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Open Thread 147.5

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1,038 Responses to Open Thread 147.5

  1. Nick says:

    A moving piece from Tara Isabella Burton on the end of an engagement and learning how to live.

    Note: for obvious reasons, don’t speculate about the identity of her ex-fiancé.

    • Deiseach says:

      I am probably not – scratch that, I am definitely not – the audience for that piece, because the more she tried to make me dislike her ex-fiancé, the more I went “You dodged a bullet there, hoss” in his direction. He probably was a jerk in his way, but what he needed was someone to get right into his face and yell back at him, not Little Miss “My wedding will be fantastic because I’ll be five pounds lighter!”

      I don’t like weepiness. I don’t like “wallowing in emotions means I’m so authentic”. I hope the lady has a better life now, and I’m going to shut up before I get even more uncharitable about her.

      • Nick says:

        I find this a strange response: it seems to me that she went into this relationship with some pretty serious issues, but that this guy had at least as many and at least as serious. But maybe for both our sakes we shouldn’t argue about this….

        • Deiseach says:

          She doesn’t describe one reason why the guy appealed to her (apart from “Oh but I was desperate for a Sense of Certainty and he had that in spades”). There’s not one line about how or when or if he made her happy, but there’s plenty of “I wept in a corner as he cruelly demanded I write a two thousand word essay about how I was in the wrong”.

          He does sound awful, but so does she. If you can’t find one single time “Me and him had a laugh, it was great” then it’s better the whole thing was called off, and if you got his side of the story, she mightn’t come out looking so good as she portrays herself.

          Personally, I was laughing about the “Catholic food made him make himself get sick!!!!” part; it would seem you can take the boy out of the Bible Belt but you can’t take the Bible Belt out of the boy 🙂

          • Nick says:

            But she did say why she fell for him:

            We discussed Good together, always in that vague and capitalized way. We discussed Philosophy, and Virtue, and How To Live.

            Some folks really dig those conversations, and the people they can have them with. It was definitely telegraphed early on that it wasn’t healthy, but I can see how a person could be taken in by that.

          • Randy M says:

            Reminds me of Stefan’s Molyneux’s line: “Love is our response to virtue.” Honestly, I think that’s mostly charming nonsense, but it seems like they took it to heart, as idiosyncratic (cf that anti-conformist/Catholic rant) as their conception of virtue appears to have been.

          • Nick says:

            @Randy M
            I’m reminded of the way Freud apparently treated colleagues; I remember it coming up in the Very Short Introduction of Freud I read (or maybe it was the Jung one, I’ve read both…) how domineering he was, how no one could disagree in the least way with him or he’d threaten to cut them off entirely. It’s darkly funny how this guy apparently combines that with a need to be “creative.” Creativity for me but not for thee, I guess! And yet I’m sure that Freud, and this guy, were very forceful personalities.

          • Randy M says:

            It also jibes with what I recall of Ayn Rand’s personal life as well. Her preferences were objectively true and a standard to measure people against.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Some folks really dig those conversations, and the people they can have them with.

            I dig these people, too, but that’s absolutely not sufficient to build The Big Lifetime Commitment.

            You need to marry someone who is kind, who makes you laugh, and has a sense of forgiveness that doesn’t involve 2000 word essays.

            Also someone who realizes their Ape Brain can’t comprehend Universal Morality anymore than it can reconcile Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity.

          • Deiseach says:

            Nick, that’s just more of “I was Searching and he seemed like he could Complete Me”. It’s all “me, me, me” and nothing about “us”. The big long talks she is mentioning there? Come with a neat little criticism of how he was too unemotional, too convinced he was Right and everyone else was Wrong, how he put her down and made her feel small, how Vulnerable she was because she was Searching For The Big Answers.

            There’s not one instance of “It wasn’t always heavy conversations ending with me feeling like I was a stupid child; I remember the day we went on a picnic/he brought me unexpected flowers/that quaint restaurant we found when wandering around the city that time we flew over for the wedding in England and we were happy and in love”. Frankly, it’s all misery and tears all the time, and I have no idea why she stuck with him (or him with her) – the sex must have been mind-blowingly good, is all I can imagine! Or more cynically, he was her rebound romance after she broke up with the English guy – they never end well.

          • Aftagley says:

            Given the number of upsetting events that involved someone holding someone else’s hair while they vomited, drinking too much vodka and nights that weren’t remembered the next morning my guess was this was more about their respective alcohol dependencies than relationship chops.

            Then again, I’m firmly in Deiseach’s camp here. Reading this stuff makes me feel like a catholic has blessed my food.

      • broblawsky says:

        Like the time we went to England for my friend’s wedding, at which my Catholic ex, a lay chaplain, said a blessing over the meal, and the Rationalist made himself vomit it up in the hotel room because it was not Good to consume food sacrificed to false idols, and my Catholic ex was not Good because he was Catholic, and Catholics valued submission over creative freedom, and if I thought he was a Good man then I did not understand Goodness, and therefore, the Rationalist could never discuss philosophy with me ever again.

        That sounds like “wallowing in emotion” to me, too.

        • Deiseach says:

          I had to say, I liked that part. All we needed was a reference to Jesuits and their plots and it would have been the perfect Protestant rant 😀

          As Nick says, both of them had issues. But she’s the one mining her bad experiences for magazine fodder, not him, and if we heard about the relationship from a third party I’d go bail there would be plenty of times she was unreasonable and demanding herself.

      • Plumber says:

        @Deiseach >

        “…You dodged a bullet there, hoss…”

        Well he sounds horrible, but that she “…dated, and half-idolized, a British Catholic for nearly a decade…” and her “…inability to ultimately marry him..” would (and did after I met the ex-husband of the young lady with a history similar to the authors) make me very wary, as I just don’t trust those who uncommit to their long-term commitments.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Kinda thinking the same thing. Severing a nearly-decade long relationship and discovering you are incompatible after all that time comes across as a red flag to me.

          • Deiseach says:

            Did she sever it or did the guy dump her? Usually it’s “we were together for years, I expected we’d drift into marriage, imagine my surprise when that didn’t happen after all” for women in that kind of situation. It’s the ‘free milk and the cow’ situation – the guy is happy with things as they are, why does she suddenly want wedding bells? He feels that hey, maybe he could do better if it comes to committing to a wife, they break up, he finds someone new he does want to marry. She wonders why the heck this happened after all this time, and to salve her wounded pride decides “we were never compatible really”.

            Though in this case, I imagine it went: she and British Boyfriend got together when she was in Oxford doing her PhD, then she went home to New York and they tried the long-distance relationship thing for a few years, but it fell apart in the end. Then she went for a rebound romance with Mr Rationalist and that went the way they usually do. Then she got a magazine article out of “I am all light and colour and poetry and beauty and uncertainty and the trembling hues of the tender vulnerable world, baring my heart to possibilities and the dangers of being hurt but bravely striving onwards in uncertainty which fits better with how little we truly know or can control of this immense universe that is more than mere matter in patterns, that is spiritual mirror to our own needs and questions; he was cold and mechanical and locked into his rigid black-and-white logical clockwork cause-and-effect world”.

            Those colours and poetry butterfly types tend to be attention-seeking drama queens. I realise I sound like I don’t like Tina Tara (I keep getting her name wrong, apologies!), that’s because I don’t, going on this self-absorbed “I was just a poor little victim of The Patriarchy distilled into this one guy, amn’t I so brave to get through it all?” piece.

    • Randy M says:

      First reaction: why is he linking this?
      Second reaction: Oh, wow, it’s like throwing random ssc posts into a blender.

      • Aftagley says:

        First reaction: why is he linking this?

        Headcannon – Nick is the Catholic ex who’s currently using his evil catholic powers to make TIB’s new paramours vomit.

        • Plumber says:

          That totally fits all the evidence!

          @Nick, this girl is obviously still carrying a torch for you!

          Use those powers and make an honest and happy women out of her!

          I quiver in anticipation of a Hallmark channel movie re-inactment!

          Get Jack O’Connell to play you and Scarlett Johansson to play her!

        • Nick says:

          ಠ_ಠ

      • Deiseach says:

        It’s woman beware woman, because Nick is being the chivalrous gentleman and I’m being the hard-hearted bitch dragging the little madam for being attention-seeking vain chit 😀

        Rationalist Guy may have been as big a jerk as she describes, but she doesn’t sound like any prize herself.

  2. DragonMilk says:

    Watched a really interesting video on policing, not because what was said (I’d wager most people actually agree with what is said), but because it’s coming from a black former police officer.

    He’s a “Trump Republican” who blames Democratic elites for focusing so much on power “by any means necessary” that cities are weakened by their anti-police rhetoric. Practically, he’s saying that standards have been lowered for police serving in inner ciities that the fewer officers that are there are less qualified and less invested in those communities.

    • rumham says:

      Practically, he’s saying that standards have been lowered for police serving in inner ciities that the fewer officers that are there are less qualified and less invested in those communities.

      Does anyone disagree with that? It seems like a “the sky is blue” statement.

      • DragonMilk says:

        Well when you believe that cops are racist and you need fewer of them, there will be many “sky is blue” results that are not talked about as that might make certain policies and rhetoric seem mistaken.

        • rumham says:

          I have personally known racist cops. But lowering standards is an orthogonal issue.

          • DragonMilk says:

            So his response is that there’s racists in every profession, and this shocks no one.

            The problem is the narrative that if you’re a minority, you’ve been targeted because of your race maybe 50-50 rather than 10-90, and that affects your attitude toward cops

    • broblawsky says:

      Isn’t this basically just a description of the Ferguson effect? Which, AFAIK, has been pretty conclusively shown to create a perception of increasing crime rates, especially among police officers, but not to have any actual real-world impact on crime.

      • Which, AFAIK, has been pretty conclusively shown to create a perception of increasing crime rates, especially among police officers, but not to have any actual real-world impact on crime.

        Crime rates have increased, it’s not a “perception.”

        https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2017/crime-in-the-u.s.-2017/figures/violent-crime.gif

        • broblawsky says:

          Firstly, the papers I’m citing are direct studies of the correlations between negative perceptions of police and crime rates (the Ferguson effect), not a broader look at crime rates overall. Specifically, they show that there is no such correlation. I’m not making any kind of broader argument about crime rates, which might be impacted by any number of things.

          Secondly, your statistics are behind by a year. The 2018 5-year graph shows a significant drop in violent crime rates from 2017 to 2018, to below 2015 levels, which are incredibly low by historical standards. 2018 was the second safest year since 1990 in the US; 2017, the year you cited as being evidence of some kind of crime wave, is merely the 5th safest year, by my count.

          • Firstly, the papers I’m citing are direct studies of the correlations between negative perceptions of police and crime rates (the Ferguson effect), not a broader look at crime rates overall. Specifically, they show that there is no such correlation.

            There is no such correlation in a subset of jurisdictions in Missouri. The increase in crime was mostly concentrated in large cities, so that’s where you’d look if you want to find something. Is there an alternative explanation for why crime rates mysteriously started increasing in those cities?

            The 2018 5-year graph shows a significant drop in violent crime rates from 2017 to 2018, to below 2015 levels, which are incredibly low by historical standards. 2018 was the second safest year since 1990 in the US; 2017, the year you cited as being evidence of some kind of crime wave,

            Indeed, the rise was from 2014 to 2016. What happened during those years?

            incredibly low by historical standards.

            Depends on how far you go back. 1990 was close to a peak. The 2018 violent crime rate is 140% higher than its 1960 level, the property crime rate is 27% higher than its 1960 level.

            http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm

          • broblawsky says:

            There is no such correlation in a subset of jurisdictions in Missouri. The increase in crime was mostly concentrated in large cities, so that’s where you’d look if you want to find something. Is there an alternative explanation for why crime rates mysteriously started increasing in those cities?

            There’s also no evidence for a universal Ferguson effect increasing crime in large cities. The increase in the murder rate in 2016, at least, was driven mostly by large spikes in violence in a handful of big cities, primarily Chicago, Las Vegas, and Orlando. Several other cities experienced declines in violent crime in that time frame. I think it’s more reasonable to attribute those increases to factors idiosyncratic to those cities.

            Indeed, the rise was from 2014 to 2016. What happened during those years?

            The rise of the alt-right? I’m not sure what you’re getting at here.

            Depends on how far you go back. 1990 was close to a peak. The 2018 violent crime rate is 140% higher than its 1960 level, the property crime rate is 27% higher than its 1960 level.

            That’s fair, but it’s not like criticism of the police was responsible for the big spike in murders in the 1970s and 1980s.

          • rumham says:

            @broblawsky

            The rise of the alt-right? I’m not sure what you’re getting at here.

            How can you cite “the ferguson effect” multiple times and then ask that question?

          • broblawsky says:

            How can you cite “the ferguson effect” multiple times and then ask that question?

            The alt-right thing was a joke. It definitely isn’t the Ferguson Effect; I’ve cited multiple papers indicating there it has no effect on crime rates. If you or @Alexander_Turok have an alternative hypothesis, or evidence showing that the Ferguson Effect has a reliable and statistically significant impact on crime rates, I’d love to see it.

          • rumham says:

            Personally, I think you’re probably right and it was a blip not caused by the attitudes toward the police. But when there is a time period of widespread (and encouraged by leadership) lawbreaking in the form of riots, it probably has an impact on the crime rate.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        No, it isn’t the Ferguson effect.

        “cities are weakened by their anti-police rhetoric” sounds like (one version of) the Ferguson effect. But “standards have been lowered for police serving in inner ciities that the fewer officers that are there are less qualified and less invested in those communities” is not the Ferguson effect. It’s way too slow! How he gets from the first quote to the second, I don’t know. But if there is any connection between them, he must mean a much slower version of rhetoric.

    • Aftagley says:

      I’m at work, so apologies that I can’t watch the video. I can, however, quibble with some of your assertions.

      He’s saying that standards have been lowered for police serving in inner ciities that the fewer officers that are there are less qualified and less invested in those communities.

      This is true in the sense that tatoo, prior drug use and educational requirements are being slowly eased back – We’re currently facing a nationwide cop shortage. Directly contradicting you claim that standards are too low, it looks like most people applicants are ineligible for being a cop based on prior disqualifying offenses and the applicants that do qualify, well, they have better options. The military is also currently going through a problem like this; it tends to happen whenever the normal job markets have been hot for too long; they have to relax standards (that maybe don’t imply anything about future service capabilities) to meet recruitment goals. All that being said, I can’t find any data implying that these relaxing standards have resulted in badness.

      I’m buddies with a bunch of cops, and it’s true – they’re more in demand so they’re more mobile, shop around for the best jurisdictions (pay, benefits, etc) and don’t stay in one place long enough to put down roots. The career path I tend to see is them shopping around for the easiest district to get hired in, go through training and certification then as soon as they can make more money, transfer somewhere else. If you’ve got options, it kind of sucks to be a police officer in a city – they normally can’t pay as well as the wealthy suburbs, the work is much more difficult and cops have the same complaints about living in the cities as everyone else.

      He’s a “Trump Republican” who blames Democratic elites for focusing so much on power “by any means necessary” that cities are weakened by their anti-police rhetoric.

      Easy Democrat self-burn if we’re so focused on power, why don’t we have any?

      Anyway, looking through a Cato survey public perceptions on police haven’t really changed much over the past 50 years. In the 1970s roughly 67% of white people like the police as did 43% of nonwhites. Today 68% of nonwhites do as do 40% of nonwhites. These trends hold pretty squarely through generational divides. So, it doesn’t look like the evil democrats have done much to affect public perception of police. Maybe that don’t run away from it anymore, but this isn’t new.

      In summary – yes policing has changed, but a large part of why has been the job market / changing nature of careers in the 21st century.

      • rumham says:

        Easy Democrat self-burn if we’re so focused on power, why don’t we have any?

        Democrats aren’t in political control of most large cities?

      • ana53294 says:

        Re cop shortage:

        agencies that slowed or froze hiring during the recession are now struggling to build their ranks up again in the middle of a hot job market.

        ISTM that police forces, the army, navy, and all such organizations should do counter-cyclical hiring: hire candidates during recessions, train them, etc. They get great candidates, people get decent, stable jobs, and once you’ve invested years into training to be a cop, you’re more likely to stay as a cop once the economy improves.

        Towns and cities that actually fund their spending out of taxes probably have it harder, but the feds, border patrol, and the army can do it (as that will be but a small drop in the amount of money used for stimulus packages).

        But the thing is, once the next recession comes, and they actually get good candidates who want to be hired, they’ll freeze hiring again.

        This hiring freeze is done by many countries, but it just seems illogical to me. It’s not a good way of hiring, and it’s not a good way of saving money, either. Getting the best people cheaply is what’s needed, and you do that by providing secure jobs during recessions. Because governments don’t have to care so much about how the economy is doing.

        • bean says:

          The military isn’t really set up to do that, unfortunately. Their whole model is based around having a bunch of junior people who leave after their first enlistment. From some quickly-googled numbers, the US Army only tries to retain about 1/3rd of the people who finish their first enlistment. The Marines look to be even lower, around 1/5th. (This is counter to what I expected.) The other services don’t have directly-comparable numbers, but all of them are heavily dependent on people who come and go in about four years, and they can’t easily change their model to take advantage of economic cycles because there’s such a strong career progression. Someone who’s been in for 6 years expects to do different jobs from someone who’s new, and you can’t easily reset that expectation.

          • ana53294 says:

            That does seem like a low retainment rate.

            Spain has a much higher retainment rate. The thing that surprised me was how old the US army is (34 years on average), considering how quickly they rotate through soldiers. Spain’s 33 seem low considering the retainment, I guess.

            Why is the age so high when retainment is so low? Are they hiring older?

          • bean says:

            It’s because the retention rate for people finishing subsequent enlistments is much higher. Say that everyone either gets out after 4 years or stays in for 20. You’ve got 60,000 entrants a year, all age 20, and 20,000 of them choose to go for 20 when they hit 4 years. So you have 240,000 soldiers, average age 22, on their first enlistment, and 320,000, average age 32, going for 20 years. Average age is 27. Obviously, this doesn’t get us quite high enough, but there are people who go past 20 and they’ll have a disproportionate effect.

            In practical terms, the Marines have about as many people agree to 3rd or higher enlistments as go for a 2nd, and the Army has significantly more people do so.

        • DragonMilk says:

          I feel like the US does suffer a race to the bottom issue with governance.

          To use a popular example, look at Singapore. The heavy hand of government is effective and efficient – their low taxes and no minimum wage plus authoritarian crackdown on certain civil liberties results in very low crime and a haven for the rich to flock to.

          In the US, the right distrusts all government (libertarian side) and wants to kill it off as much as possible (I’m in this camp) due to horror stories about soft-corrupt (legal but doesn’t pass the sniff test, often literally) programs. The left distrusts the goodwill of every-day people because of course citizens are self-serving and think the government needs to step in to roles way outside the bounds of federalism…and neither side is really tackling the issue of how to have more effective government.

          • broblawsky says:

            There are lots of states that have low taxes, no minimum wages, and authoritarianism, yet have high levels of crime and corruption. I don’t think you can attribute Singapore’s success to those factors alone.

          • johan_larson says:

            There have been periodic attempts to make the US government more effective. Al Gore’s “Reinventing Government”, which was mostly about procurement reform, was one. Civil service exams for hiring were another.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goo-goos

          • DragonMilk says:

            @broblawsky What kind of authoritarianism are we talking here? Pretty sure drug convicts don’t get hung or robbers/vandals caned.

            The Asian Tigers rose because of effective authoritiarians, not libertarianism. Economically “liberal” for sure, but societally strict.

          • broblawsky says:

            Malaysia has the death penalty for selling drugs and income taxes that cap out at 28% (compared to 22% for Singapore), yet it’s the source of one of the largest corruption scandals in recent history. There’s a lot of Asian countries with similar legal codes that aren’t as well-run as Singapore.

          • bean says:

            As best I can tell, Singapore is just an outlier. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into making their government so effective, but most of it ultimately traces to the leadership of the PAP being both lucky (great location) and really competent at getting things that need to be done done.

        • Aftagley says:

          and once you’ve invested years into training to be a cop, you’re more likely to stay as a cop once the economy improves.

          This isn’t true, at least for military. The reason I left the military and the reason I’ve heard from countless other people is that your years in service / training and qualifications mean you can’t afford to stay in the military – you’re too valuable on the outside. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of people making $20k plus the second they walk out the door. Maybe in the past you had the retirement as an incentive, but that’s gone away also.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Isn’t the military still an explicit “up or out” organization? You only stick around if you are advancing.

          • ana53294 says:

            making $20k plus the second they walk out the door

            If that’s per year, Google tells me that’s a soldier’s basic pay, without any extras.

            Does the army teach more transferrable skills than the police force? AFAIU, many people in the army are working in maintenance, logistics, etc., which have the equivalent civilian jobs. The civilian equivalent to a police officer is a bouncer or private security, and those don’t seem to be paid much better (and no unions).

            Maybe in the past you had the retirement as an incentive, but that’s gone away also.

            Why is that? They still seem to pay 40% after 20 years. Is it not worth it compared to the private industry?

            I get that the economy in the US now is going great and unemployment is at the structural level, but how common a situation is that? Can we expect the aftermath of the next recession to be so good (10+ years of growth?).

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve heard from countless other people is that your years in service / training and qualifications mean you can’t afford to stay in the military – you’re too valuable on the outside. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of people making $20k plus the second they walk out the door.

            This is highly dependent on your job. I took about a $20k (at least) pay cut the second I walked out the door. One of the dumber things about the military is that with the slight exception of some re-enlistment bonuses (or lack thereof), one’s pay is a mere factor of rank and years of experience, the actual skill level required for your job is not considered. This means that typically, the skilled labor professions are dramatically underpaid, while the unskilled labor professions (which is what I had) are dramatically overpaid.

            Isn’t the military still an explicit “up or out” organization? You only stick around if you are advancing.

            No, or at least, not in my experience. I left the Navy in 2013 and at the time, while you did have to formally request permission to re-enlist, you pretty much only got denied if you had a history of multiple low-performance evaluations. If you hadn’t been in any major trouble and were rated at least “satisfactory,” you could stay in. Strictly speaking there were “high year tenure” requirements which are technically “up or out”, but they were set at such a level that they only affected a small amount of people (who were almost by definition low-performers).

          • woah77 says:

            @ana53294

            I can objectively state that while not every soldier/marine/sailor/airman learns more transferable skills than the police force, many of them do. The police do not have radio technicians, machinists, mechanics, radar specialists, intelligence analysts, or any of a dozen other practical occupations that have nearly direct equivalents in the civilian sector. And the military also trains people on skills that are difficult to find or develop in the civilian sector making veterans the nearly sole source of fresh candidates. And it comes with a stigma of patriotism and working hard, which police do not benefit from.

          • CatCube says:

            Isn’t the military still an explicit “up or out” organization? You only stick around if you are advancing.

            This is true of the officer corps. You are assigned to a year group when you’re commissioned. Your year group gets a Primary Zone for each promotion. The promotion board meets every year and considers the officers in the primary zone for their promotion to the next rank. They also consider the officers who will be in their primary zone next year (Below the Zone, or BZ), and the officers who missed their primary zone (Above the Zone).

            If you’re promoted BZ, you’re moved up a year group and considered with the group ahead of you for the remainder of your career. Getting promoted BZ basically only happens to the rock stars–somebody who’s a BZ or double-BZ has a much improved chance of being a general one day.

            If you are not promoted in your above the zone look, you will be bereft of a job 270 days after the promotion board results are posted. (Like BZ, if you do make in on that look you move to be with the year group promoted on that list.) However, the above-the-zone rates are so low that if you miss your primary zone you basically have a year and nine months to find a new job.

  3. Levantine says:

    The other day I read a fiction story with solid artistic merit that is dubious in terms of plausibility, so I’m asking you for fact-checking :

    Circa 1980., a person is diagnosed with terminal cancer. After the diagnosis, he spends almost two full months without any signs of illness. As for symptoms, a pain to a degree that cannot be hidden from close ones appears just at the end of that 2-month period.

    My question is: Was that realistic in 1980?

    And, by the way: Is it now?

    Be that as it may: the story is basically well-done and can be read in Manfred Sommer’s Frank Cappa en Brasil (: title of the original edition; I’m not aware of an edition in English).

    • Anteros says:

      I’m not an oncologist, but I believe many cancers (including terminal ones) are detectable whilst not causing significant pain. I also don’t think a great deal has changed in that regard since 1980. So yes, it sounds realistic – or at least plausible – both then and now.

      What caused the diagnosis to be made?

  4. johan_larson says:

    Over 50? Switching your commute from subway to car could cause you to gain twenty pounds.

    Because of mounting congestion, Beijing has limited the number of new car permits it issues to 240,000 a year since 2011. Those permits are issued in a monthly lottery with more than 50 losers for every winner. …

    Led by Berkeley economist Michael Anderson, the researchers followed 180 permit winners and 757 losers for roughly five years, and looked for differences caused by the acquisition of a car.

    Not surprisingly, the winners took 2.9 fewer rides a week on Beijing’s dense public-transit network, representing a 45-per-cent drop in usage. They also spent 24.2 fewer minutes each day day walking or biking than the non-winners, a 54-per-cent drop.

    … Over all, the winners gained an average of just more than two kilograms, a difference that was not statistically significant. But the effects were more obvious when looking only at winners aged 50 or older: They gained an average of 10.3 kilograms, a statistically significant and worrisome increase.

    • bean says:

      And now, because this is SSC, I must ask. How many subgroup comparisons did they try, and is this still statistically significant after correcting for that?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Two age subgroups (over 40 and over 50) (plus all ages) and three values for time elapsed since the lottery.

        Verdict: p-hacking.

    • albatross11 says:

      This sounds like a walk through the Garden of Forking Paths to me–how many different ways might they have sliced up the data to get some publishable effect?

    • Nick says:

      Also since this is SSC,

      They also spent 24.2 fewer minutes each day day walking or biking than the non-winners, a 54-per-cent drop.

      And on the line break no less. Nice proofreading, Globe and Mail.

    • Incurian says:

      One wonders whether “won a lottery administered by the Chinese government” is equivalent to “was randomly assigned to a condition group.”

    • Statismagician says:

      Bad replication of a good study – look up Whitehall II in The Lancet’s archives for the same thing done better on British civil servants. Conclusion rounds to correct, though; even a little bit of regular exercise is a very good thing.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      I was always surprised how it never gets mentioned as a potential cause for Americans’ obesity. For me it was the first thought when I came here. Sure the obvious answers aren’t always the correct ones, but they deserve some consideration.

      • The Nybbler says:

        It gets mentioned all the time, but it doesn’t really hold up.

        This article claims a “99% correlation” between vehicle use and obesity.

        Thing is, both vehicle use and obesity are almost-linear trends. Any two such will correlate very well (there ought to be a name for this, like the “featureless graph effect”). The paper on the subject mentions “very close relationship between trends in miles driven per licensed driver and adult obesity rates six years later” — the six year delay manages to capture a more linear range of miles driven per licensed driver. It does not appear a followup was done.

        • Deiseach says:

          Did they do any controls for “as you get older you get chunkier”? Because if they’re measuring “over 40s” and then “over 50s” as two separate groups, “middle-aged spread” has long been A Thing. “Getting a car and driving instead of taking public transport” can also be “getting too creaky in the joints and chunky in the trunky to be comfortable standing around at bus stops/strap hanging in the train”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you mean the original article about China: yes, the figure they give is the difference in weight gain between “over 40’s” (or “over 50s”) who won the lottery to be allowed to commute by car and who didn’t. So this controls for age-related weight gain. However, it’s still P-hacking (and I didn’t see an ‘n’ figure for the subgroups either, so maybe it was dominated by outliers too).

            The US article does not differentiate by age. But it’s pure bunk for the reason I gave; they’re just showing that featureless graphs correlate.

  5. CatCube says:

    Another “Just a video I think other’s might like” post: US Army band covers Time Stand Still as a tribute to Neil Peart.

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Conan review #8: “Shadows in the Moonlight
    First published in Weird Tales, April 1934. It didn’t make the cover.

    Shah Amurath, conqueror of the kozaki, is missing his own fete due to chasing the runaway slave girl Olivia. As he tries to drag her away from a marsh on the edge of the Vilayet (Caspian) Sea, Conan pops up, dried blood on his body and sword. Turns out he’s the lone survivor of those conquered kozaki guys. He kills Amurath and then pulls out a hidden boat, ignoring Olivia.
    “Do not leave me! Take me with you!”
    Barely registering her existence til now, Conan is confused. “I am a barbarian, and I know from your looks that you fear me.” She admits she does, but better to take her chances with him than be re-enslaved and tortured by Amurath’s followers. So our odd couple is off on a boat.
    She tells him she’s a princess of Ophir. Conan can’t swing a dead cat without hitting the noblewomen of Ophir, can he? Her father sold her into slavery for refusing to marry a prince of Koth. Conan had been one of five thousand mercenaries for a rebel prince in eastern Koth, “and when he made peace with his cursed sovereign, we were out of employment; so we took to plundering the outlying dominions of Koth, Zamora and Turan impartially. A week ago Shah Amurath trapped us…” Hey I wonder if he was the same guy Olivia’s father wanted her to marry?
    Rowing north, they find an island. A parrot appears and says ominously “Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!”, laughing. Then something throws a huge block of cut stone at them, and they’re spooked because no man could throw that more than three feet and they see no siege engine. They find a long building in ruins, made from similar blocks of stone. Inside they find life-size statues of iron, looking continually polished despite no one being around. Conan is confused that they’re made of black metal yet don’t resemble black people. Leaving, they climb the highest point on the island and spot a sail north in the water. Conan suggests they sleep in the ruins to avoid the newcomers, which scares Olivia. Conan brags: “I could sleep naked in the snow and feel no discomfort, but the dew would give you cramps, were we to sleep in the open.”
    Olivia’s thoughts: “His kinship to the wild was apparent in his every action; it burned in his smoldering eyes. Yet he had not harmed her, and her worst oppressor had been a man the world called civilized.”
    Is anyone else noticing the affinity these stories have with the conventions of romance novels when the POV character is a woman rather than Conan? Just put Fabio on the cover with his hair Photoshopped black.

    Olivia dreams of the people the statues represent, torturing a godlike blond guy bound to a pillar. His death is described almost exactly like that of Livia’s brother in “The Vale of Lost Women”: “Blood trickled down the ivory thighs to spatter on the polished floor.” Upon his death, a mature white god turns the killers into rows of statues with a cry of “Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!”
    As soon as she wakes up, Olivia sees the statues move! She runs away, Conan following. He wants to know which gods she saw interact with the statue-men: “Who knows? They have gone back into the still waters of the lakes, the quiet hearts of the hills, the gulfs beyond the stars.” Huh, preceding Star Trek’s Apollo by 32 years here.
    They would have fled the island, but something smashed their boat. Later they spy on the ship that’s arrived, Conan identifying it as Hyrkanian by, literally, the cut of its jib. He’s pleased to identify the crew as the Red Brotherhood of pirates. He steps forward to try his luck at joining them. But oops, their captain is an old enemy, a Kothian named Sergius. They duel, Conan predictably wins. A pirate named Aratus knocks Conan unconscious with a sling and explains that no outsider is entitled to a Klingon Promotion: only an initiate of the Red Brotherhood, which Conan is not. He’s bound as the pirates go check the ruins for loot, leaving Olivia sad.

    Olivia spies on the pirates from the grass til after moonrise, and once every pirate is drunkenly sleeping, she comes up to free Conan. Fleeing, they’re ambushed by “a monstrous shambling bulk–an anthropomorphic horror, a grotesque travesty of creation.” Hey, that’s an awful thing to call gorillas! Well, like Tarzan before him, Conan increases his power level by going from killing a Mangani/Thak to killing a gorilla. That was him throwing the stone. Also, Conan says it’s a wary creature that only attacked out of lust for Olivia. Ew.
    The pair climbs aboard the ship while the pirates sleep. At dawn the 44 of them come running, crying that a dozen of their fellows were killed by the statues in the moonlight, so we’ll accept you as captain if you let us up! We end with Conan seeing if Olivia will vow “To sail a road of blood and slaughter? … This keel will stain the blue waves crimson wherever it plows.” She will!
    I now pronounce you barb and wife. THE END

    This was a well-constructed fantasy adventure. The monster site has an interesting explanation, the situation is complicated by a natural threat and the arrival of pirates, and Conan’s plans never pan out until the end, requiring him to think fast and get rescued by the girl. And the girl… well, at least she’s not a distressed damsel. She doesn’t have much of a personality, but she undergoes a small character arc and gets to save the hero.
    I feel that one of the weaknesses we’re going to see in the formula is Conan ending up with the girl only for the next story to find him in another place with no reference to her existence.

    Speaking of which, next time Conan will have given up piracy to serve a queen who turns out to have an evil twin in “A Witch Shall Be Born”!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I feel that one of the weaknesses we’re going to see in the formula is Conan ending up with the girl only for the next story to find him in another place with no reference to her existence.

      Yes, it would be really nice, even if just for a joke, if there were a line referencing how his last gig fell apart. When we last left Conan, he was banging a princess after leading her army to victory over an undead sorcerer. How did he end up with some mercenary band? Did the last princess just say “thanks for the shag, now get lost?” The same sort of thing but in reverse will happen in A Witch Shall Be Born.

      I thought this story was okay. Not great. Not awful. Just kind of there.

      • Aftagley says:

        Does this ever get mentioned?

        Are we supposed to believe that Conan is an actual character and all of these things are happening to him over the course of his life, or is he more of just an archetype?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I’m only as far read as this review series (halfway through A Witch Shall Be Born), but I haven’t seen anything that looks like continuity. I can’t recall any of the previous stories referencing other stories. That said, he’s definitely the same dude in each story.

        • Deiseach says:

          Are we supposed to believe that Conan is an actual character and all of these things are happening to him over the course of his life, or is he more of just an archetype?

          A bit of both; these are the adventures of Conan, from his youth in Cimmeria to how he scaled the ranks starting off as thief and rising all the way to king:

          “By Mitra,” said he slowly, “I never expected to see you cased in coat-armor, but you do not put it to shame. By my fingerbones, Conan, I have seen kings who wore their harness less regally than you!”

          Conan was silent. A vague shadow crossed his mind like a prophecy. In years to come he was to remember Amalric’s words, when the dream became the reality.

          So how does a savage barbarian get to be king? Well, he travels widely, learns all kinds of things about fighting, soldiering, magic, commanding men, and not dying young, as well as picking up languages like a jackdaw with shiny things 🙂

      • Deiseach says:

        Did the last princess just say “thanks for the shag, now get lost?”

        More or less; the reason she wants Conan to, um, kiss her bruisingly on the altar with the dead sorcerer glurking on the floor is precisely because once they leave the ruins and head back to her kingdom, she has to be the princess again and he’s just the barbarian mercenary who got a field commission to lead the army, one that is highly likely not to be ratified when her brother comes back to re-take the throne because it would be politically risky and his position is shaky enough without sparking a civil war by disgruntled nobles (like the family of Count Thespides, who are not going to take it well that their scion got himself killed by being an idiot, and will blame Conan for not preventing his suicidal cavalry charge/joining in with it):

        “No!” she gasped, clinging with convulsive strength, as barbaric for the instant as he in her fear and passion. “I will not let you go! I am yours, by fire and steel and blood! You are mine! Back there, I belong to others — here I am mine — and yours! You shall not go!”

        Once back in the palace, she can’t even have Conan as her Captain of her personal guard/toy-boy; one day she will have to make a political marriage, and there can’t be any gossip about the personal life of the Princess of Khoraja. So the best thing to do is for her/her brother to load Conan with gold, say “thanks very much” and point him in the direction of the kingdom two countries away that is hiring mercs for its own war.

