1,031 thoughts on “Open Thread 144.5

  1. Lambert

    Latest news:
    Iran targets airbases by US troops in Iraq with missile strikes.
    Sounds like Trump’s broken the taboo on uniformed US forces and uniformed Iranian forces directly attacking each other.

    737-800 flight from Tehran to Kjiv crashes in Iran. No survivors. Thought to be caused by engine failure. Tragic coincidence?

    1. EchoChaos

      Sounds like Trump’s broken the taboo on uniformed US forces and uniformed Iranian forces directly attacking each other.

      The barrage was so weak and ineffective it has to be intentional. This is Iran blinking and deescalating unless they do something else as a follow up. This doesn’t require any American response.

      737-800 flight from Tehran to Kjiv crashes in Iran. No survivors. Thought to be caused by engine failure. Tragic coincidence?

      I really hope so, but during fog of war bad things can happen.

      1. Ant

        So a direct attack with lethal weapons doesn’t warrant a response, but an indirect one with no intention to kill warranted the assassination of a national hero ?

        1. EchoChaos

          So a direct attack with lethal weapons doesn’t warrant a response, but an indirect one with no intention to kill warranted the assassination of a national hero ?

          I mean, Iraq may want to respond to an attack on their bases, but I doubt they will.

          These attacks were very clearly intended to be real enough that Iran could say they responded, but weak enough that they didn’t actually cause American blood to spill.

          And to be clear, I think killing Soleimani was indeed disproportionate, which is Trump’s specialty.

        2. gbdub

          In addition to the embassy attack/riot/whatever, an American was recently (late December) killed in a Hezbollah rocket attack in Iraq.

          If Soleimani was indeed in Iraq to personally help organize additional attacks (Soleimani was banned from international travel by a UN resolution, btw), then the fig leaf between “some militias vaguely allied with Iran are attacking Iraqis and sometimes Americans might be in the crossfire” and “Iran is directly targeting Americans” was already very small.

        3. aristides

          My opinion, you cannot look at these as single incidents with single consequences. The assassination was not ordered because of an indirect attack on an Embassy. It was ordered because of at least 5, arguably more, aggressive actions by Iran, that the US responded weekly to at first, until the assassination, which was a disproportionate response to everything. Iran’s middle strike is an under proportioned response to the assassination, so in the US’s books, we are ahead. Assassinating the mastermind of dozens of terrorist attacks was well worth the sizable costs of blocking their missiles. If we were lucky it would stop here, but I’m betting this is only their uniformed military response, and they will respond with terrorist attacks later. My hope is without their general, their attacks will be less effective.

        4. gbdub

          I would add that people seem to be forgetting that Soleimani was not the only major victim (or only major target) of the US strike. Also killed was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of Kata’ib Hezbollah, the group responsible for the recent missile attack that killed an American and wounded several others.

          That the two commanders were meeting together in Baghdad seems like pretty strong circumstantial evidence supporting the official US position that Soleimani, and by extension Iran, was directly involved in organizing attacks against Americans in Iraq.

          1. Ketil

            Also killed was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of Kata’ib Hezbollah¹

            Thank you for pointing it out, I had completely missed it (all reporting focusing on Soleimani). So in essence, this could possibly have been a (more reasonable) strike against al-Muhandis, who is more directly responsible for recent attacks.
            If Soleimani is denied travel and all (claimed elsewhere in this thread), could it be possible that US intelligence didn’t know he was present?

            ¹ …and leader of the Popular Mobilization Forces, and listed on various terrorist lists, one might add.

          2. gbdub

            To be clear, I do not believe it is plausible that Soleimani was not a primary, intentional target of the raid – he was not an accidental casualty.

      2. Wrong Species

        This is Iran blinking

        I don’t think this is the right way to frame it. Neither side wants a war but in the game of tit for tat, both feel like they have to respond to rising escalation. The strike, assuming no American causalities, is Iran telling us that they are serious about Soleimani in a way that doesn’t necessitate a further response. It’s an out for both sides.

        1. EchoChaos

          It’s an out for both sides.

          I agree with this. What I mean by blinking is that it is clearly substantially less tit than the tat that preceded it. They lost their great war hero so they responded by inconveniencing a bunch of Americans who had to sit in a bunker for a few hours.

      1. Lambert

        True.

        I retract my idle speculation about the plane crash.

        OTOH, I want to see what people here predict will happen in time to see whether they’re right.

      2. gbdub

        In the “know a little bit more” category, Iran is apparently refusing to release the black box from the airliner, and the generally regarded as safe Ukrainian airline involved immediately terminated all service to and from Tehran, so that’s, uh, suspicious.

    2. John Schilling

      Here’s what I’ve got so far:

      1. Iran’s usual retaliation for this sort of thing is delayed and covert – e.g. when (probably) Israel assassinated Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan in January 2012, the result was a series of bomb attacks against Israeli diplomats and tourists around the world a month later. And Quds Force are Iran’s covert-operations specialists; it is highly unlikely that they are going to sit this one out.

      2. Yesterday’s attack was carried out with 15 Qaim-1 or Qaim-2 ballistic missiles; ten striking the Al-Asad airbase, one impact at Irbil, and four failed in flight. The Qaim is a descendant of the infamous “Scud” missile with a substantially improved guidance system and a 750 kg warhead. Ten such missiles hitting an base housing ~1500 US troops and killing none of them, suggests that either the missiles were targeted to avoid US casualties. Alternately, the improved guidance systems were inadequately tested and we got very lucky.

      3. The US did not have missile defense assets in place to protect its largest base in Iraq, three days after picking a fight with a missile-armed power next door to Iraq; either those assets are stretched impossibly thin, or their deployment planning is abysmally poor.

      4. The biggest possible win for Iran would be a complete US withdrawal from Iraq – whether that comes before or after we shoot a bunch of cruise missiles at Iran is irrelevant. Yesterday, Iraq was waffling about whether it was going to order US troops out of the country, and the US was waffling about whether it was going to play the “screw you guys, I’m going home” card. Today, the Iraqi government has a fresh reminder that hosting US troops means being caught in the crossfire of any US-Iran war, with more Iraqis than Americans dying if it comes to that. Expect Iranian diplomats to be working that angle.

      5. In six months to a year, Iran’s covert-operations forces will be probably able to plan and execute attacks of up to 9/11 scale, if they are so inclined. In six months to a year, Iraq’s nuclear weapons people will probably be able to mount a nuclear warhead on e.g. a Qiam missile, if they are so inclined. What’s the US plan for dealing with state-sponsored terrorism by nuclear powers?

      6. The high profile of the Soleimani assassination almost certainly demanded some level of immediate retaliation, not just “wait a few months and see the bombs start to explode”. Mission accomplished. I expect Trump and company to spend the next six months to a year bragging about their forcing Iran to blink and winning a great victory for America. But it’s way too soon for the victory celebration.

      7. The Ukranian airliner may be an ill-timed coincidence, but jittery air-defense forces around Tehran are a distinct possibility.

      1. jermo sapiens

        I dont disagree with any of the points you’ve made. I wonder how much knowing that the US has the capacity to target high ranking officials will play in the calculation. As much as these guys talk up dying a martyr, I suspect most of them would rather die of natural causes.

        1. Aftagley

          Well, capacity to target high ranking officials as they overtly transit through Iraq. I don’t imagine your average Iranian official sitting in Tehran feels particularly threatened right now.

      2. baconbits9

        You can basically take the opposite view on all these points.

        Either Iran is incompetent enough that it cant injure a single US soldier with a real commitment or its afraid to.

        Iran just lost its head of clandestine warfare, making both the difficulty in coordinating and risk in doing such actions increase.

        Iran goes for clandestine war because it has no desire, or real ability, to project its power conventionally as long as the US military is in the region (which is why they want them gone). That’s a good reason not to allow them to get nuclear capabilities and Trump just told them that clandestine attacks can, and will be met conventionally which exposes their weakness.

        In the short run Iran had been granted a low risk way of uses deadly force to influence the region, which they had exploited and were likely to continue to exploit. I would rather we had no military presence in the ME, but tactically the assassination appears sound.

      3. Lambert

        Would it be any harder to stick a nuke on a Ghadr-110 than a Qiam?

        And what kind of yield are we talking?

        1. John Schilling

          The Ghadr or Shahab would probably be a better choice for a nuclear delivery system, but any of them would work. And Iran was at least indirectly (via North Korea) hooked in to the A.Q. Khan network, so they’ve probably got the same design for a ~10 kiloton uranium implosion bomb that everybody else does. Low probability that North Korea sells them blueprints for their ~200 kiloton thermonuclear warhead.

      4. broblawsky

        What do you think about the likelihood/severity of Iranian cyberattacks against US companies? My company does some DOD-adjacent stuff, and we got some very specific warnings.

        1. aristides

          I’m not an expert, but I’m in a similar boat as yours, so I’ll give my two cents. Likelihood high, Severity low. Iran doesn’t have the resources to launch a large scale cyber attack, but they can certainly go phishing to see if any government contractor is dumb enough to fall for the right email. That’s what I’ve been told to watch out for.

        2. Edward Scizorhands

          There is the general background noise of constant cyberattacks. You need to already be protecting against these with good hygiene. People are stupid and click on links so your IT department may be using this as a chance to get people to give a shit and listen to them.

          Then there are specific deliberate targeted attacks. If you are really working on something American-equivalent-of-centrifuges, you should already be doing an exceptional level of best practices.

        3. John Schilling

          Iran isn’t one of the first-tier threats in the cyberwarfare realm; not a major industrialized power like Russia or China with legions of potentially malevolent hackers available for the asking, and hasn’t specifically cultivated the field like North Korea has. But as aristides notes, they can do lots of low-level stuff and we’ve got lots of soft targets, so maybe be extra careful to not be the softest target on the router this week.

      5. cassander

        In six months to a year, Iran’s covert-operations forces will be probably able to plan and execute attacks of up to 9/11 scale, if they are so inclined.

        In 6 months to a year, no one will be up in arms about the assassination anymore, meaning that Iran will have forfeited any moral advantage they would have with an immediate retaliation. This strikes me as not a particularly good strategy, unless Iran thinks that they can use such an attack to favorably (from their POV) affect the US election.

        Going broke for nukes, on the other hand…

      6. Trofim_Lysenko

        Re. 3, I suspect the answer is a combination of “stretched thin” (we’ve got a lot of our Patriot batteries deployed to protect allies, in many cases from potential or notional future threats), the relatively limited mobility of the Patriot (minimum transport of the base system is 5 C-5s or 7 C-17s), and inertia.

      7. John Schilling

        Followup: NPR is now reporting satellite imagery suggests Iran’s missiles were precisely targeted at storage facilities rather than e,g. barracks. Their cited sources are the people I would have gone to for this, so I consider it pretty solid. No way to know whether they targeted random storage buildings or something more specific.

        Also, Iran’s supreme leader is now on record as saying, “For the time being, the Americans have been given a slap, revenge is a different issue”. No mention of whether it should be served cold.

        1. Randy M

          Would it generally be a bad idea to call out a face saving bluff as just that, or is the intended audience–the Iranian people–unlikely to be concerned about Western perception?

          1. John Schilling

            There’s no way around the fact that the Western press is going to be reporting zero Americans dead whereas the Iranians are already claiming 80+ killed. So they have probably calculated that their own people aren’t going to pay attention to what we say, and won’t care what we say.

            Also, a bit of a double-edged sword in that calling them out on this means acknowledging that we recognize their precision targeting capability, and that we understand they can kill American soldiers in large numbers at a push of the “not kidding” button.

        2. Thomas Jorgensen

          If the attacks were accurate, but deliberately non-lethal, that seems like a very deliberate message. Probably saying something on the order of “That is a nice carrier group you have there, how would the voters like it if we gifted it to Davy Jones?”

          1. Nornagest

            It’s a lot harder to hit a carrier group than it is to hit a ground base, especially when that ground base apparently doesn’t have any missile defense assets online.

          2. Thomas Jorgensen

            Carriers doctrine happened because ww2 air-planes did not have the range to dominate the sea entirely from land. It continined to dominate because nuclear weapons kept everyone from fighting people who could fight back. However, a carrier group has one, very glaring weakness. Its defenses rely on expendables, and those expendables can be trivially counted.
            Iran has the soumar cruise missile, which is basically a tomahawk missile. Important facts about that type of missile:
            1. It has greater range than the combat radius of the f-35. If the air-wing of a carrier can strike Iran, the carrier is some five hundred kilometers inside cruise missile range.

            2: It costs a million dollars a piece to build, max (this is what the US mil industrial complex charges for the tomahawk. There is no way, no how, the Iranians get charged more by their own industry)

            3: Iran has known they were on the US shit list for decades.

            What I am saying is, there is a quite significant chance the entire indian ocean is a carefully engineered carrier killing ground, and that if Trump uses a carrier against Iran he will promptly loose that entire carrier group to a swarm of fivehundred + missiles, fired in volley.

          3. John Schilling

            Iran has the soumar cruise missile, which is basically a tomahawk missile. Important facts about that type of missile:

            It is next to useless against ships, which renders the rest of the argument moot. The United States Navy deployed an anti-ship variant of the Tomahawk in the 1980s, and withdrew it from service after about a decade because they had figured out that it was practically impossible to hit high-value targets with it. To attack high-value targets with long-range cruise missiles, you need a much more capable weapon with the ability to receive midcourse targeting updates, and ideally supersonic speed and the ability to conduct coordinated swarm attacks. And you need a solid long-range maritime surveillance capability with the C3I capability to target the attack.

            The Soviet Union, at the height of the Cold War, sort of had this capabiliy, and 21st-century Russia may have reconstituted some of it. Iran, does not, and the Soumar is specifically a land-attack weapon for use against fixed targets. Also, the Iranian aerospace industry cannot produce them by the thousand.

          4. Thomas Jorgensen

            I dont want to be too wedded to this specific attack vector, because the general point is that the US always attacks in pretty much the exact same way, and Iran has both a fairly competent military establishment, and 30 years of prep time, but..

            The point is that Iran does not need global monitoring, they just need to know what is floating in a specific region of the indian ocean. Nor do they need to spot the subs, or even smaller ships, just the ginormous carriers and their escort groups. This is not that hard a problem to solve. Nor do the missiles need to be all that shiny – supersonic, swarm tactics, ect, are all characteristics meant to get a missile past aegis. My point is that you do not need to *beat* aegis, you just have to send more missiles than aegis has anti-missile-missiles, and this is a known, not that large number. (well, you also need to run the phalanx cannons dry. But, again, they are not very economical with ammo.) Would be such a depressing way to get sunk, too. One missile a minute until you are out of ammo for the actual defenses and trying to shoot the next one down with m-16s. Upside, lots of time to bail on the boat.

          5. Trofim_Lysenko

            Regarding “they just have to find a carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean”, see Bean’s Naval Gazing post “Why Carriers are not doomed, Part 1”, and note that Iran has less strategic ISR assets than either Russia or China.

            Second, you’re ignoring what what John said: it’s not that the cruise missiles in question aren’t super sophisticated, it is that they do not have the capability to reliably hit a moving target at sea, period . And ships do not sit still.

            Missiles aren’t fungible. There are multi-role weapons systems but this is not such an example.

            The longest ranged missiles Iran has that can hit ships under way (because that’s what they are designed for) have an effective range of 300-400 km. Naval aviation has a strike range of 1,000+ km, and Tomahawks of not much under that.

            This means that if Iran wants to sink a carrier, in real life they need that carrier to be in the Persian Gulf or Strait of Hormuz, not the Indian ocean.

            It’s theoretically possible that if we were to sail a carrier battle group into range like that AND Iran concentrated basically all their launch platforms for a strike without us noticing AND they were willing to expend a significant percentage of their entire ASM stockpile….they could sink ONE carrier and maybe other ships in the group. Which would be a disaster for the Navy and a huge deal.

            But it would also be a one time trick, because at that point the other carriers show up in the Indian ocean and proceed to begin dismantling Iran’s ADA and ASM capabilities from beyond the range of anything but Iran’s naval assets.

          6. Thomas Jorgensen

            ..eh, too wedded to details. Let me rephrase:
            With thirty years of lead time, and a military industrial complex competent enough to put satelites in orbit at least some of the time, just how sure are you Iran does not have a pretty deep bag of tricks labeled “See the USN to the bottom of the Indian ocean”. Because that is their victory condition.

            Related. If Trump starts a war with Iran and Iranian frog men from the Secrit Undersea Bases Emplaced In All The Best Places To Bomb Iran proceed to cut holes in the bottom of the ships until the US stops sending them, what would be the political consequences of that?

          7. Trofim_Lysenko

            With thirty years of lead time, and a military industrial complex competent enough to put satelites in orbit at least some of the time, just how sure are you Iran does not have a pretty deep bag of tricks labeled “See the USN to the bottom of the Indian ocean”.

            Very confident. 90%, maybe a bit higher. They have a bag of tricks labeled “Send US Ships to the bottom of the Strait of Hormuz/Persian Gulf”, and we know what’s in the bag. Things like small boat swarm tactics. Which is why we in turn have worked on developing counter-tactics. To be clear, I think that if we were to make the mistake of giving them a clear shot, they could probably hurt US surface ships. But “Send the USN to the bottom of the Indian Ocean” is straight up outside their capability.

          8. John Schilling

            Let me rephrase: With thirty years of lead time, and a military industrial complex competent enough to put satellites in orbit at least some of the time, just how sure are you Iran does not have a pretty deep bag of tricks labeled “See the USN to the bottom of the Indian ocean”.

            Iran’s bag of tricks is almost certainly labeled “Put a single USN carrier battle group to the bottom of the Persian Gulf, if the USN tries to operate a CVBG in the Persian Gulf in wartime”. As Trofim notes, that is something Iran can plausibly aspire to do, taking full advantage of their home-court advantage and the constrained waters of the Gulf. And, sinking a US Navy aircraft carrier and its escorts would be a significant victory for Iran, though not necessarily a war-winner.

            The United States of America, with sixty years of lead time and a military industrial complex capable of putting three times as many satellites around other planets than Iran has managed to put into Low Earth Orbit, has a very deep bag of tricks labeled “Do not let anyone sink any of our aircraft carriers in any ocean”, targeted at threats at least an order of magnitude more capable than Iran. So long as the USN keeps its carriers out of coastal waters, Iran will probably not even get past the “Do not let anyone even know exactly where our aircraft carriers are going to be” subset of those tricks. Actually sinking one of them, Trofim is right that Iran is ~90% likely to fail at that.

            This changes a bit if they receive semi-deniable assistance from Russia or China, but even then the odds would be against them. And thus against Russia or China playing that card.

          9. Thomas Jorgensen

            … Okay, I am just going to say it. But.. that step? “Noone knows where I am?” Seems like psyops disinformation, more than anything, it is doing a two-step on my “that is some bullshit propaganda, right there” button. The carrier group is not a submarine, its not designed to be quiet, it is a goddess accursed airfield with multiple radars in the megawatt range. I mean sure, it is a military air-field, there is probably a big red button somewhere to turn them all off, but if you do that, you are not operating as a carrier.

          10. John Schilling

            Aircraft carriers can in fact operate perfectly well as aircraft carriers without using their radars, and this is something the US Navy practices routinely. Also, operating with just one radar whose active signature is the same as that of a container ship’s navigation radar.

          11. Trofim_Lysenko

            I understand your skepticism, but that’s one of the reasons I suggested going over Part 1 of Bean’s “Why Carriers Are Not Doomed”. It gives a pretty good basic overview of exactly this question, and includes links to some real world examples.

            To add to John Schilling’s explanation:

            let’s say for the sake of argument that Iran knows for a fact that a carrier battle group is located within striking range of Bandar Abbas Naval base. I did a quick estimate using area and distance tools on Google Earth, trying to be pessimistic, and I came up with a search area of about 66,000 square miles in the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. A Nimitz-class is about 1,000 feet long, or if you want to think about the flight deck, about 4.5 acres. So, here’s a visual representation of 4.5 acres. You’re looking for a spot about that big…and it’s somewhere in Washington state, and moving. Or Austria and Czechia combined, if you prefer an international one. It’s not nearly as big a target as you think, and those photos of tight formations of carrier groups are done FOR the photos. In reality they operate much more widely scattered while still providing interlocking defenses.

            So, radar, right? except as John points out, our carriers are not only capable of operating under EMCON, including flight ops, they practice it routinely. What makes this possible is a combination of things, like highly directional light signals for aircraft, the use of the Hawkeye AWACS platform for command and control and for target detection and early warning, and tight band satellite communications systems (as well as the use of satellites for additional battlespace awareness in some cases).

            And that means your surface warships or fighters flying out to search the sea for that 4.5 acre target, or to get close enough to detect a carrier even under EMCON have to contend with a screen of fighters who can be vectored to intercept via a very powerful radar that can be operating from -hundreds- of miles away from the carrier because it’s on a separate plane.

            Some tactics might involve something like going EMCON yourself, and trying to find those -fighters-, and tailing them back to the carrier group. But for that, better hope you have much longer legs than they do, and that you have the capability to stay undetected by the aforementioned AWACS platforms and the jets themselves.

            So, subs? Subs are arguably one of the most potentially dangerous threats to a carrier. But a sub still has to localize that carrier. Most of the examples of the news articles you see about “Russian/Chinese Sub Sneaks Up On US Navy Battle Group! This Shows how scary they are!” miss that the carrier groups are not operating under wartime conditions or taking any measures to be harder to track or find, not randomizing their course at all, etc. So we’re back to “Ocean is a lot bigger than the carrier”, and in turn the question them becomes “How many subs do you have to do the searching and how far can they cruise?”. In the case of Iran (not counting the midget subs they have that don’t have the capability to operate outside the gulf. Those are more for operations like, oh, sneaking up on and planting explosives on civilian shipping…) the answer is 3 original Soviet-spec Kilos, and another 3-4 home-built models of various classes. None of these have capabilities in the same league as the subs that managed those peacetime tailing missions I mentioned above.

          12. Thomas Jorgensen

            All of which works while your air defenses are *off*. Turn Ageis on, and all of the planet can see where you are. But sure, lets suppose the carrier is operating in quiet as a mouse mode.

            The carrier still has the passive radar signature of a city block, because it is an enormous hunk of steel.

            The Indian ocean is very heavily trafficked, which means almost no matter where you are, you are going to be getting pinged by radar from non-combatants. At which point, everyone can spot you with entirely passive sensors, unless you want to declare “Unrestricted Carrier Warfare”.

            If you sit in one of the few spots where there *isnt* traffic, that is a much, much more constrained search space.

            Also. Noise. You are making a lot of it. Acoustic engineering is a huge field, and I have seen videos of carrier groups moving. Its a field they are ignoring.

            The base assumption here is that Iran has been spending billions in anticipation of this day. If that is so, then however well you might be able to hide in a random chunk of sea, that will not work in a chunk of ocean which is lousy with sensors phoning home.

          13. Trofim_Lysenko

            All of which works while your air defenses are *off*.

            No, they’re not. The -Carrier’s- Radars are off. The carrier CAP’s radars are often off but can be switched on intermittently. The Hawkeye’s radar is not. Did you even read my reply? Again, because US Carriers are capable of running flight ops during EMCON, that means that you can have a screen of early warning radar and jets airborne and covering a much larger area than the ship’s radars could (due to altitude and dispersion), while simultaneously making the job of the enemy trying to locate the carrier much, MUCH harder. Congratulations, you have a bearing to an AWACS plane…it’s moving -much- faster than the carrier, and even once you have range and bearing of the plane, that doesn’t help much because it could be 30 miles away from the carrier, or 200.

            The Indian ocean is very heavily trafficked, which means almost no matter where you are, you are going to be getting pinged by radar from non-combatants.

            The range at which a third party can detect a radar return is, generally speaking, not much further than the original sender. The longer range of passive detection refers to it being possible to see an active radar transmitter further away than that radar’s operator can detect a return…and the range of surface scanning maritime navigational radar is very low, generally on the order of 10-15 miles.

            In other words, for our notional ELINT mast on an Iranian sub, or EW pod on an Iranian MiG-25 or Su-24 to detect the scatter off a carrier from a container ship’s navigational radar, it needs to have already gotten VERY close to the Carrier on its own…through the layered defenses of its escorts and aircraft.

            Also. Noise. You are making a lot of it. Acoustic engineering is a huge field, and I have seen videos of carrier groups moving. Its a field they are ignoring.

            You seem to have no idea what you are talking about. The US Navy has been using both passive and active measures to reduce and/or mask acoustic signature of surface ships since literally the 1960s. The older, declassified systems are referred to as Prairie-Masker.

            Come on, Thomas. You just tried to claim that the Navy ignores the possibility of passive ranging by use of sound. Also known as sonar.

            a chunk of ocean which is lousy with sensors phoning home.

            What sort of sensors, and how are they phoning home? Because we know what a network of ocean sensors used to detect warships over a large area look like. We know because the UK and US collaboratively emplaced exactly that sort of sensor network during the cold war. Iran has not done so.

          14. Thomas Jorgensen

            Near as I can tell, carrier groups are not ignoring it, they are trying to help their anti-submarine-warfare escort out by hauling ass on a drunkards walk. Because that means anyone trying to intercept them also has to haul ass, which makes them easier to spot. But no, that floating city setting nautical speed records is not, itself, quiet. That would take fucking magic.

            No I dont “know what I am talking about”, but certain things are deducible from first principles. To wit, why do boomer subs exist?

            Hyper-quiet submersible ships capable of acting as a launch platform while submerged are really, really damn expensive. If becoming untracable by the simple expedient of just sailing off into the blue yonder while maintaining radio silence was actually possible, let alone reliable when people try to counter it with prep time, everyones nuclear deterrent posture would be a hell of a lot simpler and cheaper.

            … Also, piracy would be a lot more of a problem.

          15. Trofim_Lysenko

            But no, that floating city setting nautical speed records is not, itself, quiet. That would take fucking magic.

            Not saying they’re silent, just that you saying that acoustic engineering was something the US Navy is ignoring was both false and silly.

            Yes, they’re detectable on passive sonar. No, they are not detectable at extreme ranges on passive sonar. To get close enough to a carrier to go from “surface noise” to “positive surface contact, bearing X, range Y” to “4 screws making 20 knots, positive identification, US Nimitz-Class carrier”, a submarine (and that’s what you’re talking about, because as I pointed out above we know that Iran doesn’t have a sensor network in the Indian ocean) has to get fairly close. So we’re back to “big ocean, limited number of search platforms”. So we’re back to “How many and how capable are Iran’s Subs?”…which I already addressed in my last post. Again.

            To wit, why do boomer subs exist?

            Apples and Oranges comparison. SSBNs are designed to maximize stealth above all else in part because they cannot survive direct engagements with surface combatants OR other subs. They operate alone, without support, to provide second-strike capability in the case of nuclear exchange. They can be destroyed by a single well-equipped ASW plane, or a single sub. They have extremely limited capacity to engage and destroy anyone who finds them due to limited torpedo and ADA capacity, and thus HAVE to rely on stealth above all else.

            An Aircraft Carrier operates as part of a surface task force that, while still surprisingly hard to localize, is not impossible to localize given sufficient forces and reconnaissance assets. However, that surface task force is designed and equipped to be able to engage and destroy anything but a very large force close enough to do so.

            TL;DR: SSBNs have a limited ability to kill the platforms hunting for them, so they have to be able to hide from even very, very close enemies.

            CVBGs on the other hand, have the ability to engage and destroy most threats close enough to detect them, unless they are in significant strength.

            The soviets, at their cold-war peak (a peak capability which, again, Iran does not come anywhere near to matching), had the plan to send 100+ strategic bombers with heavy ASM loads and escorted by an equally large force of fighters. The fighters would engage the carrier’s air assets while the combers would strike against the surface targets. They anticipated well over 50% casualties in the bomber force in exchange for sinking a carrier battle group.

            Iran cannot muster anything LIKE that kind of force projection into the Indian ocean. Not by air (their air assets are old, in terrible shape, and very limited in number), and not by sea (see my earlier post regarding submarine strength).

    3. The Nybbler

      Looked like Trump had really stepped in it last night, but now it’s looking like the whole thing was a bit of kayfabe. No US casualties, and the attack was well-telegraphed. Trump says the US won’t retaliate militarily but announces new sanctions. Iran says they’re done retaliating (which I assume only means directly).

      Given this, I suspect the lack of US missile defenses was deliberate, either to let the missiles hit and give the Iranians their face-saving gesture, or more likely to deny Iran (and anyone else watching) intelligence on the defenses

      As for the flight, some Iranians on air defense probably panicked and shot it down themselves. Wouldn’t be the first time such a thing happened; the US shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988. They’ll blame the US and Israel probably, but that’s just standard procedure.

      1. Aftagley

        Given this, I suspect the lack of US missile defenses was deliberate, either to let the missiles hit and give the Iranians their face-saving gesture, or more likely to deny Iran (and anyone else watching) intelligence on the defenses

        I find this hard to believe. We’ve been in quasi-war with Iran for almost 2 decades now and whatever negative feelings politicians have towards Iran I guarantee your average military leader has those feelings 2x. Mattis was not alone in his antipathy towards Tehran.

        No one trusts Iran enough to let their missiles continue unimpeded towards a base containing a few thousand US servicemen just on the strength of Iran’s word that they’re going to be intentional misses just so they can save face. Any diplomat/intel weenie that tried to even propose that idea would be laughed out of the briefing room.

        I think “failure of the system” is way more likely than “we decided to trust Iran that the weapons flying towards us were actually safe.”

    4. An Fírinne

      Good for Iran. They shouldn’t bow to US aggression and flagrant violations of international law.

  2. beleester

    Scott’s post about AI reminded me of a post I was planning to make after the holidays:

    Over the holidays, I had the chance to spend some time with my extended family, and noticed a few interesting things about my 3-year-old nephew’s behavior:
    1. He’d sometimes greet me with “Hi, Uncle Beleester and Aunt Wifename!”, even if my wife isn’t present. Or occasionally greeting my wife as “Uncle Beleester” and me as “Aunt Wifename.” He’s learned that he should say hi to family members when he sees them, but since my wife and I usually show up together, he hasn’t quite realized that one part of the phrase refers to me and the other refers to my wife.
    2. Routine and sequencing is really important, and breaking that routine results in crying. And it can be minor things, like how you put the food on his plate or when you give him his water. Even if we’re doing the same steps in a different order, he doesn’t know that, he just knows that there’s a certain way that dinnertime is supposed to go, and if things aren’t happening in that order then something is terribly wrong. Hence, crying and screaming.

    Anyway, it reminded me of the discussion about AIs and whether they “really understand” the problem they’re solving or are just pattern-matching based off past experiences, and the way that they tend to break down when presented with situations that don’t fit a pattern they’ve learned. Well… I’m not saying that AIs seem to learn the same way that little kids do, I’m just saying they feel surprisingly similar!

  3. proyas

    I recently went to the mall to buy new clothes for the first time in many years, and I got a sense of how the major department stores rank in terms of clothing quality/price. For those of you familiar with clothes retailers, how accurate is my ranking scheme?

    Walmart < Sears < J.C. Penney < Macy's < Lord & Taylor < Nordstrom's

    1. Plumber

      @proyas,
      I’m not familiar at all with Lord & Taylor, but otherwise your rankings look pretty accurate, though I’ll note that J.C Penny and Sears seem only marginally different to me, as are Macy’s and Nordstrom.

      From my own shopping I’d add to the list Target as in-between Wal-Mart and Sears (closer to Wal-Mart).

      1. acymetric

        Nordstrom is definitely a step up from Macy’s both in quality (“fashion”) and in price. I guess maybe that could be a regional thing. I would probably expect to spend close to 1.5-2x at Nordstrom compared to a similar shopping trip at Macy’s.

        Seconded about Lord & Taylor, which I am just now hearing about for the first time.

    2. AlexOfUrals

      May I humbly ask to add Gap and Banana Republic to the question? (My own estimate is that the former is just below Macy’s and the latter is somewhere above)

      1. acymetric

        I’m not sure Gap is any better than JC Penny or Sears, it might be a little lower. I guess it depends on what you’re looking for (for casual wear like jeans/t-shirts/cargo pants Gap is probably better, for anything with buttons it probably lags behind those two). Banana Republic isn’t really the same kind of thing as any of the others, IMO, but is probably as nice or nicer than Nordstrom but catering to a more specific type of style.

        1. acymetric

          I was thinking of Old Navy not Gap, which I realized when reading @JustToSay below. Gap probably does tend to be slightly below Macy’s and above JC Penny/Sears in terms of the typical/most prominent brands at those stores compared to the Gap brand.

      2. JustToSay

        Yeah, I feel like if you bring Gap or Banana Republic into things, you’re mixing categories. Gap, Banana Republic, H&M, Loft, New York & Co, etc, are all stores that sell their own brand (almost) exclusively. Sears, Macy’s, Penny’s, Nordstrom’s, etc are all department stores selling a variety of brands (even if they do have some house brands).

        1. acymetric

          Reading this comment made me realize that I was thinking about Old Navy when commenting on the Gap. Agree that Gap doesn’t really fit in either (at that point you would need to get into specific brands and compare Gap to, say, Nautica or whatever). I actually do think Old Navy kind of fits though, even though nobody brought it up. It is kind of like a department store but just only one brand.

          Why did I get confused on this? File it under “places my mom made me try on clothes when I was a little kid”.

    3. SamChevre

      In my experience, Lands End (which you can get at Sears) is better and more expensive than JC Penney for men’s dress clothing.

  4. Aftagley

    Weird request, but does anyone have a recommendation on a non alcoholic, non-sugary, carbonated drink where the primary taste profile is bitter? I’m doing a dry january and I’m trying to find a good substitute for my normal West Coast Style IPA with dinner. For whatever reason, I really enjoy this taste profile in a drink and can’t seem to find non-alcoholic analogs.

    I’ve tried a couple of the well-reviewed NA IPAs (athletic, brewdog, etc) and they’re fine, I guess, but not quite what I’m looking for – NA beers seem to trade the “warm” flavor of alcohol for a kind of malty-sweetness on the backend which I don’t find appealing. I’ve also tried those Italian bitter sodas but again found them far too sweet.

      1. Aftagley

        I have, and I love this stuff, but that for me is more on the fruity-citrusy side of the palate as opposed to the bitter stuff I’m looking for.

      1. zoozoc

        Kombucha does contain sugar, but I would not call unflavored Kombucha sweet. However, store bought Kombucha probably has added flavoring that might make it taste sweeter than it normally does. Also the alcoholic content is so small as to not matter practically.

        However, the taste profile is different from an IPA and it isn’t exactly bitter.

      1. FrankistGeorgist

        And if you want to put a hat on a hat, add bitters to your tonic.

        A bit of better bitters makes your bitter beverage, uh, good.

    1. SamChevre

      Seltzer–grapefruit, lime.

      My general substitute is not carbonated – put a squeezed half a lemon (peel grated off with a microplane first is even better) in a glass of water and let it sit on the counter for a few hours–slightly tart and distinctly bitter. Maybe use 2 lemon halves and mix half and half with seltzer. Note these are squeezed–the goal is bitterness from the peel, not tartness from the juice.

    2. AlexOfUrals

      What about black tea without sugar? It doesn’t taste much like beer, but neither do the other options suggested. You can make it cold if you want, or add some spices, although I’ve never seen both done at the same time.

      For more beer-like (almost) non-alcoholic drink I would suggest kvass, but unfortunately the only source of non-sugary kvass known to me in the whole wide world is my grandmother. Although you can try making your own if you’re into it.

    3. Enkidum

      Ginger beer? (The proper stuff, non-alcoholic and with very little sugar.) It’s not exactly bitter, more, well, gingery. But it satisfies a lot of the same masochistic tendencies that IPAs do, in my experience (I love both, though I haven’t had ginger beer for a while).

      1. Aftagley

        I’ll check it out! I admit, I’ve had ginger beer in the same category as commercially available root beer for a while, basically soda with a slightly different syrupy taste, but I’ll definitely check out some of the better ginger beers. Do you have any recommendations?

        1. redoctober

          Fevertree made a billion dollars on nonalcoholic mixers/high quality soft drinks, if you like recommendations from the invisible hand. Their ginger beer is probably the best stuff you’ll be able to find.

        2. Enkidum

          Honestly despite having recommended it I don’t have specific recommendations – I haven’t had it frequently enough to remember brands.

    4. Well...

      If “non-sugary” can include some sugar, what I like to do is pour about 2-4oz of limeade in the bottom of a glass and fill the rest up with grapefruit LaCroix (or generic equivalent).

      Granted, that isn’t exactly bitter either. You can also substitute straight lemon or lime juice for the limeade.

    5. KieferO

      Another thing you might consider is mixing bitters with soda water. See if you can walk into a specialty shop that sells them (there’s a cocktail store down the road from me that sells a substantial array of bitterses). If there’s such a store near you, the sales clerks there would probably be able to recommend something.

      1. Aftagley

        Thanks, I’d never considered this.

        I’ll admit, I’m pretty un-knowledgeable when it comes to bitters; is there a particular flavor or brand I should ask for?

        1. SamChevre

          Start with Angostura if you can stand a little alcohol–you can get them everywhere. (Most people don’t find the alcohol from a few dashes of bitters a problem.) If you really need to avoid alcohol completely, making your own seems to be the way to go, but I’ve never done it.

        2. Statismagician

          Angostura is the classic bitters, and what you’ll get in a bar unless you specify something else. They’re perfectly tasty and can be found basically anywhere which sells alcohol. Fee Brothers do an extensive line of flavored ones, most of which are quite good, but you’ll want to experiment before you buy a whole bottle as they’re more expensive + harder to find – I recommend going to a cocktail bar and asking the bartender if you could try a few.

    6. mitv150

      Lagunitas makes a “Hoppy Refresher” that is basically carbonated water and hop extract. It might fit the bill if its distributed near you.

      Barring that, I’ve tried to solve the same problem and have not come up with a solution that is better than flavored seltzer.

      1. Aftagley

        On the strength of this recommendation I went out and bought some of this stuff yesterday.

        Definitely not what I was expecting, but not bad. Thanks for letting me know about it!

    7. Robin

      I love alcohol-free beer. I got so used to it that if I drink alcoholic beer, I find myself wondering who might have poured a bit of vodka into the glass.

      How many varieties of alcohol-free beer are available in your area? You might have a hard time getting my favourite, but if you don’t like malty bitterness, it’s probably just as well. Try some pilsener variants.

      1. Aftagley

        So far I’ve been able to locate most of the NA beers I’ve looked for. My favorites so far have been atheltic IPA and Nanny State IPA; if I had to rate them they’d be just above some of the worse mass-produced IPAs (Rebel and Goose Island) but far below a good craft IPA.

    8. Aftagley

      What’s the caffeine content from this?

      What with my coffee addiction, I’m already pretty much maxed out on the amount of caffeine I want to consume; especially later on in the day.

  5. johan_larson

    The US currently has some 64,000 soldiers stationed in Europe, over half of them in Germany. What’s the thinking on this in Europe? Is this something that should be continued long-term, or phased out?

    Best I can figure, having those troops there made a lot of sense during the Cold War. But I don’t really see that it makes a lot of sense now. France, the UK, Germany, and Italy should have easily enough military power to keep Russia and assorted bad guys in the Middle East from causing problems. It also seems a bit odd that the Europeans are so willing to accept large-scale foreign military deployments in their countries.

