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Open Thread 148.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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997 Responses to Open Thread 148.25

  1. A1987dM says:

    COVID-19 is just God’s set-up for a “hindsight is always [the current year]” pun.

  2. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Given Deiseach’s rant about fiction and historical ignorance below, I can’t help recommending the movie Quest of the Delta Knights… in its Mystery Science Theater 3000 incarnation.
    Set in the 1470s somewhere between the vicinities of Florence and Syracuse, it’s the story of a 12 to 14-year-old prophesied Chosen One who gets captured and sold into slavery while journeying from England with his mother.* He’s bought by David Warner, a spy for a secret society devoted to bringing mankind out of the Dark Ages and into an age of Enlightenment, which requires finding the underground archive of Archimedes. The oppressive government of this Italian whatever-state consists of a Lord named Vultare**, who’s also seeking the archive (maybe he wants to start the Enlightenment too?) and his liege the Mannerjay (Olivia Hussey). Featuring Leonardo da Vinci as a horny young man.

    *”A big battle was coming and my father sent us to safety.” “He wasn’t very good at that.”
    **That’s also David Warner!

    • Deiseach says:

      But how can we tell that’s David Warner as the Evil Lord Vultare, he’s wearing a different coloured wig and a moustache!

      Crappy vaguely historical rubbish movies can be harmless fun. It’s when someone believes that this is Real History As It Really Happened that irks me.

    • Nick says:

      By coincidence, I woke up this morning with a desire to rewatch Chuck’s review of the B5 episode Grail, with David Warner in the guest starring role and the episode’s only saving grace.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Unrelated to the lack of historical accuracy, the riffing of this movie has two of the best multi-layered puns I’ve ever heard:

      man who looks like this walking
      “Robert Bork takes a constitutional.”

      three actors in medieval clothing ride up
      “We’re from the William Morris Agency.”

  3. Plumber says:

    From https://www.vox.com/2020/2/29/21158885/south-carolina-primary-winner by Matthew Yglesias: 

    “…Loser: Assuming normal voters think like professional activists

    Clinton won the 2016 nomination in large part thanks to scoring huge margins with African-American voters in places like South Carolina.

    And once it became clear how central black voters were to her support, she started talking about politics in a very particular kind of way — talking about intersectionality, asking “if we broke up the big banks tomorrow … would that end racism?”, and invoking the phrase “systematic racism.” These are ideas familiar to younger college graduates, often developed by black intellectuals and popular in racist justice activism circles. And since Clinton did, in fact, obtain overwhelming majorities among African-American voters many 2020 contenders essentially tried to imitate this approach.

    Suzanna Danuta Walters in The Nation hailed Warren for running “an unapologetically intersectional campaign,” which she certainly did. So did Kirsten Gillibrand and Julian Castro, both of whom ended up dropping out early, with Castro endorsing Warren and becoming a frequently used campaign surrogate.

    In South Carolina we saw that this approach delivered very meager results with the electorate. Both in the Palmetto State and in national polls, black voters seem split between Biden’s back-to-basics kitchen table economics pitch and Bernie’s democratic socialist pitch with the divisions mostly falling along age lines. The two candidates’ pitches on economic issues are very different, but Biden and Sanders are similar in having some of the weakest claims to wokeness and least explicitly intersectional rhetoric in the field. It’s not that racial issues aren’t important or that the candidates doing well in South Carolina don’t have strong policies on them.

    But most voters are working class, not necessarily super-familiar with cutting edge intellectual concepts, and not as siloed in their concerns as activists. There’s a strong market in South Carolina for “similar to Obama” and a smaller, but also pretty strong, market for Sanders’ youth-fueled revolution with very few voters looking to attend a critical race theory seminar.

    It’s still the case that The Democratic Electorate on Twitter Is Not the Democratic Electorate in Real Life, candidates we campaign as if otherwise (Warren and her use of the term “latinix”) lose.

    State primary elections aren’t dorm rooms, and most voters never went to college, much less know or care about “critical theory” and other niche stuff. 

    • BBA says:

      When a candidate drops out of the race, their staffers will join other campaigns. This makes sense from the staffer’s perspective, and certainly electoral politics is a small enough industry that all the campaign staffs likely know each other and are willing to throw a line to a friend who’s out of work. But does it make sense as a candidate to hire people whose strategies clearly didn’t work for their previous campaigns? In the sense of building a coalition, I suppose it makes some sense, but did Julian Castro really represent a significant bloc of Democrats?

      I’m not saying anything about whether intersectionalism is good policy; just from the state of the Democratic primary, it’s clearly bad politics.

      • abystander says:

        I assume most staffers are not involved in strategy, but in logistics like getting campaign material printed, organizing canvassing, etc.

  4. Orion says:

    A couple weeks ago, Scott made another post about trans issues, and in the comments, heated arguments about the phrases “assigned male at birth/assigned female at birth” popped up in multiple subthreads. I wasn’t sure which threads would be more productive to engage with, so I ultimately didn’t participate in any of them, but I read them all with some bafflement. As far as I could tell, no one on any side of the debate uses or understands those phrases the way that I understand and use them. Posters opposed to “AMAB” phrasing described the phrase as an inaccurate or misleading statement about biological sex. Pro-“AMAB” posters defended its accuracy but also seemed to treat it as a statement about assigned sex. I, however, believe that “AMAB” and “AFAB” only properly refer to sex categories when they are used in the context of intersex people. In conversations with or bout trans people, “A(M/F)AB” is not a statement about sex assignment at all; it is actually a statement about gender assignment that many people use euphemistically as a way to imply information about their sex.

    “Male” and “Female” are tricky words because they can refer, in different contexts, either to sexes or to genders. Male-sexed infants generally have testicles, XY chromosomes, higher levels of pre-natal testosterone, and so on, while female-sexed infants generally have ovaries, XX chromosomes, lower levels of pre-natal testosterone, etc. Some infants are born with intersex characteristics, such that they do not cleanly and obviously belong to one sex or the other; a doctor may be asked to make a judgment call and “assign” the child to one sex or another. Most infants, however, don’t need to be “assigned” to a sex; they just factually belong to one sex or another. Sex is for the most part objective and biological.

    In America, female-gendered infants tend to get names like Ivanka, Sarah, or Ariel. They tend to be dressed in little pink jumpsuits, or clothes decorated with stars or animals. They are referred to as “she” or “her,” and doting relatives tend to gift them with dolls. Male-gendered infants tend to wear little blue jump suits or clothes decorated with superhero logos, to be reffered to as “he” or “him”, and to receive toy trucks from their grandparents. Also, they are all named Michael. Unlike sex, gender is arbitrary and culturally relativistic. Americans think that Ariel is a good name for infants with ovaries, but Israelis think it’s a good name for infants with testicles. Modern Americans think little girls should wear pink, but earlier generations dressed little boys in pink. There is nothing stopping an eccentric couple from taking a child with ovaries and naming them Jonathan, dressing that child in a blue jump suit and a tiny baseball cap, and filling that child’s crib with big plastic trucks that say “daddy’s little boy” on the side. Such a child would be female-sexed but male-gendered. I believe this thought experiment demonstrates that while most people are never “assigned” a sex, almost everyone is “assigned” a gender. Because I was a male-sexed infant, my family gave me a “boy’s name” and engaged in a bunch of other behaviors that, taken together, had the net effect of assigning me to the male gender.

    If you’re talking to a trans or genderqueer person and for some reason you need to know what bits they’ve got, they might say something like “I am AFAB.” You might think that this means “I was born with ovaries,” but I don’t think it does. To me, it means, “when I was born, my parents decided for some reason to assign me to the group of infants that wears pink. I’m not gonna tell you explicitly what that reason was, but I will invite you to make an educated guess.”

    • GearRatio says:

      I’m pretty if anybody uses it the way you are describing, they are an extreme minority. If people did use it this way, it would remove all useful information from the statement and render it useless.

      • Orion says:

        Do you consider all euphemisms and circumlocutions useless? If not, why this one in particular?

        • GearRatio says:

          This one is particularly bad. The phrase AMAB as used right now means something like “born with testicles, regardless of what i have or how i look now”. That’s useful, because it tells me that if the person claiming it looks female they are trans and if they look male they aren’t.

          You want it to mean something like “May have been either gender but may have been put in clothes and given haircuts particular to one gender for some undisclosed and uncertain reason”. This takes a phrase that imparts a piece of objective data and makes it stop doing that but provides no data-relaying benefit as counterbalance. People who raise their children possessing male genitals in accordance to female norms before the child could possibly indicate any transness are vanishingly rare.

          But then it gets worse. If we imagine the one novel situation it might make sense to use it how you want, we have to relay A. That you were born with testicles and B. That you were then raised as a girl long before you would have given any indicators you were trans. We would build our sentence like this:

          “I was born with male genitals and recognized as being of the male sex but then my parents, absent input from me, began to raise me in accordance to female gender norms”

          We need two euphamisms here – one to cover the genitals and one to cover the opposite norm adherence. We already have a working phrase that describes the first common situation; you propose taking it and applying it to a situation that doesn’t really exist, forcing us to make a new euphemism for the only situation where we actually needed one in the first place.

          Then it gets worse again. The reason amab works to the extent it does is it describes a simple, common and discrete concept: I popped out with testicles and that was acknowledged. Nobody has to say “but why?” because the euphemism covers that – you had balls and people could see them. Amab just saves time describing this thing everyone already gets.

          Not so with the proposed usage – the next question after “I was born with testicles but immediately raised as the opposite gender” is necessarily “why?”. In all cases of using it this way, you’d be better skipping the euphemism and jumping immediately into the much longer explanation necessary to impart satisfactory levels of information necessary to explain this complex and uncommon occurrence.

          So this is a bad idea because it takes a tool that adequately relates information, makes it not do that in most situations, relates information inadequately in even the mostly-theoretical situations it’s arguably useful and then makes us build a new tool to replace the one you took away for no benefit. I am against that and glad it isn’t happening here.

          • Orion says:

            We seem to be talking past each other here because we’re not using the words “mean” or “euphemism” the same way. Let me try a different example.

            Someone might ask me “Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons?” and I might answer them by saying “I have several pounds of dice in my backpack right now.” This is an example of a euphemistic answer. Stripped of context, the phrase “I have several pounds of dice in my backpack” doesn’t literally mean that I have played D&D in the past. But if I choose that answer in this context you can be sure that I have in fact played D&D. If I had not in fact played D&D, I wouldn’t answer the question that way, because that would be silly.

            Similarly, “I’m AMAB” would be a confusing and silly thing for a biologically normal woman who happened to be raised as a boy to say. But it would be literally true if she did say it. Therefore, even though in almost all contexts it communicates the information that “I was born with testicles or ambiguous genitals,” it doesn’t literally mean “I was born with testicles or ambiguous genitals.” It is a euphemistic way to deliver that informtion.

    • John Schilling says:

      To me, it means, “when I was born, my parents decided for some reason to assign me to the group of infants that wears pink.

      If you’re not 99% certain what that reason is, you’re fooling yourself. Literally. Ditto if you can’t make predictions more substantial and relevant than “parents will dress them in pink” or any of the other fluff you mentioned.

      The rest of us are not obliged to follow you down this path of self-deception, and won’t.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The rest of us are not obliged to follow you down this path

        Isn’t whether or not we are the whole point of having a CW?

      • Orion says:

        If you’re not 99% certain what that reason is, you’re fooling yourself.

        But the audience will in fact be 99% certain what that reason is, which is why he phrase conveys information. “I’m AMAB” effectively means the same thing as “I was born with testicles,” it just doesn’t literally mean “I was born with testicles.” Which makes it useful if you want to let someone know about your testicles without saying the word “testicles.”

        EDIT for clarity:

        There are of course many other phrases one could use to convey the same information. If you want to tell a doctor or a date that you were born with testicles, you could say “I am male,” “I was once male,” “I am (or was) biologically male,” “I am male bodied,” “I got boy parts,” or “I’m AMAB.” In everyday conversation, these phrases are effectively interchangeable, and any of them would get the job done. Among the options, many trans people happen to prefer “AMAB.”

        I assumed this audience was familiar with the affirmative reasons people endorse using the phrase, so I didn’t try to reproduce those arguments in my comment. I did see several people in the last thread arguing that it is literally false for a non-intersex person to call themselves “AMAB” or “AFAB,” and that they rejected the phrase on the grounds of its falsehood. I assumed that if I could demonstrate that it is not literally false, its utility would be apparent. I am happy to review some of the reasons people prefer the phrase on request.

        • The Nybbler says:

          “I’m AMAB” means either “I’m intersex and was assigned male at birth” or “I was born with testicles, and I belong to a certain particular Culture War faction”. “I’m male” gets across the same information about the testicles without saying “testicles”, but says little about culture war faction (except excluding a few particular ones) and excludes the intersex meaning.

          It is not “literally false” for a non-intersex person to use the “assigned” phrases. It is, as Futurama would have it, “technically correct”. However, it is highly misleading because the phrase implies an arbitrary assignment or at least a difficult judgement call, and for 99+% of us, that isn’t so.

          • Orion says:

            Assignments can be arbitrary (“Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system,” Lexico.com) but they can also be discretionary (i.e. made on the basis of discretion, “the quality of having or showing discernment or good judgment,” merriam-webster). For example, a project leader might assign different jobs to different members of their team. A good project leader doesn’t make assignments capriciously; they use their judgment and their knowledge of their team to assign people jobs where they can be expected to succeed. In some cases they might even take volunteers for a particular job, but there are few teams that run on an all-volunteer basis. Almost everyone has some work duties which they did not volunteer to take on, and no matter how well-reasoned those assignments might be, they’re still assignments.

            My model of gender assignment is similar. There are real and significant biological differences between boys-as-a-statistical-population and girls-as-a-statistical-population. There are differences in interests, activities, goals, and values that fall out from those biological differences. You can make better-than-chance guesses about what gifts, hobbies, or skills a boy would find interesting and which ones a girl would find interesting. We could, in principle, raise children in a gender neutral way. We could retire gendered pronouns, use only gender-neutral names, and sign all our kids up for both MMA and baking class. One of the reasons we don’t do this is that it would be inefficient; we can make better predictions about what will be good for our children if we take biological sex into account than we could if we ignored it. All of which is to say: genders re not assigned arbitrarily.

            I maintain that they are assigned nonetheless. We look at an infant with testicles, and we make the judgment call that this child will be better off if raised as a boy than they would be if raised as a girl, or as a non-binary child, so we assign it a male gender. We probably make the right call ~90% of the time, but we are still making the call.

            EDIT: Yes, I know that trans people are nowhere near 10% of the population. I also think there are a number of cis people who were poorly served, in childhood, by their assigned genders.

          • Aapje says:

            A good project leader doesn’t make assignments capriciously; they use their judgment and their knowledge of their team to assign people jobs where they can be expected to succeed.

            It’s still a lot more arbitrary than determining gender. If I have two people with the skill to tap dance, but only one tap dance job, I will assign one of those people to tap dance, not both.

            If I have two babies with testicles, I will call both male, regardless of whether there is a surplus of males.

          • Orion says:

            Aapje,

            It would be a lot easier to communicate if you would say male-sexed when you mean male-sexed, and male-gendered when you mean male-gendered.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @Orion

            It would be a lot easier to communicate if you would say male-sexed when you mean male-sexed, and male-gendered when you mean male-gendered.

            I wish y’all would come up with a different word than gender to describe exhibiting sexual type behavior. I use gender to describe people who are male or female (testicles or ovaries). I use sex as that thing that incels don’t have. It is a bad thing to use the word sex to describe both male and female differences and also the activity that they do together.

          • Aapje says:

            @Orion

            Or you could use male for the biological part and male gender role for the cultural part, if it makes sense to keep them apart.

            What does “male-gendered” even mean? How people classify you? The male gender role? Male enculturation? Is a crossdresser male gendered?

      • Orion says:

        Ditto if you can’t make predictions more substantial and relevant than “parents will dress them in pink” or any of the other fluff you mentioned.

        On re-reading your comment, this popped out to me as deserving a response. Please remember I was talking specifically about infants. I actually don’t think there are particularly substantial or relevant predictions to make about infants qua infants because infants don’t do anything particularly important or interesting. Men and women are different in many important and interesting ways, but the only reason I’d care whether someone else’s infant was a boy or a girl would be to know what pronouns and gifts would be customary.

      • DinoNerd says:

        So if I read this correctly, you want people to refer to 3 genders – male, female, and intersex. The information that someone had ambiguous genitalia at birth – not e.g. some other gender development oddity, that gave them either chromosomally wrong (but non-ambiguous) genitalia, or post-birth development that didn’t produce the expected secondary sexual characteristics (or the expected gender identity, for that matter, but you seem focussed on bodies, so we can skip that one) is somehow important to your assessment of that person.

        I suspect that’s basic gender essentialism – with a small exception allows for the 1 in 1000 born with ambiguous genitalia, but nothing for others. (Kudos to you for that; some people simply don’t believe that intersex infants are ever born, or decide that their chance for happiness should be sacrificed to the greater good.) You see two genders, with at least an exception for those born ‘defective’ and expect others to see the same thing – whereas others see lots of variety and nuance.

      • DinoNerd says:

        If you can make any prediction that will apply to no males and all females, or no females and all males, than you are living in a very different world than I am. Even the predictions of gifts and colours aren’t 100%.

        • albatross11 says:

          How about if you can make predictions that are overwhelmingly accurate but still fail for rare edge-cases? Caster Semanaya is a super rare edge case, for example. Even more common transpeople are pretty rare. Even gays are down around 5% or so of the population. Predictions like “this person will find women more sexually attractive and interesting than men” work with something like 95% accuracy. OTOH, predictions like “this person will like guns and woodworking” is much less accurate, since it’s driven mostly by culture with maybe conceivably some kind of biological difference somewhere pushing things along in a certain direction. Predictions like “this person will never ever get pregnant no matter what they do” are like 99.999% accurate, subject only to super-rare weird edge cases or future advances in technology.

    • Dack says:

      I believe this thought experiment demonstrates that while most people are never “assigned” a sex, almost everyone is “assigned” a gender.

      My wife has always believed this. We now have three daughters. She strongly believed that they would be better off if we didn’t “gender” them. So we didn’t. (I didn’t really believe these things, but went along with it because I didn’t think it would harm them.) From the beginning, we got them green and yellow baby stuff. Friends and relatives still got them pink stuff and dolls, but we would get them blue stuff and trucks to balance it out. So they always had their pick of girl clothes/toys/activities or boy clothes/toys/activities.

      Fast forward 12 years, and they are all fairly typical girls.

      • albatross11 says:

        ISTM that the most important lesson to teach your kids is that it’s okay to ignore social conventions about what you’re supposed to be interested in. If you’re a girl and want to learn to solder or shoot a gun, or a boy and want to learn to knit or cook, you should ignore anyone telling you not to like the stuff you like. Letting other people tell you not to like what you like, or letting them tell you you’re supposed to like something you find boring, is a recipe for misery.

        My 14 year old son is the best cook in the family, and my 11-year-old daughter spent a lot of her childhood running around the neighborhood in a pink dress having foam-rubber swordfights with the other kids. This seems like a win, to me.

        • Plumber says:

          @albatross11 says:

          “….My 14 year old son is the best cook in the family, and my 11-year-old daughter spent a lot of her childhood running around the neighborhood in a pink dress having foam-rubber swordfights with the other kids. This seems like a win, to me”

          I’d also guess that ups your chance at having grandchildren as I strongly suspect that young ladies will appreciate a young man who can make a good breakfast (see if you can get him ballroom dancing and/or guitar lessons as well, if he’salso tall and a poet than he’ll be very much sought after), and as for your daughter I strongly suspect a “warrior princess” will be in demand as well.

          Let me be the first to congratulate you (but hopefully not for at least another seven years for your son and ten years for your daughter, which reminds me of an XKCD on parental pressure I can’t find).

        • Statismagician says:

          This is also my position. It seems like too obviously the correct one, though; I think I almost have to be missing something very fundamental about why this stuff is so important to people.

          • Aapje says:

            If people don’t follow the ‘rules’, there are consequences and usually negative ones.

            For example, if a effeminate man is considerably less attractive to women, which the evidence seems to suggest, then not training effeminate behavior out of a boy can mean a substantially reduced chance of grandchildren, as well as a greater chance of an unhappy, lonely life.

            So, for example, parents can feel strongly about this, for their own sake and because they think it is the best for their child.

            PS. I wonder if people who think lightly about this, as you seem to, have had much more pleasant life experiences in this regard.

          • Spookykou says:

            I remember back when I was using Okcupid that there was some advice floating around about how broad appeal was a trap, and the best way to get dates was not to try and be an 80% for as many people as possible, but instead to try to be a 99% for a few people, these people will almost always actually go out with you. If this hold, then being an effeminate man might be a poor strategy in the polls but a fine strategy for my pole(sorry).

          • Aapje says:

            Having an generally disliked trait doesn’t necessarily push you to the top for more people than it pushes you out contention.

            I think that an outlier strategy mainly works if the weaknesses enable a strength to work. For example, a very sensitive man who writes and performs very sensitive songs probably is way more attractive than a man who is merely very sensitive.

      • Orion says:

        I think most people would probably end up “opting into” a gender even if they weren’t assigned one, but also that it’s factually true that people get assigned to a gender long before their own preferences have become clear.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I didn’t intend to do any “non-gendering” stuff with my son, it just happened to be that we choose an animal/safari theme for his baby room, so he had brown/beige walls and animal stuff everywhere, and I think animals are neutral when it comes to gendered interest. His first word besides “mama,” “dada” and “no” was “truck.” Could not drive without him pointing out every truck on the road. “Truck!” “Truck!” “Truck!”

        I am not a truck guy and do not have a truck. I was playing a lot of Forza at the time, though. But that’s cars.

        • bean says:

          I am not a truck guy and do not have a truck. I was playing a lot of Forza at the time, though. But that’s cars.

          Horizon 4’s got trucks. I’ve even won a couple of championships in trucks. Personally don’t really like them, but that’s another issue.

  5. Faza (TCM) says:

    Continuing guitar-related topics from 148.

    Today I grit my teeth and changed the strings on the ol’ Gibson and there’s a bunch of stuff that I just need to get off my chest. Thank you for your patience.

    1. Upon a time you’d get strings in separate paper sleeves. For some reason (prolly CW) it doesn’t happen any more. These days the done thing is to coil up the strings in a bunch (pairs this time, thankfully) and throw them in a single, supposedly corrosion-resistant, sealed plastic bag; ball-ends colour coded for your convenience.

    It’s a PITA because rather than working one string at a time, you gotta uncoil a bunch, put all of the ones you ain’t currently using somewhere where they won’t hurt anyone (or get kinks) and put them on in the order that makes sense for the pairings, as opposed to one that makes sense for you. For example, I’ve always put strings on from the inside out and with the new, improved packing paradigm, it only works for the first pair. Grrr.

    Funnily enough, I believe the first time I saw this in the late ’90s/early 2000s it was D’Addario doing it and – funnily enough – D’Addarios are what I was putting on today. However, these days everyone seems to be doing it – at least if everyone also includes Dean Markley and Rotosound.

    2. If you’re making a set of 012-gague with a plain G, why on earth would you make that G a 024 (that’s thousands of an inch, BTW)? If you’re gonna make it that thick, it might as well be wound. Plain ones just don’t work very well.

    Incidentally, the reason I bought D’Addarios this time is that it was pretty much the only set that had a sensible plain G string (020). Not ideal, but much more sensible than a 024. Which brings us to…

    3. Why, oh why doesn’t anyone make a sensible 012-gague set these days? Something along the lines of 012-016-019-032-042-052. Oh, right, there is such a set – La Bella Blues Heavies, my favourite strings ever for the Gibbo. ‘xcept you can’t buy them in Poland any more. The distributor don’t got ’em. Ze Germans don’t got ’em. Oh, woe is me!

    4. Am I the only one that hates setting intonation? I’ve gotten pretty good at it by now (one would hope, after 27 years of playing), but oh my God is it a soul-crushing process. Thankfully, I won’t have to do it for a while. That is, until I start recording, possibly, at which point I would ask that one of the resident gun-owners lend me a piece.

    5. One of these days I will figure out that whole pickup/pole-piece height business. I understand the general principles well enough, but in practice… it’s a deep, dark mystery. I’ll need to science it.

    Phew, I feel better now. My only worry is that the Ibanez needs new strings, too, and that isn’t going to be so fun and pleasurable. Still, it’ll be an opportunity to try that whole “put more springs on it” angle.

    • Well... says:

      1. I don’t remember if the Ernie Ball Super Slinkys I bought a month or so ago came in separate envelopes (I think they didn’t) but I do remember them being easy to separate and keep coiled. FWTW.

      4. Yeah it sucks.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        I tried a set of EB Not Even Slinkies a while back, but can’t remember either. I think they were in the one bag, tho’, ‘coz it’s been getting to me for a while.

    • Dino says:

      #2 Agree about plain .024, I tried one once – never again.
      #3 Maybe try mail-order – I like Elderly Instruments. https://www.elderly.com/
      If they don’t have a set just like you want you can always get single strings, which is what I often do. I just stocked up on strings because of the virus epidemic 😉

  6. Deiseach says:

    I don’t know if this is a culture-war topic, but it’s certainly a bad history topic. The good old legend of the Burning of the Library of Alexandria rumbles on, and a movie from 2009 is still making people in 2020 cry. Tumblr post from today:

    I’m watching “Agorá” on tv and they’re destroing Alexandria’s library and the idea that it happened for real, that all that knowledge was really burned, is breaking my heart more than anything.

    I reblogged this with as much of a rebuttal as I could, but I am at the tearing my hair out stage. People are getting their history from the movies, and some movies are flat-out lies.I don’t have any objections to dumb historical moves per se, things like 300 are good trashy homoerotic fun as long as you know it’s all nonsense. If you really think the Persian Wars were like that, or that the Americans found Enigma, or any of the other ahistorical rubbish out there, then I can’t do much for you.

    This is why the humanities are important. This is why those ‘useless’ subjects at school do actually have a use. “But does it really matter if somene thinks Abraham Lincoln fought the Nazis at Thermopylae? So long as people learn the useful practical and real STEM subjects, who cares?” you may ask, and I say “Yes, it does matter.”

    Imagine the above quote was about someone weeping that their heart was breaking watching a movie where people were fighting against the idea that ‘2+2=5’. “But 2+2 isn’t 5”, you say. “Oh no no no, it is!” they insist. “I know it is, it was in a movie! Everyone knows that it was only evil mathematicians who wanted to wipe out independent thought who fought against this brave sexy young heroine who was in a relationship with her hunky slave!”

    What you gonna do? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • Clutzy says:

      I think you are conflating 3 problems into 1 idea.

      #1. No one thinks humanities shouldn’t exist. We want historians and archaeologists out there finding old texts, old settlements, etc. In other words revealing new information to us.

      #2. However, that is not what the humanities do, in practice. They don’t prepare students for field expeditions, creative writing courses don’t produce overwhelming numbers of creative books, J-schools don’t produce ethical and inquisitive investigators, etc.

      #3. Those basic factual things should have been covered by a competent k-12 education anyways. Verifying the timeline of Abraham Lincoln’s life as not being during WWII is not a college level topic.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yes, thank you.
        The humanities have value, but the softer the subject, the easier it is for professors to corrupt them because the stakes aren’t as high as science. Rocket scientists will never (we hope) treat E=MC^2 as a sexed equation or doctors treat ebola as matter of racism rather than facts, because people die if you’re un-serious (perhaps the most horrifying thing about Communism is how many people were not deliberately killed but simply starved to death because their rulers had dogma about using agriculture to achieve equality).
        And yes, for goodness sake, what are they teaching our children in K-12 schools if they don’t know what Abraham Lincoln’s life did and didn’t overlap with?

        • Clutzy says:

          I don’t think you need to even get into the very CW-y failures of humanities to see their true failing: Failing to do their job.

          Lack of a writing degree doesn’t seem to be a barrier to good writing. When I went to law school I had a significant writing advantage over most humanities majors. I have an engineering degree.

      • Milo Minderbinder says:

        +1

        Most intelligent people, whether humanities or STEM in their formal education, have a healthy respect for both. Historical illiteracy is bad for a lot of reasons, but the inability or refusal to respect quantitative arguments because they don’t align with ideology is just as ruinous.

    • GearRatio says:

      I’m not 100% I buy that the last paragraph justifies the 2nd. If somebody thinks 2+2=5, there’s practical ways in which they are less useful to me and plausible ways in which they are troublesome to me. If someone thinks Lincoln was a robot, that matters very little to me unless I decide to make it a big deal where it doesn’t have to be one.

      • Deiseach says:

        If someone thinks Lincoln was a robot, that matters very little to me unless I decide to make it a big deal where it doesn’t have to be one.

        It matters because (a) it means that people are believing false rather than true thing – people have this very objection when it comes to religion, and I don’t want to fight a war of religion but I do think it makes a difference to know that Abraham Lincoln was a 19th century president who was not alive to be at either Thermopylae or fighting in the Second World War. Anti-vaxxers are people whose harmless false beliefs about disease are not, in fact, harmless (b) this twisted history is often created in the service of ideological or political aims, as with the Agorá move; it’s the kind of cultural soft power influence that does have a warping effect on society, in the way that our friend Rob Reich argued that philanthropy on the billionaire scale has (c) even when the twisting is done for pragmatic reasons, such as “Americans won’t go watch a war movie where Americans are not the heroes” in movies such as U-571, the fact that something within living memory can be mangled like this with the public neither knowing nor caring should be alarming.

        Historical facts are still facts. Don’t feel at ease about STEM facts being immune to such melting memories or repurposing; if the public at large can be made to believe 2+2=5, they will believe it and this wil have an impact.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        “Abraham Lincoln was a robot” or “2+2=5” are obviously exaggerated examples, but historical ignorance absolutely does cause people to take wrong positions (or, at least, take positions for the wrong reasons) in important political topics. For example, look at the Ahmari vs. French dust-up over whether the government should ban things like drag queen story hours, pornography, and so on. A lot of the arguments against Ahmari ran along the lines of, “Banning porn and DQSH would be an un-American restriction of freedom of speech. Ahmari wants to take us back to a medieval integralist form of government, which never works and only leads to endless Thirty Years’ War -style religious strife. Liberalism requires us to permit such things, and is ultimately a far more stable form of government anyway, so the medicine Ahmari prescribes is worse than the disease he seeks to cure.”

        Now, in reality, this is all complete nonsense. The US, like virtually every other country, has had anti-obscenity laws for centuries, and meaningfully enforced them down until the 1960s. So far from being un-American and medieval, Ahmari’s position would have been accepted as common sense for the comfortable majority of both American history and the period of liberal political ascendancy (which I’d date from around 1750 or so to the present). And even if Ahmari were advocating a return to some kind of medieval-style confessionalism, this way of approaching Church-state relations was normative in the Christian parts of Europe from the fourth until the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, considerably longer than the liberal political order has yet managed to last, so there’s no real reason to think that confessionalism is especially prone to collapse. (You could make a case that the pre-Christian Greek and Roman city states, with their civic cults, also count as confessional states, in which case confessionalism’s run would last even longer.)

        Anyway, that’s just one example. But I think it does illustrate how historical ignorance can influence people to take sides in political debates; and, insofar as it’s generally a bad thing for people to support policies out of ignorance, it follows that historical ignorance, and hence media which promotes it, is a bad thing.

    • Machine Interface says:

      It’s a lot cause. Historical movies are 100% propaganda, all the time, since forever. There’s a reason popular culture, even in Catholic countries, has bought into the idea that early Protestants were brave reformers battling for religious tolerance against the corruption of the Church — when in reality they were literally ISIS.

      • Dragor says:

        Well, A) they had a much weaker social media presence, and B) even if they did behead people that was way more normal back then.

      • ana53294 says:

        early Protestants were brave reformers battling for religious tolerance against the corruption of the Church — when in reality they were literally ISIS.

        I was actually shocked when I read Stefan Zweig’s The Right to Heresy: Castellio against Calvin. That Calvin was a petty theocrat that spent his life in the safety of Geneva.

        Even in Catholic Spain, history classes focus a lot more on the horrors of the Inquisition and the wastefullness of Charles I of Spain and V of the Holy Roman empire. The fact that a lot of the protestants also did a whole bunch of burning people and books is not mentioned.

        • Nick says:

          Even in Catholic Spain, history classes focus a lot more on the horrors of the Inquisition and the wastefullness of Charles I of Spain and V of the Holy Roman empire. The fact that a lot of the protestants also did a whole bunch of burning people and books is not mentioned.

          Not unrelated: a book on the Spanish Empire arguing against the Black Legend has apparently become a surprise bestseller in Spain.

          • ana53294 says:

            The recent rise in Spanish nationalism has led to a whole lot of historical revisionism. They like to focus on the last stand of the Numancians, on Blas de Lezo, and like to remember the glory days of the Spanish tercio.

            My point is not that the attempts to become the Holy Roman Emperor by taxing Spaniards to bribe German princes, that the Duke of Alba was very nice to the Dutch, or that the Inquisition did not burn a lot of people who might have been secret Jews. It’s that the fact that a lot of protestants did a lot of it too, both colonialism, like the Dutch with their East India company, and some burning heretics, like Calvin, is not mentioned in Spanish history books.

            But then, as Basque, I don’t have much sympathy towards Spanish imperialism.

          • Nick says:

            No, I understand you weren’t defending the Spanish Empire. I say it’s related because it is nonetheless the obverse to what you’re describing: one side whitewashes Protestantism and small-l liberalism (a “White Legend” if you will), while the other demonizes Spain, Catholicism, and empire. One might be more accurate than the other (I haven’t read Barea’s book, as it’s untranslated!), but as a propaganda campaign, they’re two sides of the same coin.

          • ana53294 says:

            And they were incredibly successful in both.

            Terrible as Spanish colonialism may have been, South America is full of descendants of Native Americans, mixed race and pure, in North America they are but a minority. Lesson: when you commit genocide, do it early and fast, make sure to get rid of all of them, if you want to come up well in history books.

            Spain was very serious about being Catholic for most of its history. But the Dutch East Indies Company did not allow religious freedoms in its colonies, either (even protestant conversionary priests were not allowed, because once they converted natives, they sympathized with them). The British East Indies Company only allowed religious freedoms after their monopoly was blocked in Parliament by a religious campaign. This means that diversity of religions is a lot more important for religious freedoms than which religion happens to be on top.

            And none of that gets mentioned in Spain, which has been Catholic and remains Catholic (despite many people not being church going, many people still baptize their kids and get buried in Catholic burial grounds, get married in a Catholic church and study religion under a Catholic Church chosen teacher in school). It’s remarkable how successful the protestant-led campaign to whitewash them has been.

          • Aapje says:

            @ana53294

            But the Dutch East Indies Company did not allow religious freedoms in its colonies, either (even protestant conversionary priests were not allowed, because once they converted natives, they sympathized with them).

            This is not true and the claim makes no sense if you understand the religiosity of the time. The Dutch government had the Reformed Church as the state religion, following the dictates of the Belgic Confession, which demanded that the government would aid in evangelizing and fight false gods & false religions (this later part was removed in 1905, making it more tolerant of other religions). During this period, Catholics and other off-brand religions were only allowed to have ‘invisible’ churches, where the inside of the building is a church, but the outside doesn’t look like one. You can still find these in The Netherlands.

            The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was established to get rid of competition between traders and instead form a collective, to serve the interests of both the traders and the state. The state would give privileges and the VOC would serve the interests of the state, including religious interests, which were intertwined with politics.

            The first (21 year) charter of the VOC of 1602 didn’t explicitly demand evangelizing and instead was focused on getting control (by expunging the Portuguese from the region, preventing the Spanish from getting a foothold and by forcing Java into only trading with the Dutch). The second charter of 1622/1623 did explicitly task the VOC with teaching the true Reformed religion.

            However, the religious approach by the VOC was probably more practical than that of the Portuguese and Spanish. Evangelizing couldn’t cost too much or harm the trade too much. On Ambon, the small Catholic community was fairly quickly oppressed from openly practicing their religion, but the much larger Islamic community got more privileges, although Sharia law was banned. The latter group was bigger and prone to rebellions, so squeezing them too hard harmed trade.

            Note that not only were Protestant clergy allowed to practice, they were paid by the VOC.

            Finally, something special for you, an excerpt from a book written by a lawyer of the VOC around 1700, in a book about the history of the VOC, commissioned by the VOC itself:

            In geenderhande maniere sal men Portugesen off Spangiaarden, waar men by haar komt, betrouwen of geloof geven, nogh met haar eeten, drincken of eenige gemeenschap houden, maer men sal voorsigtigh ende neerstigh wesen, om haar listige aanslagen en bedrogh te ontdecken.

            And my translation:

            In no way shall one, when meeting the Portuguese or Spaniards, trust them, nor eat or drink with them or in any way keep them company, but one shall be careful and serious, to discover their cunning attacks and deceptions.

            😛

      • Tenacious D says:

        when in reality they were literally ISIS.

        That’s “austere religious scholars” if you’re following the WaPo style guide.

    • Lambert says:

      https://acoup.blog/ is a good webstie for taking all this popular culture stuff apart and looking at it critically.

      Stuff like how awful Spartan society was, when you think of it for like 5 seconds (and how they barely even batted above replacement on the battlefield); why on Earth (Middle or otherwise) cities in films are always in the middle of a big patch of empty grassland; the whole ‘barbarians overrunning decadent civilisation’ thing from Hetrodotus to the Taliban; war elephants etc.

      • Loriot says:

        I still remember one morning in my 10th grade World History class, when the teacher asked the class whether they would have rather lived in Sparta or Athens. All the girls chose Athens and all the boys except me chose Sparta. (To be fair, this was shortly after 300 came out). Then the teacher talked about how in Athens, women had to stay in the home, while in Sparta, they basically got to run things while their husbands were away in the military (well, the non-helot women anyway).

