Open Thread 148

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, but please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit – and also check out the SSC Podcast. Also:

1. Is anyone here an oncologist or orthopaedic surgeon who feels competent to answer some hard questions about pareosteal osteosarcoma, for a smart good person who will not misinterpret you or treat you as official medical advice? If so, please get in touch with me at scott[at]slatestarcodex[dot]com so I can connect you with a friend of mine who needs some help. They already have a doctor and are on track to get good care, they just want to get clarification on some of the evidence base around which treatments are best.

2. Tina White is looking for people to critique, collaborate with, or just get in touch with her about her idea for a privacy-aware app to track the spread of infectious diseases like the coronavirus. She’s especially interested in anyone who knows about the history of how plagues and quarantines have interacted with traditional privacy rights. See her EA forum post or Facebook post and request for collaborators for more information.

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1,000 Responses to Open Thread 148

  1. viVI_IViv says:

    Is the coronavirus peak in China real? If so, what caused something so contagious to peak before infecting even a small fraction of the population, even in the Hubei province? Is it more likely that the official data provided by Chinese government is BS?

    Maybe the government figured out that it’s eventually going to infect a large fraction of the population, but most people are not going to get severe symptoms, hence the government is lying with the statistics in order to make the people go back to work and prevent international travel restrictions.

    • Statismagician says:

      It’s at least plausible. I don’t know what specific measures the Chinese have been taking, but if anybody was going to be able to meaningfully quarantine a whole province, they’re who I’d bet on. Virii aren’t magic and a well-publicized outbreak burning itself out is completely within the scope of possibility – indeed, the Chinese government briefly lifting the Wuhan quarantine before re-imposing it might be evidence that things are winding down and they want to make sure there aren’t any more flare-ups.

    • broblawsky says:

      It’s plausible, but we can’t know right now. Their countermeasures are definitely severe enough that they could’ve gotten it under control. Unfortunately, the PRC’s reputation for mendacity makes it impossible to say with confidence.

  2. Deiseach says:

    Automation is arriving for takeaway delivery services. I wonder how successfully this will work out when they go into actual customer service rather than test runs, but I imagine if they’re based in UCD they expect their largest client base to be the students on and around campus.

    And if anybody else was wondering “what the heck is a dark kitchen”, here you go.

    • Lambert says:

      1) get big triangular net
      2) Tie one corner to top of Spire, one corner to bottom of Spire and peg the other to the ground a fair distance away.
      3) enjoy your free food and drones.

  3. johan_larson says:

    If you’re looking for some fine TV viewing, let me recommend “A Dark Quiet Death”. It’s a moving half-hour drama about a couple that creates a horror game named “Dark Quiet Death”, and their troubles balancing artistic purity of vision and commercial success.

    “A Dark Quiet Death” is episode five of the first season of “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet”, but isn’t particularly connected to the rest of the series. You can definitely watch it stand-alone. “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” is a comedy-drama about a company that makes a game sort of like World of Warcraft. It’s ok, but not as good as that episode. The series is available on Apple TV+. Use their free trial period if you want to watch the show but don’t want to spend money to do so.

  4. Radu Floricica says:

    Similar with Matt M’s $100 bucket question, but with a twist. Say I have a $1000, or $10k, or $100k. How do I make money from the coronavirus?

    Logic so far is to make a list of products/services (masks, alcohol gels, education etc), and a list of involvement levels (invest, buy/sell, production), and see where on that matrix things look profitable. Short term investing in various health stocks would be an obvious one.

    • ana53294 says:

      Invest on a broad all-world index fund when the market bottoms out due to the coronavirus. It’s already been falling for a couple of days.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Difficulties would be knowing when it bottoms, plus a rather modest income – I don’t think we can talk about a factor of over 2 or anything that drastic. Hopefully. Choosing particular stocks on the other hand might lead to more interesting outcomes.

        I’m also tempted by production of designer masks. Moderately useful (so checks the ethical angle), and if the situation resolves early and leaves you with stocks, you can always rebrand them as anti-pollution. In Bucharest they’re already starting to be sought out for that, so far by people using bicycles and motorcycles.

    • Timandrias says:

      This would have worked better a few weeks ago, but the window is still open for most countries:

      Step 0: Rent a villa in a first world country that still doesn’t have a lot of coronavirus cases, but it might have soon, where the local public medical facilities are pretty good. (Western Europe, US…). This facility should be somehow isolated on the countryside, be relatively close to a mayor hospital (30 min ride) and have plenty of very comfortable rooms.

      Step 1: Get infected of coronavirus and bring it back to your first world country of choice while not contagious. Isolate it, and keep it live in a lab. Bringing samples could also work, I guess, but you probably want to get some immunity for after.

      Step 2: Charge obscene amounts of money to very rich people to infect them while the intensive care medical facilities of the country are not flooded with peasants as the disease spreads. Have a medical specialist monitor their status 24/7 while they naturally heal, and have a vehicle waiting in case the status of one of them worsens, otherwise it should feel like a stay in a 5* hotel.

      Unethical as hell, of course. The starting money would be used to procure the virus, rent the location and prepare it for the purpose, after, the fees paid by the very rich would get the thing working and pay for all the personnel needed.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Reasonably ethical, actually. Illegal as hell, though. Chances to get prosecuted for bio terrorism are through the roof.

        • Murphy says:

          ya, the flaw seems to be in transporting the samples in a vial.

          Everything gets treated as more dangerous when it’s in a vial. I’ve seen people treat vials with cheek swaps from healthy adults like some kind of insanely hazardous material.

          Instead you find someone who’s infected, with mild symptoms, transport them over and then have then sneeze at the rich people.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Still illegal, if there’s a quarantine instated. But yeah, much less “tero” with exactly the same effect.

        • Timandrias says:

          My ethic concerns center around the high chances of your operation being the reason your country of choice becomes the next epicenter of the sickness, maybe spreading to nearby countries/states, with all those dead being potentially on your conscience. It could be argued that all those people would have been infected otherwise, but maybe not…

          BTW, I don’t know what’s the status of healthcare in Romania, but the perfect place I picture when thinking about this are all those palaces in the north of the country, pretty as hell and non zero chance of acquiring immortality if the client is a hot young woman :p

        • Lambert says:

          Ethical so long as everything goes well.
          But if the virus escapes you’ve got a problem.

          So either you have bulletproof biosafety procedures or you’re exposing the public to unacceptable hazards.

        • Deiseach says:

          Very risky, though; if your rich people are towards the more mature side of life, they are at higher risk of opportunistic infections. Deaths so far seem to be older people and/or pre-existing conditions and/or contracted illnesses like pneumonia. You’ll be in a lot of trouble if your 80 year old millionaire has to be rushed to the nearest high-tech critical care hospital and still kicks the bucket because of such an illness, never mind being sued into oblivion by the estate – you promised a safe outcome not death!

    • DarkTigger says:

      *This is not financial advise, yadayadayada*

      Go to a broker that alows you to trade stock-options (preferable one of the cheap USamerican ones, I hear TastyTrades is quite good and available in Europe),
      Try to identify coperations that would be hurt by a) travell restrictions b) restrictions on public events c) restriction to access to their chinese suppliers.
      Buy put options on them, not more then two weeks out, in expectation that the markets will fall for a few weeks. Sell them close to termination. (Or when you make at least 50% profit)
      Also buy call options close out of the money, at least 6 months out, in expectation that the markets will go up again in a few weeks. Sell them, when they made a nice profit, or excercise them, if you have the money and whant to hold the stocks, in half a year.

      Both deals could, reach the end of their term before you made profits, meaning you loose all invested money, but I think your chances to make double-digit profits are quite good.

  5. toastengineer says:

    If you do hashtag-learn-to-code, and you get any good at it, I can see about getting you in at my current employer, if I still work there when you do. They’re pretty desperate for programmers. It’s a fat-and-happy kind of company where revenue just kinda happens regardless of the quality of the products; sucks if you want to excel in your field but I’ve said to myself that it’d probably be ideal for someone who just wants to keep their head down and support a family.

  6. Even with nuclear pulse rockets, it’s assumed that the fastest you want to accelerate a human body at through space, is a comfortable 1g. If we take humans out of the equation and talk only about unmanned vessels, there’s still a point where the acceleration crushes and destroys the materials the spacecraft is made of, and it explodes. The part/s of the spaceship near the thrusters can only transfer forces to further away parts at the speed of sound in that material. Taking aside unobtaniums, what’s the ballpark for that sort of acceleration? 100s or 1000s of gs?

    • johan_larson says:

      You might find this page useful:

      Sprint missile: 100 g
      Flight recorder crashworthiness test: 3400 g
      Electronics in artillery shells: 15,500 g

      • Murphy says:

        15,500 g

        Could someone double check this for me: with constant acceleration of 15500 g it seems like you’d hit 99% of light speed in about 1 and a half hours, before you even pass the orbit of neptune.

        • fibio says:

          It’s perfectly reasonable for artillery shells to reach those kinds of accelerations in the barrel with a half ton of explosives behind them. Sustaining the acceleration for more than a fraction of a second under any other circumstances is a far more dicey proposition and there are probably very few materials capable of withstanding such forces for long.

          • bean says:

            and there are probably very few materials capable of withstanding such forces for long.

            Actually, no. To a first approximation, they can sustain such accelerations indefinitely. Obviously not in an artillery tube, but if I stuck a shell in a centrifuge and spun it at 15,500 G for an hour, it should be fine when it comes out. Something which can’t tolerate G-forces indefinitely is going to be degraded by them, which is hard to design. It’s better to just make the various bits thick enough to hold up under the G-forces required.

          • fibio says:

            Huh, that’s interesting. I would have expected materials to start behaving more plastically given the forces involved.

          • Lambert says:

            If they were going to behave plastically over several hours at thoise kinds of gees, they would have done so after a fraction of a second.
            Eventually you might start running into issues with creep.

            And IDK whether jerk and higher derivatives do bad things to valve pentodes etc. If so, being shot out of a naval gun is worse than ramping up to ridiculous accelerations over a longer period of time.

          • gbdub says:

            Bean, I don’t think that’s actually correct. Material limits are dependent on the strain rates and duration of loading. Shock (from e.g. an explosion) and vibration can often create short duration accelerations that are much higher than the static load limits of an object.

            This ends up being very important for rocket design, where there are high sustained static loads, shock loads (from things like explosive separation events) and high vibration loads (engines, aero buffeting) all affecting sophisticated electronics and structures designed to minimum allowable margins. All must be considered as they affect components and structures differently.

          • bean says:


            I’m not an expert in either of those, but I strongly suspect that they’re both of considerably shorter duration than a gun being fired. For a 5″/38 (for obvious reasons), I get, assuming constant acceleration (not perfect, but I don’t have a bunch of ballistics stuff to hand), a time of .01267 seconds, and an acceleration of 6,167 Gs. That seems likely to be in the camp of regular loads instead of transient loads, particularly as neither shock nor vibration usually fire heavy objects at Mach 2.

          • gbdub says:

            @bean those accels and durations would definitely meet the definition of a pyroshock event. Just as important as the peak accel is the rise and fall rate of the acceleration and the total duration. Bottom line, there’s a reason statics and dynamics are different areas of expertise (I’m an expert on neither)!

            Check out mil-std 810 for some interesting info on how shocks are classified and tested. Test method 519.6 should be of particular interest to someone interested in naval design!

          • ryan8518 says:

            *Twitches*….shock analysis….sigh….
            So speaking as someone who does do at least the rocket level loads part of this for a living (currently structural analysis for avionics systems), the answer is complicated and there’s a difference between what we consider practical engineering and what the physics will tell you. While the launch profile of a shell have similar durations to the pyroshock events that generally drive launch vehicles, the nature of the shock pulse is fundamentally different, both of which are fundamentally different in nature from the type of shock pulse intended for testing under Mil-810 standard testing (which is generally pulse based, and has ties to the naval community’s efforts to size ship fitting mounts for shock events……a lot of the literature is based on naval documents and it turns out to be a source of misinformation for the aerospace community to some extent, as well as into automotive circles).

            In general, the peak acceleration for launch of a shell is higher than anything you’ll see in a pyroshock event on a rocket, though the pyroshock delivers more energy over a broadband of frequencies, particularly the higher frequencies. I’ve got a printout on my desk that is a constant source of comfort, because it shows missile environments aren’t the worst for electronics next to artillery shells, so somewhere there is someone screaming more than I am whenever I have to think about this.

            From a practical analysis perspective, there’s an old NASA methodology that basically takes one of a set of standard explosive source characteristics (and you can tailor your own if you’ve got the test data), then allows you to attenuate it as you cross the first three field joints of your airframe, which gives you a shock response curve for given areas of your rocket. You can approximate the shock damage by scaling a linear or random vibration solution mimicking the excitement of the first mode of the rocket scaled to the magnitude of the shock response at that level (which gives you something like the root-mean-square of the peak stress in the part over the duration of the shock event…’s a little hokey but good enough for most purposes). After that point, the practical engineer stops and tests the damm thing and hopes it works.

            From a physics perspective, I’m actually a little fuzzy on what the state of the art is, as there really isn’t an agreed upon “good” approach to this. Proper shock analysis very quickly gets out of the elastic material property range, and you end up with different properties at different frequencies which isn’t particularly easy to characterize or model, made more difficult by the fact that you now need a time domain explicit solution to a frequency domain problem….with non-linear material behaviors that can only be observed under fairly harsh conditions with specialized expensive equipment. At this point I need to defer to someone on the academic side of the house.

            On the subject of materials under extremely high accelerations though, as Bean points out steel is pretty good and can easily stand up to thousands of g’s of acceleration (heck so can glass, as long as it’s taken in compression loading).

          • bean says:


            A normal pyro shock doesn’t send the entire missile flying at Mach 2, so there has to be some substantial difference in profile, either acceleration or time. Yes, some bits close in may get hit that hard, but it’s probably over a much shorter time.

            Also, 519.8 (in the current version) does look interesting. Thanks. Although I am left going “Is that all of it” when I saw the standard was only a thousand pages. (I occasionally deal with datalink standards, which are a whole different level of pain.)


            Thanks. That was interesting.

    • @johan_larson
      So way more than I thought, though that may be brief g loadings for some of those things.

    • silver_swift says:

      No comments on your actual question, but manned crafts can definitely accelerate faster than 1 g without risking the passengers. There are rollercoasters that exceed 6 g (though presumably only briefly and in a highly controlled environment) and fighter pilots can go up to 9 g without passing out.

      • fibio says:

        While this is true, if you want the crew to be able to leave their chairs in flight you’re probably not going to be able to sustain more than 2g.

        • DarkTigger says:

          Why shouldn’t they? I know a couple of people who are able to squat more than their body weight.
          I mean, you might need a time to get into shape for that, and it will do a number on your joints, let alone your cardiovascular system, but standing uo from once chair should be easy.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          How long are they going to accelerate anyway? If the spaceship is self-propelled, then it must be using some sort of rocket, which means that speed is limited by the rocket equation. External propulsion by some kind of slingshot contraption is going to be limited by the size of the thing.

          • John Schilling says:

            Propulsion by beamed power can proceed over a fairly long distance / period.

            However, there’s no reason acceleration has to be constant. Healthy adults can tolerate 4G pretty much indefinitely if they are lying in an acceleration couch, and maybe twice that in water immersion. You could schedule eight-hour shifts mostly at 4-8 G but with an hour at 1G at the end of each for shift change and maintenance (personal or astronautical) . That would get you to Mars in anywhere from 1-3 days, Neptune in 6-9 days depending on orbit geometry and whether you mind sleeping in the bathtub.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Propulsion by beamed power can proceed over a fairly long distance / period.

            Do you mean light sail or rocket with external power source? With a light sail do you need to rely on aerobraking in order to do orbital insertion?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            With a normal light sail using the sun as its source, you can both speed up and slow down just by angling your sail at a 45-degree angle.

            I was going to say we could do the same thing with beamed power from Earth. But if we getting to Mars in 3 days that is going to be basically pushing on it nearly flat. (And mag sails won’t work as breaks at this scale.) You could use beamed power from Mars to slow down, unless you are talking early missions.

          • John Schilling says:

            For early missions, a semi-expendable vehicle is probably acceptable, so you can use Robert Forward’s trick of a two-stage laser sail where the first stage detaches and reflects the beam back towards the front of the decelerating ship. And accelerates itself off into the void at great speed, obviously.

            If your planning horizon is reasonably long, you can do “beamed” propulsion with a stream of solid particles launched in advance. Send one stream off to Mars or wherever at low velocity, wait a bit, launch your ship, and send the second particle stream up the tailpipe of the ship at high velocity. When you’re ready to slow down, you’ll have overtaken the low-velocity particle stream and can exchange momentum with them. For best results, charge them up with an electron gun as they approach, and reflect them quasi-elastically.

  7. The Pachyderminator says:

    All right, I just tried to watch part of the Democratic primary debate, and even while drinking generously I could only handle about half an hour of it. What the hell is this malarkey?

    Why don’t they try enforcing the rules or something? Why don’t they play a loud buzzer when someone goes over time and keep playing it until they close their mouth? Why this unseemly spectacle of the moderators begging the candidates to respect the rules?

    At one point, after someone else answered a question, Elizabeth Warren just jumped in and started talking, and kept talking, while the moderator literally sat there and said “Can we just speak up whenever we want to? Is that the idea?” while everyone ignored her existence on God’s green earth.

    At one point I swear to God Biden was flirting with the moderator about being given time to speak. This after a lot of bluster from him about “I will not be silenced!” when she tried to cut him off, though to give him his due he usually was, as I wish they all could have been permanently.

    I keep focusing on the moderation failures because there’s literally nothing else to focus on. The average Twitter thread has more substance than this exchange of slogans. There was a whole discussion on whether the president should change the drug laws “on day one,” with zero acknowledgement from anyone that the president can’t unilaterally change the law. There was a segment about the military that almost reached the sophistication and importance of that controversy about Obama saluting with a drink in his hand.

    Calling this political theater gives it far too much dignity. This is nothing but a shitty game show. 2/10, would not watch again. If I choose to drink myself to death, I might as well do it while listening to music that I actually enjoy.

    • Plumber says:

      @The Pachyderminator says:

      “…tried to watch part of the Democratic primary debate..”

      I caught some of it on the radio, and then some on television tonight.

      I’ll share some of my impressions in the 148.25 Open Thread tomorrow.

    • Well... says:

      Why don’t they try enforcing the rules or something?

      It’s a TV show, not an official government procedure.

      • albatross11 says:

        Think of it as a game show where the winner gets control of a huge nuclear arsenal.

        • fibio says:

          “Next time, on Whose Nuke is it Anyway!”

        • Well... says:

          Is there a clear correlation between “debate winner” and “election winner”? In a way this is another form of the question “Do televised debates really change many people’s candidate preferences?”

          • Nick says:

            It does seem to affect poll numbers in the short term, but I don’t know about long term.

          • Loriot says:

            General election debates don’t matter (because partisanship), but primary debates can be very important. Klobuchar’s strong showing in NH was likely due to her performance in the prior debate. Likewise, Bloomberg fell in the polls following his disastrous first debate.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Primary debates matter but they often don’t because consistent performance is very hard. If you have a great performance in the first and get a bump then your opponents are going to shift tactics and your bar is raised. Now a solid performance in debate #2 can look like a regression and fail to produce a bump, and its harder to even put out that solid performance. Simply there are very few people who are that good across a variety of debates who are able to maintain these pushes. When they do exist they tend to very quickly become front runners (my guess is that Bill Clinton is one of these, though I was 12 when he was in the primaries).

          • Aapje says:



        • The Nybbler says:

          Nukes are less useful for governance than you might think. It’s like a watchmaker with a 10-lb sledge; if he uses it in his work, he ruins everything. Only thing it’s good for is kneecapping the other watchmakers.

      • Deiseach says:

        That would seem to be the problem: the network holding the debates is at the mercy of the political party which can either refuse to allow its candidates to enter or only send in the third-tier ones to debate each other. The TV network is hoping to grab ratings by getting viewers to turn in, so they want (a) the high-level performers (b) an element of drama and controversy – nobody is going to watch a debate where Tweedledee compliments Tweedledum and Tweedledum says nice things about Tweedledee. So if the party can say “Agree to these conditions or we’re going with the other network or hosting it on our own Youtube Channel”, the network probably has to knuckle under. If their moderators are too tough in enforcing the rules, next morning all the candidates are going to whinge about how they were ‘silenced’ and some rabid online fans of X, Y or Z are going to try whipping up a conspiracy about how the network is ‘really’ on the side of the opposition party and were deliberately refusing to let X, Y or Z describe their wondeful policies which would make the country a utopia.

        The advantage for the parties are showing off their wares and persuading people that Candidate Jones is the person for the job, so they need the networks, but they always have the advantage of cancellation – “your guys were mean to our guys last time, we want new guys or else we’re taking our ball and going home”.

        I never much liked Jeremy Paxman or John Humphrys (mostly because I think they began to believe their own publicity and started playing as their own characters when hosting political interviews), but it does sound as if an American version of them is needed for these debates.

    • Aapje says:

      @The Pachyderminator

      Can’t they just turn off the mics? Then again, they may end up with complete silence, if no one behaves.

    • Since the moderator can’t get the candidates in line with words, what is clearly needed is to hook the candidates up to an electric shock generator.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Does anyone realistically have a better alternative?

      I thought it was pretty meh. The last two debates were better, because candidates were trying to knife each other. The Bloomberg-Warren exchange in the last debate was epic. This seemed less coherent and came across as more subdued.

      • Suppose the rule was that each of (say) six candidates had 20 minutes out of a total of two hours. They can speak at any time, pushing a button to signal that they want to start, but don’t get to start until whichever candidate is currently speaking stops. When a candidate has used up the 20 minutes, that mike is turned off.

    • crh says:

      This is all true, but who cares? Even if everyone followed the rules religiously and tried their best to be substantive, TV debates would be a terrible way to learn about the candidates. They exist for entertainment purposes; if you’re not entertained, don’t watch.

    • John Schilling says:

      Why don’t they try enforcing the rules or something? Why don’t they play a loud buzzer when someone goes over time and keep playing it until they close their mouth?

      Because if they do that, the candidates and the parties will pick a different forum for their debate. Superior wisdom, knowledge, and oratorical skill are a small part of what they are trying to advertise in these “debates”. A much much bigger part, is their ability to secure status and dominance over their political rivals. Interrupting and getting away with it, is a big part of how non-nerd humans actually do that.

      And it’s how they actually will do that if and when they get to Washington, where there isn’t going to be a moderator with a buzzer or a mic kill switch, so it actually is kind of important to determine whether they are up for the job.

    • rocoulm says:

      I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t know about you guys, but I (and most voters, I imagine) basically determine my vote based on who can best fit their pledges/accusations/whatever into a predetermined time slot. It’s sorta like The Price is Right – who can talk the longest without going over?

  8. Matt M says:

    If I have ~$100 to spend on the general bucket of “Coronavirus prep” what should I be buying?

    My understanding is that the first answer is “masks” but the immediate follow up is “but it’s already too late, they’re already all gone.” So what else?

    • Eric Rall says:

      For $100? Non-perishable food: rice, dried beans, flour, powdered milk, canned fruits and vegetables, frozen chicken, etc. If Coronavirus were to wind up going all Spanish Flu on us, then anything that 1) reduces your need to leave the house and expose yourself to possibly-infected strangers, and 2) insulates you from supply chain disruptions is pretty good preparation. And dry goods have the advantages of being both cheap and still useful* in the much more likely scenario that the Novel Coronavirus outbreak winds up looks more like SARS or the 2009 Pig Flu (i.e. a serious problem requiring a public health response, but not a widespread disaster).

      * Except powdered milk, which is vile if you try to actually drink it. Its main uses, if fresh milk is available, are pretty niche: it’s a minor ingredient in some baking recipes, and it’s a good thickening agent for homemade yogurt.

      • Lambert says:

        What do you mean, niche?
        I’m not drinking my tea black just because of some virus.

        • Eric Rall says:

          You use powdered milk in your tea? Not regular milk, cream, or non-dairy creamer?

          • Lambert says:

            Not when I can avoid it.
            But in a situation where even UHT milk isn’t available, it’s better than nothing.

          • Eric Rall says:

            I can see that. When I was referring to its utility as “niche”, I meant in situations where there’s no force majeure that stops you from getting fresh milk. I explicitly listed it in my possible emergency supplies list precisely because fresh milk is probably one of the first things that’ll run out when you can’t just run out to the store and get more, and needs must when the Devil drives.

          • Lambert says:

            I am dumb and can’t read.

        • liate says:

          Its main uses, if fresh milk is available, are pretty niche:

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        All of this. You need to minimize your contact, which means limiting the reasons for going outside, which means you need lots of food and whatever else you might need.
        You also want some sanitizing supplies. You want to sanitize your frequently touched items once a day.

        • albatross11 says:

          If you’re staying inside and your family isn’t infected, then there’s no special need to sanitize anything.

          I suspect the biggest risk is going places where sick people will go. Avoiding the hospital is obviously a good idea but you were probably doing that anyway, and if you’ve just broken your arm or something, you have no choices there. OTOH, I suspect stocking up on medicine you might need from the pharmacy is a good idea, since that’s a place you’re likely to encounter sick people.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            You don’t know if you are infected, or if someone in your family is infected, or which one of you is infected. So if the CDC declares your area a hotzone and starts recommending cancellations of public events, you are going to want to sanitize everything.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m most worried about catching it at work. I work for a large, “international” corporation. Our campus has thousands of people on it per day, many recently returned from international travel. And of course, it’s an open office with few shared, cramped, meeting rooms, and few shared, cramped, places to eat lunch, go to the bathroom, etc.

            So basically, if anyone in our company gets it, my assumption is that it will spread fast and by the time that the safety department sends out an email telling us someone has it, it will already be too late…

          • Lambert says:

            $100 worth of unpaid time off?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Hopefully companies will become a bit looser with their work-from-home policies if there are actual US outbreaks. Until then, stay anal about being clean and stay away from people that are sneezing. If someone has it and sneezes on you, well, then you got a problem.

      • When I was growing up, we spent our summers in a house in New Hampshire, probably fifteen miles or so from the nearest grocery store, partly dirt roads. I’m not sure if we had a refrigerator at the beginning, but the one I remember was quite small.

        We used powdered milk. The trick was to mix it up, let it sit for a day (presumably in the refrigerator, so we must have had one at that point), after which it was much more drinkable than immediately after mixing.

    • Lambert says:

      Note that surgical masks are only effective at stopping you from giving viruses to others.
      To protect yourself from viruses, you need an N95 mask at minimum. N100 is probably better but less convenient.
      Note that neither of these solutions looks as cool as a surplus NBC mask, especially if an actual apocalypse happens any time soon.

      ‘Go somewhere rural’ is probably the most effective intervention.
      Enough non-perishable food so you don’t have to go shopping often?

    • James Miller says:

      Focus on what you will need if you get the virus: A thermometer to help you know if you should go to the hospital, medicine to help you sleep and clear up congestion, gatorade to help if you get diarrhea.

    • fibio says:

      I’d spend more on anti-inflammatory and then make sure the fridge is fully stocked with healthy, easy to prepare food. Most everyone is going to get COVID-19 at some point this year regardless of preparations and for 99~% of people it will be nothing worse than a bad cold or a nasty flu. Make sure that there’s nothing you’ll need to drive to the store for, keep in close contact with friends and family in case your or they need something in an emergency and ride it out. If symptoms are severe seek aid but otherwise don’t panic and follow the advice of local medical staff.

    • b_jonas says:

      Flu vaccines for your entire close family first, if you haven’t already got them.

      Then consumables for the case that you (or a family member) fall down sick, so that you don’t have to buy them urgently at that time. NSAID pills to reduce the fever and aches (note that they often have an expiration date of only a few years after making, so check the dates even if you have them already in the drawer). Tea, salty crackers, apples, any other food that you usually want to eat when you’re down with a viral infection and nauseous.

      • Matt M says:

        I’m generally skeptical of the flu vaccine and don’t usually get one.

        Is there any particular reason to believe it would be even a little bit effective against this particular strain?

        • Jon S says:

          I’m not b_jonas, but I imagine there’s not a direct effect. On the off chance you had to go to the hospital for the flu, you could contract coronavirus there if there’s an outbreak.

          Why are you skeptical of the flu vaccine?

          • Matt M says:

            Admittedly unscientific, but based on personal experience of “every time I get the shot I get sick, but every time I haven’t gotten the shot I don’t get sick”

          • rumham says:

            I have the same issue. It’s not getting the flu, at least for me, it’s that I have a 4 or 5 day immune response to the vaccine that might as well be the flu.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The flu vaccine is notoriously ineffective (one season, people who were vaccinated were actually _more_ susceptible to a particular strain of flu. Yes, negative effectiveness. But even good years they only claim ~50% effectiveness), and gives you flu-like symptoms.

            And no, it won’t do a thing against a completely different class of virus, like coronaviruses.

        • b_jonas says:

          The vaccine probably isn’t effective against that particular variant of the virus. But I don’t think it’s worth to distinguish between the variants. The vaccine makes you less likely to get the flu, and does it actually matter to you which variant you contract? You prepare for the flu season the same way regardless.

          On the other hand, if you get sick every time you get the flu vaccine, then perhaps you shouldn’t get the flu vaccine, or talk to your doctor whether they recommend the vaccine for you or not and follow their advice. (My experience is different: I have got the flu vaccine every year since 2011, and never got sick from it.) Even if you can’t get the vaccine, you can still consider your family members getting the vaccine, if they don’t get sick.

          • hls2003 says:

            I’m confused. COV-19 isn’t an influenza virus at all. They’re unrelated, not variants. From what I understand coronavirus is more like the common cold.

        • DarkTigger says:

          The German Ministry of Health advises flu shots for the usual risk groups, (e.g. old people, pregnant women, people working in health and nursing), not because it helps against corona, flu shots are against influenca, a completley different kind of virus, but because it might relieve hospitals in case of an active crisis.

  9. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Did you know that Nixon supporters produced buttons and other campaign material with the slogan “Can’t Lick Our Dick” for the 1960, ’68 AND ’72 presidential elections? Collectibles with this slogan clear show him as different ages, and some use the variant “McGovern Can’t Lick Our Dick.”

    • Aftagley says:

      Is this one of those normal-at-the-time, cringey-in-retrospect kind of things, or did they know what they were saying?

      • DragonMilk says:

        Given that another slogan was “Don’t change Dicks in the midst of a screw, vote for Nixon in ’72″….I’m guessing the latter

      • Randy M says:

        It’s after the ’60’s, when sex was invented, so they must have known.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Citations I can find online, which are bare assertions rather than documentary proof, say that the Nixon campaign avoided the slogan because they knew it was dirty, the materials coming from the RNC or private funda.
        That said, I can produce pop culture references even after 1972 of “lick” being unselfconsciously used for “beat”/”defeat”.

  10. Urstoff says:

    Is it worth learning any non-English language for the purposes of reading (well-known) literature or philosophy? Obviously if you’re a specialist in something and want to read works that haven’t been translated yet, there may be value. But are translations good enough to read, say, Homer and Plato or Kant and Hegel, or is there genuine value in reading them in the original? [aside from the quip that Germans prefer to read Kant in English translation]

    And if there is value, what’s the most useful language from a time investment standpoint when it comes to reading the “great books”? Is the Greek of Homer, Plato, and the Bible similar enough that it’s not learning three completely different languages? Latin, because you get all Roman authors, Medieval philosophy, and some early modern philosophy (Descartes, Spinoza)? French, because reading Proust in French is the most sublime literary experience possible?

    Or just stick with English and use the time spent on learning a different language reading more books in translation instead?

    • Statismagician says:

      Hegel, particularly, has been generally badly translated and is much less of a pain to read in German. Until quite recently Aristotle was only available in translations burdened by a bunch of Medieval Latinate conventions which obscure his meaning, but this is becoming less true (Sachs is the translator to look for). Homeric, Attic, and Biblical (actually ‘koine’, or late-antiquity common/trader’s) Greek are separate languages for most practical purposes; compare respectively Beowulf‘s, Chaucer’s, and modern English.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Homeric, Attic, and Biblical (actually ‘koine’, or late-antiquity common/trader’s) Greek are separate languages for most practical purposes; compare respectively Beowulf‘s, Chaucer’s, and modern English.

        That’s not at all true. Somebody who reads Attic Greek (the kind that gets taught in most Classics courses) can easily read Homeric or Koine. I’d expect that someone who reads Koine might struggle with some of the constructions of Attic or Homeric Greek, but not nearly enough to render them unintelligible to him. Nobody, as far as I’m aware, reads only Homeric Greek.

        • Nick says:

          I learned Attic in my beginner courses and found Homeric a struggle while Koine was, if anything, easier than Attic. If you read an old grammar like Smyth’s it treats all the dialects, Attic, Ionic, Doric, etc., because the differences are pretty regular and not that significant.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Koine originated as a lingua franca, and like most such languages it ended up doing away with the more difficult or irregular constructions, so it stands to reason that it’d be easier than Attic Greek. Homeric is a bit harder, although most of the differences between Homeric and Attic are, as you say, pretty regular, so once you’ve translated a few pages you should have a good idea of what to look out for. Certainly, though, Homeric isn’t as different from Attic or Koine Greek as Old or Middle English are from Modern English; at most, the difference is like that between Modern and Shakespearean English.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Certainly, though, Homeric isn’t as different from Attic or Koine Greek as Old or Middle English are from Modern English; at most, the difference is like that between Modern and Shakespearean English.

