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Open Thread 146.25

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1,039 Responses to Open Thread 146.25

  1. salvorhardin says:

    Suppose, purely hypothetically, that we wished to come up with a constitutional amendment to abolish Presidential elections and move the US toward something more like a parliamentary system of government, on the grounds that independently elected Presidents are too powerful, too inclined to demagoguery, and too hard to hold accountable when they abuse their power for demagogic purposes.

    How might we craft an amendment to minimize the amount of overall change to the system while still achieving the essential result and being basically workable from a governance standpoint? I’m thinking e.g. something like

    — The House chooses the President all the time, rather than just when there is no Electoral College majority.

    — They can choose a new one by simple majority once every two years (i.e. once per new Congress), or if the office is vacated by death/disability/resignation.

    — They can choose a new President “out of band” by 2/3 majority, for any reason or no reason, at any time, no trial of the existing President required.

    — Eligibility criteria and term limits stay the same: a Pres can serve for at most eight years total and has to be a 35+ year old natural born citizen.

    — The powers of the Pres, House, Senate, and courts are otherwise unchanged.

    — You probably need some tweaking of rules for caretaker situations e.g. what’s the order of succession in case of death etc. for the time before the House can meet to choose a new Pres, or what happens if they deadlock and can’t agree on anyone new. The existence of successful mechanisms for these situations in parliamentary systems makes me confident that we could come up with good ones here.

    What are the dealbreakers that I’m missing?

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      Democracy has a lot of caché in America. The transitive democracy of republican government is unfortunately incomprehensible to the majority of citizens. Putting one’s vote forward in support of a particular candidate has talismanic significance that isn’t easily disposed of.

    • sharper13 says:

      The largest downside I see is that you convert the President from a separate force from the legislature to a creature of the House. As a result, you’ll see the President staying more in line with the House’s wishes (and vice-versa), rather than a separation of potentially opposed power as originally setup.

      That may be your desire, I don’t know, but IMHO the U.S. has typically been better governed when the House and the President have been opposed to each other (for less controversial examples, I’ll go farther back in time and point out the Clinton and Reagan Administrations) than when the President and the Congress are “working together” as the same party and can push through anything they want.

      To look to the present, I suppose we might see a President Pelosi (one of the politicians who are thought of so unfavorably outside their constituency that other politicians campaign against her allies using her name) as opposed to a President Biden, for example. Not sure after recent fiascos that I’d want the House making decisions like who should be the President, but sure, that’s current and maybe a different Congress/system would provide difference results.

      Either way I prefer the need for a larger consensus between partisan opponents to be required on the average than I do ensuring one set of partisans has their hands on more of the levers of power at a time. So to me, more frequently united government is a failure mode of the proposal, rather than a positive outcome.

      One of the issues we’re currently dealing with already is the strengthening of the national government compared to the State governments. The growth in the national government surely had multiple causes, but the 17th Amendment in 1913 certainly helped the trend along by causing the State’s representatives (Senators) to no longer represent the State legislatures in the power distribution, but rather turn into additionally popularly elected folks representing the same people who vote in the House members. The only thing which has preserved the Senate’s somewhat independence from the House is their 6 year terms, as the House turns over every 2 years and thus the voting winds become mismatched for 2/3 of the Senators at a time.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        @sharper
        Though I was sympathetic to the OP’s post, you make good points. Interesting that you bring up the Reagan and Clinton administrations as better governed. I’ve always thought that the best presidential administrations in my lifetime were Reagan’s and Clinton’s, even though I didn’t so much like the presidents themselves and never voted for either. I do also always vote for president whichever party is least likely to have a majority in the two houses of Congress, because I want there to be a check on the president. So I agree with you.

        But the downside of this is that these days it seems that the two parties can never work with each other on any major program, because the extreme partisanship makes it politically impossible do anything that the other side agrees to. Hopefully this is a passing phase of US politics, but it doesn’t appear so at this point.

    • DavidS says:

      I think PMs are in many ways more powerful as they have parliament behind them. Boris Johnson in the UK can now do almost anything he wants.

      What your system would do is make it less likely that a president emerged who was so far out of the norms of politics as Trump.

    • John Schilling says:

      What are the dealbreakers that I’m missing?

      Most Americans don’t even know the name of their own representative in Congress. Most Americans don’t bother to vote in any election that doesn’t include the Presidency. They don’t care who represents them in congress. They do care who is President, and they care about being able to choose who is president.

      So if you tell them that only congressmen can “really” vote for President, they’ll just treat Congress the way they currently treat the Electoral College. The only winning move for any congressional candidate will be “I swear that if elected I will cast my vote for Trump (Bernie, Biden, whoever) as President, and faithfully follow his commands while in office”. This will make the President more powerful, not less.

      If you don’t like powerful Presidents, or Prime Ministers or whatnot, divided government is your friend.

      • Evan Þ says:

        This. This was already happening to state legislatures through the 1800’s, when they elected Senators. Remember, the Lincoln/Douglas debates were two Senate nominees debating each other before the state legislature elections. This was one of the big arguments in favor of the Seventeenth Amendment which let the people directly elect Senators and freed the state legislatures to actually consider local issues.

        The system needs more fundamental reform.

    • S_J says:

      I’m going to propose something really off-the-wall.

      The States should choose the President. Not Congress, not a simple majority of the national population.

      They should use a system that gives each State an authority roughly proportional to the number of people in the State. Maybe use some sort of short-hand, like each Statyr can send a number of people equal to the number of Federal Congress-persons from the State.

      But they can’t send actual Representatives or Senators, because that might cause some confusion over whether they represent the will of Congress, or of the State that sent them.

      Let the States figure out how they choose these people. Since their job is to choose the President, they can be called Electors.

      I’m not sure what to call this body of Electors, though. Maybe call it an Electoral Convention, or Electoral College, or something like that. They only need to meet once every four years.

      It’s a crazy idea. But I think it would work.

      • bullseye says:

        In practice, each state would delegate the election to its people (because people want a direct say in electing the one office that everyone actually pays attention to). The end result would be a nationwide popular election in which some people’s votes arbitrarily count more than others depending on which state they live in.

    • bullseye says:

      If you want to have Congress choose the President with a minimum of other change, the way to go would be to have both houses sit together as a single body (plus three people from D.C.). This is how Switzerland elects their head of state, except without the three extras and also their head of state is seven people.

      I propose we adopt that last part from Switzerland. There’s a danger in having a single President, regardless of how he’s chosen. Other country’s Presidents have a tendency to become dictators, and ours has been slowly moving in that direction for decades. I also propose we have a mechanism to make the council have more than one party; maybe we only elect one at a time, or maybe we use proportional representation, or maybe we divide the country into regions or something. (The Swiss method, where the legislature could make them all one party but just chooses not to, would not work here.)

      • Evan Þ says:

        Perhaps we could start by having each “Elector” vote for two separate people, and give the runner-up a second executive office? We could call him something like the “Vice-President.”

        (As you say, leaving the option open of making them all one party would not work here.)

    • b_jonas says:

      > has to be a 35+ year old natural born citizen

      Not answering the question, but while you’re doing this reform, could you also get rid of those criteria? It’s showing a bad example, when in all other jobs, the laws require that we judge by qualities that actually matter for the job performance. Just change it to say that the candidate must be someone who is allowed to vote.

      • Dacyn says:

        Part of the job the the president is to be a symbol of America, so it makes sense that being “quintessentially American” is part of his job. I could see adding an exception for people who moved here shortly after they were born but I think the president should at least be someone who was raised here. And president is not the only job that has an age minimum, though maybe you want to get rid of the ones for senators and representatives as well, and maybe you don’t consider age of majority to be an age limit.

        • b_jonas says:

          So apparently representatives and senators of the U.S. Congress have to be at least 25 years and at least 30 years of age respectively. I didn’t know that. (Hungary has or had an age limit of 35 years for the president of the republic, but no age limit for members of the parliament.) Yes, I’d prefer if you lowered those age limits too so that anyone who is allowed to vote is old enough.

  2. Loriot says:

    A bit of a rant, brought on by the discussions under Human Compatible:

    The whole AI-risk meme complex that is prevalent in the rational community seems like an interesting case study in rationalism. Everybody is more charitable towards arguments that support their existing beliefs and selectively hostile towards counterarguments, etc. It’s just human nature. But it’s very interesting to see that in action when a group of otherwise smart people strongly believe something completely different than you. Unfortunately, this also means that they commonly bandy about what they perceive as knock down arguments that are utterly unconvincing to anyone who doesn’t already believe.

    To take just one example, consider this passage from Things that are not superintelligences.

    I keep getting the same objection in the comments: if we made a bunch of ordinary eight-year olds follow a simple set of operations that corresponded to a logic gate, and arranged them so that they simulated the structure of Deep Blue, then they could win high-level chess games. This is true. But eight-year-olds could not come up with and implement this idea. A brilliant computer programmer might be able to, but once you’re a brilliant computer programmer, you might as well just build the darned computer instead of implementing it on eight year olds. And any computer programmer so brilliant that they could build a true superintelligence out of eight year olds could build a true superintelligence out of normal computers too.

    Some people claim that AI is impossible because noone can design a system smarter than themselves. This argument is rightly derided and seems inconsistent with reality. And yet, Scott makes the exact same argument, except with transistors substituted for eight year olds!

    P.S. Before everyone floods me with replies about why AI risk is the most important thing ever, keep in mind that I’ve been part of “the rational community” for almost 10 years. I’ve already seen pretty much every major argument for and against varying forms of AI risk. There is no conceivable comment that will make me repent and donate everything I have to MIRI.

    I believe that superhuman AIs are not only possible, but inevitable in the long run. But I also think that the way people here often talk about them is more rooted in fantasy storytelling than anything plausible, and that researching theoretical “AI alignment” specifically as opposed to the more practical forms of AI research that are already being done or worrying about robots going Foom and destroying the world is useless and possibly counterproductive.

    • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

      I don’t think I follow–why is Scott making the “exact same argument, except with transistors substituted for eight year olds?” Scott is not claiming that no one can design a system smarter than themselves. Instead, he is claiming that eight year olds couldn’t figure out how to work together as logic gates in such a way as to simulate Deep Blue, which is true.

  3. Deiseach says:

    link text a happy La Fhéile Bríde to everyone, enjoy the first day of Spring*! 🙂

    In honour of one of the Three Patron Saints of Ireland, let’s have a hymn, a famous poem (though it’s ironic that with all the grammar teaching on that page, they mistranslated/misspelled “arán plúir” as “flower” instead of “(white) flour” bread), and an extract from a Vita!

    13
    On one occasion Dubthach brought Brigit to the king of Leinster, namely Dúnlang, to sell her as a serving slave, because her stepmother had accused her of stealing everything in the house for clients of God. Dubthach left her in his chariot to mind it on the green of the fort and he leaves his sword with her. She gave it to a leper who came to her. Dubthach said to the king: ‘Buy my daughter from me to serve you, for her manners have deserved it.’ ‘What cause of annoyance has she given?’, said the king. ‘Not hard’, said Dubthach. ‘She acts without asking permission; whatever she sees, her hand takes.’ Dubthach on returning questions her about that precious sword. She replied: ‘Christ has taken it.’ Having learned that, he said: ‘Why, daughter, did you give the value of ten cows to a leper? It was not my sword, but the king’s.’ The girl replied: ‘Even if I had the power to give all in Leinster, I would give it to God.’ For that reason the girl is left in slavery. Dubthach returned to his home. Wonderful to relate, the virgin Brigit is raised by divine power and placed behind her father. ‘Truly, Dubthach’, said the king, ‘this girl can neither be sold nor bought.’ Then the king gives a sword to the virgin, and . . .After the afore-mentioned miracles they return home.
    14
    Shortly afterwards a man came to Dubthach’s house to woo Brigit. His name was Dubthach moccu Lugair. That pleased her father and her brothers. ‘It is difficult for me’, said Brigit, ‘I have offered up my virginity to God. I will give you advice. There is a wood behind your house, and there is a beautiful maiden [therein]. She will be betrothed to you, and this is how you will recognize it: You will find an enclosure wide open and the maiden will be washing her father’s head and they will give you a greater welcome, and I will bless your face and your speech so that whatever you say will please them.’ It was done as Brigit said.
    15
    Her brothers were grieved at her depriving them of the bride-price. There were poor people living close to Dubthach’s house. She went one day carrying a small load for them. Her brothers, her father’s sons, who had come from Mag Lifi, met her. Some of them were laughing at her; others were not pleased with her, namely Bacéne, who said: ‘The beautiful eye which is in your head will be betrothed to a man though you like it or not.’ Thereupon she immediately thrusts her finger into her eye. ‘Here is that beautiful eye for you’, said Brigit. ‘I deem it unlikely’, said she, ‘that anyone will ask you for a blind girl.’ Her brothers rush about her at once save that there was no water near them to wash the wound. ‘Put’, said she, ‘my staff about this sod in front of you.’ That was done. A stream gushed forth from the earth. And she cursed Bacéne and his descendants, and said: ‘Soon your two eyes will burst in your head.’ And it happened thus.

    (Irish saints tend to be quick, not to say bad, tempered).

    And of course, how to make a Saint Bridget’s Cross which you can then hang up in your cow byre or your home to protect it from lightning, fire and misfortune 😀

    *Yes I know it’s not Official Spring or meteorological spring or astronomical spring, but seeing this is one thing us and the Ancient Chinese agree on, it’s Spring! Ask your local groundhog!

    • Plumber says:

      @Deiseach >

      “…Irish saints tend to be quick, not to say bad, tempered…”

      For some reason I’m now thinking of Mairead McGuinness

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, on Mairéad’s side, flags are a contentious topic in the North 🙂

        • Plumber says:

          @Deiseach >

          flags

          Your link taught me something:

          “…flags flown by socialist republicans include the Starry Plough…”

          there’s a bar in Berkeley, California that’s a five to fifteen minute walk from my old apartment in Oakland that my uncle (also a plumber, but no longer union, now an “independent contractor” with truck, tools, and an advertisement) was stabbed in front of decades ago, the bar is called “The Starry Plough” and that flag is their logo, and now I know of the origin of thr name and logo.

          Thanks!

  4. Lambert says:

    What exactly are the symptoms of novel coronavirus?
    I’m 99% certain that what I’m getting is just an ordinary sore throat, but I’m at a big university with a lot of international students.
    It’s not implausible that someone here was in Wuhan a few weeks ago.

    • marshwiggle says:

      The big one that is easy to test for is fever. If you have a fever, consider medical attention or taking steps to not infect people.

    • Roebuck says:

      From the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control:

      From what we know so far, the virus can cause mild, flu-like symptoms such as
      * fever
      * cough
      * difficulty breathing
      * pain in the muscles and
      * tiredness.
      More serious cases develop severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis and septic shock that can lead to the death of the patient. People with existing chronic conditions seem to be more vulnerable to severe illness.

      From other sources I’ve read the cough is supposed to be dry.

  5. johan_larson says:

    A Tyrannosaurus Rex suddenly appears in Times Square at noon on a weekday in September, and it’s really not happy about it. How many people are hurt or killed either by the animal itself or their efforts to escape, before it is killed or captured?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Maybe 2-3 dozen. Mostly in the stampede, but a few attacked by the animal. And a few hurt in nearby buildings running to the windows to get a look. A T-Rex is only 6 feet wide, so he could head down the streets, but since he’s 40′ long and 17′ high he’d likely feel rather confined, so I imagine he’ll stay in the more open area. Once the people get out he probably runs around, maybe attacking the flashing lights, until the cops get a sharpshooter to take him out.

      • Lambert says:

        I don’t see that many people dying in a stampede.
        The person-density of Times Square is nothing like Mecca during Hajj or the standing terraces at Hillsborough.

        In August, a backfiring motorbike was misheard as gunfire and a stampede only injured 12.

        The distribution of stampede victims will be pretty fat-tailed or even bimodal. Either a bad stampede will form or it won’t.

        And I daresay they’ve made fluid-dynamic models of people reacting to an active shooter, and designed the urban environment to mitigate the risks of stampeding.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I expect a T-Rex to cause a worse stampede than a shooter. At least once people figure out it’s real (because it mauls or eats someone). Because of the many exits from Times Square, you have multiple potential choke-points, each of which could have a situation that results in injuries (or not), so that should spread out the distribution somewhat.

          And I daresay they’ve made fluid-dynamic models of people reacting to an active shooter, and designed the urban environment to mitigate the risks of stampeding.

          Times Square has been around in more or less its current form too long for that. The main changes they’ve made recently are adding more vehicle barriers on and adjacent to sidewalks, which would make a stampede worse by impeding pedestrian traffic.

        • Another Throw says:

          I don’t see that many people dying in a stampede.

          So my impression is that people die in a stampede because the people in the back of the crowd are pushing and the people in the front don’t have anywhere to go. Because they are pressed up against a fence, for example.

          But also because crowds don’t change direction well. An equal and opposite crowd pushing the other way is even worse than a fence, which means the people in the middle are seriously fucked. The difference between “OMG that was so cool” screaming and “OMG we’re all going to die” screaming is really hard to differentiate at a distance. Especially when everyone is primed to expect the former.

          Suppose you have a crowd all going to go see that really cool publicity stunt going on over there. When the people in the front start getting torn in half and decide maybe going the opposite direction would be a good idea… they can’t. You end up with two crowds pushing against each other. The people in the middle are probably even more fucked than the ones getting torn in half.

    • Dacyn says:

      I do not think it will set the record for number of people killed en masse in New York during daytime in a weekday in September.

    • Another Throw says:

      Maybe few dozen but probably less than a gross, most from the stampede.

      Some idiot is going to get eaten in the initial couple minutes before people realize it is dangerous. Consider the number of idiots that get killed by wild animals in parks every year because they walk right up and try taking a selfie. Then add in that it is Times Square and everybody is going to assume it is some kind of publicity stunt.

      Having realized we’re edible, it will probably get a couple more as targets of opportunity. After becoming acclimated (which might happen rather fast after deciding we’re edible and harmless), I assume it is going to range looking for some kind of den or nest and to explore its new hunting territory. I bring to mind a scene from one of those David Attenborough films where a polar bear wanders lazily into a bird nesting ground and cleans out all the nests while the birds stand around squawking ineffectually.

      The interesting question is how do you bring it down, because that will inform how long to expect it to take and how many get eaten in the meantime.

      Police really don’t have much in the line of powerful firearms. People are fragile and you can usually get them to stop doing the things you don’t like pretty easily. And police sharpshooters are really only expected to engage targets at maybe a couple hundred meters. While the military (and hunters) periodically experiments more powerful sniper rifles either for increased range or antimaterial roles, the police are mostly content with standard rifles. In fact, I rather suspect that they are inclined to move their sharpshooters down into an intermediate cartridge.

      Anyway, the NYPD uses the Remington 700, probably in .308 Win. Which is adequate for any large game in North America. The biggest game you’re likely to shoot in North America, however, is something like 1/20 the size of a Tyrannosaurus. And while Teddy Roosevelt (backed up by two dozen guides in case he missed) used his favorite .30-06 rifle to shoot everything in Africa (which the .308 Win was intended to emulate in a smaller package), (a) you really, really should thing about upgrading, and (b) a Tyrannosaurus is twice the size and considerably more dangerous than an African bull elephant.

      So they’re going to have to shoot the absolute fucking shit out of it. Or ask the National Guard for better toys. Toys that the National Guard doesn’t keep ammunition for just laying around and the ammunition storage point is probably a couple hours away. Or grab a quick loaner from a local gun shop, but don’t expect any favors because you’ve been trying to drive them out of business for the last couple decades.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The NYPD has at least one M107 .50 caliber sniper rifle. I expect they’d break that out for taking down a T-Rex.

        • Another Throw says:

          Hrumph. I looked (admittedly not very hard after trying to figure out how big a T. Rex actually is) so that exactly this wouldn’t happen, and the 700 is what I came up with.

          Buy really I’m not surprised. Which would lead into a completely different rant about how, just because a couple soldiers who tried putting scopes on their M2 machine guns and single feeding rounds managed to score kills at ~2km doesn’t mean it is a good idea to just say “hey, why don’t we just make a .50 BMG rifle!” And just because the Army managed to convince themselves that they have enough of a role for killing lightly armored people at >2km to justify picking up about 100 of them doesn’t mean its a good idea for every damn police department to blow $10,000+ apiece on them. You know what else would work for whatever godawful justification the police department came up with? Pretty much any regular big game cartridge. Which conveniently fit in standard long actions rifle. Which means you can buy the rifles and the ammunition for about 1/10 the price. But that wouldn’t be, you know, FUCKING COOL, MAN!

          Grr!

          • cassander says:

            the .50 is almost certainly intended for use as an anti-material rifle (shooting up engine blocks) more than a sniper rifle.

          • Another Throw says:

            There is a hell of a lot of distance between 3,500 J and 18,000 J of the .308 Win and the .50 BMG. Just because the Army decided it was a use for something they already had doesn’t mean it is the optimum tool for the job.

          • sfoil says:

            I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable. If you think of a .50 rifle as primarily a very low-grade antiarmor weapon, it gives the local PD a way to deal with someone welding quarter-inch plates to a van and becoming invulnerable. Although I think it’s as much a fashion/fad as anything truly useful.

      • Incurian says:

        You can’t just go around shooting endangered animals.

      • I would be shocked if the NYPD’s anti-terrorism squad doesn’t have at least one grenade launcher. The LA School police did:

        Are L.A. School Cops ‘Protecting the Children’ With Grenade Launchers?

        • Another Throw says:

          Yes. They almost certainly only have smoke and tear gas to fire out of them, though.

          Unless you want to wait for the National Guard to grab some HE grenades from the ammunition supply point a couple hours away.

          • johan_larson says:

            I wonder how quickly the air force could scramble a couple of fighters for strafing runs. 20 mm cannon may be a bit oversized for dinosaurs though, particularly in a populated environment.

          • Another Throw says:

            Joint Base MaGuire-Dix-Lakehurt is the closest airbase I know of offhand but it appears to just have cargo planes, for both the Air Force and Army components.

            Dover looks like just cargo planes.

            The capital defense forces at Andrews is probably as close as you’re going to find. (Unless there is something in New England other than Pease Air Base, which I doubt has anything. Didn’t we keep strategic bombers up there somewhere?) What does the range look like on a fighter, and can they make it without refueling? Dropping drop tanks on the east coast megalopolis is really bad press.

            You’re best bet is probably to bring some helicopters down from Fort Drum. It looks like they have a CAB, and attack helicopters would probably be better for this use case anyway.

          • The Nybbler says:

            McGuire has attack helicopters, though if you send them against the T-Rex of Times Square I’m betting you lose some of them.

          • Another Throw says:

            McGuire has attack helicopters

            I’ll take your word for it. Everything I saw on the tenant list was support, training, headquarters, or training headquarters units. The battalions belonging to the aviation brigade headquarters looked like they were on the opposite side of the country. And I didn’t feel like drilling down any of the other organizations.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Another Throw

            They’re Marine (reserve) helicopters, which may be why you didn’t find them.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_Aircraft_Group_49

            I’m pretty sure they had bombers at some point (since they’ve dropped bombs on parts of NJ which weren’t supposed to be targets), but I don’t know if there’s any there now.

          • johan_larson says:

            On 9/11, fighters were scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base, which is in Massachusetts, 200-some miles away.

          • Enkidum says:

            McGuire has attack helicopters, though if you send them against the T-Rex of Times Square I’m betting you lose some of them.

            Why? I know absolutely nothing about the logistics here but I would have thought this is precisely the kind of thing a helicopter could handle?

          • The Nybbler says:

            The Manhattan environment is quite difficult for helicopters in general. Times Square in particular is a narrow canyon surrounded by tall buildings (so expect crosswinds from multiple directions). Also, as we know from earlier monster attacks such as King Kong, helicopters are vulnerable to being swatted out of the air.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Not to the t-rex, as such. To flying in below the New York skyline, which is very fancy flying at the best of times, and then *seeing* a T-rex.

          • John Schilling says:

            To flying in below the New York skyline, which is very fancy flying at the best of times,

            Why would they do such a damn fool thing? The stabilized 20mm gun on a USMC AH-1W or -1Y attack helicopter is designed for precision attacks at an optimum range of 1 km – this is literally the SHORT range setting for the targeting computer. Unless the Marines hired some force-using Jedi wannabe, there’s no reason one of their helicopters should ever dip below the skyline as it engages an urban dinosaur from above.

            I blame superhero movies for this. And monster movies, but these days it’s mostly the superhero flicks. Since the stars specialize in settling disputes in hand-to-hand combat, the military and police are required to demonstrate their ineffectiveness by closing to super-fistfighting range before getting beaten up by a monster or supervillian, rather than properly engaging from never-saw-what-hit-them range.

          • The Nybbler says:

            From anywhere above the skyline, unless those guns can depress to near vertical, you’re going to have buildings in the way. I don’t know if they count as cover or concealment for a 20mm cannon, but either way they’re going to be a problem.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            They can depress a fair amount, especially when you factor in the ability of the Apache (or Cobra I suppose if we’re talking Marine helicopters) to pitch down, but even so that’s not entirely true.

            Speaking from experience as a UAV operator in the Army (meaning I spent a -lot- of time managing sight lines at altitudes of anywhere from a few hundred feet AGL to over ten thousand AGL), and from looking at Google Earth, it seems to me that an attack helicopter could stand off either over the Hudson and sight down 45th or 46th street*, or fly to central Park and descend until they have a shot down 7th Avenue if you want a shorter range solution.

            This leaves dead zones, of course, but there are other angles that give you other shots.

            All that said, John Schilling is right that massed small arms fire of sufficient caliber would do just fine at dropping it.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Why wouldn’t you want to take a helicopter into confined areas? That’s exactly what they are for!

            If you get the right pilots and hunters they could capture the t-rex alive

      • John Schilling says:

        The biggest game you’re likely to shoot in North America, however, is something like 1/20 the size of a Tyrannosaurus. […] a Tyrannosaurus is twice the size and considerably more dangerous than an African bull elephant.

        If Wikipedia is to be believed, the average adult Tyrannosaur weight approximately 15,000 pounds, and the largest complete example yet found (yes, Sue) was probably about 25,000 pounds in the flesh. By comparison, the average adult male African bush elephant is 12,000 lbs and the largest known example was 24,000 pounds. The Tyrannosaur is taller, but probably not tougher, and anything good enough for elephant should be good enough for T. Rex.

        And while gun nuts enthusiasts like to brag about the awesome power of their favorite “elephant gun”, or the awesomely l33t marksmanship of their favorite elephant hunters, the ugly reality is that modern poachers usually just walk up and empty an AK-47 into them for an point-blank insta-kill. A couple of the NYPD’s AR-15s will suffice, or barring that a half-dozen shotguns loaded with slugs.

        NYPD doesn’t issue those on the one-per-cruiser basis of many other departments, which will give our hypothetical Tyrannosaur time for a bit of proper rampaging at least.

        • Plumber says:

          Police tommy guns were ineffective against the unfrozen tyranasaurus that went amok in 1942 (as shown in this documentary here).

          • Nick says:

            An animated documentary! That’s a first. 🙂

          • Protagoras says:

            While not as excessive as earlier battle rifles, the AK-47 is toward the more powerful end among assault rifles, while SMGs are in general much less powerful than assault rifles. I’m sure that’s the reason the effectiveness of tommy guns in the 1942 incident was less than the effectiveness of AK-47s against elephants.

          • Jake R says:

            Additionally the 1942 specimen appears to be at least an order of magnitude larger than the largest recorded T-Rex. Clearly an anomaly among anomalies

        • The Nybbler says:

          NYPD doesn’t issue those on the one-per-cruiser basis of many other departments, which will give our hypothetical Tyrannosaur time for a bit of proper rampaging at least.

          There are plenty of AR-15 armed members of Joint Task Force Empire Shield not far away at Penn Station. However, I still think NYPD’s breaking out the .50 for this… how often do they get such a chance?

          Tommy guns are submachine guns firing handgun ammo, less powerful than an AR-15. Also Plumber’s newsreel shows a much larger dinosaur.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      We can expect that most of the trampling deaths will come from people crowding in to try and take a selfie with it.

    • Anteros says:

      My guess is that the temperature of Times Square in September would be so much colder than what the T Rex was used to, that by the time some suitably armed cops turned up, the beast would be sluggish to the point of immobility. Prior to that, I’d expect the paving slabs of the Square to be the equivalent of an ice rink for a tall, ungainly (and freaking out) dinosaur – before it succeeded in taking a couple of steps it would be on it’s arse. It might squish a couple of tourists on it’s way down, though..

  6. Ivy says:

    Are there good laser tag or paintball-like games one can play in random outdoor places like parks?

    Playing team paintball in large outdoor arenas is close to a peak experience for me: adrenaline-inducing, highly physically demanding, intellectually stimulating. But arenas are pretty expensive and put all sorts of constraints on when and how you play; I’d love to just get a bunch of friends together in a park and play a capture the flag or team death match game for a couple of hours instead of playing video games or volleyball.

    Paintball is probably out of the question – you could injure bystanders. But laser tag – it seems like you could just buy a set of guns with 100-500ft range and play anywhere. But I never see people do this the way they would toss around a frisbee or kick a ball. I guess it doesn’t work that well? Or will people who can’t tell apart a real gun and a pink plastic space blaster report you to the police?

    • sharper13 says:

      Depending on where you are(i.e rarer on the east coast), you can play paintball (or laser tag, but paintball is more fun, except perhaps at night) with no problems on BLM or National Park land. Generally there’s even places where people play frequently because they’re especially good for the purpose. For example, there’s a set of rocks and boulders outside Phoenix on BLM land where organizers throw paintball parties because it’s free.

      The nice thing is that paintball paint washes away in the rain, so most don’t get too excited about it.

    • Incurian says:

      You could play a FPS in VR.

    • dodrian says:

      What about Nerf? An organized game wouldn’t draw much attention (except by jealous people wanting to join), especially not in a park near a college campus.

    • AG says:

      In the summer, wearing white clothing and use colored water in super soakers. The clothing can be bleached easily for reuse.

      Laser tag doesn’t work well outdoors because of lighting conditions. There’s a reason that laser tag arenas are usually in the dark. I’ve even seen a “travelling” laser tag arena where it’s just a large bounce-house obstacle area for state fairs and such, but you’re still playing inside where it’s relatively dark.

      Humans vs. zombies has used Nerf and sock balls for ammunition, but you’ve noted that you don’t want to pick up after. There are marshmallow guns, peashooters, and spitballs, but I feel like there would be littering complaints even though they’d theoretically decompose after a while. You might get away with slingshots and potato pellets, but that would likely get messy for participants’ clothing.

      Doing casual games with ammunition is just hard. You could do a sock-ball game with very limited ammo (like only 3-5 shots per person), so that picking up ammo from reuse is part of the tactics, and makes it easier to keep track of them. Otherwise, your best bet for a team death match game is going to be tag variants, optionally using flag-belts to make tag-outs more obvious.

  7. Oscar Sebastian says:

    “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office.” – SenatorTraitor to the Republic and Hater of Rule of Law, Marco Rubio

    Those goalposts sure have shifted from “perfect phone call”, haven’t they?

    • Skeptic says:

      The talking points have shifted? Sure. Politicians are hypocrites and liars? Definitely. But there was never any question as to Clinton’s guilt either. The clips shown in the Senate from Senators and Reps completely contradicting their own stances from not even 25 years ago is quintessential tragicomedy.

      Politics is not about policy, and it sure as hell isn’t about principles neither.

      The ultimate telling point to me is that both sides decided witnesses were mutually assured destruction. There will be some Kabuki theatre, but make no mistake at least ten Republicans would have traded Bolton and Mulvaney for Joe and Hunter.

      It was repeatedly dismissed out of hand by Schumer. If Dems wanted Mulvaney and Bolton we’d be seeing them both testify next week.

      • EchoChaos says:

        The talking points have shifted?

        Eh, this is Rubio going on his own. Trump’s talking points haven’t shifted at all.

        • Skeptic says:

          We’ve gone from “perfect call” to guilty but the offense is not impeachable.

          That’s his own lawyers’ argument.

          • EchoChaos says:

            That’s what “perfect call” always meant.

            He did something perfectly normal, so it is not an offense nor impeachable.

            Even the Democrats did not allege in their articles of impeachment that he violated a law.

          • Milo Minderbinder says:

            That’s what “perfect call” always meant.

            That is definitely is not what was meant by “perfect call.” This is pure gaslighting. Trump clearly meant that the call was free of any illicit motive, which is patently false.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Milo Minderbinder: I’m pretty sure EchoChaos is saying that the constant message has been “Trump did nothing wrong”, not “Trump did something wrong but it’s not impeachable”.

          • I think I’ve seen three different messages by defenders:

            1. He didn’t do it.
            2. He did it, but it wasn’t wrong.
            3. He did it, it was wrong, but it wasn’t an impeachable offense.

            There is no problem with the existence of three different arguments for the same conclusion, as long as no two of them are being made by the same person.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            But when the subjects own lawyers are making argument 3, argument 1 and 2 start looking like willful blindness, no?

            .. Also, argument 3 is goddess accursed absurd. The president abusing his power to throw an election is the one crime for which elections are obviously not the appropriate remedy. The argument is self-refuting, because if this is not impeachable, why is impeachment in the constitution at all?

          • cassander says:

            @Thomas Jorgensen says:

            .. Also, argument 3 is goddess accursed absurd. The president abusing his power to throw an election is the one crime for which elections are obviously not the appropriate remedy. The argument is self-refuting, because if this is not impeachable, why is impeachment in the constitution at all?

            Because in this case the president was exercising legitimate powers of his office (conducting public policy) to get something he claims had legitimate public purpose (an investigation of hunter). You might disagree with the latter, but it’s not a ridiculous assertion, even if trump was motivated by a desire to make himself look good. Presidents do things to make them look good all the time.

          • Loriot says:

            exercising legitimate powers of his office (conducting public policy) to get something he claims had legitimate public purpose (an investigation of hunter).

            Both of those claims are highly controversial. At least from the Democratic perspective, Trump was thwarting public policy for personal motives. Also, even if you believe that there was a legitimate public interest in forcing Ukraine to investigate Biden, Trump doesn’t appear to have even been doing that. He was forcing them to announce an investigation, not to actually carry one out.

          • gbdub says:

            Isn’t “we’re not going to bother arguing the facts because the facts you allege don’t amount to a crime” a pretty typical lawyerly defense?

    • Evan Þ says:

      By your framing, I assume you disagree with Rubio. In that case, do you agree that President Lincoln should’ve been impeached in summer 1861 for usurping powers given to Congress? It seems to me the answer is clearly “no, sometimes acts that meet a standard of impeachable offenses are worth it” – and Congress agreed with me by passing a bill retroactively ratifying all Lincoln’s actions.

      I make no claim that Trump’s actions are worth it.

      • I read a piece by a law professor pointing out that Lincoln had used his power for his political advantage at a cost to the war effort. He asked Sherman to let soldiers in his army who were from Indiana go home to vote, in order to make sure the Republicans didn’t lose control of the state.

        It doesn’t follow that Lincoln should have been impeached or that Trump shouldn’t be, but it does suggest that what he is accused of has been done before.

        • Andrew Cady says:

          So if the president can exercise his executive powers to make elections more fair to his own advantage, that must imply he can exercise those same executive powers to make elections less fair to his own advantage.

          Brilliant!

    • JayT says:

      The Constitution provides no guidelines for how Senators should arrive at their decision.

      My decision will be guided by 2 factors:
      1. Conviction carries a mandatory & extraordinary minimum sentence,removal from office
      2. An alternative remedy is available, the 2020 election

      Therefore my decision will be based on a two pronged test:

      1. Did President commit treason,bribery &/or a high crime or misdemeanor as meant by Constitution;

      AND

      2. If so,does it rise to a level warranting removal or is it best left for voters to decide in just 11 months

      Marco Rubio said that in December. I don’t see the quote you shared as being hypocritical of his previous statements. At least, none that I know of. He’s saying that the evidence satisfied #1 for him, but not #2.