        Besides, even if she did manage to get Conan to stay, his own character is against staying in one place and living fat’n’happy. He came down from the North because he’s curious, he wants to see new places and new people and learn new things. After six months as Yasmela’s bit on the side, he’d be bored out of his skull. He’s also “easy come, easy go” when it comes to money: blow it all on high living, then hire on again as a mercenary/turn to piracy/find some way of getting more cash.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          More or less; the reason she wants Conan to, um, kiss her bruisingly on the altar with the dead sorcerer glurking on the floor is precisely because once they leave the ruins and head back to her kingdom, she has to be the princess again and he’s just the barbarian mercenary who got a field commission to lead the army, one that is highly likely not to be ratified when her brother comes back to re-take the throne because it would be politically risky and his position is shaky enough without sparking a civil war by disgruntled nobles (like the family of Count Thespides, who are not going to take it well that their scion got himself killed by being an idiot, and will blame Conan for not preventing his suicidal cavalry charge/joining in with it):

          This. We can infer that they couldn’t have sex more than once because Yasmela is trapped by duty to make a political marriage, so they’d have to get her brother back without the kingdom collapsing (the concern if they go bankrupt paying the ransom) AND get Conan a noble title… which would be an interesting story in itself, but one Howard chose not to write, so any sequel would have to detail how it didn’t work.

          Once back in the palace, she can’t even have Conan as her Captain of her personal guard/toy-boy; one day she will have to make a political marriage, and there can’t be any gossip about the personal life of the Princess of Khoraja. So the best thing to do is for her/her brother to load Conan with gold, say “thanks very much” and point him in the direction of the kingdom two countries away that is hiring mercs for its own war.

          Interestingly, we do see him pointed at the next country over twice soon after this: in Koth as part of the backstory to “Shadows in the Moonlight” and as captain of the queen’s guard in a city-state bordering Koth in “A Witch Shall Be Born”.

  7. stevesteve says:

    Did anyone else see this article about “decoupling” which is basically the ability to do abstract thinking such as devils’ advocate exercises or thought experiments without getting emotionally charged:
    https://unherd.com/2020/02/eugenics-is-possible-is-not-the-same-as-eugenics-is-good/

    The analyst John Nerst, who writes a fascinating blog called “Everything Studies”, is very interested in how and why we disagree. And one thing he says is that for a certain kind of nerdy, “rational” thinker, there is a magic ritual you can perform. You say “By X, I don’t mean Y.”

    Having performed that ritual, you ward off the evil spirits. You isolate the thing you’re talking about from all the concepts attached to it. So you can say things like “if we accept that IQ is heritable, then”, and so on, following the implications of the hypothetical without endorsing them. Nerst uses the term “decoupling”, and says that some people are “high-decouplers”, who are comfortable separating and isolating ideas like that.

    Other people are low-decouplers, who see ideas as inextricable from their contexts. For them, the ritual lacks magic power. You say “By X, I don’t mean Y,” but when you say X, they will still hear Y. The context in which Nerst was discussing it was a big row that broke out a year or two ago between Ezra Klein and Sam Harris after Harris interviewed Charles Murray about race and IQ.

    I’ve written on some controversial topics before, and what blew my mind was that I would explicitly say “I don’t endorse Y”, and then people would go around saying: this person believes Y. I now fully understand why Scott writes the way he does with paragraphs of disclaimers.

    If you read the Twitter discussion about this article, people also describe low-decouplers as people who can’t logically parse an argument. My experience with low-decouplers basically made me give up writing for general audiences. No one engaged with any of the arguments, instead all of the response was, “Can you believe this, this person believes Y!”

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      I’ve read the relevant Nerst posts.

      Mistake theory response: Some people are just really dumb.

      Conflict theory: It’s politically convenient to taint figures you disagree with (Dawkins, Harris) with the stain of wrongbadthink, even if someone who actually read/listened to their original point (so, a small minority) would see them as explicitly not endorsing it.

      To be clear, I’m accusing Klein of arguing in bad faith.

      • Shion Arita says:

        Realization I’m dawning on that sounds like a bit of a hot take but I think more and more is likely to be true:

        Mistake Theory/Conflict Theory and High Decoupling/Low Decoupling are both just High/Low intelligence, respectively.

        • False says:

          Well, I think an issue that complicates this is that Mistake Theory/High Decoupling is also correlated with low social/emotional intelligence. There’s a slew of posts on this very blog where our host goes “I didn’t understand why people disagreed with me until I forced myself into a conflict theory mindset and thought about it a lot”, but it’s pretty clear most people were able to see it from both mistake and conflict theory perspectives and realize conflict theory had more predicitive power in that scenario.

          I think there’s a tendency in the rationalsphere to equate conflict theory with “identity politics”, and while I would agree that the worst deployments of conflict theory fall into that classification, there are certain situations where its clearly superior, and failing to utilize it makes one look like a credulous rube.

          I think the major flaw of Mistake Theory is that it posits an abstracted, ideal world. While it would obviously be much nicer to live in Mistake Theory world, where everyone is striving towards one perfect ideal of “correctness”, I think the evidence indicates the opposite, and the majority of people mostly act out of motivated reasoning (concious or unconcious). This is all to say that a lack of awareness and consideration of the conflict theory perspective may also indicate a certain type of “low intelligence”.

        • RalMirrorAd says:

          High IQ people can both rationalize away reality whilst simultaneously perhaps being more aware of potential connections between a idea and and on some topics i wouldn’t be surprised if they

          In other words you have to be relatively smart to even understand why, for example, emphasis on aesthetically pleasing architecture and physical fitness is the prelude to authoritarian dictatorships. Certain forms of coupling are several steps removed, and that’s where your less intelligent people are maybe less dogmatic because they don’t *need* to decouple things they can’t even see coupled in the first place.

          Also a personal anecdote, i’m a conflict theorist through and through but I can entertain troubling or competing theories without feeling like accepting something unsual.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            In other words you have to be relatively smart to even understand why, for example, emphasis on aesthetically pleasing architecture and physical fitness is the prelude to authoritarian dictatorships.

            You have to be smarter than me anyways, not that that’s anything to write home about.

            More generally though, I strongly disagree with this:

            Mistake Theory/Conflict Theory and High Decoupling/Low Decoupling are both just High/Low intelligence, respectively.

            Perhaps that’s true if you were able to analyze the actual thoughts of people, but if you can only analyze their behavior, I would predict that mistake/conflict theories are used based on what aligns best with personal incentives.

            A good example is the Dawkins tweet which I believe is at the origin of the unherd link above (havent read it). There are plenty of people with high IQs who are going to go after Dawkins and call him a racist nazi supporter of eugenics, because that’s what gets them status points in their social circle. The way out of that is to have a status point penalty for people who call everything racist and status point rewards for people willing to engage difficult and sensitive topics rationally.

          • albatross11 says:

            Lots of allegedly serious thinkers seem to jump on the bandwagon of Twitter outrage fests, when it’s done by their team against a member of another team. This generally doesn’t involve any kind of careful checking of facts or even reading the original statement carefully to decide whether it’s really very offensive.

            Now, one consequence of this is that people who do that lose a lot of credit with me, and presumably with other people who value intellectual integrity and care with facts. “Serious thinkers” who can’t be troubled to spend fifteen minutes checking the facts before jumping onto a pileon are just another category of overpromoted, underbrained elites–people who have a lot of influence and reputation but shouldn’t.

            OTOH, I think people continue to act this way because it works out okay for them. Behaving in a way that makes it clear that you’re a team player who isn’t careful with facts or intellectually honest probably works out better in many ways than behaving in a way that makes it clear you value accuracy and honesty over helping your team win.

        • albatross11 says:

          Shiron:

          No, that’s silly. It’s obvious that some very smart people approach the world from a conflict theory perspective. For example, Ben Shapiro and Paul Krugman aren’t dumb, but they are conflict theorists most of the time.

          Similarly, high/low decoupling, because:

          a. Refusing to decouple ideas is a strategy in some discussions.

          b. Decoupling is a strategy for thinking that you can learn, and that most people manage when they need to.

          My guess is that decoupling is cognitive work, especially for people who aren’t used to it. So there’s probably a correlation between being smarter and being better at it. But probably not all that strong a correlation.

          • woah77 says:

            The conclusion I get from this is that we need to train more people to decouple. I think American politics and discourse (probably most of the world as well, but I’m no expert) would benefit greatly from practicing this skill, among the populace and among the electorate.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s not a lack of skill, it’s straight-up opposition. Decoupling — in particular, being able to rationally discuss issues that have emotional valence — is decried as immoral by the identitarians. Being able to do it is a result of being “privileged”, which is bad.

          • Nick says:

            @The Nybbler
            I think decoupling has been deliberately discouraged by certain people and certain ways of thinking—stock replies and the like that recouple—but folks will still need to relearn decoupling.

        • Viliam says:

          Mistake Theory/Conflict Theory and High Decoupling/Low Decoupling are both just High/Low intelligence, respectively.

          To me it seems more like Things Oriented / People Oriented.

          For example, not being able to decouple is kinda stupid. So the Things-Oriented person will do it in a debate, because they are trying to be technically correct. And the People-Oriented person is aware that most people are stupid, therefore doing decoupling in front of large audience is a stupid thing to do, if you care about your popularity (at least on the “don’t get lynched” level).

          • Purplehermann says:

            Very much this. Have recently stopped decoupling when there is an audience (or the other person in the discussion isn’t one for decoupling) for this reason

        • Deiseach says:

          Shion Arita, that does not necessarily follow. Decoupling sounds great, and it can be advantageous, but sometimes you do have to say “Sorry, every time X has been tried, Y has followed” and point out the mountains of skulls.

          We’ve had our own decoupler about Marx and Communism, anyone want to discuss “Real Communism has not been tried, don’t anyone mention the mountains of skulls, that’s low-decoupling!”

          • Shion Arita says:

            High decoupling in that case would be more like saying “i know practically that communism doesn’t work out, but in the abstract, XYZ”

          • albatross11 says:

            Decoupling is isolating some factual question from questions of agenda or morality that surround it. If you say that Marx’ critique of capitalism was informative and worthwhile, that’s a question that can be addressed separately from how the whole dictatorship of the proletariat thing has worked out in practice.

          • Viliam says:

            If you say that Marx’ critique of capitalism was informative and worthwhile, that’s a question that can be addressed separately

            My impression is that the things Marx wrote are essentially a description of Moloch.

            The greatest mistake was that he associated Moloch with a specific economical/political system, and assumed that after the Revolution, Moloch will magically disappear. And now we have the historical evidence that it doesn’t work that way, and that the realm of Moloch is much wider than people previously imagined.

            So I could easily decouple and talk with a Marxist about how Moloch sucks, only once in a while I would remind them “but you are aware that the same things happen in socialism too, right?”

        • meh says:

          how would you distinguish between
          1. high g conflict theory
          2. low g conflict theory
          3. low g mistake theory

          all three would be capable of not understanding 2+2=4

          i think this is the mistakes theorist assuming everyone is mistake theory, thus the only possibility is low g

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Mistake Theory/Conflict Theory and High Decoupling/Low Decoupling are both just High/Low intelligence, respectively.

          Hard disagree. If you’d like, I can offer examples of people who are at best best of average intelligence being able to decouple on fairly high emotional valence topics in the right environment (a lot of it is about social cues and context and establishment of trust), and matching examples of people who are quite intelligent completely failing to decouple when they should.

          By the same token, conflict theory and mistake theory are best understood as models for understanding the root of a disagreement: lack of information/mistake about information vs. incompatible goals/interests. In reality, there are cases where mistake theory is a better model, and there are cases where conflict theory is a better model, and there are cases where the roots of disagreement are complex and rooted in a combination of both information/processing issues and incompatible goals/philosophies. This is almost completely uncorrelated with intelligence, except in the sense that people with high intelligence are somewhat more likely to have done their homework and thought their stance through more fully. Sometimes. Possibly. Maybe.

    • DinoNerd says:

      From where I sit, decoupling – or not – is at least partially contextual. Put another way – what do I expect from the people I’m interacting with, and what do I want to accomplish? If I’m looking for a nice fight, or expecting bad faith/bait-and-switch arguments. I’m going for low decoupling. If I’m simply curious, trying to analyze software, and/or believe I’m interacting with people on the autistic spectrum, a high decoupling approach is likely to work better.

      I’m particularly unlikely to decouple when faced with anything that pattern matches to “I don’t mean Y”, followed by a job lot of well known supporting arguments for Y. That can be unfortunate, in that the other person could be trying to find alternate explanations for those arguments, without making that clear. But I’m reminded of people who, finding that being “racist” would get them bad responses, began describing themselves as “racialist”, and defining “racist” to include only the worst behaviours normally considered “racist”. AFAICT, they were much like people who invented the name “canola oil” for what was previously known as “rapeseed oil”, in the presumed expectation that it would sell better with a new name.

      • albatross11 says:

        So what do you do when there’s a factual question that is relevant for some decisions we might need to make, but which might tend to support a political agenda you don’t like? It seems to me that not decoupling the factual and agenda questions, you kind of build up a defense against recognizing unwanted, uncomfortable facts.

        For example, there are people in the world who hate the US and all we stand for, and want to see our influence in the world decline. Those people find it helpful for their agenda when people say that US soldiers, spies, and other officials during the war on terror have carried out war crimes. Now, the only problem is that US soldiers, spies, and other officials actually did carry out war crimes, by torturing prisoners. This is a well-documented fact.

        Now, when I bring this up, maybe that’s because I just hate America and love Al Qaida or Russia. Maybe I’m a blame America first liberal showing my true colors. And if you react to my statement that way, it has a wonderful effect–it keeps you from needing to think about American officials committing war crimes, or what that might imply about our policies or how we’re regarded in countries where we’ve been bombing and occupying for the last couple decades.

        As another example, there are people who think that industrial civilization and capitalism are blights upon the Earth that should be stamped out. Those people find it helpful for their agenda to point out the apparent relationship between human CO2 emissions and changes to the climate.

        So, when I point out that CO2 emissions are likely changing the planet’s climate, one way to respond is to declare that I’m just one of those idiots who wants to stamp out capitalism and industrial civilization. I just hate private industry and am trying to win some kind of political battle for socialism that couldn’t be won honestly.

        Why is the decoupling different in those cases? Is there something that makes it virtuous to refuse to decouple factual statements about race/IQ correlations from anti-black racism, but not virtuous to refuse to decouple factual statements about global warming from anti-capitalism?

        • DinoNerd says:

          It depends on the conversational circumstances, not the topic.

          If it depends upon the topic, for some other reason than e.g. “I’m a a biologist, not an economist”, then it’s probably just me finding dubious reasons to believe what I wanted to believe anyway.

          And yes, one failure mode is bad pattern matching. My attempts to learn about climate science were impeded by, among other things, people who pattern matched large numbers of questions to “climate denialist talking points.” Their response to such questions was “you are a bad person”, which I interpreted as “I don’t understand the science well enough to explain anything”. I went and found other people to learn from, but not before exchanging expressions of mutual contempt ;-(

    • MrApophenia says:

      It’s not that people can’t decouple, it’s that they don’t believe the other party actually is. They pretty much think they are pretending to decouple as a way to say the racist (or insert other problematic belief) stuff they actually believe but try not to get any blowback for it. A rhetorical trick for deniability.

      In other words, in order to think Richard Dawkins is just innocently thinking about the plausibility of eugenics, you need to forget that he has been saying racist stuff for years.

      After a while it’s kind of hard not to notice that all the “high-decoupling” supposed hyper-rationalists seem to really like to ‘just, you know, entertain ideas, man’ about certain specific areas like how white people are better than black people a lot, and then they get mad that people are noticing that.

      • albatross11 says:

        MrApophenia:

        Or, you could, you know, read his words and honestly try to figure out what he meant by them. There’s a pretty obvious and accurate interpretation that doesn’t require any nefarious purpose.

        This is what Dawkins said:

        It’s one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It’s quite another to conclude that it wouldn’t work in practice. Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology.

        If you read that and think Dawkins is supporting eugenics, it’s hard to take your opinion of Dawkins’ problematic attitudes in other areas very seriously.

        So, do you claim:

        a. That eugenics could not in principle work on humans? If so, please explain why, because that would require that human genetics and biology somehow not work like that of all other animals[1].

        b. That it’s impossible to consider the question of whether a eugenics program on humans could work in principle, without somehow being a secret racist/eugenics supporter[2]?

        Either of those seem like pretty extraordinary claims, to me.

        [1] However, there are a lot of reasons to think that in practice, any such program couldn’t be run effectively for long enough to have the desired effect. Human generations are quite long relative to political will in democratic societies….

        [2] Racist and eugenics supporter are two different things, of course, but perhaps they’re hard for many people to decouple. It’s useful to remember that a bunch of Nordic countries had eugenics programs at a time when they had almost no racial diversity.

        • MrApophenia says:

          I’m claiming that this quote plays very differently from someone who has said a bunch of other racist stuff for years now, and saying that you are irrational if you don’t willfully forget the past actions and statements of the speaker and act as if this particular statement exists on its own, free of all prior context, is silly.

          • EchoChaos says:

            I’m firmly on the “differences between human populations” crowd and I totally agree with @MrApophenia here.

            “I just want to talk about X” is a pretty standard eliding tactic to move a position you don’t want to admit you have into the popular discourse.

          • rumham says:

            @MrApophenia

            If I were to ask for some citations of his racism, would I just get examples of musings on religion from a famous atheist? Cause that’s all I’ve ever seen produced anytime someone trots that accusation out.

          • albatross11 says:

            MrApophenia:

            What about the thing I quoted is racist?

            What about the factual question? Do you think he’s right or wrong? Does it matter?

            EchoChaos:

            This looks to me like a famous expert in biology pointing out a factually incorrect claim being made in public by others, not “let’s talk about X” edgelording.

          • I’m claiming that this quote plays very differently from someone who has said a bunch of other racist stuff for years now

            1. The particular quote isn’t racist in the least, any more than the statement that two plus two equals four. Hence your “other racist stuff” makes no sense.

            2. Can you offer some examples of the racist stuff Dawkins has been saying for years? Since there is a bunch of it, examples should be easy to find.

          • Randy M says:

            Insinuating that eugenics could work on humans implies that humans have hereditary traits, which strikes me as pretty racist, at least according to modern usage of the term, since it implies that people with similar ancestry would have more in common than those more distantly related.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Insinuating that eugenics could work on humans implies that humans have hereditary traits, which strikes me as pretty racist, at least according to modern usage of the term[…]

            I feel confident in saying that the modern usage of the term “racist” is intended to imply a character so disreputable that non-racist people ought never associate with them, let alone take anything they say seriously.

            The usage you describe sounds more to me like the technical definition of “racist”. Which, as we all know, is the best kind of racist

          • MrApophenia says:

            I actually fully admit to being mistaken about Dawkins – I was misremembering past news stories, specifically having conflated news stories about Richard Dawkins with those about James Watson. Which I discovered by cockily Googling for the blatantly racist remarks I remembered reading, and finding out I was simply incorrect. Not even going to quibble about it, I was wrong, you guys are right.

            I still think there’s a meta-level point to be made about the whole decoupling discussion and the way it gets deployed, but on the object level for this specific one, I was definitely just full bore wrong.

          • GreatColdDistance says:

            I actually fully admit to being mistaken about Dawkins – I was misremembering past news stories, specifically having conflated news stories about Richard Dawkins with those about James Watson. Which I discovered by cockily Googling for the blatantly racist remarks I remembered reading, and finding out I was simply incorrect. Not even going to quibble about it, I was wrong, you guys are right.

            I still think there’s a meta-level point to be made about the whole decoupling discussion and the way it gets deployed, but on the object level for this specific one, I was definitely just full bore wrong.

            As an observer to this conversation, big props for admitting this and not just bailing on the conversation. I have a lot of respect for that.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

          • big props for admitting this and not just bailing on the conversation. I have a lot of respect for that.

            Ditto.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Dumb question department.

          Do you see eugenics as meaning “selective breeding of humans, kind of like livestock, preventing undesireable ones from having children at all, and encouraging desirable ones to have more children”?

          That’s what I believe the term means, but from what I read above, it looks as if you may be using it as a synonym for e.g. “genetics”.

          Most of the ethical problems with eugenics come from 2 things
          – some people getting to decide which traits are deireable or otherwise, on behalf of other people who may disagree
          – forcible sterilization etc. in support of preventing those judged less desirable from having children

          There’s a third obvious ethical problem, but I don’t think anyone has tried forcing “desirable” people to have children against their will, rather than just e.g. offering them incentives like money for doing so.

          These would be problems even if all human traits were 100% heritable. IMO they’d be problems even if all members of each “race” had identical levels of each heritable trait.

          In other words, these are ethical problems, which have nothing to do with any kind of “factual” judgment.

          • albatross11 says:

            DinoNerd:

            I think eugenics in general refers to efforts to use selective breeding techniques to improve the human race.

            There are eugenics and eugenics-adjacent stuff I think are morally fine, even morally admirable. For example, getting genetic counseling before marrying when you are likely to carry some nasty genetic disease seems like a positive thing to me, but it’s hard to see why it doesn’t count as eugenics.

            The evil thing that happened w.r.t. eugenics wasn’t the goal, it was the methods. Having some bureaucrat or judge somewhere decide you should be sterilized because he thinks you are inferior and three generations of imbiciles is enough, that’s nasty as hell. But IMO the problem is the coercion, putting this kind of power in the hands of the bureaucrat or judge. Forced sterilization and abortions are evil, whether your goal is selectively breeding better humans, controlling population, or punishing dissent against the state. It’s the method that’s the problem.

            You can imagine some kind of entirely voluntary eugenics program, like the Howard Foundation in a bunch of Heinlein’s old novels. Such a program might not work out, just because it’s hard to keep human organizations doing something like that consistently for the huge number of centuries needed to get the desired result. But it could work in principle, and it wouldn’t be especially nasty or evil, IMO, to offer some people money to have more kids.

            There are also a lot of voluntary things like selecting sperm donors for IQ/height, or in vitro embryo selection, or aborting babies with various health/genetic issues, that are sort-of eugenics-adjacent. I think a lot of public discussion of these things gets wrapped around the axle because of difficulty in decoupling them from coercive eugenics.

            There’s also a shorter-range goal of some eugenics-adjacent policies. For example, there are some programs (I think privately funded) to offer drug addicts subsidized long-term contraception and pay them not to have kids. This is probably not so much to improve the remaining genepool (it might have a small effect of this kind, but honestly it would take a lot of generations to have much visible effect) as to keep very messed-up people from having more kids.

            I definitely don’t want the state deciding who gets to have kids and who doesn’t. I also am pretty sure that, all else equal, we’re better off in the world where the smart, functional, healthy people have more kids and the dumb, nonfunctional, sickly people have fewer.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Albatross11:

            I don’t have any problem with the things you suggest.

            Or perhaps I should say I don’t have any problem with them unless I suspect they are being advocated as a foot-in-the-door technique for someone hoping to move towards more coercive methods.

            I don’t think that’s what you are doing.

          • Since you mentioned Heinlein …

            My favorite version of eugenics is the one he describes in Beyond This Horizon, one of his weaker stories but with a number of interesting ideas in it.

            The idea is to permit couples to select on both egg and sperm, thus choosing, from among the children they could have, the child they do have.

            And he has an ingenious idea of how it could be done.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Few seperate issues here (maybe same root?),
      one of using hypotheticals and going from there (some people have a really hard time with this- ” assuming X were true, then- ” “BUT X IS EVIL/FALSE”.) They have weak imaginations and don’t have logical trainibg to compensate.

      A second issue with people just being literally unable or unwilling to understand what is written or said. (“I like red and hate pink” “WHY DO YOU HATE RED???”). They are really bad listeners or retarded.

      The final issue is more of a guilty by association issue. (“I think blacks are dumb” (I do not think this) “SO YOU’RE A WHITE NATIONALIST”).

      These can be combined with each other and bad faith for some horribly bad “discussions”

  8. souleater says:

    What went wrong with Star Wars??

    The final movie came out 2 months ago, so I think emotions have calmed enough that we can do a decent post mortem. I can’t believe disney decided to start a trilogy without any plan as to how it would end, and just let the directors make their own decisions. But that seems like exactly what happened.
    That doesn’t seem like the typical way trilogies are made, but I cant imagine Disney would be so clumsy with a major Ip.

    Am I being unfair to Disney here?
    Has Kathleen Kennedy, Bob Iger, or anyone else commented on where the trilogy went wrong?
    Who deserves the lions share of the blame here?

    I think this is safe for an open thread, so long as the focus is on the lack of planning instead of creative decisions

    • cassander says:

      The belief that they could follow the Marvel model without taking the time needed to do the work that actually made the marvel model work.

      Marvel works because they have a very consistent style and model that is popular and makes their movies hang together as a cohesive unit despite having this ridiculous number of characters. But they didn’t get that over night, they it took them pretty much all of phase 1 to get it nailed down, and that was 4 years and 6 movies, two of which are the worst in the franchise. But by being willing to experiment, to see what worked and discard what didn’t, they were able to hone in on delivering what audiences wanted and develop a system for producing that.

      Disney/Lucasfilms didn’t do that. they jumped right into the big productions without bothering to take the time to feel out how to make movies that the fans would respond to. They didn’t get luck out the door, so they made movies that weren’t particularly good. They made money, but they were eating their seed corn, and so now we’re talking about how one star wars movie a year led to exhaustion, while marvel is pulling off 2 or 3.

      What they should have done is ruthlessly mine the EU past and future for the most popular and adaptable stories and used them to make one off star wars stories for a couple years. None of these would really advance the universe, but they’d drop hints about big things coming down the line. Once they had a team in place that was (A) liked by the fan base (B) could be trusted by the studio to be given control over 3 movies so they could craft something consistent, then you craft a trilogy that picks up on those hints and feels like it pays them off. Then you wash, rinse, and repeat.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        To follow the Marvel model, Disney should have released a bunch of movies like Solo and Rogue One, except taking place 20 years after ROTJ. They could have followed up on existing characters, but most of them should have been new characters.

        Only after several of those come out — and you see what works and what doesn’t — should they do an Episode VII.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Harrison Ford reportedly got $10-20 million plus 0.5% of the gross for episode 7, and Mark Hamil somewhere between $1-3 million for the one scene at the end. Returning major characters makes it difficult to make smaller budget movies, and the special effects ditto. The cheapest of the 5 had a production budget of $200 million while 15 marvel movies come in below that mark (adjusting for inflation might push a few of those over that mark, but the point is there).

          Then of course the question is what do you do if one of them is a flop like Solo was?

          • Matt M says:

            Do we have much of a working theory on why Solo was such a flop?

            I’ll admit I was on the fence of seeing it, since it wasn’t really a “mainline” entry and I was worried it’d be too… I dunno… regular hollywood?

            But then I did see it and I remembered that there are worse things than regular hollywood, and I enjoyed it a lot more than any of the new trilogy, and it was a solid and fun stand-alone action-adventure film that I feel stands up just fine to all the other potential competitors in that genre.

          • Nick says:

            @Matt M
            We’ve discussed it on SSC, with answers varying. The one I favor is that fans were unhappy with Last Jedi and punished Solo by not going.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            So the movies should mostly have been about new characters, and not trying to be epic sagas. What was the budget for 10 episodes of the Mandalorian?

            Definitely have someone in charge of the lore. If you want to invent some new technology, like tracking ships through hyperspace, the person in charge of the lore needs to approve that. (And the fan community has largely done all this work for you; just go look at the wiki.)

            New tech that changes the rules can be something that works really well in stories like this. but you have to do it right.

          • rumham says:

            @Nick

            That’s what I did, so I favor it as well.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I haven’t seen Solo, so my information on it is largely from reviews like from Redlettermedia. My interpretation is that they made a movie that was marketed as one thing and produced as another. As a movie about Han Solo it wasn’t great, certain things like a robot flying the Falcon for him rubbed fans the wrong way, but it wasn’t marketed as a generic sci fi movie which kept generic but not Star Wars specific fans away.

          • Matt M says:

            That’s what I did

            But after the first week, when people came back and said “Actually, this wasn’t bad, or at least it wasn’t bad for the same reasons TFA/TLJ was bad!” you didn’t change your mind and give it a chance?

          • Nick says:

            @Matt M
            FWIW I was really pissed about Last Jedi, but I still saw Solo opening weekend.

          • rumham says:

            @Matt M

            I watched it on Netflix. Wasn’t too bad. Definitely better than TLJ. Some strange implications like the Millennium Falcon is sentient and that professional crooks will sacrifice their lives so the others could make money, but overall not bad. Loved Donald Glover as Lando.

          • GreatColdDistance says:

            But after the first week, when people came back and said “Actually, this wasn’t bad, or at least it wasn’t bad for the same reasons TFA/TLJ was bad!” you didn’t change your mind and give it a chance?

            The problem for me was that the reviews were too mixed. Sure, nobody was dragging it like they did TLJ, but nobody I know/read was really willing to go to bat for it as a great movie either. Even TFA and TLJ had their defenders who seemed to be really stoked on them, but everybody seemed really lukewarm on Solo. Star Wars gets them big numbers from being an event that drags people into theater seats, and “it’s fine, if you go you’ll enjoy it, but it’s nothing special or important” isn’t enough to get people there. Heck, TLJ’s incredible divisiveness probably sold a bunch more tickets cause you need to see it to have an opinion on it, even if that divisiveness involved crunching on the seed corn.

            Plus Solo came out REALLY close to TLJ, the closest release of two SW films ever by a big margin.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            The one I favor is that fans were unhappy with Last Jedi and punished Solo by not going.

            This was pretty much true for me as well, except it wasn’t a case of “angry” and “punish” but rather “disappointed” and “burned out”. This was especially notable since Rogue One was by far my favorite of the new Disney works until The Mandalorian came out, despite several issues I have with its storytelling, and on that basis and prior to walking out of TLJ I was really looking forward to Solo.

      • Don P. says:

        I imagine that one reason they hurried into that trilogy was they looked at the ages of their three returning actors, and maybe their life histories, and recognized that they may well not have had 5 years to wait on that. Obviously as it turned out this was a correct concern.

        But more generally, “finding out what works” was not obviously a concern at that point. Marvel had to do it, but they weren’t following up 6 other movies made over a 30-year period; they knew they were going into it cold.

        • Matt M says:

          Maybe I was being optimistically naieve, but when I first heard that Disney bought Star Wars and was working on a new trilogy, it honestly never even occurred to me that they would bring back actors/characters from the original trilogy. I always just assumed they’d set it far enough in the future such that they’d be able to tell an entirely new story with fresh faces.

          LOL me, I guess?

          • albatross11 says:

            I assumed they’d do what they tried to do–pass the baton onto new people. Really, the original characters should start the new trilogy at the cabinet secretary/joint chiefs level–Leia should be the prime minister or foreign secretary, Luke should be the Yoda of his time with a couple dozen jedi under his command and more in training, Han, Lando, Chewie, etc., should all have important jobs in the new republic. The problem the author of the stories needs to solve right away is how to make someone screw up badly enough that people at their level are actually involved directly in some kind of adventure–but most of the adventuring should be being done by the new characters, and the planning and big-picture stuff should be handled by the folks in their 60s and 70s, with more fragile bodies and lots more experience.

          • John Schilling says:

            This, except that with Han and Chewie nobody needs to “screw up” for them to go adventuring. Han may be the Secretary of Illicit Commerce or whatever, but isn’t it amazing how many commercial disputes can be settled by nothing less than the Secretary himself, and the Undersecretary of Hirsute Astronautics, personally conducting a covert investigation in a modified YT-1300 light freighter?

            That, and not some lame plot about their kid turning out to be Darth Emo, should have been the long-standing dispute between Han and his more politically responsible wife.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Nah. Han established himself a a true hero, ready to fight and sacrifice himself and forgo personal gain to help his friends. The smuggler/adventurer is dead and is replaced by a dashing captain/leader of men. If you want a Leia/Han fracture that has teeth you have one of Han’s old buddies/protege types die in a battle that Leia directed with a broader vision for the ongoing war in mind. Leia is all ‘sacrifices have to be made for the Republic/he knew what he was getting into’ and Han is all ‘he saved my life on Endor, and you sent him on a suicide mission.

          • John Schilling says:

            Nah. Han established himself a a true hero, ready to fight and sacrifice himself and forgo personal gain to help his friends.

            Han established himself as being ready to sacrifice money to help his friends. You’re asking him to sacrifice his fun, to not go out and have a good rousing fight to help his friends, because being a manager is more important. That more nearly is a sacrifice of “himself”, and not at all established.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I still think the best explanation for Han is he’s the top field agent for the New Republic Clandestine Service. All that stuff about him leaving because he couldn’t stand to settle down… real, but also a ruse.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      I think this is safe for an open thread, so long as the focus is on the lack of planning instead of creative decisions

      If Star Wars is too controversial to safely discuss here, we might as well close up shop and go home.

      In any case, I get the impression that for Rise of Skywalker at least it was a deadly combination of lack of overall vision for the series plus constant petty interference in details. Your guess is as good as mine how seriously to take this reddit post, but if even a fraction of it is true it’s no wonder the movie was such a muddled mess. (The part I’m most disappointed about might be that we didn’t get to see Hayden Christensen one last time.)

    • Walter says:

      I concur, as hard as it is to believe, it seems like the creative decisions for each movie were made separately.

      • Matt M says:

        Agreed. I also think there was a bit of hubris involved in the sense that they just assumed “So long as we call it Star Wars, people will like it!” and that they didn’t have to bother with trivial details like “How do we ensure the 2nd movie doesn’t contradict the 1st and that the 3rd doesn’t contradict the 2nd?”

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I don’t think the problem was in the execution. The problem was conceptual. The first trilogy was a hero’s journey. The second was (well, tried to be) Hamlet. What was this sequence of films even going for? Guardians of the Galaxy? What was the core of the story? If the answer is supposed to be, “the hero’s journey again,” they did a terrible job of it because it never felt like anyone was learning anything. No revelations that changed the hero, no hidden knowledge, no descent into the abyss, no growth. Just things happening to people because it was [nostalgic/subversive/provoked any sort of emotional response], choose according to the film you’re talking about. That’s not a story. And none of the rest of the films are good enough to overcome that, at least not to me. Airplane is, but this wasn’t Airplane. It’s not like critics didn’t see this happening in The Force Awakens either; the praise it received was in spite of this. Everyone was saying, “now that I’m back in this universe I’m excited to see where it goes.” That the answer was “nowhere” was entirely predictable. Most damningly, nobody was saying this about A New Hope back when it was Star Wars. There was no need to speculate.

      If The Force Awakens had been “Star Wars 2 7: Dagobah Drift, in which we tell the same story again,” I would still have been disappointed, but I wouldn’t have given up hope. What we got instead was Abrams’ weightless hack-job nostalgia orgy montage parody of Star Wars, and we (collectively; I, of course, hated The Force Awakens because I am always right) gave it a free pass just because it didn’t have anything as offensively stupid as Jar-Jar Binks in it. The movies were conceived of in a fundamentally broken way from the start, and I don’t think there was ever going to be any satisfying ending to them. You don’t put the Batman Vs. Superman writer on a film you want to put a good story in, which indicates to me that Disney weren’t even trying.

    • Two McMillion says:

      What went wrong with Star Wars??

      Primarily, the lack of cohesive vision for the new trilogy as a whole. Secondarily, taking the wrong sort of storytelling risks.

