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Links 2/20

[Epistemic status: I haven’t independently verified each link. On average, commenters will end up spotting evidence that around two or three of the links in each links post are wrong or misleading. I correct these as I see them, but can’t guarantee I will have caught them all by the time you read this.]

Lebanon’s Hope For Peace Monument is a bunch of tanks in a tall building. It’s pretty striking.

You know those crazy stories of people who are born without brains, or with only tiny shreds of brains, who somehow manage to be just as smart as anyone else? Gwern is on the case and he thinks it’s fake.

This week in “you cannot control for confounders and you will make yourself very confused if you try” – is receiving a single suspension in school really so stigmatizing that it causes you to be significantly more likely to go to prison as an adult?

Moore’s Law vs. actual transistor count over time: the video. If (as they say) Moore’s Law is really slowing down, it sure doesn’t show up in these data.

longbets.org is a site recording long-term (several year) public bets about the future between different people. Lots of famous people like Steven Pinker and Eric Schmidt have entries, though it seems to accept bets by regular people too. Betting against Warren Buffett looks like just as bad an idea as you would think.

Well, Boris Johnson Talking About Pink-Eyed Terminators at the UN Sure Was Weird, says this article written by someone who apparently hasn’t been following Dominic Cummings very closely.

California recently passed a law saying that all corporate boards need to be gender-balanced. A recent study finds that affected firms underperformed expectations as investors reacted negatively to them having to hire female board members less qualified than the male candidates they replaced. The paper says that “a back of the envelope calculation provides a total loss in value in excess of $60 billion”, which would mean this single bill wiped out an amount of value equal to the total GDP of North Dakota, or to the yearly price tag of Bernie Sanders’ free-college-for-all plan. Can this possibly be true? Norway passed a similar law a few decades earlier, and early studies found similarly dismal results, although a more recent study is challenging their methods. I don’t know enough econometrics to resolve their dispute, but I am updating in favor of good corporate governance being potentially a really big deal.

Mark Twain’s last universally accepted work was his autobiography, concluded just before his death in 1910. But in 1917, two spiritualist mediums claimed that Twain’s ghost had dictated them a novel via Ouija Board. The book, called Jap Herron, got generally poor reviews: the New York Times wrote that “if this is the best that ‘Mark Twain’ can do by reaching across the barrier, the army of admirers that his works have won for him will all hope that he will hereafter respect that boundary.” It is more famous for the ensuing legal case. The Twain estate sued the publishers and trapped them in a double-bind: if the book was a fraud, they needed to cease publication; if real, they needed to pay royalties to Twain’s heirs!

“Death rates increasing among rural whites” has turned into “death rates increasing among all ethnic groups in all environments”.

I previously linked an article showing that (contra the usual narrative) most successful entrepreneurs were middle-aged or older. For a counterpoint, here’s an article demonstrating that (in accordance with the narrative) most very successful tech entrepreneurs are pretty young.

Best of new LW: Wei Dai – What determines the balance between intelligence signaling and virtue signaling? This is a much more interesting question than just accusing people of signaling things.

Did you know: cooking hamburgers any way other than well-done is illegal in Canada, and Canadians seek out a tiny US enclave where they can find the forbidden medium-rare burger. Related to my post Self-Serving Bias.

This month in sociology: politics as a balance between cultural capital vs. economic capital. Be sure to check out the very interesting linked graph.

The most powerful fire engine in the world looks like something out of Star Wars. It is limited to putting out oil well fires, because if it was used in urban areas “it would probably cause more damage to the building than a fire would”.

I’d previously heard bad things about Narendra Modi, but assumed it was the usual panic about any right-wing foreign leader. This article changed my mind. I now think that he didn’t just fail at preventing deadly anti-Muslim riots in his home state but actively helped organize them, that he organizes the intimidation and sometimes murder of journalists who investigate him and judges who rule against him, and that he’s created a climate of intimidation that makes Indians afraid to share negative information about him. And his chosen counter-narrative – that at least he makes the trains run on time – is probably false – the superb economic growth statistics that have marked his administration seem to have been faked. I think in general “this guy has a reign of terror and people are afraid to speak out against him, but at least all the official numbers show things are going well” should sound suspicious. Overall Modi and Erdogan scare me the most of any world leaders, because they show a path by which a democracy can slowly become dictatorial without a clear line where everyone unites and stops it.

Fred Newman invented a form of Marxist psychotherapy combining Vygotsky and Wittgenstein, leveraged it into a cult, and ended up taking over the New York branch of Ross Perot’s Independence Party. “According to Newman, who was not a psychologist, this ‘therapy’ helped people to ‘overthrow’ what he labeled the ‘bourgeois ego.'” Also might have been sort of responsible for pushing Bloomberg over the edge to become Mayor of New York. Also, his second-in-command was a black communist who endorsed Pat Buchanan for President.

This month in sentimental cartography: r/PoliticalCompassMemes has a map of left-libertarianism and map of right-libertarianism.

Clinical Psychiatry News: new study finds a combination of dextromethorphan and bupropion causes “a strikingly rapid and clinically meaningful reduction in depressive symptoms”.

Germany guarantees unemployed citizens around $330 per month indefinitely. The policy looks a little like basic income. I like basic income, but the way this got done was kind of sad. German law says that citizens can get unemployment benefits indefinitely, but only as long as they are trying hard to get a job. A man on benefits wanted to turn down jobs that were offered to him if they weren’t in his preferred field, and sued the state saying he should be allowed to do that. The Supreme Court agreed and said it was unconstitutional for Germany to require that people on unemployment be looking for jobs. I guess I always hoped UBI would come from a widespread utopian desire to free people from the drudgery of work, and not from judicial activism without broad-based support, but I guess I’ll see where this goes.

Mark Ledwich published a recent study showing that YouTube’s algorithm is not radicalizing people (though many commenters noted that it’s been improved since 2017, and maybe it was radicalizing people then). Now he’s published a very strong polemic arguing the same, and lambasting what he considers the echo chamber that ever made people believe otherwise. I find this a really interesting ethics-of-scientific-communication case, because although it’s a great article, he seems to be so intensely passionate about this issue that I have trouble believing he is the best person to conduct studies about it. But surely it’s wrong to say scientists should never write passionate polemics arguing for what they believe – I wouldn’t want to keep climatologists out of the debate around global warming, for example. I’m not really sure what to think about this.

I’ve been following the debate about whether the media is undercovering Bernie Sanders for a while. Town Hall Index, a really interesting “statistical news dashboard”, has a lot of neat stuff. But one of them is a tracker of how many media mentions each candidate is getting; at least if we believe them, Bernie is covered the correct amount compared to his polls (and before his polls went up, he was actually significantly over-covered).

My Semester With The Snowflakes – a 52 year old retired Navy SEAL gets accepted to an undergraduate humanities program at Yale. What happens next will surprise you! (it’s that everything goes well and there is mutual respect on all sides)

Dril vs. GPT-2 dril bot: the dril Turing Test.

Best of new LW: Nostalgebraist – Human Psycholinguists: A Critical Appraisal. Discussion of Gary Marcus’ views on language and AI and how they’ve evolved over the years.

The Center For Applied Rationality’s Participant Handbook of rationality training techniques is now freely available for the first time.

Aragon is a court system on the blockchain. I know, I know, everything on the blockchain is a scam. But this actually has a certain elegance to it – it works as a Keynesian beauty contest. “Jurors are not asked to rule impartially on disputes but instead are asked to rule the way they expect other jurors to rule. I think the idea is that the correct verdict (or what a reasonable person would interpret as the correct verdict, which in a well-functioning legal system should be the same) forms a Schelling point that everyone is supposed to converge upon. I assume somebody has thought about all the ways this could possibly go wrong and is trying to prevent them? In any case, it’s interesting purely as a statement of legal philosophy and mechanism design.

Speaking of things we definitely didn’t ask for blockchain versions of, this dating site promises to use blockchain to “revolutionize sexual consent”. Not only is the consent part even worse than it sounds, but they may have chosen literally the worst possible name for a dating site, so bad that I have no idea how it could even happen.

More confirmation that we are definitely making progress in the war on cancer.

Give GPT-2 a list of all the popular conspiracy theories, then ask it to invent new conspiracy theories. What could go wrong?

Bui et al (2011) in Psychiatry Research: Is Anakin Skywalker suffering from borderline personality disorder?

A few years ago there was a story about UC Berkeley having to stop offering free publicly available course lecture videos after deaf people sued them for not including closed captioning. Now the situation has become critical: deaf man sues PornHub for offering videos without closed captioning. Who even wants to know what people are saying in pornography anyway‽

YouGov poll – would you rather be happily married with an average income, or single but a billionaire? 23% chose the billionaire, 60% the happy marriage. If we take these results seriously, how does that change what we focus on in terms of policy and society?

When I was young, my dentist told me to read The China Study to learn about healthy eating. I never got around to it, which turns out to be a good thing. Red Pen Reviews (Stephan Guyenet’s scientific nutrition site) demolishes it. Enlightening both on diet and as a great example of how to identify and pick apart bad science.

In 1866, Congress asked the Mint to print currency notes honoring William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame). But the text of the legislation just said it should feature “Clark”. Treasury official Spencer Clark spotted the opportunity of a lifetime and began printing currency with his own picture on it. Read the article for other highlights of Clark’s career, which include accusations that he turned the Treasury into a “house for orgies and bacchanals”.

From the “drama in communities that you personally are not in” department: The Problem With Witches Manifesting Rain

I’ve been reading about the ROS Theory Of Obesity recently (site is kind of poorly arranged, you will have to piece together the right order to read it yourself). It’s semi-amateur scientific speculation and you shouldn’t take it too seriously, but I’m curious what any nutrition experts here think.

If you don’t like Google search results’ new look, you can download a script to revert it back.

Jason Collins: Ergodicity Economics: A Primer. More interesting than it sounds, though I realize that doesn’t say much.

How accurately have all climate models since 1970 predicted the evolution of climate since that time? (answer: pretty accurately)

NPR: Let’s Stop Talking About The 30 Million Word Gap. Remember the research showing that poor people (or black people) hear fewer words from their parents as children, and that’s why they fall behind in school? It failed replication. This is also an interesting study in narrative construction. When everyone believed in the word gap, it was framed as an argument for progressive ideas – “maybe you think poor/black people’s problems are their own fault, but actually the odds were stacked against them because of a childhood word gap, so we should be more willing to admit blame for poverty and fund social services” (example). Now that the word gap’s been proven false, its falsehood is an argument supporting progressive ideas- “maybe you think we don’t need to examine structural inequality because the only problem is a word gap, but that’s been debunked and is just racist victim-blaming, so we should be more willing to admit blame for poverty and fund social services.” (example). The science did a 180, but the political implications stayed exactly the same. And this beats the alternative – without this sleight-of-hand, the scientific consensus wouldn’t have been allowed to switch sides anywhere that ordinary people might hear about it.

High-context but good: In this house, we believe: this place is not a place of honor…”

The White House is apparently considering ordering that all taxpayer-funded research must be open-access (ie not paywalled). If you’re a scientist or science-adjacent, there’s a petition you can sign here.

If you’ve liked Eliezer Yudkowsky’s past fiction, you might enjoy his short stories about superhero The Masculine Mongoose and his “secret identity” (1, 2, 3).

As of earlier this month, China’s coronavirus case numbers followed such a neat quadratic curve that they seem kind of like low-effort fakes. Not sure if this also applies to the current numbers.

Related: prediction aggregation site Metaculus is launching the Li Wenliang Prize for whoever does the best job predicting the course of the coronavirus epidemic in their amateur forecasting tournament.

According to Rowling-approved Harry Potter canon, Hermione was Minister of Magic as of 2019. According to same, every time a new Muggle UK Prime Minister is elected, the Minister of Magic has to give them a briefing. Writing prompt: describe the meeting between Hermione Granger and Boris Johnson.

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504 Responses to Links 2/20

  1. gbear605 says:

    Re: Town Hall Index

    Perhaps when you added the link, this was the case, but currently it shows that Sander’s polling average is in line with his TV mentions and betting odds, Biden and Klobuchar are overrepresented, and Bloomberg, Warren, and Buttigieg are underrepresented (looking at polling numbers, not at chance of betting odds).

  2. Jack Sorensen2 says:

    On the corporate board diversity question, I am reminded of earlier studies that claimed that companies with more gender-balanced boards perform better (though in that case, not specifically in response to any law). Example here. I am skeptical of both results; in the case of the earlier studies, I wonder if causation goes the opposite way (e.g. people who push for better representation target more successful, well-run companies). With your example, the obvious other explanation is that just because investors rate a company more or less highly, doesn’t mean that it’s run better or worse.

    In reality I have a hard time thinking the board composition matters all that much; my understanding is most boards of directors aren’t all that involved in day to day governance of corporations; it’s the CEO and his inner circle, not necessarily on the board, who really runs things, and the board is often composed of people tangentially involved in the company, picked for reasons other than ability to run the company (personal connections, big name, tokenism (not just in the sense of race/gender/etc, but e.g. a fossil fuel company putting a token environmentalist type on the board)), who might meet once per quarter for a few hours, and tend to act as a rubber stamp.

    In fact Matt Yglesias has argued that boards of directors are good candidates for diversity precisely because they don’t actually matter, and they aren’t treated by anyone like they actually matter (that they are a “mix of whimsy and patronage”, which reflects my understanding as well – I remember a business school case study involving Disney, where it was revealed the board of directors included Sidney Poitier and the principal of the CEO’s kids’ preschool).

    So if there’s a clash between picking leaders based on merit and picking based on diversity, target diversity for a highly visible role where merit doesn’t matter all that much, but where the selection of people is affected by, and then affects, society’s conception of what sort of person should be in charge of things.

    • Aapje says:

      There is a very strong correlation between company size and performance, but also a correlation between company size and diversity. This makes it seem that diversity makes companies more successful, because the company size is a confounder, which correlates with more diversity and success.

      One of the most cited studies on the impact of diversity on company performance, which didn’t study board diversity, but company diversity, failed to control for company size and made significant data errors (counting special codes in the data set used to indicate missing values as real values). With proper controls and fixing the data errors, the correlation between diversity and performance almost completely disappeared.

      I expect that studies that find more politically correct outcomes will be worse at correcting for confounders or preventing other errors, given my past experience, as well as basic incentives (politically correct outcomes get far less scrutiny, so making errors is punished much less than making the same mistakes that result in politically incorrect outcomes).

      I remember a business school case study involving Disney, where it was revealed the board of directors included Sidney Poitier and the principal of the CEO’s kids’ preschool).

      Boards of directors are not executives, but more like police. Without any police, lots of people are not going to break important laws, but those who do are going to cause significant issues.

      So just because Disney can do without a strong board, doesn’t mean that all companies can. Also, Disney might have gotten away with a weak board because they have good governance already, while weak company leadership won’t get away with that as easily.

      If so, mandating lesser quality women on board won’t harm the companies that don’t really need a board, but will harm those that do need it. Although even that is not necessarily true. Disney might get indirectly harmed (after all, they are dependent on a lot of other companies, many of which are surely worse led than Disney).

      • bean says:

        So just because Disney can do without a strong board, doesn’t mean that all companies can. Also, Disney might have gotten away with a weak board because they have good governance already, while weak company leadership won’t get away with that as easily.

        That depends on if you consider the late Michael Eisner era “good governance”. And this is a man who managed to do so much damage that Roy E Disney lead a shareholder revolt that came close to kicking him out, and ultimately lead to him stepping down early. Bob Iger hasn’t made that kind of mistake, but it’s easy to forget how much trouble Disney was in 15 years ago.

      • Wency says:

        Boards of directors are not executives, but more like police.

        Great observation. If the CEO is focused on creating a great company and has the ability to do it, the board is, at best, an occasional source of insight. If the CEO is lazy, incompetent, or crooked, the board becomes much more critical.

        A key element of a board is not just competence/knowledge, but independence. These two can be correlated though — the ordinary human behavior, if you’re in over your head at a board meeting, is to shut up and follow the crowd. Also, if that board salary (which is usually lowish 6-figures) is an important source of your income, and a lot of your future success is dependent on connections you make at the board, you don’t want to rock the boat and risk getting replaced (and people with lesser resumes are, to be sure, much more replaceable — interchangeables in Dictator’s Handbook parlance).

        If you’re already ultra-successful, then you may be less concerned about the consequences of rocking the boat and more concerned about your reputation and legacy from failing in your duties as a board member. Of course, you might also just view the board as a social club and not really care what happens to that company.

      • Simon_Jester says:

        Hypothesis:

        When constructing a force that is responsible for effectively policing a large organization, a total lack of diversity may become a handicap because it results in the entire police force having identical blind spots.

        If your entire school board consists of women, then concerns that strongly impact the company’s interactions with male customers (students) and staff (teachers) are probably not going to be heard and understood as well as should be the case. Even if the women in question have on average 10% or 15% more Credential Points, and include more actual classroom teachers or more people with advanced degrees in management or something… It won’t necessarily offset that issue. Indeed, it may just make them better at ignoring the problem.

        Flipping the genders doesn’t change the principle; women make up roughly 50% of the clientele and workforce of many businesses, and having the board be 0% female probably doesn’t make the board better at policing the company’s issues as a whole.

        • Aapje says:

          It’s a pretty basic higher management question what clientele you are targeting and whether you should broaden that or narrow it; as well as whether you can extract more from the same customers.

          This is a matter of basic competence. If a male director is not asking about female customers & vice versa, an older person about young people & vice versa, white people about large minority groups & vice versa; then the director is incompetent (unless the question is obviously not relevant)

          It’s not the job of the director to come up with specific products, but to raise the question whether the company investigates this and/or puts enough into R&D.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            And yet, private industry is littered with examples of people screwing up this extremely basic competence question when it comes to “so, how is this product doing from the perspective of the many many women who use it” and similarly ‘gendered’ or… OK, inventing a new word, ‘raced’ questions.

            Market forces are powerful, and can be very good at bulldozing over inefficiencies. But they don’t automatically override inefficiencies created by cultural blind spots. The market has trouble solving a problem if the individuals in a position to fix it don’t notice the problem, in a “fish don’t notice the water” sense.

            To fix those problems, you may need at some point to step in, identify the individual humans who act as decision-making nodes in the larger web of decision-making that is the market… and administer a motivating kick in the rump.

          • Aapje says:

            Nothing is stopping women from buying men’s products or vice versa, so consumers can vote with their wallet whether they consider the products so equivalent that they shouldn’t command a premium.

            Similarly, no one is preventing the sale of pink razors for ‘male prices’ or such. The feminists that advocate these laws could simply put their capital where they claims are & start their own Wazors brand (Woke Razors).

            Of course, they might then find out that the female and male markets are different, so what sells on the female market does poorly on the male market (and/or vice versa), even if you change it to pink/black.

            That they don’t do this, but try to legislate equality, either means that they are not willing to take advantages of the freedom of commerce that they have, in which case I see no need for legislation. Or their theories are in fact incorrect and they can only get their way by forcing companies to offer products that consumers don’t actually want, in which case they are harming women by taking products off the market that make women happy. Or both.

            Market forces are powerful, and can be very good at bulldozing over inefficiencies. But they don’t automatically override inefficiencies created by cultural blind spots.

            Markets are not something magical. They are us.

            It is easier than ever for heterodox groups to put something on the market. You can collect money on crowdfunding sites. You can go to China and they’ll produce whatever shit you want for really rather low prices, probably even in the same factories where Gillette gets their shit made.

            If feminists do this, they can even have a female-lead company coordinate this …gasp…

            The downside is that instead of risking the well-being of others, they risk losing their own money…

            administer a motivating kick in the rump.

            I suggest this technique.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Nothing is stopping women from buying men’s products or vice versa, so consumers can vote with their wallet whether they consider the products so equivalent that they shouldn’t command a premium.

            The problem isn’t as simple as “pink razors” and many of the products being marketed aren’t as simple as physical widgets coming off an assembly line- though issues like ergonomics and whether the “average person” is 5’4″, 5’8″, or 5’11” tall can arise even there.

            And the point of the exercise here isn’t to address any single specific thing; it’s to address the broad category of problems that scream: “Seriously, did you even consider asking a woman about this, or was it just assumed by default that a group of men would get this right because men are the default gender and women are the weird icky gender with mysterious Issues that are simultaneously very confusing and probably not very important?”

            [In the extreme limiting case of “why is this a bad thing,” admittedly not in private industry, you get all-male legislative committees discussing how to regulate gynecology and women’s reproductive health, including outright ignorant pseudoscience being batted around by a bunch of people with no real personal stake in the matter]

            It is easier than ever for heterodox groups to put something on the market. You can collect money on crowdfunding sites. You can go to China and they’ll produce whatever shit you want for really rather low prices, probably even in the same factories where Gillette gets their shit made.

            And if the problem were physical manufacture of widgets, with the only significant difference being men’s versus women’s razors, there wouldn’t be an issue. That’s superficial and is an example almost ideally selected for low barriers to entry.

            But suppose someone has a critique of how the American health insurance system handles women’s health issues. Your recommended response would be for concerned women to… found their own health insurance providers? Setting up a crowdfunding operation big enough to compete with, say, Aetna, is a pretty big ask. But that’s the scale that Feminist Health Insurance would need to operate on to address the problem.

            Or suppose the problem is with how the company treats employees. Suppose the problem is that your company fires women for getting pregnant, or tolerates rampant sexual harassment. Founding your own separate company that treats female employees better only works if you can overcome a lot of barriers. It is not a feasible solution to the problem, if not accompanied by efforts to address through the legal system how companies treat female employees.

            Market forces are not a reliable solution to cultural problems, nor can they be. There are too many complicating variables.

            “Feminists can just found their own companies if they have problems with how the corporate sector interacts with women” reminds me of people who respond to “we should have laws against dumping huge amounts of toxic waste into groundwater” with “no, customers should simply punish the companies that do it by boycotting them.”

            It’s just not tenable as a serious way of addressing the problem if one actually intends for the problem to be solved.</I. It's not an alternative solution, it's an excuse for not having a solution.

          • The Nybbler says:

            And the point of the exercise here isn’t to address any single specific thing; it’s to address the broad category of problems that scream: “Seriously, did you even consider asking a woman about this, or was it just assumed by default that a group of men would get this right because men are the default gender and women are the weird icky gender with mysterious Issues that are simultaneously very confusing and probably not very important?”

            This problem is often claimed, but it’s 2020, not 1950. Proctor and Gamble and the other major consumer products companies are not full of old white males deciding which products to make; there are, in fact, plenty of women involved.

          • Viliam says:

            Let’s admit that there is a scale where some projects such as “start a woman-oriented health insurance company” are difficult, projects such as “make a computer game with female protagonist” are simple, and projects such as “make a website for selling women’s clothes with large pockets” are somewhere in between.

            Then I accept that the hard problems need some kind of collective action, but I still feel weird when I listen to complaints about the easy ones.

            Also, let’s not underestimate women! Even in places where women are a relative minority, such as computer science or CEOs, in absolute numbers there are still many of them. So if there is a hypothetical product that many women would love to buy but they can’t because the male CEOs are too stupid to notice the opportunity to make millions… well, in the age of internet, you only need one smart female CEO to take all that money that is supposedly lying on the street. Or just one agenty woman that will make a Kickstarter project. (She could even hire men to actually make the desired product; she only needs to give them the specification and check the results.)

            Therefore, a hypothesis “women want X, but men are too stupid to realize it, and women are not in the positions of power” is actually not sufficient. You also need to assume that out of all those women who start their own companies or become CEOs of the existing ones, every single one of them forgets that there is a huge demand for X. (Women in non-governmental organizations forget about it, too. Heck, even women in feminist organizations forget about it. As soon as a woman creates her own online shop, she mysterious forgets about all those products she previously desperately wanted to buy.) That sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it?

          • Aapje says:

            @Simon_Jester

            It’s a well-known issue that people often claim to want things, that they won’t actually buy (stated vs revealed preferences). Your idea of how successful businesses figure what consumers want is thus wrong, because companies that create products that the target group asks for, are going to be less successful than companies that make products that people actually want to buy.

            Furthermore, businesses are also not merely satisfying demand in a straightforward way, but often (also) try to sell lifestyle, status and such. These can to some extent be created by advertising (see Red Bull).

            too many complicating variables.

            OK, so you can confidently make claims and propose solutions based on a theory that is to economics as flat earth theory is to physics, but when I argue that your theory should make the solutions I offer work, they are suddenly not solutions that fit into your theory because of “too many complicating variables”?

            Yet you apparently can’t even name one of those complicating variables.

            But suppose someone has a critique of how the American health insurance system handles women’s health issues. Your recommended response would be for concerned women to… found their own health insurance providers?

            No, I ask you to test your theory in places where your/feminists criticisms are made and where there is no substantial barrier to prevent you doing something else, replacing ‘male business’ with a feminist alternative.

            If you claim that Big Hairdresser is overcharging women and yet you can’t even manage to provide haircuts for women more cheaply, then why should you get to implement your unproven and probably very shitty theories in healthcare?

            Just claiming to care about women doesn’t actually make your solutions better than what exists.

            Frankly, you seem intent on not testing your theories, which in itself seems quite revealing…

          • Clutzy says:

            Market forces are not a reliable solution to cultural problems, nor can they be. There are too many complicating variables.

            @simon

            This is true for many problems, just not any of the problems you cited in your long post. The female insurance company could have easily been tried (at least pre-Obamacare which did kill off small insurers I’ll admit). There are many examples of disaffected female employees going off and starting their own company. What there isn’t many of is wild success stories. Of course, that’s probably because most wild success stories have founders who are nuts and would never think of complaining about something so “trivial”.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I go with the idea that it’s hard to raise the rather large amount of money needed for a women’s clothing company that sells to bricks and mortar stores. And you can’t just make “women’s clothes with pockets”, you have to make a lot of decisions about style, fabric, and sizing, and get them right or at least right enough.

            I haven’t heard about companies which tried offering women’s clothes with pockets on a large scale and failed, so it’s not as though there’s evidence that it’s a bad idea.

            I think there are at least two other underserved women’s clothing markets– dignified business clothing and reasonably priced clothes for fat women that don’t have inferior fabric and weird ornamentation.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            I go with the idea that it’s hard to raise the rather large amount of money needed for a women’s clothing company that sells to bricks and mortar stores.

            You can now sell online, making starting a brand much easier and less risky. Also, there are a lot of feminists and big feminists organizations. They can fund a women’s clothing company rather trivially, if they are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

            I haven’t heard about companies which tried offering women’s clothes with pockets on a large scale and failed, so it’s not as though there’s evidence that it’s a bad idea.

            Lots of clothing brands started small and grew rapidly, as people really liked their clothing at a mass scale. If companies like M.M. LaFleur, Argent and Pivotte stay small, this suggests that large scale demand isn’t actually there.

            To what extent are women who make these complaints actually willing to accept the downsides? If lots of women want pockets, but largely only if using them doesn’t reduces how well they look and/or increases the cost, then few women are actually willing to make the compromises that pockets entail.

            I’m quite aware that stuffing my jeans pockets harms my looks. Putting gloves in my winter jacket makes me look like I have a bit of a belly that even makes me, as a man, self-conscious. If women are far less accepting of that, which I think they are, their desire for pockets may be accompanied by other conflicting demands, that realistically make them forgo actually feasible clothing with pockets.

            If hip and butt pockets would magically appear on every women’s pants tomorrow, how many would stuff their keys, phone, wallet, etc in there, accepting having a flat butt cheek, a weird growth appearing on their upper leg, etc? Yet that’s what many men accept…

            I think there are at least two other underserved women’s clothing markets– dignified business clothing and reasonably priced clothes for fat women that don’t have inferior fabric and weird ornamentation.

            My impression is that there is plenty of dignified business clothing for women around. You have a lot of pantsuit options, or one can wear a longer skirt with a long-sleeve or half-sleeve top. In general, women have more leeway in what they can wear and still be ‘dignified’.

            With “reasonably priced clothes for fat women that don’t have inferior fabric and weird ornamentation,” I’m again wondering if you aren’t expecting something unrealistic.

    • CaptainCrutch says:

      I am reminded of earlier studies that claimed that companies with more gender-balanced boards perform better (though in that case, not specifically in response to any law). Example here.

      I think it’s fairly obvious. Both total diversity and no diversity at all indicates a bias in favour of something other than merit. There would be some kind of distribution characteristic of hiring best candidates without discrimination, going above or below means you are hiring inferior candidates for race or sex or sexual preferences or something else irrelevant.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I remember a business school case study involving Disney, where it was revealed the board of directors included Sidney Poitier and the principal of the CEO’s kids’ preschool

      And what exactly is the issue of a company that makes movies having a well respected actor on its board? What is the issue with a company that makes children’s movies having someone who runs a preschool on the board? Poitier would likely be able to give them perspectives on actors and behave as a liaison, while a pre school principle will probably understand what kids like and also understand how to walk the dynamic of what kids like and what their parents want for them. The whole ‘principle of the CEO’s preschool’ is one of those red herrings that sounds like it must be nepotism when the reality that the principle of a school where multi millionaires send their kids is going to be fairly accomplished and also one of the few principles someone like the CEO is going to interact with.

      • Jack Sorensen2 says:

        Just going on what is the most likely explanation, I find it hard to believe that these guys were picked due to experience or expertise in running a company, rather than (in Poitier’s case) because he’s a popular, well-respected guy in the movie business and (in the principal’s case) someone wants to grease the skids on getting their kids into the right preschool. Disney probably has armies of people who are experts in how to market media to children and how to appease adults, who are more immersed in the data and in show business than a principal; they don’t need a preschool principal to do it, who just so happens to have a personal connection to the CEO. Are we really that trusting of CEOs now? Like they interviewed the 10s of thousands of people (hundreds of thousands? millions?) who could claim to have professional experience dealing with both kids and adults and this guy won out?

        Also on your comment about two outcomes: I don’t think Yglesias is proposing a law or anything. But any such rule would be something like “50% of board members must be women”. I don’t think this falls into either of your two options, it’s not “ridiculously easy to game” and it’s not “complicated” either. It would potentially cause what you would consider to be a handout to the relatively small set of women that people see as qualified for these jobs, but I don’t think that bothers Yglesias (or rather he sees this as akin to what happens now with men who get these jobs based on whimsy and patronage).

        • baconbits9 says:

          I find it hard to believe that these guys were picked due to experience or expertise in running a company, rather than (in Poitier’s case) because he’s a popular, well-respected guy in the movie business</blockquote>

          Right. The question is not ‘does Poitier run the company’ (he obviously doesn’t the CEO/top executives run the company) its ‘does Poitier give value to the company by sitting on the board’. It is fairly easy to see how a well respected actor could be an asset on the board of a company that makes movies.

          Disney probably has armies of people who are experts in how to market media to children and how to appease adults, who are more immersed in the data and in show business than a principal; they don’t need a preschool principal to do it, who just so happens to have a personal connection to the CEO.

          Employees. The board serves a different function from the general employee.

          Are we really that trusting of CEOs now?

          This has nothing to do with the example, the example given makes it sound like it HAS to be nepotism/worthless people on the board. I mean an actor and a preschool principle what do they know? Oh, wait a really well known and respected actor who was known for breaking down the color barrier in films and a company that had a checkered past with racism it wants to move beyond? Not just a principle but one who works for a preschool that millionaires send their kids. Thats a specific person, not a generic ‘works at a preschool’ person.

          who just so happens to have a personal connection to the CEO

          How else would you get on the board. You are either going to know someone who was already on the board or you are going to know a high level executive. Yes it could be nepotism or it could be a legitimate hiring, you cant pretend to know that with ‘principle + knows CEO’ as your only information.

          But any such rule would be something like “50% of board members must be women”. I don’t think this falls into either of your two options, it’s not “ridiculously easy to game” and it’s not “complicated” either.

          Really? The board used to be 10 men, now we add 10 junior seats to the board with slightly different responsibilities and add 10 women whose votes count less/don’t have to show up to board meetings. What have you accomplished besides getting a hand out to those 10 women? Straight quotas are very easy to game for board seats unless they have ridiculous stipulations attached.

          • Don P. says:

            You’re right about the Poitier case, but as to this pre-school principal (not “-le”): you seem to be (perhaps accidentally) making the case that the board members do, in fact, do nothing and are just there for show and to draw a salary for doing it, which, yeah, does lead me to wonder if the principal was put on the board at around the time the CEO’s kids got into what I bet is an exclusive pre-school. I mean, even if we allow that a pre-school principal is the right kind of expert on marketing to Disney’s target audience, how does the fact that the children of millionaires go there make him any better at it?

            who just so happens to have a personal connection to the CEO

            How else would you get on the board.

            You can’t conceive of a way to get on a corporate board beyond being already personally acquainted with the CEO? There are search committees.

          • Jack Sorensen2 says:

            On the Poitier point, I would put this under the “whimsy” category. I would guess it wasn’t the result of a systematic search for the best possible person, but closer to “hey you know who it would be cool to have on the board? Sydney Poitier!” followed by a short process to check that he had some basic competence and wouldn’t stir up too much shit.

            I think Don P responded on the principal case, but on the rule – IIRC Delaware law doesn’t provide for “junior” board members who don’t get to vote, or whose votes count less. But more importantly this isn’t a law anyone is proposing, it is a rule that activists might push companies to adopt. If Disney says “a ha we’ll add women but make them all junior to the men, maybe give them each 0.6 votes, that sounds good to us!” this will get them a lot more shit than if they hadn’t done anything, and lead whoever made the rule to say “OK Einstein, 50% women as equal members“. It’s not like a law where you need an act of Congress or add that in.

          • baconbits9 says:

            you seem to be (perhaps accidentally) making the case that the board members do, in fact, do nothing and are just there for show and to draw a salary for doing it, which, yeah, does lead

            No I am not, I am not simply assuming that because the guys job title outside of the board has a certain ring to it that he therefore must be a lazy hire.

            You can’t conceive of a way to get on a corporate board beyond being already personally acquainted with the CEO? There are search committees.

            Where do search committees get their names from? A hat? No, if you are paying for names from an outsider then that outsider gets those names from somewhere. ‘This guy was the principal for the kids of the CEO of the consulting firm hired’ is going to sound just as nepotistic to someone predisposed towards nepotism.

    • Humbert McHumbert says:

      With your example, the obvious other explanation is that just because investors rate a company more or less highly, doesn’t mean that it’s run better or worse.

      Indeed. The growth of the US stock market since 2016 is pretty strong Bayesian evidence that investors don’t care much about whether organizations are actually well run.

      (I say this from a place of considering it debatable whether Trump’s actual political agenda is good; but it is not debatable that he is an ineffective leader of the executive branch whose relationships with his immediate subordinates are both unhelpful and tend to repel skilled workers from joining or remaining with his organization. Witness most recently the drama with Barr.)

      • baconbits9 says:

        Indeed. The growth of the US stock market since 2016 is pretty strong Bayesian evidence that investors don’t care much about whether organizations are actually well run.

        How is this so? The top 5 companies (top 1%) in the S&P 500 right now are weighted at the highest point in history (~18% of the total value), and the divergence in gains between the median company and the average company is one of the highest on record. If anything investors are piling into the ‘well run companies’ unless you assume that the biggest companies are run averagely well or worse.

    • baconbits9 says:

      In fact Matt Yglesias has argued that boards of directors are good candidates for diversity precisely because they don’t actually matter,

      This is also a very odd position to take, there are two basic outcomes.

      1. The rules are ridiculously easy to game, something along the lines of ‘you need at least one woman, one POC and one non traditional sexual orientation’ on your board and you will find a black lesbian who is sitting on a dozen different boards. No general impact, just a handful of people who had already good lives getting a handout.

      2. The rules are complicated and rigorously enforced. In this case you make boards actually matter, and every minority member has implicit state backing. Removing them is going to be more difficult than removing someone without minority status and when they are removed their replacement will have to come from a small pool of candidates. They are going to have greater power than traditional board members and expectations that they don’t start using that power are misguided. More or less you are going to concentrate the limited power of a group into an individual or couple of individuals. The diffused power of the board is the point, they don’t want to make day to day decisions, just sort of oversea things to prevent fraud/things going completely off the rails.

    • Mathematicae says:

      It would be nice if Matt actually provided evidence for his claim that the board members don’t matter. In fact, the only research he cites works against that claim.

      I find that boards that had critical masses of at least three directors of each gender in attendance, and particularly of three women, were approximately twice as likely both to request further information and to take an initiative, compared to boards that did not have such critical masses. A 2SLS model confirms these results. Consistent with these findings, the ROE and net profit margin of these type of companies is significantly larger in companies that have at least three women directors. In addition, boards that included a critical mass of women directors were more likely to experience CEO turnover when firm performance was weak.

      So diversity improved board quality and the firms had better ROE, profit margins, and fired under-performing CEOs more.

      So what do board members actually do? At least two things.
      1. Govern the CEO and other top executives. Bernard Ebbers and Dennis Kozlowski are extreme examples of bad CEO behavior that boards are supposed to stop.

      2. Use their connections to help the firm. I suppose Hunter Biden is the most famous example right now.

      There’s an extensive literature showing that board quality does matter. Many papers use the changes around the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations because it increased the required number of independent directors. This recent paper finds that improving director quality by making them more independent was associated with improved firm performance. You can look at their literature review for a number of other papers on board independence.

      • Jack Sorensen2 says:

        In fairness I think what I wrote mischaracterizes his position a little (what I get for writing late at night). It’s not that it doesn’t matter (and he does cite research that a diverse board is better), it’s that firms don’t pick people based on a rigorous rubric of pure merit (thus, whimsy and patronage).

        I think what he would say in this thread is something like this: people opposed to picking board members based on representation would say that it should be based on merit, and that a company shouldn’t pick a worse candidate to be a board member just because she’s a woman. But in fact, companies don’t actually pick board members based on any recognizable measurement of merit, and so there is no reason to think that picking women would make for a worse board. Even if having a representative board would have no effect on performance, it would still be worth it to have one in order to change people’s ideas of what a qualified candidate for such a position looks like; but as it turns out, the research shows that a representative board is actually good for performance.

        • Aapje says:

          But in fact, companies don’t actually pick board members based on any recognizable measurement of merit

          What is the evidence for this?

          the research shows that a representative board is actually good for performance.

          Correlation is not causation.

          • Jack Sorensen2 says:

            On both of the things you quote, I am channelling Yglesias in response to the comment I’m responding to, so your quarrel is with him and not me. On the second one – in the top level comment that I made (and you responded to already) I already said that I’m skeptical of any link. On the first one – I am not aware of any study anyone has done to test this and so am OK going on anecdotal evidence.