    • broblawsky says:

      It’s only ever been about power, not right and wrong or rule of law.

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        None of this is about justice or the law. It’s all about the elections this year, nothing else.

        In my judgment, Trump is a bad person and a lousy president, but that’s not why he’s been impeached and is on trial in the Senate. There were reasons that were at least as strong to impeach Bush and Obama–the reason neither was impeached was because of political calculations, just as the reason Trump *was* impeached is because of political calculations.

  8. proyas says:

    A lot of ink has been spilled analyzing the Confederate mistakes at Gettysburg, but what mistakes did the Union make?

    Had the Union not made those mistakes, how could the battle have turned out (i.e. – battle ends a day earlier, Confederates surrounded and annihilated, Lee captured)?

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      Sickles (sp?) leaves the high ground of seminary ridge to place his troops in a godawful position on a day 2, and gets hammered as a result. Then after day 3 Meade decides to licks his wounds instead of chasing the Confederates and ending the war. But to be fair he had only just taken command off the army.

      Mistake to be sure, but typical one in war. Sickles was an unforced error though.

      On the other side, Pickets charge gets a lot of flak, but it almost worked

      Edit: the the spellchecks on my phone is atrocious, but only on this site

  9. acymetric says:

    Let’s talk about tempered glass screen protectors. A lot of people are convinced that these screen protectors save the actual phone screen from cracking. Their reasoning is “I dropped my phone, the temper glass cracked, if I hadn’t had the tempered glass on there the screen would have cracked instead”.

    I’m almost 100% sure this isn’t true, and that any absorption of impact force by the temper glass would be so small that it probably rounds down to 0, and that the reason the temper glass breaks but the screen doesn’t is that the temper glass isn’t as strong (or as thick?) as the screen itself.

    Am I totally off base here?

    • J Mann says:

      That’s my suspicion. I use screen protectors to reduce the risk of scratches, and so I have an almost completely clean screen when I switch protectors.

      • acymetric says:

        Right. I use a screen protector for that very reason. I just don’t believe they help prevent cracked/shattered screens.

        I’m terrible at applying them, though. I’d say about 70% of the time I end up with an air bubble or a tiny dust spec somewhere under the protector.

    • Another Throw says:

      Fact check me on this, but it is my understanding that the percent of users that use a phone case/screen protector is the same as the percent of insurance claims that were in a case/screen protector at the time of damage. This is evidence, though perhaps weak, that the case/screen protector isn’t doing much.

      • doubleunplussed says:

        This would be surprising news to me. I always use cases, and have dropped my phone many times in ways I’m almost certain would have been fatal without the case. I guess I haven’t verified that by not using a case for a while, but I just can’t imagine some of the impacts I’ve seen not spelling death.

        More points:

        * Tonnes of people seem to be walking around with cracked phone screens, they didn’t make an insurance claim
        * Nobody I know has insurance for their phone. Maybe the class of people with insurance isn’t typical.

        • Ketil says:

          * People with expensive phones are more likely to use a case or protector and more likely to have insurance and more likely to file an insurance claim.

          Prior: cases protect against falls, screen protects against scratches.

    • GearRatio says:

      So this could totally be a scam or not, but keep this in mind: The way a lot of things work that nullify impact is by breaking. So if you dropped your phone and the tempered glass “went everywhere” all the force necessary to transport that glass all around the room is force that would otherwise have been available to break your screen.

      Popular nerd lore used to say this is why phones would explode into a bunch of modular, component parts (battery, battery cover) that could then be reassembled when dropped; I.E. it blew the back off and battery out so as not to have enough energy left to break anything important.

      Again, don’t know if this applies, but it at least seems plausible to me that mounting a breakable thing on the phone is a good idea.

    • KieferO says:

      My experience with breaking smartphone style phones is that it’s relatively difficult to break the screen by hitting the front of the screen. When something shaped like a phone falls, it’s most likely to hit on the corners, then on the edges, and least likely to hit on the flat front or back. If the phone hits on the corner, there’s usually enough force to bend whatever non screen material is there and subjects the weakest part of the glass to almost the full force of the impact. My guess therefore, is that the best way to protect the screen (while still being able to see it) is to protect the corners. I agree with J Mann and Another Throw that the primary purpose of screen protectors is against scratches. I have a screen protector, but I’m under no illusions that it would save my screen if I dropped my phone screen down onto a pyramid or something.

    • The Nybbler says:

      A glass screen protector is certainly less strong than the screen. But I doubt absorption of impact rounds down to zero. I would suspect there are cases where a phone falls onto an irregular surface and the protector does save the screen, though probably more by spreading out the force than by absorbing it. Phone glass is quite strong, but if you apply concentrated force on a small area you’ll create a crack, and since glass has low fracture toughness, it will tend to grow.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        Yep, had this happen with my phone. It fell off a table and hit several hard surfaces on the way down. The screen protector has spiderweb cracks all over it, but the screen itself is fine.

        This is the only time I’ve needed a screen protector since I got my first smartphone 5 years ago. It has also convinced me that screen protectors are worth the money.

  10. Thegnskald says:

    A thought:

    Dinosaurs existed for, broadly, 170 million years – they existed for nearly three times longer than it has been since they ceased to exist, and survived past multiple major extinction events.

    If not for the last major extinction event, would there have been a niche an intelligent species could have grown into? If the extinction event has been slightly worse, or slightly better, how differently would things have gone?

    I am pondering the great filter, and the shear stability of fauna looks like a smoking gun.

    Anything obvious I am missing?

    • Statismagician says:

      It’s non-obvious that ‘Africa plus dinosaurs’ is sufficiently more hostile to early hominids than regular Africa to explain things, at least to me – predatory animals are not an outside-context problem. Or have I misunderstood you?

      • Thegnskald says:

        Would you recognize a crocodile’s ancestor from 200 million years ago as a crocodile?

        Would you recognize one of your ancestors from 200 million years ago as human?

        It isn’t just the last step. It is every step between. And it isn’t just predation – it is being better at something than the thing currently doing it is, and if it is already doing it, it has a considerable headstart on being suited to doing it.

        • Well... says:

          200 million years ago we’re talking about, what, some kind of shrew-like animal that strongly resembles a burrowing bird except it has fur instead of feathers and produces milk for its live-born offspring? Maybe some other differences (e.g. developmental stuff) too?

          What is it about this arrangement that’s particularly beneficial just after the Permian-Triassic extinction event?

          • Thegnskald says:

            There doesn’t need to be anything particularly beneficial. It could easily have just gotten lucky to survive when its competition didn’t, leaving it to exploit all the ecological niches suddenly made empty by disaster.

            Indeed, to some extent I think it is necessary that it wasn’t particularly well suited to exploiting those niches; intelligence is a general strategy, which means there are probably better specific strategies, at least in the short term.

          • Well... says:

            On an individual organism level that makes sense, but if you scale it up to a whole phylum there must be some benefit, right?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The explanation I’ve heard is that mammal offspring are more prone to mutations than reptiles, meaning that mammals were able to evolve to fill the newly-vacant niches quicker.

          • Concavenator says:

            Not much bird-like in relevant ways (it would lay eggs, but they’d be soft lizard-like eggs, not hard calcareous bird-like eggs) – something like this is our best guess. “Shrew-like” seems fair, though its metabolic rate was probably much lower (like today’s marsupials). It hit a pretty good balance between r-selection (short lifespan, abundant reproduction) and K-selection (protecting and feeding its offspring), like rats, but with lower food and oxygen requirements.

    • helloo says:

      By the time intelligent humans evolved, it has been quite a bit since the extinction event.

      Do you feel that the environment then was still “open” in a way that wouldn’t have been otherwise?
      Why was there no other intelligent species that took advantage of that gap?

      On another note – why do you believe the fauna is stable at all or if that is the typical expectation of things?

      Additionally, dinosaurs cover a vast expanse of differing species and forms. If they could do that in a “stable fauna”, what would it detract?
      EDIT: One answer to that would be “dominance of mammals”, but I’m guessing you aren’t presuming that intelligence need to be mammalian.

      • Guy in TN says:

        I want to second this, Thegnskald is focusing on the wrong piece of time. Dinosaurs went extinct ~65 million years ago, but essentially the entirety of human intelligence evolved only on the past 5 million years. I don’t think we can even say with certainty that the direct survivors of the K-T extinction event were more intelligent than the animals that went extinct.

        Intelligence was not “lying in wait” for the dinosaurs to disappear. The unique (and still not definitively understood) conditions that gave rise to intelligence almost certainly have more to do with changes that occurred during the course of the past 10 million years, rather than changes that occurred due to the K-T extinction event.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I’m not sure this quite holds logically as the extinction was pretty wide spread and it is possible that some animals were nearing an intelligence threshold but were also wiped out. Several (many?) of the most intelligent species alive right now are birds and how many bird lineages were lost during that period?

          • albatross11 says:

            Anyone know how long octupi have been around? They are apparently quite intelligent. It’s not so clear how that would help them survive a mass extinction, but maybe it would.

            ISTM that the thing about human intelligence that helps us survive disasters is that we’re able to make tools and learn things/pass things on culturally that allow us to occupy a really wide range of environments. That means we’re spread out so widely that it would be hard for one disaster to kill us all off, and of course now we have advanced science and technology so a few humans could probably survive most things that left the Earth intact, at least for a few generations.

          • Concavenator says:

            Recognizable proto-octopodes are known from 300 million years ago, and modern-looking octopodes from 160 million years ago, which makes the latter about as old as birds and therian (non-egg-laying) mammals. Of course as soft-bodied animals their fossils are rare, and don’t tell much about intelligence anyway.

  11. baconbits9 says:

    So what are Bloomberg’s chances of landing the nomination? I think obviously the route for him is a brokered convention although looking at his numbers and the movements over the past month he has some tail winds.

    1. Using 538 he is up to ~8.5% support and steadily moving up.
    2. His strategy is to focus on super tuesday states where he is averaging ~12%. Eyeballing his national polls and making some other rash assumptions if he followed his current trajectory for the next month he could be averaging 16-20% in those states.
    3. There are lots of Democratic voters available. If you look at the front 3 combined they had ~65% of respondents at Warren’s peak in mid-October when there were many more candidates and they have roughly the same portion now with Sanders and Warren mostly switching places.
    4. Warren’s support fell of faster than Bernie’s rose, eventually Sander’s picked up her votes but there was a lull where they were getting split between the other, lesser candidates. That is a good sign for being able to peel some of them away from Sanders now if he wasn’t a firm #2 choice for people but just the best that is left over.

    • EchoChaos says:

      So what are Bloomberg’s chances of landing the nomination?

      I think he’s Biden’s natural successor for the “moderate lane” if Joe has a major stumble in the opening states next week. I would say he’s at about 10-15% off the top of my head. Bernie is the new favorite, Joe still has a lot of strength, but the candidate quality falls off hard after that since Warren’s tailspin (I refuse to think Buttigieg has a real chance).

      • baconbits9 says:

        Hmm. My impression, pretty much from online advertising, that he was more like Warren in the way he is pushing some far left agendas hard (strict gun control).

        • hls2003 says:

          Bloomberg seems to me like the perfect storm of every unpopular Democratic position. He’s a nanny-stater (soda bans, gun bans) and he’s a pro-establishment, be-ruled-by-our-Wall-Street-betters economics guy and he simultaneously doesn’t much care about identity politics but also will be willing to pander. Lots of voters are up for grabs on some of those issues, but almost all of his stuff appears to me to be on the wrong side of 60-40 or 70-30 splits.

          • Milo Minderbinder says:

            Yeah, his candidacy seems like another powerful lord saying “Fuck it, I’m rich and famous enough to commandeer a political party out of pure vanity.” Which is way less funny than it was in 2015.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yep, Bloomberg is basically the opposite of a libertarian. A law-n-order Democrat, or a tax-n-spend Republican who also wants to ban guns.

          • LadyJane says:

            @The Nybbler: Bloomberg may be the opposite of a libertarian, but unfortunately, quite a good number of American voters are also rather anti-libertarian.

            Back when I did political campaigning out on Long Island, I remember going to a bunch of houses with registered Democratic voters who had those pro-police Blue Lives Matter flags hanging outside their garages. I’d imagine those are exactly the sorts of people who supported Kamala Harris, and exactly the sorts of people who either support Bloomberg now or have him as their second choice after Biden: anti-gun anti-drug suburban soccer mom boomer Democrats who combine the police and military worship of right-wing conservatives with the nanny state policies of center-left liberals. Which would explain why Bloomberg keeps pushing the “no, weed really is bad!” argument despite the fact that it’s wildly unpopular with the younger generation and with Democratic voters in general – he knows his base, and he knows the progressives and civil libertarians who oppose his policies will still support him in the general election, purely because they don’t want a repeat of 2016. (Or at least he firmly believes that last part, though he may very well be wrong.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            There are quite a few of authoritarian voters. But I don’t think there are nearly as many as it would take to give Bloomberg a popular (as opposed to brokered) victory, even if Biden dropped out. I suspect the law-n-order Democrat was largely a creation of the high crime of the 70s-90s, and there are far fewer of them now. Note that Harris’s campaign has not exactly gone swimmingly.

        • brad says:

          I don’t think there’s a good comparison between “far left” on economics and on gun control because the distribution in the population is so different. On economics, there’s more or less a normal distribution–fat tails, maybe, but still one big mode in the middle. In that case “far left” implies well to the left of a huge chunk of the democratic party as well as all of the Republican party. Whereas guns are bimodal, of those who care at all most either want significantly stronger or significantly weaker gun control. That being the case Bloomberg being “far left” on guns (which in this context means more vocal than most, not more radical) may well hurt him in the general but it doesn’t alienate a significant fraction of the primary electorate the same way Warren being “far left” on economics does.

          All that said, I think he is a very, very long shot despite the fact that he is my first choice.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Yeah, I think that’s it, not a drawn-out process and a brokered convention. Biden’s “stumble” might be as simple as a landslide loss in IA tomorrow. Betting markets put Sanders at 60% in IA. I think that conditional on his winning, it’s 50/50 that he’ll win in a landslide. I’m not sure that a single landslide loss would be enough to derail Biden, but I think public sentiment can turn very quickly. And I’m not sure who would replace Biden, but Bloomberg is definitely possible.

    • Jon S says:

      I think less than 5%. In general I think there’s very little momentum like what you’re describing in point (2), but perhaps in Bloomberg’s case with max advertising spending we can expect some.

      I think his chances of winning an outright delegate majority are negligible. I expect 538’s model to do an okay job forecasting the rate of a brokered convention – they probably underestimate it some (they expect Sanders to drop out as often as normal candidates would, when he clearly won’t), but many of the ‘no majority’ scenarios are not actually contested (say, Biden up 49% to 30%/15%/etc.). Overall I’d guess the chance of a contested convention are no more than 15%, and Bloomberg’s chance of winning in a contested convention are under 1 in 3.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I think his chances of winning an outright delegate majority are negligible.

        Agree here, I wasn’t really clear but I think the importance of his poll numbers is in increasing the chances of a brokered convention.

        In general I think there’s very little momentum like what you’re describing in point (2),

        I’m not saying its momentum, but a strategy that has been put in place that isn’t at its obvious end to effectiveness yet. If the impact burns out next week then he is done, but if he continues to get returns on dollars spent he has the resources to continue this push as long as he wants (unlike typical candidates who have to go back and forth between fundraising and campaigning).

        • Loriot says:

          Billionaires trying to buy their way into a race doesn’t have a great track record. Anyone remember Meg Whitman? No matter how much money you spend, ultimately people have to actually like you, and Bloomberg seems like the worst possible person to be a Democratic candidate in the primaries.

          People greatly overestimate the effect of money in politics. It can buy you a hearing, but it can’t buy you a verdict.

    • MrSquid says:

      I would assign very little odds. Bloomberg is going to have issues attracting party support, given his only office holding was as the Republican mayor of New York and his only real contribution to the party is helping finance the flip of the New York state legislature in 2018. This is evident in him trailing in endorsements to Harris and Booker, who aren’t even in the race anymore and Booker also should have a smaller pool since there are more notable Dems in NY. This would be fine if he could attract mass support from voters at large, a la Sanders, but his support is pretty low compared to Sanders. He’s not even on the ballot until Super Tuesday (and technically Iowa, but he’s polling so low he has essentially zero chance of clearing the 15% threshold), so he’s going to get lost in the news cycle over who wins the early states and has to hope that people ahead of him in Super Tuesday states fall behind. But he’s behind both Sanders and Biden, so he’s almost certain to be behind one of them in most states on Super Tuesday. That’s a really bad spot since he’s missing a bunch of bounces and potential momentum for winning.

      I also think he’s just really unlikely to satisfy any group sufficient to win the nomination. Black voters are sticking to Biden, young voters are going for Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg are splitting voters who are more educated and managerial-class, and altogether there just isn’t much of the broader Democratic electorate for him to run on. He needs to actually win states to be palatable as the candidate, especially when he’s likely going to miss easy delegates by either not running in states or not hitting the threshold for delegates.

      • baconbits9 says:

        This is a reasonable post, but I disagree a bit here

        Warren and Buttigieg are splitting voters who are more educated and managerial-class, and altogether there just isn’t much of the broader Democratic electorate for him to run on.

        Warren’s support has been declining, and Buttigieg peaked a few weeks ago and is possibly in decline now. He would have to pull a lot of their support but it is plausible that he could do so.

        • MrSquid says:

          I agree with that response, mostly. If Bloomberg has a path anywhere, I think it’s way more likely from siphoning Warren/Buttigieg supporters than Biden supporters. Biden is a fairly conventional, possibly even boring choice and his support has been very stable. Sanders was pretty stable for most of the race and is rising currently. It seems unlikely that either lose a bunch of support without some serious scandal or gaffe.

          I think the bigger issue is that if Warren/Buttigieg start falling, I doubt Bloomberg could capture a lot of their supporters. Warren’s losses in the polls were mostly as Buttigieg and Sanders were rising, Buttigieg’s as Bloomberg and Sanders were rising, and I’d bet that Sanders takes enough of Warren’s old voters should she drop out or become clearly non-viable that he remains ahead of Bloomberg. A non-trivial part of that is that Bloomberg is a billionaire spending huge sums on his own campaign, a thing both Warren and Sanders have campaigned against previously, and I’m not sure that he can pull enough support from those camps to have a good shot.

    • Plumber says:

      @baconbits9 says:

      “So what are Bloomberg’s chances of landing the nomination?…”

      I’d say about 7% which is higher than my guess was just a week ago.

      FWLIW, my wife likes him and the Mayor of San Francisco just endorsed him (after local gal Harris dropped out), plus the spokesman/press-liaison/go-talk-to-that-guy-guy of the City department I work for just quit to campaign for Bloomberg so he has some support, but I won’t vote for him, the idea of replacing a multi-millionaire with a billionaire doesn’t sit well with me, I don’t like Trump but he does represent a sizeable contingent of Americans, while Bloomberg is “elite of the elite”.

      More broadly this primary season has been interesting, the Democratic Party has moved pretty Left (sure Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson, and even Republican President Nixon could be argued to be just as Left, as could losing Democratic candidates McGovern and Mondale, but compared to Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama even Biden is more Leftward).

      From the polling I’ve seen the supporters of the “moderate” and the “progressive” Democratic candidates are actually pretty close ideologically (even Hillary Clinton and Sanders supporters in 2016 were close), it’s supporters demographics (age, education, income, race, and sex) that are different with age being most important for who Democrats support (though age correlates with education, income, and race – basically younger Democrats tend to be more educated, poorer, and more white than older Democrats) with sex next most important. 

      Biden has almost no support among those less than 45 years old, a lot of ink and pixels have been spilled on how much black support Biden has, but a lot of that is ’cause older Democrats are disproportionately black (older whites are disproportionately Republicans, younger non-whites are disproportionately non-voters), education and income also correlate with age (youngsters don’t earn as much and went to school more), between the two Left candidates Warren has more college educated women supporting her on average compared to Sanders, both Biden and Sanders have more non-college educated supporters than the other candidates do, with older Dems more inclined to support Biden and youngsters emphatically not so inclined. 

      So some speculation:

      Bloomberg vs.Trump – Bloomberg will do well with more prosperous urban professional class voters, and inner-ring suburban white women, non-whites will sit this one out. Trump wins.

      Buttigieg vs.Trump. The former mayor isn’t going to be nominated, I can’t even bother to guess. 

      Klobucher vs. Trump – see Buttigieg. 

      Warren vs.Trump – she’ll get plenty of poorer college educated urban support, especially from women, but less suburban swing voters than Bloomberg. Trump wins. 

      Sanders vs.Trump – he’ll peel off some working class rust belt support from Trump to make up for losing suburban voters who won’t vote for a self-described “socialist” so he’ll have a narrower loss than Bloomberg or Warren would. 

      Biden vs. Trump – it really depends on his winning over young voters (which hasn’t happened yet) as to whether Biden has a fighting chance, among older voters it’s more that he’s not disliked rather that he gets so much support, Trump probably still wins, but it will be a nailbitter.

      Predictions on the next four years:

      Trump is re-elected – things pretty much stay how they are now, except Democrats win the Senate in 2022, in 2024 Democrats will nominate a candidate from whichever faction didn’t get the 2020 nomination, I have no idea who’ll the Republicans will nominate.

      Biden is elected – pretty much status quo to now, both Left and Right will seethe, Biden won’t live to serve eight years.

      Bloomberg is elected – not much different from now, will signify the almost total switch in who supports which Party compared to decades ago.

      Sanders or Warren is elected – Republicans re-take the House in 2022, they’ll be yelling and vetoes, nothing much will change, Sanders won’t live to serve eight years, Warren would. 

      • meh says:

        Bloomberg has a better chance of getting NT Rs to vote for him over a 3rd party. His VP pick could help cover his other bases.

        • Plumber says:

          @meh,
          Oh sure, I imagine Bloomberg doing well with Romney Republicans (like my wife), but “blue-tribe” Republicans (and the “grey-tribe”) are a vanishingly small portion of the electorate, it’s the non-college graduate majority that has to be won to win.
          The urban professional class is in the bag for Democrats, rural working class whites are in the bag for Republicans, non-whites tend to vote for Democrats when they vote, and the suburbs are in play, but only about 10% of the electorate are actual swing voters.

          Judging from the 2018 congressional elections Democrats may win over areas that supported Trump, but the rust belt Obama-to-Trump voters, while they don’t look to have much loyalty to the Republican Party in general they don’t look to have much buyers remorse for Trump, he promised to try to reduce imports from China, and reduce immigration, and he seems to be making an effort there (he also promised more public works, but he hasn’t remotely delivered there).

          The other contingent of swing voters ‘ suburban white women may be more inclined to vote for Bloomberg, but I don’t think that will make up for a loss in non-white turnout.

          I see no way that Bloomberg does better than Hillary.

          • meh says:

            I see no way that Bloomberg does better than Hillary.

            I don’t think you are giving enough credit for how bad and unliked a candidate she was. I think any of the field of 12 would outperform her. And any of the other 2016 R potentials would have crushed her even worse.

            RE Bloomberg:
            There are Obama-to-Trump voters, but there are also Romney-to-Independent voters that were not willing to be Romney-to-Clinton voters, but may be ok with being a Romney-to-Biden or Romney-to-Bloomberg voter. I’m estimating Bloomberg is a softer option for this group, since he was a Republican for 6 years, and an independent after that.

            Clinton lost Florida by 1.3% with 3rd parties getting 3.2%
            Trump won 6 states with less than 50% of the vote (7 if you include Utah, but you shouldn’t); meaning 3rd party votes could potentially have swung any of those states.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Bloomberg might do better in a straight-up contest, but I don’t see how he outperforms Biden. Biden seems a much better play among critical black and Rust Belt voting blocs. Bloomberg doing better among suburban never Trumpers might be true, but I don’t see those votes as being more valuable than the other two.

            Plus, Bloomberg winning basically requires a brokered convention: is that divisive enough to basically sink Bloomberg’s general election chances?

          • meh says:

            agreed, Biden has the best chance, given his rust belt cred being from PA, and his minority support. But I’d bet on Bloomberg over the rest of the field, and head to head polling seems to back this up https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/latest_polls/general_election/

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      Very low (disclaimer, I’ve bet against him).

      First of all, we can pretty much completely discount the possibility of him getting a majority or even a plurality. He’s not even joining the race until a third of the way through! I’m surprised 538 has him as high as 0.9% plurality, but I guess there is always a chance that Biden and Buttigieg will suddenly die or something.

      The other cases where he wins are some proportion of the 16% with no majority (being generous, maybe also 1% where Sanders loses a tiny majority due to disloyal delegates or something). How does he win these scenarios? I think the only plausible options are him having a plurality, and him being 2nd to Sanders. But the first of those only has a 0.3% chance (even assuming he wins in all of those cases). And Sanders only gets a non-majority plurality 5% of the time. Even under the very generous assumptions that Bloomberg comes second in a quarter of those cases, that still only gives a 2.5% chance overall.

      • Guy in TN says:

        (disclaimer, I’ve bet against him)

        Ha, I’ve got Predictit money riding against him too.

        They are asking 64 cents a share that the guy polling in distant fourth place (and skipping Iowa and New Hampshire) won’t win a state. I’m like…free money folks…

    • Biden has a base of support. Warren does too. And Bernie obviously does. Who is Bloomberg’s base? He’s been blasting ads all over the place and no one is excited for the guy. He doesn’t have a chance.

  12. acymetric says:

    Anyone else “looking forward to” the upcoming Chrome 80 release?

    • voso says:

      I’ve jumped ship (back) to Firefox long ago.

      Chrome’s lack of mobile extensions is an absolute deal-breaker for me.

    • Statismagician says:

      I can only assume they’re going to break something I need to work for no apparent reason or, worse, in order to change a part of the UI that approximately everyone already understood the current version of.

      Does anybody know why developers do this? Like, fixing vulnerabilities is good, but why in God’s name do you want to move and rename key user-facing features?

      • acymetric says:

        In this particular case, they’re getting more strict about cross-site access to cookies. The most obvious place (to me) where this is going to have an impact is for people who use IDPs to sign into their various apps/services but I’m sure there are other use cases.

        Does anybody know why developers do this? Like, fixing vulnerabilities is good, but why in God’s name do you want to move and rename key user-facing features?

        Bored developers/developers with nothing to do who need to justify their presence at the company, or a (probably new) manager* who wants to “shake things up” to make a name for themselves/put their own stamp on the product. That’s my cynical take, anyway.

        *That manager may not be on the dev side, it could easily be some idiot** from marketing.

        **I’m sure there are some perfectly fine people who work in marketing…somewhere 😉

      • JayT says:

        Usually it’s because they’ve come up with a new way to do something, and it’s better, but they can’t just replace the old thing because it would break too much stuff, so they add in the new thing and tell everyone to use it instead of the old thing, and then eventually deprecate the old thing because it’s too much work to maintain both.

      • DinoNerd says:

        *sigh* Damned if I know, but one developer assured me that “people” wanted this – if the UI didn’t change, their product becomes out-of-date and the users move on. He insisted that even after his project had developed what they believed was the best possible one for the ttasks at hand, they had to change it again, to satisfy those who demand constant change.

        I have no empathy for this. “People” may want it – but I, and presumably you also – are apparently not “people”.

        I’d be more likely to compare it with the kind of art that’s only appreciated by people with multiple years of study of the field – books that have more awards than readers, classical music that’s praised only with adjectives like “unique”, etc. etc. A person who lives and breaths a particular product has no difficulty learning its new UI, and easily convinces themselves that it’s “intuitive” and “obvious” to normal people. Whereas a person who uses multiple different products each day doesn’t have as much mind share for that designer’s one-true-product. And someone who uses it once a month wants it to (a) be really really obvious (b) behave exactly the same as last month (c) have lots of excellent help options.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Like, fixing vulnerabilities is good, but why in God’s name do you want to move and rename key user-facing features?

        Project managers want promotions. You get promotions by showing impact. It is perhaps overly cynical to say that impact has no sign. Perhaps.

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    What is a species?

    Complex human history

    Complex elephant history

    It seems like species sort of exist in the sense of a large majority of creatures which can interbreed falling into a phenotypes. Maybe it’s more like a statistical distribution with multiple modes?

    • Well... says:

      The way I heard it, “species” is a useful construct for taxonomic purposes, or other practical applications, but isn’t really a thing.

    • Nick says:

      There are a lot of definitions of species, each with its own problems. For a discussion from the perspective of philosophy of biology see SEP.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      This is interesting to me, because of a question I was trying to find an answer for a year or so ago, regarding fossils and mass extinctions. To wit: how sure are we about what was going on millions of years ago? How complete is our picture?

      The oldest fossils are a staggering 4.2 billion years old, but the vast majority are much younger – the 8th oldest clocks in at merely 400 million. The total number of fossils found is estimated in the billions or even trillions, but only a few million have been documented, and my sources for that are not good. (I get the sense that there might be thousands packed into otherwise boring limestone chunks we haven’t gotten around to studying.)

      If we assume 8 million documented fossils, that’s about one every 50 years. Which itself is pretty amazing. However, how many species have lived and died during that time? The answer is vague, because we don’t have a great objective definition for what a species is, which isn’t surprising when we consider when we would say one species has just evolved into another (or another twenty).

      Nevertheless, a study estimated 8.7 million species on earth today. (Amazingly, about 75% of them are on land.) That means that if every single one of the fossils we have documented came from its own species, we still wouldn’t even have one for every species today, let alone every species that ever existed.

      The average duration of a species is even harder to nail down when you barely know how to isolate a species to begin with. The best discussion I found points out that the variance is large (think bacteria on one end, sharks on the other), and if you had to pick a mean, it’d probably be around one million.

      If we get all Fermian and suppose a roughly triangle-shaped species tree over prehistory, that comes out to about (8.7 * 400) / 2, or about 1.7 billion species altogether. If, again, every single fossil we have on record is its own species, then for every species we have a fossil for, there are over 200 for which we have nothing. And we know we have a lot of duplicates.

      This, plus the amount of simplifying assumptions I had to use, makes me rather concerned about the certainty of events like mass extinctions. How do we know what was going on in, say, the invertebrate world back then?

      • Concavenator says:

        “the 8th oldest clocks in at merely 400 million”
        Eh, that’s not really a list of the oldest known fossils (for that matter, they’re not all animals – Tortotubus is a fungus). We have thousands of more-or-less complete fossils from Ediacara, Chengjiang, and Burgess Shale, and those are all between 550 and 500 million years old.

        (Interestingly, we also have Gabon that are apparently multicellular, don’t really resemble any living organism, and date to 2.1 billion years old, as if life managed to evolve multicellularity relatively early, changed its mind, and went back to being exclusively unicellular for a full billion years – possibly a function of oxygen levels in the sea)

    • Lambert says:

      Animals are so cute, thinking that interbreeding with one or two other species deep in the past counts as complex history.
      If you want to know how to really annoy a taxonomist, ask a plant.

      https://botanyshitposts.tumblr.com/post/190518553034/there-is-a-mystery-citrus-up-the-street-from-me

      https://botanyshitposts.tumblr.com/post/184145364939/i-never-realised-how-weird-ferns-are

    • Clutzy says:

      The fuzziness of species is never more complex, IMO than if you try separating Dogs, Wolves, and Coyotes.

  14. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Elsewhere, I’m seeing a discussion of bosses with the bad habit of not giving employees the information they need, and then blaming the employees for not having it.

    Have you ever had a boss who apologized for making that mistake? Made that mistake and then stopped doing it?

    Being a good boss has moral and emotional requirements, and I don’t think I’ve seen discussion of it from that angle.

    My impression is that Protestant business ethics were about being keeping promises, working hard, and not being stupid with money, but I could be missing something. Anyone have more detailed knowledge?

    Is there anything in Jewish law?

    Again an impression, but I think the left wing take on how work should be involves pay and physical working conditions, mostly, though maybe unions can do something if a boss is emotionally horrendous. Also, unions dividing work into categories might mean that employees are less likely to be required to have random or highly local knowledge.

    The thing is, this particular issue (other issues are welcome in the discussion, though) isn’t about anyone being especially altruistic. It isn’t about businesses making lower profits because they ought to be paying more.

    Demanding that people just know what one is thinking is actually a fairly common failure mode. I’d appreciate thoughts about how common it is, though. I think I hear more about it being a problem in relationships than at work.

    How might a business keep from putting people like that into boss jobs? To what extent can people with that pattern of behavior be trained to do better?

    • broblawsky says:

      Is there anything in Jewish law?

      Bits and pieces. There’s a healthy body of material on this in the Talmud, but the main article from the Tanakh is Deuteronomy 24:14-15:

      Do not oppress the hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. Give him his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them, lest he cry out to God about you, for this will be counted as a sin for you.

      This mostly applies to unskilled laborers. There’s a lot of analysis on the above quote, and stuff on the role of contractors and craftsmen in the Talmud.

      There’s some analysis here.

    • DinoNerd says:

      This is very topical for me, in a small way.

      I had an incident yesterday where something that should have been done right from the beginning became an emergency bandaid (“can you possibly do this today”, at 2:45 PM) with 5 managers involved (3 in my chain), that will have to be redone because some other manager neglected to make the information available, even now, and I wound up with a bandaid that will predictably break the next release.

      I’m a software engineer, so the missing information was semi-technical. I say semi, because the problem involved compile-time flags to keep not-yet-ready features out of beta builds.

      The day before, I received email telling me that I absolutely must deal immediately with any bugs I had associated with incomprehensible-to-me-internal-codeword. To find which bugs, I should run the linked query – which I didn’t have permission to run. At a guess, running it was restricted either to managers, or people on a magic list of those associated with the feature in question; I am neither of these.

      I’m heartily sick of petty stupidity that wastes my time. A lot of it involves non-autistic managers who apparantly lack a “theory of mind” – they act as if everyone knows everything they know, and/or as if once they tell a single one of their staff, everyone else magically knows whatever they said.

      I have a serious technical problem that’s affecting real customers, and I very much begrudge the time I spent on both of those manager-created fire drills. A half competent clerk could have handled both fire drills, given the information they weren’t sharing. Without it, I wasted time dealing with the problem – and still more time and political credibility (which I’m short on anyway) trying to get processes in place to avoid having the same nonsense next release. That’s a pretty vain hope – something similar has happened to me pretty much every release since I joined the company – but there was an initiative to fix the compile-time flags problem last year, and that was indeed done right – for a few months at least.

      [On the good side, no one blamed me for not having the info. But making a fuss about not having it probably did get me blamed, both times; my manager doesn’t like people complaining, and seems to expect me to work crazy hours in order to get both important and inappropriately-urgent work done.]

      • woah77 says:

        I feel this. Manufacturing is like this very often. And, what’s often worse, I’m tasked with supporting legacy hardware I may not have ever seen, much less understand the workings of. Of course my boss knows more about these machines than I do, and has probably forgotten more than I’ll ever know. This makes getting tasked with fixing issues rather frustrating because he’s not especially forthcoming about information relevant to the work and seems to expect my productivity will be orders of magnitude higher than anyone could reasonably manage.

    • DinoNerd says:

      Unfortunately, one of the rewards of status and power is that you get to be more important than those beneath you. Your time is more valuable than theirs – it’s OK, even praise worthy, to save 5 minutes of your time at a cost of 1 minute – or even 10 minutes – of the time of each of the 6-1000 people below you. If queried, this gets justified by supposedly objective numerical calculations (the CEO really is paid more per minute than several thousand non-executive employees, combined). But the real driver seems to be human nature – people suck up to their superiors by enabling this behaviour, and a good chunk of the motivation for their ambitions is to get into this position themselves.

      Likewise, information is power, and unless a person’s status comes from being some kind of teacher/mentor/answer person, they’ll automatically and habitually keep information to themselves.

