films, Black Panther had the most interesting villain and the least interesting hero.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            and its story line, character development and effects are poor.

            The story line was totally fine. Character development was bad and the CGI looked worse than a Playstation 3 game. It coasted on the strength of the story line, an American critariat primed to praise it for ideological reasons, and to a lesser extent a few good actors (inc. Michael B. Jordan but unfortunately not the dude playing Black Panther.)

          • baconbits9 says:

            The story line is pretty terrible- magical thing allows a near perfect society to exist, but that society is attacked from the outside by evil people looking to steal magical thing. It’s Avatar with a bit more depth, the Michael B Jordan portion could have been really powerful if they had him step out and discover that black people are living difficult lives in the immediate areas surrounding them and taken your shots at capitalism and colonialism that way.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The story line is pretty terrible- magical thing allows a near perfect society to exist, but that society is attacked from the outside by evil people looking to steal magical thing. It’s Avatar with a bit more depth,

            Ouch. Well when you put it that way!

            the Michael B Jordan portion could have been really powerful if they had him step out and discover that black people are living difficult lives in the immediate areas surrounding them and taken your shots at capitalism and colonialism that way.

            That certainly could have been made clearer. Wakanda is surrounded by some of the poorest countries on Earth, and they can’t just invite those people in because they don’t have the culture that makes Wakanda work.
            Current!Wakanda is also a blatant retcon of Jack Kirby’s original world-building. T’Challa was a Science Hero introduced as a supporting character in the Kirby/Lee Fantastic 4, who had taken his average African country and modernized it, subverting Reed Richards Is Useless (similar to Doom, the other Reed foil). Decades later, Marvel hired a writer for Black Panther who had characters say that Wakanda had always been more advanced than the rest of the world, because… uh…

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think the stories are best when the heroes are relatable. I’ve heard Marvel described as “men learning to be gods” and DC described as “gods learning to be men.” We relate much more to the men than the gods, so Peter Parker being an awkward teen (like us readers) who is given an incredible gift but then must learn that with great power comes great responsibility is relatable. Tony Stark struggling against his blinding ego is relatable. Wonder Woman and Superman, though, already were gods are just pretending to be human. Not so relatable.

            With Black Panther, the plot about the outsiders coming to steal the magic mcguffin is neither here nor there. Was T’Challa relatable? And did his character grow or develop in any way? Not really. He started out powerful king, lost being king, learned it was good to be the king and became king again.

            I would have preferred a story like Iron Man, where T’Challa realizes he was wrong about something and grows as a person. So maybe instead of being estranged, he and Killmonger are childhood friends and they initially agree that Wakanda’s technology should be shared to liberate blacks everywhere. But after delivering weapons to the downtrodden he sees the terrible truth of war and all the human suffering that it creates. They didn’t end suffering, they just changed it into a different kind. He learns that with power comes responsibility and just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Killmonger, though, mongers kills and deposes T’Challa. The second half of the movie plays out like it did originally, and T’Challa and Wakanda seek to elevate downtrodden people of the world through peaceful means.

            I think that would have been more relatable and personal and would have elevated Black Panther. Also agree with LMC, for some bizarre reason Black Panther had the worst CGI since Thor 1.

          • Enkidum says:

            I like everything you’ve said here.

            I would have preferred a story like Iron Man, where T’Challa realizes he was wrong about something and grows as a person.

            They tried to kind of have it both ways, where he realizes there’s something wrong with his kingdom and in growing as a person, makes it a better place. Which would have made for a great story if they’d leaned hard into it, as @baconbits9 says. But they couldn’t, for fairly clear political reasons.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Is Bruce Wayne materially different from Tony Stark in the Men -> Gods continuum? Is Thor really a man learning to be a god? It seems like plenty of examples of both trajectories on both sides.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @baconbits9:

            Is Bruce Wayne materially different from Tony Stark in the Men -> Gods continuum? Is Thor really a man learning to be a god? It seems like plenty of examples of both trajectories on both sides.

            Thor is generally just Thor, the god.
            However, Jack Kirby/Stan Lee’s Thor owed a lot to the Golden Age Superman rival Captain Marvel, who was adolescent orphan Billy Batson learning to be a god.
            The original Marvel Thor run feels a lot like a roundabout way for Stan Lee to write Superman in a lawyer-friendly way. He’d even develop new powers as the plot demands.

          • baconbits9 says:

            But they couldn’t, for fairly clear political reasons.

            I think they could have, imagine setting it during Apartheid and you can literally have evil white people systematically oppressing black people, and you don’t have to make your home world so ridiculously idyllic to imply superiority over such people, you can take your shots at imperialism/colonialism/racism in a real context with real people to draw from. The possibilities are vast, how about you start with the leader of Wakanda meeting a post prison Nelson Mandela, who convinces him of the righteousness of pacifism vs violent rebellion, he then renounces the tradition of physical violence to determine the leader of Wakanda and loses his position after refusing a challenge from one of his sons. His other son then challenges the brother, loses and is outcast from their homeland.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Is Bruce Wayne materially different from Tony Stark in the Men -> Gods continuum? Is Thor really a man learning to be a god? It seems like plenty of examples of both trajectories on both sides.

            It’s not 100% either way, but the vast, vast majority of popular Marvel characters are humans who get powers (or in the case of mutants, suddenly manifest latent powers). Batman is the most popular DC character because he’s the most like the marvel characters: a normal human dealing with human problems like the death of one’s parents who happens to have a superpower: piles and piles of cash.

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            and to a lesser extent a few good actors (inc. Michael B. Jordan but unfortunately not the dude playing Black Panther.)

            Hard disagree there. Chadwick Boseman is an extremely talented actor. For proof, watch 42 (where he plays Jackie Robinson) and Get On Up (where he plays James Brown). Two fully realized and completely different human beings.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Hard disagree there. Chadwick Boseman is an extremely talented actor. For proof, watch 42 (where he plays Jackie Robinson) and Get On Up (where he plays James Brown). Two fully realized and completely different human beings.

            In that case, the Marvel directors gave a good actor nothing to work with in Civil War or BP.

        • Enkidum says:

          The core success of the MCU has been, and remains, that most of the movies are actually entertaining and good, in a core, stand-alone sense. If that wasn’t the case, everything else is trivial. And that’s the one thing its imitators have failed to replicate.

          Hard disagree. COME AT ME BRO.

          I mean, I don’t disagree that most of the movies are good. I’ve seen and enjoyed all of them, and the worst of them (say, Thor II and Iron Man II) are still solid 6/10 forgettable action/cape flicks. So you’re absolutely right about that.

          But that’s not what made the MCU the MCU. Aquaman and Wonder Woman at least, are as good as the low-to-middle tier of the MCU films, and I haven’t watched any of the other recent DC films but from the reviews, I suspect they’re not all that much worse, despite Snyder. And if we’re willing to include the Nolan Batman trilogy, you’ve got at least one, possibly two, of the top 10 superhero films ever made.

          The quality of the Marvel films was an important and necessary component of their success. But it wasn’t sufficient. Some other critical things they did:

          – Stay true to the established characters and tropes from the comics, to keep the fans on board. DC failed to do this in several of their films, most obviously making both Superman and Batman murderers, and making Superman a grimdark power fantasy, which he’s never really been in the comics. By staying true in this way, you end up maintaining a pre-existing rabid fan base. Critical. (Consider how Tim Burton, who famously has no interest in comic books, failed to understand Batman’s character as well, and when he got to make the Batman film he really wanted to in Batman Returns, it was a perfect Burton film [I am lukewarm on Burton at best, to be honest] but not a great Batman one.)

          – Keep the “universe” there, but in the background. One of the biggest attractions of Marvel’s comic universe has always been the universe itself, where connections between titles, guest appearances, Easter eggs (or simply references to other titles/events/whatever), etc, are very common. This was built into the movies explicitly with Samuel L Jackson’s post-credits scenes in the first few MCU titles, but there’s also plenty of connective tissue hiding in the background, to be noticed and referenced by the hardcore, and to provide the illusion of a world beyond the edges of the movie. I haven’t seen enough of the new crop of DC films to judge this, but I have not seen mention of this kind of thing in the reviews.

          – Related to both these first two: keep the soap opera aspect of the comics. One of the things Marvel nerds always went for was precisely the same thing that fans of General Hospital or Days of Our Lives have gone for: serial melodrama. For some reason people really, really like this (speaking as someone who is clearly affected by this, I have no idea why, and find it kind of silly at best.) This is a huge component of the MCU. I don’t think this works as well in DC, from what I understand.

          – All of the above are ways in which the MCU films are not standalone. But equally as important is the ways in which they are. Kevin Feige sits atop his throne and clearly has a fair bit of input into the overall look and feel of the universe, but creators are allowed a lot of leeway to add their own flavour to the movies. Even from the beginning this was the case: consider the first hours of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America – these are quite different films. And despite the increased inter-connectedness of the movies, they continue to excel at carving out unique spaces within the universe (highlights in this regard being things like Thor: Ragnarok, the Guardians films, and Black Panther.

          – The source material the MCU most directly draws from, the Marvel renaissance of the late 1990’s to early 2010s, is just better than its competitors. This was a period when many of the most talented independent writers started coming back to mainstream superhero comics, people like Gillen, Bendis, etc, and mainstream writers like David, Pak, etc started being allowed to bring more of the indie energy into their own titles. This meant that the most recent source material Marvel had to play with was vastly better than DC’s output, which so far as I understand has been pretty awful for most of the new millennium (I could be wrong about this, as I’ve barely read any of them, but the reviews I’ve read and issues I’ve glanced at have been mostly shit.)

          Uh… I’ll stop there, no idea why I suddenly needed to write a novel. But yeah, I think those reasons are as important, if not moreso, than the quality of the individual directors, writers, and movies.

          I will say that as a massive fanboy of Marvel from roughly 1985-1995, and with periodic resurgences since then, the rise of the MCU has been a very weird experience, and I’ve been amazed that they manage to keep this many balls in the air. I do hope, however, that Disney comes crashing to the ground, because there’s no way that kind of monopoly over entertainment can be a good thing for society.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Consider how Tim Burton, who famously has no interest in comic books, failed to understand Batman’s character

            You can’t understand Burton’s take on Batman unless you have fully internalized that Adam West’s Batman was great for what it was. That’s a primary piece of source material for Burton’s take. Or, at the very least, it’s a critical piece of the cultural context in which that Batman was released. I had that TV Batman available to me every day in afternoon, after school, local programming, as I imagine most people who saw that in the theater did.

          • Enkidum says:

            That’s true, and obviously a big part of what attracted Burton. But he also has Batman just straight-up murder henchmen. Such a lack of interest in canon is never going to get the nerds on your side.

          • hls2003 says:

            I agree with HBC’s point that Batman is a composite of many canonical Batmans (Batmen?). The Nolan trilogy was great, I liked it just like a billion other people. But it’s not “the” Batman universe that everything else either replicates or fails to replicate. For example, people really liked Heath Ledger’s Joker character. Fair enough. But then you have something like Suicide Squad which was a pathetic steaming mess, but I actually didn’t hate Jared Leto’s Joker (how he was used made no sense though). There are literally whole decades of Batman comics where the Joker is just a weird bank robber / crime boss. People criticized Leto’s character for being basically a peacocking psycho crime boss instead of the “pure” anarchist from The Dark Knight. But the Joker was The Clown Prince of Crime for many more years than he was some kind of political or revolutionary figure. Adam West’s Batman isn’t to everyone’s taste, but he fits right in with 20+ years of canon where Batman showers with Robin and plays hopscotch with Superman and rescues cats up trees and fights kite-themed weirdos.

            I guess all I’m saying is that canon or “faithfulness to the source material” can’t really be the end-all for nerd fans of these genres. It’s more like the specific version that they grew up with, or when they first met the character, or the first successful movie or video game that they remember fondly, or whatever. Batman The Animated Series was a little late for me but that’s still my go-to Batman, and that’s riffing off the Burton movie version. He evolved later in Justice League and subsequent DCAU iterations, but it’s certainly the Burton aesthetic. So I actually didn’t like Ledger’s Joker as much; I was used to Hamill’s version of cheerful sadism. But it’s a useful canonical entry, and it worked for that film.

          • Enkidum says:

            That’s fair about canon not being everything. And with Batman in particular there’s many different “canonical” takes on the character (in the early stories, I believe he even has a gun and kills some criminals). But I would say that DC in general has put less effort into satisfying the impossible demand for canonical rigour, to its detriment.

            (And in the case of the Snyder Superman, it’s really not fitting with any version of the story that I’ve heard of.)

          • acymetric says:

            You have to be consistent with your own established canon, which ideally should at least resemble some previously existing canon. DC kind of fails that on all counts.

      • Aftagley says:

        The MCU reminds me of world of warcraft. It’s not the best at what it does, but its sheer dominance prevents any competitors from getting enough oxygen to flourish.

        • Enkidum says:

          Hmmm… I like the analogy, but I’d take it further and say it reminds me of Blizzard, who had never really generated an original concept or mechanic, but do everything with a very high degree of polish and make things smoother in a way that their competitors rarely manage.

          Also I’d dispute that the MCU isn’t the best at what it does. Obviously I’m a fan, but who’s better, or even comparable? Maybe the Nolan Batman films, the first two Raimi Spiderman films? X-Men 2, if you’re feeling generous? I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head.

          • Aftagley says:

            Also I’d dispute that the MCU isn’t the best at what it does.

            Yeah; maybe a better way of putting it would be “It’s not perfect.” Individual elements of different MMOs were probably better than what WoW was doing and individual aspects of other superhero movies are better than aspects of the MCU.

            I’ll agree that no one else has made a cohesive product of the same quality, but I just don’t think there’s enough oxygen in the room for anyone else to make a cohesive product.

          • Enkidum says:

            I just don’t think there’s enough oxygen in the room for anyone else to make a cohesive product.

            Yes. Founder effects are a huge thing that none of us have mentioned yet. Everyone wanting to be the MCU is like everyone wanting to be Google – the trouble is that Google is Google.

    • hnau says:

      I like to look at this phenomenon as movie (and TV series) becoming increasingly branded– i.e. part of what audiences are buying (into) is predictability. They want to know what kind of entertainment they’re getting. Thus most of the discussion about recent Star Wars movies isn’t about whether they’re good per se (spoiler alert: in many respects they aren’t and arguably have never been) but about how successfully they deliver the Star-Wars-y-ness that fans expect. Big cinematic universes increasingly look like brand loyalty programs (i.e. most of the payoff of the shared universe is for die-hard fans). The MCU is the most successful brand in movies these days, unless you count animation studios like Disney / Pixar / Illumination (which have been around longer; one can easily come up with reasons why predictability is more important in their market segment). DCEU is a mess; Snyder’s exit was good for the quality of individual movies but bad for the brand, at least in the short term. James Bond is in many ways the original brand and largely a successful one, independent of individual movie quality (that’s one benefit of a brand). Disney’s been trying for a while to establish a PG-13 adventure brand– one can name some unsuccessful attempts at this; this implies the prediction that Jungle Cruise will un-subtly try to recapture the spooky / kooky vibe of Pirates of the Caribbean. Some directors are brands (e.g. Christopher Nolan). I see the move toward increased branding as inevitable and in some ways beneficial. Counter-intuitively, a well-established brand may give studios more flexibility to experiment and rely on audience trust, rather than leaning so heavily on sequels and name recognition (see also: MCU).

      This also implies that the recent wrap-ups are at most a minor road bump. Star Wars overestimated their brand’s power and cashed in too heavily in ways that weakened the brand; they realized this and are now backing off. Game of Thrones isn’t much of a brand (most TV isn’t and doesn’t have to be); they’ve proven conclusively that they’re nothing without the source material. The MCU remains a successful brand and there are signs that they’re becoming more ambitious if anything (e.g. investing more in TV).

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think most of the conversation so far misses one essential element. I think for mostly obvious reasons, the most successful popular films are light-hearted, escapist fantasies. This is even true for films like, say, The Magnificent Seven, where almost every hero dies at the end. Obviously there needs to be something to care about as well, it’s not purely hi-jinks, you need to have a balance between light-hearted and dark-grim. But, I want to go to the theater and have fun.

      MCU has consistently made fun, immersive movies that just take me for a 2 to 2.5 hour ride. If you enjoy the first ten minutes of an MCU movie, it’s going to deliver on that the whole way through.

      ETA: THink about how Guardians of the Galaxy starts (compared to the actual stakes we eventually find out we were playing for).

      Whereas DCEU got suckered by Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and decided they were going to go grim-dark the whole way. Nolan couldn’t even hold that together for 3 films. And honestly, he doesn’t even hold it together very well for even any one of the films. Each one of those movies ends poorly. Plus DCEU is trying to make Superman work, and that’s fantastically hard. Christopher Reeves did it in this “very earnest but yet goofy” way, that’s almost essential.

      The original Star Wars was just a fun ride the whole way. That’s why it was so successful. ESB was grimmer, but it has a whole ton of light-escapist moments. Return of the Jedi has lots of good moments, but, and this is the primary problem with the other 6 films, the Ewoks aren’t enjoyable. They are something a four year old would like. I don’t want to imagine a world where I am rescued by Ewoks. Many of the other SW film has these huge stylistic mismatches running through them. Starts off fun for a teenage boy, ends up fun for four year olds.

      Game of Thrones is it’s own animal, it’s not a series of movies, and Martin is an exquisite craftsman. No surprise that it’s hard to hold grim-dark together that long, especially when you can’t crib from Martin anymore.

      But let’s throw in another franchise as a comparison. Harry Potter works for seven books, now ten films and a play. Despite being about a threat that threatens genocide, enslavery, etc. with large nods to Nazi parallels … the basic story format is “You’re a wizard, Harry!”, right on through.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The original Star Wars was just a fun ride the whole way. That’s why it was so successful. ESB was grimmer, but it has a whole ton of light-escapist moments. Return of the Jedi has lots of good moments, but, and this is the primary problem with the other 6 films, the Ewoks aren’t enjoyable. They are something a four year old would like. I don’t want to imagine a world where I am rescued by Ewoks. Many of the other SW film has these huge stylistic mismatches running through them. Starts off fun for a teenage boy, ends up fun for four year olds.