            Note that the most commonly read chronolect of Koine (whose origin lies with Alexander’s conquests) is that of the 1st century AD, and Homer is from the 8th century BC.
            That the language changed at most in 800 years as much as English in 400 constitutes an obvious problem for trying to date the origin of language families with glottochronology.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Yeah, there’s a good reason why glottochronology hasn’t been accepted by the majority of linguists — the margins of error are just too big to make it at all reliable.

            (Icelandic is, I gather, even more striking an example — the language is apparently little changed from the Old Norse spoken when the island was first settled a thousand years ago. Towards the other end of the spectrum, Plutarch, IIRC, records that Roman treaty with Carthage dating to the first year of the Republic was almost unintelligible to Romans of his own time, three hundred and fifty years later.)

    • voso says:

      How much proficiency do you think is necessary to reach a point where you can pick up on subtle linguistic nuances that the translator either didn’t pick up on or wasn’t able to translate?

      For things the translator didn’t pick up on, the answer is “better than the translator”, and that seems like a pretty high goalpost, far higher than basic proficiency.

      For things the translator was unable to translate: I’m too dumb and monolingual to know the extent of how much this exists in language.

      • Statismagician says:

        Untranslatable, or (worse) differentially-translatable words/concepts show up in spades. There are four completely separate Greek words all translated as ‘love’ in the Bible alone, for example. Russian doesn’t really have a word for ‘have.’ Turkish has a whole verb form for things you heard about but didn’t actually see happen.

        This is just at the level of pure meaning. Once we start trying to translate wordplay, metaphor, and allusion, I hope I don’t have to convince you the problem gets exponentially worse.

        • Lambert says:

          >verb form for things you heard about but didn’t actually see happen.

          I hear this is actually pretty common. German has such a construction.

          • WashedOut says:

            Are you referring to Ich kenne… vs. Ich weise…? One means “I know” and the other “I believe” (roughly speaking).

          • liate says:


            Couple of current-German-student nitpicks:
            1) First person singular of “wissen” is “weiß”, so the ‘e’ at the end is wrong, and `ß’ is replaced with `ss’ whenever `ß’ isn’t available, so the `s’ should be doubled.

            2) “Kennen” vs “wissen” is more “to be familiar with” vs “to be aware of”; “kennen” is used with people you know and otherwise things you are familiar with, while “wissen” is used for general facts. I don’t think that “to know” vs “to believe” really fits (at least, it suggests a different difference). More on the difference here.

          • Creutzer says:

            “Kennen” vs “wissen” has nothing to do with it. “kennen” is “know” with a nominal object (being familiar with a person, place, phenomenon, etc.), “wissen” is “know” with a sentential object (knowing that).

            What Lambert is referring to is the reportative construction. In German, you say the literal translation of “John shall have said that…” and it means “It is reported that John said that…” or “John allegedly said that…”

            As such, it’s not a good example of an untranslatable construction. Nor does the fact that Russian lacks a verb for “have”, because even under communism Russians were able to talk about property and possession just fine.

            However, not only are there plenty of untranslatable concepts between Russian, German, and English, there is also the fact that style and the aesthetics of language itself are not transferrable between languages. There is a lot of literature which, read in translation, provokes a completely different experience, or which makes no sense at all to read in translation in the first place.

          • Lambert says:

            Er sei
            and all that.
            It means ‘He is (allegedly)’

          • Creutzer says:

            Ah, yes. To explain for the benefit of non-German speakers: in German, you can also put a sentence in the subjunctive mood and it has (as one of its meanings, depending on context) this reportative meaning.

          • Deiseach says:

            “Kennen” vs “wissen” has nothing to do with it. “kennen” is “know” with a nominal object (being familiar with a person, place, phenomenon, etc.), “wissen” is “know” with a sentential object (knowing that).

            Something like the difference between aithin and fios in Irish? (You can see there’s a common Indo-European root ancestor behind Wissen and Fios).

          • Loriot says:

            Romance languages also have the know a person/thing distinction. For example, conoscere/sapere in Italian.

            It seems that this is a distinction that most West European languages have which English lost at some point, much like libre/gratis.

          • Lambert says:

            Note that ‘can’ is also derived from *kunnaną, from PIE *ǵneh₃- (to know).
            To be familiar with -> to be able to.

            Whereas wissen comes from *wóyde, (compare Latin ‘videre’).

            EDIT: aithin and fios are also derived from *gneh and *woyde.

        • Viliam says:

          Russian doesn’t really have a word for ‘have.’

          Note: This was true even before the communist revolution! 😀

          • littskad says:

            Russian actually does have words for “to have/possess” (such as иметь or обладать), it’s just that they’re not the most common standard way to express it.

      • aristides says:

        This is the reason I’m going to suggest you look farther for more useful languages. The best minds of every era have worked to translate Homer and the Bible. I suggest looking at languages that are less prestigious, and have linguistic origins further removed from English. While keeping in mind the factor of being useful for important works, I’m going to suggest learning Sanskrit. It’s a very different language than English, and opens up important Hindu and Buddhist works. There might be an argument for ancient Chinese or Japanese as well with these same criteria, but I think Sanskrit has the most surviving, influential works.

        • Nick says:

          The best minds of every era have worked to translate Homer and the Bible.

          Fun fact, the mathematician Gauss considered going into philology:

          While at university, Gauss independently rediscovered several important theorems.[15] His breakthrough occurred in 1796 when he showed that a regular polygon can be constructed by compass and straightedge if the number of its sides is the product of distinct Fermat primes and a power of 2.[a] This was a major discovery in an important field of mathematics; construction problems had occupied mathematicians since the days of the Ancient Greeks, and the discovery ultimately led Gauss to choose mathematics instead of philology as a career.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          This is among the reasons I went for Japanese. I’m not going to get better insights into City of God by learning Latin, but maybe I can play new Dragon Quest games a year earlier.

        • Protagoras says:

          Also, Sanskrit is at least an Indo-European language, and so shouldn’t be quite as horrifyingly difficult for an English-speaker to learn as Chinese or Japanese. Of course, learning modern Japanese has the advantage Conrad Honcho mentions, but if you learn classical Japanese in order to read works like Shobogenzo in the original, I believe that is different enough from modern Japanese that it probably won’t help you with video games or anime.

    • Lambert says:

      It’s a big flex signal, for one.

      Can’t really translate verse.

      And I hear nobody’s ever done justice to Pasternak. I figure i’ll wait till ’25 and start learning Russian if nobody’s managed to do a decent translation of Zhivago by then.

      Latin, German and French are probably the easiest, from an anglophone standpoint, because of all the cognates and calques (e.g. ‘Lehnwort’) and loanwords (e.g. ‘calque’).

      • Statismagician says:

        I see what you did there.

      • Can’t really translate verse.

        Depends on the verse. And the translator.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Generally speaking, translating poetry requires either (a) giving up on metre, and essentially doing a prose translation, or (b) keeping the/a metre, but changing the actual words so much to fit into the metre that what you produce is essentially more of a paraphrase than a translation. Doubtless there are a few examples where translators have managed to both stick to the metre and keep their translation close to the original wording, but such cases are in the minority.

          • Urstoff says:

            Or do neither, like Pope translating Homer into heroic couplets.

          • Deiseach says:

            Doubtless there are a few examples where translators have managed to both stick to the metre and keep their translation close to the original wording, but such cases are in the minority.

            Dorothy Sayers, in her translation of The Divine Comedy, talks about the difficulties of using terza rima in English. This article makes me laugh, because it says it’s perfectly easy to do – and then tacks on “as long as you don’t try writing terza rima in English”:

            The stanza is not difficult to write provided, as in all strict verse translations, we:

            1. Tell the story in equivalents, not word for word renderings.
            2. Move the limiting rhymes from the line endings.
            3. Use the pentameter for Dante’s eleven-syllable line, i.e. ignore the feminine rhyme of the strict terza rima.
            4. Vary the pace and sentence lengths, aiming for a supple continuity of narrative

            See? Anyone can do it, provided you ignore the literal meaning of the words, alter the rhyme scheme and don’t use the defining characteristics of terza rima! 😀

          • I think German to English may be easier than Italian to English. Example available on request.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Learn Portuguese to read Browning.
      Learn Hunnic to read the Voynich Manuscript.
      English isn’t enough! Learn American.


    • A lot of literature relies on specific words and phrases used, so at the very least, I’m sure it would enhance the reading experience. If it was me, and I was learning a language just for literature, I would probably pick Russian and go read through all of Dostoyevsky.

    • gdepasamonte says:

      I think there is a danger of expecting too much from reading a work “in the original”. Especially this is so if the work is mainly one of ideas (philosophy etc), or of narrative prose. You can get most of what any ordinary person wants out of these in a good translation, and there are many good translations available now.

      Plato, for instance, I assume is interesting to the general reader for a sense of the sorts of things that an intelligent Greek was worrying about 2500 years ago, and for the extraordinary character of Socrates. If you want to be extremely careful about exactly how the arguments go line by line, you might prefer to read the Greek. But so many of the arguments already appear hopelessly wrong in 20 different ways to the modern reader that you are unlikely to care for that level of detail.

      Then there are various kinds of works in which the words and euphony are part of the point. In prose this might be Kafka, Flaubert, Proust etc, and it is inevitably the case with poetry. The more compressed, allusive and sonorous it is, the more is lost in translation – but correspondingly the harder it is to reach a level of fluency sufficient to appreciate those qualities in the original language. Homer feels like it survives relatively well, since the style is obviously very plain and direct. Dante feels worse, and Symbolist poetry – I just wouldn’t bother.

      The most sensible approach might be to read everything in English first, and see if anything simultaneously catches your interest but seems horribly mangled in translation. In the mainstream of Western literature, I’d say the most important works that seem to suffer worst are: i) The Divine Comedy, ii) Faust 1&2, and the lyric poetry of Goethe, and iii) Brand & Peer Gynt, the major verse-dramas of Ibsen. I don’t know any of the original languages well enough to judge based on that – this is my personal sense of the inadequacy of the best-regarded English translations. If I had no specific interests and wanted to pick up a European language for reading literature, I’d chose one of those. Everything else I’d read in English, or not at all.

      • Deiseach says:

        But so many of the arguments already appear hopelessly wrong in 20 different ways to the modern reader that you are unlikely to care for that level of detail.

        In that instance, I think it’s on the modern reader to define why such arguments are wrong. If it’s only “But everyone knows…” or “Plainly X is not immoral (because I like doing X and don’t want to stop)” then it’s not obvious that Plato is wrong and you don’t need that level of detail.

        A modern reader can also be tricked by seeming famiiarity of words; Lewis points this out when talking about translating from Mediaeval sources, as when we think we know what the word “nice” means but are ignorant of how the meaning has changed over the centuries and so get completely the wrong impression of what the text means to convey, or how there are words which we wouldn’t use in such associations, as “dim” with sound, as well as being at the mercy of the personal taste of the translator, in the quote below:

        The sort of problems that arise when we begin to read medieval poetry in the way I like best may be illustrated from a textual variant in the fourteenth-century Sir Orfeo. Orfeo, after he has lost Dame Heurodis, is wandering in the forest. There he often catches a glimpse of ‘Þe king o fairy wiþ his rout’ hunting. Repeatedly the chase goes past him: and vanishes. It goes past with a sound: and the three MSS describe the sound thus:

        A. Wiþ dim cri and bloweing
        B. With dunnyng and with blowyng
        C. Wyth dynne, cry, and wyth blowyng.

        Leaving aside all question as to which is the correct reading, which do we like best? I agree with the poem’s last editor that the A reading is ‘certainly more poetical’. But when I ask why it seems so to me, I find, first, that the scales are, for my sensibility, weighted against B and C by the mainly disagreeable associations of din in Modern English. But those considerations are modern; I must try to discount them. And next, I realize where my pleasure in dim comes from. For me this is ‘properly’ (as the grammarians say) a word describing a degree of light; its use to describe a degree of sound is therefore a metonymy. These transferences from one of our senses to another delight my modern taste. But there is some evidence that dim in fourteenth-century English applied to the audible quite as ‘properly’ as to the visible, in which case a metonymy would not have been felt. My scales have perhaps been weighted in favour of dim as well as against din. There are indeed other grounds for preferring A. It gives a finer conception and perhaps a more interesting rhythm. But its apparent superiority as mere language probably did not exist in the Middle Ages.

      • Deiseach says:

        This is turning into the War and Peace of comments, but I’d like to give two more examples. First, another big chunk of Lewis on two ways of treating poetry, in this example, but generally applicable to reading any ancient text, and secondly quote two Irish poems at you to demonstrate what I’m trying to get at (EDIT and of course now I can’t find the text of the poems though I could have sworn I had them saved):

        There are two ways of enjoying the past, as there are two ways of enjoying a foreign country. One man carries his Englishry abroad with him and brings it home unchanged. Wherever he goes he consorts with the other English tourists. By a good hotel he means one that is like an English hotel. He complains of the bad tea where he might have had excellent coffee. He finds the ‘natives’ quaint and enjoys their quaintness. In his own way he may have a pleasant time; he likes his winter-sports in Switzerland and his flutter at Monte Carlo. In the same way there is a man who carries his modernity with him through all his reading of past literatures and preserves it intact. The highlights in all ancient and medieval poetry are for him the bits that resemble—or can be so read that they seem to resemble—the poetry of his own age. Thus when modernity was Romanticism (for modernity naturally changes) the great thing in Sophocles was the nightingale chorus in the Coloneus; and Dante meant the Inferno and the Inferno meant Paolo and Francesca and Ulysses: and what really mattered about Villon was just the Old Frenchness, so archaic, so wistful. This sort of reading is well reflected in the successive schools of translation. A while ago the classics were made to sound like the Authorised Version or the Pre-Raphaelites; now they are to be stark and slangy and ironic. And such reading has its reward. Those who practise it will have certain enjoyments.

        But there is another sort of travelling and another sort of reading. You can eat the local food and drink the local wines, you can share the foreign life, you can begin to see the foreign country as it looks, not to the tourist, but to its inhabitants. You can come home modified, thinking and feeling as you did not think and feel before. So with the old literature. You can go beyond the first impression that a poem makes on your modern sensibility. By study of things outside the poem, by comparing it with other poems, by steeping yourself in the vanished period, you can then re-enter the poem with eyes more like those of the natives; now perhaps seeing that the associations you gave to the old words were false, that the real implications were different from what you supposed, that what you thought strange was then ordinary and that what seemed to you ordinary was then strange. In so far as you succeed, you may more and more come to realize that what you enjoyed at the first reading was not really any medieval poem that ever existed but a modern poem made by yourself at a hint from the old words. But that is an extreme case. Sometimes, by luck, your first shot may not have been so wide. Not all things at a given date in the past are equidistant from the present.

        • Deiseach says:

          Anyway, about the Irish poems: I wanted to quote the corresponding parts of original poem in Irish versus translation into English, but since I don’t have the texts to hand you’ll have to rely on my shaky memory.

          Basically, the poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill wrote a poem about her daughter’s First Communion Day where, by comparing her daughter and the other children to “golden candlesticks”, she references a line in an Irish love song Úna Bhán:

          ‘S ba choinnleoir óir ar bhórd na bainríoghna thú
          (Literal translation: You were a golden candlestick on a queen’s table).

          The translator, Paul Muldoon, takes this and runs with it by doing a parallel reference, “the white girl-host is comelier than golden candlesticks”, to a poem by Yeats, “The Unappeasable Host”:

          O heart the winds have shaken, the unappeasable host
          Is comelier than candles at Mother Mary’s feet.

          Now, if you’re reading the English translation solely, you can enjoy the poem translated on one level. If you recognise the reference to the Yeats’ quotation, that’s a deeper level of enjoyment. But if you can read the original alongside the translation, you recognise (a) the original’s referencing of the song and (b) the skill and appositeness of the parallel in English – not simply a direct translation but doing the same thing as the original poem did, in an English-speaking context.

          That is giving a deeper and richer background to the poem and if you’re stuck with translations (as I generally am because I don’t have any language other than English and enough stumbling Irish to make it part-way through Irish-language poetry) then, as I am, you are missing out on that deeper, richer level.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Now, if you’re reading the English translation solely, you can enjoy the poem translated on one level. If you recognise the reference to the Yeats’ quotation, that’s a deeper level of enjoyment. But if you can read the original alongside the translation, you recognise (a) the original’s referencing of the song and (b) the skill and appositeness of the parallel in English – not simply a direct translation but doing the same thing as the original poem did, in an English-speaking context.

            C. S. Lewis did something similar in his (unfinished, alas) translation of the Aeneid, using Biblical phraseology in places where Virgil had used Homeric.

            (Incidentally, I think Lewis is being a bit harsh when he talks about translations being made to sound like the Authorised Version. At least in some cases, I think you can make a case for it. E.g., if you’re trying to convey an impression of what Homer would have sounded like to a Greek of the Classical or Hellenistic period — archaic, poetic, elevated, full of phrases not found anywhere else, but also hugely influential on subsequent Greek language, literature, and religion — I think you could do a lot worse than translating your Iliad into Prayerbook English.)

    • Creutzer says:

      If you care about learning a language in order to gain access to better aesthetic experiences while reading artistic literature, then German, French, and Russian are your highest-payoff options, followed, I would say, by Spanish.* However, in order for that payoff to materialise, you need to know the language really, really well. Far, far beyond the level of merely speaking it fluently. This is not something you can achieve in the comfort of your own home. If you don’t live in relevant countries, you will at least need plenty of speakers of the language in your life.

      If you read the work in the original with less than an essentially native-like level of proficiency, you will generally miss out on the extra benefit that confers and just have a hard time for nothing.

      *Spanish has the additional benefit that you can read a lot of Latin American literature that has been translated only miserably badly or not at all. This is not a problem with German-language, French, and Russian literature, where plenty of translations exist and are usually between decent and as-good-as-translations-can-be (i.e. rarely anywhere close to the original in their effect).

  11. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about it and Locomotion’s Neon Genesis Evangelion ad is literally the best commercial for an anime ever.

    In 2015, God’s children will fight against their own Father…

    The wrath of the Creator will sow the Fields of Absolute Terror through his Army of Angels…

    And if they are not defeated, there will be no more future: there will be no more time left…

    To conquer the Divine Power the human ego must control the power of technology…

    Only the pure instinct of the elect will have the soul to fight…

    The Japanese animation series that has exploded the mystical doubt of Western civilization.

    Man is a work of God, or is He a product of man?

    Between suspense and seduction, action and comedy, there arises the drama of the battle between devotion to God and the cult of Man.

    Locomotion presents… EVANGELION.

    As long as God stays in his heaven, all will be right with the world.

    Who do you have faith in?

    It is, of course, very misdealing (Evangelion’s worldbuilding is fundamentally a space opera rather than anything based on fantasy or mythology, and the religious names and imagery were only added because they looked and sounded cool) but damn if it doesn’t make me want to watch the show (or, better yet, a show that actually lives up to the promises of the commercial).

    • L (Zero) says:

      Honestly I think a trailer that made Evangelion look like Star Wars would be more misleading. There’s almost no travel, and the world is shaped by will and perception to a much higher degree than simple determination to use concrete skills like telekinesis.

  12. RalMirrorAd says:

    Maybe someone with a similar problem can help:

    Lately I’ve been aggressively grinding my teeth (less grinding and more teeth clenching) and it’s been making my jaw sore. I bought a mouthguard but I could never wear something like that to sleep, it requires too much concentration to keep an object like that in my mouth without me getting a gag reflex.

    Has anyone here any expertise in effective mouth guards for people with gag reflexes?

    • Infrared Wayne says:

      I had the same problem. I use an off the shelf boil-and-bite mouth guard (the Doctor’s NightGuard, I believe), and what worked for me was cutting off the last bit on each side (last molar or two). The part that remains doesn’t reach far enough back to trigger my gag reflex, but is still enough to prevent tooth contact and not get dislodged or slip off easily even if I’m not biting down.

      When fitting the guard, make sure you bite deep so it will stay on your teeth on its own, then cut conservatively until you get to a size you can tolerate.

      Also, dentists usually offer custom made mouth guards. Not sure if those are better at not causing gagging.

      • jolhoeft says:

        My dentist made me a mouth guard. Apparently clenching ones teeth can be hard on the gums. They make a mold of your teeth. It fits tightly to my top teeth and isn’t going anywhere. I was worried about gagging on it at first, but am used to it now.

      • Jon S says:

        When I was younger I had a dentist-made guard that was very tight and hurt my teeth a little to wear. I was much happier with the bite-and-boil rubber kind.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I tried a rubber boil-and-bite kind from the CVS and it didn’t seem to help at all.

          Then I spent a few hundred bucks to get a molded one from my dentist and it’s great. That was about 5 years ago.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I have a molded one and it works, though I don’t like it. I do get relief from using it 2-3 nights in a row and consciously unclenching during the day.

    • JayT says:

      I’ve been doing the same lately, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue when I’m sleeping, rather I’ll find myself clenching my teeth really hard in the middle of the day. A mouthguard is obviously problematic in the middle of the day, any thoughts on how to train myself to stop doing this? I suspect it is stress related because I’ve never done this before, but there’s really no way to remove my current stressors.

    • ricemilk4298 says:

      Teeth grinding and clenching can be a symptom of sleep apnea. You may want to have a sleep study done or at least record yourself sleeping and listen.

    • AG says:

      No expertise here, but you could, um, ask people if a ball gag is viable?

      I also wonder how teeth grinding interacts with clear-cover retainers.

    • IrishDude says:

      I use a bite guard (and my wife is a dental hygienist). Dentist offices can make ‘low profile’ bite guards that are much easier to wear than off-the-shelf bite guards. I used a bulky off-the-shelf one initially and found it very cumbersome and a bit gaggy, though I did acclimate to it a bit over time. The dental office made bite guard I use now is much smaller and gives me no issues at all to use. The main downside is insurance often doesn’t cover it and they can run a couple hundred dollars. Though I can’t vouch for it because I haven’t tried it, here’s a cheaper version ($120) where you make your own mold and mail it off.

      Grinding your teeth can cause gum recession as well as wear away your enamel, making your teeth more sensitive and prone to other dental issues. I highly recommend wearing some form of bite guard if you’re a grinder.

  13. rubberduck says:

    Piggybacking to ask a related question:

    What skills a recent grad can feasibly learn in their own time from free/cheap/publicly-available material to make oneself more marketable? And is there any sense (in terms of being attractive to employers) to trying to read up on industry trends/regulations if one doesn’t have any related hands-on experience? My degree is in chemistry/materials but more general answers are also welcome.

    I assume “learn to code!” is the obvious response but, like, isn’t there anything besides that?

    • AG says:

      Excel, Excel, Excel. (At the least, making formulas and graphs, if not macros.)

      Most companies are still doing ridiculous amounts of tasks better suited for other software on Excel. That cutting-edge tech start-up company with high level programming jobs? I guarantee you that their accounting department is still using Excel. And assuming you go into a chemistry/materials field, Excel is used even more so to make up basic data summary tables and reports, and most raw test data gets exported to .csv, and processed statistically with a software that uses spreadsheet input, Excel or not.

      Spreadsheet-fu is used by both research and administrative jobs. It also shows that you can probably learn other software stuff fairly quickly (and self-train on it), if necessary.

      It’s good if you can demonstrate a knowledge of basic statistics, too. If they give you a dataset with little to no context, can you draw conclusions from it? Do you know what statistical tests you would run, and how to interpret the results of those tests?

      • Matt M says:

        On the one hand, this is definitely and absolutely true. My experience in the white collar world is that Excel is by far the most important and valuable tool to have mastered for good performance on the job.

        That said, how does one actually demonstrate mastery of it? What can you put on a resume that shows you really know what you’re doing in there?

        • Statismagician says:

          Let’s see – VLOOKUP, pivot tables, database integration and file management, for starters?

        • Nick says:

          The most desirable Excel magic at my job has been pivot tables and macros. I don’t think we rely on it as much as the places you folks are talking about, though.

        • Matt M says:

          Eww, no, don’t put VLOOKUP on a resume. That’s basic stuff. Will get you laughed out of the real elite employers!

          The real pros use index/match only!

        • AG says:

          Honestly, you can just put on the resume that you are “Proficient at Microsoft Office (bullet points: Excel, Powerpoint, Word).”

          When they ask you about it in interviews, here’s my recommended answer:
          -Best is if you talk about a project you did with Excel. For example, recording sales numbers for the weekly Billboard Hot 100 over a year, graphing and analyzing the results in various creative ways. Or, something like conducting some sort of survey online, and using using a spreadsheet to analyze and graph the results. Scott’s SSC survey result analysis would be an excellent case to show a prospective employer.
          – Otherwise, namedrop these terms: pivot tables, conditional formatting, table filters and sorting, data validation (dropdown selection), importing/exporting csvs, date and time formatting, conditional formulas (countif, sumifs), lookup formulas (vlookup, hlookup, match, indirect), statistical formulas (including more esoteric ones like dmax/dmin), string manipulation (replace, substitute, find, search).
          – Another very basic project would be simply tracking your household bill payments in a spreadsheet, summing sub-categories (which you can filter on), graphing the results, and having conditional formatting to flag outlier values.

          I was also going to add that First Aid/CPR/AED training might be available for free/cheap (check your local library), and in a lab setting, knowing how to do root cause analysis and/or FMEA might be nice on the resume.

  14. salvorhardin says:

    This article linked from Marginal Revolution:

    claims that reducing medical school costs and malpractice costs could indirectly save more than 1% of GDP worth of healthcare costs in the US, by reducing incentives for doctors to demand high compensation and do a lot of defensive tests. What would those aligned with the Random Critical Analysis “high US healthcare costs are fully explained by higher US consumption levels” thesis say about this result? Are the authors missing some reason why higher consumption levels just automatically lead to spending more on medical schooling and tests, for example?

    • gph says:

      Wouldn’t the response basically be that even if we reduce the cost to the consumer through savings in schooling/malpractice, consumers will just spend those savings on more/”better” medical services. And it’s somewhat questionable if that additional spending actually leads to a better outcome on average since the marginal utility of each dollar spent decreases the more you spend as it’s likely to be spent on experimental or less proven/useful procedures, etc.

      I guess the difference of opinion is whether it’s doctors that push for additional defensive testing in order to make more money, or if it’s consumers that push spending on additional tests, etc. up to a certain percentage of their available funds.

      Edit: I suppose the RCA thesis is that even in countries with nationalized health services the percentage of GDP spent on health care per capita matches with privatized nations. Which would be some evidence that it isn’t doctors being incentivized to make more money from unnecessary testing etc. that drives health care spending in private health care systems.

      • Garrett says:

        > I guess the difference of opinion is whether it’s doctors that push for additional defensive testing in order to make more money, or if it’s consumers that push spending on additional tests, etc. up to a certain percentage of their available funds.

        My experience in EMS and emergency medicine in-general is that it’s neither. In a lot of cases the providers are paid fix salaries or based on some complexity model, so “in order to make more money” doesn’t really apply. I’ve heard that the money (and large-dollar liability) isn’t in the testing but in the procedures, anyways. But there’s a lot of non-monetary liability to worry about, too. If you don’t provide “the standard of care” you have to worry about the QA/QI process. Worse, if there are negative complications you might have to present on the topic. In EMS this involves Very Uncomfortable Conversations with your service director and medical director. In the hospital it might involve presenting at a Mortality & Morbidity session.

        To provide a few examples:
        * Almost every person who is some form of female is going to get a pregnancy test in the ER. This is because it shifts the risk/reward for imaging, because many medications haven’t been assessed as safe for use when pregnant, because the presentation could be a complication of pregnancy, etc., etc. Broken leg? Is it because your significant other was beating you because you are pregnant?
        * A large number of people are going to get EKGs performed for even the most marginal cases. I recently discovered that one local hospital has a policy of performing an EKG on any patient prior to giving the anti-nausea medication ondansetron (trade name: Zofran). Not because nausea could be an indicator for a heart attack or something. Oh, no. It’s because it can extend the QT interval, and if somebody has undiagnosed congenital Long QT syndrome it could/might lead to death. Although the rate of inherited long QT syndrome is estimated somewhere between 1 in 2,500 and 1 in 7,000, with undiagnosed rates much lower. With a potential 10% false-positive rate. And (as far as I can tell) an unknown rate of actual harm from administration even when congenital long QT is present.
        * Just about every old person falling getting a head CT. Doubly-so if they’re on any kind of blood thinner. We take a lot of people from the nursing home to the ER to get a head CT, and then an ambulance ride back. Why? So everybody can check the box that they did the right thing. What’s a CT scan going to find? Possibly bleeding inside the skull (potentially fatal). If so, what are the options? Basically, some form of neurosurgery. And you can just imagine how much neurosurgery wants to take a 95 y/o woman with dementia in for brain surgery. But at least the boxes got checked that everybody did The Right Thing.

        And so on.

        If the problem is that patients are pushing for unneeded tests, a good part of the solution to that would be to have the patients pay for the tests out-of-pocket. But that’s not the way things work. I get the impression that there is very little in medicine which isn’t either “medically necessary” and therefore paid for by insurance, or “unnecessary” and therefore unethical to subject someone to. (Cosmetic procedures and laser vision correction are the exceptions I know of).

    • Statismagician says:

      Part of what we’re consuming more of than other countries is stuff like stupid lawsuits and unnecessarily elaborate medical education (in the rest of the world, you can essentially major in medicine in college and then go practice). It can both be true that our costs are in line with the size of our economy (the RCA position) and that we could save a lot of money in obvious ways without sacrificing much in the way of quality (the MR position).

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        The defensive medicine angle seems compatible with the RCA hypothesis in the sense that he argues Americans consume a greater QUANTITY of health care with dubious gains from doing so.

        If the ratio of a doctor’s salary to X professional salary is greater in the US than elsewhere that’s evidence that doctor’s are being made to do more or that their education is too expensive, but i don’t know if that’s actually what we observe.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          This links up with one of my pet theories: when you go to a doctor here in the US, often as not what you get isn’t just treatment for the condition you’ve got, but a bunch of testing aimed at ruling out the possibility that you’ve got something worse. In short, we’re paying for reassurance, not just outcomes. While I can well believe that we’re paying more than it’s worth, measuring outcomes alone implicitly assumes that reassurance is worth nothing.

          Interesting question to which I don’t know the answer: in international comparisons, are subsidies to medical education counted as health-care expenditures?

          • silver_swift says:

            In short, we’re paying for reassurance, not just outcomes.

            I don’t think reassurance is the correct word here. I don’t have smoke detectors to reassure me that my house is not on fire, I have them so that, in the off chance that my house is on fire, I know I have to get outside.

          • Aapje says:

            The problem with your argument is false positives, which can be a lot more common than true positives, for testing aimed at rare (or even non-rare) conditions.

            If you weren’t worried about a rare form of cancer, but the test says that you might have it, although that’s a false positive in 99% of the cases, to be determined by a more expensive/invasive test, then the worry between the simpler test and the more advanced one, can have a serious negative impact, far greater than the level of assurance.

            Especially if you weren’t worrying about possibly having this condition in the first place. If the doctor is making you worried about possibly having a rare condition and then relieves this with a test, they could have prevented the worry in the first place by not bringing up the rare condition.

          • Cheese says:

            “This links up with one of my pet theories: when you go to a doctor here in the US, often as not what you get isn’t just treatment for the condition you’ve got, but a bunch of testing aimed at ruling out the possibility that you’ve got something worse”

            Well, yes, but that’s essentially medicine. That happens everywhere to a lesser or greater degree because that is how you don’t miss things. A more litigious culture in the US means you guys probably have a greater degree of defensive medicine than other places, although I don’t have first hand experience of that.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Keep in mind that we’re talking here about diagnostics which (apparently) are doing very little to improve outcomes, and trying to explain why we keep doing them anyway. I agree that defensive medicine is a strong rival, but I still like my own explanation. People will worry, even without the aid of a false positive.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            I’ve long suspected that one benefit of ‘Government Run Healthcare’ is that it does the opposite of what it’s proponents imagine it to be doing. It plays the role of the medical miser who can look at a medical procedure and for budgetary reasons decide whether or not it passes a basic cost benefit analysis. It also shields their employees from the adversarial legalism that keeps US doctors on their toes (presumably in a bad way)

      • Cheese says:

        “(in the rest of the world, you can essentially major in medicine in college and then go practice)”

        Not in other western countries that i’m familiar with. AUS/NZ very similar university degree structure with the exception being a few undergrad courses (going out of favour, almost as long anyway), but then again our post-medical degree eduction is generally longer before you can reach the ability to practice independently. UK is similar.

        • A1987dM says:

          Well, in Italy you do start a degree in medicine right after high school.
          (But it does last 6 years, compared to 3 years for most BSc/BA degrees and 3+2 years for most MSc/MA degrees.)

      • Garrett says:

        > unnecessarily elaborate medical education

        True, but “rationalizing” it would only get rid of about 2 years of the whole process, the unrelated undergraduate portion. There is still about 2 years of related undergraduate training required in biology, chemistry, etc.

        I’m in-favor.

        • johan_larson says:

          You could probably squeeze another year off the process by requiring a standardized set of AP courses, roughly the equivalent of the current first year of undergraduate studies. AP courses seem to have taken over as the de facto college-bound curriculum anyway, though some institutions are reluctant to grant credit for them.

          • Garrett says:

            Maybe. Maybe not. It’s more a dependency graph issue than anything else. AP courses aren’t permitted for most of the requirements.
            Looking at the list of Harvard Prerequisites and Yale Prerequisites you *might* be able to do it in 2 semesters, but I suspect you’ll need 3 to get the ordering right. Still, I suppose that can be done in 1 full year of study.