      And finally, if something goes wrong, it’s a human near universal to find someone else to blame, rather than taking responsibility for one’s own errors – or even more rarely, for anything that happens on one’s watch, regardless of causation. It’s easy to blame those one has power over – they are less likely to feel empowered enough to contradict your blame transfer – or in extreme cases, may come to believe that it was their job to recognize they had incomplete information, and somehow find it, even over your active opposition.

      To the extent that a person with power is goal-oriented, rather than status-oriented, they may temper their power-demonstrating behaviour for the sake of their goals – e.g. company profitability. But they are likely to have trouble even spotting what they are doing, let alone changing it. They might also temper it out of various ethical ideas, or because of empathy with those affected. But the default seems to be to act in a way that demonstrates and uses your power, and shows your superior status to as many people as possible.

      There’s a reason we tend to call powerful people who treat their inferiors well “saints” and similar. It seems to be something difficult to do, and mostly not even desired (by the superior, that is). Holding the powerful responsible is dangerous, and strongly discouraged both by those who support the superior in question, and by those who care about the safety of the person who dares to attempt to speak truth to power.

      I do recognize some variation, both between cultures and within cultures, but I have no idea how to encourage it. There is at least some selective pressure against particularly wealth destroying bosses and the cultures that encourage them. (But it’s slow, and plenty of people get hired to do the same thing all over again, on the evidece that they once held a similar role at a compnay that’s unfortunately now bankrupt.)

      It may be self-interested, but I’d suggest picking autistic people for boss slots – we know that our instincts don’t work, expect to have to consciously learn how to interact with people, and often have missing pieces where non-autistic people have “fast brain” programs that routinely lead them astray. Using conscious intellect to compensate for missing or incorrect instincts is a normal autistic thing – but absolutely not a thing for someone who believes in “gut feel”. This doesn’t mean autistics can’t also take up dysfuctional patterns optimized for demonstrating power and status – but we’re maybe a wee bit more capable of introspection, if we’ve managed to function in the autistic-unfriendly world we mostly live in.

      • At a large tangent …

        I’ve been reading and rereading C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series, now up to about 20 books. One of the many interesting things about it is that it describes an aristocratic/hierarchical system done right, one in which the different roles are basically division of labor rather than status. The protagonist’s bodyguards have as their chief objective in life keeping him alive — and are entitled to order him to do things if that is necessary for that purpose. On a larger scale, the large number of people who owe a sort of allegiance to someone feel a biological drive to protect him, and he feels a biological drive to make their lives better.

        This works, in the books, because the people are aliens, similar in many ways to humans but with different emotional hardwiring. The (human) protagonist regards his four bodyguards, who have a lot of functions in his “team” beyond keeping him alive, as his closest friends, but both he and they realize that “friend” is not a category in their emotional makeup. Nor is “love.” “Like,” as one of them comments, applies to salads, not people.

        For the same point made, in less detail, about how a human class system ought to work, see the Kiping story “An Habitation Enforced” and the poem “The Land.”

        • albatross11 says:

          I’ve read the first book, and plan to continue. Reading it, I wondered if Cherryh is somehow very non-neurotypical (on the autism spectrum, say), because it seemed like what it must be like to deal with other people when you don’t have built-in brain modules to intuitively understand their motivations.

          At one point, the narrator speculates that on the entire planet with (I think) several million humans whose long-term survival depends on interaction with the aliens, and which include whole academic departments studying them, there are probably only three humans who are really fluent in their language. And then also that understanding their language doesn’t imply understanding them, and that it’s dangerously easy for humans to be mislead by their intuitions about alien motivations.

          FWIW, I think Cherryh does really alien aliens better than any other author I can think of.

          • By all means read the rest of the series. At this point I think I’ve read all of the books twice and some of them three times. My current annoyance is that, having read and reread the most recent one, I have to wait, probably six months to a year, for the next.

            Cherryh is very good in multiple ways. I may have mentioned here before Andre Norton’s preface to Cherryh’s first novel. Cherryh was doing what Norton had long been doing, and doing it much better, and Norton, to her very great credit, saw it and said so.

        • Nornagest says:

          an aristocratic/hierarchical system done right, one in which the different roles are basically division of labor rather than status

          The phrase in industry is “manager is a role, not a rank”.

          It’s often honored more in the breach than the observance, but it’s a good goal.

      • albatross11 says:

        DinoNerd:

        I think a good manager needs extremely good people skills–sufficient to understand different peoples’ motivations and feelings and manage them to keep the team working together, and to understand what may be coloring the advice of his or her advisors. My first guess would be that few people on the autism spectrum would do well at that job.

        • DinoNerd says:

          My impression is that almost all non-Aspies believe they have such skills, but it’s about as true as 80% of the population being in the top 10% of drivers, or whetever the bad-self-rating statistic actually is.

          I’ve had maybe 5 managers over the course of 40 years who had those skills to a notable degree. That’s about as many as were bad enough to give me truly impressive anecdotes for conversations in the bar with my peers. (E.g. manager gets sick; productivity doubles as soon as he wasn’t there….)

          For the others, the non-Aspies have a lot of trouble imagining where anyone different from them is coming from. They tend to be much better at figuring out how to please those above them, than at how to get good work out of those below them. They may be especially good at detecting attempts to cheat them – I’m told non-Aspies who are overall bad at math and logic do much better if an equivalent problem is expressed as detecting cheaters, than abstractly. (Hence the case of understanding what may be coloring the advice of their advisors.) And AFAICT, their own statements are much more likely to be false – sometimes provably so – thereby pushing everyone else to waste time figuring out why they said something, and what might actually be true.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Most non-aspies do not have these social skills, but that doesn’t mean aspies have these social skills, and it doesn’t mean these social skills aren’t relevant.
            Most managers are probably like their staff: mediocre. They are probably a cut above in terms of their problem-solving and work ethic, but most managers I see definitely do lack the intangible social skills required to really succeed.
            Fortunately, that’s not usually important. Most of us aren’t working on stuff THAT important.
            Really good managers are like really good employees, they are rare in their position. And if the organization is any good, they should be promoted OUT of that position before too long.
            You’ll be dealing with the merely adequate, or the upwardly mobile with little immediately practical experience.
            You need to know:
            1. How to motivate people
            2. How to identify when people are lying
            3. How to determine if people are really at their limits or just need a little push to get to the next step
            4. How to coach people productively
            5. How to protect your department from infinite work
            6. How to focus your department on the important stuff, and manage relationships for their people you are screwing over because their stuff ISN’T important
            7. How to tell people “No”
            8. How to successfully argue for promotions for YOUR people (otherwise no one wants to work for you)
            9. Lots and lots of other stuff

          • DinoNerd says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            I think you are presuming that Aspies cannot learn these skills. My contention is that a fair number of us can, and when we do, we often miss out on the predictable blind spots I’ve observed in non-Aspies.

          • Viliam says:

            the non-Aspies have a lot of trouble imagining where anyone different from them is coming from.

            Seems to me like the non-aspies really have a theory of mind, and the theory is: “everyone is exactly like me, knowing the same things I do, and thinking about the same things I do”. It probably works quite well on other non-aspies in most situations.

    • sharper13 says:

      The book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter analyzes manager performance and compares which behaviors work in terms of success of the company, the manager, and their employees. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, that’d be my #1 recommendation for better data.

      In terms of the religious philosophy influence aspect, there’s entire management movements (with lots of books, their own categories on Amazon, etc…) covering the idea of a leader who’s responsibility is to serve those he leads. Servant-leadership, Christ-centered management, etc…

  15. DNM says:

    Is there a resource for suggesting the best evidence-based X?

    I overheard a conversation about the book Expecting Better recently and am very interested in whether there are similar books/resources that present all of the evidence surrounding, say, sleep, or GI, or sustained weight loss, or food safety, or any other excessively emotionally loaded part of our health.

  16. Machine Interface says:

    How do serious, theologically literate Protestants deal with the fact that a lot of their doctrine is transparently derived from Nicenean extra-scriptural tradition and cannot be justified on a sola scriptura basis (at least without wildly over-interpreting the original biblical text in ways that are clearly not consistent with the epistemological history of Christianity)?

    • Two McMillion says:

      I am amused by the fact that you came to a predominantly atheist forum to ask this question.

      The actual answer is, to quote Luke Skywalker, “Every single word of what you just said was wrong.” I suspect the fact that you added the bit about wildly over-interpreting the text shows that you’ve encountered this answer before.

      • Nick says:

        It’s a predominantly atheist forum with a lot of smart Christians.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        The actual answer is, to quote Luke Skywalker, “Every single word of what you just said was wrong.”

        I don’t think so. Many distinctively Protestant ideas, such as Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, the Invisible vs. Visible Church, the 39- vs. 46-book canon, etc., not only aren’t found in the Bible, but in some cases aren’t recorded at all until the 16th century. That’s a pretty big problem for a Protestant claiming that their religion represents pure, original Christianity without any Romish accretions, and not something that can be adequately dealt with by a Star Wars reference.

        • Nick says:

          I’m Catholic, so speaking out of my competence here, but it seems to me a Protestant case is on its best footing when it is trying to recover interpretations from the Church Fathers that it believes are neglected by or discordant with the Church. Anything else is either going to be too late or implausible.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Thank you for giving at least a partial list.

          The answer is, again, that your premise is wrong. I recommend you review the Reformation literature where the Reformers explain in detail how they derived Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide from the Scriptures. Whether or not you end up agreeing with their interpretations (modern Roman Catholics definitely don’t), I hope you’ll at least admit they’re defensible.

          And yes, I agree with Nick that much of those interpretations can be found in the Church Fathers. For a while, Luther was recommending Augustine above every other non-Scriptural author.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I have read them, and I still don’t think they’re ultimately defensible. Yes, there are passages in Scripture from which one can derive the principle of Sola Scriptura, but it’s just that — a derivation, something you’ve added to the words of Scripture, not Scripture itself.

            That is, of course, ignoring the issue of how you determine what counts as Scripture in the first place. For Catholics and Orthodox, the answer is obvious — Scripture is Scripture because it is received as such by the Church, i.e., Scripture gets its authority from the Church, rather than vice versa. For Sola Scriptura-believing Protestants, this answer isn’t available, and I’ve yet to see an adequate alternative.

          • Evan Þ says:

            “Derived from Scripture” is very different from “derived from Nicenean extra-scriptural tradition”. Even Luther before the Diet of Worms challenged his opponents to convince him “by the testimony of the Scriptures and by clear reason” – in other words, even he was completely fine with rational derivations based on Scripture.

        • Two McMillion says:

          Rightly or wrongly, the Protestant answer is that they are, in fact, prefigured in the church fathers, and that much of what is distinctly Roman Catholic today dates from the Council of Trent, or even later. Yes, there is a whole lot you can say about that idea, but it boils down to that, and if you approach the debate with the attitude that the Protestants are clearly wrong about that I doubt you’ll get much out of the discussion.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Even accepting, for the sake of argument, the idea that Lutheranism (or Calvinism, or Anglicanism, or Southern Baptism, or whatever) is prefigured (whatever that means) in the Church Fathers, the writings of the Church Fathers still count as “Nicenean extra-scriptural tradition” (or pre-Nicene extra-scriptural tradition, for the earlier ones), and so this doesn’t at all invalidate the original observation.

          • Nick says:

            I think the bigger problem here is that “much of what is distinctly Roman Catholic today dates from the Council of Trent, or even later” is misleading at best and incoherent at worst. Clearly Protestants can’t have split because of the Council of Trent, because the Council of Trent was called because Protestants split. On the other hand, yes, lots of distinctively Catholic things developed following Trent, but those can’t be what Protestants have a beef with, so why bring it up. Please clarify, because I seriously don’t understand.

          • hls2003 says:

            @Nick:

            I think TMcM’s point, if I can interpolate, is that the two camps became largely defined by their differences which caused the split in the first place. The Council of Trent largely existed to examine these schism-causing doctrines, and reaffirmed most of them, and Protestants and Catholics then each doubled down and developed their own pathway thereafter in conformity with those issues. Thus, “Trent” is a pretty good shorthand for “all the stuff that Reformers thought was extraneous and wrong, but Trent refused to jettison” and the fact that Catholics are more defined today by those extraneous matters is evidence that they don’t really go that far back.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The Council of Trent largely existed to examine these schism-causing doctrines, and reaffirmed most of them, and Protestants and Catholics then each doubled down and developed their own pathway thereafter in conformity with those issues. Thus, “Trent” is a pretty good shorthand for “all the stuff that Reformers thought was extraneous and wrong, but Trent refused to jettison” and the fact that Catholics are more defined today by those extraneous matters is evidence that they don’t really go that far back.

            That would fall under “misleading at best”, I think: “dates from the Council of Trent” implies that something, well, dates from the Council of Trent, not that it dates from sometime before Trent and was reaffirmed at that council.

            Also, how is the fact (assuming, arguendo, that it is a fact) that Catholics are defined by pre-Trent doctrines that were affirmed at the Council of Trent evidence that those doctrines “don’t really go that far back”? That just seems like a complete non sequitur to me.

          • hls2003 says:

            Because most of the doctrinal differences that define the modern divide (of which I’m aware; I concede I’m not an expert on Catholic doctrine or the nitty-gritty of Trent) don’t seem to be of the “Christ Rose From the Dead” variety – the most obvious weren’t rejected by the Reformers. Almost by definition, they’re rebelling against accretions that took some time to develop and simmer to a crisis point. I don’t think it’s a non sequitur to say that if those items on the margin become the main focus of what makes Catholics distinct, then they’re going to be later traditions. Like priestly celibacy, or Purgatory as a “third physical destination” for souls, or indulgences from the Pope. I would expect that if they had sprung fully formed in 40 A.D., they would likely have arisen for challenge (successful or not) earlier as well.

            As to whether that’s what the original poster actually meant in referencing Trent, I can’t say.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Almost by definition, they’re rebelling against accretions that took some time to develop and simmer to a crisis point.

            No, they’re rebelling against *what they think are* accretions. That doesn’t mean that they actually *are* accretions.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Awesome use/mention example!

    • Statismagician says:

      You’re going to have to specify which Protestants you mean, I think.

    • hls2003 says:

      There is no concise way to respond to this in a comment-length setting, particularly as framed (your parenthetical at the end alone hand-waves assumptions that absorbed lifetimes of debate).

      The shortest I can say is that Sola Scriptura does not mean that Scripture is the only useful tool for determining truth. Rather, it means that Scripture is the sole authority for spiritual government of Christians. Other rules, authorities, councils, creeds, and traditions may be useful and true, but they ultimately derive their authority from Scripture. Protestants, at least in the Reformed tradition, do not simply jettison all of Church history and teaching; rather, they interrogate and interpret it in light of Scripture. For example, John Calvin did not reject the Council of Nicaea (as you appear to suggest would be required):

      Thus councils would come to have the majesty that is their due; yet in the meantime Scripture would stand out in the higher place, with everything subject to its standard. In this way, we willingly embrace and reverence as holy the early councils, such as those of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus I, Chalcedon, and the like, which were concerned with refuting errors- in so far as they relate to the teachings of faith. For they contain nothing but the pure and genuine exposition of the Scripture.

      Just as the believer, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, can study the meaning of Scripture, there is nothing that prevents a council from bringing the extra perspicacity of multiple minds studying Scripture on a given question. But ultimately it’s not the council that gives the authority; it is the Scripture they are studying.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Scripture is the sole authority for spiritual government of Christians. Other rules, authorities, councils, creeds, and traditions may be useful and true, but they ultimately derive their authority from Scripture.

        I don’t think that can be true: the Church predates the Bible (or at least the New Testament), and hence cannot derive its authority from it.

        Protestants, at least in the Reformed tradition, do not simply jettison all of Church history and teaching; rather, they interrogate and interpret it in light of Scripture.

        TBH I’m not convinced there’s a meaningful difference between the two: both positions amount to putting your personal interpretation of Scripture above Church teaching, the only difference being how much of Church teaching your personal interpretation happens to agree with.

        • hls2003 says:

          The early church cited Scripture (the Old Testament and Jesus’ teachings) to support themselves, from the beginning. So I don’t think your objection can be true. In addition, your formulation actually seems to be doing the opposite of what you hope: which Catholic traditions, exactly, do you trace to teachings from the pre-NT-writings church, as opposed to interpretations of Scripture?

          As for “personal interpretation,” Protestants simply point out that this is required regardless. One always has to pick an authority. It’s also oddly relativist for a Catholic; even the most hardened post-modernist will usually concede that a text can be sufficiently clear to foreclose certain contrary interpretations.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The early church cited Scripture (the Old Testament and Jesus’ teachings) to support themselves, from the beginning.

            Jesus’ teachings wouldn’t have been Scripture before they were written down, which took place a few decades after Christianity began.

            In addition, your formulation actually seems to be doing the opposite of what you hope: which Catholic traditions, exactly, do you trace to teachings from the pre-NT-writings church, as opposed to interpretations of Scripture?

            It’s not that there’s some particular teaching I have in mind that developed from the pre-NT Church, but that, since the Church predated the NT, it follows either that the Church didn’t have any authority for the first few decades of its existence (which seems a fairly implausible position), or that the Church doesn’t derive its authority from the NT.

            As for “personal interpretation,” Protestants simply point out that this is required regardless. One always has to pick an authority. It’s also oddly relativist for a Catholic; even the most hardened post-modernist will usually concede that a text can be sufficiently clear to foreclose certain contrary interpretations.

            A text can be; the Bible isn’t, judging by the various schisms and heresies which have arisen over the years.

          • Randy M says:

            Jesus’ teachings wouldn’t have been Scripture before they were written down

            Why not? The reason scripture is Scripture is because it is the literal or recounted words of God–or at least reliable inferences or discussions thereof. Stands to reason that the words coming out of Jesus mouth would be every bit as much Scripture as those that happened to be remembered and recorded.

            Perhaps you mean that it should only count as scripture if the spirit kept it’s memory intact and prompted it being written and accepted. Could be that that’s common dogma somewhere, but I don’t think Jesus words would carry less authority in the interim.

            That also answers why I don’t think the church really predates NT Scriptures. Predates the epistles, yes, but not the words of Jesus. I can definitely agree to not weight all scripture equally. I might even rank certain commentary/tradition above certain portions of scripture (say, an off-hand remark in an epistle or some ambiguous statement) but not others.

            A text can be; the Bible isn’t, judging by the various schisms and heresies which have arisen over the years.

            I think it’s fair to say the Bible does foreclose many interpretations, motivated assertions to the contrary not withstanding; but it certainly doesn’t foreclose all of them.

          • hls2003 says:

            The small-c catholic Church derives its authority from faithfully teaching the will of God as revealed in the Word of God. Yes, it is correct that Paul’s letter to the Galatians did not constitute part of Scripture that the church relied on or cited prior to Paul writing that particular letter. I’m not sure why you think that’s a point in your favor; the Word of God they did have, they relied upon, as evidenced by New Testament witnesses where the earliest believers (and Jesus himself, though of course his authority was not derivative of prior Scripture as he himself was the Word) regularly cite Scripture.

            Jesus’ teachings are literally the Word of God. Those written down are what we need. But even the earliest Christians cited the law and the prophets when describing and interpreting Jesus’ teachings.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Randy M:

            Why not?

            Because “scripture” literally means “writings”, and something can’t be part of the writings if it hasn’t been written down yet.

            @ Hls3002:

            I’m not sure why you think that’s a point in your favor; the Word of God they did have, they relied upon, as evidenced by New Testament witnesses where the earliest believers (and Jesus himself, though of course his authority was not derivative of prior Scripture as he himself was the Word) regularly cite Scripture.

            The early Church made frequent departures from previous (Scripturally-mandated) OT Jewish customs, even before the books of the New Testament were written. Obviously these departures can’t have been Scriptural at the time they were made, and yet the early Church made them anyway.

            Also bear in mind that it took an extremely long time for the Biblical canon to be fixed — a consensus didn’t emerge until the fourth century, and no Church-wide pronouncements on the topic were made until the Council of Trent. If the early Christians really had followed Sola Scriptura, working out which books count as Scripture would have been one of the first things they’d have done, not something that they’d take centuries to do.

          • hls2003 says:

            And the prophets weren’t written down until after they’d prophesied, and the sayings of Jesus weren’t written down into a formal Gospel until after his death. That doesn’t make them “not the Word of God.” Nothing done by the early Church contradicted Scripture; in fact, I think suggesting that some of the early Church practices actually violated Scripture is more consistent with Protestant teaching than Catholic. If Paul is told by Jesus to preach to the Gentiles, then the Word of God has said it. When it is written down in the Book of Acts it becomes inspired Scripture, but that doesn’t mean the Word has changed. Protestants aren’t Muslims; Scriptural authority is because it is the Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit, not because of its particular written form.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            But if we’re taking “Scripture” or “the Word of God” to include non-Biblical things, then why wouldn’t, for example, “If Pope Pius XII is told by Jesus to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, then the Word of God has said it,” or, “If the First Vatican Council is inspired to define the dogma of Papal Infallibility, then the Word of God has said it,” be valid applications of the principle?

          • hls2003 says:

            Because, I think Catholics would agree, none of those were canonized into our Scriptures. It was important enough for Peter’s vision releasing Gentiles from “unclean” restrictions that the Holy Spirit inspired its inclusion in Acts. Pretty darn sure “Mary has no original sin” or “Pope is infallible ex cathedra” don’t show up anywhere in the agreed-upon canon (or even the disputed Apocrypha). Especially when later doctrinal innovations appear to contradict Scripture. God always has given the church his Word sufficient for them; if it was prior to the Epistles or the other canon writings, then his Word nonetheless did not await those writings to be inscribed to be sufficient for those believers at that time. But we have Scripture, and that is what God gave us.

            To put it another way, both sides agree on at least the 27 books of the New Testament being the inspired Word of God. Right? And at least most of the New Testament canon has been established since the 2nd century or earlier, with final adjustments perhaps as late as the 4th century. And the Old Testament was around well before that. I would think both sides agree that God doesn’t change his mind from his inspired Word. Nobody is saying that the Holy Spirit is irrelevant from henceforth, but it makes sense to check any supposed new revelation against the revelation that both sides agree has come from God to make sure the message isn’t garbled. Otherwise the Catholic position of Scripture as authoritative – even in parallel – means nothing.

            If an ecumenical Catholic council of 2050 declares Jesus not to be God, or Pope Francis says Jesus told him ex cathedra to abolish the Eucharist, then what’s the “check” on that? If it’s Scripture, then that’s basically Protestantism. If it’s the Holy Spirit, fair enough – but again that’s basically Protestantism, it’s the same check and the same logic that Protestants cite as guarding the small-c catholic church, the priesthood of believers, from following the Scriptures so badly as to render them not useful for salvation.

            I concede there’s some subjectivity in Protestantism inasmuch as all the Reformers agree that human reason needs to be applied in order to read and understand the Scriptures, and humans can be mistaken. But I think that applies mostly at the margins, and is more stable (or at least no less stable) in referring to an existing inspired canon than not.
            Also, I think the Borgias and the antipopes should make Catholics a bit more sympathetic to the Protestant position.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Because, I think Catholics would agree, none of those were canonized into our Scriptures.

            But you’ve already said that “the Word of God” covers things not found in the Scriptures, so this reply isn’t relevant.

            Pretty darn sure “Mary has no original sin” or “Pope is infallible ex cathedra” don’t show up anywhere in the agreed-upon canon (or even the disputed Apocrypha).

            I’m pretty sure that Sola Scriptura doesn’t show up anywhere, either. (Yes, you can try and “derive” it from certain Biblical passages, but the same is true of the Immaculate Conception of Papal Infallibility.)

            (or even the disputed Apocrypha)

            The fact that the Apocrypha are disputed points to another flaw in Sola Scriptura — namely, the Bible never gives us a list of a canonical Scriptural works, so we’re left with no way of being sure what, exactly, this Scripture is in which we are supposed to find all our doctrine. This isn’t just a Protestant vs. Catholic thing, either, nor does it just concern the Apocrypha. Are James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Hebrews, scriptural? Luther would say no; Calvin would say yes.

            If it’s the Holy Spirit, fair enough – but again that’s basically Protestantism, it’s the same check and the same logic that Protestants cite as guarding the small-c catholic church, the priesthood of believers, from following the Scriptures so badly as to render them not useful for salvation.

            As an empirical matter, the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to have given the Protestants much help in agreeing how to interpret the Scriptures.

          • hls2003 says:

            I’m pretty sure that Sola Scriptura doesn’t show up anywhere, either. (Yes, you can try and “derive” it from certain Biblical passages, but the same is true of the Immaculate Conception of Papal Infallibility.)

            If you think you can derive those doctrines from Scripture, then you’ve just admitted that you’re basically Protestant. You just have different interpretations. Also, this is simple “fallacy of grey” thinking. The Scriptural support for those doctrines is nowhere near as robust as the Scriptural support for Scriptural authority.

            The fact that the Apocrypha are disputed points to another flaw in Sola Scriptura — namely, the Bible never gives us a list of a canonical Scriptural works, so we’re left with no way of being sure what, exactly, this Scripture is in which we are supposed to find all our doctrine. This isn’t just a Protestant vs. Catholic thing, either, nor does it just concern the Apocrypha. Are James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Hebrews, scriptural? Luther would say no; Calvin would say yes.

            Again, this says nothing about Catholic vs. Protestant. Catholics acknowledge and use the Scriptures, so they’re in the same boat. Also, it’s misleading to say that Scripture says nothing on the topic. There are Scriptural references for how to recognize the truly inspired Word of God. Those references support the canon as eventually derived, and there is no contradiction in accepting the careful, closer-to-the-time-period assessment of Christian leaders at the time while also agreeing that they have no separate authority to go outside the inspired Word.

            In addition, it’s disingenuous to intimate that there is no difference in interpretive approach between the Apostles who literally spoke with Jesus (with Paul last of all), and the later church who did not. Once the primary Apostolic sources are gone, it makes the most sense to rely on the written sources to avoid malleability.

            As an empirical matter, the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to have given the Protestants much help in agreeing how to interpret the Scriptures.

            As an empirical matter, the Catholic Church has had numerous heretics, perverts, grifters, nepotists, and antipopes throughout its history. And how’s Pachamamma looking these days? So have Protestants, of course, but the “empirical” argument is just silly. Catholics don’t get to claim the “good ones” while writing off their failures; or if they do, then it’s no different from Protestants claiming the mantle of the true church. After all, there was a branching —< so merely asserting which current branch gets to "claim" the early church fathers or the mantle of "orthodox" church authority is affirming the consequent.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If you think you can derive those doctrines from Scripture, then you’ve just admitted that you’re basically Protestant. You just have different interpretations.

            No, because saying “This doctrine can be derived from Scripture” doesn’t logically imply Sola Scriptura, or any other distinctively Protestant hermeneutical principle.

            Again, this says nothing about Catholic vs. Protestant. Catholics acknowledge and use the Scriptures, so they’re in the same boat.

            No, because Catholics aren’t in the position of vehemently rejecting the authority of tradition in every other matter whilst tacitly relying on it for choosing their Scriptures.

            There are Scriptural references for how to recognize the truly inspired Word of God. Those references support the canon as eventually derived, and there is no contradiction in accepting the careful, closer-to-the-time-period assessment of Christian leaders at the time while also agreeing that they have no separate authority to go outside the inspired Word.

            Three points. First of all, the same councils which mandated the acceptance of the books which Protestants accept also mandated the acceptance of the Apocryphal books, so appealing to the authority of the Fathers won’t get you to the Protestant canon.

            Secondly, why would it take the Church so long to recognise the true canon (“eventually derived”, as you put it)? If Sola Scriptura is really true, then determining what counts as Scriptural is pretty darn important, and Scripture really ought to give us more guidance on the matter than a series of hints which take the Church upwards of three centuries to get.

            Thirdly, relying on closer-to-the-time-period assessments is going to get you much more than just a Biblical canon. For example, graffiti in the Roman catacombs indicates that people were asking the dead to intercede for them from at least the second century; the earliest surviving Marian hymn comes from the third century; Churches from this period have visual artwork of the sort which the sixteenth-century Reformers would have whitewashed over as idolatrous. If we’re going to rely on the assessments of Christians closer to the time period to get our Biblical canon, why not rely on their assessments on the propriety of asking for intercessionary prayer and church decoration?

            In addition, it’s disingenuous to intimate that there is no difference in interpretive approach between the Apostles who literally spoke with Jesus (with Paul last of all), and the later church who did not. Once the primary Apostolic sources are gone, it makes the most sense to rely on the written sources to avoid malleability.

            That position would make sense, if you assume that God gives the Church no help in correctly interpreting doctrine. If, however, you assume that it would be very strange behaviour for Christ to die for the Church and then sit back and do nothing whilst it wanders into heresy and apostasy, and if you remember his promises that the Holy Ghost would guide the Church into all truth and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against her, the argument loses much of its force.

            As an empirical matter, the Catholic Church has had numerous heretics, perverts, grifters, nepotists, and antipopes throughout its history. And how’s Pachamamma looking these days? So have Protestants, of course, but the “empirical” argument is just silly. Catholics don’t get to claim the “good ones” while writing off their failures; or if they do, then it’s no different from Protestants claiming the mantle of the true church. After all, there was a branching —< so merely asserting which current branch gets to "claim" the early church fathers or the mantle of "orthodox" church authority is affirming the consequent.

            This is all a non sequitur. The existence of bad Catholics doesn’t change the fact that, if the Holy Spirit is guarding the Protestant Churches from error, he doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job at it.

          • hls2003 says:

            No, because saying “This doctrine can be derived from Scripture” doesn’t logically imply Sola Scriptura, or any other distinctively Protestant hermeneutical principle.

            You don’t seem to understand what Sola Scriptura means, then. It means that Scripture is the primary source and sole final arbiter and authority for the doctrines necessary for salvation, not that other sources provide no useful information at all. You said earlier: “It’s not that there’s some particular teaching I have in mind that developed from the pre-NT Church…” and on any given doctrinal point (including the late-adopted ones), you are claiming it is derivable from Scripture. If that’s true (I think it’s not, since many modern Catholic doctrines lack robust Scriptural support, but that’s a point under discussion), then that’s an appeal back to the authority of the Scriptures. That’s all arch-reformer Luther demanded: “Scripture and plain reason.”

            No, because Catholics aren’t in the position of vehemently rejecting the authority of tradition in every other matter whilst tacitly relying on it for choosing their Scriptures.

            This is either false or a strawman. The bulk of reformers did not “reject the authority of tradition in every other matter.” As I quoted some distance above, Calvin gave due deference to early church councils, creeds, etc. He simply stated that ultimately those were not sufficient to contradict Scripture which, again, Catholics agree is authoritative. Catholics have “rejected the authority” of many other traditions (various heresies, gnosticism, Marcionism, simony, the authority of the Orthodox Patriarchs in the Great Schism, etc.) throughout their history. Each such heresies had church tradition behind them. Each was refuted primarily by reference to the Scriptures; the Catholics claim they are not “legitimate” traditions. You don’t accept tradition, you either test it against Scripture or you arbitrarily choose which ones you like. In either case, there’s no grand distinction with the Reformers.

            First of all, the same councils which mandated the acceptance of the books which Protestants accept also mandated the acceptance of the Apocryphal books, so appealing to the authority of the Fathers won’t get you to the Protestant canon.

            I’m not appealing to the authority of the Church Fathers. I’m saying that the Church Fathers are also capable of following and interpreting the true marks of inspired Scripture, as in turn laid out in Scripture. Plus, and I concede I’m not going to go through the arguments exhaustively, I don’t agree with your description of the development of the canon and its treatment of the Apocrypha. I’ll defer that discussion to the extended polemics traded back and forth between the Reformers and the Catholics during that time period, other than to note that, if I’m not mistaken, the Apocrypha were not fully and finally canonized by the Catholics until Trent – at which point one can argue there’s special pleading involved. ETA: Upon review I think the struck-through portion is probably wrong, and Trent was a re-affirmation. I would have been wiser to stick to the full deferment of the issue to the contemporary polemics.

            The greater point is this: your entire discussion of canon development is relevant for someone opposing Scriptural authority in its entirety. But it cannot form the logical basis for a specifically Catholic argument vs. Protestantism, because Catholics and Protestants agree on almost all of the canon, including the entire New Testament canon if I’m not mistaken. Given that, and given that the shared understanding of Scripture is that it is the authoritative Word of God, that is the obvious compromise point. Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and Huss and the rest claim certain doctrines and practices are corrupt and heretical, the Catholic hierarchy says not; very well then, decide according to the shared Scriptures. Catholics are not claiming tradition can nullify Scripture; and Protestants are not claiming that there is nothing useful in tradition. So prove the tradition in Scripture and plain reason, as Luther commented, and you’ll reconcile. If you can’t, then it’s mere ipse dixit.

            Secondly, why would it take the Church so long to recognise the true canon (“eventually derived”, as you put it)? If Sola Scriptura is really true, then determining what counts as Scriptural is pretty darn important, and Scripture really ought to give us more guidance on the matter than a series of hints which take the Church upwards of three centuries to get.

            There is no reason why this should be true or meaningful. Catholics don’t deny, I’m pretty sure, that Scripture authenticates Scripture and gives a method for how to determine the inspired Word. The point is that its codification is the final step of a revealed process. From a Protestant perspective, the councils didn’t create the canon, they identified it. To assume otherwise is to beg the question.

            Thirdly, relying on closer-to-the-time-period assessments is going to get you much more than just a Biblical canon. For example, graffiti in the Roman catacombs indicates that people were asking the dead to intercede for them from at least the second century; the earliest surviving Marian hymn comes from the third century; Churches from this period have visual artwork of the sort which the sixteenth-century Reformers would have whitewashed over as idolatrous. If we’re going to rely on the assessments of Christians closer to the time period to get our Biblical canon, why not rely on their assessments on the propriety of asking for intercessionary prayer and church decoration?

            This is a reach, and again shows you don’t understand the concept. The Reformers don’t ignore the early church; they simply assess the quality of the reasoning process applied to Scripture when considering authority. The items you’re citing (ecumenical council debating the Scriptures versus graffiti) are not comparable. And to reiterate, comparison with Scripture has always been the gold standard. I’d expect there was probably graffiti in North Africa regarding the Arian heresy, but that doesn’t make it binding if it contradicts the (both sides agree) inspired Word of God.

            This is all a non sequitur. The existence of bad Catholics doesn’t change the fact that, if the Holy Spirit is guarding the Protestant Churches from error, he doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job at it.

            That’s literally my point about the Catholic Church. If its pronouncements were pure expressions of the Holy Spirit, I’d expect them to be less corrupt, more coherent, and in line with Scripture. (And to avoid getting too personal and nasty, let me clarify that I do consider the Catholic Church to be one expression of the church invisible, and not bereft of the Spirit.) If you want to say “empirically” that Protestant churches are failing to uphold the religion, the same “empirical” test can be turned right around on Catholic past and present. Ultimately, if the Catholic Church declared tomorrow that “Jesus was not raised from the dead,” through whatever method is deemed authoritative, on what basis can that be challenged? It seems to me that Catholic responses must be one of three things: (1) by definition that is true Christianity now (tautologically); (2) that would be disavowed because it contradicts some other authority, presumably Scripture and early church expositions thereof (this is basically Protestantism), or (3) impossible to consider, because of the Holy Spirit’s guidance (but again this is simply the same that the Protestant churches say about the universal church, and I deny that the Catholic “empirical results” are superior).

            I’ve spent too long on an argument that has been waged in far more depth over centuries, so if you would like the last word, conceded.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’ve spent too long on an argument that has been waged in far more depth over centuries, so if you would like the last word, conceded.

            With respect, I think this is a pretty disingenuous note to end on: either I don’t respond, so you get the last word; or I do, in which case you get to look superior and above such petty arguments. If you don’t want to continue a discussion, you can just not continue one, without virtue-signalling about it.

