1,050 thoughts on “Open Thread 145.75

  1. Deiseach

    I am wiping away a tear of pride reading this fine paean to a countyman of mine 🙂

    I’m glad he remembered the fruit and vitamins, got to be sure to eat healthily!

    Also, polar bears are at least as Irish as Joe Biden.

    1. Charles Kinbote

      This guy must be a descendant of Eamon de Valera, right? Since the PM’s father was a mysterious Spanish immigrant to the US, seems unlikely this already uncommon Spanish name would have otherwise made its way to Ireland (or Wuhan).

          1. Deiseach

            The Spanish onion in the Irish stew (according to one J.H. Thomas, British Dominions Secretary). My granny worshipped Dev (my grandfather was a farm labourer and she said he forced the farmers to pay their workers a decent wage) and reared her kids and grandkids likewise 🙂

            What I remember from when he died was having the day off from primary school to watch his funeral on the television; this wasn’t an official day off, and the school did raise an eyebrow later, but I wasn’t the only kid from a FF family that kept the kids home to watch it.

            A handy summary of his career from this interesting paper:

            Éamon de Valera’s political career is indeed exceptional. It would not be unfair to say that de Valera dominated Irish politics between 1916-75, a period of nearly sixty years. De Valera rose to national prominence as the most senior surviving officer of the Easter Rising between 1916-7, with his status solidified by the defeat of the Irish Parliamentary Party at the East Clare by-election in July 1917. Later in 1917 de Valera became the Leader of Sinn Féin, and, the following year, led the party to victory in the 1918 General Election. De Valera then spent nearly forty (non-consecutive) years as either Head of Government and/or Head of State. Between 1919-22 de Valera acted as President of Dáil Éireann/President of the Irish Republic, simultaneously Head of State and of Government. Between 1932-59, de Valera served as Head of Government: from 1932-7 as President of the Executive Council, then Taoiseach between 1937-48, again from 1951-4, and finally between 1957-9. He ended his career by serving two terms as President of Ireland (Head of State), between 1959-73. Perhaps the only time de Valera spent out of the political limelight was between 1922-6, a period which lasted from the outbreak of Civil War to the foundation of Fianna Fáil.

            He gets a lot of stick for social and cultural conservatism, the Blueshirt tendency in particular like to look down on him as benighted culchiedom, but he was also interested in getting Ireland involved in cutting-edge research. The Institute for Higher Education was his brainchild (possibly due to his training as a teacher of mathematics) and started off with the School of Theoretical Physics and the School of Celtic studies, the School of Cosmic Physics being added later. The Theoretical Physics school kicked off with Professor Erwin Schrodinger (yes, that Schrodinger) in 1941 and Paul Dirac came for a visit in 1942 (see this photo).

    2. bullseye

      If you google “Joe Biden eating” almost every picture shows ice cream. This demonstrates that he, like polar bears, is adapted for cold environments. Unlike polar bears, however, there is evidence that Biden’s species still exists in Ireland.

  2. Forward Synthesis

    Let’s say that we get to a stage where certain sectors of the economy achieve full automation, but other sectors have not yet, providing for the remaining employment. All things being equal, would automation cause the share value of the companies in that part of the country to go up or down relative to the rest of the economy? I would assume the highly automated companies would have more value because they’d be more productive.

    1. Dacyn

      It is not automation itself that would change share prices but rather changes in the market’s prediction of how much automation to expect. But yes, when automation proceeds faster than predicted, share value of companies that depend on automation goes up relative to companies with less uses for automation, since automation is a resource for them that is being made more useful.

    2. Forward Synthesis

      @Dacyn

      Additionally, if majority scope technological unemployment is going on (though according to the 2019 ACC entry, it’s a long long way off), then shares that pay dividends would be the only major source of income besides government unemployment assistance/a basic income guarantee, so if you made sure beforehand to buy shares in long standing companies that were shown to have adapted well to previous technological changes over decades, then you’d be in a good position.

      1. Matt M

        buy shares in long standing companies that were shown to have adapted well to previous technological changes over decades

        Is this really how massive technological shifts work?

        If you tried this in the 1950s, what companies would you have bought to prepare for the oncoming PC revolution? Or in the 1990s with the Internet?

        Having adapted well to a previous technological change seems to be not at all correlated with one’s ability to adapt to future technological change.

      2. Dacyn

        If you have money to invest and do so rather than using it for consumption, then you will end up in a good position. But if all companies are valued properly by the market, it shouldn’t matter much which ones you invest in, except for the purpose of trading off risk vs reward.

      3. Forward Synthesis

        @Matt M

        If you tried this in the 1950s, what companies would you have bought to prepare for the oncoming PC revolution? Or in the 1990s with the Internet?

        The difference here is that the internet was a totally new paradigm that even big well established companies weren’t prepared for. However, the internet age is now well established. The end result of automation will be a new paradigm, but each of the incremental steps just represent better incremental steps in computer science and engineering, so if you were going to try and guess who will survive, it would be big established players that have the sheer financial resources to absorb and employ new levels of automation.

        A book merchant in 1994 might have been blindsided by the internet’s ability to market his product, and he may have lost out to another book merchant. With this totally new paradigm, there is no way to tell. However, if we look at a company like Amazon today, which already employs cutting edge automation in its warehouses, it’s safe to say they are not going to be blindsided by lights out manufacturing, and are likely some part of the process in funding and developing it.

        Having adapted well to a previous technological change seems to be not at all correlated with one’s ability to adapt to future technological change.

        So doesn’t it strongly depend on whether the change is a revolutionary paradigm shift or an evolutionary improvement? From a societal perspective, full automation is a paradigm shift, but from the perspective of companies, they are just employing better and better versions of robots.

        @Dacyn
        Some lesser companies wouldn’t survive the transition to full automation and would go bust. If you’re then holding dividend paying shares in companies that comprise the new economy and that’s the only form of income remaining, wouldn’t that in of itself make them more valuable? If everything boils down to welfare and dividends then demand for shares that pay them should go up drastically.

        1. Matt M

          So doesn’t it strongly depend on whether the change is a revolutionary paradigm shift or an evolutionary improvement? From a societal perspective, full automation is a paradigm shift, but from the perspective of companies, they are just employing better and better versions of robots.

          You’d think so. And there’s no inherent flaw in your logic. But I feel like historically, it hasn’t worked that way.

          If you haven’t read “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, that entire concept seems relevant here. If you have, you’ll know exactly what my objection is. Every company thinks they just need to pursue incremental improvements, but such companies get left in the dust by others who are more willing and able to adapt to an entire paradigm-shift. Amazon thinks it needs a slightly more dexterous robot arm or whatever, because that is what they need. Today. To meet the challenges they have today. But if they focus all their time and resources on that, someone else will pass them by inventing nanobots or replicators or something.

        2. Dacyn

          Sure, you don’t want to invest in a company you expect to go bust. But a company that everyone expects to go bust will be very cheap, making it a high-risk high-reward investment option.

          I don’t understand why you think it matters so much whether a stock pays dividends. In many cases stockholders prefer to not have dividends, because that allows the company to grow faster (thus increasing the stock value). In particular, if you need money you can sell stocks, which means that “welfare and dividends” are not the only source of money.

          1. Forward Synthesis

            If you have a load of shares in a large selection of mature companies, dividends mean you don’t need to constantly play the market selling stocks, and you can stick with what you have. You don’t get as big a reward (though the demand in general should rise after conventional jobs collapse), but it seems like it’s less risky.

          2. Dacyn

            @Forward Synthesis: Any uncertainty in stock prices will be reflected in uncertainty in the long-term prospects of your dividends. And in the non-dividend case, you can smooth over any short-term uncertainty by just giving sell orders in terms of the money you want rather than the amount of stock you want to sell. It’s possible that the technical details of this work out to dividend stocks being less risky, but it’s far from obvious to me.

    3. helloo

      Have you looked at agriculture and manufacturing to get an idea?

      They aren’t exactly fully automated, but you can model them being x% automated rather than y% more efficient to get the approximate same job loss effect.

      1. Aftagley

        Has anyone ever done this? I would be really interested in seeing what the “efficiency” automation is. (That is to say, If I hire a machine that can do the work of 10 people, does it result in 10 people being pushed out of the factory/field? if not, why?)

  3. baconbits9

    So one issue with solar power is the big swings in availability, so how plausible is this idea: Sister solar plants, where an area has its own plant and then a sisters plant or plants on the other side of the plant. Your main plant works like a typical solar plant, and the sister plant is a mass of mirrors which focus and reflect sunlight up to a satellite in synchronous orbit, which then reflects it (through a series of satellites?) down to a solar tower plant on the same grid as the main plant.

    1. Lambert

      Even if that were viable, it would be all of five minutes before the Pentagon took over the satellite and set
      solarTowerCoords=[35.72,51.40]
      or something.

    2. John Schilling

      It doesn’t work. The Radiance Theorem says that passive optical components like mirrors and lenses cannot increase the brightness of a light source. If you e.g. fry an ant with a magnifying glass, it is because you are causing the ant to see something as bright as the sun but filling maybe a quarter of the sky rather than just a moon-sized dot, but the ant can still look at any point of that giant lens and see something no brighter than the sun.

      No, you can’t beat this. Really.

      So, for the orbital reflector to deliver as much energy to a collector on the ground as that collector would receive on a sunny day, it would need to have the same apparent size as the sun – which in geostationary orbit would mean a bit over three hundred and thirty kilometers in diameter. And the initial collection area on the far side of the Earth needs to be the same size.

      Having gone through all this trouble, you can then illuminate a 330 km spot to bright-as-daylight levels in the middle of the night, or you can illuminate a smaller area and throw the rest of the energy away. But you can’t scale it down to use a smaller mirror to illuminate a smaller collector and still get anything like normal solar intensity at the end.

      You could perhaps use the collected sunlight to pump a laser; coherent light sources like lasers can be much, much brighter than the sun. But the efficiency losses of even the best lasers are likely to be problematic. Coherent microwaves are more efficient, and if you use the right frequency you can even beam power through clouds, but now you’ve just reinvented the classic solar power satellite.

      1. Adrian

        I don’t get it. Concentrator photovoltaics is a thing, and a parabolic mirror with an effective surface area of 10 m² will radiate 10*1000 W/m² onto a receiver instead of the regular 1000 W/m². If the receiver is a lens which bundles the 10 kW/m² into a (more or less) single direction, you can reflect that with a mirror to a photovoltaic cell which receives 10 kW/m² irradiance.

        Edit: Diagram

        1. John Schilling

          Concentrator photovoltaics is a thing, and a parabolic mirror with an effective surface area of 10 m² will radiate 10*1000 W/m² onto a receiver instead of the regular 1000 W/m².

          Only because, from the POV of the receiver, the parabolic mirror has an apparent size ten times that of the sun. If you want to use reflected sunlight to illuminate a receiver at 10 kW/m^2, then no matter how clever you are with arranging the mirrors, the receiver has to see a mirror with a solid angle ~10 times that of the sun. You cannot beat this. If you want to use reflected sunlight to illuminate a receiver at 1 kW/m^2, the receiver has to see a mirror with a solid angle roughly equal to the sun, which at geostationary distance means ~330 km diameter. You cannot beat this.

          If the receiver is a lens which bundles the 10 kW/m² into a (more or less) single direction

          More “less” than “more”, I’m afraid. A lens or mirror or set of lenses/mirrors cannot produce a truly unidirectional beam of light from a finite, diffuse source. And when you do the math to calculate the actual beam angle, you will find yourself right back at the radiance theorem.

          1. Adrian

            Thanks, and also thanks to his2003. It makes sense now.

            So in effect, what you’re saying is, we need to replace the sun with a coherent light source with the same power output, to make the solid angle of light incident on our mirror equal to zero?
            Got it. I knew this was just an engineering problem, not a physics problem!

          2. John Schilling

            Hmm, a giant laser with a 1.0 L-sol output. Seems like I’ve heard this idea before. Does seem like overkill for this application, though – more suitable for “we seem to be at war with the entire Andromedan Galactic Empire”.

            IOW, yeah, using a coherent light source changes the rules dramatically.

          1. John Schilling

            Perfect, and thanks. How did I miss that one the first time around?

            And how long until the community of truly enlightened rationalists can conduct all their discussions by just linking to the relevant XKCDs? Without the trivial default of just blocking all discussion with an immediate XKCD-386, I mean.

          2. hls2003

            That’s actually where I first learned the answer to the moonlight question, having never studied optics.

            Disturbingly for the modern rationalist way of life, it appears based on life expectancy and estimated productivity that we will hit Peak Munroe somewhere around 2032, followed by geometrical price increases as less and less efficient Munroe sources must be exploited.

          3. Dan L

            Without the trivial default of just blocking all discussion with an immediate XKCD-386, I mean.

            Misread this as 316 at first, which ironically is a way to block discussion with a reflector dish.

    3. broblawsky

      Storing the peak energy – either thermally, mechanically, or electrochemically – is still much simpler and easier to maintain.

  4. Ouroborobot

    I was going to try and write a lengthy reply about how I share your disdain for the quoted text for several reasons but don’t necessarily disagree with the underlying premise either. I think instead I’ll just say that your comment adds nothing of value, and we’d be better off without it.

  5. anonymousskimmer

    @Viliam

    I see you are from Czechoslovakia. I have an ancestor from there, but haven’t had any luck trying to find out what their surname means. Do you know the meaning or origin of the surname D r a a c k e (spaces to avoid search engine listing)?

    1. Viliam

      @anonymousskimmer

      Czech or Slovak words never have two “a”s in a row. Assuming that the surname was originally spelled slightly differently… the closest local words that come to my mind are “dráčik” (little dragon) or perhaps “dračka” (skinning; metaphorically: great sale). The latter feels very unlikely as a surname; the former seems unlikely to be transformed into the form your wrote. My first impression is that the surname means “dragon” in some non-Slavic language.

      Trying the word in Google Translate, it says it actually means “dragon” in Frisian, which according to Wikipedia is a Germanic language used by a minority in Netherlands and Germany. So perhaps your ancestor’s ancestors moved to Czechoslovakia from there, bringing the surname?

      (Coincidentally, one of my ancestors also came from Netherlands bringing the surname, so the hypothesis feels not unlikely to me. I wonder whether there might have been an immigration wave from Netherlands to Czechoslovakia for some reason in 19th/20th century — but I didn’t find anything in Wikipedia or Google, so probably it was just an individual decision.)

      1. anonymousskimmer

        Thanks a bunch. This may explain why it has been impossible to find anything about it on German/Czech/Slovak sites. For some reason when translating from Frisian to English Google translate translates the double-a to a single-a version, and translates the single-a version to “drink” (a plausible surname for a bartender), so I can’t see the “dragon” translation. (Edit: entering “Dragon” for English and translating to Frisian, I see what you mean.)

        Wikipedia says that some Frisian is spoken today in northern Germany, so perhaps this was just an internal migration from the northwest to the east of the Holy Roman Empire.

        My ancestor came to the US in the late 1800s, so any mass Netherlandic Frisian migration that my and your ancestors were part of would have to have been mid-1800s at the latest.

        Part of the Netherlands was part of the Austrian crown prior to its conquest by revolutionary France in the 1790s. The Napoleonic invasion may have prompted various Netherlandic (and Germanic) Frisians to migrate closed to the center of Hapsburg power.

        1. Robin

          That name looks indeed more German than Czech. On https://legacy.stoepel.net/en you see that there seem to be about two people with that particular spelling living in Ulm and Neu-Ulm, Southern Germany. If you try “Drake”, you find a lot of people in Westphalia. And “Dracke” in the North, but that would be pronounced with a short “a”.

  6. gettin_schwifty

    I have no idea where you got this quoted text from. Is it deeply nested somewhere in this OT?

      1. gettin_schwifty

        Thanks! I thought I’d read that thread. I’m not sure how I missed that comment, considering my sister’s a single mother and she works her ass off.

    1. theredsheep

      Scanned text looking for mention of “Virgo” as avatar of slut-shaming. Came away disappointed. How lame. Anyway, yeah, why is the right wing supposed to have a monopoly on being anti-science, etc., etc.

    2. Deiseach

      Having slogged my way through that article, yer wan sounds par for the course: failed actress from the stereotypical kind of background to produce an “angry feminist grr the patriarchy is there in even the art choices of a hotel” (step-granny means grandpa got divorced, so mom and dad following suit in the second generation is nothing unusual; reiki etc. are the kinds of interests you’d expect for the family background to produce our heroine), scrabbling around for some way to parlay her (lack of) qualifications into something that can generate income (that course she mentions that ‘radicalised’ her sounds the next thing to training as a social worker except I doubt she even got that far, it’s more like one of the social care training courses that lead into doing your social work degree), one of the very many trying to monetise a hobby.

      The only novel thing there is the social justice angle, and that’s plainly to carve out a unique selling point for a niche market. Otherwise she’s just one more of the many, many psychic hotlines and pay-for-charting astrology websites out there.

      What is really surprising to me is why the heck Rolling Stone felt the need to do a story on her. Celebrity astrologers were all the thing back in the 80s but this one isn’t even a celebrity (no mentions of being personal astrologer/trusted adviser/getting rave reviews on Twitter from some movie star or pop singer or Big Name Activist). The only angle there is the SJW one and that’s old hat by now. Did they even do a story on the witches casting spells against Trump silliness, because this is at that level?

      How they have fallen: from “Serious Exposé of Campus Rape Epidemic” to “Instagram Astrologer-with-a-Gimmick Whom You’ve Never Heard Of” 😀

      1. viVI_IViv

        that course she mentions that ‘radicalised’ her sounds the next thing to training as a social worker except I doubt she even got that far, it’s more like one of the social care training courses that lead into doing your social work degree

        Social workers have to actually work with homeless people, drug addicts and other kinds of icky people, that’s hard, much better to sell horoscopes to upper-middle class hippies.

        How they have fallen: from “Serious Exposé of Campus Rape Epidemic” to “Instagram Astrologer-with-a-Gimmick Whom You’ve Never Heard Of” 😀

        LoL!

          1. viVI_IViv

            I use an ad blocker and I turn on private mode when I browse news sites.

            They aren’t buying their soy toasts and avocado cappuccinos on my dime.

      2. Viliam

        What is really surprising to me is why the heck Rolling Stone felt the need to do a story on her.

        Based on my understanding of how journalism works, either someone was friends with someone, or someone had sex with someone.

        1. Aftagley

          I really hate this “Lol, journalism” meme.

          It’s a clear human interest story and it was entertaining enough to occupy all our attention for a while. That’s why it got written – because people would read it.

          1. Aapje

            The issue is that these kind of stories are intended as being inspirational, even if they are unintentionally suitable for hate-reading to some. Other stories are intended for hate-reading, being written as such.

            A bias is which subjects are written about nicely vs hatefully. These choices manipulate those with less knowledge of the subject.

  7. theredsheep

    On a whim, I looked up what my microbio textbook has to say about coronaviruses as a broad class. It doesn’t say a lot, except that they’re the second most common cause of the common cold … and, in one of those little fun fact boxes which clutter textbooks at every level, that a few years back scientists in Europe discovered a compound called K22 which seems to be highly effective at discouraging the spread of coronaviruses in general, along with a number of other related viruses. I have not looked much further into this, since I have work this weekend.

    I am guessing that K22 hasn’t been investigated in depth yet, has not been tested in humans, and/or that it would not be practical to manufacture an awful lot of it very quickly. Does anyone with experience in epidemiology know more about this, especially in the context of the China outbreak? I did find out that K22 seems effective against SARS.

    1. metacelsus

      Can you please link a reference for the K22 compound? I can’t seem to find anything about it.

    2. anonymousskimmer

      We observed that K22 is most active in inhibiting replication of the tested α-coronaviruses (HCoV-229E, FCoV) and the γ-coronavirus IBV, whereas amongst β-coronaviruses K22 was highly active in inhibiting MERS-CoV, but only moderately against MHV or SARS-CoV (Figure 6).

      Specifically, we are currently focusing on the structure-activity relationship analysis of K22 analogs, with the aim to identify compounds with improved antiviral and cytotoxic profiles prior to their assessment in vivo.

      The antiviral activity against a number of diverse coronaviruses makes K22 an ideal candidate for further development towards an efficacious “pan-coronavirus inhibitor”.

      The concept of targeting multiple key functions of viral replication led to the development of efficacious treatment regimens against HIV and hepatitis C virus by combining multiple antiviral drugs [61], [62] and it is tempting to speculate that this concept will be applicable to combat coronavirus infections in the future.

      https://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1004166

  8. Mark V Anderson

    There was an interesting poll done that indicates that Protestants are closer to their ministers than Catholics are to priests, and Protestants are more likely to seek guidance from ministers. This makes intuitive sense to me, since my impression is that priests are more often outsiders to the community, since they are celibate. Whereas ministers are usually expected to have a spouse and children, so are more integral to the community. This seems like a strong case against against celibacy for priests, unless they are there for reasons other than to guide the congregation. I’d love to know what Protestants/Catholics on SSC think.

    I am an atheist, so perhaps a carpetbagger on this issue, but I have an intellectual interest. I did grow up Protestant, so maybe I am biased in that direction.

    1. theredsheep

      The ratio of priests to congregants is probably lower in Catholic churches, on average. Catholicism has sacraments, which are intended to work regardless of the celebrant’s personality, and less of an emphasis on relationships in general. Closeness to a Catholic priest might imply formal rites of confession, which scares a lot of people. The pederasty scandals might cast a long shadow of distrust. “Cultural Catholicism” appears to be a bigger phenomenon than cultural Protestantism, so that one might expect the few-times-a-year Catholics to be effective nonbelievers playing tourist while the few-times-a-year Protestants are just guilty about never making time away from football/work/whatever. There are any number of other explanations I haven’t thought of, I’m sure.

      (I’m Orthodox, and our parish priests are typically married; don’t know how close we are compared to other Christians.)

      1. Dacyn

        I’m not really sure what you mean by “as a matter of policy”: as I understand it the policy is just that the Church can reassign the priest at will. This is often for three to six years, but could be less or more.

        1. The original Mr. X

          I presume he means that a lot of bishops make sure to do it, rather than that there’s an official rule stating that priests must be moved around.

          Also, I haven’t heard of such a policy in other countries, so I assume this is a US thing, rather than a thing done in the Catholic Church as a whole.

          1. Dacyn

            That’s what I thought at first too, but there doesn’t seem to be anything like that in the article he linked. Do you know what the motivation would be for why bishops would want to stick to those numbers?

          2. Nick

            A lot of bishops in the US do indeed do it. 6 year rotations is pretty common in the dioceses I’ve lived in (in Ohio).

            There’s a discussion of this in Bronwen McShea’s article last year on changes in church governance. Her opinion of it is… not positive:

            the 1983 Code introduced a novel permission for bishops’ conferences to put term limits on the appointment of parish pastors (Canon 522). It also allowed bishops a new freedom to move pastors from parish to parish, based on subjective discernments regarding what would best serve “the necessity or advantage of the Church” (Canon 1748).

            As Fr. Mark Pilon has noted, some bishops’ conferences, including the USCCB, responded with ­alacrity to these new permissions. The U.S. bishops voted to “allow bishops to establish whatever term limit . . . they decided upon for their diocese.” This caused alarm at the Vatican, which insisted on six-year terms, at minimum. The hope had been that bishops would use their new power lightly and value stability in parish assignments. But the opposite has been the case. Short-term pastorates are now so much the norm in the United States that it almost seems odd when a pastor stays at the same parish for more than a decade or two.

            These changes uprooted the ancient norm of life-term pastorates. Previously, parish priests could resist bishops on some matters without fearing reprisal in the form of a reassignment. Pastors, too, when they stayed in one parish, had more opportunity to mature into paternal roles with respect to the flocks entrusted to them. Because pastors were long-term members of stable communities, there was also more familiarity with, and de facto oversight over, their behaviors by local families, social elites, and secular authorities than today’s system promotes. Since the 1980s, bishops have wielded the perpetual power of patronage, the ability to reward and punish priests with regularity. Career-minded churchmen now look to their bishops not just for good (or at least bearable) parish assignments, but also for more plum assignments every few years. But by what metric are priests rewarded? They must prove their “value” to the diocese, but the only person formally authorized to judge that “value” is the bishop. The results are predictable. Pastors today live with more fear than in the past that if they get on the wrong side of the chancery—for any reason, including preaching too earnestly about Church corruption or reporting on the misdoings of a priest who is friendly with the bishop—they will be “demoted” to another post.

      2. Aapje

        Meanwhile, most if not all Protestant churches have ministers who stay for life unless they choose to move elsewhere.

        In The Netherlands, the largest Protestant denomination recently decided to move to a 12 year term, but even then this still requires mutual agreement.

        Note that the Protestants don’t see being a pastor as a job, but as a calling for a specific congregation, with the intimate relationship between the pastor and the congregation being a difficult process of separation.

        It is far less casual than for Catholic priests.

    2. Pink-Nazbol

      The Catholic church is a large organization and so priests don’t feel the financial need to get cozy with their communities in the way Protestants do, the organization will pay their bills even if locals stop coming to church. Plus, a bunch of the Catholic priests are gay. A whole lot of why Catholics stop going to church or leave for Protestant churches is because the local priest speaks in an obviously gay accent and the local octogenarian Bishop is too senile to see it or pretends to be too senile to see it.

      Full disclosure: I was raised Catholic but rarely attended church and briefly associated with though was never a member of a “trad Catholic” organization. I left after I realized that the logical conclusion of trad Catholicism was that maybe the Protestants had a point, a conclusion which was quite unwelcome there. I’m euphoric atheist now.

      1. pancrea

        > the local priest speaks in an obviously gay accent

        Why would this happen? Are you saying the priest is doing this deliberately to signal to other gay people that he’s interested in hookups, while giving a sermon? Or are you saying that gay people speak in a gay accent involuntarily and there’s nothing they can do to suppress it? Neither of these explanations seem likely to me.

        1. Dacyn

          I don’t know exactly the reason, but IME gay people speak in a “gay accent” in situations where there’s no point in signaling for hookups all the time.

          1. viVI_IViv

            Some do, many don’t.

            I’ve read speculation that those who don’t have to force themselves not to. The general theory is that gay men tend to be naturally effeminate but since they like masculine men, and they are stuck with each other, some of them will adopt a masculine persona. Early-onset MtF transsexuals are on the other side of the spectrum and go fully feminine.

      2. Nancy Lebovitz

        I’m also calling nonsense and possibly trolling.

        If it were common for Catholic priests to have gay mannerisms, it would have been noticed a long time ago.

        1. Viliam

          A long time ago, when all gays were in the closet, the average Catholic would see gay mannerism in the church and believe that it was simply priest mannerism.

          1. John Schilling

            OK, but a slightly less long time ago, “gay mannerism” was practically a cliche even though gays were still stigmatized and (outside of San Francisco) mostly closeted. So unless virtually every American Catholic was isolated from mainstream entertainment and culture, or they knew the stereotype. Meanwhile, Catholic priests in mainstream entertainment and culture were almost always shown presenting in the manner of a dignified straight (or celibate) man, and most Catholics are going to see an order of magnitude more priests on TV than they ever will standing behind the altar of their church.

            So, there’s one hypothesis that says the average American Catholic sees their parish priest behaving in this unusual manner, thinks “Aha, the media must have it all wrong, this apparently-weird manner of speech, etc, must be the normal way priests behave”, and further thinks that it is just a coincidence that this supposed real-priest-stereotypical behavior is so similar to the media’s portrayal of stereotypical gay male behavior. And there’s the other hypothesis where Catholic priests don’t actually behave like that.

            Also, I’ve been in a number of Catholic churches over the past forty years or so, and I don’t recall any of the priests ever exhibiting stereotypical “gay mannerisms”.

            Give it up.

          2. theredsheep

            I’ve never been Catholic and don’t know enough to speculate, but I have encountered claims that an awful lot of modern Catholic priests and (especially) bishops are gay. Mostly from conservatives who argue that a lot of the pederasty was really Kevin Spacey-style predatory homosexuality, lavender mafia, etc. The idea is current, don’t know about plausibility.

            I recall there was also a gag on the Simpsons many years ago, where a parade float said “straight Catholic priests,” and there was just one lonely guy sitting on a chair and waving. Outside of that, IDK.

          3. John Schilling

            I’ve never been Catholic and don’t know enough to speculate, but I have encountered claims that an awful lot of modern Catholic priests and (especially) bishops are gay.

            I don’t think anyone here is denying that an “awful lot” of Catholic priests are gay. That’s not the question under dispute.

          4. Clutzy

            I’ve never been Catholic and don’t know enough to speculate, but I have encountered claims that an awful lot of modern Catholic priests and (especially) bishops are gay. Mostly from conservatives who argue that a lot of the pederasty was really Kevin Spacey-style predatory homosexuality, lavender mafia, etc. The idea is current, don’t know about plausibility.

            Its fairly well supported by the victim statistics. The John Jay Report had 80.9% of victims as males, other studies have shown this estimate to be accurate or on the lower end, with some studies finding over 90% male victimization rates. However, the jay report showed slightly over half (54%) of all victims were pre-pubescent (under 13), but only 18% under 10 (in other words, 11-13 year old boys were the most highly abused group).

        2. viVI_IViv

          I think the gay priest phenomenon is mostly a recent one. Until a few decades ago the local priest’s mistress and children were a common topic of gossip in the community, actual gay priests were probably mostly limited to monasteries, where they had few contacts with outsiders. Now most heterosexual men from first-world countries don’t become priests, because it’s not a high-status position anymore.

          I’m a Catholic atheist, meaning that I only attend church a few times a year for social events (e.g. weddings, baptisms, funerals) and I’ve also noticed that basically any priest who is younger than 50 and not African (*) has speech patterns and mannerisms which, if not stereotypically gay, are very unmanly.

          (* Africans are overrepresented among priests in the West because becoming a priest is still a high-status move in Africa, hence I assume that it’s still attractive to heterosexual men)

          1. Aftagley

            Also – African priestly prohibitions on marriage and celibacy are still pretty loosely enforced.

    3. edmundgennings

      The first question is heavily due to simple numbers. There are far fewer priests per capita than assorted protestant ministers and quasi clerical assistants per capita. Hence fewer catholics are close to clergy or quasi clergy.
      As for part two, the protestant trust in the ability of clergy to give useful advice is generally too high. Other than a certain minimal competency that almost anyone with a college degree has, clergy have no reason why they should be able to give, for example, financial advice.
      I think part of this is that protestant clergy only have the ability to give advice and preach whereas catholic clergy are essentially ministers of the sacraments who fittingly also preach. The Catholic priest is more similar to the surgeon and the protestant minister is more similar to a nutritionist.
      The type of advice which Catholic priests would be good resources are not even included. Catholic clergy would be good sources of advice on moral matters as well as things like how to pray, accept suffering, and how to die well.

    4. Deiseach

      Whereas ministers are usually expected to have a spouse and children, so are more integral to the community.

      There is the whole “minister’s wife” angle about getting involved in community activities, which my sister resented greatly (and there is seemingly some pushback against it in recent years/some denominations). Basically that you’re there as unpaid labour supporting your husband and the congregation feel perfectly free to gossip about you, criticise you, and give you a laundry-list of expectations about what you are supposed to do for nothing with no right of reply. Also that the important families in the church think they run the place and are very much “we’ve always done it this way” when it comes to changing anything.

      Note: my sister was talking about the Church of Ireland, which may not apply to American experience, and we’re Catholic so she married out and did not come from the requisite Protestant background to know what to expect 🙂

      I do think there is still a certain distance between priests and parishioners in Catholicism, but I’ve read some experiences of Protestant ministers and their sense of burn-out from that very level of closeness, as they have a lot of expectations put on them to be available 24/7 for the congregation and try to juggle that with family life. There also seems to be more power for the laity what with vestries and boards of management and the congregation calling the minister (depending on denomination and how it handles clergy) so that ministers have less ability to get things done unless they are good at schmoozing and can get the important families on their side:

      Pastor Linda seems frustrated and angry?

      She may have good reason to be: Citing a Barna study, Barnabas Ministries reports that churches expect their pastor to be competent in 16 different areas, which is way beyond anyone’s capabilities, unless you’re Superman or Gandalf the Wizard. (It’s too bad that Pastor Linda is such a good preacher, so involved in the community, and so good with the kids. She’s a lousy administrator, doesn’t spend enough time calling on people and having nice pastoral chats, and doesn’t communicate the church’s cleaning needs to the janitorial service. So, the Shadow Search Committee secretly forms, aka the Board of Deacons’ Assault Force Delta.)

    5. The original Mr. X

      In addition to what others have said, it seems that Protestants who lose the faith are more likely to stop calling themselves Christians entirely and never darken a Church door, whereas Catholics are more likely to just stop going regularly but still call themselves Catholics. So it might be that there are more Christmas-and-Easter Catholics (the article says that the survey was done on “adults who attend religious services a few times a year or more often”, which would plausibly cover such people) who, since they only go to church a couple of times a year, obviously never get to know their priest.

      1. John Schilling

        The Christmas-and-Easter thing is quite common among American Protestants as well. You can argue that Catholics are “more likely” to go that route than Protestants, but it’s probably not going to be a lot more likely.

    6. Mark V Anderson

      Thanks everyone, fascinating responses. I have little interest in the theological bits of religion, but the community building issues I find very interesting. As a few folks indicated, maybe it isn’t a good thing that ministers are used for advice about things of which they know nothing. But the most interesting item here was that it seems a matter of policy in the US to move priests about every few years. It is as if the Catholic hierarchy is against the very concept of creating a Catholic community. To me that is a very bad policy. But of course speaking as an atheist, creating a community is really the only upside of a religion anyway, so maybe my thoughts are of little consequence to a Christian.

      1. Evan Þ

        Speaking as a Protestant, thanks for pointing it out! I think community is one very important part of the Church, and I think most Christians familiar with the Bible would agree – see, e.g., all the passages like 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about how Christians with all sorts of gifts should work together to help and build up each other.

        Anecdotally, I’ve heard a number of Roman Catholics online lamenting how little community there is in their church, and their descriptions – of almost everyone leaving right after Mass, and how they’ve been unable to make any friends after a year’s regular attendance – do sound worse than I’ve seen or heard of in most Protestant churches.

      2. Deiseach

        My experience is probably out of date, due to the fall in vocations etc. but when I was a child the idea was that first, if someone wanted to be ordained, they had to find a bishop who would accept them as a candidate in their diocese. The reasoning behind that is that the bishop is ‘married’ to the diocese and the bishop has the fullness of the priesthood, the priests are representatives of the bishop and minister in parishes under his consent. So you can’t (or you couldn’t) just rock up to a seminary and be “yo, I wanna be a priest, cool?”

        Second, once ordained, the new priest would first be assigned to a parish in that diocese (they might be moved elsewhere if there was a pressing need but traditionally it was that diocese) for a few years. Priests would be moved around as curates to different parishes to gain experience, and for historical reasons – to protect against nepotism and the kind of building up little personal fiefdoms where they could hand out patronage. After a while, they would be considered for a parish of their own where they would be the parish priest. Once in a parish, they would be mostly settled and not likely to be moved on, but it could happen depending on age and necessity. Some dioceses have limits e.g. six years. Once older, though, a parish priest would stay in his last parish until death.

        How the situation is shaking out now due to the vocations crisis and lack of priests is harder to gauge; priests are staying in active service for longer rather than retiring due to age because of the lack of priests.

    7. hls2003

      Another reason why Protestants might be more likely to seek advice from their ministers is the nature of the liturgy. Catholic liturgy is more focused on enacting the sacraments – mass is primarily a celebration of the Eucharist. Protestant services, I think, are more focused on the preaching of the sermon. This puts the pastor in a position of “authoritative explainer of things” to a greater degree than the Catholic priest. I know Catholics have homilies and Protestants also have sacraments; but I think the focus on authoritative preaching might drive more engagement with the pastor as advice-giver, since his most important role is telling you what God wants you to do.