        • The original Mr. X says:

          well, the non-helot women anyway

          I think that qualification is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. Helot women would have been way more numerous than non-Helot women, and their lot would almost certainly have been considerably worse than that of the average Athenian woman (because they’d have to cope with things like the Krypteia, where young Spartans would annually cull the most able Helot men to stop them leading a rebellion). So I think it’d be perfectly reasonable for a woman to choose Athens over Sparta, under a Rawlsian veil-of-ignorance principle.

          • Loriot says:

            It wasn’t explicitly stated, but I think being a citizen was sort of implied. At any rate, it was pretty obvious that the girls didn’t chose Athens over any sort of concern about helots. It was all based on the pop culture images of Athens and Sparta. I doubt they even knew about helots prior to us covering them in class.

    • Dack says:

      If you really think the Persian Wars were like that, or that the Americans found Enigma, or any of the other ahistorical rubbish out there, then I can’t do much for you.

      Umm…Americans did find an Enigma machine when they captured U-505 intact on June 4th, 1944.

      You can see the Enigma machine and the sub at the museum in Chicago.

      • Loriot says:

        Yes, but that post dates the main Enigma breaking efforts. Incidentally, I was surprised to learn recently that there was another machine (the Lorenz cipher), that the British managed to break without ever getting access to a machine, just by looking at patterns in the data and working really really hard. Now that was impressive.

        • Dack says:

          My understanding is that the U-boat enigma was different, but okay, it’s fair to say that Americans didn’t break it.

          But it is a fact that they found one.

        • Lambert says:

          More impotantly, they built Colossus, the world’s first fully electrical (as opposed to electromechanical) computer to break Lorenz (codenamed Tunny). Would recommend going to the Museum of Computing at Bletchley park (separate from the main museum) to see the one they recreated.

          Also credit where credit’s due to the Poles, who did a lot of early work cracking Enigma.

  7. Deiseach says:

    Immigrants are bringing their strange foreign ways and luring people away from good traditional American sports 😉

    Good luck to St Peter’s, San Diego!

  8. AG says:

    In the event that the US puts an area into month-long quarantine, does that mean that power/water/gas for that area eventually get borked? Or is the power generation and transmission situation sufficiently separated over long distance, that the only issue is if the region that’s infected includes the power plant?

    Holing up for a month with freezer food is easy.
    Holing up for over a week without being able to heat non-perishables in the kitchen is a completely different monster.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t think there’s any precedent for that, and there’s no reason for it to happen unless the officials are really dumb about it. There’d be no reason to close power plants and other infrastructure; at worst, you’d need to set up dormitories for the workers.

    • Plumber says:

      @AG says:

      “In the event that the US puts an area into month-long quarantine, does that mean that power/water/gas for that area eventually get borked?…”

      I doubt it, in living memory of living memory (old folks alive now when young knew old folks who lived through it in their youth): 

      In the year of 19 and 18, God sent a mighty disease.

      It killed many a-thousand, on land and on the seas.
      Well, we done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      We done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      Great disease was mighty and the people were sick everywhere.
      It was an epidemic, it floated through the air.
      Well, we done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      We done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      The doctors they got troubled and they didn’t know what to do.
      They gathered themselves together, they called it the Spanish flu.
      Well, we done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      We done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      Soldiers died on the battlefield, died in the counts too.
      Captain said to the lieutenant, “I don’t know what to do.”
      Well, we done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      We done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      Well, God is warning the nation, He’s a-warning them every way.
      To turn away from evil and seek the Lord and pray.
      Well, we done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      We done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      Well, the nobles said to the people, “You better close your public schools.”
      “Until the events of death has ending, you better close your churches too.”
      We done told you, our God’s done warned you,
      Jesus coming soon.
      We done told

      – song by Blind Willie Johnson recorded December 5, 1928, Dallas, Texas

      About a tenth of the world died from the epidemic, I’ve seen pictures of Street crossings in San Francisco from then where the traffic cop and most of the pedestrians wore masks, but power plants continued to run and civil wars in China and Russia raged on.

      • Noah says:

        About a tenth of the world died from the epidemic.

        It wasn’t nearly that high. Wikipedia gives 1.7% as the estimate, with the high end of the estimate range being about 3%. Which doesn’t detract too much from your overall point.

  9. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I see people saying that catching Coronavirus is inevitable (eg https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/02/covid-vaccine/607000/ ) and that we want to “flatten the curve” (eg https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/coronavirus-dont-worry-politicians-experts-charge/ ) for Coronavirus.

    If you accept these two premises, should we be purposefully infecting healthy young people now in the US, while we have the capacity to quarantine and monitor them? Then we will have a group of workers that are immune to the disease when the pandemic hits.

    • The Nybbler says:

      If you accept these two premises, should we be purposefully infecting healthy young people now in the US, while we have the capacity to quarantine and monitor them?

      The death rate, even for young and healthy people, is too high for that to be considered a good idea even for volunteers in a modern Western country. It’s about 2 deaths in 1000 for 20-39 year olds.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The first premise is a big if. But yes, this would be the right thing to do.

      There is a third premise which you even mention, which is whether survivors actually get immunity! We should be testing this. And testing it should be a side effect of testing whether antiserum from survivors can cure patients.

      • Three Year Lurker says:

        I don’t understand the question over survivors getting immunity. My understanding is that people recover because their body learns how to kill the virus and eradicates it. So how could survival not grant immunity?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Immunity in general and the production of antibodies in particular are temporary, depending on the particular virus and many other factors. Surely you have heard that tetanus vaccines last 10 years, whereas measles vaccines last a lifetime? Here is a paper on norovirus immunity that finds it to last years, but cites other papers finding it to last only months. (I chose this link because it was the shortest duration I could find. What might “no immunity” really mean?) The paper complains that such studies expose the subjects to large doses of the virus, which are not realistic. But they might be realistic for a health worker in a pandemic.

          • albatross11 says:

            There’s even one disease I’ve heard of (dengue) where getting it a second time is worse than the original infection, apparently because the antibodies you make to the first infection allow the next infection to efficiently gain entry into your macrophages and *really* screw you over.

            ETA: Somewhere in China, someone should be collecting data on whether people who recovered from SARS are vulnerable to the new COVID-19 / SARS-COV-2 virus. That would be interesting to know.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            (Wikipedia tells me that) the main thing with dengue is that it has several variants. That’s why there’s a new flu every year. When people predict that this coronavirus will become endemic, they’re predicting that it will mutate fast enough to get around immunity. But that’s on a slower time scale than the first wave.

            Wikipedia says that a second infection by a different strain of dengue is more severe, but it doesn’t say that the virus is able to take advantage of the immune response. Do you have a source on this? There is a similar theory that the Spanish flu was particularly lethal in young people because they had been primed by another flu and their immune system overreacted. (And only young people have strong enough immune systems to overreact?) But that wasn’t good for the virus.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The thing Dengue does is called antibody-dependent enhancement, but it’s pretty rare.

            I mentioned a theory about the Spanish flu. There is a more popular theory that is almost the opposite. Wikipedia mentions the theory that exposure to the Russian flu (1890) offered protection. This doesn’t seem helpful because the age bucket 35-45 had worse mortality than 45-55. The theory I mentioned was that exposure to the Russian flu made the Spanish flu worse. But that doesn’t work because the age bucket 25-35 had worse mortality than 35-45 (and 15-25 was about as bad as 35-45, which is very surprising). age-specific mortality

    • Purplehermann says:

      1)It sounds like a lot of people don’t have symptoms.

      2) Might be worth holding out for a vaccine, hope as few people as possible die before that point.

      3) Are we sure that recovery grants immunity?

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      No, because if you go around intentionally infecting adults, normal people will think their government has been taken over lizard-people, a death cult, or the aliens from Independence People. Government credibility is the most important thing we have in the crisis: It’s what ensures that I feel comfortable buying frozen food and not bullets.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        While I’m sure my plan has flaws, I assumed the people we were purposefully infecting were volunteers who signed up for the risk.

  10. proyas says:

    Are there genetic differences between the English people who migrated to North America, Australia and New Zealand, and those who stayed in England?

    I ask because there’s the stereotype that lower-class people from England were the ones who left (the belief that most Australians are descended from prison convicts is the most extreme example of this), and it’s possible this could lead to detectable population genetic differences.

    • Dack says:

      The short answer is yes.

      But I would expect the effect would be dominated by intermarriage of the emigrants with different populations, not what subgroups of English emigrants ended up going to the different destinations.

    • Del Cotter says:

      No. Your unstated assumption is that such differences existed between the classes in England. No such differences have ever been detected, so differential migration won’t result in any either.

      Aside from the failure to detect them, it’s not plausible that genetic differences between English classes would exist on theoretical grounds anyway. Class mobility has always been far too high for one, and for another, the classes have always been far too ready to, hem hem, fraternize.

      Differences have been found between Indian castes, because they’re less mobile and marriage, and extramarital sex, were more strongly policed. But classes aren’t castes.

      Finally, since the class you call the migrating one constitutes by far the majority, any signal would in any case have to be the absence of a small minority.

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, I think it’s very hard to get substantial genetic differences between groups that have a lot of intermarriage–whatever differences start to arise get diluted very quickly.

      • Atlas says:

        No. Your unstated assumption is that such differences existed between the classes in England… Class mobility has always been far too high for one, and for another, the classes have always been far too ready to, hem hem, fraternize.

        For an argument to the contrary, consider Gregory Clark’s The Son Also Rises.

        • Del Cotter says:

          Genetics isn’t surnames. You have to consider who those sons are having children with. They might marry down so his children import genes from the population via their mother. He might also get the servant girls pregnant. Pregnant servant girl leaves in disgrace, but carries his genes into the population.

          Surnames are more about how land and capital carries itself from generation to generation, than about its human hosts.

    • Atlas says:

      (the belief that most Australians are descended from prison convicts is the most extreme example of this)

      This belief might be false—according to Wikipedia, at least, only around 20% of Australians have a convict ancestor. And that seems to be only having at least one such ancestor; if, say, 1/16 of your great-great-grandparents was a convict, it seems unlikely to me that it would make much genetic difference.

  11. johan_larson says:

    MBA? MMA? Hey, those are just one letter apart. That’s not a coincidence. There are no coincidences.

    You are invited to describe the curriculum that must be completed to earn the hybrid M(B/M)A.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Psssh, that’s easy. I went for the combo MBA/MMA/MFA. For my thesis I gouged a guy’s eyes out during a match, sculpted the scene, and then gouged art collectors on the price.

    • GearRatio says:

      Not related, but this got me thinking about a barbarian warrior/stockbroker whose motto is “Buy high, fell blows”.

    • albatross11 says:

      I guess the really good negotiation skills force the other guy to tap?

    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      I wrestled in college, and got a business degree where the classes were more or less all cross-listed with the MBA school. I imagine if I’d gotten some instruction on striking/more esoteric submissions I’d be qualified.

    • Lambert says:

      The real pro move is to do the above while representing fathers pro-bono in family court.

    • BBA says:

      Whatever it is, I just hope I don’t get wrapped up in it.

  12. Mark V Anderson says:

    I want to talk about the culture war (CW) prohibition on the whole number threads in SSC. Scott doesn’t use the term CW anymore for this, but I think the rule is still the same as before. There’s been a lot of discussion about CW recently on an off-hand basis. IMO, many folks have broadened what they think is CW so much that only bland topics are still available to discuss on whole numbered threads.

    It is my understanding that the reason for the prohibition is to keep casual readers of SSC from picking up on some controversial opinions in SSC and widely publicizing them, making SSC appear to be one of those crazy right wing web sites out there. So the prohibition of CW isn’t to stop flaming and controversy on SSC itself; it is to avoid issues in the wider world. There are various subjects discussed on SSC that cause sharp disagreement and unending discussion, but these are not CW. Examples of this are discussions on free will/determinism, free market/socialism, beliefs or unbeliefs in Christianity or God.

    I think the only true CW topics are the ones that relate to identity politics. That is, controversies about race, gender, or LGBT. For some reason Islam is included as part of race in the wider world, even though it isn’t a race. Below I list several comments (similar to what I’ve seen in the past on SSC) that would never be acceptable on the whole number thread, but are fine for discussion on the non-visible threads. (I don’t want to discuss the validity of these statements on this thread, only their CW-ness)

    1) On average, Blacks are a standard deviation lower in intelligence than Whites.
    2) Some of the lower intelligence of Blacks might be genetically based.
    3) Men and women are inherently different from each other, both physically and mentally.
    4) Men and women have about the same intelligence on average, but men have a higher variance. So there are a lot more super smart men than women, and more super dumb men than women.
    5) Transexuals don’t have the moral right to force everyone else to use the pronoun of their choice.
    6) Muslims commit terrorism disproportionately to their population. The Koran encourages violence.

    Some people say that all things Trump are CW. I disagree; I think only the identity politics Trump issues are the dangerous ones to discuss. But this is an edge case, so perhaps Trump should be banned on whole number threads.

    One thing I am confused about are Scott posts (non-open threads). Are there any rules on CW for those comments? Scott has never said this explicitly, but I could see these comments as being as much an issue as the whole number threads, because they are very visible. Obviously when Scott makes a post about race or gender, the comments must also be about race or gender, but maybe we should try to avoid the more controversial comments? And how about his posts that are adjacent to CW, so comments will naturally stray in that direction? Should that be avoided? At this point I am assuming there are no such rules on Scott post comments, but maybe there should be.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      There are not rules on anything but whole-number open threads. The rules are unclear because the only real criterion is “would it make people absolutely h o p p i n g angery?” If yes, it gets redtexted. If you’re unable to read the room, just push the envelope until someone tells you not to.

      IMO the philosophy of non-CW OTs is basically, “an enforced culture war vacation in the Open Thread.” I don’t find them dull at all, mostly since I come here to talk about things that are neat, and many things that are neat are not CW.

    • Plumber says:

      For the new whole number Open Threads our host asks that we

      “…please try to avoid hot-button political and social topics…”

      As a guess “hot button” may include (in no particular order):

      1) “Feminism”
      2) “Race realism”/”Race as a social construct”
      3) “The Left”
      4) “The Right”
      5) How legal should abortion be?
      6) How legal should gun ownership be?
      7) Democrats and Republicans in ways that aren’t “horse race”
      8) Star Wars
      9) The Marvel Cinematic Universe
      10) Which editions of Dungeons & Dragons are AWESOME!, and which are LAME!

      I believe that leaves us Magic: The Gathering card games as an appropriate topic for whole number Open Threads, and there they should stay!

      Dagnabbit.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Magicfest Turin has just been cancelled because of Coronavirus fears. It seems to me that Trump’s response to Coronavirus is likely to lead to polarization on questions pertaining to it, so even Magic may not be whole-number-thread-safe for long.

        Plus of course the near-total absence of cis women and over-representation of AMAB trans people in high level competitive Magic and Wizards’ attempts to address this through affirmative action, the pushback against Wizards’ comparatively woke agenda from sections of the player base…

        Yeah, Magic is probably not altogether safe either.

        • vrostovtsev says:

          I was able to google the reference for the ‘wotc affirmative action’ but what’s the best entrypoint to read about a ‘pushback against wotc woke agenda’?

          also, when I quit playing/reading about magic couple years ago it was obvious things are turning bad, but holy shit …

          • Loriot says:

            I don’t think there’s any organized pushback, but sometimes people complain about the fact that characters portrayed on magic cards are diverse and gender balanced. I’ve seen a few people complaining here about it before. Seems pretty silly to me.

          • Tarpitz says:

            I’m not sure I can really point you at any sort of summary – it’s just assorted social media drama at various times. Jessica Estephan getting an MPL spot over more qualified male players was one notable flashpoint, if you feel like trawling through old threads on r/magictcg. If you want to hear a Wizards employee spelling out the company’s views you could listen to Alison Luhrs talking about fantasy worldbuilding on episode 416 of Scriptnotes.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            If you want to hear a Wizards employee spelling out the company’s views you could listen to Alison Luhrs talking about fantasy worldbuilding on episode 416 of Scriptnotes.

            Fantasy worldbuilding was a mistake.

          • Loriot says:

            Mark Rosewater has also answered a number of fan complaints about “unrealistic” gender balance in their settings on his Tumblr, though I’m not aware of an easy way to search it.

            It’s funny how people don’t blink an eye at magic or vampires fighting dinosaurs, but think that having female pirates is just ridiculous.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It’s funny how people don’t blink an eye at magic or vampires fighting dinosaurs, but think that having female pirates is just ridiculous.

            Female pirates are great. The problem is making up a fake world, then cut & pasting hegemonic wokeness into it. The fake world is inherently a shallow shadow of the Real, and then they make it worse by trying to strip people who consume it of the ability to understand things like why blacksmiths married women instead of other men.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s funny how people don’t blink an eye at magic or vampires fighting dinosaurs, but think that having female pirates is just ridiculous.

            No, it really isn’t. Quoting G.K. Chesterton (because if I don’t then Deiseach will),

            “It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don’t understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing-room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it’s only incredible. But I’m much more certain it didn’t happen than that Parnell’s ghost didn’t appear; because it violates the laws of the world I do understand.”

            A female pirate can, with a bit of work, be made a plausible-but-extraordinary thing. With a bit more work, one can create a plausible secondary world where female pirates are not even extraordinary. But to just cast a pirate in an otherwise generic medieval-ish fantasy world and say “meh, this one’s a girl, these things happen, no big deal”, is in the same league as slapping Queen Victoria on the back and offering her a cigar.

          • Plumber says:

            “…female pirates”

            Anne Bonny was an Irish women pirate who lived until at least 1721 (unlike English women pirate Mary Read who was executed that year).

            There’s a long list of women in piracy, as while men are the majority the fair sex isn’t immune to the temptation of being a water borne thief.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Plumber:

            There’s a long list of women in piracy, as while men are the majority the fair sex isn’t immune to the temptation of being a water borne thief.

            Exactly.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s a long list of women in piracy, as while men are the majority the fair sex isn’t immune to the temptation of being a water borne thief.

            It isn’t the temptation that is at issue, but the implementation. Acquiring the relevant skillset in a world where almost nobody invests in teaching seamanship, etc, to someone who is liable to become pregnant a few years into their career. Commanding the loyalty of a pirate crew when one lacks the skills and lives in a patriarchy. Relative lack of upper body strength, in an environment where that matters. And the morale issues of all the male pirates wanting to be the one who beds their captain. Note that your two namechecked examples, and quite a few of the referenced historical examples, sidestep much of this by being the henchbabes of a male pirate captain.

            So, yes, you can make a Pirate Queen work, and you can make a Pirate Queen work even without being married to a Pirate King. But it takes work, not just drawing a picture of a pirate with breasts and saying “meh, no big deal”.

          • Loriot says:

            Magic’s worlds are inherently pop culture pastiches because that is what is broadly understandable to the audience. They’ve tried doing more obscure stuff, and it failed miserably. If you want “realism” go read ASOIAF.

            Anyway, it’s kind of silly to worry about stuff like pirate captains worrying about investing in training people who will get pregnant when the whole fantasy pirates thing doesn’t make all that much sense if you think about it. Like most fantasy pirates, it’s not really clear how Ixalan’s pirates manage to even survive in the first place, since there isn’t any appreciable amount of maritime trade for them to prey on. But people don’t play Magic for the economics. Questioning the gender thing and ignoring everything else is an egregious isolated demand for rigor.

            Also, Magic is explicitly a fantasy world. Is it really too hard to accept that women just have more upper body strength in this world or that the ubiquitous use of magic in combat renders that irrelevant? Just because the real world sucks doesn’t mean you can’t imagine a better one.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Just because the real world sucks doesn’t mean you can’t imagine a better one.

            “Better” is ideologically gerrymandered. We’re not going to live to see a fantasy world that’s better because everyone is a good Christian who’s going to Heaven.

          • Loriot says:

            Well, Magic does have a world where the populace goes to church and prays to angels and the prayers work, but that’s beside the point.

            Mark Rosewater, the head designer has mentioned that each time they do a character representing a particular minority for the first time, he gets tons of heartfelt thanks from fans grateful for the representation. WOTC has made the calculation that there’s a lot more money to be made from players who appreciate occasionally seeing characters who look like them then there is to be made from people who can’t stand seeing characters that don’t look like them, and I’m not sure why anyone would blame them for that.

            Of course, it is still fantasy. Tarkir introduced Magic’s first autistic and trans characters, but my favorite character from that story was a dragon who just zooms around blasting everything with lightning. But that also means that I don’t have much sympathy for the kind of person who looks at a world full of pirates fighting dinosaurs and vampires and complains that the fact half the pirates are female is unrealistic.

            Anyway, I meant “better” in a figurative way. Most of the Magic worlds would actually be pretty awful places to live, since games and stories require constant conflict and frequent world ending threats.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Plumber:

            There’s a long list of women in piracy, as while men are the majority the fair sex isn’t immune to the temptation of being a water borne thief.

            Actually, on reading that list, I was struck by how short it was, given that it covers all the world for the last twenty-two centuries.

            Also, their definition of “pirate” seems a little elastic. The first woman on the list, Teuta of Illyria, was queen of a country where piracy was an accepted means of making a living, but I don’t think any historical sources suggest that she personally was involved in piratical activities.

          • Jake R says:

            I usually have a pretty low tolerance for arbitrary wokeness, but I tend to agree with Loriot here. In a world where pirates are interfering with vampire conquistadors ability to colonize a continent occupied by dinosaur-riding merfolk, the fact that some of the pirates are female doesn’t bend my suspicion of disbelief. To me the female knights in Eldraine were closer, but that was also clearly a fantasy world.

          • johan_larson says:

            Hey now, the merfolk don’t ride dinosaurs. Humans from the Sun Empire ride dinosaurs.

            Tsk, tsk. Kids these days.

      • Dragor says:

        @Plumber if you play dnd I would love to adventure with you when I visit the Bay Area sometime.

        • Plumber says:

          @Dragor,
          I played oD&D and AD&D in the late ’70’s to mid ’80’s, plus a tiny amount of 5e D&D just before my three-year-old son was born, but none since, but I own a lot of D&D adventures, some of which I have more than one of, give me a heads up and I’ll schedule a vacation day to hand some over and treat you to a beer and sandwich (or coffee and cookie) during a weekday.

          • Dragor says:

            Hell yeah. I’m gonna have to head out there sometime in the next couple months, so I’ll let you know.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I think that prohibition of CW topics serves, whether intentionally or not, another useful purpose, which is prevent every thread from being clogged in endless discussions of them. And by that standard, Trump certainly qualifies, given that there is nothing more interminable than endless “Orange Man Bad ” vs. “Orange Man Good” convos. Don´t get me wrong, they are usually entertaining and insightful, but they also tend to steal mental energy from other topics.

      • Lambert says:

        This is the main reason I like the integer threads (and try to be slightly militant about keeping them CW-free).
        Especially for non-americans, constant arguing about SCOTUS nominees or Flores or impeachment gets old fast.

    • I think the only true CW topics are the ones that relate to identity politics. That is, controversies about race, gender, or LGBT.

      I think there are other topics which relate to identity politics. Climate change and gun control are examples.

      • Eric T says:

        It saddens me that climate change is on the list.

        • Anteros says:

          But is it a problem given that you can talk about it to your heart’s content, twice a week on the fractional threads?

          My ears are open!

        • It saddens you because you believe that the facts relevant to what its consequences are likely to be and what we should do about it are so obvious that everyone should agree on them?

          Quite a lot of people believe that of some of the things on Mark’s initial list.

      • albatross11 says:

        The problem is that most peoples’ opinions on most political issues are driven by tribalism or party affiliation, because they don’t have any other knowledge on which to base an opinion.

        But I don’t think that’s so common *here*. In the big wide world, yes, but here, we seem to have a fair number of people who have come to their opinions for some reasons other than “that’s what my side says.”

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I don’t think climate change or gun control are identity politics. Wikipedia describes ifentity politics as this:

        Identity politics is a political approach and analysis based on people prioritizing the concerns most relevant to their particular racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, social, cultural or other identity, and forming exclusive political alliances with others of this group, instead of engaging in more traditional, broad-based party politics.

        Yes, people may think of themselves as gun activists or climate change activists, but that is not what identity politics means. It’s when folks consider basing all their politics on being part of a demographic category a good thing.

        • Perhaps “identity politics” was the wrong term. I’m thinking in terms of Dan Kahan’s research on issues that have become linked to group membership where the group can be defined politically.

          But I think that still can give you culture war, which was the subject.

    • DinoNerd says:

      One of the things I appreciate about this blog, as compared to e.g. talk.atheism from the old Usenet days, is that I get to see a side of people other than their opinion on some polarizing topic. Sometimes some person who produces a constant drumbeat in favour of something I find absolutely vile turns out to agree with me on other things, or otherwise shows themselves to be more than just An Enemy/Troll.

      Perhaps because I’m somewhere on the autistic spectrum, it’s easier than average for me to look at ideas stripped of their social associations – but not infinitely easy. I’m also used to an awful lot of people routinely insisting on untruths, even in non-controversial contexts. So it’s still fairly easy to just file someone I disagree with as a shill/mouthpeice of Group X, like as not motivated by some undisclosed benefit. The more unidimensional they appear, the easier it gets.

      All the discussions of un-aligned topics we get here helps counter this, and I like that the whole numbered threads can be expected to be (almost) aligned-comment free.

      Note FWIW, that “politically aligned” and “hot button” aren’t quite the same thing. Some hot button topics are too niche for any political party to support them. And there must be something, somewhere, that Trump-and-his-supporters but not Obama-and-his-supporters approve of, or vice versa, that won’t actually start a flame war. (I just can’t think what it is ;-()

      • albatross11 says:

        +1

        I think the non-CW threads allow us to see each other in some other light than enemy member of the other tribe on CW-topics. The same person who has pretty awful political and economic ideas may also have interesting insights about their time in the military or their field of study or their life and relationships, or video games or movies or books, or speculative stuff like whether aliens exist or whether colonizing Mars would help with X-risk.

        One common failure mode of political discussions is that we all go in circles–after awhile, the best available pro- and anti-gun control/abortion/minimum wage/etc. arguments have more-or-less surfaced, and then we rehash them every so often. This gets boring.

        Add to that the topics where people will get really mad and have a hard time giving anyone on the other side a charitable reading, and you have a pretty good plan for making the community around the comment threads fall apart. Having some non-CW threads seems to me to help prevent that.

        • Anteros says:

          +1

          And I think the balance between the two is pretty much spot on.

        • Dragor says:

          +1. Also, I find the +1 convention created to indicate approval without a karma/like system endearing.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          One common failure mode of political discussions is that we all go in circles–after awhile, the best available pro- and anti-gun control/abortion/minimum wage/etc. arguments have more-or-less surfaced, and then we rehash them every so often. This gets boring.

          I’ve often wished for an online service that would take whatever argument one had for some position on some issue, and show the user that argument in a graph of adjacent arguments, either for or against, along with supporting or conflicting evidence, with sources. Or, if the input is novel, adds it to the graph with the correct edges.

          Even a graph for just one issue (e.g. gun control) could be quite large, and quite valuable… and quite onerous to construct. I sometimes kick around the idea of doing it myself, for some suitably scoped issue, but I’m sure it’d be a full time job.

          Ideally, the service could understand the semantics of the input argument well enough to place it exactly. In practice, it would require more NLU than we currently have. But, it might still be able to find keywords and get the user to the vicinity, and possibly employ machine learning or just follow their navigation through the neighboring nodes to learn accuracy.

          Over time, people would learn to just go to the graph as readily as they’ve learned to “just Google it”, and that part of politics would be solved for most people, freeing them up for other parts such as resolving conflicting evidence or elevating the debate or improving the graph.

          • AG says:

            1. Wasn’t Yudkowsky working on something for this? Arbital or something? It fizzled out.

            2. Such a service, in practice, will lead to BINGO card pattern-matching and wiki edit wars. Quality to one person is nonsense to another.

            3. Competitive debaters basically build this in their tubs for the topics every year.
            But on the other hand, the actually good debaters learn to consolidate, wield their few favorite arguments as a hammer appropriate for every nail. It incentivizes dark-side argumentation.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If what you say about Arbital is true, that’s a shame. It’s rare to see an attempt to educate at that level. That said, Arbital seemed to have a different aim than my hypothetical. I was imagining a site where, for example, you might say “assault weapons ought to be banned” and it would respond with that in a node with another node connected by a “likely response” edge that says “there is no commonly shared definition of what an assault weapon is”, or something like that.

            One possible use for this is for people who think they have a novel argument on an issue, and want to know if it’s truly novel, or if it’s already got a ready response, so they don’t walk into a discussion and get caught flatfooted. Or, they might have evidence for a given claim, and see if that evidence was listed, and if it had been debunked, and so on.

            Such a service, in practice, will lead to BINGO card pattern-matching and wiki edit wars. Quality to one person is nonsense to another.

            This wouldn’t be possible, if the site were built the way I’m thinking. The claim that “guns have killed 150 million people since 2007” would get broken down into deaths due to guns since 2007, probably broken out by year. “Likely response” would lead to breakdowns by cause, and a summary would be that the number is incorrect, but also that it is probably a misstatement of “150 thousand”.

            All of this would be calculated with AI, including a database of statistics, and also heuristics for spotting “near miss” assertions likely to be easily conceptually confused. Which is why “if the site were built the way I’m thinking” is a really big if – it would require more NLU and logic processing than current state of the art.

            Or, yeah, we crowdsource it, and hope a culture of curation holds fast – say about as fast as among aspiring rationalists – which would (hopefully) mitigate edit wars. It would help me to know more about how they play out on Wikipedia, beyond the surface level takes of “someone with an ideological bias decided to take on the full time editorial staff and their rules”. I’d want to know how the main fights tend to orient. Does Wikipedia keep stats about this?

      • One of the things I appreciate about this blog, as compared to e.g. talk.atheism from the old Usenet days, is that I get to see a side of people other than their opinion on some polarizing topic.

        That was true of some Usenet groups as well, especially ones, such as rec.arts.sca, that were focused on something other than a polarizing topic.

        One result is that you discover that people you respect due to conversation on subject A hold views very different from yours on subject B, which makes you more likely to consider that your views on that subject might be mistaken. The only person on FB whose posts on political topics I read and whose political position is sharply different from mine is an SCA friend. I know he is a reasonable and intelligent person, he is often posting on subjects he is an expert on, and that makes me less certain that my views on those subjects are correct.

      • toastengineer says:

        And there must be something, somewhere, that Trump-and-his-supporters but not Obama-and-his-supporters approve of, or vice versa, that won’t actually start a flame war. (I just can’t think what it is ;-()

        Arugula?

        • Deiseach says:

          Arugula?

          Its proper name is rocket, thank you very much to the people who gave us “eggplant” for aubergines and “zucchini” for courgettes! 😉

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Hmm, maybe part of my argument is with Scott. I think the whole point of the rules about avoiding hot button discussions on whole number threads is to protect the blog from outsiders. Thus, when we have discussions on SSC that are outside the Overton Window of polite discussion in the outside world, there is a risk that someone will quote some of the argument on a more widely known forum to tell everyone how terrible a place is SSC. I think any of the statements I listed in the initial post would qualify for such a thing.

      But that doesn’t mean that any discussions that make people mad include statements that are outside the Overton Window of the outside world. Discussions of gun control, climate change, abortion, terrorism, foreign wars are all subjects that will make folks mad, but I can’t imagine arguments about these that are not routinely made in the outside world and so would not create outrage that we discuss them here. Maybe it is just that SSC discussions in these areas are less radical than the ones we have on race, gender, and LGBT. So I don’t think the non-identity politics will get the blog into trouble. Obviously this is Scott’s decision. But I don’t think there is any benefit to the blog to avoid all topics that make people mad, only those where we in SSC will outrage outsiders with radical comments.

      And I do not agree with many in this thread that avoiding hot button topics on one thread is a good thing in itself. I do find the whole number thread less interesting than the others, since we have to tiptoe around controversial subjects, and avoid those that make folks mad (that is, those topics that really matter). The whole reason I read SSC is because we can discuss rationally topics that one can’t do elsewhere. And I think I’m not the only one on SSC that thinks this way. I used to avoid the visible thread because it had so many comments I couldn’t keep up. Now there are no more comments than there are on non-visible threads, and probably less. The decrease in comments on the visible thread coincided with it becoming the CW-free thread.

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I think the whole point of the rules about avoiding hot button discussions on whole number threads is to protect the blog from outsiders

        Given that (relevant) CW content is allowed on all non-OT threads, why? The idea seems me to to make OT participation attractive to people who don’t want all culture war all the time. As a liability limitation tool, it doesn’t make sense. As a tool for cultivating the commentariat garden, it does.

        we have to tiptoe around controversial subjects, and avoid those that make folks mad (that is, those topics that really matter)

        I think the attitude that only things that make people mad are important is pretty awful tbh. Lots of things that don’t make people mad – or, at least, not that mad – are important. Conversely, lots of things that make people mad are stupid and petty.

        • albatross11 says:

          Most of the really important stuff in the world isn’t controversial.

          Go ask CatCube about how to build a bridge or a building that won’t fall down in a stiff wind. That’s incredibly important–we couldn’t have a functioning civilization without such knowledge–and yet, it’s not remotely CW and while I’m sure there are controversies among experts in the field, there’s a ton of stuff everyone entitled to an opinion agrees with.

          How do you make efficient turbines for electical generation? Or make vaccines that prevent future infections? Or rockets that go up into the sky instead of blowing up on the ground? How do you make a computer work, or build a network that efficiently routes packets where they’re supposed to go? How do you make antibiotics that cure bacterial infections?

          All that stuff is low-controversy, but way more important than essentially everything that ever appears on the news.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Most of the really important stuff in the world isn’t controversial.

            Yes but they can be discussed anywhere on any blog. Generally if I have question on a noncontroversial question I’ll go to wikipedia and get a pretty good answer. If I want discussion on an identity politics question that uses real arguments instead of cliches I have only SSC.

  13. pjs says:

    Request for ideas and advice! I think my DOG needs psychiatric assistance.

    I have a 4-yr-old dog that seems to have anxiety issues – frets all the time, acts out (dangerously and viciously!) towards anything she sees as a concern (thank goodness that doesn’t yet included people), and so forth. Ever more of the world is her enemy; more and more random sounds portend doom (that need vicious attacking). And it getting worse by the month. She’s no longer even walk-able, according the the trainer.

    Very, very, extensive training hasn’t helped.

    Latest trainer (ahem, “behaviorist”) says there’s nothing left but to try drugs (she might be helped by SSRIs, he conjectures based on prior experiences). I haven’t talked to her vet yet about this specifically (will in a few days), but I already know that she (the vet) has fairly superficial experience with the very idea.

    Does anyone here have any knowledge about this? Concrete questions/suggestions for my vet? Is there an on-line service/resource, even if a paid one, who really knows this stuff?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      How extensive was the training? Was it focused on the problem, or did it include tricks?

    • HarmlessFrog says:

      What are you feeding her?

      If it’s something like commercial pet chow, I’d recommend feeding her raw meat and bone for a while instead and see if that makes any difference, before resorting to drugs.

      • gudamor says:

        Can you explain more the mechanism by which this intervention might help? Without context it feels like a “remove toxins from your food and try essential oils.”

        • HarmlessFrog says:

          TL;DR: Paleo heuristics.

          Dogs are basically slightly modified wolves (if you don’t believe me on the “slight” part, check out Belyaev’s research on fox domestication, especially how little it takes to breed domestication into canids). It stands to reason that their evolutionarily appropriate diet would be at least strongly similar to the diet of wolves. Wolves are near-total carnivores. They do eat some fruit, but they eat literal human garbage more often.

          Commercial dog food, no doubt due to market forces, is roughly the equivalent of human fast food. It’ll keep you alive, but it won’t keep you healthy – it’s meant to be cheap and delicious, nothing more. Look for example at the ingredients listed by Pedigree, only two of which could reasonably be found in the natural diet of a wolf. If you look at lists of the best dog foods (the reviews have the details), it’s quite similar to a standard human diet, except protein may be a little higher. Wet foods are better, but still are still processed junk with too much carbohydrate. I wouldn’t trust it not to have something toxic to marginal individuals.

          Diet probably has significant impact on mental health. It’s a new field, so it’s all hypothetical (but hardly implausible, given what a major part of people’s life food is), but it’s worth a try before resorting to drugs.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Dogs are basically slightly modified wolves (if you don’t believe me on the “slight” part, check out Belyaev’s research on fox domestication, especially how little it takes to breed domestication into canids).

            This doesn’t follow. If canids can be changed toward domestication in a short period of time, it doesn’t mean they won’t change more over a much longer period of time. If anything, it means the opposite.

            And that especially applies to diet, dogs evolved to eat human leftovers ever since they begun to diverge from wolves, and humans has always been omnivores with plant-based calories more readily available at least in agricultural societies. So there’s been a constant selection pressure on dogs to be better adapted to plant based food than wolves. Which, in fact, they are.

          • HarmlessFrog says:

            @AlexOfUrals

            This doesn’t follow. If canids can be changed toward domestication in a short period of time, it doesn’t mean they won’t change more over a much longer period of time. If anything, it means the opposite.

            Given that dogs were domesticated a relatively short time ago, I don’t think anything except low-hanging genetic fruit, so to speak, were plucked.

            And that especially applies to diet, dogs evolved to eat human leftovers ever since they begun to diverge from wolves, and humans has always been omnivores with plant-based calories more readily available at least in agricultural societies. So there’s been a constant selection pressure on dogs to be better adapted to plant based food than wolves. Which, in fact, they are.