    1. woah77

      I’m not certain, but I think there’s a certain level of temper checking with such a force there. No country would ever want to invade any other when the US isn’t just within 24 hours, but within 1 hour. The US isn’t likely to bomb anywhere that they have troops. To a certain extent, the US troops there might be what made the EU possible (even if that’s no longer the case). Yes, assorted European powers might have the military to keep problems from happening, but they aren’t coordinated like the American forces are, where if anything happens, there are many times more where those guys came from.

    2. cassander

      As a rule, whenever the US tries to move those troops to more relevant places, the locals object for the same reasons that the US towns object to military bases getting closed down.

    3. Lambert

      As far as I could tell from graffiti, the left in Germany wants to phase it out, and considers the prescence of US troops to be unconstitutional. Especially Ramstein airbase.
      It’s easy to spot US personnel because no German drives a dodge pickup.

      The power of the British, French and Italian forces (let’s not talk about the Bundeswehr) combined might be enough to stop Russia. But it won’t be combined and an inferior force will be able to defeat an EU coalition in detail before political, doctrinal, language etc. barriers are overcome.

      1. bean

        The power of the British, French and Italian forces (let’s not talk about the Bundeswehr) combined might be enough to stop Russia. But it won’t be combined and an inferior force will be able to defeat an EU coalition in detail before political, doctrinal, language etc. barriers are overcome.

        It’s not an EU coalition that Russia is facing, it’s a NATO coalition. NATO has spent almost three-quarters of a century working on eliminating the doctrinal and language barriers. Political might be a bigger problem.

        1. EchoChaos

          Pretty much.

          The Russian military is pretty good, and they might even punch a bit above their weight compared to cost, but they aren’t the Soviet military in terms of massive conventional superiority anymore.

        2. John Schilling

          Just to put some figures on this, Russia and France spend about the same amounts on their militaries, $60 billion each per year.

          Except that the Russians are paying rubles, not dollars, and the French are paying in also-not-dollar euros, and most of their respective defense budgets are not spent in the international market where dollar exchange rates are appropriate.

          Adjusted by purchasing power parity, Russia’s defense spending is roughly $160 billion to France’s $70 billion. That France pays its soldiers twice as much as Russia, doesn’t make them twice as effective.

      2. Machine Interface

        An analysis I heard that stuck with me is that, in the event of a European-Russian war, Russia would have strong initial successes due to a lot more recent real war experience, but then its logistics and material shortcommings would get in the way of a prolongued conflict and even the French army alone would then be able to turn the tide and repeal Russian forces.

    4. Aftagley

      he US currently has some 64,000 soldiers stationed in Europe, over half of them in Germany.

      So, Germany is home to America’s European Command (EUCOM) and our Africa Command (AFRICOM). COCOMs don’t really need to be located in the area they’re responsible for, hence CENTCOM being in Florida, but it doesn’t hurt. Stuff like making it more accessible to locals and being on a shared time zone is probably useful.

      The kind of work done by the COCOMs is work that would otherwise be done somewhere else; so you’re not saving effort by moving these people, just changing where the same job gets done. I’m sure there are some make-work billets over there (just like everywhere else) that only exist because they want a certain amount of warm bodies, but the vast majority are doing work that would still have to be done if they were somewhere else.

      France, the UK, Germany, and Italy should have easily enough military power to keep Russia and assorted bad guys in the Middle East from causing problems.

      It depends on what you mean. Preventing them from causing problems? Yes. Actually resisting significant military activity, no. You’d need all of NATO for that, and for NATO to matter you need american skin in the game. That necessitates in some kind of troop presence there.

      It also seems a bit odd that the Europeans are so willing to accept large-scale foreign military deployments in their countries.

      Under America 2020, yes. Under most previous iterations of america, not really. It lets them spend as little as they want on their defense funding and know that their security won’t be adversely affected. It also is great for the local economy and, stereotypes aside, Europeans in general and Germans in particular kinda don’t mind having Yankees around.

      1. bean

        So, Germany is home to America’s European Command (EUCOM) and our Africa Command (AFRICOM). COCOMs don’t really need to be located in the area they’re responsible for, hence CENTCOM being in Florida, but it doesn’t hurt. Stuff like making it more accessible to locals and being on a shared time zone is probably useful.

        In terms of forces based in Europe, there’s essentially a division of combat troops, mostly built around the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Stryker BCT) and 173rd Airborne Brigade. Technically, they’re under 7th Army Training Command instead of a division HQ, but I suspect that’s a political pretense. (It worked well enough to fool me the last time I looked into this.) That, along with USAFEUR and the like, probably accounts for half or more of the 64,000 involved. The rest are doing things like running EUCOM that fall into a rather different category.

    5. ana53294

      Spain likes the bases for the economically uplifting activities it brings, but when the bases are used for actual military purposes (bombing Syria from Rota without informing the Spaniards), they complain.

      There is also quite a bit of discomfort whenever the US Navy goes to Gibraltar or does stuff there, as the waters are disputed.

      The extension of the bases was a bit controversial, but considering what goes for controversial now, it’s not really.

      I see why the Rota Naval base makes sense, the Gibraltar strait being so important for shipping and all that. But I’m not sure what’s the point of the Moron air base, really, although that one’s much smaller.

      People are also unhappy over the US using the Bardenas air force shooting range, although it’s not specifically for anti-US reasons; they would rather not have an air force shooting range, period (although the USAF actually uses it more than Spain).

    6. Radu Floricica

      Is this something that should be continued long-term

      Why not? If nothing else, it makes it obvious that we live in a NATO world and that’s a very good thing.

      Not sure if that’s been mentioned here, but having bases in Europe isn’t just a deterrent or an administrative hub – it allows US to project power easier. Without them you waste fuel and time. And where else would they place them? Africa? Middle East? Europe just makes sense.

      So removing them would hurt US, and keeping them is good for everybody. Sure, you can make an argument that sovereignty etc, but that’s exactly the kind of world I don’t want to live in anymore.

      1. An Fírinne

        Why not? If nothing else, it makes it obvious that we live in a NATO world and that’s a very good thing.

        NATO is a tool of western imperialism and a ultimately destabilising force.

          1. An Fírinne

            NATO wasn’t necessary for that. Let’s not forget that NATO started a war on Eastern Europe and Libya.

          2. EchoChaos

            @An Fírinne

            NATO wasn’t necessary for that.

            For what? I just asserted that there were fewer wars between Great Powers after NATO. That’s a fact.

            Let’s not forget that NATO started a war on Eastern Europe and Libya.

            I have not said that NATO isn’t aggressive. I actually think they are. Since I’m a nationalist, this doesn’t bother me at all, other than their aggression being stupid instead of in favor of American interests.

        1. Radu Floricica

          *shrug* I’m (barely) in the western world so… good?

          But seriously, how is NATO a destabilizing force? The way I see it (far from being an expert) is that it’s half a pact committing all members to protect any member from attack, and half the logistics and necessary to make this easier – and conflict between members extremely unlikely. Nothing I dislike here.

          I guess it could trigger a domino effect at some point, but it’s a threat on the order of magnitude of mutually assured destruction in the cold war, and that ended up working out ok, with a lot more on the line and much more nervous fingers on the trigger.

          1. Radu Floricica

            @An Fírinne

            I like Serbs. I was born a stone throw away, across the Danube, watched Serbian television, chewed Serbian bubblegum. But as far as I know, they simply tried to hold on to their small empire when the other artificial constructs around were starting to break up, and it got bloody. Very bloody. I don’t know if NATO could have handled things better – my info on the subject is really limited. But from what I know, I have a moderate feeling of pride and security that they intervened. There is no country , even in Europe, that is 100% immune to dirty wars and ethnic cleansing. It’s good to know they exist and will meddle.

        2. Viliam

          NATO is a tool of western imperialism and a ultimately destabilising force.

          So, unlike the stabilizing force of Russian imperialism?

    7. An Fírinne

      should have easily enough military power to keep Russia and assorted bad guys in the Middle East from causing problems

      What exactly do you expect Russia to do ? Russia is engaging in nationalistic irredentism. Its only annexing Russian speaking regions, as it is justified in doing.

      I find it ironic that Americans act like Russians are the expansionist ones when America has colonies like Guam, Guantanomo Bay, Hawaii, Puerto Rico etc and install puppet governments all around the world.

      1. cassander

        >Its only annexing Russian speaking regions, as it is justified in doing.

        So then do you think the US was justified in the absorption of Texas and the two wars that it entailed?

          1. An Fírinne

            Canadians have a different culture. Ethnic Russians in Ukraine, and the Baltics are no different to the ones on the RF.

          2. Secretly French

            What kind of political theory states that when you are invaded by an empire, and subjected to population replacement as russian filth are moved in to your cities and your own people mysteriously disappear in huge numbers, then that empire collapses under the weight of its own evil, that that area inhabited by those russians then becomes rightful russian land? You people think you’re so smart but you just come off as insane. No wonder existential threats get no play with the public if you’re the people cheerleading for them.

          3. jermo sapiens

            Canadians have a different culture.

            No, we dont. French-canadians do, a little bit, but the cultural distance between New York and Toronto is far shorter than the cultural distance than between New York and Nashville.

          4. EchoChaos

            @jermo sapiens

            Good followup. Was the United States justified in its imperialist conquest of the culturally different Confederate States of America?

          5. The original Mr. X

            What kind of political theory states that when you are invaded by an empire, and subjected to population replacement as russian filth are moved in to your cities and your own people mysteriously disappear in huge numbers, then that empire collapses under the weight of its own evil, that that area inhabited by those russians then becomes rightful russian land?

            If you hold that government authority comes from the consent of the governed, and the governed do not consent to being ruled by any country except Russia, then it follows that no government except the Russian has the authority to rule them. That remains the case regardless of whether the territory in question used to belong to Russia.

            (Though I’m not sure An Firinne would endorse this view, since he’s on record as saying that Northern Ireland ought to be ruled from Dublin, regardless of the local inhabitants’ wishes.)

          6. Lambert

            Then again, ‘consent of the people’ leaves open the ‘settlement’ loophole, where the government helps import a new people. See: NI, the West Bank, probably some of the USSR, not sure about the US and its colonies territories. (probably not mexicans entering the US, before anyone asks.)

          7. jermo sapiens

            Was the United States justified in its imperialist conquest of the culturally different Confederate States of America?

            That’s a very complicated question which I dont feel qualified to answer. I think it was justified in some aspects (preserving the union is a legitimate goal, as is abolishing slavery next door). But I also read some convincing arguments that the south was going to abolish slavery on its own if it were left to its own devices (dont know how true that is), and that the way slavery was abolished was harmful to many (including prior slaves). And I am sympathetic to the view that the people of the south should not be ruled by the north.

            The cost of the war was enormous (600,000 dead). So it would take a massive benefit to justify it. The freedom of every black american today would certain be enough to justify it, but that leaves the unanswered question of whether they could have had this freedom otherwise.

          8. EchoChaos

            @jermo sapiens

            More directed at @An Fírinne than you.

            I don’t think it was justified, and I’ve argued before that slavery was ending everywhere in the world peacefully and was likely to do so in the South as well, although obviously not as quickly as after the war.

            Just trying to get an idea of where he thinks the allowable boundaries of reconquest versus imperialism are since he originally said language, but then retreated to culture.

          9. Plumber

            @EchoChaos, 
            In my stunningly humble opinion the North was justified in the American Civil War because without it it’s less likely that there would be Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen’s in California and justice demands that I get my chicken sandwich (so tasty)!

            Having said that war or slavery in general is a tough call (I’m reminded of another “hot button” issue that at its core is murder or slavery).

            How much war?

            How much slavery?

            Americans are (I think justly) proud of our Republics efforts against first Right totalitarian tyranny and then Left totalitarian tyranny, but enough crusades/wars-of-liberation/Wilsonism is a recipe for endless war.

          10. The original Mr. X

            @ Lambert:

            Then again, ‘consent of the people’ leaves open the ‘settlement’ loophole, where the government helps import a new people. See: NI, the West Bank, probably some of the USSR, not sure about the US and its colonies territories. (probably not mexicans entering the US, before anyone asks.)

            Yes, I think that’s one of the flaws of consent-of-the-people theory.

            (Though I also think that after some period it’s more reasonable to think of the new people as natives rather than incomers. Like, yes, it was unjust for the earlier US settlers to dispossess the Indians the way they did, but I’d be dead against any modern calls to kick their descendants out and replace them with the descendants of the Indians. Ditto with Northern Ireland and Israel [though not necessarily the West Bank].)

          11. Secretly French

            @Mr X

            I don’t know whether you did it intentionally, but I spoke of land and you spoke of people. I don’t claim that Estonia obliges the russians in the same way it obliges Estonians; nor should it want to. They just have to go back.

          1. An Fírinne

            Why wouldn’t they be justified? It’s German land and the people living their were German. There’s a reason the inhabitants were called Sudeten Germans and not Sudeten Czechoslovaks.

          2. RalMirrorAd

            @An Firinne

            I’ve heard some claim that the Sudeten mountains only became german after they were depopulated from the Hussite Wars, which although being a religious conflict, involved predominantly germans fighting agressing against predominantly Czech

            I’m on the fence about Irridentism; A precedent for not returning seized territory means that the spoils of war are treated as guarantee. The counter-argument is that even seemingly long-standing territorial claims probably involved some form of ethnic cleansing in the past. You also don’t want to promote the idea that the only way to legitimately hold onto a territory is to thoroughly eradicate past inhabitants.

            The other issue about irridentism is it makes immigration necessarily an act of war and foreigners necessarily enemy agents (even if they don’t want to be. Since there mere presence in an area gives foreign powers cassus belli)

          3. FormerRanger

            Why wouldn’t they be justified? It’s German land and the people living their were German.

            What fraction of the population was German? Does every sub-unit of every country have the right to be “rescued” from “oppression” based on someone’s definition of culture? What percentage must be of the “oppressed” culture? 50%? 75%? 90%?

            For example, Putin, in addition to literally invading Ukraine, is trying to push Belorus into union, which its leadership doesn’t want (it would cut off their graft). Is that okay? Belorus is Russian-speaking and culturally Russian. What about the Baltic states? Putin seems just as interested in grabbing them, but the number of Russian-speakers is smaller and the culture(s) of the Baltics are different. What about English-speakers in Cameroon? Should the more English-aligned nation of Nigeria “rescue” them?

            Germans were forcibly expelled from many parts of Eastern Europe after WW2. Would their descendants be justified in reconquering or re-populating those areas today? Is your rule that once you’ve been expelled you are out of luck? Does that rule also apply to Palestinians? Or does your rule only hold when the “oppressed” still live where they have traditionally lived? What’s the minimum time they have to have lived there for their “culture” to permit a larger entity to legitimately “rescue” them?

            The old rule was the best: no boundary changes without the consent of all parties.

            What you basically are proposing as an alternative is a recipe for international adventurism on a grand scale, massive displacement of people based on their ethnicity, and war after war almost everywhere.

          4. SamChevre

            @RalMirrorAd

            I don’t know about the Sudetenland, but Pomerania (Western Poland) was very German until the expulsion of the Germans after WW2. One of the most interesting historical documents I’ve seen was the township-by-township census maps from the post-WW1 division between Poland and Germany (in which Pomerania stayed part of Germany–“part of Germany” was defined as “majority German-speaking” if I recall correctly).

        1. An Fírinne

          So then do you think the US was justified in the absorption of Texas and the two wars that it entailed?

          Yes.

          1. FormerRanger

            Why? Texas was not populated by people of American culture at the time, except for a small minority.

          2. EchoChaos

            @FormerRanger

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_Texas

            This is not correct. Anglos were the majority of the area when Texas declared independence.

            On the eve of war, the American settlers in the area outnumbered Mexicans by a considerable margin.

            Mexicans in fact several times tried to restrict American immigration because this was the expected outcome of it.

          3. Matt M

            Anglos were the majority of the area when Texas declared independence.

            This is my understanding as well. Mexicans weren’t particularly drawn to Texas, but Anglo-Americans were. The Mexican government (understanding that demographics is destiny) was, (correctly in hindsight) quite concerned that this would lead to revolution and/or annexation and tried to take various steps to limit American immigration, or attempt to select for and/or instill loyalty to Mexico among American immigrants (one had to at least claim to be Catholic, for instance). It didn’t work.

            Perhaps some of this might be relevant to us, today!

          4. EchoChaos

            @Matt M

            Perhaps some of this might be relevant to us, today!

            Those who don’t learn from history will have absolutely nothing bad happen to them because our current liberal order is perfect.

      2. AlexOfUrals

        FWIW, expansionism is waaaay more popular among the general public in Russia than in America. In fact, I’m yet to see a single American publicly drooling over annexing Canada, reconquering Berlin and raising the star spangled banner over the Kremlin, whether online or in person. In Russia such (that is, symmetrical) fantasies are not ubiquitous, but depressingly easy to find.

        1. Plumber

          @AlexOfUrals >

          “…yet to see a single American publicly drooling over annexing Canada…”

          I’ve seen a few ask for their area to be annexed by Canada, and I imagine other Americans in other areas responding “That sounds great, don’t let the door hit ya!”, which (unlike a 150 years ago) is now often a response to talk of secession, whether “Calexit” or “Texit“.

          1. AlexOfUrals

            Right, when I said symmetrical I should’ve said “both” actually. There’s even this petition on change.org – it’s in Russian, but the map doesn’t require translation. And a few months ago citizens of some small town in Siberia collectively asked Trudeau to accept them as refugees.

        2. An Fírinne

          Except as I said Americans support annexing and expanding into Hawaii, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam etc.

          1. AlexOfUrals

            It is pretty much by definition not an expansion if they are already parts of the US. Not to mention that one of these positions rests largely on the status quo bias, while another is advocating for a global war (as opposed to whatever legal status change some people might be advocating for the regions you’ve listed).

          2. An Fírinne

            It is pretty much by definition not an expansion if they are already parts of the US.

            You’re playing semantics and it’s not a good look.

            while another is advocating for a global war (as opposed to whatever legal status change some people might be advocating for the regions you’ve listed)

            What on earth? Nobody is advocating for a global war. Who specifically is doing that?

  6. TheSkeward

    Hey, Scott. I’ve just stepped into the admin role at the SSC Discord server – deluks stepped down. I notice that the Discord server link you’ve got currently is an expired invite from before the Z thing. Here’s a new one – would you put this on the site on the sidebar and in future open threads? Thank you. https://discord.gg/kAVSf9U

    1. Aftagley

      from before the Z thing

      This seems ominous and interesting. Can anyone provide any context about the Zed Event?

  7. GearRatio

    It’s that time again for the first time: Super short hilarious Bible study of limited theological value with GearRatio!

    The book of Ruth is an old testament book of intense popularity, partly because it has themes of noble behavior, self sacrifice, and difficult times working out in the end but mostly because it’s very short; you can read the whole thing cover-to-cover in about five minutes. Most of the other short old testament books involve prophets yelling at the Jewish people for being disobedient, while Ruth is a fun little narrative about filial piety that, in the 90’s, was probably the only thing more popular and universal with homeschooled christian girls than foot-long plastic models of beautiful galloping mares.

    The story of Ruth begins with a Jewish couple immigrating in a time of Israeli famine to Moab, a decidedly non-Jewish country. The husband dies, leaving his Wife Naomi with only her two sons to take care of her. They both get married then promptly die themselves. Naomi urges both of her daughters-in-law to seek new lives and husbands and to leave her alone to fend for herself.

    In the usual ancient world scenario, Naomi is now set up to starve to death. But while one of her daughters-in-law promptly abandons her, the other loves her enough to abandon her country and religion to follow her and take care of her and relays this with one of the more bad-ass female-spoken statements in the Bible:

    But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.

    So they travel back to Israel together, and the Barley harvest is on. At the time it was customary to not pick the field particularly clean so that there would be some left for poor people to come in and scrape up. Ruth goes to a field to do this so she can provide some level of food for herself and Naomi. While she’s there, the owner of the field walks up and tells her, paraphrased: “Listen, don’t go to any other fields. I’ve told my workers not to mess with you, and you can do your thing here safely. If you get thirsty, drink from the water they draw. It’s safer and better for you here”. Ruth asks him why he’s being nice, and he says this:

    I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

    Note that this is Boaz appropriately noting that what Ruth did was really nice; she’s sacrificed a lot to take care of an old lady; she still might starve to death. She has no protection and she’s in a foreign land with a foreign culture; the only reason she’s not in danger of getting raped for trying to eat is that she’s being protected. She’s done a tremendous thing, and Boaz notices.

    Later on Boaz makes sure there’s some extra grain left out for Ruth; he gives her extra food at mealtimes, too. Ruth relays this to Naomi, who reveals that Boaz is sorta related to her in a way where he is supposed to take care of them in times of great trouble. After some time passes, Naomi smells opportunity for Ruth and tells her this:

    Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.

    There are some more liberal interpreters who say that this “laying at the feet” business is a euphemism for a blowjob; this is questionable but possible. Virtually everybody agrees, though, that to a major extent Ruth’s purpose is to signal that she’s sexually available in a way Boaz can’t ignore or misinterpret. Here comes the great part!

    Boaz has, as you remember, previously acknowledged that Ruth did a hell of a fucking thing for her mother-in-law. She went above and beyond; she put herself in danger, she changed religions and dedicated her entire life to the safety of a woman she had no blood relation to who told her it would be perfectly fine to abandon her. Boaz knows she did this, and Boaz also belongs to a society in which filial honor and service are, at the very least, a top-three contender on the list of virtues. But now Ruth has made herself sexually available to him, so Boaz says this:

    “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.

    Or, paraphrased:

    You know that stuff before where you rescued an old woman from starvation at great personal risk to yourself? I thought that was pretty good, but now you’ve decided that, as a young hot woman, you are going to sleep with me instead of a young hot dude. And, Ruth? I gotta tell you: Wow. Way better than the old-lady-saving bit.

    This is such a genuine certain-kind-of-dude confronted with sex reaction, and it cracks me up, and will never stop cracking me up.

    This has been super short hilarious Bible study of limited theological value with GearRatio.

      1. Noah

        Speaking of Samson, my tongue-in-cheek theory for why he was so strong was that his mother was told not to drink during her pregnancy, so he was the only one around without fetal alcohol syndrome.

        Why, then, was he such an idiot? Guess he just lost the genetic lottery there.

    1. Tenacious D

      The book of Ruth ends with the genealogy of King David. Interestingly, Ruth is but one of 3 cases (the other two are Tamar and Rahab) of exogamy in the span of the family tree presented—normally I’d expect concerns over dynastic prestige/legitimacy to provide an incentive to cover up marriages to non-noble foreigners. The honourable way in which Boaz responds to Ruth’s sexual availability makes a fine contrast to how Tamar was treated.

    2. Randy M

      probably the only thing more popular and universal with homeschooled christian girls than foot-long plastic models of beautiful galloping mares.

      In my house the only thing more popular than models of galloping mares are more models of galloping mares.
      Ruth is really one of the most feel good stories in the Bible.

        1. AG

          There have been a couple takes on the Trojan War as a college frat feud.

          A bizarre mashup of Jason and the Argonauts with The Wizard of Oz in a vaguely modern setting (a la The Wiz or Tin Man) would be hilarious.

      1. AG

        Slightly CW, but modern interpretations of the Nativity have become popular recently, as a gotcha against certain sentiments.

        Netflix just put out an original drama about a man claiming to be the Second Coming of Christ, and the ambiguity around if he really is. (I wanna see this premise done with King Arthur!)
        There is, of course, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, featuring some very dated slang (“what’s the buzz”) to connote being hip and and modern.
        There’s the TV show Kings, which made Goliath into a tank.

        I want to see the opposite direction, though. The book of Revelations done as a period piece! 6 seasons and a movie, where every season is just the same events played out, but in a different period/location, regardless of if it’s hilariously set before Jesus’s time or not. Imagine the hilarity of, like, Shang-era wuxia Revelations.

    3. Le Maistre Chat

      There are some more liberal interpreters who say that this “laying at the feet” business is a euphemism for a blowjob; this is questionable but possible.

      Yeah, no. The literal meaning of the words is already flirtatious dominance/submission stuff.

      Ruth 3:4-8, ESV:
      “But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.’ And she replied, ‘All that you say I will do.’ So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet!”

      Now you can say that “feet” was a euphemism for “genitals” in Hebrew, but that wouldn’t make it the only meaning of the word. Surely when God tells Moses “remove thy sandals from thy feet”, we’re not to understand that ancient Jews walked around with a pair of sandals on their penis.
      Further, the author could easily have said (at 3:8) “behold, a woman was on his feet” or “behold, a woman’s head…” if that’s what they were trying to convey. It doesn’t make physical sense for her to be doing anything but lay sleeping next to him in a flirtatious way.

      1. GearRatio

        I think you make some jumps here – I.E. since “feet” doesn’t always mean penis, it can’t here, or that if someone was using a euphemism it has to be at some arbitrarily selected clarity level that makes sense to the linguistic sense of a 2020 English speaker. I don’t think either of those follow.

        I don’t really buy the blowjob meaning either, for the record; I more-or-less assume she was in a range between “nearly innocently make known that she considers him a prospect” and “sleeps with him”. I don’t really know enough about Hebrew and ancient Hebrew sensitivities to really accurately parse it – I just wanted to mention the range of interpretation. I think it’s funnier the more chaste way anyway.

        1. hls2003

          The whole “sexual versus not sexual” thing has never seemed like that much of a mystery to me. I think that the meaning of “uncovers his feet” has to be taken in conjunction with Boaz’s injunction to her when she leaves: “Don’t let it be known a woman came to the threshing floor.” That suggests that, no matter what happened, cultural expectation of a woman at a drunken male-only celebration (remember Boaz is sleeping it off here) is that she will be seen as a harlot. It’s like if you have a frat party and one female shows up at the house at midnight and leaves at 2 a.m. – any normal person is going to be guessing “stripper” at best, or “whore.”

          This solves the problem pretty neatly, in my opinion. Naomi has recommended a high-risk approach to Ruth – one which puts her reputation at serious risk if Boaz is not inclined to be a good guy. She tempers that risk by telling Ruth to take a chaste approach within an otherwise questionable framework; that is, you go to Boaz in a context where you’re definitely aggressively signaling your interest in marriage (because it’s so high-risk to Ruth’s sexual reputation), but you are also showing that you are not actually sexually immoral, because the “uncover the feet / put your cloak over me” ritual is part of kinsman-redeemer imagery. Bear in mind that Boaz already knows that Ruth is there and that she is single; he has had multiple conversations with her on that exact point by this time in the story. Boaz recognizes the risk she has taken, and acts to protect her reputation. It’s specifically the contrast between the reputationally-dubious night rendezvous and the chaste behavior between the virtuous protagonists that makes that part of the story work at all. If it were really just a blowjob, Boaz (a virtuous man of standing in the community) would not respect that at all; it’s not like the richest man in town would struggle to find a prostitute. He would likely recoil from a tawdry seduction as social-climbing and evidence of poor character. It has to be chaste, or the reactions don’t make literary sense.

          1. Le Maistre Chat

            Yeah, this. At minimum, she’s literally sleeping with him for a few hours and doing what we modern Westerners would categorize as D/s.
            Reputationally, it being known that she was there from dusk to midnight with a drink man would round off to “poor woman turned a trick for money.”
            She’s risking a big blow to her reputation, and what exactly she did has to fit Boaz’s reaction of “You seem so virtuous that I’ll marry you if the customs of Israel permit” rather than “here’s the going rate for a blowjob” or #HeToo =O”

          2. GearRatio

            @hls2003

            I think there’s a lot of assumptions here that may or may not make sense:

            If it were really just a blowjob, Boaz (a virtuous man of standing in the community) would not respect that at all; it’s not like the richest man in town would struggle to find a prostitute.

            We don’t know of Boaz would respect it or not; he certainly didn’t kick her out of bed, although he clearly knows she’s not supposed to be there. Actual men fall in love with strippers; actual men exist who don’t frequent prostitutes for whom a blowjob would be a tremendous event with the potential of making them smitten. One of Boaz’s descendants with slightly more status than Boaz kills a heroic, decent man so he can be freer to bang the man’s wife; the Old testament doesn’t really shy away from this kind of flaw in the “well he’d never!” type of way.

            He would likely recoil from a tawdry seduction as social-climbing and evidence of poor character.

            I would argue that, rather than knowing he would do this, we actually know to a pretty substantial degree that he wouldn’t – she came in and put him in an impossibly awkward situation, one where sex would be assumed by any person watching her enter and exit. Her existence in that room was tawdry even without physical contact of any kind, much less with him.

            Boaz recognizes the risk she has taken, and acts to protect her reputation.

            Well, kind of – he has a full conversation with her and has her stay several extra maybe-get-caught hours. To the extent any of that is riskier than a whispered “get out of here before you get caught and we will talk in the morning!”, he’s risking her entire reputation; that second kinsman redeemer can’t quite redeem her nearly as easily if she’s known damaged goods, which she’d be if they caught her there.

            The version of this that appeals to me most is “Ruth, who is in a society where the only thing that keeps her from getting raped while she walks around is a rich guy she knows, goes to the rich guy in the middle of the night in a way that would probably have rendered him immune to rape accusations; there she initiates physical contact (probably not sex). She does this to indicate, either through her intent or Naomi’s intent for her, that she’s sexually available to him (at least in the sense of considering him a marriage prospect).

            You might say, oh, her intentions were pure and had nothing to do with sex; it doesn’t make sense any other way. But it doesn’t make sense that way – why wouldn’t she approach him during the day and not unnecessarily risk her entire reputation? Why would he immediately mention that he was glad she wasn’t running around after “younger men, whether rich or poor?”.

            You might not believe they had sex, but you can’t dodge that she put herself absolutely at his sexual mercy and that sex was a likely outcome for her here – they themselves thought it was the most likely outcome in the eyes of any casual observer.

            More importantly she was literally asking him (almost forcing him) for sex, among other things – evoking the guardian-redeemer relationship here means, as we see later in Ruth, necessarily marrying Ruth unless there’s another guardian redeemer around, or the job goes undone. This was, frankly, definitely social-climbing, at least to the extent that invoking a legal relationship that forces or nearly forces a guy to marry you so you don’t starve to death can be considered social-climbing. And it certainly was tawdry – even without the sex, it was something that could immediately scotch both their reputations.

            Also, there’s super strong evidence that the spreading the garment thing was understood, at least by Ezekiel, to be a sexual/marital reference here. See 16:7:

            “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.

            In the following section, God then goes on to treat the nation of Israel like a wife until the nation of Israel goes a’whorin.

            All that to say I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say “I don’t think they banged”. I think it’s a stretch to go “Ruth got as pretty as she could, put on perfume, snuck up to a drunken sleeping man man, initiated physical contact with him, and informed him she wanted him at the least to execute a legal relationship that necessitated they would have sex later. He then said how happy he was that she didn’t chase after younger dudes. They then spent the rest of the night together, and he immediately took steps to marry her. But there was no sexuality in play, it was perfectly chaste”.

            @Le Maistre Chat

            and what exactly she did has to fit Boaz’s reaction of “You seem so virtuous that I’ll marry you if the customs of Israel permit”

            But this isn’t what happened – he said “This is great! I’m really stoked. I’m glad you didn’t do whatever this is with other dudes.” And THEN mentions her virtue in a clause connected to being able to do what she wants, because her local reputation permits it:

            And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.

            I think the bit that comes next is the part that makes the blowjob/sex potential the lowest – he says he’s going to give her to the other dude if the other dude who is first in line for guardian-redeeming wants. If they had sex, this at least seems bizarre to my 2020-man eyes if the story is gonna stay a “nice” one, although I have no idea how it would have read to an ancient Jewish guy.

            This is a weird discussion because I feel like I’m defending the blowjob version I don’t really believe in, and also because there are people who are SUPER committed to the blowjob version even though they sex, like, literally on the next page.

          3. hls2003

            I’ll start by acknowledging you’re trying to steelman a position you don’t strongly hold, so nothing I’m saying is directed strictly to you, GearRatio, the person. But I think almost all the points raised actually cut the opposite direction you think.

            I think there’s a lot of assumptions here that may or may not make sense

            It seems quite clear to me that the hypothesis requiring the most unsupported assumptions is the sexual activity hypothesis, given the text.

            We don’t know of Boaz would respect it or not

            The repeated textual evidence we have is that Boaz praises Ruth’s moral character. He never once praises her beauty, her fecundity, or her sexual skill. I submit that it requires a lot of hand-waving to transmute “everyone knows you are of noble character” into “you are great in bed.”

            One of Boaz’s descendants with slightly more status than Boaz kills a heroic, decent man so he can be freer to bang the man’s wife; the Old testament doesn’t really shy away from this kind of flaw in the “well he’d never!” type of way.

            Exactly. This cuts very clearly the opposite way you’re indicating. If Ruth had unlawful carnal relations with Boaz that night, the text certainly doesn’t say it. People have to work hard to try to re-interpret the text (postulating unknown euphemisms, etc.) to make it say that. In comparison, the story of David and Bathsheba straightforwardly describes David watching Bathsheba bathing naked, ordering her to the palace, and laying with her (then killing her husband). Or the story of Tamar – there’s no ambiguity there. She puts on a veil, acts as a prostitute, and Judah hires her and sires a child. There’s no coy guesswork involved. Why would we think that the post-David era story of David’s ancestor would wink-wink-nudge-nudge such a thing while the post-David era story of David himself would flat-out record his adultery and murder? Purely on the textual evidence, this suggests no sex at this point of the Ruth story. It requires unwarranted assumptions to put it in.

            Her existence in that room was tawdry even without physical contact of any kind, much less with him.

            I actually sort of agree with this, but again I think it points in the opposite direction from a literary perspective. I’m not saying there’s no “sexual element” to the threshing floor incident – I’m saying that the situation itself is the “sexual element” which contrasts with the clear textual cues that there is no actual sexual activity. That contrast makes the story interesting. Purely on literary grounds, “she goes and sleeps her way to the top” is a less interesting and complex story.

            [H]e has a full conversation with her and has her stay several extra maybe-get-caught hours. To the extent any of that is riskier than a whispered “get out of here before you get caught and we will talk in the morning!”, he’s risking her entire reputation

            Why would you assume it is riskier? Given that the text specifically mentions the time of her coming and the time of her going, that is textual evidence that the timing was important, most likely because the harvest celebration would still be ongoing earlier, but it would be morning light later on.

            that second kinsman redeemer can’t quite redeem her nearly as easily if she’s known damaged goods, which she’d be if they caught her there.

            That actually isn’t consistent with my understanding of the position of the kinsman-redeemer as presented in the story and elsewhere in the law. Later in Ruth, when the primary kinsman-redeemer is preparing to redeem the property, Boaz reminds him that he acquires Ruth along with the property, since the purpose of the position is to continue Elimelech’s line and provide for the family.

            The version of this that appeals to me most is “Ruth, who is in a society where the only thing that keeps her from getting raped while she walks around is a rich guy she knows, goes to the rich guy in the middle of the night in a way that would probably have rendered him immune to rape accusations; there she initiates physical contact (probably not sex). She does this to indicate, either through her intent or Naomi’s intent for her, that she’s sexually available to him (at least in the sense of considering him a marriage prospect).

            This is more-or-less what I think, and I what I tried to indicate, except that I think it’s textually clear there was no sexual contact at that time. There is a sexual situation, though, or one that would normally be seen as such. Ruth is putting an enormous amount of trust in Boaz (and/or Naomi and the God of Israel who would oversee such things).

            But it doesn’t make sense that way – why wouldn’t she approach him during the day and not unnecessarily risk her entire reputation?

            This doesn’t make sense to me. She cannot approach him in a “signal marriageability” sense in the daytime because there are constantly other people around. It’s the same reason that you try to get someone alone to propose to them. Ruth is, more or less, proposing to Boaz. That inversion (it should normally have been the other way around) is specifically why the episode is noteworthy, which is why I say that the story makes less sense if you don’t view it that way.

            Why would he immediately mention that he was glad she wasn’t running around after “younger men, whether rich or poor?”.

            Again, I think this bolsters the point. There are two reasons. First, it puts the focus again on Ruth’s character and not her beauty or sexual prowess. To me, it is quasi-bizarre to claim that the constant focus on Ruth’s good character is consistent with a sexual seduction of Boaz. Second, it once again highlights Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi, which is one of the keys throughout the story. For Ruth, herself, it would probably be better to find a younger man who can support her for most of her life and ensure that Ruth bears sons who will then care for her if she is widowed. We just saw how devastating it was for Naomi to be alone without husband or sons. In contrast, Boaz is presumably much older and having even one son is not assured (though God ensures it happens). It’s not like modern inheritance rules; seducing and marrying an old codger gets Ruth no money, just a second early widowhood. There’s no pathway to being Anna Nicole Smith. Instead, Boaz as kinsman-redeemer will preserve Naomi’s family line. Naomi gets cared for in the kinsman-redeemer situation, not just Ruth, because Ruth’s son will be counted as a descendant of Elimelech and Naomi. One of the last lines of the book prior to the genealogy is the women of the town telling Naomi that Ruth is better for her than seven sons, and then when Ruth and Boaz do conceive, the child is said to be “Naomi’s.” The last verses:
            So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her [note that the story knows how to say this explicitly], the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
            Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed.

            You might not believe they had sex, but you can’t dodge that she put herself absolutely at his sexual mercy and that sex was a likely outcome for her here – they themselves thought it was the most likely outcome in the eyes of any casual observer.

            I’m not trying to dodge it – quite the contrary, I’m saying that contrast is specifically the point. It highlights the noble character of both Boaz and Ruth. She relies on God’s law and on Boaz’s part in the law. Boaz upholds the law and commends her for her faithfulness and goodness. It is a sign of God’s law working right for once, which is mighty refreshing after the horrific stories of moral rot in Judges.

            More importantly she was literally asking him (almost forcing him) for sex, among other things – evoking the guardian-redeemer relationship here means, as we see later in Ruth, necessarily marrying Ruth unless there’s another guardian redeemer around, or the job goes undone.

            Yes, exactly. Again, I rely on this. This is Ruth throwing herself at the mercy of God’s law, as a penniless foreigner, in order to provide for Naomi and herself, and being rewarded.

            This was, frankly, definitely social-climbing, at least to the extent that invoking a legal relationship that forces or nearly forces a guy to marry you so you don’t starve to death can be considered social-climbing. And it certainly was tawdry – even without the sex, it was something that could immediately scotch both their reputations.

            As noted above, this really isn’t social climbing for Ruth; it is primarily social redemption for Naomi, who is metaphorically reborn into the community of Israel after being cut off. Ruth is commended for this, and she receives her reward from God in the form of a son who will inherit Boaz’s wealth and care for both her and Naomi. If she didn’t have a son, she would likely get nothing, just like Naomi. The text is clear that the Lord enabled them to conceive; that suggests that Boaz was well past his sell-by date, which is why Ruth (selfishly) would have been better-served to propose to a younger man, who could be expected to care for her longer and give her sons to care for her after his death.

            Also, there’s super strong evidence that the spreading the garment thing was understood, at least by Ezekiel, to be a sexual/marital reference here.

            Of course. Again, I rely on this. “Spread the corner of your garment” is basically a marriage proposal, asking for protection (which was a huge component of marriage for otherwise helpless women in that time, per Naomi’s situation). It is not a sexual euphemism.

            I think it’s a stretch to go “Ruth got as pretty as she could, put on perfume, snuck up to a drunken sleeping man man, initiated physical contact with him, and informed him she wanted him at the least to execute a legal relationship that necessitated they would have sex later. He then said how happy he was that she didn’t chase after younger dudes. They then spent the rest of the night together, and he immediately took steps to marry her. But there was no sexuality in play, it was perfectly chaste”.

            I don’t see why it’s a stretch at all. Again, there is a sexual situation, and a clear marriage proposal by Ruth to Boaz (which is an inversion). What makes the story work is that the sexual situation, isn’t actually a sexual act, because of the noble character of those involved. The text taken as a whole is clear on that, because their faithful character is the primary point of the text. You couldn’t highlight the characters without the contrast.

            The whole “must have been sex” position reminds me a bit of the ending of Pride and Prejudice, when Darcy and Elizabeth finally get engaged while on a walk, alone. “They walked on, without knowing in what direction. There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects.” Being in love and alone, unchaperoned, was certainly rather suspect in that society; should we assume from those two sentences that Darcy and Elizabeth had sex in a hayfield? The absence is even remarked upon by the family: “My dear Lizzy, where can you have been walking to?” was a question which Elizabeth received from Jane as soon as she entered their room, and from all the others when they sat down to table. She had only to say in reply, that they had wandered about, till she was beyond her own knowledge. She coloured as she spoke; but neither that, nor anything else, awakened a suspicion of the truth. “ Obviously we know they are not having sex; there are no textual clues for it, there is subsequent conversation showing what they were talking about, and most of all we know that it is completely against the as-demonstrated character of both. It is an untenable reading in a literary sense. That is my position on the story of Ruth as well. Quite apart from the religious aspect, the story as written does not support the blowjob (or other explicit sexual activity) reading.

            Again, none of this is to criticize you, GearRatio, personally, since this is not your primary position. If I were going to Bulverize the hardcore partisans of “must have been a blowjob,” I would suspect that they want to try to import sexual licentiousness into a Biblical story portrayed positively, as some sort of support or apologetic in favor of sexual licentiousness and “sex positivity” in the modern era. But that is only my own prejudice in the matter.

      2. Noah

        For what it’s worth, the Hebrew has no preposition : it says literally “lay his feet”. However, it’s also missing the usual direct object signifier for a definite object. I don’t know enough biblical Hebrew to make sense of this and obviously preposition vs direct object use and which direct object you use varies between languages

    4. AG

      All of this speculation on if Ruth and Boaz did the do under euphemism is such a cold take compared to “Ruth and Naomi were doing the do.”

  8. oriscratch

    I just realized that the plot of the last 2 Jurassic World movies (I don’t know about the original ones) basically follow the plot line of classic AI risk scenarios. Here’s how they go:

    Some irresponsible tech company creates a highly intelligent and dangerous entity.
    “It’s totally safe!” they assure everyone. “We have it under control, and it’s confined in this giant box!”
    Soon enough, the entity tricks someone into letting it out of the box, then runs around killing pretty much everyone in its path with zero resistance.

    1. beleester

      The original Jurassic Park has the creatures getting out of the box because a rival corporation wanted to steal them and bribed the employee who ran the security systems. Which… yeah, that would work for the AI scenario too.

    2. Radu Floricica

      Original books by Michael Crichton were heavy on how biological system are non-linear and thus impossible to keep in boxes. Including math and fractals. They are right, too, I don’t think there’s ever been an escape-proof zoo (or jail, for that matter).

      I guess it can be applied equally well to an AI that got to be complex enough.

  9. Sandpaper26

    People of SSC,

    Congratulations! You are now the personal physician of an benevolent billionaire dictator, who is in the midst of consolidating his power. He does not care about your credentials; what he cares about is that he controls utterly everything you know and love, and will resort to any means to force you to do as he pleases for the sake of his health. He has approximately forty others who are of equal or higher intelligence as you in exactly your position and you can’t communicate with them, and he compares all of your care plans so if you try to pull one over on him by poisoning him or just giving bad advice he will almost definitely know.

    Your first task: the dictator has a big speech coming up in 96 hours to help him cement support from his base (who thinks he is God incarnate). However, he has a bit of upper respiratory congestion that leads to occasional sniffling and coughing. Not wanting to appear mortal in front of the crowd, what advice do you give to him to guarantee at least two full hours of zero apparent sickness? Assume he is willing to otherwise become slightly more ill or prolong his illness — all that matters is those two hours.

      1. Sandpaper26

        96 hours is also enough time for it to get significantly worse. You’re going to take the chance he coughs enough to become hoarse in the meantime?

        1. Eternaltraveler

          Anything you would do to reduce symptoms 96 hours in advance would be more likely to make it worse than doing nothing. Just fluids and rest. Start worrying about hammering symptoms with steriods at 72 hours. Spike his glass of water (or horn of ale or whatever his type of god drinks) with menthol, honey, and lemon during the speech. I’d worry that any paralytic agents used to elimate the cough reflex would harm his ability to speak. But really if he needs to sound perfect and god-like, he really should be lip syncing a digitally enhanced speech anyway, so maybe paralyzing the vocal cords and glottis are a good idea.

    1. Eric Rall

      The morning of the speech, have him take a standard 12-hour time-release dose of expectorant and cough suppressant and a 12-24 hour dose of non-drowsy antihistimine (claritin, allegra, or similar).

      About an hour before the speech, have him take 5-10mg of adderall. Adderall is a decongestant (same mechanism of action as sudafed), and its more common therapeutic benefit as a stimulant should also counteract any minor-to-moderate fatigue he’s suffering from the cold.

    2. Elementaldex

      900 mg NAC as a mucus thinner and a reasonably strong dose of the stimulant of his preference both ~ 2 hours in advance. A warm honey/lemon drink, silence, and warm humid air for a few minutes before speaking to temporarily alleviate his cough.

      1. theredsheep

        My respiratory pharm text says that, in spite of its prevalence, NAC has not been shown to treat any lung disease. Is it useful for strictly upper respiratory crap? RTs on my FB group seem to agree that it mostly causes bronchospasm.

        1. Elementaldex

          NAC is more targeting symptoms than treating a disease in this case. We are not trying to make him well, just functional. And having thinner mucus makes it much easier to function with congestion.

      1. Sandpaper26

        Benevolent to everyone except disobedient medical advice slaves. Consider him a utility monster in this regard.

        1. Dacyn

          Of course, that only makes sense if you are a utilitarian. But I suppose the setup is really just an excuse to ask the medical problem.

    3. theredsheep

      As he is vicious and many meds for those symptoms are unreliable, the best course is to pass the buck. Consult with an army of nurses and respiratory therapists to dilute blame. With forty other doctors throwing advice at him, the outcome is effectively out of your hands.

    4. bzium

      Uh, Supreme Leader, have you tried turning yourself off and on again? I have no medical education whatsoever. Why is this even my job?

    5. meh

      afrin is quite effective but causes significant rebound and dependence ( non medical advice based on personal experience)

    6. valleyofthekings

      Record the speech in advance, just in case. Do multiple tries and edit them together into a speech with no sniffling or coughing. Put a great big screen behind the podium showing a picture of your face, Big Brother style. You’ll probably be fine four days from now, but if not, just walk up and stand there and play the prerecorded video.

      In the meantime, try asking an actual physician, surely with your billions of dollars you can afford a visit to urgent care.

      Sometimes I take Mucinex for congestion, you might try that.

    7. b_jonas

      Compare with the simlar question asked in a recent open thread: “https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/12/08/open-thread-142-5/#comment-827664”

  10. AG

    The folly of base 10 and metric was made so painfully clear to me this week. I bought an immersion blender to make hummus/tahini, and the mixing cup that came with it had fluid ounces marked on the side…in increments of five. “What the fuck is this shit,” indeed.

    This is folly.

    And for all of you making noises about “mL in increments of 100,” be silent. You are all actually still estimating the distance between the marks in halves and fourths, no matter, that you call them substitutions as 50s and 25s, and that your thirds are irrational is the clear proof of base 10’s inferiority.

    Make me the supreme leader of the world, and I will dump money into genetic engineering so that all humans henceforth will have 6 fingers and toes, all systems will be base 12, and we will no longer bother with nonsense primes above 3.

    1. woah77

      Cooking is one of the areas where I find the metric system horribly lacking and all defenders seem, to me, to be deluding themselves. While the imperial system with its dozen different units may be confusing, the precision and logic to it once grasped easily makes recipes work in orders of magnitude that I can easily relate to, no matter how large or small the meal is.

      1. DeWitt

        Wait, what? Which precision? Which logic? Where? How?

        I’m genuinely confused here – where exactly is the imperial system more precise in cooking than metric is?

        1. woah77

          1 Teaspoon is far easier to work with than, for example, 1.47 grams. Sure, 1.47 grams is a more precise measurement, but it’s far less attainable in the kitchen.

          Maybe precision is the wrong word, the metric quickly becomes numbers that are not easy to use, while Imperial does not succumb to that flaw.

          1. DeWitt

            Metric teaspoons exist, too. I have a bunch of stackable spoons for cookery exactly because I like measuring things precisely.

          2. Thomas Jorgensen

            … oh, for. one of those things is an extremely inexact measure of volume, the other is a lab-quality-scale measure of mass. Of course the first is easier. What is a teasponfull? The volume contained when you scrape off the excess with a knife to leave the spoon full with no overflow? The quantity you get when you scoop and let excess run off leaving a neat pile exactly not overflowing the spoon? One of these contains 3 times what the other does. And which it is depends on who wrote the damn recipie! What make of spoon?

            A proper metric equivalent would be a measure of centi-liters. Which admittedly I can only recall seeing in recipies from experimental / commercial kitchens, where people actually care about replicating a recipie exactly, most people not keeping a graduated cylinder on their kitchen counter, filthy casual cooks that they are. Though I do, in fact, have a stupidly exact scale in my kitchen. It helps with getting actually consistent results when baking.

          3. John Schilling

            1 Teaspoon is far easier to work with than, for example, 1.47 grams.

            But I don’t see why it would be any easier to work with than 5 milliliters (pronounced “em-el” or “see-see”, so the syllable count is even the same”).

            Apples to apples, please – if the imperial recipe calls for a volume measure rounded to the nearest whole measure, then the metric recipe will do the same. Grab the appropriate little measuring spoon and be done with it. Or try to explain why it is harder in the one case than the other.

          4. Nornagest

            What is a teasponfull? The volume contained when you scrape off the excess with a knife to leave the spoon full with no overflow? The quantity you get when you scoop and let excess run off

            The former, as any baker working in customary measurements will tell you. Unless it says “heaping teaspoon”, in which case it’s the latter, but you won’t find that in a recipe that needs precision for obvious reasons.

            This can still cause problems, because loose material like flour or baking soda can be compressed quite a bit, but that problem isn’t solved by switching to metric. You can solve it by weighing everything out — which is why professional-level baking recipes tend to list ingredients that way — but that takes time and means you need a kitchen scale.

            What make of spoon?

            Doesn’t matter, but it does need to be a measuring spoon, not just any spoon you grabbed out of your silverware drawer.

          5. baconbits9

            Teaspoon/Tablespoon is the worst example because they are the easiest to mix up. The benefit of the cup/pound/ounce system is fewer basic mistakes. You are much less likely to mishear/misread tablespoon for cup than you are milliliter/microliter or gram/kilogram and smaller numbers are easier to remember than larger.

          6. Lambert

            AMERICANS: Buy some bloody scales!
            This isn’t the Frontier.
            You didn’t build your house with your bare hands.
            You don’t need to measure dry ingredients by volume.

            Go to a shop and buy a set of digital scales. They cost very little and take up almost no space. They have a little button that switches between metric and avoirdupois masses. Precise to a few g.

            Measuring dry ingredients by volume just isn’t accurate enough for stuff like home baking.

            Also 1tsp=5cm^3,
            1tbsp=15cm^3

          7. Nornagest

            Strong disagree. As long as you’re measuring correctly, volumetric measures are more than enough for most things you’ll bake at home, and a lot faster than weighing stuff out. There’s no need to get all finicky about the ratios for cornbread, or pancakes, or pie crust, or most types of bread — though you need a decent eye for dough consistency for the last two. (Cake is admittedly an exception, but professional bakers often use prepackaged cake mix and so should you.)

            I’m saying this as someone that does own a kitchen scale and rarely uses it. Don’t pretend your recipe needs to be precise to the gram when it includes lines like “2 large eggs”.

          8. mitv150

            @Nornagest –

            Disagree with your strong disagree.

            If you’re not experienced in the kitchen, you’re not likely aware of which things require precise measurement and which don’t or whether/how to adjust if you’ve come up short or long on your imprecise measurement.

            Quick Example:
            A cup of flour can easily range between 120 and 150 grams. Quickly doing the math… if I’m baking bread from a recipe that intends 75% hydration using a 135 gram cup, and I go light or heavy, I may end up with hydration as low as 67% or as high as 84%. That’s a vast difference and way more than enough for the inexperienced cook to get results that are pretty far off from the intent.

          9. Randy M

            Go to a shop and buy a set of digital scales

            I’ve considered this many times, just always hung up on the fact that I’ve never once needed to measure that carefully in the kitchen.
            I mostly cook rather than bake, though.

          10. FrankistGeorgist

            @Nornagest

            Faster? How? You put the bowl on the scale and pour in ingredients until you see the number you want. With measuring cups there’s just an extra step of scooping in there. If you’re doing flour you have to do that scooping and scraping thing. With brown sugar you have to do that compression thing.

            Scales are faster, easier, and more precise. There’s no loss.

            Edit: Also large eggs are standardized.

          11. Nornagest

            Faster? How? You put the bowl on the scale and pour in ingredients until you see the number you want.

            Put a small bowl on the scale. Start it up, and wait for calibration. Pour. Adjust three or four times until you have the number you want. If you went over, scoop some out and adjust again. Transfer to the main bowl.

            vs.

            Scoop out of the bag. Level with fingers, the edge of the bag, or the back of a knife. Transfer to the main bowl.

            It’s not a big difference, but I can do the latter in a couple seconds, and the former might take me fifteen or twenty. More if the flour’s lumpy.

          12. FrankistGeorgist

            @Nornagest

            Interesting, so you don’t value high precision in baking, but you feel obligated to hit the number exactly when using a scale. I can understand the psychology behind that. For me scales are even better for imprecise baking, because I’m more comfortable pouring from the various and sundry bags/boxes/sachets which ingredients come in than scooping because I know when I’m in the general area – and again, less to cleanup.

            Edit: Also there’s no small bowl, you pour everything into the main bowl on the scale one after the other, taring the scale as you go.

          13. moonfirestorm

            Interesting, so you don’t value high precision in baking, but you feel obligated to hit the number exactly when using a scale.

            Unless you’re particularly good at eyeballing quantities of things, even getting to the approximate right measure is going to take two or three iterations. And your eyeballing will differ from material to material, since density varies.

            You’ll also have to do some mental math about what level of precision is acceptable. Using 2.4 grams instead of 2.5 might be ok, but doing .2 grams instead of .1 gram is probably not.

            With a spoon, you’re just judging how it looks, and that judgment is consistent across different sizes of spoon.

          14. Thomas Jorgensen

            large (but light!) steel bowl on weight, hit button for zero. Pour ingridients from bag, jar or carton until close, pour slower until close enough, which is defined as a percentage distance from target, either side, exact percentage error tolerated depending on personality. No back-scooping required, rezero between ingredients, bake on baking paper. tools dirtied: One steel bowl, extremely easy to clean, one set of whisks, ditto.

          15. Deiseach

            What is a teasponfull? The volume contained when you scrape off the excess with a knife to leave the spoon full with no overflow? The quantity you get when you scoop and let excess run off leaving a neat pile exactly not overflowing the spoon?

            The first is a level teaspoonful, and whoever writes the recipe should indicate that. If it’s one of those foodie blog recipes, then nobody should ever try cooking them as they’re more about lifestyle imagery than actual production of edible meals 🙂

          16. AG

            Recipes done by mass are by no means actually more precise. I did a steamed buns recipe with a digital scale…and had to add about twice as much water as the recipe called for. If I have to end up improvising and judging by feel, then there’s no point, we’re right back to the ol’ folk “handfuls/pinch/what feels right” wisdom, then metric is still yet proven inferior.

            (The worst, of course, is when a recipe gives you a mix. Some ingredients by mass, some by volume, and some by discrete quantities.)

          17. baconbits9

            large (but light!) steel bowl on weight, hit button for zero. Pour ingridients from bag, jar or carton until close, pour slower until close enough, which is defined as a percentage distance from target, either side, exact percentage error tolerated depending on personality. No back-scooping required, rezero between ingredients, bake on baking paper. tools dirtied: One steel bowl, extremely easy to clean, one set of whisks, ditto.

            Two major flaws here:

            1. Any ingredient that has to be incorporated at a rate and manner other than just putting it on top of other ingredients.

            2. You are limited to ingredients that are poor-able, in quantities that are poor-able. I’m either paying more for my flour or transferring from a 25 or 50 lb bag into a container that is seal-able and I can poor from which reduces the time saved on clean up dramatically.

            Additionally: dead batteries will basically ruin your baking plans.

          18. SamChevre

            I love my kitchen scale – mostly because scaling up or down is so much easier. Also, I don’t have to keep count–and since I get distracted fairly frequently, that’s important. (To note–I tend to cook in fairly large quantities from time to time – I have recipes that take 8 pounds of flour.)

      2. Eric Rall

        I’m generally a big partisan for US Conventional units, but metric does have a slight advantage in cooking if you’re primarily measuring by weight. That advantage is mostly an artifact of how digital scales are designed, but it’s still there: most mid-range digital kitchen scales give a precision of 1 g in metric mode, or 0.1 oz (about 2.8 g) in conventional mode.

        This is a design artifact since it could be avoided or reversed by designing the scales to a slightly higher precision that came out even in conventional units, or even by adding another decimal place to the conventional display.

        It also only matters if you’re measuring small precise quantities of key ingredients by weight. For ingredients that you’re using in quantities of cups or pounds or kilos or large fractions thereof (e.g. flour and sugar in baking recipes), 0.1 oz is plenty precise. And flour is by far the most important thing to measure by weight rather than volume: other ingredients are much better behaved in terms of how predictably they pack down.

        1. Lambert

          US customary units also have the flaw that a pint is 16 floz, as opposed to 20 in the Imperial system.

          1. Eric Rall

            I’d say the bigger flaw there is that a fluid ounce is defined slightly wrong in US Customary units, being about 4% too big for a fluid ounce of water at standard temperature and pressure to weigh exactly a [weight] ounce. The Imperial fluid ounce is defined correctly. If the US fluid ounce had been defined the same as the Imperial fluid ounce, then a US pint of water would conveniently weigh 1 pounds (as compared to a 20 oz imperial pint, which weights 1 lb, 4 oz). As things stand, “a pint is a pound, the world round” is a well-known and useful approximation, but it’s deeply misleading in that it’s off by 4% for a US pint and by 25% for an Imperial pint.

          2. Fitzroy

            “a pint is a pound, the world round” is a well-known and useful approximation, but it’s deeply misleading in that it’s off by 4% for a US pint and by 25% for an Imperial pint.

            As a child I learned “a pint of pure water is a pound and a quarter”, which is accurate for Imperial measures.

    2. johan_larson

      Just a minute now. You have an application where wholes of whatever you are measuring are too big, and halves are too big, but fifths and tenths are too small, so only thirds are just right? That sounds like a very special Goldilocks situation.

      1. Enkidum

        Speaking as a general metric evangelist, I find construction much easier to handle using imperial measurements. The ability to easily take halves of halves of halves is the critical thing. Of course it’s also what I’ve worked with my whole life, and clearly Europeans build stuff.

        1. johan_larson

          I will admit the ounce and the inch are very convenient measures on a human scale. A one-inch bar is just right for holding and ounces are just right for measuring drinkable amounts of liquid from the strongest to the weakest.

          I’m not particularly attached to pounds, yards, miles, or stones.

          1. Enkidum

            I’m thinking specifically of inches and feet, for measuring bits of wood and drywall. Vastly easier, for me at least, than anything metric.

            Like most Canadians, I use imperial for most measurements of personal qualities (weight, height, etc), but this is purely habit.

          2. johan_larson

            I have to wonder how much of that convenience in construction comes from having imperial-sized lumber.

          3. SamChevre

            It’s not (in my opinion) that lumber is available in Imperial sizes, but that 2 meters is too low for a ceiling, and 3 meters on the high side.

          4. Another Throw

            It’s not (in my opinion) that lumber is available in Imperial sizes, but that 2 meters is too low for a ceiling, and 3 meters on the high side.

            That depends what you’re doing. If you expect to heat and cool the internal space with an air handling system that requires heating/cooling the entire volume of air you want to aim for “lowish but not claustrophobic” ceiling heights. If you intend to, say, passively-ish cool and use a radiant heat source or basically not heat at all, having tall ceilings to keep the hot air away from the inhabitants while you drive passive-ish convection cycles (perhaps with floor-to-ceiling windows that can be opened at both the top and bottom) (or open the door to the root cellar on the windward side, and the top of the windows on the leeward side of the house and use a geothermal heat sink) (or one of the systems used by people living in moderately warm rather than just temperate climates) starts to look more appealing. There is a reason that a lot of pre-airconditioning construction, even pretty down market construction, had taller than modern standard ceilings.

          5. johan_larson

            Well, if we had to have a metric unit for measuring dwellings, there is always the decimetre (0.1 m, 10 cm). A decent-sized room might be 40 by 50 dm, and 22 dm tall.

            But no one uses decimetres. mm, cm, m, km are the metric units of length in common use.

      2. AG

        It’s more that the majority of people can eyeball halves and thirds. They cannot eyeball fifths. So if I need any quantity in between two markings on a container, much better for those markings to be of intervals I can eyeball.

        My blender cup has marked fluid ounces in 5, 10, 15, 20. If I want to put a cup in there, 16 fluid ounces, now I have to either pour it secondhand from another measuring device with the proper 1 cup marking, or eyeball one fifth above 15. Gross.

    3. AlexOfUrals

      Speaking of the inferior system. Why don’t its users use yards more often, and in fact barely use them at all? When speaking about altitudes or distances, feet are clearly too small, and it also would’ve made it easier for the sane majority (since 1 yard ~ 1 meter).

      (PS I can see the argument behind using the 12 based system, and if we were using it than the imperial system would’ve made more sense. But having the entire world change the base for their numbers is clearly not an option, and having different bases for your numbers and measurement units is insanity)

      1. Eric Rall

        Why don’t its users use yards more often, and in fact barely use them at all?

        At least here in the US, yards are widely used in landscaping, sports (especially golf, sprinting, and American football), and sewing.

        When speaking about altitudes or distances, feet are clearly too small

        Feet have the benefit of being about the right size for at least the major digits of personal-scale heights and lengths, for applications like adult human height measurement, interior decorating, carpentry, etc. Feet also have a handy, familiar base-12 sub-increment (inches) for when more precision is required. Yards do get used for rough measurements in many of these domains (especially for room measurements), but for precise measurements they’re lacking because either using three units for the same domain or using up to 36 inches for the subunit is more trouble than the yards are worth.

        Yards are avoided for carpentry and construction in particular because the standard residential ceiling height in the US (8 feet, or just over 240 cm for those of you who prefer letting Robespierre tell you how to measure things) doesn’t come out even in yards, and because many construction materials in the US are commonly manufactured to multiples of 4 feet (e.g. framing lumber comes in 8 ft or 12 ft lengths, and sheet goods (plywood and drywall) come in 8 ft by 4 ft pieces) instead of three. Wall studs are also commonly spaced at intervals that come out even over a four-foot width (16 or 24 inches, or 1/3 and 1/2 of 4 feet, respectively) but not over a 3-foot width; this last though is a secondary lock-in factor, since if the materials were manufactured to 3 foot increments instead of 4, then the standard spacing would probably be 18 inches.

        For applications like aviation, which is what I’m guessing you’re thinking of when you say “altitudes”, the standard practice when using conventional units is to pick one unit and stick with it across a wide range of subdomains in the application so you avoid conversions entirely. The base unit is usually either nautical miles (which have direct geographical usefulness for navigation, being defined as one minute of arc along a great circle of the Earth’s surface) or thousands of feet (which is only about 1% off from being 10 seconds of arc or 1/6 of a nautical mile).

        having different bases for your numbers and measurement units is insanity

        Standard derived metric units with SI prefixes are not really separate units in the same way conventional units are. SI prefixes are just a shorthand alternative to using scientific notation to keep track of order of magnitude when dealing with sizes that are much too large or small relative to your base unit without such a shorthand.

        Conventional/Imperial units are sized for different domains, and the usual done thing is to pick one or two units for any given task and stick with them. You can do the SI prefix thing (or explicit scientific notation, or decimals) with any base unit, not just the metric units.

        And sometimes you really, really want a different base unit, which is why even people who use metric will sometimes use AU, light-years, and parsecs instead of megameters and petameters. Likewise ergs and calories instead of various adjustments on joules.

        1. AlexOfUrals

          landscaping, sports (especially golf, sprinting, and American football), and sewing

          Oh well that explains why I never see thwm, I live in the US but have nothing to do withe either of those.

          For rooms, I kind of see the case why feet are more convenient – they allow you to almost never go down to inches and keep with a single unit throughout, while yards/meters would be to coarse for that. Although it means for square area you always operate in at least hundreds, and often in thousands if talking about an entire house.

          But I was mostly asking for the cases where you never care about a foot or two of difference. Flight altitudes is one case, yes, and also elevation above the sea level on ground. Another case is distances – Google maps keeps telling me to make a turn after 350 or 800 feet – it’s no like it’s getting any precision from using feet over yards (of course I could switch it to metric, but I prefer to have the map and speedometer to be consistent with the road signs). And depths when diving/speaking about marine life.

          thousands of feet (which is only about 1% off from being 10 seconds of arc or 1/6 of a nautical mile)

          That means that 1000 yards is half of a second/nautical mile, which sounds even more convenient to me.

          Conventional/Imperial units are sized for different domains, and the usual done thing is to pick one or two units for any given task and stick with them. You can do the SI prefix thing (or explicit scientific notation, or decimals) with any base unit, not just the metric units.

          SI not-really-units being 1-3 orders of magnitude apart, you usually also use one or two for any specific domain, so I don’t really see any practical difference here, except for ease of calculations for metric. You can technically do the prefix thing on the imperial units, but none will understand you, yourself included in the sense that you won’t have an intuitive feeling of how much say 0.001 ft is.

          And sometimes you really, really want a different base unit

          Light year is unique in that it’s directly related to the travel time at the speed of light and also piggybacks on the existing system of time measurements with which people have intuitive familiarity. If not for that, I don’t think people would have had particular troubles getting used to peta- and terameteres, just like they’re used to terabytes and nanometers. AU is very close to 150 million meters, otherwise I would’ve bitten the bullet and say that its bad (parsec certainly is). That actually points to another deficiency of the imperial system. What do you do with it at very large or very small scales? You’re 12-based up to a point and than all of a sudden you’re 10-based?

          (Removed the last question as it’s already discussed below)

          1. Eric Rall

            Another case is distances – Google maps keeps telling me to make a turn after 350 or 800 feet – it’s no like it’s getting any precision from using feet over yards (of course I could switch it to metric, but I prefer to have the map and speedometer to be consistent with the road signs). And depths when diving/speaking about marine life.

            I agree that both of these would probably be better as yards. Depth used to measured in fathoms (the length of rope a typical sailor could haul up in a single hand-over-hand pull when taking soundings, which was later standardized to 1 fathom = 2 yards), but fathoms are one of the specialized conventional units that has fallen into disuse. I’m not sure why fathoms got replaced by feet instead of yards; maybe @bean knows?

            You can technically do the prefix thing on the imperial units, but none will understand you, yourself included in the sense that you won’t have an intuitive feeling of how much say 0.001 ft is.

            Sure I do, about 12x the thickness of a kitchen trash bag or 2x the thickness of heavy-duty moisture-barrier plastic sheeting. Plastic bags and sheets in the US are usually specified in milli-inches (referred to as “mils”). A basic disposable plastic shopping bag is about 0.5 mils, a kitchen trash bag is usually about 1 mil, and yard waste trash bags and plastic sheeting are available in thicknesses up to around 6 mils.

            Similarly, there are SI-like prefixed conventional units in use in several domains. Submarines use kiloyards for torpedo targeting distances. Telephone transmission lines are measured in kilofeet. And structural/civil engineers use kilopounds in load calculations.

            That actually points to another deficiency of the imperial system. What do you do with it at very large or very small scales? You’re 12-based up to a point and than all of a sudden you’re 10-based?

            Customary measurements are nowhere near being systematically base twelve. Metric was defined top-down based on powers of ten, while Customary measures were a bottom-up system of a plethora of local and domain-specific measures gradually getting standardized relative to one another. Many, but not all, of the conversion factors are multiples of 2 or 3, which is probably where you’re getting the base 12 idea from.

            For very large measurements, we use a lot of the same non-meter-based units that we just discussed SI folks using: light years, parsecs, AU, solar masses, etc. For very small, there are older domain-specific specialized units that still get trotted out from time to time (e.g. grains, minims, scruples, and drams), or we use decimal fractions of existing units (e.g. the aforementioned “mils” for very small distances/thicknesses).

          2. AlexOfUrals

            Sure I do

            Ok, my apologies then, I’ve never heard of any of those (well actually now that you said that I kind of think I can remember seeing thickness of something given in inches, but it didn’t register then). Overall, it sounds to me as if people are reinventing the [key idea behind] metric system, only using rather arbitrary bases instead, different between domains.

            Customary measurements are nowhere near being systematically base twelve.

            The number comes from the original post. But now I’ve checked and you’re right it’s way worse than that, especially in the volume department. And the volume doesn’t even really match length measurements, unless you call 231 sq inches in gallon a match. Which makes the imperial system all the more nonsensical.

            For very large measurements, we use a lot of the same non-meter-based units that we just discussed SI folks using: light years, parsecs, AU, solar masses, etc.

            For what it’s worth, I was using almost exclusively meters/kilograms with decimal powers throughout my school and university physics courses, and still am now when I become curious about some random stuff. Exceptions being light years, atomic unit mass, and electronvolt (for similar reasons – they are tied to something important in the domain area, rather than just large/small enough).

          3. CatCube

            @AlexOfUrals

            Well, they are using rather arbitrary bases, but that’s because each system was invented to solve a particular problem at a particular time, and only rationalized to work together later.

            You note 231 in³ per gallon–but the gallon is also 128 fluid ounces (fl oz), or 4 quarts of 32 fl oz each, with each quart consisting of 2 pints of 16 fl oz, and each pint is 2 cups of 8 fl oz. Note that all of these are powers of two.

            Twelve might be one base, but even more important are dyadic fractions, that is, with a denominator that is a power of two. Dividing something into 10 equal pieces is a pain in the ass; dividing it into half repeatedly is simple. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be a power of two, but a lot of stuff in the US Customary System can be divided into two a fair number of times before you need to cut a unit into fractional pieces.

            You can see this in the mile: a mile as used in the US is 80 chains. The chain is an obsolete unit that (IIRC) basically is a measuring instrument 22 yards long that somebody was manufacturing in bulk, and they basically rounded the mile to an even 80 of these. Why 80? because it was really close to the pre-existing mile used by the Romans, and 80 can be divided into halves 4 times (or 16ths) before you start running into fractional chains. 80 chains × 22 yards/chain × 3 ft/yard = 5280 feet. There were also furlongs, which were an 8th of a mile, or 220 yards (10 chains); these are no longer commonly used, but the fact that they originally felt it necessary to give a specific name to an 8th should let you know what they were shooting for here.

            Similarly, an acre is a measure of land that is 1 rod by 10 rods, a rod being a quarter chain (again, dyadic), or 66 ft by 660 ft, or 43,560 ft². Why this odd definition? Because an acre was originally used to lay out farms when they were using draft animals, and having a land area that’s long and thin makes more sense for that, so you have long runs for the plow and minimize turning the animal and the plow. This wasn’t too precise, and they made it a round number of rods.

            That definition, though, means that there are 640 acres per square mile. Again, 640 isn’t a power of two, but you can divide it in half a bunch of times. So the entire US after about 1790 was divided up into survey townships 6 miles on a side, each township was divided into 36 sections a mile on each side, and the land sold in dyadic fractions thereof.

            This means that you can divide a survey section (square mile) into quarters (160 acres), halves of quarters (80 acres), quarters of quarters (40 acres), and halves of quarters of quarters (20 acres), or quarters of quarters of quarters (10 acres). You don’t usually use the “of” in there; I only put it in for clarity. You’d call a 40-acre parcel a “quarter-quarter section”. These would be deeded basically by calling out the section using a very compressed string. For the 40 acre example, you could use: NW ¼ SW ¼ S 17 T 15 S R 8 E WM. The PLSS article linked above describes how reading this works, but this uniquely identifies a particular quarter-quarter section in the entire US, by working off of a defined zero point–there were many across the US, and this one is the Willamette Meridian (WM).

            I don’t know the gallon that well, but it probably has a very similar story. So to cycle back, why 231 in³ per gallon? Because these two measures were independently invented, then correlated once measurement became precise enough to require this. At the time they were defined to each other, most measurements (in terms of the number of measurements occurring in a country, say, weights of wheat) weren’t precise and changing the gallon by a couple percent wouldn’t matter, so rounding to the nearest cubic inch was fine, but trying to change it by 13% to make it an even 200 was too far, much less trying to make these related by even powers of 10.

            The dyadic fraction rules extend into construction measurements, by the way. You give dimensions in the building trades in feet, inches, and dyadic fractions of an inch. For example, on a drawing you’d put 10′-8⅝” (read 10 feet 8 and five-eighths inches). It would be pretty weird to put 10′ 8.625″, since tape measures are marked in 16ths, eighths, quarters, and halves, and outright incorrect to put, say, 10′ 8.552″ (non-dyadic fraction that you can’t even measure on a standard ruler).

            Machinery *does* use decimal inches, but that’s a stylistic variant between fields, and they need to use precision down to the thousandth or ten-thousandth of an inch for machinery to function. Buildings, meanwhile, typically don’t have measurements much tighter than an eighth of an inch, and we typically don’t specify dimensions more precisely than that in structural or architectural practice.

          4. bean

            I’m not sure why fathoms got replaced by feet instead of yards; maybe @bean knows?

            Sorry, but I have no idea. Yards are still pretty common at sea, so it’s not even that.

          5. Byrel Mitchell

            Machinists in the US use several units of measurements:
            “Thousandths” are 0.001 inches.
            “Tenths” are 0.0001 inches. (Obviously short for ‘tenth-thousandths’, but abbreviated because there’s no ambiguity; they never deal in units of 0.1 inches.)

            Anything larger than that is usually given fractionally, and all the machinists I’ve worked with can do decimal conversions on the fly down to 1/64ths (which is 0.015625 inches, and usually approximated as 15 thousandths unless precision is really important.)

            In the cases where you’re dealing with a relatively large size that you actually need precision for, but isn’t a clean fraction, they usually measure it in inches and thousandths. So a 1.267 diameter bore would be read off as ‘one and two hundred sixty-seven’ or ‘inch and two hundred sixty-seven.’

            I don’t know exactly why these are the norms, but I’m guessing it’s because it keeps them from almost EVER having to deal with a decimal point. Large numbers are a diad of number of inches and number of thousandths (and precision on a dimension that’s over an inch rarely requires dropping below thousandths.) Small numbers are either integers of large-fractions of thousandths/tenths. (Even if you have a really tight tolerance of +/- 0.00005, that would be described as ‘half a tenth’.) I suspect that people simply work better with integers, and this is a field-specific bottom-up unit set that lets them do it.

          6. woah77

            Electrical Engineers also use mils (which are thousandsth of an inch) for PCB layout, and it is my understanding this carries over even to metric countries. Something about the size of a mil is extremely convenient for PCB layout, so everyone uses it. This possibly is because America was the origin of much of semiconductor production and standards, but I’m not certain. It’s one of the times where, even as an engineer, metric results in using more awkward numbers than Imperial. And generally nobody cares, because when was the last time you cared about the actual distance between things on your circuit board?

          7. Lambert

            ‘Thou’ on the other side of the pond.
            I’m only aware of one place that uses them here still. But they used to be quite common.

            If you roll your own, the paper is about 0.005″ thick. Or so I hear.

      2. AlphaGamma

        Speaking of the inferior system. Why don’t its users use yards more often, and in fact barely use them at all?

        British road signs use yards for distances significantly smaller than a mile but larger than a few tens of feet. Feet and inches are only used for height and width restrictions AFAIK- both of which, unlike other distances, are also listed in metres for the benefit of drivers visiting from other countries.

        (Ford depth indicators are sometimes only in feet, but of course you only see these on very small roads.)

        Meanwhile, British railways use chains for distances smaller than a mile…

    4. bullseye

      Even three is too big a prime for my taste. We should use base eight. As a major added benefit, the corresponding genetic engineering will make cartoons more realistic.

          1. meh

            @Dacyn

            1. I admit I am a bit confused. So why is prime factors of the base an interesting question?

            2. I don’t see any reference to the base of the number system in the article on ‘Smooth Numbers’. 8-smooth, 10-smooth, and 12-smooth are the same regardless of the base. (as opposed to say https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_number where the base is important)

          2. Dacyn

            @meh:
            1. In the context of this thread, it is just so you will get smaller ratios when you want to compare things. For example you could take 1in, 2in, 4in, 12in=1ft, and the ratios between these lengths are all 2 or 3. Whereas 5280 has 11 as a prime factor, so there’s no progression from feet to miles that doesn’t have a gap where the ratio is at least 11.

            2. My mistake, I just meant that asking how big the prime factors of a number are is something that is studied in number theory.

    5. TripleS

      Finally, someone besides me who understands. But we don’t need gengineering to make it work. We just need to train people to count their phalanges with their thumb as pointer. Using your non-dominant hand as a twelves place lets you get all the way up to 156 before you run out of room, and that’s more than enough numbers for anything you would be counting by hand.

      1. AG

        I know one musician who apparently counted measures of rest on his knuckles (not including the thumb), so it was twelve per hand. Wasn’t quite tactile enough for me, I’d lose track sometimes, but it is a system that apparently works for others.

    6. Another Throw

      The metric system’s “one unit to rule them all” design results in lots of awkward sized units at a practical level, and the supposed advantage of “but I can convert between mm and Mm by just counting zeros!” is almost entirely illusory when you realize that the number of people in the history of the universe that have actually needed to know the number of inches in a mile is exactly equal to the number of people that have needed to know the number of dL in a cubic parsec.

      And don’t even get me started on the supposed advantages of Celsius.

      1. Nick

        At some point, maybe my sophomore or junior year of college*, the unconventional wisdom according to which Fahrenheit is so illogical and Celsius is just a band-aid and everyone should be using Kelvin gave way to the argument that Fahrenheit is better scaled for human-friendly temperatures.

        I’ve been patiently waiting for the unconventional wisdom to flip on the rest of the units.

        *my barometer for this was a slightly obnoxious roommate

        1. Another Throw

          Whether you use the freezing and boiling point of water, or the freezing points of water and brine as your calibration points is to a large extent arbitrary. Being able to use a well established human hyper-acuity to mark your thermometer after finding the calibration points had very clear advantages, historically. The fact that the boiling point of water ends up being a weird number isn’t a disadvantage worth switching over. You either just add heat until it boils because you don’t give a shit what the temperature is, or you do care about what the temperature is but need to get out the phase diagram anyway because it will never be pure water at standard pressure.

          Once you get out the phase diagram, you might as well calibrate your scale between absolute zero and at the triple point of Uranium hexafluoride for all it matters. It might be really damn inconvenient for the weather, though.

        2. Paul Zrimsek

          All the graphs in the next IPCC assessment should be drawn by a collaboration between pedants who insist that everyone should be using Kelvin and pedants who insist that Y-axes must start at zero.

        3. Lambert

          Galaxy brain: Set Bolzmann’s constant to one.

          In an ideal gas, you measure temperature in joules.

          (Obnoxious barometers? Don’t get me started on torr and Psi.)

        4. Eric Rall

          I’m fond of the oversimplified explanation that Celsius describes temperatures in terms of how hot or cold water feels, Fahrenheit in terms of how hot or cold humans feel, and Kelvins and Rankines in terms of how hot or cold atoms feel.

        5. Machine Interface

          As someone who was raised using celcius, I don’t get the argument than Fahrenheit is somehow more adapted to human scale. I have integrated that -5°C is cold and 30°C is hot, it’s no more arbitrary than saying 0°F is cold and 100°F is hot.

          1. acymetric

            I think the finer granularity of Fahrenheit is more adapted to the human scale. Either works fine when you have the reference points (lived experience) for what a given number means.

      2. AlexOfUrals

        number of people in the history of the universe that have actually needed to know the number of inches in a mile

        How about the number of people who needed to know the number of feet in a mile?

        And don’t even get me started on the supposed advantages of Celsius.

        Since you asked
        1) How do I know in Fahrenheits whether the dirt outside is going to be liquid or frozen this morning?
        2) What interesting happens at -17.(7) Celcius?
        3) What are those advantages? Nick mentioned “being better scaled for human friendly temperatures”, but I can’t see how 20-30 is worse than 65-85 or +/-40 is worse than -40/+100.

        1. Another Throw

          How about the number of people who needed to know the number of feet in a mile?

          Approximately equal to the number of people that need to know a “femto” is ten to the negative what. If you drew the short straw and you need to know that regularly, you’ll remember. For everyone else taking a middle school math test, use Google.

          1) How do I know in Fahrenheits whether the dirt outside is going to be liquid or frozen this morning?

          Since answering that question relies on such details as the temperature history, the soil composition, (ETA: and the type of salt your municipality has plentiful access to) and the expected solar radiance… if you have a good answer I would love to hear it.

          2) What interesting happens at -17.(7) Celcius?

          It is the freezing point of a specific brine solution (IIRC, a saturated solution of two different types of salt) whose only real significance is that it is a repeatable calibration point. (ETA: And also that this calibration point was below the freezing point of ocean water so that the range of the scale included all the important meteorological phenomenon. Ocean water itself can’t be used as a calibration point because it varies drastically in composition.) Where are we going with this?

          3) What are those advantages? Nick mentioned “being better scaled for human friendly temperatures”, but I can’t see how 20-30 is worse than 65-85 or +/-40 is worse than -40/+100.

          I assume Nick was referring to the fact that for a lot of people that difference between “too hot/cold” and “perfect” is very close to 1F. To get the same kind of resolution with C you need to use half degrees (being close enough to 5/9’th degrees for practical purposes ;).

          1. AlexOfUrals

            Hm I assumed that pretty much anyone estimating how much say 0.2 miles is would convert it to feet and go from there. At least that’s what I do with meters and kilometers. Apparently that’s not a universal experience, but I’m sure I’m not unique in this either. Another case is converting steps (e.g. from a smartwatch) into a distance passed or vise versa. Yet another case is when a value is large but precise. Say Mount Everest is 29029 feet high. Are you saying that someone native to imperial units upon hearing this will genuinely have no idea how much is it in miles? It would explain that national geographic “it’s oh-so-many Empire State Buildings put one on top of another” thing.

            (1) Precisely, yes. Roughly I just compare the temperature with zero, it usually worked (in the town where I grown up anyway. Probably had something to do with the municipality being too short on money->salt for it to matter though).

            (2) Yes, we’re going to the point where the Fahrenheit system doesn’t carve reality at its natural boundaries. It makes it seem like things behave differently below zero, but in fact they don’t. It also applies to Celcius on a global scale – that’s one of the reasons why physicists don’t use – but in everyday life the difference is obvious. You get snow vs rain, ice vs puddles, etc. Try swapping contents of your freezer and fridge and you’ll see what I mean. Of course it’s a minor problem which makes reasoning about things only a tiny bit more difficult and confused, but as far as I can tell that small price is paid for exactly zero advantages.

            (3) Whaaat? I would never tell a 1F difference even if my life depended on it. In fact I almost listed too high resolution as one of the disadvantages. Apparently it’s different for you, but that’s exactly the reason why it’s a bad idea to base a measurements system on human experiences – they’re different.

          2. The Nybbler

            At one time “5280 feet to a mile” was one of the facts drilled into schoolchildren’s heads. May still be. The other conversion, which all jocks probably know, is 440 yards to a quarter mile.

          3. Another Throw

            Hm I assumed that pretty much anyone estimating how much say 0.2 miles is would convert it to feet and go from there….

            No, not really. I have a pretty good feel for what a mile is, both on foot and in the car, so knowing how many feet 0.2 miles is wouldn’t improve anything. Estimating one fifth of something (even though fifths are pretty awkward to eyeball accurately) is a lot easier than estimating a thousand (and 56) or something. Even if I have a much better feel for how big a foot is than how big a mile is, the progressive error swamps the difference in accuracy of the base unit. (And conveniently I have a really good feel for how a quarter mile track feels, so 0.2 miles is “exactly the point you regret your new years resolution.”)

            In order to convert steps into distance you need to know your actual pace length. A standard drill step is, IIRC, 30 inches so you might be able to just use that, but the usual method is to traverse a course of known distance while counting your paces (probably 110 yards/100 meters, which you can conveniently use for both miles and kilometers) and use that. If more accuracy is needed you may take both a flat and rough terrain pace count.

            I personally consider the height of Mount Everest or the Statue of Liberty or whatever little more than middle school math problems. But assuming I actually cared (to win internet points, for example) I would just eyeball it: it is pretty close to 30000 feet, and a mile is 5000-something feet, so it is less than 6 miles, so eyeballing the size of the fudge factors 5.5 miles is probably close enough (which turns out to be pretty damn close). It is also worth noting that 30000 feet is kind of the default answer to “how high does an airliner fly” so depending on your level of interest you might just stop there.

            My point is, while it may have been drilled into my head in school, I have never used it. Much like the femto prefix was drilled into my head in school and I have only seen it once since, and I didn’t care enough to try remembering the exact magnitude of “ten to the negative a lot power.”

          4. Another Throw

            Yes, we’re going to the point where the Fahrenheit system doesn’t carve reality at its natural boundaries.

            But it does cleave reality at a joint. You just disagree about how important that joint is. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never actually needed to know the freezing point of water. Or more poignantly, I’m not sure I even correctly remember the boiling point. (Insert shocked Pikachu face.)

            When setting the temperature in my freezer, its not ice that I care about, it is ice cream. When looking at the weather forecast, I don’t care about ice, I care about road condition and whether today is going to be a day that I tell myself (again) that I should buy a real winter coat. And the road condition is overwhelmingly about active precipitation, with a dash of whatever the municipality is using for salt. The latter of these, conveniently, is close enough to 0F that it is a useful indicator that tonight is a bad night to go out on a booty call. When cooking I don’t care what the freezing point, I care about the smoke point of a half a dozen cooking oils (as measured by my IR thermometer, which due to emissivity, isn’t necessarily the number in the book). When boiling water, I don’t care what the boiling point is, I just keep adding heat until it does. When doing chemistry I don’t care about water, I care about CO2’s phase diagram. When fooling around with my forge I don’t care about the freezing point, I care about… well, hell, I don’t actually care what the temperatures are I just know what they look like.

            For everything I care about, I need to remember temperatures, and none of them are “0” in any system. Switching is a hell of a damn inconvenience for no benefit. “Cleaving reality at a natural joint” sounds really great philosophically, but I have a girlfriend and things to get done. The only joint you can make even make a halfway argument that switching is worth the hassle for would be absolute zero, but that make all the numbers I care about inconveniently large. So no.

          5. Enkidum

            To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never actually needed to know the freezing point of water.

            I’m going to assume you don’t live in an area which has a lot of freeze/thaw cycles, because freezing water is critical for all sorts of life-relevant factors, including road quality, the kind of footwear you need, etc etc etc. Literally the only other common aspect of the weather that seems as important is whether or not it’s raining. And if it’s raining but below 0, or about to go below 0, this is a fundamentally different, and vastly more dangerous, situation than if it’s raining and will stay above 0. Etc etc.

          6. acymetric

            @Enkidum

            What footwear changes do you make if the temperature is 33 vs. 31 degrees?

            You don’t need to know the freezing point for road conditions, you can ballpark it. In the 20s, roads will probably freeze. Roads will rarely freeze at 30-32 degrees. Whether it is 31 or 33 degrees doesn’t matter a whole lot for precipitation (you can get frozen precipitation in the 30’s and even low 40s, you can get regular rain in the high 20s).

          7. Another Throw

            I’m going to assume you don’t live in an area which has a lot of freeze/thaw cycles,

            No, I definitely do. I don’t know, I guess if you live somewhere where a dusting of snow causes a state of emergency, I guess you have a point. Otherwise, road condition is a factor of the type and intensity of any active precipitation, and the freezing point of a salt solution.

            I stand by my claim.

          8. Enkidum

            What footwear changes do you make if the temperature is 33 vs. 31 degrees?

            You don’t need to know the freezing point for road conditions, you can ballpark it. In the 20s, roads will probably freeze. Roads will rarely freeze at 30-32 degrees. Whether it is 31 or 33 degrees doesn’t matter a whole lot for precipitation (you can get frozen precipitation in the 30’s and even low 40s, you can get regular rain in the high 20s).

            This is all essentially meaningless to me, I have no idea what Fahrenheit measurements translate to in real degrees (though I can infer from the numbers you give).

            All I was disputing was the notion that the freezing point of water is not important. Yes, you can ballpark it (I’m assuming the ranges you give correspond to roughly -2 to +2), but the only reason you’d do so is because it (with a certain degree of precision) matters to your daily life.

          9. John Schilling

            I stand by my claim.

            I throw iceballs at you if you stand anywhere near that claim, and dismiss your complaints by noting that if those iceballs were salted they would be harmless slush.

            There are many people who have legitimate cause to be concerned about frost, snow and ice, not to be trivially dismissed as “dusting”, whose concerns are not automagically alleviated by the local government salting the roads.

          10. Enkidum

            There are many people who have legitimate cause to be concerned about frost, snow and ice, not to be trivially dismissed as “dusting”, whose concerns are not automagically alleviated by the local government salting the roads.

            Yeah, speaking as someone who semi-regularly has to deal with freezing rain and ice storms, I care about whether things are frozen, and if there’s any kind of heavy precipitation, the amount of salt on the road is irrelevant, as it will very quickly dissolve and run off. Also, you know, things other than roads are important.

            Anyways, I really don’t wish this to be contentious, you are all welcome to continue in your charming antiquarian ways, and when I visit your little country I will continue to make mental translations into the true measurements of the universe.

          11. acymetric

            Fine, but that’s no argument for or against. 20C is entirely meaningless to me, but that just means I don’t have any familiarity, it isn’t an argument against Celsius. My point is that the freezing point of water being a nice round number easy to remember is essentially useless in everyday life because you almost never actually need to know it, which makes it a bad argument in favor of Celsius.

          12. Enkidum

            Unless you live in an area with frequent freeze/thaw cycles, in which case freezing does matter (with some fuzz about the necessary degree of precision) as we’ve just been discussing.

          13. acymetric

            Freezing absolutely matters. Knowing the exact temperature at which water freezes usually does not, in most day to day practical life.

            I also doubt many people in the US have any trouble at all remembering the exact freezing temp, regardless.

          14. Machine Interface

            For the anecdote, some of the teas I drink require the leaves to infuse at 95°C. Conveniently, this is basically the temperature of water that was boiling and removed from the stove just a few seconds ago, so I don’t actually need to check.

          15. Secretly French

            Look at you nerds quibbling about a single degree; my life-hack is that when I listen to the local weather, they just tell me how likely it is that there will be frost. The exact number is their problem, not mine. God bless meteorology.

    7. Deiseach

      I bought an immersion blender to make hummus/tahini, and the mixing cup that came with it had fluid ounces marked on the side…in increments of five.

      Instead of genetically engineering polydactyly, can’t you just buy a measuring jug that has both systems of units: one in the decimal increments for the millilitres, and one with the quarters for the Imperial measure? Seems to me that would be cheaper and quicker!

      1. AG

        I have a normal measuring cup with both systems, but it may not be efficient for immersion blender use.

      1. Nornagest

        Honestly, a base-12 system that was actually base 12, and had the base units set somewhere relatively sane, would probably be better for everyday use than metric *or* customary. Metric’s big advantage is consistency; customary’s big advantage is easy and intuitive factoring.

        Not gonna happen, though, barring a time machine that’d let us go back and talk some French Revolutionary dudes into abandoning their baby.

        1. AG

          Alternatively, we convince the inventor of the english alphabet to keep things at 20 letters, and our base-30 system now elegantly includes the traditional arabic numerals plus the alphabet.

          (But doesn’t that just prove the superiority of 12, that our current version is therefore base 36?)

          1. Machine Interface

            We don’t need thirty different numerals anyway; it’s an artifact of the Indian numeral systems that we have a distinct symbol for each of the digits. But Balylonian and Mayan numerals have shown that you can have large base positional system that only uses 2-3 symbols.

      1. AG

        “nonsense primes” is just my quipping that all prime numbers above 3 are inconvenient for mental math. Obviously, this is a feature for things like encryption.

        1. meh

          I’m confused as to why changing the base of the number system means we don’t have to deal with primes over 3?

          1. episcience

            I think the suggestion is that you want your base to be a multiple of 2 and 3. If your base is divisible by 5 and not 3 then (as discussed above) division by three is trickier in your head.

  11. ana53294

    What’s the point of civil partnerships as opposed to civil* marriages?

    I get that marriage may be seen as an oppressive institution or whatever, and some people don’t get married, and choose more à la carte legal arrangements through wills, medical proxies and whatever.

    But what’s the point of creating a legal institution, calling it “civil partnership”, and then slowly copypasting all the laws for marriage into the “civil partnership”? Marriage is not a religious institution anymore, not for those who don’t want it.

    And some of the differences of civil partnerships hardly seem like improvements. In the UK, for example:

    unlike a marriage, a civil partnership will not give you parental responsibilities automatically. You have to apply for a parental responsibility order or enter into a parental responsibility agreement signed and witnessed at your local county or family court.

    *Meaning those officiated by judges, mayors, notaries, etc, instead of priests.

    1. Murphy

      Not much. They’re mostly a hack to mollify the religious conservatives who believed marriage was about religion who were fighting tooth and nail against gay marriage, now they’re encoded into law.

      1. Lambert

        The thing that’s happened recently in the UK is that unmarried straight couples turned around and said
        ‘If letting straight people but not gay people get married is discrimination, and same-sex civil partnerships are a thing, then it’s discrimination not to let us get straight civil partnerships.’ And the judges agreed.

        They seem to mostly be couple who dislike the idea of marriage for whatever reason but still want their relationship to be legally recognised.

        It’s a neat hack on top of a system that could really do with proper legal reform. The religious, social/cultural and legal aspects are too tangled up in a single institution.
        IMHO we need more options than ‘no legal reconition’ and ‘this is supposed to be the happiest day of your life, as well as the most expensive, and it is supposed to last forever’.

        1. AlphaGamma

          It is a weird kludge, particularly in England and Wales. A religious marriage conducted in the Church of England is always legally valid regardless of the religion of the participants, and I think Church of England ministers are required to conduct such a marriage even if one or both participants are not practising- or even baptised!- members of the church as long as one of them lives in the parish.

          Jewish and Quaker marriage ceremonies also result in a legal marriage, but only if they are between two people who both profess the relevant religion.

          Other religious marriages (Catholic, Hindu, Muslim…) have no legal force and require the couple to go through a civil ceremony as well. Often the place of worship will obtain a licence to perform civil marriages so the two can be done in one go. There is something of a problem with Muslims only having a religious marriage then discovering later that they aren’t legally married (and therefore have no rights in case of divorce).

          Of course, there are civil ceremonies as well, and it is very much possible to have the bare minimum registry office wedding with only two witnesses. I know people who did this because they had to get legally married in a hurry but it would take them a while to organise the party, which they had later.

          1. Murphy

            and I think Church of England ministers are required to conduct such a marriage even if one or both participants are not practising- or even baptised!- members of the church as long as one of them lives in the parish.

            Ah the wonders of living in a state with no seperation of church and state.

            The americans who want to religious-ise the state, burn the heretics and force-convert the heathens never seem to consider that if you blend church and state that the connection isn’t one-way.

            The religion gets bound as well.

            In the UK the head of the church is also the head of state and the state controlled church ends up with legal obligations to all citizens much like a government office.

          2. The original Mr. X

            The americans who want to religious-ise the state, burn the heretics and force-convert the heathens never seem to consider that if you blend church and state that the connection isn’t one-way.

            In my experience, they do, they just think that secularist states end up binding religions as well. So if there’s going to be a binding anyway, might as well make sure it involves a state which is in favour of your religion, not hostile.

          3. Nick

            The americans who want to religious-ise the state, burn the heretics and force-convert the heathens never seem to consider that if you blend church and state that the connection isn’t one-way.

            Who are these americans who want to burn the heretics and force-convert the heathens? I don’t think I’ve met them.

        2. Secretly French

          this is supposed to be the happiest day of your life, as well as the most expensive

          I don’t think Lambert is American; or if he is, I don’t think he’s ever been discharged from hospital after a successful surgery.

          1. Lambert

            Nope. ‘Is £10 for 24 hour parking at hospitals too expensive?’ Is in the Overton Window over here.

    2. Deiseach

      I think people who are long-term cohabiting, and have kids on top of that, should just as well get married, but seemingly some people don’t want to, for whatever reason. But they also want legal rights and protections should they split up. So civil partnerships are a compromise.

    3. Aapje

      @ana53294

      A major reason to choose a civil partnership over marriage seems to be that people are unhappy with the implicit expectations or implications of marriage, like holding a big party for family & friends, promising to be together forever, being each others soulmate, etc.

      With unmarried cohabitation and child-having being normalized, a wedding is also largely an anachronism, no longer being the thing that both other people and the couple would use to change their judgment of the couple from separate individuals to a family unit. With divorce fairly common and much more accepted, it also provides fairly little protection (through social pressure) from being abandoned by the partner. So weddings are far less necessary/useful as social signals than in the past.

      Nowadays, a wedding is more an excuse to have a very expensive party, than a way to move to a new phase in life, with societal approval. This also means that people who don’t think that the party is worth the cost, have little reason to get married. You can have your long term relationship recognized by others, cohabitate, have sex and have children without it.

      So perhaps the better question in very secularized and progressive societies is: what’s the point of marriage as opposed to civil partnership?

      1. ana53294

        You don’t need a wedding to get married.

        You can go to the town hall with two witnesses, sign papers, get done, go out. Maybe have a beer.

        Weddings are things people choose themselves.

        1. Aapje

          You are ignoring social norms. No one forces me to treat people at work on my birthday, yet I do so. I used to work with a guy who refused to celebrate his birthday or those of others, which was seen as a bit anti-social.

          Birthdays are not optional like marriage and the benefit of defecting is much lower than for marriage, which in the US supposedly costs an average of over $30k.

          Anyway, my point is that civil partnerships don’t come with the expectation of a huge party, so you don’t get people making assumptions, asking difficult questions, getting upset over not being invited, revenge-not inviting you for their marriage, assassinating your top general, etc.

  12. DragonMilk

    Shaving cream. Good, or bad?

    I have always done a “dry” shave using a 3-blade disposable razor. Not the cheapest disposables, mind you, but generally a bic one that lasts three or four months (ok, maybe sometimes 6-12).

    And I don’t find that the blade dulls quickly or rusts. My skin isn’t super chafed. And yet everyone seems to swear by wet shaves and such.

    Maybe it’s the Asian facial hair density, but has anyone tried a dry shave, or no water shave? This came up because my wife got me a thingy of shaving cream and insists I use it….and I don’t like it.

    1. EchoChaos

      I shave every morning in the shower with water but no shaving cream. My experience back when I used shaving cream was that it made my skin feel a lot softer, which I didn’t like because it felt like I got nicked a lot more and like I chafed more.

      Wet shave but no cream is how I like it.

    2. FrankistGeorgist

      Used to dry shave while still adolescent and had very little to shave. And with a straight razor for some reason. Got some shaving cream and shaving “lotion” with a 5-blade razor or something once and found it really dried out my skin (I have the driest skin in the world already). Didn’t want to be flaky-faced and so haven’t gone back. Now I just shave with one of the 11-blade such and such razors after showering when the hair is soft and the skin is still warm and moist. Will reapply warm water if I take too long drying off but it’s a pain that way so I guess I’m anti-dry shave, anti-shaving cream, pro wet shave.

    3. Enkidum

      I think it depends very much on beard thickness. I am basically a wookie, and there is no way that mere water and soap is going to make my beard slick enough to shave comfortably. Then again I haven’t shaved using a razor in decades, so perhaps I just sucked at it before.

      1. acymetric

        Agreed. Other than some wet shaving (water, no cream/gel/”shave butter”) in my early teens when it was all basically peach fuzz, I can’t shave without some kind of lubricant. If I did it would be

        a) Unpleasant (razer burn, cuts)

        b) Ineffective (not a terribly close shave)

        I can see how it would be tolerable for people with less dense facial hair, or thinner/less coarse facial hair (since it was tolerable for me way back when), although I don’t really understand how it could be preferable other than just plain convenience (less mess) and cost (save a few bucks on shave products).

    4. The Nybbler

      I’ve done a dry shave and it results in a lot of blood. And disposables seem to go from too sharp (thus nicks) to too dull (thus chafing) in less than a week with ordinary wet shaving. This may have to do with my decidedly Mediterranean hair density. I now use an electric. Not a great shave but no blood, usually.

      1. DragonMilk

        So I should tell my wife if I haven’t bled so far, I don’t have the density required to employ cream?

        1. The Nybbler

          If she insists you use the shaving cream, she probably has a reason. Maybe you are getting a better shave with it. Or maybe she just likes the fragrance. Either way I don’t think telling her that will help any.

          1. Deiseach

            If she’s insisting on the shaving cream, it may be that Dragonmilk’s skin feels dry or scratchy or otherwise unpleasant when she touches it. Maybe a compromise would be using one of those aftershave balms or men’s moisturisers after shaving instead of the shaving cream?

    5. Incurian

      …generally a bic one that lasts three or four months (ok, maybe sometimes 6-12)… Maybe it’s the Asian facial hair density…

      Yeah.

    6. aristides

      I have thick beard hair, and there is no way I would try shaving without cream. Also, it making my skin softer is a plus in my book.

    7. hls2003

      I would suggest getting an electric shaver and using that as needed; then look at the brand of shaving cream your wife gets you and look instead for a post-shave moisturizer from the same brand. You’ll smell the same without the shaving cream.

    8. Lambert

      I mostly shave without anything straight out of the shower nowadays.

      But there’s a lot to be said for old-fashioned shaving soap and a decent brush.

      1. Plumber

        @Lambert,
        I mostly use an electric shavers during the work week, and I mostly use a brush, hot water, shaving soap, and a straight razor on weekends.

    9. mitv150

      I had shaved for years using shaving gel and the expensive style of shave soap or cream (the kind that doesn’t foam straight out of the can). I randomly had to use some of the traditional barbasol shaving cream (that we had on hand for kid projects) and was blown away by how much better it was than anything else.

      I am now a complete convert back to canned shaving cream. I can shave nearly my whole face without rinsing my razor, feeling any roughness, or having any clogs.

    10. Solra Bizna

      I have two categories of visible facial hair on my face: the scraggly whiskers on my cheeks and beard, and the carbon nanotubes that comprise my mustache. For the scraggly whiskers, running the razor briefly under water before shaving is all I need to get a nice, clean, no-complaints shave. For the carbon nanotubes, shaving is completely impossible—the last time I tried to shave my mustache, I used up two new five-bladed safety razors, gave myself over a dozen horrible cuts, and only got about 10% of the way through before giving up.

      Not sure what my conclusion is, other than maybe don’t use carbon nanotubes as hair?

      1. acymetric

        Assuming you have a mustache and not just some stubble there, you should trim first before shaving.

        1. Solra Bizna

          I did. I was still doomed. (And then I looked very silly while the mustache grew back out, which is the main reason I haven’t tried again.)

    11. Aapje

      I have fierce facial hair, where if I don’t shave for an entire weekend, I’m struggling to shave off a beard rather than just getting rid of facial hair.

      Shaving dry is like chopping bamboo with a dull letter opener. I’m now shaving electric which works fine.

    12. The original Mr. X

      I tried a dry shave before. I wouldn’t say it was uncomfortable, but it took much longer, as I had to go over every part of my face at least three or four times to get the same level of shavage as if I’d used shaving cream.

    1. thisheavenlyconjugation

      As in a credible challenger running as a Republican? I don’t think that’s at all surprising. When have incumbents been credibly challenged by members of their party in the past?

      1. bean

        Reagan came very close to taking the GOP nomination from Ford in 1976, but that was a case where the Republicans were in even more trouble than they are now, and with rather different fault lines within the party. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be the potential of such a thing happening this year.

        1. thisheavenlyconjugation

          Yes, and also the notable difference that Ford was the incumbent but hadn’t been elected as such. A challenge is only possible when the incumbent is unpopular with their party, which isn’t the case here.

        2. Le Maistre Chat

          Reagan came very close to taking the GOP nomination from Ford in 1976, but that was a case where the Republicans were in even more trouble than they are now, and with rather different fault lines within the party.

          From a 1977(?) episode of All in the Family:

          Michael: We’re talking about a man who, in the last election, didn’t like Carter, didn’t like Ford, so he wrote in Richard Nixon!
          *after Michael leaves*
          Edith: Is that true, Archie?
          Archie: Naw, I just say it to rile him up. I actually wrote in Ronald Reagan.
          *uproarious laughter*

      2. Business Analyst

        In order from lowest to highest credibility:

        Buchannan v. Bush in 1992. Challenger recieved 23% of the primary vote amd stronger results in several early primaries.

        Ted Kennedy v. Carter in 1980. Challenger received 37% of the vote.

        Reagan v. Ford in 1976. Reagan recieved 45% of the primary vote and won 11 states.

        McCarthy v. Johnson in 1968. McCarthy won a plurality of the few states polled. Jonson dropped out early in the process and Humphrey was selected as the candidate at the convention. This led to riots at the convention.

        All of these challenges resulted in the incumbent party losing the general election.

        1. bean

          All of these challenges resulted in the incumbent party losing the general election.

          Reverse causal arrows. A strong incumbent doesn’t get challenged. Johnson was incredibly weak because of Vietnam. Ford was weak because of Watergate. Carter was weak because of stuff like Iran. Bush I lost because of Ross Perot, not Buchanan.

          1. moonfirestorm

            Then isn’t the conclusion that Trump is a strong incumbent?

            If (person is strong incumbent) then not (person gets challenged).
            Only the contrapositive must necessarily follow logically.
            If (person gets challenged) then not (person is strong incumbent)

            That’s a pretty short list of primary challengers: I think it would be a tough sell that every other incumbency was strong.

          2. EchoChaos

            @moonfirestorm

            Are there any incumbents who lost who didn’t have a primary challenger? Last one I can think of is Hoover, and when you have to go back 90 years, it’s a pretty strong trend.

          3. Garrett

            Then isn’t the conclusion that Trump is a strong incumbent?

            Given that Trump came out of mostly-nowhere and trounced the existing party establishment thoroughly, it may be more about damage control or self-preservation. Sure, in a fair fight there may be a number of candidates in the Republican Party who would be preferred. But they view themselves as so likely to be permanently damaged that they are afraid to try. And Trump doesn’t fight fair.

          4. bean

            Then isn’t the conclusion that Trump is a strong incumbent?

            In this context, absolutely. The democrats loathe him, but that doesn’t matter in the primary, and he hasn’t made as much of a hash of it as Carter, Ford or Johnson. (I don’t understand the 1992 election very well.)

            The other rule I see is that it only seems possible to challenge from the outside wing of the party. All of the ones on the Democrat side came from the left, all of the ones on the GOP side came from the right. The GOP establishment isn’t to the right of Trump.

      3. Another Throw

        Roosevelt running for a third term almost upset Taft who was at the time the incumbent. IIRC, Roosevelt didn’t get the party nomination because the presiding officer of the convention thought it was morally reprehensible to not renominate the incumbent so just straight up ignored Roosevelt’s delegates and prevented him from even being considered. If he hadn’t done so, Roosevelt would have almost certainly been the party nominee. After being rebuffed by the convention, he did a third party run, outvoted Taft in the general election, but split the party so that There-Was-a-Third-Candidate? candidate Woodrow Wilson became President.

        It was 108 years ago, but you didn’t give a time limit on “in the past.”

        1. cassander

          Supposedly there was an aid to the presiding officer of the convention who was aghast at hearing that said officer was going to refuse to seat the roosevelt delegates. He exclaimed “You can’t do that, you’ll burn down the party!” and received the reply “Yes, but I will preside over the ashes.”

          Some history is so good I simply choose to believe it.

          1. Another Throw

            The history I choose the believe is that we are living in the timeline created when a time traveler saved Roosevelt from an assassin’s bullet during that election to save us from Taft’s handling of WWI. But in the true fashion of time travelers we ended up with unintended consequences: we got Wilson instead of Roosevelt, who made an even worse pigs breakfast of WWI than Taft did. WWII and all the rest are the result of a time traveler mucking with the timeline.

            The timelines where they try to fix their mistake my making the assassination attempts of Hitler succeed are, of course, all worse than this one.

          2. Nick

            The timelines where they try to fix their mistake my making the assassination attempts of Hitler succeed are, of course, all worse than this one.

            What happens in those universes? The plot of Pulp Fiction?

          3. johan_larson

            I’m thinking maybe our 20th century is the best version the time travelers could come up with after multiple attempts. Maybe most versions just end up in gigantic nuclear wars.

          4. Another Throw

            What happens in those universes? The plot of Pulp Fiction?

            Every time they go back in time it causes an additional world war. WWI was caused when they got Franz Ferdinand assassinated, II when the prevented Roosevelt’s, III when they assassinated Hitler. And continuing in this manner of alternating between performing and preventing assassinations until they’ve run through the whole population of Europe. Well, the nuclear world wars did help reduce the field of potential assassinees…

          5. Chevalier Mal Fet

            Oooh, short story about an alternate timeline where Ferdinand, upon taking power, is Literally Worse Than Hitler. So time travelers think of that near-miss assassination in Sarajevo and start to form a plot…

          6. Paul Brinkley

            Oooh, short story about an alternate timeline where Ferdinand, upon taking power, is Literally Worse Than Hitler. So time travelers think of that near-miss assassination in Sarajevo and start to form a plot…

            I proposed a short story idea in an OT a while back, in which a few young men plot to go back in time and murder the man they see as touching off the hell they live in – the worst possible they could imagine – and swear to keep their status as time travellers a secret, to avoid alarming the world. Turns out they’re Princip’s gang, they barely managed to pull it off, and our timeline is the result.

            It’s based on how fouled up the actual assassination was. They almost didn’t make it, and then he effectively fell in Princip’s lap.

            Sadly, I cannot find my comment, or even the one someone else (Nybbler?) posted with an index of SSC comments.

            I did find this, though.

    2. Matt M

      By just about any possible objective measurement, Trump’s presidency has been quite successful (note, this could change quickly depending on what happens with the Iran situation). The only thing he hasn’t been good at is receiving approval from Democrats (a set which includes most of the media), and in the eyes of many Republicans, that’s a feature rather than a bug.

      There’s probably room for an attack against Trump from the right on issues like “He’s spending too much” or “His foreign policy is too interventionist” but there’s pretty much nobody on the establishment (i.e. “credible”) right who actually believes those things.

        1. Matt M

          The economy is good (both in the stock market sense, the unemployment figures sense, and the wage growth sense). Inflation is low to moderate. No major terrorist attacks. No major new wars.

          Isn’t that all most people really want from their government?

          Unless you think there’s some conventional/credible Republican who the media will respect and who can also, more credibly than Trump, promise to build the wall and ban Muslims and improve the trade deficit?

          I’ve already conceded there is room to attack Trump from the right. But there isn’t anyone to the right of Trump who counts as credible/conventional/establishment/whatever you want to call it. Anyone to the right of Trump is radical fringe, almost by default. Like, if Ann Coulter tried to primary him, would that count in your eyes?

          1. Plumber

            @Matt M says: “The economy is good (both in the stock market sense, the unemployment figures sense, and the wage growth sense)

            It looks like some (not all) of the wage growth is dye to municipalities and States raising their minimum wages.

            That Trump and the rest of the Federal government isn’t fouling this up is to their credit, but all the credit isn’t theirs (seldom is for previous administrations either).

          2. DavidFriedman

            If people were laid off because of a minimum-wage increase, their loss of wages wouldn’t factor into the average.

            If people were laid off because of a minimum-wage increase that would increase the average wage, since some low wage workers would now be unemployed and so not included in the average.

            A nice example of the risk of evaluating outcomes by averages.

          3. Plumber

            @DavidFriedman,
            Sure, that’s plausible.

            I remember for some months during the last recession it was reported that “average wages have gone up because lower-wage jobs are being eliminated more”.

            Last I checked total jobs were still going up, in the press I read I’ve seen a lot of arguments that given the amount of extra debt due to the last tax cuts if the cuts were better targeted and/or spending instead, or if tariffs and trade ‘wars’ had been avoided job growth could be higher, but I don’t think tales of “could’ve been better” will move many voters to change their views, I think voters mostly go by are the material conditions they see better or worse, and how close are they to their expectations.

            For me personally where I live and work so far 2020 doesn’t look much different trend wise than 2016, not worse enough that I imagine many Trump supporters will change their votes, not better enough that many Democrats will switch, and certainly not enough different that non-voters will start voting.

            Unless there’s been a big enough demographic change in four years (enough older voters that were more likely than average to support Trump die off, and are replaced by enough younger voters) I don’t see much reason for the election results to be very different from 2016.

        2. FormerRanger

          Trump has had his successes. There are more beyond the usual “the economy is good,” “inflation is low.”

          As a partial success consider the tax cut. It was a partial success because although almost everyone got a tax cut, Democrats have managed to make most people believe their taxes were increased and “any benefit went to the rich.” (People thought this because low-information taxpayers saw their tax refunds shrink and thought that meant the government was keeping more of their income.*)

          Other huge successes from a Republican point of view would be the Supreme Court (Gorsuch and Kavanagh) and masses of Federal judges appointed. He is close to turning the left-wing 9th Circuit red, for example.

          Similarly, further crippling of the ACA points to the possibility of it being declared unconstitutional (due to the mandate no longer qualifying as a “tax”, as the penalty has been zeroed out).

          And of course, the SC may now have a majority which will be willing to restrict abortion.

          Up until the latest Iran excitement, he has managed to reduce US involvement in the various wars going on in the Middle East. His supporters were pretty happy about that, but now some of them feel like he’s betrayed them if hostilities with Iran escalate.

          Obviously anyone on the left would think that all these “successes” were bad things, and don’t count.

          * (Matt Yglesias considered this to be one of the most important things the Democrats have done during Trump’s tenure. [This was before impeachment happened.])

          1. Aftagley

            Up until the latest Iran excitement, he has managed to reduce US involvement in the various wars going on in the Middle East. His supporters were pretty happy about that, but now some of them feel like he’s betrayed them if hostilities with Iran escalate.

            This is a questionable statement. Even before the most recent Iran thing he agreed to send 5k (i think) troops to Saudi Arabia following that drone attack. He also surged troops in Afghanistan and vetoed a measure that would have prevented US involvement in Yemen.

          2. Plumber

            #FormerRanger says: “Trump has had his successes. There are more beyond the usual “the economy is good,” “inflation is low.”

            As a partial success consider the tax cut. It was a partial success because although almost everyone got a tax cut, Democrats have managed to make most people believe their taxes were increased and “any benefit went to the rich.” (People thought this because low-information taxpayers saw their tax refunds shrink and thought that meant the government was keeping more of their income.*)…”

            This Californian didn’t see much of a change in his Federal income taxes, and I doubt that I’m alone, ’cause what I saved from the nominal cut I lost due to the elimination of the deduction for State taxes, and it came to be within $2000’s the same as the previous years.
            I imagine many lower income Californians didn’t pay much income taxes, and I imagine many higher income Californians wound up paying more with the loss of the deduction.

            As it is I pay far more in local and State taxes, which goes to libraries, roads, police, and fire services, which I like getting.

            The Army and Naval bases are closed (near me) in the ’90’s, but there’s still National Forests and Parks (Elk are cool!), and we have the Coast Guard rescuing boaters and (presumably) deterring pirates, so I’m probably getting my money’s worth from Feds, maybe if California was independent there’d be some savings, or maybe it be more ’cause of bulk discounts and stuff being cheaper abroad in other Statea, I really don’t know.

            Archeological evidence (the mothball fleet, the Oakland-San Francisco bay bridge, the shipyard ruins, interstate highways, footage of the moon landings, my WPA built local library and the highschool I went to) suggests the Feds used to do more, so maybe with more money the Feds could again, though for much of that I imagine California could do on it’s own.

          3. FormerRanger

            @Plumber

            I imagine many higher income Californians wound up paying more with the loss of the deduction.

            In other words, the rich ended up paying more. Isn’t that something that’s supposed to make those worried about inequality happy?

            I also live in a high-tax state, and also ended up using the standard deduction because my state taxes and local property taxes blew through the limit. So I owed more.

        1. Matt M

          Yes. Or at least it would be, if it was something people actually cared about.
          Once again, the notion that conventional Republicans (or even the American population as a whole) are anti-deficit is… unsupported by evidence, to say the least.

          Who might be a “conventional Republican” that would challenge Trump on this issue? Paul Ryan’s 40-year plan to eliminate the deficit basically cost him his career because it was considered so extreme and beyond the pale.

          There are no “conventional” Republicans OR Democrats who can credibly promise to reduce the deficit. Maybe Rand Paul could do it, but he’s hardly conventional…

          1. meh

            which are the objective measures that
            (1) people care about
            and
            (2) a candidate can credibly propose to fix
            ?

          2. Noah

            @meh

            Define “credibly”. You don’t need to be able to do it, you just need people to believe you when you say you can do it.

          3. FormerRanger

            I think it would be more accurate to say that Ryan’s career ended because he was unpopular with both Democrats in his home state (duh!) and with populist and anti-immigration Republicans in his home state. On the right, he is seen as the person who prevented Trump’s wall from being built.

            I doubt many voters give credence to deficit-reduction promises anymore, and even for those who do, other concerns come first.

          4. Jaskologist

            Ryan released his 40-year plan in 2011ish (it’s hard to get exact dates, because he’s released variants on it in several different years, each time they’re budgeting). He became Speaker of the House in 2015.

            That plan did not end his career. He flubbed the leadership of the house, delivering neither a responsible budget, nor a repeal of Obamacare. (Yes, he passed something to repeal, but it looked rushed and poorly done. He should have been ready to go on that front.)

          5. cassander

            Ryan also, by most accounts, really hated being speaker. Admittedly, being speaker under a president of your party is a lot less fun than the opposite, especially when the president is someone that ryan has to pretty loathe, but he definitely hated the job.

          6. Matt M

            you just need people to believe you when you say you can do it.

            That’s the use of “credibly” I meant, for the record.

            which are the objective measures that
            (1) people care about
            and
            (2) a candidate can credibly propose to fix

            GDP growth. Unemployment rate. Inflation rate. Trade deficit. Number of legal immigrants admitted. Border apprehensions. Things like that. On almost all of these things, Trump has done pretty well. In the areas where he hasn’t done well (the immigration ones), there is nobody meeting the qualifier of “conventional” or “traditional” or “establishment” that can (or would even be willing to) credibly promise to do any better.

          7. Matt

            Matt M:

            In the areas where he hasn’t done well (the immigration ones),

            Winning Bigly

            It looks like, from the point of view of the people who voted for him, his policies are doing pretty well on immigration.

    3. EchoChaos

      No sign of a credible challenger from a more conventional Republican background? Odd.

      Trump is wildly popular in the Republican Party. Probably the most popular incumbent with his own party since at least Reagan.

      For comparison, Obama had an 83% approval among Democrats in 2012 and there wasn’t even a hint of a serious primary challenge to him.

    4. The Nybbler

      If the economy was terrible, we might see some conventional Republican opposition to Trump. Without that, any conventional Republican is going to figure, rationally, that challenging Trump from that side only increases the chances for a Democrat to get into power. They’re not going to win a primary battle against an incumbent popular within the Republican electorate, and if they lose and a Democrat wins the general, their name is mud in Republican circles for the forseeable future.

    5. A Definite Beta Guy

      Less than a month to Iowa. It looks like Biden and Sanders are both entering high-tide at exactly the right time, so they’ll have momentum rolling into Iowa. Per 538, Warren has taken a huge dip since Nov and is a distant 4th: if she can’t take Iowa or NH, I don’t see how she remains competitive. Mayor Pete, if anything, seems to have a better shot at building up something if Biden starts looking weak and people start flocking to him.

      But I’d put Bernie and Biden at the top based on polling. Plus I think Bernie picks up more votes if Biden drops out. Not enough to wrap up a nomination, though. Really looking forward to a brokered convention!

      1. Plumber

        @A Definite Beta Guy,
        Judging by the last 50 years as precedent the nominee will be one of the top three winners in Iowa and one of the top two in New Hampshire.

        I expect the eventual nominee will be clear before I get to vote in March, but maybe we’ll get a repeat of 1980 and 2016 with a “left” candidate and a “mainstream” candidate in contention till near the convention, but more than two?

        Past March I’d be very surprised.

        My guess is that it’ll be Biden and Sanders, till Biden gets the nomination.

        If Biden and Sanders aren’t the top two of the New Hampshire primary, oh jeez I have no clue.

        If Buttigieg or Bloomberg is the nominee Trump is re-elected (apologies to my wife who likes Bloomberg), as no Democrat will win without enough black support, and those two won’t get it.

        If Warren is the nominee she has a better chance, but would probably lose as well.

        Biden has better odds of winning most “battleground” states, especially Pennsylvania and it’s 20 electoral college votes, and I think he’s the most plausible to beat Trump.

        Sanders has better odds of winning Michigan’s 16 electoral college votes, and his becoming President isn’t impossible.

        If it was Sanders vs.Trump, oh jeez the mainstream media would lose their minds, I imagine a strong third-party push.

        1. EchoChaos

          If Buttigieg or Bloomberg is the nominee Trump is re-elected (apologies to my wife who likes Bloomberg), as no Democrat will win without enough black support, and those two won’t get it.

          Agreed.

          If Warren is the nominee she has a better chance, but would probably lose as well.

          I think she actually gets fewer black votes than Bloomberg, but more than Buttigieg. Meaning I think she loses just as badly.

          Biden has better odds of winning most “battleground” states, especially Pennsylvania and it’s 20 electoral college votes, and I think he’s the most plausible to beat Trump.

          Yep. Biden is by far the Democrats’ best chance. The only question is if he can endure a long campaign that allows Trump to hammer him relentlessly. He’s the best candidate, but I doubt he can win.

          Sanders has better odds of winning Michigan’s 16 electoral college votes, and his becoming President isn’t impossible.

          Sanders has the same black problem as discussed above. He would also lose Virginia, which the Democrats HAVE to hold to have a chance against Trump.

          Losing Virginia for Michigan is technically gaining votes for the Democrats, but not in a way that really matters.

          1. Plumber

            @EchoChaos > “…Biden is by far the Democrats’ best chance. The only question is if he can endure a long campaign that allows Trump to hammer him relentlessly. He’s the best candidate, but I doubt he can win…”

            Yeah, probably not unless enough of more Americans are in body bags/lose wages in the next nine months unless…

            …if Biden does one more push up than Trump!

          2. EchoChaos

            @Plumber

            …if Biden does one more push up than Trump!

            Don’t get me wrong, a Biden/Trump contest would be HILARIOUS.

        2. Le Maistre Chat

          Biden has better odds of winning most “battleground” states, especially Pennsylvania and it’s 20 electoral college votes, and I think he’s the most plausible to beat Trump.

          You agree with the conventional wisdom, and I in turn agree with you.
          However, let’s just pause to consider how bizarre US elections are that we’re talking about a doddering old man having the best chance to prevent a real estate developer/TV star who’d never held elected office before from being a two-term President.

          1. A Definite Beta Guy

            It’s a little odd, but that’s a function of the incumbent President being said Real Estate developer and the Democrats not having a young talent bunch to call on. This is exactly what you would expect from the Dem side:
            1. The prior VP
            2. The guy who ran last time who almost won
            3. A high profile Senator
            4. Okay, that random guy from South Bend is a little weird

            These people all happen to be old, but that’s the fault of the Democrats. Their prior VP is an old guy because they wanted to get moderate votes. The guy who ran last time was an old kook because almost no other high-profile Dems would dare challenge the anointed successor. Several Dems had an opportunity to take the spot Warren did now, but Warren ran a better campaign, and Harris/Beto/Booker ran crap campaigns.

            On the GOP side, Jeb! squandered an early advantage by being SO unenergetic, Cruz looked crazy to moderate GOPers, Rubio fumbled ahead of NH, and Kasich really never stood a chance. Trump did the best at owning a crowded field and gave the GOP what they wanted after 8 years of Obama.

            Blame the other candidates for not being better, and blame the parties for not developing their talent benches. Biden should’ve been dropped after the first term, people should have been encouraged to run against Hillary, and Warren shouldn’t even be allowed on the stage.

          2. Matt

            Cruz looked crazy to moderate GOPers

            Maybe true… but.

            people should have been encouraged to run against Hillary

            They went as far the other direction as possible, right?

            “By stealing all the DNC’s emails and then selectively releasing those few, the Russians made it look like I was in the tank for Secretary Clinton,” she wrote. “Despite the strong, public support I received from top Sanders campaign aides in the wake of those leaks, the media narrative played out just as the Russians had hoped, leaving Sanders supporters understandably angry and sowing division in our ranks.”

            Those meddling Russians exposed our cheating!

          3. baconbits9

            This is exactly what you would expect from the Dem side:
            1. The prior VP
            2. The guy who ran last time who almost won
            3. A high profile Senator
            4. Okay, that random guy from South Bend is a little weird

            Only on the most superficial level, individually they are odd. You would expect the former VP to run at his first chance, not 4 years later. You would be forgiven for thinking a 78 year old just off a heart attack wouldn’t be mounting another challenge in the primaries. Sure Mitt Romney was the runner up in 2008 and then the nominee in 2012, but he as ~18 years younger than Sanders, who is not just old but campaigning to be the oldest first term president by 8 years, which brings us to this

            Their prior VP is an old guy because they wanted to get moderate votes. The guy who ran last time was an old kook because almost no other high-profile Dems would dare challenge the anointed successor.

            These guys aren’t just old, they are record shatteringly old if they win the presidency. Quick google and math they would both be older on inauguration day than the oldest president leaving office. Freaking Al Gore is 6-8 years younger than these two guys, and he started his attempts for the presidency in 1998 and retired from politics in 2000. The Dems have been skewing old, with Hillary a year older than Gore and Dean and still running for president 12 and 16 years after they gave up that ghost, only to have even older people than her take up the front positions in the next election.

          4. Paul Zrimsek

            No, the new guy no one knows anything about, and a lot of people get excited about precisely because they don’t know anything about him, is also exactly what you’d expect.

          5. Mark V Anderson

            All this discussion about the old Dem candidates makes me wonder who will be the candidates for 2024. There has to be a limit on age, so Biden, Sanders, Warren all too old? Mayor Pete all the way?

          6. cassander

            @Mark V Anderson

            If I had to bet today, I’d wager that Gavin Newsom will be the next democratic president.

          7. The Nybbler

            AOC, obviously. Maybe Gillibrand will have found some way of branding herself besides following in Hillary’s footsteps. NJs idiot governor (the latest one) probably. Cory Booker again. I imagine a bunch from other parts of the country but I’m not so familiar with them.

          8. FormerRanger

            I think it may have been Glenn Reynolds who said (in 2016) “The Democrats have a deep bench of septuagenarians.” Still true, having gotten rid of almost all of the “annoying kids.”

            One has to imagine the possibility of a “man on a white horse” coming to their rescue, although it this case it would be a woman: Hillary Clinton is just biding her time. As a septuagenarian, she qualifies as a Dem candidate.

    6. teneditica

      Trump has done everything establishment republicans wanted – appointed judges, lowered taxes, especially corporate taxes, restricted the SALT deduction. Why would there be a challenger?

  13. ThrowawayGoat

    Request for advice (regular commenter, but don’t want this linked to my identity):

    My marriage is troubled, and has been getting steadily worse for almost a decade. I’ve talked to counselors–my spouse has not been willing to do so. But mostly, what I get is “here’s some tips for working on communication.”

    What I want is someone to ask me questions, and tell me what’s going on–pointed “here’s where you are screwing up” or “no, that’s not you being unreasonable, that’s your spouse being unreasonable.” I want a well-informed, external perspective, not another round of “trying communicating better and figure it out for yourself”.

    What sort of description would a counselor who does sort of diagnostic work that have? How would I go about finding someone with that approach?

    1. Thegnskald

      Your description treats your spouse, and your relationship, in a general and interchangeable manner, as if there is a standard template for a spouse and a relationship, and your issues arise from deviating from the template.

      If that is for anonymity purposes, that’s fine. If that is how you think about your relationship, however, that is at least one of the issues.

      The other obvious issue is that your partner apparently isn’t willing to participate in the repair of the relationship. One possible cause is that they don’t really think there are issues, in which case, yes, communication is the problem. If they do think there are issues, and aren’t willing to work on it, then a counselor isn’t going to help. No amount of “This specifically is the issue” can help if your partner isn’t willing to work on said issue. You can’t save your relationship on your own; it takes both people to create a relationship, and it takes both people to maintain and repair one.

      1. ThrowawayGoat

        Thanks for the reply. It’s partly for anonymity–but it’s also that I think there are at least some broad parameters that most successful relationships share.

        For an analogy–it’s really helpful with children to have some ideas of what is typical at particular ages. Yes, 13-year-olds generally argue about everything, 5-year-olds usually can’t read–but if your 8-year-old can’t read you might want to do at least a basic learning differences work-up.

        And yes–the “how do I get my spouse to work on this too” is another question.

    2. Robert Liguori

      First, I’m sorry. Domestic problems and the slow degredation of long-term relationships that you’ve built much of your sense of self on are the worst.

      Second, I don’t think you need a counselor, I think you need friends. Personal friends, whom you are comfortable sharing your life situation.

    3. thisheavenlyconjugation

      “no, that’s not you being unreasonable, that’s your spouse being unreasonable” is generally only useful in the unlikely situation that both you and your spouse are the kind of people who will go “ok, since my opinion on this has been deemed objectively unreasonable I will change it” (not to mention the difficulty in determining what is objectively (un)reasonable). Maybe you’re that kind of person and you can solve some issues like that, but it’s overwhelmingly likely that your spouse will have some things that are both “objectively unreasonable” and won’t just go away if someone tells them that (even if your spouse believes it!). You will need to deal with those, which is where c o m m u n i c a t i o n comes in.

      1. acymetric

        I think knowing which is which is still helpful for determining a course of action/resolution.

        1. Edward Scizorhands

          Yes. Having a confirmed fact that you are not the crazy one is a major help in coping.

          Also, there is the chance you will be told you are the one doing something unreasonable, which you can fix.

    4. johan_larson

      Does your spouse agree there is a problem? Have you told your spouse specifically that you think there is a problem and things are getting worse?

    5. Roebuck

      What is the thing you like the most in your spouse?
      What is the thing your spouse likes the most in you?
      What is your spouse’s most annoying behaviour as perceived by you?
      What is your most annoying behaviour as perceived by your spouse?

    6. DragonMilk

      The issue is that you can tell your side of the story, but for a third party to be more useful, your interaction with your spouse may be more telling.

      If I’ve learned anything about girls, it’s often not what you say or do, but how you say or do it.

      1. Randy M

        The issue is that you can tell your side of the story, but for a third party to be more useful, your interaction with your spouse may be more telling.

        Yeah, it seems very likely that they would be able to tell a sympathetic story and get affirmation that the partner was being unreasonable. This may not be an accurate representation of reality because of regrettable but near universal human psychology, and the resulting affirmation may do more harm than good.

        Ideal would be some friends that know both and care about you personally enough to tell you what you don’t want to hear.

    7. Viliam

      There can be “unreasonable” in the cultural sense, when the person violates the cultural norms. But another possible meaning is that what the person says doesn’t make sense, perhaps because the person is lying or crazy or has a really bad model of the world. For example, asking someone to do an impossible thing, and then throwing a fit when they don’t, would be “unreasonable”.

      Also, I can imagine counselors sometimes providing less then optimal advice, if providing better advice would expose them to a possible lawsuit. Or if the counselors come from the same educational system, which teaches them some dogma, and the better advice would go against the dogma.

      @ThrowawayGoat — there is a chance this will lead to divorce. (That is what happens to a nontrivial fraction of marriages; and being “troubled”, “steadily worse for a decade” and “spouse unwilling to cooperate in your attempts to solve the problem” is an evidence in that direction.) You might want to get ready for that alternative, and talk to a lawyer to minimize the damage. (You know what sucks more than being heartbroken? Being heartbroken and homeless.) Sometimes the reason the other person does not want to cooperate is because they are already executing the Plan B; they just don’t want you to know yet. — I am not saying this is what happens, just that it is a realistic possibility.

      For a better answer, you would need to provide more data.

      1. ThrowawayGoat

        Villiam–thank you, that second definition of “unreasonable” is what I am looking for. Not “this isn’t the way most relationships work” but “these two goals are incompatible” or “no, that’s ‘humans gonna human’ not something you should consider a personal insult.”

    8. ThrowawayGoat

      Please note: I’m looking for advice on finding a counselor, not really looking for relationship advice (although I don’t mind it).

      If you are familiar with it, Too Good to Leave, To Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum is the kind of approach I’m looking for.

      1. JustToSay

        Unfortunately, I have no good advice for finding a counselor.

        I have friends who have found this resource extremely helpful, and I’ve found it somewhat helpful in my marriage as well (and in parent-child relationships too, actually). It focuses on those arguments or responses you seem to have over and over, giving you a way to see why you are reacting in an unreasonable or unhelpful way, why your spouse is, and what you can do about breaking that cycle and responding to things in a different way. It’s certainly better if your spouse is interested in participating, but the authors emphasize that you can do your part by yourself and still expect improvement (and possible insight into their behavior and emotions). It’s written by Christians, and that perspective runs all throughout, but all the tools are usable outside of any religious context. There’s a preview on the website.

        https://5daystoanewmarriage.com/product/store_item:4

        Unrelated to that, all I’ve got is to avoid disdain with everything you have. Don’t let disdain get the tiniest foothold in your relationship.

    9. thompson

      I’m sorry to hear you are having challenges. Speaking from experience (to a point that my marriage dissolved), I know how painful it is to want to fix things but not feel like you have the tools to do so.

      Without getting into specifics that you don’t want to share, I kind of agree with your counselor, communication is really important. That really is the best advice. I think the lesson I learned that I really could have learned earlier is that saying something isn’t enough, it needs to be absorbed by the other person (which sometimes means saying something multiple times in different ways).

      Conversely, it is really important to be receptive. Many people avoid conflict, or hard conversations, because they don’t want to upset their partner. The only way to address this is to be thoroughly and consistently open to hearing things that might hurt.

      You need to make it safe for someone to bring up things, and part of that, IMO, is stepping back from the reasonable/unreasonable dichotomy. If something is bothering your spouse, it’s probably not something they can express well. It’s complicated and tied into a lot of aspects of your relationship, maybe. It’s emotionally fraught, maybe. Nothing about that will be easy for them to a) explain coherently and b) defend their position. If you approach a problem they bring up by challenging their position as unreasonable, you might win the argument and end the discussion…but you haven’t solved the problem, which is that they are unhappy.

      I am, of course, using “you” in a general sense…I’m not in your relationship and am not trying to describe it.

      As other people have already noted, you can’t fix a relationship if the other person doesn’t want to, but I’d encourage you to try. Even if it ends, you will be in a better place emotionally if you know you did everything you could.

      Best of luck, I’m rooting for you.

    10. baconbits9

      Married 10 years, and my wife and I are working our way through a rough spot now.

      What I want is someone to ask me questions, and tell me what’s going on–pointed “here’s where you are screwing up” or “no, that’s not you being unreasonable, that’s your spouse being unreasonable.”

      I don’t think this helps or can help. People’s perspectives can be different and legitimately view exactly the same incidents in opposite ways simply by having different weights on values. The most basic question is ‘are you treating your spouse generously or un-generously’, everyone is going to make mistakes, have habits that can irritate their partner or have preferences that lead to one partner having to give up something they want. Communication doesn’t solve this, the root of ‘I hate that you leave the dishes out’ isn’t ‘dishes have to objectively be done by time X, or Y% of dishes being done is equitable’ it is that ‘things you do make me annoyed, and I allow them to annoy me enough that I start disliking and even hating you’.

      Since neither of you can ever be perfect fixing your own flaws to make the other person like you will typically be doomed to fail if they are interpreting your behaviors negatively, while tiny improvements can make a world of difference if you take them in the best possible light.

    11. Etoile

      There’s a psychology blog I like to read, and while I don’t agree with everything she has to say, I think it’s a good resource and a good outlook on relationships and child-rearing.
      I think she also does tele-consultations if you’re not located in her area, but her rates are high and she doesn’t take insurance, unfortunately.

  14. EchoChaos

    I saw a Twitter hypothesis that Trump’s negotiating strategy is basically bog-standard “double defect bot”. If you do something to harm Trump and/or America (he sees them as the same, btw), then he will punch you. Hard. Twice. Then he will wait to see if your next move is to cooperate. If it is, he immediately switches to pure cooperate and will sing your praises from the rooftops.

    This actually explained to me really well exactly what is happening in foreign relations both with the recent Iran strike (which I agree was an escalation, because double-defect bot intentionally escalates) and with our putative allies getting criticized while dictators get praised.

    For example, Vladimir Putin has nothing but praise for Donald Trump, so Donald Trump has nothing but praise for Putin. Trump’s policies have actually been modestly harsh on Russia. Never truly punching them hard, but not exactly cooperating, because Russia isn’t cooperating either.

    Xi gets praised, but the actual trade deals being struck are still modestly pro-American.

    Allied leaders who miss this end up getting nasty criticism directed at them (e.g. Trudeau) not understanding why.

    And note that Trump can in fact differentiate talk from actual policy. He hasn’t left NATO or screwed Canada because Merkel or Trudeau has criticized him in speech. He’s just criticized them more harshly in speech.

    In summary: Trump’s behavior as President both in his speech and his acts are surprisingly predictable and reasonable, not irrational.

    1. Murphy

      “Trump’s behavior as President both in his speech and his acts are surprisingly predictable and reasonable, not irrational.”

      Correction: a preemptive “double defect bot”

      If he suspects you might punch him then he punches twice first. Then if it looks like you might punch him because he’s just sucker-punched you for no reason then he punches you again. Then if it looks like anyone around might object to him repeatedly punching someone he punches them for good measure.

      You really don’t want a “double defect bot” with access to nuclear weapons.

      1. EchoChaos

        Correction: a preemptive “double defect bot”

        Has he ever done a pre-emptive defect? I can’t think of one off the top of my head.

        Every single one I can think of is preceded by a defection from the other side.

        You really don’t want a “double defect bot” with access to nuclear weapons.

        Why not?

        1. Murphy

          The recent assasination of Irans Soleimani was claimed by the whitehouse to be because he was suspected to be planning some kind of attack on americans.

          Why not?

          Because I like to not be on fire and for there to be no multi-nation nuclear exchanges just because the orange ball of rage decided he needed to launch first as soon as he suspects someone else might.

          1. EchoChaos

            The recent assasination of Irans Soleimani was claimed by the whitehouse to be because he was suspected to be planning some kind of attack on americans.

            It was directly in response to an attack on our embassy. It is an escalation from that attack, but that’s what you get when you defect against double-defect bot.

            Because I like to not be on fire and for there to be no multi-nation nuclear exchanges just because the orange ball of rage decided he needed to launch first as soon as he suspects someone else might.

            My argument is that Trump isn’t in fact an “orange ball of rage”, but is calculatedly responding to defections, which means that if someone actually tries something that can only be escalated by nukes they will get nuked, but otherwise everyone is entirely safe from that.

          2. Murphy

            The official position is that it was a preemptive strike.

            “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon said in the statement.

            The attack came after Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned that “the game has changed” and the US would consider preemptive strikes to avert attacks.

            Trump suspects you will defect, he defects harder before you get the chance to.

            That is the last thing you want from someone with nuclear weapons because that’s how the last war starts.

          3. EchoChaos

            @Murphy

            The official position is that it was a preemptive strike.

            The official position is absolutely irrelevant to Trump’s mental calculus. I guarantee he views it as punching back for the embassy attack.

            https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1213684819537932293

            Oh look.

            Trump suspects you will defect, he defects harder before you get the chance to.

            Given that we disagree on the evidence for Soleimani, do you have a second example? If he does it all the time they should be easy to come up with.

          4. baconbits9

            The official position is that it was a preemptive strike.

            The official position is that Soleimani has orchestrated attacks in the past and is planning on more in the near future, which is substantially different than ‘he was planning an attack’ on its own.

    2. Le Maistre Chat

      If you do something to harm Trump and/or America (he sees them as the same, btw), then he will punch you. Hard. Twice. Then he will wait to see if your next move is to cooperate. If it is, he immediately switches to pure cooperate and will sing your praises from the rooftops.

      I think this is the key insight. He sees himself as Mr. America (for all I know, he falsely sees himself as ripped when looking in the mirror). “You hurt America? You hurt me!” and conversely, attacking him means you’re trying to subvert American society. This is why he looks so racist to his enemies: Latino judge goes after him? The judge must be serving Mexican interests rather than American. If you’re not a criminal or personally attacking him, he wants to be friends regardless of your race, and he lashes out at white people who attack America/him: legacy and social media just can’t racialize the negative things he says about them.

      1. Matt M

        I think this is the key insight. He sees himself as Mr. America (for all I know, he falsely sees himself as ripped when looking in the mirror). “You hurt America? You hurt me!” and conversely, attacking him means you’re trying to subvert American society.

        I think this is true – but I do feel the need to suggest that I hardly think this is unique to Trump. A whole lot of American Presidents have behaved in a manner that suggests they had similar thoughts. Teddy Roosevelt most immediately comes to mind.

        1. EchoChaos

          Indeed, which is why we had the old norm that “politics stops at the water’s edge”, because foreigners used to use criticism of the President to sneak in criticism of all of America.

          1. The original Mr. X

            I think not wanting to criticise your country/government in front of foreigners is a pretty common human feeling.

            “I make it a rule never to criticise the government when I’m abroad. I make up for lost time when I get back.” — Winston Churchill

    3. Aftagley

      This hinges on the 4d chess explanation of Trump, that he’s playing a deeper game that is publicly view-able and that there are deeper motives behind his actions. It’s also equating the whole body of actions

      Trump’s policies have actually been modestly harsh on Russia. Never truly punching them hard, but not exactly cooperating, because Russia isn’t cooperating either.

      Most of the international friction that Russia has taken part in since Trump became president have not been answered by the white house (example: the Kerch Strait incident) It’s either been congress or non-Trump government officials condemning Russia, not the office of the President.

      And note that Trump can in fact differentiate talk from actual policy. He hasn’t left NATO or screwed Canada because Merkel or Trudeau has criticized him in speech. He’s just criticized them more harshly in speech.

      I guess this comes down to what you think Trump would do if he wasn’t constrained. Do you think that if Trump had his druthers, we’d still be in NATO?

      1. EchoChaos

        This hinges on the 4d chess explanation of Trump, that he’s playing a deeper game that is publicly view-able and that there are deeper motives behind his actions.

        Not at all. I am saying that he is in fact reacting in the most one-dimensional way possible, in simple “defect or cooperate” terms.

        Most of the international friction that Russia has taken part in since Trump became president have not been answered by the white house (example: the Kerch Strait incident) It’s either been congress or non-Trump government officials condemning Russia, not the office of the President.

        Trump isn’t directly criticizing because Putin isn’t, but “non-Trump officials” is eliding a lot of Trump directed action.

        I guess this comes down to what you think Trump would do if he wasn’t constrained. Do you think that if Trump had his druthers, we’d still be in NATO?

        Yes, I do. I think Trump likes us being the big dog in any partnership. I think he wishes we directly controlled NATO more, as he perceives we did in the Cold War, but I think he likes an alliance where Germany, France, etc. rely on us because it shows we’re important.

    4. John Schilling

      I saw a Twitter hypothesis that Trump’s negotiating strategy is basically bog-standard “double defect bot”. If you do something to harm Trump and/or America (he sees them as the same, btw), then he will punch you. Hard. Twice. Then he will wait to see if your next move is to cooperate. If it is, he immediately switches to pure cooperate and will sing your praises from the rooftops.

      In order for this theory to even remotely match Trump’s observed behavior, you have to add the bit where the adversaries he is most keen to retaliate against are…

      Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

      Both of whom are, as American citizens in private life, basically immune to any retaliation Trump can even plausibly threaten. He can’t actually Lock Her Up. And by the same token, they can’t back down, because there is nothing left for them to back down from. And so, when he’s not satisfied throwing empty tweets and leading ineffectual chanting crowds against them, he retaliates against their works and their allies.

      And that never ends, because they can’t back down either, not in any substantial way. A former ally of Hillary Clinton can’t retroactively stop having been her ally in the past. Nor in the present, because with Hillary in private life “Hillary’s ally” is basically an empty concept. Likewise, Hillary’s diplomatic accomplishments at State and legislative accomplishments in the Senate(*) can be torn down, but they can’t signal their surrender and they can’t shift to “cooperate” in the future.

      So the proposed “double defect” bot is stuck in an endless defect loop, evaluating “shall I defect this round?” not against people who may or may not be cooperating with Trump today, but with the frozen memory of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in 2016.

      This actually explained to me really well exactly what is happening in foreign relations both with the recent Iran strike (which I agree was an escalation, because double-defect bot intentionally escalates)

      Indeed it does. The recent kerfluffle in Iran is the result of a series of escalations (until now mostly low-key) that date back to Trump’s decision to effectively abrogate the JCPOA. Which was not a response to anything Iran had done, but a retaliation against Barack Obama for his perceived crimes against America all the way back in 2015.

      People and institutions that POTUS should be incentivizing to cooperate, are faced with defect-no-matter-what because they can’t not be the proxies Trump “has” to punish for their “defection” to the Obama/Hillary axis in the past.

      See also, “Obamacare”. Trump doesn’t have anything better to replace it, and he doesn’t even really care, but it’s got “Obama” in the name, so it’s got to go.

      * Yes, yes, the “null set” jokes write themselves

      1. EchoChaos

        Which was not a response to anything Iran had done, but a retaliation against Barack Obama for his perceived crimes against America all the way back in 2015.

        https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/us/politics/trump-speech-iran-deal.html

        This is technically incorrect (the best kind of incorrect). The reason was Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Iran Lied” presentation as well as the fact that Iran was continuing to sow instability in the reason.

        “Today, we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie. Last week, Israel published intelligence documents — long concealed by Iran — conclusively showing the Iranian regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons.”

        Now, Trump was definitely primed to believe the Israelis, but we did actually withdraw for cause.

        1. John Schilling

          This is technically incorrect (the best kind of incorrect). The reason was Benjamin Netanyahu’s “Iran Lied” presentation as well as the fact that Iran was continuing to sow instability in the reason.

          Trump announced that he was decertifying Iran under the JCPOA on October 13, 2017. That was the decision that started the countdown to formal termination of the deal. Netanyahu’s speech wasn’t until May 8, 2018. So, no.

          1. EchoChaos

            Trump announced that he was decertifying Iran under the JCPOA on October 13, 2017.

            Which he also did for cause, saying that Iran was blocking access to military sites.

            That was the decision that started the countdown to formal termination of the deal. Netanyahu’s speech wasn’t until May 8, 2018. So, no.

            Trump specifically said that the Israeli information Netanyahu gave was why he terminated instead of continuing to renegotiate.

        2. Statismagician

          I don’t know why, but I read that as Netanyahu’s ‘Iranlied’ first, and was wondering what he was doing singing an ode to Iran in German.

      2. EchoChaos

        I can’t edit, for whatever reason.

        See also, “Obamacare”. Trump doesn’t have anything better to replace it, and he doesn’t even really care, but it’s got “Obama” in the name, so it’s got to go.

        This one is a bit unfair. Trump had a health plan he ran on that was a fairly center-line Republican plan.

        The Senate Republicans then modified it (a lot) in order to make it something they could pass under reconciliation, which McCain spiked.

      3. Chevalier Mal Fet

        I don’t usually comment on politics, and I certainly never debate them (as unless through some spectacular error I am made a public official my opinions don’t matter a lick), but regarding the JCPOA, wasn’t today’s situation something that lots of people predicted would come up?

        As I recall, it had no chance of being approved by the Senate as a treaty, so President Obama opted to call it a non-binding “executive agreement” instead. It was pointed out at the time that this would mean that the next President could easily abrogate it then, which, hey, look at that. Hell, I think the Senate even sent Tehran an open letter laying this out (for which they were denounced as traitors).

        It seems to me that this is a data point in favor of all diplomatic treaties having to go through the Senate for approval, simply for reasons of dependability and reliability in foreign policy. If the President can’t gain the requisite Senate approval, then the agreement ought not be made, even if it’s a good agreement overall.

        1. cassander

          see the bricker amendment.

          Ultimately, though, any such rule is meaningless because it’s completely unenforceable. A president can always write down some sort of agreement with a foreign government and then abide by it, and this will establish a pattern of behavior that there are then consequences for departing from. if congress doesn’t pass the thing, he can always say “fine, it’s not official, I’m going to abide by it anyway”, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Well, you could try to give congress total control over foreign policy, but that’s something that it doesn’t want and couldn’t effectively exercise anyway.

      4. Jaskologist

        If the leader of the opposite party working to reverse things that the other guy did and their party was consistently opposing is “defecting,” then I’m not sure what exactly you think American politics is supposed to be, especially with the 2 examples you give. Republicans of all stripes were staunchly opposed to Obamacare from the start, and rode that opposition into power in both houses and the presidency. (Yes, they were lying, particularly McCain.) Trump opposing Obamacare as a Republican President is entirely expected, and no special theory of animus is required.

        Similarly, the JCPOA was opposed by Republicans, which is why (then-minority) Democrats in the Senate blocked the Senate from voting on it. Treaties are supposed to be approved by the Senate with a 2/3 majority, but they knew this would be voted down, and so instead tried to side-step it and move forward even though Republicans had said quite clearly that they opposed the action.

        Reversing those two actions are exactly what one would expect of any current Republican president. Painting this as an unusual double-defection is so absurd that I’m not sure I trust your read of the Iran situation now either. This is very far outside your normally insightful analysis.

        1. EchoChaos

          It’s not even correct in the Iran case. Trump had the opportunity to end the deal twice by simply refusing to certify Iran. He even considered doing so, but decided that the US would not defect first and certified them.

          Then when presented with evidence that Iran had defected first, he cancelled the deal. He may have misread the evidence, but this is clearly not Trump defecting first or arbitrarily being anti-Obama.

          1. A Definite Beta Guy

            Where’s the evidence that Iran defected specifically with regards to the nuclear agreement? They are obviously obnoxious little brats in the Middle East generally, but there was never a possibility that we could make a Grand Bargain. The Iran Deal was necessarily ONLY going to be a nuclear deal.

            AFAICT, Trump didn’t immediately decertify and didn’t immediately sanction because he wanted a renegotiated deal rather than blowing up the entire framework. Every other party of the JCPOA said no. So then Trump gave them the bird and pulled out.

          2. EchoChaos

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            The “Iran Lied” presentation by Benjamin Netanyahu.

            My understanding is that some of it turned out to be total bullshit, but Trump specifically referenced it in his speech about pulling out of the deal.

            This is another disadvantage of him not trusting the American intelligence apparatus, by the way. He has people he trusts, and Netanyahu is on that list for a variety of reasons. Since Netanyahu said Iran defected, regardless of if they did, he believed that. And American intelligence couldn’t convince him otherwise because he trusted Netanyahu more.

            This also explains some of the anger on both sides because both of them thought the other defected first.

          3. thisheavenlyconjugation

            This also explains some of the anger on both sides because both of them thought the other defected first.

            But only one side was actually correct in thinking that, and it wasn’t the one that listened to advice from Benjamin “recently indicted for fraud (among other things)” Netanyahu.

        2. John Schilling

          If the leader of the opposite party working to reverse things that the other guy did and their party was consistently opposing is “defecting,” then I’m not sure what exactly you think American politics is supposed to be,

          I’m not the one trying to describe Trump’s political behavior as a “double defect bot”. That’s a silly model to apply to Trump, and as you note it’s a silly model to apply to American politics. But if you are going to try to make it fit, the only way it works is if you retroactively count the “defections” of previous administrations.

          Which is a silly way to model policy decisions, because it leads you to try and do other silly things like destroying useful things for which you have no replacement in mind, because destroying the works of the previous administration looks more important than doing good works of your own.

          1. EchoChaos

            I specifically said in international relations.

            Domestic politics Trump actually does have principles that he follows.

            Which is a silly way to model policy decisions, because it leads you to try and do other silly things like destroying useful things for which you have no replacement in mind, because destroying the works of the previous administration looks more important than doing good works of your own.

            This assumes that the Iran deal and Obamacare were useful, which Trump disagrees with.

  15. johan_larson

    If we had to choose one or the other, would we rather have the moon 15% closer or 15% farther away?

    1. cathray

      I dare say farther away since closer would increase tides and tides are probably not something we want increased.

    2. Clutzy

      The moon was 15% closer in the past, and will be 15% further away in the future. Tides and a shorter day are the consequences of the first, longer days and a possibly a less stable axis of rotation. Also we would no longer have total solar eclipses.

      1. Le Maistre Chat

        Also we would no longer have total solar eclipses.

        No more total eclipses?
        … my heart. 🙁

  16. Canyon Fern

    I’ve been unemployed for 9 months. I don’t feel desperate but I do feel dreadful. Please advise.

    Details: in my 20s. Male. Ashkenazi Jew. American. BA Linguistics from a well-regarded college (not an Ivy.) Recently moved back in with parents in Southern California. Few friends here (slowly making more.) No regular social activity/meetup; little or no exercise. No more debt, ~6k cash in bank, expenses ~600/month. Last job was computer science/clinical linguistics research assistant, mostly writing Python scripts to help professors do the actual research. With money in the bank, and frustrated with stagnant responsibilities, I quit my job to pursue translation, web dev, and other avenues which might let me change careers. I was uncertain of what I wanted to do next; I naively misunderstood how hard it would be for me to run a job hunt.

    Diagnosed with ADHD. When I don’t take my Adderall (low dose: 10mg, “extended release,” 1-2/day), I have a horrible sense of time, and can waste a whole hour just showering, dressing, and brushing my teeth. I can’t seem to stick to a schedule day-to-day … but I can sometimes hit longer-term goals: when I get a big idea I can ride it for days, weeks, months, even years, cheerfully working two or four hours a day on whatever project has caught my fancy. When the fancy runs out, so does the work ethic, and I go back to careening around inside my own head.

    Spent last five years smoking lots of weed which was terrible for me; after numerous attempts, finally quit last month reading “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.” Fervently hoping for improved focus + less listlessness. I believe I have depression and/or anxiety (I was almost certainly depressed for a year in college.) Have not been able to “open up” to past therapists.

    My situation may seem ideal: “no job? No debt? Stop complaining, you jerk!” But between my unknown future, my lack of focus, my mental illness / neuroses, and my continued failure to find work, I am suffering. See below for (1) a list of strengths and weaknesses (2) a Question and Answer where I respond to things people commonly say. If you have anything to say, please do. Thank you so incredibly much for reading.

    1. Canyon Fern

      STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES (+/-)

      Please don’t guess at my IRL identity. Friends and acquaintances reading SSC: please don’t doxx me!
      STRENGTHS

      + Comedy/sense of humor. My strongest skill. I am the funniest person I have ever met who is not a professional comedian; have been called “funniest person I’ve ever met” by at least a dozen people; was really good at improv comedy/theater until the Do Something Else Demon took me away from it. I open my mouth and the correct words come out to make others laugh, all the time, no prior thought needed; the skill carries over to written work.
      + Speak/read/write Mandarin Chinese, approximately a 3 on the ILR scale. Used to be much better; skills have declined since when I studied abroad.
      + Beginner/intermediate level of computer programming ability; languages include Python, Emacs Lisp, and Inform. Among other things, I spent several months creating a 2-hour text adventure starring my best friend, and publish/host my own static website with Markdown files, Python scripts and AWS S3. Lack of focus is my killer here: one day I want to upgrade my website, one day I want to get back into Nand 2 Tetris, one day I want to learn more about databases or server-side programming…
      + I’ve never taken a real IQ test, but online ones suggest roughly 130, for what that’s worth.
      + General creativity. Was a D&D DM for a long time; programmed an economic system to give my D&D world different prices at different locations for 300+ game items; started an art challenge and got ~30 participants to enter drawings; have journalled/blogged/posted hundreds of thousands of words; have written short stories and 100+ poems, often comedic or parody…

      +/- Though by nature hesitant to try/do new things, I have been chipping away at that tendency for years. Once I’m stuck in a new situation, I’ll feel overwhelmed, but once I get past being overwhelmed my brain rallies and I can start trying to enjoy/improve/survive.

      WEAKNESSES
      – Anxiety (?). I had some anxiety attacks as a college freshman, and have long been an over-worrier.
      – Depression (?).
      – Low confidence; negative self-talk. I am so damn hard on myself and call myself stupid or an idiot. I got a little better with my last therapist I visited, but ‘stupid idiot’ has seemed all too real after I gave up a good job, in my field, where I was respected as part of the team despite being junior…
      – Hesitant/slow to act. This fucks me up so bad. I delay and dawdle and things pass me by. I don’t know how to reconcile this with the off-the-cuff spontaneity that powers my humor. This is the 5th or 6th time writing this document from scratch and the first time I’ve been ready to post it.
      – General neuroticism. Thanks, Jewish genes! I want things to be Just So; I get agitated when my possessions aren’t in their prescribed spots; my thoughts go in loops, thinking about the same stuff over and over as I get increasingly worked up…
      – Bad posture; poor athleticism; mediocre diet. All were better in the past; all are sources of frustration.

    2. Canyon Fern

      QUESTION and ANSWER
      Q: Is this the plant, Canyon Fern, or his human assistant, Ludovico?
      A: Ludovico. CF is out sunning himself.
      Q: What’s the big deal? Sometimes people are unemployed, and even if you aren’t using your time rationally, you aren’t totally wasting it.
      A: I am under the impression that 9 months out of work looks hella bad for a young guy and people will be biased against me/trash my resume, out of hand. I don’t have much of a network to pump for favors/unlisted job openings (which sucks because that’s how most people actually get jobs.) What I’ve accomplished in 9 months isn’t nothing, but I haven’t been able to make myself focus on skills the market wants e.g. NLP (even though that fits my background!) I feel afraid to go on dates because I have no job and live with my parents. (I’ve gone on a couple dates despite being scared; I don’t have much luck online but the Hinge app is decent b/c being able to send a message pre-match lets me put my best foot forward.)
      Q: You know the world’s hottest language and can program computers. Are you (Eliezer voice) really trying to find a job / boost your skills?
      A: I’m not sure I was ever really trying, and now I feel hopeless after all these go-nowhere job applications, interview rejections, and the fear that 9 months without work makes me look like a dingus. I had an AWESOME interview two weeks ago where I did everything right, pointed out a glaring flaw on the firm’s landing page (they were grateful), and had an unexpected personal connection to the hiring manager, so if I get that job things will suddenly be much happier.
      Q: Get exercise?
      A: I used to love weight lifting, but I got discouraged (even though I was getting somewhere and I wish I’d kept it up — working with a trainer was showing clear results and by now I’d be hella built. First thing on my list when I get a job is to do personal training again.) I’ve never been much of an exerciser otherwise, and as a kid I was on my PC, reading books, or doing D&D instead of being outside. Maybe a group would help… all my bros are in other parts of the country.
      Q: See a shrink, dammit!
      A: I know I know I know! I’ve used locator.apa.org to find therapists in the past, but that gives psychologists; I want a psych who can prescribe drugs, not a psychologist who can’t. If you know how to find a therapist that can give drugs, please describe how.
      Q: Do your thought processes ever remind you of the main character in Portnoy’s Complaint?
      A: Every fucking day of my life — but, for all the dead-on accuracy in Roth’s portrayal of Jewish neuroticism, at least his fictional character got laid all the time, and was a successful lawyer! I barely get laid and my Myers-Briggs type is DOSL: “Diametric Opposite of Successful Lawyer.” To top it off, instead of my dad being constipated, I am. Oy vey!
      Q: Get a retail/food-service job to acquire a daily routine, extra money, potential-friend coworkers, source of meaning, and an answer to “what do you do?” so you can go on dates and not be embarrassed?
      A: I kept telling myself I didn’t want to do that, wouldn’t be good at it, and that such jobs would lead me nowhere, but as of the new year I’ve swallowed my pride and started applying to local bookstores & libraries. I am not optimistic.
      Q: Aren’t you just a pitiful coward who refuses to work hard like a real man?
      A: I’ve worked hard on all kinds of stuff, but experience tells me that if it’s not near my wheelhouse I’ll never get it done. I feel like picking my battles is a legitimate strategy. (Does “straight As in my preferred courses, Bs and Cs in other ones” sound familiar?)
      Q: Why do you keep making excuses and feeling sorry for yourself, you privileged, entitled fool?
      A: Writing this document makes me feel really vulnerable; please keep the insults to a minimum! I’m confused, lonely, agitated, not rational enough™, anxious, stubborn, and meh at starting new things. (Keeping At It is easier.)
      Q: Aha! Choose 1 thing to focus on, then Keep At It?
      A: I’m trying, yo! Working on Nand To Tetris (maximally low-level programming course) turned into website making turned into translation; my high-level interests don’t change but the projects expressing them veer wildly. Some projects virtuous-cycle back into each other (e.g. starting a website gave me somewhere to share my other stuff), but I feel cursed to be “jack of all trades, master of jack.” Is there some way to hire and report to a goal coach? Maybe I should sign up for Complice and use its “work room”? I used Beeminder successfully for a few things until I started losing too much money and freaked out and mostly quit.
      Q: Why not move to the Bay Area, thereby unlocking sick computer jobs like Python Pesterer and Syntax Tree Trimmer?
      A: File this under “obvious but I keep making excuses” e.g. “Everyone else out there seems more accomplished than me…” Getting the first developer job is the hardest one and I don’t think I’m up to snuff.
      Q: Join the military?
      A: I’ve considered training to meet the Army Reserves fitness standards, with the goal of being MOS 35P Cryptologic Linguist, but am concerned about my possible mental illnesses and my prior weed habit. I may send a list of questions to the linguist-specific recruiters. IDK if I’m “man enough” to serve but I want to understand all my options, even this less-likely one.
      Q: Do you come off this freaked-out in real life?
      A: Only when letting my guard down e.g. with close friends. Humor, improv training, and natural preference for being a listener take me far in social situations.
      Q: Have you learned A Valuable Lesson?
      A: YES, for god’s sake. “Don’t quit your job without one lined up” and “don’t jump ship from a good thing even if you are temporarily frustrated you dumbass,” for starters.
      Q: Do you want to join @RandyM’s weekly game night?
      A: Yes, if the invitation from the Irvine meetup still stands! I can bring food/booze/cash.
      Q: Can you wrap up this whole charade with a poem in tetradecameter?
      A: Just did, but I’ll spare you the maudlin results.

      1. Plumber

        @Canyon Fern >

        “…: I am under the impression that 9 months out of work looks hella bad for a young guy and people will be biased against me/trash my resume, out of hand…”

        Check out being an indentured apprentice:

        http://www.calapprenticeship.org/about.php

        When I signed up with the San Jose plumber’s union there was no interview, just multiple choice tests (practice being able to do arithmetic quickly), starting pay was about $30,000 per year (in 1999) after five years of twice a week night classes (summers off) and 9,000 hours of labor I “turned out” as a journeyman and earn $90,000 to $110,000 per year (depending on how much overtime).

        1. Canyon Fern

          I’m taking a look at the page right now – thanks, @Plumber! I know some really happy carpenters and electricians. Built their own homes and that kind of thing.

          ($30k in 1999 dollars is about $46k now, for anyone wondering.)

      2. sidereal

        How many jobs are you applying for? I was in a similar position as you, barely doing any applications at all. Eventually something broke and I used the shot-gun approach and it got my foot in the door. Being 100% inept at networking, I found the numbers game approach to be key. I think getting yourself into some organization, corporate or academic, is better than trying to improve yourself auto-didactically. And even if you get rejected, you can take it as a learning experience, and to desensitize you to the anxiety. Be friendly with recruiters from head-hunting companies, they may be willing to offer advice for how to market yourself. But ultimately, you just gotta get out there and start failing.

        I assume you have some minimal programming competence. I don’t mean real impressive stuff you’d brag about at a meetup, but like that you could write an SQL query or create some bone simple web-application, and use git. The bar is much lower than you likely imagine.

        Also, in retrospect 9 months isn’t that big a deal. I don’t think most recruiters scrutinize it that closely, and if they do ask you can have some plausible lie at hand (say, trying to write a novel or couchsurfing in europe).

        1. Canyon Fern

          Thanks for chiming in, @sidereal — especially for letting me know that 9 months isn’t necessarily a killer. For that alone, I poached you a Weasel of Gratitude from Canyon Fern’s menagerie. Don’t spend it all in one place, now!

          Minimal programming experience, yes! Even beyond minimal, depending on the task at hand. I did a TripleByte interview a few months ago and did reasonably well on the coding portions, but sucked hard at topic-specific questions which gauged my depth of knowledge. I originally intended to use the interview rejection feedback as a guideline for what I needed to practice, but uh um err yeahhh I think I went and did Chinese translation instead.

          Given that I have enough skills to hit the ground running, and certainly won’t be starting from zero, maybe I’d be a good candidate for a programming bootcamp! I hear Lambda School is pretty good, and you don’t have to pay up front either…

          [Edit: I definitely let my rate of applications dip too low. It’s high time I rejuvenate a Beeminder goal for minimum # of apps/week.]

      3. kaakitwitaasota

        Considered doing a stint teaching English in China? The money’s good, you could get your Chinese up to a higher level, and they love Ling degrees.

        1. Canyon Fern

          Thank you for the suggestion! I managed to slip a Qilin of Gratitude into the mail for you just before the postman came.

          I realized that I have an SSC-reading friend* who’s finagled a handful of English-teaching positions in Chinese higher education, rather than at high school or middle school like most of the teachers I met. IIRC, the key is to have some pre-existing Chinese ability so that one can integrate into school administrative structures, rather than having to be led around by the nose from classroom to classroom. I’ll toot his telephone and see if he can give me some further advice! Much appreciated, @kaakitwitaasota!

          * Patrick, if you’re out there: I heard you’re the latest stop on the M Train! Stiff upper lip, amigo!

        2. The original Mr. X

          + 1 for the English-teaching suggestion. I did it a bit in the past, and might return to it again in the not-to-distant future (I was doing a PhD, decided it wasn’t for me, and quit, and now I’m looking for a real job once again). It might be worth getting an official TEFL (= Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate first, because it only takes four or five weeks but massively increases the amount of schools that will consider employing you.

          And of course, there are TEFL jobs all over the world, so if you decide you’d rather not go to China, there are plenty of alternatives.

      4. broblawsky

        I was unemployed for a few months last year due to a fairly ill-considered attempt to switch jobs. Two significant changes I made that helped me maintain focus on my job search were to meditate and exercise daily, first thing in the morning; my exercise routine was just a basic 15-minute HIIT routine, but I saw a notable difference in my mood and energy level as a result. The most critical element of that schedule change was to do those things before doing anything else in the morning; looking at my phone before I was done with exercise and meditation made a notable (negative) difference in my mental and physical equilibrium for the rest of the day.

        1. Canyon Fern

          Thanks for the tip about the schedule aspect, @broblawsky. Currently thinking I’ll print off a short checklist of stretching/movement exercises for my wall, then try to install “turn off alarm -> unroll yoga mat” as a habit.

      5. Radu Floricica

        Don’t have much in the way of concrete job advice, because I don’t know the market there. I have a strong suspicion that, like somebody said above, the bar is much lower than you think, but that’s about it. Also with your personality it looks like you’d do well with a full time job, more than freelancing, but I think you know it already.

        I do have a couple of things to say from personal experience. The way you feel is contextual. It’s not so much a personal flaw, as it is a reasonably normal response to a life problem. You’re 9 months unemployed and you freak out. That’s… good? I’d be a hell of more worried if you weren’t, even if it would be a lot more comfortable for you. I’ve also fucked things up for myself at one point, and surprise, I was depressed for a few years.

        There is one and only one point I’m going to say you’re doing wrong. Pretty much every study in existence is saying that exercise is a basic necessity in your current state, not a luxury you can postpone until you can afford PT. I’m not even trying to list the reasons why, it would take too much space. So on this point only you need to grit your teeth and do it. One suggestion (optimized for low willpower) is to get the cheapest gym subscription and contract with yourself the clear rule that you will spend 30 minutes inside that gym every day. Read SSC there if you want, as long as it’s inside the gym.

        I’d have said the same thing on quitting weed btw, but you did it already. Good.

        I don’t know if it’s your cup or tea or not, but Jordan Peterson is pretty much talking to you. It’s almost eerie. Find some videos or buy the book – worst thing is you won’t click.

        And finally, I wouldn’t put too much pressure on myself to date. You’re not at that point in your life. If it happens, great – but now the focus is on… *chuckle* yeah, speaking of JP… on cleaning your room.

        1. Canyon Fern

          No more ganja, no more pot
          Spent five years on “getting got”
          Out with you, you loathsome weed
          You are not a thing I need

          I’ll put on a JP video while I reply to others’ responses and form an action plan. Thanks for being a virtuous commenter as always, @Radu! Hope the Elk of Gratitude from last time is alive and well — or was tasty.

          As for dating: “not putting much pressure on myself” isn’t something I’m good at it, but I swear I’ll try. Perhaps it is time to cultivate a 2D waifu for life-u.

          1. Randy M

            As for dating: “not putting much pressure on myself” isn’t something I’m good at it, but I swear I’ll try. Perhaps it is time to cultivate a 2D waifu for life-u.

            I don’t want to take this more seriously than it is meant, but there’s a nice, wide margin between “being too hard on yourself” and “giving up entirely.”

          2. Radu Floricica

            What Randy said. One of the more useful concepts from the manosphere is Monk Mode – a period where you focus on yourself, not on getting a relationship. It can be anywhere from a month to a year. So more like 2d mistress 😀

            And the Elk is doing well, thank you. NOT tasty.

          3. The original Mr. X

            I’d focus on getting a job before dating. Call me cynical, but I think you’ll have an difficult time getting your girlfriend to respect you if you’re long-term unemployed. (Source: I became unemployed part-way through a previous relationship, and there definitely seemed a pattern of my girlfriend getting more angry and short-tempered with me the longer I’d gone without a job.)

      6. Aftagley

        Q: Join the military?

        I’m biased, but I know a bunch of people who have been whipped into shape by the military and it’s my go-to recommendation for the listless youth. Especially with your background, I can guarantee that if you enlisted/signed up for the reserves and stuck it through you might not enjoy it, but you would almost certainly come out a much better candidate for future jobs and with way more opportunities. It would also 100% explain away any work-history gap prior to your service.

        am concerned about my possible mental illnesses

        Don’t be. If you’re not diagnosed they won’t care. Even diagnosed, they’re so desperate for mandarin speakers that they won’t turn their noses up at someone with possible depression. ADHD is, from my experience, basically a requirement for signing up. Don’t worry about this.

        my prior weed habit.

        This is what’s going to bite you in the ass. Not trying to be harsh, but as a Crypologic Linguist you’ll need a clearance. You’ll be unable to get a clearance within at least 12 months of smoking week, possibly longer if it was a serious addiction. If this is an avenue you want to pursue, keep up the abstinence.*

        IDK if I’m “man enough” to serve .

        This is BS. There is no requisite amount of manliness to serve. The most gender non-conforming people I know I met in the military, same with the nerdiest and most introverted. Your personality doesn’t matter, the military is a machine designed to extract usefulness from anyone.

        *Do not listen to a recruiter about whether or not you’ll get a clearance. They either don’t know or will actively lie to you. There’s a potial fail state where you’ll sign up with a contract that guarantees you your chosen MOS, unless you fail to qualify for that MOS whereupon you’ll get shunted to whatever gruntwork they need. Look up online what they’ll ask you during the clearance process and ensure you’ve got a good answer to all the questions before you sign anything.

        1. Canyon Fern

          I deeply thank you for dispelling my inaccurate understanding of the military, and for telling me about the clearance issue. I’ll put the army option on the back burner and stay sober.

          1. Aftagley

            Man, you’re giving away weasels and quilins and Lions, and all I got was some deepest thanks?

            (JK, you’re welcome. Good luck with everything!)

          2. Canyon Fern

            @Aftagley,

            Canyon Fern here. Not only did my assistant sneak behind my back, he also failed to uphold my standards of propriety! I apologize for his misconduct.

            My preferred courier service owes me a favor: I’ll call it in now. Your Frog of Gratitude will arrive before you know it.

      7. Aharon

        Regarding “Get Exercise”: I agree with other posters that this is important. As you lack discipline and would like to work with a personal trainer, have you considered an online coach?
        I worked with Aadam from Physiqonomics, and did a 16-week 1:1 coaching program.
        I started out at 232 lbs. and got down to 222 lbs. by week 10 – which was when christmas happened and nuked my discipline. Without that interruption, I think I might have done better.

        It’s not as effective as a personal trainer you train with locally, but came in somewhat cheaper (would amount to ~10%-20% of your savings, depending on wether he changed prices since I did the coaching, and on what the Dollar/Pound-Exchange rate currently is).

        If you decide to take this route, I’d be greatful if I could give you my real name and you’d tell him I referred you 🙂

      1. Canyon Fern

        Thank you for asking the million-dollar question! Have yourself a Lion of Gratitude for making me think harder. Quick clarification: writing this has made me realize it’s incorrect to say I lack focus. It’s more correct to say that I lack discipline. I can clearly focus on stuff I care about. I struggle more with “building and solidifying routines” and “sticking to stuff I must do, but don’t want to do.”

        Here are some ideas:
        (A) personal improvement / getting out of my funk
        – methods for improving my discipline, especially in a “bootstrappy” way that will make it easier to continue improving discipline (e.g. “get started with Beeminder or Complice or another discipline tool, with Target #1 being ‘review the discipline tool after Adderall every morning’ and Targets #2 through #N being the actual things I want to achieve using the tool”)
        – suggestions for how to reduce my time from having an idea to executing on it
        – how do I be less hard on myself?!?
        – things which can benefit anyone, but which require time as an input so most people don’t do it (unstructured time seems to be my most precious resource relative to 9-5 workers)
        – “hello” from anyone in or near SoCal’s Beach Cities (or Los Angeles) who might want to hang out IRL [I made a new friend through the November SSC meetup in Irvine and we’re totally bros now!]
        – “hello” from anyone who wants to join me in a job-hunting, skill-building, or craft-making pact (perhaps of the type “each of us produces 1 Thing per day and sends a 1 sentence email to the other person(s) describing it”)
        – “hello” from anyone in or near the Beach Cities who can personally recommend a meetup or hobby group for tech, art, or writing

        (B) job and career
        – leads on companies/projects where my background might be directly applicable, as @FrankistGeorgist so kindly offered below
        – project ideas that might snowball into triggering my obsessive focus while still building marketable skills (nobody will pay me to write poetry but I can’t stop doing it; programming a web service to supply computer-generated poetry would bolster my backend engineering skills while engaging my art muscle both in trying different generation strategies, and in blogging about the whole thing as I go)
        – side-channel ways of making Job Creators notice me (e.g. finding hiring managers on LinkedIn in relevant fields and emailing them directly)
        – suggestions for how to channel my powerful urge to delight and please others (see: Slate Star Showdex) into something that might also be a saleable product (not a whole business, just one item or category of item)
        – career paths or specific companies where a mix of humor, creativity, and language skill would be valuable (marketing/branding?)

        1. mustacheion

          I am not sure how to help you since I haven’t totally crawled out of my slump either, but I can tell you that you are not alone in feeling that way.

          I live in SLO and could use some IRL engagement from this community too, so I might be down to hang out. Its too far to be a day trip, but it could be an overnight. So if you will let me sleep on your couch I might come down for an LA area meetup. I am also down for hiking or kayaking if either of those interest you.

          1. Canyon Fern

            @mustacheion,

            Thank you lots for being brave enough to offer to meet in person!

            SLO is a hell of a ways from LBC, and I can’t offer you my parents’ couch without knowing you beforehand, but maybe I could come up your way instead? I’ve never kayaked but would be interested to learn, and I like hiking. Are there parts of the coast/rivers that are especially good for kayaking?

          2. mustacheion

            I also live with my parents, so perhaps I should say the same thing to you. Looks like hotels in either location are fairly similarly priced, and wouldn’t cost that much more than gas would. So I am fine with either direction. Also it is possible I will be down in LA for business within the next month. Don’t have plans yet, but if I do I will let you know.

            I grew up in LA and haven’t been is SLO for very long, so I don’t know a ton about the hiking around here, but I can make some recommendations.

            Unless you are really adventurous it wouldn’t be a good idea to kayak a river or the ocean for your first time, but there are a few lakes around here I could teach you on. How resistant to cold are you? Unlike canoeing you will get wet when kayaking, and you absolutely have to be dressed warm enough to not get hypothermia if you fall out and are immersed in the water. The weather isn’t cold around here, but it is winter so it isn’t hot either, so you might be more comfortable learning in the summer. I have several choices of wet-suits you could use so you wouldn’t be at risk of hypothermia, but you might still be a bit uncomfortable.

          3. LesHapablap

            Around SLO, Morro Bay is good for kayaking, and Montana de Oro is great for hiking (and mountain biking). Also, Ruddell’s Smokehouse in Cayucus has the greatest smoked fish sandwiches in the world.

          4. mustacheion

            Anyway, you can reach me at ecpoppenheimer at gmail dot com if you want to put a trip together.

    3. thevoiceofthevoid

      Not sure how much useful advice I can give, but I do sympathize with a lot of what you’re going through. ADHD + maybe anxio-depression is a bitch, figuring out what to do with your life is hard, and I know how feeling lonely can drain you of any remaining motivation on a bad day.

      May or may not be able to say something more actionable tomorrow after a good night’s sleep, but at the very least I really hope you can figure things out and get your stuff back on a track you want to travel.

      1. Canyon Fern

        A track I want to travel, eh?

        Any track that passes through villages with people as kindly as you in it is one I want to travel, @thevoiceofthevoid!

        1. thevoiceofthevoid

          Why thank you! And though the editing window has long since passed, I’m retconning that metaphor to be the fully alliterative and less confusing, “get your train on a track you want to travel.” (I’ve been playing Ticket to Ride lately, can you tell?)

          A bit of concrete advice: If you have trouble remembering to take your meds, what you need is a set routine–ideally one with a built in reminder/trigger. If you ought to be taking the Adderall in the morning, put the bottle on your nightstand next to your alarm clock and take one as soon as you wake up. Or in the kitchen next to the toaster and take it while your breakfast cooks (assuming you eat toast for breakfast). When I’ve needed to take meds “some time in the morning”, I’ve accidentally skipped then about half the time. When I took them “with breakfast”, I consistently took them every day…until I stopped eating breakfast. Make sure you pin it to something reliable!

    4. FrankistGeorgist

      So I can send you a list of companies to apply to who I know for a fact want people with Linguistics and Coding backgrounds. They’ll all be New York City based, though, because that’s like – who I work with (though less coding and linguistics these days and more schmoozing because I’m more charming than talented).

      But a cross country move is its own economic, mental, and social nightmare so I”m not exactly advising it.

      1. Canyon Fern

        A wizard named by mashing two Western historical figures together appears and offers me a dangerous, uncertain bargain? Anime is real!

        Please, do send me that list, at the email on my screen name (contact.canyon.fern@gmail.com). Thanks a lot for the lead. I really appreciate it, and I’ll sneak a Centaur of Gratitude out of Canyon Fern’s menagerie, just for you!

        1. DavidFriedman

          A wizard named by mashing two Western historical figures together

          I’m curious what two figures you think the name is based on. To me, “Georgist” is a reference to the economist Henry George, but it could be George Washington, or King George III, or … .

          And “Frankist” doesn’t signal anything in particular to me.

          1. FrankistGeorgist

            Eve Frank. A Messiah of No Importance.

            And you’re right on dear old Henry. I enjoy the pair and the plainness of their names.

            First! All that is Spirit must become Flesh! All law must fail! Transgress every boundary! Second! Tax Reform!

    5. SamChevre

      I managed to keep my first post-college job for 6 months, then job-hunted for 9 months. I was out of work for 18 months when I had about 5 years experience. It’s a miserable experience.

      My advice: temp work. Find a temp agency that places office staff; go in and talk to them in person, professionally dressed and with a resume. You’ll likely get an offer to go somewhere and do random office work the next day. (Excel is a hugely valuable skill–if you can use Python, I’m assuming you can use basic office tools like Word and Excel.)

      You’ll earn a little money, and end up with a few funny stories–but the key is that you’re getting paid to build your network. You aren’t looking for temp-to-perm, or long-term placements. You want to work a different place every week, ideally. And be the nicest memorable guy in the office–funny, polite–and tell people you’re looking for work. At some point, you’ll work with someone who’s best friend from high school’s brother-in-law needs someone with your skills.

      1. Canyon Fern

        Thanks, @SamChevre. You reminded me I know a woman who did basically exactly what you describe (temp a lot of places while playing 6 degrees toward a permanent position) after a long unemployment due to illness. I’ll add temping to the list of strategies as I form objectives for the week/month/quarter.

    6. Randy M

      I’m probably not one to give career or psych advice, but if you want to hang out and talk in person some time, we met at the Irvine meet-up.
      edit: I see you mentioned further down. Shoot me an e-mail at nikisknight at socal dot rr dot com.

      1. Canyon Fern

        I check my plea for help;
        I see replies galore.
        What’s this? Ol’ Randy M is one who chose to take the floor!
        I’m glad to see you write,
        And glad to write you back.
        The two of us should synchronize – perhaps over a snack.

    7. AG

      I suck at job hunts for similar reasons. I got my current job through a referral from a family member-in-law, than any cold-application. Therefore, my recommendation is to ask family and friends for potential job opportunities. Note, this doesn’t mean working with anyone you know. In my case, it was said family member referring me to their friend, whose company had a job opening.
      Make 6 degrees of separation do the work for you.

      A similar mechanic would be to see if your alma mater has an alumni job hunt site.

      1. Canyon Fern

        I feel I’ve been pumping my family and friends network pretty hard, but I can take a look at my school’s alumni network for possible local contacts, as well as see if their career center is open to helping an alum from a few years back. Thanks, @AG, for reminding me of these options.

    8. Elementaldex

      Lots of people are giving you other good suggestions so I want to focus on a small area. Fitness. The halo effect is real. If you look young, healthy, strong, and fit you will get a +x% modifier on your interview performance.

      I regularly interview people and chat with our head of HR about interviews and we regularly discriminate on apparent fitness (fortunately this is an anonymous forum…) for positions which have nothing to do with physical capacity. I believe this was true at my previous job too though I do not know for sure.

      Fitness is hard but one of the things which makes it easier is having time. Go to free yoga/tai chi in a park. Go for a bike ride. Lift heavy things and put them back down (ideally using YouTube videos to correct form), Hardest of all eat well.

      Ideally you can tie this into the networking thing and find groups of free fitness activity people to do fitness things with.

      It is hard but fitness has downstream positive effects on everything. Use your current surplus of time to invest in this. It will eventually pay off.

      1. Canyon Fern

        Thank you for the encouragement, @Elementaldex. Who doesn’t love a +X% modifier? I am sorting out everyone’s replies, and figuring out a plan for the next week, month, and quarter. Exercise will be high priority after what you and @Radu had to say.

    9. eigenmoon

      I wish the Rationality community had some sort of The Ultimate Guide to Building Discipline that everyone could just refer to. After all, if rationality is about winning, and the thing that prevents a lot of people from winning is the lack of discipline, then surely this issue should be extremely important, right? And yet it seems that after a wave of interest in 2009-2011 not much has happened (except PJ Eby’s plan to blog again). I’d love to be proven wrong with a treasure of material from 2011-2020.

      Anyways, here’s my recommendation:
      1. Read the PJ Eby’s classification of techniques. This is very important and the base for everything else.
      2. Check out the Akrasia tactics review that prompted PJ to write his classification and its sequel.
      3. Read Mental Mountains. It’s a great conflict resolution technique and it also makes some of PJ’s more esoteric writings clearer.
      4. And optionally, PJ’s more esoteric writings: Multiple Self, How to Change Your Life, The Refactored Self, Self Version 2.0.
      5. Look outside of Rationality sphere too. I find dopamine fasting to be a fascinating concept.

      I’m not an expert etc, etc, please somebody improve on this. But I’ve applied Mental Mountains as self-help with great effect. Will make a post out of it once I collect more data and understand it better.

    10. The original Mr. X

      Even if there are no jobs around, are there any volunteering opportunities you could take up? That would at least give you something positive to do, and would be better than nothing on your CV.

    11. Etoile

      I think an employment gap of a year and under is probably fine; that’s the gap that I’ve seen some middle-aged people who got laid off have, and then found new jobs; and I’d figure that they have a harder time of it.
      Also, if you did random free-lance jobs, “free-lance web developer” or “self-employed translator” or whatever you did for any appreciable amount of time is a valid resume entry, in my opinion.

      I got two of my most recent jobs through just online job boards/ applying online.

  17. Le Maistre Chat

    Shortly before I left Portland, the city Parks and Recreation Department was installing new fences in a local park tagged with “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
    What a fascinating issue in epistemology! How does the State of California know what chemicals cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm? If another state, like Oregon, lacks this way of knowing, isn’t it true (“knowing” or “knowledge” being “justified true beliefs”) that they’re exposing people to cancer and BDoORH by not deferring to California’s greater knowledge?
    What do you think, rationalists?

    1. Deiseach

      At this stage I think California is stone mad. If you invented the likes of it and put it into a book as a supposedly functional state/province/nation, you’d be accused of wild over-the-top satire of the nature of Gargantua and Pantagruel.

      I’m sitting aghast and agog, with jaw dropped, reading what the geniuses did with law reform on shoplifting. I’m not sure if this was an initiative by the politicians themselves or the Plain People of California voted it in (in which case, it’s a sterling argument against allowing the public to ever have hand, act or part in directly making or affecting laws). But holy Mother of God, who the hell thinks that this is anything except an encouragement to criminality and gangsterism?

      Now, I can see a case for “robbing something to the value of $20 shouldn’t have you treated as a burglar and sent to jail for six years”. That’s not unreasonable. But “up to the value of $950”? That’s not random impulse theft by stupid teenagers or even desperate impoverished single parents, that’s organised thievery by professionals. I think if you’re professionally boosting stuff up to $900 and this is planned theft and it is happening on a regular basis, you damn well should be going to jail for six years.

      I admit, cutting your crime rates by re-writing laws so that crimes are no longer crimes, and not bothering your arse to arrest or prosecute those crimes that still remain crimes, does work – but I think there has to be a better way to do it than “it’s not stealing, we revised the law so that there’s no longer any crime of ‘stealing'”, yes?

      Mandatory disclaimer: My opinion on this may be influenced from when I worked in retail many moons ago and, during my shift, professional shoplifters managed to distract me and steal a cashbox with lottery money. So yeah, my employer was not happy about that and let me know accordingly and yeah, I am not on the side of “but shoplifting is a victimless crime!”

      1. cassander

        As someone who grew up in California, loves it, and no longer lives there I can assure you that we are, indeed, quite mad.

      2. theredsheep

        I like the list of exceptional prior offenses that get it treated as a felony. Especially the way it says murder, including attempted, then bothers to specify “Assault with a machine gun on a peace officer or firefighter.” This seems to imply that this does not constitute murder–presumably this is “assault” in the strict sense of “threaten”? But you’re off the hook if you menaced the firefighter with a shotgun.

        And then there’s the WMD exception: “This guy tried to steal a Playstation. Probation?” “Sure–no, wait! Says here he got caught with nerve gas two years ago. It’s hard time for you, you little bastard.” Presumably possessing WMD is distinct from murder because you could have kept that anthrax as a curio, or for home defense?

        1. AlphaGamma

          WMD has a much wider definition in US criminal law than it does in international diplomacy or common usage- including basically any illegal explosive.

          1. theredsheep

            That makes a bit more sense, though I still don’t see the connection with shoplifting; thanks. How about the machine guns? You know why it has to be a machine gun?

          2. Gobbobobble

            That makes a bit more sense, though I still don’t see the connection with shoplifting; thanks. How about the machine guns? You know why it has to be a machine gun?

            Wild guess: is a bank robbery in the same category as shoplifting?

      3. Plumber

        @Deiseach >

        “…cutting your crime rates by re-writing laws so that crimes are no longer crimes, and not bothering your arse to arrest or prosecute those crimes that still remain crimes, does work…”

        It’s work great!

        My employer now has a whole floor emptied of inmates and now the building houses less than half of what it once did!

        Zuckerberg General Hospital is now swamped with psychotics that are discharged when the meth they ingested wears off, used needles, feces, and passed out people liter our sidewalks, but omelettes, eggs, et cetera.

      4. Murphy

        From the article:

        Records show reports of organized retail theft in Vacaville, crimes with multiple suspects, are up 40 percent this year compared to before Prop 47.

        Does anyone else hate when articles report the relative rather than absolute change?

        CBS 13 learned that there were at least 164 retail crime arrests involving multiple suspects in the first half of the year in Vacaville alone.

        OK, so assuming that this is the same as the 40% thing…

        That means they’re talking about 93 additional/extra cases of shoplifting per year, each for less than $950

        They blame it on the law but crime has slightly increased in most western countries a little from an all time low about 4 years ago.

        So we’re talking about a grand total of (max) $88350 if each crime is worth less than $950

        The cost of keeping someone in jail for a year is $31,000 so, while there’s some value to disproportionate responses to tap things on the head early… if they jailed 3 additional people for a year each to try to avert this whole thing then society has a net loss cash-wise.

        More people and longer sentences would bring us further into disproportionate response and we quickly reach a point of unreasonableness.

        1. Matt

          Murphy:

          So we’re talking about a grand total of (max) $88350 if each crime is worth less than $950

          It seems to me that you’ve got an assumption not accounted for: That every arrest is someone who is brand-new to thievery, and no arrest is of someone who shoplifts professionally, and just got caught this one time.

          I’m not saying your overall point is necessarily wrong, but I don’t think most folks arrested for shoplifting fit this profile, and certainly not when its organized groups of shoplifters.

          You can’t just add up the money from the times these people were caught and say that’s the maximum amount of damage they did.

        2. Deiseach

          Murphy, my argument is (1) $950 is a high level. Sure, if this is the first time every you robbed an iPhone and you’ve never done anything like it before and you were drunk etc. etc. etc. But let’s face it, (2) this is not “low level random theft”, this is professional gangs boosting stuff and being careful to keep it below the $950 limit that would get it treated as a felony.

          If you’re a small to medium business that has $900 worth of stock walking out the door every week, not to mention every couple of days, this is going to affect you. You may close down altogether, or you may move elsewhere (this also has the same effect for large chain businesses which will look at the figures and decide they’ll open a store in Murphyville instead of Robberstown). Then people complain as to why deprived areas like Robberstown don’t have the same range of goods and services and why their quality of life is worse and of course this must be down to Structural Racism.

          I’m arguing that while the intention of the law may have been “value of goods to count as a felony should be in line with inflation and we want to reduce incarceration as a first option”, the result was “professional gangs of shoplifters know that as long as they keep the value below the limit, with the risks now associated for businesses of counter lawsuits for ‘assault’ if a security guard or shop assistant tries to stop them leaving the store with a bundle of goods, and the reluctance of the police to engage in vehicle chases especially for ‘it’s only a misdemeanour not a felony’ charges, then they have no risk about being blatant when robbing stores”.

      5. Aftagley

        That’s not unreasonable. But “up to the value of $950”? That’s not random impulse theft by stupid teenagers or even desperate impoverished single parents, that’s organised thievery by professionals. I think if you’re professionally boosting stuff up to $900 and this is planned theft and it is happening on a regular basis, you damn well should be going to jail for six years.

        I think you’re undervaluing the cost of electronics and the kind of stuff stupid teenagers want to steal. The current model iphone looks like it costs over this limit, and most phones/laptops/other electronics run somewhere in the 400-800 dollar range.

        Also, it looks like prop 47 explicitly states that if you’ve got a criminal record the level is lower. I don’t know how it’s enforced in practice, but it looks like your dumbass teens might get one warning but professionals will be unaffected.

        1. Deiseach

          I still think that if dumb teenagers are stealing such goods, it should be treated seriously. $950 is a good sum of money. And my main point is that while it may have been aimed at the “dumbass teens robbing smartphones”, in practice it lets professional thieves off the hook. It’s too much of a risk nowadays for stores to challenge thieves physically so they can only stand there and take note of who stole the goods as they flee the store, and if it’s a misdemeanour the police, as linked articles note, aren’t eager to get involved in car chases and confrontations. Unless you get the police arresting someone who can be proven to be a professional shoplifter, the return on stealing high-value electronics is looking better than the risk of pursuit and arrest for such gangs.

          Also, professional shoplifters are brazen about such things as using children when out on robbing sprees, for the very reason that store guards and police are wary of interfering with kids and will be pilloried by the public if the story can be spun that “police threatened nine year old girl!” It has been reported that professional shoplifters here in Ireland will stash stolen items in prams and strollers, or give it to kids to hold, for that very reason.

    2. Plumber

      @Le Maistre Chat,
      After a blessedly short (but fright-filled) acclimation period thanks to that labeling law this Californian now understands that damn near everything is “known to cause cancer”, and is thus relieved of worry about specific substances that I previously knew of, so a net win.

      Smoke ’em if you got ’em!

      *cough*

    3. thevoiceofthevoid

      From what I’ve heard, the list of chemicals that are “known” to cause harm basically includes anything that any study found any possibility of harm at any dose. And the standard for an acceptable dose is….1/1000th of the dose at which there is literally no observed effect. (maybe that’s actually reasonable?)

    4. BBA

      The issue here is that the law does not provide any penalty for putting the cancer warning on a product that does not contain carcinogens. Therefore, everyone just puts the label on everything to be safe. Hey, you can’t prove that it doesn’t cause cancer, right?

    5. HeelBearCub

      What a fascinating issue in epistemology! How does the State of California know what chemicals cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm?

      Do you know the commenter HeelBearCub, Le Maistre Chat? If so, I am known to you. This does not preclude me being known to anyone else, here or elsewhere. It doesn’t imply that your knowing of me is of the same quality as my in real life friends’ knowledge.

      If you claim not to know me, because you haven’t met me in real life, this still doesn’t prevent others here from validly claiming to know me (even though they also haven’t met me in real life). It merely implies that they are using a subtly different definition of the word “know”. I realize that words having multiple meanings, and that the fact this can even be contextual, can be annoying, but that’s language for you.

      All the word “known” does in the label is state that the substance meets a certain definition provided by the State of California for “cancer causing”. This doesn’t have to be the same definition as any other state or entity.

      1. Dacyn

        Sure, “speakers use their own language”. It raises the question of who exactly the speaker of these messages is. Arguably in this case it is the Portland Parks&Rec Department. So if they say that California “knows” that the product causes cancer, they are asserting that California’s criteria constitute knowledge not only under California’s standards but also their own.

    6. bean

      Proposition 65 is one of the better arguments against California’s referendum system. Those labels are everywhere, and everyone just ignores them. It did give me one of my better jokes as a tour guide. I’d tell visitors that they couldn’t go into turrets were filled with chemicals that were known to give them cancer not only in California, but in most other states as well.

      1. Randy M

        It’s sad and amusing to see this silliness spreading to other states as well.
        I’m not sure if this is merely a cya law or if they expect anyone to actually avoid all gas stations, supermarkets, industry, and, apparently, parks in order to avoid these chemicals, all of which apparently deserve equal caution.

        1. Andrew Cady

          They’re helpful when deciding what to let your infant children put in their mouths, at the very least.

          1. Nornagest

            Now that Prop 65 warnings cover, among other things, baked goods, I rather doubt it.

            (Not sketchy adulterated baked goods. Just regular old baked goods. The warning is for acrylamide, which is produced in small quantities anytime you cook something starchy enough to brown it.)

      2. Garrett

        I would argue that, assuming your employer has one on the door, it turns *any* cancer case into a workman’s comp case. After all, they knew they were exposing you to carcinogens …

    7. Andrew Cady

      isn’t it true (“knowing” or “knowledge” being “justified true beliefs”) that they’re exposing people to cancer and BDoORH by not deferring to California’s greater knowledge?

      California is NOT saying that it knows that the fences cause cancer. It is saying that some chemical in the fences is known to cause cancer.

      It’s left for the buyer to decide whether their level or type of exposure to the fence itself will actually have adverse effects.

      If another state, like Oregon, lacks this way of knowing

      It doesn’t. Both California and Oregon will concur about which chemicals are contained in the products and about which chemicals cause cancer.

    8. Deiseach

      Le Maistre Chat, what I should of course have asked you is this: are those fences made out of nitrate- and/or nitrite-containing meat? 🙂

  18. hash872

    Going to continue to (modestly, cautiously) argue for decriminalization of all drugs in the US. I’m not 100% sold on the idea, but I’m 70-80% into it- arguments here:

    1. Possession of a usable, small amount would not be an arrestable or fineable offense, but an officer who sees you possessing something would be required to take it away. Reasoning: would prevent junkies, homeless from openly shooting up heroin or smoking crack in public, which would freak out non-drug users and undermine public support.

    2. All drugs would be included, no matter how ‘bad’ they are.

    3. As has been endlessly documented, arresting users for small-scale possession is tremendously expensive for state & local governments, to arguably extremely little benefit. While I agree the state has a compelling, legitimate public health motivation in preventing hard drug usage- actual addicts can’t be deterred by arrest, and casual experimenters are much motivated by ease of supply/convenience (i.e. can I easily & without hassle get my hands on x hard drug, especially without risk of arrest but also mugging, odds of getting ripped off, waiting period, hassle, dealing with sketchy/obnoxious street people, etc. Source, personal experience).

    4. There’s no connection between decriminalizing possession & enforcing the illegality of hard drug sales, which I still support. We can do one without the other- and in fact, with less resources devoted to street-level busts there can be more resources devoted to chasing larger traffickers. Non-addicts/aka casual drug experimenters are mostly motivated by ease of supply- we can still crack down on trafficking.

    5. I’ve seen a lot of ‘the opioid crisis proves that drug legalization doesn’t work’ arguments out there, but I see opioids as a massive supply issue- there were a lot of them, they were extremely widespread, and they were very easy to get through legal/non-sketchy channels.

    5. It’s a policy that can be easily tested, rolled out at the very local level (a city, a county), and easily rolled back if it doesn’t work out/my hypotheses are wrong. This is the essential idea behind ‘the states are the laboratory of democracy’ concept. (Yes technically the feds could swoop in & still arrest people, but in practice the DEA/FBI is not arresting significant numbers of individual street users)

    1. thevoiceofthevoid

      Agreed. The idea that people should be locked up for years just because they ingested certain dangerous psychoactive substances strikes me as incredibly unjust.

      1. TheContinentalOp

        Are there really that many people in the US locked up for years for possession (and only for possession, not any other offense)

        How many of those in jail solely for simple possession are there because they took a plea deal rather than face more serious charges?

        Note: I also don’t think people should be in jail for using drugs, but it’s my belief that the numbers of people in jail aren’t that high.

        1. thevoiceofthevoid

          Yes, it’s a minority of the total prison population (1 in 5, or maybe about half that if you exclude nonviolent trafficking charges? Only some of the segments differentiate so it’s a bit difficult to add up the totals.) But we’re still in the 10s or 100s of thousands of people, which I think is a significant enough population to care about, whether or not it’s a large portion of the total number incarcerated.

          And yes, some of those might be plea bargains down from more serious charges, but even if that accounts for half of them…we’re still in the 10s to 100s of thousands of people in jail just for doing drugs.

          1. cassander

            I believe 1/5 is all drug related crimes, not just possession. And as TheContinentalOp says, a lot of people who were guilty of larger crimes pled down to possession. Of course, were possession not a crime, the effects that would have on the rest of the system are not exactly predictable.

          2. thevoiceofthevoid

            @cassander
            Yeah, you’re right. The data for federal prison from my source isn’t broken down into possession vs. other drug-related charges, but the drug incarceration figures for local prison (56% possession) and state prison (23% possession) are. I’d guess the proportion in federal prison for possession is even smaller. If we assume it’s 10%, then there’s a total of about 140,000 people in prison for possession charges. (130,000 if you assume ~0 in federal prison for possession.) That’s only 6% of the total prison population, admittedly less than the 1 in 5 figure I cited. However, that’s still a pretty large absolute number of people, about 1 in 2000 of the US population!

            There’s also about 1 to 1.5 million drug possession arrests each year. Even arrests that don’t lead to convictions can still screw up someone’s life, especially if they can’t afford bail.

        2. Andrew Cady

          No, but there are a lot more people locked up for days for possession than there are people locked up for years (for anything).

          1. acymetric

            Consider that there are a fair number (I don’t have any numbers in front of me, but it is at least a non-negligible amount) who spend more time in jail awaiting trial than they would have if they were found guilty because they can’t post bond (and some of them end up being straight acquitted, meaning no jail time was appropriate).

    2. Mark V Anderson

      4. There’s no connection between decriminalizing possession & enforcing the illegality of hard drug sales, which I still support. We can do one without the other- and in fact, with less resources devoted to street-level busts there can be more resources devoted to chasing larger traffickers. Non-addicts/aka casual drug experimenters are mostly motivated by ease of supply- we can still crack down on trafficking.

      I agree with pretty much everything else you’ve said, but very strongly disagree with this point. If it is still illegal to sell drugs, all the problems of prohibiting drugs still exist, you haven’t fixed anything.

      1) You can’t trust anything you buy on the black market, because the sellers are not subject to laws or regulations. Most of the issues you hear about having to do with vaping are due to adulterated products bought on the Black Market. Truly legalizing pot would fix that issue, but keeping the sales illegal would not. I am less sure about opiods, but I suspect that this too is a matter of making such drugs illegal to sell.

      2) The criminal gangs that control drug selling would still need to be underground, so just as dangerous. It might be even more dangerous for buyers in the Black Market, because the sellers would know they had zero risk from the law, so the sellers would be even more paranoid about being turned in.

      3) Most drug offenders in jail now are there for selling, so it wouldn’t decrease much the number of prisoners. Your comment on the enormous government effort of arresting users for small amounts is not true. They have always focused on dealers, not users.

      4) The US would still spend enormous amounts of money trying to stop drugs from entering the country, which also increases crime and hurts our international image.

      About the only downside of prohibition that your change would fix is it would be easier for users to obtain help for addictions. I don’t know if legalizing the use of drugs and not the sale would even be an improvement.

      1. Andrew Cady

        3) Most drug offenders in jail now are there for selling, so it wouldn’t decrease much the number of prisoners.

        Arrestees for possession are a majority of drug arrestees. They don’t make up a majority of the prison population, only because their sentences are shorter (or not carceral) compared to other offenses.

        Consequently, what you say here is true about the number of prisoners but not the number of people imprisoned.

      2. Aftagley

        3) Most drug offenders in jail now are there for selling, so it wouldn’t decrease much the number of prisoners. Your comment on the enormous government effort of arresting users for small amounts is not true. They have always focused on dealers, not users.

        +1 to this point. Almost noone gets arrested for pure possession. They might get picked up on possession charges if they are doing something else shady, but cops by and large don’t care about someone walking around with weed.

        4) The US would still spend enormous amounts of money trying to stop drugs from entering the country, which also increases crime and hurts our international image.

        I think you can argue if whether or not our enforcement action creates more or less crime, but it’s very hard to argue that our international image is being hurt by our enforcement operations. What’s your reasoning on this?

        1. acymetric

          +1 to this point. Almost noone gets arrested for pure possession. They might get picked up on possession charges if they are doing something else shady, but cops by and large don’t care about someone walking around with weed.

          I’m going to push back a bit on this. It depends heavily on where you live (state and municipality).

          Also, “something else shady” is open to…broad interpretation.

        2. Mark V Anderson

          it’s very hard to argue that our international image is being hurt by our enforcement operations. What’s your reasoning on this?

          To the extent the US puts pressure on 3rd world countries to control their own growing or merchandising these drugs, we are treated as imperialists interfering in other countries’ affairs (as I think such actions should be treated).

          Also, the US is known as having nasty customs for people coming into the country. I think a lot of this harshness is due to the hysteria about drug trafficking.

    3. Well...

      I used to argue modestly and cautiously for drug legalization, but decided to switch to loudly and belligerently for it. I don’t care if meth and heroin are packaged for kids and sold from grocery store checkout impulse racks (and I have young kids of my own!) if it means the cartels lose their chief source of revenue. And soon, before they fully diversify into other areas.

  19. mustacheion

    I could really use some advice about online dating. I will consider anybody’s advice, but since I am an
    autogynephilic genderqueer/non-binary male looking for a relationship with a woman, advice from masculine men may not be very relevant to me. So I would most value advice from women who are attracted to non-masculine men (though you don’t have to be at all interested in me in particular).

    While every aspect of my online dating game is poor, I think the thing most holding me back at the moment is my messaging. Over the month of December I matched with and messaged five women on OKC. Every one of these had like’d me before I like’d them back. Two unmatched me without a response. One responded to my two-sentence question opening message with a “Heeey!” after an hour or two which left me totally baffled as to how to respond. I hesitated to respond until she unmatched me in a few hours further. One maintained the barest dribble of conversation for two or three messages, generally avoiding giving me anything meaningful about herself, and then gave me her number and asked me to text her. I thought about it for about a day before deciding to decline because it just didn’t seem like that was going anywhere. The fifth woman I was super in to, and things went spectacularly well for about a week of back-and-forth… until she suddenly ghosted and unmatched me. This one really hurt. She was giving me really interesting and in-depth conversation. Fairly early on I asked if she wanted to meet in person and she said yes, but wanted to wait until the end of the Holidays since she had lots of stuff to do. Maybe she simply changed her mind, maybe I said something that turned her off; in either of those circumstances I would be sad, but that would be ok. But if this happened because I am doing something really wrong, or not doing something that I should be doing, I would really like to know what that thing is.

    Clearly my expectations, my messaging strategy, or both are wrong. So what the hell am I supposed to be doing here? I am trying to use messaging as a way to learn more about the other person, to help decide if I actually want to meet them in person. I have read a decent number of articles about this online, and their advice seems incorrect to me. Or perhaps I am just not implementing it correctly? I am a shy and awkward person, but I can do a passable job holding a conversation as long as I am not trying to be flirty or romantic. But I fail horribly whenever I try to flirt.

    So any advice from my fellow SSC’ers would be great. But I am also willing to try professional advice. Does anybody have any experience with matchmaking services or paid dating advice/consultants? I have heard that you can pay people to run your dating profile for you, messaging people and setting up dates for you. Do you think that is ethical? Workable? Worth the price? I think I would be willing to pay up to a thousand dollars for help, but only if it came with a strong recommendation. I am not at all wealthy and don’t have much money to throw around, but a relationship would really improve my quality of life so I am willing to invest in that opportunity if I think it has a high enough likelihood of return. If I think about it, I would probably be willing to spend up to ten grand on a matchmaking service, but I would only do that if I could sign a contract that 1: allowed me to pay over several years, and 2: only required me to pay if the service resulted in a marriage.

    1. Erusian

      My general dating advice still applies.

      Generally, I’d say you seem socially awkward and like you’re giving up too early. I’d work on that. You should expect to go on dozens or hundreds of dates, especially with online dating. And social skills are skills and they get better with practice. Looking better helps too. Attraction tends to be one of those things people back-justify. If you’re good looking and good on a date then people will tend to bend to your preferences (to some extent) in order to be with you. They’ll convince themselves they really wanted a feminine man even if they wouldn’t have said so at first.

      Also, I don’t know your definition of ‘feminine’, but my observation is that stereotypically femme men have at best a slight disadvantage in dating if they’re otherwise attractive. I’ve seen lispy cross dressing theater kids who are handsome running what are basically harems and I’ve seen muscle bound jocks struggle to have a relationship last longer than a night.

      So to some extent I think you’re using that as an excuse. Get in shape, get socially skilled, dress better, and see if that solves the problem. (And besides: it’s cheaper than paying a dating coach. $20 a month gym membership, a few hundred on clothes, and hanging out at the mall is free.)

      1. mustacheion

        Except for the one time, I haven’t even had the opportunity to give up too early. And I haven’t made it far enough for my social skills to matter either. I need to know what kind of message I am supposed to send as an opener.

        Easiest way to appear more attractive would be to simply take better profile pictures. Not something that I exactly know how to do, but something I will work on. I have tried dressing differently in the past, and it felt really uncomfortable, so that would be a last resort for me. I can hike 20 miles in a day and whitewater kayak. I’m not weak and I don’t look weak, but I also have a bit of a belly and don’t look ‘fit’. I wouldn’t mind working down the belly but I do not want to look ‘fit’. I don’t like that kind of body type, either on myself or others.

        I am not really feminine, but I don’t go out of my way to be masculine either. I exhibit traits from both sides of the spectrum.

        I appreciate the advice, so I am not trying to be rude, just pointing out how differently your and my minds are when I say that trying to hone my social skills by hanging out at the mall feels impossibly difficult. I can’t even conceive of what that would look like. I feel like it would be easier to get a PhD in ancient Chinese literature and get appointed to be the ambassador to China than to do that.

        1. Erusian

          Your social skills always matter to social activity. Saying you haven’t made it far enough for it to matter is like… Imagine you were telling me you couldn’t possibly kayak, you tried paddling five times and didn’t actually manage to move the boat at all. And I said that exercising would build stamina you could use in kayaking. And you said that you hadn’t made it far enough that stamina mattered. Maybe there’s other concerns like skill but you do need to start building stamina.

          Easiest way to appear more attractive would be to simply take better profile pictures. Not something that I exactly know how to do, but something I will work on.

          I’m an amateur photographer that’s been paid for my work. Happy to answer questions.

          have tried dressing differently in the past, and it felt really uncomfortable, so that would be a last resort for me.

          Why did it feel uncomfortable?

          I can hike 20 miles in a day and whitewater kayak. I’m not weak and I don’t look weak, but I also have a bit of a belly and don’t look ‘fit’.

          Work out somewhat more then and focus on diet. You can’t outrun or out-hike your fork. Aesthetics matter.

          I say that trying to hone my social skills by hanging out at the mall feels impossibly difficult. I can’t even conceive of what that would look like. I feel like it would be easier to get a PhD in ancient Chinese literature and get appointed to be the ambassador to China than to do that.

          Well, do that then. Seriously, do it. I guarantee you’d meet some people on the way and improve your social skills. First step is applying to an Ancient Chinese literature program.

          If you want to take the easier way, I can’t exactly tell what your level of social skill is. You say you go hiking and whitewater kayaking. Completely alone? If yes, go find a group. When you get there, talk about whitewater kayaking with the other people you’ve preselected for whitewater kayaking. Then move onto any other subject. The weather. Sports. Your favorite band. Ancient Chinese literature. Your dog. It doesn’t matter. Rinse and repeat until you feel comfortable talking and approaching people.

          There really is no other way to do it. With apologies to our neurological differences, we are similar in at least this: we both get better at social skill by using it. Likewise, I might be weak and you might be strong but we both get stronger by lifting weights.

          1. mustacheion

            If you are in California, maybe I will hit you up for some pictures next time I am in one of the big cities.

            Its difficult to describe why I don’t like trying new clothing. The stuff I got was expensive, low-quality, and uncomfortable, but I know that can be fixed with effort. More important is that I am really bad at making simple choices like what to wear. It is unreasonably stressful for me. So I wear pretty much the same thing every day – schlubby accountant clothes. And it doesn’t help that I am completely apathetic towards men’s fashion but also completely uninterested in presenting feminine in public.

            I learned to kayak in an excellent Outdoors club in Wisconsin. That was undoubtedly really good for me. I set a rule for myself: try to socialize with women but don’t try to date any of them. Enforcing that constraint took a lot of pressure away from me and really helped with my anxiety. I think I did ok. But unfortunately I had to move into the population black hole between LA and SF. There are only one or two hundred-thousand people within a hundred miles of me, but something like ten-million within two-hundred-and-fifty. I am just far away enough from Fresno Bakersfield, Santa Barbara and Salinas that it is pretty difficult to interact with people there.

            I joined the rationalist hiking group, but unfortunately there wasn’t really enough interest from other people to actually get anything going. I tried, but I think I have already been annoying enough!

            I suppose I should make the effort to try going to an LA or SF meetup.

    2. Pink-Nazbol

      autogynephilic genderqueer/non-binary male looking for a relationship with a woman, advice from masculine men may not be very relevant to me. So I would most value advice from women who are attracted to non-masculine men

      Here’s your problem. You don’t have to be masculine but are you at least pretending to be such? You don’t have to fool them, just give them plausible deniability to look the other way.

      I have heard that you can pay people to run your dating profile for you, messaging people and setting up dates for you. Do you think that is ethical?

      Not in any ethical system I know of. But who says you need bind yourself to an ethical system? Reminds me of this:

      https://youtu.be/XfsU_p5yqUc?t=52

      The real mystery is why this isn’t happening all the time. It’s an area that seems especially ripe for specialization and trade. Whenever men are discussing our frustrations on the internet there is always some concern troll who says “lol 80 percent of men don’t have these problems dating is easy just be yourself.” But we all know that’s a crock of crap, confirmed by data which shows that most male profiles are rated as unattractive:

      https://www.yourtango.com/2016285828/women-find-80-percent-men-unattractive-says-crazy-study

      1. mustacheion

        I am not interested in hiding my gender identity. I only feel comfortable presenting as male in public, but I need my partner to think I look good in a dress in private. I understand that this considerably reduces my pool of potential partners, but that is the way it is.

        One issue I have is that I have no idea how to convey this information to potential matches.

        1. Matt M

          One issue I have is that I have no idea how to convey this information to potential matches.

          Maybe include that exact sentence in your profile?

          Look, this is going to be tough for you. Dating sites are a numbers game, even in the mass-market hetero dating scene. You are participating in a niche market which greatly reduces your available matches immediately.

          Sites “matching” you with people is irrelevant. Most people don’t care about their matches, or have so many it’s not really a relevant/proper filter. In my experience, less than five percent of people you message will message you back. From there, less than 10% will keep replying long enough to actually build something representing a relationship, and at that point, maybe 1/3 will actually go on one date with you (at which point your meatspace social skills probably decide whether you get a second date/relationship or not, for me it was about 25%). Do the math on that and figure out how many people you need to message to get a single second date and it’s not pretty.

          So uh, my best advice is that you need to lower your standards/expand your funnel. Have you considered engaging in a worldwide search (with the intention of moving or convincing your partner to move if the relationship works)? Expanding the relevant age range?

          1. mustacheion

            I have been trying to keep it local but yeah, expanding the geographic extent is probably the correct choice. Though I wonder how many other people are willing to even bother with a non-local?

            I would really like to move away from where I live now. Though it seems… dangerous to move for a romantic relationship unless that relationship is quite well established.

          2. Matt M

            Though I wonder how many other people are willing to even bother with a non-local?

            How many people, in general? Few.

            How many people who are looking for something that your specific niche provides? Perhaps relatively more.

            Though it seems… dangerous to move for a romantic relationship unless that relationship is quite well established.

            It is. As I said, this won’t be easy for you. That said, I’ve seen it happen/work.

        2. Pink-Nazbol

          I need my partner to think I look good in a dress in private

          That’s a tall order and they’d just be pretending anyway. Have you considered the traditional strategy of keeping it a secret from your partner and acting it out with a prostitute?

          1. Enkidum

            That’s a tall order

            Yes, but that’s what’s great about the modern dating world.

            and they’d just be pretending anyway.

            Absolutely not. The world is full of people with kinks, and this is a fairly common one.

      2. baconbits9

        But we all know that’s a crock of crap, confirmed by data which shows that most male profiles are rated as unattractive:

        What that data actually showed was that women are harsh at rating attractiveness but forgiving of their own assessments.

        1. Pink-Nazbol

          You’re ignoring the fact that a minority of women are sending the first message and assuming that this minority is representative of all women in the sample.

          1. baconbits9

            It is possible that they don’t represent it, but I believe that a higher % of men land dates on these sites than those rated as attractive which would bolster the claim. My estimation is that a large % of women bin men into three categories.

            1. Attractive enough to date with no other qualifications
            2. Attractive enough to date with other qualifications
            3. Not attractive enough to date.

    3. thisheavenlyconjugation

      “I thought about it for about a day before deciding to decline because it just didn’t seem like that was going anywhere” was probably a mistake. It seems quite possible (in fact very likely) that she was in to you but busy/averse to messaging on OKC. Wanting to switch channels away from the dating app is a good sign (for instance it shows they trust you not to stalk/spam them if they later reject you).

      I think using messaging “to help decide if I actually want to meet them in person” is the wrong way to go about things. Unless going on dates is a particularly costly thing for you, or you think you’re vastly more charming when messaging, I think your mindset should be aiming to get a date with everyone you match with.

      1. mustacheion

        I should have been more clear that I was feeling like she was acting sketchy. Her profile was near zero effort, her one picture was unclear and didn’t show her face. Not totally sure she was even a real person or a catfish. But I suppose you are right, there wasn’t much risk in it for me. I would prefer not to waste the time on a date with a completely random person that I know nothing about.

        And for your second point, ok. So am I opening with a date proposal as a first message then? Or what?

        1. thisheavenlyconjugation

          So am I opening with a date proposal as a first message then? Or what?

          No, but IMO your aims in messaging should be displaying attractive qualities (funny, interesting, not a serial killer etc.) and moving things in the direction of a date. That doesn’t mean asking people out immediately, but you don’t want to wait too long. This is in response to my impression of your approach though, not the stories — it sounds like it didn’t come up there.

          Going back to your original post, I think it’s also quite possible that your expectations are wrong, i.e. that 5 matches/month is either a reasonable number based on a (too low) level of use of OKC on your part, or it’s too low and there’s something wrong with your profile; and that the proportions of non-responses etc. are reasonable. But I’ve never used OKC so that may well be wrong.

          1. mustacheion

            5 mathes/month seems reasonable to me, and evidence that my profile isn’t completely terrible. Which is why I was more focused on asking what to do in the messaging phase.

    4. Lord Nelson

      I’m not going to comment on most of the post, since I am far too autistic to have ever tried dating sites. The one piece of advice I can give, as a member of the female persuasion, is “definitely don’t pay someone else to message women for you.” Unethical is a bit strong, imo, but I’d be pretty creeped out if I found out someone was doing that with me. Plus it seems like it would cause problems down the road if, for instance, your personality is different from the person pretending to be you.

      There’s a lot you could do with 1000 dollars, and paying someone else to run your dating site seems like a really poor use of it.

    5. Lambert

      Is Ozy still doing that advice column?

      More generally, find GNC people/ the broader ‘queer’ community and ask for advice there and/or directly meet cute people in that community.

    6. aristides

      So your psychological profile sounds similar to mine, and I am now happily married, so I’ll let you know what I did that had success. Possible differences that your response doesn’t tell me enough to know if they are differences. I am considered conventionally attractive, 7/10, when I was dating I was a law student at the most prestigious law school in the major city that I lived in. I also have one more secret relationship killer that I won’t mention here. I was as you said, extremely socially awkward, autogynephilic, I hate the term non-binary, but it’s probably accurate, man.

      I used Tindr and had a short honest profile, that scared away most girls, stating my interest. I swiped right on approximately 10,000 girls, 100 swiped right on me, I had dated with 5 of them, and married one. My most successful opener was tell me two truths and a lie. My wife is bisexual, but primarily attracted to women, and I told her all my secrets by month 3. She is also two social classes below me, but only slightly less intelligent, and conventionally unattractive, for reasons I will never understand, since I consider her the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

      I don’t know how much of my story generalizes. I consider myself very lucky to have met her, and not many places have 10,000 eligible women on dating sites. Also, I do think it is possible to improve social skills. I carefully studied psychology, and my social skills have improved immensely since high school. The skills themselves did not improve until after I had more practice, spending time with my wife and at work, but it is possible to improve.

      1. mustacheion

        Glad to hear you had success. On my profile I list my gender identity as both man and genderqueer, which feels pretty accurate to me. And I don’t mention anything else about autogynephillia. But it sounds like you think I should be more clear about that?

        1. aristides

          Actually no, I think you’ve mentioned enough. I didn’t mention that until 3 months in. In general, if you have a large enough dating pool, I think it’s in your benefit to be more upfront about yourself. If you have a smaller dating pool, it might be best to wait until you know the person better, but still don’t wait more than 3 months to mention anything that is a potential deal breaker on either side.

    7. Aftagley

      Over the month of December I matched with and messaged five women on OKC. Every one of these had like’d me before I like’d them back. Two unmatched me without a response. One responded to my two-sentence question opening message with a “Heeey!” after an hour or two which left me totally baffled as to how to respond [and one kind of worked, but maybe not]

      Yep, welcome to online dating. I’m fairly conventionally attractive and have an interesting-ish profile and my match-to-date conversation rate is only somewhere in the 5-10% range. All a match on OKC means is that while swiping through a sea of faces they made the split-second decision that your face met whatever criteria they had at that time. It doesn’t mean anything more than that. It doesn’t mean they’ve read your profile, it doesn’t mean they want to meet you, it doesn’t mean they’re even looking for a date right now. It just means they momentarily thought your face looked kinda good.

      Clearly my expectations, my messaging strategy, or both are wrong.

      If you have expectations, you’re wrong. Don’t start caring about anyone pretty much up until you’ve got a date lined up, and even then be aware there’s still like a 25% chance you’ll get stood up.

      Meanwhile, your messaging strategy is also kinda messed up. The only purpose of messaging should be to get someone’s phone number. You don’t want to back and forth, you don’t want to chat or get to know the person – that’s what dating is for. The purpose of messaging is to present normal enough to get a phone number. The point of getting a phone number is to text enough to set up a first date. Nothing else matters.

      So what the hell am I supposed to be doing here?

      Swipe right on more people, care about the individual prospects less.

      I am trying to use messaging as a way to learn more about the other person, to help decide if I actually want to meet them in person.

      Two points:

      1. Why? Someone’s texting ability doesn’t correlate to how much fun you’ll have in person together. Just focus on meeting up and deciding then.

      2. The problem is, other people aren’t using this messaging to get to know you, they’re using it to meet up. If you try to drag out the messaging phase you’re going to lose their interest. Not trying to be mean, but this is probably why girl number 5 ghosted you – you didn’t move quickly enough so she lost interest.

      Does anybody have any experience with matchmaking services or paid dating advice/consultants? I have heard that you can pay people to run your dating profile for you…

      It’s maybe, maybe worth money to invest in someone to build a profile for you. There are people who will take professional-grade photos of you from maximally-flattering angles and help you craft some kind of witty profile. You can, however, get the same benefit from one buddy who knows even a little about photography and asking like two female friends for advice. It depends on what you think is better. If you have literally 0 flattering pictures of yourself, maybe it’s worth it to get a profile built.

      I have heard that you can pay people to run your dating profile for you, messaging people and setting up dates for you.

      Real talk time, forgive me if this sounds harsh. So, you earlier said “you message people to learn more about the person and decide if you want to meet them” and now you’re willing to offload all of that to people who will almost certainly be following the theory of messaging->digits->date? That doesn’t make sense, and makes me thing you’re not being honest with yourself about your own priorities. Don’t pay for messaging, just take a step back, get some distance emotionally from the people you match with and start playing a numbers game.

    8. mustacheion

      Its funny how my internal belief was that I had really low standards and was willing to take almost anybody who would have me, but all of your responses show this to be untrue. Clearly I want to fall in love right away. But that isn’t how things are going to happen. I know this, but clearly I haven’t truly internalized it.

      I think this has been really helpful so far.

      Right now on my profile I list my gender as both male and genderqueer, which feels like a pretty accurate description. And I don’t mention anything else about it, or anything about autogynephillia. But maybe I should be much more clear about that? Since it is a critical part of who I am, should I be more willing to filter out anybody not interested in that kind of partner? I am thinking adding something like this to my profile:

      “Male privilege is really convenient and trans-phobia sucks so I only present as male in public, but I really like how it feels to wear a dress, so tell me whether you think I would look cuter in an elegant satin ball gown or a fluffy chiffon princess dress.”

      Is this too weird or uncomfortable? This would definitely filter out most women, but do you think it would let enough through? Suggestions / alterations?

      1. Canyon Fern

        @mustacheion,

        You answered my plea for help; one good turn deserves another. I’m a cis-het male, so can’t speak to non-binary or autogynephilia, but I can give you some tips on how to approach dating, mentally and strategically, that I think will apply. [I skimmed the responses to your post; forgive me if I’m repeating anything.]

        (1) CRUCIAL: I advise you not to mention wearing dresses in your profile. “Male” and “genderqueer” are enough to start. I disagree with the other responders: you DON’T want to filter people based on autogynephilia or cross-dressing[footnote 1], not at first. Why? Because a partner who has already gotten to like you in your public identity will often be willing to accept a ‘secret’ identity as you grow closer, even if they would have instinctively rejected you, up front, based on that information. Human beings form friendly and romantic relationships partially by sharing vulnerable moments, and you have a built-in super-vulnerable moment ready to go once you arrive at a certain level of intimacy with someone.

        (2) Your main obstacle, it seems, is your unfortunate geographic placement. I imagine the nearby Bay Area would give you an easier time, given the sexual subcultures I know of in that area. As others have said, dating apps are a numbers game. IIRC you’re an accountant; is it not the case that your skills are in demand all over the nation, much like nurses are? A move to a city with liberal attitudes and decent female:male ratio is a large and guaranteed boost in the right direction. I can personally vouch for Portland, Oregon as a (small) city where non-traditionally-masculine men date all kinds of ladies, and where “alternative” lifestyles are celebrated. [And I have contacts at Intel who might be able to help you get in the door there.]

        (3) You may have to grind in-person social skills. I went from “stuttering and nervous” to “nervousness is there but fails to intercept my rise to Valhalla on a geyser of word vomit” by forcing myself to do scary stuff. A class on improv performance (usually called “improv comedy” — a misnomer, since improv doesn’t have to be funny) is almost certainly the #1 tactic here. Two reasons why: (a) conversation is fundamentally an improvised scenario, even if you learn to recognize patterns. (b) In particular, improv trains you to listen and respond to exactly what other people say. You may already know that to be a powerful conversation tactic, but not know how to actually use it on the fly. Improv will train you in the rudiments of that skill for roughly a couple hundred bucks and one night per week for two months.

        [Confounder RE my improv suggestion: I am naturally witty and funny and did improv to improve my hesitancy/nervousness; it might have worked for me just because I had baseline humor skills. Counter-argument: people with no goddamn social skills whatsoever in my improv classes were still able to gain improv abilities, and as long as you don’t forget that training the moment you walk off stage (MOST PEOPLE DO THAT), you will be able to upgrade your conversation skills with the core improv technique of “listen and respond.” Guaranteed.]

        (4) I want to compliment you on something you said: “I will socialize with women but not date them” was a perfect strategy for improving your general confidence because it (a) lowered the stakes (b) gave you all-important practice. If you can summon the energy to continue that tactic, do so. If not, I found luck with starting a Beeminder goal literally called “acquire social points” where I had to start a conversation / point something out / compliment someone once per day. Anyone counted, not just women (and I recommend the same parameter to you.) It was excruciating at first; then the 1st one each day was hard but subsequent ones in a given day were easier; then it just became something I do.

        I can’t spare more time today, but in the near future I may do one of these for you: (1) review your profile/s (2) write up an approach to messaging, and message->date converting, which is essentially algorithmic and should hopefully allow you to achieve a couple dates. [Roughly: look for certain specific items in the dating profile; comment on those items in a specific way; with all matches, exchange messages in a certain cadence and at a certain length; if number of messages exceeds N or if message length shows a certain pattern, make your next response a direct ask-out. I think I could take my experience as someone often called “a good conversationalist”, with OK success on these apps, and distill my second-nature strategies into specific executable methods that may appeal to your accountant-ness.]

        [footnote 1] Please forgive and correct me if this is not a preferred term.

        1. mustacheion

          As for #2, I’m not an accountant, I was trying to use that as a (hopefully not offensive to accountants) way of describing how I dress. I am a physicist who specialized in semiconductor fabrication, so as of a few years ago I would have killed to work for Intel. But I have recently founded a startup, so I’m not looking for a job at the moment. I really need to stay where I am currently for another year or so, but hopefully after that I will be able to move. That is definitely something I am looking forward to.

          As for the last part, that would be really helpful. But you don’t need to do it for me, do it for the community instead. A major part of my ultimate problem with dating is that I was raised by shitty media to believe totally wrong things about romance. And that is a problem that many people these days suffer from. So I am all for helping to design systems that can make this process easier, and for generating educational content that can help people understand how to work with the existing systems.

          As an example: I was raised by pop culture to think that I was a nerd, and that pretty girls don’t ever date nerds. So in middle school when an intelligent, attractive, popular cheerleader started flirting with me I completely refused to believe that she was actually interested in me. The only answer I could come up with for why such a girl was showing so much interest in me was because she was trying tricking me into falling in love with her so I would buy her a bunch of expensive jewelry. And then she would break up with me and she and her friends would all laugh at me for being so dumb as to believe that she actually liked me. I really believed this. And that caused me to be a total asshole to her in response. Poor girl tried really hard for over a year to make me her boyfriend.

          As an adult I am appalled at how misogynistic I was back then. And that was just one example out of many. But I also admit that those false beliefs were the rational product of the poor quality information I was fed as a child. This kind of thing is a terrible tragedy that affects millions of people and it is terrible and there has to be a better way.

          So I am all for anything that can help establish better systems, push better norms, or better educate people on how to go about with this whole romance thing. And I would be happy to lend my own labor in service of such a goal if there is something I could contribute.

          1. LesHapablap

            I don’t think your experience there is at all unique. Probably more common than not to be honest.

            For one thing, all guys have stories about really stupid missed opportunities when they were young. Often these stories are very painful experiences, because adolescence can be a desperate time. And secondly, most young men are afraid of women. Some are terrified.

            For someone with low self esteem, yours is a normal experience.

          2. Garrett

            On my second day of high school, the first pretty girl who came up to me asked me to confirm my name and then promptly poured a bottle of vinegar on my head.

          3. acymetric

            Just to add to what @LesHapablap said, I don’t think what you described is really misogynistic.

            @Garrett

            Is there any…backstory to that event? I assume there has to be something since she checked your name first.

      2. mustacheion

        Good point. I will try to be more clear. I don’t want to overstate my femininity.

        I would say my identity is not at all in flux. I am not trans, have no gender dysphoria, and think it is very unlikely that I would ever transition. Maintaining a somewhat masculine public face is an important self-defense for me. But I don’t have any more aspiration toward femininity than I do toward masculinity.

        I like dresses because I like soft fabric and loose flowy clothing. And it is a sexual thing for me, which comes from a personal disgust toward male sexuality, which itself comes from bad experiences during adolescence.

        1. DavidFriedman

          I like dresses because I like soft fabric and loose flowy clothing.

          Join the SCA and choose a suitable persona and you can have soft fabric and loose flowy clothing while remaining entirely male.

          You can even fight other males with sword and shield.

  20. Atlas

    The Soleimani assassination makes Scott’s October 2016 post He Kept Us Out of War? look prescient and insightful. Scott concluded:

    In the end it all comes back to the argument from variance. Maybe Trump is secretly a principled isolationist, and he’s only saying he’ll shoot at Iran and invade Libya and first-strike North Korea and steal oil from Iraq and send troops against ISIS and remove Assad in order to scare people into cooperating with him. Or maybe he’ll actually shoot at Iran and invade Libya and first-strike North Korea and steal oil from Iraq and send troops against ISIS and try to remove Assad. Who knows? He’s said a thousand times now that he’s totally different from the usual politicians, and I believe him. He could do pretty much anything.

    Similarly, I concluded in a comment about Trump’s foreign policy last September:

    So, all in all, I reject contentions like “Trump has anti-interventionist instincts” or “despite being a buffoon, Trump’s unintentional avoidance of foreign wars has actually been great.” The US continues to fight a “war on terror” through use of special forces and drone strikes across several countries and multiple continents, military strikes have been launched against the Assad government in Syria and Trump was allegedly 10 minutes away from allowing a strike on Iranian targets to take place. The Trump administration has continued and/or expanded most of the deplorable aspects of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, while reversing some of its commendable achievements. The Trump administration’s actions with regards to Venezuela and Iran have demonstrated a disturbing willingness to ignite rather than defuse crises. I think it is quite possible that, if a major domestic or international event such as 9/11 or the Arab Spring occurs under the watch of the current administration, it will result in mistakes and crimes comparable to or greater than those of the Obama and Bush administrations.

    I still think that there is, say, an 85% chance that no conflict between the US and Iran with 1,000 or more casualties happens within the next 6 months. One lesson I took from Expert Political Judgment is that Tetlock says (I think—see chapter 2’s evaluation of humans vs. algorithms) that forecasters in his sample tended to overestimate how much change, for better or for worse, there would be, and got beaten by case-specific extrapolation algorithms. So, my extremely naive and cursory prediction is that people are probably overestimating how much this incident raises the chances of a war.

    But I still think that this raises those chances, and is a completely unforced error by the Trump administration that demonstrates an appalling lack of good judgment. I think that, judging by their reactions to the assassination, Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren would all have pursued a far wiser and more constructive approach to Iran than Trump has.

    1. cassander

      The Trump administration has continued and/or expanded most of the deplorable aspects of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, while reversing some of its commendable achievements. The Trump administration’s actions with regards to Venezuela and Iran have demonstrated a disturbing willingness to ignite rather than defuse crises.

      Coming after an obama adminstration that escalated the war in Afghanistan to little purpose and poured gasoline on the arab spring every chance it got, this critique rings a bit hollow. Even with this latest iran antics, the trump administration has done less conflict escalating than both Bush and Obama did in their first terms. Trump’s rhetoric remains his rhetoric, but one must not confuse rhetoric with reality.

      1. Atlas

        Coming after an obama adminstration that escalated the war in Afghanistan to little purpose

        Certainly a serious error, from my point of view, (though concurrent with the positive development of continuing the withdrawal of the vast majority of the US presence in Iraq) but the Obama administration had already reversed course and withdrawn most of the increased US presence by the time Trump got into office. In fact, Trump increased the US presence in Afghanistan by 3000 troops in 2017.

        and poured gasoline on the arab spring every chance it got

        I don’t think that this is true, at least in the very strong from that you’ve stated it, though you’ll have to elaborate which events and actions you’re referring to. For instance, the Obama administration could have given substantially more support to anti-Assad forces, the way the Reagan administration generously gave Stinger missiles to the mujahideen in Afghanistan, or more harshly condemned Sisi after the coup.

        Also, I’d reiterate that I think the Arab Spring (like 9/11) was a much larger development in/related to the Middle East than anything that has happened under the Trump administration so far. Which is why I was and am suspicious of contentions that Trump should be credited for not (yet) starting another war.

        Trump’s rhetoric remains his rhetoric, but one must not confuse rhetoric with reality.