      I was disappointed that Force Awakens was the same story we’d seen before over again. But that said, Force Awakens wasn’t really that bad. Its two biggest mistakes were, in order, Rey winning the fight with Kylo Ren in the forest, and the fact that the whole Starkiller Base thing was kind of stupid. Rey winning the fight with Kylo meant that she had no place to grow, no new skills to acquire or anything. It removed a lot of potential dramatic tension. Whether Disney made this mistake for SJW reasons or if the writers just misstepped is irrelevant; the single small change of making Rey lose the fight would have changed the movie for the better. That said, realistically, something like Force Awakens had to happen to get people in seats for the movie. None of the mistakes there were unrecoverable.

      I’ve said before that Last Jedi wasn’t necessarily a bad science fiction movie; it just wasn’t a very good Star Wars movie. The changes in tone and theme could have been really interesting somewhere else; Star Wars just wasn’t a place for them. Realistically, it was necessary for the new Star Wars franchise to give itself a clean slate for new stories, but this wasn’t the way to do it.

      Last Jedi has a lot more problems then Force Awakens, but the biggest ones, I think, are how it treated Snoke and Kylo. Killing Snoke removed the big threat we thought we were moving towards, while Kylo’s arc became… confused. Again, the effect of all this was largely to remove tension from the story. Once Last jedi had happened, most of the changes for Rise of Skywalker were inevitable; that movie was trying to make up for the mistakes of the last two movies, and I think it actually did an okay job.

      What the trilogy needed was a creative line of thought that would have united all three movies, but there really wasn’t one. Everything else that went wrong came from that. Edgar Alan Poe had it right when he had that the most important element of a story is a single idea that runs through the whole thing, and every other element of the story should support that. Star Wars violated this rule and paid the price.

    • woah77 says:

      It’s my opinion that two things led them astray in a major way: They disregarded all of the source material and decided to do their own thing AND they were willing to discard older fans in favor of trying to create new ones. Kathleen Kennedy made an announcement leading up to the release of Episode 9 about how hard it was to make these movies because “Every one of these movies is a particularly hard nut to crack. There’s no source material. We don’t have comic books. We don’t have 800-page novels. We don’t have anything other than passionate storytellers who get together and talk about what the next iteration might be.” Source

      Personally I found that a bit tough to swallow. “None of this (EU material made over the last 40 some years) is canon at all anymore.” 4 years later “We don’t have any source material!” Yes, when you amputate 99% of your universe, you don’t have any source material. But that’s not from a lack of source material. That’s a conscious decision.

    • John Schilling says:

      The magic number is four billion, four hundred sixty nine million, nine hundred forty-four thousand, five hundred and nine. And counting, because Rise of Skywalker only came out two months ago and is still in domestic theaters. Unless you are A: a Disney shareholder who B: expressed to the board your desire that they should rather make movies that satisfy your artistic taste than movies that make ginormous boatloads of money, yeah, you’re probably being a bit unfair to them.

      If you think it is wrong that they didn’t make movies that were both massively profitable and geek-friendly, then yes it might have been possible to do that and the MCU stands as an existence proof. But Star Wars VII-IX made more money than three average MCU movies, almost as much as the top three MCU movies for about the same budget and probably far less hassle for the suits trying to keep the whole enterprise on track. If you’ve got a movie studio and a gigabuck, and you want many gigabucks, just hire J.J. Abrams and say “Here’s the most impressive title in our IP portfolio; go make three movies and don’t worry about the nerds and geeks saying you’ve ruined the source material; they’ll still pay full price for the privilege”.

      Hiring Rian Johnson on the theory that he could make an artistically superior movie with the same gross was probably the one significant mistake on Disney’s part, and did more damage than Abrams could fix in a single movie.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The magic number is four billion, four hundred sixty nine million, nine hundred forty-four thousand, five hundred and nine. And counting, because Rise of Skywalker only came out two months ago and is still in domestic theaters. Unless you are A: a Disney shareholder who B: expressed to the board your desire that they should rather make movies that satisfy your artistic taste than movies that make ginormous boatloads of money, yeah, you’re probably being a bit unfair to them.

        That isn’t nearly enough for Disney to be happy with the Star Wars purchase and all the production costs.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Star Wars merchandise sales have been disappointing for Disney. Total merchandise sales for all of Disney (Marvel, Star Wars and all their animation) fell 15% from 2016 to 2018.

            PS. Knew what the link was, clicked it anyway. Love it.

        • John Schilling says:

          Assuming marketing costs were roughly equal to production costs, and the 5% interest you suggest as appropriate below, those three movies have already retired 70% of the cost Disney payed for the “Star Wars” franchise. That’s before we count the other two movies, the premium-cable TV series, the animated TV series, the next movies, the next TV series, the assorted merchandising, er moichandising, and oh yeah the bit where they remade a big chunk of their signature theme park in the “Star Wars” brand.

          What is your evidence that Disney is unhappy with this state of affairs? And what is your evidence that making geek-friendly movies would have earned them this sort of money?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Disney would know if people were signing up to Disney+ just to binge the Mandalorian.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You are assuming that Disney owns 100% of the box office and they don’t. Even of their cut they don’t own 100% as Harrison Ford and JJ Abrams combined to receive (according to public reports) 2% of the gross as part of their compensation. Disney’s take is probably in the 60-70% range which means they have returned half or less than the original cost, and there are no more movies imminent. At this point we are still talking about making back the original investment and not about positive return and the three big movies are in the 40-70% range.

            With marketing = production budgets Solo+Rogue one are likely net losers for Disney, with smaller marketing budgets they could be small winners.

          • baconbits9 says:

            And what is your evidence that making geek-friendly movies would have earned them this sort of money?

            I never said that making geek friendly movies would have worked, I specifically said that they were pigeonholed into this path by the purchase.

          • Civilis says:

            What is your evidence that Disney is unhappy with this state of affairs? And what is your evidence that making geek-friendly movies would have earned them this sort of money?

            The evidence is the box-office for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Even if the next Star Wars movie is part of a main-story trilogy, it’s still going to be a new story rather than the continuation of a story the fans have an invested interest in. And my recollection is that a lot of the cast of the recent trilogy wants the Star Wars series behind them, and while enough money might change that, it still shows in the final film (and especially the marketing and publicity).

            If the next movie is going to follow the pattern of Solo, Disney would be better off adapting just about any Marvel character to the screen over making another Star Wars film. (Well, if they redo Howard the Duck, it might not be quite as profitable, but I’d wager it would be close.) And that’s based on box office receipts alone; I’d wager the Marvel movies are cheaper to make. For that matter, cheap Live-Action / CGI redos of their animated movies are probably a better bet than Star Wars.

            I’d bet that the trend for Marvel films and Live-Action remakes will burn out long before Star Wars makes a box-office comeback, and as long as those are profitable, they are better bets for Disney than a Star Wars film.

      • GreatColdDistance says:

        Fundamentally, they bought the biggest movie franchise in history and have tanked it. While each Marvel film up to this point has brought in bigger profits and a bigger share of the public conscious, every Star Wars film has made less money and been less hyped since they’ve started it up. The potential for profits if they had managed to maintain and grow the fanbase was massive, and if they can’t reverse the downward trend the loss in potential will be massive, even if they make back their initial investment.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Problem #1: Disney paid $4 billion for Star Wars in 2012 and the first movie was released in 2015. At 5% interest they were in the hole > $4.5 billion when TFA came out. Disney paid over $4 billion for Marvel in 2009 but Iron Man was already a hit and IM2 was in the works and was released in 2010 (Hulk also had been released and was a flop), and three years after the purchase IM2, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers had been released with IM3 and Thor2 set to release the next year.

      Fairly simply put Disney bought a vision that was well developed and ready for their mass production and distribution when they bought Marvel, and had to largely start from scratch when they bought Lucasfilm. This led to a very rushed timeline, they couldn’t spend 5-7years developing a Star Wars universe and they couldn’t run out small projects alone even if they were profitable compared to their budgets. Netting 2-300 million a year on the franchise would be barely breaking even and that is only if they could do it in perpetuity, so they were pigeon holed into massive blockbusters ASAP.

      Problem #2: A few massive blockbusters weren’t going to be enough. The three main movies had a world wide combined gross of ~4.3 billion. So even with zero production/marketing costs, a 100% take on the receipts and a 0% interest rate on the purchase they still would have made ~ a 1% annual return on that $4 billion. In reality Disney’s net take from those movies before interest/opportunity cost of the $4 billion is likely around $1 billion. Just to make the investment back from movies at that rate* would mean at a minimum a dozen massive blockbuster style movies, so they couldn’t just make stand alone blockbusters they had to have those also tie into other movies and TV shows etc.

      These two basic problems led them to rush The Force Awakens and grab as much in box office receipts as they could. They made a safe, step for step remake of ANH, lots of nostalgia, great visuals etc. Movie #2 had to buck a serious trend though. ANH was by far the highest grossing of the original trilogy (and on the smallest budget), Empire #2 and Return #3. For the prequels its Episode 1, then episode 3, then 2. Each of the other two trilogies saw a 35-40% drop in box office
      from the highest grossing to the lowest grossing film and this one needed a lot more than 3 films. Rogue 1 was a big hit for them but if you run the basic math with a 50% box office take for Disney and drop off their production costs they were basically breaking even on the interest cost of $4 billion on that movie. Whatever movie #2 was it had to be great in some way, bring in a new legion of fans, or break the trend of the 1st movie being the most popular or set up massive toy sales.

      This is where a lot of the discussion on The Last Jedi misses the mark. As a movie it should have ended 45 mins earlier, Rey shouldn’t have been so OP, they shouldn’t have mixed politics with their movie so overtly- I pretty much agree with these complaints from a ‘did I personally enjoy the movie’ standpoint (no). From a ‘Disney needs the movie to do this, this and this’ standpoint it needed to be a sprawling story that touched many worlds. Do you think they sprung for Benicio Del Toro for 8 mins of screen time, or added an acclaimed actress to voice Maz without hoping that one of them would stick as character they could build a spin off of some kind around? What about the ridiculous Rose/Finn kiss? Cynically they likely had eyes towards turning Rose into a character that had a major following, so they jammed her into a few more scenes than the would have otherwise.

      TLDR: The amount that they paid for the franchise heavily limited their options and they needed a combination of major blockbuster hits while expanding the universe quickly, which is a much harder ask than just ‘fun and profitable star wars movies.

      *Obviously that rate ended up disappointing for them, but we are also forgiving interest here and while we aren’t talking toy sales/theme park stuff we also aren’t even talking profit yet, just making back the initial cost.

      • bean says:

        Focusing the financial analysis on the movies alone is not likely to give an accurate picture of what’s going on. I can’t find consistent numbers online, but they’re probably clearing $1 billion a year in revenue outside of the movies, and some figures suggest that the number is several times that. I don’t know how much that comes to in terms of profit to Disney, but it’s not small change.

        • baconbits9 says:

          If these numbers are accurate (and they claim to be straight from Disney’s public filings) then earnings on all merchandise for Disney has never broken $2 billion a year, and has declined since its peak of just under $2 billion in 2016 (last year give 2018). 2018 saw major hits in Black Panther and infinity war plus a minor hit in the 2nd ant man movie for the Marvel scene, and TLJ was released at year end (though before Christmas so likely a lot of merch sales went into 2017) and Solo in 2018. Given that Solo flopped and RoS returned half of what TFA did at the box office and 25% less than TLJ did and that Disney has many other product lines it seems unlikely that Star Wars is itself doing great in merchandising sales and adding more than a 1-200 billion a year in earnings. Sure, I’d love that income but we are talking about a franchise that from the movies alone is potentially $2 billion behind just breaking even.

          • bean says:

            I think you’re confusing earnings and revenue. Earnings peaked at $2 billion in 2016, but revenue that year looks to have been close to $6 billion. If we assume that Star Wars is 20% of that, you’re looking at $400 million/year. OK, so my estimate was somewhat high, but that’s still 10% of what they spent to buy it, and interest rates aren’t that high. Again, this is earnings, not revenue.

            Another question is exactly what goes into that number. I think it includes stuff like novels and video games, but how about revenue from TV shows? The new parks? That money is presumably coming in from elsewhere, and trying to tease it out sounds like a job for a professional.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I think you’re confusing earnings and revenue. Earnings peaked at $2 billion in 2016, but revenue that year looks to have been close to $6 billion. If we assume that Star Wars is 20% of that, you’re looking at $400 million/year. OK, so my estimate was somewhat high, but that’s still 10% of what they spent to buy it, and interest rates aren’t that high. Again, this is earnings, not revenue.

            I’m looking at earnings because that is what matters. They need to clear 4 billion in operational profit just to break even for the star wars purchase, to figure out if/when they did that we need to estimate the costs of producing that merch, just like we have to estimate how much of the gross ticket sales went to Disney for the movies.

          • bean says:

            No, we don’t need to work out the cost of merchandise production. That’s baked into the gap between earnings and revenue. Disney is taking in about $1.5-2 billion over what they spend each year from their merchandise business. If 20% of that is Star Wars, they’re making $300-400 million profit just from that, which more than covers their interest and is going a long way to paying down the cost of capital.

          • baconbits9 says:

            No, we don’t need to work out the cost of merchandise production.

            You said I was confusing earnings and revenue, I wasn’t.

            If 20% of that is Star Wars, they’re making $300-400 million profit just from that,

            The first Star Wars movie that Disney produced came out at the end of 2015, they bought the franchise in 2012. Their two most popular Star Wars movies were released at the end of 2015 and the end of 2016. If merch earnings roughly follow movie popularity you have peak Star Wars earnings likely in 2016, which was ~ $400 million more than 2014 which was before the movies came out (still some Star Wars licencing going on, but the bulk of sales come with movies). It is likely that 400-500 million a year in earnings from merch is peak Star Wars sales, not average sales. Given the decline in star wars movie popularity and overall Disney merch sales since 2016, plus the 3 years before TFA comes out plus two more years (likely at least) until the next movie comes out you have to be really optimistic about merch sales to average over $300 million a year, and more like $150-$200 a year from time of purchase until the next movie is realsed or roughly 10 years. So $1.5-$2 billion in merch earnings for a franchise that is ~ $2 billion short in movie earnings.

          • baconbits9 says:

            One back of the envelope calculation

            Star Wars movies accounted for ~39% of all Disney movies by Box office from 2015 to 2019, and Disney earned about $7 billion from merch etc in that span putting Star Wars’ share at ~2.8 billion. I would say this is the upper end, we are giving Star Wars full credit for 2015 when TFA came out in mid December and 2015 was the 2nd highest year in that span. Disney also has a lot of products that still sell merch but don’t make movies (people still by Mickey Mouse Tshirts) and have lots of TV shows, theme parks etc.

      • Civilis says:

        Technically, Disney bought LucasFilm for $4 billion, so there’s more than just the Star Wars IP involved. Still, I think the point might be a valid one, as the value of the Star Wars name was almost certainly a good percentage of the value of LucasFilm.

        Comparing Disney’s acquisitions of Marvel and Star Wars, Marvel gives Disney a continuing library of characters and stories with somewhat proven track records to turn into movies. Since the EU is out of the picture, Star Wars contributes little more to the new films than the name, cameos from existing characters, and backstory (and they’ve done their best to burn the latter two).

        It’s interesting to note that Solo: a Star Wars Story, which was made with a recognizable character from the original trilogy, was only the 12th highest domestic grossing film of 2018, and it was 24th worldwide. Every other Star Wars film (possibly excepting Rise of Skywalker, for which final numbers are not known) seems to be in the top three in terms of domestic take for its year, including the other side story, Rogue One. That drop is a good sign that the Star Wars name is no longer enough to sell a movie up to the top of the box office charts, and that was the value of the IP. If movies with ‘Star Wars’ in the title perform only as well as other off-brand science fiction movies with similar budgets and marketing, then the IP is worthless, and the sequel trilogy sucked the value out of the IP to generate short term revenues for Disney.

        I don’t think it’s quite as bad as that; the Mandalorian shows there is still some value attached to the Star Wars name, but its certainly lost value from when Disney bought it. If I was a Disney stock holder, I’d be upset that something that could have added value in perpetuity was burned for a one time return, even if they can eventually repair some of the value.

  9. Matt M says:

    I don’t know if anyone else has seen these commercials and noticed this or not, but it appears that Abstergo Corporation has gained control of a significant portion of America’s light pick-up truck industry.

    Seriously WTF is going on here?

  10. salvorhardin says:

    So what do people think is Trump’s motivation for the recent round of pardons, especially those of fairly obviously “swampy” figures– most blatantly Blagojevich but arguably also Kerik and Milken? Is this likely to genuinely appeal to his base, or to purchase loyalty from other figures whose loyalty gives him significant advantage?

    My Trump-opponent take is that these are just typical high-status thugs, fraudsters, and crooks, and Trump likes helping these people out because he’s one of them (much as he enjoyed the opportunity to put a fellow sexual predator on the Supreme Court) and helping them out demonstrates loyalty to his own kind and makes it culturally easier for him to enjoy impunity for his own misdeeds. But I recognize that this is uncharitable and possibly biased, and I’m interested in what other explanations fit his pattern of behavior.

    • Matt M says:

      much as he enjoyed the opportunity to put a fellow sexual predator on the Supreme Court

      0/3 on that one

      spicy take tho

    • baconbits9 says:

      Do people pay attention to pardons? I mean as long as they don’t get tossed right back in jail for the same crime then the broad public (in my guesstimation) forgets right about them.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Ford’s pardon of Nixon dropped Ford’s approval rating from 71% to 50%, but that’s something of a special case.

      • Plumber says:

        @baconbits9 says:

        “Do people pay attention to pardons?…”

        My wife says she does and that the pardons are examples of “It’s turning into Russia!”, but I’ve already forgotten what any of the guys listed did (if I ever knew), I remember seeing a headline that Roger Stone was being pardoned for something or other, the rest of the names listed by @salvorhardin don’t look familiar to me, so based on a poll of both registered voters at my house 50% pay attention.

        • broblawsky says:

          Stone hasn’t been pardoned yet, but Trump is interfering with the Justice Department in his case in a way that seems to make even AG Barr uncomfortable.

          • Plumber says:

            Thanks @broblawsky, truth is with a now divided Congress I figure nothing much good or bad will come from D.C. (and there’s City and County of San Francisco corruption scandals that I’m more interested in).

          • sharper13 says:

            What specifically do you consider Trump’s interference with the Justice Department handling of the Stone case? Anything besides public tweets?

          • broblawsky says:

            Public tweets are unacceptable interference in and of themselves.

    • The Nybbler says:

      For Blagojevich in particular, he’s giving the Presidential middle finger to those who are attacking him (and Barr) over Stone.

      I was never sure Michael Milken was guilty of anything but process crimes and making a lot of money unconventionally, but I don’t know Trump’s reason for pardoning him.

    • broblawsky says:

      In the case of Milken? Because Giuliani asked for it, most likely. Giuliani’s been looking for a pardon for Milken for years now. I’d bet that Giuliani had something to do with Kerik as well.

    • Civilis says:

      Were these pardons or commutations of sentences? I know Blagojevich was not pardoned but had his sentence commuted. Of course, what matters is not what Trump did but what the public thinks Trump did, and so it could be telling that popular attention is fixating on them all as pardons of high-status crooks, which will be what the public remembers unless Trump manages to make a big deal about it.

      This decision does not make much sense to me, and I see a lot of people on the right that are willing to vote for Trump are also confused and unhappy. The usual Presidential behavior is to make your pardons as a lame duck when the media isn’t paying attention. As a silver lining, the fact that he’s doing this in the open before an election might be politically stupid, but at least it makes it harder to claim he’s hiding something. Also, Trump is on record as stating that Blagojevich’s sentence was too high back in 2012, so it’s not likely to be an entirely new decision, even if it does look like he’s playing favorites with someone that appeared on his TV show.

      If I assume this was strategically planned, then I would assume he thinks there’s some benefit in the election. Not that I’d bet that this was the plan, but if there was a plan, it would be to wait until this is big news (because it looks bad for Trump) and roll out a criminal justice reform package, using the four African-American women in the 11 people he granted some form of clemency to (at least I think it’s four… the NY Times lists Tynice Nichole Hall, Crystal Munoz, Angela Stanton, and Judith Negron) to sell the deal, possibly along with more clemency.

    • hls2003 says:

      I’m moderately familiar with Blago’s case as he kept our Illinois gubernatorial-prison streak alive. Nobody likes Blago, he has no constituency, and I would suspect he’s on the list for two primary reasons in addition to the overarching reason noted below – the two primary reasons being (1) he was a Democrat, so it gives Trump cover for not just helping people of his party, and (2) Trump knew him personally from TV and apparently thought his sentence was too long some years ago.

      The overarching theme, if there is one, looks to me like it is “politically ambitious government prosecutors have gotten overly aggressive with squeezing people by threatening huge sentences for vague and open-ended process crimes that are often unclear beforehand and sometimes seem like entrapment.” This makes sense to me from what I know: Trump thinks this is the same sort of open-ended investigatory technique that has been “witch-hunting” his people like Gen. Flynn from Day One; Blago is an example where (IIRC) several of his convictions got vacated due to the unconstitutional vagueness of the “honest services” law; Milken seems fairly similar and has a Giuliani connection; several of the lesser-known names appear to be non-violent process or fraud crimes; addressing aggressive sentencing of non-violent offenders helps bring attention to one of his actual legislative accomplishments, the criminal justice reform bill he signed.

      If this is his actual intent – who knows, and it’s likely unclear at best – I think it’s salutary, although I’d really like to see it addressed by additional legislation to substantially tighten up a lot of the (IMHO) very vague, over-broad catchall provisions of the U.S. Code where you start out with no real way of knowing you’re a criminal, and end up in jail for a decade. One sort-of example that drives me nuts (not addressed in any of these cases AFAIK) is the “structuring” charge for bank transactions allegedly done to avoid running afoul of the bank reporting requirements. I think it is ridiculous that the law defines a set of lines, but your attempt to comply by staying within those lines is then used to charge you with attempting to avoid the law. Finding the line and staying on one side of it is literally following the law; if you can’t write a law that encompasses my behavior, you shouldn’t get to second-guess me for actually reading the law as written and acting accordingly.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think this charge is sometimes used when someone was doing something the prosecutor wants to punish, but the thing itself wasn’t technically illegal. But the payoff or attempt to keep it secret violated the structuring laws.

        It seems to me that the money laundering laws are generally designed to allow prosecutors to put someone in prison regardless of whether there’s evidence of any other crimes. This seems like a pretty bad idea to me, but I also don’t think it’s great for the government to be able to trace every dollar anyone spends, or where everyone is all the time, or every phone call/email anyone makes. Twenty years ago, I would have guessed that trying to do all that stuff would cause a popular revolt–glad I didn’t have any way to place a bet on *that* belief.

      • Lillian says:

        The structuring thing reminds me of how when you look at the various reasons why officers thought the vehicles they have pulled over were suspicious, the list will invariably include driving too fast, driving too slow, and driving the speed limit.

        There’s also a joke I heard once about three business owners in prison. One of them asks another what he’s in for, and the guy replies, “I charged more than the competition and was accused of monopolistic pricing. What about you?” The other guy shocked, “But I’m here because I charged less than the competition and they accused me of predatory pricing!” The third guy is utterly astonished and interjects, “And I’m here because I charged the same as the competition and they accused me of cartel pricing!”

        This is of course actually a variant of a Soviet joke. Three men are in prison and one of them asks the other two what they’re in for. One guy guy says, “I arrived to work 15 minutes early and was accused of espionage.” The other guy says, “I arrived to work 15 minutes late and was accused of wrecking.” First guy nods and replies, “I see, well arrived to work exactly on time and was accused of having a Western watch.”

      • Don P. says:

        “One sort-of example that drives me nuts (not addressed in any of these cases AFAIK) is the “structuring” charge for bank transactions allegedly done to avoid running afoul of the bank reporting requirements. I think it is ridiculous that the law defines a set of lines, but your attempt to comply by staying within those lines is then used to charge you with attempting to avoid the law.”

        But it’s not your line to comply with at all; it’s not illegal to move huge amounts of money around, so repeatedly depositing $9999 doesn’t comply with anything any more than depositing $10001. It’s just that the bank has to report it.

    • much as he enjoyed the opportunity to put a fellow sexual predator on the Supreme Court

      Doesn’t remember where she was, doesn’t remember how she got there, doesn’t remember how she got home, doesn’t remember who invited her there, and nobody else she said was there remembers being there…

      • rumham says:

        Hey, maybe he’s referring to Michael Aventti’s allegations. Now there’s a guy you can trust.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          If Trump pardons or commutes the sentence of Avenatti on his way out of his second term, I will personally research out of body experiences just so I can learn how to have one and pull the plug on this simulation we’re in.

    • FormerRanger says:

      Clinton pardoned a whole list of people at the end of his second term. I can’t even remember who most of them were (Web Hubbell comes to mind), but I do remember a significant amount of indignation from the Republicans at the time. Obama did the same, in December of 2016 and January of 2017. Both of them also did tons of “clemency” reductions of sentences.

      It’s unusual to pardon so many people this far before the end of a term; it’s usually done at the end of ones final term of office, as Clinton and Obama did it.

    • albatross11 says:

      The comment

      much as he enjoyed the opportunity to put a fellow sexual predator on the Supreme Court

      seems to me to either be a signal that you have mindkilled yourself when thinking about Trump’s actions.

      That’s more-or-less Trump’s super power–he gets people reacting to him (pro or con) to stop thinking and react on style or image or tribalism.

  11. GearRatio says:

    You can make one free activity cost $5. What do you choose?

    Amendment: the money just, like, disappears. You don’t get to keep it, baconbits9.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Not dating me, I quickly rack up a few billion dollars.

      • primalwhispers says:

        I’d be really nervous about creating any rule that refers to my own identity. Anyone who was mad about the rule would know exactly who to blame.

        It wouldn’t be long before someone decided to see if the rule would go away if they killed me.

    • Statismagician says:

      Tweeting.

      • Well... says:

        Hmm…

        What do you think sending a tweet/FB post/etc. would have to be priced at to reach an equilibrium point where…

        – there are enough active users to cover the operating costs of the website (rendering the advertising/data-harvesting model unnecessary)
        – there is still enough profit to justify staying in business
        – there are few enough users that not using any social media is considered very normal, and most of the worst riff-raff is priced out

        Or is there no such equilibrium point?

      • Nick says:

        Dammit, you beat me to it!

    • Eric Rall says:

      Scheduling a meeting that could have been an email.

      • Garrett says:

        Management isn’t paying for it themselves, in any cases. It all comes out of an operating budget too large for $5 to matter.
        I like the spirit, but I’m not certain it would have that impact.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Calling me on the telephone, unless I enter star-something-or-other to waive the charge.

      • Theodoric says:

        +1, perhaps with a way for the person to avoid the charge by keying in a code to certify that whatever they’re calling about is literally so urgent that, if they had the means to do so, they would barge into my home or office and demand I drop what I’m doing to deal with it (because that is basically what a phone call does), but they get charged $15 if I decide it wasn’t that urgent.

    • GearRatio says:

      I thought about this for myself and I think I’d set the minimum price on advertisements for homes for rent. I’m trying to find something and craigslist is like >95% scams now.

    • EchoChaos says:

      First instinct: Voting.

      Weeds out all the idiots who “just want to make a difference”, but isn’t enough money to actually matter.

      • AG says:

        Isn’t this just further polarizing election results? The majority of the population is apathetic, you’re really weeding down to extremists. We want elected officials to pander to the actual populace, not the passionate.

        • Garrett says:

          No. We want elected officials to do a good job.
          We’ve substituted “getting votes” instead.
          So the result is that you have a lot of elected officials trying to appease people who are lacking both the interest as well as the willingness to create value in society. This creates terrible policy around micromanagement based on what gets traction in the news rather than what actually matters.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      Filing a DMCA takedown request. Or ideally, if the hypothetical will stretch this far, taking any copyright-enforcement-related action whatsoever.

    • DinoNerd says:

      So many choices:

      – any form of unsolicited advertising (except it could be argued that this is not quite free, though most individual ads cost only a fraction of a cent)
      – making any comment like “X are Y,” if there exists any X which is not Y.
      – gathering data via a data-harvesting web site, app, etc – $5 per datum gathered
      – telling a lie/knowingly stating a falsehood – if in writing, each page printed with the lie costs $5, if online, same for each page view. (Multiply by the number of lies on the page, of course.)

      • Anteros says:

        I really like the first three of these – particularly the one about advertising. I think it has major negative externalities, and I’d like to have my suffering of those (contra the OP) recompensed – anybody sticks any advertising in my visual or aural fields gets to pay. $5 per pixel sounds about right.

        And thinking about it, this ties in with your fourth point about lying – advertisers will get hit just as much as journalists for their lack of honesty.

        Ah, that’s better. I’m feeling the world turning into a nicer place already….

    • Shion Arita says:

      Sending automated emails/calls/letters in the mail.

    • b_jonas says:

      Throwing a cigarette butt to the ground (or into canals) in streets or other public areas when there’s a perfectly usable trashcan with metal ash container close. This happens especially in bus stops. Make this a two for one deal for the next 24 months, except when the cigarette is still lit and keeps smoking on the ground, in which case you pay the full price.

      • rumham says:

        when there’s a perfectly usable trashcan with metal ash container close.

        Where is this magical place you live that still has ashtrays!? Is there housing available?

        • b_jonas says:

          Budapest. “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/?curid=79428909” “https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/?curid=75760505” is the most common type of trashcan, and as you can see, there’s a metal pocket attachment down on the front in which you can safely put hot cigarettes, as well as a metal plate on the opening of the main compartment to put out your cigarette. Nevertheless, most people don’t seem to use them, they just throw their cigarette butts to the street, even when they’re an arm’s length from one.

          • rumham says:

            Glorious. In most western nations, finding an ashtray is about as likely as finding a working phonebooth.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I’ve often thought that people who smoke should always carry around little self-contained ashtrays they can put their cigs into when they are done. I don’t understand why this isn’t a thing for even civic minded smokers (or is this an oxymoron?). I don’t know that it should be a law, but I think it should be one of those things that we expect smokers to do.

    • Lambert says:

      Printing a $5 note?

    • primalwhispers says:

      Ghosting.

      Begging. (I guess that’s pretty mean, though.)

      Breathing, when done by someone who has for 30 days been a government official in a gerrymandered area, or in an area that doesn’t use a jungle primary with approval voting.

      Internet harassment, defined broadly to include any comment that is made for the primary purpose of making someone feel bad.

  12. Well... says:

    I really like the blues and I’ve listened to a decent amount but I don’t have much familiarity with any one artist or song. For any of you who do possess such familiarity, what song or performance do you think captures the most pain?

  13. Evil_Socrates says:

    I studied programming in college–I had a minor and enough extra classes that it was almost a double major. I became decently conversant in Java and C++ and did well, but it wasn’t the most rigorous program in the world. I graduated in 2008, subsequently went to grad school for something else, and have a career wholly unrelated to software development or coding (though one that still requires solving difficult logic problems in formal expressions).

    If I wanted to re-teach myself how to code in my limited spare time (I have a small child and a demanding career), what would be a good way to go about doing that? I have forgotten almost everything I learned about the actual languages, but I’d wager I’d still have a good grasp on the right way to think and could hopefully pick it back up again more quickly than a novice, if that makes sense.

    Would mostly be for fun and personal satisfaction but, who knows, if I get good enough again I could switch careers someday or tinker in semi-retirement from said demanding existing career. I’d welcome any suggestions (resources, suggestions for what language to start with, [ideally free] SDK’s I could use for my work, strategies for self-directed learning, etc.)!

    • zoozoc says:

      If your personality is anything like mine, then you need some kind of goal to work towards in order to learn anything useful. If you can come up with a project or objective that is medium-term doable (6 months or so) and then focus your learning towards that objective, it seems like you will be successful. Basically, if you learn what you use, your retention will be much better than just learning for some abstract future.

    • magehat says:

      I find going through a book and doing all the exercises is usually a good way to slowly build up familiarity with whatever language you want. And probably about halfway through you’ll get an idea for a project to exercise what you’ve learned, and then you can just switch over to that and use the book as a reference.

      I learned Java for developer interviewing this way with Head First Java, which is written in a more casual style than most programming textbooks. Granted I was coming off a 4 year CS degree, but I hadn’t seriously worked with Java in years and it gave me a good re-introduction to how things worked.

    • Viliam says:

      Programming is not only about the language per se, but also using the right tools. For example, in Java I would suggest trying to make a small project that contains all of the following:
      – Java 8
      – Spring framework
      – Maven project
      – logging (SLF4J)
      – unit tests (JUnit, Mockito, AssertJ)
      – static code analysis (not sure which one)

      These are things you probably want to have in any serious Java project. Just putting them all together along with some “hello world” code is going to be a challenge for a beginner, but at the end you will understand how it all works.

      What next? I would suggest not spending too much time on front end, because it keeps changing. Either keep is simple, or do a REST web application; you will probably want to use JAXB with that. Most applications use some kind of database, you could try H2 which also supports in-memory databases.

      The important thing is to use all that you have set up in the previous step while you add new functionality. Keep writing unit tests and fixing the issues found by code analysis.

      (Alternatively, if you want to try a completely new language, I believe Python is a good option.)

  14. IQrealist says:

    Linguistic analysis of 130,000 Twitter users across more than 3,500 occupations suggests that scientists are curious & idealistic, but not very agreeable compared to other professions.

    This is why they might not act like members of other fields.

    https://www.natureindex.com/news-blog/scientists-are-curious-and-idealistic-but-not-very-agreeable-compared-to-other-professions

    • woah77 says:

      I found their argument convincing and matching my experience, but found their lack of Engineers (other than software) rather disappointing. Do Electrical Engineers not count as working in Tech?

  15. Anteros says:

    Apparently not a single person under the age of 9 has died from the Coronavirus. Isn’t that something of a surprise given the number of people infected? It’s left me wondering how likely it would be to have a virus that’s both a considerable amount more contagious than the current one and also more lethal, but which similarly fails to kill any pre-teens at all. A world where there are precious few adults left….. Lord of the Flies?

    • Plumber says:

      @Anteros
      My first thought is of the “Miri” episode of Star Trek (first broadcast October 27, 1966).
      I wish that there was something like that on broadcast television again.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I’m going to file this as “almost certainly not true, and just another reason to not trust official Chinese reporting”. Young children are almost always more susceptible.

      • Anteros says:

        Fair point – I read it on the BBC website and didn’t think to question their source – obviously the official Chinese Gov’.

        ETA Funnily enough I did think “Wow, not even kids with weak hearts, chronic asthma, etc etc?” and then failed to retain the barest skepticism.
        Having said that, if it’s a blatant misrepresentation, isn’t that likely to come back and bite them?

        • Statismagician says:

          This needn’t be blatant, or even really a misrepresentation – I have no idea what etiological standards the Chinese medical system uses, it’s totally possible they just categorize deaths due to complications exacerbating an underlying condition differently than the US one does.

          • zoozoc says:

            My understanding is that when someone dies in China, the pre-existing/underlying condition is listed as the cause of death. For example, if someone elderly dies from the flu, their cause of death will be whatever issue they had before, not the flu. This is why China has like 200-300 flu deaths a year.

          • Fitzroy says:

            Looking at the figures the China CDC have provided statistics for comorbid conditions, so clearly deaths are not being attributed solely to preexisting conditions rather than COVID-19.

            It’s worth noting that there have only been 416 confirmed cases in under 9s, and only 4,383 person-days of observation. If the under-9 fatality rate were the same as those in the 10-39 brackets (0.002 / 0.003 per 10 patient-days) we would only expect to have seen one death so far anyway.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I’m starting to see graphs confirming this. The one I saw this morning was even more “clean”, without the dip at the end, but I can’t find it right now.