        This sells RoTJ short. Yeah the Ewoks are a huge hole artistically, but it was not just an escapist fantasy. Luke walks into an underground lair and fights Darth Vader that is revealed to be himself in one movie and then in the next he refuses to fight Vader and still can’t control the force properly. It is only when he unleashes his anger, uses it and feels its power and then rejects it does he transcend his father, and then redeem him. Luke’s character arc through the movies is extremely well done and is not at all escapist fantasy. Sure its wildly popular because it is attached to a fantasy story, but Rocky was also wildly popular as a tremendous story without being escapist fantasy around the same time.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          It is only when he unleashes his anger, uses it and feels its power and then rejects it does he transcend his father, and then redeem him.

          You seem to be saying that this isn’t escapist fantasy. I’ll just posit that for me, and I think many others, it is (and is actually somewhat essential to proper escapist fantasy). Characters going through satisfying story arcs that tug at our sense of moral fulfillment is essential to this kind of stuff.

          Vader sacrifices himself. Lando should be dead. The storyline with the Ewoks would be way better if a horrific number of of them were bloody splats who had sacrificed themselves to regain their planet forest moon.

          Rogue-1 has everyone die at the end and it’s still immensely satisfying. But “I am one with the force” better pay off both heroically and comedically.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Lost my ability to edit for some reason, so I’ll just add that I would argue that perhaps the fundamental thing that makes a proper escapist fantasy is that “right will earn might”.

            IOW, if you take the side of good, and sacrifice enough, you will win in the end by simply being stronger. That is a comforting feeling.

            It’s also why most of these movies end up with formulations that look a lot like “might makes right”. All trials are by combat.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You seem to be saying that this isn’t escapist fantasy. I’ll just posit that for me, and I think many others, it is (and is actually somewhat essential to proper escapist fantasy). Characters going through satisfying story arcs that tug at our sense of moral fulfillment is essential to this kind of stuff.

            You can watch Star Wars as an escapist fantasy, but you can watch almost anything that way, but I think there is a substantial difference between a movie where the character you are meant to identify with has to overcome his own personal failings, and those of his father, to become who he wants to be and a typical lets say Jason Statham movie where the moral dilemma is just a wrong to be righted out in the world and you get to kick ass in righting it. If you follow Luke and attempt to emulate him you ought to be fighting your worst self and accepting that the evil in the world comes from inside of men who could be good. If you follow a Statham movie all you have to do is learn martial arts and hang around people who will try to beat you up because you look unassuming.

            Vader sacrifices himself. Lando should be dead. The storyline with the Ewoks would be way better if a horrific number of of them were bloody splats who had sacrificed themselves to regain their planet forest moon.

            What does Luke have at the end of the trilogy? Both of his mentors are dead, he gets a moment of his father being decent, while he also dies painfully. He doesn’t get the girl, instead he gets a sister who is banging his best friend, he’s not even at the party that celebrates the end of the Empire.

            His plan was also not to confront and kill the Emperor, it was to turn his father toward the light side before all three of them were killed by the surprise attack on the Death Star II. None of what Luke did in those final scenes mattered for the outcome of the battle between the rebellion and the empire, except that he got out alive.

            Lost my ability to edit for some reason, so I’ll just add that I would argue that perhaps the fundamental thing that makes a proper escapist fantasy is that “right will earn might”.

            Not in the RoTJ, as I note Luke’s moral victory isn’t what shifts the battle in anyway, it simply parallels it.

    • aristides says:

      Safe bet at this point that [they] will decline

      I’ll try disagreeing where I can. While The last 3 main Star Wars have performed well in the box office, they have been very controversial. Disney can respond to this in two ways, they could keep cranking out soulless movies, and get large, but declining returns, or they can take a gamble, and see where it goes. Because of the critical reception of the Mandelorian, and their pivot to streaming, I could see Disney try to shake up the formula and reach new heights. The combined odds of them taking that route and it working is probably around 25%, but I am hopeful.

      GoT, you are right on the money. Martin was the only reason they were good, and at this point my theory is that he wrote himself into a corner where there is no good ending. I think the key parts of the TV show ending is actually what Martin originally planned, and Martin himself can’t think of a way to convincingly move his characters to those endings, without disappointing fans.

      Now Marvel, I would actually place some money on even odds that they will continue their climb. They lost some acting talent, but their writing and directing talent remains stellar. Box office numbers are continuing to climb, and Disney has found a balance to bring in both US and Chinese viewers. In America, there is a chance that they decline, but worldwide, I expect them to continue their rise in the box office, viewership, and cultural relevance. Especially with the Disney streaming platform making it easier than ever for everyone to watch, and to produce more content.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think lots of existing source material is probably very important, and it’s something the Star Wars sequels should have mimicked via the EU stuff, but didn’t. Having an existing storyline already worked out and maybe you modify it a bit, that seems like it just works better than “Here’s a gazillion dollars, go make something completely new up.”

        • acymetric says:

          This, 100%. It doesn’t mean “make a 100% faithful adaptation of [book series]” but certainly feel free to use it as source material!

          This was somewhat limited by waiting so long to make the movies, so it had to be set far enough in the future that all the original cast was old (I’m not sure how many good EU books were written in that time period, I only dabbled in the EU).

          • albatross11 says:

            I think for an SF/fantasy world, what you need is for someone to have worked out the rules of that world and the history and such, before the current writer/director/producer get their hands on it. When the current screenwriter wants to make up some weird technobabble to solve a plotting problem, it should be possible for him to get back a “no, that’s not allowed in this universe, here’s why.”

            Also, MCU benefits from living in comic-book land, where the laws of physics were always very stretchy and plausibility is supposed to be stretched. Superman can use a pair of glasses to disguise himself as Clark Kent, Captain American struggles in a fight with a half-dozen mooks and similarly in a fight with a god, ideas from SF, fantasy, and every weird other thing are mixed together with little concern for internal consistency, etc.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This was somewhat limited by waiting so long to make the movies, so it had to be set far enough in the future that all the original cast was old

            FWIW, I know I read a quite a long time ago that originally when Lucas mapped out nine episodes, the last 3 were always far in the future. As in Lucas said he could have the original cast member in 7, 8 and 9 only if he waited long enough.

            Now, I don’t think he said that until 1 was already in production. But it’s definitely the case that he mapped out nine episodes originally, even though he only planned on making episode 4. The idea was to recreate the feeling he had as a kid when he went to the serials at the theater (Flash Gordon, etc.) He hadn’t been the previous weeks and wouldn’t get to go next week, but he loved that feeling of seeing a small part of a larger story.

          • acymetric says:

            I was referring specifically to using the EU as source material (as opposed to Lucas’ vision).

            Most of what I am familiar with in terms of what was “best” occurred approx 10-20 years post-RotJ, whereas TFA takes place 30 years after RotJ (and in true Star Wars form, everyone appears to have aged 50 years over that 30 year span 😉 ).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            This was somewhat limited by waiting so long to make the movies, so it had to be set far enough in the future that all the original cast was old (I’m not sure how many good EU books were written in that time period, I only dabbled in the EU).

            I’ve never read a Star Wars book, but AFAIK the 32 years after RotJ were filled in by some pretty huge character development. Leia and Han not only married and had a child (kept by JJ Abrams), they had three. Luke turned an Imperial Force-user named Mara Jade to the light, married her, and had a child. I don’t know what else was big enough to need filling-in before any Episode 7… like sure, skip over Palpatine coming back as clones a few years after RotJ and making a Sith Luke named Luuke from the severed hand’s DNA, but you might have had to include big plot-heavy adventures the four Skywalker kids got up to as teens.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The big problem with using EU stuff was that the major plots took place shortly after RoTJ and featured Luke, Han and Leia still in their 20s and 30s (or I guess 40s for Han). Hard to make those films in the 2010s without recasting.

            The problem with the sequels was not a failure to use EU stuff, but the decision to hire J.J. Abrams.

          • acymetric says:

            The big problem with using EU stuff was that the major plots took place shortly after RoTJ and featured Luke, Han and Leia still in their 20s and 30s (or I guess 40s for Han). Hard to make those films in the 2010s without recasting.

            I don’t know if it was clear, but this is what I was saying.

            The problem with the sequels was not a failure to use EU stuff, but the decision to hire J.J. Abrams.

            ROT13 TEXT BELOW IS RISE OF SKYWALKER SPOILERS, DO NOT DECODE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED AND HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE!

            A mix of agree/disagree. J.J. Abrams did a nice job of introducing the new generation of characters, which was important because obviously we weren’t going to be following around 50-something year old Luke. He didn’t do a good job explaining WTF with the First Order all the sudden (V zrna, vg tbg rkcynvarq va EbF ohg zbfgyl ivn unaqjnivat orpnhfr gurer jnfa’g rabhtu gvzr sbe rirelguvat), or with the really dumb planet-weapon-ship thing, so the first part of the trilogy was lighter on story than it should have been, but it was ok enough. Instead of advancing any of the potential plot points set up in Force Awakens, Rian Johnson walked back some of it and did a bunch of meandering without really taking the story anywhere. That left Rise of Skywalker in a position to essentially tell 3 movies worth of stories, which it pretty much did as best it could, although to its detriment. I blame Johnson more than Abrams because it was obvious the 2nd movie had to advance the story after the first movie established the setting and characters but didn’t do much story-wise, and he still couldn’t bother to do it. Even though I wasn’t happy with Force Awakens (I enjoyed it, it was fun, it just wasn’t a great setup for the sequels) I think Last Jedi did more damage in terms of being able to wrap the story up by the end of the trilogy and Abrams (surprisingly) did a decent enough job given where things were at when we last left off.

          • baconbits9 says:

            JJ took a pretty lazy path with TFA, the orginal Star Wars wasn’t guaranteed a pair of sequels so it had to both act as a stand alone movie and as the start of a trilogy, Abrams didn’t have that restriction and he went for a soft remake of the original anyway. He botches Kylo’s development (is he good or evil? Oh, he murdered his own father on screen, definitely evil, no wait he’s still not all the way evil?) basically because Harrison Ford murdered Disney in negotiations. Their isn’t anything original in that movie and its supposed to set up two others, and it leaves dangling questions that he hadn’t answered himself. He basically left all the hard work to the director of TLJ (who also screwed it up) which is a major factor in the weakness of all three together.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Rian Johnson’s failure is still J.J. Abrams’ failure. Rian Johnson said in an interview that J.J. didn’t leave him any outline or plot points or anything and let him do whatever he wanted. It all comes down to the fact that J.J. is great at crafting exciting or impactful scenes but has no idea how to weave an overarching story together.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is more or less Disney’s failure, they decided on a trilogy because marketing and then gave the first movie to one guy while giving him a % of the gross expecting to move on to guy #2 and possibly guy #3 for the next two. JJ’s incentive was to make the most profitable first movie he could without any real consideration for how movie #2 would play out.

          • acymetric says:

            Rian Johnson’s failure is still J.J. Abrams’ failure. Rian Johnson said in an interview that J.J. didn’t leave him any outline or plot points or anything and let him do whatever he wanted.

            “JJ didn’t tell me exactly what he had in mind for the direction of the story, so I didn’t bother taking the story in any direction” rings pretty hollow. JJ wasn’t originally to be involved in the 3rd movie, so it was always going to fall on other people to wrap up what he started (which was possible, Rian just didn’t bother).

  11. Taylor says:

    Hey all. New commenter here but lurker for a while.

    Looking at the SSC survey, one of the questions reminded me of an idea that I have seen around here a couple times but have not been able to make sense of, and am likely misunderstanding. It’s apparently somehow related to Newcomb’s problem. Something about how I should make certain decisions (for example, going out and voting for my preferred candidate in an election, as opposed to staying home and doing something that more obviously increases my personal utility) based on how I would like others who are of a similar mind to act, because we who are of very similar mind are likely to come to similar conclusions.

    I did a quick search and didn’t turn up any discussion of this subject; my apologies if this is Rationalist 101 stuff. That said, at least in the voting scenario, it seems dumbly obvious to me that there’s no causal arrow pointing from me towards anyone else (assuming I keep my defection a secret), therefore my near-clones are irrelevant and I should just do whatever I want. What am I missing here?

    • tossrock says:

      I think this is sometimes referred to as “superrationality” in the rationalist literature: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superrationality

      • eric23 says:

        This is magical thinking, no?

        • Viliam says:

          Unless there is a realistic chance to meet your literal clones, yes. Even then, it would make sense to only be “superrational” against them, not against anyone else.

          (It could also make sense for hypothetical machines that could read each other’s source code. You’d want to have in your code “I am the kind of machine who always cooperates with one who would cooperate with me on the condition that I cooperate with them”, or something like that.)

          Related, on Less Wrong: The True Prisoner’s Dilemma

    • Randy M says:

      In the real world, rather than the hypothetical where no one finds out, your decision probably does effect other people.
      Even then, it probably isn’t determinative; maybe your neighbor hears you say you went and voted for the droid party, and decided to do likewise because it was the 143rd person to say that.
      But your life is full of such minor, incremental weights, and perhaps if you live in such as if all that signalling mattered, the sum of the small effects does make a difference.

      Maybe, I’m just thinking out loud. I think in a functional polity of the size of modern nations, you voting one way or another or not at all for national leaders is pretty far down on the list of eucivic actions you should be pursuing.

    • Artyom Kazak says:

      You seem to be talking about https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Timeless_decision_theory.

      My understanding of TDT goes as follows: it does not say “your decision can influence your clones”. It says: “If you and your clones are using a standard decision theory, you will /all/ be worse off, because you will /all/ defect against each other. Here is an alternative decision theory that will let all clones cooperate if they all adopt this theory. (Otherwise they would not be clones!)”.

      In other words, it is not that /you/ personally should adopt TDT, but you should instill TDT into the agents you build. Or your kids. Or your community, or whatever.

      In real life, the reason you should cooperate is not that it will somehow influence like-minded people acausally, but that (a) you will not be able to keep your defection secret and (b) it will generally be easier for you to promote the virtue of cooperating if you self-modify into someone who cooperates. [citation needed]

      • Artyom Kazak says:

        Oh, and another thing: if you follow the illusionist approach to free will (i.e. “your awareness of your decisions is just a post-hoc rationalization and there is no causal relationship there”), you can not influence your clones anyway, but you can learn about your clones by observing your own behavior.

        This provides a nice way to self-modify into following TDT – by attaching a happy feeling to all your “good” decisions. Because they are not decisions anymore, they are facts about your clones.

        “Hm, looks like I don’t feel like voting. Oh well, I guess it means that a lot of people who are similar to me will also abstain from voting. This sucks. And just to think that if only I observed myself voting, it would mean that all those other people were also going to vote! This would be a really nice thing.” <- at this point you get a small emotional boost and hopefully get enough motivation to go and vote, even though it’s no better than e.g. feeling good because you spent the morning cherry-picking the news and reading only the good parts.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      The general idea is that you’re choosing because of some cognitive algorithm, and you share that algorithm with the others who are sufficiently like you. So causal diagram goes not just (decision)->(results), but (algorithm)->(decision)->(results). And while your decision at the moment doesn’t affect others, the algorithm does affect everyone who shares it with you, and you should decide assuming you’re choosing the algorithm and not just your local actions. Because, in a sense that’s in fact what happens – you decide to do X if and only if algorithm which you use to decide outputs that decision, quite tautologically. I’m not familiar with any strict formalization of this, but afaiu it exists (or at least is worked on) and may be googlable by “timeless decision theory”. More detailed explanations are available here (literally marked as 101, but also as Highly Advanced) and here.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      In 2012 I voted Jill Stein for US president.

      Three people total in my county voted for her for president. This I found out by asking the county registrar for general totals for all third party candidates. I thought it was neat that two other people I didn’t know voted with me. This added to my wellbeing.

      I was talking with a co-worker who literally worked down the hall, and it turns out he too voted for Jill Stein. He was one of two people in his county who voted for her. This was especially neat, and I fondly remember him better than I otherwise would have thanks to this.

      If I had not voted for Jill Stein that year I would not have had this long-term psychological well-being gain.

      Likewise playing the lottery gives you the ability to pleasantly fantasize about what you would do with the winnings, whereas not playing the lottery removes all plausibility from these fantasies.

      • Taylor says:

        To be clear, my question wasn’t specifically about whether or not it is in my self-interest to go out and vote, but more about a particular argument in the big category of “why you might want to do certain nice cooperative things even though the impact of doing them seems insignificant.”

        Anyway, I’m grateful that you posted this anecdote. Maybe, for me, voting would be worthwhile for the social signaling value alone. (I think about how it seemed like the people I was interested in on OkCupid, on average, gave answers to questions expressing a preference for potential partners who exercise their right to vote.) I don’t think that’s exactly what you’re talking about, but it at least seems adjacent.

        I have previously thought about this and concluded that not voting might be signaling something useful… but that’s probably just motivated reasoning on my part!

    • pancrea says:

      My suspicion has been that many people would like rationality to recommend prosocial behavior, and this class of argument is their attempt to get rationality to do that. (heh, to “rationalize” it?)

      • NoRandomWalk says:

        I share it as well. If reading newcomb changes you to be more prosocial, you can no longer use it to justify acting prosocial towards anyone exactly like you except for having read it.

        On the other hand, it helped me a lot by as a side effect introducing randomness into when I was prosocial in a way that caused me to discover which social settings it was safe/useful to be more/less prosocial than my baseline personality.

      • Dacyn says:

        Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of these types of arguments which basically boil down to “The reason I’m nice to people is that I want them to be nice to me”. (In a way which is not necessarily related to causation.) I suppose for people who genuinely don’t care intrinsically about others, this is valuable, but we should make sure not to imply that this is the case for everyone.

        • How about “the reason I’m nice to people is that I care intrinsically about others. The reason I care intrinsically about others is that being a person who could be perceived to care intrinsically about others was an advantage in past environments, leading to greater reproductive success.”

          • Dacyn says:

            Oh sure, that’s my position.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @DavidFriedman

            The reason I care intrinsically about others is that being a person who could be perceived to care intrinsically about others was an advantage in past environments, leading to greater reproductive success.”

            I agree that being perceived as caring leads to greater reproductive success. I also agree that being perceived as caring is really, really important to most humans. However, this does not mean that one has to really care to be perceived as caring. All that is necessary is that he deludes himself into believing he cares. I am also convinced no one really cares and that all this deluding oneself is what causes the human condition.

    • Snickering Citadel says:

      Maybe nice people are more likely to cooperate. And there are things on the survey that shows someone is nice, being vegetarian, given lots of money to charity, not being alt-right.

  12. sty_silver says:

    I feel like the SCC comment section has degraded over time. I say that having only been around a couple of years, maybe 3. For anyone who’s been around a while, do you agree?