            You said earlier: “It’s not that there’s some particular teaching I have in mind that developed from the pre-NT Church…” and on any given doctrinal point (including the late-adopted ones), you are claiming it is derivable from Scripture.

            You’re misunderstanding my point. I was saying that the earliest Christians didn’t believe in Sola Scriptura, because they went around preaching and defining doctrines before writing them down — including on topics which Jesus didn’t clearly address, such as the question of whether Gentile converts have to keep the Mosaic Law (a matter on which, incidentally, the losing side had a stronger case based on the Scriptures that had then been written). So either Sola Scriptura was false then but subsequently became true (when? why?), or it’s false, full stop.

            This is either false or a strawman. The bulk of reformers did not “reject the authority of tradition in every other matter.” As I quoted some distance above, Calvin gave due deference to early church councils, creeds, etc. He simply stated that ultimately those were not sufficient to contradict Scripture which, again, Catholics agree is authoritative.

            The Reformers “gave due deference to” Church tradition when and only when Church tradition agreed with what they thought anyway, which is the same as rejecting the authority of tradition. Did Luther or Calvin ever say, “I can’t see the Scriptural basis for this, but the Church has always held it, therefore I suppose it must be true”?

            Catholics have “rejected the authority” of many other traditions (various heresies, gnosticism, Marcionism, simony, the authority of the Orthodox Patriarchs in the Great Schism, etc.) throughout their history. Each such heresies had church tradition behind them. Each was refuted primarily by reference to the Scriptures; the Catholics claim they are not “legitimate” traditions. You don’t accept tradition, you either test it against Scripture or you arbitrarily choose which ones you like. In either case, there’s no grand distinction with the Reformers.

            In the vast, vast majority of heresies, it was obvious which one was in continuity with previous Church teaching and which one contradicted it. That includes the Reformation, BTW, given that Luther’s whole schtick was claiming that the Church had been totally wrong for the last thousand years and needed to chuck out basically everything from that period. It’s hard to imagine something more discontinuous than throwing out the last thousand years of development, short of founding an entirely new religion, that is.

            The greater point is this: your entire discussion of canon development is relevant for someone opposing Scriptural authority in its entirety. But it cannot form the logical basis for a specifically Catholic argument vs. Protestantism, because Catholics and Protestants agree on almost all of the canon, including the entire New Testament canon if I’m not mistaken.

            The difference is, Catholic ecclesiology gives a coherent reason to accept the canon — namely, since Christ promised to guide his Church into all truth, the Church cannot be habitually mistaken on matters of doctrine; and, since the Church has habitually held certain books to be canonical, it is certain that she is correct, because Christ would prevent her falling into error in such a way. Protestantism, on the other hand, holds that the Church was habitually mistaken on a whole host of doctrines, but makes an arbitrary exception for the Biblical canon.

            Given that, and given that the shared understanding of Scripture is that it is the authoritative Word of God, that is the obvious compromise point.

            No, it’s an attempt to beg the question in favour of Protestantism, by demanding that Catholics prove their doctrines according to the hermeneutical principles of Protestantism.

            If you can’t, then it’s mere ipse dixit.

            And what’s wrong with that? Christ guaranteed the Church’s infallibility. Refusing to accept the teaching of an infallible body is foolish pride.

            There is no reason why this should be true or meaningful. Catholics don’t deny, I’m pretty sure, that Scripture authenticates Scripture and gives a method for how to determine the inspired Word. The point is that its codification is the final step of a revealed process. From a Protestant perspective, the councils didn’t create the canon, they identified it. To assume otherwise is to beg the question.

            None of this actually relates to my point. For Catholics, the lack of a fixed canon for the first four hundred or so years of Christian history isn’t a problem, because there was a Church with the ability to settle doctrinal disputes. For Protestants, who believe that Scripture alone can settle doctrinal disputes, the lack of a fixed canon isn’t a problem because…?

            Catholics don’t deny, I’m pretty sure, that Scripture authenticates Scripture

            Scripture can’t authenticate Scripture, on pain of circularity.

            This is a reach, and again shows you don’t understand the concept. The Reformers don’t ignore the early church; they simply assess the quality of the reasoning process applied to Scripture when considering authority. The items you’re citing (ecumenical council debating the Scriptures versus graffiti) are not comparable. And to reiterate, comparison with Scripture has always been the gold standard. I’d expect there was probably graffiti in North Africa regarding the Arian heresy, but that doesn’t make it binding if it contradicts the (both sides agree) inspired Word of God.

            I didn’t cite the graffiti as a theological authority, but as evidence of early Christian beliefs. If the early Christians were wrong about matters such as the propriety of praying to the saints, why should we trust their judgement about other matters, such as the correct canon of Scripture?

            Ultimately, if the Catholic Church declared tomorrow that “Jesus was not raised from the dead,” through whatever method is deemed authoritative, on what basis can that be challenged? It seems to me that Catholic responses must be one of three things: (1) by definition that is true Christianity now (tautologically); (2) that would be disavowed because it contradicts some other authority, presumably Scripture and early church expositions thereof (this is basically Protestantism), or (3) impossible to consider, because of the Holy Spirit’s guidance (but again this is simply the same that the Protestant churches say about the universal church, and I deny that the Catholic “empirical results” are superior).

            St. Vincent of Lerins has you covered there:

            Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly ‘Catholic,’ as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself, we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, Bishops and Doctors alike.

            “What then will the Catholic Christian do, if a small part of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal Faith? The answer is sure. He will prefer the healthiness of the whole body to the morbid and corrupt limb.

            “But what if some novel contagions try to infect the whole Church, and not merely a tiny part of it? Then he will take care to cleave to antiquity, which cannot now be led astray by any deceit of novelty.

            “What if in antiquity itself two or three men, or it may be a city, or even a whole province be detected in error? Then he will take the greatest care to prefer the decrees of the ancient General Councils, if there are such, to the irresponsible ignorance of a few men.

            “But what if some error arises regarding which nothing of this sort is to be found? Then he must do his best to compare the opinions of the Fathers and inquire their meaning, provided always that, though they belonged to diverse times and places, they yet continued in the faith and communion of the one Catholic Church; and let them be teachers approved and outstanding. And whatever he shall find to have been held, approved and taught, not by one or two only but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently, and persistently, let him take this as to be held by him without the slightest hesitation.

            Incidentally, St. Vincent also deals with the question of Sola Scriptura in the same work:

            Here, it may be, someone will ask: ‘Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and is in itself abundantly sufficient, what need is there to join to it the interpretation of the Church?’ The answer is that because of the profundity itself of Scripture, all men do not place the same interpretation upon it. The statements of the same writer are explained by different men in different ways, so much so that it seems almost possible to extract from it as many opinions as there are men. Novatian expounds in one way, Sabellius in another, Donatus in another, Arius, Eunomius and Macedonius in another, Photinus, Apollinaris and Priscillian in another, Jovinian, Pelagius and Caelestius in another, and latterly Nestorius in another. Therefore, because of the intricacies of error, which is so multiform, there is great need for the laying down of a rule for the exposition of Prophets and Apostles in accordance with the standard of the interpretation of the Catholic Church.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Oh, and one other thing:

            This is either false or a strawman. The bulk of reformers did not “reject the authority of tradition in every other matter.” As I quoted some distance above, Calvin gave due deference to early church councils, creeds, etc. He simply stated that ultimately those were not sufficient to contradict Scripture which, again, Catholics agree is authoritative.

            Calvin might have paid lip-service to the Councils; Luther famously declared them contradictory and useless at the Diet of Worms.

            And again, which Scripture is agreed to be authoritative? Luther dismissed the Epistle of James as a forgery, saying that the author “mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture. He tries to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore, I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books.” Jude he dismisses as a copy of 2 Peter, and regarding Hebrews, he says that it is to be honoured, but that “to be sure, we cannot put it on the same level with the apostolic epistles”. As for the book of Revelation, he says that “For myself, I think it approximates the Fourth Book of Esdras; I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it. . . .Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him. My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book. For me this is reason enough not to think highly of it: Christ is neither taught nor known in it.” Clearly Luther, at least, didn’t think that *these* Scriptures were particularly authoritative!

      • marshwiggle says:

        One useful (though perhaps a little sloppy for brevity) way of looking at the Protestant take on Scripture is this: the books of the Bible are authoritative because the prophets and apostles were given God’s authority to say those things. They had an authoritative role speaking for God that was recognized (at least by a few) at the time, and pretty much ever since then. That is different from when someone else speaks for God. Like, any Christian is in theory at least God’s ambassador, speaking for God to give the gospel message to people. But that’s a different level of authority, different in kind and not just degree. The Bible itself seems to treat prophets and apostles this way.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Hot take from a nonChristian:

      Many Catholics also think that their doctrine is derived directly from the Bible. It is partly for this reason that Protestant critique of prevailing Catholic doctrine resonated so much in 16th century – Reformers pointed out (supposed) contradictions between the Bible and the Church practice and teachings.

      So this is just a special instance of a more general problem of how a religion based on the Holy Book deals with an unavoidable reality that the Holy Book might be interpreted in various ways. And thorough history, religious communities came up with many solutions to this problem.

    • valleyofthekings says:

      I’m not a Protestant and I don’t know anything about their doctrine. But I’d like to suggest that this is not the right way to start a conversation.

      If you really wanted to have this conversation, you’d say: “Hello, I notice the protestants have the following doctrine: (quote), but this actually is derived from this tradition: (quote), and what scripture says on the topic is S: (quote), this seems inconsistent, how do they deal with this?”

      What you’re doing here is you open with “hey how do you guys feel about being totally wrong”, and then you’re asking your presumed conversation partners to build your whole argument for you before refuting it. (And then of course you’ll say: “actually that wasn’t my argument at all, it’s really disappointing that you misunderstood me like that.”)

    • theredsheep says:

      Question I’ve been wondering about, phrased in the least inflammatory way I can manage: from my own Orthodox Christian POV, there are a couple of strong points of similarity between certain kinds of Protestantism and Sunni Islam. Sola Scriptura and Iconoclasm are the two big ones–both are quite alien to Catholics, perfectly normal for Muslims. A Muslim’s relationship with the Koran seems not much different from a Protestant’s relationship with the Bible.

      I realize this is a pretty weird thing to point out, but the Protestant Reformation followed centuries of cultural exchange between the West and Islam, and cross-pollination certainly occurred in the East; Shia Islam has very obvious similarities to Eastern Christianity, while the original iconoclasts certainly seem to have caught the idea from Muslims, whatever some scholars say. Has anyone “respectable” ever suggested that these Protestant-Muslim similarities are not a coincidence?

      • Nornagest says:

        I think this glosses over some major differences. The Koran is a significantly shorter work than the Bible — something on the order of 4x depending on details; a motivated but otherwise unexceptional reader could get through it in a weekend. On the other hand, there’s a huge volume of commentary and interpretation — the hadith — that’s not part of the Koran proper, but often has more to say on the practical aspects of performing a religion, generally attributed to Muhammad himself or to his close associates. In a Christian context it might be most comparable to the Epistles, but it’s much larger.

        Because of this, it’s not really correct to say that Muslims follow sola scriptura in practice. Only the Koran is believed to be the literal, directly communicated word of God, but some hadith are nonetheless believed to be divinely inspired (albeit transmitted through a human interpreter), and even those that aren’t carry a great deal of weight. So the Koran is not, from a Muslim perspective, generally seen as the sole source of religious authority or as a comprehensive guide to how to be a Muslim.

        • theredsheep says:

          But as others here have pointed out, Protestants don’t view scripture as the sole source in the literal sense, only as the final source; in practice, Sola Scriptura is a misnomer. From the Orthodox POV the distinction is unclear and the execution unintelligible, but many Protestants look like Muslims in their opposition to a hierarchical clergy with an authoritative role in defining doctrine. In both religions, the individual believer reading his scripture is supposed to play a much more prominent role than in any pre-Reformation Christian sect that I can think of (barring proto-Protestants like Lollards or Hussites, who also emerged well after the rise of Islam).

          In any case, Christianity has no parallels to the hadith (non-canonical gospels would come closest, but not really), so Protestants could hardly imitate that aspect of Islam. They do, as I understand it, have extensive supplemental text traditions on correct interpretation and praxis, but so does every religion.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Sunni Islam is imho even less “sola scriptura” than Catholicism. Sunni Islam explicitly recognizes four separate sources of authority – Quran, hadith, ijma (consensus of the relevant community) and qijas (analogy). Quran is supreme in a sense that no precept derived from other sources might supersede it, but it is at least implicitly recognized that precepts might be derived directly from four nonquranic sources.

            Another important aspect in which Islam is closer to Catholicism than to Protestantism is that Protestantism strongly encourages translating the Scripture into everyday languages of the believers.

            That being said, as you correctly pointed out, there are also important similarities – Iconoclasm and more broadly, for a lack of a better term “more stringent monotheism” (no saints), plus methods for choosing rough equivalents of priests. Unfortunately I do not know nearly enough about medieval Europe to have an informed opinion on whether those similarities were inspired via cultural diffusion or not.

          • marshwiggle says:

            Iconoclasm seems likely to come out of Hebrew Bible incidents in which idols were smashed and so on.

            Perhaps I should do an effort post on the conflict between two factions in the Swiss reformation. There were the guys like Zwingli who won out and became the Reformed, who wanted to reform the church but keep much of the structure. Then there were the guys like Grebel who became Anabaptist who wanted to literally run around smashing idols, zero compromise, only doing things the way he thought the New Testament said to. We have a bunch of their letters and documents, and the story is fairly entertaining. That would give much more background on the way those particular branches of the Reformation thought about these issues.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Iconoclasm seems likely to come out of Hebrew Bible incidents in which idols were smashed and so on.

            Yes, and that includes Islamic iconoclasm. Byzantine Iconoclasm was also officially legitimated by citing Hebrew Bible, nevertheless, it was likely partially inspired by Islam. Reformation might be similar in this respect. Or not.

          • theredsheep says:

            I suppose it would be easier to argue this if I had a firm handle on what Sola Scriptura is supposed to mean, but it’s an elusive concept for those who don’t believe in it. The Bible is a huge and heterogeneous book, composed by (at minimum) dozens of authors from disparate backgrounds and cultures over a period of about a thousand years.

            Citing its ostensibly plain teaching as an authority would appear to be a hopeless task; any reading of what the Bible says on any given subject is bound to involve debateable interpretation and weighing of priorities, and distinguishing between “Biblical teaching” and human traditions or accretions strikes me as subjective at best and question-begging at worst.

            Consider idolatry: the Second Commandment could be interpreted very broadly, as in some hardline forms of Islam (“it is sinful for your five-year-old to doodle a pony, even with no spiritual intent”) or very narrowly, as we do (“do not make and literally worship artificial deities out of rocks and such”). A typical Protestant position is somewhere in the middle. I’m inclined to favor our version, naturally; we support our argument by pointing to the cherubim set up on the Ark of the Covenant, all the fancy decorations in the OT Temple, etc. I assume the Protestant version sounds equally compelling to them, but I don’t see how one of the two competing scriptural justifications is really Biblical while the other isn’t. It’s a matter of competing interpretive frameworks.

            I will say that the extreme Muslim reverence for the Koran reminds me strongly of extreme Protestant reverence for the Bible.

          • marshwiggle says:

            I’ll take a stab at explaining Sola Scriptura in practical terms then. This isn’t the theoretical account or a demonstration that it is correct. That would definitely be an effort post, though I could oblige if people really want one. But in practice… Sola Scriptura answers the question ‘what if the human authorities on Scripture are wrong?’.

            Some alternatives to Sola Scriptura answer that question by saying ‘they are not wrong’. That was roughly the answer that the Reformers perceived the Roman Catholic authorities as giving. The Reformers countered that by saying ‘Look, if you are correct, you should be able to show it by using evidence that the Scriptures agree with your position, using ‘because I said so’ not even once in your argument. If you cannot do that, we will consider our claim that you are wrong to be legitimated’.

            That is the historical context.

            In practice, yes, Protestants have authorities on what the Bible says. But in anything at all like a conservative Protestant context, those authorities are expected to be able to demonstrate how they derive their claims about Scripture from Scripture itself. More importantly, those authorities are expected to be willing to change their position in the face of someone with lower status pointing out inconsistencies between their position and Scripture. I’ve seen Protestant authorities at pretty much all levels actually live up to those ideals. I’ve also seen plenty of failures. Sola Scriptura doesn’t say exactly what you do in response to failures by the authorities. What it does say is that if the authorities fail to show their work or fail to change in response to evidence, A) they might be wrong, and B) you might be able to do better because you have the Bible.

            Whether you actually do better is not guaranteed by Sola Scriptura, if only because there are more than 2 options for interpreting just about any piece of Scripture. Just because they might be wrong doesn’t mean you are right. But in the same way that your tradition hopes that the Holy Spirit and tradition will guide the authorities into truth, Sola Scriptura traditions hope that in the face of the authorities being wrong, people not in authority will be guided into truth. Sadly, it is quite clear that this is not the only thing that can happen.

          • theredsheep says:

            Thank you! The Orthodox answer would probably be to point to Laura Bohannon’s classic “Shakespeare in the Bush,” in which West African tribesmen interpret Hamlet in ways that make perfect sense to them, and wind up converting it into a cautionary tale about the dangers of using witchcraft on your family. We don’t think the Bible can be correctly understood outside of the cultural context it was given in, and which produced it–the culture and tradition we have preserved.

          • marshwiggle says:

            That’s starting to poke at the weaknesses of me skipping the theoretical foundations. Which is totally fair. But I’ll try to keep my response to the practical level.

            What would happen if the bushmen humbly asked the people who might know more to explain that cultural context?

            To put it more bluntly, the New Testament assumes a deep familiarity with the Old Testament and a whole Jewish worldview. And yet, both the New Testament and the Old Testament were given to the Greek people as if that would be a good idea. To be sure, that resulted in some heresies, where people of Greek culture imported their own assumptions into the faith.

            But God also in his infinite mercy also changed the hearts of some who heard the Word so that they humbly asked people who knew more about the cultural context to explain. God graciously gave his Spirit both to the new believers and the various Jewish people who really did understand the Bible to teach the truth about the Bible. Over the centuries, God raised up people to defend the truth against all those varieties of heresy.

            So yes, I often have to explain the cultural context when I teach the Bible to people from some other culture. It is my job to learn that context as best as I can, the same as it is my job to know Hebrew and Greek, etc. That improves my ability to understand and teach. But a huge bit of the New Testament is written to support the idea that you don’t have to be Jewish by blood or culture to be Christian. And a huge part of both the Old Testament and the New Testament says that the knowledge of God is for all nations. I’m on the front lines of that, and I can testify that God really does mean that. For that to work, that has to mean that people from other cultures can become teachers of the Bible.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            To put it more bluntly, the New Testament assumes a deep familiarity with the Old Testament and a whole Jewish worldview. And yet, both the New Testament and the Old Testament were given to the Greek people as if that would be a good idea.

            That’s because the Greeks weren’t just given the Old and New Testaments,* they were also given a Church with the ability to lay down authoritative interpretations of the Scriptures. Cultural distance is less of a problem when you have a divinely-guaranteed body to tell you when your personal interpretation is right or wrong.

            (* As a matter of fact they weren’t given the New Testament, at least at first, because the Church was already evangelising the Gentiles before the New Testament was even written.)

            Also, whilst you’re correct to stress the importance of cultural context, I’m not sure it can be squared with another important Protestant doctrine, that of the Perspicuity of Scripture. To quote the Westminster Catechism (section 1.7):

            All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

            There is nothing in here about having to become an expert in ancient Near Eastern culture to interpret the Scripture; anybody, even the unlearned, can understand at least the necessary parts.

            Over the centuries, God raised up people to defend the truth against all those varieties of heresy.

            Trying to phrase this as non-polemically as possible: how do you square this belief with the divergences between Protestantism and preceding Christian beliefs? Luther and the other Reformers wrote off the medieval Church as a corrupt Whore of Babylon, so even if we suppose that they were right about the beliefs of the earliest Christians, there’s still a thousand-year-plus period in which Church teachings were undoubtedly Catholic (or Orthodox, but then Protestantism has at least as many differences with Orthodoxy as it does with Catholicism). If the Holy Spirit was really raising up champions to fight heresy, they don’t seem to have been very successful in their God-given task.

        • On the other hand, there’s a huge volume of commentary and interpretation — the hadith — that’s not part of the Koran proper, but often has more to say on the practical aspects of performing a religion, generally attributed to Muhammad himself or to his close associates.

          There is a huge volume of commentary and interpretation, but the hadith are one of the inputs to it, with the Koran the other input. The hadith themselves are not commentary but accounts of something Mohammed or his Companions did or said, transmitted orally through several people and then written down.

      • marshwiggle says:

        That’s an interesting question. There might have been some influence, but the Western monastic tradition is a much more likely source for a lot of the stuff you are seeing. Unlike in the East, the Western monastic tradition went through repeated waves of reform where some people said ‘look, the monasteries are corrupt, let’s go back to the basics and be holy together’. Monasteries already had a tradition of Bible study, so the Bible was unsurprisingly part of that reform meta tradition.

        I’d love to hear from someone who knows more about any influence Islam had on some of the proto reformers though.

      • FormerRanger says:

        Given that the early phase of Muhammad’s religious teaching was heavily influenced by Judaism and to a lesser extent by Christianity, it would be quite surprising if there weren’t some parallels.

        Shia Islam is usually compared to Protestantism, at least in its governance. There are many sects or traditions and many leaders, and no supreme leader. At least in the days of the Arab expansion there was a single leader who was the heir of Muhammad, which is more like how Catholicism operates. The original Sunni/Shia split was over who would inherit the Prophet’s mantle, rather than over doctrine.

        • A central feature of the Shia/Sunni split was that the Shia believed that Mohammed’s “inheritors” were themselves divinely inspired, hence further sources for information on God’s will. Most of the Shia sects believe that the last the last such source died or went into occlusion a very long time ago, however.

          The Sunni do not have that view of the caliphs.

        • theredsheep says:

          Shia bears an immensely strong resemblance to Eastern Christianity in several respects. The Shiite cult of Fatima seems obviously modeled on Marian devotion–Shiites make this comparison themselves–while the reverence for saints in general is not all that different from our version. There is also a venerable Shiite tradition of obedience to an elder which seems like a direct copy of an Orthodox monastic tradition.

  17. Roebuck says:

    I just saw this article in the FT.

    For those who can’t see what’s inside, it’s a collection of non-political situations (as in, business situations, emergencies etc.) where bad things happened because people were afraid to voice dissent / good things happened because people were allowed to critically comment on each other’s ideas. The concluding paragraph is pretty generic:

    “We rarely appreciate it when someone is speaking out rather than fitting in. But whether it is as trivial as a rug, or as vital as a fuel gauge in a circling aircraft, we need people who see things that we don’t. We need them to speak up. And we also need to listen when they do.”

    I can sort of feel that the intensity of culture wars in London (where I live) is declining. I see this article as the FT following this trend and advising very cautiously against our current, peak levels of political correctness (because that’s in practice how you defuse the tension from here).
    If so, it would be very disappointing because that would mean that one of the best-quality recognisable newspapers is very late to the pro-free-speech party which has been going on in many circles and communities of intelligent people for a long time.

    Do you interpret it the same way?

    • Well... says:

      I wonder if maybe people compartmentalize this more than you think they do. Like, someone would say “Of course we should set up systems at my aircraft engineering job to encourage dissent when it comes to the design of fuel gauges!” and really mean it and even follow through, but that same person would say “We can’t tolerate those hateful members of my outgroup here!” or maybe not “say” it, but definitely mean it and find ways to act on it too.

    • Clutzy says:

      The easiest place to comment on this phenomena which is not CW (I just suggest this because I enjoy the topic) is video game balance. Places like Blizzard used to have independent divisions and an adversarial environment. Now under activision, its much more tame internally, and the games have lost significant quality.

  18. johan_larson says:

    One of the things old-time moralists tended to counsel against was playing cards. I expect their more contemporary equivalents are busy preaching against video games.

    What was their main objection? The time spent that could have been spent more productively, the money that was lost gambling, or something else?

    • theodidactus says:

      It’s entirely possible that there was more than one reason, or that (like a lot of moral panics) many reasons get ascribed to one thing people just get squicked out by.

      In the catholic world at least, the most famous instances of playing cards getting banned are, iirc, directly linked to the evils of gambling. So the papal ban on card playing by Benedict the 14th directly associates card players with gamblers. Most puritanical bans on gambling directly link them with other gambling impliments: “cards, dice, or tables” and so on.

      Now of course that just pushes the question back, why is GAMBLING bad. Three potential overlapping reasons
      A) It makes people super obsessed with material gain
      B) material gains in gambling happen for no reason, unlike virtuous obsession with material gain
      C) There’s a reason gambling is kinda by its nature ugly and rough: humans are bad at acting rationally and can be easily exploited by gamblers (or themselves). This is why many societies, even wholly secular ones think banning gambling is a “good idea”, it seems to carry an ugliness along with it (instances like this are sadly inevitable)

      * but I think it’s probably fair to say that there’s also an “attention-stealing”/”idleness” component completely divorced from the “evils of gambling.” Why do I think this? I grew up adjacent to some fairly religious people and this was their most common reason for objecting to things like pokemon cards and the like. I can’t imagine similar objections weren’t conjured up back then (because it’s so easy to pin this objection to any activity you don’t like)

      • Two McMillion says:

        The usual position is that gambling is theft, and a violation of the eighth commandment.

      • Deiseach says:

        The old Catholic Encylcopaedia on the topic of gambling or gaming:

        Gambling, or gaming, is the staking of money or other thing of value on the issue of a game of chance. It thus belongs to the class of aleatory contracts in which the gain or loss of the parties depends on an uncertain event. It is not gambling, in the strict sense, if a bet is laid on the issue of a game of skill like billiards or football. The issue must depend on chance, as in dice, or partly on chance, partly on skill, as in whist. Moreover, in ordinary parlance, a person who plays for small stakes to give zest to the game is not said to gamble; gambling connotes playing for high stakes.

        …Theologians commonly require four conditions so that gaming may not be illicit.

        – What is staked must belong to the gambler and must be at his free disposal. It is wrong, therefore, for the lawyer to stake the money of his client, or for anyone to gamble with what is necessary for the maintenance of his wife and children.
        – The gambler must act freely, without unjust compulsion.
        – There must be no fraud in the transaction, although the usual ruses of the game may be allowed. It is unlawful, accordingly, to mark the cards, but it is permissible to conceal carefully from an opponent the number of trump cards one holds.
        – Finally, there must be some sort of equality between the parties to make the contract equitable; it would be unfair for a combination of two expert whist players to take the money of a couple of mere novices at the game.

        • Nick says:

          Supplement from Callan and McHugh’s Moral Theology, with an interesting comparison to insurance:

          1879. Sinful Contracts.—There is no form of contract that may not be made sinful as to its substance on account of the wicked offer or consideration (e.g., sale may deal with immoral objects, labor may be given to criminal projects), but there are certain forms of contract that are particularly open to abuse and hence are frequently associated with evil circumstances or results. Some contracts are often illicit according to natural law.

          … (d) Gaming is sinful when the form of the sport is objectionable (e.g., the ancient gladiatorial fights in which the combatants killed each other), or when the motives or circumstances are wrong (e.g., to play as a professional gambler so as to avoid work, to play cards all day Sunday, to play for higher stakes than one can afford, to spend time in “gambling hells”).

          … (f) Speculation is sinful in many instances, since it often brings on a gambling fever that makes the speculator useless to himself and his dependents, and causes poverty and crime.

          2137. … (b) Aleatory Contracts.—Aleatory contracts, or contracts of chance, are concerned with some uncertain event whose outcome depends upon luck or skill or a combination of both. The chief forms are betting, lottery and gaming (all are considered as gambling), to which must be added insurance and market speculations. All of these are indifferent in themselves and obtain their morality from circumstances. However, gambling, besides conforming to the requirements of contracts in general, must observe some special conditions to guarantee its lawfulness:

          1) The outcome should be objectively uncertain and not a “sure thing” to be truly a contract of chance. While the contractants may be subjectively certain of winning, neither may so manipulate the matter as to exclude the other’s chance of winning. Should one insist upon betting against another’s assurance of a certain outcome, he is making a gift, hardly a bet.

          2) Each must stake what belongs to himself and is not needed for satisfying other obligations, e.g., supporting one’s family, paying creditors, etc. Failure to observe this condition leads to many sins of theft or negligence. Should a person gamble with money belonging to another, per se he has a right to the winnings under the title of industrial fruits. However, if it would be impossible for him to restore in the event of a loss, the wager is void and the winnings must be restored to the other player, since the amount bet could not be lawfully won by the other contestant.

          3) A reasonable proportion should be observed between what is bet and the probable winnings, and all betting should offer a fair chance of winning. Equality is not necessary, but odds and handicaps should be offered by the favored side. However, the odds may be waived by other bettors.

          4) Honesty must prevail to exclude fixing the outcome or an unlawful style of play. The conventions of each bet or game establish the norms of cheating. Thus, hidden cards, marked cards, false dice void a bet. But running a horse solely to “tighten him” or “round him into shape” without full effort to win is expected in horse racing. Winnings through cheating must be refunded.

          5) The loser must pay. Since civil law forbids many forms of organized gambling, the question arises whether a wager that has been outlawed constitutes matter for a valid contract that must be fulfilled. If the law is purely penal, the contract is valid and the obligations ensue; if it is a law that binds morally, then the contract is invalid, and the loser probably need not pay, but has acted sinfully in gambling.

          Although not sinful in itself, gambling is so open to serious abuse that it has been strictly regulated by civil laws which bind in conscience.

          Insurance is reduced to the category of contracts of chance, although its purpose is different from gambling, for it is concerned not with an uncertain good, i.e., to make money quickly, but with an uncertain evil, i.e., to avoid loss. In many instances an individual who does not take out insurance gambles more than one who does.

          Clerics are also restricted in general from gambling, per §2603(c).

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            to spend time in “gambling hells”

            Wait, what’s a “gambling hell?” I mean, the reason I gamble every now and then is so I can sit in the casino and get free drinks.

          • Nick says:

            I think Callan and McHugh had in mind the sorts of places Kaiji visits. (Great anime, btw.) I don’t know whether America has underground gambling establishments the way 90s Japan apparently did.

          • Deiseach says:

            Wait, what’s a “gambling hell?

            There speaks a man who has not read Regency Romances 🙂

            Try late 18th/early 19th century fiction (of the period or historical novels), or indeed genuine history – where the drinking dens and gaming houses of the lower classes became places where all classes mingled to wager money, then as social mobility enabled men who enriched themselves by their abilities as gamesters to open ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ of their own where the gentry and aristocracy could lose their shirts in style.

            A casino that provides you with drinks but still lets you leave with the shirt on your back is an amateur affair by the standards of our ancestors 😀

      • edmundgennings says:

        Money, like most goods, has decreasing marginal ability to contribute to one’s flourishing. Gambling results in an increase in random fluctuations to one’s wealth. If the amount is small compared to one’s wealth this is not a problem. But losing a large percentage of one’s wealth particularly if one is providing for others is a huge problem that is not adequately offset by the possibility for benefit.

    • Nick says:

      Have you never heard of gambling addiction?? It’s like alcohol: lots of people can use it responsibly, but some folks, it just ruins their lives. And that is a bad thing. And people try to restrict it as a result.

      As theodidactus notes, though, Puritan objections to playing cards and similar seem to be a bit different and to apply to the implements, too.

    • gph says:

      I agree with what theodidactus said above. But there’s probably also something of a cultural/social aspect to it, i.e. the upright moralists see a behavior/activity that’s popular amongst the more immoral/lazy parts of society and decide its evil by association regardless of whether there’s any objective reason to consider the activity immoral on its own merits.

    • hls2003 says:

      Playing cards weren’t just for gambling. They were also associated with fortune-telling and tarot. Nowadays there is a specific tarot deck, but there’s no particular reason you can’t do something similar with a standard deck of playing cards just by assigning associations to each suit and rank. And as I understand it, people did. So not just gambling, but occultism.

      • JayT says:

        This is the reason I always heard, at least from a Catholic perspective. I grew up playing poker with priests, and the family thought that was fine, but if I were to pull out a tarot deck I think my grandmother would have had a heart attack.

        • acymetric says:

          I’m not doubting that priests did in fact play poker, @hls2003’s explanation would explain why it might be ok for playing non-gambling games, I’m pretty sure poker is supposed to still be out, because of…you know…the gambling.

          • JayT says:

            Well, one of the priests I’m thinking of in particular would go to Las Vegas to gamble a few times a year, so he apparently didn’t have any problem with it!

          • hls2003 says:

            I’m not saying that it was entirely fortune-telling. My grandfather was a “cards teetotaler.” He had simply always been raised never to touch the things. Probably it was some mix of associations; I’m not saying gambling wasn’t a big part of it. But I think cards got a sinister reputation through multiple associations, and occultism was one.

            Dice would be similar. Mostly used for gambling, but I was taught that they were also historically used for divination (the “Urim and Thummim” referenced in the Bible were, I think, in that vein, although they were endorsed by God and thus licit).

        • Nick says:

          There was a fun discussion of the morality of tarot and other occult stuff a while back. I’d still maintain staying away from Ouija boards, but I can’t really argue with the multiple examples of tarot decks being used neutrally.

          • theodidactus says:

            This is one of my favorite subjects of discussion so I’m sad I missed it. I’ve observed, at many different places and times, a clear unifying “contagion phenomenon” from certain objects used in occult practices (usually broadly defined). People often can’t say a single reason *why* they shouldn’t be used, and their explanations tend to “layer” multiple (sometimes conflicting) reasons into one.

            So I recall a time I was playing with a Ouji Board as a child, and an adult told me I shouldn’t because (more or less): “Its idolatrous to believe you can communicate with the dead. I heard of a person who used it to predict the day of her death, something that should be unknown. The board said ‘tomorrow’ and then she died.” (I know this must be a common rationale because I’ve seen it as a plot point in more than one story)

            If you actually think about this for more than five seconds you realize here is a *lot* going on there.
            – It’s wrong because it’s idolatrous (a sin)
            – It’s wrong because it’s necromancy (is that a different sin than idolatry?)
            – It’s wrong because you shouldn’t know the future (is that a different sin than idolatry or necromancy?)
            – It’s wrong because you could die (did the board ‘curse’ her? did the board ‘work?’)

            Esp. funny when I was living abroad. I did a Taoist “hell money” ceremony and my protestant friend said they knew someone once who “prayed to an idol and then got cancer,” as if that was a reasonable thing that could happen to me if I kept this up. I didn’t say anything but I thought it was pretty funny. Given how many millions of Taoists there are, idolatry must be a major cause of cancer in the non-western world.

            EDIT: Geeze I wrote all that and forgot to include my main point: You can show pretty clearly that anti-gambling-device laws and taboos were distinct from anti-occult-creepy laws and taboos. The first laws against tarot mention it only as a gambling tool in their preambles and stuff…it would be weird if Tarot was a notorious window into satanic practices but the preambles to these laws only mention the evils of gambling. Tarot had no special association with occultism until late in its history.

          • Nick says:

            I’ve observed, at many different places and times, a clear unifying “contagion phenomenon” from certain objects used in occult practices (usually broadly defined). People often can’t say a single reason *why* they shouldn’t be used, and their explanations tend to “layer” multiple (sometimes conflicting) reasons into one.

            I’m sure this is the case, but I’m also not sure why this should be surprising for a taboo. Taboos have the disadvantage that they are often mysterious even if there were good reasons why they developed.

            EDIT: Geeze I wrote all that and forgot to include my main point: You can show pretty clearly that anti-gambling-device laws and taboos were distinct from anti-occult-creepy laws and taboos. The first laws against tarot mention it only as a gambling tool in their preambles and stuff…it would be weird if Tarot was a notorious window into satanic practices but the preambles to these laws only mention the evils of gambling. Tarot had no special association with occultism until late in its history.