            A few genes worth of adaptation is not much, and it doesn’t mean that OP’s dog in particular isn’t a marginal individual – especially since it’s not a very young dog – which couldn’t benefit from removing potential toxins in the food supply. There is at least one study in model organisms that shows that critters retain adaptation for even long-discarded ancestral diets, especially in old age, due to how evolution primarily cares about reproduction, not longevity.

      • pjs says:

        The training alone (costs and time!) is at the *I’d never admit how much because the whole thread would be derailed by “how much did you spend on your dog, do you know how hundreds of starving children you could have saved instead?”* level. My dog has been my second largest life-expenditure, well behind rent but before food, for the last year.
        No tricks beyond the basics (sit/stay/down, and half a dozen other such basics).

        If drugs don’t help she is going to have to be put down. There’s nearly no straw I wouldn’t grasp at to prevent this.

      • pjs says:

        Thanks for the idea. She gets Orijen-brand kibble two thirds of the week. I was told it was among the best dry-ish food. Raw meat 2 to 3 times a week. Canned food based on tripe maybe once a week. Human food the rest (once or twice). She eats it all – even the kibble – very very enthusiastally, with no apparent bowel issues whatever she has eaten.
        Could such a diet drive an otherwise physically healthy dog insane (which seems to be what is happening?) She will need to be put down if the progression continues, though my mind otherwise blanks out at the prospect.

        • HarmlessFrog says:

          I don’t know – this is just me throwing something on the wall, and seeing if it sticks, based on hypotheses and mechanisms.

    • Tarpitz says:

      My vet friend says he has worked with two dogs that were on fluoxetine to deal with significant behavioural problems (I think he’s been working about 6/7 years). So it’s unusual, but certainly not unheard of.

      • pjs says:

        Thank you! I have real reason to doubt my vet’s currency on any such issues, so I’ll be sure to mention this.

    • toastengineer says:

      Occam’s razor suggests chronic pain. Have you had a vet look her over thoroughly for simple physical issues? Animals typically will try to hide injuries, and pain from an injury will make them anxious and more prone to lash out.

      • anon-e-moose says:

        Pain is where I would begin too. I suspect you’ve seen multiple trainers, have you tried a different vet? The fact that it’s getting worse over time is a big tell, IMO and I’m shocked that the vet hasn’t run full bloodwork and at least an x-ray and MRI. If you’re into this for tens of thousands, those tests are cheap and effective ways to rule out obvious physical causes and help focus your inquiries.

        Look into failing vision/hearing too. I think the food issue is not relevant, personally. (And I’m a proponent of raw, generally)

        I had a Lab that was on SSRIs (Zoloft I believe) for his waning years, and probably should have been on them from his adolescent years forward. They really did make a dramatic difference in dealing with his anxiety due to failing health/ hip dysplasia. At least they may lessen the anxiety enough to begin positive stimulation. My vet group saw no concerns related to long-term SSRI usage (and certainly no concerns when considering the alternative.)

        As an aside, how has your trainer been working the dog? Positive reinforcement/clicker training? That works well for many, many dogs. I personally believe that once a dog is in the biting stage, a firmer hand is required. This is contrary to just about all modern dog-training advice, but I had a high-drive dog that needed to physically grabbed and restrained once they snapped at me. Nothing spiteful, but a firm grasp around the neck and they are held to the ground on their side until complete submission. Again, this is very old school, but I speculate that that particular dog needed to learn his place in the “pack” before he could relax. The point is not to hurt them, but the quick and decisive action shows them that they are protectorates, rather than the protector.

  14. Loriot says:

    I recently found out that the government requires doctors to get the email address of their patients (or their designated representatives) and penalizes them if they don’t (by reducing medicare reimbursement rates). I doubt it matters much, but I thought it was pretty interesting. More specifically, doctors need to share electronic health information with patients, and thus are required to collect the information required to make that possible. If a patient refuses to provide that information, they still get penalized.

    • Theodoric says:

      Do they have to verify the email address? What if the patient gives an obviously fake address (eg foo@bar.com)?

      • Loriot says:

        They don’t. Doctors are required to make electronic health information available, but patients aren’t required to actually access it.

        Anyway, I think the measures themselves are mostly reasonable, I was just surprised that there was no exception for recalcitrant patients refusing to provide any contact information.

        • Evan Þ says:

          FWIW, in the VITA tax prep program, we’re required to ask for clients’ email addresses, but it’s fine if they don’t give them.

  15. Atlas says:

    A good article from Vox on Bloomberg’s tenure as NYC mayor, with some of my commentary:

    Perhaps objectively the best case of Bloomberg’s nanny tendencies is the smoking ban he imposed in restaurants and bars in New York City. While it was unpopular at the time, it has become widely implemented, and one of Bloomberg’s favorite talking points is that due to it and other health initiatives he implemented, New Yorkers’ life expectancy increased by three years.

    Nice!

    As mayor, Bloomberg undertook initiatives not only to recover from 9/11 but also to develop and build out vast swaths of the city. In his 2002 state of the city address, he called for rezoning Manhattan’s West Side, building up its waterfront shoreline, and said the city would compete to host the 2012 Olympics and the Republican and Democratic conventions in 2004. On some of those fronts, he failed — the 2012 Olympics went to London, and the Democrats held their convention in Boston — but on others, he succeeded. Bloomberg’s administration ultimately rezoned about 40 percent of New York, paving the way for new residential buildings in areas such as Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Long Island City in Queens, and more commercial activity in downtown Brooklyn.

    Cool!

    When Bloomberg came into office, he was facing a major budget deficit in New York City and managed to turn it around. When he left office, the city had a $2.4 billion budget surplus.

    Good job!

    Also, the article discusses stop and frisk without quantifying the continuing drop in violent crime under Bloomberg. (E.g., from ~600 murders a year to ~350.) Based!

    Bloomberg’s New York is, I think, one of the better examples of neoliberalism in action, all things considered.

    That said, Bloomberg’s presidential campaign is ridiculous. Between an extremely successful business career and mayoralty, he should rest his laurels.

    • Bloomberg’s favorite talking points is that due to it and other health initiatives he implemented, New Yorkers’ life expectancy increased by three years.

      That sounds like something that probably is not true, and if true he could not know was true. Causation is hard.

  16. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    This could be extremely important. A judge has made a decision that forensics should be evaluated by the standards of science rather than (as it has been in the US) by precedent. Precedent is very dangerous in this matter because it has meant that bad forensics has continued to be used because it has been used.

    Junk forensics matters because people are jailed for long periods or executed based on bad evidence.

    That’s the important stuff from the article. The rest is more of an introspective ramble about belief, though there’s also a little overview of bad forensics.

    Now we get to the saddest happy dance you have ever seen. When I was a kid, I liked books about the FBI, and the only books available were in favor of the FBI. They seemed interesting and kind of reassuring. We’re not talking about a huge part of my life.

    One of the things mentioned was using the scratches on bullets to tells whether the bullets were shot from the same gun. I trusted that it was true and didn’t think about it.

    Even when I read about fingerprint identification not being all that– first mentioned in L. Neil Smith’s _The Probability Broach_ where it was questioned whether it was known that every person has unique fingerprints, and amplified by a Lingua Franca article which pointed out that fingerprint identification was generally of partial and/or smudged prints. And then it turned out that bite mark identification was crap and so was matching hair. A number of fires were considered to be arson until they burned a house and realized that a number of things they thought indicated arson were part of normal fires.

    You can’t even trust DNA because labs aren’t reliable. But ballistic forensics was there, lurking in the back of my mind. Sometimes I think my life consists of people shoveling crap into my mind and me trying to shovel it out.

    • Loriot says:

      > Sometimes I think my life consists of people shoveling crap into my mind and me trying to shovel it out.

      Recently I’ve been reading Wikipedia’s List of Common Misconceptions. I was already aware that most of them were not true, but there were a few surprises in there for me.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Last I checked, things got put on that list very easily, so even the list of misconceptions is a misconception!

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m reading the list, and a fair number of the items are things I didn’t know. Thanks.

    • beleester says:

      Oh good grief, ballistics markings are on the list? That’s one of the most famous forms of forensic analysis – surely someone must have studied it scientifically, right?

      I searched, and found two things that seem to indicate the state of the art right now: An article from February 2018 saying that they finally had an algorithm to quantify how similar cartridge markings are (previously we just had an expert look at the two under a microscope and go “yup, looks similar”), and an article from 2015 saying that New York and Maryland had scrapped their ballistics databases because they hadn’t found any matches and it was expensive to maintain. So no, apparently we didn’t validate this technique until very recently, and it seems to have not been very helpful to begin with.

  17. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I just found that my comment notifications for ssc are much weirder than I expected– I get the occasional notifications at my panix address (the one I usually check) and more of them at gmail (which I’ve started checking more often).

    One of the panix notifications didn’t show up at google, and for all I know, none of the notifications overlap. Is there any way to reach bakkot about this?

  18. I’m going to be leaving in a few days for a two week speaking trip in Europe. It occurred to me that there might, by chance, be some sort of SSC activity somewhere I was going to be at some time when I wasn’t committed to doing something else, or someone I have interacted with here who would enjoy getting together for lunch or something. My schedule is on my blog, so if anyone happens to be doing something in Oxford, London, Madrid, Santiago de Compostella, Lisbon, Ljubljana, or Prague on the relevant days, let me know.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Cool, I am going to try to check your presentation out in Prague, unless there is some sort of a lockdown. Be aware that it might happen, people here are starting to be nervous for obvious virus related reasons.

      • The main thing I’m worried about is the possibility of airports closing, leaving me stranded somewhere, at least for a while. I’m flying home on the sixteenth, and my guess is that things won’t get that bad that soon.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          @DavidFriedman

          Today Czech government announced suspension of flights from Milan, Bergamo,
          Bologna, Venice and Treviso (and Korea) to Czechia. Two universities suspended education after it was found out that members of their staff returning from Italy are infected. Even some, so far minor, anticontagion measures in Prague public transit are being implemented. Since it is imho obvious that number of cases in Czechia and in other European countries will grow (many people all across Europe returning from northern Italy are tested as positive), expect that by 15th, there could be for foreign visitors quite unpleasant lockdown all across Europe. I am sorry for bad news.

  19. ana53294 says:

    How common is it for the husband’s mother to help the daughter in law in childrearing vs the mother helping the daughter?

    I may be living in a bubble, or Basque culture may be different from others, but I observe much more help from mothers to daughters than mothers to sons in childrearing. They do it, but much less. Now, I think there may be two reasons:

    1. The mother in law is a stranger to her daughter in law. Childrearing is a conflict-prone activity with different standards and desires. The kinship and familiarity of the mother-daughter relationship helps in reducing conflict. Besides, the mother is likely going to mother in similar ways to her mother.

    2. Men in general are less involved in childrearing, their mothers don’t see them struggle that much, see the daughter in law as a stranger, and thus help less. Daughters in law may also be unhappy with their mothers in law being involved in what they view as private family affairs.

    Grandfathers changing nappies is something much rarer than grandmothers, on either side, helping.

    When it comes to traditional cultures where wifes moved with their husbands and his parents, I hear a lot more stories about abuse by the mother in law than about help, but it may be how it’s reported. However, the conflicts between mother and daughter in law probably wouldn’t lead to much help in childrearing.

    • Tarpitz says:

      As to my own childhood, my father’s parents were a huge part of our lives and looked after us all the time, while our mother’s mother we saw fairly infrequently (her father died when I was very young). My mother wasn’t very close to her mother, and got on very well with my father’s mother; my father’s parents also lived closer to us (though neither was at a truly unmanageable distance). Also… my father’s parents were just objectively amazing people. My mother’s… weren’t. You’d be crazy not to prefer their help.

      Among parents of my generation I know (a comparatively small sample, surprisingly so given my age) I think I actually know more cases where the father’s mother is more involved, but I think proximity is the biggest determining factor, and the apparent effect really is just a sample size issue – unless the mechanism is that men are more likely to live near their parents.

      This is all middle or upper-middle class English people, mostly in the South, incidentally.

      • ana53294 says:

        Proximity is obviously the biggest factor in grandparent involvement, yes.

        It’s just that the Basque country is a place where most people haven’t moved far and everybody is reasonably close to their parents. So I observe that mother’s mothers are more involved than father’s mothers, even when both are equally close. In general. With exceptions.

    • albatross11 says:

      My mother’s mother lived with us during my childhood and did a lot of the work of raising my sister and me. Not typical, but that’s how it worked out in my family.

      • ana53294 says:

        That happens a lot with single mothers. It probably also happens with married ones, but less.

    • Ivy says:

      Simple answer: paternity uncertainty. There’s quite a bit of evidence that maternal grandparents invest more than paternal grandparents, and in particular the maternal grandmother invests much more than the paternal grandfather (0 vs 2 levels of paternity uncertainty). I think I got this from Gad Saad’s talk at Google .

      • albatross11 says:

        This makes sense, but my understanding is that there’s good evidence for pretty solid paternity in Western European societies, over the last several generations–something like <1% false paternity. (I think this came from looking at Y chromosomes of people with the same last names in England, but I'd have to go back and dig around to find it.)

        • Orion says:

          I think the standard theory is that the difference in investment is not caused by conscious or direct concern about paternity, but rather that it is an unconscious adaptation to rates of false paternity in the ancestral environment we were adapted to.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I’m just wondering if the apparently low rate of false paternity over the last several centuries in many societies would have selected for a more balanced investment from grandparents.

        • rumham says:

          @albatross11

          I remember reading about that, but they said the highest correlation was 80 to 90 percent. I never was able to ascertain how they got <1% from that.

    • Jake R says:

      My mother’s mother babysat me and my siblings while my parents were at work and we frequently spent the night at her house growing up. My father’s mother was basically bed-ridden from the time I was born until her death when I was 3 or 4. Mine is probably an extreme case, but I believe husbands generally tend to be older than their wives, so that might contribute some to this effect.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Some mother in laws are worried about not getting along with their son’s wife, so they take care to be extra nice and helpful.

      My grandmother is one of those

    • bullseye says:

      None of my grandparents lived close enough to help my parents. I think this is pretty common in the U.S.

      • Yes. We lived in Chicago. My mother’s parents were in Portland, Oregon. My father’s mother and sisters —his father died long before I was born — were in New Jersey.

        We visited both families, but not very often.

        • Loriot says:

          When I was a kid, I lived in Atlanta, while my mother’s parents lived in Michigan and my father’s in southern Florida. We would do roadtrips every year for Christmas, alternating south and north.

          Nowadays, my family is even more spread out. It’s a good thing we have video chat now.

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      My maternal grandmother is the one who came out for a week when I was born and took care of things for Mom. At the time, we lived closer to her. We moved closer to my paternal grandmother when I was five; neither set of grandparents did a lot of helping with us that I remember (even my paternal grandparents were an hour away), but my paternal grandmother was certainly more of an influence on me than my maternal, spent more time with me, did more things with me. I think that was primarily distance effects, but I’m also much closer in personality to her, so that could also be related.

      For what it’s worth, Mom got on very well with her, and the household I grew up in is much more similar to hers than to my maternal grandmother’s.

      I don’t have enough data from watching other people to offer anything but my own experience.

  20. Kelley Meck says:

    I’m looking for a link I’ve lost. I thought it was at Pseudoerasmus that there was an article ascribing the “East Asian Miracle” primarily to a sufficiently strong, economically moral central government that controlled the economy, especially the financial and industrial powers, with the result that the financial powers competed to offer decent banking services and couldn’t develop tricksy complicated instruments or otherwise work as an extractive drain on other sectors, and industrialists were steadily and effectively pressured to achieve products at globally competitive price/quality standards.

    The contrasted non-miracle countries/times were countries where the financial and industrial powers-that-be controlled the government, rather than the other way around. These powers-that-be built casinos, operated lotteries, achieved regulatory captures that allowed for local financial monopolies and predatory lending/banking practices with no exit for unsophisticated locals, and were themselves subject to internal corruption as their executives steadily ran away with the banks’ assets. These economies mostly invested in luxury condos, cash crop monoculture, and protected local monopolies, not long slogs to manufacturing globally competitive products.

    The implication for the U.S., and the possibility of positing an electorate that instinctively prefers a federal government with this kind of economically moralist instinct, and of outsider ‘America/Americans-first’ populist politicians enjoying immediate and deeply loyal support compared to insider ‘institutionalist’ candidates (which maybe began with Clinton beating H.W. Bush, but probably really began in minor tones with Obama beating Hillary, and really hit its stride when Trump and Bernie picked up surprising steam in ’16.)

    I’m not sure how this idea should influence political views, and I’m not trying to start a political debate. (Obviously it depends on whether a person thinks Trump or Bernie are personally going to create effective anti-corruption effects in government, or the opposite, or who the better alternative is.) I’m just looking for the original article I’d seen about east asian miracles, or, failing that, a similar article looking outside the U.S. but making the same point that central government has a moral role in economic regulation.

    • broblawsky says:

      If the “East Asian Economic Miracle” is supposed to include China, then that’s definitely a bad description of Chinese banking. The PRC banking system overwhelmingly favors state-owned enterprises, and private companies in partnerships with state-owned enterprises (“red hats”), over small private businesses. It’s almost impossible for fully private businesses without state/Party involvement to get access to funding in China. Mostly, independent companies in China are supported by loans from the owners, their families, and the Chinese “shadow banking” industry. I can’t see calling that “economically moral”.

      • Kelley Meck says:

        Hm. My use of ‘moral’ is confusing this.
        I meant ‘moral’ to mean relatively-corruption-free ‘subordination of private interest to long-term state interest.’ E.g., this probably includes some amount of ‘protect against worst-of-worst working conditions’ because that’s bad for business, but absolutely does not imply allowing union organizing. It wouldn’t necessarily rule out a centralized role in determining where loans go and basically disallowing non-approved businesses (like casinos or luxury condos) access to capital on level terms with, e.g., the state’s chosen industry/industries to nourish/pressure toward competitiveness.

        If I recall correctly, China was not one of the cited examples of the East Asian Miracle. South Korea and Japan are the ones I feel pretty confident were examples.

        • broblawsky says:

          Is your definition of ‘moral’ banking systems more focused on ‘corruption-free banking’, or ‘couldn’t develop tricksy complicated instruments or otherwise work as an extractive drain on other sectors’, per your OP? Or does it require both? Because these are fully distinct concepts: the former requires responsible use of shareholder (and depositor) funds to achieve optimal returns, while the latter requires a conscious decision to not achieve optimal returns in order to create benefits for the “real” economy. Creating complicated financial instruments isn’t necessarily corrupt; Michael Burry didn’t do anything unethical and responsibly managed his firm for the benefit of his clients, but he didn’t really create any value beyond making money.

    • cassander says:

      what the miracle countries did was allow and encourage foreign direct investment. This ran contrary to the development orthodoxy of the time, which was about local control and import substitution. Large domestic companies only managed to build up to be world beaters after decades had passed and much development had already happened, they did not lead to development. It was the foreign companies that did that, with the local companies learning from them and hiring people away from them.

    • The explanation I’ve heard is that the East Asian countries imposed “financial repression,” basically limiting the return on passive capital and then directing the gains of this into their big exporting companies and not to ordinary lending. This is not relevant today since interest rates are already very low. They also repressed consumption, not allowing their wealthier classes to import foreign luxuries which led to more saving, more investing, and higher growth.

      develop tricksy complicated instruments or otherwise work as an extractive drain on other sectors

      There’s an understandable sense that finance is receiving too much of the nations wealth. Yet people know it won’t work to dismantle the whole system. So they favor in principle regulations which will seem to limit them, particularly where they can’t understand what the instruments being traded are. Needless to say, this is unlikely to accomplish what they set out to accomplish.

      • Note that the most impressively successful of all the East Asian polities (not strictly speaking a country) was Hong Kong, which I do not think had any of what you describe.

  21. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So which people would win in an awesome name contest? The Irish with Finn McCool or the Ashkenazim with Laser Wolf?

  22. Two McMillion says:

    I would be interested in book recommendations that fall into either of the following categories:

    a) Sci-fi murder mysteries/crime novels
    b) Murder mysteries/crime novels where the protagonist realizes partway through the book that they’re living in an urban fantasy, and where this is not obvious from the start of the book.

    For (a), Larry Niven’s Gil the Arm or Asimov’s Caves of Steel would be examples of what I’m looking for. For (b), Dan Wells’ I am not a Serial Killer would be an example.

    I love the noir. The more noir-like the better.

    • Kelley Meck says:

      I recommend Vernor Vinge to friends who like sci-fi all the time. He’s one of the very best, and as a computer scientist with an interest in AI, even the books he wrote in the 90s still feel interesting on intelligence-related subjects like how multiple AIs (with different values or, maybe more easily stated, of different alignments vs. lawful-order and good-evil) might or might not succeed in forming alliances and working together with each other or humans.

      His sci-fi book “The Peace War” and the follow-up “Marooned in Real Time” is not his very best series, IMHO, but it is quite excellent and better than 95% of the other best-selling sci-fi out there. The first book builds a world and plays out a multi-polar murder/political intrigue/war story with one character discovering himself in a fantastically better-than-expected situation. Great rising action, neat concept, good characters, all around excellent novel. The second is a noir-detective story set in the aftermath of the first. There are feints-within-feints, multiple credible and distinct villains, and no perfect goodguys and serious mistrust problems even among the ‘good’ guys, maroonings, shoot-outs, rugged contests for survival. Highly recommended.

      (IMHO, the price for Vinge’s best work goes to his “A Fire Upon the Deep” and “A Deepness in the Sky” books. If I didn’t know your specific interest in noir, those would be even more highly recommended.)

      Eta corrections for readability.

      • Among Vinge’s works, I admit to a prejudice in favor of “The Ungoverned.”

        I stopped on two of the novels when they got too dark for me, but then I’m a wimp.

      • Dragor says:

        They aren’t really murder mysteries though. If we’re cheating and throwing out “excellent scifi series”: Xenogenesis trilogy by Octavia Butler

    • Aftagley says:

      a) Sci-fi murder mysteries/crime novels

      +

      I love the noir. The more noir-like the better.

      Makes me immediately want to recommend the Altered Carbon series. Have you read it?

    • Well... says:

      Neal Stephenson’s first novel, Zodiac, fits your bill.

    • AlexanderTheGrand says:

      Oh I have a great answer to this one. Kiln People by David Brin! Set in a world which has been transformed by the technology to cast “kiln people”, or temporary clones of yourself, including your mental state at the time, that decay roughly 24 hours after creation.

      It follows a noir-style detective investigating the disappearance of the inventor of this transformative technology.

      Excellent worldbuilding, both in the effect of that technology and others (like those that reduce privacy, especially relevant to the private eye.) Very well written too.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      For a) and noir, have you read Alastair Reynold’s Prefect Dreyfus Emergencies? The Prefect is good, Elysium Fire was…almost good.

    • AG says:

      Not a book, but the TV show Continuum is about how a cop from a Corporate Dystopia future time travels back to the present by accident (caught in the time travel blast area triggered by a group of anti-corporate terrorists). In order to stop the terrorists from changing the timeline, she integrates with the local police. The early seasons have more procedural episodes where the cop gets to apply Future CSI tech to help solve crimes. (Later seasons get more serialized about the whole time travel terrorists stuff.) I quite enjoyed it.

      For novels, there’s Rule 34, by Charles Stross.

  23. Le Maistre Chat says:

    When the Holocaust started in occupied Greece in March 1943, the Archbishop of Athens wrote a letter protesting the deportation of Jewish citizens with 19 high-status cosigners. After ineffectually sending it to Prime Minister Konstantinos Logothetopoulos of the Hellenic State and Günther Altenburg of the Auswärtiges Amt, he had it published in newspapers. For this, SS commander Jürgen Stroop threatened to execute him by firing squad. To this:
    “According to the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, our prelates are hanged [by tyrants], not shot. Please respect our traditions!”

    • Clutzy says:

      That’s good. Feels like something Hitchens would have said if he were arrested in a Muslim country.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      “I say again! Complain to Konstantinos Logothetopoulos, not me!” Tom said, beating us over the head about it.

    • salvorhardin says:

      I would just like to say that having a head of state who is actually just a functionary of the real authority, and naming that person “Konstantinos Logothetopoulos,” is an extraordinarily successful case of nominative determinism.

    • broblawsky says:

      Extremely baller statements made while challenging people to martyr you are an underappreciated category of quotations, and I thank you for bringing this one to my attention.

  24. AlesZiegler says:

    Does anyone here have an informed understanding of what is Turkey trying to achieve in Syria, and why it has soldiers there, recently being attacked by Russian planes?

    • Aftagley says:

      Does anyone here have an informed understanding of what is Turkey trying to achieve in Syria, and why it has soldiers there, recently being attacked by Russian planes?

      Flash back to the Syrian refugee crisis of 2016/2017. Europe was desperate for some kind of solution that would stop the flow without forcing them to take any action that would make them look terrible. It was a bad solution, but in stepped Turkey – for the low, low price of consideration to join the EU, Turkey agreed to be the bad guy and would (quietly) stop allowing Syrians to pass through. If you ever wondered why so many Syrians risked sailing the Mediterranean in rafts rather than take the much-easier looking overland route, it’s because Turkey was very good at stopping Syrians.

      At the height, there were over 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. For reference, Syria’s population before all this unrest was around 21 million, it’s current population is around 16.5 million and turkey’s population is around 80 million. The addition of 3.5 million Syrian refugees into Turkey was a massive shock to the country and constitutes a significant portion of the Syrian refugee populace. The Turks are sick of hosting the Syrians and want to get rid of them, but don’t have any great options for doing so. If they just deport them, well, what do you think 3.5 million previously-encamped former refugees would do if they were unceremoniously dumped at the border? The Turks also can’t just let them all flow into Europe without risking severe backlash from the rest of the continent.

      The solution it looks like Turkey has arrived at is they are trying to carve out a Turkish-dominated slice of Syria along the norther border where they can dump the refugees and still exert enough control over them to prevent the former/current refugees from agitating. The fact that this would also let the Turks fortify their southern border against the kurds AND give them control over Kurdish areas of influence… well, that’s just gravy.

      The problem is, this starts to impinge on the existing Syrian regime (backed by Russia). Assad doesn’t really care about what happens to those refugees, but he likely doesn’t want an influx of another 3.5 million desperate people and he certainly doesn’t want to lose control over most of the northern part of his country. Thus he, and more relevant to the current topic of discussion, his Russian allies, are fighting the Turks.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I don’t know enough about the current situation in Syria to answer with confidence what their war aims (or “police action aims”, I suppose) may be, but from what I gather Turkey has a few major strategic interests in Syria:

      1. Syria borders with Turkey. This gives Turkey a number of reasons to care about what post-war Syria looks like. I expect they’d greatly prefer a Turkish client state, or at least a Turkish-friendly regime that isn’t anyone’s client state, to a Russian client state or to Al Qaeda/ISIS.

      1b. The border also means that Turkey’s dealing with a lot of refugees displaced by the Syrian civil war; in particular, Turkey has announced a plan to resettle a large number of Syrian refugees (currently in Turkey) to a Turkish-occupied area in Syria.

      2. Turkey has a domestic problem with Kurdish nationalism, and one of the factions in the civil war (the Syrian Democratic Forces) has Kurdish groups as major parts of their coalition. Turkey is probably afraid of a situation where Syrian Kurds win autonomy or independence in the peace deal and then give material assistance to Turkish Kurds seeking similar goals. This is particularly awkward because the SDF is the faction the US and other involved NATO countries (except for Turkey) is primarily backing.

      • Statismagician says:

        How likely are the Kurdish bits of the SDF to be happy keeping the ‘S’ part as the war starts to wind down? Inquiring minds in Ankara clearly think they’ve got the answer, but I wonder whether anybody else has really thought about this. Certainly we, at least, didn’t in Iraq.

        • Eric Rall says:

          That’s one of the things I don’t know enough about to say with confidence. I’ve expressed confusion about SDF’s intended endgame, since they don’t seem like they have a path to outright victory for the whole country, so presumably they’re looking for either independence or a negotiated settlement that leaves them with some kind of autonomy in exchange for bending the knee.

        • DarkTigger says:

          My view (that might be influenced by both Turkish and Kurdish nationalists) is that the likelyhood is basically 0. There are strong movement in the different parts of Kurdistan that want an united Kurdish state, carved out of all the region that at the moment have Kurdish majority.
          Also Kurdish authorities in Turkey, Syria and the Iraq have helped militants from the other states in the past, mostly by providing save refuge areas.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      That is helpful, thanks. This is the first time I am reading about Turkish refugee resettlement plan. I guess this sort of explains yesterday’s announcement that Turkey will no longer stop refugees from crossing to the EU, since it might be a way to pressure EU to pressure Russia to pressure Assad to stop messing with his resettlement plan.

      But prima facie this scheme sounds wild. Turkey would have to essentially conquer part of Syria, defend it against the armies of Assad, Iran and Russian air force, while ensuring that its inhabitants aren´t going to flee to Turkish territory. Erdogan on the other hand seems like a smart guy. Do we think it he is being realistic?

      EDIT: I removed a reference to Erdogan in a first pargraph, since apparently announcement did not came from him personally.

      • Aftagley says:

        When this plan was being drafted, it was likely the Turks weren’t considering the possibility of facing a Syria with strong centralized control. In the world this plan was designed to exist in, Syria is a fractured mess and Assad is too busy dealing with rebels on his doorstep to care if Turkey extends its influence a couple dozen miles into Northern Syria. Well, maybe the Kurds do, but that doesn’t bother Erdogan one whit. Sure, maybe Assad (or whomever replaces him) eventually gets the rest of Syria under enough control to turn against Turkey, but by that point they should already control the territory and Erdogan will be able to play it off for diplomatic advantage.

        Basically, Turkey counted on no one caring if they marched into a warzone: that’s why so much of their public-facing propaganda has been about “the need to establish a secure zone.” He wanted the ability to play it off as a security action AND get the benefit of conquering territory.

        But, that didn’t happen. The US stayed in Northern Syria and Erdogan was never willing to go against uncle Sam, despite the fact that he’s clearly been desperate for us to pull out since at least 2016. Now, even though America seems like it’s mostly out of the picture, it’s become clear that he might have waited too long – Assad’s mostly got the rebels under control and the independent factions are either demobilizing or suing for peace.

        If I was a betting man, i’d say it’s likely someone in Ankara finally realized that it’s time to shit or get off the pot – if they don’t move now it’s never going to happen. Likely the prospect of invasion just had too much momentum behind it to make cancelling plans a politically feasible possibility, so we’re left with the current situation.

        That being said, I don’t think Erdogan has the stones for this conflict, especially if Russia keeps up the pressure. . I think we’ll see some action over the next week or two then an eventual ceasefire whereby Assad agrees to take in and control the refugees in Syria.

      • John Schilling says:

        But prima facie this scheme sounds wild. Turkey would have to essentially conquer part of Syria, defend it against the armies of Assad, Iran and Russian air force,

        More or less, yes.

        But the Turkish army has 260,000 men (not counting reserves) and 2,400 main battle tanks. The Russian, Iranian, and Syrian armies combined have about 800,000 men (ditto) and 6,000 main battle tanks. Since it generally takes 3:1 numerical superiority to defeat an enemy in a reasonable defensive position, this is something the Turks can plausibly do.

        Not if the Russians and Iranians mobilize their full reserves, of course, but those two have to maintain plausible deniability about fighting an actual war in Syria in the first place; they can’t even deploy their full first-line forces to the task, never mind a mass mobilization. If they do try for a straight fight, Turkey has interior lines of communication and a much shorter logistics tail.

        Also, they have a secure haven only twenty or thirty miles from the front lines, where the Russians et al can’t touch them without Turkey being able to invoke Article 5. That’s a huge advantage for Turkey.

        If you’re thinking of Turkey as some third-rate peripheral power, that’s wrong. If Turkey is a European nation, it’s got the most powerful land army in Europe – thanks to fifty years on the front lines of NATO and knowing the rest of NATO would have ignored them in a heartbeat to save Germany and the rest of Real Europe(tm), and unlike Germany et al not drawn down at the end of the Cold War. For that matter, if Turkey doesn’t count as a European nation, the most powerful land army in Europe is probably the Greeks, because they live next door to Turkey.

        If we start seeing Russian diplomats doing a full-court press in Athens, start worrying. Otherwise my money is on the Turks in this one.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I am quite aware of Turkish military might, but how plausible it is that any such successful operation would be cost effective (in a broad sense), compared to an alternative solution of keeping refugees in Turkey for now?

          • John Schilling says:

            What’s the cost-effectiveness for Russia and Iran in launching a full-court press to evict the Turkish army from a strip of the Syrian border?

            Not doing anything a rival nation would disapprove of unless it would be cost-effective to resist their hypothetically waging total war over the issue, is not a winning geopolitical strategy and I’m pretty sure it’s not Turkey’s strategy. And Russia almost certainly isn’t going to launch a major land offensive against Turkish forces in Syria.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @John Schilling

            I just think that significantly milder forms of resistence to Turkish occupation of a part of Syria than full on war with Russia and Iran will make that occupation very, very expensive. See also US in Iraq.

          • John Schilling says:

            So, the goalposts have shifted from “Defend it against the armies of Assad, Iran, and Russia”, to “significantly milder forms of resistance”. Got it.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            John Schilling

            But I didn´t mean whole armies of Iran and Russia. It seems that those two countries might cause a lot of trouble for Turkish forces in Syria with a fraction of their military resources. Various poorly armed militias caused a lot of trouble for American and associated forces in Iraq.

          • John Schilling says:

            The things that Russia and Iran are likely to do to minimize the potential blowback from this, are going to mean that no part of their regular military is involved.
            the Turkish Army just has to deal with the Syrian army, which after nine years of war is in shambles, plus assorted mercenaries and “volunteers”.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I’m curious now. What MBTs do the Turkish army use? M60s? T72s? Leopards?

  25. I’m seeing occasional news stories reporting that Trump says coronavirus will become less of a problem as the weather gets warmer, generally stories questioning that. The argument against seems to be that it’s true of flu, but we don’t yet know if it is true of the new strain.

    The obvious test is to look at the southern hemisphere, where it’s currently summer. I did a little googling, and found:

    The continent’s first case was recorded in Brazil on Wednesday.

    Which looks like pretty strong evidence that it’s true. It could reflect worse detection in poorer and less developed societies, but not all of South America is poor and quite a lot of cases have been detected in parts of Asia that are.

    Which makes me suspect that it is a probably correct claim, and the main reason for questioning it is that Trump made it.

    • Noah says:

      Quite a lot of cases have been detected in parts of Asia that are.

      To be fair, those countries probably have closer interaction with China than countries in South America do, so you should expect a lot more cases regardless.

      Given this, you can reasonably argue that it’s likely a correct claim, but we don’t know, and it’s better to make the pessimistic assumption when deciding on policy.

      Epidemiology and optimal policy aside, your conclusion is probably correct.

    • Aftagley says:

      I can’t watch the video, but is there something in it that backs up your claim? From what I read on that article, it makes it sound like officials in South America are very worried about the spread of the disease, which sounds like evidence directly contrary to your conclusion.

    • JayT says:

      How about Australia? Have they been affected? That seems like a better bellwether for the US, partially because they have a similar level of healthcare and partially because they also have a lot of Chinese immigrants and visitors.

    • gph says:

      I think the scientific/health community is aware that previously known coronavirus/flus typically subside in warmer weather. But we can’t know that for sure with this one, and Trump adds absolutely zero nuance to his statements making it sound like it’s a fact that this one will too. He’ll probably be proven right, but it’s not a foregone conclusion. And I wouldn’t infer that much on it not spreading in the southern hemisphere at this point seeing as the majority of humanity, including those affluent enough for international travel, reside in the northern hemisphere. And the virus is spreading in Thailand which is basically in a perma-summer state compared to where me and most northerners live.

      • Trump almost never adds nuance to his statements.

        But there is a sizable difference between “he might be wrong” and “how did he dream up that idea,” and my impression of the response I initially saw to his statement was more like the latter.

        Australia has 23 confirmed cases, which is evidence against my argument. On the other hand, eight of them are passengers from the Diamond Princess.

        More generally, one would like to be able to distinguish between people who got infected in Australia (or South America or wherever) and people who got infected elsewhere and then went to those places.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Trump almost never adds nuance to his statements.

          Sure he does. “And some, I assume, are good people.”

        • DinoNerd says:

          I suspect that for some people, probably including me, if Trump is reported as having said something, that’s reason to shift our priors about whatever it was – towards it being less likely to be true, and more likely (if true) to be a vast oversimplification. The magnitude of the effect presumably depends on how much we know about the topic – much stonger the less we know ;-(

    • broblawsky says:

      This is pretty clearly something Xi Jinping told Trump. Trump believes it because it’s politically convenient and reassuring for him, so I suppose the question is, how much do you trust Xi Jinping to tell the truth?

    • A1987dM says:

      There are quite a few cases in Singapore, which has no winter.

  26. Conrad Honcho says:

    Related to baconbits9’s post about the market sell-off, what’s a good book for “Stock Investment for Dummies?” Or is it Stock Investment for Dummies?

    Basically all I’ve ever done is dump money into my 401(k) and not worry about it. But it seems like there might be a good opportunity to buy…something in the next few weeks. Say I’ve got $5,000 and nothing else to do with it. What’s a good beginning guide to doing something with that? When I do not know what I do not know.

    • baconbits9 says:

      I don’t think there are any because basically its a goals question, if you aren’t doing ‘put it in your 401k with a match’ level of investing then your approach should be highly specific to your individual wants.