    An alternative hypothesis is that I’ve been spoiled. SSC comments are so much better than most other discussion places on the internet that, three years ago, I might have had those as my standard and experienced comments here as thoroughly pleasant. It’s kind of difficult to know how much to trust my subjective experience.

    What do you think? Your response might be particularly interesting if you’re someone who usually lurks. Obviously, the set of people who comments regularly is not necessarily a representative sample. Unfortunately, there were no survey questions to this end.

    • Randy M says:

      As someone responsible for way too many of said comments, I take offense and tentatively agree.
      Not so much worse in tone, but mostly just as already said a lot and gotten a bit repetitive or else going after less interesting topics. Maybe a bit of Scott not going after as many in depth essays about topics as thought provoking, imo.
      But still haven’t found anything better. Quora occasionally has some interesting memes and reddit is a nice sea of time-wastingness, but this place still hits the sweet spot the best.

    • hnrq says:

      Every year that passes I feel like SSC goes more towards the right (even if there is no change in the survey, I think there are a lot of people that would call themselves leftists in some sense, but that have a lot of right-wing ideas). To me, personally, this does feel like a kind of drop in quality, but it’s hard to dissociate from my personal bias.

      Also, a lot of the rationalist ideas were, in some sense, low hanging fruit, and they have already been discussed to death here and in other places (things like AI, x-risks, meta-ethics, EA), and there isn’t much new to discuss for lay people, so we are left talking about trivial stuff and politics.

    • johan_larson says:

      I’ve been around for two and a half years, or so. I don’t know if things are getting worse or not, but I do find myself getting tired of the SSC comments section. There’s a strain of really bleak and bitter American conservative thought that gets a lot of airtime here, and it gets really tiresome. I have a high view of freedom of expression, but I’d like to be around for quite a bit less of it.

    • aristides says:

      I agree, but I have found that there has been a general decrease in quality of all internet discussions over the last 3 years, and SSC is still the cream of the crop. I flat out quit Facebook, and unsubscribed to all political subreddits during the same period. There are many possible reasons, more people using the internet than before, and the 2016 election are the two biggest factors I’ve thought of. If you know of an internet forum whose discussion quality improved at the same time, please let me know, because that would be a useful counter example.

      PS: I think this view is political neutral, but I am Conservative and Christian if that matters.

      • Randy M says:

        I’ve noticed a lot more commentary in general migrating to video over the last ~ 5 years, but I’m not going to venture that that’s where all the quality is.

        • Aftagley says:

          You think it’s gone to video? My impression is that it’s migrated over to reddit/facebook/tumblr(?) and other multi topic, single signon systems.

          • Nick says:

            I think there’s been a long term trend toward more ephemeral platforms with lower barriers to entry, like twitter, tumblr, and instagrab or pinterface or whatever the kids are into these days. Shorter and less thought out content, less likely to be saved or returned to. The most ephemeral has got to be voice or video chat, at least when it’s not recorded, so it would fit the trend… but I don’t think it’s used for conversation with strangers the way I think Randy means. Or, if it is, I’d be very surprised.

            Somewhat separately from this trend, I think platforms like twitter and tumblr foster some of social media’s worst behaviors, but I’m sure everyone’s heard that argument enough times.

        • Clutzy says:

          IMO a lot of content has been going to podcasts/video because its what you can monetize. Writing on the internet is hard to monetize because people can read much more quickly, and ads on text is much more intrusive and easier to skip than ads on audio/video.

          Also, a lot of the quality content online now has moved to collaborative things like interviews, which I wish more places did written interviews, or just short oral histories. However, I think the reason this isn’t happening is because the successful text companies right now are clickbait or companies that prefer to shroud themselves in mystery (like the NYT or Washington Post). I’d love to see a NYT editorial board “minutes” that was published alongside their endorsement of a political candidate. You know, to see what was discussed in the room. But that interesting content is never given out.

      • sty_silver says:

        I hope you’re wrong, because the alternative is fairly depressing.

        An alternative explanation might be that most established communities (all that aren’t too shut-off from the rest of the internet?) get worse over time, but they are also getting smaller and new ones are forming. In that case, there would be no overall decline in quality, but if you’re not joining new places, you would perceive one. And yet another hypothesis is that you’re simply getting more jaded with age.

        • aristides says:

          I hope I’m wrong as well. I always hope that I can find a new community that feels optimistic and fresh, but I haven’t been able to. I suspect it might be part of Randy M’s point, commentary is shifting to video, and I personally will never migrate to video, since I primarily read blogs at work, and video is less convenient. It’s hard to find new written communities, but I’ll keep looking.

          I also doubt I’m getting that much more jaded with age, since I’m only 26, but it’s definitely possible.

          • John Schilling says:

            Video doesn’t allow for the sort of dialog that a well-curated comments section can have; it’s mostly going to be the vlogger or whatever pontificating wisely (or not) and a bunch of 1-2 line comments that add little more than “+1!”. If that’s where the bulk of the internet is headed, I’ll be one of the ones staying behind.

      • albatross11 says:

        A really good comment (paraphrased) I read on another internet forum, long ago: On the internet, we’re always getting new things invented, and then they often work for awhile, and then fail.

        The way I see this: social norms update, mechanisms of social pressure and enforcement of norms update (for example, digging up problematic tweets from many years ago), things available only to the elite become available to the masses (the story of the early internet–turns out a network that’s mostly college students, academics, and technology company employees works differently than one that’s open to the world), parasites {spammers, malware writers, advertisers} catch on and learn how to extract some value from whatever people are doing, powerful people with significant resources start taking the new stuff seriously and exerting control with whatever tools they have (I think Wikipedia has been affected a lot by this), etc. Over time, pathologies that the new thing can’t adapt to and remove just accumulate, the way Marginal Revolution’s comment threads accumulated a few obsessive crazies who do their best to regularly take a crap in the living room. Add in trendiness–everyone does something for awhile and then most people lose interest. And add in changing business models–a lot of online communities (like this one) are provided because someone wants to provide them and is willing to spend resources doing so, and later on, they can no longer manage it–they get sick, or retire, or get busy doing something else, or a few too many crazies hassle them over the existence of the community. And then the site closes down or gets sold off to someone who just wants to extract a little cash from the community, and it dies. And a lot of nice online services are spun up by startup companies that are running without a good way of making it pay in hopes of getting big and finding a way to monetize their users–that’s inherently a temporary thing.

        All this means that good things on the internet are often temporary. Communities rise and grow and fall apart and die. Useful services, sometimes life-changing ones, come into existence, and then get eaten by parasites or crash as they can’t find a way to pay for their operations or get coopted into existing political/social/economic/national conflicts and trampled.

        Fortunately, there are still people blogging, and some seem to have some really useful things to say. There are even people still doing intellectual magazines and doing something worthwhile with them. Fortunately, even if the cool kids are all watching vlogs, or reciting mantras pushed by pop-culture influencers while dropping acid, or reading some future source of distilled outrage and self-righteous wrath that’s even more perfect for that than Twitter, there will still be people blogging and writing articles and papers and books and doing long-form writing and thinking, or podcasts that are interesting in-depth conversation with minimal appeals to outrage or fear.

        • Bobobob says:

          That sounds like the story of MediaBistro, which was started by a single enthusiastic person, thrived for a few years with an active and intelligent community, then got sold, monetized, corporatized etc. and is now a shell of its former self. (This was about 15 years ago.)

    • Aftagley says:

      I just read through a few old comment threads from the 2015-2017 time-frame, selected at random (53.25, 81.75 and 39).

      In retrospect, this was probably not an especially useful investment of my time but eh, it’s the holidays. Here were my observations:

      1. Overall number of comments has remained mostly unchanged, almost always in the 800-1200 range.

      2. The conversational drivers are the same people as they are now. We’ve lost a few interesting voices, but going back in time the people whose posts you want to read are remarkably consistent.

      3. It seems like we’ve drifted away from the traditional rationality-focused discussion topics. The further back I go, the more topics I see directly focused around EA, AGI-risk and discussions of the sequences. (There’s a chance that since I don’t enjoy these discussions I just tune them out and they’re still happening more than I notice.)

      4. It seems like heterodox opinions were more prevalent back then. Looking through those posts, I saw people advocating for PUA practices, a few people describing attitudes towards relationships that are clearly a proto-incel philosophy, more outright trans-skepticism, stuff like that. It also seems like people were also willing to engage with these topics more evenhandedly than I think they would now.

      ETA: this point might just be a reflection of attitudes changing over the past 3-4 years on certain topics. Maybe those opinions were anodyne back then and have only become heterodox.

      5. Trump discourse was just as bad then as it is now. Arguably worse.

      6. It seems like Scott used to participate more in discussions than he does now.

      All in all, from a person looking back on it, it doesn’t seem like a fundamentally different experience. If it’s degraded, it hasn’t done so in a substantively obvious fashion.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        Ad point 4, I wasn’t there back then, but the disappearance of those guys seems like change for the better, and also, contrary to what hnrg above says, as a shift towards the left.

        • Aftagley says:

          Ad point 4, I wasn’t there back then, but the disappearance of those guys seems like change for the better

          I don’t really have an opinion on this; other than the incel/black pill guy they were mostly interesting topics at least.

          and also, contrary to what hnrg above says, as a shift towards the left.

          I disagree. At least from what I saw, these positions didn’t track very naturally onto the left/right spectrum. Take PUAs, for example. Is the idea that guys should try to be extremely alpha so they can have as much sex as possible a right-wing philosophy?

          There also used to be some stridently vocal marxists/communists around that don’t tend to show up here anymore. Losing them definitely constitutes a rightward shift (albeit one that even this particular lefty doesn’t miss).

          • Enkidum says:

            Is the idea that guys should try to be extremely alpha so they can have as much sex as possible a right-wing philosophy?

            In terms of current left/right divisions, 100% so. In terms of those from a couple of generations ago, probably not.

          • acymetric says:

            This is probably impossible to discuss in the visible open thread (I realized this as I was typing a response to Enkidum). I’ll try to walk the line just to get a small point in and suggest we leave it there.

            I can see how it maps left/right on certain continuums, but it doesn’t exactly map left/right in the Democrat/Republican sense.

          • Aftagley says:

            @Enkidum

            You really think so?

            In my opinion, whatever right-wing points they score with advocating extremely traditional views on gender roles, they’ve got to lose for also advocating hypergamy.

            Can any of our resident right-wingers chime in on this one?

            @acymetric

            Is this culture war? I’m admittedly terrible at telling where the line is, so I’ll defer to consensus, but it doesn’t feel particularly CW-esque to me.

          • acymetric says:

            @Aftagley

            I think debating whether PUA maps left/right (or Dem/Rep) will inevitably become a CW discussion as people get entrenched in their positions and use it to explore whatever flaws someone sees in their outgroup.

            Also, I edited my comment a tad late so scroll up to read the additional bit if it wasn’t there the first time.

          • Pink-Nazbol says:

            I’ve noticed a decline in PUA discussion in the Unz and Half Sigma comment threads as well, so I think it’s a movement across the right-wing internet.

            One thing I’ve noticed over the last decade is that young men care much less about signalling their success with women. Ten years ago if you were an adult male with an XBox, you didn’t tell anyone but your close friends and put it away if you had a woman over. Today, you display your gaming rig rather proudly.

          • Randy M says:

            In my opinion, whatever right-wing points they score with advocating extremely traditional views on gender roles, they’ve got to lose for also advocating hypergamy.

            Can any of our resident right-wingers chime in on this one?

            If we are just looking at this one issue, and not considering whatever other points the alpha-advocate may discuss to get them coded one way or another, the question is whether being anti-feminism/woman trumps being anti-tradition.
            I think if one is trying to put all comments onto one or the other side of the scales, they will be seen as anti-left enough to tilt the balance rightward.
            While I’m personally sympathetic to the difficulties in finding a long term mate in the modern world, I’d part company pretty quick with the PUA when designing the ideal world. Though, maybe not, as for some notorious PUA, it was a philosophy meant for a society in an irrevocable decline.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            I would certainly bet that any PUA types here were/are (rather extreme) right-wing, regardless of where they fall in general (although my guess their would be almost entirely either right-wing or apolitical).

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Um, I apologize for steering this thread to CW teritory, I just wanted to push back against claims that “things are getting worse” and “rightists are taking over”, neither of which seems true.

            Regarding those guys, feminism is generally considered leftwing, and they are strongly antifeminist, so I tend to lump them with the right. But that of course does not mean that everyone who is on the right or socially conservative is one of them or is in any way responsible for them.

          • Enkidum says:

            Huh I had forgotten we were in a non-CW thread, but also wasn’t considering the level of CW-ness of this topic. And I misread the original question. So I’m batting 0 for 3 here, think I’ll step out of this one.

            ETA: ugh I tried to write a non-contentious edit to explain further but you know what? It’s not worth it here.

          • albatross11 says:

            PUA is one of a million examples demonstrating how right/left or conservative/liberal isn’t very descriptive.

            The way it looks to me, as someone not at all into PUA, is that some subset of PUA types have a kind of weirdly mirror-image version of a socially conservative view of the world.

            A social conservative might argue that the pill and the loss of stigma for abortion and premarital sex and unwed motherhood have broken some critical parts of society that formerly were civilizing young men by making them behave well and become good marital prospects in order to have a chance of getting regular sex. And this has left both women and men worse off, as young women pursue exciting tattooed bad boys in their 20s and then wait till their 30s to look for a husband, ending up either unmarried or married and getting fertilty treatments at 41 while trying to have a kid before their window closes. And young men get rewarded for being cads by getting sex, and often can keep running that strategy without ever becoming decent husband/father material. This might be right or wrong, but it’s something I’d expect to see from a thoughtful social conservative.

            And then some subset of the PUA guys takes this up and says “Yep, all that stuff has broken down, so I guess we never have to become civilized and should just enjoy the benefits of being able to impersonate exciting bad boys and get laid regularly. Pity about the whole damage to society thing–guess the grownups should have done something about that.”

            In one sense, that subset of PUA guys shares the worldview of a social conservative. But in another sense, this is true in the same way that some super-crass capitalist who enjoys blowing the smoke from his cigars in his employees’ faces and brags about how hard he’s exploiting his workers to get rich shares some worldview with Bernie Sanders. That shouldn’t make our cigar-smoke-blowing capitalist into a natural ally of Bernie et al.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            The point isn’t that PUAs are conservatives like Jeb! or Edward Burke. It’s that some of them are right-wing of the Richard Spencer flavour, and the majority are somewhere on the line between there and apolitical. I don’t want to make any claims about how the distribution on that line looks, but the relevant thing is that it does fall there rather than containing large numbers of e.g. AOC fans.

          • Enkidum says:

            What @thisheavenlyconjugation said, with the addition that as I said originally, this is a relatively recent development. I think as late as the 80’s, there would have been room for explicitly left-wing PUA types.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Scott’s always been (roughly) anti-feminist, and the comment section continues to be tilted that way. Losing PUA commenters would be shifting leftward, but, to the extent that you don’t see pushback against PUAs, it might actually constitute the tenor of the comments shifting to the right.

            All that’s assuming that you map feminism or SJ or SJW onto “left”.

          • aristides says:

            I would argue that PUA is to Red Tribe as the Grey Tribe is to the Blue Tribe. They often vote for the same candidates in the general election, but Have different priorities and view points.

            @Pink-Nazbol

            Young men still care about signaling Their success, the signals just change. 72% of men and 49% of women under 20 play video games. With that as your prior, owning an XBox barely signals anything, and leaving it out can start a conversation or lead to a game with the 49% that do play. I personally have played video game with 2/3 of the women I dated.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        This all souns like the “in the water supply” effect, especially if enough of the good commenters are the same. I was surprised when I came here about a year ago at the lack of sequences talk, for example, but it’s pretty obvious people are familiar with them. It took I think about 3 comments for somebody to link TDT to a relevant post above.

        I guess there’s just a limited number of times you can discuss the same ideas. That’s a good thing, I think. Otherwise we’d be going in circles.

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      I just started posting in the last several months, hope I’m not part of that decline! I read every post/open thread before I began posting, and I’m not sure there’s been much degradation. This community is still miles better than any other comment section I’ve ever seen.

      I don’t mind changes in the ideological composition, so long as the norms regarding polite debate remain intact.

    • Skeptic says:

      I think the most logical conclusion is not that the comments have changed, it’s that Trump is now the president.

      Comments could be exactly the same but the emotional reaction to said comments is heightened by the extreme partisanship on both sides and the extremist rhetoric.

      Taking out the politics, the everyday rhetoric now regularly includes the words/phrases: coups, end of democracy, authoritarianism, dictatorship, Nazism, deep state, treason, white supremacy, concentration camps, Manchurian candidate, etc.

      Maybe it’s hard to put on the rationalist cap when everyone feels their fundamental identity/values are at stake.

      My 2c, tried to keep it as meta as possible to avoid the CW. Please delete if I failed.

      • Milo Minderbinder says:

        I agree (though would broaden the cause from “Trump is President” to “Political upheaval across the West”). The post-Cold War “”Consensus”” is falling apart, and no faction has enough power at present to forge a new one.

      • NoRandomWalk says:

        Is that language actually something you see in the comments though?
        I continue to find it about as high quality as it was before, and don’t see politics derail discussions much. Maybe two times, and one of those the poster got banned.

        Maybe I’m in a bubble where Trump doesn’t get paid attention to other than as a source of entertainment so don’t really notice, but this blog seems fairly apolitical.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I agree with what you said. I blame Trump. EchoChaos had it right when he called him a “scissor statement made flesh.”

      • albatross11 says:

        There are a bunch of powerful people, including the president, most of the big media companies, several very large world-reshaping tech companies, and even foreign governments, who find it in their interests to stir up as much fear and outrage and discord as possible. Thus, we have lots of outrage and fear and discord. This spills over into discussions even in places where nobody is living on outrage-driven clicks or is distracting the media from his actual misdeeds with some offensive clickbait-ready tweets.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I’ve been reading SSC for the last five years, and have been an occasional commenter that entire period.

      I don’t think the comments are worse than they were. I think then and now I find 25% of the threads going on and on arguing stupid things, 25%-50% threads I don’t have much interest in, but 25-50% interesting threads with the occasional profound comment, and many worthwhile comments. There may be more commentary now about movies and TV, which I find mostly uninteresting, but this isn’t real significant. I think we have become a little more balanced politically in the last year, with left wing commenters becoming more prevalent. But not better or worse.