      Also, Protestant pastors move around a lot too. It’s likely that 5-6 years is average for them too. This for example is consistent with my anecdotal experience.

      1. acymetric

        It’s likely that 5-6 years is average for them too.

        I seriously doubt this. It is possible that associate pastors move around almost that often, presumably because eventually they want to be full pastors, but at least for Presbyterian and Baptists churches tend to keep pastors for a long time. Methodists/Lutherans may be a different story, I don’t have as much familiarity there.

        1. hls2003

          I think associate pastors move even more often than that. I’m Presbyterian, and it varies widely. You often see pretty long tenures at the “good” churches (high profile, good geographically, financially sound) but that’s like saying that the Alabama football coach or North Carolina basketball coach are long-tenured. Of course they are, there’s nowhere “up” left to move. Anecdotally I have seen a lot of movement at less desirable churches.

    1. Aftagley

      Good. Fucking. Riddance.

      I was a kid with a legume allergy in a state who’s economy was peanut-dependent enough that Mr. Planter was a fairly common sight at local events. Imagine an omnipresent anthropomorphized version of anaphalactic shock who constantly showed up at every local celebration. That shit used to terrify me.

      1. Matt M

        I’m about 99% certain this is just a temporary marketing gimmick designed to sucker the media into providing free advertising. Like when IHOP “changed it’s name” to IHOB (which lasted for like a month, then they changed it back).

        1. Aftagley

          Then I will be in the semi-unique* historical position of actively protesting a resurrection.

          *As far as I can tell, it’s just me, comic-book fans and the pharisees.

        2. Deiseach

          Yeah, it definitely sounds like an advertising gimmick. I think most people vaguely know the Planter’s Peanut mascot but you can’t really say it’s on the level of Ronald McDonald. So bumping up recognition by this kind of advertising stunt and then bringing back Mr. Peanut “due to popular demand and outcry at the loss of a beloved icon” is what a new ad agency is going to do to show the client they’re earning their money.

          1. Matt M

            Showing your age here, D. Even Ronald McDonald is a dated nostalgia play at this point 🙂

            Flo from Progressive is probably more famous among people under 30!

  9. alchemy29

    The first votes of the US 2020 election season are coming up (the Iowa caucus). So here are my predictions for all of the elections/primaries I have an opinion about. I’ve bet on some of these on Predictit, but not all:

    Democratic nominee: Joe Biden wins the nomination (51%), Sanders is possible (35%)
    Presidential election: Trump wins (60%)
    Colorado Senate: John Hickenlooper is the democratic nominee (90%) and wins the general election (80%)
    Maine Senate: Sara Gideon is the democratic nominee (95%) but Susan Collins wins the general election (55%)
    Arizona Senate: Mark Kelly is the democratic nominee (98%) but Martha McSally wins the general election (65%)
    North Carolina Senate: Cal Cunningham is the democratic nominee (85%), Thom Tillis wins the general election (60%).
    Iowa: Theresa Greenfield is the democratic nominee (70%), Joni Ernst wins the general election (75%).
    Alabama: Jeff Sessions is the republican nominee (95%), and wins the general election assuming he doesn’t die (98%).
    All other states are holds for their respective parties (90%).
    Democrats hold the house (75%).

    According to better markets I’m slightly overestimating Trump, but I think that the principle that incumbents don’t get voted out except in recessions or political turmoil is much stronger than the individual merits of presidents/candidates.

    I’m supposedly overestimating Martha McSally, but I think Arizona remains a solid red state. Demographics change slower than people think (see Texas for misplaced optimism on the part of Democrats). Mark Kelly is a very impressive candidate but so were Bredesen, O’Rourke and Evan Bayh just to name a few Democrats that have failed to win in red states recently. Krysten Sinema had the benefit of a D+10 environment which isn’t going to happen in 2020.

    The rest of my predictions are close to orthodox.

    1. EchoChaos

      Most of these seem in line with my guesses, but in a non-D+10 environment, don’t forget that Virginia is a plausibly swing state. I think a less than 10% chance of it flipping is probably too low (which is what you’re assigning). Same with Michigan. They’re both long-shots for Republicans, I agree, but they aren’t less than 10% long-shots.

      Especially Virginia with the right wound up about gun rights, but we’ll see.

      A great night for Republicans they hold everything except maybe Colorado and pick up Michigan or Virginia.

      A great night for Democrats puts Maine at risk before North Carolina or Iowa in my opinio.

      1. alchemy29

        Candidate quality matters. Gary Peters won in a landslide in 2014 – one of the worst years for Democrats in recent times. Mark Warner won in the same year, an admittedly close race, but there’s no way 2020 will be as bad for democrats as 2014. Especially in Virginia which has drifted blue (or at least away from Trump). Mark Warner also has a very good net approval of +20.

        1. EchoChaos

          John James is a very strong candidate in Michigan who came within 6 points of Stabenow in a very D year.

          Virginia is weaker, I agree, but if Bernie is the candidate, it very much dislikes him.

          1. DavidFriedman

            At a considerable tangent, how much are Democratic voters bothered, at the primary or election level, by the fact that Bernie isn’t a Democrat?

            I’m not talking about policies — Warren may be just as far left as Bernie. I’m wondering to what extent there is a feeling of group loyalty, such that the fact that he has always classified himself as either socialist or independent will count against him.

          2. John Schilling

            Probably about as much as it bothered Republicans that Donald Trump “isn’t a Republican”

            Bernie Sanders is a card-carrying member of the Democratic party, and Donald Trump is a card-carrying member of the Republican party. Sanders used to identify as a Socialist; Trump as a Democrat and for a couple of years as a member Ross Perot’s Independence Party. Both joined their current parties as a prerequisite for major-party nomination, both have continued to accuse the leadership of those parties of being corrupt and/or out of touch with the American people.

            If most Republicans can tolerate Trump, I expect most Democrats to tolerate Sanders.

          3. BBA

            There’s a certain crowd of Clinton loyalists who are convinced that Bernie lost Hillary the election by not conceding and falling in line quickly enough, and continue to hold a grudge. “He isn’t even a Democrat” is a frequent complaint from them.

            This same crowd disproportionately backed Kamala Harris, so they probably aren’t as influential as they think.

          4. littskad

            Hillary, herself, also seems to still hold a grudge against Bernie. The Hollywood Reporter has a recent interview with her here. It’s longish, and Bernie comes up a few times.

            Also interesting is this exchange:

            HR: How can the left combat Fox News?

            HC: It’s really a shame that all the people who support progressive politics and policies haven’t understood that that’s exactly the right question to ask. We do have some well-off people who support Democratic candidates, there’s no doubt about that, but they’ve never bought a TV station. They’ve never gobbled up radio stations. They’ve never created newspapers in local communities to put out propaganda. That’s all been done not just by Murdoch and Fox, but by Sinclair and by the Koch brothers and by so many others who have played a long game about how we really influence the thinking of Americans.

            I don’t know where to even begin with that.

          5. Clutzy

            Hillary, herself, also seems to still hold a grudge against Bernie. The Hollywood Reporter has a recent interview with her here. It’s longish, and Bernie comes up a few times.

            There seems, to me, a phenomena that most losers of the race for the Presidency end up becoming very odd ducks, this doesn’t apply as much to those who lost to incumbents, I don’t think Dole, Kerry, or Romney ever actually had aspirations of winning. Al Gore became a weird alarmist which was only barely exaggerated in the South Park Man-Bear-Pig episode and his marriage fell apart. McCain was weird before he lost, and only got crankier and weirder after. And Hillary has become an angry conspiracy theorist.

          6. Matt M

            I don’t know where to even begin with that.

            Four years ago, she was bragging that not a single large American newspaper endorsed Donald Trump. That might be a good place to start!

          7. meh

            I don’t think Dole, Kerry, or Romney ever actually had aspirations of winning.

            what in the world would give you this impression?

          8. Deiseach

            We do have some well-off people who support Democratic candidates, there’s no doubt about that, but they’ve never bought a TV station. They’ve never gobbled up radio stations. They’ve never created newspapers in local communities to put out propaganda.

            No newspapers, you say? So what about the New York Times Editorial Board endorsing both Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar?

            Or are local and national newspaper endorsements somehow not the same thing if it’s for a Democratic candidate instead of a Repubican candidate?

          9. CatCube

            The main characters in the 1996 comedy “My Fellow Americans” are former presidents who each lost an election to the other. There’s a bit that I can’t find on Youtube right now where they reminisce about what it was like to lose an election–one points out that it’s finding out that tens of millions of people thought you weren’t good enough.

            Couple this with the fact that the only people who would run for president both 1) want power so badly they can taste it, and 2) believe that out of everybody in America they’re the ones up for the challenge, and the sheer amount of work an election takes. You’re going to have some really weird psychology from an election loss.

          10. Clutzy

            what in the world would give you this impression?

            I observed their campaigns and think they gave off a vibe of, “I expect to lose.” Obviously I was pretty young for Dole, but my dad was a political junky. Even at 8 I could see Dole was gonna lose and knew himself he was gonna lose.

          11. meh

            @Clutzy
            your 8 year old self probably only saw dole very late in the election or on election night itself when yes it was obvious he was a lost cause.
            But he definitely had aspirations of winning. He ran for president multiple times, and for VP once, and was up against someone who only took %43 of the vote last time around.

            As for the other two, while I can’t really argue against what vibes you are seeing, there is nothing objective that indicates they had no aspirations of winning. Kerry was up against someone who won without the popular vote last time around, and came within 60,000 votes of pulling the feat off himself. unlike Dole, we actually had to wait for the results to come in with him.

          12. Clutzy

            I shouldn’t have said aspirations, I really mean something more closely along the lines of “expectation” or even “hope” .

            In any case something like the Candy Crowley moment should have only made Romney stronger and propelled him upwards in the polls, had he parried that like a Romney that thought he could win would have.

      2. broblawsky

        Virginia isn’t going to vote for a Republican for Senate. Northern Virginia is too blue and too well-populated; there just aren’t enough 2A single-issue voters to flip it. .

    2. Walter

      I think if Biden wins the primary he wins the general in a landslide. If Warren/Sanders beats Biden, however, I think Trump has a 50 50.

      As far as predictions go, Warren in Democratic primary -> Trump in general.

      1. DavidFriedman

        Part of the way Trump got the nomination was by getting his opponents to look like weak men being pushed around by a strong man. People like to feel as though they are allied with someone strong.

        I’m not sure, but I suspect Biden might be vulnerable to the same sort of image attack.

  10. SamChevre

    Western Massachusetts meetup tonight (this one got scheduled last-minute)

    Packard’s (the Library Room, reserved, in the back)
    14 Masonic St., Northampton MA
    Saturday, January 25, 2019 at 6:30 PM

    We’re a fairly small group – usually 6 or so – ranging in age from college students to 60-somethings. Please join us if you’re in the area.

  11. johan_larson

    Peter Watts, author of Blindsight and Echopraxia, considers the tradeoff between genocide and extinction:

    It’s Human Nature to prioritize our own interests over others’, a bias that comes standard in virtually every organism on the planet (consciously or otherwise). But if you’d allow the greater-good sacrifice of the Auschwitz janitor who played an infinitesimal role in the murder of 0.25% of one species— while also defending the Amazon employee who plays a commensurately small role in the wholesale extinction of thousands of them— well, you’re not just saying that Humans have more value. You’re saying, to all intents and purposes, that no other species has any. And that, fellow mammal, sails right out of mere bias and into the realm of outright pathology. The fact that it’s so ubiquitous throughout our society does not make it any less pathological.

    Most people regard “dehumanizing” terminology as a bad thing.

    These days, I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a compliment.

    1. cassander

      I love watts as a writer, but I can’t find this sort of nihilistic hair shirting absurd. There is nothing pathological about valuing human life and happiness above that of other species, and to say otherwise isn’t raising other species up, it’s casting humans down.

    2. Alexander Turok

      This is just the standard “if you consider animals as humans, gee, we’re as bad as than Hitler.”

      And why is he blaming an Amazon employee but not an Amazon consumer?(Rhetorical question.)

      1. Dacyn

        And why is he blaming an Amazon employee but not an Amazon consumer?(Rhetorical question.)

        Presumably because he thinks an Amazon consumer plays a smaller role than the janitor, not a “commensurate” one. I don’t think he is trying to be soft on consumers, see the last sentence of that paragraph.

        1. DavidFriedman

          On the other hand, if that particular Amazon employee resigned he would be replaced by another. If one consumer stopped consuming whatever the author is opposed to, one consumer’s less of it would be consumed.

    3. Byrel Mitchell

      This really screams ‘taboo pathological’. What exactly is meant by it? If that’s broken down into equivalent words without intrinsic negative affect, I suspect the apparent controversy would disappear in favor of a simple moral values disagreement.

    4. Radu Floricica

      I’ve skimmed the article and I think the ultimate point has value. Of course I wouldn’t go and put the blame at the feet of some capitalist logo, that’s just the old anti-market sentiment with a bit of rich-are-evil bias thrown in. But we DO have a blind spot that makes us value A Single Human Life over hundreds of species – or at least we act like we do. I don’t know if it’s psychological (i.e. we actually make this value judgement), or social (i.e. it’s not allowed to say in public), or maybe it just doesn’t occur (lately I keep modeling 90% of human behaviour like complex markov chains/GPT-2 streams of behaviour where we just put one feet in front of the other. That one usually has by far the most explaining power than anything else). But either way, I think it should be worth paying more attention to such things from a positive perspective – not how much the grunt as Amazon is guilty, but all the beauty and complexity we can manage to preserver through the singularity. With a small s – AI or not, we are doing a caterpillar-to-butterfly thing here, and hopefully we’ll end up affording to live in a much more eco-friendly society if we so chose – but now we are a soup of body parts focused on growing.

      And a final note, just because I have a contrarian personality. I fail to see how a janitor at Auschwitz has a negative work value, from any but a virtue display PoV. He’s sweeping the floors, ergo the floors are clean. Even if the floors were dirty people would still die there just, well, with dirty floors. Whatever infinitezimal change he made was positive.

      Sure, virtue displaying is a useful concept – I would personally judge somebody who chose to be a janitor a Philip Morris. But I wouldn’t put any share of deaths on his back, no matter how small.

      1. AlexOfUrals

        I’m pretty sure the janitors in Auschwitz were cleaning only the quarters used by the guards (and maybe only by officers) not the inmates’ barracks. So they were keeping the floors clean for the wrong guys and presumably in the alternative world where nobody did this job the guards were so much less happy and less effective in eliminating the Jews (unless they were more angry and hence more effective).

        But I think the stronger version of this argument isn’t about the janitor facilitating the murder, it’s about complacency. If they were literally not a single janitor
        in Germany who would agree to work in Auschwitz, it might have pushed someone directly involved to thinking “Geez, maybe we really are the baddies if people don’t evey want to sweep the floors here?”. Complacency also is that he was just sweeping the floors, as opposed to trying to help the inmates, or discretely thwart the operations of the camp, or letting the people outside know how bad the things really are, or something.

        1. Radu Floricica

          Yes, that’s the virtual signaling angle, and yes, I agree it’s useful. Much more than the factual problem of dirty floors, which is comparatively trivial and easy to solve, one way or another (eg using inmates).

          1. Dacyn

            I think usually “virtue signalling” means someone is trying to signal “me good”, not “Nazis bad”.

          2. Radu Floricica

            The payload is always something like “me good”, yes. But the vehicle can be very very diverse, and … well, just look at how frequent the literal “nazi bad” used as virtue signaling these days. Even without any real nazi left 😀

            In this case, it would be the much more honorable “We as a population disagree so much with what is happening here that you have trouble even hiring janitors. So maybe consider that you’re the baddies.”

          3. Dacyn

            @Radu Floricica: Are you trying to say something like “in this scenario people are just signaling their own virtue, but fortunately they are doing it in a way such that they also happen to signal ‘Nazis bad’, which has good effects in this case”?

          4. John Schilling

            Shouting “Nazis Bad!!!” isn’t actually virtuous in an environment where Nazis neither care what anyone else thinks nor have the power to punish people who criticize them. But it sure feels virtuous, to people short on actual virtue and not paying attention to how the world has changed since 1938.

          5. Radu Floricica

            @Dacyn

            I’m saying people are usually signaling their own virtue, but occasionally they do it in ways that are socially beneficial. Personally I don’t think shouting “nazis bad” 80 years too late is one of them, but I could be wrong.

            But sometimes the proportion is skewed completely in the other direction. Saying or acting like nazis are bad 80 years ago may have contained a grain or more of virtue signaling, but the social benefits and the personal risk were a whole lot bigger.

          6. Deiseach

            I think usually “virtue signalling” means someone is trying to signal “me good”, not “Nazis bad”.

            The way I see it used is more like “me good, you Nazi”.

          7. Dacyn

            @Radu Floricica, @Deiseach: I think we may have lost the context here. Radu Floricica wrote:

            Yes, that’s the virtu[e] signaling angle, and yes, I agree it’s useful.

            in response to AlexOfUrals’s comment describing the janitors-boycott-Auschwitz scenario. Based on his most recent comment though, it doesn’t sound like he thinks it was (would have been) primarily due to virtue signaling. I was trying to clarify this, and now it has been clarified. Good day 🙂

      2. Lancelot

        But we DO have a blind spot that makes us value A Single Human Life over hundreds of species – or at least we act like we do.

        I don’t think that this is a blind spot per se — I for one am willing to bite that bullet and say that I really do value human life way above animal life.

        1. Radu Floricica

          It’s not apples to apples comparison. We’re weighting individuals vs species. This should count for something, right? Not even in a blind “1 species > 1 individual” way, but simply “it’s open for debate”.

          1. anonymousskimmer

            A lot of those species have humans who love them, so you’re weighing a single human life against a species and the happiness of the humans who love those species.

          2. Aftagley

            Right.

            I personally value the farmers who have logical and understandable reasons for burning the Amazon down WAY less than the species they are killing/displacing. I can have empathy for their situation but still feel like they are committing a moral wrong and donating money to hopefully stop them.

          3. Radu Floricica

            @Aftagley

            Don’t need to dress it up in moral. I fear if we do, the farmers end up being in the right – after all, survival is survival and I doubt they have a lot of welfare state there.

            It’s just a matter of the world we chose. I’d prefer to lose a few people and preserve a few species. Of course, if those people were me or mine, I’d fight tooth and nail. There’s no dissonance.

          4. Statismagician

            What we mean by ‘species’ also matters quite a bit. If e.g. pigs disappear, this is a bigger deal than some weird wasp that lives in five acres of the Amazon and has a neat-looking blue spot on its abdomen going extinct – I think I can say this uncontroversially.

    5. Deiseach

      To which I say, well Peter, if you ever feel like flinging yourself into a pit full of our fellow carnivorous mammals – or why should I priortise mammals? isn’t that pathological of me? – let me correct that: into a pit full of any hungry carnivores of the other species on our planet, go right ahead. I for one won’t stop you.

      Isn’t this what they call “First World Problems”? ‘Oooh, how very dare you give any kind of precedence to your fellow humans over the insects and the rats!’

      Oh and by the bye, is he still selling his books via Amazon? Just to let me know if he’s one of the complicit genociders, you understand.

    6. Wrong Species

      His whole article is a kind of reducto ad absurdum against universalism except he ends it by accepting the absurd. If you’re pathologizing behavior that is normal in almost the entirety of the species than it might be you who has the pathology. There is nothing inherently bad about in-groups. The quest to transcend them is a mistake.

    7. Dacyn

      I see this as a problem with a consequentialist view of morality. The difference between Amazon and Auschwitz is that Auschwitz intended its effects, while Amazon’s are only side effects, which most people probably do not know how to measure properly. In fact I’m a little skeptical of the analysis in the article myself, and I’m sure DavidFriedman will remind us that we don’t know for sure whether carbon emissions are net positive or negative. Of course ignorance doesn’t change the effects of your action, but I do think it makes you not comparable to someone who worked at Auschwitz.

      1. Nick

        I think you’re confusing intended vs unintended side effects with known vs unknown effects. It seems to me that you can know some effects of your action are likely or even virtually certain without thereby intending them. Carbon emissions as a side effect of doing your job seems to me like a good example of a known but unintended side effect. Whether you are in the right is a bit more complicated question, of course; like, maybe the carbon emissions you’re responsible for are a very, very bad thing, worse than the good of you earning a living. But I think we’d agree (and disagree with Watts) that’s implausible.

        1. Dacyn

          I think you’re confusing intended vs unintended side effects with known vs unknown effects.

          Yeah my comment got a little muddled, I think these are two different reasons that the Amazon employee is different from the Auschwitz janitor. I wasn’t trying to address whether the emissions were known/intended but only whether the ecological consequences were. Anyway, I said I am skeptical of Watt’s analysis but that doesn’t mean I think it is implausible.

          1. Nick

            I wasn’t trying to address whether the emissions were known/intended but only whether the ecological consequences were.

            Ah, that is a fair point.

    8. Mark V Anderson

      I skimmed through that article to find out how Amazon is causing extinctions, and all I found was that it is a large company. This is a really terrible argument. Just because of this libel, I’m not paying any attention to his specious human vs animal ethics issue. Did I miss something?

      1. Dacyn

        I mean, I don’t think his argument is meant to target Amazon in particular, he starts off talking about “evil corporate empires” in the abstract and then moves on to Amazon just for the sake of having a concrete example. So it doesn’t seem like libel to me.

        1. Mark V Anderson

          Well I think it is libel, but in any case, the argument doesn’t get any better saying that “evil corporate empires” cause extinctions.

  12. Paul Brinkley

    Apropos of the Romulan supernova talk below, I recently learned that Betelgeuse has been behaving extra strangely for a few months now.

    We’ve known it was a dying star for many years*. We’ve observed dust blown into space around it for decades. We’ve also noticed it vary in brightness. What’s new: it started getting dimmer around October last year (as usual), but then kept on getting dimmer (not usual). It’s usually the 11th brightest star in the sky; now, it’s not even in the top 20. If you’re using to watching the constellation Orion every night, you’d have a good chance of noticing it’s not quite right.

    So, the interesting news: this might be the big one coming. If it does, get ready for Crab Nebula in the smartphone era. Those of you who still know what books are will be able to read by the light of this thing.

    The boring news: …coming some time in the next 100,000 years. Such is the nature of astronomy time…

    *First person to claim that akshully it was dying as of at least 640 years ago gets smacked.

    1. Gobbobobble

      I’m guessing the odds of a gamma-ray burst heading our way are astronomically low, given that the article didn’t mention it?

    2. Evan Þ

      (Epistemic status: Never studied astronomy in an organized way; fascinated amateur.)

      The extra-fascinating thing is that we don’t know what behavior precedes a supernova, since we haven’t seen any supernova in our galaxy during the time of modern technological astronomy. So, this could be standard behavior for stars fifty thousand years before they supernova… or fifty years before… or fifty days before. We just don’t know.

      “TFW you walk outside to check if Betelgeuse is still there” – Professional astronomer Andy Howell

    3. Dacyn

      *First person to claim that akshully it was dying as of at least 640 years ago gets smacked.

      Oh no, I was just going to say that akshully there’s no such thing as objective simultaneity, and in fact any clock going from Betelgeuse’s death to our observation of it will record approximately 0 time elapsed. So in a sense, you are right and it is dying now 😛

      *ducks*

  13. eigenmoon

    Here’s an interesting showcase of US justice system. A man is thrown into jail; for some reason his phone is not taken away. He asks a guard to charge his phone, gets 12 years for having it. Loses an appeal (only the two last pages make sense).

    1. Mark V Anderson

      Yep, that is exactly what the case says. Does anyone have any more insight into this case? The statute itself seems somewhat draconian: 3 to 15 years for possessing a cell phone in jail. I suppose this is to ensure a crime boss doesn’t run the business from inside prison? But seems excessive to me. But then also the guy voluntarily let the guard know he had it when he asked to have it charged. Pretty stupid of the inmate I suppose, but getting 12 years for this? Certainly they should have given him the lowest time of 3 years, but even that seems excessive here. Maybe Mississippi really does have this bad a court system?

    2. anonymousskimmer

      Yet Nash went into the jail with a large smartphone that would have likely been impossible to hide during a strip search. That officer also testified that all inmates were told during booking that they could not bring phones into the jail. But Nash’s behavior was that of a person who did not know this, as he voluntarily showed the officer his phone and asked the officer to charge it for him.

      Lambert v. California should hold here.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambert_v._California

      The Supreme Court reversed Lambert’s conviction, holding that knowledge or probability of knowledge of a statute is required to convict someone of a notice offense.

      Given the possible facts at case, I wonder why this guy’s lawyer didn’t make a Lambert claim. Though apparently Lambert was narrowed in Bryant, the apparent facts of this case make it seem he had a shot.

      1. Cliff

        He didn’t appeal the verdict for some reason, only the sentence. I don’t think Lambert is applicable here because it’s not a notice offense- the offense was not a failure to act but an affirmative action of taking a cell phone into a prison.

        Mens rea (guilty mind) should be required for any crime involving jail time. However, it’s not necessary that you know something is a crime- ignorance of the law is generally no defense (Lambert being an exception). It only matters if you intended to do the act which is forbidden.

        So for example, if he forgot all about the cell phone and didn’t realize he was bringing it into the jail at all, that would be a defense. If he knew he was doing it but didn’t know it was not allowed, it’s not a defense. Just like if you don’t know an item is illegal and you bring it into the U.S., you can still be arrested for it…

        1. anonymousskimmer

          The fact that SOP for the correctional facility is to give notice as to cell phones being forbidden makes this seem like a notice offense.

          Obviously it’s possible I have no idea what I’m writing about.

          1. Clutzy

            I think this looks like a strict liability offense, which makes sense, because mens rea would generally be hard to prove and the fact of criminals having phones in jail could be reasonably interpreted as a harm to society (even if one criminal is totally using it innocently it would be stolen by miscreants, for example). In addition, it does seem implausible that a person would think having a cell phone in jail is ok.

            To me, the court opinion is light on facts for me to decide this case. If he was wearing the same street clothes he came in with, I would think there is a good cause for the defense. If he was wearing county issued clothes, he’s probably a liar who made a dumb error and got caught.

      2. Cliff

        I wonder in a case like that if the judges immediately write to the governor asking for a pardon. And if not, why not?

        1. Radu Floricica

          It does look like the US system has a number of theoretical fail-safes for cases where the law is clear, yet utterly unjust, but I don’t think they’re followed very much in practice. Which leads to the law not being challenged, which builds even more inertia in the system, to the point where even using those means becomes out of fashion.

          It’s my understanding that jury trials were supposed to be the norm, with the occasional yet rare jury nullification actually a thing in practice. I.e. the jury might just say “this is bullshit, the guy that processed him obviously just skipped the correct procedure, no way we’re putting this guy in jail 12 years because of our mistake”.

          I don’t know what the number of pardons is, but I’m guessing they’re usually subjective and/or political. Any other failsafes left?

          1. Theodoric

            Supposedly, prosecutorial discretion, the prosecutors saying “trust us, we won’t prosecute someone in cases where the law is clear, yet utterly unjust.”

          2. Statismagician

            It’s a scale problem – the original US court system was designed for and by people living in tiny farming communities with no significant state or Federal oversight occurring or, indeed, possible; it isn’t surprising that the modern one, which evolved out of that system with no particular guidance or plan, is profoundly awful in ~every imaginable way, and then a few extra ways for good measure.

      1. anonymousskimmer

        he even tried to deny that the phone belonged to him!

        Presumably only after he was being questioned on it.

        “His last conviction was in 2001” – Did prisons have this law on cell phone possession back then?

        1. GearRatio

          I would think if it was his second burglary conviction “back then” was probably something more like 2005 or 2010 as opposed to 2001, the date of the conviction.

        2. Matt

          The date of his last conviction or even the end of his last prison sentence is not necessarily a good indicator of the last time he was arrested. Many criminals get picked up and jailed temporarily sort of on the regular.

      2. quanta413

        He may have known he shouldn’t have brought his cell phone in even if he didn’t know about the cell phone rule specifically (how many things are you allowed to take into jail with you after being booked? Probably not many things.)

        On the other hand, even if he knew that, it’d be believable he literally forgot he had his phone on him. How would it be missed in booking if they strip search everyone they book? The obvious answer is they didn’t strip search him. He forgets about his phone during booking, realizes he has it on him later while in the cell, uses it, somehow draws the erroneous conclusion phones are allowed, and then calmly hands his phone to a guard.

        12 years seems like overkill given the facts at hand. Even if we knew he had knowingly smuggled his phone in and then he did something worse (like attempted to bribe a guard to charge his phone), 12 years would seem excessive to me (although not so excessive that I’d expect the fix to be on the judicial branch side). But it seems more plausible that he forgot or didn’t know and whoever booked him was careless.

        But like Clutzy says above, the court opinion doesn’t say what clothes he was wearing in jail or include many facts which could help narrow down whether he really didn’t know (or was forgetful) or committed a crime with intent and then did something stupid.

  14. technillogue

    Hey, anyone happen to have psychiatrist-therapist recommendations in the Boston area who take MassHealth / MBHP? None of the ones in the psychiat-list seem to, as far as I can tell.

    1. truthlizard

      I’ve had very good experiences getting therapy at Mass Mental Health Center. I don’t know if they also have psychiatrists but worth a shot. 617-626-9300

  15. DragonMilk

    Summoning PC tinkerers.

    After recommending Randy M build his PC, to my chagrin, my own PC blue screened while watching youtube, and for some reason continues to blue screen when trying to reinstall windows from a USB iso.

    Sequence of events:
    Looping blue screen and I finally got to command prompt, and could not access the system32 folder in my c: drive
    Discovered c: drive was completely empty by typing “dir”
    Foolishly did not run further diagnostics and went for full windows reinstall
    Installation stuck at 0%, so turned computer off
    Installation stuck at 1% today, so reformatted the SSD drive
    Now in a continual loop of BSOD; any attempt to install windows will result in BSOD
    Opened computer to make sure everything was plugged in, took everything apart and put it back together for good measure (including removing cpu and heat sink).
    Still looping BSOD
    Can always F12 to get to BIOS, which does not have built-in diagnostics, but does see all the hardware in the machine.
    Any attempt to boot the machine via reinstalling Windows (by the way, SSD does not have windows detected anymore, probably due to some forced shutdown and of course the reformat) continues to loop the BSOD.

    Thoughts? Anything within BIOS I can test without a testing toolkit. Issue is I have a single USB handy and I’m concerned putting diagnostics on it will wipe the windows portion of it.

    I’m also equipped with an ancient 2011 HP desktop which I can cannibalize for parts…is it worth connecting that HDD to see if it’s an SSD issue?

    1. Eltargrim

      Sounds very much like a hard drive issue, possibly hardware. Would recommend testing another hard drive to see if that solves the issue.

      Consistently being able to get to BIOS is a good sign. You say all the hardware is there; are all components visible to their specifications? CPU speed, RAM speed, RAM amount? If so, sounds very likely to be a HDD issue.

      Be sure, if possible, to plug the test hard drive into the same SATA port as your SSD. My money is 95% on hard drive failure, but there’s always the possibility of a bad port on the mobo.

      Also: any diagnostic information visible on the BSOD?

      1. DragonMilk

        Everything does look up to spec in BIOS, as I assume DIMM_1:8192 is 8gb of ram and such? Let me see if you can view my google image here of “easy mode” BIOS

        So I ended up taking the HDD from my dinosaur and trying to boot from there (disconnected the SSD)

        Naturally, booting windows 7 causes windows to whine and its eventual BSOD tells me page fault in non-paged area.

        What’s odd is booting from the USB iso keeps BSOD still and repeatedly gives system service exception. Edit: System service exception will pop up even before getting to the installation screen

        The scary part is all sorts of different exceptions kept popping up, probably at least 8 unique ones, and I’m in way over my head as I had expected a reinstall of Windows to solve my problems…not sure if the forced shut down to go to bed after hanging at 0% install somehow ruined my USB version of Windows.

        1. Eric Rall

          Since swapping in a known-good hard drive and booting from a known-good USB iso both repo the same symptoms, this probably isn’t a hard drive or corrupted data issue.

          The other usual suspects for recurring blue screens are graphics cards, memory, and CPU failures. The timing of the symptoms (after the BIOS screen, and during or slightly after OS boot) suggests graphics card rather than the other two (which would usually fail sooner if they’re this badly broken). You can test this by trying again with your graphics card removed (if there’s a built-in basic graphics adapter that you can plug your monitor into) or swapped for a known-good spare card.

          1. Eltargrim

            Second that it’s not a hard drive issue at this point. Trying out a different graphics adapter is a good idea, but personally I suspect the RAM. I’d pull a RAM stick, try to boot/install, and if the error persists, try the other one.

          2. bzium

            I suspect only a small amount of memory gets used before Windows boots, so damage to higher memory regions could also give those symptoms.

            You could test it with memtest86. Though you’re going to have to acquire another thumbdrive (or dump the recovery image to your old desktop, flash memtest86, when you’re done flash the image back).

            Windows can even be given a list of bad memory areas to avoid, but apparently you need to use a special command in an already installed and running copy of Windows to do it, so that might not be helpful.

            Another thing: have you examined the insides of the PC for signs of damage? Sometimes failing capacitors on the motherboard are visibly bulged.

          3. DragonMilk

            I put in my old graphics card whose only purpose is to check if there’s something wrong with the graphics card, and I’m able to get back to the command prompt.

            On running Chkdsk on X, I’m getting “read-only chksk found bad on-disk upper case table – using system table” as well as “Errors detected in the upper case file.” I cannot run /f because it’s read-only and I don’t have write access.

            For c:, it says windows scanned the file system and found no problems…though the end says “failed to transfer logged messages to event log with status 50, and I’m guessing since running dir on c: just shows a recovery.txt with no size, and only 147mb….

            I also pulled one of the rams out and my ancient computer has DDR2 sticks which don’t fit in DDR4 slots.

            So….maybe graphics card since I can consistently get to cmd prompt now, but I feel like I did wreck something with the drive due to reformat and fail installs (at 0%)

          4. DragonMilk

            @bzium, I built the PC with all new parts back in July, so the only suspect was the graphics card which was “refurbished”

            I took it apart and put it together just to make sure everything was plugged in, and things looked fine (including the processor).

          5. Eric Rall

            I cannot run /f because it’s read-only and I don’t have write access.

            Right click on the cmd prompt shortcut (or start menu item) and select “Run as administrator”. You should have write access from an admin command prompt.

  16. Well...

    Have you ever sold something on Craigslist? And I mean actually wanted to sell for money, not give away for free?

    And if so, have you ever put “0” in the price field?

    If so, why? I’m trying to understand. I browse Craigslist for things a lot, and often see items listed for sale with “0” as the price. Then I click on the item and lo and behold, in the description the seller says they want $X where X>0.

    I assume it’s because the sellers don’t want their items eliminated from search results that filter out everything above a certain price. But why? The people filtering out that stuff aren’t going to be willing to pay what those sellers are asking anyway.

    Is this an instance of people being dumb, or is there a hidden logic there I’m not privy to?

    1. JayT

      I would guess it’s sometimes people trying to get their item higher up on the list, and sometimes user error.

    2. rubberduck

      I’d guess partially what the other say, and also an attempt to lure in people who will like the item so much that by the time they read the $X part they’ll already be attached to the item and ergo be willing to pay >$0.

      1. Viliam

        And it follows the logic of spam. If thousand people will see price 0, then click on the item and see price X, then get angry and go away… well, that’s their cost, not seller’s. Then if one person decides to buy the item anyway, the seller made profit.

    3. meh

      The people filtering out that stuff aren’t going to be willing to pay what those sellers are asking anyway.

      This is incorrect part of the line of reasoning. People in general are not great at sticking to price budgets.

      But I agree, it is annoying af

    4. GearRatio

      There’s several reasons people do this, and they are all dumb:

      1. Trades. Some people try to barter on craigslist; this is almost invariably somebody who is trying to trade something with little value for something with real value (beater motorcycle for a truck, etc). This doesn’t seem to work for them, but it’s not actively immoral.

      2. To defeat search constraints. I recently bought a car; for constraints I used |rav4|crv|forester|crosstrek|venza| Max $8000 Max 120000 miles min 4000 miles Min 2007 Min $2. If I didn’t use that last constraint term, I’d get all the $0 and $1 ads; Since I did, I don’t get any of them.

      It’s much more common with dealers than it is owners; that’s because they have more time to think about how it costs the poster absolutely nothing to do this, and it gets more eyes on the ad. There’s a version of this where the dealer posts the payment amount instead of the purchase price; to defeat this use min $1000.

      3. For a non-existent negotiation advantage. I’ve asked a bunch of people about this and there’s a cohort who think that they can game the market – I.E. I’ve got a first gen 4-runner with a million miles; if an enthusiast contacts me about it I might be able to get more money out of him than a non-enthusiast, but not if I’ve already posted it at non-enthusiast prices; I’m willing to sell it for non-enthusiast prices and consider the enthusiast sale unlikely, but I’m going to be a gigantic pain in the ass to everyone just to not disqualify it completely.

      4. “Make me an offer”. This is either an extension of 3. or it’s because the person can’t be bothered to come up with a reasonable price.

      5. Literally too lazy to type out a price. Don’t underestimate this; typing is really, really hard for some people, and some people are really, really lazy.

      6. As anonymousskimmer mentioned, it would theoretically put someone on top of the sort if they sorted by ascending price. Craigslist has this functionality, although I’ve never used it there despite using it on pretty much every retail site. I couldn’t tell you why.

      1. acymetric

        5. Literally too lazy to type out a price. Don’t underestimate this; typing is really, really hard for some people, and some people are really, really lazy.

        I would add a 5-a to that, which is people who don’t understand the system well enough to realize they are supposed to enter in a price, or forgot to enter the price when filling out the post info and didn’t know they could edit it later.

    5. b_jonas

      I have seen misleading prices on Ebay when shopping for small electronics. The listings offer you an alternative among multiple options, but one of the options is a very cheap mostly unrelated item that doesn’t match the title of the listing. For example, a listing could have a title “New MicroSD memory card 8 GB 16 GB 32 GB Class 10 for mobile phone music player camera”, and the price is displayed as 1$. If you search for “32 GB MicroSD” and sort for prices, you’ll find this listing among the cheaper, even though they sell the 32 GB card for 8$. That much wouldn’t be fraudulent. The trick is that they don’t give you even an 8 GB capacity memory card for 1$. If you want to buy, you can choose from four options: 32 GB card for 8$, 16 GB card for 5$, 8 GB card for 3$, mini card reader only (no card) for 1$. This works well on Ebay because the website interface discourages potential buyers from reporting this particular fraud. If you want to report a listing as fraudulent without having tried to buy the item, you must choose one of two dozen reasons why the listing is against Ebay’s rules, and every option is too specific to match this particular type of fraud.

  17. proyas

    Here’s a question for Americans who have experience doing genealogical research: I want to learn more about my great-grandfather, but have found very few records about him on Ancestry.com, and no records detailing who his parents were. He just seems to have materialized on Earth, with no parents or siblings.

    My great-grandfather lived most of his life in Durham, NC, and died there, and the city is close enough for me to visit for hands-on research at any places that might have records about him and his parents. Where should I focus my efforts? Which organizations (churches, government offices) should I contact?

    1. Charles Kinbote

      Depends when he lived. He’s not in the census? If you’re not finding him in any federal census, it may be that he started out with a different name. Social Security death records could have his parents’ names if he died at the right time. Death certificate almost certainly will, and you can order that from the state.

      If the issue is instead that he does appear on the census and other records, but never with family members, then that’s a different research path.

      1. proyas

        He’s in some of the censuses.

        He died before Social Security was created.

        I just looked at his Death Certificate more closely, and I see his mother’s name is listed, but his father’s isn’t.

        1. Charles Kinbote

          There should be the name of an informant on the death certificate. That informant most likely knew the name of your great-grandfather’s mother but not the name of his father. That’s it’s own bit of evidence.

    2. S_J

      I have a little experience with genealogical research in America.

      In relation to the questions @CharlesKinbote asks… have you found every possible reference to the stuff that you know, or stories you’ve heard, about your geat-grandfather?

      I’d look for census records, birth-records for all children he had, marriage records, obituaries, wills, death records, etc. Some genealogists research land-ownership records, to see if a particular person bought or sold land in the area.

      Sometimes, small-town newspapers will have ‘society articles’ about weddings, anniversaries, or even family reunions. If you can chase these down (in a library containing old archives, or through the search at Library of Congress Chronicling America web page, or via newspapers.com), you might learn things.

      My experience is mostly with online resources. FamilySearch has lots of search tools that are free to use with a subscription, and will give clues about things that can be found at some libraries. I’ve also used a free-trial-for-a-week at Ancestry.com, which has a similar records-set, but a search engine with more features.

      Some researchers use the Chronicling America collection at the Library of Congress to search for people/events in major newspapers.

      Other researchers use the newspapers.com service to search. That site wants a subscription to see results, but the free-to-use search options might give you clues you can take to the library. A local library should have collections of local newspapers, and staff who know how to help you search them.

    3. Evan Þ

      This probably isn’t the issue, but just in case: Durham County was only created in 1881; before then most of it was part of Orange County (except for one township that was in Wake County). Hope this at least gives you more files to search under?

  18. BBA

    I’ve returned from Norway. One of the more interesting things I encountered there was O’Learys, a Stockholm-based chain of Boston-themed sports bars. Most of their locations are in the Nordic countries, but they have a presence as far away as Southeast Asia. Just from wandering around one of their airport locations while waiting for my flight to leave, they’ve gotten the experience right, from the sports and college memorabilia on the walls to having Sam Adams on tap.

    I’m always interested to see foreign interpretations of American culture. This one doesn’t feel like an interpretation so much as a copy-and-paste.

    1. Matt M

      I ended up in one of those in a train station in… Sweden I think? Maybe Denmark? Can’t remember exactly. But I agree with your interpretation. It was pretty much identical to a generic American sports bar.

    2. Enkidum

      When I lived in Tokyo (early 2000s), there was a German bar across from my office that we went to a fair bit. The waitresses would wear cheesy Oktoberfest-style clothes, there were a couple of German beers on tap (though mostly we were drinking Asahi or Sapporo, which to be fair are pretty decent approximations of standard German lagers), and the food was slightly Japan-ized versions of traditional German food.

      One day it just shut down. About two months later it re-opened as an Irish pub, with Irish equivalencies for all the above (and Kilkenny on tap, which is always a good thing). (Actually we noticed one night that their door was open, so just walked down out of curiosity, and they were doing a “cold open” prior to the official re-opening, which among other things meant we got to drink for free that night, and talk to what I assume were fairly high-ups in the Asian branches of Anheuser-Busch-InBev.)

      I remember thinking that they were essentially like minstrel-show-themed pubs, without the offensiveness. Everyone seemed to enjoy them. Of course the Japanese are particularly great at this sort of appropriation.

    3. JayT

      The one that always stuck with me was that in San Jose, Costa Rica they have a “Little America”, in the same way the US has Little Italy or Chinatown. It was pretty much just an upper class part of the city that had a bunch of American chain restaurants like Tony Roma’s. That was one of the first times I ever went to a different country, so I even though it made sense that it exited, it was still one of those things that I didn’t expect.

    4. Don P.

      I believe that many US sports bars are equipped by companies that know what a “sports bar” is supposed to look like, and provide that. (Alternatively, they are the companies that have determined what a sports bar looks like in the first place.)

      Anyway, these O’Learys..es.. probably “get it right” by being faked by the same people who fake up the “originals”.

      1. BBA

        Well, yes, undoubtedly the “sports bar” is an artificial creation. But there were a few obvious ways to screw it up, like putting some Derek Jeter merch among the tributes to David Ortiz (they’re both baseball players, right?) and O’Learys avoids them. It’s consistently a Boston bar. (Why Boston? Because the founder spent some time as an expat in New England, and loved it.)

        Though now I’m wondering if there’s a market for some American equivalent to the elaborate prefabricated “authentic Irish pubs” that some Irish companies have been exporting for decades.

        1. The Nybbler

          I didn’t know those pattern Irish bars were actually sold by Irish companies. That actually increases my perception of their “authenticity”. At least they are extruded bar product designed in Ireland by Irish people, rather than extruded bar product designed by some American heir of P.T. Barnum (which is what I had assumed)

        2. FormerRanger

          Some Irish companies own many pubs in Ireland that are essentially pre-fabricated or renovations of existing pubs. The outsides are all different but once you get inside it is sometimes literally the same menu (down to font choice), decor, beer selection, etc. from pub to pub. The McDonalds-ization of the pub experience.

          1. Lambert

            Does the Emerald Isle have Wetherspoons?

            Considering they have a decent rotation of guest beers, I don’t mind ‘spoons, for what it is. Doesn’t hold a candle up to some little half-timbered place where they write the specials with real chalk on a real chalkboard. But sometimes you just want a somewhat McDonaldsized pub experience.
            It’s nice to know that whatever city you’re in, you can find a known quantity of pub food and booze which is consistently OK and not too pricey.

          2. Deiseach

            Does the Emerald Isle have Wetherspoons?

            They have established a beach head, yes 🙂

            From what I can tell, they’re regarded as “imported chain pub for students to get hammered on the cheap” over here but since I’m not a pub-goer (shock! horror! can I even call myself Irish?) I have no opinion one way or the other.

            Definitely, especially in Dublin, there are pubs (not chain ones) which are ‘touristy’ and not really the authentic old pub, but given that the authentic old pubs often were dusty, dim and had rats, this may be okay. But you can tell the difference!

          3. Lambert

            Well it’ll be nice to see Tim Martin having fun with customs, considering what an ardent Brexiteer he is.

            > students to get hammered on the cheap

            Guilty as charged. Though over here there’s also a solid crusty-old-man contingent.

            And I know an old pub’s inauthentic if I can reach the bar without needing to duck under any oak beams. (also there should be a lot of horse paraphenalia and absolutely no right angles)

  19. Nick

    While I was waiting at the bus stop this morning a total stranger stopped her car to offer me an umbrella. What she didn’t realize was that the bus was right behind her. The best part is, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me.

    That’s the Midwest for you, anyway.

    1. Statismagician

      Indeed. It’s up to us to keep it that way, though – you now owe somebody else an umbrella next time the weather does something weird. So, like, next Tuesday probably.

      1. Nick

        So, like, next Tuesday probably.

        That’s Ohio for you!

        I remember an episode of Samurai Flamenco where he’s on a tear against umbrella thieves. But it seems to me that umbrellas are the sort of universal-but-not-personal thing that could be governed by sharing in a high-trust society. Like you could imagine “take an umbrella, leave an umbrella” stations everywhere, like some places do with bikes. Masayoshi, like Bruce Wayne, should put away the costume and advocate comprehensive social change with his modeling fortune. 🙂

        1. Deiseach

          I remember an episode of Samurai Flamenco where he’s on a tear against umbrella thieves.

          That reminds me of a verse I read ages ago, and looking it up now tells me who it is attributed to (and also it’s slightly different than I remember):

          The rain it raineth on the just
          And also on the unjust fella;
          But chiefly on the just, because
          The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.
          (Charles Bowen, English judge)

        2. Aapje

          @Nick

          Before paid bike sharing, the anarchist leftist hippy provo/gnome movement in Amsterdam tried to implement a white-bike-plan in the 60s, which consisted of free to use bicycles. Back then it was already very common for people in Amsterdam to steal a bike, ride somewhere and abandon it, ready to be stolen by someone else. So the white-bike-plan was an attempt to make the government provide the bikes, removing the stealing part of the existing practice. The city council didn’t think it was a good idea, so it was never attempted (although, IMO, the outcome was fairly predictable).

          Modern bike sharing schemes require payment, which make them different from providing something for free.

    2. Randy M

      That’s the Midwest for you, anyway.

      Poor situational awareness?
      I kid, that’s sweet. Hopefully she doesn’t someday get killed by a bus she can’t see.

  20. EchoChaos

    Impeachment is being argued, and I think we all agree that regardless of the merits, Trump almost certainly (~99.999%) won’t be removed from office.

    The more interesting question is who will vote to remove and who will vote to acquit.

    So I’d love to hear predictions. How many Republicans will vote to remove and how many Democrats will vote to acquit.

    My instinct is that the Democrats don’t get any Republicans to flip. 1-5 Democrats will also vote with the Republicans to acquit.

    This would parallel the Clinton impeachment, which I think is a decent precedent here.

    1. Roebuck

      Sorry if that’s not on topic, but I’m slightly disturbed by this use of ~99.999%. I can’t think of any vote in any parliament where this number would be appropriate.

      1. silver_swift

        I can’t think of any vote in any parliament where this number would be appropriate.

        Or basically any statement whatsoever for that matter (possibly excluding extremely simple logical statements).

      2. EchoChaos

        You don’t think there is a one in 100,000 chance that the Democrats actually have evidence that will sway the Republican base to want Trump removed?

        Do you think that number is too high or too low?

          1. EchoChaos

            That is a weird thing to me, because they’re basically the same thing. 99.9999% would be the equivalent of “one in a million”, by the way.

            I only said ~1 in 100,000 chance, which seems pretty reasonable to me.

          2. acymetric

            I think that’s probably it, or at least that makes sense to me. “1 in a million” at least when used colloquially, basically implies precision within an order of magnitude (and doesn’t even necessarily imply precision at all, it can just mean “really really unlikely”).

            99.9999% feels more…quantified and suggests a higher degree of precision.

          3. Randy M

            Whoops, my bad on the estimating.
            But it’s not that weird if you are aware of the rules of significant figures. I don’t usually apply them in casual conversation, but the implications remain.

        1. Noah

          It’s too high.

          For one, thing, there’s the probability of serious outside news in the next week that makes them want to remove Trump (and if it’s not the same reason as what the articles say, almost nobody will care).

          1. EchoChaos

            Right, that’s the one in a hundred thousand chance.

            Given all the myriad scandals that have been screamed about, I think the odds that there is another scandal lurking in Trump’s background that the Democrats can find within a week that is enough orders of magnitude more severe than the current scandals which are not severe enough to remove him is very low, because they’ve already trolled his background quite a lot and this is the best they’ve got.

            I just don’t see how you can figure that such a major unrevealed scandal can exist with any higher probability than that because the Democrats have been working really, really hard for 3+ years to find one and haven’t.

          2. Noah

            So here’s my order-of-magnitude calculation of one specific scenario. Trump is 100 years old, so he’s had 5000 weeks of his life. Let’s say you need a 10 times less likely action than the worst he’s done. That gives a 1/50000 chance of him doing something visible in the next week. Ok, that roughly agrees with you.

            It could be something preexisting, but I don’t have a good model for the rate at which stuff is dug up.

            That said, my intuition still says that 100000 is too high, but maybe I’d now say 1/10000 where I would have said 1/1000 before.

          3. Deiseach

            there’s the probability of serious outside news in the next week that makes them want to remove Trump

            They’ve already reduced the charges from “we’ll impeach him for high treason and being a Russian asset and hang him as a traitor” to “we’ll impeach him for trying to get a foreign government to give a black eye to a political rival, moreover this rival wouldn’t be going for the election until 2020”, so I’m not going to bet that some real honest-to-goodness serious horrible scandal is going to pop up out of the blue.

            What kind of amazingly horrible scandal do you conceive they can dig up within a week? I mean, I’m amazed and astounded that he actually did turn up for the March for Life today, but I expect only the usual amount of screaming about that from the Democrat side and I don’t see how they can turn that into a special impeachable moment.

          4. Noah

            @Deiseach I was thinking of Trump deciding to do something new within the next week, that Republicans decide exceeds the level of corruption they’re willing to tolerate from their side.

          5. Deiseach

            I was thinking of Trump deciding to do something new within the next week, that Republicans decide exceeds the level of corruption they’re willing to tolerate from their side

            But again Noah, what could he possibly do? The Iran thing has worked out okay (so far), unless he did something like cut the head off a dog on live television or the likes, there’s nothing more outrageous that he can be accused of doing/is likely to do. We’ve already had the “he’s a rapist!” and so on accusations. If that hasn’t convinced the Republican party to turn on him, and if the Democrat fishing expeditions have been reduced in their expectations from the giddy days of 2016 when it was all “Not My President” and “Look, we’ve got scientists from the National Foundation of Whatever being rude and defiant on Twitter!” and instead of “Mueller’s gonna get him, wait and see” now we’re not getting the promised trial for high treason – then what kind of really bad scandal can be dug up within a week that will be a step too far? The Stormy Daniels case went nowhere (and I’m highly amused by the fall of Michael Avenatti, who went from being Hero of the People and having some people so overwhelmed by the very idea that they seriously considered he should be a Democratic nominee for president, to being on the wrong side of a court case), the accusations of raping twelve year old girls in company with Epstein went nowhere, the accusations of doing business deals in Russia and promising Putin favours in return for those went nowhere, what can happen that is worse than the charges already levied against him by the opposition over the past four years?

          6. Mark Atwood

            I’ve noticed a upsurge in the “he pays hookers to pee on him” comments and swipes in the social media, as of this week.

            I welcome it: it lets me know faster who to unfollow, and to think hard about extending any professional favor to.

          7. Tatterdemalion

            At the moment, there are a bunch of things so terrible that even Republicans couldn’t condone them that Trump has been plausibly accused of doing but not proven to have done (e.g. raping e. Jean Carroll) and a bunch of really terrible things that Republicans are nevertheless willing to condone that Trump has been proven to have done (e.g. making US military aid to Ukraine conditional on their government helping smear a domestic political rival).

            I don’t think anything in either of those categories will bring him down. But I think that the odds of hard proof of him doing something so terrible even the Republicans won’t excuse it – a video of him committing a sexual assault, say – emerging at some point, while very low, are larger than 10^-5.

            I’d put the odds on the current impeachment effort resulting in his removal at about 10^-3 or 10^-4, and the odds of him being removed as a result of impeachment in the future at between 10^-1 and 10^-2.

          8. cassander

            @Tatterdemalion says:

            and a bunch of really terrible things that Republicans are nevertheless willing to condone that Trump has been proven to have done (e.g. making US military aid to Ukraine conditional on their government helping smear a domestic political rival).

            That is not how republicans see those events. they see Joe Biden getting his hand caught in the cookie jar and democrats trying to make it about trump.

          9. anonymousskimmer

            @Tatterdemalion

            a video of him committing a sexual assault, say

            We’re in the days of deepfakes. And though yeah, the deepfakes that I’ve seen don’t look all that realistic, I would be surprised if a couple of people with some high-end software couldn’t make a credible deepfake these days.

            Despite being anti-Trump, I don’t know that I would buy a video of him raping someone at this date.

          10. Conrad Honcho

            e.g. raping e. Jean Carroll

            But her story sounds insane, and Anderson Cooper cut away when she claimed the alleged “rape,” in a department store dressing room, wasn’t “sexual.”

            Republicans don’t think Jean Carroll was plausibly raped by Trump and we’re simply dismissing it. We think a crazy person said nonsense words and the media reported them because the nonsense words are about Trump being bad.

        2. Roebuck

          I think it’s too high. For a man his age, I think the chance he randomly dies before the vote is at least an order of magnitude greater. For a man of such controversy, many weird things can happen before the vote that would render the no-remove prediction false. I would put his chances much lower than 99% for sure.

          I’m not arguing that this whole trial has much meaning and all, but I think the world is more random than that.

    2. Matt

      I’m not sure if my Dem Senator in Alabama, Doug Jones, thinks he has a realistic shot at getting re-elected this year or not. If he doesn’t think so, he probably figures that his best move is to Kamikaze his Senate career into the USS Trump and hope for an appointment in the Biden Administration. I think he’s so vulnerable to any challenger the Republicans here might nominate* it doesn’t make sense for him to try to survive. Therefore, I predict he will vote to convict. The sweet spot for Democrats to vote against conviction will be those that have a somewhat stronger chance to win re-election.

      All that said, I don’t see him being a firebrand for liberal causes, so he apparently thinks he has a better chance of re-election than I do. Or maybe he’s truly a centrist at heart, and is really on the fence regarding a lot of issues…

      *Yes, even if we somehow nominate Roy Moore again

      1. Noah

        If we’re assuming he has no convictions, he also has the option of voting against impeachment and then announcing that he’s switching to the Republican party.

      2. Deiseach

        I had to think for a second was Doug Jones the guy who ran against Roy Moore and won after the little scandal there, and I’m sort of surprised you’re saying he has no chance at getting re-elected.

        Was he so bad in office, or is it that the seat is ‘naturally’ Republican and once the Republicans find a reasonable candidate then goodbye Senator Jones?

        1. EchoChaos

          Was he so bad in office, or is it that the seat is ‘naturally’ Republican and once the Republicans find a reasonable candidate then goodbye Senator Jones?

          The second. Alabama is the most conservative state in the Union by a large margin.

        2. hls2003

          The second one. Alabama is something on the order of R+25, it went 62-34 for Trump in 2016. Despite accusations of actual underage rape (and admissions of plausibly creepy teen-dating) Roy Moore still almost won the special election. In an election where Trump was also on the ballot, Moore probably would have scraped together enough votes to win. Doug Jones is almost surely toast against anyone with an “R” by their name in a Presidential election year.

          ETA: Ninja’d. In addition, Doug Jones has been pretty bad by the standards of “what Alabama voters want.” His vote against Justice Kavanaugh probably doomed him, and he has also reliably voted against other Republican legislation. If he were to survive, he would have to be ostentatiously anti-Democrat on key issues (like Manchin’s campaign ad where he literally shot a gun at cap-and-trade legislation). Jones is not, he’s been just a standard Dem vote.

          1. meh

            yeah, DJs best bet is to convict and hope pres goes down. Definitely won’t win the seat with an acquit vote.

    3. bullseye

      My prediction is 100% party line vote.

      Anybody who votes against the party line will lose their next primary, and they all know it. I suppose some of them were planning on retiring anyway and so can vote their conscience, but even then I think, for the most part, both parties believe their party line.

      If somebody does buck the party line, it’s more likely to be a Republican than a Democrat; there are a few anti-Trump Republicans but basically no pro-Trump Democrats.

        1. bullseye

          Those Democrats are screwed; they can’t win the primary if they vote to acquit, and they can’t win the general if they vote to convict. So they might as well vote the way they think is actually right. As Democrats, they probably genuinely believe Trump is awful and should be removed.

          1. EchoChaos

            Joe Manchin might be the exception to this. He beat a liberal challenger as a conservative Democrat, then won the general. He probably won’t vote to convict (W.V. loves Trump and he’d lose the next general), but he isn’t vulnerable to a primary.

          2. cassander

            That’s not how they think, in my experience. They might agonize over the decision, but the more they agonize the more likely they are to vote the way that they think will maximize electoral success. They vote their conscience only when they don’t think election is on the line.

          3. Matt M

            Those Democrats are screwed; they can’t win the primary if they vote to acquit

            I’m not so sure. It’s entirely possible that within any given purpleish state (i.e. red enough to vote for Trump but blue enough to vote for at least one Dem Senator), the likely Dem primary voters aren’t so anti-Trump that they’d be unwilling to see past such a vote and look to other issues.

            You’d also be discounting the huge advantage that incumbents receive. Successfully primarying-out an incumbent Congressperson is still very, very rare. Don’t let high profile stories like AOC or the tea party trick you into believing otherwise.

          4. bullseye

            That’s not how they think, in my experience. They might agonize over the decision, but the more they agonize the more likely they are to vote the way that they think will maximize electoral success. They vote their conscience only when they don’t think election is on the line.

            My model is that they vote to maximize electoral success, unless they’re about to retire and aren’t running again.

    4. hls2003

      My prediction is 54-46 to acquit.

      I think Joe Manchin will vote to acquit, along with all Republicans. If this were a normal legislative bill, I would expect three Republicans would vote against (Collins, Murkowski, and Gardner). However, in this case I think there is no electoral advantage to be gained by breaking ranks, because Republicans would lose more in 2020 races by legitimizing impeachment than they would by personally avoiding the “tough vote.” In other words, I think Collins has a tougher time defending (even in an anti-Trump state) “Yes, removal was merited, but I’m still willing to caucus with the party who left Trump in power” than “I’m an independent thinker, like I’ve always been, but this impeachment just didn’t cut the mustard, come at me.”

      I actually think Romney is more likely to defect than Collins. He’s in a safe seat and isn’t up this cycle, and he hates Trump. Murkowski I could see also, but I think she could be cajoled into solidarity since she isn’t under electoral pressure to convict.

      ETA: Clarity second paragraph.

      1. EchoChaos

        What about Senator Peters in Michigan? Slightly Pro-Trump state (sort of the opposite of Colorado?), he’s probably the weakest Democrat incumbent outside of Alabama.

        I could see either way there.

        1. hls2003

          I agree with broblawsky. Peters has nothing to gain by voting to acquit; I don’t really consider Michigan slightly pro-Trump in 2020. Even if it were, I don’t think Democrats in slightly-lean-R states improve their position by voting against conviction, because their optimal strategy is to maximize Democratic turnout with enthusiasm and replicate the 2018 cycle as much as possible. Democrats in heavily-R states could improve their position by voting to acquit, but only if they think there’s a plausible path to victory given such an action. Joe Manchin has proven that he can outright win in WV against any normal Republican, so if he avoids “death sentence” votes, he knows it’s worth it. Doug Jones, in contrast, is very likely to lose regardless against any non-creepy Republican; I doubt voting to acquit gets him any real improved odds of keeping the seat. I think their respective incentives suggest their impeachment votes will mirror their Kavanaugh votes.

    5. meh

      Straight party line votes: 85%
      1-2 democrat defectors: 5%
      >2 democrat defectors: ~0%
      1-2 republican defectors: 8%
      3-8 republican defectors: ~0%
      >8 republican defectors: 1-2%
      Defectors from both parties: <1%

      1. EchoChaos

        Straight party line votes: 85%
        1-2 democrat defectors: 5%

        I think these are too high and too low, respectively.

        I think Manchin is an almost certain acquittal vote if all Republicans are voting to acquit.

        1. meh

          2 years ago maybe, but hes not up until 2024 now. whats in it for him to acquit? if trump goes down he’ll look bad. if trump rolls, Rs are going to take his seat anyway.

          the next best bet is Jones and that will just come down to how realistic his chance of holding the seat is.

          i’ve seen no indication that any of the others are thinking acquit.

      2. Matt M

        There’s also the calculus where someone on either side, who believes that what would benefit them most is a general increase in fame/name recognition, might be motivated to defect from their party, solely because doing so is a guaranteed way to get a lot of attention (even if at least 50% of it is negative).

        I think there was some intentional calculus of that sort going on for Tulsi Gabbard not voting for impeachment in the first place. Sure, it wasn’t something most Dem Primary voters agreed with, but it did get her name in the headlines, trending on Twitter, etc.

        If you’re a Senator who believes your next election is largely locked in (for better or for worse), and are confident that your vote doesn’t matter a whole lot in terms of the final outcome for removal, it could be an easy way to increase your national prestige (and keep in mind, “sometimes votes against the party” is often seen as a positive trait that candidates often attempt to cultivate an image of for themselves).

    6. Konstantin

      I think that Ben Sasse (R-NE) has about a 25% chance of voting to remove. He has always been anti-Trump, although he has been less vocal about it lately. He is in real danger of losing his primary in 2020 if he does defect, but he may gamble on the possibility that the Republican party turns on Trump after a 2020 loss. Even if that doesn’t happen right away, I doubt Trump will have many defenders in 10-20 years, and Sasse is smart enough and young enough to play the long game.

  21. ECD

    Anyone else watch the first episode of Picard? I’m loathe to support the ongoing proliferation of paywalled streaming sites, but CBS successfully created something I was willing to pay for. So far (with 1 episode released) I do not regret my decision.

    The trailers I saw were willfully deceptive in a moderately amusing way and I’m enjoying the ride.

    1. Le Maistre Chat

      I watched it. I liked it OK. I’ll be cancelling my one week free trial because I don’t like how CBS All Access is doling out one episode a week.

      1. Nick

        Yeah, that stuff has me concerned, too. “Modestly encouraged” from cassander is, um, modestly encouraging, though. I’m waiting to hear more from SSCers.

        1. Le Maistre Chat

          There’s only one ORANGE MAN BAD! plot element (REFUGEES GOOD!)
          I’d go into what the rest of the story is here, but I don’t feel like doing ROT13.
          It’s not bad, but it’s not worth paying money to see. I’m mostly annoyed with the decompressed storytelling. You can tell there’s going to be a lot less established and wrapped up than back in TNG, where a big plot would be two episodes.

          1. Matt M

            Even if true, and the actual plot elements are minimal, I am disinclined to support any endeavor that chooses to market their product in such a way.

          2. Le Maistre Chat

            Even if true, and the actual plot elements are minimal, I am disinclined to support any endeavor that chooses to market their product in such a way.

            Oh yes, 100% agreed. That’s the right choice to make.

          3. Randy M

            You can tell there’s going to be a lot less established and wrapped up than back in TNG, where a big plot would be two episodes.

            Rarely. Occasionally there were two parters, usually a season finale and next season opening, but in general TNG was pretty episodic, with at most some Easter eggs or occasional recurring character or theme.

          4. viVI_IViv

            I’ve read speculations that the series’ villain will turn out to be some straw Trump leader of the Federation.

            Bonus points if the Vulcans try to secede from the Federation due to concern about Romulan immigration.

          5. Nick

            I think DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise had more season arcs, although they were still mostly episodic. Discovery seems to be even more arc heavy, based on what I’ve seen in Chuck’s reviews.

          6. anonymousskimmer

            I’m mostly annoyed with the decompressed storytelling. You can tell there’s going to be a lot less established and wrapped up than back in TNG

            Encounter at Farpoint took 7 years, and that plot didn’t even fully wrap at the end.

      2. Incurian

        I’m also waiting, but The Mandalorian has me reconsidering my pessimistic stance on franchises JJ has nuked. I’m a little hopeful.

      3. WayUpstate

        Well, then you shouldn’t be watching any of the ST Original Series or much of STNG for that matter which were similarly lambasted for pushing political boundaries and addressing the concerns of the times through their much-loved (mostly) story-telling.
        If we screened all our music, theatre, movies, etc for the political leanings of the artists, how much would be ever hear or watch?
        As for the folks complaining about the $9.99 for CBS All Access, I certainly hope you still don’t have cable….cancelled it 17 years ago and have never looked back.

    2. cassander

      I really want it to be good, but didn’t think it would be. I was modestly encouraged by the first episode.

      1. Le Maistre Chat

        WARNING! SPOILERS BY SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T FEEL LIKE USING ROT13!

        SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK: PICARD EPISODE 1 BELOW!

        IF ANYBODY FINDS THIS INSUFFICIENT, LMK WITHIN THE EDIT WINDOW

        Admiral Picard resigned from Starfleet in protest because they stopped sending ships to the evacuation armada he led when the Romulans asked for help evacuating Romulus. Everyone in its system was going to die from a supernova, it seems (is this a plot point from Nemesis or the reboot movie? Is stars going supernova with no warning an established thing in Trek?). They did this because Soong-type android terrorists blew up all their new ships under construction at the Utopia shipyards on Mars. Yeah, they got around to mass-producing Datas upon his death in Nemesis. Because of the terrorist attack, “synthetics” were declared illegal.
        So now Picard is a 94-year-old vineyard owner living with Romulan employees and no family except a pitbull he named after Riker.[1] Meanwhile terrorists among the Romulan refugees on Earth are trying to kill a young woman, but that just activates her River Tam programming because she’s a synthetic with a Soong positronic brain, but doesn’t know it. She travels to Chateau Picard because of a memory jogged by something she heard him say in a TV interview (!). They go to the Daystrom Institute, which is a shadow of its former self since funding got pulled for making Datas ~14 years ago. Picard meets a professor and she pulls B4 from Nemesis out of a drawer, exposition exposition. Waking up at home on a subsequent day, the girl has run away and Picard goes to the official Starfleet Archives in San Francisco, which has one of Data’s paintings. It’s of the protagonist girl! They bump into each other again on the Starfleet campus, where Romulan terrorists attack her again. When she takes one down, he bites into a suicide capsule (?) that causes a chemical reaction with green Romulan blood (??), allowing him to spit an acid (!) that reacts explosively with synthetic flesh (?!). Dead protagonist! Picard falls and bumps his head in the commotion, and in a show of sloppy writing, he wakes up at home a continent and an ocean away with his Romulan caregivers instead of in the Starfleet campus hospital, with no mention of a transporter being used to achieve that feat.
        Anyway, Detective Picard uncovered that there’s another android played by the same actress out in space (the cut to her location identifies it as “Romulan Reclamation Site”… which is actually a Borg Cube), so Picard charters a private starship to investigate.

        [1]Patrick Stewart wrote the pitbull into the script to protest that he can’t bring his pet pits into the UK, where the breed is illegal. Alas this means we’ll never see the show get better in correlation with Number One dying of old age and Picard getting a dog with a beard.

        1. Randy M

          That sounds kind of fun, if rather mish-mashy.
          How far off is the Romulan super-nova thing forecast for? It sounds like the crises has been on-going for about a decade? Less than 14 years, but long enough for Picard to start a vineyard, etc. Is Picard proposing settling Romulan refugees on Federation core worlds? Because if so, that’s dumb, and if not, that’s not really analogous to current situations.

          1. Le Maistre Chat

            How far off is the Romulan super-nova thing forecast for?

            I’m not sure I understand the question. It was a quick crisis that happened 12 years ago (2387 vs. 2399), and I think the writers are relying on us to remember supernova technobabble from the first Abrams movie, even though that was mostly about the mid-23rd century in a different timeline. I surmise that Romulus is still uninhabitable in the show’s present (assuming it didn’t simply explode in the aforesaid movie).
            Some of the Romulan refugees were resettled on Earth itself, though they could be a hundredth of a percent or less (Scifi Writers Have No Sense of Scale). They do have a whole Star Empire the Fed ships could have helped evacuate the home system’s population to, and the first episode explicitly ends at “Romulan Reclamation Site” somewhere out there.

        2. Conrad Honcho

          Admiral Picard resigned from Starfleet in protest because they stopped sending ships to the evacuation armada he led when the Romulans asked for help evacuating Romulus.

          Why’d they stop sending the ships, though? And where were the Romulans evacuating to? I assume someplace else in Romulan space and not into Federation space.

          ETA: Incredibly slowly ninjer’d by Randy. It’s only like current politics if they’re resettling the refugees in Federation space. Few would have strong objections if the US were helping resettle Syrian war refugees in, say, safe camps in Saudi Arabia. It’s the moving of them to the US that’s the objection.

          1. Wrong Species

            If they ever did an episode of settling refugees on Earth, it would bring some uncomfortable implications for the people advocating this stuff. Nobody wants the Earth flooded with Romulans. It’s obvious that you would need immigration controls. Or imagine if it was Klingons!

          2. Randy M

            This reminds me of the sci-fi show Defiance. It’s been awhile since I watched it, but Earth was colonized with pockets of aliens after some war; I don’t believe humans were starfaring but I could be wrong.
            I was somewhat uncomfortable with humanity letting in a potentially hostile or at least very foreign and competitive species onto the planet. It seems like it could only end badly, and we had nowhere else to go.

        3. cassander

          While watching the show, i got the idea that the rescue fleet was attacked above Mars with a load of romulans aboard, and was substantially destroyed along with the shipyard, which caused the end of the evacuation. I think that idea makes way more sense than the idea they were building an entirely new fleet for an emergency evacuation.

        4. Glen Raphael

          @ Le Maistre Chat wrote:

          and in a show of sloppy writing, he wakes up at home a continent and an ocean away with his Romulan caregivers instead of in the Starfleet campus hospital, with no mention of a transporter being used to achieve that feat.

          The first episode of the Wil Wheaton-hosted aftershow includes a snippet of the next episode which suggests Earth now has a massive casual teleporter network. Picard visits an Important Starfleet Building whose entrance gate has something that looks like security theft-detector arches with people walking in and out of them – everyone leaving disappears and everyone entering appears with their own automatic teleporter flash/sound. Teleportation (to and from at least *some* destinations) has become “too cheap to meter”. In that world, recuperating at home (with a favorite local doctor teleporting in to make house calls to check up on you) would seem much more common than it is here.

    3. Elephant

      I haven’t watched it. The thing I’d like to know, before deciding, is: is it grim, dreary, and dark like “Discovery,” which I could only stand about 5 episodes of, or is it uplifting and even at times funny, despite serious themes, like The Next Generation, or the Original Series? (I realize there are more options than these, but I’d like to know if either of these fit.)

      1. cassander

        Too soon to tell what the overall tone will be, but I hated discovery after the first episode and I definitely don’t hate this.

      2. Wrong Species

        It might be a touch darker than TNG but it’s definitely not Discovery. Maybe somewhere between TNG and DS9. Aesthetically, it’s close to TNG. It’s not darkness covered with more darkness.

  22. Le Maistre Chat

    I just want y’all to know that, in the Alexander Romance, Alexander the Great was sired by Nectanebo II, the last indigenous king of Egypt, who seduced Queen Olympias of Macedon by convincing her that he could summon Zeus Ammon… in the form of a dragon… which was really himself (because pagan gods don’t exist).
    There are many variants of the text, but they usually don’t include King Philip watching himself get cuckolded. That didn’t stop medieval Western artists.

  23. Atlas

    Scott suggested that this year he might have a book review contest instead of an adversarial collaboration contest, which I think is a very good idea. One possible suggestion I have is that there could be “meta-book reviews” as well, in which the review covers the content of the book but also the discussion, criticism and commentary around it. This happens to some extent in SSC reviews already, and many people might do it automatically, but I think that it might be a good idea to have it be an explicit possibility.

    1. Randy M

      I think that’s requisite in a “grown up” book review. Not necessarily that you have to research lots of other people’s opinions on the matter, but at the least a serious critique of the arguments and methods of book based on your own experience or other works you’ve read.
      When I used to subscribe to National Review, I discovered that “book review” could mean more than a synopsis of the key points raised, but grappling with their truthfulness or implications, etc. (I’m not saying they’re the best, just that that’s where I first noticed it).

    2. Brassfjord

      Maybe it could be an adversarial book review competition, with reviews from one who liked the book and one who disliked it, and we vote for the best one.

  24. Well...

    We talk a fair amount here about the music we listen to, but what about the music we play? Let’s do a thread for those of us who are active musicians in some capacity beyond shower-singing or steering-wheel-drumming.

    – What instrument(s) do you play?
    – How long have you been playing? How would you rate your skill level? What do you do to improve?
    – What do you do with this skill? What style of music do you make? Etc.

    Feel free to link to audio samples if you’ve got’em!

    1. Machine Interface

      — Currently only the accordion (chromatic button accordion with a free-bass system on the left hand, for connoisseurs), I’d like to learn the clarineau/chalumeau.
      — I’d say 5-6 years, maybe more. I’m still at a fairly beginner level. I keep practicing daily, but mostly on my own.
      — I mostly play for myself. I mostly learn baroque pieces written for the organ or harpsichord.

      I don’t have audio samples.

    2. SamChevre

      Does singing count?

      I do not play any instruments, but I like to sing even though I’m not good at it. Almost entirely hymns, generally slightly off-key–but I can sing 1000+ from memory.

      1. Medrach

        That is crazy impressive!
        Not to seem doubting of your claim, but where do you even FIND 1000 hymns? The German hymnal (only one i’m familiar with) has only 600 or so.

        1. Nick

          Modern Christian songwriters produce about three zillion songs a year. Each. I hope SamChevre knows the old stuff, though, because those are better.

        2. SamChevre

          You find that many by learning different denominations hymnals. I grew up Amish-Mennonite (and that community sings a lot, and from several different books), was part of a conservative Presbyterian church for several years, attended an Episcopal church for several years, and am now Catholic.

          I’d guess that of what I know, I learned 600+ hymns from Amish-Mennonite materials, 150 each from Presbyterian and Episcopal sources, and 100 or so from Catholic sources.

          1. Deiseach

            Out of that ecumenical journey, I’m most impressed that you found 100 Catholic hymns because we just will not sing in church 😀

            (Cue Dara Ó Briain routine from 2005).

            Any decent ones, or are they all the modern kind?

          2. SamChevre

            Catholic “hymns” I’ve learned in the last few years (a lot of these are parts of hymns, or things that aren’t quite hymns–also, I might have learned some of them in the Episcopal church.) This is without looking them up – there are probably twice as many that if you gave me the first line I could sing some of:

            Modern and terrible:
            Lord when you came to the seashore

            Modern, not terrible:
            O God Beyond All Praising
            One Bread, One Body

            Marian:
            Alma Redemptoris Mater
            Ave Regina Caelorum
            Salve Regina
            Regina Caeli
            Ave Maria – the “pilgrimage” tune (youtube, Walsingham Pilgrimage Ave Maria)
            Immaculate Mary
            Hail Holy Queen

            Eucharistic:
            Panis Angelicus
            Adoro Te Devote
            O Salutaris Hostia
            Tantum Ergo
            Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
            Anima Christi
            Soul of Christ be my sanctification

            Office:
            Creator of the Stars of Night
            O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright

            Seasonal:
            People, Look East
            The Angel Gabriel
            O Come Divine Messiah
            Unto us a boy is born

      2. Well...

        If you can sing 1000+ hymns from memory, does that pretty much squeeze out space for anything else? Or do you just have a remarkably good memory for songs? Can you sing 1000+ pop songs from memory too?

        1. SamChevre

          I have a good memory for lots of things, but I can sing approximately 0 popular songs–popular audio-visual culture is one of the things I know very little about.

    3. Erusian

      – What instrument(s) do you play?
      Voice and piano. I’m decent at guitar and have a little bit of experience with a smattering of other instruments.

      – How long have you been playing? How would you rate your skill level? What do you do to improve?

      On and off for almost two decades. I’d rate myself as the better end of amateur since I’ve never pursued it in a serious way. I’m pretty good but I’d say my piano playing is overly technical.

      – What do you do with this skill? What style of music do you make? Etc.
      Not much, honestly? I used to perform in a few ways but I’ve mostly stopped to focus on my career. I practice for myself mostly and continue to take lessons because I enjoy them. Sometimes I volunteer to play at old folks homes or sing comedy songs. My training was in classical piano and operatic singing, with some choir and chant mixed in. I can do modern stuff too, obviously and sometimes I play with modern equipment or trying to do remixes or that. My voice is a bit too deep for most modern pop music (which seems highly tenor-ish) without transposing.

    4. smocc

      – I sing, mostly socially and chorally. I am also currently the conductor for my church choir, which is kind of like playing an instrument.

      – I can’t remember not singing because I grew up with a mother who sings (she later became a music teacher) in a church where congregational singing is important. I’d rate myself at “better half of a volunteer choir.” I don’t practice besides singing to myself throughout the day and at church and I’ve never taken formal voice lessons outside high school choir. I have been practicing music theory lately by figuring out song and chord structures on guitar and doing some ear training online.

      – I mostly make choral church music and “folk” music after that. I sing at least one hymn to myself on my way to work every morning. Last year I taught myself to read chant notation and sang a chant from the Liber Usualis every day. For a while last year I went to a monthly sea shanty singing group. I sing for my son every night. This last year I performed in a musical written by one of my school students and in a musical that some church friends and I wrote and put on. I really love communal singing; I care far more about having fun singing in a group than singing really excellently.

    5. liate

      – What instrument(s) do you play?
      I play the viola.

      – How long have you been playing? How would you rate your skill level? What do you do to improve?
      I’ve been playing for 9 years. I’d say my skill level is intermediate: I’m one of the better string players at my (not especially good, but not bad, musicwise) university. I take private lessons and practise about an hour a week, along with rehearsals for assorted ensembles on campus.

      – What do you do with this skill? What style of music do you make? Etc.
      The main thing I actually do with it is play in the university’s symphony and chamber orchestras. The symphony is small-c classical, movie music, etc; the chamber orchestra is more serious stuff (we did Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis last year, we played an arrangement of the second Brandenburg concerto for string orchestra in our last concert, our next concert will include Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No 1). I haven’t done a real concert of private lesson stuff, but that’s mostly been slowly working through Bach’s cello suites arranged for viola and the Bartók viola concerto, along with assorted other stuff.

    6. FrankistGeorgist

      Piano. I play accurately but without expression. 7 years of lessons, at the start of which I was considered a prodigy, but in fact I was the only one with an overbearing mother forcing me to practice every day (Standard, as I understand, among piano players, but unheard of in my hometown). I cannot play with others or play a tune I’ve heard, only what I have available on paper or in my memory which degrades quickly. I primarily play, no joke, music from the first Sims game’s build mode. It enchants me to play because it feels indulgent. I was not allowed to play frivolous music lest I squander my talent as I sailed towards the fixed star of Beethoven. I was stubborn and refused to learn music theory lest it lead to more lessons.

      Finally got out of the lessons I despised under sad circumstances. Didn’t touch an instrument until college where I started guitar secretly on my own terms where I could play badly and alone but for once for enjoyment. Progress is slow, but guitar is forgiving.

      Moving a bit too much had me whistling and having a harmonica by my desk- the only music in which I have any musicality. It just makes sense and for once I can transmit a melody in my head into the air without agony and paperwork.

      Social atomization being what it is, I find relief at piano bars where they exist, where I sing with a puny sub-octave range but in the upper half of the bell curve by other standards. My cherubic childhood countertenor is alas squandered. All that stood between me and glory were these damn testicles.

    7. Nicholas Weininger

      Oh yay, a non-embarrassing opportunity for musical self promotion!

      Choral singer (tenor) for most of the last 35 years. I’ve been taking voice lessons on and off for, in all, maybe half of the last 15 years. I’d rate myself as very good for an amateur– I have a decent full-voice high range up to a high C, am an excellent sight-reader, sing in a choir that regularly premieres hard contemporary music, and have sung pretty difficult tenor arias in a couple of solo recitals– but very much not at professional level, and I have been privileged to sing with enough pros to know firsthand how big the difference is. I haven’t been taking voice lessons lately for lack of time, but usually those, personal at-home practice, and choral singing with the best singers who’ll have me are what I do to improve.

      I’m also an amateur choral composer. I’ve been composing for 10 years but only really come into my own in the last 5-6 years, and I take lessons in composition to try and close some more of the gap that separates me from the pros there. I also do piano self-study because facility with the piano is so useful for any composer; I’m pretty crappy still at the piano, frankly, but slowly getting better.

      For audio samples and scores, see my composing site at nicholasweininger.com and my YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkIxjX39N9rMQW-7imQIj9A (most of the recordings on that channel are from the choir I sing in, iocsf.org).

    8. WashedOut

      I make electronic music using synths (modular and semi-modular) and samplers. It could be categorized as dark-ambient, drone, industrial electronics, doom electronics, etc..

      vilemasque.bandcamp.com
      ^^some live recordings and mixtapes

      New EP coming out February called Unperson You – predominantly harsh drones and abrasive ambience.

      To answer OPs questions:
      -I had been playing guitar in metal bands for ages, but I moved to a new city and had no-one to play with, so I bought a synth and started making the closest thing I could to blackened death metal.
      -To improve I just tinker for hours on a few bits of equipment to learn how they work. The nature of modular synthesis is that it’s very hard if not impossible to play the same thing twice, after you’ve turned off your system. Signal flow can get very complex very quickly, so I find it best just to spend a few hours just on one or two modules at a time.

      1. Well...

        Can you explain a bit more? A synth, as I understand it, is basically another term for an electronic keyboard instrument. What makes a synth modular or semi-modular? What kinds of things can the modules do?

        1. Lambert

          Modular isn’t about keyboards, but rather using wires to patch bits of circuitry into other bits of circuitry.
          So each module will take certain inputs and use them to make certain outputs. Perhaps the simplest being the voltage-controlled oscillator which takes a control voltage and outputs a sine wave with a frequency proportional to that voltage.
          Other modules include random voltage generators, reverb, EQ.
          At the end of all these different functions being applied to these signals, you pipe one signal into a speaker and that’s the music.

          A better explanation than I could ever give.

        2. WashedOut

          A synth, as I understand it, is basically another term for an electronic keyboard instrument.

          Colloquially, yes, but a keyboard is just a control interface and therefore irrelevant to the actual process of designing sound. Keyboards are handy and popular because they represent a range of notes quantized into known intervals, but there is nothing inherently ‘synth’ about the keyboard itself.

          When you walk into a music store and see synthesizers on shelves, you’re looking at a complete device where the circuit architecture is predetermined and more or less set – yes you can change some input parameters here and there to get different sounds, but the configuration of how the components talk to each other is fixed via soldered connections and PCB layout.

          Modular synths are a collection of separate, reconfigurable modules that each represent a specific duty in the signal path. As Lambert mentioned, one might be an oscillator, one might be a logic gate that manipulates the signal subject to certain rules, one might be a sequencer, etc. Each module can talk to any other module in any order, via patch cables being inserted and removed throughout a performance. “Semi-modular” is basically a fixed-architecture synth but with a patch-bay off to the side, allowing you to dynamically re-route some of the signal flow.

        3. Paul Zrimsek

          If you want to try it out for yourself there are software modular-synth simulators available. I’ve had a lot of fun with this freeware one.

    9. Dino

      I play guitar, tambura, dumbek, vocals.
      Started with piano lessons as a kid, switched to guitar in high school playing folk, blues, rock. Later on, discovered Balkan music and that’s mostly what I play now.
      Mixed skill level – good in some areas, poor in others. I know what I need to do to improve – the ear training that I never got – but I’m too lazy to actually do it.
      I play in some bands, mostly for folk dancers, about 50 gigs/year, usually for audiences around 20-30, occasionally big crowds > 100.
      I started a band with the idea of getting Balkan music into clubs and in front of the wider public, because I thought it could be a big success. But it didn’t work out as well as I hoped. The music wasn’t the problem, the few times we played out it went over well with the audience – the issue, I eventually figured out, is that to get gigs in the “music biz” you need to have someone who’s a promoter/business manager/agent type working with you. No-one in the band has that skill set, and we haven’t found our Brian Epstein/Col. Parker yet. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t work for bands. I still think it could work if we had the right person working with us – any entrepreneurs out there want to take a chance with us?

      1. Well...

        I always thought of tambura as an Indian instrument, and dumbek as Turkish or Middle-Eastern. Are these instruments common in Balkan music? Or do you mean you play Balkan music on guitar?

        1. Dino

          The Indian tambura is a different instrument from what I play – used only for drones. The tambura in the Balkans (most common in Bulgaria and North Macedonia) is more similar to a 4, 6, or 8 string version of a 12-string guitar, used for both melody and chords. Dumbeks (also called by many other names) are found in a lots of places – Middle East, Turkey as you say, also in Albania, Greece, Armenia, Macedonia, not as much but some in Bulgaria. I once sat in with an Irish session that was lacking a bodhran and faked it pretty well. I also play Balkan music on guitar, both electric and acoustic.

    10. Well...

      In college I played, among other instruments, didgeridoo and steel pans (the triple cellos). I played steel pans for about a year, and didgeridoo for about two or three.

      At the time I was practicing steel pans a few hours a week and got good enough to play my parts in a steel band with accuracy and expression. We never played the chill-out-on-the-beach calypso music most people think of when they think of steel pans; instead it was a lot of colorful jazzy stuff at a wide variety of tempos (tempi?), with solos and sophisticated harmonies. (The Andy Narell pieces are what stand out most.) Of all the instruments I played, it was the only one I actually enjoyed practicing, which probably explains why I was such a dedicated learner that I got competent at it real fast.

      But I never owned my own set, so once I lost access (by dropping out) I wasn’t able to keep up that skill. One day if I have enough disposable income to buy my own I’m sure I’ll pick it up again quickly.

      I impulse-bought my polyresin didgeridoo at a street fair for $75. I was surprised at how quickly I got the hang of the circular breathing, so keeping droning notes or simple repeating rhythms going for a long time wasn’t a problem. But I never got good enough to make a lot of the other sounds that are possible, such as the barks, buzzes, and woofs you hear from really good players. I never played with anyone else, and only once did I record my playing, integrated into a song I recorded with other instruments as well.

      My wife (girlfriend at the time) hated it, as do the girlfriends of everyone else I’ve ever met who plays it, so I joke that it looks like an instrument but is actually a form of girl repellent. I sold my didgeridoo to some long-haired freshman when I was close to graduating college (a different one), after it had sat almost unused in my closet for a couple years. I’m lukewarm on whether I’d pick it up again. It was fun but it’s not very important to me; unlike steel pans, I have no yearning or ambitions to play didgeridoo again.

      1. Dino

        I love steel pans – another instrument I’d like to learn to play. I’ve heard some great steel pan bands playing all sorts of music, well beyond the stereotypical calypso – one time I heard them do a movement from a Brahms symphony and some Vivaldi. Most recent player I heard was sitting in with an African drumming ensemble.
        Possibly related – also love the sound of the marimba.

    11. Conrad Honcho

      – What instrument(s) do you play?

      5-string banjo, piano, trumpet, guitar.

      – How long have you been playing? How would you rate your skill level? What do you do to improve?

      Banjo: off and on for the past 20 years. I never get much better than I did after ~3 years of playing because I’d quit for a couple of years, then pick it up again, then quit again…

      Piano and trumpet I played from elementary through high school but haven’t touched since. However my daughter’s fifth birthday is next week and she wants to play piano, so I bought her an electric piano and I’m going to start teaching her, so maybe I’ll get back into it too.

      Guitar I just started a few months ago. My seven year old wanted an electric guitar for his birthday (his favorite band is Sabaton, and we even saw them in concert on their US tour a few months back) so I bought him one. It was too big: I didn’t realize there were such things as children’s guitars. So I bought him one of those and we now have two guitars. He’s been taking lessons, and I’ve been practicing with him on the big guitar to help since my experience with banjo means I’m already decent with a string instrument. We know four chords now, and can play Midnight Special!

      – What do you do with this skill? What style of music do you make? Etc.

      Bluegrass banjo, classical/pop/marching band trumpet, I played a lot of Billy Joel music on the piano, and we’re just learning rock guitar. Basically I just play for fun, and with my kid(s).

    12. Randy M

      I whistle. I was going to say “I play the lips” but quickly thought better of it.
      I have since I was about twelve or so. I’d say I’m among the best. I just try to copy tunes I hear playing.
      Mostly I use it to accidentally annoy people who would like to hear the actual song.

      The above is only 30% joking.

    13. JohnNV

      Jazz piano – I used to play professionally in my 20s and 30s, mostly at small clubs in the Washington, DC area, but never as a career. Now I’ll occasionally show up at a jam session or play with an ad-hoc group but don’t take it as seriously any more. When I was single, I’d play 4 nights a week up to 1am or so, then go to work the next morning, and practice for a couple of hours a night when I didn’t have gigs. Still manage to touch a keyboard even if it’s just for a few minutes almost every day. I collect videos of me practicing tunes (not polished at all, and almost exclusively for my own use) on youtube. Most of them have single-digit number of views. Watch here

    14. gettin_schwifty

      I sing, play guitar, and play bass, in that order.

      My singing is generally on pitch, but the (slightly) impressive part of my talent/skill is copying voices. Back when I worked fast food, I’d sing at work and get compliments on sounding like various singers. I think I’m better at imitating tone of voice than I am at matching pitch, although I can carry a tune unaccompanied.

      I’ve enjoyed singing since I was in elementary school. I’ve never really practiced beyond singing along to whatever’s on the radio or in my CD player, but I have a good ear (mostly thanks to guitar) so I can catch mistakes and correct them.

      I haven’t “used” my singing skill in a while. I did a few acoustic open mic nights a few years back, and I was told I sound good.

      I’ve been playing guitar for 11 years, although I haven’t practiced in ages. I play to play these days, not for any other purpose. I did have a brief stint as a church guitarist playing modern Christian rock. It was fun learning 3 new songs every week, but the church rubbed me the wrong way. They spent too much money on BS, and the pastor was practically an actor from what I saw. I did more Bible reading during his sermons than I’ve done the rest of my life combined. I started playing there because my girlfriend at the time went to that church, and playing guitar is more fun than listening to a phony holy man.

      I used to play mostly alt-rock and metal on the guitar (think “hard rock radio” of the 2000s with some extreme metal and classic rock thrown in). These days I mostly stick to fingerpicking folk on the acoustic, thanks to Leonard Cohen’s first couple albums.

      I can play bass, but I rarely do. I sort of wish I’d picked up bass first, because it feels more natural. I suspect it may feel more natural because I already had an idea of how to practice a stringed instrument from playing guitar. I stick to rock and a bit of jazz on the four-string, although my improv grooves lean towards funk.

    15. Lambert

      Trumpet; about a decade; ABRSM grade 5; an utterly filthy blend of big band jazz, funk and pop arrangements.

      Also trombone since Christmas, but only for scientific purposes.

    16. Dacyn

      Piano for 15 years, voice for 8. I’ve been in four different choirs, only one of them required an audition and that was also the only one I felt like I was about equal skill to most of the other singers. My piano is also supposed to be good though I don’t practice as much. I prefer classical music (particularly Baroque) but my current choir tends to do more modern stuff. I also composed a few songs for piano that I play/practice regularly. They don’t really fit into one style of music, I’m not exactly sure how to describe them.

    17. Jupiter764

      I play guitar. Started 15 years ago, but I haven’t played consistently over that time – I would play obsessively as a teenager, gradually lost interest and stopped for while in college, and then in the past year got more into it again, to the point where recently I’ve become obsessed again, which I’m super happy about. I pretty much just play death metal and thrash metal, but I’d like to expand my horizons and learn some other genres eventually, if only to make myself a more well-rounded player and get some new ideas.

      I think lack of improvement was the major reason I lost interest for a while in my late teens/early 20s – I would pretty much play for fun and jam for hours on end, but I didn’t ever really develop a consistent practice regimen or try to work on developing my skills in any systematic way. So I ended up staying at the same level for a few years. I think being a death metal fan made this especially frustrating – pretty much all my favorite bands were playing at a level well beyond my skill, and not being able to learn my favorite songs was disheartening. Like when I started out I would learn riffs from bands like Metallica and Lamb of God, which was challenging but doable. But bands like Nile or Origin are so crazy technical that I wouldn’t even be able to begin approaching most of their material. Those are extreme examples, but most modern death metal requires a higher level of technical ability than I was able to muster unfortunately.

      Now that I’ve gotten back into it I’ve focused on deliberate practice and drills a lot more. I came up with or found a nice set of simple drills that together work out most of the areas of my hands/muscles that are important for metal playing, and its been very effective. I usually spend 10 minutes at a time on each drill, repeating it through that time, using a metronome, and taking notes so I can adjust for the next session. Comparing my skill now to even a few months ago I can see a very visible improvement. This has made the guitar much more exciting and fun, because I’m actually making progress and the goal of playing my favorite death metal songs is at least on the horizon, if still a long ways off.

      I’d like to form a band soon (within the next year hopefully), but I hardly know any musicians so it’ll be a challenge. I love writing songs (I have ten so far, most written in the past six months), so hopefully once I find some like-minded people we’ll be able to put something cool together. Especially considering how recording decent-sounding tracks at home is easier than ever.

    18. MrSquid

      – Percussion (mostly marimba), also vocals
      – Very rusty with percussion, there’s a certain level of baseline technical competence that I maintained but some of the more advanced techniques I’ve forgotten. Vocals, still pretty good. Difficult to judge my own proficiency since I’m not really a fan of the way my voice sounds, but on some objective measures of breath control and tonal accuracy I do well.
      – I sometimes stream Twitch Sings or similar, also do musical theatre. I do best with the flashier songs, especially those in upper registers. Percussion has been many years since, but I was in marching band.

    19. MoebiusStreet

      As a white boy in the 80s, it was required that I play heavy metal guitar – or at least that I try to. If I could choose one thing to change about myself, it would be to give myself some musical talent, but unfortunately I just don’t have that, and eventually had to admit that to myself. But I still very much wanted some artistic outlet, and found that I can do photography competently.

      I found a way to combine the two, so I can revel in the music I love while doing something artistic myself. There’s a folk music festival in my town, and I’ve been volunteering for the past six years as official photographer for the festival. I can enjoy the music, and hobnob with the musicians, while also doing my own thing. And from their I’ve generalized a bit, doing photography with other local bands.

      The work I do for the festival is primarily for promotional purposes. But I also make all of it available to the musicians themselves, as a way of thanking them for sharing their music with us. One thing has become abundantly clear to me in the course of this: the life of making one’s way as a musician is surprisingly hard (whatever you think it is, it’s much much worse than that).

      I’ve made a number of good friends with this, and a couple have made it to the next level, getting actual recording contracts (most artists self-publish these days). Folks think this is the holy grail, but really these folks have only stepped off the ground onto the very bottom rung of the ladder. There’s still so much more hard work and luck involved to get anywhere further.

      Anybody you encounter who’s making music for you almost certainly isn’t making a living at it. They’re probably not even breaking even, but making sacrifices to do this for you. So let them know how much their music means to you.

      1. b_jonas

        Thank you. This is my favorite answer from this thread so far. (I don’t play music; I enjoy photography as a hobby, but I don’t photograph musicians.)

    20. oriscratch

      I’ve been playing the hand ocarina for 4 years, and it’s basically when you cup your hands, squeeze them together in a certain way, and blow in to make a sort of whistle sound. If you want high pitches you squeeze your hands tighter, and if you want low pitches you loosen them. A lot of people know how to make a sound with this as a neat party trick, but I do it obsessively. It doesn’t sound very good and has a limited range, but it turns out that playing an instrument that’s permanently attached to you wherever you go is great for procrastinating or just getting bored. As such, I’ve ended up in the weird position where I can play full pop songs on it. It’s weird.

      I’m also attempting to teach myself the dizi (Chinese bamboo flute). Hopefully that works out well!

    21. rubberduck

      Piano, pretty consistently since childhood, and I used to give private lessons during college (though I’ve never performed for money.) I don’t listen to classical but it’s what I was taught to play. My favorite composers to play are Debussy, Beethoven, Macdowell, and Chopin. I really wish I knew jazz piano, it sounds cool but also seems to require a different skillset than what I have.

    22. Glen Raphael

      I sing and play guitar, mostly nerd-folk. I’ve been playing for 20+ years and writing songs for ~10 years. I’m an intermediate guitarist, favoring fingerstyle acoustic.

      Some of my favorite performing venues are filk or folk conventions, the Jonathan Coulton cruise, and NYC Solstice. I defined myself as a performer for a while but have never made serious money at it – I started late, am drawn to weird genres and am generally bad at self-marketing. (Also, I was so successful in my day job and other hobbies that I never really needed to be successful at music.)

      My song Gorilla My Dreams has been featured on the Doctor Demento show; SSCers might appreciate the love-song-about-physics Quantum Entanglement. (A couple albums are available at glenraphael.bandcamp.com )

      I occasionally play a bunch of other instruments including mountain dulcimer, harmonica, ukulele, piano, mandolin, bass…but only in brief flings, eventually returning to guitar. I’ve played in a few bands and taught a few students over the years.

      I’m often motivated by the need to play a particular song or style – I hear a song and it gets stuck in my head and I just need to figure it out. When intrinsic motivation is lagging I sometimes rely on external motivation such as joining the SpinTunes songwriting competition. Or I’ll take lessons for a while – there is no greater motivation for noodling around on a guitar and finding fun things to play than the avoidance of doing your assigned homework. 🙂

  25. salvorhardin

    It seems, though I don’t have a data source to back it up, like major terrorist attacks in Western countries were significantly less frequent in 2010-2019 than in 2000-2009. This leads to two obvious questions:

    1. Can we actually verify that this is the case for reasonable definitions of “major terrorist attack” and “Western country”?

    2. If so, is there relatively-reliable/dispassionate scholarly research into why that decline happened?

    1. Aftagley

      Alot of this hinges on what you mean by

      major terrorist attacks in Western countries

      . If you count 9/11 style complicated plots that require multiple people communicating and planning, then yes. If you count random extremists killing a few people before dying then, like broblawsky points out, they haven’t declined.

      Going off the first one, I think it has to be interest and attention from western governments. Since around 2002, large portions of the US government (and our partners) have had massive sections devoted to detecting and destroying these kinds of operations. Global surveillance, bio-metrics and detection is radically different than 20 years ago and previously varied agencies (FBI, CIA, DHS etc) are not basically focused on stopping terrorism. This kind of resource allocation produces results.

      1. Le Maistre Chat

        If you count 9/11 style complicated plots that require multiple people communicating and planning, then yes. If you count random extremists killing a few people before dying then, like broblawsky points out, they haven’t declined.

        Yes. Even if 9/11-scale conspiracies of dozens of persons have declined, Muslim immigrants or their children turning into lone-wolf mujahideen has been such an ongoing problem in, e.g. Britain that the government has infamously adopted such policies as banning all citizens from tools that could be used to kill infidels, like kitchen knives.
        It’s a wonder that they haven’t banned trucks.

          1. Le Maistre Chat

            If the quantity of knife crime that inspires the government to ban kitchen knives is mostly by drug-running gangs or other gangs, it should examine its own role in incentivizing rather than treating all citizens like dangerous little kids.

          2. RalMirrorAd

            That might be true but it would still incorrect to imply that there’s been a shift in terrorist activity rather than this being a rather distinct phenomenon.

            That said, From my POV gangs that assault people who aren’t ‘in the game’ for sport are morally worse [and more of a problem] then someone who harms an equivalent number of people out of some religious conviction [or any conviction for that matter]

      2. INH5

        Going off the first one, I think it has to be interest and attention from western governments. Since around 2002, large portions of the US government (and our partners) have had massive sections devoted to detecting and destroying these kinds of operations. Global surveillance, bio-metrics and detection is radically different than 20 years ago and previously varied agencies (FBI, CIA, DHS etc) are not basically focused on stopping terrorism. This kind of resource allocation produces results.

        Maybe. But on the other hand, these technologies haven’t done much to stop coordinated terrorist attacks in numerous other parts of the world.

        My personal guess would be that nowadays Sunni Jihadists consider the Near Enemy of Iran to be a greater threat than the Far Enemy of the United States/the West. No reason to pick a fight again with the enemy of your current primary enemy.

  26. proyas

    Could declining birth rates be contributing to a rise in extremist views and political activism in the West?

    If you don’t have children, or if you have fewer children, then you have more spare time and, arguably, have less pragmatic mooring in life, allowing you to think about more esoteric things and to attend protests and political rallies.

    Is there any evidence to support my hypothesis?

    Similarly, retired empty-nesters who are still in good health thanks to modern medicine are growing in number, and they also have a lot of spare time. Have they contributed to the rise in activism and extremism (I notice many people at partisan rallies are old)?

    1. Enkidum

      Nah. The KKK used to hold marches of thousands, and had entire states under their sway. They were never not a bunch of loonies. The John Birch Society was one of the most important political organizations in America for decades. There were pitched battles with multiple fatalities fought in pretty much every Western country between labour groups and the police, and in many cases it was unclear who would win. Anarchists used to throw bombs and blow people up, or assassinate Grand-Dukes.

      I don’t buy for a minute that things are more extreme now. They are more polarized, but that’s different.

      1. Matt M

        As far as marches go, those organizations seem “extremist” to us, today. But were not necessarily viewed quite the same way in their own times.

        I agree with you on the violence though. Political violence in the developed world is either at an all time low, or very close to it (possibly excepting France?)

        1. Statismagician

          Recalling that the historical high for France is ‘burn half the country, kill the entire ruling class, declare war on approximately everyone,’ yes, France is also at a low point for political violence.

          1. Matt M

            Well, France isn’t as bad as it has ever been, but I’m willing to entertain the notion that right now is still worse than average.

            But I honestly don’t know.

          2. Le Maistre Chat

            At least France can plausibly claim that their current government structure has not had a civil war, nor was it born in a civil war.

            Debatable! The Fifth Republic exists because of what was arguably a civil war in the south of Metropolitan France, as that’s what Algeria was under the Fourth Republic.

          3. cassander

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I’d say it was more a coup than a civil war. And it persists because a second coup 10 years later failed.

        2. Enkidum

          Depends who the “us” was. Catholics, Jews, Blacks, and a fair number of regular old Protestants certainly viewed the KKK as extremists, because they kept on getting murdered by them.

    2. SamChevre

      One of the biggest annual marches is tomorrow – and I would expect the average children per adult attending will be well above the national average.

    3. Matt M

      If you don’t have children, or if you have fewer children, then you have more spare time and, arguably, have less pragmatic mooring in life, allowing you to think about more esoteric things and to attend protests and political rallies.

      That’s one theory.

      I might advance the opposite one. The more free time you have and the longer you spend thinking about/researching political questions – the more likely you are to understand the nuance behind opposing positions, the inherent complexity of it all, the virtue and humanity of both sides.

      Political extremism is dependent upon the opposite of that. It functions in slogans and generalizations, scapegoats and tribalism. Its core appeal is simple and easy answers that don’t require nuance, thought, or research.

      1. Mark V Anderson

        I might advance the opposite one. The more free time you have and the longer you spend thinking about/researching political questions – the more likely you are to understand the nuance behind opposing positions, the inherent complexity of it all, the virtue and humanity of both sides.

        Am I cynical to place absolutely no credence in this idea? I think 95% of partisans have zero interest in nuance, and it doesn’t matter at all how much free time they have. If they more free time, they may spend more time looking up incendiary comments on the Internet that support their view, or looking up tactics to mess with the other side. They won’t look up nuance. I think historically those with time to kill who have been the most violent, not the wisest looking at all sides of an issue.

        1. Matt M

          I think you’re at least partially right.

          My counter would be something like: Which segment of the population spends the most time really thinking deeply about political issues? When you try to conceive of such a person, what comes to mind?

          A skinhead marching in a cosplay templar costume in Charlottesville? A pink haired Tumblr-person doxxing everyone who uses the wrong pronouns?

          Or someone on SSC? Or someone actually in Congress? Or a professional journalist who covers politics?

        2. Garrett

          I think 95% of partisans have zero interest in nuance, and it doesn’t matter at all how much free time they have.

          This is what saddens me. I spent years studying political philosophy because I didn’t think it was right to vote until I at least knew and understood what I stood for. I’m deeply saddened when I see the level of discourse and mind-killing memes which get passed around. The purposeful misrepresentation of the most basic premises of opponents is frustrating.

          1. DavidFriedman

            The case that struck me, back when I wasted time arguing climate issues on Facebook, was that almost nobody on either side of the argument understood how greenhouse gases worked. Almost everyone thought of them as insulators, keeping heat in, and ignored the fact that an insulator would also keep heat out.

          2. jermo sapiens

            Almost everyone thought of them as insulators, keeping heat in, and ignored the fact that an insulator would also keep heat out.

            This would be true of GHGs if the incoming radiation was all infrared no? But the incoming radiation is mostly visible so it passes through. So far so good. But when visible light is absorbed by the earth surface, does all this energy convert to heat and is then re-emitted at lower wavelength? Is there an easy explanation for why visible light photons are absorbed and re-emitted as infrared photons?

            Please and thank you.

          3. Lambert

            More or less.
            It turns out that a lot of organic molecules as well as CO2 have vibrational modes in the same frequency as IR light, so they absorb it.
            (Which is convenient to chemists, because they get to shoot unknown substances with broadband IR light and work out what the chemical is by what exact wavelengths get absorbed)

            And the Sun emits light of a much higher frequency (on average) than Earth because it’s a lot hotter. (frequency of the average photon emitted is proportional to T^4 or something.)