    • chridd says:

      (Mostly speculation because I have zero experience with boards of directors, but) Could one possible confounder be the amount that the company is pro-diversity? Like, for instance…
      • Maybe companies that care about diversity enough to have a diverse board of directors without being required listen to female board members more and give them respect, vs. companies that are just doing it to satisfy a legal requirement don’t and therefore don’t get the benefits of diversity (and maybe have more conflicts between female board members and sexist male board members)
      • Maybe companies that don’t have diverse boards of directors without being required to tend to have bad reputations that drive away the best women
      • Maybe companies that are more left/liberal leaning, or have people in charge who care more about people or care more about doing the right thing, tend to do better and also as a side effect have more diverse boards of directors.
      (…or maybe being suddenly required to change a board of directors because of a new law has negative effects that outweigh the positives of having diversity)

    • mnov says:

      >I remember a business school case study involving Disney, where it was revealed the board of directors included Sidney Poitier and the principal of the CEO’s kids’ preschool

      The preschool principal is currently on the board of activision blizzard
      https://www.activisionblizzard.com/board-of-directors

  3. Ketil says:

    I couldn’t help but notice this in the Wikipedia entry on the Hope For Peace monument:

    The guns of the tanks and military vehicles stick out of it, mostly pointing in one direction.[2]

    And whose direction might that be, one wonders?

    • b_jonas says:

      I hope they point towards south, the make sure we can get beautiful photographs of the monument in sunny weather.

    • Aapje says:

      @Ketil

      Interestingly, the creator first offered the monument to the US and then to Israel. Lebanon was the third choice.

    • eric23 says:

      A little looking online seems to indicate that the guns point approximately east. They are not obviously (to me) pointing to anything of significance. The monument is located in the southeast suburbs of Beirut.

  4. Regarding Longbets, I’ll note that it’s an interesting idea, and great for public claims that can be challenged, but making a claim isn’t the same as being willing to bet, and the logistics of setting one up are fairly burdensome. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the process, since it seems well run and well thought out, but agreeing on a bet with an intermediary is not a simple think to manage. I’m in the middle of trying to challenge Andrew McAffee on his view about rare earth usage in the next decade – Predictions #803, http://longbets.org/803/ with my proposed challenge shown here: http://longbets.org/user/davidmanheim/ .

    As I’ve seen / understand the process so far, the steps include:

    1) Someone registers and makes a prediction on the site.

    2) Someone registers and challenges it along with proposing a bet, including an amount and a charity that will receive the winnings – you can’t keep it yourself.

    3) The predictor agrees to the challenge (They sometimes simply choose not to respond.)

    4) The terms of the bet – not just amount, but the data sources that will be used for resolution, the outcomes that you agree in advance would make you concede, how it will be arbitrated, etc. (Getting to this point has taken months, and we still haven’t agreed.)

    5) Both parties deposit their bets in advance with the Long Now Foundation, which holds the money until resolution.

    6) ???

    7) No actual profit! (In this case, if I win then Givewell gets a thousand dollars, and if I lose, whichever nonprofit he ends up picking gets the money.)

    • HomarusSimpson says:

      David Manheim – genuinely curious, what make you think McAffee is wrong? McAffee’s dematerialisation thesis is something that is pretty important to know whether it’s right or not – inasmuch as it is part of determining whether we should go dark green or ‘no worse than economy neutral’ green (there must be a better name)

  5. melolontha says:

    cooking meat any way other than well-done is illegal in Canada

    I think this is false — the article seems to refer specifically to hamburger meat, i.e. ground beef. This is an important distinction, because (even if we assume the meat is sourced the same way) ground meat is more likely to be contaminated on the inside than non-ground meat.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      You say that as if it excuses the nanny-state.

      • melolontha says:

        I say it as if Scott prefers to summarise his links accurately; his edit indicates that is true. (Thanks, Scott.)

        If you want to discuss the merits of Canadian food safety regulation, go ahead.

      • Deiseach says:

        You say that as if it excuses the nanny-state.

        You underestimate nuisance litigation. You can be sure that if one of those Canadians seeking out the US enclaves for their medium-rare burger gets a dose of food poisoning from the one batch of burger meat that was under-cooked or left out too long, they’ll be suing the restaurant that served them and their lawyer will be arguing that “any fule kno you supposed to cook the pink out of it”. It won’t matter a damn that they deliberately wanted under-cooked meat or that they knowingly took the risk.

        If I go by what I read online, yes Canadian legislation is heavy-handed. But if you’ve ever been on the other side of ‘government body dealing with the public’, you’d know that it only takes one person doing something dumb (or not doing something they were told to do) who takes a court case and gets a judge to issue “the council should have known this was risky and fixed it” for the precedent to be set: free money just by suing the local government body! for the ambulance-chasers (and there are people out there who make a career of this*), and to get around that, the orders from on-high that “this has to be the rule from now onwards”.

        And that’s how you get “it’s illegal to serve mince that hasn’t been cooked until it’s well-done”.

        *Case from my previous experience: guy on waiting list for social housing for years (since he is single, young, and at the time there was nothing available for his needs). Local lawyer who has a lucrative line in Suing The Council. Somebody tells our guy “you totally should sue the council for not giving you a free house” and steers him towards the ambulance-chaser. Case goes to court, lawyer argues that “my client will use any damages awarded to source private accommodation for himself”, judge awards the bones of ten thousand quid to plaintiff for being on the list for years without being housed.

        Does our hero use the money to source private rented accommodation for himself? Does he hell. Large chunk goes in legal fees to ambulance-chaser (naturally) and the remainder goes to our guy’s drug dealer. Broke and still homeless, he comes back to the council looking to be placed on the housing list, and he has to be so placed because of the judge’s ruling (instead of being told “you got ten grand to rent privately, you blew through it all instead, this is not our responsibility”).

    • caryatis says:

      So can’t Canadians just cook their own burgers at home? It’s not exactly difficult to lump your own ground beef together.

      • melolontha says:

        Yeah, that’s the other thing, obviously they’re not policing what people cook for themselves, they’re just regulating commercial operations. I’d be surprised if more than a very few people are seriously bothered by this on the substance, rather than on principle.

        • The Nybbler says:

          That’s certainly not true; people definitely get annoyed when they can’t get the food they want at a restaurant.

          • Kindly says:

            Most places I’ve eaten burgers (in the US) didn’t ask me how I wanted the meat cooked in the first place, so until now I’ve never thought about what I wanted. This seems to be a good strategy for preventing most people from getting annoyed.

        • Simulated Knave says:

          Speaking as a Canadian who ordered his burger medium well, got medium rare, and then got sick for two days…

          I’m fine with it.

  6. Aurélien says:

    Regarding the 30 Million Word Gap, it’s possible that it’s not only the size of your vocabulary that matters but also the quality of it. The idea being that upper-class families teach their kids words that are later valued by the school system (this is Bourdieu more or less). But then this does not really square with The Nurture Assumption which underplayed the direct influence of the parents…

    • Aapje says:

      Yeah, check it. Lacking chips ’cause you say whips, fo’shizzle. Yale popes dissing ma dogs, calling us wack.

    • caryatis says:

      The claim was never just about number of words per se, but about how parents talk to kids: do you explain things, tell them what’s going on, sing, tell stories, ask them how they feel—or do you ignore the kid except for occasional direct orders?

  7. janjanis says:

    The Twain estate sued the publishers and trapped them in a double-bind: if the book was a fraud, they needed to cease publication; if real, they needed to pay royalties to Twain’s heirs!

    I love this so much

    • Ketil says:

      Gives a new meaning to the term “ghost writer”. And if you happen to be the heir of some famous artist, why not hire half-decent ghost writers – or mediums, I mean – to posthumously continue the production of valuable works? I think I see a business opportunity here for a consultancy employing mediums with above-average literary skills.

      • b_jonas says:

        An even better method is to just write your postumous books in advance, so that after you die, they only have to be edited and published. This is what Agatha Christie did, and we got a really good Poirot detective story “Curtain” out of it. (Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov also tried, with somewhat less success.)

      • Jake R says:

        Tom Clancy’s estate seems to have done this. His death barely slowed them down. Although from what I understand he was pretty much out of the picture well before his death.

      • Robert Beckman says:

        Robert Jordan somewhat famously did this only a decade ago. After being diagnosed with soon-to-be terminal cancer he stopped trying to finish the book he was writing and instead wrote copious notes about how to write the rest of the story. His widow then hired Brandon Sanderson to finish the work.

    • LHN says:

      IIRC, the authors of “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” wound up in an opposite double bind when they tried to sue the author of “The Da Vinci Code” for infringement: either your wackadoodle theory about the Merovingians being the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and being guarded by a secret society to this day is sober history, in which case one can’t infringe on bare facts, or it’s a story you made up and you’re admitted frauds.

  8. luispedro says:

    WRT epidemic numbers following a neat curve: this is because using cumulative numbers is a form of smoothing the data (very extreme smoothing). So, it’s not surprising that smoothed data fits a smooth curve.

    Even completely random data can fit very well (R² = 99.5%) if you fit the cumulative:
    https://twitter.com/luispedrocoelho/status/1230131479805599749

    Some of these “suspiciously good fits” aren’t even using the official data:
    https://twitter.com/luispedrocoelho/status/1226132613791768582

  9. ana53294 says:

    300 euros a month is very low. It’s not enough to even pay rent for anything other than a flatshare in the outskirts. Nobody who has a semi-decent job is going to quit and live on that, so I don’t see how you can call that UBI.

    I was always surprised by Spain’s high structural unemployment, but considering Spanish unemployments benefits are actually livable, it makes much more sense now.

    • HomarusSimpson says:

      I’d argue that UBI set at the same rate as unemployment benefit is exactly the place to start. It allows decent understanding of the ‘curve’ of getting back into employment. At the moment, people face ridiculous effective marginal rates of taxation at that point.
      In UK (where I am) the numbers work out pretty well that you could give everyone a UBI at the level of unemployment benefit, then tax all income at the starting rate with no personal allowance. No one would be worse off

      • Aapje says:

        People commonly think that unemployment benefits are too high to sufficiently encourage people to work, which is why the unemployed get harassed into seeking work in the first place.

        In UK (where I am) the numbers work out pretty well that you could give everyone a UBI at the level of unemployment benefit, then tax all income at the starting rate with no personal allowance.

        Assuming that no additional people will stop working(, which is questionable, at best)?

        No one would be worse off

        Unless fewer people will work and the burden on those who do work will increase.

        • HomarusSimpson says:

          Leaving aside coercion (? encouragement? conditionality?) people not working get benefit anyway. What I’m proposing only affects the margin between unemployment and employment. It could lead to additional under-employment, but you can do that anyway with part time work in most cases.
          Truth is no one really knows how UBI would work out in practice, and the trials that have been done were not very good TBH

        • nyc says:

          > People commonly think that unemployment benefits are too high to sufficiently encourage people to work, which is why the unemployed get harassed into seeking work in the first place.

          This is another reason why unemployment benefits don’t operate like a UBI. If you take a low paying job, you may then have to work 8 hours a day, commute 2 hours a day and incur transportation expenses. With a UBI, people take the job if the pay is more than the trouble. With unemployment, people take the job if the pay is more than the trouble plus the loss of the unemployment check. Unemployment gives you hundreds of dollars a month more disincentive to work than a real UBI would.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          The (highly biased) rumor in Romania about working in UK is that the reason why foreigners are much preferred as employees is that a lot of locals tend to get employed for just long enough to be eligible for benefits.

          Not sure if UBI would make things better or worse. But I do suspect a lot of second order effects, not the least being that people depending on it will vote to increase it.

          • nyc says:

            > But I do suspect a lot of second order effects, not the least being that people depending on it will vote to increase it.

            The people receiving it would be everybody, but only the people who are net recipients would have a self-interest in increasing the amount. Otherwise the increase in their taxes would exceed the increase in their payments.

            That implies that it should be funded with a tax which causes that inflection point to be near the median, so something like VAT. That way there aren’t a majority of people inclined to raise the amount without bound. (Using a “regressive” tax in this context still leaves it as a progressive program because a UBI is so anti-regressive that funding it with a flat rate tax still results in net transfers to lower income people.)

            There are also some existing natural safeguards against that tendency since people below the median tend to either believe that they’re not, overly-optimistically predict themselves to be more successful in the near future, or accurately predict themselves to be more successful later in their careers than they currently are earlier in their careers.

          • Dedicating Ruckus says:

            The people receiving it would be everybody, but only the people who are net recipients would have a self-interest in increasing the amount. Otherwise the increase in their taxes would exceed the increase in their payments.

            This is only true if we assume balanced budgets. Not sure of the dynamics in other countries, but in the US, expenditures and taxes are set via separate acts that needn’t have much to do with each other, and the inevitable deficits are met by borrowing more.

            It’s easy to imagine even people with jobs that would theoretically cause them to be net losers from the UBI, instead ending up as net recipients because it’s just all getting funded out of national debt rather than actual taxation.

        • Ursus Arctos says:

          “People commonly think that unemployment benefits are too high to sufficiently encourage people to work, which is why the unemployed get harassed into seeking work in the first place.”

          “People” (who?) are wrong then. It’s Euros 82.5 a week. Imagine the unbridled luxury of 90 American dollars a week. The sheer decadence of getting less than half your rent bill, with nothing left over for food.

          • Aapje says:

            who?

            A majority of voters, presumably, given that most democratic countries do this.

            The sheer decadence of getting less than half your rent bill, with nothing left over for food.

            I’m not sure what benefits your figure refer to (UK or German?), but in both cases, housing benefits are separate, making your comparison to rent and the claim that there is nothing left over for food nonsensical.

      • benwave says:

        Sure, but you still couldn’t call the german ruling a UBI based on that definition (which I agree with), could you? It preserves the high disincentives to small amounts of work, the elimination of which is the Whole Point of a UBI.

    • luispedro says:

      300 euros is really low. If you don’t pay for housing (because you live with family), you can maybe live on it, but it’s not a great life.

      It’s well below the poverty threshold (which is around €1,400 euros/month for Germany, if I googled correctly).

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s well below the poverty threshold (which is around €1,400 euros/month for Germany, if I googled correctly).

        The official German numbers are (per month, after taxes, one person):
        1.279 € poverty risk if anything happens
        1.096 € poverty risk
        913 € relatively poor
        731 € poor

        • raw says:

          If you add up 432€ basic income about 80€ health insurance up to 400€ for rent (including heating and water), which will all be paid, you are getting somewhere in the relatively poor range.

    • raw says:

      To be correct the basic incoming is currently 432€ and rent and health insurance is payed additionally as long as you don’t live in a to expensive or to large flat. For further details see my comment below.
      If you live with a partner and or kids the income is adjusted more or less accordingly.

      • av says:

        And space heating is paid as well. There is a problem: If you earn 100 €, you may keep all of it, but after that everything is “taxed” strongly.

    • Matthias says:

      I think you still get your Wohngeld, I think.

      And lots of Germany really is pretty cheap.

    • Matt M says:

      The first rule of UBI is that everything the media calls UBI isn’t actually UBI.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The first rule of UBI is that it isn’t big enough. $10,000 a year? A start, but what about person X who has major medical bills, UBI has to be bigger or you need UBI + universal healthcare. Its like theodicy. Something can’t be universal and basic, either you have to have some people not be able to meet their basic needs on it, or you have to carve exceptions out for them, attempts to do both are far to expensive.

    • TJ2001 says:

      Something else to remember that the length of an unemployment benefit is directly proportional to the decrease in salary of those re-entering the workplace… In other words – each month on unemployment benefits equals some percentage less salary when you return to the workplace… If you are out over a year – your returning salary is often 50% less than what you got before going out.

      And thus longer unemployment benefits are (on average) one tool governments use to reduce average wages in an area…

  10. Surendar says:

    Regarding Modi, I think you have relied upon an article which is completely biased. Rana ayyub is less of a journal and more of propagandist. There are many lies in it as well. I felt it as completely one-sided argument.

    • eric23 says:

      And while we are on the topic of Modi/Erdogan – some comments about Erdogan.

      The reason that Erdogan has succeeded in changing the government is that Turkey as a country is undergoing an identity crisis. Ever since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish state has been a project of the country’s Westernized, Turkish-nationalist, secular elites. However, in recent years Turkish nationalism has fallen into a crisis. This is because while ethnic-Turkish women give birth to two kids each, ethnic-Kurdish women give birth to four. The Kurdish population in Turkey is increasing to the point where Turkish identity no longer works as a proxy for national identity. Erdogan has been successful because he has found something to replace Turkishness as the national identity: Islam. If the choice is between making Turkey into an Islamic state and possible civil war between Turks and Kurds, then there is solid political support for becoming an Islamic state. Short-term political ups and downs do not change this support, which means that Erdogan can get away with removing Turkey’s democracy bit by bit and retain his popularity. Also worth noting in this respect is that Turkish democracy was always fragile, and Turkey’s identity as a non-Islamic state was historically maintained by the non-democratic means of coups by the military whenever things were not to their liking.

      • Wency says:

        There are also differential birthrates even among the ethnic Turks. The more secular and Westernized parts of the country were outbred by the more rural, traditional and Islamic parts of the country, and at the same time those rural people migrated to the cities in large numbers. This is where Erdogan is getting his support, not from the Kurds.

        It’s also not a coincidence that Kemalist secular Turkish nationalism has declined at the same time as Baathist secular Arab nationalism, or, for that matter, the Western secular nationalisms that they imitated.

        The Kemalists sought to convince Turkey that it is Western and European. Both of those things have become less appealing of late, not only because the West is in relative economic, military, and demographic decline, but because Westerners lack confidence in the merits of their own civilization and culture, both their history and their future.

        The trouble is that Kemalism was enshrined in the constitutional order of Turkey, and we shouldn’t be surprised that Kemalism’s breakdown and collapse required a partial overthrow of that order and a corresponding opportunity for a powerful executive to accumulate power.

      • Simon_Jester says:

        Given that the Kurds’ strongest political faction is, as I recall, an ethnic separatist movement, shouldn’t this be a self-solving problem?

        Having a Kurdish ethnicity in the country is only a problem because the Turks insist that all the land not sawed off the Ottoman Empire by the victorious WWI Allies is the rightful property of, specifically, Turks. Kurds have good justification for disputing that.

        But the time to cordially negotiate a regional secession by the Kurds may have passed by a long time ago.

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      What are the notable lies you noticed? The account seems to square with reports I’ve seen of modern Indian politics in other outlets. What seems biased to you?

  11. raw says:

    Re: Germany and Basic income

    The Basic Income (called Arbeitslosengeld II or Hartz IV) is far from being unconditional. You will only receive this income if you have no other income and no assets. Any assets (including some form of insurances) will be taken into account and balanced against this basic income. You are supposed to lay open all your bank accounts etc. regularly to prove you have no income or assets and you have to apply for jobs.
    In the past you could be punished (sanctioned) if you didn’t follow the rules (e.g. missed a date a the government office or didn’t apply for a job) by reducing the income by 100%.
    As this basic income is defined as the bare minimum to keep your “dignity” according to the German constitution it was ruled unconstitutional to reduce it to zero. It is still allowed to reduce it by 30%, which is a bit absurd if you call it the bare minimum.
    The bureaucracy around it and the strict rules you have to follow lead some people to prefer living without it and with illegal or other forms of income.
    So it is very far away from an unconditional basic income (that is how UBI is translated in German: “Bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen”), but the the bare minimum of a social democracy or basic welfare state.

    • Sylvan Decumat says:

      Raw‘s description above is correct. I would like to add that (modest) housing and health care are also paid.
      In effect, it seems like a grudgingly paid Basic Income after making you jump through a lot of bureaucratic hoops.

    • eigenmoon says:

      A discussion about Germany’s Hartz IV looks incomplete without this. Did this issue persist into 2010s?

      • Lurker says:

        I went looking.
        So apparently the job that was offered wasn’t actually as a prostitute, but as a waitress at a bordello (yes, still bad, no, not the same). Apparently, the establishment that was looking for an employee didn’t mention what exactly they were selling (besides probably drinks if they needed a waitress).
        In general, a job can be rejected for important reasons. Unwillingness to be associated/do sex work is considered such a reason and the Argentur für Arbeit does not intend to offer such jobs to people who have not indicated an interest in them.
        What might be relevant here: that is an internal guideline which can, in principle, be changed any time.
        (https://www.emma.de/artikel/bordelle-arbeitsamt-vermittelt-prostituierte-263146 <- shortest summary with actual quotes, from 2005, in German, source is a fairly feminist magazine, if the woman had really been forced/penalized for this, there is no way they'd obscured it)

        current situation seems to be much the same: generally not done, very occasionally a job/company description is not entirely accurate and something slips through and someone gets an offensive job they're supposed to apply to (the ones I found were all of the "bartender/waitress at a brothel, clerk at a store that sells sex toys, etc". this job can be rejected without consequences though.

        TL;DR
        not really all that problematic. basically rare bureaucracy slip-ups combined employers trying to keep the fact that there's sex-work happening there, nobody has to face any kind of consequences for not wanting work involving/adjacent to sex, though the accidental offers and the follow up to clear things up probably sucks when it does happen.

    • chaosmage says:

      Yes you have to apply for jobs BUT you can make really crappy applications with lots of spelling mistakes so nobody will ever hire you. A friend of mine did that for a couple of months.

      And you only have to apply for jobs that you can physically get to, so if you live somewhere really rural where there are no jobs you’re fine, especially with children who limit your mobility. I knew a woman who moved to a tiny hamlet in a forest in Mecklenburg and lived off nothing but unemployment benefits and child support for more than a decade. It was a good life, too. They grew their own food to take pressure off the money.

      So the job condition might now be gone de jure but it was absent de facto for a while. There’s still a lof of shaming and Bureaucracy As Active Ingredient, but Germany is still closer to an UBI than most places.

      • John Schilling says:

        I’ve read on several occasions, but not deeply investigated, that the “punk” aesthetic was developed in the UK at least in part to cultivate an appearance that would let the unemployed be on record as having applied for many jobs without any risk of A: being offered any jobs or B: having to waste lots of time interviewing.

  12. leadbelly says:

    Dear Scott,

    One of your depressed ‘Marxist’ readers here. My apologies in advance for the writing: I don’t write, and very rarely engage in comment sections. Even those in the rarefied air of places like your blog leave me cold (reddit is hell).

    One of the problems I have with the political right could be described as a lack of imagination. Take, for example, healthcare. Random Critical Analysis has gone to a huge amount of effort (Tyler Cowen called it book length) to ‘prove’ that US healthcare is normal, efficient, affordable, realistic, as expected, etc. Even if that is true (I don’t believe it, but I don’t have the skills or the focus to try and prove otherwise), it completely ignores the fact that a great number of people don’t believe it is and/or can’t afford insurance. Even if socialist healthcare for all would be less efficient, more expensive, whatever, providing it would make a huge number of people happier. How much is that worth?

    I don’t understand why, again and again, intelligent rational people, who don’t even necessarily identify as right-wing, spend their efforts justifying the status quo: why billionaires deserve their money, why socialist anything is a bad idea, healthcare, housing, raising the minimum wage, universal basic income. They seem unable to grasp the fact that capitalism is historical: even if the justifications of capitalism as best system are correct, capitalism itself is based on the exploitation of people, whole countries, in the past. Also, many of the greatest developments of our age were funded or supported by governments, not simply business. “Between the 1950s and the mid-1990s, US federal government funding accounted for 50-70% of the country’s total R&D funding.” You will be amazed to hear that R&D funding has decreased massively in recent years. Capitalism used to bring at least some societal benefit, at least capitalists built factories etc, but now it’s just stripping company assets and leaving them for dead. “It’s the equivalent societal benefit if they only fiddled the numbers on a computer to put an extra four noughts in their account!”

    We are moving towards an automated economy, AI will change the world in ways we can’t predict, and combating climate change will require closer collaboration between nations than anything before in history. We need communism or the future will be a disaster.

    It seems obvious to me that the right are on the wrong side of history. Worker’s rights, women’s rights, LGBT+ rights are now (more or less) accepted as normal. I believe healthcare for all, education for all, basic income for all, will go the same way. We need an economy based on the interests of all, for the benefit of all, and one good for the planet.

    I have run out of steam so my apologies if this hasn’t really gone anywhere.

    If anyone is interested in this at all, can I respectfully recommend you read some of the following:

    Why Socialism by Albert Einstein
    Economics: A User’s Guide by Ha-Joon Chang
    Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher
    The Courage of Hopelessness by Slavoj Zizek
    The Communist Hypothesis by Alain Badiou

    • Matthias says:

      Of course, the informed people know that Singapore is the place to look for when you are interested in how to eg run an efficient healthcare system.

      The US is weird. But their failure is hardly an argument in favour of socialism.

      • Murphy says:

        >The US is weird. But their failure is hardly an argument in favour of socialism.

        The US system is an argument for almost any other vaguely functional system.

        A well run market that isn’t crippled by regulatory capture and companies writing their own regulation would probably be better… but there’s been decades of fans of that in power who’ve had chances to apply any fixes they want … and it’s safe to say it isn’t gonna get fixed that way. Ever.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          Yes.

          It turns out that when you elect politicians who say they want to free up the power of the markets, they tend to only free up the specific bits that reinforce the power of the existing winners. The thing is, nominally pro-market voters keep supporting this and do not compel change in the parties that claim to represent them.

          Insofar as outcomes indicate the revealed preference of voters, the defenders of the current American health insurance system and those who seek the rollback of the ACA aren’t actually revealing a preference for a dynamic highly efficient market-based health care system. Because that’s not the system we have; the system we have is a byzantine and absurdly expensive morass that prices the dirty poors out of the market and grinds the middle class further and further into dirty poverty.

          • benwave says:

            It turns out that when you elect politicians who say they want to free up the power of the markets, they tend to only free up the specific bits that reinforce the power of the existing winners. The thing is, nominally pro-market voters keep supporting this and do not compel change in the parties that claim to represent them.

            hashtagpetpeeves : \

            [edit] pet peeves of mine, I should specify

          • nyc says:

            It turns out that when you elect politicians who say they want to free up the power of the markets, they tend to only free up the specific bits that reinforce the power of the existing winners. The thing is, nominally pro-market voters keep supporting this and do not compel change in the parties that claim to represent them.

            But notice what causes this: The first past the post voting system, which results in two parties.

            You then have one party that creates new bureaucracy and another that removes only the existing bits that were an inconvenience to politically connected businesses.

            There is no option on the ballot for removing the rules that entrench the incumbents. There isn’t even an option for not creating more of them, which is the result when the voters choose the other side of the coin.

            This is likely to continue until we switch to e.g. approval voting, which would result in more than two viable political parties.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            In that case you might want to consider becoming a single-issue election reform voter. Whichever party supports more constructive reforms to the electoral system will tend, whether they meant to or not, increase the honesty and flexibility of the system and make it more responsive.

            Continuing to vote in a party that opposes election reforms and consistently changes the system in ways that are convenient to big business and a handful of identity groups like “over-50 white voters worried about all these brown people” isn’t going to be a good answer.

            Because on the one hand, they’ll never actually do what you want them to do. And on the other hand, they’ll consistently enrage huge numbers of voters and give them reason to support the pro-bureaucracy party that they can at least be confident won’t support pogroms against them.

            And on the gripping hand, by fighting election reform efforts and relying on the loopholes and entrenched flaws of the US’s existing electoral system, they make it all the harder to use the tools of democracy to produce genuinely positive and constructive change.

            The US has survived the introduction of new government bureaucracies many times, and many countries have survived having more government bureaucracy than the US now has. Even if you oppose the introduction of bureaucracies, you might want to consider opposing the guys whose electoral strategy hinges on being able to win political offices with a minority of voters more.

            At least, if the flaws in the electoral system really are the crux of the problem.

          • nyc says:

            You’re making a strong argument for voting for voting reform at the state level, because the states are the ones who choose the voting method for their state’s elected officials.

            In the meantime it doesn’t provide an answer for what to do in federal elections where that issue isn’t decided. And most state legislatures are under effective single party control (don’t expect Democrats to take a majority in Texas or Republicans in California), so the calculus is different — the majority party in a given state are the ones with the most to lose from spoilers in first past the post, even in Republican-majority states. Republicans presumably still prefer to lose to a Libertarian with approval voting than split the vote with a Libertarian and lose to a Democrat with first past the post.

            So what we need isn’t necessarily a different majority party so much as different candidates from the existing state majority party who understand that a better voting system is to their own advantage.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            You’re making a strong argument for voting for voting reform at the state level, because the states are the ones who choose the voting method for their state’s elected officials.

            Fair enough- but on a broader level the question becomes “is this party going to be willing to significantly alter how the system works for any reason other than directly increasing its own entrenched power?”

            I would argue that the Republican Party, as an institution, as it now exists, is not going to pick any reason other than “it further entrenches our power” to change the rules of the American system. If you can’t specifically explain “how does this help Republicans beat Democrats forever” in the context of a proposed voting reform, the Republican Party as it now exists will never consider it.

            The Democrats have a diverse enough coalition that they can’t entrench their power without promoting alterations to the system that a broad spectrum of voters deem likely to be beneficial; you’re going to have an easier time selling any given reform to them. Even a reform that isn’t obviously a way for Democrats to beat Republicans forever in and of itself, they are at a bare minimum forced to give it more consideration for the sake of appearing reform-minded, a pressure the Republicans do not feel.

            Meanwhile, the alternate strategy (keep voting Republican because the alternative is ‘worse’) has dragged the reputation of American libertarianism through the mud and netted us a regime that embraces protectionism, regularly rolls back or tries to roll back civil liberties, and gives us the spectacle of high-level government officials using the power of their offices to target and intimidate private citizens who speak out against them.

            It may be time to consider a different long-term strategy, even one that accepts short-term defeat, simply because the present system is providing American libertarians with neither short-term nor long-term victory.

            So what we need isn’t necessarily a different majority party so much as different candidates from the existing state majority party who understand that a better voting system is to their own advantage.

            Okay; in that case you’re going to need to pick a political party whose primary voters are open to intellectual discussion and strongly activated by concerns of good policy and whether institutional systems are providing good outcomes that represent what the populace as a whole wants.

      • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

        Why do the informed people think Singapore, a country that wildly differs from the US in many dimensions, is an appropriate point of comparison (rather than say Canada)?

        • Clutzy says:

          Because Canada is also not a good comparison. We are like a mixture of Canada and Brazil. Which demonstrates how amazing the system functions at all.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          Because the informed people are informed heavily by their desire to find right-wing models rather than left-wing models?

    • HomarusSimpson says:

      the wrong side of history

      A very unreliable phrase, same as any other crystal ball gazing.

      https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jun/21/the-wrong-side-of-history-has-become-a-crowded-place-time-to-rethink

      https://www.vox.com/2019/3/27/18225578/progress-morality-conservatism-wrong-side-of-history

      Bizarrely considering that’s one each from The Guardian and Vox, they both argue against the notion, when one might reasonably expect them to be flag bearers

      • Murphy says:

        re: the wrong side of history

        it reminds me of an old lesswrong post:

        https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/F5WLc7hCxkB4X4yD4/is-morality-preference

        “If you wander on a random path, and you compare all past states to your present state, you will see continuous ‘advancement’ toward your present condition—”

        We ignore all the activists and revolutionaries who ended up losing, because their morality didn’t end up as part of our morality.

        But the conservatives opposed those and won. The problem is that if you talk to a modern progressive, and point to those things they’ll go “but we believe that too!”

        So you end up with selection bias where it looks like history is an endless string of progressives winning and changing society vs conservatives losing with the changes leading like an arrow to the morality of the modern progressive.

        but in reality it’s a semi random walk with conservatives winning often.

        We don’t notice because we see it as obvious that the movements that were defeated were *obviously* immoral and wrong while the ones that won and changed society were obviously moral and right. So much so it’s insulting anyone would compare them.

        • HomarusSimpson says:

          Nice, will steal & pass of as my own

        • eric23 says:

          That said, I think it is true that 1) human knowledge consistently increases rather than decreases, 2) increasing health, wealth, and technology are consequences of increased knowledge, 3) those material changes lead to a relatively predictable set of social changes.

          • Murphy says:

            I’d give you 1 and 2 but… 3 …. I don’t think so much so.

            So many issues are shaped by values, not just knowledge.

            And mostly they’re the kind of issues that split people most: things like ethics, morality, abortion, consent, personhood, what “good” is etc.

            Knowledge might tell you what actions will maximise some utility function but it doesn’t tell you what utility function to use.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Isn’t this a false dichotomy ? Just because the current US healthcare system is awful, doesn’t mean that a fully socialist version would automatically be better than all possible alternatives. Some third (fourth, fifth, etc.) alternative might be even better.

      That said, as far as I’m aware, socialist governments have performed exceedingly poorly in the past, as compared to mixed economies; in fact, China’s current economic domination could be at least partially attributed to their shift away from central planning and a bit closer to a mixed economy.

      I don’t consider myself to be “on the right”, but I’ll reflect your challenge back at yourself: are the two alternatives, total capitalism vs. total socialism, the only possible economic systems that you can imagine ?

      • HomarusSimpson says:

        Just reading (listening to) Adapt by Tim Harford. Essentially a treatise on the usefulness of failure (capitalism as a Darwinian process). He posits that one of the reasons for the eventual economic failure of USSR was, rather than they didn’t have good ideas about things that resembled industry and commerce to start with, the lack of the ability to embrace failure and replacement in a centrally planned economy meant they fell behind.
        We may well see the same in time with China, ‘command capitalism’ will work for a while, but founder.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          We may also be seeing a similar problem with capitalist institutions and elites that become too entrenched.

          When part of a complex machine fails to serve its intended purpose, it matters little why the machinery cannot be removed and replaced. It matters much more that the machine part cannot be removed and replaced- or is replaced by another identical part that will fail in the same manner.

        • I’m increasingly convinced that capitalism works not by forcing existing companies to improve but primarily by displacing those companies with ones that can compete better. Government is the ultimate “too big too fail”.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          This is why elections were invented; they’re a mechanism for allowing the Government (in the parliamentary-democracy sense of ‘the administration/regime/ruling clique’) to fail completely and yet gracefully, without allowing the government (in the sense of the institutions that provide governance over the long haul) to fail.

          It’s not ideal, but in terms of “is this a workable solution to the problem or not,” a good system of elections combined with deliberate efforts to create active media ecosystems and politically aware voters are about as good as you’re going to get.

          • John Schilling says:

            This is why elections were invented; they’re a mechanism for allowing the Government (in the parliamentary-democracy sense of ‘the administration/regime/ruling clique’) to fail completely and yet gracefully

            “in the parliamentary-democracy sense” is doing the heavy lifting here. Democracy is fine if the part of the state that needs to be fault-tolerant is the Jim Hacker part. If it’s the Humphrey Appleby part of the state that is the problem, “we can just vote in a new government (in the parliamentary-democracy sense)”, isn’t nearly so helpful.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            This may be controversial, but I don’t think elected governments really have that much trouble altering the priorities of the civilian bureaucracy if they’re doing things correctly. Plenty of governments have successfully started major initiatives or radically realigned their nation’s policies in a fairly short amount of time.

            Cases where it looks like there is a “deep state” somehow resisting the elected government tend to reduce to:

            1) Elected leaders whose stated priorities don’t align with their practical priorities, or who abandon certain goals that turn out to be costly or unwise. “Bureaucracy is hard, yo” turns into the excuse for not accomplishing anything.

            2) Elected leaders who are just plain managerially incompetent, and appoint subordinates who are managerially incompetent. As a result, they miss deadines, draft regulations with loopholes, and otherwise make a shitshow out of their attempts to reshape the government.

            3) Elected leaders whose goals conflict with basic constitutional principles like “due process.” As such, they fall afoul of courts whose role is to protect the citizenry from government abuses because their policies are government abuses.

            We regularly see all kinds of major policy changes successfully implemented when these three scenarios are avoided.

          • rumham says:

            3) Elected leaders whose goals conflict with basic constitutional principles like “due process.” As such, they fall afoul of courts whose role is to protect the citizenry from government abuses because their policies are government abuses.

            I was with you til 3. Elected leaders goals conflict with constitutional principles all the time. Selective enforcement is very “deep statey”.

          • Viliam says:

            I don’t think elected governments really have that much trouble altering the priorities of the civilian bureaucracy if they’re doing things correctly

            I imagine that if you became a minister, you would soon find out that you are much less powerful than you expected.

            You are the new guy who only entered the system now, and you have a clock ticking above your head. You can bring your friends, but they will also be new in the system. Meanwhile, you are surrounded by people who work in the system for years or decades, who know each other and have all kinds of relationships with each other.

            First thing that happens, you will be overwhelmed by the new information. They can throw irrelevant stuff at you on purpose, in order to keep you busy. Then you tell them to solve the ordinary stuff themselves, and only tell you the most important stuff. Great, that’s exactly what they want. Now they won’t tell you the unimportant stuff… and also the stuff they don’t want you to know. Some of that you will find out only after your term is over.

            Now if you want to change something, you need their cooperation to do it properly. Otherwise, you can introduce a change that is good in principle, but they will implement the details so wrong that it makes everyone angry. Angry at you, that is. You will be remembered as the guy who did the stupid thing, and after your term all your changes will be reverted.

            If it is 1 of you vs 1000 bureaucrats, they have their ways to keep you in the dark, slow you down, twist your words, and make your projects fail. (Trying to replace all 1000 of them at the same time would be a disaster, because a lot of knowledge would be lost, and again, you would be blamed for everything bad that happened.) When you finally learn to navigate the system, and distinguish the malicious actors from merely incompetent ones, your term is over. You go, they stay.

          • John Schilling says:

            Also, in a mature regulatory and rule-of-law state, it is difficult or impossible for the government to do things of great consequence without breaking the laws. If it is difficult, the people who know how to do it are the bureaucrats. If it is impossible, the people who know (or decide) which laws won’t be enforced so that things will get done, are the bureaucrats.

            If you decide to do something the bureaucrats don’t want done, or to do it in a way they don’t want done, then you’ll be out of office before you figure out how to do that yourself. And the bureaucrats who do know, either won’t know how to legally do it your way, or will pretend to not know, or will decide that these particular laws need to be enforced after all and call you out for breaking them.

            If you try to change the laws, then unless you repeal them en masse you’ll just create a system where no one knows how to get things done. If you repeal the laws en masse and then have the government do all the things that used to be illegal, you’ll be accused of breaking due process and rule of law. Correctly accused.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            I was with you til 3. Elected leaders goals conflict with constitutional principles all the time. Selective enforcement is very “deep statey”.

            @rumham

            If elected leaders’ goals regularly conflict with constitutional principles, we should probably not default to assuming that cases where a court slaps down an elected leader’s agenda are the product of selective enforcement.

            Similarly, “the judges are just a bunch of meanies” is not necessarily the most parsimonious explanation for why one administration gets slapped down for breaking constitutional rights once a week while a different administration gets slapped down once every six months. It is entirely possible for different administrations to have different degrees of antagonism towards constitutional protections. Or, at a bare minimum, to have different levels of legal and managerial competence when it comes to “how to implement a policy agenda without violating someone’s constitutional rights.”

            I imagine that if you became a minister, you would soon find out that you are much less powerful than you expected.

            Also, in a mature regulatory and rule-of-law state, it is difficult or impossible for the government to do things of great consequence without breaking the laws.

            @Viliam
            @John Schilling

            And yet, empirically, we see pretty significant shifts in government policy actually occurring in real life when there is broad popular support. This often includes shifts that are quite damaging and disadvantageous to the bureaucracy, or at any rate represent significant changes of pace.

            I think that in practice the truth is that the famous ‘checks and balances’ exist on both sides here. Career bureaucrats have a lot of soft power within the government, but elected officials often hold extremely strong ‘hard power’ tools (like the ability to brute-force defund or reorganize entire agencies, or conversely to bribe agencies by throwing money at them).