      Although I don’t think SSC has degraded in the 5 years I’ve been reading it, I think that has to happen at some point, and I am a bit worried about it. I read mostly SSC, but I sometimes read other blogs, and I haven’t found anything nearly as good. I hope when SSC does die, probably when Scott finally gets tired of doing it, that everyone on here transfer en masse to another vehicle. Are there other blogs that have pretty much unfettered comments sections like this?

    • Basscet says:

      As a long time lurker (for the most part), I’ve also experienced a decline. Perhaps it is because the novelty of this place has faded over time. Once one becomes familiar with the regulars here and the ideas that get presented in both the comments and the articles, patterns began to emerge. Arguments have typical points and counterpoints that get retreaded each time they are brought up, though the participants might be different each time. Recurrent “games” and starting post structures appear, as is expected for an internet forum.

      New material does appear, but my overall perception has been clouded with familiarity. I should seek out new communities, but it’s hard to find one as civil and thoughtful as this one. It probably doesn’t help that I’m already way too jaded with the internet at this point.

    • Ransom says:

      Agree, with everyone above, mainly. 1) Since Scott decided to retreat on the contrarian politics, SSC is much less interesting. I’m not much interested in (and am deeply skeptical of) most topics in psychology/psychiatry; the specifically rationalist/Bayesian background of SSC seems to me to be not well thought out (It would be interesting to discuss that sometime though); the utilitarianism behind many SSC comments also seems to me to be shallow, not well thought out (but again, it would be interesting and instructive to discuss. Maybe I just don’t know enough). 2) the level of discussion on SSC is far above anything I’ve seen elsewhere, both because of Scott’s enforced rules of civility and because the commenters here are very knowledgeable and intelligent (and goodwilled, for he most part).
      SSC seems much flatter, less able to engage with new ideas than before. That’s a shame, but it’s still the best site I know of. Much of the political discussion has migrated to The Motte on reddit, but there’s no input from anyone as original as Scott there, so while it’s entertaining it’s not as stimulating or deep as old SSC used to be.

  13. Artyom Kazak says:

    Is there a way to hide some comment threads permanently? For me, the “Hide” button only works until I refresh the page.

    • Jefferson says:

      In my somewhat limited web dev experience, the current system works by hiding the comment on the loaded webpage, which is fast and does not require the storage of any information. Any lasting method of hiding comments would require a way of storing which comments you’ve hidden, and is therefore likely to be quite a bit more complicated than the current solution.

      Edit: forgot to include a word

      • acymetric says:

        I expect you could store it in a cookie pretty easily and with minimal processing on page load. I assume (without bothering to check) that this is how the “comments since [DATE]” behavior works. With admittedly 0 WordPress experience I would be surprised if it took more than an hour or so.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          On an under-resourced device, like a tablet, my sense is that JS on the page is already unwieldy as the number of comments gets high.

          I wouldn’t think this should be an issue, but I could see it as a potential problem.

          • acymetric says:

            This would be (reasonably) lightweight, though.

            hide_ids = [comment_ids stored in cookie]

            iterate through hide_ids and call “onHide(id)” (probably not the real name but whatever is triggered when a user clicks the hide button).

            I would expect this to add barely any overhead unless you have a lot of comments hidden. For users not using the “hide” behavior at all it would add no overhead.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You are iterating over all the comments for every single hidden ID.

            I’m not cracking open the JS for the page, but right now on this iPad, when the comments get lengthy (like 700+, maybe), I type words and then watch as they slowly appear in the text box. Forget deleting things with back space, because eventually it starts deleting whole words and it slowly deletes the entire comment. I don’t know what causes that, probably some sort of interaction with available memory would be my best guess. Can’t be arsed to figure it out.

            I would think this page should be about as lightweight as could be, but it’s not the case.

  14. johan_larson says:

    Let us speak of semi-legendary things: those that do exist, or have existed, but which loom far larger in the mind of popular culture than their actual numbers alone would warrant.

    Item, the first: glory holes

    I’ve never seen one, and I wouldn’t know where to look for one. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken with anyone who claims to have seem one.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I know where they are said to be found: the men’s bathroom at the bus station, particularly if in your town buses are mostly used only by the down-and-out.

      However, I also have never seen one and don’t know anyone who claims to have seen one.

      • aristides says:

        I’ve seen two. One at an old bus station, and one in a park restroom. Thankfully no one was in the other stall at the time.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Mew in the original Pokemon games. Everyone had their favorite rumors on how to acquire one but nobody actually had one. (Though bear in mind this was in elementary school before the internet really took off)

      • tocny says:

        For what it’s worth, I recently found my old Pokemon Yellow. When I booted it up, I actually had a level 100 Mew on it. I don’t remember where it came from or how I got it, but it’s there.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Method #5782: Simply leave your cartridge in a shoebox for 15 years 🙂

          • Aftagley says:

            It’s gotta be game shark or genie, right?

          • acymetric says:

            There are supposedly some glitches in the game that allow it (kind of like the whole missingno thing), but I don’t know if they are true. There is definitely no “natural” (i.e. intended in game) method.

          • Aftagley says:

            Yeah, there is an in-game way. I forget the specifics, but it involves loading particular things in to memory by doing a specific series of events.

            The fact that the mew is level 100 makes me think gameshark or gamegenie. Who would bother leveling their new shiny glitch?

          • not-gonna-comment-again says:

            The same method that lets you obtain otherwise unobtainable pokemon (like mew) in the first gen games also lets you duplicate items very easily, so it’s not implausible that someone would have a large amount of rare candies (the +1 level item)

          • eyeballfrog says:

            Here is an explanation of the most well-known glitch to get Mew. Note that this is a different method from the classic old man glitch to get Missingno. There are only 41 Pokemon that can be generated by the old man glitch, and Mew isn’t one of them. The Mew glitch can generate any Pokemon, though it’s quite a bit harder to stumble upon.

        • acymetric says:

          Did you or a friend have a Gameshark?

          Alternatively, there are (supposedly) a few glitches that allow catching him. They appear to involve having an enemy trainer “see” you, then teleporting/flying away before the actual battle starts, then doing various other steps. I can’t vouch for the veracity of any of them.

          • Jake R says:

            They work pretty reliably. I played through Yellow about a year ago for the nostalgia and tried it. Apparently it works by fighting specific trainers who use pokemon with the right number for their special stat. Then you trigger a glitched encounter and the special stat number overflows into the random encounter pokemon number and spawns a Mew. Or something like that. link text

          • Clutzy says:

            The method to capture mew without a GameShark in RBY is as follows:

            1. Do not fight the trainer in the grass north of Cerulean city and west of the bridge.
            2.et a Pokemon with teleport or fly (early on your best bet is Abra).
            3. Walk towards that trainer until it sees you. Immediately pause and teleport/fly.
            4. Go back to the bridge. New should attack you.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            There’s more to it than that, Clutzy. You have to have an encounter with an NPC who moves first to make the game stop waiting for an NPC to move. The most natural way to do this is to get spotted on a different route to have a trainer walk over to you, but letting the guy take you to the Pewter museum also works, as does pushing any boulder with Strength. Then you have to have an encounter with a Pokemon with a special stat of 21. (The Youngster on route 25 with a Slowpoke or the first trainer in Misty’s gym can accomplish both of these at once.) Only then will returning to route 24 get you your Mew.

      • A1987dM says:

        IIRC you could be given one at certain in-person events organized by Nintendo.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        As a commenter above said, there is a way to get mew with a glitch. Specifically, the teleport/fly glitch. However, I don’t think this glitch was discovered until much later. (I first heard of it in 2012 and I’m kind of obsessed with Pokemon.)

        The other legit way to have a Mew in the first gen games is to get one from the Nintendo promotional cartridges, but that one came at level 5.

        So probably a GameShark.

    • Randy M says:

      A lot of things that are culture war adjacent could go here; people are quite bad at estimating the true proportion of demographic group X due to mass or social media’s understandable selection effects.

    • Matt M says:

      Wouldn’t this particular example be even further complicated by the fact that it’s at least somewhat plausible that a hole could appear in a bathroom stall wall for any number of entirely unrelated reasons?

      • acymetric says:

        I’ve never seen one, and I don’t frequent these types of establishments, but I don’t think bus stations are actually the likely location. I think you would be looking more for Adult Entertainment stores that have “viewing booths”.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Over a decade ago, in the men’s bathroom of the local train station. The whole mood was seedy to the point of making me uncomfortable (and it was well after I got rid of cultural homophobia). Besides lots of phone numbers and explicit messages, there were almost no perfectly intact walls.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      That’s such a stupid term. I just can’t accept that “random penis” = “glory.” I’d be expecting Gerard Butler’s wild-eyed, bearded head to pop out instead.

      • acymetric says:

        It isn’t (although presumably they do enjoy that). You need to flip to the other perspective to understand the name.

        “Receiving surprise fellatio” = “glory” (YMMV)

        • johan_larson says:

          I always figured it was more about bravery. I mean, sticking your dick in a hole when anything at all could be on the other side, starting with a mousetrap, that takes guts.

    • Lambert says:

      Probably due to technological advancements.

      ‘Dudes, get Grindr already. Leave cottaging in the 80s’
      –Scrawled in sharpie on the door of some public crappers.

    • Dacyn says:

      Spies, pirates. (Trying to come up with things that also don’t have real culturally significant examples, otherwise could do spaceships, world leaders, movie sets.)

      • Matt M says:

        Murder.

        I mean sure, it exists. But it’s super rare. I don’t know any murderers, or anyone who was murdered. Not sure I know anyone who knows anyone either.

        But like 50% of non-child-oriented TV/movies/novels have murder as a plot point.

        • Dacyn says:

          If we are counting historical examples then both Lincoln and Kennedy were murdered, off the top of my head.

        • Alejandro says:

          Even more specifically, premeditated and carefully plotted murder by people of middle or upper class. Subject of countless Agatha Christie-style mysteries, very rare in reality.

          In the vein of spies and pirates, ninjas might be an even better example.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          If you count people on the internet, you DO know someone who knows someone who was murdered. :/

          That said, the murder was widely reported, which in itself shows how rare the act is.

          • albatross11 says:

            I vaguely knew a guy who was murdered in a robbery many years ago—we weren’t buddies or anything, but I ate at his restaurant from time to time….until the day an ex employee and his buddy came back to rob the restaurant and shot the poor guy. They probably netted <$1000, and they will be old men when they get out of prison.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Someone was murdered in my high school, the summer after I last attended; I almost certainly knew someone who knew the murderer (who was himself murdered in prison) and/or the victim, though I knew neither myself.

          It was premeditated by a member of the middle class, but not very carefully plotted. No mystery at all.

        • salvorhardin says:

          A family friend of a close friend of mine died in one of the notorious mass shooting incidents of the last few years. I think that’s the closest connection I have to any sort of homicide, and it’s true that that’s a very weak reason to consider it other-than-rare, but it’s still uncomfortably close.

        • Bobobob says:

          Two people. (Sheltered middle-class suburban kid here, nothing out of the ordinary)
          –Cousin, about 10 years older, raped/murdered while hitchhiking in another state
          –classmate, junior year of high school, randomly murdered by a lunatic while riding his bike to school

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          I knew intimately a guy who went on to perform not just a murder, but an axemurder. He was also brandishing a sword and the victim was a senator’s nephew. Which is all fewer degrees of separation than I ever thought I’d have to sword-based “honor” killings in Idaho.

        • Aapje says:

          A girl who was in my class in primary school was murdered as part of a murder-suicide (her presumably depressed father killed the family and himself).

        • Matt says:

          When I was 2-6 years old, my mother lived with my grandparents, and our next-door-neighbors had (eventually) the same arrangement with their daughter and with her two daughters. They were 1 year and 3 years younger than me. The neighborhood skewed older, so there were not a lot of other kids to play with. I would sometimes go over to their house and play. The mother had physical and mental issues, I think mostly related to an allergy to the sun. My mother says that when I was 4 the lady yelled at her because I didn’t know anything about menstruation, and apparently that made my mom a ‘bad mother’.

          She moved out of her parents house and got imprisoned for child abuse. Apparently she locked her girls in the bathroom and left them there for days. When she was released from jail, she went to her parents house, picked up the girls, drove away and murdered them.

          My mom asked me not to talk to my grandma’s neighbors after that because it made them sad to see me.

        • Enkidum says:

          I knew a guy quite well who attempted to murder a good friend of mine in a bar (it was, shall we say, a, uh, business disagreement), and ended up stabbing and killing a random stranger who intervened to break up the fight. The random dead guy turned out to be a good friend of another friend of mine, from a completely different social circle.

          I also worked with a guy in a cognitive science lab whose high school friend was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got murdered in a professional hit job in Vancouver a decade or so ago, when he knocked on the door of his neighbour’s apartment where the hit was taking place, to see what the noise was.

          Also my grandfather was blown up before he’d ever met my father, but I don’t think you call it murder when it’s the Nazis.

        • Aftagley says:

          A buddy of mine was pushed off a cliff by his girlfriend in a hair brained scheme to get some insurance money.

          Edit: while typing this, I googled his name. Apparently his case has been turned into a true-crime podcast. Listening to the story of the death of someone you knew really well is a surreal friggen experience.

          • Enkidum says:

            Oh shit, that was quite a big news story if it’s the one I’m thinking of. Jesus, the poor bastard. Surreal indeed.

          • Aftagley says:

            It probably is; are you thinking of the one that happened out on big savage mountain in Maryland?

          • Enkidum says:

            I don’t remember the specifics, but basically they were hiking somewhere remote, she came back and said he fell off a cliff, and it quickly became clear that there were huge holes in her story. There can’t be too many big news stories like that from the past few years, so probably the same guy.

            If you don’t mind my asking, in retrospect, did she seem dangerously nuts? My acquaintance who murdered someone was obviously dangerous, but he was a somewhat successful gangster so it’s in the job description.

          • Aftagley says:

            Yeah, that’s him.

            I honestly don’t know her well at all; we were (are?) facebook friends, and that’s about it. I don’t want to get into possibly-identifying specifics, but I knew him during a time in his life well before all this happened.

          • Enkidum says:

            Makes sense. Weird world.

        • Plumber says:

          The optometrist that prescribed my first glasses (when I was 12) later murdered someone.

          I was hired at a motorcycle shop that one of it’s mechanic was murdered the year before (the case was featured on “Unsolved Mysteries’), a girl I knew organized memorial rides for years afterwards and her brother was a good friend of mine, and not quite murder but in the subsequent seven years nine aquantences, customers, and/or friends died motorcycling.

          My former boss’ brother was murdered.

          A former co-worker of mine had his son murdered.

          And I’ve worked in a few autopsy rooms for The City & County of San Francisco (fixing plumbing fixtures and unclogging drains) and it’s a good guess that some of the bodies were of murder victims.

          I also saw my first dead body at less than seven years old (being carried down the stairs of the apartment building next door), and in the ’80’s I frequently heard gunshots and police sirens, I’ve seen muzzle flash on city streets twice, and I’ve had loaded guns pointed at me twice (once by a cop, and once by my brother).

        • S_J says:

          Not really a close brush with murder, but the closest I can think of.

          One December a few years back, I saw an acquaintance on FaceBook post that a friend (or friend-of-a-friend?) had gone missing. Said acquaintance was then a girlfriend of someone who attended the same church I did. The missing woman was a stranger to me, but she had not met up with sisters for a planned outing…and had last been seen leaving work.

          Within a day or two, that FaceBook post was followed up with a social media blitz, orchestrated by the family of the missing woman. They created a special hashtag, and spent months reminding people about the missing woman.

          The victim lived in the Detroit Metro Area, in a suburb that I have spent lots of time in. She was white, worked at an office building in a neighboring suburb (near a different office that I had worked at, a decade ago). Apparently she didn’t interact much with the criminal element in the bad part(s) of town. Her name and story quickly became common in regional news. [2]

          The full picture slowly emerged from the news coverage: her car had been left near her apartment with her purse, but without her keys anywhere in sight. The apartment had not been ransacked. There were hints that a former security guard at her workplace was a suspect, but Police were tight-lipped about the details why.

          She is presumed murdered, but her remains have not been found. Local Police were able to identify a suspect, trace his movements that day, and find evidence that he had brought her to his home that evening. They were able to partially trace his movements, and figure out when he returned her car to the area near her apartment, how he tried to dispose of the keys, and how he traveled back to where he had left his own vehicle. They have not been able to figure out where the suspect left her remains.

          Recently, that suspect has been arraigned and bound over for trial.

          The family is still trying to find the remains of the missing woman, so that burial can be done.

          I’ve followed the story as carefully as I could, mainly because my first knowledge was from that one FaceBook post. It’s sad, but in a distant way. But also because the story changed from ‘missing person’ into ‘interesting detective case’ over time.

          ——————————–
          [1] It is sadly true that a suburban woman gone missing generates more news headlines than most of the hundreds of poor/urban men who died in the area that year.
          Victims who apparently interacted with the criminal elements of society before their demise get less sympathy than those who were merely victims of said criminal elements…but murder victims from the poor parts of town rarely get more than one news story.

        • Garrett says:

          I was at the ambulance station and we were following updates over the radio for what sounded like some kind of murder or robbery gone bad.

          About half way through the event we realized that the person killed was the brother of the guy sitting next to me.

    • Sankt Gallus says:

      There’s a lot of stuff in the public conception of the medieval era that falls into this. Flails are probably the biggest, though I’ve seen theories recently that the classic spiked-ball-and-chain type literally never existed at all, even as a curiosity.

    • ana53294 says:

      Serial killers. Murders have already been mentioned, but serial killers are also regularly seen on TV, when in actual reality they’re much rarer. And a guy who commits several armed robberies and kills several people one after another is not a serial killer.

  15. Artyom Kazak says:

    I think it is important to internalize just how weird people’s behavior and internal experiences can be. For me, the best way to do it is to drown myself in examples – e.g. reading through a list of variations of aphasia.

    The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat seemed like a good first start, but for some reason it didn’t work at all. A book that worked very well on me is The Mask of Sanity – fifteen descriptions of psychopaths, all descriptions are similar yet not completely the same, hammers the point down.

    What else should I read?

    • Enkidum says:

      It’s out of date (no more so than Sachs, I guess), but Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain. Daniel Tammet’s Born on a Blue Day is a good look at both (extremely) high-functioning Asperger’s and synaesthesia.

      • Soy Lecithin says:

        In his book Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer suggests that Daniel Tammet’s savantism is an act. In particular he is skeptical about Tammet’s synaesthesia. I haven’t read Tammet’s book and don’t know what his response to Foer’s claims is.