      I would also say that this week is not the week for bargain hunting. This has been a historically crazy week, but it has not yet hit a historically crazy decline. Ball park range you want to start shopping for deals when the market has dropped 30% plus looking historically.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I said “next few weeks.” I’d still have to read and understand whatever books anyone recommends. I figure I’d probably want to invest in video game-related stocks because that’s the industry I know most about and I already pay attention to investors’ calls in the interest of figuring out what games are coming out when.

        My goal is to feel cool talking about how I’ve leveraged my call puts to my cash ratio or whatever whenever something markety happens.

        I said in response to your post that I didn’t have opinions. I’d like to have an opinion, please.

        • Anteros says:

          Would you like your own opinion or will anyone’s do? Cos you’re welcome to mine, tho’ I can guarantee it’s worth precisely eff all…

        • baconbits9 says:

          As I said- you are looking for highly specific information (ie one specific industry). If you are going to do the work you want a book like this and then spend 6 months reading financial reports of video game companies and then picking one or two, but you aren’t going to have bragging rights for 2-5 years in most cases where it does work out.

          If you want a generic move to make I have some ideas, but I AM NOT A FINANCIAL ADVISER and any such suggestions should be ignored and any lawsuits brought by you against me will be ignored.

          • johan_larson says:

            … I AM NOT A FINANCIAL ADVISER and any such suggestions should be ignored and any lawsuits brought by you against me will be ignored.

            If you ignore a lawsuit, it doesn’t just go away. The plaintiff wins by default judgement.

        • matthewravery says:

          These might be your people: https://www.reddit.com/r/wallstreetbets/

    • Matt M says:

      I read and enjoyed “The little book that beats the market,” although it is basically just marketing material for a specific type of value investing that has its various proponents and detractors (as any and all “investing strategies” do – there’s really no universally agreed upon strategy other than “buy index funds and wait,” which is what you’re already doing)

      IIRC GameStop was a “magic formula” favorite stock for quite some time. This strategy favors stocks that basically have low P/Es (meaning they are cheap) and high returns (meaning they are profitable). Pretty much the only reason for a profitable company to also be cheap is that most people expect it is in a dying industry and faces some major headwinds. Tobacco stocks are another common sight on all of these screens.

      • Matt M says:

        I would also add that since it’s essentially impossible to beat the market anyway (evidence: even Harvard MBAs who have dedicated their whole life to trying to do so cannot do so consistently), and since you readily admit what you’re primarily looking for is entertainment/status – you could do a lot worse than simply “buy the gaming companies you like and cheer for them to do well.”

        It’s like betting on your favorite sports team. Assuming efficient markets, you should do about average, it’s fun, and it requires essentially no work.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          it’s essentially impossible to beat the market anyway

          Which is why I’ve never bothered learning anything about it, but yeah I think it would be fun to pretend to care about day-to-day stuff in the stock market.

          Also, you know GameStop is a horror show right now, right?

          • Matt M says:

            Which is why I’ve never bothered learning anything about it, but yeah I think it would be fun to pretend to care about day-to-day stuff in the stock market.

            So just pick your favorite among EA/Ubisoft/Activision and ride the wave! Go team go!

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Sure, but I also want to know what all the fancy stock market words mean.

    • cassander says:

      Your first priority should always be paying down high interest debt, then maxing out your 401k, Roth, and any other tax plans your employer lets you participate in (mine, for example, lets us buy their stock at a considerable discount). If you still have more money, you’re rich enough that you should talk to an actual financial adviser. Your brokerage is probably has them on staff for free. A competent one will ask you about your goals, their timeline, and your tolerance for risk, all of which will dramatically affect what you might want to do.

      More generally, it’s not a terrible idea to take advantage of market downs to buy if circumstances allow, but as a rule, time in market > timing the market, so I wouldn’t wait around for that sort of thing. The S&P has taken a huge dive recently, true, but that means it’s wiped out 6 months worth of gains. If you bought in January, you’re still up a fair bit. We’ve seen a decline of about 10%, but so did May of 2008 and December of 2019, and there’s no way to know which of those this fall will end up resembling.

      The basic rule of investing remains true, the EMH is basically true so unless you have unusual knowledge, you’re not going to beat the market in the long run. And even if you do have that knowledge, it might not help. You say you know the video game industry, but so what? You could be absolutely correct that Activision/Blizzard is a better buy than EA today, but Corona could end up up dramatically increasing the costs of trans-pacific shipping, which would screw up the semiconductor industry, which would screw up the launch of PS 5 and Xbox X, which would lead to the whole industry under-performing relative to the market, meaning you’d have been better off investing broadly.

      • Note that being in an industry has two opposite effects on optimal investment strategy. On the one hand, it means you have better information and so might be able to outguess the market. But on the other hand, it means that your income correlates with how well the industry is doing, which is a reason not to buy stocks that correlate with how well the industry is doing.

        It sounds as though Conrad’s expertise is as a consumer not an employee, however, so the second point isn’t relevant to his case.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I don’t have any debt besides my home mortgage and I’m putting 12% of my annual income into my 401k. My wife’s Roth is maxed out. I just want to buy a few grand worth of stocks so I can feel like a big boy when talking about market stuff, and I don’t know how to do that, really, because I was always doing the smart thing of just buying index funds.

        • Loriot says:

          Why not continue buying index funds? It’s by far the best investment strategy for ordinary people.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But then I don’t get to talk about stock stuff as if it actually mattered to me.

      • acymetric says:

        Your first priority should always be paying down high interest debt, then maxing out your 401k, Roth

        I admit I haven’t crunched the numbers here, although I did a few rough back of the envelope calculations. If we assume the amount of money you can afford to lose from a paycheck is the same whether you go traditional or Roth (say, $100 for simplicity) wouldn’t there be a fairly wide range of financial scenarios where investing $120 pre-tax (resulting in $100 less in your take home) gets you better results than investing $100 after-tax because even though the traditional 401k will be taxed when you withdraw the additional gains from the higher contribution amount outweigh the withdrawal taxes?

  27. Catmint says:

    I’ve been trying to catch up on the archives and just got to https://slatestarcodex.com/2015/03/31/rational-orthography-2/

    Boustrophedon is actually really easy to write, because at the end of a line you don’t have to move your hand all the way back to the start, so much so that it became a really hard habit to break. But break it I had to, since even after taking all of my notes that way from 9th to 11th grade, I still couldn’t read it.

    (I know that article is really old but I figure boustrophedon writing can stand being talked about more.)

    • voso says:

      I’m not willing to compromise with the lefties and give up my “not getting ink on my wrist while writing” privilege (not that I write much in pen anymore).

      In all seriousness, I have a good friend who is very dyslexic, and one of his major problems was losing track of which line he was on; he solved this with a browser extension that colored the last word of a line and the beginning word of the next line the same color. If reading backwards isn’t more difficult with dyslexia (I’m not dyslexic, I don’t know), this seems like quite an elegant solution to that.

      • gudamor says:

        That extension is beeline reader

        • Nick says:

          Gwern tested beeline reader coloring on his site for a while, measuring how long users stayed on each page to see if the coloring helped them to read faster. The results were not encouraging, though.

          • gnicholas says:

            BeeLine founder here.

            Gwern was convinced that our least-popular color scheme would perform best, so he focused mostly on grayscale themes. Greyscale is used by 2% of BeeLine users, and we counseled him against focusing on it. This surely affected his observed outcomes.

            He also did not notify the users up-front or tell them how to use the tool. BeeLine is not supposed to operate ‘subliminally’—it is a tool that you can use if you know it is there and know to look for it when switching lines. But gwern declined to notify users or provide instructions—aside from a page that could be found by eagle-eyed users, but was not proactively shown to them.

            In the years that have followed, numerous tests run by education nonprofits and other independent organizations (including CNET, as reported in The Atlantic) have found benefits for reading speed, scroll depth, and reading comprehension. We are happy to work with anyone (including SSC, whom we’ve approached in the past!) who wants to include our widget on their site. You can see what it looks like here.

            We’re also grateful that gwern was interested so early on and took the time to test it out.

  28. DinoNerd says:

    A BBC new story that touches on some themes that turn up frequently in the hidden threads here, but arranged somewhat differently:

    The boss who put everyone on 70K

    Highlighting this comment in particular, for its relevance to themes seen here:

    “Before the $70,000 minimum wage, we were having between zero and two babies born per year amongst the team,” he says.

    “And since the announcement – and it’s been only about four-and-a-half years – we’ve had more than 40 babies.”

    • Plumber says:

      Thanks for that @DinoNerd!

      The essay you linked confirmed some suspicions of mine, and now I feel my biases vindicated, hooray!

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      This is only sustainable because the founder is willing to take a MASSIVE pay cut in order to support his personal ideology. If the only way you can support this lifestyle is to force your senior leadership to take pay levels similar to senior staff, you will basically see your entire leadership team leave to different companies. I can assure you we would LOVE to get a CEO/founder for $70k/year. Jesus, what a find.

      Or you can try imposing massive tax increase on everyone making $90k+, but good luck with that one.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Not just that he gave up his stock and mortgaged his homes

        After crunching the numbers, he arrived at the figure of $70,000. He realised that he would not only have to slash his salary, but also mortgage his two houses and give up his stocks and savings. He gathered his staff together and gave them the news.

        The reality is much more likely that it worked because he was in a growth industry during a major economic expansion. Someone starting this 3 months ago is likely to be bankrupt in short order if we are entering a recession.

      • DinoNerd says:

        Well, I continue to believe that most corporate leaders add less value than the headquarters janitorial team, so I’d be happy to see the back of most of them. (At the very least, if they are doing anything useful they hide it from the rank and file employees.) But I realize my opinions are extreme. Also, because the average stock purchaser believes in the value of high paid executives, any public company that tried this would take a huge hit in its stock price, probably leading to a takeover that puts in a more normal executive team. So this is a non-starter in a public company, unless legal changes create a level playing field for all, which would be a political non-starter in the US.

        What’s more interesting to me is the effect on e.g. decisions about child bearing. In general, “people should have more children” and “business leaders deserve many many times the income of non-executive employees” are close political bedfellows – the same identities support both. But can we actually have both?

        • Loriot says:

          At the very least, we have obvious examples of CEOs causing massive damage to the company, so the corollary is that a good CEO can avoid that.

        • Plumber says:

          @DinoNerd says :

          “…interesting to me is the effect on e.g. decisions about child bearing. In general, “people should have more children” and “business leaders deserve many many times the income of non-executive employees” are close political bedfellows – the same identities support both. But can we actually have both?”

          Or you could go the 1940’s to 1970’s model of higher top marginal income tax rates, a larger portion of employees in industrial unions, and a much smaller average pay gap between CEO’s and most of their workers, and when was union density and top marginal income taxes at their highest? 

          The 1950’s.

          Which by an amazing coincidence is when birth, church attendance, and marriage rates (the things “social conservatives” esteem) were very high.

          • cassander says:

            Plumber, it’s been pointed out before that the high marginal rates of the 50s were illusory. the pre-86 tax code had higher rates, but more deductions and exemptions, so effective rates were not really any different than today, and taxes were actually less progressive by some measures.

            And for what it’s worth, unionization rates declined continuously during the 50s, so the idea that 50s tax policies built them up doesn’t really hold.

          • Plumber says:

            @Clutzy,
            The high unionization rates and the high marginal tax rates both stem from the same source: The Federal governments decisions on how to wage world war which led to the great compression of the 1940’s, there was a real “raising the floor” and “lowering the ceiling” during those years.

          • Clutzy says:

            Thanks for tagging me Plumber even though I’m not involved!

            You forget the actual cause of the great compression: The war itself. Almost all first world labor could no longer compete with US labor. First they were conscripted and war-mobilized as well, next they were destroyed industrially from the war.

            The 1950s “golden age” came apart extremely quickly because it was never stable. We’d have to destroy many billions of people to return to that.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Post war prosperity depending on the destruction of the competition is a very popular theory. However, it is horseshit. The 30 glorious years were a thing far, far beyond the borders of the US of A, and also happened in the places that did get blown to bits.

            Further, similar long periods of economic expansion and wide spread prosperity have happened since in many, many countries.

            Near as I can tell, what happens is that once you have genuinely tight labor markets, and dont sabotage that state of affairs (Dont ask me about my hatred of central banking as currently practiced) you pretty consistently see a number of things happen that feed into each other positively :

            Wages go up, which increases demand, including the demand for labor.

            Productivity goes up because not only visionary companies invest in labor efficiency, but all companies do, because they have no damn choice in the matter.

            Labor supply goes up, because genuine labor shortage is at least as effective at drawing marginalized groups into the economy as any level of political will. – And this in turn again increases demand, because the newly mobilized labor gets paid.

            This all goes into a virtuous cycle of more labor, more productive labor, and more highly paid labor (thus more demand) that can keep going basically until some sufficiently dire external shock smashes it or you hit the limits for just how many people you can actually get off the proverbial couch and into the economy. And no. The US is nowhere near that level.

          • cassander says:

            @plumber

            The Federal governments decisions on how to wage world war which led to the great compression of the 1940’s, there was a real “raising the floor” and “lowering the ceiling” during those years.

            there was a raising of the floor in those periods because the US was becoming the first developed country in history, government policy had little to do with that. And the ceiling wasn’t lowered, much of that compression was artificial. In 1950, if you wanted to pay your executives well, you gave them huge expense accounts, bought them company cars, and had executive cafeterias that could serve as a 5 star restaurants. When counting that largess as business expenses was made illegal, there was a switch to giving them stock options and letting them buy their own stuff. the tax code didn’t change the amount of compensation, it changed the way it was structured.

          • Clutzy says:

            Post war prosperity depending on the destruction of the competition is a very popular theory. However, it is horseshit. The 30 glorious years were a thing far, far beyond the borders of the US of A, and also happened in the places that did get blown to bits.

            The 50s being “glorious” is also horseshit. I’m merely talking about the kind of false unity and perceived prosperity. Recall, the modern world was also recovering from 15 years of economic depression caused by a recession compounded with horrible government policies, then war. It was incredibly easy to go up from where they were.

  29. baconbits9 says:

    So the stock market. I have opinions, who else has opinions?

    • broblawsky says:

      I’m at 50% cash and now I’m kind of wishing I sold more.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I spent the last year short the market with options and in October moved 100% of our 401k into bonds, and I still almost missed this downswing as a chunk of my options expired worthless last friday and I was down 80% of that capital.

    • Aftagley says:

      I have been making life plans that basically assumed we were 2-4 months away from a recession for the past 3 years. This bear market can’t come quickly enough.

    • Athos says:

      1) I think there’s still a lot more room to fall. I’m sure the US cases are significantly underreported, especially with testing capabilities already being overwhelmed (@actinide meta’s post).
      2) The impact on industry is temporary; there aren’t any infrastructure/manpower/trade deals being lost, things are just grinding to a halt due to fear of spreading the virus. Cancelling work at a factory isn’t a permanent answer for coronavirus.
      3) Weather patterns may stem the spread and fear of coronavirus. Much fewercases have been spread to the southern hemisphere (in summer right now).

      As of right now, I’m not sure what moves to make. Even though I think it’ll keep dropping, buying puts after so many red days just seems foolish. I may wait 1-2 months and then buy calls if it hasn’t recovered by then, in anticipation of people realizing that they’ll have to live with the coronavirus as they would with the flu and that closing industry isn’t a long term solution, as well as the weather alleviating the effects.

      • baconbits9 says:

        My opinion is that this fall is not the cornavirus exactly, its the upswing in the face of bad news that was liquidity driven over the past 6 months (actually 18) when it went it had to go fast. My baseline has been a 40% correction from peak, with 75% being possible.

        • Athos says:

          People have been waiting around for a recession for years now, and we’ve even had a couple decent catalysts that haven’t stuck (the most being a very temporary correction). I agree that the market has been overvalued, but it’s also been quite resilient. At what percentage would you gauge your confidence that this particular dip will lead to a 40%+ drop? I could see the current market fear compounded by weak data from China due to trade war/virus shutdowns/underlying political factors exacerbating things.

          • baconbits9 says:

            At what percentage would you gauge your confidence that this particular dip will lead to a 40%+ drop?

            I see this as a very complicated question, and just the basic framing is open to broad interpretation. If the market bounces from here back up to ~3,300 and then drops 40% does that count? What bounce/over what time invalidates? Rather than try to go down that forking path I am choosing to answer this way-

            In October when I shifted to 100% bonds I thought two different scenarios were likely, we were ready for a stock market dumping a large % or a climb of 10% easy. I think the world we currently live in can only have markets go down or up, and I struggle to see a world where the S&P sticks between 2900 and 3100 over the coming 6 months as people figure stuff out.

            However there are still big risks to calling the beginning of a correction of that size. The Fed could come out with an emergency 50 basis point cut and that could (but not would) boost markets back near or above all time highs, but the odds of a major Fed move are highly conditional. They go up if the market dumps further, the drop if the market stabilizes or rebounds. My gut feeling, which is hard to quantify, is that the Fed needs a 20% draw down- or breaking 2700 for the S&P to make a move just for the sake of markets. However they can definitely make a move based on economic data, or economic data + extending these losses a bit, but economic data is trailing and the Fed knows that so there is the chance that they make a preemptive data cut and we are stuck in the Bayesian nightmare of having to many paths and no good way of estimating the probability of any of them.

            So to finally answering: I have high confidence (85-90%) that the recent peak in markets is a real peak that won’t be eclipsed by a notable amount for at 3+ years barring an inflationary break. A 40% decline for the S&P would be testing the 2,000 range, I would say its 50/50 that we break 2,200 on the S&P in the next 18 months.

            I agree that the market has been overvalued, but it’s also been quite resilient.

            I disagree, resilient is when you get knocked down and then stand back up, the markets have gotten knocked down and then their friend Fred has picked them back up.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      As a long term investor, I won’t have opinions for about another 25 years.

    • John Schilling says:

      This is a good time to be in cash (and I’m at about 40% myself), but a bad time to sell for cash so don’t go refreshing the relevant window every half-hour, with a sinking feeling in your stomach to match the market prices of your equities. What you’re seeing now is one part rational reaction to a possible pandemic, one part hysteric overreaction to a possible pandemic, and one part recognition that we were probably in a bubble anyway and the first two parts prompted people to sell now rather than three months ago or three months from now.

      Think everything through carefully. If you’re thorough and clever and diligent, there are probably some very good opportunities right now, but the obvious ones like makers of antiviral drugs have probably already been “taken”. Otherwise, expect that there will probably be at least a partial recovery, and if you do think you need to sell, probably do so in a slow and steady fashion rather than all at once.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Gold getting pummeled today is a strong counter argument to this position, as is the US dollar weakening. This looks like forced deleveraging right now, not virus panic. Yes the virus is the catalyst that starts the deleveraging but if this was even in part a pandemic panic you would expect either or both the dollar and gold to strengthen, not fall.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I am still in. I have no confidence in my ability to catch a falling knife. If we see a rebound on Monday I’m going to call it a bull trap and sell. I don’t think there will be one, though, which means I’m probably riding it out.

      This isn’t even about the virus; market has just been stupid for a while. The company I work for has seen a 15% drop in stock price over the last few days.

      I may not have managed to position myself that well in the financial market, but I’m playing with chump change, and the one thing I will say in my favor is that I chose a good time to start looking at grad school.

      G U A R A N T E E D F U N D I N G
      U
      A
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      D
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      D
      I
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      G

    • anon-e-moose says:

      It’s my opinion that this is yet another market correction based on whatever the fear-du-jour is, and non-professional investors will almost certainly generate greater risk-adjusted returns by holding onto their existing holdings, or making small asset allocation adjustments rather than blowing out their portfolios into cash/vix ETFs/gold/beanie babies.

      That said, I’m long Jan 21 SPY OTM calls. So that may color my biases, haha.

  30. Deiseach says:

    Hello, and welcome to book review time! Today I will be mostly criticising an entry in the genre of continuation novels, the sub-genre whereby Best-selling Dead Author continues to have a flourishing literary career beyond the grave, thanks to literary estates and/or publishing firms willing to continue flogging a dead horse for the sake of an established profitable property and beginning/mid-tier rank authors wanting a foot in the door of publishing or a side-line to pay the rent while working on their own originals.

    This does not necessarily mean that the work is bad in itself; the late Robert B. Parker wrote two continuation novels for Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe, and since his own death four different writers have been gainfully employed continuing his Parker, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall and the Cole & Hitch Western series. I’ve read several of these kinds of novels in the detective/crime genre, and some are definitely better than others. I’m late to the game about this particular series, continuing Agatha Christie’s Poirot, which I intend to review here.

    Why I say I’m late to this game is because the novel in question (one of four, three published and one to be released later this year) was first published in 2014 but I only discovered it a few weeks ago. First, let me get my snarking out of the way (snarking about the authoress, I’ll be giving her Original Character a good kicking further down). From her list of breathlessly gushing acknowledgements, she says:

    Hodder & Stoughton, who publish my psychological thrillers, have been exceptionally jolly and excited about my fleeting elopement with Poirot, and asked only that I return to Hodder Towers without a big swirly moustache. I am enormously grateful to them.

    I’ll just bet they were, lassie. Christie is a reliable money-making name, even if the Empress of Crime has been dead since 1976 and the novel killing off Poirot was published in 1975 (though written in the 40s, fact fans!) Kenneth Brannagh is only the latest – 2017 – to take a turn at the character (a movie I still haven’t seen because I don’t know how broadly, or how much for comic effect, Poirot’s character is played in it) so plainly there still remains gold in them thar hills. H&S, and Christie’s grandson who is the one who authorised this continuation, are less “jolly and excited” to indulge one of their tame authoresses for her literary excellence (ahem) and more with visions of Scrooge McDuck’s money swim.

    So, how does the book stack up?

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I’ll give you the pros first, then we’ll get into the cons.

    Pro:

    (1) Even watered-down Poirot is better than nothing, and this is still Poirot. The authoress does not go heavy on the character tics of the stereotype and that’s a welcome restraint. She does, indeed, get the idea behind Poirot’s fussiness and neatness, it’s more along the lines of OCPD, though that’s the kind of interpretation she does not make.

    (2) The authoress is a writer of psychological thrillers, and the plot is appropriately convoluted and twisty, resulting in the “I never saw that coming” ending Christie liked to pull off.

    (3) At least one neat subversion of expectations regarding crime novel tropes; there’s a character who does the classic “I have vital information about the case but I won’t tell you now, come back tomorrow” set-up which we expect to result in the classic “and then they were murdered before they could tell”, but this does not happen.

    Con:

    (1) One very, very big con which is the major one – the authoress’ original character Edward Catchpool (who made me think of him as Clotpoll because he is so cloth-headed). This is unfortunate because he’s the stand-in for Poirot’s usual side-kick, Captain Hastings. Clotpoll is our narrator, which is why it’s unfortunate. Now, were he merely another Hastings (who, love him though I do for his other sterling qualities, I must admit is dim and can’t take a hint even if it’s directly dropped on his head) that would be well enough, but unhappily he’s also a Scotland Yard detective, and we meet him having not one but three murders to solve.

    Actually, we meet him having run home to brood sulk mope take a little break, abandoning the crime scene and telling Poirot that no, there’s plenty of time if he leaves it until the morning to come back. And this is Scotland Yard’s finest? Actually he’s never described (or self-described) as anything like their best, which makes me wonder how come he and Poirot are so buddy-buddy.

    Turns out that the reason Our Narrator ran like a little bitch clocked out early is that dead bodies give him the creeps, the willies, the heebie-jeebies. Rather a handicap when one is a homicide detective, you would have thought? A bit like someone with a peanut allergy getting a job at a Reese’s manufacturing plant? Well, this is what we get instead of character development, so suck it up and deal with it (advice I found myself yelling at Our Narrator every time he came over all faint at the very thought of dead bodies).

    Aha, you are thinking. This novel is set in 1929, so our 32 year old character is old enough to have served at least some time in the First World War. This is Lord Peter Wimsey all over again, right? Good old battlefield trauma?

    I wish. No, it’s because when Our Narrator was five years old, his mother made him view his grandfather’s dead body when it was laid out. This made me go “So?” because although the authoress and I are both technically within the Generation X cohort, some of us on the older edge were seeing bodies laid out in the deadhouse at such tender ages and we got over any traumas this may have engendered quick-sharp. Granted when you are five this is probably very scary, but it’s way past time Our Narrator put on his big boy pants and manned the hell up.

    Our Narrator is so terrible at being a policeman that he left me longing for the consummate professionalism of Inspector Japp, who may not have been on Poirot’s level intellectually but did at least know how to conduct a basic investigation and do his job in an efficient manner. In what is the only bit of self-reflection he engages in, Clotpoll thinks that his bosses at Scotland Yard are probably happy that Poirot has more or less taken over the case. If they ever want to see it solved, they should be happy!

    Oh, and said bosses? Where are they, exactly? Nothing about his conduct of the case, reporting back to anyone, having to explain why he fecked off back to his lodgings leaving the crime scene early, or even seeing the inside of his office – if he even has one – back at the Yard. When he’s not trailing round after Poirot, he’s skulking in his lodgings very unlike Achilles in his tent, trying his hand at devising crosswords. He appears to have some ambitions to become a cruciverbalist and this would be much better than his attempts to be a policeman, though his ability there seems to be as poor as his current job skills.

    Poirot has to force him to go down to the village from where the three murder victims came and ask around to see if he can find out what is the connection between them and the putative murderer. Inspector Japp would have been down there on the first train he could get, but Our Narrator would rather drop unsubtle hints all over the place that he’s gay (we’ll come back to this later). When he does arrive in the village, he has a stonking great superiority complex about “huh, village life, how boring – Big City for me all the way!” which is not really deserved, as not alone does his cover get blown within five minutes, consequently he cannot get anyone at all to speak to him.

    Now, bear with me here. Imagine you are a Scotland Yard detective officially investigating three murders and you’re visiting the place where those three people all lived. Do you:

    (a) Go straight to the local police station, introduce yourself, explain why you’re there, and get fully filled-in on all the background to the victims, any scandals or enmities they might have had, and as much information as you can garner?

    (b) Wander around unable even to find the inn where you’ve reserved a room until a helpful local directs you, spill the beans to the landlord as soon as you walk in the door but then tell him not to tell anyone else, then act all surprised when the village grapevine disseminates who you are and why you’re there in ten minutes flat? Then moon about the place thinking unkind thoughts about the local clods until you have someone literally sneak up behind you to tell you what happened? Then make another rash promise about not asking anyone about the case, even though you’ve just been told that other person knows all about it and was involved in taking away and destroying evidence in the original scandal?

    You’ve guessed it – Our Narrator goes for Option B every time. I could go on (and on, and on) but Clotpoll is so terminally useless at the job, I wonder if he really is a cop or is just telling everyone he’s a cop.

    (2) The plot is unnecessarily convoluted and tricksy. The authoress writes her own psychological thrillers, and it’s clear she’s trying to do the same here. You don’t read Christie for the sake of great literature, you do so for the plot, and she liked tricksy plots. But her plots were economic and tightly-plotted, and while you might go “Hang on a minute…” after you’d finished the book, while reading it you obediently swallowed all the red herrings and went down all the by-ways she sent you.

    Yes, her characters are cardboard and two-dimensional, and Poirot himself is more of a stereotype. But he admits to exaggerating and playing up the “Mon Dieu, I am – ‘ow you say? – ze poor foreigner” act in order to lead people astray and have them relax their suspicions around him. Her characters, indeed, take on the attributes of archetypes – this is a morality play or allegory, where Mrs Jones the Rich Widow is not a fully-realised rounded person but is given just enough depth to stand up, while she is really the archetype of Pride or Vanity or other fault that results in her being murdered.

    The authoress falls down on this – she goes for cardboard characters, but her plot is so knotted on itself, and has obvious holes which are commented on by some of the characters but glossed over or explained away, that I gave up trying to keep track of who was supposed to be doing what where when (but actually they were someone/somewhere else). It was too much to keep straight and didn’t hang together all that well anyway. So I just skimmed over “And then this and then this and then this” part of the explication and waited for Poirot’s Grand Reveal.

    (3) Said Grand Reveal was handled very badly. The traditional Big Gathering at the end where everyone is called together and the plot is all resolved like the ticking of a Swiss watch happens, except we get muddle, interruption and the disruption so that the actual Grand Reveal happens afterwards in a tête-à-tête between Poirot, the murderer, and Clotpoll after the murderer has been arrested.

    (4) SJW, wokeness, progressiveness or representation – whatever you want to call it. Perhaps it wasn’t in full flower in 2014, but it’s here in this novel. Our Narrator drops some thumping great hints that he’s gay. These don’t go anywhere, lead to anything, and have absolutely nothing to do with the plot, so why do it? It doesn’t even lead to a more overt statement at the end by Clotpoll that he understands/has sympathy with the murderer for what they did. If it’s supposed to be the authoress setting the ground for a later Startling Revelation in later novels of this series that hey, here’s the Big Secret our narrator was hiding all along – well, everyone has guessed it by now so the shock effect will not come off.

    There’s a character who is the standard sort of Social Rebel (she thinks adultery is okay if you’re really in love! she questions the Bible and has her own understanding of God!) and this is yet another fumbled connection: you’re expecting Our Narrator to come to some sort of understanding with her (given her stated sympathies to unconventional and rule-breaking love), some kind of knowing unstated acknowledgement that his is the Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name – but no dice. This just hangs there like a limp flag without a breath of breeze to stir it.

    There is, however, some unintentionally amusing hypocrisy and snobbery going on. Clotpoll is amusingly ignorant of village life (or, I would say, his creatrix is); it’s amusing because despite all his paeans to Big City Living, when he’s in London what he mostly does is sit in the darkened parlour of his lodgings trying to get a workable crossword puzzle going that he can have published. Oh, the pulse-pounding excitement, indeed no villager could handle this pinnacle of high life! And Social Rebel may be all about breaking the taboos and conventions of marriage, religion and so forth, but she’s dreadfully snobbish about the lower classes attempting to ape their betters and adopt airs above their station. If the authoress intended this as subtle commentary on the character, I’d be delighted, but I think it was all unconscious and unintentional. We’re supposed to admire/have our jimmies rustled by Social Rebel and not realise that she’s every bit as crushingly conventional and closed-minded when it comes to “domestics in service”.

    (5) What I may be reading too much into: I think the authoress may be working out some childhood traumas/grinding some axes of her own with Clotpoll and a couple other characters. Is Clotpoll’s “I saw dead grandpa when I was five and never got over it” her own trauma? Is a minor character, who talks about her father in this manner, perhaps an authorial self-insert?:

    ‘It came back to me after I left your house that I do indeed know the name. Your father was one of a circle of English and Russian agitators in London at the end of the last century. He spent a period of time in gaol.’

    ‘He was a dangerous man,’ said Nancy. ‘I couldn’t bear to speak to him about his … ideas, but I know that he believed it was acceptable to murder any number of people if those people were delaying the cause of making the world a better place — better only according to his definition! How in the name of Heaven can anything ever be made better by bloodshed and mass slaughter? How can any improvement be brought about by men who wish only to smash and destroy, who cannot speak of their hopes and dreams without their faces twisting in hatred and anger?’

    ‘I agree with you absolutely, madame. A movement driven by fury and resentment will not change any of our lives for the better. Ce n’est pas possible. It is corrupt at the source.’

    I say “a possible authorial self-insert” because it turns out that the authoress is a daughter of a famous (now deceased) Marxist/leftist academic? Well, perhaps this is going too far: psychoanalysing authors by means of their characters is a dicey business at best.

    In conclusion: am I going to read the next volume in this series? Despite all the above, and despite it being set in Ireland (already I am wincing in anticipation of the usual English cluelessness about us next door on top of the authoress’ imagined version of 30s Ireland and the Ascendancy), and despite the wet-blanket presence of Clotpoll as the major figure, I fully intend to do so. It may be spite-reading, but as I said – even watered-down Poirot is better than nothing.

    • b_jonas says:

      Interesting review, thank you. I read Poirot novels, so it’s relevant for me to at least hear about this sequel.

      • Deiseach says:

        Just finished the second one and it was okay. Clotpoll is marginally less of a thicko in this one, though the “what the hell are his bosses thinking, how are they letting him just wander off to spend a week visiting some aristocrat’s estate?” doesn’t get much in the way of explanation other than “I told them I was going and they were cool with it (mainly because Poirot was going to be there as well)”. Then again, having him out of the country immediately raises the likelihood of successful murder-solving by the coppers, so they may be glad to take the chance to get shot of him. Clotpoll complains about everyone giving the credit to Poirot for solving the murders in the first novel but blaming him for being ineffectual – which is all true, Clotty! – but then he was praised for trying, and failing, to solve a murder on his own. The lesson Clotpoll takes from this is not “fame is fickle” but “I’d rather fail on my own than be successful with Poirot”. Sigh. It’s a wonder the entire population of London haven’t been murdered in their beds with that attitude, Clotty!

        The scene of the capers is allegedly in Ireland, in Clonakilty Co. Cork to be exact, but this is not so – it’s obviously set in Gloucestershire or somewhere. All the characters are English, not even Anglo-Irish (except for an American so enamoured with Englishness he has shed his native accent and is trying to be more English than the English). Oh, there are some mentions of the Guards and such as local colour, but there is no interaction with the natives (apart from Clotpoll doing some looking down his nose at the native police, which given that he is thick as two short planks when it comes to policing himself is the pot calling the kettle black). There’s some tiny political commentary which had me bristling: yes, whyever would the native Irish think that, given all these people are English, are preoccupied with England, have spent all their time in England etc., that maybe Ireland should cut free and rule its own destiny? But that’s only very minor, hardly even worth evoking a quick bar of A Nation Once Again.

        There’s two years between this one and the first novel, which – given some in-universe comments by Clotpoll – make me think some of the reviews may have picked up on what I said in my own re: the thicko copper. Also, I think the authoress may have been stung by criticism of over-convoluted plot, as she puts these words into the mouth of her novelist character (writer of children’s books in this case):

        That is the main criticism levelled at my Shrimp books, incidentally—that they are sometimes too convoluted. Stuff and nonsense! I mean, if my plots were simpler then people would guess, wouldn’t they? And you can’t have people guessing. I’m afraid I don’t write for dimwits and nor will I, ever. I write for those capable of rising to an intellectual challenge.

        Sure you do, honey-bun. It’d be more convincing if your policeman wasn’t Clotpoll, who – when asked by Poirot what he’d been doing on his end while Poirot was off chasing a lead in England – replied that he’d had a lovely long lie-in and then a bite to eat. This while actually staying in the house where the murder had been committed amongst all the suspects and having been invited by the lady of the estate in order to prevent any murdering happening. Yeah, no dimwits here!

        The Big Reveal is handled much better in this second story, and there is less implausibility in the plot though it still relies on split-second timing and misdirection to have happened the way it’s described to have happened. So, somewhat less of a slog to get through, Poirot does what he does best, but Clotpoll is still a whiny little crybaby (though thankfully this time round he’s stopped coming over all of a-flutter at the very prospect of dead bodies).

    • rmtodd says:

      I say “a possible authorial self-insert” because it turns out that the authoress is a daughter of a famous (now deceased) Marxist/leftist academic?

      Could be. You might find this article from the New Yorker interesting. It tells the story of another author, one who happens to be an acquaintance of Hannah, whose rather unusual and, ahem, colorful life may have given Sophie Hannah inspiration for one of the characters she included in the extended-Poirot book #2 you just finished.

      • Deiseach says:

        Interesting article. I was thinking more along the lines that the character had definite resemblance to the talented Mr. Ripley; that there was a real-life person of this type doesn’t altogether surprise me.

        What mostly annoys me about the books is that the sole reason for their existence (apart from milking the Christie fans to buy new Poirot novels) is the plot; the authoress clearly plumes herself on creating clever psychological plots. She is able to do that, but she has no ability (that I can perceive) for creating characters, or for description (and perhaps she knows this, because she doesn’t try any describing: for instance, about the country house the characters are all confined in for the second book, all we get is that ‘it’s big and everyone was given a room’. The one piece of description about a room is that it had red and gold curtains). Whatever Christie’s faults in these areas, at least she was able to give some impression to the reader that “Ah yes, this is set in a tropical island resort/an English country house/the Near East” as to place. Our authoress manages to make London boring, and to not engage one bit with “this is Ireland not England”. She also has an annoying habit of ‘telling, not showing’ and of dropping little hints that are never connected up – the opposite of Chekov’s Gun, where she puts a bit in that looks like it should be a clue, or at least be important later, but it never goes anywhere.

        The only saving grace is Poirot, who at least has to be something like Christie’s Poirot, and precisely because he’s not one of the authoress’ original characters he makes the thing come alive on the page when he’s introduced.

    • vrostovtsev says:

      When I’ve read up to ‘wokeness’ I was afraid it will be another ‘rivers of london’-level bullshit but what you describe seems to be a rather mild case. Thank non-specific supernatural representation of choice, I want to read another Poirot novel, even if it’s a faux-Poirot.

      I wonder if anyone will undertake another Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novel… should be easier to write than another Christie one would imagine.

      • I wonder if anyone will undertake another Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novel

        Take a look at David Duncan’s “Alchemist” novels. The names of the characters are different and the setting is Renaissance Florence, but the identity of an unacknowledged coauthor is obvious.

      • Evan Þ says:

        What’s up with the Rivers of London series? I’ve had it at the back of my To Read list for years but never gotten around to it.

        • Rivers of London is entertaining fluff. I think I’ve read them all.

        • vrostovtsev says:

          (I only read the two first novels because I could not really stomach more)

          It’s soaked in woke in the way that nothing else that I’ve read is. I thankfully have already started to forgive the details, but some examples from the first book.

          Protagonists’s relationship with his white male mentor consists of said mentor politely and attentively listening to protagonist dispencing author tract SJW wisdom and not much else.

          The titular ‘rivers of london’ in the first book are the humanoid personifications of the actual rivers in london. They are non-white immigrants. This fact is treated as obvious and logical because immigrants ‘belong more’ in London than people who were born there.