          4. DavidFriedman

            Is there an easy explanation for why visible light photons are absorbed and re-emitted as infrared photons?

            The hotter an object is, the shorter the wavelength of the light it emits (more precisely, the more the distribution of wavelengths is shifted towards short wave length/high energy). The earth is a lot cooler than the sun, so radiates much lower energy photons.

          5. bullseye

            Every object emits photons (this is called black-body radiation). Hotter things produce more, and at higher frequencies.

            Our eyes evolved to see the frequencies the sun produces. (You’d think being able to see the frequencies the earth produces would be useful, but I guess it isn’t bright enough.)

          6. John Schilling

            (You’d think being able to see the frequencies the earth produces would be useful, but I guess it isn’t bright enough.)

            In the relevant IR wavelengths, it is not quite as bright as the inside of your eyeballs. This does pose a problem for making eyes that work – as if you were trying to build a visible-light camera that works when the camera’s interior is as hot and incandescent as the surface of the sun.

    4. Bergil

      I actually had a related thought recently- that the increase in political tribalism was due to birth control. Before birth control, every group was above replacement, and exerting control over how many kids you have comes at a very high cost- and every group is above replacement. Birth control changed that, and thus politicized birth rates. On the right, this manifested in discouraging birth control, to keep your numbers up, which tied them to a very moralizing, us-vs-them style of politics.

      For the left, this was not an option, not without alienating their base, so instead it manifested as trying to make up the reproductive differential through immigration and conversion. The need for people to move left at far greater rates than they moved right led to the politicization of university, and the increasingly contemptuous, shaming attitudes towards ideological dissidents we see on the left these days- that is to say, a very moralizing, us-vs-them style of politics.

      I have no idea if this is actually true or not. Even to me, it feels a bit like pattern-matching.

    5. Skeptic

      It’s not birth rates. It’s marriage rates (+) and divorce rates (-).

      As marriage rates fall and family stability craters, there’s no center. Single Women will inevitably seek protection from randomness, assurance of their social status, and insulation from any real world factors. If not provided in a relationship they’ll make taxpayers provide it.

      The important factor is that they believe they should not bear the burden of any decisions.

      I’m super cool with freedom. If I don’t cash the check…

      1. DeWitt

        Divorce rates have been either stable or in decline for a while now, depending on just where you happen to look at.

          1. EchoChaos

            Also hidden in there is that single motherhood isn’t declining much.

            What’s happened is that fewer people are getting married and hence they can’t get divorced. If we tracked the percentage of first long-term sexual relationships that end, I think it would be at an all time high.

        1. RalMirrorAd

          For fertility purposes the portion of the young-adult population that’s securely married is what matters, which can be supressed either by fewer initiated marriages or more divorces. Fewer marriages might actually be worse if you *only* care about fertility and less so children born to in-tact families.

          Marriage Rates and Divorce rates will probably go hand in hand for any given social climate. That is, I think it’s reasonable to hypothesize the factors that lead to divorce (or would have lead to divorce in an alternative universe of early marriage) are similar to the ones leading to delayed marriage rates, even indirectly. (Divorce weighs heavily on people’s minds so they pair up very defensively)
          ______________

          Not related to total fertilty necessarily but I wonder to what extent when people show “percent single mother” births the increase in the percent is due to a drop in the denominator rather than the numerator (and if the numerator is going up is it just a drop in the prevalence of shotgun weddings.)

      2. broblawsky

        I’m curious: do you actually know any single mothers? What “burdens” do you think they should have to bear that they don’t already? What about their children – what additional “burdens” should they have to undergo?

        Also, what percentage of your paycheck do you think is actually going to welfare for single mothers? Please answer before trying to look the correct value up.

        1. Alexander Turok

          There’s plenty of other wasteful programs out there. That doesn’t mean we can’t object to this one. “Only a relatively small amount is being spent on [insert wasteful program] so you’re not allowed to care about it” is how you get 22 trillion in debt.

        2. anonymousskimmer

          What are the odds Skeptic keeps an account with a bank that doesn’t use FDIC insurance (or the corresponding insurance for a credit union)?

          1. Alexander Turok

            Deposit insurance is, at least in theory, paid for by the banks, and thus is, at least in theory, not comparable to a transfer. Or is your position basically:

            “Once the government does one thing, it must do everything.”

          2. anonymousskimmer

            @Alexander Turok
            My position is I’m annoyed by the absolutist misogynistic language when less general misanthropic language could have been used instead, while being more realistic. So I’m being snarky toward Skeptic in an approving reply to broblawsky.

            Absolutist terms bolded.

            “Single Women will inevitably” = all the single ladies, instead of just some of them. And the use of “inevitable”.

            All the single ladies want: 1) “protection from randomness”
            2) “assurance of their social status”
            3) “insulation from any real world factors.”

            All the single ladies preferentially want all of these factors to be” provided in a relationship”, or failing that, “taxpayers provide it.”. Because there isn’t any other way than a relationship or taxpayers to “seek” these factors that all the single ladies want (hey, don’t many married couples and single men also want these factors, too?).

            “The important factor is that they believe they should not bear the burden of” what kind of decisions? Why, “any decisions.”.

            This is just lazy complaining.

  27. Aftagley

    A question that had been eating away at me for a while was how China works. I understand how democracies work, and I understand how autocracies work but neither definition seemed to conclusively apply to China, at least not in ways that made sense to me.

    To answer this question, I recently finished The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor, a western journalist based out of China. This book was a great read, and walking away I feel much more clued-in about how the world’s most populace nation is run. McGregor has seemingly-unparraled access for a western journalist and the book is riddled with interviews with officials, interesting personal perspectives and is a great overall primer on the system.

    The book’s only possible weakness is it’s timeliness – it was written in the waning days of Hu Jintao’s premiership and while it’s a great source for the factors that led to Xi Jinping, it doesn’t provide any insight into the current Chinese administration. That being said, most of the factors described in this book aren’t the kind of thing that can change in 10 years, so I don’t think the China of today could be too different from the one outlined in these pages. Overall, I’d highly recommend checking this book out if you’re interested in China and the CCP; it’s currently free on Amazon if you have a Prime membership. What follows is going to be a brief overview of The Party.

    Summary:

    The biggest question I started this book with was “What is the CCP?” Its common knowledge that the CCP controls China, but up until now I had mentally equated the Chinese Government with the CCP. This was inaccurate; while the government is certainly made up of CCP members, the CCP is an ultimately a separate organization with its own resources and capabilities that far outstrip those help by the government.

    Mentally, the comparison that helped me the most to understand the CCP was this: imagine a society in which the illuminati (or lizard people, or whomever) is 100% real, has people who work for them, has buildings marked “Illuminati headquarters” that these people work all day to exercise absolute control over society. The average citizen still doesn’t know entirely what the illuminati does all day, or what their goals are, but their existence, power and pervasiveness are indisputable. They control all the institutions, but they aren’t the organizations they control.
    McGregor claims the party’s control rests on three primary pillars: Control of Personnel, Control of Propaganda and Control of the military. I’ll start with control of personnel, as I found this the most interesting.

    Control of Personnel

    A majority of the CCP’s efforts are spent running what basically amounts to a giant human resources program for the entirety of the country. All party, government and most senior-level commercial positions (with staggeringly few exceptions) require selection from and the approval of the CCP’s central personnel department. In theory, all candidates are ranked based on their capabilities and accomplishments and sent into positions that will best utilize their talents. The personnel department takes care to identify promising individuals and then send them to a variety of positions to both fully use them and nurture their talents.

    In theory, this seems like and amazing system for creating national-level leaders. You identify someone in high school or college based on their grades or other accomplishments and bring them into the party. You then send them to, a company for a few years to get commercial experience, then a central department to get government experience, then they go out to a province for a few years to learn how to work outside of Beijing’s direct control, etc… and after 20 or so years you’ve got a leader with experience from all corners of society. No one gets to be mayor, governor or premier without decades of proven and varied leadership experience. In theory, this seems infinitely preferable to a system that can occasionally result in absolute novices being placed in sensitive positions of power.

    In practice, however, this system doesn’t work very well. The ranking system forces leaders to prioritize simple, numerical achievements with almost monomaniacal focus and ignore anything that doesn’t make it more likely they’ll get promoted. This system basically fills the government with young, power-hungry Junior Executive types: people who are less focused on the job they’re currently doing in favor of ensuring they get the next job they want. An example that McGregor notes over and over was small villages run by CCP officials who have prioritized financial development over everything else – regional CCP official who want to say, report a newly-built factory will pressure banks to make unsafe loans, suborn labor groups to allow for unsafe conditions, order inspectors to ignore environmental control, it goes on and on. The local CCP party official knows he’ll get to report this immediate growth and will be long gone by the time these problems mature.

    The reviewing process is also political, which negates it’s meritocratic facade – if the CCP’s human-resources department marks an official as a low-performer, they’re implicitly saying that official’s boss didn’t supervise them adequately. They’re unwilling to do so, so no one gets really bad reviews. They’re also wary about marking anyone too highly (outside of a few edge cases or (more commonly) children of senior party members) because that might lead to more politically-connected officials getting passed over by these high performers. This leads to this weird system where a bunch of work is done to get high reviews, a bunch of work is done reviewing everyone, but the end result has everyone being marked pretty much the same and people getting positions based on their connection to the good-old-boy network.
    Propaganda
    The next area of party control is the tight grip they exercise around information. This is pretty straight-forward, but the outright reach of the propaganda department is staggering. Every single book, media source, TV broadcast, play – it’s all reviewed and approved by the CCP.

    An example of just how effective the practice can be is the famine and associated deaths following Mao’s Great Leap forward – somewhere between 35-40 million people died of starvation and, outside of a few party officials, people just don’t know about this. There is some knowledge that the great leap forward had some negative effects, but apparently public perception on this topic isn’t conclusive, especially among the younger generation who doesn’t have personal connection to it – they see it as a controversial policy choice by Mao that had both good and bad aftereffects. McGregor implies the current opinion on it isn’t “the largest government-direct famine in history” but instead “well, yes, maybe some people died, but it was great for our industrial capacity.”

    Another example of this control is the clamp-down following 1989’s demonstration in Tiananmen Square – discussion of the topic is banned, older people don’t talk about it and the younger people don’t know about it, other than as being a period of temporary instability. Maybe levels of information control aren’t good enough to completely eradicate knowledge of the topic, but it’s definitely good enough to muddy the waters enough.

    Unrelated digression:

    To a large part, the functioning government of China serves as a propaganda front for the CCP – while the actual decisions of state are made behind the closed doors of the CCP, they are normally announced and implemented by the government. This has the effect of when a decision made by CCP ends up being a disaster, the government can function as the designated fall guy. They can sack the minister or sub-minister who was officially responsible for the decision and the public gets to see that “justice” was done, but the powers who actually made the decision aren’t punished. These seems obvious to an outside observer, and maybe it is to people in China, but when the entirety of state media is pushing this same narrative, it tends to work.
    /digression

    Military:

    The final aspect of the CCP’s control is the military. The military is the CCP’s final power center and the one they will rely on if the people ever rise up. This leads to an almost fanatical devotion to keeping the military happy with and connected to the party. I admit, despite knowing that the PLA was the army of the CCP, not the army of China, I hadn’t really internalized this concept; I thought that saying the PLA was the people’s army was like calling the US military the people’s army: I guess the military does kind of work for the people, but directed by the government. In China, this isn’t the case. In fact, calls to nationalize or professionalize the military or make it independent are seen as being outright seditious within China. The military is seen as a necessary part of the CCP’s control; it does not serve either the country or the people.

    The CCP isn’t really even subtle about their dependence on the military. Divisions are based around the country within easy distance of major city centers, military officials are given broad license to make tons of money based off their position and retiring generals know they’ll get a cushy job on the board of a state-owned company. Roughly 1 in 3 personnel within the military are card-carrying party members and they’ve even maintained the commissar-style military system that even Stalin eventually abandoned.

    McGregor doesn’t really go too far into this topic, but reading about the CCPs dependence on the military kind of explains China’s growing recent militarism; the leaders of the CCP tend to defer to the military when it comes to military matters in order to keep them happy; this leads to greater military spending and investment and greater jingoism/expansionism.

    Corruption

    Having finished this book, I now no longer think that corruption is a removable weakness of China’s system, it’s an integral part. Essentially any decision being made in China requires the go-ahead of countless government and party officials, all of whom may have competing priorities for approving or denying your request. The Bureaucracy is just so large and complex that, absent some kind of motivating force (money in this case) practically nothing would get done.

    But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. CCP officials have ludicrously low official salaries (presumably in keeping with the socialist façade of the system) but in practice this means that officials who can’t or aren’t trying to rise up to the senior-level positions that actually have suitable compensation packages are forced to solicit and accept bribes to make a living.)

    Honestly the corruption aspect of the system is probably worth an effortpost all in its own. Suffice to say, however big a problem you think it is, it’s even worse than that. The official crackdowns on corruptions are intermittent, ineffective at actually curbing corruption and should be read more as a political sideshow than an effective anti-corruption effort. Improvement likely isn’t possible – the largest goal of the party is to prevent the rise of any power inside China that isn’t attached to the party. In service of this goal, they’ve jettisoned nearly every other ideal; new system, companies, policies and organizations are allowed to exist within China, but only under the auspices of the CCP.

    This basic fact means that the CCP is stunted; it can take periodic efforts to improve itself – but these efforts only go up to the point where they make the party look weak, at which point they fizzle. Independent anti-corruption task-forces can’t be set up, because those organizations would require the party ceding some of its authority to an outside force, which cannot happen. As such, anti-corruption purges take one of two flavors: either a new cadre rises to power and uses the omnipresent corruption to purge out their enemies OR something so blatantly wrong happens that public outrage demands a token action.

    Communism:

    I was surprised by how little communism itself came up during this book. McGregor’s perspective seems to be that China has completely abandoned any pretense of socialism and communism. They might make token nods at the glory of communism, and they’re definitely willing to denounce westerners as morally-corrupt capitalists, but there doesn’t seem to be a well-defined idea of what it means to be communist anymore in China.

    This is a question I’d still like answered – even after reading this book I don’t feel like I’ve got a good idea of what “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is, or if that’s also just a meaningless platitude. I know that Xi has talked a lot about the 100 year transition period that socialism requires, but that topic didn’t come up. If anyone can recommend a good source that talks about this, I’d love to read it.

    Final tidbit:

    An interesting point raised by this book was about China’s senior leadership. When a new Politburo or premier assumes power, they do so only because they were selected by the previous generation of political leadership; these old-timers retain significant influence over their appointees at the beginning of their tenure. When the new CCP leadership takes over, they’re taking over a lumbering Bureaucracy primarily staffed not by people loyal to them, but instead people loyal to the previous administration.

    The CCP’s goals and motivations don’t necessarily align with the new leader’s priorities. It isn’t until the new leaders are able to get rid of the previous generation, appoint their own people and train up a generation of new officials loyal to them that they can actually start making accomplishments.

    I suppose this is an obvious conclusion, but it really floored me – in China a leader’s lame-duck period is right after they come into power and they are at their most influential in the years and months immediately after leaving power. This likely explains why most CCP Premiers resisted leaving office and why Xi Jinping is trying to stay in power longer than his allowed number of terms.

    Summary

    Overall, this book left me incredibly pessimistic; this system just doesn’t seem stable enough to survive long-term. It’s basically a tradeoff; Chinese society has been willing to trade freedom for stability and economic improvement. This deal, however, has resulted in a society helmed by a lumbering and unresponsive Bureaucracy and an economic system riddled with graft and economic disparity that pursues development like a drug addict does their next fix. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in China. It’s a great primer on the environment that gave rise to Xi and the autocratic decisions he’s been making. As a result of this book I have updated my personal estimation that I will live to see the collapse of the China’s current system of governance from around 10% to around 40-50% now.

    1. Randy M

      in China a leader’s lame-duck period is right after they come into power and they are at their most influential in the years and months immediately after leaving power. This likely explains why most CCP Premiers resisted leaving office and why Xi Jinping is trying to stay in power longer than his allowed number of terms.

      Nice post, but I don’t get this. You are saying that leaders have more influence after leaving power, and this is why these Premiers try to stay in office? Seems backwards.

      1. Conrad Honcho

        Because when they’ve been there for a long time, or when they’re leaving, the “Deep State” is all people selected/promoted by the long time/leaving leader. They wouldn’t have those jobs if they weren’t on the same page as the long time/leaving leader.

      2. Statismagician

        Power is a function of how long you’ve had your position, how much of the government owes you something. Premier Statismagician wants to retain power because in the last months of my administration I’ve finally been able to start doing (whatever it was I wanted to do). I have if not more, than at least not less power right after I leave office because the new man hasn’t been able to appoint his own officials yet (so the government is still doing what I want), but also there’s now a mostly-powerless figurehead who I helped appoint (and so who therefore owes me).

        There is a Yes, Minister clip which explains this better, but I can’t find it right now – the ‘Power is permanence, Bernard!’ one.

      3. Aftagley

        Nice post, but I don’t get this. You are saying that leaders have more influence after leaving power, and this is why these Premiers try to stay in office? Seems backwards.

        Good point, that wasn’t clear.

        I don’t mean to stay they have more power after leaving, but instead that it takes them a bunch of time once in positions of power to actually translate that to “real” power. This frequently doesn’t happen until the last few years of their term, after which previous premiers were forced out by the constitution.

        Basically, as soon as they’ve got the mojo to enforce policy changes, they have to leave. Viewed through this lense, Xi Jinping’s modification of the system makes sense – the previous system didn’t work.

        1. Randy M

          Basically, power in a position is a function of time served? And that power level is more or less retained upon leaving office. Like a social influence version of a pension based on the salary of the last year of service.

          1. Aftagley

            Kind of, but not really.

            Basically, power in the CCP is relationship based, not necessarily position based. You implement this guys policy because he helped you get promoted 10 years ago, or you know that your boss is good buddies with him, or you’re coming up for promotion soon and want him to help you out. This network of influence just takes time to get built up and entrenched, especially in areas that the new leader has never worked in before.

            The networks do eventually get built up, but it takes a while – you have to wait for the leaders the previous guy prormoted to get retired. You have to wait for the guys you want to get promoted to rise up through the ranks… etc.

            All of the closely tracks to time served, but it’s not a direct function of it. Presumably a leader who didn’t bother to engage in this kind of networking wouldn’t be able to get the benefits of the system (but in reality, you don’t make it senior leadership if you’re not good at this kind of thing.)

          2. Randy M

            All of the closely tracks to time served, but it’s not a direct function of it.

            I gotcha. I was using “as a function of” incorrectly implying a direct causation rather than the time allowing for more opportunities to place the personnel that can enact change.

      4. Nick

        I think he must mean they’re most influential in the years and months immediately before and after leaving power. It doesn’t make sense otherwise.

    2. Conrad Honcho

      Fascinating, thanks for the write-up. I did not know the PLA was an instrument of the party, and not the government.

      1. Aftagley

        Thank you!

        Yeah, it seriously floored me as well. Selected quotes from the book:

        We must resolutely resist wrongfull thinking such as the de-politicization of the military and nationalization of the military [wrote a member of the central military commission] and ensure the PLA always hold the party’s flag as its own flag and the party’s will as its own will

        Our army has the strong leadershiup of the party, takes actions based on the party’s command, always upholds the party’s banner as our banner, follows the party’s direction as our direction and makes the party’s will our willo. Our army’s history is a history of upholding the party’s absolute leadership over the army… The party’s absolute leadership over the army… is the core of the nature and basis of the tradition of the PLA.
        [PLA commentary released during the 2005 Army Day]

        Western hostile forces will spare no money and resort to all means to “westernize” and “divide” the PLA and propagate the idea of “de-partying the military.”

        I don’t think I’d ever seen as system where the military was set up to be an explicitly political body. Even in authoritarian systems the military is still help up, at least in theory, as an independent body.

        1. Statismagician

          I think you’re looking at it the wrong way – any system where the military isn’t explicitly apolitical, expect it to be very political indeed. Cf. Egypt, where the Army runs some two-digit percentage of the economy, or the Soviet Union, whose Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was also loyal to the CCCP rather than the Soviet Union (had they been meaningfully separable), or Thailand (which has had, what, a dozen military coups in the last century?), I think I say fairly, essentially any government not set up/massively reformed in the 20th Century by/in the deliberate image of a Western European power.

    3. Enkidum

      Thanks for the summary, sounds like a worthwhile book.

      An example of just how effective the practice can be is the famine and associated deaths following Mao’s Great Leap forward – somewhere between 35-40 million people died of starvation and, outside of a few party officials, people just don’t know about this.

      This is definitely false, and essentially physically impossible. You’re talking about well over 5% of the country dying in a three-year period that is within many people’s living memories. It’s covered in school textbooks. That being said, it’s certainly true that they’re not honest about it at all, and in general the attitude towards 20th-century history in China leaves something to be desired.

      McGregor implies the current opinion on it isn’t “the largest government-direct famine in history” but instead “well, yes, maybe some people died, but it was great for our industrial capacity.”

      I think “government-directed” is overstating things, my impression is that unlike the Ukraine famines, it was almost entirely the result of incompetence, bad luck, terrible priorities, and unreliable information transfer. But yes, the standard government line would, I think, be more like your second example. This is a pretty typical way for history texts to consider numerous such events in China (and, dare I say it, even in our own countries).

      Another example of this control is the clamp-down following 1989’s demonstration in Tiananmen Square – discussion of the topic is banned, older people don’t talk about it and the younger people don’t know about it, other than as being a period of temporary instability. Maybe levels of information control aren’t good enough to completely eradicate knowledge of the topic, but it’s definitely good enough to muddy the waters enough.

      This is much more accurate. In my limited experience, most young people simply have no idea what happened, and I have never heard a Chinese person of any age talk about 1989 in China (though I’ve heard plenty of ex-pats discuss it). However at the same time, from the list of banned search terms you can figure out that something happened around that time, and so I think the average young person is aware of it as a dangerous area, much like a 10-year-old in a repressed religious family might be aware of sex.

      I now no longer think that corruption is a removable weakness of China’s system, it’s an integral part.

      This is 100% true. In general, people from non-corrupt countries have no understanding of how pervasive corruption is in the rest of the world. And China is pretty bad example. I remember my wife telling me about a Chinese parent at our kids’ daycare in Vancouver trying to stuff a wad of bills into the hands of one of the workers there – this is just standard operating procedure there. Everyone is on the graft, all the time.

      I was surprised by how little communism itself came up during this book. McGregor’s perspective seems to be that China has completely abandoned any pretense of socialism and communism. They might make token nods at the glory of communism, and they’re definitely willing to denounce westerners as morally-corrupt capitalists, but there doesn’t seem to be a well-defined idea of what it means to be communist anymore in China.

      Yes. Outside a few weirdos writing political theory books, no one gives a shit. The CCP is a very effective means of advancement, and a power to be wary of. That’s it.

      As a result of this book I have updated my personal estimation that I will live to see the collapse of the China’s current system of governance from around 10% to around 40-50% now.

      I have heard similar pronouncements from many people, going back thirty years now. Hell, I may have made some of them. And I always wonder why people think this.

      t’s basically a tradeoff; Chinese society has been willing to trade freedom for stability and economic improvement. This deal, however, has resulted in a society helmed by a lumbering and unresponsive Bureaucracy and an economic system riddled with graft and economic disparity that pursues development like a drug addict does their next fix.

      Yes, and? Note that your second sentence could be used verbatim by many people on this board to describe the US. I’m not trying to say that the two countries are the same (though there is a lot more similarity between them, regarding many of the points you’ve brought up, than I think you’ve noticed). I’m also not trying to say that the US isn’t in many important respects better, morally speaking (though I would suggest that a lot of the supposed moral differences are essentially pure tribalism).

      What I am mostly trying to say is that I’m not sure why a lumbering corrupt society can’t just keep on being lumbering and corrupt for decades, if not centuries. History seems full of such examples.

      I think population density and international pressures may make the current Chinese situation qualitatively different from previous historical examples. But the fact that a political system is full of awfulness and evil, as well as outright incompetence, doesn’t seem to point in any direct way to its demise.

      ETA: Again, thanks for this, it really does sound interesting and I agree with most of it.

      1. Aftagley

        This is definitely false, and essentially physically impossible. You’re talking about well over 5% of the country dying in a three-year period that is within many people’s living memories.

        Possibly, although having read this book I don’t personally agree. Yes, people know that starvation was rampant during this time period, and people are aware that government policies maybe had something to do with it, but by and large the dots haven’t been connected. The book dives pretty deeply into just how much research and investigation officials had to do to compile these figures in the 2000s – the data didn’t exist until then.

        It also includes several interviews with chinese people who knew people who died, but didn’t realize until the last decade or so that these weren’t just isolated tragedies. By and large, people couldn’t move – people outside the effected regions coulnd’t speak about what happened and after it was done future discussion of the famine was discouraged. Maybe this is a bit overstated, but I don’t think by much.

        I think “government-directed” is overstating things, my impression is that unlike the Ukraine famines, it was almost entirely the result of incompetence, bad luck, terrible priorities, and unreliable information transfer.

        I stand by it. The famine came from:
        1. Peasants being taken from personal farms that they knew about to massive and unproductive communal farms.
        2. Mao ordering that the peasants shift from farming (which makes things to you need to live) to production (which doesn’t). The whole back-yard metal refineries thing actually happened.
        3. Communist leaders who felt pressure to declare that their people’s republic could outperform the capitalistic system that existed previously would make up false harvest results, then tax on those fake numbers. Extra grain wouldn’t be given out even when people were dying. Mcgregor includes interviews where people claim that their family members starved in towns while the local CCP’s granary was full.

        ETA:

        However at the same time, from the list of banned search terms you can figure out that something happened around that time, and so I think the average young person is aware of it as a dangerous area, much like a 10-year-old in a repressed religious family might be aware of sex

        Ah, wait, I see where you’re coming from now. Ok, maybe this is a better analog for the famine – they know something happened, but the details are vague and largely not cared about outside a few devoted weirdos.

        I have heard similar pronouncements from many people, going back thirty years now. Hell, I may have made some of them. And I always wonder why people think this…
        What I am mostly trying to say is that I’m not sure why a lumbering corrupt society can’t just keep on being lumbering and corrupt for decades, if not centuries. History seems full of such examples.

        A great quote that The Party uses to describe the CCP is that it’s constantly “Decaying and Evolving” or “Atrophying and Adapting.” It’s in an weird arms race where instead of fixing problems it just grafts a new body onto the existing system that solves the immediate problem while making the underlying system less tenable.

        I don’t mean to claim that China will collapse or have a revolution or anything like that, but the consensus-based authoritarianism described in this book just can’t last (my personal bet is that China will reorient itself into an authoritarian system based around a strong central leader and the overall power of the party will drop off in favor of power centralized around Xi).

        1. broblawsky

          I don’t mean to claim that China will collapse or have a revolution or anything like that, but the consensus-based authoritarianism described in this book just can’t last (my personal bet is that China will reorient itself into an authoritarian system based around a strong central leader and the overall power of the party will drop off in favor of power centralized around Xi).

          How likely is it that Xi will be able to transfer his power to someone else when he dies? Succession in totalitarian systems is always fraught.

          1. Nick

            That’s mostly down to his choosing a successor and getting them well positioned before he dies, right? I suppose a sudden death could cause chaos, but Putin, for instance, seems to have been thinking about this like 10+ years ago with protege Medvedev. Does Xi have a successor in mind?

          2. Enkidum

            I dunno, I guess I’d place the odds of China’s government collapsing around the time of succession higher than the US’s government collapsing in that same time period? But not much.

            Inertia goes a long way. Unless there’s real material issues (which thus far the CCP has done a real good job avoiding), I don’t see China falling to pieces.

          3. Aftagley

            Didn’t Medvedev just get fired by Putin?

            Kind of, but only fired in the sense of “Hey, I need you out of this particular position for a moment so that I can reform the system in such a way that will allow me to remain in power, don’t worry, you’ll remain in a position of influence in this new government,” not “You’re done, sucker, get out of the government.”

            Medvedev is still the heir apparent (at least from an outside perspective) and he’s the deputy head of their security council.

          4. JayT

            My understanding was that deputy head of the security council was a big step down, and he was basically being put out to pasture and was just given a job to save some face. Is that not the case?

          5. Enkidum

            My understanding was that deputy head of the security council was a big step down, and he was basically being put out to pasture and was just given a job to save some face. Is that not the case?

            My understanding is that no one I’ve read anything from seems to have a damn clue what’s going on. Putin certainly seems to be cementing his power for the long term, but what the specific machinations actually mean for any of the players other than him is really hard to parse.

          6. cassander

            Putin should just have himself elevated to Czar. That would eliminate the need for these shenanigans, would almost certainly be popular with the russians, and we’d get to bring back a lot of fun pageantry.

        2. Enkidum

          Somehow I missed this initial reply… Thanks for the clarifications.

          I think I originally misread you as people not realizing a famine had happened at all, which is not the case, but not exactly what you’re arguing either.

          It also seems like your “government-directed” is my “incompetence and bad priorities”. I just meant that no one in the government wanted a famine to happen. It certainly happened under their watch, for predictable reasons that were entirely their fault. Which is I think all you mean.

      2. DavidFriedman

        Aside from specific cases, such as the famine, the striking fact, that I would think would be hard to miss, is that China was a dirt poor country when Mao died, after decades of communist rule, and is much richer now. At least by Coase and Wang’s account, after Mao died top officials could go abroad, observed how much richer the rest of the world was, and concluded that they must be doing something wrong, although they were not sure what. That led to an openness to experiment that ultimately produced very large improvements.

        Do current Chinese recognize the pattern — economic stagnation under Mao, followed by rapid improvement after his death? If so, how do they fit that into the idea of Mao as a great leader?

        1. Aftagley

          Do current Chinese recognize the pattern — economic stagnation under Mao, followed by rapid improvement after his death? If so, how do they fit that into the idea of Mao as a great leader?

          By and large, no.

          Your narrative makes sense if your conception of China and the CCP starts with Mao. CCP propaganda, however, has been very careful to ensure that the public consciousness of the national narrative starts in 1840 or so, at the start of the “century of humiliation.”

          The narrative in short: early 1800s – China is rich an stable. Then foreigners conspire to steal China’s wealth and destroy the central government because these foreigners are evil. Any historical culpability or nuanced factors of this time period that explain why China was weak enough to be completely taken over by foreigners is mostly ignored. This trend of evil foreigners subjugating China continues and culminates in the Japanese invasion, subjugation and pillaging of China during WWII.

          In comes Mao who manages to repel the Japanese. At this point, however, China is at it’s absolute lowest point. Yes, the next 30-40 years don’t have much economic development, but in the CCP’s narrative, this is due to just how ground into the dust China had been by the previous century. Any failings during Mao’s reign are just the result of how difficult a circumstance he inherited was and any subsequent successes after his death are a result of the extensive groundwork he laid.

          I’m not exaggerating too much here. You’ll apparently still see leaders in China claiming their decisions were made after studying the writings of Mao and when announcing successes they will credit Mao’s wisdom in leading to them. There is some acceptance of Mao’s failings… but not that many. He’s still very much the wellspring of CCP’s history and continued legitimacy.

        2. Enkidum

          I think @aftagley has it correct in terms of the official line. Mao himself is still venerated by mostly everyone, think about the equivalent of the quasi-religious attitude towards the American Founding Fathers, with all the fables about cherry trees and ignoring all the slave rape and so on. Pump that kind of attitude up by about 30%, make any overt criticism illegal, and you have something not unlike the modern Chinese attitude to Mao.

          It’s although worth noting that almost all Mao’s critics (Jung Chang being a major and important exception in the West) would agree that he did accomplish many great things. For instance, eliminating the drug problem, which was truly massive after a century of forced opium sales – it turns out you absolutely can win a drug war, all you need is a totalitarian state, so many of the drug warriors have the right idea. Also, raising literacy rates, eliminating foot binding, at the very least playing a critical role in kicking out the Japanese, etc. And the CCP was initially vastly less corrupt than the KMT (although Chang would say that Mao and his immediate circle were never anything other than outright bandits).

          That being said, I think most honest accounts would agree that from, say, 1955-1976, Mao was an unmitigated disaster for China and was responsible for the largest death count in history, both deliberately and through utter incompetence, and also devastated the economy and China’s standing in the world. And there’s barely even a hint of that in the official line. The best you’ll get is “he made some mistakes”.

          But I do think that @aftagley understates the degree of cynicism many Chinese have towards their government. Everyone knows their local CCP cadres are just in it for themselves, and this attitude spreads. Other than a general love of “China” which seems to be borderline sincere, I’m not sure there isn’t any set of beliefs that is shared by a significant fraction of the population that couldn’t turn on a dime, given the right circumstances, including the sainthood of Mao. But those circumstances clearly haven’t arisen yet.

          ETA: I do this a lot, but I’m making myself sound like far more of an expert than I am. I’ve read a bunch of books on China, I’ve spent a few months there, and my wife is from the mainland, but I can’t, for example, read Chinese or speak any dialect beyond a few very basic tourist-y phrases, and I’ve never done any kind of formal investigations.

          1. Evan Þ

            To question one minor point in your very enlightening comment, I was under the impression (from reading a few stories about British and American missionaries during the Nationalist period) that it was the Nationalists who eliminated foot binding? Or were they unable to actually enforce their ban, leaving it to the Communists to actually eliminate it in practice?

          2. Enkidum

            that it was the Nationalists who eliminated foot binding? Or were they unable to actually enforce their ban, leaving it to the Communists to actually eliminate it in practice?

            I thought the latter was true, but to be honest I don’t remember where I got that information from, so it could be just as much propaganda as anything else.

          3. FormerRanger

            My experience in China (admittedly 10 years ago) with both museums (such as the big Army Museum near Tienanmen Square) and people (tour guides, taxi drivers, etc.) is that the standard line on Mao is “his decisions/policies were 80% correct.” One is never told which 20% were incorrect, but it gives them an out to show they don’t think he was a god.

          4. Enkidum

            “his decisions/policies were 80% correct.” One is never told which 20% were incorrect,

            Oh yeah I’d forgotten that line. It’s a clever out, without ever having to commit yourself to a specific criticism.

        3. cassander

          @Aftagley

          I’d second Aftagley’s account. Mao was a great leader who heroically stopped the bleeding and laid the groundwork for the current prosperity that his party is bringing to the people. This is not accurate history, but it’s definitely the party line.

    4. Nick

      I don’t have anything intelligent to add here, but this is a good summary and thanks for doing this.

    5. anonymousskimmer

      An effortpost I actually had the interest and stamina necessary to finish.

      Thank you very much Aftagley, and to all those who commented afterward (especially Enkidum).

    6. FrankistGeorgist

      I’m surely falling prey to some kind of cultural stereotype fallacy but this all makes the CCP sound very Chinese in the sense of a warlord/emperor who wrestles with a massive bureaucratic civil service and a personal rather than national army. Just substitute confucianism-legalism-taoism-etc with a new state ideology. Of course I wonder if that’s like saying Stalin acted quite Tsar-ish-ly. Maybe all happy dictatorships are alike, and all unhappy democracies are unhappy in different ways.

    7. John Schilling

      Thank you very much for this review; I’ve just now ordered a copy of The Party, and will no doubt have more to say on the matter. Would that I had known of it when I was in the business of dealing with the Chinese government.

      This, however

      It’s basically a tradeoff; Chinese society has been willing to trade freedom for stability and economic improvement. […] As a result of this book I have updated my personal estimation that I will live to see the collapse of the China’s current system of governance from around 10% to around 40-50% now.

      seems off. If the tradeoff is for stability and economic improvement, which I think is correct, then one of the things the get out of that deal is stability. Yes, the associated corruption and bureaucracy limits the scope of the economic improvement, but they’re doing far better than India and I don’t see anyone forecasting the probable demise of the Indian government. They’re doing far, far better than North Korea, and people forecasting the probable demise of House Kim have roughly a factory-farm henhouse worth of egg on their face.