        • Enkidum says:

          Hmmm, I’ll have to read it. I’ve done a fair bit of research on synaesthesia (professionally, ran studies and published articles, etc) and though I’ve never met Tammet or anyone else who combines syn and autism, I found his descriptions of his experiences very consistent with what other synaesthetes have told me. Thanks for the reference.

    • Silverlock says:

      Just jumping in here (late) to add that there is a free PDF version of The Mask of Sanity on the web.

  16. Alex Zavoluk says:

    If you live in the central Texas area and would be interested in coming to the Austin meetup, please take the following survey: https://forms.gle/DnY8rwJUE322nt45A

    We at the Austin SSC meetup have reason to believe that there are many people in the greater
    metropolitan area who would be interested in attending a meetup, if they could be assured that other fellow far-comers will also be there. We will use this survey to determine a Schelling date where we recommend that all far-comers come at once.

    Other tags for searching: TX, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Bryan, College Station, Waco

  17. Viliam says:

    I just watched Man of Steel (the 2013 Superman movie) and… did Lois Lane really kick away the female of Superman’s species that was attacking her?

    The entire movie was “zero smartness, nice visuals, silent speech alternating with really loud music and explosions”, but this one moment was wrong.

    (Another wrong moment was when soldiers of Superman’s species were unable to locate his spaceship… despite standing 100 meters away from it; it was hidden in a barn. Yeah, there was some in-movie-universe explanation for them not having laser eyes fully operational yet, but still.)

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Oh, that movie was just horrible. Couldn’t even finish it. I think the next one as well.

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      Man of Steel was a crime against Superman.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      I left Man of Steel ranting about the inaccurate tornado, which was a pet peeve I never knew I had. There are so many problems with that movie.

    • Montfort says:

      Man of Steel lost me when Clark let his dad die rescuing the family dog. Was that supposed to be his Uncle Ben moment or something?

  18. BBA says:

    Somebody has to say it: This thread is gross.

    • Sandpaper26 says:

      I don’t suppose asking you to provide evidence would itself serve as evidence?

      • clipmaker says:

        Whoosh. (It’s gross because it’s thread #144).

        • Sandpaper26 says:

          Not for nothing, but you had the opportunity to kindly teach me that”gross” is a word used for 144 of something. Instead you took it as an opportunity to insinuate that I am “lower” because I wasn’t familiar with the reference. Not exactly generous of you.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Eh. “Whoosh” can be good-natured ribbing meant to strengthen the bonds of solidarity.

            In places where you don’t expect repeated interactions with the same commenters (like any of the larger Reddits), it probably doesn’t function that way. But here? It probably does.

            Basically I’m saying try to see it as an offer of friendship that says “Hey, you missed this is a dad-joke level pun. No worries mate!”

          • Aftagley says:

            Yep, whoosh is just the sound the joke made as it flew over your head; it’s not a status thing at all. I wouldn’t take it personally.

            Frankly Sandpaper, I think you should try to be less rough and abrasive.

          • CatCube says:

            FWIW, I did know that a gross is a dozen dozen, and didn’t get the joke before @clipmaker said it–I originally thought that @BBA’s comment was orphaned from a thread that Scott deleted.

            Once pointed out to me, I thought it was really funny (and the “two gross” by @Aftagley was even better)

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            I genuinely see both sides of this issue, having been raised by a socially-inclined father who would refer to me as a nerd behind my back, and would also fondly tell stories about his time being hazed during his shellback ceremony.

            Yes, Sandpaper26, this probably wasn’t intended mean-spiritedly. But yes, clipmaker, sarcasm can sting, and implicitly has negative connotations as well as bonding connotations. Perhaps it is better reserved for genuine relationships, not passing acquaintanceships.

          • Aftagley says:

            I should specify that my above comment was entirely motivated by a desire to make the sandpaper puns. My apologies for not properly utilizing sarcasm tags.

            and would also fondly tell stories about his time being hazed during his shellback ceremony.

            I mean, who wouldn’t? You haven’t lived ’til you’ve crawled through the whale’s belly and paid tribute to King Neptune.

          • Sandpaper26 says:

            @all above,

            I’m not one to take offense to some light sarcasm (usually), and I want to clarify that my feelings weren’t genuinely hurt. I think my response, in this case, was too strong. But I do want to clarify that, if the meaning of “whoosh” is actually “the sound of the joke going over your head” (the way I took it), it must in fact be strongly status-linked. Height has served as a representation of status for a long time in almost every human culture, and the idea that I’m below your joke could me interpreted un-generously in this context. “Whoosh” could just as easily mean your joke missed me laterally — but then that would be the fault of poor aim by the joke teller, I think.
            In other words: whoosh is classist, hashtag banish whoosh

    • Aftagley says:

      Wake me up in a dozen dozen threads when it starts getting two gross.

  19. Bobobob says:

    I’m bored and I’m at work and I have nothing to do. For some reason (maybe because I’ve been watching the new season of The Expanse) I was thinking last night about the Battlestar Galactica reboot. I streamed the whole shebang over the course of a few weeks, and it seemed clear to me that the producers/directors/writers completely lost track of the story in the last two seasons–basically, just making stuff up as they went along. But then I checked opinions on the internet, and there are all these people saying the story was carefully planned out and made sense and Ronald Moore et al. knew exactly what they were doing. This seems so obviously wrong to me that it perhaps points out something important about human psychology, that can be applied to other not-so-consistent texts I will not name here.

    FWIW, the point where I could no longer suspend my Battlestar Galactica disbelief was where everyone insisted that there was absolutely no way to distinguish Cylons from humans. That rang my identity-of-indiscernibles bell. If there’s no way to tell them apart, there’s no difference between them, and the whole story arc makes little sense.

    • Dragor says:

      Yeah, I think that is around when I lost the thread too. Specifically, I stopped after they landed on that semi-habitable world, but the cylon bit bothered me. I think it was supposed to be some sort of philosophical point? But I don’t remember or perhaps never knew what it was.

    • John Schilling says:

      But then I checked opinions on the internet, and there are all these people saying the story was carefully planned out and made sense and Ronald Moore et al. knew exactly what they were doing.

      Ronald Moore did know exactly what he was doing. He was selling smoke and mirrors to the rubes, making it up as he went, laughing all the way to the bank as the rubes bought every word. He has openly admitted this. Apparently some of the rubes are still buying it?

      I agree with Dragor that the “New Caprica” arc is where it went off the rails. Prior to that, it didn’t matter whether there was an underlying plan because the consistent and largely episodic structure of the story and the relative lack of accumulated continuity meant that just about everything was consistent with some plausible set of plans. The individual episodes were individually good, and generally followed the expected path of a refugee fleet transitioning from immediate-crisis to long-term survival mode. Settling down on New Caprica, with two Battlestars in orbit above but with the intent of eventually returning to the “Last Battlestar leading a rag-tag fleet” format, put much higher demands on the long-term plotting, and I think that’s when most of the non-rube fans started seeing problems.

      Cylons being bioengineered hominids, physiologically indistinguishable from h. sapiens at least by any non-destructive means available to Galactica, wasn’t a problem early on because A: plausible if we ignore things like the glowing spines as artistic license / continuity glitches and B: doesn’t place any early plot demands beyond the refugee fleet having to deal with enemy infiltration. But the farther down the rabbit hole of “They have a plan!” you go, the trickier it is to incorporate that critical detail with any coherent plan.

      And of course none of this is unique to Battlestar Galactica; it goes back at least as far as The X Files. As a general rule of thumb, if a TV showrunner tells you that the story will take several seasons to unravel the meticulously plotted conspiracy at the center of the storyline, they’re lying. Nobody plans more than a season in advance unless they are working from existing source material and/or named J. Michael Straczynski. Which raises the question, if someone sincerely does create a multi-season pre-plotted drama in the 21st century, how can they earn the audience’s trust on that point?

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Which raises the question, if someone sincerely does create a multi-season pre-plotted drama in the 21st century, how can they earn the audience’s trust on that point?

        Step 1: Don’t give it to FOX

      • The Nybbler says:

        Nobody plans more than a season in advance unless they are working from existing source material and/or named J. Michael Straczynski. Which raises the question, if someone sincerely does create a multi-season pre-plotted drama in the 21st century, how can they earn the audience’s trust on that point?

        The question almost answers itself; assuming you aren’t JMS, write the books first. This still does not preclude the network messing with you, of course.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        if someone sincerely does create a multi-season pre-plotted drama in the 21st century, how can they earn the audience’s trust on that point?

        They end the series before ratings and networks dictate it will end. See The Good Place: https://www.newsweek.com/why-michael-schur-pulling-plug-good-place-after-only-4-seasons-1442963

        And many threads back someone linked the original showrunner’s planned ending for Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. Andromeda’s Intended Five-Year Arc, Told by Robert Hewitt Wolfe as a One-Act Play

        • John Schilling says:

          They end the series before ratings and networks dictate it will end.

          Ideally, we’re looking for something that will convince the audience in advance. Because one way to guarantee that your multi-season story arc doesn’t actually get made, is for the potential audience to all not watch while saying “I’m waiting for the final season to end so that other people can tell me whether it was worth watching”.

          And many threads back someone linked the original showrunner’s planned ending for Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda.

          Pretty sure that was me. And I never believed that show was going to execute a five-season arc; I just hoped that it would continue to deliver the same general kind and quantity of episodic storytelling. Sadly, after a season and a half it went full Kirkules and I rapidly tuned out.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Didn’t Babylon 5 have an intended five year arc, which then got screwed up by the network saying in season 4 “wrap it up” and then saying “that was great give us a fifth season”?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Babylon 5 was on a broadcast network for four seasons and… I want to say JMS was informed after the premiere of S4 that it would be cancelled due to low ratings, so he made every single episode an “arc” ep, basically writing the season single-handed. And the cable channel TNT was like “This show is great! We’ll pick it up and let you finish it!” Which would be great if he hadn’t already squeezed the climax into S4.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think Babylon 5 was one of the first, if not the first, shows to have the overarching structure of an arc plot, and it got pulled around by the unfortunate results of theory meeting reality. After the first season, JMS lost his lead character due to the actor’s health problems and had to invent a new lead, rewrite and rejig the plot around that new character, and stitch together already established plot elements and shot footage with the new requirements. He did a great job of it, and the second season worked better than it should have.

            Then, as you say, the big problem was being forced to wrap it all up a season early which in itself wouldn’t have been the worst, but then they got that final season after all, and all the plot had been squeezed dry to give the fans and the show a wrapped-up ending. So we got stuff like the Telepath War instead which was silly and an unsatisfactory dragging-out of the ending where nothing much really happened (the very last episode, Sleeping in Light, was a good one on its own terms but also for other reasons I’ll develop below, and a good finale).

            Now, JMS did a brilliant job of tailoring and stitching things together, but at times you can definitely see the stitches. For one, I disliked Sheridan from the start and as the seasons went on and he was built up, the more they tried to persuade me he was a Big Damn Hero, the more I disliked him. Sleeping in Light and the season four closer, The Deconstruction of Falling Stars, could instead be taken as the records of the development of a cult of personality around Sheridan, how he placed supporters and allies into positions of real power and influence in the new regime, and how those starry-eyed devotees unblinkingly followed his lead, with dissension being crushed both by physical force and the force of social opinion (” Frail but still able to challenge the panelists with choice words, Delenn states that perhaps they are the ones who are overrating themselves. The stellarcast host and his two panelists look away in shame.”) Ironically, we see that the result of Sheridan’s new regime and his legacy is to bring about a second civil war and one which knocks Earth a few rungs back down the civilisational and technological ladder. Even the aggrandising ending does not answer the genuine questions as to the deliberate mythologising of Sheridan, his allies, and his new regime, and the real problems it caused.

            Sleeping in Light is a great finale, but it’s also great as a mirror to what the ostensible message is: Sheridan was a Great Man. Yes, he was a Great Man, and a tyrant who stamped out dissent and iron-handedly created a legend of his own modesty, beneficience, and rightness, just as many Great Men do. Great Men are not necessarily Good Men 🙂

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Deiseach:

            For one, I disliked Sheridan from the start and as the seasons went on and he was built up, the more they tried to persuade me he was a Big Damn Hero, the more I disliked him.

            Ah, so you’re not a Bruce Box-liker.

      • Randy M says:

        This jumped out at me because I’m listening to a guy going through and giving discussions of old Star Trek TNG episodes, and iirc, Ronald Moore was strongly against continuity when he was involved as a producer or writer over there.

        • Bobobob says:

          I’m guessing that “Strongly Against Continuity” was on Battlestar Galactica’s letterhead.

        • Aftagley says:

          Ronald Moore was strongly against continuity when he was involved as a producer or writer over there.

          Wait, I’m confused, how exactly does someone advocate against continuity? Have every episode end up being a dream? Bring out the Men in Black memory device every couple of episodes?

          • acymetric says:

            I think it just means a show where no episode has any connection to any other episode, more or less. Never have characters or events that call back to previous episodes or rely on information/events from previous episodes.

          • Randy M says:

            Right. A writer wants to reference an earlier episode, and he scratches that part. Presumably so as to not lose new viewers or something.

            Obviously this wasn’t always the case for TNG, but the authority on the show shifted a lot over the 7 seasons it seems.

            But I may be confusing Moore with Braga or even some other producer. Suffice to say, the scarcity of continuity and call backs was intentional.

            edit: Yeah, seems like I was:

            Here is Braga again, with some telling comments: “Ron came aboard as a writer and—God, I have a lot of regrets—he came aboard wanting the show to do all sorts of things. He wanted the show to have continuity. When the ship got fucked up, he wanted it to stay fucked up. For characters to have lasting consequences. He was really into that. He wanted to eradicate the so-called reset button, and that’s not something the studio was interested in, because this thing was a big seller in syndication.”

            Sorry to have gotten it exactly backwards! Dunno if this has any connection to BSG, then.

          • acymetric says:

            Which is bad strategy, because catching a show mid-way and seeing them allude to things I hadn’t seen yet makes me more likely to try to see previous episodes.

          • Aftagley says:

            Huh, I guess I hadn’t noticed that this was a thing, at least outside of shows that are explicitly sitcoms.

          • acymetric says:

            It almost never is. Maybe literally never. But apparently some people try to make it one.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            I think there’s a spectrum between “an episode will make little or no sense if you haven’t watched every previous episode” and “each episode is a self-contained story and can be enjoyed without ever seeing the rest of the show.”

          • aristides says:

            Continuity was a dangerous trope in the old days of TV. If you missed one episode, you might not have a chance to see a rerun until the summer, unless you had a very flexible viewing schedule. Obviously in the days of streaming services, continuity is king, since it’s extremely easy to catch up and watch all the old episodes.

          • Randy M says:

            That’s a good point. If a show wasn’t popular to the point of endless syndication, you might not be able to go back and catch old episodes for which your interest had been piqued, certainly not on demand.

          • Nick says:

            @aristides
            You’re right about the role of streaming services, I think. There was a good discussion on episodic vs serial stories a while back where I talk about streaming’s role in that following Sonny Bunch.

      • Matt M says:

        Which raises the question, if someone sincerely does create a multi-season pre-plotted drama in the 21st century, how can they earn the audience’s trust on that point?

        This is a huge contributor to why I pretty much never watch TV series that haven’t already concluded. I am *not* investing my time into something that was originally conceived for a six-season slow build but then got unceremoniously cancelled after 3 due to low ratings. I wait for the show to be concluded, either voluntarily or not, see how the reviews come in, and make my decisions from there.

    • Enkidum says:

      “lost track of the story” implies that they ever had it on track to begin with.

      Consider: Adama is handed a note in the first episode of the regular series saying there are 12 Cylon types or something like that. Who handed him this note? How could they possibly have had this information. It is, so far as I’m aware, never referenced again in the entire series.

      As John Schilling has pointed out, Moore was making it up as he went along. “They have a plan” was a lie.

      To me the most disappointing aspect of the show was that it turned out that what Moore was really interested in exploring was watered-down Gwyneth-Paltrow-style spirituality. Which just does not fit well with the setting.

      • John Schilling says:

        Who handed him this note? How could they possibly have had this information.

        IIRC, the note was sent anonymously by Baltar, who got it from Head-Six, who got it by counting distinct faces at the meetings(*). We didn’t hear much about the note because, being unsourced and unverified, it wasn’t usefully actionable by Adama. The purpose was I think to A: tell the audience (who know the note is reliably sourced) how many Cylon sleeper agents to expect and B: give future writers latitude to decide the human characters do or do not know how many Cylon sleeper agents to expect, depending on whether Adama’s gut retroactively told him to trust/not trust the note.

        Then the writers couldn’t think up stories using more than seven models of sleeper agent, so all that setup was wasted, but it was a reasonable way to keep their options open given that they didn’t really have a plan.

        * This was well before the silly “final five” retcon.

        • Bobobob says:

          I wish I could’ve listened in on the “Final Five” story meeting. Obviously they couldn’t have “Final Four,” because that would be mocked mercilessly. “Final Three” probably ran up against contractual obligations to the actors involved. “Final Six?” That’s half the Cylon prototypes, not very convincing. So hey, let’s go with “Final Five!”

          • Aftagley says:

            You’re thinking harder than most writers. They picked the work “Final” out of the hat and went for the only alliterative number possible that wouldn’t break the casting budget.

          • acymetric says:

            @Aftagley

            That can’t be it, because then they would have gone with four.

          • Bobobob says:

            I’m willing to bet that it was originally four, but then someone apprised Ronald Moore of the existence of the NCAA playoffs. (And for all I know, “Final Four” may be an actual NCAA trademark…)

          • Bobobob says:

            Just looked it up. Yep, “Final Four” is an NCAA trademark. BSG might have gotten away with it in a non-basketball context, but that’s a legal battle they probably didn’t want to fight.

        • Enkidum says:

          Huh, that’s more sensible than I remember it being.

      • Bobobob says:

        That’s funny, I actually forgot about those “they have a plan” teasers. That makes the botching of the story even more egregious.

    • Jaskologist says:

      In one of our previous gripe-fests, somebody linked this interview with Moore, which confirms your gut is more reliable than those opinions on the internet. They were just making it up as they went along.

      In terms of “Galactica,” how long have you known how you were going to end it?

      In general terms, over the last year and a half, somewhere in the middle of season three I started asking, ‘What’s the shape of the ending? What’s going to happen at the end of the show and what’s going to be the case when they meet up with whoever they meet up with?’

