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.

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968 Responses to Open Thread 144.25

  1. metacelsus says:

    Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2020 is off to a good start.

    Since it’s 2020, we are officially living in the cyberpunk future.

    • Plumber says:

      When I actually played the “table top role-playing game” in the very early ’90’s my assessment of the setting was already “What is the point of this?, I can just walk out my front door for this setting!”.

      Give me 1977 rules Dungeons & Dragons or Traveller now, then, and forever instead!

      Swords & Sorcery, and Space Opera are genres worthy of the name, Cyberpunk is Noir with bionics and hackers and is lame!

      Other than the first paragraph Neuromancer was a dull read, Dashiell Hammett and Patricia Highsmith both did “crime” better than Gibson who other than “The Gernsback Continuum” I just didn’t see what the acclaim was about.

      Cyberpunk ruined science fiction in the ’80’s for me.

      The Castle Falkenstein setting by the same publisher as Cyberpunk looked cool instead, but did others in my area want to play them?

      NO!

      Instead they wanted Champions, Cyberpunk, and worst of all Vampire which are obscenities all, give me Call of Cthulu instead of those overly superpowered PC’s in modern-ish setting claptrap!

      Then came “3e Dungeons & Dragons which is a foul obscenity (still better than Vampire though)!

      Wrong, wrong, WRONG!

      True noble, right, beautiful, and proper “role-playing” games are about stealing treasure and running away from monsters (and “RPG” is just wrong, “fantasy adventure” is better)!

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Give me 1977 rules Dungeons & Dragons or Traveller now, then, and forever instead!

        I can’t speak to Traveller, but I’ve learned that the original Dungeons & Dragons setting (not to be confused with AD&D, which had numerous official settings) developed to be completely nuts (in a good way?). It starts with Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor, then an alien spaceship crashes, and the world pulls itself out of the Magical Middle Ages by sending expeditions to pull out and reverse-engineer its technology. Civilization is destroyed in an apocalyptic war, and also an Immortal (think powerful gods, not Highlander) tries to save the world from radiation poisoning by turning the spaceship’s nuclear reactor into magical radiation called the Radiance. Centuries later, the country of Glantri is founded as a mageocracy (the penalty for being a Cleric is death!), and they build their equivalent of Hogwarts on top of the Radiance…
        And that’s just one main plot thread. They wrote all kinds of unrelated stuff like an empire with a huge armada of airships and tropical islands with modern tourism.

  2. Tatterdemalion says:

    http://www.csun.edu/~dgw61315/tandem.html captures what I think is wrong with the Star Wars sequel trilogy better than I could possibly hope to.

    JJ Abrams and Ryan Johnson each had a vision that could have made an interesting and watchable trilogy of movies, and indeed viewed in isolation I quite liked each of the three. But at the point where you’re spending the annual budget of Dominica on three movies that are meant to fit together into a single story, you really, really ought to make sure that everyone involved agrees what that story is.

    • TheContinentalOp says:

      That was hilarious!

    • eyeballfrog says:

      If Johnson had a vision for what happens after TLJ I’d love to hear it. I just can’t imagine where you go from there.

      • Clutzy says:

        Same. I’ve seen numerous defenses of TLJ, but all of them are very abstract, or focus on a specific interaction they thought was interesting.

        I’ve yet to see compelling defenses of:

        1) The choice of a low speed chase as the core vehicle of the movie
        2) Johnson’s vision for the trilogy as a whole
        3) How he was going to deal with the fact he introduced several worldbreaking weapons/powers
        4) Why the sidequests added anything

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          1) The choice of a low speed chase as the core vehicle of the movie

          Long long ago, in a galaxy far away, “Yakety-Sax” has begun

        • The Nybbler says:

          A stern chase seems like a perfectly reasonable way to keep tension up. As for the rest of it… uh yeah whatever Rian.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Think of the movie Speed, except that at some point two characters leave the bus in a scooter, travel to Las Vegas, get arrested for a parking violation, escape with the help of a random drunk inmate, free some white tigers but leave the child slaves in bondage (it’s antebellum Las Vegas), all while lecturing us on the evils of capitalism and the military-industrial complex.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Think of the movie Speed, except that at some point two characters leave the bus in a scooter…

            Keanu says “Whoa… that’s dumb.”

          • all while lecturing us on the evils of capitalism and the military-industrial complex.

            Perhaps. It was something like that. I think it was more a ham fisted attempt to inject moral greyness into the Star Wars universe, which I’m actually sure a lot of people clamor for. Personally, since every other franchise seems to be morally grey now, it’s nice to keep at least a few things innocent and naive. Could it theoretically be clever and interesting to show how weapons dealers sell to both sides? Yes. Does it fulfill the essential character of Star Wars as a fantasy universe. No. Ultimately, the black and white morality of Star Wars is part of its strength. It’s part of the fantasy.

            Maybe we’re too cynical for that in this age? Another example: imagine trying to bring back Christopher Reeve’s depiction of Superman as a pure hearted man trying to do right with incredible powers. Instead Superman has to have a neutral density filter that literally makes the footage look greyer, while the plots play up the weighty messianic angle.

            People like to point to the Marvel movies and contrast them to DC, but although the tone is lighter and there are a lot more jokes, we are only able to access the fantasy through a wall of irony and 4th wall winking at the camera. Irony is the false fix for cynicism where sincerity is required, but of course sincerity is embarrassing and childish, so we just can’t do it anymore. Even children’s movies have be ironic and have lots of references that will age like milk so the parents can enjoy them too.

            With Star Wars The Last Jedi, the execution gets blamed a lot, while the ideas are said to be interesting, but ultimately a weighty Star Wars that makes you think about depressing deconstructive things would suffer from our modern desire for everything to be wrapped in layers of ambiguity, even if the execution was watertight. Cinema was suffering from the same thing in the 70s, with an array of dystopian films set in the near future. A lot of them are interesting and worthwhile, but when the majority of movies are like that, it creates a weight that must eventually be escaped from, and that’s what movies like Star Wars (1977) and Superman (1978) did at the end of the 70s.

            To quote Lucas at length: “Rather than do some angry, socially relevant film, I realized there was another relevance that is even more important – dreams and fantasies, getting children to believe there is more to life than garbage and killing and all that real stuff like stealing hubcaps – that you could still sit and dream about exotic lands and strange creatures. Once I got into Star Wars, it struck me that we had lost all that – a whole generation was growing up without fairy-tales. You just don’t get them any more, and that’s the best stuff in the world – adventures in far-off lands. It’s fun.
            I wanted to do a modern fairy-tale, a myth. One of the criteria of the mythical fairy-tale situation is an exotic, faraway land, but we’ve lost all the fairy-tale lands on this planet. Every one has disappeared. We no longer have the Mysterious East or treasure islands or going on strange adventures.
            But there is a bigger, mysterious world in space that is more interesting than anything around here. We’ve just begun to take the first step and can say, “Look! It goes on for a zillion miles out there.” You can go anywhere and land on any planet.”

            That’s the absolute essence and necessity of Star Wars. In some ways, it would have been worse if Last Jedi hadn’t been as inept as people in this comment chain describe, because then Star Wars would have been captured by the same too clever by half deconstruction as everything else that isn’t layered in a million tons of embarassment saving irony. If Rian Johnson had masterfully fulfilled all of the half baked themes he brings up, then the movie would certainly be more entertaining on a face level, but in asking supposedly “interesting questions” about the nature of the Force and Jedi, it would merely be slotting into a completely uninteresting and repeated mold on a larger level.

            I’m glad the movie was the world’s most boring chase scene with irrelevant side plots because it torpedoes the anti-Star Wars themes and they sink along with it.

          • Clutzy says:

            As ViVI pointed out, yes it is reasonable to use a stern chase in a movie. But not this movie which has lots of comedic relief and tension-evaporating moments. The director clearly did not want to build tension.

          • CatCube says:

            @Forward Synthesis

            I just finished “My Hollywood MisAdventures” by Allan Cole, who–as a team with Chris Bunch–was a screenwriter working on shows in the late ’70s through the early ’90s, before leaving to work on science fiction novels. He was apparently blackmailed into working as a story editor on Galactica 1980, which is in the running for “worst TV show of all time;” it starts up from where the original series left off, with Galactica finding Earth in the current year of 1980. He discusses why the show was flawed from the start:

            At heart, good science fiction is what Damon Knight called ‘a search for wonder.’ And if you are searching for wonder, and find a place exactly like the one you left, then why watch the damn thing in the first place?

            The whole series (which is somewhat inconvenient to read on the website, but was turned into a book) has quite a bit of discussion that points to how TV shows and movies can go so wrong. He discusses the producer trying to convince him the show is a good idea:

            Jeff dug in his heels. But, when I think back on it now, what choice did he have? He’d already signed onto the gig. And if he didn’t convince himself that Galactica 1980 was the best thing that happened since the Federal Government lifted the ban on sliced bread after the end of World War Two, he’d go shrieking and gibbering into the night.

            The sunk cost fallacy he’s pointing at can help explain the mentality of why people don’t know why things are going so badly. The whole series on Galactica 1980 (#10 to #20) was interesting, including a part about shooting a big effects-heavy scene that went so wrong I think it might have been the inspiration for the corresponding scene in Tropic Thunder.

          • @CatCube

            Thanks for the rec, CatCube. I actually don’t mind reading stuff of websites. My admission is that at least half the books I read these days are PDF copies.

          • acymetric says:

            @Forward Synthesis just did a much better job at explaining these points than I have over the past several years, despite several attempts.

          • CatCube says:

            @Forward Synthesis

            I meant that the way the website is arranged is inconvenient: you have to go back to the table of contents on that first link I gave and click on every chapter individually, with no “Next” or “Back” on individual chapters. There are some places where links weren’t updated in a website move, and you’ll have to click on the next chapter, go to the sidebar and find the previous chapter since the link on the front page is broken. Also, links within the pages themselves when he references a previous chapter are broken due to the website move thing.

            I think that Cole didn’t bother to make it easier to read since he turned it into a book and lost interest in the website.

          • CatCube says:

            Actually, I recalled one more bit from the part on “Galactica 1980” that may shed some light on how these can go wrong. There’s more than I quote here, but I think it’s already a bit long for a quote:

            Then Godfrey said, “Here’s the bottom line, boys. You are in the middle of a big fucking tug of war. So are the writers, actors and directors on every other show in This Town. You guys actually care about getting something decent on the air. But the guys who run things firmly believe that the public will watch whatever garbage they put in front of them. And the only thing they give a shit about is winning their own personal war.”

            He lifted a hand and began ticking off each finger. “First, there’s the Network Veep who bought the show. He’s already won his fight because he got one over on those other sons of bitches who are trying to elbow him out of the way. But, after that, he has no dog in the fight and he’s off the show.”

            Godfrey ticked off another finger. “Second, there’s the Production Veep and his crew. They think they guy who bought the show was a brainless idiot, but they’re stuck with his stupid mistake. It’s their job to get ratings, and they’ll do anything legal to get them. Max out the T&A. Max out the violence. Car chases up the wazoo. Shove any nonsense they can down the throats of the writers, because what the fuck does the writer know about stories?

            He bent over a third finger. “But, hold on. The production Veep has got a deadly enemy from his own network. That’s the Program Practices Vice President. Susan Futterman, in your case. And the way she gets to look good to her boss is to squelch anything vaguely controversial. To her the perfect story would start with a nice clean problem about Billy doing his homework, and in the end Billy’s best friend, Sally, would make him see the error of his ways without ever flashing her cotton undies.”

            “Shit,” I said. “They’re all light years apart. In fact, they’re running at cross purposes to one another.”

            Again, this is discussing a television show in the early ’80s, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find analogous tensions occurring on long-series movies today.

            To give an idea of how the egos of everybody involved drive things, the main point of the linked page was discussing a particular episode. A random joke about meatballs was in the episode. The VP in charge of censorship became convinced it was dirty in a way she couldn’t see and demanded it be taken out.

            A few back-and-forths later, the producer, in a fit of pique, inserted a bunch more references to meatballs, shot the episode at a cost of $1.25 million dollars (~$3mm in 2011)–one of the most expensive episodes of television to be filmed to that date–and told her that ABC could broadcast that episode or broadcast dead air. ABC apparently lost that game of chicken.

        • broblawsky says:

          Wait, what’s worldbreaking in The Last Jedi? The hyperspace tracking thing?

          • Nick says:

            Holdo hyperspacing into Snoke’s big ship.

          • Clutzy says:

            Hyperspace tracking, hyperspace ramming, force projection and force skype (both are novel for one movie, but force skype is like how a lot of Seinfeld episodes would be stupid in a world with smartphones, Luke’s force projection move is also the ultimate intelligence gathering device, causing the same problem if you wanted to important any spy-related plots into a future movie), also small ships with cloaking devices, the opening starship battle is incongruous with all previous ones.

            That is just a short list off the top of my head about a movie I haven’t seen in over a year.

          • Nick says:

            Hyperspace tracking is in a sense worldbreaking, since escaping by hyperspace has no doubt been a thing for as long as hyperspace has been. But one can at least accept that the First Order had been working on that and finally figured it out.

            The hyperspace ram, though, is unforgivable. That hyperspacing a relatively small mass into a big one can cause absolute devastation should have been known five minutes after hyperspace was invented. How many countless battles could have been ended if one single ship hyperspaced into the big one? For that matter, couldn’t the Rebellion have hyperspaced ships into the Death Star and blown it up? Actually, why does the Empire need a Death Star when slapping a hyperspace drive on an asteroid makes a superweapon?

          • Aftagley says:

            Actually, why does the Empire need a Death Star when slapping a hyperspace drive on an asteroid makes a superweapon

            Because Rocks are not ‘Free,’ Citizen.

          • albatross11 says:

            Oh, God, not the blue chair again.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, if hyperspace ramming is a thing, then everyone will know it[1] and everyone will be trying to avoid being rammed, and all the military technology and tactics we see need to be shaped by that fact.

            It’s the kind of standard technology ass pull that bad movie/TV SF has all the time–someone wrote themselves into a corner and then made up some magic technology trick to get them out of it, without twitching a brain cell thinking about how it would affect the universe or whether it was consistent with the rules of the universe (which the writer probably doesn’t have any of in his head).

            Basically everything about that movie that didn’t involve Luke, Kylo, and Rey was mind-numbingly stupid and awful. Space bombers, stupid side quests, dumb internal leadership leading to dumb internal strife and attempted mutiny, etc. They didn’t even aspire to Star Trek levels of coherent SF.

            [1] We know from the first movie that Imperial officers in Star Wars believe ships can travel through hyperspace on autopilot, and we know that fighter-sized ships that a big ship can carry dozens of can have hyperdrive because Luke’s X-wing did. So if hyperdrive ramming works, everyone’s ships should have hyper-capable missiles to take out the enemy’s big ships.

          • CatCube says:

            Rocks may not be free, but they’d still be cheaper than a freakin’ space station the size of a small planet.

          • Nick says:

            Don’t forget the hair-trigger-explodeable bombers that move at a snail’s pace in a tight formation across vast distances so they can drop things in zero G. A very sensible addition to the Star Wars universe.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            If hyperspace ramming is possible, what would military spacecraft have always looked like in the Star Wars universe? Would they ever build anything bigger than those Prequel Jedi starfighters with the external hyperdrive, or would such a “hyperspace missile carrier” be too big of a target to ever get built?

          • woah77 says:

            Well apparently, you can track hyperspace jumps and since they’d have to be pretty close to accurately detect where you needed to hit, I’d expect large vessels to largely be ready to jump at a moment’s notice. Basically space battles should be lots and lots of hopping around, hoping you predicted where someone would dodge to accurately enough to hit them as they reappeared.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Also leveling up of force users to superhero status.

          • cassander says:

            The worst thing about the hyperspace jump is that they could have just jumped to right on top of the first order mothership (which could have been more reasonably sized), then rammed it at normal speeds. Call it a modified picard maneuver.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If hyperspace ramming is possible, what would military spacecraft have always looked like in the Star Wars universe?

            You probably would not have planets, since a city can be easily wiped out by a (super-)relativistic weapon before you know you are under attack.

            So you would have colony ships with deep cloaking that hyperspace away whenever they suspect their position has been compromised.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Holdo hyperspacing into Snoke’s big ship.

            The hyperspace-skipping sequence in TROS also bugged me, but at least it was at the start of the movie and they hung a lantern on it that they couldn’t do it again.

          • acymetric says:

            Yeah, I did not like the hyperspace skipping at all. It didn’t really make sense, and seemed unnecessary anyway. Fortunately it was unimportant enough that it could be forgotten entirely about 3 minutes later.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think that would be true anyway. Put a hyperdrive and a thruster on the biggest rock[1] you can find in space far from your target. Accelerate it to whatever fraction of c you can manage, then jump to hyperspace and come out as close as possible to the target planet on an intercept course. You can spend a decade accelerating the rocks if you need to.

            If ships can ram each other, then all the ships need to keep jumping or thrusting and be at a sufficient distance that the enemy has little chance of guessing where your ship will be when their missile comes out of hyperspace.

            [1] Damnit, it’s the blue chair again.

        • Nornagest says:

          The choice of a low speed chase as the core vehicle of the movie

          A low-speed chase is the core plot device of Fury Road, and that’s arguably the best action movie of the last 15 years.

          No defense for the rest, though.

          • Fury Road was pretty good I guess, but I always had a problem with the story being that they go on a big chase to escape to paradise, then find out it doesn’t exist, so then they turn around and go back to the base, which is “UNDEFENDED!!!!1111” because Immortan Joe ain’t a smart man.

            I guess the message is supposed to be that you shouldn’t pursue escapism, but try to change the awful system you live in. Maybe. Possibly.

          • Aftagley says:

            A low-speed chase is the core plot device of Fury Road

            Low Speed? Really?

            I mean, relative to star ships, sure, but they definitely look like they’re booking it through that desert.

            that’s arguably the best action movie of the last 15 years.

            Fully concur.

          • Nornagest says:

            I mean, relative to star ships, sure, but they definitely look like they’re booking it through that desert.

            Relative to starships, but also relative to, say, the Fast and the Furious movies. That war rig’s probably not doing more than 60 at any point, but more to the point you don’t see much fancy driving (the scene with the rockhopping dirt bikes aside) — the whole chase is mainly a platform for insane post-apocalyptic combat and showing off the props. The tension doesn’t come from the chase itself, it comes from what happens in it.

            That doesn’t make it any less good, of course.

          • John Schilling says:

            Relative to starships, but also relative to, say, the Fast and the Furious movies. That war rig’s probably not doing more than 60 at any point,

            On a dirt road, or none at all. In that context, 60 mph is high speed. If you doubt that, try it sometime.

            “Low speed chase”, if it means anything at all, has to be normalized to the speeds practically achievable in that context. The prototypical example being O.J. Simpson vs. the LAPD, at 20 mph on interstate highways. And, yes, in that environment, you could have a side plot where a couple of officers break off the pursuit, stop at a local coffee shop, have a conversation with OJ’s lawyer, maybe a quick romantic interlude, and then rejoin the chase. Heck, for all I know that actually happened. But it’s a farce, as a story or as reality.

            To make a low-speed chase in any way dramatic, you need clear reasons for both sides to not just Go Faster and end it in the first act.

          • Nornagest says:

            On a dirt road, or none at all. In that context, 60 mph is high speed. If you doubt that, try it sometime.

            I have, and you’re not wrong. But…

            “Low speed chase”, if it means anything at all, has to be normalized to the speeds practically achievable in that context.

            …if you’re breaking it down along those lines, then you’re right, the whole idea of a low-speed chase is inherently farcical and there’s no defense. I was going for a distinction that’s more about emphasis or intensity, as the rest of my post might have suggested. The stern chase from Master and Commander (film version) could have been another example.

          • John Schilling says:

            Oh, the chase in Master and Commander absolutely works. But it is, by my definition, a high-speed chase. In 1814, those ships were as fast as fast gets, at least on the high seas, and the reason no one on either side said “screw this, let’s go faster and end it right now” is because they couldn’t.

            A Master and Commander in which Aubrey said to his friend Maturin, “You know, it’s going to be a good long while before we’re actually in shooting distance with the French – plenty of time for you to take one of our speedboats over to the Galapagos for some botanical research and maybe a spot of espionage, just be sure to get back in time for the fight” would have been right back into farce territory.

            Whatever the absolute speed, a chase storyline needs to be a self-contained storyline, because it is almost logically impossible for anyone who leaves the chase to rejoin it.

          • Clutzy says:

            I didn’t say that a low speed chase is an indefensible choice generally, just for this movie. A movie that didn’t want to focus on the chase elements for building tension (always tension would be lifted after a few minutes of it building), better then to just have a hide and seek plot then instead.

          • better then to just have a hide and seek plot then instead.

            If they wanted to pattern the whole plot around a single contest between the good guy ship and the bad guy ship, would it have been better to take inspiration from the scene in Empire and have the resistance ship hiding inside a huge asteroid in an asteroid field? That’s spacey hide and seek in the world of Star Wars where asteroid fields work how they do, and it would better incorporate side plots, since it’s more logical to have a small ship sneak out of the asteroid field where the resistance ship is static and the first order ship is slowly looking for it while trying to minimize damage than it is for it to sneak out of an ongoing chase.

          • Clutzy says:

            If they wanted to pattern the whole plot around a single contest between the good guy ship and the bad guy ship, would it have been better to take inspiration from the scene in Empire and have the resistance ship hiding inside a huge asteroid in an asteroid field?

            For sure. Or crib from some other SciFi and have a dense gas cloud of some sort that disrupts vision and scanners.

        • J Mann says:

          The stern chase would have been fine if it wasn’t possible to fly away from the chase, go to a different planet, have an adventure, then fly back to the ship you started from, but somehow it’s also impossible for the First Order to just fly in front of the ship they’re chasing and shoot it.

          There’s an early episode of the BSG reboot (88?) that does an awesome job of developing chase tension, but TLJ doesn’t even get within sight of that. (Alternatively, the sequel to A Mote in God’s Eye has a great stern chase that is more of a tactics puzzle, but again, TLJ doesn’t get there.)

    • cassander says:

      I’m sure that Abrams could have cranked out three bland but mildly enjoyable riffs on the original star wars, but I’m not sure that I would call that a vision. It’s hard to tell if Johnson actually had a vision or just wanted to see what he could get away with, but if he had all made all the films, they would have been interesting, but interesting is not the same thing as good.

      I expected Disney to crank out three bland but mildly enjoyable riffs on the original star wars. that was the safe bet. I remain flabbergasted at the pigs breakfast that they’ve made of their franchise instead.

      • FrankistGeorgist says:

        I think we can all be thankful that whatever the quality of the sequels, there’ll be new Star Wars content for the rest of linear time, so like so many monkeys at typewriters, we’ll eventually get Hamlet – Prince of Dantooine.

        • cassander says:

          Monkeys on typewriters can be useful. If I were Disney, I’d have let a bunch of people make a bunch of different star wars stories with a lot of creative control and only started making episodes once I had a solid team in place that fans liked and trusted.

      • acymetric says:

        This seems like a pretty solid take to me. I can’t recall if it were here or somewhere else that I saw this, but someone suggested that Rian could probably make a pretty good movie or movies in the Star Wars universe, he and his vision (such as it were) just wasn’t right for the sequel trilogy itself. Unfortunately, while he was originally expected to get his own trilogy it appears that will not happen, so we got the worst of both worlds.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      http://www.csun.edu/~dgw61315/tandem.html

      I read that before, but it’s always a fun read.

      JJ Abrams and Ryan Johnson each had a vision that could have made an interesting and watchable trilogy of movies, and indeed viewed in isolation I quite liked each of the three.

      I don’t know. JJ probably just wanted to make a pseudo-remake of the original trilogy cramming as much nostalgia into it as possible. That’s what the Force Awakens is. He hinted a few plot threads for the next episodes, but given that the (empty) mistery box story is his signature move, I doubt he actually gave Rian much to work with.
      But whatever Rian was given, he threw it over his shoulder and basically attempted to do a deconstruction of Star Wars, which he did poorly (the Mandalorian is The Way to do it). And most importantly, he didn’t leave any viable plot thread for the story to continue.
      So JJ had to fix Rian mess with heavy retcons. But even without inevitable the retcons and zombie Leia, Rise of Skywalkers suffers from plenty of avoidable problems on its own, such as the hectic scavenger hunt plot of the first two acts, the throwaway new characters (Poe’s ex and gender-swapped Finn, I don’t even remember their names) and of course Qnegu Tenzcn.

      • Placid Platypus says:

        Qnegu Tenzcn

        Almost didn’t realize that was ROT 13 since it’s pretty plausible as a Star Wars character name.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        According to rumor, JJ did not want the Star Killer Base (SKB) in TFA, but was forced to by executives who wanted less risk and a familiar plot.

      • acymetric says:

        And most importantly, he didn’t leave any viable plot thread for the story to continue.

        I think the hectic plot was somewhat a result of this point here. Ideally some of what happened in RoS should have happened in TLJ but instead basically nothing happened in TLJ except for some character development, most of which was walked back by the end of the film anyway (contrary to a lot of people complaining about JJ rolling back the ideas put out there by Johnson, Johnson himself walked back a bunch of those changes in the last 15-20 minutes of TLJ).

    • Jaskologist says:

      Star Wars was a fluke. Lucas somehow lucked into making 2 great movies, but it was a result of everything coming together just right, and he didn’t understand why it worked or how to replicate it. There was still half of a great movie inside the third one, but looking back, you can see the wheels coming off even then. He was unable to pull it off again when he made the prequels, and Disney couldn’t either, even though they both had effectively infinite money by then.

      Just let it die. We finally have the definitive answer to the ancient question: Star Trek is better.

      • cassander says:

        Just let it die. We finally have the definitive answer to the ancient question: Star Trek is better.

        We might want to see how Star Trek: Picard comes out before we get too excited there…

      • acymetric says:

        I would rather watch Phantom Menace on repeat than watch Star Trek. I’ve legitimately tried to engage with it multiple times. Just can’t do it.

      • Aapje says:

        @Jaskologist

        My strong impression is that George Lucas had to compromise severely for the first three movies. He seemed overwhelmed by A New Hope, suffering from hypertension and exhaustion. Note that this was only his third real movie. The other two movies of the original trilogy were directed by someone else.

        The descriptions of his direction skills at the time are pretty scathing. He seemed unable to give instructions to actors beyond ‘faster’ and ‘more intense.’ He got into a conflict with his cinematographer for micromanaging. In general, Lucas seems to have had a lot of shitty ideas that were shot down, with others on the project not having it.

        Note that the famous ‘Han shot first’ scene was added impromptu, after a stupid Jabba the Hutt scene (later added to the Special Edition) was cut to cut down on money and time overruns.

        George Lucas never actually directed another movie after A New Hope until the new trilogy. Instead, he focused primarily on executive producing & developing special effects, sound and computer animation for movies with Lucasfilm.

        For the new trilogy, the people involved seemed to trust George Lucas to know what he was doing way too much, not pushing back against his bad ideas.

        • acymetric says:

          For the new trilogy, the people involved seemed to trust George Lucas to know what he was doing way too much, not pushing back against his bad ideas.

          I’m no great defender of Lucas, but I don’t think this describes the sequels well at all. Pretty sure Lucas was basically totally uninvolved.

          • Aapje says:

            George Lucas wrote, directed and executive produced Episode I, II and III.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            ‘New Trilogy’ gets confusing — just use sequels and prequels. Appje was referring to the prequels.

          • Aapje says:

            It seems unambiguous. ‘New’ in this context can only refer to our time, not Star Wars time, right?

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Acymetric read your sentence and interpretted ‘new trilogy’ as the trilogy just produced by disney, not the one produced by lucas in the late 90s and early 2000s. I can see it being interpreted either way.

          • Aapje says:

            Fair enough. I’m trying to mostly ignore these, but others may not do that.

      • Matt M says:

        Star Wars was a fluke. Lucas somehow lucked into making 2 great movies, but it was a result of everything coming together just right, and he didn’t understand why it worked or how to replicate it.

        I’m increasingly coming around to this also.

        The OT was the anomaly. The rest of the movies are just doing what normal big-budget Hollywood action movies do (which is, mostly being incoherent messes).

        • Eric Rall says:

          I suspect it wasn’t a coincidence that the best Star Wars movies were the ones Marcia Lucas had direct influence on. She was heavily involved with the development of the scripts of the original trilogy (especially New Hope and Empire) and did film edition work on all three of the original films. She and George started the divorce process in 1982, during the production of Return of the Jedi.

      • cassander says:

        Lucas also had a significant hand in the indiana Jones movies, for whatever that’s worth.

        • Matt M says:

          But only two out of four of those were good, also!

          • John Schilling says:

            And all six of them had at least one actor who was famously willing to call out Lucas’s bad writing, dialogue especially, and force improvements on-set.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Almost anyone in Hollywood can pitch an idea for an interesting and watchable trilogy for an established franchise, the issue is in the execution. Abrams ran with the nostalgia and Johnson made a fan-fiction version of Star Wars where he put what he wanted to see up on screen, neither demonstrated anything that was both original and worked in the established universe.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I spoke here four years ago about how confusing Episode 7 was and how the facts presented (a successor state to the Empire co-exists with the New Republic and destroys it by blowing up the inhabited planets of one star system, Han Solo went back to being a smuggler despite being married to one of the highest-status people to participate in the Empire’s destruction) by establishing that “the New Republic” was only ever the Hosnian system despite pretensions of being the government of the entire galaxy (e.g. Leia gave Han the pretentious title of “Senator of Corellia”) and every system had been independent since the destruction of the second Death Star.
      Then Rian Johnson went and broke any sense of a coherent setting by having the entire galaxy ruled by the First Order in the opening crawl. That was even before having a couple of good guys drop out of a low-speed chase to go to Space Las Vegas, where we learn that the only people wealthy enough to be gamblers are arms dealers and they free the Space equivalent of Siegfried and Roy’s tigers while leaving their human slaves. That’s not prima facie unrealistic, but it’s thoroughly farcical.
      Episode 9, though, left the Star Wars universe beyond salvaging. The plot is as if the United States had de jure rule of the whole world, which gave it the resources to build two Ballistic Missile Submarines. Then the President was suicidally killed by the Vice President onboard the second SSBN while an alliance of white progressives and Islamists (cf. Rogue One) were trying to sink it. 32 years later, a bunch of Neo-Nazis/United States cosplayers nuke UN Headquarters, which instantly re-establishes the old world government. But this is just a sideshow to a cult of evil Buddhist heretics building 1,000 SSBNs in secret with the resources available from ruling one small country (naq nyfb gurl jbex sbe gur ervapneangrq ynfg Cerfvqrag bs gur Havgrq Fgngrf. Bu naq V thrff gur FFOAf ner nyy haqrejngre naq unir gb fhesnpr gb pneel bhg gur ervapneangrq CBGHF’f beqre gb ahxr gur jbeyq, fb gur fheivivat Fcrpvny Sbeprf bs gur rkgvapg HA pna bayl fnir gur jbeyq ol evqvat qbycuva pninyel nybat gurve uhyyf gb cynag rkcybfvirf.)

      • Plumber says:

        I’m guessing the last few lines were that “rot 13” thing, but at first I thought you were showing the bad Star Wars plots induced descent into madness of @Le Maistre Chat akin to shouting out: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn“!

        • viVI_IViv says:

          “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn“

          Can’t parse this forbidden tongue. Need a memory wipe to tease a character “death” in the trailer, just to undo it five minutes later.

      • Nornagest says:

        Star Wars has always leaned a bit too hard on its superweapons, and not just in the mainline movies — the expanded universe does it too, with something like two dozen examples across different media. KOTOR’s Star Forge and the gravity weapon in KOTOR 2 might be the ones this audience is most familiar with.

        It doesn’t have to be that way — Empire Strikes Back, generally considered the best Star Wars movie, gets Imperial power over with nothing more than an overwhelmingly powerful conventional military. But it’s a tempting crutch for bad writers and/or the nostalgia-poisoned, and guess who’s running the show now?

        (Rogue One handled it well, but it had the advantage of working in part of the canon where the OG superweapon fit in nicely. I’d have had much more trouble suspending my disbelief if they were going after the plans for some EU-style gadget — let’s call it the Murder Moon.)

        • moonfirestorm says:

          let’s call it the Murder Moon

          That’s no moon, it’s a… oh wait it is a moon. But it’s still bad.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Va beqre gb svavfu gurz bss jvgu gur syrrg bs gur “crbcyr”.

        Qhaxvex, rkprcg gung gur Oevgvfu pvivyvna obngf qrfgebl gur Anmv ahpyrne H-obngf juvyr Puhepuvyy qrsrngf Uvgyre (erirnyrq gb or uvf tenqsngure) ol ersyrpgvat uvf I-2f onpx ng uvz jvgu qhny jvryq hzoeryynf, gura qlvat bs rkunhfgvba naq orvat erfheerpgrq ol naq znxvat bhg jvgu n erqrrzrq Uvzzyre.

  3. SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

    I have been thinking about how to apply the Taleb’s concept of black swans to professional careers. Taleb writes(about investments):

    If you know that you are vulnerable to prediction errors, and if you accept that most “risk measures” are flawed, because of the Black Swan, then your strategy is to be as hyperconservative and hyperaggressive as you can be instead of being mildly aggressive or conservative.[…] You need to put a portion, say 85 to 90 percent, in extremely safe instruments, […] The remaining 10 to 15 percent you put in extremely speculative bets

    .

    Since careers can be and are regularly affected by black swan events (just ask a cab driver in New York), I think it would be essentially foolish to not incorporate such considerations into one’s career plan: it is the equivalent of thinking that Apple stock will always rise on compared to previous years because that was the case the last 15 years, but applying this logic to your life.

    However, it is really hard to diversify your career:

    Being in tech, it seems possible to take advantage of positive black swans by doing for example side projects, like developing apps on the side; those are individually unlikely to yield much money, but if you release many of those, chances go up quickly. However, the app space is really crowded, with people doing it full-time,so it’s unclear whether the aggregate likelihood of having one large success is even significant.

    This is kind of what Scott did successfully: Go work in a very safe career, while writing things on the side, although this blog is probably more like one big side-project than many small bets.

    Furthermore, what about limiting the downsides of black swans? When thinking about realistic ways to hedge against a whole downturn in tech, I coming up pretty much blank. Learning one of the trades on the side? Too difficult to do in my spare time. Maybe going to work in a very safe industry like the government (on the other hand, some people become miserable in this type of job), or aggressively saving up money while the job market is kind to programmers.

    Overall nothing that really approaches Taleb’s investment guidelines, which makes the Chesteron’s fence of just picking a career and hoping for the best seem a bit more appealing.

    Thoughts?

    • DinoNerd says:

      First of all, I don’t think you can diversify a single career. To really diversify it, you’d need an enforceable mutual support agreement with enough people, in enough different careers, that those that get creamed by negative black swans can be assisted by those who benefit from positive black swans, and/or the collective together. And to completely implement his advice, you’d need a large proportion in boring, ordinary, not too lucrative careers that are very safe, in case too large a proportion of the risk takers fail. (Most of them will, in Taleb’s formulation.) IMNSHO, the best way to accomplish this would be a government sponsored social safety net, but it could in theory be done privately. However I’d expect those who won (or broke even) to blame those who lost for their own failure, and try to exclude them for freeloading/causing their own failure, and like as not too much of the private group’s money being eaten up by enforcement lawsuits.

      For an individual, I’d start by looking at Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) That’s your conservative part of the strategy – save huge proportions of your income, all the time, and be used to living very much within your means. Then follow some high risk strategy, but one that nonetheless pays you as you go along – not live on ramen while hoping your ship will come in. Be prepared to shift strategies if needed, with those savings available to support retraining etc. – or to allow you to give up on the career thing, and simply implement the “retire early” part of it.

      • johan_larson says:

        You might be able to do this with a married couple. One partner takes a very steady job with good benefits, while the other pursues a high-risk/high-reward career such as entrepreneurship.

        • aristides says:

          This is actually what my wife and I was doing. I have a government job that pays all our necessities. She quit her job that paid much less than mine and started her own business. In 3 years, she’s already had two businesses that failed, but her current business is on track to net money in 2020. Her potential upside is 10 times my salary and 20 times her old salary, but even if she fails again, we won’t starve. There is no way she would have tried this without being married and having joint finances.

        • John Schilling says:

          while the other pursues a high-risk/high-reward career such as entrepreneurship.

          And if that comes down on the “reward” side, trades in the old worn-out spouse for the shiny new trophy model, so what’s the up side for the person taking the “steady job with good benefits” and then handing over half the benefits?

          It is still sometimes possible to set up partnerships that work along the suggested lines, but it is increasingly irrelevant that there be a marriage involved.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And if that comes down on the “reward” side, trades in the old worn-out spouse for the shiny new trophy model, so what’s the up side for the person taking the “steady job with good benefits” and then handing over half the benefits?

            They would be entitled to a large chunk of the windfall in most scenarios.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            The entire scenario is full of opportunity for back-stabbing, from both sides. The ‘stable’ spouse can dump the entrepreneur if the gamble doesn’t work out. The entrepreneur can dump the ‘stable’ spouse if it does.

            but it is increasingly irrelevant that there be a marriage involved.

            Only in the sense that breaking a marriage has fewer downsides than ever, so it offers fewer guarantees.

          • Aftagley says:

            Can’t all these downsides be solved via a prenup?

            Or, in the case of an already-established marriage, just draw up a contract. If you’re the kind of people who are debating optimization strategies for your partnership, you’re probably also the kind of people willing to just out-and-out formalize that relationship.

          • John Schilling says:

            Can’t all these downsides be solved via a prenup?

            They can to some (incomplete) extent be solved by a contract, regardless of whether or not the contract is pre-, post-, or anuptual. And marriage law/contracts generally are more concerned with ensuring that no one winds up indigent rather than that post-marital windfalls be equitably divided – for that, you need a contract tailored to that purpose.
            Hence, irrelevant that a marriage is involved.

          • baconbits9 says:

            They don’t have to be complete unless you have an overdeveloped sense of justice. If your spouse gets half of 50k a year and then ditches you when they are suddenly worth 10 million and you ‘only’ get 10% of that in the settlement you are still a substantial gainer from the strategy.

          • johan_larson says:

            John, enough rich men have had occasion to rue the bite taken by divorce courts that things are probably not as simple as you make them out to be.

            You seem to expect the high-risk/high-reward partner to be able to exit the marriage cleanly when he strikes it rich, leaving the low-risk/low-reward partner with nothing. This seems unlikely, since even sudden wealth does not arrive all at once. It takes time to build a successful business or high-flying career, and while you can probably cut the graying sagging partner out of the most lucrative later years, they will certainly have a claim on the proceeds of the (still very lucrative) early years of the big success.

          • John Schilling says:

            This seems unlikely, since even sudden wealth does not arrive all at once. It takes time to build a successful business or high-flying career, and while you can probably cut the graying sagging partner out of the most lucrative later years, they will certainly have a claim on the proceeds of the (still very lucrative) early years of the big success.

            That’s actually my point. If future-billionaire can divorce his hard-working first wife when he’s made his first ten million (and thus confidently no longer needs her hard work), then by traditional rules she only gets the five million from those early years. Which, again, guarantees that she won’t be dying in poverty. but she was still taking the full risk of having a good-for-nothing loser tinkering fruitlessly in her basement for her entire economic life, and is now capped at ~1% of the payoff if he comes up a winner. What should have been a good deal for both of them and for society at large, maybe doesn’t happen because a small chance of $5 million isn’t enough to compensate for a high probability of supporting an economic dead weight for forty years.

            Which, yes, we can work around with properly-tailored contracts. But we can do that with or without the marriage.

          • Jaskologist says:

            If your spouse gets half of 50k a year and then ditches you when they are suddenly worth 10 million and you ‘only’ get 10% of that in the settlement you are still a substantial gainer from the strategy.

            Losing a marriage and gaining $1 million is a substantial net loss.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Losing a marriage and gaining $1 million is a net loss.

            Sure, but we are running with Schillings exaggerated scenario and claim that there wouldn’t be any compensation.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          You should both have steady jobs with good benefits because you need to work for 40 years, and your steady job with good benefits might be rendered obsolete in 10 years, letting life screw you for the next 30 years because one of you decided to become an “entrepreneur.” Or God help you if the reliable one ended up permanently disabled, or dead with an insufficient life insurance policy.

          In this household, one of us is in factory accounting and one of us is a pharmacist. Factory accounting is already getting replaced with factory finance as larger companies are consolidating their accounting functions, and both are susceptible to surplus labor or entirely new fields (see Dragon Milk’s post above). Pharmacists are in surplus and wages are getting driven down in many areas, and if Bernie Sanders gets his way those salaries are getting slashed again via government fiat.

          • baconbits9 says:

            No, you should work to live on one income with a decent life insurance/disability insurance plan which covers most scenarios. If the working spouse has to take a large compensation hit to their current or expected earnings you can bridge part of the gap with the other spouse increasing their income (preferably temporarily).

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Also a viable option if your spouse can readily increase their income. I’m not sure how much of an option that is some careers. My wife could theoretically switch from being a PRN Pharmacist working as-needed shifts to being a night shift pharmacist and cover my income drop, but I wouldn’t be able to adjust as easily.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The gig economy is a good relief valve, I know a few couples where the husband works and then 1 or both of them have a small side gig like running a few Airbnb’s or dog sitting that could be expanded in a pinch (though not a large recession).

    • Aapje says:

      @SolipsisticUtilitarian

      Programming is quite a safe career, because IT has become part of doing nearly anything. So it is relatively safe unless there is total stagnation. During the last economic downturn, I saw tons of headhunters flocking to IT.

      The major issue with cab drivers was that they had to buy really expensive medallions, which were at risk of becoming worthless. Programming has no such barrier to entry and doesn’t get you stuck with high loans (aside from those that may come with getting a college degree, but you can pay college loans off more quickly as a programmer).

      I would worry much more about stagnating in IT, for example by focusing on a niche, which then disappears.

      Making apps seems like unlikely to help in an economic downturn, because any economic downturn so large that it puts many programmers out of a job, is going to tank app sales.

      I would mostly advice generic financing advice: keep a buffer, invest in other sectors than the one you work in, live within your means.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Programming is quite a safe career, because IT has become part of doing nearly anything.

        The industry numbers following previous downturns tell another story. Unfortunately I don’t have my data at hand, but IIRC it was several years after the dot-com bust that employment even reached its previous levels.

      • The major issue with cab drivers was that they had to buy really expensive medallions, which were at risk of becoming worthless.

        I don’t know the situation where you are, but I think in the U.S. the medallion normally belongs to the cab company, which hires drivers, not to the individual driver. Partly that is because medallions, at least in New York City, were much too expensive for an ordinary cab driver. Part was because a medallion can work 24 hours a day, and a driver can’t.

        If medallion prices crashed because more were issued, that would be a loss for the companies but a gain for the drivers, since more medallions means more cabs, more jobs for cab drivers, and higher wages. If they crashed because demand for cab rides dropped, due to the rise of alternatives such as Uber or a good mass transit system, on the other hand, both the companies and the drivers would be worse off.

        • abystander says:

          Taxi drivers have often bought medallions with loans and made arrangements with taxi companies to lease the medallions when the owners weren’t using it.

          https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/A-750-000-Taxi-Medallion-a-Driver-s-Suicide-and-14928760.php

          In San Francisco medallions were offered to in limited number to a select group of drivers at a set price below the economic rents that could be charged. More medallions would have meant that there would not be enough lucrative trips between the downtown hotels and the airport and somebody would be stuck having to drive out near the ocean take my parents to and from the doctor.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Taleb’s definition of a black swan isn’t just an unlikely event, its an out of sample event where you can’t predict its likelihood/impact from the current sample. The 85/15 ratio isn’t ‘you suddenly become rich if there is a black swan’ its ‘gives you a shot to become rich before there is a black swan’ (ok, its both but people ignore the latter which is more important). If you are a programmer who works on apps on the side you aren’t going to be recession proof, but you do have a shot at becoming independently wealthy before the next recession.

      Another way to approach it is to have a partner with a different profile than you, one has the highly secure job and the other is in a speculative field where they could make it big.

      • Matt M says:

        That would prepare you for an upside sort of black swan.

        On the other hand, maybe even better is for one person to have a highly secure job and the other to be a real expert on basic survival skills. For the downside black swan.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Hitting the upside BS protects you from the downside.

          • Matt M says:

            Not really. You still have to take steps to prepare. A billion dollars worth of Amazon stock in an offshore brokerage account doesn’t do you a ton of good in a true SHTF situation.

            It makes it easier for you to have taken the necessary precautions and acquired the necessary goods and knowledge to succeed in such an environment. But you still have to actually do the things.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There are basically no situations where multi millionaires need survival skills.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There are basically no situations where multi millionaires need survival skills.

            There are plenty of situations where _former_ multi-millionaires do.

          • Matt M says:

            Any situation in which you or I need survival skills is almost certainly a situation in which millionaires need them too.

            Unless, as I said, they’ve already done some pretty detailed and painstaking preparation for such a scenario.

            But if they haven’t, their millions could be made instantly valueless.

          • baconbits9 says:

            If you are a millionaire living in a penthouse in NYC there are basically two situations where TSHTF

            1. You can buy your way out of the city, helicopter or something. In this situation your money is still worth something and you will be able to hide out at a second property or friends while things settle down.

            2. You can’t buy your way out of the city, then your survival skills, outside of owning and being able to shoot a gun, won’t matter for crap.

            Millionaires who don’t live in dense cities like NY are generally well isolated from the masses who will be causing problems. Their lifestyles will take massive hits but the path where they go all the way down to needing to heat a log cabin with raccoon dung is pretty nonexistent.

            Any situation in which you or I need survival skills is almost certainly a situation in which millionaires need them too.

            You haven’t studied actual collapses then. If bread goes to $100 a loaf then people on the bottom end have to scrounge to supplement while rich people can still afford bread etc. The wealthy in Paris during the revolution either got out early enough to live relatively comfortable lives or were stripped of everything and possibly executed.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Survival skills are also wildly overrated for such scenarios. Oh, I’m going to hit the woods and my hunting skills will feed me. Hey, guess who else is going to hunt to try to supplement their food intake, tens of millions of people! Your local deer population is going crash in the fact of SHTF at the level, everything is going to be 10x harder than you think as you try to navigate a dramatically changing ecosystem.

          • albatross11 says:

            There are a lot of ways the S can hit TF that don’t look like societal collapse. Wealth doesn’t guarantee anything about storms, earthquakes, fires, floods, etc., and it’s good to have skills and resources (and thought-out plans) for those things, even if you also have money in the bank.

          • Chalid says:

            It’s not like the upside BS has any correlation to the downside BS. The BS’s are *unlikely*. The case where the upside BS has a chance to protect you from the downside BS is approximately unlikely squared (actually even less as the collapsing society is probably not producing a lot of great startups or whatever.)

    • Ketil says:

      The conservative part for me is working in a relatively safe sector (academia), saving money mostly by owning my home and paying down mortgage, and having options to cut expenses (e.g. reduce car use) or getting side incomes (renting out rooms) if it becomes necessary. I considered putting some of my savings into more high risk investments, but I find it takes to much effort.

      Not sure how you would “invest” career-wise, if you are worried about becoming unemployed, better to take out an insurance that lets you pay down your mortgage/debts and thus reduce your expenses. I would probably worry more about chronic illness or becoming disabled than having no marketable skills.

  4. Frangible Waterbird says:

    Hi SlateStarCodexPeoples,

    Imagine that you had the ear of a classroom of 20-30 6th grade kids who were all legit really bright / gifted & talented… and you could do like 100 little 15-minute talks and/or activities? (or 1 90-minute talk and/or activity.)
    …what are some of the things* you would want to teach them?

    Or, going back in time, what do you wish someone had convincingly told your 6th-grade self?
    And how would tell/say/show someone that?

    (yes, teaching gifted 6th graders in a school setting is sort of a far-off dream I have. I might not quite have the… constitution to be able to handle some of the challenges.
    I know this is just coming from nobody you know out of no-where, so …hoping some people like the question.)

    Also.. Happy New Year!

    • Dacyn says:

      I would teach them rationalist taboo, I think that is the most powerful nonstandard tool I know, and it is a pretty simple concept.

      (I know the concept may seem obvious but before I learned it I several times had the experience of “oh no I just realized I don’t know the English language as well as I thought I did, this is an ontological crisis!!!” — calm down, it’s not a crisis, just a communication barrier.)

      • Anatoly says:

        My favorite rationality technique is to force yourself to actually think 5 minutes about the decision you have to make, explicitly weighing the different choices and going over their pros and cons in your mind or better yet on paper. 5 minutes seems like very little time, but once you force yourself to do this, you begin to realize how often you think you’ve deeply considered some course of action, but what you really did was sort of daydream doing it this way or that way, and one of the daydreamed scenarios seemed like the way to go for reasons you couldn’t clearly articulate for yourself. I don’t remember which bit of the Sequences or related writings this advice comes from, but I think it’s very valuable.

      • Frangible Waterbird says:

        @Dacyn, Very neat. Thank you.
        This is something I was gleeful to come up with some variant of in specific situations, but maybe should be willing to do it in more situations.

        For middle-schoolers,
        I mean, they will encounter so many situations where the people around them are playing a game of “can’t use these words” or “must use this word” and… so much better to treat that state of things as an intellectual challenge where you can find a workaround than to simply resent feeling trapped.

    • Plumber says:

      @Frangible Waterbird says:

      “…going back in time, what do you wish someone had convincingly told your 6th-grade self?…”

      I would tell my younger self: “While history and ‘social-sciences’ classes are amusing except for being able to do arithmetic quickly if your goal is to earn a living academics are a waste of your time, test out of high school even earlier than you did and start taking welding classes ASAP”.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      I’d teach them about spaced-repetition software like Anki, whose usefulness is enormous , but usually that’s not apparent to people unfamiliar with the concept. If homework was allowed, I’d tell the students about some facts or mathematical techniques, then have them use a spaced-repetition software on half of those facts, and quiz them two weeks later; Then I repeat the same procedure two weeks later, teaching them stuff that builds on the previous material, thereby demonstrating to them 1) how quickly we forget 2) that it might be possible to learn a limited amount of stuff just before a test, but that becomes impractical if you need to constantly relearn things from scratch and/or build upon that knowledge, and 3) that there are a tools to help you with that.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Don’t worry about graduating high school. Get into college as soon as possible and get an A.S., even if it means not hitting the credit requirements to graduate high school. With the A.S. you can transfer to a B.S. program at any 4-year university. They will not care in the slightest that you don’t have a high school diploma if you already have an associate’s degree with good grades.

      Since you don’t need to meet the high school graduation credit requirements, you can focus on community college courses that 1) you are interested in, and 2) will get you that A.S. as soon as possible.

      You will need to practice grammar and writing on your own, though. Because verbal and written expression are your weaknesses, and are very important in and after college.

      Oh yeah, practice reading boring things without falling asleep or distracting yourself, and also retaining the information. You will need this skill in college.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ve seen people be grateful for having been taught how to study. I don’t remember details, but I think it was basic stuff about being organized.

    • Laukhi says:

      Are we allowed to cheat, and just point them towards various books and resources that they probably wouldn’t be aware of? I think they’d get a lot more out of that if they can be counted on to actually read them. If not going back in time, we can just direct them to this exact thread.

      • Frangible Waterbird says:

        That is not cheating!
        Pointing them towards books and resources they probably weren’t aware of = very desired / definitely yes.

        If people want a completely unscientific set of percentages for student compliance (generated at my whimsy!) assume that…
        90% will read 2-page excerpts from -anything- that’s not insanely dense
        80% will read a given fiction book (assume it’s required reading)
        60% will read a given recommended non-fiction book at sometime in the next… 4 years.
        (I fear on that last one I’m just lowering that estimate b/c variance on accessibility of non-fic books people might want to recommend is so high.)

    • gribeaux says:

      I wish that someone had told me:

      People are really important.
      You need friendships to be happy.
      It is not sufficient to find a preexisting social group and sort of attach yourself to it.
      If you do that, you will always feel like a tagalong, and you will not be happy.
      You need to meet individual people, on your own, and get them to do things with you.
      You need to identify fun things that you can get people to do with you.
      You need to put effort into learning how to do this.

      Transportation is really important.
      You need to live somewhere you can get to places quickly.
      The more places you can reach, the more options you will have, and the happier you will be.
      Do not try to live in the South Bay.
      Live somewhere that has a good subway system.

      You might imagine that people in authority positions might be required to be completely fair to everyone.
      This is wrong and naive.
      People in authority positions can screw you over if they think you’re not being respectful enough.

      About girls: Sex is overrated. Cuddling is awesome.
      See if you can find someone who will cuddle with you and watch television.

      • Dacyn says:

        Hmm, the best social groups I found were actually people who were all in the same place for the same reason (a group of incoming grad students, or postdocs, or an internship). One of these was on a rotating basis so in a sense it was a pre-existing group. Once the group structure was in place I found it easier to approach individual people to hang out.

        Agree with all the rest (well, I haven’t experienced South Bay or authority unfairness directly)

    • I would want to teach them the economic way of thinking. I would also want to give them some idea of ways to figure out whether things they read or were told were true.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “the economic way of thinking”

        Looking at trade-offs?

        • That’s one part of it.

          One part is figuring out how to behave rationally, which is where recognizing tradeoffs, the logic of constrained optimization, comes in. The other part is figuring out the implications of the fact that other people are behaving rationally — not perfectly or all of the time, but enough to establish a lot of the patterns of behavior around you.

    • aristides says:

      I would prefer to teach them this in 9th grade, but I’ll settle to teach it in 6th grade. I would have units where we explored different careers. At least in my school, the only career exploration I had was one of those interests tests, and a short write up of 5 careers based on your results. Ideally, I would have 15 minute presentations discussing what the day to day work was, working conditions, pay, hours, and path to get the career.

      I’m a law school grad that is now working in HR and love it. If I had considered HR, or even management generally, a viable career choice earlier, I could have gotten an MBA instead of a JD, saved ~$60,000, a year of my life, and had a more useful degree for my field.

      • Matt M says:

        This is near the top of my list of potential educational reforms as well. Schools spend way too much time teaching “basic skills” and not nearly enough time teaching what all of your options are.

        An overview of potential career paths would be invaluable.

        • Plumber says:

          @Matt M says:

          “…Schools spend way too much time teaching “basic skills” and not nearly enough time teaching what all of your options are”

          What’cha talkin’ ’bout Matt M?

          Schools totally teach career options!

          Option 1: School teacher.

          Option 2: Do whatever the Hell your parents do kid.

          Option 3: Prisonbound

          “An overview of potential career paths would be invaluable”

          Yes, they would’ve been.

        • baconbits9 says:

          An overview of potential career paths would be invaluable.

          You think public school teachers are going to be knowledgeable and forward looking and able to guide you on a career path that will be a good choice 10-15 years out? More or less they will just be telling you what was a good career path 10-20 years prior and you will be entering just as these paths are drying up.

          • johan_larson says:

            Oh, that’s easy.

            Doctor
            Lawyer
            Banker

          • baconbits9 says:

            Right, of course kids smart enough to do those pretty rarely don’t know they are an option.

          • Matt M says:

            You think public school teachers are going to be knowledgeable and forward looking and able to guide you on a career path that will be a good choice 10-15 years out?

            No.

            That’s why I would consider this an incredibly significant and major reform (and as such, something that won’t be happening any time soon). It would be a dramatic shift in the entire paradigm of how children are taught and what the purpose of K-12 education is, at all.

            It would do a lot of good, but it will almost certainly never happen.

          • Frangible Waterbird says:

            My dream-idea for tackling this particular thing for the particular school that I love would involve…

            The PARENTS.
            The parents are doing things that are freaking amazing. Some are doctors. Some, I think, are doing crazy-cutting-edge things. a guy who ends up “accidentally” CEO at an engineering company because he wanted to try to save things so the company wouldn’t have to move elsewhere. Some are retraining by taking computer science classes (having already been in Software Engineering or IT) to do machine learning.

            Get the parents to… not tell a class of kids what they “should do”… but to come in and tell stories from work.
            Invest time with them beforehand… I don’t know how to make it so that the parents and the students will feel like “This is going to be awesome.”
            Be an interviewer. Try to become a good one.

            That school already has a really motivated turnout for career day.

            I think that these brilliant parents might (in some circumstances) be able to seem amazing to their kid’s peers just being their normal self and saying the things they normally think…
            …just because someone is NOT their own kid who has heard it every day and been inured to it.

            Some of these parents will want an outlet for encouraging the next generation, and won’t have a natural one simply because the insane pressure of working hard year after year (and dealing with English being their second language, in many cases) has robbed them of time with friends & their friends’ kids.

          • Deiseach says:

            Nobody has a crystal ball for what is going to be the hot new career in twenty year’s time (or even the stable sensible one). This is asking the entire system to predict, for a child that is four years old now, what kind of jobs will be around in fifteen years time.

            Who knows what kind of jobs? If I listen to predictions, either everything will be automated so we’ll all be living in luxury, or the jobs will be in creating AI to enable us all to live in luxury, or you should get qualified in robot repair so you have one of the few viable human careers because all the jobs will be done by robots when you graduate high school.

            Think of the rather cruel fate Alan Moore set up for the original Nite Owl in Watchmen; when he gave up being a vigilante superhero by night/cop by day, he decided to set up his own business as a mechanic because everyone wanted their own car and there would always be a steady demand for fixing them, right? Except that somebody invented mass-market electric cars, so his skills and experience working on old gas-guzzlers were rendered useless within a matter of a couple of years.

            So teachers can’t predict the future, and they have to go with (a) old reliable careers, which may not be so good now (see how lawyer isn’t a prestige career anymore due to over-supply) or (b) try to advise on what is currently the hot new career (and that’s usually ten or more years out of date, as noted by others here).

    • albatross11 says:

      With my own children, I’ve taught them a lot of basic game theory, economics, some mathematical/statistical[1] concepts, and some broad mental tools/ideas I’ve found useful in life. Among these:

      a. Dividing a cake with cut-and-choose

      b. The idea of a Keynesian beauty contest. (That is, you as a voter in the contest win if you vote for the eventual winner.)

      c. Schelling points/focal points/natural boundaries.

      d. Chesterton’s fence.

      e. Regression to the mean.

      f. The limit of a series. (I use the cookie series to get at this: First I eat half the cookie, then I eat 1/4 of the cookie, then 1/8 of the cookie, then…. It’s easy to see that I’ll never eat the whole cookie, but I’ll get closer and closer the more bites I take. It’s also easy to see that I’ll never get more than one cookie, since I keep eating only half of what remains in each step.)

      g. Rational astrology (things everyone treats as being meainingful/working even if it doesn’t, because they need something that gives them a meaningful answer)

      h. Math as “frozen thought” from some smart person long ago.

      i. Natural selection / evolutionary processes

      j. Cut-and-choose protocols in the crypto sense

      k. Probability distributions and expected values. (Simple stuff–when we’re playing Monopoly, I pointed out how the sum of two dice are distributed, but it occasionally makes a difference whether you should build an extra house on a property if I would land on it with a 7 vs with a 2 on my next move.)

      l. Opportunity cost

      m. Supply and demand curves

      n. Diminishing returns

      o. The 80/20 rule aka Pareto distribution

      p. Confirmation bias

      And so on. I think you might make an illustration of each of these ideas in one 15-minute session, and maybe have two or three repetitions of each one. Ideally incorporate them into a game. Add tabooing a term–that’s another useful concept and one I should teach my kids.

      Another activity I’ve done is simply having my kids read Paul Graham essays aloud. (My 10 year old surprised me last time by making it through a very dense and pretty long essay.). Many of his essays introduce a useful-in-life concept, like the bus ticket theory of genius, or black swan farming.

      [1] My oldest son commented to me when he was taking AP statistics that they kept introducing concepts, and everyone else would be scratching their heads while he’d be thinking “yeah, this is just that thing dad kept talking to us about.”

      • Frangible Waterbird says:

        This list!

        I like the Keynesian beauty contest one. Like, a lot.
        And not so much because it’s a beauty contest as because kids get asked to rate things in classrooms, (I think people anticipate that they will like doing this? maybe they do?) but then this …is actually educational. and naturally getting them to think about the 2nd order and 3rd order stuff and talk about it.

        My hubby introduced Schelling points to me and the kids initially by using it in a sentence and having us all go, “Huh, what is that?”

        Oooh! On the minus side, if you go back a generation in our family… cut-and-choose with cake yielded really weirdly-shaped pieces.
        Ones that I understand were primarily optimized for being difficult to estimate the volume of. So, that happened.

        Another activity I’ve done is simply having my kids read Paul Graham essays aloud. (My 10 year old surprised me last time by making it through a very dense and pretty long essay.). Many of his essays introduce a useful-in-life concept, like the bus ticket theory of genius, or black swan farming.

        [1] My oldest son commented to me when he was taking AP statistics that they kept introducing concepts, and everyone else would be scratching their heads while he’d be thinking “yeah, this is just that thing dad kept talking to us about.”

        Wheeee! Good stuff.

      • Dacyn says:

        h. Math as “frozen thought” from some smart person long ago.

        Lots of disciplines have old ideas, is there a reason to single out math?

        • albatross11 says:

          Math is abstract reasoning, which can be applied to many different problems. For each one, I can map my problem onto a mathematical object, and then borrow the brains of a bunch of very smart and obsessed mathmaticians to reason about my problem via plug-and-crank calculations.

          Turn your crypto problem into a combinatorics problem or an algebra problem or a probability theory problem, and then you can use existing mathematical tools to get to answers that you might never have gotten to on your own.

  5. If I want to do a simulation of a planetary system for billions of orbits, what’s my best bet? This paper apparently uses this N-body integrator. Does this sort of thing require a supercomputer to not spend ridiculous real time years running if you’re trying to emulate billion year timeframes?

    • drunkfish says:

      This depends a lot on what you’re trying to learn. Are you trying to predict where in space Earth will be after billions of years? That’s (mathematically) impossible because N-body systems are chaotic, you can’t simulate more than (very roughly) ~millions of years before *any* imprecision in your initial conditions screws up your results. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyapunov_time for more discussion and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory in general.

      Some things are more viable to simulate. Are you interested in whether Mercury will be ejected from the solar system? You can make a probabilistic prediction by running a suite of models. Do you want to start with a really dense asteroid belt and figure out the statistical distributions of asteroid sizes after a bunch of collisions when things have calmed down?

      As far as what integrator to use, it’ll also depend some on the problem you’re trying to solve, and actually recommending one is out of my depth. They all of limitations (e.g. many integrators struggle with close encounters), and for a really long simulation make sure you’re using an algorithm that conserves energy (e.g. a simplectic integrator, which is often an option if not the default in code you’d download) since any energy loss/gain will blowup. I used the integrator you linked a bit in undergrad and got annoyed by the fortran, and I used REBOUND in a class in grad school. I think both are fairly well respected integrators and you could probably use either. I ran them both on a super cheap laptop, so at least in principle you don’t need a supercomputer, but whether you need one for your problem depends on what you’re trying to do. I’d be surprised if you could pull off billions of years without a very powerful computer, but I’m not confident about that at all.

    • I want to simulate moons around a brown dwarf companion to a sun-like star. I did a rudimentary check with a program called Gravity Simulator, but that visually displays the orbits and so the timestep remains high, and it can’t be sped up more than about 512x before you drastically lose accuracy. I can check if things are likely to be stable on timeframes of many years, but not on astronomical timeframes.

      This depends a lot on what you’re trying to learn. Are you trying to predict where in space Earth will be after billions of years? That’s (mathematically) impossible because N-body systems are chaotic, you can’t simulate more than (very roughly) ~millions of years before *any* imprecision in your initial conditions screws up your results. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyapunov_time for more discussion and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory in general.

      No, I’m interested in the average time (out of a set of simulations) until either any of the orbits of the moons cross each other or a moon is ejected. This is a general criteria for stability in the papers I’ve seen. I just want to check a particular scenario that I haven’t seen checked.

      I’d be surprised if you could pull off billions of years without a very powerful computer, but I’m not confident about that at all.

      A lot of the papers I’m seeing are running 10^9 or 10^10 orbits/years in the simulations, but I’m not sure what they are running the simulation on. It would be pointless to even try if my computer can’t allow for the necessary time steps and time multiplication.

      • sfoil says:

        A lot of the papers I’m seeing are running 10^9 or 10^10 orbits/years in the simulations, but I’m not sure what they are running the simulation on.

        You should contact the authors of those papers and ask them.

      • Incurian says:

        How many bodies do you need to simulate?

      • KieferO says:

        Naively (i.e. non-adaptive first order forward Euler), each timestep requires n^2 * c floating point operations, where n is the number of bodies in the system, and c is some number that’s more than 10. If n is 6, than that means you’ll need about 10^4 floating point operations per timestep, and let’s be aggressive and say 10^3 timesteps per orbit. This puts you up to 10^7, or 0.01 Giga floating point operation per orbit. A reasonable computer can do 16 GFLOPS, which puts you at 1600 orbits/sec. So getting to 10^9 orbits would take about 7 days.

        Some of the assumptions that I made are bound to be conservative, and others aggressive. In particular, the guess for the timesteps per orbit is probably much higher than the state of the art. The operations per body per timestep (c) is about right for Newtonian gravity, but low for general relativity. I don’t know how that difference might affect stability.

        As a further aside, you can also estimate an upper bound for how much resources went into a paper: it will not be more than the resources of an astrophysics department of the same size as the number of authors on the paper. (e.g. a single grad student can command a recent model desktop for a month, a full professor (their students will be co-authors) can command a supercomputer for a week, a page of authors can command a supercomputer for a couple of months, etc.).

        • Naively (i.e. non-adaptive first order forward Euler), each timestep requires n^2 * c floating point operations, where n is the number of bodies in the system, and c is some number that’s more than 10. If n is 6, than that means you’ll need about 10^4 floating point operations per timestep, and let’s be aggressive and say 10^3 timesteps per orbit. This puts you up to 10^7, or 0.01 Giga floating point operation per orbit. A reasonable computer can do 16 GFLOPS, which puts you at 1600 orbits/sec. So getting to 10^9 orbits would take about 7 days.

          This doesn’t sound so bad.

    • Lambert says:

      You’ll have to learn to compile fortran then give it a try.

  6. johan_larson says:

    How little do we need to change history to get a substantial period, preferably a lifetime or more, of airships roaming the skies?

    • I’m not sure, but I’d imagine it would come from airships appearing earlier rather than appearing when they did and lasting longer. If we’re going with the existing timeframe then no war to speed up development of planes would be a good start.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I think you’re on to something. But just eyeballing it, aviation appeared relatively advanced by the beginning of WWI compared to the Wright brothers of 1903.

        The internal combustion engine and affiliated technologies allowed both the existence of lighter than air airships as well as the existence of their competitors (planes, trains, and automobiles, as well as fast boats and helicopters). Between all of these options there isn’t much of a niche left in which airships are obviously superior.

        So I’m hesitant to believe that any realistic circumstances would have seen large numbers of airships roaming the skies.

        Edit to add: With the possible exception of far more expensive fuel. This changes the calculation to favor fuel-efficient airships versus most or all of their combustion-based competitors.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      I spent a total of less time than it took to write this comment searching and reading so can’t guarantee anything, but these people could probably answer that question.

      https://safeairship.com/

    • John Schilling says:

      As late as 1908, it appears that nobody other than the Wright Brothers (and a handful of beekeepers) understood how to make a proper three-axis flight control system for an airplane, and most aeronautical inventors over the previous decade don’t seem to have even understood that such a thing would be required. It would have happened eventually, of course, but you might get a five-year delay if you e.g. kill off the Wrights in a mundane automobile accident in 1904.

      If that happens, then airplanes would not have been developed to the point of military utility by 1914, and most of the effort that went into developing better airplanes during World War One would instead have gone into better airships. With that sort of head start, you probably do get a generation of airships while heavier-than-air flying machines are limited to hobbyists, inventors, and maybe a few niche commercial and military applications.

      A full lifetime would I think be a bit much to ask. By 1939, the utility of airplanes as airship-interceptors would have been obvious, and airships would probably not long have outlasted your alternate-history equivalent of WWII.

      See also H.G. Wells “The War in the Air”, written 1907, which correctly noted that a fundamental breakthrough in stability and control would be required for airplanes to be practical, and forecasts an airship-dominated war in the late 1910s with fixed-wing airplanes entering military service only in the final stages. Wells then goes on to forecast the destruction of civilization via aerial warfare, so we don’t get the generation of commercial airship travel.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Bring the FAA and equivalent European agencies into existence in the late 1800s. That should make further aircraft development so bureaucratically fraught that we won’t see an airplane until WWII.

    • broblawsky says:

      For a generous definition of airship? The hot-air balloon could’ve been invented millennia ago. All you need is the revelation that heated air can lift things. Having a high energy-density fuel source helps, but the Montgolfiers lifted themselves with nothing but burning wool and hay.

    • Eric Rall says:

      For a single point-of-departure, I’d avert the Great War. There are any number of plausible PODs here: Gavrillo Princep’s pistol jams, General Potiorek remembers to tell Franz Ferdinand’s driver about the planned change in their car’s route, the July Crisis plays out differently and ends in the diplomatic humiliation of Serbia (possibly including temporary Austrian occupation of Belgrade) without a general European war. Even a “War is over by Christmas” scenario would do the trick, although this is harder and probably requires an unforced error by France and Britain (e.g. Shirer’s claim in The Collapse of the Third Republic that the French government seriously considered abandoning Paris in 1914 instead of counterattacking at the Marne, changing their minds in favor of counterattack only after learning of Von Kluck’s Turn, unaware of the German army’s desperate logistical situation).

      Averting the Great War (and by extension, also averting WW2) helps in a few ways. First, without wartime needs (and wartime military budgets) driving heavier-than-air aviation’s progress, the planes needed to render airship liners obsolete are going to be developed at least a few years later and will be quite a bit slower to ramp up production.

      Second, without the devastation and expense of the war, there’s going to be a better early market for commercial airship liners. Historically, they started operating in 1910, but were suspended in 1914 (with the airships re-purposed for bombing and reconnaissance) and didn’t resume until 1919.

      Third, no war means no post-war treaties limiting airship construction, which historically prevented the “golden age” airships from starting construction until 1926 and from entering operation until 1928.

      Fourth, no war probably means no Helium Act of 1925, which was motivated by the perceived need to monopolize helium for military scouting airships. If Helium is available for export and for commercial airships, something like the Hindenburg Disaster is unlikely to happen. Even if the skin of an airship were to catch fire (being made of moderately-flammable cotton with a reflective coating chemically similar to thermite), it’s not going to be the spectacular disaster we got historically without the hydrogen. No Hindenburg disaster allows commercial airships to remain in operation until airplanes become strictly better than airships.

      Combined, these give us a “golden age” of airships that’s going to last from 1920-ish until 1950-ish, which is a “substantial period”, but nowhere near “a lifetime or more”. But airship liners could probably continue on in a niche role for some time, as a luxury “the voyage is the destination” travel option that competes more with cruise ships than with airplanes. That, I could see continuing in a significant way at least until 1970-ish, when wide-body airplanes like the 747 become available and narrow the luxury gap between the first-class passenger experience on an airplane an airship. Similarly, wide-body airplanes also came with the range to cross the Pacific in a single hop, which would also be a niche where airships would still have an advantage over airplanes past 1950-ish.

      The only thing I can think of to stretch airships past that would be for our alternate-timeline to have the equivalent of our 1970s oil crisis hit just as wide-body airplanes become available. I think airships are more fuel-efficient than airplanes, but I’m not sure it’s a big enough difference for a fuel cost spike to extend airships’ viability significantly.

      • bean says:

        Fourth, no war probably means no Helium Act of 1925, which was motivated by the perceived need to monopolize helium for military scouting airships.

        I am not sure about this. I recently picked up a couple of books on airships, one particularly focusing on the USN’s program, and lack of Helium often forced them to suspend operations despite the US monopoly. It wasn’t like they were sitting on huge quantities of the stuff, which is going to limit commercial potential.

    • Erusian says:

      Easy. Zhuge Liang (or whoever actually did) invents the Kongming Lantern. Let’s take the early date of 3rd century BC. As they did historically, they begin to develop military applications including intelligence and scouting. However, unlike our history, they begin getting bigger more quickly (probably due to cheaper materials or some such). This gives enough lift that the Chinese can lift people up and they begin using it as basic scouting. Once it can lift people, innovations to create ship like engines and you have basic primitive airships.

      If this doesn’t speed up aircraft development you’d have about two thousand years (more like fifteen hundred) of artisanal aircrafts like ships. They wouldn’t rely on lighter than air gas but instead be more like hot air balloons with engines. But close enough.

      Of course, this would have massive knock on effects. The biggest I can think of: currents from Asia to the America are about three times longer than currents from Europe to America. However, it’s only about 50% longer by air. You’d also get a much more connected world much earlier generally.

      • cassander says:

        what engine are you going to use to power an airship 2000 years ago?

        • Erusian says:

          The most likely thing seems to be a combination of sail rigging on the balloon itself and some sort of human power. Humans peddling and turning cranks could create something like the paddleboat (versions of which were around two thousand years ago) except turning basic propellers, for example.

          You don’t really need much more power than that. You just need a source of fuel for the fire.

          • cassander says:

            Paddle wheels work by exploiting the different density of air vs. Water. With sails you could only go in the direction the wind was blowing, tacking also relies on water being dense. You’d have to have some sort of screw propeller, and I don’t know if one could produce enough power. WW1 zepplins with multiple 100-300hp engines often struggled with overcoming even minor winds.

          • Erusian says:

            They wouldn’t be literal paddle wheels. They’d be something like the paddle mechanisms used by some early hot air balloons or other practical designs. They couldn’t overcome strong winds but they could steer or generate some motion in low winds.

            You’re right it wouldn’t be the same technology. It certainly wouldn’t be perfect but it would be basically functional.

          • John Schilling says:

            You’re right it wouldn’t be the same technology. It certainly wouldn’t be perfect but it would be basically functional.

            No, it wouldn’t. It really, really wouldn’t.

            “Sail rigging on the balloon itself” would be completely non-functional. It would take the balloon exactly where it would have drifted without the rigging.

            Hand-cranked paddle wheels, cannot be mathematically proven to have zero effect, but the effect would be too small to be of any practical utility. We know this. We have extensive records of people tinkering with airships using various then-novel power sources in the 19th century, and nothing less than an internal combustion engine with a screw propeller is good enough to matter. Anything less allows for minor stunts under ideal conditions.

            Airships are fundamentally high-drag systems, because of the voluminous gas envelope, and extremely susceptible to wind. Muscle power, or even early steam power, does not get you the airspeed you need to contend with even a mild breeze, and at that point all you’ve got is a balloon.

          • albatross11 says:

            [Posting mainly to be corrected by someone who knows more–I know nothing about aircraft design….]

            Off the top of my head, imagine a cubical balloon for simplicity. The cross section goes up with the square of the side length; the volume with the cube. (A more realistic shape will still preserve the square/cube law.)

            Assuming drag is proportional to cross section, lift is proportional to volume, and we need enough lift to get our engine into the air, it seems like even a very heavy steam engine turning the propeller should become practical if the airship scales up enough. (Though it may not be practical to build at that point, depending on all kinds of other details.)

            I guess we should think of our power system in terms of N/kg. An efficient internal combustion engine with a good propeller will give us a relatively high number. A bunch of lead acid batteries running an electric motor to turn the propeller will give us a much lower number. I imagine a coal-fired steam engine will give us a number somewhere in the middle.

            For any given windspeed (and density), I think the force we have to overcome is

            F_1 = const_1*cross_section N.

            The thrust we get from our engines is

            F_2 = const_2*engine_weight N.

            Assuming that we can just stack up T multiple heavy engines and get T times the thrust. (I’m ignoring fuel weight, which is probably a mistake for coal-fired steam engines but would work for lead-acid battery engines.)

            Let’s assume all our lift goes to the engine, and that everything nicely follows square/cube laws. Let s = a size parameter for the airship. Let’s further assume that our engine has a parameter

            E = some number of N thrust /kg.

            And let’s just fold the N lift / kg of mass thing into our constants. Then I think we end up with something like:

            F_1 = c_1 * s^2

            F_2 = c_2* s^3 * E

            We can in principle set these equal and solve for s, to get the smallest possible airship size that would let us use an engine with some E.

            Now, this is very back-of-the-envelope, but it seems like it supports the intuition that if you could make the airship big enough, you’d be able to get away with even a really lousy E.

            So what am I missing? Is it just that s would have to be unworkably large for (say) battery-powered engines, or human powered engines?

          • Lambert says:

            There’s more than one ICE cycle.

            Say we kill or nerf the Otto Cycle (petrol). Maybe have petrol in the alternate world contaminated with something that knocks above a CR of 5.

            The diesel cycle is much more suitable for LTA than HTA flight, being used on things like the R101 and Hindeberg.

            Might just be enough to keep airships viable (alongside diesel planes) until the jet engine is developed.

            Specific power is probably a more useful figure to think about than TWR.

            I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both HTA and LTA flight became viable at the time when ICE development meant that higher specific powers were available than ever before.

          • John Schilling says:

            So what am I missing? Is it just that s would have to be unworkably large for (say) battery-powered engines, or human powered engines?

            Pretty much. Let’s take LZ129 Hindenburg as the practical limit of airship scaling. LZ129 as built had a useful payload of 9,600 kg, and 7,900 kg of diesel engine. A really good triple-expansion steam engine (including boilers, condensers, feed water, etc) will weigh 80 kg per kW of shaft power, so a hypothetical Steam Hindenburg would have ~100 kW of power if built to carry the same load as the original, or 175 kW if tricked out for speed.

            Actual Hindenburg used 3,560 kW to get a 74-knot maximum speed, and power scales as cube of speed, so Steam Hindenburg would have a “practical” speed of 22 knots, or 27 knots if built as a racing ship. Since winds aloft are typically well over 20 knots, and since airships can’t use keels to “tack” the way sailing ships can, that’s not going to be a particularly viable transportation system – you’re almost always going to get much better results putting the same engine on a ship or train.

            The first commercially viable airships could manage about 30 knots, and “commercially viable” was a stretch. One can imagine niche applications for a 20-knot airship, but if even that performance requires building on a Hindenburgian scale and using the sort of steam engines that didn’t exist until the 20th century, it doesn’t seem like a particularly plausible alternate history. You really do need internal combustion engines or some comparable power system to make airships viable, and that’s the same sort of technology that makes airplanes viable.

    • Lambert says:

      What kind of power density dooes an airship engine vs plane engine need?

      Drop a small asteroid on 1880s Stuttgart or have the French ravage the area (but not Friedrichshafen) somehow.

      What we want is airships that run on an external combustion naptha engine or something but no ICEs powerful enough to allow heavier than air flight.

      To get practical zeppelins earlier, you probably want to move the Hall-Herout and Bayer Processes for aluminium production a decade or two earlier. Have the Graf retire from the military for some relatively minor medical issue in the 1880s.
      To avoid needing a load of saponified cow gut to keep all the gas in, have the Buna Process invented during the 1890s.

      Increase the abundance of helium on earth by an order of magnitude to avoid Hindenberg? Perhaps as a clathrate in the North Sea?

      • albatross11 says:

        I think increasing the abundance of helium is a major win for airships.

        Could you use a fairly simple steam engine to get enough power to fly at least a little into a headwind?

        Could you put them on rails? Imagine your “track” is a sequence of telephone poles with a steel rail on top. Some mechanism grips the rail and pulls the airship along. The advantage here is that the airship will never get blown off course. The power to run it might even come from the ground. (Though it’s not obvious that this would be cheaper than just building trains.)

        My not-very-informed sense is that the big advantage of an airship is that you’re not spending fuel on lift. So maybe an alternative Earth with no easily-accessible oil deposits but lots of easily-accessible helium would work? Could you afford the weight of a steam engine and coal fuel on an airship?

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      How about.. several thousand years? In order for a solitary genius to discover electro magnitism, you need
      1: A battery. There are attested batteries going back thousands of years.
      2: Wire. Also ancient
      3: A compass needle. Magnets in general. Which, well, also not new

      So, we can push this particular discovery back a really, really long time. Way before any of the other pieces of industrialization or enlightenment.

      So. In the hallowed year of the monkey king ascending, the witchqueen of Varanasi uses the batteries of the sage Agastya for electroplating currency (to make cheap, but unforgeable coins) and has an Oersted moment. This results in her and the city getting even richer, and a few centuries later, every city on the Sacred Rivers has a paddlewheel generator. This leads to the era of hydrogen-ballooning, executions by thunderbolt, and gathering plazas under arc-lights.

      If you are cray-cray enough, the lifting body of a hydrogen baloon is also a fuel tank. So.. Steam rocket air-ships! Boil water with lifting gas, went it in the opposite direction of where you want to go. Not super efficient, for long distances, you want to drift most of the way, but you can steer.

      • John Schilling says:

        Not super efficient, for long distances, you want to drift most of the way, but you can steer.

        Steer in the sense of pointing the nose of the airship in some preferred direction? Yeah, maybe. So what?

        Steer in the sense of actually going someplace that is more than epsilon distant from where you would have gone if you’d just been drifting in a free balloon, no. You may want to try doing the math on that one, but steam rockets are a really poor fit for this application (and really most other applications as well). And if all you’ve got is a free balloon, you don’t have a useful transportation system.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Thing is, I can move hydrogen balloons back a long, long way in time. A useful engine? Uhm. Not really without just kickstarting an industrial revolution earlier.

          I guess that works, though. If your industrialization path goes Electricity, then hydropower, (and hydrogen from hydro power), then just general electrification without any era of coal or oil at al, the default way to fly is going to be a hydrogen air-ship because hydrogen is the only portable fuel you have, and the only way to conveniently carry a lot of it is in a great big bag anyway…

      • Deiseach says:

        In the hallowed year of the monkey king ascending, the witchqueen of Varanasi uses the batteries of the sage Agastya for electroplating currency (to make cheap, but unforgeable coins) and has an Oersted moment. This results in her and the city getting even richer, and a few centuries later, every city on the Sacred Rivers has a paddlewheel generator. This leads to the era of hydrogen-ballooning, executions by thunderbolt, and gathering plazas under arc-lights.

        If you should ever care to write this, you’ve got at least one novel (and potentially a series) of science fantasy works that sound ten times more palatable and likely to have me pay REAL MONEY to purchase than the upcoming list from Tor (when did SF become “all YA plots all the time” when I had my back turned? And no, this is not the YA list, that one is different).

        I’m presuming, though I may be assuming too much here, that the ascendent monkey king is Hanuman, so as long as you treat my sweetie-pie right, you’ll have a fan for life 😉

    • bean says:

      That’s going to be tricky, and I’m inclined to think impossible, although I’m also someone who thinks airships hung around too long as it is.

      The best option is to get rid of both the Hindenburg disaster and WWII. I doubt you could retard HTA flight enough to make it anywhere near your goal, given the issues that LTA has always had, most notably the terrible accident rate any time they venture near bad weather. So we need to prolong the life of LTA despite that. Best option is probably to have the Zeppelin company make the transition to essentially a cruise line of the air when HTA airlines begin bridging the Atlantic in a big way. Of course, this requires no Hindenburg and no other disasters, as well as no WWII to break things up. That also buys another couple years before HTA development decisively pulls ahead. But if they pull it off, I could see them operating a couple today as a really high-end cruise line. In fact, I’m kind of amazed nobody has done that.

      • woah77 says:

        I really think the abundance and simplicity of boats really puts the kibosh to a transatlantic cruise line of the air. It’s not dramatically faster (which isn’t the point), it would have rather low passenger counts, and the engineering would be many times as expensive. Plus more can go wrong, which makes it more risky. All around a bad investment.

        Airships dominating airplanes really only makes sense in a magitech universe, where I can literally control weather/harness an air elemental/produce mechanical energy from magic batteries which compares to an combustion engine, but I never really figured out how aerodynamics works (because magic makes that largely irrelevant anyway).

        • bean says:

          Oh, Zeppelin Cruises would undoubtedly be the most niche of players in the cruise business, and not necessarily transatlantic (which isn’t a major cruise market anyway). They’re definitely not going up against Carnival, Princess, or Royal Caribbean. But the ability to voyage by airship is going to be very tempting to both people who are really into airships, and people with lots of money who want “the ultimate luxury cruise” or whatever their marketing people choose to call it.

          • woah77 says:

            I feel like if any significant population of these people existed, it would already be a thing. Otherwise airships will remain the domain of Bond Villains desiring to flood silicon valley.

          • bean says:

            I can see both sides. On one hand, if there was lots of demand, there would be someone to satisfy it. On the other, there’s a nasty chicken-and-egg problem going on. Without an operational zeppelin liner, you have no idea how big the market is. If they have a couple to keep earning revenue with, they could make the transition from liner to cruise liner that several of the major liner companies made successfully.

        • Aftagley says:

          Frankly, I think the killer service here would be in mid-range overnights that don’t suck.

          Say I’m working in boston today and need to be in, I don’t know, Charleston by tomorrow morning. There’s no extant option that lets me both travel and get a good night’s sleep, I’m forced to take a red eye, stumble into the hotel at like 3 in the morning and then be a zombie for a few days.

          A better world would be once where I board my airship at say, 6 p.m. have a nice dinner, sleep on the ship and then get off the next morning at my destination. It would likely cost more than a plane ticket… but not likely more than the plane ticket and the hotel reservation for that night.

          • Dacyn says:

            Why exactly would this be easier to do on an airship than on an airplane? I mean, “have a nice dinner, sleep on the ship and then get off the next morning at my destination” sounds like a reasonable description of what I would do on a redeye (airplane) flight, so I assume you mean something like add beds so you get actually restful sleep. But this requires space, which is expensive, I would guess more so than flight+hotel. Do airships have a better space/cost ratio?

          • Aftagley says:

            have a nice dinner, sleep on the ship and then get off the next morning at my destination” sounds like a reasonable description of what I would do on a redeye (airplane) fligh

            Right, but I assume your current red-eye is transcontinental, correct? Or at least something on the order of 8+ hours? Mine are mostly in the range of 4-6 which practically guarantees and arrival time of “middle of the night.”

            In terms of practicality, the difference between arriving at say, 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. is for me, essentially zero. If it means I don’t have to bother with a hotel for that night, then the utility increases.

            I assume you mean something like add beds so you get actually restful sleep. But this requires space, which is expensive,

            I mean, I wouldn’t need much. Even something like the sleeping pods you find on trains would be infinitely better that the current system.

            Do airships have a better space/cost ratio?

            No clue. I know they’re only viable at heavy loads and I presume that load would need to be distributed, but I don’t have a good cost per cubic foot estimate.

          • John Schilling says:

            Do airships have a better space/cost ratio?

            Low-speed vehicles have a better volume/cost ratio than high-speed vehicles, because moving an enclosed volume through air produces drag. The power to overcome this drag scales roughly as volume to the two-thirds power times the cube of speed.

            The sort of speed you need to make that business model at all practical is right in the sweet spot for (ICE-powered) airships, and well below the spot where large airplanes have decided to give up on the whole flying thing and just fall out of the sky.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Aftagley: I don’t know of these sleeping pods, though I’ve never been on an overnight train. Anyway, it looks like

            In terms of practicality, the difference between arriving at say, 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. is for me, essentially zero.

            combines well with John Schilling’s comment to explain why airships would be better at mid-range overnights.

    • DragonMilk says:

      Make it so that hydrogen explosions are much more manageable/escapable.

    • Aftagley says:

      Other than the previously-discussed zeppelin scenarios, the most likely airship scenario I can think of would be one where they are used equivalently to barges – predominately unmanned floating platforms used to carry cargo around. They’d need to either be towed, or rely on incredibly consistent wind patterns (with ground tow held in reserve in case they needed to steer or whatever).

      Assuming the technological infrastructure was in place to make floating platforms, you’d likely need the following factors to get this to happen:
      1. Landlocked society needing to transport cargo to another landlocked society. No navigable waters around, since that will almost always be easier.
      2. An area with either no winds or very consistent winds.
      3. Access to some kind of large animal capable of pulling the barge.
      4. A well developed enough economy to create a need for transporting large amounts of cargo around.

      • albatross11 says:

        I love the mental image of a cargo-carrying airship being hauled by a team of oxen. Add in the stories of the time when a huge wind came up and hauled the ox team into the air and eventually dropped them on the ground miles away.

        It’s hard to believe that this would ever make sense, but it’s a fun image.

  7. Loriot says:

    A couple weeks ago, someone recommended a webcomic about AI here. Does anyone remember what it was called/have a link to it?

  8. Dino says:

    I’m an OK Boomer.
    Not only am I OK with being a boomer, but I recently realized how lucky I was to be born when I was*. I got to live thru –
    1 The one time when pop music was good.
    2 The one time when working class folks could make a decent living, before the rich hogged all the wealth.
    3 The one time when the internet was new and cool – remember the techno-utopians and “Info wants to be free”, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”, “The internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”, “Don’t be evil”? That all seems so naive and quaint now, in our age of surveillance capitalism.
    And I’ll be dead before the worst of the climate crisis hits.

    *and also Born in the USA, and not one of the discriminated against.

    • Plumber says:

      @Dino,
      What flavor of Boomer?

      Big difference between those born in say 1947 and those born in ’63.

      Anyway, on the topic of difference within generations: as one who once proudly flew the “Generation X’er” flag I’ve come to appreciate Boomers more and more (I even married one!).

      Eary Boomers were drafted, teargassed, feared atomic annihilation, et cetera.

      Late Boomers got an underappreciated economic raw deal, just like early X’ers.

      Many Millennials and probably Zoomers will also get a raw economic deal, though that’s well known and they need to stop that “first generation of Americans to do worse than our parents” lie, ’cause they’re not, not even in living memory.

      The generational cohort to envy are the late X’ers who entered the workforce during the later Clinton years, yeah we’re technically the same ‘generation’ but you guys grind my gears more than Boomers and Millennials.

      Five years ago my co-workers were mostly Boomers, with a couple of Silents (great guys), and a couple of my fellow early Gen-X, but now there a couple of Millennials, and alot of younger X’ers, and oh jeez, the new Senior Engineer at work is a latter X’er and he exemplifies the breed, those older and especially the youngsters are more humble and just easier to deal with.

      There I said it, I can deal with Boomers (I’ve had to most of my life!), the Millennials I’ve encountered are generally nice folks albeit usually amazingly ignorant for being the so-called “information age natives”, other than my kids and some of their classmates I just don’t encounter Zoomers, my fellow early X’ers are my tribe (and late Boomers aren’t very different than us), and yeah we’re well named as “Slackers”, but our mixed tapes are better than all others!

      But post-Slacker late X’ers?

      Just hard to take, much like early Boomers that weren’t drafted, teargassed, or mugged.

      Just…

      …South Park was funny for about a month, their irreverence is getting to me, their younger cousins the Millennials are more polite, as were their grandparents the Silents.

      I wish they’d please be more like them.

      (All this is based on the sample of younger X’ers I encounter at work and the even smaller sample of Millennials, if the rest of y’all are different great!)

      • EchoChaos says:

        The generational cohort to envy are the late X’ers who entered the workforce during the later Clinton years, yeah we’re technically the same ‘generation’ but you guys grind my gears more than Boomers and Millennials.

        Aww, I thought we were buds.

        • Plumber says:

          @EchoChaos >

          “Aww, I thought we were buds.”

          Well yes, but we aren’t co-workers, and if I recall correctly you model yourself on your Silent generation Dad (I don’t vote like most of them but I usually find the Silents the easiest to get along with).

          I will say this good thing about my younger X’er co-workers though: When stuff hits the fan their confidence and (usually annoying) “positive attitudes” become virtues.

          Now back to more grievances!

          Both younger X’ers and Millennials like video games and superhero movies way too much for now adults.

          My Millennial co-workers are respectful of their elders, i.e. me (which my younger X’er co-workers decidedly aren’t, especially of the Boomers, though they spare the lone remaining Silent of their “jokes”), and Millennials don’t use the foul language of we older folks, but oh jeez they just have the worst taste in music (yes I know all generations say that about those younger, but younger X’ers generally have even better musical taste than we older ones, but that trend didn’t continue!).

          • EchoChaos says:

            Well yes, but we aren’t co-workers, and if I recall correctly you model yourself on your Silent generation Dad (I don’t vote like most of them but I usually find the Silents the easiest to get along with).

            I do, and I wonder if that’s the difference. Early Gen X would’ve had mostly Silent parents with some early Boomer parents. I am late Gen X (or early Millennial, depending on what cutoff is chosen), but had a Silent dad and Boomer mom because my dad married late to a much younger woman.

            Both younger X’ers and Millennials like video games and superhero movies way too much for now adults.

            It’s me! I love video games and find that superhero movies, like the Westerns they mostly replaced, are the last places for true shining good and uttermost vile evil.

            Everything else has been replaced by “shades of gray” bull.

            My Millennial co-workers are respectful of their elders, i.e. me (which my younger X’er co-workers decidedly aren’t, especially of the Boomers, though they spare the lone remaining Silent of their “jokes”), and Millennials don’t use the foul language of we older folks, but oh jeez they just have the worst taste in music (yes I know all generations say that about those younger, but younger X’ers generally have even better musical taste than we older ones, but that trend didn’t continue!).

            Aristocratically of me, I’ve never used much foul language at all, and this is very unusual in my peer group. Plus I like good music. Best of both worlds.

          • Aftagley says:

            My Millennial co-workers are respectful of their elders, i.e. me (which my younger X’er co-workers decidedly aren’t, especially of the Boomers,

            This contradicts my experience, both personal and what I’ve heard older people complain at me. My understanding was that millennials weren’t respectful to their elders just because of their age. I know I’m not.

          • Plumber says:

            @Aftagley says: “This contradicts my experience, both personal and what I’ve heard older people complain at me. My understanding was that millennials weren’t respectful to their elders just because of their age. I know I’m not”</b

            Yeah, the “O.K. Boomer” ‘meme’ itself contradicts my co-worker based observations (and frankly my sample size of Millennials is pretty small if I don’t include inmates in County Jail#4, which I don’t).

          • Plumber says:

            @EchoChaos,
            The less “blue”/”off color” language thing could also be due to my Millennial co-workers having collegiate backgrounds which only one of we older guys has, and I imagine that a lot of “generational” differences are due to that.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        The generational cohort to envy are the late X’ers who entered the workforce during the later Clinton years, yeah we’re technically the same ‘generation’ but you guys grind my gears more than Boomers and Millennials.

        Yeah, screw that. I spent the first decade of my ‘adult’ life dropping out of college and returning to my parent’s home to live while covering expenses with crappy jobs such as vending machine stocking and newspaper delivery. I was so depressed there are important chunks of that time of my life that I only vaguely recall.

        I didn’t finish my AS and first get a ‘real’ job (continuation of an internship required for graduation) until right after the recession hit. And that was as a permatemp ‘Kelly boy’ (the male analog of the “Kelly girl” – and don’t ready Kelly Services official history of that term, read articles like this instead image), with annual pay increases maxing out around 1.75%, 6 discretionary paid days off a year (for all purposes), effectively no opportunity for overtime, no right (as regular employees) to come in during off hours, and no opportunity for advancement (because I wasn’t an ’employee’ of the company I ended up working for for a little over 6 years).

        Add to that $31k in student loan debt and $20k in credit card debt to finish my B.S. and I feel a bit worse off than the typical early millennial who graduated into the recession.

        My brother who actually was an earlier millennial did far better, thanks to following our father’s track. He spent time in the navy, and then got a job in the shipyard (pipefitter, I think?), making far better money that I was as a Kelly boy (and with no debt).

        Half of the creative team of South Park was born in 69, the other half was born in 71. Hardly “late Xer”.

        • Plumber says:

          @anonymousskimmer says: “…Half of the creative team of South Park was born in 69, the other half was born in 71. Hardly “late Xer”

          Not the creators but the fans are what’s significant for cultural markers, for example Punk Rock was largely a Boomer (and even some Silents) creation, but liking it is largely an X’er thing.

          As far as I can tell younger X’ers don’t have the apathy and dourness of we “Slacker” older X’ers, while sharing our cynicism of authority, but are amused rather than despondent.

          Millennials seem a different breed altogether, they seem to have the idealism/righteousness/no-compromiseness that older Boomers were legendary for in their youths, but with the “we got a raw deal” attitude of younger Boomers and older X’ers

          • Aftagley says:

            Millennials seem a different breed altogether, they seem to have the idealism/righteousness/no-compromiseness that older Boomers were legendary for in their youths

            Yeah, this is probably why I detest South Park. That whole “nothing matters enough to get worked up about” mentality infuriates me.

      • Dino says:

        Good point from #Plumber.

        Eary Boomers were drafted, teargassed, feared atomic annihilation, et cetera.

        I was an early boomer – dodged the draft, missed the teargas, and greatly feared atomic annihilation. The draft was bad, not terrible, but I needed the reminder of how awful it was with “duck and cover” and the Cuban missile crisis. I remember being obsessed with thinking about what would I do when I saw the big flash and mushroom cloud – in my last few living moments should I cuddle with the cat or listen to my favorite music, or what? I think later boomers (and later gens) were spared some of this.

        • CatCube says:

          …in my last few living moments should I cuddle with the cat or listen to my favorite music

          This is the kind of thing that really, really makes me kick-the-cat-angry when discussing “duck and cover,” the notion that it was all useless and everybody was going to die anyway, and everything that people could try to do was useless placebo.

          One of my the little factoids I keep tucked away is that the closest survivor to the Hiroshima bombing was 560 ft (170 m) from ground zero. That’s less than an eighth of a mile. He was more than a little lucky, but you can absolutely survive a nuclear bombing, and from a surprisingly close distance.

          Unless you’re close enough to the hypocenter that the building you’re in suffers global collapse or the prompt radiation kills you in a couple days–and you are very likely not in such a building–you’re going to get killed in one of three ways: 1) the windows getting blown in and you get a 6½” piece of glass thrown through your jugular, 2) a smaller portion of the building, like a light, falls and squishes your head, or 3) fallout that occurs hours to days later, which gives you enough time to get into a basement if you survive 1) and 2).

          Do you know what can enable you to survive 1) and 2)? Right, getting below something sturdy that will protect you from flying glass and falling objects. If you’re sharp-eyed, you’ll notice that these two items are the same things that will probably kill you in an earthquake, with the same survival advice given.

          This really bothers me, because after they had that scare in Hawaii a few years ago with a false alarm about a Nork missile attack there were a bunch of people who said they went outside because there was nothing they could do. Well, if it had been real, given that I don’t know that North Korea can even guarantee a hit on a given city, you absolutely could have done something about it and very probably would have been among the survivors IF YOU HAD SOUGHT SHELTER RATHER THAN GOING OUTSIDE AND STANDING THERE WITH A VACANT, GORMLESS LOOK ON YOUR FACE AND WITH A LINE OF DROOL COMING OUT OF ONE CORNER OF YOUR MOUTH.

          • Another Throw says:

            +1

            Also, as I understand it the “flash” actually lasts a really long time, and if you stand there staring at it like a shmuck you’re going to get a HUGE dose of radiation somewhere in the neighborhood of “third degree sunburn over every mm^2 of exposed flesh” variety which is, I understand, an unpleasant experience. The kind of experience that probably isn’t going to kill you, but will make you pray to God to just die already. (Assuming you weren’t standing at a window watching so that a huge piece of glass can slash your jugular.) You know what helps? Covering the exposed parts of your body is almost anything, including clothing.

            Another little anecdote is that in one of the bombs there were two people standing next to each other. One of them lays down in the middle of the street and survives. The other stands there like a schmuck and was killed when the shockwave threw him off of his feet.

            Seriously. If you’re alive enough to even perceive that a flash happened, just get the fuck down. Behind, under, and/or inside cover if you can manage it. But if not just get the fuck down. You’ll probably make it.

          • Dacyn says:

            One of my the little factoids I keep tucked away is that the closest survivor to the Hiroshima bombing was 560 ft (170 m) from ground zero. That’s less than an eighth of a mile. He was more than a little lucky, but you can absolutely survive a nuclear bombing, and from a surprisingly close distance.

            To be fair though, that was only a fission bomb. Fusion bombs are many times more powerful.

        • The Nybbler says:

          This is the kind of thing that really, really makes me kick-the-cat-angry when discussing “duck and cover,” the notion that it was all useless and everybody was going to die anyway, and everything that people could try to do was useless placebo.

          The lessons drilled into us in elementary school — “In case of elementary school, put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye” — are hard to forget. I doubt I’ll ever forget the chorus of the Battle Hymn of the Fourth Grade either. Anyway, living between Washington D.C. and Baltimore and not far from Fort Meade (home of the NSA, one of the worst-kept secrets of the time), I’m thinking my area would have been in for a really good pasting.

          Sure, maybe we would get lucky and no bombs land close enough to kill us directly, and the winds might be favorable and blow most of the fallout the other way. Then what? Wander a ravaged Maryland countryside (possibly suffering from nonfatal radiation poisoning) until we’re killed by a pack of feral dogs? No thanks.

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      Millenial here.

      @Plumber
      The threat of annihilation still seems salient (to me, and most of my educated friends), it just isn’t pushed as hard in the mass culture.

      @Dino
      I’m not sure how “pop” music can be better or worse in any generation (popular music being a vector sum of the population’s preferences, which just implies “better” taste in one generation over another), but ubiquitous streaming makes “pop” quality increasingly irrelevant. Even if “pop” is worse now (an extraordinarily bold claim), the experience of the average music consumer has likely never been better.

      I’m sure if we firebombed Europe and Asia’s manufacturing centers again we could restore all those working class jobs to their “rightful” owners. (This isn’t intended to be an indictment of strategic bombing, it’s just that I think the fortunes of the working class were buoyed more due to global economic conditions than the benevolence of the Boomer capitalist class)

      • acymetric says:

        A secondary millenial viewpoint (specifically to the music point):

        Hendrix, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Prince, Cream/Clapton, and too many other ones to list were “pop” at the time. We don’t really have anything comparable to that in pop music now, or in the last 10 to 20 years. There is certainly excellent/interesting music being made still, but it isn’t “pop”, doesn’t have the commercial success, and isn’t promoted as such.

        Streaming music is certainly more convenient than radio/physical media, but I’m not sure what your point is there.

        • Milo Minderbinder says:

          My point wrt streaming is that, even if the stuff getting a lot of play on the radio is worse than that in the 60’s (I’m a big Hendrix/Fleetwood Mac fan, I can certainly appreciate that era!) (which is itself a matter of taste), the average experience of someone listening to music now is likelier better than it’s ever been, due to the ease to finding music which matches their taste.

          Pop culture itself has kinda exploded into a bunch of sub-genre shards since the advent of the internet+streaming video/music services.

        • Aftagley says:

          @Acymetric

          Tertiary Millenial here: I don’t like classic rock, but I do love modern electronic music and some derived pop. I’m not arrogant enough to think that my music will have they staying power as it did back in the 60s and 70s, but that doesn’t make it worse.

        • Eigengrau says:

          Oh how we forget the tribulations of the past. Those classic rock gods may have fared well in album sales and FM airplay, but they were not representative of pop music at the time. Do you know what the top song of 1967 was? It wasn’t Hendrix or The Doors or even The Beatles. It was “To Sir With Love” by Lulu. Who’s Lulu? Exactly.

          What about 1969, another monumental year for rock music, with legendary releases by Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who? Was the top song Gimme Shelter, or Pinball Wizard, or Here Comes the Sun? Not even close — it was “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies.

          In 1973, the year that Dream On, Higher Ground, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, and Reelin’ in the Years came out, the top single was something called “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando.

          Pop music has always been dreadful. Everyone just forgets all the bad stuff.

          • BlazingGuy says:

            Pop music has always been dreadful. Everyone just forgets all the bad stuff.

            This, x1000. Also, Kendrick Lamar is a genius.

          • Plumber says:

            @Eigengrau says:

            “…Do you know what the top song of 1967 was? It wasn’t Hendrix or The Doors or even The Beatles. It was “To Sir With Love” by Lulu. Who’s Lulu? Exactly”

            That was a damn fine song (from a not bad movie) my future wife had it on a mixed tape when I met her in the early ’90’s, and the radio was still playing the original and cover versions (Natalie Merchant, Susan Hoffs) later that decade.

            “What about 1969, another monumental year for rock music, with legendary releases by Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who? Was the top song Gimme Shelter, or Pinball Wizard, or Here Comes the Sun? Not even close — it was “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies”

            I watched the cartoon as a kid in the ’70’s, nothin’ wrong with the song. I had a friend that also played guitar who had it in the background of his answering machine “please leave a message” recording.

            “In 1973, the year that Dream On, Higher Ground, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, and Reelin’ in the Years came out, the top single was something called “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando”

            Supposed to be a returning war veterans request to his sweetheart. They had us sing it in school in the ’70’s along with Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan songs, the radio station that my dentist had on still played it in the ’80’s, and yeah it got irritating!

            “Pop music has always been dreadful. Everyone just forgets all the bad stuff”

            Nope! 

            Not forgotten, I remember those songs well.

          • Dino says:

            The concept that popularity != quality is practically a cliche for any self-respecting music snob. For example, Grand Funk Railroad was extremely popular but you never see them in any critics’ “best of” lists. Disco was also quite popular but gets bashed a lot. Unfairly, IMO – disco wasn’t meant to be listened to, it was meant to be danced to in clubs, where it functioned quite well helping folks get laid.

          • Milo Minderbinder says:

            Dammit, I can’t believe I didn’t just bust this argument out myself. Yeah, this x1000

          • baconbits9 says:

            Good choice with 1969, wouldn’t want to pick Hey Jude (1968) or Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970). Definitely want to pick individual years as well, and ignore the Stairway to Heaven was the most requested song in the 1970s, of course it couldn’t chart because it wasn’t released as a single which is really what blows this cherry picking exercise out of the water. The great bands of the 70s were churning out great albums, and the best selling album in 1973 was Dark Side of the Moon. Zeppelin II and III charted at #1 in the US and IV at #2 with IV eventually being their best selling album.

          • Matt M says:

            Hell, Thick As A Brick charted at #1 at one point. A prog rock album. With only one song!

          • acymetric says:

            Pop music has always been dreadful. Everyone just forgets all the bad stuff.

            There has always been bad music in pop, no disagreement there, but even if they didn’t finish as the top song of the year, all the songs you mentioned were clearly part of pop culture at the time. I’m not sure what the analogs would be today. It’s basically (the modern version of) Disco all the way down.

      • Plumber says:

        @Milo Minderbinder >

        “….I’m sure if we firebombed Europe and Asia’s manufacturing centers again we could restore all those working class jobs to their “rightful” owners”

        Look to the Pacific coast Longshoremen, middle-class wage non-collegiate union jobs don’t have to be in manufacturing, the great post-war broad-based boom wasn’t just about manufacturing, the Federal government encouraged unionization, the Great Depression and high top marginal income tax rates decimated the wealth of the “top one percent”, thanks to the industrial unions “low skill” jobs paid much closer to median income, the draft, and then the “peacetime” draft reduced unemployment, 1941 to 1973 wasn’t called “the great compression” for nothing.

        We overreacted to the oil embargo caused inflation of the 1970’s, and repealing the reforms of the 1980’s and returning to the “post war liberal consensus” and the “treaty of Detroit” is worth a shot.

        German, Norwegian, even Canadian labor law could be emplemented.

        Raise the floor, even if it lowers the ceiling, I’d rather more Levittowns again than Space-X and Tesla.

        • Milo Minderbinder says:

          Weren’t longshoreman jobs gutted by the invention of the shipping crate/other advances in containerization/packaging which allowed goods to be directly loaded onto trucks and unloaded inland?

          What aspects of German/Norwegian/Canadian law are you referring to?

          (Thanks for teaching me something new today, I just learned what Levittowns are/were.)

          5 minutes later edit: Whoa, these Levittowns were super explicitly racist. “the tenant agrees not to permit the premises to be sued or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.” This clause was struck down in 1948, but the developments were still 97% white…

        • Aftagley says:

          Weren’t longshoreman jobs gutted by the invention of the shipping crate/other advances in containerization/packaging which allowed goods to be directly loaded onto trucks and unloaded inland?

          Yes. A world with containers and cranes (especially automated cranes nowadays) is a world that needs very few longshoremen and needs them to be very technically minded, not working-joe laborers. That being said, you can conceivably argue that the band-aid was ripped off harder and faster than was economically necessary following the oil embargo.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        Oh, for. That theory of the Thirty Glorious Years is godsdamn stupid. The firebombed places also had total employment during that time, as has any number of other countries since – basically, every time some country gets “Tiger” or “Dragon” appended to the description of its economy, what is actually happening is a very tight labor market driving wages and productivity up really quickly.

        Near as I can tell, most economic thinking since the oil crisis has simply been asinine.
        The oil crisis meant we collectively went from spending half a percent of our economy on bying oil to spending five. FIVE percent. That tithe showed up as inflation, and then everyone decided to fight that inflation by.. supressing wages via maintaining a reserve army of labor in idleness. Which is, make no mistake, what central banks have been doing since. They dont tighten the reins when inflation shows up, they tighten the reins when unemployment gets low enough to drive up wages!

        That worked at fighting inflation, but every part of the entire thing was, and remains just fucking stupid. The inflation was an external shock, and would revert on its own anyway, and the overall strategy hamstrings economic growth to hell and gone, because, well, the economy is the sum of peoples wages. Supressing wages, by logical identity, means you are supressing economic growth, particularily when you are doing so by deliberately hamstringing job growth.

        The one correct thing Trump has done is being threatening to the us central bank to cut that shit out. And it is a big enough thing that it might get him reelected

        • Plumber says:

          @Thomas Jorgensen
          +1!

        • well, the economy is the sum of peoples wages.

          Plus the capital share. What specifically is the policy that is “suppressing wages?” In theory, inflation suppresses unemployment by suppressing wages, as real wages fall and employers can hire more workers.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Capital share is where the political support for this stupidity is coming from. Capital thinks low wages is good for it. This is true for an individual employer after all, but for capital as a whole it is, to borrow a useful marxist term, false consciousness – low growth is in noones interest.

            Theory is wrong. MMT: Inflation is associated with job growth because you get inflation when there is more money chasing trades than there are trades to execute. When this happens in an enviorment with idle labor, the idle labor will generally stop being idle if anyone can find anything even remotely useful for them to do. (If there really isnt anything useful for them to do, because, for example, the french army is occupying your coal mines, things get very, very bad, very quickly)

      • The Nybbler says:

        The threat of annihilation still seems salient (to me, and most of my educated friends), it just isn’t pushed as hard in the mass culture.

        Not really. Without global thermonuclear war as a significant possibility, it is not salient the way it was even for earlier Xers. Let alone for Boomers who remember the Cuban Missile Crisis.

        • Aftagley says:

          +1

          The worst current crisis I can think of is North Korea shoots off some nukes probably hits South Korea, likely hits Japan and maybe hits the west coast.

          That’s not great, obviously, but it’s bad on the scale of a horrific natural disaster, not a civilization-ending apocalypse.

          • Nick says:

            Could an India-Pakistan exchange be worse than a NK-whoever exchange? I bet it would affect vastly more people. Not sure how much more/less likely.

          • John Schilling says:

            Somewhat more people, but vastly fewer people for whom the words “Millenial”, “Boomer”, or “Generation XYZ” have any meaning.

          • Aftagley says:

            Yeah, I should say that this is in terms of what gives me butterflies, not a summary of all possible nuclear flash points around the globe.

            Yes, India-Pakistan slinging nukes at each other would be, again, catastrophic, but it would likely be localized to the region. The scenarios under which that escalates into some kind of global nuclear Armageddon are astonishingly small and IMO mostly rely on one or both countries failing completely and their stockpiles entering the open market.

          • Randy M says:

            Yes, India-Pakistan slinging nukes at each other would be, again, catastrophic, but it would likely be localized to the region.

            Would Pakistan gain sympathy from other Muslim nations?

            Also, if a single nuclear exchange was decisive I could see it being localized, but it it dragged out I wonder if other regional powers would be tempted to step in to keep the neighborhood clean. Russia, China, Iran maybe. Which could backfire.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Randy M

            The Uighurs in China aren’t gaining sympathy from other Muslim nationscountries. Given that most Muslim countries are governed by monarchs (though not the most populated Muslim countries), and monarchs of today are really politically inclined, I don’t see them reacting militarily to a Pakistan/India nuclear exchange. (India has a large Muslim population, and gets on fine with Bangladesh, so it can’t really be said that India is at odds with Pakistan for anti-Islam reasons).

          • Randy M says:

            The Uighurs in China aren’t gaining sympathy from other Muslim countries.

            Sure… but I’d expect there’s a difference between oppressing an internal minority and nuking a neighboring country. But probably not enough of one to make a regional conflict into a global ideological one.

          • Aftagley says:

            @Randy M

            Would Pakistan gain sympathy from other Muslim nations?

            Gain Sympathy, sure. I’d wager a not-insignificant portion of the disaster relief funds would come from some of the wealthier Muslim-majority nations.

            If India somehow managed to launch a completely successful first strike and annihilated Pakistan before they were able to get any retaliatory strikes in, maybe that lopsided outcome would spur the neighbors to get up in arms, but you know, India’s got nukes and a now-proven willingness to use them.

            if it dragged out I wonder if other regional powers would be tempted to step in to keep the neighborhood clean. Russia, China, Iran maybe. Which could backfire.

            Russia/China, maybe. Iran probably not.

      • I’m sure if we firebombed Europe and Asia’s manufacturing centers again we could restore all those working class jobs to their “rightful” owners.

        This seems to be a popular view, but I can’t make much sense out of it. Having other countries poorer makes us relatively richer, in the 98th percentile (say) of world income instead of the 90th percentile, but how is it supposed to make us absolutely richer?

        • mitv150 says:

          Relatively richer feels richer than absolutely richer.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Because as pointed out, those countries needed to import machinery, food and other things to rebuild, which we happily provided. America became the world’s factory for two decades without competition.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          I don’t think the issue is in international comparisons. People aren’t upset that Germany or China is industrializing, at least not necessarily.

          It’s the [real or perceived] internal inequalities that bother people, and in particular secular stagnation at the lower end. The two income trap, the hollowing out of the middle, etc. etc.

          Whether the stagnation is just an artifact of improperly measuring incomes and inflation is disputed. As is the nature of the relationship between the stagnation and industrialization outside of the US.

          • Aapje says:

            Germany is de-industrializing. They just started from a higher baseline.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            Aapje revise the above to ‘German or china is/was industrializing’

            The issue was whether the post-war catch up of certain countries to the US was the source of anxiety between say 1945-present

    • I’m OK with being a millennial.

      1. Music may or may not be better than in previous generations, but I have access to all that music and don’t have to directly pay for any of it.

      2. Economically speaking all classes are better off than in previous generations, even with the rich hogging the wealth.

      3. There is definitely less practical free speech now than their was a generation ago.

      4. Isn’t the climate crisis already here? It seems like that’s just the name now, first it was global warming, then climate change, now the climate crisis. It pails in danger compared to the threat of nuclear annihilation. If you time-warped back to 1950, butterflies could easily end up with you turning into a heap of radioactive ash a decade or two later. Consider Vasily Arkhipov.

      • Plumber says:

        @Alexander Turok >.

        “…Economically speaking all classes are better off than in previous generations, even with the rich hogging the wealth…”

        I remember the 1970’s, and there simply weren’t anywhere near numbers of beggars and homeless then, those starting appearing in great numbers in the 1980’s, diminished a little bit in the late ’90’s, and then have increased since.

        I believe my eyes.

        • acymetric says:

          Here’s another way to look at it. My parents would not be able to afford to buy their house, if they had to buy it today. They would probably need to either halve their square footage or move about 20 miles further from town (conveniently they did buy the house so this isn’t a problem).

          • Evan Þ says:

            Here around Seattle, a lot of that is due to zoning laws. Most of the housing stock in the City of Seattle would be illegal to build today.

        • JulieK says:

          The number of homeless people has a lot to do with mental illness (specifically no longer locking the mentally ill in institutions) and drug/alcohol addiction.
          Also, zoning laws eliminating really cheap housing options.

        • albatross11 says:

          Plumber:

          I think that had a lot to do with deinstitutionalization and NIMBY/zoning getting rid of flophouses, and not very much to do with the 0.1% finding ways to get a bigger slice of the pie.

          • Nick says:

            Reminder that Plumber’s in SF, which has its own homeless problems that don’t generalize to other US cities.

          • Plumber says:

            @albatross11 says: “I think that had a lot to do with deinstitutionalization and NIMBY/zoning getting rid of flophouses, and not very much to do with the 0.1% finding ways to get a bigger slice of the pie”

            The timing of de-institutionalizing makes it a plausible cause of the mass homelessness that started in the ’80’s, but in California that was already on-going in the ’60’s when there wasn’t mass homelessness, but the 1967 Lanterman-Petris-Short Act signed by Governor Reagan really kicked dr-institutionalizing into high gear, but you still didn’t see so many beggars until the ’80’s (when de-institutionizing went national).

            I’m doubtful about zoning being a contributer, those laws were already in place in the ’60’s, and even in the ’20’s in some places.

            That job losses leads to homelessness is pretty damn obvious, there was an increase with both the ’82 and ’09 recessions.

            The other driver is rent increases, and that’s a problem caused by wealth, all the top U.S.A. locations with lots of homelessness are wealthier cities, the State with the least homeless per capita is Mississippi, which is just about the poorest State in the Union.

            The causes are:

            1) Addiction/insanity

            2) Job losses.

            3) Rents being bid up.

            Of those three income losses are the easiest to fix (government jobs/welfare), rents being bid up is a little harder, but not that much (higher progressive taxation, very high taxes on “pied-a-terres”), addiction/insanity is harder but I imagine institutionalization with opioids supplied if they don’t leave could work, other drugs cause insanity (especially meth), since about half of those temporarily involuntarily commited to Zuckerberg General Hospital are there until the meth wears off I imagine a repeat offender monitored exile could work – send them to Mississippi or Utah with some cash to those States to “treat” them, or bite the bullet and jail users until they’re 65.

            And make marijuana illegal again, use correlates with schizophrenia (yes, as I keep telling you guys, I lean leftward on economics, but I’m not a cultural liberal-progressive).

          • zoozoc says:

            @Plumber

            I think saying that zoning hadn’t changed since the ’60’s doesn’t mean that zoning isn’t a problem. The population of California has more than doubled since the 60’s. So zoning laws that work with a population of 15+ million in the 60’s doesn’t work anymore with a population of 35+ million now.

        • I believe my eyes.

          Your eyes see what is immediately around you, which is a poor sample of the world, or even the country. You are in a state with unusually high levels of homelessness, extraordinarily high housing costs, and state and local governments following policies that cause both.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          @ those talking about deinstitutionalizing

          Is a mentally ill jobless person richer or poorer if they live on the street, or live in an institution with meals provided?

          I think the answer is fairly obvious. Just the same as when we call a college student well off if they come from an upper middle-class family.

          Zoning laws or wages that don’t pay enough are effectively the same: The haves are dictating the living standards of the have-nots.

          @DavidFriedman
          Permatemp jobs exist around the nation. I’m materially better off living in the SF east bay area with my career job than I was living in fly-over country with my permatemp job.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Is a mentally ill jobless person richer or poorer if they live on the street, or live in an institution with meals provided?

            I think the answer is fairly obvious.

            I am guessing that your “obvious” guess is the institution is better. It is very much less than obvious to me that living one’s life in a completely stagnant institution is better than a dynamic life on the streets, even with the streets a lot more dangerous. Certainly for the short time I was bumming around the country when I was about 19, I would have been furious at some locking me up in an institution. I admit that isn’t a great example, since it was a very short time, and I had the option of settling down and finding a place to live, which is not always the case for the currently homeless. But I bet most homeless would not accept your “obvious” guess. Moving to an institution is like accepting going to jail for life.

            Plumber talks about his eyes showing him the awfulness of homelessness, so he says it is worse than before. But he just didn’t see the awfulness of institutional life before that. Out of sight, out of mind. We could go back to institutionalizing these folks, but we let them out in the first place because we were torturing for life people that didn’t do well in society. Homelessness is bad, but institutionalization is worse in many cases. Maybe going to an institution is the best of bad choices for some, but I don’t think for most. The homeless taking over cities is also not good, but I hope we can find a better solution than putting them all in jail for the rest of their lives.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            “Mentally ill” wasn’t an optional modifier.

            I do understand that there are gradations in mental illness. I’m talking about the kinds that need significant assistance in living on their own.

            Homelessness is bad, but institutionalization is worse in many cases.

            This is an important point, and I agree. There are outpatient agencies that help people find a place to live, monitor them, and assist them in independent living. This is a better option.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            “Mentally ill” wasn’t an optional modifier.

            Okay that is a good point. But not definitive. I think the majority of homeless are considered mentally ill. As you say, there are gradations of mental illness, and I don’t think most of them are so bad they should be locked up in an institution for life.

            Having said that, I do agree that some should. One of my sisters is in one of the institutions that survived. IMO, it is not a nice place, but I can’t imagine her living on the streets. We in her family would actually pay for her to have a place to live, but she couldn’t survive even that. There are some cases where I don’t see a substitute for institutions. But a whole lot less than they had say 60 years ago.

          • Matt M says:

            I think the majority of homeless are considered mentally ill. As you say, there are gradations of mental illness, and I don’t think most of them are so bad they should be locked up in an institution for life.

            Given that nearly 1/3 of college students self-identify as mentally ill, I have little trouble going ahead and assuming that nearly all homeless people are.

            Of course “mental illness” is one of those terms that has been overused and misapplied so thoroughly as to lose all relevant meaning in the current year.

          • albatross11 says:

            One big question I have w.r.t. long-term homelessness and mental illness: What fraction of the long-term homeless would be much more functional in a better environment–say, if they had access to some kind of reasonably safe and clean housing, bathrooms, phones, a fixed address, etc.

            Long-term homelessness seems like an environment that’s optimized for making things worse–you’re likely to be a victim of violent crime a lot, you have little control of your environment, you probably can’t keep up with any kind of regular medicine or psychiatric care, you don’t have a safe place to store your things, your sleep schedule is probably not much in your control, you can’t exert much control over your diet, etc.

            A lot of mentally ill people wind up in jail or prison. That’s also an environment optimized to mess up an already-messed-up person. Keep acting up and you get tossed into solitary, which eventually drives sane people mad. I’m guessing it doesn’t do much good for someone who started out with big mental problems.

        • There are many reasons other than economics for why homelessness may have increased over time.

      • Milo Minderbinder says:

        Purely curious, what do you mean by “practical” free speech? Like, people are more afraid of voicing heterodox ideas, or speech itself is now less effective?

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          I’m curious to know the OP’s answer as well.

          I think social media’s effective globalization of speech makes it far more difficult to be heard on local issues.

          In earlier years genuine debates on local issues in the letters to the editor pages of the local paper, or even on the local television news station, would be heard by the majority of adults locally. This is no longer the case.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Eh? Letters to the Editor still exist. I write them sometimes to my local paper. But they have the same problem they have always had; the supply is much greater than the demand, so few of those written get printed. And the gateway to this is controlled by one small group. I am much happier with with forums like this one, where anything one writes is automatically “published.”

            Overall, I think freedom of speech is greater now that it’s ever been, just because of the Internet. Of course there are many more voices, so it is hard to be heard, but that is the nature of free speech.

            I don’t think that deviant speech is prevented anymore now than it was when I was a kid in the Sixties. But what is disallowed isn’t the same as it was. In my pre-adolescence I was convinced for a number of years God and Christianity/Judaism had to be true because everyone believed, so how could I trust my own doubts? It was only when I got older that I discovered that not everyone did believe — but doubting voices were banned in the mass marketplace, at least what I had access to as a child. And I did read adult magazines such as Time that came to our house, so I had access to normal adult media.

        • people are more afraid of voicing heterodox ideas

          Yes.

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      Millenial Here

      People ‘Ok Boomer’ for different reasons. My introduction to Anti-boomerism came in the early 2010s and it was mainly centered on ‘Boomerism’ being synonymous with the housing crisis, golden parachutes, social security; I.E. intergenerational theft, the vampire generation, etc. The narrative goes something like “The boomers inherited the greatest economy in the world, they blew their inhereitance and will probably pass on before seeing just how bad things get”

      There have always been anecdotes about having to walk 15 miles in the snow to get to school, but the relationship between boomer and non-boomer reads something like: your parents generation could earn a decent living from a high school diploma and even if they needed a college degree [which they didn’t] they could pay for one in relatively short order by working a summer job.

      The second and much less important thing they tend to dislike the boomers for is the sexual revolution and its aftermath. But relationship data is even harder to quantify than economic data.

      _________________

      Now I care far more about the existence of the phenomenon than i do the culpability. Honestly cuplability only matters if you can point to the specific decisive turning points that could be undone. Insofar as these things are real (Difficulty forming real interpersonal relationships, economic insecurity, wage stagnation, cost disease) they are usually secular trends. This means they usually don’t have a cut-off point which makes assigning blame to an age cohort rather arbitrary. Also the ground work for said trends is often laid by previous generations because during the 50’s and early 60s the boomers are too young to vote or hold office. Senior lawmakers with insanely high incumbency rates also seem to be ever so slightly outside the boomer age distribution.

      If we assume the majority of boomers aren’t actually as evil as the aforementioned ‘intergenerational theft’ narrative suggests then It’s still useful to make people aware of the fact that young people today have a harder time ‘breaking in’ than they used to, and since the boomers are [for now] still a formidable voting bloc it’s probably harmful to assign blame to them as people rather than focusing on laws or norms.

      Millenials are a tad guilty themselves because they enjoyed their college years a bit too much (it’s what comes after that annoys them) and like most americans prefer expensive treatments to unpleasant cures in the form of student loan forebearance and eight years of high school free college.

      __________

      As for pop culture that’s kind of subjective. I’m a classical music guy. I can say objectively that music has gotten more monotonous through time because you can measure the level of complexity and variety of musical compositions. Again though that’s a secular trend.

      • Lambert says:

        One study (Serra et al, 2012) (none of the authors are musicologists) deciding how to define ‘musical complexity’ then doing an analysis on some corpus or other does not an objective measure make.

        That said, I’m not a classical music guy, because I find it far too simplistic. Maybe some people can appreciate the aesthetics of balance and structure, but I far prefer the ornamentation of baroque and intense emotion of the romantic era.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          @Lambert

          I use classical in the broad sense, like a ‘classical radio’ station will play pieces from the middle ages to the present, not just 1750-1820abouts.

          As for complexity it might be the wrong word because it connotates ‘betterness’ too much. (like intelligence) What you most definitely can do is break music down into each of its dimensions (dynamic, pitch, rthym, meter, harmony, melody, keys, chords, instruments, etc.) and measure how much variety there is.

          It’s objective in the literal sense but people will object on the grounds that good music [however defined] doesn’t involve indefinitely increasing the variety of these things [which is true] but that’s not the same as refuting the claim that pop music has gotten [in a literal sense] more mono-tonous over time.

          • danridge says:

            I was going to comment on this, and then I wrote it out and it’s insanely long, so I’m going to make a top level comment, and maybe if anyone wants to argue about complexity and musical genre, they will. But this was about generations, so I don’t want to derail that in a comment which actually has nothing to do with it, other than trying to refute some arguments about what music different people like (and which no one can even directly reply to!). My point is just that I don’t think it’s correct or fair to regard classical music as an objective maximum in all forms of complexity, again come argue about it above.

            As for generations, I don’t like em. I don’t know where the divides are. I was sure that millennials were the actual children of today, since they were born after 9/11. But aside from not caring that much, I don’t like how people think about this stuff. When you see an article about millennials killing some industry with their changing preferences, and you’re a millennial, that’s just a story about statistics. It’s not about you, it doesn’t matter to you, unless you’re weighing public policy/investment strategies. Generational divide stuff smells like astrology to me. Self-involved nonsense.

      • Nick says:

        The vampire generation and sexual revolution stuff is a big part of it, but I think it’s also just Boomers’ outlook on things. It’s so grating. And it’s not something that just comes down to “things older people say to younger people.” Like they think all the world’s problems come down to people not getting along. Or that the root of all evil is greed—if I had a dollar for every time I’d heard this verbatim from a Boomer, they’d want me taxed at a 90% marginal rate. Or their continuous stream of advice to just do what you love and study whatever you want in college and find who you are and geez, I’m making myself mad here just repeating this tripe. It’s clueless statements like these that invite “ok boomer.”

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          I just wanted to emphasize that different people have different priorities and can’t even agree on causes if they agree on what constitutes a problem. For every 1 person who dislikes boomers for dismantling useful traditions and heuristics, another 2 dislike them for being quaint and traditional [relatively speaking]

          Some boomers might want 90 percent marginal tax rates but other times they get blamed for the fact that those tax rates don’t exist anymore.

          • Plumber says:

            @RalMirrorAd says: “…Some boomers might want 90 percent marginal tax rates but other times they get blamed for the fact that those tax rates don’t exist anymore”

            Using likelihood of voting Republican as a proxy for which age cohort of voters to blame/credit from lower than mid 20th century top marginal income tax rates, from a part of a long post of mine a few threads back: 

            “…The now customary generational divides I usually see are

            Silent Generation“: born from 1925 to 1945

            Boomers“: born from 1946 to 1964

            Generation X“: born from 1965 to 1980
            and
            Millennials“: born from 1981 to 1996

            and usually polling charts show how those different generations politically lean compared to each other (often with Generation X lumped in with either Boomers or Millennials because we’re such a small minority compared to the two generations we’re sandwiched between).

            While age definitely correlates with political leanings, it’s seems more “wavy” than the big generational blocks, and from Pew Research’s A Different Look at Generations and Partisanship (from 2015, data from 2014), I see some interesting (to me) nuance, and hopefully those of you who’re more numerate (or just have better eyesight for reading charts and graphs) than me will take a look and see if I sussed it right.

            Those born around 1934 look to lean Republican the most, and those born around 1984 the most Democratic, there’s lots flux and birth year political leanings don’t match the customary generational divides, i.e. most “Silents” and “Boomers” vote for Republicans, but the very tail end of Silents (those born 1943 to 1945), and the oldest Baby Boomers lean Democratic, younger Baby Boomers lean more Republican, and older X’ers are more Republican than younger ones, elder Millennials lean the most Democratic of any age cohort, younger Millennials are a bit more Republican than older ones but still mostly Democrats (according to the 2014 polls).

            There’s lots of back and forth, but it looks to me that births around the third to fifth year in a decade (1943-’45, ’53-’55, ’63-’65, etc.) is when partisan leanings flip for their age cohorts when they become adults, usually folks keep voting for whichever party they supported as young adults…”

            So it’s not exactly older=Republican, younger=Democrats, blame/credit all but the very youngest of Silents and the very oldest of Boomers, and also blame/credit the very oldest of Gen-X (and of course not everyone votes like the majority of their age cohort, off the top of my head @DavidFriedman doesn’t vote for Democrats despite being an older Boomer, and I do despite being an older X’er, so we both vote more like our broad ‘generation’, but not like our specific birth years).

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Yeah, I get annoyed at the Boomers sometimes, but it is definitely because of their life and career advice. Their advice can be actively damaging, and there is way too much “well, just show up in person, demand to speak to the manager, and hand him your resume!” style advice.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Wow, mine is the opposite experience (from my father):
          – My way is the best, be like me (heavily implied) – this included instructing me to cold-call businesses to see if they had any job openings
          – Money is everything (not happiness in job); location is everything when buying a house (which may never happen)
          – Assisting me in getting manual labor jobs after I dropped out, because that was the kick in the pants he needed to go on and get a better job (that, and the draft, as he volunteered for the Navy); as opposed to actually spending time trying to find someone who could genuinely help me
          – Right-wing talk radio demonizing all public sector enterprises (except, amazingly, the military and sometimes emergency services) while lionizing the private sector equivalents – so of course I apply to a private university that’s a bad fit for my interests, instead of the notably better, and better-fit state flagship (though part of that reason was getting away from my parents)
          – Neo-tech objectivism that just seemed to say to me that “you are on your own” – leaving a kid with a dream and no clue how to pursue this (readily achievable at the time) dream, as well as leaving him with the expectation that no one would ever help except by throwing money my way (paying for school), and everyone’s effectively out for themselves (though I don’t know if my father really bought into Neo-tech, as he never used the terminology, just owned some tapes, and was also into other wish-fulfillment “systems” such as “The Secret”)

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Ok Boomer is best delivered by a Gen Z to a Millenial. The platonic Boomer gets mad about any perceived disrespect to their August Nature, but a similarly ideal Millenial seethes and suffers most at being compared to his Eldest Enemy. The still imperfectly codified Zoomer Quintessence is a laconic internet post-ironic foam from which “Ok Boomer” proceeds like a fell Annunciation.

      The important thing, of course, is that we all go on hating each other and discovering new axes along which to polarize and hate each other.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I get that boomers and millennials are mad at each other, but as a Gen Xer I’m apathetic about the whole thing.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Working class folk can still make a decent living, it’s just not the living that’s on television where under-employed 20-somethings can somehow afford 1500 sq ft Manhattan apartments, nice clothes, and regular night life.
      They are exposed to higher crime and higher risk to negative health events, but other than that things aren’t horrible. Every day I go to work and see our hourly employees driving nicer cars than our factory manager that pulls down nearly a quarter million dollars a year with his bonuses.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Television’s always given an unrealisticly wealthy depiction [on net] of Americans.

        Whether they can make a decent living depends on your definition of decent living. But for any agreed upon definition, If group A is moving in place and group B is zooming ahead, telling group A that there’s nothing to complain about because they’re not poorer than X reference point is missing the mark.

        I also see people who drive newer more expensive cars than me despite me earning more than they do, but I didn’t borrow anything to get the car and I’m not juggling car payments with student loan payments and rent payments. Present consumption levels between rich and poor ignore the debts and savings that translate into future consumption plus security and peace of mind. Obviously group A’s not wholly blameless.

      • Aftagley says:

        Every day I go to work and see our hourly employees driving nicer cars than our factory manager that pulls down nearly a quarter million dollars a year with his bonuses.

        Insert obligatory “nearly everyone who’s looked at it thinks auto loan debt is currently at unsustainable levels will play a significant part in the next recession.” (relevant source)

        • The Nybbler says:

          From “relevant source”

          As a share of total auto loans, delinquencies aren’t quite as bad as the peak in 2010, when households were feeling the most acute effects of the tanking economy. Their growth is generally commensurate with the expansion of auto loan market in general

          Thus, I’m going to reject the claim that nearly everyone thinks that auto loan debt is at unsustainable levels.

          It also appears banks were until recently tightening standards, possibly in response to the modest increase in delinquencies.

          • Aftagley says:

            You are correct that the two sentences you quoted are in the article I linked. They are , however, immediately followed by a “But…” and then a bunch of sentences that explain why it’s an issue.

            Even without almost every line in that article other than those you linked, saying “it’s not quite as bad as it was during the peak of a recession” doesn’t seem like a ringing endorsement.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The “but” in this case is just some handwavery: “But a growing number of borrowers defaulting on their car loans is a signal of serious financial duress for those households, experts say”. They even “but the but”, and then they but that too:

            “This isn’t going to be the next 2008,” said R.J. Cross, a policy analyst at the Frontier Group, a research think tank that co-authored the U.S. PIRG report. But these trends still spell trouble for individuals and families, and point to an enlarged economy pumped full of bad loans.

            The New York Fed report they reference also notes that recently, the increase in new loans is mostly due to high-credit-score borrowers.

            So I’m seeing a modest increase in delinquencies by borrowers who were fairly high risk to begin with, already being countered by lenders tightening standards. This does not look like recession-causing circumstances.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The New York Fed report they reference also notes that recently, the increase in new loans is mostly due to high-credit-score borrowers.

            The largest losses during the housing crisis came from high credit score borrowers who bought 2nd homes (vacation, investment or speculative) and then defaulted on them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The largest losses during the housing crisis came from high credit score borrowers who bought 2nd homes (vacation, investment or speculative) and then defaulted on them.

            NBER claims there were more prime foreclosures than subprime (though the crisis started in the subprime market), but I’ve been unable to find any information about it being 2nd homes.

            In this case, there’s no increase of defaults among high credit score auto buyers. The auto loan market is much smaller than the mortgage market. No one expects their car to increase in value. Lenders appear to be acting rationally (which they did not in the lead-up to the subprime crisis). So I still don’t see auto loans as a crisis.

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is not exactly the claim I made*, and was not what I recall reading (4-5 years ago) but it includes some supporting evidence

            Bhutta (2015) shows that second home
            buyers contributed more to aggregate mortgage debt during the boom years than did all first-time buyers

            Areas with 10 percentage point higher second home origination shares during the boom experienced steeper declines in activiy: house price and construction employment declines were 7 and 9 percentage points stronger on average (Columns 1 and 2, respectively), while changes in delinquency rates were on average about 2 percentage points higher (Column 3).

            *also have not read this one, just skimmed it very quickly after a google search, not vouching for its methods here.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I am also glad to be in the group retroactively classified as Boomers (1957). Here’s my list of good things:
      1. Jobs for all – and decent jobs for anyone with basic reliability etc. – meant that in my twenties I could concentrate on learning and doing what inspired me, not worried I’d be left unemployed or without enough to live on. (It helped that my idea of “enough” was quite modest. I’d grown up fairly poor.)
      2. Came to sexual maturity at a time when all known STIs were curable.
      3. The sixties – in particular, the removal of a lot of cultural straitjackets involving religion, gender roles, and more. I had so many more options than my parents had had.
      4. I came of age while the idea of progress was still prevalent.
      5. Got into software at (almost) the ground floor, and got to help it develop from very humble beginings.

      What these add up to for me was a prevailing optimism, along with a certain amount of idealism. On the one hand, we could and would make a difference. And on the other hand, I didn’t have to waste significant resources protecting myself from likely future risks.

      My #1 is Dino’s #2, of course. And I’m tempted to add a #6 which is essentially Dino’s #3, but without their list in front of me, it probably wouldn’t have gotten onto my list – it was good, but wasn’t what I think of first. My #6 would probably be that overprotectiveness of children and helicopter parenting wasn’t a thing – I walked to school, and had plenty of time unsupervised, to fill however I wished, provided I didn’t destroy my clothes or get in trouble with the law. (I’m told that these days, permitting children such independence may bring down social services on you and them.) But that wasn’t really unique to the 50s and 60s.

      • Dino says:

        +1 on the helicopter parenting. My parents were very “free range”, coming from a farming background where the 8 yr old needed to take the tractor to mow the back 40. Growing up, I got to do things which would horrify modern parents, and was happier and better off because of it. Agree it’s not just a boomer era thing.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I am also glad to be in the group retroactively classified as Boomers (1957). Here’s my list of good things:
        1. Jobs for all – and decent jobs for anyone with basic reliability etc.

        I am very surprised at this comment. I was born in 1956 and I found it very difficult to find jobs when I came of age in the ’70’s. Partly this might related to me having difficulty finding jobs my whole life; because I am really bad in interviews, and especially so at that early age. This whole discussion of talking about generations doesn’t really make a lot of sense, because the differences in people and situations vary more than time periods.

        Although there could be one more variable — didn’t you live in Canada in the ’70’s? Did Canada have the same stagflation then as the US? Canada must have been affected by the OPEC price increases and cutoff of oil in 1973. Did Canada have a baby boom in the ’50’s too? To me that was the biggest cause of the stagflation of the ’70’s.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Yes, I worked in Canada from when I graduated from college until 1992.

          Perhaps I’m misremembering, or confused by my own perhaps better-than-normal prospects at the time. Both I and the folks around me had no concern about being able to find work – at least, those of us who weren’t joining or founding communes, ashrams etc. Maybe we were unrealistic, or a bit more elite than I think we all were. OTOH, what I didn’t say was that we were all white, and that did matter for one’s job prospects, though I doubt any of us realized how much.

          Re 50s baby boom in Canada – I was *not* a babyboomer at birth; that term applied to the children of families founded by returning servicemen from WWII, shortly after the war. My mother was still a child when that war ended, so our family was founded more than a decade after the war – too late for it to count – given the categories used in that time and place.

          It’s true that Americans I knew were equally unconcerned about employment – but they were a more elite group, so not as representative as my Canadian friends.

  9. johan_larson says:

    Fred Wilson, a NYC venture capitalist, has some predictions for the coming decade. I’ve condensed some of Wilson’s predictions, and added my own reactions:

    1/ The looming climate crisis will be to this century what the two world wars were to the previous one. It will require countries and institutions to re-allocate capital from other endeavors to fight against a warming planet. This is the decade we will begin to see this re-allocation of capital.

    OK, I could buy that. Clearly, lots of people think climate change is a problem. How much will be done, though?

    2/ We will see capitalism come under increasing scrutiny and experiments to reallocate wealth and income more equitably will produce a new generation of world leaders who ride this wave to popularity.

    Sounds premature.

    3/ China will emerge as the world’s dominant global superpower leveraging its technical prowess and ability to adapt quickly to changing priorities (see #1).

    In one decade? Probably not.

    4/ Countries will create and promote digital/crypto versions of their fiat currencies, led by China who moves first and benefits the most from this move.

    The banking industry is extremely conservative, and crypto-currencies enable exactly the sort of evasion of surveillance that dictatorships like China thrive on. No way this is going to happen.

    5/ A decentralized internet will emerge, led initially by decentralized infrastructure services like storage, bandwidth, compute, etc.

    Not sure what this means. Decentralized in what sense?

    6/ Plant based diets will dominate the world by the end of the decade.

    Maybe within the bubble of the Distributed Republic of Berkely. But there could be a shift in that direction in broader society. This might be the decade to make people worry as much about their meat as they do about their coffee.

    7/ The exploration and commercialization of space will be dominated by private companies as governments increasingly step back from these investments. The early years of this decade will produce a wave of hype and investment in the space business but returns will be slow to come and we will be in a trough of disillusionment on the space business as the decade comes to an end.

    Ok, sure.

    8/ Mass surveillance by governments and corporations will become normal and expected this decade and people will increasingly turn to new products and services to protect themselves from surveillance.

    Isn’t mass surveillance already the new normal? But if it’s “normal”, why would people start worrying about it suddenly?

    9/ We will finally move on from the Baby Boomers dominating the conversation in the US and around the world and Millennials and Gen-Z will be running many institutions by the end of the decade.

    We haven’t yet had the hard fights about the boomers’ retirements and end-of-life care. The boomers will still be front and center this coming decade.

    10/ Continued advancements in genetics will produce massive wins this decade as cancer and other terminal illnesses become well understood and treatable.

    A good description of the next fifty years, not the next ten. Cancer, in particular, has proven to be singularly resistant to magic bullets of every sort.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The banking industry is extremely conservative, and crypto-currencies enable exactly the sort of evasion of surveillance that dictatorships like China thrive on. No way this is going to happen.

      Crypto can be used for evasion but it isn’t a core component, Bitcoin without anonymity would allow the state to track all of your financial transactions.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        A blockchain is just a sequence of hash-chained records plus some kind of distributed mechanism to decide which block should go onto the chain next and what’s allowed into those blocks.

        A cryptocurrency based on a blockchain could collect taxes, allow confiscation of funds by the government, make everything traceable (blockchain is not naturally an anonymity-friendly technology!), etc. That’s just about setting up the rules about what transactions are valid and what blocks will/won’t be mined.

        Don’t confuse the ideology and preferred applications of the early adopters with what the technology permits.

        OTOH, the existing international payments system is full of powerful, well-connected organizations who collect rents on their position in that system, and they will likely try to push back against innovation that cuts them out of the flow of money.

    • Aftagley says:

      Rapid fire reactions:

      1. Potentially True, possibly overstating how quickly capital will shift.

      2. You left out a bit here about automation being the driver for this growing unrest which I think makes his prediction slightly more realistic. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the death-knell of capitalism, however.

      3. His perception of China is weird. More on this later.

      4. Again, this is hamstrung by his flawed views on China. More on this later.

      5. Someone smarter than I can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he’s predicting something like an “uber for internets” kind of system – the backbone for the system will be fully decentralized and will run on everyone’s individual machines. I don’t see why this kind of system would emerge or what need it would fill, but I’m not a tech VC, so I’ll hold off any judgement.

      6. No. Eating a steak won’t turn into eating caviar in 10 years. I’ll agree that plant based diets will likely become more widespread, but the underlying system would shake to such extents.

      7. No opinion on this.

      8. This statement is likely overblown. I predict no change from where we are now during the next decade. We’ll probably have 0-1 Snowden level revelations on the capabilities of these systems, but not major social upheavals around it.

      9. I mean, the average boomer is around 60 something and the average american lives until their late 70s, so yes, we’ll start seeing this generation fade away, but not until the end and I guarantee they’ll still be dominating the conversation for the next two election cycles at least. Does acknowledging demographics count as a prediction?

      10. No opinion.

      Overall what stood out to me most is his faith in China’s system. I don’t share this faith. The CCP’s only goal is to feed and employ their populace; their commitment to tech is a hedge against the fact that their manufacturing base is collapsing and that, until recently (maybe), they haven’t had to worry about making money since their companies knew that they could always get a bailout. Any tech that gets developed here will be in service of China and will almost certainly not be demanded by the rest of the world and the kind of tech-centric free from regulation systems he’s predicting just won’t naturally arise out of China.

      Overall, he seems like a VC – overly fond of silver bullet dramatic solutions and dismissive of the kind of slow, iterative change that actually drives the world forward. I couldn’t find any other predictions he’s made but I would love to see how well he’s done in the past.

    • cassander says:

      The US spent half its GDP for a few years on WW2. The other major combatants spent more. 50 million people died. The idea that climate will generate a similarly sized shift in the near future is ludicrous, but not nearly as ludicrous as the idea that chinese green energy technology will pave their way to global domination.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        Seriously, the world wars were colossal undertakings. I would buy this more if he said:
        1. Mid Cold War level spending (say 10% of GDP)
        2. occurring after a series of major climate disasters

        There’s no way we get WWII levels of spending unless something insane happens, like New York City is suddenly flooded for a month.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      4/ Countries will create and promote digital/crypto versions of their fiat currencies, led by China who moves first and benefits the most from this move.

      The banking industry is extremely conservative, and crypto-currencies enable exactly the sort of evasion of surveillance that dictatorships like China thrive on. No way this is going to happen.

      Digital currency, sure, but China also likes regulating the exchange rate of its currency. How would it do this with a crypto-currency? A distributed ledger, maybe, but assuming China created and controlled its own program infrastructure for owning and spending of the currency what is gained by crypto-securing it?

      And assuming they do crypto-secure the distributed ledger, is it really a crypto-currency if the government is the one generating all of the encryption and authentication?

      You know what? I think his cop-out is the “digital/crypto” statement. Because China is already nearly a totally digital country.

      See:
      https://www.cgap.org/research/publication/china-digital-payments-revolution
      https://www.forbes.com/sites/biserdimitrov/2019/11/25/why-china-blockchain-plan-is-winning-and-the-us-should-pay-attention/

      Can someone explain in simple terms how a “digital” currency differs from the various systems of electronic transactions that already occur (and have been occurring for decades)?

      • John Schilling says:

        And assuming they do crypto-secure the distributed ledger, is it really a crypto-currency if the government is the one generating all of the encryption and authentication?

        Yes, by definition. And if there are people foolish enough to believe “It’s got ‘crypto’ in the name, so it must be good for keeping my Stuff hidden from The Man, because The Man can’t have ‘crypto’!”, then that’s one more reason for the Chinese government to like the idea.

        But aside from that, I agree that “digital/crypto” currencies offer Beijing (and other national governments) little advantage over the existing system of demand deposits and commercial/consumer credit, so I don’t see the motive for this forecast shift.

      • Aftagley says:

        Can someone explain in simple terms how a “digital” currency differs from the various systems of electronic transactions that already occur (and have been occurring for decades)?

        I’ll take a stab at it – current electronic currency systems can be thought of as kind of similar to the economic system back when it was on the gold standard. We have currency we mostly just trade the currency itself, but by necessity there’s a bunch of kludge in the system necessary to transform the currency back into real money. People don’t normally do this, but to preserve the legitimacy of the digital system, all these weird backend of how to convert your baidubucks or whatever back into Yuan (and vice versa) have to exist.

        Presumably going to something full digital would obviate the need for all the kludge and, being a digital system designed from the ground up to be digital, would likely better fit the needs of a digital consumer.

        • Lambert says:

          It also has the benefit to governments of being able to pressure the banks into freezing someone’s account without fafffing about with trials or due process.
          See: the sex sector and digital payments.

          • Aftagley says:

            I mean, yes, that currently happens, but do you think that the hypothetical chinese driven state-run crypto-currency is going to be any better? If the state is involved, certain markets will forever be contraband.

          • Lambert says:

            No, state-backed crypto will be exactly the same except with a load of wealth being shovelled into a big hole marked ‘nvidia’.

  10. Bobobob says:

    Not to turn this place into Reddit, but today I learned that Bertrand Russell may (or may not) have advocated preemptive nuclear war on the Soviet Union shortly after World War II (from “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser, an excellent book). I found a 41-page paper debating the truth of this assertion (TL/DR): https://mulpress.mcmaster.ca/russelljournal/article/view/2014/2039

    Pacifism is complicated.

    • Aftagley says:

      Bertrand Russell is one of those names I hear all the time that I vaguely feel like I should know something about, but never bothered to learn. Is this wikipedia paragraph an accurate summary, because if so my desire to learn more is pretty much 0?

      Russell was a prominent anti-war activist and he championed anti-imperialism.[72][73] Occasionally, he advocated preventive nuclear war, before the opportunity provided by the atomic monopoly had passed and he decided he would “welcome with enthusiasm” world government.[74] He went to prison for his pacifism during World War I.[75] Later, Russell concluded that war against Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany was a necessary “lesser of two evils” and criticised Stalinist totalitarianism, attacked the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War and was an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament.[76] In 1950, Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought”.[77][78]

      • Bobobob says:

        I don’t know a lot about Russell myself, but he was probably one of the most influential public intellectuals (and pacifists) of the first half of the 20th century. That he would even have fleetingly advocated preventive nuclear war is surprising.

        • John Schilling says:

          Pacifism is rarely absolute and unshakeable. But it does tend to block a nuanced understanding of how to use war as a tool of statecraft or policy. That can lead to an unfortunate failure mode of “…OK, I guess now we have no choice but to completely and utterly annihilate just this one enemy so that we can go back to being pacifists” when a more limited application of military force might be more appropriate.

          That said, Russell specifically and vaguely-socialist pacifists generally weren’t the only ones looking at the immediate post-WWII balance of power and figuring that the obvious next step was for the US to nuke Russia before everybody got killed in a US/Russia nuclear crossfire.

      • Enkidum says:

        He’s also very important in the history of logic and analytic philosophy. His work there doesn’t really float my boat, and his main project was essentially destroyed by Godel, but he was definitely important if you care about those things.

  11. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    The sun is going to turn into a red giant eventually.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csz1pk

    https://phys.org/news/2016-05-earth-survive-sun-red-giant.html

    In something less than a billion years, the sun will warm to the point where the earth will be uninhabitable, and eventually the sun will expand and engulf the earth.

    This isn’t exactly a short term emergency, but people are thinking about it anyway. The BBC put in 23 minutes on possibilities for moving the earth farther out.

    A light sail? A space elevator getting power from the sun’s magnetic field and maybe pulling the earth and moon together away from the sun? Giant lasers? The fanciest idea which is by Greg Laughlin– sending comets and asteroids just past the earth to each give the earth a little boost outwards, then sending the comet past Jupiter to recover the momentum.

    This would take extreme precision (the comets are going close to earth) and a very long civilizational attention span. One pass from a comet takes a ten thousand year orbit– I expect the whole project would take a million years or more.

    As I recall (not in this podcast) there are some issues with how fast the earth can be moved safely. It might be necessary to move the earth out early to a distance which is too cold by current standards, and then wait for the sun to catch up.

    I’ve gotten a couple of comments to the effect that it’s obviously stupid and wasteful to move the earth rather than just evacuating it. I thought it was obvious that moving the earth is a good idea, but maybe it isn’t obvious either way. Of course, we’re guessing– we don’t know what the situation or resources will be. What do you think?

    • I’ve gotten a couple of comments to the effect that it’s obviously stupid and wasteful to move the earth rather than just evacuating it. I thought it was obvious that moving the earth is a good idea, but maybe it isn’t obvious either way.

      It strikes me as obvious in the other direction.

      The current mass of the Earth is about 6×10^24 kg.
      The total mass of humans is about 6×10^11 kg
      The first number is about ten trillion times as large as the second.

      Furthermore, moving the Earth is going to be a slow, continuous process. If at any point during it the output of the sun goes up or down by a significant amount over some short period such as a century or a millenium, Earth fries or freezes. If the population has all moved into space habitats orbiting the sun, with their internal temperature not directly determined by the sun’s output, you can adjust to moderate changes in solar output relatively easily.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Would any other planet (more likely moon or a planet) be habitable after the sun expands? Is that the way to go, getting terraforming in place and then move to a moon of saturn?

    • DragonMilk says:

      You should check out the Chinese movie The Wandering Earth

      So bad it’s good, and on Netflix!

      • Bobobob says:

        Or “Space 1999,” which had as its main plot point a nuclear explosion that sends the moon hurtling through the galaxy at interstellar speeds. (One of the dumbest premises for a sci-fi series in history)

    • Another Throw says:

      A couple of disconnected thoughts:

      A. Any discussion of moving the Earth’s orbit needs to tackle the elephant in the room: perturbations by Jupiter (and the other planets). Jupiter is really, really big and any object in the solar system has a stable orbit only at its sufferance. Earth’s orbit is constantly being stretched in various ways by Jupiter already. Getting closer would make this a much bigger issue and whether that new orbit would be stable is a question that would need to be answered. See also, the discussion elsewhere in this thread about modeling orbital dynamics. Which sounded an awful lot like “you can’t model it that far into the future.”

      B. To a first approximation, the Earth is only habitable because we have a magnetic field. That magnetic field is driven by the convection currents in the liquid parts of the core. Over sufficiently long time scales, the core is cooling (hence the convection currents) and will freeze. Venus, for example, has something like 80% of the mass of the Earth and its core has already frozen. Sometime in the last 4 billion years. And we’re talking about stellar evolution over something like the next 5-7 billion years. Mmmkay. Is the Earth even worth saving? (A quick web search didn’t turn up any obvious answers on what kind of time scale we are talking about for the breakdown of the Earth’s magnetic field.)

      C. As the sun evolves into a giant, it will begin ejecting, at very high velocities, an enormous amount of mass. How would this mass loss interact with Earth’s life-giving atmosphere at any distance. (Factoring into this discussion would be the presence of the sheltering effect of the magnetic field already mentioned.) There are basically two ways this could go: either it scours the atmosphere clean off from its high velocity impact, or we move the Earth out far enough that it is gravitationally captured and the atmosphere gets really, really thick (and probably very radioactive). Again taking Venus as an example, despite having a surface gravity of about 90% of Earth Venus has so much atmosphere that the surface pressure is about 90x that of Earth. This is equivalent of about a mile underwater. Neither of these sound particularly survivable options, but maybe we can Goldilocks it. In addition to the habitable zone determined by the stellar brightness, there might be something of a survivable zone based on the stellar mass loss. I’ve never seen this discussed anywhere, much less whether and how much it would overlap with the habitable zone.

      D. But really what’s the point? After sun finishes ejecting a whole bunch of mass and becomes a white dwarf, what then? Do we now move the Earth back in again to that white dwarf’s really, really tiny habitable zone, which will gradually shrink as it radiates away its residual heat? Is that habitable zone even outside of the Roche limit——the limit on how close a body can get without the tidal forces breaking it apart? And if it isn’t initially, as the white dwarf cools it eventually will be. I mean, I’m really not seeing an endgame here.

      • Another Throw says:

        I can’t seem to edit. I was going to add:

        E: In addition to increasing the gravitation influence of Jupiter on Earth, moving outwards would also increase the Earth’s influence on, e.g., Mars and the main belt asteroids. This honestly sounds like a recipe for a bombardment event as the main belt is disrupted and scattered. Even a partial scattering would be a hell of a time to be alive.

        F: Speaking of scattering, on an even shorter time span, the solar system will experience a flyby through the Oort cloud by a red dwarf the name of which I don’t remember offhand. I don’t think we know enough about the Oort cloud at the moment to say how bad of a bombardment that would cause, but I don’t know, maybe we don’t make it to long enough to worry about stellar evolution.

      • John Schilling says:

        D. But really what’s the point? After sun finishes ejecting a whole bunch of mass and becomes a white dwarf, what then? Do we now move the Earth back in again to that white dwarf’s really, really tiny habitable zone, which will gradually shrink as it radiates away its residual heat?

        Ideally, I think we’d forego the whole “Red Giant” experience by using some form of star lifting to bring Sol down to the red dwarf level and extend its lifespan by a trillion years or so. In which case, we’d have to move the Earth closer to the Sun, rather than farther. Same considerations apply.

        The “redness” of red dwarfs is somewhat exaggerated, things would still look pretty much the same. But photosynthesis would need to be extensively tweaked, either by intelligent design or by extending the process across a billion or so years and seeing if Darwin can keep up.

        • Another Throw says:

          Hmm. I hadn’t heard of star lifting. Interesting.

          I am probably not as optimistic about actually achieving a Kardashev type whatever civilization in order to pull it off as you are, but an interesting idea nonetheless. Probably a lot more work than the subject of Nancy’s prompt, though.

      • Nornagest says:

        As the sun evolves into a giant, it will begin ejecting, at very high velocities, an enormous amount of mass.

        That’s true, but it’s a longer-term problem. The Sun’s expected to reach giant stage in something like five billion years. But its brightening is an ongoing process, and will reach critical levels (for humans and most other forms of present-day multicellular life; extremophiles and products of future evolution might survive longer) in something like 600 to 800 million years per Wikipedia — an order of magnitude less time, and long before stellar mass loss will be much of an issue.

        • Another Throw says:

          Yes.

          It probably didn’t come through as well as I intended (I wanted to edit point E in at the proper chronological place) but the bullet points were supposed to be in a roughly chronological order of when we need to worry about it. Except for the encounter with Gliese 710 disrupting the Oort cloud and causing a bombardment event, which belongs at the end for rhetorical reasons despite being only 1.2 million years away.

          But while I’m here:

          But its brightening, expansion, and mass loss is an ongoing process…

          FTFY. Just as a quibble, the sun is already losing a small amount of mass, and periodically belches larger clumps that have a tenancy to really mess with our cool stuff. We mostly don’t care because we have a magnetic field. But as the sun brightens and expands on the main sequence, the solar wind should also gradually become more intense as well. Who the heck knows what will happen with coronal mass ejections or whatever. The transition to a red giant just makes the problem way, way worse.

          Whenever the magnetic dynamo breaks down even plain Jane solar wind will be a major problem, and the red giant phase’s mass loss is pretty much forgetaboutit.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Moving humans or moving Earth are both just quick &cheap patchwork solutions. It’s five billion years of technology we’re talking about. What a really cool Kardashev 2+ civilization would do is to move the Sun. Just use star lifting to decrease its mass and move it down the main sequence, thus increasing it’s lifetime by an order of magnitude or more. This way you save all you’ve built across the system as opposed to just Earth, and also get a lot of material, which you can use to build more.

      ETA: Ninjad by John Schilling.

  12. DragonMilk says:

    I have lingered at my current job for five years and really probably definitely maybe totally sorta have to get a new job.

    Certain folks like my father are of the opinion that traditional finance (I’ve been working in NYC for nearly ten years post college) is drying up due to automation and think I should burnish some data science/block chain/AI cred with possibly a degree.

    Problem is I’m not a believer and think certain realms are a bubble, a new “fintech” of sorts. Am I misguided? Is more credentialing really necessary or is the “street cred” of being masterful at modeling (VBA macros eyyyy) sufficient for a managerial data science position? I am of the level where I can read code but am loathe to do much coding myself unless necessary due to bad habits (rather than modularize, I tend to pseudocode on a sheet of paper the entire program and then take forever debugging what I type out in one sitting).

    Again, to date I’ve had a fairly cushy front office structuring position of sorts at a small credit fund that’s currently winding down operations. So it’s either find another one of a similar position that seems to be ever disappearing or make a career switch (I’m 31).

    Thoughts?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Unfortunately I am really only exposed to corporate finance, but I would start hedging if you aren’t already in a management position. Senior and staff positions are being scaled back in some firms while traditional BI and new Data Science teams are being expanded. There will always be a place for finance, and if you have management and leadership experience you’ll be valuable, but I see the typical Financial Analyst position getting hammered.

      Your VBA and macro skill should extend your lifespan, but those aren’t really useful skills in the next era.

      • DragonMilk says:

        But it is commonly assumed that Excel Wizards live forever here!

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Yeah, I see that assumption a lot, too. It’s common among finance, accounting, and business. The actual BI teams and IT teams have a medium-term goal of basically eliminating these functions from the modern office, and they are getting a little closer every year.

          • DragonMilk says:

            What’s BI?

          • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

            @DragonMilk Business Intelligence: Database, ETL and reporting tool, by your powers combined, I am Captain BI. Tremble, foolish Excel Wizard, for your days of vba and nested search tyranny come to an end!

          • DragonMilk says:

            Pff, so that’s what my database guy is going by these days? He’s a nice guy but doesn’t have the business sense to challenge Excel Wizardry!

            Database man is but an operator in the cogs of a machine piloted by wizards!

    • jgr314 says:

      @dragonmilk: if you are willing to privately share more detail and want a more focused discussion, I’d be willing to exchange emails about this topic. My address is my alias here + the usual gmail suffix.

      Sorry to be cryptic and not publicly helpful, but I’ve self imposed restrictions on how I engage with SSC that are working well for me and don’t want to make more of an exception than what I’ve already written.

  13. 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.

        • bean says:

          Richard Frank’s Downfall made a strong case that the Soviets were actually preparing to invade Hokkaido when the Japanese surrendered. It’s a short hop, so it could be done with the relatively limited amphibious forces the Soviets had. The IJN was pretty much entirely on the bottom thanks to TF 38/58’s raids on the mainland, and the Japanese had concentrated their troops in Kyushu to defend against Downfall, so even a badly-botched landing might well have worked.

          Frank also pointed out the humanitarian disaster that was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria. I don’t have the figures to hand, but a lot of Japanese didn’t make it home from that, and Hokkaido would have been worse.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Aside from political changes, probably later and slower space exploration. I think the need to deliver a nuclear warhead was a major driver for early rocket development.

    • sfoil says:

      We treat chemical weapons (probably specifically sarin and later nerve agents) the same way we now treat nuclear weapons, at least by the mid 1950s. There might even be chemical bombing of Japan at the end of WW2 that “proves” how devastating these weapons are. Things go on much the same otherwise.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        But a silo based ICBM cannot be damaged by a chemical warhead, or in fact almost anything other than a nuclear warhead. So the symmetry breaks at least there. Also, chemical weapons are much easier to counter – by gas masks, suits and shelters. Also, very limited use against surface ships and armored vehicles, useless against subs and aircrafts. So both strategy and tactics are very different.

        Also, I’m not an expert on the topic but I think there should be some reason why chemical warfare saw no significant use in WWII, and that reason is highly unlikely to be the moral restraints of the combatants.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          You want to kill infrastructure more than people.

        • sfoil says:

          Silo-based ICBMs didn’t exist in 1945-55 either, when strategic retaliation would have taken weeks. Early nuclear weapons were difficult to employ tactically anyway. Eventually miniaturization and improved delivery systems made nukes more tactically useful, but that came later.

          Insofar as there was a need to develop a mechanism to annihilate soft, fixed targets like cities more effectively than the means in WW2 (which arguably turned out to have been oversold prewar, by the way), the new nerve agents would have looked very attractive. Yes, civil defense measures can mitigate these effects. They can also mitigate the effects of nuclear weapons.

          As far as attacking military targets, without the crutch of nuclear explosives perhaps there would have been more focus on improving accuracy with guided munitions.

          (I probably sound unreasonably confident about all of this, but I do think it’s possible)

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            in 1945-55 either, when strategic retaliation would have taken weeks.

            How so? Until 1949 there was no one to retaliate [against] as the USSR didn’t have nuclear weapons yet, and starting 1949 the USAF begun to operate B-36, capable of delivering nuclear bombs to the USSR in a day, at most two. And even the first missiles as they were wouldn’t be particularly vulnerable to a preemptive strike, since gas does nothing to the hardware and you could just have all the staff on duty sitting in bunkers and wearing hazmats when working outside (or rather being ready to put on one upon few minutes notice). And conventional warheads of the times were far to inaccurate.

            As anonymousskimmer pointed out, nerve agents don’t annihilate soft targets, they just decimate the population in there. All the materials and equipment are still there and usable, and everyone who managed to put on a gas mask or hide in a shelter in time is still alive and well and can use them after the attack. And those are disproportionately going to be the military and workers of the important factories. Nukes or conventional carpet bombings equally destroy material goods, military and civilians in the cities they destroy. Chemical warfare would only kill people, disproportionately civilians not directly working on war supplies, and among those disproportionately children, elderly and sick people. I don’t think even Stalin would have found “attractive” the idea of killing off mostly unrelated to war and incapable of fighting civilians, while leaving the actual war industry and army mostly intact. For strategic reasons, if nothing else.

            Without any capability of a preemptive or decapitation strike, the power dynamics and incentives would’ve been very different from those of nukes. Not to mention much larger quantities needed to be delivered.

            As far as attacking military targets, without the crutch of nuclear explosives perhaps there would have been more focus on improving accuracy with guided munitions.

            Perhaps, but I think electronics was already advancing about as fast as it could, it’s extremely useful with or without nukes. But maybe additional funding freed from the nuclear research would have made it advance even faster.

      • cassander says:

        Chemical weapons are massively less destructive than nuclear weapons, and Truman had specifically ruled out using chemical weapons against japanese civilian populations. Chemical weapons were stockpiled, but only for use against people dug into caves, not as strategic weapons.

        • albatross11 says:

          Would we have kept working on doomsday weapons? Chemical weapons don’t meet the requirements, but biological weapons could probably provide a pretty effective doomsday weapon. But with very different dynamic. A nuclear standoff is like we’re both standing two paces apart pointing flamethrowers at each other–the critical question for stability of the situation is whether I can set you on fire without you managing to return the favor. A bioweapons standoff would be more like slow-acting poison darts at two paces. I can shoot you and then you’re certain to die, but you’ve still got plenty of time to retaliate.

          On the other hand, nonproliferation is a lot harder–especially once a couple major world powers have dumped vast resources into bioweapons development and their scientists and their finding occasionally go wandering. It’s probably a to harder to determine the source of a biological attack with confidence. An exchange of bioweapons might plausibly drive the whole species into extinction.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Japan but very different. I have no idea how it would develop, but current Japanese culture as we know it would not exist. Consequently, events that were influenced by Japan in the postwar period (like liberalization of other East Asian countries, perhaps) would not happen or would happen very differently.

      I doubt that WWIII between Soviet Union and the US would happen. Primary reason why they avoided war was that they knew that it would cause tens of millions of death people and total destruction of their societies, which also btw. tends to destabilize positions of social elites. You do not need nuclear weapons for that. Hitler and Stalin did not care, but Soviet leaders after Stalin did not want that, altough their regime remained awful.

      Dynamic of Sino-Soviet relations would perhaps be different.

    • Aftagley says:

      Assuming that atomic bombs being impossible means either that nuclear power in general isn’t a thing or never reaches popular consciousness:

      1. We don’t have Godzilla – A japan that never got nuked doesn’t create this allegory for the hubris of mankind.
      2. We don’t have Spidern Man – instead of being a DNA/life alterting event, Peter Parker’s mild spider bite has no lasting consequences.
      3. We don’t have the hulk – presumably Bruce Banner finds something else to research other than Gamma Radiation.
      4. We don’t have daredevil – He just gets hit by that truck.

    • Auric Ulvin says:

      WWIII is on and liberal democracy is gone. Ceteris paribus economically and demographically, dictatorships can maintain stronger armies than democracies.

      For the vast majority of the Cold War, the Soviets were only held back from overrunning Western Europe by NATO’s tactical nukes and threat of strategic escalation. Without nukes, NATO has to maintain far larger defensive forces, forcing unmanagably high defense spending and huge standing armies. To put this in perspective, the US spent around 8-9% of GDP on defense in the 50s, including Korean War expenses. Further increases would end up creating a state controlled by the military. At best, Wilhelmine Germany, at worst North Korea.

      The alternative to matching the Soviets is falling to salami tactics. First, take Czechoslovakia in 1948 (happened IRL). Then intervention in the Greek Civil War, escalation in the Korean war. The Berlin Airlift is still possible, but further devious tactics can be used. Slowly but surely, NATO gets surrounded, losing crisis after crisis. Communist takeover in Italy, riots in France – tanks rolling to the Rhine and on to Paris.

      The Soviets don’t have the navy to take the war to Britain or America, but Eurasia is totally lost. Against the combined resources of Eurasia and the manpower of Russia and China, the Anglosphere doesn’t have much chance IMO.

      • Nick says:

        How come we can’t use salami tactics back on the Soviets? It seems to me that strategy doesn’t require high defense spending. Though I suppose it would accelerate social and political unrest, to put it mildly.

      • albatross11 says:

        There would be a whole lot of seething rebellions being shipped guns and cash and other supplies in that world, all over Europe.

      • cassander says:

        Ceteris paribus economically and demographically, dictatorships can maintain stronger armies than democracies.

        Says who? Even if we grant that they can more effectively mobilize what they have, free societies are far more productive.

        • Auric Ulvin says:

          There are some things you can’t do with airpower, ships and high-tech weapons even today. Even more so in the 1940s and 50s. Sometimes you just need a willingness to take extreme casualties to get results.

          Consider WW2. The Russians had the largest tank force in the world in 1941. They had an air force bigger than the rest of the world’s put together. They could do that in peacetime!

          “Even in American terms the Soviet defence budget was large. In 1940 it was the equivalent of $11,000,000,000, and represented one-third of the national expenditure. Measure this against the fact that the infinitely richer United States will approximate the expenditure of that much yearly only in 1942 after two years of our greatest defence effort.”

          Most of their kit was obsolete, their doctrine was poor and their officers had been liquidated. Still, they defeated around 3/4 of the German army, while the Western Allies dealt with 1/4 and the Luftwaffe. When the war ended, the Russians had a stronger ground force than the Allies. They had ultra-modern weapons and had learnt how to conduct huge offensives over thousands of kilometres.

          Consider the Korean war. The North Koreans thoroughly crushed South Korea and were only beaten back by the US. China and North Korea, supported by the Soviets, fought the US and its allies to a standstill. Two of the least developed states were able to stalemate the most developed, simply because they were willing to endure enormous casualties. The US killed millions of North Korean civilians with strategic bombing, levelling all their cities. But, since they were a dictatorship, they didn’t give in.

          If the Soviet Union had gotten involved the war would’ve ended in weeks. They had a proper air force and tens of thousands of tanks ready to go.

          My point is that free societies can’t maintain spending like dictatorships in peacetime, they can’t take punishment like dictatorships and they can’t mobilize to the same extent as a dictatorship.

          • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

            I want to jump in on the Korean war thing – I’ve been studying the war extensively over the last year, what with moving to Korea and all – and I think there’s a few common misconceptions about the military side of the war.

            Mostly I want to focus on this: the Korean War is commonly thought of as a military stalemate. That is, the UN forces were incapable of driving the Chinese armies out of the Korean peninsula using military force (without escalating, as MacArthur wanted, to nuclear strikes on the Chinese mainland). This is the misconception I want to address: the Korean war was a politically stalemated war, in that the UN forces were incapable politically of driving China out of the Korean peninsula.

            Let me elaborate.

            To begin with, most people have only the vaguest notions of the Korean War to begin with. The common picture, I think, is of hordes of Red North Koreans flooding into a peaceful and unprepared Republic of Korea, and overwhelming a handful of unprepared US divisions brought over to stop them. The US divisions made a heroic stand around Busan long enough for MacArthur’s brilliant stroke at Inchon to cut off the North Korean armies and drive into North Korea itself – where new hordes of Reds, Chinese this time, again massively outnumber the UN forces and the result is a see-saw battle up and down the peninsula, as superior Communist numbers are balanced by superior UN firepower. Maybe some people can name battles like the Chosin Reservoir or the Pusan Perimeter. If they’re really well-versed, they’ll even know the names of places like Heartbreak Ridge or Pork Chop Hill.

            This picture is a bit inaccurate. Mostly, I think, it is constantly overestimating the numbers of the Communist forces, and, occasionally, their combat capabilities too. For example, the North Koreans suffered heavy casualties in their push down the peninsula in July and August 1950, and the battles at the Perimeter saw them strung out on the very end of a supply line stretching back hundreds of miles over poor, mountainous roads with basically no rail service or indeed any mechanization at all. They were getting essentially no replacements or reinforcements, no new tanks or weapons, hardly any food – and yet they still several times almost broke through the ring of UN forces defending the only good port in Korea. Because the North Koreans were fighting hard, almost literally dashing themselves to pieces in attacks that were basically suicidal. The constant pressure led to the 8th Army consistently overestimating just how many North Koreans they were facing. Essentially, Kim’s strategy was to accept any and all casualties in an effort to throw the UN into the sea, because if he could hold the entire peninsula and present the West with a fait accompli, he could gamble on there being no political will to muster an invasion to kick him out again. If he could eradicate the UN toehold at Busan, then it wouldn’t matter if his army was shattered in the process, he could rebuild it while the democracies dithered. As a result, when the counterstroke came at Inchon, the North Korean army disintegrated almost overnight. Roy Appleman’s book was a good source on all this.

            You see this same pattern – dramatic Western overestimation of Communist numbers – when the Chinese intervened in November. The reality is less flattering to Western arms – the Chinese didn’t have any real numerical advantage in numbers. Instead, they straight-up outmaneuvered the UN. UN forces in November numbered ~550,000, about 125,000 of them in the air and naval forces, leaving 425,000 on the ground. Opposed to that were about 300,000 Chinese “volunteers”. Now, this is key for understanding that Korea was a political stalemate, not a military one, later. The Chinese ‘volunteers’ were mostly battle-hardened veterans fresh off their victory in the civil war. Mao sent a lot of his most seasoned troops in order to flex China’s muscle and prevent the formation of a democratic proxy state as his neighbor.

            The defeats in November and early December were achieved via good Chinese tactics. The UN ground forces were spread out across the country, racing for the Yalu and mopping up last-ditch North Korean resistance. In the rough terrain, no thought was given to flank protection, and MacArthur famously ignored warnings that the Chinese were out there en masse. During the campaign, a gap opened up between the two major Allied combat formations – 8th Army, which had fought the Perimeter battle, alongside the ROK units was driving in the west, while X Corps, the Marines and Army units that landed at Incheon, was operating around the Chosin Reservoir in the east. In between, there was a massive gap in UN lines. It was rough, mountainous terrain that you couldn’t supply a modern army through – unless you were the Chinese.

            The Chinese drove through this gap, neatly turning the flanks of both formations at once. X Corps famously had to fight its way out of Chosin and got pretty badly mauled in the process. 8th Army had its own flank turned and pulled back to successive defensive lines, each one getting outflanked in turn. When X Corps was penned up around Hamhung, there just weren’t enough bodies to hold a line all the way across the peninsula until somewhere south of Seoul. The Chinese, on the offensive and with lower supply needs, were able to operate more freely, and drove through December and most of January.

            Okay. My main point so far is that in Korea Communist forces were not so numerous as the popular myth would have you believe, but they WERE very effective fighters due to their tough, veteran status. The 300,000 “volunteers” represented the cream of the crop in China. But here’s the kicker, and why the war was not the military stalemate its made out to be: Those veterans were not replaceable.

            By the spring of 1951, you see the front stabilize, and you also see Chinese military performance start to degrade dramatically. They don’t win any more brilliant victories like at Kunu-ri (I’d also argue Chosin was a Chinese victory more than an American one, however proud the Marines are of it). Instead, you see more and more offensives peter out without achieving much as they outrun their supplies and start to run low on experienced soldiers. Note the battle of Chipyeong-ni in February compared with the battles in November and December – a surrounded UN division handily saw off several times its number in Chinese soldiers.

            And now you see Ridgway starting to drive to the north. Ridgway, replacing MacArthur, knew how to win the war: His offensives, which regained Seoul and the 38th parallel, were designed to grind up Chinese soldiers and win territory for the UN at minimal cost in UN lives. And by the summer of 1951 he is driving north at will. It’s not as effortless as MacArthur’ post-Incheon dash into North Korea – instead of shattered and demoralized North Koreans, you have tough Chinese veterans backed up by a never-ending supply of reinforcements. Every hill has to be won. But the key point is that any hill Ridgway wanted, he took. The UN was never stopped cold.

            So time for my most controversial claim: By the summer of 1951, the UN had the capability to win a military victory in Korea – that is, they had the ability to drive the Chinese out of the peninsula entirely and hold the line of the Yalu for a unified Korea.

            Reasoning:

            Ridgway’s offensives had more or less shattered the Chinese and the regrouping North Korean forces. Mossman writes:

            As armistice negotiations began, both the Chinese and North Koreans-especially the Chinese-remained occupied with restoring units shattered over the past three months, most of which had moved far to the north to reorganize, and reequip. The immensity of the problem of refitting them was indicated in estimates placing enemy casualties suffered in April, May, and June above two hundred thousand and in visible battlefield evidence of tremendous losses in weapons and equipment. The size of the problem was also implicit in the 1 July response of Kim I1 Sung and Peng Teh-huai to General Ridgway’s offer to negotiate: “We agree to suspend military activities [during the course of negotiations].” Indeed, the Chinese and North Koreans needed only to consider the failures and heavy costs of their April and May attacks to
            realize that they could no longer conduct offensive operations successfully against the Eighth Army. This realization became evident when they agreed to enter into armistice negotiations without mentioning the conditions that Chinese authorities earlier had insisted upon.4

            Including those 200,000 casualties mentioned, by July 1951 the Communists had lost nearly a million men all told. The key is that most of those losses were the well-trained, veteran soldiers that had fought so well earlier in the war. Instead, they were opposing a modern, well-equipped army largely with conscripted peasants. The two sides were about even in terms of numbers, with about 550,000 men in 8th Army opposing ~570,000 on the Communist side. Given the UN superiority in airpower, naval power, and gunpower, Ridgway’s 8th army could drive north at will. The Communist replacements could fight hard in fixed positions and inflict casualties (and the Chinese had very good defensive doctrine), but could only slow any allied offensive, not stop it (as seen by numerous limited Allied offensives through the summer and fall of 1951).

            So why didn’t the UN continue the advance? Why call a ceasefire just when the Communists needed it most and begin armistice negotiations?

            Because politically, victory was impossible.

            First: to drive north would require heavy reinforcements. Yes, Ridgway could hold what he had, and could successfully advance. But open battle like that would incur casualties, and those casualties would need to be replaced. Otherwise his units would degrade and he’d wind up in the same place MacArthur was in November 1950. He’d get to the Yalu and find he couldn’t sustain himself there. But replacements would be hateful to the democratic populations he was dependent on – they were only mildly on board with saving the Republic of Korea. Having their sons die to capture Pork Chop Hill (a thousand Pork Chop Hills) was NOT something they were okay with.

            Second, while he could reach the Yalu, that wouldn’t end the war – it would only prolong it. China would never accept a capitalist power right on their doorstep, for reasons I won’t get into here. This comment is a damned book already. Meaning, any UN line there would face constant attack, and, more importantly, would make any ceasefire basically impossible. Either China would have to be totally defeated (MacArthur’s plan and an escalation no one other than he really wanted), or an acceptable compromise would have to be found – which would mean no doubt a withdrawal to the 38th parallel anyway.

            And all of this is to say nothing of potential Russian interference.

            So, Ridgway was halted at the 38th parallel. While Korea could be unified, the cost to do so was just too high, not something anyone (other than, again, MacArthur, which is why he was fired) was willing to pay. Any advance north would be bloody and would just interfere with ceasefire negotiations, when the UN wanted more than anything for the Korean headache to just go away.

            So, to conclude: the Chinese military fought the US and its allies to a standstill ONLY because the democracies were unwilling to countenance the slaughter of millions over barren North Korean hilltops. In terms of purely military capabilities, the democracies handily defeated the dictatorships. If your point is that dictatorships can ignore politics more easily than democracies can for wars like Korea, and that’s a military strength – well, maybe, but I think that’s debatable too. But I’ve already gone on long enough.

            (If anyone wants sources for numbers and things like that, I can provide).

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Thanks for the write-up, Chevalier. That matches a lot of my own reading I did into the Korean War last year: the initial Chinese offensive was achieved through poor UN deployments and highly effective Chinese tactics and strategy, but the UN ultimately regrouped and could have pressed Northward had we chosen to do so.

            A lot of that made me lower my estimation of MacArthur considerably, which appears to be pretty common among people who start reading up more about him. :/

          • bean says:

            I want to echo ADBG’s thanks. That was an excellent write-up, and cleared up some stuff I wasn’t sure about. (I know the most about the naval involvement in Korea, and less about the ground war for obvious reasons.)

            @ADBG

            A lot of that made me lower my estimation of MacArthur considerably, which appears to be pretty common among people who start reading up more about him. :/

            Dugout Dug is a tricky one. On one hand, he did a brilliant job in New Guinea and the southwest Pacific. And he was probably right in going after the Philippines in 1944. But he was wrong on how to deal with Japan itself in 45, and I suspect that several years ruling said country inflated his ego, already very sizeable, to proportions that simply couldn’t be sustained by his military skills. Not to mention the hash he made of defending the Philippines in 1941/42.

          • bean says:

            Consider WW2. The Russians had the largest tank force in the world in 1941. They had an air force bigger than the rest of the world’s put together. They could do that in peacetime!

            They could do that in peacetime under Stalin’s iron rule. And it did them no good at all when war broke out because Stalin had effectively destroyed their leadership structure.

            “Even in American terms the Soviet defence budget was large. In 1940 it was the equivalent of $11,000,000,000, and represented one-third of the national expenditure. Measure this against the fact that the infinitely richer United States will approximate the expenditure of that much yearly only in 1942 after two years of our greatest defence effort.”

            I have grave suspicions about this number. First, 1940 saw them fighting Finland and coming off a major fight with Japan the previous year, so it’s hardly a peacetime number. Second, I’d like to know how that was adjusted. Is it a nominal number or a PPP number? Was it calculated with the official exchange rate, which was almost certainly a fiction?

            Most of their kit was obsolete, their doctrine was poor and their officers had been liquidated. Still, they defeated around 3/4 of the German army, while the Western Allies dealt with 1/4 and the Luftwaffe. When the war ended, the Russians had a stronger ground force than the Allies. They had ultra-modern weapons and had learnt how to conduct huge offensives over thousands of kilometres.

            In the initial condition, they got their asses kicked. They won later, after Stalin eased up on his control and put competent generals in charge. And they paid a horrific price for doing so. But they also didn’t do things like cut Germany off from the rest of the world or pound its industry into scrap.

            If the Soviet Union had gotten involved the war would’ve ended in weeks. They had a proper air force and tens of thousands of tanks ready to go.

            No. First, a lot of those MiGs had Soviet pilots, so it certainly wasn’t like they were just sitting on the sidelines. Note that the war ended only months after Stalin died. This is not a coincidence. Stalin was ultimately using both China and the Norks as puppets against the US. Second, if the Soviets went into Korea, the war was very likely to widen. And by widen, I mean go nuclear. Probably not good for the Soviets. Which is why it was fought by proxy.

            My point is that free societies can’t maintain spending like dictatorships in peacetime, they can’t take punishment like dictatorships and they can’t mobilize to the same extent as a dictatorship.

            The levels of Soviet mobilization during most of the Cold War were vastly overestimated. The “divisions” that Stalin had in the late 40s were nothing of the sort.

          • cassander says:

            @Auric Ulvin says:

            The Russians had the largest tank force in the world in 1941, et al.

            First, those tanks were mostly T-26s, more or less the equivalent of a panzer II. Their other equivalent was similarly obsolete.

            Second, those numbers usually involve taking soviet production numbers more or less at face value. They were lies, just like all other soviet production numbers. How big a lie they were is hard to know, but the official figures for production during ww2 have the soviets making more planes than the germans on half the aluminium. I’ll believe that the soviets economized a little here and they built fewer large planes. but they didn’t turn out IL-2s for half the aluminium in a FW190.

            Still, they defeated around 3/4 of the German army, while the Western Allies dealt with 1/4 and the Luftwaffe

            The west also kept half of the german artillery firing at planes, not tanks. And got the germans burning the vast majority of the gasoline in planes instead of sticking it into trucks. and massively disrupted the production of all types of goods. And took on the entire kriegsmarine, Japan, and Italy. And the US did it all several thousand miles from its sources of production.

            Two of the least developed states were able to stalemate the most developed, simply because they were willing to endure enormous casualties.

            No, they were able to stalemate them because they got a lot of assistance from russia and because the west had to keep the vast majority of their best forces in europe lest Stalin get any big ideas. And, again, the developed nations were operating on the other side of the world from their territory, the chinese were in their backyard.

            My point is that free societies can’t maintain spending like dictatorships in peacetime, they can’t take punishment like dictatorships and they can’t mobilize to the same extent as a dictatorship.

            This is sometimes true. It’s sometimes not. Stalin inflicted enormous suffering on his people during the war and they didn’t break. But in ww1, we see the most autocratic countries all collapse while the more democratic countries manage to hang on. I think the relevant criteria is less the organization of the state than how much buy-in people have to it, out of either love or fear.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            I am going to push back on that.

            free societies can’t maintain spending like dictatorships in peacetime

            Accurate for some types of dictatorships.

            They can’t take punishment like dictatorships and they can’t mobilize to the same extent as a dictatorship.

            That is wrong, or at least entirely speculative. Certain types of authoritarian regimes are evidently able to devote a higher share of peacetime GDP to military spending than would be sustainable in a liberal democracy, which gives them an advantage in a short decisive war, but if liberal democracy is able to survive a first punch, there is no reason to suppose that it would not be able to mobilize to comparable extent as dictatorship.

            Some facts about WWI:

            France, one of the most liberal countries of that era, lost more than 4 % of its prewar population in La Grande Guerre, and didn´t break. That is comparable (according to wikipedia higher) than Japanese losses in WWII. Now, Soviet Union lost vastly more and didn´t break, but also Soviets were fighting back against attempted genocide, which France in WWI was not.

            British record of perseverance in The Great War is arguably even more impressive than French. They lost “only” about 2 % of their population, but for them, it was a war fought on the basis of relatively abstract principles. They were not invaded by Germany, there was no bitter Anglo-German rivalry before the war – no substantial territorial disputes, and last war in which Prussia and Britain fought on opposite sides was, I think, War of Austrian Succession in the 1740s, and their soldiers in that war didn’t even fought each other. And 20 years after The Great War, Britain mobilized itself for another total war fought over relatively abstract principles.

            On the other hand, first country which internally broke down during WWI was Russia, substantially less free society than Germany and Austria-Hungary, against which it fought.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            British record of perseverance in The Great War is arguably even more impressive than French. They lost “only” about 2 % of their population, but for them, it was a war fought on the basis of relatively abstract principles.

            Britain was arguably the only Great Power to go through the whole of the war without its army breaking (“arguably” because it depends on whether you see the French mutinies of 1917 as a break or not). Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary all fell apart in 1917 or ’18, whilst the US and Italy weren’t involved at first.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I think this is a common perception, even among NATO war planners, but it doesn’t appear to reflect US leadership thinking. At least, not throughout the whole Cold War (and the Cold War goes through several distinct periods). I spent some time reading a report from the late 70s last night, and the Soviets start running into serious conventional problems by the early 60s. By that point, the Soviet army has shrunk, China isn’t a Soviet ally anymore, the US is at maximum deployment, and West Germany is fielding its own armies. By the late 60s, the US is trying to convince NATO that we DON’T need to use nukes right away, and should try deterring the Soviets conventionally before busting out nukes.

        By the late 70s, the situation is not good for the Soviets, especially in hindsight. They actually have FEWER men than NATO, and if you include the French, they are actually outnumbered in theater. The Soviets do outnumber NATO under realistic combat assumptions, but that’s because they can mobilize in the area more rapidly than NATO. Assumptions of major Soviet breakouts are based on 2:1 to 2.4:1 manpower advantages, based on:
        1. The Soviets mobilizing quickly and stealthily, giving the USSR a 1-week window where they a 2.5:1 advantage in manpower.
        2. Highly effective Soviet “blitz” in the Northern sector, which creates localized advantages of 12:1. That’s the non-American sector, and it was assumed that multiple NATO nations would not cooperate effectively or build fortifications quickly enough to stop the Soviets.
        3. Assumptions that the Soviets are far better at command and control than NATO because the Soviets control the entire Warsaw Pact structure, whereas we are multi-national.
        4. Discounting French troops because France left NATO’s unified command in 1968.
        5. Assumptions that the Soviets would pull troops away from China and Turkey to build up forces in Germany (thus exposing themselves to attack in those sectors).
        6. Assumptions that the difference in Soviet and NATO tank quality is not that important (T-62s do not compare favorably to NATO tanks).
        7. Assumptions that NATO airpower will compare unfavorably to Soviet airpower, by assuming better Soviet maintenance than actually existed and unfavorable flight paths for NATO aircraft. This is a really bad assumption in retrospect.

        While in the early period they are dominant, NATO responds enough that it isn’t a cakewalk for the Soviets throughout most of the Cold War. Also, if we’re talking conventional WWIII, the Soviets have no ability to knock Britain or the US out of the war, and the US fleet is going to control every ocean. Even without a growing technological edge, controlling all the oceans is a big advantage, because we control access to global resources, and we can decide where to attack. The Soviet Union has to defend everywhere from Manchuria to the Caucus to the Rhine. That’s a LOT of territory to defend when your opponent has almost total command of the seas.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      1. No Korean War, because there is no divided Korea.
      2. No major US involvement in Vietnam, because the US can’t spare that many troops for Vietnam when it does not have nuclear weapons to deter the Soviet Union.
      3. A larger US conventional presence in the 50s, because the US cannot rely on nuclear weapons to deter the Soviet Union.

      Some other interesting things:
      1. LBJ can run in 1968 because he isn’t going to be killed by Vietnam. I think he wins against Nixon. Which means no Watergate.
      2. It also means an earlier Reagan presidency, because he’s probably going to win the nomination in 1972 and he is probably going to win the election, and he is probably going to win re-election in 1976.
      3. There really isn’t going to be a détente, because the motivation for that was the Cuban Missile Crisis and the general increase of weapons in the 1960s. This doesn’t happen. It especially doesn’t happen in the 1970s because President Reagan does not like détente.

      Does this result in WWIII? Maybe. I am not sure how confident the Soviets really were in their military strength, but at least some seem convinced that they were damned near unstoppable. You always have some people like that in any government, but I’m not sure any Soviet premier really thought it. Brezhnev? I have a hard time seeing HIM starting WWIII: shortly into his reign he is going to break with the Chinese. Maybe during the Prague Spring he thinks “well, if I move into Prague, NATO is going to attack me anyways, might as well get the drop on them,” but I do NOT see that ending well for him.

      Where I see major change is the end of the Cold War and the post Cold War world, because I don’t think the US is going to put up with either China’s or Russia’s bullshit without the threat of nuclear war. US defense spending in the Cold War was more than twice as high as it is now, proportional to the economy. Total global defense spending is $1.6 trillion, and the US spends $600 billion if it. Imagine the US spending $1.4 trillion, and the rest of the world spending $1 trillion combined. Now rack it up to 1960s spending, and add another $600 billion, so the US is spending $2 trillion, and the rest of the world combined is spending $1 trillion.

      Now imagine what the US response would be in 2014 after Russia had spent the last 6 years racking up tensions by, say, attacking Baltic power grids, bullying Georgia, and now outright annexing Crimea. Do you think we would be sending blankets? No, we would be sending 1,000+ bomber raids to Moscow, except these bombers would carry 15-20 times the payload of a WWII bomber.

      • cassander says:

        2. No major US involvement in Vietnam, because the US can’t spare that many troops for Vietnam when it does not have nuclear weapons to deter the Soviet Union.

        If there’s no Korean war, and thus no history of chinese intervention in the korean war, the US is almost certainly MORE aggressive in vietnam, not less.

        Does this result in WWIII? Maybe. I am not sure how confident the Soviets really were in their military strength, but at least some seem convinced that they were damned near unstoppable.

        They were very large. the USSR spent a truly astonishing share of their national output on weapons, and the US has to fight them at a considerable distance. Granted, without nukes the US almost certainly ends up building up larger conventional forces instead, but things are considerably dicier.

    • Atlas says:

      Coincidentally, I’ve just started reading Professor John Mueller’s book The Atomic Obsession, which argues that the impact of nuclear weapons has been vastly overstated and that history would have played out quite similarly without their invention. It’s an intriguing and plausible argument IMHO. Here’s a shorter article by him on the subject.

      • bean says:

        The giant, giant hole in Mueller’s argument is WWII. By his logic, WWII was terrible enough to deter anyone from trying to fight a conventional war again in the absence of nuclear weapons. But this logic also suggests that the equally-terrible WWI should have been “the war to end all wars”, as it was called at the time. And we all know how well that worked out.

        • Atlas says:

          It’s a fair point, but I think Mueller has some strong counterpoints:

          1. The destruction of World War 1 did produce a substantial pacific change in many nations, e.g. the UK, and their leaders—including Stalin, who feared war with Germany so much that he ignored multiple sources of intelligence informing him of Barbarossa until the day of the attack (and not speedily then)— strove to avoid repeating such a conflict. Mueller contends that, if only the US, UK, France and the USSR had the power to start WW2, it probably would’t have happened. (He cites a presumably longer discussion in his book The Remnants of War, which I have not yet read.)

          This is conjectural and counterfactual—as is the claim that, without nuclear weapons, the US and USSR would have fought WW3—but I personally find it reasonably persuasive.

          2. Mueller argues that a major difference between WW2 and the Cold War is that the US and USSR, which he claims were the only two countries who could have started WW3, were both quite content with their extensive geopolitical holdings post-WW2, as opposed to the revisionist powers who started WW2. There were of course extensive disputes between both camps on many issues, but Mueller argues that neither side had a grievance strong enough to risk WW3 over.

    • FormerRanger says:

      Lighter than a Feather*, by David Westheimer**, is alt-history about the US invasion of Japan, in a world where there is no A-bomb***. Told from the POV of ordinary Japanese people and soldiers, and American soldiers.

      * Some editions titled Death is Lighter than a Feather.
      ** author of Von Ryan’s Express.
      *** I do not recall whether the A-bomb was never developed, or not ready for use in that world.

  14. 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.

  15. 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”.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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)

  19. 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.

  20. 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).

  21. 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.

  22. 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 b