            In contrast, Stanford just requires the ability to “demonstrate knowledge” in the related fields. Plus 1 year of post-secondary study.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I’m not sure if it has a name but looking at line items in a budget doesn’t have the type of linear impact with final budgets that you might expect. If you go line by line in your spending you can easily convince yourself of savings in one or several areas, but the implementation of which will change your spending habits. Say you look at everything and decide that you can cut spending on eating out, so instead of eating out on Friday and Saturday nights you just eat out on Friday. Saturday nights now you have free time and you watch those Netflix shows that you normally watch on Sunday on Saturday- now Sunday you have free time without the normal filler so you justify signing up for an additional streaming service to have something else to watch, plus there are more dishes to do and more home cooking so you are a bit more likely during the week to order out when things get a little hectic/you don’t sleep well. You can track these issues on an individual level with a lot of work, but not really at a national level where the shifts are even less direct. An example

      Norway has higher GDP per capita than the US adjusted for purchasing power parity. The Wikipedia page has three different estimates of ~$3,000, $11,000 and $11,000 more, again this is per capita and adjusted for purchasing power. Norwegians also spend ~ $3,200 less per year on health care than Americans. So just from this starting point the average Norwegian should have between $6,000 and $14,000 more in discretionary income than the average American. Some of the smaller data is harder to get, but it does not appear that Norwegian’s are spending significantly more on housing per capita or getting more housing (on a sq ft per person basis), or eating out more, or owning more cars/TVs/other major spending categories. They spend ~$2,000 more on education but ~$500 less on defense. If you adjust for labor force participation and working age population they are enjoying a little bit more leisure but not a crazy amount.

      Long story short, it is very hard to find this money, and its not a trivial amount. We are talking estimates of up to 20% of total household income here that is above US household income with no extra net consumption to show for it. If you look at all the major categories it is clear that government spending is a major factor* but breaking down the individual categories its not so easy to see where this differential lies.

      *The wealth fund is a part of it, but it has been building and compounding for 30 years, annual contributions roughly (estimating 5% return) represent ~15-20% of the difference here.

      • sharper13 says:

        This has been answered extensively elsewhere by the RCA guy (which is why I know it), but people in Norway have a lower discretionary income. This is in large part because a decent chunk of their GDP is in forms which don’t provide the average citizen with a current income they can spend (like the wealth fund).

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      How much would shaving off 1%xGDP change the graphs?

  15. Gabe says:

    Headed to Japan in October for a two week trip. We currently live on the West Coast. My partner and I both sit Zen and we are interested in history, arts and culture, language, hot springs/hot water and traditional Japanese tattooing. We both have lots of tattoos so we know a lot of hot springs are off limits for us.

    Anyone have any recommendations for our trip? We fly in and out of Tokyo.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      We both have lots of tattoos so we know a lot of hot springs are off limits for us.


      • helloo says:

        Tattoos are rather taboo in Japan.
        Only gang members (and fire fighters for some other culture reason?) have them. In fact, it’s often considered part of the initiation.
        Showing them in public may cause those around you to stare/get nervous.
        Might be similar with having a non-concealed firearm in a less firearm friendly nation (which also includes Japan).
        I think that’s lessened somewhat, but overall it can be considered to be still a very conservative culture.

        I think the locals are probably more accepting of tattoos from foreigners though. (Still might make them think you’re part of a gang, but more accepted? gang member)

    • Eric T says:

      Was just in Japan for a week in November. If you plan to travel throughout the country, I highly recommend you get a JR rail pass. The bullet train is a reliable, effective, and unsurprisingly fast way to travel.

      Highlights from my trip:
      Miyajima Island near Hiroshima. While the famous Torii gate is under construction, the area is gorgeous and full of history and art. Stay in a traditional inn here if you can.
      Arashiyama in Kyoto. Its a hell of a climb but the view, the gates, the monkeys, its all worth it. The bamboo grove is a must-see.
      The most gorgeous sight I saw was probably Sensō-ji in Tokyo at night. Breathtaking. See if you can attend one of those major shrines when they have services too, its very cool.

      I hope your trip is great!

    • Anteros says:

      I googled ‘Japan in October’, and was staggered by the wealth of information, just on the first page.

      When I visit somewhere I haven’t been before, I usually get copies of the Rough guide and Lonely Planet, and then read through some Wikipedia articles. My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t like to have any prior information. She thinks it’ll prejudice her experience and she also tends to avoid anything designed for or advertised to tourists. So, she’ll arrive somewhere and simply start walking, usually until she gets lost. She’ll also be quite capable of haggling for things in markets in languages in which she understands not a word.

      My recommendation, fwiw, is (whatever your natural level of adventurousness) to act a little more like my wife, and a little less like me.

      I’m guessing you know the existence of the Eihei-ji Temple, a couple of hours from Tokyo? Dogen sat there 800 years ago, and I would expect a day or two visiting it would be pretty memorable, despite what I said about advanced planning…

      Good luck!

    • voso says:

      This site will let you know whether it’s cheaper to buy a Japan Rail Pass or to buy tickets individually, once you’ve decided on your itinerary.

      This resource lists tattoo friendly hot springs as well.

    • You are aware that the Coronavirus is already in Japan, right?

      • Anteros says:

        You read the bit about travelling in October? By then we’ll have had a vaccine for months and there’s a good chance the Coronavirus will be a distant memory.

        I wouldn’t personally worry about travelling to Japan today, although governmental responses to the virus might be somewhat restrictive. Youngish people without chronic health problems seem no more likely to die from the virus than from seasonal flu, and are much less likely to contract it.

  16. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I just posted a test which is presumably for blue-yellow colorblindness.

    The results included relatively few people who could see all the words that were just a little different from their backgrounds, some who couldn’t see any of them, and a moderate number who could see some but not all. This is rather different from the idea that either you have a particular sort of color blindness or you don’t.

    Is it just a monitor issue? Some people have more trouble with the test on their cell phones, which isn’t surprising.

    However, I’ve done the color tile test on different monitors (I like doing the test and wish there were more versions of it) and always get the same result. About 96% right and blue-yellow colorblindness.

    I took this test, and came in with normal color vision, but I fudged a little– some of the samples was difficult and I had to trace the number with my cursor to identify it. I only gave up on one of them.

    Tentatively, you could have mixed good and bad cones, or a deficiency of good cones.

    I can usually seen the difference between blue and yellow and distinguish between shades of blue and so on.

    • Well... says:

      My wife shared that with me last night (she found it on Buzzfeed, I think). I scored an 8/10 (technically a 9/10 but one of my correct answers was a lucky guess); she scored a 2/10.

    • Matt says:

      I took the test at work just now. I have a 3-monitor setup, and using the built-in monitor on my laptop enabled me to see 9/10 (at least one of my answers was mostly a guess – I wish the test had a ‘I can’t see this at all’ option). The other two monitors are bigger, but older, and I probably would have scored more like 6/10 with them.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Thanks– a lot of people have hypothesized that monitors matter, but you’ve given the most detailed account.

        Does the laptop monitor generally seem better than the other two to your?

        • Matt says:


          I have a HP Compaq LA2405x, which appears to be around 10 years old, a HP Compaq LA2306x, which appears to be around 7 years old, while my laptop screen is from around 2-2.5 years old. It’s smaller, but clearly better quality / newer tech.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Similarly, I got 5/10 (including one where I saw nothing and guessed randomly because “I don’t know” wasn’t an option) on my laptop monitor, but 7/10 (intentionally “guessing” wrong for words I remembered but couldn’t see) on my external monitor.

      • Jade Nekotenshi says:

        I’ll second the monitor thing – that was one of my guesses.

        I’ve tried this on three panels – one’s a 4:3, 1280×1024 TN 19″ Dell, and I got 5/10 on there, with a few lucky guesses. Seriously, couldn’t make out *jack* on that monitor. I tried on a 16:10, 1920×1200 S-PVA 20″ Lenovo and again on a 16:9, 4k IPS 32″ Samsung, and managed 9/10 on both of those. (My phone, which has an AMOLED screen, was pretty much in between – 7/10, and I was a lot less sure about them than on the two others)

    • The Nybbler says:

      I scored 10/10, but it required 2 monitors. On my iMac, REEL/FREE/FEET/TREE was impossible for me to distinguish (I saw no word at all, just a solid box). This was not hard to see on my MacBook Pro. WEE/SWEET/TWEET/TWEEN was almost as hard to see on the MacBook Pro; I imagine I can see something there now, but before I knew what it was I could not, so I may be fooling myself. That one is quite readable on the iMac.

    • DragonMilk says:

      I got a “0” but it took great effort on the hue test. It’s an old gen 17 inch work monitor so shouldn’t be a monitor thing. Enchroma was fairly straightforward except last one as well

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Got 9/10, failing to distinguish GLOVE from CLOVE, but it took some staring. One effect I noticed (after completing the test) that if you scroll the screen up and down so that the image moves, the letters become much more visible. With this trick I can see every word almost clearly.

    • Deiseach says:

      7/10 for the Buzzfeed and “Normal” for the Enchroma test. Skipped the Hue-Test as I’ve done this before and come out very badly on it – I seem to have terrible comparison judgement as to which hue belongs with which (I can broadly get darker to lighter but in the middle ones that are very similar just throw me).

      Dell monitor, these specs, if that makes any difference.

    • Jake R says:

      Got 9/10 on the BuzzFeed one on my Pixel 3, but it was very difficult.

      Perfect scores on the other two.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Keeping the monitor fixed and changing the web browser made a big difference.

    • The Pachyderminator says:

      On my phone just now, I got a 2 on the xrite test. Previously, on my laptop, I’ve gotten a (perfect) 0. On the enchroma test, it said I have “normal color vision” (and none of the questions were too difficult, though I had to squint at a couple where it was just slightly different shades of gray). The BuzzFeed one was hard, but I got them all except CLOVE/GLOVE, by which time I was starting to get artifacts in my vision from staring at a blue screen too long to tell whether the handle on the G was there.

    • 10/10 on the first test. Only the last example was hard. I guess that explains why blue is my favorite color.

    • Don P. says:

      I saw a word in the first box and then 9 colored boxes with no words in them. This was true on both Chrome and whatever Microsoft’s is called right now. I passed the other two tests with no problem. I should probably try another monitor/computer, or my phone.

    • Spookykou says:

      10/10 but the last one was a 50 50 toss up.

    • Loriot says:

      I did the first test on my laptop and got 10/10. The first two are trivial, but for the rest, I had to turn up the brightness and stare at each one for several seconds to make it out. I did manage to figure out each one without any guessing or looking at the answers first, though the last one was quite difficult.

      For the last one, I initially saw OLIVE, then realized the middle letter was an O, which made me think it was GLOVE, but after staring at the first letter for a while, I realized it was a C, not a G and must be CLOVE instead. It’s interesting how the mind automatically fills in words based on the barest information you can see, but then you can look at particular aspects to disambiguate it.

  17. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links post:

    Reader Suvorov has shared some research he did into Southern commerce raiding during the American Civil War.

    One of the lesser-known technological developments of WWII was the proximity fuze, a tiny radar built into a shell that would detect when it was near an airplane and go off, greatly improving AA performance.

    Lastly, I followed up my earlier critique of an article on carrier wing range with a quasi-experimental look at the F/A-18 vs the A-6 Intruder.

    • rocoulm says:

      In the second part of the prox fuze article, the link to the U.S. Army’s account of the Battle of the Bulge isn’t working for me.

      Really interesting stuff, though, I enjoy these a lot.

      • bean says: looks to be down. There’s a pdf from internet archive here. (Benefits of government works. There’s usually someone else who has them.)

        And thank you.

  18. johan_larson says:

    One of the ideas floating around the nerdosphere is that Twitter and Facebook encourage bad behavior, in particular outrage mobs and ultrahomogeneous worldview-bubbles. Some people seem to think this is inadvertent, driven by innocuous design choices that turned out to have significant effects, such as Twitter’s extremely low limit on message length. Others think this is deliberate, with Twitter and Facebook encouraging outrage to increase engagement, and thereby make more money from selling ads.

    Anyone have a sense of how much this has leaked over into the mainstream?

    The reason I’m asking is that the latest comic from Penny Arcade discusses this very issue. And while Penny Arcade isn’t exactly mainstream, it is a pretty big site.

    • Lambert says:

      I thought this was something that everyone who was paying any kind of attention knew about.,filter%20bubble

      • Well... says:

        Yeah, same here.

        It’s pretty interesting: you can ask basically any person about this topic and they’ll tell you how awful FB and Twitter are, for exactly these reasons. Then ask them if they’ve deleted their social media accounts, and you get a barrage of excuses why either these problems happen to other people but not to them, or why they need their FB/Twitter accounts for this one important thing that outweighs all the horrific-sounding cons they just listed.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I did deleted my Twitter account. Also I don´t personally think that Facebook is net bad.

          • John Schilling says:

            Facebook may be net bad globally, but it’s fairly straightforward to use it in a manner that is net good locally. Twitter, I’m not sure even that much is realistically possible.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @John Schilling

            Sure. I do not think that Facebook is net bad even globally, however.

        • Matt says:

          Pressure to be on Facebook has waxed and waned throughout my adulthood. One time my wife missed her best friend’s mother’s funeral because the family thought a Facebook announcement was enough. She was basically ‘forced’ back onto Facebook after letting her account wither for several years by some of our kids’ sports – to ignore Facebook meant that we simply would not be informed about any changes to the practice/play schedule and various other random events.

          I feel lucky she took that bullet for the family.

          Meanwhile, my kids are on Tik-tok and Snapchat, and don’t have Facebook accounts.

          I have a built-in ‘get-out-of-social-media-free’ card – my employer makes us take security training every year that says ‘stay off of social media’ and I pretend like it’s practically mandatory rather than simply a firm suggestion and I stay off of social media.

          Does anyone know if it’s possible to find out what Facebook ‘knows’ about you if you’ve never had a Facebook account, or is having the account a necessary first step to discovering that information?

          • Jake R says:

            Does anyone know if it’s possible to find out what Facebook ‘knows’ about you if you’ve never had a Facebook account, or is having the account a necessary first step to discovering that information?

            For a long time I did not have a Facebook. A few years ago I made one because it was the only way to receive updates from a group I was a part of. I made the account with the minimum amount of information (I think full name and birthdate), added the group coordinator as a friend, and joined the one group. I then turned on email notifications for the things I cared about and intended to never log on again. As I was about to log off, I noticed that the recommended friends list included a bunch of people I graduated high school with and a few acquaintances and friends of friends from college. None of these were in any way connected to the one person and one group I had added, they weren’t even in the same state. I’m still not sure how they got the information about me.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If you are in the EU you can do a GDPR request.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          My twitter account has been dormant for about seven years, and I log on to FaceBook once every three months or so when I need to get a hold of someone whose phone number I don’t have. I don’t think I’ve posted a status update in over a year.

        • Beans says:

          It’s pretty possible to look at specific things that are useful or relevant and ignore the rest. Generally organizations have pages you can go directly to without actually engaging with facebook-at-large at all. Similarly, you can use the messaging service (which is almost universally used by my generation) without engaging with any other aspect of the website.

        • Matt M says:

          Hmmmm, for me, personally, I’d actually say that FB is far more “dangerous” and at risk of being a net bad than Twitter.

          FB does everything it can to push you towards real connections with real people you know. People who matter. Twitter mostly “matches” you with strangers who share common interests. Yes, yes, I know, in extreme cases (<0.1% of the twitter population) large-scale doxxing and deplatforming (which I do not in any way support or defend) campaigns happen. But on net, most of Twitter is anonymous (or basically anonymous by the reason of being insufficiently famous) people screaming at each other. And it's mostly self-selected for that. The Thunderdome isn’t mandatory, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to step inside.

          But Facebook is like, part family bulletin board, part basic logistics, part local community organizing, and oh yeah, part Political Thunderdome as well. And it’s difficult to say “I’m only here for the family bulletin board, no thunderdome for me thanks.” And as these worlds collide (with real names attached), real life consequences are far more likely. To wit, I’ve read plenty of articles about families and friendships torn apart by political facebook posts, but I’ve never read ones about political tweets.

          I’m basically done with Facebook at this point. I really only use it for keeping in touch with family members and participating in a few private meme/special interest groups. But I love Twitter. Are there a lot of things about it that suck? Sure. Do I wish it gave me more control over what I see and when I see it? Sure. But on net it’s still fairly customizeable. It allows me to meet and talk with and interact with people that would otherwise be inaccessible/unknown to me. Twitter is how I found *banned term*_chick and webdevmason and others whose writing I enjoy (but is not ultra-popular within the mainstream and would never be “shared” by my close friends and family). It’s where I get instant updates for the latest NHL trades. I have a few different “bubbles” in there I travel in and out of as needed. And it’s fun. And it’s voluntary. And I don’t have to worry about offending one of my cousins for some random troll tweet.

          • Plumber says:

            @Matt M,
            I joined Facebook this last year, and much like you I liked the “keep up with family and old friends” aspect, but I find the political stuff folks post to be extremely tiresome, though it did confirm for me just how much the “partisan divide” is a male/female divide (among folks I’ve known).

            Here and face-to-face I feel pretty comfortable discussing politics, but my strong instinct is that no good will come from my doing the same via Facebook.

            I haven’t bothered to view Facebook in over a month.

            Twitter just scares me.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Yes, both of my sisters were ‘forced’ unto Facebook – one couldn’t coordinate with her SCA community without it; the other had out-of-the-nest young adult children whose idea of “keeping in touch” was to post on FB. My primary social community consists of grumpy old geeks, so I’ve never had either a facebook or a twitter account.

          It is interesting how big tech first gave the masses email lists, drawing many hobbiest groups away from individual servers in the process, and then effectively killed those mailing lists.

          I’m not saying they intentionally committed sabotage – there’s somewhat of an invisible hand effect, where bad-for-users services drive out better-for-users services simply because of providers pursuing profit.

          Meanwhile, LinkedIn has moved a long way towards (ahem) social media, and away from being a service good for users. The last straw, for me, was when they wanted money for the privilege of sending a reply to someone’s connection request. My LinkedIn account is now dormant, and doesn’t even mention the position I’ve held for the past 34 months. (And some poor naif recently contacted me through LinkedIn wanting help getting a job at my prior company, unaware it would cost me money to respond.)

          I see the LinkedIn degeneration as from the same invisible hand, which is why I mention it. Lots of decisions intended to make money, primarily in the short term, to overall bad effect.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Meanwhile, LinkedIn has moved a long way towards (ahem) social media, and away from being a service good for users. The last straw, for me, was when they wanted money for the privilege of sending a reply to someone’s connection request.

            How does this work? I am on LinkedIn and never had to pay any money. They are constantly trying to get me to upgrade, but that is just to get more information than I need (find out who clicked on my name).

          • DinoNerd says:

            How does this work?

            They told me I couldn’t respond to messages without some kind of internal currency/virtual item (InMail messages available?) I didn’t have any, or so the site claimed. I presumed they were nought with real $$ and/or granted periodically at higher levels of membership, emailed the individual (who I knew in RL), and became even less likely to visit LinkedIn thereafter.

          • Loriot says:

            LinkedIn’s monetization model is based around recruiters. They charge money to send messages to strangers because recruiters will pay for it.

            Personally, I haven’t found any good use for LinkedIn. It seems to be all about personal marketing and networking, and I’m not good at that or particularly interested in it.

          • DinoNerd says:

            When LinkedIn was new, those recruiters who used it were above average in a lot of ways, including such things as actually reading prospects’ bios rather than spamming anyone who might possibly be qualified. They also seemed far less likely than average to play the bait-n-switch game, submit resumes to openings without the candidate’s permission, and other too common ways in which recruiters create problems for job hunters.

            When a sourcer working for a hiring company contacted me via LinkedIn, I could expect that the interaction would not waste my time – at worst, they’d clearly be hiring for a position I could tell in advance that I wouldn’t like.

            That doesn’t appear to be true any more. Also, I suspect the bios posted are less honest and more carefully crafted than they used to be, when LinkedIn was young, and an unusual proportion of the job seekers were nerds employed in technology.

            But I do remember it being useful – and also a pleasure to browse, becoming aware of what ex-coworkers had been doing in the year or more since I’d last interacted with them. And for a while, it was even good at suggesting people I might want to add to my contacts, rather than e.g. random people who worked for some huge company with 100K employees, some time in the same decade as I did.

        • Garrett says:

          I barely use FB anymore and never used Twitter. I occasionally message people and look for the actual stuff going on in their lives. But most of the stuff people are sending/sharing is a waste so instead of being on continually, I check perhaps a few times/week. But it’s getting stupid.

    • Nick says:

      I’ve been saying it out in meatspace for many years, so hopefully I’ve done my fair share, but I don’t have a sense how many others believe it.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      Do social media create echo chambers, or have they just made us aware of echo chambers that always existed? Do echo chambers actually even exist?

      • Well... says:

        They definitely actually exist. I’ve met lots of people who live in the US but who have never, for example, met one of the 30% of Americans who own guns or the nearly 40% who don’t believe in evolution.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          Maybe they have but they never discussed these issues?

          • Well... says:

            I guess I shouldn’t say “have never met one” but rather “aren’t personally acquainted with any”.

            After all, just meeting someone outside your bubble isn’t really enough to say you aren’t in an echo-chamber; that comes from having meaningful interactions with people who don’t share your own views, causing you to at least question or reconsider/re-examine if not revise them.

          • JayT says:

            I would wager that there is basically nobody in the US that doesn’t have a gun-owning acquaintance. I think there are a lot of people who _think_ they don’t have any acquaintances, but they’re wrong.

            Epistemic status: I know a lot of people that think they don’t have any gun-owning friends. They are wrong.

          • Well... says:

            I know lots of people with no gun-owning friends. I suppose I would be less confident to say I know lots of people with no gun-owning acquaintances.

          • Aftagley says:

            I you live in a city, don’t get out of the city very much and don’t seek out gun-owning people in said city, you’re unlikely to know anyone who owns a gun.

            Maybe, maybe one of the older folks in your office who commutes in from the ‘burbs owns one, but that implies that you work for a company where a) such people can find a job and b) they aren’t so senior to you that the topic of owning a gun never comes up.

          • JayT says:

            I’d honestly be surprised if that were actually true. It just takes one person in the friend group to have one stuck in their closet. I live in the Bay Area, and I know quite a few gun owners that wouldn’t talk about it unless they knew you were ok with the idea of owning guns.

          • Matt M says:

            I you live in a city, don’t get out of the city very much and don’t seek out gun-owning people in said city, you’re unlikely to know anyone who owns a gun.

            Anecdotal for sure, but much as JayT says, this would have applied to everyone I ever worked with. And they all would have been wrong.

          • Aftagley says:

            Yep, in retrospect I’m obviously wrong there.

            Maybe a better way to put it would be “You’re unlikely to interact with anyone who is up-front with their gun ownership?”

          • JayT says:

            That I would agree with. I don’t consider my guns to be some big secret, but I also don’t bring it up unless I’m asked about it.

          • Plumber says:

            @Aftagley says: ‘…Maybe a better way to put it would be “You’re unlikely to interact with anyone who is up-front with their gun ownership?”’

            I really don’t know where the line is between “acquaintance” and “friend” is (I kinda go by ‘If I knew them more than 30 years ago then friend’), but I’ve never lived and have seldom worked anyplace that didn’t vote “Blue” yet I can’t remember any year after the 1970’s (when I was too young to know) when I didn’t know a gun owner – almost all men, among non-cop women it’s rare that I hear them mentioning owning a gun, though my wife has a revolver, but as far as I know she’s never told her friends she has one.

            My guess is that if your friends are almost all women who live in cities and inner ring suburbs you may not know any “out” gun owners, but otherwise there are few Americans who don’t know any gun owners.

        • Plumber says:

          FWIW, among the guys at work those who’s politics I know pretty much match the national polls percentage wise (and I can usually make a good guess about a guy’s partisan leanings vases on their commute), social conservatism is a bit more common than economic conservatism, though the age categories don’t match the polls, among the guys I know the liberals tend to be older than the conservatives, and most aren’t far from “center”.

          Women are a whole other story, “social liberal/fiscal conservative” is much more common among the women I know, and unlike the men I know (about 40% say they’re Republicans) none of the women I know say they’re Republicans (though my wife says she liked Romney in 2012, but now she’s pro-Bloomberg).

          Of course this is simply because I just work with more men than women, but in my “bubble” the partisan gender gap is enormous!

        • John Schilling says:

          Someone who lives in the contemporary United States and thinks they don’t know anyone who owns a gun, is in roughly the same position as someone who lived in 1980s United States and thinks they don’t know any LGBT people. And vice versa, for about the same reason.

          (Yes, nationwide percentage of gun owners is higher, but gun ownership in blue-tribe bubbles is going to be on the same order as LGBTness everywhere)

          • Well... says:

            That kinda has a true ring to it, but I’m not really convinced it is true. If you were an LGBT person in the 1980s it was tougher to go find people who would accept you for who you are if it turned out the people you were already associating with did not. So there was a strong incentive to be stealthy.

            But if Joe Gun Owner gets the feeling that all his friends and coworkers are rabidly anti-gun, he faces a much lower risk if he unclosets himself as a gun owner, because if this social set rejects him he can always find other pro-gun people, in the unlikely case that he doesn’t know many already.

            I don’t doubt that there are people who think they don’t have any gun-owning friends but actually do, but I think this is less common that commenters here are making it seem.

          • JayT says:

            Just think of it in terms of odds. There’s ~200 million Americans. 30% of them are registered Democrat (the lowest gun owning group). 16% of Democrats admit to owning a gun. The number of friends data seems to be all over the place (I assume because of differences on what the term “friend” means), but what I’m seeing is ~10 close friends, ~40 friends, and 200+ acquaintances

            If someone is only friends with Democrats, then they have about a 20% chance of no close friends with guns, 0.00008% chance they have no friends, and basically zero chance they have no acquaintances.

            I’m sure there’s someone out there completely in a bubble, but it’s probably a vanishingly small number.

          • John Schilling says:

            But if Joe Gun Owner gets the feeling that all his friends and coworkers are rabidly anti-gun, he faces a much lower risk if he unclosets himself as a gun owner, because if this social set rejects him he can always find other pro-gun people,

            The issue isn’t finding pro-gun people, it’s avoiding rejection by non-gun people. Gun owners do not require that everyone in their life be a pro-gun person.

            They don’t, for the most part, require that their professional colleagues be pro-gun people. They might require that their actual friends be pro-gun, but probably not – and even if they do, their social circle will also include friends-of-friends, their spouse’s friends, their friends’ spouses, etc, and that’s a random lot that can’t reasonably be screened for uniform pro-gun sentiment. If Bob is my gun-tolerant friend and Bob is also friends with gun-hating Alice, I’m not going to want to put Bob in the position of having to organize his social life around never inviting Alice and me to the same party. And I’m not going to want to try and track a secret list of who I have and have not told that I own guns, so it’s easiest to just not tell Bob or Alice if I don’t have to. If my boss or any of the colleagues that I have to network with in my job are strongly anti-gun, even more so.

            That’s not an issue where I currently live or work, but for a lot of people it is. And if your mental model of gun owners is that we’re so insistent on being publicly accepted as gun owners that we’d rather burn our bridges and rebuild our social and professional networks from scratch than just keep quiet about it, your model needs work.

          • DinoNerd says:

            I’m sure I know gun owners, and I don’t have a problem with that.

            When I first encountered them, coming into the US from Canada, non-hunters who kept guns in cities seemed kind of weird, but I’ve gotten used to this cultural practice.

            I start complaining when they want me to tolerate them bringing their guns with them to places where I don’t expect to find guns. I regard a hypothetical neighbour with a concealed carry permit about like someone else might regard a hypothetical neighbour who was a professional dope dealer, or a registered sex offender. (And ditto for someone who’s carrying non-concealed, but at least I can identify them on sight and avoid them.)

            Keep the damn thing in a gun safe, locked in your house or locked in your car’s trunk, except when actually at the shooting range or on a hunting trip, or similar.

            And I 100% support employers with rules forbidding guns in the workplace.

          • rumham says:


            I start complaining when they want me to tolerate them bringing their guns with them to places where I don’t expect to find guns.

            You moved to the US. They were already here with guns. Maybe you should update your priors.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I start complaining when

            This is the point for me where I say this is CW enough that you probably should have saved it for 148.25.

          • I regard a hypothetical neighbour with a concealed carry permit about like someone else might regard a hypothetical neighbour who was a professional dope dealer, or a registered sex offender.


            Someone with a concealed carry permit is quite unlikely to have it because he is a criminal, likely to have it because, in some part of his life, he believes he is at risk from criminals. Why is that disturbing?

            How do you feel about being in any of the sixteen states where concealed carry is legal without requiring a permit, hence where anyone (in some of them any resident) might be carrying?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I might say mid 90s rather than the 80s (you have zones of outright hostility, zones of outspoken friendliness, and a wide gulf where the two extremes mix into uneasy shades of neutral), but basically, yeah.

            Anecdote which I feel is somewhat representative. I have a few spare STANAG mags kicking around and no rifle to use them in at the moment, and a co-worker had made a big deal previously of how “redneck” her family is, because they *gasp* hunt. So I asked her if she or her family could use the mags, since I’d be getting new p-mags or equivalents when I get a new AR anyway.

            Cue another co-worker overhearing the conversation going pale, wide-eyed, breathing hard, and insisting that we “not talk about those things” (guns) because she hates them and they frighten her. Second, older co-worker is more calm, but also interjects that they hate guns and think no one should have them. Co-worker I was asking the question to strongly hints I should never mention this again.

            This is in Ohio, hardly California or New York. These days, due in large part to concentrated effort to move the overton window on the topic, there are parts of the country where even mentioning firearm ownership in mixed company in public is considered weird, and in somewhat poor taste, like making jokes about bombs at the airport.

            Mind you, you can drive a short distance and find other places where someone reacting the way my young co-worker did would be the weirdo and where they would receive little sympathy.

          • Viliam says:

            I regard a hypothetical neighbour with a concealed carry permit about like someone else might regard … a registered sex offender.

            Sex offender should rather be like open carry, shouldn’t it? Concealed carry is like keeping it in your pants when you walk outside your home…

        • Viliam says:

          In my country, communists regularly win elections, and I don’t know anyone who votes for them. Such is the power of bubbles.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I don’t think it’s twitter/facebook making the behavior, I think the behavior is human nature, facilitated by technology. People wanting to hear what they want to hear and gain status by punishing the wicked is old, old, old. This is not a new thing.

      • Murphy says:

        Design choices however change things.

        Back when the standard format for online discussion was a board with topics getting kicked to the top whenever there was a post communities tended to be a less locked in.

        The new model seems to be built around personalised graphs and upvotes/downvotes. Your graph connections quickly sort you into a community and then upvotes/downvotes ensure you only see popular opinions and if you do see an unpopular opinion then it’s downvoted to oblivion so that you know that it’s wrongthink in your community.

        Then everyone burrows into a reassuring closed graph where the only sight of the enemies hated issues will be when someone highlights a particularly stupid or horrible member of the outgroup or when a particularly vile member of the out-group turns up to troll.

        The change has happened largely because people *like* their upvote downvote buttons. If you take them away they’ll shout and demand them back.

        • Error says:

          the only sight of the enemies hated issues will be when someone highlights a particularly stupid or horrible member of the outgroup

          People sometimes do that to me and it bothers me. It feels like I’m being implicitly asked to take part in a political circlejerk.

          I internally caricature the pattern as “Hey, look at this Awful Thing our enemies are doing! See how awful they are?” Sometimes I wish I could respond that way out loud, but I’ve yet to reach the point where it’s worth losing friends.

    • helloo says:

      Twitter had a technical reason for the character limit – it was initially meant to be used through texting and at that time most carriers had limits for how long texts could be.

      They don’t have that excuse now besides tradition?differentiation? and have proposed making unlimited text limits before (settled on doubling but there were a number of possibilities).

      You forgot to list Google for echo chambers through its personalized searches, which probably has a bigger impact than Twitter for typical humans (though probably dominates fields like media). And that IS intentional, known, and trying to mitigate but also sort of a competing interest.

      • Garrett says:

        Don’t forget that a good part of the echo chamber is created by what can be and cannot be advertised. Google prohibits (even as adult content) advertising legal weapons sales/dealers. It’s hard to say an echo chamber isn’t being created when they explicitly stop people from encountering stuff around them.

        • Loriot says:

          I was under the impression that those policies were mostly due to pressure from advertisers.

          • Garrett says:

            Do you mean content hosts which embed Google advertising? Maybe – I don’t know the details. But either they have the ability to select one of multiple types of adult content in which case this could be another checkbox, or all “adult content” is lumped together and so a site okay with seeing liquor store ads would have to be okay seeing sex store ads already. Either case is perpetuating the echo chamber.

            But the idea that someone who is actively searching for “AR-15” on the search page would be opposed to seeing a promotional deal for a local gun store seems a bit much, no? And that also isn’t allowed.

            Indeed, even store-specific Android Apps which could show prices/availability in-store were banned. So a chain sporting-good store which has their own app for searching their whole inventory nationwide would be yanked from Google Play if they list prices/availability of firearms in their store(s). If a person is willing to download the app for a store, it’s also pretty likely that they’d be okay seeing the products legally available for sale in that same store.

            But, nope. WrongThink will be discouraged at every opportunity.