          In general, there is alot of author’s SJW tract dispensed in dialogues or internal monologue of the protagonist and it is way too annoying to read.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The titular ‘rivers of london’ in the first book are the humanoid personifications of the actual rivers in london. They are non-white immigrants. This fact is treated as obvious and logical because immigrants ‘belong more’ in London than people who were born there.

            long spit-take into the Thames

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I wonder if anyone will undertake another Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novel…

        Unrelated: is there a Rex Stout beer? I imagine it would have a T. rex on the label.

      • Deiseach says:

        I wonder if anyone will undertake another Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novel

        Funny you should say that! In the 90s, I was so hungry for new Wolfe stories that I read a fair selection of the Robert Goldsborough continuations, up to about book six or seven (I stopped after that because they weren’t really Archie and Nero, at least not to me).

        I also tried the Jill Paton Walsh continuation of the Wimsey stories, but found them very much to my distaste and gave up on the second one.

        Don’t get me started on the Mary Russell stories. This is the only explanation I will entertain about them.

        • Nick says:

          I laughed out loud when the doctor recited her name as “Mary Sue Russell.”

        • vrostovtsev says:

          Oh, the continuations are even listed on wikipedia, but rather inconspicuously (only in the footer). I didn’t notice them when trying to Ctrl+f my way through. I might risk the first story just to see what it’s like.

          Edit: “subsequent Holmes-Russell marriage” oh my god

        • I enjoyed the Mary Russell stories.

      • littskad says:

        Glen Cook’s Garrett, P.I., series is a essentially Nero Wolfe set in a fantasy world. Garrett is the Archie Goodwin character, and the Dead Man is the Nero Wolfe.

  31. zenojjones says:

    I’ve been reading a lot about old miners and their struggles, especially in the early 20th century. Perhaps it is because I’m from Kentucky and am biased towards the history of my own region, but I’ve become convinced that the job of a miner before mechanization (roughly pre-WWII) was the toughest job that a free man was tasked with before the war.

    I’m sure there are other candidates of hardest job in history. What do you all think?

    Here’s a piece I put together with some thoughts on how tough it was being a miner

    • Machine Interface says:

      I’m sure there are other candidates of hardest job in history. What do you all think?

      Sewer engineer.

    • rumham says:

      Offshore roustabout/roughneck. Note, roughneck only before the invention of the iron roughneck.

      And, at least when I was doing it, you had to navigate confined spaces, put out fires and have some basic medical training.

      • zenojjones says:

        Ooh that’s a good one. That’s be great to read up on- the early days of being a roughneck. I wonder if there are any great books

    • Anteros says:

      When I was a motorcycle courier in London in the late 90’s, I often thought that was the toughest job in the world. It’s February, it’s been sleeting all day, and you’re standing by the side of your bike wondering if any work is going to materialise, ever.

      You’re frozen, and drenched, and can’t feel any of your fingers or toes. Any biros you relied on stopped working hours ago, so nobody would be able to sign for any jobs if they appeared, and your sheets of paper on your clipboard are just a disgusting soggy mess. If you do get some work, it feels like your life expectancy is measured in minutes, and half the taxi drivers are ready to nudge you into a bollard on the central reservation as you overtake them, and laugh as they’re doing it. Some days you pay out more than you earn – the insurance is insane, you’re inside a building for 30 seconds and you get a bleeding parking ticket, and every time you crash you spend a weeks wages just getting back on the road. Broken bones are free to heal but take ages.

      You could go and sit in a cafe, and you’d warm up quick enough. But most likely your radio doesn’t work inside so you really are saying goodbye to any money that day. And because you’ve got 7 layers on in an attempt to avoid freezing, you rather quickly start to cook. And that awful cup of greasy spoon tea you just drank has to come out at some point. Which will cause you mountains of logistical misery I can’t begin to explain.

      And when you think it couldn’t get any worse (though at least by not having received any jobs, you also haven’t died under a bus) a copper who is also having a bad day takes it out on you by stopping you for precisely no reason, finds something trivially wrong with your bike, puts a prohibition on it, and you have to walk home. Yes, you get warm, but as in the cafe experience, you cook, and it’s like walking in a diving suit.

      However, the reason it’s not the toughest job in the world, or even the toughest job amongst the people you share a flat with, is because sometimes it’s June. You’re sitting at home, basically unemployable because you’re completely anti-social along with being fundamentally lazy. The only thing in the world you enjoy doing is riding around on your motorbike. And somebody comes along and says “I’ll pay you 500 quid a week to ride your motorbike around London, and the faster you ride, the more I’ll pay you” It’s like all your Christmases and Birthdays have come at once. You don’t even have to talk to anybody, you just ride your bike all day long and if you fancy cruising along the motorways or through leafy Surrey suburbs, there are plenty of option for doing that. I used to have a regular run to Leeds and back (400 mile round trip) and I took it because I could have a cup of tea at my sisters in Leeds and when it was time to head back to London, I always caught myself thinking “This really is the best job in the world”.

    • Matt M says:

      Everything I know about Harlan County I learned from watching Justified.

      I also have a family friend who is from Kentucky who assured me it really is like that.

    • psmith says:

      Counterpoint, having felled and bucked the occasional tree with axe and crosscut myself: hand-logging.

      Sources and recommended reading: Woodsmen of the West, Tall Trees Tough Men, “Logging, Pimping, and Your Pal Jim”, maybe Ralph W. Andrews’ logging books for the photos, probably Holy Old Mackinaw (I myself have only read Holbrook’s Burning an Empire but it wasn’t half bad.).

      And via youtube:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5f_FjfIQQfo
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkjXqmmaP-U
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFoqbU5XKL4

      Railroad construction and whaling are right up there, too.

    • gbdub says:

      Bering Sea fisherman looks pretty awful, although somewhat mitigated by the relatively short working season and good pay.

  32. Purplehermann says:

    Hey Scott, was just reading some old articles.
    Thank you for your writing. You’ve helped me in the thinking department and in the being nice department, and on top of that I really enjoy reading it in general.
    And thank you for creating this awesome garden

    • spkaca says:

      Seconded, it bears repeating this place is marvellous and afaik unique.

      • Deiseach says:

        Thirded. This is where I should be drunkenly slurring “I really love you guys, I mean it, you’re the best!” but since it’s just gone afternoon here and I’m only drinking “cloudy lemon flavoured sparkling water”, make that soberly slurring “I really love you guys!” 😀

        • Roebuck says:

          Fourthed.

          Sorry for a cringy comment, but reading Slate Star Codex and Less Wrong for the past year has been nothing short of an enlightenment for me. For example:
          * I have stopped being a news junkie (I used to deplete my mind with anglophone culture wars) after reading some of the insightful political writings which, in my opinion, model culture wars quite well and let me sleep in peace knowing that I am on top of most of them. I know the obvious worry – am I approaching LW and SSC with enough skepticism? Am I turning too intellectually arrogant? I can’t prove or disprove either, but I’m happier and I am not losing friends, so I guess it works for me. In fact, I am craving culture war discussions less and respond to them more calmly, which I think will be a positive influence on my social life.
          * I now have much more skepticism towards academic research. Again, hopefully not too much (‘red flag’ remains my most hated idiom in English). Actually, I’m quite certain it’s not too much because helpfully the skepticism has been installed in me by Scott pointing out clearly defined oft-repeating features of research methodologies which introduce bias and which can be readily identified by reading the research itself.

          Next thing I should do to maximise the impact of the rationalist sphere on myself:
          * Find out how the experiment with Scott moving to the Bay Area went. I’m currently an economist with, for my age, very competitive qualifications in economics, but I wish I was closer to the STEM / rationalish / innovative culture more prevalent in tech (looking specifically at data science). I’m not fond of pure maths – I always need a story to it – but I get along better with nerds.

        • Lambert says:

          Add a half a teaspoon of Gordon’s and say it’s a homeopathic gin and bitter?

          • Deiseach says:

            I do have some Fever Tree tonic waters at hand. No gin, but some Bacardí Ginger. Once the sun declines a little further down the sky (it’s now 3 p.m. here), I may indulge in some homeopathy as you suggest 🙂

            Yes it’s Lent, but this is “a little wine for your stomach’s sake”! Ginger is good for the digestion and this rum has got ginger in!

          • vrostovtsev says:

            > this rum has got ginger in
            well… mostly ginger

    • Nthed. And thank you, Purplehermann, for making this thread, and reminding me that this is worth stressing!

      My internet reading, a few random usually technical articles (typically on infosec topics) aside, consists of Slate Star Codex and people I follow on schlaugh. And I like it that way. Thanks, Scott!

    • toastengineer says:

      Yeah, what they all above said.

  33. johan_larson says:

    From the Catch-22 Department comes another tale of extreme bureaucracy. In order to import a firearm into the US, you need an import license for the gun. But you don’t need such a license if the gun is an antique. However, a customs officer might (and probably will) stop the gun at the border, and ask for an import license. You can assert that the gun is an antique and you don’t need a license, but how do you prove it? One good way, it turns out, is to apply for an import license for the gun and have the application officially denied on the grounds that the firearm does not need an import license, being an antique.

    • Aapje says:

      That’s not a catch-22. It would be if the ATF would refuse to both give a license and to say that it didn’t need a license & the courts would be fine with the gun import being stopped by customs.

      Right now it is merely an extra bureaucratic burden that is technically (and legally) unnecessary, but not worth going to court over.

      • pjs says:

        I watched the video through and I agree it’s not catch-22. I also don’t even see it as extreme bureaucracy – there’s a big paperwork overhead about importing most weapons, but to take advantage of one exception to the overall rules you save time by writing to the very first gatekeeper to get a letter back saying in effect “no, you are exempt” which you can use to circumvent other steps.

        That’s about as minimal as I can imagine except the superficial form of things: you don’t ask for a letter of exemption, but you apply as if you were not exempted and get a denial. Not ideal! Opaque! But not “extreme bureaucracy”.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        Agreed.

        In my line of work, the equivalent is writing the Ministry of Finance for an interpretation of tax law. Unless you’re trying something shady, most of the time you’ll get a reply that your approach is correct.

        It might seem a pointless exercise, given that you’ll end up doing what you were going to do in the first place, but you get the benefit of having a decision that is subsequently binding on the tax authorities, provided the material facts remain the same as presented in the application. In other words: the MoF cannot suddenly change its mind when auditing.

        A much worse scenario, to my mind, is one where you cannot get a recognized and binding document to attest whether a specific firearm is subject to an import license or not, until a court rules one way or the other.

        Contrary to the position of this being “extreme bureaucracy”, I’d say it is maximally convenient. Given that you need an import license unless you don’t, applying for one as a matter of course means that you’ll either have one or a statement of exemption when it comes to declare the firearm at the border.

        • johan_larson says:

          Not the sort of response I was expecting. Must update priors.

          All done. The floor is now open for tales of actual extreme bureaucracy.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Your tax authority is bound by its advice? That is excellent. American tax authorities aren’t. If the IRS gives you bad advice, too bad for you. See David Michael Maser v. Commissioner (IANAL).

          A colleague was running a business in a midwestern state. Rather profitable, but he wasn’t sure at all how to pay state taxes for differing jurisdictions. He just wanted to pay the right amount, but the state refused to answer his questions. And why would they? Why would they give up the power to decide after-the-fact that you did it wrong if they weren’t forced to?

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Not all advice issued by the tax authorities is binding on said authorities, but some of it is. There are two flavours:

            1. The individual interpretation, which is what we’re discussing here. Essentially, it is a pre-emptive call for a decision and subject to standard process. What’s happening is that the tax authority decides as if the taxpayer’s claims of fact were true. Once issued, such a decision may not be unilaterally rescinded by the tax authority, unless the material facts are found to be different. The administrative courts will enforce the interpretation against the tax authority (again, conditional on material facts being the same). The tax authority is obligated to issue such interpretations when applied for.

            An individual interpretation in one case is not binding in any other.

            2. General interpretations are a much rarer and more valuable beastie: here the Minister of Finance issues a ruling on some specific ambiguity of tax law that is binding in all cases.

            In all, the closest US equivalent, as far as I can tell, is court precedent, which is a much more messy affair.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Similar to Poland, some US guidance is binding and some is not. Phone advice from the IRS is not binding but a private letter ruling is (of course they also charge you for this). If you use someone else’s private letter ruling for your own situation, that is not binding, but they probably won’t charge a you a penalty if they change it on audit.

            Edward’s example is for advice essentially off the record. I don’t know that this is unreasonable. It is annoying when you can’t get the tax authority to tell you the answer until they audit you and then inform you that you were wrong. But I don’t know how to get around this in a world without infinite resources by the tax authorities. This is more of an issue with taxes being so complicated that there is much that taxpayers cannot figure out. THAT would be worth fixing.

      • Garrett says:

        The real gun-related catch-22 is US v. Bean where someone who was convicted of a felony can’t get a restoration of their firearms rights as authorized by US law because budget appropriations prohibits spending money to process such applications. But you can’t go to court to address the issue because you haven’t first been denied through the approved process.

        • Aftagley says:

          This is only a catch-22 when described exactly that way. When you instead phrase it as “the courts don’t have the power to compel a federal agency to do a job congress has specifically taken action to prevent them from doing” it snaps back to sounding reasonable.

          Although now that I think about it, the Catch-22 in the book only sounds like a catch-22 when phrased exactly that way. If you instead phrase it as “the grounds for getting a psych discharge are so high as to be practically impossible” it also snaps back to sounding reasonable.

          Hmm…

      • Hoopyfreud says:

        I think it’d be a real catch-22 if, based on the fact that you applied for an import license, the US government told you the gun couldn’t be classified as an antique.

    • Baeraad says:

      I don’t see how it’s a catch-22 either. It’s inelegant, certainly, but once you actually know about it it offers a pretty straightforward way of importing a firearm. Step one, apply for an import license. Step two, import the firearm, armed with either the valid import license or the official document denying you an import license on the grounds that you don’t need one.

  34. GKChestertron says:

    Call for help finding a source/article: Sometime this year, I got a link (probably on twitter) about an economist doing experiments and finding that many cognitive biases result in better decision-making in realistic/less-lab-like scenarios. I think this was a recently published thing. I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to find this again to finish reading it, but haven’t been able to. Have found some articles talking about this concept generally, but nothing with experimental results. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

    • pjs says:

      I don’t know what you are looking for. But if I understand the gist of your question, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s something by Gigerenzer(*) or one of his colleagues/students.
      (*) Of which, everything I’ve read – not so much to be fair – is very good.

    • albatross11 says:

      This is basically what you’d expect from evolutionary psychology, right? Heuristics that usually give you the right answer in practical situations, but sometimes lead you astray in uncommon or contrived situations–it’s easy to see how evolution (biological or cultural), and for that matter life experience, might equip you with those.

      I think of a lot of cognitive biases the way I think of optical illusions.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Well, yes and no. We aren’t in the ancestral environment in many ways, and each of those could make for a miscalibrated bias.

  35. Uribe says:

    I’m concerned about there being a drug shortage in the US. For instance, I’m on benzos, and I’m wondering what strategy I should take to avoid running out should there be a supply chain disruption from China, since quitting cold turkey would be problematic. Of course, I can talk to my doctor about getting a large prescription now (which he may or may not go along with.) But I don’t have any idea how large a supply I might need. I don’t even know if there is a supply chain risk, but from what I understand many generic drugs rely on ingredients from China.

    • Garrett says:

      For your terror, the FDA conveniently maintains a drug shortages list. As I look at it, there are 104 drugs marked as “In shortage”. Many of these are critical drugs which we (usually) carry on the ambulance, though we’ve been able to make due with creative if non-ideal substitutions so far.

  36. Deiseach says:

    So apparently Liverpool F.C. are partnered since 2016 with a Thai coconut milk/water/oil company. I was completely unaware of this, and seemingly so were a lot of other people, because the marketing bods have decided to unleash a humorous team meeting skit featuring some of the players upon the world.

    It’s about as terrible as you’d expect, though in a weird way it’s good because it’s so bad: it’s deliberately poking fun at the stiltedness of the lads’ “acting” abilities and the implausibility of the entire set-up. (Though Dejan in this is me, as far as reactions to “what nonsense is this?” go). There’s also an official bloopers reel if you haven’t had enough thigh-slapping hilarity with the skit itself.

    Remember: should you suddenly find yourself in urgent need of coconut-derived products, Chaokoh is the name to ask for! No, don’t thank me for bringing this to your attention, the consciousness of a good deed done well is enough for me 🙂

  37. Nick says:

    Idle thought: how much can advice/conclusions from the manosphere be separated from the conceptual framework? Can we imagine a manosphere that didn’t use nearly as much game theory, or wasn’t dependent on concepts like hypergamy?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      You can jettison hypergamy as a general social hypothesis and still have it work fairly well as a recipe for picking up women with bad judgement, terrible taste, and/or deep insecurity, I think. Manosphere explanations and advice are perfectly applicable to some people, it’s just as a set of principles that try to explain society that I think they fail.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Deep insecurity alone seems like something that applies to a fairly large proportion of people as a whole and a huge proportion of twenty-somethings. Bad judgement not much less so.

        Of course, one might naively suppose that the goal of a decent person entering a relationship should be to alleviate the deep insecurity rather than exploit it…

    • Aftagley says:

      What even is the manosphere at this point? I remember that the PUA community had some good conclusions blooming out of some stupid conceptual frameworks last time I checked. Mind you, most of the conclusions were “work out,” “dress nicely,” “use product,” “don’t be afraid to approach women,” “don’t be afraid of rejection,” etc.

      That being said, at least from what I’ve seen, most of the people who that advice worked on (including myself) dropped out of the manosphere. I’m not sure what’s left at this point.

      • Well... says:

        The examples you listed seem intuitive, except “use product”. Really??

        • smocc says:

          I don’t see any product here.

        • JayT says:

          I think “use product” is shorthand for “get a haircut, comb your hair, and overall keep your hair (and beard) looking well kept”.

        • Aftagley says:

          My apologies.

          “Use Product” is refererring to some kind of hair product. Very few people have the kind of hair/haircut that just kind of looks good on it’s own. There are a variety of relatively cheap pastes/gels/putties/pomades/whatever that you can put in your hair that will instantly make it look better; like just rub it between your hands then muss it through your hair and your overall look will vastly improve (this also goes for beards).

          If you go to a barbershop or a hair cuttery that you trust, hang back after your next cut and ask the barber what he’d recommend for your hair/style; in my experience they’ve been pretty helpful. Otherwhise just google “What product for (insert style of hair) here.”

          If you’re rocking really short hair this isn’t that necessary, but anyone with longer hair or hair that’s even a little curly can usually benefit from this kind of thing.

          • Well... says:

            OK, that’s what I thought you meant. But I still can’t believe it’s an actual recommendation. I’m constantly hearing women mocking men who put product in their hair. To my eyes as well it always looks kinda pathetic.

            On very rare occasions, usually when I go long enough without a haircut that I get what my wife calls “lollipop head”, I’ll put a tiny bit of mousse in my hair to tame some of the volume out of places where there’s too much. But I would hate to walk around looking like I had smeared a handful of goopy paste onto my head every day.

          • Aftagley says:

            Eh, different strokes for different folks. I agree that men’s hairstyles that heavily rely on product (IE the slicked back Don Jr. look) are pretty laughable, but everyone’s different.

            In my personal experience, I’ve got curly hair that has a tendency to look really frizzy at basically any length. For years my options were pretty much Buzz Cut or White-dude afro. It wasn’t until I started using product that I could actually have a “normal” looking head of hair.

            All I’m saying is, I wouldn’t totally discount it; next time you’re at the barber ask him to put some in for you and see if you like the look. Almost any good barber will add some for free and your downside lasts only as long as it takes for you to get home and wash your hair.

          • Well... says:

            I’ve had several barbers do this, usually because I don’t object loudly enough (because haircuts make me kinda sleepy). I always hate it, both the smell and the look, and rush home to wash the stuff off.

            If for some reason I wanted to maintain the pathetic, desperate look and put up with the smell, the knowledge that I’d incur an additional premium expense to purchase each bottle of unpronounceable chemicals doesn’t sweeten the deal either, nor does thinking about what those chemicals will do to my scalp over time.

            BTW I also have really curly hair. (Pretty much like Pete Sampras.) Wearing the sides significantly shorter than the top keeps it looking respectable, and shampooing no more than once every two months (and always lathering in a moisturizing conditioner after each shampooing), keeps it from being frizzy. But do note there’s a difference between “frizzy” and having a few stray curls sticking out.

      • Pink-Nazbol says:

        The manosphere was a natural gathering point for social conservatives who didn’t want to hear about Jesus. Many moved on to websites like this one or Unz. And the wider culture itself moved in a different direction IMO. If men are single and not banging any women they aren’t speaking about it in hushed tones the way they were 7 years ago. My own just-so about it is that the rise of what can be euphemistically called “party girl culture” and social media which allowed it to be broadcast far and wide drained the eros out of it. Think about a nudist colony. There’s not much eros there. The eros is in the relatively pure, the subtle hint of doing something. For the women who make no attempt to hide it you’re still going to be willing but you don’t want to go out and make a giant effort.

    • Atlas says:

      I’ve had some general thoughts on this kind of question that I vaguely want to write up. Briefly, I view it as “skepticism vs. the halo effect.”

      On the one hand, I think that skepticism is a pretty good philosophy. (Another thing I kind of want to write up is why philosophical skepticism is a practically useful perspective contra the view that it’s just pointless casuistry about whether or not chairs exist. Of course, I’d mostly just be rehashing The Black Swan.) David Hume put it beautifully in his essay “The Skeptic:”

      I have long entertained a suspicion with regard to the decisions of philosophers upon all subjects, and found in myself a greater inclination to dispute than assent to their conclusions. There is one mistake to which they seem liable, almost without exception; they confine too much their principles, and make no account of that vast variety which nature has so much affected in all her operations. When a philosopher has once laid hold of a favorite principle, which perhaps accounts for many natural effects, he extends the same principle over the whole creation, and reduces to it every phenomenon, though by the most violent and absurd reasoning. Our own mind being narrow and contracted, we cannot extend our conception to the variety and extent of nature, but imagine that she is as much bounded in her operations as we are in our speculation. [My emphasis]

      The world is extremely, extremely complicated. Different perspectives, in my view, can be useful for different things at different times. I think that few people, if any, have ever been right about everything or wrong about everything. As Steve Sailer put it in comparing Nassim Taleb and La Griffe du Lion:

      So, if Taleb and La Griffe have opposite approaches, which one is right?

      Well, reality is complicated, so they can both be highly useful.

      And, indeed, my own version of skepticism, at least, has been highly informed by many of the extremely insightful essays penned by our host.

      Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But against this you have to consider the halo effect. Kahneman describes it in Thinking, Fast and Slow:

      If you like the president’s politics, you probably like his voice and his appearance as well. The tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person—including things you have not observed—is known as the halo effect. The term has been in use in psychology for a century, but it has not come into wide use in everyday language. This is a pity, because the halo effect is a good name for a common bias that plays a large role in shaping our view of people and situations. It is one of the ways the representation of the world that System 1 generates is simpler and more coherent than the real thing.

      You meet a woman named Joan at a party and find her personable and easy to talk to. Now her name comes up as someone who could be asked to contribute to a charity. What do you know about Joan’s generosity?

      The correct answer is that you know virtually nothing, because there is little reason to believe that people who are agreeable in social situations are also generous contributors to charities. But you like Joan and you will retrieve the feeling of liking her when you think of her. You also like generosity and generous people. By association, you are now predisposed to believe that Joan is generous. And now that you believe she is generous, you probably like Joan even better than you did earlier, because you have added generosity to her pleasant attributes. Real evidence of generosity is missing in the story of Joan, and the gap is filled by a guess that fits one’s emotional response to her. In other situations, evidence accumulates gradually and the interpretation is shaped by the emotion attached to the first impression.

      It seems to me that this is an extremely, extremely powerful cognitive bias and rhetorical tool. We saw this recently with the InfoWars thing—from the point of view of thoughtful skepticism, who really cares whether or not there are more crazy people on the left than the right? It’s logically quite possible that the side with more crazy people is also the side with more correct ideas.

      But getting to dunk on the other tribe as being statistically inferior in some way is often more emotionally powerful than logic is. And I think it’s also hard to override the System 1 judgment that obviously the side with more crazy people/virgins/drug addicts/criminals/[insert preferred imprecation here] has worse ideas. I mean, aren’t character and the virtue the foundation of ideas? Whoever has the best character must obviously also have the best ideas, right?

      So I think there’s an obvious, and valid to a considerable degree, argument that you can accept some arguments and conclusions from a school of thought without being a devotee of their whole philosophy. But I think that’s a lot harder than it sounds, because I think it’s very easy for our brains to leap to the conclusion that if someone is right about something, or even just good at anything, they must be right about lots of other things too.

      So, in this case, I think it might indeed be an endorsement, whether one wants it to be or not, of the manosphere’s conceptual framework to agree that their conclusions/advice is somewhat valid.

      • Atlas says:

        For any readers interested in the more object level issue, in any case I’d highly recommend Geoff Miller and Tucker Max’s book Mate on this subject. I think it offers better, though somewhat overlapping, practical advice than the manosphere does about courtship while also being relatively apolitical.

    • Aapje says:

      @Nick

      Lots of that advice is given by non-PUAs (for example: work out, approach more women, dress up, learn to talk to women), so lots of it.

      Ironically, the rise of PUA may have resulted from feminism distorting the advice given to men, creating a need for an alternative conceptual framework that pushes out misandrists, so men can be fairly confident that they advice they get from that source actually has the goal of helping them, rather than helping women.

      If this assumption is correct, then, assuming that feminist messaging stays as it is, the advice can be separated from its conceptual framework, but not from its anti-feminism.

      PS. Please use PUA if you mean that, rather than the nonsensical term ‘manosphere.’

      • Clutzy says:

        When I was in college me and all my roommates read the book “The Game” because one of our friends, John, thought it was hilarious. Its a pretty funny read that describes nothing all that innovative, but reveals that the PUAs have their own vocabulary for all sorts of normal things. One that has passed into normal lexicon is “peacocking” but there were all sorts of things, and some would specialize into easy magic tricks (watch stopping being one). Generally, however, I got the impression that most PUAs do not much enjoy the environment where they engage in their pickups (several insist on not drinking for it will reduce their “haul”), and I am not really sure all that many end up sleeping with so many women, rather they just get numbers and then are hit with choice paralysis at the end of the day.

        • rumham says:

          Generally, however, I got the impression that most PUAs do not much enjoy the environment where they engage in their pickups

          Strength through adversity.

          rather they just get numbers and then are hit with choice paralysis at the end of the day.

          If they do, they don’t read very well. You realize that getting a number is only the first step, right? In like any relationship, not just PUA specific. You send a text. Many do not respond. Then you start conversing, and try to make a date. Many fall off at this stage also. Notice that we’re still a few steps from the sleeping here. If choice paralysis occurs than it’s very much false consciousness.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Yeah, that’s why I didnt have sex with any girls in high school. I didnt know which one to choose…

          • Clutzy says:

            The book is from 2005, and mostly represents events from far before 2005. I don’t think “text” is the next step, it mostly would have been “call and set up a date”, which is similar, but I think culturally different.

            Granted, I was in HS/Middle school back then, so I suppose it is much harder to ghost the guy who asked you out and sits next to you in math…

          • rumham says:

            @Clutzy

            I read it at some time, but don’t really remember it. About all I can remember is the magic guy and courtney love being in it. But I assure you, there was a ton of actually useful stuff online before 2005, and texting was very prominent in importance.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Take a look at girls chase maybe, spefically chase amante’s articles

  38. Robin says:

    To combat Corona, flu or the common cold, how can I train myself to stop touching my face?

    • Anteros says:

      That’s actually the useful function of a face mask

    • sidereal says:

      I’ve been thinking about rubbing jalapenos on my fingertips. Thoughts? (Not a joke, I’m really fidgety by nature and I don’t think I can stop just by willpower)

      • Well... says:

        Every time I chop jalapenos or any other hot peppers, I am guaranteed to eventually touch my eyes, and then feel very masculine for 20 minutes as I deal silently with the pain. It’s practically a rite at this point.

        But I don’t really recommend it.

      • rumham says:

        Please, for your own sake, do not do that. Even if it works your fingers will still burn. I made jalapeno poppers once without gloves. I was miserable for 5 or 6 hours.

        • Aftagley says:

          interesting, that is so different than my experience. I pretty much have to rub jalapenos directly into my cornea to get a negative reaction.

          Are you normally hyper-sensitive to spice?

          • JayT says:

            Yeah, I can’t imagine putting on gloves for jalapenos, and I have wussy Eastern European blood when it comes to spice.

          • Another Throw says:

            Getting jalapeno stuff on the sensitive skin under my fingernails is very uncomfortable. Scrapping the seeds and pith out with my thumbnail, for example, causes hours of regret. But it is a really good reminder not to rub your eyes for those hours…

          • rumham says:

            Are you normally hyper-sensitive to spice?

            I just ate something with thai chilis, so no, I don’t think so. I think Another Throw has the right of it.

          • Another Throw says:

            To be more specific, the time I am thinking of I gave a bunch of jalapenos a fine mince. The copious juice produced by the mincing got under the fingernails of my guide hand while cutting and was mildly uncomfortable but that paled in comparison to the discomfort of JAMMING that stuff up under my thumbnail while coring them. Not a smart move.

            I suspect that if you cut your fingernails down as far as you can go you wont have the same problem. Both because you don’t have a patch of sensitive skin in such a sheltered location and because you don’t have a crevice to trap the oil in.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Scrapping the seeds and pith out with my thumbnail, for example, causes hours of regret.

            Oy! That’s what a paring knife is for, my friend! I rarely even need gloves. (Though to be fair, I scrub pretty zealously afterward, and I’m generally not prone to rubbing my eyes all the time anyway.)

            @Another Throw: I tend to find gloves to be too inconvenient to put on, though obviously, that’s subjective. Fortunately, office supply stores often sell boxes of rubber fingertips meant for clerks to slip on to make it easier to separate sheets of paper (including paper money). I’ve never tried it for kitchen work, but it’s possibly just the thing for this.

          • AnarchyDice says:

            Pro-tip from a jalapeno canner, if you want to get the capsaicin off your fingers faster, rubbing them with a watery paste of baking soda then rinsing with vinegar goes a long way to cut even the hottest pepper remnants off. As it is a fatty acid, I usually use a detergent after as well (we had a dry summer so my jalapenos ended up quite potent).

            I check before touching my contacts or face by licking any suspect fingertips for any telltale spice.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Follow up:

      I have dry skin and need to moisturize my face during the day. Do I need to wash my hands before I moisturize?

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Use some lotion or perfume on your hands with a smell you find repulsive. Each time you get them anywhere near you face you’ll notice it and will want to move them away before you even touched the face. Source: just used a dispenser which happened to contain a stinky sanitizer in it.

      Obvious improvement is that you can use sanitizer with a repulsive smell, but I’m not sure how good is it for your skin to use it often enough to maintain the smell.

    • AG says:

      It’s winter, so wear a scarf? Then when you reach up to touch your face, touch your scarf, instead.

      Or, just use fidget toys. (Or, if you don’t feel like buying one, learn to do pen tricks.) Touching the face might be just a stim instinct.

      Is there still the same risk to touching the face in combing your hair with your hands? You could redirect that way, too.

    • Two McMillion says:

      GPT2 says:

      To combat Corona, flu or the common cold, how can I train myself to stop touching my face? I need to have my nose and mouth shut tight and shut my mouth before and while touching my face. I know you won’t blame me if I need a nose ring or something.”

      “If I had a nose ring, I wouldn’t leave the house looking like a skeleton,” my mother said with a laugh. “Maybe one of the models has one for you.”

      “Really?” I asked, doubtful.

      “Hey,” she pointed at the doorway to my bedroom. “Don’t tell my aunt or uncle that I left you here.”

      I leaned in and peeked through the little glass, my nose immediately touching the wall

    • Robin says:

      Thanks all for the ideas! So we got:
      * Face masks: You’re right, but they are sold out at the moment, and I do not want to wear that every winter through flu season.
      * Jalapeños: Cool stunt, but I’d rather not 🙂
      * Stinky lotion: I think this is the best proposal so far.
      * Wear a scarf: Outside, definitely, but at home? Over mouth and nose?
      * Nose ring: I like the way GPT-2 is thinking out of the box.

      Why do we touch our faces in the first place?
      * An itch in the eye or nose
      * While thinking of other things, scratch myself here or there
      * Nose-picking
      * Having something between the teeth, and no dental floss fork at hand

      When touching consciously, we can get used to using a paper towel, prepare those floss forks, and such. It’s the unconscious that is hard to defeat! When sitting in the office, wear straps that tie my hands to the armrests — well that might look silly. The stinky lotion might remind me just in time.

      I think I’ll go to the pharmacy and ask for a stinky lotion. That’ll make the pharmacist’s day as the weirdest Corona panic request of them all, so it’s worth it just for the lulz.

      • AG says:

        Re: wearing a scarf. The point isn’t that you have the scarf on the face, it’s to give the hand something to touch/grab before it reaches the face.

        Another case of commonly touching the face is about bracing the face/chin on your hands. This seems about posture, as you can only do this if you are leaning forward, so training to sit straight and zoom in on the screen instead of leaning in would be a solution.

  39. Well... says:

    Most forms of synecdoche are understandable; one that strikes me as bizarre is “Auschwitz” as stand-in for “Holocaust”, because it’s so often used to refer to the enormous horrors of that event.

    • eric23 says:

      Why is that bizarre? There were many horrors in the Holocaust, but Auschwitz was the biggest single one (by number of victims).

    • DarkTigger says:

      Auschwitz was caputred mostly intact, and thus could be extensivly used to gather evidence about what happened in the death camps. There where also a lot more survivors because of that.
      The other camps had mostly be successfully evacuated and destroyed by the SS. So less is known about them.
      Other individual massacares of the death squadrons, are also a lot harder to document, and so less documented.

    • John Schilling says:

      Auschwitz was also the only concentration camp (AFIK) that was also an extermination camp. Which makes it a bad example if you want more than a top-level understanding of what was going on, and has promoted a broad misunderstanding of what “concentration camps” actually were (or are). But Auschwitz is your one-stop shopping center if you’re only after that top-level understanding and don’t want to spend lots of time on a virtual or literal train ride across the Polish countryside. Auschwitz is where all the horrors of that event came together in one place.

      • DarkTigger says:

        No there were several death/extermination camps:
        There was also Lublin/Majdanek, Beleszc, Sobibor, and Treblinka
        There were a lot more concentration camp (and sub-camps) all over German controlled territory.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I think John is saying it was the only combination concentration/extermination camp.

          I don’t know enough about the holocaust to know if this true, however, but that’s what I read as his claim.

          • John Schilling says:

            Right. For the most part, and for fairly obvious reasons, the concentration camps and the extermination camps were kept a decent train ride apart. Sobibor, for example, only had a few hundred Jews in residence at any time, and those were the ones who weren’t facing immediate execution because they were needed to keep carting the bodies out of the gas chambers. If you were going to die at Sobibor, you generally died within hours of arrival – from the concentration camp you had been living in the past few months or years and which didn’t want your corpse literally and figuratively stinking up the place.

            I’m not sure Auschwitz was the only camp that combined both functions, but I believe it was by far the largest and most iconic. So if you’re visiting Poland and you’ve got an afternoon to “experience the Holocaust”, that’s where you go.

          • rocoulm says:

            “…experience the Holocaust”

            With a promise like that, how could I refuse?

          • Aapje says:

            Treblinka also was a combination of a labor and extermination camp. They had a gravel mine for the production of concrete and cut wood for the cremations.

  40. NostalgiaForInfinity says:

    Does anyone know if there’s been much research on the relationship between optimism/pessimism and political leanings? There seems to be plenty on the Big Five personality traits.

    This was prompted by seeing a couple of things recently where support for Trump seemed to boil down to “Everything is fucked and we need radical changes”. It doesn’t seem to be neatly partisan (splitting left and right) in the same way that the Big Five tendencies are though because “everything is fucked and we need radical change” is also a viewpoint associated with the radical left, historically and contemporarily. It seems like it might align with populism* for that reason (e.g. “everything is broadly heading in the right direction and we just need to tinker a bit” might be a centrist position).

    Anyway, a bit of googling couldn’t turn up much except for a wikipedia article with a lot of “citation needed” flags speculating that it was broadly aligned with some conservative viewpoints. Does anyone know of anything equivalent to the classic Big Five associations?

    *For want of a better term.

  41. Aapje says:

    One of the words I really miss in English compared to Dutch/German/etc is ‘rechtsstaat,’ literally translated as ‘justice/law state.’ This term refers to the state that incorporates certain principles that make it act more lawfully and justicy.

    For example, some of the principles are:
    – Separation of powers (like the trias politica)
    – The judiciary and executive branch are bound by law
    – The legislature can only make certain kinds of laws
    – Transparency of actions by the state
    – Having a meta-law (constitution) that defines how laws are made and that is much harder to change than regular law
    – No ex post facto laws that make actions that were legal when they were done, punishable
    – Fairness in the application of law (no selective enforcement where some groups are punished for actions that other are not punished for)
    – Proportionality in punishment
    – A bunch of human rights being upheld (uncluding the presumption of innocence and freedom of speech)
    – Separation of civil, government and business spheres that do not rule each other

    I often see people use the word ‘democracy’ in this vein, although I consider this deceptive, because it implicitly equates the purpose of the state with implementing the will of the majority, which in turn implies that there is no limit on what power the state may assert. This is a very dangerous assertion.