            Meanwhile, the career bureaucrats responsible for the agencies with the most ‘deep-state-like’ power tend to be ideologically divided, rather than having a unified ideology that makes it easy for them to mobilize against a specific political party that isn’t going out of its way to crush them.

            Career bureaucrats are generally at their strongest when elected officials try to:
            1) Implement policies in a managerially incompetent manner (“so sorry, but we actually have no idea how to implement this, logistically speaking, please go back to the drawing board and actually think this through so we can carry out the policy”)
            2) Engage in corrupt activities that will get them in trouble when someone blows the whistle (“we noticed El Presidente diverted fifty million dollars of hospital funds to his personal slush fund account”)
            3) Engage in actions that conflict with civil liberties and involve (pass a bill stuffing an unpopular ethnic minority into ovens, only for the courts to rule that stuffing minorities into ovens is in fact unconstitutional).

            But these are arguably precisely the times when an elected official should encounter obstacles that impede them from achieving their will.

            So I think that while there is SOME degree to which bureaucracy can hamper elected officials, I don’t think the problem is out of control. And I think this is probably for the best, at least until we figure out how to reliably elect a bunch of calm hyperintelligent empathy-heavy geniuses to all public offices.

          • Clutzy says:

            @Simon_Jester

            Career bureaucrats are generally at their strongest when elected officials try to:
            1) Implement policies in a managerially incompetent manner (“so sorry, but we actually have no idea how to implement this, logistically speaking, please go back to the drawing board and actually think this through so we can carry out the policy”)
            2) Engage in corrupt activities that will get them in trouble when someone blows the whistle (“we noticed El Presidente diverted fifty million dollars of hospital funds to his personal slush fund account”)
            3) Engage in actions that conflict with civil liberties and involve (pass a bill stuffing an unpopular ethnic minority into ovens, only for the courts to rule that stuffing minorities into ovens is in fact unconstitutional).

            Of those, I’d actually say the bureaucrats really only flex in event of #2. That is because they are the only people with the information to blow the whistle. Of course, my more intimate knowledge is with local governance, and the USPTO, as opposed to something people would find “deep state-y” like the DOJ or State Dept, but my exp with #1 is that actual clear directives paralyze bureaucrats with fear. And with #3, that they are the most enthusiastic violators of civil rights , particularly I’ve seen obvious speech restrictions, guns rights violations, drug prosecutions with no evidence of drugs aside from canine “alerts”, etc. These all not supported by top down directives (because such a thing would have been thrown out in court immediately). Indeed, it is courts who are the ones who seem to be the only hope in case #3, although not as often as you would like.

          • John Schilling says:

            Of those, I’d actually say the bureaucrats really only flex in event of #2.

            In case #1, they get to choose between obstructionism, and using their bureaucracy-fu to find a way to actually implement the elected officials’ specified policy. Both plans are safe, protecting the bureaucrats’ job security, so it’s their choice. That’s real power – essentially equivalent to a president’s veto power, but probably somewhat harder to implement.

            And it’s normal, because elected officials can’t do anything but call for policies that would be technically illegal if implemented in the most literal and straightforward fashion, depending on the skills of the bureaucracy to sand down the edges so they fit into the existing legal regime. We only notice when they go the obstructionist route, in which case we get to chose between praising them as heroes or damning them as villains (but not actually firing them en masse).

          • rumham says:

            @Simon_Jester

            If elected leaders’ goals regularly conflict with constitutional principles, we should probably not default to assuming that cases where a court slaps down an elected leader’s agenda are the product of selective enforcement.

            Actually, I was thinking the opposite. There is a ton of stuff that is baldly against constitutional principles that they let slide all the time.

      • Simon_Jester says:

        The problem is that whenever I say “the US needs single-payer health insurance” I get he reply “no that is socialist.” And whenever I say “well if that be socialism then let us make the most of it” I get the reply “but socialism is terrible, don’t you remember the Holodomor?” Except that single-payer health insurance already exists and works. It is not a utopian hypothetical, it can be evaluated on its own merits in perfectly real countries, and it is not the Holodomor.

        Either single-payer health care is not a central example of socialism, or the Holodomor is not a central example of socialism. They can’t both be central examples of socialism, and they can’t justifiably be equated to one another.

        The tendency to treat all deviation from laissez-faire fundamentalist orthodoxy (as interpreted through a convenient-to-Republicans lens) as “socialist” is threatening to discredit American capitalism. for all the same reasons that the process described in “Radicalizing the Romanceless” threatened (threatens?) to discredit feminism.

        When you constantly scream at people who are at heart decent sorts, and who just wish they could have what other people already have, you do yourself no favors in the long run.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Except that single-payer health insurance already exists and works. It is not a utopian hypothetical, it can be evaluated on its own merits in perfectly real countries, and it is not the Holodomor.

          What you mean is ‘single payer health care already exists and works for highly restricted groups of people’. It is not enough to point to Norway and say ‘hey, its not so bad to have single payer there’ you also have to say ‘and none of the many differences between Norway and the US will effect that and Norway totally would have been great with single payer if it had first started socialized medicine’.

          • benwave says:

            How many places does single payer health care have to be in place and reasonably effective before one credits it with being worth consideration in the USA?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Why are we cherry picking success stories? Why doesn’t Bernie Sanders have as a major platform piece how he intends to avoid having issues like Greece, Cuba or the UK? If you start with ‘obviously single payer can work’ a very normal retort should be ‘in countries at all similar to the US?’ Splitting Norway into 20 different countries each with their own single payer won’t make Norway more like the US.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            How many places does single payer health care have to be in place and reasonably effective before one credits it with being worth consideration in the USA?

            To be honest, I would feel compelled to look close at it if it were in place and effective in, say, the EU.

            Not in each member state in the EU. One payer, covering the entire EU.

            The biggest difference I see between the US and any other nation with an advertised effective single payer system is sheer size. Scale matters. So does diversity of health care needs, and a place like Norway or Sweden just doesn’t have that anywhere near like the US does. The EU probably gets close enough that if it could make one size fit everyone in the entire Union, I couldn’t argue that point anymore. For sure, I’d be studying it very closely.

            Unfortunately, that isn’t all. Another big difference I see is diversity of terrain. The US has more remote areas than the EU does, I think. If I’m correct about that, then I’d still need that single payer to span enough remote areas to bring the urban percentage down.

            While we’re at it, the spending profiles of each nation are different enough to confound the scenario as well. So the EU would have to spring for its own collective defense on top of all this. And its own analog to phase 3 clinical trials, rather than piggybacking on the US trials. And no skimping on trial quality, either.

            Or again, all of this can be in any other region of comparable size and diversity. I suspect this isn’t likely to happen any time soon, however. But if it did, yeah, I’d have to check it out.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            How many places does single payer health care have to be in place and reasonably effective before one credits it with being worth consideration in the USA?

            There aren’t that many to begin with. Most countries rely on insurance companies, and lots of them.

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/01/13/what-liberals-get-wrong-about-single-payer/

            Health care is a place where “ignorant and proud of it” is the best approximation of most voters in either political party.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Debating single-payer versus public-option versus ??? at the object level is fine, though vague handwaving about “differences” doesn’t exactly impress me.

            My specific complaint has to do with the role of the word ‘socialism’ in discussions of American politics. Namely that you cannot write with one hand that people who want a heavily regulated health care market are “socialists,” and with the other hand write that all those millennials calling themselves the Democratic Socialists of America are plotting to reenact the Holodomor on the people of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

            The inconsistency involved here, and the calculated political decision to use propaganda to conflate regulated capitalism and ‘socialism,’ have done more to revitalize the reputation of socialism in 21st century America than any other factor.

          • Garrett says:

            Namely that you cannot write with one hand that people who want a heavily regulated health care market are “socialists,” and with the other hand write that all those millennials calling themselves the Democratic Socialists of America are plotting to reenact the Holodomor on the people of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

            Why?

            A decade or so ago I got to listen to all of these glowing media pieces about how life was so great in Venezuela, that it was now the place where the American Dream would come true. Now I get to listen to media pieces asking “Who could have predicted this!?” The answer: me, and lots of other people!

            It’s possible to look at socialism and predict the collapse which will result. Some of this might be an emergent property where nobody intends for the bad things to happen, but they just do out of “bad luck”. It’s also possible to see where the implementers managed to get a bit “enthusiastic” with their culling of opponents which led to the deaths of millions.

          • baconbits9 says:

            My specific complaint has to do with the role of the word ‘socialism’ in discussions of American politics. Namely that you cannot write with one hand that people who want a heavily regulated health care market are “socialists,” and with the other hand write that all those millennials calling themselves the Democratic Socialists of America are plotting to reenact the Holodomor on the people of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

            So your complaint is that people use propaganda when discussing politics?

        • naj says:

          What is left out of discussion is that in countries that have some form of universal healthcare, they don’t pay for every procedure. There are some things that would help people that are not done because they are too expensive. Not cost effective given a limited budget. Healthcare costs can eat up any percent of GDP if all heath care procedures are given to everyone (or will quickly evolve to that state). I don’t think the US people can accept that the government will decide that some people will have to die instead of getting a $3 million cancer treatment that will extend their life for 4 years. How about a universal plan that is set at 13% of GDP? I don’t think Americans trust their government enough for that.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Every system has trade-offs.

            I don’t think much of the current system, but it’s very possible to make it worse, by trying to shift to a new system that depends on some critical trade-off and trying to only get the benefit without paying the necessary price (that price being some combination of cost, choice, freedom, results, innovation, and others I am forgetting right now).

          • Garrett says:

            I vote we start by euthenizing all the people with moderate or severe dementia.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            I vote we start by euthenizing all the people with moderate or severe dementia.

            Traditionally, the next step is to then deem that irritating loudmouths who refuse to shut up and who hold “incorrect” political opinions are suffering from a newly identified form of dementia, which is imposing unacceptable costs on the the the state and on good correct-thinking taxpayers.

            And any doctors, public health officials, and medical researchers who don’t agree are also suffering from the same kind of dementia.

          • Civilis says:

            I don’t think much of the current system, but it’s very possible to make it worse, by trying to shift to a new system that depends on some critical trade-off and trying to only get the benefit without paying the necessary price (that price being some combination of cost, choice, freedom, results, innovation, and others I am forgetting right now).

            Any time someone proposes an economic system, run the following question: “in this system, if there isn’t enough of something, who does without?” Or, more specifically, “in this system, if there isn’t enough food, who starves?”

            In capitalism, we know the answer to both questions: those who don’t produce much value, the poor. This is bad, I’ll admit. I don’t like that answer. But any answer is going to be bad by necessity. It’s a variant trolley problem. You’re at the switch. The train will run over someone, how do you choose who it runs over? There are no good answers, because someone gets run over.

            So, if not the unproductive, what other choices do you have? If you pick productive people, the problem is that this then reduces the amount of food you have in the future, meaning people continue to starve.

            The answer is never going to be: the people at the top of the system. The people that can push their way to the top will make sure they, their friends and the people that keep them there don’t starve. The answer instead is likely to be the enemies of the people at the top of the system. It could be their political opponents; if the party in power is socialists, this may be the rich or the landowners. It could be an unpopular minority group. And these are not good answers either.

            If someone tells you that everyone will always have enough, that there will never be shortages under their economic system, run away, because either they’ve never thought through the problem, or they’re lying because they don’t want you to know the answer.

          • Lambert says:

            ‘Not enough food’ is much less food than people think it is.
            Rationing kept the UK going whilst an entire navy tried to starve us.
            Without rationing, the rise in food prices would have lead to starvation.

          • Civilis says:

            ‘Not enough food’ is much less food than people think it is. Rationing kept the UK going whilst an entire navy tried to starve us.
            Without rationing, the rise in food prices would have lead to starvation.

            It’s certainly possible that without rationing, there would have been starvation, but that wouldn’t be the fault of rising food prices. Simple supply and demand means that as prices rise, people eat less because they are more incentivized to do without.

            Wartime rationing also illustrates my point. Because of the war, there was not enough production capacity to produce everything people wanted. Priority in production and labor goes to the war effort, keeping the system going (and to the benefit of the people in power). In the case of the UK in World War II, food was diverted from the colonies leading to mass starvation in India.

    • Joseftstadter says:

      the wrong side of history

      Most social change is dictated by material and technological change. Over the last two centuries huge technological advances have radically changed the organizing principles of human society. Mechanization, widespread literacy and digitalization have radically reduced the role of agriculture, radically increased mobility and greatly increased material wealth. In turn these changes have undermined the traditional role of organized religion, made the greater physical strength of the human male increasingly irrelevant, allowed women to control the conception cycle and made family less relevant as an organizing principle in society. The left, with less invested in the status quo, has been able to ride the wave of tech driven social change and take credit for it. The right, unable or unwilling to really comprehend what is happening, keeps making up conspiracy theories and complaining about cultural marxism or other nonsense. The left is happy to take credit, and the right keeps inadvertently handing them credit. Whether all this change will make human being happier as a species is still an open question – the flip side is that we live in a panopticon of unprecedented dimensions and “an honest day’s labor” has never been as unfulfilling and pointless as many tasks are today.

      • eric23 says:

        That said, the left wing has made big mistakes too. Basically anything to do with communism, for instance. So it shouldn’t be reduced to right vs left.

      • Aapje says:

        @Joseftstadter

        “an honest day’s labor” has never been as unfulfilling and pointless as many tasks are today.

        Is working in a mine more fulfilling and less pointless than programming?

        Also, you argue that social change is driven by the left and yet that labor has become worse. So doesn’t that mean that the left has made labor conditions worse, by your logic?

        • Civilis says:

          Is working in a mine more fulfilling and less pointless than programming?

          There’s a point to the underlying argument, that looked at at one level, lots of people in the modern era aren’t producing anything with their labor, only involved in accounting for what went where (most of which is literally called accounting). In theory if those people were producing stuff as well, we’d be better off since we’d all have more stuff (or we’d all be able to work less). It’s like saying if we invented free instant teleporters, working as a truck driver would be pointless.

          The problem is that this is missing the forest for the trees. This ‘pointless’ labor is not a byproduct of capitalism, but of the division of labor and the sheer scale modern production, and that labor is producing the information needed for the economy to function (which isn’t pointless). So instead of 5000 farmers needed to feed 10000 people in 1870, today we have 200 farmers and probably something like 800 accountants, corporate types and government bureaucrats to feed the same number of people with more quality and variety than we did in 1870.

          Any system given the constraints of the modern era is going to have to devote a lot of labor to the ‘pointless’ paperwork of distributing stuff, and if it isn’t done by accounting for small pieces of paper, it will be through bureaucracy or through sheer drudge work (like standing in line for hours so you are there when the bread shipment arrives), or it will be made up for in lost quality and variety of goods. That will, of course, change in a post-scarcity environment, but we’re not nearly in one of those yet.

          • eric23 says:

            There are two issues here:
            1) The high level of specialization means that many workers do not understand the importance of their work or see tangible results from it. This makes them feel like it’s worthless even when objectively it’s valuable (which is why the employer pays for it).
            2) The high level of complexity makes it easier for inefficiencies to escape notice, so some people end up doing jobs that literally are worthless but their employer doesn’t realize.

          • Civilis says:

            The high level of specialization means that many workers do not understand the importance of their work or see tangible results from it. This makes them feel like it’s worthless even when objectively it’s valuable (which is why the employer pays for it).

            You have a point that this is another factor contributing to work feeling pointless, but it’s still tied to the work needed for the information for the economy to run. In a market economy, the people doing the work have a usable metric for how valuable their labor is: how much people are willing to pay them.

            One of the mental arguments that breaks my attempts to understand socialist arguments about democratically controlled workplaces (as opposed to capitalist enterprises) is that I can’t see how you could democratically run the production of economic staples like ball bearings. The workers running the socialist factory likely have no idea what the ball bearings are used for, and as such democratic control has no way of knowing what needs to be produced. The capitalists running the enterprise might not know either, but they don’t need to, all they need to know how much it costs to produce a certain size/quality of bearing and how much people will pay for it, and it will automatically adjust as conditions change. The same calculations apply on the other end, from the users up the chain that need bearings: they know the availability of a size/quality of bearing and can design appropriately, all handled simply.

            The high level of complexity makes it easier for inefficiencies to escape notice, so some people end up doing jobs that literally are worthless but their employer doesn’t realize.

            The work of finding inefficiencies in a system is only productive work if you consider gathering and sharing information to be work, because it doesn’t produce anything by itself. It’s also very possible that it takes more work to find and eliminate inefficiencies than you lose from the inefficiencies themselves. It’s potentially a no win situation: you never know if the work you give of finding inefficiencies is in itself worthless.

          • baconbits9 says:

            1) The high level of specialization means that many workers do not understand the importance of their work or see tangible results from it. This makes them feel like it’s worthless even when objectively it’s valuable (which is why the employer pays for it).

            This strikes me as a just so story. Not that long ago a farmer might have toiled mightily in the fields day in and day out and watched a crop fail and his children starve in front of him. We are talking levels of impotence in the face of the world so much greater than this that people managed to handle.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            Uh, a socialist factory produces what the consumers want, just like any other factory. (It may even just as well use the market to gauge this, markets are not incompatible with socialist principles – surely there are plenty of people who will argue they’re incompatible in practice, but they’re not the central example of what socialism stands against; authoritarian rule of a capital owner is.)

            And “set up a job position to look for inefficient job positions” is a good reductio ad absurdum if and only if you reject system changes. The actual problem that leads to inefficiency is in fact systemic – that people need to work to survive and not starve in the gutter. This, first, leads to a push for more available jobs regardless of their actual usefulness. Second, makes people rightly refuse to work without being paid a living wage, so much of the necessary work that would normally require only sporadic spurts of attention won’t get done unless the worker doing it receives full-time employment. (And this doesn’t even get into the bunch of jobs created essentially for personal amusement of people controlling the resources – that’s a centuries-old problem not limited to the current system, after all.)

            There are many obvious ways to fix this. I prefer the anarchist solution of work being limited to producing basic necessities of life and letting all other areas of human activity be directed by voluntary self-organization – but the one that will fly well around here, UBI, works just as well.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Hoopdawg:

            Uh, a socialist factory produces what the consumers want

            No, it doesn’t. A socialist factory produces what the central planning committee thinks the consumers want. A capitalist factory produces what the factory owners think the consumers want.

            So, which system is better at anticipating consumer needs, central planning or distributed competition ? The answer depends on how good your central planning system is. If it is powered by some perfect, immortal machine, or a divine oracle, then of course it will outperform everything by definition. But if we stick to realistic models, then the central planning system is at a huge disadvantage, because supply and demand fluctuate chaotically and solving them is computationally very difficult. Even procuring enough input data might be virtually impossible absent a totalitarian panopticon (and maybe not even then).

            Of course, there are edge cases where a central planning system could perform better on a national scale. For example, if your country is about to be invaded, sinking all your resources into tanks might not be such a bad idea. However, absent such emergencies, distributed competition offers superior performance… for now, at least.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            A socialist factory produces what the central planning committee thinks the consumers want.

            In the best-case scenario, yes. In practice, the socialist factory produces whatever most benefits the factory managers, within the often perverse incentive structure set up by the central planning committee to try and get it to produce what it thinks the consumers want.

          • Civilis says:

            Uh, a socialist factory produces what the consumers want, just like any other factory. (It may even just as well use the market to gauge this, markets are not incompatible with socialist principles – surely there are plenty of people who will argue they’re incompatible in practice, but they’re not the central example of what socialism stands against; authoritarian rule of a capital owner is.)

            I was specifically talking about non-market socialism; market socialism runs into a different set of insurmountable problems, the biggest of which is where ownerless capital comes from.

            I used my choice of examples for a reason. Consumers don’t want ball bearings. Consumers want items for which ball bearings are a component or even a component in the manufacturing capital; you need a lot of information to translate consumer ‘demand for cars’ into manufacturer ‘amount, size, and quality of ball bearings needed’. Centrally planned economies can get by with a central authority to force a compromise between the desires of the industries involved, but the work in running such a bureaucracy is just as ‘pointless’ and ‘unproductive’ as the accounting and sales work is in a capitalist economy… and has been far more authoritarian than capitalist capital ownership.

          • Civilis says:

            There are many obvious ways to fix this. I prefer the anarchist solution of work being limited to producing basic necessities of life and letting all other areas of human activity be directed by voluntary self-organization

            I missed this piece, which perfectly illustrates my point. In order to get the basic necessities of life from where they are produced (farms) to where the people need them (cities) you need transport. In order to get transport, you need materials such as ball bearings. In order to make ball bearings, you need raw materials (mined using machines which require ball bearings) which are transported (using ball bearings) and then processed (also using ball bearings). And all of that requires some form of accounting labor to make sure that enough ball bearings are produced to make the transport for the food (and everything else) people need to survive and to make all the production capital required, at which point either your ‘anarchy’ requires so much central coordination it looks much like the Soviet Union or you re-invent markets and capitalism, because for markets to function you need to divert production to capital rather than necessities and you need to some form of time-shift of production to match consumption.

            The actual problem that leads to inefficiency is in fact systemic – that people need to work to survive and not starve in the gutter.

            It’s not systemic, it’s the laws of physics. Work is needed for people to survive and not starve in the gutter, and unless you change the laws of physics that will not change. Someone needs to do work for people to survive. If you do no work, someone else has to do the work for you. We’ve moved a lot of the work from physical labor to managing information, which is good. We have a level of charity for people that can not work, because we produce enough surplus that we can afford it, and this is also good. But pretending that there is a state where you can get away with not working by choice without someone else working to support you is not just stupid, it’s dangerous.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            But pretending that there is a state where you can get away with not working by choice without someone else working to support you is not just stupid, it’s dangerous.

            But it is *illuminating*. Of the kind of people who like to advocate that pretense, I mean.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            @Bugmaster
            Considering it is me, not you, who subscribes to a socialist ideology, I would like to ask you not to tell me what it consists of. I understand you find it easier to argue with a strawman, but to inform a man he is mistaken in what he argues about, so that you can proceed to rant how what you think he should actually be arguing for is wrong… that’s an entirely new level of spuriousness.

            And I’m pretty sure you’re also wrong about the central planning that you really wanted to talk about, but it’s just so completely irrelevant to what I actually said…

            @Civilis
            I may be using the wrong term here (in which case you’re free to substitute the correct one), but the consumer of ball bearings is a factory on the next layer of the supply chain. You are looking at the supply chain as a whole and consider it complicated, but it’s the chain structure that takes care of most of the complexity, and operating in the middle of it is actually perfectly straightforward. You receive an order, produce and deliver it. That’s it. That’s much easier than dealing with end customers.

            And I’m not sure where you got ownerless capital from in the first place. Capital will always be owned, just not privately owned.

            And as for work, there is a systemic expectation of how much work (measured in units of time) a human is supposed to perform, its sum across the population has long been much more than is actually needed for human thriving, and the chasm continues to grow.
            I also can’t help but notice you should know perfectly well that’s what I meant, because I spoke of necessity of work right in the next paragraph. So, was this fake performative exasperation really necessary?

          • Civilis says:

            You receive an order, produce and deliver it. That’s it. That’s much easier than dealing with end customers.

            This works because you can balance what you need to exchange for the labor, capital and materials to produce the item with what the consumer is willing to give you in exchange for the ball bearing. It doesn’t work if the only consideration is ‘is this a necessity?’ If we’re in your anarchist utopia, where only necessary work is required, I need to trace the ball bearing down to the end usage to determine if producing it is necessary or its one of these things that should be handled by some other voluntary self-organization, and that may require tracing down the end usage of whatever it is used to produce.

            And I’m not sure where you got ownerless capital from in the first place. Capital will always be owned, just not privately owned.

            You said the central example of what socialism stands against is “authoritarian rule of a capital owner.” Whoever owns something necessarily has authority over what to do with it; further, the reverse holds, and if you don’t have authority over what to do with it, you don’t own it. If that’s authoritarian, it’s tied into the concept of ownership no matter who that owner is: individual, group, or state. The only way that capital can not be under authority is if it has no owner.

            This may seem like semantics, but it’s important. You have two sets of workers associated with a piece of capital: those that use it in their labor, and those whose labor was used to make it. If you take Soviet central government style “public” ownership, there’s no contradiction: everyone “owns” everything (but, historically, only the central administration actually has any authority and hence ownership). Otherwise one of the two groups of workers will own the capital, and this ends up as capitalism.

          • Civilis says:

            And as for work, there is a systemic expectation of how much work (measured in units of time) a human is supposed to perform, its sum across the population has long been much more than is actually needed for human thriving, and the chasm continues to grow.

            You are asserting something (that a lot of work is unnecessary for ‘human thriving’) that we are debating. We can’t know how much of the work of information sharing is unnecessary for society to function. That societies that have tried to do away with capitalism have always gone authoritarian, required immense bureaucracies, and have worse outcomes suggests that a lot of that labor is required or that replacing that labor has major risks (when compared to the current gradual process of market forces).

            I also can’t help but notice you should know perfectly well that’s what I meant, because I spoke of necessity of work right in the next paragraph. So, was this fake performative exasperation really necessary?

            It’s necessary because there are people that think that work is necessitated by some system and not by simple physics, and someone has to spell it out. And the exasperation is real and not performative, it’s just not entirely directed at you. I’m sorry I made you the focus of the frustration I can’t direct at idiots online in other fora (@OfficialSPGB).

          • John Schilling says:

            You receive an order, produce and deliver it. That’s it. That’s much easier than dealing with end customers.

            I receive an order, I notice that nobody has shipped me the high-carbon chromium steel I need to make proper ball bearings, but I’ve got plenty of 316 stainless which looks good and will do well enough under moderate load, wear out early under heavy load but last long enough to pass acceptance test. I don’t know what the end user plans to do with the bearings, but I do know that I’ll get yelled at if I don’t make quota. So you get 316 stainless ball bearings and your trains wear out early and food doesn’t get to market.

            Or I call you and tell you I need high-carbon chrome steel to make good bearings, and you believe me because I’m the bearing expert, and thousands of people have to work long hours of pure wasted effort because you were only going to use these bearings in a low-load application.

            Or we get this sorted out properly, and next time I tell you that I need a bunch of tantalum to properly alloy the bearing steel and you believe me because I’m the bearing expert, but really the only thing I “needed” the tantalum for is to trade it under the table to the smartphone maker down the road, so he would give me a bunch of shiny smartphones that me and the boys can trade to hot farmers’ daughters for sex.

            Or you’ve got one of the AIs from Ian Banks’ Culture novels to sort out exactly what everybody needs to make exactly what everybody needs even though everybody is lying and give the appropriate orders.

            Or, just maybe, I call the vendor and ask “how much per ton for chrome-vanadium steel” and then call the customers and say “chrome-vanadium bearings will be $X per thousand, 316 stainless will be $Y, which do you want?”, and I don’t have to bother your central planners and maybe I can still trade for sex from hot farmers’ daughters on the side but only if I’m better than the next bearing maker at giving the end user what he really needs with a minimum of wasted effort and resources.

            We spend most of the twentieth century testing these competing theories; we know how the story ends. If you want a do-over, I’m going to ask you to wait until your superadvanced Culture AI is past beta-testing.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Hoopdawg:
            I certainly did not mean to strawman your position, but my point is actually pretty similar to the one Civilis and John Schilling made about ball bearings.

            Let’s say I am in charge of the ball bearing factory. Under the socialist system, how do I know, specifically, how many ball bearings to make ?

            Under capitalism, people come to me with orders, willing to exchange money for ball bearings. If I see an uptick in orders, I might choose to make more ball bearings; but to do that, I’ll need to order more steel from the steel mill next door, hire more workers, etc. All of these expenses add up, so I might just raise my prices instead. Of course, when I do that, there’s always a risk that the guy next door to me had invented a more efficient way to make ball bearings, so he can underbid me and get all my business. Since everybody in the economy — including the people who make the steel and the people who make the trains and the people who ride them — is constantly participating in the same calculations, over time the entire system converges on the most efficient way to make most things (*).

            Under socialism, what’s the plan ?

            (*) Modulo systemic problems such as monopolies, which should IMO be solved by government — I’m advocating for a mixed economy, not total laissez-faire capitalism.

        • Clutzy says:

          100% Yes. Physical Labor is preferable at any level of compensation.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Is working in a mine more fulfilling and less pointless than programming?

          Personally, I wouldn’t be able to handle it at all, even if I were physically fit. Programming never gets boring for me (cumulatively speaking). YMMV.

        • Joseftstadter says:

          you argue that social change is driven by the left

          No, I argue the opposite. Social change is mostly a reaction to changes in the material world driven by technological and environmental changes, the left has simply been better positioned to take credit for the “positive” changes than the right has been. The left is not the engine of change it imagines itself to be.

    • Aapje says:

      @leadbelly

      I don’t understand why, again and again, intelligent rational people, who don’t even necessarily identify as right-wing, spend their efforts justifying the status quo

      Because we are much better off than people in most of history, by many significant measures (food security, healthcare availability, work safety, housing quality, etc).

      The fear is that revolutionaries who burn down current society, won’t give us palaces and caviar in return, but huts and stale bread.

      One of the problems I have with the political right could be described as a lack of imagination.

      To me, a lot of this ‘imagination’ could be more properly called wishful thinking. If you propose something and only foresee benefits, while I (also) predict serious possible or likely downsides, which you never considered (and perhaps dismiss out of hand), then I am not actually less imaginative than you.

      Lots of reformers act extremely surprised when negative outcomes that were predicted by critics occur. People also somehow seem to be far more ‘imaginative’ when they get the predicted benefits, but are relatively immune to downsides that critics predict; while they suddenly become critics if it is the other way around. At that point those reformers/critics are actually selfish, rather than more or less imaginative.

      Also, I don’t understand why you accuse the right. Isn’t your critique actually applicable to centrists, with both the far-left and far-right being quite imaginative. That you don’t share the ‘imagination’ that you can (and should) keep out migrants with a big wall, doesn’t mean that it is really less imaginative than thinking that you can provide housing for everyone.

      Capitalism itself is based on the exploitation of people

      Yes, but that is actually why it works so well. Human welfare requires mutual exploitation.

      The upside of capitalism is that it rewards people for letting others exploit them (like a baker who bakes more bread than he needs for himself) and allows people in large part to choose how they will be exploited by others. This is a much better kind of exploitation than the known alternatives.

      Practically no one seeks to eschew exploitation by becoming fully self-sufficient, if they have a choice.

      We are moving towards an automated economy, AI will change the world in ways we can’t predict, and combating climate change will require closer collaboration between nations than anything before in history. We need communism or the future will be a disaster.

      Please first give us very advanced AI, before you chance society in a way that only works with very advanced AI. Otherwise it is just wishful thinking.

      Also, I’ve never seen anyone give a good answer to how communism helps combat climate change. To me, the claim seems to result from: “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

      • +1

        Lots of good points there.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Lots of reformers act extremely surprised when negative outcomes that were predicted by critics occur. People also somehow seem to be far more ‘imaginative’ when they get the predicted benefits, but are relatively immune to downsides that critics predict;

        I saw this play out in a small scale a month or two ago.

        Yang Gangers came up with the idea of getting small journalists to cover Yang, which they weren’t doing enough. They came up with a script to use, and I learned about it when journalists were sharing their inboxes full of identical spam from 100s of people.

        When criticized about their behavior, a defense offered nearly immediately was

        “well their hearts were in the right place and at least they are getting involved in politics for the first time”

        As good a time as any, I guess, to learn that good intentions often lead to horrible results, especially for 3rd-parties who were presumed to be part of the problem.

    • etaphy says:

      “We are moving towards an automated economy, AI will change the world in ways we can’t predict, and combating climate change will require closer collaboration between nations than anything before in history. We need communism or the future will be a disaster.”

      This is specifically why we should be avoiding communist trends like the plague – we’re moving in the direction that’ll make technocratic authoritarianism China-style possible across the entire world thanks to modern technology. Once you’re at the point where technology can be used to enforce authoritarian regulation, all it takes is one misstep to end up in a painful equilibrium for the next decades.
      What we should be seeking is maximal decentralization, where any excesses of authoritarian politics in a given nation would stop at its borders instead of being given a chance to metastasize into regional regulations and under the table deals that would gradually strip our freedoms away, be it economic or social.
      Similarly, decentralization prevents collective suppression of social dissenters by giving them an increased opportunity to find a community that shares their values.

      As for rights of different categories of people, classic liberalism is a better solution than identity politics, which prior to the modern madness was also known as “ethnocentrism” and which communism has always tried to prod into action as an instrument of destabilization of civil norms.

      And pardon my inflammatory comment, but I find it strange that you’re bothered by lack of imagination behind modern capitalism when the alternative you’re offering isn’t some brand new method of governance – your substitution is an old and tried one and which happened to end in disaster every single take. In a way it’s far more conservative than capitalist technoutopianism – it literally sticks with already existing ideology instead of fomenting dissent – and thus productive conversation – about our collective future. That socialists present communism as the only way forward makes a better case for statism rather than their chosen course. As for mentioning the history of capitalism – it’s not a history of capitalist cruelty, it’s merely a history of human cruelty under a set of socio-economic systems. Communism(or feudalism or any other arrangement) has a similar history – where a similar amount of distributed suffering was converted into way less positive utility than under capitalism. Improvements in human condition tend to happen primarily through non-zero sum material innovations and accumulation of know-how, not hierarchical reshuffling games of politics.

    • Adrian says:

      healthcare […] We need communism or the future will be a disaster.

      “Fun” fact: In the 80s, the German Democratic Republic (“East Germany”) was so desperate for cash that they had blood drives where citizens donated their blood for free, which was sold to the West (unbeknownst to the donors). They sold so much, that they often didn’t have enough reserves for their own patients.

      Also, East Germany had basically no cases of HIV, so they could skip that test and further save money – until that premise wasn’t true any more and they infected some people with HIV. Whoops.

      Also also, for some serious conditions, you better had high-ranking connections so that you were allowed to leave the country to be treated in the West.

      So don’t even start with “we need communism for responsible healthcare”. Besides, US-style healthcare vs communism is a wrong dichotomy; look to Western Europe for not-totally-insane (though not perfect) healthcare systems.

      • An Fírinne says:

        “The government has done some bad things therefore throw the baby out with the bathwater” is a silly argument. Do you really want me to go over some of the dumb things capitalist health providers have done? Because that could take a while

        • Adrian says:

          I was specifically disproving the claim that socialism leads to better healthcare, so I don’t see how your objection is relevant.
          Anyway, picking up your metaphor: What “baby” was there even to throw out with the bathwater? In what way was East Germany better than West Germany? That everyone was equally poor? (Well, except for the political elite…)

          • Mark Atwood says:

            In what way was East Germany better than West Germany? That everyone was equally poor?

            Well, if we take the “inequality is bad!” people at their word… Apparently, yes.

          • An Fírinne says:

            I was specifically disproving the claim that socialism leads to better healthcare

            My point still stands. Cherrypicking stupid things does not mean very much as I could easily do the same with private healthcare.

            What “baby” was there even to throw out with the bathwater? In what way was East Germany better than West Germany?

            In East Germany nobody was discriminated against based on the size of ones wallet. If you needed healthcare you bloody well got it. Instead being kicked to the side of the road and left to die.

          • Adrian says:

            My point still stands. Cherrypicking stupid things does not mean very much as I could easily do the same with private healthcare.

            That’s why I asked for at least one significant aspect that was strictly better (not just equally good) in East Germany than in West Germany. Anything that could even begin to justify socialism.

            In East Germany nobody was discriminated against based on the size of ones wallet. If you needed healthcare you bloody well got it. Instead being kicked to the side of the road and left to die.

            Meh, you still got better healthcare if you had the right connections.

            If all you want is a system where everyone gets good healthcare, but some people get better healthcare, look to West Germany. You don’t need the crippling drawbacks of socialism to get good healthcare for everyone.

    • sty_silver says:

      My apologies in advance for the writing: I don’t write, and very rarely engage in comment sections. Even those in the rarefied air of places like your blog leave me cold (reddit is hell).

      I think your writing is pretty good – of course, I don’t know how much effort you put into the post.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Even if socialist healthcare for all would be less efficient, more expensive, whatever, providing it would make a huge number of people happier.

      I do not believe this. There may be other reasons for reforming healthcare, but it will not make people happier.

      • Tenacious D says:

        I’d be interested to see any surveys of job satisfaction among people who work in the healthcare systems in different countries. In Canada, a lot of nurses and doctors are chronically stressed in a way that isn’t too surprising when you consider that queuing rather than pricing is used to coordinate supply and demand. People on the front lines are thus basically always facing a backlog of patients.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      “Between the 1950s and the mid-1990s, US federal government funding accounted for 50-70% of the country’s total R&D funding.” You will be amazed to hear that R&D funding has decreased massively in recent years.

      Amazed indeed. Small wonder that we look unimaginative next to you lot!

      • leadbelly says:

        I meant private rather than state R&D investment here, I see now it reads confusingly. I don’t remember the exact numbers but it was from Ha-Joon Chang.

        • Valerius says:

          Business R&D has not ‘declined massively’ by any stretch of the (ahem) imagination according to the link Mr Zrimsek provided.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            The reference to “imagination” was perhaps unkind of me. This has the feel of something that could conceivably have started out as a true statistic having to do with some specialized area of basic research, but gradually got shorn of its qualifiers as it passed from hand to hand.

      • Elementaldex says:

        Thanks for the rebuttal. I appreciate when people take the time to correct factual errors.

    • FormerRanger says:

      The point of the RCA analysis is not that the US healthcare system is perfect, but rather that it is almost exactly the size (in expenditures) one would expect for a country of our size and wealth. The same is true of most other countries on his graphs. If it debunks anything, it’s the trope that the US spends “three times what other countries spend on healthcare.” He takes a few stabs at other tropes, such as “… and has worse outcomes,” somewhat less convincingly. Our demographics and the opioid epidemic are part of the explanation, but they don’t explain everything. (They also don’t justifying burning down our existing system for one that costs more than the current one does.)

      why billionaires deserve their money, why socialist anything is a bad idea, healthcare, housing, raising the minimum wage, universal basic income.

      None of the things listed above are inherently about socialism, except maybe expropriating the billionaires. Socialism is about the workers owning and controlling the means of production. Communism is the same with optional liquidation of the kulaks.

      Having a social safety net does not make a country socialist (unless you consider Bismarck a socialist). Just giving people free stuff, or regulating the marketplace to some degree does not equal socialism. I realize that it is common to claim they are socialism, and socialists are especially keen to point out that this or that country has “free healthcare” and is therefore socialist, even though a casual glance will reveal they are capitalist to the core (examples include all the Scandinavian countries).

      There are no arguments in favor of socialism because there is no actual nailed down definition of it that “socialists” will stick to. I suspect we are much more likely to get Iain Banks-style “gay luxury space communism” some day due to advances in technology than from listening to today’s “socialists.”

      • cuke says:

        I appreciate this comment. The black and white thinking around *either* socialism or capitalism that we see out there seems so unhelpful and unreal.