          • Loriot says:

            I was under the impression that the pressure was from inventory. I.e. advertisers like Disney or Coke or whatever threatened to boycott if Google couldn’t ensure that their ads wouldn’t play next to gun videos, and the easiest way to do that was to just demonetize gun videos entirely.

            It’s a pretty horrible system, but I’m also not sure how one could do better. It seems that the only places where controversial content can exist now are on sites that are small or obscure enough to not be subject to internet pressure campaigns. Well that and people supported by Patreon or the like, though I can imagine Patreon itself cracking down just as easily.

          • Matt M says:

            I think deplatforming has actually gone even further than that.

            From what I’ve read, the message from the major advertisers to the platform hosts is less “don’t let my stuff play next to objectionable stuff” and more “if you won’t remove objectionable stuff from your site entirely we will stop buying ads on your platform.”

            The working policy (as far as we can tell) at PG isn’t “don’t play a tide ad after an Alex Jones video,” it’s “don’t play a tide ad on any site where Alex Jones is allowed to post videos at all.”

          • Garrett says:

            I was under the impression that the pressure was from inventory. I.e. advertisers like Disney or Coke or whatever threatened to boycott if Google couldn’t ensure that their ads wouldn’t play next to gun videos, and the easiest way to do that was to just demonetize gun videos entirely.

            Maybe. There’s lots of “adult content” which advertisers might not want to be associated with (think: poorly-produced political commentary). But that can still generally be hosted even if demonetized. I don’t think anybody would have a problem if they weren’t able to find advertisers who were willing to be seen alongside gun videos.

            In this case, I’m talking about advertisers attempting to *give Google money* and being rejected in all forms.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Twitter and Facebook probably facilitate all hell breaking loose, but Racefail (when Social Justice, then called anti-racism, first came to sf fandom in 2009) was mostly on livejournal, and there was some discussion of how livejournal’s structure facilitated things blowing up. And I was told about a considerable flamewar in APA-L (a weekly APA (amateur press association– zines were bundled together and mailed to the group). To some extent, the problem is people, though speeding up communication and distribution adds to the problem.

      I don’t think the character limit at twitter is that big a problem because people aren’t shy about doing linked series of tweets.

      I’ve wondered what Ben Franklin would think of the idea that a high proportion of people were going to have a free printing press and instant post office. And portable, at that.

      • Murphy says:

        “I don’t think the character limit at twitter is that big a problem because people aren’t shy about doing linked series of tweets.”

        it makes it waaaay easier to excerpt one tiny bit out of context and retweet it.

  19. SamChevre says:

    Very general advices:

    If you work 40+ hours a week at ANYTHING, you’ll develop valuable skills. (You are better off working at McDonald’s than not working.) Prioritize getting a job over getting the best job.

    Location matters a lot: pay is more equal than housing costs across areas. If you aren’t living with family, living in an inexpensive area will almost always make you better off.

    To give any more specific advice, I’d need answers to the same questions as Tarpitz.

  20. Tarpitz says:

    To give useful advice we’d really need to know more about your circumstances, preferences and priorities. What do you enjoy (or hate)? Where do you want to live? How important is making a lot of money to you, and what would count as a lot of money for these purposes? Are you someone who craves variety? How generally able are you? How generally conscientious are you? How willing to conform with idiotic bullshit are you? Do you have useful connections in any particular industry? Do you like or dislike the idea of manual work? Do you like the idea of working on projects you find in some sense cool, and how much less are you willing to get paid in order to do so? What sort of projects would you in fact find cool?

    • Nick says:

      I enjoy reading and thinking about abstract subjects.

      I’m not very good at, and thus would probably hate a job primarily about, visuo-spatial reasoning, frequently talking to strangers, or carefully manipulating things using fine motor skills. …

      At this point, I’m not really sure. I’d like to have a large family, so I’m wondering if moving/settling in an area where affordable family formation is easy would be a good idea long term.

      My honest, though not especially tailored, advice is that you might as well become a programmer in a more cost of living–friendly part of the country, closer to family than farther if you get along with them. A ton of SSCers have gone the same way, even ones without a degree in it.

      IME here in the Cleveland area programmer salaries are about the same across Northeast Ohio, even though cost of living varies a lot.

    • AG says:

      I’m not very good at, and thus would probably hate a job primarily about, visuo-spatial reasoning, frequently talking to strangers, or carefully manipulating things using fine motor skills.

      This is, uh, rather limiting your options for entry-level jobs that don’t care much about what major so much as just having a degree. Visual-spatial reasoning and fine motor skills rules out lab technician jobs, while frequently talking to strangers rules out most of the administrative jobs. You’ve basically struck out both thing-oriented and people-oriented jobs. What’s even left?

      I guess there are broader motor skills, like certain production floor jobs (both actual production and QC jobs), or straight data entry jobs, the latter of which are rare, as data entry is usually rolled up into one of the above jobs paired with fine motor skills, analytical thinking, or talking to people.

      Basically, you’re going to need to suck it up on one of those things. Jobs are paid because people wouldn’t do them for free, so the pay is compensation for the unpleasant part.

    • Plumber says:

      @Atlas says:

      “…I’d like to have a large family..:

      I don’t yet have any further advice for you that I haven’t posted any previous threads, or have seen in this thread, but I wanted to thank you for posting that link to an old sub thread, it was really good!

    • Tarpitz says:

      It sounds to me like the sweet spot for you might be some sort of approximate analyst. Research topics, write reports – depending on the employer and position those might be for internal consumption, for partner organisations or for individual consumers. Risk management-type companies certainly employ quite a lot of people – not necessarily specialists – to do that sort of thing, for example.

      Alternatively, something in publishing? Academic publishing, maybe?

    • Education Hero says:

      Based on your educational background and proclivities, I’d recommend the following:

      1. Complete a Master of Accountancy program or equivalent certificate program (e.g. at SCU or UW); the latter will be cheaper and possibly faster (SCU has a 14-week option if you can handle the rigor/pacing) but does not add a graduate degree to your resume.

      2. Take advantage of the aggressive campus recruiting during your accounting training to join the most prestigious public accounting firm you can, preferably a Big Four office in a major metropolitan area. Between Audit, Tax, and Advisory/Consulting, probably choose Tax to minimize talking to strangers (by contrast, Advisory/Consulting is heavy on this while Audit is in between).

      3. Obtain your CPA license while grinding out 60-hour average weeks, and receive double digit % salary increase each year along with promotions every 2-3 years. Depending on how much you like public accounting, either become a partner after ~15 years and max out your salary in the low-mid 7 figures, or bail out to industry (preferably a large tech company) somewhere along the way for an immediate ~30% salary bump that plateaus after that. Becoming a partner will provide little free time but more than enough money for a large family and a stay-at-home spouse, while transitioning to industry life after 3-5 years of public accounting “boot camp” will offer plenty of free time but less money.

  21. blipnickels says:

    I’m planning a trip to Rome and Athens. Does anyone have any recommendations for must-see locations, especially anything related to Classical history?

    • Ali says:

      In addition to all the obvious stuff (Parthenon, Parthenon museum, etc) make a day out of going to the Byzantine and Christian Museum and then going to the ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceum which are a five minute walk apart.

    • Fitzroy says:

      Make sure to visit the Basilica San Clemente al Laterano. A short stroll from the Colosseum, it’s been a site of Christian worship since the 4th century, and before that a site of Mithraic worship. The 2nd century Mithraeum has been excavated and can be visited and you can really see how the cult of Mithraism influenced early Christianity.

    • JayT says:

      I found the Colosseum to be underwhelming from the inside. It’s neat to see, but I wouldn’t wait in the lines it takes to get in. The Vatican on the other hand, is worth devoting an entire day to, so matter how crowded it is. Pretty much any church you come across in Rome is worth popping into. They all have something interesting to see.

      I like the Parthenon Museum at the base of the hill more than actually going up to see the Parthenon itself, though when I went, the whole front of the Parthenon was covered by scaffolding, so that made it less exciting than it otherwise would have been.

    • JayT says:

      +1 on the Pantheon. Also, as Gossage says, definitely order your Vatican tickets/tour ahead of time. I should have mentioned that.

    • John Schilling says:

      I agree with the Parthenon being kind of meh, and it is likely to be partially covered in scaffolding,

      Also, if you’re starting from the United States, it’s much easier to get to Nashville.

  22. Well... says:

    I just got done with one of the most frustrating experiences of my life so far: trying to unsolder a USB port from a circuitboard. Wow. Two and a half hours of my life I will never get back. I can’t decide if I want to murder someone or go curl up in a corner and cry.

    Both before and during, I watched a bunch of Youtube videos, even called a couple friends with experience in this kind of thing and got their guidance. Can’t shake the feeling there’s some obvious technique I wasn’t grasping.

    Never again.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Was it one of the USB buses with multiple soldered-in tangs?

      Yeah, I’ve been there. Best advice I can offer is to either hang it upside down in a reflow oven or dremel the fucker off.

      • Well... says:

        I eventually got it off. It was a mixture of wicking away solder (using several methods of varying effectiveness) and prying (using needle-nose pliers and brute force). Endgame was when I pried the guts of the USB port outta there, leaving just the mangled shell. Then I could just heat up the solder in the holes and pull out the metal pieces from beneath one at a time.

        I was careful, but still: if I didn’t damage anything else on the circuitboard that will be a miracle.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Endgame was when I pried the guts of the USB port outta there, leaving just the mangled shell. Then I could just heat up the solder in the holes and pull out the metal pieces from beneath one at a time.

          Yep. The bit about the dremel was real advice. If you’ve ever tried to desolder a pin header, it’s the same bullshit. Just impossible.

          • Well... says:

            I just cleaned out the holes and was able to install a new USB port, got it soldered in place (very cleanly and efficiently, I might add) and the device now WORKS! And this is only my third time using a soldering iron. I feel invincible right now!

          • The Nybbler says:

            If you’ve ever tried to desolder a pin header, it’s the same bullshit. Just impossible.

            Difficult, but not impossible. Remove as much solder as possible with a solder-sucker (which is going to require several passes), use the soldering iron to move each pin to the center of the hole, wiggle each pin to break any remaining solder bridge, and remove.

            A hot air station should make it much simpler, but alas they seem to come in two varieties: insanely expensive and fire hazards.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @The Nybbler

            I have never had any luck with solder suckers. Solder wick is where it’s at. And while I have desoldered pin headers, I just crush them with pliers now. I don’t have time for anything that finnicky and frustrating.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I’ve found wick to work poorly with through-hole components. The sucker can pull out solder that’s gone through to the other side of the hole. Or with a squeeze-ball sucker, blow it through, though I’m sure this is Proscribed Technique.

          • Well... says:

            FWIW this time I used both a wick and a solder sucker. The wick worked poorly-to-not-at-all, though I’ll readily account that to my inexperience. The solder sucker worked surprisingly well, especially once the old component was removed and it was time to clean remaining solder out of the holes.

    • ana53294 says:

      I once tried to de-solder the power jack from the mother board of a cheap laptop. Couldn’t manage to do it, as it had 4 points of soldering. It required equipment that was way too expensive, and the labor cost was totally not worth it for a shop.

      And a power jack is just 2$, a very cheap part. But changing it is a nightmare.

      It’s still somewhere in the house, I have to delete the hard drive before throwing it away (or maybe just hit it with a hammer).

  23. AlexOfUrals says:

    Are there any ophthalmology experts here, armchair or otherwise?
    There seem to be two positions on wearing glasses/lenses (I’m mostly concerned about myopia and astigmatism if that matters, but from what I know it equally applies to hyperopia). One is that if you constantly wear your prescription optics, i.e. those correcting your vision to 100%, your vision goes down. The other is that the opposite is true, not wearing your prescription optics is harmful, or at least wearing them all your waking hours is fine.

    The first seems to make more sense from the naive perspective – if you supplement some system with an external device, this systems tends to atrophy further. And the first approach worked fine for me – I’ve always tried to wear optics only when necessary, and weaker than 100% correction where I can get away with that. And my -4 dioptres didn’t change notably since I was at least 19 (I’m 27 now). OTOH the second position is what I mostly, though not all the time, hear from doctors.

    So, did anyone here dig into the issue? Or maybe it’s in fact a nontroversy and everyone actually familiar with the relevant research knows that the correct answer is …? Any links I can dig into are also very welcome. Because at this point it’s mostly this uncertainty that stops me from getting lasek or just wearing contact lenses every day.

    • ksdale says:

      All I can offer is anecdotal evidence, but I’ve worn my contacts basically every waking moment from about the age of 13 to now (I’m 31), and my eyesight stopped getting worse sometime in my teens I think. My eyes have both been around -4 since then.

    • JayT says:

      My anecdote is that I wore glasses from age ~20-~35, broke my glasses, never got around to replacing them, and now, five years later, my eyesight seems to be better than it was.

    • a real dog says:

      Armchair expert here who looked into it for own benefit.

      Both opinions are urban legend tier garbage, basically. Myopia is caused by wrong eyeball geometry when you grow up, which in turn can be caused by not enough sunlight exposure in childhood/adolescence – there is a ton of research backing this up, notably in industrially grown chickens. After you are an adult whatever you do doesn’t matter much.

      This might not be the case for changes related to old age and
      maybe astigmatism – you’ll need your own research there.

      • AG says:

        That’s fascinating. One of my eyes is significantly worse than the other, and I wonder how that might have come to pass. Sitting on the wrong side of the bus for sunlight exposure? Somehow consistently having one eye in the shade, on the baseball diamond?

        • a real dog says:

          Same here, -2.5D vs -1D.

          I think to the extent the violet light works, it works on a threshold. As long as you saturate whatever mechanism makes the eyeballs grow properly, both are nice and symmetrical. With insufficient violet light exposure the process is struggling to control the length, with a normal distribution of results (possibly also modulated by genes).

          Fits with the design pattern of intra/inter-cell signaling approximating a digital switch through S-shaped curves.

      • Buttle says:

        Myopia is clearly associated with close visual work, see for example

        It stands to reason that corrective lenses for myopia make the whole world seem closer, but I don’t know how that holds up experimentally. Eyeball geometry is maintained while the organ is growing through what seems to be a fairly delicate feedback process, and there is some evidence that this process continues to operate even after growth is done.

        I personally developed myopia bad enough to require correction when in graduate school, in my middle twenties. Up to that point I had satisfactory distance vision. Like @AG, one of my eyes is significantly worse than the other. I suspect that I might have benefited when young by patching the strong eye, but it’s almost surely too late for that now.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Thank you all!
      *counts the replies supporting both positions*
      Well, at least I wasn’t missing something obvious and this is indeed a controversial topic. Further Research Is Needed.

  24. rocoulm says:

    What major(s) did you get? Or are you saying you’re so convinced it’s useless you’d just as soon work in a field requiring no college degree at all?

  25. DNM says:


    • Lambert says:

      please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics

      Feel free to have this discussion on Wednesday, when the naxt fractional open thread comes out.

      • DNM says:

        I’m not sure I have the time to wait for that, but I have deleted my post in order to be rule abiding.

        Will the same warning be given to Deiseach above? That conversation was what reminded me I wanted to ask this.

  26. salvorhardin says:

    I periodically read stories about longish-shot research programs aimed at developing either broad-spectrum antivirals or, more narrowly, flu vaccines that don’t have to be modified anew every year to target that year’s newly evolved strains (e.g. because they target more slowly-evolving features of the virus).

    Should the COVID-19 situation make us more willing to devote additional resources to such efforts, in addition to the efforts underway to develop a specific COVID-19 vaccine? Are the goals of these efforts plausibly achievable, and would they get more likely to be achieved more quickly with more investment?

    • abystander says:

      Are you thinking of Prosetta?

      Broad spectrum antivirals are plausibly achievable, but I’m not sure how an increase in investment would hasten their development. It certainly couldn’t hurt, but it is possible new technology would really be useful to develop first. Sort of like how a person used spend years sequencing a few genes to get a phd, and now in two days the complete sequence of the organism can be determined.

    • albatross11 says:

      ISTR that there are (or were last time TWIV talked about it) several efforts at making a permanent flu vaccine.

      I have the impression that making broad-spectrum antivirals is hard, because viruses reuse host cell machinery for everything. So you can’t target, say, the cell walls or protein synthesis of viruses, because they’re just using our cells’ machinery, so no cell walls and the same protein synthesis machinery used in all the uninfected cells. But someone who knows more, please pipe up and correct me–I’m definitely not an expert!

  27. D0TheMath says:

    I’m thinking about starting a tutoring business, and looking for books or articles on an evidence based approach to the teaching strategies I’m going to use. Any recommendations for interesting reads?

    I’d be tutoring mostly math, and a bit of Science. I already have some experience, but I want to get a firm grasp of the field before I expand.

    • Viliam says:

      On Wikipedia, there isn’t much conclusive beyond “space repetition works”. There is a list of educational interventions that supposedly help. I suspect that if someone like Scott looked at them carefully, the list would become much shorter.

      Absent scientific evidence, I don’t know if you would be interested in, uhm, an expert opinion, but here it is anyway. (I am a former teacher, and I think about these things a lot.)

      There is a lot of pseudoscience about “learning styles”, that always fails when tested experimentally. (“Some people are visual thinkers, some are kinesthetic thinkers, so you need to provide pictures for the former and… probably some kind of dance for the latter.”) On the other hand, different people do prefer different types of explanations. So, if one approach fails for a specific student, try another. If you explain things to a classroom, use multiple approaches. Just don’t expect any consistency in the preferences (for example, in some parts of math I prefer visual explanations, but in other parts I hate them).

      My experience from math tutoring is that when a student fails to understand what they learn now, I always check the “prerequisites” and usually find that they already failed at something that was taught a year or two ago. It just took time for the mistake to grow from “an isolated error, but you still get 80% at the test” into “now you fail at almost anything, because you misunderstand something basic that is now involved in almost everything”. (People usually don’t look for a tutor while they can get 80% at the test.) By the way, you don’t check the “prerequisites” by asking questions, but by giving simple problems. Because some people are fantastic at using the right words even if they have absolutely no idea what that means.

      Relevant rationalist wisdom: Guessing the Teacher’s Password, Illusion of transparency. Relevant mainstream wisdom: Mastery learning (also this).

      It is difficult to focus on “details” and “seeing the big picture” at the same time. The way to overcome this is to explain the big picture both at the beginning and at the end of the lesson. (“Today we are going to do X. Detail 1. Detail 2. Detail 3. So, this is how we did X.”)

      (Some?) people learn by teaching. Teach something one child, and then observe them explaining the topic to another child. This allows you to see what it inside the first child’s head. (In real-life education this usually only happens by accident, when you have few teachers and many students; see: Monitorial System.)

      I suspect that many professional teachers gradually lose the ability to process feedback simply by teaching the same thing over and over again. Like, when I taught the same lesson for fifth time in a row, I could barely distinguish between what I said today — and what feedback I got from my class today — compared to what happened in the previous days; it all blended together. I became oblivious about things that I would have noticed on the first try. On the other hand, on the second and third time, I used better structure than on the first time, based on feedback I got during the first time. So maybe there is an optimal amount of repetition for the teacher, dunno. (Or maybe it is optiomal to make notes to your lesson plan, but only repeat it again much later.) — This mostly doesn’t happen in 1:1 tutoring, because there is usually a different problem with each student. But if it happens to you e.g. because a student recommends you to their classmates struggling with the same problem, beware.

      People seem to remember much better the things they discovered “on their own”. (The quotes are there because there needs to be some nudging and manipulation to make someone discover in 1 hour what took the entire humanity a century or more.) This is called “constructivism“. (As usual, there are both good and bad ideas in constructivism. The bad ideas are mostly taking this to insane extremes, such as literally never nudging your students.) An important concept here is what rationalists call “small inferential distance“, and teachers call “zone of proximal development“; that is: things you don’t already know, but you can fully understand them based on things you already know. Briefly, if A, B, C is necessary to understand D, you can teach your students A, B, C, and then let them discover D on their own. This will make them feel great, and they will probably remember D forever! Just make sure they got D correctly, before you move on. (Bonus points if you can make them also discover their initial mistakes about D on their own, e.g. by asking them to solve a problem where their misunderstanding will manifest.) In a group, allow the first person who discovers D to explain it to their classmates (but only after everyone got enough time to think about it independently).

      If you imagine knowledge as a graph of facts, it is important not only to mention the nodes, but also the edges. People may learn A and B without realizing that they are connected, therefore make that connection explicit. Yes, it will take more time, but it creates better foundations for later learning. (Sorry, I am out of time now, so no specific examples.)

  28. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Robin Hanson and Eliezer Yudkowsky have both tweeted an article called “Past Time to Tell the Public:’“It Will Probably Go Pandemic, and We Should All Prepare Now'” which argues that it is not possible to contain the coronavirus with travel restrictions and quarantines and that we should all prepare for the effects of the coming pandemic.

    • John Schilling says:

      It asserts that it is not possible to contain the coronavirus; I must have missed the part where there was any real argument on that point. I would really like a good argument on that point; it’s counter to my own assessment, but I’m the wrong kind of doctor to have high confidence in that assessment – and I’m disappointed by the quantity and quality of relevant information generally available on that front.

      The bulk of the article is a pretty good description of what we ought to be doing, globally and locally, if containment has failed and a developed-world pandemic is inevitable. It just doesn’t establish that premise.

      • broblawsky says:

        What would you consider sufficient proof that the coronavirus is beyond the point of containment?

        • It has already spread to multiple countries, which is pretty close to a pandemic but I want to know why people think it’s too late to keep it from spreading to the US. These articles don’t seem to justify that reasoning.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            It would be surprising if it hasn’t already spread to the US.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            It appears to be pretty contagious, so they basically wave that away. Here is there paragraph that tangentially touches on that:

            Every single official we know is having multiple “Oh my God” moments, as new COVID-19 developments occur and new findings emerge. OMG – there is a fair amount of transmission by infected people with mild or subclinical cases! OMG – there is a high viral load early on in nasal and pharyngeal samples!

            SARS was easy to contain in comparison. You are most contagious when your case is deteriorating. That makes the most likely transmissions to occur when you are already in the hospital. We also know you are contagious.

            This particular strain seems way more contagious, because you are infecting people for a long time, basically when you get it, and before you even know you are sick.

        • albatross11 says:

          Closing borders won’t work if it’s already gotten in the US, but otherwise could work. But closing borders to all overseas travel would be incredibly expensive and disruptive, so you’d need to determine how big the danger is. If this is something that, outside of China, will quickly burn itself out because R<1, or if it's basically just like a bad flu year, then we could easily do ourselves a lot more damage with our preventatives than we prevent.

        • John Schilling says:

          What would you consider sufficient proof that the coronavirus is beyond the point of containment?

          “Proof” is a tall order. For evidence, the benchmark I am looking for is for the total number of locally-transmitted cases in [X] at time T, to be greater than the total number of cases in [X] at T-10 days. For values of X that range from “not China” to first-world nations to just US+Western Europe, because there are several possibilities between a purely local Chinese epidemic and a global pandemic. N(T,local) > N(T-10) would suggest exponential[*] growth independent of transmission from China or East Asia generally.

          Such a situation persisting for 10-20 days and discounting outliers would be very strong evidence of a broad pandemic. Unfortunately, the relevant information is not easy to find.

          For X = “Not China”, I have 92 cases of local transmission as of 19 February, and 330 total cases as of 9 February, for an estimated R0 of ~0.3. If I handwavingly double those 92 and add all but one of the 229 new Italian cases, that’s 412 locally-transmitted cases as of 25 February, vs 500+ total not-China cases on 15 February, for R0 ~0.8 (and Italy may be an outlier). Adding the South Korean cases would push it well above 1.0, but that’s pretty clearly an outlier involving an isolated, confined population.

          The coronavirus having “spread to” lots of countries in the sense of their being infected people in those countries, tells us nothing other than that there’s lots of sick people in China and the rest of the world hasn’t imposed a quarantine on all of China. But anywhere R0 is less than 1.0, I believe that leads to an equilibrium where the number of local cases will be ~1/(1-R0) times the number of infected travelers who have come from places where there is an ongoing pandemic. And isolated clusters like cruise ships and religious cults.

          Also, Experts on the Internet(tm) telling me there’s a global pandemic right around the corner, but not offering a quantitative argument and me not being able to find the numbers I need to make that assessment myself, is weak evidence that there’s not a global pandemic around the corner.

          * In the literal sense of “exponential”, not necessarily the colloquial “really really fast” sense as the exponent could still be small

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Start building harm-reduction habits like pushing elevator buttons with a knuckle instead of a fingertip.

      All this time I find out I was merely ahead of the curve.

  29. Emby says:

    I’m currently reading Denying to the Grave, a book about combating science denialism (it’s okay, but not really grabbing me at the moment) and have become really curious about one example the authors are bringing up over and over again.

    One of the cases of ‘denialism’ the authors are really keen to rebut is that of being against GMO food. Now, my first exposure to arguments against GMO was the economic argument – GMO licenses are structured so that farmers have to buy seeds from the seed companies at whatever price they choose to set each year, also if they don’t want to take that deal then they have to spend some resources making sure they don’t get accidentally contaminated and then sued (I’m aware that there are two sides to this argument … the ‘innocent farmer got contaminated and then screwed by the evil conglomerate’ one, and the ‘sneaky asshole planted a bunch of seed and then pretended like it just blew in’ one – not gonna try to judge between the sides here)

    The second argument I ever heard against GMO was the biodiversity one – commercial crops are already something of a monoculture, adding in GMO varieties will just accelerate this, by making existing non-GMO varieties less cost-effective. I haven’t put any work into verifying this particularly, but like the first argument it does seem on the face of it plausible. And then the third argument was the ‘frankenfoods will kill us’ one, which I honestly don’t recall as being prominent in my world when GMOs first became a thing, though I may be misremembering.

    All of which leads up to … this book basically treats arguments one and two as if they don’t exist and spends all its debunking-effort on ‘GMO food is safe’. And when I took a quick look through the first dozen or so Google results, efforts to persuade people that GMO is fine ALSO almost exclusively cover ‘these foods are safe for you’ and maybe briefly cover ‘some farmers are concerned that they have to spend too much money on them’ but without making a good solid economic argument that farmers won’t be disadvantaged, and rarely even mentioning biodiversity. Whereas when I looked for the anti-GMO folks, the first site I found had all three arguments pretty prominent, and the second was an organisation of farmers who were chiefly concerned about the economics of the deal.

    So…ignoring two thirds of the arguments that your opponents are actually making seems like a pretty terrible way to argue for your position, but I don’t meet many anti-GMO activists day to day, and maybe I have a skewed idea of what arguments actually get used in practise? Interested to hear what other people think of this.

    • Randy M says:

      Interesting observation. It’s probably an example of answering the loudest complaints, with a bit of answering the easiest complaints.

      It seems like an economically efficient path that at the same time builds in fragility.

    • JayT says:

      The first two arguments aren’t science denialism, so it seems like it would make sense not to talk about those in a book about science denialism. Something could be safe, but a bad idea for ,say, economic reasons, but the science denialism thing would be people saying that thing isn’t safe.

      • Aapje says:

        The respectable solution would be to add a few sentences, recognizing the other main arguments and saying that you have no beef with them.

        • JayT says:

          I guess. Though I’m not sure you need to bring up every possible complaint about examples you use to prove a point if they aren’t directly related. You can end up bogged down by that. Also, at what point do you cut off arguments? There are a lot of of people that have a lot of reasons to oppose just about anything. You can’t address them all.

    • AG says:

      When food manufacturers make a point of centering “GMO free!” as a large part of their labelling and marketing, and grocery stores make a point of creating GMO-free sections in their stores, and restaurants boast about having GMO-free dishes on the menu, which argument do you think they are trying to appeal to customers on?

      • Aapje says:

        That is unclear, because labeling can also be used for boycotts. Unless you think that the activists who fight for ‘occupied Palestine’ labeling think that products from that region are unsafe.

        • AG says:

          Not the same kind of labelling, though. “Occupied Palestine” labelling is more like “please don’t call it Parmesan/Champagne,” rather than “this product has a total lack of anything made in China! :D” labelling.

    • So…ignoring two thirds of the arguments that your opponents are actually making seems like a pretty terrible way to argue for your position

      That depends on whether you are attacking the argument that GMO crops should be banned or that people should avoid eating them. “GMO crops make the world a worse place” is a good argument for the former but not for the latter, due to the familiar public good problem.

    • Anytime you have a political movement you’re going to get two reasons why people believe in it:

      1. The underlying belief system.
      2. A desire to fit in with the group.

      There are underlying beliefs which fit into reason 1. and there are justifications people create in order to rationalize 2. In arguing against the whole movement I think it’s acceptable to only go after the first kind. Suppose there were a bunch of people convinced that a house was haunted and they wanted it to be demolished. Then someone came along also saying it should be demolished, but not because of the ghost thing, but because it’s an eyesore, it doesn’t fit with the architectural style of the neighborhood. And you notice he doesn’t much care for other houses which also don’t fit with the architectural style of the neighborhood, certainly it wouldn’t lead him to demand the government go and knock them down. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for someone whose goal is to prevent the demolition of the house to ignore the eyesore argument, because it’s not the underlying cause of the problem, which is belief in ghosts.

      Do arguments 1. and 2. fit in with this? Would they lead anyone to want to ban GMOs? 1. can be easily solved by banning that pricing strategy. I’ve never heard anyone advocate the government mandate the usage of different varieties of crops to fight monoculture.

      As for the “rational” arguments, the “good solid economic argument that farmers won’t be disadvantaged” is that if they were disadvantaged, they wouldn’t plant the GM crops. I’m not as certain about the second one but I’m pretty sure the other varieties of are being stored somewhere. There’s the vault in Svalbard but that shouldn’t be necessary. Agricultural science is a thing.

      • Emby says:

        I’m actually thinking it’s kind of the opposite situation to your thought experiment. People who think the house is an ugly eyesore, but note that there seems to be a prevalent belief in ghosts, so hop on the ‘haunted’ bandwagon as a way of getting what they actually want (the house gone)

        Or, coming back to the original question, if there are people economically motivated to argue against GMO crops then it’s no longer a mystery why the anti-GMO argument won’t die – someone is whipping it up using whatever arguments happen to work

        As for the “rational” arguments, the “good solid economic argument that farmers won’t be disadvantaged” is that if they were disadvantaged, they wouldn’t plant the GM crops.

        I’m thinking on a longer term than that. That is, primary producers might be motivated to plant GMO in any one particular year because it’s cost effective, but in the long run, a situation where all the farmers need to buy their seeds from two or three dominant companies obviously means they’re in a weaker and more vulnerable position, and obviously that’s a situation you want to avoid if you’re a farmer

        • abystander says:

          Farmers were generally buying from the major hybrid seed companies before GMOs so the presence of GMOs doesn’t really change the economic dominance issue in my opinion. There has been consolidation, but I think that was independent of GMOs

        • the farmers need to buy their seeds from two or three dominant companies obviously means they’re in a weaker and more vulnerable position, and obviously that’s a situation you want to avoid if you’re a farmer

          You could say the same for reliance on any supplier where there’s two or three companies competing. That’s a whole lot of industries. I expect socialists to jump on the bandwagon whenever this does happen because it’s their default way of viewing the world. But why is there a bandwagon in the first place?

    • mtl1882 says:

      My sense is that the pro-GMO people probably want that narrative to be where all the discussion takes place. The other two narratives involve concrete, competing interests that could negotiate and reach a compromise. They’re also kind of boring to most people, who don’t have an obvious stake in the matter. The frankenfoods narrative is easy to spin as hysterical ravings by people who don’t care about science, truth, and facts. Many people (who probably aren’t super interested in the other two issues) are eager to oppose any sign of this, in a vocal way, and will get worked up about it (like with the anti-vax stuff). It’s good at generating publicity and sort of priming people to discount anti-GMO arguments in general. It distracts from whether or not their business should be regulated because of more practical concerns relating to existing farming.

      I first heard about this issue from a co-worker a few years ago, and her opposition seemed to be based on the idea that something was obviously inherently sinister about trying to get certain traits to be more prominent in various foods. I was very confused, because I kept thinking, “how is this much different from selecting for bigger or redder apples?” (or cross-breeding flowers to create hybrids with certain characteristics, or creating a new dog breed?) I realize there are risks and costs to all of those things, but she was acting like this was a GMO-specific issue, and that it would magically make the food poisonous or change into something entirely different. I know there can be weirder stuff like injecting animal DNA, but she didn’t bring that up, and it just wasn’t clear what she was afraid of in any case. I get the idea that tampering with the fundamentals, and signs of human hubris, can be inherently unsettling. Don’t open that can of worms, etc. But she wasn’t saying that. There was just something about modified food that I was supposed to see as obviously alarming, as though we don’t already mess around with these things. At the time, all I could think was, “she’s very intelligent, and works managing complex tech projects, so it’s weird she’s caught in this superstition.”

      • Deiseach says:

        To be sympathetic to your co-worker, a lot of the answers to “Isn’t GMO dangerous?” are simple “It’s just the same as all the kinds of cross-breeding animals and plants that humans have done for centuries, only with added SCIENCE!!!” and any kind of “yeah not exactly, nobody every tried cross-breeding a mackerel and a tomato” gets treated as SCIENCE DENIALISM!!!! and self-evident proof that nobody needs to take such concerns seriously, it’s only stupid crazy deniers of science with such kooky objections.