      The bit where governments must match the economic development of the western industrial democracies or collapse under popular demand for iPhones and sensible minivans, turns out not to be the case.

      1. Enkidum

        If the tradeoff is for stability and economic improvement, which I think is correct, then one of the things the get out of that deal is stability.

        +1. Especially when it turns out you can get the iPhones and sensible minivans anyways.

    8. bean

      That was very interesting. Thank you, and I’ll have to check it out. I will say that a lot of what you describe sounds like the latter days of the Soviet Union, only with just enough safety margin that they’re not on the verge of economic collapse.

      1. Viliam

        Some things resonated with my childhood experience of socialist Czechoslovakia. For example that the Party (it’s only called “the Party”, because obviously there is no need to specify which one) runs a human resource department for the entire country.

        There was a file on every person, starting at elementary school. If you said something inappropriate about Lenin while you were at elementary school, and you had enough bad luck that some asshole teacher actually put it into your file, you could forget about getting a good job, ever. The file contained information on your skills and your “political reliability”. If you seemed like a person who could make a successful career, you were invited to join the Party. To decline the invitation meant to decline your career. For example it meant that you could have some kind of job, but you could never become a head of department. Because when someone was considered for promotion, their file was checked, and some things were an automatical “no”.

        The file also contained information about your relatives, so for example saying something inappropriate as a child could have ruined your parent’s careers, if you had the bad luck that someone noticed it and made a record.

        Remembering this, it is very easy to understand how e.g. the currently young people in China have no knowledge of the famine: their parents never mention it, their textbooks never mention it, the internet is censored, so where could they get the knowledge from? It doesn’t matter that their parents have it in their living memory, if they are afraid to talk about it at home, because they know that the child saying a wrong thing at a wrong place could doom the entire family. (It is quite difficult to explain your child why they need to shut up, if the very information about “why they need to shut up” is what can get you in serious trouble.)

        1. Enkidum

          So, you’re absolutely right about the general level of life-long surveillance and the possibility of offhand remarks leading to trouble years down the line, etc. But I really, really want to assure you that

          the currently young people in China have no knowledge of the famine: their parents never mention it, their textbooks never mention it, the internet is censored, so where could they get the knowledge from?

          is complete nonsense. Everyone knows about the famine. It is in elementary school textbooks.

          Official government sources are dishonest about the size and causes of the famine, as has been discussed elsewhere in this thread. But that’s a quite different thing from what you’re claiming.

        2. Lambert

          > their parents never mention it, their textbooks never mention it, the internet is censored

          I wonder where one can acquire a load of samizdat leaflets, a large weather balloon and a GPS-guided unmanned glider.

    9. Erusian

      This is a question I’d still like answered – even after reading this book I don’t feel like I’ve got a good idea of what “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is, or if that’s also just a meaningless platitude. I know that Xi has talked a lot about the 100 year transition period that socialism requires, but that topic didn’t come up. If anyone can recommend a good source that talks about this, I’d love to read it.

      You can read Xi Jing Ping thought and its associated commentaries. The Chinese will trip all over themselves to tell you their putative ideology.

      More broadly, Communism has something of a practical-theoretical problem. Socialism is the succeeding economic arrangement that follows capitalism. However, in practical terms revolutionary socialism has never succeeded in an advanced capitalist country. Its great successes were in backward countries: ex-colonies, China, and Russia.

      Mao’s response was basically to go, “Well then, our revolution is a revolution of the masses instead of the proletariat.” The distinction being that Mao basically detached the idea of being a capitalist worker from being a capitalistically exploited working class. Basically, the peasant class could be exploited and become revolutionary and establish socialism. This creates what Mao called ‘early socialism’, a period where the socialist revolution has put the socialists into power but the conditions are wrong for establishing ultimate socialism. Basically, the peasantry could put socialists in power and then the socialists could advance through modes of production in a socialist manner to reach socialism rather than having to accelerate through actual bourgeois capitalism.

      This concept of early socialism overthrows a lot of orthodox Marxist thought and is a direct challenge to Marxism-Leninism. It’s also proved remarkably flexible though. For example, collectivization in the Soviet Union was seen as necessary because if the basic mode of production was capitalist in any way, society would inevitably become capitalist under Marxist-Leninist and Stalinist theory. The labor relations created social ones. In contrast, when Mao’s attempt to leave early socialism through the Great Leap Forward failed it was possible for the Maoist to back off by simply acknowledging they had not effectively left early socialism and the country remained too peasant and backward to effectively implement socialism. There was no fear that returning to peasants producing in fields would lead to the inevitable death of socialism.

      This attempt, to develop the country and leave early socialism, has been a key driver of Chinese socialism for a long time. And they met a lot less success than the USSR prior to the 1980s, when Chinese with Socialist Characteristics was developed. The idea was basically that a socialist version of market capitalism could be formed in order to undergo a period of time that would develop the Chinese economy in a basically capitalist manner, allowing it to escape early socialism by building wealth under the control of the socialist party which could then use it to reach socialism.

      Xi Jing Ping thought is an elaboration on this theme, much more confident in its application because now it appears to have worked. It emphasizes that the people who thought this quasi-capitalist stage would be a minor transitional period are wrong and that it may have to continue for decades or even a century or more until China has surpassed the west even in per capita terms. It emphasizes the integrity of China against foreign and reactionary forces. And it emphasizes how the control of the Communist party dedicated to socialist principles can continue to allow seemingly non-Marxist elements in service of the people like private corporations, at least until the ultimate transition to glorious socialism. In effect, that China has a socialist version of the capitalist mode of production and it must keep both its core socialist values and this mode of production until the ultimate socialist mode can be established.

      Like everything, there’s agreement and dissent. But the CCP closely controls serious dissent under the idea of cultural progress and political unity. The general impression I’ve gotten is that there are basically four Chinese attitudes towards this:
      1.) True believers who understand and care about the theory. This is a minority but hugely disproportionate in the Communist Party.
      2.) Opposition, either loyal Communists are not. Also a minority but hugely disproportionate in politics.
      3.) Pragmatists, people who understand these theories but are mostly interested in how effective they are. A minority but vastly overrepresented among the non-party elite. These mostly support the status quo, partly because of the coercive mechanisms of the Communist Party. However, if you get them drunk they will usually respond with some combination of patriotism and arguing it’s working due to economic growth.
      4.) Apathetic citizens, who don’t care about your high-fallutin’ Communist theories and just want things like peace, stability, wealth, freedom, etc. The vast majority of people. Their relationship to state power is basically antagonistic but not hostile: they just see it as something to deal with if it gets in their way.

      1. Aftagley

        You can read Xi Jing Ping thought and its associated commentaries. The Chinese will trip all over themselves to tell you their putative ideology.

        Xi Jing Ping thought is an elaboration on this theme, much more confident in its application because now it appears to have worked. It emphasizes that the people who thought this quasi-capitalist stage would be a minor transitional period are wrong and that it may have to continue for decades or even a century or more until China has surpassed the west even in per capita terms.

        Thank you, this is a great crystallization of a concept I had a fuzzy understanding of, but couldn’t explain anywhere near this well.

        This leads to the question: how active a process is this for Chinese leadership? Do they wake up in the morning and try and figure out how best they can reduce the length of early socialism? Do they have it more as a fuzzy end goal that they hope will just arise out of their policies and leave it at that? Do they care about it in theory, but in practice not really worry about it? Or is this just lip service they’re paying to their organizations past ideological dictates?

        The reason I ask is because some of the end result of their policies will make a transition to full socialism harder. They’ve got to know that the beneficiaries of this increasing wealth inequality will fight it.

        1. Erusian

          I do find it fascinating how few people actually listen to what people say their beliefs are. I’ve read what Putin says too. They… actually tend to be pretty honest. Xi Jing Ping thought openly calls for a strong central leader as a hedge against foreign influence, for example. If you want the answer to the question of, “Why should there be someone in total control like Xi?” Xi’s response will be, “Good question, here’s an essay on the subject.” Disagreeing further would be a bad idea. But there is a justification beyond ‘shut up, got mine’.

          This leads to the question: how active a process is this for Chinese leadership? Do they wake up in the morning and try and figure out how best they can reduce the length of early socialism? Do they have it more as a fuzzy end goal that they hope will just arise out of their policies and leave it at that? Do they care about it in theory, but in practice not really worry about it? Or is this just lip service they’re paying to their organizations past ideological dictates?

          The reason I ask is because some of the end result of their policies will make a transition to full socialism harder. They’ve got to know that the beneficiaries of this increasing wealth inequality will fight it.

          The Chinese leadership is famously closed. However, I will say they’ve done a lot to make sure the capitalist class in China is under their thumb. Chinese billionaires tend to mouth off about how their role in society is to make China stronger and pay taxes. And the Chinese government has power over its oligarchs that other people can only dream of. If they get uppity, it’s not unusual for one to disappear. Their equivalent to basically a Taylor Swift or a Charlize Theron disappeared. She reappeared weeks later with signed a confession that she’d been avoiding taxes, groveling before the party and promising to make amends. There was no real backlash.

          Also, keep in mind that (according to socialist theory) the transition to socialism will occur because the capitalist mode of production fails. Basically, capitalism will have falling profits and they will increase exploitation and dictatorial control to try and maintain their position. This crisis of capitalism is supposed to happen naturally. Presumably they see themselves exiting early socialism by entering this socialist-capitalist mode of production, which they expect will eventually fail. When it does, the former capitalists will not be allowed to seize control of government for their selfish ends and the transition will instead happen more peacefully.

          (Of course, the corruption and the fact that the CCP gets wealthy off industry ties is a problem… one that our glorious leader is solving! All power to the soviets and their glorious leader Xi! *cough cough*)

      2. hf

        This agrees with what I heard from a young man of Chinese ancestry, though he sounded more hostile towards the theory.

    10. Mark V Anderson

      I found it fascinating how similar the personnel policies of China are to many of today’s giant multi-national corporations. The anointed ones thought to be future leaders are often moved from job to job every few years to give them experience in lots of areas. Of course this tends to result in a lot of short term thinking. The anointed come up with two year plans that greatly increase sales or profits right away, even though it may destroy the division in five years, after the anointed have moved on. In my experience a lot of big firms are very well managed, so they get around this somehow, but for some firms it is fatal.

      This short term thinking will often destroy the company after a while, so the firm goes out of business, or at least has to do a major restructuring. Scary to think what the equivalent of this would be for China.

      1. Matt M

        I’ve been meaning to post about this for some time (may do it in a future OT still), but it occurred to me that I’ve been in “rotational” sort of jobs/companies my entire career, and the longer I spend in such environments, the more convinced I become that it’s a really bad idea (although not exactly for the reasons you claim)…

    11. Aevylmar

      McGregor doesn’t really go too far into this topic, but reading about the CCPs dependence on the military kind of explains China’s growing recent militarism; the leaders of the CCP tend to defer to the military when it comes to military matters in order to keep them happy; this leads to greater military spending and investment and greater jingoism/expansionism.

      My immediate response to this is, “this is the scariest paragraph in this essay. In fact, this is the scariest paragraph I have read this year, and probably these last several years.”

      A brief explanation: I’ve been reading about the Empire of Japan, from the Meiji restoration to the post-WW2 reconstruction, and this paragraph set off the alarm bells that say ‘history is repeating itself.’

      There were a *lot* of elements that made for WW2 (the de-facto assassinocracy, for instance), but one of the main ones was the influence of the military on politics. The official ideology held that Japan needed a powerful military so as to be ready to defend itself from foreign attack (those treacherous western bandits, same as China), and so both the Army and the Navy had veto powers over any government that formed: Army and Navy ministers both legally had to be serving officers, and the Army and Navy were both organized

      The result of this was that any government needed the support of the military in order to do anything. The usual way to do that was to promise that the military could do what it wanted – usually, have a lot more money. Except that this resulted in the Army and the Navy having to justify these increases in spending, either via use, or by developing complicated war plans to let them crush their neighbors. Which lead, pretty directly, to them crushing their neighbors because they had their complicated war plans and “now’s the perfect moment to use it!”

      I don’t want to overstate this. The combination of patriotism and politeness in the Japanese culture of the period made it very easy for superiors to end up in a bubble in which they got only good news, so there was a tendency to enormously overrate their strength because everyone at each level was adjusting up 20% for Japanese Spirit, and a little more knowledge might have lead to them not attacking the US. The fact that military decision-making was highly decentralized, and *not* under the control of the ruling clique, made everything much worse, since you only needed *one* of the top guy and the man on the spot to have a stupid idea for it to work. And the Army-Navy rivalry in Japan was a major spur to the process of armament, since both sides were competing not only with non-military projects, but with each other; if the Navy got a new battleship, the Army wanted another two divisions, and so on.

      But your description still makes me very worried.

        1. Aevylmar

          Yes, sorry. That was supposed to be “were both organized enough to prevent any general or admiral from serving against the disapproval of his fellow officers.” Or something to that effect.

  28. Oscar Sebastian

    With multiple Republican senators walking out in the middle of the impeachment trial and thus failing to do their job, should they be allowed to vote on the verdict? If a regular US citizen walked out in the middle of a trial they were a member of the jury for, the punishment would be severe. Why should senators be treated differently?

    1. Thegnskald

      Because they’re more like the judge than the jury, and having anybody who had the power to discipline them would invalidate the outcome of the process.

      1. Conrad Honcho

        Yes, the only people with the power to punish them and make them not “allowed” to vote on such matters is you, the voter. If you do not like what they did, do not vote for them.

        I do not think the House Democrats should have been “allowed” to impeach a president for things that

        1. Are not crimes.

        2. Are not morally wrong.

        3. They were unable to bring forth a single witness to testify that they personally witnessed the president ordering the thing that is not a crime and is not morally wrong.

        And yet they did, because the House has the sole power of impeachment. In order to make them not “allowed” to do that again, I plan on voting for a Republican for my representative in November.

        1. Eigengrau

          @Conrad Honcho

          1. The consensus among constitutional lawyers/scholars (including, previously, Trump’s own impeachment defense lawyers) is that impeachment does not require the violation of a criminal statute. Given the special nature of the presidency, any sort of egregious abuse of power can be sufficient. Past precedent for impeachment include obstruction of congress by ignoring lawful subpoenas, obstruction of justice through perjury or witness/evidence tampering, and abuse of power by covertly using the apparatus of the government for personal and political gain in violation of individual rights. Not all of the actions involved — of which these previous articles of impeachment were comprised — were criminal acts.

          So both the Constitution and past precedent are not on your side here.

          That said, Trump’s actions with regard to Ukraine could be regarded as a form of bribery. Indeed, a House Judiciary Committee report — supplementary to the impeachment articles — found that he likely committed bribery and wire fraud by withholding Congressionally approved foreign aid in exchange for the announcement of an investigation of his political opponent in the upcoming election. Why they didn’t include the word “bribery” in the articles themselves I’m not sure; it could be that it is easier to establish a pattern of abuse via impeachment precedent than it is to establish bribery beyond a reasonable doubt via criminal precedent.

          Either way, it is not as if the House’s sole power of impeachment is being abused here. There are clear acts of abuse by the President which rise to the level of impeachable conduct. They are emphatically not impeaching him over policy disagreements, no matter how much they find his policies unethical.

          2. Morally, I struggle to see how it is okay to use presidential authority to smear ones’ rivals in a way that only benefits oneself. Was Nixon acting ethically when he similarly commandeered law enforcement to investigate and intimidate his political enemies? Had Trump been acting in good faith, he would have — at the very, very least — tipped off the DOJ/FBI to Biden’s activities and let them investigate privately, rather than running a covert shadow diplomacy/PR campaign through his personal lawyer and two bona fide fraudsters, circumventing congress and official US foreign policy in the process. Had Trump been acting in anything like good faith, he would not have asked for a public announcement of an investigation into US citizens by the Ukrainian government, but a private investigation by the US government. And even in that case he would have had to be extraordinarily careful about the way in which he “asks”.

          3. See Trump’s Impeachment Article II — Obstruction of Congress. Most of the witnesses who spoke to Trump directly were blocked from testifying, as were relevant documents. The scope of this obstruction is unprecedented, at least matching Nixon’s (for which he was to be impeached).

          Of course, there was still something like a dozen witnesses who testified to the scheme, and plenty of documentary evidence corroborating their claims. It strains credulity to the extreme to suggest that Trump wasn’t involved. Is your defense here that none of the witnesses — that is, of those not blocked from testifying — testified to hearing Trump personally say something as direct and concise as “give me a Biden scandal and I’ll release the aid”? That seems like an unreasonable standard of evidence to me.

          On the other hand, there have been multiple instances where Trump, Giuliani, and Mulvaney appear to have publicly admitted to the whole thing, using the “yeah we did it but it was no big deal” defense. So there’s that too.

          Finally, there is no shortage of potentially impeachable criminal acts the Democrats could have pursued instead of this. If you recall, Trump ran a fraud university, a fraud charity, has been accused of sexual assault by 20+ women, obstructed justice throughout the Russia scandal, and is a likely tax cheat. Plus, Clinton had a special counsel appointed for a shady real estate deal he was involved with 15 years prior to his presidency, which eventually led to his impeachment — can you even imagine if the Democrats pursued every shady thing involving Trump throughout his life with the same zeal? They’d run of out prosecutors in DC!

          1. sharper13

            1. Bribery wasn’t included in the articles of impeachment because even if you assume 100% of the accusations are true, Trump’s conduct still doesn’t meet the legal definition because no one received anything personally of value (like money, for example). Trading one official act for another (regardless of any additional political benefit) isn’t bribery, it’s normal everyday life in government, the same thing Congress does all the time when negotiating about who will vote for what while trying to get re-elected.

            2. With a very small set of possible exceptions, immoral politician is a redundant statement.

            3. Obstruction of Congress isn’t actually a thing. It’s a made up offense without basis in law. The term didn’t even really exist until the last few months. The House couldn’t be bothered to pursue the legal process, so they don’t have a legal order to serve on the Administration. Trump isn’t the first nor the last President to not comply without a court order.

            None of the witnesses who testified were able to testify to anything other then the fact that they themselves or someone else they were talking to made up what they thought was going on. That’s not evidence, it’s gossip. None of the witnesses stated that they’d actually “witnessed” anything impeachable. What defenders have admitted is that Trump did delay the money and that he did it over concerns about Ukraine corruption. No one has “admitted” that Trump was trying to pressure Ukraine into making something up about Biden.

            If there is no shortage of impeachable acts for the Democrats to have pursued, it’s an interesting choice that they picked something as unproven as this. They seem to have conceded that they don’t have enough proof of their charges by demanding that there isn’t a winnable trial unless they’re able to use the Senate to do additional investigation which wasn’t done by the House.

          2. Thomas Jorgensen

            The democrats have not gone after the rest because they believe the republicans have sufficient party discipline that it literally does not matter what they prove, the senate will acquit, and then Fox will spin things until up is down, right is wrong, and we have always been at war with the eastern block. They filed over this because it was a forced move – Trump was leaning on Ukraine, and Ukraine was going to deliver a scandal, fabricated from whole cloth if need be to get him to stop.

            If you insist in the teeth of all evidence to assume good intent on behalf of Trump, here, you are also assuming he is an idiot. Ukraine has very dirty politics, and are fighting a war against a power. Asking the question with this level of arm twisting behind it guarantees the answer, regardless of underlying facts. That is why all the diplomats assume it was a plot to manufacture dirt. The manufacture of dirt was the only possible result, so they took a very small step and assumed it was also the intent.

            The democrats were obligated to spike that play. Forced move, no choices involved, because if Trump is both unimpeachable, and permitted to use foul play to win elections, that is it, permanent Trump reign, end of democracy, and also the end of the democratic party.

            TLDR: The point was not to impeach, the point was to get him of Ukraines back.

          3. Aapje

            @Thomas Jorgensen

            They filed over this because it was a forced move – Trump was leaning on Ukraine, and Ukraine was going to deliver a scandal, fabricated from whole cloth if need be to get him to stop.

            There are a ton of scandals that come and go. Obama got elected despite the birth certificate ‘scandal’. Trump got elected despite the media claiming many scandals.

            Why would this alleged attempt to manufacture a scandal require an impeachment? What special powers do you think Ukraine has?

            Also, if scandals are so powerful, do you think that the Steele report was a major threat to democracy?

            Ukraine has very dirty politics, and are fighting a war against a power. Asking the question with this level of arm twisting behind it guarantees the answer, regardless of underlying facts.

            Does the same hold for Biden? He used the same level of arm twisting, demanding that Ukraine replace their prosecutor.

            The prosecutor to be replaced, Shokin, seems to have been extremely wary of prosecuting politicians. He was fired before for refusing to prosecute the pro-Western Tymoshenko and Biden wanted him fired for not prosecuting pro-Russian politicians.

            So if Ukraine has such dirty politics, was Biden’s demand then not actually that Ukraine prosecuted pro-Russian politicians for their politics? Is that not what you should conclude if you also jump to the conclusion that Trump’s demand could only have been for a corrupt prosecution, given that corrupt prosecutions are the logical outcome of that level of arm-twisting?

            Also, if Trump’s arm-twisting could only be interpreted as a demand for interference by Ukraine in American politics, then shouldn’t Biden’s arm-twisting be interpreted as a demand for interference in American politics, which the pro-Western Ukrainians actually did in favor of the Democrats?

            After all, the potential quid-pro-quo is pretty obvious:
            – Biden supports the pro-Western/progressive Ukrainian politicians, by coercing Ukraine into prosecuting pro-Russian/conservative Ukrainian politicians
            – Pro-Western/progressive Ukrainian politicians support the Democrats in whatever way they can

          4. Conrad Honcho

            1. The consensus among constitutional lawyers/scholars (including, previously, Trump’s own impeachment defense lawyers) is that impeachment does not require the violation of a criminal statute.

            And I disagree, because the constitution says “high crimes and other misdemeanors” not “things that aren’t crimes but that I don’t like.” I don’t think they should be allowed to impeach over things that they simply don’t like that aren’t crimes because then we turn into a parliamentary system where the President serves at the pleasure of congress instead of a republic with three co-equal branches. Impeachment is for criminal Presidents, not Presidents you disagree with. So I’m not going to be voting for Democrats who do things I don’t think they should be allowed to do.

            If you insist in the teeth of all evidence to assume good intent on behalf of Trump, here, you are also assuming he is an idiot.

            The whole premise that he was going after Ukraine for an investigation for campaign purposes also assumes he’s an idiot, because the number of people who would care if Biden were under investigation by the government of Ukraine is approximately zero.

            You don’t have to think Trump is very smart with regards to foreign relations, government, the economy, whatever, but you have to concede he has some ability to figure out what people care about and then sell them that. To persuade them. Absolutely no one cares about investigations launched by the Ukrainian government, and such a thing would have zero value to the campaign.

            Of course, Trump didn’t ask them to investigate Biden, and didn’t need to: the Ukrainians have been investigating Biden since summer 2018. You’ll notice in the transcript of the call, it is Zelensky who brings up the meeting with Rudy. Trump did not ask them to set up a meeting on the phone call, the meeting had already been set up, Zelensky brings it up to say he’s looking forward to it, and Trump comments that that is good and Biden looks dirty.

            So again, not a crime, certainly not morally wrong as the stuff Biden did looks very dirty, and not one witness testified that they witnessed Trump doing it, only that they thought he was doing it. “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, while we have no evidence the defendant murdered those people…come on, look at him! Everybody knows he’s totally guilty!” Let’s just wrap this farce up as quickly as possible and get on with the business of the country.

            TLDR: The point was not to impeach, the point was to get him of Ukraines back.

            One can also read that as the point was to protect Biden from justice.

          5. anonymousskimmer

            @Conrad Honcho
            The phrase “High crimes and misdemeanors” has a specific meaning other than that currently used in criminal law.

            As constitutional lawyer Ann Coulter correctly notes in her book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors — The Case Against Bill Clinton (Regnery Publishing, 1998): “The derivation of the phrase ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ has nothing to do with crimes in English common law for which public servants could be impeached,” but had much to do with dishonorable conduct or a breach in the public trust.
            https://www.jpands.org/hacienda/edcor4.html

            It refers to those punishable offenses that only apply to high persons, that is, to public officials, those who, because of their official status, are under special obligations that ordinary persons are not under, and which could not be meaningfully applied or justly punished if committed by ordinary persons.
            https://constitution.org/cmt/high_crimes.htm

            This article explores the meaning of the phrase “high . . . Misdemeanors” in the Constitution’s Impeachment Clause. It concludes that the phrase denotes breaches of fiduciary duties.
            https://fedsoc.org/commentary/publications/impeachment-the-constitution-s-fiduciary-meaning-of-high-misdemeanors

            (Self-dealing is the basic fiduciary duty breach, and the Federalist Society is as anti- Democratic party / liberal as it gets)

          6. Conrad Honcho

            I concede it does not have to be a specific criminal statute (although a violation of criminal statute would be a stronger case), but then do we agree it needs to at least be something morally wrong?

          7. anonymousskimmer

            @Conrad Honcho
            No. Under conceivable circumstances there are morally just reason to violate one’s fiduciary duties. And I, as a juror, would pardon a person for such violations.

            However even under these circumstances, the pardoned person still needs to be stripped of their fiduciary status.

            The equivalent in Trump’s case would be a conviction and a post-removal pardoning by the new President of any crimes he committed.

            The middle ground here is a mere impeachment that will ultimately: 1) Inform the public a bit more as to what went on, unless witnesses are blocked, and 2) Result in Trump’s acquittal given the politics of the situation.

          8. Conrad Honcho

            If the case is actually failure to exercise fiduciary duties, why didn’t they impeach him for that?

          9. anonymousskimmer

            @Conrad Honcho
            They did impeach him for breach of fiduciary duties, specifically:
            ARTICLE I: ABUSE OF POWER
            and
            ARTICLE II: OBSTRUCTION OF CONGRESS

            Article I is clear-cut. Search for the phrase “abuse of power” in this article on fiduciary duty: https://njcooperator.com/article/fiduciary-duty/full

            Cholst provides the example from his practice of a board member, head of the alterations committee, who was in an ongoing feud with his neighbor over loud parties the neighbor had and his refusal to quiet down. That neighbor submitted a request to do an alteration for his apartment, and the board member persuaded his colleagues to reject the alteration, since there was no legitimate reason for the decision other than to indulge the board member’s vendetta against his neighbor, the situation illustrates an abuse of power and breach of fiduciary duty.

            And here we see the arguments between the Republicans and Democrats on whether Trump had a legitimate reason for asking for investigations into Biden (Biden derangement syndrome would presumably not be a legitimate reason), and for asking Ukraine to publicly announce said investigations.

            The “Obstruction of Congress” charge is less direct. I believe it’s basically saying that he had a fiduciary duty to congress to disclose – i.e. not block executive branch witnesses from fulfilling Congressional subpoenas.

          10. Matt M

            It seems odd to accuse someone of breaching a fiduciary duty when the people he owes that fiduciary to (i.e. the people who actually voted for him) seem to overwhelmingly approve of his actions.

            This is why I can’t take any of this seriously. Trump has done nothing that the people who actually voted for him find even the least bit problematic. Now, it may very well be that those people are now a minority compared to those who intend to vote against him next time… but if so, just wait 9 months and the problem resolves itself.

            If the claim is that there are certain things the President is not allowed to do, regardless of whether the voters like those things or not, I would suggest that such things need to be actual crimes. Or explicitly listed somewhere. Otherwise, the rightful remedy is “vote him out next time.” This entire process is happening because Dems either don’t believe they are capable of winning the next election, or because they believe that going through this process will affect (in their favor) the odds they win the next election.

          11. Dacyn

            @Matt M:

            the people he owes that fiduciary to (i.e. the people who actually voted for him)

            No, he owes it to all Americans, regardless of who voted for him. The alternative is majoritarianism.

          12. Matt M

            No, he owes it to all Americans, regardless of who voted for him. The alternative is majoritarianism

            Fine. But the non-Trump voters have felt that Trump was “violating his fiduciary duties” since day one anyway. They felt that a border wall was such a violation, that tax cuts were such a violation, etc. Are those things impeachable?

            If you want to convince me that Trump has done something truly bad (so bad it warrants immediate removal rather than simply waiting for the political process to resolve in the next election), you have to show me either evidence that he committed an actual crime, or that he did something that was directly and obviously contrary to what he was elected to do.

            What I think goes unappreciated here is… not only does the average Trump voter not really mind that he used military aid as a negotiation tactic to try and get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, they actively applaud it. IMO, this makes it an even bigger nothingburger than the Clinton impeachment. With Clinton, the Democratic response to the charges was “Who cares? This isn’t a big deal.” Whereas a pretty large proportion of Republicans are responding to Trump’s accusation with “Good. I hope he did that. That’s what we want.” (I, for one, am in this group. I think investigating the Bidens is actively a good thing for America. And I think reducing or withholding military aid to Ukraine is also actively a good thing for America.)

          13. Dacyn

            @meh: I’m not sure exactly what you are trying to say.

            @Matt M: I’ll let others argue, don’t really have a strong opinion on those topics.

          14. anonymousskimmer

            @Matt M

            It seems odd to accuse someone of breaching a fiduciary duty when the people he owes that fiduciary to (i.e. the people who actually voted for him) seem to overwhelmingly approve of his actions.

            A person is appointed, by the court, fiduciary of a $2 million estate with ten heirs. This person has the duty to sell off this estate for the best value they think they can get and then split this money equally between the 10 heirs.

            The fiduciary knows the estate can be sold off for $2.5 million if given an extra 6 months to make deals.

            The ten heirs are children of two deceased twin brothers and their deceased wives (it was a horrible spaceship explosion celebrating a shared anniversary).

            6 of these heirs are from one branch of the family, and have a disease inherited from their mother, which was freakishly triggered by their SUV being hit by lightning on the way to the will reading. This disease will kill them all within about 1 year. The other 4 heirs are clear.

            This orphan disease fortunately has a new experimental cure that costs $250 thousand flat.

            The fiduciary firesales almost all of the estate for $1.5 million and buys cures for these 6 heirs, leaving only about $100 thousand of estate left (~$75 thousand if sold poorly, maybe as much as $200 thousand if sold wisely).

            Should the court allow the fiduciary to remain as fiduciary for the remainder of the estate, since 6 of the ten heirs are completely fine with what was done (and 3 out of 4 of the other heirs understand why it was done, and forgive the fiduciary for this action), or should the court replace the fiduciary?

            Note that the fiduciary never even considered a loan before making this firesale. Nor did he bring this up with the 10 heirs before taking action.

          15. Matt M

            Should the court allow the fiduciary to remain as fiduciary for the remainder of the estate, since 6 of the ten heirs are completely fine with what was done (and 3 out of 4 of the other heirs understand why it was done, and forgive the fiduciary for this action), or should the court replace the fiduciary?

            Allow to remain. Because to do otherwise would imply that the court somehow “knows what’s best” for the heirs moreso than the heirs know for themselves. Clearly, there are grounds for the heirs to potentially object to the fiduciary’s actions. But since they don’t object, who is “the court” to say any different?

            Besides, your analogy fails at the very start. Trump was not appointed by some random external party. He was appointed by the same people. To fix your analogy, the heirs themselves appointed the fiduciary, and are perfectly satisfied with his actions. Everything else in the middle is just details.

          16. anonymousskimmer

            I wasn’t trying to make an analogy, I was trying to make an absolute best case scenario as to a fiduciary morally violating their fiduciary duties.

            The fiduciary owes their duties to the estate, not to the heirs, in this situation. Otherwise the fiduciary has legitimate reasons for never turning the money over to the heirs (because of course the fiduciary knows better how to manage money), or never turning the portion owed to one heir over to that particular heir (because that heir would just spend it on blow).

            If a fiduciary has a problem, then the fiduciary has an obligation to go to the court system, or to the police, or whoever, and make their case. But they don’t get off scot-free to decide their own rules. Otherwise they aren’t a fiduciary, they’re something else.

            Moreover a fiduciary whose primary duties are to an individual can indeed make decisions that the individual objects to, without being in violation of their fiduciary duties. And can indeed make decisions that the individual agrees to, while being in violation of their fiduciary duties.

          17. Matt M

            The fiduciary owes their duties to the estate, not to the heirs, in this situation.

            There is no “estate” that is separate and distinct from the collective of the heirs themselves. It is a legal fiction.

            I suppose we could think of “the estate” as the wishes, as expressed, of the deceased who left the estate behind. Although I think it’d be pretty tricky to make the case that the deceased would prefer to see half of their heirs die from a preventable disease rather than require every heir to receive a slightly less valuable share of the inheritance.

            But the point here is that the proper adjudicator of whether the fiduciary is acting appropriately or not is the heirs themselves, not some external court that tries to decide what is best for the heirs, what the deceased probably would have wanted, etc.

            And we have a process for that. In ~9 months, the electorate will get to decide whether Trump has behaved inappropriately or not. The heirs will meet up, after having had some time to observe the fiduciary and become familiar with his actions, and decide whether they desire to retain his services. This strikes me as the appropriate adjudication method.

          18. FormerRanger

            @Thomas Jorgensen. So close to being accurate. The Democrats don’t care about Ukraine. They picked the Ukraine aid money scandal (in spite of its risks for them, which are both named Biden) because time was running out for impeachment, and nothing else they had was sticking.

            Once the 2020 primaries actually begin, no Democrat in office wants to be stuck in impeachment/trial hearings while their opponents are out there on the hustings. The closer the election is, the less momentum there is for kicking Trump out with less and less time remaining in his term.

          19. Conrad Honcho

            They did impeach him for breach of fiduciary duties

            They didn’t, though. The executive has a fiduciary duty to combat corruption. If he had actually asked Ukraine to investigate Biden’s apparently corrupt actions, that would have been in keeping with his fiduciary duties. They impeached him for doing things the Democrats don’t like. We might as well have impeached Obama for ACA because government interference in millions of Americans’ healthcare is a violation of his fiduciary duty to not screw with their healthcare.

            As I’ve said before, the Ukrainians were already investigating Biden so he didn’t have to ask. The better way to investigate Biden, that I wish he would do, is have the IG’s office research how it came to be US policy to have Shokin removed. If some Ph.D. in Ukrainian Studies in the Ukraine division in the sub-basement of the State Department wrote a memo back in 2015 that Shokin keeps doing corrupt stuff and needs to be removed, that got emailed around, kicked up to the President who eventually tasked Biden with dropping the ax, okay, Biden’s in the clear and he just needs a finger wagging for giving the appearance of impropriety for not recusing himself. If in February of 2016, right after Shokin raided the Burisma owner’s home on suspicion of criminal activity Biden stumbled into Obama’s office and yelled “we’ve gotta get rid of this Shokin guy, he’s screwing with my kid’s money!” then maybe that points in the other direction.

            If anything, I could believe Trump failed in his fiduciary duty to investigate corruption by not just going to the IG’s office and having them tell us what Biden was up to. That would also be much more damaging to Biden politically, because literally zero people care about Ukrainian government investigations, but some people still hold on to hope the US government might actually do something about political corruption.

            As it stands, the case for impeachment is incredibly weak. It’s not a crime, and if we’re going for breach of fiduciary duty instead of a crime then it’s not obvious this is a breach of fiduciary duty as opposed to just “did something the opposition party doesn’t like,” and there’s no witnesses who saw him do the thing anyway. Why on earth would any fair-minded person vote to impeach?

          20. anonymousskimmer

            @Matt M and @Conrad Honcho
            I’ve made my case, you’ve made yours, as usual it comes down to politics as to what and who we support, and why.

            The how, as Matt M says, will ultimately be the ballot box, and the electors will ultimately be us (for Congress) and the electoral college (for the Presidency).

    2. EchoChaos

      With multiple Republican senators walking out in the middle of the impeachment trial and thus failing to do their job, should they be allowed to vote on the verdict?

      Yes.

      If a regular US citizen walked out in the middle of a trial they were a member of the jury for, the punishment would be severe. Why should senators be treated differently?

      No, the punishment wouldn’t be severe. Plenty of people bail on jury duty all the time. Jurors will even walk out to use the bathroom and cetera and have to be politely reminded not to do that.

      Because the impeachment is a political trial and everything about it is politics, not legality. The Senators are judging that doing a walkout stunt will help their election chances. They are probably right.

      1. jermo sapiens

        Because the impeachment is a political trial and everything about it is politics, not legality. The Senators are judging that doing a walkout stunt will help their election chances. They are probably right.

        +1

    3. Matt M

      If a regular US citizen tried to steal 50% of my income, the punishment for that would be severe, too!

    4. Eigengrau

      While it would be nice for the presiding judge to rebuke those senators, you can hardly revoke their right to vote on the verdict. As others have pointed out, the analogy doesn’t work. With a jury you can get new jury members. You can’t get new senators for this trial.

      Really, any hard action taken by Roberts here regarding anything would be unprecedented and possibly invalid. Impeachments are so rare that the Chief Justice’s powers during the proceedings have not been tested, to my knowledge. His role is mostly to avoid a conflict of interest in having the Vice President preside, which is the usual process in an impeachment trial (for non-presidents).

    5. sharper13

      Do you think they be punished more than the Democratic Senators who’ve walked out in the middle of the trial? Who do you imagine is going to “not allow” Senators to vote in the Senate?

  29. JohnNV

    Question for UK readers: What proportion of people in the UK rely exclusively on the NHS for healthcare versus have some sort of private add-on either paid for personally or via their employer? What do those private add-ons cover? Socially, is it seen as only the wealthiest who pay for private care and most middle classes just have the NHS, or is it seen that NHS is only for the poorest and the middle classes and up all have some sort of private coverage?

    I ask because I’m an American who has been doing business in England for 15 years and going back and forth frequently, but have always resided in the US and am not that familiar with the NHS. Our company does pay for private coverage for employees, but we employ mostly upper-income folks, so I’m not sure how common that is otherwise. Is there a good primer on how it works? Is it like public school in the US where the area where you live dictates which doctors you can see?

    1. Tatterdemalion

      https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/default/files/media/commission-appendix-uk-private-health-market.pdf says that

      Roughly 11 per cent of the UK population has some form of private medical insurance.
      That figure, however, gives a misleading impression as far from all of that cover is
      comprehensive. Few policies, whether company-paid or provided, or individually paid,
      offer maternity or mental health cover. None provide cover for accidents and emergency
      or for general practice.

      1. Alexander Turok

        Few policies, whether company-paid or provided, or individually paid,
        offer maternity or mental health cover. None provide cover for accidents and emergency
        or for general practice.

        Not surprising. Insurance is about insuring against unlikely but potentially ruinous expenses. Your car insurance covers crashes, it doesn’t cover your car wash. In America it covers things like maternity because government subsidizes health costs covered by insurance but not out of pocket.

        1. b_jonas

          That, at best, shows that we should use a word other than “insurance” for the service that covers healthcare costs. Such package deals may make sense for reasons other than covering rare but expensive events. In particular, from what I hear about the U.S., health insurance is useful because healthcare providers have an incentive to overcharge you, and it’s not easy for ordinary patients to decide when that happens and fight to get their money back. Health insurance is thus not similar to a homeowner insurance that pays me to repair my roof in the rare event that a storm destroys it, but more similar to renting my home from a proprietor, who pays all the regular repairs and amortization that the apartment needs as well. In capitalist countries, most apartments for rent are not owned by the government, so you could just as well imagine what is usually called health insurance or social security owned by private companies as well. There are other reasons why that may be a bad idea, but comparison to insurance is not enough.

      2. Tarpitz

        Private insurance isn’t the whole story in terms of private healthcare, either. People without insurance will sometimes pay out of pocket to have a procedure done privately, to get it quicker, or to have a more pleasant environment for recuperation, or because the NHS is unwilling to do it for them, or for a variety of other reasons. Never using the NHS would be the preserve of a tiny, extremely wealthy minority – and perhaps not even them. Supplementing it with private care on an ad hoc basis just means some particular person’s circumstances happened to line up such that it made sense in a particular case, and needn’t imply any great wealth at all.

      1. EchoChaos

        I’d actually love to hear from others, especially the liberals on this board how they think that article has held up.

        Do you think it remains mostly accurate, or has Trump been better or worse than predicted?

        1. Milo Minderbinder

          Liberal here. From the post:

          Here is an incompetent thin-skinned ignorant boorish fraudulent omnihypocritical demagogue with no idea how to run a country, whose philosophy of governance basically boils down to “I’m going to win and not lose, details to be filled in later”, and all you can do is repeat, again and again, how he seems popular among weird Internet teenagers who post frog memes. In the middle of an emotionally incontinent reality TV show host getting his hand on the nuclear button, your chief complaint is that in the middle of a few dozen denunciations of the KKK, he once delayed denouncing the KKK for an entire 24 hours before going back to denouncing it again. When a guy who says outright that he won’t respect elections unless he wins them does, somehow, win an election, the headlines are how he once said he didn’t like globalists which means he must be anti-Semitic.

          This is still my main criticism of Trump. The man has no business being in the Oval office, and what’s worse, he has a disturbing taste for sycophantic behavior in advisors and underlings, which compounds the problem. A lot of the actual “damage” of the Trump administration (above and beyond the predicted) was the total capitulation of other Republican elected officials to norm violations. This acquiescence really troubles me if/when a smarter demagogue comes along, from either party. But that seems in large part a function of the modern communication environment, where every hypocrisy and heterodox step is signal boosted to hell and back.

          1. Matt M

            A lot of the actual “damage” of the Trump administration (above and beyond the predicted) was the total capitulation of other Republican elected officials to norm violations.

            See, this is interesting to me. As someone who is sympathetic with Trump on most issues, my perception is the exact opposite. The hope was that he’d influence the GOP, but instead, the GOP has influenced him. His actual policy achievements are nearly indistinguishable from what you might have expected from a Ted Cruz or a Jeb Bush.

            His behavior is different. He’s more boorish and crass or what have you. And I can buy an argument that many GOP congresspersons have started adopting a similar style in an attempt to emulate him (in the hopes that they will be successful as he was). But in an actual policy sense? Nah.

          2. anonymousskimmer

            The hope was that he’d influence the GOP, but instead, the GOP has influenced him. His actual policy achievements are nearly indistinguishable from what you might have expected from a Ted Cruz or a Jeb Bush.

            And this is why I cast a leery eye at the CEOs claiming the sky is falling when Warren or Sanders are leading in the polls.

          3. Conrad Honcho

            His actual policy achievements are nearly indistinguishable from what you might have expected from a Ted Cruz or a Jeb Bush.

            You really think President Jeb would have killed the TPP, built a border wall, started a trade war with China, and strong-armed Mexico into stopping South American migrants going through their country?

          4. Nick

            I think Matt’s wrong here; Trump absolutely has influenced the GOP, as can be seen by his enduring popularity with the base, and by the attempted syntheses of “Trumpism” with regular Republican orthodoxy by a variety of intellectuals and politicians. Lots of them want to find the right mix that will enable them to retain both old Republican voters and the Rust Belt voters Trump picked up, since he proved it’s possible to.

          5. Aftagley

            @Conrad Honcho

            You really think President Jeb would have killed the TPP, built a border wall, started a trade war with China, and strong-armed Mexico into stopping South American migrants going through their country?

            Well, let’s see. As far as I can tell, the Trump administration has built only 93 miles of wall so far, of which 90 miles was just the replacement of existing fencing.

            The trade war with China is winding down and accomplished literally nothing – we made no advancements in opening the Chinese economy or curbing their predatory behavior. We basically decided to destroy a few billion dollars worth of national wealth.

            Yes, AMLO agreed in practice to curb immigration, but look at arrival data along the US southwest border – it’s practically unchanged over the past decade or so; any effect this new policy has had was token at best.

            So, in short, we’ve got a few meaningless actions that mostly just wasted money that have been talked up into propaganda victories. I agree that Jeb likely wouldn’t have pursued these courses, but that’s not really saying anything.

          6. Conrad Honcho

            90 miles was just the replacement of existing fencing.

            Replacing useless vehicle barriers that anyone could crawl over/under with 30 foot high bollard walls in high traffic areas is a good thing. It seems like you’re trying to imply the new barriers did not provide any increase in stopping ability when the stopping ability went from “zero” to “high.”

          7. Aftagley

            Fair enough – I’ll update my previous opinion of the relative efficacy of the new barrier on preventing movement when compared with what was their previously… but still approximately 100 miles of wall is a far cry from the big beautiful wall he promised back in 2016.

          8. Conrad Honcho

            I agree, I would have liked ~700 miles built in year one, but he was after all obstructed at every turn. But now the lawsuits are won, the money’s secured, and they’re building something like a mile a day. I’ll take what I can get.

          9. The Nybbler

            @Aftagley

            I believe the company I work for has already seen dividends from the China trade negotiations, so I’m not so sure they really accomplished nothing.

          10. Aftagley

            @The Nybbler

            Fair enough; if you’re directly involved in it like that, you’re one step less far removed than I. Is the added money you’ve made a result of China ramping down it’s retaliations, or a net gain that wouldn’t have been possible 5 years ago?

            My current understanding of the trade war is this: Chinese behavior on the international market (currency manipulation, IP theft, ownership demands on foreign companies) cause the US to impose tariffs on Chinese goods. China reiterated by reducing purchases of US goods, mostly agricultural products but also a few other targeted products. We went tit-for-tat for a few years increasing tarrifs and decreasing purchases.

            The trade war may be ending, but the only concessions China is promising is to… buy more US agricultural products. As far as I can tell, there has been no change to how they’ll use their currency, treat international IP or treat foriegn companies. As such, yes, the negative actions taken during the trade war are stopping, but the trade war itself didn’t accomplish any of its stated goods.

            An analogy would be – the US doesn’t like Canadians wearing plaid. In response we start bombing them. They respond by bombing us. Countless people die. We eventually agree on a peace treat whereby Canada agrees to stop bombing us. Sure, noone’s dying anymore but those bastards are still up there wearing plaid!

          11. Matt M

            Conrad,

            I’ll admit I don’t really follow the China stuff. Mainly because I don’t care, and never did.

            My main hope for Trump being different from the GOP establishment was on foreign policy. He campaigned on the wars being pointless and based on lies, and strongly implied he would bring the troops home. He has failed to do so. I know, he occasionally talks like he’s totally about to, but then it all just fizzles away and everyone is still over there, killing and dying, for no reason at all. This is a tremendous disappointment.

            As far as immigration goes, I mainly defer to Ann Coulter on this, and she seems thoroughly unimpressed with his progress on both legal and illegal immigration. Why would she lie? She’s never really been anti-Trump specifically. She endorsed him previously. As far as I can tell, her only complaint with him is “He hasn’t followed through on his promises relating to immigration.”

          12. hls2003

            I haven’t studied the deal closely, but I read articles stating that improved IP protection and language on forced technology transfer was included in the phase 1 deal. Also, my understanding is that they are agreeing to purchases above just “remove prior purchase restrictions.” I’m not very well-versed in any of it, but that’s how I’ve seen it described.

            As for whether China abides by it… I kinda doubt it? But that’s a separate issue.

          13. The Nybbler

            Is the added money you’ve made a result of China ramping down it’s retaliations, or a net gain that wouldn’t have been possible 5 years ago?

            A net gain; basically them paying for some IP they’d been using without compensation. I cannot draw a direct line between this and the trade deal, but the timing is very suggestive.

          14. Mark V Anderson

            Yeah I agree with Matt M. The only substantial changes Trump has made since he’s been in office is the the tax bill and the Supreme Court judges. Everything else is a whole lot of hot gas from both sides and very little action. Even if you call the wall a major thing ( I do not), I think it highly likely that Jeb or another Repub stand-in would’ve built 93 miles. So standard Republican actions. Perhaps a few less invasions of 3rd world countries than the average Repub administration.

          15. Jaskologist

            We basically decided to destroy a few billion dollars worth of national wealth.

            Did we, though?

            I feel like I’ve been seeing a lot of very poor reasoning from free-traders lately. The economy has been doing very, very well lately. It may well be that it’s doing so in spite of the trade war, but how would we actually know? Back in the old days of The Stimulus, people produced studies showing that had saved X jobs even though the economy was still garbage; but basically those were just mathematical models that started by assuming that it saved jobs. I feel like the free traders are doing the same. I get even more wary when they point to some anecdote of a factory here or there going under.

            Epistemic status: basically accepted the consensus that free trade was best, having mild second thoughts. I tend to believe the President has the ability to either harm the economy or leave it alone. The current good times are probably unrelated to Trump’s policies. But he did at least call his shot on this one, and nobody else was predicting good times.

          16. Conrad Honcho

            wrt to China, the trade negotiations are ongoing so it’s too soon to declare victory or defeat. My complaint about the tariffs and what not is that what we’re doing is more like punishing China (their economy is stinking fast with much capital flight), when my interest is more in protecting American industries. Still, the Chinese government is bad people doing bad things who want more money for more power to do more bad things, so hindering them now by not buying their junk is preferable to stopping them later with war. And the US economy is humming along nicely. So, meh.

            Why would she lie?

            Well, the obvious, she gets eyeballs via outrage. More charitably, she believes that by holding Trump’s feet to the fire he may be inclined to work faster. That is, she claims to be more angry than she actually is.

            However, mainly I think she had ridiculously unrealistic expectation of how government construction projects work, as if on Day One the President can just…order a bunch of men to start digging out the foundation and raising steel. It took time to talk to the border patrol, find out what they need, build prototypes, test them, and along every step of the way the Republicans stonewalled him and the Democrats sued and sued and sued. As far as government projects go (since WWII and the Cold War anyway), 93 miles in only three years is a damn miracle. Now Trump has money, has won the lawsuits, and the wall is being built about a mile a day and we’ll have 400-500 miles built by this time next year.

            Ordinarily I wouldn’t link a partisan piece like this, but since you’re already accepting Ann Coulter’s opinion as potentially valid, here’s a response: Trump Is Quietly Winning Bigly At The Border.

            I think it highly likely that Jeb or another Repub stand-in would’ve built 93 miles.

            This is ludicrous. Jeb Bush said “illegal immigration is an act of love.” The Republican establishment is perfectly fine with illegal immigration because cheap labor. President Jeb would have built 0 miles of wall.

          17. Conrad Honcho

            I specifically avoided doing it because it comes off as partisan snark. Remember, I’m the new and improved Nice Conrad.

          18. Aftagley

            Remember, I’m the new and improved Nice Conrad.

            Does anyone else mentally hear psycho-style violin screeches when they read this?

          19. Nick

            Fair enough. I suppose it doesn’t parse as partisan to me since, strictly speaking, it’s more like a base-establishment or paleo-neo split. 🙂

          20. Aftagley

            Could you explain what you mean by that and why it is bad?

            Sure.

            Boilerplate warning: I’m expressing here only the positions expressed by the Trump administration over the past few years, not my own personal opinion.

            As recently as last year, the US treasury department formally accused China of artificially keeping the value of their currency low relative to the international market. If they’d allowed their currency to float it would have increased in value, but instead the government-controlled exchange rate remained low.

            This made foreign goods more expensive, restricted their citizens from buying foreign products and made Chinese goods cheaper on the international market.

            The effects of this decision were:
            1. Chinese population were kept artificially poorer (at least along a shorter time-horizon).
            2. Chinese manufacturing, especially export-focused manufacturing was put at an advantage.
            3. Non-Chinese (that is to say, American manufacturing) was put at a disadvantage.

            The US doesn’t really care about the relative wealth of the Chinese population, but we do care when international markets are being manipulated at the expense of US manufacturing interests.

          21. anonymousskimmer

            My complaint on the trade negotiations is that Trump is doing nothing at all to ban the import of Chinese products such as these: https://dynamics.org/Altenberg/CURRENT_AFFAIRS/CHINA_PLASTIC/

            Which has cost my household real money (fortunately one very, very good company with truly excellent customer service credited us even though we had washed the clothes [necessary to “unlock” the chemical odor in many cases] and thrown those clothes away!)

            Also, he’s using tariffs in particular instances when he should be banning import or export entirely (very wishy-washy with respect to banning), and isn’t using export tariffs against third-party countries such as Brazil that benefit from Chinese tariffs against US agricultural products.

            He should have been targeted. In that targeting he should have used (and stuck by) bans. And then he would have had just grounds to targetedly tariff additional countries that are supporting (what would have been unjust) Chinese tariffs by effectively undercutting US exports to China.

            But no, he had to use the shotgun flyswatter.

            And the trade issues effecting my household (noxious chemicals, which are frequently banned within China itself) aren’t even on the radar

          22. DavidFriedman

            @Aftagley:

            They may choose not to float their currency, but they can’t control exchange rates in international markets except by altering supply of and demand for their currency. They could do that by printing more of it, but that just means that Chinese goods end up costing a larger number of less valuable currency units. Or they can do it by collecting Chinese money from their citizens via taxation or borrowing and using it to buy dollars, which is presumably what they are doing. They then use the dollars to buy U.S. government bonds, thus getting more interest than if they just stacked the dollars in a cellar somewhere.

            So this is just the flip side of the U.S. budget deficit. Absent capital movements, trade has to balance, since you can only sell a dollar (trade dollars for foreign currency in order to buy foreign goods) if someone else buys it (trades foreign currency for dollars in order to buy U.S. goods, which is the only thing to do with dollars if there are no capital movements). If the U.S. runs a budget deficit and borrows the money from foreigners (or if U.S. individuals do the equivalent), some of the dollars we are selling when we exchange our money for foreign money in order to buy and import foreign goods are going to people who use those dollars to buy T-bills instead of U.S. goods, hence we have a trade deficit.

          23. Dacyn

            @DavidFriedman: My impression from this website is that China makes it illegal to exchange at rates other than the official one, and that they are capable of enforcing this law at least on the forex market. Of course, you’re right that they have no way of directly setting underground exchange rates.

          24. ana53294

            My understanding is that China, if anything, is keeping the currency exchange down with all those capital controls. Chinese markets are overheated already, and are sold at a premium in comparison to Hong Kong. That seems to be due to the fact that a lot of Chinese money can’t get out of China, so they invest in their markets even if people who have money outside of China aren’t willing to do that.

            So if China is a currency manipulator, they keep the rates up, not down.

          25. DavidFriedman

            @DavidFriedman: My impression from this website is that China makes it illegal to exchange at rates other than the official one, and that they are capable of enforcing this law at least on the forex market.

            China makes it illegal to do that inside China. It has no legal authority over currency markets elsewhere.

            As I think the article you linked to makes clear, China attempts to maintain its fixed exchange rate by market transactionsl.

          26. Dacyn

            @DavidFriedman: Ah, that makes sense. I think I had interpreted “regulates trading activity and tries to control daily movements of the yuan on the forex market” to mean that they regulate the forex market, but I guess it doesn’t actually say that.

          27. Lambert

            By selling renminbi for far less than it’s worth?

            Is this analogous to China constantly throwing $10 notes on the floor?
            Can you arbitrage this to get rich?

          28. DavidFriedman

            Can you arbitrage this to get rich?

            If you believe they can’t keep it up, you can buy Chinese currency now and hold it. To see whether other people think they can’t keep it up, check the currency futures market.

        2. Nick

          Not a liberal, but as predictions go, turnover has been higher than I expected and there’s been less legislation. I’m surprised that Trump dawdled for as long as he did on the border wall, too.

        3. Nornagest

          I have no idea if I’d call myself a liberal these days — liberal as in “liberals get the bullet too”, maybe — but my prediction at the start of the Trump administration was more gridlock, and that’s largely been borne out. Congress has been more compliant than I expected, but that’s balanced by the administration being even less competent.

      2. John Schilling

        How is that even relevant? YaSCW was about the specific claim that Trump was a super-duper extreme racist, not that Trump was bad at presidenting. It explicitly and repeatedly stated that Trump was likely to be a bad president.

        And whatever the faults in Trump’s handling of the Iran situation, super extreme racism doesn’t seem to be a part of it. We can maybe sort of assume that the generic background-noise racism of generic old white dudes has some role, that if Iran were Ireland then Trump (and most other Americans) would be more open to peaceful solutions, but YaSCW was explicitly not about generic-background-noice racism either.

        1. jermo sapiens

          We can maybe sort of assume that the generic background-noise racism of generic old white dudes has some role, that if Iran were Ireland then Trump (and most other Americans) would be more open to peaceful solutions

          The US fought 2 world wars against Germany. Also relevant, the largest ethnic group of white Americans is German-Americans. Not that Iran is behaving like Nazi Germany, but the US is also not treating Iran like it treated Nazi Germany.

          The US is quite capable of unleashing its power against white people. I believe this tendency to explain everything and anything by racism without any evidence is quite lazy and extremely divisive.

          1. John Schilling

            The US fought 2 world wars against Germany.

            The US conspicuously also spent about five years trying not to fight World Wars against Germany, and was the very last great power to join either of the World Wars.

          2. jermo sapiens

            The US conspicuously also spent about five years trying not to fight World Wars against Germany, and was the very last great power to join either of the World Wars.

            Are you suggesting the reason for that was racism?

          3. John Schilling

            Are you suggesting the reason for that was racism?

            More that racism didn’t have a chance to come into play because pretty much everyone involved at that stage was white. But I’d wager that in the alternate histories where the role of the Second and/or Third Reich is played by some Asiatic Horde, or maybe Evil Wakanda, early 20th century America comes to the defense of the (white) European democracies quite a bit sooner.

          4. DarkTigger

            Wouldn’t put money on that. They did at least as much preparation for a war with Germany, as for war with Japan, and only the seconed activly threantened US interest, and killed American personell.

          5. John Schilling

            Germany was involved in a white-on-white war that the United States was thinking about getting involved in, Japan was involved in a yellow-on-yellow war that the United States was thinking about getting involved in, and both were going to avoid killing Americans as best they could until it became clear that we were getting involved in their wars.

            Neither of those allowed Americans of the day much opportunity to express racial preferences.

          6. jermo sapiens

            But I’d wager that in the alternate histories where the role of the Second and/or Third Reich is played by some Asiatic Horde, or maybe Evil Wakanda, early 20th century America comes to the defense of the (white) European democracies quite a bit sooner.

            LOL ok. Does Evil Wakanda have a supply of unobtainium? (Or is it vibranium?)

          7. Matt

            The US conspicuously also spent about five years trying not to fight World Wars against Germany, and was the very last great power to join either of the World Wars.

            During WWII, with the exception of the British Empire, wasn’t the general rule here that no great power joined the fighting until their territory was attacked by the Axis? Possible additional exception (hardly to their credit) being the Soviets, who invaded Poland about 2 weeks after Germany, and then later switched sides after being invaded by Germany themselves.

          8. John Schilling

            Of the Great Powers in World War II, and in chronological order:

            Japan
            Germany
            Britain
            France
            Russia
            Italy

            Joined the fighting before their territory was invaded by the Axis (or anyone else). Only

            China
            United States

            Stayed out of the fighting until attacked, and the United states was really pushing the definition of “not fighting”.

          9. Clutzy

            Wars have always been incredibly unpopular with the American public, while also being fairly popular with politicians. Of those “5 years” America didn’t join the world wars, most of them were governed by politicians who campaigned on not joining the war, then worked while in office to persuade the electorate that war was absolutely needed.

            And there is no real difference now with wars with Libya, Iran, Syria, etc. The American public has no desire for a war in Arabia or Persia, but politicians appear to have an extreme preference for such a thing.

        2. anonymousskimmer

          super extreme racism

          Back in the days when races were considered ethnic tribes, and not far larger skin color / continent-level groupings, this would be a correct labeling of Trump.

          Coastals are bad, certain countries are bad, therefore the people from them are bad and we need to block them.

          Meets this older definition of racism.

    1. Atlas

      I’m glad that I predicted on the record a little over two weeks ago that there was an 85% chance of no war with Iran. I wish that I’d limited my prediction to within 1 month rather than 6 so that I could take a victory lap now without risking angering the prediction karma hubris gods.

    2. Aftagley

      It has now been just over 2 weeks since Iran launched missiles at the US base, and WW3 was about to start.

      1. Multiple sources have talked about how close a thing it was that no US personnel died during that attack. It wasn’t a sure thing that no Americans would die in that attack; we got lucky as that would have likely resulted in escalation. That being said, a US military base was directly attacked by a foreign power and we’re basically deciding not to retaliate. This is unprecedented and cowardly; if you’re Iran or any other unfriendly power, what reason do you have now to not attack the US military bases?

      2. Iran suffered a massive own-goal in shooting down that plane; it basically fragmented their national unity and destroyed any public demand for further action.

      3. Even at the time, experts were saying the most likely response from Iran would be delayed and covert. If such an attack ends up happening, we likely haven’t seen it yet.

      4. We’ve still normalized the idea that assassinating a foreign government official on the territory of a third country is acceptable.

      1. Conrad Honcho

        Uniformed military personnel killing other uniformed military personnel is not an assassination of an “official.”

        1. Aftagley

          It is when they’re not at war.

          ETA: There’s also a significant difference between two troopers killing each-other and the killing of a senior cabinet-level leader. If say, a member of our joint chiefs or the secretary of defense was killed (or any secretary of a service) it’d be justified in calling it the killing of an official. Reducing him down to just being a solider elides just how much power/status he had within Iran.

          1. Clutzy

            Aren’t you simply employing a self-contradictory legal fiction when you say it was an assassination?

            A plurality of engagements US soldiers have engaged in since the Obama administration took over have been against Iranian backed fighters. So we are at war with them, and he was essentially part of an invading force on allied (Iraqi) soil.

            BUT if you hold we aren’t at war, he is then a terrorist who has planned many terrorist acts, and policy is to take out terrorists when the opportunity arises and there won’t be significant civilian casualties.

          2. Aftagley

            Yes… but like much in international politics there is a reason for engaging in these legal fictions.

            As long as both us and Iran can pretend to believe the legal fiction that we’re not fighting in Iran and are instead providing assistance to our Iraqi brothers, are conflicts are limited to that arena and presumably have known outcomes (that will mostly have negative effects on Iraqis). US and Iranian forces aren’t immune from negative outcomes here, but they are limited.

            For example – our defense secretary was in Iraq a few months ago. If his plane had been shot down by Iran, we’d necessarily take it differently than if a trooper had been picked off by an iranian-backed militia.

          3. Clutzy

            Yes… but like much in international politics there is a reason for engaging in these legal fictions.

            As long as both us and Iran can pretend to believe the legal fiction that we’re not fighting in Iran and are instead providing assistance to our Iraqi brothers, are conflicts are limited to that arena and presumably have known outcomes (that will mostly have negative effects on Iraqis). US and Iranian forces aren’t immune from negative outcomes here, but they are limited.

            For example – our defense secretary was in Iraq a few months ago. If his plane had been shot down by Iran, we’d necessarily take it differently than if a trooper had been picked off by an iranian-backed militia.

            Yes, we do that, but neither of the two sides of the coin of what Soleimani was doing support the idea of not killing him. Either he was a terrorist with a long track record that we had a chance to take out, or he was an army commander on a covert operation behind enemy lines. Those people die all the time.

          4. John Schilling

            or he was an army commander on a covert operation behind enemy lines. Those people die all the time.

            You have a citation for the “covert” part? Because the Iraqi government says he was there openly, to meet with Iraq’s prime minister for diplomatic purposes. And flying into Baghdad International Airport on an Airbus 320 isn’t exactly covert.

          5. Controls Freak

            You have a citation for the “covert” part? Because the Iraqi government says he was there openly, to meet with Iraq’s prime minister for diplomatic purposes.

            For what it’s worth in a battle between propagandists, here’s what our propagandist had to say. He doesn’t quite get at whether it was “open” or “covert”, but that criterion has a complicated intersection with the rest of the laws of war for this strike, anyway.

          6. Aftagley

            Here’s a neat trick to determine if a high-profile foreign leader is doing something covertly: if they’re doing something, it’s not covert.

            People in high-profile positions don’t undertake covert actions. They can’t, they’re high-profile. If your operation could fail based on someone walking down the street noticing you because you’re famous, you’re not out there running covert operations.

            That doesn’t necessarily mean that he might not be doing stuff he’s going to try and keep hidden (IE, meet with some militia leaders, bribe some Iraqi officials during private conversations, etc.) but the idea that he’s sneaking into the country to run some kind of op is ridiculous; that’s what anonymous 20-30 year olds are for.

          7. John Schilling

            If your operation could fail based on someone walking down the street noticing you because you’re famous, you’re not out there running covert operations.

            Unless your name is Bond James Bond, of course. But that is the only known exception.

          8. Nornagest

            Bond rarely stays covert for long, anyway. If the bad guy doesn’t know who he is right away (as in Goldeneye, Skyfall, The Man With The Golden Gun, others), he usually does by the end of the first act.

            I’ve got a theory that the 00 agents in the Bondverse are basically a sideshow: while everyone’s eyes are on the overt agent with a license to kill, who spends all his time escaping deathtraps, shooting a dozen mooks, making time with the girl, etc., the rest of MI6 is doing something boring but important like bugging an embassy. Presumably the Bondverse KGB (or GRU, post-Brosnan) funds all those supervillains with their superweapons and fancy lairs for similar reasons.

      2. jermo sapiens

        1. I’m sure there’s lots of misinformation surrounding this, so I really dont know what is true. But I’ve heard the US and other countries were warned of the attack by Iran because Iran just wanted to save face. This seems plausible but also strangely weak on the part of Iran. I know Iran’s TV claimed to have killed “80 American terrorists”.

        2. Yes

        3. Yes

        4. I dont know if it’s been normalized. But this to me is preferable to killing a few low level soldiers who are cannon fodder for Iran. If you can surgically kill top level officials who arrange attacks against your embassies, you will probably find fewer top level officials arranging attacks against your embassies.

        1. John Schilling

          I dont know if it’s been normalized. But this to me is preferable to killing a few low level soldiers who are cannon fodder for Iran. If you can surgically kill top level officials who arrange attacks against your embassies, you will probably find fewer top level officials arranging attacks against your embassies.

          If you can surgically kill top-level officials who arrange attacks on your embassies, you can also surgically kill top-level officials who didn’t arrange attacks on your embassies. And the incentives for such killings are not entirely aligned with “actually arranged attacks”.

          So you wind up with other countries selecting top-level officials for willingness to tolerate the risk of being killed. Meaning people who plan to do things worth dying for, and people who seriously believe in eternal rewards for following the demands of their faith. This seems like it might not result in peace and tranquility.

          1. Randy M

            Meaning people who plan to do things worth dying for, and people who seriously believe in eternal rewards for following the demands of their faith. This seems like it might not result in peace and tranquility.

            Well that depends on the faith and the what’s worth death.
            In general, I suspect it would encourage peace if top officials were among those who felt the consequence of disturbing it.

          2. John Schilling

            Again, it isn’t the consequences of disturbing the peace, it’s the consequences of disturbing the POTUS.

            “Hey Bob, what’s the penalty for waging war against the United States of America?”

            “Death”

            “What’s the penalty for being a senior military commander in a country that famously sacked an American embassy forty years ago, when the US president is facing a domestic political crisis?”

            “Death”

            “And…”

            Note that the people who actually resolve this one, are by definition the people who didn’t take the third option of resigning or just never accepting the senior military position.

          3. Clutzy

            But John, neither of your scenarios really fits, if I edited them to more accurately represent the situation I’d say:

            “Hey Bob, what’s the penalty for waging war being part of a covert military operation behind US lines against the United States of America?”

            “Death or capture

            This more accurately reflects that he was in Iraq, not Iran, and the fact that Trump would have just as well had him captured if he thought that Iranian force would surrender peacefully when surrounded by an obviously superior military force, like a French or German battalion would.

            “What’s the penalty for being a senior military commander in a country that famously sacked an American embassy forty years ago, when the US president is facing a domestic political crisis?” terrorist who gets caught in the open.

            “Death”

            There is a reason we don’t send the joint chiefs out with SEAL teams. Lt. Chrisotpher E. Mosko was KIA in Afghanistan in 2012. He was commanding a larger number of SEALs than were purported to be in Soleimani’s envoy. Lt. Commander Jonas Kelsall was KIA in 2011. Officers who are deployed on the frontlines are typically killed at equal or slightly higher rates than enlisted. If you are taking the tack that Soleimani was merely a general conducting military operations from the front, his death is not an abnormal happening in the slightest.

          4. John Schilling

            But John, neither of your scenarios really fits, if I edited them to more accurately represent the situation…

            You’re taking the word of the guys who ordered the killing as to what the situation was.

          5. Jaskologist

            Soleimani is not just some high-level official who had the misfortune to be from a country that did bad stuff forty years ago. He was one of the primary people directing the militias that were killing Americans in Iraq. All of this was quite well-known long before Trump came on the scene. He was being credited with hundreds of American deaths even back then.

          6. Clutzy

            You’re taking the word of the guys who ordered the killing as to what the situation was.

            Not at all. I am merely stating the fact that Soleimani was, at the time, either a terrorist or general involved in a war against the US.

            If he’s a terrorist then the objections clearly go away.

            If he is a general then he is behind enemy lines conducting some sort of military operation. He was not part of a peace envoy or some other negotiation team, as one would expect if an officer was behind enemy lines without the expectation that his company was not going to be targeted for military strikes.

            Any other “status” for Soleimani is a special pleading that the US has specific understanding with Iran. Sure, I’m sure Chinese or Russian generals were permitted in South Korea during the war as diplomatic envoys, but we had no agreement, and there is no international law saying their generals had to be actively avoided as targets if they were in the area that is now the DMZ, during active fighting.

          7. John Schilling

            If he is a general then he is behind enemy lines conducting some sort of military operation.

            The insignia on his uniform says “general”, and accusing foreign generals of being “terrorists” because you don’t like the way they kill your soldiers is the sort of propaganda only fools believe.

            And the Iraqi government clearly didn’t think he was “behind enemy lines”. Though I suppose in Trump-world, Iraq is a US province whose government is insufficiently obsequious.

            The United States and Iran are, or were, involved in a proxy war. By the generally-accepted rules of proxy wars, generals on both sides are allowed to plan operations where third-party irregulars kill soldiers of the other side. Neither side sends its soldiers to directly kill the other side’s soldiers. And the third-party countries where the war takes place, aren’t behind either side’s lines. If you don’t like that, you’re free to start a regular war. But own it, with everything it implies. Don’t pretend you’re just killing “terrorists”.

            Also, if you’re going to start a regular war with a nation armed with precision-guided ballistic missiles, maybe deploy some of your missile-defense systems to the war zone first. Because WTF?

          8. Conrad Honcho

            The United States and Iran are, or were, involved in a proxy war.

            The proxy war thing only works when the big boy nations are both actually big and can’t stomach the losses involved with fighting each other directly. We can have a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine because the US doesn’t want to deal with the consequences of shooting Russians and the Russians don’t want to deal with the consequences of shooting Americans. Iran foolishly thinks they’re a big boy nation like Russia, and they can thereby play by the proxy war rules. Killing Soleimani was a friendly reminder that no, Iran, you’re not big and strong enough to have proxies where we have to pretend we don’t know what you’re doing.

          9. John Schilling

            Iran foolishly thinks they’re a big boy nation like Russia, and they can thereby play by the proxy war rules.

            They can play by proxy rules, unless we are willing to play by Real War rules. Trump just had his first taste of Real War, and decided it wasn’t for him. But the proxy war is going to get worse for us, and I doubt Trump’s response is going to be an invasion.