      So, for instance, when you decided who four of the Final Five would be, how much thought did you have to put into it before revealing it in “Crossroads,” and how much was, “Oh, we’ll say this and figure it out over the hiatus”?

      The impulse to do it was literally an impulse. We were in the writers room on the finale of that season, always knew we would end season 3 on trial of Baltar and his acquittal, the writers had worked out a story and a plot, they were pitching it to me in the room. And I had a nagging sense that it wasn’t big enough, on the level of jumping ahead a year or shooting Adama. And I literally made it up in the room, I said, “What if four of our characters walk from different parts of the ship, end up in a room and say, ‘Oh my God, we’re Cylons’? And we leave one for next season.” And everyone said “Oh my God,” and they were scared, and because they were scared, I knew I was right. And then we sat and spent a couple of hours talking about who those four would be.

      • Nick says:

        The impulse to do it was literally an impulse. We were in the writers room on the finale of that season, always knew we would end season 3 on trial of Baltar and his acquittal, the writers had worked out a story and a plot, they were pitching it to me in the room. And I had a nagging sense that it wasn’t big enough, on the level of jumping ahead a year or shooting Adama. And I literally made it up in the room, I said, “What if four of our characters walk from different parts of the ship, end up in a room and say, ‘Oh my God, we’re Cylons’? And we leave one for next season.” And everyone said “Oh my God,” and they were scared, and because they were scared, I knew I was right. And then we sat and spent a couple of hours talking about who those four would be.

        Man, with writing this poorly thought out, he could have been hired for the new Star Wars trilogy.

  20. TheContinentalOp says:

    The US Constitution says that no state can be deprived of its equal representation in the Senate without its consent. So what would the other states have to offer a state to convince it to give up one of its senators?

    My first thought would be something like give the residents of North Dakota an permanent exemption from the income tax and enshrine it in the constitution. But then what’s to stop Congress from passing the new “Blincome Tax” that looks suspiciously like the current income tax. And even if that were struck down, ND is still vulnerable to a regular old constitutional amendment that does away with their exemption.

    Maybe states out west like Wyoming or Alaska would swap one of their Senators for title to all the federal land in their states. But I don’t think this approach would hold much appeal for a state like Delaware.

    Fun fact: The 23rd amendment states that the District of Columbia can’t have any more electoral votes than the least populous state. So, if you convince Vermont to give up a Senator and that drops their EV to 2, DC still gets 3 EVs, because Wyoming, still with 3 electors, is the least populous state.

    • Dragor says:

      How about admitting territories like the Northern Mariana Island, American Samoa, and Guam as independent states provided they get only one or zero senators.*

      *Puerto Rico I think has a plenty large population to justify two senators.

    • Lambert says:

      I suppose it all depends on whether the state can revoke that consent.

    • Erusian says:

      If your intention is to reduce their Federal influence, you probably can’t. It’s hard to imagine that small states would ever give up the one place where they’re equal to larger states. Otherwise, you could obviously give them something worth more in terms of Federal influence. Like Wyoming might give up a senator if the remaining senator gets a veto power on any legislation. Or maybe no President can be elected without the electors from Wyoming.

      Also, you vastly overestimate how much Wyoming or Alaska want to have a bunch of basically worthless land. Some of that land (especially in the southwest) is decent for cattle but much of it is so worthless the Federal government literally can’t sell it.

    • cassander says:

      Given that for small states, senator is the most powerful job the politicians in that state can reasonable aspire to, I’m going to go with “none of them would ever be willing to give up their best promotion opportunity for anything that would ever reasonably be on.” Politics, like everything, is driven largely by individual incentives, not collective ones.

    • Randy M says:

      Theoretically, if you agreed to split a state into three smaller states in return for reducing each to one senator it would increase their influence, but that only holds if the state is very homogeneous. And homogeneous states would probably be against the splitting.

    • Matt M says:

      I understand what you’re getting at here, but overall I think your premise is flawed. There are tons of things that the constitution says in clear and precise language that have been routinely and flagrantly violated.

      How this would work in real life is something like “After a legal challenge by the State of California against the State of North Dakota, alleging that they interfered with interstate commerce by casting the two deciding votes against a bill to ban vaping, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that it was, in fact, a violation of the commerce clause to allow small states to have more Senators than large ones.” (and then the Supreme Court declined to hear North Dakota’s appeal).

      • Gobbobobble says:

        “After a legal challenge by the State of California against the State of North Dakota, alleging that they interfered with interstate commerce by casting the two deciding votes against a bill to ban vaping, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that it was, in fact, a violation of the commerce clause to allow small states to have more Senators than large ones.” (and then the Supreme Court declined to hear North Dakota’s appeal).

        Riiiiiight… Like how Dubyus Marius was gonna get the legions to swear personal fealty to prevent Obama taking over. Yes, you can ram all sorts of unconstitutional things past the proles but the key is you have to make them boring enough that nobody can be bothered to care. Taking away a senator is not something that be “nothing to see here”-ed.

        • Matt M says:

          I’m not saying they’d hide it or anything. It would be actively celebrated. And why not, since over half the country (and over 90% of the professional journalist class) would be/already is in favor of it?

          The courts can “suddenly discover” that having the senate be not proportional to the population is unconstitutional, the same way they “suddenly discovered” that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional, that banning abortion was unconstitutional, that requiring people to purchase a product is okay because it’s technically a tax, or that the right to bear arms only applies to the national guard.

          • Dacyn says:

            Are you trying to claim that these examples contradict “clear and precise language” in the Constitution just as much as removing a Senatorial seat would? It’s a lot easier to see how a phrase like “bear arms”, the significance of reference to “militia”, or even the meaning of the word “tax” might be more subject to interpretation than “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate”.

          • Matt M says:

            “The phrase “equal” does not necessarily imply exact numerical equality, but rather true equality. It is inherently unequal for large states to have the same amount of senators as small states. Therefore, to make the Senate truly equal, the amount of senators shall be adjusted for population.”

            What do I win?

            I’m not even saying that will be the exact argument. It’s just one possibility I’m spitballing off the top of my head.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Matt M: Yeah, that strikes me as a much bigger stretch than the other things. I don’t claim that the Court has been faithful to the Constitution but my bet would be that they wouldn’t follow the line of reasoning you gave (or any other with the same conclusion). I guess if it becomes politically expedient to remove a senator, we can see which of is is right.

          • ECD says:

            @Matt

            This is the sort of ‘no one has principles’ (or at least ‘my enemies don’t have any principles’) cynicism (not a direct quote) which I think is corrosive to the country and this forum.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Dacyn

            If it becomes that politically convenient to remove a Senator, a 2/3 majority of the Senate would likely be in favor of directly removing the particular Senator.

            I can’t think of any other circumstances for removal of a Senator in which the expulsion provisions of the Constitution either wouldn’t come in to play, or would be unnecessary, as the Senate can effectively silence a single annoying member.

          • Dacyn says:

            @anonymousskimmer: Admittedly it is unlikely, but theoretically a state could develop politics so different from the rest of the country (e.g. most of its people want to implement Sharia law) that any senator they choose will likely be found annoying by others. And in another direction, I could certainly see people grow to think that it is unfair for large and small states to have equal representation (I mean, some already do). But yeah, it is unlikely to ever actually come up.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      One of the best bits in David Friedman’s Legal Systems… was putting US in the chapter on religious legal systems – it is ruled by a holy book. And holy books are unchangeable. So how do you deal with holy books that tell you to chop hands for theft, kill for adultery and blacks have 2/5 the voting power of whites? Similar problems lead to similar solutions: you reinterpret the book. Including by saying that it meant the very opposite, as long as you can come up with the flimsiest of excuses. Like, for example, how adultery is of course a capital crime, but being so grave you need several eye witnesses.

      Anyways, tldr: just have the supreme court say it’s so.

      • TheContinentalOp says:

        Or you can just amend the Constitution. There is a procedure to do so. It’s actually happened in the past.

        We might have been better off, normalizing more frequent amendments (authorizing the Air Force!), rather than just looking the other way when people pushed past the limits.

        • eyeballfrog says:

          While there is a procedure, it forbids using it to change representation in the Senate:

          The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution… provided that … no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.

          • Erusian says:

            Pedantic, but it doesn’t forbid the change. It just requires the state being deprived to consent. If that means it’s impossible without getting them to agree, that’s completely WAD.

        • BBA says:

          We’re so polarized nowadays that you’re never going to get 3/4 of state legislatures to agree on the color of the sky, let alone anything substantive. And I don’t foresee anything changing that. The Constitution will never be amended again.

          Now I’d prefer to replace it with a system that repairs the mistakes in the current constitution that have become blindingly obvious in the last few years, but our civic religion is ancestor worship. The Founders were demigods who didn’t make mistakes! So instead I fear we’re going to end up like the early Roman Empire, which insisted it was still the Republic governed by the Twelve Tables and kept holding meaningless elections for the powerless office of consul for centuries.

          • Dacyn says:

            The Constitution will never be amended again.

            Last amendment was 27 years ago [1] and gap from 12th to 13th was 61 years. So from an outside view, I think it is too early to say.

            [1] Tempted to wait until near midnight to post this, then edit it after midnight to reflect the change 🙂

          • Ransom says:

            It’s hard to amend the constitution on anything controversial, but relatively easy on uncontroversial things. There have been five since 1960 (about 1 every 12 years):

            23rd Grants the District of Columbia electors in the Electoral College, their number being not more than those of the least populous state June 16, 1960 March 29, 1961
            24th Prohibits the revocation of voting rights due to the non-payment of a poll tax or any other tax September 14, 1962 January 23, 1964
            25th Addresses succession to the presidency and establishes procedures both for filling a vacancy in the office of the vice president, as well as responding to presidential disabilities July 6, 1965 February 10, 1967
            26th Prohibits the denial of the right of US citizens, eighteen years of age or older, to vote on account of age March 23, 1971 July 1, 1971
            27th Delays laws affecting Congressional salary from taking effect until after the next election of representatives

            As to the Senate (and the electoral college): the small states and rural areas don’t want to be ruled by the big city political machines, obviously. The Senate and electoral college are meant to lessen the ability of big states to dominate small ones. A better system would maybe be the one Plumber suggests below, where the big concentrated centers dominated by political machines can rule themselves but not everyone else.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Ransom, I think you aren’t picking the best endpoints. I see four amendments in ten years (1961-1971), and from then on nothing passes Congress – the 27th Amendment was originally proposed as part of the Bill of Rights and ratified by a few more states after a law student discovered it was still technically out there.

            In general, I see amendments being passed in waves with a few exceptions in-between:

            * The original Bill of Rights (1-10),
            (exceptions 11, 12)
            * Reconstruction (13-15, after a ~70-year gap),
            * The Progressive era (16-19, after a ~40-year gap),
            * The New Deal (20-21, after a 12-year gap),
            (exception 22)
            * The Sixties (23-26, after a ~30-year gap),
            (exception 27, unless you count it as part of the Bill of Rights when it passed Congress)

            We’re currently fifty years after the last wave of amendments. It’s not the longest like @Dacyn says, but pretty close. Ominously, the only longer gap gave rise to the Civil War.

          • bullseye says:

            @Ransom

            Of the five amendments you list, three directly affect elections. Propose something like that today, and the party that doesn’t benefit will fight it tooth and nail.

            That said, nothing lasts forever, and when the current hyperpartisanship passes amendments will be possible again.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Just eliminate all senators. The least populous states would no longer be much more represented in the remaining unicameral legislature or the electoral college.

      • brad says:

        Don’t think article v permits that as it would deprive all the states of their representation in the Senate. However, the Senate’s duties could be redrawn. How about “sole responsibility for planning the quadrennial inauguration ball?

        • Chipsa says:

          Representation must be equal. If all states have 0 representation, then the representation is equal.

        • eric23 says:

          That would work, however it would take a constitutional amendment.

          Since 2/3 of senators and 3/4 of state legislatures must support such an amendment, including the senators whose jobs would lose meaning and the small states who would lose their outsized influence, it’s pretty inconceivable that such an amendment would pass.

          • brad says:

            You may need to first create dozens of new states, but a determined majority plus president could get the job done.

            After all the House of Lords nominally voted for its own irrelevance.

          • Erusian says:

            Constitutional changes are easier in the UK and even that took a centuries long shift in the role of the monarch and Lords. No such similar shift has occurred in the US, partly because the Senate is a significantly more representative and democratic body.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I understand the drive towards representation by population, but from far away, it kinda looks like the main advantage of US is being a federation. And one of the greatest weaknesses long term is the push towards centralization and conformity – it’s much better short/medium term, and way more efficient, but it makes it almost impossible to leave the traps of local maximums. Can’t look around and say “hay, these guys are doing something right, let’s all [legalize cannabis]”.

        • eric23 says:

          You are correct, but the idea is not to stop being a federation. The idea is for the top-level government which handles supra-state issues to be fairer in its apportionment of power, not for it to handle more or fewer issues.

          • aristides says:

            Congress with a population apportioned Senate would Handel more issues, since it’s make up is the same as the house. Having a House and Senate that bicker all the time is a feature not a bug. If it is hard to pass laws in the federal level, the states are more free to fill in the gaps in the laws, and if you believe local decisions are usually better, than you would want to keep the status quo.

          • Plumber says:

            @aristides says: “…Having a House and Senate that bicker all the time is a feature not a bug. If it is hard to pass laws in the federal level, the states are more free to fill in the gaps in the laws, and if you believe local decisions are usually better, than you would want to keep the status quo”

            Maybe for places like Rhode Island, but to this Californian Sacramento is hardly more local than D.C.

            Both States and the Federal government are too strong (except maybe as a counterbalance to private industry).

            I’d strengthen cities and counties instead, or greatly expand the number of States, Los Angeles alone is big enough to be a State, as are Chicago, Houston, New York City, et cetera.

            Have large cities and their adjacent inner-ring suburbs (“blue America”) be seperate mostly self-governing city-States, and have outer-ring suburbs and rural areas (“red America”) be mostly self-governing States seperate from the big cities, with the Federal government in charge of the Coast Guard and Social Security Insurance.

        • brad says:

          As the EU is demonstrating even more dramatically there are heads I win / tails you lose style downsides to federations in the modern context.

    • Brett says:

      You basically have to do what the “direct election of Senators” movement did to force states to give up their power of decision over Senator seats, and build up a movement for it that is so politically strong that you elect Senators who agree to effectively abolish their jobs. There’s the bit about “equal suffrage in the Senate”, but if the movement is strong enough that will be conveniently reinterpreted to allow the change.

      In practice, it’s more likely that the US constitutional system breaks and we end up with a new constitution. That could happen if an Article V convention ever gets called, and it ends up “running away” from its original purpose.

    • beleester says:

      But then what’s to stop Congress from passing the new “Blincome Tax” that looks suspiciously like the current income tax.

      Does the Blincome Tax calculate the amount you pay based on individual income? Then the courts will probably rule that it’s an income tax and therefore unconstitutional under that new amendment. Trying to get around the No Income Tax Amendment by saying “It’s not an income tax, it’s a blincome tax” would be like trying to get around the Third Amendment by saying “It’s not quartering soldiers, it’s housing them.”

      Legal things can sometimes be frustratingly literal, but courts are generally pretty good at seeing through obvious word games like this.

      • courts are generally pretty good at seeing through obvious word games like this.

        Except when they don’t want to. For instance, when they want to uphold a law requiring people to buy insurance, and do it by relabeling a penalty as a tax.

        • Dacyn says:

          Well, a penalty calculates the amount you pay based on whether or not you did something the government wants you to do. Since usual taxes are calculated based on many different factors, I’m not sure how this is so different, except for sinister overtones which would be hard to quantify legally.

    • sharper13 says:

      You won’t get anything reasonable to convince a State to give up it’s Senators, but the opposite approach might work.

      Divide the larger States into smaller States each about the same population size. Poof, Senators are mostly population-size-agnostic. If done so that the Democratic Party doesn’t have a clear advantage in the majority of the resulting divisions, then you could even get the GOP States to vote for it.

      For bonus points, shrink the size of Congressional districts at the same time. 1,000 Senators and 10,000 House Members would work well.

  21. Elliot says:

    I want to get into predictive processing research, and I have a meeting with Karl Friston and his team in early January, so I’m after advice on how to approach the meeting.

    The thing is, my PhD is in an unrelated area of pure maths. My master’s was in natural sciences, so I have biology and stats experience, but not research level. I’ve attended a conference on consciousness, read papers on PP and Big Frist Energy, given talks at uni on PP & predictive accounts of OCD, and met with a couple researchers (who were encouraging but couldn’t supervise a project directly).

    I emailed Friston to say I’m interested but lack experience etc, and he was surprisingly positive and invited me to meet. How should I prepare for the meeting? Should I familiarize myself with his work, or prepare my own research proposals? Does anyone have any advice for the meeting, or more generally how to break into a new academic area?

    • Vermillion says:

      I think the most important thing would be to come to the meeting with a lot of interesting ideas on how you could build off Friston’s current work. Probably 50% of your ideas will be obviously terrible, 40% they’ll have tried already and 20% could be really amazing. Some of them will also wind up in multiple categories which is why those don’t add up to 100.

      Consider framing your lack of experience as an asset not a downside, you won’t have the same blindspots as someone who’s been steeped in the work for decades, instead your blindspots will be new and weird and hopefully non-overlapping.

      I think you’ll do great, in my experience professors love nothing better then talking about their research with new potential collaborators. If Friston has any spare funding or time and/or hope of getting more in the future I think he’s very likely to take you on. Good luck!

    • Aapje says:

      It’s unclear to me and probably also to you what Friston’s goal for the meeting is. Does he simply want to give you career advice or is he looking for people to work for him? If the latter, does he expect you to come up with research proposals or to work on his ideas? Note that even in the former case, the proposals presumably have to line up with his work to make him interested in employing you.

      The highest likelihood of success, but also the highest likelihood of wasted effort is to prepare for each possibility.

    • eric23 says:

      I think it’s more important to make clear and be ready to demonstrate your talents and skills. He can figure out easily enough if those are applicable to his project.

      You should also demonstrate familiarity with and excitement for his project, and be ready with suggestions for what specifically you can add. But probably these suggestions will end up being useless, as he has already considered his work in much more detail than you can. So don’t invest too much in developing your suggestions, and don’t get disappointed if he dismisses them quickly and wants to discuss something else.