    • Statismagician says:

      Not really – by analogy with influenza and cf. Table 2 in this CDC publication, kids get clinically significant cases more frequently than adults, but die much less often. Probably the same sort of thing is going on with this virus.

    • fibio says:

      I sense this is a dodge and it will turn out that they were only testing adults for the virus, or something stupid like that. The results are technically correct but missing the entire point. Rather like the Chernobyl ‘maximum recorded radiation’ figure, which was just the maximum value on their readers with the true value being immeasurably higher.

  16. DragonMilk says:

    An update to my computer BSOD mystery: I’ve sent the motherboard back to Gigabyte ($14.50 UPS ground shipping), but am debating whether to simply get a better one (Have a Ryzen 5 2600 processor). Anyone have recommendations for an AMD motherboard for less than $100?

    To recap the saga:

    1. Built PC at end of July 2019
    2. BSOD while watching youtube in mid-January
    3. Restarting resulted in various BSOD
    4. Windows install repeatedly failed
    5. Memtest 86 successfully ran after 3.5 hours
    6. Swapped graphics cards and SSDs and eliminated those as cause of error
    7. Found that crashes persisted when attempting to put in an Ubuntu USB (kernel panic) as well as hiren’s boot cd

    I had bought a cheap Gigabyte A320 motherboard as I didn’t think motherboards did much other than exist…

    • Protagoras says:

      I’m not as up to date on the latest hardware as I used to be, but I recall in the past power supply issues were generally the most likely culprit for seemingly random bad stuff happening. Just mentioning as you don’t have anything about having checked for that.

      • DragonMilk says:

        Ah, I did make sure to have plenty of juice – and the setup was good to go for over 5 months before the endless BSOD.

        This was my first PC build so I definitely could be screwing something up! (Again, the 5+ months of no issues is the confounding factor)

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          As I understand it, power issues are likelier to originate with the motherboard’s onboard regulation than with your PSU, especially when it comes to entry-level boards. Stepping up to a B450 board would save you some worries there. The only AMD mobo I have experience with is the MSI B350 Tomahawk which I used in my Ryzen 7 1700 upgrade back in 2017, and has been giving flawless service (with a mild overclock even) ever since. Unfortunately the B450 version of the Tomahawk runs about $115. I’ve seen a couple of recommendations for the ASRock B450 Pro4 ($90); the mATX version will save you $10-15 over that if you’re OK with the mATX form factor and only two PCIe slots.

          • DragonMilk says:

            I am quite tempted to get a B450 board, but since shipping is 1-2 weeks even with Prime anyway, I’m in no rush.

            Why is there so much variation in prices, since there are some B450 boards in the <$70 price range?

            Also, since Gigabyte did me no good, I’m tempted to get this $50 board

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      The MSI B450I is very slightly above your price threshold but nice.

  17. johan_larson says:

    The TV series Game of Thrones ran for 8 seasons. There is broad agreement among fans that quality declined along the way; the first seasons are good, and the later seasons get worse, with season 8 being a particular stinker.

    If you’re determined to get as much enjoyment out of the series as possible, what seasons should you watch?

    Let’s start with the possibility of watching just the first season. The season has a coherent beginning, with the king charging Eddard with investigating the murder of Jon Arryn. It also has a coherent ending, with Eddard discovering why Jon was murdered, and being executed for doing so. Things happened in Westeros before the events of the first season, and things will certainly happen after, but the season ends in a sensible place.

    Can we do better than this one-and-done plan?

    • Matt M says:

      Speaking as someone who didn’t watch a single episode until after the series was concluded – I think the gripes about the latter seasons were massively overblown. My perception is that while the quality did decline in 7/8, the decline wasn’t nearly as steep or as noticeable as many critics (mainly people who were watching the show throughout) suggest. And seasons 7/8, while maybe not as good as the earlier seasons of GOT are still, IMO, better than most available alternatives (better than the final seasons of shows like Dexter and Boardwalk Empire, just to throw out a couple examples)

      My recommendation would be to watch them all.

      Very few shows that run for 4+ seasons are able to sustain approximately equal quality across all seasons. They either take a long time to start getting good, or start good and then dramatically fall off. I’m honestly struggling to think of a single example of one that was consistent from start to finish.

      • Season 8 is noticeably jarring. You can pinpoint the exact episode when they tried switching from what they had been doing to how Martin wanted it to end. It wasn’t gradual at all.

    • John Schilling says:

      Seasons 1-6 tell a pretty good story that ends with Good Queen Dany and her Wise Councillors (and, separately, Arya Stark) sailing west with enough power to curbstomp all the baddies who have been well and truly established as baddies who need stomping. At that point, you can just make up your own ending and it will be saccharine and simplistic and not worth bothering to flesh out in any great detail but still better than what HBO would have given you.

      Oh, and skip the whole of Jamie Lannister’s visit to Dorne.

      • cassander says:

        This would be my suggestion, but I might extend that to “skip anything that happens in dorne”. Almost everything in dorne is terrible and as I recall, nothing that happens there ends up meaningfully affecting the plot with the exception of 1 death that is fine happening off screen.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      For maximum enjoyment, watch the whole thing in the natural order.

      As for the latter seasons being less good, that’s clear. I think the main problem was the need to wrap things up nicely and have an ending, and the whole idea of the army of the dead coming from the north always seemed like an add-on. I get it, George Martin wanted his “message” to be that warring families needed to unite to fight a greater foe. But Game of Thrones is enjoyable because the world George Martin created is fantastic, and the intrigues between the different families are depicted very well. In that sense, Game of Thrones could have worked like a soap opera, going on for 30+ seasons with different plot lines intermingling each other.

      But as a story with a beginning and an end, it falls a bit flat. It was never clear who the “main character” was, nor what the ending would be. Contrast it to LOTR where the ending is obvious early on (OBVIOUS SPOILER ALERT: Frodo destroys the ring in Mount Doom), or Harry Potter (OBVIOUS SPOILER ALERT: Harry kills Voldemort). Some people mistakenly thought that the main character was Daenerys, and named their daughter after her, and became very upset in the last season.

      • LHN says:

        Contrast it to LOTR where the ending is obvious early on (OBVIOUS SPOILER ALERT: Frodo destroys the ring in Mount Doom), or Harry Potter (OBVIOUS SPOILER ALERT: Harry kills Voldemort).

        Except that, against expectation, Frodo doesn’t destroy the ring in Mount Doom.

        (And IIRC, strictly speaking Harry doesn’t kill Voldemort.)

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Yes, both fair points. But they both ultimately succeed in their quests. Their foe is destroyed, as they set out to do.

    • Walter says:

      Watch the whole show. Even if you think the 8th season is less good than the rest, bad GoT is still better than most shows.

      • John Schilling says:

        Most shows are not worth watching, and not by a small margin. “Better than most shows” is far from sufficient to make a show worth watching.

        Also, S7 and particularly S8, retroactively make S1-6 worse by e.g. retconning interesting characters as nitwits, morons, and/or homicidal maniacs. I haven’t rewatched an episode of GoT since the series ended, and it’s going to take a long time before I can enjoy doing so. If I’m going to watch Tyrion and Varys plot and scheme for the advancement of their causes, it hurts my brain to know that those plots will fall into ruin not because of hubris or fate or enemy action but because the writers decided to knock them back at least 50 IQ points each in the final act.

      • Well... says:

        bad GoT is still better than most shows

        Like John Schilling, I too think this isn’t saying much.. I’d add that to whatever extent it is true, it’s only because GoT has high production values. (Meaning scenery, FX, extras, etc. I’m not including things like writing and acting.) If it had merely normal production values, it would be an average or below-average show.

        I can name lots of shows that are better and more worth one’s time, most of which have lower production values.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I binged it with my GF after the show had ended, and I too thought the criticisms were overblown. However, most of the overblow was in seeing Daenerys as a proxy for all womankind or as the Designated Hero who should have won in the end. And I think there was enough foreshadowing about her to make the case that she shouldn’t have won the throne.

      But there were other issues I agree with. Some were just logistical stuff, like the Iron Isles having infinite trees or Drogon flying at plot speed. More problematic to me was story structure, such as with the Night King. If you want this story to be a high-fantasy Manichaean tale, then yes, Evil Smurf needs to come at the climax, not be an early climax while Cersei is still a loose end. (Ideally, you tie up both at the same time.)

      If you instead want more of the political dirt and grime that characterized early GoT, then I think you need to show other factions rearing up, more scheming, more decadence, more weakness, more failure, even if good wins the day for a while. So for example, Baelish could have slunk back to the Eyrie after having been called out as a fraud by Sansa and Arya, only to make its prince his puppet, assassinate anyone disloyal, and start assembling a new power base. Cersei could have fled back to Casterly Rock and had more babies with Euron and continued the line. Olenna Tyrell’s end was too good not to have, but somebody wretched ought to have taken Highgarden in her wake. And Dorne at that time was just the place to see a new assassin’s guild take root. Westeros looked like a place where evil could get away with shit, and that shouldn’t change just because a lot of the most powerful evil pieces fell over.

      Instead, everyone was sorting themselves into good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys were going to have Comeuppance and the good guys were going to have Plot Armor, and so I knew pretty much how everything was going to end by the end of season 7, and in hindsight I should have known by season 6, which is lame. The only exceptions looked like they were there in order for the writers to be able to say “see? we put in some surprises!”.

      Anyway. For enjoyment, there were some obvious moments that should form the Newbie Hook Pack, and they’re mostly in the “wow, I can’t believe they did that” category. Most of early GoT fits there – Ned’s end and the Red Wedding (obviously) top the list. You need the arcs of the people we looove to hate, so Joffrey’s arc goes all in, along with Ramsay Bolton’s, and I’d say Cersei’s up through her encounter with the Sparrow – she kinda loses focus after that. Cleganebowl was a fun side story. Keep Jon Snow and Brienne and Arya and Bronn and of course Tyrion, because we need plucky and/or noble people to root for. There were “side stories” I think were useful to flesh the world out, such as the Iron Bank, the lizardmen in the old castle Targaryen, and beings such as Melisandre and a guy who can be resurrected by his sidekick to let us know the whole fight over gods might based in some real wild stuff. There were also some action scenes that I think were just well crafted, such as the Wildlings vs. Castle Black, or Hodor, or Bronn vs. Drogon, or that long take of Snow during the Battle of the Bastards.

      When I think of the material most widely called out as pointless, I mostly just think it needed more fleshing out (Iron Bank, Dorne, et al.). A world that hints at many more untold stories is more compelling to me, and has the nice benefit of building demand for follow-on series.

      • Nick says:

        It seems the heavily adapted Dorne plot in the show was an attempt to make Dorne more exciting, and it backfired badly. The Dorne plot in the books meanwhile wasn’t exciting, but it wasn’t boring, either. So I don’t think the show’s Dorne plot needs “fleshing out,” it just needs less freely adapted. Maybe it could even be slimmed down in the show instead of being changed.

    • sksnsvbanap says:

      For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the Game of Thrones TV show from beginning to end. I’m also a fan of the books. There were some problems in the last season, but nothing is perfect, and I think people would have reacted the same way to anything but pure wish-fulfillment. Internet culture decided that they were unhappy with Game of Thrones and therefore it needed to be Canceled.

    • Well... says:

      Since you asked, my opinion is that it doesn’t matter because the whole thing is a joke. Terrible writing, pointless over-plotting, and shoddy, phoned-in, or over-the-top acting barely hidden under massive production values. So long as you lower your expectations to “ridiculous soap opera dressed up as cliche-drenched fantasy, plus boobs”, you can watch any episode or season and not be disappointed.

      (I watched the first few seasons. 15 minutes into S1E1 I was genuinely interested, and as things progressed my genuine interest declined until I was purely watching it for the lulz, the way most people watch “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, until I decided I could get better laughs from an actual comedy and better nudity from, uh, other types of content. Then I pulled the plug and let everyone else whine about how their POS precious TV show was going downhill.)

      • Three Year Lurker says:

        Count me in the same bucket. I can’t relate to discussions about writing quality or plot progression because I don’t understand why people think there is a system that would lead to those things existing past the bare minimum.

        The income stream is very clearly in long running shows and scenes that look exciting.
        People must be able to join the audience anywhere in the middle.
        Loose ends must be generated at a regular pace to keep the show running. Tying them up must take less than 5 episodes to help recent audience members. Inconvenient long points can be dropped to meet this.
        Long term plans hinge on a particular writer having time for just this show. But they’d be a fool to pin all their income on just one show at a time. Same goes for actors.
        “Winning” scenes go to the character that will (hopefully) draw the most people in to the next episode. Opponent’s plan was too clever? Throw in an obstacle or sabotage it or just bluntly assert that the favorite’s counter works.

        Quality acting in the form of conveying emotions and speech styles is the only thing plausibly encouraged by the television system.

        Overall, baseline expectation for any show over 12-14 episodes should be low.

      • FormerRanger says:

        Makes me wonder what, if anything, you consider to be a good TV or movie series in the same genre. If you answer “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Hobbit” I reserve the right to point and laugh.

        Most of the problems with GoT’s later seasons can be traced back to the show-runners wanting to move on to the next story they would botch. S7 and S8 were obviously rushed and over-compacted. The most damage to the story that was done was to not be able to build up Dany as not the heroine she originally presents as, and thereby make the “surprise ending” more plausible. You see a little of it in the last few episodes, but it’s too late and too unsubtle. There’s plenty of other stuff that was done poorly, but that was the torpedo that sank the whole story. (Note that Martin does perform a fair amount of subtle build-up in the books: Dany of the books is not the Perfect Queen.)

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      End it after Tyrion uses the crossbow. You can imagine the Dany ending pretty easily once Tyrion escapes, and the white walkers were nothing anyway.

    • I can’t just watch serialized shows like this in pieces. I want to go to the end. The biggest problem with the ending wasn’t how bad it was(which it was). It was that we expected better. I think knowing that the end is really awful, you can enjoy the show in the first seasons while mitigating the worst experience in its last.

    • Phigment says:

      If we accept the premise, that the show started good and consistently got worse as it went, the choice is obvious:

      Watch all the seasons, but in reverse order. That way, it will seem to be getting better and better to you as you go.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      If you’re determined to get as much enjoyment out of the series as possible, what seasons should you watch?

      Watch the show up to and including S4E02 “The Lion and the Rose”, then switch over to reading Purple Days.

  18. Black Ice says:

    THE PHILOSOPHY OF F(X).

    As a non-mathematician who extremely dabbles in computer programming, I really struggle to understand the reasoning behind this terminology:

    f(x) = x**3 + x – 5

    as opposed to this:

    y = x**3 + x – 5

    the latter makes perfect sense to me. y and x are dimensions in a 2-d plane, y is a “function” of x, relationship as described. Maybe I am too used to the programming sense of functions, but I read the former as “a function of x is as such: some function of x” which seems ugly, nearly tautological, that kind of thing.

    Can anyone clarify the history and/or reasoning behind this terminology; does anyone else also dislike the former way of putting things?

    • rocoulm says:

      What about the notation y(x)? It’s also perfectly valid.

      In your examples, the function “names” are just “f” and “y”, respectively. The (x) written afterwards I always just thought of as a convenient shorthand (almost like a footnote) to remind you what that function depends on. Sure, when you write the equation out in one line, it looks obvious, but if you’re writing a longer text dealing with multiple independent variables and multiple functions that depend on different things, it’s useful to refer to a function later by just its name, and the (x) — or (x,y,z) as it may be — is just to remind you how the function “behaves” without you having to look back to the definition earlier in the text.

    • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

      The function is an object that can be studied, combined etc. You want to find general truth about classes of functions regardless of their specific formula (ie what are the sufficient properties that two functions must satisfy to commute). Usually you’re not studying the plot graph of a specific function, thus the notation.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      A programmer-friendly way of looking at it is that f(x) is a signature and the y = … form is an implementation.

      For me, this offers a way to speak about a function in the abstract, as opposed to focusing on some specific relationship between x and y.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Think of the distinction between formal parameters and actual parameters in structured programming languages:

      def f(x): # x is a formal parameter
      return x**3 + x – 5

      # Somewhere else in the code
      print(f(2*x + z)) # 2*x + z is an actual parameter, and the x in this expression is different from the x in the definition of f

      The same thing happens in math: you define a function f(x) somewhere, and then you reference it with the ‘x’ substituted by something else.

      Moreover, unlike in programming, in math you can define objects implicitly and prove their existence with non-constructive proofs without ever providing a construction in terms of simpler object. For instance, consider the halting function H(p) that is equal to True if and only if the program p halts when executed by some some pre-specified Turing machine. This function exists in a mathematical sense, but it cant be written as a computable expression.

    • helloo says:

      Aren’t you familiar with programming functions headers?
      int floor(int x)

      Anyway, this is also a “regular” form separate functions from variables. And don’t have enough symbols/letters. And don’t want to make order of operations any more complicated.

      For example + is also a function. So is **. So your function above can also be written as
      F?(x) = F+(F+(F**(x,3),x),-5)

      And when dealing with odd functions that might not follow typical rules, sometimes it’s important to have something that is very ordered and regular.

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Note that in mathematics, it’s common to first specify f’s domain and range, then define it if necessary. For example, your function would be

      f: R -> R defined by the equation f(x) = x^3 + x – 5.

      which has an obvious comparison to the more programmish

      real f ( real x)
      return x^3 + x – 5.

      The domain and range specification is important in mathematics for the same reason it is in programming. Functions can be between all sorts of sets of things and not just the real numbers, so it can be very important to specify that first.

      On the other hand, in physics, 99% of the time we’re working with R, C, or Z, and it’s usually sufficiently obvious which variable is which that we skip the header and go straight to the definition.

      As a side note, you have no idea how many times I had to suppress the urge to surround every one of those math-y things with $. TeX digs its claws in deep.

    • sksnsvbanap says:

      The former definition makes explicit that two things are being defined:
      1. A function f, which exists in some larger scope.
      2. A variable x, which exists in the scope of the definition of f.

      Your later definition doesn’t tell the reader whether x refers to some value defined elsewhere in a larger scope, or a new variable that only exists in the scope of the definition of f. That makes the code a lot harder to read.

    • Matt says:

      In a lot of engineering practice, f(x) is just the simplest form of many of our data lookups. Where

      f(x) = A ton of data that we measured that doesn’t fit any curves that are easily described by polynomial curve fits, and we shouldn’t expect them to.

      Take an airframe, and we might have a function of angle of attack, sideslip angle, and mach number to describe the pitching moment coefficient like so:

      f(alpha, beta, Mach) = large lookup table of data from a wind tunnel or CFD solution (or mixture) where we interpolate to get what your value is at your current flight condition.

      Or we might find the partial of the function as alpha changes, like so, to get the slope of the curve at that point:

      (f(alpha+epsilon, beta, mach) – f(alpha-epsilon, beta, mach)) / epsilon

      The partial (slope) of the pitching moment coefficient tells us something about the vehicle’s stability.

      Since we do this all the time,

      f(whatever) = some number

      seems perfectly natural to me.

    • Ketil says:

      Lots of people already answered, but:

      – f(x) indicates that for any value of x, you can calculate a unique value f(x). What if the relationship between your variables is given as y² = 1 – x² ? This is also a ‘relationship’ in the 2d plane, but not a function.
      – f is a named object in itself, amenable to manipulations. You could have another function g that takes it as a parameter: g(f) (x) = f( f (x)) for instance.
      – f(x) indicates that x is the parameter, what if the expression is a = πr². Does this show a three-dimensional relationship with axes a, r, and π?

  19. Three Year Lurker says:

    If energy must be conserved, then why are neutrinos allowed to carry it away to the basement like a mug or plate, never to be seen again?

    What is the physical difference between energy permanently leaving the universe and a neutrino that does not interact with matter for the next trillion years?

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      I am not a physicist but conservation of energy only applies for a closed system? Is that too simple an answer?

      Edit: Photons “redshift” as well, and red light has less energy than other colors (ultraviolet light is why you need to wear sunscreen, but red and infrared light are lower energy–this is why cheap laser pointers are red and high end ones are green) If energy was conserved in the universe as a whole, we couldn’t have dark energy, the metric expansion of space, etc. Can someone fact check me on this?

      Edit Edit: Maybe dark energy is where all the energy from redshifting light goes. You can mail the Nobel prize to my house.

      • albatross11 says:

        ISTM that you can say the same thing about conservation of energy when you send photons off into deep space, likely never to interact with anything again. Conservation of energy, mass, charge, etc., always only applies to a closed system, right?

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Yes, but even in closed systems, it doesn’t apply when you consider general relativity.

          E.g. Bob flies with his spaceship close to the event horizon of a black hole, he doesn’t go inside, he just orbits close by. He then takes his green laser pointer and sends light pulses to Alice who is watching from her spaceship far away from the black hole. The photons from Bob’s laser are green in his frame of reference, he sees green light if he points the laser at his hand, but Alice sees red or infrared light. The same number of photons (*), but with less energy. Where did the missing energy go?

          (* presumably, I don’t think anybody actually tested where gravitational redshift preserves the number of photons)

          • fibio says:

            The missing energy caused a fractional movement in the position of the singularity. You’d get the same effect if you launched a physical object out of the gravity well.

          • Thegnskald says:

            It still applies there. Otherwise we could create an infinite energy machine with a sufficiently tall tower, a laser, and some gold foil. (The (edit: foil) can create electrons and anti-electrons when you point a laser at it. Fire the electrons back up, have them convert to energy to power the laser. Assuming perfect efficiency (which is impossible), the energy required to get the electrons up to the annihilation engine/laser configuration exactly matches the energy the light gains on the way down.

            The thing to notice is that, after the ship in the gravity well shines the laser out, it will take slightly less energy to get it (the ship) out of the gravity well, when you consider all the energy involved, matching the apparently lost energy from the laser.

            To some extent you can think of all energy in the universe (and by extension all mass as well) as “borrowed” from potential energy differentials.

            ETA: The tower idea also works in reverse to prove that energy conservation is violated if light doesn’t redshift/blueshift in gravity. Shine the light up and collect the energy as the electrons and anti-electrons fall (excess energy), then convert them back to a laser at the bottom (input energy). If the light didn’t redshift on the way up, presto, infinite energy machine, assuming perfect efficiency.

          • AppetSci says:

            I just read this, which made sense to me (doesn’t mean it’s correct though).
            “No energy is lost. The photon does not change, we just perceive it differently because we have different relative velocities. The red shift effect is not a change in a wave, just the change in the apparent frequency of the wave.”
            I guess a black hole would turn your relative velocities all screwy (not a technical term).

          • Lambert says:

            I thought GR wasn’t always time-invariant?

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Makes sense.

    • whenhaveiever says:

      Neutrinos still interact with other matter via the weak force and gravity, so they’re not gone completely. That’s more than dark matter interacts with.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Dark matter interacts with gravity. Whether it interacts with the weak force is unclear, since we don’t know what dark matter is, but it doesn’t seem implausible that it might. It’s “dark” because it doesn’t interact with electromagnetism.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I know very little about dark matter (or about dark energy). Do we actually know that it doesn’t interact with electromagnetism, or might its electromagnetic radiation just be blocked from our direction?

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Are you hypothesizing a separate material between us and distant galaxies which segregates the EM radiation caused by some essentially normal matter in the galaxy and blocks it, while letting the other EM radiation through? If so… I mean, that sounds like a very complicated explanation.

            Dark matter is the observation that there are various indications of the gravitational mass of galaxies (like how fast they spin) which indicate that the gravitational mass of those galaxies is considerably higher than the mass we can observe via light. One way to reconcile these observations is to hypothesize a form of matter that interacts gravitationally with normal matter, but interacts extremely weakly or not-at-all with electromagnetism — thus, it neither blocks the light of stars that it would occlude, nor bounces light off itself, nor gets caught EM jets, etc.

            (Another way of reconciling those observations is to say that gravity doesn’t work the way we think it works — but recently there have been some decent evidence against some of the main modified-gravity theories).

            ((Despite the similar names, dark energy is very different from dark matter.))

    • b_jonas says:

      Firstly, while the Sun emits a lot of neutrinos, these carry much less energy than the light that it creates. (“https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun#Photons_and_neutrinos” claims that neutrinos account for about 2% of the total energy production of the Sun.)

      On the plus side, the whole reason why we (life in general) can use the Sun’s energy is that Earth and the solar system can radiate that energy away into the colder space. The nuclear fusion in the Sun (and fission in Earth’s radioactivity) produces energy. If they weren’t surrounded by colder space and couldn’t get rid of that energy, they’d just heat up to hotter and hotter, and the second law of thermodynamics would stop anything interesting to happen.

    • Thegnskald says:

      The major difference, I think, is that “permanently leaving the universe” is like a neutrino which does not interact with matter for the next infinity years. There’s a big difference between a trillion and infinity.

    • Deiseach says:

      If energy must be conserved, then why are neutrinos allowed to carry it away to the basement like a mug or plate, never to be seen again?

      Lazy neutrinos, just sitting around in their parents’ basement probably wasting their time playing video games, why don’t they get a proper job and move out???

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      You don’t really need to invoke exotic forms of matter to make conservation of energy seem like it’s a bit dodgy. Carry a brick up to the top of a hill. Set it down. It looks a lot like energy has been destroyed. We call the destroyed energy “potential energy,” but it’s pretty different from like a photon or the movement of a piece of matter.

      Conservation of energy is the observation (the valuable observation!) that there are circumstances under which you can convert various hidden forms of energy back into the exact same amount of non-hidden energy that there was originally.

    • sovietKaleEatYou says:

      That’s a strange question. Conservation of energy isn’t a normative rule, like “make sure inflation doesn’t get too high”. It’s a physical law and physics is “allowed” to do whatever it wants so long as it doesn’t break the laws (and in quantum, it can even get away with breaking a law or two so long as you call it “symmetry breaking”)

    • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

      What’s the difference between a neutrino carrying energy into the basement, and a photon? A photon is less likely to, but then they carry more energy on average. Remember that that the motivation for positing the neutrino was local mass/energy conservation. Inasmuch as they are there to fix local conservation laws, they are not breaking them. But global energy conservation is a bit trickier.

  20. Deiseach says:

    I’ve left a scathing review on Amazon.com, I’ve moaned about it on Tumblr and now you lucky people are the recipients of my dissatisfaction with my current reading material (yes, I am that annoyed I have to tell everyone I can).

    So – 2012 anthology of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Meant to be set in the canonical universe so no zombies, robots or what have you. Chock-full of Americanisms but what can you do about that, seeing as how it’s an American effort (though I’m harrumphing about one story having Watson’s service revolver be a Colt. Yes it is technically possible but I am sticking to it being a Webley thank you very much!)

    I’m only four stories in and already two of these have been the first and second worst Holmes stories I’ve ever read. I won’t name any names to protect my sanity, and I won’t tell you about the worst, but the second worst sounds as if it was written by an alien (and I mean “little green man” not “English as a Second Language”, though that comes across as well). Despite the name allegedly being someone of Irish (hah!) heritage, the writing is – well, I can’t even call it clunky, that would be too kind a description.

    First, a minor character’s name changes between one page and the next. This doesn’t really matter, except as an omen of things to come. If the writer couldn’t keep their characters straight, it certainly seems like the editor couldn’t either (if this thing even had an editor, which I take my leave to doubt). You will be pleased to learn that the personal secretary to a peer of the realm engages in basic hygiene: “She was well-washed and-dressed, with a spectacular head of blonde hair.” Just imagine if she turned up ill-washed, or not washed at all!

    But enough of this in-depth characterisation, let’s not get bogged down in details when there is Plot to be had! Insofar as there is any Plot, which is “Holmes and Watson go to a crime scene and have a nice cup of tea and plate of scones”. There is no detecting to be done as we all know who did the murder but it has to be covered up because of high social status. So why call in Holmes? Now, now, don’t ask nit-picking questions like that! It’s half-seven in the morning and he hasn’t had his brekkie yet, get him some toast and marmalade! Because we all know the first thing Holmes does when called out on a case is sit down to a hearty meal.

    The reasons for calling him in that we are told in the first couple of pages (find out how the high-born murderer got involved with the victim and why did he murder her) are completely ignored and indeed contradicted by the rest of the story. But never mind that, the author certainly doesn’t! Also, be sure that once at the murder scene, Holmes has to tell Watson not to offer to do the washing-up (in rather clumsy English, hence the ESL similarity):

    “You presume not enough. The good news is Grover has gone into the kitchen and don’t offer to do the cleanup.”

    After observing a grisly murder scene with dismembered bits everywhere, what better way to pass the time than sit down to a hearty breakfast? As has been established in canonical Holmes stories, Sherlock can’t get enough of stuffing his face while on the job, yeah? First tea and sweet rolls, then a proper nosh-up:

    Not long after, I did get my oatmeal and Holmes was served eggs sunny side up with fried potatoes and an unbelievable four fat German sausages.

    “Unbelieveable” is right.

    Where the “this was written by an alien” part comes in – if the above isn’t sufficient – is the description of what is meant to be a handsome man. How are human males considered handsome, you ask? Well, for one thing, their features should all be blended together: “His features, all were well-sculpted and one melded with the other.”

    Secondly, make sure his teeth have plenty of enamel. Remember, the more enamel, the handsomer the Human!

    Looks-wise, his teeth had an abundance of enamel and were a brilliant white, in front of which were well-formed lips.

    Ah yes, his lips were in front of his teeth not behind them or on the same side of his head as his ears, I am a Human writing about Human features, you can tell from my easy handling of description!

    After the murderer has brazenly returned to the scene of the crime, sneered a bit and fondled his revolver then departed unchallenged and certainly not arrested, it’s time for some restoration of the shattered nerves after all this excitement:

    Mercifully our tea arrived and a scone for each of us with a dish of marmalade.

    Yes, the killer has rolled off in his luxurious coach, the dismembered body is being nibbled on by rats in the cellar, but at least they remembered the marmalade for the scones. After some more chit-chat where we’re treated to Secrets Of Holmes’ Early Life, then it’s time for another meal:

    Holmes’ face was more relaxed and he was about to say something when our fine friend, young Grover, came by and said, “It isn’t much, but supper shan’t be long.”

    Then we get more “totally a Human writing Humans” dialogue:

    The taller of the two with an impressive full-length beige overcoat said in a most excellent speaking voice, “Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, one presumes?” “You have us and in our usual state,” spoke Holmes.

    If this is their usual state, I’d hate to see an unusual one. Anyway, our two detectives are paid handsomely in cash to keep their yaps shut, and they head back to Baker Street (after some more chit-chat about Secrets of Holmes’ Early Life, which of course are appropriately tragic, then Watson drops a one-sentence bombshell about his family life being even worse than Holmes’ tragic backstory but leaves it dangling there with nothing more said, the little tease). Well-fed and well-paid, they amble back home, end of story.

    End of story, commencement of screaming by yours truly.

    • Lambert says:

      The days when things were only economical to make in large numbers are gone.
      This means less scruitiny about whether a book’s actually any good, since you can print a limited run using an industrial laserjet.

      So some folks have taken to trying to saturate the market with books of the lowest quality, often just copied from Wikipedia with cover photos of questionable relevance.

      Sounds like that’s the kind of thing you fell for.

      (O mighty spamfilter, please have mercy upon this post)

      EDIT: the Great Filter cast this comment into the a lake of fire and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. The problem is there’s just too many bad cover photos to link to.

    • Jake R says:

      I can only assume the one worse than this was Holmes/Watson slashfic.

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      You paid for fanfic of public domain characters?

      • b_jonas says:

        Have you never payed for fiction that has characters inspired by Thor in Norse mythology? A Marvel superhero comic or movie inspired by it, a Douglas Adams book, a Star Trek episode, an Order of the Stick comic? The character inspiring it is in public domain, anyone can write stories about him, but people write stories of widely different qualities, and sometimes you have to pay for the good ones. (One SSC reader told on a meetup that they earn money from writing fanfics based on the works of an author from the 19th or 20th century. I don’t remember who exactly, not Doyle in particular.)

      • Deiseach says:

        I can only assume the one worse than this was Holmes/Watson slashfic.

        It wasn’t, and had it been slashfic it might arguably have been better. It was better than the story I’ve reviewed above in that the writer was able to write the English language, but again canon was flung out the window like it was Prague in 1618. I’ll skip the worst of the egregiousness but only mention that Our Author has Holmes lashing back the Jameson like it’s going out of style, yet after demolishing the greater part of an entire bottle of whiskey he does not appear drunk in the slightest. It’s a truly awful piece of work and ends with Holmes getting beaten at singlestick by a woman in her late fifties/early sixties, who then proceeds to disarm Watson, then gets into a wrestling match of some sort with Holmes and manages to beat him at that, and makes her getaway (presumably to return as the villainess in a further story by this writer, God preserve us all).

        You paid for fanfic of public domain characters?

        Sort of, but unwittingly! It’s a proper publication by a small press, at least several of the authors anthologised are making a living as professional writers, and if I’d known the variable quality of the stories I’d have stuck to free fanfic online.

        Out of the four stories I’ve read so far, one was decent, one was okay, and two were horrors. The rest may be the same kind of curate’s egg. The bad ones really did read like bad fanfic, and the one I’ve quoted originally I could see where the writer was stealing ideas from (e.g. the notion that Jack the Ripper was really a grandson of Queen Victoria; Nicholas Meyer’s “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution”). What was original wasn’t good and what was good wasn’t original (as they say) and moreover was distorted by the dreadful writing.

        This wasn’t some self-published thrown-together indie printing jobbie, which is why I gambled on it. Ah well, you live and learn! (And to be fair, I’ve read some good self-published indie printed jobbies and some godawful professionally published by big established publishing house in my time).

        • Nick says:

          You should reread the originals with us! I’ll be reading A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four the next two weeks. Brandon will have a post up in about two weeks with a retrospective on the two stories and some interesting commentary.

          I’ve seen lots of adaptations of Sherlock, including some of the original stories, but I haven’t read most of the originals. So this will be fun.

    • NTD_SF says:

      I think the dialogue may more likely have come from someone trying to write ‘old-style English, like Shakespeare and Beowulf,’ without ever having read Sherlock Holmes. Also I believe the characters may be hobbits.

    • Lambert says:

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      The days when things were only economical to make in large numbers are gone.
      This means less scruitiny about whether a book’s actually any good, since you can print a limited run using an industrial laserjet.

      So some folks have taken to trying to saturate the market with books of the lowest quality, often just copied from Wikipedia or the like with cover photos of questionable relevance. (see alphascript and betascript publishing)

      Sounds like that’s the kind of thing you fell for.

      Sorry if you’re not supposed to repost this stuff. The original had a load of links in it to cover photos of tenuous if not actively misleading subjects.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        Yeah, cheap printing on demand and digital desktop publishing these days, while certainly good things to have available (cf. why I can have a print edition of Unsong), enable quite a lot of this sort of bottom feeding. It would have been smarter, probably, for Deiseach to throw this book on the compost heap after the first story, not read three more in mounting indignation, but her review made me laugh until I cried, so perhaps it’s all for the best!

        • Garrett says:

          The flip side is that it’s mostly gotten rid of the vulture vanity press. Want to see your book in print? Now you can do it for $20 rather than the thousands the vanity print companies would charge.

          • Now you can do it for $20

            You can do it for free. All KDP, which is what I use, requires is a pdf of the book and a pdf of the cover. You set the price, they put it up on Amazon and send you royalties, how much depending on the price you charge.