            They can play by proxy war rules, and win, because the United States kind of sucks at doing proxy wars. P~0.70, this ends with Iraq being a puppet state of Iran. Long live the Khomeinid Persian Empire!

          10. Conrad Honcho

            P~0.70, this ends with Iraq being a puppet state of Iran.

            I agree, because I don’t see how else this ends unless the U.S. plans to be in Iraq forever.

            I’m hoping that after reelection, Trump rips the band-aid off, brings everybody home from Iraq and Afghanistan and we wash our hands of the whole mess. Let the next president have to worry about trying to get enough support for going back in if they want to control the region so badly. I don’t think I can give odds on that actually happening, it’s mainly wishful thinking on my part.

            For Iraq, anyway. I will give 75% odds he does it for Afghanistan.

          11. Aftagley

            The size/capabilities of the other nation should only be considered a factor here iff they are so small/incapable that we could deal with them without having to resort to real war mode.

            Iran is less powerful than Russia, sure, but it would still require real war to get them to comply. We are unwilling to resort to real war, so it defaults to proxy war.

          12. Conrad Honcho

            I think the size/power calculation that matters in proxy vs. real war is “can they hurt us?” The US and Russia can’t have a real war because they can each really hurt the other, so they have to have a proxy war. But the US can hurt Iran, and Iran can’t really hurt the US. So there is no proxy war. Iran can try to play proxy war and the US says “what are you doing? We can see you. See, watch, we can just kill ur dudes and there’s nothing you can do about it. So knock this crap off.” And if they keep trying to do proxy stuff, we can keep killing their dudes until they’re out of dudes.

          13. Aftagley

            But the US can hurt Iran, and Iran can’t really the US.

            I think this is the crux of our disagreement. Iran can definitely hurt the US in a variety of ways. These would invite significant reprisals from at least America (and likely a coalition of other affected countries) but Iran definitely has the capacity.

            Just off the top of my head they could:
            1. Use those missiles they’ve already proven they possess to launch attacks at more US bases.
            2. Activate some Hezbollah cells within the US or Israel to kill some civilians.
            3. Destroy or disrupt some international trade routes.

            Sure, none of these are existential threats to the US, but they are way less preferable to our national interests than just keeping everything down to the relatively comfortable level of proxy war.

          14. EchoChaos

            @Aftagley / John Schilling

            I’ve described Trump’s strategy before of sharply escalating in response to every defection and deescalating to cooperation, and I think this fits perfectly.

            To be clear, killing the uniformed general who is in charge of the proxy war, even if he’s planning it right now IS an escalation. A decent sized one.

            But Iran has no good options after that escalation. They can’t do anything that is equivalent to the United States at all. Doing more would be making serious moves that Trump would just escalate against as well.

            So their choice is to back down or do a major attack that Trump can justifiably escalate from again. They backed down, which is a big win for Trump.

            Worse for them, he then went conciliatory very well, so another reprisal would be viewed as a seperate event, which would make them the aggressors.

            The fact that they also shot down a jet full of civilians makes it even WORSE for them. It’s a massive loss for Iran.

          15. Conrad Honcho

            Those are all low-level things they’re doing now. And have been doing for a long time, which is among the reasons we killed Soleimani*. “If you attack them, they might keep doing the same low-level attacks they’ve been doing for years” isn’t persuasive.

            * I hate having to look up the spelling of the guy’s name every time. Can we just call him “General Salami” and all agree we know who we’re talking about?

          16. cassander

            @Conrad Honcho says:

            I agree, because I don’t see how else this ends unless the U.S. plans to be in Iraq forever.

            Not forever, just for as long as we’re in Japan, Germany, and Korea. 😛

            I’m hoping that after reelection, Trump rips the band-aid off, brings everybody home from Iraq and Afghanistan and we wash our hands of the whole mess.

            This won’t happen. First, second term presidents are usually weaker than first term presidents. More importantly, though, anyone who does that will face the prospect of losing afghanistan. Donald Trump’s whole MO is proving to the world that he is not, in fact, a loser. He’d never risk it, and neither would almost any other president. With Iraq, we’ve already seen that playout once, and it’s even less likely there.

          17. Conrad Honcho

            But I think he could make the case, “bin Laden is dead, we won Afghanistan, we’re coming home victorious” and whatever happens afterwards, who cares? Leaving Iraq would be conceding it to Iran, which would probably count as a loss, and for the reasons you stated is something Trump would be unlikely to do.

          18. John Schilling

            But Iran has no good options after that escalation. They can’t do anything that is equivalent to the United States at all. Doing more would be making serious moves that Trump would just escalate against as well.

            If, say, SecDef Esper is blown to tiny bits in an IED exposion on his next visit to Iraq, what do you imagine Trump would actually do about it?

            The answer used to be “launch some missiles at them, declare victory, go home”. We can still do that, but it never did have a good track record in imposing regime change or major policy change on authoritarian regimes. Modern nation-states, even modest “developing” ones like Iran, can absorb an awful lot of missiles without being seriously hurt.

            And now, Iran can do something that is the equivalent of that. But they wouldn’t be targeting a nation, they would be targeting a modest expeditionary force. The lesson of Ayn Al-Assad, for those paying attention, is that Iran can at any time inflict sufficient damage (and casualties) to render the current US force posture in Iraq untenable. Fifty to a hundred missiles, aimed to kill, and the United States would likely have to withdraw or be overrun.

            If we withdraw and accept it, even with our own token missile attack against Iran, that looks like ignominious defeat, and that would hurt the United States across the board.

            If we don’t want to accept the appearance of defeat, then the United States would have to retake Iraq from, presumably, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Desert Storm II, but against an enemy much more capable than Saddam Hussein. Without the support of the UN or any grand coalition. And probably with the Strait of Hormuz closed and precision-guided missiles hitting the airbases where we try to bring in reinforcements.

            If Iran wants a fight, I have a hard time seeing the US achieving anything like a victory under proxy war rules, and any victory under real-war rules would be bloody expensive. The idea that Iran is a puny nation that cannot really hurt the United States and thus must ultimately submit to it, doesn’t hold up.

          19. cassander

            @Conrad Honcho says:

            But I think he could make the case, “bin Laden is dead, we won Afghanistan, we’re coming home victorious” and whatever happens afterwards, who cares? Leaving Iraq would be conceding it to Iran, which would probably count as a loss, and for the reasons you stated is something Trump would be unlikely to do.

            He can make that case all he likes. Obama made that case in iraq in 2010. When it proved to be a very poor decision he was only sort of able to get away from it, and that was with a press that liked him and which supported his dubious assertions on the subject. Trump would not be nearly so fortunate.

            @John Schilling says:

            If, say, SecDef Esper is blown to tiny bits in an IED exposion on his next visit to Iraq, what do you imagine Trump would actually do about it?

            Not sure, but a lot more than he’d do if Esper was killed on a secret visit to Iran to coordinate with Iranian revolutionaries.

            If Iran wants a fight, I have a hard time seeing the US achieving anything like a victory under proxy war rules, and any victory under real-war rules would be bloody expensive. The idea that Iran is a puny nation that cannot really hurt the United States and thus must ultimately submit to it, doesn’t hold up.

            I think there’s a large space between defeat and regime change where the US inflicts substantially more harm on the iranian regime than it can inflict on US forces in Iraq and everyone knows it, particularly if we, you know, actually bothered to ship in some patriot batteries. I am not saying that such an outcome is likely or that I’m willing to roll the iron dice on this one, just that I think you’re painting an overly bleak picture of possibilities.

          20. John Schilling

            I’m hoping that after reelection, Trump rips the band-aid off, brings everybody home from Iraq and Afghanistan and we wash our hands of the whole mess.

            I’m sympathetic to that view, but this is a month too late and way too stupid to be going about it.

            If the United States is going to cede Iraq to Iran as a puppet state, presumably we’d want something in return. And presumably having Iraq as a puppet state would be valuable enough to Iran to offer concessions in other areas. That sounds like the basis for a mutually profitable negotiation – you know, the thing POTUS-45 claims to be so good at.

            Instead, the plan appears to have been to tear up the existing deal, make no serious attempt to negotiate a new deal, pick a fight with Iran for no reason anyone else can see, and then – if things go the way you are hoping – pull out in a way that basically everyone else on the planet is going to see as retreating in defeat.

            Plan A tells Iran, and anyone else paying attention, that the way to get things from the United States is to negotiate and make concessions. Plan B tells everyone that the way to get thing from the United States is to wage war against them and claim a quick win when the paper tiger runs away from the first taste of blood.

          21. John Schilling

            Not sure, but a lot more than he’d do if Esper was killed on a secret visit to Iran to coordinate with Iranian revolutionaries.

            And if Soleimani had been on a secret visit to the United States, you’d have the beginnings of a useful analogy. Since he wasn’t, you don’t.

          22. cassander

            @John Schilling says:

            And if Soleimani had been on a secret visit to the United States, you’d have the beginnings of a useful analogy. Since he wasn’t, you don’t.

            He was visiting an official US ally in order to work to actively undermine its government. But fair, if Esper visiting Iran is a bit too far, then Esper secretly visiting Syria to drum up anti-Iranian and Assad mobs in 2011. Though if we really are going to instinct on punctiliousness, we shouldn’t be talking of Esper but of a McCrystal that got tapped to head SOCOM instead of the Afghan war.

          23. John Schilling

            He was visiting an official US ally in order to work to actively undermine its government.

            He was visiting Iraq openly, with the permission and probably at the invitation of the Iraqi government. And the bit where Iraq is an “official US ally” is rather severely undermined by the part where we killed a senior Iraqi government official without bothering to check with the Iraqis

            But fair, if Esper visiting Iran is a bit too far, then Esper secretly visiting Syria to drum up anti-Iranian and Assad mobs in 2011.

            Again, Soleimani’s visit wasn’t secret, and the Iraqi government disputes the claimed purpose. If you’ve got Esper or someone like him visiting Iraq or Syria or any other country hosting one of our proxy wars, to meet openly with that nation’s government, and the meeting gets blown up with high-level casualties on the US and host-nation side, that’s a Really Big Deal.

            If it’s done by deniable third-party insurgents, the US probably retaliates against the insurgents and makes noises and sanctions against Iran, and otherwise writes it off as the cost of fighting a proxy war. If it’s done by the Iranian armed forces openly firing a missile at the meeting site, that escalates to Real War, real fast.

          24. Clutzy

            My question remains:

            Can the US just randomly promote SEAL team leaders to Admiral or the Joint Chiefs (sometimes I think we should do this anyways to improve the decision making there, but I digress) positions and then claim their actions on foreign soil cannot be resisted? Or just send an Admiral with them and the operation gains impunity and cannot be fired on?

            That is an absurd idea.

    3. The Nybbler

      Old news. We’re back to the impeachment.

      Seriously though, that one looked close. Not to WWIII, but at least to a really ugly war. How close it really was, you probably would have to be an insider to know.

      1. Nick

        Yeah, I credit the people who called this one correctly, and I’m sure there’s a reasonable heuristic for these cases like “80% of escalations never happen,” but it still felt tense for about 24 hours.

      2. FrankistGeorgist

        Yeah my takeaway from the whole thing was not that there was a brilliant maneuver pulled off so much as a special Providence protecting fools, children, and the United States. And I’d prefer we not test Providence again.

        1. hls2003

          How many such instances of special Providence would it take to either (a) suggest it’s not just happenstance, or (b) bump up your belief in actual Providence?

          I’m pretty much serious, because it’s a real question I struggle with. I generally think Trump is not that smart, but he hasn’t blundered into war yet, and as soon as it happened I thought “Gee, it makes some sense to deter unconventional warfare, in which we’re not superior, by threatening conventional retaliation, in which we’re clearly superior and Iran has the biggest downside.” At some point, I’m not sure when, I will need to concede that either Trump has the Devil’s own luck, or has perhaps some decent instincts for how to push / bully / negotiate bad actors (being one himself? Dealing with NY mobsters and politicos? Who knows how).

          Also, saying “they could still retaliate later” strikes me as goalpost shifting. Yes, they could, but at some distance it becomes more like a new spat. Also, we were warned of WWIII-level escalation, and even if there’s a negative action later, the hyperbolic predictions were still wrong.

          1. jermo sapiens

            I will need to concede that either Trump has the Devil’s own luck, or has perhaps some decent instincts for how to push / bully / negotiate bad actors (being one himself? Dealing with NY mobsters and politicos?

            yes, at least both those reasons.

          2. Aftagley

            Also, saying “they could still retaliate later” strikes me as goalpost shifting. Yes, they could, but at some distance it becomes more like a new spat.

            Well, let me try to explain why I think this isn’t the case:

            The IRGC, the organization he led before being killed that has a wide degree of autonomy within Iran and presumably would have the most incentive to retaliate, has a history of acting via long-term covert operations. There was/is the chance that Iran would respond via a whole-of-government approach to his killing AND/OR that the IRGC would respond on its own via its normal channels. We aren’t going to know what decision was made until either the attack happens, the attack gets prevented OR diplomacy somehow takes reprisal off the table. We haven’t engaged the third option yet, so we’re still in the waiting game of “will the IRGC act?”

            ETA

            I will need to concede that either Trump has the Devil’s own luck, or has perhaps some decent instincts for how to push / bully / negotiate bad actors (being one himself? Dealing with NY mobsters and politicos?

            Hmm, I actually find this idea interesting, but maybe not for the same reasons. Do you think that the skill of “dealing with bad actors” learned by dealing with mobsters is useful when dealing with “bad actors” who happen to run countries/armies?

            My gut reaction is no, since I think that motivating factors matter and that your average mobster has a very different incentive structure than your average general, but my confidence level isn’t particularly high. Do you think these skills transfer?

          3. hls2003

            The IRGC, the organization he led before being killed that has a wide degree of autonomy within Iran and presumably would have the most incentive to retaliate, has a history of acting via long-term covert operations. There was/is the chance that Iran would respond via a whole-of-government approach to his killing AND/OR that the IRGC would respond on its own via its normal channels. We aren’t going to know what decision was made until either the attack happens, the attack gets prevented OR diplomacy somehow takes reprisal off the table. We haven’t engaged the third option yet, so we’re still in the waiting game of “will the IRGC act?”

            I still think it’s clear goalpost shifting. There were heated warnings of WWIII. Even if you discount those people as foolish hyperventilators (which I do, it wouldn’t have been WWIII regardless even if bloody and very regrettable), there were more “sober” warnings of severe escalatory conventional retaliation, up to and including attacks on U.S. battle fleet ships and complete closure of the Strait of Hormuz. I thought that unlikely, and it turns out that it didn’t happen. I’m not saying unconventional attacks are impossible later; but that’s why it’s goalpost-shifting rather than lying. The point of most of the handwringing was that it took the war “out of the shadows,” out of plausible deniability, and into a realm of conventional warfare where conventional escalation would be inevitable. In fact, Iran deliberately chose a de-escalatory conventional reprisal strategy. That’s evidence that those predicting conventional war were wrong in their model of the Iranians.

            I’m also not convinced Iran will be eager to pursue a strategy of unconventional later retaliation. The message delivered by the U.S. was, more or less, “We’re done with plausible deniability on your unconventional stuff, we’ll respond with conventional means.” I don’t disagree that has risk, but it also is a significant disincentive for the Iranians to continue pushing the envelope on unconventional stuff. I would guess that’s the administration’s thinking, anyway. Obviously the critics disagree. But my confidence in the critics has been somewhat reduced due to them being wrong on the last conventional retaliation question.

            As to whether “mobster vs. government” skills transfer… I think they do to some extent. I don’t know how much. For one thing, I don’t think the two are as dissimilar as one might think, especially rogue governments who tend to operate clandestinely to avoid notice by more powerful forces. For another, I think understanding human nature and how incentives operate is a useful skill no matter where acquired, and would transfer. How much of any such skill Trump actually has, I don’t know. I’m just saying that at some point, if he has successes or correct “reads” on a situation, I need to attribute those to something, presumably some combination of luck and skill. Probability suggests that I should attribute more skill if successes or correct “calls” occur more frequently. I’m still pretty far on the “luck” side, but I think refusal to update at all on the question no matter what occurs would indicate a serious blind spot.

      3. hls2003

        It seems like some Bayesian evidence not to trust histrionic media “analysts.” But there was so little reason to trust them anyway that it doesn’t update me a lot.

    4. John Schilling

      The bit about being on the brink of World War III was mostly hyperbole; the most likely outcome was always that Iran would make a quick, visible, but low-key retaliation for the sake of Being Seen to Have Done Something, then set up something more serious but semi-deniable a few months down the road. So we’re not out of the woods yet.

      But for everyone other than 176 mostly Iranians and Canadians and their families, the Ukranian 752 shootdown may turn out to be good news. That incident cost Iran a lot of the legitimate-victim status, both globally and domestically, that it would need if it were going to go forward with a potentially escalatory plan. If a US warship winds up hitting a mine in the Persian Gulf next month, it won’t be “That nation whose general was just assassinated is getting payback”, it will be “That nation that shot down a plane full of innocent civilians is causing more trouble”.

      To the extent that there was any risk of immediate war following the Soleimani assassination, it was that the United States might overreact to Iran’s necessary but limited prompt retaliation. Fortunately, Iran chose to play the Danny Glover role from Silverado, and Trump stuck with the John Cleese response.

  30. hnrq

    My younger brother is finishing high school this year and will study CS in college. What books would you recommend for him to read? Things to expand the mind a bit, which is naturally too much focused in teenage boy stuff, social group dynamics and videogames (nothing wrong with that btw). Books in the style of Sapiens would be good I think, and stuff with a bit of a rationalist edge. What you reckon?

    1. Ms. Morgendorffer

      Have you tried showing him this blog? I heard it’s quite good and eclectic! If he likes it, he’ll even find book reviews in here.

    2. Nornagest

      Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid used to be the go-to recommendation here but I’m not sure if I’d still stand by it.

      Neal Stephenson’s book-length essay “In The Beginning Was The Command Line” is getting a little long in the teeth these days, but it still holds up pretty well as social commentary grounded in CS.

      For color commentary on pure CS, James Mickens’ essays are hard to beat. My favorites are “The Night Watch” (on systems engineering) and “This World Of Ours” (on security).

      1. EchoChaos

        Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid used to be the go-to recommendation here but I’m not sure if I’d still stand by it.

        I read that when I was seventeen and LOVED it. Highly recommended.

        1. Nick

          I found an odd thing about GED: I positively devoured the first half or so, but the second half was kind of a slog. Confirmed by a friend I told to read the book, too. I still recommend it.

          I think Paul Graham’s essays would be good short content, and as books go, Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and Tetlock’s Superforecasters are safe picks.

          1. Nornagest

            Thinking Fast and Slow is a good book and I’d recommend it over the Sequences as an introduction to heuristics and biases, but I’m not sure I’d recommend either these days, because I’m not sure how well either one weathered the replication crisis. My vague recollection is that Kahneman’s own work held up pretty well but there are holes in the stuff he cites from other people, but I’d need to go back and figure out which is which.

            If there’s a new edition taking questions like this into account, then yeah, go read that.

      2. Silverlock

        Mickens is amazing and everyone involved — or not — in tech should read his essays if they have any sense of humor at all.

          1. CatCube

            They’re enjoyable even if you aren’t in CS. I’ve not found many good opportunities to use “could be done by a drunken child or a sober goldfish,” but I try to look for them.

          2. EchoChaos

            Everyone should read these. Absolutely delightful.

            FOR COMPLEX REASONS THAT ARE ROOTED
            IN EUROPEAN COLONIAL NARRATIVES, YOUR WIZARD
            MUST BE AN OLD WHITE MAN WITH A FLOWING BEARD,
            NOT A BLACK MAN WITH HIPSTER SHOES AND A
            FANTASTIC VINYL COLLECTION.

    3. WashedOut

      Taleb’s Antifragile is a good book, where I define a good book as one that makes you think about things in interesting new ways. It also acts as a kind of compendium of the two books that came before it.

  31. Two McMillion

    I’m trying to locate a copy of the following book:

    https://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/search?searchCode=LCCN&searchArg=88050598&searchType=1&permalink=y

    Amazon has a listing for it, but no copies available. The same on many used book sites I’ve tried. Nothing on ebay. The publisher doesn’t appear to have an internet presence. I found a person on facebook who I’m reasonably sure is the author and messaged them, but who knows if that will yield anything.

    Any other suggestions? I feel so weird, in the 21st century, having so much trouble locating a text.

    1. anonymousskimmer

      If its available in a library anywhere, a research librarian can find it, though this may cost money. Try going to your local library and explaining your trouble finding the book to the librarian. They can probably tell you where to find a research librarian, if they can’t find it themselves.

      1. John Schilling

        IIRC, Lovecraft allowed for six copies of the Necronomicon in research libraries around the world. Just how dangerous is this “Constitution” thing anyway?

      2. The Nybbler

        I don’t think the Library of Congress will let you borrow it. They’re like a roach motel for books; they check in but never check out.

  32. johan_larson

    In other news, the Finnish military recently finished its preliminary meetings with the cohort of young men born in 2001, and drafted 73% of them.

    The breakdown:

    Invitation age class: men born in 2001, 30,183 persons
    73.49% assigned to military service
    On medical grounds, 9.82% was released from service in peacetime and assigned to grade C
    A total of 9.75% was assigned to E-Classes for re-invitations, ie for health reasons
    Non-residents, exempted on grounds of multinationality 3.25%
    Absenteeism and legal impediment dropouts 1.76%
    1.45% applied for civilian service
    0.48% of the released Åland (a demilitarized area)

    Any Finns here who could speak to what class E means?

    https://maavoimat.fi/artikkeli/-/asset_publisher/kutsunnat-paatokseen-yli-73-prosenttia-ikaluokasta-maarattiin-varusmiespalvelukseen

    1. Matt M

      The fact that so many developed, western, highly-respected nations still engage in routine conscription is one of those things that I know is true, but still haven’t fully wrapped my head around. Why this happens and why everyone just shrugs it off is utterly bizarre to me.

      1. Aapje

        It’s more popular and more extensive in nations with a credible threat nearby, so that probably plays a big role.

        Also, it seems to often be seen as an initiation to adulthood.

        1. Matt M

          I mean, sure. I understand why Israel and South Korea think they need to do that sort of thing. Finland is probably at the frontier of where it “makes sense” (Russia is right there and has tried to invade them before).

          On the other hand, Finland isn’t fighting any hot war right now, while the US is doing so, in multiple countries. And the slightest mention of conscription is enough to make significant percentages of people start ranting about how such things are unimaginably evil and oppressive.

          1. Milo Minderbinder

            Is it weird that I’m an American and wish we had some kind of (universal) conscription upon age 18-20? Not necessarily 100% military, some could definitely be used for essentially corvée labor. A shared experience of working towards the national good seems desirable in today’s polarized America. Most of the Koreans/Israelis I’ve spoken to who finished their service (probably less than 15, so pretty small sample) seemed positive about it.

            I’m aware implementing such a thing would be impossible and outrageously costly at this point.

          2. johan_larson

            Large-scale conscription is pretty rare in Europe, too. Finland’s closest neighbors, Sweden and Norway, do have conscription on paper, but in practice very few need to actually serve. Finland is a bit special in that regard.

            Large-scale conscription was in place during the Cold War in much of Europe. But it has been scaled back dramatically or eliminated since then.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscription#/media/File:Conscription_map_of_the_world.svg

          3. anonymousskimmer

            @Matt M
            Conscription in Finland means being trained for if your homeland ever needs defending.

            Conscription in the US means you are definitely going to be sent to fight in a foreign adventure, because some other state’s representatives and senators, and of course that president you didn’t* vote for, thinks it’s a good idea.

            * – Various combats we’re currently engaged in can be traced to Carter, Reagan, Bush, Bush II, Clinton, Obama, and Trump, if only by said president not ‘properly’ dealing with things at the time.

            @Milo Mindbender

            Is it weird that I’m an American and wish we had some kind of (universal) conscription upon age 18-20?

            I sincerely hope so. I spent enough of my childhood bending to the desires of my parents, that to spend my young adulthood bending to the desires of people I don’t even know, much less love, may have been too much.

          4. Matt M

            anonymousskimmer,

            Fair point. If there was a way to volunteer for military service that included an explicit promise that one would never have to fight (or even travel) more than, say, 100 miles from the US border (the real border, none of this “embassies and military bases are technically American soil” nonsense) – I suspect it would become somewhat popular, and being conscripted into that would be far less controversial.

          5. FrankistGeorgist

            !anonymousskimmer

            I’ve heard far left arguments that universal conscription helps prevent precisely that kind of overseas adventure because now the politicians and the bureaucracy all have family members heading overseas if they vote for war.

            The difference from now being that any politicians or bureaucrat who has family going off to war knows they volunteered to do so, rather than being forced, which I guess produces a different psychology about it. I’m not really super convinced since we’ve had the draft before and the result was ending the draft not ending overseas adventures.

            I’ve also heard that in places which have it (Austria, if I’m remembering the anecdote correctly), military service is part jobs program and partly a drinking holiday which helps instill “mateyness” as I believe Anzac people say, and develop some tangible skills and habits.

            So I can sorta see how someone could support such a thing as basically 2 year college for everyone with emphasis on physical education and discipline. Still seems fairly antithetical to American values unless you go back to the original militia days and squint or think 50s prosperity came from military discipline.

            What if each state conscripted its citizens for the state militia? It’s strange enough I can’t begin to imagine all the ways it would go stupid.

          6. Radu Floricica

            @FrankistGeorgist

            So I can sorta see how someone could support such a thing as basically 2 year college for everyone with emphasis on physical education and discipline.

            It’s interesting how The Bell Curve colored my previously progressive and egalitarian attitudes. Trying to imagine top and bottom IQ quartiles doing the same kind of thing… it ends up like a bit of a warm, useless soup (no intended dig at high school. It just happened).

            But a market of such things… Say a state sponsored market of _something_. Could be anything, from free college to environmental works, which can include literal ditch digging. As long as it has a number of rather abstract criteria, it can be included: socially positive impact, learning experience and so on. You get certified and start offering this. Even literal work is ok, with paycheck partly paid by the gov.

          7. johan_larson

            Military training isn’t particularly results-egalitarian. Sure, everyone does basic training, but what comes after varies dramatically in difficulty and in prestige. The military is very interested in which of their recruits are capable, both physically and intellectually.

      2. Jake R

        I’m very much against mandatory conscription but I do think it serves an interesting role in countries like Israel and South Korea. That role is “default thing you do after graduating high school.” In the US the thing you do after high school is go to college. Even if good jobs were available, how many 18-year-old high school graduates are willing to get a job, sign a lease, and start living on their own? College often serves as a sort of trial period of being an adult, frequently to kids who have no idea what degree they want and no concept of the trade-offs involved. The availability of a culturally acceptable alternative that doesn’t come with six figure debt seems pretty useful.

        1. Nick

          One interesting question is how well conscription would serve the Caplan-esque purposes of college. For instance, it might serve as a guarantor of conscientiousness, and as you say, not one that costs students six figures.

          A big catch imo would be whether this program is doing any good for the rest of the country, though, since the bill for it is still being footed somewhere down the line.

    2. johan_larson

      What strikes me as odd about these figures is how high a portion of each cohort the Finns accept for military training. It’s more than seventy percent. Meanwhile the US military considers only about thirty percent fit for service. That’s a big gap.

      1. Matt M

        Well, if the hypothetical use case of your army is “defend the homeland against imminent invasion by a significantly superior force”, I’d imagine your overall standards might be somewhat lower than if your use case is “spread freedom and democracy overseas, in lands you couldn’t even locate on a map, minimizing casualties and other things that cause bad PR as much as possible.”

      2. bean

        Probably a combination of the fact that Americans tend to be unusually unhealthy among developed nations and higher standards on the part of the US. The Finns don’t operate anywhere near as hard as we do, which tends to lead to looser standards. Also, if it’s at least a bit of a cultural expectation, they may take people like that and shunt them into jobs where their fitness doesn’t matter as much.

    3. Radu Floricica

      Quick note on this. Obviously it’s about Russia, but it’s more direct than this. Russia can of course win a war – it did win the last one, after all. But it was costly – a lot more than they counted on. So the basic Finnish strategy for the next war is to advertise that if they’re swallowed, they’ll keep stinging on the way down. And they actually will – if Russia does something, not putting up a big fight pretty much guarantees they’ll be part of the next USSR. And everybody knows this.

      One of the few remaining cases when the population is really motivated to fight.

    4. bean

      One interesting thing about Finnish conscription is how short it is. The maximum required is 11.5 months for conscript officers, and some serve as little as 5.5 months. Other countries that still conscript require anywhere from 18 months (South Korea) to 2 years (Singapore) and 32 months (Israeli men, women serve 24). So it looks like Finland, unlike other nations, isn’t using conscripts to staff its military. They’re purely using them as a reserve, and releasing them as soon as they’re trained. This makes some sense, as their security situation is better than South Korea or Israel, whose strategy is probably to use the active conscripts to buy time while the reservists activate. Finland doesn’t have that buffer, although they probably have a lot more space to trade for time. (Singapore is just weird. I think it’s a national unity thing for them, although they put a lot of emphasis on their military, too.)

      1. johan_larson

        This may be partly institutional habit. Finland was subject to strict limits on the size of its military back in the Soviet days. I guess they figured the best use of that limited headcount was to maintain a small core of regulars, and keep everyone else in only as long as it took to train them. And they’re still following that model, possibly with some adjustments, even though the limits no longer exist.

        1. bean

          Interesting. I didn’t know that, but it makes a lot of sense. It’s probably also because “hey, we’re going to keep conscripts in uniform for longer” is a really hard sell in today’s security environment. Not to mention the budgetary consequences.

  33. LadyJane

    Am I going crazy, or were there some questions on the survey that aren’t included in the results? For example, I specifically remember some questions asking about sexual partners and masturbation, and they don’t seem to be anywhere on the results pages or the see-the-questions pages.

    1. Business Analyst

      Masturbation was there, I was surprised there wasn’t a relationship between number of tabs and times per week. Keep in mind though that the survey was opened during a busy travel week, and specifically asked about the current week, so the results may not be typical.

      Not all questions are released publicly, I didn’t look for the sexual partner variable.

    2. b_jonas

      The survey questions is split to two pages. You may have to click on the “Next” button to go to the second page. That’s where you find the header “PART TWENTY-ONE: SELF-HELP”, and under it, a subheading “Rapid Fire. If you have ever tried any of the following self-help or fitness methods, please rate how well they met your goals for them. Please do *not* rate them on how hard they were to stick to, only on how well they worked when you did stick to them. If you weren’t able to stick to them long enough to get a good sense of how they worked, skip the question” and the question “No Fap (or otherwise avoiding masturbation)”.

    3. CatCube

      I believe Scott has said that he’ll not publicly post the answers some particularly sensitive questions, due to the concern that despite his best efforts, there might be ways to deanonymize the results with the publicly-available questions. (E.g., how many 82 year-old Latvian readers can there be?) The sex stuff was in that bucket, IIRC.

  34. Dino

    Why can’t we have a safe and secure internet V2? It’s technically possible to write a safe and secure Internet Protocol V2 that uses what we’ve learned from the problems of IP V1 (which was designed in, and for, a much less adversarial context then today). The weakest link is user authentication – it would need to have access limited to specifically identifiable people at a level similar to driver’s licenses and motor vehicle registrations. Bye bye anonymity. There would be eager customers for such a thing – military for one. Could something like a Google moon-shot work? Maybe some of the economics experts here can explain?

    1. dodrian

      Most of the internet uses IPv4, however it has a serious technical problem: there is an upper limit on the number of addresses of about 4 billion, and we’ve already passed that number of internet enabled devices. There are some workarounds so that not every device needs to have its own address.

      To address this issue the Internet Engineering Task Force introduced IPv6, which has an upper limit of ~3E38 addresses. It isn’t backwards compatible with v4, but there are a number of things you can do, such as running both simultaneously, or tunneling v6 traffic over v4.

      Despite this, v6 adoption has been very slow. Not all ISPs or even servers support it. What’s more, hosting companies have begun charging for v4 addresses, and no doubt those prices will only increase.

      So, even with both a compelling technical reason (address space exhaustion), and an increasingly compelling economic reason (cost of v4 addresses going up), we’re really struggling to move to the new protocol, focusing on workarounds rather than migration. Unfortunately I think that shows how difficult it would be move to an even newer version just for a few bells and whistles.

        1. Radu Floricica

          WTF. What’s the explanation? I worked in emailing (no spam, honest), and we repeatedly tried using ipv6 to connect to providers because.. well.. it’s just objectively better. We quit when yahoo just bailed on ipv6 one day without even bothering to notify anybody. I just assumed ipv6 is dead. I think it was some 4 years ago.

          1. Aapje

            This is measuring site accesses, not mail. It seems that anti-spam software is/was lagging behind in ipv6 support, which may have been the reason why they dropped support at the time.

            Adoption of ipv6 seems to differ a lot by country/network, with India, China, USA, Germany being some countries with high adoption.

          2. Mark Atwood

            If you are using a Comcast DOCSIS modem or a T-Mobile wireless connection, and you are using Win10, MacOS, iOS, or Android, you are dual stacked 6/4, with a preference towards 6, with a real globally routable v6 address.

            If you then connect to any G service or to FB, you’re using a end to end 6 connection, and you probably don’t even realize it.

            Given how much of “the internet” in the US is Comcast subscribers using G and FB, I’m surprised the number isn’t higher.

            FB’s IPv6 address prefix is “2a03:2880:f003:c07:face:b00c::”, which is actually pretty funny.

            My own employer is running a little behind, but working on it. It’s probably our fault that the number isn’t higher. When S3 and CloudFront start being first class v6 members, that number will jump a lot.

          3. Lambert

            I did live in a flatshare that was connected to ipv6 once.
            But only once. And how many years has it been?

      1. Lambert

        I just wish I could ssh to my computer that lives behind a router I don’t own without arsing about with reverse SSH tunneling and the like.

          1. Lambert

            Anyone else up for repeatedly launching attacks on ipv4-related infrastructure so that the world is forced to switch?

    2. John Schilling

      Why can’t we have a safe and secure internet V2? It’s technically possible to write a safe and secure Internet Protocol V2 that uses what we’ve learned from the problems of IP V1?

      Because the internet was invented and is still largely maintained by Americans. Americans deal with crises by working miracles to resolve them after they bite us in the ass, not by sensibly planning for them ahead of time. So far, the inherent insecurity of the internet hasn’t risen above nuisance level. When it does, we’ll see what sort of miracle occurs.

    3. WashedOut

      The weakest link is user authentication – it would need to have access limited to specifically identifiable people at a level similar to driver’s licenses and motor vehicle registrations.

      Care to explain why you think this?

      1. Dino

        Scammers and spammers need to be able to hide their personal identity to be able to get away with their crimes. If they can be personally tracked down they can be prosecuted.

        1. John Schilling

          It isn’t clear that we need to prosecute them in meatspace. If we can identify them in cyberspace, a killfile or blacklist ought to suffice – and if they don’t have an established cyberspace identity, don’t send them your credit card number and don’t pass their bulk email through your ISP.

          1. anonymousskimmer

            Can’t you pay a person from a poorer country a few hundred dollars to create an MMRPG character of particular level, characteristics, and equipment for you?

            Why can’t the scammers do this?

            Wouldn’t this just make online identify theft worse? With worse consequences to the people who had their identity stolen?

          2. John Schilling

            They can do this regardless of whether meatspace ID is required for internet access; poor people from poor countries usually have documented identities (and if not can get them for <$100). So, yeah, we can require meatspace ID, but it won't solve the network-abuse problems and it will aggravate the identity-theft problem.

          3. anonymousskimmer

            By “online identity theft” I literally meant theft of “online identity”. Not theft of meat-space identity via online means.

            If we can identify them in cyberspace, a killfile or blacklist ought to suffice

            Risks really screwing someone over. At least as much as meat-space identity theft does, if not more.