    • Enkidum says:

      (Background: I don’t know Friston, and I’m not a computational guy per se, but I work in neuroscience in a lab that does pretty Friston-adjacent work.)

      In the more computational/math-y areas of neuroscience we deal with a lot of people like yourself, who probably have vastly superior knowledge of the relevant math than someone trained in psychology or neuroscience, but less knowledge of the specifics of neurons, and no experience with actually running experiments, etc. That’s no particular worry, and Friston being who he is, he’ll undoubtedly have met and worked with many people with this. He knows what people like you can bring to the table. What matters is your ability to adapt your skill set to what he needs, and this is where a lot of people fall through.

      I’d recommend finding one of his more recent reviews, reading it carefully, and if you want extra points reading some of the important works cited. At this point questions and interest are probably as important as proposals. If you have 2-3 specific questions that illustrate you’re serious about trying to understand the material, it will be a huge benefit. And if you can give a sketch of a problem he’s interested in and how your skills might apply to solving it, you’ll be really impressive. If it’s a followup to one of his research papers, even better.

      Beyond that, your personality and already-existing skills are the important issues, and there’s not much you can do beyond be open, honest, and enthusiastic.

      • Enkidum says:

        It occurs to me after rereading that as you’re presumably interviewing for a post-doc position or similar, my advice might have undersold the need for a proposal. If so, you’ll want to be able to specify what you think you can contribute a bit more specifically than I’ve laid out. Try and have a couple of project ideas, they can be general but if at least one of them is as specific as “like this paper here, but analyzing a data set where X happened instead of Y, and/or extending the analysis in this direction”.

  22. AlesZiegler says:

    Do you remember that article on previous links roundup mentioning as apparently surprising fact that officer casualties in the First World War were higher than casualties among the common soldiers?

    Well, I got for Christmas a book by Alexandr Watson, Ring of Steel, about Austria-Hungary and Germany during First World War, which confirms that the same thing happened to Central Powers. In Germany, 13,3 % of soldiers were killed, compared to 15,7 % of reserve officers and 24,7 % of professional officers. For Austria-Hungary, Watson does not give overall casualty figures of soldiers at the same place as for officers, but for officers, 16,5 % of reserve officers and 31,3 % of professional officers were killed.

    • Matt M says:

      Would you recommend the book, in general?

      • AlesZiegler says:

        Sure, if you want a general overview of domestic situation and developments in both titular powers during the war. It is not, however, a book about battles and armies, actual conduct of military operations is described only in most broad sketches.

        One thing that I think is especially good is that, quite uniquely among books written in English about the WWI, author recognizes that Austria-Hungary was very important, and gives it equal space with Germany.

        Note: I am so far somewhere around the end of 1916, so this is only about the first half of the book.

    • Aftagley says:

      Do you remember that article on previous links roundup mentioning as apparently surprising fact that officer casualties in the First World War were higher than casualties among the common soldiers?

      In that thread, I remember a few theories about why that would be:

      1. All pilots were officers and pilots had a higher death rate than grunts.
      2. The enemy will kill the opposing enlisted, but actively go out of their way to kill officers.
      3. At the time, officers led from the front, so they naturally achieved higher death rates.
      4. A higher percentage of enlisted were involved in non-combat roles than officers.

      Does the book indicate which of these, if any, is correct?

      • Randy M says:

        There was also the notion of posthumous promotion, though I think it was felt generally that this wouldn’t account for enough to alter the stats.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        Watson does not delve on that, but indicates that “aristocratic ethos and honour credo” combined with “intense devotion to the Emperor” were important factors, i.e. officers led their men by an example into infantry charges and other risky engagements, and got slaughtered. Which is in line with everything else I have read or heard about the war, especially its first months, for all combatants involved.

        I also suspect that more common soldiers were involved in noncombat roles than officers and that officers had less leave days from the front, but that is not stated there.

  23. The Big Red Scary says:

    I’ve started reading Judea Pearl’s “The Book of Why”, about the “Causal Revolution”. I haven’t gotten very far into it, but while the criticisms of classical statistics, both frequentist and Bayesian, seem valid, I can’t help thinking I detect a faint scent of crackpottery. Does anyone have an informed opinion on Pearl and causal inference?

    • melolontha says:

      My very non-expert opinion is that Pearl overhypes his methods, and sometimes explains his results in a way that makes them seem more surprising than they are. More relevantly, nostalgebraist (who I only know from scattered writings but who seems to be smart and honest) thinks it’s a bad book.

      • The Big Red Scary says:

        I’ve read a bit more now, and would not go so far as to say that it’s a bad book, but I agree with nostalgebraist that it is rather unclear and vague in parts, which is unfortunate, since the underlying ideas seem rather simple and could be given an elementary treatment accessible to anyone with an intuitive sense for causal logic and comfortable with the arithmetic of fractions. If anyone can suggest where to find such a treatment, I’d be much obliged.

        (Yes, I can pick up and read a textbook on the subject, but I’m busy and only have time for this kind of thing in the hour before turning off the lights, when I’m sleepy and lying bed but need something interesting enough to keep my mind off my own problems.)

  24. johan_larson says:

    Rotten Tomatoes has put up a list of the 50 best sci-fi movies of the past decade.

    https://editorial.rottentomatoes.com/guide/the-50-best-sci-fi-movies-of-the-2010s/

    It’s an odd list. Personally, I wouldn’t put The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens as high as #2 and #4. But Arrival (#3), The Martian (#9), Live Die Repeat (#14), and Ex Machina (#15) are damn good. And the list includes some rather more obscure entries that may warrant investigation, such as The Lobster, Attack the Block, and Midnight Special.

    Anyone have a take on the Planet of the Apes remakes? They’re high on this list, but I haven’t seen them, since I didn’t much care for the originals.

    • sty_silver says:

      I mean, this list is based (at least partially) on public response rather than critical consensus. It literally counts the number of reviews. That’s why starwars is near the top of the list.

      Given that, the most surprising thing to me about this list is that The Double was on there. I would never get the idea to classify that as sci-fi.

      I’d put Inception and Her at the top, but I haven’t seen most of them.

    • Vermillion says:

      Attack the Block was a lot of fun, and exciting too, I’d recommend it if you’re looking for something popcorny.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      No Joker? Seriously?

      • johan_larson says:

        Joker is over in the Superheroes list. The sci-fi and superheroes lists appear to have no overlap, which is rather a questionable decision. The borders of genre are fuzzy, but some of the items in the superheroes list (Iron Man 2, Guardians of the Galaxy) are obviously science fiction.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Ok, it was sci-fi only, I misread.

          Still it’s strange that there are movies like Melancholia, Godzilla, Kong, Under the Skin, Hunger Games and Mad Max.

        • acymetric says:

          I think they slot pretty firmly into one or the other, you have to choose one. They have different tropes. I’m sure you or someone else will rise to the challenge, but I can’t think of a single movie that I wouldn’t put unambiguously in one or the other.

          On the other hand, if Star Wars were slotted as superhero movies (in space, a la Guardians) maybe people would just shut up and let us have our fun 🙂

    • Randy M says:

      Might be a good list for me to work through, but my probably-not-controversial-here hot take is that Star Wars don’t belong on a list of Sci-fi films, regardless of quality. They’re more action or fantasy.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Star Wars has spaceships (complete with hyperspace), humanoid and nonhumanoid robots, laser weapons, and aliens; a full quota of SF tropes. The only thing it has that doesn’t belong is The Force, and nobody’s kicking Alfred Bester or Isaac Asimov out of SF for implausible psychic abilities.

        • acymetric says:

          Star Wars isn’t hard sci-fi, where everything can be properly calculated out using existing knowledge of physics (or some newly invented version of physics that is clearly established in the book and can be used to math out everything that happens accurately), but very few things are.

          Star Wars is decidedly Sci-fi.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s more than one dividing line here, and you’re crossing several at once. Roughly speaking:

            Science Fiction: “I reasonably believe this could happen in a rational universe similar to our own, and…”

            Hard Science Fiction: “…I’ve done the relevant math”

            Soft Science Fiction: “…we’re just going to roll with it for the sake of the story”

            Fantasy: “I know this isn’t possible, or I just don’t care, but it’s still a good story”

            Sci-Fi: “I work in Hollywood, I’m using science fiction tropes like rocket ships and ray guns, and I reasonably believe 95% of my target audience doesn’t care whether it is possible”.

            With fuzzy borders and inconsistent usage all around, but Star Wars is both Sci-Fi and fantasy and not any kind of science fiction. And it at least used to be a good story.

          • acymetric says:

            I’d say that’s pretty much spot on. I think the contention point probably has something to do with you separating “Sci-Fi” from “science fiction”, which I gather at least some science fiction fans would take issue with (obviously “Sci-Fi” is an abbreviation of the same, but I agree with you that it has a different meaning and usage).

          • Matt M says:

            Where does this leave the SyFy channel?

          • John Schilling says:

            Where does this leave the SyFy channel?

            Well, they work in Hollywood, they use lots of science fiction tropes, they have correctly determined that 95% of their audience doesn’t care about plausibility, and their name is pronounced “Sci Fi”. So, let’s do the math here…

            They do on occasion air some actual science fiction, but that may just be coincidental.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The issue with that list is that it leaves most things classed as Science Fiction out of Science Fiction.

            Ring World, Footfall, Uplift series? I find them interesting in a speculative way, but I don’t they could actually happen.

          • Randy M says:

            Some topics, like time travel and ftl, are grandfathered in from a time they were common assumptions and more possible by then-present day knowledge.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:
            FTL is one thing.

            But let’s look at Ringworld. Mass teleportation via “reasons”, invisible spaceship hulls that can’t be pierced by anything and literally stop time locally to prevent harm while somehow being able to monitor exterior conditions, genetically engineered luck.

            Footfall – Jerry rigged manned space craft, that ”somehow” allow us to defeat star traveling conquerers, which fly via literally throwing nuclear bombs out of the back. But hey, they did the math.

            Uplift – What do we want? Sentient, space-faring orangutans and dolphins. When do we want them? Now!

          • johan_larson says:

            It seems reasonable to me to distinguish between literature that at least tries to be rigorous about science and technology and how they work, on the one hand, and literature that doesn’t much care about how the stuff works as long as it looks good. Ok, sure. A similar distinction in another genre might be between works that try to realistically depict police work (i.e. “police procedurals”) and works that don’t much care (most cop drama and thrillers.)

            But I do object to the claim that the less rigorous material should not be called “science fiction,” even though that is clearly how the word is used in common, and even educated, usage. That’s like insisting that the true meaning of “hacker” is “enthusiastic computing practicioner” rather than “computer criminal” or that using the word velocity without specifying a direction is wrong, since velocity is a vector quantity, when in both cases the sense of the word in common usage is the other one. It’s smart-alecky insiders-only ego-boosting at the expense of the rest of us.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Footfall – Jerry rigged manned space craft, that ”somehow” allow us to defeat star traveling conquerers, which fly via literally throwing nuclear bombs out of the back. But hey, they did the math.

            NASA did the math on that one.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:
            Yes, I know the math was done. Wasn’t my point.

          • The Nybbler says:

            My point wasn’t just that “the math was done”, it was that it was done by real-world rocket scientists actually considering using the technique, not fiction authors looking for a story device. It’s not crazy implausible as you seem to be trying to imply.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It’s not crazy implausible as you seem to be trying to imply.

            That’s the whole point of “they did the math”. That doesn’t make the story of Footfall easier to accept.

        • Randy M says:

          I’m willing to retreat to my bailey compromise and say that I’d like a distinction between action movies with sci-fi trappings and movies that explore science fiction premises.
          I suppose the effects of having weapons of mass destruction on a regime’s ability to retain power can be grandfathered into Sci-fi, though it’s pretty much contemporary or even recent historical politics at this point.
          Perhaps the thoughts on strange cultural customs arising on distant planets.
          Does the fact that the droids are droids matter? I guess it’s interesting to see how people can treat sentient beings as disposable.
          But it seems to me that “Best Sci-fi” lists should be the movies that do science fiction the best, not just entertaining movies that happen in space with disproven or otherwise hand-waved technological aspects used as decor.

          • Matt M says:

            One might argue that part of the brilliance of Star Wars is that it was one of the first popular works of fiction to answer the question of “What will humanity be like in a futuristic world with hyper advanced technology indistinguishable from magic?” and give an answer that was “… pretty much the same.”

            Star Wars showed us that technology doesn’t necessarily imply utopia. The government is still corrupt and evil. Backwater slums with poverty still exist and are run by crime lords. Racism (and even anti-droid-ism) still exist. The good guys sometimes shoot first. The first girl you kiss ends up being your sister. Etc.

          • Randy M says:

            Eh, this is a fair point and I’m probably wrong.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the definition is inherently fuzzy. Plenty of the stuff that happened in Babylon 5 is basically magic with a coat of technology-colored paint over it (lots of the Vorlons’ stuff, everything to do with psychics), and B5 was IMO some of the best TV SF around. The Murderbot stories are great fun in an SFnal magic-free world, but it’s not like the hacking type stuff being done looks to be following any sensible rules. The Culture’s worldview is relentlessly secular and technocratic/materialistic, but also involves technology that might as well be magic and Minds that might as well be gods, and include stuff like a war to close down Hell on humanitarian grounds and whole civilizations becoming some kind of spirit beings and disappearing into the next plane of existence somehow.

            Even movies and TV shows allegedly in our everyday world break reality all the time–action movies have people doing and surviving impossible things, organizations and individuals routinely do things that make no sense to make the plot work out (oh, look, a gigantic leak-proof conspiracy that’s infinitely resourceful but is run by an obvious idiot and whose deep dark plans sound like something a teenaged DM would be ashamed to put before his players), plot armor and idiot-ball-carrying is routine, etc. Once you get the writers/directors away from our world, where they at least kinda-sorta know the rules and will feel a little twinge of unease when they break them in ways that aren’t genre tropes, they overwhelmingly either don’t care or can’t manage to keep things internally consistent.

            One thing that seems weirdly hard for non-SF people is to think about what the implications of some throwaway technology would be. Like being able to use the transporter to beam anything anywhere across space, or being able to warp directly onto a planet’s surface, or having slaves in a world where a slave kid can build his own droid servant, or…. And so you routinely get stories where someone makes up a throwaway technology to drive the plot forward, and never notices that this has to change all the rest of the story. Star Trek is the trope namer here, but most movie/TV SF does this routinely and nobody twitches a brain cell worrying about the fact that, say, being able to beam stuff directly to the surface of distant planets means you can wipe out any planet-bound species you like, and probably should do so to anyone hostile lest they discover the same technology and do it to you first.

      • Milo Minderbinder says:

        Star Wars (especially, especially Rise of Skywalker) I would call “Space Fantasy” rather than science fiction.

        In my completely irrelevant opinion, on a meta-level I feel like Sci-Fi deals more with societal issues, while Fantasy deals more with personal morality.

        If Star Wars is Sci-Fi, can anyone think of any “softer” Sci-Fi franchise?

        • viVI_IViv says:

          The general rule seems to be:

          if it has impossible elements {
          if it has dragons
          it’s fantasy
          }
          else
          it’s sci-fi

        • Brett says:

          Same here. I’ve always liked the “Space Fantasy” label as a separate sub-category from “Science Fiction”, because it re-emphasizes that SF is about futuristic themes and concepts being explored. It’s not really about “realism” – Science Fiction can be plenty unrealistic.

          • Randy M says:

            Right. It’s like what albatross11 said–Science Fiction is about the implications of technological change.

            The mirror image of fantasy with sci-fi trappings would be a fantasy series with a hard magic system and carefully thought out sociologies of it’s elves and dwarves.

          • The mirror image of fantasy with sci-fi trappings would be a fantasy series with a hard magic system and carefully thought out sociologies of it’s elves and dwarves.

            In my Salamander magic is a science the fundamentals of which have been discovered about fifty years earlier, and the mathematics of which are modeled on features of quantum mechanics (complete sets of basis states). No elves and dwarves, but societies whose features are based on historical models.

          • albatross11 says:

            Salamander is a good example of technology-like magic.

            The magic in the Wheel of Time books always felt more like technology, too, and in fact, it had been the previous civilization’s version of technology.

            By contrast, the magic or whatever in the Change books is dark and scary and weird and not human-understandable.

          • Lambert says:

            It’s a not uncommon subversion of the genres.

            Discworld
            Bromeliad
            Artemis Fowl
            His Dark Materials

          • Aftagley says:

            The magic in the Wheel of Time books always felt more like technology

            You think? I only could stomach that series up until book four or so, but it definitely still felt like your bog-standard fantasy magic system up until then.

        • aristides says:

          I always like to divide sci-fi into both a setting and a genre, while Fantasy is just a setting, and adventure is just a genre. LotR, Fantasy Adventure, Starwars, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Blade Runner, Sci-fi, sci-fi. Not the easiest system to communicate, but it works well in my head.

          PS. Can anyone name something in a Fantasy Setting, but the genre of Sci-Fi? I feel like that would allow me to connect the missing link, and maybe make me rename a category.

          • Randy M says:

            Engineer Trilogy by KJ Parker. Plot revolves around the impact of new technology. Just happens to be set in an invented late medieval milieu, and the technology is a new form of smelting.
            For more fantastical, possibly some of Brandon Sanderson’s novels with rigorously defined hard magic systems? Not sure, I haven’t read them, but he does preach about rules for magic.
            Orson Scott Card has some genre bending speculative fiction novels. Wyrms, Homecoming, A Planet called Treason, Worthing Saga all mix in both science fiction and fantasy setting elements and genre conceits.

    • Ouroborobot says:

      I really, really wanted to like The Martian, but the constant dad jokes fell flat for me. I also couldn’t help but be bugged by a few headscratcher plot points, like how the use of a free return trajectory was presented as some kind of brilliant idea nobody else thought of. It pulled me right out, but I tend to unfairly fixate on certain things like that once I notice them. For me it was just ok overall. Not great, not awful.

      • Solra Bizna says:

        … how the use of a free return trajectory was presented as some kind of brilliant idea nobody else thought of.

        Having the idea to use a free return trajectory: easy.

        Actually calculating out the details of a mission involving two consecutive fly-bys (neither of which is a free-return), given an existing vehicle on an existing trajectory, and throwing out gobs of cached knowledge like “the MAV has enough Δv for rendezvousing a craft in orbit, not one on a fly-by” and “Watney can only survive a couple hundred sols max” in the process: brilliant and/or insane.