        Now, maybe it is all crazy on the same level as anti-vaxxers, but even stupid objections have to be considered and answered. Trying to use DO NOT QUESTION THE AUTHORITY OF SCIENCE to force people to accept GMO is simply going to get peoples’ backs up. I’m going to pick the “Non-GMO” labelled foodstuffs in preference when I go shopping. Yes, maybe I’m being unscientific. But the old non-GMO stuff is the same stuff that has been ‘cross-bred by humans’ for centuries so I know I can eat it (and if, for instance, I were coeliac I’d know to avoid gluten and what had gluten in it). The new GMO stuff? May be harmless in the long run, but how can I tell? It’s not been consumed long enough. The same article linked above debunking the “fish genes in tomatoes” story admits that allergens are indeed a problem to be kept in mind:

        Soybeans are widely used to raise animals but are low in this essential amino acid often necessitating the use of methionine supplements. Brazil nuts produce a protein that is particularly rich in methionine so the idea was to isolate and clone the gene that codes for the production of the methionine-rich protein and insert it into the genome of the soybean.

        This raised an obvious concern. Although the modified soybeans were to be used mostly for poultry, the possibility that they could somehow end up in human food had to be considered. What if a person allergic to Brazil nuts happened to consume these soybeans, possibly triggering a life threatening reaction? Testing of blood drawn from people allergic to Brazil nuts revealed that the antibodies they had produced in response to ingesting Brazil nut proteins also latched on to proteins in the engineered soybeans, indicating the potential for an allergic reaction. As a result the research was abandoned and the modified soybeans were never produced.

        Though my mild dislike of the GMO things is mostly about the whole “engineered to be resistant to Roundup herbicide” and how that is all part of large-scale industrialised monocultural agri-business. As pointed out, people can have objections on those points. Yet the defence relies so heavily on point 3 – “any objections are science denialism!” and deliberately uses that as a blanket defence to avoid having to defend the whole range of business practices involved in patenting foodstuffs and creating an entire range of crops that are only practicable to grow using one particular chemical product, as well as the environmental and human health concerns about using glyphosate. GMO crops can only encourage the use of glyphosate-based herbicides, and it’s not science denialism to ask “is this an unalloyed good thing?”

        There’s also the difference in attitudes between the USA and Europe over food and food production. Part of the Brexit debates were “If the UK goes for WTO rules when trading with the USA after leaving the EU, does this mean that they have to accept food imports that are not up to EU standards?” And part of the promise was “Of course you the public don’t have to worry about this, we won’t have to accept chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef”.

        Though, as is typical with British politicians, it’s now looking like “We said no chlorine-washed chickens and we’re sticking to that. Lactic-acid washes are being used instead!” Okay, it’s tabloid news, but I like the Mirror’s take on it – “Four-ovens Tory grilled on whether he’d eat acid-washed chicken after Brexit” 🙂

        (Tory and New Labour politicians posing for photoshoots in their kitchen to show they’re “just normal folks like you, dear voters” never turns out well).

        • mtl1882 says:

          To be sympathetic to your co-worker, a lot of the answers to “Isn’t GMO dangerous?” are simple “It’s just the same as all the kinds of cross-breeding animals and plants that humans have done for centuries, only with added SCIENCE!!!” and any kind of “yeah not exactly, nobody every tried cross-breeding a mackerel and a tomato” gets treated as SCIENCE DENIALISM!!!! and self-evident proof that nobody needs to take such concerns seriously, it’s only stupid crazy deniers of science with such kooky objections.

          Yeah, this was close to what I was trying to say, but evidently I failed to communicate it. I’m saying the pro-GMO groups want to induce the exact reaction I had, because it is so easy to do, and it discredits the other two by making you think of science denialism. But my co-worker never even said, “well, no one has crossed a tomato and a mackerel.” which would have gotten my attention. My impression at the time was that it was just cross-breeding. I’ve since learned more about it and take it more seriously.

          Now, maybe it is all crazy on the same level as anti-vaxxers, but even stupid objections have to be considered and answered. Trying to use DO NOT QUESTION THE AUTHORITY OF SCIENCE to force people to accept GMO is simply going to get peoples’ backs up.

          Totally agree. It ends up backfiring.

        • Garrett says:

          > chlorine-washed chicken

          I keep hearing about this. But other than as a Shibboleth it doesn’t make any sense to me. Do you object to eating at restaurants because they serve you chlorine-washed utensils? And food prepared using chlorine-washed cookware?

          Nobody has been able to point me at any actual health or flavor down-sides of doing so. And from what I can tell it increases food safety.

          What am I missing?

          • Loriot says:

            I’m not British, but as far as I can tell, it’s just the usual tabloid scare mongering, with no actual health effects. But that sort of thing is never rational, and the US doubtless has similar scares.

          • Lambert says:

            A) The EU’s rationale for banning chlorine-washed chicken is that it would be used as a band-aid to cover up fundementally unsafe practises e.g. not keeping abbatoirs washed properly.
            B) ‘Chlorine washed chicken’ is a maximally scary synecdoche for all the food that America wants to export here but that doesn’t meet current standards. (e.g. hormone treated beef)
            C) If we end up in a situation where you can import food that you couldn’t have grown locally, farmers will quite rightly be pissed.

          • If we end up in a situation where you can import food that you couldn’t have grown locally, farmers will quite rightly be pissed.

            Shouldn’t that depend on why it couldn’t be grown locally?

            Suppose your country forbids growing GMO crops not because GMO food is bad for you but because they believe such crops are bad for the local environment. The environment in other countries they could import from isn’t very important to them, so why not import from them?

            Isn’t it more likely that European farmers support restrictions on imports, not limited to GMO crops, because they don’t like the competition? Does that still qualify as “quite rightly?”

          • Nornagest says:

            The EU’s rationale for banning chlorine-washed chicken is that it would be used as a band-aid to cover up fundementally unsafe practises e.g. not keeping abbatoirs washed properly.

            Seems like the fundamentally unsafe practices are what needs banning, then. I could presumably hide drugs (or guns, if you’d rather) in my spare tire; doesn’t follow that spare tires should be banned.

          • Harry Maurice Johnston says:

            I’m guessing a better analogy might be filing the serial numbers off of a gun – presumably the chlorine wash would hide the evidence, so to speak?

            The EU can probably enforce safe practice rules in their own territory, but I’m not sure how that would work with imported food. (Even if you sent inspectors, how would you know that the particular facilities you inspected were actually where the food you were importing came from?)

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      I have a skewed idea of what arguments actually get used in practise?

      I think so? Alluding to GMOs being unsafe is a pretty common tactic. Here’s an example from the popular end, this came from the side pushing for mandatory-GMO-labeling in the US:

      have joined forces with more than 200,000 people to support the campaign Just Label It, which advocates for household food brands to be required to label potentially harmful genetically modified organisms used in their products

      And here’s an example from the science end: which actually resulted in bans:

      At the time of the initial release, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that, if the results are confirmed, the government would press for a Europe-wide ban on the maize and The European Commission instructed the EFSA in Parma, Italy, to assess the study.[6] In late September 2012, Russia temporarily suspended importing GM corn as a result of the study[74] and in November 2012, Kenya banned all GM crops.[75]

    • abystander says:

      The pro GMO people are not necessarily pro corporate agriculture. Thus some could be opposed to the blanket condemning of technology that might help develop new varieties for third world farmers while condemning the current way the technology is used by the large corporations. You can be in favor of Golden Rice and be opposed to Monsanto’s corporate practices.

      My opinion is that the first two arguments are anti big corporate arguments that are not GMO specific, that anti GMO people are tying to associate with their anti GMO positions. Hybrid seed companies were probably always selling non GMO seeds with the same conditions, but now the companies became more aggressive in persecuting the contracts. Although GMO seeds might have markers added to make a better court case.

      GMO seeds can be developed for new niches and increase biodiversity as well as replacing varieties and reducing biodiversity.

    • ana53294 says:

      GMOs would have to be bought every year not just because of patents, but because most GMO seed is hybrid. You lose a lot of properties in hybrid offspring.

      Maize, soy, and tomato GMOs are hybrid.

      There are many reasons why saving seed in a modern farm is not a very good idea when you’re buying commercial seed (not talking about ancestral varieties or whatever, but those aren’t used for modern farms). When you plant seeds, year after year in the same field, you get an accumulation of viruses and bacteria in the grain. Commercial seeds can be bought certified virus free.

      Besides, the legal bondoogle that is getting a GMO approved means that only big corporations can get a GMO approved. Even when a charity gives away its GMO seed for free, and lets farmers keep the seed, they still face a steep regulatory burden, such as in the case for Golden Rice.

      I understand why people would dislike and distrust Monsanto. But GMOs are banned regardless of who produces them. Besides, if a farmer chooses to buy a GMO when they could just use last year’s seed, they probably have good reasons.

    • Thegnskald says:

      The book’s position should be read as “This argument is bad, unscientific, and shouldn’t be taken seriously”, it sounds like, and you are annoyed they aren’t trying to she’ll all the enemy’s soldiers and deliver them a resounding defeat.

      But we shouldn’t treat arguments like soldiers.

      • Randy M says:

        I don’t think it’s that all the enemy soldiers should be shelled, but it should be acknowledged which enemy positions are illegitimate aggression and which they hold by right, or just which are being addressed by other divisions in your army.

    • Aftagley says:

      I think you’re falling for the motte and bailey here.

      The Bailey of anti-GMO people is the two problems you point out above. This is the one that they come back to when seriously challenged and is the primary public-facing point of their pitch.

      The motte, the one that gets shared on facebook, the one that motivates people who aren’t reading multiple book / literature reviews comes down to something like “natural is good, these products aren’t natural therefore they’re full of toxins and other badness and should be banned.”

      • albatross11 says:

        How do you distinguish that from the situation where some people have dumb arguments for their views, and others have smarter arguments? I mean, most people have dumb arguments for most of their views, the intelligence distribution being what it is. But if Alice opposes eating rat poison because it has chemicals in it and they’re bad, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons for avoiding rat poison–just that Alice has dumb reasons that by happy accident lead her to avoid poisoning herself.

        GMOs aren’t rat poison, and AFAICT are fine both to eat and to grow. But the place to make that case is with the specifics of why they’re fine to eat/grow, not with “many loud people make dumb arguments for GMOs being bad, therefore they must be good.” Very few people are actually inverse weathervanes.

        • Loriot says:

          Unfortunately, when politics becomes involved, there is a strong selection pressure for the dumbest arguments.

          I think there’s two reasons. 1) You need broad coalitions to get anything done, so the people who believe X for good reasons team up with the people who believe X for dumb reasons. and 2) politics is all about soundbites and outrage peddling, and there is no room for reasoned debate.

    • JonathanD says:

      I’ve literally never seen either of your first two arguments in the wild. Whereas, my MiL calls regular Cherrios “GMOs” and consistently gives us the side eye for feeding our kids non-organics.

  30. Statismagician says:

    Please rank car makes by:

    a), overall quality, however you’d define it;
    b), fashionability/desirability, however you see it in practice.

    • Plumber says:

      @Statismagician says:

      “Please rank car makes by:

      a), overall quality, however you’d define it;

      Limiting myself to cars I’ve actually driven that were memorable:

      1) The 2004 Toyota Prius my wife bought new has continued to prove itself to be the most reliable automobile we have experienced yet (I hate car shopping, but I’m sold on buying new!).

      2) The 1993 Mercury Grand Marquis was the most comfortable car I’ve ever driven. 

      3) The 1998 natural gas powered Ford  Crown Victoria I had for a decade was comfortable, fast, ran on cheap fuel, and had a “HOV lane access” sticker on it (too bad replacement fuel valve parts couldn’t be found)

      b), fashionability/desirability, however you see it in practice.

      1) The 1966 Rover TC 2000 was gorgeous.  

      2) The 1971 Volkswagen Karmen Ghia was also gorgeous

      3) The 1976 MGB was fun to drive and looked great! 

      4) The 1979 MG Midget was fun to drive and easy to push!

      5) The 1979 Mercury Zephyr accelerated fast

      6) The 2016 Fiat 500 was cute and fun to drive.

    • JayT says:

      Last time I was car shopping a few years ago, Subaru was the leader in the first category. From what I’ve seen, Tesla is far and away the leader in the second category right now.

    • Well... says:

      The following refers both to whatever badge is actually on the car as well as whatever affiliated/subsidiary brands, so Toyota = Toyota, Lexus, Scion. GM = Chevy, Buick, Caddy, GMC. Etc. I’m omitting ultra-luxury/boutique brands like Rolls Royce and Fisker.

      a) Asians first: Toyota, Honda, [Ford trucks], Subaru, Mazda, Nissan, Hyundai. Then the Americans: (Tesla maybe?) Ford [non-trucks], GM, Chrysler*. Then BMW…then maybe the Scandinavians? Then some kind of grimy stew of the other festering German and British manufacturers. Then the Italians come in last.*

      b) I dunno. But I think Tesla is considered very fashionable in some circles while luxury brands are considered more fashionable in others.

      *Is Chrysler basically an Italian brand at this point? I think I’d rather be caught dead in a Beemer than a <10 y/o Jeep.

      • JayT says:

        Just out of curiosity, what circles do you think BMWs and Mercedes are still more fashionable than Teslas? Aside from brand-loyalist, it seems to me the type of people that were always buying German luxury cars are now wanting Teslas, even if they don’t end up buying one.

        • Well... says:

          I was thinking, older upper class women.

          I.e. the real-life versions of Lucille from “Arrested Development”.

          • JayT says:

            Now that you say that, the person I know that most fits that description drives a Mercedes, and is annoyed by all the Tesla talk!

            (She’s nothing like Lucille, but she is older and upper class)

          • Well... says:

            I can imagine some people who associate Teslas with young engineer-type men: guys in their 30s and 40s who sit in front of computers a lot, maybe are really into video games and/or gadgets, who babble about AI and blockchain and crypto. Elon Musk might even be an archetype there.

            There’s definitely a sizable portion of the public who buys luxury cars but is turned off by the aforementioned demographic.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Anecdotally…I haven’t seen a single woman driving a Tesla. I see a lot of Teslas, but I am in a neighborhood where a lot of people made some money and generically refer to their jobs as “tech.”

          • EchoChaos says:

            @A Definite Beta Guy

            I have seen precisely one. She’s a senior manager at my tech company one level higher than me.

          • JayT says:

            My neighbor is a younger woman with a Model 3 and one of my old coworkers has one. In general though, I’d say almost half the ones I see driving around are being driven by middle aged women.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      CR, friends, and personal experience puts the Toyota and Lexus makes at the top. Prius, Camry, Rav-4, Lexus GS and GX, etc.
      CR puts the Mazda SUVs (CX-5 and up) pretty high as well.

      Family and friend experience put Chevy and Nissan damn near the bottom.

  31. Well... says:

    A few web searches have not yet yielded a concise answer to this question, so I turn to you, electric guitarists of SSC:

    What are some double-locking tremolo systems where the strings are anchored by the ball ends? (I.e. the ball ends don’t need to be removed)

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I understood the word “strings.”

    • Ouroborobot says:

      I’m not sure any exist. I’d love to see the design if someone else knows of one. Maybe they’re out there, but I would think having a clamping lock at the saddle for each string would make accounting for the ball ends just an unnecessary complication in any double locking design. I had a guitar with floyd rose system about 20 years ago when I was a young metal-head and found it to be a massive headache. TBH I’m not really a fan of floating bridges in general these days, much less one as complicated to string and tweak as a floyd rose.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      The Ibanez Edge Pro that I have on my RG 2550E doesn’t require the ball ends to be snipped off, although the strings aren’t anchored by them (they are locked in place as in a standard Floyd; the saddles look like this).

      Wiki says that the same is true for the Edge Pro II, though I am unable to confirm at present. (Edit) The Ibanez Wiki entry for the Edge Pro II includes a scan of the manual that confirms the same is true for that model. It is not the case with the Edge Zero or Edge III.

      • Well... says:

        Wish I owned one: I love the Edge Pro for its ergonomics; you can tighten the saddles without having the get your hex wrench dangerously close to scraping the guitar body. Knowing it accepts strings with the ball ends still on just makes me like it more.

        But I wonder why none of these bridges use the ball ends to secure the strings?? All you’d need is a spring-action retaining surface to keep the balls in place so they don’t slip out when you dive.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          The only locking system I know of where the ball ends are used to secure strings is the Steinberger TransTrem which uses double ball strings and even then I’m not sure they are the primary securing mechanism.

          It’s kind of all in the name, innit? The locking mechanism is what secures your strings. Even if you hold the ball in place, there’s still play where the string loops around the ball, so if you need the string length to be kept constant, you really want to be gripping the actual string.

          At which point, you may as well ditch the balls altogether.

          • Well... says:

            I guess that’s true. But it would be nice to have those ball ends helping to keep the strings from popping out (the #1 frustration with FRs, I believe), or at least providing peace of mind that they can’t.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            You could prolly fit a Fender-style string-through-body block to a Floyd (you gotta attach the springs to something in any case), but it would be a PITA to restring (I mean: more than yer typical floating Floyd).

            The Edge Pro is a reasonable compromise as far as “string has popped out of bridge and popped me in the eye” is concerned. The only way those ball-ends are coming out is if you forgot to lock your strings (the locking blocks need to go way back before a ball-end will pass through the hole).

          • Well... says:

            Now that I think about it, I question whether you’d actually get play out of the string looping around the ball ends once the string is tightened. So long as the ball is kept snugly in place by a spring-loaded back-plate or something. The only way to get play at that point is to twist the string (i.e. untwist where the string wraps around itself after looping around the ball end). So you could design the tail end of the saddle so there’s only one way for the ball to sit in there, and can’t twist. Am I missing something?

            Still, I assume what you’ve said is Common Knowledge because it’s been tried…but I don’t know exactly how safe an assumption that really is. 99.9% confidence I won’t be patenting a new floating trem bridge design.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            According to Wiki, Floyd Rose’s original design had just the top lock with a standard strat bridge and the bridge clamps came later – presumably because it didn’t quite work.

            Everything that follows is armchair engineering, so a large grain of salt is advised, but when I speak of play in the mechanism, I specifically mean that the ball end sits in a loop of string and can – to an extent, move freely.

            To have a system that stays in tune, you need the string to return to exactly the same length between nut and saddle after whatever it is you were doing with the bar. If it is not clamped at either end, the point of contact will move along the length of the string as you change the tension.

            A Floyd-style system clamps the nut and leaves very little length between the clamp and saddle proper at the bridge end. There isn’t much room for the saddle POC to change between neutral, dipped and bent states (also, the string is in contact with the saddle along the entirety of this length).

            If you’re clamping the ball-end you might get something like 3cm between the end of the string and the saddle. That itself is a lot more leeway for your POC to move (and later stick because of friction, for example). Further, when you move the bridge, you aren’t actually moving the string – you’re moving the ball end which necessarily has some movement relative to the string itself (because it isn’t coupled to the actual string, but merely rests in a loop). Moving the ball end will cause the string to move because it’s suddenly got room to contract or is pulled on and needs to extend, but the way it shall settle in its new state is much less deterministic (note that the loop will have a different elasticity than the string proper, especially in the case of the bass strings, where the loop is made from the winding).

            It doesn’t seem like much, but it can make a difference. Here’s a simple illustration that should work on any fixed-bridge, non-locking guitar: tune the guitar to pitch, take the high E and tune it slightly sharp (50 cents or so is enough) then tune it back down to pitch, play a whole-step bend or two and check your tuning. How flat is your string?

            I completely forgot about the Floyd Rose Speedloader, which is probably as close to what you’re looking for as we can get. Downside: it requires special strings. Also, it uses bullet rather than ball ends, which don’t have the end-in-a-loop problem.

    • danridge says:

      I’m afraid I can’t help with your question, but I’m curious about the advantages of a double-locking system in general, because just recently I’ve floated the bridge on my strat really hard; I wanted to be able to bend at least a half step up with the trem arm as well as do the normal dive. Actually, for my purposes (smoothly bending a fretted note which is feeding back at a particular harmonic), I use a combination of bending up with the trem arm and putting pressure behind the nut, which obviously you can’t do with a double-locking system. But one thing I’ve noticed is that I can’t do unison bends anymore, or at least I have to be very careful with them, because bending a string causes the bridge to pull in and detune all the other strings. Is that the kind of thing double-locking helps with? Can it help with bends in either direction, or do people just do dives with it?

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        The main advantage of double-locking systems is that they generally preserve tuning better if you go crazy with the whammy bar. The idea is that your strings are held fast at both ends and cannot easily move to change length.

        The issues you’re having are due to having a floating bridge and double-locking won’t really help with that.

        It’s a matter of simple physics: the string length over a floating bridge is governed by your strings pulling one way and the springs pulling the other way. Add more tension on the string side (by bending) and the equilibrium must change.

        Fortunately, it’s something you can get used to.

        I’m curious about how you’ve made your strat bridge to float. I’m assuming you simply loosened your springs until the tail of the bridge lifted?

        That’s not how a dedicated floating tremolo is usually set up. The standard method is to have the bridge set parallel to the body and the body to be routed out behind the bridge to allow it to dip inside when pulling up on the bar. Can’t test it at the moment, but I believe I have at least a tone of pull-up on my Ibanez, perhaps slightly more.

        I’m not certain, but I suspect that having the bridge mostly parallel helps with finger bends detuning the strings because you get less leverage than if the bridge is raised.


        Actually, for my purposes (smoothly bending a fretted note which is feeding back at a particular harmonic), I use a combination of bending up with the trem arm and putting pressure behind the nut, which obviously you can’t do with a double-locking system.

        It’s not every day one has a chance to converse with a three-handed guitarist. 😀 Pleased to make your acquaintance.

        • Well... says:

          I took danridge to be saying he’d fret a note with his left hand and then EITHER bend the trem arm with his right hand OR reach over behind the nut with his right hand to put pressure on the string — not both at once! 😛

          Or I suppose for the behind-the-nut technique he might fret the note with his right hand, finger-tapping style. Or for the trem arm technique, go really crazy and fret the note with his right hand and use his left hand to cross over and bend the trem arm for no good reason other than to make it excessively complicated.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I think it’s simply a matter of bending-behind-the-nut with either the thumb or index finger of your left hand, whilst fretting the note with one of the remaining fingers (‘s feedback-assisted, so sustaining) whilst pulling up the bar with the right (I understand “combination” to mean that behind-the-nut and bar are necessary together to raise the pitch sufficiently).

            However, a three-handed guitar technique is so much cooler. 😀

          • Well... says:

            Who was it…Steve Vai…Stanley Jordan…one of those guys, had a really homoerotic routine where two men would play a slow spacious solo on the same guitar at once. That’s what this made me think of.

          • danridge says:

            I’m fretting low enough on the neck (like first three frets) that I can fret with the fourth finger and use the first finger to bend behind the nut, then use the right hand for trem arm, like Faza suggested; it makes sense, because the harmonics you get are going to be at least an octave higher than the fretted note. The sustain is delicate, so basically no string bending is usable, and I lose the note if I try to do it all with either nut or trem arm.

            Thanks for the info about floating bridges, I did just loosen the springs to get it up. I might end up wanting to look into a more dedicated floating bridge system, but the weird thing is I’ve done a lot of work on this strat, and I love how it plays right now, just have to be careful with the bends (also, doing those really wide David Gilmour bends is very difficult now because of how the bridge just gets pulled along). I’ve never liked how guitars feel with a totally flat bridge, but I may have to decide I’ve gone a bit too far this time…

          • Well... says:

            @danridge: I’m curious to know what kind of music you’re making that calls for these crazy harmonic bends.

            Also, when you lament the flat bridge, do you mean you’d (at least theoretically) prefer an arched bridge like violins and kotos have?

          • danridge says:

            @Well… I just mean that the bridge floats a bit and can move instead of laying totally flat, I think that kind of consideration may be somewhat specific to strat models because they have such easily adjustable bridges. A curved bridge like a violin’s is more necessary for bowed strings, ie. you can’t use a bow on a guitar to play a single string unless it’s one of the outer ones, if you try it on an inner string you’ll end up playing all of them; but it’s not so good for strumming, which is important on a guitar.

            As for what kind of thing I’m playing, here’s my inspiration for the technique (I’ve got the timestamp on 3:48 when the guitar solo starts, and it’s basically the first thing he plays). I don’t know the details of how that was played, but what I’ve described is something I’ve come up with after experimenting with my own guitar.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            One thing you could try is to get more tension on the spring side.

            Most Fender/Floyd-style trem-blocks allow up to five springs, so if you’ve only got three in there, you could always add a couple. Alternatively, if you’re currently running the springs in parallel, try an A-shape, where the ends converge on the tension plate end.

            By floating the bridge, you’re introducing a bias towards the strings (they are already pulling harder than the springs, so bending will raise the bridge even more), but if the spring side is stiffer than you have now (either because more springs, or because the outer springs are already more stretched) it will take more force to get the same displacement. You’ll need to readjust the tension plate to get the same amount of float, of course.

            WRT a dedicated floating setup: my first reaction is that it’s an excellent excuse to get another guitar! I checked in the meanwhile and found that I can get anything from two to five steps of bend with the bar on the Ibanez (mostly depending on which string I’m playing; high E is least amenable, I can easily bend the G up a fourth), which should be enough for anybody. With the bridge set up parallel to the body, as described, wide finger bends (up to two whole tones) aren’t an issue either. Unison bends are a bit more tricky than with a fixed bridge, but nothing that can’t be worked around.

  32. Aftagley says:

    How excited should I be that AI has, apparently, discovered a new antibiotic?* I realize that human trials haven’t been done and that more research is needed, but especially in light of how antibiotic research is continuing to slow down, this seem like unambiguously good news.

    *or identified antibiotic properties in a previously discovered compound. Whatever.

    • Statismagician says:

      This is legitimately neat, although I remain annoyed at articles which confuse ‘AI’ with ‘scientists using a good algorithm.’

      However, my understanding had been that the major barrier to new antibiotics was that they’re not profitable enough to shepherd through FDA approval, rather than a lack of candidate molecules, so we’ll have to see where this goes.

      • Valueless User says:

        It strikes me that antibiotics are a particular drug class where efficacy should be absolutely transferable between animal and human trials, particularly if the same bacteria is involved.

        Safety trails aren’t too expensive afaik, so maybe the FDA should just relax the restrictions on the efficacy stages for antibiotics? You know of any exceptions?

        • Statismagician says:

          FDA really, really does not like making exceptions, for anything, ever. Their fast-track approval pipeline is just what would be mediocre business practices for anything besides a Federal agency; I’m not aware of any time they’ve reduced or waived trial requirements except for the Ebola vaccine project(s). Notably, the only one so far approved originated with the Canadian government and still took sixteen years to be approved, including a three-year span between ‘large-scale field use with glowing results’ and ‘approved for use in the US’.

          Even if FDA were to waive their requirements, I expect it wouldn’t really make much of a difference, perversely especially for public-good stuff like vaccines and antibiotics, because the only way we were able to make vaccinations mandatory for a lot of stuff was by setting up a no-fault adverse reaction reimbursement fund paid for by the government; if I’m Merck, I’m definitely not putting my name on anything lots of people are going to be taking if I’m going to be exposed to the kind of insane lawsuits US medical practitioners and suppliers get hit with all the time.

    • abystander says:

      Usually I discount University press releases, but Derek Lowe, a med chemist and long time observer of the pharmaceutical industry, thinks it is a solid result although not a breakthrough.

      “So overall, this is an impressive paper. The combination of what appears to be pretty rigorous ML work with actual assay data generated just for this project seems to have worked out well, and represents, I would say, the current state of the art. It is not the “Here’s your drug!” virtual screening of fond hopes and press releases, but it’s a real improvement on what’s come before and seems to have generated things that are well worth following up on. I would be very interested indeed in seeing such technology applied to other drug targets and other data sets – but then, that’s what people all around academia and industry are trying to do right now. Let’s hope that they’re doing it with the scope and the attention to detail presented in this work.”

      • Aftagley says:

        Interesting. Follow up question:

        If I understand this correctly, they trained their ML on compounds that we new to act as an antibiotic then set it lose on other compounds we’d previously identified to try and see if any of them contained those same properties.

        My question is, how much water is in this well? Do we know enough compounds and do these kind of similarities crop up often enough (and were we previously bad enough at detecting them) that we’ve potentially got a plethora of useful compounds just waiting to be discovered, or is this likely to be just a couple over the next few years until we’ve analyzed everything for everything?

        • abystander says:

          The number of potential compounds are larger than we can test. I don’t have the knowledge to judge how many are likely to be effect antibiotics.

          The best case scenario is that the technique becomes better and as new compounds are found and investigated, further leads are discovered and investigated leading to a virtuous cycle. The theoretical worse case is the well goes dry in a few years and we have an epidemic of resistant strains, but I think that we can resort to antibiotics that have a lower margin of error for serious side effects like kidney damage if we have life threatening infections.

          Another possibility is phage therapy

  33. Well... says:

    Gardeners and green-thumbers of SSC:

    I have the Midas touch with plants; I’ve killed cacti, jade plants, you name it. (Which isn’t to say that I’m without successes; one room in my house is a veritable arborium. But I am a talented, if unwitting, plant assassin.) Currently there’s a mother-in-law’s tongue in a tiny 2″ terra cotta pot (purchased as is at Trader Joe’s) on my desk at work that is threatening to shrivel up and die. Most of the leaves look fine, but one on the outside has completely shriveled and turned yellow-brown, and another on the other side is threatening to follow suit. I want to nip this in the bud.

    I don’t think I’m overwatering it; most of the time the dirt is so dry that if I pull upward on one of the leaves I can remove the whole plant from the pot, roots, soil and all, with its dirt retaining the shape of the pot. In fact this has caused me to suspect I’m underwatering it, but that doesn’t seem right. I dampen the soil about once every two weeks, which is more than I’ve read is recommended for those plants…but its soil just seems so dang dry all the time! I’m not drenching it when I water it, just adding enough to make the top of the soil look and feel damp all the way around the plant. Maybe I should be watering it more intensely but with less frequency?

    I should mention, the plant and its soil aren’t directly inside the terra cotta pot. It’s actually sitting in a black plastic pot that fits just inside the terra cotta. I wonder if this too is part of the problem. Those black plastic pots are (I think) usually meant to be temporary. But I haven’t had an opportunity to bring extra dirt into my office job to fill out the rest of the inside. I do, however, have plenty of coffee grounds available. Would it be safe to line the terra cotta pot with coffee grounds and then transplant into that?

    I’ve read mixed things about coffee grounds as planting medium, sometimes glowing fondly, but at the other end of the spectrum, people calling it a fad rumor started by Starbucks.

    • Lambert says:

      What kind of latitude are you at?
      The sort where you don’t get much light at this time of year?

      Is Dracaena trifasciata the kind of succulent/xerophyte-adjacent thing that really doesn’t like water when there’s not a lot of light?

      • Well... says:

        I’m at 41˚N. I’m not sure when sunrise/sunset is, but the sky’s been lightening around 7am and staying light until 6:30pm or later. This plant sits on my desk, which faces a skylit atrium, so it’s getting only very indirect sunlight.

    • Plumber says:

      @Well… says:

      “Gardeners and green-thumbers of SSC:

      I have the Midas touch with plants; I’ve killed cacti, jade plants, you name it…”

      A friend of mine once called that a “Black Thumb” in 1989

      “…coffee grounds as planting medium…”

      Worth a shot, I imagine it will at least smell beter than alternatives.

    • baconbits9 says:

      One issue that you get with inconsistent watering is overly dry dirt that doesn’t hold moisture at all. If you start with too dry dirt then watering ‘the right amount’ won’t be enough, it will fail to penetrate to any depth and will evaporate very quickly. If its in a sunny location and your humidity is low I wouldn’t be surprised if the dirt is just drying to quickly.

      • Well... says:

        I watch the water go down into the dirt, so it’s penetrating some at least, but you might be right that it isn’t penetrating far enough. It’s not in a sunny location, and the air in my office doesn’t feel particularly dry, so I don’t think I’m losing an inordinate amount to evaporation.

    • aristides says:

      Yeah, you need to drench it and water it less frequently. Every part of the roots needs to ideally be absorbing water, and you’re not piercing The soil. Other things that might help are more sunlight and repotting it to a bigger pot, but it’s most likely just the watering that’s the problem.

      • Well... says:

        Thanks, I’ll try that. I do want to take it out of that little black plastic liner-pot. Is it OK, d’ya think, to use coffee grounds to make up the difference?

    • I have the Midas touch with plants

      The sadiM touch.

    • sami says:

      The way you describe the soil this plant is in makes me suspect it badly needs water and isn’t absorbing what you put into the pot. Instead of pouring water over it, take the little plastic pot out and let it sit in a saucer of water and it will slowly absorb it like a sponge, until the top of the soil feels damp. Also, repot it as soon as you get a chance. A pot that tiny will dry out very very quickly. Use actual soil, not coffee grounds, if you possibly can, because even a snake plant needs some nutrients heading into growing season (assuming you’re northern hemisphere).

      • Well... says:

        Alright. I think I have a larger pot lying around somewhere…

        BTW, does what the pot’s made of matter?

        • sami says:

          Yes, a little bit. Anything porous, like terra cotta, will allow the plant to dry out faster so you will need to water more frequently. That won’t bother a snake plant though. Also your pot must have drainage holes. After you repot it in fresh soil you won’t need to do the bottom watering thing until you notice the soil become compacted again. For a snake plant, you can wait to water until the soil you can see through the holes at the bottom of the pot is dry, then give it a good soaking. And don’t let the plant sit with water in its saucer for days. Other than that snake plants are pretty hard to kill.