        Often a good point, e.g. w.r.t. the alleged “threat to democracy” Trump poses, but the withdrawal from the JCPOA and assassination of Soleimani were bad actions, not just bad rhetoric, and furthermore clear reversals of far less bad actions and rhetoric by the previous administration.

        1. cassander

          I don’t think that this is true, at least in the very strong from that you’ve stated it, though you’ll have to elaborate what events and actions you’re referring to. For instance, the Obama administration could have given substantially more support to anti-Assad forces, the way the Reagan administration generously gave Stinger missiles to the mujahideen in Afghanistan, or more harshly condemned Sisi after the coup.

          They escalated the situation in Egypt. They escalated the situation a lot in Libya. They escalated the situation in Yemen (arguably not spring related, but worth mentioning). And, of course, they escalated in Syria.

          I do think that obama’s instincts were generally non-interventionist, but he was (A) always prone to soaring rhetoric and grand statements, and (B) rarely willing to stand firm that non internventionism and allowed himself to be pushed towards interventions by the more hawkish members of his administration and congress. this tended to result in the worst sort of interventions, ones that got the US on the hook for things but didn’t actually do much to resolve the situation. This came out worst in Syria, where we should have gone in very hard early or (my preference) stayed out entirely. By doing so we contributed to a massively expanded conflict that has gotten a half million people killed, bred ISIS, and nearly destroyed what was achieved in Iraq.

          Also, I’d reiterate that I think the Arab Spring (like 9/11) was a much larger development in/related to the Middle East than anything that has happened under the Trump administration so far. Which is why I was and am suspicious of contentions that Trump should be credited for not (yet) starting another war.

          I’d agree with the first part, but on the second, I think that everyone gets credit for not starting a war right up until a war starts. And bears repeating that “avoiding war” is not the purpose of US foreign policy. Wars are risky things, but they have and can advance US interests, and even lead to less US involvement in places post-bellum.

          >but the withdrawal from the JCPOA and assassination of Soleimani were bad actions, not just bad rhetoric,

          As for JCPOA and Soleimani, they’re both high risk actions, it remains to be seen if they’ll turn out to be bad actions, particularly Soleimani. And w/ Syria, Trump has actually stepped back there, taken criticism for it, but then seems to have mostly stuck with it.

        2. baconbits9

          Certainly a serious error, from my point of view, (though concurrent with the positive development of continuing the withdrawal of the vast majority of the US presence in Iraq) but the Obama administration had already reversed course and withdrawn most of the increased US presence by the time Trump got into office. In fact, Trump increased the US presence in Afghanistan by 3000 troops in 2017.

          And the US has been reducing its presence in Afghanistan recently. The Trump build up was much smaller than the Obama build up and is being ended sooner.

      2. Incurian

        I thought the surge in Afghanistan was pretty successful. The problem was it was a temporary “surge” followed by a rapid decrease to below pre-surge troop levels, rather than a consistent long term policy shift. We sort of pulled the rug out from under them just as they were getting their stride.

    2. BBA

      What would Hillary Clinton have done? This is a much harder question than I thought it would be. I tend to think that, despite her hawkish instincts, she’d go to the mat to keep JCPOA alive – not because she supported it, but because it was such a key part of Obama’s legacy. And not that she cared about Obama’s legacy, but the Democratic Party does, and she’d never do anything that would hurt her standing within the party.

      But for all I know, she’d be listening to all the neocon ex-Republicans who endorsed her, and they’d be beating the war drums day in and day out, so who the hell knows.

      I can say that what we’re seeing now is pure partisanship. All the “Clinton neocons” are effectively Democrats now, like it or not. I for one don’t.

      1. Edward Scizorhands

        Clinton, even if corrupt, is competent. She would not bumble her way into a war with Iran. And she would not deliberately want a war that had a significant chance of harming her interests, which it would.

        1. EchoChaos

          Clinton, even if corrupt, is competent.

          Hard disagree. The fiasco in Libya shows that to be suspect at best.

          1. baconbits9

            This. My impression of the Syrian fiasco is that Hillary at least partially viewed it as a major legacy/candidacy point that she could run on if successful.

          2. Edward Scizorhands

            Syria has no nuclear weapons. Worst case in backing the wrong side is a bunch of brown people get killed Over There. The antiwar left will rightly complain, but to what end?

          3. Matt M

            Worst case in backing the wrong side is a bunch of brown people get killed Over There.

            Modern US foreign policy is a bizarre programming loop wherein no matter what option is selected, the outcome is “a bunch of brown people get killed Over There”

        2. cassander

          Hillary Clinton has a long and public history of being very hawkish. It’s not just Libya. She’s likes rattling sabers almost as much as McCain did.

        3. John Schilling

          Clinton, even if corrupt, is competent.

          Highly competent in the field of domestic US politics. This does not mean omnicompetent, or even competent in all politics-adjacent fields, and her performance in the realm of international relations was perhaps not up to the standard she set on the domestic front.

    3. broblawsky

      If we had kept our part of the bargain in the nuclear deal with Iran, we probably wouldn’t have had such bad relations with Iran that killing Soleimani looked like a good idea to begin with. Soleimani was a positive asset in the war against Da’esh, and now Trump has given them a serious chance at resurrection.

      1. Trofim_Lysenko

        Soleimani was a positive asset in the war against Da’esh, and now Trump has given them a serious chance at resurrection.

        In exactly the way and to the extent that Bin-Laden was an asset in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

        Actually, no, that’s being overly kind to your comparison, since it ignores that Iran’s intervention against ISIS was and is with the intent to preserve the Assad regime.

        Or did you intend your implication that the possibility of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime losing some military support is a bad thing?

        1. albatross11

          Was there a plausible path to someone substantially better than Assad running Syria that we could have reached at acceptable cost?

          1. Trofim_Lysenko

            First, why the past tense? The Syrian civil war is still ongoing.

            Second, “at acceptable cost” is a meaningless question without defining both the metric of cost (money? lives? If lives, any lives? American lives? Syrian lives? Syrian lives not counting ISIS? Syrian lives not counting ISIS and Baathists?) and what level is considered acceptable.

            For my money, either the Syrian Opposition or the coalition in Rojava would be more acceptable than backing Assad.

            EDIT: As far as a plausible path, there are two good ways to intervene in this sort of thing: 1) With full commitment, and 2) Not at all. By full commitment I mean establishing an explicit goal and then dedicating however many resources (to include blood and treasure) are needed to accomplish that. And by plausibly precommitting to accomplish that goal even if it risks conflict with someone else deciding to weigh in on the other side, and signalling so. Go in half-assed as we’ve tended to do for the past 30-40 years and not only do you end up not accomplishing your goals, more people die in the long run on all sides than if you went in fully.

            My personal opinion is that while there are places -I- think we should intervene, I think that intervening without the will (not just of an administration but as the American People) to back it to the hilt is a mistake. And I think that we, collectively, lack the will, because we’re divided about means and ends and acceptable costs.

            Third and most relevant, your question is sort of orthogonal to the original claim and my response. Boblawsky was lamenting the loss of Soleimani as a potential ally in the fight against ISIS, missing that:

            A) as the critics of the killing of Soleimani are quick to point out, removing him doesn’t fundamentally change Iran’s capability to engage in military action in the region. Likewise, it doesn’t change the calculus on their decision to engage ISIS.

            B) Iran and Russia’s interventions in Syria are contrary to the established interests and policy of the United States, because they are doing so on the behalf of Assad’s government, a government we are not only not on good terms with, but whose enemies we are supporting with money, arms, and American troops on the ground in Syria.

            Therefore, saying “Oh no, this could deal a blow to Iran’s capacity to use military force in Syria against ISIS!” is fundamentally identical to saying “Oh no, this could deal a blow to Iran’s capacity to use military force against American personnel and American allies in Syria!”.

            Since I presume given past comments that Boblawsky, while not a fan of US Foreign policy in the Middle East, is not an active supporter of Russia, Iran, and Assad, I was pointing out that his sentiment made no sense.

          2. Clutzy

            The Assad situation has been incredibly schizophrenic by the past few years. Obama was an Iran-phillic admin, but was anti-Assad, which cannot be reconciled.

          3. thisheavenlyconjugation

            the coalition in Rojava would be more acceptable than backing Assad.

            A council of magical unicorns would also be more acceptable, and has a similar probability of happening.

            And

            In exactly the way and to the extent that Bin-Laden was an asset in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

            is an interesting comparison. If I were to analogise one of the factions in Syria to Bin Laden, I’d choose for instance the US-funded Salafi jihadists who put quotes from another Al Qaeda founder on their banners rather than one of their enemies.

          4. Trofim_Lysenko

            Yep, the US supplied funds and support to a large swath of the Syrian Opposition…and specifically cut that group off after about a year when the evidence of their conduct became clear. I won’t disagree that whoever decided to back that -particular- group screwed up.

            At the same time, your reply betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of what is going on in Syria, since you seem to be trying to frame it in terms of “Jihadis/Islamist Extremists” vs. “Non-Jihadis/Islamist Extremists”.

            It’s “Authoritarian Dictator and a network Shia Islamist and Jihadi allies” vs. “Rough and amorphous coalition of opponents ranging from defectors from said dictator’s regime and reformers to Sunni Islamists and Jihadis, with a high degree of internal division” vs. “Coalition of Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and a few Druze forces formed around and led by a nucleus of Kurdish forces” vs. “Eschatological Salafist Jihadis”.

          5. Aftagley

            Obama was an Iran-phillic admin…

            This is an inaccurate statement. Between 2010 and 2015 Iran was the prime target for sanctions under the Obama white house and saw substantial economic opportunities curtailed by his administration’s actions.

            Obama and his surrogates also frequently spoke out against Iran’s meddling in Iraq and the region.

            You’re looking at one data point, the JCPOA, taking a biased read on it and then extrapolating it far beyond what’s sensible.

          6. cassander

            @Aftagley

            I think iran-phillic goes too far, but I also don’t think it’s wrong to say that the administration wanted a deal very badly and it showed. JCPOA wasn’t awful, but they could have kept a tighter rein on the money.

          7. thisheavenlyconjugation

            At the same time, your reply betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of what is going on in Syria, since you seem to be trying to frame it in terms of “Jihadis/Islamist Extremists” vs. “Non-Jihadis/Islamist Extremists”.

            I’m really not. I think your characterisation of the relevant groups:

            It’s “Authoritarian Dictator and a network Shia Islamist and Jihadi allies” vs. “Rough and amorphous coalition of opponents ranging from defectors from said dictator’s regime and reformers to Sunni Islamists and Jihadis, with a high degree of internal division” vs. “Coalition of Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and a few Druze forces formed around and led by a nucleus of Kurdish forces” vs. “Eschatological Salafist Jihadis”.

            is relatively accurate (although people don’t call Shia militants jihadis, even if Hezbollah do you that term for themselves).

            But it ignores various important things. Firstly, the “rough and amorphous coalition” is majority Islamist. The US accidentally supporting Al Qaeda affiliates and similar isn’t an easily avoidable mistake, it’s an inevitable consequence of supporting the opposition. And now that ISIS is more or less gone, it spends a large portion of its time fighting the SDF. Secondly, calling Hezbollah and other Shia groups Islamists is misleading. They’re far more pluralist than Sunni Islamists — Hezbollah’s Specially Designated Global Terrorist TV channel broadcasts mass! — and unlike Sunni Islamists they’re not responsible for large numbers of terrorist attacks against Westerners. Of course, all Islamism is still bad

          8. thisheavenlyconjugation

            (cont.) but since the US is happy to be friendly with the Saudis it’s clear that opposing Islamism in general isn’t a US interest. And thirdly, at this point in time exactly one of those groups has any chance of controlling something like Syria that was from Damascus, and it’s Assad.

          9. Trofim_Lysenko

            “people don’t call Shia militants jihadis, even if Hezbollah do you that term for themselves.”

            Which people would that be? Because A) I can point to subject matter experts doing so and B) those SMEs are correct to do so. “Jihadi” is admittedly a slang term, but Jihad in the sense of armed struggle for a religious cause is common to the militant and extremist portions of both Sunni and Shia Islam.

            Firstly, the “rough and amorphous coalition” is majority Islamist.

            Incorrect. There were certainly Islamist (and specifically Salafist) groups involved in the Syrian opposition and the Syrian Interim Government/Syrian National Council, especially around the timeframe where the US funding you’re criticising took place (2014-15) but they were never a majority, and they have subsequently broken away from and have since actively fought against the Syrian opposition, and are most recently backing the an entirely separate would-be successor government.

            They’re far more pluralist than Sunni Islamists

            How many examples of sectarian violence perpetrated by Shia Islamist groups against Sunnis, Christians, and Jews would you consider sufficient to make you reconsider this statement? Because the short version is that while the Sunnis have been more high profile, it’s mostly because the Shia have spent more time attacking other Muslims and attacking Israel (though they’ve had time for the west too)…

            Unlike Sunni Islamists they’re not responsible for large numbers of terrorist attacks against Westerners.

            -Bombing of UN peacekeepers in Beirut.
            -Multiple Bombings of the US embassy and annex in Beirut.
            -Khobar Tower Bombing in Saudi Arabia (I’m aware this gets attributed to Al-Qaeda these days, but I don’t think this is entirely correct, especially if you look at our original investigation)
            -Hijacking of TWA 847
            -Bombings of the Israeli Emasssy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires
            -Bus Bombing in Bulgaria

            The primary difference in character, beyond that Salafist Sunni groups have been more aggressive than their Shia counterparts most recently, is that Shia Islamist groups tend to be much more focused and in most cases either are known or are strongly suspected to be state-sponsored.

          10. thisheavenlyconjugation

            Which people would that be?

            Common use. Unqualified, “jihadi” almost always implies Sunni. I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong to use it more generally because “Islamist extremist” is a natural group, but that’s unusual.

            they were never a majority

            Sauce? The figures I can find say 50-70%.

            they have subsequently broken away from and have since actively fought against the Syrian opposition, and are most recently backing the an entirely separate would-be successor government

            You didn’t mention this group originally so I assumed you were still counting them as part of the general non-SDF opposition coalition. But also, this is only partly true. For instance, the TFSA has plenty of groups with names like “Army of Islam”.

            How many examples of sectarian violence perpetrated by Shia Islamist groups against Sunnis, Christians, and Jews would you consider sufficient to make you reconsider this statement?

            First of all, I’m not denying that Hezbollah are rabidly antisemitic and a major enemy of Israel. But supporting Israel should not be the sole determiner of US policy.

            Certainly Shia groups will attack Sunni and (to a much lesser extent) Christian ones in the context of war. But I doubt you’ll find examples of them e.g. forcibly converting and desecrating shrines of Druze like Sunni groups do. And the idea of say Al Nusra setting up a multifaith “Al Nusra Resistance Brigade” like Hezbollah did is ludicrous.

            -Bombing of UN peacekeepers in Beirut.
            -Multiple Bombings of the US embassy and annex in Beirut.
            -Khobar Tower Bombing in Saudi Arabia (I’m aware this gets attributed to Al-Qaeda these days, but I don’t think this is entirely correct, especially if you look at our original investigation)
            -Hijacking of TWA 847
            -Bombings of the Israeli Emasssy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires
            -Bus Bombing in Bulgaria

            Most of those are approximately as close to WWII as the present day. And even ignoring that, the scale is simply incomparable. By my count, there have been as many Salafi attacks in France in the past year — in other words, in the past week — as Hezbollahn ones in the whole of Europe in the last 50. And recently the leader of Hezbollah specifically forbade attacks on American civilians! The idea that they’re basically the same as Sunni Islamists but with inverted polarity is ridiculous.

          11. Trofim_Lysenko

            Sauce? The figures I can find say 50-70%.

            I think what you’re seeing is people using the term “Syrian Opposition” imprecisely to refer to all Anti-Assad groups. To be clear, by “syrian opposition” I am referring to the Free Syrian Army and the groups who explicitly recognize the Syrian National Coalition. Over the course of 2012-2015, the FSA varies between about 20,000 and 50,000 personnel, ebbing to about 35,000 by 2015. Over that same timeframe, the main Islamist factions supporting the FSA and the Syrian National Coalition was the coalition known as Ahrar Al-Sham, which over the same timeframe was around 10-15,000 members. It grew much larger later, but not until AFTER it had officially stopped working with the FSA.

            I think the people you’re seeing are grouping Al Nusra Front, Islamic Front -post- breakaway from SNC support, etc and lumping -all- that together as “Syrian Opposition”.

            For instance, the TFSA has plenty of groups with names like “Army of Islam”.

            Sure, I’m not disputing that the Syrian National Coalition has an Islamist faction. I am disputing your characterization that it is majority Sunni Jihadists.

            First of all, I’m not denying that Hezbollah are rabidly antisemitic and a major enemy of Israel. But supporting Israel should not be the sole determiner of US policy.

            Moving goalposts. Your original claim was that Shia Islamist groups are “far more pluralistic” than Sunni ones. I make the point that attacks against Sunnis, Jews, and Christians are generally not pluralistic acts and ask how many examples would be sufficient to make you reconsider that claim.

            Most of those are approximately as close to WWII as the present day.

            Moving goalpoasts. Again, the claim was “Shia groups have not conducted many attacks on the west”. I am offering that partial list as an example of “many attacks on the west”.

          12. thisheavenlyconjugation

            To be clear, by “syrian opposition” I am referring to the Free Syrian Army and the groups who explicitly recognize the Syrian National Coalition.

            OK, but in that case your categorisation was either ignoring groups like the Islamic Front, which is silly because they’re larger than your restricted opposition coalition, or lumping them in with ISIS (which is what I took “Eschatological Salafist Jihadis” to be referring to), which is silly because the Islamic Front and friends spent most of their time allied with the FSA and friends fighting ISIS and Assad.

            Moving goalposts. Your original claim was that Shia Islamist groups are “far more pluralistic” than Sunni ones. I make the point that attacks against Sunnis, Jews, and Christians are generally not pluralistic acts and ask how many examples would be sufficient to make you reconsider that claim.

            I said “far more pluralistic”, not “happy unproblematic liberals”, and I’ve clarified the axis along which this applies. Certainly I wouldn’t vote for Hezbollah to run my country, but given the choice between them and Al Nusra, the choice for me, a Christian, a Druze, and in many cases a Sunni is very clear. I think this is pretty relevant to questions that impact who will control bits of territory in Syria. The fact that Hezbollah are

            Moving goalpoasts. Again, the claim was “Shia groups have not conducted many attacks on the west”. I am offering that partial list as an example of “many attacks on the west”.

            If you want, pretend I said “recent” (I did try to insert that but the edit window expired, hence the two part comment). I am happy to concede that if you were to set policy by “harm done to the US in the last 50 years”, Hezbollah would be pretty high on the list. But given that we probably don’t want policies that focus on dealing with the USSR, FALN and Timmy McVeigh, that doesn’t seem very important.

          13. Trofim_Lysenko

            OK, but in that case your categorisation was either ignoring groups like the Islamic Front, which is silly because they’re larger than your restricted opposition coalition, or lumping them in with ISIS (which is what I took “Eschatological Salafist Jihadis” to be referring to), which is silly because the Islamic Front and friends spent most of their time allied with the FSA and friends fighting ISIS and Assad.

            I didn’t address the Islamic Front specifically because they are not a cohesive or coherent force. Some constituent members of that coalition were in alliance with the Syrian National Coalition and its Free Syrian Army in the 2013-2015 timeframe, but most never were, including the largest ones.

            Since the formation (and subsequent breakup) of the Islamic front, the major players have spent more time and energy fighting amongst each other than fighting ISIS or Assad. The exceptions being what’s now branded as HTS, which is basically a new alliance led by the Al-Nusra front. Right now, Sunni Jihadis in Syria are all over the place: You have one cluster in Idlib either absorbed with or allied with HTS and the Syrian Salvation Government. You have some portions who got absorbed back into the Turkish-controlled and backed units (thus adding some to the %-age of the Syrian National Coalition support that -is- Islamist that I already mentioned). You have several who continue to operate independently without being allied with ANY of the major territory-controlling factions. And of course you have ISIS, which ironically controls less territory and fighters than HTS and the Syrian Salvation Government in Idlib at this point.

            So, I’ll grant you that I probably should have listed the Syrian Salvation Government as a fifth faction in my initial breakdown, making it a -five-way- fight, but my impression is that right now Idlib has, again, spent more time with feuding and infighting between the various Sunni Islamist factions and groups than it has anything else.

            If you add in Al-Nusra/HTS AND their allies AND the sunni islamist groups allied to the FSA, and modified the claim in terms of timeframe to something like: “A majority of the forces opposing Assad and ISIS between mid 2014 and late 2017 were Sunni Islamists” (that is, after the Russians knocked the FSA back hard, and before the Turkish intervention), I would agree with you, but again that’s by lumping together groups I think specifically should be considered separately.

            I said “far more pluralistic”, not “happy unproblematic liberals”, and I’ve clarified the axis along which this applies.

            I understand your clarification, I just think even that clarification is going too far. First, you keep saying Hezbollah as if it’s synonymous with “Shia Islamist”, which is not the case, and in doing so you’re missing the sectarian violence in Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere. Second, from the way you keep on focusing on Hezbollah, you seem to think Lebanon is a good central example of an environment shaped by Shia Islamism. It’s not (for that, look to Iran). And on that related note, the resistance brigades are a tool of Hezbollah as a Lebanese political party to expand its domestic power base in Lebanon’s unusually pluralistic political milieu, and to leverage popular sentiment in Lebanon against Israel to allow them to devote their explicitly ideological (i.e. Shia Islamist) military assets elsewhere.

            If you want, pretend I said “recent” (I did try to insert that but the edit window expired, hence the two part comment).

            I’ll certainly agree that Shia Islamists have conducted much fewer attacks and caused far fewer harm to western targets than Sunni ones in the past 30 or so years. However, I think you are drawing the wrong conclusion from this, for a couple reasons. You compare the threat of Shia Islamism to the threat of the USSR, FALN, and Timothy McVeigh. Except that unlike those threats, the major sources of Shia Islamist hostility against the US and its interests are still around, still active, and still conducting operations against us. They’ve simply been spending the time since the 90s targeted more against military personnel than civilians, and thus they’ve been filed as “insurgency” or “freedom fighter” (depending on who you ask) or “proxy war” rather than “terrorism”. The groups and their sponsors are, unlike the USSR, FALN, and McVeigh, still very much around, active, and maintaining the same foundational hostility of both philosophy and goals that led to the attacks in the 80s and 90s and their involvement in Iraq in the 00s.

            Again, I won’t disagree that as far as the grass-roots terrorist movements go, the Sunni/Salafi Islamists have done much more in recent history. But that does not make the Shia Islamists less hostile or more palatable. It just means that dealing with them is arguably lower priority.

          14. thisheavenlyconjugation

            I didn’t address the Islamic Front specifically because they are not a cohesive or coherent force. Some constituent members of that coalition were in alliance with the Syrian National Coalition and its Free Syrian Army in the 2013-2015 timeframe, but most never were, including the largest ones.

            That is reasonable if you were intending to give a list of the largest coherent groups, but I assumed you were giving a general description, in which case if there are x0,000 secular members of the opposition and y0,000 Islamists with y > x it doesn’t make sense to omit the latter even if they don’t form a coherent group.

            First, you keep saying Hezbollah as if it’s synonymous with “Shia Islamist”, which is not the case, and in doing so you’re missing the sectarian violence in Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere.

            I picked them because they’re the most well-known and most harmful to the US. If you want to concede that they’re not actually that bad (relative to Sunni Islamists) and name a group that would be a fairer comparison that’s fine with me.

            Second, from the way you keep on focusing on Hezbollah, you seem to think Lebanon is a good central example of an environment shaped by Shia Islamism. It’s not (for that, look to Iran).

            I don’t, but I’m not sure what your point is here. If Iran being Bad (which I agree they are in absolute terms) is a reason for opposing them, then to be consistent you should also oppose the various other countries with comparable human rights records. I would certainly approve of US foreign policy switching to “sanctions on Iran and Saudi Arabia until they stop executing children etc.”.

            But that does not make the Shia Islamists less hostile or more palatable. It just means that dealing with them is arguably lower priority.

            I don’t really see the distinction you’re making here. I’m sure there are some Nepalese Maoist groups that are just as ideologically opposed to the US as any kind of Islamists, and have bombed a couple of embassies in the past. But saying “Nepalese Maoists are just as hostile and unpalatable as Al Qaeda. The only difference is that they are possibly lower priority” seems to be missing the point to me. The whole issue is how we should prioritise.

          15. Trofim_Lysenko

            If you want to concede that they’re not actually that bad (relative to Sunni Islamists) and name a group that would be a fairer comparison that’s fine with me.

            Again, my point is that by focusing on one group you ignore other examples of Shia Islamist violence, including examples not aimed at the United States. This is especially relevant to the claim that “calling Hezbollah and other Shia groups is misleading” because they are “far more pluralist” (not true), and “not responsible for large numbers of terrorist attacks on westerners” (questionable even if you arbitrarily choose to ignore relatively recent history).

            I’m not sure what your point is here.

            I think that you are the one being misleading in your characterization of Shia Islamism, and in denying that Hezbollah, Iran, and the proxy groups they control are violent Islamists.

            Bottom line, Shia and Sunni Islamist philosophies are the same in that:

            -Both are committed to the maintenance and expansion of theocratic rule under a strict interpretation of Sharia.
            -Both are committed to violence, including violence against civilians, as one of the primary ways to accomplish that maintenance and expansion.
            -Both are committed in their hostility to both western principles in the abstract and to western governments in the particular, especially the United States. This hostility is amplified by, but not contingent upon US Foreign Policy and actions, past and present.
            -Both are the ideologies of groups which have a long-established pattern of violent attacks against western powers, not limited to the United States.
            -Both are the ideologies of groups which regularly engage in sectarian violence against Sunnis and religious violence against Jews and Christians.

            Shia and Sunni Islamist ideologies are different in that:

            -Sunni Islamist violence is, at present, mostly the province of “popular”/grass roots groups and movements, with some limited number of state sponsored groups or state support for non-state actors. Shia Islamist violence is, at present, mostly the province of state-sponsored groups and non-state actors with at least some state guidance. This tends to make the Shia Islamist violence more “controlled” and more “targeted”.

            -In the immediate past (10-20 years), Shia Islamist violence against the west and especially the US has focused on attacks on commercial targets and military targets, with a lot of energy channeled into Iraq and the US occupation there from 2003-2011. Sunni Islamist violence has focused much more on spectacular, though not necessarily more effective, mass attacks against soft targets (9/11, Mumbai Attacks, etc).

            -Shia Islamist groups, due to Shia’s status as a minority sect within Islam, tend to spend more of their energy fighting to change that and operating in the Muslim-majority parts of the world, relative to Sunni Islamist groups.

            While these differences tend to make Shia Islamism seem less salient/threatening to the average western observer, that is more an artifact of circumstance, positioning on the world stage than any lack of hostile intent or capability on the part of its adherents.

            You keep trying to compare Shia Islamist groups to threats that don’t exist anymore (USSR, Timothy McVeigh), which is false because the threat is very much present, or to threats that are very minor (FALN, Nepalese Maoists), which is false because history both recent (80s-90s) and immediate (00s) demonstrate significant capability.

            If Iran being Bad (which I agree they are in absolute terms) is a reason for opposing them, then to be consistent you should also oppose the various other countries with comparable human rights records.

            It’s certainly a reason to see Iran as bad, but on a practical level that is secondary to their ideological hostility to the United States and our interests. I would oppose Iran’s regime even if they had a perfect record of domestic human rights based on their goals of maintaining and exporting their revolution and becoming a regional hegemon.

            I actually agree with you that it would be good to apply more pressure to Saudi Arabia to reform (and even better to force them to crack down on their nationals who back Sunni Islamists, or to do it ourselves), but in the context of this discussion that strikes me as tangentially related to the question of Islamism, since the Saudis are authoritarian Monarchs who have at best a mixed relationship to Sunni Islamists (many Sunni Islamists are quite hostile to them and vice versa) and a very hostile relationship to Shia ones.

          1. Trofim_Lysenko

            False dichotomy. Both because as I noted above the death of Soleimani doesn’t actually change the calculus for Iran’s involvement in Syria, and because Iran’s involvement is relatively limited (no real air support, 2-3K advisors and soldiers on the ground supporting the Baathists). ISIL was beaten back primarily by US and to a lesser extent Russian air power.

            What is your basis for the claim that ISIS currently has a “serious chance at resurrection”?

          2. broblawsky

            False dichotomy. Both because as I noted above the death of Soleimani doesn’t actually change the calculus for Iran’s involvement in Syria, and because Iran’s involvement is relatively limited (no real air support, 2-3K advisors and soldiers on the ground supporting the Baathists). ISIL was beaten back primarily by US and to a lesser extent Russian air power.

            I’ve seen a lot of analysis suggesting that Iran’s indirect support was critical in defeating Da’esh, and if the stories about how pivotal Soleimani was in the fight against Da’esh are true, removing him definitely makes Iran less effective.

          3. teneditica

            False dichotomy. Both because as I noted above the death of Soleimani doesn’t actually change the calculus for Iran’s involvement in Syria

            You can’t have it both ways here. If Soleimani wasn’t an extraordinary capable general, then his death doesn’t make a difference, and wasn’t worth the trouble. If he was, his death also hurts the fight against ISIS.

          4. Trofim_Lysenko

            If Soleimani wasn’t an extraordinary capable general, then his death doesn’t make a difference, and wasn’t worth the trouble. If he was, his death also hurts the fight against ISIS.

            I haven’t stated my position on the killing of Soleimani or made any claims about his generalship, good or bad. Your response is a non-sequiteur, and “if he was, his death also hurts the fight against ISIS” is false for the reasons I outlined above regarding Iran’s actual level of involvement in Syria and ISIS’ current position and strength.

            EDIT: See also my explanation below in somewhat more detail.

        2. teneditica

          Actually, no, that’s being overly kind to your comparison, since it ignores that Iran’s intervention against ISIS was and is with the intent to preserve the Assad regime.

          Why would the intent make a difference?

          1. Trofim_Lysenko

            For the same reason US attacks against ISIS do not help Assad’s forces.

            ISIS is one force in what is basically a 4-way fight (Assad’s regime, Syrian Opposition, Rojava, ISIL), and has been the weakest of the four, controlling the least territory and with the smallest reserve of fighters for the past 18-24 months now due to the combined effects of US and Russian air campaigns combined with follow-on ground campaigns in which the SDF and SAA have played approximately equal roles, with Iran’s forces playing a smaller, supplementary role. Iran’s forces in Syria have consisted of less than a brigade of IRGC troops, mostly involved to organize and direct disposable and poorly trained Shia militia recruits from countries outside Iran, thrown away in job lots. This is a force of between 10,000 and 30,000 depending on whether you count Hezbollah’s forces given that they tended to defer to Iranian direction under Soleimani. Compare this to the 100,000+ strength of the SAA, the SDF and allies, and the FSA and allies.

            So, to the extent the Iranian intervention assisted in the fight against ISIL on the SAA’s frontage, the effect was to add combat power to Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, giving the SAA freedom to deploy more heavily against the Syrian Opposition and Rojava fronts.

            As I said at the beginning of this reply, this is the same reason that US intervention against ISIL does not actually help Assad, even though Assad was fighting ISIL, because by intervening on behalf of Assad’s enemies on their front with ISIL, it makes it easier for those enemies to hold against or to attack Assad’s SAA forces.

            Do you follow?

  21. Radu Floricica

    Plumber’s post below reminded me I wanted to register an update: I’ve finally finished The Bell Curve, and I’m officially a convert. Previously I was open to criticism towards it, but now I strongly suspect that for example Taleb didn’t even read the book. The authors were very careful, to the point of paranoia, with what they’re saying. I doubt much can be argued head on – which explains why most of the criticism is generic stuff like “IQ doesn’t exist” or “they are obviously racists”.

    The other funny thing is that the race chapter is… well, interesting, but optional. The book is plenty scary without it. There are two other points that I think (well, the authors think as well) are much more important: 1. Freedom of association and its cousin, assortative mating mean that we’re more and more living in bubbles made of our intellectual peers. We don’t even know how smarter/slower people are, because we rarely interact with them. And this is going to accelerate. I wonder if iqstocracy is already coined?

    And 2, most social problems are very IQ related – much more than any other factor including the almighty socioeconomic context. While IQ isn’t (always) a cause, it’s always an aggravating factor. A very clear example: lowest quartile IQ women do tend to have children out of wedlock more often – this would be the cause. But once they do, if they’re poor they tend to remain poor at much higher rates – that’s the aggravating factor, and it’s possibly a lot worse. Imagine a poor single mother trying to juggle an caring for an infant, getting off welfare, getting extra education for a better job and managing a household. Not all can make it, and one of the best predictors of who does is IQ.

    1. Atlas

      Previously I was open to criticism towards it, but now I strongly suspect that for example Taleb didn’t even read the book.

      Here’s Emil Kirkegaard’s list of replies to Taleb on IQ, for the record.

      The other funny thing is that the race chapter is… well, interesting, but optional.

      My understanding is that the subsection dealing with race was partially excerpted in The New Republic prior to publication, which is why the public conversation became so focused around what is, as you rightly observed, a fairly minuscule portion of the book.

      Here’s a column by Steve Sailer scoring the predictions of The Bell Curve after 20 years (at the time of the column’s writing).

    2. hash872

      most social problems are very IQ related

      I find this incredibly simplistic & not really supported by much academic literature. I’ve noticed that IQ proponents tend to have ‘101ism’-type fans who stretch the results of research into IQ far beyond what could really be inferred by actual research.

      Also I found Tyler Cowen’s recent view of Murray’s latest book pretty interesting, as I generally find Cowen to quite even-handed, and he’s not explicitly opposed to researching IQ/social problems/even race-related connections:

      1. Can’t grapple with culture-related arguments at all (literally mentions culture only once or twice in his book)

      2. ‘Shared environment’ research doesn’t typically go beyond simplistic twin studies- lots of environmental variation out there outside of standard twin research

      3. Points out that multiple labor market studies have found what Cowen calls ‘fairly modest’ correlation between IQ & income

      https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/12/charles-murrays-human-diversity.html

      1. Radu Floricica

        I’m not going to dig sources to support the book – honestly, it’s doing a great job of supporting itself. That’s what made me a convert – they didn’t build a castle there, they built a goddamn bunker, even to the point of cutting down a lot of the claims (they cut a bit loose in one of the addendums, I think, and give a taste of what they could have reasonably claimed).

        most social problems are very IQ related

        Like albatross11 said below, related and caused is not the same. And the book is pretty clear – the IQ correlation (whatever the causation is) is stronger than anything else. If you want to help a demographic, it’s a very good idea to be aware of it.

        And btw, I’m not talking about race here. One of the most beautiful things is that for over 3/4 of the book, including the most important parts, they simply removed all minority data. You don’t hear it often, but all the good stuff and by far of the majority of the book is done with … only the “white excluding latino” subset.

    3. DinoNerd

      I read the book years ago, and still have it in my bookshelf. I felt as if it were two books in one, and it would have been better if the authors had seperated them, and published at least one of them under pseudonymn(s)- i.e. each one under different name(s).

      Book #1 – Does a meritocracy create problems, when those who take advantage of upward mobility move away from their birth homes, and essentially break contact with those not so meritorious, leaving them without especially talented contacts? Would it be better if we all lived in the same small town, with those experiencing upward mobility simply moved to larger houses with better amenities? Does having the effective definition of “merit” be “intelligence” have different effects than other potential definitions of “merit”? (Not raised by the author, but plenty of other factors contribute to success, and in some situations are relatively more or less important.)

      Book #2 – Race and IQ really are strongly correlated. This is important enough to write a book about.

      Book #2 was guaranteed to to attract what was not yet referred to as “cancel culture”, and made Book #1 mostly go unnoticed and undiscussed. Book #1 was chancy – some people would have been upset enough by its thesis to push back hard, not just at its truth but at the very idea of asking such questions. But I believe that would have been a much smaller proportion of those responding, and that book might have been able to get an actual hearing, if divorced from all mention of race.

      My memory is that the race part involved the whole second half of the book, and given that the topic was already a third rail, absolutely could not be ignored. But I do remember being surprised that in spite of the giant public fuss about racism, I was about halfway through the book before it became a topic. But it’s quite possible that race being such a third rail caused ambiguous statements after that point to be read by me as being about race.

      It would be fascinating to discuss social sorting by “success” and its effects, and for that matter the extent to which this corresponds to social sorting by IQ. (As a person on the autistic spectrum, of exceedingly high intelligence but held back by my difficulty encouraging non-autistic people to support me, aka “poor social skills”, I suspect that ability-to-schmooze/lie/bully/take-credit-for-others’-work/etc. skillfully is more important than IQ per se, and only somewhat correlated with IQ.)

      I’m just not sure such a discussion would be possible, without being drowned out by people far more interested in discussing the relationship of IQ and race. It would be particularly prone to this problem, of course, if Murray or Herrnstein’s name were mentioned.

      1. Mark V Anderson

        @DinoNerd
        I am somewhat confused by this comment.

        I agree that they might have been more successful in getting acceptance for this book if they had written two separate books, but I totally disagree on which two books. IMO, the great value of the Bell Curve was the first half of the book with all the statistics showing how well IQ correlates with life outcomes. But the Bell Curve is mostly attacked for their discussion in the second half of the book discussing the ramifications of this correlation and their many guesses on this subject. The authors were very clear when they were guessing and when they were using science, but many of their critics were very determined to mix them up. If they had one book on the science and one on the ramifications, maybe it would have been easier to get the science accepted.

        My memory is that the race part involved the whole second half of the book

        I just looked at my copy. It appears that Chapter 14 is mostly about race but the rest after that only mention race occasionally. So I don’t think this is correct.

        1. DinoNerd

          Maybe there’s more than two potential books here, all of them basically poisoned as soon as “race” gets mentioned.

    4. Dacyn

      I wonder if iqstocracy is already coined?

      “Iqocracy” gets more Google hits (and makes more etymological sense). Though I would prefer a name like “sophistocracy” or something…

    5. broblawsky

      The problem is that the ‘race and IQ’ chapter is fundamentally dishonest – it does a bad job of representing arguments against the author’s favored position, and engages in some pretty awful pieces of sophistry to avoid having to admit that genetic race-linked influences on IQ might be much smaller or non-existent compared to socioeconomic influences. At the time, this might have been barely acceptable, but given what we know today about genetics and intelligence, Murray has an ethical obligation to retract his past claims about race and intelligence. Until he does so, we can’t really trust him to be intellectually honest.

        1. broblawsky

          Summarizing the current state of research on genetics and intelligence would be beyond both the scope of what I can accomplish in this comment and my personal abilities. If you’re interested, I’d recommend reading some of Gail Davies’ research.

          Edit: Also, this paper by Jon Beckwith is a great explanation of why the attempts by people like Murray to confuse race, heritability and genetics, especially on the topic of intelligence, are unscientific.

          1. Alexander Turok

            this paper by Jon Beckwith is a great explanation of why the attempts by people like Murray to confuse race, heritability and genetics, especially on the topic of intelligence, are unscientific.

            It’s a series of non-sequiturs. The failure to find specific genes does not mean the trait in question is not genetically caused, if it were, we’d have to throw out all evolutionary thought before 1950. The “more genetic variation within races” argument cannot be used to assert that behavioral traits cannot vary between races anymore than it can be used to assert that physical traits do