    I found a very interesting paper, which argues that many liberals migrated from an extremist notion of the primacy of natural, individual rights to an extremist belief in the primacy of ‘public interest,’ decided upon by the democratic state. This may explain how in English ‘liberal’ now applies to people who are not at all classically liberal. The paper argues that ‘public interest’ is fictitious and normative, coercing individuals to serve this supposed public interest, which is actually the will of those who control the government.

    The answer to this by the American founding fathers, as well as one of the greatest Dutch politicians, Thorbecke, was to demand self-restraint from government. In the words of Thorbecke:

    Does this mean that the State should take care of everything, remedy every sickness and defect of Society? … On the contrary. A first law is abstinence; abstinence from what lies beyond its calling as an association of law

    However, it is still the state that decides the extent to which this self-restraint is applied. Yet the paper notes that it is tempting to then equate our own desires to the public interest, losing all self-restraint in the process. Elevating ‘democracy’ as the only limiting factor on ‘might makes right’ is insufficient, because elections only influence one powerbase, the legislature. In modern times, we see many other powerbases elevating the desires and ‘truths’ of subset of society as being in the public interest, with great intolerance to other desires and ‘truths.’ For example, the media, big business, the judiciary, the education sector and the bureaucracy. ‘Populists’ have gained greatly by pointing this out and opposing it, but they similarly tend to equate their own desires to the public interest, merely arguing that their opponents are undemocratic and that they themselves speak for ‘the people.’ They don’t oppose the idea that those in power are unrestrained in how they wield that power, but want to claim that power and use it to oppress others, rather than be oppressed by them.

    This dedication to intolerance and ‘might makes right’ on both sides is ultimately a recipe for disaster. Equating the purpose of the state to ‘democracy’ is no solution to this, because it merely encourages people to either attempt to engineer a majority so they can oppress others (even to the point of racial politics, with majority-minority dreams on one side and ‘replacement’ on the other) or subvert democracy so power can be argued to be guided by democracy, when it actually isn’t (see the politicization of the judiciary as an example).

    The paper argues that we must return to merely ‘natural rights’ and thus a very small state but IMO, this is not feasible. The vast majority of people want the benefits that a strong state has made possible, including substantial redistribution. Instead, I think that a broader set of ideals is necessary, which does include a set of natural rights, but goes beyond it. We can define this as the ‘rechtsstaat’ or an English word that refers to the same. Behaviors like punishing people extralegally can then be defined as being incompatible with a just society. By holding these as sacrosanct, there can then be a multipartisan unity to defend these, no matter whether the target or perpetrator is an enemy or friend. This in contrast to using these ideals as weapons, where it is demanded that opponents uphold the ideal, but friends are excused.

    Although one can argue that even ‘rechtsstaat’ is deceptive and/or too limited, by focusing on the state, when non-state power is increasingly powerful (see tech companies who control communication infrastructure, but also because it is easier to enforce conformity). So we might need a term for a set of norms that generates sufficient tolerance in general society to hold us together and allow people crucial freedoms, instead of either devolving into oppression or separation.

    • Secretly French says:

      I agree with you that the word democracy is bandied about to mean any or all of the things you listed. “Rule of law” is a related term in English but once again, I think it has a strict definition and then a broader definition closer to “a state which makes me feel nice”. On restraint in the exercise of power: good luck with that. I think the the only hope for the long-term survival of humanity is us not destroying our ecosystem before fossil fuels run out, and then surviving the following decline (ie not dying from the withdrawal associated with our addiction to growth); the idea that we as a species would ever not eat everything in sight and pump out heat as fast as we possibly could is about as risible to me applied to humans as it is applied to locusts.

      • DarkTigger says:

        I think you are right, “rule of law” is the closest related concept to Rechtsstaat, since the most important parts of the Rechtstaat, are that the law is the same for everybody (which includes people in power), and that the execution of the law is also bound by the law.
        I think Kant used an example where King Friedrich of Prussia, accepted the ruling of an judge forbidding him to to build a road through the site of a mill, as an example of “Rechtsstaatlichkeit”.

      • Ttar says:

        We’ll geoengineer our way out of ecological collapse and use fission/fusion to solve power needs. The growth addiction won’t catch up to us before the AI alignment problem does.

        • albatross11 says:

          Nuclear power (fission reactors, current tech only) can provide electricity at slightly higher prices than fossil fuels, so even in a world where all the fossil fuels disappear, we still have electricity. From that, we can (I don’t know the price but it can be done) chemically synthesize methane from non-fossil-fuel sources and have a high-density fuel, or grow biofuels–even if they’re energy-negative, we can pump energy from nuclear power in to distill the alcohol from the corn or whatever.

          All that says that even in a world with no more fossil fuels at all, we can make something very much like our current technology work. Energy would cost more and we’d be poorer, but it’s not like collapse-of-civilization stuff.

        • Robin says:

          Nuclear power is much too expensive considering how long it takes to build a power plant. In Finland they started one in 2005 and it’s still not finished.
          Considering the great advances in solar and wind power in recent years, they are much cheaper today.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Sigh. Horns Rev 3 – which is an extension of an existing windmill park, which means most of the infrastructure was already in place, and which is also in one of the single best wind locations on the entire planet cost a billion euros for 407 mw of nameplate capacity.

            At horns rev, you can expect a capacity factor of 45 or so percent (it is extremely windy waters), which then works out to a per-gigawatt cost of 1/(0.407×0.45) 5,46 billion euro. For an installation with an expected service life of around twenty years, which delivers power when it damn well feels like it.

            Okilouto 3 cost the finish utility that bought the thing 5.5 billion for a per-gigawatt cost of 1/(1.65 x0.92) = 3.62 billion.

            Even if you include the bath Areva took on it as a cost (and why would the utility do that?) we are still taking 7.25 billion per gigawatt for a plant which has a design life of three times the wind farm, and which, frankly, will probably still be running in a century. Not to mention that it will deliver power on a rather more predictable schedule.

            And if we compare it with a nuclear projects which were actually well managed, the contrast gets really, really stark. The Taishan build of the epr put two of them online for 6.53 billion euro, for a per gigawatt cost of 2.14 billion.

            Novovoronezh got two vver 1200s online for 3.8 billion which works out to 1.9 billion euro per gigawatt.

            People claim renewables are cheaper, but mostly, this is just.. propaganda. Look up the costs of some completed projects. Solar is utterly uncompetitive unless you are in the sonoran or sahara. Even in the best places, wind is goddamn expensive.

          • Clutzy says:

            You’re lucky we don’t have many reactionaries left here or they would be dunking all over this.

          • albatross11 says:

            Nuclear power being unreasonably expensive is a policy choice, in much the same way as having it be impossible to complete public works in under a decade, or having the police be immune to consequences for misbehavior.

    • eric23 says:

      This may explain how in English ‘liberal’ now applies to people who are not at all classically liberal.

      Note: this is true in the US and some other countries, but not in all countries. For example, in Australia, “liberal”=libertarian.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      I think this goes to show that you can set up the most sophisticated system in the world, you can never get rid of the requirement for wisdom and integrity for those in power. Some systems are easier to game than others, but even in the best system, if the people with power are corrupt, it’s going to end badly.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        If by corrupt you mean the person will always do that thing which they think most benefits themselves, then all people in power will be corrupt. Depending on wisdom and integrity is a sure failure. Our only protection is the system.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Depending on wisdom and integrity is a sure failure.

          And that’s why eventually every civilization collapses.

          If by corrupt you mean the person will always do that thing which they think most benefits themselves

          It depends alot on the time horizon. Stealing benefits me now, but in the long run I benefit more from not stealing. Wisdom and integrity usually means that the person understands that they will benefit more in the long run by doing the right thing than not.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I think this goes to show that you can set up the most sophisticated system in the world, you can never get rid of the requirement for wisdom and integrity for those in power. Some systems are easier to game than others, but even in the best system, if the people with power are corrupt, it’s going to end badly.

        This has long been my thought as well.

        It’s interesting to note that many societal systems – including communism and socialism and even authoritarianism, often the whipping boys in many libertarian fora – work out just fine if/when the people in charge are wise and benevolent. Which raises the question: if wisdom and benevolence are necessary and sufficient, then what’s the value in any legal framework at all? Why not just run it like common law and focus on having good people in charge?

        And my usual response to that is that, one, it’s hard to always find enough wise and kind people, and two, as society size grows, the wisdom requirement rises quite rapidly, narrowing your pool of candidates even further. A pre-designed legal system can serve as a lever – a set of shortcuts for people to employ when their wisdom isn’t up to the task of deriving from first principles and the facts at hand whether a given act ought to be punished.

        The better legal systems out there are better because they make tradeoffs that are closer to human intuition at the moment about what ought to be done, as well as to human intuition when looking back at past cases long after emotion has settled. Those, in turn (and in my opinion), tend to be the ones that limit the amount of damage any one official can do if they make a mistake.

        Perhaps unlike jermo, I think such systems can last for quite a while – possibly centuries, possibly even more. Admittedly, I have no empirical evidence yet.

        • Aapje says:

          You are ignoring subjective desires. If Bob wants to live in society with large amounts of government redistribution, while Mary wants to live in a society where people get to keep much more of what they earn, then neither desire is really more wise or benevolent than the other. After all, plenty of people believe that getting too much handed to you is actually harmful. Similarly, is it benevolent to legalize drugs or to ban them? People often disagree.

          I do think that there is a requirement for wisdom, not just in the legislature, but everyone with some power (and thus everyone), to make the system work. Institutions/rules can’t replace this wisdom (unwise people will burn down those institutions/rules anyway). Yet good institutions/rules can produce better outcomes that if you were to solely depend on the wisdom of individuals.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I’m not really ignoring subjective desires; just observing that some people subjectively desire collectivization, and appear to thrive in such systems. They’ll cheerfully sign away their power to make decisions about defense, education, law enforcement, health care, and so on, and assume that, when some decision doesn’t go their way, it was because some expert knew better than they.

            If Mary reviews the systems on offer, and then opts for the system that lets her keep more of her earnings, it’s presumably because she believes she can or ought to assume more of the burden of making those decisions as they affect her. If Bob chooses the more collectivist system, it might be because he distrusts his own expertise to make those decisions. (It’d be nice, IMO, if he didn’t assume everyone else had the same uncertainty, but that’s an age-old conversation.)

            I’m definitely agreed on a universal requirement for wisdom. The universe isn’t forgiving to the immature. Good institutions are levers, not crutches.

    • Spookykou says:

      The top two definitions for liberal that I get from google feel fairly applicable to the segment of the USA nominally called liberals,

      1.
      open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
      “they have more liberal views toward marriage and divorce than some people”
      2.
      (of education) concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.

      Maybe these are a far cry from what it classical means though, I am not a student of the classics(or really anything)

      • The New Deal happened almost a century ago. Someone willing to discard the changes it produced is not a (modern sense) liberal. Nor is someone open to the new opinion that climate change is not a threat, or that population increase is not a threat.

        The people now called liberals are conservative with regard to those institutions they like, liberal (in your sense) with regard to institutions they dislike. Just like other people.

        The classical liberal position was in favor of private property, weak government, broad franchise, … . Except for the last, it was roughly what we now call libertarianism, although usually not an extreme version thereof. Think Adam Smith, although I think he preceded the rise of that label, or John Stuart Mill, at least in his earlier writing.

        To quote GKC on the British Liberal Party: “I’m a liberal. It’s those people who aren’t liberals.”

        • Spookykou says:

          I will defer to you as to the classical liberal position.

          However I am not totally convinced that the cohort that claims the liberal label in modern American discourse is indistinguishable* from all other cohorts along the axis of ‘openness to new behavior or opinions’. I understand there are studies on this question but that they are highly politically motivated in their construction and so their results are questionable. Still it seems, unfortunate, that two groups would self describe as ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ while actually being equally liberal and conservative in temperament.

          *Of course I’ve shifted the goal posts a bit here from ‘fairly applicable’ to ‘not totally indistinguishable’.

      • Aapje says:

        @Spookykou

        Defining liberal and conservative relative to the status quo means that they become fully subjective.

        The sexual revolution was liberal because the traditional values were far more sexually restrictive than the revolutionaries desired. Feminists who later fought against men freely expressing their sexual desires were liberal because the traditional values were far more sexually permissive than the revolutionaries desired. So did the previous batch of feminists then become retroactively conservative or does being liberal require changing your views as the status quo changes?

        In my view, liberalism and conservatism both are a mixed bag of this kind of relativity with more objective attitudes.

        Anyway, ‘classical liberal’ is essentially a snapshot of the views of a group that called themselves liberals at a certain point in time.

        • Ketil says:

          The contrast between “liberal” and “conservative” is weird to me. For me, the opposite of “conservative” is “radical” (or “reactionary”, if the goal is to undo recent changes), while the opposite of “liberal” might be “authoritarian”.

      • Plumber says:

        @Spookykou says:

        “The top two definitions for liberal…”

        Try:

        2.
        a. Tending to give freely; generous: a
        liberal benefactor.
        b. Generous in amount; ample: a
        liberal  serving of potatoes.

        with “conservative with money” as an antonym.

        Doesn’t actually work though for the political labels, as both George H.W.Bush and Bill Clinton were relatively frugal, while George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump (the farmer bailout funds under Trump exceed Bush’s and Obama’s auto industry bailout) are all relatively more free spending (as directed by Congress).

        In going over all the listed dictionary definitions of “liberal” and “conservative” they don’t seem to me to match the political factions called “liberals” or “conservatives” much.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      If people abuse the term “democracy,” why wouldn’t they / why don’t they abuse this term?

      Democracy seems to me to be a useful word, even if it is abused. It has a pretty clear meaning, even if it is a spectrum. It has straight-forward downsides (tyranny of the majority, rational ignorance). Whereas, this concept (1) bundles together a bunch of procedural ideas that don’t seem to me to have much in common; and (2) asserts in the name that they are Right.

      I can see a use for such terms such as “good,” “constitutional,” and “rule of law,” but they are useful because they are narrow and different. Maybe there is a consensus on what procedural rules are good, but a word that asserts consensus seems designed to be abused. (You suggest “justice”; Yes! a perfect translation and a terrible word; see “social justice.”)

      “You know,” he added reflectively, “we’ve got a much easier job now than we should have had fifty years ago. If we’d had to modernise a country then it would have meant constitutional monarchy, bicameral legislature, proportional representation, women’s suffrage, independent judicature, freedom of the press, referendums . . .”

      “What is all that?” asked the Emperor.

      “Just a few ideas that have ceased to be modern.”

      Black Mischief, Evelyn Waugh, 1932

      • Aapje says:

        If people use ‘democracy’ for lack of a better word, then offering them a better word can help.

        Democracy is actually not that clear, IMO. For example, do you mean direct democracy or representational democracy? Is it a democracy when there is gatekeeping of candidates by the constitution (Schwarzenegger can’t be president), religious authorities (Iran), political parties, the media, etc? Is it a democracy if the deep state refuses to do what the elected politician(s) ask? Etc.

        Anyway, the point of a new term is to refer to the idea that a good state is more than just one specific thing, which should be explained further if there is a dispute, rather than define one specific state. After all, we don’t really know what is the best state anyway.

        • Is it a democracy if all officials save generals are chosen by lot?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Democracy is a spectrum, not a binary. (Same with separation of powers!) There may be hard questions, but it seems to me that all of your questions have easy answers of which is more democratic.

          Asking what is a “real democracy” seems to me a bad question. Drawing a line is usually to exaggerate the importance of that line, compared to the rest of the spectrum. And this seems to me closely tied in to the problem of equating democracy with goodness. The line is gerrymandered to say that my country is good and your country is bad. If the speaker really cared about improving goodness through democracy, he should care about variation in democracy below the line and variation above the line. Aside from the problem of just asserting that democracy is good. Having a checklist of procedures is an even worse example of gerrymandering.

  42. Hoopyfreud says:

    Eurovision gang, any thoughts on this year’s entries so far? I just heard Ukraine’s Solovey and it’s 100% my favorite so far. I expect to crash and burn horribly before the final.

    Nothing I’ve heard so far this year has really come close to Soldi or (I promise, completely ironically) Papa Serhat’s masterpiece. I rate Solovey about on par with Spirit in the Sky, and not just because of the gimmick.

    Also, fuck ballads.

    • Aftagley says:

      just heard Ukraine’s Solovey and it’s 100% my favorite so far. I expect to crash and burn horribly before the final.

      I’m not caught up on this year’s entrants, but this song just left me cold; it’s wasn’t weird enough to make up the feeling I got while listening to it that I was just being yelled at in Ukrainian.

      I’m on team Australia this year. The song is good and the choreography/showmanship is absolutely killer. I think Belgium probably has the best song, but it’s you know, just a good song, not a Eurovision song.

    • Deiseach says:

      You reminded me that Eurovision is just around the corner, so I’ll go have a listen to the contenders. None of the ones I like ever do well, so if I do come back recommending any, you can cross those off as possible winners 🙂

      Ah, are they doing the tried-and-trusted Eurovision ballad route again? I agree, too many of those makes it boring.

      Okay, quick reactions to the Youtube snippets:

      Albania – sorry girleen, trying too hard with the shouty-shouty
      Armenia – very poppy, depending on the performance could go all the way to the final
      Australia – God bless ’em, they’re keeping the glorious tradition of “bonkers Eurovision entry” alive and well – Godspeed, Great Southern Land!
      Belgium – sounds like one of the “not so great James Bond themes” as discussed recently
      Czech Republic – yeah, this one will do okay as well
      France – if this were a beauty contest, your guy would be well in the running as he’s extremely model-looking. Unfortunately, this is a song contest and your song is “meh”
      Italy – oh honey, sorry but no (though again, depending on the performance, like if they have dancing Zen gorillas, it might stagger through)
      Latvia – wow, this is giving me flashbacks to the glory days of Devo with the backing performers. “Are we not women? No, we are Latvians!”
      Lithuania – ooh, nice palazzo pants, mister! Going for “mildly quirky”, may or may not work for them. “Inoffensive” is the best I can do here
      Norway – God love her, she’s trying to belt it out but the over-emoting undercuts the effect and just looks like anxiety. You and Albania go for a nice sit down and some soothing herbal tea, alright hun?
      Poland – I was a bit worried there would be a wardrobe malfunction there, but it’s okay, she’s wearing a flesh-coloured top beneath her wide-open jacket. Phew, possible Janet Jackson Nipplegate crisis averted. Oh, the song? Ehhhhh….
      Slovenia – Oh, I like this one (which means it’ll go nowhere). Now this is the way to do dramatic emoting, take notes, Albania and Norway! Imagine a very much younger Galadriel had decided on a career as a pop singer and you’ll get the gist
      Spain – I’m sure the song is Very Serious And Meaningful, addressing the many deep problems of the modern world. Still doesn’t make me care, though. Mind you, I do like one of the four outfits the singer wears, the one with the sort of sash-type wraparound part of the suit. Nice!
      Ukraine – Ah lads, I’ll give you points for trying to mix folk plus electronic, I like the old ‘remembering the roots of Eurovision by nodding towards our distinct cultural identity’ efforts that crop up every now and again. Song also sounds like a fractured nursery rhyme. Definitely copying Norway from last year, though, even if I think that’s a good performance to copy – the Norse had more energy and oomph, which is to your disadvantage by evoking the comparison. I do like this, but can’t recommend it as going to do much of anything in the contest

      God alone knows what the Irish disaster effort will be like, I’m wincing in anticipation!

      UK entry: Eh, I’m not too impressed. It’ll be fascinating to watch the voting in the wake of Brexit, though 😀 This is going to be the best part of the contest!

      • Cheese says:

        I was going to say, apologies from Australia for inflicting Montaigne on the rest of the world. But she kind of works with Eurovision.

        • Deiseach says:

          Europe appreciates and loves Australia’s pure and selfless committment to the True Spirit Of Eurovision, which is not “promoting fraternal harmony through shared culture so as we don’t kick off yet another world war” but “dress up in silly costumes, then engage in bloodsport tactical voting for your neighbours and against your national enemies” 🙂

          I wish I knew if anybody had made book on “Will it be Royaume Uni Nul Points this year from every participating nation (except Malta who always vote for the U.K.) because of Brexit?” So far it’s only odds on likely winners and favourites.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            “promoting fraternal harmony through shared culture so as we don’t kick off yet another world war”

            “dress up in silly costumes, then engage in bloodsport tactical voting for your neighbours and against your national enemies”

            I fail to see how these are anything other than synonyms.

          • Lambert says:

            Now I want to see an AH where Eurovision begain in 1910.
            Or perhaps 1790. (Maybe not. Nobody wants to listen to a song from every single former-HRE state.)

          • johan_larson says:

            A song contest run Europe-wide in 1910 would presumably have been run on the radio. In 1790 it would have been a travelling show, hitting all the major cities of Europe over the course of six months or so.

            Mumble. Was there such a thing as pop music in 1790?

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            I would give you very good odds there was, given that there was pop music in the 15th and 16th centuries. It would have been pretty different – no recordings, mostly just melodies – but my impression is that, say, L’homme arme was pretty popular, and a lot of the 15th-century music that got written down is actually settings of popular tunes (sometimes with first lines such as “Don’t rap on the door! My husband’s not at the mill, he’s at home.” So this is not all Courtly Love or sacred music). Or see Ravenscroft for end of the 16th century. (Example!)

  43. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Conan review #13: People of the Black Circle
    This one’s a novella, serialized in the September, October and November 1934 issues of Weird Tales. Margaret Brundage’s cover is main girl Yasmina being menaced by a sorcerer of the Black Circle while surprisingly clothed.

    As the king of Vendhya lies dying in the capital of Ayodhya, nobleman Karim Shah asks a sorcerer, Khemsa “Why now?” He answers that sorecery is subject to cosmic laws (so it’s lower-powered than in Dungeons & Dragons…): the stars had to be right and they needed a lock of the king’s hair. In a moment of weakness, for “the princess of Khosala, who loved Bhunda Chand vainly, he gave her a lock of his long black hair”, which the Black Seers of Yimsha got a thief to steal.
    The dying king begs his sister, the Devi Yasmina, to kill him before the sorcerers of the Himelians cut his silver cord and trap him as a miserable ghost, so his soul will go to a good afterlife. She obeys, and predictably will seek revenge. She then appears in the fortress of Chunder Shan, governor of Peshkhauri (that’s a chokepoint between the plains of Panjab and the mountains), who was just writing a letter that exposits he has seven hostile tribesmen in prison, and their foreign chief (that’s Conan) has threatened to burn Peshkhauri and cover his saddle with my hide rather as his negotiation tactic for their release, rather than parley. She tells him to bring Conan here, because she needs a mountain man who knows the way to Mount Yimsha to aid her Kshatriyas. There’s political trouble with King Yezdigerd of Turan, and they mention needing to vet that Conan’s not his spy during parley.
    As soon as Yasmina leaves, Conan sneaks into this tower room, telling Chunder he’ll pay anything for the release of his henchmen, as each one is a headman and the common henchmen are about to rip him apart like wolves if he can’t get them back. Cue Devi Yasmina’s terms: aid in killing the Black Seers. But oops, the anonymous Devi comes in and is abducted by Conan!
    Her maid runs from the fortress to the city and tells Khemsa what happened. She’ll double-cross the Devi out of love for him, asking him to cast spells in ways not authorized by the Black Seers to steal her from Conan, ransom her, then double-cross the people bringing the ransom by killing her and taking over. The “sleeping” Kerim Shah overheard them and writes a letter to Khosru Khan, one of the king of Turan’s governors. Meanwhile Khemsa goes to the prison and casts Charm Person on the guard, making him unlock the door and then kill himself. For the guard inside, “Khemsa flicked the spear aside with his left hand, as a man might flick a straw, and his right flashed out and back, seeming gently to caress the warrior’s neck in passing. And the guard pitched on his face without a sound, his head lolling on a broken neck.” He then casts Knock or “destroy door” on the next one, letting him and the traitor maid into a courtyard with a grille of bars across from where they enter. He casts some sort of Area of Effect spell that kills the seven men in that barred cell.
    While riding with his captive Conan gets ambushed, leaping from his horse with her as it dies. The ambush turns out to be Yar Afzal, a friend of his. They all retreat to a village ahead of Yasmina’s defenders.
    The next day, an angry mob tells Conan and Yar Afzal that Kshatriyas are violently searching the villages and Kerim Shah has disappeared into the hills. A member of the mob is intimidating into going to the watch-post instead of kicking Conan out, where Khemsa appears and throws him a ball of jade to take to Yar Afzal. He tells his girlfriend it’s “the globe of Yezud”, which will kill Yar Afzal (by turning into a venomous spider), leaving Conan without protectors. Conan kills three angry men in self-defense and flees with Yasmina on a stolen stallion. During the escape, she sees Gitara, her maid, with someone unknown to her and Conan (Khemsa). They discuss how weird these events are:

    That fellow Yar Afzal beat and sent away–he moved like a man walking in his sleep. I’ve seen the priests of Zamora perform their abominable rituals in their forbidden temples, and their victims had a stare like that man. The priests looked into their eyes and muttered incantations, and then the people became the walking dead men, with glassy eyes, doing as they were ordered.”
    “And then I saw what the fellow had in his hand, which Yar Afzal picked up. It was like a big black jade bead, such as the temple girls of Yezud wear when they dance before the black stone spider which is their god. Yar Afzal held it in his hand, and he didn’t pick up anything else. Yet when he fell dead, a spider, like the god at Yezud, only smaller, ran out of his fingers.”

    Conan buys a suit of clothes off a woman’s back for Yasmina, and she’s relieved that he’s not a brute who’s going to kill her for them. In her peasant clothes, Conan calls her more beautiful keepin’ it real than in her unapproachable goddess form and spanks her. One swat, I mean: the narrative doesn’t come to a screeching halt for a Gor interlude.
    They see Mt. Yimsha to the northwest, and she asks how long it would take him to ride there. Further,

    “Would you be afraid to attack them?”
    “I?” The idea seemed a new one to him. “Why, if they imposed upon me, it would be my life or theirs. But I have nothing to do with them. I came to these mountains to raise a following of human beings, not to war with wizards.”

    The stallion is spooked and refuses to continue, and then they see Khemsa. As soon as Conan makes eye contact, he can’t break it: the sorcery is based on hypnotism.

    The way has been prepared for the hypnotist for untold centuries of generations who have lived and died in the firm conviction of the reality and power of hypnotism, building up, by mass thought and practise, a colossal though intangible atmosphere against which the individual, steeped in the traditions of the land, finds himself helpless.
    But Conan was not a son of the East. Its traditions were meaningless to him; he was the product of an utterly alien atmosphere. Hypnotism was not even a myth in Cimmeria.

    In short, his ethnicity gives him a great saving throw against whatever spell Khemsa was attempting. Conan attacks but Khemsa is still able to knock him prone by touching a pressure point on the neck. As he gets up, a crimson cloud comes down among them and changes into four Black Seers. They try to punish him with a mental attack, but he fights four on one to a stalemate… strengthened by his love of Gitara. So they mentally drive her to suicide, weakening him. He switches to charging with a blade, but one of them stomps a foot, creating a crevice that widens instantly. Then they cast the crimson cloud spell again, including Yasmina in it.
    Soon Conan meets 500 of his followers. He’s glad to see them and says he’s riding for Yimsha… and they call him a traitor for not bringing the seven chiefs. He tries to explain, but nearly faints when they tell him those prisoners are dead. A Wazuli escaped through the doors the wizard burst in his entry, and told the tale to scouts of Conan’s tribe. He keeps riding before they can kill him as a traitor. On the way he finds the dying Khemsa, who gives him his magic girdle and warns him to break the crystal globe that has four golden pomegranates. Then he meets Kerim Shah along the pass. He demands the Devi. Conan tells him the Black Seers have her, and don’t kill me, because the 500 men who just rebelled against me would be jealous. Kerim Shah says he’ll go with to fight the Black Seers: “We both want the Devi. You know my reason; King Yezdigerd desires to add her kingdom to his empire, and herself in his seraglio. And I knew you, in the days when you were a hetman of the kozak steppes; so I know your ambition is wholesale plunder.” We know each other well enough to work together with no trust!
    Yasmina awakes in the same room as the Master of Yimsha. Reading her mind, he knows she would turn the wild children of the hills against the Seers. As to why he killed her brother, “My acolytes in the temples of Turan, who are the priests behind the priests of Tarim, urged me to bestir myself in behalf of Yezdigerd. For reasons of my own, I complied.”
    She wants to stab him, but he transmutes her knife into a lotus. He says she’s pretty enough to keep as a slave, and she gasps that he’d dare. “The king dares not trample a worm in the road? Little fool, do you not realize that your royal pride is no more than a straw blown on the wind? I, who have known the kisses of the queens of Hell!”
    He uses Black Lotus to make her dream she’s reliving all her past lives, which is apparently terrifying. Then the black-robed figure in the room grips her, and from that hood looked forth features like rotting parchment on a moldering skull.

    Elsewhere, Conan, Kerim and followers have to fight a guard dog and a steel-winged hawk just to get to the first tower, held by mere acolytes of the Black Seers. They launch Flaming Spheres at the men. They have to make hundreds of them prematurely explode by depleting their arrows. Kerim kills Bards until one falling from the tower also destroys the great horn they share. By the time Conan reaches the door, the defenders try to pour molten metal on him, which makes him feel good: they might have run out of magic. Inside the door, he has to dodge a falling stone trap. Once they seize the tower, Conan’s team realizes that it’s separated from the Seers’ own castle by a great ravine. And their princess is in that other castle.
    They find a way along the bottom of the ravine, and before the castle the acolytes attack Conan with knives, unable to cast more spells on him, perhaps due to Khemsa’s girdle. Conan, Kerim and three henchmen go inside, leaving a guard posted. A Black Seer appears above the guard, who shoots him with an arrow. The Seer laughs and throws it back, whereupon it turns into a venomous snake that kills him. The rest of the party is trapped inside by an transparent door. Conan sees the crystal globe Khemsa mentioned. Four Seers appear, and one casts a spell that means his foes “could not advance, though he felt it in his power to retreat if he wished.” Fear! Another casts Charm Person on one of the henchmen, who kneels and offers his sword… which the Seer decapitates him with. Soon all three henchmen are dead, and the magic girdle ends the Fear spell’s effect on Conan. He attacks. Then he remembers he’s supposed to destroy the crystal sphere. The four golden snakes at the corners of the altar it’s on come alive to attack him, but he succeeds. And destroying the four golden pomegranates inside makes the four Seers drop dead. Then the Master of Yimsha walks in. He casts a spell that makes Kerim’s ribcage explode outward and his heart fly to the Master’s hand. Conan tries to attack, but no sooner does his blade cut the Master’s robe than he vanishes. Then Conan finds Yasmina being menaced by a giant snake. Conan saves her by throwing knives, then unsheaths another to stab it. Bleeding horribly, the snake… is smart enough to push a secret door open with its nose!
    Conan and Yasmina hug and kiss, then begin their escape. The transparent door is shattered and they make it all the way back to where his party left horses, relieved to find the Game Master hasn’t stolen them. She tells him to ride back to her realm, where he’ll be rewarded. He refuses: he wants to keep her, and setting foot there would transmute her into an unapproachable princess. “Hey,” he must be thinking, “your name sounds like Yasmela.”
    She protests that he has no followers now. “There is a chief of the Khurakzai who will keep you safely while I bicker with the Afghulis. If they will have none of me, by Crom! I will ride northward with you to the steppes of the kozaki. I was a hetman among the Free Companions before I rode southward. I’ll make you a queen on the Zaporoska River!”
    She won’t consent. Their debate is interrupted by the sight of a running battle: Conan’s 500 ex-followers heavily outnumbered by mailed horsemen of Turan. Conan is torn between wanting to lead them to safety, which would get him forgiven, and not risking his life since it would leave Yasmina stuck here. Then her Kshatriyas appear, and she tells Conan to give her his horse so she can rally them to join the Afghulis against the Turanians.
    The battle won, a vulture tries to kill Yasmina, but Conan strikes it out of the air. As it dropped, its black wings thrashing the air, it took on the semblance, not of a bird, but of a black-robed human body. The Master of Yimsha?
    She offers Conan 10,000 gold pieces for ransoming her back to her people.

    “I will collect your ransom in my own way, at my own time,” he said. “I will collect it in your palace at Ayodhya, and I will come with fifty thousand men to see that the scales are fair.”
    She laughed, gathering her reins into her hands. “And I will meet you on the shores of the Jhumda with a hundred thousand!”

    Aww, they love dominance!

    I think this was one of the best stories we’ve read so far. Things we’ve seen before seem better developed: the magic system, Conan’s relationship with a princess, etc.

    • Nornagest says:

      in the fortress of Chunder Shan, governor of Peshkhauri (that’s a chokepoint between the plains of Panjab and the mountains)

      Conan/Flashman crossover when?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Yes, definitely best story so far. I’m seeing a pattern that when the stories focus on other characters (as this does for the first few chapters), Conan is basically Godzilla: a force of nature with which everyone else must contend.

      Also, I’m disappointed Conan did not continue with his tradition of shagging princesses over the corpses of evil wizards. Apparently Yasmina was able to resist Conan’s bruising ki…wait…fiery ki…wait…

      His wild blood had been stirred to its uttermost by all that had passed. He caught her to him in a grasp that would have made her wince at another time, and crushed her lips with his. She made no resistance; the Devi was drowned in the elemental woman. She closed her eyes and drank in his fierce, hot, lawless kisses with all the abandon of passionate thirst. She was panting with his violence when he ceased for breath, and glared down at her lying limp in his mighty arms.

      …fierce, hot, lawless kisses.

      • Deiseach says:

        Apparently Yasmina was able to resist Conan’s bruising ki…wait…fiery ki…wait……fierce, hot, lawless kisses

        Yes, but this princess is made of sterner stuff than the previous princesses. She euthanised her own brother, for one, which means she is now the ruler in her own right and she seems to be capable of leading and fighting alongside her own army instead of merely being a figurehead like Yasmela who only rode out to watch the battle, not take part.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Don’t mean she doesn’t like a good shag now and then, tho…

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Yes, but this princess is made of sterner stuff than the previous princesses. She euthanised her own brother, for one, which means she is now the ruler in her own right and she seems to be capable of leading and fighting alongside her own army instead of merely being a figurehead like Yasmela

          As far as love interests in this series, Yasmina is leagues beyond Yasmela and up with Belit and Valeria (who we’ll meet in “Red Nails”) as the best.

    • theodidactus says:

      This was always among my favorite conans simply for how magic is portrayed. It’s a part of the culture as much as the practitioner, and it’s perhaps at bottom all illusion: You either believe in it or you don’t, and if you do, you get all this power but you’re simultaneously weak to its influence in a way simpler folk or outsiders, might not be.

    • broblawsky says:

      Khemsa is kind of fascinating, because he’s almost a protagonist in his own right; his magical feats are more impressive than any other Seer in the story, save the Master himself, and he has an interesting personal conflict (his loyalty to the Black Seers versus his love of Gitara). It’s easy to see a version of this story where he teams up with Conan to get revenge on the Master, or even one where Conan never appears and Khemsa is the star.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Very much this. Khemsa is such a great character that there are at least two other ways things could have gone that would have been good literature.
        One of the first Conan yarns written was the chronologically-later “The Scarlet Citadel”, which demonstrated that he was willing to team up with a sorcerer to defeat another.
        I definitely liked Gitara, whose disloyalty to her mistress and love of Khemsa complicates things in a good way. It would have been better if her background and motivation had been expanded on, but Howard was writing with an admirable brevity absent from later fantasy, so it’s hard to complain.

    • Deiseach says:

      All the political intriguing lifts this up from ordinary “save the kidnapped damsel” storylines, and it’s showing the character arc of growth for Conan; he may still be mainly interested in wine, women and song, but by dint of hiring out with mercenaries/floating around the edges of small wars on the borders between small kingdoms, he’s picking up an education in diplomacy and politics in spite of himself which will stand to him when he comes to ascend the throne himself in time.

      The True Love between the evil sorcerer and the traitorous maid was touching, despite the pair of them being villains. Just because you’re a back-stabber, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a heart, I guess!

      The magic-users are a lot tougher and much better opponents for Conan in this story as well.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        All the political intriguing lifts this up from ordinary “save the kidnapped damsel” storylines, and it’s showing the character arc of growth for Conan; he may still be mainly interested in wine, women and song, but by dint of hiring out with mercenaries/floating around the edges of small wars on the borders between small kingdoms, he’s picking up an education in diplomacy and politics in spite of himself which will stand to him when he comes to ascend the throne himself in time.

        This is an excellent standalone story, but it’s also the culmination of one of my favorite parts of Conan’s career. We first see him picking up diplomacy and politics in “Witch”, then in “The Devil in Iron” and here. Howard never explains what motivated him to become a nomad chief again after leaving the Zuagirs and heading to Ophir to exchange a crown jewel for gold pieces, but whatever drove him, it’s a very interesting part of his character development.

        Sadly, this story marks the end of that. After it comes “The Drums of Tombalku” (fragment, not part of the review series), where Conan is a defeated mercenary stranded in an African desert and “The Pool of the Black One”, where he’s a pirate.

        The True Love between the evil sorcerer and the traitorous maid was touching, despite the pair of them being villains. Just because you’re a back-stabber, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a heart, I guess!

        Yes, quite touching.

        The magic-users are a lot tougher and much better opponents for Conan in this story as well.

        Agreed.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Conan review #14: The Pool of the Black One
      First published in the October 1933 issue of Weird Tales, where the cover story was “The Vampire Master”.
      From Conan the nomad chief on the Indian frontier, we jump to the Western Ocean where Conan is a pirate.
      In the order we’re reading, this is disappointing. From a leader of 500 men or thousands with henchmen who are leaders in their own right, he goes to being a common tough half a world away. However, this story was published a year earlier.