    • Deiseach says:

      Not a gardener by any stretch of the definition, but on a very basic level:

      (1) it sounds pot-bound (if you can pull it out and the entire rootball is maintaining its shape)

      (2) since it’s in a small plastic original container, yes transplant it

      (3) do not use coffee grounds, get potting compost and once you have re-potted it, make sure the soil is well-soaked (then leave it alone with the watering)

      (4) pinch off the dead/yellowing leaves

      (5) looking up the plant, the recommendation is that drier is better so your level of watering is probably okay; the problem may be not enough light if it’s on your desk in an office – is it near a window or getting enough indirect but bright sunlight?

      • Well... says:

        The other points have been well-addressed (thanks again to those commenters) but to talk a bit more about #5:

        My desk is about 20′ in from an overhang, beyond which is an open skylit atrium. My desk faces the atrium. So, the plant isn’t getting ANY direct sunlight, and not a lot of indirect sunlight, but not none. If I wanted to hugely boost the amount of indirect light, I could move it to the atrium-side of my large computer monitor, although I’m worried someone would knock it over there.

        I’m pretty sure I’ve seen these types of plants flourish in less light than mine is getting, but of course I haven’t gone around with a light meter or anything.

  34. AlesZiegler says:

    What is meant by “curved” spacetime in the General relativity? I.e. can somebody here enlighten me with better metaphor for underlying math?

    • littskad says:

      It’s “curved” as opposed to “flat”, in the following sense:

      In 2-d Euclidean geometry, if you take a particular point in a flat plane, and go in all directions a constant distance, you end up at the various points on a circle. If you were to then walk around that circle, the distance you would travel (the circumference) would always be 2π times the radial distance you had traveled from the center.

      On the other hand, if you did the same thing on the surface of a sphere (like the earth’s surface, for example), the resulting circle would have a circumference which is less than 2π times the radial distance you had traveled. This is because the sphere is curved, rather than flat.

      It’s also possible to have local curvatures where the circles are larger (hyperbolic geometries).

      Another related thing is that triangles in a plane have internal angles which add up to exactly π radians, while on a sphere, triangles have more than π radians, and in hyperbolic geometries less.

      There are other things like this, too.

      This is basically how general relativity works, except that it’s in 4 space-time dimensions, and, in addition, the local curvature of space-time varies from point to point and depends on the distribution of mass.

    • Thegnskald says:

      In addition to the ramifications of curvature mentioned by littskad, an important characteristic that can be used to understand much of what this means – a bowl has greater surface area than a plate of similar diameter. Curved space is “bigger” than flat space.

      To apply this, consider what happens when something is traveling, such that one side is moving faster or slower than the other side.

      (You can use the same reasoning to understand gravity causing things to fall straight down, with some creative imagination, and understanding time is also curved.)

    • Alejandro says:

      The other comments are good, but do not really explain how the “time” part of “curved spacetime” works, and that is the really interesting one. It can be explained through analogy with spatial curvature.

      Flat space: In a 2d plane, if you move 1 km East and then 1 km North, you reach the same place that if you move 1 km North and then 1 km East.

      Curved space: On a sphere, if you move 1 km East and then 1 km North, you do not reach the same place that if you move 1 km North and then 1 km East. Assuming you are in the North hemisphere, the second path will “overshoot” the first one because 1 km East takes you further East at higher latitudes.

      Spacetime: Instead of connecting points, paths now connect events (that have both spatial and temporal location). Start with 2 clocks next to each other ticking 12:00 at the same time. Move one one meter higher, then wait (almost) one hour, then move the other one to join the first one. The first clock did “move up 1 m, then forward in time 1 h”, the second one did “move forward in time 1 h, then up 1 m”. If spacetime is flat, then both clocks tick 1:00 together (they reach the same event in spacetime, analogous to the two paths on the 2d plane reaching the same point). If spacetime is curved, they do not tick 1:00 together. And indeed, in a gravitational field, clocks run at different speeds at different heights (gravitational time dilation) and the two clocks would not tick 1:00 together. So gravitational field = curved spacetime.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        Ok, I get that part. Idea that time flows in different speed under influence in a gravitational field is intuitively comprehensible. We are probably all familiar with science fiction stories where spaceship flies somewhere and when it gets back hour later, it emerges that months passed on its board. It is weird to call this “curved time” though.

        What I still do not get is specifically “curved space” and also, how speed of light fits into all this.

        2D surface might be curved because it exists in a context of a 3D space. Metaphor of curved space presumes that there is fourth dimension, but it is usually poorly explained what that fourth dimension is. Is it time? Or is it gravity? Or something completely different? If time itself is curved, then it should not be thought of as a fourth dimension, since analogy with curved surface then does not work.

        • Thegnskald says:

          I think trying to understand it in terms of a direction is a misallocation of attention.

          If you think of it as extra space, you can think of it in terms of density of space, relative to an imaginary coordinate system. In that case, the dimension is density of space-time (metric).

          Remember, a dimension is any scalar quantity. Interpretation as a direction can be mathematically useful, while making it harder to intuitively understand something. The holographic principle – that any number of dimensions can be encoded in a lower number of dimensions as scalars – is a mathematical restatement of the idea.

          So thinking in terms of “Okay, what is this other direction, and how does everything interact with it” isn’t necessarily helpful to developing an intuitive understanding of what is going on.

        • For what it’s worth (this is a bit of a tangent), the Dichronauts novel of Greg Egan really helped me build a better geometric understanding of spacetime.

          In Dichronauts, instead of three space-like dimensions for what the creatures living there perceive as space, there are two space-like dimensions and one time-like dimension. This may sound odd at first – how can space consist at all of a time-like dimension? – until one realises that “space-like” and “time-like” are references to geometry. Specifically, “space-like” is Euclidean(-ish), “time-like” is hyperbolic.

          Unfortunately, I am not even slightly good at explaining the geometric insight this sci-fi book gave me (I’ve tried and people just look at me funny, so I think I’ll skip it this time!) – but thankfully, I don’t have to, as, Egan is really into explaining things, and there is even an applet that lets people explore the rotational (and also gravitational, which for the purposes of understanding what “time-like” means is not important) properties of this imagined universe.

          Maybe this is just a diversion, but maybe it’ll help you the same way it helped me.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Wow, that was a tough read. I have to admit that this abstract explanation without literal context is somewhat above my intelectual level, but now I want to read that book!

          • If it’s any consolation, I’d be completely lost without Greg Egan’s excellent animated gifs to help make his point. I am not that clever.

            And Dichronauts is nice, although you if you like crazy spacetime geometries, there’s also the Orthogonal trilogy he’s written, which features a universe with four space-like dimensions (one of which is subjective time for its inhabitants).

            That said, I feel obliged to add that, should you just want to read good sci-fi written by Greg Egan and his obsession with plausibility, the Axiomatic short story collection is your best bet; it has the highest density of awesomeness.

    • Clutzy says:

      Basically what it means is there is a force that acts in the universe which is best modeled as a curve in a 4th dimension. We don’t actually know its curved, but the math works out like it is. So if you throw a ball, even though you throw it straight, its trajectory “curves” towards the earth. Presumably, if we could see this 4th dimension its effects would be obvious.

      I assume you’ve seen one of the various shows where they model this for children on a trampoline and roll marbles around a bowling ball. That is how general relativity would work in a 2-D universe. So Mr. 2-d who only knows N-S-E-W keeps trying to walk in straight lines, past the bowling ball, (which he can only see as a large round 2d thing) and is annoyed by his path always being deflected towards it. Thus he models it as a curve.

      And that’s the best way I think you can simplify it.

    • eigenmoon says:

      Matter sucks space, that’s what gravity is. A particle-wave that oscillates faster will suck space faster. Thus more energy (= more mass) produces more gravity.

      The Sun sucks space in a vortex due to rotation, giving an observable frame drag to Mercury.

      The floor applies a force to you accelerating you up through space at g = 9.8 m/s². There’s no counterbalancing force of gravity because gravity in GR isn’t a force. But the Earth sucks the space down with the same acceleration, thus the space is flowing through you all the time while you remain at the same distance to Earth.

      That is a simple picture but I think it’s useful.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I used that model a while ago. It gives rise to two issues:
        Space-time isn’t conserved.
        Near objects should accelerate towards each other at a faster rate than far objects.

        The latter might actually be a feature, though, since if fully explored it might account for why gravity follows an inverse square relationship up until certain distances, when it appears to switch to a simple inverse relationship, with mass. (This is the problem dark matter attempts to solve.)

        The latter, however, is a major potential problem. Either space-time is getting created somewhere else (when, where, why), or we run into immediate issues with why the universe exhibits apparent expansion. (Mind, space-time is being created constantly in some physics models already, to account for the apparent expansion, via vacuum energy. But this is as ad-hoc a rationalization as dark matter, and I find a physics model that has dark energy but not dark matter quite amusing.)

  35. Eric T says:

    This morning, Katherine Johnson passed away at age 101. You may have heard of her through the recent film Hidden Figures. The film is far from accurate, but its central premise — that there was in fact an African American woman who’s calculations were vital to the success of the Apollo program, and who got basically no public credit for decades — is entirely correct.

    In that vein, who are some other “Hidden Figures” who were extremely vital to famous events, but who received virtually none of the publicity or credit? Bonus points if they have a good marketable story you can make a Hollywood movie out of.

    • Aftagley says:

      Elizabeth Friedman is arguably on the list. She gets some credit among cryptography nerds, but her overall contributions to the field have gone mostly uncelebrated by the public.

      She basically kept cryptography as a rigorous study alive between WWI and WWII and is a large part of why the US went into the second world war with any familiarity in the subject. She also introduced her husband William Friedman to cryptography and taught him the ropes – his team was the one that broke PURPLE and he eventually became the NSA’s first Chief Cryptologist.

    • rahien.din says:

      Related : Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer.

      Stigler’s Law obeys Stigler’s Law.

    • Robin says:

      Lise Meitner? Rosalind Franklin?

      • metacelsus says:

        No, those are both famous for being (temporarily) forgotten. I’d bet more people have heard of Rosalind Franklin than Maurice Wilkins. And Meitner got an element named after her.

  36. mtl1882 says:

    Someone like Newton was very eccentric and fixated on his work–would not surprise me if men with that type of disposition had trouble attracting wives and/or didn’t find it worth the hassle. I’ve been surprised at how many historical figures were childless even when married. There were several STDs rampant that could cause infertility, and non-sexually transmitted diseases like diptheria and mumps were also common and particularly damaging to male fertility. I’ve always figured this was the likeliest possibility with George Washington and Andrew Jackson. It wouldn’t be unique to prominent men, but those who traveled a lot and lived in cities could have had a greater chance for infection. And not having to support a family probably meant a greater chance at success. Causation must have worked both ways.

    • JayT says:

      I would assume there was also the possibility that some of the unmarried scientists were gay, and rather than go into a marriage they didn’t care about, just focused on work and stayed single.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I see a lot of infertility in Roman history. Julius Caesar had three wives over the course of almost 40 years, but only one legitimate child. Why did the 5 Good Emperors adopt? because they were childless! And I like the STD hypothesis for this infertility.

      • JayT says:

        How often in the past were these kings and emperors childless, and how often did they just not have a male heir make it to adulthood? I’m guess there were a lot of stillborn boys and girls that just didn’t make it into the history books.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Kings that inherited a throne probably have better records than Roman Emperors who clawed their way to the top. Also, kings that expect their children to inherit have reason to promulgate births to establish succession. Julius was pretty prominent from a young age. The child I mentioned was a daughter, so sex is not an issue. I think we’d know if he had children who died in infancy, but I’m not really sure.

          Augustus fits the inherited category and we do know that his third marriage had a single miscarriage. (Perhaps we only know this because Liva was so pregnant at the divorce/wedding?) Tiberius had a son die in infancy, so that’s some evidence of what gets recorded.

          (I exaggerated about the 5 Good Emperors. Nerva adopted Trajan specifically because he was childless and made him adopt Hadrian; and similarly Hadrian chose Antoninus Pius, whose sons had died.)

  37. TheContinentalOp says:

    Admiral Layton’s book “And I Was There” is going for U$300 on amazon and U$180 on abesbooks. Which seems to indicate that it’s in high demand. You’d think the rights holders would come out with a new edition, or at least an ebook. Maybe the price is just bumped up temporarily because of the recent Midway movie?

    Any other suggestions why the price seems to be so out of whack? Bean, got any ideas?

    • bean says:

      It looks to be a weird one-off price spike. According to camelcamelcamel, another edition was $50 new, ~$0 used until about a month ago. I’ve seen the same thing happen with quite a few other books on my wishlist. My guess is that the reasonable sellers are all temporarily out, and the bottom-feeders are having an algorithm war, which will last until somebody with an actual copy and a desire to sell reenters the market. Nothing particularly novel going on here. Throw a price watch on it and wait.

  38. Freddie deBoer says:

    I wrote about the involuntary commitment dosey-do and how it disincentivizes people from seeking care.

  39. Thegnskald says:

    The Increasingly Bum Deal of Power:

    Thinking about it, I have noticed something that is increasingly true in our society: All you need to get power is to ask for it. Or to take it. Rarely will anyone contest you for it.

    Those who used to seek power, those who have it, are all too willing to cede it to anyone who will take it.

    In a sense, this ties into liability, and corruption – you can’t benefit yourself much from power, and society is clamping down on those who do a little more each year. At the same time, laws regarding liability increasingly target those with power to be liable for the outcome of its use. Which all sounds good, right? That’s what we want.

    But what we don’t want is a society in which nobody takes responsibility for – nobody takes power over – anything. We don’t want a society in which those who take power, aren’t making a rational decision about taking power – we are trusting they are rational in other ways, but the key criterion is selecting out rational actors. We are weeding out the selfish, and replacing them with the insane.

    At some point in all of this, corruption becomes preferable to the alternative. And it must be extreme corruption, to counterbalance the extreme liability, the risk.

    Now, if this sounds like it is about politics to you – good! But it doesn’t stop there. It is society-wide, it is cultural. I’d guess there are fewer arguments about who needs to do the dishes, than there are arguments about who is responsible for making sure the dishes get done. A responsibility that falls on whoever decides when they need to be done.

    This extends to every facet of our society. And I think people are beginning to shunt responsibility for these things onto rules; rules for who does what and when.

    Culturally, we lack leadership. Because who wants to be a leader in today’s era, when leading is dangerous, and everybody resents the leaders for whatever benefit they may accrue from that leadership?

    There is a dangerous vacuum forming here, one which I think everybody is starting to feel. These are the conditions which give rise to something future generations will ask “How did that happen?” about.

    • valleyofthekings says:

      Have you got an example of what you mean?

      Here’s my example: I’d like to be the President. I’d like to make gerrymandering illegal, I’d like to make immigration legal for anyone who speaks English and has a job offer, and I’d like to make contraception free. I’d like to put a heavy tax on land ownership and carbon emissions.

      If I’m understanding you properly, you’re saying I should just be able to do that, right? All I need to get power is to ask for it?

      • Thegnskald says:

        I think you need to break down the steps involved a little more precisely to start to understand the issue, but the short of it is that you are describing a set of goals, not the steps necessary to achieve it, and how you would have to use your power to achieve them.

        • valleyofthekings says:

          Have you got an example of what you mean by this statement: “All you need to get power is to ask for it. Or to take it. Rarely will anyone contest you for it.”

          What is an example of a time when you wanted power and obtained it simply by asking for it?

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Yes I have exactly the same question. I truly don’t understand what you are talking about when you say one must merely ask for power. There are all kinds of things in the world I’d like to change that I can’t. I’d love to be able to just seize power somehow.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            At work, the easiest way to get something done is to do it. I end up having to answer to people later, but everyone is so responsibility-shy that “taking responsibility and running with it” is a very easy way to get shit done. Obviously if I wasted a shitload of money or something there’d be hell to pay, but in terms of small, day-to-day things, it’s really easy to get things done by simply not triangulating via appeals to authority.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I think if you are thinking about making rules, you aren’t thinking very clearly about power.

            Like, the power of a rule against gerrymandering doesn’t lay in creating the rule, it lays in enforcing and interpreting it. It seems like power to be able to create such a rule, but what you are actually doing is allocating power to someone else.

            But in daily life, it is easy to claim power. Whoever decides when the dishes need to be done has claimed power.

            In practice the majority of people I see avoid doing exactly that, and when they do claim that power, they resent having responsibility over when the dishes get done. They want to create the rules, and resent having to enforce them.

    • Matt M says:

      This was a pretty significant (and IMO under-appreciated) part of the dystopia that Ayn Rand sketched out in Atlas Shrugged. The problems in society weren’t just that evil socialists were scheming for power – it was that they schemed for power while simultaneously setting the power structure up such as to avoid any sort of responsibility or accountability for said power. Some of the major disasters we see (such as the infamous railway tunnel collapse) occur as a direct result of everyone involved being terrified to make a decision that they may be held responsible for later.

      This is one of the primary dimensions on which we distinguish the heroes from the villains, actually. Dagny and James both hold, and in a certain sense, both desire power. The difference is that she is willing to accept the responsibility for such power, while he is not. The first chapter ends on James shrieking, “But who will take responsibility?!” and Dagny calmly answering, “I will.”

      • albatross11 says:

        People who take responsibility for screw-ups often find their path upward in the organizational hierarchy/politics/etc. limited by their screwups. This selects for people who don’t offer to take such responsibility.

      • eric23 says:

        In real life, this is a common feature of capitalist corporations (for example: recent Boeing news) as much as socialist governments

        • Lambert says:

          Folks spend a lot of time arguing about capitalist and private vs socialist and public when the real principal component is big vs small.

          In a sub-dunbar setting, folks are at least acquainted with you and know the context of the screwup and what good you’ve done elsewhere.

        • Matt M says:

          The “scheming socialists” in Atlas Shrugged are hardly limited to government officials. James Taggart was (nominally, at least) the President of a private corporation! That was the whole point – the rot was omnipresent throughout the culture, not limited to “big government” or some other distant boogeyman…

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Two thoughts from experience:

      1. One way to get a (limited) amount of power is to take responsibility for stuff that needs doing, but nobody is particularly happy to do. There’s a good example of that in Pratchett’s Soul Music: Mr Clete,

      2. It will often be found preferable to be the faithful servant rather than the master – provided you’re sure to have the master’s ear at all times. Martin Bormann comes to mind.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I think most people want to be #2 – they want someone else to have the power (and thus be in the position of doing the work of using said power), but be able to tell them what to achieve.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I agree with this, and I’m trying to put together a blog series or something on it. The issue is hard to articulate, and people tend to attribute the feeling to more specific things like political strife or social media. It is more fundamental, and I think interwined with the argument that we lack a “telos.” It seems to be getting some attention, finally, by various writers, a lot of the points are so contrary to most Americans’ worldview that it can’t really get traction.

      We are weeding out the selfish, and replacing them with the insane. At some point in all of this, corruption becomes preferable to the alternative. And it must be extreme corruption, to counterbalance the extreme liability, the risk.

      This is exactly right, IMO. There’s a pendulum dynamic to this.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      We don’t want a society in which those who take power, aren’t making a rational decision about taking power – we are trusting they are rational in other ways, but the key criterion is selecting out rational actors. We are weeding out the selfish, and replacing them with the insane.


      The accumulation of power by those rationally expecting to benefit from it is a recipe for autocracy and another kind of long, slow decline. Nero represents an entirely different sort of insanity, but not one less dangerous. It’s ideologues – the insane – who possess the will to forge a culture out of an amorphous collective.

      I think I have good ideas and like being able to test them. Right now, I’m afforded the chance to do so. Why should I prefer to be under someone else’s thumb? Why should I prefer to be ruled by bureaucrats who got lucky enough to be born to the right daddy?

    • alexschernyshev says:

      Well written. I’m noticing a variant of this in many organizations I look at. A lot of systems and structures seem to be working less well since there’s nobody really responsible for anything, and the people who are supposed to be responsible are just there to vent the public / private outrage directed and them and move one somewhere else.
      I was particularly stricken by the fact that public transit seems to not work well in such diverse countries as the UK, US, Germany, and France. In contrast, in Moscow it never occurs to me to check if the Metro or the regional train lines are running – they’re ALWAYS running. A delay on the metro hits the news instantly (and it’s almost always suicide-related).
      Maybe the underlying causes are different for each country, but it strikes me that the reason public transit is running in Russia is that there’s someone who’s accountable to someone above them (to the president, mayor, head of transport ministry or whatever), but is not much accountable otherwise, e.g. not to unions (none of that silliness over here…), or shareholders, or “regulators”, or the “public”. Not saying it’s a good thing, just an observation.

    • andrewstanek says:

      I think this is _similar_ to an idea I’ve been toying with. Upfront, I want to stress that this is observational, anecdotal and philosophical and so not backed up by hard data. If you’re a believer in the concept that some sort of secular and cultural stagnation and the beginnings of the culture war can be traced back to the Hippies in the late ’60s, early ’70s this idea may help reinforce your biases.

      With the rise of the hippies in status, especially amongst the Baby Boomer generation, the core cultural value became one of subversion of the metaphorical system; the power structures extant in society. As this became the core cultural value and permeated throughout the cathedrals of politics, academics, art, media, etc. with the rise of the Boomers, it started to become the case that what was valued in each of these arenas was to subvert the prior structures of those arenas and dismantle them down. What was to replace these structures? Well, with the core cultural value being subversion for the sake of subversion, the replacement structure was just one of constant subversion and reduction. So every resultant step from a given subversive or deconstructive action was to itself be subverted ever further. As such, taking responsibility over the power structure of a given arena was to set oneself up to be subverted or deconstructed in the next round and to eventually lose status. No status can be gained by sitting atop the power structure in a given arena because that no longer conferrred status. Authority/power is inherently devalued and the structures which gave authority and power through traditional means become targets for attack. The cultural power is now held not by those atop the systems of power but by those within but below who seek to bring the top down to their level.

      Now, this could be viewed as a good thing by those whose primary wish is for equality. The realization is that a power structure is inherently defined by inequality. So if the goal is value equality, the realization is that it can’t come from bringing the bottom up. That can’t be possible due to constraints of unequal distribution of ability. However, it can be done by bringing the bottom down and toppling the power structure itself. But to fully bring down the power structure, one must convince those who would inherit the power structure that the power structure is not to be valued and what is to be valued is to subvert the power structure. This may lead to a society that is inherently more equal but also inherently more and more loosely structured as structure is removed.

      If you believe that structure in society is how society generates value, however, this will be viewed highly negatively for obvious reasons.

      • Aapje says:

        A typical part of the deconstruction narrative is the claim that the leaders didn’t and don’t have to make large sacrifices and/or that they get huge personal benefits by favoring people like them (conflating the group with the person), simply by having that position of power.

        This can then lead to the benefits of the job being dismantled as being unjust or worse, for corruption to be embraced as inevitable, where the goal becomes to help groups deemed to be oppressed (conflating the person with the group).

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Philip Howard’s Try Common Sense: Replacing the Failed Ideologies of Right and Left suggests that the source of many of our societal woes is precisely that we have divorced authority from responsibility. The duties of an office are not to make decisions and answer for their consequences, they are to punctiliously enforce a rule book that may have little connection to the “facts on the ground” — but as long as you can point to the rule book, you never suffer for that enforcement no matter how terrible the outcomes.

      In the end I was moderately convinced, despite fighting it at every step because it seemed to be arguing precisely against what I had always understood to be the essential contrast between “rule of law” vs. “rule of man”.

      I never had to decide if I was more than moderately convinced, because it was clear that the state of affairs described was unchangeable.

      • Matt M says:

        The duties of an office are not to make decisions and answer for their consequences, they are to punctiliously enforce a rule book that may have little connection to the “facts on the ground” — but as long as you can point to the rule book, you never suffer for that enforcement no matter how terrible the outcomes.

        I don’t disagree with this in principle, at all.

        But someone, somewhere, is, in fact, writing said rule book, are they not? That’s where the true power resides.

        • Plumber says:

          @Matt M says:

          “…someone, somewhere, is, in fact, writing said rule book, are they not? That’s where the true power resides”

          Only as far as people are willing and able to implement the “rules”, I’m sure you may think of examples of times when you were in government (military) employ, and in (especially large) private industry employ when “orders from above” were “interpreted” so as to be less asinine in the field.

          A lot depends on how frightened those below are of those above, how many contradictory rules there are, and just plain physical restraints.

          Mao may order frightened villages to produce “More steel than the U.S.A.”, and hunks of metal will be made while fields lie fallow, but that doesn’t mean useable steel will actually get made.

        • Viliam says:

          But someone, somewhere, is, in fact, writing said rule book, are they not?

          What if the book is a result of thousand independent edits, by thousand independent editors (each one an elected official book editor at their time), each one blaming the bad outcomes on other people’s edits. This is how e.g. the law gets made.

          Generally, if something is created by a committee, you can have everyone say “yes, I see how bad it is, and trust me I wanted to make it much better, but those others didn’t allow me to”. (And maybe they are all correct: see Moloch.)

      • Aapje says:

        @Doctor Mist

        Might that be because we have become too harsh about failure?

        Rules are often used as a shield, to deflect blame, although it also deflects praise. So in a context where blame is more powerful than praise and/or blame is treated as a severe personal failing that is done for evil reasons, rather than a best effort by a fallible person, it makes sense to use rules to deflect both.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          People are risk-averse, to be sure. The picture Howard was trying to promote as a goal, I think, was a world in which the inherent benefits of natural selection and free enterprise are imbued in the public sector: if you want to be a part of the solution, then be a part of the solution, and stand or fall on whether you make the right decisions. If you don’t want to take the responsibility, then make way for someone who is.

    • Emby says:

      It’s certainly not true of one sort of power – that is, the power to influence. Everybody on the planet wants to be an influencer – that is, to write things on the internet (or make youtubes), say some things, and have everybody agree that what you say is true, important, and something should be done about it.

      And then, possibly, pass off the responsibility for actually doing something about it to other people…

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      I’m seeing the opposite trend re:power-seeking. People might be avoiding responsibility, but the fastest way to do it is to use the power you have to make someone else responsible for your failures or more generally shield yourself from being held personally accountable. Why give up any power then?

      Since merely asserting the opposite won’t be helpful, let me cite examples:

      – Politicians: Both Canada’s and the US’s current political leaderships have been embroiled in corruption scandals, but have suffered no legal consequences (and Trudeau was re-elected, so not much political consequences either).
      – Appointees: James Clapper (lied to congress, no consequences), Michael Chertoff and Rapiscan Systems, as a more general example of “revolving door”.
      – Cops: Qualified immunity is about as powerful as ever. This means the taxpayers are on the hook for civil suits.
      – Private sector: golden parachutes and generally one-way performance-tied compensation generally shield CEOs from the worst outcomes. Lloyd’s has gone from entirely unlimited-liability partners in 1993 to 98% limited-liability corporations in 2014.

      • gleamingecho says:

        – Cops: Qualified immunity is about as powerful as ever. This means the taxpayers are on the hook for civil suits.

        Care to elaborate on this point?

        • Christophe Biocca says:

          Since I’m not sure which kind of elaboration you’re looking for, three parts:

          == What is qualified immunity? ==

          It’s essentially a protection granted to government officials against personally being sued for what they do in their line of work under certain circumstances. It developed as a judicial doctrine over second half of the 20th century. Its current interpretation, as of Harlow v. Fitzgerald, is that:

          [G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.

          == Why am I saying that it is powerful? ==

          “Clearly established statutory or constitutional rights” is extremely difficult to prove. In practice, minor differences are sufficient to give the defendant qualified immunity.

          Corbitt v. Vickers is probably the most extreme example:

          No case capable of clearly establishing the law for this case holds that a temporarily seized person—as was [the child] in this case—suffers a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights when an officer shoots at a dog—or any other object—and accidentally hits the person.

          == Why am I saying that taxpayers are on the hook? ==

          So that one’s a bit complicated, but basically lawsuits directly against cities do not have to prove the right being violated was clearly established. This means cities are often the ones who pay out in these kinds of incidents.

          There’s confounding factors too:

          1. The civil rights violation has to be traced back to an policy or established practice.
          2. The two lawsuits are not mutually exclusive, so plaintiffs would probably not stop trying to sue cities even if cops were more personally liable.
          3. Most cities will indemnify their officers even if they’re found personally liable by the courts. Which is evidence against “qualified immunity puts taxpayers on the hooks”, but evidence for the general pattern of shielding cops from personal responsibility.

      • Aapje says:

        @Christophe Biocca

        You can have the paradoxical situation where people are more harshly attacked for their mistakes, which causes them to cover their ass in ways that actually makes them less accountable than if we would accept mistakes or ‘best effort’ more.

        • Christophe Biocca says:

          Maybe? This all seems very wishy-washy. Do you have examples, not of people being less competent (which can happen for all sorts of unrelated reasons), but of people being subject to more accountability than before and therefore choosing to give up on power?

    • Aapje says:


      This is a major issue in The Netherlands. Members of the Dutch House of Representatives had half as much experience on the job in 2012 as in 2004. At the start of the new term of 2012, the average experience was 3.8 years, less than a term.

      The compensation has been going down and Representatives are attacked for taking compensation that they are legally entitled to. It is also very hard for them to find jobs afterwards, with business mostly not seeing their experience as valuable. The exception, politicians with executive experience, are attacked when they take industry jobs.

      In my opinion the quality of Representatives has been going down a lot. The heavy criticism of politicians is not actually improving their quality, but rather, causing a more rapid replacement of one shitty politician by another. Their brief stints causes them to mostly focus on posturing/signalling.

      Yet I understand why it happens, because I see little incentive for a capable person to go into politics. The people who do seem to mostly be naive and they logically go looking for an exit strategy as soon as they figure out that they swam into a trap.

      • Christophe Biocca says:

        Alternate explanations:

        – Voters flat out favor inexperienced politicians because their record looks better (this has been argued to be a real dynamic in the US in the last decade).
        – Large voter swings will inherently result in less experienced politicians sitting on the benches, as the newly elected will often have no prior experience, and those close to retirement will often pick a downturn in their party’s fortunes to quit politics (instead of spending years on the sidelines).

        I don’t know enough about Netherlands politics to know how much each factor contributes, but I find the idea that criticism is enough to make politicians quit puzzling.

        • Aapje says:

          Larger voter swings is definitely a reason, but you see a lot more quitting between elections and people who choose not to run for another term.

          I find the idea that criticism is enough to make politicians quit puzzling.

          If the criticism demands perfection, then in an imperfect world you can’t actually achieve anything and get applause, since every imperfection means you failed.

          The logical result is that the politicians that do stick around retreat to posturing about details, like complaining that sympathetic Jane didn’t get her mobility scooter in time or that Mary defrauded the system, rather than address the system as a whole. The result is:
          – seesawing politicians that are collectively outraged at the strictness of the system at one point in time, but collectively outraged at fraud at another point in time
          – inconsistent demands by politicians, like: sympathetic cases should get lots of stuff easily, but fraud should never happen. This ignores that there is a trade off between the two and that you cannot achieve perfection in both.

          Then bureaucrats get impossible demands, inevitably resulting in a failed system. In the case of seesawing politicians, bureaucrats deliver what was asked, like a system that gives out stuff easily and makes fraud easy & then get chewed out for enabling fraud. Then they change the system to be very hard on fraud and they get chewed out for withholding stuff from deserving people.

          In the case of concurrent impossible demands, the bureaucrats will fail too, of course.

          In both cases, politics fails at actually delivering what they tell the voters they can have, which causes voters to get angry. Yet if politicians who openly debate the trade offs and who tell voters that certain things are impossible get criticized for that even more than the lying/delusional politicians, then sane politics loses out to lying/delusional politicians.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        There’s a similar dynamic in the UK as well. MPs generally get less compensation and public respect than they could in other jobs, with the result that Parliament is increasingly being filled with career politicians for whom working for their party is their full-time job.

        The compensation has been going down and Representatives are attacked for taking compensation that they are legally entitled to.

        Again, a similar thing happened over here. Because raising MPs’ pay was seen as politically undesirable, MPs were encouraged to claim a lot on expenses instead, basically using their expense claims as an additional source of income to compensate for the fact that they hadn’t had a pay rise in years. When news of this got out, people were outraged, and an independent body was set up to regulate MPs’ expense claims and pay more tightly. When this same body recommended a pay increase, public opinion was, once again, outraged.

        • Aapje says:

          You can have a downward spiral where politicians are deemed to not be worth a better salary, which causes the quality of politicians to drop, which in turn makes voters see politicians as being even less worth a better salary.

    • AG says:

      Why are coops so rare? If worker-owned businesses are so much better than traditional businesses, why aren’t they more common?
      Recently, in 2015, Saioa Arando, Monica Gago, Derek C. Jones, and Takao Kato published a research paper that may start to answer some of these questions. In this paper, the authors ask a simple question of their own: are worker-owners happy in their jobs?

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        For any talk about “wage slavery”, it’s worth remembering that being “just an employee” makes it perfectly possible to put in your time, collect your pay and not give a damn beyond that.

        Figuring out how to make your paycheck is your boss’s job.

  40. andrewflicker says:

    A few open threads back I asked advice for some spare time in Manhattan- I ended up going to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum after all. Except for their offensive non-use of the Oxford comma, I had a good time. A few highlights:

    The museum can really be thought of as 1 primary museum/meta-exhibit, and 3 smaller associated displays. The big one is, of course, the carrier Intrepid itself. Most of the exhibits I enjoyed the most were part of this, which is largely concentrated on the hanger deck, with smaller exhibits on the third deck, the fo’c’sle, the island/tower, and a few other tiny spots (like the fantail). Unexpectedly, they had a really great section on cooking aboard the carrier, especially on the various cakes (both routine and commemorative) made. They had stuff like an original stand mixer set up with all of the regulation ingredients necessary to make the 3000-serving chocolate cake piled around it, along with the posted recipe. Also had a cute story and photograph of one of the captain’s getting deeply surprised when presented with a cake that had classified information frosted on it (the ship they were tracking and following’s name and callsign).