        Doesn’t socialism describe public ownership of the means of production, broadly-speaking? So obviously, UK’s NHS is that, but huge swaths of the rest of the UK is not that. Medicare for All would not be that because the means of production (beyond already-standing public hospital systems) would still be “owned” by providers. Under our current US healthcare system, the insurance companies, private and public, do not “own” the means of production, but they might as well since they set prices. In other words, the current “capitalist” “for profit” healthcare system we have doesn’t come with many of the same choice and competition factors we like in our capitalist markets.

        Around these parts, internet connectivity problems are impeding economic opportunities, so towns are taxing and providing their own high-speed internet — ie, socialized internet connectivity. No one seems to be up in arms about it. The “socialist” internet connectivity is making possible all kinds of private economic activity.

        And then we often conflate political and economic systems when we have these conversations. Socialism can be democratic and centralized, democratic and decentralized, authoritarian and centralized, authoritarian and decentralized, and so on. Governance is a hugely important part of how markets and economies are maintained, so it’s pretty hard to talk about “socialism” v “capitalism” across history without looking at the interwoven political governance issues.

        As a side note, I find it utterly baffling the way Sanders responds to accusations of being a socialist. Maybe he’s trying to normalize “socialism” among Americans who have such a distorted view of it, but in terms of clarifying reality, it’s not very helpful. Even were he to succeed (which he won’t) in making tuition-free public college (the colleges are already public), and providing Medicare for All, and imposing a significant wealth tax, we would still be living in a very predominantly capitalist system. His platform is very welfare state in the lineage of FDR but it is not very socialist.

        • Doesn’t socialism describe public ownership of the means of production, broadly-speaking? So obviously, UK’s NHS is that, but huge swaths of the rest of the UK is not that.

          And substantial parts of the US are, by the same definition, socialist, most obviously the public school system.

      • Adrian says:

        Iain Banks-style “gay luxury space communism”

        I know this is a common meme, but the Culture is not communist. The means of production are firmly in the hands field-effectors of the Minds – in fact, each Mind completely owns its means of production, particularly the LSV/MSV/GSV Minds, with no sharing between them. The Culture is actually much closer to billionaire philantropism than to communism.

        • LHN says:

          Or pet ownership.

        • FormerRanger says:

          I know this is a common meme, but the Culture is not communist.

          Yes, I was using it in the sense that it is used as a meme, not a literal description. I also think it’s fuzzy enough to have any meaning you wish to give it. “Communism” is always a fuzzy term, as is “socialist,” since no two people agree what they mean. That’s pretty much why Lenin kept trimming the ranks of the “vanguard party” until there was no one left who disagreed with him on anything.

        • Hoopdawg says:

          So, workers own their means of production, and the produce is distributed according to everyone’s needs?

          I mean, what do you think communism is?

          • Adrian says:

            No, the means of production are owned by the Minds, the all-powerful intellectual elite of the Culture. Minds use “ship-slaved drones” and intellectually crippled, semi-conscious machines to do all the menial work (like house work).
            Hmm, come to think of it, that’s actually very close to how communism worked out in practice.

            Of course, the part where everyone’s needs are met and they live in an abundance of goods and services, that’s where it enters the idealized, utopian vision of communism.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I largely agree with you, with two nitpicks.

      Calling nonauthoritarian leftwing ideas “communist” is a bad idea which needlessly antagonizes people.

      At risk of being corrected by the author himself, I d not think that RCA proved or tried to prove that US healthcare is efficient or just. His argument is that US healthcare spending is roughly in line with the rest of the world, and also, if I remember correctly, that US life expectancy compared to some other developed countries is dragged down by differences in lifestyle and in rates of violence, not by lack of access to healthcare. This of course does not necessarily imply that leftwing ideas on improving US healthcare are bad.

      • FormerRanger says:

        Many of the ideas put forward by Sanders, Warren, and the whole list of Dem candidates down to Biden are pretty authoritarian, in that they would radically reshape huge chunks of our economy (health care, businesses, taxation) by government fiat in the direction of more control in all those areas. “Authoritarian” is another fuzzy word, and one can always say, “Oh, that? It’s non-authoritarian…” There’s also certain whiff of authoritarian hubris in their projections of cost, which make typical cost claims (bridges, roads, the ACA) seem modest.

        I think Sanders should be just as ashamed of his documented communist and communist-adjacent past as a modern rightist who used to be in the KKK should feel about his own past.

        I’d be quite happy to live in Banks’ “space communism” utopia, though, even if it’s really quintillionaire philanthropism at base.

        • baconbits9 says:

          An idea can be authoritarian or not depending on context. A candidate who has some policies that could be authoritarian and some that are not is quantitatively different from a candidate who only has authoritarian positions.

    • eigenmoon says:

      There’s that thing which some socialists do, and it bothers me. It goes like this:

      government strongly interfered but failed (healthcare, 2008, etc.) -> that’s a failure of capitalism! boo capitalism! we need socialism!

      government strongly interfered and succeeded (R&D, …) -> yay! that was so socialist! we need more socialism!

      I find that dishonest.

      • Hoopdawg says:

        >government strongly interfered

        Note: it’s not socialism if government interferes in favor of capitalists. (Which is, like, most of the time.)

        It’s perfectly consistent to point to a certain thing government does and say it’s good, and another thing government does and say it’s bad. The argument about R&D, as far as I heard it, is not that government did it, but that creating an environment where people can safely and freely research and experiment without regard for immediate economic constraints yields better results.

        • eigenmoon says:

          it’s not socialism if government interferes in favor of capitalists.
          That assumes that socialists can tell whether a policy will end up in favor of capitalists at the moment the policy is proposed, not at the moment everybody is looking at its results. However, so far I have observed no such ability among socialists whatsoever. Sure, “eat the rich” is not in the favor of capitalists, everybody can agree on that. But let’s take stimulating the economy: how would Bernie with his favorite MMT bail out the banks differently than Obama with his Keynesianism?

          It’s perfectly consistent to point to a certain thing government does and say it’s good, and another thing government does and say it’s bad.
          Sure, as long as you don’t arbitrarily describe the good things as socialism and the bad things as non-socialism.

          creating an environment where people can safely and freely research … yields better results
          Yes, and that’s why the private sector does that too.

        • Note: it’s not socialism if government interferes in favor of capitalists. (Which is, like, most of the time.)

          “Capitalism” isn’t defined as “a system that benefits capitalists” any more than “Socialism” is defined as “a system that benefits socialists.”

          If we take “government ownership and control of the means of production” as our definition of socialism (there are, of course, other definitions), then whether it helps or hurts capitalists, or for that matter rich people, is an empirical question, not a matter of definition.

          There is further confusion in the fact that a socialist is someone who supports socialism, a capitalist is someone who plays a particular role in a capitalist economy. A capitalist need not support capitalism — I think Friederich Engels would be an example of one who didn’t, if I correctly understand his income source. Ayn Rand was a passionate supporter of capitalism, but not a capitalist.

    • JayT says:

      One of the problems I have with the political right could be described as a lack of imagination. Take, for example, healthcare. Random Critical Analysis has gone to a huge amount of effort (Tyler Cowen called it book length) to ‘prove’ that US healthcare is normal, efficient, affordable, realistic, as expected, etc. Even if that is true (I don’t believe it, but I don’t have the skills or the focus to try and prove otherwise), it completely ignores the fact that a great number of people don’t believe it is and/or can’t afford insurance. Even if socialist healthcare for all would be less efficient, more expensive, whatever, providing it would make a huge number of people happier. How much is that worth?

      There are many, many people in the US that are receiving better healthcare than the average socialized country provides. You can look at something liek cancer survival rates to see this is true. Is the happiness of those people worthless? I know that my life would be significantly worse if I lived in a socialized healthcare country, because my wife would almost certainly be dead.

    • The Nybbler says:

      One of the problems I have with the political right could be described as a lack of imagination.

      I think conservatives might consider that a feature 🙂

      I don’t understand why, again and again, intelligent rational people, who don’t even necessarily identify as right-wing, spend their efforts justifying the status quo: why billionaires deserve their money, why socialist anything is a bad idea, healthcare, housing, raising the minimum wage, universal basic income.

      Well, let’s consider some basic self interest. I’m sitting here in northern New Jersey. I look to my right, and there’s the estates of Short Hills, the multi-millionaires of Livingston, the wealth of the Gladstone Branch towns. I look to my left, and beyond my immediate area I see the poor, as far as the eye can see, or until I-78, whichever comes first. You start taking from the rich to give to the poor, and which side of the line am I going to be on? I’m pretty sure once you’ve taken down the billionaires and the multi-millionares, nearly all of those poor will still be with us; the millionaires and hundred-thousand-aires will be stripped of what they (we) have in short order.

    • nyc says:

      Even if socialist healthcare for all would be less efficient, more expensive, whatever, providing it would make a huge number of people happier. How much is that worth?

      The question isn’t whether it solves a problem, it’s whether it solves the problem better than alternative proposals.

      The US healthcare system has many flaws, but the only one a socialized system would really address is to ensure that everyone has access. It’s not unreasonable to ask whether there is any less drastic way to achieve that result than to blow up the whole existing system, including the parts that many people like.

      For example, the result of the Affordable Care Act was for millions more people to have health insurance. It did this primarily through subsidies rather than government-operated medical facilities. It didn’t solve the whole problem, but did demonstrate that meaningfully reducing the problem is possible without nationalizing anything.

      The biggest flaw in the US system is that everything costs too much. This is obviously a causal factor in people not being able to afford it. But many of the causes of the high costs are regulatory. Certificate of need laws, non-accreditation of respectable foreign medical schools, requirements for doctors to do things that could reasonably be done by nurses or PAs.

      There are unfunded mandates everywhere. New doctors are required to complete residency but adequate funding isn’t provided, so there aren’t enough slots which artificially limits the supply of new doctors. New drugs are required to undergo clinical trials but the government doesn’t pay for them, which means they’re almost exclusively done for (much more expensive) drugs under patent. New medical devices similarly have major unfunded compliance burdens, which increases costs and limits competition.

      Address issues like these and healthcare becomes more affordable.

  13. thetitaniumdragon says:

    “This week in “you cannot control for confounders and you will make yourself very confused if you try” – is receiving a single suspension in school really so stigmatizing that it causes you to be 20% more likely to go to prison as an adult?”

    I think it’s entirely likely that people who are suspended from school are much more likely to go to prison.

    I don’t think this is because of “stigmatism”; I think it’s because getting suspended from school correlates strongly with bad behavior, which can be or become criminal behavior.

    Moreover, a school with more suspensions may well have more badly behaved students, which could encourage other students to misbehave. Let alone if one school has, say, gang members who get suspended from it, and gang members recruit other students into gangs, so…

    Yeah. I don’t think that there’s any value in these studies at all.

    “Moore’s Law vs. actual transistor count over time: the video. If (as they say) Moore’s Law is really slowing down, it sure doesn’t show up in these data.”

    It does show up. The final processors are 32 core monsters, which are extremely expensive and not used for home computing. Moreover, adding more cores improves parallel processing but isn’t the same thing as improving single-thread performance.

    We can add a ton of additional parallel cores, and in fact, are doing so, but that doesn’t result in the same sort of progression as we had before.

    If you look at this graph here:

    https://www.karlrupp.net/2018/02/42-years-of-microprocessor-trend-data/

    You can see that single thread performance is hardly improving at all anymore, even as the number of transistors continues to climb.

    It’s possible to make more parallel processing units (and in fact, we’ve been doing this for a while) but there’s limits on the sorts of gains you can get from this for many applications.

    ““Death rates increasing among rural whites” has turned into “death rates increasing among all ethnic groups in all environments”.”

    Except last year, life expectancy went up again.

    The cause?

    Fewer drug overdoses. Notably, this is the first time in decades that the number of drug overdoses in a year dropped. The increase in drug OD deaths was a major cause of the “decline” in mortality.

    Sadly, this goes against the narrative that the NYT wants to sell people.

    https://www.marketwatch.com/story/americans-are-living-a-month-longer-as-us-life-expectancy-rises-for-the-first-time-in-four-years-2020-01-30?ns=prod/accounts-mw

    • Deiseach says:

      I think it’s entirely likely that people who are suspended from school are much more likely to go to prison.

      I don’t think this is because of “stigmatism”; I think it’s because getting suspended from school correlates strongly with bad behavior, which can be or become criminal behavior.

      I agree, and it could even be that only being suspended once is the problem because it wasn’t enough to get the kid off the path they were already on, i.e. they were being disruptive and trouble-making and got away with it, so they kept on and increased the seriousness of their rules-breaking until surprise, surprise, they became petty criminals, got caught, and got sent to jail.

      I know it’s anecdotal, but I’ve mentioned this before about one specific kid who was in a programme I worked as clerical support for; he was sly, a rules-breaker and shit-stirrer who was careful to always have plausible deniability/a catspaw to take the fall for him so although you knew the trouble was his fault you couldn’t pin him down on it, and I could tell by how he thought he was so cool and so great that eventually he was going to get the short sharp shock of “pulling that shit with the type of guy who will chiv you instead of read you a lecture on responsibility”, if he didn’t end up in jail first.

      • Don P. says:

        From something I saw, or read, over my entire life, and will never find again, I have a memory of an intelligent vice-principal saying to one of those types, “Funny…whenever there’s trouble, it’s never your fault, but you’re always there.”

  14. Lambert says:

    The other trick for dealing with oil well fires the Reds had was to drill a hole next to the burning oil well and set off a 10 kilotonne warhead at the bottom. The shockwave then collapses the other hole and the fire stops.

      • Protagoras says:

        It would hardly be practical to dig a hole big enough for a 10 kiloton conventional explosive.

        • Lambert says:

          Has anyone even made a kiloton conventional warhead?
          The Wikipedia ‘list of biggest conventional explosions’ doesn’t list anything beyond hundreds of tonnes.

          • Loris says:

            Cursory examination is enough to suggest that it does. Some examples:

            Unintentional:

            Halifax Explosion
            2,653 tonnes of various explosives; 2.9 kilotons of TNT

            Port Chicago disaster
            estimated 4,606 short tons (4,178 t) of high explosive

            Intentional:
            Heligoland “British Bang”
            about 3.2 kilotons of TNT equivalent
            (I suspect this was practically a controlled demolition rather than a single explosion though)

            Ripple Rock, British Columbia, Canada
            1,375 tonnes of Nitramex2H
            (unfortunately there isn’t a TNT equivalent)

            If you’re proposing that the explosive be organised into a discrete purpose-built ‘portable’ package to qualify as a warhead, then I’m sure you’re right.
            I don’t think conditions where that’s likely to be worthwhile come up very often. When you need a bang that big, and nukes arn’t appropriate, it’s got to usually just be much more expedient to fill up an old ship (or mine, or just pile the stuff up in situ) using easily manipulated packages of explosive of some sort.

          • woah77 says:

            @Loris

            I can speak with certainty that bigger stops being better at a certain point, and that the increased “bang” from more kt of explosives is well into diminishing returns long before 10kt. Nukes work the same way, which is why there aren’t a lot of reasons to make 100MT nukes. For the same materials you can cover more area AND have redundancy in case one or more get knocked out/fail to explode.

          • Lambert says:

            Yeah, my memory was an order of magnitude out.

            What I was wondering at the time was the overlap between the largest conventional explosions and nuclear bombs. Nothing so large as early strategic fission bombs but a solid overlap with tactical nukes.

  15. Nikitis says:

    Google has been getting worse for me lately. It used to be that I’d search for something not entirely obscure, and I’d get either a wikipedia link or some other article explaining what it was within the first couple results. I never even had to scroll down to find the relevant information.

    Nowadays, whenever I search for something that is a product, could be interpreted as a product, or has a similar name to a product, the entire first page is full of advertisements and places to buy this thing. I have to go to the second page to find something explaining what that thing actually is.

    It’s gotten to a point where I’m considering switching. I’m not sure if Bing or Yahoo Search (does it even still exist) are any better though.

    • toastengineer says:

      DuckDuckGo is the leading alternative. Firefox silently switched everyone a while back in a “we’ve replaced Jim’s coffee with Folgers, let’s see if he notices…” sort of way, and I’ve never heard anyone complain. Personally I find when I’m searching something super obscure Google gives me better answers but for day-to-day search DDG is fine.

      • Nikitis says:

        Did they? I’ve been using Firefox for a while now, and Google is still the default. I suppose I’ll try BBG and see how it goes.

    • AG says:

      Also, if I put a search term in quotes, they still give me mostly results without that term.

      In general, the trend with user interfaces in the modern era has always been to move towards only serving the lowest common denominator user, and refusing to allow the expert user to operate precisely. I hate it.

      • helloo says:

        You can select Verbatim in the advanced options which helps but it’s annoying that it’s kind of hidden there rather than the default behavior for quoted text.

    • Loriot says:

      I’ve had that problem for a while. I often just add “wiki” to the end of the search to work around that.

  16. Murphy says:

    re: shreds of brains

    Chatted to a neurologist over lunch about something similar. (so not very authorative)

    But his opinion was that it’s not that unusual to see badly damaged brains with lots of missing matter or brains with a giant tumor etc.

    The most common context in which to see them is when the patient comes in after a traffic accident because they’ve had some kind of neuro event while driving.

    the brain is spectacularly good at routing around damage… right up until it can’t any more. So you can have quite highly functional people with a big ole tumor and then they come to the attention of neurologists when they hit the tipping point where their brain can’t compensate any more and they stop being as highly functional.

    People are also good at ignoring things with a slow onset so you might have a kid who scored great on an IQ test, 2 years later a big chunk of his brain is tumor but he only ends up with a neurologist when he has a fit or something and people still think of him as the bright kid he was 2 years ago even if there’s been a slow decline. Ditto for elderly people with degenerative brain disorders, many become very good at covering for their decline… right up until they can’t any more.

  17. Xammer says:

    I think your link disclaimer should also include a statement of the form “As of [today], [n] links have needed a correction.”

  18. Machine Interface says:

    Overall Modi and Erdogan scare me the most of any world leaders, because they show a path by which a democracy can slowly become dictatorial without a clear line where everyone unites and stops it.

    A lot of people seem to subscribe to the narrative that Erdogan turned Turkey into an autocracy, but this is really rewriting the history of pre-Erdogan Turkey as that of a model of liberal democracy, which it was everything but.

    When Atatürk founded modern Turkey, it was as a one party state. It was nominally a republic, with a parliament, but in effect Atatürk controlled everything and the parliament was only there to dutifully enact his desires into law.

    After the death of Atatürk, Turkey began to open to multi-party elections, but the system was only partly free, and parties were regularly banned — Erdogan’s AKP’s accomplishment was to somehow walk the line carefully and manage to have an openly islamist party be considered legal; its direct predecessor, the Virtue Party, had lasted only four years before being banned. And this was of course when the military wasn’t couping the government when it deemed it was going too far and too fast with its reforms.

    Even before Erdogan, Turkey had one of the lowest ratings on freedom of the press in the world, and generally a thin skin attitude toward anyone who is perceived as insulting Atatürk or Republican unity (a Kurdish MP was arrested and went on trial right after swearing oath, because she had the audacity to speak an (innocuous) sentence in Kurdish language at the end of her oath).

    If anything, what is shocking about Erdogan is not his current authoritarian streak — it’s that he had a surprisingly liberal streak at the beginning of his career, sharply contrasting with his predecessors.

    I don’t know the history of India as well, but from what I heard, it never was exactly a model democracy either.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I don’t know the history of India as well, but from what I heard, it never was exactly a model democracy either.

      I was going to make this a top-level comment: if Modi destroyed Indian democracy, when was it born?
      Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister for life. After his death, his daughter Indira served as Prime Minister from January 1966 to March 1977, instituting a “state of emergency” in 1975 where where basic civil liberties were suspended, non-Congress political activists jailed and the press censored. Despite this, she was returned to power in elections considered free and fair in 1980, and upon her assassination power passed directly to her son Rajiv.
      In comparison, the BJP (Party Modi currently leads) is heroes of democracy.

      • pseudonymous says:

        Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister for life in the same way that FDR was President for life.

        And while the Emergency was definitely the nadir of democracy in India, Indira Gandhi did lose the next election (in 1977). She returned to power in 1980 in elections that were, yes, free and fair. (Would be weird if the opposition party managed to rig the elections in their favor, no?)

        • EchoChaos says:

          Americans were so offended by FDR being President for Life that we wrote a Constitutional Amendment forbidding it.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister for life in the same way that FDR was President for life.

          And while the Emergency was definitely the nadir of democracy in India, Indira Gandhi did lose the next election (in 1977). She returned to power in 1980 in elections that were, yes, free and fair.

          I don’t dispute that at all. But you can’t say the Nehru didn’t rig elections when one of them was the incumbent (I don’t know if they did or were always popular fair and square despite the horrible things they did to India), then turn around and say the BJP winning elections is the death of democracy. That’s just mind-killed partisanship by the Indian Left.

          As to the specific claims against Modi, I’m mostly just sick to death of the double standard.

          1) “He actively helped organize deadly anti-Muslim riots”,
          In 2012, Modi was cleared of complicity in the violence by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India. The SIT also rejected claims that the state government had not done enough to prevent the riots.
          Somehow that’s still more evil than Indira Gandhi publicly ordering Sikhs to be attacked in their holiest temple.

          2) “he organizes the intimidation and sometimes murder of journalists who investigate him”
          I haven’t studied the facts behind this claim, but I know I’m sick of the double standard where a person only qualifies as a journalist if they’re a Leftist, creating an asymmetrical superweapon where conservative elected rulers are accused of intimidating and assaulting the Fourth Estate, Guarantor of Democracy while leftists never assault anyone important, they just assault racist misogynists like Andy Ngo.

          3) “… and judges who rule against him,”
          This is by far the worst accusation, if true, since one branch of government shouldn’t eliminate members of another to consolidate power. I can’t think of any examples of Congress governments doing it.

          4) “and that he’s created a climate of intimidation that makes Indians afraid to share negative information about him.”
          Indira Gandhi literally put people in jail as part of her “climate of intimidation”, so this is small potatoes.

          • pseudonymous says:

            I’m not at all a fan of Indira Gandhi, and will happily agree that she was even more of a dictator than Modi. “Second-most dictatorial head-of-state in over 70 years” is hardly an epithet to be proud of, though.

            Also, regarding point 2, I’m not aware of any Andy Ngo type cases in India. (again, except during the Emergency, when even the pretense of democracy was dropped), and I’m skeptical they exist. While the Indian left might have been in power for most of the last 70 years, cultural power—in particular, the ability to cause public outrages and moral panics—has almost always resided with the right.

    • SEE says:

      Erdogan’s AKP’s accomplishment was to somehow walk the line carefully and manage to have an openly islamist party be considered legal

      You over-credit Erdogan. What happened was that the idiots running the EU were actively pressuring Turkey to be democratic, dangling the carrot of membership if they did so. Since the secularists were hoping EU membership would anchor Turkey’s secularism, they accordingly did things like revoke Erdogan’s ban on participating in politics. Then when the usual trial to ban an Islamist party happened in 2008, the EU told them that if they went through with it, they wouldn’t become a member. And so Erdogan and the AKP got the breathing room to win and consolidate power.

      Thus the EU managed to convert a friendly secular state on its southwest border into an increasingly-hostile Islamist state.

      • Machine Interface says:

        Fair enough on most points, but describing pre-Erdogan Turkey as “EU friendly” is a bit generous. Erdogan wasn’t in power when Cyprus was invaded, or when numerous “incidents” with Greece over territorially disputed areas occured.

  19. vaticidalprophet says:

    I’m not sure parts of the argument Gwern is making in the hydrocephalus article quite check out. He notes that many cases of hydrocephalus are moderately to severely disabling — very true. He focuses a lot on the argument that some cases are less so to not disabling at all, and argues about that, but takes strange detours into a weakman (strawman? I’ve read what he has — I know I read both Forsdyke and Ferris in the past month — and I’ve never seen it proposed) that hydrocephalus might increase intelligence via suppressing…the useless parts of the brain or something. As far as I can tell, the full grounds for dedicating a huge chunk of his piece to this argument is that it’s the most outre possible reading of something a sci-fi writer said once, of which a more plausible reading would probably be closer to the pro side of the “can [common form of neurodivergence, usually autism] have beneficial traits or abilities the population-at-large lacks” debate.

    • gwern says:

      Well, you could call them ‘strawmen’ but I would point out that these claims like “hydrocephalus and above-average IQ is evidence for psi” are things that there are people out there who believe. (In fact, that’s why I wrote it: someone on a private mailing list brought up hydrocephalus as evidence for psi, and I was annoyed enough when revisiting my notes to see that Watts had never gotten around to correcting his blog post after I emailed him and this idea was still floating around that I wrote it up. I shouldn’t’ve, because this is such a dumb topic and not something that really needed criticism, but…)

      There are a couple of different theses there. You have Lorber, who went around claiming that in particular subsets of hydrocephalics, half of them have greater than average IQ, likes to cite a math graduate, and asks “is your brain really necessary?” Did he believe Watts’s suggestion? He doesn’t explicitly state it in the materials I’ve found, but given his choice of statistics and anecdotes, he sure seems like he believes something in that vicinity… I don’t know if Lorber was a closet dualist or what; maybe his paper, which I couldn’t find, or the TV stuff give some hints as to what Lorber was aiming at beyond just a narrow point about whether surgical shunts are a good idea.

      Forsdyke retails Lorber’s claims and strongly endorses them, but, amusingly, he does a modus ponens/tollens with Watts: because the brain can support normal and above-average amounts of intelligence with reduced brain matter, then that means not that super-intelligence is possible by increasing the amount of brain matter (Watts, and maybe Lorber?), but that the matter doesn’t matter and so this is evidence for psi/dualism. He’s extremely clear about that, so you definitely can’t accuse me of strawmanning him.

      (Ferris et al aren’t involved in these more bizarre speculations, so I don’t really disagree with them, just on what they describe as ‘necessary’, and I think when you look at what they are summarizing, they provide good evidence against the Lorber/Forsdyke/Watts theses.)

      Obviously, I don’t buy whatever Lorber was hinting at or psi/dualism or super-intelligence, but they all start from the same rotten premises, so they all fall simultaneously.

      of which a more plausible reading would probably be closer to the pro side of the “can [common form of neurodivergence, usually autism] have beneficial traits or abilities the population-at-large lacks” debate.

      There don’t seem to be even idiot-savant-style narrow gains to anything from hydrocephalus.

      • vaticidalprophet says:

        Hey Gwern, thanks for replying. I was getting pretty frustrated with everyone yelling about communism up there and ignoring the interesting links.

        Well, you could call them ‘strawmen’ but I would point out that these claims like “hydrocephalus and above-average IQ is evidence for psi” are things that there are people out there who believe.

        […]

        Forsdyke retails Lorber’s claims and strongly endorses them, but, amusingly, he does a modus ponens/tollens with Watts: because the brain can support normal and above-average amounts of intelligence with reduced brain matter, then that means not that super-intelligence is possible by increasing the amount of brain matter (Watts, and maybe Lorber?), but that the matter doesn’t matter and so this is evidence for psi/dualism. He’s extremely clear about that, so you definitely can’t accuse me of strawmanning him.

        On this note, I think the issue is that your lack of sympathy for substance dualism (this is not to imply I support substance dualism, rather that I take substance dualists as being People Who Have Reasons To Believe The Things They Believe and explore why those beliefs are held in their own words) is clouding your reading of those two things. I wouldn’t think, at all, to link “high-functioning hydrocephaly cases lend support to substance dualism” and “high-functioning hydrocephaly means, in presumably a physicalist framework, that you can increase intelligence by playing around with brain matter” — most notably because one is a dualist position and the other isn’t — and I think you and the papers in question provide much more evidence for a meaningful contingent of people taking the former stance than the latter, which means I’m uncertain why your article generally emphasizes the latter except for it being an obviously terrible argument.

        There don’t seem to be even idiot-savant-style narrow gains to anything from hydrocephalus.

        Agreed, though savant syndrome is only the most common/obvious argument made in these cases. I’m not endorsing the argument that hydrocephalus can improve cognition, just noting it’s plausibly a narrower argument than the one you first interpreted it as being.

      • Garrett says:

        particular subsets of hydrocephalics, half of them have greater than average IQ

        I’m not getting into all of the research here. But I will note that hydrocephalus may be developed early in life (where you end up with minimal brain), or it may be developed later in life, well after adulthood and normal brain development has occurred.

        For those who are adults, the signs and symptoms of hydrocephally become obvious and severe. Fortunately this can be addressed via a shunt to address the pressure and many of these people go on to live normal lives. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that success rate for shunt placement here is unrelated to IQ. Thus “hydrocephally doesn’t harm IQ” might be true in this group.

        Unfortunately, confounding congenital vs. acquired hydrocephally would make the data more muddled rather than elucidating.

  20. pacificverse says:

    Considering reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, Western media reporting is often quite inaccurate, and heavily narrative-influenced. Given the highly partisan (sectarian, even) sources cited in the New Yorker article, I would not believe a single word of it. Media narrative framing can spin stories not 45 degrees, not 90 degrees, but 180 degrees from what different interest groups on the ground perceive is happening.

    If one cares about objectivity, international reporting simply cannot be relied on to form robust opinions on international events. While, unfortunately, media reporting is often the best “reliable” information source available (videos can be cut and re-cut for tone and content, BTW), there is no good solution to limitations on information clarity in situations like this. I offer no solutions either other than ground truth without a guide (hah! like that’ll work…), and can only decry the problem. Sorry.

    Modi’s probably a fascist, sure, but I’m also sure there’s waaay more to the whole mess than the article is letting on.

    • phalanadhimka says:

      Thank you for saying this. We may not agree on this or any topic, but I appreciate your healthy skepticism, which evaded even a giant like Scott.

      In the particular case at hand, Scott simply chooses to assume that Rana Ayyub’s allegations concerning the 2002 riots are honest/fact checked. Within India there are tonnes of people who hate Modi to their very bones (full disclosure: I am not one of them), many of whom consider Ayyub to be truther-type crazy.

      Western reporting on India has certainly made me update my priors on what China is doing in Xinjiang or what is going on with the Rohingyas in Myanmar etc. And sobering realization on human rights for non-Western non-Muslims.

      • pacificverse says:

        Pretty much. Once you’ve seen CNN reporting on something back home once, you’ll start having a hard time believing CNN or large chunks of International reporting ever again.

        Ever again.

        I’ve heard people (mostly Serbs and E. Europeans) say they screwed up Serbia very badly. It’s not a west-specific problem, it’s just that issues tend to be complicated, and simple stories that fit perception are easy to put on TV.

        • Spookykou says:

          I would not be confident that my personal experience, in as much as it differed from the CNN account, would be the more accurate of the two. I live in a city with (depending on how you count) over 20 million people, and I know about 12 of them.

          • Humbert McHumbert says:

            Agreed. “I live here, so I know the reality on the ground” is essentially another version of “My lived experience trumps all else.” Everyone in Ferguson “knew” Michael Brown had his hands up when he was shot.

          • phalanadhimka says:

            I would not be confident that my personal experience, in as much as it differed from the CNN account, would be the more accurate of the two.

            That was never the claim to begin with. More like, “I can see a huge difference between the complexity/nuance levels of arguments I would routinely come across in from people in a geographical region that had greater stakes in the events that unfolded, versus the media of a distant country with no stakes discussing the same thing”.

            Or, did you somehow interpret my comment to mean “I am an Indian so listen to me?”

          • Humbert McHumbert says:

            That was never the claim to begin with. More like, “I can see a huge difference between the complexity/nuance levels of arguments I would routinely come across in from people in a geographical region that had greater stakes in the events that unfolded, versus the media of a distant country with no stakes discussing the same thing”.

            Sure, but then it’s an open question whether the complexity and nuance of the local arguments reflects a situation with real shades of gray, as opposed to people looking at a black-and-white situation and making excuses. I’m sure certain groups of Cambodians in the 70s had a more nuanced view of the Khmer Rouge than outsiders, but if so, that was just them fooling themselves.

          • phalanadhimka says:

            Sure, but then it’s an open question whether the complexity…reflects a situation with real shades of gray, as opposed to people looking at a black-and-white situation and making excuses.

            Indeed, the point was entirely to treat the whole thing with more open-endedness and less certainty.

          • Spookykou says:

            I was not replying to your comment.

            If you think that more complicated answers to questions are inherently more accurate than less complicated answers to questions, I disagree.

            Edit: you posted while I was writing this, I see a pretty massive gulf between,

            treat the whole thing with more open-endedness and less certainty.

            and the comment I was actually replying to,

            Once you’ve seen CNN reporting on something back home once, you’ll start having a hard time believing CNN or large chunks of International reporting ever again.

            Ever again.

        • Once you’ve seen CNN reporting on something back home once, you’ll start having a hard time believing CNN or large chunks of International reporting ever again.

          It isn’t limited to international reporting. Once you have seen news stories on something you were a part of, you are likely to sharply reduce your trust in news stories about things of which you know nothing.

          The fundamental bias is to tell a good story, one people will want to read.

          • Lambert says:

            Gell-mann amnesia, they call it.

          • rumham says:

            @Lambert

            The opposite.

            Once you have seen news stories on something you were a part of, you are likely to sharply reduce your trust in news stories about things of which you know nothing.

            After reading some of his stuff, I for one am not surprised that David Friedman is immune to Gell-Mann amnesia.

  21. Murphy says:

    would you rather be happily married with an average income, or single but a billionaire?

    it seems to be framing it as an explicitly unhappy billionaire.

    A Japanese billionaire is looking for girlfriend to accompany him on a trip to space after breaking up with his partner. Yusaku Maezawa said “feelings of loneliness and emptiness slowly begin to surge on me”. Would you rather be a single billionaire, or in a couple but on a moderate income?

    I read it as people valuing happiness. People want to be a billionaire for the sake of the power to make themselves happy.

    offering them the choice of (unhappiness & billionaire) and (happiness but not billionaire) isn’t quite the same as asking the value of being happily married.

    framing it as a happy single billionare would be quite different.

    • zima says:

      Agreed, that poll has a very misleading framing. I think a better poll would be to ask regular single people or I happily married people, if you could have a billion dollars or a happy marriage, which would you choose? Or ask happily married people, if you could get a billion dollars for permanently separating from your spouse, which would you choose?

      This would be trickier. If I were choosing between a perfect marriage and a billion dollars, I’d probably go for the perfect marriage, but compared to a merely happy marriage, I’d probably take the billion bucks (I’m sure you could attract a lot of partners with that).

  22. pacificverse says:

    The jet-engine fire engine was used to decontaminate Soviet tanks after nuclear or chemical attack; some claims exist that it had a secondary role as a nerve gas projector (~maybe).

    • Machine Interface says:

      some claims exist that it had a secondary role as a nerve gas projector (~maybe)

      Ah yes, what country wouldn’t want to be able to release their entire stockpile of nerve gas on a single location in 0.5 seconds~

  23. zima says:

    Re: cultural capital. What does cultural capital mean in concrete terms? Economic capital is universal (i.e. everyone acknowledges what a dollar can do) so it makes sense to say more economic capital = more influence. But cultural capital is very specific to individual people. Some individuals might be influenced by an opera singer but not a NASCAR driver, some reversed, some may be influenced by both, and some by neither. So it does not seem sensible to say that opera conveys more “cultural capital” than NASCAR. You could say that celebrities have more cultural influence than ordinary people, but I think that would line up poorly with political preferences because presumably celebrities in activities enjoyed by folks on the right would lean right themselves too.

    Re: YouGov poll. I agree that coupling is more important to happiness than money, but whereas we have a good idea of policies that affect the economy, it’s really unclear what policy can do to promote happy coupling beyond removing active barriers to it (such as anti-miscegenation and anti-sodomy laws, most of which are already gone except in the case of cross-national couples). Subsidies to build new dating apps? Encourage immigration of charming and attractive single people?

    • Tenacious D says:

      My intuition about cultural capital is that it’s about how many people will listen to you. That can be in society at large or more narrowly defined. For example, a pastor of a medium-sized church has low economic capital but high cultural capital in that specific community. Actors in blockbuster movies have high cultural capital in a wider sense. Although it is probably diminishing when you consider the declining viewership of the Oscars. The fractured media landscape has made the cultural capital of most journalists and columnists more narrowly constrained as well.
      I think part of the reason Twitter and Instagram are so appealing to certain personality types is that they roughly quantify cultural capital.

    • unreliabletags says:

      Social capital usually refers to the soft skills that gate access to economic capital. Think about an investment banker’s job: to be a bridge between those looking to buy companies and those looking to sell them. Sure you need to know about finance and accounting, but more fundamentally you need to get along with, be trusted and accepted by, certain classes of people.

      NASCAR might be cultural capital if you’re looking to be a supplier to certain kinds of business owners. But it’s not typically what people mean when they use it without qualification.

      • Don P. says:

        I’ve heard it described as not just having the scores/grades to get into college, but knowing how to apply, and where, and the unwritten customs pertaining to it. And the same with applying for jobs.

  24. GearRatio says:

    YouGov poll – would you rather be happily married with an average income, or single but a billionaire? 23% chose the billionaire, 60% the happy marriage. If we take these results seriously, how does that change what we focus on in terms of policy and society?

    Something to consider: The average household income is a very significant raise for a lot of people. I’ve been around people who felt like they were doing very well because they were in a temporary job that paid $18 an hour; telling them “Would you like to have a happy marriage, guaranteed, and make nearly twice what you already consider to be a high wage” sounds a lot different to them than “do you want to take a slight-to-significant-to-massive pay-cut” which is probably what the average reader of this blog hears.

    I feel quite rich at $48k, but that’s because I made $34k last year. Hearing “Would you like everything you have now, plus insurance, plus another ~$500 a month to play around with, and a guarantee you preserve your already good marriage?” sounds super appealing to me. Not that this makes the results say nothing at all, but it’s definitely a different question to people who are at-or-below-average income levels than people above them.

  25. CandidoRondon says:

    I checked out the Yale veteran’s twitter, which he links to at the bottom of the medium article. He seems to be a staunch Bernie Samders supporter so it doesn’t particularly surprise me that someone who supports the most far-left major politician in America wouldn’t have a tough time at Yale.

    What’s missing from the essay is any mention of a time when he disagreed with his fellow students- I don’t think anyone argues that “snowflakes” & “SJW” aren’t well-mannered if you agree with them, it’s when you disagree that you have a problem.

    • eric23 says:

      Another perspective:

      I’m sure that *most* students in a liberal arts university are not snowflakes. But some are, and the administration coddles them, and sets up weird rules to force everyone else to coddle them, at the expense of things like free speech and debate.

    • Matt M says:

      Even aside from that, I think there’s a sort of “outgroup vs fargroup” dynamic in play here, or maybe even “notably conspicuous member of the outgroup vs regular member of the outgroup” dynamic in play.

      I’m not surprised that most liberal college students would behave respectably towards a 50 year old retired Navy SEAL. He’s so conspicuously different from them that they almost have to at least pretend to respect or value his “diverse life experience” or what have you. And he has accomplished some things in life (presumably) that they might respect. And they know he could probably take them down in a fight, if it came to that.