            Ah, cool to know. The point has been made here before that card games usually develop for the decks we already have. It’s pretty funny if divination is ‘made’ for existing decks, too. I wonder if there are any countries where fortune telling is done with a French deck.

    • Zephalinda says:

      Pre-19th century, my impression is that gambling had a social footprint similar to the one illegal drugs have now– it’s an addictive intoxicant that eats up resources, makes addicts vulnerable to predators, sucks young people into bad company, destabilizes normal relational structures, and tends to intensify other disorderly behavior like drunkenness, brawling, theft/robbery, etc.

      The actual phenomenon of gambling addiction also seems to have been way more prevalent, as well, in a pre-opium era. There are definitely established narrative tropes about temporarily flush young men blowing all their money on whores and gambling in roughly the same way they might blow it all on coke today.

  19. theodidactus says:

    A legal riddle with no implications for the present time:

    In 2029, sources from within the White House report something…terrible. An intern is dead, killed in the oval office by the president with a single gunshot to the head. Hours later, future president Kunzelnick delivers a cryptic statement: “Unfortunately, yes, the intern is dead. I did have something to do with it. However, you have my assurance that what I did was not a crime, and as such, I will not be cooperating with any future investigation on the matter.”

    What follows? In particular:
    1) Do we have to take Kunzelnick’s word for it that “what I did was not a crime?”
    2) What did Kunzelnick mean by that anyway? Is Kunzelnick saying the initial reports are wrong? Is Kunzelnick saying the underlying facts are true, but there’s some excuse, like self defense? Or is Kunzelnick saying ANYTHING the president does “is not a crime?”
    3) Is there any difference between the three assertions in “2” above?
    4) Can Kunzelnick be investigated by the justice department? What can the justice department make Kunzelnick do?
    5) Can Kunzelnick be investigated by the district of Columbia? What can DC make Kunzelnick do?
    6) Can Kunzelnick or his subordinates be made to testify before congress? What happens if Kunzelnick or his subordinates don’t comply?
    7) Absent SOME ability to investigate Kunzelnick, is 2 even a meaningful question?

    • Clutzy says:

      1. House commences impeachment hearings for murder/manslaughter.
      2. They either have the evidence or they don’t. Certain things like video and audio may be able to be obtained, as will the testimony of secret service or others in the room.
      3. If all parties refuse, emergency court motion to compel, if refuse judicial orders add that as an article.
      4. Vote on articles of impeachment for murder, manslaughter, and refusing to obey a court order.
      5. Goes to Senate, they do the same.
      6. If removed from office, now DOJ can proceed with a murder investigation of its own. If not, they wait until he leaves office at the end of the term.

      • theodidactus says:

        why do they need to vote for articles of impeachment for refusing to obey a court order? Couldn’t they just do articles of impeachment for refusing to obey a congressional subpoena?

        • Two McMillion says:

          They can impeach for any reason they want, down to wearing the wrong color shoes, but it’s probably more credible if there’s a court order involved.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          And the defense at impeachment/trial would be “this subpoena is not valid because X” or “we don’t have to because Y.” A court ruling on the merits of X and Y would be useful in figuring out who’s in the wrong here.

          The way the checks balances are supposed to work with three co-equal branches of government is if two of the branches are fighting, the dispute can be settled by the third.

          • theodidactus says:

            So this is not one of those “non-jusiticiable political questions?”

            In the future, Courts can and should get involved in telling the president whether he must or must not comply with specific congressional subpoenas, down to deciding whether subpoena [x] is valid and subpoena [y] isn’t?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If he challenges them, yes? Are you suggesting there’s no such thing a subpoena from Congress the president may refuse? Or that Congress would never issue an invalid subpoena?

          • Andrew Cady says:

            We don’t have a situation where “two of the branches are fighting.” We have a situation where two of the branches are conspiring.

          • theodidactus says:

            Note though that a court ruling doesn’t actually accomplish anything that a congressional subpoena does not. This is exactly why courts are scared to get involved in this stuff (my linked article contains a host of examples). Think through what happens:
            1) Congress goes to the courts, on the question of “must the president testify?” Their argument is “we *suspect* something shady is going on here, and the president isn’t cooperating with our inquiry into the matter” The president’s response is “Like I said, I can’t be investigated for that.”
            2) the court says (we’ll imagine) “fine. You CAN investigate the president for that. He must cooperate”
            3) the president says “…nuh uh!” (or if you want something less objectively tyrannical, you get him in the chair, ask him 16 questions, which he answers truthfully, and when you get to the 17th, the really important one, he says “my understanding of the court’s order is that this particular question is outside the scope of the investigation. Let’s go to court again about it.”)

            …so now, as you say you impeach him for *that*.
            but what if you lose? What just happened? Did the law change? The answer is no, the senate just decided not to agree with the court, and really this is something the senate decides, not the court.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Note though that a court ruling doesn’t actually accomplish anything that a congressional subpoena does not.

            It absolutely does. If the subpoena is ruled valid and the President still refuses, the impeachment debate in the House/Senate is no longer “the president’s party vs the opposition party” it’s “the president’s party vs the opposition party and the ostensibly non-partisan judiciary.”

        • Clutzy says:

          As others have said, you could, but it would contain no moral weight with the public, just as article 2 of the current impeachment does. That is because the default is assuming politicians lack integrity. Plus, they also assume the President sometimes does super serious things that could be dangerous for the public to know about. So, if a bunch of judges say, “this is not pure hackery and the President has no reason to withhold the information” the public will be on board.

    • Andrew Cady says:

      Kunzelnick is going to order the justice department not to investigate, and they will comply. Otherwise you’re not maintaining the analogy to Trump.

      6) Can Kunzelnick or his subordinates be made to testify before congress? What happens if Kunzelnick or his subordinates don’t comply?

      Congress doesn’t have the physical enforcement power to imprison the president on contempt or compel him in any other way. Impeachment & removal is the only means of enforcement against the president under the constitution. (25 is based on the President’s chosen people.)

      I would suggest not to get too concerned with the idea of precedent here. Under the US constitution, 34 senators have the power to turn any president into a temporary dictator, completely above the law and unaccountable to any other power (except that he can be convicted once out of office). That’s the system we have.

      Those senators don’t have to listen to precedents unless they want to, and when it comes to the choice of whether to aid and abet crime by the president, they won’t, ever. Neither the pro-crime faction nor the anti-crime faction would ever be influenced by precedent when it comes to any fundamental decisions determining whether the rule of law will be maintained.

      The questions to ask in your hypothetical are:

      (1) Did the senate want that intern dead? If not, Kunzelnick is out.

      (2) Are the senators confident they won’t end up like that intern, if they vote to remove the president but he’s not removed? If not, Kunzelnick is in.

      • EchoChaos says:

        This is clearly about Trump, but can I just note the irony of calling him a dictator when he has scrupulously obeyed every court judgement against him, even the ones that are obviously getting overturned in the Supreme Court?

        • theodidactus says:

          My point in asking this question is not really to criticize trump necessarily, but rather to illustrate how he’s making certain perhaps-implicit elements of our system directly explicit. Under the current regime, the mistake that someone like Clinton made wasn’t “lying under oath” it was “sitting for the depositions at all”

          Also as a law student I think it’s interesting how both sides are forced into a situation where they have to discuss whether certain acts are or are not “crimes” without the underlying investigation and charging process which ultimately form a substantial part of how crime is defined. Murder is a decent example of a crime that might not be “really criminal” when you know all the facts, but of course process/specific intent crimes that mirror what the president is currently accused of are better examples (murder just catches people’s attention better)

          It’s very possible it will be easy to “backpedal” on a lot of this mess in the case of future presidents doing future stuff we don’t like, but I don’t think people are that situational. As much as the founders clearly designed the impeachment process to not be precedent-setting, I think it’s clear that we’re setting precedent now, and its precedent that a future liberal president can easily exploit, as much as a conservative one.

          • EchoChaos says:

            The Trump case is odd in that instead of going to the courts and letting them decide whether or not Trump’s claims of privilege for each specific instance were justified, the Democrats just rushed to impeaching him.

            The courts have been the arbiter in the past, for example telling Clinton that he needed to testify in civil sexual harassment cases, which is the specific deposition he sat for.

            The Democrats could have followed the same process this time, for example with Bolton, but they withdrew their request and didn’t subpoena him, instead impeaching Trump for obstructing them.

            Clinton is really the one who first made all of these clear by trying to for example ban Secret Service from testifying. Trump has actually been less aggressive at claiming privilege than Clinton was.

          • beleester says:

            The Democrats were understandably reluctant to let a case of “Trump is attempting to swing the 2020 elections in his favor” get held up in court until the 2020 elections were over.

        • Andrew Cady says:

          I said that 34 senators have the power to make the president a dictator. The point of this is to express the latitude that 34 senators have to give extreme power to the president.

          This latitude includes the power to allow the president to betray the public trust in the interest of his own political party. That is what has happened. That is what the invented scenario copies from the present situation.

          As far as Trump’s actually-obtained powers: Trump has, through AG Barr, obtained control over the DOJ sufficient to prevent investigation of his own crimes. He will soon show that Congress also has inadequate power to investigate him. His ability to interfere with or block investigation of himself by every federal power means he is above the law in a very important sense.

          In the last week, Trump has asserted the right to self-serve with the powers of his office. He has asserted the right through his attorneys to engage in, for example, the same collusion which the Mueller investigation did not establish actually happened. He asserts the right to trade off US public interest (such as US security interests) in exchange for foreign powers undertaking disinformation campaigns on behalf of his campaign.

          Donald Trump’s long-term MO is exactly that kind of deception. Trump relies on intermediaries for his large-scale lies. He has established himself as not credible through his long history of lying, but can still deceive on a mass scale by disguising himself as the source of disinformation through others who still have credibility.

          He forces or entices others to lie for him by various means (including the simplest: firing subordinates who do not lie for him). His disinformation machine and propensity to use it for slander serve as implicit threats over everyone, while his cult following can be used as enticement. These methods are effective over GOP members of Congress. In the case of Zelensky, foreign aid money allocated to Ukraine was used as enticement. In the case of Stormy Daniels, his own money was used instead. Now that he is president, he doesn’t have to use his own money! It’s all legal, he asserts, because it helps his re-election, making it in the public interest.

          Whatever is going on in the courts does not negate any of this, and is a deflection from what is going on today and in our general moment in history.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I said that 34 senators have the power to make the president a dictator. The point of this is to express the latitude that 34 senators have to give extreme power to the president.

            But that’s not true. As discussed below, a mere majority of the House and Senate can prevent the President from doing ANYTHING by revoking his money, which he has at their discretion.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            a mere majority of the House and Senate can prevent the President from doing ANYTHING by revoking his money, which he has at their discretion.

            With the support 34 senators, he can order the IRS to collect money for the government.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Andrew Cady

            If we’re at the point where the President is ordering the confiscation of the Treasury at gunpoint, why would he be obeying a subpoena instead of just abolishing the Senate?

            Which is doubly funny because Trump’s administration has actually been really scrupulous about following the law and the impeachment articles don’t allege a law was violated.

          • J Mann says:

            Trump has, through AG Barr, obtained control over the DOJ sufficient to prevent investigation of his own crimes. He will soon show that Congress also has inadequate power to investigate him. His ability to interfere with or block investigation of himself by every federal power means he is above the law in a very important sense.

            Trump’s been pretty heavily investigated so far, and the next President is free to investigate him more if she chooses.

            I agree that’s a lot of power – I didn’t like it when Obama declined to accept the Contempt of Congress referral against Holder – but I think you have to go a lot farther to reach what I would consider a “dictator.” Under your definition, I think at least Obama and Trump have been dictators.

            (I’d love to roll the wheel back on presidential power, but I’d want to do it for both sides.)

          • Andrew Cady says:

            Again, what I said was that 34 senators have the power to make the president a dictator. The point of this is to express the latitude that 34 senators have to give extreme power to the president.

            34 senators is enough for the president to collect money using the power of the executive. That is a fact about how the constitution is structured.

            If we’re at the point where the President is ordering the confiscation of the Treasury at gunpoint, why would he be obeying a subpoena instead of just abolishing the Senate?

            The president cannot abolish the Senate using the power of the executive. The executive does not have the power to change the constitution. It requires more than president + 34 senators to do this.

            But the president + 34 senators can collect money through the IRS regardless of what the rest of Congress says. The executive controls the IRS, the OMB, the FBI, etc. The power to collect taxes one way or another is there.

          • meh says:

            Which is doubly funny because Trump’s administration has actually been really scrupulous about following the law and the impeachment articles don’t allege a law was violated.

          • J Mann says:

            34 Senators is enough to prevent the President from being impeached, and from changing an existing law. (I don’t know if it’s enough to prevent the appointment of an AG of the President’s choice).

            It’s not enough to:

            – Make the IRS obey the President’s orders to collect funds illegally.
            – Prevent the Courts from ruling in Congress’s favor on whether the IRS is authorized to collect funds.
            – Prevent the next President from prosecuting the current one.

            If you assume that federal employees will follow illegal orders, then even 100 senators can’t stop the President – he can just order the FBI to arrest them or the Army to kill them, no matter how they vote.

          • Civilis says:

            As far as Trump’s actually-obtained powers: Trump has, through AG Barr, obtained control over the DOJ sufficient to prevent investigation of his own crimes. He will soon show that Congress also has inadequate power to investigate him. His ability to interfere with or block investigation of himself by every federal power means he is above the law in a very important sense.

            This comment illustrates exactly why we have the problem we do: if you can write this without remembering that your opponents have the exact same complaints about the previous president you supported, you’re not going to persuade anyone. If anything, the selective Democratic blindness is pushing me further towards Trump, because at least people sit up, take notice and debate over things when Trump does them.

            President Obama had AG Holder cited in contempt of Congress for stonewalling investigations into potential crimes committed by his administration. It sure looks like Obama ‘obtained control over the DOJ sufficient to prevent investigation of his own crimes’ and that ‘congress didn’t have adequate power to investigate them’. On the other hand, Congress spent plenty of time investigating Trump’s Russia ties back before that turned out to be a DNC-backed disinformation operation.

            For that matter, “I shot the intern, but you can trust me that it was legal” sounds an awful lot like “sure I deleted all those subpoenaed emails, but you can trust me when I say they were all personal”. In fact, that was the first thing that came to mind with the example given. It also calls to mind “I would hand over all those internal IRS communications, but all the backups failed” and even “I would hand over those Rose Law Firm billing documents, but we lost them”.

            It’s not that we don’t see the potential for abuse of executive power, it’s just that it pales when compared to the confirmed abuse of executive power via the FISA process to interfere in a presidential election, and it rings hollow when the Democratic front-runner is tied to the exact same abuse of executive power. If you want to reign in executive power, you need to do it in a bipartisan fashion, and Trump’s the president that might get Republicans in congress to join in, but so far the Democrats have blown any chance of bipartisanship with both the push for impeachment at any cost and the desire to avoid blowback against Biden. You can either fix the executive power problem or wage all out war on the Republican base via Trump, and so far you’ve gone with ‘wage war’.

          • theodidactus says:

            I think the more interesting question is whether you can really count on congress or the senate to hold someone accountable if
            A) there are no legal repercussions for that person lying
            B) that person can’t be investigated in any meaningful way, making it virtually impossible to “catch them in a lie”
            C) That person was popular enough to get elected in the first place.

            It’s not like, the end of everything. Term limits and maintaining some baseline popularity are clearly other “hard limits” here…but I just hope conservatives realize how fundamentally imperial/populist this makes the presidency (and this is discounting some of the theories Dershowitz articulated, which would excuse even more)

            As I keep saying throughout, if this theory of the presidency is really true, the mistake almost every previous president made was cooperating, at all, with anything.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            To become a permanent dictator in the USA under its existing constitution, even with term limits, it is sufficient to obtain control over election outcomes sufficient to filter, for loyalty, all presidential candidates and at least 34 senators.

            If Russian intelligence style disinformation campaigns, or any other electoral interference method or combination of methods, deployed at the state actor level, are sufficient to destroy any or nearly any candidate, it is possible to construct such control.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            People are making up facts about me. Several things that I never said have been attributed to me.

            Someone ironically named “Civilis” made up the falsehood that I supported Obama. There is nothing civil about making up positions for other people.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I just hope conservatives realize how fundamentally imperial/populist this makes the presidency

            I mean, “Imperial presidency” has been a small government conservative bugaboo for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure why you’re singling out the right for being insufficiently wary of executive power.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            Barack Obama, whom I never supported because of my political disagreement with him, was not a crook. Donald Trump is a crook. Donald Trump is a crook unlike any president, Democrat or Republican, since Nixon. And he is much more so than Nixon. Even before he was president, Trump was a crook.

            Donald Trump has also asserted the right to be a crook, on the basis of his holding the office of the presidency. Which also no president since Nixon has done.

            Any equivalence between Trump and Obama here is false. Any talk about the equivalence of “complaints” against them is equally false. There may be good or bad faith complaints against Obama, that may be equivalent in ways to some complaints against Trump, but the underlying facts are not similar.

            Donald Trump is running the GOP like a crime syndicate.

            Donald Trump is soliciting foreign intelligence services for disinformation campaigns that undermine USA elections.

            The GOP is afraid to stop him because of the power he has over each of them as individuals.

          • Civilis says:

            Someone ironically named “Civilis” made up the falsehood that I supported Obama. There is nothing civil about making up positions for other people.

            I apologize for not separating “you” specifically from the use of “you” for a generic member of the millions of anti-Trump voters that voted for Obama. It’s hard in these debates to separate comparatively anonymous individuals online from the larger groups that declare similar positions. Considering it’s something I’m trying to stop doing, I apologize for falling into that trap.

            In that same vein, it might be a good idea to take a look at what other people actually believe, especially with phrases like “disinformation machine” and “cult follower”.

            Do you mind my asking what your self-described “political alignment” is, or who (if anyone) you voted for in the 2012 election? A never-Trump Republican would not have supported Obama, but would at least be aware of what the allegations against Obama were. Is there some reason you consider it bad that I mistakenly included you specifically in the large group of generic Democratic voters?

            I voted for Trump, and I don’t see myself voting for any of Democratic candidates this election. I don’t think Trump behaves very presidential, and I don’t a fair number of the things he’s done, but I dislike a lot of the Democratic proposals and what the party as a whole stands for. I don’t like the expansion of presidential power, but I don’t think Trump in that case has been a significant departure from recent norms. I don’t consider Democratic voters to be horrible people for voting for Democratic candidates. I do consider people that consider me a monster or an imbicile for voting in 2016 for a lousy Republican candidate over a lousy Democratic candidate to be a massive threat to American democracy, far more than a lousy Republican president.

          • J Mann says:

            @theodidactus

            I just hope conservatives realize how fundamentally imperial/populist this makes the presidency (and this is discounting some of the theories Dershowitz articulated, which would excuse even more

            Part of the problem is that conservatives feel like we’re already there.

            I honestly feel like I got an imperial presidency with Obama. Every time the ACC comes up, I offer to address “Obama lied us into war with Libya” and I have never even gotten any interest in the con position. The bald refusal to cooperate with the Fast and Furious referral, evading his obligations to declare war in Libya or submit the Iran agreement for treaty review, etc. etc. etc.

            I think my liberal friends are honest in thinking that Trump is somehow different, but they don’t appreciate that the practical effect of their beliefs is “We get to run the country, all the time, because we’re not convinced that Fast and Furious, Libya, IRS Gate, etc are substantial problems, and we are convinced that Ukraine is outrageous.” I don’t like any of them, so where does that leave me?

            As I keep saying throughout, if this theory of the presidency is really true, the mistake almost every previous president made was cooperating, at all, with anything.

            I think this is incomplete for three reasons.

            1) On the gripping hand, Congress may impeach and remove for any reason, and they will impeach and remove when the voters feel strongly enough about it that Congresspeople will lose their jobs for voting otherwise. As far as I can tell, that’s the reason Pelosi didn’t support impeachment for obstruction of justice coming out of the Mueller investigation and it’s the reason she did support impeachment arising from Ukraine. If Lamar Alexander’s voters were demanding Trump be impeached, he would.

            2) Trump has cooperated a lot, and spent two years producing witnesses and documents for the Mueller investigation. He released the records of the call in question voluntarily, and lots of people have testified. I think that’s part of the reason why the people who don’t like him but don’t support impeachment fall that way – we’ve just had enough investigation. (The Fast and Furious defense is similar, FWIW).

            3) In this case, the not cooperating specifically is the principle that Congress should not to get to call hearings into private discussions with the President and his advisers in key areas of his responsibility, that like the attorney-client privilege or the priest-penitent privilege, the value of free discussion is worth the cost of some reduction in evidence.

            That generally has been the position of all Presidents, Republican and Democrat, since at least Reagan.Particularly here, where Trump isn’t even accused of committing a crime, I can see the point.

            I would love to see the inner deliberations of the Obama government. I question whether there was a kill order for OBL or whether we tried to capture him alive and failed; I suspect that the administration knew that the case for war in Libya was false; my guess is that government decisions in handling Fast and Furious, IRS Gate and the Benghazi fallout were driven by politics, and it would be somewhat enjoyable for me to have allowed Congress to root around in Obama’s private correspondence with his advisers for evidence. But at the end of the day, it would make being President really difficult, maybe too difficult.

            (On the other hand, things like the Strzok texts, the FISA investigation, and the McCabe investigation show the amazing things you find when you get inside the sausage factory – I suspect we could find similar stuff in the Obama and Trump administrations if we had free rein, but I don’t know what to do about it.)

          • I said that 34 senators have the power to make the president a dictator.

            I don’t think so. They can prevent the president from being tried for murder, in the scenario described, until the end of his term. But he can’t force the military to invade Mexico if the military authorities regard the president’s order to do so as unconstitutional. He can’t raise taxes without Congress voting to do so.

          • Chalid says:

            If he can murder anyone who votes against his tax policy, then he can pass whatever taxes he wants. (Or he can have someone Do the murdering for him, and then pardon the murderer.)

          • Civilis says:

            I think my liberal friends are honest in thinking that Trump is somehow different, but they don’t appreciate that the practical effect of their beliefs is “We get to run the country, all the time, because we’re not convinced that Fast and Furious, Libya, IRS Gate, etc are substantial problems, and we are convinced that Ukraine is outrageous.”

            The practical effect of their beliefs is “we get to run the country, all the time” only if the right always rolls over and concedes, and that the left expected this to always happen is how we got into this mess in the first place. If the right follows their lead and fights back, you get perpetual political chaos. We’re not going back to a state where the Democratic establishment has a monopoly on determining when something is outrageous.

            I’ve noticed that there’s something very much like a conspiracy theory where you start believing every bad rumor about a person or group, and it’s something that you find across the political spectrum. “These people are bad and liars, and here’s something specific and bad they’re accused of doing, so I am going to believe the bad people did this bad thing.” You can see it in antisemitism: it’s possible to believe the Israeli government is bad without falling for stupid antisemitic blood libel like ‘the Jews make bread from the blood of gentiles’, but outrageous rumors gain traction and almost certainly help you more than hurt you (even if a lot of other people end up brutally killed). The right certainly isn’t immune, as the ongoing accumulation of Arkancide rumors, most recently involving Epstein and his associates, continues to prove (and I’ve repeated the jokes, because they’re funny, even if I feel guilty about it now and I can tell myself they’re jokes).

            And these stories work. If Imperial Germany is the bad guy, and you know they’re the bad guy, spreading false stories about the Huns bayoneting kids helps the war effort even if they’re false, and you can never be sure they’re not partly true. If you persuade yourself that Trump and those that voted for him are the bad guys and capable of doing anything, it’s easier to persuade other people to vote him out. That’s why McCain was an elder statesman when not running for president and was a warmonger when campaigning, and because it worked (and works) the pattern persists over time.

          • EchoChaos says:

            At this point this is now a fully formed (or deformed) argument against ANY form of government.

            What happens if a Prime Minister prorogues Parliament indefinitely then ignores calls to reseat them and orders the military to stop it from being reseated!?!

            What if 326 MPs decide to abolish the Fixed Terms Parliament Act and rule forever on high?

            If the President is flagrantly issuing unconstitutional orders, the administrative state will resign around him and refuse to do it. It happened with Nixon during the Saturday Night Massacre.

            It even happened early in the Trump administration, although his policies were later ruled Constitutional and he found people to execute them.

            Given that the prior President literally did execute American citizens on his own orders and Trump hasn’t, the paranoia might stand to be dialed down a notch.

          • albatross11 says:

            Chalid:

            This was pretty much the argument I made about both George W Bush’s treatment of Jose Padilla (arrested on US soil and held incommunicado for several years in a military brig before being charged and tried for something only when a court was about to order him released) and Barack Obama’s order to assassinate US citizens such as Anwar Alwaki, on his authority alone.

            We have spent many decades expanding the power of the president and the executive branch, and telling people who worried about abuses of power and weakening of separation of powers that they were naive/stupid/shills for the other side/crazy conspiracists/etc. Previously, I was hoping that perhaps the one positive benefit of Trump’s presidency would be a widespread recognition that we’d made the presidency too powerful on the part of lots of Americans. But that doesn’t actually seem to have happened much. Democratic congressmen who were only too willing to accuse Trump of being nine kinds of monster also went along with continuing mass surveillance that’s ultimately under executive branch control. Actually paring back the powers of the president seems like it’s not on the table at all.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If he can murder anyone who votes against his tax policy, then he can pass whatever taxes he wants. (Or he can have someone Do murdering for him, and then pardon the murderer.)

            Any President ordering hits that overtly would quickly find several hits ordered on himself, along with hits ordered on his protection, and possibly even hits ordered by his protection. They’re loyal, but not that loyal. And most people aren’t going to insist on meticulous investigations of whether any of those hits are constitutional before deciding to go for it.

            That leaves such a President with two main options, as I see it: order hits covertly, or move the Overton window until overt hits look constitutional.

            The latter takes longer than the President’s time in office, and he can’t lengthen that without solving the original problem.

            The former option requires more resources than the President has, including some extra pricey assets such as co-conspirators who are willing to keep secrets about hits ordered on Senators. I’m pretty sure he can’t just pick these up at the local KFC, even when Jason Alexander was playing the Colonel.

            On the upside, such an option may blow up in entertaining ways if one’s tolerance for entertainment is sufficiently stretchy.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            If the President is flagrantly issuing unconstitutional orders, the administrative state will resign around him and refuse to do it. It happened with Nixon during the Saturday Night Massacre.

            That’s not a counterfactual. The president is issuing illegal orders, and the administrative state is (or has been) resigning around him.

            As I said though, that just slows things down. Eventually you cycle through and get people willing to carry out illegal orders.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Pretty sure if our political discourse devolves into assassinations, our opposition party will also be engaging in regular assassinations. Prettttyyy good deterrent from opening that particular can of worms.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Andrew Cady

            I am not aware of any order the Executive has continued to execute while under judicial stay or after the judiciary has ruled against them.

            Do you have an example?

          • Andrew Cady says:

            But he can’t force the military to invade Mexico if the military authorities regard the president’s order to do so as unconstitutional.

            He can force the military to invade Mexico by the procedure I already described. Remove from office those who refuse to carry out orders until he finds people who will. Those people don’t have to regard the orders as constitutional to be willing to carry them out.

            Your point is that the executive can lose control over the military, and that’s true. It’s also possible for the military itself to lose control over the nation.

            I didn’t mean to assert that the potential for military coups and military defeat do not serve as constraints on the president. These are constraints that exist on dictators though.

            He can’t raise taxes without Congress voting to do so.

            Not on paper, but (as already mentioned) nothing stops the executive from collecting taxes that don’t exist on paper.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            I am not aware of any order the Executive has continued to execute while under judicial stay

            That isn’t at issue. Judicial stays cannot stop criminals from committing crimes in secret. They are not a remedy for that.

            Donald Trump has abolished the independence of investigatory agencies, asserted immunity to prosecution, and blocked the investigative power of Congress. There is no effective means to investigate or prosecute Donald Trump for criminal wrong-doing, including soliciting foreign intelligence agencies to subvert USA elections — which is something he asserts the right to do, and which he is apparently willing to do in secret, and falsely and publicly deny doing, even as he asserts the right to do it.

            Donald Trump tried to stop the Mueller investigation, but refusals by subordinates to follow his illegal orders allowed the investigation to continue to the point of establishing his own criminal obstruction of justice. Still, he escaped prosecution or impeachment for this (so far), and it seems that subsequently he has got the DOJ under sufficient control to prevent investigations into his future wrong-doings.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Andrew Cady

            You are asserting that these are crimes that Donald Trump is committing in the open. These are things we are talking about, therefore they are not secret.

            which is something he asserts the right to do, and which he is apparently willing to do in secret, and falsely and publicly deny doing, even as he asserts the right to do it.

            Trump released the transcript of his call. This is not a man operating in secret in the slightest.

            Donald Trump tried to stop the Mueller investigation, but refusals by subordinates to follow his illegal orders allowed the investigation to continue to the point of establishing his own criminal obstruction of justice.

            So… Trump ISN’T a dictator? Also, Mueller specifically said that he did not establish obstruction of justice.

          • @Andrew Cady, if a certain decision is controversial enough, especially in a bipartisan way, Trump WOULD eventually run out of people who would be willing to replace the previous people. The “problem” is that many of Trump’s decisions are only objectionable to one half of the partisan divide. As long as roughly 50% of the population fundamentally agrees with him, which may translate into something like at least 30% of the professional establishment agreeing with him, he will be able to get things done.

            Don’t put too much blame on the 34 senators. Blame the voters who will end up re-electing them.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            Pretty sure if our political discourse devolves into assassinations, our opposition party will also be engaging in regular assassinations. Prettttyyy good deterrent from opening that particular can of worms.

            This is “bothsidesism” taken to the point of utter insanity.

            The willingness of one political party to engage in assassination absolutely does not imply the willingness of an opposing party to do so.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            This is “bothsidesism” taken to the point of utter insanity.

            The willingness of one political party to engage in assassination absolutely does not imply the willingness of an opposing party to do so.

            I think you’re pretty much off your rocker if you think a political party is just going to let its party members get systematically murdered and not respond in a similar fashion. If you somehow think that’s “bothersiderism,” I really don’t know what to tell you. These are not saints, they are power brokers.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            Trump released the transcript of his call. This is not a man operating in secret in the slightest.

            This is not honest. YOU KNOW THAT THIS IS NOT TRUE.

            I’m sorry, I’m sure I’m breaking the rules of this place, but I’m not the one exploiting the rules and ruining the atmosphere of trust through abject dishonesty. This forum may have to choose between decorum and basis in reality (and I’m not betting on reality — who would, after yesterday).

            Trying to keep something secret, and failing, is NOT acting in the open. But does this need to be explained to an honest person? IT DOES NOT.

            https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/31/us/politics/trump-bolton-ukraine.html

            Every GOP Senator knows that John Bolton is telling the truth, and that John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, and even Pat Cipollone, put under oath, and prevented from coordinating, would ALL testify that Trump is lying about conditioning the aid on the announcement. YES, TRUMP IS A MAN OPERATING IN SECRET. We know what he’s doing, but ONLY because we see through his direct lies.

            They all know Trump is lying. THAT IS WHY THEY NEED TO PREVENT THE TESTIMONY. That is the only reason they have to do so.

            I’m using my real name here, and people who are not even using their real names are lying about me, so keep that in mind as you ban me.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            I think you’re pretty much off your rocker if you think a political party is just going to let its party members get systematically murdered and not respond in a similar fashion.

            I’m no historian, but my impression is that, far from impossible, that is how it normally happens.

            Just to give one example, I’m not aware of any systematic assassination in response to Hitler’s rounding up political opponents.

            To give another example, in Putin’s Russia the assassination of journalists only seems to go one way.

            I will further state that human nature isn’t to suddenly turn from a person to whom murder is unthinkable, into an assassin. Even if you are a “power broker.” The social milieu in which suborning murder is unthinkable also cannot so easily and suddenly become a criminal operation.

            Again without claiming expertise, I do think looking to history, we would see that various businesses, when faced with competition from literal mafia, did NOT themselves become crime syndicates. Prove me wrong though.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Andrew Cady

            Claiming your opponents know you’re right and so they must be dishonest when they claim you’re wrong is… not very convincing.

            The record of the call was secret, yes, as part of the normal operation of government. It was placed in a system that was more secure than those previously used for such records, but it was not the first such call to be treated so; rather, this had been done after other records had leaked.

            Rather soon after the accusations came out, Trump released the call publicly — that is true, not dishonest in the slightest. Trump did not try to keep the call secret and fail. He obviously could have dragged out the process, and might have managed to keep the call classified. He did not try.

            Every GOP Senator knows that John Bolton is telling the truth

            I don’t see how you could know that. For that matter, I don’t see how all them could know that. As far as I can tell, John Bolton was someone hired by Trump for no better reason than to kick him around, so he may be understandably sore about it.

    • J Mann says:

      A few thoughts. I’m going to use Obama because it’s a little more removed in time and to show that the problem is deeper than Trump, but I agree that similar problems apply to Trump and to hypothetical Kuzelnick.

      1) The biggest precedent may be Eric Holder’s decision, under President Obama, that the Department of Justice was not going to enforce Contempt of Congress citations sent by Congress for Holder’s decision to stop cooperating in the investigation of whether Holder committed perjury in the Fast and Furious testimony.

      2) The President’s powers are at their widest in areas that he or she most fully controls, like war or diplomacy. So, for example, if Congress had asked Obama to appear and testify under oath about whether he committed crimes when deciding to assassinate US citizens who he believed were engaged in war against the US, when he reached a quasi-treaty with Iran without going through Congressional procedures, or whether he lied in his case for war against Libya, my guess is he would have refused to testify, arguing that even the act of testifying threatens the normal operation of government and is therefore subject to executive privilege.

      2.1) Kuzelnick’s shooting of an intern doesn’t reach the same area, so I think it would get less protection. Ironically, if he had killed the guy by drone in Yemen, he would have more protection – in that case, my guess is he would produce a few documents but otherwise refuse to cooperate, especially in a leak prone and partisan environment.

      3) There are ultimately three backstops against Kuzelnick.

      3.1) If the voters are sufficiently outraged that they will fire their Reps and Senators for refusing to impeach/remove, then he’ll probably be impeached.

      3.2) The courts are available to decide contested questions, and if Kuzelnick refuses to obey the courts, he’s more likely to suffer under 3.1.

      3.3) If all else fails, the next president will have control of the justice system, have access to any records that haven’t been destroyed, and will be able to find out which records have been destroyed.

      4) This is generally the question to “what if the President refuses to enforce the law,” from DACA to the Libyan war to Trump delaying the allocation of foreign aid funds to numerous countries. If it’s a clear question, the courts can step in, and if it’s not, it’s pretty much up to the voters.

      • theodidactus says:

        I think an obvious issue here is that we don’t *know* your assertion in 2.1 is false. We have a very credible source saying that Kunzelnick’s actions “weren’t illegal”…perhaps there was some national security interest at stake? Would we accept the statement “it was an area where I had legitimately, quite wide presidential powers to act, trust me” without more information? Where would we get that information? Couldn’t he just type up a document that said “there was a national security interest, I just can’t get into it right now.”

        I do agree with you that this isn’t a uniquely trumpian problem, he’s just a perfect storm of
        1) crazy enough to try it
        and
        2) has supporters willing to let him.

        • J Mann says:

          I’m not saying for sure that the President couldn’t get away with shooting an intern and claiming national security, just that it’s easier for her to get away with it when most people would agree that she was carrying out her discretionary powers.

          I mean, suppose the truth is that the intern was a Martian sleeper agent, and that the President reasonably suspects some members of the relevant Congressional committees to be Martians. I’d expect her not to agree to testify before Congress – certainly immediately, maybe not ever. (I don’t know if any President has ever complied with a subpoena to testify under oath about war decisions, or would.)