    I sprung for the audio tour, as well as a “simulator” pass that let you onto one of a couple of VR/simulated flight kind of things. The simulator was crap- 1990s era stationary roller-coaster kind of thing. But the audio tour was probably a good value for it’s cost. Like all audio tours I’ve done, their value comes mostly from veterans and others of the actual times under exhibit telling stories in their own words. Surprise appearance from Colin Powell in part of the recordings- I kept waiting for John McCain to show up.

    Most of the hanger deck was organized by the eras in which the ship served- the Vietnam War section was probably the most comprehensive, and had interesting pieces related to a kamikaze strike that killed several of the crew (and the story of Alonzo Swann’s medal), as well as walkthroughs of various operations the carrier took part in. Good stuff as well about post-war service, such as it’s work recovering orbital capsules. As usual for any sort of museum, they had a lot of good human interest pieces on living aboard ship, focusing on a small group of people that they followed throughout multiple areas, so that they were more easily humanized. I do wish more of the ship were open to the public- you were really glassed off from quite a lot, and for safety reasons a fair bit of the ship couldn’t be traversed. I had hoped, for instance, to try and lie down in crew berthing to get a feeling for the cramped space and swinging hammock-cots (I’m 6’4″), but you can only check them out through glass. You can sit in the gunner’s seats for all of the various AA guns, though!

    The tower was very cool, with most of the original furniture and equipment, notes taken during fleet operations when it served as a flagship, and so on. Also had a couple of great old guides answering questions and telling stories. This probably would have been one of my favorite sections, but it’s so popular that they run everyone through one-way, at a pretty good clip, so you can’t really wander and backtrack and linger over something cool except for in a very few spots.

    The flight deck itself has some exhibits about the carrier itself, but mostly it’s the 1st of the 3 “smaller museums” – an absolute panoply of aircraft to check out. Every type of plane that ever served on the Intrepid, of course, but also a MiG-17 and a MiG-21 (painted in North Vietnamese colors, though they were actually Polish), an Israeli fighter, an Italian aerobatics plane, and various test jets (including a Lockheed A-12, which was a cool surprise). Several helicopters as well, mostly focused on it’s later service in rescue or recovery.

    The 2nd of the 3 smaller areas was the “space” part of the museum- a big pavilion containing the Enterprise space shuttle, and a bunch of exhibits related to the space shuttle program and related NASA work. Initially I was extremely excited about this area, but you can’t get into the Enterprise at all, not even in a recreated space or anything. They didn’t even have pictures of the interior! Kind of a crazy mistake, in my opinion. The coolest part of this whole area was an honest-to-god soyuz capsule that had carried Greg Olsen back to Earth on his space-tourism trip. *That*, at least, they let you look into!

    The last of the 3 supplementary areas was the most significant- the USS Growler, of the short-lived Grayback-class submarines. They had a full Regulus cruise missile shell in launching position on top, as well, which really gave a good idea of how gigantic those missiles were compared to the relatively diminutive sub. This was another “one-way through-and-through” like the carrier island, but much longer and with lots of good spots to stop and check things out. (I only pissed off one crazy lady!) They do let you try and lay down in a bunk here (I had to lie sideways with bent knees- guess there was a reason that Navy recruiter told me I’d be restricted from sub duty if I went into the nuclear program), and lots of original equipment is still in place- you could even walk into one of the showers. They really drove home the Cold War “we could all die at any moment” feel, too, in the tenor of the various recordings and readings. Not a long tour on the sub, but definitely worth checking out if you’re there for the Intrepid already!

    Overall I had a great time aboard, and took a ton of photos. Probably try and take my dad out there some time- I think he’d really get a kick out of it (his dad was a Navy cook, and my brother was Air Force). Afterwards I ended up having a few pints at the Landmark tavern across the way, which had a great barman and a very down-to-earth feel for an Irish pub across the street from a gigantic tourist hotspot. Spent the rest of the day (until I met up with my wife) walking around Manhattan- checking out the cathedrals, watching ice skaters at the Rockefeller Center, that sort of thing. Not a bad day!

    • bean says:

      Sounds very cool. Thanks for sharing that, and it’s bumped Intrepid up my list somewhat. (Of course, still not a battleship…)

      I will say that your description of Enterprise mirrors the setup of Endeavour in LA, although that’s somewhat temporary, as they’re planning to turn her (Endeavour) vertical and mate her to an ET and SRBs. Not sure what the plan is for Enterprise.

    • gbdub says:

      I’ve not been to Intrepid, but I’ve been on the Midway in San Diego. Sounds fairly similar, with a couple of differences – the “supplementary” museums are less (no space shuttle, and less variety of the aircraft), but I think the aircraft carrier part is better – very little glass, and more areas open (you could definitely climb into bunks). Very good and worth a few hours either way.

      • bean says:

        Glass is a perennial plague in the museum ship world. The only place I’ve seen it done well is Nautilus, and that was a submarine with lots of visitors and a much better display setup than I’ve seen basically anywhere else. I can’t speak to Midway’s audio tour, and the aircraft setup definitely sounds less impressive, but a lot of the ship was open, and it was overall a great experience.

  41. jermo sapiens says:

    Question for @Conrad Honcho specifically. In 147.75 you suggested I was being combative and would probably be banned soon. I’m just curious to know what I said that made you think that. I’m posting here because 147.75 is pretty much over and I dont expect you to see it if I were to post there. If this topic is too CW-y, we can move over to 147.75. FTR, I try to argue my points with conviction, but I always try to treat others respectfully.

    Also, thanks to @broblawsky for his comment to the effect that my behavior was not ban-worthy.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      First, it’s possible I’m gunshy after being banned myself. I generally agree with the thrust of your points and would prefer you not be banned.

      My impression of your posts, though, is that they are combative, and emotional. I certainly do not claim to know the Mind of Scott, but if I opened up an OT and it said “the following posters are banned” and your name were on it, I would be sad, but I would not be surprised. I was trying to give you a little warning to tone down the certainty about how evil the outgroup is is all.

      Edit: and keep in mind, it is official policy that right-wingers do not get the benefit of the doubt afforded to left-wing posters.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        First, it’s possible I’m gunshy after being banned myself. I generally agree with the thrust of your points and would prefer you not be banned.

        I understand.

        My impression of your posts, though, is that they are combative, and emotional.

        Duly noted. I will try and improve on that point.

        I was trying to give you a little warning to tone down the certainty about how evil the outgroup is is all.

        Yes I think this is where my weakness is, but the outgroup here is the establishment in Washington DC, not any of my fellow posters on SSC.

        Edit: and keep in mind, it is official policy that right-wingers do not get the benefit of the doubt afforded to left-wing posters.

        LOL, ironically, this the point of my posts in 147.75, but in regards to criminal convictions, not SSC bans. Anyhow, I appreciate your concern and your warning. I did miss you while you were gone, and I hope to be around for a while yet.

      • Plumber says:

        @Conrad Honcho says:

        “First, it’s possible I’m gunshy after being banned myself. I generally agree with the thrust of your points and would prefer you not be banned…”

        Well, I see a big difference between you and @jermo sapiens, when you say “This is why I vote for [person]” I can follow the reasoning you list, while when @jermo sapiens says “This is why people vote for [person]” I see links to obscure (to me) stuff that I have to do so many web-searches to suss out who any of these people are that I quickly lose patience and write it off as just him saying “the [his outgroup] is bad again” (though I did enjoy his description of the self-flagellation that his fellow Canadian lawyers make themselves endure).

        My guess is more folks report your posts to our host @Conrad Honcho because you’re more clear (enough that I can usually follow the arguments) while @jermo sapiens references people and incidents that I’ve never heard of (or my response is “How exactly does this incidence in the U.K. relate to matters in North America?”), so perhaps you’re banned because your effective, while his arguments only work for those who already heard about [whatever]?

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Thanks for the criticism. I will keep it in mind for future posts.

          (though I did enjoy his description of the self-flagellation that his fellow Canadian lawyers make themselves endure).

          Can you refresh my memory I forget what that was about?

    • Aftagley says:

      While we’re sending messages to Conrad Honcho – in the last thread I said we’d previously had a discussion about something, you said we hadn’t. I went back through prior threads over the weekend and it ended up that you were correct – I’d had that discussion with someone I was mentally conflating with you.

      My apologies.

    • broblawsky says:

      You’re welcome.

  42. PhaedrusV says:

    My Dad’s book about how particle physics (Copenhagen interpretation) actually matches up surprisingly well to the biblical creation story in Genesis 1. I’m an atheist but it was still a very interesting read. My dad did about a decade of research into geography, biology, physics, and computation prior to writing Quantum Genesis, and he came to some very interesting conclusions by stripping out the natural world assumption and just looking at what the science said.

    From my perspective it seems like great support for the “world is simulation” theory. From his perspective, the ‘world is simulation’ theory is about right, if one calls the simulator builder “God”.

    He started the project to try and show scientifically-minded, intelligent Christian high-school seniors that the supposed incompatibility of science and Christianity arises from scientific assumptions, not from the actual science, and hopefully give them some depth of understanding that could see them through a scientific college curriculum with their beliefs and curiosity both intact.

    Another major highlight is that he found a pretty reasonable explanation for the Young Earth Creationist 6000-yr estimate as it compares to the geological age of the earth. After doing the research he is of the opinion that the schism is based on old, Newtonian physics and that modern physics eliminates the disagreement entirely.

    Anyways, check it out, and maybe if the textbook-length treatment of the intersection between quantum physics and Christian apologetics sells a billion copies then I can fight my siblings for whatever my folks don’t spend in retirement.

    My dad would love to answer any questions or feedback on his facebook page. He really (really REALLY) wants to discuss this with people.

    Amazon Link

  43. silver_swift says:

    How mainstream is knowledge of Stanislav Petrov?

    [Slight spoilers] In Skyward and it’s sequel Starsight, the main character’s grandmother tells stories of the heroes of old earth, which include people like Leif Eriksson, Sun Tzu, Mulan and ‘Conan the Cimmerian’. As of Starsight, that list now also includes Stanislav, “The hero of the almost-war”.

    The story is part of what is actually a pretty cool speech about the virtue of knowing when to disobey orders, but I always thought Stanislav Petrov was mostly a LW/rationality community specific bit of trivia so I was kind of surprised by his mention. Am I underestimating how famous Stanislav Petrov is with normal people or is Brandon Sanderson just more in touch with the rationalitysphere than I thought?

    • silver_swift says:

      Also, since I haven’t tried selling anyone on Skyward in the past five minutes I should probably mention that it is an amazing book and you should all read it, even if you typically aren’t much of a Sanderson fan.

      It’s a YA Sci-fi series that is relatively low on drama, reads really quickly and has a few very cool twists. It’s not particularly hard sci-fi in the sense that you have magical FTL travel, forcefield shielding, combat that happens at ranges where you can see your enemies, human level AGI that somehow hasn’t taken over the universe and aliens that are essentially just funny looking humans, but it makes at least token nods to realism in things like the difference between dog-fighting in space vs. in atmosphere, sounds not existing in a vacuum, G-forces being a limiting factor in how fast ships can accelerate etc.

      Primarily though, it’s just really fun and cute and exciting and I read through the whole second book in two sittings.

    • Matt M says:

      I’d guess that a decent amount of people have heard the story at least once, but very few could place the name without appropriate context (a group that included myself, apparently)

    • Loriot says:

      The name didn’t ring a bell, but after your mention of disobeying orders, I’m going to guess that he was the soviet officer who averted nuclear war.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’ve heard of him often enough to place the name immediately, but I used to travel in arms-control circles pretty regularly. I don’t think there’s much broad name recognition there.

      I do think his alleged heroism is greatly overrated; the odds that he did any real good are slim. Having him named-dropped in such a context would take me annoyingly out of the story and into “Author’s got a Message” territory.

      • Cliff says:

        You disagree with the Wikipedia article, then? Not reporting an incoming missile strike to higher-ups was not a real good?

        • bean says:

          Not John, but my guess on this is that Petrov reporting would have just lead to the superiors going “of course they wouldn’t launch an attack from one field, we won’t either”.

        • John Schilling says:

          Not reporting an incoming missile strike to higher-ups was not a real good?

          The most likely outcome is that nothing happens but that nothing would have happened if the report had been made. No change, so no good (or bad). As bean notes, generals are not mindless warmongers just waiting for the one red light on the status board that gives them permission to go apocalyptically ballistic.

          The second most likely outcome is that the Kremlin henceforth looks at the green light saying “satellites have not detected any missile launches” and doesn’t trust it because you never know when some wannabe dogooder is fucking with the signal. Increased risk of nuclear war because you no longer have that credible green light to counter a red light that might show up elsewhere on the status board.

          The third most likely outcome is that he prevents some panicky idiot in the Kremlin from launching a nuclear war because of one red light on the board.

          Depending on how those relative probabilities are weighted, maybe Petrov did the right thing. His superiors, who are in a better position to know, seem to have thought it was an OK thing because the system was new and glitchy – but then, that’s what Kermit Tyler thought. The sort of hagiography that has him lauded without question or reservation as the “hero of the almost-war” is almost to annoying to bear.

          • Matt M says:

            The third most likely outcome is that he prevents some panicky idiot in the Kremlin from launching a nuclear war because of one red light on the board.

            Ah, but getting into expected value and all, even if the probability of Petrov having personally prevented nuclear war was like, 1%, if we assume nuclear war would kill at least 1 million people (probably higher, but let’s be conservative), then Petrov personally saved at least 10,000 lives, right? Law of large numbers and all that?

            Not many in history have a record comparable to that!

          • silver_swift says:

            @Matt M

            I think Johns point is that the second most likely outcome averages out to killing more people than the third most likely outcome saves.

            I don’t know enough about cold war mentality on the soviet end to know whether that is true, but it doesn’t seem completely unreasonable.

          • An Fírinne says:

            I think your underestimating the level of paranoia involved. Which is easy to do when you didn’t live during the Cold War.

          • Eric Rall says:

            Did Petrov have the option of picking up a phone and telling someone above him in the chain of command that his radar has alerted a possible launch, along with an explanation of why he believes it to be a computer error? Or were his options limited to a one-bit signal which decides whether a light on the status board is green or red?

          • John Schilling says:

            Which is easy to do when you didn’t live during the Cold War.

            Who are you speaking to here?

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Eric Rall:

            Did Petrov have the option of picking up a phone and telling someone above him in the chain of command that his radar has alerted a possible launch

            I don’t know the specifics in this case; but, generally speaking, probably not. Soviet command hierarchies just didn’t work that way. Covering your ass was 100x more important than anything else, and any disobedience was seen as disloyalty. Petrov deserves praise not just for refusing to output a “1” instead of a “0”, but also for voluntarily giving up his life to do so — the fact that he did physically survive is an anomaly, IMO.

    • Randy M says:

      I know the name, mostly because this circle (rationalist sites, XKCD, TV tropes, that kind of thing) tend to mention him periodically. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reference in person or in print.
      It makes me wonder if the story is coded a certain way. It’s kind of an anti-authority parable, though it could have gone the other way if someone else were in charge.
      To John’s point, a great many historical figures probably have their significance exaggerated. This particular myth seems fairly benign.

      • All the Important People probably had little effect in the long run. But every community needs its heroes.

      • silver_swift says:

        It makes me wonder if the story is coded a certain way. It’s kind of an anti-authority parable.

        The parable is told to a side character whose primary story arc is learning that sometimes it’s ok to break the rules/deviate from procedure, but the main reason that character exist is to provide a contrast to the main character, who is kind of big on defying authority and has to learn that sometimes the rules are there for a reason and the people making them aren’t always complete morons or out to get you.

        If the book has a point it’s trying to make, it’s more along the lines of ‘Try to understand the people you consider enemies, because often what you thought was evil is just mutual fear and misunderstandings.’ than anything to do with authority.

    • Jake R says:

      I was pretty sure I knew who he was from the name and context confirmed. I think I first heard of him in this 2010 cracked article.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      I always thought Stanislav Petrov was mostly a LW/rationality community specific bit of trivia

      I’d say it’s more of a nerdy bit of trivia than something specific to LW/Rationalists. I’ve encountered his name often enough to know it instantly and my only connection to LW/R is this blog.

      I even know his face from a documentary (about Able Archer 83 IIRC), that seemed to be very much a popular-history-as-made-for-TV kind of affair. I wouldn’t venture to say how well-known Petrov is to the population at large, but he’s not exactly completely obscure either.

      Also, because nobody else has linked it yet, obligatory xkcd.

      • silver_swift says:

        Also, because nobody else has linked it yet, obligatory xkcd.

        Ok, well that kind of settles it then. XKCD is far enough outside the LW community that for it to appear there it has to be it has to be at least somewhat mainstream (albeit nerdy) trivia.

    • Spookykou says:

      I was able to get a free copy of Skyward as an audio book and found it to be just, absolutely horrible. It is to date my only experience with Sanderson who seems to get a lot of praise. Is the book representative of their other works?

      • silver_swift says:

        Depends on what you didn’t like about it.

        Skyward is, I think, the least representative of Sandersons works (in that it is much more YA than his usual high fantasy style), but it’s still very much recognizably a Brandon Sanderson book. If you didn’t like the writing style or the worldbuilding, then yeah, that is the same in all his books.

        If your complaint was just that you found Spensa’s personality annoying or that you would have liked somewhat more mature characters then you should be fine as long as you stay away from Edgedancer.

    • Fitzroy says:

      I think it’s reasonably well known – I recall BBC news articles about him, and I can think of at least one friend, not rationalism-adjacent who celebrates both Stanislav Petrov and Vasily Arkhipov (arguably an even better candidate for “hero of the almost-war”).

  44. Bobobob says:

    I’m not as well versed in economics and utlitarianism as other people in SSC, so I’d like to ask a fairly basic question. There is a coffee-table-type book I would like to buy. It costs $40 on Amazon. It would cost $60 (plus tax) at a bricks-and-mortar bookstore.

    People are always saying to me, “you should support real bookstores, otherwise they’re going to go away.” But I’m not sure if my support, in this case, is worth an extra $20. Also, I didn’t originally find out about this book at a real bookstore; rather, I read a review in The New York Review of Books. So it’s not as if I found a book I liked in a bookstore, walked out into the street, and ordered it on Amazon on my phone.

    Is there any truth to the premise that independent bookstores should be supported this way? In any case, how much of my purchase price would go to the bookstore, rather than the publisher? And, in the worst case, what is the argument against independent bookstores going away entirely and everyone finding their books online (or at used bookstores?)

    • silver_swift says:

      You should support real bookstores, otherwise they’re going to go away.

      This is true, as far as I can tell. Brick and mortar bookstores, if you view them as just offering the service of giving you books in exchange for money, are just tremendously less cost-efficient than Amazon. Which means that, all else being equal, they are going to get outcompeted.

      If you want all else to not be equal, one straightforward way of doing that is to buy things at physical stores over Amazon, even if the latter is cheaper.

      what is the argument against independent bookstores going away entirely and everyone finding their books online?

      I think it’s mostly just the fact that people like small localized physical stores and dislike huge faceless online multinationals.

      There are a few moderately decent arguments for why you want a bunch of smaller companies rather than a few large companies and some (imo slightly more sketchy) arguments for why you want localized companies rather than global companies, but in practice I think it mostly comes down to it being nice to be able to physically walk into a store where you feel like you’re treated as a person, rather than as an exploitable resource.

      Whether that is worth a 50% increase in price is up to your personal preferences and your financial situation. I personally think grocery stores are relics that are not worth keeping around after they get outcompeted by supermarkets, but I really, really like bookstores and I am willing to pay a significant premium (both in terms of money and convenience) to keep them around.

      • andrewflicker says:

        In your use of the lingo, is “Supermarket” here just “Big grocery store that sells some basic household goods on the side”? Ie, my local Albertsons, or the Safeway down the street, or the Fry’s Food a block past that, are all technically supermarkets, even though they are often colloquially referred to as grocery stores?

        • silver_swift says:

          That’s a language thing, I guess? I’m not actually from the US.

          In Dutch I would use the word supermarket (supermarkt) to refer to any store that aims to sell you everything you want in your of your day to day shopping trips, as opposed to shops that specialize in one particular class of items (eg. butchers, bakers, vegetable shops).

          • JayT says:

            In the US, “supermarket” and “grocery store” are interchangeable nowadays, since there are hardly any traditional grocery stores left.

            I completely disagree on the grocery store vs bookstore though. There isn’t any item a bookstore will sell that Amazon won’t, but there are many different items that a specialized grocer will sell that a supermarket won’t. In terms of actual items you can buy, there;’s definitely a place for grocers, not so much for bookstores.

          • silver_swift says:


            Ah, thanks for the clarification.

            There isn’t any item a bookstore will sell that Amazon won’t

            The “product” I’m willing to pay for here is the ability to wander through a physical bookstore and pull random books of a shelf. Browsing a website just doesn’t have the same feeling.

            To be clear, I realize that this is an entirely subjective judgement, but I care much more about that experience than having some specialty foods available (that I then have to go out of my way to get anyway).

          • Plumber says:


            +1 so very much!

          • JayT says:

            And I would trade every single physical bookstore in the world for one shop that has 40 different kinds of mushrooms, because one actually has a productI can’t get elsewhere. As soon as I can reliably get that online, that shop can close too. 😉

          • The “product” I’m willing to pay for here is the ability to wander through a physical bookstore and pull random books of a shelf.

            If that is valuable to many people, couldn’t a bookstore charge Amazon prices and support itself by charging per hour for customers wandering around rather than by selling books?

          • helloo says:

            Isn’t that a library?

          • JayT says:

            That was basically the thinking behind putting cafes in all the bookstores, right?

          • Aapje says:

            @silver_swift & JayT

            In The Netherlands, grocery store (‘kruidenier’) is only used for stores that are somewhat similar to the old grocers, selling medicine that doesn’t require a prescription, cosmetics and such. However, the modern ones also tend to sell other things like candy. One store, Kruidvat, was known for selling cheap classic CDs and books, at one point.

            There are Eastern/Suriname supermarkets that are typically called ‘toko’ (Malay for shop), or at least by white people (perhaps Eastern/Suriname just call it a supermarket, since they get way more of their shopping from it).

            Other intermediate shops, like discount stores with a very changeable assortment typically get called by their name.

          • JayT says:

            The closest thing the US has to what you are describing is our Pharmacies. They have all that stuff, plus actual prescription drugs. We also have mini marts, but those are like a 7-11, which focus on snacks, drinks, and a small selection of toiletries.

          • Eric Rall says:

            My understanding is that in the US at least, “grocery store” used to refer to a smaller store that specializes in fresh fruits and vegetables. Since those have largely gone away in favor of supermarkets, the latter are imprecisely termed “grocery stores” so often that “grocery” and “supermarket” are seen as almost synonyms. Old-style groceries do still exist, but as specialty stores, and they’re more often called something like “produce markets” or “health food stores”. I think the British use the term “greengrocer” as well.

            The “super” in supermarket originally referred to the combination of various separate genres food-for-home-preparation sellers into a single store, combining the greengrocer (fresh fruits and vegetables), butcher (fresh meat), deli (cured or otherwise prepared meat), dairy/milkman (milk products and eggs), and dry good store (raw dried beans and grains, canned goods, and other nonperishables). Of those categories, I think delis and butchers are the categories that most commonly survive as specialty stores, generally selling a wider variety of up-market options than most supermarkets, and in the case of delis, often doubling as sandwich shops.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Grocery stores were outcompeted so hard, you have no idea what they were. The term “supermarket” was invented to mean self-serve.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I was happy to buy from Amazon, and didn’t worry about them taking over, as long as I naively expected they’d keep doing what they were doing, except maybe raise prices.

        Then they “improved” their search to give me “sponsored content” ahead of what I’d requested, just as Apple’s App Store does on iOS. (For the record, I don’t know which abusive semi-monopoly did this first.) And that was the end of their main value to me – I could no longer conveniently get whatever I wanted.

        Price was always secondary to convenience for me – since I always could have gotten at least 50% of my Amazon puchases for free from a library.

    • PhaedrusV says:

      Whether or not independent stores selling things you can buy for cheaper on Amazon “should” be supported is a question of whether people find value. Here’s one economist’s inputs:

      1. Value is entirely subjective, so each person’s answer as to which stores are worth the premium will vary. The answer in the case of any individual store is going to be the sum of all people who value the store enough to pay the “physical premium”, and whether those people are enough to stay in business.

      2. As far as purchase price percentage to the store, my understanding is that for retail items the store usually collects about 40% of the MSRP, less sales. This can vary significantly based on sales volume (grocery stores are much lower [as in, low single-digits], but make it up on volume. Jewelry stores are higher). Inventory costs and extreme shipping costs obviously have impact too. I have no idea what Amazon’s markup is, but I’m guessing for most light items it’s close to the grocery store numbers.

      3. As far as the argument against bookstores going away entirely, there’s only one really good one I can think of: accidental findings. Amazon’s algorithms are great at recommending me to go read the Lightbringer series after I finish “Perfect Shadow”, and OK at recommending that I go read Brandon Sanderson, but terrible at suspecting that I might like to go read “Shogun” or “Human Action” or “The Story of Philosophy”. Obviously one can browse sections one hasn’t already purchased books from, but I generally find way more books that I love that were unlike anything I’d ever read before in physical bookstores.

      3b. If you extend your question to stores in general, instead of just bookstores, I think there’s a few areas where brick-and-mortar beats online. First, some things need to be felt, tried on, or otherwise examined closely due to quality variation. Clothes and shoes are obvious examples. I know companies are doing online orders for those things, but I’ll be curious to see whether those are profitable after the VC-funded money burns dry up. Second, anything I need now and not in 2 days, like the one bolt to finish my project, or a cell charger, or a gallon of milk. Third, poor algorithms and algorithmically-enforced groupthink/echo chambers, as discussed in 3. Fourth, aesthetic appreciation of small stores (but this doesn’t seem to be translating into consistent dollars in the real world outside of tourist destinations). Fifth, areas where quality varies significantly, like handmade goods or used items.

      Thanks for the prompt, that was fun to think about.

    • Aapje says:

      Is there any truth to the premise that independent bookstores should be supported this way?

      It’s absolutely true that if too few people shop at (independent) bookstores, they won’t be profitable and will disappear.

      In any case, how much of my purchase price would go to the bookstore, rather than the publisher?

      According to this, bookstores need a 40% margin to be profitable. So your entire premium probably goes to the bookstore.

      And, in the worst case, what is the argument against independent bookstores going away entirely and everyone finding their books online (or at used bookstores?)

      Inner cities/towns die out, jobs may become shittier, people interact with other people less and go out less, there is less opportunity for serendipity (both of the book kind and of the people kind), people with poor computer skills are shut out, etc.

      Anyway, I personally think that physical bookstores are an anachronism in a world with so much diversity. You can’t have a business that depends on people mostly having the same taste, in a world where people increasingly don’t have the same taste.

    • J Mann says:

      in the worst case, what is the argument against independent bookstores going away entirely and everyone finding their books online (or at used bookstores?)

      I think that proponents of independent bookstores would argue they provide a bunch of benefits. Steelmanning, those might include

      – A spot for physical interaction with booksellers, other readers, public readings and book signings by authors, etc.
      – A place where a specific person can recommend books, thereby possibly signal-boosting worthwhile books that get buried in an on-line marketplace.
      – The physical bookstores provide more employment than the online stores, and possibly more fulfilling employment, since the job involves more direct interaction with readers.
      – At a personal level, if the speaker is someone who enjoys physical bookstores, it’s in their interest to have you subsidize the experience by buying books there. In fairness, they probably believe it would benefit you to do so for the reasons above.

      I’ve probably missed a couple and am not personally convinced, but that’s how I think the argument runs.

    • John Schilling says:

      And, in the worst case, what is the argument against independent bookstores going away entirely and everyone finding their books online

      Finding books online means literally judging a book by its cover, or having it judged for me by an algorithm, or trying to dig through lots of poorly-written amateur mini-reviews. In a bookstore, I can sit in the cafe, read a few chapters, and then decide.

      • andrewflicker says:

        A fair number of books are starting to allow for reading the first chapter online free- that helps, but not great if it means you have to read on a monitor instead of your preferred Kindle or whatever. At least in the bookstore, you’re “trying it out” in the final desired format.

        • John Schilling says:

          Also, it’s not necessarily the first chapter that I want to read, and that’s likely to become even more so if authors know that potential buyers will be using only the first chapter to make that decision.

          • Bobobob says:

            I love the idea of “Potemkin chapters.” That would be a great business opportunity for an enterprising freelance writer.

        • LHN says:

          Kindle books usually have a free sample that can be sent to your Kindle. That said, it is the beginning of the book, which raises the issues John mentions, and sometimes worse: I’ve run into scholarly works and classics where the sample contains only the introduction or preface written by someone other than the author.

    • Plumber says:

      1) I like to check out the physical obisect before spending my money. 

      2) I hate using credit cards, especially wirh”on-line” purchases, I very much still use cash.

      3) I don’t want to wair for it to arrive in my doorstep (where someone may “liberate” it.

      4) I like to browse the shelves,  while prolonged clicking at Amazon gives me a headache. 

      5) I really hate that it’s harder to get things other than books (electronic repair parts, replacement razor parts, etc.) off the shelf now because they can’t compete with Amazon, if I had to choose between “no Amazon” and getting Radio Shack back I wouldn’t think twice about sending Amazon to the abyss! 

      6) That David Friedman’s Harald was on the shelf at Borderlands Books in San Francisco means that others may see it as well, and I want to support them.

      7) I’ve been buying books from Dark Carnival in Berkeley since it was across the street from my Junior High School in the 1970’s, over the years I’ve met Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Larry Niven, William Gibson, and Bruce Sterling there, Jack the owner is usually behind the counter and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of pre 21st century fantasy, science fiction and fandom, and with the thinnest prompts can tell me which book has the old story I dimly remember and want to re-read. 

      8) I’m against “disruption” and “silicon valley” on general principle, about the only things I like about the 21st century is [‘hot button’ political issue], bellyaching here, and that women wear tights outside now, and I want to encourage the ‘old ways’ when I can.

      9) I’m not young and poor anymore, I’ve spent $100 for a book (a first edition of Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword) and $300 for a book (Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill with the Rackham illustrations), and $20 extra dollars for a book is chump change to me.

    • Nick says:

      I support independent bookstores where practical, for a couple of the reasons others have suggested. As far as genre fiction goes, though, a lot of the bookstores I visit have poor selections. 🙁 So I often get nonfiction from them.

    • Plumber says:

      @Bobobob says:

      “I’m not as well versed in economics and utlitarianism as other people in SSC…”

      Neither am I!

      “…what is the argument against independent bookstores going away entirely and everyone finding their books online (or at used bookstores?(“

      I don’t remember any exclusively used bookstores that had authors book signings.

      Look, if you’re poor and need to save cash, or just want ‘vote with your wallet’ to encourage online shenanigans and the “race to the bottom” that’s your privilege, you don’t have to “support independent booksellers” if you don’t want to (and for the record I throw cash Barnes & Nobles way as well as independents, ’cause I just like having well stocked bookstores so plentiful).

      I suppose your $20 could go towards preventing foreigners from getting malaria or a local beggar getting a meal and some fentanyl instead.

      It really is up to you.

      • Bobobob says:

        Yeah, the $20 difference isn’t going to break me. It just seems more substantial than other Amazon/bookstore differentials.

        I think I’ll probably wind up buying it a bookstore, because I want to make sure it’s actually readable. (The book is Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny, with reproductions of strips by Rube Goldberg, Milt Gross, etc. Sometimes those strips can be impossible to read without holding the book two inches from your face.)

    • Aftagley says:

      Book are, for me, most useful as “I have 10 free minutes, let’s do something mentally stimulating” tools.

      The issue is, I don’t always know when these time periods will come up OR want to spend all day carrying an extra 2-5lbs just for 20 minutes of entertainment. E-books solve this problem for me wonderfully in that I can carry them all the time with no inconvenience, immediately pick up where I left off and any book I want to read is in the store (which also requires no effort to access). Also, completed books take up increasing amounts of space, completed ebooks take up a few bits on a server I don’t have to pay for.

      I mean, I’m willing to support all the non-product adjacent reasons why book shops are good, but at the end of the day, they’re selling an inferior product.

      • JayT says:

        but at the end of the day, they’re selling an inferior product.

        I couldn’t agree with this more. I don’t think I’ve set foot in a bookstore since I got my kindle, and my life is better for it. I always found the “value added” of bookstores to be mostly annoying.

      • Bugmaster says:

        Agreed. I bought an extra-large cellphone specifically for reading e-books (I acknowledge that the Kindle is a better device, but it doesn’t fit in my pocket).

      • silver_swift says:

        Also, completed books take up increasing amounts of space, completed ebooks take up a few bits on a server I don’t have to pay for.

        Ok, I guess it’s my turn to play the grumpy old man for once, but man, do I disagree with this sentiment.

        Books are artifacts, they are physical manifestations of the stories they contain, bookshelves are trophy cabinets of the journeys those stories took me on. The first thing I do when I walk into someones living room for the first time is check what books they have laying around, just to see if there is anything I know in there.

