SELF-RECOMMENDING!

Open Thread 144.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

969 Responses to Open Thread 144.25

  1. Plumber says:

    In the “Why Doctors Think They’re The Best” SSC post comments there’s a subthread discussion on how since in ‘Silicon Valley’ men outnumber women, few bay area women get married until they’re in their 30’s, and I’ve seen similar comments in older Open Threads.

    I just don’t think sex ratios have anything to do with it, women in their 20’s just don’t want marriage and they haven’t for decades, my mother did get married (in 1967) when she was 20 but she soon divorced my Dad, and few of her peers married so young, one of my grandmothers married at 16 in the early 40’s, but she and my grandfather lived apart until the war was over, my other grandmother married in the 1930’s and divorced in the ’40’s. In the late 1980’s and early ’90’s when I was in my early 20’s in the San Francisco bay area (my time spent mostly in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco) the press did pieces on “single heterosexual women outnumbering single heterosexual men” and how difficult it was for women to find husbands (like similar stories for Manhattan), but in my experience the women my age didn’t want to go steady at all, only one to three nights “stands”.

    As it was the local girls I grew up with mostly moved away to go to college and find work, and were replaced by girls who came to town to go to the University so since more girls go to college/university than boys you’d think the odds would be favorable but none wanted long term relationships.

    When I did find a girl who wanted more than three nights (my future wife) was she was a law school student in her late 20’s when I was in my early  almost middle 20’s, and she didn’t consent to a legal marriage until we were in our 30’s and I had a union job that provided medical insurance to spouses.

    The pattern for decades is that most 20-something women either don’t want marriage, or they don’t want it for long.

    If you want a wife and children look for ladies no younger than their late 20’s, and expect to need to pay for fertility treatments, even just being a steady boyfriend is unlikely with an early to mid 20’s woman.

    The older you both are (until the age of 50) the better are the odds she’ll consent to a long-term relationship.

    If there’s enough North American metropolis’ where women outnumber men and marriages are earlier than where men outnumber women I’ll revise my thinking, but until I see that I just don’t think local sex ratios have anything to do with it.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      This just isn’t accurate, man. The median age of first marriage in the US is 27.7 for women: that means half of women are getting married YOUNGER. The women who don’t want to get married until their 30s are outliers. Even in states like New York and California, median age of first marriage is still under 30.

      If you want to get married and the local women don’t want to get married, then MOVE. There is nothing you can buy with any amount of money, travel, or “experience” that’s going to add more life value than a happy marriage.

      Might I suggest Wisconsin? I know everyone think we are all hicks, but my wife’s cousin is married to a stay-at-home Minnesota farm girl with a PhD in math who does freelance work advising pharmaceutical companies how to run clinical trials. I married at 28, my brother married at 26, and I believe mysister married at 28. All of us were dating our current spouses for spouses by the time we were in our mid-20s. If you wanted to wait to find us until you were 28, you were way, way, way too late. Similar stories for my wife’s extended family.

      • Silverlock says:

        I’m a Southerner, born ‘n’ bred, but I did want to chime in to +1 the Wisconsin suggestion, at least if you can take the cold. I was only up there for a short while for some training, but I liked it. I’m not much on city life in the first place, though.

      • Erusian says:

        With respect, the population is not uniform in such a way that makes your median a full objection. Different populations follow fairly distinct marriage patterns. For example, tens of millions of women are part of socio-religious groups that expect marriage to happen by the early twenties. And tens of millions are part of social groups with very low marriage rates, with those that do mostly occurring in their thirties. And it just so happens that the urban west coast is a huge concentration of the latter. (Seriously, the West Coast marriage pattern is hugely dysfunctional in a lot of ways. And this is not a swipe at ‘coastal elites/liberals’: the New England marriage pattern is basically functional.) Wisconsin, meanwhile, is not.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Yes, I understand that. But this is an outlier group. If you want to be married, you can try fishing in any of the pools that are not full of outliers.

          • Erusian says:

            But these aren’t outliers. They’re subpopulations. They aren’t small, unusual groups. They’re huge parts of the population and there is no median ‘typical’ group that overwhelms them into outlier status.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            They are pretty small if they can’t tip move the California average above 30, and they are pretty unusual if they are getting married at 35 while the rest of the state is getting married at 27. That gap is HUGE. The only larger gaps are between First World nations and Third World nations that have not undergone a demographic transition yet.

            The advice remains the same: Leave the Bay Area.

    • Erusian says:

      You live in San Francisco. Marriage culture in the major west coast cities is just terrible and the gender ratios are not in your favor.

      For reasons (I have theories but no positive proof), the East Coast cities are majority female and the West Coast cities are majority male. This is, of course, a generalization. But it’s true that New York, DC, Philadelphia, and Miami have 10-20% more women than men. Boston and Atlanta, meanwhile, only have a piddling 8% more women than men. In contrast, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Portland are all majority male. LA has a slight female majority but very slight: it’s basically even.

      You’re right they tend to have a higher marriage age. This is a more general coastal phenomenon, although again the West Coast is worse than the East. The Great Lakes region, as usual, splits the difference being a liminal region. Meanwhile, Texas and Idaho and the like are all relatively young.

      If you want a young wife (and you’re young yourself and that’s your only qualification) become an Evangelical Christian or a Mormon or something. If you want to stay a secular blue tribe rationalist and want a young wife from your social circle, move to a major East Coast city (or a handful of Great Lakes cities like Chicago), state your intention for marriage early to weed out the commmitment-phobic, and have your life in good enough order that marriage looks attractive and not like an impediment. Statistically, moving to Atlanta and dating an educated, middle to upper income African American woman is your best chance for a lasting marriage that started early.

      Of course, this a bloodless and poor way to pick a partner really.

      • Plumber says:

        @Erusian,
        For the record I’m not much of a “rationalist”, Scott’s “blue-tribe” characteristics list looks like “stuff much like my wife’s friends”, and his Red-Tribe characteristics list looks to me like “many guys I work with”, between the two I’m more “Red-Tribe” than “Blue”, my wife is more “Blue-Tribe”, but she’s voted for more Republicans and I’ve voted for more Democrats, and to me his “Grey-Tribe” is not much more meaningful than “some of Scott Alexander’s friends are like this”, and I think his “Tribe” lists aren’t very useful, I’m 51 and have been married for many years to my wife who I met in the very early 1990’s when I was in my early 20’s, and I’m not “seeking other”.

        What I objected to in the other thread was the suggestion that “Because the bay area is majority male” this somehow makes women wait longer ti get married.

        Last I heard in Alaska, North Dakota, and much of rural America men outnumber women as well, but I don’t see reports of later marriage there, but more importantly in Berkeley in the late ’80’s women outnumbered men (which I think is still the cases ’cause of U.C. students), and in San Francisco ‘straight’ women outnumbered ‘straight’ men (there were lots of reports of that back then) but marriages were already later than elsewhere, so not caused by the rise of ‘Silicon Valley’.

        My advice to someone who’s is a “secular blue tribe rationalist” that wants a young wife from your social circle” who grew up here is to quit chasing young women and expand your social circle to include women older than you, I was 22 and my wife was 27 when we met and we’ve been together for decades, I would’ve made a big mistake if I thought she was “too old”.

        Though to the educated who didn’t grow up here (besides my wife of course) my advice instead is to echo you guys and encourage them to move elsewhere before they bid up housing more than they have already.

        I probably should’ve just let the idea that guys who move here to work in Silicon Valley are “doomed to live alone if you stay here” go unchallenged instead of telling that “girls just wait till they’re older to commit here, that was true back in the ’80’s as well when sex-ratios were the reverse of now, just date women older than you if you want long-term”

        • Ketil says:

          What I objected to in the other thread was the suggestion that “Because the bay area is majority male” this somehow makes women wait longer ti get married.

          From what I can tell, this NYT article (nice graphics) seems to agree with you. Urban areas on both coasts discourage marriage. Without assuming anything about causality of individual factors, I would conclude that to get married, you should move to a predominantly republican and rural area with less education and more religion.

          https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/05/15/upshot/the-places-that-discourage-marriage-most.html

          ETA: And what are the numbers on sex ratio, and where are those statistics from anyway? The sources I can find seem to paint most of California as having higher ratio of women? Is it just downtown SF? Can’t SF men marry somebody from Marin or Oakland? New York/New England seems to be much, much more female-dominated than the West Coast is male dominated, and has even “worse” marriage stats.

          Doesn’t anybody check any sources anymore?

      • The Nybbler says:

        For reasons (I have theories but no positive proof), the East Coast cities are majority female and the West Coast cities are majority male.

        At any given age group under 50, single men outnumber single women in every major city. It’s just horrendous on the West Coast as opposed to merely bad elsewhere.

    • Ketil says:

      I just stumbled upon this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO6XEQIsCoM
      TL;DW: Barry Schwartz, the paradox of choice – about how more choices makes it harder to choose, and makes us more unhappy with our choice. Even if we end up with a better choice than we would have with a smaller selection to choose from, there is more room for regret and for thinking about lost opportunities, and also an increased feeling of being responsible for the outcome. If there is only one option, the fault is with the world for not providing better alternatives, if there are thousands, the fault is yours alone for not finding the best one.

      For dating, living in a big city with culturally less pressure to settle down at an early age increases the options tremendously – also irrespective of gender balance. Finding the very best spouse becomes an endless search. The stereotype is the disillusioned male complaining about women who always seem to be looking for faults and who are never satisfied, but I think it goes both ways – with women experiencing men who are interested in sexual and short-term relationships, but not willing to engage in long term committed relationships.

    • @Plumber:

      As in other contexts, you are generalizing from a small and heavily biased sample, the people you interacted with in the place you grew up. As others have pointed out, your conclusion is not consistent with available data.

      It may not even be accurate for the Bay Area, since your sample is limited in ways other than geographical. I believe my daughter in law is 29 or 30, she married my elder son about two years ago, and they had been a couple, obviously moving towards marriage, for several years before that. That was in the Bay Area. They aren’t a random sample either, obviously, but my impression is that their circle of friends includes others of similar ages with young children.

      • Plumber says:

        @DavidFriedman >

        “…As others have pointed out, your conclusion is not consistent with available data…”

        My conclusion that later marriage in the bay area compared to elsewhere isn’t because of a supposed surfeit of men compared to women?

        The only data I’ve seen so far (provided by @Ketil upthread) shows the same pattern for Manhattan (where women outnumber men) so I remain confident of both my observations and my conclusions.

  2. Lord Nelson says:

    I used to have clinical depression. Although that’s been mostly cured, I still get mild to moderate seasonal depression. Thankfully it’s of the “want to lie in bed all day because nothing brings me joy” variety, and not the “it would be better if I killed myself” variety. Still, it’s not very fun or very productivity-inducing. Going outside helps, but the temperatures here make that infeasible for 3-4 months of the year.

    Husband suggested a light therapy lamp, but I’m a skeptical cheapskate. Does anyone have experience with these? Do they actually help?

    PS – I’m at a high risk for skin cancer, if that makes any difference on the lamp recommendations.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      (epistemic status: personal observation, I am not a medical professional)

      My wife suffers from mild seasonal depression. Her light therapy lamp definitely helps her. I can’t comment on how it interacts with elevated cancer risk.

    • Lambert says:

      A big warm coat? (unless it’s the other kind of intolerable temperatures)

      Someone to pursuade you to get outside no matter how much you protest because forks, a habit of going outside at a regular time, a reason to go outside (landscape photography, cycle/jogging route, because outside is where cool birds live) etc.

    • Evan Þ says:

      No personal experience, but I saw some interesting discussion last month on the subreddit.

    • SamChevre says:

      Bright light helps my wife, who has mild SAD.

      The good cheap option is a high-bay light from Home Depot. You just have to either wire it in or wire a plug on it and hang it on the ceiling.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Paying attention to light definitely helped me. I had a pretty bad SAD one year, much worse than any depression I had – I wanted to do stuff, but just didn’t have the least bit motivation to. Partly a bad sleep schedule (woke up late, didn’t go out etc), and partly I had just switched to glasses with darkening lenses.

      All the winters since the first thing I do in the morning is to set the light to full, and for the first few years I’ve also had extra lights installed just at the edge of my field of view. So no lightbox per se, but made sure to get a lot more light in the morning. And it worked – no more SAD since, and subjectively better mood.

    • Pdubbs says:

      I have had clinical depression and also struggled with SAD while living in Chicago. The light lamp helped me (I had a verilux). One word of warning: a couple of times I used it as a reading lamp because it was so nice and bright, and it tricked my circadian rhythm, leaving me still up at 4am wondering why I felt so tired and then thinking “holy shit I need to work tomorrow”

    • The original Mr. X says:

      FWIW, one of my friends uses a light therapy lamp, and she claims to find it helpful.

  3. We’re currently visiting with some friends on our way home from New Years in Boston (with other friends). The house currently has five dogs, not all permanent residents, ranging from very small to quite large.

    Which got me imagining what our society would be like if the range of sizes of humans was comparable to that of dogs at present, with the tallest common variety about five times as tall and a hundred times as heavy as the shortest common variety.

    If anyone want an idea for an sf novel (yes, I know, writers generally have a surplus of ideas already) …

    • Erusian says:

      I suspect it’d require some changes to the evolutionary pressures of humanity or our basic instincts. As it stands, being somewhat taller and heavier than average is a genetic advantage for men and being similar height to men is a genetic advantage for women. This iterated over the generations such that humanity got taller and taller, with virtually all reversals due to poor nutrition.

      This isn’t to say it’s a bad idea. Just one with more far-reaching consequences. Are humans pets bred for variety? Is there a variety of biomes we are more closely adapted to? Etc.

      • One solution would be a variety of environments in the past, with different sizes optimal in different ones, and a present society where, due to technological progress, those differences no longer mattered very much, so that people adapted to different environments were now mixing.

        For a modern equivalent, consider that people adapted to high sunlight via dark skins can function well in other environments only with vitamin D supplementation–but nowadays that isn’t a serious problem, so there are lots of dark skinned people in Europe and the U.S.

        • albatross11 says:

          You can imagine a really rigid caste system producing this sort of differentiation, but it would require either a huge difference in fitness between the just-okay and best caste members, or an incredibly long time. The Cochran and Harpending paper on Ashkenazi IQ gives a description for one way this might work out, though I think their hypothesis is very speculative and I don’t know how well it fits with reality.

          Imagine a warrior caste where only the top 25% of the warriors got a chance to reproduce, and the other 75% were killed or sterilized or had their offspring kicked out of the caste. A few dozen generations of that might select for much bigger/stronger/tougher people. That wouldn’t give you Great Danes vs Toy Poodles, but it would likely give you some noticeable differences.

          The biggest real-world difference of this kind I know of involve altitude adaptations: IIRC, there are three separate sets of altitude adaptations, in the Himalayas, Andes, and some area in Africa (I think in Kenya) that produces lots of Marathon winners. The three sets of adaptations work differently. In some mad-scientist-run alternate universe, you can imagine someone trying to get people from those three populations to interbreed to try to make some kind of super-altitude-tolerant subspecies who could hang out on the summit of Mt Everest without oxygen tanks or something.

          As far as limits on making human much bigger/smaller by (accidental) selective breeding, a basic discussion of scaling laws in biology is this paper by Haldane. My guess is that healthy humans probably can’t be much more than 7′ tall, but could probably be 3′-4′ tall without too much trouble. I imagine the downward limit is going to involve not being able to sustain a big enough brain to get full human intelligence, but there are very small people with very small heads who are very smart, so there’s probably a long way down you can go in head size before you hit the limit.

          India has many castes/jati that are almost entirely endogamous and are restricted to specific occupations. My guess is that if you are going to find accidentally-selected traits in small groups of humans anywhere, that would be the place. But it’s sure not obvious to me how you’d actually get the kind of conditions you’d need (huge differences in number of surviving offspring between successful and unsuccessful caste members, driven mainly by some genetic difference) very often.

    • meh says:

      the definitive authority on dog society
      https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0239395/

    • PeteTheFleet says:

      I’ve often thought about this in the context of fantasy tropes – if people varied as much as dog breeds, you’d basically have hobbits, dwarves, elves, orcs, ogres, etc.

    • cassander says:

      First, I’d say that the average range of dog size is more like 50x than 100x. the heaviest dog on record is an gnglish mastifs that was around 340 lbs, and chihuahuas are around 6lbs. Dogs those sizes are fairly unusual, though, and a range of 6lbs to 200 (great dane size), would seem more representative, a 30x spread.

      Second, the average american male is 5’9 and 200lbs. the average pygmy male seems to be about a foot shorter, and Homo floresiensis was 3’7″. To put that in perspective, the average 11 year old is 4’8 and weighs ~80lbs, and the average 6 year old is 3’8 and weighs about 40lbs. If we accept that as a lower bound, we’d need to have substantial numbers of people that were 1200lbs at least. That seems like it exceeds the limits of a human-ish skeletal system.

      • What about having the smallest humans considerably smaller than Homo Floresiensis? There are lots of functional mammals that small and smaller.

        • cassander says:

          Brain size and intelligence aren’t well correlated, but there has to be some sort of minimum size for a human brain, given the severe evolutionary difficulty humans went through to accommodate our current sized brains. that said, viVI_IViv points out that the shortest person ever was a little under 2 feet and he lived to 75, so the lower bound is smaller than I thought.

          • quanta413 says:

            His head was disproportionately large compared to his body. But there are other people with various types of dwarfism whose heads look smaller. It’s hard to judge from pictures though.

            I really want to know what’s going on though. Like you said, what’s my giant head weighing me down for? If I had a brain architecture more like that guy but with my current brain size, would I be a bit smarter?

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            .. This is not backed up by data or anything, but venturing a guess that is actually testable : Spot checks. Human beings have very good eyes, and spent most of the ancestor enviorment as forager hunters. Hunting likely being dominated by “Scurrying things i can kill with a sling” . Being better at noticing small and edible things seems like the sort of thing which would be very amenable to “Throw more neurons at the problem” and also like something which would be selected for very hard. Obvious way to test: measure the correlation between head size and skill at variants on “where is Wally” style games

          • viVI_IViv says:

            I really want to know what’s going on though. Like you said, what’s my giant head weighing me down for? If I had a brain architecture more like that guy but with my current brain size, would I be a bit smarter?

            In mammals the brain size is proportional to bodyweight raised to the power of about 2/3. This is why children and most people with dwarfism have disproportionately large heads compared to normal adult humans. Even the so called “proportionate dwarfs” tend to have the proportions of children rather than adults.

          • albatross11 says:

            There is a positive correlation between head size and IQ, but it’s not very big–I think around 0.2.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Becoming smaller than the wild type seems easier than becoming larger. Dogs are unusual in their size range for domesticated animals, but even among dogs, the largests dogs are about as large as the largest gray wolves, and gray wolves have a size range of about 2-3x.

        It could be possible to breed small humans that are still relatively healthy (at least in the same sense that a chihuahua is healthy). Chandra Bahadur Dangi was about 5x smaller than a normal man by weight and he lived to 75 years. On the other hand, Robert Wadlow was about 2.7x larger than a normal man and had various health problem because of his size which eventually caused him to die at age 22, so bear-sized men are probably out of question without a major restructuring of the human body plan.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Chandra Bahadur Dangi was about 5x smaller than a normal man by weight and he lived to 75 years.

          “Dangi was a primordial dwarf. He broke the record of Gul Mohammed (1957–97), whose height was 57 cm (1 ft 10 in).”
          I’ll take “Cardassian names Trek would never get away with using” for $100, Alex.

    • Incurian says:

      This is kind of like Seveneves.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      You just need a contemporary story with pygmies and any northern people. Maybe slightly exaggerate for effect, something like half a deviation on each side, and you end up with 140cm vs 200cm averages.

      • I’m thinking in terms of a much larger range than that, as with dogs.

        It occurs to me that another way of getting that is a backstory where humans were enslaved by some alien race and bred for a variety of niches. The alien race goes away — perhaps their abolitionists triumph — and the humans are left with a population with a very large range of sizes.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Or, since there’s a whole obvious racial connection here, you could just bite the bullet and have humans breed human slaves. Maybe place the action post reformation, if you just want the context.

  4. johan_larson says:

    Good morning. Thank you for taking this meeting. It’s a real treat to work with a writer of your caliber.

    We need your help sorting out a real mess. We published a novel that was a great success, and now we need a sequel. And writing one, given how the first one ended, may be quite difficult.

    In the novel, there were monsters who were trying to kill us all. There was a princess, destined to bear a son who would save us from the plague of monsters. There was an assassin monster, sent by the king of the monsters himself to kill the princess. And there was a knight, assigned to protect her. So far, perfectly standard stuff.

    But then the author, late in the process, decided to have the assassin monster succeed in killing the princess, making it all a sort of parody of fantasy literature tropes. We published it anyway. Artists gotta art, we know. The story ended with the princess buried, the assassin monster dead and the body burned, and the knight alive and slowly recuperating from serious injuries.

    But then the book somehow managed to catch on and sold more than a million copies in five languages. And the author used his newfound wealth to enjoy the very finest cocaine in the five boroughs, and promptly overdosed. So he’s as stone dead as his princess.

    But we still hold the rights to the series, and fans are clamoring for a sequel. And we of course want to give them one. How can we do so, given the events of the original novel?

    • dodrian says:

      I think it would start a bit like this.

    • ECD says:

      Screw destiny. The prophecy was bullshit, but you have a perfectly reasonable hero in the injured knight, who then goes on to fulfill any individual requirements the prophecy said by saving everyone from the monsters, but you never point that out (this last part relies on the original phrasing that led to the belief that the son was going to save everyone, if she was ‘to bring the savior into the light’ or something you can probably do this, if she was to ‘specifically, literally, give birth to the savior,’ probably not).

      Alternatively, the knight responds by grabbing up a random orphan (monster attacks = orphans, right?) and announcing he’s the son of the princess, killing anyone who knows better and doesn’t agree to shut it and proceeds to begin gathering forces/fighting the war. If you want a ‘destiny doesn’t matter’ story, he wins. If you want to continue the rather bleak storyline you’ve got going, he loses.

      Alternatively, alternatively, the next book focuses on the monsters and the great success of their prophecy about the noble hero who kills the terrible human that would destroy them and the trials/tribulations of the poor hero’s family as they deal with their newfound fame and the loss of their parent/sibling/packmate/whatever.

      ETA: There’s also always the they weren’t really dead/unreliable narrator route, but for stuff like this (no we replaced the princess with her handmaid before the assassin struck, aren’t we clever) I hate that.

      Or there’s the ‘they were dead, but someone/thing has brought them back to life,’ but that’s universe breaking in a lot of ways, unless you’re already in a resurrection using universe.

      • Lambert says:

        > the next book focuses on the monsters

        Rom-com about a monster chef trying to win the heart of a monster food writer by impressing them with extravagant meals of roast human?
        Antagonist is a member of MeTH who goes around ‘liberating’ humans from their cages.

      • johan_larson says:

        I kind of like this idea of humanity deciding the original prophecy was crap and intending to give the gods a middle finger and prevail against the odds. Incurian’s suggestion of a quisling faction among the humans would fit just fine with this.

    • zqed says:

      The prophecy is true, but was misinterpreted. The princess had an affair with a handsome stable-boy a year before the events of the first book, got pregnant and had a son. Fearing a scandal, the King had the whole thing covered up. The offending servant was executed, and the Bastard exiled from his Kingdom, to be raised in the fierce deserts of the Land of the War God. This is the son that the prophecy was about.

      Fifteen years later, the King is old and dying. There’s no living heir, so he sends his best Paladin to retrieve him from the Land of the War God. His vizier, wanting the throne for himself, reveals the secret to the evil king of the monsters.

      Now, the Paladin must locate the Bastard in “Land of the War God City”, and bring him back to safety. Stalked by the Vizier’s soldiers, and a seemingly indestructible gelatinous monster assassin, the men soon find some much-needed help from an unexpected ally (gur ure bs gur cerivbhf obbx).

    • The Nybbler says:

      Sorry, villain, but our princess is in another castle.

      It turns out the dead princess isn’t the prophesied princess at all. She has a twin who is the real one. Or just a double. Or she was a magical doppelganger. Or the prophesy was misinterpreted or corrupted. You’ve still got your knight and the king of the monsters presumably has more minions. So somehow either the monster king or Our Hero finds this out — an oracle tells them, the expected disasters don’t come, or something. Then there’s a search/race for the right princess, a mighty battle between the forces of good and the monsters, and this time she survives. Perhaps by the end she’s kidnapped or ends up in a magical sleep or something as a sequel hook, but at least she’s not dead.

      Sure, it’s trite and cliched. Your audience will eat it up.

      (another choice would be a descent into Hell to retrieve her, but first of all this never works out, and second it indicates she’s in Hell, which won’t play well to modern audiences. When they did it on Buffy they retrieved her from Heaven… and it still didn’t work out)

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      A demi-god intervenes to transfer the unborn child to the body of the (male) knight. Birth will obviously be by caesarian. It’s up to you whether the child is born alive, or undead.

    • Incurian says:

      The false prophecy drives a crisis in faith that leads to civil war, some factions of which ally with the monsters.

    • thepenforests says:

      Have the knight die too, obviously. His wounds may have appeared non-life-threatening, but infections can be even deadlier foes than assassin monsters. With his passing, all in the kingdom despair – not only has their beloved princess been killed, and the prophecy left unfulfilled, but now their most valiant hero has been taken from them too. All hope, seemingly, is lost.

      Except…

      Except in this world, death is not quite death. Our readers discover that those who pass from the world of the living do not cease to exist. Instead, they wake up in a dark and fantastic new realm – a purgatory-like underworld with it’s own set of strange rules and even stranger beings. A realm, we’re informed early on, that might even contain a few perilous routes back to the world of the living, for those cunning enough to find them and brave enough to follow them.

      From there, it’s a race against time. Our valiant knight ventures forth into the unknown, trying to find his princess and rescue her from this horrible place. Meanwhile, back in the world of the living, a mysterious new figure has arisen in the kingdom, trying to take advantage of the power vacuum left behind by the demise of the princess. Although he appears to all the world as an honorable and well-intentioned man, we learn early on that he is actually an agent sent by the hated enemies of our beloved kingdom, and his goal is to bring down said beloved kingdom from within. If he comes to power it will spell certain doom for all within the realm.

      In the end, of course, the knight manages to face down danger after danger (getting help from a few unexpected allies along the way), find the princess, and bring her all the way to the portal which will take them back to the mortal realm. However, there’s one final and tragic catch – the portal, once activated, will only let pass a single being before closing down forever. The knight has succeeded in his quest, but it seems that his reward will be to never again return to his homeland. The knight and princess “spend one final night together in each other’s arms” (we’ll keep it PG, no need to go all Game of Thrones), and then the princess passes through the portal as the knight perishes (for good this time) fighting off one final horde of underworld monsters who are hell-bent (heh) on shutting the portal down.

      Our princess returns to the kingdom just in the nick of time, managing to stop the nefarious double agent from gaining power. All in the kingdom rejoice – a miracle has occurred, and their beloved princess has come back from death! However, although it is a happy ending for the citizens of the kingdom, it is a bittersweet one for the princess, for she had come to deeply love the knight during their travels in the underworld together. She misses him dearly, and soon sinks into a deep despair. Many in the kingdom try to cheer her up, but none succeed.

      Of course, we can’t have two downer endings in a row. Naturally, the princess will soon find out that she is carrying the knight’s child within her, the very son who was prophesied to bring balance to the force kill Lord Voldemort save the kingdom from a plague of monsters. Now she is able to join in the celebrations taking place across the kingdom with all her heart, for she has been given one final and most precious gift from her beloved knight.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      The king was somewhat surprised to see the back wall of his bed chamber disassemble itself. The mortarless stonework coming apart, and the individual stones stacking up neatly next to the very rapidly forming doorway. His mind started spinning much faster when the figure on the other side of the rapidly forming doorway was Mellie the apprentice. Mellie was supposedly a very talented pupil (which went without saying, really. Female mage sparks that were not exceptional got relegated to the healing orders as a matter of course) but she was also supposedly in her third year of instruction. Casually making a door in a wall should have been about as far beyond her as single handely slaying a dragon was beyond a squire.

      King Olfert eyed his sword wistfully. Spelled to the nines, it would come at his call, but it was not very likely to be a survivable solution to this course of events. Nor would calling for his guards be very kind. To them.

      But if she wanted him dead, he would likely just never have woken up in the morning.
      “.. I am curious, Did the mage order sneak a high witch into my court under false pretences, or did you strike a deal with a demon this evening?”

      The back wall of Olferts bedroom faced onto the Commode Shaft. Mellie was standing on air. While casting a second, serious spell. Olfert would have waged a considerable sum no mage in his, admittedly pretty backwater kingdom could do so such a thing. Seeing, however, was believing. Wait.

      Olfert grabbed a vial from his left pocket, ripped of the vax seal and splashed it in his eyes.

      “Orges cock that stings”

      Mellie was still an apparent 16 years old, and still floating on air. Surrounded by a vortex of mana he could now see, but no apparent demonic or divine bonds. The vial falls from limp fingers.

      “… Okay, you got me. Out of theories.”

      The last rock joins the stack, and Mellie speaks. “Master sent me to get you to Azathusa Tower asap. A full conclave has been called. You studied there. Its not optional. Not even for a King.
      Olfert had indeed studied at the infamous mage tower. 30 years ago. Mostly math, civil engineering, government, philosophy and barmaids tits, but you couldnt graduate without at least the very basics. The basics that told him something was really, really wrong. As the apprentice levitated him, enveloped them both in a shield and took them into the sky faster than anything had ever flown for thousands and thousands of years, Olfert decided to screw his dignity.

      “Where by Levs absent balls are you getting the juice for this”

      And the apprentice cackled. Like someone who had gotten all her dreams, at the price of the world. “The Gods Are Dead. Light, dark, all of them. This is nothing. On the moon their corpses are decomposing . I have Seen them. As they rot, the world floods with mana. I am not a god. I do not make promises about the shape of the future, but anyone can see a boulder rolling down hill. What will the war be like with the Temple Shackles broken?”

      Olfert is a good king, mostly by being moderately clever, very hard working and imaginative. Now he curses his imagination. “Can you go faster”?
      “…Yes. Yes I do believe I can.”

      And that is how the first sub-orbital flight happened.

    • PeteTheFleet says:

      there were monsters who were trying to kill us all. There was a princess, destined to bear a son who would save us from the plague of monsters. There was an assassin monster, sent by the king of the monsters himself to kill the princess. And there was a knight, assigned to protect her.

      Was this intended to exactly mirror Terminator, or was that a coincidence? (I know, tinacbnieac)

    • Clutzy says:

      Since your story is weird, your fans are probably also eccentric. So the sequel should also be. I suggest starting the first act of your book with a long tale of the knight’s sexual appetites. Then he finds a woman he loves, who is killed, revenge is the third act.

    • Deiseach says:

      That’s easy. Your standard Long-Lost Twin Sister. Sent away at birth because – well, you can figure something out here yourself: is it Dumas’ “Man in the Iron Mask” with the fear that two heirs to the throne would cause rebellion and upheaval? The old reliable “mysterious prophecy of misfortune” should the two sisters be brought up together – now it’s re-interpreted to mean that had both princesses been in the one place, the assassin monster would have got them both? Wicked fairy curse meant that one sister was stolen by the crazed midwife who had lost her own baby and brought up as her child?

      Equally standard is resurrecting the dead princess. Yeah, just because she’s dead and buried isn’t an insuperable obstacle. This is what gods and wizards are for, after all! There’s your second novel plot, setting up nicely for the concluding third volume as is traditional: the knight recovers and sets out on The Quest to either (a) find the missing royal twin or (b) find the magic water from the well at the world’s end (or other McGuffin of your choice) to bring the dead princess back to life. End of this novel shows him having achieved that, then we get the resolution of the True Love plot (c’mon, of course the knight and princess – either original version or long-lost twin – have been deeply in love all along but nobly resisting it because of reasons linked to the ‘foreordained mother of the monster-killing hero’ bit) and the plans for the Royal Wedding (because how else are you going to have the princess be the mother of the hero unless you introduce the father of the hero from somewhere?)

      Naturally, the monsters aren’t lying back and taking it quietly while all this is going on, but that’s just the normal background stuff to the quest. And there’s your lead-in to the concluding third novel – will the marriage take place, will the princess get pregnant on schedule, and will the destined hero be born and survive the monster king’s plots and schemes and assassins?

      Wrap that one up, and you’ve got your new second trilogy cued for the adventures of the destined hero as we follow him from birth onwards 🙂

    • phi says:

      The knight takes it upon himself to kill all of the monsters himself. He foolishly attempts to take on the entire monster army at once and is killed.

      The monsters, ice trolls known as Jotunn, invade the kingdom as planned and enslave all humans who weren’t killed in resisting the invasion. Things are bad for many years: People are born slaves and stay slaves until they die. A few humans try to rebel and are slaughtered. The Jotunn are just too strong and too fast. The Jotunn rapidly conquer the rest of the human countries on the continent. Still no one knows where they came from.

      Jotunn brains are organized differently from human ones. They have good memory and can think quickly, but seem to have a less developed capacity for intuition and imagination. Technological progress is slow, and many centuries pass without much change.

      A human slave named Trey tries to escape using a clever plan. He calls lightning down during a thunder storm onto his master’s house, setting fire to it. He then escapes in the confusion under the cover of darkness, wind and rain. Trey gets a few kilometers, but the Jotunn eventually catch him anyway. The Jotunn leaders do not kill him as his singed master would like them to. As far as they are concerned, Trey is a magician. Now his magic will be harnessed, turned to Jotunn ends.

      Under the careful supervision of his masters, Trey the magician slave accomplishes many feats: Storing lightning and calling it forth on demand. Creating fire of many colors. Creating a strange black powder that burns suddenly, with a flash and bang. More magician slaves are recruited. Firms are founded whose entire business model is to buy up magician slaves and market the inventions they produce. It doesn’t take long for a few firms to find that magician slaves are much more productive when they are allowed to talk and collaborate with each other. Some Jotunn thinkers worry that allowing too many humans to talk freely with each other could lead to rebellion. These concerns aren’t ignored exactly, but firms that let their slaves collaborate are so productive that the practice is soon commonplace.

      A century passes, and the magician slaves have transformed the world. Now that machines do most of the manual labor, the Jotunn attitude towards humans has softened somewhat. Private slave-ownership has been abolished, instead all humans are considered slaves of the state, which for the most part treats them fairly well. They are not longer whipped, nor shocked with the cruel electric cattle-prods that replaced whips for a time. All humans are permitted to live out their natural life span, and are kept fed and housed. Still, the humans are not free. The Jotunn government allows only the smartest and most productive humans to breed. These are the ones who are chosen to be magician slaves. The other humans are tasked with raising the carefully-bred children, or performing clerical work.

      For a long time, if magician slaves needed to do a complex calculation, they would ask a Jotunn to do it, for their speed and strong memory gave them a considerable advantage in this. That era has now ended, with the coming of silicon computers. The Jotunn welcome this development, as most found it a little bit humiliating to be told what do by a human, even if the pay was good and the work necessary. Quantum mechanics was also discovered. Most Jotunn still regard it as an amusing human fad, though a very useful one.

      In a strange twist of irony, the castle where the princess once lived still stands and has been repurposed as a supercomputing center. The castle houses both the computing equipment and the countless magician slaves whose projects keep it busy night and day. One such is Treya, named in honor of the first magician. Her project is to get machines to think like humans and Jotunn can, but with a speed and precision that leaves both coughing in the dust. Treya does not worry too much that such a machine will leave the Jotunn no reason to keep the humans around; she finds such thoughts unpleasant. She has a vague hope that her invention will give humans enough of an edge to finally free themselves, though she would never voice such a thought aloud.

      Wandering around the castle’s extensive dungeons, Treya finds a chest full of notebooks, those of the princess who was killed so many years ago as it happens. They are filled with mathematics. Treya reads through and finds in the first few pages theorems that she recognizes as being the same as those proved the famous magician-slaves Turing and Godel. But the notebooks, clearly the work of a world class genius, go further. The princess was set on a single goal: to find a mechanical procedure to find a short proof for any mathematical theorem that had one. A modern person like Treya would know this as the P vs NP problem. In the last notebook, with volumes of preparation completed, the princess finally began to write out her proof. But on the verge of completing the proof, the writing stopped. Treya curses aloud on reaching that page. But the proof is nearly complete, and after a week of work, Treya manages to finish it.

      The result? P=NP, with an efficient algorithm.

      Armed with the princess’s algorithm, her son in a metaphorical sense, Treya hacks together an artificial intelligence, complete with a poorly-thought-out reward function. She presses the button. Within a week, the Earth is void of all life. The Jotunns are vanquished, and the prophecy, long before dismissed as the ramblings of a madman, fulfilled.

    • Jaskologist says:

      The Monster King reanimates the princess and marries her in one final act of desecration. When she becomes pregnant in defiance of all the usual undead rules, he kills the baby, but half-undead half-monsters don’t stay dead all that easily, and it is ultimately found and raised by someone else.

      From there, it’s just a retelling of Oedipus.

  5. Three Year Lurker says:

    Epistemic status: Never studied economics at all.

    What is the role of debt in cost disease? Specifically credit card or loan debt of individual people.
    Short version: Is 50 years of taking on debt in an increasing cycle the reason people can’t afford homes or education?

    Naively, using a credit card or loan to purchase something multiplies the cost (ignoring people who pay off their full balance every month). Thus, it is committing to pay a higher price for something. Deciding to spend more makes an item cost more.
    Looking at it another way, debt adds money that will be available (future money) to the pool of currently spendable money. Items are priced relative to the amount of currently spendable money, so prices increase with the increased pool.
    Since the price now looks bigger, people pull more future money into the pool to cover it. This leads to another cycle of price increase.

    How could we test this idea? Is there some society that avoids personal debt?

    How could we walk back the problem to lower costs?
    Cutting off debt would be a catastrophe in many ways.
    There is some reasonable amount of future money to allow into the spendable pool. Maybe one year.

    1. Interest stops accruing on a chunk of principal after X years.
    Decrease X by a month every few years to gradually shrink the money pool.

    2. Interest cannot result in paying more than X times the original cost.
    Gradually decrease X to 1.5 to allow some debt, but prevent eternal payments.

    • Eric Rall says:

      If debt is a driving force behind cost disease and similar economic problems, then the low-hanging fruit is simply for the government to stop (or at least cut back on) subsidizing credit: phase out what’s left of the mortgage interest deduction, wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and abolish federal student loans.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Prior to the housing bubble, housing prices increased at about the rate of inflation and much below the major cost-diseased sectors. Loans (including the fashionable-to-hate 30-year fixed) were available the whole time. During the bubble housing prices increased crazily, and one might think this was caused by the novel loan products… but on the other hand, housing prices after the bubble popped _also_ increased, even with the tightening of credit.

      Medicine isn’t known for its loan products offered to patients. The only time I’ve seen financing offered is for procedures that are not covered by insurance… and also not cost diseased.

      Colleges are of course another cost-diseased sector, and they have loans. One out of three, however, is not so good. I suspect it IS partially the loans in the college situation, but specifically the Federal guarantee (or nowadays, direct issue) of loans. This (by design) pretty much eliminates any real underwriting.

    • Incurian says:

      This is a tangent from your main point, but

      people can’t afford homes or education?

      There is plenty of affordable housing and schooling in America. If it’s not within driving distance, move. No, it won’t be easy, and there will be obstacles… that’s life.

      • Matt M says:

        Agreed. Nearly everyone can afford housing and education. Just not under the exact combination of five different criteria that they’d prefer.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        There is plenty of affordable housing and schooling in America.

        Is this housing and schooling affordable by the standards of the people who currently live and work there?

    • quevivasbien says:

      You are correct (at least in a sense) that increased debt should be associated with rising prices — for example, two of the tools that the Fed can use to increase the money supply are to lower the required reserve ratio for banks (so that they can lend out more) or lower the interest rate (which incentives people to borrow more). A bigger money supply without a commensurate growth in the output of real goods and services will cause inflation, i.e. prices will generally increase. This is pretty standard basic macroeconomics. Generally when people are worrying about cost disease, though, they’re worrying that certain prices are increasing a lot more than others, which is not strictly inflation. If all prices rise, then at a crude level nobody is really hurt because everyone has more income to afford the higher prices. However, if only some prices rise (like those for healthcare or education) then we have a bit of a problem.

      So my first guess would be that rising debt contributes to inflation, but not to increased prices only within specific sectors, the classic cost disease. However, some economists point to relatively less productivity gains in sectors like healthcare and education as the main cause for cost disease (I believe Scott may have posted about this, and I believe Alex Tabarrok has written about this extensively). This is related to the mechanisms that connect debt and inflation, but I don’t think it changes the result of what I’ve written above.

      I’ll add the caveat that if, for some reason, people are borrowing more specifically for the purpose of purchasing cost-diseased goods, then I would expect that to exacerbate the problem, but I’m not sure exactly how the dynamics of that would work.

  6. Deiseach says:

    Okay, so I was looking for a Chesterton quote on a completely different topic, but I happened upon this bit from his autobiography which I want to quote here, because I don’t know about you, but phrases such as “a ghost clad in flames” give me exquisitely sumptuous mental images.

    I remember once walking with my father along Kensington High Street, and seeing a crowd of people gathered by a rather dark and narrow entry on the southern side of that thoroughfare. I had seen crowds before; and was quite prepared for their shouting or shoving. But I was not prepared for what happened next. In a flash a sort of ripple ran along the line and all these eccentrics went down on their knees on the public pavement. I had never seen people play any such antics except in church; and I stopped and stared. Then I realised that a sort of little dark cab or carriage had drawn up opposite the entry; and out of it came a ghost clad in flames. Nothing in the shilling paint-box had ever spread such a conflagration of scarlet, such lakes of lake; or seemed so splendidly likely to incarnadine the multitudinous sea. He came on with all his glowing draperies like a great crimson cloud of sunset, lifting long frail fingers over the crowd in blessing. And then I looked at his face and was startled with a contrast; for his face was dead pale like ivory and very wrinkled and old, fitted together out of naked nerve and bone and sinew; with hollow eyes in shadow; but not ugly; having in every line the ruin of great beauty. The face was so extraordinary that for a moment I even forgot such perfectly scrumptious scarlet clothes.

    We passed on; and then my father said, “Do you know who that was? That was Cardinal Manning.”

    Then one of his artistic hobbies returned to his abstracted and humorous mind; and he said,

    “He’d have made his fortune as a model.”

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      Funny you should say that! I’ve just been reading Chesterton’s autobiography over the last couple days. Many of the anecdotes are fun, but I feel like I’m missing a lot of context due to my relative ignorance of English social/political history.

      Cardinal Manning appears to have been impressively cadaverous.

      • Nick says:

        Manning was just generally impressive. We don’t make them like we used to.

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh yeah, the autobiography is great fun. If I start quoting bits I’ll never stop, but I do have to quote the beginning:

        BOWING DOWN IN blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington

        His mother seems to have been an interesting woman, though we don’t get much about her:

        I was born of respectable but honest parents; that is, in a world where the word “respectability” was not yet exclusively a term of abuse, but retained some dim philological connection with the idea of being respected. It is true that even in my own youth the sense of the word was changing; as I remember in a conversation between my parents, in which it was used with both implications. My father, who was serene, humorous and full of hobbies, remarked casually that he had been asked to go on what was then called The Vestry. At this my mother, who was more swift, restless and generally Radical in her instincts, uttered something like a cry of pain; she said, “Oh, Edward, don’t! You will be so respectable! We never have been respectable yet; don’t let’s begin now.” And I remember my father mildly replying, “My dear, you present a rather alarming picture of our lives, if you say that we have never for one single instant been respectable.” Readers of Pride and Prejudice will perceive that there was something of Mr. Bennet about my father; though there was certainly nothing of Mrs. Bennet about my mother.

        And I understand that the Chestertons firm of estate agents is still in business, though it passed out of the family (having gone to G.K.’s uncle and his descendants) in 1980:

        My father was the head of a hereditary business of house agents and surveyors, which had already been established for some three generations in Kensington; and I remember that there was a sort of local patriotism about it and a little reluctance in the elder members, when the younger first proposed that it should have branches outside Kensington.

  7. Ninety-Three says:

    Most consumer goods will have their prices change on a time-scale of months, but gasoline can be 10% more expensive in the evening than it was in the morning and no one will be surprised. What economic forces are driving this behaviour, and why don’t they affect e.g. bread or consumer electronics?

    • John Schilling says:

      Gasoline is a fungible commodity generally consumed within a few months of production. Pricing is very strongly dominated by a single input, and short-term supply variability for that input is dominated by the behavior of an oligopolistic cartel with few members. Behavior of that cartel, and factors likely to affect its major members, are intensely studied and considered immediately newsworthy everywhere. And the scale of that particular commodity market encourages arbitrageurs to invest billions in chasing every tiny scrap of market inefficiency out of the pricing.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        So basically, a graph of prices at my local gas station should be expected to track the price of oil futures (which fluctuate for all the normal reasons any future fluctuates), and most other goods don’t behave this way because it’s rare to have a good whose cost is dominated by a single raw material?

        • John Schilling says:

          Right. It probably also matters that gasoline prices are promptly advertised to consumers who are only interested in the price of gasoline; as Hey notes, the service-station owner who doesn’t play the track-the-futures game loses big when customers notice his prices are 10% higher than the guy across the street. A lazy grocery-store owner who leaves his bread price 10% high for a week doesn’t lose nearly so much business, because bread is only one of a dozen things his customers are buying and very few of them are going to recalculate the price of their particular market basket at every shop in town, every time they go shopping.

          That does leave me wondering about price volatility at farmers’ markets, where direct price comparison is easier for the consumer.

    • Hey says:

      Mostly what John has said : most of the price of gasoline comes from oil and because it’s fungible, price competition between different suppliers is strong : being undercut by 10% by the neighboring gas station is terrible for business. In contrast, wheat is a small part of the price of bread (I guess most of it is labor costs, plus paying the bread cartel for Canadians). Electronic devices contain tons of different materials and have significant design and manufacturing costs, so the total cost has lower volatility, and because products from different manufacturers aren’t exactly the same, nobody can steal all your consumers by selling their product for 10% less than yours.

      Oil has slightly higher volatility than other commodities, but I’m not sure that’s a major factor. If you look at the price of wheat for instance, you’ll see it can also gain or lose 5% in a day

      • Ketil says:

        Is another difference [between oil and other commodities] the availability and simplicity of storage? (Unlike electronics, say, where I think the supply chain tries to have as little inventory as possible, and nobody fills up “strategic reserves” of X-boxes.) Does the added inertia increased or reduce price fluctuations? I can imagine that when people expect prices to rise (for instance, when political tension increases in the Middle East), storage tanks will be filled, resulting in faster price increases than otherwise. Or will storage have a dampening effect? Also, price elasticity is a factor – many facets of society depend on oil, and consumption may not be readily reduced from a relatively small price increase.

  8. Atlas says:

    I’ve been thinking about some Serious Issues of our day, and I’ve come up with a few modest proposals (with possible apologies to Wittgenstein):

    Instituting a minimum wage is obviously a sound policy. However, an interesting fact is that there are often exceptions to the official price floor; for instance, the Department of Labor FAQ lists:

    Various minimum wage exceptions apply under specific circumstances to workers with disabilities, full-time students, youth under age 20 in their first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment, tipped employees and student-learners.

    The reasoning for this, presumably, is that the general minimum wage might be higher than what employers are willing to pay certain workers, like unskilled young people, for their labor. Consequently, a universal application of the law would be unwise, since it might deprive such potential workers of mutually beneficial transactions. Of course, a minimum wage is generally a good idea, but you need to specify some exceptions for cases like that. But how do you determine which categories should be given exemptions?

    After thinking about this, I’ve come up with a brilliant solution: The minimum wage shall be $15 an hour, with the partial exception of any worker who is willing to work for less than $15 an hour!

    We all know that we, as human beings, have free will. Of course, there are some limits to our free wills, in the cases of things that have ultimately antecedent and external causes to us. For example, according to Professor Robert Plomin in Blueprint, eye color is 95% heritable. So obviously it doesn’t really make sense to say that we have free will in the case of eye color, because that’s basically determined by causes that were operating before and outside us (i.e. our genetics). Or consider something like childhood exposure to lead, which some researchers believe lowers IQ; you obviously don’t have free will over something like that, but you still have free will.

    Therefore, I conclude: We have free will, with the partial exception of everything that has an ultimate cause before and/or outside us!

    President Trump fiercely condemned the terrible Iran deal negotiated by the totally incompetent former President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for a massive reduction of the Iranian nuclear program. Trump wisely withdrew from the very bad, no good deal, and reimposed sanctions on Iran. However, Iran has made some preliminary steps to restart its nuclear program in response, which is unfortunate. The Obama deal was one of the worst deals in the history of deals, but it would be a good idea to make a new deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

    The solution is clear: Get rid of the terrible Obama Iran deal, and replace it with a brilliant Trump Iran deal in which Iran agrees to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief!

    (These are obviously meant to be lighthearted attempts at levity rather than fully serious theses. Yes, yes, I fully understand the value of steelmanning positions, doing lots of research, applying the principle of charity, etc., and will be sure to do so in the future when making more serious judgments on these issues.)

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      eye color is 95% heritable.

      I know your posting is tongue in cheek, but it looks like this is supposed be true. is this part of your jokes? Is there 5% of eye color that is not genetic? It can’t be 5% mutations, could it?

      • cassander says:

        The other 5 percent is nurses switching bassinets .

      • quanta413 says:

        It’s an interesting question how much less than 100% it is (not counting losing your eyes or something like that) since many people’s eyes aren’t just a solid color but have flecks of other colors or patterns of color in them. If you define eye color coarsely (blue/green/brown), maybe it’s going to look ~100% genetic.

        But I wonder if the amount or pattern of little flecks of color have significant influence due to random developmental noise.

        Apparently there’s only one pigment in eyes so the color variations are just due to different patterns of pigmentation. The genetics of eye color sounds like a system ripe for developmental noise to affect things a bit to me.

  9. toastengineer says:

    I suppose linking TED talks is pretty normie, but this one struck me as containing an unusually actionable premise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2rG4Dg6xyI

    tl;dw the biggest thing you need to accomplish stuff in real life is help from other people, and it’s probably a good idea to organize mutual-aid groups to just help each other out with whatever.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Hello kind person,

      I’m not socially inclined, so find the idea of trying to organize or join mutual-aid groups anxiety provoking. What I do like to do is either help those literally in my vicinity, or help random strangers. If enough of us do this with our whole hearts It’ll come back around to me when I need it.

      So how about it rest of the world, can I count on you?

      Thanks,
      anonymousskimmer
      😀

      • Plumber says:

        @anonymousskimmer,
        Call the ‘mutual-aid groups’ “unions”, “brotherhood”, and “guilds’ and I’m already there.

        Works pretty good to.

        There’s two basic types, when government is friendly there the “industrial unions” that have everyone in an industry join regardless of skill, historically they were the most effective ‘afirmative-action program’ ever (with the possible exception of the U.S. Army), unfortunately they’re much diminished.

        The older type before friendly government support were and are “craft unions”, and “guilds” which are skills based, which never had the numbers of members that the mid 20th century industrial unions did, but existed before and after the rise and fall of government support, Nurses unions are a growing number, and the building trades unions and ‘brotherhoods’ are much the same as a 100+ years ago with “apprentices”, and “journeymen”.

        In our host’s terms the industrial-unions were “thrive” oriented, and craft-unions were and are “survive” oriented.

        • historically they were the most effective ‘afirmative-action program’ ever

          Or perhaps not.

          You will note that your union is mentioned.

          • Plumber says:

            @DavidFriedman, 

            I do and have noted, and have mentioned before how ethnically based some trades and unions have been, i.e. in San Francisco Carpenters and Cops were mostly of Irish descent, Firemen and Plumbers Italian, in Oakland Plumbers were mostly Portuguese. 
            Please look at my post again: “…the “industrial unions” that have everyone in an industry join regardless of skill, historically they were the most effective ‘afirmative-action program’ ever (with the possible exception of the U.S. Army”, and please read the Commentary piece you linked to (a fine essay) again: “…Such unions as the United Automobile Workers, the United Packinghouse Workers, and the Rubber Workers Union have conscientiously worked to eradicate institutionalized job bias…

            …The old Knights of Labor, the International Workers of the World, and (much later) industrial unions in the Congress of Industrial Organizations were able to organize Negro and white workers together…

            …The phenomenal success of union organization in major manufacturing centers across the country in 1937 and 1938 was not limited to white industrial workers. In the early Congress of Industrial Organizations, for the first time in American labor history, tens of thousands of American Negroes became union members…

            …the rise of the CIO was a great step forward for tens of thousands of colored and white workers alike…” 

            As it happened during the heyday of the mostly CIO affiliated industrial unions (1940’s to 1970’s) “Negro” households were more likely to have union members (see: 

            https://www.thenation.com/article/there-is-power-in-a-union/ 

            and especially 

            http://www.nber.org/papers/w24587

             )

            and during that heyday “low skilled’ workers benefited the most from union membership. 

            After the decline of the industrial unions union membership went back to the pre-war norm of being majority white and “skilled”, a shameful legacy I’ve acknowledged before. 

            It was Federal government actions that helped the mid-20th century industrial unions thrive (and a Presidential Executive Order of non-discrimination plus the conscious self integration of “Leftist” unions like the ILWU, UAW, and the UE that helped “negroes” join), that’s the “most effective ‘afirmative-action program’ ever” I was referring to, sorry that I wasn’t more clear.

            Guild-like “Craft unions” (like the one I belong to) are an example of “credentialism”, just more democratically organized than the Universities (which started as scholars guilds, so same roots, corporations also have their roots in the guilds, plus unions haven’t always been democratically controlled, in the ’50’s the east coast ILA longshoremen were called “controlled by reviewers” in contrast to the “reds” of the west coast ILWU for good reasons, still more democratic than relative to the alternatives).

            I think I have been pretty clear before that I thought the “post war liberal consensus” of the 1940’s to ’70’s was a good thing and support returning to that model (both the original “New Deal” and it’s ‘mop up’ attempt to be more racially inclusive the”Great Society”).

          • Plumber says:

            Oh dagnabbit Auto-correct, “racketeers” not “reviewers”!

            And on that topic, it’s been at least a decade since I read them, recall Charles P. Larrowe”s 1956 Reds Or Rackets?: The Making of Radical and Conservative Unions on the Waterfront, and his 1972 Harry Bridges: The Rise and Fall of Radical Labor as being good on that topic.

            As an anecdote the old Vice-president of my former union local told me that he apologized to Harry Bridges that the Plumber’s union wasn’t more “Red” (you may recall that George Meany was very anti-communist, and Eisenhower’s first Labor Secretary was the plumber of his “nine millionaires and a plumber” cabinet), and Harry Bridges angrily replied “Never talk against your union, they’re doing the best for you they can!”.

      • The Nybbler says:

        What goes around doesn’t come around. There are people who seem to constantly need aid, and people who are constantly expected to provide it, and only rarely does someone move from the former category to the latter. Most likely if you’re the type expected to provide aid, then if you find yourself in the opposite situation, things will be so bad off that there will be no one to aid you… or they just won’t want to, because you’re supposed to be the responsible one, or because others are still worse off.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          I’m talking about helping a colleague by staying late, or slightly modifying a vbscript tools that I made a few months prior for my own purposes for a random internet person who is looking for such a tool.

          Yes, ones peers are theoretically capable of helping back. And my superiors aren’t so rarefied that they can’t have time to give some assistance (that I could give to others should I ever rise to those heights).

        • toastengineer says:

          Well, the key then is to make it clear that everyone chips in AND takes out, and kick the guy who refuses to chip back in out.

          Or, just assert that someone has to be responsible for everyone, and accept the hole in the common pot and hope everyone else puts enough in to make up for it. Which is what we do now, just really really inefficiently, through the welfare state.

          • Plumber says:

            @toastengineer,

            Mormonism?

          • toastengineer says:

            Yeah, some kind of secular Mormonism would be a great thing to see. But that’s not something individual people can make happen without already having a lot of help.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes, your second paragraph is exactly what leads to the situation I describe on the large scale. On the small scale it happens too… some people are needier than others and engender more sympathy.

          • Plumber says:

            @toastengineer says:
            January 4, 2020 at 9:43 pm
            “Yeah, some kind of secular Mormonism would be a great thing to see. But that’s not something individual people can make happen without already having a lot of help”

            Secular?

            Labor unions and a “culture of soladarity”.

    • Plumber says:

      @toastengineer says:

      “…the biggest thing you need to accomplish stuff in real life is help from other people, and it’s probably a good idea to organize mutual-aid groups to just help each other out with whatever”

      I didn’t have to organize one I joined a pre-existing one that’s based on those of us who work in a certain trade (though they’re guys called “organizers” who have the duty of getting more to join), we have meetings every month where we hold voters, out of our paychecks we fund a school to train newcomers and some already members in job skills (fir those already full members the welding classes to keep in practice are the most popular), give to charities (usually a members kids Catholic school, especially the girls only ones as boys are usually expected to follow our footsteps and work alongside us and not go to college), sponsor scholarships, support political candidates (usually Democrats), have supplemental unemployment insurance for members that are out of work, have a pension for older members, and we have group plan medical insurance.

      Usually we get new members when an employer gets a contract for a large job (often a public works project) and needs new employees fast who’ve already shown some experience and passed tests and their preexisting employees sign up, sometimes the employers quit as soon as the job is done, but often enough they find that since employers as well as employees can take advantage of the group medical insurance they stay on, mostly though the employers were members themselves (or their ancestors were).

      Joining can be hard though, you have to demonstrate that you have done a job like existing members, or you pass an aptitude test usually get interviewed first (though when I got in it was just a written test for me) then you accept a low paid (for the work) job for 9,000 hours, plus five years of night classes, and then pass sime more tests to “turn out” as a ‘journeyman’ full member, which gets you a middle-class wage without a college diploma, as well as some often useful skills if you’re a homeowner or know some.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      >mutual-aid groups to just help each other out with whatever
      I believe this idea has been proposed some while ago, and called “friendship”. I’ve skipped through the video, and got that she says it’s something different, but I’m not quite buying the idea that “people will help you even if they don’t like you”, and if you like each other and help each other, that’s what we usually call “friends” (well, strictly speaking “friends” usually also implies knowing each other well, but that kind of follows from liking and regularly exchanging help).

    • Erusian says:

      There’s an inherent incentive issue in any commons. And that’s what a mutual aid group is: a commons. There is a supply of help the members generate and then people draw on that help. But everyone has an incentive to draw as much help as possible and contribute as little as possible. There are various ways to deal with this but it does need to be dealt with for any mutual aid group to be enduring.

  10. Deiseach says:

    Okay, a proper question (instead of bitching about next door’s spads): I heard on the news that England is considering an opt-out organ donation law. Does anyone know if these work?

    In short: what countries have such systems/laws in place, and do they mean extra usable organs/more transplants happen? I imagine what you need as an ideal donor is someone healthy, reasonably young, and who died in an accident. Most deaths are not going to be like that, so what amount of usable organs do you get after “everyone who dies is treated as if they had given permission for their organs to be harvested”?

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I’d be shocked if it doesn’t work. That seems to be the trend these days: Give people options but assume they will pick the one Big Brother wants and make them change it. It is my understanding that there are very few choices where most people don’t just pick the default because it doesn’t require any thought.

      To me the only issue is the ethical one. It is hard for me to argue against more organ donors, but I don’t like this method in general.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’m not interested in the ethics (though that is part of it), I want to know if such laws work, or if they’re just “Something must be done, this is something, let’s do it”. They’re proposing to give it a drippy, heartstrings-tugging name (Max’s Law):

        The Organ Donation Act will mean adults in England will be considered potential donors unless they chose to opt out or are excluded. The act is known as Max and Keira’s law in honour of a boy who received a heart transplant and the girl who donated it.

        So already that prejudices me towards “it’s bobbins, but it means the government can present themselves as Caring Deeply and it’ll keep the punters happy”. Am I right about that, or does “everyone opts in” actually mean that enough usable organs get harvested to make a real difference?

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      Here’s a good analysis.

      Summary:
      – In the UK, a major issue is that even if someone is a registers donor, their family may withhold consent (and this happens quite a lot).
      – With no change to the family consent rate, a switch to an opt-out policy was predicted to give a 6% increase in the number of transplants (from dead donors). The claim being factchecked (a 20% increase) assumes an increased consent rate, which doesn’t seem like a plausible consequence of switching to opt-out by itself (if anything I would expect the opposite).
      – An investigation into the reasons for the higher donation rate in Spain (which has an opt-out policy and a higher consent rate) concluded it was due to “better organisation”.

    • ana53294 says:

      I imagine what you need as an ideal donor is someone healthy, reasonably young, and who died in an accident.

      One thing I’ve heard mentioned is that in the US, OK organs are thrown away, because the donor was old. Whereas in some European countries, old people, who would never otherwise get an organ, get older organs.

      I think sub-par organs could also be usable. Good organs would be used with the people of the highest priority; less optimal but still good ones would be used for people who would never get them otherwise (the elderly, still not former enough alcoholics, etc.).

      This would also increase donation rates, since you expand the pool of donors from young healthy people to all relatively healthy people.

      • Garrett says:

        The US is also weird in the sense of how organ donations are performed. Since an individual organ isn’t considered an FDA-approved medical device or whatever, with a few exceptions, each organ needs to be obtained by the surgeon who will be implanting it. So, if you have an eligible organ donor, you might have a dozen different surgeons all specially-flown into town for the different organ harvesting procedures from that one donor, all to depart again to different hospitals. I think kidneys are an exception, and possibly corneas.

        I’m not certain how much sense this makes and how costs might be cut here.

  11. John Schilling says:

    Nobel laureate finds that latest work doesn’t replicate, promptly retracts paper, colleagues offer praise.

    More of this, please, and hopefully not just in the physical sciences.

    • broblawsky says:

      That is deeply admirable behavior.

      I have to ask, though: is the replication crisis really widespread beyond the social sciences? The article certainly makes it sound like it is, but I haven’t heard much about it in my field.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I have reason to believe it is, although I have little sense of the extent.

        Consider an article from Derek Lowe a few months ago, citing a paper tracking a certain type of quid pro quo among peer reviewers. It’s based on a study of 69000 reviewers, if that tells you anything. It doesn’t specifically say which fields in the abstract, and I don’t have time to jump through the hoops necessary to procure the paper.

        You could probably get a decent sense of the issue by searching Lowe’s blog for “peer review”, or for “replication”. (“Replication crisis” turned up no hits.)

      • Enkidum says:

        In medicine/pharma almost certainly (Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science is a great look at some of the problems there, among other fields).

        In physics, likely not, precisely because they’ve implemented the kinds of field-wide policies and practices that prevent replication crises.

        Chemistry/Biology, I have no idea.

        • quanta413 says:

          In physics, likely not, precisely because they’ve implemented the kinds of field-wide policies and practices that prevent replication crises.

          I’m don’t know if that’s true. It’s probably true for some of the big collaboration experiments like colliders and telescope surveys. Those often have pretty rigorous verification tests and standards; including faking data and blind analysis (I think LIGO does/did this). But I don’t know if it’s really policy or practice field wide.

          I think what’s more important is that physicists have a lot more substantive and powerful theory and have for a long time. That really narrows the range of plausible stories you can tell. But I don’t think other fields can copy that.

          Socially, physicists are also less polite. More argumentative. Obsessive in a different way perhaps than the average psychology professor. I’d guess that that might help keep the physics literature somewhat less infected by nonsense. But it still happens, the number of high energy theory papers written in a rush about errors in experiments before someone has a chance to correct the error (like loose cables in an accelerator causing slight shifts in time measurements) or just speculating primarily based upon aesthetics is way above zero.

  12. Where do you guys get your information about world events? I stopped reading much of the news because of their sensationalism and politicization, but I want a better understanding of the politics of the international arena, especially in the Middle East.

    • Matt M says:

      Twitter.

      Stop laughing, I’m serious!

      • woah77 says:

        I was gonna say Discord, so I’m pretty sure I can’t laugh. Maybe wince.

      • John Schilling says:

        Sadly, I have to follow Twitter now as well. Very selectively, but for some things there’s just no substitute for specific trusted sources, and far too many of the trusted sources now have the “Tweet first, then meh I’ll get around to doing something long-form eventually” mindset. And their IQ drops twenty points on the Tweet just like everyone else’s, but for the very best, that still leaves them above the threshold of intelligibility and trust.

        Otherwise, BBC, Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times once daily for general information, small doses of NPR and CNN, and industry press like AW&ST and Space News weekly.

        • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

          Who are some of the specific sources that you trust?

          If John Schilling trusts them, then I trust them.

          • John Schilling says:

            Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) and the rest of the team at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies; used to run a perfectly good blog for this sort of thing before seduced by Twitter

            Joel Wit (@Joel_Wit38) and company at 38 North, which is still reasonably active as a web site if you prefer (and I do, but if I’m checking everyone else’s Twitterstream anyway)

            Ankit Panda (@nktpnd), Federation of American Scientists

            Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin), MIT

            Anna Fifield (@annafifield), Washington Post, which means her stuff does reach me through normal channels soon enough, but again since I’m checking everyone else on Twitter might as well get it early from her

    • albatross11 says:

      Television España (TVE) has a TV news program called Telediario, which I try to watch in the mornings when I have time. NPR has both a front page and a podcast called News Now that gives a 5-minute summary of the headlines. The Wall Street Journal has good coverage of international stuff, as does El Pais. And blogs / long-form articles I see linked on blogs or Twitter are where I usually go for more in-depth discussion.

    • Plumber says:

      @Wrong Species says:

      “Where do you guys get your information about world events?[…]”

      I get my news sometimes from listening to in-between the traffic reports on KCBS radio while I’m driving.

      My wife has figured out a way to watch CNN on her laptop and she tells me stuff, though lately it’s been stuff about Trump and The Ukraine and I find it hard to care. 

      I sometimes watch The PBS Newshour and Washington Week in Review. 

      My co-workers usually have local television news on in the lunchroom before start-time at work and I sometimes arrive early and catch some, we used to have it in at lunch as well but during the Kavanaugh hearings it got contentious so now it’s game shows and Judge Judy.

      Sometimes I look at The Atlantic and other magazines. 

      My union newsletter sometimes has political news, but it’s mostly about what charities we’re supporting and pictures of big jobs. 

      I look at the front pages of The San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times and if a story looks interesting I buy a copy. 

      I look at The New York Times opinion section on-line and often follow the links from there to other stories, the columnists I most follow are Douthat, Edsall, and Krugman.

      Less than the NYTimes, but I sometimes check out The Washington Post. 

      I used to check out The Wall Street Journal but it’s gotten too expensive so I no longer do.

      Because our host mentioned it I sometimes look at Vox.com if I’m really bored, but the obvious slant bugs me sometimes.

      People post stuff about events on SSC threads and I sometimes do a web-search to see what the Hell they’re commenting about, though I’m doing this less because too often it’s an “outrage that the Left is doing” and it usually turns out to be small ball far away stuff in Europe, the U.K. or a private University and I just can’t find it in myself to care.

    • Nornagest says:

      I’ve given up network TV news, the major institutional online sources, and newspapers for the most part — I’ll read a WSJ article every now and then, but most everybody else has succumbed to the cultural fungus of clickbait, even the BBC (which used to be my go-to). But I’ll listen to the news segments on the radio during my commute to work, and they’re not so bad. The format helps — there’s a lot less room for sensationalism if you only have a couple minutes’ worth of airtime for news in between traffic, weather, and ads.

      For everything else there’s osmosis from here and my other online haunts — probably where I get most of my news — which actually isn’t so bad for keeping me up to date. I’ve mostly given up Facebook too, though, on account of feeling like it’s making me stupider. If I need more in-depth analysis, I’ll usually start with Wikipedia.

      There’s also a couple of podcasts I listen to that sometimes dabble in current events. They’re more specialized, but for international politics with a defense policy focus, Arms Control Wonk for example often has some interesting stuff to say.

    • Deiseach says:

      Generally hear/read it on the news, then if I see it being discussed elsewhere (like here or other places on Reddit or even Tumblr – which is often but not always terrible) I’ll follow it more deeply.

      If it’s just a news headline I’ve seen but nowhere I consider reliable for going into the question is talking about it, then I’ll generally ignore it or give it very low priority.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      CSPAN Radio for US government news.
      Derek Lowe’s “In the Pipeline” for biopharm news.
      FiveThirtyEight for their take on polling.
      StackOverflow for a bird’s eye view of software.
      Whatever Google News throws at my phone, which is typically entertainment news.
      After that, I suffice from SSC OTs and TheMotte.

      Overall, I recognize that the vast majority of “news” is only entertainment as far as I’m concerned. It’s water cooler fodder, not liable to raise my understanding of anything, unless it inspires me to read deeper about the subject (e.g. Iranian history). It’s only useful at my weekly trivia game, if that.

      The fact that it’s largely entertainment makes me very sanguine about all news. It’s fine to me where I get it, as I just fold the information of the source into the content (“according to Foo, Bar is really important”). Sources and credibility have become armchair interests of mine as a result.

    • dodrian says:

      I read the Babylon Bee, then google to figure out what event they’re satirizing and learn that way.

    • Atlas says:

      For your specific intent: take a look at the recent issue of Foreign Affairs from late last year about Trump’s Middle East.

      For your general question: The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, the BBC, the OTs on this website, the Unz Review, Chapo Trap House, The Intercept. Also I try to read books if something really interests me.

    • Roebuck says:

      The Financial Times.

      I used to read The Guardian, but I stopped recently after they started getting very sensational and biased (I don’t read rightist newspapers as I haven’t seen one that I would respect and I have decided not to read The Guardian or the New York Times after I caught them manipulating or outright inventing facts to support a leftist opinion).

      The FT are not super clever and they write a lot of culture war-related feel-good pieces, but overall they filter for relevance much better than popular newspapers. Unfortunately the subscription is costing me £30 per month.

      I respect The Economist, but they have too much culture wars so I stopped reading them.

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Contrapoints (Natalie Wynne) on Cancelling

    It’s long, but it’s a good analysis on what’s wrong with call-out culture– going from a specific accusation to a more extreme version of the accusation to a general attack on character, boycotting not just a person, but everyone associated with them and especially anyone who defends them, doing serious damage to people who don’t have a lot of resources, a level of emotional abuse which causes something like PTSD, and something which is s lot of fun for the mob rather than any effort to improve anything. That last includes extensive quotes from Jon Ronson, who used to be in twitter mobs, but has learned better.

    Contrapoints is in a difficult position. She’s trans and wants to be accepted as part of normal society, but the major group who’s trying to defend trans people is all too likely to attack them.

    • mdet says:

      ContraPoints / Natalie is such an interesting person. For as much as she blasts “silly centrists” for thinking that “free speech” and “reasoned debate” are the way to approach issues, she’s also the type to read a book by a Men’s Rights activist and make a video about how it made many reasonable points that mainstream feminists aren’t addressing, or say that she sympathizes with incels because as a trans-person she knows how it feels to think that a few millimeters of facial bone are preventing you from being seen as attractive. She looks to me like someone who wants to sincerely engage with the cultural Right, but also maintain her Lefty cred at the same time.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      The one thing I wish she’d been more explicit about (it can be deduced from what she said) is the destructive effects of attacks on motivations. It’s a convenient tool for making things up, for claiming that a person is completely bad, and for producing self-mistrust as well as ostracism.

    • ECD says:

      That was excellent.

      Hilariously (for a given, somewhat upsetting value of hilarious) she makes an excellent point, directly addressing and rebutting my argument below regarding the ineffectiveness of the ‘cancellation’ of Donald Sterling, though she admittedly provides a rather better example of the effects of cancellation, with the suicide of August Ames.

  14. Nick says:

    SSC, what’s your New Year’s Resolution?

    I’m trying for the umpteenth time to learn linear algebra. I always get hung up somewhere—matrix operations or quaternions or something. I won’t be doing it the whole year, of course, more like a few weeks, but I’d like it to stick this time.

    • woah77 says:

      I am going to find a job that is a better fit for me. I want to get out of industrial electrical engineering.

      On the topic of Linear Algebra, what is the challenge? I spent a fair bit of time studying it in my degree and at least have a clue about it.

      • Randy M says:

        I also need to put some energy into moving my career. Forward, sideways, elsewhere, something.

        • woah77 says:

          I hear ya. I want out of industrial manufacturing because it’s full of unrealistic expectations, poor documentation, and lots of posturing.

        • Nick says:

          If you’re planning to move sideways and not up, there’s a lot of relatively cheap housing in the Midwest.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m definitely going to be expanding my geographic search area, but it’s hard when you know nobody. We’ve friends in Idaho so I’ve been looking there.

          • woah77 says:

            Well I’m in Chicagoland. So if you move near there, you know me at least.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Please come to IL. We need more taxpayers. Property values are actually declining.

            You can find 3 bed/1.5ba homes in my neighborhood for $320k or below. The primary schooling is excellent, the secondary schooling is above average, the location is excellent, and the neighborhood is walkable.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          If you want to do any of those, including rotate or even shear it, I think Nick might be able to help you.

    • Plumber says:

      @Nick,
      I resolve to spend some time at the Gilman Street Brewery having a pint of ale and a corned beef sandwich while reading “Faith” by Jimmy Carter, and then the “Swords Against Darkness” anthology.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        Do you have a secret for reading and eating bar food without getting your book all greasy? Or is this just another of those things I would know intuitively if I were a truly civilized human?

        • DeWitt says:

          A corned beef sandwich is greasy? Is this something American I’m not getting? It’d just be bread and lunchmeats here.

          • Matt M says:

            In America, every food is greasy!

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            It doesn’t have to be, but it would be likely to have butter or something on the outside, and the meat might drip even if nothing else is on the sandwich.

        • sharper13 says:

          Err…. having done a lot of restaurant eating without damaging books, I guess I’ll pitch in with what seems obvious to me. If right-handed your book goes in the upper-left corner above your plate so you can hold it/change pages with your left hand while you use your right-hand to eat with. Drink goes on the right for similar reasons.

          I’m trying to picture you eating while holding a book between your plate and your mouth and just not succeeding in how that’d be practical, but I can’t think of how else you’d get food on a book in that situation.

        • Plumber says:

          @The Pachyderminator says:

          “Do you have a secret for reading and eating bar food without getting your book all greasy?…”

          Um not really, @sharper13 detailed some good techniques, I don’t usually get pages greasy, but I don’t much coddle most of my books either, what I did this week was take a napkin and dry the counter, place the book on the counter, open the book, weight down one page with my cellphone, weight down the opposite page with a Leatherman tool to hold the book open (or ‘break the spine’ which isn’t good if you want to resell the book, but works), turn pages with one hand, and eat with my other hand.

          Except for spills a bar counter is usually better for this than a small restaurant table as there’s more room.

          If you want to bring your own food but not a book the Novel Brewring Company on San Pablo in Oakland has a good selection of books there to read (and also board games), but I like the food at Gilman, usually have two books in my backpack, plus more stashed in the car, plus Novel keeps changing their beers, which are usually good but I like predictability.

          Saul’s Delicatessen on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley doesn’t have the beer selection of Gilman and Novel, but it’s good enough, and their Reuben sandwiches are excellent, plus Books, Inc. is next door.

          Two blocks from the Dark Carnival Fantasy & Science Fiction bookstore on Claremont in Berkeley there’s The Station which has great burgers and some okay beers, plus in between there’s a gas station that still pumps your gas for you.

          Sadly The Other Change of Hobbit Bookstore in El Cerrito is closed, but the nearby Red Onion was good.

    • sty_silver says:

      I highly recommend the book Linear Algebra Done Right. It’s the best text book I’ve ever read and it improved my understanding of LA dramatically after having already heard 2.5 lectures about it. If you’re using a different book or script, you’re doing yourself a major disservice.

      • Nick says:

        Everybody says this! But for now it’s the practical, how-to-crunch-numbers stuff; your humble servant could not even do a dot product a few days ago. If/when I get to the theoretical stuff….

        • sty_silver says:

          Everybody is right!

          But yeah, it is definitely a rather theoretical treatment.