          This gets complicated if we imagine a serious allegation, of, e.g., war crimes. But as I said, in the worst cases you have the courts and the possibility of prosecution by the next president.

          In Trump’s specific case, I think we all have a pretty good idea what happened, and that the hope is that (a) by forcing him to lie under oath, his opponents could punish him for that, or (b) at a minimum, he might be embarrassed in a way that would make it harder for him to enact his agenda and increase the chances of his opponents winning in the next election.

          • theodidactus says:

            I’m not sure we are *ever* going to get a president to lie under oath anytime soon, given how this impeachment is likely to shake out. There are too many degrees of freedom to get out of it. Under the current theory of the presidency likely to carry the day, you’d need to do all of the following:
            – control congress and the popular mood, such that you can force the president to testify
            – THEN win a court battle on the issue
            – THEN win the inevitable appeal
            – repeat that until you get to the supreme court
            – get the president in the chair, and ask the question
            – get a response that isn’t gobbledeegook
            – have had, in your back pocket the whole time, prior investigative information such that you could somehow “prove” the president “lied” to his own constituents.

            Seems virtually impossible.

    • Garrett says:

      > What happens if Kunzelnick or his subordinates don’t comply?

      I’d note that there are a lot of options available here. The first is to hold up future nominations until the required information is provided. This is routinely done for political appointees where Congress wants certain officials on the record agreeing to do something so that they might hold them in contempt in the future if they fail to follow through.

      More abnormally, Congress decline to approve all military commissions. This would have a significant impact on the country as a whole, but quickly and substantially reduces the power of the Presidency to act.

      My favorite is to cease providing funding for the White House. The “let them freeze in the dark” approach. The Constitution requires Congress to approve disbursement from the Treasury. So Congress can simply refuse to fund the White House operations absent compliance.

      • theodidactus says:

        A retaliatory “that’s it, we’re cutting you off!” is definitely an approach the founders seemed to have anticipated as a possibility. I wonder how well it would work in the world we have now, where like de-funding agencies and stuff would have pretty dramatic consequences for the average voter.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I think the past few forays into that realm have demonstrated that government shutdowns at best accomplish nothing and at worst backfire.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think Andrew’s bigger point is that our system gives the president quite a bit of power in practice, if the only check on his power is impeachment, because half the House or 1/3 of the Senate can block an impeachment. Now, there’s a check on the power of half the House/one third of the Senate running interference for the president, too–they can so enrage the voters that they get voted out in favor of someone who will impeach and remove the misbehaving president. (Though that could take a long time, and a misbehaving president could do a lot to rig elections if the laws just didn’t apply to him for a couple years.)

            Another less formal check is that a lot of the executive branch agencies simply will not comply with orders from the president they think are illegal. If Trump demands that the Democratic leadership of Congress be arrested and jailed, and Barr orders the Justice Dept. to do so, I think they would have a very hard time getting anyone to carry out that order. The president’s orders are followed largely because he’s seen as having legitimate authority to give those orders, and once that stops being true, the executive branch probably just stops functioning.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            When people refuse to carry out his illegal orders, Trump replaces them. Over time, people who are willing to carry out illegal orders are found to replace those unwilling. The refusals only serve as a delay.

        • Evan Þ says:

          More than its being a possibility, they themselves had previously engaged in it before the Revolution against the royal governors. In fact, the colonies had several times refused to let England pay the governors’ salaries, lest they lose this power.

    • Deiseach says:

      Unfortunately, yes, the intern is dead.

      It all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

      An intern is dead, killed in the oval office by the president with a single gunshot to the head.

      Ironically, if he had killed the guy by drone in Yemen, he would have more protection

      I was going to ask “suppose Kunzelnick didn’t physically hold and shoot a gun, it was done by a drone” (maybe the US military decided to go one better than Turkey and develop a drone that could mount and fire a handgun or something).

      Would that throw an extra layer of confusion in – if Kunzelnick didn’t shoot the gun, is it the fault of the drone operator? Could the defence lawyer argue that it would have to be proved that:
      (1) there was a gun in the Oval Office
      (2) Kunzelnick had that gun
      (3) He aimed it at the intern’s head and fired
      (4) The bullet from that gun entered the intern’s head
      (5) It was that bullet that killed the intern (after all, there could be a Secret Service agent who aimed and fired at the same time and it was the agent’s bullet that was the lethal shot).

      That was meant as a joke query, but as you say – if he’d ordered the intern’s death by drone strike in a different country, Kunzelnick would be on much safer ground.

      • theodidactus says:

        one of the things I learned pretty quickly when I started doing criminal law is that absent a lot of background facts and assumptions, it’s really hard to talk about whether a particular fact pattern is “really a crime” or not. For example, the 5 damning facts you stated above are perfectly consistent with all of the following defenses
        – self defense (“the intern ALSO had a gun, and approached me with a murderous look in his eyes”)
        – a paintball fight gone wrong (“yeah yeah I said I had a gun, I didn’t say what kind of gun I thought I had”)
        – Some weird negligent homicide or manslaughter theory, still criminal but less so (“I was trippin and thought he was a space alien”/”the interns and I play a game involving two bottles of vodka, a six-sided dice, and a cocked and loaded .38 special…”)

        And that’s excepting defenses unique to the president like “We discovered he was a Russian spy and he was 15 seconds away from leaking the missile codes and it was just me and him.”

        In a trial, you count on the jury (hypothetical or real) to supply the common baseline of background knowledge…what the world should look like. You also count on other juries and associated legal consequences to hold people accountable for lies and changed stories, so things don’t change TOO much as a case goes on. Without either, i’m not sure its really meaningful to do a lawyerly analysis of whether x or y is “technically a crime”

    • hls2003 says:

      This all just breaks down to “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it” but with various other actors. And that question ultimately breaks down to the larger question of why people in society obey orders from anyone apart from the most rudimentary “I am a bigger caveman with a stick and I can kill you.” At some point, something is done by someone to halt an abuse, unless nobody will obey your orders, in which case you have a dictatorship, until such time as the dictatorship collapses because nobody will obey its orders. Positing the extreme scenario actually obscures, rather than enlightens, on the specific legal points, because the legal points are irrelevant if one’s starting point is “assume that nobody will ever do anything to stop him, QED.”

      1) No.
      2) It’s your hypo. People will interpret it how they like. Maybe you should make it “shoots a man on Fifth Avenue.”
      3) Yes.
      4) Yes, but not charged while in office.
      5) Yes. What they can “make him do” depends on what he did.
      6) Yes. This was decided during Watergate. If they don’t, they are impeached and removed. If they can’t be removed, then see my initial comment.
      7) You haven’t posited “no ability to investigate.”

      • theodidactus says:

        is my scenario an extreme scenario?

        • hls2003 says:

          Well, you’re the one who posited a dead intern in the White House. You tell me. It’s at least cinematic fodder.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I initially assumed the decision to reference the pattern of Absolute Power or Murder At 1600 was deliberate.

          • theodidactus says:

            To Trofim’s point, it’s certainly true that I have a long history of fun legal hypotheticals involving direct references to movies…but HLS, I guess what I’m asking is *where* is this fact-pattern outrageous?

            * is it the president committing murder?: if you scroll up you’ll see plenty of people discussing how previous presidents might have actually done this?

            * is it the president committing murder on american soil or with a handgun?: Legally of course this does change the analysis…but why, and does the reason why somehow make the fact-pattern outrageous and incompatible with the present situation? Are you suggesting if Kunzelnick lit the intern up with a missile strike while he was visiting relatives in Canada, this would somehow become a wholly different analysis?

            * Is it the president refusing to cooperate with the investigation at all levels, because he’s quite sure he did the right thing?

            * Is it the fact that many powerful people might stand by Kunzelnick and believe his story, even if they don’t know all the details?

          • hls2003 says:

            HLS, I guess what I’m asking is *where* is this fact-pattern outrageous?

            You’re a law student, right? It shows, because the reason it’s extreme is that you appear to be trying to make a point about real world individual political responses by using an exam hypo structure designed to test knowledge of legal rules in isolation. That structure breaks down when you try to derive useful information about the world outside of pattern-matching on legal concepts.

            * is it the president committing murder?: if you scroll up you’ll see plenty of people discussing how previous presidents might have actually done this?

            No, it’s the President having a dead body of a young intern in the White House and admitting he killed him. That fact pattern is extreme and not useful because it will cause people to react in a different way than Obama’s drone warfare.

            * is it the president committing murder on american soil or with a handgun?: Legally of course this does change the analysis…but why, and does the reason why somehow make the fact-pattern outrageous and incompatible with the present situation? Are you suggesting if Kunzelnick lit the intern up with a missile strike while he was visiting relatives in Canada, this would somehow become a wholly different analysis?

            Yes, and given that you agree that even in the strictly legal sense the two are not comparable, I’m not sure why you claim they are. People give some deference to the executive when it comes to drone strikes on overseas personnel in war zones. Even your clarification is silly. Obama didn’t drone strike anyone in Canada, it was in murky war zones full of bad guys and terrorists. His C-I-C powers are at their zenith, there is fog of war, and there are few people available to immediately challenge the official explanation. A dead intern in the White House has none of those traits. If there is a dead promising 19-year-old and the President admitting he killed him, people will react differently. That’s what makes it silly.

            * Is it the president refusing to cooperate with the investigation at all levels, because he’s quite sure he did the right thing?

            This isn’t the law. I mean, you’re in law school and speculating on this stuff, I assume you’ve read U.S. v. Nixon and its context. At some point, the President can’t simply refuse to comply with demands properly made by the relevant other branches. And at some point, those other branches will demand that he do so – and you’re a lot more likely to overcome partisanship to create such demands with a promising life shot dead in the Oval Office. But if you’re saying there is now a precedent for not doing so… this situation would likely create a precedent to overturn it, because of the facts. If you’re saying that there’s nothing forcing the President to obey U.S. v. Nixon after the whole Congress and Court and country is baying for justice because he literally shot a young person in the White House, well then you’re just back to “why does anybody obey anyone” territory which is uninteresting.

            * Is it the fact that many powerful people might stand by Kunzelnick and believe his story, even if they don’t know all the details?

            No, it’s the opposite. You are presuming that everyone’s reaction is identical and that “support” is not conditioned on the alleged nature of the offense. Yes, some Republicans are more likely to support the President in the current kerfuffle because they fundamentally don’t believe that the alleged fact pattern is all that serious. In Watergate, they were convinced it was serious (and a lot less serious than murder) and Republicans stopped supporting Nixon. So positing the worst offense and asserging “see, there’s nothing to stop this!” does not illuminate, because the President’s factual support is itself a relevant determinant of the respect his legal argument would receive.

            ETA: This came off as overly harsh. I will let it stand but I apologize for the tone. I think the more diplomatic way to say it is, I think your chosen fact pattern strongly encourages people to “fight the hypothetical” rather than deal with underlying legal concepts. That’s why I think it is unhelpful. Rather than illustrating the dangers of the legal principle of “non-cooperation,” I think it simply makes one think “but in that specific situation, that legal principle would not apply, or not with the same force.”

          • theodidactus says:

            @hls2003:
            your response contains some assumptions that I think are rather important to sorta air out. The first being that Kunzelnick “admitted he killed the intern”. His statement was in no way an admission (I deliberately wrote the hypo that way). He merely says he was involved, somehow. The second being that whatever Kunzelnick did is “the worst offense.” Is this a fair assumption, given that we don’t actually know what Kunzelnick did?

            The hypo is interesting precisely because a Kunzelnick supporter can very easily “gap fill” with enough vague details to excuse Kunzelnick, and I think this is true of basically any offense, even “really bad” ones. The starting point of the analysis cannot be “well *this* was a really bad offense, so of course it needs to be investigated, whereas *this* was obviously a silly b.s. accusation, so no investigation is necessary or really even possible”

            EDITS: Edited for clarity and I added some stuff at the end.

    • sharper13 says:

      You haven’t even touched on one of the biggest powers the President has, the Pardon power.

      It’s unlimited in scope when it comes to federal crimes. The President can legally tell someone to violate a federal law and then pardon them and they’re untouchable. So as long as he tells his buddy to shoot someone on Federal property (like the WH, or the Capitol Building), no State has jurisdiction.

      Of course, if he doesn’t have a good reason, then he’s impeachable or can be voted out.

      • theodidactus says:

        Honestly, this is why I’ve been advocating for a Trump impeachment since Arpio. In my opinion the danger is not so much that a president would openly order someone to do something, then pardon them (Which they absolutely could do!) but rather there can easily be a covert exchange: “You six treasury department officials. I’m specifically ordering you to share any salacious details you find while going through my opponent’s tax returns with me. If anyone finds out you did this, I will happily pardon you”

        I tried to illustrate something pretty specific with my hypothetical (and I suppose ultimately failed, because people seem to implicitly think my hypothetical crime and scenario is an unthinkable extreme, rather than simply porting an easier-to-understand crime into something pretty similar to the present situation). Moving forward there’s now a massive disincentive for any future administration to cooperate with any outside investigation, particularly when the underlying “crime” at issue is one of those where a few invented edge facts can easily “excuse” the crime at issue (all crime is like this, though)

        I’m considerably less sanguine on the courts somehow magically fixing this problem than I guess some people above are, because I think it’s possible to draw out a court battle on this to truly insane lengths (If a court even gets involved).

      • The President can legally tell someone to violate a federal law and then pardon them and they’re untouchable.

        Would that cover tort law as well? Wrongful death is a tort, as demonstrated in the OJ case.

        Blackstone says that the king cannot cancel the result of a tort case, since he isn’t a party. Would the same rule apply here?

        • theodidactus says:

          As I hope I’ve illustrated, the answer is “yes, if a sufficiently geographic chunk of the population represented by more than 33% of senators will let him”. It would go like this

          1) A (the white house chief of staff) keys B’s (the minority whip’s) car
          2) B sues A
          3) B wins
          4) A refuses to pay B
          5) A faces various and sundry criminal penalties for refusing to obey the judgement.
          6) The president pardons A

          EDIT: I initially had 5 as “is in contempt of court” but that’s not quite right.

        • sharper13 says:

          Good point.

          The actual phrasing in the Constitution is: “Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States” which has been interpreted to cover both criminal and civil consequences (regulatory fines, etc…) against the government, but a private individual (or their family/estate) would still be able to sue civilly for the offense against them.

          They’d do so without the benefit of a pre-existing criminal investigation (which simplifies many of these suits, hence why they’re usually delayed until after the criminal trial), depending on the timing of the pardon, but could certainly recover damages under current law.

          Edited to add in response to @theodidactus :
          Typically a court would also order a third party to comply with collecting damages (think seize bank account, transfer title of property, etc…) and so the resistance offered wouldn’t be complete unless they also intimidated all involved third parties, etc… would get very messy very quickly and be likely to involve State laws for which State authorities could take action.

    • theodidactus says:

      It’s possible that it’s literally impossible to actually discuss this stuff rationally at the present time, but I thought the best way to convey a point as some questions. Perhaps I failed in that regard.

      I think a lot of people read this as one of those B.S. back-and-forths you get into in highschool where the president (for example) refuses to leave office…what if the military backs him? what then? Huh? And ultimately it devolves into an argument against any system of government (as some responses below suggest).

      I think it’s worth noting that I really don’t consider my Kunzelnick hypo to be a B.S. Armageddon scenario. Many people rightly noted that you can describe activities by the Obama administration as something close to conspiracy to murder, and many people noted that substantially none of Kunzelnick’s possible actions lack an analog under Obama, Clinton, Bush, or Trump.

      I guess what I’m trying to say by posing this question is all of the following:
      * Rhetoric around whether this or that behavior is “criminal”/”wrongful” or “excusable” only makes sense if you can investigate the circumstances surrounding the behavior
      * There isn’t an easy way to talk about whether some crimes are “serious” and others are just “process”
      * There isn’t an easy way to talk about “the clear scope of a president’s powers”

      * for all these reasons, it’s probably in our self interest to strongly incentivize any administration (not just the current one) to cooperate with congressional investigations into dubious behavior. There should also probably be some consequence for lying, I dunno, maybe that’s just me.

  20. Ninety-Three says:

    Thanos snaps his fingers, killing half of all life in the universe. Suppose parasites and so on are considered as separate instances of life, such that they live or die independent of their hosts (with a bunch of them dropping to the ground as their hosts get snapped without them). Is losing 50% of their carried microorganisms going to be a problem for the human survivors?

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’m going to guess not. Life for microorganisms is cheap. Kill half your gut bacteria, in an hour or two it’ll all be back.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        If that’s so, why taking antibiotics can cause problems with guts? Do they kill more than a half, or is it because of repetitiveness?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Antibiotics take out much more than half over the course of the treatment; I don’t know if it’s single-dose power or repetitiveness, though.

        • Another Throw says:

          Also selectivity.

          Antibiotics can effect different biotics differently. If you kill off almost all of bug A, but not nearly so much of bug B, where bug A does useful thing X and bug B uses some of the same ingredients to do not X you may end up boned if A isn’t able to reestablish itself against the competitive pressure from B.

  21. Clutzy says:

    @Aftagley

    I am still anticipating your effortpost alluded to in the CW free thread!

    • Plumber says:

      I also owe an effort post:

      @Erusian says: “I’d be curious to see this in a hidden thread, honestly”

      that I’ve sat on for over a week ’cause as so far it just reads too pro-libertarian and/or totalitarian to me.

      Sorry.

    • Aftagley says:

      Ha, thank you but poor planning on my part means it probably won’t be done until the weekend. Cross-continent travel apparently inhibits effortpost creation.

  22. I W​ri​te ​B​ug​s No​t O​ut​ag​es says:

    What do people mean when they talk about “self-expression”?

    • GearRatio says:

      I think it’s talking about forms of expression that show who you are. I can express thoughts and ideas not my own or make standard arguments or whatever, but I can also write you an essay that really gets to the bottom of how I, the individual, feel about vases.

      The idea is that you exist, but then you create something outside of yourself for others to experience, and you create this thing from yourself and what you are. It is my personal opinion that this phrase makes sense and is useful, but is often overused. Most people are not able to express anything in enough detail or with enough skill to create something that captures the essence of their zeitgeist or whatever.

  23. Aapje says:

    Very good and accessible video on chaos theory and what the famous Mandelbrot picture actually shows (with a different visualization of the same data)

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      That video is part of Veritasium, a channel developed by Derek Muller, who Asimov would have been if he’d been born fifty years later and had the original Asimov as inspiration.

      The first Veritasium video I ever watched was about the new way of measuring the kilogram. I was hooked. He gets deep into research, has superb access to real science experts, and his graphics are compelling – Muller has a knack for hitting my learning organ exactly right.

      In this case, I was just trucking along, finding the bifurcation talk mildly interesting. And then he rotated the Mandelbrot set to its side and I went “Holy F*cking Sh*t”…

      This channel is serious brain candy.

  24. metacelsus says:

    Looks like California SB50 has been rejected yet again by the legislature: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/30/business/economy/sb50-california-housing.html

    Bad news for the housing reform movement.

    • Plumber says:

      @metacelsus,

      Glad to learn that!

      SB50 is an anti-democratic local self rule abomination (though I wouldn’t be opposed if the Grand Army of the Republic occupied Mountain View and Palo Alto and forced density there), Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco already have overtaxed sewage systems, and I really resent even more density being forced on us to serve “Silicon Valley”.

      There’s plenty of land in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, build there not here, and please stop turning us into “Tech’s” far away bedroom, or better yet induce punitive taxation and kill that golden egg laying goose dead or out of California!

      Even better would be a border wall or moat around Stanford, half of San Mateo County, and most of Santa Clara County to prevent commuting from here to there, and California is way too damn big anyway, we should have small east coast sized States instead.

      • salvorhardin says:

        “Local self rule” is here, as ever, a euphemism for segregationism. Why should a bunch of cranky bigots (and yes, hatred of affluent techies who like urban life is no less bigoted than hatred of, say, Hispanic immigrants) get to use state power to exclude newcomers, especially when doing so destroys wealth and deprives people of opportunity on a massive scale?

        I look forward to the day that SFR-only residential neighborhood zoning is banned by federal civil rights law.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I look forward to the day that SFR-only residential neighborhood zoning is banned by federal civil rights law.

          As do I, because nothing would ensure that Federal Civil Rights law, the worst abridgement of freedom we’ve passed in this country, would be struck down faster.

        • Pink-Nazbol says:

          and yes, hatred of affluent techies who like urban life is no less bigoted than hatred of, say, Hispanic immigrants

          You say that like it’s a bad thing…

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I’m not sure if I prefer your vision of the world or God-Emperor Trump disbanding the Senate and ruling via Death Star threats of nuclear strikes on non-complying cities, but it’s close.

      • Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco already have overtaxed sewage systems

        Is there some natural resource limitation which will prevent their expansion? Or do you not realize that more people will pay more taxes, covering the cost of expansion?

        There’s plenty of land in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, build there not here, and please stop turning us into “Tech’s” far away bedroom

        Isn’t the point of the bill so they can build there and not sprawl out into distant counties? And what’s the problem with “Tech?” I get that some of them are gake and fay. But it’s not like they’re carjacking you. My only objection to them is because many believe in harmful policies like restrictions on the supply of housing.(Or don’t believe in those policies but vote for people who do.) The way to fix that is not with that kind of rhetoric.

        better yet induce punitive taxation and kill that golden egg laying goose dead or out of California!

        This kind of attitude is part of the problem. I’m not opposed in principle to radical solutions. But this attitude just becomes an excuse to not make any progress in any area, as you can just jokily invoke “well, why not expel the outgroup” anyone someone proposes to try yo fix any problem. Even if the outgroup is causing a lot of problems, you aren’t doing anything to expel them, so it’s just LARPing.

        • sharper13 says:

          This comment isn’t specific to the SF bay areas.

          People naturally don’t like change and they have a tendency to believe they should be able to control change in the areas around them even if they don’t actually have the best property-rights-style legal claim to do so.

          So instead they use their political power to make other’s actual property rights less valuable rather than allowing resources to be used for the most wealth-building/pareto optimizing/economically efficient purpose.

          It’s the difference between the one-solution-for-everyone style of political decision making where the minority just has to put up with the choice of the majority, vs. a market-style-decision where everyone chooses based on their own preferences and how those preferences interact.

          Then they end up in a slowly declining area until it ends up like Detroit, or else they reform to open up for an influx of change somewhere along the way. Mostly the former, it seems, lately.

          Of course, there are other outside factors which can slow this process down with injections of cash and people. To misquote Adam Smith, “There’s a lot of ruin in a city.”

          • EchoChaos says:

            So instead they use their political power to make other’s actual property rights less valuable rather than allowing resources to be used for the most wealth-building/pareto optimizing/economically efficient purpose.

            Where is the line between “most wealth-building/pareto optimizing/economically efficient purpose.” and “tragedy of the commons”?

            I mean, come on. There is that commons over there and look at all the grass we could graze if we just had the community stop making my property rights less valuable!

          • sharper13 says:

            @EchoChaos, you’re perhaps already aware that private property rights are literally considered by economists to be the traditional solution to any tragedy of the commons?

            Without a Commons, no such tragedy occurs…

          • EchoChaos says:

            @sharper13

            Absolutely. I’ll just buy the two square miles around me because I don’t want to live next to Kowloon Walled City.

            If only there were some way for a group of people who lived in an area that they wanted to avoid overbuilding on to pool their money and resources to determine the maximum amount of building they wanted to live near.

          • @EchoChaos

            Where is the line between “most wealth-building/pareto optimizing/economically efficient purpose.” and “tragedy of the commons”?

            If it gets so dense it is unlivable, people will leave and it will get less dense. If people are willing to live there, that tells you something.

            Absolutely. I’ll just buy the two square miles around me because I don’t want to live next to Kowloon Walled City.

            If you don’t want density, there’s plenty of rural areas you can go to. What you really want is to live near the “Kowloon Walled City” but not next to it, the benefits of density, without the density. This creates a housing shortage. That’s the real “tragedy of the commons.”

            If only there were some way for a group of people who lived in an area that they wanted to avoid overbuilding on to pool their money and resources to determine the maximum amount of building they wanted to live near.

            You could use this logic to make any government intervention in a democratic society appear to be small-l libertarian.

            Your comment is a good example of the old saying “the job of the Left is to make mistakes. The job of the Right is to make sure those mistakes are not corrected.” I wrote on my blog:

            In conclusion, if you want to fight crime, you could try fighting it directly. How about lobbying California to build more prisons so they don’t have to let a bunch of criminals out the next time the courts notice they’re overcrowded? Or how about getting them to start prosecuting people who break into cars? Or how about lobbying the corporate-occupied GOP to finally do something about immigration? The common pattern for the Right when they lose on one issue is to pick up surrogate issues which happen to alienate a lot of people who previously supported them. Look at how they picked up evangelical Christianity and abortion as a substitute for losses in the 1960s and alienated a lot of secular people who would otherwise have been sympathetic to them. Now, after the dud of the Trump presidency you propose to alienate a lot of people who would otherwise be sympathetic but don’t want to pay through the nose for housing. One big issue here, working against you, is marriage rates. I’m a millennial and many men in my generation aren’t looking to get married. I could go into why, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant against the boomers. The bottom line is we have no desire for that suburban house as we don’t need the space. You think it’s smart to alienate us? This the hill you want to die on?

            https://alexanderturok.wordpress.com/2020/01/25/my-email-to-rant-against-david-cole/#more-403

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Alexander Turok

            In fact I don’t want to live anywhere near Kowloon Walled City, so I don’t. What I am stating is that it is moral for a community to declare that nobody gets to build Kowloon Walled City on their lot.

            I live in a small town with most lots as rural > 1 acre lots. Now developers are coming in and buying those lots to put up townhomes and condos because we’re within commuting distance of a major metro area.

            Most of the people in my town like this, so they voted for it, but banned denser developments than that because we don’t want the loss of community that comes with that. It’s a reasonable compromise that I supported.

            If I didn’t like it I could try to get a majority of my town to vote that way, as communities around San Francisco have done. That’s reasonable too.

            But if a majority of a community have decided that the way their community is is acceptable, then that’s their decision and we should respect it.

            You could use this logic to make any government intervention in a democratic society appear to be small-l libertarian.

            I am not a libertarian. Government has useful purposes and zoning is one of them. And yes, that is indeed the purpose of a democratic society. It’s a good one.

            “the job of the Left is to make mistakes. The job of the Right is to make sure those mistakes are not corrected.”

            The right isn’t mostly for restricting building, that’s a left-wing thing. Compare right-wing Texas to left-wing California. I am breaking with the right in this position, which was started by our resident union leftist @Plumber.

          • If they’re commuting from a rural area to the city, they might not need to be doing that if they could build up the suburbs.

            The right isn’t mostly for restricting building, that’s a left-wing thing. Compare right-wing Texas to left-wing California. I am breaking with the right in this position, which was started by our resident union leftist @Plumber.

            Absolutely, so why are you trying to prevent those left-wing mistakes from being fixed? Do you see the movement of people from California to Texas, driven by, among other things, those zoning policies?

          • Plumber says:

            @EchoChaos,
            Thanks you argue for local democracy better than I could myself. 

            @Alexander Turok,
            My own eyes show me different. 
            San Francisco (and to a lesser extent Berkeley and Oakland) has experienced a massive amount of new construction in the last ten years, more than in the previous 30, and I’ve seen lots of tower block apartments go up near “transit hubs”, I’ve also seen increased flooding of city streets (both liquids and motor cars), more sewars backing up into buildings because the sewar pipes in the streets can’t handle the inflow (and with more people here tearing up the streets for upgrading the pipes is less likely as more people will be disrupted), plus the Feds fine Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco more because the sewage treatment plants can’t process the waste enough, these cities with tired old infrastructure aren’t where to build even more without extensive expensive repairs that are simply not allowed by the pace demanded by YIMBY’s, and Sacramento forcing more development without paying for those repairs (since the State collects far more of the taxes paid by newcomers than the municipalities do) repels me. What I haven’t seen with all the new housing is ant reduction in rents or in the number of tents on the sidewalks and freeway medians, quite the opposite actually, the more people you stuff here the more jobs and even more demand spiraling upward, besides I just don’t like the wind tunnel effect of all the new skyscraper tower block apartments, cause that’s whats built not the duplexes you praise in your blog, those are being destroyed instead. 

            If you want to encourage low density suburbia to become medium density (like San Francisco was 15 years ago) sure, fine go do that, but must you keep changing San Francisco into hyper-density Hong Kong or Manhattan?

            I do see some more duplexes and townhouses in San Leandro, and that’s fine and dandy, but San Leandro chose to develop, it wasn’t forced by Sacramento, and while besides the parks they are still some low density areas in San Francisco, unfortunately they’re also in and near the old former shipyards and naval bases and are toxic and radioactive (still being built on with the inevitable law suits though!).

            If the State of California forces municipalities to develop more since Sacramento captures by far most of the revenue it showed pay for the clean up and needed infrastructure (instead in the last ten years the portion going to municipalities has been reduced, while at the same time  Sacramento has forced the county jails to house inmates that used to be in the State prisons, did you think the now balanced State budgets came easy?).

          • @Plumber

            must you keep changing San Francisco into hyper-density Hong Kong or Manhattan?

            Beats living in a wage cage:

            https://s3.crackedcdn.com/phpimages/article/2/1/3/703213_v3.jpg

            The question comes down to who’s interests come first. I say its the renters’ who don’t want to live in third world housing conditions.

            What I haven’t seen with all the new housing is ant reduction in rents or in the number of tents on the sidewalks and freeway medians, quite the opposite actually, the more people you stuff here the more jobs and even more demand spiraling upward

            Currently tech companies pay a substantial premium to employees to get them to relocate to Silly-Con Valley. I don’t know why, I suspect it’s a market failure. If the population of employees doubled and rents stayed the same, tech companies would have to pay much more for that premium. They’ll eventually run out of money. The population in SF proper hasn’t been growing by very much, 14% from 2000 to 2018 in contrast the the 17% growth of the country from 200 to 2019.

            The way to pay for needed infrastructure is to charge the new users. If a building needs a sewage hookup make it pay for the sewage hookup, which will include the fixed costs of upgrading the entire system. If it can’t, it won’t get the sewage hookup and won’t get built. It’s the same solution if there are too many cars in the street, charge cars for being in the street. Anytime there’s a shortage of something you’re giving away for free, the solution is to stop giving it away for free.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Upgrades to infrastructure tend to be intensive enterprises, particularly in populated, politically connected areas. No one likes tearing up all the streets to replace all the sewers, and it’s REALLY expensive to tear up and replace ALL the sewers.

          This is how these cities end up with 100 year old failing pipes and deferred maintenance bills in the three comma category.

  25. Atlas says:

    Gray Tribe book recommendation: Capitalism, Democracy and Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery (published in 1999) by John Mueller.

    I knew that I was generally vaguely in favor of capitalism and democracy before reading this book, but now that I’ve read it I know why I should be.

    Okay, I was exaggerating a bit for effect there, but it’s a really good, relatively concise (~240 pages) book-length exposition of the famous quip about “…except for the all the others.” Mueller basically argues that capitalism and democracy have very good empirical records that have been distorted by opposite image problems. Capitalism is unfairly maligned as promoting selfish, dishonest, inconsiderate and rude behavior, when, in fact, Mueller argues, it actually tends to promote honest, fair, civil and compassionate behavior (at least compared to all the other systems we can observe in practice). By contrast, democracy is alleged to be a utopian system that can only function with a high level of public knowledge, engagement and disinterestedness; Mueller argues that democracy works fine when people are ignorant, apathetic and partisan—which is a point in its favor.

    There are a lot of interesting and separate arguments in the book about both systems, but I think the underlying theme is that democracy and capitalism are both good because they don’t expect people to be much more virtuous, wise or noble than they’re actually observed to be in order to work. As he puts it:

    It seems to me that an institution is likely to be fundamentally sound if it can function adequately when people are rarely, if ever, asked to rise above the ignorance and selfishness with which they have been so richly endowed by their creator. Or, putting it a bit more gently, since human beings are a flawed bunch, an institution will be more successful if it can work with human imperfections rather than requiring first that the race be reformed into impossible perfection. Therefore, it may well actually be fortunate that democracy does not require people to be good or noble, but merely to calculate what is best for them or what they take to be in the best interest of society, and to seek to further these interests if they happen to be so inclined, while capitalism raises selfishness and acquisitiveness to dominant motivations. And it may be desirable that democracy and capitalism are about as romantic, to apply Charlotte Brontë’s phrase, as Monday morning.

    The section on capitalism is interesting because it’s more about ethics and virtue than capitalism’s material efficiency. I appreciated this because I’ve heard a lot of good arguments about why capitalism is very productive, but not as many about why it’s virtuous. (The former is much more important in my own judgment than the latter, but the latter is good for rhetorical purposes.) There’s also some interesting David Friedman-style arguments/evidence about how informal private arbitration and norms can be more important/efficacious than government courts. I’m not convinced by all Mueller’s arguments, but they’re almost all interesting.

    The section on democracy is great because it empirically examines a lot of common contentions and shows them, with plain facts, simple arguments and common sense, to be surprisingly fallacious and evidence-free. For instance, wouldn’t poor people just vote to steal all the rich people’s money?:

    Opponents have traditionally anticipated that in a democracy demagogues would mesmerize and bribe the masses and then rule as bloody tyrants. For example, Plato surmised that in a democracy all a politician need do is assert “his zeal for the multitude” and they would be “ready to honor him.” Therefore, assuming that numbers were all that mattered in a democracy, he expected such demagogues to “plunder the propertied classes, divide the spoil among the people, and yet keep the biggest share for themselves.”20 That this grim scenario was not entirely fanciful was demonstrated in the years after the French revolution of 1789 where democracy soon degenerated disastrously into the sort of tyrannical, murderous mobocracy that Plato had envisioned two millennia earlier. Moreover, it eventually became associated with an expansionary ideology, with war, and, under Napoleon, with aggressive, continent-wide military conquest.

    Generally, however, once democracy was put into practice (market-tested, it might be said), it turned out, quite amazingly, that Plato’s persuasively dire prediction did not come about. The result has been that in order really to plunder the propertied it has been necessary to abandon democracy—as in China, the Soviet Union, Cuba, Nicaragua, Burma, Iran, Vietnam, revolutionary France, Cambodia. Where the would-be plunderers have remained democratic—as in Sweden—the propertied have generally been able to hang on to many of their assets and have not felt it necessary to flee. A most extreme test of this will be in South Africa where a massive expansion of political freedom has put those who once ran the system very much into the minority. If the system remains democratic, experience suggests they should be able to maintain much of their privilege. [I think this has been a basically and informatively accurate prediction—again, at least compared to non-democracies and seemingly plausible theoretical expectations—though I realize it’s up for debate.]

    There seem to be at least three reasons for this substantially
    unanticipated development: political inequality, commonsense, and apathy.