      Sancha, captured daughter of a Zingaran duke, yawns on the deck of the good ship Wastrel when suddenly a man jumps aboard from the sea.
      “I am Conan,” the other answered imperturbably. Sancha pricked up her ears anew; she had never heard Zingaran spoken with such an accent (Language #9)
      The skeptical captain is named Zaporavo, whom Conan knows of. It seems there are two factions of pirates round these parts, who hate each other: Argives based in the Bacharan Isles and these Zingarans. Conan says he found it prudent to leave a Barachan rendezvous in a dingy, now just give me a job.

      “A ship can always use another good sailor,” answered the other without resentment. Zaporavo scowled, knowing the truth of that assertion. He hesitated, and doing so, lost his ship, his command, his girl, and his life. But of course he could not see into the future,

      Why telegraph the ending, Bob?
      The crew hazes Conan, and when the leader of it spits in his face and puts hand to sword, Conan quickly punches him to death. After this, he makes himself well-liked with appropriate (gigantic?) mirth and doing “the work of three men, and was always first to spring to any heavy or dangerous task.” He hides his motive for coming aboard, letting them think whatever made him run from the bloody Barachans was something nasty and respectable. Oh, and hey, he “roared ribald songs in a dozen languages“.
      Zaporavo takes the ship away from the civilized coast into the west, where there are no towns to pillage unless he finds a lost island or continent like he’s brooding about. After many weary weeks they find an island. While his men eat the local fruit, Zaporavo goes exploring for loot alone. Ordered to stay aboard, Sancha gets naked and swims ashore. She finds the men asleep (don’t eat strange fruit, kids). Going into the trees, she finds Zaporavo dead. Hearing a figure rustling the foliage, she calls Conan’s name, assuming he killed Zaporavo to take over. But someone else grips her.

      Earlier Conan, abstaining from the fruit, was stalking the living captain into the woods. He was indeed planning to kill him in secret and, denying it, hope his popularity would get him voted captain. Zaporavo saw him and drew his sword. The fight ended with Z. falling dead in the position Sancha saw him.
      As Conan cleans his blade, though, he sees a tall naked black man carrying off a struggling naked white figure. The NBA not having been invented yet, Conan is spooked by the man’s size. Following to the island’s high point, he finds green shining walls and towers, camouflaged by the greenery until he got close.

      He realized uneasily that no ordinary human beings could have built them. There was symmetry about their architecture, and system, but it was a mad symmetry, a system alien to human sanity.

      Taking your best modern architecture jokes, readers.
      Inside, he looks over a parapet into another swarded court and sees of beings that squatted about a dark green pool in the midst of the court. They’re all naked, black, and the least of them head-and-shoulders taller than him. And they’re sacrificing the youngest sailor from his ship in that pool. One of them plays a flute Conan can’t hear, yet it makes the youth cringe, quiver and writhe in a compulsive dance of obscenity and lasciviousness: “desire without pleasure, pain mated awfully to lust.” Conan is shocked at “the cosmic obscenity of these beings which could … find pleasure in the brazen flaunting of such things as should not be hinted at,”
      Clean-limbed barbarians are anti-porn.
      When the weird figures quit the court, Conan sneaks in and finds shelves with thousands of tiny figures. Om a high shelf, he sees that the pirate boy was transformed into one of those dolls. Even weirder, the lower shelves exclusively have figures that “either embodied merely the artists’ imagination, or typified racial types long vanished and forgotten.” It seems these creeps have been collecting for untold ages.
      Hearing a feminine scream, Conan bounds high onto the wall to look over. Another of the locals is dragging Sancha toward the pool! Conan hides. Seeing the figure carry Sancha by head and crotch (ew) toward the pool, he charges, killing him with a sword through the groin.
      While he wastes time talking with Sancha, the rest of the uncanny men return, each carrying one or two of the pirates who fell asleep. Conan comes up with a plan to make them chase him, then Sancha will shake the pirates awake so they can grab their swords.
      His plan: make a deadly leap toward the circle, then run away: “thrice his blade flickered before any could lift a hand in defense;” each flickering splitting a skull.
      So if you want Player Characters to be like Conan, they need to advance to a point where they get three attacks before the enemies can react.
      He finds himself in a dead-end room, enemies forming a semicircle around him. But one killing blow lets him run between the two figures flanking the fallen one without them getting to hit him. Running into a different room, he sees them forming a solid square in hopes of flowing around him when he attacks. He tries to jump and climb a ledge. The jutting ledge gives way and only the fact that it’s a grassy court prevents his spine breaking. Conan is doomed… save that the pirates come charging into the room, facing the weird men’s backs. There are deaths on both sides, but Conan survives as it turns into a rout and a chase. Seeing his side losing, one Black One speaks for the first time, and it’s some sort of spell that makes the pool flood. Conan, Sancha and friends run as fast as they can for shore. All who survived the battle reach the beached boats, just ahead of the magic pool’s tide that “flowed out over the beach, lapped at the ocean, and the waves turned a deeper, more sinister green.”
      Conan’s wounds are tallied: “Blood thickly clotted his black mane, and one ear had been half torn from his head. His arms, legs, breast and shoulders were bitten and clawed as if by panthers.” He’s accepted as captain, he maybe ambiguously gets the girl, and the story ends with a line of dialogue by him.

      Yes, we’ve seen this formula elsewhere. It’s also a pretty simple plot and Sancha is a non-entity.
      Your thoughts?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Your last sentence pretty well sums it up. A snoozer.

        Oh, but I didn’t like Conan’s plot here, either. Usually he’s moderately honorable. When he took over the army in A Witch Shall be Born it was only because the leader went back on his word to free the city and help Conan get his revenge. Here he plotted from the very start to murder Zaporavo for no other reason than “Conan wants to be in charge.”

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Oh, but I didn’t like Conan’s plot here, either. Usually he’s moderately honorable. When he took over the army in A Witch Shall be Born it was only because the leader went back on his word to free the city and help Conan get his revenge. Here he plotted from the very start to murder Zaporavo for no other reason than “Conan wants to be in charge.”

          Yes, Conan is a villain here. He’s much more popular with the crew than Captain Zaporavo, so he treats Z. as deserving to die, no questions asked. And being less popular has nothing to do with being immoral, he just broods and can’t sing dirty songs in twelve languages.

          Anyway, when we catch up with Conan again in “Red Nails”, he’ll still be in a pirate phase of his life.

          “Where are the fine ships and the bold lads you commanded now?” [Valeria] sneered.

          “At the bottom of the sea, mostly,” he replied cheerfully. “The Zingarans sank my last ship off the Shemite shore — that’s why I joined Zarallo’s Free Companions.

          That’s an excellent story, but I’m still disappointed with the unexplained gap after his career as a chief of nomad chiefs, where he learned important skills he’d need as a usurping king.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, this is Conan being villainous. You could say he’s been corrupted by civilisation: it’s a very pragmatic decision, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, especially when compared with how the captain treated him – he didn’t like Conan, could have ordered his crew to slaughter him when first he came aboard, but had too much of his own sort of code to do so without reason:

          A glance toward the waist showed a screen of eager faces staring upward. A word would send them leaping up on the poop in a storm of swords that would overwhelm even such a fightingman as the stranger looked to be.

          “Why should I burden myself with every nameless vagabond that the sea casts up?” snarled Zaporavo, his look and manner more insulting than his words.

          “A ship can always use another good sailor,” answered the other without resentment. Zaporavo scowled, knowing the truth of that assertion. He hesitated, and doing so, lost his ship, his command, his girl, and his life. But of course he could not see into the future, and to him Conan was only another wastrel, cast up, as he put it, by the sea. He did not like the man; yet the fellow had given him no provocation. His manner was not insolent, though rather more confident than Zaporavo liked to see.

          “You’ll work for your keep,” snarled the Hawk. “Get off the poop. And remember, the only law here is my will.”

          About the only excuse we get is that Zaporavo is an autocrat who has forgotten the good of his crew in favour of his own dreams and obsessions (but let’s be frank, Conan doesn’t care a straw about any of the Freebooters either, they’re just means to an end for him as well):

          Zaporavo made the mistake so many autocrats make; alone in somber grandeur on the poop, he underestimated the man below him. He had his opportunity to kill Conan, and he let it pass, engrossed in his own gloomy ruminations. He did not find it easy to think any of the dogs beneath his feet constituted a menace to him. He had stood in the high places so long, and had ground so many foes underfoot, that he unconsciously assumed himself to be above the machinations of inferior rivals.

          Conan plots to kill him simply in order to take over his command and ship, and when he can’t find an excuse to do so, decides to simply murder him:

          Conan did not underrate his dominance of the crew. But he had not gained the right, through battle and foray, to challenge the captain to a duel to the death. In these empty seas there had been no opportunity for him to prove himself according to Freebooter law. The crew would stand solidly against him if he attacked the chieftain openly. But he knew that if he killed Zaporavo without their knowledge, the leaderless crew would not be likely to be swayed by loyalty to a dead man. In such wolf-packs only the living counted.

          About the only scrap of justification here is that he doesn’t literally stab Zaporavo in the back, it’s a fair (more or less) fight. But it’s clear that Conan is trying to find some way back to ‘civilisation’ from this existence on the Western edge of the ocean, and it makes me wonder if the reason he had to leave the Barachans so fast and unprepared was that he tried the same trick to take over a pirate captain’s command, but it didn’t work:

          “I think of Life!” he roared. “The dead are dead, and what has passed is done! I have a ship and a fighting crew and a girl with lips like wine, and that’s all I ever asked. Lick your wounds, bullies, and break out a cask of ale. You’re going to work ship as she never was worked before. Dance and sing while you buckle to it, damn you! To the devil with empty seas! We’re bound for waters where the seaports are fat, and the merchant ships are crammed with plunder!”

          Sancha is an interesting character though we get very little about her; she’s tougher-minded than some of the damsels in distress that Conan has encountered before, so for myself I don’t feel any anxiety about her once Conan moves on and leaves her behind – she’ll find some way of landing on her feet:

          No great length of time lay between her and the palaces of Kordava, but it was as if a world of change separated her from the life she had lived before Zaporavo tore her screaming from the flaming caravel his wolves had plundered. She, who had been the spoiled and petted daughter of the Duke of Kordava, learned what it was to be a buccaneer’s plaything, and because she was supple enough to bend without breaking, she lived where other women had died, and because she was young and vibrant with life, she came to find pleasure in the existence.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            About the only excuse we get is that Zaporavo is an autocrat who has forgotten the good of his crew in favour of his own dreams and obsessions (but let’s be frank, Conan doesn’t care a straw about any of the Freebooters either, they’re just means to an end for him as well):

            Indeed. They’re equally selfish, Conan just has the good fortune to be more charismstic.

            About the only scrap of justification here is that he doesn’t literally stab Zaporavo in the back, it’s a fair (more or less) fight. But it’s clear that Conan is trying to find some way back to ‘civilisation’ from this existence on the Western edge of the ocean, and it makes me wonder if the reason he had to leave the Barachans so fast and unprepared was that he tried the same trick to take over a pirate captain’s command, but it didn’t work:

            That’s a reasonable guess. We don’t know why Conan is so down on his luck since Black Circle, but having made his way to the Western Ocean without followers, he’s trying to claw his way back into leadership and ‘civilization’, and he’d been Belit’s first mate and a pirate captain earlier in life. Lonely + sight of ships makes this game appeal to him.
            Yet it says nothing positive about his character. I’d have liked to see how he lost what he had with the nomads and what he learned from it that would make him a better king.

            Sancha is an interesting character though we get very little about her; she’s tougher-minded than some of the damsels in distress that Conan has encountered before, so for myself I don’t feel any anxiety about her once Conan moves on and leaves her behind – she’ll find some way of landing on her feet:

            Yeah. Conan’s no rapist, we’re led to believe: all she’d have to do is withhold sex and ask to be dropped off at the nearest port to Daddy’s duchy to pick herself back up, and he’d get around to that as raiding permits.

          • Deiseach says:

            We don’t know why Conan is so down on his luck since Black Circle, but having made his way to the Western Ocean

            I wonder if it is meant, in-universe, to follow in chronological order after Black Circle. It feels better to think of these stories as episodes from Conan’s life told in random order, rather than recounting them in strict year-by-year form. It just fits better, somehow, that this is all in the same rough period of his life when he was living as a pirate/freebooter/privateer and working his way across the seas, going from second-in-command and indeed captain of his own ship back down to ordinary crewman who needed to get out of town in a hurry and clawing his way back up so he could return East and get back on land in the rich kingdoms where there was always a war to fight or a kingdom to plunder. Rise and fall and rise again.

            I imagine Howard may have felt that having written a few in sequence about Conan on land, another pirate tale would be more novel and likely to sell rather than “same old mercenary band story”.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I wonder if it is meant, in-universe, to follow in chronological order after Black Circle. It feels better to think of these stories as episodes from Conan’s life told in random order, rather than recounting them in strict year-by-year form. It just fits better, somehow, that this is all in the same rough period of his life when he was living as a pirate/freebooter/privateer and working his way across the seas, going from second-in-command and indeed captain of his own ship back down to ordinary crewman who needed to get out of town in a hurry and clawing his way back up so he could return East and get back on land in the rich kingdoms where there was always a war to fight or a kingdom to plunder.

            Well, one, Howard said Conan was like his muse, and he could only write his adventurers in the random order “he told them to me.” So the order can be whatever we feel like unless dialogue or his internal monologue establishes otherwise, with the “king” career coming at the end in the order “Phoenix on the Sword”, “The Scarlet Citadel”, “Hour of the Dragon.”
            Two, I’ve been following this order, save for moving up “The Slithering Shadow” so Conan doesn’t have to recall the lost city of Xuthal before he finds it, as Howard said it followed “pretty closely”. But as you say, imagining one pirate career “just fits better.”

  44. Atlas says:

    Speaking of billionaires:

    I have a perception that there’s a partisan asymmetry in perception of billionaire philanthropy. That is, when it comes to e.g. the presidency, it seems roughly symmetrical in terms of Democrats liking Democratic presidents and disliking Republican ones and vice versa for Republicans. (Though I take the point that, as per e.g. Why We’re Polarized, negative partisanship is real and important.)

    However, with billionaires, I feel like I see them demonized by the opposite side far more often than praised by their own. I’ve seen lots of right-wing commentary on how George Soros is behind immigration/Black Lives Matter/Hungarian gender studies/whatever and that’s bad so he’s bad. But I feel like I basically never see left-wing commentary about how awesome George Soros is for doing so much to promote immigration/Black Lives Matter/Hungarian gender studies etc. Likewise for the Koch family: I hear a lot of condemnation from the left, but not so much praise from the right.

    Do you think that this is accurate? If so, why might this be?

    • gbdub says:

      The Kochs are libertarians, so it’s not surprising that mainstream rightists aren’t always cheerleading them.

      The right accuses Soros of funding “astroturf” campaigns (fake “grassroots” protests etc. that are actually professionally organized affairs). The left obviously would disagree with this narrative, but praising Soros without feeding that narrative would be hard.

      “We’re really happy a billionaire is making our movement seem more popular” is a hard argument for anyone to make in a winning way.

      • Matt M says:

        The Kochs are pretty milquetoast “libertarians” tbqh. Hardcore libertarians also criticize them heavily for diluting the libertarian message. And the Koch-funded libertarian thinktanks come hard at the more hardcore libertarian groups. I’ve heard that Cato people aren’t even allowed to talk to Mises people, under the threat of being fired.

        • Hardcore libertarians also criticize them heavily for diluting the libertarian message.

          Examples? Of either dilution or criticism.

          I’m curious as a hardcore libertarian who has not done so.

          There was a good deal of talk a long time ago where people were complaining about how large a role the Kochs played in the movement — that’s where the term “Kochtopus” originated. But I’m not sure I know of serious doctrinal disagreements.

          • rumham says:

            Take it for what it’s worth, but I often saw criticism on the reason.com boards regarding certain politicians that they supported.

    • Jack Lecter says:

      @Atlas:

      (An oversimplification of) my personal model is that America has two big status/employment hierarchies, one roughly Red and one roughly Blue.

      The Blue hierarchy contains most of what’s called “the public sector”, the universities, the mainstream press, and a bunch of NGOs. Blue employees are paid largely in prestige, power, and job security.

      The Red hierarchy contains the Military, a lot of what’s called “the private sector”, and, um, churches, I guess? I mostly live close to the Blue Hierarchy, so I’m probably leaving some things out.

      The important thing is, Red employees are much, much more likely to get the bulk of their compensation in explicit monetary form, rather than as a mixed bag of privileges and prestige. Money tracks status a lot more closely in Redville.

      Since Blueville has a weaker association between money and status, and since they can see that The Other Tribe has a *stronger* association between money and status, people in Blueville start to see money as sort of dirty and undeserved- a baser motive than the stuff they think they’re motivated by. This happens partly because they can see other people according status to money, and that feels unfair. I think it’s also partly because they intuitively feel like (visible, legible) compensation ought to track status- they have the idea that your paycheck reflects how much society values you, so it’s a scandal to see low-status people paid more than high-status people. Of course, people will demand more money to work low-status jobs, and accept less pay in exchange for higher status, so there’s a constant mismatch between the Blues’ intuitive idea of what wages ought to be and what they are.

      I think this also relates to the strong association a lot of Blues have between money and illicit dominance- that thing where A offers B money in exchange for X, giving B strictly more options, and this gets interpreted as A *forcing* B to do X. (I’m not saying there are no harmful options, or that the deals offered by A are always fair- just that it’s weird to interpret *giving someone choices* as making them *less free*, and this does in fact seem to be the prior of a lot of people on the left when money’s involved.)

      To wrap up- of course people on the Left don’t like to see money involved in politics- it’s the other side’s currency, and plays to the other side’s strengths.

      (The Red version of this would *sort of* be resentment directed at the universities and the press, and at credentialism in general- but it’s not an exact parallel. It’s hard to cone up with an exact mirror, because Red power/status tends to be more legible, whereas the Blue equivalents tend to be more soft power, connections, social pressure and suasion.)

      [ETA: Going back to yesterday’s post, I think this is why some people see charitable giving as an undemocratic exercise of power, but see writing books and engaging in rhetoric from a university pulpit as obviously a legitimate part of the process- the latter is their area of strength, the former is their area of weakness. Also, money in politics makes a great excuse when object-level politics goes bad for them- it isn’t that a lot of people actually disagree with them or have different values, it’s just that they’ve been brainwashed by billionaires, and if we get rid of the billionaires everyone will revert to the obviously correct opinions.]

      {Further ETA: I get that “Blue Tribe” =/= “The Left” and likewise for “Red Tribe” and “The Right”, but for my current purposes the labels pick out roughly the same cluster of people and I’m too tired to reedit this now. I beg forgiveness for any confusion.}

      (Further further ETA: Spelling and syntactic cleanup.)

      • Nornagest says:

        The Red hierarchy contains the Military, a lot of what’s called “the private sector”, and, um, churches, I guess? […] The important thing is, Red employees are much, much more likely to get the bulk of their compensation in explicit monetary form

        This is a very Blue way of looking at things. There are Red hierarchies where money tracks status pretty well — small proprietorship is probably the most important one — but they’re fairly narrow. More importantly, the people in them, outside the few Red corporate ladders that still exist (the energy sector, a few individual companies, and not much else), are much less likely to be employees. Fifty years ago, the Republicans were much more centrally the party of business, but that’s not really the case anymore — the upper echelons of your average company are overwhelmingly urban now, and as such tend to be culturally Blue. Some of them will vote Republican for economic reasons, but that doesn’t make them Red, and it won’t make modal Reds impressed with them.

        The military’s actually a good illustration of this: relative to its competitiveness, direct monetary compensation for higher military ranks is pretty modest. Their pensions and benefits are pretty sweet compared to what you get in the private sector, but if all you’re looking for is money, especially in the short term, pretty much anyone with captain’s bars or better would have been better off going for an MBA. Churches, even more so.

        • Jack Lecter says:

          My model mental image- the central example of the thing I’m thinking of- was less Wall Street culture (or startup culture, for that matter), and more Dilbert- or maybe, like, a regional manager in a small town somewhere. But I get how my earlier comment failed to communicate this, though. (And this may still be a very blue way of looking at it- just not quite the same one.)

          I’ll try to explain the difference I’m seeing- I hope I can get this to make sense. Roughly, (the archetype of) Moral Mazes Guy is.. kind of all-in, y’know? He’s Climbing The Corporate Ladder-which is maybe more like a monastic calling than a job.

          Our (archetypal) regional manager isn’t doing that. He’s not visibly obsessed with money- or ambition- or even status (unless you’ve been reading Robin Hanson in which case this last obsession *may* be visible to you.) It isn’t like money is central to his identity or anything, it’s just *more salient* than it is for his Blue counterpart. He’s not *attached* to the idea that it’s meaningless, so it acquires *some* meaning- some *positive* meaning, which is enough to play-off against the Red Tribe (and the Robbers’ Cave would do the rest, if it needed doing).

          I grant the military represents a counterexample, as far as money is concerned. I do feel like they fit into some kind of deeper (farmer/forager?) dynamic, though- military rank/honors and money both have an explicit, legible quality that I think Blue-Tribe status often lacks. They also seem more durable- like, I’d expect the word “fashion” to come up less in talking about them.

          Maybe the dynamic I’m fumbling at is something like:

          Amorphous/informal/implicit/intangible/transient/soft power derived from social networks
          vs
          Tangible/official/reified/durable/meant-to-last/formal power derived from “objective” symbols of which people have common knowledge (meant to be a link to Pinker’s stuff here, but it kept getting caught in the spam filter).

          I’m pretty sure my account of the Blue psychology surrounding money is roughly accurate, though. (It is, however, almost certainly incomplete).

          I’ve had this model kicking around in my head for a while (both the one from my first comment which treats money as special, and the vaguer one I’m gesturing to here which treats money as an instance of a broader pattern.), and what really drove it home was the comments to Scott’s review of the Reich book; people* defended, with every appearance of sincerity, the view that donating to charity was a much more serious exercise of power than writing persuasively about policy- that authors were, as a class, less powerful than rich philanthropists. And I sat and I asked myself if there was any worldview I knew under which this made sense, and after a moment I realized that actually, yes, there was.

          (“Power” is a synonym for “illegitimate power”; money is illegitimate power which contaminates our pure democratic process. Rhetoric is not illegitimate, therefore not power, so long as it’s proper rhetoric and not that demagoguery The Outgroup loves so much.)

          [This is not a very charitable interpretation of what people are thinking, and I’m sure not all of them are thinking it- I imagine this basic narrative as a cloud that floats around their heads and slips inside when they’re not paying attention. But uncharitable though it may be, I find keeping it in mind means I end up *much* less confused about what’s going on.]

          (Plausibly the reason this is so much harder on the Left than the Right is the same reason you’re getting Blue vibes from me- I’m probably pretty Grey, but my social environment is pretty Blue and not at all Red, so these are the people I’ve been banging my head against trying to understand.)

          (1)Mostly one person, but singling xir put would change the tone of this comment in ways I don’t want, so please just note that this is weaker evidence than if lots of different people were doing it.

        • Jack Lecter says:

          My model mental image- the central example of the thing I’m thinking of- was less Wall Street culture (or startup culture, for that matter), and more Dilbert- or maybe, like, a regional manager in a small town somewhere. But I get how my earlier comment failed to communicate this, though. (And this may still be a very blue way of looking at it- just not quite the same one.)

          I’ll try to explain the difference I’m seeing- I hope I can get this to make sense. Roughly, (the archetype of) Moral Mazes Guy is.. kind of all-in, y’know? He’s Climbing The Corporate Ladder-which is maybe more like a monastic calling than a job.

          Our (archetypal) regional manager isn’t doing that. He’s not visibly obsessed with money- or ambition- or even status (unless you’ve been reading Robin Hanson in which case this last obsession *may* be visible to you.) It isn’t like money is central to his identity or anything, it’s just *more salient* than it is for his Blue counterpart. He’s not *attached* to the idea that it’s meaningless, so it acquires *some* meaning- some *positive* meaning, which is enough to play-off against the Red Tribe (and the Robbers’ Cave would do the rest, if it needed doing).

          I grant the military represents a counterexample, as far as money is concerned. I do feel like they fit into some kind of deeper (farmer/forager?) dynamic, though- military rank/honors and money both have an explicit, legible quality that I think Blue-Tribe status often lacks. They also seem more durable- like, I’d expect the word “fashion” to come up less in talking about them.

          Maybe the dynamic I’m fumbling at is something like:

          Amorphous/informal/implicit/intangible/transient/soft power derived from social networks
          vs
          Tangible/official/reified/durable/meant-to-last/formal power derived from “objective” symbols of which people have common knowledge.

          I’m pretty sure my account of the Blue psychology surrounding money is roughly accurate, though. (It is, however, almost certainly incomplete).

          I’ve had this model kicking around in my head for a while (both the one from my first comment which treats money as special, and the vaguer one I’m gesturing to here which treats money as an instance of a broader pattern.), and what really drove it home was the comments to Scott’s review of the Reich book; people* defended, with every appearance of sincerity, the view that donating to charity was a much more serious exercise of power than writing persuasively about policy- that authors were, as a class, less powerful than rich philanthropists. And I sat and I asked myself if there was any worldview I knew under which this made sense, and after a moment I realized that actually, yes, there was.

          (“Power” is a synonym for “illegitimate power”; money is illegitimate power which contaminates our pure democratic process. Rhetoric is not illegitimate, therefore not power, so long as it’s proper rhetoric and not that demagoguery The Outgroup loves so much.)

          [This is not a very charitable interpretation of what people are thinking, and I’m sure not all of them are thinking it- I imagine this basic narrative as a cloud that floats around their heads and slips inside when they’re not paying attention. But uncharitable though it may be, I find keeping it in mind means I end up *much* less confused about what’s going on.]

          (Plausibly the reason this is so much harder on the Left than the Right is the same reason you’re getting Blue vibes from me- I’m probably pretty Grey, but my social environment is pretty Blue and not at all Red, so these are the people I’ve been banging my head against trying to understand.)

          (1)Mostly one person, but singling xir put would change the tone of this comment in ways I don’t want, so please just note that this is weaker evidence than if lots of different people were doing it.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that a simpler explanation is that while most people see benefits as partially an inherent human right and partially a compensation for sacrifices made, progressives tend to think that people deserve a lot more as a basic human right and conservatives tend think that rich/powerful people made & make more sacrifices.

            For example, talking about ‘privilege’ is intended to convince others that people with greater benefits didn’t actually deserve all those benefits because they made greater sacrifice. This is not limited to money. The claim that people listen more to men because of patriarchy is very similar to the claim that people give more salary to men because
            of patriarchy. In both cases, the claim is that men get things undeservedly.

            Progressives seem more prone to argue that privilege is undeserved than conservatives (although conservatives also do it, in particular against members of progressive bastions).

            Reds tend to have somewhat different status hierarchies than blues. For example, reds are more likely to see military service as granting high status. As Nornagest notes, this is independent of pay, because soldiers have way more status than people with a different job that get the same pay.

            This difference drives segregation, as the same job has different value to a person, depending on how much status the job has in their subculture.

            The politics of people like Reich may be attributed to them believing that money comes from privilege much more than the ability to write/publish/market a book comes from privilege.

            A simple explanation is that this is self-serving, since it allows people like Reich to accuse other of benefiting from privilege, while seeing his own benefits in life as being mostly earned; just like people with different personal benefits can accuse the media of having undeserved power, while ignoring how they themselves may have undeserved benefits.

      • Aftagley says:

        The Red hierarchy contains the Military,

        I see this argument all the time and it makes me want to pull my hair out. The military is non-partisan, full stop.

        I don’t mean this in a mealymouthed “the military should be nonpartisan” or “The military works best when it’s nonpartisan” I mean it in a direct, focused and specific “The military doesn’t map onto any tribe even remotely closely.”

        Here’s one of my favorite anecdotes I ever had in the military – it was when trans were first allowed to transition while on active duty. We had a member at our unit who was transitioning and pretty much senior person in the command was pulled in for a briefing on how it would be handled.

        One of our senior enlisted asked “well, what pronoun should we use?” our XO got up and said “Well, continue to use male pronouns until JUNE XX, at which point the member’s gender will be updated in DEERs (DoD HR program) whereupon you will switch.”

        It wasn’t that the member had an innate gender that they got to pick (blue tribe position) or that the member had an immutable gender (red tribe position) it was that the central bureaucracy had the authority to decree what gender a particular member was and that authority was paramount.

        You see this kind of thing all the time in the military. Yes, it’s comprised of people from different tribes and, at least among the enlisted you do see a relatively high percentage of red-tribers, but that doesn’t mean the organization itself skews red tribe in its values or operations.

        • DarkTigger says:

          I won’t make an argument wether or not the military itself is red tribe or not (read the people inside of it are red tribe or blue tribe).
          But the military as an institution, and thus the ranks given out by the military, have a better reputation with the red tribe, then with the blue tribe.

          • Aftagley says:

            I mean, maybe, but I’ve had as man hipsters thank me for my service as good ol’ boys.

            Yeah, the extreme left objects to the military, but so does the extreme right. Most people in the middle either don’t care or are generally supportive.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The…I don’t know if I would say “extreme,” but “far?” “Righter-than-right-of center?” Anyway, those folk definitely do not object to the military, they object to using the military for overseas adventurism.

        • Matt M says:

          I don’t dispute what you are saying, but I also don’t think that’s what Jack was getting at here.

          The military is a “red tribe institution” insofar as being a successful member of the military will grant you increased status and prestige among red tribe people that it won’t necessarily grant you among blue tribe people. And I think in a general sense that’s correct. That’s not say that no blue tribers respect military service or anything, just that red tribe respects it more.

          Think of the blue tribe alternative as being journalism. Blue tribe thinks “journalism” is a special and unique occupation that deserves greater respect than the average way someone might make a living. Consider that even the most meager person who self-identifies as a journalist can get a blue-check on Twitter, whereas pretty much no member of the military below the rank of general would ever be expected to get one. That’s not to say that there aren’t any red tribe journalists or that no red tribers respect any journalists. It’s not even to say that journalism itself suffers from an overwhelming blue-tribe bias. But I do think it’s the case that if something like Twitter had been built by the red tribe, it would be granting a lot more status-badges to military servicemembers and a lot fewer to random low-prestige bloggers.

        • John Schilling says:

          I see this argument all the time and it makes me want to pull my hair out. The military is non-partisan, full stop.

          This is your regular reminder that “Red Tribe” and “Blue Tribe” are not meant to be partisan terms and become more noise than signal when used as such.

          • Loriot says:

            IMO, the whole blue/red tribe thing obscures more than it illuminates anyway. It all started as a list of stereotypes about liberals and conservatives, ignoring the fact that both parties are big tents.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            blue/red tribes are useful concepts when used as intended. nascar = red tribe. art gallery in new york where people pay $120K for a banana taped on a wall = blue tribe.

            the concept can easily be stretched beyond any usefulness, but it’s a generalization, and should be used as such. it’s not the 2d law of thermodynamics.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that it best corresponds with globalism/localism. This does have correlation with politics, but certainly not 1:1. For example, a lot of wealthy Republicans are globalist and quite a few black people who vote Democrat are localist.

            The military is a bit of a weird entity that isn’t extremely globalist or localist, but isn’t really centrist either.

          • Clutzy says:

            The military also has (essentially) a 2 tiered system with Commissioned officers now (mostly) looking like your regular college graduates, and NCOs/Enlisted having (mostly) a more working class identity. It is my experience that the enlisted class has a great amount of contempt for a large % of officers, but they also have overwhelming loyalty to the good officers they had.

            And this is much more extreme than your usual employee-supervisor conflict. All the guys from my HS that were enlisted constantly talk about incompetent Lieutenants, and Colonels/Majors being snakes. Sometimes they like a Captain, but then curse how he got forced out or soon will be forced out for “not playing the game.” Within 30 seconds of some officer getting media attention I can predict whether military facebook will be flooded with snake emojis. Like Vindman, I knew they would hate him.

        • matthewravery says:

          I completely agree with Aftagley. Military service and rank absolutely grant prestige among Blue Tribers, at least if you consider folks who vote Democrat in Northern VA to be members of the Blue Tribe. It’s the part of the Blue Tribe that likes Joe Biden more than it likes Occupy Wall Street, but that’s, like, half to three quarters of the tribe, so….

          Also, if you’re at all familiar with how the military works, it makes complete sense that they’d let DEERS be the determinant of what pronouns to use. Hilarious!

      • DinoNerd says:

        *thoughtful* I certainly experience the wrong people as having high status, but what I note about many people is an insistence on “respect” for high status people. If the leader, or one of their friends does something, the appropriate reaction is not to consider whether it was a good idea, or give them advice about what would be better – it’s to praise the leader/leader’s crony, and their brilliant idea. If it’s the same policy that failed visibly only a few years ago, then it’s required to show no hint that you recognize it, or that it’s anything but wonderful.

        Otherwise, you “have no soft skills” at best, and are “an enemy of the people” at worst. I’ve experienced this at all levels, from the leadership of volunteer groups, through various levels of business management, all the way up to political leaders. (Except for the “enemy of the people” dig, which was irresistible, none of this is about Trump.)

        AFAICT, some people are utterly shocked at the idea that a mere peon (who might be as close as a rank or two from The Leader, or equally well might be bottom of the local heap) could possibly criticize anything The Leader does, believes, etc. Other people think that there’s a positive duty to give feedback, and that a leader who doesn’t seek out and accept feedback is incompetent, as well as various nastier pejorative adjectives; one who suppresses negative comments is almost certainly up to no good, beyond mere incompetence.

        I fall firmly in the “duty to criticize” camp. But I experience that belief as being basically unAmerican in many eyes. (That’s OK – I’m Canadian ;-() I’d associate this with Red Tribe, on the dubious grounds that people not like me in one way must be not like me in all ways ;-( except that where I see it the most is among tech executives. There are lots of “yes men” of both genders in high tech, and lots of “coaching” intended to create more of them.

        To me, this bleeds in to “wrong people have power” – which is why it’s posted here. But as I observe, to some people, the fact that someone has power, or status, is evidence that they deserve it.

        And of course, this is good medieval social theory – the children of nobles are much more deserving than all other children, yada yada yada. And of course they get all the important leadership positions, perqs etc., even if they are drooling idiots – that’s the definition of being a noble.

        I was brought up to believe we’d advanced beyond medieval social relations, and theories. Maybe some folks prefer them, even in modern times. Maybe this is even based on a personality trait, not primarily on upbringing.

      • theodidactus says:

        I think, to echo some comments at the end of Jack’s post above, that both sides have an enormous interest in having a boogieman to blame when popular opinion fails to track propositions they think are commonsense and universally-held. When that happens, it’s convenient to have a steady supply of shadowy billionaires to blame. Both sides would have to invent shadowy billionaires even if no real ones existed.

        In the future, without commenting on the legitimacy of accusations so far, I can see “internet bots” or “foreign election interference” being used in lieu of “campaign spending”…a fundamental force invoked to explain why democracy keeps getting it wrong.

        • Jack Lecter says:

          @theodidactus:

          I’ve actually had exactly this thought about recent discussions of foreign election interference- not that people don’t have legitimate concerns, but that those concerns certainly seem to double as a way of preserving their faith that democracy *done properly* never fails *too* badly.

          (My own view is roughly the boring “worst system, except for all the others that have been tried” one. I don’t think we know of any system that actually protects against catastrophe. But I think a lot of people- on *both* sides- kind of want to believe things can’t fail *too* badly, and they’re having a hard time reconciling this with recent polarization and their feeling that the other side’s candidates are terrible people who should not be given power.)

          [My boring-and-puritanical view is that they’re both correct about this- how many of our current crop of politicians are people you’d want to babysit your kids?]

          • theodidactus says:

            I also notice a sort of mott/bailey dynamic going on with regard to who exactly is a “bot.” IE I see a lot of “okay so no, Joe616 isnt’ REALLY a bot, what I meant is that he’s influenced by people who are influenced by people who are themselves influenced by bots so METAPHORICALLY he’s like a bot, even though he’s a real person…I just get to treat him as an inhuman shill for the purposes of this argument”

            And the reason why I’m like, hyperattuned to this is that overtly the argument a lot of people make is “social media is dangerous because literal AI’s have poisoned our ability to have sane discussions” but when you interrogate them a bit the covert argument is “social media is dangerous because it exposes people to bad ideas”

      • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

        The left are capable of articulating their objections to wealth, and when they do so “wealth leads to power” and “wealth cannot have been acquired honestly” feature heavily. Also, the left don’t see themselves as powerful.

  45. Why are teenagers so anxious? If you Google it, you get a bunch of answers but one hypothesis I didn’t see is this: they’re anxious because they aren’t getting enough exercise. Serious, sweat building exercise is known to relieve stress and is considered good for your mental health. Teens substituted sports for social media and are suffering for it.

    I’m imagining someone is thinking that girls didn’t used to play sports that much and so this doesn’t apply to them. Maybe it just applies to boys, I don’t know.

    • Beans says:

      Tangential pointless grammar observation: “Teens substituted sports for social media” means to me that they replaced social media with sports, which I’m guessing must be the opposite of what you intend. Is this just me?

      • fraza077 says:

        This is something that keeps frustrating me. I don’t know if there’s a correct order for these things. I’m pretty sure for the verb “trade”, it’s the sentence object’s original possession that comes first (“He traded his soul for power”), but for “substitute” it’s the other way round (“You can substitute beans for chickpeas here”). For “swap”, I’m not really sure.

      • j1000000 says:

        Agree with you

    • meh says:

      dont most of them also have to wake up at 6am? and eat sugar non stop?