            You don’t have a publisher providing editing or cover design, so you have to arrange for those yourself. Nobody else is publicizing it, but for most books publishers don’t do much publicity. You eliminate the delay from finding a publisher and interacting with it, you get a much larger fraction of the price as royalty, and you can, if you want, set a lower price than a publisher would.

            The last is especially true for kindles.

            Also, you get to see how many copies sold each day, which is fun, if not always encouraging.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Last I looked at it, CreateSpace (Amazon’s actual-print publishing arm) required you to personally buy one copy of the book? Admittedly, that was a long time ago; have they changed?

          • nkurz says:

            @Evan Þ
            > Admittedly, that was a long time ago; have they changed?

            I don’t think that’s a requirement any longer. I think CreateSpace is fully absorbed by Amazon at this point. Or at least, their URL is essentially just a redirect to Kindle Direct Publishing: https://www.createspace.com. The restriction that does exist (I think) is that you have to be willing to make your book publicly available. You can set a very high price to make it unlikely that anyone will actually buy it, but I think the page advertising it needs to be visible to the public.

            @DavidFriedman
            > You can do it for free.

            I presume that Garrett was suggesting that a single copy could be purchased for $20. This (and your response) prompted me to look at the minimum prices that Amazon allows: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201834340. For a 300 page paperback with black ink, the minimum price they allow to be set is $7.42. It’s a nicely straightforward formula. The printing cost is $0.85 plus $.012 per page. They then require you to set a price such that their flat 60% royalty covers the printing cost. $7.50 for a single copy with no setup charge does seem surprisingly reasonable. I presume shipping is on top of this, but it means you can still have a professionally printed book in hand for just over $10.

            I’ve recently been working on a putting together a local history project that I don’t want to make publicly available. KDP was out because of this, so I ended up using Barnes & Noble Press: https://press.barnesandnoble.com/print-on-demand. Surprisingly (or maybe not?) printing in color (which I wanted) doesn’t cost much more than black-and-white. For me, a 150 page 8.5×11 paperback in full color was $7.04 per copy. Single copy shipping for a draft copy felt a bit high ($6.50) but presumably will be less per copy when I finish revising and order a batch. Printing and binding quality are high, comparable to other professionally printed things I buy, although I think I’ll pay a couple dollars more per copy for heavier weight paper for the final. If you have a need for bound copies of something, and especially if you don’t want public visibility, I’d recommend them.

      • b_jonas says:

        Indeed. This is part of why, when I’m searching for new fiction books to read, I generally look for books published between 1950 and 2000. The other part is that those books are already filtered, it’s easier to find opinions on which ones are good even from a distance, without the hype of them being new.

      • albatross11 says:

        Another scam is that some folks will take US government publications (free on the web and not subject to copyright), and sell them on Amazon as either bound books or e-books.

  21. Thegnskald says:

    Howdy! Working through special relativity again to make sure the last time I did this, I arrived at the correct understandings, because somebody told me my last understandings weren’t correct. Couldn’t replicate my last results, but I did run into an anomaly while working the math for the second run. Writing them up here to see if anyone can poke holes in it, because observations aren’t lining up.

    Instead of the usual formulations involving twins and whatnot, I will use the following configuration, with descriptions based in what I will call the conventional understanding of special relativity:

    Five enormous space clocks, such that they can be clearly read from multiple light-hours away, in the same inertial reference frame (they aren’t moving relative to each other). They’re spaced apart approximately one light hour in a line. We’ll call these A, B, and C, and a viewer at A would see B one hour “behind”, and C two hours “behind”, their own clock. (If they could see C, which they probably can’t. This isn’t particularly important, however.)

    B and C need to be replaced soon. Two new giant space clocks have been constructed at A, and synchronized with A. They begin moving towards B (and hence C) in perfect synchronization at 2:00. So far so good. We’ll call these clocks Y and Z.

    From the reference frame of A, B, and C, let’s say it takes a day to travel the light hour, and Y and Z fall two minutes behind. From the reference frames of Y and Z, 23 hours and fifty eight minutes have passed, and A, B, and C have fallen very slightly less than two minutes behind, such that as they arrive at B, they see B’s clock at approximately 1:56.

    I’m running into two problems here: First, as Y slows down to line up with B, which it will be replacing, what time does it observe for B? From its perspective, B’s clock has to accelerate from 1:56 to 2:00, while its own clock remains at 1:58. This problem I can deal with, by assuming it was observing B moving faster than it should during acceleration and deceleration, and the issue arises because Special Relativity only applies after you correct for distance (which was changing because of Lorentz Contraction, which, for Y and Z, changed the distance between A and B).

    However, I run into a second problem here, which is Z’s observation of Y, compared to Z’s observation of B, as Z continues on to C: Once Y and B are in the same reference frame, Z should observe Y having a time two minutes slower than B. I don’t see a way for this to happen without a discontinuity in observation, as from Z’s perspective, Y starts off slightly -ahead- of B, at 1:58 compared to 1:56, and from Z’s perspective, at no point does Y move (relative to Z) faster than B.

    In particular the problem is that the discrepancy in observed time is greater, the greater the distance between A and B, whereas, assuming opposite but otherwise identical acceleration profiles, I would expect Z’s observations of Y as it decelerates to be identical to (in the sense of having the same characteristics with regard to total change in observed time) Z’s observations of A as they both initially accelerated away.

    Which is to say, the conventional understanding – which I think of more as the “sci-fi understanding” – still looks like it might be wrong, but I’m unable to figure out exactly where the issue is. I suspect the issue lays in the choice of coordinate time, and in particular in the idea that the clocks aboard Y and Z can be treated as representing coordinate time, but I’m uncertain of this. (In particular, I suspect that coordinate time is specific to an inertial frame of reference, such that the integration I’m performing over a changing velocity isn’t actually valid)

    • When Y is at rest with A and B, all clocks say 2:00.

      When Y begins the trip to B, A and Y read 2:00, B(in Y’s reference frame) reads 2:04.

      When Y reaches B, it reads 1:58 and B reads 2:00. Both clocks can maintain that the other registered two minutes less during the trip, because Y can calculate the trip starting at 2:04.

      • Thegnskald says:

        If that approach works out, during the initial acceleration phase (between “is at rest with” and “Begins the trip to”), from Y’s perspective, B’s clock moves faster relative to its own, in proportion to both the instantaneous acceleration of Y and the distance between them.

        Which makes sense if I consider the Lorentz contraction of space between them as changing over time. However, that would also change B’s perception of the time on Y, so it should also read 2:04 (2:02?) after adjusting for the distance the light travels, since Lorentz contraction should be symmetrical, if I’m thinking about that correctly. So wouldn’t they both see the other as experiencing two minutes less travel time, but end up synchronized again?

        It does play merry hell with the choice of inertial time and coordinate time, either way.

        • so it should also read 2:04 (2:02?) after adjusting for the distance the light travels, since Lorentz contraction should be symmetrical, if I’m thinking about that correctly.

          That’s the essential fallacy of the twin paradox. They are not symmetrical because Y is switching reference frames, B is passively watching Y change reference frames. From B’s perspective, if Y has instantaneously accelerated to another speed but not yet moved, its point in space and time relative to B has not changed.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Thinking about that. From B’s perspective, the Lorentz contraction is centered on Y. From Y’s perspective, the Lorentz contraction is -also- centered on Y. Is that accurate?

            ETA:

            So if have a long thin wire connecting Y to B, but only attached to Y, which accelerates with Y, from Y’s perspective, the wire remains touching B in the instant-acceleration-without-motion cases, but from B’s perspective, the wire is contracted away from B such that it is no longer touching B?

          • From B’s perspective, the Lorentz contraction is centered on Y. From Y’s perspective, the Lorentz contraction is -also- centered on Y. Is that accurate?

            Yes.

            So if have a long thin wire connecting Y to B, but only attached to Y, which accelerates with Y, from Y’s perspective, the wire remains touching B in the instant-acceleration-without-motion cases, but from B’s perspective, the wire is contracted away from B such that it is no longer touching B?

            The wire will always be touching Y or B, just not in the same place. If you imagine the wire accelerated by tiny rockets, B will see all fire off at the same time. From Y’s perspective, the rocket at B has already fired before his own, and thus the end of the wire at B is not touching B at the moment his rocket fires.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Simultaneity is… amusing, there. We chose different perspectives to be simultaneous from.

            Which points me in the right direction. From Y’s perspective, the entire rest of the universe is accelerating simultaneously. This is distinct from B’s perspective, in which not even the entire length of Y is accelerating simultaneously, and certainly not the entirety of an imaginary rod extending between the two. (This is, I think, identical to the idea of reference frames, but makes the asymmetry explicit to me in a way that reference frames tend to hide.)

            I’ll have to ponder that some.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I was convinced, having doubts again, specifically about the final clocks not being synchronized.

            Considering the instant-acceleration case, B observes Y. All the light until the instant acceleration, when they are still synchronized, behaves “normally”. The light that leaves Y immediately after acceleration – let’s say instantly after, such that Y hasn’t moved at all – arrives at B. How far does B observe that light to have traveled?

            An analogous case: Y and B are both hand-waved into existence in the configuration immediately after the instant acceleration (instantaneous from the perspective of a reference point defined as the point halfway between them, which I think they should be able to agree on, since they each observe the other having the same relative velocity), such that from their own reference frames their time is 2:00; no pre-existing light exists to give a reference point on who accelerated. A little less than an hour later, when the light from the initial configuration reaches the other, they should both have a symmetrical view of what time the other thinks it is.

            There’s some causality issues there, but I think the situation is workable.

            From both of their perspectives, would the other have started at 2:02?

            (This bothers me because the way time dilation is described seems way too convenient for the purposes of interstellar travel.)

          • From both of their perspectives, would the other have started at 2:02?

            You’ve got it backwards. Both clocks read 1:59 when they meet, both clocks think the other sprouted into existence 2 minutes before they did, at 1:58. Both clocks think the other one made up the extra time by running slow. Draw it out on a Minskowski diagram.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Thinking about that.

            Considering in terms of Lorentz Contraction… Hrm. Previously I was thinking of Lorentz Contraction as centered on Y from both perspectives. However, creating them without a history implies something there; for Y to perceive a shorter distance than B, I think that may require a privileged reference frame. Or more specifically, that means two objects in space moving towards each other could identify which is “really” moving by comparing perceived distances and seeing whose is shorter; neither is really privileged, exactly, because they’re both equally valid. But nonetheless it would imply that movement isn’t entirely relative.

            Is such a comparison possible?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Nevermind. I think the answer may lay in Terrell-Penrose rotation.

            Which brings me back to my initial state of belief; time dilates while moving away, and contracts while moving toward. I don’t remember why I originally came to that belief, but this looks like a likely candidate.

            If a physicist is bored, a paper re-deriving special relativity using Terrell-Penrose rotation instead of Lorentz Contraction might be noteworthy, if I grasp the significance correctly.

    • The Nybbler says:

      From the reference frame of A, B, and C, let’s say it takes a day to travel the light hour, and Y and Z fall two minutes behind. From the reference frames of Y and Z, 23 hours and fifty eight minutes have passed, and A, B, and C have fallen very slightly less than two minutes behind, such that as they arrive at B, they see B’s clock at approximately 1:56.

      They see B’s clock showing 2:00. Their own clock says 1:58. More confusing is what A and B see on Y and Z…this is the twin paradox.

  22. Wrote up a few observations on six months living in Colombia, just in case anyone was interested/had questions:

    Shortly after arriving in Medellín, I got The Fear. I barricaded myself in my tiny, claustrophobic Airbnb, binge-watching Narcos and compulsively reading up on the lurid crimes that still plague the former murder capital of the world. Every backfiring engine was a gunshot. Every taxi driver was scheming to deliver me into the hands of the paramilitaries lurking in the jungle. I watched my water bottle like a hawk, in case someone slipped in the scopolamine drops that would turn me into a zombie.

    My salvation came, as it often does, through a basic grasp of statistics. Having internalised the fact that flying is hundreds of times safer than driving, I’m calm on bumpy plane rides: my instincts might scream at me that zooming through the atmosphere in a rattling aluminium tube 35,000 feet above the ground is completely fucking insane, but on this matter, my instincts are just plain wrong.

    Same goes for Medellín, Colombia: the perception just doesn’t jive with reality. Pablo Escobar has been dead and buried since I was in nappies; nowadays, his former fiefdom is no more dangerous than plenty of metropolitan areas in the United States.

    Going by the murder rate, it’s considerably less dangerous than New Orleans, St Louis, Baltimore, and Detroit, and roughly in the same ballpark as Atlanta or Chicago.

    In other words: if you wouldn’t give a second thought to visiting New York City, it doesn’t make sense to get in a flap about Medellín. Like any unfamiliar city, you just have to exercise a little caution.

    Paisas—the people of this region—have many charming idioms. The one you will hear most often is ‘No dar papaya’ (don’t give papaya), i.e. don’t make it easy for bad people to take advantage of you. While this would be condemned as callous victim-blaming in certain circles, here it’s considered good old-fashioned common sense.

    There is something deeply jarring about Medellín: how ridiculously friendly and open everyone is! Given the circumstances, I found this really weird. It’s not just the decades of bloody violence; recent enough that most everyone has lost family or friends. There’s also the crappy economic conditions: a minimum wage of ~$1 an hour, a six-day workweek, the worst work-life balance in the world.

    Paisas would be entirely within their rights to be grumpy and frazzled and constantly on guard. Instead, they’re the warmest, most happy-go-lucky people I’ve ever had the pleasure of living amongst.

    In six months, not a single person got frustrated with my terrible Spanish, or made me feel the slightest bit unwelcome. In six months, I only remember seeing one public altercation where anyone so much as raised their voice.

    Obviously my experience as a gringo in a mostly middle-class bubble isn’t representative, but again, it’s hard to argue with the general trend. Check out this graph Rob Wiblin posted on Twitter: Latin American countries are clearly doing something right, and I’d like to figure out what that is. Quality of life here is higher than almost anywhere, despite having ~5x less money to splash around than westerners, and despite the violence and unrest.

    …A few more bits and pieces at the link. I’d be happy to try and answer any questions, with the caveat that these are observations in the time-honoured tradition of ‘white dude goes overseas and LARPs as amateur sociologist’ 😉

    • EchoChaos says:

      Although I’ve never been to Colombia, I’ve been to many Latin American cities and I’ve never felt particularly unsafe in any of them either.

      My understanding is that gringos are even safer than statistics say in Latin America these days because nobody particularly wants to endanger tourism or invite the scrutiny of the USA.

      I would definitely agree that if you’re willing to go to Nola or D.C. you should be willing to visit Latin America.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I have heard recently that the recovery of Columbia has been falling apart a bit recently. That the agreement with the rebels may be ending. Have you heard anything in country about this issue?

      Has the terrible state of Venezuela affected Medellin? Any refugees there?

      You say the weather is great, but it is right on the equator. Doesn’t it get unbearably hot sometimes?

      • I didn’t follow the news closely, but they seemed remarkably calm about this (maybe because it’s been the status quo for so long, there are paramilitaries and rebel groups spanning generations at this point). I noticed more agitation against the current president, including some protests – all my neighbours were hanging out their windows banging on pots and pans at one point, which was quite a spectacle.

        Yes, majorly. I’m pretty sure Colombia is taking more refugees than anyone else. Venezuelans will often come up to you and give you a large-denomination banknote, and then if you want to support them, you give them a small Colombian bill in exchange. It’s a crazy example of hyper-inflation: you can buy bags woven out of Venezuelan currency, etc.

        The secret to Medellín weather is the altitude. It’s right in the sweet spot: cities on the Caribbean coast (near sea level) are sweltering and unbearable, while more mountainous Bogotá (2,640m) gets cold enough that you need second layer of clothing, heating, etc.

      • Aftagley says:

        That the agreement with the rebels may be ending.

        This is true, but it’s overall effects are hard to predict. The rebels thought they would be able to achieve power within the system; then they had abysmal results at the ballot box. They gave up whatever power their guns gave them in exchange for the possibility of electoral power, and now they basically have no power. The cease fire also meant that their least motivated members got to basically dissolve at no cost.

        Presumably there’s now a core group of motivated rebels who have even more desire to fight back at the system, but it’s hard to predict if they’ll actually be able to accomplish anything.

    • Beans says:

      I spent a fair amount of time Colombia, including Medellin, and agree that it’s in fact quite welcoming. I got the sense that people were quite happy to see tourists, since it gives them a sense that the country might be overcoming its terrible reputation. While there are certain districts to avoid after dark if you don’t want to be a victim of petty crime (as in many places) its not a bad place to visit, though I do hear that in recent years things may have gotten worse.

      Also, as far as I could tell the food in Colombia is awful. Like, sure, in the wealthy parts of Bogota you can find a variety of normal internationally-omnipresent chains providing acceptable food, but the nation itself seems to have a really impoverished food culture. Perhaps a lack of time and money makes it hard for this to develop (but I’ve been to some very poor countries with amazing food, so that can’t be the whole story).

      • Yep, the food is not good. Here’s what I wrote in the longer piece:

        Colombian food kind of sucks. It’s not exactly bad, so much as uninspired. They don’t really go in for seasoning here. Just big, bland mounds of plantain, rice, beans, and meat, uniformly fried or boiled.

        On the other hand, it’s cheap and plentiful. Most places offer a menú del día—a set lunch with soup, main plate, juice, and dessert for $3 or $4. It’s not going to knock your socks off, but it’s filling and healthy.

        As for the ever-present arepas (stubby corn pancakes), everyone agrees they’re pretty good when they’re covered in toppings, which is what I would call damning with faint praise. Have some faith in your product!

        The good news is you don’t actually have to eat Colombian food, unless that’s your kink. I mostly cooked at home, taking advantage of the cheap and abundant fresh produce. […]

        Medellín is big enough and cosmopolitan enough to have plenty of ethnic food options, and all the milk-crate-furnished, mason-jar-sipping boutique eateries any hipster could wish for. I ate out pretty often, and conservatively, I’d say it’s about twice as affordable as the US.

    • b_jonas says:

      > Going by the murder rate, it’s considerably less dangerous than New Orleans, St Louis, Baltimore, and Detroit, and roughly in the same ballpark as Atlanta or Chicago.

      Ok, but I believe that’s not the right statistic to look at. If I understand correctly, you were a tourist unfamiliar to Colombia. Many criminals will recognize and target tourists, because they often have cash or other valuable items with them, and they are less likely to be able to call for help effectively.

      EchoChaos:
      > My understanding is that gringos are even safer than statistics say in Latin America these days because nobody particularly wants to endanger tourism or invite the scrutiny of the USA.

      Hmm okay. I guess I’m only familiar with Europe, and can’t give effective tourist advice for anywhere else.

      • Many criminals will recognize and target tourists, because they often have cash or other valuable items with them, and they are less likely to be able to call for help effectively.

        I included some advice in the linked post about blending in – Colombians are so ethnically diverse that unless you’re Asian or a 6’6″ blue-eyed blonde, you can often ‘pass’ as a local. But yeah, you’re right, at least in the context of theft and property crime.

        For violent crime, which is more of a worry to me, my guess is that the opposite would be true: tourists are much less likely to meet a grisly fate than local gang members and criminals.

        • eric23 says:

          Tourists can be kidnapped for ransom – I hear that is common in certain Latin American countries…

        • EchoChaos says:

          For violent crime, which is more of a worry to me, my guess is that the opposite would be true: tourists are much less likely to meet a grisly fate than local gang members and criminals.

          I should’ve been clearer that this is what I meant. Yes, petty crime is probably higher on tourists, though it never affected me.

          Tourists can be kidnapped for ransom – I hear that is common in certain Latin American countries…

          I hadn’t heard this for tourists, so I checked and Colombia is at the same level as Russia and Mexico for this risk.

          https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurabegleybloom/2019/04/25/35-countries-where-americans-are-most-likely-to-get-kidnapped/#27f21a6dbdf1

          Probably worth paying attention to, but common is vastly overstating it.

        • b_jonas says:

          Re Richard Meadows and EchoChaos on violent crime.

          Not according to what I heard about *some* parts of South America. I was told that the robbers who tear the camera off your neck and run off with it are likely to become violent if they think you resist. The explanation is that the justice system is so messed up that if they are caught with robbery, they’ll spend the whole rest of their life in prison, so stabbing you doesn’t make their situation worse if they are caught, but make it easier for them to get away uncaught. I don’t know if this applies to Colombia though.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @b_jonas

            That sounds like the sort of tall tale like the ones I remember about the “3 strikes law” as well.

            https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/murder-mexico-whats-danger-american-tourist

            I don’t know about Colombia, which don’t have nearly the quantity of American tourism that Mexico does, but the risk to Americans in Mexico basically rounds to zero.

            So I Googled Americans dead in Colombia and I found two stories in the past five years. One in June of 2019 and one in September of 2015. That again sounds like a risk that rounds down to zero.

          • Theodoric says:

            I thought this was part of why the British stopped executing people for theft: If you get hanged for steeling something and you get hanged for killing your victim, who could testify against you, guess what you’re incentivized to do.

          • John Schilling says:

            The British stopped executing people for theft because they couldn’t find enough people willing to serve as judge, jury, and/or executioner who would actually do that. Theft of anything worth forty shillings or more is punishable by death? Why, it’s clear that this guy is a thief, but hard as I look I can’t for the life of him see more than thirty-nine shillings worth of stuff he stole. Oh, wait, there’s fifty one-shilling coins in this bag marked “other guy’s property”? OK, but he can kind of sort of read something so he might be a priest and we can’t execute priests. Hey, semi-literate thief guy, are you a priest?

          • Randy M says:

            The British stopped executing people for theft because they couldn’t find enough people willing to serve as judge, jury, and/or executioner who would actually do that.

            It’s funny how this thread is making similar points to the one on divine justice.

          • OK, but he can kind of sort of read something so he might be a priest and we can’t execute priests. Hey, semi-literate thief guy, are you a priest?

            Theft of more than 40 shillings was a non-clergyable felony. The options for avoiding hanging are pious perjury by the jury, as in your example, or a pardon, possibly conditional on agreeing to enlistment or transportation.

    • Robin says:

      Almost everything I have read in this thread applies to Ecuador, too, more or less.

      Ecuador conveniently pays with US Dollars. You can withdraw 500$ from an ATM and get a bunch of 20$ bills. Larger bills are not commonly used and not very welcome.

      Yes, the day-to-day cuisine is very similar, at least in the sierra (Andean highlands). At the coast, it might be a bit more diverse, with seafood etc. But there are a few great special dishes, like “mote con fritada”, “llapingachos”, “sancocho”, well, I could go on… They don’t eat spicy, except for that “ají” sauce standing around on the table; I’m not sure whether a gringo should touch it, though.

      I always felt safe, too. But there are some precautions: Don’t wear open valuables. Don’t walk out at night, take a taxi everywhere.

      Yes, Ecuador is also flooded with Venezuelan refugees. Some seem to have been paid for sowing unrest last autumn during the big strike. Difficult to say for people like me. But I am impressed how quickly the unrest ended. The civilization seems thin and people go crazy all of a sudden, and then just as suddenly they return to normal.

  23. EchoChaos says:

    On President’s Day, what are your most unexpected Presidency hot takes.

    I don’t mean mainstream stuff like “Nixon was too statist” or “Wilson was a racist”.

    Or even the more niche “Coolidge was better than historians say because he was libertarian”.

    I want stuff like “Johnson was actually one of the best US Presidents because he prevented reprisals that would’ve torn the country apart again after Lincoln’s assassination”.

    • zardoz says:

      OK. I’ll bite. Some surprising facts about Richard Nixon: he was the first president to unilaterally renounce the use of chemical weapons. (To be fair, when you have nukes, maybe chemical weapons don’t seem necessary.) He also tried repeatedly to get a universal healthcare system enacted.

      I also vaguely remember that JFK, on the other hand, had a hand in creating some of the US’s chemical weapons stockpile, which took decades to clean up. But I can’t remember exactly what his role was, and the search engines are not being helpful today.

      • Aapje says:

        Hitler opposed the use of chemical weapons and enacted universal healthcare in The Netherlands. So: Nixon, almost as good as Hitler?

        😛

        Do I win the Carolina Reaper award of hot takes?

        • Evan Þ says:

          Wait, Hitler enacted universal healthcare in the Netherlands? If this’s a joke, I don’t get it.

          • Aapje says:

            Well, the Nazi’s did in 1941. Although it was restricted to people earning less than a certain amount.

            It was part of a charm offensive* to get support for Nazification and permanent annexation (didn’t work), but also to prevent Dutch workers from undercutting German workers.

            The joke is that, if we ignore everything else, Hitler was better than Nixon for actually achieving universal healthcare for the less wealthy.

            * Although this had already ended by the time the law actually went into effect

        • zardoz says:

          If I were a libertarian, this is about when I would point out that Hitler was a socialist, after all. A National one.

          The poison gas thing is interesting. Hitler had it, but didn’t use it on the battlefield….

    • broblawsky says:

      Nixon should’ve gone to jail, and Ford should’ve too, for pardoning him.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Interesting.

        I can somewhat agree with the Nixon one, but do you think Presidential use of the pardon power can be criminal?

        • broblawsky says:

          Whether it can be criminal under existing statutes is a distinct question from whether Ford’s use of it was unethical and deserving of punishment. You can’t have peace without justice, and Ford denied America justice.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Bwah? The US was extremely peaceful from the time Ford was elected until the deadly standoffs with the Branch Davidians and the odd right-wing weirdo in Clinton’s first term.
            Empirically we had plenty of Justice to get peace.

          • broblawsky says:

            Maybe peace isn’t the word I’m looking for, so much as reconciliation? What I’m trying to get at is that I think Ford did meaningful long-term damage to the nation by pardoning Nixon.

          • Clutzy says:

            I have to disagree brob. One little teeny overlooked fact is that Nixon was pretty normal, he was just the first to get caught. Possibly because he was the first the media was really interested in investigating.

          • 2181425 says:

            @Le Maistre Chat
            I’m going to respectfully disagree with ‘extremely peaceful’ and cite FALN bombings (up through 78/79) and the MOVE bombing (85) as counterexamples.

          • One little teeny overlooked fact is that Nixon was pretty normal, he was just the first to get caught.

            I’m reminded of a talk I heard by someone who had been pretty high up in state politics. He said that Watergate was shocking. It had always been the case that we wiretapped them and they wiretapped us, and this time some bastard called the cops.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Before my time but wasn’t the end result of Watergate because Nixon wiretapped himself?

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Watergate was nothing more and nothing less than Mark Felt getting revenge for getting passed over for Pat Grey. The so-called “heros”, the wapo reporters, journalism’s “highest moment”, were very little more than just his pawns in that revenge.

            Mad props to Felt for pulling it off. I was and shall always remain impressed. It was a well-written-supervillan gambit, and he pulled it off and stuck the landing.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Mark Atwood

            And when Comey tried to duplicate it, he fell flat on his face.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Where can I find more details on this claim Mark Atwood? Color me intrigued.

          • Lillian says:

            It wasn’t the Watergate Hotel break-in that did Nixon in, it was the cover-up after the fact that did Nixon in. Early on his hands were clean, as he was not involved in the activities of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, he did not order the break in and wiretapping of the DNC headquarters, and frankly there’s little evidence he was even aware of it beforehand. It was attempting to cover the whole thing up that dirtied his hands, because while he was not directly involved in the CRP’s activities he was extremely involved in covering them up.

            So the right move for Nixon was to just throw Liddy and company under the bus, and maybe issue a public apology that this happened on his watch, and that would have been the end of it. Ironically the problem was that Nixon wasn’t enough of a sociopath to do that, they were his people and however much of a bastard Nixon was, he always cared about his people. So he tried to protect them and it took down his Presidency.

            Every President since them has learned their lesson and now whenever something like this happens, they just let the people involved fall on their swords and carry on. As long as it the person of the President is not directly involved in the scandal, it really doesn’t matter. That’s how Reagan survived Iran-Contra unscathed, for example.

      • zardoz says:

        Ha. Did I touch a nerve, with the discussion about Nixon’s support of universal healthcare?

        To be clear, I’m not advocating that we rehabilitate Nixon. More than anything, just making a remark about how politics has shifted in strange ways since the 1970s.

        There is a trolley problem aspect to this, too. What if JFK never got assassinated, but he triggered another missile crisis, and this one didn’t get de-escalated? etc. What if Nixon really did get us universal healthcare, but Watergate never got exposed?

        • Protagoras says:

          Yeah, JFK wasn’t all that, and his reputation probably benefitted greatly from his untimely end. That doesn’t seem to me to count as an unexpected hot take any more.

        • broblawsky says:

          No, I didn’t really think about your comment when I was writing mine. I just think that Ford’s pardon of Nixon was a huge mistake.

          That being said, I don’t think Nixon ever seriously wanted any kind of comprehensive health insurance reform – his plans were always formulated in opposition to whatever scheme had any kind of traction in Congress. He never put any real effort into getting them implemented.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          The story I heard was that Nixon’s attempt at a US NHS was nixed by Ted Kennedy, who wanted the credit for it.

          There are many reasons why I moved away from Massachusetts. But the reason why I stopped at the border on my way out and knocked the dust off my shoes was because of the way the Massachusetts electorate and local political machines worshiped that nasty clan of alcoholic rapists.

          • Lillian says:

            It’s my understanding that Nixon’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan was a lot more like Affordable Care Act than the National Health Service, and the reason the Democrats – including Ted Kennedy – opposed it is because they were holding out for something actually like the NHS.

            It’s a classic negotiating mistake where someone holds out for a better offer and instead gets nothing, and frankly seems more believable than Ted Kennedy nixing it because he wanted the credit. A canny political operator like him should have had no difficulty sitting down with Nixon and telling him, “Mr. President, I’ll get you the votes if you get me the credit.”

    • EchoChaos says:

      My hot take:

      In many ways Clinton was the most right-wing President of the post-war period. He instituted draconian crackdowns on the border, pushed free trade worldwide, signed the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1994 Crime Bill, cut taxes for the poor and middle class, deregulated banking and balanced the budget.

      • meh says:

        have you read https://www.amazon.com/One-Left-Lie-Triangulations-Jefferson/dp/1455522996/ ?

        from the description

        Hitchens masterfully deconstructs Clinton’s abject propensity for pandering to the Left while delivering to the Right

        • EchoChaos says:

          Nope, but it sounds like I’ve been beaten by my hot take! I’ve failed my own request.

          • meh says:

            well, it’s probably not a well known enough opinion, that it still counts. coming up with a opinion that literally nobody else has ever had anywhere would be a feat.

      • Loriot says:

        I haven’t looked into it closely, but I suspect a lot of it is just a product of the times. Everyone complains about politicians who supported the 1994 crime bill now, but at the time it was popular even in the black community, at least from what I’ve heard. Circumstances change, and people forget the world that led people to make the decisions they once did.

        Policies also change parties over time. Neither party has ever been interested in balancing the budget while in power, and neither party is currently all that keen on free trade.

      • DarkTigger says:

        Sorry, but first time I read your hot take was some time in 2002, in “Stupid White Man” from Micheal Moore. I think he said something like “best Republican President ever”

        • eric23 says:

          For Michael Moore, “best Republican President ever” probably means “most left-wing Republican President”. Yes, Clinton was a centrist, to the left of most Republicans and the right of most Democrats. That’s not exactly news.

          • DarkTigger says:

            No, he literally meant the same thing as EchoChaos: His policies would have been a better fit for a, Republican not a Democrat.

            Otherwise calling him an “Republican President” while being an Democrat would be pretty meaningless, wouldn’t it?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Mount Rushmore is perfectly fine, if a bit kitschy.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        How hot is this take? Is there a substantial anti-Mount Rushmore backlash I’ve been unaware of? I guess it wouldn’t be surprising if there was (four white “great men,” two of them slaveowners), I just don’t remember hearing about it.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          On the one hand, I know a lot of people who think it’s overwhelmingly tacky. On the other, this is a satirically lukewarm take.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Mount Rushmore is damned underwhelming. You are so far away it looks like a trivial spot in the distance.

          The drive to get there requires going through South Dakota. South Dakota is an extremely depressing drive. The only place worse I’ve driven through is the Texas Panhandle.

          • smocc says:

            South Dakota is so boring that when I drove through it I kept remarking how boring rural Minnesota was because my brain couldn’t even pay enough attention to remember that we had entered South Dakota.

          • bean says:

            South Dakota is worse than that. Every time I go there, it rains. Seriously, I’ve been through the state at least three times, and every time, the weather was terrible. Except at Mount Rushmore, weirdly. Probably because I was about to leave the state, and the rain realized it had won.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Spoken like someone who’s never driven through Kansas.

          • Lambert says:

            What would be a better mountiain to carve a load of Presidents’ noggins into?

            Also where do you buy a mining drill and the world’s biggest linear servo (x3)?

    • Two McMillion says:

      Barrack Obama and Donald Trump were both elected due to the same fundamental force in US politics, which is dissatisfaction with traditional politicians. This force is stronger then any actual policy considerations for the electorate, and whichever party can master it first will be able to choose the president for the foreseeable future.

      • eric23 says:

        If by “traditional politicians” you mean “hereditary dynasties like the Clintons and Bushes”, then yes. Other than that, Obama was a pretty traditional politician.

        • GearRatio says:

          But was he perceived as one? The electorate as a whole doesn’t get a whole lot deeper than the campaign slogan, and his was a fairly credible-seeming “hey I’m different y’all, promise”

        • Matt M says:

          He wasn’t “traditional” in any of the attributes people actually care about these days: Name, family origin, skin color, manner of speech, upbringing, employment history, etc.

          • EchoChaos says:

            manner of speech, upbringing, employment history,

            He was very much a standard elite in these three, which is why he emphasized the first three so much.

            That’s one of the things Joe Biden lauded about him is that he was a black politician that spoke like a regular elite.

        • Aapje says:

          @eric23

          Obama promised to fundamentally change Washington:

          But even if you regard all of them as salutary, it’s worth remembering that Obama asserted a need to “fundamentally change the way Washington works,” an approach Hillary Clinton regarded as naive, but that Americans embraced.

          “Let me be clear,” Obama said, “this isn’t just about ending the failed policies of the Bush years; it’s about ending the failed system in Washington that produces those policies.”

          That he failed to make good on this promise doesn’t change the fact that he did promise it during the election.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Promising to end the failed system in Washington may be the single most traditional-politician thing that Obama did.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Promising to end the failed system in Washington may be the single most traditional-politician thing that Obama did.

            Ha! That’s what I was thinking. They ALL say that.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Who wins presidential elections has much less to do with the candidates or policies than people think, and more to do with the thermostatic nature of American politics.

      :- The presidency has only changed parties twice in four years once in the last 120 years.
      :- The formula that the Republicans win in years that are 0 or 4 mod and the Democrats win in years that are 8 or 12 has only been wrong once in the last three quarters of a century.

      Numbers of times a party has held the presidency for x years since Wilson:
      4: 1
      8: 6
      3: 2
      6: 1, with a big boost from WWII

    • Garrett says:

      Nixon doing whatever it takes to keep Democrats out of office was heroic and he should be celebrated.

    • Plumber says:

      @EchoChaos

      “On President’s Day, what are your most unexpected Presidency hot takes…”

      My most unexpected hot take of a President?

      Ronald Reagan was pretty liberal-progressive (by recent standards).

      1) Worked with a Democratic congress without “shut downs” including some tax raises (along with the cuts).

      2) Amnesty for illegal immigrants.

      3) Appointed Supreme Court Justices who’d later vote with the “liberals” on this-and’that.

      And as the Govenor of California he emptied the mental hospitals and didn’t veto legalized abortion.