    Or: surely democracy requires a high level of engagement and participation from the citizenry in order to be effective, right?:

    Democratic theorists, idealists, and image-makers maintain that “democratic states require . . . participation in order to flourish,” or that “a politically active citizenry is a requisite of any theory of democracy,” or that “democracy was built on the principle that political participation was not only the privilege of every man, but a necessity in ensuring the efficiency and prosperity of the democratic system,” or that “high levels of electoral participation are essential for guaranteeing that government represents the public as a whole,” or that “to make a democracy that works, we need citizens who are engaged.”38

    But we now have over two hundred years of experience with living, breathing, messy democracy, and truly significant participation has almost never been achieved anywhere. Since democracy 180 exists, it simply can’t be true that wide participation is a notable requirement, requisite, guarantee, need, or necessity for it to prosper or work. Routinely, huge numbers of citizens even—in fact, especially—in “mature” democracies simply decline to participate, and the trend in participation seems to be, if anything, mostly downward. In the United States, nearly half of those eligible fail to vote even in high-visibility elections and only a few percent ever actively participate in politics. The final winner of a recent election for the mayor of Rochester, N.Y., received only about 6 percent of the vote of the total electorate. (However, he is a very popular choice: if everybody had voted, he would almost certainly have achieved the same victory.) Switzerland is Europe’s oldest democracy, and it also boasts the continent’s lowest voter turnout.39

    Finally, I’ll note that Mueller not only makes serious arguments about important subjects, he also does so in a commendably lucid, funny and clear prose style. So, yeah, see if it’s available in your local library system, it’s a good book.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      That this grim scenario was not entirely fanciful was demonstrated in the years after the French revolution of 1789 where democracy soon degenerated disastrously into the sort of tyrannical, murderous mobocracy that Plato had envisioned two millennia earlier… Generally, however, once democracy was put into practice (market-tested, it might be said), it turned out, quite amazingly, that Plato’s persuasively dire prediction did not come about.

      The author seems unaware that ancient Greece had plenty of democratic city-states. That seems like a pretty big howler when discussing Plato by name.

      • Atlas says:

        The author seems unaware that ancient Greece had plenty of democratic city-states. That seems like a pretty big howler when discussing Plato by name.

        It’s possible, because Mueller is more of an empirical contemporary political science/national security scholar than philosophical theorist, but in any case I don’t think that it makes much difference to his argument here. Firstly, because the experience of a wide variety of modern nation-states, across many continents, over the past couple centuries is much more relevant (at least in my opinion) to analyzing democracy in our time than that of a small handful of ancient Greek city-states from over two millennia ago. Secondly, because I don’t see that the historical record of ancient Greek democracy is very favorable to Plato’s view anyway. (For a lengthier and more philosophical critique of Plato’s views, readers can consult the relevant sections of The Open Society and its Enemies. Chapter 10 is Popper’s discussion of the Athenian historical experience of democracy in relation to Plato.)

        For instance, Robin Lane Fox writes of Cleisthenes’ reforms in his history of the classical world:

        With two minor interruptions, this democracy persisted among the Athenians and evolved for more than a hundred and eighty years. In our terms, it was remarkably direct. It was not at all a ‘representative democracy’ which elected local representatives either to ‘represent’ their constituents or their own careers and prejudices. Its whole concern was to limit power-blocs or over-assertive cliques, to achieve fragmentation, not representation. In many moderns’ opinion, use of the lot was the hallmark of Athenian democracy; in fact, Cleisthenes is not known to have extended random allotment in any new way. As a Greek practice, use of the lot had a long pre-democratic history anyway, not least as a way of allotting shared inheritances fairly between brothers. Nor were property qualifications abolished for the democracy’s senior magistrates: they were to be elected, but only from propertied candidates. So far as we know, there was to be no pay yet, either, for them or for council members. But what mattered was that they served only for a year and that they were not a ‘government’ with a ‘mandate’ of their own devising. Power lay with the assembly, and in that assembly each male citizen counted for one, and one only.

        To our eyes, this democracy was more just than any previous constitution in the world. Nonetheless, the administration of justice was left unchanged: cases were still heard and tried by magistrates, with only a possibility of a secondary appeal on a few charges to a wider, popular body. Cleisthenes certainly did not base his proposals on judicial reform or new law courts. To modern outsiders, then, how ‘just’ is it all? Slaves continued to be widely used; women were politically excluded; immigrants were separately categorized and were not able to claim citizenship in virtue of a few years’ residence in Attica. The point, rather, is that throughout the ancient world, even the gift of equal votes to all male citizens, to peasants as well as noblemen, was almost unparalleled (it did exist, though, in Sparta) and the combination with it of a popular, rotating council and an assembly with almost total power to enact or reject proposals was unprecedented, as far as we know…

        Unlike many Greek citizens, especially those overseas, Athenians had one great asset: they had lived for centuries in the same territory. Their local social groupings and local cults gave them an unusually strong infrastructure and a sense of community on which Cleisthenes capitalized. He did not attack private property or redistribute riches. Perhaps his particular ‘clan’ gained a degree of advantage from the detailed local arrangements of citizens into new tribes, but it was an advantage in a new and changed arena. Cleisthenes brought a new justice, an equal vote for every male citizen, and the blessings of a new freedom, political participation. Justice was also applied to the local units of community life, the many demes, who were duly influenced by the centre’s new system.

        [My emphasis]

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Sure, it doesn’t affect his arguments as they pertain to modern democracies. It’s still a pretty sloppy error to make, though, and one which doesn’t inspire confidence in his research more generally.

          As for Athens, it’s worth pointing out that the city was unusually successful, even amongst other ancient democracies (of which there were more than “a small handful” — there were literally hundreds of ancient Greek poleis, and a significant portion of them were democratically-ruled for at least some period of time). Taking Athens as your main example of Greek democracy is going to give you an excessively rosy picture of democracy. And of course, even Athens ended up losing its empire following the Peloponnesian War.

    • Randy M says:

      This reminds me of the recent thread describing how Chinese communism, supposedly an ideology that cares about making people more than just economic creatures, is so hard on four year olds so that they can manage to be successful twenty years later.

      • Atlas says:

        And yet Chinese-Americans (and their children and grand-children) are also generally pretty successful, no? As Steve Sailer loves to point out, contrary to hand-wringing about how allegedly terrible America’s educational system is, American Asians tend to outscore Asian Asians on the PISA. (As generally do Americans of all races compared to other countries mostly composed of their respective race.)

        • Randy M says:

          I’m not sure if that’s a counter point (that the Chinese system works) or support (Chinese don’t need harsh preschools because they’re Chinese). But either way, it’s besides the point–the supposed compassion of Communism that is it’s selling point doesn’t seem to materialize.

  26. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I missed this when it made news back in July, but when 22 Western governments condemned China for purportedly putting two million Uighurs in internment camps, 37 other countries officially jumped to their defense, about 15 of them Muslim. They stated that “Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and deradicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers,”
    Any thoughts on what is going on here? Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan etc. are pretty strict Muslim states: if China is putting Uighurs in concentration camps and harvesting their organs, I’d expect them to be the most outraged.

    • Plumber says:

      @Le Maistre Chat,
      My guess is that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etc are in the tank with China for a “don’t sass us about human rights” norm.

    • herbert herberson says:

      I’m sure that Chinese money and a general dislike/distrust of Western interventionism is most of the story, but I also remember reading reporting from ISIS’s rise and fall that racism against Uighurs was endemic within the “state,” and that foreign fighters from Xinjiang were routinely singled out to get the most unpleasant/dangerous jobs. Could be that racism against Uighurs served to grease the skids.

    • Roebuck says:

      Pakistan and many African countries accept a lot of Chinese investment / loans. Pakistan has a pretty interesting approach to human rights: when everybody was still talking about the Khashoggi murder, the PM of Pakistan went to Saudi Arabia saying, in short, “yeah, shocking, but we’re desperate for money“.

      The case of Pakistan is really interesting. They are not doing well, they are visibly less productive than India, and they really want the Chinese money. And it so happens that China is their neighbour and China is really intense about building infrastructure in neighbouring countries. Consider the magnitude of this thing. t’s also useful to Google something like “China Pakistan investment” or “China Africa investment” and read how the West is nowadays really spooked out by various Chinese foreign initiatives, many of which are about China building some infrastructure in exchange for debt. Oftem developing countries end up being very indebted to China. Sometimes, logistically important infrastructure is a collateral on these loans. Sometimes, people question the honesty of the national politicians in developing countries who accept these loans. Some of this makes for a pretty grim reading, considering how China isn’t finished growing faster than most of these developing countries.

      • Milo Minderbinder says:

        They can always not accept the loans. I’d never seen that Khan quote before, that’s hilarious. What an admission of weakness. In my ideal world, American “aid” would be much higher, and be more of this debt-vassalage stuff.

  27. Plumber says:

    FWLIW, I just took the NYTimes
    A Quick Quiz to Match You With a DemocraticCandidate

    which had me agreeing most with (in order)

    1) Biden

    2) Sanders/Steyer (tie)

    3) Bloomberg/Buttigieg (tie)

    4) Klobucher

    5) Warren

    6) Yang

    A bit surprising to me, I was leaning voting for Biden anyway, but (despite my wife favoring him) Bloomberg was at the bottom of my list along with Steyer.

    I welcome suggestions for other “what/who should you vote for” quizzes.

    • JohnNV says:

      My problem with this quiz is that there’s no “I don’t care” option. Saying yes or no to “Do you want a nomination who would make history based on race, gender or sexual orientation?” Saying no implies that I don’t want one of those candidates, which is misleading – it’s just not a priority. There were a bunch of those: “Do you want a candidate who takes money from big donors?” I don’t care if they do or not – yes or no isn’t appropriate here. isidewith allowed for more nuance, giving an answer to each question but also ranking it’s importance to you. Interesting that Biden was at the top of my NYTimes ranking but literally the bottom of my isidewith ranking.

      • Dacyn says:

        I thin for the “make history” question in particular, “no” just means you don’t care. Since a strong “no” would be outside of the Democratic Overton window.

        • Plumber says:

          I put “No” as well, ’cause “wouldn’t mind it but that’s a pretty low priority for me” wasn’t an option.

          My preference would be:
          Biden > Sanders > some other near death Democrat,
          with Sherrod Brown as the VP

      • Plumber says:

        I just took the isidewith quiz as well (I did a lot of “importance to you: least“, and “add own stance: I don’t know” answers) and it had me as:

        Buttigieg/Sanders (tie) >

        Klobucher/Steyer (tie) >

        Biden >

        Warren >

        Delaney (who?) >

        Gabbard >

        Yang >

        Bloomberg >

        Trump

      • Randy M says:

        I’d interpret as “No, this is not a want I have” rather than “No, I actively oppose this”, but that may be overly literal.
        English needs a word for diswant. I suppose oppose works for that.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Interesting. I got

      1) Sanders
      2) Warren
      3) Bloomberg
      4) Biden
      6) Buttigieg
      7) Klobuchar/Steyer/Yang (tied)

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      My top three were:

      1. Steyer
      2. Buttigieg
      3. Biden

      I’m pretty in the tank for Buttigieg, so pretty accurate, I guess? I dislike Biden, but for mostly personality/competency reasons, not so much policy.

    • Dacyn says:

      Stuck behind a paywall, but my answers are YYNYNNNNNN, maybe you can tell me what my results are. isidewith.com is giving me Yang > Delaney > Klobuchar > Bloomberg > … I don’t know what to make of this, I haven’t really been following the race closely enough to have an opinion more detailed than Biden > Sanders > Warren (which isidewith.com agrees with).

    • salvorhardin says:

      I got

      Klobuchar/Yang (tie)
      Bloomberg
      Buttigieg
      Biden
      Steyer
      Sanders
      Warren

      Which seems about right. Of course you can do pretty well at most election predictions by betting that whoever I like will lose.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I found many of the questions highly irrelevant. I was almost expecting to be asked about how my ideal candidate would dress ;-( Ok, maybe not quite that bad. But if these are the differentiating issues – and the candidates all agree on the things important to me – which I very much doubt – than either it’s “pick a random Democratic candidate” or “hold my nose and support the lesser evil”, depending on what this hypothetical agreement might be.

  28. Milo Minderbinder says:

    It’s the week of the Super Bowl here in America. For those intending to watch the game, do y’all have any special foodstuffs you make for the occasion? I myself will probably be making some chili/cornbread/wings for my house spread, but more ideas are always welcome!

    In more somber football news, the New Orleans Saints seem to have scored an own goal (would a pick-6 be more appropriate here?) by providing material aid to the Catholic Church in Nola in helping shape their post-pedophilia PR strategy. Per the Athletic, the NFL will not be looking further into this issue. Since we have a lot of random subject expertise here, does anyone know why the Saints would be involved in helping the Catholic Church do PR for their continual pedophilia scandals?

    • JayT says:

      The story I heard was that their owner is a devout Catholic, and told the PR team to help out.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      I am maximally uninterested in this year’s teams but for now I have the best tv and thus am noblessely obliged to host this year’s Big Game™ viewing. I’m used to watching on west coast time so I still find it odd waiting for darkness before it starts.

      Special ordered Juanita’s tortilla chips as all other brands fall short. If they’re staled by shipping it’s hardly a sin that the nacho-ing process can’t sanctify. Outsourced the wings to a korean place offering a tray after smoking up the house too much in previous years. I find a cheeseball while dated is always devoured down to the last morsel so I make some every year. The garlic focaccia I’ve posted here before will certainly make an appearance, with oil and dukkah. Pickled asparagus I got from the amish will feature alongside the various cured meats. Otherwise the star of the show each year are club crackers, whipped cream cheese, smoked salmon, and so called “cowboy candy” – a pickled-candied jalapeno.

      I picked up short ribs to throw in the pressure cooker but I severely doubt it will come to that with the game being so late here.

      Of course really all you need is Totino’s pizza rolls to feed your hungry guys.

    • Pink-Nazbol says:

      I presume the National Felon League can share its expertise in covering up crimes.

  29. JohnNV says:

    Did anybody propose an adversarial collaboration on gun control? Because I have no idea how I feel on the subject and would love an intellectually honest deep dive.

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      Not yet, but that’s a great future topic I’d be interested in as well.

    • sharper13 says:

      Just in case you didn’t already read these posts, you may be interested.

    • Aapje says:

      @JohnNV

      I think that a good investigation can be done on the efficacy of various (kinds of) gun control measures on the likelihood for legally* bought (or manufactured) guns to be use for various purposes. This kind of investigation needs to keep in mind that lots of uses of weapons that some people want to ban are going to be considered an important use case that needs to be allowed, by others. For example, some people want to ban regular citizens from carrying pistols for self-defense, while others merely want to keep high-risk people from having access to guns.

      There are various kinds of gun control that each have their weaknesses. A ban on sale of types of weapons or parts:
      – often target convenience, cosmetic or fairly vestigial features that make little to no difference to how dangerous the weapon is
      – can often can be worked around (sometimes trivially, like bans on large magazines that allow people to have/use magazines that are downsized in ways that can be trivially undone)
      – when actually reducing the efficacy to kill many people, usually make the weapon considerably less usable for (more) legitimate uses
      – can make weapons more dangerous, less reliable or otherwise worse when used for legitimate purpose. Making a good weapon is actually quite hard, typically requiring lots of iterative development. This is a major reason why (semi-automatic versions of) popular military weapons are also very popular with civilians.

      A ban on selling to specific people:
      – has the issue of sorting people into safe and unsafe groups, which can be trivial to nigh impossible depending on what groups you deem unsafe
      – can be evaded if the people who are deemed unsafe have relatively easy access to the weapons of those deemed safe

      Ultimately, no gun control can keep guns out of the hands of those who are determined and/or capable enough, so it can only make it harder to possess a gun.

      * legality vs illegality is actually fairly complicated, because weapons can start legal and become illegal in various ways.

      • albatross11 says:

        Some factual questions that might be worth asking in such a collaboration (the moral right questions being pretty hard to get agreement on):

        Gun death statistics: Most people discussing gun control seem not to know that, for example, gun suicides are a lot more deaths than gun murders, or that accidental shootings are a really small fraction of total gun deaths, or that mass shootings are a really tiny fraction of gun murders, or that nearly all gun murders use a handgun rather than a shotgun or rifle (and so an assault rifle ban won’t have much effect), or that police shootings are noticeable fraction of total shootings per year, etc.

        Mostly this is because journalists and activists are usually pretty bad at thinking quantitatively, but also because emotional appeals don’t work so well with numbers.

        Gun control effects: Another place to look is at evidence about how various actual gun control measures affect crime. My impression is that the evidence here is pretty mixed–particularly, I remember that quite a few states made concealed carry permits easy to get, and those states did not see any increase in gun murders. My not-that-informed impression is that the evidence for gun control measures in the US having much effect on crime is weak–probably the effect is weak.

        Statistics on mass shootings: Mass shootings are usually the driver for a push for more gun control–when some nutcase goes postal and shoots a dozen bystanders, it’s pretty damned convincing evidence that he was the kind of guy who should never have been allowed to have a gun. What do we actually know about them?

        In all these cases, the reason this would be worthwhile is because activists and media are terrible at actually reporting numbers and putting things into a quantitative context. This doesn’t help you answer moral questions like “Is firearm ownership a moral right” or “Isn’t stopping mass shootings worth depriving some innocent people of guns?” It doesn’t answer broad political questions like “Is widespread firearm ownership a bulwark against tyranny?” But it would at least let discussions continue from a reasonably informed place.

        Also, maybe a quick overview of terminology and definitions–journalists often have no idea what they’re talking about w.r.t. guns and call things by the wrong names, something I notice even though I’m just moderately familiar with guns.

        • Aapje says:

          Most gun crime is gang-related, which makes these people relatively insensitive to a lot of gun control measures. People who have cocaine lying around are not so worried about complying with gun laws. So all the possession-style gun laws have fairly little effect on them. They may also not want to buy their guns from regular shops anyway, due to tracebility, regardless of whether they can.

          Interestingly, gang members seem to often have little interest in having good guns, preferring to cheap out on them. These shitty guns are called Saturday night specials in the US. In my country, they are typically converted gas- and alarmpistols (which can be turned into low power shitty guns).

          Guns are very hard to keep out of the hands of criminals.

          As for mass shootings, a lot of these people seem quite determined, which make it hard to make laws that discourage them, but are not onerous for more casual gun owners.

          • Loriot says:

            On the other hand, you could potentially stop a lot of suicides with gun control. Which won’t make any headlines or win emotional appeals, but depressed people still have value.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Loriot

            Not sure I buy that. The US is pretty average in successful suicides, between Japan and Australia, both of which have pretty strict gun control.

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

          • albatross11 says:

            I think the personal-level lesson is that if you or someone in your house has any inclination toward suicide (serious depression, bipolar disorder, previous attempts, etc.), you need to get the guns the hell out of your house right now. Along with any other easy methods of suicide, but guns are a very easy method, and don’t allow for second thoughts and a call to 911 to get your stomach pumped with some chance of surviving the whole thing.

          • Loriot says:

            @EchoChaos

            I don’t find that to be useful evidence either way, since there are large disparities between countries in suicide rates for idiosyncratic reasons, regardless of the ease of committing suicide.

            Although it would be interesting to compare attempted suicide rates. Particularly for men, who disproportionately use guns in the US.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I seriously considered tackling it, but I was somewhat time-limited at the time they were taking topics and decided against it. If anyone wants to get together on the next round, I’d be game.

      The biggest bar to the discussion is that in an American context, the two sides have generally have fundamentally different and irreconcilable philosophical approaches. One side views reasonably unrestricted access to firearms by law-abiding citizens as a fundamental civil right and in many cases an outgrowth of a natural right to self-defense. The other sees it as not that much more important than a question of how big a public gathering you can organize in a park, or how loud you can play your music on your home stereo before it becomes grounds for a noise complaint.

      Without agreement on how to weight the value and importance of the right to bear arms, there can be no agreement on how to regulate it.

      EDIT: That said, I’m certainly happy to dig into the real-world statistical data on gun crime, defensive gun use, and so on, as Albatross11 indicates. I just don’t think it will do much to resolve the fundamental question of “Should we Pass Gun Control Measure X, or not?” Because even IF you can get both sides to agree that it has a very modest effect (if any) on gun violence relative to the impact on law-abiding gun owners, one side is going to say “Well, it’s not like we’re infringing on a fundamental human right or anything, therefore it’s -obvious- that the lives saved on the margin is worth it!” while the other says “What the hell are you talking about! This is a -very- fundamental right, and therefore the measly effect this measure has doesn’t come anywhere near justifying the infringement upon that right!”

  30. SteveReilly says:

    Any suggestions for good books that can be read in small (say, 5 minute) chunks? I think Taleb’s Antifragile works well this way. I’m guessing Marcus Aurelius and Confucius might as well. Any others? I take lots of Uber rides and like having something to do while waiting.

    • Plumber says:

      Its been many years since I read it but the 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories anthology edited by Asimov, Greenberg, and Olander fits the bill well.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky was advertised to me as a book one could read piecemeal.

    • The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten.
      Also People I have Loved, Known, or Admired by the same author.

    • Atlas says:

      Our own Professor Friedman’s book The Machinery of Freedom is good in this regard, I think. Also, the Very Short Introduction series might suit your needs here.

      • Nick says:

        I’ve read about 20 Very Short Introductions, and they’re generally pretty good, but quality is uneven. Out of what I’ve read, I would recommend Marx, Logic, Freud, The Gothic, and Leibniz. Of course, some of them, like Logic, are at a more basic level than anyone here really needs.

        • Atlas says:

          Right, duly noted.

        • Plumber says:

          @Nick >

          “…some of them, like Logic, are at a more basic level than anyone here really needs…”

          *ahem*

          I read some of the Very Short Introduction: Logic and “too basic” wasn’t my impression, more “I’m not following this” and “What’s all this stuff about a bald King of France?”.

          Other Very Short‘s have been better, I quite liked their Anglo-Saxon Britain, Classical Greece, Ireland, and Vikings books.

          • Nick says:

            Sorry, Plumber, I was overgeneralizing. A majority of folks on SSC are programmers or math people, who generally don’t need a book like that.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Got a bunch, currently reading Marx. So far it’s very good for bias confirmation and falling asleep :p Mostly joking – it’s interesting stuff and I’m thankful for the recommendation – but it really doesn’t make me think well of Marx. Some of the least charitable thoughts in my head go like “never worked a day in his life”, “scientology” and “in the age of reddit/fb fights, this is child’s play”.

          Yeah, I’m aware of my biases, that’s why I keep them close to the surface, but I’m not really sure if there’s anything to counter them. His economic theory is, well, outdated. Work is a commodity, true, and if you’re talking about completely untrained workers than yes, in some markets (but not others) it we be paid close to survival levels. But … [and here comes a long list on how this doesn’t really happen a lot].

          About half way, might still be good stuff (about M., the book itself is cool).

  31. Silverlock says:

    For those of you frequenters of this psychologist-run site who may be interested in psychology and/or art, here is The Curious Case of the Notebook from State Lunatic Asylum No. 3, complete with drawings from the notebook, found in a dumpster in 1970 and whose author — dubbed “The Electric Pencil” due to a drawing of a woman with the label “ECTLECTRC pencil” — has recently been determined. No, the repeated use of the letters ECT was not lost on me.

    The pictures are fascinating even to a philistine such as I and include animals, buildings, and, mainly, people, such as “A Dixey Girl” and “Miss Winterstink.” Definitely worth a gander.

  32. silver_swift says:

    You are tasked with picking one animal to go extinct.

    You have to pick one species (or, if you prefer, genus or family) of animal that instantly gets Thanos-snapped out of existence. What do you pick and why?

    • rocoulm says:

      Mosquitoes, obviously.

      Some say there’d be literally no downside to doing this if we could, and I for one am skeptical, but I’ll be darned if I pass up the possibility to find out.

      • Anthony says:

        When traveling in Alaska, I was told that mosquitoes are the most important pollinators in Alaska. There are other insects which are more efficient, but there are so many mosquitoes that they end up doing the bulk of the work.

      • Enkidum says:

        Mosquitoes are a main food source of many fish, spiders, other insects, birds, etc. Just consider the amount of biomass you’d be removing, and realize that nothing can eat that any longer.

        Of course, fuck mosquitoes.

        • woah77 says:

          I consider evolution a proper tool for filling that niche.

          • Randy M says:

            But what is that niche? It seems like those fish, etc. are feeding off of the blood of other animals one step removed, right? So anything else moving into that niche is probably also going to be a disease vector.
            I’m not saying don’t snap the Mosquitoes, mind, it’s a risk I’m happy to take.

    • MrSquid says:

      Gut reaction is Aedes genus. One of the most prevalent disease carriers, including pathogenic vectors we normally don’t have as much concern about (like bloodstream transmission only diseases, which are far more manageable than those that can spread through air). Would massively improve quality of life worldwide, particularly in lower-income nations that lack resources to effectively combat malaria or yellow fever alone, preserves the less problematic varieties around which should help with ensuring the ecosystem impact isn’t huge, and also I’d be able to go outside in the summer without hating life. The other benefit over some other common carrier species is that no one seems to be that tied to mosquitoes, whereas some people actually do like mice or rats.

      • Noah says:

        Also, we use mice and rats for medical research (but I don’t know whether switching to some other species would have large costs).

        • MrSquid says:

          Yeah, the costs are probably significant with just the cost of familiarity alone. There’s enough mice / rat trials that there’s a base of knowledge they can build from and papers they can cite back to. If we switched to say rabbits, there’s still some knowledge there but a lot of it would be wheel-reinventing.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        If you had to choose between yellow fever and malaria, what would you choose? (Aedes vs Anopheles)

        • MrSquid says:

          I’d eliminate malaria, probably. Yellow Fever’s had a vaccine that has both existed much longer, and thus can and has been effectively deployed against the disease. WHO has it on the list of essential medicines, the main barrier to complete eradication is that we’ve not found a good way to mass-produce it. Malaria we are just starting to get a vaccine for and it is way less effective than the yellow fever. I’d still on balance probably remove Aedes over Anopheles as we’ve found some methods of stopping Anopheles from carrying malaria and Aedes carries diseases other than Yellow Fever (after all, malaria is almost unheard of in the Americas and we still have Anopheles strains, but we definitely have West Nile outbreaks from Aedes).

    • herbert herberson says:

      I’d go with the tick genus. The benefit isn’t as high as it would be for mosquitos, but I’m more confident about the lack of backfire. There are a lot of bird/bat species already going through a hard time that might miss the mosquitos, but other than maybe opossums and oxpeckers, I’m not aware of many animals that rely heavily on ticks as a food source.

    • JayT says:

      There are only 84 Amur Leopards around. I would probably go with that, just because it would have the lowest chance of unintended consequences.

    • HarmlessFrog says:

      Trichinellidae. So I don’t have to be so careful with wild meats.

      • nkurz says:

        Interesting answer. I don’t think of it as prevalent in most of the wild game I picture being eaten in America: deer, elk, moose, ducks, rabbits, pheasants, partridge, squirrels. It’s less common for people to contract it from eating wild pigs than one might guess. I was surprised to learn that it’s most commonly contracted from bear, and was also surprised to have a couple people tell me that bear is their favorite meat. Looking it up now, I see it’s also a problem with cougars, walrus and crocodile. Which makes me wonder: which animals were you thinking of?

        • HarmlessFrog says:

          Just about any wild animal, really. Wild boars are the big one, though, being the leading cause of trichinosis over here. Pigs are next in line, but that’s because consumption is comparatively enormous, despite the chance of a random pig being infected is extremely low.

    • Atlas says:

      After hearing the episode of EconTalk with Frank Dikotter on the Great Leap Forward, I would be very, very, very careful in my choice. Relevant highlights:

      At some point in the middle–I think at the beginning of this or maybe the middle, you’ll tell me–Mao starts a campaign against the Four Pests, or the Four Vermin, which are: flies, mosquitoes, rats, and sparrows. And encourages people to kill them en masse–because, there are a lot of reasons but which, for the sparrows, which are what I want to focus on, they eat grain and seeds, obviously. So, the idea is: If we can get rid of the sparrows, we’ll have more grain. And, talk about that campaign and how it was carried out and what happened. I mean, it’s–we have some video footage of that we’ll put up on the page for the episode. But, Frank, tell us what happened.

      Frank Dikötter: Well, as you said, there’s a war against Nature. Mao says it very clearly: We are in a war against Nature. You have to tame Nature. And, one of the biggest thieves, besides locusts and insects, are of course sparrows. They steal grain. So, what do you do? You get rid of them. …

      So, the claim is: A billion sparrows are killed. I don’t know if–do we have any idea if that’s true?

      Frank Dikötter: Well, it’s surreal, if it’s–

      Russ Roberts: It is surreal. It is. It’s a big number. But there are probably a billion sparrows in China. In the 1950s.

      Frank Dikötter: Well, the numbers are surreal. When you say ‘a billion’ that might almost be plausible….

      rank Dikötter: Well, of course, once you get rid of birds, your insects have a field day. So, here we are, a few months later–

      Russ Roberts: What year are we in, roughly?

      Frank Dikötter: 1958. You see the sky darken as this swarm of grasshoppers–

      Russ Roberts: locusts–

      Frank Dikötter: approach. And they cover the fields, in a bristling blanket; eat everything. And it isn’t just locusts. There are all sorts of insects that thrive. Some of them, I had never heard of. There’s one call the Red Spider, for instance. There’s a whole series of insects that are there to profit from this whole campaign against sparrows.

      Russ Roberts: So, defeat[?]. And, I heard this on a–I don’t think it’s in your book, but I saw this on a video online that they had to–they did realize that it was a mistake. That, they imported sparrows from the Soviet Union in the aftermath of this to try to reduce the locust crop.

      Frank Dikötter: I didn’t know. It’s perfectly plausible. I was a student in China in the middle of the 1980s. We’re talking several decades, a quarter of a century after this disaster. A bird was a rare sight. A bird was a rare sight.

      Russ Roberts: It’s hard to believe. But, there was just–as you say, it was a war against nature. I don’t know how effective or ineffective it actually was. But the whole idea of it is just a perfect metaphor for my favorite Hayek quote: ‘The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.’ Here, you think you are increasing the grain crop, but you are actually destroying it. So, there’s–at this point–and you can all drink now. I know some of you have a drinking game for when I say that quote. So, I know you are excited when I brought up the sparrows because you saw it coming.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      I’m tempted to say pandas, mostly out of spite. If they can’t be bothered to care about their own survival, why should I?

      On a more practical note, all of the money / resources we’re using to try and save them (despite their best efforts to die without successfully breeding) could be better spent on species that are more vital to the ecosystem and more likely to be saved with human intervention.

      • Nick says:

        I went to a comedy show by BJ Novak where he pointed out that as much as humans love pandas, pandas don’t love pandas. Our descendants will watch videos like this cursing us for what we’ve taken from them.

      • William James Kirk says:

        New research suggests that we may just not have been sufficiently discerning connoisseurs of bamboo compared to an animal that eats it exclusively and migrates seasonally to find the right kinds. We may not have been giving them enough of the select highest-protein shoots they need to be healthy. Apparently pandas in the wild are so good at finding just the right bamboo parts that they’re able to get as much protein from their all-plant diet as a polar bear gets from its diet of seals — and the rest of their physiology depends on this fact to work right.

    • bullseye says:

      Guinea worm

    • Well... says:

      Koalas.

      Basically everything about them is repulsive, and other than maybe helping to prune the eucalyptus trees and host some microbiomes of algae and bacteria and parasites, I don’t see how their loss would negatively impact much of anything else.

      The Australian fires are a catastrophe, but when I heard the koalas are being wiped out by them I knew there was a silver lining.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Cockroaches.

      I don’t care how many ecosystems it collapses, those damn things have plagued the last three homes I have lived in and I want them gone.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      Homo sapien

      Edit to add why: My first reaction is that I would not choose. One species is as good as another. Then I saw that I must choose, so humanity is as likely a choice as any. I do not believe any species is bad or good, but if forced to make an argument I would choose the “humanity is the worst species to ever live” side of the debate.

      • Dacyn says:

        There you are! Uh, what do you think of the thread I started? Though it has been dead for nearly two days now…

        Why would you choose that side in the debate?

        • HowardHolmes says:

          Dacyn,

          I have been absent. Interesting title on the thread you posted. I have not read it but might very well respond on that thread once I have time to read it.

          I do not want to get into a debate as to whether homo sapien is the worst species since I do not believe they are. If I had to debate, I would certainly choose them, but since I would be debating another homo sapien who thinks he is better than anything in the universe I choice would not optomize winning.

          • Dacyn says:

            So basically you would take the position because it is contrarian? Interesting.

            I’ll keep watching this OT for at least another day or two but in any case, I’ll always get notifications if you reply to my comments (either directly or by writing @Dacyn)

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @dacyn

            I’m just not feeling it. I enjoyed reading your thread. Thanks for the effort.

            On the “humans are bad” debate, I said I would defend that position if I had to defend any. That is because it seems obvious to me that a case could easily be made that they have done more damage to the planet than any other species. This is all complicated by the fact that I do not hold that anyone can harm or damage anyone or anything. It’s all just jargon. I do not believe that humans are either good nor bad so even talking about debating it makes no sense.

          • Dacyn says:

            @HowardHolmes: Sure, fair enough.

            Regarding debating, the idea that humans cause more damage to the planet than they are worth is certainly held even by people who don’t have weird metaethics, see e.g. VHEM. But I would contest your assertion that since it’s all just jargon, “talking about debating it makes no sense”. Even if good bad harm damage are all objectively meaningless, they have very real psychological effects on the people who participate in the debate, and these effects can change people’s actions afterward. So I think it is very interesting to talk about debating.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @dacyn
            You and I are world’s apart as to whether good/bad is real. Here is your comment:

            Even if good bad harm damage are all objectively meaningless, they have very real psychological effects on the people who participate in the debate, and these effects can change people’s actions afterward. So I think it is very interesting to talk about debating.

            If you agreed with me there would be no “very real” psychological effects. Such effects, I assume, are believed to have some sort of value. Value does not exist. “Effects”, “real effects”, nor “very real effects” exist.

            You say people’s actions can be changed. How? From bad to good? From good to bad? From worse to better. People’s actions cannot be changed.

          • Dacyn says:

            @HowardHolmes: Why do you believe that all effects are believed to have value? I believe that a rock will fall if dropped, but I don’t think many people would assign any particular value to that absent further context. Regarding “real”, you can replace it with “measurable” — I know there is only one world so we cannot compare with the counterfactual, but the effects are still measurable in a statistical sense.

            Surely there is some X you can do such that when you perform controlled experiments, they show that when you do X to people they are more likely to do Y. Why would you not describe this as “X causes them to do Y”, or “X changes what they were going to do, so that they do Y instead of something else”?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @daycn

            I am not arguing against cause/effect. I am saying there are no differences in effects. Difference is always normative. Drop a rock from a tall building. Drop a human from a tall building. No difference. That a rock or a human is dropped or not dropped has no significance. You don’t understand because you think dropping a human is bad. You also think there is a purpose (a good) served by dropping the rock, or you wouldn’t drop it. Like I said, we are a long way from agreeing as the the existence of good and evil.

            X might cause someone to Y rather than A, B, C or Z. But in Y’ing they have done nothing different from A’ing or Z’ing. There is no meaning, purpose so there is no such think as accomplishing anything or doing anything. The only differences between A and Z are value differences. There are no value difference so there are no differences. It makes no difference if I do ……..

          • Dacyn says:

            @HowardHolmes: We may be running into a language issue. Someone may say that it “makes no difference” whether a rock lands in one place or another (meaning it doesn’t affect anything they consider important), but they would still generally say that those are “different” possible results.

            you think dropping a human is bad

            I’m not sure why you think this. I mean, I’m not necessarily saying you’re wrong (to be honest, I’m not really sure what you mean by “think dropping a human is bad” in this context). But I don’t see how you can find support for such a statement in my comments (other than ones not addressed to you, which I’ve already said you can treat as meaningless noise).

            In the end, I think that what you are really trying to object to is when I said

            I think it is very interesting to talk about debating.

            And this is simply me stating that I find the topic interesting. Of course, not everyone finds that kind of thing interesting; maybe you don’t.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @dacyn

            So I drop a rock and it lands a foot from my right big toe at the 1:00 position. I drop it again and it lands in the 9:00 position two inches from my left foot. You point out that the positions are different and proceed to claim your debate points proving I don’t use language like other people.

            But wait, do other people say this. What kind of idiot would it take to point out that the positions were different. The truth is there would be no discussion of the “difference” because this is not a difference of value, and differences of value are the only ones that matter. In fact, if someone asked, “what is the difference?” the likely reply would be “it makes no difference.” It makes no difference because there is no value. Without a value difference, there is no difference.