        • woah77 says:

          Yeah, I would start with Applied Linear Algebra. Both because it’s more useful and because it’s fairly approachable (or was when I took it).

        • littskad says:

          Have you tried Trefethen and Bau’s Numerical Linear Algebra? It is broken up in to 5 (or so) page “lectures”—so that each major idea gets about the right amount of time spent on it (at least it seems so to me)—and it really emphasizes getting the geometric intuition into why certain calculations are the correct calculations to do, and how to program calculations efficiently.

        • albatross11 says:

          A more general bit of advice: Don’t be afraid to look for more resources/treatments of the material that fit your understanding or learning style better. It’s pretty normal for me to bounce off some treatment of a subject and stumble around until I find a better one, and finally have things click in place.

    • Matt says:

      I really never make resolutions.

      I feel like I had a pretty good handle on linear algebra years before I learned quaternions. So if they hang you up, skip them. Matrix operations, though… you won’t learn much at all without that.

      • Dacyn says:

        Yeah, I don’t recall quaternions being a part of linear algebra. Wondering what book Nick is using…

        • Nick says:

          Quaternions are often encountered as matrices, including where I expect to see them, which is why I’m including them in “my” course of study.

          If that still seems weird, well, mea culpa, I’m not a mathematician.

          • Dacyn says:

            Fair enough, I guess I shouldn’t have assumed you were working out of a book. The grouping makes sense, just not one I’ve seen before…

    • Lignisse says:

      Two resolutions for me:

      I’m going to stop using the Snooze feature of my alarm, and instead get out of bed when it goes off for the first time (usually 7am on weekdays). Staying in bed with a snoozed alarm isn’t really something I enjoy, it’s just something I do.

      I’m going to wear more makeup. I’ve gradually drifted away from applying makeup because it feels like time investment for no immediate gain, but I know that it makes people like me marginally more and treat me marginally better in ways that are often too small to notice in any individual instance but large when accumulated.

    • Viliam says:

      My new year’s resolution is to fix my sleep cycle, and start regularly exercising again.

      There are also many other things I’d like to do, but this is the highest priority.

    • albatross11 says:

      If you haven’t already done so, I recommend checking out the Gilbert Strang linear algebra lectures on MIT’s Open Courseware.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      -Incorporate more fiber into the diet
      -Eat out less during the week
      -Spend less time in the office
      -If the above fails, find a new job
      -Refinish and repair my old dresser

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      I’ll be sticking with 1080p this year, I think. 4k is still out of my budget.

    • Enkidum says:

      Lose ~10kg. Stop drinking and eating crappy food until May (directly connected to the previous). Get at least 4 papers from my backlog of data written. Get my financial house in order.

      I’ll be happy if I succeed at any two of the above.

    • Lillian says:

      New Year’s Resolutions are stupid. You can resolve to improve your life and then fail to follow through on it any day of the year, and it’s unclear to me what utility is gained from waiting until New Year’s specifically to set yourself up for disappointment. In the event that you do actually follow through on your resolution, it’s very likely that you wouldn’t have followed through on it if you’d made it on the 23rd of October, and you would have a 10 week head start to boot. In fact I would argue that resolutions made because you feel they have to be made are more likely to be followed through upon than resolutions made because it’s Resolution Making Day. So as per this philosophy, I have never made a New Year’s Resolution and I’m not about to start.

    • smocc says:

      It’s not quite a New Year’s resolution because I decided to do it several months ago, but I’ve decided to learn barbell exercises this year. I had a good run with dumbbells and machines last year but now I want to be one of the cool kids. I got Starting Strength from the library and did my first real programmed sets yesterday.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Rings very true to my experience. Pretty much exactly how I’ve tried to explain it–intellectually, I know what actions I “should” be taking, but when I try to carry them out, they seem utterly far-fetched. I can’t visualize actually doing them or feel anticipation. “I should go buy clothes” feels comparable to “I should go to the moon”–it’s not something I actually think I’m going to do. Even though I know this is bizarre and false, the predictive futility feeling is overwhelming–and I agree that it seems like what my brain wants is a *positive* sign, and in the absence of them, everything becomes tainted with negativity. The lack of positive thoughts stands out more than the presence of negative ones. If I felt any reason to push through the negativity, it wouldn’t be terribly hard to suffer through it. The problem is that when there is nothing positive to anticipate, even slightly negative feelings will deter you over time. Pushing through doesn’t break the cycle and get me going on a roll…my predictions stay low-confidence. The problem started when I felt I lost a lot of the positive signals I’d relied on, both in terms of internal scripting and outside reinforcement.

    • Sankt Gallus says:

      – Mobile phones won’t replace computers, but increasing penetration amongst the poorest in developing countries, and increasingly capable handsets in developed countries (and developing countries) will make them a colossal juggernaut. Many of the really big changes, especially social changes, will be caused by mobiles.

      I hope this guy invested in Samsung.

    • mnov says:

      >Major changes will happen in Iran, one way or the other. The current trajectory they are on does not seem sustainable for a decade.

      This guy might’ve been off by a week.

  15. Isn’t it funny that most characters described as “anti-heroes” are all generally admirable, heroic people? The “flaws” they possess are not really flaws, or at least not serious flaws. But the writers seem to think they get some kind of street cred for not making a protagonist that isn’t even fashionable anymore.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      What are some examples of antiheroes that you don’t think are seriously flawed? I think the paradigmatic modern antiheroes are characters like Rohrschach or Walter White – not at all admirable, heroic people.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I think of Walter White in particular more as a Villain Protagonist than Antihero. The difference being that an Antihero, despite his flaws, is generally a force for good in the story, while a Villain Protagonist is objectively a bad guy despite the narrative of the story being presented from his point of view with an effort to get the audience to view his actions in a sympathetic light.

        • Well... says:

          Huh? Walter White’s whole schtick is he’s doing all this grimy stuff because (well, his ego, yeah, but mainly) his sweet innocent helpless kids, whom he wants to be well-off and comfortable after he’s dead and can’t provide for them.

          • Randy M says:

            How does that prevent him being a villain? The road to hell, etc.
            There’s certainly worse meth dealers than Heisenburg, and he takes a lot of them out, which we cheer for as the series goes on, but over the course of the show his means quickly and firmly shed the feeble justification his ends provide.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I stopped watching the show fairly early on, but I recall hearing that they basically took the ‘money for his kids’ excuse away from him and he kept right on with the evil, is that right?

          • rocoulm says:

            His whole schtick is that he started down the road with that excuse, but admitted in the end that he did it because he “was good at it” – it gave him a sense of power and control in a life that, until then, seemed like he had neither of those.

          • Randy M says:

            @baconbits9
            I’m not sure exactly what that would be referring to. Even unto the end he was trying to make sure his kids got some of his giant pile of difficult to launder money, but well before the end his actions had entirely estranged his family from him.
            Paradoxically, this allowed him to feel the vindicated martyr all the more.

          • meh says:

            Huh? Walter White’s whole schtick is he’s doing all this grimy stuff because (well, his ego, yeah, but mainly) his sweet innocent helpless kids, whom he wants to be well-off and comfortable after he’s dead and can’t provide for them.

            Isn’t that the schtick of half of the classical villains?

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure exactly what that would be referring to.

            Many, many things, culminating in this. Baconbits is right; the show strips away the “I’m doing this for my family” rationalization fairly early on. I think it was mid-second season that Jesse calls him out on having reached his explicit self-established target for “enough money” and can they please retire now, and no, Walter White cannot retire from being a crime lord until he is dead.

            Paradoxically, this allowed him to feel the vindicated martyr all the more.

            Go watch that clip again, and tell me where the vindication or the martyrdom is.

            The show was a master class in making the audience realize they have been rooting for a straight-up villain all along; the only question is how long it took each viewer to get there. But they were absolutely explicit about it by the end; Walter White was a selfish man who placed his own needs above anyone else’s and provided for his family only when there was nothing left he could do for himself.

            And he was good at it.

          • Randy M says:

            Many, many things, culminating in this. Baconbits is right

            Sorry if I was unclear; I didn’t mean there was nothing that fit the description of “taking away his excuse” but that it could be referring to many things. I’m with you on him being a villain.

            Ultimately after a year in exile in the last few episodes, he seemed to come to terms with his own nature, but at various points before I seem to recall that he had a few “look what you made me do” type moments where he felt (emphasis on felt) all the more righteous because he was taking care of his family even at the cost of his family coming to despise him. Which a rational person would recognize as a wake-up call.

            (But I might be misrembering, it’s been awhile).

          • meh says:

            some of the martyr stuff randy may be remembering is expressed in scenes like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-doKUDCXGTU

          • Eric Rall says:

            John and rocoulm have the right of it. To amplify, the series as a whole is pretty clear that Walter White was primarily motivated by pride and the opportunity to live out power fantasies. It’s very explicit in the last season especially: the clip John linked is one excellent example, and the Empire Business speech is another. Another example is the I Am The One Who Knocks speech from the second-to-last season, which is very clearly the words of a man motivated by pride and power.

            Even in the early seasons, we get glimpses that are pretty clear if you re-watch the series knowing where it’s going. Particularly, his pretext motivations (leaving a legacy for his wife and children, and paying for an expensive oncologist who doesn’t take his insurance) are shown to be hollow. One example of this is the one John referenced, about Walter insisting on continuing to cook even after Jesse reminds him he has more money than he’d claimed he wanted. Another is the repeated off-ramps Walter refuses, which would have taken care of both his treatment and taking care of his family, but would have cost him his pride. In particular, Gretchen and Elliot (Walter’s erstwhile legitimate business partners, who are now billionaires) offer Walter a high-paying job with gold-plated health insurance (and presumably life insurance as well, since that’s also a standard benefit for white-collar jobs), and I think they also offered later to pay his medical bills outright out of their own pockets. If he’d really been motivated by raising money for treatment and his family, accepting Elliot’s offer would have solved everything. But it would have cost him his pride.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The show was a master class in making the audience realize they have been rooting for a straight-up villain all along; the only question is how long it took each viewer to get there.

            My wife wanted me to watch it. My recollection was that I knew in the first episode, and had no interest in watching it play out.

            For some reason I didn’t feel this way about The Sopranos, which is roughly in the same vein. Although, I think the fact that Tony is struggling with self-awareness at the beginning might have some affect.

        • acymetric says:

          What about the protagonists in, say, Sons of Anarchy?

          • Matt M says:

            The main cast I would say are almost all villain protagonists (Jax, Gemma, Clay, etc.) A few of the supporting characters were closer to “good guy in bad line of work” types (Juice, Opie, Unser, Bobby). Jax’s arc seems to have started him in the latter category but by the final season he’s definitely more villain than anything else.

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, I would say Jax’s transition to villain protagonist started around the time of one major character’s death in season five, and cemented itself in season 7 after the other major death at the end of season 6. The end of the series probably opens up some debate of whether he died a villain or partially returned to anti-hero status.

      • Ouroborobot says:

        I basically think of any Clint Eastwood character as the archetypal anti-hero. Blondie, or Harry Callahan. Tvtropes suggests that the term is applied much more liberally these days however (an impression I share), so I can appreciate where Wrong Species is coming from.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I started to enjoy less Rick and Morty because I realized I’m looking at the villains of the story. The mountain of corpses they leave behind pretty much every adventure…

      • I started thinking about this after watching The Witcher on Netflix, where the protagonist is grumpy and cynical, but always does good things. Other examples from the top of my head:

        Han Solo from Star Wars
        Tyrion from Game of Thrones(from the tv show. I’ve heard he’s different in the books)
        The guy from Firefly
        Wolverine from X men

        Like others said, Walter White is supposed to be more of a villain, or at least one that becomes a villain.

        • Nick says:

          The guy from Firefly

          Mal tends this way, but not as badly as many pseudo-antiheroes. His priorities are narrower than a lot of people’s and he’ll do some pretty ruthless things to protect his crew. I think this is clearer in Serenity than in the series; remember when they mutilated Shepherd Book and his flock’s bodies and hung them on their ships to pass into Reaver space?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Han Solo isn’t an anti-hero at all, just a reluctant one.

          I’d argue that it’s Tywin, not Tyrion, who is the anti-hero in GoT (TV). He’s acting entirely for base and selfish (or at least dynastic) reasons, but had he survived and prospered, the world likely would have been far better off. If he could find a successor who were capable of following him, anyway; he should have strangled Geoffrey years before the start of events.

          Mal Reynolds (Firefly) is another plain old hero type.

        • Randy M says:

          Maybe he meant Jayne? He’s probably more of an anti-hero than Mal who had to keep him on a pretty short lease to avoid being sold out.

          • Nick says:

            Jayne comes across as amoral at first, but has a conscience (as his actions at the end of Jaynestown or Ariel indicate), it only takes a while to catch up with him, you could say. He’s also more susceptible to vice than the other characters. I suppose he’s not a bad example of the classical antihero, to use tvtropes’ categories.

        • Ouroborobot says:

          Out of curiosity, what did you think of The Witcher? Were you a book reader and/or game-player prior to watching it? I thought it had high points, but I pretty strongly disliked it overall. On other hand, my wife thought it wasn’t bad. It seems to really be dividing people.

          • mitv150 says:

            I’ve read the books and played the games and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

            There are plenty of nitpicks I have. Plot-wise, it was more than a bit of a mess, what with the three separate POV character arcs and the multiple timelines that were not clearly delineated. The geopolitics were also pretty unrealistic.

            All of that being said, I found it very entertaining and really enjoyed the following:
            1) Henry Cavill’s take on Geralt – there’s a lot of humor on top of the stonefacedness.
            2) The way the feeling of the source material (both books and games) came through in the show. One of the major themes of the games was having to make choices in morally/philosophically ambiguous situations and how those choices shape the subsequent plot. That theme comes through (perhaps heavy-handedly) in the show which, for me, added a dimension beyond standard sword and sorcery tropes. One of the major themes of the books was Geralt’s “we’re all monsters and maybe I shouldn’t just kill everything” attitude, which also came through.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Severus Snape from Harry Potter would be another good example of “grumpy and cynical, but always does good things”.

          • baconbits9 says:

            No its made very clear that Snape doesn’t always do good things and that his mistreatment of Harry, Ron and Hermoine was part of his vindictive nature but that he also did one great thing underneath it all.

          • Cliff says:

            I thought his mistreatment was a deliberate disguise?

          • baconbits9 says:

            JK Rowling Tweet

            Snape is all grey. You can’t make him a saint: he was vindictive & bullying. You can’t make him a devil: he died to save the wizarding world

          • baconbits9 says:

            It is clear in the series that his bullying isn’t a disguise, there is one exchange between Snape and Dumbledore where Snape is complaining about Harry and Dumbledore says the other teachers like him and Snape is just biased against him. Otherwise you have Snape hating Harry on site before Voldemort’s return is known, his accusations toward Lupin etc.

          • cassander says:

            @baconbits9

            I like to point out that every time snape grumbles and hisses “Potter!” Potter has, in fact, done something he wasn’t supposed to. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable read of the text to say that the other teachers are biased in favor of potter, and that snape is either (A) the only one treating him normally, or (B) to push things to get things back to neutral, even if his motivation is more complex than love of justice and balance.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I like to point out that every time snape grumbles and hisses “Potter!” Potter has, in fact, done something he wasn’t supposed to.

            If I point out every mistake one of my children makes while ignoring the mistakes of my other children then I am singling out that child. Even if this statement is true it doesn’t reflect the reality that was set up by Rowling, Snape deliberately ignores Malfoy’s misbehavior and punishes the retaliation. He baits Hermoine so he can punish her and picks on Neville aggressively threatening to poison his pet toad (and tries to follow through). He tries to get Lupin fired by assigning werewolf homework, and is undeniably a bully as written abusing his position over students he dislikes.

          • cassander says:

            @baconbits9

            If your wife disciplines and calls out your daughter in reasonable ways but lets your son slide, it doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable response for you to put more of your effort into disciplining your daughter than your son. Probably not the healthiest relationship dynamic (and like I said, snape has more motivation than love of justice) but Harry gets away with a lot because everyone who’s not snape lets him.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If your wife disciplines and calls out your daughter in reasonable ways but lets your son slide, it doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable response for you to put more of your effort into disciplining your daughter than your son. Probably not the healthiest relationship dynamic (and like I said, snape has more motivation than love of justice) but Harry gets away with a lot because everyone who’s not snape lets him.

            I think you reversed son and daughter there but no, you are ignoring that Snape is also vindictive to Harry’s friends, treating Ron, Hermoine and Neville badly. You can pretend that Ron and Hermoine fall under the same umbrella, but his treatment of Neville is very obviously beyond the pale. Neville is a sad sack through most of the series with few, if any, friends and gets treated badly as well because he is in the wrong house and HRH sort of hang around him a bit.

          • baconbits9 says:

            also

            it doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable response for you to put more of your effort into disciplining your daughter than your son

            this is not an accurate description of how Snape treats Harry, he doesn’t simply discipline him, he goes out of his way to goad him and insults his dead father. He is spiteful and as nasty as he can get away with towards Harry, which is not discipline, its bullying.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Another Major blow to this theory is that Snape doesn’t ease up when Umbridge begins tormenting Harry, and Harry is an orphan who was raised by emotionally abusive relatives which Snape knows. Some people are being nice to this orphan, man I better balance the scales isn’t much of an argument, its a willful misinterpretation of the facts as presented. Harry’s life is broadly terrible outside of Hogwarts, including repeated attempts on his life, his teachers treating him a little nicer or even a lot nicer than average doesn’t remotely balance out the horrors he sees by the time he is 18 and Snape is privy to almost all of these things.

          • Deiseach says:

            I liked Snape as a character; it was refreshing (even in a kids’/YA book) to see someone who wasn’t likeable, wasn’t secretly a woobie, who did crappy stuff and was ready to march right down the Road of Evil, but who did come around and do the right thing, even if it was for murky and personal reasons.

            Mostly in the fandom, naturally, that meant he was either treated as a plaster saint who was misunderstood all along, or a revolting monster (“you can’t pretend he was a good guy because look how he treated Lily! Forcing his unwanted romantic attention on her!”). The idea that you can have not-nice people doing the right thing out of twinges of conscience, and that even doing the right thing still leaves them with bitter little hearts, was much too subtle and grey-area for most.

          • ECD says:

            @Deiseach

            Mostly in the fandom, naturally, that meant he was either treated as a plaster saint who was misunderstood all along, or a revolting monster (“you can’t pretend he was a good guy because look how he treated Lily! Forcing his unwanted romantic attention on her!”). The idea that you can have not-nice people doing the right thing out of twinges of conscience, and that even doing the right thing still leaves them with bitter little hearts, was much too subtle and grey-area for most.

            This is driving me crazy. I’m certain I remember a quote from one of the Black Company books by Glen Cook to the effect of, ‘The Dominator was a once in a generation villain, pure shadow. For the rest of his followers and faithful it was as difficult to snuff out the last candle of decency as it was for any saint to remove the last shade of sin,’ only less overwrought, but I cannot find it.

        • meh says:

          is there a difference between an antihero and a ‘good’ outlaw?

          • acymetric says:

            I think most (all?) “good” outlaws would be anti-heroes, but not all anti-heroes would be considered outlaws. Its a subset.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Robin Hood is not (in most interpretations) an anti-hero. BoJack Horseman is an anti-hero. Flashman is an anti-hero. Becky Sharp is an anti-hero. Blackadder is an anti-hero.

            It’s not about legal status, it’s about protagonists whose motivations are primarily selfish but who retain some human feeling, whose journey does not lead them to heroism (the Tony Starks and Han Solos of this world fail to qualify for this reason) but whose misdeeds do not rise to the level of outright villainy.

        • Protagoras says:

          I haven’t rewatched the show recently and I have read the books, but I thought it was as true in the show as in the books that Tyrion was loyal to his family (which, in the case of his family, constitutes a pretty serious flaw) until they turned on him. Still, he’s definitely worse in the books; in the books there’s no element of self-defense involved when he kills Shae.

    • meh says:

      They can’t make the flaws anything serious enough that would cause you not to like them. Similar to why in rom-coms, when the couple has a fight it is usually a stupid misunderstanding, or they over hear something out of context.

      • Sure, I get that. It just seems like a running theme that people want the appearance of being subversive without actually doing anything subversive. So they’ll give us descriptions of characters as not caring about anything besides themselves to establish their coolness and then they’ll go out of their way to risk their life to go save some stranger.

        But I’m not convinced that real, serious flaws are that detrimental. Martin Scorsese is great at making movies with morally problematic characters who you can root for. In The Irishman, the protagonist murders without remorse but I still felt invested in him and his story.

        • Nick says:

          But Martin Scorsese is a great director, and most others aren’t. How much of this is down to “most people writing antiheroes aren’t very good at it”?

          • mdet says:

            I’d say it’s less about skill and more about tone. I mentioned below that it’s pretty common to write heroes who do pretty terrible things when you think about it, but writing a fun story often means not dwelling on the consequences of certain actions. Austin Powers and Craig-Bond are the same person, the only difference is what tone the creators are going for.

            Edit: More evidence that you don’t have to be a Scorsese-level filmmaker to make a true antihero — the Bad Boys movies are by Michael Bay.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think Eric Rall has the answer here. If you make a protagonist who is not an admirable, heroic person, they get moved to the “Villain Protagonist” category.

      • Matt M says:

        I’m not sure if there’s a name for this, but Walter White also benefits heavily from the fact that basically everyone else in the show is also a hateable jerk. His wife is far from innocent and is entirely unsympathetic. His extended family isn’t much better. Pretty much everyone he encounters through his “work” is like him, but worse.

        Most people generally see things in relative status. It’s a lot easier to see Walter White as a “good guy” or even a neutral guy when everyone around him is also terrible.

        • mdet says:

          On a similar train of thought, the “antihero” category is probably weakened by the fact that many straightforward heroes still act in ways that we probably wouldn’t consider heroic in real life. Indiana Jones is both a college professor and a grave robber who casually and routinely uses lethal force against those who get in his way. Neo and Trinity murder a bunch of police officers and security guards who are just doing their jobs and are entirely unaware of The Machines, and Morpheus seems to endorse this. James Bond… is James Bond (The Craig movies, Casino Royale especially, recognize that Bond is an antihero and play him that way). Even straight-heroes can be pretty morally dubious, so the space between Hero and Villain-Protagonist might not be all that large.

  16. Milo Minderbinder says:

    Apparently one of the “special guests” killed earlier today in an American missile strike near the Baghdad airport was General Qasem Soleimani. This seems like an act of war. Iran has vowed retaliation, and a commensurate attack would certainly be perceived by Americans as an act of war.

    I feel like the odds of a real (minimum Iraq war level) war in the next two years just hit double digits.

    • cassander says:

      Iran vows to destroy things on a fairly regular basis. Most of them are still around.

    • Atlas says:

      The outside view question is: how often do incidents like this happen, and how often do they lead to war?

    • EchoChaos says:

      This seems like an act of war.

      Not really. He was on foreign soil masterminding an attack on Americans.

      Iran has vowed retaliation, and a commensurate attack would certainly be perceived by Americans as an act of war.

      Killing an American general in Afghanistan/Iraq would be roughly the equivalent, and probably wouldn’t lead to a full-on war.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      This seems like an act of war. Iran has vowed retaliation, and a commensurate attack would certainly be perceived by Americans as an act of war.

      You’d think so, and yet we didn’t react that way after Quds Force hit us in Karbala back in 2007. And that was a year after we’d captured two field grade officers (BG Mohsen Shirazi and COL Abu Ahmad Davari) in Iraq working with local insurgent groups.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Did this have anything to do with the embassy attack? Cause if yes, than all I have to say is “doh”. It’s kinda the minimum level of response from US.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        US and Iran appear to be waging one hell of a dirty covert war. The US blew up a civilian space launch in Iran last year (yes, Iran has a space programme) and bragged about it on live air (The NRO having a bird in place to record the explosion pretty much guarantees it was sabotage.) and has been just outright murdering Iranian physicists for years. Iran on its part is not being at all quiet about arming the various militias in Iraq… Whether this escalates beyond that…

        • Incurian says:

          NRO having a bird in place to record the explosion pretty much guarantees it was sabotage

          I don’t have an opinion on whether it was or wasn’t, but I can think of good reasons to surveil Iranian launch sites other than BDA.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            The Iranians are not entertaining any doubts that the CIA is fucking with their space program at this point. They didnt even mount the sattelite on their august launch.

          • bean says:

            The fact that the Iranian populace believes the CIA is messing with their launch program doesn’t provide good evidence that they are. I wish the CIA was half as competent as the Arab/Persian man in the street thinks they are.

            They didnt even mount the sattelite on their august launch.

            I can think of two reasons for this. First, the people running the program known that the CIA is messing with their rockets. Second, they know their rockets are pretty terrible, and would rather not put an expensive satellite on one just to have it blown up. Go on a diving trip to the waters off Cape Canaveral and let me know which one you think it is when you get back.

        • Civilis says:

          has been just outright murdering Iranian physicists for years

          What makes you assume this was the US? I can think of another country with a much more successful track record in plausibly deniable assassinations (or, at least, a reputation for such) with a much stronger motive to assassinate Iranian physicists and a track record for on the ground operations in Iran against its nuclear program, including walking off with thousands of documents.

          I think this is something that applies to both sides in this case, but there’s definitely a human bias towards making a starting assumption (in this case, which party is the good guys and which is the bad guys) and to then view all facts through this lens, writing off possibilities that don’t match it.

          • Aapje says:

            What makes you think that Israel doesn’t work together with the US? They did so for Stuxnet (with a crucial role for the Dutch secret service as well).

          • Civilis says:

            What makes you think that Israel doesn’t work together with the US?

            What makes you think it wasn’t a Dutch hit team that carried out the assassinations, aside from a lack of tulips at the scenes? I think based on your admission, we could also assume the Dutch also cruelly sabotaged Iran’s burgeoning civilian space tourism industry, obviously trying to eliminate competition. When will the perfidious Dutch stop interfering in the affairs of innocent foreign countries?

            Even if the Dutch provided support for electronic sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program, it’s somewhat premature to use that as evidence to declare them partly (or totally) responsible for every other incident which attempted to inflict damage on Iran’s weapons programs.

            Saying the US might have assassinated or assisted in assassinating several Iranian nuclear scientists is different than the US did assassinate several Iranian nuclear scientists.

            I think this is something that applies to both sides in this case, but there’s definitely a human bias towards making a starting assumption (in this case, which party is the good guys and which is the bad guys) and to then view all facts through this lens, writing off possibilities that don’t match it.

        • Lambert says:

          How often does a keyhole go over, on average?

          Note that they captured the not the explosion but the aftermath at 09:44. (unlike PlanetLabs, who got photos of a big cloud at 06:58)

          Given an event at a random time in a random location at the same kind of latitude as the Imam Khomeni Spaceport, how likely is it that a keyhole sat can see it within around 3 hours?

          • bean says:

            Pretty likely. We currently have at least 4 imaging sats up, and each covers every point on Earth every 12 hours. (I’m assuming that the swath width is at least 22.5 deg, which may be a bit optimistic, but if something like DSP picked up the initial detonation, they should be able to easily shift orbits to pick it up. And yes, it’s 12, because you have ascending and descending.) If they’re evenly spaced, then you get 3-hour coverage. This is obviously grossly simplified, but it’s not implausible in the slightest.

          • Lambert says:

            KH-11 sats tend to fly 97 degree sun-synchronous orbits. Most of them are in the morning and evening for big shadows, but USA-224 is at roughly midday/night.
            Not sure how much they’d see at night.

          • Chipsa says:

            If they have multi-spectral imagers, there’s probably a decent amount they could pick up at night. They just wouldn’t have any of the visible/near-ir imagery.

          • Lambert says:

            I wonder how hot a KH-11 is.

            Hubble keeps its mirror at 15 celsius, which is no good for far IR.

        • Nornagest says:

          The NRO having a bird in place to record the explosion pretty much guarantees it was sabotage.

          If I were the NRO, I’d try to have a bird in place over every Iranian space launch I could manage and had advance warning of. Every North Korean space launch too, and anything from Russia or China that didn’t look wholly routine. It’s just common sense.

      • An Fírinne says:

        The US embassy attack was a justified response by the Iraqi people to American aggression. Only US arrogance and narcissism could construe it as anything else.

        There is also zero conclusive evidence Iran had any involvement.

        • albatross11 says:

          So they didn’t do it and besides, we had it coming from them?

          • An Fírinne says:

            I never mentioned Iran being justified in doing anything but yes if Iran is responsible the US had it coming and should be grateful nothing worse came about, as Iran
            would be entirely justified in doing.

            Let’s not forget that the embassy attack was not spontaneous or without reason. It was a justified reaction by the Iraqi people to US aggression.

          • Guy in TN says:

            So they didn’t do it and besides, we had it coming from them?

            Read An Firinne’s OP again. The “they” and “them” are two different groups.

        • cassander says:

          @An Fírinne says:

          Let’s not forget that the embassy attack was not spontaneous or without reason. It was a justified reaction by the Iraqi people to US aggression.

          I’m sorry, US aggression? It was aggression to depose saddam hussein and spend a trillion dollars trying (and so far, succeeding) to turn iraq into a democratic country? If that’s the case, I’d hate to think how angry the germans must be at us for getting rid of that hitler fellow…

          • Nornagest says:

            It was absolutely an aggressive move to depose Saddam Hussein. (In 2003. It might not have been in 1992.) Yes, he was a bad guy; but no, he didn’t start that fight. But on the other hand that was 17 years ago, and we haven’t even been an occupying power (by any reasonable standards; I’m sure An Fírinne disagrees) for the better part of a decade. The “justified response to aggression” take is pretty stale.

          • cassander says:

            @Nornagest

            I could grant it was aggressive against Saddam and his buddies, but not against the people he was oppressing. And that’s before we get to the fact that we left, completely, and are only there now because we were asked back.

          • An Fírinne says:

            I’m not talking about the Iraqi invasion but yes that was an act of imperial aggression by the US.

            Do you even know why Iraqis attacked the embassy?

          • cassander says:

            @An Fírinne says:

            I’m not talking about the Iraqi invasion but

            then what were you talking about?

            yes that was an act of imperial aggression by the US.

            And the liberation of germany, also imperial aggression?

            Do you even know why Iraqis attacked the embassy?

            Not really relevant to the discussion at hand.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, if invading a country, deposing its leader, executing him, and setting up a new government in his place after many years of occupation isn’t an act of aggression, then nothing is. OTOH, that wasn’t an act of aggression against Iran, it was an act of aggression against Iraq. It’s kind-of hard to see where Iran would have a justification for retaliating against us for our aggression against Iraq, a country that had formerly been their enemy, or for executing Saddam when the Iranian regime would surely have been glad to hang the bastard themselves.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @An Fírinne
            cassander has some interesting opinions about Iraq, for instance that its violent death rate of 8 per 100k makes it relatively peaceful in comparison to “other countries in the region”.

            Actually, that’s the homicide rate, which is considerably higher than nearby countries. Many of those have a homicide rate that is not only below Iraq’s but less than half of the US’s. By number of deaths due to armed conflict, Iraq is more violent than literally every country in the world except the Mexico and four of those with ongoing civil wars (it’s less violent than Libya and Somalia, which have ongoing civil wars).

          • cassander says:

            @thisheavenlyconjugation

            Don’t misquote me. What I said was that iraq has a violent death rate comparable to that of Mexico. I don’t bother to distinguish between conflict and non conflict deaths because there is no easy way to separate the two, and because dead is dead. I further said not that iraq was great, I said it is a huge improvement over Saddam actively murdering people, and that even with a neighboring state actively ginning up violent domestic unrest, it’s still only a level of violence comparable to Mexico, not some failed state.

          • @Cassander

            Comparing Iraq to Mexico doesn’t make the former look better, it just makes the latter look worse. I don’t know where the line between “failed state” and “non-failed state” is but Mexico is surely skirting it.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @cassander
            Don’t lie. You didn’t say “iraq has a violent death rate comparable to that of Mexico”, you gave a figure of 8 per 100k which is the homicide rate. That doesn’t really matter though, given that your new claim is also false under any interpretation I can think of, although in the opposite direction to what you appear to think. The homicide rate for Mexico is 25/100k (much higher than Iraq), and in 2019 there were 18,000 fatalities in the Mexican Drug War in comparison to 2000 in Iraq. So the two are not comparable.

            Comparing to Mexico makes no sense, because it is one of the most violent countries in the world both in terms of homicide and armed conflict. Based on either homicide rate or conflict fatalities, Iraq is vastly worse than every single Arab country except two of the ones with ongoing civil wars. On the latter, it’s the most violent country in the world except for Mexico and (some of) those with ongoing civil wars. If it isn’t a failed state, then I don’t know what could be.

          • Dacyn says:

            @cassander:

            then what were you talking about?

            Not really relevant to the discussion at hand.

            You seem to be missing that these two things are related (i.e. your question will be answered if you answer An Fírinne’s question). From An Fírinne’s first post in this thread:

            The US embassy attack was a justified response by the Iraqi people to American aggression.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        This almost definitely has something to do with the embassy attack, and I’m not particularly surprised Trump authorized an attack against the guy in charge of Iran’s overseas operations after an Iranian overseas operation threatened US personnel.

        Had that embassy attack gone worse, it would’ve been the focal point of US foreign policy for the next 12 months.

        • An Fírinne says:

          Iranian overseas operation threatened US personnel”

          There’s zero evidence of this.

          • Civilis says:

            Zero evidence, aside from the “Soleimani is our leader” graffiti the attackers scrawled on the embassy walls.

          • An Fírinne says:

            @Civilis
            So what actual evidence is there besides some vague (and alleged) graffiti? I would question the veracity of such a claim as its a bizarre thing to graffiti on a wall given the circumstance.

          • Civilis says:

            So what actual evidence is there besides some vague (and alleged) graffiti? I would question the veracity of such a claim as its a bizarre thing to graffiti on a wall given the circumstance.

            The embassy attack (and pictures thereof) was major international news, and not all international news sites are pawns of the nefarious CIA in its unrelenting quest to take over innocent non-threatening Russia.

            Soleimani (going with the most common spelling I can find) was head of Iran’s Quds Force, created to handle with ‘clandestine warfare’ outside of Iran, and was very popular among Shi’ite hardliners (and very unpopular with the US and Israel, which is unsurprisingly correlated). In Iraq, despite being a major general in Iran, he was associated with the Shi’ite Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, trained by the Quds Force, and which was the militia that attacked the US embassy in response to US strikes on the militia in response to rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq by the militia.

            Are we to be surprised that an Iraqi-Iranian militia trained by the Iranian ‘clandestine warfare’ force is somehow connected to the very publicly known head of the Iranian ‘clandestine warfare’ force who has a heroic reputation among Iranian and Iranian-backed ‘clandestine warfare’ practitioners?

          • Randy M says:

            I am surprised that the head of clandestine warfare would have his name painted on the site of his attack. Seems pretty unclandestine. That makes it seem more like an attack by a loosely affiliated group that admires him, rather than by a direct report.

          • Aftagley says:

            @ Randy

            Right, but the rabble that did this were almost certainly organized and likely incited by people who do work for people who work for him.

            And Soleimani, despite running an organization that does clandestine activity, isn’t clandestine himself. He’s a well known figure on the international stage.

          • Civilis says:

            I am surprised that the head of clandestine warfare would have his name painted on the site of his attack. Seems pretty unclandestine. That makes it seem more like an attack by a loosely affiliated group that admires him, rather than by a direct report.

            It’s not as if secretive international terrorist organizations don’t routinely claim credit for when they make a successful attack. For that matter, they tend to immediately publicly martyrize their own fallen, even when it would obviously be smarter to pretend that the dead had nothing to do with them (either because they died doing something where it would be much more convenient for the dead to be “innocent bystanders” or because they died doing something stupid (“workplace accidents”)).

            Down below, John Schilling describes Soleimani as follows:

            Solemani seems to have filled the role in Iranian politics that e.g. Colin Powell filled in American politics in the 1990s – the widely popular and respected victorious general who was above the petty bickering of the politicians and so would have been a serious contender for the presidency if he ever decided to stop being a general.

            It says something that the Iranian hardliners idolize as an ‘Iranian Colin Powell’ the head of their ‘clandestine warfare’ force, so much that it was suggested he become Iran’s next president. For that matter, it says something that multiple countries have designated an official national military force as a terrorist organization.

          • An Fírinne says:

            @Civillis

            Nobody is denying Iran has ties and associations with the crowd responsible for the embassy attack.

            The burden of proof is on you to prove that these ties and associations necessitate or make it likely that Iran ordered this. You have yet to do this.

          • Randy M says:

            It’s not as if secretive international terrorist organizations don’t routinely claim credit for when they make a successful attack.

            There is a big difference in the M.O. of a terrorist organization that operates in secret but wants credit for their actions, and the branch of a nation’s armed forces that attempts to operate without connecting the actions to the government.

            I took clandestine to mean the latter rather than the former.

          • DeWitt says:

            It says something that the Iranian hardliners idolize as an ‘Iranian Colin Powell’ the head of their ‘clandestine warfare’ force, so much that it was suggested he become Iran’s next president.

            The Iranian presidency isn’t the American presidency. It’s the office of Zaphod Beeblebrox more than FDR, or even Donald J. Trump. Shunting a war hero into a position whose function is subordinate to the actual people running the country doesn’t mean much.

            For that matter, it says something that multiple countries have designated an official national military force as a terrorist organization.

            Oh, they were bad guys. Nevermind. It was okay then.

          • Civilis says:

            There is a big difference in the M.O. of a terrorist organization that operates in secret but wants credit for their actions, and the branch of a nation’s armed forces that attempts to operate without connecting the actions to the government.

            As with Israel and the Soviet/Russian foreign intelligence services, there’s definitely a school of foreign affairs based on ‘we did it, but you can’t prove we did it’ levels of deniability. To quote someone else in this thread:

            US aggression plain for all to see. Russia kills a spy in a foreign country everyone loses their shit. America kills a general in a foreign country and the reaction is very different.

            Of course Russia denies it poisoned the Skirpals. Still, “Something constantly happens to Russian citizens who either run away from Russian justice, or for some reason choose for themselves a way of life they call a change of their Motherland. So the more Britain accepts on its territory every good-for-nothing, every scum from all over the world, the more problems they will have.

            Likewise, the Mossad never officially admits to involvement in the deaths of Iranian weapons scientists. For that matter, the CIA probably never officially claimed to have tried to kill Castro.

            The unfortunate lesson countries are learning from this? Putting your forces in uniform is a chump’s game.

      • broblawsky says:

        The timing of the embassy attack and the assassination is too close together for them to be 100% causally related. I suspect they had been targeting Soleimani for a while, and the attack just gave them an excuse.

        • Jaskologist says:

          They’ve obviously been tracking Soleimani for years; it’s no secret that he’s a major player in the area.

          But that’s entirely compatible with saying that the attacks drove Trump’s decision to pull the trigger. That’s one of the reasons to track the big dogs; so that you can take them out on short notice if the need arises.

          Petraeus also relayed an old story. In 2008 — the same year that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone was shelled by Iranian-backed militias — Soleimani sent a message to Petraeus, the retired general said. It read: “General Petraeus, you should be aware that I, Qassem Soleimani, control Iran’s policy for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan.”

    • An Fírinne says:

      US aggression plain for all to see. Russia kills a spy in a foreign country everyone loses their shit. America kills a general in a foreign country and the reaction is very different.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        Will you please stop to demand for people to have identical attitudes toward a dictatorship and a liberal democracy? Yes they treat the former worse – and that’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s the institution of reputation at work – be an asshole to everyone, and eventually everyone will start being an asshole to you.

        • Guy in TN says:

          That’s the institution of reputation at work – be an asshole to everyone, and eventually everyone will start being an asshole to you.

          I just tallied up the body counts, and it turns out the “asshole” isn’t who you think it is.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            First, I have no idea what specific body counts you have in mind. Second whatever those are, I wasn’t taking about body counts and reputation doesn’t operate on them. Third, if you genuinely believe that the Russian government (over some reasonably specified period of time) has been overall nicer than the American government (over the same period, for some reasonable and same definition of niceness), I’d be curious to hear that argument. Otherwise I don’t see where are you going.

        • An Fírinne says:

          Will you please stop to demand for people to have identical attitudes toward a dictatorship and a liberal democracy?

          I’m not calling for that. I’m talking about actions here. What the US did was way worse then what Russia did.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Well, if your morality says that killing a retiree along with his family is better than killing an active general along with his staff, that’s just our moralities being different.

            But my point is that assuming these acts are more or less equally bad, it’s ok for people to be harsher on the Russian government, because it is known to be less trustworthy and morally worse actor. Do you agree with that?

      • Cliff says:

        Retired spy (not sure which one in particular if any you are referring to, one was released by Russia as part of a prisoner swap), versus terrorist head of the terrorism branch of Iran’s military.

        • An Fírinne says:

          terrorist head of the terrorism branch of Iran’s military.

          Okay well Iran is justified in killing Donald trump because he’s murdering civilians in middle east. Glad we agree terrorists like trump should be blown to bits.

          • Civilis says:

            Is murdering civilians in the Middle East all that is necessary to make you a terrorist?

            Is Putin a terrorist? There are certainly Russian forces in Syria murdering middle eastern civilians (or were, not too long ago).

            Are Iran’s leaders terrorists? They certainly have no problem murdering middle eastern civilians (1500 of their own countrymen, most recently).

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            It is far more morally righteous and justifiable to target heads of state than it is to target generals, to target generals than to target spies, to target spies than to target grunts, to target grunts than to target civilian adults (with exceptions; here the morality can get complicated), to target civilian adults than to target children, to target children than to launch teratogenic and mutagenic attacks.

            I’m glad we agree on the first part of this morality tree, and hope we at least somewhat agree on the later parts.

          • Guy in TN says:

            “Terrorist” is a meaningless word, and it’s good to have it thrown back at whoever the first person is who uses it in a debate.

          • I think “terrorist” is a meaningful word, but that it doesn’t apply to a lot of people called terrorists.

            In my view, a terrorist is someone who is killing people or destroying stuff not because those particular people or that stuff are doing something he wants to stop but in order to persuade other people who value those people and/or stuff to change what they are doing in order to stop what he is doing.

            Taking it in the military context, mass bombing of a factory producing tanks, or of the workers in such a factory, isn’t terrorism. Mass bombing of a city in order to kill lots of people and destroy lots of stuff in order to persuade the government of the country the city is in to surrender so as not to get their people killed and their stuff destroyed is.

            Terrorism is a more attractive strategy for militarily weaker parties, since it’s harder to protect everyone a government cares about than to protect military targets. So we tend to associate terrorism with such parties. But obviously powerful parties, such as the allies in WWII, sometimes engage in it.

          • Dacyn says:

            @DavidFriedman: It seems that according to this definition a kidnapper who kills a hostage to show he is serious is a terrorist. I can’t decide whether I like this consequence or not…

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Dacyn,

            You make a sound point. My feeling is that terrorism is usually understood to include the motive of affecting state policy. David Friedman’s example does that, while your kidnapper example might not. “State policy” is a little hard to pin down, of course: in your example, the kidnapper is probably trying to convince state officials that he “means business”.

            I think it also tends to include the notion that changing state policy is the principal motivation for the entire operation. This would mean that a bank robbery gone wrong, where the robbers are threatening hostages in order to get the police to give them a helicopter, would not count. Kidnapping a high official with the intent of extorting a change in policy, or just showing that high officials can in fact be kidnapped, would count, but garden variety kidnapping for ransom would not, no matter what extremes they go to as it starts to fall apart.

            But David’s picture is more general than mine, and unsurprisingly does not give special valence to the state. : – ) So he might well agree with your conclusion.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Doctor Mist: They could just be trying to get ransom money from a private citizen.

            Anyway, I’m not sure how often this kind of stuff happens outside of movies so maybe it is not a very good example. (I understand that in Somalia kidnapping for ransom is a common thing, but I don’t think they kill people to show they are serious.)

    • John Schilling says:

      I feel like the odds of a real (minimum Iraq war level) war in the next two years just hit double digits.

      Low double digits, but yeah, probably.

      1. The United States and Iran are already fighting a proxy war in Iraq (and, with more players, in Syria). That’s been going on for years, lots of Americans and Iranians have died, the US doesn’t seem to have either the will or the credible plan for victory, but still in the fight killing and dying to determine who gets to pull Iraq’s puppet-strings in coming decades.

      2. Yes, obviously Soleimani was in Iraq to coordinate military operations that were going to result in US citizens dying. Just like, when SecDef (let me check my notes) Esper was in Iraq three months ago, he was there to coordinate military operations that were going to result in Iranian citizens dying. Pretty sure if he’d been taken out by a Shahab at the Baghdad airport, our response would not have been “c’est la guerre”

      3. One of the generally acknowledged rules of this sort of thing is, you don’t have your side’s uniformed military personnel kill the other side’s uniformed military personnel. That’s the firewall that keeps the “proxy” in proxy wars. If the fog of war makes 100% compliance with that rule impractical, you walk back the violations rather than bragging about them. Accidents happen, and an awful lot can be written off as “accidental” if nobody wants a hot war and nobody brags about how they totally meant to do that.

      4. Very likely this was a retaliation for the recent pillaging of the US Embassy in Iraq. Note that, despite the numerous AKs, RPGs, and IEDs freely available in Iraq, no Americans were killed in that incident. And, nobody in Tehran openly said “Yeah, those were our guys, we totally meant to do that!”.

      5. Solemani seems to have filled the role in Iranian politics that e.g. Colin Powell filled in American politics in the 1990s – the widely popular and respected victorious general who was above the petty bickering of the politicians and so would have been a serious contender for the presidency if he ever decided to stop being a general. That’s not quite “crown prince” territory, and his middle name isn’t “Franz Ferdinand”, but the US killed more than just an enemy combatant here.

      6. So, yeah, this was a major escalation and the odds of a non-proxy war between the US and Iran have gone from single digits to low double digits. But the Iranians might want to build a nuclear arsenal before they pull that trigger, which means we might see just a token retaliation now and six months of relative quiet. A lot can happen in six months, possibly including some de-escalation(*)

      7. Netanyahu, MBS, Erdogan and Putin would probably all be more than happy to play “let’s you and him fight” between the US and Iran. And all of those have way too much influence in American politics.

      8. The United States cannot win a quick war against Iran without the large-scale use of nuclear weapons. This, in case you are wondering, would be a Bad Thing. The most likely result would be a very bloody draw.

      9. Expect the price of gasoline to rise quite a bit next week; even if Iran doesn’t decide to close the Straits of Hormuz as part of its response, the market will price in the possibility that they could. Not sure how long that will last.

      10. The Solomani were a bunch of racial supremacist Space Nazis in the old “Traveller” role-playing game. I’m pretty sure this is an unrelated coincidence, but I have to keep reminding myself of that.

      * Not because POTUS is a master of de-escalatory negotiation, but because his attention span is <<<6 months and he doesn't have John "Iago" Bolton whispering in his ear any more.

      • Randy M says:

        Good write up, John.

        Apropos of your tangent, I just picked up the newest Traveller edition, hadn’t noticed that vibe from the Terran faction but that game has a lot of backstory that’s not covered in depth in the core rules.

      • Aftagley says:

        I realize that at this point complaining about how far we’re stretching our current AUMF is almost a joke, but we carried out an attack on a uniformed member of another country.

        This isn’t hunting terrorists, this isn’t going after narco-lords or black market proliferaters where there’s a presumption that no one is going to care – this is action against a foreign state that was not in any way authorized by congress.

        • mitv150 says:

          Uniformed – yes.

          I may have this incorrect, but isn’t Quds Force designated as a terrorist organization? Isn’t the genesis of that designation the original post-9/11 executive order? That would fit pretty squarely within the (absolutely stretched) AUMF.

          • John Schilling says:

            The 9/11 AUMF is not a blank check to wage war against anyone labeled – even officially – a “terrorist”. It applies specifically and only to the people and organizations responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and those which subsequently harbored them. Applying it even to ISIS is a stretch. Quds force, had about as much to do with 9/11 (and about as much affection for its perpetrators) as did the Ulster Volunteer Force.

            “War on Terror” is a very sloppy name of no legal or moral significance.

          • mitv150 says:

            The 9/11 AUMF is not a blank check to wage war against anyone labeled – even officially – a “terrorist”.

            No doubt. To clarify – this attack appears to be more a difference in degree than a difference in kind as compared to previous actions taken under the 9/11 AUMF.

            How is this particular attack materially different (rather than an escalation) than interventions in Syria, Libya, and Yemen for example?

          • John Schilling says:

            Most of our prior interventions were targeted against predominantly Sunni Arab irregular forces(*), and Al Qaeda at its peak encompassed enough of the world’s pissed-off Sunni Arab militants that one can at least handwave any of those other groups as Al Qaeda splinter groups operating under a new name.

            Quds Force is a regular, organized military force of a sovereign nation that nobody credibly claims was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, populated by people who are neither Sunni nor Arab and so are not going to secretly be a bunch of reflagged Al Qaeda leftovers.

            * Or, if we’re counting 2003, the predominantly Sunni Hussein regime in Iraq.

          • albatross11 says:

            I agree as a matter of logic, but I also expect that if the white house needs a legal justification for doing something to Iran and can’t find anything else, they’ll try to stretch the AUMF to fit it, and both parties’ leadership will buy it.

        • Aftagley says:

          No, unless you stretch definitions. (which I guess we are)

          The Treasury department used EO 13224 as their authority for sanctioning the Quds force and several banks/associated individuals in 2007, allegedly as a result of their support for the Taliban. As far as I’m aware, the state department never officially designated Quds force as a terrorist organization until last year when it was included as part of the overall designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

          When this was done, the defense department explicitly recognized that this designation gave them no additional authorities and did not justify military action against the IRGC.

          • mitv150 says:

            Right. The “stretching definitions” aspect is my point. Congress has been letting presidents use that AUMF to justify all sorts of military action. It has been stretched beyond recognition.

            Given all of the previous stretching, what makes this more than just further stretching?

          • Aftagley says:

            Have we ever actively and overtly assassinated the a senior member of a foreign military power we were not at war with under this AUMF? If not, this is an important line in the sand since it represents an escalation from “This AUMF basically lets us target any non-state actor we want” to “This AUMF basically lets us target anyone we want.”

            That’s a crucial distinction.

      • cassander says:

        One of the generally acknowledged rules of this sort of thing is, you don’t have your side’s uniformed military personnel kill the other side’s uniformed military personnel.

        This is a rule, but it doesn’t apply nearly as strongly when you publicly send your sent your people to other countries for the purpose of stirring shit up. If you’re on enemy soil conducting “covert” ops, you’re fair game.

        • John Schilling says:

          Actually, outside of a declared war, official cover agents are generally untouchable. I’m not sure what Soleimani’s status was with the Iraqi government, and that’s something we should know by now.

          But, legally, that’s for Baghdad and not Washington to say.

          • cassander says:

            My understanding is that he was more or less publically trying to stir up trouble in his capacity as head of quds force. That makes it hard for me to care a whole lot about what the name on his passport was when he went through iraqi customs.

          • John Schilling says:

            My understanding is that he was more or less publically trying to stir up trouble in his capacity as head of quds force.

            Yes, but every citation I can find for that “understanding”, tracks back to or through the government that just killed the man. So there’s a bit of a credibility issue there.

            That makes it hard for me to care a whole lot about what the name on his passport was when he went through iraqi customs.

            My country is dangerously close to a war with a major, possibly nuclear, power. I care about the sort of things that will influence how many allies we have, and how much domestic support we will have. And if we’re going to be fighting this war from Iraqi bases, I particularly care that the Iraqi government be OK with how we started a war in their country.

          • cassander says:

            @John Schilling says:

            Yes, but every citation I can find for that “understanding”, tracks back to or through the government that just killed the man. So there’s a bit of a credibility issue there.

            Sure, but it’s not exactly out of character.

            My country is dangerously close to a war with a major, possibly nuclear, power. I care about the sort of things that will influence how many allies we have, and how much domestic support we will have. And if we’re going to be fighting this war from Iraqi bases, I particularly care that the Iraqi government be OK with how we started a war in their country.

            I agree, I just don’t see whether or not Soleimani used a fake passport as mattering much to those questions.

          • John Schilling says:

            I agree, I just don’t see whether or not Soleimani used a fake passport as mattering much to those questions.

            If he used a legit passport, and the Iraqi government was OK with that, then we just killed a VIP guest of the country we are going to be asking to host our military bases in the war we are maybe about to fight. That seems like it might matter, and so I would hope that POTUS cleared this with his counterparts in Baghdad before he pulled the trigger.

      • baconbits9 says:

        This list is basically why proxy wars last indefinitely, and why the US has struggled to ‘win’ such wars.

      • hls2003 says:

        Perhaps I’m being naive, but… what else, exactly, can Iran do to retaliate in kind? What are their likely options for payback that we should be worried about?

        They can’t hit the U.S. mainland militarily, because they lack the capability.

        I would doubt they can air-strike or assassinate any U.S. generals, because they’re either not within range, or are too well-defended.

        They can retaliate against U.S. troops and interests around the Middle East through terrorist or militia proxies – but that seems a lot like what they’ve already been doing, so I’m not sure how much of an escalation it is. I guess it would be an escalation in volume?

        They can strike targets in the Straits of Hormuz, or things like the Saudi refineries. But again, they’ve literally already done those things. I’m not sure how it’s an escalation. And if push comes to shove, they can’t do those things very easily if the U.S. mobilizes further resources to prevent it.

        But in the end, they’re walking a fine line too – hot war for them looks worse than it does for the U.S. I’m not saying we easily invade and pacify a populous country; and I assume they don’t want to put that to the test. But if it’s a question of “their speedboats in the Straits vs. U.S. strike group” or “Iranian air power against U.S. air power” then they get crushed at whichever engagement they choose, if we’re just talking straight-up power against power.

        I don’t know all the ins and outs of the situation, so I’m probably missing something. But it seems like Iran has to work through proxies, because they lose any military-on-military fight. So if the U.S. response is “from now on, we’re not going to give you the deniability of proxies” – it may play badly in the world, it may exceed U.S. political resolve, it may stress our military – but it seems like Iran can’t really respond except through proxies again without cutting off its nose to spite its face.

        • John Schilling says:

          They can strike targets in the Straits of Hormuz, or things like the Saudi refineries. But again, they’ve literally already done those things.

          They have (allegedly) caused modest damage to two tankers. They can mine the Straits, closing them to commercial traffic for anywhere from weeks to years.

          You might as well say that Iran has nothing more to fear from the United States, because all we can do is kill Iranians, and we’ve literally already done that thing. Unfortunately, there’s lots more to fear. On both sides.

          • hls2003 says:

            OK, but… how do they mine the Straits? Do they have the capability to send ships to do that if the U.S. sends the Seventh Fleet (or whatever) and threatens to sink ships bearing mines? I’m asking; I acknowledge I don’t know the military details well enough to assess. And if they, in turn, attack the U.S. carrier group assets, are they likely to prevail? Or get torched in combat?

            I’m not in favor of war, and I recognize that real casualties are at stake on both sides, but it seems obvious to me that real, hot, military-on-military war ends much worse for Iran than for the U.S. Isn’t that generally accurate? And if so, isn’t Iran going to want to do their best to avoid actions that constitute flat-out war? They are our enemies, and they want to harm the U.S., and they have previously done so behind the veil of proxy action, which the U.S. has now escalated to tearing. But if, sans veil, military-vs-military action is deadly to Iran, then I’m not sure how tearing the veil is good for Iran, or what they can do without that veil in place, without causing military clashes they almost certainly can’t win and very probably don’t want.

            Unless they are willing to risk it to suppress internal revolt, I guess?

          • DeWitt says:

            They mine the straits the way anyone would, by using what naval capacity they have and distributing mines throughout the water. The US certainly can threaten to sink ships bearing mines, and at that point the escalation continues from killing a general doing shady things in Iraq to all-out war; telling a country you’ll sink its ships for doing as they please within their own waters is an act of war if there ever was one.

          • John Schilling says:

            OK, but… how do they mine the Straits? Do they have the capability to send ships to do that if the U.S. sends the Seventh Fleet (or whatever) and threatens to sink ships bearing mines?

            Almost certainly. The Strait of Hormuz is less than 40 km wide, and adjacent to about 200 km of fairly rugged Iranian coast with several river mouths. They can lay mines from small, fast boats difficult to distinguish from civilian craft. To have any chance of stopping them, the USN would have to maintain a strong forward presence in the Straits, which would make its ships vulnerable to Iranian shore-based missiles and even artillery. And to any mines already in place.

            Iran also has a couple dozen small submarines, similar to the North Korean model which sank the Cheonan. These would be particularly effective in shallow, coastal waters like Hormuz, whether for delivering mines themselves (~6 per sub) or for harassing US ships trying to prevent minelaying or conduct minesweeping.

            But it seems obvious to me that real, hot, military-on-military war ends much worse for Iran than for the U.S. Isn’t that generally accurate?

            It is generally accurate to say that most wars result in both sides losing. “They lost worse than us”, is not winning. And “They would lose worse than us, thus logic demands that they will not resist us, thus logic says that we can get away with demanding they do what we want and there won’t really be a war”, has a tendency to end in “How did we just lose a war? Logic said that shouldn’t happen!”

            Well, OK, usually that last part winds up twisted to “They lost worse than us, so we won after all! Yay us!”. But let’s not go there. Please.

          • cassander says:

            @dewitt

            the straights aren’t their waters. the shipping lane is in omani waters according to the UNCLOS that Iran is party to. which is not to say that Iran can’t mine them, they definitely could, but doing so puts them very firmly on almost everyone else’s shitlist.

          • hls2003 says:

            “They would lose worse than us, thus logic demands that they will not resist us, thus logic says that we can get away with demanding they do what we want and there won’t really be a war”, has a tendency to end in “How did we just lose a war? Logic said that shouldn’t happen!”

            But we’re not asking them to do anything, at present, right? The question is whether they will do something retaliatory now that we’ve crossed the proxy line and bombed their dude directly, that will end up in a hot war, where they send missiles at our ships, and we send missiles to destroy their missile-launching capacity, and so on. I think it’s relevant to ask whether that’s quasi-suicidal for them. Sure, in the end, we could push them to war, and everyone loses. Invade Iran, it’s a horrific bloody mess. Maybe this escalation is on that level. I really don’t think so, but maybe. But I think it’s fair to say that their menu of options for retaliation if they don’t want war has been reduced. But sure, you can rely too heavily on “they don’t want war.” World War I taught everyone that, surely.

            ETA: In conclusion: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool.” Worthy of Gladstone or Disraeli.

          • John Schilling says:

            But we’re not asking them to do anything, at present, right?

            We’re asking them to stand by and do nothing but whine ineffectually about the fact that we just killed one of their most renowned war heroes. We’re asking them to do nothing, and they may do – not nothing.

            Stay tuned to learn the exciting definition of “not nothing”.

          • albatross11 says:

            Presumably part of the equation here is whether the leadership of Iran thinks they *can* do nothing here, without losing a lot of legitimacy in the eyes of {their public, the powerful people in their society, the military, their allies like Hamas/Hezbolah}. If not, they will have to take some kind of visible action in retaliation, simply to stay in power.

            ETA: As a parallel, after 9/11, I think it would have been almost impossible for us to have avoided invading or going to war with Afghanistan. Now, invading Afghanistan was right up there with sticking your d–k in a sausage grinder in terms of how well it was likely to work out, but the president could not retain power without doing it or something like it.

            As another parallel, Carter didn’t take us to war against Iran when they raided the embassy and took a bunch of Americans
            hostage. This may have been the best decision for American interests as a whole, but it also probably doomed his chances of getting re-elected, and most presidents care a lot about that.

            If we have put the Iranian government in a position in which the individual people in the government will each have to support some kind of visible retaliation to retain power, then we’ll very likely end up with some kind of visible retaliation. It’s easy for this to escalate–maybe next we end up with the same logic driving a harsher retaliation.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Oh, this can get WAYYYYYY worse. Iranian has well-armed proxies all across the Middle East that can make life a living hell for us and kill a LOT of Americans. This embassy attack didn’t even feature weapons: it was specifically designed to flirt with the “line” without breaking it, which is what Iran typically does. They absolutely could have had an armed attack on the embassy from their proxies and just killed everyone inside.

          They can kill contractors inside Iraq at will and give lots of weapons to their proxies that can strike US soldiers or US proxies.

          They can also give weapons to Hamas or Hezbollah to hit Israel and really dust some stuff up.

          They have sophisticated missiles and enough of a naval presence to turn the entire Persian Gulf into a shit show. They rolled in the UAE and sank a bunch of ships like it was nothing. They launched a drone attack in Saudi Arabia and damaged a good chunk of global oil supply like it was nothing.

          They also can, if they want, produce nuclear weapons in relatively short order.

          • hls2003 says:

            I’m not disputing that they can do those things now; I’m disputing that they could do those things without triggering an all-out hot war that, I think it’s clear, Iran would lose badly. Do they want that? I doubt it. Neither do we, but that’s the game, and they have more to lose. Moreover, they can do those things now specifically because we’re not at war and not fully geared up to stop them. If there’s war, contractors get removed from Iraq, Saudi bases get hopping, Israel gets the green light to go ape with a wink and a nod from Washington.

            Am I rooting for any of this? No, but to say they can do these things seems circular; they can try to do these things if they are ready to risk war. But all their proxy actions have suggested they’re not, and with good reason. I’m not sure why that calculation would change for them.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          I mentioned that the US is very likely sabotaging the Iranian space program, and that Iran for certain sure thinks it is? Well, consider what you could do if you were a young ambitious operative in Iran and the higher ups called you in and and handed you five million dollars and the documents to requisition any 12 soldiers you liked from the Revolutionary guard to play “Payback in kind”? What I am saying, this might blow up in space-X face in the worst way.

      • Ketil says:

        On the other hand…

        Maybe I’m underinformed, but I have kinda been wondering why there seems to be very little happening in terms of reactions against Iran (until now). Iran (probably the very Quds directed by General S) fired missiles from Yemen right into the Saudi oil-infrastructure heart, and they’ve been doing god-knows-what setting tankers on fire and rigging (or removing?) bombs from other ships. They destabilize Iran, work in Syria, and supply Hezbollah and others with rockets pointing squarely at Tel Aviv. All seemingly without repercussions? Can the US/Israel/Saudi silently accept this without drawing a line in the sand somewhere? Am I missing something crucial?

        What am I missing?

        • Lambert says:

          Big ol’ economic sanctions, internment of iranian ships at Gibraltar by the British.

          • Ketil says:

            Right, there’s probably a lot of things going on. But I don’t think those are entirely qualified, the indictment of Grace I was by the British, who is less directly involved (or?) with Iran, and for breaking an EU embargo on Syria.

            And the current sanctions seem to be a UN Security Council thing, and tied to uranium enrichment – so also not as easily interpretable as a proxy war action – like a rocket strike on Saudi oil infrastructure, say.

        • John Schilling says:

          What am I missing?

          Donald Trump genuinely does not want to wage war against Iran, and genuinely thinks he can negotiate a deal in which Iran give us everything we want without having to fight a war. Nobody else wants to wage a war against Iran either, and believes that if a war with Iran is to be fought, the United States of America should fight it for them. Pretty much everything that can be done without fighting a war against Iran has been done, so here we are.

          • cassander says:

            This, but he also seems to think that the reason we didn’t get everything we wanted last time was because (A) the previous administration was a bunch of shitty negotiators, unlike him and (B) they coddled Iran where they should have been tough, partly because they were weak and partly because of (A).

            Note, I am not endorsing the truth of either of these propositions.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Attacking an embassy is also an act of war. As were the other attacks both by and against the US near the Syria-Iraq border. There were sufficient casus belli already. This certainly increases the chance of full-scale war, but there are no bright lines newly crossed.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        You really think that if Iran droned a US general when they were visiting Canada, that wouldn’t cross any lines?

        • The Nybbler says:

          You really think that if Iran droned a US general when they were visiting Canada, that wouldn’t cross any lines?

          It would with Canada, surely. But it wouldn’t cross any _further_ lines with the US.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            But it wouldn’t cross any _further_ lines with the US.

            We’ll have to agree to disagree; I think that’s utterly bonkers. If Soleimani hadn’t been killed, the embassy attack would’ve been quickly forgotten just like most of these (some of which, unlike this one, involved dead Americans). But if Iran killed an American general in Canada I think an actual war would be more likely than not. The fact that Iran haven’t responded similarly is just down to a difference in capabilities.

          • The Nybbler says:

            As far as I can tell, all of the listed embassy attacks where the attacker was known were committed by groups the US was already engaged in hostilities with. So it’s not like the US has been letting them slide.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            I’m not convinced that the distance between Iran and the embassy attackers is significantly greater that that between Saudi Arabia and some of those groups. But even disregarding that, I don’t recall the w a r o n t e r r o r extending to Nepalese Maoists.

      • John Schilling says:

        As already noted, uniformed members of the armed forces of one nation killing uniformed members of the armed forces(*) of another nation and then saying “this was no accident; we totally meant to do that”, is a very bright line that had divided the US and Iran until yesterday.

        * Or diplomats, civil servants, etc.

        • CatCube says:

          I don’t know that the events of the last few days in December were “business as usual,” though. “Business as usual” would have been hanging some mortar rounds into the Green Zone and hoping to pick up a couple wounded or dead.

          After 1979 in Tehran, which was an electoral disaster for Carter, and the 2012 Benghazi attack, which the Republicans hung around the neck of the politician who Donald Trump defeated to win the presidency, sniffing around the embassy the way they did the last couple days seems like a hell of an escalation to me. Do you doubt that the paramilitaries storming the place would have hesitated to snap up a couple of Marines as prisoners to parade around on television if there had been a mistake on the part of the Embassy Guard that allowed it? Or that the video of same would have played every day in the US between now and November 3rd?

          I don’t think that Trump could be seen to not respond in a direct way, both for internal Administration politics (both career civil service and political appointees), or the more conventional electoral variety. At what point do we consider that having the paramilitaries they back dance around “Maaaaaybe we’ll overrun your embassy…” was a serious miscalculation by Iran?

          • EchoChaos says:

            +1

            Not responding strongly enough to aggression on a US Embassy has cost two people the Presidency.

          • Aftagley says:

            Oh, it was almost certainly a miscalculation (or more likely, the senior people lost control of their agitators and action got taken that the players couldn’t/didn’t want to back up which is why it fizzled).

            The issue is, there are ways to respond to that kind of action that are within the rules of the game and unlikely to lead to escalation and ways that guarantee some kind of escalation almost certainly has to be taken.

            Of multiple potential avenues we could have gone down (bombing someplace associated with the militia, detaining a few of the local leaders, getting our guys to mess up some Iranian interests in Iraq) we took the one with the highest risk of forcing the Iranians to do something we’ll like even less.

            ETA:
            You guys are overstating Benghazi if you think it cost Clinton the Presidency. Of the many, many albatrosses the right wing tried to tie around her neck that was the least important by far.

          • John Schilling says:

            sniffing around the embassy the way they did the last couple days seems like a hell of an escalation to me.

            It is an escalation, but it is not an escalation to uniformed Iranian soldiers killing uniformed American soldiers. That is a different level of escalation. And yes, the uniforms matter; that’s why we use them.

            Do you doubt that the paramilitaries storming the place would have hesitated to…

            Coulda, woulda, shoulda, no longer matters. What was actually done, matters.

            I don’t think that Trump could be seen to not respond in a direct way

            There are many direct ways Trump could have responded. But again, coulda doesn’t matter. The one he chose to actually do, matters.

            What actually happened is, the Iranian government encouraged some hot-tempered Iraqis to enage in egregious vandalism, and then the United States Government ordered American soldiers to go kill a bunch of people, specifically including a renowned Iranian war hero.

            Generally speaking, if there’s any legal or moral component to the fight, you want the other guy to be seen as the one whose go-to response is killing people.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The issue is, there are ways to respond to that kind of action that are within the rules of the game and unlikely to lead to escalation and ways that guarantee some kind of escalation almost certainly has to be taken.

            Of multiple potential avenues we could have gone down (bombing someplace associated with the militia, detaining a few of the local leaders, getting our guys to mess up some Iranian interests in Iraq) we took the one with the highest risk of forcing the Iranians to do something we’ll like even less.

            It really depends on how you predict the outcomes, one possible outcome is that by taking out a senior Iranian you are saying that any and all further escalations will be taken out on Iran and that might be a serious disincentive for Iran outsourcing its aggression.

            It also depends on how you view the proxy actions, if the analysis is that Iran was increasing the aggression in this way then this level of outcome was more or less inevitable either through a direct attack or a massive deployment of troops in the area.

            Finally the type of conflict that the US military assuredly can win in the short term is a government backed military vs a government backed military one.

          • John Schilling says:

            Finally the type of conflict that the US military assuredly can win in the short term is a government backed military vs a government backed military one.

            What sort of short-term military victory do you imagine the United States winning against Iran? Because this isn’t going to be Operation Desert Storm all over again.

            Operation Desert Fox, maybe. The United States can always shoot a bunch of missiles at someone, say “that sure showed them real good!”, declare victory, and go home. But it never lasts.

        • The Nybbler says:

          It’s a bright line that had divided the US and Iran until the embassy attack, which supposedly Soleimani himself (a uniformed member of the armed forces of Iran) planned.

          • John Schilling says:

            It is a bright line that continued to divide the US and Iran even after the embassy attack, because the embassy attack supposedly planned by Soleimani didn’t kill anybody.

            Not killing people is a really important line.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Not for lack of trying. If an embassy guard had gotten killed, would you in that case agree the US crossed no new line?

          • John Schilling says:

            Not for lack of trying.

            Citation needed. You think any of those protesters would have had the slightest difficulty bringing a gun or a bomb, if whoever organized the protests had been so inclined?

            If an embassy guard had gotten killed, would you in that case agree the US crossed no new line?

            The United States would still have crossed the lesser line of having its own uniformed soldiers do the killing and saying “we meant to do that”, rather than leaving it to deniable expendables and walking it back. But the point is moot because that didn’t happen.

            Killing people in retaliation for things your enemy didn’t do, pretty much guarantees that you’re going to look like the bad guy. Pick some lame-ass thing that they did do, and say you’re retaliating for that, before you boast about how you paid them back for the thing they could have done but didn’t.

      • An Fírinne says:

        The USA is clearly the aggressor in this situation. When Russia killed someone (Skripal) in a foreign country they were not at war with people lost their shit. When America does the same but far worse (a bombing killing multiple and injuring multiple) it’s a-Ok. It’s quite hypocritical really.

        Iran has every right to fight back against US aggression.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Clandestine use of chemical weapons vs. overt use of conventional weapons.

          People are losing their shit over use of chemical and radiological weapons, not attacks per se.

          And no, US use of depleted uranium rounds is not acceptable either.

          • An Fírinne says:

            Clandestine use of chemical weapons vs. overt use of conventional weapons.

            Why’s it matter? The result is the same.

            People are losing their shit over use of chemical and radiological weapons, not attacks per se.

            I distinctly remember people saying it was outraye Russia felt it could commit an attack on foreign soil.

            And no, US use of depleted uranium rounds is not acceptable either

            Well then hopefully we’ll agree there’s a massive double standard.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            It would also be outrageous if the US had a hit on Russian soil.

            USAians didn’t get into much of a huff over the Russian poisoning on British soil (in terms of this being the Russians making a hit, versus this being the Russians using a chemical weapon). Not that I saw, at any rate.

            Why’s it matter? The result is the same.

            Russia is a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The US breaking its treaty obligations is legitimate grounds for yelling at the US, and assuming that the US may be violating any other treaty obligations. So with Russia as well.

          • John Schilling says:

            It would also be outrageous if the US had a hit on Russian soil. USAians didn’t get into much of a huff over the Russian poisoning on British soil…

            Several poisonings on British soil – but none of them were targeted against British citizens, which is probably important. One British citizen did die, but from accidental exposure. The generally accepted line in peacetime espionage seems to be, no deliberately killing foreign citizens in their own countries. Sorry, 007.

            By comparison, if the US were to have the CIA whack Edward Snowden in Moscow, Putin would probably be pissed at the FSB for letting it happen but consider it a fair move by the CIA. And still try to score diplomatic points over it, of course.

          • I am only part way through a long discussion, but I don’t think anyone so far has considered the possibility that Trump wants the Iranians to escalate. There is a presidential election coming up, and being seen in the role of “strong defender of the U.S. against aggression by evil enemies” could be a sizable political plus.

            Especially if the other party get cast in the role of defenders of the bad guys, which could happen pretty easily if they make entirely reasonable arguments along the lines that some have made in this thread.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I am only part way through a long discussion, but I don’t think anyone so far has considered the possibility that Trump wants the Iranians to escalate. There is a presidential election coming up, and being seen in the role of “strong defender of the U.S. against aggression by evil enemies” could be a sizable political plus.

            Would Trump do this? Of course. He like all humans will always do the act that is believed to most benefit oneself.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @HowardHolmes
            Trump also has a history of accusing others of doing things for self-serving purposes that he himself has/will do.

            General: https://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-keeps-doing-things-he-criticized-clinton-for

            Iran: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/01/03/trump-obama-war-iran-093323
            https://www.huffpost.com/entry/donald-trump-old-tweets-barack-obama-iran_n_5e0efa06c5b6b5a713b86f2c

            Trump’s moral code is fundamentally self-serving, so sure he projects this on others. Like most people with egos he may see this as necessary as he may see himself as truly the best person for the job. Don’t mistake this for what others will do. Other people will occasionally do an own-goal, that they see as an own-goal, for moral purposes.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Guys, you over-thinking this. From Trump’s POV, Iran just escalated to launching attacks on American non-combatants and tried to take a bunch of our citizens hostage. Do you really think he cares it’s via proxy, or the rules of the game say that he should only respond in a proportionate manner, or…

            This is pretty much what Trump stated: if you start threatening Americans, heads are going to roll. And they are going to roll fast, and they are going to roll in batches.

    • sp1 says:

      While I’m deeply troubled by this in terms of continued expansion of Presidential power and from the perspective of the American legal system, the more I think about it the less sure I am that it was a mistake.

      There’s no serious dispute that Iran has supported aggressive actions throughout the region. There’s no serious dispute that the IRGC was responsible via supplies, training, intelligence, and operational direction for killing hundreds of American troops. They likely attacked a Saudi Arabian oil refinery. They likely attacked several civilian ships in the Straits of Hormuz. They were likely involved with the recent killing of an American contractor. They were likely involved with the storming of an American embassy. And on and on and on.

      Was this a proportionate response? What does that really mean? Iran has continually tiptoed to (and I’d argue occasionally massively crossed over) the line of what could justify a military response. This is a response to decades of activities, not a single stormed embassy. It’s also intended to prevent decades of future activities. Frankly, it sets a better precedent than cyberattacks and warnings of future response. Clearly they haven’t worked. Iran won’t be able to respond with open warfare because that’s an area that the US has them comically over-matched. It wouldn’t be pretty but it would be quick. I have no doubt that Trump has no intention of attempting another Iraq style occupation but the US military could eliminate Iran’s ability to wage war for as long as it pleases. And if they do decide to respond with the same sort of covert attacks they’ve constantly engaged in and that Soleimani was almost certainly in Iraq to plan more of? The US has shown that the strategic patience we’ve previously shown in response may be over. If we were willing to do this over a dead contractor and some burned desks in an embassy what would we do in retaliation for dead American troops?

      • DeWitt says:

        It wouldn’t be pretty but it would be quick.

        When has this ever been true?

        • sp1 says:

          Operation Praying Mantis would seem to be the most obvious example. Operation Desert Storm might be closer in terms of size, but Operation Noble Anvil would be closer to the mark since I’d assume any broad hostilities will be mostly air/naval. If we attempted to invade and hold Iran I’d agree it wouldn’t be quick but if the US just wants to knock out Iranian military capability it can and it has.

          • Nornagest says:

            When did it become fashionable to give every military operation a hokey moto name, anyway?

          • sp1 says:

            I blame Churchill:

            After all, the world is wide, and intelligent thought will readily supply an unlimited number of well-sounding names which do not suggest the character of the operation or disparage it in any way and do not enable some widow or mother to say that her son was killed in an operation called “Bunnyhug” or “Ballyhoo.”