        There are definitely a few plot holes and science gaffes in that movie, but this isn’t one of them, and complaints about it have been rustling my jimmies since the first trailer came out.

        • Ouroborobot says:

          I definitely didn’t get the impression watching the movie that solving for the mechanical complexities of the rendezvous was the big plot point, but rather the novelty of the concept itself. I find it extremely hard to believe that literally one random dynamics guy would be the only one to even suggest it, yet that’s how the book and movie both play it. Maybe we simply interpreted the presentation different ways, which is totally fine. It’s not easy to do hard sci fi for an extremely wide audience, and for dramatic reasons I can see why this is better than showing a team of engineers working through options and running models.

          • Solra Bizna says:

            That is indeed a good point. I’m just used to hearing people complain about the absurdity of the rendezvous itself in all the wrong ways.

      • Unsaintly says:

        I can see where you’re coming from. The scene where the Even Nerdier NASA Guy explains a slingshot return was super cringy. Yeah, dude. You work for NASA. Everyone knows what that is, even if you’re the first one to work out how to make it work in this instance.

        But I will defend the Space Pirate joke to my dying breath

        • John Schilling says:

          Yeah, dude. You work for NASA. Everyone knows what that is

          Everybody except most of the movie audience, which is why the scene was both cringy and necessary. Could and should have been done better, though. Starting with, use a whiteboard (or a big flatscreen display with the animation you prepared in advance).

          • Incurian says:

            Just gauging interest… would a mobile companion app for The Martian where an AR representation of the orbits etc. discussed in the movie are projected into the middle of your living room (like the holographic maps in The Expanse), maybe with KSP-like mini games where you can try your own variations to see the effects of changing various parameters or trajectories… would that be neat or stupid?

          • bean says:

            That scene is one of the best in the movie. I once was in a meeting where we ended up mocking up a thing using random stuff that was to hand when the whiteboard wasn’t cutting it. All it needed was a moment where Purnell asked why there wasn’t a whiteboard. (Which is how most of the executive conference rooms are where I work.)

          • Aftagley says:

            @Incurian

            Then? maybe.

            Now? Probably not.

          • Incurian says:

            Good point.

    • WashedOut says:

      So much Disney Star Wars in the top half of the list
      Fury Road #1
      10 Cloverfield Lane higher than Inception and The Lobster
      Melancholia and Interstellar lower than Robot and Frank

      Into the trash it goes.

  25. Ms. Morgendorffer says:

    Magic players and people with an interest in game design: a 1h video from 2016’s GDC given by Mark Rosewater titled Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons Learned.
    I found that while roaming the web a few days ago and had a blast (but I’m a MaRo fan so 100% objective). I hope you’ll like it!

  26. sty_silver says:

    Almost everyone in my extended family always talks to young children (1-3 year olds) with a clearly put-on artificial voice of fake enthusiasm. I assume this is perfectly normal, but is there actually any reason? Why not just talk normally? You can use the same words, simplified language and whatnot, without also trying to alter your tone. It feels to me like one of those things everyone does only because no-one ever questions it.

    • melolontha says:

      I don’t know whether it’s a good instinct or not, but it makes sense to me: kids are still learning the basics of human communication, so conveying your intended tone strongly and unambiguously gives them one less thing to misinterpret or puzzle over. They also seem (and are) vulnerable, so homogenizing your tone is probably worth the loss of nuance if it makes them less likely to be hurt by your words or to see you as a threat. No idea when and if it’s actually necessary, though.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I wonder whether people in other cultures do this.

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      I think there is some evidence that this is helpful for children.

      E.g. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/many-ways-baby-talk-gives-boost-infant-brains-180955435/

    • eric23 says:

      Sounds like an attempt to speak on their level.

    • rahien.din says:

      You can talk to kids matter-of-factly, but A. grown-ups are boring and so the kid will find it uninteresting, B. when a grown-up talks to a kid in a level, serious tone, it usually means there is something serious and/or unfriendly afoot (such as a scolding, a chore, or something else unpleasant), and C. kids have less experience with their own emotions and the emotions of others, and are less able to detect or understand those emotions from simple object-level descriptions.

      Think about how cartoon characters talk : highly-modulated tone/rhythm/inflection, higher pitch in general. This is to be engaging and to communicate safety.

      (Adults do all this, too, BTW…)

      • sty_silver says:

        B only applies if other people fake emotions, though. If everyone talks normally, it will be normal for the kid.

        • rahien.din says:

          You don’t get it.

          It’s not a fake emotion. It is a deliberately communicated emotion.

          • sty_silver says:

            Yeah, but you said

            when a grown-up talks to a kid in a level, serious tone, it usually means there is something serious and/or unfriendly afoot (such as a scolding, a chore, or something else unpleasant)

            Obviously kids won’t think it means that if everyone always talks this way.

          • rahien.din says:

            Obviously

            Oh dear.

            If you’re claiming that the kid-friendly voice is so arbitrary, you would have to explain why adults ever started talking to kids that way – and why kids ever responded to it. You would also have to explain why kids talk like that at baseline.

            It seems like the kid-friendly voice is bothersome to you. How come?

          • Dacyn says:

            @rahien_din: I don’t see how you got that out of what u/sty_silver wrote. Their point seems to be that if adults choose not to reserve matter-of-fact speaking to bad situations, then the correlation between these things is not a good reason not to speak matter-of-factly — because the correlation does not even exist in that case.

          • rahien.din says:

            Dacyn,

            Of course that’s what sty_silver was claiming. A few steps were omitted. Here :

            Consider that humans actually do use a kid-friendly voice.

            One might ask, then : why do they do that? There are two potential categories of answer : either there is some reason for the behavior, or, the behavior has no reason (IE it is arbitrary). Reasons boil down to some form of “The kid-friendly voice enhances communication with kids.”

            If sty_silver is saying “We should just all use the matter-of-fact voice,” he is denying that there is any reason to use the kid-friendly voice. He is saying it is arbitrary.

            Because if he could understand the good reasons for using the kid-friendly voice, he wouldn’t say we shouldn’t use it, or, he would supply reasons for not using it.

            There – now you see how we arrive at :

            you’re claiming that the kid-friendly voice is arbitrary

          • Dacyn says:

            @rahien_din: u/sty_silver’s first reply to you in this thread is only about your motivation (B). They haven’t claimed that your other motivations are invalid (though they’re free to do so).

          • rahien.din says:

            You’re right. They only intended to reply to B.

            But their reasoning is invalid – in terms of a specific response to B, but also in terms of separating B from the other two.

          • Dacyn says:

            @rahien_din: You may need to unpack that a bit. I agree that (B) makes sense as an argument of the form “it’s better to get everyone on the same page, so if most people are going to do it then everyone should do it”. But I don’t see how it is relevant to the question of everyone doing it vs no one doing it.

          • rahien.din says:

            Unpacking seems overrated.

            Ask : how did the distinction between these vocal patterns arise in the first place?

            Keep in mind that, in a practical sense, sty_silver is correct. You can classically-condition just about any response. But that does not tell us anything about the real reason why these vocal patterns exist.

          • Dacyn says:

            @rahien_din: I don’t see what your previous comment has to do with whether unpacking is overrated. I don’t think that unpacking is overrated, so that might be the core of our disagreement.

            I can ask what is the reason certain vocal patterns arose, yes, but the answer to this question does not seem obvious. What is your point?

    • baconbits9 says:

      Almost everyone in my extended family always talks to young children (1-3 year olds) with a clearly put-on artificial voice of fake enthusiasm.

      It is not fake for a lot of people, getting engagement from a 1-3 year old is often charming, fun, or interesting to a specific (and apparently large) subset of the population.

    • Randy M says:

      Children know less words than adults, so communicating some of your intent with tone will help them pick up meaning from context.

      • albatross11 says:

        Contrast the way you would speak to a nonnative English speaker who seemed to be having trouble figuring out what was going on due to language problems. Speaking slowly, clearly, with your face in plain view, with gestures and maybe exaggerated expressions–all this is basically an attempt to make the signal clearer for someone who’s having trouble understanding you. (Finding a way to get rid of background noise is probably even more helpful, but usually not possible.)

        • Randy M says:

          You know, there’s a recurring joke that Americans (or whomever we want to cast as idiotic for the moment) will turn to a non-English speaker and just speak s l o w l y, expecting that this will suddenly impart the language skills to the other party.

          But as someone with a smattering of Spanish, the it is substantially harder, to the point of impossible, to get the gist of a conversation when two natives are speaking it rapidly, whereas if they slowed down I might actually be able to piece it together. Speaking slowly and clearly makes a big difference to a semi-fluent speaker, even if, yes, it won’t help the entirely ignorant at all.

          • albatross11 says:

            My own experience (native English speaker who also speaks Spanish) is that being able to see facial expressions and lips helps a lot, and that lowering the background noise helps even more. Having the speaker slow down and back up and try again if I’m missing something is still more helpful.

    • sty_silver says:

      (Based on replies, I’m acknowledging that there does seem to be good reason.)

    • Aftagley says:

      Maybe something about that way of speaking is just more efficient at communicating with people who don’t know the intricacies of the language yet.

      Possibly related: wasn’t there some study a few years back about dogs responding better when spoken to in baby talk?

  27. clipmaker says:

    I saw an interesting article title, CNS lymphatic drainage and neuroinflammation are regulated by meningeal lymphatic vasculature. The meningeal lymphatic vessels are a quite recent (2013?) anatomical discovery that reveal how the brain and CNS eliminate waste products into the lymphatic system (see also Glymphatic system).

    It’s been known for a while that the glymphatic system drains toxins from the brain during slow-wave sleep (SWS) (apparently the interstitial space between glia enlarges during that part of sleep?). And connections between sleep disturbances and depression are well known. Obvious questions:

    * Do depression patients ever get sleep studies to tell if they are getting enough SWS?
    * The meningeal lymphatic vessels drain into the cervical lymph nodes. Is it usual in medicine to test people’s lymph the way they test blood? Is lymph from the cervical lymph nodes different than from other parts of the body, because some of it comes from the CNS? And, is it any different for patients with depression?
    * BBC Worklife had an article about a gizmo that supposedly enhances people’s SWS by detecting it through a headband sensor, and playing relaxing sounds to prolong SWS when it is happening. I wonder if that could help depression that is associated with SWS deficits.

    The BBC article has links to some scientific papers and while I’m not depressed (at least at the level of needing that kind of intervention) my sleep quality is somewhat variable, so I’m interested in trying that SWS enhancing thing if it becomes available and is affordable, or might try to DIY one (I’m good with software and somewhat ok with electronics).

    Anyone have thoughts? Any idea how to detect SWS without a lot of messy equipment like EEG sensors and electrode paste?

    • rahien.din says:

      Depression disrupts more than just SWS. It’s not clear whocj way(s) causality flows.

      It is not common in clinical practice to test people’s lymphatic fluid or lymph nodes.

      The only way to detect SWS is with some kind of EEG – “slow-wave” describes the EEG appearance. But you would not need more than a few sensors. It’s plausible that the headband you describe is sufficient.

      Spitballing :
      In SWS, the EEG is > 50% delta (0.5-4Hz frequency band) in all channels. If you are going to rig something up to detect this transition, you need two sensing electrodes, a ground, and an amplifier reference – basically a single differential amplifier should suffice. You would probably want to situate your sensing electrodes fairly far apart, maybe on opposite sides of the head. Then split your signal into two passbands : one for delta, one for the rest (for an EEG signal, the non-delta portion is in the 4-30Hz frequency band, so at most you’ll need to sample at ~100Hz). You could either use a hardware-based spectral array, or you could decompose the signal in software with a pretty basic Fast Fourier transform. Then you just compare the amounts in each passband, either voltage or power. Record your sleep signal for a few nights, and post-hoc analysis will tell you your detection threshold for SWS.

  28. kaakitwitaasota says:

    Looking to get much more productive and disciplined in the new year.

    Does anybody know of any good research on how to un-fry an attention span? I swear electronics have given me subclinical ADHD.

    • zluria says:

      Well…. maybe take a break from the electronics?

      But also: take up a hobby where long periods of concentration are necessary. Something like chess, oil painting, or meditation.

      • Evan Þ says:

        This. My expansion span has lengthened this last year, since I started actually reading through my reading list using paper books.

        • kaakitwitaasota says:

          Suggestions noted. I’m going to try to outline Saturdays as electronic-free (no smartphone or laptop–may get a dumb flip phone so that I can schedule meetups and so forth) and see where that gets me.

          • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

            Another option is just to not carry your smartphone around the house with you. I tend to leave mine in another room when reading a book.

      • Dragor says:

        Agreed. I have taken up substituting habits for longer attention span alternatives (movies for tv, books for articles etc) and it has gradually paid dividends. Meditation is great too.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I separate and cut my access. This is literally the first text I type on an iPad I got just for fluff – social media, browsing, movies etc. On the rest of the devices, phone included, Facebook is absent or blocked.

    • SamChevre says:

      No research, but personal experience and anecdata. Meditation works well, particularly Western-type “think about x for a certain length of time” (vs Eastern-type “mindfulness”). Praying a Rosary (while focusing on doing so–not while driving), or working through the Archdruid’s guide to meditation (ending here). (The Rosary is easier, since it doesn’t require figuring out what to think about.)

    • Lambert says:

      Randall Monroe once mentioned putting a 30 second delay on the loading time of certain sites. Nobody seems to have implemented one as of yet, though. I would, but I’m busy flicking mindlessly through imgur.
      The trick is that we’re distracted by the fact that we have low-level interestingness on tap at all times. Even a short time delay can break that.

      https://blog.xkcd.com/2011/02/18/distraction-affliction-correction-extensio/

    • Randy M says:

      I’ve also observed this effect. Maybe also try limiting yourself to one tab at a time when browsing?

    • urm0m says:

      Have you read Deep Work by Cal Newport? It’s a bit self-helpy, but I don’t consider that a bad thing.

      Also, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.

      I’ve noticed a huge decline in my cognitive abilities over the past few years and at first I thought it was aging, but then I realized that when I take long breaks from social media and reduce my phone time, my ability to concentrate and produce quality work spikes up again. I do think we’re misusing our brains these days, assaulting our poor prefrontal cortices with far more information than they were ever evolved to process at once. At the same time, we’re avoiding the work needed to absorb and utilize information because we’re hooked on the quick dopamine hits we get from the extremely well-designed digital products that we now use for, well, everything.

  29. abystander says:

    Do people around here make New Year’s resolutions, or are they are in constant improvement mode and don’t bother waiting for arbitrary tine points before implementing changes?

    • I imagine it may often not so much be ‘waiting for arbitrary points in time to implement changes’ as it is to take the specific day(s) leading up to the new year to specifically form more medium- and long-term predictions and then address those. The rote of everyday lives doesn’t always lend itself to thinking that far ahead.

      (That said, I’m speculating; I don’t commonly do New Years resolutions, myself. But who knows – the conversation topic is almost surely coming up tomorrow and I might catch myself making one or two on the fly!)

    • sty_silver says:

      According to the book on Mini Habits, the research says that New Year’s resolutions have very poor success rates. I wouldn’t recommend them.

    • Sortale says:

      Veritasium made a video about that

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pm9CQn07OjU

    • sharps030 says:

      I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, I do yearly goals. They tend to be actionable, have a whole-year or half-year timeframe, and I do a end-of-year reflection where I evaluate performance. I tend to do pretty well on them, but partially by not being too ambitious (when I’d actually like to push myself a bit more). Plus I’ve started doing quarterly goal check-ins with a local small rationalist-adjacent group, which adds accountability and gives me an idea of what’s possible.

      I don’t like the kind of resolutions where, say, people make vague affirmations about doing a thing better. I know myself and there’s no way that’d work for me.

      • urm0m says:

        Same. I am highly motivated by goals, and I like them to be time-bound, so the new year just makes sense for me to start my goals (and to review my goals from last year). My goals are hand-written, specific and measurable; and I also do the quarterly check-in with myself to see how I’m progressing.

        That said, I also do an annual vision board. I know it’s cheesy, but I enjoy doing it – and it’s not at all about my measurable goals. It’s more of a mindset, or the place I am in life and things that inspire me. For example, this year’s board has lots of pictures of writers, quotes about writing, and images of books, writing implements, etc. I’m not much of a visual artist, so this is my annual attempt at making something visual that represents my ideals and aspirations. It hangs in my bathroom all year and I look at it when I get ready for work each day. I do think it helps me maintain a focus on the things that are important to me.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I reached my peak years ago and it’s all downhill from here.

    • Artyom Kazak says:

      “Constant improvement mode” is a good way to describe it, yeah.

      I used to yearn for an improvement technique that would Actually Work. “Oh, I will use Beeminder for everything!”, “Oh, I will use Complice for everything!”, “I will apply %some reductionist way of thinking% to solving my problems”, “Ritalin will fix my life”, “keeping track of bugs, Hammertime-style, will fix my life”, etc.

      At some point I noticed all of them were failing after 2–6 weeks. That was pretty upsetting right until I realized that all of them still worked before failing. So I made a table where I keep track of which self-improvement techniques I am trying on a day-to-day basis. It helped me internalize that I always have ~four things going on at any moment, and losing any of them doesn’t matter because it does not change anything statistically (I still have four).

    • Aftagley says:

      I enjoy making new years resolutions and commonly do so. I think there is some usefulness in setting aside a few days periodically to review where I’m at in life, identify things I want to change or goals I want to reach and then develop a plan for how to get to that point. I suppose I could pick some other arbitrary time to do this, but I’m unlikely to forget to do it for as long as celebrating new years remains a thing.

      Factor in the social pressure of publicly committing to a goal in a way that presumably would incur some kind of cost if I defected on them, and you’ve got a fairly good engine for personal growth (although this is somewhat hampered by the public perception of “New Years Resolutions are made to be broken).”

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      This year has been so hectic that my only personal goal was to not get fired and not have a heartache. I plan on taking some time to reflect and set some goals, since I have the day, and it’s culturally acceptable to do so on that particular day.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Hey, give yourself a little bit more credit! This’s the year you became a father!

        Congratulations!

    • DinoNerd says:

      I don’t, but I do generally have a long staycation at about that time of year, which can lead to rethinking things and/or starting new projects. Currently I’ve dusted off 2 self-improvement projects previously abandoned for lack of time and attention. I don’t expect to continue them once work gets hectic, but since both involve learning, it’s a case where every little helps. Mostly I’m digging myself out of a heap of overdue household tasks, while trying to recover from work-related burnout.