            If we set up a game laying several bills of various denominations on the ground and you pay me $20 per rock to drop some rocks where you keep what you land on, then we get value and difference. This is what I mean when I say there is no difference in effects. There is no value differences.

            As for pushing humans off of roofs your insistence of knowing the context proves that you think sometimes doing this is bad and sometimes good. My point is not that it is either, but that it is neither.

          • Dacyn says:

            @HowardHolmes: Let’s take this to it’s logical conclusion. For everything you have said in this thread and indeed on SSC in general, there is a difference between that thing being true and that thing not being true. Yet you have chosen to point out that it is true. Why? The logical conclusion is that there is a value difference — i.e. it matters to you whether the thing you say is true or false. Am I wrong?

            As for pushing humans off of roofs your insistence of knowing the context proves that you think sometimes doing this is bad and sometimes good.

            You seem to have misparsed what I said — “in this context” is after the end quotation mark, meaning that it is referring to the context of us talking here, rather than the context of throwing the person of the roof.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @dacyn

            Before switching back to this site, I was playing Sudoku which I typically play every day. Before that I was eating. Does it matter that I eat, that I solve the sudoku, that I win an argument. No. I am living now and I keep living out of inertia. If I were told I would die in my sleep tonight, I would go to bed at the normal hour and sleep like a baby. I do not care whether I live or die. Why should I care about winning an argument. It is just something to do. If I wasn’t doing this right now, I might still be on that puzzle which has eluded me so far.

            Edit: Just realized you were asking if I valued truth. Can’t say that I do. I do try to communicate truthfully, but it doesn’t seem important. It would seem that it would be difficult to assert what I did not think was true. This is probably the reason humans evolved to a high degree the ability to deceive themselves. It is difficult to lie. Much easier to believe what we say, so the ability to self deceive is very successful evolutionarily.

          • Dacyn says:

            @HowardHolmes: I wasn’t really asking to find out whether you thought my conclusion was correct (I assumed you would think it was incorrect) but to find out what you thought was wrong with my reasoning, or how it was in some way not parallel to the reasoning you used.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @dacyn

            That a thing is true or false is analogous to whether the rock lands here or there. Any claimed difference arises from assigning value to that difference. In a discussion I am going to defend the position which appears most defensible to me, knowing that it might not be true (how can we tell? some of our opinion are false), and knowing that whether or not it is true is unimportant and knowing that there is no difference in effect of my defense. We can technically say there is a difference in the rock landing here or there just like it seems nonsensical to say there is no difference between truth and false. But there is no difference; it makes no difference. All claiming otherwise is an attempt to make ourselves better than we are. It is nothing but arrogance to claim my assertions are true and yours are false. Yes, I am guilty of arrogance.

          • Dacyn says:

            @HowardHolmes: I don’t disagree with that. I’ll just point out one more thing. You wrote:

            You and I are world’s apart as to whether good/bad is real.

            In other words, you asserted that there was a difference between us in how we treat the concepts of good/bad. You can draw the appropriate conclusion.

  33. Cliff says:

    Normally I order chicken at Chipotle, but considering changing that for animal welfare reasons. However, Chipotle is known for humane sourcing. Any idea whether their “American Humane Certified (AHC) chicken” lives a significantly better life than the average factory chicken (preferably, a life worth living)?

    Our stocking density for broiler chickens is a maximum of seven pounds per square foot. In 2017, we made a public commitment in partnership with Compassion in World Farming and The Humane Society of the United States to improve welfare practices around raising broiler chickens.

    As a part of this commitment, we’ve continued to work with our chicken suppliers to advance broiler welfare by adding environmental enrichments, natural lighting, improved stocking density, and controlled atmospheric stun. As of the end of 2018, one of our chicken suppliers uses controlled atmospheric stun. We are working with each of our suppliers to create step-by-step timelines to implement housing improvements and transition to controlled atmospheric stun

    Seven pounds per square foot sounds better than a cage pressing in on the chicken from all sides, but how much does a chicken weigh, 5-10 pounds? The stuff about environmental enrichment seems like a future goal and reason to put off eating them.

  34. Seppo says:

    Can anyone recommend a good book on ancient Semitic religions other than Judaism?

  35. Aftagley says:

    Religious philosophy question: I know someone has to have had this thought before and I’d appreciate a good answer.

    Basically, religion-based morality explains the existence of evil as being a result of free will, but free will isn’t all-encompassing. There are actions and decisions that are outside the possibility space of free will to accomplish: I can’t decide to start hovering, transpose myself 5 meters to the left or cause $1 million to appear. This doesn’t imply a limitation of free will, just the constraints of the world we exist in.

    Why is evil, then, included in the possibility space of our free will? Why not just make evil the equivalent of teleportation; conceivable, but not actions that our free will could lead to?

    • fibio says:

      Because if you can’t blame people for things being bad then you have to start blaming the gods.

    • Jake says:

      This is one of my favorite solutions to that question: https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/15/answer-to-job/

      • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

        I love that solution as well. Unfortunately, to my understanding it’s incredibly heretical to any Judeo-Christian religion I’m aware of.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        “BECAUSE YOU CAN’T HAVE TWO IDENTICAL INDIVIDUALS. IF YOU HAVE A COMPUTATIONAL THEORY OF IDENTITY, THEN TWO PEOPLE WHOSE EXPERIENCE IS ONE HUNDRED PERCENT SATURATED BY BLISS ARE JUST ONE PERSON. IF I MADE THIS UNIVERSE EXACTLY LIKE THE HAPPY AND JUST UNIVERSE, THEN THERE WOULD ONLY BE THE POPULATION OF THE HAPPY AND JUST UNIVERSE, WHICH WOULD BE LESS GOOD THAN HAVING THE POPULATION OF THE HAPPY AND JUST UNIVERSE PLUS THE POPULATION OF ONE EXTRA UNIVERSE THAT IS AT LEAST SOMEWHAT HAPPY.”

        Clearly the Almighty doesn’t approve the axiom of choice, otherwise he could arbitrary distinguish people within identical universes. /s

        More seriously, this explanation doesn’t work because it implies that God is maximizing total utility, which is an extensive property, which means that it should add up over multiple copies.

        • Dacyn says:

          I think the point is that in the hypothesized ontology there’s no such thing as “multiple copies” of a universe. Each possible universe just either exists, or it doesn’t. God can choose which ones exist, but he can’t “multiply instantiate” any of them (because that notion doesn’t really even make sense in this ontology)

        • eyeballfrog says:

          I believe the Almighty is simply restating the Axiom of Extensionality. Choice has little to do with it.

    • Dack says:

      Suppose you had the power to take away the free will to do evil things. Some things are more evil than others, so you ban the top ten evilest things that people complain about. Those things pass out of living memory. People being people, they now start complaining about people being allowed to do the next ten evilest things. So you ban those too. Repeat ad absurdum. Eventually you get to “Why isn’t life a constant orgasm?”

    • GearRatio says:

      This question isn’t going to port into all religions in the same way. As a for instance, in my very specific religion “evil” is pretty much just “contradicting the will of God”, regardless of what actions do that. When evil means “disobedience” before it means anything else, your question parses as either:

      1. Why do we have the ability to disobey God?

      and/or

      2. Why does God have opinions on how things should be?

      Because those two questions are the only substantial options under the “disobedience is what evil is” dogma, you can’t do what you are asking without either:

      1. Destroy meaningful free will entirely (from the conservative protestant like me perspective)

      or

      2. Reimagine God to be basically limp and opinion-less

      It isn’t the problem/solution sets here can’t be discussed, but once it’s parsed through what the religion actually is it becomes a much different discussion than what your semantic choices seem to imply. The context changes enough that I think you’d have to re-write your query entirely to make sense to the religion before you could have meaningful discussion. And that’s just american conservative protestantism; I couldn’t tell you what this would be to a Hindu or a Buddhist once filtered through their belief systems.

    • Nick says:

      Why is evil, then, included in the possibility space of our free will? Why not just make evil the equivalent of teleportation; conceivable, but not actions that our free will could lead to?

      Evil is chosen because when we seek good sometimes we seek lesser goods (it’s not as though we ever actually seek evil). There are a variety of reasons in the real world why we do this: we get distracted by the immediacy of a lesser good, we reason poorly about what goods are better, we think some means is evil but that it’s necessary to a good end, that sort of thing. So we’re like this and I don’t see how we could be otherwise, as material beings with tiny brains and all. Not every world or creature need to be like this, though: angels, for instance, are not limited the way we are, having all the knowledge they could ever need to make a decision and being able to reason instantaneously, but they still have free wills and, famously, some still chose wrong. Indeed, to take it in the other direction, God could make a world where we tiny-brained material beings have free will but still choose what’s best every time; try to wrap your head around that one.

    • Soy Lecithin says:

      The point of this life is to be a learning experience, for us to experience the bad so we can appreciate the good, and for us to learn what it means to choose good unforced. These require that we be free to exercise our agency in morally nontrivial ways. If evil were not in our sphere of choices that would frustrate God’s plan.

      So to this end, God purposely puts evil in our sphere of choices. You see an expression of this in Deuteronomy 30 and in God’s interaction with Satan in the book of Job. The Book of Mormon expounds on this theme in 2 Nephi 2 and other places.

      You see this portrayed in the symbolism of God putting the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden and allowing Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. Before they ate it, they had no knowledge of good and evil, and hence were morally innocent and couldn’t exercise their agency in morally nontrivial ways.

      The New Testament makes it explicit that even Jesus Christ was tempted. And it also makes it explicit that his choices included the possibility of doing wrong. Indeed, his possible set of wrong choices was ridiculously large compared to ours, including things like turning stone into bread and summoning angels to catch his fall.

      God isn’t just interested in us doing good things. He is interested in changing who we are. Righteousness is something to be learned, not something to be done. God would rather allow our failure and make the ultimate sacrifice to redeem us, than to just never allow us to fail in the first place. The latter would never change us from being merely innocent to being positively righteous.

      • Aftagley says:

        Ok, but why THIS particular organization of good and evil. Why develop a world in which murder is within the realm of possibility? If that was removed as an option, the underlying choices of good vs. evil would still exist and would still function as the foil against which human development can be measured, but we as a species wouldn’t have to deal with murder?

        I guess the answer is, we do exist in such a world, only the one in which the things significantly worse than murder have been taken off the table, we just can’t see them… but that answer feels unsatisfying.

        Would the expression of human morality be irreparably limited if our ability to sin was limited at the top end by, say, theft or coveting?

    • zoozoc says:

      Let me use one example to hopefully illustrate that free will must include the choice to do evil in order for it to be free will.

      I will use love as the example. In the Bible, the most important command given is to Love God will everything you have. So not loving God is evil. So in order to prevent all evil, it would be necessary to remove the option to not love God. If someone doesn’t have a choice whether to love God, do they really have free will? Is love really love if there is no choice involved?

      This same dilemma exists for just about everything regarding evil and free will, because evil is not just an action, like murder. Evil includes both thoughts and inaction. So not loving God is indeed evil.

      Now this does’t really answer WHY God gave us the choice. But God wanted people to be able to choose to love Him (and others). And allowing that choice was worth all of the evil that resulted in that free choice.

      • Aftagley says:

        Imagine a universe in which the choice of whether or not to love god was like breathing. It happens naturally, is in everyone, and is instinctive. To do so over any short period takes conscious thought and doing so over a long period takes heroic action. Some people still undertake this behavior and it ALWAYS remains a choice, but the default is weighted.

        If the #1 rule is to love god but a choice needs to be maintained, what wrong is there in leaning on the scales?

        Before you call this out as a being a bad example, think about suicide. It’s a sin (or, it was last time I checked), some of humanity commits it but the vast majority of us are weighted against doing so to an almost heroic degree.

    • Atlas says:

      Why is evil, then, included in the possibility space of our free will? Why not just make evil the equivalent of teleportation; conceivable, but not actions that our free will could lead to?

      I have a fairly similar, but not precisely identical, view/question.

      Namely, suppose that there’s an answer to your question, and that it’s necessary to make it possible, not just conceivable, for men to do evil. Why then would it also be necessary for them to do so? (To be clear, this is a genuine question, since I haven’t read a lot of relevant philosophy/theology here, not a “If X then how come Y checkmate Z!” rhetorical one.)

      The discontinuity for me is that, in my admittedly limited knowledge, committing sin seems like an unequivocal net bad in most popular versions of monotheism. The only reason to commit sin would seem to be ignorance or stupidity, as opposed to ignobility. Like, you can argue about a Ring of Gyges scenario conflict between self-interest and justice from a secular (or at least non-standard religious) perspective, but once you posit that there’s an afterlife where the virtuous experience infinite joy and sinners infinite pain, enlightened self-interest alone demands that you be as virtuous as possible. Indeed, the damage from sin would seem, factoring in the afterlife, to be far greater to the individual who commits it than that to those who are victimized by it.

      Consequently, it would seem that only the stupid, who cannot calculate their own self-interest, or the ignorant, who have not received the necessary information about the correct form of monotheism, would commit sin. It would seem to me, whatever one wants to posit about alleged free will, quite unjust to punish people solely for stupidity and/or ignorance, and within the boundaries of God as I understand Him to be defined in most forms of monotheism to have universally gifted men with the necessary knowledge and intelligence to understand that sin is a poor choice and virtue is a good one. Therefore, I do not see why sin and suffering would have to exist, even if it is granted that it must be possible that they could exist.

      • Dacyn says:

        It would seem to me, whatever one wants to posit about alleged free will, quite unjust to punish people solely for stupidity and/or ignorance

        But in this scenario, you’re not punishing people for stupidity or ignorance, you’re punishing them for “ignobility”, just enabled by stupidity or ignorance. An example: if a robber robs a store that doesn’t keep more than $100 in cash, and protests that he would not have committed the robbery if he had known that, is it unjust to punish him?

        • Atlas says:

          But in this scenario, you’re not punishing people for stupidity or ignorance, you’re punishing them for “ignobility”, just enabled by stupidity or ignorance.

          It depends what you think the dominating consideration is. Because, at least in my understanding, most major versions of monotheism posit that earthly transgressions are considerably exceeded by their afterlife punishments, it would be extremely, extremely stupid, even from the standpoint of pure self-interest, to commit them, if such religions are true. If a different sinner was equally or more ignoble in his desires but wiser and more knowledgeable, he would recognize that he ought to be virtuous rather than sinful. Therefore, my own view is that it is not actually ignobility that is being punished here, for the ignoble can escape punishment if they are smart and knowledgeable, but rather ignorance and stupidity.

          An example: if a robber robs a store that doesn’t keep more than $100 in cash, and protests that he would not have committed the robbery if he had known that, is it unjust to punish him?

          I don’t think it’s a matching analogy because, at least as you’ve outlined it, the robber still benefits in the end from the robbery. I think a more exact comparison would be a robber who robs a store not knowing that he will be caught and arrested by police waiting outside, making it a net negative for him, which he didn’t know beforehand.

          I think it indeed would be unjust to punish the robber in this scenario if you could have told him beforehand that he would be apprehended and jailed for his crimes and convinced him that crime doesn’t pay. Everyone would be as good or better off in that case.

          • Dacyn says:

            I agree your scenario is a better analogy than mine; this is my fault for not spending very long trying to come up with a good analogy. However, I think most people would say that in the second scenario we can still punish the robber. Sure, if you could have told him beforehand then things would have gone better for everyone. But that is not the world we are in.

            I think there’s a key distinction between punishing someone for something, and merely punishing them in a way that’s correlated with something. Basically, if a punishment is intended to be for something then its correlation with that thing is intentional. I think the psychological effects of this are important, from the part of the brain that asks “are these people trying to hurt me? and do they have good reason to?” (However, this is not to say that the correlational aspects are not also important, and we should try to avoid policies that punish asymmetrically with respect to ignorance, when possible.)

  36. Matt M says:

    Inspired by johan larson’s challenge in the last OT.

    I assert that “California Girls” by the Beach Boys is perhaps the most anti-diversity song of all time. As far as I can tell, the case presented by the song is something like:

    1. The world contains a wide variety of types of girls, all with their own unique strengths and qualities
    2. On net, California girls are superior to all of the other types
    3. Therefore, the world would be improved if all of the other types abandoned their unique strengths and conformed to the California girl archetype

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Of course the real implications of the song are that the world would be improved if all women joined Calafia as gold-clad griffin-riding Amazons, plundering and killing men indiscriminately until such time as they find the true religion and settle down as gold-clad griffin-riding housewives.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Of course the real implications of the song are that the world would be improved if all women joined Calafia as gold-clad griffin-riding Amazons, plundering and killing men indiscriminately until such time as they find the true religion and settle down as gold-clad griffin-riding housewives.

        +1. I wonder if there’s an English translation of Las Sergas de Esplandián.

    • Bobobob says:

      What happens when the California Girls meet the White Punks on Dope?

      Teenage had a race for the night time
      Spent my cash on every high I could find
      Wasted time in every school in L.A.
      Getting loose, I didn’t care what the kids say
      We’re white punks on dope
      Mom & dad moved to Hollywood
      Hang myself when I get enough rope
      Can’t clean up, though I know I should
      White punks on dope
      White punks on dope

    • Ventrue Capital says:

      My understanding of the song is that:

      1. The world contains a wide variety of types of girls, all with their own unique strengths and qualities.

      2. Therefore, the life of the singer would be improved if all of the other types emigrated to California.

      Perhaps the most pro-diversity song of all time, and almost certainly the most pro-open borders.

      Play it at my wake!

      • Phigment says:

        This is my understanding of the song.

        The singer is committed to staying in California, but appreciates the various girl types which exist in non-California localities, and wishes that they were accessible in California.

        It’s about geographical supremacy, not archetypal supremacy. Note that while “Northern Girls” and “East Coast Girls” and “Southern Girls” all have distinguishing characteristics, there is no description given for what makes a “California Girl” superior. Logically, then, a “California Girl” is simply a girl physically located in California.

        For bonus credit, compare and contrast to the song “All My Exes Live in Texas”.

        • Matt M says:

          It’s always amused me that Texans enjoy that song, when the overall point is something like “The women in Texas are so horrible, I had to flee the state in order to surround myself with better ones.”

          • Phigment says:

            It’s a funny song, and it references Texas. That’s enough to get it play in Texas!

            Besides, the singer is an unreliable source. A man who has been divorced at least five times and is hiding from the law in Tennesee has very little credibility in assigning blame for relationship failure to other people.

      • GearRatio says:

        I would agree if he “couldn’t wait to get to get back to the states, back to the the cutest girls in the world”. The only distinctly positive things said about girls are girls who are in the united states.

      • Clutzy says:

        Yea, the dude just wants to bang girls from all over the place.

  37. Nick says:

    You’ve been tasked with designing a prosocial media. Your platform will shrink filter bubbles, ease fear of missing out, and discourage mobbing. Or maybe you’ll take aim at misinformation and counterproductive hot takes, or something else entirely. How will you do it?

    • Matt M says:

      A lot of these goals seem mutually exclusive.

      Bubbles reduce conflict IMO. The most annoyed I get on social media is typically when the platform itself decides to show me something from someone well outside my bubble that I’d otherwise prefer not to see.

      But one policy I’d like to implement is something like “If you decide to report someone for violating the rules, this automatically and irrevocably results in you blocking/ignoring that person forever.” It would make people think twice about reporting posts and reserve such action only for the truly deserving. The block would stay in place regardless of whether the post was ultimately removed/found to be in violation or not.

      • Nick says:

        A lot of these goals seem mutually exclusive.

        I picked “ease” and “discourage” for a reason—the goals aren’t mutually exclusive, they trade off against one another. Big difference. (“Pop” sounds more binary, admittedly—I’ll replace that one.)

      • beleester says:

        I don’t see the logic of this. There are a lot of posters on this forum which are usually valuable contributors but nonetheless have sometimes broken the rules in dramatic fashion – Deiseach is probably our most prominent example – and those rule violations still should be punished. Under your system, I would have to make a binary choice between “Let Deiseach rant at anyone she wants” and “Permablock Deiseach,” and neither of those seem like an improvement over the current method for curbing angry rants from Deiseach.

        Especially since moderator action is often temporary rather than permanent – why impose a permanent cost for something that will likely result in only a warning or tempban? Not every action requires the same level of caution – there’s no need for someone to think “Gosh, if I report this person, the moderator might say something to them in bright red text! I’d better make sure they really deserve that first!”

        • meh says:

          what if the policy was additive? moderator *and* user level bloackage. This solves the ‘rant at anyone they want’, but still allows me to ignore people who are able to stay within the bounds of moderation, yet are still extremely unvaluable to read.

        • Nick says:

          I think a better compromise might be prompting you, after you report, whether you want to block the reportee, too. I think a lot of people don’t think to do this after reporting because their eyes are already moving to the next tweet/comment/whatever. Disqus might already do this, even? I don’t remember.

    • Well... says:

      I might come back later and write a direct answer, but for now I kind of wonder whether maybe our existing social media websites are already doing this through a kind of rebound effect.

      How many people by now, maybe as a percentage of current and former social media users, do you think are aware of the negative impacts social media websites are having on informedness, mental health, public discourse, general societal health, etc.? Of that percentage, what portion are therefore motivated to actively pop their filter bubbles/ease their FOMO/not get drawn into mobs/etc.?

      One possibility is that if you really wanted to design a prosocial media, you should make existing social media much much worse, until its problems are so impossible to ignore that basically everyone pushes back against it. You could also replace their CEOs with Mr. Burns-like characters who don’t even give lip service to ethical outcomes, and kind of drum their fingertips together menacingly and lick their lips a lot.

      • melzidek says:

        There’s an amusing irony at play here. One of the real-life inspirations for the Mr. Burns character, Barry Diller, currently owns every major dating platform.

        • Dacyn says:

          currently owns every major dating platform

          More like a third, I think.

        • Well... says:

          BTW, why don’t dating platforms do more to subtly encourage interracial and interfaith marriage? (Inter-ideological would be nice too, but that’s probably a tougher nut to crack for most people. One step at a time…)

          Seems to me the surest and most permanent route to pulling people out of their bubbles is through the center of a wedding ring. With a spouse comes the spouse’s family and friends, and if they’re all from a different bubble than you, you’re going to be plunged into it and learn what it’s really like from the inside. You might still not like it or agree with it, but I guarantee you’ll be less likely to strawman it and write it off as an inferior outgroup. Same for your spouse and your bubble.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            BTW, why don’t dating platforms do more to subtly encourage interracial and interfaith marriage?

            Because there are downsides to relationships between very different people? If I’m not mistaken, black man/white woman marriages have much, much higher rates of divorce than white/white or black/black. It’s called eHarmony, not eThisMayBeMoreDifficultForYouPersonallyButItSupportsMySocialEngineeringPlan.

          • Aapje says:

            @Well..

            Arranged marriage by lottery seems even better for that purpose 😛

          • albatross11 says:

            Conrad:

            As I recall, though, black/white interracial marriages where the husband is white and the wife black are *more* stable than white/white or black/black marriages.

            That’s not a reason for dating services to try to impose some kind of social engineering goal on their customers, of course, but it is the sort of interesting fact that makes me wonder what’s going on to explain it.

          • meh says:

            forcing race into the matching process does seem like bad site design.

            But where is this from?

            If I’m not mistaken, black man/white woman marriages have much, much higher rates of divorce than white/white or black/black.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @albatross11

            As I recall, though, black/white interracial marriages where the husband is white and the wife black are *more* stable than white/white or black/black marriages.

            That’s wonderful news, since it’s the marriage pattern in my family.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I just googled and found this:

            Marriages between a black husband and white wife were twice as likely to divorce as marriages involving a white husband and white wife.

          • acymetric says:

            BTW, why don’t dating platforms do more to subtly encourage interracial and interfaith marriage? (Inter-ideological would be nice too, but that’s probably a tougher nut to crack for most people. One step at a time…)

            Seems to me the surest and most permanent route to pulling people out of their bubbles is through the center of a wedding ring.

            Why would dating platforms care about pulling people out of their bubbles? That’s probably why you don’t see it.

          • Well... says:

            Guys, I was answering the OP question. So long as there are social media sites, and so long as those sites are manipulating users in subtle or unsubtle ways, and so long as we’re talking about how those manipulations might serve a pro-social-i.e.-bubble-popping purpose, I think dating sites subtly encouraging interracial or interfaith pairings is a great idea.

            BTW, I too have heard that black wife/white husband marriages are more stable/less divorce-prone than black/black or white/white marriages. As a white guy married to a black woman, I salute the universe for confirming my personal preferences.

            Also: I heard about the relative instability of black man/white woman marriages a while back. Has that changed at all? I’d expect the stability to increase as black men’s social standing gets better.

            @Aapje: dating sites are in a way just arranged marriages by computer algorithm.

          • meh says:

            @Conrad
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interracial_marriage_in_the_United_States#Marital_stability

            From that, it looks like one side of your statement is true, the other false.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I said:

            If I’m not mistaken, black man/white woman marriages have much, much higher rates of divorce than white/white or black/black.

            Which part is false?

            Edit: wait is it the black/black being the same as black man/white woman?

          • Well... says:

            Does that study control for where the partners were born and raised? I would expect Asian or black people, for example, who were born and raised in the US to be much more comfortable with the the idea of getting a divorce than Asian or black immigrants.

          • meh says:

            groan. with much difficulty you’ve managed to figure out the false part with another false statement.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Can you help me out? It’s possible I’m not very smart.

          • Well... says:

            @Conrad Honcho:

            I think ‘meh’ means to point out that according to that study, white men who married black women still got divorced at a higher rate than white/white marriages.

            This is news to me, and goes against data I’d seen earlier though I don’t remember where I saw it.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Huh. That is interesting, because the source I linked said this:

            Marriages involving a white husband and black wife were substantially less likely to end in divorce than marriage involving a white husband and white wife; the former pairing’s divorce rate was 44 percent less than the latter.

            I don’t have time right now to trace through where Wikipedia got their information, though.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think I saw the claim about black wife/white husband couples in this Pew Center report on intermarriage.

          • John Schilling says:

            BTW, why don’t dating platforms do more to subtly encourage interracial and interfaith marriage?

            Because their customers don’t pay extra for that, and are at least slightly less likely to stop paying altogether if they do that. They aren’t in the business of breaking bubbles and promoting tolerance, so they don’t.

          • Well... says:

            @John Schilling:

            I think you missed my explanation a few posts up.

          • Clutzy says:

            BTW, why don’t dating platforms do more to subtly encourage interracial and interfaith marriage? (Inter-ideological would be nice too, but that’s probably a tougher nut to crack for most people. One step at a time…)

            Because that would not work. First of all, the most prominent bubble is that of educated urban whites, who would need to be forced to date less educated rural whites. That is a logistical nightmare. Second of all, most stereotypes are more or less correct, so a neutral, or mildly racist white person who goes on a date with a black person has a much higher chance of becoming more racist after that interaction.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I don’t see how that would be possible. For example, with Tinder: men likely go on a date with less than 2% of matches, and match with maybe 2% of available women. That’s 1 out of 2500 women. Do you think that that ‘subtly’ changing the distribution of the profiles that this guy sees is going to affect who he ends up on a date with, at all?

    • FormerRanger says:

      If you decide to report someone for violating the rules, this automatically and irrevocably results in you blocking/ignoring that person forever.

      How about a milder(?) version of this: “If you decide to report someone for violating the rules, this automatically blocks you from reporting anyone else until the original report is adjudicated.” The idea is that the platform doesn’t know who is the problem, so if you report someone YOU might be the problem. Puts more skin in the game than spraying reports all over the place.

    • rocoulm says:

      Just leverage the blockchain with adaptive neural learning, dude.

      On a more serious note, I feel like a lot of the problems would be reduced by making it harder to connect with thousands of people you never see in real life. Seeing the highlights of 1000 people’s lives vs. 50 people you already know really well probably contributes to the FOMO and shallow political takes.

      A requirement of having a high real-life-friend/internet-only-friend ratio might help with this, but I can’t think of a mechanism that would actually work to enforce this. Worst of all, this seems so antithetical to the purpose of social media that it would probably fail in the most basic way; not getting people to want to use it.

    • Jake says:

      I’ve dreamed of putting together a more distributed social media platform, where there is no centralized repository for data, and links are made between members by agreeing to host/forward a certain amount of their data. This agreement would have an actual cost to both parties, in increased bandwidth/storage requirements, so will hopefully limit the number of links you have to a number that is reasonable to curate, and more closely resembles real world social networks. In addition, if you noticed one of your links was spouting off nonsense, you could disable their link, limiting their effects on other people that they are connected to through you. Any user could see how they were connected to another user, so if my mother started seeing KKK articles pop up, and she saw the path was mother->Jake->KKK, she could start asking questions to me, or block my re-posts from being retransmitted by her.

      I think this would potentially increase filter bubbles, but could also help penetrate some of them by removing some anonymity. It would definitely help combat misinformation, as you could see the path the information spread along. It would also limit the effect that a single provider could have by changing algorithms/policies because all of the processing would take place on a user level.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Have you looked into Mastodon?

        • silver_swift says:

          Is Mastodon actually going anywhere? I had honestly assumed it would have died out by now.

          It’s cool as hell and we need more distributed internet services, but I always figured most people wouldn’t care about that enough to overcome the Nash Equilibrium of everyone being on twitter.

          (I have tried it out myself, but then realized I still didn’t want twitter even if it is open source and distributed)

        • Jake says:

          I have, but Mastodon is still a federated system, where you have multiple central servers that can talk to each other. I guess you could theoretically break it down to the case where everyone hosts their own server, which could come close to what I was thinking about, but I was thinking more along the lines of a completely distributed system.

          Currently Mastodon is a cool idea, and it’d be nice if more people I knew were interested in trying something like that out, but until you can get a critical mass of people to move to a new service, it doesn’t really make sense to switch due to network effects.

          Also, I’m kind of in the same boat as silver_swift, where I don’t really want twitter regardless of form. A perfect network for me would combine a news-sharing/commenting feed, photo sharing, and file sharing, but only among people who I explicitly grant access to.

      • Nick says:

        A distributed social media platform, especially a moddable one, has interested me for a while. (There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to adopt a rule like Matt’s above, or join a community that’s adopted that rule, for instance.) I think what you’re talking about fits Mastodon pretty well.

    • John Schilling says:

      Step 1: Destroy the internet

      Step 2: Burn down the cities

      Step 3: Build a nice pub in every town

    • Snickering Citadel says:

      To join the media you pay x amount of money. If you decide to leave the media you wait one day, then you get the money back. If you do something against the rules; harass someone, post racist stuff, whatever, you get banned and you don’t get the money back. The one day delay is so that people can’t just harass someone and then immediately leave with their money.

      The money from rule breaking pays for the moderators. Also some of the money goes to people who has been harrased.

      • Statismagician says:

        I’m just gonna point out that we’ve tried this sort of model before, and that’s how we got civil asset forfeiture (and more generally an understanding that piecework pay gets you lots of pieces of shoddy work).

        • Snickering Citadel says:

          There’s no piecework pay.

          • Statismagician says:

            So, what, then, the pool of penalty fees is divided among all the moderators? I’m calling distinction without difference.

            Otherwise, fixed moderator pay depending on continued collection of penalty fees leads to continuous witch-hunting for looser and looser definitions of ‘witch,’ which is different, but not better.

          • Snickering Citadel says:

            at Statismagician. You just hire moderators like a normal job.

            You can’t have a good social media without good moderators. (You can have a profitable evil one, like facebook.)

            Maybe there is a normal fee for signing up, that you don’t get back, and the don’t-harass fee that you do get back.

          • Aftagley says:

            This would rigorously enforce the community around a set of standards, but there’d be no guarantee that what the mods are trying to optimize would be pro-sociability.

      • helloo says:

        Isn’t that what SA forums do?

        I can’t say they’ve been called a prosocial media though.

        • Snickering Citadel says:

          Yeah, except I don’t think you can get your money back if you quit.

        • toastengineer says:

          Something Awful was incredibly productive and one of the most important sites on the web, maybe the most important, for years and years. It only went to shit because of political in-fighting and the self-destructive tendencies of the people at the top of the pyramid.

    • DinoNerd says:

      One possibility is to roll back to just about any earlier stage of social media. These problems have developed as the amount of text per message decreased, and the ability of the platform to determine what a user sees (as compared to the user determining it themself) increased. It won’t produce nirvana, but the results might well be significantly less bad.

      OTOH, it’s possible that the main thing wrong with modern social media isn’t technological – it’s the various types of troublemaker, who have evolved over time to be more virulent. Thus I recall Usenet going downhill from “sometimes a bit annoying” to “10 spammers per legitimate post”, without any technological changes on Usenet (except for improvements in moderation, used to fight back). What changed was the spammers, not the users.

      The other thing that changed was cultural – it used to be that the sort of people who wanted to cancel others for violating the cancellers’ idea of morals were mostly somewhere between atechnological and anti-technological. They wouldn’t be caught dead using instruments of the devil like social media ;-( Now we have job lots of tech-savvy morality-imposers, often with an entirely different set of moral rules.

      • Nick says:

        I think if you’re tracking things over time, you have to consider that social media opened up from “people with access via university” to “practically everyone.” Eternal September, true to its name, hasn’t ended.

      • Matt M says:

        One possibility is to roll back to just about any earlier stage of social media

        Generally agree. A whole lot of the stuff that makes social media bad is a direct and obvious result of social media companies attempting to make things better. (and of course, “better”, in their view maps more with “easier for us to sell ads” rather than “better user experience.”)

    • Lambert says:

      1) go to med school
      2) write a bunch of stuff under a false identity on some website full of ML and philosophy nerds.
      3) Do a load of conworlding.
      4) Write a 10K word essay about beat poetry and game theory.

    • Roebuck says:

      How about the platform makes sure it shows you equal amount of content from everyone you call a friend (or all the content they created, if that’s smaller)?

      If you are not very interested in hearing from them, you downgrade them to acquaintance (and the distinction is publicly visible).

      Also, I’m interested in how news would spread if all non-personal accounts were destroyed but people were still able to post links to news.

    • Two McMillion says:

      My platform will be like facebook, but with the following changes:

      – Minimum post length of 200 words. This prevents witty one-liners from predominating discussion. Machine learning will be used to identify when ipsem lorem is being used to meet the minimum and prevent such posts from being posted.
      – No images may be displayed in your feed, though you may link to images. This prevents misleading images from dominating discussion.
      – Posts are displayed strictly in chronological order. This helps prevent viral content.
      – You may filter your feed to only show posts by your friends (or some of your friends), but by default you see all public posts. This helps prevent filter bubbles.

  38. Brassfjord says:

    Imagine if a pandemic (or Thanos) killed half the population of Earth, with deaths evenly distributed between countries, professions and age groups. What would the consequences be for society and civilization?

    • Nick says:

      The Thanos scenario was discussed back in OT110. There was no stipulation to evenly distribute deaths, but by the law of large numbers they’d be very close to evenly distributed, anyway.

      • Brassfjord says:

        Thanks for pointing me to this, I hadn’t read it. It’s hard to follow everything on SSC.

        I was mostly interested in the economy at large. If we only have half the farmers/workers to produce food/products, but they only have half the population to satisfy – will the economy basically be the same?

        • bean says:

          Probably not. Even leaving aside the massive short-term disruption, there’s a lot of stuff that’s really only practical at scale today, and which wouldn’t be in an economy half the size. Take Scott’s blogging. Even if he doesn’t go away, half his audience (and thus his Patreon supporters) do. Do we expect that he might pick up some people whose favorite bloggers disappeared, but he didn’t? Yes, but the blog’s readership has been relatively flat for the last few years, so there’s probably not a huge uptick coming from people who previously were following someone else. Now his Patreon revenue is cut in half. That may not matter a huge amount to him, but replace him by some business doing some obscure and specific thing, which is pretty close to satisfying the demand for that thing now, but which can’t keep going with demand halved.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I was mostly interested in the economy at large. If we only have hal