      • convie says:

        When I was a teenager school started at 9 which meant I woke up at 8:30.

        • acymetric says:

          Before I could drive, I had to be at the bus stop around 6:30 a.m., school started at 7:30 (I lived about 10, maybe 15 minutes away from the school).

          I understand the trend the last decade or so has been moving back start times, I think my old high school now starts at 8:30 or 9:00.

    • A1987dM says:

      IME adults tend to exercise even less, so that’s not just that.

      • Aapje says:

        I assume that the comment is intended to be relative to youths of yesterday, not to adults, because teenagers have always been more anxious than adults, for obvious reasons.

        • Yes. If I was unclear, this is what I meant. Teens have always been more anxious than adults, but recently, it’s been taken to a whole new level.

          • zqed says:

            but recently, it’s been taken to a whole new level.

            I’m surprised, based on my interactions with teenagers (I used to volunteer for STEM outreach programs in the UK), and on having watched two “cohorts” of nephews grow up.

            Where could I find numbers on this?

      • acymetric says:

        I’m inclined to believe that adults are more anxious now than before as well.

        • Lambert says:

          I’m inclined to believe reporting rates have changed enough for both adults and teens that that comparison is nontrivial to make.

    • eric23 says:

      Is there evidence that teens exercise less now than in the past?

    • DinoNerd says:

      I think that teen anxiety is normal, and part of developing from sheltered child to independent adult, What we have now may be pathological excesses, but a certain amount of it seems normal.

      With regard to exercise, what I note, aged > 60, is that I walked to school, and walked everywhere else as well. There was one car in the family, and it was at work with my father. The idea of driving children to school – let alone teens – would have been laughed at or presumed something done by idiots with more money than sense. We didn’t drive to the grocery store either. We also didn’t go to gyms, or participate in any sports we could avoid – and while some people were into sports, I’m not sure that “going to a gym to exercise” had even been invented, let alone driving to a gym.

      Modern teens (pre-driving age) aren’t allowed to do most of what I and my peers did for exercise; they seem to be confined to their homes unless/until some adult has time and motivation to take them somewhere. The lack of independence/control of their own lives/choices seems likely to be mega-stressful, even if it’s all they’ve ever known. And the lack of exercise can’t be good for them.

      [Edit: this isn’t completely true. I see teenagers walking to and from the local high school. But it sure seems to be the way that life stage is being described in the media.]

      • You’ve got a point. It isn’t just that people do less of the hard hitting exercise. They do less of what we might call banal exercise. Just walking to the store is good for you.

        Here’s my mental model for how this works: the younger you are, the more energy you have. The more energy you have, the more you need to let it out in some way. People used to, at the very least, walk around and of course, there was sports and physical labor and that sort of thing. But now, it’s much rarer. There are fewer venues to just naturally exercise and all that energy turns inwards and manifests itself as anxiety. Our body is trying to tell us that we need to go do something but we aren’t getting the message. And maybe that’s why we live in a society that is much better in many ways to the past but where teenagers have so much anxiety.

      • Spookykou says:

        My impression is that teen anxiety is up internationally, but I am sure teens in Seoul walk a lot more than teens in the USA. Could other Korean social factors be counter balancing the benefits of more ‘exercise’, probably, but I often hear this, exercise cures anxiety, thing full stop. If it just helps people who actually have nothing to be anxious about, then that is neat and all, but not nearly as helpful.

    • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

      When I were a lad, we had mandatory PE, and that was the main thing that made me anxious.

  46. Three Year Lurker says:

    For any astronomers within the observable comments, some questions.

    1. What is the magnitude of the effect of gravitational redshift on observed orbits of bodies? Particularly how does it affect how fast we observe galaxies spinning?

    2. Considering a black hole event horizon as the bottom of a gravity well (infinite gravitational redshift, time passes infinitely slowly), would an object outside of any gravitational influence experience time infinitely fast compared to us? In other words, we observe zero time passing for an object at an event horizon, and infinite time passing for an object outside of gravity.

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      I had a theory that black holes didn’t even have singularities but were just hollow shells (it’d look the same from the outside) but then I remembered that the black hole needs the singularity to form in the first place.

      I’m the same non-physicist that commented on your last post, but I’d enjoy hearing whatever crackpot end-goal these questions are working towards.

      Obligatory: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        Because I’m posting anyway:

        Crackpot level 1: time is slowing down. The reason it looks like galaxies further away are moving faster isn’t because of the metric expansion of space, its because the light hitting us was from before time slowed, back when the universe was faster. The whole universe slows at the same rate, so things further away will always look like they’re moving faster.

        From the inside, on a human level, we wouldn’t even notice time is slowing down because we’re in time. We might not even notice when time stops completely, we’d just stop. Using what we know about how much faster further galaxies are moving, we can calculate exactly when time slows down to zero.

        Crackpot level +5: Quantum effects are acausal and achronal–when the universe slows down, the quantum effects that cause human cognition do not. This is why humans are always getting smarter, and why civilization took so long. As time slows down, we will become incomprehensibly smart. Until we are trapped like flies in amber, but still aware that we can no longer experience stimulus from the universe.

        • fibio says:

          I really want to read a short story based on that second idea.

          • johan_larson says:

            If you’re more than casually interested, you could contact one of the really science-focused SF writers, like Greg Egan, and commission a story. The going rate for short fiction is about 10 cents per word, so a 4000-word story would set you back just $400.

        • Soy Lecithin says:

          If time slowed down, the time between “successive updates” coming from past galaxies would increase by exactly the ratio that time for us slowed down. So the net effect would be that we observe the galaxies the same as if time had not slowed down.

      • Three Year Lurker says:

        I read astronomy wikipedia articles whenever my mind wanders at work. I like thinking of crackpot ideas to pass the time.

        Crackpot question 2 should have been: What is the shape of the graph of escape velocity (X) vs gravitational redshift (Y)? There’s an asymptote to infinite redshift at escape velocity c, but what about 0? If something is completely unaffected by gravity, does time pass infinitely fast for it?

        Crackpot goal is that dark matter isn’t real. Galaxies look like they’re spinning too fast on the edges because time passes faster on the edge of the galaxy due to the lower mass density.
        Time and gravity are interlinked, time cannot meaningfully pass outside of a gravitational field or when the field is too dense.

        • smocc says:

          An explanation for dark matter has to deal with all of the evidence we have for dark matter, which now goes well beyond rotation curves. You also need to explain the lensing evidence for dark matter, where more gravitational lensing happens in a given spot than you can explain given the visible matter in that spot. And you need to explain the cosmological evidence for dark matter, which is that when you put “amount of matter” as a fit parameter in models of cosmological expansion you get significantly more matter than we can see.

          An excellent razor for alternative dark matter theories is the Bullet Cluster, where we see that two galaxies have collided. In the collision we can see that the visible matter has clumped together, but if you look at the amount of lensing you can see that most of the mass is invisible and in two separate chunks outside the collected visible matter. This is really easy to explain with dark matter as weakly interacting matter that simply ignored the collision and kept going. I have no idea how to explain with matter-less theories.

  47. theodidactus says:

    This is a random thought that occurs to me now and then, which is probably only worth something in the context of the .25 and .75 open threads. It might be relevant for a novel I’d like to write someday, as its a thought experiment involving truly cartoonish acquisition of wealth on the level of scrooge mcduck, probably not possible now, but maybe someday…

    Bill Gates is worth 90 billion, give or take. Let’s say everyone votes to take Bill Gate’s money, and we find enough loopholes and friendly judges to satisfy due process concerns, and it’s redistributed equally. That’s like…$200-$300 a person, give or take. Hardly worth the effort. An abstract principle, for the average voter, is certainly “worth” less than $200, and there are a lot of legislative and judicial hoops to jump through which supply inefficiencies…

    But what if Bill Gates was worth 90 TRILLION. Now it’s 200,000-300,000 a person. Serious money, worth years upon years of effort to the average voter. What rational argument, political loyalty, or principled belief about politics withstands $200,000? It’s worth taking, and the public *will* find a way to take it.

    There is a belief that concentrated wealth is incompatible with democratic societies because once the elites have enough power, they start running everything…I propose reversing the paradigm: concentrated wealth is incompatible with democratic societies because when the wealth becomes concentrated enough society will find a way to take it.

    Two related questions, mostly again for a fictional scenario: what is the “breakpoint” where it becomes worth talking about literally taking a single person’s money and redistributing it, and what humorous name can be given to the breakpoint?

    • Eric T says:

      What stops this Bill Gates, who possesses more money than the entire country, from hiring an army of goons, bribing politicians, threatening judges, or otherwise taking his money and fucking off to a fleet of aircraft carriers?

      • theodidactus says:

        My thought experiment might actually reveal more about “optimum bribes” or “optimum cronyism” than voter dynamics actually. Like at what point is it better for super-Gates to just accede to a 50% taking rather than pay for all the armed guards, aircraft carriers, laser defenses, etc.

        I mean, it’s kinda ridiculous as a basic premise because super-Gates could literally like, hire the US and Chinese military to protect himself with this kind of money.

        Realistically, this future scenario would look more like “an Amazon-like infrastructure of super-servant-robots” or “an AI that can diagnose and cure all diseases” rather than “literally 90 billion dollars in a scrooge mcDuck vault” but I think the same calculus is involved either way

        • Guy in TN says:

          @Eric T

          What stops this Bill Gates, who possesses more money than the entire country, from hiring an army of goons, bribing politicians, threatening judges, or otherwise taking his money and fucking off to a fleet of aircraft carriers?

          @theodidactus

          I mean, it’s kinda ridiculous as a basic premise because super-Gates could literally like, hire the US and Chinese military to protect himself with this kind of money.

          Consider this: A single gun, aimed well, can convince a trillionare to part ways with every dollar they have. Even a Bill Gates worth $90 trillion isn’t allowed to have the tanks, missiles, bombs, and fighter jets that the state has. Money alone is not power- the state has purposefully granted itself access to capital that money can’t legally buy.

          Bill Gates, the individual human, is not very powerful. Perhaps even less powerful than the average human. However, Bill Gates + his property is very powerful. So clearly, it is the access to his property that is doing the bulk of the work here in terms of his power.

          But where does the power of his property come from? A good chunk, perhaps nearly all of it, comes from the state, which allows him to utilize that property, under threat of force against others who would wish to use it.

          If the state decided that Gates should have no property, what percentage of the property that he has now do you think he could reasonably get away with illegally controlling? I’m going to guess no more than he can stuff in a suitcase, and maybe not even that.

          In summary: Your analysis assumes that Gates would be able to overthrow/fight the state utilizing the very property that the state is enabling him to have. A Bill Gates worth $90 trillion does not continue to be worth $90 trillion after the state decides it should be otherwise.

          • Eric T says:

            Presumably, with that much money SuperGates could buy from other states? Or bribe individual actors within the state (generals, soldiers, politicians) to act against state interests.

            Or he could leave to a friendlier state the moment he sees the tides moving against him, taking his fabulous wealth and severely damaging the US economy.

            Maybe if the population wakes up one day and all decide to turn on SuperGates at once he wont be able to react. But presuming that it takes some amount of time, SuperGates can throw trillions of dollars to slow, stall out, propagandize, bribe, or flee as he sees fit.

          • abystander says:

            I saw an estimate of the land value of the contiguous 48 states to be $23 trillion. To get to $90 trillion we’re talking LexCorp level of dominance, with the person being the state whether directly or through figure heads

    • rumham says:

      $20k. The Yang Gangway.

    • Well... says:

      Isn’t this kinda a basic reason why totalitarian dictatorships are unstable?

      • theodidactus says:

        I suppose, given the right analysis. I think a lot of the instability comes from the totalitarian part, not necessarily the “unequal” part…lots of people hate the state because their brother got killed because he was protesting that his friend got killed etc.

        …but I suppose the core resentment does still boil down to concentrated resources.

        • fibio says:

          I think you’re looking at it backwards. While there’s a fairly popular conception of brave rebels standing up after a grave insult, most absolutist states fell because of an interplay of economic and social reasons driving the powerful apart.

          For example, the French Revolution is often portrayed as the peoples’ quest for liberty, but it was about bread first. The hunger of the lower classes, the desire for new privileges and status in the urbane classes, and the dissatisfaction the power holders had with the ancien regime, all added up to the overthrow of the government. However, no one was particularly aiming for that goal in the outset. If the state had been able to feed the people then the people would have been fine with the tyranny, as they had been for generations. Same for the middle classes, if they had been granted a political voice commensurate to their new status they’d have gone home. And if the government had been able to organise a piss up in a brewery then the upper classes would have been content to let things continue on as normal.

          Tyranny falls when the regime is no longer able to keep the key stake holders in government content. And even then, usually a new tyranny replaces it rather than anything resembling liberty.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      There probably isn’t a single breakpoint. There is a huge difference in taxation and spending levels across various advanced nations, that are probably based on a whole bunch of different factors. Whatever this “breakpoint” is, it’s gotta be higher in the US than in Sweden, and it’s higher in Sweden than in North Korea (because Kim Jong Un is going to take all your stuff LONG before you get to your first trillion).

      Also, where is this capital located, and in what form is it? Because I am going to hold a significant portion of my assets in things that are not so easily seized, and definitely not so easily seized by one government. And if your government starts signaling that it wants to take me hostage in order to get all my stuff, I can just leave your country and go to a different country more respectful of my innate human rights.

      • theodidactus says:

        It’s interesting to think about the capital/asset literally being encryption-protected, either as some novel cryptocurrency or an automated shipping/recieving/manufacturing infrastructure beholden to a single person with the access codes. How far would consequentialists go in “extracting” the codes

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          This capital is presumably in the form of money, correct? Which is essentially a promise that other people will give SuperGates goods and services. You can’t encrypt goods and services.

          So, what’s to stop any government, or any person, from ignoring all that promise and just refusing to take SuperGates’ money? The only thing I can think of is that they’re afraid of pissing off all the other governments and people. But if SuperGates has managed to look like a threat to that many people, isn’t that defection going to look more attractive?

          • John Schilling says:

            SuperGates can give money to people who are NBt the United States Government, in exchange for goods and services. Since the United States Government tells approximately everyone who is Not MegaBill Supergates, “hey btw you owe us $$$ in taxes, payable only in United States Dollars, or else we will put you in jail”, it seems fairly likely that SuperGates will be able to find people willing to give him goods and services in exchange for his stash of dollars.

            And dollars – money generally – represents only a fraction of his capital anyway.

    • baconbits9 says:

      What is Bill Gates worth if you strip him of all his stock? What is that stock worth now? Its not 90 billion.

      • AG says:

        This. If Amazon Cloud Services buys another server, Jeff Bezos’s worth goes up, in a way that can’t be redistributed without erasing that worth. Selling that same server off will go for less than the value it added to Jeff Bezos’s worth.

        • B says:

          Yeah, you can’t just confiscate businesses and then sell them off for actual money. At least not to anyone you’d be able to confiscate it back from.

    • Garrett says:

      Yes. But the conclusion I draw from this isn’t that billionaires (or trillionaires) are a bad idea. It’s that Democracy is a bad idea.

      • theodidactus says:

        I’m not sure I think it proves either are a “bad idea” in theory. In principle, we have a lot of legal protections that prevent direct takings of the A->B variety (though arguably over the last few decades these have eroded)

        I guess my counterargument would be that current western liberal democracy provides mechanisms to make this taking, which would occur in any system, a bit more nuanced. So if we make the 90 trillion dollars something more realistic: The Meditron 5000, an AI that can instantly diagnose and provide a treatment for a given disease that is certain to work, tailored to the individual in question. If Super-Gates has developed the Meditron through toil and labor over decades, and wants to withhold it to make some profit, I think a democracy is far more likely to simply tax (perhaps a lot) his use of the Meditron, at the worst order some kinda weird price-capping, whereas some kind of king or whatever is just gonna take it and order it made available on his own terms.

        • John Schilling says:

          If Super-Gates lives under the rule of such a king, the Meditron 5000 will be at best a trade secret that bricks itself if it doesn’t get the right code from Super-Gates every month.

  48. Eric T says:

    In what might become a continuing series of me yelling about space into the void – that Boeing Starliner failure a couple months ago is worse than it initially seemed. Everyone who has a passing interest in spaceflight knows that there are an immense amount of “failed” launches, usually in the testing phase. I remember when every other SpaceX launch seemed to fail — its part of the design process. But Boeing had a much more public failure back in December when it successfully launched, but failed to correctly dock with the ISS. At the time, any number of other things were blamed, but now NASA is basically accusing Boeing of skipping a full end-to-end test. While they are allowed to do this (NASA just has to approve the testing, there isn’t a specific guideline) it’s a pretty standard test. If you code, this is like the equivalent of checking that all the different pieces of your code work in a vacuum, but not checking if it works once you put it all together.

    This was especially bad for Boeing when it happened because this was the uncrewed test that was supposed to demonstrate they could send crew to the ISS. Their main competitor, SpaceX, performed a successful test all the way back in March. With news that they may have cut corners on safety checks for the 737, and the recent crash, it caps off a spectacularly bad year for Boeing, with their stock in a near year-long decline and it wouldn’t surprise me if this news hurts their stock price even more.

    The one thing NASA really cares about is astronaut safety. Whether that’s for altruistic reasons, or because astronauts dying is a bad look is up for you to decide. But there is no world where NASA lets Boeing fly a capsule crewed up to the ISS before demonstrating a successful unmanned test, so they better hope they get it right next time.

    • rumham says:

      In what might become a continuing series of me yelling about space into the void

      Please continue yelling. There is no more interesting field to me, and that includes my own.

    • gbdub says:

      The article says such testing may have caught the error, not that it definitely would have. Given that the primary error was the Starliner’s internal clock being off by 11 hours, it is not clear how more thoroughly testing the interface with Atlas V would have caused that.

      An end-to-end, full duration test between Starliner and Atlas V (two complex machines built by different people in different places) is not trivial. Whether it is worthwhile very much depends on how much actual software interfacing occurs between the two vehicles (for many satellites, the communication between the rocket and payload may consist of only a couple very simple signals easily simulated). Now maybe there are details here that make the failure to test more serious, but I don’t really trust an article in general interest press coverage to capture the nuance.

      Smart people at NASA reviewed Boeing’s plan and said it was reasonable – they didn’t “skip” the test, they made a decision not to do it and had that decision approved. Now obviously there were serious “escapes” from Boeing’s testing, but that likely has more to do with a failure of test cases or data review rather than what major tests they chose to run. Boeing definitely screwed up, but pointing to this one test as indicating they are especially negligent, and the “I’m not going to connect this to the 737 MAX, but did you know that Boeing had a software failure that crashed two planes” is a bit of a leap.

      As you note, failures are fairly common in new space vehicles. Most seem obvious in retrospect. SpaceX blew up a capsule because they clearly didn’t do enough testing with the check valves on their hypergolic lines. They had a rocket fall apart in midair because they “skipped” acceptance testing of important structural members. They lost a payload in a pad fire because they did a wet dress with the payload integrated. All of these seem like bad decisions after the fact – but testing is expensive, time consuming, difficult, and sometimes risky. You always have to make trade offs or you never fly.

      • matthewravery says:

        You don’t do full-up testing because it’s guaranteed to catch every possible failure mode. You do it because it regularly catches failures that all of your component- and subcomponent-level tests missed. Interoperability testing is also critical, since different subsystems that need to interoperate are often built by different contractors or different groups within the same contract, and they don’t always play nice together. All of these tests are expensive and time consuming, so government program managers and contractors alike try to find ways to get out of them at every opportunity. This behavior doesn’t surprise me, and I’m just happy that no one’s life was on the line in this particular case.

      • Eric T says:

        The point about the 737 was more about the public narrative. Obviously these are two separate divisions of Boeing, but you cannot deny it’s a bad look for the public, and therefore at least some investors, to hear this story so soon after hearing the story about them potentially skipping the 737 testing. One story in a vacuum is bad. Both and people may start to see a pattern, regardless of if it is actually there.

        As for the validity of the test, it is true the test wasnt required by NASA. And I never said it would catch every issue, but my understanding is that every previous launch that’s a joint effort with NASA and an independent agency has done some form of full end to end test as a final verification. Its an odd test to not do even if it wasn’t required. The mission clock being wrong may actually have been a blessing in disguise as the safety panel found another issue some weeks ago that could have lead to an in-space collision.

        Look you’re right that you cant test forever. But this launch had a lot more on the line for Boeing than your average rocket test, and the company was already suffering from negative public perception, which makes them not doing a particular, common, safety test weird.

        • Lambert says:

          My comment about the thruster issue with the SM seems to have been eaten.

          But note what Scott Manley pointed out: both these issues were in parts of the code they expect to run every mission. I don’t have high hopes for the code that handles aborts, contingencies and weird edge cases.

  49. actinide meta says:

    Do we have any idea how many cases of the novel coronavirus are present in the U.S.?

    The CDC’s current criteria for testing require someone to display symptoms AND either have visited China in the last 2 weeks or have had close contact with a *laboratory confirmed* case. On the face of it, these criteria seem to rule out detection of community transmission of the virus almost by definition: a chain of transmission could only be detected if every single person in the chain displays symptoms and shows up for testing, in order.

    The CDC says that 445 people have been tested, total, in the U.S.

    According to some sources, the CDC would like to change their criteria to “test anyone who has severe flu symptoms and tests negative for flu”. But this would require a massive increase in testing capacity, and the US apparently doesn’t even have the capacity to keep up with the extremely low rate of testing demanded by the current requirements. Apparently there is a backlog of several days.

    Apparently the FDA has used emergency powers to forbid public and private labs from devising their own tests for the virus using the RT-PCR machines they already have. The FDA *has* authorized the use of a specific test kit disseminated by the CDC, but apparently this protocol doesn’t work. (Depending on source, some 3-12 labs besides the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters have validated it, out of 100+ that received it). The CDC hasn’t delivered an updated version of the protocol after 3 weeks. The FDA has also not authorized the importation of commercial test kits from Europe or Asia.

    So on the face of it, the only way to identify an outbreak of the virus in the US would be the Mark I Eyeballs of hospital clinicians. I don’t have a good feel for how difficult this is, but from what I’ve heard a bad case of the new virus looks a lot like a really bad case of influenza and pneumonia – the big difference is in the percentage of severe cases. If so, it might be very difficult to identify an outbreak until the *number* of patients with pneumonia in a community starts to change dramatically, which given that this is flu season might represent a huge number of total infections.

    Other countries, even with orders of magnitude more testing capacity than the US, seem to have missed community transmission until many people have been infected – it seems like the pattern is that one case is detected (a case which the CDC would presumably refuse to test, since their route of infection is initially unknown) and then contact tracing quickly reveals hundreds of other cases.

    I’m very far from an expert in this area, and I feel like I’ve had to put together my understanding of these issues from lots of different sources because this isn’t being reported very aggressively. I have trouble understanding how this is anything less than front page news. Does anyone have any better insight into what is going on, or an explanation of why this situation is less terrible than it sounds?

    Also, if we have incredibly limited testing capacity, is there any reason why you wouldn’t just mix all the flu surveillance network samples from a city together and test the result? At least that would give you one bit of information (“Is the coronavirus at large in this city?”)

    • Purplehermann says:

      What’s worse for a government, 2% of its citizens dying to a worldwide pandemic quietly, or economic shutdown and widespread panic?

      • Tarpitz says:

        Highly doubt it will be even remotely close to 2% of citizens. That assumes literally everyone gets infected and the death rate holds up if they do.

        • metacelsus says:

          The death rate would probably increase if many people were infected at once, due to saturation of hospital resources.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Trying to cover up the epidemic just to have it blow up in your face is probably much worse for a government than admitting its existence, especially if you are seeking reelection in a few months.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        2% is a lot of people. The idea that the US, for example, could lose six million people quietly and without a panic sounds like it’s postulating a fundamentally different world than the one that exists.

    • Garrett says:

      > the FDA has used emergency powers to forbid public and private labs from devising their own tests for the virus using the RT-PCR machines they already have.

      Wait. What? Is there a citation and rationalization for this? Because this sounds like an incredibly bad idea to me.

      • actinide meta says:

        Citation: Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb on Twitter (several weeks ago).

        Rationalization: Your guess is as good as mine, but “false negatives and false positives from inaccurate tests can have serious public health consequences in an emergency, so we need to make good decisions about which tests to use” sounds like the kind of argument that would make sense to the same people that favor every other disastrous government intervention.

        Edit: The FDA’s own words

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      It should be front page news, but my guess(!) is that journalists feel that “the responsible thing” to do is to not cause a panic in the populace or fail to understand the situation themselves.

      The situation is however not quite as bleak as your post makes it seem:
      It should be noted that the guidelines themselves are the same in Germany and afaik Italy, but at least Germany did more testing than the US, although not by an order of magnitude more.
      The recent new cases in Italy and Germany were discovered when critically ill patients presented themselves in hospitals. They were then tested despite not matching the criteria in the guidelines, which to me suggests that there will not be more than a couple of deaths due to the new virus until somebody would notice, at least in Western states.

      Since death however can take quite a long time for the new virus, the number of infected people might be substantial, to the point that containment measures will probably not work anymore, see the case of Italy where over the course of one week almost a 1000 cases were discovered. But still the chance of one *personally* contracting the virus in the US is probably pretty low for now.

  50. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I need simple but realistic travel rates for an RPG. I’m using cells 6 miles across, so a person’s view even on flat grassland doesn’t include other cells (unless they climb a hill or tree).
    I know fit people can march 24 miles a day, encumbered, over flat terrain. Since hikers can do the 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail in as little as 150 days, crossing mountains should only reduce that to 18 miles a day. Horses only let you cover 1 extra cell of flat terrain unless you ride them to death or for some reason use them as “boosters”, riding them 24-30 miles in the first couple hours of daylight then leaving them with hirelings while you walk.
    But how much should distance covered be reduced by snow on the ground? What if you try to cross wetlands or swamp (forest wetlands) without a boat?

    • Eric T says:

      For a long time I ran the Pathfinder RPG “Kingmaker” which uses a Hex based system, though they were 12 Miles across.

      This was the timetable it gave me. Seemed fine, played 2 years without anyone complaining. So just like, halve everything I guess?

    • Lambert says:

      For mountains, you could always give an altitude figure and use Naismith’s Rule (1 hour/2000′ up). But the real issue with mountains is that you’ve got to squiggle around passes and ridges and not fall off cliffs, so you can’t compare travel on a grid system to travel along a trail. Also weather means that sometimes your options are to stay put or die.

      Snow really depends on the amount. 25% penalty sounds reasonable. (note that avalances and walking along cornices can temporarily result in extreme increases in speed, in a downwards direction.)

      Wetlands are bastards. That’s all I’ll say.

      Now I want to find some hikers/tabletop gamers and work out how to play an RPG on an Ordnance Survey map using realistic route planning.

      • theodidactus says:

        I kinda did this. I had a D20 Modern quest set in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wildnerness and used an accurate canoeing map for game map.

        • metacelsus says:

          Ooh cool! As someone who’s canoed in the BWCAW many times, I’d be interested in hearing more.

          • theodidactus says:

            In college I DM-ed a D20 modern campaign where the characters played (slightly) idealized versions of themselves. In one quest, they had to contact a Genus Loci that knew a fact relevant to a larger arc in the campaign. The only way to contact the Genus Loci was to speak to a certain tree on a certain island on a “lost” quetico lake. The ritual could only be done “in the summer months, on a day and in the hour of jupiter, before sunrise” and the party quickly realized that this meant the ritual could only be done on one particular (fast approaching) day, or they’d have to wait a whole nother year…

            so a rapid journey to that particular location begins. most of the quest involved the “shot” from saganaga down to knife lake around the canadian border. Our heroes tangled with militia, and demonic voygeur-ghosts, before arriving at a fictional lake northeast of Birch Lake, just in time to perform the ritual.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        For mountains, you could always give an altitude figure and use Naismith’s Rule (1 hour/2000′ up). But the real issue with mountains is that you’ve got to squiggle around passes and ridges and not fall off cliffs, so you can’t compare travel on a grid system to travel along a trail.

        Yeah, definitely, but if I put down Mountain on a map, I want a simple rule for it.

        Also weather means that sometimes your options are to stay put or die.

        And there should be random weather checks to force this.

        Snow really depends on the amount. 25% penalty sounds reasonable. (note that avalances and walking along cornices can temporarily result in extreme increases in speed, in a downwards direction.)

        Thanks. 🙂

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      I would be cautious about basing your numbers on PCT hikers; they tend to be optimizing for speed and encumbrance, which is not the case for most RPG characters. I would put mountains at no more than 12 miles per day.

      Deep snow and marshy ground (that will soak you to your shins but not let you boat through) will probably slow you further, to what I’d peg at no more than 8 miles per day in full gear. You can do a lot better the more lightly equipped you are, of course, and the better-provisioned.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I would be cautious about basing your numbers on PCT hikers; they tend to be optimizing for speed and encumbrance, which is not the case for most RPG characters. I would put mountains at no more than 12 miles per day.

        Hmm, maybe 24 flat-12 mountain for encumbered characters, but 36 flat-18 mountain if you wear no armor and otherwise only as encumbered as PCT hikers?

        Deep snow and marshy ground (that will soak you to your shins but not let you boat through) will probably slow you further, to what I’d peg at no more than 8 miles per day in full gear.

        Cool, thanks.

        • Hoopyfreud says:

          Keep in mind “the PCT schedule” assumes you’re running incredibly light. A typical total carry weight is about 20 pounds. Here’s a video to demonstrate what that looks like.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Yeah… strong, conditioned adventurers would have to be capped at 20 pounds of encumbrance for that pace. I’m open to being convinced that’s a death sentence with pre-modern gear weights.

          • B says:

            Aren’t most RPG adventurers literal superhumans, though?

    • Eric Rall says:

      Sanford’s ORBIS tool for estimating travel times in the Roman world uses the following travel rates over roads, regardless of season or terrain:

      Foot: 30 km/day = 18.6 miles = 3 cells
      Oxcart: 12 km/day = 7.5 miles = 1.2 cell
      Horse: 56 km/day = 36 miles = 5.9 cells
      Fast Carriage: 62 km/day = 39 miles = 6.5 cells
      Horse Relay: 250 km/day = 155 miles = 25.8 cells
      Rapid Military March: 60 km/day = 37 miles = 6.2 cells

      They do let you specify seasons, but it looks like that’s only implemented as far as closing off routes that would be impassible or prohibitively dangerous in a given season.

      The don’t model terrain effects, since they only consider roads and water routes. The main obstacles from terrain going cross-country are probably going to be 1) fatigue from climbing up and down rough terrain, which you’re already modeling, 2) terrain obstacles stopping you from going in a straight line, and 3) the difficulty of slogging through wetlands or dense underbrush. I don’t have any numbers for you, unfortunately, but maybe something I said might jog someone else’s memory.

      • theodidactus says:

        I was going to suggest this. This has been *so* helpful for fantasy writing.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        That’s awesome. Everything looks like what I’d expect except 18.6 mile foot, though that’s totally reasonable depending on whose feet. I would also round horse, fast carriage/chariot and “Rapid Military March” all to 36 miles/day for simplicity.

    • Tenacious D says:

      In the War of 1812, there was a long winter march that averaged around 20 km per day.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Very helpful, thanks.

      • DarkTigger says:

        This is true, for large bodies of people, who are forced to form a colloumn, wait for scouting reports, get out of the colloumn etc.
        Also you have to consider that the shear quantity of people horses and wagons deteriorated the roads of the time.

        None of this would be true for the common D&D Fantasy-SpecOp-Team.

    • bean says:

      I’d be extremely skeptical of using minimum-time PCT numbers for two reasons. First, those kind of people are not particularly representative of the general population. I’ve done a couple of 12+ mile days with a pack over rugged (if not quite mountainous) terrain, and it’s not easy. Yes, even at the time I wasn’t in the shape an adventurer would be, but the sort of people who set time records on the PCT are probably more lightly loaded than a typical adventurer and definitely are way more into fitness. Second, as Lambert points out, mountains aren’t going to let you march in a straight line. Exactly how not straight the line is varies (among other things with your navigational skills) but I’d say that’s going to cost you at least 50%, maybe 100% or more. 24 miles/day on the strategic map really only works if your navigation is good and you’re on a very flat area. In terms of overland distance, I’d suggest maybe 18 miles/day as the norm, falling to 12 in serious hills and 6 in mountains.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Second, as Lambert points out, mountains aren’t going to let you march in a straight line. Exactly how not straight the line is varies (among other things with your navigational skills) but I’d say that’s going to cost you at least 50%, maybe 100% or more. 24 miles/day on the strategic map really only works if your navigation is good and you’re on a very flat area. In terms of overland distance, I’d suggest maybe 18 miles/day as the norm, falling to 12 in serious hills and 6 in mountains.

        6 miles seems implausibly harsh. 100% penalty for winding mountain trails seems quite reasonable though.

        • bean says:

          I think that depends heavily on how good your navigation is. If you’re following a road or otherwise have good knowledge of the terrain (like a topographic map), then 12 miles/day for adventurers is quasi-reasonable. If you don’t, and have to judge the terrain based solely on what you can see, then you’re going to have lots of trouble. “It turns out that the saddle between those two mountains we were aiming for lets out over a very steep ravine. We can either try to cross it, which will be hazardous and time-consuming, or backtrack and find another route.”

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Oh yeah, for sure.
            Hrm, I suppose 100% penalty (i.e. 12 miles/day) if you can’t reasonably get lost due to being led through a mountain hex a party member (Ranger type, hired guide) has been through before, otherwise a 6-mile cell takes all day. Plus a percentage chance to fail to move in the cardinal direction you attempted if no one has the woodlore to keep the cardinal directions straight?

    • acymetric says:

      I need simple but realistic travel rates for an RPG. I’m using cells 6 miles across, so a person’s view even on flat grassland doesn’t include other cells (unless they climb a hill or tree).

      Or walk to the edge of the cell?

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      A quick note, on the off chance that yours or any other reader’s calculations prove too far from the mark: if travel time plays this critical a role in your upcoming campaign, then unique hazards such as treacherous cliffsides, windy rivers, or toxic swamps can serve as excellent caps to travel rates in case you’ve miscalculated and the party is going too fast, as they also permit the players to roleplay traversing them. Same with opportunities for fast travel in case they’re falling behind – a wandering herd of wild horses, a passing merchant, or more exotic events if the setting permits (giant eagles and Moria being the textbook examples).

      If you’re just handling this with a 30-second paragraph exposition, of course, these precautions won’t be necessary. But they could make the setting more interesting.

      • Deiseach says:

        I’ve always liked Tolkien’s descriptions in The Lord of the Rings of the sheer slogging when traversing all kinds of terrain that the Hobbits have to do; from their shortcut at the start immediately going wrong to the crossing of the Midgewater Marshes, which Strider undertakes in order to cut off a loop of road and get in as straight a line to Weathertop as fast as they can do:

        The ground now became damp, and in places boggy and here and there they came upon pools, and wide stretches of reeds and rushes filled with the warbling of little hidden birds. They had to pick their way carefully to keep both dry-footed and on their proper course. At first they made fair progress, but as they went on, their passage became slower and more dangerous. The marshes were bewildering and treacherous, and there was no permanent trail even for Rangers to find through their shifting quagmires. The flies began to torment them, and the air was full of clouds of tiny midges that crept up their sleeves and breeches and into their hair.

        …They spent a miserable day in this lonely and unpleasant country. Their camping-place was damp, cold, and uncomfortable; and the biting insects would not let them sleep. There were also abominable creatures haunting the reeds and tussocks that from the sound of them were evil relatives of the cricket. There were thousands of them, and they squeaked all round, neek-breek, breek-neek, unceasingly all the night, until the hobbits were nearly frantic.

        It’s not dangerous or even particularly difficult, it’s just tiring and annoying and all the discomforts of camping out in the wild, as well as trying to keep on a straight line when there isn’t any straight line you can keep to – that takes a lot of mental attention and focus which is equally fatiguing as the physical labour.

  51. Well... says:

    I’ve been listening to Jaybee Lobsterman’s “Dozen Rules for Living” audiobook, read by the author, and…am I mistaken in thinking I’m hearing him crying in the last part of Rule 7??

    (BTW, I always have fun with these anti-search obfuscations of certain names and terms, but I’m unclear on whether they’re still considered etiquette here. I remember Scott asking for them, but I don’t remember him saying “All clear, you can go back to writing it normally.” But I might have just missed it.)

    • Aapje says:

      If you google ’12 rules peterson crying,’ you will see that other people also think that he is crying.

      • Well... says:

        I did that, but on DDG, not Google. Maybe that’s why I didn’t see anything in the first few pages.

        Anyway, I found this extremely awkward. I think I can imagine a couple (possibly mutually exclusive) reasons why he decided to keep that take in, and there are probably many audience members who thought it added positively to the experience, but I guess I’m just not one of them.

        But it raises interesting questions about what is the best way to narrate an audiobook.

        • Aapje says:

          I tried to switch to DDG, but it didn’t give me the results I was looking for.

          I found a lot of threads on Reddit about it. Perhaps DDG disfavors Reddit?

          • Well... says:

            OK, I just read through one of those Reddit threads…looks like I’m the only one who found it awkward. Everyone there thought it was powerful and enriching.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Reddit rate-limits the hell out of crawlers (including Google’s). So reddit coverage tends to be spotty on search engines.

    • Anteros says:

      Jaybee Lobsterman works for me. I think everybody who is interested knows who you mean, and it avoids whatever problems that were caused by using his real name. Which of course I’ve completely forgotten …

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Peterson was never an asked-for obfuscation. People just did his for fun.

    • Aftagley says:

      Tangential Discussion: What the heck is going on in the world of the Lobsterman. I don’t follow him too closely, but the news that’s filtered into my bubble over the last m