          • cassander says:

            @Nornagest

            Ww1 at least. If you have a bureaucratic planning process (and having one of those is essential for industrial war) for operations, you have to call them something. Once you have names, you have to ensure they’re properly martial, because no one wants to be responsible for writing a bunch of letters that start “we regret to inform you that your son died bravely fighting for his country in operation titty fucker” so eventually you get a list of guidelines that only show names like operation thunder justice.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            [Y]ou have to ensure they’re properly martial, because no one wants to be responsible for writing a bunch of letters that start “we regret to inform you that your son died bravely fighting for his country in operation titty fucker”

            With all respect to Patton, might it not be profitable to threaten the other bastard with having died fighting against operation titty fucker?

          • DeWitt says:

            How are you destroying Iran’s military capabilities without in fact invading and holding it? Noble Anvil doesn’t compare – you’re not targeting an isolated country that has been fighting a four-year civil war here. Even apart from the question of whether or not Iran needs ships and planes to have some people in Iraq break windows in your embassy in Iraq, how are you going to keep up so large of a campaign that you want to break Iran’s will to even keep shooting back completely? People tend to care about defending their country a lot more than they do about bombing yet another middle eastern state they can’t find on a map.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        the US military could eliminate Iran’s ability to wage war for as long as it pleases

        Would that the converse were true!

        • sp1 says:

          While I agree that it’s generally bad that the US has such capability would you really prefer Tehran to have it? Honestly?

          • albatross11 says:

            I suspect the worst case is when it’s ambiguous who will ultimately win the war–that’s when it’s easy to get a way by miscalculation, with both sides convinced it will all be over by Christmas.

            Of course, since I’m an American and believe in the kind of Western values pushed by the US, I much prefer living in a world where the US is very powerful than I would in a world where Iran was very powerful and we were very weak. But I’d also like to avoid another expensive, futile war in the middle east where we burn a decade and several Mars colonies worth of wealth invading and occupying and remaking the place, and at the end we have another decade or two of occupation to keep the results of our nation-building exercise standing. Also, I think each time we do something like this, there’s some low but nonzero chance of some really terrible outcome.

          • sp1 says:

            I absolutely, emphatically, 100% agree that we should avoid trying to invade and occupy Iran. I also think it would be a human tragedy if this ends up turning into a broader shooting war – occupation or no – and that should be avoided if possible. But it may not be possible. I’m arguing that killing one of the men who has orchestrated a lot of the shooting so far – including hundreds of dead Americans – might make it less likely that we end up in that war. Or it might make it more likely. The world is messy and impossible to fully calculate.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Technically yes, in the sense that if the US ability to wage war could be removed without side effects I think that would be good. Obviously that isn’t possible even in principle. But that’s also true the other way round.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Yes, in the hypothetical world where violence is impossible, it’d be nice, but we live in this world. And in this world, if people are going to threaten American interests and American lives, I’d prefer America to have the ability to defend itself decisively.

            If anything I would prefer America to have a much more decisive military ability, because these idiots clearly think they can threaten and attack us with no threat to themselves.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy
            The point I’m getting at is that eliminating Iran’s ability to wage war seems like it would probably threaten Iranian interests and Iranian lives.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            The point I’m getting at is that eliminating Iran’s ability to wage war seems like it would probably threaten Iranian interests and Iranian lives.

            Yes, in the sense that it would provoke retaliation, but that requires the US and others to retaliate, which is something we don’t necessarily want to do, or else we already would have done it.

            For instance, we don’t really want Israel to respond to rocket attacks from Lebanon, because that’s going to rise up a lot of tensions we would rather not flare up.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            No, in the sense that dropping bombs on Iran will kill Iranians. It ain’t that deep.

      • An Fírinne says:

        There’s no serious dispute that the IRGC was responsible via supplies, training, intelligence, and operational direction for killing hundreds of American troops.

        If America jumps in front of a moving car then that’s America’s problem.

        They likely attacked a Saudi Arabian oil refinery. They likely attacked several civilian ships in the Straits of Hormuz. They were likely involved with the recent killing of an American contractor. They were likely involved with the storming of an American embassy. And on and on and on.

        This has never been substantiated. Its just asserted and then all the sheep follow along.

    • BBA says:

      Some general thoughts from Aelkus.

      It’s going to be a looooong five years.

      • nkurz says:

        Great article, thanks. It takes a while to get going, but eventually includes some very observant paragraphs like this one:

        “At least if reports are to be believed” is a sentence we often say during the Trump administration years that I hate. I bitterly hate saying it. All of our knowledge about the inner workings of the administration come from anonymous sources that leak, almost certainly for ulterior purposes. This is not new. Internal leaking and palace conflicts between different parts of the US government carried out via leaks are not new, though they have been steadily increasing in intensity over the last decade or so. But what we have today ultimately amounts to a debased combination of Kremlinology and celebrity gossip, intelligence analysis and TMZ tabloidism. We are addicted to the steady drip-drip-drip of leaks from this shambling mess of an administration, unable to verify any of it for ourselves. That is, until the President may suddenly blurt out a confirmation of an insane rumor in one of his Twitter rants. Which forces us to act on the assumption that even the craziest rumor – such as the notorious “pee tape” that the Russians may have recorded – could be validated tomorrow. But we still have to be vigilant because – again with the pee tape – hoaxes, distortions, and misinterpretations pervade what is left of the ordinary news cycle. Nothing is real and everything is possible. We have all the news, all the time. But all it does is confuse us further. And both the public and professional observers have grown unusually tolerant of a constant stream of inanities and insanities that would otherwise shock us, forgetting events that occurred even weeks or days ago and treating each one as if they are novel and to be examined in isolation from each other. This latter tendency was on display during the analysis of the al-Solomeini operation. There was – and continues to be – a strange assumption that it was the product of a normal national security decision-making process, to be debated in terms of its pros and cons rather than the latest spasmodic emission of an administration whose default state is chaos. Analysts often assume there is some fixed preference that Trump pursues, indifferent to copious evidence throughout the last several years that even minor alterations of inputs and stimuli can make the President immediately contradict his own stated motivations and choices.

        I also especially liked his analysis of the analysts, which may help to explain SSC’s odd (to me) apparent delight in extremely detailed analyses of fictional scenarios:

        In many cases, analysts quite literally retreated into analysis of fantasy worlds because dealing with the world as it is today is too great of a burden. Fiction provides order and structure when reality itself feels fictional. If one cannot analyze the fever dream that passes for American national security policy, one can at least argue about how a fictional general ought to have deployed dragons or Star Destroyers.

  17. Dino says:

    Maybe cancel culture is getting cancelled? I’ve seen a bunch of other similar on-line screeds.

    Has J.K. Rowling figured out a way to break our cancel culture?

    • GearRatio says:

      I mean, Rowling is incredibly rich and already completely done with the meaningful parts of her career. I’m not sure how you would even begin to cancel her in the first place. If her tactic works for anyone that isn’t the billionaire retiree author of the most beloved children’s book series of all time, I’d be more hopeful.

      • Nick says:

        I have no idea why folks keep saying this when it was only a month ago that Chick-fil-A caved for no earthly reason. One of the most successful fast food companies in the country, owners richer than Croesus, a wildly happy fanbase, and they traded it for very temporary approval from wokescolds.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:
          • Nick says:

            I guess if we wanted courage instead of cowardice, we shouldn’t have put our faith in a chicken place.

        • GearRatio says:

          I mean, they are unrelated for the most part. Wealthy retired individual with immune literary legacy being immune to being cancelled /= Active business who weathered an unsuccessful cancel attempt voluntarily allowing some it’s members to donate to different charities.

          Unless this was in involuntary shift on Chick’s part, it doesn’t really tell us anything about Rowling’s ability to resist, and if it was involuntary they still differ from what she is in a lot of ways.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          I agree that being rich isn’t everything — wanting approval from your peers is a powerful motivator, no matter how wealthy you are — but I don’t think it’s nothing, either, as not wanting to become destitute is also a powerful motivator.

          ETA: I guess I’d say that being rich clearly doesn’t guarantee that someone will stand up to the cancellers, it does make it easier to do so.

      • albatross11 says:

        Is it actually a shock that a rich and famous successful author survived an attempt by a bunch of unpaid interns at news outlets and Twitter trolls to drive her from public life? All she had to do was ignore them–they couldn’t actually do anything to her.

      • John Schilling says:

        I mean, Rowling is incredibly rich and already completely done with the meaningful parts of her career.

        The same could be said of Donald Sterling.

        I’m not sure how you would even begin to cancel her in the first place.

        And yet they managed to cancel Sterling. I’m glad that a similar effort does not seem to be in progress for Rowling, but that’s only one data point. Billionaires can sometimes be cancelled, Rowling hasn’t been, I’m waiting for more data before I make any predictions on the demise of cancellation culture,

        • acymetric says:

          The reason cancelling Donald Sterling worked wasn’t Twitter mobs, it was that the workforce itself (both his own players and players on other teams) were revolting internally.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          The cases aren’t comparable; the most notable difference being that Sterling’s comments were widely regarded as objectionable whereas Rowling’s weren’t.

        • The difference is that there is no equivalent of the NBA to threaten her. Who would “fire” her?

          • Matt M says:

            Eh, if her comments were bad enough she could definitely be deplatformed. HP movies could be seen as toxic and removed from all major networks/streaming services. Amazon could refuse to sell her books. Etc.

            Bill Cosby is probably the closest we’ve seen to this. But there’s no reason it couldn’t be even more extreme than that if someone said/did something that was seen as even worse.

          • John Schilling says:

            She’s also got a series of mystery novels, in the process of being turned into a TV series by BBC and broadcast in the United States by Cinemax. So that gives three organizations that could easily cancel her in both the literal and figurative sense; one publisher (Sphere books) and two television networks.

            BBC wouldn’t even have to shut down production of the TV show; just announce that they are severing ties with Rowling and farming all future episodes and (now guaranteed LGBT-friendly) story arcs to different writers. So, no real cost other than being seen as the Network What Cancelled JK Rowling, and no real benefit other than being seen as the Network What Cancelled JK Rowling, and so far at least they haven’t pulled that trigger.

          • @John Schilling

            Fair enough, but was anyone attempting to cancel her explicitly targeting that series? Maybe the only reason she wasn’t cancelled was because people didn’t even know about these adaptations.

          • Matt M says:

            The “cancel culture” people have doxxed and gotten people fired from minimum wage service industry jobs. When they’re motivated, they find any and all means possible to destroy their desired targets. The notion that JK Rowling escaped because her being-adapted-for-TV novel series simply flew under the radar and nobody noticed it is a little tough to swallow…

          • albatross11 says:

            JK Rowling’s comment wasn’t actually offensive to like 95%+ of Americans, Brits, etc. There’s still massive demand for Harry Potter related books, movies, TV shows, and future content among the public. (Contrast with Bill Cosby or Michael Jackson.)

            That means that cancelling her costs any studio or channel that does it a lot of future money. If tomorrow Amazon decides that it will no longer carry Harry Potter books because of her offensive comment, the management of Barnes and Noble and Wal Mart and Powell’s and such will all throw a big party.

          • Matt M says:

            If tomorrow Amazon decides that it will no longer carry Harry Potter books because of her offensive comment, the management of Barnes and Noble and Wal Mart and Powell’s and such will all throw a big party.

            But only because of the fact that most people didn’t find it offensive.

            When it comes to internet cancellations, typically someone gets deplatformed from Facebook, Twitter, and Google all within the same 24 hour period. There doesn’t seem to be much of the “Oh good, now I can get all that business for myself!” corporate greed going on at all…

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the usual pattern is that the outrage storm either panics people into surrendering, or shifts the balance of some power struggle so that the target can be pushed out. But if this doesn’t happen, then I think it’s usually pretty hard for an outrage storm among a few megaphone-equipped people plus some Twitter mob members to actually push anyone out.

        • Cliff says:

          Sterling caved

        • ECD says:

          I love how Donald Sterling is the example of someone who was ‘cancelled,’ citing to wiki, where the introduction says he “remains active in Los Angeles real estate” which seems to be his actual business.

          • Cancel culture is less about complete financial ruin than displays of power. Getting the NBA to cut the guy loose is enough to send a message.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah, NBA owner has a status cache the likes of which “successful local real estate developer” cannot match. They stripped him of the highest status position he had. That matters.

          • ECD says:

            More high status than billionaire?

            Honestly Donald Sterling seems like a bad model for this. Being expelled from the creepy quasi-monopolistic-oligarchy that is NBA ownership for being visibly racist against the group to which the majority of players and plurality of watchers belong seems less like ‘cancel culture’ and more like public relations, or damage control. Especially given that that racism took the form of asking someone not to bring black people to ‘his games’.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes, probably.

            There are more billionaires than there are NBA owners.

          • ECD says:

            There have also been fewer principals of my old high school than there are billionaires.

            Now, I assumed that all NBA team owners were also billionaires, undecutting this argument, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

      • Deiseach says:

        Rowling is incredibly rich and already completely done with the meaningful parts of her career.

        Well, she is continuing to write, as an author of adult detective novels (that is, novels for adults, not – you know). And the books have their own set of fans, so whether you think that means it is or is not ‘meaningful’, she is certainly not done with her career.

        Yes, she is immensely rich and need never write another word or do anything except loll around on piles of banknotes, and yes the Cormoran Strike novels will never (and would never) have gained her the same fame and riches, and yes she will always mainly be known for the Harry Potter books, but I do think it’s a bit premature to say that the “meaningful” part of her writing work is over.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Well, she is continuing to write, as an author of adult detective novels (that is, novels for adults, not – you know).

          I’m kind of disappointed you added the clarification.
          “This dame was a real lady, Detective Terf thought. Legs that went on for miles, leading up to a vagina such as all women have.”

          • Deiseach says:

            Le Maistre Chat, some may not need the clarification, but I added it in because I’m the kind of idiot that does.

            Years and years back when I was a bit more innocent than I am now and had not been exposed to the big bad world, when late-night channel surfing I stumbled into the middle of a movie that was as low quality as you’d expect from “some obscure cable TV channel at two in the morning”. It was a detective movie, and despite the bad costumes and general lack of decent sets, as well as the stilted acting, I got involved in the plot. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was why, about every ten minutes, the private dick started bonking one of the suspects.

            It took me quite a while to figure out this was not a low-budget detective movie but a soft-core porn effort and our lead was indeed a private dick in a different sense of the word 🙂

            I made my excuses and left, as they say, once I realised the kind of HEATHEN FILTH my good Irish Catholic eyes were seeing so I never did get to find out who killed the millionaire but to this day I remain convinced that the maid and chauffeur were in it together, as their alibis were mutually reinforcing, while the housekeeper, the mistress and the other female suspect whose role I can’t remember had individual alibis. I can truly say I watched it for the plot 😀

        • Her detective novels are good–I read all of them. And if it’s true that the publisher didn’t know who the author was, she gets lots of points for pulling that off.

      • Matt says:

        Yeah, there’s having money, having f-you money, and more: having f-me money. Rowling can do whatever she wants. She has f-me money and needs to answer to nobody.

    • broblawsky says:

      Cancel culture has never been as powerful as we’ve thought.

      • Garrett says:

        Perhaps. But it has the same impact as a hate crime. It causes people who are unlikely to be victims to fear for themselves. I left Google specifically because of how James Damore was treated. I didn’t want to find myself out of a job with no effective notice at some point and no way to feed myself.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          I didn’t want to find myself out of a job with no effective notice at some point and no way to feed myself.

          You want a union job, then. Preferably in the public sector. Preferably not federal (or if federal, then with an agency that Congress has a history of bipartisan support for).

          Thanks to the Supreme Court Janus decision most of the speech that Damore was fired for is protected speech for government employees (though IANAL, so check elsewhere on this claim).

          I avoid industry for much the same reasons you left Google, though from a left-bias instead of a right-bias.

          • Matt M says:

            Out of curiosity, what sort of left-wing things are you afraid you might get fired for saying in industry?

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            “I think we should form a union.”

            or maybe

            “We should stop doing business with China over their human rights record.”

          • Matt M says:

            Well the first one they are legally prohibited from firing you for (although I acknowledge many still might and have decent odds of getting away with it).

            The second one I think is becoming a bit more non-partisan than you think. Certainly post the NBA controversy. Screaming about China’s horrible human rights abuses is pretty popular on right-wing Twitter, given that the target is LeBron James and not the CEO of some non-progressive company.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Anything at all that is even tangential to issues unions fight for.

            Such as raises, better employment conditions, promotion and internal job opportunities, who’s your real employer (if you’re a permatemp), etc… And don’t dare start becoming even halfway as insistent about it as Damore was. Not without a lawyer, at any rate.

            Edit: Ninaj’d because I didn’t refresh.

            They can still fire you and get away with it in many states. And even prevent you from claiming unemployment.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            Well the first one they are legally prohibited from firing you for (although I acknowledge many still might and have decent odds of getting away with it).

            Indeed, Google recently seems to have fired someone for reminding other employees of their rights to unionize.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            From the comments at your link, thisheavenlyconjugation:

            You can’t fire employees for certain reasons, but then it’s on the employee to argue that in court, rather than something the employer has to prove before they can start denying unemployment, which really is the crux of how anti-labor related laws are, due to the related inequity between an individual employee trying to argue they were actually fired over a protected issue or in relation to protected class discrimination versus an entire company.

            Regardless of the merits of the current situation, this deserves emphasis. My mother worked for decades in Disabilities Rights and this was a huge problem in wrongful terminations. So again….

            The wrongfully fired employee has to prove the firing was wrong.
            The wrongfully fired employee has to prove the firing was wrong.
            The wrongfully fired employee has to prove the firing was wrong.

            If the company doesn’t keep records or were careful to avoid records here, then the ex-employee can’t make a case. Further, the lawyers for the ex-employee or the ex-employee have to front the costs to get all that information, if it exists.

        • albatross11 says:

          This is right. Cancelling is about wrecking a few careers to keep everyone else in line.

    • BBA says:

      It’s only been two weeks. Years down the road I can easily see Rowling dismissed as a bigoted relic of a less enlightened time, much like formerly beloved children’s authors Enid Blyton and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Both Enid Blyton and Laura Ingalls Wilder books appear to be still in print, so I’m not so sure about the “formerly” beloved part. They may be canceled but possibly parents didn’t get the message.

      • Don P. says:

        Those women have been dead 50 and 60 years respectively; this now seems like an object-level opposition to ever re-evaluating anyone, ever.

        • I don’t know a lot about those cases, but I would argue against the transition from re-evaluating a person to re-evaluating that person’s work.

          If I have given you delight in ought that I have done
          Let me lie quiet in that night that shall be yours anon,
          And for the little, little space the dead are born in mind
          Seek not to question other than the books I leave behind.

          (Rudyard Kipling)

        • BBA says:

          Who says I’m opposed to it?

  18. piato says:

    One of my favourite SSC concepts is the Lottery Of Fascinations.

    It’s an important one to me because I didn’t do very well. I experienced my fascination first when I was 11, and I’m 36 now, and I keep finding it dense and rich and interesting and beautiful. It’s also a hopeless sink of time, from which no consequence of any (even minor) positive impact to my life can really come, or that of anyone else.

    Do you have a fascination like this? Are you okay with it? Have you just accepted that your life will be about the stupid thing, or did you try to unfascinate yourself? Did it work?

    • GearRatio says:

      It doesn’t come across in this setting, but I’m incredibly conversationally funny. I can instantly own a room full of people. I have spent my entire life and an enormous amount of energy amplifying my ability to do this. This skill is much less related to the jobs that have to do with being funny than you might think, and I don’t want the jobs that have to do with being funny in the first place because I don’t want to be away from my people.

      I enjoy being around my family and making their lives better.

      I restore cast iron pans.

      I like to ride bikes.

      These are the only things I care about enough to do consistently. Other things (eating, playing video games, typing this thing, whatever) are all lumped into a mental category I think of as “fidgeting” – just stuff to do in-between the other stuff.

      None of these things makes any money; One of them helps three people substantially, one helps a bunch of people in a completely disposable way and one helps only people who like archaic cookware. None of them makes any money and the only one one of them that’s hard to replace is only that way by default. So it’s all pretty useless/bare minimum. But besides the practical difficulties related to the money end of it, I wouldn’t really want to change any of it. I know people who don’t enjoy anything genuinely; compared to that, I think coasting on a bike or bringing a 120-year-old piece of metal back to functionality are pretty good.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I was fascinated with business all my teens, started growing my very small company in my 20s only to realize that I’m not really that happy about it. But too late – I had invested too much and already got used to not having working hours. Still not a bad choice, and probably better than most. And I don’t think I’m even close to having fully explored it yet, so… still optimistic.

      About math – I recently helped a friend’s daughter with a 12yo math problem, and I remembered why I really disliked it in school. It’s not … predictable. Most of the exercises don’t follow an algorithm, you just have to “get it”, like a puzzle. It’s not a castle of knowledge you can build up. Well, part of it obviously is, but most of regular homework was just stupid puzzles to me. I’m a pretty good programmer, and I was pretty good at math in school, but still hated the unpredictability. I don’t see how doing something like this helps you in any way long term. I can’t even call it “learning”, in the sense of being remotely useful – you don’t learn concepts, just stupid shortcuts for each particular exercise type.

    • albatross11 says:

      This was a great essay of Scott’s–thanks for linking it!

      Compare with The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius.

      Some of my weird interests led to my current career; others just keep me interested and engaged in the world of science and ideas. But it’s a crap shoot what you end up fascinated by. If your obsession is programming, you’ve got better career prospects than if your obsession is poetry. (But maybe a couple hundred years ago, poetry was a better thing to be obsessed with.)

      • baconbits9 says:

        The conclusion here is similar to that of Polgar’s introduction to ‘Raise a Genius’ where he basically says that the key to having brilliant chess playing daughters is to cultivate a love of chess in them.

        The counter to this is someone like Andre Aggaisi who (according to his own book) hated his upbringing and became a dominant tennis player, and hated tennis for chunks of his life.

  19. BBA says:

    You may or may not have seen this Scholar’s Stage post on what’s gone wrong with meritocracy in America. Between this piece and some conversations I had over the holidays, something clicked for me about the nature of “merit.”

    It’s common shorthand in these parts to use IQ (or SAT scores) as synonymous with merit, but intelligence is neither sufficient nor strictly necessary to make it to the ruling class. There’s a certain ambitiousness that people in my cohort have and I lack, which is why they run the world and I never will. It’s what it takes for a high school student to spend hours on extracurricular sports and clubs they don’t care about for a shot at a good college, for a college “student” to realize that the modern university is more about networking than learning, for a startup cofounder to spend 80-hour work weeks on “making the world a better place”, for a McKinsey associate to sincerely believe they know more about their client’s business than someone who’s been working in it longer than they’ve been alive. It’s a mixture of grit and sociopathy.

    So I get the hollowing-out that the blog post talks about. The regions outside the Northeast and California are declining, because the national elite is open to strivers from all regions, and what striver would want to be a mere regional elite? If they ever move back home, it’s in name only, and just to run for Congress. And now we’ve had decades of brain drain and the hinterlands are ruled and “represented” by the same kinds of people who live here in Manhattan.

    As for intelligence? It helps, but it’s missing a big part of the story to call it “all that matters.” For someone of the right personality and neurotype, wealth and connections can make up for any deficiencies in brainpower. Worst case scenario, you can just buy your way in, or cheat. I’m sure there’s a lot more admissions fraud where Operation Varsity Blues came from, most of which will never be revealed, some of which was probably legal. And furthermore, I’ll bet some of the fraudulent admittees are nearly indistinguishable from the legitimate ones. Once you’re in, it’s about attitude, not smarts. Failing upward is common. For an extreme example – at least one investor who lost money on Theranos said they’d invest with Elizabeth Holmes again.

    Anyway, this is part of why I react so negatively to the IQ talk around here. That and, well, all that stuff I ranted about last time it came up, which I do not want to discuss again today.

    • Chalid says:

      That blog post is all about the Ivy league, but the emphasis on college in discussions of meritocracy always seemed misplaced to me. The world of adult work is a far larger and more important meritocracy, and after your first couple years there it doesn’t matter much where you went to college. Remember those studies suggesting that applicants who were admitted to Ivy Leagues and declined to go ended up doing just as well as those who did attend?

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        and after your first couple years there it doesn’t matter much where you went to college.

        Society, military, industry have all, all kept the idea of enlisted and officers alive (the old fashioned higher and lower classes, or more stratified varna of Indian tradition). Now it is possible to mustang, but a mustang will always be at a deficit (temporal) compared to someone who starts as an officer. And often enough it is not possible to mustang (sciences, I’m looking at you), at least not without going back to school at a deficit compared to your new peers.

        Less mustanging, the highest merit in the military will only rise an enlisted person to Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman. A very rarefied and respected advisory ranking, but still enlisted (not in the line of command).

        This still exists today. It is still very entrenched today. This is a fundamental limitation on merit – a bottleneck, if you will.

        So yeah, graduate from Podunk with highest honors and you may end up at the same grad school as the person from Notre Duke. Do well in grad school and you may end up in the same Post-doc position as the person from Stanvard. Do well there and Robert’s your mother’s brother.

        But you still have to walk that identical path. Diverge from it at any point at all and there is no realistic way to “prove your merit” otherwise. You have to find a way back on the path to the next control point, or bust.

        • Cliff says:

          It seems to me the idea of enlisted and officers is fairly unique to the military.

          You seem convinced that academics is the way to success, but is it really? The list of lucrative careers is filled with trades and other jobs that don’t require academic education, and if you have a lucrative career you can start a lucrative business.

          If it’s about being “master of the universe” in some sense like being in the levers of power and not just wealthy then maybe there’s something to that, I don’t know. Maybe you could own a big plumbing business and hob-knob with fancy people because you have a lot of money, not sure. Probably the plumbing industry just doesn’t attract that kind of person.

          • woah77 says:

            While, strictly speaking, enlisted and officers is unique to the military, you see a similar dynamic in engineering. Engineers (officers) do the design and planning while Technicians (enlisted) do the execution and testing. The Technicians are more boots on the ground working with the equipment and reporting problems to engineers who then devise solutions.

            It’s not a perfect allegory, but it comes close. Woe to the officer(engineer) who blatantly ignores their enlisted(technician) because the guy who works on the equipment the most knows the most about how it behaves in practice.

          • Matt M says:

            You seem convinced that academics is the way to success, but is it really? The list of lucrative careers is filled with trades and other jobs that don’t require academic education, and if you have a lucrative career you can start a lucrative business.

            “lucrative” isn’t the same as “high status” and it certainly isn’t “elite.”

            There are no elite plumbers* in the US. Maybe there’s a small handful (by which I mean, you could literally count them on one hand) of guys who got to be elite who were plumbers at one point in their lives before starting a plumbing business and then franchising that business out to the extent necessary that they can get rich enough to be considered elite even without all the cultural markers of eliteness.

            In fact, part of what makes the trade skills lucrative is specifically the fact that they aren’t elite, and that they do not even pretend to promise a path to eliteness. This is seen as a huge negative in the eyes of aspiring elites, which limits the competition in such fields. The fact that plumbers are low status is part of the reason they make decent money – to compensate people who do the job for their lack of status.

            *no offense to Plumber, of course!

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Man, I don’t want to be someone’s definition of successful, I want power and freedom to pursue science.

            Techs effectively don’t do science (rarely they can be assigned a scientific investigation by a supervisor). RAs effectively don’t do science, unless they have a Ph.D. and are assigned a scientific project (rarely non-Ph.D.s can be assigned a scientific project). Scientists, even lower level project or research scientists, are the first level allowed to seek funding for their own projects. The first level that can *pursue* science – ask the questions, and seek the answers. And that requires a Ph.D. (+ post-doc experience, usually, + getting a scientist level job, which not all Ph.D. recipients have – see Ph.D. RAs above).

          • woah77 says:

            If you just want to do science, nothing is stopping you. If you want to do science requiring expensive equipment, then you have the problem of needing expensive equipment, which is where the people who have it want to see your credentials first. But a lot of science doesn’t require expensive equipment and that is all stuff you can do.

          • Matt says:

            There are no elite plumbers

            Are you sure? The guys who connect the LOX/LH2 or hypergolic propellant pipes on spacecraft aren’t elite? Any journeyman can do it?

            My father was a pipefitter and objected strongly to being called a plumber.* Because he worked on high-pressure and/or toxic material piping, I guess. Factories, energy plants, oil refineries, etc. It’s a different job than residential and commercial plumbing for supplying relatively low-pressure clean water and draining relatively non-toxic waste water.

            *also no offense to Plumber

          • John Schilling says:

            Are you sure? The guys who connect the LOX/LH2 or hypergolic propellant pipes on spacecraft aren’t elite? Any journeyman can do it?

            Those guys aren’t called plumbers; they don’t belong to any plumbers’ union, and they don’t follow a career path that intersects at any point past high school with that of anyone who is called a “plumber”.

            Well, OK, I know a few people who unashamedly call themselves “rocket plumbers”, but they still aren’t elite members of a class that also includes non-rocket plumbers. Two separate fields.

          • albatross11 says:

            How about doctors/everyone else in medicine?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Matt:

            Are you sure? The guys who connect the LOX/LH2 or hypergolic propellant pipes on spacecraft aren’t elite? Any journeyman can do it?

            I think Matt M meant “elite” in the sense of “belonging to the upper class”. Obviously there are “elite plumbers” in the sense of people who are better at plumbing than almost any other plumber, and who can do jobs that very few other plumbers could, but they aren’t considered upper-class in the same way that, say, a top businessman, civil servant or university professor would be.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @woah77
            I don’t want to do some random “science”. I have specific ideas and areas I want to explore.

            These specific ideas and areas require money and expensive equipment, but more importantly they also require skilled colleagues who are also interested in these ideas. (yes, I’m one of those people who at minimum needs some mentoring or colleagues in order to get started, though I don’t necessarily need said colleagues at later stages – though if I was rich enough I could probably get started on my own without colleagues or anyone else, as expensive mistakes aren’t showstoppers if you’re rich enough)

            Like everyone else I also have expenses. A person with a different personal situation and my skills might be able to (limitedly) pursue science for one project in these areas, by volunteering to work in a lab already working in these areas for instance. But its not viable for me at this point in life. And I didn’t have the skills to be treated seriously at an earlier stage in life.

          • AlexanderTheGrand says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            Have you considered applying for a Ph.D.? If you’re accepted and choose the right group for yourself, you can generally do the research you want, get paid (a bit) for it, and have access to the network you’re interested in. I mean, any investment from others has some barrier to entry, but if your scientific interests are reasonable, there should be someone out there doing something similar. It sounds like it has all the things you want.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @AlexanderTheGrand
            At earlier times in my life I have, and have been declined (I aimed high, or in one case needed a serious scholarship to make it financially viable, which I didn’t get).

            I’m technically an employee of UC, and am seriously considering applying for a Ph.D. program there, but I have to work out a situation beforehand with a professor and my workplace such that I can work on the thesis project as part of my regular job. I can’t afford the draconian pay and benefits cut leaving my job would entail at this point.

            I briefly talked about this with my supervisor, who is very encouraging, and this year need to start talking with our professorial collaborators before applying this fall.

            This Ph.D. program likely wouldn’t allow me to work on something I’m very interested in, but it would at least be tangentially related and the Ph.D. itself would open doors if I achieve it.

    • GearRatio says:

      There’s some parts of this I agree with, but there’s some other parts I’ll question for the sake of discussion:

      We live in a world that rewards specialization and dedication to a single goal; I.E. I can pull an engine from a car and fix the plumbing in your house AND do a bunch of interesting administrative stuff, but the world would reward me more for being just slightly better at the administrative at the sacrifice of a dozen of my auxiliary skills. Being slightly good at physics is not enough; you need to be pretty damn good. This isn’t for the most part for no reason – there’s enough people around that it doesn’t make much sense to have two mediocre jack-of-all-trades when you can have two very good specialists.

      But getting a specialist, particularly a specialist who needs 6 years of training as a foundation for his actual job which he then will need further years to become proficient in takes a certain amount of stick-to-it at every stage. So if you are a school with limited spots to the point where mere perfect academic performance is no longer enough to differentiate applicants, you look for other forms of merit: who has already been working hard enough and consistently enough that it makes sense that they would be able to then be a top performer among other top performers? Who is already trained for the kind of effort it takes to get to ultra-specialization?

      You might disagree with that, but if we want something better than a lottery of perfect non-extra-curricular performance, what merits do you suggest that would do better as predictors? You might say “be a real nice guy” or “have outside interests” but they are already trying to zero in on that with extra curriculars like working for charity and sports and whatnot; anything else is just taking their word for it and you are just back to who writes the best essays.

      Then we go to the part where you are saying “well, it’s all just a money game, right? Getting in? People can bribe their way in, we’ve seen that”. And we have – but are we going to pretend that the relatively small cohort of people with the kind of money it takes to meaningfully bribe their way in are anything like the amount of people who are there for non-academic non-monetary reasons? Because the data we have suggests that the really big compromises we make in giving up on academic merit comes in the form of cutting non-asian minorities slack on quantifiable merit.

      All merit is claimed merit, but some claimed merit has evidence that makes falsity less likely. There’s a guy out there with a Harvard PhD who is a dumbass sloth-monster – there’s probably lots of him!. There are guys out there who could figure out how to, like, be a chemical plant engineer with zero training and a GED. But is it less likely that the PhD Chemist can handle a job in the field of Chemistry than a random guy off the street who says he can? Because if it isn’t (and, frankly, it’s not), you are asking hirers to knowingly make bad decisions that hurt them.

      I’m the kind of person who thinks he is very smart, but has very substantially less training and education on paper than it requires to have an easy road to success. I don’t think that’s fair – I think I’m underutilized, and I know people who are less capable than me who had an easier pathway, better parents (for success purposes), had kids later, whatever, and are doing better than me as “less worthy” people. I’m pretty sour about this. But at the same time, I don’t know what potential bosses could do differently. Taking me at my word would be stupid, frankly. And good “is this guy a good bet?” tests don’t exist. There’s rare people who can just eyeball applicants and figure it out, but it’s not a common skill.

      So elite schools judge people on the amount of commitment and success within that commitment they’ve been able to show, and cut breaks for a few rich people and an awful lot of minorities. Jobs judge people mostly on the amount of commitment to the common pathway to success they’ve been able to get documented on paper. Good people fall through the cracks, and bad people fall through the ceiling, for sure. But I’m not comfortable saying that a system is broken if it’s not perfect, and I’m not comfortable judging people using the system unless I can articulate a better system to replace it.

      • Randy M says:

        As an ambitionless jack-of-a-few-trades, a lot of this resonates with me.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        you look for other forms of merit: who has already been working hard enough and consistently enough that it makes sense that they would be able to then be a top performer among other top performers?

        Ultimately this is a justification for limiting your student body to particular personality types (yes, you’ll get a few of all personality types, as children pick up traits from their parents regardless, but you’re still placing a limiter here). Now this would be justifiable if the highly-chosen personality types were good at everything, but this is not the case. Personality limits and focuses our abilities.

        And this is why “diversity” becomes something that’s skin deep. And why “performance” is measured on narrower and narrower criteria (citation needed).

      • baconbits9 says:

        Being slightly good at physics is not enough; you need to be pretty damn good. This isn’t for the most part for no reason – there’s enough people around that it doesn’t make much sense to have two mediocre jack-of-all-trades when you can have two very good specialists.

        I think you are underselling the value of interdisciplinary skills, people who are decent at physics and decent at writing can become science writers and earn a living/accolades in that arena, or they can be a part of a strong team as a grant writer or X, Y or Z after combinations P, Q and R. Just being decent at physics alone with no other skills is clearly not going to lead to a prosperous career but there are many ways in which combinations can lead to success. My in-laws have run a successful small cleaning business and also have a vacuum repair shop, the technical ability to repair vacuums isn’t directly related to the ability to manage a few dozen employees and accounts, tax records etc but made their business significantly more profitable.

        I can pull an engine from a car and fix the plumbing in your house AND do a bunch of interesting administrative stuff, but the world would reward me more for being just slightly better at the administrative at the sacrifice of a dozen of my auxiliary skills.

        If you can pull an engine from a car and do admin well you can run your own repair shop, which is probably more lucrative than being slightly better at the admin side. GCs make more money than their plumbers and carpenters do, and most GCs have experience and skills in some form of the construction process.

        • GearRatio says:

          I agree in large part that Jack-of-all-tradesiness isn’t nearly as worthless when you get into the “running a small business” sphere, especially if the business is young/very small/has a shoestring budget. I think this is creeping up on being outside of the sphere of meritocracy discussion a bit, though, if you buy that starting a small business is sort of saying “screw meritocracy or other forms of outside valuation; I shall determine my own value”.

          A lot of my thinking on this is guided by the cases I’m familiar with – like, programming technical writer vs. programmer; I might have a small inaccurate sample size, but my experience is that the programmer makes substantially more on average.

          All this to say that you are correct and my post does undervalue cross-disciplinary skills to some extent, but I still remain pretty firmly on the side of “the world loves specialists” as a “this is generally true” thing.

          • John Schilling says:

            I think this is creeping up on being outside of the sphere of meritocracy discussion a bit, though, if you buy that starting a small business is sort of saying “screw meritocracy or other forms of outside valuation; I shall determine my own value”.

            I disagree. I think that starting a small business (and if possible turning it into a big one) is one of the classic paths through the meritocracy. If the term meant “elite university degrees, accept no substitutes”, we’d use a more appropriately specific word.

            And, it isn’t determining your own value, but appealing directly to the market to determine your own value. Of course, nine times out of ten, the market says “you’re not all that”. The tenth time, the market says “you rule”, and meritocracy in action.

          • baconbits9 says:

            A lot of my thinking on this is guided by the cases I’m familiar with – like, programming technical writer vs. programmer; I might have a small inaccurate sample size, but my experience is that the programmer makes substantially more on average.

            My wife makes more than the programmers at her company as a programmer with administrative skills because she is the manager of other programmers. She is not the greatest programmer by her estimation (which is reasonable as she didn’t start programming until her late 20s, and that was sporadic, part time and front end, and didn’t go full time front end until her early 30s, and then transitioned into back end and is managing people who are career back end programmers), and still makes more than better programmers excepting the other manager/programmer who is a better programmer and has more experience and more seniority (and that is likely also to reverse in the next 3-4 years).

            My older brother graduated with a CS/anthro/english degree and has advanced further than many programmers who are probably better than he is because he has multiple skills.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      As for intelligence? It helps, but it’s missing a big part of the story to call it “all that matters.”

      Essentially nobody says it’s all that matters. You are attacking a strawman.

      Intelligence may not be sufficient but it’s more or less necessary for success.

      I mean, if you are dumb but your parents are wealthy and well-connected you can probably still have a comfortable life, but you are going to do worse than your parents, and your children are going to be going worse than you if they are as dumb as you are.

      For an extreme example – at least one investor who lost money on Theranos said they’d invest with Elizabeth Holmes again.

      But she is probably smart. She just used her smarts for dishonest purposes, obtaining a sort of cult leader charisma, which is why she still has “followers”, despite all evidence that she’s phony.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Intelligence may not be sufficient but it’s more or less necessary for success.

        Only up to a point with regards to academia (the first major bottle-neck for success in most disciplines). With maximal academic drive (or the right neuroses), a person with an IQ of 115 is capable of graduating from HYPS-caliber undergraduate and graduate schools with a pretty decent record. Better if their IQ has the right twice-exceptional profile and they majored in a discipline suited for them.

        Editing out details of a person I know who almost meets this criteria (IQ of 120 and very impressive academic record).

        Yes, and 1 out of 6 or 1 out of 10 is still rarefied when it comes to IQ, but its not that rarefied.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Only up to a point with regards to academia (the first major bottle-neck for success in most disciplines).

          But that’s indeed just the first bottleneck, and I’m not sure it’s even that of a bottleneck, there are plenty of smart people without college degrees who do well.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            there are plenty of smart people without college degrees who do well.

            By whose standards?

          • viVI_IViv says:

            The average plumber (ping @Plumber) makes more money than the typical college graduate if you take into account tuition costs and age of entry in the job market.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The average plumber (ping @Plumber) makes more money than the typical college graduate if you take into account tuition costs and age of entry in the job market.

            Do you have the data for that? I was only able to find median wage for “Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters occupations: 16 years and over”, and for bachelors degree recipients 25 years and over. Obviously this isn’t strictly comparable and doesn’t take into account differences in experience distribution in the respective fields. But the college people make more than double (and the difference has increased since the recession, mostly by a drop in plumbing wages), which leaves a lot of room for unaccounted-for factors.

            Other things I’ve found seem to indicate the average college graduate starting salary is roughly similar to the average plumbing salary. But I didn’t find anything directly comparable there either.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @viVI_IViv
            So by the standards of those who value wellness based on the amount of money they have in the bank, then.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Do you have the data for that? I was only able to find median wage for “Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters occupations: 16 years and over”, and for bachelors degree recipients 25 years and over.

            I found a median salary of $56,784 for plumbers in the US here, which is higher than the median salary of people with a bachelor’s degree, reported here as $52,019. This doesn’t take into account college debt and number of work years, which would favor plumbers even more.

            There are some sites on the Internet that do more detailed plumber vs. doctor or plumber vs. lawyer comparisons and tend to find that plumbers outearn doctors and lawyers until about their 30s, then the earning gap reverses.
            But if I understand correctly doctors and lawyers are unusually lucrative professions and most college graduates earn much less.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            So by the standards of those who value wellness based on the amount of money they have in the bank, then.

            Well, if you really want to be an academic then you need a college degree and then a PhD, but this is self-referential. Generally speaking, money is fungible: you can trade it for a wide range of goods and services, hence it’s a generally good measure of value (once you control for average prices in your location).

          • Matt M says:

            Well, if you really want to be an academic then you need a college degree and then a PhD

            Hmmmm… do you though?

            What does “being an academic” even mean? Reading and writing a lot about various topics? You can do that without any degree at all, thanks to the Internet. You might not earn very much from it and you might not have as many resources at your disposal as someone attached to an institution (which is going to require the PHD) but you can still do much of the same work.

          • I don’t think it is impossible to get a faculty position at an academic institution without a PhD, although in most fields it is difficult. I think the usual requirement for a law school is having graduated from law school, which is more like a master’s degree than a PhD, even though it is called a doctorate.

            And there are occasionally professional academics who come up by non-standard paths.

            It’s not quite the same thing, but my PhD is in an entirely different field from the two in which I have been a faculty member.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Hah, turns out my chart is just total BS, it’s number of workers, not their wages. I should have published a paper on it as my contribution to the reproducibility crisis. This is the chart I meant to make. Still considerably higher for college grads.

            The difference here seems to be methodology. The numbers in that graph are from the Current Population Survey, which asks the employees. The 2018 “plumber” figure comes out to $47,892 per year. The higher figure probably originates from the Occupational Employment Survey, which asks the employers. In 2018, that number is $53,910 for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. Your number for salary for people with bachelors degrees is from the American Community Survey, which is different yet again (for instance, it includes people not employed full time).

          • Plumber says:

            @viVI_IViv says:
            January 4, 2020 at 1:09 am
            “The average plumber (ping @Plumber) makes more money than the typical college graduate if you take into account tuition costs and age of entry in the job market”

            Oh, sorry I missed this (why didn’t it “ping”?).

            Anyway, others have provided the national average income figures, in my area a full-time Journeyman union plumber or steamfitter typically earns about $90,000 to $110,000 per year (pre-income/payroll taxes), I do deferred compensation (tax exempt savings/investment) and live on about $50,000 a year, our biggest expense is property tax, almost $11,000 last year) we have no mortgage.

            For San Francisco (where I work) that would qualify me for a new-ish “low income first time home buyer” program, except we already bought a house in 2011.

            Median household income in San Francisco is $96,265 a year, median income in Alameda County across the bridge from San Francisco (where my house is) is $96,296 presumably including dual-income couples) so my household earns slightly more than that with a single income.

            But plumbing like most construction trades is a feast or famine deal, typically in “boom” years there’s lots of overtime, and in ‘lean’ years.

            IIRC as a first year apprentice plumber I earned about $30,000 (they scale up each year, a fourth year apprentice earns about $90,000) and those wages bring down the national averages.

            Some books I had to pay for, no tuition for my apprenticeship classes (the contractors and we journeymen pay for that out of union dues).

    • aristides says:

      This was an interesting read for me, since I went to an elite grad school, and was offered chances to be part of the NE elite, and turned them down to be elite in my home state. I’m surprised more possible elites don’t choose this path as well. The increase in pay gets eaten by cost of living, and why wouldn’t you want to be back home? That said, I accept this trend is happening, very few elites at my institution have as prestigious as a degree as me, now that I am back home.

      • Matt M says:

        Spitballing here, but it seems to me that the “great social skills, average intelligence” types are much more likely to become “local elites” in large part due to such people having much stronger preferences to stay home and build and cultivate those local relationships. It makes intuitive sense to me that “good at relationships” correlates with “values relationships highly” which correlates with “doesn’t want to move around a lot.”

        The “great intelligence, average social skills” types don’t really care about that and are happy to move in chase of opportunities.

        As society places greater and greater value on intelligence as a proxy for class, merit, status, whatever, it makes sense that we start asking “what happened to the local elites?” The answer is that they’re still there, they just don’t seem as impressive as they did in the past…

    • albatross11 says:

      BBA:

      This was a really interesting essay–thanks for linking it!

      I think any meritocracy built on narrow measures of performance (test scores and grades, stuff an admissions committee wants to see) is going to give you a very narrow slice of human ability and competence. Select on getting into Ivy League colleges, and you’ll get exactly the kind of person who gets into Ivy League colleges, no more and no less. People who can do that are overall pretty impressive, but there’s a lot of important stuff that isn’t captured in the race to get into a top school when you’re 17, or a top grad school when you’re 21, or to make partner in a top law firm.

      Partly, that’s because we’ve built an artificial system for selecting winners, largely for rational astrology reasons–we need a way of selecting people for top jobs that nobody will get fired or sued for using, and hiring only {college graduates, graduates from top schools} works well for that, whether or not it gives good results otherwise. Any one system for deciding who rises to positions of importance will inevitably be too narrow. That’s one reason why it’s good to have multiple on-ramps to success, and multiple importance hierarchies. Making everyone do a PhD and two postdocs before they can try for a permanent science job makes it a hell of a lot harder to come to the field from the side door. Only recruiting from new graduates of Ivy League schools for some fields similarly limits the possibility of anyone coming in a different way.

      What can we do to ensure more on-ramps, more ability to come in via the side door and still contribute?

      One thing I think we need to do is try to get rid of both the tournament aspect (only a tiny fraction of top people can contribute, everyone else gets sent home) and the running-the-gauntlet aspect (there’s a 30-year path to success and if you ever fall off from preschool to getting tenure/making partner/finishing your residency and fellowship, you lose everything and drop off the Earth). I think those both select for a certain kind of sociopathy–particularly, being willing to trade off every other value for success in the super-competitive tournament.

      • Matt M says:

        To do something I am loathe to do and defend the establishment…

        If you’ve ever actually met say, a Harvard admissions officer, or a McKinsey hiring manager, it would become apparent that they actually try really very, desperately hard to recruit a reasonably diverse (in the true sense of the term, not in the bastardized modern usage) workforce. Speaking from personal experience (Top 20 MBA, MBB strategy consulting), I think they largely succeeded. My MBA cohort was amazingly diverse, lots of different types of people with different types of skills. The people I worked with in consulting were just amazing. All highly intelligent, highly motivated, but different as can be besides that. Yes, they all had the bare minimum of “good undergrad degree, top MBA program”, but believe it or not, that cohort encompasses a huge and wide variety of people, and those with the ability to pick and choose who they want from it can still obtain a great deal of true, meaningful, socially useful diversity.

      • BBA says:

        It’s the whole up-or-out thing that gets to me. See, I was born into the elite, but not so elite that I don’t have to work for a living. And I crashed out of two “tracks” to success, hard. I was (am?) on a third, but stalled out at my current position. The thing is, I don’t want to be a manager and I don’t have the people skills to be in management.

        For a time I was content in my current job. Now I’m bored with it, but the job hunting process scares the shit out of me, and besides I’d be looking at a pay cut if I worked anywhere else. I dread the notion that I’m “overqualified” for the jobs I want, and “qualified” for the management positions that I don’t want.

        At this point I have enough money saved up to take a sabbatical and spend some time traveling, researching obscure nonsense, and writing longwinded blog posts. (Yes, I started a blog. Way to bury the lede there.) This is something I’d really like to do, but would that really be a good use of my Ivy League education that my parents and grandparents worked so hard to provide for me? How could I put a gap in my resume and look them in the eye? And besides, when I go back to work, what will a future employer think of it?

        These are all very good problems to have, #include “privilege_disclaimer.h” and all that. I just wanted to vent, is all.

        But the strivers, who can make it where I failed… I resent them but I also respect them. I want to make that clear.

        • Lambert says:

          Do something an order of magnitude more technically challenging (e.g. R&D. If already in R&D, something even more cutting edge), in order to avoid being pushed into manglement too fast? Posibly pick up some kind of higher-level degree on the way.

          Swallow the pay cut if it leads to better places.

    • John Schilling says:

      In addition to using “IQ” as an oversimplification for “mental characteristics conducive to socioeconomic success”, this one has the problem of using “Ivy League” as shorthand for “institutional pathways to socioeconomic success”. Which is to say, it’s fine when we understand that we are using a shorthand, not so much when someone literally thinks it is just those ten specific universities.

      Beyond that, I didn’t see much here that I didn’t see in “The Bell Curve” twenty-plus years ago. The cosmopolitan elite, with the best of intentions, strip-mines the working and middle classes for intellectual talent, turns that talent into Eliteness because that’s what it knows best, marries it off to other Eliteness, and deposites the result in elite/UMC society – good for the elites, including the ones “mistakenly” born into working- or middle-class society, but leads to a shortage of talent aligned with working- or middle-class concerns.

      This is, I agree, a problem. Not sure that it’s a terribly large or catastrophic one, but could be. But it’s way too late to score any points for identifying the problem, and these guys join the long list of people with no solutions that aren’t clumsy, misaimed, and generally worse than the disease.

      • FormerRanger says:

        A less-negative way to describe what the “cosmopolitan elite” are doing is “upward mobility.”

        • SamChevre says:

          I think that describing it as “upward mobility” largely misses the point. (And note–I benefited–grew up on the poor end of the working class, in an poor county, and got into an Ivy-league-equivalent SLAC with a GED.) None of my siblings has a job that requires a college degree.

          But it’s not the “upward mobility” I experience that’s the problem: it’s the way that people like me, and even more people born into this UMC world, reduce the ability of the people I grew up with to live their own lives by their own values in their own places–to have the schools they’d prefer, the the kinds of jobs they’d prefer, in their own home county.

          • Plumber says:

            @SamChevre > “….people born into this UMC world, reduce the ability of the people I grew up with to live their own lives by their own values in their own places–to have the schools they’d prefer, the the kinds of jobs they’d prefer, in their own home county”

            Best description of gentrification i’ve seen.

            Thank you.

    • Plumber says:

      @BBA says:

      “You may or may not have seen  this Scholar’s Stage post on what’s gonewhat’s gone wrong with meritocracy in America”

      Nice link, thanks for that.

      “Between this piece and some conversations I had over the holidays, something clicked for me about the nature of “merit.”

      It’s common shorthand in these parts to use IQ (or SAT scores) as synonymous with merit[…]

      […]Anyway, this is part of why I react so negatively to the IQ talk around here. That and, well, all that stuff I ranted about last time it came up, which I do not want to discuss again today

      Great post @BBA, but since I think I missed your rant and I don’t feel much like exhuming all the SSC threads and sub-threads that I skipped while celebrating the holidays I may discuss whatever it is that you “…do not want to discuss again today” (but I did wait almost 17 hours after seeing your post to respond, so you’re welcome!).

      A lot of ink and pixels have been spilled about how “IQ correlates with future income” and whatnot. 

      Fine.

      Personally I never took the SAT or remember any IQ score if I took such a test (an employer had me take one “for practice”, but I never learned the score), but I did take the PSAT (IIRC I did better in “verbal” than “math”), since the PSAT is like the SAT and SAT scores are supposed to be close to IQ scores, judging by that the many wriiten tests I’ve taken to get my jobs were in many ways similar to the PSAT I took in ’83, I’m completely convinced that being able to have a high IQ test score correlates with getting many jobs in the first place, however in working alongside those who’s test scores were public record and known to me actually doing jobs well doesn’t correlate much with written test scores, if it correlates at all.

      Our host posted something along the lines of “would you rather have a surgeon who was top in their class or middling?”, well I think that measure is bogus, I’d rather have the surgeon who has more patients survive the surgery, that’s the test I care about @Scott Alexander! 

      I long ago said that I support “afirmative action” based on my experience with those who got their jobs that way, they just plain are better workers (in my experience) on average than those you got in via written test scores.

      Hands on tests are better, but only for limited tasks as they just can’t test enough real field conditions (an actual good hands on test would be actually doing the job for awhile), but even those tests only measure how well someone is at that task right then, not their future potential. Written tests are supposed to test “aptitude”, but do they?

      Sure, the aptitude for written tests, but actual on the job performance? 

      Not much.

      What does better judge aptitude? 

      Interviews of applicants when the questioner knows the job well, the ‘hands’ that are hired during the test free “temporary exempt” periods just perform better than the those who test in.

      The problem with just letting supervisors decide who to hire are:

      1) Too many applicants to wade through. 

      2) The supervisors supervisors supervisors just don’t know the jobs well enough to judge hands, that level is about meetings, not the physical work. 

      3) Given carte-blanche supervisors just hire relatives, their friends kids, and those who bribe them.

      Lottery plus interviews could work well, but people want to hire those with the “most aptitude’ so the written tests are used, which I guess saves lambs from being slaughtered so their entrails may be read as a means of deciding whom to hire, though that way may waste less time and effort, but not as much as just drawing names from a hat and interviewing however many there’s the patience for. 

      Oh, and for the record I married someone who attended an “Ivy”, so I’m not completely ignorant of that world.

      • Cliff says:

        Believe it or not, there are studies on what predicts workplace success and IQ is high up there (at the top, I believe)

        • Matt M says:

          Also true for higher education. The most predictive factor of grades and graduation is test scores (which are essentially proxies for IQ).

  20. Paul Brinkley says:

    A friend of mine proposed gerrymandering explicitly to keep all districts competitive – tweak them all so they’re as close to 50% as possible. I haven’t followed gerrymandering theory that closely, but I’ve run across a few proposed strategies, such as equal area, equal population, maximum compactness, etc. I had to admit I had never seen anyone advocate maximum competitiveness before. I get the impression most people wanted a “fair” redistricting, and districts that consequently ended up safe were to be expected and even approved of.

    I had a hard time thinking of any failure modes with this scheme. The best I ended up doing was predicting exhaustion or ennui among the constituents. There’d be little point in fighting for someone who represented your views for years, since if you fought to make your district safe, you’d just get shuffled next term into a district that wasn’t. Another problem was the possibility of districts drawn even weirder than now, in order to gather enough neighborhoods that clashed. Imagine NYC or Chicago districts reaching from inner Manhattan all the way out Long Island way or deep into the countryside. But this isn’t a bad thing in itself, unless you want to argue that polling places may become onerous to reach for some residents.

    Anyone else have any ideas for how this could go poorly?

    • Lambert says:

      Wouldn’t the optimum strategy be to run as an extremist on whichever side and still be handed 50% of the vote?

      Run as a satanist in Birmingham and they’d be forced to hand you a slice of Portland or something.

    • zoozoc says:

      The obvious one is that you are selecting for divisiveness. So the elected representative would only be “representing” the percentage that voted for them. Obviously this happens with competitive districts. But it really makes it hard for the representative to know or advocate for their district. If he/she represents a rural district or a city, it seems like it is more obvious how to help their district vs. if they are in a 50/50 split rural/city district for example/ Also this will only work with a two party system and it entrenches a forced two party system even more. How would you handle an area that has a regional party (like in the UK)?

      Plus how would this even be implemented? It seems like a recipe for corruption and making the districts slightly lopsided such that the split is actually 51/49 and thus favor one party over the other. Sure, that happens now. But this standard seems basically unenforceable.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        The obvious one is that you are selecting for divisiveness. So the elected representative would only be “representing” the percentage that voted for them.

        When we were talking about it, I phrased it as 49% of the population being unhappy at any given time. We agreed that was a problem. However, my steelmanning principle kicked in and I noted that it was never going to be the same 49% every term. If your favorite didn’t win, you could just take heart that the gerrymandering rule guaranteed you a fighting chance next term. Every district was a swing district. If your team lost, you knew you’d get first draft pick.

        Not only that, but it’s a well known fact in polisci that the narrower your victory, the smaller the lobbying groups you have to listen to in order to keep your office. In general, politicians would have to pay more heed to all of their constituents. And because the districts are constantly being reshuffled, it’d be virtually impossible to build a loyal base.

        Plus how would this even be implemented? It seems like a recipe for corruption and making the districts slightly lopsided such that the split is actually 51/49 and thus favor one party over the other. Sure, that happens now.

        I didn’t ask how it would be implemented, as that wasn’t really the point we were interested in; rather, it was what would happen if it could be. One assumes it’s theoretically possible, at least, given that gerrymandering to favor one party happens at all. We probably have the data to do it if we wanted. I think we informally agreed it wasn’t likely in the current political climate, unless enough people decided they’d had enough of the fighting and were willing to make genuine sacrifices to make it stop.

        If that were the case, then a 51/49 split is close enough in smaller districts to upset. Especially if we leaned in to the principle and made redistricting more likely the more one group was in the 49%. The spirit of his proposal was strictly in opposition to a permanent 51/49. Imagine a rule where you had to spend one term in a Democratic district, and one in a Republican. (It might strengthen a two-party system, come to think of it – although it might also motivate third parties to jump sides more often.)

    • Nick says:

      I’m sure practicalities and size of voting population make this a moot point, but it seems to me that the more optimally competitive you make things, the more the outcome is driven by chance. Does it really make sense to have vast swathes of California and New York under Republican control one year because the random number generator said they won those districts? Or vice versa for Utah and Alabama? Assuming a normal distribution of outcomes, absurd results could happen pretty regularly; of course I’m sure the catch is that outcomes won’t really be so distributed.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Does it really make sense to have vast swathes of California and New York under Republican control one year because the random number generator said they won those districts? Or vice versa for Utah and Alabama?

        The idea here is that it would make sense, because the district in question had enough opposition party residents that would enjoy an upset on the dice roll.

        The catch, to me, is that thing I said earlier about the districts being potentially very weird. If NY state is simply 65% blue, there’s no way to get enough red voters to make every district competitive without going outside NY state. One district might end up as blue’s dump stat, and the rest might look even worse than current gerrymandering.

        We didn’t get around to discussing that case. I imagined part of the problem might be resolved by hunting for enough differences of opinion that there was at least a substantial minority opposition no matter where you went.

    • Eric Rall says:

      It might work for states that are close to 50/50 overall, but what do you do about states with a significant statewide partisan lean, say 60% Democrat and 40% Republican? Do you make 80% of the districts 50/50 and pack the rest of the Democrats into the remaining districts, or do you make all of the districts 60% Democrat and 40% Republican? In both cases, you’re still going to have a certain number of safe seats, and in the latter you’re effectively gerrymandering the state to minimize the electoral impact of the minority party.

      Disenfranchising the minority party’s voters is a problem with single-member district systems in general. I’m keenly aware of this as a Republican-leaning libertarian living in the Bay Area, since I support approximately zero of the elected officials who “represent” me. The only ways around this I can think of would be to do the exact opposite of your friend’s proposal (gerrymander every seat to be as close to 100% one party or the other as possible, so you wind up with de facto proportional representation) or go to multi-member districts. Party list proportional representation is probably the most widely-used multi-member district system currently (not counting at-large plurality elections, which share the flaws of single-member district systems), but there are others worth considering which preserve some of the benefits of single-member districts: for example Single Transferable Vote and Limited Voting.

    • cassander says:

      some districts can’t be competitive. Every congressional district in utah is +13 CPVI or higher, and democrats outnumber republicans in california almost 2:1. How would you draw districts in those places?

      • FormerRanger says:

        The US could always have more representatives. There is no constitutional requirement for the House to have 435 members. In 1789, the average district had 30,000 people. Today it’s over 700,000. The House should have 10,000 or so members!

        If we had multi-member districts that allowed the top N candidates to assume office, that might work, too.

        • John Schilling says:

          The House should have 10,000 or so members!

          That is functionally equivalent to saying, “The Democratic National Committee’s senior leadership, after meeting in its smoke-filled room, shall cast one vote in the House of Representatives with weight N(D)/10000. The RNC leadership shall cast one vote with weight N(R)/10000”. You’ll wind up reducing the status of actual elected representatives to that of members of the Electoral College, and make US politics even more explicitly partisan than it already is.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Unlikely, a smaller base for each representative would increase the number of alternate parties represented which then requires coalition building at a certain point.

    • Fivethirtyeight made a map of it:

      https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/redistricting-maps/#Competitive

      It would lead to supermajorities of whichever party is currently ahead. If America ever ended up with more than a 2 party system, it could make the non-proportionate representation problem even worse.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Not sure if legal if it can be seen as having a disproportionate impact on minority communities.

    • It’s going to give you big swings in electoral outcomes. If the Democrats are a little less popular this election than in the past, the Republicans end up with 90% of Congress, and similarly, mutatis mutandis, if the Republicans are a little less popular.

  21. danridge says:

    I don’t know how much anyone cares, but within the discussion of generational divides, someone made the claim that classical music (broadly speaking, covering medieval through at least romantic) was objectively more complex than other, newer genres. This, needless to say, made me INSANELY TRIGGERED and I SCREECHED LIKE A BOBCAT the entire time I was writing the following POLEMICAL SCREED. Then I realized that dropping an irrelevant novel so deep in a comment thread that no one would be able to reply directly was probably bad manners, so I didn’t, but it’s a reply to RalMirrorAd below; it reads like a reply, but you’re not missing much context even if you don’t seek out that post. The tl;dr is that I like classical, I like jazz and classic rock and electronic music, and I like rap and country too, and if you think that your dismissal of the entire output of any of those genres is based on anything objective, you’re wrong! Or at least, in my experience, you’re not being honest about the subjective selection of your objective criteria…

    Man, nothing makes me actually comment here except music discussion…so I think pop music is always a breeding ground for mediocrity, since why would people trying for a quick buck go for anything else? Pop music used to be classical music of various kinds, and while greats like (to choose one era) Beethoven and Rossini had widespread public adulation in their times, many composers now evaluated as great were not as popular in their own time. And there have always been polemics and satires of the dismal state of popular music in various eras. As I saw it recently and it springs to mind, I will link this video about a very amusing satire of the world of early 18th century Italian opera.

    As for complexity, I agree that various and specific pieces of classical music (speaking broadly) represent maxima of complexity along several of those axes. However, my first point would be that this is a story neither of continuous progress nor decline. The works of Carlo Gesualdo from the late 16th century contain beautiful harmonic progressions which would, I believe, not be seen again for about 300 years; this was possible BECAUSE harmonic theory was less developed. Certainly he was an extreme outlier in his own time, but harmonic theory was developed enough to account for the simpler compositions of his contemporaries, but not enough to disallow his radical harmonic moves which still obeyed rules of counterpoint.

    The other point I would make is that other genres represent maxima along other axes. I think it’s easy to make the case that a lot of jazz represents a maximum. John Coltrane was a maximum all to himself; he took a highly theoretical catalogue of atonal melodic fragments (Nicolas Slonimsky’s if you’re curious) and turned it into a well-worn practice guide.

    While in the past I tended to be more dismissive of electronic music, after association with some DJs and producers of this music and seeing them work, I think that the heights of this genre represent maxima as well (and not just of repetitiveness!). Because this music isn’t intended for live reproduction, its producers can take all pains to shape the sonic experience exactly to their vision; simply put, they can just make stuff sound amazing. And instrumental/timbral/part continuity which is required in live performance-driven genres just becomes another tool, as it is possible at any time to introduce any sound which is desired.

    I’d also argue rap can represent a type of maximum in lyrical delivery, which is a venerable role for music; some of the oldest poetry was sung or accompanied by music. As a point of comparison, Bob Dylan was at his best an absolutely spellbinding storyteller, and I think he is a poet…because the alternative would be to consider him a musician! (This is a joke, but as support for the position, there are some very…interesting videos of him attempting to record his two lines in the We Are The World collaboration.) And yes, there is an unbelievable amount of terrible rap out there, but again, anything which becomes popular invites this.

    And even being terrible doesn’t exclude you from maximizing some laudable trait! There’s a reason that Frank Zappa called The Shaggs “Better than the Beatles”, as possibly no group of musicians would ever be capable of reproducing their oeuvre (Zappa’s use of xenochrony required studio manipulation while Helen Wiggin managed it effortlessly).

    Anyway, I have a pet peeve for any objective analysis of music, because they invariably turn out to be highly motivated and suspect. I am sure that allowing for more axes of expression, classical music of various kinds represents a minimum along some of them; in fact, this is certainly REQUIRED! Simplicity is a necessary ingredient of musical expression along with complexity. Repetition in sonata form allows for better absorption of the material, allowing for embellishment and investing that material with greater meaning. Repetition in electronic music allows for the creation of a sonic habitat. In neither case is repetition a necessary evil which the sonata thankfully minimizes; instead, it is the only thing which allows any meaning to be wrung from the material, and it is simply utilized differently.

    So…there. I don’t know if this is useful to anyone, but I got worked up and wrote it, so I posted it; my apologies that the hide button gets put on the bottom of the post.

    • Well... says:

      As someone who’s pretty solid in music theory (at least the fundamentals), I’ve wondered if someone else who’s even more well-versed in it, plus in musicology/music history, and who also has the time or inclination, could make an objective argument about the relative sophistication (or lack of same) of one genre of music over another.

      • danridge says:

        Yeah, I mean I think I was basically making a cursory crack at just that, from several perspectives. But a big pitfall that this type of project often falls into is that simplicity and repetition (sometimes modeled as compressibility, not necessarily like of an mp3 but rather in the sense of how you can compress text applied to both lyrics and music as written) are often the easy thing to get some kind of measure of, but then that’s as far as the analysis goes. Complexity and uncompressibility are treated as the objective measurement, which misses the reality that simplicity and repetition are actually two of the most valuable tools for musicians, and combine in complex ways with other aspects.

        I think that in the end, these analyses are interesting for fans and critics of music, and useful for musicians, especially those who attempt to branch out from the genres with which they are most comfortable, and they can provide objective understanding, but anything approaching a value judgment will often say more about the listener than the music. Knowing all of the ins and outs of rap production (arbitrary example) and how it compares to other genres will give you great insight into how it works and why it fits into culture the way it does; but I maintain that it won’t tell you why rap is bad, only why it doesn’t find a place in your life or in your heart.

        That being said, if you have a decent musical background and you start studying rap intensively to figure out why it’s bad, you will probably just end up with a new appreciation for the genre, or at least a few tracks you find yourself liking. I always find that it’s most rewarding to have someone who genuinely likes a genre which I don’t speak to me intelligently and passionately about it, because then I start appreciating it, and even if it doesn’t become a passion or something I seek out, the times when that genre is playing in a store or something become more pleasant. As you can probably tell, my line of work is music, it’s important to me to think about this stuff, and I have the time for it. If you have a relatively normal relationship to music, I think you should probably just continue liking what you like and hating what you hate, but just know that whenever you see an article with the headline “New algorithm discovers your kids’ music sucks”, it’s not even right enough to be wrong about anything.

      • Björn says:

        I’m going to a jazz workshop tomorrow and should really be going to bed, but I pledge to write a post about musical excellency in genres such as Black Metal, Gangsta Rap, Dubstep, Post-Punk and Neofolk.

    • mdet says:

      I want to say that rap excels at rhythmic complexity, but I feel like I need to run that idea past some professional jazz and prog rock drummers first.

      • Dino says:

        Rap rhythms seem pretty simple and basic to me, especially compared to e.g. Balkan, Indian, African.

        • mdet says:

          Given the constraints of one mouth vs two drumsticks and a kick pedal, I’m sure they have to be quite a bit simpler. But given the constraint that you have to pronounce syllables using your mouth, what does peak rhythmic complexity sound like?

          I suppose I’m doing a youtube dive for the best beatboxers now…

          • danridge says:

            I think that is going to be a very rewarding dive, I’ve seen people who have amazing abilities to “sample” with their mouths. As far as rhythmic complexity, most of the impressive rap stuff doesn’t have it the way prog/indian/balkan or african/latin do. I’m not an expert in all of those styles, but my impression is the first group do more irregular time signatures, and the second get a lot of rhythmic complexity from interlocking parts, and can do things like simultaneously juxtaposing different subdivisions of a meter like 12/8. Rap I think is a bit more like jazz, where rhythmic complexity is a little more about how you play around an existing, simple rhythmic structure which integrates with the other elements; like, you’re in 4/4, but you don’t want to make it too obvious (although of course some guys do weird meter or latin percussion section style stuff in jazz as well). The rhythms themselves have varying complexity, but it’s not just about WHEN you do something, it’s also WHAT you’re doing. In jazz you’ve got the harmonic rhythm and then different notes which will have different effects depending on how they’re placed in the meter/structure, in rap you have a backing to play off of and then the words, and using effects with the sound of those lyrics (consonance, assonance, rhythm) and their meaning can create a very engaging flow with rapidly shifting rhythmic schemes and emphases. I think it’s clear that rap is a genre in which there is ample room for virtuosic performance, which like with instrumental virtuosity doesn’t only come down to speed. Also, if you at least believe that some people are greatly moved by some rap songs, then it is interesting to note the weight which their lyrics have been given without even resorting to melody, which largely also cuts the lyrics off from gaining more meaning from the harmonic development as well!

            And all that being said, there’s probably already SOMEONE out there making polyphonic rap in irregular time signatures, some kind of prog rap, and it’s probably completely mindblowing; if anyone knows where I can find it, do tell.

          • Well... says:

            Cramming more syllables into the same amount of time isn’t necessarily where rhythmic complexity must lead. For example, odd time signatures, or tuplets beyond the commonest triplets and sextuplets, are basically unexplored in rap (as far as I’ve heard).

            We know it’s possible to explore these kinds of things vocally, by the way, because tabla drummers are trained to do exactly that.

          • danridge says:

            @Well As someone who’s actually not so steeped in this music, I’m not the best person to offer up examples of people doing this stuff really well, but I liked a lot of stuff on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, and this one, For Free? I think demonstrates some of the ways you can do more interesting stuff with the genre. And again, it’s not all about the complexity of the actual rhythms being used (as in tuples, offsets), but also in how the natural and semantic accents of the speech are used against the existing rhythms. Just different stuff, and I think that it’s not so helpful to compare it to the tabla rhythms, where there is, in practical terms, infinitely less variation in sound than what can be produced with the human voice. Not disparaging the tabla at all, by the way, I LOVE stuff where the player sings the entirely of a long and elaborate solo and then plays it afterwards.

          • mdet says:

            There definitely aren’t enough odd time signatures in rap, or pop music generally. But I was moreso thinking of songs like Kendrick’s Duckworth, where he continually switches up his flow and cadence every few bars.

            Hustlin on the side, with a nine-to-five to freak it
            Cadillac Seville, he’d ride his son around on weekends
            Three-piece special with his name on the shirt pocket
            ‘Cross the street from the projects, Anthony planned to rob it
            Stuck up the place before, back in ’84
            That’s when affiliation was really eight gears of war
            So many relatives tellin us, sellin us devilish works
            Killin us, crime, intelligent, felonous
            Prevalent proposition with 9’s

            Lines like those seem much more rhythmically complex than your typical rock, pop, or R&B song, even if they don’t exactly reach the level of the 13/8 + 17/8 drummer I was just looking at.

          • mdet says:

            Thinking a little more, I might be conflating rhythm and meter? Would it be better to say that Rap is rhythmically simple, but will use much more complex and varied meter than any other mainstream music?

          • danridge says:

            @mdet This made me curious, so I looked up Balkan rap; doesn’t look like any of them are providing the irregular meter hip hop we crave…

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            The most prog rocky hip hop I know is clipping’s Story 2. In terms of more mainstream stuff, I’m not convinced by this claim that Andre 3000 uses 5-tuplets here, but whatever it is it’s definitely complex. And this song with Snoop Dogg has an interesting 3/2/3 division.

            But in general there isn’t much of a focus on this kind of thing in hip hop. I think a more important rhythmic innovation is the Dilla-beat kind of feel, which has been very influential in jazz.

    • Plumber says:

      @danridge says:

      “…within the discussion of generational divides…
      …popular music in various eras…”

      I’m gonna piggyback with a question, based on the record collections of my grandparents (“Greatest generation”), my Dad and step-Dad (“Silent generation”), my Mom (early “Boomer”), my Wife (later “Boomer”), myself (early “X’er”/”Slacker”), and my brother (younger “X’er”), I have some idea of the music favored by those age cohorts:

      Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee “Why Don’t You Do Right” in 1943 (for the Greatest generation)

      Jo Stafford “Jambalaya” in 1952 (for later Greatest and early Silents)

      Peter, Paul and Mary “500 Miles” in 1962 (for later Silents and early Boomers)

      The Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” in 1969 (for Boomers)

      The Ramones – “Blitzkrieg Bop” in 1977 (for later Boomers and early X’ers)

      The Wipers “Over the Edge” – 1983 (for Generation X)

      Mazzy Star “Ghost On The Highway” -1993 (for later X’ers)

      but I really don’t know what’s next that’s representational.

      So all you Millennials and both of you Zoomers of SSC, please name two or three songs of the last 25 years that you think are “representative” (and if they’re video game soundtrack tunes I’ll pound my head on a table!).

      • danridge says:

        I think you gotta get Smash Mouth – All Star in there for (early? I don’t know how these generations work) millennials; the lingering cachet with memesters and seeming irony in its appreciation demonstrate that it’s at least a cultural touchstone, and belie that no one was being ironic at first, and no one has to be now because it’s a legitimately very good, well produced/arranged record. Please don’t ask me to defend that, because I probably would at great length. I also want to address the video game thing, but I think that’s better in a separate reply.

        • Matt M says:

          25 years takes us back to… 1995.

          Which is seemingly right around the time that “rock music” stopped being a cultural touchstone and became significantly more niche than it was in the 60s – 80s. Representative rock songs of the era probably include All Star, Seven Nation Army, and… I dunno, All The Small Things (and at the risk of starting a flame war, maybe This Is How You Remind Me)?

          But representative of the era in general probably expands you to stuff like Single Ladies, Hollaback Girl, Yeah! and Run This Town. 95 – present is distinct as the era in which rap became just as if not moreso a part of “pop music” than rock. The closest thing to pop rap prior to 1995 was U Can’t Touch This or Ice Ice Baby. But since then, nearly every pop record has either an explicit rap verse on it, or at the least is clearly heavily inspired by rap.

          • gettin_schwifty says:

            95 is a bit early for those. Seven Nation Army was 2003, and All The Small Things was 97 or 99.

            I’d say 95 means there has to be a grunge hit involved. I prefer the other big grunge bands, but Smells Like Teen Spirit was definitely a huge track.

            For the early to mid 2000s, I might have to say Green Day, American Idiot or Holiday. What an indictment of my generation!

      • danridge says:

        I’m wondering why you’d be upset with video game soundtracks being included; would that also apply to movie soundtracks? If it’s just about music being relegated to a background or dependent role in other media, I kind of get that, but what happens when a good movie, or other artistic medium, is paired with the perfect music is absolutely magical. Remember, music doesn’t explicitly refer to ANYTHING else that’s real unless it uses some kind of imitation of a real sound, or has lyrics; yet purely absolute music can so deeply alter the emotional impact of much more strongly representational media. And besides, I listen to the soundtrack to The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly all the time, and I think it would be among top tier record without ANY knowledge of the movie. I also have an embarrassing love of media which have much better soundtracks than they deserve (e.g. Hokuto no Ken).

        My other thought is that you might object to the limited and simplistic fare which came with earlier games when video game consoles had their own synthesizers which you had to work with to create the soundtracks. Well, first remember that simplicity of any kind is a potential tool in the right hands and context. And also, that it is a compositional trick in many types of music, as well as other media, to self-limit. Technically, if there are no practical limitations, then sure, you should never limit the options you have available, because what if the perfect sound to use is one you hadn’t allowed yourself to consider? But in practice, great art is made all the time through the practice of self-limitation. Early video game soundtracks were composed under strict practical limitations, but their composers were electronic musicians nonetheless, using those resources to, at their best, deliver an impeccably crafted sonic experience.

        So, with that setup, I’d like to tell you about Tim Follin’s work on the Nintendo Entertainment System. In some ways, it’s not iconic, because the very best games of the time just had other composers. The two examples I’m going to give you are from games that are considered, at best, pretty forgettable. However, his soundtracks are absolutely incredible, standout work. His limitations were that the NES simply had 4 channels for sound: 2 pulse waves (a bit like square waves that could be adjusted a little), a triangle wave, and a noise channel. The noise channel was generally the closest you could get to percussive sounds; there was another channel for samples, but as you can imagine if you started relying on those, there would be no room on the chip left for the game!

        Now, here are two examples of what Tim Follin did with that sound chip. First a level from a Silver Surfer game. The way he’s getting the drums to sound like that is that the channel responsible for the bass is playing a very low note right with the hit to give it some body, then quickly switching back to the bass part. He gets effects like delays and timbre, and had to minutely program in every moment of that song (the process at least which he used was much more akin to programming than other ways of playing music, or even creating electronic music with modern programs). Less technically impressive in some ways, but maybe a more interesting composition which even begins by playing with expectations for the genre, is the title theme from Solstice. The in-game music is nowhere near as interesting, and that title theme took up a huge amount of space on the cartridge; it really seems just to be art for art’s sake.

        I’ll understand if the sounds used in those songs are hard to listen to and give you a headache, but I think they make the case that interesting art was being made in even those earlier game soundtracks. And if you go to the next console, the Super NES, you definitely get soundtracks which are considered classics by those who played the games; the Donkey Kong Country soundtracks (definitely the first one, but I think there’s a lot of respect for the other two as well) are a clear example, and I think that they represent a high point in a certain type of electronic music.

      • Dino says:

        I would suggest “Blowin’ in the Wind” by PPM instead of “500 Miles”, it was a big hit at the time.
        And for mid-Boomers, much as I like “Gimme Shelter”, I’d go with 1965’s “Like a Rollin’ Stone” by Bob Dylan – arguably the greatest rock song of all time.

      • FrankistGeorgist says:

        Didn’t the rise of digital media splinter us away from the centralized radio-dominated zeitgeist thus making the whole “songs of the generation” thing anachronistic? That to me seems more Millenial than anything.

        • Matt M says:

          On the one hand, you’d think so.

          On the other hand, go to any gathering of people Ages 10 – 40 where music is played. Old Town Road will come on, and everyone will sing along, with the chorus at least. There’s no real reason everyone should know that song specifically, but everyone does. (Note: If you don’t know it, that tells us something about you, but nothing about music or societal trends in general).

          • woah77 says:

            Yes, it tells you that I, in particular, avoid mainstream/pop music. This might not be significant, but that’s the general rule. Centralized radio being “dead” doesn’t actually mean centralized media is, since the memetic power of pop culture ends up on Tiktok, Youtube, TV ads, and recent movies. What would be really weird is if not only you don’t know the chorus, but are totally unaware of the song.

        • acymetric says:

          That’s a Gen-Z thing 😉

          Most millenials did not have regular access to broad streaming services/digital media until sometime during or after their college-aged years (not counting “services” like Napster, Limewire, Kazaa, etc since people were mostly using those to download whatever the hot songs/albums on their preferred radio station were). Only the youngest millenials would have been using Pandora or Spotify in high school. The iTunes music store had become pretty ubiquitous, but it was a music downloading service, not a streaming one, at that time and it promoted the same songs that were heavily promoted on the radio.

      • Deiseach says:

        Mmmmm – speaking as early Gen X from this side of the water, I think for your 80s selection I’d recommend two songs as representing the two elements of the time (both from 1981):

        For the (inexplicable) popularity of rockabilly in an English context, Tenpole Tudor and Swords Of A Thousand Men (Tudorbilly? Though based on the music video costuming, more Plantagent than Tudor!).

        For the sentiment of the post-industrial collapse and the rise of Thatcherism, The Specials and Ghost Town.

        For additional compare’n’contrast, forward to 1983 and what happened after three members of The Specials left to form their own band – Fun Boy Three – in collaboration with Bananarama and Really Saying Something 🙂 I think that song is really 80s and representative of the era.

        • danridge says:

          One of the things that really amuses me about the difference in music scene across the pond is the much greater appetite for…not to be mean, but cheese and schlock. Maybe I’m just blind to how it manifests in the US, but I’m not sure we have anything quite like 1993’s chart topper Mr. Blobby, which by being a hit Christmas song featuring a children’s character capable only of saying his own name, backed by a children’s choir, qualifies as being possibly the most British thing ever, just because it’s so hard to imagine it happening anywhere else…

          I love this stuff too, I’m personally a HUGE fan of The Wombles, and I think Mike Batt is a genius with pastiche.

        • Plumber says:

          @Deiseach says:

          …For the (inexplicable) popularity of rockabilly in an English context, Tenpole Tudor and Swords Of A Thousand Men (Tudorbilly? Though based on the music video costuming, more Plantagent than Tudor!)”

          I was completely ignorant of them before, that was fun, thanks!

          “For the sentiment of the post-industrial collapse and the rise of Thatcherism, The Specials and Ghost Town”

          The Specials and “Ghost Town” on the other hand I was very familiar with (besides their albums I had the Ghost Town EP and live recordings, fun fact: The Go Go’s sang background vocals on a couple of The Specials tracks, so a California connection!), but most importantly by the late ’80’s if you put on a mixed tape with some songs by The Specials on it new cute girls who came to town to go to the University would be impressed and ask “Who’s that?” (strangely they would already know more obscure bands like Bauhaus), which was invaluable ammunition in the perpetual war against college guys for the girls affection (sadly this couldn’t work on local girls as they taught us)!

          “For additional compare’n’contrast, forward to 1983 and what happened after three members of The Specials left to form their own band – Fun Boy Three – in collaboration with Bananarama and Really Saying Something 🙂 I think that song is really 80s and representative of the era”

          Oh my…

          …I remember some Bananarama songs (one a cover of a Shocking Blue song), and I remember the name “Fun Boy Three” (but no songs).

          This merits more study!

          FWLIW I still listen to many albums and singles from ’81 that I listened to in the ’80’s, this year the “Fire of Love” album by The Gun Club (no link because “problematic” is an understatement!) has been the one I’ve listened to the most, though other California punk albums from ’81 by The Adolescents, Agent Orange, The Dead Kennedy’s, Social Distortion, and especially “Wild Gift” by X have been on my playlist (as well as blues, country, classical, and other types of music).

    • Machine Interface says:

      Pop music used to be classical music of various kinds

      Was it though? For most of western history during the last millenium, there was a pretty sharp distintion between “art music” (what we vulgarily call classical music), music that was planned, composed and written, and “popular music”, music improvised and through repetition by the common folks, and it was really the latter that corresponded to our pop music, that was played at town parties and harvest festivals, that was widely enjoyed by the common people, whereas the former was confined first to the church and monasteries, then later to royal courts and aristocratic concert halls.

      But because the former was mostly not written, we may be under the impression that art music was all that existed in those days, and that’s not the case, folk music was rich and had its own rules and instruments — which were often viewed with contempt by the aristocracy, except on occasions when there were fas of rusticism and instruments associated with peasants would enjoy a brief moment of grace with the nobility, such as in 18th century rococo period in France which suddenly saw “serious” composers create pieces for bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy, a trend which however disappeared as quickly at it had appeared.

      • danridge says:

        Definitely true that there can be a bias towards the “art music” because stuff that’s written out tends to be what survives. However, I think that our ideas around folk music still work for the stuff from back then, and it’s not pop music the way we understand it today. People are going to create music all the time with whatever they have, even if it’s their own voices, and I’m sure for many in rural areas it was the majority, if not the entirety, of their musical consumption. Still, no one was a folk-music superstar, there wasn’t a pop version of that folk music.

        Nor is it the case that there is no analogue to our understanding of pop music throughout these periods, where stars can become recognizable in many strata of society across an entire geographic area. Early art music may have been church music, but attending church was a pretty popular thing, and unlike literacy which was also associated with the church, church music could be enjoyed by all who attended. I know regrettably little about the demographics of concertgoers in their time, but my impression is that composers like Handel and Beethoven were widely beloved in at least their own cities. At the very least, I’m pretty sure that patronage of opera was not limited to only the aristocracy. My argument would be that there is a perfect analogue to pop music amongst surviving art music of these periods, it’s just that with less cultural and economic participation by the lower classes of society, and much slower geographic spread of ideas overall, it’s just a bit more limited.

      • Dino says:

        My understanding is that music (in Europe) was pretty undifferentiated thru the middle ages, and starting splitting into genres (classical, folk, pop) around the time of the renaissance.

        • danridge says:

          Well there’s definitely folk music, less a genre than a kind of social and cultural phenomenon, throughout the whole period, which is largely differentiated by surviving in written form less, therefore we know very little about it. Some of those traditions were carried through with some elements intact to the time of recordings; Bela Bartok even made expeditions to notate Folk melodies from different areas, and I believe he wasn’t the first to do such a thing.

          There was certainly less choice in the middle ages, though, just because the music with the biggest audience was church music. As a common churchgoer, you weren’t really in charge of what happened at church, and you weren’t paying for it; and there really is much less private art music amongst the aristocracy, and it’s probably limited entirely to titled aristocrats and their courts.

    • Anteros says:

      @Danridge
      Interesting (and enjoyable to read – thanks)

      I tend to differentiate (subjectively..) between the axes themselves.

      I studied at music college for a couple of years and had a Prof’ who wasn’t a big fan of Beethoven – he sneered at the composer for claiming to have a hotline to God. As I was someone who also didn’t warm to Beethoven’s music, this obviously played to my prejudices. And I added to the story that the most salient fact about Beethoven was that he was profoundly deaf, so even if he had a hotline, all he heard was the sound of his own voice. That’s what his music sounds like to me – utterly self-centered.

      In contrast, Bach, who was a devoutly pious man [cranky and difficult, but pious nonetheless] only recorded the other side of the conversation – he simply wrote down what he heard. At least that what it sounds like to me, which has the unfortunate consequence of making it almost unbearable to listen to – I almost invariably feel completely unworthy to have that profundity channeled through me. I could say that my favorite piece of music is Bach’s double violin concerto, even though I only listen to it about once a year.

      I’m not particularly religious (except when I hear some Bach!) but the axis of Godliness is, for me, a couple of dimensions more important than, say, rhythmic complexity. And funnily enough, I find Bach’s secular music to be the best expression of this – as if the effort of shoe-horning the liturgy into musical form somehow obscures the pure nature of what he’d otherwise communicate.

    • sty_silver says:

      About a month ago an album was released which I’d describe as the most complex music I’ve ever heard. However, I am completely uneducated in that I have not studied any music theory. I’m very interested in where anyone who likes to rate complexity (be it one score or different axes) would put this album. Here is a track. As a comparison, how would you rate, say, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Beethoven’s ninth symphony?

      • gettin_schwifty says:

        The Beatles were never that complex, and they didn’t try to be. Pink Floyd has a different type of complexity. Early Floyd (with Syd Barrett) isn’t wildly complex musically, but it has a free spirit to it, and a great deal of creativity. Beethoven… I don’t know, classical isn’t my wheelhouse.

        Staying within the context of extreme metal music, I think Between The Buried And Me are more complex (at least on the Colors album). I never got into technical death metal, but I think I’ve heard more complex offerings from a couple groups.

        Pyrrhon is probably the most complex and creative extreme metal band of the 2010s. It’s also absolutely disgusting at times. If you’re willing to check out an album, listen to The Mother Of Virtues. If you only have time for a song, White Flag off that album is a great sample of the band (although every song is different).

        • sty_silver says:

          That’s interesting – Colors is one of my all-time favorite albums, like literal top 5, but I’d have put it as significantly less complex than Ÿ (although still very complex compared to almost everything else). It seems to have more straight-forward melodies and fewer changes within each song. And definitely more repetitions. Can you describe what metric you’re using?

          Pyrrhon is probably the most complex and creative extreme metal band of the 2010s. It’s also absolutely disgusting at times. If you’re willing to check out an album, listen to The Mother Of Virtues.

          I’ll definitely look into it after that description.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Quick Reply:

      I roughly said 3 things
      1. I’m a classical music person
      2. Musical tastes are subjective
      3. Pop music has gotten less complex over the course of the 20th century

      You and lambert both interpretted what i said as something like: “Classical Music is more complex i.e. better than pop music”

      I’m sorry if I wrote it poorly but I’m also not sorry if people are inclined to reflexively take offense to the observation that music has gotten simpler through time.

      The fact that the study in question was written about 2nd hand in a way that was more presumptive than the abstract and authors intended is pretty common.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        I’m also going to copy-paste the abstract of the study:

        Here we unveil a number of patterns and metrics characterizing the generic usage of primary musical facets such as pitch, timbre and loudness in contemporary western popular music. Many of these patterns and metrics have been consistently stable for a period of more than fifty years. However, we prove important changes or trends related to the restriction of pitch transitions, the homogenization of the timbral palette and the growing loudness levels.

        Yes, a Smithsonian article about this study described it as scientifically proving that music is getting worse. I never said or meant to imply such, i disavow the Smithsonian. But their three metrics are together a very good proxy for ‘complexity’.

      • danridge says:

        When I mentioned screeching like a bobcat, I was less trying to emphasize how annoyed I was with you than that I have mental problems which caused me to write all that. You’re good. Again, studies like that are just a bit of a pet peeve, I like trying to problematize the results.

        I’m not going to dispute some of the claims of the study either, growing ‘loudness’ is a known trend in the industry, basically high compression allows records played at the same level on your sound system to sound a lot louder, but what it really points to is a compressed dynamic range. Classical music is actually known as being the type of recorded music with the greatest dynamic range hands down, at least as far as I know. I’d imagine that some of ‘restriction of pitch transitions’ and ‘timbral homogenization’ is related to the rise of electronic production. And again, I started out being not so impressed by modern electronic music, but seeing the kinds of work people do with it gave me more appreciation, although I think of its high points as having a rich and subtle timbral palette. But I imagine this is being driven by a bunch of people getting the same tool and watching the same youtube tutorials, and then making basically the same music. And to be fair, it’s not as if a pop producer *could* be making the modern dubstep art of fugue and chose not to, they didn’t learn all the techniques of the past and then move past them, they just have no idea.

        I actually recently read a quote I found very interesting, in the context of 50s and 60s pop, from Beverly Ross, a top songwriter of that time:

        You can’t sell the kids anything good, they won’t buy it. The majority of the big hits are written by the kids and performed by them. The things are so unprofessional and illiterate that publishers are besieged. Everybody thinks he can write now because the standards are so low. The buying public’s age is between 12 and 17, and this is what guides the industry.

        Then again, if she thought things were bad back then, at least it was harder to make records! You would need an engineer in the room who knew how to work the equipment, even if your song wasn’t written by Carol King and produced by Phil Spector, which was common enough for the really big hits. Now it’s simple for an entire album to be created and released without it ever having been touched by someone who actually knows what they’re doing. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that if pop music has become simpler and even ‘gotten worse’ recently (on average!), then I wouldn’t really be surprised because of the social and technological trends behind it. I still believe that newer genres present, in their own ways, potential for greatness, but I’ll concede the point that statistically speaking we’re probably seeing a more stupid age of pop music. Actually, to connect to a discussion elsewhere about ‘classical’ pop music and the relation to folk music throughout that period, I think partially what’s happening is the divide between folk music and pop music as social phenomena is starting to break down.

        I also just want to apologize, I didn’t want to seem like I was coming down on you really hard. This is all more just an excuse for me to talk about music, I can’t contribute meaningfully to any other type of conversation here.

    • Bobobob says:

      I am (or was, back when I actually had time to listen) a big collector of classical music, and I’m not sure what “complexity” means in this context. You could reasonably call some of my favorite pieces complex (Messiaen’s two-piano “Visions d’ le Amen”), and others not-so-complex (Wagner’s Parsifal, which basically consists of three or four themes and numerous variations). I am not a musicologist, though, so I can’t speak to counterfugure and tonal structure etc. etc.

      For the record, I think the most complex piece of music ever recorded is Captain Beefheart’s “Trout Mask Replica” (which I am annoyed is still not on Spotify)

  22. anonymousskimmer says:

    The Boomer discussions remind me of this video: on the street interviews of Boomers and some older people in 1979 about Government, Corporations, and the Information Age/Society.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiMus1FJb9w

    It’s surprising how relevant to today many of the comments are.

    The Silent-gen Youtuber has a lot of other interesting videos about earlier decades.

  23. dodrian says:

    Dominic Cummings is hiring for a new breed of British civil servant.

    This government is going to be very interesting indeed.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think my reaction to that can be summed up pithily:

      My. Arse.

      Perhaps I should expand on that. So, see any of all the great new things the great new Tory government is going to do in the post-Brexit great new Britain, with all the hospitals that are going to be built and the STEM flowering of research and implementation and all the rest of it?

      Bolloxology.

      From my time as a very minor public service minion, we saw the same sort of government announcements being rolled out regularly. I think one particular “We’re going to invest X million in new housing!” was announced on three separate occasions, all getting big splashes in the press. Thing is, this was the same announcement each time, and it was trotted out as needed over a period of three or more years: the money wasn’t new, though the press releases made it sound as if each time “Minister announces new investment!”, and though it was long-promised somehow the announcing got made but the actual money was never flowing into the coffers.

      That’s what these type of announcements are for: to distract the public, get media attention, drum up a positive vibe whenever there’s a dip in the polls or a particular minister wants to grab some feel-good PR. Actual coming to pass with money and new buildings and loads of new hires which are going to do the divil an’ all? Not so much.

      Well – the new hires might well happen, but they’ll be spads and consultants and guys who went to university with the minister, or are employed by the big firms that the politicians hope to get a cushy job with after leaving politics, or family members, or a mixture of the above. There’s always money for consultants, never for front line staff.

      But it’s Dominic Cummings! He’s a pencil-necked geek rationalist (or rationalist-adjacent!) And that means I should believe him this time – why? Any better reason than “One of us! One of us!”

      Because when he was last in power, working for Michael Gove, he flounced off in a huff. I’ve never been able to find out exactly what he did in the interval between that government and this; I understood one of the things was going to be revolutionising education along the principles that he and the boss had wanted to do but were prevented from doing due to entrenched interests in the civil service. I’ve never heard that he set the Thames on fire in that area, and honestly it seems to me that he spent the time plotting to get back into political power and one way of doing that was working on Brexit with/for Johnson.

      I don’t even know if he’s a technocrat, but I do know I neither trust nor believe him. And all his works, and all his empty promises.

      • mtl1882 says:

        Because when he was last in power, working for Michael Gove, he flounced off in a huff. I’ve never been able to find out exactly what he did in the interval between that government and this; I understood one of the things was going to be revolutionising education along the principles that he and the boss had wanted to do but were prevented from doing due to entrenched interests in the civil service. I’ve never heard that he set the Thames on fire in that area, and honestly it seems to me that he spent the time plotting to get back into political power and one way of doing that was working on Brexit with/for Johnson.

        I don’t even know if he’s a technocrat, but I do know I neither trust nor believe him. And all his works, and all his empty promises.

        Not sure if you’ve read his blog, but I stumbled across it a little while ago when Brexit was being discussed everywhere, and he talks about those years and his experiences. It’s a lot of reading, but I found it well worth the time.

      • Aapje says:

        @Deiseach

        Well – the new hires might well happen, but they’ll be spads and consultants and guys who went to university with the minister, or are employed by the big firms that the politicians hope to get a cushy job with after leaving politics, or family members, or a mixture of the above.

        He says that he doesn’t want this.

        He wants to hire people straight out of university, doesn’t want those who work for him to merely get their information from lobbyists, doesn’t want people who play office politics, doesn’t want “confident public school bluffers” and wants misfits with innovative ideas rather than “more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fa-ke news about fa-ke news.”

        Because when he was last in power, working for Michael Gove, he flounced off in a huff. I’ve never been able to find out exactly what he did in the interval between that government and this; I understood one of the things was going to be revolutionising education along the principles that he and the boss had wanted to do but were prevented from doing due to entrenched interests in the civil service.

        According to The Guardian and the BBC, Gove was one of the most effective Secretaries of State at changing things, although with the effect of his changes being unclear for a long time.

        Cummings left shortly before Gove was removed, so perhaps he saw the writing on the wall. I see no indications that he left in a huff (although I see a lot of indications that lots of people dislike Cummings’ bluntness).

        I don’t even know if he’s a technocrat, but I do know I neither trust nor believe him.

        An issue with current technocrats is that they often treat the opinions and assumptions of their bubble as the desires of ‘the people’ and facts, respectively. Or worse, they only regard the desires of their own bubble as valid and seek to manipulate society so people with different desires are shut out.

        At the very least, Cummings seems very interested in objectively figuring out what is true, what works, etc; desiring to hire people who do actual data analysis, actually analyze scientific papers, etc.

        Cummings’ weakness appears to be an overconfidence in the state of science (which to a worryingly degree is less interested in actually figuring out reality, rather than convincing their bubble that they are figuring out reality). He seems very enamored of Bret Victor’s visualized (programming) tools. These tools incorporate a model which shows you the outcome in real time, nicely visualized.

        One problem is that if the model is wrong, your nice visualization of what will happen if you, for example, raise taxes on the rich by 1%, is going to mislead people. In fact, even the models that are correct often have significant uncertainty, which is often ignored (weather forecasting and climate change forecasting sometimes actually visualize uncertainty). Leaving this out is misleading, but adding this in quickly makes the model less fit for purpose (to convince people).

        Also, many models leave out all kinds of outcomes, which actually may be very relevant. For example, you can make a nice model showing that certain choices increase household incomes, but leave out that some of those choices reduce free time.

        Then again, Cummings seems like the only person in top-level politics today who can understand these things…

        • Deiseach says:

          He wants to hire people straight out of university, doesn’t want those who work for him to merely get their information from lobbyists, doesn’t want people who play office politics, doesn’t want “confident public school bluffers” and wants misfits with innovative ideas rather than “more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fa-ke news about fa-ke news.”

          If I thought any of that would happen, I’d be more sympathetic to the man.

          I don’t.

          First, you can’t run a government like a business, and previous administrations have tried, and failed. Generally it ends up “hiring guys from private industry into big jobs at big salaries, then when it all invariably goes tits-up they swan back off to private industry with their guaranteed contracts and don’t have to stick around and clean up the mess” with a side-order of “top civil servants and ex-ministers then walk into plum jobs with the private industries they hired those guys from, since one hand washes another”. You can downsize businesses, trim the fat, improve productivity, use redundancies and so on to get rid of undesirables, boost share prices, and show the improved financial position on the balance sheet. You can’t downsize the poor, old, sick and incapable in the country the same way.

          Second, the civil and public service don’t run that way, and trying to upend it all will mean a huge disruption (at best) and an absolute stinking mess (at worst). In practice, what will happen is yet another layer of unelected power-brokers getting fat contracts to spin things the way their particular minister wants spun.

          Thirdly, it’ll end up with the same kind of London dinner party types that he’s sneering at, and in which circles he’s already moving. Cummings may come from Durham, but he’s not a coal miner’s son or former shelf-stacker in Tescos. He’s as much connected as anybody (he literally went to public school and then on to Oxford). His ‘artists and wild cards’ are going to be from a particular niche in society. I remain profoundly unimpressed, as the grassroots people who will be dealing with the public (and trying to implement the changes in the wake of any upheaval) will be the ordinary Jacks and Jills who never went to Oxbridge or Russell Group unis or London dinner parties, but will have no power to leave feedback on how the theory is working out in practice.

          Cummings may have aspirations of being a technocrat. I’m not even sure about those or his credentials for same, but I do think he is definitely one of the political hanger-on types. He may jeer about “chatting about Lacan” but I think he’s exactly as deep (or as shallow) when name-dropping Judea Pearl or whomever (and his pop-cultural referents are decades out of date – Neuromancer, really?) I think he’s the same kind of poseur, just his List of Impressive Names is different.

          • Aapje says:

            I have a lot of trouble relating your criticism to what Cummings is suggesting (insofar that his ideas are legible).

            The typical way in which hiring is used to try to ‘run a government like a business’ is to get politicians from senior management of private industry. This isn’t at all what Cummings wants to do. He wants to improve the advice to politicians, as well as give them project managers who can run big projects.

            He doesn’t say that the people he wants to hire should have extensive private sector experience. In fact, he seems to prefer recent graduates.

            Also, note that the examples he gives of good project management are (US) government projects of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, where he claims that governments have switched away from those effective approaches to less effective approaches, in the name of ‘efficiency.’

            with a side-order of “top civil servants and ex-ministers then walk into plum jobs with the private industries they hired those guys from, since one hand washes another”.

            I’m not sure where the project managers will end up in the hierarchy, but the data scientists, mathematicians, economists, programmers and junior researchers are surely not going to be catapulted into the top of the hierarchy (although they may work fairly closely with the top) and certainly not going to be ministers.

            So you seem to be objecting to something you made up.

            Second, the civil and public service don’t run that way, and trying to upend it all will mean a huge disruption (at best) and an absolute stinking mess (at worst).

            They don’t run very well. You just seem obstinately against change.

            Cummings recognizes that most alternative ways of doing things that look bad to those with conventional wisdom, are actually bad. What he wants to do is to figure out what unconventional ideas are actually good.

            Note that conventional wisdom also give us disruption. The decision to turn the EU into a common market was immensely disruptive and was a factor in Brexit, with the architects of the common market seemingly being oblivious that their policies hurt a lot of people (mostly not the kind of people that the elites interact with).

            In practice, what will happen is yet another layer of unelected power-brokers getting fat contracts to spin things the way their particular minister wants spun.

            He explicitly says that he doesn’t want to ‘control the narrative’ and have the government run by the ‘comms grid’.

            You keep accusing him of the exact opposite things he says that he wants to do…

            You can’t downsize the poor, old, sick and incapable in the country the same way.

            How does this relate to what Cummings is proposing??? The kind of improved decision making and execution that he is talking about is goal independent, unless the goal is to flail about or to ignore inconvenient facts (which to be fair, is what a lot of people prefer).

            It’s fine to object to Tory goals, but IMO you should recognize that competence is typically preferable, even if you disagree. For example, you may prefer spending £2b on railroads rather than £2b on roads, but the worst is surely if that £2b turns into £5b spent on roads because of incompetence. Besides, if the deep state is incompetent, it will be just as incompetent when your preferred politicians gain power.

            Also note that there is a lot of agreement on a large part of the budget.

            Thirdly, it’ll end up with the same kind of London dinner party types that he’s sneering at, and in which circles he’s already moving. Cummings may come from Durham, but he’s not a coal miner’s son or former shelf-stacker in Tescos. […] His ‘artists and wild cards’ are going to be from a particular niche in society.

            You are just saying that Cummings will do the opposite of what he says that he will do, based on his background. That is quite bigoted of you.

            Note that he is recruiting on his blog, rather than merely through his own network, suggesting quite strongly that he is trying to look outside of his niche.

            It’s also rather funny, since you are here hanging about with people like David Friedman and Plumber. Apparently, you can have a somewhat diverse niche (when it comes to ‘class,’ at least), so why shouldn’t Cummings be able to manage it?

            Cummings may have aspirations of being a technocrat.

            His aspiration is to be replaced by people more competent than him, in another example of you asserting the opposite of his stated goals.

          • Plumber says:

            @Aapje > “..he seems to prefer recent graduates…”

            What for?

            In my experience recent graduates are worse at coming up with solutions, though they’re better looking, suffer less back pain, and are often less cranky, so good to work with but not if you want things accomplished.

            > “…note that the examples he gives of good project management are (US) government projects of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, where he claims that governments have switched away from those effective approaches to less effective approaches…”

            That sounds interesting, I’ve read that the Federal government had more direct employees and less “contractors” back then than it does now, but what other differences?

          • Lambert says:

            a) He’s not looking for the average undergrad.
            Nor, I hope, just the ones with firsts from Oxbridge or something.

            b) He’s looking for ways to improve things. There’s a lower bound of ‘clearly this is worse than how we’ve always done things’.
            He wants people who will make new and different mistakes compared to the poeple whose years experience in their fields has made them see the world the same way as all the other people in the field.

          • Plumber says:

            @Lambert says: “…He’s looking for ways to improve things. There’s a lower bound of ‘clearly this is worse than how we’ve always done things’.
            He wants people who will make new and different mistakes compared to the poeple whose years experience in their fields has made them see the world the same way as all the other people in the field”

            In my experience working in local government “the way things have always been” work, but “bold new initiatives” (which usual now involve forcing interactions with computers to document stuff no one reads, the older paper system we still use on the sly works faster and better for us, the computer stuff is time wasting) which are ordered from collegiate class hire-ups muck things up and slow things down until ten years later when we’ve had enough time to evolve work arounds, by which time a new crop of elected officials cronies will implement their asinine “new initiatives”.

            Good ‘heuristics’ is to treat new ideas as guilty until proven innocent, but you can jumpstart the process by looking at the source: is the new idea told to you face-to-face by someone who does the physical work directly?
            It may not be worse than established ways then.
            Does the new idea come via memo, e-mail, and/or all staff meeting from the collegiate class?
            It will make things worse, and then is best to ignore as long as possible until it’s superseded by the next damn fool “bold new initiative”.

            If governmental upper management really wanted things to work better they would:
            1) Fire themselves, and use the savings on their salaries for more parts and tools to be used by those directly doing the work, or at least cut their numbers, the less of them the less the chance they’ll inflict us with their ideas.
            2) If they want more done pair up new hires with old hands who can show them the ropes, otherwise when the old hands retire the folklore is lost and how to actually get things done has to evolve from scratch.
            3) Learn to accept that the person on the job with the dirtiest hands actually has an idea on how to get effective work done, and the fresh face holding the clipboard just doesn’t.
            I’m with @Deiseach on this: Getting a bunch of youngsters for their new ideas sounds like a recipe for making things worse.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        And all his works, and all his empty promises.

        He promised to win and he did. Twice, already – Brexit and the recent elections. Sure, either/both could be flukes, but when a guy has the background and wins preregistered expectations… it’s kinda fair to expect him to have the competence.

        Plus if somebody would have said a few years back that somebody will attempt a major government reorganization and using Inadequate Equilibria as inspiration, we’d kinda cream our pants. Not creaming our pants now looks a lot like bias.

        @Aapje
        I remember something from Peter Thiel’s From Zero to One that went like this: most plans fail, but still being a guy with a plan still gives you a huge advantage over the guy just winging it all the way. It’s not obvious why this is true but I think it is.

        • Aapje says:

          Prussian field marshal Helmuth von Moltke said that: “Strategy is a system of expedients; it is more than a mere scholarly discipline. It is the translation of knowledge to practical life, the improvement of the original leading thought in accordance with continually changing situations.

          In other words, key is to have a methodology that you can apply to changing circumstances, not to have a fixed plan. After all, he is also often famously misquoted as saying that: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.

          Although what he really said is that “The tactical result of an engagement forms the base for new strategic decisions because victory or defeat in a battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle. In this sense one should understand Napoleon’s saying: “I have never had a plan of operations.” Therefore no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.

          So we can synthesize this in:
          1. You can make a tactical plan for your next move
          2. The outcome of your next move is almost always unexpected
          3. You need to be able to deal with a variety of outcomes
          4. You have to re-evaluate your strategic goals based on the new circumstances

          Note that many fail at that third step, having been convinced that there is only one plausible outcome. The result when the outcome is different is then often denial, doubling down on the tactics, bewilderment and/or other unhelpful behavior.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I think that’s basically John Boyd’s OODA loop.

            I was talking about Cummings’ apparent overconfidence. He mentions OODA multiple times in his blog, plus he quotes Boyd in this very post. He’s probably aware of the need to adjust. We may be seeing the first modern politician here. Or at least the first openly modern – I’m pretty sure there exist already political consultants that work on this level, but they don’t have blogs and accounts on SSC.

        • Deiseach says:

          He promised to win and he did. Twice, already – Brexit and the recent elections. Sure, either/both could be flukes, but when a guy has the background and wins preregistered expectations… it’s kinda fair to expect him to have the competence.

          Ah yes, the Brexit we were assured would be over and done with by Hallowe’en? I am not counting that as a win.

          Re: the general election, I think Johnson went in with that in mind and did get it eventually – though some of the strokes he pulled had to be rowed back. Cummings may have done some briefing to make that look less smack on the knuckles than it was, but I don’t agree that The Masterplan went exactly as predicted.

          That Johnson got a Tory majority was an achievement, although not so much of a fluke as it looked. May called an election at the wrong time and got the wrong result, and I think everyone wanted to get rid of the DUP as the tail wagging the dog. Labour had very little chance, with Corbyn and the internal infighting and the external media campaign against him being the stone around their necks (as well as the effects of New Labour dumping the bluecollar areas which were then the ones that voted strongly for Leave). Generally, everybody was fatigued and wanted some kind of definitive result. Tories in majority government should finally get the Brexit thing done, and even the Leavers wanted that mess finally sorted one way or the other.

          Brexit is still hanging on though, and what wil happen post-Brexit is not, I submit, a guaranteed wonderland of “meritocratic technopolis” – and even if it is, that technopolis is still going to bypass the post-industrial depressed areas, for the same reasons as have been discussed on here as to why Silicon Valley is still the big draw and why other cities in other states aren’t succeeding in creating their own techo-hubs to spawn the same kind of massive investment and creativity.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Ah yes, the Brexit we were assured would be over and done with by Hallowe’en? I am not counting that as a win.

            Cummings was in charge of getting a win in the referendum, not implementing the result. He succeeded in the bit he was in charge with; it’s not his fault if other people failed in the bits they were in charge of.

    • Aftagley says:

      I’m trying to quote a piece of this drivel, but it keeps getting eaten. I find it particularly telling that his actual writing can’t get past SSC’s spam filter.

      • Aapje says:

        You might have quoted the part where he references ‘fa-ke news’. That is a forbidden term on here.

        • Aftagley says:

          In retrospect, yes it was that part. Interesting; I would have thought it was the “human cognitive diversity” that did it.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      Epigraph 1 is Yudkowsky, interesting.

    • Lambert says:

      The BBC’s article on the post has noted that he says nothing about pay scales.

      And the kind of people he wants could all earn an awful lot in the private sector.

      • Aapje says:

        He says that he was swamped when he called for job applications in 2015 and that he has already hired some of these top achievers. Surely this has only gotten worse/better since his public profile is greater now and his job offer is better (more impactful).

        Ultimately, there seem to be quite a few nerdy people who are very idealistic and who are kept out of politics less out of income concerns, but more out of fatalism/realism about their ability to make a change.

        • Aftagley says:

          Right but getting swamped with resumes doesn’t directly correlate to getting the kind of people he’s asking for.

          He’s basically asking for world-class talent. World-class talent that is willing to abandon whatever current plans they have to work for the Johnson administration. In some kind of non-specified role that will almost certainly no longer exist whenever Boris Johnson stops being prime minister (or when Cummings is no longer Johnson’s consigliari). As the Johnson administration prepares to undertake what is potentially one of the most disruptive actions we’ve seen on an international scale for at least the past decade.

          The risk for these people is so high and the reward is so low that I just don’t see it working. I read this as more of a marketing stunt than an actual job application.

          • Matt M says:

            I read this as more of a marketing stunt than an actual job application.

            Agreed. And given the reaction, it seems to have worked.

          • Aapje says:

            @Aftagley

            He seems to be focusing on young people, who are exactly the people who tend to have relatively high flexibility, have more willingness to take risks and tend to be more idealistic.

            I also don’t think the risk is that high. Most of these hires will be unknown to outsiders, so if things go bad, they can just write on their resume that they worked for the government. If things go well, they can claim part of that success.

          • Plumber says:

            @Aapje says: “He seems to be focusing on young people, who are exactly the people who tend to have relatively high flexibility, have more willingness to take risks and tend to be more idealistic…”

            In my experience while all that is true young hires just don’t have many ideas of how to solve problems, since I doubt that at Cummings level he needs strong backs that leaves his desiring pretty faces nearby.

            I trust experienced hands to know how to get things done (even when they can’t physically do it themselves anymore, but often the know of techniques and tools to compensate for their physical weakness)

            Other than their innate insomnia and good looks what do the young contribute when the work isn’t physical?

            If Cummings wants a 24-7 operation and needs “night owls” I can see wanting more young recruits, but otherwise?

          • Aapje says:

            @Plumber

            He isn’t so much looking for people who already have ideas on how to solve things, but looking for people who can come up with ideas and determine how likely they are to work well, based on a certain process.

            I have my doubts on whether the process Cummings wants to use is really as good as he believes, but I feel that many of his critics are not engaging on the appropriate level.

        • Deiseach says:

          He says that he was swamped when he called for job applications in 2015 and that he has already hired some of these top achievers.

          Like whom? And let’s hope on better terms than his own personal slave assistant/intern – “work all hours God sends, no life of your own, but all for My Greater Good” – again, if this is the usual “unpaid intern” crap, the kind of person who can afford to work for nothing while living in London is going to be someone whose parents can bankroll them, and that’s going to be (once again) the same London dinner party set that he’s turning his nose up at.

          The irony that he doesn’t want his Igor to engage in office politics, when that’s the very reason anyone would take on such a job – in order to make useful contacts, network, and establish themselves as don’t fire me boss – is particularly thick:

          E. Junior researchers

          In many aspects of government, as in the tech world and investing, brains and temperament smash experience and seniority out of the park.

          We want to hire some VERY clever young people either straight out of university or recently out with with extreme curiosity and capacity for hard work.

          One of you will be a sort of personal assistant to me for a year — this will involve a mix of very interesting work and lots of uninteresting trivia that makes my life easier which you won’t enjoy. You will not have weekday date nights, you will sacrifice many weekends — frankly it will hard having a boy/girlfriend at all. It will be exhausting but interesting and if you cut it you will be involved in things at the age of ~21 that most people never see.

          I don’t want confident public school bluffers. I want people who are much brighter than me who can work in an extreme environment. If you play office politics, you will be discovered and immediately binned.

          Smarts over seniority, hmmm? Let me just quote the proverb: “the old dog for the hard road, the young pup for the tow path”. Smart youngsters who take on wily old officeholders often find themselves outwitted, simply because the old guys know how to play the game. And even in tech and investment, I don’t think some smart young hotshot is going to displace a senior unless they’re an absolute superstar – in which case they’re going to go into private industry and work for a company that will throw money and bonuses at them, instead of civil service pay scale Junior Deputy Assistant Advisor role.

          I admit it, I simply do not like the man. Something about him dings my “distrust this person” bell very strongly. I think he’s a spoofer, but also a dangerous one as, if he really has any influence over Johnson and any ability to get near the levers of power, his meddling could muck things up. (I think, though, that in Johnson he’s met a superior spoofer and one well-accustomed to using then dumping others, and Cummings is someone to use and then dump as far as he’s concerned – the second Cummings looks anything like a liability, out he goes).

          • Aapje says:

            I admit it, I simply do not like the man.

            That is very clear, as you are making stuff up again, to make him look bad (like that the jobs are unpaid).

            I think he’s a spoofer

            To me, he comes across as way more genuine than most in politics. Do you have any evidence of ‘spoofing’?

            So far, it seems that all of your accusations are things you expect him not to do or things that he wasn’t actually in charge off, rather than things he hasn’t done.

            The irony that he doesn’t want his Igor to engage in office politics, when that’s the very reason anyone would take on such a job

            Another reason is to learn how to do that kind of job.

            You can make contacts and network simply by doing your job, not just by manipulation, leaking, gossip, etc.

  24. AlesZiegler says:

    Happy new year, dear readers. I have a question about a different beginning. Do we have any cosmologists here?

    I think, but am not sure, that Big Bang theory is usually presented to the public very poorly. I at least always understand it as supposing that The Universe was once microscopically small and since then expanded enormously. But this is apparently subtly wrong, since the Big Bang theory only applies to observable universe, and our observable universe is not a closed system.

    Objects might disappear beyond its event horizon, either that of a black hole or beyond cosmological event horizon, ie. we stop being able to interact with them because at long distances, observable universe expands faster than light. Amount of so called dark energy in the observable universe apparently increases, although its only observed effect and reason why we postulate its existence is that it increases the rate of an expansion of the universe.

    So, a hypothetical observer just after the release of so called relic radiation, which happened a few hundreds of thousands of years after hypothesized Big Bang event, would not see a smaller observable universe than us. She would see a different universe. It is possible, and completely consistent with the Big Bang theory, that she might see things that are very different from anything we see and also different from what we know about the early history of our observable universe, which were since put beyond our cosmological event horizon by its expansion.

    Or am I completely wrong?

    • Dacyn says:

      the Big Bang theory only applies to observable universe

      Not quite correct. The Big Bang theory makes predictions about things outside of our observable universe, but those predictions can’t be verified.

      So, a hypothetical observer just after the release of so called relic radiation, which happened a few hundreds of thousands of years after hypothesized Big Bang event, would not see a smaller observable universe than us. She would see a different universe.

      The observable universe relative to a space-time point is the same thing as the past of that point. And “is in the past of” is transitive, so if X is in the past of Y, then the observable universe relative to X is a subset of the observable universe relative to Y. So if your hypothetical observer is in our past, then the universe they can observe is in fact smaller than ours.

      It’s true that X may see things which later leave Y’s observable universe. But this is just an instance of a general fact: anything in Y’s observable universe has the potential to leave it. (If Y is a point then everything will eventually leave its observable universe, but if Y is an infinite world-line then some things may remain Y-observable forever.)

    • Eric Rall says:

      My understanding was that standard Big Bang cosmology has the entire universe proceeding from the bang, but with a period of “Inflation” thereafter where the universe expands at an accelerating rate. It’s during the Inflation period that the Observable Universe concept comes in: when Inflation is occurring, the distances to the farther parts of the universe are increasing at a faster rate than light travels. This renders large parts of the universe unobservable, at least until the universe’s rate of expansion has slowed enough for long enough for the photons to catch up. This has not happened yet: inflation is thought to have only lasted something like a decillionth of a second, but the universe expanded enough in that time that there’s still a lot of it outside the observable horizon. It’s also believed that inflation will resume at some point in the far future, as you described, due to dark energy’s expansionary effects coming to dominate the contractionary effects of gravity.

      One of the big reasons we think Inflation theory happens is that we can see widely-separated parts of the universe that are both observable to us, but shouldn’t be observable to one another, both because they’re in different directions and because they’re so far from us that the universe was much younger when the light we’re observing now was emitted. And in those widely-separated parts, the universe still appears to be remarkably uniform in background temperature (the Cosmic Microwave Background), which should only happen if those parts had at some time been causally-connected enough to reach a thermodynamic equilibrium.

      There are also theoretical models that are the subjects of ongoing research in which the Big Bang happened in some sort of larger context, such that there are things that existed before the Big Bang that were never part of our “Universe”. These theories rely on untested (and as of yet, untestable) hypotheses, but nevertheless have gotten some traction because physicists tend to be unsatisfied with the “The Big Bang happened because of reasons” as an explanation, and because many of the theories have subtle follow-on implications for unsolved research problems in high-energy physics. These theories may be what you were thinking of.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        My understanding was that standard Big Bang cosmology has the entire universe proceeding from the bang, but with a period of “Inflation” thereafter (..). This renders large parts of the universe unobservable, at least until the universe’s rate of expansion has slowed enough for long enough for the photons to catch up.

        I still think that that is actually not an implication of the theory of the Big Bang, or at least it is based on a strained definition of what constitutes “the entire universe”. Things that are beyond an event horizon imho also count as a part of the entire universe. Big Bang theory posits that uniformity of the cosmic microwave background (aka relic radiation) is a proof that everything we can observe in some sense originated from a big bang event. But it is agnostic on the question whether, as you say, that big bang event happened in a larger context or not.

        I was brought up believing that Big Bang implies there is no larger physical universe outside of an area expanding from the Big Bang, and that is not true.

        • Dacyn says:

          That depends on exactly what you mean by “the Big Bang theory”. Wiki says “The Big Bang theory is a cosmological model for the observable universe” so in a sense you are right. But the Big Bang hypothesis can be straightforwardly extended to apply to the entire universe and not just the observable universe. And Occam’s Razor suggests that this extension is a simpler theory than the theory “Big Bang only applies to the observable universe”. This doesn’t mean it is necessarily true, but it is evidence for it. Moreover, it is not clear exactly how one would construct a model in which the Big Bang hypothesis is valid in the observable universe but not elsewhere; I’m not aware of any attempts to do so (though it’s perfectly possible that I’m just ignorant here).

          • AlesZiegler says:

            I do not suggest that area affected by the Big Bang ends precisely at the edge of the observable universe. That would be silly. And btw. I use the term “area” loosely, I am aware of the whole “curvature of space” thing, although I am not going to pretend that I understand it.

            But it is entirely possible, and not contradicting the Big Bang theory, that, while area expanding from the Big Bang is larger than currently observable universe, there are physical phenomena outside of it, unnafected by the Big Bang. And by physical phenomena I mean something that obeys some (although not all) of the laws of physics applicable in our observable universe.

          • Dacyn says:

            @AlesZiegler: My reply to you now is the same as my reply to your earlier comment: it depends on what you mean by “the Big Bang theory”. Perhaps you should clarify what you do mean by it.

            I didn’t mean to suggest that the boundary between where the Big Bang applies and where it doesn’t would be exactly at the edge of the observable universe; as you say, that would be silly. And for all I know there is in fact a plausible model that has such a discontinuity somewhere outside that edge — but Occam’s Razor still seems to be a consideration in favor of the hypothesis that there is no such discontinuity. Postulating “physical phenomena […] that [obey] some (although not all) of the laws of physics applicable in our observable universe” sounds even more unlikely according to Occam’s Razor.

            Finally, “[unaffected] by the Big Bang” is a slightly misleading way to put it: the Big Bang is not something that makes changes to a pre-existing system, but rather it causes the system itself to exist (or at least it is the initial event in this system). So you really mean “caused or partially caused by something not in the scope of the Big Bang”.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            it depends on what you mean by “the Big Bang theory”. Perhaps you should clarify what you do mean by it

            As I tried to explain in my original comment, I was referring to popular perception of what the Big Bang theory predicts. So, I might be wrong in at least two ways, either about cosmology (very likely) or about popular perception of cosmology (somewhat less likely but entirely possible).

            Now, it seems to me that our disagreement is not about the Big Bang theory itself, but about the usefulness of the concept of Occam’s Razor. I think that it is somewhat ill defined term that tends to be used arbitrarily. I prefer the principle of “we do not know” as articulated by Isaac Newton:

            “I have not as yet been able to discover the reason for these properties of gravity from phenomena, and I do not feign hypotheses.”

            So you claim that:

            the Big Bang is not something that makes changes to a pre-existing system, but rather it causes the system itself to exist (or at least it is the initial event in this system)

            But how do you know that? Is dark energy, which is not an insignificant phenomena (according to estimates it constitutes more than 60 % of the total energy in the observable universe) caused by the Big Bang or not? We do not know.

          • Dacyn says:

            @AlesZiegler:

            As I tried to explain in my original comment, I was referring to popular perception of what the Big Bang theory predicts.

            This is clearly false, since your original comment draws a distinction between “the Big Bang theory” and popular perception of it; you say that popular perception is wrong. If by “the Big Bang theory” you were merely referring to popular perception, then such perception would be correct by definition.

            Now, it seems to me that our disagreement is not about the Big Bang theory itself, but about the usefulness of the concept of Occam’s Razor.

            Agreed.

            I prefer the principle of “we do not know” as articulated by Isaac Newton:

            “I have not as yet been able to discover the reason for these properties of gravity from phenomena, and I do not feign hypotheses.”

            Newton is saying that because he does not have any good hypotheses about the reason for gravity. If he did have competing hypotheses, they would have to be compared along many axes, simplicity/elegance being among them.

            In fact, Newton’s theory of gravity is a perfect illustration of the necessity of Occam’s razor. Newton could just as easily have said “I have observed the law of gravitation holding thus far, but as to whether it will hold tomorrow I make no hypotheses”. But that is less elegant than the hypothesis that he did make, which is that gravity will continue to work.

            A word about language. We say “the law of gravitation” and refer to the theory that Newton’s formulas will be valid for all time, not just times observed already. But Newton could just as easily have said “My law of gravitation is that my formulas will hold until the year 2100, and then they will stop”, and then “the law of gravitation” would refer to that claim. But these semantics have rhetorical value, because saying “that goes against the law of gravitation!” feels like it means something in a way that “that goes against the claim that gravitation stops in 2100!” doesn’t. That’s why scientists make an effort to assign particularly elegant hypotheses the names “laws”, so that these hypotheses will be rhetorically favored in a manner corresponding to Occam’s Razor. However, they do not always succeed at this perfectly, and sometimes the definitions are wrong for this purpose. I hope this explains why I was reluctant to grant you that “the Big Bang theory says X” just on the basis of the fact that that’s what Wikipedia says.

            But how do you know that?

            That the Big Bang is an initial event is a hypothesis of standard Big Bang cosmology. Sure, there are models where the Big Bang just follows from the Big Crunch of some previous universe (I forget what these models are called), but they are not really the standard model. Regarding dark energy, it is in the future lightcone of the Big Bang, so I fail to see what it would even mean for it to not be caused by it — does it mean that the laws of physics must break down at some point between them? Are you saying that maybe dark energy didn’t exist during the Big Bang but mysteriously appeared later?

          • AlesZiegler says:

            This is clearly false, since your original comment draws a distinction between “the Big Bang theory” and popular perception of it; you say that popular perception is wrong. If by “the Big Bang theory” you were merely referring to popular perception, then such perception would be correct by definition.

            I seem to be using some sort of imprecise phrasing without being able to pin down what is wrong with it, probably because English isn’t my native language. I tried to express that I am questioning popular perception of the Big Bang theory, not the theory itself.

            Newton could just as easily have said “I have observed the law of gravitation holding thus far, but as to whether it will hold tomorrow I make no hypotheses”. But that is less elegant than the hypothesis that he did make, which is that gravity will continue to work.

            Now, elegance is a somewhat subjective metric. My presumption that gravity will not stop working in a year 2100 does not flow from elegance, but from general presumption that status quo will continue unless there is a reason to suppose otherwise. But this has very little to do with separate question, on whether we should presume that entire universe originated in The Big Bang or not.

            Are you saying that maybe dark energy didn’t exist during the Big Bang but mysteriously appeared later?

            Sort of. According to my understanding, dark energy is just a term for whatever causes expansion of the observable universe to accelerate. This observed acceleration is not predicted by the Big Bang theory. It is of course possible that this acceleration is in some sense wholly caused by the Big Bang via some hitherto unknown connection.

          • Dacyn says:

            @AlesZiegler:

            I tried to express that I am questioning popular perception of the Big Bang theory, not the theory itself.

            I understood this from your previous comment (apologies if that was not clear). My point is that it in no way answers my question, which is: what do you mean by “the theory itself”?

            ETA: We seem to be communicating well enough in the rest of the conversation mostly without talking about “the Big Bang theory” directly though, so maybe we should just drop this thread of the discussion.

            My presumption that gravity will not stop working in a year 2100 does not flow from elegance, but from general presumption that status quo will continue unless there is a reason to suppose otherwise. But this has very little to do with separate question, on whether we should presume that entire universe originated in The Big Bang or not.

            It has very much to do with it: I can rephrase “the entire universe originated in the Big Bang” as “as I travel, the status quo of seeing only things that originated in the Big Bang will continue”.

            Of course elegance is a subjective metric, but then again we don’t ordinarily expect people to come into full agreement with each other (Aumann’s theorem notwithstanding). So I don’t see how this is a problem.

            Another point I should make regarding Newton’s theory is that the reason people thought it was so important is that it unified two different concepts: things falling on Earth and planets orbiting the sun. I don’t know how to explain why this is important other than by appealing to “elegance”.

            It is of course possible that this acceleration is in some sense wholly caused by the Big Bang via some hitherto unknown connection.

            I agree with this. But I would describe such a possibility as “maybe we don’t know all the fine details of how the Big Bang works” rather than “our entire model of the Big Bang might be wrong”.

  25. hash872 says:

    Predictions for the 2020s: camera & recording technologies continue to shrink below smartphone size, and wearing a small, unobtrusive camera with audio at all times becomes normal for many people. Recording of personal conversations, whether at work, at home, or in social settings becomes increasingly widespread. (Yes I know that a few US states are two-party consent, but I believe the majority are one party). This leads to a new wave of social justice recriminations, where ‘normal’ people release recorded conversations onto social media where ‘x said problematic thing’. Along with apparently widespread Alexa/Google Home devices, our sphere of personal privacy continues to shrink or become nonexistent

    • albatross11 says:

      Combine with painstaking editing of the video and maybe even faking video for extra social-media fun. People routinely get dragged on social media today for wildly out-of-context quotes, and occasionally for something that someone just flat made up about them. Hardly anyone checks, for exactly the same reason that middle school bullies rarely feel the need to verify that you said something bad about them before they beat you up in the locker room. It’s not like the kind of person who jumps into a pile-on is going to become more careful and conscientious about the whole thing in the next few years. (Though hopefully uninvolved people will stop taking social-media-draggings as being meaningful.)

    • Matt M says:

      Definitely agree this is coming. Although I suspect that (somewhat like what has happened with police body cameras), the results won’t necessarily go the way a lot of people are expecting/hoping.

      In other words, this sort of thing will do more to prove that a lot of witches were falsely accused, rather than that there are witches among us.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Yes I know that a few US states are two-party consent, but I believe the majority are one party

      True, but the two-party states include a few (California, Washington, and Massachusetts) that host a disproportionate share of both the tech industry and the gadget early-adopter customer base.

      • hash872 says:

        Ooooh, interesting point- I knew that about some of those states, but not California, which is by far the most germane one. However, I don’t think that applies if you don’t have a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’, which might not apply in a workplace say? Especially an open floor plan. Or a bar, restaurant, the sidewalk, etc. At home would be a different matter

        • Eric Rall says:

          I just looked it up. Here’s a decent summary I found:

          California Law Penal Code § 632, enacted under the California Invasion of Privacy Act, makes it illegal for an individual to monitor or record a “confidential communication” whether the communication is carried on among the parties in the presence of one another or by means of a telegraph, telephone, or other device. California is known as a “two-party” state, which means that recordings are not allowed unless all parties to the conversation consent to the recording.

          Under Penal Code § 632(c), “confidential communication” includes any communication carried on in circumstances as may reasonably indicate that any party to the communication desires it to be confined to the parties, but excludes a communication made in a public gathering or in any legislative, judicial, executive or administrative proceeding open to the public, or in any other circumstance in which the parties to the communication may reasonably expect that the communication may be overheard or recorded.

          [snip]

          The above law has obvious loopholes. If the parties did not reasonably expect privacy, such recordings are perfectly legal. The question of such reasonable expectations is for the Trier of Fact to determine and the typical “gray” case involves conversations on street corners with people passing by or in restaurants or bars. The criteria is simple: would an average person consider the contents of the conversation as private. Simply because one is in a public place does not mean there is no expectation of privacy…many private conversations occur over a restaurant table. The person taking the recording thus risks a great deal if consent is not clearly and audibly obtained.

          (source), emphasis added

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      This leads to a new wave of social justice recriminations, where ‘normal’ people release recorded conversations onto social media where ‘x said problematic thing’. Along with apparently widespread Alexa/Google Home devices, our sphere of personal privacy continues to shrink or become nonexistent

      I believe the result of this will be boring. Namely, the more pervasive surveillance becomes, the less people will care what anyone is doing. Everyone will be too busy doing their own laundry to worry about yours. After some time, everyone’s reaction to the latest inappropriateness will simply be “meh”. The ubiquity of DeepFake and voice editing will simply cause people to instinctively follow “meh” with “probably faked”.

      • FrankistGeorgist says:

        My toy theory is that “Privacy” today will be thought of the way we think of “Honor.” A once salient concept that doesn’t seem to apply to modern life despite a minority of people who insist it should. Alongside recountings of the “honor culture” of ancient China or pre/post-Islamic Persia or Sudan or wherever, we’ll see something like “Privacy culture rose to prominence in Victorian England as a way to cohere families in the face of rapid industrialisation yadda yadda came under pressure as tabloids and whatnot entered the homes with stories of the elite yadda yadda fell into decline with the rise of social media”

    • And not only will people welcome this development, but anyone who opposes it will be under suspicion.

  26. Nick says:

    Alt-history question: how would the 20th century on play out if atomic bombs were impossible?

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Do you mean *all* nuclear weapons?

      Personally I imagine it would be far far worse. The willingness of powers and superpowers to engage in hot wars would be much higher. Pre-nuclear industrial warfare has this logic of needing huge amounts of resources to effectively defend against similarly armed states which requires either being blessed by mother nature or controlling regions of the world that are blessed by mother nature. Barbarossa and Pearl harbor were both motivated in large part by the immediate need for oil to continue wars elsewhere.

      You can see how this sort of creates a vicious cycle of ‘invade to defend’ and ‘mobilize to defend’

      • albatross11 says:

        What’s the minimal change we need to the universe to have this work out? Would it just be a local lack of fissionables on Earth? If you can’t build a nuke because it’s impossible to get hold of enough of the right isotope of Uranium, Plutonium, or whatever other materials can be used, then nobody ever builds nukes.

        • Eric Rall says:

          You probably don’t need a total lack of fissionables. With mid-20th century tech, you have two good paths to nuclear weapons fuel: enriching U-235 from the tiny fraction of it in natural uranium, or breeding Pu-239 from U-238 in a reactor. The former is exponentially more difficult if the starting ratio is smaller, and the latter relies on either moderately-enriched uranium (much less U-235 than you need for a decent bomb, but still oodles more than natural uranium) or a reactor design that works on natural uranium (by far the easiest way to do this is to use heavy water as a neutron moderator).

          So to derail the first, you’d need to reduce the fraction of U-235 in natural uranium to an even smaller amount, enough to make enrichment to weapons-grade levels prohibitively expensive. Get it down low enough, and even reactor-grade enrichment becomes prohibitively expensive.

          That just leaves heavy-water natural uranium breeder reactors. I think these might also get derailed if the fuel has too low a fraction of U-235, but you might also need to make heavy water rarer as well.

      • Atlas says:

        Some relevant excerpts from Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature (“Is the Long Peace a Nuclear Peace?”):

        Let’s hope not. If the Long Peace were a nuclear peace, it would be a fool’s paradise, because an accident, a miscommunication, or an air force general obsessed with precious bodily fluids could set off an apocalypse. Thankfully, a closer look suggests that the threat of nuclear annihilation deserves little credit for the Long Peace.191

        For one thing, weapons of mass destruction had never braked the march to war before. The benefactor of the Nobel Peace Prize wrote in the 1860s that his invention of dynamite would “sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions, [since] as soon as men will find that in one instant whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they will surely abide in golden peace.”192 Similar predictions have been made about submarines, artillery, smokeless powder, and the machine gun.193 The 1930s saw a widespread fear that poison gas dropped from airplanes could bring an end to civilization and human life, yet that dread did not come close to ending war either.194 As Luard puts it, “There is little evidence in history that the existence of supremely destructive weapons alone is capable of deterring war. If the development of bacteriological weapons, poison gas, nerve gases, and other chemical armaments did not deter war in 1939, it is not easy to see why nuclear weapons should do so now.”195

        Also, the theory of the nuclear peace cannot explain why countries without nuclear weapons also forbore war—why, for example, the 1995 squabble over fishing rights between Canada and Spain, or the 1997 dispute between Hungary and Slovakia over damming the Danube, never escalated into war, as crises involving European countries had so often done in the past. During the Long Peace leaders of developed countries never had to calculate which of their counterparts they could get away with attacking (yes for Germany and Italy, no for Britain and France), because they never contemplated a military attack in the first place. Nor were they deterred by nuclear godparents—it wasn’t as if the United States had to threaten Canada and Spain with a nuclear spanking if they got too obstreperous in their dispute over flatfish.

        As for the superpowers themselves, Mueller points to a simpler explanation for why they avoided fighting each other: they were deterred plenty by the prospect of a conventional war. World War II showed that assembly lines could mass-produce tanks, artillery, and bombers that were capable of killing tens of millions of people and reducing cities to rubble. This was especially obvious in the Soviet Union, which had suffered the greatest losses in the war. It’s unlikely that the marginal difference between the unthinkable damage that would be caused by a nuclear war and the thinkable but still staggering damage that would be caused by a conventional war was the main thing that kept the great powers from fighting.

        Finally, the nuclear peace theory cannot explain why the wars that did take place often had a nonnuclear force provoking (or failing to surrender to) a nuclear one—exactly the matchup that the nuclear threat ought to have deterred.196 North Korea, North Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Panama, and Yugoslavia defied the United States; Afghan and Chechen insurgents defied the Soviet Union; Egypt defied Britain and France; Egypt and Syria defied Israel; Vietnam defied China; and Argentina defied the United Kingdom. For that matter, the Soviet Union established its stranglehold on Eastern Europe during just those years (1945–49) when the United States had nuclear weapons and it did not. The countries that goaded their nuclear superiors were not suicidal. They correctly anticipated that for anything but an existential danger, the implicit threat of a nuclear response was a bluff. The Argentinian junta ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands in full confidence that Britain would not retaliate by reducing Buenos Aires to a radioactive crater. Nor could Israel have credibly threatened the amassed Egyptian armies in 1967 or 1973, to say nothing of Cairo.

    • woah77 says:

      My short list of changes: Japan would have been under joint US and Russian control.
      The communist and democratic nation’s cold war would have gone hot at some point.
      The sexual revolution would have not occurred as it did due to natalist policies to increase populations to continue the wars.
      Chemical warfare would be much more common.
      The middle east would be under either western or eastern direct control instead of being largely independent.
      South America would be fewer, larger nations, potentially under US control.
      There would be substantially more industrialization of Africa.

      • EchoChaos says:

        My short list of changes: Japan would have been under joint US and Russian control.

        Was never going to happen. Japan would’ve surrendered too fast for that regardless and Russia had zero ability to move troops there.

        Japan’s surrendering was substantially less determined by the atomic bombings than later propaganda made out.

        • cassander says:

          This is a highly contestable assertion. If nothing else, the bomb gave them a face saving reason to give up, and even then there was an attempted coup to prevent the surrender.

        • bean says:

          Japan’s surrendering was substantially less determined by the atomic bombings than later propaganda made out.

          Completely false. Richard Frank’s Downfall is a very careful examination of this claim. Even with both atomic bombs, it took the personal intervention of the Emperor to make the surrender stick. Without them, no chance.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Richard Frank’s Downfall is a very careful examination of this claim.

            The personal intervention of the Emperor happened after the Soviet declaration of war, not after the first atomic bombing.

            I will politely disagree with this assertion and leave it at “smart people on both sides disagree”.

          • Cliff says:

            Hadn’t they already made the decision to surrender before the second atomic bomb?

          • Aftagley says:

            Richard Frank’s Downfall is a very careful examination of this claim. Even with both atomic bombs, it took the personal intervention of the Emperor to make the surrender stick.

            I’ve never really understood this argument. Is the idea that a sustained bombing campaign backed up by a land invasion would have not been able to accomplish what two atomic explosions could? It’s just bizzare to me that the emperor would have been so horrified by two cities getting bombed but wouldn’t have had the same reaction if conventional weapons had leveled them.

            The nukes probably sped up the process by giving Japan a relatively graceful way to tap out, but I still just can’t see how it could have lasted that much longer.

          • cassander says:

            @Aftagley

            The japanese “plan” (I use this word generously) was to inflict so many casualties on the US that would agree to some sort of negotiated settlement. Nukes doing the sort of damage with one plane and one bomb that used to take hundreds of planes and thousands of bombs made all but the most bullheaded of the japanese reconsider that calculus. They couldn’t have lasted much longer, but we could have had lots of repeats of okinawa.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I’ve never really understood this argument. Is the idea that a sustained bombing campaign backed up by a land invasion would have not been able to accomplish what two atomic explosions could? It’s just bizzare to me that the emperor would have been so horrified by two cities getting bombed but wouldn’t have had the same reaction if conventional weapons had leveled them.

            One of the big implications of the atomic bomb was that targets which has been difficult to bomb effectively with incendiaries and conventional explosives (due to inconveniently-located mountain ranges (limiting available airspace for big fleets of bombers to approach) and rivers (acting as natural firebreaks and providing a handy supply of water for firefighting)) could be utterly destroyed by a nuke. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both on the target list in large part because of this.

          • John Schilling says:

            The nukes probably sped up the process by giving Japan a relatively graceful way to tap out, but I still just can’t see how it could have lasted that much longer.

            After the Tet offensive in 1968, there were lots of people who didn’t see how the Vietnam War could have lasted that much longer. And for that matter, after Washington’s retreat from New York in 1776, there were lots of people who didn’t see how the American Revolution could last that much longer.

            “We will endure what you cannot imagine, and we will hurt you every step of the way, because this is our home“, is a strategy with a pretty good historical track record. One possible counter for which is, “meh, our button-pushing finger isn’t even slightly tired; you all sure you want to keep dying?”

            The Japanese strategy in mid-1945, to the extent that they had one, was for the Americans to get tired of the war before they did and then settle for a negotiated peace. The atomic bomb(*) made it very much not tiresome for Americans to kill Japanese in whatever numbers were required.

            * Plus the casual racism of the 1930s amplified by Pearl Harbor and four years of bloody total war.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I got recommended Hell to pay (2009) by D.M. Giangreco, who argues that Japan was willing and ready to wage bloody attritional warfare on the invaders, and atomic bombings in conjunction with quick destruction of their army in Manchuria by the Red army convinced them that they had no chance.But I have not read that, though, and can’t really judge the credibility of this argument on my own.

          Here is an interview with the author.

      • The sexual revolution would have not occurred as it did due to natalist policies to increase populations to continue the wars.

        Wouldn’t the birth control pill be banned almost as soon as it was available?

    • The Nybbler says:

      WWII ends with an invasion of the Japanese mainland; Japan ends up split into American and Soviet sectors. I expect instead of a Cold War, we end up with a conventional WWIII that starts the instant Stalin thinks he can get away with invading Europe without facing China at the same time. After that…. who knows?

      • John Schilling says:

        Why would the United States give the Soviet Union a sector of Japan? We didn’t give them a sector of Italy, after all. And they got their sector of Germany by having their troops all over it, which would not have been the case in Japan because Russia had no ships worth mentioning to carry troops to Japan.

        All of Korea and Manchuria, sure.

        • EchoChaos says:

          All of Korea and Manchuria, sure.

          No, we had South Korea before Japan surrendered. The armistice line was determined on August 10th by the Americans and we had troops there already.

          • John Schilling says:

            Source? My usual references are at home, but wikipedia says US forces didn’t arrive until 8 September. If the US is instead busy gearing up for a physical invasion of Japan, I’d expect Russia to A: grab all of Korea and B: not sign any deal that says they can’t.

            And C, re Nybbler below, not advance any farther into “Japan” than they historically did, because the places they historically occupied corresponded to the places their armies could reach without amphibious operations.

            Basically, it makes sense in this hypothetical for the Russians (and their Chinese allies) to take all the valuable Japanese-occupied territory that can be reached by marching, and for the Americans to not give them any of the valuable places that can only be reached by (Anglo-American) ships.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @John Schilling

            Soviet troops advanced rapidly, and the US government became anxious that they would occupy the whole of Korea. On 10 August 1945 two young officers – Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel – were assigned to define an American occupation zone. Working on extremely short notice and completely unprepared, they used a National Geographic map to decide on the 38th parallel. They chose it because it divided the country approximately in half but would place the capital Seoul under American control. No experts on Korea were consulted. The two men were unaware that forty years before, Japan and pre-revolutionary Russia had discussed sharing Korea along the same parallel. Rusk later said that had he known, he “almost surely” would have chosen a different line.[10][11] The division placed sixteen million Koreans in the American zone and nine million in the Soviet zone.[12] To the surprise of the Americans, the Soviet Union immediately accepted the division.

            From the same Wikipedia source as you. My understanding is that American observer troops were there, but you are correct that a landing in force didn’t occur. That’s my mistake from recollections from when I lived there.

            I’d expect Russia to A: grab all of Korea and B: not sign any deal that says they can’t.

            Except they did B before the surrender of Japan, so unless they want to betray the Americans immediately, which we know they didn’t, South Korea stays ours.

          • John Schilling says:

            Except they did B before the surrender of Japan,

            Before the surrender of Japan, but after Hiroshima and Nagasaki made it clear that the fall of the Japanese Empire was going to be accomplished by atomic bombing and that both sides’ conventional land and naval forces would be available for quick land grabs across the Asiatic front. In that context, there are already Russian troops south of the Yalu, but the USN can put American troops (not observers) in Busan before the Red Army can get there, so the 38th parallel is a sensible let’s-not-fight-over-this line.

            If August 10 has the United States Army and Navy almost fully committed to the invasion of Japan, then that’s a very different reality and it seems rather unlikely that Stalin agrees to exactly the same deal.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @John Schilling

            Before the surrender of Japan, but after Hiroshima and Nagasaki made it clear that the fall of the Japanese Empire was going to be accomplished by atomic bombing and that both sides’ conventional land and naval forces would be available for quick land grabs across the Asiatic front.

            I don’t think that was clear to anyone. The US Navy was gearing up for a massive invasion of the Japanese Home Islands in our reality, so that really hasn’t changed much in the alternate “no-nuke” reality.

            I believe the catalyst for Japanese surrender was the Soviet war declaration, not the atomic bombings. @bean disagrees, but we both have solid historians on our sides.

            If August 10 has the United States Army and Navy almost fully committed to the invasion of Japan, then that’s a very different reality and it seems rather unlikely that Stalin agrees to exactly the same deal.

            That’s our reality. The Army and Navy were preparing for that exact invasion.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think that was clear to anyone. The US Navy was gearing up for a massive invasion of the Japanese Home Islands in our reality, so that really hasn’t changed much in the alternate “no-nuke” reality.

            During the period when atomic bombs were not known to exist, yes. Once atomic bombs had been used against Japanese cities, not so much. I don’t think anyone at that point seriously believed there was going to be a contested invasion of Japan in the near future. Well, a few particularly stubborn Japanese generals probably still believed it.

            I believe the catalyst for Japanese surrender was the Soviet war declaration, not the atomic bombings. @bean disagrees, but we both have solid historians on our sides.

            You both have historians on your respective sides, but he’s got most of the solid ones. You’ve got mostly the ones with a pre-existing condition of “Truman was a bad, bad man for using the naughty, evil A-bomb”.

          • bean says:

            I don’t think that was clear to anyone. The US Navy was gearing up for a massive invasion of the Japanese Home Islands in our reality, so that really hasn’t changed much in the alternate “no-nuke” reality.

            Actually, this is another thing Franks challenges. His look at the documents being produced shows that the Nimitz strategy of blockade and bombardment was rapidly winning out over MacArthur’s preferred invasion in July and August, as the scale of the Japanese buildup in Kyushu became obvious.

          • cassander says:

            @bean says:

            Actually, this is another thing Franks challenges. His look at the documents being produced shows that the Nimitz strategy of blockade and bombardment was rapidly winning out over MacArthur’s preferred invasion in July and August, as the scale of the Japanese buildup in Kyushu became obvious.

            I have a real hard time seeing the momentum for invasion just dissipating, especially after the bombs start dropping and McArthur starts arguing that they could be used to blast our way onto beaches. There would have been massive radiation issues if had they done that, but I don’t think that was understood at the time, though someone might have figured it out if planning continued.

          • bean says:

            The momentum was dissipating before the bombs dropped. Afterwards, there wasn’t enough time for plans to change. Not to mention that essentially nobody in SWPAC or CENPAC knew very much about what was going on. MacArthur, in particularly, almost certainly didn’t know how many bombs would be available for Olympic before the surrender.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @bean

            I think that “we actually weren’t going to invade the Home Islands regardless because everybody could see that it would be a bloody nightmare” makes the position that we didn’t need the atom bombs stronger, but I promise you’ve made me add Downfall to my reading list.

            I’m working my way through Steven Runciman’s “A History of the Crusades” right now, but Downfall is on the list!

          • bean says:

            I think that “we actually weren’t going to invade the Home Islands regardless because everybody could see that it would be a bloody nightmare” makes the position that we didn’t need the atom bombs stronger

            It really doesn’t. The Japanese were preparing to starve a significant fraction of their population because they simply couldn’t feed them with the transportation network the US had left them. The number I remember is something like a third of the entire population. Not to mention the horrendous death toll of their war in China. Downfall cites an estimate of a quarter-million civilian deaths a month among the Japanese-occupied territories for each month the war continued. If the US holds the bomb and it takes 4 months to starve Japan into submission, you have a million dead throughout Asia, and probably another couple million in Japan. Compared to that, the atomic bombs are a pretty good deal. Not to mention the financial cost of continuing the war to the US. Death from atomic weapons may be more viscerally horrifying to us than death from starvation, but it’s not nearly enough to offset the numbers, or Truman’s obligation to win the war as quickly as possible.

          • Lillian says:

            The momentum was dissipating before the bombs dropped. Afterwards, there wasn’t enough time for plans to change. Not to mention that essentially nobody in SWPAC or CENPAC knew very much about what was going on. MacArthur, in particularly, almost certainly didn’t know how many bombs would be available for Olympic before the surrender.

            This seems like a good moment to post my all time favourite historical document: The transcript of a conversation between General John E. Hull, one of the brass planning Operation Downfall, and Colonel L.E. Seeman, the personal assistant of General Leslie Groves, who was overseeing the Manhattan Project. Look at the date, it says 1325 hours, August 13th, 1945. That makes it 0625 hours August 14th, 1945 in Japan, which means Japan will announce its surrender in a little over 24 hours, since they did so the morning of the 15th local time.

            Now there is a lot of fun stuff to unpack from this conversation, but the one that’s relevant to this thread is that General Hull has been tasked by General George C. Marshall – who is effectively the Chief of Staff for the whole US military – to among other things find out how many atomic bombs they can expect to have available for Olympic. That means Marshall doesn’t know, and if Marshall doesn’t know then we can take it as a given that MacArthur doesn’t know either. It’s possible he may have found out sometime between Hull and Seeman’s conversation and Japan’s surrender, but it would have been rather irrelevant at that point.

          • cassander says:

            @Lillian

            A fascinating document, but I’m curious why it’s your favorite historical document of all time. Could you elaborate?

        • The Nybbler says:

          The Soviets got a bit of Japan as it is; I’d expect them to opportunistically grab some more while the US is fighting. It doesn’t change all that much if the US keeps Japan; we’re still getting WWIII.

        • Eric Rall says:

          The US gave the Soviets a bunch of landing craft and support vessels towards the end of WW2, specifically so the could participate in invading Japan. They even got used for some amphibious landings during the Manchuria campaign.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Hula

          • Lambert says:

            That’s only 20 odd LCI(L), capable of transporting 200 infantry each.

            The US needed more than that just to take Okinawa.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Good point, but I suspect there would have been more ships transferred before the planned landing dates (November 1, 1945 for the Olympic landings, and March 1, 1946 for the follow-up Coronet landings). Note that the actual Project Hula transfers were still happening up through a couple days past Japan’s surrender.

          • Lambert says:

            Neptune took over 4000 landing craft.
            Downfall was expected to be an order of magnitude larger.
            Even 200 wouldn’t put a dent into Hokkaido.

            It’s not like Japan is known for its many suitable landing sites, either. The flat bits of Hokkaido seem to be full of wetlands.

        • cassander says:

          Given how much the truman administration wanted them to declare war on Japan, I think it’s rather implausible that they wouldn’t have asked them to participate in the invasion of japan, and I think Stalin would have been almost as eager for that as he was being invited to conquer manchuria.