    • KieferO says:

      The two most intelligent post WWII presidents are (in some order) George W Bush, and Jimmy Carter. They were also both incapable of bringing their intelligence to bear on the challenge of the presidency. This leads me to believe that the task of being president, whatever it is, is mostly not about thinking the best thoughts, but about trusting the right people.

      I think that being able to drink alcohol socially without becoming addicted to it is an underrated presidential skill.

      • I believe my father’s opinion was that, of the presidents he knew, Nixon had the highest IQ.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        W or HW?

        I think that the general sentiment that W is a dunce is obviously wrong, but it seems unlikely to me that he would perform better on an IQ test than HW, Obama, and maybe others — I don’t have any strong impression of the IQ of presidents pre-Carter.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I think that the general sentiment that W is a dunce is obviously wrong, but it seems unlikely to me that he would perform better on an IQ test than HW, Obama, and maybe others — I don’t have any strong impression of the IQ of presidents pre-Carter.

          Nixon: brilliant but insecure.
          Ford: Dumb?
          Carter: nuclear engineer.
          Reagan: Perhaps average IQ, but great at communicating, like reverse autism.
          HW Bush: ?
          Clinton: Unsure, but Greenspan considered him equal to Nixon.
          W Bush: way smarter than Democrats and the far Left thought, but not brilliant.
          Obama: Below Nixon, Carter, and Clinton at least.
          Trump: Well, being the first President to use Twitter is a negative.

        • Aftagley says:

          Obama: Below Nixon, Carter, and Clinton at least.

          This shocked me, sense I’d never gotten the impression from interviews and public appearances that Bill Clinton was much of an intellectual powerhouse.

          A tiny bit of research quickly reveals that apparently a bunch of really intelligent people (Greenspan, Hawking, and a bunch of others) claim he is an absolute genius. There are also countless anecdotes out there about people meeting him once and him remembering everything about them perfectly 10 years later.

          Interesting. I may need to learn more about this guy.

          • Aapje says:

            There are also countless anecdotes out there about people meeting him once and him remembering everything about them perfectly 10 years later.

            That’s not intelligence, but memory.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Aapje, intelligence and memory are very highly correlated. This is no doubt related to the fact that memory is a much more active and creative process than it usually gets credit for; memories are constantly being reconstructed, rather than being permanent faithful recordings, and more intelligent people are generally better at such reconstruction.

          • Aapje says:

            Presumably, the trivia that Clinton was lauded for remembering doesn’t require advanced interpolation.

            Also, I’m not convinced that storing lots of stuff permanently in long term memory is heavily correlated with intelligence. Tons of dumb people store lots of trivia about celebrities, while tons of smart people are quite forgetful.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aapje

            If he’s impressing Greenspan and Hawking he isn’t just remembering trivia.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Washington should’ve booted Hamilton out of his cabinet as soon as that moron came up with a whiskey tax, and nothing Hamilton did afterwards demonstrated otherwise.

    • Walter says:

      George H. W. Bush doesn’t get enough credit for supporting German reunification. That’s worked out great, and he really went out on a limb, leveraging US clout over allies objections, etc. Big risk, big reward, and he got it right.

    • Eric Rall says:

      John Tyler did the country an immense disservice by setting a precedent for Presidents having the power to veto bills over purely policy-based disagreements. Before Tyler, vetos fell into three major categories: Constitutional objections, refusals of corrupt or extravagant appropriations, and protecting the President’s explicit Constitutional authority over foreign policy and the day-to-day operations of the federal bureaucracy. And it was generally thought that these were the only legitimate reasons to veto a bill that had passed Congress. Tyler broke with this precedent by justifying his many (by the standards of the time) vetos purely on the basis of his personal policy disagreements with the bills. Congressional Whigs (nominally Tyler’s own party) seriously considered impeaching Tyler over his vetoes, but held off because they didn’t believe they had the votes to convict him in the Senate.

      Policy-based vetoes are bad because:
      1. They’re the bedrock of the modern Imperial Presidency: plenary veto authority gives the President an enormous amount of leverage over Congress, since he can use his arrogated “Pen and phone” powers to implement a wide range of policies unilaterally which then require a 2/3 majority of both houses of Congress to override.

      2. Reducing vetos to a question of policy eroded an important procedural step for reviewing their constitutionality. In the 20th Century, we rely almost entirely on the Courts to police the constitutionality of laws and executive policies. This is regrettable because laws only come before the Courts for review in hindsight, so an unconstitutional act can do a great amount of damage before being reviewed. In addition, the courts are (by design) heavily insulated from the political process, which is often a good thing, but it’d be better if there were also a more explicit Constitutional review step before the question reached the Courts.

      In theory, there’s nothing stopping Presidents from vetoing on Constitutional grounds. But modern Presidents are largely elected based on their professed policy preferences, so their interpretations of the constitution are only really considered by voters to the extent they’re expected to influence judicial appointments (which also politicizes the courts more than is desirable). And the political branches of government have pretty much abdicated their Constitutional review responsibilities to the Courts, as policy-based vetoes became so routine that the Constitutional review purpose got largely forgotten.

      • EchoChaos says:

        This is interesting and brings to mind one of the worse things that George W. Bush did, which was say in his signing statement that he thought McCain-Feingold was un-Constitutional and then signing it anyway.

        • Eric Rall says:

          That parallel occurred to me, as well.

        • Randy M says:

          Ironically the exact inversion of the practice, indicating that a veto was not due for a policy agreed to but unconstitutional.
          Exactly what one would hope for from a conservative.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I said when I learned of that, and say again now, that George W. Bush should’ve been impeached for that alone: he admitted that he had consciously violated his oath to the Constitution.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        This is very insightful, thank you.

      • Aftagley says:

        Why don’t these same critiques apply to Jackson?

        He came first, had more vetoes in total than Tyler and they were just as blatantly partisan as can be (although maybe Jackson made more effort to wrap himself in the constitution.)

        • EchoChaos says:

          although maybe Jackson made more effort to wrap himself in the constitution.

          Wouldn’t that be the difference? Breaking the norm of making that effort is a fairly big deal.

          • Aftagley says:

            Poor phrasing on my part – yes, claiming that all your vetoes are constitutionally derived would be different, unless it was transparently a false claim. My “maybe” in that statement was meant to imply that I’m accepting this as a possible answer.

            I don’t know whether or not Jackson did this, but it sounds like something he’d do.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I also have an intense dislike of Jackson, on this count and others, but criticizing him for executive overreach isn’t really an Unexpected Hot Take these days. And while Jackson did significantly erode the norms around vetos, Tyler completed the transformation by dropping even the pretense of being rooted in constitutional objections.

          • Matt M says:

            Wouldn’t that be the difference? Breaking the norm of making that effort is a fairly big deal.

            Is it, though?

            This seems to be more of a style vs substance complaint. Ultimately speaking, a policy of “The President can veto whatever he wants so long as he says he thinks it’s unconstitutional” and “The President can veto whatever he wants for whatever reason he wants” are functionally the same, one just requires him to jump through some rather pointless theatrics.

            I’m a big fan of Tyler myself. Anyone who can buck his party establishment (and let’s be honest, the Whigs were awful on just about everything) so much that he gets kicked out of his own party while he is President has to be doing something right! Say what you will about Trump and the GOP but they haven’t even come close to coming to that big of a fight…

      • Randy M says:

        John Tyler did the country an immense disservice by setting a precedent for Presidents having the power to veto bills over purely policy-based disagreements.

        I think your critique is insightful except that I suspect if Tyler hadn’t set this precedent it would have come about shortly after anyways. Surely by, say, Wilson or Roosevelt, if not antebellum.

        • Eric Rall says:

          You’re probably right, but without Tyler, the process would at least have been delayed. And as I mentioned in the Jackson Veto subthread above, I had to pick one President to blame in order to be responsive to the original question, and blaming that President for executive overreach would have to qualify as an Unexpected Hot Take, which rules out focusing on Lincoln, Wilson, or either Roosevelt at least in this thread.

          To preserve the original understanding of the veto power, it’d probably be necessary for Congressional Whigs to successfully impeach Tyler and remove him from office. And that’s very hard to achieve, since the 2/3 majority requirement for the Senate to remove an impeached official from power has turned out to be an insurmountable bar to impeachment removal in all but the most extreme cases.

          • EchoChaos says:

            And it also matters because a lot of policy problems in the United States were time limited.

            Tariff problems between North and South were always going to go away eventually as the North gained enough demand to fully purchase the South’s productivity, for example.

            Breaking a piece of the system later would delay some of those problems, perhaps permanently.

      • BBA says:

        In practice, everyone believes the Constitution mandates their own policy preferences, so the distinction you’re getting at isn’t meaningful.

    • S_J says:

      Crossing the idea of Presidents with the personal hobby of genealogy: many American Presidents are distant cousins of each other.

      A few are much closer: John Quincy Adams was son of John Adams; Benjamin Harrison was grandson of William Henry Harrison; G.W. Bush was son of G.H.W. Bush.

      I suspect that Franklin Roosevelt has the most distant-cousin connections to other Presidents. Amusingly, FDR had a more distant relationship to Theodore Roosevelt than he did to any of these Presidents: Martin Van Buren, Ulysses Grant, Zachary Taylor, or John Quincy Adams.

      FDR was also a distant cousin to Rutherford B. Hayes, Franklin Pierce, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, and Richard Nixon.

      This isn’t really that special, though… any American who is descended from someone who lived in the States during late-Colonial or early-Republic time frame can likely find a genealogical connection to one or two Presidents. (I’m highly confident that I have a distant-cousin relationships to a handful of U.S. Presidents.)

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Gerald Ford

        Wasn’t Gerald Ford adopted? So was he related to Ford’s biological family or his adopted family?

        • S_J says:

          My understanding is that this refers to President Ford’s birth parents (Leslie Lynch King Sr and Dorothy Ayer Gardner), not his adoptive father (Gerald Rudolph Ford, Sr).

  24. kevinmunger says:

    Does anyone know about support groups for people who are discontinuing the use of anti-depressants.

    I’m literally asking for a friend, a medical anthropologist who is interested in studying this phenomenon and would like to discuss people’s experiences with this. The recent SSC survey suggested that some number of y’all may have experience with this, so I thought I’d ask around here.

  25. rlms says:

    Anyone interested in another game of SSC readers’ Diplomacy?

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      I have heard excellent things about the game Diplomacy, but have never played before. If that isn’t too much of an obstacle, and if logistics permit, I would be interested.

    • Anteros says:

      I just read John Schilling’s write-up. If he’s in, I’m out – I’m not suicidal right now.

      • John Schilling says:

        I’ll sit this one out, unless you all need a seventh. But I’ll be ready for the next one. And I look forward to reading the reports from this one.

        • NTD_SF says:

          As someone currently being brutally murdered in my first game of Diplomacy, that writeup is a very useful source that I wish I’d seen earlier.

          • DeWitt says:

            I don’t suppose you’d link us?

            EDIT: nevermind, I really need to learn to take five seconds to check things. Sheesh.

        • bean says:

          This is making me tempted to join in, but I probably have too much on my plate to give it the attention it deserves, even if I don’t have to face down Emperor John I of France and Austria-Hungary.

    • Vermillion says:

      Communism is a historical inevitability, like the sunrise or molting.

      The Democratic Lizard People’s Republic is in.

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        I’m in. What’s the time commitment/frequency?

        Edit: Milanese HRE

      • Evan Þ says:

        The retired Co-Consul Dmioplakius the Saurian laments his people’s new form of government, but after the former military disasters he presided over, he feels he must refuse any invitations to return to politics.

      • metacelsus says:

        Oooh, I have fond memories of this. Can I join the revolution?

    • Cayzle says:

      I’m a lurker who has posted here like … once before? But I love Diplomacy, so please count me in if it is not too late. Not sure how to connect, but my email address is cayzle at cayzle dot com.

  26. dndnrsn says:

    Hello, and welcome to the twenty-sixth installment of my Biblical Scholarship effortpost series. Last time we looked at the Gospel of John. This time, we’ll be dipping outside the New Testament canon to cover the most important noncanonical gospel, the Gospel of Thomas. Thomas is generally concluded to be a Gnostic document, so first we’ll have to do a brief coverage of Gnosticism, or at least its Christian form.

    The usual caveats: this is about secular scholarship far more than theology. I’m not an expert in this – I studied it in school, but it’s not like I have a PhD or anything. I’m shooting for a 100/200 level coverage; if anyone has any more questions, just ask and I’ll see what I can turn up. Additionally, please note that while I use the singular for Gnosticism for the sake of readability, it’s quite hard to generalize, especially with how little we know.

    Gnosticism – the name comes from the Greek gnosis, “knowledge” – is a sort of umbrella term for various religious movements that overlap with early Christianity in time and space. It was probably syncretic, in a way, resulting from a combination of different religions and philosophies. Gnosticism, and more specifically Christian Gnosticism, became a target to the “proto-orthodox” Christian leaders. (The “proto-orthodox” expounded a form of Christianity that was, at the time, just one of many; ultimately, it won and became dominant.)

    Until the middle of the 20th century, scholars didn’t have much to go on to reconstruct Gnosticism, Christian or otherwise, except for what its opponents had said about it. This changed with an extremely important archaeological discovery: in 1945, a jar containing ancient books was found at Nag Hammadi, in Egypt. The documents found their way onto the antiquities market, and when they ended up in the hands of scholars, it became obvious that they were significant..

    The collection, fifty-two documents in thirteen volumes, were written in Coptic. Based on scrap papers used in the books’ bindings, the volumes were made in the fourth century, but some of the documents were produced much earlier. Linguistically, there is strong evidence that the documents were originally in Greek and translated into Coptic. Based on the documents themselves, the books were produced by a Gnostic Christian community. They include multiple noncanonical Gospels, of which Thomas is only one.

    What did the community believe? It’s still hard to say: for one thing, we don’t have any indication that the library was a fixed canon. For another, the documents frequently assume a lot about what the audience already knows: there’s no helpful introduction to Christian Gnosticism in there. Some of the documents even appear to be non-Christian.

    However, we can say a few things with some certainty about what Christian Gnostics believed. First, their beliefs were dualistic: there is a material world, which is evil, and a spiritual world, which is good. These two worlds are in conflict, but this is not an eternal conflict; the spiritual world has always existed, whereas the material world came into existence at some time.

    Second, they didn’t believe that God had created this material world. Gnosticism divides between the real God (an all-powerful, incomprehensible deity) and the lesser, evil being or beings (Gnostic cosmology and cosmogony are complicated and I’m not going to bother) who created the world – the creator-God is known as the “demiurge”. A spark of the divine, however, is trapped in the material world, in human bodies.

    Third, salvation is possible, for some: for those who have the divine spark in them (other humans are like animals, part of the material world). Someone who possesses this spark, if they obtain the right secret knowledge (which is where the name comes from), will have their spirit liberated, so it can leave this awful material world and go home.

    Where does this salvation come from? It can’t come from the imperfect, evil material world; rather, it must come from the real God. Christ, in Christian Gnosticism, was thus a divine being who came into the world (either appearing to be human, though not, or dwelling in a human’s body – thus, Jesus’ baptism). Christ passed on to followers the secret knowledge of salvation, and they in turn passed it on to their followers; when they wrote it down they did so in a secretive, confusing manner.

    The Gospel of Thomas (the translation I am using is available here) is a collection of 114 sayings, introduced with the words “These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded” (in the Syrian Christian tradition, this is a name for Jesus’ brother Judas/Jude; it seems as though in Christian Gnosticism he may actually be considered Christ’s twin brother). There is next to no narrative content – the most one finds is some scene-setting, for example in 60 or 61 – and most of the sayings begin either with someone saying something to Jesus and his response, or simply reporting Jesus as having said the thing. There doesn’t seem to be any order to the sayings, save for the introduction and the first saying, ‘And he said, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.”’

    In content, slightly over half of the sayings are versions of sayings found in the Synoptic gospels. Others, however, are unfamiliar and sometimes very strange indeed.

    In the unfamiliar, and particularly the strange, sayings, scholars generally find Thomas’ orientation to be a Gnostic Christian one. For example, 11 (which includes “On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?”; this is taken to refer to the creation of the material world and the splitting of the divine spark), 29 (‘Jesus said, “If the flesh came into being because of spirit, that is a marvel, but if spirit came into being because of the body, that is a marvel of marvels. Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has come to dwell in this poverty.”’ – taken to refer to the superiority of the spiritual to the material world), or most dramatically 80 (‘Jesus said, “Whoever has come to know the world has discovered the body, and whoever has discovered the body, of that one the world is not worthy.”’)

    Thomas’ preoccupations, however, can also be seen in the differences between the Thomas version of familiar parables and sayings and the canonical versions: for example, in 8, apparently the Thomas version of the net parable in Matthew 13:47-50, the kingdom of God is said to be like a fisherman who found the largest fish in his net and threw all the others back, while in the version in Matthew, the kingdom of God is said to be like the net, from which good and bad fish will be sorted, and the bad discarded. This is taken as indicating gnostic elitism. Another example of this is 107, evidently a version of the Matthew 18:12-14/Luke 15:4-7 parable, about a man with a hundred sheep who loses one, and leaves his other sheep to go search for it, with the Lukan version explicitly saying that a repented sinner brings more joy than 99 righteous. In the Thomas version, the sheep that is lost is the largest one, and upon finding it, the shepherd tells the sheep he loves it more than the others.

    From the perspective of readers of the New Testament, Thomas is important largely for the stuff that appears in Thomas as well as in the Synoptics. Scholars generally don’t think that Thomas used the Synoptics, which would make it an independent attestation of these sayings. The best reason to think this is to compare Greek fragments of Thomas (found in an ancient garbage dump at a place named Oxyrhynchus) containing the relevant parts to the Greek in the synoptics: while they share subject matter, they don’t use the same language. Additionally, Thomas doesn’t have Synoptic material that would advance the apparent agenda of the gospel.

    Some scholars hold Thomas to be an extremely early source, likening it to Q, and believing that it holds the earliest form of the material shared with the Synoptics. In their view, it also contains authentic sayings that did not find their way into the Synoptics. In addition, there is the Gnostic material added later; none of these scholars, to the best of my knowledge, think that the historical figure of Jesus was as presented in Thomas. Their arguments are kind of shaky, depending on their methods of how to look at different versions of a saying and conclude which is the most “original-seeming”. Some of their arguments can be convincing – there are cases where the Thomas version of a parable is the shortest and most “oral-seeming”, for example – but this only takes you so far.

    However, at a minimum, Thomas might well be independent attestation of stuff which found its way into canon. When, then, does Thomas date from? As a finished document, there’s no reason to think it is earlier than the second century; we don’t have any indication that Gnostic Christian beliefs of the sort Thomas seems to assume shows up before then. However, the sayings that echo the Synoptics, and perhaps a few others, may very well go back earlier.

    So, that’s a brief rundown of Christian Gnosticism and of Thomas. As an odd sidenote, it’s fascinating, and it provides a source of independent attestation for parts of the sayings tradition. Christian Gnosticism believed that our material world was an inferior one created by an inferior deity, and that those who have the divine spark within them can, through secret knowledge, rescue themselves and return to the spiritual realm. Jesus was, to them, sent by the real God (unknown and unknowable) bearing this saving message. The Gospel of Thomas is a Christian Gnostic gospel, consisting of sayings; about half of them are ones you’ll find in the Synoptic gospels, while half of them are a mixture of obviously Gnostic additions and some that might be original. Next time, we’ll start talking about Paul in preparation for looking at the collection of Pauline letters.

    • hls2003 says:

      Thanks, I was not familiar with specific contents of the gospel of Thomas beyond its general Gnosticism, so this was an interesting rundown. Appreciate the work.

    • Deiseach says:

      This is the same Thomas as the Acts of Thomas and the Hymn of the Pearl, right?

    • AlesZiegler says:

      The best reason to think this is to compare Greek fragments of Thomas (found in an ancient garbage dump at a place named Oxyrhynchus)

      This is fascinating. When did this discovery happened and could you expand a bit on what was found?

      • Lambert says:

        They found a load of Sappho fragments.

        Also the town was named after the sharp-nosed dickfish, which was worshipped as a minor deity there.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Fyi, I thought you were joking and that that fish god is a Lovecraft reference. But now I googled that out of insomnia and you are serious with both Sapho and place named after Nile fish. Also that fish was worshiped apparently because it “ate the penis of Osiris” (wikipedia).This is hilarious (y).

      • dndnrsn says:

        This dump in particular was discovered in the late 19th century. A really wide variety of things in it, from religious and literary stuff, to personal letters, bills and receipts, some official documents, etc.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Some scholars hold Thomas to be an extremely early source, likening it to Q, and believing that it holds the earliest form of the material shared with the Synoptics.

      That was going to be my follow-up question: as you described a Sayings gospel with a substantial overlap with the sayings in the Synoptics, but not believed to be derived from them, I started wondering if Thomas might be based in part on the Q document as well.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        It could be an expanded, and therefore later, Gnostic Q. Secular consensus is that Historical Jesus didn’t say anything Gnostic, but a Gnostic community could have had scribes extend their authentic Q when copying until it doubled in size.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Some scholars have thought that Thomas preserves Q, at least in part, others that they share oral traditions. I know there’s a minority that thinks Jesus wasn’t an apocalypticist, claiming to be able to differentiate “strata” in Q, with the earliest stuff being a recollection of Jesus’ teaching, and the later stuff being composed in response to the early religious community being spurned.

    • S_J says:

      Until the middle of the 20th century, scholars didn’t have much to go on to reconstruct Gnosticism, Christian or otherwise, except for what its opponents had said about it. This changed with an extremely important archaeological discovery: in 1945, a jar containing ancient books was found at Nag Hammadi, in Egypt. The documents found their way onto the antiquities market, and when they ended up in the hands of scholars, it became obvious that they were significant…

      I am surprised to learn this. The description of Gnosticism that you give matches the one I’ve heard from most sources. But I’m a little surprised that almost all of the Gnostic writing that we have access to is from that one 20th-Century archeological discovery.

      • dndnrsn says:

        My understanding is that, even with a favourable climate, various things have to align for texts to survive almost 2 millennia in anything close to reasonable condition. Our textual evidence for the canonical material is relatively plentiful because, at least in part, they reached some sort of tipping point in popularity. Stuff that gets popular and stays popular has more copies out, and people are more likely to make copies of those copies, and so on.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        If you want to know what was known about Gnosticism before the discovery, the obvious place to look is the 1911 Britannica. In particular, it mentions the Acts of Thomas, which was extant, in contrast to the Gospel of Thomas.

        Also, on the non-Christian side, consider Numenius, whose text survived only in fragments, but enough to get a sense of him. It’s controversial to call him Gnostic, and, indeed, the commentaries that preserve him often hold him up in contrast to Gnostics. But that’s exactly because he’s so close. (But could one determine that without direct access to the Gnostics? Britannica merely says “probably due to the influence of the Valentinian Gnostics.”)

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Alternate history: What if the Nag Hammadi Library had not been found?

          Already in the pipeline was the Berlin Codex, found in 1896, but delayed by the turmoil of the 20th century, not translated until 1955, and then overshadowed by the Library. It contained the Apocryphon of John, which is probably the most important Gnostic text, since it appeared 3 times in the Library

    • Aron Wall says:

      Thanks for the interesting post.. I’ve read Thomas before, and I also concluded that it probably contained a few authentic sayings not found in the canonical Gospels, mixed with other stuff that doesn’t sound much like the same Jesus. It has about the same level of choppiness as the Analects of Confucius, which was written not be Confucius’ immediate disciples but by subsequent students. Given how hard it is to interpret, it really makes it clear how much is gained by the fact that the canonical Gospels put the sayings in biographical context and provide interpretations of many of the parables…

      It’s a little strange though combining your description of Thomas with Gnosticism, because although Thomas is called Gnostic it would actually be quite hard to reconstruct most of the doctrines you mention if all we had was the text of Thomas. (If you had done the Gospel of Mark in the same way, you would have integrated Nicene Trinitarianism into that post..)

      The most obviously Gnostic trope here is 13, where Jesus is depicted as providing secret sayings to one of the disciples not given to the others. This was, presumably, to help explain why those stick-in-the-mud proto-orthodox Christians had never heard of the Gnostic’s weird cultish doctrines before. Conversely, that was St. Iranaeus’ best argument against Gnosticism: if you have the real teachings of Jesus, then how come none of the big urban churches that can trace their lines of bishops back to the original apostles, teach this stuff? Seems like a good argument to me, once you take into account that Iranaeus was writing in the 2nd century so the number of steps back to Jesus was still pretty short.

      Another pretty obvious way to show that the canonical Gospels are closer to the original sources, is to note that their portrayal of Jesus contains many more references to Jewish culture than the Gnostic gospels do. The historical Jesus was Jewish, but later Christians were mostly not. So the more Jewish a Gospel is, the more it is likely to be based on reality.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Thanks for the interesting post.. I’ve read Thomas before, and I also concluded that it probably contained a few authentic sayings not found in the canonical Gospels, mixed with other stuff that doesn’t sound much like the same Jesus. It has about the same level of choppiness as the Analects of Confucius, which was written not be Confucius’ immediate disciples but by subsequent students. Given how hard it is to interpret, it really makes it clear how much is gained by the fact that the canonical Gospels put the sayings in biographical context and provide interpretations of many of the parables…

        Yeah, even the barest reconstruction of Q or proto-Mark or whatever contains a lot of context. Of course, to a serious Gnostic, being obscure isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

        It’s a little strange though combining your description of Thomas with Gnosticism, because although Thomas is called Gnostic it would actually be quite hard to reconstruct most of the doctrines you mention if all we had was the text of Thomas. (If you had done the Gospel of Mark in the same way, you would have integrated Nicene Trinitarianism into that post..)

        Sure, and the really “developed” Gnosticism is far more complex than I want to get into; I remember reading a complicated Gnostic cosmology/cosmogony in a class years ago and thinking “I hope I am not tested on this.” Luckily, I wasn’t.

        I think if we just had Thomas, we could reconstruct two bits of Gnosticism: the elitism, as found in the alterations of some of the sayings, and the hostility to physical existence, maybe the separation from the spirit also.

        Another pretty obvious way to show that the canonical Gospels are closer to the original sources, is to note that their portrayal of Jesus contains many more references to Jewish culture than the Gnostic gospels do. The historical Jesus was Jewish, but later Christians were mostly not. So the more Jewish a Gospel is, the more it is likely to be based on reality.

        I would say that the Synoptics present a Jesus who is more like the “historical Jesus”, whoever that was, than the Jesus in Thomas, if only because they don’t have the obvious Gnostic, elitist stuff layered on. At the same time, I think there may well be something behind the idea that Thomas contains some sayings in a form closer to that in which they were originally spoken. It sort of becomes a counterpart to John, which I think contains historical description from an authentic source, but where the sayings are a lot more dubious.

  27. hash872 says:

    Does anyone have a good, non-partisan system that we could adopt here in the US to sign up new judges? The judiciary (in case anyone hasn’t noticed- ha ha) has become a massive focus of American culture wars, as judges are appointed by the party in power. (Isn’t the EU yelling at Poland for doing that right now?) It’s fairly obvious that judges are increasingly partisan actors, who mostly rubber-stamp what the politicians who appointed them do (yes yes Roberts is a bit of a squishy case). This is Probably Not Good, as our founders anticipated three co-equal branches balancing each other out, and not one as a partisan rubber stamp. Also, because the Supreme Court appointments are for life, it dramatically raises the stakes for each election- while many things a President does could be reversed or fixed later, a lifetime appointment is not one of them. Obviously none of this is news for anyone in the US. I think dialing down the stakes for each election is probably a good idea for political stability here, and I have to say I’m a bit concerned by every major Supreme Court decision going 5-4.

    Sooooo…. what would be a non-partisan appointment process? What do other developed countries do? The only system I could think of a supermajority voting system among the judiciary itself (perhaps politicians could still nominate candidates). Is there an opening on the 5th Circuit Court, 9th Circuit, Supreme Court? Guess what, 60-70% say of the current court has to approve your candidacy. This would force compromise between the left & the right, favor intelligent & competent centrists, and long term help preserve & empower the judiciary itself as a separate institution. (It becomes a culture- in the future the competent centrists are the ones voting new members in, ‘we have a culture to preserve’, this goes on forever, etc.) A downside is that reviewing a potential new member’s writings & career to date is probably extremely time-consuming- I believe this function is currently done by the American Bar Association, but also obviously partisan actors on both sides.

    The judiciary would probably end up being more conservative, cautious & less activist than the left really wants- but (as someone on the left), I think that’s probably a good thing and helps dial down partisanship by preventing the judiciary from getting too far ahead of where the general population is at. (If x social change is good, pass it through the legislative process first- probably on a state level to begin with). On the flip side they’d likely be an internally stronger/more cohesive unit against an increasingly powerful executive branch.

    Before someone chimes in with ‘my partisan side is always right and we want to Appoint All The Judges’- please note that there is no permanent majority, and the US keeps swinging back and forth between party control every 8 years. You will never Win Permanently, and gambling that the Supreme Court ends up on Your Side for a generation is extremely risky. The more partisan the highest court becomes, the higher the odds they throw out precedence and reverse every single case that went your side’s way in the last 30+ years. You sure you want to risk that? Versus, a more conservative (in the traditional sense of the word, not politically), slower court that will give you probably less wins, but you’ll also take less devastating losses. Less variance, in other words

    • cassander says:

      The courts are more partisan in the US than elsewhere because they are in other countries because they are more powerful than in other countries, and you can’t create a source of power and expect people not to scheme to take it over.

    • FormerRanger says:

      Perhaps one could take a different tack, which is to suggest that the SC has too much power, and has been being straying beyond its original design. The concept of judicial review was pretty much invented by John Marshall, rather than being in the Constitution. (The Judicial Branch is not spec’d out in much detail.) Many SC opinions have been criticized (from both sides of the aisle) as overreaching over the years. Enforcing the Bill of Rights on the states are unpopular on the right, not to mention legalizing abortion and homosexuality as consequences. The more recent decisions on the 2nd Amendment and the intervention in the Florida election debacle are unpopular on the left. None of these things are spoken of in any way by the Constitution. More recently, promulgating nationwide injunctions from District Courts is an innovation that has mushroomed since 2016.

      One could imagine a complete repudiation of judicial practice since Marshall, by restricting the SC’s power to “make law”, and instead sending legislation back to Congress for revision, just to pick one example.

      Congress also has the power to restrict SC jurisdiction, though it hasn’t been used much if at all.

      The SC has been rumored to be unhappy about nationwide injunctions, and that’s currently a hot item on the right, since it is their ox that is being gored at the moment. Now that there are more Districts with Republican-appointed majorities, it will likely be the Democrats who will cry foul next.

      Democrats seem to interested in the idea of packing the court in their favor, which at minimum might trigger a wholesale re-thinking of the SC’s powers and purpose. (Other ideas are SC term limits, which one can be sure won’t be proposed by Democrats until Justice Ginsberg retires.)

      • Two McMillion says:

        Congress also has the power to restrict SC jurisdiction, though it hasn’t been used much if at all.

        The general effect of such a restriction would be increased federalism, which many would not be happy with. Certain people in the US seem unable to tolerate the idea that a fellow state over may not be allowed gay marriage, for example.

        • Aftagley says:

          The general effect of such a restriction would be increased federalism, which many would not be happy with. Certain people in the US seem unable to tolerate the idea that a fellow state over may not be allowed gay marriage, for example.

          The problem with this kind of federalism is that it implies were a mostly stationary, presumably agrarian society where the decisions being made by other states don’t have the possibility of affecting my life. In a connected society, mass discrepancy between states just creates too much friction.

          Say I’m gay and on a road trip with my spouse – should I ensure that I plan my routes only to include states that will let me decide their medical care if they have a heart attack?

          If gay marriage makes you feel this way, take another example – say I live in a state where weed is legal and am driving to another states where weed is legal but I have to drive through a state where it’s not. If the system working properly if I get arrested during that transit for possession?

          • EchoChaos says:

            This is already something that gun owners have to be aware of at all times, so our sympathy to more favored folk is somewhat lacking.

          • Plumber says:

            @Aftagley says: “The problem with this kind of federalism is that it implies were a mostly stationary, presumably agrarian society where the decisions being made by other states don’t have the possibility of affecting my life. In a connected society, mass discrepancy between states just creates too much friction…”

            That’s true, but there’s also the “friction” of living where you and your neighbors don’t have their preferred government, and sure people can move, but moving is annoying and if most people in an area are opposed to the laws by which they’re governed I’d say the problem should be solved by changing the laws not the people. 

            Check it out: 90% of the 100 most population-dense congressional districts are represented by a Democrat., and 80% of the 100 least population-dense congressional districts are represented by a Republican.

            Of the 435 congressional districts, if you split them in half by population density, the half with the lowest population-dense districts are represented by 80% Republicans, while the half with the highest population-dense districts are represented by 70% Democrats.

            If you look at the statistics at:

            https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/10/midterm-election-data-suburban-voters/572137/

            it really is stiking how strongly political leanings correlate with how many  reside in a square mile, so why not use that to more closely give folks the government (or lack of same) that people want?

            A model for what I have in mind in most municipalities have their own seperate police departments, and law enforcement in “unincorporated” areas have a separate sheriff’s department provide law enforcement. 

            Start by ignoring existing State, County, and even municipal boundaries, have every square mile over a certain threshold of population and the adjoining square miles of similar density be an incorporated city-state with as much self-governance as U.S. States have had historically, separate from the areas below a certain population density which will be seperate States (or frankly just decide every square mile based on majority Democrats or majority Republicans).

            Some method of changing boundaries for when population density changes will be needed (I guess that, the Coast Guard, and the Postal Service will be what the Federal government is for), I’d have automatic incorporation when certain population densities are reached).

            Still have free travel for those born in the U.S.A. but the amount of foreign born immigrants may be restricted by individual polities like how the Swiss Cantons do it, so yes if San Francisco decides that everyone in Shanghai gets to come over they can, but to San Francisco not Stockton. Similarly if New York City says “no guns” then those are the rules there, and if Nutbush city requires that you carry one then those are their rules.

            Call it the “two State” ( blue or red) solution, or the “thousand State” solution.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Say I’m gay and on a road trip with my spouse – should I ensure that I plan my routes only to include states that will let me decide their medical care if they have a heart attack?

            If gay marriage makes you feel this way, take another example – say I live in a state where weed is legal and am driving to another states where weed is legal but I have to drive through a state where it’s not. If the system working properly if I get arrested during that transit for possession?

            Neither of those seem unreasonable to me, no. It’s incumbent on you to either follow the laws of the jurisdiction you’re in, or else be prepared to suffer the consequences. This is true regardless of how reasonable to laws in question all. (Civil disobedience can have an important place in changing laws- you just have to be prepared for the consequences.)

          • Aftagley says:

            @ EchoChaos

            That’s true, but you agree the situation is annoying, correct? Presumably if you had your wish, you’d prefer the entire country settled on a standard that met your preferences?

            I agree that the haphazard approach is better when it means that the thing you want to do isn’t illegal everywhere, but that doesn’t mean you need to with that fractured state on others.

            @ Plumber

            Yep, that seems pretty similar to Scott’s idea about the archipelago. I think that’s an interesting idea, but I’d be really worried about free rider effects.

            (I guess that, the Coast Guard, and the Postal Service will be what the Federal government is for

            Always good to see the old ‘CG make the list.

            @Two McMillion

            I agree with you about the weed example, but vehemently disagree about the gay marriage one. How exactly does one “follow the law” when different parts of the country have mutually exclusive definitions?

            Under your circumstance, what happens to my marriage when I cross over that state line?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Aftagley

            No, in many ways I prefer the haphazard way. Federalism is good.

            But since the one I care about is actually in our signed Federal agreement and healthcare and weed aren’t, the people who don’t want Federalism have to fix our problem before we care about theirs.

          • Garrett says:

            > only to include states that will let me decide their medical care if they have a heart attack

            Medical power of attorney is a thing. A quick search shows that the cost is somewhere between free and a few hundred dollars. So you can have something done which would be valid in all States along with most developed states without any additional work.

            > say I live in a state where weed is legal and am driving to another states where weed is legal but I have to drive through a state where it’s not. If the system working properly if I get arrested during that transit for possession?

            Given that gun owners have gotten arrested for arriving in States they didn’t intend to enter in the first place, not a lot of sympathy here.

            However. I believe that this is an appropriate place for Federal regulation in the sense that standards should be set. The Lawful Commerce in Arms act serves as a rough guide for something like this, though that happens to be terribly written.

            The basic idea is that if you are going from a State where something is legal to another State where something is legal but are passing through a State where it is illegal, some reasonable scheme can be established. With firearms, the general idea is that you have to have them locked up. With drugs for personal use it might simply be a maximum quantity in possession. This is also how medications which aren’t approved in the US are handled by visitors from abroad who bring their own personal supplies with.

            > In a connected society, mass discrepancy between states just creates too much friction.

            I agree. This is why all the States must be forced to enact my personal policy preferences.

      • hash872 says:

        I don’t really agree with the idea of making the judiciary a less powerful branch, or I guess one could say less co-equal. The US has had a powerful, independent judiciary for some time, and I’m loathe to fiddle with that. In particular, I’m concerned by the ever-expanding powers of the executive branch, and I’d like a stronger counterbalance to that. (I also think the legislative branch should be strengthened with more powerful subpoenas, the power to fine if people ignore them, and a cutback in ’emergency’ powers and funding for the executive. Not sure where I stand on war powers, I do prefer a strong & decisive Commander In Chief)

        • Garrett says:

          The problem is that the Judiciary has done almost unreviewable wacky sh*t. Moreover, it almost always seems to lean to the Left on it.

          The best case-in-point would be Roe v. Wade. SCOTUS applied a set of legal principles where it has applied them basically nowhere else to declare that abortion must be legal. It’s not that I oppose the particular outcome (I don’t personally care), nor the inherent ideas therein. It’s that they are *only* applied for the case of a woman wanting to terminate a pregnancy. Not me recreationally doing heroin. Not me buying shiny new machine guns. And *certainly* not people privately negotiating to do sex work for $3/hour.

      • cassander says:

        Perhaps one could take a different tack, which is to suggest that the SC has too much power, and has been being straying beyond its original design. The concept of judicial review was pretty much invented by John Marshall, rather than being in the Constitution.

        Disagree, the concept of judicial review is unavoidable. One of the major points of common law judges is to reconcile competing laws. Any system with a written constitution is going to have the possibility for a law to run contrary to the constitution, and thus will need adjudication, to say nothing about reconciling conflicts between normal laws. Marshal didn’t invent this idea, he simply formalized it in the american context.

      • albatross11 says:

        I assume any term limits would take effect only with the next justices appointed….

    • Two McMillion says:

      Sooooo…. what would be a non-partisan appointment process? What do other developed countries do?

      A very common arrangement is for the highest courts to be appointed by several different bodies; for example, in Italy, a third of the judges on the Constitutional Court are appointed by the president, a third are elected by the parliament, and a third are elected by the judiciary itself. In Germany, half the judges on the Constitutional Court are elected by the the Bundestag (the German parliament) and half by the Bundesrat (representatives of the Land governments, which is not a parliament but kind of looks like one if you squint).

      You may notice I said “Constitutional Court” and not “Supreme Court”. That’s because it’s become a very common practice in other nations to separate courts with the power of judicial review from other courts. This gives the court fewer cases and possible a little less power, though how much it matters varies widely.

      Inside the US, many states use the “Missouri Plan” to select judges. Candidates for judicial office are selected by a nonpartisan committee (how you get the committee varies), who give a list of candidates to the governor, who chooses a person from the list to fill the vacancy. Confirmation by the state’s legislature may or may not be required. In theory this process is less partisan, but obviously quite a lot depends on the makeup of the committee.

      I disagree with Bernie Sanders on a lot of things, but I think his plan for the Supreme Court is actually decent. Under his plan, the Supreme Court and the federal appeals courts would be merged into one, and the “Supreme Court” would consist of a chief justice plus a randomly selected panel of judges from the appeals courts. There might be provisions for en banc hearings, but the gist of it is that supreme court appointments would be less partisan because each judge now only has a small chance of being able to make a huge decision.

      I think Sander’s plan is the best path forward that wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment.

      • hash872 says:

        That’s fascinating, it’s kind of amazing I hadn’t heard about Sanders’ plan given that I’m a total politics junkie. Can’t say I really agree with it though- for one thing, the quality of mind at the top level of the court is clearly above that of random circuit judges. (Like, I don’t have a high opinion of Scalia’s political leanings, but there’s no denying he was extremely intelligent). Also I feel like the ‘institutional’ quality may be gone if you’re not a permanent member of the top court, but just cycling through. Feel like the main advantage developed countries have over 3rd world ones are our institutions

        • albatross11 says:

          One other thing I think might make sense: very narrow majorities could be treated differently from larger majorities. In particular, if you’re considering overriding laws passed by congress or state legislatures, you ought not to do it on a 5-4 vote.

          • Theodoric says:

            If we do this, it should be the reverse for criminal laws-if we are going to put people into the rape den that is the American prison system, we should at least be damn sure the law we are doing so under is Constitutional, with more than a 5-4 vote.

          • Garrett says:

            the rape den that is the American prison system

            Silly me, but if the Justices are going to go all activist any everything, wouldn’t it make sense to do it here when there isn’t a legislative solution currently available? Much like with Miranda?

      • Aapje says:

        Letting the states provide some or all the judges makes a lot of sense if you uphold the constitution as written and intended (with a lot of state power and a limited central government).

        However, I think that the ‘creative’ interpretation of the constitution that made the central government much more powerful is part of a cultural change that makes giving more power to the states nonviable.

      • sharper13 says:

        Sander’s plan would almost certainly require a constitutional amendment to implement. The Constitution requires that judges “”shall hold their offices during good behavior.” You’d be hard-pressed to get a Justice to agree that the office of a Federal Circuit Court Judge is the same office as a current Supreme Court Justice.

        The good news is that 9-0 decisions outnumber 5-4 decisions and the percentage of 5-4 decisions haven’t been increasing lately. So I’m not sure there’s any measurable increase in partisanship on the Court. I suspect much of the perception that it has is driven by the “whose ox is gored” syndrome, where people notice 5-4 decisions against their own preference more than they notice the ones which go in their favor (which are off course just the way it should have been decided, right?)

    • Lambert says:

      I was going to explain how the less-politicised system of appointments for UK judges works, but then I remembered that I don’t know how judges are selected*. Many wikipedia tabs later, I feel like I know even less.
      I understand that the judiciary here has more power to make (“interpret”) case law than in civil law jurisdictions but that parliament can make constitutional changes with a simple majority.

      Anybody able to give me the Tl;Dr?

      *except that the Law Lords were grandfathered into the SC but didn’t get to sit in the HoL any more

    • ana53294 says:

      Spain has only had 40 years of democracy, but when our constitution was crafted, many historical examples were available, and it worked for 40 years, and now our Constitutional court is officially the acting* Constitutional court (meaning they’ve exceeded their mandate).

      The Spanish constitution mandates a 60% supermajority to vote on the composition of the Constitutional court and some other judiciary organs (if you understand Spanish, here‘s an infographic).

      The systme has worked fine while we only had two major Spanish parties. They split the nominations according more or less to who had which proportion of seats in Parliament, and they’d be done with that. But now, the traditional right wing party and the alt-right party, refuse to vote. The traditional right wing party has good reasons to do so: the acting* Constitutional court is majority right wing, and until they’re replaced, they get to keep it.

      Amending the Constitution also requires a supermajority in Parliament, so that won’t be fixed anytime soon. So we’ll be having an illegitimate acting Constitutional court for quite a while. I’ve got no idea how this will play out.

      Spain’s 40 years of democracy can’t be compared with the US’ more than two centuries, but it seems obvious to me that any design made to avoid the politization of a powerful institution and to promote bipartisanship will fail as soon as society changes sufficiently. Every 40-50 years seems about right.

      *I’ve been trying to come up with a better translation of Spanish “en funciones”, but could not find a better one. It’s like when a president in a parliamentary system remains after an election before a government is formed, it’s an in-between state.

      • Nick says:

        It’s like when a president in a parliamentary system remains after an election before a government is formed, it’s an in-between state.

        The American term for that is lame duck.

        • ana53294 says:

          Thanks. It’s too late to edit, but I guess Spain has a lame duck Constitutional court (that sounds weird, though).

        • Loriot says:

          I think “acting” is the appropriate term, since it implies they’ll stay on until a replacement is found. Lame duck is a bit different and more specific.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think the term would be “holdover” in this case; it’s not that the election has been held but the term continues until a fixed time (that’s “lame duck”), but rather that the selection of a replacement has been held up beyond what would be the end of the term.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yes, there’s a big difference.

            A lame duck is an elected official whose time in office is nearly done, typically because he’s lost the election but the date for the change of power hasn’t arrived yet. (Sometimes he wasn’t up for election.)

            Think of Obama on Nov 9, 2016. He was still president, but his replacement had been selected. He still had the formal powers of his office, but only for a couple of months–anything reversible he did might very well be reversed by Trump in Jan 2017.

            Presidents in that situation typically concern themselves with running a kind of caretaker government, and doing some last-minute symbolic stuff (pardons, official proclamations, awarding medals, executive orders of symbolic importance, etc.)

          • Nick says:

            To be pedantic: she said what it’s like and then described an unambiguous case of lame duck. I never said that’s the right term for Spain’s court. 🙂

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Oddly enough, as an European, I think that American judiciary on the federal level works pretty well. Direct elections of judges on the State level on the other hand seem like obviously Bad idea. Supreme Court judges should not serve for life, but for something like 20 years, and your partisanship problem would be solved.

      Judges choosing judges is being tried for several decades in Italy, I believe as an attempt to protect judiciary from Mafia influence, and results are awful. Italian courts are notorious for their slowness and other reliability problems. They are also quite politically activist.

      • sharper13 says:

        Rather than solving the partisanship problem, wouldn’t a 20-year term just lead to more partisanship, as more judges would be beholden to current office holders of their Party rather than one who retired a long time ago?

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I think that empirical evidence points in the other direction. I am really familiar with constitutional court of one country, Czechia, where there is a term limit for constitutional court judges of 10 years, and somewhat familiar with Germany, where it is 12, and France, where it is 9, plus former presidents of the republic have something like lifetime appointment.

          Nominations in all three countries are made entirely by more political branches of the government, unlike in Italy. I am not saying that decisions of those courts are better than that of US Supreme Court, but in all cases there is a less of a partisan split between judges, despite bizarre French oddity of former presidents sitting on the Constitutional Council.

          I think that lifetime appointments increase partisan split of US SC because they incentivize parties to stack the court with most reliable partisans they can find. If there would be term limits, it would encourage more moderate case law, because there would be more of a risk that blatantly partisan decisions will be overturned sooner.

          • sharper13 says:

            It appears we’re talking about two different types of partisanship. I was talking about where the Justices take one particular side (the side of their Party) rather than just judging the case on the independent-of-party merits, while it appears you were talking about partisan splits, where groups of Justices don’t agree with each other as much.

            So in my version, a 9-0 decision in favor of the Party in power could be very partisan, while in your version a 5-4 decision would always be the height of partisanship.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @sharper13

            I don´t think that those two types of partisanship can be neatly disentangled, though.

            Written constitutions tend to have many vague provisions open to interpretation, and judges shall inevitably interpret them on a basis of their personal values, which are unlikely to be completely independent on prevailing political ideologies.

            Of course this does not mean that all interpretations are equally valid. I would define nakedly partisan decision as that which twists the meaning of constitutional text while heavily favoring one party over other(s).

            I think that lifetime appointments system incentivizes parties to nominate candidates likely to produce such nakedly partisan decisions, since they have time to entrench their interpretations into accepted status quo.

            There is also a possibility of a broad social consensus of silently ignoring some provisions of the constitution via stretched interpretations due to drifting values, while it is impractical or unnecessary to change constitutional text. On this I think that it is about equally likely to happen in the US as in European countries.

            However, another case of “decision not on the merits” would be decision influenced by simple nonpartisan corruption, and there I guess it would be more likely to happen in Europe than in the US, due to high public visibility and very thorough vetting process of US SC Justices.

    • rocoulm says:

      I have heard proposed the idea of reducing the number of judges to an even number.

      The idea is that the court has recently been making more and more controversial 5-4 decisions, and requiring a larger fraction to reach a majority would supposedly help reduce this. Thoughts?

      • Loriot says:

        We recently experimented with an 8 member Supreme Court courtesy of McConnell, though perhaps justices act differently when they expect to go back up to 9 after the election. Given the new precedent that the senate will never approve picks from an opposing party president, I expect we’ll have eight member SCs a lot more in the future.

  28. primalwhispers says:

    What are the reasons to own fifty guns?

    Like, if you own one or two guns, it might be for hunting or in case of a home break-in.
    But sometimes I see on the news that someone has fifty guns.
    What was that person thinking?

    I’m imagining the reason is that having a gun makes them feel powerful, that they enjoy the feeling of potentially being able to kill another human being, and that owning more guns makes them feel more powerful.

    But probably that’s uncharitable. What’s a better reason?

    • J Mann says:

      My first guess would be that they are either (1) a collector, (2) a dealer, or (3) concerned that it will be more difficult to buy guns in the future.

      (Not that different from someone who owns six DeLorians or five copies of Spiderman #1, in my view. Note that collector and dealer can overlap – the guy with all the Spiderman #1 comics is probably vaguely planning to sell them someday, or at least open to it.)

    • EchoChaos says:

      What’s a better reason?

      Guns are pretty unique, actually. Lots of different guns do lots of different things, so you can reach easily 10-15 guns with dedicated single purpose guns for target shooting at different ranges and different types of targets.

      For example you might have one double barrel shotgun choked for skeet shooting, another choked for trap, a pump action shotgun for hunting large waterfowl and a semi-auto for hunting small game like doves. That’s four specific guns just for shotguns.

      Iterate over all the uses of guns and you can get really high quickly. Plus they’re fun to collect, as lots of them have interesting heritage and history. It’s a type of collecting that you can get into very easily since it’s cheap at the low end.

      People who own 20+ guns are almost certainly not committing crimes with them for the same reason that people with 20+ cars aren’t committing crimes with them.

      People who commit crimes have one gun at a time, it’s generally stolen or otherwise illegally obtained and disposable.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        People who own 20+ guns are almost certainly not committing crimes with them for the same reason that people with 20+ cars aren’t committing crimes with them.

        Yeah, this. At that point I’m going to assume you’re either a dealer, antique collector, or hunt lots of different animals.

    • Two McMillion says:

      What are the reasons to own fifty guns?

      “I want to own fifty guns,” seems like a good reason.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Man. Now all of a sudden I want to own fifty guns…

      • Aftagley says:

        “I want to own fifty guns,” seems like a good reason.

        I disagree.

        “I want to own a dog” – normal statement, will elicit a normal response.

        “I want to own fifty dogs” – highly abnormal statement, will elicit a very skeptical response.

        “I want to own a computer” – normal statement, will elicit a normal response.

        “I want to own fifty computers” – abnormal statement, will elicit a very confused response.

        I’m not saying that wanting to own fifty of something shouldn’t be legal or anything, just that having the desire to fifty of something without any kind of supporting reasoning is a bit weird.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Not sure I 100% agree.

          “I want to own 50 stamps”, “I want to own 50 coins”, even “I want to own 50 videogames” would all be very normal statements.

          The question is if guns are videogames or computers for “normality”. For the circles I run in, far more like videogames.

          “I picked up a new game this weekend and want to play it for several hours” would be normal even if one owned forty-nine others.

        • Ms. Morgendorffer says:

          I want to own fifty watches. Watches are great while dogs and computers require space and maintenance (having to sync my installs and cloud saves on steam on fifty boxes.. what a thrill).

        • AppetSci says:

          I’m definitely not a gun fan, but this doesn’t seem weird to me. Owning 50 of something is just being a collector of that something, whether it’s statues of porcelain cats, fashionable handbags or guns. Most people don’t amass large collections of things because of cash or space constraints.
          There’s only one reason to have 50 guns, porcelain cats or handbags “’cause I like ’em”. How many people are trying to arm a militia with their personal collection?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Most people don’t amass large collections of things because they aren’t collectors, but many people do end up with large music/book/video game collections etc.

          • AppetSci says:

            Yes, there’s a big difference though between physical storage media (so books and VHS cassettes and the like) and physical objects themselves.
            Having a collection or archive of never-to-be-read-again airport fiction or a few shelf-space meters of bargain bin DVDs does not a collector make – it’s just a by-product of entertainment.
            I guess if you have a 3+ medieval encyclopedias you’d be considered a collector though.
            Hmmm, maybe it’s the difference between an archive of your physical objects – like all the bikes or guns you’ve ever owned, and having a curated collection that you really care about.

          • bean says:

            The line between having a bunch of stuff as a byproduct of use and collecting is extremely fuzzy. I think I’m probably straddling that line with respect to naval/military books. I have enough that I could easily support my current reading rate for years even if I was forbidden from buying more tomorrow. A lot are bought because I want to use them for reference, but many of those are for vague “someday, I might need to know about French armored cruisers” reasons, and I occasionally pick up books with no expectation at all of making use of them, just because I want to have them. (For instance, a book not particularly relevant to my interests, but by one of my favorite authors.) This isn’t a particular problem, except that I’m basically out of shelf space.

          • Matt M says:

            The line between having a bunch of stuff as a byproduct of use and collecting is extremely fuzzy.

            I think this line is best established not by your record of obtaining items, but by your record (or lack thereof) of getting rid of them.

            Someone who just likes to read will obviously buy a lot of books. But if they just like to read, they’ll have no problem re-selling, donating, or throwing away books once they are done with them. You officially cross the line and become a collector when you refuse to do that. One could be really into reading, but not necessarily need to own any significant volume of books at any one time (hell, libraries make it such that you really don’t ever have to own any).

            And getting back to guns, that’s an interesting case complicated by the fact that it isn’t as easy to “use” a gun you don’t own, or to re-sell (or otherwise dispose of) guns you own but no longer want to use. So laws and regulations provide greater encouragement for gun enthusiasts to become gun collectors than may exist for other hobbies.

          • Nick says:

            @Matt M
            Anecdata: I like having books on hand for reference, and in case I’d like to reread them (which I rarely do, admittedly). I do lose them at a regular rate from loaning them out, though; I seem to get them back only about 50% of the time.

          • bean says:

            I think this line is best established not by your record of obtaining items, but by your record (or lack thereof) of getting rid of them.

            I’m not sure this is a good metric. Personally, I really dislike getting rid of books for some reason. On the other hand, my wife basically refuses to buy anything which isn’t either very cheap or something she expects to re-read, and she resells or donates the former if she doesn’t expect to reread them. OK, maybe I am a collector.

            But even if I didn’t have an aversion to getting rid of books, given how I use them, the library is just not a substitute for owning them. I might need to know about French armored cruisers on short notice, and I don’t want to wait for the book to come in via interlibrary loan, if they can even find it. This obviously doesn’t apply to someone who just reads novels, for instance, but I’d say that guns are more like nonfiction books in this context.

            To bring this back to guns, someone who has, say, a .22, a varmint/target rifle, a deer rifle, and a shotgun could be very much not a collector even if they have no desire at all to get rid of their guns. They have the guns they need for their purposes (target shooting, varmint control, hunting of deer and birds) and are satisfied with that. But they’d rather spend their money on their truck than more guns, so they just keep what they have.

        • bean says:

          Besides agreeing with EchoChaos on this, I would also point out that almost nobody ever starts out with “I want to own 50 X”. They start with “I want to own one of X” and then go to “I want to own another one of X”, repeated as many times as needed. Dogs and computers are uniquely likely to hit diminishing marginal utility before you reach 50. Each dog takes the same amount of care and probably gives less benefit. Computers are interchangeable within broad categories, and so at some point, you’re just not going to get more than the tiniest fractions of utility out of another one. If you view guns only as tools, then this is also going to kick in at some point, although the differences are wide enough that a dozen or more is completely plausible. But lots of people like guns independently of their utility as tools, and so they think “yes, I do want to buy another gun to go with the 49 I already have, because this one looks cool/is technically interesting/has history”. I’d be suspicious of someone who bought 50 guns all at once from a standing start, but someone ending up with that many after a while? Completely understandable.

          • Matt M says:

            Guns also hold their value relatively well (compared to something like computers), which makes them much more well-suited to longer-term ownership. They also do have a functional utility, moreso than many/most other “collectors items.”

            Of all the things one might potentially collect, they have to be in the upper range of practicality…

        • Mark Atwood says:

          “I want to own fifty dogs”. That’s table stakes for the mushers I hung out with when I lived in Alaska.

          “I want to own fifty computers”. I have at least that many knocking around as NUCs, old laptops, kits, IoT devices, kickstarts, etc. I’m trying to talk myself out of buying a modern z80 kit machine and soldering it togeher. I have over 500 atmel “computers” in kits in a box, each one of which could keep pace with the smaller workstations I got my CS degree on. Starting up 50 compute instances, directly or indirectly, is barely “clearing your throat” when putting together a small commercial AWS application. You probably have at least an order of magnitude more CPUs than that in your house. (How do you you THINK those new required-by-code power outlets and circuit breakers work?)

        • Aftagley says:

          I should specify here –

          I’m not saying that there’s no reason to own fifty of something. Collecting is fun! Enjoying stuff is fun! Collect as many as you want. Heck, collect 51 of them!

          I saying that explaining your answer as to why you own 50 of something with “Because I want to own 50 of them” is effectively a non-answer.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I saying that explaining your answer as to why you own 50 of something with “Because I want to own 50 of them” is effectively a non-answer.

            Part of what is happening here is that it is very very hard for people who own guns to assume goodwill on the part of some rando who incredulously asks “buy why would you want to own 50 of them”, because it usually quickly leads to “why do you want to own any at all!” and “you dont NEED that!”, and the penis substitute and the “bitter clinger” sneers come out next.

            The “because I want to” became the go-to answer because usually the person asking wasn’t actually interested in the answer, it was instead a rhetorical question before a sneer and an attack.

            SSC and maybe TheMotte are probably the *only* forums anywhere where you were able to ask that question cold and actually gotten the reasons and reasonable answers that have been posted.

            The sneerers, grabbers, hoplophobes, and their fellow travelers have shit in every other punchbowl.

          • CatCube says:

            Springboarding off of Mark’s answer, the reason it gets cast as “Because I want to own 50 of them” is to deliberately be a non-answer, to emphasize the fact that gun ownership is a right that doesn’t need to be justified. Do you really need a warrant from the cops for them to enter your house? If you want them to have one, you don’t have to explain why.

        • Randy M says:

          “I want to own 50 X” is indeed weird, because it’s arbitrary.
          “I’d like to own all the varieties of X” is much less weird, or a similar sentiment like, “I have 49 X, but that 50th is different so I want it too.”
          Some X’s have lots of variety, not all of which is apparent to someone not versed in the subject.
          Additionally, items with high maintenance, such as dogs, make this impractical, but objects like guns just require space and money, and perhaps a bit more security than for stamps.

          • Aapje says:

            Guns actually require relatively little space. Larger military equipment is relatively affordable, compared to the cost of manufacture, because few people have the room for a cannon, tank or truck.

    • Anteros says:

      Maybe the answer is a that it happened with less intentionality than you imagine, and if you asked the 50 gun person ten years ago if they expected to have dozens of guns in the future, they’d reply “Don’t be ridiculous! Half a dozen, maybe, tops”

      During one period of my life I had nine motorbikes. I’d inherited some money and found it an easier process to buy motorbikes, than sell them. I never intended to have so many (I think I’d have said two or three if you’d have asked me about my possible future purchases) They just seemed to accumulate in the street outside my house!

      Maybe people who end up with lots of guns find it easy to add one more because it’s slightly different from the others, or who knows what reason, and don’t have quite the motivation (or financial need) to sell any.

    • cassander says:

      I’ve never met anyone that owned one gun. I’m sure they exist, but it seems that for most gun owners, gun owning is part of a hobby, be it shooting, collecting, or using it as a tool, and so every gun owner I’ve ever met owns multiple guns, for the same reason that everyone I know who owns power tools owns many of them: they last a long time, they aren’t that expensive, and different guns are good for different things.

      • rumham says:

        I own one gun. Sig P938 BRG I keep it by the nightstand and in my car, same as my one cellphone.

        When I go hunting, I borrow a rifle or a shotgun from my father or a friend. I go hunting so rarely now that I just never saw the need to purchase either one.

      • Evan Þ says:

        One of my relatives owns one gun. She bought it some years ago when she was worried about home defense (not for any specific reason; she had paranoid friends back then.) She’s much less worried now; she still has it, but AFAIK she hasn’t shot it in years.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        I only have a single Glock. But admittedly I’m not a typical gun owner, in that I’ve mostly bought it just to exercise my newly found right to do so (I’ve learned to use it ofc, and practice occasionally, but that’s all). Besides, I hate owning lots of stuff in general.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        You mention it being a hobby, but I think you under-emphasize that point.

        Why do I and my friends all own dozens of different base rulebooks for RPGs? It’s not really that they are that useful to us, it’s an end in and of itself. Maybe it started as something different, but now there is enjoyment in having another RPG, being able to say, “Oh yeah, I have that, I liked [thing X] from it.”

        I imagine the same is true of guns. And, like, basically every other thing under the sun.

        • Nick says:

          I like to at least try the rulebooks I buy. But I’ve had Gumshoe sitting around for almost two years now and haven’t run anything with it….

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      About the same as for owning 50 watches, 50 fur coats, 50 knifes, 500 video games, 5 cars, etc – you just like owning things, like this particular kind of thing, and can afford it.
      That, and conspicuous consumption, of course.

      • Garrett says:

        I know people who go out and buy a new gun every time some politician attempts to further restrict them

    • CatCube says:

      As other people have said, there’s a lot of subtle variation in guns. Let me start with myself and expand a bit to show how you reasonably get way more guns that what you seem to think is reasonable.

      I used to shoot NRA 3-gun conventional pistol. For this, the three guns you need are a pistol chambered in .22 rimfire, a pistol chambered for any centerfire pistol above .32 caliber, and a pistol chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge. Now, a careful look shows that the .45 ACP is a “centerfire pistol above .32 caliber”, so you can use that for both stages. This is common for newer participants (as I was), but somebody who’s competing at the highest levels would get a separate .32 because the smaller recoil makes accurate shooting easier.

      I also participated in IDPA club (though never did shoot any matches). The Conventional Pistol matches shot at a bullseye, and were relatively loose on the allowed equipment but required exceptional accuracy. This means that the grips and sights on the guns for conventional pistol wouldn’t fit in a holster, and the accuracy required a tradeoff with reliability. IDPA, meanwhile, was focused on shooting at silhouettes and drawing from a holster, and scored based on hits with no alibis given for malfunctions. That means that this required a different pistol.

      So a serious shooter participating in two closely-related shooting sports would require at least three, and probably four, different pistols. This is already above the “one or two” total firearms you posit above.

      The other big consideration is as already discussed–collecting. As you see, different guns have different uses and small differences to the outsider means that one gun may be totally unsuited for the purpose of another, so somebody interested in them as collector’s items will naturally amass a fair number to cover even a small part of shooting sports.

    • John Schilling says:

      A serious sportsman can easily find legitimate, specialized use for a dozen or more hunting and target-shooting firearms. Off the top of my head, rifles for tiny (rabbit), small (coyote), medium (deer), large (elk), and elephanitine (duh) game, in open and brush country, gets you ten. The open-country game rifles probably double as target rifles, but not certainly. Then shotguns for waterfowl, upland game, trap, and skeet. Smallbore target pistol, kit gun, medium-caliber handgun, and large-caliber handgun for dedicated handgun hunting. That gets you to 17, and by the time you reach that point you’ll probably have half a dozen or so more generically utilitarian firearms you picked up before you could afford the specialized 17-gun arsenal and haven’t gotten rid of because they’re still useful as spares.

      Beyond about two dozen, you’re in the collector/dealer realm. Or, alternately, you’re keeping extra firearms around to loan to friends and family at need. “Need” can mean anything from a family hunting trip where family is flying in from out of town and doesn’t want the hassle of checking a rifle, to Zombie Apocalypse, or anything in between. Also, when multiple people all live in the same household, it is common for all the firearms used by all the members of that household to be nominally owned by one guy.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        Now I want a kit gun…

        Going shopping!

        • John Schilling says:

          Aside from the cost and availability of ammunition, I’d consider a light-frame revolver in .32 H&R magnum to be pretty much the ideal kit gun, but the idea and the cartridge never seem to have caught on and so the cost remains high and availability in rural gun stores low. .22LR is a bit small for anything that might be pressed into self-defense use, whereas the .32 can use the older S&W short or long cartridges if you’re shooting rabbits or tin cans.

    • albatross11 says:

      Most likely a collector.

      Note that if you’re worried about someone being, say, a mass-shooter, then 50 guns is no more a risk than one or two. You can go postal with a single Glock, and trying to bring 50 guns along wouldn’t make any sense.

      OTOH, you could worry that someone was trying to amass an arsenal to, say, arm a criminal gang or terrorist group, where having lots of guns would be handy. But that would look very different from a collector or a sportsman with lots of different guns for different purposes. Probably it would be a bunch of near-identical weapons for ease of training and maintenance.

      • John Schilling says:

        Stephen Paddock predeployed two dozen firearms for his shooting spree in Las Vegas, but that was a special case – he was using “bump stocks” and 100-round magazines that are designed to make Walter Mitty feel like the second coming of John Rambo but which are likely to jam after a few seconds of continuous firing under anything but target-range conditions. So, shoot one gun until it stops shooting, then pick up the next…

        He killed fewer people than did Anders Breivik with one rifle, so it’s not something to really worry about. I suspect the overlap between mass shooters and gun-hoarders is about what you’d expect from coincidence alone.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Were they all the same model? I’d be suspicious of that and never of somebody with all different guns.

          • Nornagest says:

            With a highly customizable platform like the AR-15, you can build one model out to suit a surprisingly large number of niches by adjusting chamberings, barrel lengths and weights, stocks, optical systems and so on — more than half a dozen or so might be a stretch, though. For a lot of them it probably won’t ever be as good as a purpose-made weapon, but it might be attractive for other reasons — say, because you don’t want to bother learning the manual of arms for another rifle, or because you’ve got the tooling for 80% lowers and it’s become a hobby.

          • John Schilling says:

            Fourteen AR-15s, eight AR-10s (the big brother of the AR-15, in 7.62mm NATO), a bolt-action rifle, and a revolver. I don’t think he bothered using the latter two, except maybe the revolver on himself. I don’t know whether the ARs were individually customized or just clones. The latter, yes, would suggest someone who was expecting to outfit a small army and never managed to arrange the “people willing to fight beside me” part before he reached his personal limit.

          • Lillian says:

            Page 41 of the official report starts a list of the guns found in Paddocks’ hotel suite and home: https://www.lvmpd.com/en-us/Documents/1_October_FIT_Report_01-18-2018_Footnoted.pdf

            In his hotel suite he had exactly as John Schilling says: fourteen AR-15, eight AR-10, a Ruger American bolt action rifle, and a .38 revolver he used to blow his brains out. At home he additionally had nine semi-auto pistols (eight 9mm, one 5.7 mm), six pump-action shotguns, three semi-auto shotguns, and another six AR-15s, and one .357 revolver.

            Notably while the majority of the guns are AR-15s followed by AR-10s, they are usually different specific models of AR, though there’s a few that he had two of. For example at the hotel he had two LMT LM308MWS (AR-10s) and two Colt M4 Carbines (AR-15s), while two of his semi-auto shotguns at home were Saiga 12 and two of his home pistols were S&W M&P9, but he didn’t have three of any specific make. Though granted one AR is generally pretty similar to another even between manufacturers.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            … Fourteen AR-15s …

            I know some people who got over that number of AR-15s kinda by accident.

            The things are legos. You buy a new cool lower receiver when goes on sale or something, and then another, and another… and eventually forget exactly how many. And then while playing around with all the other parts, and the other parts keep going on sale… Eventually the owner can, at best, remember how many are fully assembled. And “fully assembled” is in flux, those sights need to be swapped out, and there is that new sling to mount, and…

            The main thing limiting me myself is lack of time, and I tend to buy lowers from out of state.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: Sure, that would be an acceptable explanation to remove suspicion that the person is trying to equip an unregulated militia (unnecessary to the safety of a free state).

    • sfoil says:

      Most likely, either investment (including going into business as a dealer, maybe illegally) or collection. I suppose in some cases that might cross the line into “hoarding”.

      I’m sure someone out there owns that many guns with the intention of equipping a militia when the day comes, but it’s not common because it’s dumb. There are probably more hoarders who sort of justify their habit to themselves that way.

      Going from no guns to one gun is a pretty big deal: you need secure storage, you have to learn new skills, it’s not a trivial cost, there may be mandated training and licensing requirements, etc. Getting a second gun is much easier than the first, so you’re more likely to do it. And it increases your probability of getting plugged into gun culture, where you might come across good deals on used guns which tempt you to further purchases etc. Personally, and many others share this opinion, a “basic” personal collection would be a precision/”hunting” rifle, an autoloading/”assault” rifle, a shotgun, a handgun, and a .22/small bore pistol and rifle. That’s seven guns to allow you to do the most common “gun stuff” with your own gear.

      If you actually try to specialize even a little bit, you’ll start finding very good reasons to buy more guns. Maybe you get into hunting but the .243 you started with isn’t going to cut it when you move somewhere with a bear season. Maybe your wife can’t reliably pull the trigger on the double-action pistol you bought for $200. Guns are highly durable, so multiply this across decades of your life and you’re well into the double digits.

    • Plumber says:

      @primalwhispers,
      My step-father owned about a dozen guns (he ran the small fishing department of a “sporting goods” store that long ago dropped baseballs, etc and became a gun shop), and when I worked at motorcycle cycle I knew many who collected guns (full disclosure: while I’ve fired about a couple dozen different borrowed firearms I’ve only ever owned one revolver and one rifle), and different guns fire differently, do different things, have different histories, and look differently.

      I’m now pretty pro keeping guns out of the hands of unmarried young men, but given that I’ve had at lest six motorcycles at one time (though never more than three running at once), and own more books than I’ll probably ever get to read, I can definitely see the temptation of owning a seemingly ridiculous number of firearms.

    • toastengineer says:

      I think the error is that you’re thinking of a gun as a thing for killing people, and gun enthusiasts just think of them as a cool powerful machine. Like, do you not think tanks or fighter jets are cool? They’re even more primarily killing machines.

      • Protagoras says:

        Battleships are the coolest, but even more difficult to collect. Unless you’re an early 20th century monarch or dictator, and even in that case your battleship collection may have unwanted foreign policy consequences.

        • EchoChaos says:

          even in that case your battleship collection may have unwanted foreign policy consequences.

          Bismark tried to warn you!

        • bean says:

          Hear hear! Although I would say that there will be foreign policy consequences, and if you’re not careful, they’ll be ones you don’t like. (Germany and Brazil spring to mind.)

          But seriously, toastengineer nailed this one. People don’t buy a bunch of guns because they want killing machines. People buy guns because they’re cool and interesting. And yes, if I had the money, I’d collect battleships (well, battleship sponsorships) and also fighters and tanks and guns. As it is, I only have enough money to collect books on battleships.

          • Matt M says:

            Hot new silicon valley private equity idea – battleships as a service!

            Figure out a way to involve the blockchain and we’ll be rich!

          • bean says:

            I’m in. And as the battleship closest to Silicon Valley, Iowa is well-placed to reap the rewards. And we have a former Google manager/exec high in the organization already. I like this plan.

          • fibio says:

            Figure out a way to involve the blockchain and we’ll be rich!

            “Dude, that’s not a blockchain, that’s a block and tackle.”

            “It’s got a chain attached, what more do you want?”

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            battleships as a service!

            I feel like there must be some way to build a libertarian navy based on that…

          • bean says:

            I feel like there must be some way to build a libertarian navy based on that…

            Probably not. Navies spend a lot more time sitting around than they do in action, and it’s hard to get paid for the former time.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @bean

            If you own a battleship and can’t get SOMEONE to pay you money, you’re probably using it wrong.

          • bean says:

            True, but I think the most obvious way to monetize that is actually the exact opposite of a Libertarian Navy.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Hmm but what if you’re renting it to the countries not at times of war, bit when they need negotiations power? Say you sell some battleship futures contracts, and if someone wants to make their neighbor across the sea to count with them today, they buy a futures on the next year or so. Since countries negotiate nearly constantly, demand will be more even spread. In theory it can even come to the situation like in commodities trading, where no actual oil exchanges hands most of the time. And it can be easier to fund in a libertarian society – the Diplomacy, Inc just tells some big companies “Hey guys, want that trade agreement? A gazillion dollars worth of battleship services would be quite helpful in making our foreign partners to appreciate what’s good for them” The standardization part might prove difficult though.

      • woah77 says:

        As Protagoras says, What makes you think I don’t want to have my own aircraft carrier, wing of fighters, and battalion of tanks? But… I’m not an independently wealthy billionaire, and doubt even being a billionaire would be enough to afford the upkeep. And then there is the political implications…

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I think everyone’s covered the basics, but I’ll chime in.

      Firearms, just like other tools, actually have a lot of specialization that become more fine-grained the more into various aspects of shooting you get, in exactly the same way that you can see someone go from owning “a hammer” to “a sledgehammer and a claw hammer”, to owning “a framing hammer, a dead strike hammer, a 5lb sledge, an 8 lb. sledge, a 12 lb sledge, a tack hammer….”

      Then, layer in the historical aspect. The history of the design and use of various types of firearm are much more central part of their appeal than, say, hammers, and so many more people end up collecting for both specialized function as above, AND history.

      And then factor in that maybe you want something you can fire relatively cheap ammo out of frequently, and suddenly something in .22LR becomes appealing. Or maybe you combine that with the aforementioned fondness for historical meaning and cultural cachet and go for a Mosin-Nagant or SKS because ex-combloc ammo is relatively cheap and plentiful…

      …and the next thing you know, “one or two” guns has become a dozen. Or two.

  29. Two McMillion says:

    I want to talk about the problem of evil. An OT or two ago when people gave reasons that why they don’t believe in god, the problem of evil came up a few times. “God is supposed to be good and to be powerful; but evil exists, so God must lack one, the other, or both.”

    My problem with this argument hinges on the way we define good. The argument seems to assume that there is some standard of goodness we know of that we can reasonably apply to god’s actions. The most straightforward way to make this argument would be to say that there external, deontological standard of good and evil which is binding on both ourselves and god. But as far as I can tell most people who use the problem of evil aren’t deontologists, and I’d have to hear an explanation of where these supposed moral standards come from. (Plato’s forms, maybe?)

    Another approach would be to maintain that good is a human construction of some sort or another. But this would appear to reduce to, “I don’t believe in god because god doesn’t do what I think god should do”, which doesn’t seem particularly rigorous, philosophically speaking.

    The last approach I can think of would be to say that claims about god are internally inconsistent; that is, god is said to have certain characteristics, and those characteristics are inconsistent with the presence of evil in the world. Naturally the details of this argument will change on the basis of whatever theism you’re arguing about. This seems the most promising version to me, but the problem I have with it is that I don’t think it matches with the claims of any religion I can see see. Like, the holy books of Christianity and Islam both seem pretty a-okay with the idea that god uses or even causes evil. The writers of those books were aware that evil existed, and they were okay with that. I mean, Isaiah 45:7 says:

    I form light and create darkness;
    I make well-being and create calamity;
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.

    The god of Isaiah doesn’t appear to be someone you can charge with being inconsistent for allowing bad things to happen in the world.

    Lastly, and this is a bit of a tangent, but one other issue I have with the problem of evil is that people seem to assume that it means god must eliminate all evil immediately or in the past. But the logical formulation doesn’t impose any time constraint on when god would have to eliminate evil; and indeed both Christian and Islam claim that god [i]will[/i] eliminate evil but hasn’t done so yet.

    Obviously none of the above makes the slightest bit of difference to a person who is actually suffering at this moment. We are armchair philosophers, here.

    But I doubt this is something others haven’t thought about before, so what am I missing here?

    A side story: I was once talking to someone who asked me why God allows evil. I said, “I’ll answer your question if you answer one of mine. A trolley is going down the tracks at high speed towards where three people have been tied, but by pulling the level you can make it go onto a track where only one person has been tied. Do you pull the lever?” He replied, “Yes.” I said, “Then you admit that it is acceptable to perform small evil acts in order to prevent larger ones. I claim that God is doing exactly this in his plan for history. You cannot charge God with wrong for doing what you claim is acceptable.”

    He said, “All right, I don’t pull the lever.” I replied, “Then you admit there is no general duty to minimize the amount of evil in the universe, and again God cannot be charged with wrong for permitting evil.”

    He said, “But couldn’t God make it so nobody was on the tracks?” And we were off again.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      I think it’s pretty simple actually. Call it the Evolution of Religious Trade.

      You start off with a pretty simple arrangements: you humans worship me and I, God, will make you prosper; you humans obey my commandments or I, God, will punish you. There’s plenty enough of this trade worship for divine favour in the Old Testament, especially around Exodus.

      It’s dead easy to understand, as relationships go – especially if you’ve grown up around kings and such, who offer much the same deal. Problem is that you pray and your prayers go unanswered and the evildoers go unpunished and enrich themselves at the expense of the virtuous.

      This takes us to the next level, where God works in mysterious ways. This creates a problem: if God will not intervene on behalf of the faithful directly, right now, what are the odds that He will do so at some future point, yet to be determined?

      Direct intervention – victory in battle, say – doesn’t require an all-powerful God. A god that’s just more powerful than your enemies and their gods will suffice. Having all wrongs righted in the future, however, requires a God capable of doing so.

      The God has to know what wrongs to right, must have the means to do so, cannot be restricted in doing so by some other deity and must want to do so. Before you know it, you have a singular, omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God.

      It will also be generally considered poor form to question His abilities or put Him to tests of direct intervention.

      (Strictly speaking, the foregoing isn’t the only possible development, but there seems to be little appeal in worshipping an uncaring or impotent god. Similarly a Dread Tyrant God doesn’t seem like something one would want to believe in, unless one has very good reasons to expect they will be punished for failing to do so.)

      The monotheistic 3O God is a really appealing idea that fits observations very well. The problem arises when you start thinking along the lines of “what would I do if I were an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent deity” and come up with “I probably wouldn’t leave all those problems lying around”.

      The fact that omni* are ill-formed concepts doesn’t help.

      The final step in the religious evolutionary ouroboros is when people start thinking “if God is so great, He could really give us faithful a bit of hand right now” and we get the Prosperity Gospel.

      The circle is complete.

      In case it’s not obvious: the problem of evil arises when God’s manifest lack of intervention gets explained away as part of some grand plan that will nevertheless be most excellent because God is Great and Good and that runs into “Someone both Great and Good probably wouldn’t be doing such a shoddy job.”

      Yes, this requires going beyond a tautological definition of God = Good, because “good” is a word with a pre-existing meaning and also because if God is tautologically Good, then God choosing to torture me for all eternity, shits and giggles will also be tautologically Good, but not particularly good for me. Might as well enjoy my life while it lasts and try not to think about it until it becomes a problem.

    • Etoile says:

      I’ve always wondered: what if there are laws or rules God also has to follow? (But then who created God? Hehe.) Like, if we create a true AI, rather than a machine-learning algorithm: we still have to follow the rules of our world and universe, and it doesn’t mean we could make it exactly to specifications; and if we could, it would probably cease to be conscious. In fact, maybe the creation itself was an iterative process; and the process of evolution, together with our free will, was all God *could* create – couldn’t actually just turn us into puppets to play in His desired plots.

      I don’t really have a coherent position or belief system, but I do believe that there are things that are and always will be areas of knowledge that will not be accessible to us; we might try to conceptualize, probe at them, etc. but we won’t know the answer without some major change in how our brains work. These things include questions like, “what happens to your soul after you die”, “is the continuum hypothesis true”, and “Is there a God”, “is everything deterministic and just SEEMS random to us?”. There’s no short-cut there: you kind of have to pick something to believe and live that way….

    • Thegnskald says:

      I find the idea of an all-good god in monotheism to be… inconsistent.

      In the trivial sense, good is relative; it may be that what we call evil is merely on the less-good side of the evil-good spectrum, and we truly cannot conceive of true evil because it is simply outside the scope of creation (and thus outside our own scope).

      In a slightly less trivial sense, there’s a quote I cannot find or recall exactly, by if I recall correctly a Romanian philosopher, which is something like “The only evil is that without justification”. Which is to say, evil is, in a specific sense, just that which we do not comprehend the reason for. In that sense, good and evil are basically just a matter of perspective. (You can see echoes of this in the idea that “God has a plan” sort of reasoning, but I think these people see evil as part of a plan leading to something else; utilitarian reasoning. Justification doesn’t need to reach into the future, however, nor need it be something we can comprehend.)

      And finally, in a sense I lack sufficient vocabulary to properly express, any monotheistic god must be complete, at a minimum with respect to the creation. We have a tendency to see evil as imperfection; I think this is wrong for reasons that are difficult to explicate. By analogy, however, a story without conflict isn’t much of a story; in general, books without any evil in them just aren’t as good as books with some evil contained within them. Perfection is relative to purpose.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      But as far as I can tell most people who use the problem of evil aren’t deontologists, and I’d have to hear an explanation of where these supposed moral standards come from. (Plato’s forms, maybe?)

      But what caused Plato’s forms to exist? We could call that God instead of the creator of the material universe, if they are different.

    • Beans says:

      I don’t know about “good” per se, but I do know that the world has been and continues to be full of a great degree of suffering that an omni-potent/benevolent god would probably not have allowed to come to be, since we his children really don’t like it very much. If you would then ask me to define “suffering” I would then probably ask you to go outside and take a look at the world, where you’ll see some clear examples that will make philosophizing about the definition of “good” seem rather flaccid. But if you then would explain away suffering as something that an omni-benevolent god is not obligated to remove for one reason or another, then I would wonder what the point if worshiping this god even is, given that he isn’t giving us much good reason to respect him (except perhaps fear of hell, if we’re in the context of a religion that posits one).

      • Two McMillion says:

        I think you can sort of go about it two ways. One way is the intuitive way, which says, “The world is full of suffering, never mind the metaphysics, the experience of it is enough for me,” and you can formulate a problem of evil around that. The other way is to be more rigorous and logical and lay out the problem of evil as a syllogism.

        Taken separately, those can both be understandable and decent arguments. The problem, from my perspective, is that people don’t stick to one or the other, and mix them, and I think the mixing undermines them both.

    • J Mann says:

      I bring this up from time to time. As far as I know, it is logically unassailable and generally emotionally unsatisfying.

      1) When you say that God is all-powerful, you mean that He’s either all powerful within logical bounds or that He is so powerful that he’s not subject to logical bounds.

      (“Logically bounded” means that while God can to anything that’s logically consistent, He can’t do things that are logically inconsistent. If God is logically bounded, He can either make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift it or He can lift it, but he can’t do both. If He’s not logically bounded, then He can make a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it and He can lift it, and He can make both be true at the same time because He’s more powerful than logic.)

      2) If God is logically bounded, then it’s possible that He is all powerful, all good, and all knowing, and therefore we are living in the best possible universe for those values. Typically, this is a mix of “free will is necessary for a greater good,” “we don’t see the whole picture” and “God has a deeper plan.”

      3) If God is not logically bounded, then the problem is even simpler. He can just ordain that this universe is the greatest possible good, and it will be true, because He’s more powerful than logic. Not emotionally satisfying, but absolutely true – if He’s powerful enough to make things be good or bad by declaring them so, then there’s no point in wondering why He doesn’t do something else, because if He wants this to be the best possible universe, then it is, and if He wants that to be a good act, then it is.

      • woah77 says:

        This is close, but not quite to my understanding of “All powerful god”. Not only is he “Logically bounded” as you say, but he’s also bounded by “God’s nature” which isn’t well codified to us mortals, but not only can God either make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it or lift it, attempting such a paradox is against the very nature of God, such that an activity like that doesn’t exist in his decision space.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      My problem with this line of thinking is not an existence of evil per se, but an idea of eternal suffering as a punishment for finite sins. According to moral intuitions of (probably) most people who are not Christians, this is clearly unjust. Which is a problem because, according to Christians, our moral intuitions are supposed to be God-given.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Isn’t this a matter of perspective though? Some religions grant you infinite forgiveness for finite acts. You don’t even have to avoid evil, just repent frequently. Any finite life/infinite afterlife gives you an asymmetric issue.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Well, yes. But this assymetry does not dispel moral objections against eternal suffering, it merely adds another injustice on top. Some sinners are infinitely blessed and others infinitely condemned, despite the fact that differences between them are that of a degree, not of a kind.

          • EchoChaos says:

            This assumes sin is finite.

            If any sin is infinite, then the asymmetry disappears.

            There are either sinners with infinite sin infinitely condemned or sinners with infinite sin infinitely forgiven.

          • woah77 says:

            I’m with EchoChaos on this. Sin isn’t a finite thing (not under Christian doctrine, anyway). So eternal suffering for an infinite offense seems just to me. And I wouldn’t say that “just repent frequently” actually works, because it’s a matter of the heart not deed. If, for an extreme example, you are a serial killer who prays for forgiveness after every kill, but the next day/week/month you’re out killing again, you never actually repented.

            Depending on which part of the bible you read, it indicates that you can’t actually save yourself by repenting. You are saved by the spirit changing you. The act of being saved is about coming into obedience of one’s own volition, and while your level of obedience doesn’t control your status of being saved, you absolutely can’t be saved and be doing your own thing.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @EchoChaos

            Of course, but an assumption than all sins are finite is kind of obvious to me as well as to many other people. I do not think that e.g. Hitler deserves eternal torture.

          • Nick says:

            Some sinners are infinitely blessed and others infinitely condemned, despite the fact that differences between them are that of a degree, not of a kind.

            Counterpoint: It is a difference of kind following death.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Then what does Hitler deserve? If you give him finite torture and then infinite forgiveness then you have just given Hitler infinite blessings. Even if you say ‘finite torture, infinite non existence’ you have to agree that non existence has zero negatives to it or it becomes infinite torture.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            Then what does Hitler deserve? If you give him finite torture and then infinite forgiveness then you have just given Hitler infinite blessings. Even if you say ‘finite torture, infinite non existence’ you have to agree that non existence has zero negatives to it or it becomes infinite torture.

            Randomly choose between torture and forgiveness each block of time, at a rate that’s slightly more weighted to torture than other, less-evil people, and adjusted for his reaction to this randomness so his suffering is appropriate?

          • woah77 says:

            @AlesZiegler

            Insisting that sins are finite is human reasoning that is not supported by the book containing the axioms of Christianity. If lots of people agree that something is not how it is, that does not make it true. I think that it is an easy conclusion that Hitler will be in eternal torment, lying in the bed of his own making.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @AlesZiegler

            Of course, but an assumption than all sins are finite is kind of obvious to me as well as to many other people.

            Sure, but humans are wrong about all sorts of things that seem obvious to us.

            Sin being infinite is a foundational point of Christian theology. It’s why finite earthly sacrifices can never fully remove it. Only the infinite sacrifice of the infinite Messiah is sufficient.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @baconbits9

            Nonexistence is certainly better than sufficiently awful torture.

            I do not believe in an afterlife, but I would be in charge of designing one according to my moral intuitions, I would actually go with the Catholic doctrine of the Purgatory. This is probably why I flirted with Catholicism when I was younger.

            The Purgatory would be a place where sinners go to serve their sentence according to how bad their sins were.

            Catholics generally also believe in Hell as a place of eternal damnation distinct from Purgatory, but doctrine that Hell is actually empty has a respectable intelectual pedigree going back to Origen of Alexandria in the 2nd century.

            I assume that Christians here are mostly mainstream Protestants, who do not believe in Purgatory, but I totally concede that my moral objection (this one, there are others) to Christianity does not apply to Catholicism.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @EchoChaos

            Sure, but humans are wrong about all sorts of things that seem obvious to us.

            Sure, and that of course might apply to all sorts of religious beliefs.

          • Randy M says:

            I assume that Christians here are mostly mainstream Protestants, who do not believe in Purgatory, but I totally concede that my moral objection (this one, there are others) to Christianity does not apply to Catholicism.

            It seems to me to be roughly even, if not weighted the other way.

          • Nick says:

            @Randy M

            It seems to me to be roughly even, if not weighted the other way.

            Yeah. It’s been hard to tell lately because we Catholics have been less forthcoming on these topics.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Nonexistence is certainly better than sufficiently awful torture.

            That is not the question, awful torture is better than even more awful torture, but awful torture for eternity would still be be infinite torture for finite sins. The existence of something worse being possible doesn’t make it somehow not infinite torture.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Randomly choose between torture and forgiveness each block of time, at a rate that’s slightly more weighted to torture than other, less-evil people, and adjusted for his reaction to this randomness so his suffering is appropriate?

            Over an infinite timeline this is still on net infinite torture.

          • fibio says:

            I lost track of this, like, seven posts ago but Infinite Sin is the new name for my metal band.

      • Two McMillion says:

        Which is a problem because, according to Christians, our moral intuitions are supposed to be God-given.

        God-given but subject to motivated reasoning just like our logical thoughts. Rationality is the project of cleaning up our logical thinking; cultivating virtue is (in part) the process of cleaning up our moral thinking.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Sure, but I´ve tried to clean up my moral thinking and this is the conclusion I´ve arrived at, so far.

    • beleester says:

      The most straightforward way to make this argument would be to say that there external, deontological standard of good and evil which is binding on both ourselves and god. But as far as I can tell most people who use the problem of evil aren’t deontologists, and I’d have to hear an explanation of where these supposed moral standards come from. (Plato’s forms, maybe?)

      If you extend “deontologist” to mean “has an axiomatic definition of good and evil”, then everyone is a deontologist, even the utilitarians (who say it is good to increase utility, and evil to decrease it). But normally we use “deontologist” to mean someone who has axiomatic rules of behavior (like “it is evil to lie”), not just any axioms that ground their system. The reason you think everyone you talk to is a deontologist is because you’re using a nonstandard definition of deontology.

      Every philosophical system has axioms – why should I care that my system’s definition of good and evil is based on what I think most humans would be happy with, while your definition of good and evil is based on what you think God would be happy with? They’re both equally arbitrary.

      He said, “But couldn’t God make it so nobody was on the tracks?” And we were off again.

      He was right to ask this, because omnipotent and non-omnipotent actors have different capabilities. If you put a human in a thought experiment, you’re free to put any number of constraints on them – you don’t have time to untie the people from the tracks, you can’t climb aboard the trolley and hit the brakes, etc. etc. – so that you can force them into a situation where they must do evil one way or the other. If you put an omnipotent God in the same position, you can’t say “you can’t do that”, because “can’t” is not in the vocabulary of an omnipotent being. A God can say “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios” and be right to do so.

      The only case where you may be able to say “God can’t…” is (as others in this thread have pointed out) if you can show that it would be logically contradictory (with one of his other omni-attributes, or simply logic in general) for God to be able to do so. But this is a much higher bar than you think. Sure, it’s easy to say “God can’t stop this murderer from murdering because that would contradict the existence of free will,” but it’s a bit trickier to explain why, for example, malaria needs to exist. Or earthquakes. Or any of the many other disasters that can cause you to die unpredictably without it being anyone’s fault. Viruses aren’t sentient – whose free will would be overridden if they didn’t exist? If anything, “not dying of malaria” would grant many people more freedom, because death is a pretty significant limitation on your free will.

      If you want to argue for a 3-omni god, you can’t just prove that in some cases there’s a conflict between omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence, you need to prove that every single evil is in some way causing a greater good, and that the same good could not be obtained in a less evil way (e.g., if you say diseases are good because they prevent overpopulation, you have to explain why God couldn’t prevent overpopulation in a less murderous way). I think most people who make this argument are underestimating just how many evils there are in the world.

      • EchoChaos says:

        For the Christian God, the simple answer is “the world is literally cursed and it’s all our fault”, per Genesis 3:17.

        Once we take a shitty decision via free will, the entire world is cursed for our sake.

      • J Mann says:

        If God exists, and is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, but logically bounded, then it follows that we’re living in the best possible world. I agree that it’s hard to comprehend how that can be, but I’m not omniscient, so there you go.

        One possibility is that the people I see suffering (and maybe everyone other than me) are p-zombies, of course, and this is a construct designed to offer me, personally the perfect amount of free will, experience, etc. for moral development. (Back in my Philosophy or Religion course, I called this the Berkeley solipsism hypothesis). Or we can just go back to God’s answer to Job and say that it’s beyond human comprehension.

        The other possibility is that God is so powerful that He’s not logically bounded, which solves the problem in a very unsatisfying way.

        • Randy M says:

          I think if God is logically unbounded he is basically unknowable, and I think Christian scripture indicates he is knowable to some extent at least.

  30. J Mann says:

    I finally saw the 2012 film version of Les Miserables this weekend, and the Cockney accent of the Thenardiers (especially Gavroche) drove me crazy. I recognize that English speaking audiences wouldn’t recognize a rural French accent, but it was so strong it took me out of the movie.

    Is that the way the characters are normally played, and are people OK with it?

    • Statismagician says:

      I’ve seen it done that way in an (American) English stage version, but I don’t remember if that was before or after the film came out and they could have just been copying that. I didn’t mind too much; once we’ve already translated the thing, what’s some accent work on top?

    • Etoile says:

      So I was watching Heidi with Shirley Temple one time; and her American accent was offensive (I didn’t like the movie for how they adapted the book in general, but that’s beside the point here) when everyone else speaks British. For reference, Heidi is set in Switzerland and Frankfurt, Germany.

      BUT then I thought — what if her American accent is supposed to be analogous to her Swiss-German accent in the book, one of the things which sets her apart as weird and rustic during her time in the big city in Germany? And I calmed down.

      • Robin says:

        I wish they had done that in the animated series. Perhaps they were afraid that children wouldn’t understand the Swiss dialect. But just imagine Miss Rottenmeier talking in Hessian…!

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      It’s normal; I don’t think the other characters have French accents either.

    • danridge says:

      I don’t know much about the musical, but Cockney is not a rural accent; but I looked it up and it seems neither are the Thenardiers, they’re just from the outer part of Paris. Probably the accent is pretty appropriate when translating, it’s a lower-class, urban accent, and will give you the right idea.

      It’s very normal to find hearing a Cockney accent extremely irritating, though, regardless of anything else.

      • Matt M says:

        but I looked it up and it seems neither are the Thenardiers, they’re just from the outer part of Paris

        That may be where they are from, but that’s not where they are first encountered (and where their most notable musical number occurs).

        They are definitely coded as “more rural and lower class than everyone else” in every interpretation I’ve seen. Whether this accurately maps to “cockney” or not is up for the British to decide, but when I saw it performed in England, it definitely seemed that they had a much more overblown and pronounced “lower class English” accent than any of the other characters.

        • J Mann says:

          Yeah, they’re urban lower class, so I shouldn’t have said rural. I’m in the suburban US, and I was internally translating to an Appalachian accent, when an urban accent (New Jersey? Boston Southie) might be more analogous.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I suspect this is a decision that Trevor Nunn made in 1985, and which several billion pounds of box office revenue later no-one has been inclined to revisit.

  31. Bobobob says:

    I’m curious about all the animosity (a little bit here, a lot everywhere else) about Mike Bloomberg. I lived in NYC during the Bloomberg administration, and as far as I could tell from my (admittedly middle class) perspective, things ran smoothly and uncontroversially. One major accomplishment was Brooklyn Bridge Park, a huge, ambitious development (volleyball courts, soccer fields, kayaking, etc.) that has benefited literally everybody in the NY metro area, of all ethnicities, though I guess you can argue that homeowners along the Promenade got the best deal. He’s a billionaire, yes, but he strikes me as a really smart and well-spoken guy with good instincts, which is more than you can say for the current billionaire (if he is really a billionaire) in the White House.

    Of course, performance as NYC mayor isn’t necessarily a good indicator of later performance. I also lived in NYC under Giuliani, and I hate to say it, but he was exactly what the city needed during the late ’80’s. There were times I was afraid to venture too far from my apartment, because there were, literally, roving gangs of hostile, opportunistic youths swarming down from the upper East Side. I also was a big fan of the “broken windows” policy–the street I lived on (not in a slummy area by any means) used to have prostitutes, squeegee men, minor drug dealing, etc., and cleaning up all of that low-level crime reset expectations and the standard of living. But then I look at what Giuliani turned into, and I almost feel ashamed to give him any credit.

    Anyway, long story short, I don’t think Bloomberg is nearly as bad as everyone says he is, and I think he may be the best bet to go up against Trump and actually win.

    • EchoChaos says:

      I am very right-wing, voted for Trump in 2016 and will vote for him in 2020.

      My animosity towards Bloomberg is simple: He’s giving up what he did right in exchange for what he did wrong.

      Stop and frisk worked, broken windows worked, aggressive policing worked. They saved lives, black, white and Hispanic.

      If one must be authoritarian (and Bloomberg is very authoritarian), then one should at least do it with things that are actually working and beneficial. Instead, Bloomberg is running as an authoritarian who will be authoritarian with untested or non-functional things, while repudiating the things he did well.

      • broblawsky says:

        Stop and frisk worked

        That is either very wrong or a blatant deception; I’m going to assume the former, out of charity. Under stop and frisk, less than 0.1% of all stops lead to a weapons possession charge, and less than 0.1% of all stops lead to a violent crime conviction. Close to half of all stop and frisk arrests lead to no conviction at all, which means the program resulted in the needless arrests of at least 75,000 people, many of whom may have faced serious personal consequences as a result, such as loss of housing or employment. (source) Meanwhile, the program also lead to a massive increase in settlement costs for the NYPD, most recently $11 million in a single case. How can you conceivably say that it worked to curb crime rates, when crime rates in NYC under stop-and-frisk tracked identically to the rest of the city, and actually dropped when stop-and-frisk was removed?

        • EchoChaos says:

          Under stop and frisk, less than 0.1% of all stops lead to a weapons possession charge, and less than 0.1% of all stops lead to a violent crime conviction.

          Sure, and they got Al Capone on tax evasion.

          How can you conceivably say that it worked to curb crime rates, when crime rates in NYC under stop-and-frisk tracked identically to the rest of the city

          Of course NYC tracks with NYC. I’m really not sure what you’re saying here.

          and actually dropped when stop-and-frisk was removed?

          Delayed effect. They’re now rising again. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-new-york-crime/murders-in-new-york-city-rose-in-2019-defying-long-term-decline-in-crime-rate-idUSKBN1Z525V

          • baconbits9 says:

            Your link does not claim they are rising again.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @baconbits9

            Your link does not claim they are rising again.

            The title of the article is literally “murders in New York City rose in 2019”.

            It notes that rapes rose 24% last year as well.

          • baconbits9 says:

            New York experienced a 7.8 percent jump in murders last year, though the number of homicides in the country’s largest city remained low on an historical basis as the overall major crime rate extended a decades-long drop,

            ‘It notes that rapes rose 24% last year as well.’

            Robberies, felony assaults and shootings also rose modestly in 2019, while the number of rapes and subway crimes declined.

            The number of reported rapes, which had soared by 24% in 2018, declined by 2.5% last year to 1,760. The NYPD had attributed the 2018 increase mostly to heightened awareness and a higher reporting rate inspired by the #MeToo movement. Since 1990, rapes were down by 43.7%.

          • Statismagician says:

            You’re both right. The author of that article is presenting uselessly noisy year-over-year percentage changes where he should be giving a trendline with actual numbers; he’s talking about a ‘jump’ of all of 25 murders over 2018 in the midst of a continuing decline in the overall major crime rate.

          • baconbits9 says:

            No, I am correct. The claim was that

            How can you conceivably say that it worked to curb crime rates, when crime rates in NYC under stop-and-frisk tracked identically to the rest of the city, and actually dropped when stop-and-frisk was removed?

            To which it was replied that they are

            ‘now rising again’ with a link.

            The link made a claim about the overall major crime rate, stating that it declined in 2019 and has quotes like this

            The overall rate of major felony crimes dropped again in keeping with a long-term trend, slipping 0.9% last year to a record-low of about 95,500 incidents,

            So the link does not support at all the concept that overall crime rates are rising again*.

            The weaker claim that could maybe be attributed, that it was intended to be read as ‘murders are now rising again’ only holds if you count a 1 year increase from a historic low as ‘rising’ and it would be completely invalidated if the murder rate holds steady or drops in 2020.

            *It doesn’t mention lesser crimes, which means it does not support a claim that overall crimes including petty crimes are rising.

          • broblawsky says:

            Sure, and they got Al Capone on tax evasion.

            That’s a meaningless dismissal of my point: that stop and frisk lead to the arrest of tens of thousands of people – who were overwhelmingly black or Hispanic – leading to serious negative consequences for people who were innocent of any crime. Do you have any kind of counter-argument showing that stop and frisk actually lead to a meaningful decrease in crime rates?

            Of course NYC tracks with NYC. I’m really not sure what you’re saying here.

            I meant the rest of the country. My bad.

            Delayed effect. They’re now rising again. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-new-york-crime/murders-in-new-york-city-rose-in-2019-defying-long-term-decline-in-crime-rate-idUSKBN1Z525V

            Meaningless statistical noise, as others have already pointed out. NYC also had an increase in murder rates in 2016, but it was quickly wiped out by declines in 2017 and 2018. Even the National Review admitted stop and frisk wasn’t necessary.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @baconbits9

            Crime is absolutely on the rise.

            https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/07/us/politics/nypd-crime-stats.html

            Now, it could be a blip. We’ll see, but I doubt it, because it continues to rise into 2020.

            https://www1.nyc.gov/site/nypd/news/p0204a/nypd-citywide-crime-statistics-january-2020

            I will bet right now that 2020 has more crime than 2019 and that 2019 wasn’t just a blip.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @broblawsky

            Nationwide in an era of increased policing across the country when William Bratton was literally giving conferences on how they reduced NY crime. That makes sense to me.

            Here is evidence that stop and frisk actually helped. Crime fell even as the number of police declined.

            https://nypost.com/2020/02/15/mike-bloombergs-insulting-idiocy-and-the-real-truth-about-stop-and-frisk/

          • baconbits9 says:

            Crime is absolutely on the rise.

            Once again the first link you provided doesn’t make or support that claim, and again the 2nd link you provided doesn’t support this claim either.

            Overall the index of seven major crimes dropped slightly — by less than 1 percent

            You keep saying ‘crime is on the rise’ and then linking things that literally say ‘crime decreased’.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @baconbits9

            From my first link:

            Other violent crimes rose too, but only slightly.

            They’re including non-violent crimes in their index, but violent crimes are rising.

            From my second link:

            Through January 31, 2020, index crime in New York City saw an overall +16.9% increase when compared to the same period in 2019.

          • baconbits9 says:

            They’re including non-violent crimes in their index, but violent crimes are rising.

            Then you should specify that you mean violent crime when you say crime, meanwhile your 2nd link says

            and reports of other violent crimes crept up only slightly or declined.

            So basically murders were up is your position, but you keep using the term ‘crime’.

            From my second link:

            From that same link

            Murder is down -20.7% so far this year when compared to January 2019.

            So can I post a link to something with the headline ‘Murder is down 20.7%’ and say ‘Crime is decreasing in NY’.

          • broblawsky says:

            Nationwide in an era of increased policing across the country when William Bratton was literally giving conferences on how they reduced NY crime. That makes sense to me.

            “Makes sense to me” is a synonym for “agrees with my pre-existing biases”. The drop in crime from 1990 to the present day is explainable by a number of other factors, such as reduced lead exposure and the collapse of the crack epidemic. I’d argue that attributing it to a specific policing tactic, which has since been shown to have no impact on crime, is an extraordinary claim, and therefore requires extraordinary evidence. Do you have any?

            Here is evidence that stop and frisk actually helped. Crime fell even as the number of police declined.

            That article shows no causative relationship between increased use of stop and frisk and crime rates. It even admits that there’s no correlation between stops and crime rate reductions: “Yes, crime kept falling even as stops dropped”. If you have any actual evidence for stop and frisk actually being effective, I’d love to see it.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @broblawsky

            I’ve given my argument. Crime, already lowered under Giuliani, was ground to the dust.

            New York became the safest big city in the United States and one of the safest in the entire world.

            The US crime rate as a whole continued to fall because everyone started doing with New York was doing.

            Whether or not it was authoritarian (it was) and whether it was a reasonable tradeoff between loss of liberty and gain of safety (debatable), but New York crime plummeted while it was in place and those gains are stalling or being reversed now.

            You are the one inventing epicycles to argue that it didn’t work.

          • broblawsky says:

            I’ve given my argument. Crime, already lowered under Giuliani, was ground to the dust.

            New York became the safest big city in the United States and one of the safest in the entire world.

            The US crime rate as a whole continued to fall because everyone started doing with New York was doing.

            You haven’t proved any of that, and you’ve posted a bunch of articles that actually disprove some of your earlier arguments. It’s clear that you’re not arguing in good faith.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @broblawsky

            It’s clear that you’re not arguing in good faith.

            Come on, we’ve argued enough for you to know that when I’m arguing I can be wrong, but I don’t argue in bad faith.

            Let me run the statistics. Bloomberg was in power from 2001-2013, so I’ll take 2000 as the base rate nationally and for New York.

            Data source:

            http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/nycrime.htm
            http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm

            Nationally, we have a violent crime rate of 506.5 in 2000, declining to 379.1 in 2013. That’s a decrease of 27% nationally. New York declined from 553.6 to 393.8, a decrease of 29%. So in an era that other cities are picking up Stop and Frisk and other issues, New York is STILL Beating them by 2%.

            For total crime, nationally we have 4162.6 down to 3112.4, a decrease of about 25%. New York index crimes go down from 3099.6 to 2214.5, a decline of 29%. Total crime is a beat of 4%

            For murder specifically, nationally we go from 5.5 down to 4.5, and New York goes from 5 to 3.3, a decrease of a huge 34% while nationally we only went down by 18%. New York crushes here with a beat of a shocking 16%

            Even if we assume that nobody else nationally did any stop and frisk and the difference between the nation and NYC was only S&F, we’re talking about thousands of crimes stopped by it and thousands of people alive today that wouldn’t be.

          • broblawsky says