      The type of person who I think is maximally at risk for ostracism/bullying on a Yale campus isn’t someone who is radically different from the average student… it’s someone who is basically the exact same as the average student except for the fact that they hold right-wing beliefs. It’s the heretic, not the infidel. It’s someone who isn’t particularly conspicuously different… someone you can bully and nobody will even notice (or care).

      • Aapje says:

        Token black guy navy seal?

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        I think it’s easy to forget that just age can count for a lot – especially when your context is people who are only just making the transition between “grown-ups tell me what to do” and “adults are my peers”.

        For various reasons, my uncle wasn’t conscripted (back when every man had to serve in the army) until he was something like 28, I guess. Short of it was, he was older than everyone except the company CO – ten years older in most cases.

        Now, the Polish mandatory service was anything but a benign, respectful environment. Hazing was expected and often quite brutal. My uncle didn’t get any of that.

    • hnau says:

      The other thing that struck me about the article was that the students the veteran had positive interactions with were all first-semester freshmen. I speak from recent firsthand experience when I say that this population represents starry-eyed-overachieving-high-schooler culture rather than Ivy-League culture. The first few semesters at an elite college are very heavy on assimilation, mostly via social pressure. Within a couple of years these same students will move from optimistic / diverse / humble / curious / open-minded to cynical / cosmopolitan / elitist / careerist / woke.

  26. VolumeWarrior says:

    re: the ROS theory of obesity

    His list of examples about high carb (China) and high fat/refined sugar (France) diets work are thought provoking. But rather than invoke some complicated logic about reactive oxygen species, a much simpler conclusion is that diet doesn’t matter at all. If you investigate specific health claims around sugar, vegetable consumption, macro composition, etc in RCTs, typically effect sizes are small to nonexistent. Epidemiological correlations with certain food groups and eating patterns are almost certainly confounded with… basically everything.

    I personally don’t know what causes obesity or poor health. It probably comes down to activity. In our current environment a skinny and obese person have one big thing in common – they both have historically very low levels of energy output and work capacity. Current dietary guidelines want you to load up on low-calorie and difficult to digest foods like veggies and low-fat protein sources, I guess the logic being that if you’re low-energy you have to make yourself bloated to stop from overeating. Being bloated is a constant, constant, constant theme of health conscious dieters, whose solution to bloating is to double-down on eating organic or restricting dairy and grains. In practice they just wind up weak and are lucky if they’re even able to stay skinny.

    This is offensive to my personal aesthetic, as you wind up with a twice-broken human. Broken first for going through life with low energy. Broken second for brutalizing your digestive system to try and stay lean. Ideally you would do the opposite – move more and eat more. It’s just emotionally difficult for people to accept, because it’s so much easier to control and restrict diet than it is to get your energy output from 2500 cals/d to 4000+ cals/d. And no, it’s not about getting on the treadmill 2 hours a day. 4000+ cals/d isn’t the “same version of you just doing more cardio”, it’s a completely different person. Insanely stronger, more stamina/resilience, etc, and takes years to build.

    The dietary zeitgeist will fixate on broccoli and brussel sprouts ad nauseam and just kind of handwave any discussion around historically normal levels of energy output. Elephant in the room, imo.

    • brec says:

      Current dietary guidelines want you to load up on low-calorie and difficult to digest foods like veggies and low-fat protein sources, …

      I think that zeitgeist is aimed at those eating a lot of burgers and fries, and the advice is to eat (a lot) more veggies and fruits. But those (few) of us on a plant-based whole foods diet get the great majority of our calories from starches such as potatoes, whole grains, and legumes. Yes, a lot of fruits and veggies too, but not primarily for energy.

    • Adrian says:

      It’s just emotionally difficult for people to accept, because it’s so much easier to control and restrict diet than it is to get your energy output from 2500 cals/d to 4000+ cals/d. And no, it’s not about getting on the treadmill 2 hours a day. 4000+ cals/d isn’t the “same version of you just doing more cardio”, it’s a completely different person. Insanely stronger, more stamina/resilience, etc, and takes years to build.

      I have full-time desk job (thankfully no commute), a wife, two very young kids, and a household. I’m glad for every night I get at least a somewhat sufficient amount of sleep. Where the hell am I supposed to take the time to burn an additional 1500 kcal per day?! That’s completely infeasible. Instead, I restrict my food intake; nothing drastic, I just stop eating before I feel completely stuffed, and that actually works.

    • HarmlessFrog says:

      His list of examples about high carb (China) and high fat/refined sugar (France) diets work are thought provoking. But rather than invoke some complicated logic about reactive oxygen species, a much simpler conclusion is that diet doesn’t matter at all. If you investigate specific health claims around sugar, vegetable consumption, macro composition, etc in RCTs, typically effect sizes are small to nonexistent. Epidemiological correlations with certain food groups and eating patterns are almost certainly confounded with… basically everything.

      That conclusion may be simple, but it’s wrong.

      There are multiple factors at work here, and focusing on just one aspect will yield unimpressive results. The major problem with the modern diet is that it’s incrementally designed, via the market system, to promote – well – consumption. Do you doubt for a second that food manufacturers have entire departments devoted to figuring out how to get you to eat a second package of their product? This is how they earn money. It would be boneheadedly stupid of them not to research food palatability and make use of it.

      France isn’t immune to this, either. They may have a strong food culture, but their obesity rates are rising like everyone else’s. More industrially produced, designed-for-profit food – more obesity.

      I personally don’t know what causes obesity or poor health.

      The proximate cause is overeating. And the ultimate cause is the food environment, ie. what we have the option to eat.

      Current dietary guidelines want you to load up on low-calorie and difficult to digest foods like veggies and low-fat protein sources, I guess the logic being that if you’re low-energy you have to make yourself bloated to stop from overeating. Being bloated is a constant, constant, constant theme of health conscious dieters, whose solution to bloating is to double-down on eating organic or restricting dairy and grains.

      I sympathize. But fortunately, vegetables are optional. You don’t have to eat any to get lean and stay lean. While eating indigestible plant structure is an aid in weight loss, there are numerous other interventions that you can combine to limit hyperphagia. Like doubling your protein intake. Or going very low-carb. Or going very low-fat. Or getting rid of anything with more than a single ingredient from the diet. Or reducing meal frequency.

      • Lambert says:

        > via the market system

        Via corn subsidies and commissioning the gov’t to produce propaganda like the food pyramid (the old one).

        • HarmlessFrog says:

          That certainly helps, but it would still work without these. Hell, these days the official line is that processed food is bad for you, and that you should be consuming enormous amounts of vegetables and fruits, and this hasn’t stopped the obesity progression.

          Also, AFAIK, the industry had a really big influence on the old food pyramid. So it’s not like the government did it on its own.

  27. viVI_IViv says:

    California recently passed a law saying that all corporate boards need to be gender-balanced.

    Can’t the companies create BS positions like “chief gender officer” or something without any real responsibilities just for compliance sake?

    • Deiseach says:

      Yeah, if it’s “Quick, we have to find ten women to put on the board before this deadline, any ten will do” then you’re not going to get the same fit as having time to choose who you need.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        But why does it matter? If I understand correctly, the number of board director isn’t fixed and they don’t have to be paid the same, so if before the law they had 10 male directors, after the law they can just add 10 token female directors with no real powers and pay them peanuts.

        Or 5 male board directors could just start self-identifying as women.

        • baconbits9 says:

          The answer is that either it doesn’t matter and its just a waste of time and resources, or that it does matter and California will be policing these policies which will cause serious issues.

        • 10240 says:

          The law doesn’t actually require balanced boards, only at least 1 woman from this year, and at least 2 or 3 (depending on the size of the board) from 2021.

          And it’s probably going to be struck down as unconstitutional anyway. There are companies suing, and the SCOTUS doesn’t like explicit quotas.

  28. Deiseach says:

    Didn’t we already have one blockchain dating site, and what ever happened to that? 🙂

    Also, their site is making me go “Oh, no” the further down I scroll. No idea why they chose their name, but what is making me twitch is (a) the mocked-up profile of the guy they’re using as an example (no, you do not look like a digital marketing manager, you look like what you are – model/aspiring actor doing these kind of bread-and-butter photoshoots) (b) the name of the foundress/CEO triggers my “if you have to spell your name weird, I’m not going to trust you” reflex: Adryenn, I’m sorry to be biased for such a foolish reason, but I don’t think you colour inside the lines.

    EDIT: Oh eff me, I’m reading the whitepaper and this sounds like Elizabeth Holmes all over again:

    Adryenn Ashley, CEO and Founder – As a serial entrepreneur and sought after startup advisor, Adryenn has cracked the code on industries as diverse as travel, telemedicine, finance,
    entertainment, technology, and dating. She was recently named as one of the Top 45 over 45.
    Using her prowess as a high tech priestess who used to break into banks for a living, along with
    her former stints building AI testing harnesses in 2000 and neurolinked game controllers in the
    early 1990’s, she’s now pioneering the first augmented reality blockchain dating app. As one of
    the top entrepreneurs in the social media space, Adryenn has been at the forefront of the
    #SocialTV, speaking at NABShow and around the world. Her award winning background as a
    filmmaker combined with her experience at Fair, Isaac in behavioral statistics and social media
    influence make her the perfect person to launch and run this disruptive platform.

    “Serial entrepreneur” = “founded a lot of small businesses that crashed and burned”. “High tech priestess” = “script kiddie hacker”. “Break into banks for a living” = “criminal, and if you did it with a stocking mask and a gun you’d be in jail not touting your dubious wares online”. And anyone describing themselves as any kind of “Something priestess” needs to be avoided like the plague coronavirus because no I am not interested in hearing about your fourteen furbabies cats.

    Oh eff me, part deux:

    Shelby Hagensmith, Chief of Staff – The ultimate party host, a social influencer, and an Emmy nominated TV host, Shelby will travel the country hosting launch parties city by city and
    televising the fun via our social channels.

    So at least a chunk of the dough the suckers pump into this will be blown on hookers’n’coke, or Party Fun Girl Has Party Fun Times At Your Expense promoting this disaster. But hey, a load of regional TV channel directors will have a great time at the local strip club for the ‘launch parties’!

    By contrast, the boring business suit types sound sane, giving only “name, qualifications, worked in this place” in the potted bios, and I feel sorry for them when this thing inevitably goes tits-up.

    I should probably be biting my tongue more, one of the people involved is a neighbour of this site 😀

    [REDACTED] currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her love and their new baby boy.

    Well of course at least one of the people in this would be living in the Bay Area.

    The thing looks like it’ll be a raging disaster but they’ll burn through a lot of venture capital money before it all goes up in flames, so let them at it!

    RE: the nuclear waste site warnings for potential future generations, I have always thought they were very poorly designed for the simple reason they make it sound like “Wow, if they’re going to such lengths to scare people away, there must be some really good stuff here!” and also we have historical evidence of how well (not) such warnings worked – did curses stop tomb robbers from violating the tombs of the pharaohs? would a modern-day archaelogist be dissuaded from a dig by finding a clay tablet stating “no good can come of disturbing this site, it is too dangerous, leave it be or the spirits of evil will find you”?

    23% chose the billionaire, 60% the happy marriage.

    I’m already single all my life, never wanted any kind of a marriage, and now you’re offering to pay me a billion quid for what I’m already doing for free? Gimme! (Okay, if I have to take the billionaire like, say, Mike Bloomberg along with it no dice, but if he will do me the favour of dropping dead the minute after the marriage register has been signed, I’m up for it).

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Didn’t we already have one blockchain dating site, and what ever happened to that? 🙂

      Apparently it went down in flames not long after an epic battle between an enlightened Scottish Gurkha warrior-priest and a certain brave Irish shield maiden. 🙂

    • g says:

      I took “break into banks” to mean legal penetration-testing: bank hires you, says “here, try to break our security”, and pays you for a report that either tells them how to improve or gives them some plausible deniability if you didn’t find anything and someone later hacks them more effectively than you did. I don’t think she would be admitting to actual bank robbery quite so openly.

      • Deiseach says:

        That is probably the boring, staid but true “paid to test security measures” rather than the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo style hacker group mystique she’s trying to cloak herself in.

        “High Tech Priestess” still brings me out in hives, though >:(

      • Aftagley says:

        Did some research:

        According to our high tech priestess’ linkedin, she spent from Feb 2000 to Oct 2001 working as a quality assurance tech with two companies that designed software used to pen test online banking systems. Looking around, it she claims to have helped use this tech on at least CalFed and AmEx.

        All in all, it looks like you should downgrade your assessment from “paid to test security measures” to “paid to test the code of other people who were paid to test security measures for 18 months.”

        Unrelated, but hilarious quote from her Linkedin page:

        There is simply no substitute for influencer Adryenn Ashley. Her ability to assemble a winning team is straight out of a Tolkien novel

        So, she ends up picking a bunch of short people?

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          So, she ends up picking a bunch of short people?

          No, it’s actually worse.

          Let’s not forget that the Fellowship of the Ring was assembled mostly along political lines (Boromir represents Gondor – the major political opponent of Mordor in the area; Legolas and Gimli represent elves and dwarves respectively, so are essentially token representatives of minor powers) and partly by “bah, whatever” (Merry and Pippin; Sam too, to an extent).

          Worse still, the team is anything but a winning one. Boromir attempts to steal the Ring, Merry and Pippin get captured by orcs, forcing Aragorn to let Frodo run off on his own with Sam, Gandalf gets killed and requires a literal Act of God to get back in the running (that one, at least, is more of a “shit happens”) and the Ringbearer actively refuses to do what he was chosen for when the time comes.

          It is only by sheer luck/fate that the Fellowship manages to succeed. I seriously doubt Ms Ashley has been chosen by fate or divinity, so that sounds very much like an anti-recommendation.

          (Aside: the Hobbit isn’t any better. The dwarves mostly end up needing either Gandalf or Bilbo to save their bacon; Smaug is killed by someone else entirely – albeit with the help of some handy intel from Bilbo; and the party only barely avoids a major fight with human and elven armies just as they’re about to get assaulted by the goblin one.)

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Let’s not forget that the Fellowship of the Ring was assembled mostly along political lines (Boromir represents Gondor – the major political opponent of Mordor in the area; Legolas and Gimli represent elves and dwarves respectively, so are essentially token representatives of minor powers) and partly by “bah, whatever” (Merry and Pippin; Sam too, to an extent).

            David Brin once wrote an article making a case in defense of Sauron’s side. In it, he mentions that the forces of Mordor were even more diverse than those of the Fellowship – they had every humanoid race the Fellowship did, plus orcs, trolls, and even Easterner humans.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Perhaps her team consisted of a tame dragon and twelve likely lads.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          So, she ends up picking a bunch of short people?

          No women, no dark-skinned minorities, two gays but only if they stay in the closet.

        • rumham says:

          So, she ends up picking a bunch of short people?

          I laughed at that hard enough to get spittle on my keyboard.

        • Deiseach says:

          Her ability to assemble a winning team is straight out of a Tolkien novel

          Errrr – so if you’re on her team, you should expect a reasonable chance of ending up dying pincushioned with arrows, being kidnapped and tortured, being captured and tortured even worse and ending up with such severe PTSD that you have to leave the world? One in nine chance of becoming King of the United Realms and living gloriously to an extended old age?

          Or if we go with The Hobbit, dying gloriously but tragically in battle along with your two nephews? So three in thirteen chance of death?

          I love Tolkien, but being one of the Dwarven Company or the Nine Walkers when Gandalf is doing the choosing does not automatically mean a happy ending, and I don’t think Adryenn is anything like Gandalf, high priestess or no!

          • LHN says:

            I suppose if you’re hiring, you care more about whether the mission is accomplished than the individual fates of the team, which Gandalf’s selection process has an excellent record with.

            (As long as you can’t be held liable, and I’m pretty sure acts of war and the subcontractor hired without your knowledge biting a team member’s finger off aren’t things you’re reasonably responsible for.)

          • Matt M says:

            I suppose if you’re hiring, you care more about whether the mission is accomplished than the individual fates of the team, which Gandalf’s selection process has an excellent record with.

            As an added bonus, if the entirety of your team ends up either dead, re-locating to some far away mystical land, or king/mayor of a large province, you presumably save a bundle on pension and/or health care costs!

          • Statismagician says:

            It’s even better than that, because you never offered them pensions or health care in the first place; the team is a mix of interns looking for a Meaningful Work and professionals lured in with promises of equity.

          • LHN says:

            Certainly true in the case of Bilbo’s contract, which was cash on delivery, and/or funeral expenses “if the matter is not otherwise provided for”.

            And even if there might be a question of inheritance, it would have required the Sackville-Bagginses to a) be aware of the issue, and b) have the wherewithal to either sue in the courts of Erebor, or else compel Dain or a representative’s appearance in Michel Delving.

            (I suppose if the Dwarves are still engaging in commerce along the East road with the Blue Mountains there might be some means of at least serving process.)

          • Deiseach says:

            I honestly don’t know if Gandalf’s recruitment of Bilbo can be considered ethical, let alone in compliance with any or all HR regulations: he forges the “Burglar for Hire” sigil on Bilbo’s door without his knowledge or consent; threatens/deceives Thorin into bringing Bilbo along on the quest, then disappears halfway through and leaves them all stumbling in the dark:

            From The Hobbit:

            “…I have no signs on my door — it was painted a week ago —, and I am quite sure you have come to the wrong house.

            …“Yes, yes, but that was long ago,” said Gloin. “I was talking about you. And I assure you there is a mark on this door — the usual one in the trade, or used to be. Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward, that’s how it is usually read. You can say Expert Treasure-hunter instead of Burglar if you like. Some of them do. It’s all the same to us. Gandalf told us that there was a man of the sort in these parts looking for a Job at once, and that he had arranged for a meeting here this Wednesday tea-time.”

            “Of course there is a mark,” said Gandalf. “I put it there myself. For very good reasons. You asked me to find the fourteenth man for your expedition, and I chose Mr. Baggins. Just let any one say I chose the wrong man or the wrong house, and you can stop at thirteen and have all the bad luck you like, or go back to digging coal.”

            He scowled so angrily at Gloin that the dwarf huddled back in his chair; and when Bilbo tried to open his mouth to ask a question, he turned and frowned at him and stuck out his bushy eyebrows, till Bilbo shut his mouth tight with a snap. “That’s right,” said Gandalf. “Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr. Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet.”

            From Unfinished Tales:

            “(W)e actually passed through the Shire, though Thorin would not stop long enough for that to be useful. Indeed I think it was annoyance with his haughty disregard of the Hobbits that first put into my head the idea of entangling him with them. As far as he was concerned they were just food-growers who happened to work the fields on either side of the Dwarves’ ancestral road to the Mountains.”

            …’Ah! I see your drift at last,’ said Balin. ‘He is a thief, then? That is why you recommend him?’

            “At that I fear I lost my temper and my caution. This Dwarvish conceit that no one can have or make anything ‘of value’ save themselves, and that all fine things in other hands must have been got, if not stolen, from the Dwarves at some time, was more than I could stand at that moment. ‘A thief?’ I said, laughing. ‘Why yes, a professional thief, of course! How else would a Hobbit come by a silver spoon? I will put the thief’s mark on his door, and then you will find it.’ Then being angry I got up, and I said with a warmth that surprised myself: ‘You must look for that door, Thorin Oakenshield! I am serious.’ And suddenly I felt that I was indeed in hot earnest. This queer notion of mine was not a joke, it was right. It was desperately important that it should be carried out. The Dwarves must bend their stiff necks.

            ‘Listen to me, Durin’s Folk!’ I cried. ‘If you persuade this Hobbit to join you, you will succeed. If you do not, you will fail. If you refuse even to try, then I have finished with you. You will get no more advice or help from me until the Shadow falls on you!’

            Sure, he turns up at the end to take the credit for the successful conclusion of the whole affair but – actually, that’s probably the most relatable boss-like thing here 🙂

            I also like this bit from Thorin in the “Unfinished Tales” excerpt as a description of Gandalf’s management style:

            ‘You are both vague and disquieting,’ said Thorin. ‘Speak more plainly!’

          • Deiseach says:

            And even if there might be a question of inheritance, it would have required the Sackville-Bagginses to a) be aware of the issue, and b) have the wherewithal to either sue in the courts of Erebor, or else compel Dain or a representative’s appearance in Michel Delving.

            Even messier because the Sackville-Baggins would have to establish they were Bilbo’s closest relatives, and although Othos Sackville-Baggins was Bilbo’s first cousin, a lot of the Sackville-Baggins’ claims were also founded on trying to claim the headship of the Baggins family (as well as having the headship of the Sackvilles via Lobelia). Bilbo’s Aunt Belba was still alive at the time of his mysterious disappearance, and as his father’s sister and second child of the family, I’d imagine she had a claim to put in for anything Bilbo might leave. Even if we’re invoking Salic Law and that the headship of the family could only be held by a male descendant, I think you could argue that Bilbo’s personal fortune (and whatever share of the Dwarven treasure he might be entitled to) was separate from the position and property/money going with the Headship, and on those grounds there are other cousins with just as good claims as the Sackville-Baggins.

            So first they would have to argue it out in the Shire legal system just who was entitled to claim all, or a share in, Bilbo’s putative wealth, then go to court with the Dwarves to claim that Dain Ironfoot was responsible for Thorin’s debts. If it was decided that all first cousins of Bilbo, for example, were entitled to a share, that’s a nine-way split right there, and as I said, that doesn’t take into account aunts, uncles, and other cousins of various degrees. Frodo hadn’t yet been adopted and made his heir by Bilbo, but Frodo too has some rights, being Bilbo’s first and second cousin once-removed.

            It sounds like it could end up one of Dickens’ Chancery cases, where by the time a decision is finally made, all the estate has been spent in lawyers’ fees and there’s nothing left to inherit 🙂

  29. etaphy says:

    In regards to the LW piece on signalling: The problem with the ‘intelligence signalling versus virtue signalling’ distinction is that ‘intelligence signalling’ is generally known as ‘sharing information and ideas’. Successfully sharing relevant concepts to a topic, coming up with a fresh piece of insight or explaining a phenomenon well and accessibly to a wider audience signals intelligence as a side effect(through context-specificity and clarity of the message), not as its main purpose. The purpose of say textbooks or guides is not merely to make their authors appear smart and the value of a textbook tends to grow the better it is at encoding its set of information accessibly. Yet with ‘virtue signalling’, signalling personal characteristics and preferences for personal characteristics -becomes the final goal-.

    So in reality it’s easier to split communication between ‘information exchange'((mutual) prior clarification in bayes-talk) and ‘signalling’. And then it even becomes possible to delineate arcane academic philosophy that serves no practical purpose(say, ‘grievance studies’ as some call an example) to be ‘intelligence signalling’ since the only reason to be using obscure jargon is to signal being in ‘the academic know’ and it starts to appear the same as signalling for any moral virtue. Judith Butler and Foucault both fall into that category easily. STEM textbook writers, and reasonable popular science pundits wouldn’t.

    • g says:

      I’m not sure this is right.

      Some of the things you do to signal intelligence — e.g., sharing information and ideas that you have and others don’t — are often valuable in themselves. Some — e.g., thinking of apposite references from the ancient Greeks and Romans, solving cryptic crossword puzzles quickly — probably aren’t.

      Some of the things you do to signal virtue — e.g., giving money to charities that use it to relieve a lot of suffering or save a lot of lives — are often valuable in themselves. Some — e.g., castigating other people for not making the right pious noises about whatever social justice topic is the flavour of the month — probably aren’t.

      (Note: the latter can be true even if the underlying social justice issue really is an instance of social injustice that needs rectifying. Talk is cheap.)

      In either case, signalling can become the final goal. In either case, signalling can be (so to speak) the final goal of one part of your mental machinery while something genuinely worth while is the final goal of another part. In either case, doing something genuinely worth while can be the goal and signalling merely a (perhaps welcome) side effect.

      I don’t see that there’s any very important difference between signalling intellect and signalling virtue in this respect.

      • etaphy says:

        When talking about virtue signalling I apply it here mainly in the context of online discussion, since that’s where most of the use of that term happens, very few would call directly donating to charity ‘virtue signalling’, making loud zero-cost proclamations about how we should abolish rich people and use that to fund charity on Twitter would class easily as ‘virtue signals’ however.

        And while every piece of communication has an informational signal and a ‘speaker’s preferences’ signal in various ratios, we can always distinguish which one is meant to dominate a message. That is, say, if you’re seeing telltale signs of preference falsification, it’s not the information the speaker is worried about, it’s their reputation. So the trade-offs happen not between virtue signalling and intelligence signalling as the piece suggests, but rather between encoding information efficiently versus encoding speaker’s (group) preferences more clearly, in the same message.
        So we have virtue signalling, intelligence signalling as a case of virtue signalling(jargon-filled essays that could carry the same amount of information with ‘lossier’, simple language a-la postmodern philosophy) and there’s informational exchange(which is for me the primary reason to have any conversation) for which the ‘intelligence signal’ is just an inevitable side effect derived purely from how efficiently/accessibly the fresh insights are presented and explained within a certain span.

        And for the context of online conversation, since anonymous displays of preference rarely affect much outside of when they become a part of an online mob, it becomes effectively signal versus noise again and we’re back at where we arrived.

        • Doesntliketocomment says:

          Your decision to restrict this to “online conversations” seems to be arbitrary, since that was certainly never the idea with virtue signalling as a concept (not sure about intelligence signalling, since this is my first exposure to the concept, but it seems relatively self-explanatory), and made for the express purpose of supporting your thesis, which seems to be “Intelligence signalling is not a valid concept, intelligence can only be shown by actual productive thought.” If this isn’t your thesis, could you please restate it?

          If that is your thesis, it seems fairly well refutable by several methods, the foremost in my mind being this: Determining actual intelligence is an involved and costly affair, thus for common situations would be less appropriate than shorthand measures such as looking for certain indicators such as vocabulary, certification, and sentence structure. People consciously or unconsciously displaying these characteristics for social gain could be said to be “intelligence signalling”. As these are all falsifiable, one should (and does) encounter individuals doing so in order to gain whatever situational benefits may arise from being regarded as intelligent.

          • etaphy says:

            “Determining actual intelligence is an involved and costly affair, thus for common situations would be less appropriate than shorthand measures such as looking for certain indicators such as vocabulary, certification, and sentence structure”

            These also happen to be determinants of conveying an idea precisely and clearly. An intelligent person is better at explaining new concepts away. Explaining an idea well also brings prestige. Which is to say, ‘intelligence’ as a virtue stands apart from any other characteristic the speaker may convey in the sense that it’s conveyed by greater clarity of the message.

            I also posit that any piece of communication consists of prior updating information and the metadata context that conveys speaker’s characteristics and preferences that would otherwise have no bearing on the validity of the ideas. Virtue signalling is effectively when you compress the prior signal so much it becomes lossy, in order to free space for the “metadata”. I keep referring postmodernist texts as an example: the entire ‘bandwidth’ is utilized to demonstrate a mastery over vocabulary without giving its readers much to update their priors by.
            That’s the telltale sign of virtue signalling in communication.

            The point being – it’s impossible to actively avoid ‘signalling intelligence’ in a passive form because all it’d mean is being able to explain the same concepts worse in the same span of communication. The only time the term is meaningful is when it’s used to scorn active, conscious signalling where showing your mastery of the vocabulary or the complexity of what you’re dealing with makes it difficult to discern what the real use for the information conveyed would be. “Signalling ability to communicate ideas efficiently” by actually doing so is wildly different from what’s normally known as virtue signalling – I feel the definition hinted at in the read isn’t helpful.

    • Doesntliketocomment says:

      The purpose of say textbooks or guides is not merely to make their authors appear smart

      It seems you’ve never had the pleasure of taking a class where the professor wrote the textbook. Trust me, a number of textbooks were written for that exact purpose, with the side bonus of providing some extra income for the writer.

      • etaphy says:

        I don’t think most students would class those as good textbooks, and textbooks written…for their own authors are exactly the specific case for which I’d use the term ‘intelligence signalling’ as a subset of shameful virtue signals for with no qualms. However, a textbook on the same topic that’s good at providing examples and explanations through easy to grasp metaphors will signal its author as intelligent…through its increased, not diminished clarity it -e.g. by doing its primary communicative function better. I feel like that’s a good example of what I’m talking about.

        The tradeoff in communication appears to me not as between signalling intelligence and signalling virtue, rather it’s like digital media encoding where the bandwidth has to be always simultaneously rationed between sharing priors in various modes of compression(that is, how accurately the priors are carried over) and the ‘metadata’ of the speaker’s identity and preferences.

        And we call the cases of communication where what’s generally the main message body gets corrupted for the sake of more accurately encoding and preserving the “metadata” – ‘virtue signalling’.

  30. aristides says:

    It was nice to read the My semester with the snowflakes. It doesn’t track with my law school experience, but it makes me remember that undergrad in general I didn’t encounter much pressure to change my political beliefs except from one teacher, who still gave me an A on my essay that directly contradicted my beliefs.

  31. J Mann says:

    The Boris Johnson and Hermione thread on Reddit was depressing. I read through the top couple dozen comments and their replies, and it’s almost all just wish fulfillment of how Hermione would punch Johnson, defend the EU, and/or call him some kind of obscenity.

    I did like the Redditor who suggested that upon finding out that the Wizarding World has an international governing body, Johnson would try to convince Granger to initiate “Hexit.”

    • EchoChaos says:

      Agreed. I was hoping for some fun fanfic, but all I got was “Boris bad and stupid”.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      I read down far enough to see Hermione describing the wizarding world to Johnson as “hexplaining” and realized I needed to get the hell outta there.

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      “Hmmm… hawthorn, 31 centimetres, core of unicorn hair, highly flexible… under EMU directives, this cannot legally be sold as a wand.”

      • J Mann says:

        Typical Johnson lies! It’s not the EMU that outlawed the wand, it’s the government of Cardiff, (although I’ll grant they were implementing an EU directive that forbids the description of a magical implement more than 30 centimetres as a “wand”).

        (Also, thanks – that’s the kind of thing I was hoping to read.

      • Deiseach says:

        Excuse me, what is this “centimetres” business? Once out from under the thumb of the EU, it is returning to glorious Imperial measurement, state that number in inches or nothing!

    • silver_swift says:

      I’ll be honest, my first thought on reading that prompt was:

      “Stupefy” Legilimens apparates in and Hermione gives him some polyjuice potion.

      Though to be fair, that is what should probably happen for every prime minister (and not just prime ministers) if Magical Britain is to have any hope of maintaining the Statute of Secrecy in an age of smartphones and the internet.

  32. jeffreyrogers says:

    With regard to the Moore’s law claim. The reason you hear people saying Moore’s law is no longer valid is because they are talking about single core performance, which has largely not gotten faster for a while now. This is for two reasons. One, as you put more transistors together the chip gets hotter and hotter. We are close to the thermal limits for single core performance. Two, we are close to physical limits on switching speed. We are near the point where we literally cannot switch the transistors on and off fast enough to get to higher speeds. This means that the current semiconductor process using silicon is unlikely to get any faster. There are alternative semiconductors that have faster switching speeds but 1) they are used much less frequently and use more exotic materials so they are more expensive 2) they are less developed process wise, so I would expect a switch to them to lead to a drop off in performance followed by a gradual rise that peaks above where we currently are.

    Of course, we are still getting better at adding cores to a chip, which does increase the transistor count per chip, but due to the communication overhead of communicating between different cores this has a much smaller effect on performance, and whether an application can benefit or not from multiple cores is really application dependent. Certain things are highly amenable to parallelization, other things are not.

    I think this is an issue where you have to have a reasonable understanding of the technical details involved or you will get yourself into a situation where, while the claims you make are literally true, they do not mean what you think they mean.

  33. sclmlw says:

    Would it be possible to train GPT-2 on a Turing test database so it can automate the process of determining whether something is real or computer-generated? That would be nice, if we could have computers start judging our Turing tests for us.

  34. JPNunez says:

    Surely there are plane engines below a MIG 25 or whatever to make your fire engine that’s safe for regular fires?

    • Robert Beckman says:

      For engines that won’t harm buildings: none that will meaningfully put out a building fire.

      Exemplar: start a brush fire in your backyard to clear out weeds, then as it approaches an uncomfortable intensity try to put it out with a pressure washer. Expected result (from when I did just that last year): the fire grows quickly. Why? Because the increased airflow entrained by the high pressure water increased the fires intensity more than the water volume decreased it.

      So for a very early building fire, almost any large fan will do, but once a building fire becomes significant enough for the fire department to be called and arrive on scene it’s likely to be far greater than can be readily blown out. This should seem counter intuitive, because oil well fires are far more dangerous, and have far more heat output – but in the case of an oil well fire the heat is ejected vertically into the air, from a well under pressure, while the heat in a building fire is contained within the structure – and that’s especially true for larger steel and concrete buildings, which act as chimneys.

      So to extinguish a building fire you need to draw out all the heat stored in the building, as well as the fire, all of which depends on total water mass, not instantaneous water mass, otherwise the building will simply re-radiate the stored heat and auto-ignite, while a well fire dumped its heat into the atmosphere.

      Additionally, oil wells are almost exclusively in desolate areas, and while there are no solids to throw embers, even if there were there are no nearby inhabited buildings to spread the fire to inadvertently. That’s not the case with the typical building fire.

  35. rumham says:

    Regarding snowflakes:

    As the younger students started to express their thoughts, the young woman (truly a unicorn of a human) used the word “safe space” and it hit me forcefully. I come from a place where when I hear that term, I roll my eyes into the back of my vacant skull and laugh from the bottom of my potbelly. This time, I was literally in shock. It hit me that what I thought a “safe space” meant, was not accurate. This young woman, the one who used the phrase, isn’t scared of anything. She is a life-force of goodness and strength. She doesn’t need anyone to provide a comfortable environment for her. What she meant by “safe space” was that she was happy to be in an environment where difficult subjects can be discussed openly, without the risk of disrespect or harsh judgment.

    Not buying that for a second.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I buy it, the issue is ‘safe space’ is ‘what I want it to be’. So for some person it is entirely possible for them to use safe space to mean this while for another person it might be ‘a place where we can talk about feminism without men around’ or ‘talk about racial issues without white people around’ or any of a 1,000 different variations. I also buy that there are strong and competent people on the far left, and yet I also think that safe spaces are absurd as currently discussed.

      • rumham says:

        It hit me that what I thought a “safe space” meant, was not accurate.

        He’s at Yale. Unless a ton of campus interviews and videos I’ve seen are fake, the use of “safe space” is well defined among the students as a place where they will never hear or see things that they disagree with. It is literally the opposite of what he’s saying there, which also happens to be what opponents of “safe spaces” want, and is considered the traditional college experience.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, I’m going to guess that if he decided he wanted to discuss, say, racial IQ differences, he would have been met with some disrespect and harsh judgment…

        • baconbits9 says:

          Its not the opposite: This woman’s safe space is where she is free of disrespect or harsh judgement, that isn’t value free. Its not like disagreeable people are universally bad or that everyone can discuss/argue in a perfectly controlled manner (especially ages 18-22), but the speaker has decided that she doesn’t want to engage with people who engage a certain way. Her safe space is avoiding people who have a specific viewpoint and approach to discussion.

          • rumham says:

            I don’t know exactly what her “safe space” is, but that last part:

            Her safe space is avoiding people who have a specific viewpoint and approach to discussion.

            That’s more like how I’m used to hearing it used. Just pluralize it. Avoiding people who have specific viewpoints. Which in practice seems to be any viewpoints not aligned with progressive ideology.

          • rumham says:

            this comment below might better explain what I mean.

            My fault. I should have been more clear. That’s what I get for multitasking.

    • eightieshair says:

      One thing that struck me about that piece was this detail:

      These students are first generation Americans. Their fathers immigrated to this country and started out by being taxi drivers.

      I don’t doubt that this is literally true, but it strikes me as intentionally misleading. Yale is about maintaining the upper class. ~70% of students come from families in the top 20% income bracket. Apparently nearly 1/3 of its graduating seniors say they want to go into finance. I’m really doubting that the campus is crawling with the children of taxi drivers.

      • SEE says:

        Of course. The goal is to perpetuate the power structure. Accordingly, you let in some young talent from outside the power structure, both to perpetuate the myth that the power structure deserves its rule (“it’s a meritocracy”) and to deprive the opposition to the power structure of potential leaders. But to make sure they acculturate, you make sure they’re outnumbered by members of the current power structure.

        This explains, for example, the race-based admissions structure used across the Ivy League. By bending over backwards to include any black or Hispanic talent, you both signal that the power structure is virtuous and make sure you co-opt the talented members of those minorities. By systematically discriminating against Asians, you assure that the scions of the ruling class don’t wind up too few to properly acculturate the scions of outsiders. It’s of course blatantly illegal racial discrimination as a matter of the written law, but the courts are as willing now to pretend to believe in the sophistry of “diversity” somehow making it legal now as they were willing to pretend to believe in the sophistry of “separate but equal” somehow making violations of the 14th Amendment legal a century ago.

        • baconbits9 says:

          1. Only let rich people in = maintaining the power structure.
          2. Let mostly rich people in, but also let in some not rich people = covering up the patriarchy.
          3. Only letting poor people in = indoctrination.

          Its the patriarchy all the way down.

    • Aftagley says:

      Literally the sentence after you ended your quote:

      This works both ways. What I mean is, this young woman was comfortable, in this university setting, wrestling with things like the Aristotelian idea of some humans being born as “natural slaves.” She was quite comfortable in that space. The question was, how comfortable was the 52-year-old white guy in that discussion?

      In literally the next sentence he provides an example of a discussion topic that is pretty explicitly the kind of topic that you’re claiming they wouldn’t want to talk about. It is a young black woman and an older white man talking about the idea that some people are born naturally subservient. That seems pretty controversial to me.

      • rumham says:

        I’m saying that, despite having read many megabytes, I have never seen safe space used like that. And especially not from Yale. If it happened (and I’m skeptical) then this still absolutely does not follow:

        It hit me that what I thought a “safe space” meant, was not accurate.

        No, a teenager was using the word wrong. If she said most people have 3 hands, it doesn’t change the fact that most people generally do not.

        Edit – It might help to note, the bolding isn’t mine, its from the article. The quote above is what I disagree with. He’s acting like the well understood definition is incorrect. Once again, I’m not buying that for a second.

    • unreliabletags says:

      When this came up on my campus, the Aristotelian natural slave thing was given as an explicit example of what makes a humanities classroom not a safe space.

  36. rumham says:

    How accurately have all climate models since 1970 predicted the evolution of climate since that time? (answer: pretty accurately)

    Disagree.

    A climate model projection can be factored into two parts: the implied (transient) climate sensitivity (to increased forcing) over the projection period and the projected increase in forcing. The first derives from the model’s Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) and the ocean heat uptake rate. It will be approximately equal to the model’s transient climate response (TCR), although the discussion in ZH19 is for a shorter period than the 70 years used for TCR computation. The second comes from a submodel that takes annual GHG emissions and other anthropogenic factors as inputs, generates implied CO2 and other GHG concentrations, then converts them into forcings, expressed in Watts per square meter. The emission forecasts are based on socioeconomic projections and are therefore external to the climate model.

    ZH19 ask whether climate models have overstated warming once we adjust for errors in the second factor due to faulty emission projections. So it’s essentially a study of climate model sensitivities. Their conclusion, that models by and large generate accurate forcing-adjusted forecasts, implies that models have generally had valid TCR levels. But this conflicts with other evidence (such as Lewis and Curry 2018) that CMIP5 models have overly high TCR values compared to observationally-constrained estimates. This discrepancy needs explanation.

    • Anteros says:

      I was going to make the same point. And also, of course the establishment advocates are going to find a way of looking at the models that suggests they’re just hunky dory. Ross Mckitrick’s rebuttal doesn’t claim that the climate models are terrible, only that they’re not as convincing as the advocates would have you believe. I’m surprised that Scott quotes a single tweet as evidence that climate models have been ‘pretty accurate’ for 50 years, especially as the first tweeted reply (by climatologist Judith Curry) disagrees.

      I should add that just because climate models have been ‘pretty accurate’ or (say) ‘not very accurate, in the direction of over-estimating warming’ isn’t going to make much difference to whether someone is concerned or unconcerned about global warming – and I don’t think it should.

      Where the big disagreements lie – as David Friedman has said on this blog a number of times – is about the impacts of any change, whether they are net negative or positive, and the costs/benefits of any attempted mitigation.

      • rumham says:

        It definitely changes the amount of concern you should feel.

        Have you seen this?

        The models that run hotter don’t work when run on actual historical temperatures. I’ve seen this before (the pause). I will put money on someone finding another source of heat that makes the the newer, more catastrophic models correct in hindcasting.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      I take issue with several aspects of the climate model claim. For one, the model values have, in many cases, much smaller error bars than the observations. A bunch seem to have no error bars at all, though I can’t tell if they’re simply covered by the red dot representing the central value (which is an error of visualization) or if none are provided (a major error of analysis and interpretation). How can such a model ever possibly be validated? If the error bars are much smaller than the actual value error bars, that seems preposterous. How can a prediction have greater precision than the actual value? There has to be an error in the estimate of uncertainty.

      Out of 17 comparisons in the “temp vs time” row, 5 of them are clearly misses (not even overlapping confidence intervals), which is clearly more than (presumably) 5% alleged miss rate. Even just looking at the physical variable in the bottom row, at least 2/17 are outside the CI, and another 2 look like they could be (I can’t tell by observation).

      A second problem comes from ignoring one of the 2 major sources of error. It is scientifically interesting and useful to know if the models accurately estimate the effect of a given amount of CO2. However, these results are not predictions at all: A major source of error was simply ignored! If you are going to convince me that you know how quickly temperature will go up, you don’t get to ignore important variables. Economic variables are just as important to the question of how warm it will be as physical ones!

  37. MattH says:

    On that 30 million word gap, I predicted this when I first heard the study. It always seemed like BS to me. It helps to have multiple kids to understand why. Essentially, the implication of the study is that younger siblings should have better language skills. Instead of 2 people in the house they have 3 or 4 or more people talking to them. What actually happens is the your subsequent children learn to speak slightly faster, but don’t develop better language skills. Sharper curve, same plateau. I think this is one of those cases, where you need to be at a really extreme end of a spectrum to really have any affect on absolute outcome.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I’ve seen a handful of younger kids have a much shallower learning curve as they don’t have to make themselves understood to the parents, just to one of the older kids.

  38. Freddie deBoer says:

    Stop eating your burgers medium rare, it’s not a steak.

    • JG28 says:

      Ground beef (20%+ fat), well done is acceptable
      Ground sirloin (10% or less fat), well done is an abomination

    • Anteros says:

      Where I live (France) pretty much everybody eats their burgers just like their steaks – almost raw.

    • Lambert says:

      Yeah. The outside of meat is where the germs are. A rare steak still has a cooked outside.

      Mincing takes the outside and distributes it all through the meat, so a burger or sausage has a load of outside on the inside.

  39. Camerado says:

    Ryan J. Dowd’s book The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness is a guidebook for professionals who, in the course of their non-homelessness-centered work, interact with a lot of homeless people every day and manage public spaces that are used by both homeless and housed people. Dowd runs one of the biggest homeless shelters in the state of Illinois. He presents the information in the form of a kind of conflict resolution class – starting on the base assumption that the shared goal of all parties is to make public space usable and accessible to everyone. He rests a lot of weight on the idea that for middle-class professionals, learning to interact meaningfully and helpfully with the very, very poor means understanding some fundamental differences in culture between middle-class people and very, very poor people.

    He acknowledges the controversy surrounding the “word gap” and its attendant theories about the cultural differences between very low-income people and people who are middle-class. But he also wraps the word gap up into a whole package of cultural differences in communication: For him, it’s not just that very, very poor people might use a smaller vocabulary of words to express themselves, it’s that they use a much richer vocabulary of non-verbal communication, that is invisible/unintelligible to people to whom it’s not familiar. He provides lots of examples of conversations that seem deranged, confusing, confrontational, or threatening to a middle-class professional, that to the homeless person involved are perfectly normal and not discomfiting at all.

    All that to say: I’m interested in the question of whether any of his observations, anecdotal and based in decades of experience working one-on-one with people, bear out in the research. Is there evidence to support the idea that there could be a problem, not with the number of words in the supposed gap, but with an entirely different culture of language that very poor children grow up in? Is it possible that the issue would be less that kids hear a smaller vocabulary at home ages 0-3, and more that they see and hear a different vocabulary that is unintelligible to their middle-class professional teachers? (I guess then my question would be: Parents are encouraged to raise bilingual kids to make them smarter and better learners, but somehow that never gets analogized to code-switching in different class contexts – that’s always presented as a disadvantage.)

    The distinction might not be that cut-and-dry, and Dowd’s observations might well work best as just anecdotal examples that are sometimes helpful in individual conflict-resolution cases. (He uses them as a baseline for informing his course, but doesn’t suggest he’s proposing some unheard-of sociological theory.) But I’m curious.

  40. cuke says:

    On China Study and ROS theory of obesity:

    It’s been a decade since I looked at the China Study critiques, but my memory is that it was extensively shredded at the time. One of the biggest points then was that he excluded an entire group of people he’d collected data on who were extremely heavy meat eaters and whose health indicators were better than everyone else in the study. I think he cut that data set out because it was such an outlier, speaking of excluding outliers, but also because it contradicted his preferred conclusion.

    Brad Marshall of the ROS theory of obesity did his own takedown of the China Study in 2005 here.

    Here’s another one from 2010 (link):

    “Why does Campbell overlook the unique Tuoli peoples documented in the China Study, who eat twice as much animal protein as the average American (including two pounds of casein-filled dairy per day)—yet don’t exhibit higher rates of any diseases Campbell ascribes to animal foods?”

    I can’t tell how much of the Mediterranean diet orthodoxy was undergirded by the China Study, but for sure it had a big influence.

    Campbell claims to have responded to these critiques but I don’t have the patience to track it down and prefer to arrive at my own favored conclusion which is that meat, well-raised, is fine. Though perhaps not from a climate change perspective. I gather the folks doing serious sustainable pasture management have counter-arguments to the climate change concern.

  41. viVI_IViv says:

    Best of new LW: Wei Dai – What determines the balance between intelligence signaling and virtue signaling? This is a much more interesting question than just accusing people of signaling things.

    It doesn’t seem to me that there is any balance because the two aren’t opposite: there are both smart and stupid people who signal “virtue” (conformism, allegiance to the powers that be, ideological purity) and there are smart and stupid people who don’t or even signal “anti-virtue”.

    If anything, the correlation between intelligence and virtue signalling is likely to be positive: smart people tend to understand how society works and what they are and are not supposed to say in order to thrive in it. There were historical occasions of extreme anti-intellectualism, such as the Cultural Revolution, where smart people were actively persecuted no matter what they signaled, but these events seem to be rare.

  42. caryatis says:

    Is it really accurate to say the 30,000 words study failed replication? One of Scott’s links says that “lower socioeconomic status children produced fewer vocalizations, engaged in fewer adult child interactions, and were exposed to fewer daily adult words compared to high SES peers, but within-group variability was high.” That supports the original. Link #2 does not support the original, but they seem to have redefined the definition of words the child is exposed to, including talk by bystanders that does not directly engage the child.

    • noahmotion says:

      This all seems to hinge on what counts as a “failed replication.” The NPR link describes what I assume is the study Scott links to “a new study that calls itself a “failed replication,””, but the only instance of the word “replication” in the paper is in the title of a paper in the references.

      More importantly, as you point out, in the “Results” section of the abstract, the new paper says “Lower socioeconomic status (SES) children produced fewer vocalizations, engaged in fewer adult–child interactions, and were exposed to fewer daily adult words compared with their higher socioeconomic status peers, but within-group variability was high.”

      And then, in the conclusion, the authors write “Automatically generated language estimates from daylong audio recordings revealed patterns consistent with a number of phenomena reported in the literature and uncovered new information about age-related developmental changes, as well as variability within socioeconomic strata.”

      It seems pretty clear that the estimates of the differences between groups are different, but it’s hard for me to see this as simply a failed replication.

  43. Salem says:

    There has been interesting discussion above regarding Modi and Erdogan.

    I am more interested by Orban. He is frequently decried as a dictator and fascist in the prestige press in this country, but the specific charges against him are frustratingly vague. What is the serious case for and against him?

    Bonus points: the same, but for PiS.

    • vicoldi says:

      Report from Hungary:

      Orban is a right-wing populist using agressive anti-immigration rhetorics, although almost no immigrants want to go to Hungary anyway. The special thing about him is that he bought up the majority of Hungarian media, so many people have only access to his propaganda. At one point, he bought the most pestigous left-wing newspaper of the country through a chain of contracts and then closed the paper without warning.

      He funds his media control with money from corruption. In less than five years he made an old friend of his literally the richest man in Hungary. (Although truth being said, the previous government was also extremely corrupt.) He also built a giant football stadium in his home village.

      He is also infamous for passing a law that basically singled out the Central European University, and banned it. (It is a prestigous international university in Budapest, founded by George Soros.)

      So he is pretty bad, but I stil wouldn’t call him fascist. For example the claims about his anti-semitism seem extremely false and I wouldn’t even call him racist, although it depends on your definition.

      I also wouldn’t call him an outright dictator. The media control is bad, but the elections are still free, and there are no political arrests.

    • 10240 says:

      Hungarian here. I’m liberal by Hungarian standards, right-libertarian by Western standards. Here is my take on the story.

      • Background: After winning the 2006 elections, the traditional major left-wing party (MSZP) and suffered an extreme loss of popularity between 2006 and 2010, as a result of economic austerity measures, a leaked speech by the PM Gyurcsány at a party congress containing phrases such as “we lied” and “we fucked up” (referring to their previous deficit spending that made said austerity necessary), and various corruption scandals. Orbán’s party Fidesz became very popular, and a far-right party (Jobbik) and a new left-wing/green party (LMP) sprung up.
      • Fidesz won the 2010 elections with a landslide, getting 53% of the votes and, in a majoritarian electoral system, a 68% supermajority in the parliament that allowed it to change the constitution.
      • After the Constitutional Court struck down a law that retroactively reduced the salaries of certain civil servants (via a 98% tax), Fidesz amended the Constitution such that the Constitutional Court can’t review laws affecting the budget. They later passed laws that were most likely unconstitutional (but not subject to review), such as one effectively confiscating private pension funds.
      • In 2012 they promulgated a new constitution, without the support of other parties. Many of the changes were symbolic, but some are substantial (below).
      • They somewhat increased the majoritarian character of the electoral system, further increasing the advantage of Fidesz against a fragmented opposition.
      • They allowed people of Hungarian ancestry to easily get Hungarian citizenship and vote without having residence in Hungary. With them being nationalistic but otherwise having little stake in the country, something like 96% of them vote for Fidesz, which was in all likelihood the motive for the change (though Fidesz talks about the “symbolic unity of Hungarians”). Their effect is moderate because they only vote for party lists, though there were incidents of many citizens getting fake residences in border towns (which allows them to also vote for individual candidates).
      • They decreased the mandatory retirement age of judges, and (under the guise of reconstituting the Supreme Court under a new name) replaced the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court before the end of his term (violating the independence of the judiciary).
      • They packed the Constitutional Court with Fidesz loyalist judges with increased terms. (The Constitutional Court judges are confirmed with a supermajority, and blatantly political appointments were not the norm before.) They also replaced various other independent officials (attorney general, media authority, budgetary council) before the end of their terms, replacing them with Fidesz loyalists with increased terms. They made it harder to hold valid referendums.
      • The opposition has remained fragmented for a long time, with no cooperation between the far-right Jobbik and the left-wing opposition, and the green party LMP (and many voters opposed to Fidesz) also refusing to cooperate with the unpopular “legacy” left MSZP and Gyurcsány’s splinter party DK. Fidesz retained its supermajority in the 2014 and 2018 elections. The fragmentation of the opposition is starting to change lately: as Fidesz moved further right, Jobbik became more moderate, with some cooperation between them and the left-wing opposition, and LMP virtually disappeared.
      • Blatant pro-government propaganda is pushed by the government broadcasters, government-funded “information” (advertising) campaigns, government-funded “NGOs” and “national consultations” (push polls). A cash-strapped opposition has a hard time competing with it. (This sort of thing also happened under previous governments, but an order of magnitude or so less.)
      • Various, formerly independent, neutral or center-right private journals and TV channels were also bought up by government-linked investors, and turned into pro-government propaganda organs. At the same time, some left-wing journals ceased publication after changing owners. The government very preferentially advertises in pro-government media. (The drop in advertising revenue a right-wing journal experienced after switching to an anti-government line suggests that private companies may also be under pressure not to advertise in anti-government journals, though I’m not sure about this.)
      • There have been some spurious vexations of anti-government NGOs.
      • Before the 2018 elections, Fidesz made changes to campaign funding laws, making political advertising more difficult, such as requiring parties to pay the list price for billboards (which is usually higher than the typical actual prices). This disproportionally affects the opposition parties, as Fidesz’ advertising is mostly done by the government. They pro-actively fine opposition parties for campaign finance violations.
      • For some reason Fidesz has always had more talent at popular/populist rhetoric than other parties, and at focusing the political discourse along topics favorable to Fidesz (both in opposition and in government). From 2011 to 2014 these topics were first retroactively changing foreign currency mortgage contracts to terms more favorable to debtors, then forcing utility companies to reduce prices by up to 30% (this happened amid a drop in oil prices, so they took credit for a price drop at least part of which would have happened on a free market pricing too). From 2015 to 2018 it was opposition to illegal immigration and refugees (and falsely accusing opposition parties of intending to “settle” masses of migrants in Hungary, removing the border fence Fidesz had constructed, and being lackeys of Soros). The opposition has a hard time addressing these topics, as Fidesz’ stance is genuinely popular, while opponents of Fidesz are divided between agreeing with it and opposing it on these topics. (IMO they should ignore them beyond correcting lies, and focus on other topics, such as corruption.)
      • Fidesz is blatantly corrupt. For instance, Mészáros, a friend/straw man of Orbán, has made around $1B mostly from government contracts, starting with basically nothing. (For comparison, the corruption scandals tainting the previous left-wing government involved sums around $1M.) While corruption under previous governments typically involved simply breaking the law, Fidesz rewrites the law to fuck over the companies it dislikes, and give advantages to the ones it likes. I guess they get away with this corruption because, as a result of the above issues (such as the fragmentation of the opposition) they keep winning elections nevertheless.

      My assessment: Hungary is somewhere between a democracy and a dictatorship. The opposition’s lack of electoral success is partly to blame on its failure to get its act together, but Fidesz also did a lot to erode the rule of law and create an uneven playing field. It’s not simply left-wingers complaining because the right is winning, and it’s not something American conservatives should endorse.

      • 10240 says:

        Addendum: IMO the Hungarian situation shows that there are advantages to having many independent, wealthy political donors, and loose campaign financing laws. They make it much harder for the government to tilt the campaigning landscape in favor of the party in power.

    • Joseftstadter says:

      Both Orban and PiS became popular by attacking the corruption of the liberal elite in their home countries. They were not wrong on that count, but both Orban and PiS seem more motivated to make the corruption machine work for themselves and their supporters than in creating a just society where no one is above the law.

      A lot of the “authoritarian” moves of these governments – Orban’s destruction of any opposition media or PiS destroying the independent judiciary in Poland – honestly seem to me more motivated by a desire to hide their own nepotistic and semi criminal business activities than by deep ideological beliefs.

    • zqed says:

      Let me amend everything the local Hungarians said:

      Orban’s party created and maintains extensive illegal databases (sometimes referred to as Kubatov lists after Fidesz Co-Chairman and Member of Parliament Gabor Kubatov) listing the party preferences of people, along with methods for “convincing” or blackmailing them into publicly supporting Orban. They made use of this in political campaigns, as well as to put their supporters into advantageous economic positions (e.g. the licensing of tobacco/cigarette retailers).

      Kubatov is quite fond of criminal methods and political violence in general, e.g. his “former employees” (pictured) blocking the opposition’s referendum proposal by physically preventing their politicians from delivering the required documents to the National Election Office, Fidesz’s private security company dispersing opposition protests on public land, etc.

      • zqed says:

        The left-wing prestige press tends to focus disproportionately on issues that their readers can relate to, such as the border wall and immigration, and fails to cover other, less ideologically coded components of Orban’s authoritarian rule.

        It’s difficult to put an ideological spin that American readers would recognize as “right-wing” on many of the policies mentioned above. Some, e.g. nationalizing the private pension wealth, might even get a yay from certain parts of the American left. The prestige press won’t report on such policies (and Orban’s right-wing allies will not report anything that would make him look bad, for obvious reasons), thus making the case against Orban appear unsubstantiated and vague.

  44. Douglas Knight says:

    More confirmation that we are definitely making progress in the war on cancer.

    Oh, come on.
    Derek doesn’t want you talking about “the war on cancer”:

    Putting all of these together into overall cancer rate figures obscures as much as it reveals, to be honest.

    The big victory in the war on cancer is prevention. We are fighting cancer by fighting smoking. Stomach cancer is declining as a side effect of fighting smoking and ulcers. Colorectal cancer is declining for unclear and unintentional reasons, probably diet changes (relevant to stomach, too).

    What people usually mean by “the war on cancer” is drugs: chemo, monoclonal antibodies, CAR-T. These really work, but they are super narrowly targeted. The only work on blood/lymph cancers: leukemia, lymphoma, etc. These cancers are really scary because they move fast. They move fast because the blood is a highway. But the blood is also a highway for delivering drugs, which is why there has been real progress on treating them. But these treatments are super overhyped, ignoring their narrow focus. It’s great that CAR-T cures even more blood cancers than monoclonal antibodies, but there’s no reason to expect it to expand out of this category.

    In contrast, 90% of cancers are “solid tumors.” Can we do anything to fight solid tumors? Surgery, tamoxifen? Does screening help by buying us time? For colorectal cancer, no, screening does no good, suggesting that treatment is worthless. For breast and prostate cancer, maybe.

    And that’s hard to argue with, since death is a definitive endpoint for the data.

    Actually, I’m suspicious of the attribution of death to cancer in old people.

  45. Kethas says:

    As of earlier this month, China’s coronavirus case numbers followed such a neat quadratic curve that they seem kind of like low-effort fakes. Not sure if this also applies to the current numbers.

    I’ve been working on an amateur stats blog post for this for a few days. One thing I’ve done is compared how well a quadratic model fits the China data vs. same-duration samples from case and death data for the 2014 West Africa ebola outbreak. Preprint plot comparing 1) R^2 values for @evdefender’s two fits on China case/death data and 2) R^2 values obtained from fitting a quadratic to similar windows within the ebola data: https://imgur.com/a/2TrPTSy

    The China fits look exceptionally strong (and therefore suspicious).

    Data taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_African_Ebola_virus_epidemic_timeline_of_reported_cases_and_deaths

    Ebola R^2 values (the blue dots) were obtained by:
    for type in cases and deaths:
    for region in total, guinea, liberia, sierraleone:
    for each 7-datapoint window in the timeseries:
    if there's not at least one (case/death) for all points in the window: continue
    if the window extends beyond the exponential phase of the epidemic into the sigmoid: continue
    fit a quadratic to this window and append it to the set of R^2 values

  46. Aminoacid says:

    The Dextrometorphane article seems to be paywalled, but given that high doses of it are known to cause responses similar to recreative ketamine, the premise seems plausible

  47. Garrett says:

    The issue with Moore’s Law is that what it describes and what people think it means are only somewhat related.
    From The Wiki: “Moore’s law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years.” (The original paper was every year, but no mind).

    Note that this involves the number of transistors, not the actual performance. A major reason for this is that one of the limiting factors in how fast you can switch a chip is determined by the how fast signals can cross the chip, which is impacted by the speed of light. Grace Hopper used to hand out foot-long lengths of wire and describe them as “nanoseconds”. The biggest factor in improving transistor counts was shrinking the size of transistors. If you halve the size of the transistors you can fit 4x as many in the same physical space and allowing for the distance for signals to travel to (probably) halve as well.

    So what?

    This process allows both the number of transistors and the associated clock rate to continue increasing as long as the “features”, primarily transistors, can keep shrinking. We’re now running into issues where individual transistors are only a few dozen atoms across – shrinking them and having something which isn’t drowned out by manufacturing defects or electrical noise is getting harder and harder to envision. The whole debacle with Intel’s 10nm process is certainly pointing to it.

    The other issue is that the die-shrinks allowing more transistors to be packed onto a chip presumes that for a constant clock speed the performance of a processor will scale linearly with transistor count, and that’s clearly not the case. For special-purpose computing where there is a large amount of parallelism available (such as graphics done in a GPU) this will likely continue for a while. But for general-purpose operations, most of which don’t parallelize well, that isn’t the case. When dealing with original CPUs of the 1970s, having an increased transistor budget would allow a chip designer to use a faster architecture for eg. adding integers and so there was a clear benefit. Nowadays most of the transistors seem to be going to adding L3 cache on the processor. It certainly improves performance on the margins, but at a sub-linear rate.

    So Moore’s Law is still “true” in that we’re getting a continually-increasing number of transistors for a bargain-basement cost. But it’s “false” in that physical feature size, clock speed, and single-threaded performance are mostly holding steady.

  48. ksdale says:

    Major spoiler in the second sentence of the Star Wars paper.

  49. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Link text: “is receiving a single suspension in school really so stigmatizing that it causes you to be 20% more likely to go to prison as an adult?”

    Text at link: “Specifically, they found that after controlling for a bunch of things, students who attended schools with 0.38 more suspensions per student per year were 20% more likely to be jailed as adults:”

    The results weren’t about individual students.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Thanks, fixed.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Thank you, but I think the actual idea in the article is that being in a school where suspensions are a third more common makes students 20% more likely to go to prison.

        • Deiseach says:

          being in a school where suspensions are a third more common makes students 20% more likely to go to prison

          Students who are disruptive, trouble-making and rule-breaking (not to mention getting into fights both verbal and physical) more likely to become adults who are violent, aggressive, and rule-breaking and hence more likely to end up in jail? Gosh, no, really?

  50. belvarine says:

    Who even wants to know what people are saying in pornography anyway‽

    Wow, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones wrong this entire time.

  51. Erusian says:

    California recently passed a law saying that all corporate boards need to be gender-balanced. A recent study finds that affected firms underperformed expectations as investors reacted negatively to them having to hire female board members less qualified than the male candidates they replaced. The paper says that “a back of the envelope calculation provides a total loss in value in excess of $60 billion”, which would mean this single bill wiped out an amount of value equal to the total GDP of North Dakota, or to the yearly price tag of Bernie Sanders’ free-college-for-all plan. Can this possibly be true? Norway passed a similar law a few decades earlier, and early studies found similarly dismal results, although a more recent study is challenging their methods. I don’t know enough econometrics to resolve their dispute, but I am updating in favor of good corporate governance being potentially a really big deal.

    Oh, I know all about this. So, a while back some studies came out showing that diversity (of all types: gender, racial, socioeconomic, political) correlated with corporate success, particularly in leadership. The studies mostly said this was because diversity of experiences and thought allowed the corporation to access diverse perspectives, markets, etc and prevented groupthink. This was almost immediately seized on by left-wing groups to advocate for various programs to increase corporate diversity, particularly for their favored groups. This then transmuted (through, as best as I can tell, some low-resolution types) that diversity directly caused the boost. This then transmuted (through self-serving low-resolution types) into a justification for forcing mostly women onto corporate boards.

    In other words, the study started, “If a company has a diverse talent pool that have input on decisions, they will tend to get diverse perspectives, make less mistakes, and perform well. Diverse leadership is often an indicator of a culture of that.” into “Adding women to your board will make your company perform better.” Like, I literally heard people say that corporations could instantly improve their performance by instituting quotas. This was, to say the least, not the case. Firstly, quota systems are blunt and often don’t work. Secondly, they don’t change overall corporate culture. Uber can hire as many female executives as it wants, it still has a culture of sexual harassment.

    But you know what quotas are? Big and bold and controversial and (I must stress this) easy. For example, you want female coders? Well, you could look into successfully diverse companies and realize that non-traditional backgrounds tend to be highly female and minority. You could reform your entire hiring process to de-emphasize formal education and emphasize code production. But reforming your entire HR process is hard. You know what’s easier? Tell your HR representatives to hire a quota of women. When the backlash comes, take a pose as bold, progressive feminists, ideally through a female executive.

    However, true believers gonna true believe. Various corporations were pressured to adopt this, investment funds were made specifically to take advantage of this non-existent ‘fact’, and almost all of them underperformed. (The ones that didn’t understood the original purpose of the study: that internally promoted diverse leadership was usually a sign of a certain advantageous corporate culture.) Ironically, because of a lack of a different kind of diversity: it was pure progressive groupthink. Various places did write it into law and, quite expectedly, it had a mostly negative effect. But regardless, true believers gonna true believe and they abandoned (as they so often do) the argument about economic utility for some vague sense of justice.

    So yes, it is true. There are honestly people out there, many of them powerful and well heeled, who buy the idea that the literal presence of women on corporate boards improves corporate governance. And there are others who think doing so is important for reasons of justice/equity/etc. (And ignore the inherent racism/classism in that this ‘feminism’ mostly opens up increased opportunities for upper class white women, please and thank you.)

    If you’re just talking about how important corporate governance is, the answer is “very”.

    • ChangingTime says:

      investment funds were made specifically to take advantage of this non-existent ‘fact’, and almost all of them underperformed.

      Just as an example, PXWEX is the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Leadership Fund. Directionally, it has mostly tracked the market (as you might expect a broad investment fund to). However, it under performs the primary S&P index by a factor of ~2.5x.

  52. eigenmoon says:

    Aragon is a general organization-building tool. They’ve taken the court stuff from Kleros, simplifying it a bit. The Kleros token (PNK) seems to be doing well.

  53. John Schilling says:

    Corporate governance is definitely important, and corporate boards do play a role in corporate governance. It is plausible that a legal requirement most easily satisfied by filling the board with token women/minorities might result in worse corporate government.

    But I’m going to push back on “total loss in value of $60 billion”. That’s based on short-term stock market valuation, which is perceived rather than actual value. In the long run, these will converge for any remotely efficient market, but in the short term, it could just mean that stupid bigots won’t pay you what your share of a company would otherwise be worth because they’re afraid of the girl cooties, which is meaningless unless some circumstance forces you to actually sell (or borrow against) your stock in that particular company before the market comes to its senses. Or it could mean that the company never was worth that much in the first place, and the announcement of a board change prompted people who were quietly ignoring it to take a close look and say “hey, is this really a well-run valuable company?” with the answer sometimes being “no”. We’re more than a decade into a bull market; probably more companies are overvalued than not and so anything that prompts a close look at corporate valuation is likely to have the average effect of slightly reduces market value.

    Long-term market valuation would be a better metric, except for being an impossibly noisy one. I’m not sure offhand how I would go about trying to get a valid measurement of this effect, and it may not be possible.

    • benwave says:

      Not that I’ve looked into the detail, but when I read that link I did think that now would probably be an excellent time to pick up some stock in those Californian companies on the cheap were I in the position to do so…

  54. John Schilling says:

    Sexual consent via blockchain: someone has finally come up with an idea worse than voting via blockchain.

    Pro tip: The reason “secure” IT systems fail, is not that they used the wrong Super Duper Crypto Algorithm. Using the right Super Duper Crypto Algorithm gets you almost nothing in real security. The problem, is implementing the algorithm in a manner that won’t frustrate a 5th-percentile J. Random Luser into giving your product a one-star review and is proof against a three-sigma malicious hacker. And in this case, the user is likely as not literally thinking with their Little Head when they need to be the most security-conscious.

    There’s a whole lot of hardware, software, UI, and meatware between the user’s gonads and the Super Crypto Blockchain, all of it built to the usual consumer-electronics level of attention to security. Anyone who can hack or socially engineer that, owns your sexual “consent”. Whatever you and they get up to, your cryptographically secure blockchain will swear you consented to.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Sexual consent via blockchain: someone has finally come up with an idea worse than voting via blockchain.

      “Nothing is ever foolproof, but modern airliners are incredibly resilient. Flying is the safest way to travel”.

      Up until you put software in the aircraft critical systems.
      Startup idea: MCAS on the blockchain. That’ll fix it for sure 🙂

      • DarkTigger says:

        Do I have to link the inevitable XKCD?

        Well I do it anyway:
        xkcd.com/2030/

        • Three Year Lurker says:

          Technologically, electronic voting can be as reliable and secure as buying something online.

          Stating that it’s not and will not be any time soon is stating that the financial incentive is not there. Delivering false results or manipulating the system is too advantageous for whatever creates the voting system.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Buying something online is safe because our electronic payment system is reversible and trackable. Those are both anti-requirements for a voting system.

      • bean says:

        Startup idea: MCAS on the blockchain. That’ll fix it for sure 🙂

        Actually, that was the problem. They’ve taken it off now, but the FAA is being difficult about the change.

  55. Valerius says:

    I am genuinely perplexed by Scott’s apparent categorisation of the German court decision as a UBI.

    Surely the (or at least a) sine qua non of a universal basic income is universality. It’s fairly clear that those with other income are not eligible, so this is pretty obviously still an unemployment benefit.

    Moreover, since one of the claimed benefits of a UBI is that the disincentive of the unemployed to look for work would be reduced, this decision runs in the opposite direction of the purpose of a UBI.

    Is this all part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to establish theoretical support for the advantages of a UBI and then increase redistribution by declaring that any and all increases to transfers to the unemployed are a form of UBI?

    • benwave says:

      Don’t know about no conspiracies on my side of the political divide, but yeah it’s very frustrating that so many things which lack some essential features of a UBI keep being called that.

    • Matt M says:

      Is this all part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to establish theoretical support for the advantages of a UBI and then increase redistribution by declaring that any and all increases to transfers to the unemployed are a form of UBI?

      Honestly, the more I see stuff like this, the more convinced I’m becoming that UBI is being set up as one of the most massive bait-and-switch policies of all time. I predict that within 10 years, the US will have:

      * A program that is nominally referred to as “basic income”
      * That does not replace or reduce any other existing welfare programs
      * That virtually nobody considers enough to live on
      * That is heavily means tested and only available to <20% of the population
      * That is spun by the media as a right-wing libertarian program that everyone always knew would fall far short of what is truly needed to help the poor

  56. Pablo says:

    Please don’t promote longbets.com. A while ago I updated the corresponding section of the relevant Wikipedia entry after experiencing first-hand some of the site’s dysfunctionalities and discovered that Gwern (who else) had already written about it:

    >An analysis by researcher Gwern Branwen found dozens of bets that had already expired but had not resolved, and many others with poorly defined resolution criteria. Branwen also found that the vast majority of the expired predictions resolved false, so that anyone could make a profit by betting indiscriminately against existing predictions. In light of these and other issues, and the website’s extremely low activity levels (with an average of less than two bets per year), Branwen concluded that the Long Bet Project should be shut down.

    Gwern’s article is here.

  57. AlexOfUrals says:

    So, those Indian guys got themselves a leader who’s rather authoritarian but at least he can deal with all the chaos and poverty? And then suddenly at some point they realized that they’re afraid to criticize him publicly while all the poverty and chaos are still there?

    Oh boy. What a cruel trick of nature. Who could’ve possibly see this coming. Except for, like, a countryful of people way up North.

  58. C_B says:

    The linked article for the Clark currency printing drama has a low-key brilliant pun from a speech by Congressman Thayer:

    I hold in my hand a five-cent note of this fractional currency of the United States. If you ask me, whose image and superscription is this? I am obliged to answer, not that of George Washington, which used to adorn it, but the likeness of the person who superintends the printing of these notes … I would like any man to tell me why his face should be on the money of the United States … It is derogatory to the dignity and the self-respect of the nation … I trust the House will support me in the cry which I raise of Off With Their Heads!

    Wonder if he managed to keep a straight face on the floor of the House for that one.

  59. TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

    “death rates increasing among all ethnic groups in all environments”

    …in the US.

  60. binocular222 says:

    “NPR: Let’s Stop Talking About The 30 Million Word Gap… The science did a 180, but the political implications stayed exactly the same.”

    No.
    The previous is: “Let’s do something about proverty, maybe we should direct our fund toward family education”.
    The latter is: “Let’s do something about proverty, maybe we should direct our fund to fight structural inequality”.

  61. The Nybbler says:

    There was a somewhat-successful movement to ban burgers not cooked to charcoal consistency in the United States in the early 1990s. It succeeded in some jurisdictions, though I believe it was rolled back in nearly all of them (the California Caesar Salad Ban suffered a similar fate). I once told off one of the proponents, because I’m basically an ogre.

  62. Truism says:

    Moore’s Law absolutely has broken down.

    That graph is completely disingenuously not comparing apples to apples at all. In the early and mid parts of the graph it’s listing consumer desktop processors like the Intel 8086, Intel 80386 and Pentium 2-4, but by the time you get to the period when it’s commonly asserted that Moore’s Law was falling apart, it starts listing server processors from the Xeon range (Xeon 7400, Nehalem-Ex from 2010+, even throwing in server grade APUs like the Nvidia GP100 Volta by the end of the graph).

    The components it’s listing for today are hundreds of percent more expensive than the ones it was listing for 1988. The highest model Intel 80386 was about $950 in 1989 dollars (about $1900 2020 dollars), while the lowest level GP100 Volta based options in 2016-2017 start at $10,500 in 2020 dollars.

    For the same money as the Intel 80386 in 2020 you can buy a AMD 3970X (from late Nov/early Dec 2019). Its transistor count would be Moore’s Law compliant (23,500,000,000) for 2016, but isn’t even close for 2020 (where it should be 100,000,000,000).

    Even using the 3970 or the GP100 is a little disingenuous because the transistors are not on the same chip, since both designs are using chiplets because yield problems restrict larger transistor counts for single dies. If you restrict it to single die transistor counts (to actually meet the “dense” requirement of “dense integrated circuit” in Moore’s Law which arguably chiplets and APUs do not) at that 80386 prices you get the Intel Xeon E5-2683 V4 and Intel Xeon E5-2697 V2 which both only have transistor counts of 7,200,000,000.

    QED
    Moore’s Law is ded.

    • Truism says:

      Also, comparing the transistor counts for those Xeon E5s to the AMD 3970 makes it abundantly clear why Intel is up shit creek without a paddle right now.

  63. Carlos Serrano says:

    I just spent a month vacationing in India, and I can tell you: the trains absolutely don’t run on time.

  64. michaelg says:

    Does anyone want to comment on my BS obesity theory?

    I read years ago that it’s a bit of a mystery how thirst works. You get dehydrated, feel thirsty, drink. But the sensation of thirst stops long before the body can have done anything with the water you drank. So it must be estimating that you’ve drunk enough.

    The same thing has to be happening with food. No way your hunger is satisfied by your body using all the calories you just consumed. It has to be estimating what you have eaten.

    An interesting experiment would be to serve something low-cal which tastes very sweet and see if people eat less of it. Or something really fattening that tastes bland and see if people eat more.

    My BS theory is that the main problem with modern diets is we eat very nutritious foods and eat them too fast. Before your gut can estimate how much nutrition you’ve consumed, you’ve already bolted down 1000 calories in burger and soda.

    You’d think this had all been thoroughly investigated, but I regularly read articles about nutrition research being a mess.

    • sourcreamus says:

      Wouldn’t the body know at some point how many calories you have consumed and not get hungry for a longer time after a larger meal?

      • Simon_Jester says:

        Yes, but not to enough of an extent to offset the problem. Reasons:

        1) The details of how we digest mean that unlike a snake, a human being can’t just swallow a single tremendous meal and spend a week or longer slowly extracting the calories from it. So the response is nonlinear. To pull numbers out of thin air, it’s as if snacking on 100 calories satiates your hunger for an hour, eating a 500 calorie meal satiates your hunger for four hours, but eating a 2500 calorie meal only satiates your hunger for 8-10 hours, tops. Eventually, all that extra matter you ate either gets digested and converted into fat, or just ends up in the colon and ready to be excreted, and it no longer matters how many calories you consumed. The body has no mechanism for saying “you just ate 5000 calories in one day, now you can go all day without eating tomorrow and not get hungry.” By the end of tomorrow your stomach is mechanically empty whether you feasted today or not.

        2) The body’s ability to determine how many calories you’ve consumed appears to be a crude estimate based on a few indicators easily accessible to your brain (the food’s volume, sweetness, and slippery/fattiness being examples). It doesn’t recalibrate very well, and maybe doesn’t recalibrate at all. As such, it is not a reliable instrument for stopping someone from eating too much.

        3) In the ancestral environment, humans evolved fat storage in large part to store calories by feasting when plenty of food was available. Hunter-gatherers had no means to store large amounts of food for extended periods of time without having it go bad; the only way to store a sudden windfall of calories was in your own gut.

        Therefore, it would have been deeply counterproductive for us to evolve a mechanism that shuts down your appetite just because you’ve eaten enough that you’d start gaining weight from the excess. You’re supposed to be able to eat enough food in a day to put on like a pound of fat, because in some environments that’s entirely appropriate. Indeed, necessary, because the fat you put on today will be essential to survival two months from now.

        It just never “crossed the mind” of the evolutionary process that humans would ever get into an environment where they could feast heavily enough to put on a pound of fat a day, every day, for a long long time without a famine breaking out and causing them to lose the extra weight.

    • xenon says:

      Anecdotally, as someone who follows intuitive eating, doing so has made me more aware of my body’s signals that I don’t want to eat anymore (or that I don’t want to eat a specific thing anymore, but do want to eat something else), but it has not affected my weight. From what I’ve seen talking to others, this is broadly true–some lose a bit, some gain a bit, but it’s not significant.

      Your proposal sounds similar to the “refilling soup bowl” study published by the now thoroughly-discredited Wansink. (Some posit that this experiment never actually happened; someone trying to replicate it couldn’t figure out how to make the refilling mechanism work). I don’t know that anything similar has been tested or replicated that tests specifically how to screw with people’s perceptions of what they’ve eaten–the “small plates” study has failed to replicate.

      (Anecdotally, my impression is that the body is very good at estimating both what it is eating and how much it has eaten. I had an interesting experience when I was going off of Zoloft–I suddenly became ravenously hungry, but didn’t want to eat anything. I’d get hungry, try a cracker, and as soon as I’d chewed a few times I no longer wanted crackers. I’d try an apple, and have the same experience–a bite, and I no longer wanted it. Same for carrots, for chips, for cookies, for just about everything in my pantry. A few days later, the hunger and weird lack of appetite vanished entirely. I’ve always wondered if my body was attempting to find Zoloft and was rejecting each food after it figured out there wasn’t any in the food)

    • HarmlessFrog says:

      Does anyone want to comment on my BS obesity theory?

      It’s fairly decent. Much of what you talk about has, indeed, been studied. I’d suggest checking out dr Guyenet’s writeup in “The Hungry Brain”.

      Basically, the human organism – much like just about any creature with adipose tissue – has a fatness regulation system. If you are too thin, measured by how full your adipose cells are, the tissue signals the brain to eat more. If you are too fat, the adipocytes signal the brain to eat less. In addition to hunger expression, the basal metabolism is also affected – if too thin, it slows down, if too fat, it speeds up.

      This works just as well in the obese as the lean – if you try to overfeed people, their physiology will resist this effort just as much as underfeeding them. But obviously, some people are lean, and some are fat. Holding the environment constant, which we kinda do in civilized countries, this is genetic. Some people, via accident of birth and probably some epigenetic mechanisms, develop phenotypes with the fat regulation system set on “high”. Others are naturally resistant to getting fat even in the face of the same food.

      The big problem, so far not adequately explained in the literature, is why people tend to gain weight slowly over time. Their setting seems to drift up year by year, bit by bit. I personally suspect that the food environment just get incrementally shifted towards being more and more obesogenic, as food production, marketing and distribution technology advances.

  65. The Big Red Scary says:

    Overall Modi and Erdogan scare me the most of any world leaders, because they show a path by which a democracy can slowly become dictatorial without a clear line where everyone unites and stops it.

    A ruler in stable power has an incentive to maintain peace and order, which only make his power more secure, while a ruler in a democracy is never secure and so will oppress his political enemies and play them off of each other as much as he can. Erdogan and Modi are therefore exactly what you should expect from too much rather than too little democracy, and if they were to manage to secure power for generations to come, then I would expect their successors to be significantly more moderate.

    The typical way to deal with this problem in a liberal democracy has been to abdicate most of the power to judges, that is, to set up a thousand and one little dictators across the land. The system bumbles on so long as the big dictator and most of the little dictators are not at odds, but rule becomes impossible for a big dictator at odds with the little dictators. In many liberal democracies this system seems to be coming apart at the seams, and the elite can either wait for a Merdogan, on the right or the left, or begin reconsolidating power before it’s too late.

    • Simon_Jester says:

      A ruler in stable power has an incentive to maintain peace and order, which only make his power more secure, while a ruler in a democracy is never secure and so will oppress his political enemies and play them off of each other as much as he can. Erdogan and Modi are therefore exactly what you should expect from too much rather than too little democracy, and if they were to manage to secure power for generations to come, then I would expect their successors to be significantly more moderate.

      And yet kingship has not, historically, been associated with overwhelmingly higher degrees of peace and order than democracies. Many monarchical nations have civil or dynastic wars on a regular basis, and revolts by the monarch’s subordinate satraps, minions, and subjects seldom stop.

      I would argue that by paying attention to the incentives faced by the monarch and ignoring the incentives faced by everyone else, you are introducing deep flaws to your analysis. In a monarchy where absolute power rules absolutely, the incentive faced by everyone else whose priorities are not perfectly aligned with the monarch’s is to subvert the monarchy. Subversion can include not only armed revolt, but also ambitious attempts to aggrandize oneself within the monarch’s court and arrogate some of the monarch’s power to oneself- which in effect undermines the “monarch is stably in charge” aspect of the situation even if the monarch’s de jure power is unchanged.

      Thus, monarchy creates an incentive for the monarch to promulgate stability, and for everyone else to promulgate instability. This usually doesn’t end well.

      By contrast, democracy creates the prospect of peaceful transfers of power. If my agenda is popular, I may reason, I may soon get an opportunity to implement it without having to actively conspire to sabotage the existing government. This is especially likely if I have reason to think that the existing government’s policies will fail.

      The ruler has some incentive to promote instability, but only some, because they still have to be able to stay in office for the duration of their term and will need future officials of their own party to be able to continue to govern. The opposition, meanwhile, has much, much less incentive to promote instability, because they have far more hope of gaining either partial access or future access to the machinery of government without having to tear said machinery apart around everyone’s ears.

      The typical way to deal with this problem in a liberal democracy has been to abdicate most of the power to judges, that is, to set up a thousand and one little dictators across the land. The system bumbles on so long as the big dictator and most of the little dictators are not at odds, but rule becomes impossible for a big dictator at odds with the little dictators. In many liberal democracies this system seems to be coming apart at the seams, and the elite can either wait for a Merdogan, on the right or the left, or begin reconsolidating power before it’s too late.

      The only power that must be abdicated to judges is the power to commit sabotage- either sabotage by the current administration against the opposition, by the opposition against the administration, or by either side against the legal institutions that govern the peaceful transfer of power.

      And since it is actively bad for the state to have this power be used in any way, except for the sole purpose of removing blatantly corrupt and defective individuals from office, I don’t see this as a serious problem.

    • kai.teorn says:

      > a ruler in a democracy is never secure

      A ruler in a (good) democracy is perfectly secure, much more secure than anywhere else. There’s security in knowing exactly when your term ends and knowing that you will be able to live out the rest of your life with your family, reasonably famous and provided for. Just, oh, don’t do anything illegal while in office and you’ll be fine.

  66. Hackworth says:

    Longbets.org – 382.Large Hadron Collider will destroy Earth. – why would you even make a bet on this happening? Either you lose money, or you’re dead.

  67. Hamish Todd says:

    Re Moore’s law, some commenters are saying that it doesn’t count because it doesn’t change single threaded performance. Folks, it is very very important that we learn to make better use of multiple threads! Stop making excuses and get on shadertoy!

    • Garrett says:

      Though I agree, that doesn’t mean that all problems can be trivially parallelized. Many are difficult or outright impossible to parallelize. Improved single-threaded performance will help any computational workload. Improved parallel performance will only help some types of workloads.

      • zorbathut says:

        I’m not totally convinced about this, to be honest.

        Yes, it is true there are algorithms that are difficult-or-impossible to parallelize; yes, it is true that the majority of work that desktops do is difficult-or-impossible to parallelize. But a significant amount of the work *that users wait on* is very parallelizable. It is also true that this mostly hasn’t been parallelized, but that’s mostly because it simply hasn’t been worth the effort, and even without that work being done, a modern operating system will cheerfully do several unrelated things at once.

        As an example of something that makes me frown and say “well, *technically*, but . . .”, the linked page lists “computing the nth term in a cryptographic hash chain” as a thing that can’t be parallelized. And they’re right! It can’t be parallelized.

        But what *can* be parallelized is computing the nth term in a hundred unrelated cryptographic hash chains. And very few systems bottleneck on a single user’s login; in general, you have many users trying to log in all the time, and each of those can have their password processed in parallel. The algorithm cannot be parallelized but the business application can.

        As a more immediate example, it’s well known that most game engines do a crummy job of parallelization, outside of “handing stuff to the GPU”. There’s many parts in games that are difficult to parallelize, and rendering engines are one of those parts . . . but they’re not impossible. I spent a year revamping the rendering engine of a released MMO and managed to roughly double framerate. This is an interesting case because it’s an Amdahl’s-Law case-study; we ended up with about a third of the original CPU being something that we simply didn’t bother to parallelize . . . but a lot of the rest would parallelize almost without limit. So it’s true that, on average, we didn’t use more than “three cores”, but in practice, you’d see noticeable performance gains up to around eight cores.

        Does that mean the other five cores were wasted? Well . . . kind of, because they certainly weren’t being used 100% . . . but kind of not, because they were providing real benefits to the user.

        The tl;dr here is that yes, improved single-threaded performance would do a lot of good, but there’s a *ton* more stuff we can do with parallelism, and we will once it starts being relevant, it just mostly isn’t.

  68. Douglas Knight says:

    Speaking of how Modi is Hitler, what other leaders have had a celibate image, that they forswore family for the sake of the nation?

  69. Lauro says:

    „Germany just guaranteed unemployed citizens around $330 per month indefinitely. The policy looks a lot like basic income.“

    I have been receiving such benefits for many years. It is misleading to say that Germany JUST guaranteed such a thing. It has basically done so for a long time, because it is a constitutional right. But there have always been minor changes, sometimes making it a bit stricter, sometimes a bit less strict. In this case it became a bit less strict, but the change was smaller than the article suggests.
    The benefits cover rent (including heating and other costs), health insurance and the 380$ to live by. It is not easy to live on such a basis, but not impossible. I suspect most people have some additional sources of money, such as family or black labor. For example, for me the main worry for the future is that health insurance covers only rather basic dental care.

    If you are healthy and able to work the agency invites you every few weeks to discuss your job situation. You are obliged to apply for jobs and have to document that you do so. If you don’t do that and are too explicit and stubborn resisting applying for and accepting jobs they can punish you by reducing the $380. Formerly they could reduce it by 30% or more for three months, the new ruling says that they can only reduce it by 30%. Penalization was rare, a few percent of cases (the article is misleading here). If you are largely cooperative, they wouldn’t punish you. In principle, you can be forced to take any job, but in practice they don’t force you to do so. They know it makes little sense. I have a PhD, so they will not force me to accept any work that is not related to my education. It is my impression that most people want to work, and the agency supports them in finding a job.

    All in all, I would say that the policy is indeed not so different from basic income. The main differences are that you have to show all your bank accounts, that you have to report any incoming money (which is then largely, but not fully deduced), and that you have to look for and accept jobs (if you are healthy). The laws are quite complicated trying to regulate every detail, but reality is always a bit different (more lenient and humane, I would say). The competence of the people at the agency is mixed (my supervisors have ranged from clueless to very good) and the whole enterprise is quite a bureaucratic thing, but I personally am very grateful for it.

    • Mark Atwood says:

      Why don’t you get an actual job?

      • Viliam says:

        It would economically make more sense to work today on something that will only generate money in the future. Or where the generated income officially belongs to another person; someone you trust, e.g. a close relative. When the generated money becomes nice enough, only then give up the “basic income” and take over officially.

        It’s interesting how thinking about abusing the rules encourages the entrepreneurial spirit. Starting a company, writing a bestseller, coding a game… you can hide this from the state. Having a daily job… too transparent.

        • Matt M says:

          It’s interesting how thinking about abusing the rules encourages the entrepreneurial spirit.

          What percentage of people collecting unemployment benefits (in Germany, or elsewhere) do you suspect are hiding secret entrepreneurial activity (as distinct from just normal black market wage labor)?

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Well, a bunch of them are part of various libre software collectives. Which is my absolute least favorite part of practicing my profession in Europe, and is one of the top three reasons why I don’t go to FOSDEM anymore.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          Yeah, it’s amazing the creativity that will be expressed in trying to overcome a 100% tax rate.

          Still better than where I live, where the dogoodniks have created a couple of income traps where the marginal effective tax rate is greater than 100%, and then shrug when it’s pointed out.

  70. oliveflowers says:

    The “dril turing test” pits randomly-selected tweets from the real account against randomly-selected tweets from @dril_gpt2.

    But the latter account is human-curated; @kingdomakrillic looks at outputs and selects ones he finds believable.

    That is, the website which processes them into the discrimination game is not actually pitting flesh against code (as a real turing test), but is merely a mental game of the player VS @kingdomakrillic.

    • not “can you discern GPT-2’s output from @dril’s?”
    • but “are you more discerning than @kingdomakrillic?”

    would probably be appropriate to append something like “(NB: human-curated—not a real Turing Test—but still fun)” to that entry

    • aesthesia says:

      Oh, that was me. I made this on a whim a couple months ago and didn’t realize it had gotten any significant amount of attention. I’ll clarify on the page that it doesn’t really qualify as a Turing test, and update with newly-scraped tweets, since the model has been upgraded since December.

  71. brec says:

    Red Pen Reviews (Stephan Guyenet’s scientific nutrition site) demolishes [The China Study].

    Hmm? Seems hyperbolic. From Guyenet’s conclusion: “… a scholarly and well-written book. … We did find the claim that a whole food plant-based diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease fairly convincing.” The conclusion does contain criticisms also.

    Disclosure: I’m a whole food plant-based diet fanboi, a fan of Guyenet, and not much impressed by China Study author T. Colin Campbell’s writings.

  72. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    How horrible it is to interview for programmer jobs, with emphasis on the hell of having to write algorithms.

    The first essay goes viral. He gets a lot of responses which add up to there are a lot of “programmers who aren’t remotely competent, ability at writing algorithms on the fly isn’t related to being a good programmer, but that’s how most companies do interviews, programmers waste a lot of time on writing algorithms to get hired.

    I thought writing a fizzbuzz algorithm would be enough to eliminate those totally incapable of programming (and of course, those with anxiety problems), and after that, the company should do some sensible interviewing, but that apparently isn’t how things go.

    The author is thinking about what he should do, but it doesn’t seem to occur to him that writing/lecturing should become part of his career path.

    • sketerpot says:

      How do you interview sensibly?

      You need to weed out people who can’t program. You can get most of the way there by asking them to write a trivial program involving a loop and a conditional — Fizzbuzz, say, or removing duplicate elements from an array while preserving order, or various other things. And you should throw in another one of those to deal with the (many) people who try to brute-force memorize every such question.

      After that… what?

      You could ask some less trivial programming problems that are short, easy-to-describe, and self-contained. Anything matching that description is going to look “algorithmic” to most people, even if it doesn’t require any algorithmic knowledge beyond what you’d get in an Introduction to Data Structures class. Many companies go with this option, and it has its shortcomings, so naturally lots of people criticize it. Anything with problems is easy to criticize if you’re not comparing it with its alternatives.

      Another option is to give longer multi-day programming projects that are closer to what you’d encounter on the job. This has the disadvantage of being expensive and time-consuming for everyone involved, and the more time is required for interviewing, the more you’ll turn away people with full-time jobs — but a lot of the people you really want to hire are already full-time employed (because they’re good!), so this is selecting in the wrong direction. It’s a nice option to offer, but it’s probably only a good fit for a minority of candidates.

      Or you could split the difference and do programming projects that take a few hours. This is fairly common in companies that bring someone on-site for a full day of interviews, and so of course you need other filters ahead of that in the pipeline to narrow down the set of applicants enough that it becomes cost-effective. (And, empirically, you can’t cut down that set nearly enough with just fizzbuzz. I’ve seen company-internal numbers on this.)

      You could spend maybe 30-60 minutes asking the candidate to design some software system, at a high level, without writing code. Obviously this doesn’t test to see if someone can program, but it does test some important skills that programming questions don’t. I like these, and I’ve had some great success with them, but they’re very hard to run. The interviewer needs to be actually really good at designing the sort of software system in question, way above the level that would be enough to pass the interview. They need to be able to take whatever the candidate says and run with it, and they need to actually be right often enough that they don’t come off as a bozo, while also being humble enough that they don’t turn off candidates. There are a lot of horror stories about design interviews gone badly, where the interviewer didn’t understand what the candidate said, and was just trying to steer them toward a pre-determined One True Solution written in some rubric somewhere. Software design interviews are therefore quite expensive to run, because people qualified to run them are rare, and those people usually have heavy demands on their time.

      So, a question to anyone who’s done software interviewing: how should it be done? “The current way sucks” is the most common reply, but it’s not an actual answer.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Having been on both ends of the interview process, I can sort of see it from both sides.

        Speaking as an employer, in my own personal experience, the proportion of applicants who can actually program is shockingly low. We used to interview people based on a short phone screening call, followed by an in-person meeting. The questions we asked on the phone gradually got simpler and simpler, to the point where our first question literally became, “how many bits are in a byte ?”. My favorite answer so far is “about 12”, and it’s not even the worst one. If someone did manage to pass the phone screen, we’d invite him (*) in, ask some whiteboard questions, and, if he did well, sit him in front of a computer for an hour, with a set of programming challenges to solve. We would tell every applicant that yes, you can use Google, in fact we encourage it.

        Some of the most common reasons we’d reject people (assuming they passed the phone screen) were the following:
        * Cannot write a simple loop to count how many letters of each kind there are in a string, even when prompted with hints.
        * Bad attitude. This ranges from “writing loops is beneath me” (yes, really), to “you people are all idiots, let me show you how it’s done”.
        * Claims to have solved the programming challenge; solution does not compile.
        * Claims to have solved the programming challenge; solution compiles but does not run.
        * Sort of solves the programming challenge, but fails on every edge case (i.e. an empty input list). This wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself, but we would screen out people who would fail to address even the mere existence of such bugs when repeatedly prompted.
        * Asks for too much money (and does not negotiate). This is a really painful and unfortunate reason to reject someone, but our budget is not infinite.

        One other thing that made me really uncomfortable is informing people when they were rejected, because our HR had very specific guidelines for what we could and could not say. So, we couldn’t just tell someone, “come back when you can write a loop”, we had to be diplomatically evasive about it.

        (continued in next post)

        (*) I generally tend to use “him” as a general synonym for “that human”, but, in this case, it’s doubly accurate. Only about 1% of our applicants were women.

      • Bugmaster says:

        (continued)

        On the employee side, I personally don’t mind whiteboard questions and written tests, but I know some people really hate them. I can sort of see why — the pressure can really get to you — but, having been on the other end, I understand that saving time is important.

        Some of the warning signs and frustrations that get to me personally are:

        * Stupid boilerplate HR questions such as “where do you see yourself in 5 years” (yes, really). I understand the problem they’re trying to solve, but this isn’t the way to do it.

        * Refusing to provide feedback. It’s very easy to get stuck on some minor aspect of a problem during a whiteboard challenge, and a good interviewer should be able to guide the applicant forward. On the other hand, I understand that hiring a guy who never gets stuck on anything is an attractive proposition.

        * Acting evasive when asked about company culture, typical challenges they face, etc. I understand that a certain level of non-disclosure is warranted, but at some point, I gotta wonder: what are you hiding ?

        * Rejection without being told why. Again, this is an HR problem, so it probably cannot be solved, but it’s nice to dream.

        * Being interviewed by people who clearly cannot program, and are just following some script. If I got past your phone screen, I should get to talk to people who would be working with me, otherwise what’s the point ?

      • Lambert says:

        Can’t y’all just ask folks what responsibilities they had in their previous jobs, what challenges they overcame etc?
        Does anyone outside of software development lean so heavily on toy problems under timed conditions? (hypothesis: when everyone else is asking normal interview questions, Google got to snaffle up good programmers that didn’t have an impressive CV for whatever reason. But it doesn’t work when everyone’s doing it.)

        Also interviews are just bad. Hiring is just bad. The best you can do is weed out most of the people who clearly aren’t capable of the job and axe-murderers.

        • HomarusSimpson says:

          people who clearly aren’t capable of the job and axe-murderers.

          Is that an ‘and’ statement or an ‘or’ statement?

        • Lambert says:

          weed out most of the people who clearly aren’t capable of the job ∪ axe-murderers.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Can’t y’all just ask folks what responsibilities they had in their previous jobs, what challenges they overcame etc?

          Sure, and they’ll give you good or bad answers almost independently of how well they can program. Furthermore, sometimes you’re interviewing new grads, and believe me, graduating from even a high-ranked CS school is NOT guarantee you can program your way out of a paper bag.

          (hypothesis: when everyone else is asking normal interview questions, Google got to snaffle up good programmers that didn’t have an impressive CV for whatever reason. But it doesn’t work when everyone’s doing it.)

          Microsoft did it before Google even existed. A lot of companies did, in fact, though not refined to the level it is today.

          (as for the axe murderers, I don’t know of any axe murderers who can program. Hans Reiser is the most well known murderer-programmer, I think. There’s also a man named Michael Dunn, who used a gun, but I have no idea if he was good at his job)

        • Bugmaster says:

          No, we can’t, because we’re not testing for the applicant’s skill at constructing an engaging narrative with himself as a protagonist; we’re testing for his ability to do the job we’re hiring him to do. Since the job involves programming, we need to test for that.

          The best you can do is weed out most of the people who clearly aren’t capable of the job and axe-murderers.

          If that’s the best you can do, perhaps you ought to re-evaluate your interviewing strategy 🙂

          • Lambert says:

            We probably ought to.

            I’m just saying that the baseline outside of software isn’t spectacularly high, either.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Regarding algorithms, it very much depends on what position you’re trying to fill. For a junior position, being able to write FizzBuzz might be enough — because the employee would be given a lot of direction and guidance anyway. For a senior position, you really need someone who can do a lot more: the reason the position is a senior one is because the employee would be given a lot more responsibility. When I tell someone “we need to align two long strings against each other and visualize the results”, I expect him to at least understand Big-O notation, and hopefully to also know something about dynamic programming; FizzBuzz alone won’t cut it.

      • Defective Phylactery says:

        > and hopefully to also know something about dynamic programming

        Since you’ve advocated for people knowing it, would you be willing to defend what I see as a pointlessly vague and unhelpful label for what is better described as memoization? I mean, really. We all know what programming is, but what on earth is the relation between caching computed parts of the recursion tree and making programming more, “dynamic?”

        The way I see it, the term, “dynamic programming”, is just a mystification of something otherwise simple with the express purpose of giving interviewers yet another shibboleth.

        • sketerpot says:

          The name was designed to sound vaguely cool and dynamic, but it wasn’t meant to give interviewers a shibboleth; it was meant to keep Richard Bellman’s research funding coming. From his autobiography:

          I spent the Fall quarter (of 1950) at RAND. My first task was to find a name for multistage decision processes. An interesting question is, Where did the name, dynamic programming, come from? The 1950s were not good years for mathematical research. We had a very interesting gentleman in Washington named Wilson. He was Secretary of Defense, and he actually had a pathological fear and hatred of the word research. I’m not using the term lightly; I’m using it precisely. His face would suffuse, he would turn red, and he would get violent if people used the term research in his presence. You can imagine how he felt, then, about the term mathematical. The RAND Corporation was employed by the Air Force, and the Air Force had Wilson as its boss, essentially. Hence, I felt I had to do something to shield Wilson and the Air Force from the fact that I was really doing mathematics inside the RAND Corporation. What title, what name, could I choose? In the first place I was interested in planning, in decision making, in thinking. But planning, is not a good word for various reasons. I decided therefore to use the word “programming”. I wanted to get across the idea that this was dynamic, this was multistage, this was time-varying I thought, lets kill two birds with one stone. Let’s take a word that has an absolutely precise meaning, namely dynamic, in the classical physical sense. It also has a very interesting property as an adjective, and that is it’s impossible to use the word dynamic in a pejorative sense. Try thinking of some combination that will possibly give it a pejorative meaning. It’s impossible. Thus, I thought dynamic programming was a good name. It was something not even a Congressman could object to. So I used it as an umbrella for my activities.

          • Defective Phylactery says:

            Huh. So it is an obfuscation, but the intention was benign.

            As interesting as that is though, I still think it’s become a shibboleth regardless of origins and should be deprecated once possible alternate labels should be explored..

        • Bugmaster says:

          I might be using the term incorrectly. When I say “dynamic programming”, I’m thinking of something like the Smith-Waterman algorithm for string alignment, when you build a matrix of possible solution steps, then trace a path backwards through it. I understand that this theoretically amounts to memoization, but IMO it’s a sufficiently different approach to warrant its own label.

    • Viliam says:

      Maybe the algorithm focused interviews are just a form of ageism + credentialism. The more exotic algorithms you can learn at university, but most people won’t ever use them. (Not even people working at the companies that require this knowledge at the interview.) So testing people whether they are fluent in exotic algorithms is effectively testing whether they have studied at a university recently. (No university? Fail! Too old to remember the stuff you learned at university and then never used? Fail!)

      Also, in the rare once-in-a-lifetime situation when you would need to implement an exotic algorithm to solve a real-life problem… you could simply use a search engine, or ask your colleagues, or post a question on Stack Exchange. More efficient than becoming a living encyclopedia of facts you will never use. (By the way, what if someone needs an algorithm that was invented after they have interviewed for the job? In that case, being able to search is the clear win, isn’t it?)

      For practical purposes, the fizzbuzz test would be a nice first step. Preferably a home-made variant thereof, so that people can’t find the solution online.

      My own version for Java interviews is the following: “Imagine you have a Person class containing data about a person, such as their age, first name, surname, and a few others. Write a method that receives a collection of people, chooses only those who are 18 or more years old, and orders them alphabetically (by surname, and in case of the same surname by first name).”

      I like this question because it is not only “yes or no”, but provides opportunities to get it partially right, such as doing the age correctly but the alphabetical sorting incorrectly. It also allows simple or complicated solutions depending on how familar one is with streams and comparators. That is, even people good at programming in general but very new in Java would be able to produce something.

      By the way, most people I interviewed have failed at this test, for the very same reason they would fail at the fizzbuzz test. So with very few people who pass it, you have enough time to talk to them like a human.

      • sketerpot says:

        I’ve written a bunch of exotic algorithms for my job at at Unnamed Bigco — exotic because I had to come up with them myself, because there was nothing off-the-shelf that actually fit the problem.

        There’s something interesting I notice when people discuss studying algorithms for job interviews. A lot of people talk about algorithms like discrete things that you memorize or google, and then whip out as needed when you see a problem that matches one. I see algorithms more as patterns of thought. You learn them, and you use them to figure out how to deal with new problems that nobody has ever studied in college. I’ve written an unusually large amount of algorithm-heavy code, so I’ve got a decent sample size — and “just google it” has hardly ever been a viable approach.

        If you look at most algorithms textbooks, they definitely seem to share this view. Why do all the textbooks teach you about mergesort? It’s not because they expect you to write sort functions regularly, but because they want you to understand the extremely-useful ideas of recursive divide-and-conquer algorithms and merging sorted sequences. Why do they teach about hash tables? Partly because hash tables are one of the few data structures that really matter in practice, but mostly because hashing and probabilistic algorithm design can be applied in countless ways that the textbook authors can’t possibly guess in advance.

        In an interview, good algorithm questions try to avoid being something that the applicant can memorize beforehand. As you point out, there’s not much point in that. Algorithmic thinking, on the other hand, can be really handy.

        So I don’t think it’s just ageism/credentialism. I think it’s either an attempt to test something genuinely worthwhile, or cargo-cult imitation thereof.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I wholeheartedly agree. When I think of “algorithm-based” interview questions, I’m not thinking of simply asking, “define depth-first search”. I don’t care whether the applicant can memorize some algorithm and recite it at will; I want to know if he can solve a real problem using that algorithm (or combination of algorithms).

          Additionally, it would be really nice if applicants were CS-literate to at least some degree. CS literacy allows you to read documentation and do research independently, and, if every one on the team is CS-literate, it allows the entire team to communicate significantly more efficiently.

          • I want to know if he can solve a real problem using that algorithm

            For a non-computer example of the same issue …

            I was interviewing a college applicant who claimed to be interested in economics and had gotten a good grade on an econ AP exam. I asked him what it was worth to me to buy all the diet coke I wanted at some price. He had absolutely no idea how to answer.

            Then I asked him what consumer surplus was, and he gave me a textbook correct answer.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @DavidFriedman:
            To be fair though, if you did ask me that question, I’d probably answer, “I don’t know, man, maybe you personally are into Diet Coke way more than I am” 🙂 I think “consumer surplus” refers to the average (median ?) consumer, not a specific individual, but I could be wrong (I never took any kind of an AP exam).

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I think algorithm-based interviews are ageist, or at least give an advantage to recent graduates. Algorithm-based interviews are an effort to get around credentialism.

        I think they’re mostly a result of people (companies? HR departments?) which don’t know what they’re doing. They know FizzBuzz is a pretty good filter, but they think they should have a more selective filter of the same kind rather than figuring out what they’re actually looking for.

        • chridd says:

          I thought algorithm-based interviews came first, and FizzBuzz was a response to them?

          I’ve also heard claimed that algorithm-based interviews are a leftover from when C was the dominant language, since C lacks a lot of built-in/standard-library data structures and things like reversing a linked list were things C programmers would do day-to-day (vs. just calling a standard-library function in more modern languages).

  73. lilster says:

    How accurately have all climate models since 1970 predicted the evolution of climate since that time? (answer: pretty accurately)

    This paper doesn’t say much, unfortunately.
    The first point is simple: their confidence intervals of the forecasts disagree with each other. How can they all be “correct?” E.g.
    A) The Mitchell model’s confidence interval predicts 0.48-0.54 degrees of warming from 1970-2000
    B) The Manabe model predicts 0.57 degrees of warming over the same time.
    C) The Benson model predicts 0.6 degrees of warming over the same time.
    We don’t even need to wait to know the future before knowing Mitchell can’t be correct at the same time as Manabe and Benson.

    The second thing you might be wondering is: how do you evaluate B) and C) if they don’t provide confidence intervals?

    Their answer: the 95% confidence interval on the change in temperature temperature from 1970-2000 ranges from 0.36 to 0.63 degrees. All forecasts are in this range, so all of them are marked correct.

    If we really didn’t know if the globe had warmed that much over 30 years, it would cast a lot of doubt on any explanation of the fact that relies on statistical inference!

    How did they come to this estimate of warming? By mixing up a standard error of an estimate, and a standard error of the y variable. If you want to see, more details: here

    • Aristophanes says:

      Wow, this is a very good point – from the attached pdf it really looks like the original piece involves some really strange errors regarding basic statistics.

      But the precise details of how the mistake arose, how did the authors not notice the first problem that you mention. Namely, to give an analogy, suppose:
      – Karen forecasts that the temperature tomorrow will be 68 F with a CI of (65-71)
      – Andy forecasts that the temperature tomorrow will be 50 F with a CI of (47-53)
      – Johnny forecasts that the temperature tomorrow will be 100 F with a CI of (90-100).

      Then these forecasts are obviously mutually inconsistent. Only 1 of them can be correct, at most! (They can all be wrong, of course). We don’t need to wait until tomorrow to know that they can’t all be correct (although tomorrow will provide information about who is incorrect).

      And if tomorrow arrives, and your thermometer is wonky and you can’t tell if its 45 F or 105 F, so you say “my CI for today is 45 – 105 F, so they are all correct”, you’ve committed a great error of logic. You can’t say they are all correct, you can just say that your measurement sucks.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Indeed, that would explain what seems to me to be an impossible result, that is, forecasts with much greater precision than the observed values.

  74. Alsadius says:

    Regarding the Granger/Johnson meeting, here’s my contribution:

    “Oh yes ma’am, I’ve heard of you”
    “You have? I find that hard to believe”
    “Oh yes, of course. I’m an eighth goblin, you see. Don’t have much left of it but the hair, mind you.”

  75. Prussian says:

    Re: the californian intervention wiping out 60 billion, of course it’s true. How could it possibly be not? The only way it could not be is the idea that these companies prioritise something over making large profits. Is there anyone who believes this?

    Re:Modi,

    Welcome aboard Scott! I warned about him way back when.

    As always though, these articles mean precisely dick. It doesn’t matter whether they are right or wrong, they are written by the people who are always mysteriously absent when the subject of jihad is tabled, when the itty-bitty matter of the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Buddhists in Pakistan and Bangladesh is tabled, when the matter of the Hindu genocide under the mughals is tabled… So it doesn’t matter what these thumbsucking articles say, Modi will stay in power on the basis of “Better him than those who would throw us to the wolves”. As I have cause to write elsewhere:

    In Germany, you have the parties of mass sexual assault, and the attacks on Jews, Sikhs and Yezidi – or you have the AfD.

    In Britain, you have the parties of grooming gangs and murder for blasphemy – or you have UKIP and Britain First.

    In France, you have the parties of les tournantes (the ceremonial islamic gang rape), of the ethnic cleansing of Jews – or you have Marine Le Pen.

    And in America, you have the party of slavery, or the party of Trump. Eight years of the previous administration left us with slave markets in Iraq and Libya, and since Trump’s been there, at least one of those has been shut down.

    Don’t like that choice? I sure as hell don’t, but I didn’t build this world.

    Now I am going to go off and drink heavily…

    • Doug S. says:

      I hate to be a brat and/or get involved in culture war issues, but I really can’t give Trump any credit for the decline of ISIL. Trump’s foreign policy has been incoherent and bordering on destructive; even Republican Senators were upset when he ordered US troops out of northern Syria and effectively let Turkey’s army start attacking them.

      I’m definitely aware of what happens when some forms of Islam get out of control, though. :/

      • Prussian says:

        I agree with all of that. Nevertheless… Please see the bit where I say I’m off to drink heavily. I mean… being against slavery commits you to support of Donald Trump? What?

        Trump is awful on so many levels. And yet, because of these crucial points, we’re stuck with him. Oh joy.

    • Hindu genocide under the mughals

      I found that puzzling, and a little googling provided no support for it. Genocide is the wiping out of a group, in this case Hindus. At the end of the Mughal period, most of the population of India was Hindu, which seems inconsistent with genocide by the Mughals.

      It’s clear that some Mughal emperors killed substantial numbers of Hindus. It is unclear that any of that was an attempt to wipe out the Hindus, attempted genocide, as opposed to the result of conflict between Mughal rulers and Hindu rulers or Hindus rebelling against Mughal rule. References seem mostly to be to Aurangzeb, but the most detailed discussion I found (still not very detailed, a web page not a book) argued that the claims against him are greatly exaggerated.

      Were you thinking of something more specific than “Muslim rulers killed quite a lot of Hindus over the centuries of Mughal rule”?

      • Prussian says:

        Well, by that standard, there’s never been a real genocide. There are still Native Americans in America, and Jews in Europe, and Tutsis in Rwanda.

        What I mean is that, in pogrom after pogrom, Muslim rulers killed close to eighty million Hindus, and crippled the civilisation of the subcontinent. When Tamerlane came, he killed 5% of the then global population. Aurangzeb wasn’t the exception; he was the norm.

        Yes, it wasn’t just “crushing the rebels” (though why should that make a difference?), but a planned, deliberate, stated attempt to wipe out Infidels who were not even Peoples of the Book. Texts from the time explicitly affirm genocidal language.

        For example, from Khazain ul-Futuh:

        that he, the sultan, so ordered the massacre of all the chiefs of Hindustan out of the pale of Islam by his infidel-smiting sword

        And elsewhere, under Babur, the first emperor of the mughals, this is reported:

        We made general massacre of pagans in it. A pillar of pagan heads was ordered set up on a hill northwest of Chanderi and converteed what for many years had been a mansion of hostility into a mansion of Islam

        .

        Note the distinction between darl al-Islam, the house of Islam, meaning the Muslims community, and the community of Infidels, the dar al-Harb, the house of War.

        K.S. Lal’s work on this is invaluable. It is hard to argue with the solid use of primary sources he makes, which is why it is evaded.

        As regards that webpage, I’ve seen it all before. The standard of this kind of journalism on this matter tends to be that of David Irving and the Institute for Historical Review. Even wikipeida is better on this.

        • Protagoras says:

          I recently was doing some reading about Indian history, and differing historical norms makes some of this evidence more problematic; there definitely have been times and places when boasting of one’s bloodthirsty destruction of one’s enemies was popular. While it is true that in such times and places where ruthless slaughter was considered something to boast about it was surely for that reason somewhat more common, it is equally true that boasts tend to be exaggerated, sometimes very greatly so.

      • John Schilling says:

        Well, by that standard, there’s never been a real genocide. There are still Native Americans in America, and Jews in Europe, and Tutsis in Rwanda.

        Those were, at least, attempted genocides. There were people who killed Native Americans for no other reason than that they were Native Americans and the killers wanted there to be zero(*) Native Americans in America. “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”. Same for Jews, Tutsis, etc, etc. That’s what it means to attempt genocide, pretty much by definition.

        Insofar as the Jewish population of Europe has decreased by about 85% since 1938 and there is little prospect for its regrowth, this is at least a partially successful genocide. It is certainly an attempted genocide.

        The Mughal emperors, as far as I know, never killed anyone for the reason “he’s a Hindu”, never aspired to rule over Hindu-free empire, never sought to greatly diminish the Hindu population save in the vaguely aspirational sense of hoping they would eventually convert voluntarily. They killed lots of people because they were rebels, or soldiers in someone else’s army, or for various other incidental reasons, who happened to have been Hindu but would likely have been killed just as dead and for just the same reason if they had been Muslim rebels or whatever. This may constitute mass murder, but it isn’t genocidal mass murder even if you do happen to kill the last Hindu or whatever in the process.

        * Or, very much fewer and with no real prospects for regaining their prior numbers/influence.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The Mughal emperors, as far as I know, never killed anyone for the reason “he’s a Hindu”, never aspired to rule over Hindu-free empire, never sought to greatly diminish the Hindu population save in the vaguely aspirational sense of hoping they would eventually convert voluntarily. They killed lots of people because they were rebels, or soldiers in someone else’s army, or for various other incidental reasons, who happened to have been Hindu but would likely have been killed just as dead and for just the same reason if they had been Muslim rebels or whatever. This may constitute mass murder, but it isn’t genocidal mass murder even if you do happen to kill the last Hindu or whatever in the process.

          I feel like this is devolving into nitpicking deontology vs. utilitarianism. Indian Muslim primary sources make it abundantly clear that extermination of Hindus was within their Overton Window, making boasts like “Were it not for the great Hanafi*, every single one of you would be killed!”

          *The only school of Sunni jurisprudence that says all infidels under a Muslim ruler should be treated as dhimmis. The Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali schools all believe that all non-Muslims except Christians, Jews, and Sabeans must convert upon conquest or be killed.

          In 1935 Will Durant (The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage. p. 459) wrote, before the concept of genocide became so famous: “The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.”
          I just don’t see killing tens of millions of people being OK so long as you expect their identity group to always be part of your state (which many Muslim rulers assuredly did).

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            It is not nitpicking to use the actual definition of genocide to evaluate a claim of genocide. It’s called, you know, logic.

            I don’t think anyone has said mass murder is a good thing. But it isn’t the same as genocide. No one claimed that Stalin was committing genocide against Ukranians in the 1930’s, but it wasn’t because anyone was excusing his actions. No one accused Mao of committing genocide against his own people, because it was mass murder, not genocide. Definitions are important.

          • Prussian says:

            Mark,

            To repeat what I’ve written elsewhere, if it makes you feel better, feel free to refer to a mass murder of eighty million than a genocide of eighty million.

            To the facts, many people do indeed classify Stalin’s Holodomor and Mao’s killings as genocides. If you read up, you will find that article that David Friedman linked denies that these bloody killings, this orgy of repression and slaughter, even happened!

            So, yeah, definitions are important, but facts and reality are even more important.

          • John Schilling says:

            To repeat what I’ve written elsewhere, if it makes you feel better, feel free to refer to a mass murder of eighty million than a genocide of eighty million.

            It makes me feel better to not have people misusing Power Words in an attempt to circumvent my capacity for rational thought. That strategy doesn’t work on me, but it is really annoying.

            It also helps the speaker maintain their credibility in my eyes, if they don’t do that. You did that.

          • Prussian says:

            1.) Most people refer to this as a genocide, as, indeed, were the horrors of Mao and Stalin (which I notice you didn’t acknowledge)

            2.) I’m honestly creeped out by someone who contemplates murder on that scale and is only concerned about the word use.

          • DM says:

            So, I’m not really sure what your point is here, Prussian? That Hindus in India are voting for Modi out of a reasonable fear that they’ll be slaughtered by Muslims, and that fear is reasonable because of what happened under the Moguls? That any article about Modi’s mistreatment of Muslims should also mention all the bad things Muslims on the subcontinent have ever done? Presumably not, since those are obviously dumb claims, but I can’t quite tell what the more sensible steelman is here. Which makes me suspicious that your just uncomfortable with anything highlighting the suffering of Muslims somewhere that doesn’t include a bit about ‘but obviously, Muslims are bad’.

          • DM says:

            Like, would you (Prussian) also object to an article about Muslim mistreatment of Hindus that didn’t mention the nastiness of the caste system, and the fact that historically (I think? someone who knows more Indian history can correct me if I’m wrong?) many Muslims converts came from the lower castes?

          • Prussian says:

            DM,

            That Hindus in India are voting for Modi out of a reasonable fear that they’ll be slaughtered by Muslims, and that fear is reasonable because of what happened under the Moguls? Th

            Yes, but not only what was done under Mughal rule. It’s what was done under Mughal rule, and what is being done in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the stated policy of Islamist and Jihadist groups towards India…

            and the fact that the liberal mainstream ignores and evades all of this.

            So you have:
            1. Consistent denial of historical genocides / mass murders,
            2. Denial of ongoing ethnic cleansing in neighbouring states today,
            3. Denial of the numerous groups that share that ideology.

            That’s a really, really good reason to vote for the one guy who at least doesn’t deny all of that. Go back, read my O.P. and read the linked post.

            Like, would you (Prussian) also object to an article about Muslim mistreatment of Hindus that didn’t mention the nastiness of the caste system,

            Of course I wouldn’t. But that’s not a parallel to the above article; that article explicitly denied the atrocities were ever committed. As I’ve written, this is David Irving territory.

            [EDIT] I see a slight confusion here; you’re talking about the article Scott posted, whereas I thought you were talking about the one David Friedman posted. But read back: I never disagreed with that article (though some in these comments have said it is a pack of lies), I said it was irrelevant – that Modi will continue to win and hold power because the liberal mainstream has utterly abdicated its responsibility when it comes to the matter of jihad and islamism.

            You see this all the time in Europe. When white nationalist terrorism – which is a real thing – strikes, the condemnations ring absolutely hollow because they are coming from people who always start making shifty excuses if the terrorism comes from another direction. The same dynamic is at play here.

            So, yes, you have Modi in India, Trump in America, and rising national conservatives throughout Europe. Get used to it.

        • Prussian says:

          The Mughal emperors, as far as I know, never killed anyone for the reason “he’s a Hindu”,

          Please see what Le Maistre says below. They absolutely did. I could cite numerous eyewitness accounts.

          Those “rebels” were ones who didn’t want to live under the hideous rule of dhimmitude, which was rather worse than the segregationist laws of America. Please bear in mind also that dhimmitude could be revoked at any moment and massacre made of the Infidels if, for example, a Muslim testified that an Infidel had broken one of the commands. It should go without saying that no Infidel testimony was ever accepted.

          The reason they never did was a combination of the below-cited matter of the Hanafi and also the sheer numbers of Hindus, and also that Muslims preferred to use Hindus as subjugated coolies to do menial work (paying the jizya etc.)

          Calls for killing Hindus as Hindus were indeed made just as cries of killing Jews were made by the Nazis. Even under Akbar you find generals hoping to soak their Muslim beards in Hindu infidel blood.

          But, okay, if it makes you feel better on this subject, I will agree that there wasn’t a genocide of eighty million Hindus, there was a mass murder of eighty million Hindus.

    • Ant says:

      I am just going to touch the French part, but the rest is also awful. Raping a person in group is not an islamic ceremony (contrary to attentats, they are not done in the name of a religion), certainly not limited to Muslim (unfortunately exist in France before them, and other non muslim country such as the US). However, it’s often done in France by poor people, and some of those poor people have great parent from muslim country. Claiming this is a muslim problem is claiming that rape by frat boy is a christian problem: possible, but it reveals more about the speaker than the phenomen in question.

      And if you seriously think that they are parties in France that condone gang rape or the ethnic cleansing of Jew, stop the bottle.

      • Prussian says:

        *shrugs* Have it your way. The thing is that the rape of Infidel women is explicitly sanctioned by Islam, Islamic misogyny – regarding uncovered women as “whores” – makes it way more likely, and those on the receiving end of les tournantes have a good idea of what’s behind this.

        And if you seriously think that they are parties in France that condone gang rape or the ethnic cleansing of Jew, stop the bottle.

        Again, have it your way. I don’t think any condone in some “Yes, this is good!” way. Just treat the whole thing as though it didn’t exist, and howl down those trying to speak out. As in Britain.

  76. jorgenharris says:

    Re Ergodicity Economics: The argument that Ole Peters (and coauthors, and Collins) is making is fundamentally flawed. The ideas they are arguing against–expected utility and risk aversion–are fundamentally ways of expressing peoples’ preferences about uncertainty. At the core, there are only two possibilities when considering choices made with uncertain outcomes: either those choices will be based on peoples’ (subjective, likely variable) preferences, or there will be some objectively right set of choices.

    Fundamentally, it shouldn’t be possible that there are “objectively right” preferences over risk and uncertainty any more than there are “objectively right” preferences over deterministic choices. If I offer you the choice between receiving $1,000,000 for sure or $10,000,000 with a 20% probability, the “right” choice should depend on your financial goals and tastes. If you care a lot about being able to afford a $40,000/year lifestyle but don’t get much satisfaction from consumption beyond $40,000, you would want to take the million for sure. If you’ve always dreamed of starting a major business that would require massive start-up capital, or you want to live in a mansion, it might be worthwhile to gamble for the chance of getting $10,000,000. So we shouldn’t be able to tell you the objectively right way to bet unless we can tell you the objectively right way to value simple vs luxurious living.

    Peters and co. try to get around this by essentially assuming away uncertainty by looking at infinite time horizons. IF you were going to repeat a bet over infinite time periods, the average growth rate of your investment becomes deterministic, so we can argue that the optimal strategy is to maximize your average growth rate (a task that doesn’t require preferences to do). However, if you are making decisions under anything other than an infinite time horizon, this doesn’t work–there’s a range of possible outcomes at any finite time period, so someone who cares about finite time needs a way to place a value on all of those possible outcomes (i.e. they need to have preferences over uncertain outcomes). As a result, all that “ergodicity economics” does in real-world, finite-time decisions is make an ad-hoc assertion of people’s preferences over risk, based on mathematical convenience.

    Also, this statement is completely wrong:

    [I]n maximizing the expectation value – an ensemble average over all possible outcomes of the gamble – expected utility theory implicitly assumes that individuals can interact with copies of themselves, effectively in parallel universes (the other members of the ensemble). An expectation value of a non-ergodic observable physically corresponds to pooling and sharing among many entities. That may reflect what happens in a specially designed large collective, but it doesn’t reflect the situation of an individual decision-maker.

    Standard economic theory assumes that people make choices before observing the outcome of a gamble by considering the possibility that any possible outcome might happen, and caring about each possibility in proportion to how likely it is to happen. Once the die are cast, of course the person won’t actually enjoy their expected utility–they’ll enjoy the utility associated with whatever actually happened. But since we don’t know what will happen before it happens (hence, uncertainty), we consider all the possibilities. This is an extremely reasonable perspective.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I believe that Peters’ and Collins’ claim for ergodicity economics is stronger than you present, because they do not claim people do not have preferences, but that the non-ergodicity of wealth-generating processes provides explanations into them. After all, Peters Nature Physics paper showcases mathematical equivalence of between notions of classical expected-utility maximation and ergodicity growth rate maximization: (equation 8: the growth rate of the process that Peters discusses in the paper, is equivalent to the time derivative of a utility function).

      Re Ergodicity Economics: The argument that Ole Peters (and coauthors, and Collins) is making is fundamentally flawed. The ideas they are arguing against–expected utility and risk aversion–are fundamentally ways of expressing peoples’ preferences about uncertainty. At the core, there are only two possibilities when considering choices made with uncertain outcomes: either those choices will be based on peoples’ (subjective, likely variable) preferences, or there will be some objectively right set of choices.

      I believe they however, would claim that such dichotomy is misguided. The ergodist position is that utility functions found in people are not arbitrary, but some utility functions are more reasonable than others for people depending what kind of wealth-related processes they encounter. Peters claims even a report of an experiment that verifies that people adjust their response (in classical terms, their utility function) whether their decisions are rewarded monetarily in additive or multiplicative fashion.

      So yes, people have subjective preferences, but the ergodists’ conjecture (based on those mathematical niceties) is that people’s subjective preferences are often suited to the said people’s past conditions. (In practice, are their personal circumstances so that they perceive multiplicative effects such as interest on capital, or do they have en.)

      Also, I do not understand your claim about finite time horizons. All the numerical simulations in the blog post and paper are computed on finite time scales, and none of the mathematics presupposes limits of the form t -> infinity.

      Concerning your last point, I believe there is either on mine or on your part a misunderstanding that might be beneficial to sort out:

      Standard economic theory assumes that people make choices before observing the outcome of a gamble by considering the possibility that any possible outcome might happen, and caring about each possibility in proportion to how likely it is to happen. Once the die are cast, of course the person won’t actually enjoy their expected utility–they’ll enjoy the utility associated with whatever actually happened. But since we don’t know what will happen before it happens (hence, uncertainty), we consider all the possibilities. This is an extremely reasonable perspective.

      Proponents of ergodicity argue that this is not so reasonable assumption for the modelling of individual behavior as it first seems, as you said, the individuals do not experience the expected value of utility as computed by the ensemble average, and the introduction of utility was anyway a fix to explain issues with the concept of expected value such as St. Petersburg paradox.

      My interpretation of Peters’ and friends’ point is thus: Human individuals do not experience the ensemble average, so rationally they consider it irrelevant in their decision making process. Human individuals keep experiencing their individual moments in time, do decisions and possibly procreate until their death (and pass on their accumulated resources), and thus it is more sensible to analyze their general economic behavior in terms of time average.

      Thus, if we analyze your example

      I offer you the choice between receiving $1,000,000 for sure or $10,000,000 with a 20% probability, the “right” choice should depend on your financial goals and tastes.

      if I interpret ergodists correctly, they would agree with you and then further posit that subject’s financial goals and tastes are probably not random, but maybe correlated with which kind of wealth dynamics they have adapted their behavior to, and this viewpoint will be fruitful in further research into behavior and economics.

  77. Quixote says:

    “ I’d previously heard bad things about Narendra Modi, but assumed it was the usual panic about any right-wing foreign leader”

    Gotta way this is the latest in a long line of cases where if you had paid attention to the people who actually follow this stuff professionally you would have arrived at the right answer years sooner. It speaks well to your epistemic process that you get there eventually. But your bias against the algorithm of “listen to the smart people who know what they are talking about” really slows you down.

    • Robert Beckman says:

      A priori, how do you know which are the “smart people who know what they’re talking about?”

      • Quixote says:

        I was going to say, glibly “by listening to them”. But I wonder if the reason you’re asking is that you don’t. So as a clarification, when you are listening / watching someone speak, can you tell from context and mannerisms fairly rapidly (say more than 10 seconds but fewer than 90 seconds) if they are subject matter experts expressing their own opinion or paid spokespeople expressing a sponsored position?

        • That probably depends on how competent the paid spokesperson is.

          But paid spokespeople are only part of the problem. Pretty much any serious controversy has partisans on both sides who are honest in their conclusion, may or may not be honest in their arguments.

          I mostly encounter this issue in print rather than face to face arguments. You can make the first cut by evaluating writing on internal evidence. Does this person give, and respond to, the best arguments you can think of against his position? Does he use emotive language to cover up weak arguments? Does he try to attack those who disagree with him rather than report and respond to their arguments? Is there any part of what he writes that overlaps your own expertise, and if so is that part competent?

          You can eliminate a lot of what you read on any controversial subject by that approach, but not all, on either side. I am confident that somewhere there is someone honest and reasonable arguing for the truth of Catholicism, someone honest and reasonable arguing against it. Ditto for the desirability (undesirability) of a higher minimum wage, the claim that climate change is an existential risk, and a range of other things.

          All of us depend for most of what we believe on second hand information, and there is no entirely reliable way of deciding who to believe.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Yes I strongly agree with DF here. It is often very hard to determine who is telling the truth. This is especially so in far away places in which one doesn’t have personal experience, for example, India for most SSC readers.

            I personally found the essay about Modi somewhat compelling, but I am also quite skeptical because of the clearly partisan manner in which it was written. Modi is essentially Hitler, and his supporters Nazis in the narrative. It is possible this is true, but I find it unlikely.

            On the other hand, my priors are that this is somewhat true, because of events in India that I have heard of: 1) destruction of civil rights in Kashmir, 2) recent law making it more difficult for Muslims to become Indians than other religions, and 3) many years ago, but related, the destruction of a mosque to turn it into a Hindu temple by a mob, with apparently no repercussions. But none of this makes me think Modi is Hitler. I don’t know a whole lot about India, I have to go by what I do know. And based on what I know of American politics, learning the truth by listening to “smart people” is not the way to find the truth. Smart people are good at making their arguments sound good, but rarely are they unbiased.

  78. benf says:

    Germany guarantees its citizens AND permanent residents 330 bucks a month CASH, plus decent housing, health care, public transport, telecommunications access, job placement and retraining services, plus cash benefits for dependent children even if they don’t live in Germany, and will even do things like pay for a new fridge if your old one breaks. This is not “universal basic income”, this is called a “social safety net”, and Germany does it all while posting a federal budget surplus. This is because Germany is not run by lunatics and doesn’t piss away 4 percent of GDP on defense.

    • John Schilling says:

      This is because Germany is not run by lunatics and doesn’t piss away 4 percent of GDP on defense.

      And you have no clue why it’s a bad idea to brag about that, in a place frequented by Americans. Hint: we don’t spend 4% of our GDP on the defense of the United States.

      • Clutzy says:

        Ahh yes. Bragging about how Americans subsidize your extravagance is sometimes popular though.

        Its like bragging about lack of calluses on your hands.

        • benf says:

          That’s a better thing to brag about than bragging about the bruises on your head from punching yourself in the face.

    • This is not “universal basic income”, this is called a “social safety net”, and Germany does it all while posting a federal budget surplus. This is because Germany is not run by lunatics and doesn’t piss away 4 percent of GDP on defense.

      As of 2019, the U.S. deficit was about 5% of GDP, so reducing defense spending to zero would not give the U.S. a budget surplus, let alone funding any social safety net beyond what we already have.

      So if the problem is being run by lunatics, it must involve more than the size of the defense budget.

      • benf says:

        Indeed, the lunatics are the primary cause of trouble, the defense spending is one small aspect.

  79. John Maxwell says:

    Aragon is a court system on the blockchain. I know, I know, everything on the blockchain is a scam. But this actually has a certain elegance to it – it works as a Keynesian beauty contest. “Jurors are not asked to rule impartially on disputes but instead are asked to rule the way they expect other jurors to rule. I think the idea is that the correct verdict (or what a reasonable person would interpret as the correct verdict, which in a well-functioning legal system should be the same) forms a Schelling point that everyone is supposed to converge upon. I assume somebody has thought about all the ways this could possibly go wrong and is trying to prevent them? In any case, it’s interesting purely as a statement of legal philosophy and mechanism design.

    Huh, I had this idea and wrote it up last October. There’s some thinking about what might go wrong near the end of my post.

    I also suggested the way LW2’s voting system now works. So n=2 update that it’s easier to get people to try new institution designs than you think, and posting to LW is a good way to do this?

  80. SCC says:

    Slightly off topic times two.

    First, please do not use the word “muggle” outside the rez (the rez, in this case, being English fandom where Rowling’s novels about life at fictional co-educational Eton among the privileged are highly valorized). It is not a good word to be used in the general populace, for reasons I should not have to explain, and, if I were the sort of person who easily takes offense (I am not) I would take offense every time it is used by someone who has never lived on the rez.

    Second, for a few years I was convinced that Scott Alexander was a lot less bright than Scott Aaronson. Not a little, but a lot.

    I don’t think anyone is all that bright – for example, if Gauss was as clever as we are told, he could easily have translated Vergil into German in his spare time, but he either couldn’t or didn’t —- and the greatest of recent novelists, people like Joyce and Proust, and others at that level, were not people I would be even a little afraid to bet against at poker, or chess, and so on ……

    It is difficult to judge the level of skill of those who spend their lives in very very specific areas of inquiry, like Aaronson with his qubits, or Alexander with his day after day dealings with psychiatric patients who are underserved in a system they do not understand and their paid advocates understand almost no better (as Housman once said, to an admirer who gushingly told him he was the best Latinist of his day —there are only three or four people who can know if that is true, Housman rudely said in his spectrum way, and you are not one of them. By the way, if you have intelligent children, I recommend reading a biography of Housman, or even just a long essay about that sad genius, and doing everything you humanly can to avoid having your children grow up to be like him).

    Anyway, just putting it out there. I view intelligence not as a proprietary property of any given human being, but more of a forward-looking retrospective of how high into the mountains someone has walked (or has been walked) or been carried, with the energy we all should have when first introduced to the mountains and the mountain air and the plants and animals of mountain meadows and the sky over the mountains. While I have little respect for libertarians and their ilk, I do have respect for people who honestly talk about doing good things, and, for reasons that you either know or don’t know, Alexander seems a lot more intelligent than he did a few years ago.

    I don’t expect him to yet focus, as he should, on fetal pain in libertarian societies, or on the psychological evil of factory farming of higher mammals in all our current societies, but he is getting closer over the years, and so there is that.

    • chridd says:

      First, please do not use the word “muggle” outside the rez (the rez, in this case, being English fandom where Rowling’s novels about life at fictional co-educational Eton among the privileged are highly valorized). It is not a good word to be used in the general populace, for reasons I should not have to explain, and, if I were the sort of person who easily takes offense (I am not) I would take offense every time it is used by someone who has never lived on the rez.

      ??????????????? huh? *confused*

      …the heck does “rez” mean? Is “fictional co-educational Eton” just a weird way of describing Hogwarts and are the novels you’re referring to Harry Potter, or is there some other series of novels by her that you’re referring to? I don’t see why you think you “should not have to explain”; I see no obvious reason the word “muggle” shouldn’t be used when talking about the Harry Potter universe. (I could maybe see if “muggle” being offensive if it was being used metaphorically, but that’s clearly not the case here; he’s very clearly referring to the actual Harry Potter universe and using it non-metaphorically to refer to the same thing it does in the books.)

      Is this supposed to be a reference to something that I’m not getting? Is there some reason that I’m not aware of that you don’t want people talking about anything Harry Potter–related (and is that why you’re not referring to it explicitly as Harry Potter)?

      • I gather that “muggle” had the previous meaning of “a person who is not conversant with a particular activity or skill.”

        But I still can’t make any sense of the poster’s comment.

    • zqed says:

      Please don’t feed the troll.

      • SCC says:

        I am a trained linguist, as is Rowling. Both of us are familiar with philology and the classical languages.

        “Muggle” is an Anglo-Saxon slight (very slight) variation of the Latin word for a dark-skinned person of African heritage, and not a very nice variation. It is an insulting word for someone who is less than elite because they were born in the wrong race. Rowling knew that, but she probably thought it was not a big deal.

        Don’t call people who care about these things a “troll”, that is unethical behavior on your part unless you did not know any better, in which case it was ignorant behavior, Mr zqed.

        “the rez” referred to the places in the United States where Native Americans enjoy sovereignty and can say what they want to say.

        At Hogwarts, the young students can use the word Muggle, because they are on the “rez” (you see, for wizards, Hogwarts is the rez, for the rest of us, who have never been on the rez, it is not a real place). I have no problem with the use of the word “muggle” in the Hogwarts universe (“the rez”), but it is a derogatory term, used only by bigots and ignorant people, outside that fictional world.

        And Mr Zqed, I accept in advance your apology.

        • Aftagley says:

          “Muggle” is an Anglo-Saxon slight (very slight) variation of the Latin word for a dark-skinned person of African heritage, and not a very nice variation. It is an insulting word for someone who is less than elite because they were born in the wrong race. Rowling knew that, but she probably thought it was not a big deal.

          Just to save anyone else from doing the research, this above statement is almost certainly not true.

          JK Rowling’s only quote on the subject I could find was from a Q/A:

          Question: Where did you come up with the word “muggle”?

          JK Rowling replies -> I was looking for a word that suggested both foolishness and loveability. The word ‘mug’ came to mind, for somebody gullible, and then I softened it. I think ‘muggle’ sounds quite cuddly. I didn’t know that the word ‘muggle’ had been used as drug slang at that point… ah well.

          So, the word is derived from the British slang for “mug” which means someone who is gullible. Also, no amount of searching online was able to reveal what the word he’s referring to here was; the closest word I could find in Latin was for a species of fish.

          There is also no record I could find of anyone other than this dude being offended by the word muggle in this way (although other people have pointed out that practice of separating society based on a mostly hereditary factor is uncomfortably analogous to separating society based on racial lines.)

          All in all:

          [the word muggle] is a derogatory term, used only by bigots and ignorant people, outside that fictional world.

          Seem to be either a false statement, or a statement whose truth is nowhere near universally accepted enough to match the level of umbrage you’re displaying. I’d recommend toning your outrage down a bit.

          Also:

          “the rez” referred to the places in the United States where Native Americans enjoy sovereignty and can say what they want to say.

          This is a really weird description of living on a reservation and doesn’t really match my personal experience.

          • I agree that SCC’s claim appears to be a product of his own imagination.

            My (pre-Rowling) OED says “muggle” is an alleged Kentish term for “tail.”

            I have seen the claim that “muggle” is used for someone who lacks a particular skill, but I suspect that that’s derivative from Rowling.

          • A1987dM says:

            Also, no amount of searching online was able to reveal what the word he’s referring to here was;

            maurus?
            (FWIW the direct descendant of that in modern Italian is an everyday non-pejorative word for black-haired people, even of non-African descent.)

        • SCC says:

          I hope you guys are right, it does not make a difference to me.

          For the record I do not think that Rowling knew what she was doing (in the ethical sense), but I do think her unconscious thought processes were pretty nasty (I would say the same for Tolkien’s unconscious thought processes in similar situations- the guy served as a privileged officer in WWI with cockney NCOS and he still decided to assign a Cockney dialect to the despicable trolls who tried to kill Bilbo Baggins, and he made an even worse decision to slander the noble Turkish family of languages by giving many aspects of it to the orcs and, even more horrifyingly, to the Nazgul. If you love languages, as I do, choices like that are just plain hurtful. C.S. Lewis undid some of the damage with Aslan, but …..).

          If you are interested in the topic, do some research on some of the horribly vicious names Dickens came up with for people he did not like.
          And Dickens is one of my favorite writers, but I am not sure I would not have kicked him out of my house if he used one of his favorite slurs while a guest at my house!

          Also, getting back to Rowling and muggles (and, to be clear, the horrible words which I do not even want to type, “MUlatto”, **GGot, and n*GG**, and cripplLE) (I have been called one or two of those four, in my day, by wannabe bullies, and I have had girlfriends who were called the other one or two, this is in that sense a personal issue for me) it is not my imagination only, Reddit had a field day on the subject a few years ago (to be fair, the commenters seemed to agree with you guys, and not with me).

          Like I said, I don’t think she did it consciously. But don’t mock me for wishing she had made a better artistic choice.

          For the record, The Hobbit is one of my favorite books, but I refuse to reread it cover to cover because of the nasty trick Tolkien played on the Cockney NCOs he served with.

          • Bugmaster says:

            I agree with what you’re saying, but the word “muggle” is supposed to be a slur. The people who use it are bad people — and yes, the fact that most of Wizarding society does use it is not a good sign. If one looks at the way Wizards actually act toward “muggles”, it becomes very clear that they think of non-Wizards as basically subhuman. They think nothing of hexing people and even deleting their memories at the slightest provocation. Voldemort’s rise to power was partially fueled by this pervasive anti-muggle sentiment; he didn’t even have to work very hard to move the Overton window from “muggles are subhuman” to “so are half-muggles”.

            I don’t know what J.K.Rowling’s intent was, but I think her choice of epithet worked out quite well to underscore the dark side of the Wizarding world.

          • chridd says:

            > MUlatto, **GGot, …
            Those words have little enough in common with “muggle” that I’d expect it to just be pure coincidence, unless there’s some other evidence that’s what she was thinking. Most just have a single sound in common; the first I could maybe see, but it still seems a bit of a stretch (it’s uncommon enough that I had to look it up to see what it meant, and even though it starts with the same two letters, one of them is pronounced differently in the different words).

            > supposed to be a slur
            Is it, though? It’s been many years since I read the books, but my impression was that it was a somewhat-neutral term that’s probably sometimes used derogatorily but isn’t inherently so. (…like how in our universe, homophobes (and people who just don’t care) sometimes use “gay” as an insult, but it’s also a neutral term used by non-homophobes in a non-derogatory manner. Whereas “mudblood” seems to only be used by people who have derogatory opinions towards non-purebloods, so that might be more like the “f” or “n” word.)

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s been many years since I read the books, but my impression was that (muggle) was a somewhat-neutral term that’s probably sometimes used derogatorily but isn’t inherently so.

            Until it is. Your description applies to literally every term that was used to describe African-Americans prior to the invention of “African-Americans”, including the one that we must never ever say again. Just a not-inherently-derogatory descriptive term, used in increasingly derogatory fashion until nothing else remains and we invent a new word.

            That we see exactly this process in the middle of being played out with “muggle”, may not be a coincidence.

          • Aftagley says:

            Right, but we’re talking about two very unrelated issues here. Is “muggle as term used to denote that someone is outside a particular community” problematic? Maybe.

            Is “muggle is an inherently offensive term” true? Almost certainly not.

            Look back at the argument the OP made:

            “MUlatto”, **GGot, and n*GG**, and cripplLE)

            First off – minor quibble: the word you spelled out is actually muggggle. That’s not the word; drop one of those two boo words in the middle, you don’t need both.

            Secondly, think about what you’re proposing: you’re basically positing that JK Rowling, someone who at least presents as being socially liberal decided to, in a children’s book, slide in a portmanteau of some of the most offensive words in the English language. The level of proof I would need to accept this is incredibly high. Likely on the level of either direct confession from the author or maybe direct statement from someone who knows the author really, really well.

            Like I said, I don’t think she did it consciously. But don’t mock me for wishing she had made a better artistic choice.

            Think about what you’re saying here. When asked about the origins of the word Muggle, she says “it’s from the word Mug, I added the -le to make it sound nicer.” You’re instead claiming that, no, she actually did it because her brain was SO influenced by some random slurs that she parroted them out. In your story the whole “it’s derived from mug” line is either a lie or a justification she’s telling herself after the fact.

            For you to know this was true, you would need to be omniscient OR at least be capable of reading JK Rowling’s mind. You’re not.

            I would decrease your confidence in this particular assessment and any related assessments you’ve made using similar trains of logic.

          • albatross11 says:

            Muggle isn’t a slur in the wizarding world, just a descriptor. You take Muggle Studies in school and call Hermoine a muggle-born to her face with no implied insult or hurt.

          • chridd says:

            Until it is. Your description applies to literally every term that was used to describe African-Americans prior to the invention of “African-Americans”, including the one that we must never ever say again. Just a not-inherently-derogatory descriptive term, used in increasingly derogatory fashion until nothing else remains and we invent a new word.

            It might end up becoming a slur in the future, but I don’t think it is one at the time the books take place.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Mudblood is the slur in Harry Potter.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Muggle seems to be more like ‘Jew’ in that you can use it in regular conversation without it being a slur or you can add a bit of stank on it.

          • Aapje says:

            Bad book titles: The protocols of the elders of Hogwarts

          • Aftagley says:

            Bad Book Titles: Mein Crucio

    • DM says:

      A) I believe Rowlings novels are popular and “valorized” everywhere there are children and they are not banned.

      B) It’s a bit weird that you would say ‘don’t be like the rude spectrum-y genius’ and then come on someone’s blog to give us a history of your changing views on the intelligence of it’s writer (in a tone of barely concealed hostility.)

      • SCC says:

        I was not “barely concealing” hostility, I was plainly expressing it, but that does not mean I was showing a lack of respect.
        I am hostile to my own past mistakes too, which, because I am not a famous writer, are not under discussion here.
        I am hostile to my favorite famous fantasy writer, Tolkien, to the degree he made a mistake in using Cockney as the language for the trolls. Imagine how a little kid whose beloved deceased grandfather spoke Cockney and whose grandfather had died in WWI felt the first time she read the Hobbit and, after falling in love with Middle Earth in the first couple of chapters, discovered that the author had played the dirty trick of giving a Cockney accent to the evil stone trolls while the heroes spoke upper class English. Tolkien, a genius, cannot have meant to have done that on purpose, it was probably a thoughtless mistake.

        I was not criticizing Rowling as a person, and if I used the word “spectrum-y” or a similar word in a negative sense I should not have, I was just pointing out what I see as an aesthetic mistake in her choice of the word for those who did not have magical powers (unless she was tying to show that the wizards indeed used a very bigoted word with no understanding, which is also possible, and a reasonable aesthetic choice). That being said, when the word ‘muggle’ is used outside the fictional universe or canon of Rowling’s invented universe, it is no longer an aesthetic choice, but simply the slur it always was….. imho.

        I was showing her respect, in a way, the same respect we all show ourselves when we question our own past failures or our own past non-culpable ignorance.

        I guess she could say in her defense that I do not really understand fiction, well maybe she would be right. Well, to the degree I admit her aesthetic choice may have been correct (I think it wasn’t, but I could be wrong) I am not indulging in hostility, just trying to understand a fellow human being.

        • when the word ‘muggle’ is used outside the fictional universe or canon of Rowling’s invented universe, it is no longer an aesthetic choice, but simply the slur it always was

          So you keep claiming. First you claimed it was from a Latin word that was a racial slur or something similar. Then, failing to have such a Latin word, you claimed that one got it by combining pieces of four different words.

          No evidence was offered for that, and surely you can see that, by that standard, practically any word can be claimed to be combined from negative terms — just pick the right letters and assemble.

          Somewhere along there you claimed that both you and Rowling had a background in linguistics. I can’t find any evidence for that online, beyond a bachelor’s degree at Essex in French and Classics — do you define an undergraduate degree in French as training in linguistics? Would you expect it to make her acquainted with an obscure Latin term, supposing that such existed? That’s what your argument required.

          As best I can tell from your posts, you are saying and presumably believing things that have no support outside your imagination.

  81. theodidactus says:

    My two cents on Aragon as a law student (not yet a practicing lawyer).

    Actual juries have Aragon-like dynamics, which I’d argue the system anticipates, accounts for, and desires. In jury selection, judges will very often point out/emphasize that jurors can “help” one another come to a decision…it’s a collaborative, often explicitly consensus-building process that ultimately makes the jury more than the sum of its parts…so a good attorney will have to take into account not just what each juror thinks individually, but where each juror is “likely to go” when exposed to other jurors.

    Now this isn’t *exactly* Aragon, but it’s closer than one might assume: there is *immense* pressure not to be the lone holdout, or to “get it wrong”…even when there’s no explicit “penalty” for doing either.

    I guess what I’m saying is that in “real life” Jurors neither vote with their own internal conscience nor blindly follow the expected consensus of the group or “society”…but some weird mix of the two, and I think the system evolved to strongly prefer this sort of decision making process. I also think it works pretty well, all things considered. Everyone points to flaws in the jury system but (especially in the criminal context) I’m not sure any other solution works half as well.

    • It sounds like the basic principle Aragon is using is what I believe the Ethereum people refer to as a Schelling Oracle. I don’t know how recent Aragon is, but it was described to me in that context, I think a couple of years ago.

    • albatross11 says:

      The Schelling oracle, as I understand it:

      The problem is that we need to get information about the world onto the blockchain, but don’t want to define someone who is trusted to tell us what the truth is about that information. (That is, we want the result of the election, but don’t want to just get the information from the New York Times.) So we all bet on what the majority position (perhaps counting dollars as votes) will be among bettors. Each of us has an incentive to anticipate what the others will anticipate. In most cases, this means that each bettor has an incentive to bet on the truth, because it’s the point that’s easiest for us all to coordinate on.

      The obvious failure mode comes when there’s some non-truth position that’s also easy to coordinate on–perhaps even easier to coordinate on than the truth. For example, suppose the question you’re asking is whether or not yesterday’s temperature in San Francisco broke a record high, and suppose the people who measure carefully say “no, it was close but didn’t break the record” but the Weather channel and all the local media sources claim it was record-breaking as a way to drive up interest or ratings or something. Then the Schelling oracle may very well decide that the temperature broke the record.

      There may be other failure modes that aren’t so obvious–as this is done more and more, we’ll likely discover them.

      • chridd says:

        The obvious failure mode comes when there’s some non-truth position that’s also easy to coordinate on–perhaps even easier to coordinate on than the truth.

        …any sort of known bias, any well-known simple heuristic, any well-known common error in reasoning, any time there’s an obvious-but-wrong answer, that could become the Schelling point. And if you’re rewarded for guessing what other people pick, then even people who know better might have to pick the wrong option in those cases, and it seems like this would actively discourage careful reasoning and research, though this depends on whether people think other people will reason carefully.

        If people have access to previous decisions, then they could get some information on whether people tend to reason and research carefully or use simple heuristics and easy-to-get-to sources, which means in theory either careful reasoning or simple heuristics could be stable with some arbitrariness about which ends up happening… but if that’s the case, that could also lead to people trying to work out what biases the system has and then voting based on those biases, thus making the system even more biased in that direction, leading to a feedback loop, independent of any sort of truth. (This would also mean that changes in the type or number of people using the system might change drastically how well it works; it could work well in initial experiments and then fail if a large number of new people come in.)

  82. smilerz says:

    “his second-in-command was a black communist who endorsed Pat Buchanan for President.”

    everything wrong with democracy in a single sentence

  83. ec429 says:

    From the last (Minister of Magic) item, I chased a link to The Defenestration of Cornelius Fudge, whence other works of its author, in particular the very “noticing-I-am-confused” flavour of Lies Bathilda Bagshot Told Me. This before reading the item about Bruce Kent, which is above it in the list.

    Conclusion: Qoholeth is Eliezer’s secret identity (or possibly vice-versa), and the ordering of Scott’s links was part of a plan to prime us to dismiss the possibility, which failed because I read them in the wrong order. Go on, Goose Yudkowsky, let’s see you get out of that one! ☺

  84. 1 says:

    The New Yorker article (Blood And Soil in Narendra Modi’s India) is the latest in a long series which demonizes Hindus even when they are the real victims. The article doesn’t mention the extermination of Hindus in Pakistan and Kashmir. During the partition of India in 1947, there were 15% Hindus in then West Pakistan (which is today’s Pakistan). Today it has decreased to 1.6%. Even those few Hindus are regularly subjected to rape, torture, and forced conversion. In the same period the proportion of Muslims in India has increased from 9% to 14%. If India is as intolerant to Muslims as portrayed then how did it happen?

    The article talks a lot about Kashmir but fails to say a single word about the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus. It seems that the left-liberal media condones any injustice done to Hindus, no matter how gruesome. If this is not Hinduphobic then I don’t know what is.

    Even in the rest of India Hindus are often the victims of violence by Muslims. E.g. see the 2013 Canning riots. The Hinduphobic Western media don’t highlight these cases as they don’t conform to their preferred narrative.

    Western media has a blind spot when it comes to radical Islam. They cheered Ayatollah Khomeini all the way to the Islamic Revolution in Iran, without realizing their mistake. So you should take stories about Hindu-nationalist India victimizing Muslims with a large pinch of salt. These stories are often one-sided account of events, the byproduct of Hinduphobia and left-liberals’ love affair with radical Islam.

  85. mark_ledwich says:

    I was stoaked to see Scott Alexender link to our study and my article, but I have to admit I was TRIGGERED by this part:

    I find this a really interesting ethics-of-scientific-communication case, because although it’s a great article, he seems to be so intensely passionate about this issue that I have trouble believing he is the best person to conduct studies about it.

    It’s not just Scott who feels this way. This is from a concerned academic:

    I think your work can contribute to the academic conversation. But at present, I share the concern with other people working in this area that the discussion around your paper so far does not make it seem as though contribution to the academic conversation is your primary goal. We’re in a brave new world of knowledge production and dissemination, and it’s true that Twitter/YouTube/legacy journalism/academia are in a weird vortex right now. But I’m committed to academic knowledge production, and if y’all want to go this route, you have to play by the rules.

    I want to convince SSC readers that I am exactly the person you need looking at the political influence of the YouTube recommendation algorithm. Two reasons:

    1) I care about the methods of science and intentionally designed this to restrict my degrees of freedom. Unlike other studies in this area, I share my code & data on Github. It is also a very simple observational analysis – I only have freedom in how to present the results and the definition of political groups. If anyone suspects some foul play, it would be easy to take the data & code and embarrass me with how I have been misleading. This kind of skin-in-the-game incentives is more important than the performance of objectivity.

    2) My passion is cooler than it sounds, and my incentives as an independent amateur researcher are different than academics.

    There are emergent reasons for a dispassionate & objective communication style within academic literature (our study) and also for the moralistic, direct communication by bloggers (my article). I don’t identify as a scientist and am happy to switch between those modes. This is unusual and caused people to be uncomfortable, but will be the norm for independent researchers who also need to market the importance of their research directly to the public. We don’t rely on institutions to communicate research and provide public-facing content that grabs attention and spreads.

    I decided to frame the results of our study as debunking the right-wing-recommendation-rabbit-hole to grab attention and because I believe it. Legitimizing the unsupported rabbit-hole myth is similar to Oprah mainstreaming a moral panic about satanic cults. Both have the same style of evidence — either anecdotal stories or extremely weak — and ought to be strongly criticized. Academics have institutional pressure to stay in their lane. Publically criticizing senior NYT journalists and other researchers would be extremely costly for climbing the academic status ladder. There are even strong disincentives to framing results counter to politically salient narratives. But as someone who doesn’t need to work within the academic system, I can afford to publically express a belief that “legacy journalism/academia is in a weird vortex right now”. It’s not that I’m particularly passionate to have that belief – its that I’m in a unique position to say it without consequence.

    I don’t have access to my true motivations but can take a good guess. It’s mainly about ego – I want to show I can do research the way it should be done: open-source, in the open and constantly improving and disseminated with internet native artifacts. I felt that whatever results I found by analyzing a massive collection of political recommendations, I could easily improve on the research in this area. The only reason I entered into an academic space is for the attention research packaged as a paper brings. I’m not claiming to be a noble truth-seeker, but I think my motivations are aligned well in this case.

    If you want this kind of research to continue, you can support me on Patreon.

  86. Is there an updated link to the petition for open access to journals? The site has been down for two days now.