        I have read e-books and audiobooks, because they are indeed much more convenient in some contexts, and one of the main reasons I don’t do that as much anymore is that they don’t leave behind a nice physical object when you’re done with them (the other big reason is that holding a physical book also just feels much nicer while you are reading it, holding an e-reader just feels like I’m wasting my time looking at my phone again).

        • John Schilling says:

          bookshelves are trophy cabinets of the journeys those stories took me on

          I like this, and intend to steal it regularly. Thank you.

        • LHN says:

          One of my biggest reason for switching to ebooks almost exclusively this past decade was that my trophy cabinets are full. We have bookshelves everywhere we reasonably can, and the amount of free shelf space we have isn’t worth mentioning. If the Kindle hadn’t come in when it did I’m not sure what we’d have done.

          (Yes, I’ve heard that there’s something called “weeding”. That’s not something we’re very good at.)

          Another is that so many of those older books, especially the decades-old paperbacks, have had their text replaced by letters too tiny to comfortably read. Being able to choose a font size is a real godsend on reaching the progressive lens stage of life.

          I do love bookstores, and I’m sad about the local ones that have closed and it being entirely our fault. (Especially since nothing’s rushing to fill those spaces– the ex-Borders has been empty ever since.) And I try to make some ancillary purchases where I can. But unless we move to a much larger place I just don’t see hardcopy volumes becoming the part of our budget it was a decade-plus ago.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          That’s exactly right, and that’s why I never buy books to read, only to display.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Well, the choice I face is three-fold:
          1). Buy a physical book. Be unable to read it on the go, meaning that I won’t be able to finish it nearly as quickly. Total number of books read/year declines drastically.
          2). Buy an e-book. Readable anywhere, but does not leave an artifact for my trophy wall.
          3). Buy both. Spend ~2.5x money. Seeing as I’m not independently wealthy, total number of books read/year declines by a factor of ~2.5.

          Seeing as I actually like to read books, I know which option I’m picking, but YMMV.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Your question sounds weird to me, so I’m probably missing something.

      If you personally feel that local bookstores are worth an extra $20, you should pay them an extra $20. How can I tell you what your own preferences should be ? I happen to really like mint ice cream with chocolate chips and raspberry sauce on top, but that doesn’t mean that you personally should order it all the time.

      Your other question — “how much of my purchase price would go to the bookstore” — is entirely sensible. I don’t know the answer, but I’d be curious to find out.

    • Konstantin says:

      Even if there is a benefit to paying $60 at the local bookstore, there is almost certainly more of a benefit to paying the $40 on Amazon and donating $20 to the charity of your choice. Local bookstores may be a net good, but libraries are better.

      • Bobobob says:

        That would be a great idea, if it could somehow be implemented without Amazon’s cooperation. (By which I mean, you buy something on Amazon, and a percentage of the differential in price between the online and real-store price is funneled to the charity of your choice.)

        • DragonMilk says:

          They have Amazon Smile…a pittance for the charities but shows they’ve already thought through the goodwill of seeming charitable bit…

        • silver_swift says:

          If it could somehow be implemented without Amazon’s cooperation

          Buy the thing on amazon then donate the money you saved to a charity of your choice?

          Doesn’t sound like it involves a lot of cooperation from Amazon.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      In addition to what others have said, having lots of independent bookstores prevents any one company getting too powerful, which is desirable for all the usual reasons that preventing monopolies is desirable.

      • Randy M says:

        In addition to what others have said, having lots of independent bookstores prevents any one company getting too powerful

        There’s another theory that states that this has already happened.

    • bean says:

      I’m in a weird spot on this. I quite like physical bookstores and libraries. There’s something very neat about just getting to browse, opening a book and flipping through it, and seeing if it’s something you want. But I can’t actually spend much money there, because the books I want are so specialized that I usually have about two options: Amazon and Abebooks. If it’s still in print, I can also order new from USNI, but I often have to struggle to find even one book on my Amazon wishlist at a given used bookstore.

      As for physical vs digital, physical books are better for research, and often cheaper. Not to mention the lack of digital variants for a substantial fraction of the books I want.

  45. James Miller says:

    My podcast with Greg Cochran on the coronavirus. We think it is time to take precautionary measures in the US to slow the spread of the virus such as closing schools and restricting air travel.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      I think three weeks ago was the time.

      Change my mind.

    • Garrett says:

      Is there a transcript available?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          If you were to upload it to youtube, it would produce a transcript. It would be a pretty ugly transcript that no one would want to read straight through, but which would be useful for excerpts; and it probably affects search results.
          Also, youtube would be an additional distribution channel.

    • John Schilling says:

      Which schools? If you mean all of them, then no.

      And, I don’t do podcasts. But if you’re going to try to make this case, what is your estimate for the R0 of COVID-19 in the US or Western Europe, and on what basis? Because every time I try to get that number, all I can find is a broad range of estimates for China and scarce bits of data from which I keep getting R0 < 1 for all of not-China combined.

      • zoozoc says:

        Isn’t the limiting factor right now for detection of COVID-19 actually testing people? COVID-19 doesn’t exist in Indonesia only because they aren’t testing for it. Same for many other Asian countries. The spike in cases in South Korea and Italy and Iran points to a disease that is extremely contagious and has a very large incubation period. Same too with the cruise ship that docked in Cambodia that, after a long period of having “no” cases, as soon as they dock it turns out that there are several cases on-board. I think at this point the cat is already out of the bag and it will spread eventually all over the world.

        • John Schilling says:

          Isn’t the limiting factor right now for detection of COVID-19 actually testing people? COVID-19 doesn’t exist in Indonesia only because they aren’t testing for it. Same for many other Asian countries.

          Perhaps, but if the subject is appropriate precautionary measures to be taken in the US, it’s the reliability of detection in the US and similar countries that matters. And I think in the developed world, we’re now pretty good at detecting COVID-19 whenever it manifests as anything worse than ordinary influenza. Which, ultimately, is what we care about.

          Incubation period, from infection to detection, is reportedly about 10 days. If there were N detected cases in [not-China] 10 days ago, and <N detected cases attributable to local transmission now, that strongly suggests that R0 is <1.0 in the relevant not-China environment. That's been true every time I've looked and found the right numbers, aside from occasional clusters involving atypically confined environments like cruise ships. The math doesn't change if there were really 2N cases then and <2N new local infections, half of both being too mild to be detected.

        • Isn’t the limiting factor right now for detection of COVID-19 actually testing people? COVID-19 doesn’t exist in Indonesia only because they aren’t testing for it. Same for many other Asian countries. The spike in cases in South Korea and Italy and Iran points to a disease that is extremely contagious and has a very large incubation period.

          It’s not winter in Indonesia, it is winter in China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy.

  46. Deiseach says:

    The wider culture is affecting Evangelicanism – ‘Evangelicals for Trump’ may be closer to the mainstream than assumed (e.g. “Given their beliefs, how can they vote for a guy with several divorces/multiple admitted affairs/accused of sexual harassment?”, answer “Because they too are living with divorces, affairs, and accusations of sexual harassment/being sexist pigs for having outdated attitudes”).

    • GearRatio says:

      I would really, really want to see how that guy phrased that question before I’d buy the “24% of church going Christians think poly is a-ok” line. I’ve been in fairly conventional white urban Christian churches my entire life and I’ve never talked to a single person within them who would have said they were OK with this; that number seems crazy-high to me, and I’m immersed.

      To the extent I think this is plausible, I think if true you’d find it was fairly sorted by denomination – this wouldn’t be nearly as weird for episcopals as it would for baptists.

      After that, you take this to a weird place. This article doesn’t mention divorces, affairs, accusations of sexual harrassment/being sexist pigs at all. It’s an article about pastors preparing for a disapproving stance
      on a niche sexual issue, and it’s odd that you’d go “see, this means they try to rape their secretaries”. Google “divorce rates church attendance” – for what you’d call “practicing” Christians (those who go to church regularly, pray regularly, etc) divorce rates are a full third-to-half lower than the general population. If this worked like you are suggesting it does, you’d expect to see less support in those groups for Trump than the general population, but you don’t.

      This whole line of reasoning has always been bizarre to me in general. I get a lot of stuff that functionally comes down to an outsider coming in and saying “You know how your religion demands you vote for a practicing Christian who adheres to your morality for president, ignoring all pragmatism? You didn’t do that, which makes you a hypocrite”. The problem being that the religion makes no such demands for hiring a guy for a job; that’s something that’s being assumed in error by outsiders looking for a gotcha.

      Once you ignore the weird demand from outsiders that Christians can only hire a kind of candidate who isn’t generally available (nice genuinely christian guy who lives morally) and stop assuming that the Bible makes specific demands for the Christian regarding the faith and morality of candidates that it doesn’t, an alternate Occam-compliant explanation emerges almost immediately: It’s entirely possible Christians are hiring people who they think will do certain things for them they want done – packing supreme courts conservative, that sort of thing.

      I didn’t vote Trump for a number of reasons, but his personal morality never was a factor in my considerations at all. I would also hire a thrice divorced gay pro-choice abortionist to hang a doorknob, provided he hangs a good doorknob. Partially because of that I’m not at all sure most Christians discriminate in conflict with pragmatism in the way you demand they must.

      • broblawsky says:

        24% is roughly the percentage of the population I’d expect to claim to support just about anything, based on the crazification factor.

      • Deiseach says:

        it’s odd that you’d go “see, this means they try to rape their secretaries”.

        No, what I am saying is that the view of Evangelicals and non-mainstream Protestantism is still stuck in the monolithic ‘Moral Majority’ days, and is not keeping up with the kinds of changes happening due to a whole confluence of factors, such as the decline in the influence of the ‘Moral Majority’, changes in denominational affiliations and the rise of megachurches (and the rise and fall of the star pastors associated with those), the younger generations coming into prominence now, and how the view of acceptable sexuality has been very much broadened from the idea of “conservative denominations = anti-gay and a whole lot other anti-sex things = should be against divorce, premarital and extramarital sex and any sex not for procreation” which, to me, was the impetus behind all the “but how can Evangelicals vote for a man with Trump’s sexual track record? Hypocrisy or racism?” articles.

        I’m simply saying ‘modern day sexual mores are more widespread than the mainstream secular view might think, and churches, pastors and congregations are having to deal with all kinds of effects, and questions like polyamory or ‘Christian BDSM’ are indeed cropping up’.

        I don’t know where the heck you think I’m saying “See, Christians would rape their secretaries” but whatever, mate.

        EDIT: Perhaps you think I am trying to sneak in some snide reference to the various sexual scandals that such denominations are grappling with? I’m Catholic, I have nowhere to stand to throw stones at anyone else on this subject.

        What I was trying to get at was:

        (1) It’s the American presidential election season
        (2) Amongst other matters, I’m willing to bet that issues of “reproductive justice” plus LGBT+ rights will come up in the media as concerns for the parties/candidates (e.g. the opposition to Kavanaugh’s appointment on the grounds that he would try and strike down Roe vs Wade, and that a Trump presidency would mean four more years of trying to roll back such legislation by packing the Supreme Court with conservative justices)
        (3) The media have a model or script that they are running with – see this GetReligion story on this year’s March for Life, that Trump attended, and that the media went into analysis mode on “is he trying to appeal to/signal to Evangelicals?” As GetReligion points out, the main impetus behind the pro-life movement has been, and remains, Catholic – the last controversy at the March for Life was, after all, the Covington Catholic kids
        (4) Having that outdated model will mean more stories on “Why do Evangelicals vote for Trump – is it RACISM???” and the continuing confusion about Evangelicals versus Fundamentalists
        (5) Christianity Today is not a fringe publication, it was established under the influence of Billy Graham. If it’s running articles on ‘Christians and polyamory’, then that’s something that is happening out there. As you say, this is something you’d expect from the UUs or the Episcopalians. That article shows that such attitudes are indeed bleeding out into the wider Christian world
        (6) All of which, to sum up, means that the media puzzlement over “but these are self-described conservative Christians, not mainline liberals, aren’t they supposed to have a hardline on sexual morality, so why vote for a sexually immoral guy?” will continue to engender stories of point no. 4 above, whereas the real answer is a combination of “yeah but there’s not one monolithic view on sexual morality any more, even the fringe progressive trends are cropping up” and “who cares about his morals, he’ll do the job right”.

        I’m not at all sure most Christians discriminate in conflict with pragmatism in the way you demand they must

        I’m not demanding anybody discriminate about anything, I’m pointing out that matters are not as cut-and-dried as the outdated model of what American Protestant Christianity is ‘really’ like would have it.

        • GearRatio says:

          I don’t know where the heck you think I’m saying “See, Christians would rape their secretaries” but whatever, mate.

          This is literally because you expanded from an article about some minority of christians perhaps being OK with polyamory to Christians being OK with Trump because of “divorces, affairs, and accusations of sexual harassment/being sexist pigs for having outdated attitudes”.

        • Randy M says:

          If it’s running articles on ‘Christians and polyamory’, then that’s something that is happening out there.

          I dispute that a non-fringe media publication is strong evidence for an actual trend, rather than for an attempt to encourage one, or simply find something to write about.

        • If it’s running articles on ‘Christians and polyamory’

          At a considerable tangent …

          Is there clear scriptural basis for requiring monogamy? The Old Testament seems to be fine with polygyny. Is this something that changed in the transition from Judaism to Christianity?

          • Randy M says:

            That’s actually not a tangent. It’s a fair question whether Christians opening to polygamy is a progressive or reactionary fringe who cite Old testament patriarchs.
            My main objection to Polygamy is math, but other than that, there’s Paul’s instructions in Timothy 3.2 that a bishop should be the husband of one wife. Obviously not all Christians are bishops, but there’s a reason this is pointed to as an ideal. Further, there’s the obvious argument that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Eve and Susan and Lucy and Sally etc.”. The ideal of marriage in Genesis is a single man and woman uniting.

          • DragonMilk says:

            This should probably be saved for a hidden thread, but a teaching in my church regarding polygamy is, “anyone who thinks the Old Testament authors are condoning polygamy hasn’t learned how to read.”

            Abraham had to drive Ishmael away at Sarai’s jealousy, household of Jacob/Israel quite the mess featuring the youngest being sold into slavery, down to house of David being broken from his adultery/murder leading to rape/insurrection, Solomon led astray by his many wives…you get the picture.

            Contrast human practices with God’s intention that *Two* should become one flesh (not just in the physical sense, that would be rather redundant), and the Christian tradition of husband & wife being Christ & the Church, you get why Christians where appalled at Mormon polygamy.

          • Nick says:

            My impression is that polygyny is not strictly incompatible with natural law, but it is basically always, as Randy suggests, a bad idea. For Christians generally marriage is sacramentally between one man and one woman, though. I think Christianity is stronger on this point than the Old Testament would suggest, but I don’t actually know Judaism’s views on non-monogamy.

          • but I don’t actually know Judaism’s views on non-monogamy.

            Traditionally it was legitimate. Maimonides say that a man is permitted to marry as many women as he can adequately provide for, which seems to include having sex sufficiently often with, but that the sages advise no more than four.

            At some point later, Judaic law shifted to require monogamy. I don’t know if there are currently any Jewish sects that approve of polygamy.

          • Bugmaster says:

            I could be wrong, but didn’t Solomon have a harem ?

    • DinoNerd says:

      I’d prefer to comment on this in a CW-ok thread.

      • Lambert says:

        The only time you should see ‘trump’ in an integer thread is if there’s a discussion about Bridge.

        • Protagoras says:

          Speaking of, we don’t have enough discussions of bridge. When I was playing a lot of bridge, I mostly used a strong club system (specifically a version of the precision system). What are other people’s favorite bidding systems?

          • Elementaldex says:

            I agree. We need TABA (Talk About Bridge Again) hats!

          • helloo says:

            Is bridge scoring better or worse than Mahjong’s?

          • Protagoras says:

            @helloo, not really familiar with Mahjong, but a quick web search suggested that you may be referring to Mahjong having a bunch of different scoring systems. Bridge has slightly different scoring for duplicate and rubber bridge, but nothing like the chaos that appears to reign in Mahjong. If you meant something other than the diversity of scoring systems, you’ll have to elaborate on what you mean by better or worse and say a bit about the Mahjong system.

          • helloo says:

            I was trying to spark CW.

            Bridge’s scoring system is somewhat known to be difficult to calculate and contain a number of “extras”.
            Mahjong’s scoring system is similarly obtuse and also has more well known regional variations.
            Which one is better/worse is often a measure of how familiar one is with the particular system and bias, rather than an objective fact (true for everything really), and I tried to make the question as ambiguous as possible.

          • Protagoras says:

            @helloo, I think you’ll find bridge only generates angry arguments when it is being played (though in those circumstances it is quite effective at that, especially between partners).

          • DinoNerd says:

            I’m playing what’s currently called “Standard American” – the strong bid is 2 clubs; other 2 bids are weak and preemptive; you need 5 cards in the suit to open a major; strong 1 NT. That makes me somewhat of a stick-in-the-mud at the bridge club, but it works for me and both my regular partners.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Finally, a chance to agree with DinoNerd about something. Modern bidding seems to be motivated (to adapt a phrase from Mencken) by the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is making a natural bid.

          • Protagoras says:

            I admit it, I prefer artificial bidding. It generates more arguments between partners allows more accurate communication.

          • My theory is that the great games each provide training for some particular skill. For bridge, it’s coordination with limited communication.

            I played in college but almost not at all since. My sister and her husband, on the other hand, are very serious bridge players.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Here’s a Facebook post from an Evangelical friend of mine which seems to sum up the way many Evangelicals in my circles view Trump:

      Look, NeverTrumpers, I get it. Trump is a self-centered, lying, serial adulterer. I don’t like him either.

      But Trump is a necessary evil. If the Democrats win, they will force you to pay for abortions, let men into locker rooms with your daughters, arrest pastors for preaching the gospel publicly, and take away your children if you tell them that homosexuality is a sin. Remember Kevin Chochran and Brandon Eich. The Left doesn’t want to live by their own values in peace, they want nothing less than the destruction of conservative Christianity. Do I hope Trump repents of his sins? Yes. But I’m going to vote for the person that doesn’t want to kill me.

      How true this may be debatable, of course, but the point is that quite a lot of people believe it.

      As an aside, the post seems very similar to concerns I saw by people on the LGTBQ spectrum that Trump was going to put them all in concentration camps. For some reason, everybody is convinced that the other tribe winning is an existential threat to their lives and livelihood.

      • bean says:

        Unfortunately, that’s not the standard position inside the evangelical camp. There’s a major split (playing out right now in the Southern Baptists) between the NeverTrump or “Trump as Necessary Evil” camps, and the “Trump is God’s Chosen President” camps. I’m very much in the first camp, and find the second camp extremely disturbing.

      • Burin says:

        This is very similar to positions held by those who are pro-gun-rights. It goes like:

        Yeah, Trump is a total a-hole, but at least he isn’t outright going to ban my AR. I know that the ‘other’ side’s core platform is ban everything (ARs, magazines, bullets, pistols, gun culture), I see that in every candidate’s platform, in their speeches, and in the speech of those who call themselves their supporters.

        I don’t know where this goes, other than either everybody backs off, or somebody wins and the other side has to decide if violence is the right choice.

        • Garrett says:

          > but at least he isn’t outright going to ban my AR

          Just my bump stocks. This year. He was in-favor of banning AR15s last decade, which is one of the reasons I couldn’t vote for him in 2016.

    • The church is able to take a forgiving stance when the wider society doesn’t. It can say “we forgive you” to the sinner while the rest of society still points an accusatory finger, providing people with a strong disincentive to engage in that sin. When the sin becomes normalized, people tempted to it see that they aren’t going to face any punishment from the wider society and that the church will forgive them. What the church ought to do if they want to get serious about it is:

      1. Only forgive those who actually ask for forgiveness and actually recognize that what they did was wrong and aren’t going to do it again.

      2. These “forgiven” people can attend church but can never be “full members” in a sense. It’ll always be hanging over their head. It’s naturally easier in a smaller community, where members of the church are expected to gossip about one another.

      This is coming from a non-Christian, it’s what I’d do from an economics mindset if the goal was to keep that stuff out of the community. I think often that’s not the goal, the goal is to signal an opposition to it while avoiding alienating potential donors.

      • Randy M says:

        2. These “forgiven” people can attend church but can never be “full members” in a sense. It’ll always be hanging over their head. It’s naturally easier in a smaller community, where members of the church are expected to gossip about one another.

        Everyone who passes through the door to a church is either forgiven some sins, or else yet to repent of them. So this is a non-starter.
        Churches certainly can, and should, eject putative members who persist in sin, or, much worse, attempt to excuse or normalize it publicly.

        I do agree with your first point. The important fact that Jesus forgives you must be balanced with the converse, that He invites you to repentance.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          What I expect to actually happen if point (2) gets widely adopted is for the practice of leaving off getting baptised until you’re on your deathbed to make a comeback. Also, for more hypocrisy and covering-up of sin (because if your sin becomes widely known you now have no way of regaining your previous position), and for more people to go seriously off the rails (because “Well, I’m never going to be able to rejoin the Church again no matter what I do, guess I might as well be hanged for a chicken as an egg…”).

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Now this, unlike virus thread below, is properly “hot-button political and social topic”.

  47. Tatterdemalion says:

    Euler, Einstein, Hawking, Darwin.

    Naming some prominent examples of a large population is a lousy way to estimate prevalence. you need a rigorous sampling frame – what happens if you look at the set of all Nobel laureates in Physics?

  48. RossOgilvie says:

    Euler immediately sprang to mind as a counter-example.

    Let’s do an quick informal check. From the first search result:
    Pythagoras – Pre 500 years ago
    Wiles – 3, married
    Newton – 0, unmarried
    Leibniz – 0, unmarried
    Fibonacci – Pre 500 years ago
    Turing – 0, once engaged but didn’t marry, gay
    Descartes – 1, unmarried but plausible long term relationship
    Euclid – Pre 500 years ago
    Riemann – 1, married, died 4 years into the marriage
    Gauss – 3 + 3, across two marriages
    Euler – 13, married

    Looking at this there might be some tendency, but it doesn’t seem strong.

    • aristides says:

      Looking at the list, I’d say there’s a tendency to not get married, but if they do get married, average number of kids is not significantly different.

  49. Ali says:

    Does anybody have thoughts on the business cultures of different countries?

    My family is Iranian and I grew up in the US, and I’ve noticed that people in my family are generally involved in totally productive, legitimate businesses in the US and various scammier things in Iran. So the difference isn’t genetic I don’t think, and it also isn’t the sort of cultural difference that shapes how a person is no matter what happens. And of course there seem to be plenty of scams in America. Elizabeth Holmes isn’t Iranian. Anyway, looking for thoughts or reading suggestions on this topic.

    • Matt M says:

      Can we distinguish between pre-meditated scams and, uh, negligence?

      Because as much as I think Elizabeth Holmes is a total villain and don’t really want to defend her at all, I really don’t think her intent was to intentionally defraud in the long-term, broader sense. I think she herself believed this would be legitimate, that she would ultimately prevail, and that she would deliver outstanding financial returns to all her shareholders while significantly improving the lives of everyday people.

      Don’t get me wrong, she’s still awful. But I think she’s less awful than, say, the guys who call you and pretend to be from the IRS and threaten to send you to jail if you don’t wire them cash immediately. They know full well what they are doing.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Where does Bernie Madoff fit on this scale?

      • fibio says:

        That’s a very interesting line and tough one to assess. The Netflix documentary of the Fyre Festival was a fascinating train wreck to watch. A group of very savvy, very dedicated people set out to host the greatest music festival of their generation and ended up with such a disaster that the only reason no-one died was pure dumb luck. In hindsight it was a massive scam, and the guy at the head of the company was either delusional or actively trying to defraud people. I actually think it was the former, but I’m no psychiatrist.

        The core management team, who provided most of the interviews had a far more interesting story, however. While I’m sure there is a hell of a lot of arse covering, they come across less as sleazy marketing guys and more like people who fell into a cult. They all believed that the Fyre Festival would work, that it would come together on the night and be the greatest thing ever. And many of them continued to believe this even as they set up the FEMA tents, saw bands dropping like flies and presided over a near riot. For many, the moment of revelation only came when the tropical storm rolled in.

        Of course, these are the people who realised at the very last moment what they’d done,and there must have been a hell of a lot more who got out sooner. Or better, never got sucked in at all. But I’m still amazed by the number of people who got sucked in and then not only failed to get out, but couldn’t even realised that they should be getting out.

    • TJ2001 says:

      I would suggest two things primarily at work:
      #1 Legal barriers to entry into “above board” businesses in an area. Your relatives probably ran into legal structures which are designed to protect the people who are already in business from entry of competitors… This is extremely common – it’s basically how guilds/unions worked in The Old Country..

      #2 Other Social/cultural/legal restrictions against doing business with an “outgroup” – people who are “Different” than us in whatever way seems to be important.

      Most people prefer to do business “Above board” to enjoy official legal protection offered to “Lawful businesses”. When this is unavailable – they go with the other route…

      So for example – legalization of Consumer lending in the US and legalization of prostitution in Germany were both more about breaking the backs of gangs/mafia than anything else…. Same for legalization of Marijuana in California…. Once a business can do things legally and receive Police and Court protection – they have no need of gangs or mafia…

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Not quite what you asked, but the corporate culture is strikingly different in some aspects imao. Not even between countries, you can see the difference in the same office of the same company just by comparing what people say in different languages.

      For example, large companies usually have some kind of mission statement and a narrative about what good are they doing to the world and what people here are motivated by apart from money. “Making the world a better place”, “be googley/don’t be evil”, “helping people across the world to achieve X” – you know, that kind of things. It’s been my impression that when speaking to the colleagues coming from the Anglosphere, if you say that it’s all kind of bullshit and you’re in it for money (and perhaps some interest in what you’re doing on the technical level) and so is everyone else actually, you’ll be perceived as an asshole and hypocrite. At the same time when speaking about such topics to my Russian-speaking colleagues within the same company, if you don’t express such a sentiment you’ll be perceived as either an idiot or, ironically, asshole and hypocrite.

      In terms of business, fwiw I’ve heard more than once about global companies winding down the operations in one or another post-Soviet country because the company’s internal requirements of ethical business practices were incompatible with local requirements that you need to bribe people to get anything done at all.

    • LesHapablap says:

      My experience with companies in the US vs. New Zealand is that Americans require a contract for absolutely everything, while more things are done on just a handshake or a phone call in NZ. I guess it is more relationship oriented here.

      Anecdotally in the US there seems to be a culture of fear around breaking ‘store policy:’ from getting told off by higher ups or being sued. One of our engineers went to the US to pick up a helicopter and was shocked by how impractical things were: one American couldn’t help lift stuff because he’d forgotten his gloves and wasn’t allowed to lift things bare handed. Renting a flat bed truck was a bureaucratic pain. etc.

      • Lambert says:

        Yeah, kiwis are chill.
        It’s kind of like the UK was in a simpler time.
        Lots of ‘6 degrees of separation’ going on.

  50. johan_larson says:

    Let’s try to find the ugliest firearm that’s actually good. Since these are precisely defined terms, we should have no trouble reaching agreement. 🙂

    Let me kick this off with the Owen submachine gun, an exotic design from a savage land.

    • rocoulm says:

      Highly subjective, but for some reason a number of .22 pistols go for a sophisticated “futuristic” look that I really can’t stand. Example: Beretta Neos.

      There’re also loads of obscure target pistols like the Walther SSP that are (presumably) very good quality, but are optimized for such a niche application ergonomically, they look…off, to say the least.

    • NTD_SF says:

      I’d go with almost any bullpup weapon, but especially the P90 and the G11, which have the advantage of being ugly in two very different ways.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I think the P90 looks very business-like, not ugly, but it’s possible I’ve been influenced by this commercial.

        • johan_larson says:

          That boxy body looks OK to me, but the handles look like they’ve been melted.

          I’m a bit surprised the P90 has found a market. In that size range, I think I would rather have a folding-stock carbine, and what I’d actually prefer is either a truly holsterable pistol or a proper assault rifle, depending on what I’m doing. The one really big plus of the P90 as I see it is the enormous magazine capacity.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Regarding the handles, I think they look distinctive and cool; plus the round shape might make them less prone to snagging on things. I say “might” because I’ve never actually held a P90 in real life, so I don’t know how ergonomic it is.

            Regarding the magazine, I thought that was the whole point of an SMG ? High fire rate and high ammo capacity to reasonably sustain it.

    • Aapje says:

      My runner up is the Chauchat, but I favor the Dreyse Model 1907 (other side is just as bad).

      Almost a quarter million were produced and even though production stopped in 1915, it was used by German police into the 1930’s. It was issued to officers during WW II and later to combat units, both official and the Volkssturm militia.

      Here is a slow motion shooting video.

    • Garrett says:

      Anything by Hi-Point? As a bonus, you can use it as a door stop, paper weight or use it to hammer in nails.

  51. Faza (TCM) says:

    Plumber’s best Bond movie thread got me thinking that you can’t have a Bond movie without a Bond movie theme song. So as a follow up: what is the best Bond song ever?

    Me, I’ll need to dwell on it – there’s a couple of contenders. One thing I do know: it ain’t f’ing Goldfinger!

      • James says:

        Another one it’s not: Die Another Day. Terrible as a Bond song, terrible as a pop song.

        I am fond of Jack White and Alicia Keys’ Another Way to Die, which is not in the classic Bond theme vein and is in fact rather a weird song overall, but I say a good one.

        I do find it funny that Lana Del Rey’s never done one. She does seem like the perfect artist for the style.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          Another one it’s not: Die Another Day.

          I heartily concur.

        • Aur Saraf says:

          Die Another Day is one of my favorite pop songs and in my opinion the best song to have been featured by the Bond franchise, and the whole American Life album is in my opinion a masterpiece of synth heavy pop (and the only Madonna album I regularly listen to… usually I’m more into say King Crimson).

          I can agree that it’s not classy enough to be a good Bond theme song.

          The best song to use as a Bond song would obviously be Diamonds are Forever? I can’t even think of a competitor.

          Bonus: best Bond Song that was never featured in a Bond film: Crazy World by Selah Sue

          • James says:

            the whole American Life album is in my opinion a masterpiece of synth heavy pop

            Haven’t listened to the album (someday I probably will), but I do think Hollywood is a great pop song. But I cannot agree about Die Another Day.

        • Bergil says:

          Say what you will about Die Another Day, I really like that music video. Probably because it’s basically a metal music video that got lost.

      • Tarpitz says:

        This is the right answer, although the GNR cover is even better than the original.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      A View to a Kill is probably my personal favorite, due to an irrational fondness for Duran Duran. Though, in my defense, it’s also the only Bond theme to top the Billboard charts.

      Live and Let Die and You Know My Name (from the new Casino Royale) are both fantastic also.

    • achenx says:

      “You Know My Name” from Casino Royale.

      Also have a soft spot for “For Your Eyes Only”.

    • Plumber says:

      @Faza (TCM) >

      “…what is the best Bond song ever?”

      We Have All The Time In The World performaned by Louis Armstrong during the end credits of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

      Runners up:
      You Only Live Twice performed by Nancy Sinatra

      Thunderball performed by Tom Jones

      The On Her Majesty’s Secret Service title sequence instrumental

      Dawn raid on Fort Knox” ‘background’ music for Goldfinger

      And of course: The James Bond theme itself introduced with the title sequence of Dr. No

    • Deiseach says:

      One thing I do know: it ain’t f’ing Goldfinger!

      What have you got against Dame Shirley? 🙂

      If you don’t like that, you may not like the 1997 cover version of Bond theme songs done by David McAlmont (who later went on to legitimately compose for Bond movies), at least not this version of Diamonds Are Forever which channels the spirit of the Girl from Tiger Bay in glorious, self-mocking over the topness!

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        What have you got against Dame Shirley?

        Nothing as such, but Messrs Bricusse, Newley and especially Barry have a lot to answer for.

        Seriously though, I find it just… bland and uninspired. Something a competent songsmith can knock out between brushing his teeth and the pre-bedtime trip to the toilet.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Nobody mentioned The World is Not Enough by Garbage (Shirley Manson)?!

      You only live twice is also very good.

      I am not a fan of a franchise, but they did pull some top notch musicians.

    • AG says:

      The glib answer is the actual James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry.
      Probably Live and Let Die, though I have a soft spot for Tomorrow Never Dies (which, oddly enough, is not the film that it’s for).

      However, I’ve found that Japan makes some excellent Bond themes:

      And a couple where the song isn’t that Bond Theme-y, but the visuals definitely are:–A–8

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        The glib answer is the actual James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry.

        Which is why Never Say Never Again isn’t a proper James Bond movie. (Seriously, I had to look it up, ‘coz I couldn’t remember the title. I remember thinking it wasn’t exactly bad, just not terribly good, either.)

  52. Aapje says:


    They were extremely thing-oriented, rather than people-oriented?

    Huygens’ family tried to arrange a marriage, but he found them all wanting, with rather poor excuses (them being either too young or too old), suggesting he actually didn’t want to get married. It was not lack of opportunity.

    • Lambert says:

      At least movie cyberpunk dystopias were a e s t h e t i c and had cool synth music in the background.
      This is just dull.

      • EchoChaos says:

        We are living in the cyberpunk future. It’s just unevenly distributed.

        • Lambert says:

          The cool thing about cyberpunk coming true is that we got ALL the cyberpunk futures.

          China: universal surveillance and social control

          America: cool gadgets and staggering inequality

          Russia: shadowy plots, covert ops, and assasins

          Japan: Japan

          –Noah Smith

    • Murphy says: