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Open Thread 149

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

1. Comment of the week is knzhou on using zinc to treat colds and coronavirus. Also check out PhilH’s Less Wrong post on zinc for the common cold.

2. On the last links post, I linked an article by researcher Mark Ledwich describing a study he did debunking YouTube “algorithmic radicalization”, but expressed some concerns about the way he communicated it. He’s responded to those concerns in a comment here.

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1,200 Responses to Open Thread 149

  1. indigo says:

    It seems kabbalistically interesting that the “Princess” line of cruise ships has featured so prominently in the “crown virus” outbreak.

  2. Futhington says:

    Posting here more or less to maybe call Scott’s attention to it, as it seems like the kind of thing he’d be interested in.

    https://twitter.com/iandonald_psych/status/1238518371651649538
    https://twitter.com/AdamJKucharski/status/1238418007824764930
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/13/behavioural-scientists-form-new-front-in-battle-against-coronavirus

    Some twitter threads and an article on how the UK government’s response to the Corona Virus is rooted in some fascinating mathematical modelling and psychology techniques.

  3. Lambert says:

    Anybody know some good fonts/font combinations for printed academic/technical writing?
    Preferably ones that are easy to \usepackage into pdflatex.
    Also I have a soft spot for geometric sans-serifs like Futura and Erbar Grotesk. Has a kind of Wirtschaftwunder æsthetic.

  4. zenojjones says:

    Alright, so to continue my look into mining and mining communities before WWII, below is a link looking at the poverty and hardships of everyday living these people faced. I began thinking a lot about how famous tenement housing and urban poverty in major cities is widely taught in schools here in the US, but rural poverty other than the Great Depression is largely ignored. What other things in history get focused on or ignored because of their proximity to major cities?

    Dark as a Dungeon- Mining in Appalachian Kentucky: Part 2

    • Thegnskald says:

      Rural poverty is still largely ignored, although it appears more people are starting to become aware of it.

      When people connect the dots between rural poverty, minimum wage (and indeed any policy which favors centralization, which is most of them), and network effects… well, it tends to encourage people to not pay attention to rural poverty.

      • AG says:

        There may be a level of cognitive dissonance between the material markers of what city dwellers consider poor living and what rural poverty, given that the hazards of financial instability from a renter is very different from financial instability in the country. To the city dweller, the rural poor appear to still have several things that city dweller desires, and not see the things that the rural poor lack in the tradeoff.

        • zenojjones says:

          This is a really good point. And I guess now that I’m thinking about it more (and hearing more about coronavirus every minute of the day), the threat of disease in cramped conditions was obviously more severe.

    • Matt M says:

      Thanks. I’ve enjoyed reading these.

  5. Ketil says:

    Our current pandemic is caused by a virus that is of the same family as SARS in 2003.
    While everybody is trying to limit the spread of the current disease, could it be an advantage to get infected and thus immunity? SARS was at least ten times as lethal, and it’s not unlikely that the next corona epidemic is much more dangerous. Could immunity to COVID-19 confer some immunity to other, more lethal strains?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Severe_acute_respiratory_syndrome-related_coronavirus

    • Loriot says:

      Obviously coronaviruses != influenzaviruses, but for what it’s worth, the flu viruses change so much that they have to make a new vaccine every year. So immunity doesn’t help with the flu at least.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Isn’t the family that they are both part of also the same family that includes one of the viruses that causes colds?

      Assuming that is correct, I’m not sure the information that they are part of the same family is that informative, since that would lead us to expect that having a cold is a good thing.

      • Ketil says:

        Are we sure that is not? Is there only one strain of flu or colds every year?

        I’m guessing wildly here, but lethality and virulence seem to be two very different things. So next year, we could have several new mutations, some would be different enough that they evade last year’s antibodies (in which case we are no better or worse off), but others might have changed to become much more lethal. If we are too successful at stopping the pandemic, the “lucky” ones that avoided COVID-19 may be many enough that the new virus can spread, and thus not very lucky at all.

        I seem to remember that some flu strains disproportionally affected younger people, and that presumably old folks had the right antibodies from an earlier sweep.

    • serench says:

      There are at least four other endemic coronaviruses that humans do not seem to build up lasting immunity to (that represent ~15 of common colds, and that people seem to get every few years) so it seems unlikely. However SARS is more closely related to COVID than any of those, so it’s possible that COVID exposure could help you if the next outbreak happened to be a similar strain and was soon enough. Better argument would be that a vaccine against coronaviruses might help us both now and against future outbreaks (while also reducing colds by 15%)

      If you want to learn more, there is a publically available seminar given by Dr Mark Denison at Vanderbilt (who studies coronaviruses) that can be found here: https://twitter.com/ISARICAR/status/1234661509277470720

  6. b_jonas says:

    Has Scott ever reported back that the unlikely intervention described in his 2013 article “Can You Condition Yourself?” “https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/05/19/can-you-condition-yourself/” hasn’t worked? Scott has managed to remain a productive blogger for 6 years, while he has a dayjob that doesn’t involve blogging. This is very atypical, most bloggers burn out faster than that. If there’s a simple explanation for how ha managed to be productive, I’d like to know his secret.

    • gph says:

      > Scott has managed to remain a productive blogger for 6 years, while he has a dayjob that doesn’t involve blogging. This is very atypical, most bloggers burn out faster than that. If there’s a simple explanation for how ha managed to be productive, I’d like to know his secret.

      I would guess the secret is that he’s intrinsically motivated to learn/think about ideas and then write-up blog posts on them. Most bloggers that burnout are probably doing it for some mixture of external motivations, e.g. Notoriety, Money, etc.

      Do what you love and it’ll be easy to look super-productive. Unfortunately I (and many others) love being lazy and/or doing other ‘unproductive’ activities. Probably best not to compare and judge yourself for that too harshly.

  7. Clutzy says:

    Star Trek fans:

    Why is it that the military are also the “explorers”? I’ve seen most of OG and TNG and Voyager, but no answer has ever emerged for me.

    This seems like a novel setup based on Earth history.

    • Bugmaster says:

      AFAIK, it’s the other way around: Starfleet is supposed to be an organization of scientists, diplomats, and explorers; but they keep getting shot at, so they had to shoehorn in military training, somehow. This is why Federation starships are so (comparatively) unsuited to combat for the majority of the series. In fact, it took not one but two consecutive existential threats for the Federation to finally develop dedicated Defiant-class warships (though you might not know about them if you haven’t seen DS9, which you should). It’s also why the Federation has little to no ground combat expertise.

      • Spookykou says:

        Tasha Yar said that Star Fleet combat training was unmatched, and this tends to be true in the series where there are several instances of a human fighting one on one with a physically superior often militaristic alien and still winning, and significantly, nobody is ever really surprised by this.

        • DarkTigger says:

          Close combat and hand to hand training is not a bad idea for an explorer who visits posibly hostile places.
          Having idividuals prepared for hand to hand combat, does not make your crews an effective land force, where stuff like unit tactics and combined arms are paramount.

          • Spookykou says:

            Their unit tactics are also fine, every implication is that they beat or matched the Cardassians on basically every front for a while until they agreed to talk peace. Also in the DS9 episode with the crashed Jem Hadar ship they effectively engage in small unit combat with long arms while out numbered, and Jem Hadar are presented as one of the best trained most physically superior alien armed force in Star Trek. If you are talking about some sort of combined arms ww2 style battle with tanks and supply lines and planes, it is not at all clear to me that ground combat looks like that in a world with transporter tech, and orbital supremacy taking the places of air supremacy. I think this is reinforced by there not being any tanks and the only people with fighter jets that are not actually just their space ships are always low tech societies. I think the show did not give a definitive answer as to the Federations ground game, but what implications I can remember are positive. Janeway was part of an ‘away team’ that held a federation colony for weeks against a Cardassian ground assault!

          • DarkTigger says:

            As others said, the Starfleet is modelled after the British Navy in the Age of Sail. Wish famously did train there sailors for hand to hand combat in a way no one else did. So their crews were probably able to fend off, crew’s from other nations, and maybe even forces of some local non-european powers (espacially with support of the ship guns). But would struggle with regular army formations.
            It’s some time since I watched DS9 but IIRC they described Federation forces beeing overrun by Cardassian and Jem’Hardar in the background.

          • Spookykou says:

            Jem Hadar beat the federation in a lot of conflicts but it mostly sounded like a war fought in space. The Cardassians had victories but it always felt like they achieved this by attacking non-military targets. Which is kind of reinforced by all the episodes where they deal with someone who really super hates the Cardassians because they attacked the civilian station where their family was, or similar.

      • John Schilling says:

        AFAIK, it’s the other way around: Starfleet is supposed to be an organization of scientists, diplomats, and explorers; but they keep getting shot at, so they had to shoehorn in military training, somehow.

        So they say. But they also say that they’ve evolved beyond the need for money, but they still play poker and not for matchsticks. Starfleet is a navy that explores when it isn’t fighting, and tailors its propaganda for a liberal-ish audience. Not coincidentally, Starfleet is the creation of a guy who served in the Pacific theater during World War Two and then wound up working in Hollywood.

        • Spookykou says:

          Wait I always assumed the chips they used for poker had no monetary value and just facilitated the rules/customs of the game?

          Edit: For example as a child I played poker with plastic chips my dad got for us, we each got the same number at the start and the goal was just to have more by the end, no money was changing hands.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you’re playing just for fun and/or status, the rules may be the same but the tactics are different because “losing gloriously big” and “slinking away from the table after a marginal defeat” both cost the same. TNG was showing a fantasy version of high-stakes play.

            Or, cynically, showing everyone else taking a dive and pretending that Riker was a badass high-stakes poker player because nobody wants to leave the XO in a bad mood. I mean, one of the other players was a telepath, one a card-counting supercomputer, one had X-ray vision, and even pre-beard Riker still bluffed his way to victory every time?

          • Randy M says:

            To be fair, Troi’s telepathy proved useless is much more high stakes situations than that.
            It’s interesting to wonder if they insisted Data handicap himself (like the time Riker suggests he turn off his “internal chronometer” to test the phrase “a watched pot never boils”). Probably not, because the writers probably assume that there’s enough of an intuitive/emotional component to the game for the humans to have their own advantages.

          • CatCube says:

            @John Schilling

            Data has less of an advantage here. You can’t card count in poker, because the deck is shuffled every hand. That’s a blackjack thing, because your odds change as hands are progressively dealt from the deck until the shoe is exhausted.

            IIRC, the TNG crew played 5-card draw. I know a little bit about Texas Hold’em, and less about draw poker, but I believe that draw is a lot more heavily luck-based than Hold’em, because you get no other information than your cards and how many cards the other players have. In Hold’em (or other games with community or face-up cards like stud poker), you can work out what hands are impossible for other players to have–you can tell, for example if a flush is even possible. This makes community card games much more skill based.

            Now, Data could be expected to always execute perfect play because of his perfect memory, but I don’t know if that can be converted to winning as reliably in draw poker as it would in Hold’em. As far as Riker goes, poker is still gambling. You can play really, really stupid and still win individual hands, it’s just that you’ll lose money over the long term to somebody who always makes the positive expected value plays.

          • Spookykou says:

            I know for sure Worf won at least one game.

            I can see where you are coming from in terms of tactics, but I can also see Starfleet/federation people in particular being very good at/insisting on ‘authentic’ play. For example a lot of D&D groups discourage ‘optimal’ play in favor of a game feel that most of the table(or the DM) is trying to go for, and while D&D players are not exactly bog-standard Americans, I would expect federation citizens to be even better at this kind of cooperative informal rules, thing. If everyone at the table is always going all in all the time because it’s more fun for them, the game as whole is not as fun or exciting.

            Normally poker is exciting at least in part if not largely due to the money, but as Picard explains to the ‘evil’ 1970s capitalist, Federation people get excited simply at the prospect of learning and growing and challenging themselves.

          • John Schilling says:

            Data has less of an advantage here. You can’t card count in poker, because the deck is shuffled every hand.

            I’m pretty sure Data could track the shuffle if he wanted to.

            Or he could choose not to, but deliberately playing below your abilities is less fun and less challenging, and we’re rapidly getting back to what (other than bolstering the XO’s ego) is the point of the game.

          • Randy M says:

            Maybe the game is an experiment on Data’s part to refine his models of the crew.
            “I know Worf has two pair and Riker is showing three of a kind. I wonder if he’ll raise if I give him a full house or attempt to bluff?”

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Data can stack the deck when he shuffles if he wants. It was a plot point of one episode.

            When Data time-travelled back to 1893 he used his poker skills to build a small fortune so he could assemble the technology to attempt to resolve his problem.

      • Clutzy says:

        Why do they use explicit military ranks then? Also the Enterprise of Picard seems to be pretty clearly the most powerful warship if you compare it to any one (or often many) Klingon/Romulan warships. Voyager after it got slingshotted to another part of the galaxy was, again, a relative military juggernaut.

        Your explanation does not hold my viewing of what actually happens.

        • Spookykou says:

          The relative power of the Enterprise and Voyager can be explained a bit by something you see even back in TOS where ship combat is mostly just a power game and whoever has the bigger engine/battery is stronger. They have bigger engines/batteries because the federation is technologically superior to all of their main antagonists in general, with the Romulans being the closest but still probably a bit behind.

          In as much as it is not just a power game, the Federation is behind, Starfleet vessels use phasers, the phaser is presented as a sort of omnitool for energy output, and there are several points in almost each trek where they talk about this in contrast to explicit weapons intended simply to damage the thing you point them at. Janeway tries to find ways to turn energy into more Dakka on Voyager, Archer does the same, ultimately this commitment to the ‘mining laser’ of the trek verse as a primary weapon doesn’t hurt them too much, because generally the mining laser is good enough if you put enough power into it.

    • Ketil says:

      Weren’t the conquistadores militarized explorers? I like to think of captain Kirk as a future Pizzarro.

      • Juanita del Valle says:

        They were more like privateers, including pre-arranged shares of the loot – and in some cases their authority to act on behalf of the crown was questionable.

        • Ketil says:

          In case it wasn’t clear, I meant that very much tongue-in-cheek.

          But, note fibio’s comment below. I think at this age (14-1500s), the distinction between military and other crown business was not so clear as it would be later on. This is the eve of feudalism, and before conscription and standing armies of professional soldiers (I think?), so the difference between a noble given a ship and some men, and a noble given a regiment of cavalry to command, might not have been so large.

        • Wency says:

          Indeed, my understanding is that Cortes’ conquest of Mexico was more or less an act of mutiny, which was one seldom-mentioned factor in destroying his ships (he didn’t want any communications with Cuba, one way or the other).

          Individual initiative played a huge role in the Spanish conquest of the New World, and can’t really be compared to how Spain conducted European wars.

      • Clutzy says:

        They already knew Mexico was there though…

    • fibio says:

      This seems like a novel setup based on Earth history.

      It really isn’t. Star Trek, at least for the original series, leaned heavily on the Age of Discovery themes of a lone ship out in the infinite void sea, where the Captain was God and help was a thousand miles away. In the real world these initial voyages by the Europeans were heavily militarized, usually employed the same seamen as the Navy, were captained by well connected men of the court and funded in part in whole by the crown. It may not technically have been the Navy doing the exploration, but it was certainly the state which is pretty much the same thing when you get down to it.

    • Del Cotter says:

      It seems to me that Roddenberry’s mental model for the voyages of the USS Enterprise under Captain James Kirk was fairly clearly voyages like that of the HMS Endeavour under Captain James Cook, or the HMS Discovery under Captain Clerke, or the HMS Enterprise under Captain James Clark Ross. One first season episode which introduced the famous Khan had him on board a ship called USS Botany Bay, a callback to Cook’s voyage. Three Space Shuttles were named Enterprise, Endeavour, and Discovery, and Discovery is the name of the latest show in the Trek franchise.

      Two ways in which Roddenberry’s understanding of history could have been improved would have been to have there be private exploration as well, equivalent to the Spice Race (which I think the Space Race was consciously named after). He could have had episodes similar to those where the Klingons are meddling on a planet, but the meddlers are commercial explorers.

      The other way would be to have the science roles played not by Science Officers in the structure of command, but civilians outside it, causing trouble on the ship for the hapless captain tasked with taking care of them.

      • AG says:

        The other way would be to have the science roles played not by Science Officers in the structure of command, but civilians outside it, causing trouble on the ship for the hapless captain tasked with taking care of them.

        Didn’t Stargate Atlantis do some of that? There was at least one civilian, but he was oversight.

        • Matt M says:

          civilians outside it, causing trouble on the ship for the hapless captain tasked with taking care of them

          In the Star Trek universe, this role is sufficiently filled by the children of bridge officers (some of whom happen to be just as smart and capable as the average starfleet officer!)

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Stargate Universe did much more of this, with the military and scientists forming their own parallel hierarchies.

    • John Schilling says:

      Captain Meriwether Lewis, Lieutenant William Clark, Captain James Cook, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, Admiral Richard Byrd – this is not a novel setup.

      Exploration is a business dominated by uncertainty and mortal danger, including the bit where you discover that lots of people want you dead, it is conducted at the far end of a logistical tail leading from home to the ass end of nowhere, and you don’t get to call a time out on account of weather. The operating environment of military forces is, well, you do the math. If you’re at war, the only exploratory-like thing you’re going to be doing is called reconnaissance. If you’re not at war and you find you want explorers, the not-at-war part means you’ve probably got an army and a navy that aren’t presently occupied with their core business.

      • Clutzy says:

        Interesting. I don’t really know the names. Did they often take naval flagships to uncharted, or charted, but not landed upon islands?

        • gbdub says:

          The Enterprise wasn’t really a flagship though, most of the time. Neither Kirk nor Picard were flag officers for their series, and Enterprise only rarely lead a fleet. The very concept of a “flagship” is kind of meaningless without a fleet to lead.

          • Spookykou says:

            They call it the flagship a few times in setting, and Starfleet does occasionally muster it’s fleets in a more fleet like shape.

            I missed the ‘really’ on my first read though.

        • Del Cotter says:

          Original series Enterprise wasn’t a flag ship, just a middle-rate, and next generation Enterprise wasn’t sent on a voyage of exploration. Trek underwent a fan service process similar to Who, where the leads went from being Just Ordinary among their people to Most Important Evar. The Starfleet arrowhead was originally only the Enterprise’s ship logo, for instance.

          You don’t know Lewis and Clark?

          • John Schilling says:

            Original series Enterprise wasn’t a flag ship, just a middle-rate,

            Nit: Largest class of Starfleet vessel in canonical TOS, but there were fourteen of the class and the Enterprise wasn’t the first or foremost.

            Now, how many nerd points can I claim if I list them all from memory?

            Pbafgvghgvba
            Pbafgryyngvba
            Ragrecevfr
            Rkpnyvohe
            Vagercvq
            Yrkvatgba
            Inyvnag
            Xbatb
            Cbgrzxva
            Ubbq

            Alas, my nerd-fu is weak.

          • Del Cotter says:

            Then it’s another case of Roddenberry not accurately understanding how these things are done. I thought “cruiser” was overpowered for a voyage. National navies tend to keep their big ships to hand, and use much smaller vessels for exploring, keeping sailors and officers employed and in practice while also being out of everyone’s hair at home. HMS Endeavour was a Yorkshire collier bought in by the Navy specially at Yorkshireman Cook’s recommendation, as he admired the type (for its toughness? bean might know). Cook wasn’t the only one, as other RN exploratory vessels had the same origin.

            HMS Beagle was a Cherokee class brig/sloop, and the type was used as a mail packet, but also for survey missions, despite being unpopular as a design for shipping water all over the deck.

            There’s a full size replica of the Golden Hind in London, and it’s shockingly small, though that’s a case of a private expedition, only partly sponsored by the queen.

          • Del Cotter says:

            Speaking of civilian versus serviceman scientists, Captain Fitzroy was the actual scientist in charge of meeting the RN’s hydrography mission goals, but he had felt the lack of a land geologist on earlier missions, so he invited young Charles Darwin aboard, at Darwin’s expense (rich family, he could afford it).

            Darwin’s other function was to be someone outside the command structure for Fitzroy to talk to and not go mad. He had a family history of mental illness, and the Beagle also had a history of captains blowing their brains out from overwork. Lest anyone think job-related stress and suicidal depression is a modern thing.

            Bringing it full circle, A E van Vogt’s 50’s fix-up novel with the on-the-nose title Voyage of the Space Beagle is considered to be one of the inspirations for Star Trek, and some of its sections to be inspirations for original series episodes.

          • Clutzy says:

            You don’t know Lewis and Clark?

            I know the story, but I suppose not enough to remember he was a highish ranking military officer. I always assumed they would lose any real military battle had it come to that.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            On the other hand, the Chinese treasure fleet ships were goddamn monsters, since the Chinese wanted to awe the people they found.

          • John Schilling says:

            Wilkes had two sloops-of-war and six smaller vessels totaling 2,584 tons and 63 guns, compared to 2,200 tons and 52 tons for a Constitution-class heavy cruiser, er, frigate.

            But there’s a historical mismatch between the age of sail and the age of Starfleet, in that the early waves of global exploration mostly predate the rise of formal navies, with both maritime exploration and naval war being performed by semi-private adventurers in semi-private ships.

            By the time professional navies dominated both trades, the world had been sufficiently explored that it was clear any new life and new civilizations left to be discovered could not match even the smallest European warship. Furthermore, the rules had been sufficiently well codified that exploratory vessels of the various European powers wouldn’t wind up shooting at each other outside of declared wars. Navy ships still did most of the exploring, for reasons already noted, but it could be safely left to auxiliaries and unrated warships.

            Starfleet, knows that its exploratory ships will be encountering potentially hostile aliens whose own martial and technical capabilities are comparable to its own, and in that context naval cruisers make more sense than fleet auxiliaries.

  8. AL says:

    I’m reading “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk. His model of the brain — executive (frontal lobe), limbic (mid-brain), and reptilian (brain stem) — seems pretty useful when it comes to explaining traumatic experience and PTSD.

    Maybe a simple way to put it would be that the lower parts hijack (adaptively) the executive brain when a person experiences a traumatic event. PTSD results when the executive brain can’t regain it’s normal role in regulating function.

    But I wonder if this model can make sense of something like anxiety. Let’s say a person gets a phone call informing them of something really bad that is likely — but not certain — to happen in the near future. The person experiences devastating anxiety that won’t go away.

    It seems like the fact that this message was delivered via language, which is a higher-brain function, and involves something in the future, which hasn’t happened and may never happen, rule out the sort of reptilian or limbic “hijacking” Van Der Kolk is describing. In fact, in this model, it looks like the opposite is happening: the executive brain is hijacking the other parts.

    I’m curious if anyone has seen writings on this subject which try to explain anxiety using a model like Van Der Kolk’s? I’d be interested in checking that out.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Well, well out of my areas of expertise, but I think if you try to treat the brain as having unidirectional causal arrows, you’re probably going to be missing stuff. Feedback loops, or maybe feedback spirals, seem to be more descriptive.

    • Aapje says:

      @AL

      Emotions are limbic and yet they can be triggered by language (just like language can increase your heartbeat). I think that it is a mistake to regard the brain as separate parts that act individually and in particular to threat the lower and higher level functions as separate, rather than an interconnected system.

      • albatross11 says:

        A pilot flying over the oceans looks at a complex display and infers that the plane is going to run out of fuel before he can possibly get to land. There’s a highly intellectual process going on to understand the situation, but he’s surely going to have some intense emotional and physical reactions to the result of this reasoning process. Similarly for a doctor who looks at his own imaging and test results and realizes he’s got pancreatic cancer–it took years for him to acquire the knowledge to make any sense of the results, most people wouldn’t understand it, interpreting the results involves heavy use of his intellectual faculties, but that doesn’t prevent him having an emotional response to his own impending demise.

  9. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Related to my talk of Tolkien linguistics elsethread:
    The name Frodo in Lord of the Rings is taken from a legendary king of Zealand mentioned by Snorri Sturluson, Grottasöngr, etc. Frodo/Frōda/Fróði invited Fjölnir of Sweden over for dinner, where he drowned in the booze.
    I’m not sure if that’s the most hobbity thing ever, or the most dwarven.

    • Lambert says:

      Frodi, meaning wise. I forget what the Westron is.

      I’l never understand why they named such a mountainous country as New Zealand after somewhere as bepoldered as Zeeland. There’s nothing quite like arriving in Terneuzen* and going up hill to the sea.

      *Hometown of the Flying Dutchman

      • Simulated Knave says:

        As a quick click of the link in his comment taught me, Zealand is the largest island in Denmark and a much better fit for New Zeeland than Zeeland is.

      • Aapje says:

        New Zealand was originally named Staten Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, in 1642. This was named after a political assembly called the Staten-Generaal, which originally helped centralize rule under Burgundian rule (the first session was in 1464). Each province in the low countries (including part of France at that time) had a parliament and having representatives of the provinces meet up regularly, forming the Staten-Generaal, allowed Duke Philip to govern the provinces more effectively.

        Then after the liberation of part of the low countries from Spanish rule, the Staten-Generaal ruled the north of the Netherlands. The discovery of New Zealand by Tasman was near the end of the Dutch War of Independence (1566-1648), so it was presumably a patriotic choice.

        However, it seems that Dutch cartographers didn’t like the name and chose Nova Zeelandia (New Zeeland translated Latin). I’m not sure how much they actually knew about what New Zealand looked like, because Tasman didn’t stick around after getting into a fight with the Māori, where four crew members were killed. Tasman called the bay where the killings happened ‘Murderer’s bay’ (now called Golden Bay)

        During this period, many Dutch explorers thought that the land masses they found in the south were part of a great continent they called Terra Australis. The idea was that land masses had to balance out, so given the amount of land in the Northern hemisphere, there needed to be a very large continent in the Sourthern Hemisphere.

        In 1615, an island off the coast of Argentina was also called Staten Land (and it is still called that, but now in Spanish: Isla de los Estados). Tasman wrote a letter where he said that “it is possible that this land [= New Zealand] joins to the Staten Land [= Isla de los Estados] but it is uncertain.” Apparently, he was certain enough to call them by the same name.

        Anyway, New Zealand was left alone for quite a while after Tasman found it. James Cook was the second European explorer to visit it and he mapped almost the entire coastline in 1769. He anglicized the name from the Dutch maps, Nova Zeelandia, turning it into New Zealand.

        PS. Staten Island in New York City is also named after the Staten-Generaal, so there were actually at least three islands named this way, each by a different explorer.

        PS2. Dutch congress is now also called the Staten-Generaal, but the modern entity is bicameral, where one chamber is directly elected and the other indirectly, by the provinces.

        • Lambert says:

          > I’m not sure how much they actually knew about what New Zealand looked like

          They landed in Golden Bay.
          There’s 1200m high mountains within 10km of the coast there. That’s more than three Vaalserbergs tall.

          IDK what the highest point in the OG Zeeland is, but I did find this: https://www.skiresort.info/ski-resorts/zeeland/sorted/mountain-altitude/

          • AlphaGamma says:

            According to Peakbagger it is a 54m sand dune in Groot-Valkenisse.

          • Aapje says:

            @Lambert

            These early explorers seemed to have merely mapped the coast lines, not mountains. So map makers who based their maps on their work would have no clue what the elevation of the land was like.

            For example, here is the map from Tasman’s journey, where New Zealand is identified in ye olde Dutch as Staete Landt (= Staten Land). I see one small land feature in the middle, close to shore, but the rest is just the coast line, with a dotted line showing where the ship sailed.

            Here is a 1726 map. On the bottom right you can see part of New Zealand, now being both referred to both as New Zeeland and Staaten land. Again, no mountains or other elevation.

            Finally, here is an English map from 1744 by an English cartographer who was the Royal Cartographer to both the English and French king. Again, we see New Zealand at the bottom right without any elevation. This cartographer liked to write stories on his maps, so we have this statement (as part of a bigger story):

            It is impossible to conceive a country that promises fairer from its situation, than this of Terra Australis; no longer incognita as this map demonstrates, but the southern continent discovered.

            OK, boomer.

      • fibio says:

        If we’re on place names, we also need to talk about New South Wales which is weird on two fronts. One, it really looks nothing like Wales. Two, why specify South Wales?

      • Deiseach says:

        Frodi, meaning wise. I forget what the Westron is.

        Maura Labingi. And I knew that without having to look it up.

        I don’t know whether I should hold my head high with pride or hang it in shame 🙂

  10. Secretly French says:

    Hey does anyone speak Dutch? I’m looking at you Aapje; partly because your name looks like a Dutch diminutive, and partly because I know you speak Dutch anyway. I just went through a unit on Duolingo where I was soundly drilled that “zijn” was not used for locations; that if something “is” in a place, in Dutch it has to instead “sit” there, or “lie” there, or “stand” there. Then in the next unit, I get this:

    Het restaurant en het huis zijn bij het strand.

    Doesn’t this construction contradict what I just learned? Is this good Dutch? Have I been classically Duolingo’d like an idiot? Does my only hope to understand what is going on when I visit Ghent in the summer lie in getting a Dutch mistress and talking to her a lot? Please advise!

    Bonus fact: according to the teaching material which I now fear to trust, in Dutch a box is standing on the floor if it was placed intentionally, but lying on the floor if it fell there, so in order to communicate the position of a box, you need to know its history!

    • Lambert says:

      Germanic languages sometimes have different constructions for generic locations vs named cities/countries.
      (German has a bunch of differnt forms of ‘I’m going to’ depending on what sort of thing the destination is.)

    • Vitor says:

      The box thing makes perfect sense: picture a chair standing on the floor. Now picture a chair lying on the floor.

    • Gelaarsd Schaap says:

      I was born and raised Dutch.

      I am curious to hear your a priori intuitions. I feel they should probably offer fine guidance, but I’m biased of course.

      1. “Het restaurant en het huis zijn bij het strand” strikes me as a slightly unnatural uttering, but this may be because I hardly ever discuss houses or restaurants near beaches. I’m not sure I would have noticed any unnaturalness, had I not been asked for my opinion. It’s fine 🙂

      2. That ‘zijn’ is not used for locations is simply false (it may be somewhat useful as an approximation, but I’m unsure as to what extent). People indeed commonly say stuff like “ik ben nu in Haarlem” or “de wedstrijd is in Eindhoven”. People also say “ik zit nu in Haarlem” (which communicates to me a bit more staticness — this person is not zipping through the city in a train) and “de wedstrijd vindt plaats in Eindhoven” (which would, I guess, be considered more ‘correct’, but being much more wordy it is used primarily in more formal contexts).

      3. In Ghent people speak Flemish, which differs from ‘Dutch Dutch’ in, undoubtedly among others, choice of words and even sentence structure. You might prefer your mistress to be Flemish. Either way you should be fine though. I think.
      (Difficulty with understanding Flemish varies along a north-south gradient across the Netherlands. Sometimes on Dutch tv Flemish people are accompanied by subtitles, which I assume are enjoyed mostly by those ‘above the rivers’.)

      4. I contend is it intuitively obvious wether a box is ‘standing’ or lying. No need to consider the history: if it’s on its side, it is ‘lying’; if it is upright it’s ‘standing’ (although you can get away with saying it is ‘lying’ if it is empty, I guess).

      This is fun 🙂
      Also, first post. Hello, everyone o/

    • Aapje says:

      @Secretly French

      ‘Zijn’ can be used in multiple ways.

      1a: wij zijn dronken = we are drunk
      1b: wij zijn in de kroeg = we are in the bar

      Here ‘zijn’ denotes the state of a group.

      2a: zijn auto = his car
      2b: zijn huis = his house

      Here ‘zijn’ denotes that something is (co-)owned by or (co-)belongs to a man. ‘Haar’ is used for women (haar auto = her car). A bit confusingly, denoting ownership by a group doesn’t use ‘zijn,’ but ‘hun’ (hun auto = their car).

      3: aan het lopen zijn = walking around (literally: at the walking are)

      This is really a variant of 1, but with the order changed. This is used in sentences like:
      – Als we aan het lopen zijn, dan… = if we are walking, then…
      – De mannen die aan het lopen zijn, zijn moe. = The men that are walking, are tired.

      Your sentence is just variant 1. ‘The restaurant and the house’ are a group of things that ‘are/exist’ ‘near the beach.’ The sentence is perfectly correct Dutch, mainly to be used for giving directions.

      I’m not really sure what Duolingo meant when they said that ‘zijn’ is not for locations, but I hope that the above makes it more clear how you can use the word. Note that this part of Dutch is moderately hard and even second generation migrants often have a lot of trouble with it, as well as some natives.

      As a bonus, a combination of 1 and 2: bang zijn voor zijn eigen schaduw = being afraid of his own shadow (literally: afraid being of his own shadow)

      in Dutch a box is standing on the floor if it was placed intentionally, but lying on the floor if it fell there, so in order to communicate the position of a box, you need to know its history!

      It’s more the other way around, you can choose to convey certain information by how you phrase things and you can convey certain knowledge or the lack of it by how you do so.

      I would personally use ‘lying’ (liggen) primarily for things that are placed lengthwise on the floor and standing (staan) for things that are upright. Due to physics, things that fall tend to lie, rather than stand.

      When you drop something on the floor and it happens to somehow stand upright, then saying that it stands on the floor invites confusion, as this implies that it was placed, rather than that it fell. So you would typically have to choose between using ‘lying’ if the fact that the item ended up in a peculiar position is not relevant or be more explicit if it does matter.

      However, isn’t this the very same issue that you have in English?

      PS. In Ghent they speak Flemish, which has sayings and accents/dialects that can be hard for Dutch people to understand. Flemish TV series that are shown on Dutch TV are often subtitled, just like some Dutch shows are subtitled on Flemish TV channels. So a local mistress might be a good idea (for multiple reasons).

      • Loriot says:

        > However, isn’t this the very same issue that you have in English?

        To some extent yes. The main difference is that we can just say “it is on the floor” in any situation, regardless of position or whether it was placed or fell.

      • Cliff says:

        However, isn’t this the very same issue that you have in English?

        Ha! We would never say a box stands on the floor! We would say it is on the floor. It doesn’t stand or sit or lie down! Okay in rare cases you might say something is sitting on the floor (or some other surface), but very rare.

        Funny enough, when I mentioned this difference in the languages to a Flemish guy, he also seemed a bit surprised, like this had not occurred to him before (not a fluent English speaker, but business professional skill).

        “wij zijn in de kroeg”- why not “wij zitten in de kroeg”? Why not “Het restaurant en het huis standen bij het strand.”? Because plurals? Or it can be either?

        • JayT says:

          We have a whole word to talk about something you put down, “lay”. I think he’s right that this issue does come up, but it’s also true that you can always just use “on”.

        • Aapje says:

          @Cliff

          Ha! We would never say a box stands on the floor! We would say it is on the floor. It doesn’t stand or sit or lie down!

          Fair enough. However, you could say that a chair is standing or lying on the floor, depending on whether it is upright or not.

          So the principle is valid, right? Although English is a bit more strict/limited.

          “wij zijn in de kroeg”- why not “wij zitten in de kroeg”?

          Both are perfectly fine. The latter implies that you are actually sitting, but it’s not uncommon to stand in a bar, so if some or all of the group are standing, the first option would be more correct.

          The general rule is that you can always just use ‘zijn’ (or ‘ben’/’bent’/’is’ for singular) to indicate where a person is or people are, unless it would be weird not to have a specific position. For example, while “we’re in bed” is correct English, you wouldn’t say “wij zijn in bed”. You would use: “we liggen in bed” = we’re lying in bed.

          Why not “Het restaurant en het huis standen bij het strand.”?

          The multiple of ‘staat’ (stand) is ‘staan’ (standing), not ‘standen*.’ It’s perfectly correct to say: “Het restaurant en het huis staan bij het strand” = the restaurant and the house are standing near the beach.

          Basically, in Dutch some things can stand near or on other things (like cars), some things can lie near other things (like beaches) and a lot of things can either stand or lie near other things (like buildings).

          The result is that some groupings don’t work, for example, you can’t say that the car and the beach are standing or lying near the restaurant. In English you could say (but you probably wouldn’t) that “the car and the beach are near the restaurant,” but you can’t say in Dutch that “de auto en het strand zijn bij het restaurant.”

          * ‘Standen’ does exist, but it is the multiple of ‘stand,’ meaning level, position, class or score. So you can say “de waterstanden zijn op recordniveau door de apocalyptische regen” = the water levels are at record level because of the apocalyptic rain.

        • Gelaarsd Schaap says:

          Is this a typo? “Het restaurant en het huis standen [staan / stonden] bij het strand”

          “Wij [zijn / zitten] in de kroeg” both are valid (and common), as is “het restaurant en het huis [staan / stonden] bij het strand”.

          staan: infinitive + plural of ‘to stand’ (“we staan” = “we’re standing”)
          stonden: plural past of ‘to stand’ (“we stonden” = lit. “we stood”, but in practice “we were standing” because English is weird.)
          standen: plural of ‘stand’, which has many meanings: posture, standing, (game) score, configuration/setting, among others.

        • Lambert says:

          I’d say a shoebox on the floor with its longest axis in the vertical was ‘stood on the floor’.

      • DarkTigger says:

        Never thought about it, but German has the same double meaning for “sein” (obivious from the same source as “zijn”) it can mean both “his” or “be”.

        • Robin says:

          In Dutch it’s also “are”. “Zijn kleren zijn rood” = “His clothes are red” = “Seine Kleider sind rot”

          It’s not so common to have both meanings of “sein” in one sentence, like in “Sein Haar kann rot sein” = “Zijn haar kan rood zijn” = “His hair can be red”.

          In Dutch you also have “Haar haar” = “her hair”.

    • Robin says:

      German here, learning Dutch on Duolingo, too. (Figuring it’d be the lowest-hanging fruit)

      It seems like the Dutch use zitten more than the Germans. The sentence from Duolingo: “Volgens mij zitten er weinig aardbeien in je aardbeiensap” would not make sense in German because strawberries do not have any bottoms to sit upon in the strawberry juice. And for “the clothes are in the closet”, the translation “De kleren zijn in de kast” would be marked WRONG because it has to be “De kleren zitten in de kast”.

      Other than that, it is refreshingly easy. Some traps are the ordering of auxiliary verbs in subordinate phrases: “Ik wil Nederlands kunnen spreken” would be in German “Ich will Niederländisch sprechen können”, but Loiza Lamers gets this wrong too, and it’S not a big deal; and fun constructions like “ik sta te praten”.

      • Gelaarsd Schaap says:

        I don’t think clothes ‘sit’ (zitten) in closets. Instead they lie (liggen). If there’s shoes in a closet, they probably ‘stand’ (staan).

        There is actually some sitting in closets in Dutch — this is done by those who haven’t come out (as gay) yet.

      • Aapje says:

        @Robin

        “De kleren zitten in de kast”.

        No, it would normally be: “De kleren hangen in de kast” = The clothes hang in the closet. Unless you are a messy person, in which case the clothes could lie in the closet. As Gelaarsd Schaap notes, shoes similarly stand in the closet, unless you just tossed them in there and they are not neatly standing on their soles, in which case saying that they are lying in the closet is better.

        You can say: “De kleren zitten in de koffer” = The clothes are in the suitcase.

        In general, you can use ‘zitten in’ for things that are contained within something, but as I noted earlier, only when there isn’t a more specific verb that is much more appropriate.

        but Loiza Lamers gets this wrong too,

        The Dutch are relatively sloppy. Language competitions are typically won by Flemish contestants.

        fun constructions like “ik sta te praten”.

        You can do it with walking too: “we lopen/liepen te praten” = we are/were talking while walking.

        However, you can’t do it with cycling, so this is incorrect: “we fietsten te praten,” so then you have to say something like: “we waren aan het praten tijdens het fietsen,” which is basically the same as the English construct that you’d use in all cases.

      • Robin says:

        @Gelaarsd @Aapje
        Sorry, I might have remembered that wrong about clothes sitting in the closet. In the forum I only find “Hij stopt zijn kleren in de kast”, which is funny in German because “stopfen” means to cram the clothes into the closet so they would get all wrinkly.

        I guess I have mixed it up with vegetables sitting in a basket (“De groente zit in de mand”), which you would not say in German either.

        Also, I didn’t mean to disesteem Loiza Lamers, I like her and wish her the best for Let’s Dance, I just noticed her using the Dutch auxiliary verb ordering in German.

        Of course, Dutch people speak very good English on average, much better than Germans, probably because movies tend to be subtitled instead of dubbed.

        • Gelaarsd Schaap says:

          With regards to Dutch people speaking very good English:

          1. A Norwegian couple I encountered on Sardinia during vacation came up with the same subtitles hypothesis. According to them, countries that went with subtitles instead of dubbing (among them the Netherlands and Norway) do far better at speaking other languages. I have not checked this.

          2. The Dutch travel a lot. They’re everywhere, and regularly recognize each other on sight. (Above mentioned Norwegian couple noted that they recognize fellow Norwegians as well, so this may be quite normal.) Learning to make yourself understood in the local tongue is considered quite normal.

          3. In high school it is mandatory (at least in the ‘upper segment’, i.e. havo-vwo — I don’t know about vmbo) to learn at least one ‘modern foreign language’ other than English (which is already mandatory on its own). Most common are German and French.

          4. I have heard it said that the Dutch speak fine German as well. I am not one of them. Not so for French, that I know of.

          5. Maybe it’s just me or my environment, but there appears to me to be a high standard regarding English fluency over here. I for one am uncomfortable with my English pronunciation and not quite happy with my speed of English writing. As for the quality of my written English, you be the judge. What does it mean when one can have a laugh about, for example, Mark Rutte’s (Dutch prime minister) distinctly Dutch accent, with Rutte’s English otherwise being excellent? (I do not have a problem with Rutte’s — or anyone’s — accent.)

          PS: Gelaarsde Kat = Puss in Boots. A schaap is a sheep.

          • Aapje says:

            German ability seems to be declining rather rapidly among the Dutch, due to various factors (including, ironically enough, globalization, which is extremely English in nature).

          • Cliff says:

            I hear you can understand Germans if they talk very slowly, but they can’t understand you!

          • Robin says:

            I can imagine that foreign languages other than English are declining in Germany too, but I cannot find any good sources that quickly. I only see that there are passages of Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain” written in French, and recent editions add a translation in the appendix, where older ones do not.

            I can imagine that Dutch don’t like learning German, and when I’m there I don’t like speaking “slow German” and hoping to be understood, as @Cliff says. It feels wrong to me. I’m told that many people would refuse to understand it, for historical reasons.

            It’s hard to generalize from André Rieu and Rudi Carrell to everybody, but they speak flawlessly, unless they cultivate a trademark accent on purpose. I guess German is almost as easy to learn for Dutch as vice versa.

            But what I’d really like to know: Do people in the Netherlands know (or care) that some of their words appear funny or cute to Germans? E.g. “deeltjesversneller” for particle accelerator (because “verschnellern” is a rather cute way of saying “beschleunigen”), or “hoeveelheid” for amount (literally: “how-many-ness”)? I assume such words are totally normal for you.

          • Nick says:

            I only see that there are passages of Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain” written in French, and recent editions add a translation in the appendix, where older ones do not.

            At a tangent, this practice is annoying for those of us who read old translations. I was reading the Garnett translation of Anna Karenina a few weeks ago, and there was untranslated French and German in the story. English, too, though for obvious reasons that was not a problem.

            I kept asking a friend fluent in French for help with the idioms, but funnily enough, he wasn’t familiar with a lot of them, as they’re archaic.

          • Gelaarsd Schaap says:

            @Robin

            My grandparents do indeed have a distaste for hearing German. Bad memories. I have not noticed any such discomfort in my parents, nor have I in, say, classmates. Overall I very rarely observe hard feelings.
            I remember conversations between my parents and Germans on campings. These would indeed be held in English, but it seems to me the Germans felt more strongly about the issue than my parents. I would not have minded either way either, had I known German.

            Another reason to choose a mutual second language is to provide more of a level playing field.

            Know? Had I been prompted I should have guessed…
            Care? I’m not sure what that should entail. Perhaps this means I don’t.
            How is verschnellern cute? How should I read beschleunigen (etymological considerations, relations to other words..?)
            If there is anything odd about deeltjesversneller to me, it is the deeltjes- part. It seems to me there should have been a dedicated word for these entities, but instead we have a very ordinary diminutive of ‘part’. Versnellen, on the other had, is completely normal, as you say.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Aapje on German ability- a Dutch friend (with university-aged children) says that he is much better at German than his children even though they had more hours of German classes at school than he did. He thinks it’s because when he was growing up often the only TV channel showing children’s programs was a German one, but his kids had more channels so had access to Dutch children’s programs whenever they were allowed to choose what was on TV.

            @Robin on words sounding amusing- I’ve heard Dutch speakers say similar things about Afrikaans words like langnekkameel (long-neck-camel, giraffe) or moltrein (mole-train, metro/subway).

          • Aapje says:

            @Cliff

            A bunch of studies found that German is easier to understand for Dutch people than vice versa, but this was often attributed to greater experience with German by Dutch people. However, a study that tried to control for this by using children with no familiarity of the other language, found that Dutch children performed better at recognizing German cognates than vice versa.

            I’ve also seen claims that the Dutch slur their words a lot more, making them hard to understand; and that the Dutch language has way more fixed expressions. The meaning of fixed expressions is relatively hard to guess. For example, an English fixed expression is “pop the question,” where the meaning is pretty much impossible to guess.

            The Dutch “in je nopjes zijn” = “being in your protrusions” means being very happy or content, but it can’t even be parsed by modern Dutch people. It refers to the presence of protrusions on new clothing produced with old fashioned manufacturing techniques, which would wear off over time. People would wear new clothes for parties, weddings and other happy occasions, so ‘being in’ clothing with such protrusions correlated with being happy and causing the fixed expression to make sense at the time. Obviously, this is impossible to modern people to understand, even if you know the Dutch words for happy or content and this expression simply has to be learned.

            In contrast, Germans seem to simply say that they are/someone is happy/content in all cases.

            Some other common fixed expressions:

            “met je neus in the boter vallen” = falling with your nose into the butter = being lucky

            “uit je nek kletsen” = talking out of your neck = talking nonsense

            “je ei kwijt kunnen” = being able to get rid of your egg = being able to express your frustrations

            “iets onder de knie hebben” = having something below the knee = having mastered something

            “iets zien zitten” = seeing something sitting = being confident in your ability to handle/do something

            “het gaat me niet in de koude kleren zitten” = it doesn’t end up in my cold clothes = it affects me emotionally quite strongly

            “nergens op slaan” = hitting nothing = hogwash

            “dat is gesneden koek” = it is cut cake = it is a piece of cake

          • Aapje says:

            @Robin

            ‘Deeltjesversneller’ nor ‘hoeveelheid’ are funny or cute to us. They are just words.

            Unlike Gelaarsd Schaap, I think that ‘deeltje’, which can mean fragment or particle, is perfectly suitable. You are accellerating fragments/particles, so the word describes what happens.

            BTW, I see no significant dislike for Germans for historic reasons. I think that (in general) there is more antagonism against Belgians than Germans (but both are not very significant).

            @AlphaGamma

            In the past, people would get the TV signal with an antenna, which meant that part of the Netherlands could watch German TV next to the Dutch channels. Back then, there was far less choice in Dutch TV channels and the Internet didn’t exist. Nowadays, this completely changed and Dutch kids are way more likely to watch English speaking Youtubers or such, than anything German.

            And Afrikaans is really amusing, because complex Dutch words are often heavily simplified in a very literal way. The double negations that are still a negation also sounds really funny, like speakers of Afrikaans can’t make up their mind. For example:

            “Hy kan nie Afrikaans praat nie” = He can not Afrikaans speak not = he can’t speak Afrikaans

          • Lambert says:

            IDK about Netherlandic, but translating German technical language in my head always makes me feel like I’m reading Uncleftish Beholding.

          • AppetSci says:

            By the way, I love the Dutch word for microwave – magnetron – now that actually sounds like a particle accelerator. I wonder if Dutch is the only language not to use the Micro+”word for wave” format. I think they invented the device.

          • Robin says:

            About deeltjesversneller, hard to say what’s so funny.
            1. Yes, the “tje” diminuitive is cute, perhaps because it reminds of Frau Antje from the cheese advertisements, or the child star Heintje? But “Teilchen” is diminuitive too, as is particle (particle is to part as cubicle to cube).
            2. “Verschnellern” is somewhat clumsy or child-language for “beschleunigen”, for no particular reason, since “schleunig” is also a (rather archaic) word for “fast”. As if in English it was “particle quickener”.
            3. Perhaps it’s as they said in the film “Train of life”: German is like Yiddish without the humour. Thus German is a local minimum of humour, and compared to it, every neighbouring language (including German dialects) is funny. Many comedians make a living with this.

            Thanks @Aapje for all the fixed expressions! I love them, and not a single one translates directly to German, although we have quite a bunch of those, too. But if they are really that common, it somewhat humbles my Dutch-learning aspirations.

            @Lambert: In WW1, there was an effort to replace some French loanwords by German equivalents. This gave us words like “Bürgersteig” (citizen’s rise) instead of “Trottoir” (sidewalk). The nazis wanted to drive this even further, but “Zerknalltreibling” for “motor” luckily didn’t catch on.

          • Aapje says:

            @AppetSci

            The actual magnetron, a high-powered vacuum tube that generates microwaves, was invented by a German. It actually was the microwave generator in early microwave ovens. The microwave oven was invented by Raytheon.

            The Flemish do say ‘microgolf,’ the literal translation of microwave.

  11. PandemicShmandemic says:

    Looks like the John Hopkins arcgis dashboard got enough traffic to be noticed by the powers that be, Iran is now listed as Iran (Islamic Republic Of), Palestine as occupied Palestinian territory, HK and Macao as SARs, Vatican is “The holy see” and best of all – “Taipei and environs”

    • blacktrance says:

      I don’t remember where I read this and I can’t find it now, but IIRC there’s some US law that states that “foreign country” means “foreign country or Taiwan”.

    • Shion Arita says:

      If I were in charge of that board and got complaints to that effect my response would immediately be “fuck you I’m not changing it.” screw that dumb and confusing PC bullshit.

      • Pandemic Shmandemic says:

        And that’s how you’d stop being in charge of that board.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Then you never really were.

          • Spookykou says:

            You can stop being in charge in a number of different ways that I don’t think invalidate the common sense meaning of being in charge of something. First I don’t think you need to be the ultimate owner and final arbiter of something to simply be in charge of it.* Second, in charge of can also mean you are responsible for, again allowing room for someone to remove you from something you are in charge of, especially if you display that you are not actually being responsible. Finally, you can still be in charge while not really in charge, like a kid who is king of the mountain because no other kids want to play with them anymore. **

            *I think this covers the vast majority of times when an English speaker uses the phrase ‘in charge’.

            **I only now appreciate the possibility that your comment might have been jocular in intent, sunk cost prevents me from deleting my comment though!

        • Garrett says:

          “If you think titling matters more than the information being presented, you can do it.”

      • John Schilling says:

        If I were in charge of that board and got complaints to that effect my response would immediately be “fuck you I’m not changing it.” screw that dumb and confusing PC bullshit.

        Johns Hopkins is in the business of sending scholars, diplomats, and advisers to all corners of the world, including the ones without our deep and abiding respect for civil liberties and our abhorrence of collective punishment. The people so engaged – and I’ve been one of them, and some of my friends still are – may not appreciate your delivering a gratuitous “Fuck You” to the Middle Kingdom and most of the Middle East in the name of their institution, just to signal your personal virtue.

    • Pandemic Shmandemic says:

      And now HK, Macao and Taiwan are all counted together under “China”

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Vatican is “The holy see”

      Isn’t this just wrong?

      IIRC the Vatican is the entity that controls the territory of the Vatican City State but doesn’t conduct foreign diplomacy, while the Holy See conducts foreign diplomacy on behalf of the Church but doesn’t have any territory of its own.

  12. Joseph Greenwood says:

    One of the stranger attributes of dreams is that they often feel quite ordinary from the inside. I often find myself in absurd or incoherent situations–living in “my” house when it bears no resemblance to anywhere I’ve ever lived, or needing to find a fork in order to escape from a giant evil tree, or whatnot. It’s not necessarily that the dream is even presenting me with unreasonable scenarios; sometimes, it is my method for resolving them that is obviously unreasonable. But within the dream, everything usually feels natural and coherent, just the way things are.

    Is this a common experience?

    • FLWAB says:

      Yes. In my dreams things make complete sense that are revealed as obvious nonsense as soon as I wake up. Many times I have had a brilliant idea in a dream. Then I wake up and struggle to remember the idea, and on the few occasions I can remember it I realize it is an incoherent idea. For instance, in a recent dream I was directing a Hollywood movie. As the movie progressed I thought multiple times that it was a really clever movie, and was sure to be a success. When I woke I tried to remember it and it was nonsensical non-story about Abraham Lincoln being brought back to life in the modern day, but also there are robots. That was it: just a wild premise with no plot attached. Yet at the time, in the dream, it seemed better than Citizen Kane.

      • Lignisse says:

        So, it was a faithful adaptation of Phillip K Dick’s “We Can Build You”, then? I don’t see what’s so terrible about that.

      • Silverlock says:

        I would watch this movie.

      • Eigengrau says:

        The best dream I ever had was spent watching a gritty, The Shining-esque horror reboot of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Couldn’t remember the details upon waking but boy was I ever entertained during the dream.

        On another occasion I had a dream that I was watching a new Armando Iannucci program, and when I woke up I managed to remember one of the better jokes: a man uses L’Oreal Kids shampoo as oven cleaner, because, as he puts it, “it’s effective on anything except childrens’ eyeballs”. I still think it’s funny.

        Then of course there is the story of Paul McCartney writing the melody to Yesterday in his sleep.

      • Loriot says:

        I too have had the experience of having a brilliant idea in a dream, only to wake up and realize it is complete nonsense.

        As far as the OP’s question, I always assumed it was normal that your brain turns off the “nonsense filter” while dreaming.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      One thing that happens to me a lot in dreams:

      * “This thing only happens to me in dreams.”
      * “It’s happening now.”
      * My resulting thought process is either “wow, my dreams came true” or “my dreams prepared me for this, how lucky.” Never “of course this means you are in a dream now.”

      • arch1 says:

        I don’t recall having that but I’ve had the opposite-
        Me: Look, X is happening!
        Dad (smiling): What does that tell you?
        Me (surprised): We’re in a dream?
        Dad (smiling broadly): Riiiight!

        On waking I vividly recalled the shock of realization, and the eerie feeling that at that time part of me (the part running the Dad character) already knew.

        • arch1 says:

          I don’t recall having that but I’ve had the opposite-
          Me: Look, X is happening!
          Dad (smiling): What does that tell you?
          Me (surprised): We’re in a dream?
          Dad (smiling broadly): Riiiight!

          On waking I vividly recalled the shock of realization, and the eerie feeling that at that time part of me (the part running the Dad character) already knew.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I’ve had similar things happen in my dreams a couple times, but always just before I woke up.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            I’ve never known it was a dream that I can recall, but I’ve sometimes known it was something else – a story (even as it seemed real-ish, I had some ability to direct it) or a video game (ditto). I once got out of a nightmare by finding a board (like the kind of informational thing you get in parks) that had the options menu for the video game, and telling it to transfer me to another zone. The zone didn’t exist yet – it wasn’t a very finished video game – so I woke up.

    • Nick says:

      I think this is quite a common experience.

      I’ve wondered sometimes whether pre-civilization dreams were more coherent because of, well, fewer random things to throw in a blender. There were no forks or modern houses to compose your dreams back then, after all. But I suppose dreams could be bizarre in realms that are arbitrarily complex, like social relations (your chieftain is also your brother and your wife’s sister’s kin are now living in your hut and … ), so maybe there’s nothing to it.

    • Two McMillion says:

      When I dream, I usually have a feeling of wrongness, that something about the world is messed up and not functioning properly. A common motif in my dreams is the process of, “I think I need the fork to defeat the evil tree -> vague feeling that something is wrong about that but still trying it anyway -> get the fork -> fork fails to stop the evil tree and now I’m screwed”. I usually wake up at that point.

      My dreams also get more vivid when I’m deep in the process of writing or revising a novel.

    • bottlerocket says:

      > Is this a common experience?

      It’s at least common enough for Inception to make reference to it. When Cobb is running the Mr. Charles ploy on the target guy, part of that involves drawing the target’s attention to the strangeness of the dream (the shifting gravity, shaking, etc) to make him aware that’s he’s in a dream.

      I remember getting pretty excited at the time that someone else was making reference to this experience I had had. I guess the standard topics of discussion don’t quite lend themselves well to people bringing this up in conversations otherwise?

    • gleamingecho says:

      Yup. All the time. Except in my dreams it’s also often really hard to see.

  13. Nick says:

    So in the interest of diverting myself from coronavirus conversations, I’ve been thinking for a while about the ways our web applications do and don’t serve us, and how they might have been different. I think the format of blogging we all know today isn’t going anywhere, but there are features uncommon to blogging software which might be common in a different world. Suppose that a blog were just a little more like a wiki, where folks could make edit suggestions to be incorporated, or suppose they could add review comments like on Google Docs. (This format would be great for one of Scott’s “More Than You Wanted to Know” or links posts, though it would be little use for the rest.) Likewise we could imagine publishing software that saved the full version control history of a post following publication; I’d love to see this for news sites that like to silently change their articles in response to criticism, so it would be easier to keep them honest. Finally, we could imagine a world where the curse that is WYSIWYG never existed, and people just used proper markup.

    So suppose you get to mix and match features in tomorrow’s (or yesterday’s) software. What would you include? What would you exclude?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      If you have a moderately high trust readership, I wouldn’t mind something like that thing Gab was trying to do where you had global comments for a URL. But just for one site. So one could mark up one of Scott’s essays with additional links, rebuttals, comments, etc. Then you could view them or not, or only view ones made by certain users, or markups with certain popularity ratings, etc.

      If your website is populated by dicks, though, this is going to be entirely worthless.

      • Nick says:

        Can you explain how Gab works? I checked Wikipedia but literally every section is about how full of racists the site is, including the one on design.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Gab itself is just twitter for witches. But they were developing (or still are, I don’t know…I heard about it once many months ago and forgot it until I read your post here) a browser extension that would enable comments on any URL. So they would be running some sort of cloud-thingy, and then if there’s, say, a story on CNN that you think is wrong and you want to link a rebuttal to, or post a comment about, you open up the Gab-enabled comment page and post your thoughts. This is indexed in the cloud-thingy with the URL you’re viewing. Then anyone else who comes along with the same browser extension can view your comments, or post back or whatever.

          I think the idea was to counteract all the news websites that have disabled their comments sections, charitably because moderation is hard and uncharitably because TPTB don’t want anyone questioning The Narrative. I just think it’s a neat idea to have comments on every website that the site owner doesn’t have to moderate or be responsible for.

          • Nick says:

            Gab itself is just twitter for witches.

            And three principled civil libertarians, presumably. But thanks. That sounds abstractly interesting, but with how awful comments sections genuinely are elsewhere, I can’t imagine that being anything but a shitshow. =/

          • Eigengrau says:

            Weren’t internet-wide annotations supposed to be the next big thing at some point? I could have sworn Chrome was working on something like that a while ago.

            (*searches*)

            Looks like there’s been lots of theoretical murmurs about it going back decades, and a few apps/extensions like a.nnotate, Diigo, and Genius are available for this purpose. Google’s extension was launched way back in 2009 and then discontinued… way back in 2011.

          • Spookykou says:

            After watching Twitch I really wish someone would incorporate a live comment feed on all streaming services/media that I consume, that would also time stamp and run along side the thing you are watching, so I could watch Voyager S2E24 and commiserate with my fellow Trekkies in ‘real time’.

            I think this is what already happens with Twitch videos, I believe people watching the video can comment and their comments get added, at that time stamp, into the chat feed for that video for anyone else who watches the video later.

            Edit: To defend my apparent enjoyment of Twitch chat, to me it is analogous to being in a crowd for a sporting event. I am not having a ‘discussion’ with anyone else in the stadium, it is just nice to see everyone go wild when something crazy happens and I am also going wild, and it makes it easier for me to go more wild, some sort of emotional feedback loop. I am sure someone somewhere has eloquently explained how this is an important mechanism in riots or something.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Spookykou

            I agree, that would be neat. Also I enjoy your posting style and you seem like a fun person.

          • Lambert says:

            I hear there’s a thing where they do this for Buffy the Vampire Slayer alongside some retrospective podcast thing.

          • Aftagley says:

            To defend my apparent enjoyment of Twitch chat, to me it is analogous to being in a crowd for a sporting event. I am not having a ‘discussion’ with anyone else in the stadium, it is just nice to see everyone go wild when something crazy happens and I am also going wild, and it makes it easier for me to go more wild, some sort of emotional feedback loop.

            Holy shit, is this why Twitch chat exists?

            I really don’t like going to sporting events and I also really don’t like Twitch chat. I’d never made the connection between these two dislikes before.

          • Nick says:

            I watch live chess streams on Youtube sometimes and I enjoy reading the comments and occasionally commenting. The only downside is that about once an hour someone will bring up Bobby Fischer’s antisemitism or say that women chess players are bad at the game or something, which always derails the thread a while.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Conrad Honcho Thanks, this kind of positive feedback is sure to keep me coming back.

    • Aftagley says:

      I would get people to agree right now whether or not we wanted the internet to promote anonymous exchange of ideas OR if it was an extension of our existing identity past meatspace. Trying to develop a protocol that does both has just left both sides vulnerable to bad actors.

      • Nick says:

        When I scrolled over this comment and saw the first few words and the OR, I immediately thought it was going to be about ad revenue vs. cheap subscription models keeping the Internet afloat. And it wasn’t, but now I’m wondering whether they’re not related. How much better does targeted advertising work when we’re always logged into stable identities linked to meatspace?

        (Personally, as will surprise no one here, I prefer the anonymous exchange of ideas.)

        • Aftagley says:

          Much, much better i’d imagine. It’s why Facebook is a multi-billion dollar company and Reddit, well, isn’t.

          It’s also why, despite the fact that everyone really seems to disapprove of walled garden approach to expanding internet access in the third world, no one has been able to effectively mobilize against it.

          ETA: I realize the hypocrisy of saying this while hiding behind a pseudonym, but I’m ambivalent on the concept. For a long time I used to publish content under my own name.

    • qemqemqem says:

      I’d like to see an easy system for writing a response on my blog to another blog, and have that other blog automatically link to my response as though it were a comment (allowing for moderation on their side). Maybe a WordPress plugin could create this?

  14. acymetric says:

    I saw elsewhere that Santa Clara County in CA has banned large gatherings of 1,000 people. Let’s leave aside the merits of banning such gatherings, as we’re hashing that out plenty in other comment threads. Does Santa Clara County actually have the authority to issue and enforce such a ban? It seems to me that it might not stand up to legal challenges, if someone were inclined to challenge it, and it isn’t clear to me what they would do or be able to do of someone just went ahead and had a gathering anyway, but I admit I don’t really know much about the topic and those are just my vague gut intuitions.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      My guess is “no,” but I don’t think it matters because most people probably agree it’s a good idea to do this until the virus blows over.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      It could be unconstitutional, but what kind of person is popular enough to invite 999 people to a gathering but doesn’t mind becoming such a high-profile case for social shaming?

    • Eric Rall says:

      The same thought occurred to me. My guess is they only have the direct authority to do it for events that happen on government property or in public spaces that require city or county permits for large events. It also acts to mark a Schelling Point, where (as Conrad observed) private event organizers take their cues from the county, cancel or postpone their own events, and tell anyone who complains that they’re just following the county’s guidelines. Likewise, people who would have attended the events will probably see the ban announcement and assume the events are cancelled whether the organizers actually cancel them or not.

      There’s also an indirect effect on liability: if a private event on private property defies the “ban”, then the county may not be able to directly act to shut it down or punish the organizers or participants, but suppose one of the attendees turns out to have been infected with COVID-19: everyone who got exposed at the event will then be able to argue in court that the organizers were negligent to ignore the county’s decree and should be held liable for damages resulting from that negligence.

      • Theodoric says:

        Also, event insurance might pay out if the event is cancelled due to an order or request from the government, but not if the organizer just decided to cancel.

    • Kaitian says:

      Most of Germany, and some other European countries, have banned large gatherings too. I don’t know how they’re planning to enforce it. But I suspect that gatherings “over 1000 people” are almost never someone’s private event, and are generally professionally organized. And certainly the government does in principle have authority to place limits on how people conduct business, e.g. with health inspections, rules about work conditions, and so on.

      • acymetric says:

        Freedom of assembly may not be as baked in in European countries as it is in the US (I have no idea).

        • Aapje says:

          In my country, it can be limited for reasons of public order, which is a concept that can be interpreted very broadly, including for reasons of health.

          Basically, the government can do what the courts let them get away with, and they will surely be lenient if a pandemic threatens.

    • Two McMillion says:

      California’s constitution grants extremely robust powers to local government, so arguably yes.

    • Garrett says:

      There’s two separate issues: does the county have the authority, generally. And would said actions be in violation of some scheme of rights (US/Federal Constitution, Federal civil rights laws, etc.)

      I know little about California law, so I can’t answer any of those issues.
      For Federal Constitutional interpretation, I suspect these actions would clear the bar for strict scrutiny.

      The 3-pronged test includes:
      1) It must be justified by a compelling governmental interest. Having citizens not die from disease would almost certainly qualify.
      2) The law or policy must be narrowly tailored to achieve that goal or interest. Banning public gatherings of over 1000 people strikes me as incredibly-narrowly tailored.
      3) The law or policy must be the least restrictive means for achieving that interest. Coming up with something which is less-restrictive would be challenging. About the only way would be if someone could mathematically prove that there was no decrease in the effectiveness if the ban cap was a different number. And that’s really hard to pull off.

      Given that it’s long been accepted to have “time, place or manner” restrictions on other 1st Amendment activity, I can easily see this passing.

    • keaswaran says:

      When you say the county has “banned” such events, what precisely do you mean? Do you mean that the County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance specifying legal punishments for organizers (or attendees?) of such events? Or is it just that the County Board of Supervisors issued a statement saying “we believe that no events of this size should take place within the county”?

      An ordinance specifying legal punishments would likely be a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of peaceable assembly. But it’s not 100% obvious to me that it would be, given that many municipalities have things like curfews making it illegal for minors to be outside after 10 pm, and also given that cities and counties have the power to issue zoning code specifying the uses that both public and private spaces can be put to. The fire marshal regularly bans buildings from hosting more than particular specified numbers of people (and public businesses are usually legally required to post signs stating the fire marshal’s declaration of the capacity of the space).

      But I suspect that most governments are merely issuing strong suggestions.

      Many universities have “banned” their faculty members from travel, either to level 2 and 3 countries, or all international travel, or all out-of-state travel. Several friends of mine at other universities have asked exactly how this is enforced. My guess is that universities will just refuse to process reimbursements for such travel that takes place (I sincerely hope they will reimburse people who bought tickets for such travel and then choose not to go!) and will then count on their employees to largely obey the statement that was issued.

      A lot of libertarians assume that all government decrees must be backed up with force, with escalation possible, up to and including death. But I think they underestimate the power of manifestly reasonable regulation that has zero enforcement power behind it.

      • Eric Rall says:

        I looked up the actual order just now, and it at least purports to direct the police to back up the order with force if necessary:

        9. Pursuant to Government Code sections 26602 and 41601 and Health and Safety Code section 101029, the Health Officer requests that the Sheriff and all chiefs of police in the County ensure compliance with and enforce this Order.

        Here are the laws cited in that clause:

        26602. The sheriff shall prevent and suppress any affrays, breaches of the peace, riots, and insurrections that come to his or her knowledge, and investigate public offenses which have been committed. The sheriff may execute all orders of the local health officer issued for the purpose of preventing the spread of any contagious or
        communicable disease.

        41601. For the suppression of riot, public tumult, disturbance of the peace, or resistance against the laws or public authorities in the lawful exercise of their functions, and for the execution of all orders of the local health officer issued for the purpose of preventing the spread of any contagious, infectious, or communicable disease, the chief of police has the powers conferred upon sheriffs by general law and in all respects is entitled to the same protection.

        101029. The sheriff of each county, or city and county, may enforce within the county, or the city and county, all orders of the local health officer issued for the purpose of preventing the spread of any contagious, infectious, or communicable disease.  Every peace officer of every political subdivision of the county, or city and county, may enforce within the area subject to his or her jurisdiction all orders of the local health officer issued for the purpose of preventing the spread of any contagious, infectious, or communicable disease.  This section is not a limitation on the authority of peace officers or public officers to enforce orders of the local health officer.  When deciding whether to request this assistance in enforcement of its orders, the local health officer may consider whether it would be necessary to advise the enforcement agency of any measures that should be taken to prevent infection of the enforcement officers.

        It definitely looks to me as if these orders are backed up with force and are authorized by California law. Whether or not those laws are constitutional under the present circumstances is another question, and one of which I’m not sure of the answer.

    • BBA says:

      The powers granted to public health authorities are extremely broad. One of the sections cited in the Santa Clara order, Cal. Health & Safety Code § 101040, authorizes the health officer to “take any preventive measure that may be necessary to protect and preserve the public health from any public health hazard” during a declared emergency, which California is currently under. So there’s clear statutory authority for the order. Constitutionality is another matter. (Though most of the case law on public health dates back to the early 20th century, when elitist judges were all too ready to let modern scientific medicine override the uninformed desires of the unwashed masses. Nowadays? There are probably a few judges who would free Mary Mallon.)

      There was another case during a measles outbreak last year, when the NYC health department ordered mandatory vaccination for everyone living in certain neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Although I’m very much an anti-anti-vaxxer, this order didn’t sit well with me for some reason, but I’m fine with quarantine and isolation orders for the exposed and infected. This distinction is purely instinctual on my part, and I can’t offer any logical explanation for it. Legally, the health department is empowered to do both.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Though most of the case law on public health dates back to the early 20th century, when elitist judges were all too ready to let modern scientific medicine override the uninformed desires of the unwashed masses.

        That sounds much more just than if they overrode the uninformed desires of the well-washed masses.

    • JayT says:

      What constitutes a “gathering”? Would an office building with 1000 people in it be going against this ban? Apple’s headquarters normally holds something like 10,000 people, iirc. Even though they are telling people to work from home, I’d guess there will still be more than a 1,000 there.

      • BBA says:

        From the order itself:

        For the purposes of this Order, a “mass gathering” is any event or convening that brings together one thousand (1,000) or more persons in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, cafeteria, theater, or any other confined indoor or confined outdoor space.
        For the purpose of clarity, a “mass gathering” does not include normal operations at airports, shopping malls and centers, or other spaces where 1,000 or more persons may be in transit. It also does not include typical office environments or retail or grocery stores where large numbers of people are present, but it is unusual for them to be within arm’s length of one another.

        Meanwhile on the east coast, there’s a circle on a map. A few politicians have described in vague terms what is and isn’t allowed inside the circle, but solid details are scarce.

        When I was a child I lived just outside that circle, and I spent a lot of time inside it. For sentimental reasons I’d like to know what’s going to happen there.

    • Polycarp says:

      If @BBA is right that the county is acting under a state statute, I would bet large sums of money that this would be found to be constitutional if challenged. The state’s power to regulate health in an emergency is at the core of the state “police power.” My intuition (for what that may be worth) is that a 14th Amendment challenge would fail. (I need to get some sleep, or I would say more.) I would predict a unanimous opinion if it were decided in the US Supreme Court.

      If you are interested, you might have a look at a website that will come up if you google “ncsi state quarantine and isolation statutes.” (I’m trying to avoid the automatic link censor.) There is also a very good podcast on the subject, which was posted March 10th. “Reasonable Disagreements” is the name of the podcast, “Coronavirus, the Constitution, and the CFPB” is the episode. The first part of the podcast is the relevant part. Richard Epstein is the one who is interviewed on the topic.

      I thought I would check to see that this podcast comes up when I search for it on my iphone podcast app. It didn’t show. But if you google “Reasonable Disagreements podcast” and click through, it should be the first episode that you find there.

      • albatross11 says:

        Also, by the time the issue works it way through the courts, I expect COVID-19 will either be a bad memory or a seasonal disease that’s widespread and that some knuckleheads are trying to convince you not to get your kids vaccinated against. I assume few judges will want to issue a temporary order overriding public health authorities during an epidemic, so I doubt this will ever actually make it to court.

    • baconbits9 says:

      They tried to challenge it with a class action lawsuit but couldn’t get enough plaintiffs together!

    • Murphy says:

      If I was a 1st amendment lawyer trying to establish good precedent… I would be wary of fighting a case where the government is trying to contain a plague because that’s one way to get a new exception carved out since they have a really really strong and demonstrable reasonable and good faith interest taking steps to contain the outbreak.

      There’s already enough “Plagues and wars of extermination” exceptions in various legal and social norms around the globe.

      The 1st amendment has no written “except imminent lawless action” clause but that got established through legal cases.

  15. Thegnskald says:

    Hurray, still working through SR. Thought I had a breakthrough at one point, so I’ll work through that example, then explain the issue I have.

    Two large clocks are synchronized. It is noon, so they see each other as being at 11:00. A ship is preparing to depart from one clock, we’ll call it A, to the other clock, we’ll call it B. It accelerates over one second to .86601 C (which if I’ve done the math correctly results in a negligible difference of .85/1 second time dilation), and travels to B, where it accelerates at .86601 C, to another effect we can neglect. I am definitely neglecting these periods of time; consider the following thoughts to happen entirely between them.

    It takes ~69 minutes to make the journey from A and B’s perspective, and ~35 minutes from the ship’s perspective. It arrives at 1:09 B local time, it’s own clock showing 12:35. A doesn’t see this until 2:09. If the ship immediately turned around and went back, it would arrive at 2:18 A local time, it’s own clock showing 1:10.

    Everything is great.

    Okay, the issue: What about B’s journey from the ship’s perspective?

    Well, with length contraction, from the ship’s perspective B began moving at 11:30 local ship time, 11:00 on B. (11:00 without, that just makes things worse.). It “arrives” at the same time – it has to – 1:09. So B’s clock ticks 129 minutes, where the ship’s clock ticks around 65. Which is the right ratio, but in the wrong direction, considering whose perspective I think I am correctly taking; B’s clock is ticking faster than it should be, rather than slower. And considering the velocity should be equivalent (equal length and time contraction, so equal velocity), there is a curious discrepancy in the distance traveled, even treating the Lorentz factor as inverted.

    I’m reasonably certain these are supposed to be symmetrical, so what am I doing wrong?

    • smocc says:

      No, the perspective of an accelerating observer and a non-accelerating observer are not symmetrical. You can’t use the same time dilation equations to predict what an accelerating observer should observe. The Principle of Special Relativity is only that all inertial frames can be treated equally, not non-inertial frames.

      For example, imagine that A, B, and C all have free-hanging pendulums with them. When C sees B begin to move C will also see that B’s pendulum hangs unperturbed while C’s own pendulum swings backwards. Likewise, B will see his own pendulum stay still while C’s pendulum swings backwards.

      C then knows that he is the only one accelerating, and that he has to use different equations for calculating B’s time change than he would if he weren’t accelerating.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Considering only the timeframe between accelerations, isn’t the ship an inertial observer?

        • smocc says:

          Correct, which means that both B and C should get the same answer to the question “how much time elapses for C between Event:AccelStop and Event:AccelStart”?

          But they the calculations they do to get that answer may not be symmetrical. C simply watches his own clock.

          B watches his clock and watches C, works out the time of Event:AccelStop according to B’s own clock, works out the time of Event:AccelStart according to B’s own clock, then divides the difference between those two times by C’s gamma factor (relative to B). If he does all those steps correctly he will get the same number that C’s clock reports.

          (NOTE: B needs the time between the actual times of Event:Accel[Stop/Start] in his reference frame, not the times he sees the events happen. He was to work backwards with the propagation time of the light to get the real times.)

          • Thegnskald says:

            Yeah, that is all the first section, on the observations of the clocks. Worked that out, everything works neatly. (Initially incorrectly had the ship starting at 11 from B’s perspective, but sorted that out after I started to repeat the same error for A and had the ship arriving… uh. Way too early.)

            It is the ship’s perspective during the inertial period that isn’t working out the way I’d expect. The only way I can see to arrive at the right answers is to assume the ship gets light from the future, such that the clock B shows a later time than it otherwise would.

            ETA: The time it would need to see B start moving is 12:52. What is interesting to me there is that also happens to be the distance divided by the speed of light, times the speed of the ship. .86601*60, about 52. I can make sense of that if that is the case. If not I’m back to wondering what my math error was.

          • smocc says:

            My guess is that the mistake you’re making is somewhere in one of the phrases like “the time it would need to see B start moving”

            When you make statements like that in relativistic settings you need to be really careful with
            1. The time according to whose clock?
            2. The time C sees B start moving or the time or the time B starts moving? Those are two very different questions.

            Mixing up any of the answers to those questions can lead to weird results, and the more complicated you make your situation the harder it becomes to keep it all straight.

          • Thegnskald says:

            The ETA was on how far in the future the light would have to come from; and yeah, you’d need to add another thirty minutes on top of that for the light to actually arrive, so the ship would be receiving light that is 82 minutes from the future. Why that makes sense to me is getting off topic, though. (Although it does relate to the reason I started diving back into trying to understand the behavior of time in SR).

            Setting that aside, what should the ship observe during it’s inertial phase? Because it looks like it should think the clock took 129 minutes in clock-time and 65 minutes in ship-time to traverse one light hour at .86601 C which is just a pile of contradictions.

          • smocc says:

            It sounds like maybe you are getting mixed up between the “optical illusion” type stuff that comes from having things moving around and the fundamental calculations.

            When C reaches B, both C and B’s clocks will have a particular reading. Those two readings are unambiguous and everyone must agree on what those readings will be, even A. There can be no observer ambiguity about what the clocks will read because there is only one of each clock and only one point in spacetime that we’re talking about.

            The easiest way of calculating what C’s clock will read is to use C’s velocity relative to A and use the integral we talked about last time. It is also easiest to predict what B’s clock will read using the A (or B) reference frame.

            In principle you can also use C’s reference frame to predict what C’s clock will read and what B’s clock will read, but you cannot use the same formulae you used when in A’s reference frame because C is not an inertial obserer the whole time. The correct formula will depend on the acceleration of C.

          • smocc says:

            By the way the reason I am not telling you how to calculate the time from the perspective of the accelerating ship is because while I know how to do it in principle I’ve never worked it out and it’s kind of a pain.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Working backwards…

            Einstein’s solution appears to handle the non-inertial observer as being in a gravity well; considered from this perspective, the ship is accelerating towards the clock. So the idea that it would tick faster from the ship’s perspective isn’t surprising. The amount it ticks faster is surprising as hell, but I probably exceeded the maximum acceleration by hitting .86601 C in one second, and even if not that’s still an insane rate, so insane results shouldn’t be too surprising.

            So it makes sense the ship will see light from the future from clock B. Sort of. There might be some causality issues, assuming maximum acceleration doesn’t clamp that possibility off, which it probably does.

            If it is seeing light from the future, it makes sense for the light to reflect the exact time necessary to make the SR equation work out. A time which also happens to be the ship’s Lorentz Contracted measured distance, plus the clock’s measurement of the distance times the velocity divided by the speed of light. Maybe.

          • smocc says:

            I think I understand now what you’re trying to do, and I think I will try to work it out tonight.

            I’m going to calculate two things
            1. The reading B sees on C’s clock as a function of the reading B sees on his own clock.
            2. The reading C sees on B’s clock as a function of the reading C sees on his own clock.

            There are two factors that affect these calculations, the time dilation effects, and the light-travel-time effects. The travel-time effects are pretty straightforward. The time-dilation effects are harder because it requires inverting that nasty accelerating-time-dilation formula we came up with last time. I will probably have to do it numerically.

            I don’t expect the two graphs to be symmetric, but I don’t actually have good instincts for what they will look like. I am confident about how to calculate them though.

          • Thegnskald says:

            I’m not sure what I’m trying to do.

            Getting into the crackpot stuff again, I had a question, when considering seeing the rotated stuff in the past, whether that stuff would be seeing light from the future (basically). There was also the question of what, exactly, the idea of the rotation in time meant; I’m pretty sure at this point it is fairly straightforward (or at least as straightforward as time gets).

            Now I’m vaguely curious whether I stumbled across an easier way of calculating (approximating?) the effect of acceleration on time, but that’s somewhat less interesting to me.

            Edit:

            Also, thank you for your time. I’ll try to avoid bugging you on this stuff for a while; my brain hasn’t been willing to be quiet about it for the last few months, but I think it is starting to quiesce again.

          • Matt M says:

            But I would expect the Federal government, of anyone, to have the experts who know how messaging works.

            I wouldn’t. Approximately half the population actively distrusts the federal government and assumes they are lying about most everything.

            And most of the people who don’t necessarily have an innate distrust of the federal government in general do have a distrust of its current leadership in specific.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            (Matt M: I think this comment got lost and belongs elsewhere.)

        • Thegnskald says:

          I’m getting (for the time observed on clock B by the ship) the following equation:
          1/c * integral(v + (v^2 + a*x)/lamda )

          I am working backwards, so my approach is error prone. I’m curious if that is the right equation, though, if you end up finishing.

          (And today I learned I do not have the mathematical expertise to work with rapidity, my initial approach, with any confidence.)

          ETA: I missed the term for time itself, which thinking about it, is probably the crunchy one. I could ignore it as negligible for my example problem because the effect was negligible, but for more continuous acceleration, it probably starts to matter a lot more.

    • Where’s the 11:30 coming from? The direction is wrong because that number is wrong. It should be after 12:00 and not before.

      • Thegnskald says:

        If the ship started moving at 12:00, ship time, from it’s perspective, the clock B had to have started moving a half hour before that (ship time), using Lorentz Contraction, since it would have taken a half hour from the ship’s perspective for the clock’s movement to reach it.

  16. DarkTigger says:

    Payments on mortgages to be suspended across Italy after coronavirus outbreak
    Can somebody explain to me, how this will not lead to an impolsion of the whole Italian banking sector? Because to me as an economic layman it sounds like the kind of scenario that kills banks.

    • add_lhr says:

      It’s probably not great for banks but if managed / coordinated well it does not need to lead to bank collapses. Banks collapse when their assets (such as mortgages) are demonstrated (or strongly implied) to be worth a lot less than expected, and people begin to suspect that the assets might not add up to enough money to cover everyone’s deposits.

      Normally, if someone stops paying their mortgage, that is evidence that the mortgage is worth less than expected, and the bank is meant to “write it down” (mark it as worth less than face value). But in this case, if payments are suspended nationally by force majeure, on the theory that people can’t pay now but will be able to pay in full at some point soon as long as you don’t kick them out of their house in the meantime, then the bank does not need to conclude that the mortgage is worth any less than expected. In some countries, having to wait a few months for money means that money is actually worth a lot less (due to inflation), but that is not a major issue in the Eurozone – so banks should not have to make major write-downs yet just because of the suspension. Of course, if it looks like the economic dislocation will last many months and affect borrowers’ ability to pay in the long run, then additional measures will be needed.

      The lack of cash coming in from borrowers, while it might seem like an issue, is also not a major problem – since the central bank can just agree to accept those same mortgages as collateral for lines of credit that it provides to affected banks (basically, a given bank will “pledge” some of its stock of mortgages and other securities like corporate bonds, etc to the central bank, and in exchange the central bank will top up the bank’s own account with cash to replace the cash that would have ordinarily come from borrowers. This cash can then be used to give to any depositors who want their money back, and/or to make new loans as needed.

    • Erusian says:

      1.) The payments are just being suspended. The money is still owed and will be paid, with a case between “in lump once the relief is over” and “just extended the mortgage X months, where X is how many it was suspended.”
      2.) The government has promised to make mortgage holders whole and has ten billion euros to spend on this kind of thing.
      3.) Mortgages are much rarer in Italy than in the US, something like 10-20% of Italians have a mortgage.
      4.) After 2008, the Italian government pursued a strategy of encouraging its own citizens to buy its bonds. This means an unusual amount of debt is held by citizens, who are more willing to take hits for patriotic reasons and less likely to result in capital flight if they trust the government’s response.
      5.) Their foreign creditors have been reassured by various parties that have an interest in seeing quarantines maintained that they will be supported.
      6.) The politicians doing this are populists and not as concerned with long term economics, as most populists aren’t.

      The long term “loser” in this is the (mostly future) Italian taxpayer (and to a lesser extent other taxpayers) who will be forced to cover the costs. That said, I suspect most people would vote yes on something like, “Would you be willing to have your tax money go towards coronavirus relief, now and in the future?”

    • baconbits9 says:

      I don’t know the particulars of this case but there are a lot of ways around these issues. The big hit for US banks in 2008 was the mark to market issues and the need to suddenly raise capital against the drop in securities prices, those were larger than the (early) individual payments missed.

  17. Johnny4 says:

    Seems like people here would get a kick out of this extremely detailed account of “The Infernal Kingdom” (i.e., Hell), including maps, illustrations, and facts about its language, alphabet, economy, flag, anthem, etc. It’s called The Stellar Almanac: https://twitter.com/deathbybadger/status/1234423909434392577

    • Algon33 says:

      Mega-cool. Thanks for sharing. Too bad all the copies I could find are gone. But hope springs eternal as the authors’ are thinking of republishing it.

      The fact they’ve got beauracratic forms for Hell is a thing of beauty.

      Possibly in the vein of this book, I’ve been doing a bit of speculative theology lately, and I wound up thinking about religion in early hunter gatherers. Anyone know of interesting reading on the area?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Mega-cool. Thanks for sharing. Too bad all the copies I could find are gone.

        Note the Lovecraftian implications of looking for a book about the Infernal Kingdom that can’t be found for sale or in a library.

  18. noyann says:

    Visualizations for covid19 and media coverage, and comparison with other microbes.

  19. johan_larson says:

    In an earlier OT, we gave life advice to Bob, an exactly average young man(average looks, average intellect, average fitness, average across the board). In this thread, let’s raise our sights a bit and give some advice to Chuck, who is 75th percentile in everything, and graduating from high school this year.

  20. Spookykou says:

    I wanted to compare my lived experience(maybe get medical advice?) with other people and I don’t have a social life so here goes.

    I experience what I would describe as comparatively intense physiological reactions to being hungry. Compared to my other physiological reactions to other stimulus. If I get to about, two hours after I would normally eat, I start to get a headache, feel sort of nauseous, get knots in my stomach, feel light headed and fatigued, these symptoms all resolve quickly after eating and get more intense the longer I wait. Although if I wait long enough( 6-12 hours) they mostly go away, I voluntarily fasted for about 80 hours once and after the first day it was actually pretty easy. I also get very tired if I over eat, although I have seen at least a few references in media and such of other people also experiencing this.

    Related, I seem to get noticeably hungry when I engage in more cognitively difficult tasks. For example when I am playing MTG, or trying to write, or playing HS arena. In contrast playing most other games, drawing/painting, HS battlegrounds, does not generate this response, ever. It is actually a little depressing if I am correct about this, because I experience it very rarely these days(and never from work) and it makes me think I am not using my brain enough.

    I had a physical about 8 months ago, and would say I have had these reaction to hunger/thinking hard for as long as I can remember.

    Does this match other peoples experience? Is this what being Hangry is about? Do I have diabetes or something?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      IANAD. It looks a bit like what happened to me when I ate a sugary diet for a few days. Might be worth trying a low glicemic index diet for a week or so and see if anything changes.

      • Spookykou says:

        This seems like low risk advice, I will look into it thanks.

      • mcscope says:

        This matches my experience – I experimented with a keto-y diet and with a carbful diet while I was doing intermittent fasting and I found the carbful one had a much stronger feeling of hunger. The keto-y one made me feel like a superman who never has to eat again if I didn’t want too.
        Also, OP do you exercise? regular exercise plays a big role in regulating hunger, sleep, general wellbeing, etc.

        • I can second this. I have a low-carb diet (i.e. keto-adjacent) and the same experience.

          Also worth noting: I no longer have any energy fluctuations of note during a given day. I wake up with a certain energy level that I keep until I go to bed; no ‘food coma’, no sudden spike in energy (unless I drink caffeine, which I try not to overstimulate myself with, so it remains quite effective on me).

          The only issue I continue to have on low-carb is getting enough calories (I’m still struggling a little with a weight-drop I don’t want; I’m already very lean!). So if you experiment with this, remember to add oils and fats to your food, whatever is in there naturally may not be enough to keep you energised. 🙂 Olive oil is a great and safe to drizzle on just about any finished meal. (I wouldn’t suggest frying with it, as it doesn’t deal well with high temperatures. If you want an flavourful oil to fry with, coconut oil is a nice choice.)

          Also, if you do go low-carb, be aware that (depending on how sensitive your individual metabolism is to the degree you’ve cut your carbs) you may have a phase of up to a handful of days with headaches and/or flu-like symptoms. This is fine – colloquially speaking, this is your body freaking out a bit about running out of carbs to burn. It’ll pass.

          In any case, whether you end up trying this or not, good luck getting your distracting hunger under control, Spookykou!

    • Kestrellius says:

      Data point: what you’re describing is very unfamiliar to me, and I would guess it’s uncommon in general, but I can’t be sure. I pretty routinely go 20 to 24 hours without eating, though, which is almost certainly not standard, so I’m not exactly normal either.

      Regardless of how much time has passed, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced hunger the way you’re describing. Even fairly serious hunger is sort of this dull ache in the background that’s mostly psychological and barely registers as a physical feeling. At a guess, what you’re talking about might be what would happen to me after several days or a week without food, when starvation proper starts to kick in?

      • acymetric says:

        This matches my experience, except that I eat on a mostly regular schedule. If I feel anything at all, it’s a dull ache in my gut as you mentioned (or maybe even more of a tightness than ache). I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed any congintive decrease as a result of hunger, even on the rare day that I get busy and forget to eat until 7 or 8 pm.

        That said, there are definitely people who react much more strongly to hunger, similar to the OP. I have no idea which is more common, or what either would indicate.

    • Ketil says:

      Hmm.. I think I react less to hunger than many, and generally go for fewer and larger meals, three, possibly two meals per day. No nausea or headaches, just a gnawing sensation from my stomach wanting to be filled up – which tends to go away or diminish after a while. And yes, tired after eating a large meal, and also after long and fairly intense exercise. I assume you were checked for diabetes or other insulin/blood sugar issues in your medical? I’m no expert, but that’s my first association for your symptoms.

      Hunger often seems to negatively affect mood of other people, making them short tempered and aggressive. I get that way when thirsty, or mentally exhausted and under cognitive stress, or when crowded in – but as far as I can determine, not much from hunger (which could still be some kind of observer bias).

      I don’t recognize getting more or less hungry depending on cognitively intensity of work (but from physical exercise, sure).

    • Emby says:

      Your experiences match up pretty well with mine, except maybe somewhat more severe. Are you female? (I am) A persistent thing that I hear is that male and female differences to fasting vary systematically, and that it has fewer good health effects for women, physiologically.

      My symptoms from skipping meals start with hunger, go on to intense hunger, light-headedness, feeling fuzzy in the head and unable to think, end up with nausea, headache, and lying in a darkened room sipping flat lemonade till I fall asleep (that’s “skipped both breakfast and lunch” level – not always, but often enough)

      I remember a (male) friend of mine doing the 5-2 diet, and I said to him “don’t you get hungry?”. And his reply was “only at mealtimes”. Honestly, that reply might as well have come from Alpha Centauri as far as I’m concerned … this “going from hungry to not-hungry via some method other than eating” thing is pretty much not a thing in my world.

      I understand people’s experiences on this can differ substantially.

      • Spookykou says:

        I am male, and I would say I am oddly similar to your friend in that I can train myself to have a new schedule. I went for almost two years eating only two meals a day for example, and once I got used to it, my body also got used to it, but if I missed one of my two established meal times then I would be in trouble. Currently I am on three meals a day and skipping breakfast is pretty horrible.

        To reference Scott stuff since I am on SSC, it feels like my set-points are both aggressively enforced and highly malleable.

    • xenon says:

      I am very similar (also female like Emby). I get “hangry” pretty readily and experience increasing anxiety and irritability with hunger. Also get malaise when very hungry. I did have an eating disorder in college and at the time noticed that if I pushed through, I felt entirely fine. I think it might be blood sugar related–usually drinking juice or pop is enough to take away the worst symptoms, though not always.

    • telifera says:

      Your experience of hunger more or less matches mine, although it sounds like your reaction is quicker and more intense. If I skip breakfast and lunch, I start to get some of the symptoms you describe—mild stomach pain, light-headedness, feeling tired and mentally slow—around 2 or 3 pm. I also sometimes become more emotionally volatile and start feeling anxious or panicky. If I don’t realize that my emotions are heightened by hunger, I can react badly, but as soon as I attribute them to a physical cause they become much more manageable. All symptoms peak and start to diminish on the same day; by 24 hours fasting, fatigue is usually the only symptom left. I’ve never noticed increased hunger as a result of difficult cognitive tasks, but I have learned to avoid those tasks when I’m very hungry, since I have trouble focusing. (I’m female, if that makes a difference.)

      During periods when I fasted on a regular basis, I became much better at it—for one thing, I figured out that the “existential crises” I was going through were physiological and learned how to work around them cognitively, but the physical symptoms also diminished significantly within a few weeks of fasting once a week. So practice might help reduce hunger pains in the long term.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Sounds somewhat more severe, but similar to my own experience. I get more hungry doing brain work than exercising, though AFTER exercising I get hungry with a vengeance.

    • Dack says:

      Sounds like what happens to me with caffeine withdrawal.

    • ottomanflush says:

      If you figure it out let me know. I have the same problem. I can’t go more than 2-3 hours without eating before I get very irritable, tired, and have trouble concentrating. I also have to eat a big meal before going to bed, otherwise I can’t sleep. All this has been causing me to gain weight. The irritability actually really affects my relationships as well, so I kind of have to choose between being skinny and being nice to my friends. I’m seeing an endocrinologist about it. My blood sugar numbers are stellar apparently, so the only things left to rule out are extremely rare tumoral endocrine disorders. 🤷‍♂️

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        Similar problem here, normal blood (not diabetes). I recently started drinking tea again, which is when symptoms began, so caffeine withdrawal is a likely candidate accordingly to commenter Dack above.

    • Loriot says:

      I have never gotten headaches or felt nauseous, etc. from being hungry. However, being hungry definitely makes it difficult to concentrate on mentally demanding tasks.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      The symptoms after not eating sound similar, though not identical, to what my mother experiences. She’s hypoglycemic. Probably worth getting blood work etc, since there are a number of things this might be.

      As for being tired after large meals, and getting hungrier after doing intellectually challenging tasks : I think that’s normal.

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      This strikes me as unusual. It certainly doesn’t match my experience – hunger is an (occasionally distracting, usually ignorable) gnawing feeling, but it doesn’t make me light-headed or give me headaches or anything, and as long as I eat once during the day I can skip meals with near-impunity. I know people who get indecisive if they don’t eat for too long; one of them has also had gestational diabetes, and our theory is that it’s a blood sugar issue – gestational diabetes being IIRC a risk factor for ordinary diabetes – but that’s a theory.

      Heavy brain use might drop my weight but it’s hard to tell; too many confounding factors. I don’t think it messes that much with hunger, though; the only thing that does that is persistent cold. (Think insufficiently-insulated house in winter somewhere where it snows.)

      Overeating can make me tired, though I think that’s recent – at least I don’t remember it from childhood – and I have to actually overeat; ordinary meals are fine.

  21. GearRatio says:

    How much can a government taking an epidemic seriously inflate how serious the epidemic itself seems?

    My basic understanding of how China reacted to this current thing is “oh, fuck, we got in real trouble with our people last time for not taking this seriously – let’s do every last thing we possibly can on this one”. It seems like that would make this seem worse in terms of estimates of how many people have this, since they’d be testing more and looking harder for infected individuals.

    Since nobody talks about this, I assume it must be wrong in some way, but how?

    • matthewravery says:

      I don’t think an accurate count of the number of infections and more precise estimate of the death rate will make it seem worse. To the contrary, it just means they don’t have to do as much work to infer infection rates.

      If anything, undercounting the denominator (#killed/#infected) makes the disease seem more deadly than it really is, at least for a naive analysis.

    • Kaitian says:

      China reacted very strongly at first because the first known cases had a very high death rate. Presumably, at first they were only diagnosing very sick people. So they thought this is the second coming of SARS.
      With more data, it seems to not be quite that bad, but still bad enough that Italy is taking unprecedented measures trying to contain it.

      For the average person, “Italy shut down the soccer league” is probably a more worrying signal than bickering over whether the death rate is 2% or 5%.

      I guess if there was no government reaction at all, this might just be considered an unusually bad flu season? But the results of a few weeks of uncontrolled spread in Wuhan and Iran seem to show that it’s quite serious.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Overloading the health system would lead to (independently) higher visibility and higher death rates. So definitely more than just a bad flu season.

      • mcscope says:

        I’m hearing reports that Lombardy, Italy has already hit it’s respirator limits and are forced to triage patients to the extent that patients over 65 are not intubated.

        twitter source

        There have been other messages from Italian doctors circulating on twitter that confirm both the war-like atmosphere and the brutal level of triage.

        I think we’d hear about that kind of hospital overloading either way. Here’s hoping we take extreme measures in the US

      • neciampater says:

        At first, Serie A just suspended northern Italian matches. Then postponed some. Then played the derby d’Italia behind closed doors.

        Today in Champions League, the match in Spain was behind closed doors but the match in Germany had fans.

  22. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Marvel Comics once did a storyline, “House of M”, where Magneto has conquered the world, making it a monarchy where his children are to succeed him and mutants unrelated to him are legally privileged above normal humans.
    It’s well-known that Magneto is a Jew, but I don’t know if the mothers of his children are, and none of the three practice Judaism. So would it still be incorrect for this government’s subjects to say “Jews rule the world”?

    • rocoulm says:

      While it is correct in some sense, I think it misses the point. In this hypothetical world, while the rulers at the very top are Jews, there are (I assume) many other lower-echelon rulers who aren’t, and there are many Jews who aren’t involved in the ruling. The statement’s usually taken to mean that the majority of Jews have some “in” or preferential treatment by the government, which doesn’t seem to be the case.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        While it is correct in some sense, I think it misses the point. In this hypothetical world, while the rulers at the very top are Jews, there are (I assume) many other lower-echelon rulers who aren’t, and there are many Jews who aren’t involved in the ruling. The statement’s usually taken to mean that the majority of Jews have some “in” or preferential treatment

        +1, good point. Anti-Semitism of the “Jews are in charge” type is the speaker insinuating that a majority of Jews have some “in” with the rulers to get preferential treatment (we could fairly say something analogous about Ivy graduates: not every individual joins the American ruling class by graduation, but in a majority of cases you get ruling class privilege), not a pedantic “there exist at least two Jews who rule the world.”

    • PandemicShmandemic says:

      It would be Lèse-Magnetté

    • Dack says:

      It’s matrilineal, so probably not.

  23. PandemicShmandemic says:

    What are the best steel-manning arguments for the CDC/FDA testing bottleneck not being a colossal fuckup ?

    • matthewravery says:

      You can’t let every schmuck with an PhD in Virology make bespoke COVID tests. Even if some are good, many won’t be. By having any tests out there that give bad information, you undermine the credibility of the tests that give good information. Contradictory results from different tests creates confusion. All of this increases the uncertainty of the public, erodes faith in institutions, and causes panic. It is panic which is the biggest concern, not COVID.

      (I think the CDC’s response to COVID has been abysmal, btw.)

      • It is panic which is the biggest concern, not COVID.

        I’ve seen various people make this statement and it is so stupid. A virus that can actually kill you and your loved ones is more concerning than Walmart being out of toilet paper.

        “The panic about X is worse than X” is based on some scenario where it’s plausibly true and memed its way in to a mantra that Very Wise People say regardless of context.

        • matthewravery says:

          To be clear, I agree with you. That was my attempt to steel-man. I don’t believe a word of it.

        • fibio says:

          A virus that can actually kill you and your loved ones is more concerning than Walmart being out of toilet paper.

          Well it’s a delicate balancing act. If one guy goes out and buys an entire football teams’ worth of insulin that is a serious issue, replicated a hundred times. The US medical infrastructure has some deep structural problems when it comes to supply of generic lifesaving drugs and spikes in the consumption by people ‘stocking up’ may leave some people in distress due to a lack of access to care. Now, that’s not to say that panic is more dangerous in all cases, but it can have knock on affects that can be worse than the original fear.

        • John Schilling says:

          A virus that can actually kill you and your loved ones is more concerning than Walmart being out of toilet paper.

          Walmart being out of toilet paper for more than a few weeks means the guy who stocks TP on Walmart’s shelves is probably being laid off. More generally, economic panic is likely to result in lots of people losing their jobs, some of whom will become homeless or otherwise impoverished as a result. And I believe the mortality rate for homelessness is comparable to that for COVID-19.

          So, no, it isn’t “stupid” to believe that the panic is worse than the disease. It may be wrong, but that depends on numbers that are poorly known at present and people are making their best guesses.

          • acymetric says:

            Being out of toilet paper will also sort of become its own problem in fairly short order.

          • DarkTigger says:

            @acymetric
            Wash your ass in the shower, and than dry it with an dedicated towel, that gets washed regularly.

            You drive your water bill up a little, and it is less convinient than toilet paper, but it is not less hygienic.

          • acymetric says:

            I suppose we’re assuming I only poop at home?

          • DarkTigger says:

            When the situation deteriorates far enough that there isn’t enough toilet paper available in your local super market for several weeks, I suspect there is a general quarantine going on in your area. So yeah, in that scenario you better only use the toilet at home. I don’t know how else the supply chain would be broken that long.

          • First off, Walmart is not going to start laying off people because of toilet paper shortages. At most, they will cut hours. Unfortunate, but hardly an economic catastrophe.

            The word “panic” has these negative implications that don’t make that much sense in this scenario. When people “panic” over the Coronavirus, that manifests itself in people avoiding travel, not shaking hands, calling in sick, and shutting themselves in their homes. All things that we want people to do in a pandemic, even if it that does cause a drop in economic activity. Since the virus is growing exponentially, it means that this wave is going to play out in the next month or two. If it does end up reasonably contained, I don’t see the “panic” causing a recession all on its own. We should expect the government to do what it can to mitigate negative economic effects but the priority is stopping the virus. To flip the priorities is like prioritizing overhydration mitigation when there is a shortage of water.

          • acymetric says:

            First off, Walmart is not going to start laying off people because of toilet paper shortages. At most, they will cut hours. Unfortunate, but hardly an economic catastrophe.

            First off, you know we aren’t actually just concerned about the toilet paper supply, right?

            Second, if everyone is cutting hours across the board for months, maybe it isn’t a catastrophe (I think it very well could be) but if not it is certainly awfully close.

          • AG says:

            If people keep buying out toilet paper and other things, then so long as Walmart’s supply chains aren’t disrupted, aren’t they more likely to increase hours? A la the holiday rush, when shelves are also commonly empty.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          If we need everyone to have handsoap to stop/slow the spread, and lots of people can’t get handsoap because 1 idiot panicked and bought 10 years worth, that’s an example where the panic is the problem.

        • albatross11 says:

          Panic is by definition a bad reaction to any crisis. But taking a crisis seriously and acting accordingly, when done by lots of people at once, will look a lot like a panic. “Panic buying of toilet paper” is basically what happens when millions of people think “If I’m stuck in my house in quarantine for two weeks, I’m going to run out of toilet paper. I’d better get some extra!”

          I think lots of stuff done to prevent panic is counterproductive. And honestly, one think likely to prevent me overreacting to a crisis is seeing that the authorities are competent and are taking sensible actions and giving good advice. The less competent the authorities, the less I am going to trust that they’ll do the right thing or give the right advice. CDC’s mishandling of early testing was not a good step toward reassuring everyone that they’re actually competent….

          • Matt M says:

            To paraphrase Mel Brooks: Basic rationality is when I stockpile two months worth of foodstuffs. Panic is when you buy one extra roll of toilet paper.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Stopping panic is very difficult. Simply saying the words “don’t panic” is likely to trigger panic.

            But I would expect the Federal government, of anyone, to have the experts who know how messaging works.

            Two months ago would have been a great time for POTUS or VPOTUS to say “we are monitoring this virus and our scientists are studying it closely. For now it appears contained in China, but it may eventually hit our shores. While we are wondering how we would react to such a crisis, now is a good time for every family to check if they are prepared for any kind of emergency. Even though losing power or water is very unlikely from this, there are other disasters in which this could happen. Is your family prepared in case you are stuck in your house without any utilities for three days? Now, before there is any crisis, is the time to check on that.”

            This would have placed minimum stresses on stores because three days of supplies is not panic-buying, and only a fraction of people would be paying immediate attention anyway. It also projects competence, which albatross11 explained well is very important.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, it seems bizarre that there’s not a large enough stockpile of, say, N95 masks for healthcare workers to handle a worst-case pandemic. This suggests that nobody has done the most basic planning and preparation at the federal level for a 1918-flu-level pandemic. The time to spin up a response isn’t when the crisis is happening, it’s several years earlier when you look at historical examples of how things went down and plan out what to do. On-the-spot improvisation is maybe better than no decisionmaking at all, but having a plan up front would have been a lot better.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            I think messaging like that probably works for the SSC cohort. For your average American, the government saying “everything is fine; nothing to see here” means “eh, you should probably buy some extra toilet paper, dry goods and hand sanitzer.” Saying, “eh, you should buy some extra toilet paper, dry goods and hand sanitzer” means “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE STOCKPILE GUNS EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF!!!!!”

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            For your average American, the government saying “everything is fine; nothing to see here”

            That’s one reason my example speech didn’t say “everything is fine” and also emphasized generic disaster prep.

            Also, a lot of people simply wouldn’t be paying any attention two months ago. Hell, what percent of Americans are aware of any of the contents of the coronavirus press conference yesterday, when everyone wants to talk about coronavirus?

            Doing a smaller event two months ago would have only gotten attention from a small subset of the population, but if you can get people to prep in waves it stops sudden runs on the stores.

            Figuring out what and where the runs are going to be on can be difficult. Obviously the masks were going to be in short supply. Hand sanitizer is a likely candidate, too.* But runs on TP would be tough to predict and I think was entirely a consequence of some prepper blogs talking about how Wuhan was running out of it.

            (* Locally, I cannot buy hand sanitizer in the stores. But people are not desperate for it: every retail store has big bottles sitting there on the counters, and people aren’t stealing them. People will pay retail prices for it, or maybe even twice retail, but they won’t steal it.)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            That’s one reason my example speech didn’t say “everything is fine” and also emphasized generic disaster prep.

            Reread my post. What you actually want is reasonable disaster prep. You get that by saying “everything is fine.” If you say “do reasonable disaster prep” you get panic.

          • Statismagician says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Is that actually true, though? Everywhere I’ve lived, the government says ‘do reasonable disaster prep’ reasonably regularly, and then We The People ignore them and have hurricane parties, watch passing tornadoes from roofs, and things like that.

          • Aftagley says:

            Frequency of disaster maybe?

            If something happens every year (hurricanes, tornados, etc.) the advice of the officials is less likely to be listened to. This is our first potential disease of concern since, what, ebola in 2012?

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m skeptical of this claim–I think “make reasonable preparations” is more likely to get reasonable responses than “everything’s fine, there’s no problem here” when the house is on fire.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If the house is on fire, the government loses credibility saying everything is okay, and I agree that loss of credibility in the government is a major cause of panic.

            The goal should be to slowly ramp up people doing disaster prep, so we never have a run on goods, which causes a run on goods and hoarding. So you start with anodyne generic recommendations very early. Yes, lots of people will ignore that, but that is in some ways the goal: start small, and slowly turn up the heat. The government had months of notice that this was coming*, so there was time to take it gentle. Follow-up by doing interviews with media**, very gradually increasing the sense of urgency.

            * and I think cutting off ties to China bought us another month, and I approve of Trump doing that

            ** For example, when doing an interview with a conservative magazine, you talk about how important self-reliance is, some time in the next month get ready. When doing an interview with a liberal magazine, you talk about how important community responsibility is, so sometime in the next month get ready.

          • Another Throw says:

            The problem is that it is impossible for the government to tell you that “everything is fine.” If everything was fine you wouldn’t be talking to me at all. This means that there is a fundamental off-by one error and the response to any government communique in a novel situation is going to be one step higher on the preparedness scale than the words say. If the government tells you everything is fine, the response is stock up on toilet paper. If the government tells you to stock up on toilet paper, response is to stock up on guns. If the government tells you to prepare for civil disturbances, the response is to shoot the national guard and take their better guns.

            It is important to remember that this only applies to novel situations where you actually listen to what the government has to say. If you’ve been through the same situation a dozen times you don’t give a flip.

        • Murphy says:

          steelman?

          To preface: I am selfish and care more about my parents lives than GDP.

          That being said, it’s plausible that the economic impact of quarantine measures around the globe and the negative impacts from resulting budget crisis, budget cuts, loss of resources etc may, long term, end up causing a higher negative QALY impact than the virus running rampant.

          If a child loses their 85 year old grandmother it’s a tragedy.

          If that same child’s grandmother gets to live to 87 instead…. but as a long term effect of the costs of quarintine the child’s school gets big budget cuts, their local hospital big budget cuts and the economy is in the toilet when they look for their first job, the total knock-on negative impact on their life from the efforts to save their grandmother may be worse than the negative impact on their grandmother of not doing so.

          Under that model, the panic on the international scale, may well be worse than the disease.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            While I think that the reactions are relatively appropriate, I wonder how much I am biased by being a UMC that would be minimally impacted by sheltering in place for a month. (My wife and I both do remote work, me for a large company that is extremely unlikely to do layoffs, my wife for a medical company which will only see strict job growth in the coming months.) Maybe I’m just taken in.

            There are all the seeds of irrational groupthink here. That doesn’t mean the group is wrong. But it could be.

          • acymetric says:

            While I think that the reactions are relatively appropriate, I wonder how much I am biased by being a UMC that would be minimally impacted by sheltering in place for a month.

            I have to believe a fair bit (please don’t take that as an attack, it is not intended as one, we all bring our biases to the table here). I wonder what % employees can work remotely, and what % of businesses can sustain themselves with their employees working remotely for x months.

            Also for businesses that are strictly in-person operations (music venues, restaurants, bars, child care, so on and so forth), how many can sustain themselves while the % that can work from home are working from home and aren’t out patronizing places.

            FWIW, I’m in the same position as you (my company would be perfectly fine working remotely, although our revenue would probably temporary drop as client volume decreases since our clients are all offering strictly in-person services).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I have to believe a fair bit (please don’t take that as an attack, it is not intended as one, we all bring our biases to the table here).

            No attack taken. I am definitely biased.

            That doesn’t mean I’m wrong, but it means I have to think carefully about being wrong.

    • eigenmoon says:

      Maybe the goal is to kill as many old people as possible to avoid paying pensions (which are currently unpayable). Then the government’s actions are perfectly reasonable. In related news, the Surgeon General says you don’t need a mask.

      • FormerRanger says:

        I assume this is intended as sarcasm, but I’ve seen it or variations on a lot of sites, blogs, etc. lately. (“Just kill off the boomers” and such.) It’s really not helpful, and not even correct.

        Many sources of information on covid-19 talk about “elderly and infirm” people, without making clear whether it’s intended to mean “people who elderly and also infirm,” or “people who are elderly” and “people who are infirm.” My belief is they mean the latter. Mortality charts don’t seem to make the distinction, but even so, most predict high mortality only for people who are over 80 (and infirm? or not?).

        Demographic information shows that people over 65 make up only 16% of the population. Estimates of mortality for those 80+ years old suggest (conservatively) 15% mortality, and 8% for those 70-80.

        This is not going to be enough to “avoid paying pensions (which are currently unpayable)”. In any case, Social Security is still solvent. Future solvency could be achieved by removing the contribution cap (or raising it), or lower benefits. Either would be controversial (though several US Presidential candidates have proposed raising the cap), but the actual percentage amounts are relatively small.

        The US is going to go bankrupt from overspending, not from Social Security payments.

        • Matt M says:

          Social security payments are spending.

        • eigenmoon says:

          I assume this is intended as sarcasm,

          I do not actually advocate this approach, but I’d give about 20% probability that the US government is really doing it.

          You seem to be saying that the death of 8% of people 70-80 and 15% of 80+ can’t be enough to pay the benefits but lowering the payments just a little bit would be enough because “actual percentage amounts are relatively small”. This is confusing. Lowering benefits to everyone by 10% is (fiscally) roughly the same as killing 10% of everybody, no? Why one would be enough but not the other?

          Removing the contribution cap might work short-term, but sooner or later the country will owe unlimited benefits for those unlimited contributions. Who’s going to pay those?

          • Aftagley says:

            I’d give about 20% probability that the US government is really doing it.

            Just to be clear, you think that it is as likely that a surreptitious policy of the United States Government was to deliberately sabotage our own pandemic testing regime in order to kill enough old people to put social security spending on a lower level as it would be to roll a 17+ on a d20?

            This is nuts, but lets work through what would have to happen for this to be the case:

            1. This kind of policy couldn’t be thought up on the fly. You’d have to start planning in advance to ensure that everyone toed the party line. This means that in a time of good public health, people who were very concerned about the budget had to think up this idea.

            2. They would then have to decide that marginally slowing down testing would be the best way to implement this plan and develop protocols for the creation of flawed testing devices.

            3. They would then have to approach senior leaders within the FDA and CDC, people who have a lifetime history of caring very deeply about public health and convince them that caring about the budget is more important. At the very least, you’re getting numerous people to violate their Hippocratic oath and likely exposing them to jail/public castigation if this ever got out.

            4. Current political leadership really likes old people, depends on their support and would, presumably, be furious about this. This means you either need to do it in complete secrecy from the numerous political appointees at all these agencies OR secretly convince current leadership that killing off on of the President’s most loyal bases of support during an election year is a smart play.

            5. You then need to find a way to keep this information completely contained to such an extent that it never gets out.

            I’d rate the probability of any of these things happening as ludicrously low. All of them happening together isn’t worth talking about. 20%, to me, sounds insane. What is making you so confident this is happening?

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Aftagley

            1. I’m sure that they have modeled various economic scenarios. It’s their job to do so. The Fed has cut rates to offset the coronavirus – that means they did some modeling, and surely somebody somewhere modeled social benefits too.

            2. To be clear, I do not believe that the government deliberately made an error in the testing device. The government’s influence is in how they react to this, specifically in whether they allow the hospitals to assemble the device properly or insist on sticking to the useless regulations.

            3. FDA/CDC people don’t have to be in on this. But when FDA/CDC requests a lockdown or a quarantine, they will get a response “yeah, that could help, but the political cost is too much, we can’t do it, sorry”.

            But I have to say though that my estimate jumped to 20% after hearing that you don’t need masks. If this train of thought is correct, then yes, top health people are in.

            4.

            secretly convince current leadership that killing off on of the President’s most loyal bases of support during an election year is a smart play.

            Or maybe the Deep State, whose existence was first denied by the Democrats but then acknowledged and welcomed, wants to accomplish exactly what you’ve said.

            5. They have kept global surveillance contained until Snowden, and since then they’ve got better at containing their shit and intimidating whistleblowers (see Assange). And this is much simpler to contain because you don’t need a lot of people in. Just say “no we can’t limit travel like China and Italy” long enough.

          • The Nybbler says:

            They have kept global surveillance contained until Snowden

            Mostly through refuge in audacity. It did leak several times before, including the 1972 leak of ECHELON and the 2006 leak of AT&T room 641A. There were other smaller leaks. But anyone recognizing this got smeared as a tinfoil-hatter for believing in such a huge operation.

          • Nornagest says:

            Or maybe the Deep State, whose existence was first denied by the Democrats but then acknowledged and welcomed, wants to accomplish exactly what you’ve said.

            The Deep State, or something like it, exists, but as a bloc, not a conspiracy: there is a collection of mid- to high-ranking lifers in government and in various quasi-governmental institutions (universities, NGOs, etc.) that forms a power center independent of the formal branches of government, they share various interests, including an interest in expanding state power, and they can be expected, on the average, to tend toward taking actions and encouraging opinions consistent with those interests. But they’re not taking orders from the Deep President or anything, and they don’t see themselves as agents of the Deep State, nor coordinate much more than, say, people in the dog rescue business do. They have individual but not collective agency. And they have ordinary morals and ethics.

            What you’re suggesting takes collective agency, discipline, top-down direction, and a huge amount of ruthlessness.

          • DinoNerd says:

            What you’re suggesting takes collective agency, discipline, top-down direction, and a huge amount of ruthlessness.

            I din’t think so, or at least not the way I imagine scenarios like this. It just takes a lot of people with decision making power who have other priorities than the lives of folks who are poor, old, minority, or otherwise not like them.

            We’ve seen inadequate measures in the face of multiple disasters, related possibly to underfunded or badly led US federal agencies with the primary mission of handling such things (FEMA + Katrina being the earliest one that comes to mind.) We’ve seen various restrictions originally imposed with the intent of preventing some bad thing from happening again, lifted as impairing economic development (and besides, the event hadn’t recurred [yet], and therefore never would.)

            A few people may be comic book villains, trying to reduce future costs by culling those they regard as useless or undeserving, but they aren’t required to get the same overall effect – of course we want to [do worthwhile thing] it’s just that getting promoted/increasing GDP/getting re-elected are more important [in this particular case]…. Most likely they even fool themselves.

            I wouldn’t put the odds as high as 20% for conscious intent, unless I were writing a political thriller, but poor incentives and lack of concern for folks one doesn’t empathize with – absolutely. The only real question is how strong this effect is, and what counterbalances it.

          • eigenmoon says:

            @Nornagest
            This would be the best case. However, government silently taking over institutions is a classical maneuver. It’s definitely done in Russia (link in Russian).

            Of course Russian institutions are far more degraded than American, so maybe US isn’t doing it. But the important part here is how little influence is needed to achieve something like this. It doesn’t need to be a secret society or a conspiracy, it’s just some talks nudging some people in one direction.

            Also the French government has ordered a terrorist bombing upon Greenpeace and was all like “what? no, we’re a civilized democratic government, we would never do that” until it became clear to everybody that they did exactly that. This isn’t directly connected to US – I’m from Europe so only European examples come to my mind – but that’s why arguments like “the government can’t possibly be that evil” do not sound very convincing to me.

    • Clutzy says:

      The strongest case would be normal bureaucratic slowness, aka your normal libertarian criticism of government. Its probably the best hypothesis. Is that a “colossal fuckup”? Perhaps in this one situation, but its actually kind of the intentional path those agencies have chosen over the last 40 years.

      The second strongest case is far too CW to discuss in an even thread.

  24. PandemicShmandemic says:

    So far Turkey has been reporting zero Covid-19 infections, which is quite remarkable given that Istanbul is huge, dense, highly toured city and one of the biggest air hubs in the world. Also the Turks tend to keep relatively small interpersonal distances. Any ideas about what’s going on ?

    • Statismagician says:

      It’s either:
      a) There really aren’t any cases in Turkey. We’re at, what, ~150,000 cases worldwide, with a super uneven geographical distribution; much stranger things happen routinely.

      b) There are a few, but they haven’t been detected and/or confirmed. Plausible, not unlikely – if this is the case we’ll probably see official statements soonish.

      c) There are a few, and it’s being suppressed/deliberately not confirmed. Possible, not plausible in my opinion.

    • Spookykou says:

      Guam says it has no infection, it also doesn’t have test kits.

      • keaswaran says:

        Guam also happens to be an island that isn’t a major hub for international travel. It’s more plausible that Guam has no cases than that Istanbul has no cases.

        • Spookykou says:

          Guam is very small but I think most of their economy is tourism from Asia.

          • John Schilling says:

            Most of their economy is tours from other US military bases. The part of Guam that isn’t a US military base, yes, Asian tourism is a big deal, but economically speaking, Guam is mostly a US military base.

            How much that aspect of Guam is isolated from the Asian-tourism aspect is an interesting question, as is the question of how much Asian tourism is actually going on right now.

    • eigenmoon says:

      I don’t know about Turkey specifically, but Hungary has found a magical cure for coronavirus: the government announced that whoever refuses quarantine gets 20 years of prison. Upon hearing this, all Hungarians immediately became completely healthy, even the regular flu was instantly cured.

      Other countries are trying to get the same miracle: Russia with 5 years and Israel with 7. Again I can’t find anything about Turkey but that sounds like something Turkey would do as well.

      • 10240 says:

        I’m Hungarian. Hungarian healthcare is pretty poor, but that post is full of bullshit. Yes, quarantine is compulsory if ordered, like in most countries. I may have read somewhere that you may get prosecuted for homicide if you violate the quarantine, infect someone, and that someone dies. Not for every violation of quarantine. In any case, it hasn’t been widely publicized; I don’t think it’s a factor that significantly discourages reporting.

        There has been some initial confusion about who is to get tested, and who tests them. Nevertheless, 12 cases have been found.

        “This is typically the only doctor in your area, or in your village. The doctor is typically available once in a week.” You have a family doctor. (There are several doctors in an area, unless you live in a small village.) Family doctors are typically available on every weekday, without appointment. People are asked to call their doctors by phone if they suspect being infected with the COVID-19.

        “If you wonder, in hungary, people pay about 70-80% of the salary as tax, VAT is 27% alone. Despite of this, there is almost no public services available, price of electricity and gas is amongst the highest in the world.” This is bullshit, except for the VAT. Taxes are high, but not that high, and government services are often poor, but “almost no services” is nonsense. “Hungary ended universal healthcare last year.” The change is much smaller than this makes it sound like. Every resident is obligated to pay for the public health insurance. It’s deducted from the salaries. The self-employed and the unemployed have to pay it themselves, a small fixed fee in the case of the unemployed. Earlier, those who failed to pay the fee would still get healthcare free at the point of use, while the government would try to collect the insurance fee. From this year, they are uninsured.

      • ruelian says:

        I’m Israeli. In a very technical sense the law here allows for sentencing of up to 7 years for “actions liable to spread disease”. However, in practice that law is supposed to apply to people who directly violate health regulations and create a public safety hazard (i.e. not following health regulations in restaurants or messing with the water supply). There is basically no way the health ministry could make an argument for any significant jail time that would stand up in court.

        (Source: I’m dating a law student.)

    • DarkTigger says:

      Just a stupid guess:
      Main infection vector in the Middle East atm seems to be Iran. The diplomatic relationships between Iran and Turkey are not that good. So Turkey get’s a lot less travell from there.

      • ruelian says:

        More than a million Iranian tourists enter Turkey every year, so…that seems unlikely. I’d guess they have plenty of infected people and just haven’t tested anyone yet in an attempt to project strength. Alternatively, they have tested prior and are suppressing news of an outbreak. (imho that would be pretty in character for Erdogan.)

      • keaswaran says:

        This doesn’t seem like a sufficient explanation. There are surely dozens of companies with employees that fly between Istanbul and Beijing/Shanghai/maybe Wuhan in any given week. There are likely far more companies with employees that travel between Milan and Istanbul. And there are definitely a large number of tourists who want to visit Rome, Venice, Athens, and Troy (though perhaps not that many that do this trip in January and February).

        Given the number of countries that have received infections from Italy (including India!), it’s implausible that zero infected people have entered Turkey. (It’s maybe more plausible that none of them has started a local chain of transmission, if they’re all highly mobile people who are in and then out a day or two later.)

    • mcscope says:

      The turkish government is pretty jealous – being one of the most well known for internet takedowns and blocks, which seems like a general tendency to control information. (When I was there recently, wikipedia was blocked because it had information about Turkish Politicians that they didn’t like. ) The Turkish government has also shown it’s preference for information control with it’s denial of the Armenian genocide, arrest of journalists, and hero worship of Ataturk.

      Turkey has a border with Iran which is having a massive outbreak, and it has a lot of tourism. I cannot believe it has not leaked over.

      I believe the Turkish government is suppressing news of an outbreak

      • albatross11 says:

        I assume there’s active COVID-19 infection in Syria as well, and probably among the large numbers of refugees coming into Europe from Syria by way of Turkey. It’s not so hard to imagine ways this could turn ugly really fast.

  25. Ninety-Three says:

    I am designing a homebrew system for tabletop roleplaying, and I’ve come to the question of dice rolls. Suppose we have some number representing a character’s skill, some other number representing a challenge’s difficulty, and a desire to inject some randomness into the process of comparing those two numbers: what sort of dice rolls should I use? I assume that someone somewhere has thought deeply about all the ins and outs of 1d20 vs 3d6 and every other way of randomizing outcomes, so I turn to my favorite group of nerds: what are your preferred dice rolling mechanics? What should such a system be aiming for?

    A few conversation starters:
    How important is it for players to be able to look at numbers and easily do the mental math of “I have +4 vs a difficulty 15 so I’m about 50% to succeed”?

    I can look at a comparison like “Roll skill plus 1d20 vs Roll skill plus 3d6” and note that the systems work basically the same except that 3d6 is closer to a normal distribution, but I don’t have an inuitive feel for what that means when playing with those systems. What should I be thinking about when looking at distributions?

    • Machine Interface says:

      My brief experience with designing a RPG system is that setting the odd of winning a given roll skill is less important in the design than properly limiting black swan events. In other words, 1d20 is bad because the high variance means that some players will annoyingly (from a subjective play perspective) often miss “easy” rolls. A low variance roll like 3d6 is much better because theorically even if the odds are similar, from a subjective enjoyment perspective, it produces much less annoying faillures of easy actions.

      Unless you aim specifically for a game with wild swings in the turn of events, if the system is mostly meant to be a support that disappears behind storytelling, dice rolls should be as little critical as possible, meaning that the determining factors in succeeding in an action should be skill level and difficulty of the action, with dice adding only a small bit of noise.

      I remember a system that went even further in reducing the variant by having the base roll be something like 3d6 with special dice which each had one + face, one – face, and all the other faces blank, so that the results varied between +++ and —, but with a very strong dominance of 0.

      • Spookykou says:

        4e solves the high variance problem with huge modifiers, 5e intentionally brought it back. Also, your DM is not helping if they are calling for checks on things that are ‘easy’ in general DMs call for too many checks/the same check over and over again insuring that the player will eventually fail/succeeded. Additionally, you shouldn’t have blackswans in the other direction, a crit on a skill check isn’t magic, crits in combat are very simple, you hit(like you probably do most of the time) and you do a bit more damage, the pervasive skill crit mania where people do impossible things or are considered literally invisible from a stealth crit is probably worse than calling for a check when there should not be a check IMO.

        There are lots of situations where you can not meaningfully hide, or otherwise use a skill to change the outcome, there is not a 5% chance of magically doing literally anything you are trying to do, or at least, there should not be /rant. (I like my tabletop games to do genre emulation, and prefer the harder genres)

        Of course given how consistently people do these things, a dice pool system is probably superior for meeting my preferences, although I don’t think it should be necessary.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          blackswans in the other direction, a crit on a skill check isn’t magic, crits in combat are very simple, you hit(like you probably do most of the time) and you do a bit more damage, the pervasive skill crit mania where people do impossible things or are considered literally invisible from a stealth crit is probably worse than calling for a check when there should not be a check IMO.

          There are lots of situations where you can not meaningfully hide, or otherwise use a skill to change the outcome, there is not a 5% chance of magically doing literally anything you are trying to do, or at least, there should not be /rant.

          I emphatically agree with this. This goes back to the development of 3rd Edition, circa 2000. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was losing market share (mostly to World of Darkness), and the owners were like “What’s wrong with AD&D?” The answer, they decided, was that all their competitors had the same resolution roll for every task, while D&D had always had 1D20 roll-over, percentile skill checks, 1D6 and bell-curve-D6 rolls to resolve different tasks.
          The D20 was used for attack rolls and saving throws, and Gary Gygax’s design principle for these situations was “there’s always a chance”: no matter how low or high level it should always be possible to actually hit an enemy, survive or die from a serial cliffhanger scenario, etc. That logic doesn’t transfer to “There’s a skill called Persuasion, so I’ll roll to persuade the King to abdicate in favor of me.”

          • Ninety-Three says:

            That logic doesn’t transfer to “There’s a skill called Persuasion, so I’ll roll to persuade the King to abdicate in favor of me.”

            NATURAL TWENTIES DON’T WORK ON SKILL CHECKS! That’s just something the internet made up because they stopped reading the rulebook halfway through and assumed the thing about attack rolls worked the same for all dice. You can’t make yourself king with a good diplomacy roll unless you already have +40 to it.

          • Randy M says:

            You can’t make yourself king with a good diplomacy roll unless you already have +40 to it.

            … and the DM decides to allow a roll for it. Not every conceivable action needs to be allowed. You can’t fly even with athletics +100.

          • Murphy says:

            You can’t fly even with athletics +100.

            The skill check to balance on Clouds is 120

          • Randy M says:

            The skill check to balance on Clouds is 120

            Because of course it is.

            No, but seriously, you have a point. Different games have different conventions, and it sounds like that version of D&D you quote is perfectly fine with players who get skills absurdly high being basically myth made flesh. Presumably such target numbers aren’t actually achievable simply by getting a whole town to stand around and aid your result?

          • Matt M says:

            it sounds like that version of D&D you quote is perfectly fine with players who get skills absurdly high being basically myth made flesh

            Uh, last time I checked, every version of D&D is perfectly fine with players who get skills that involve shooting fireballs out of their hands or whatever. And that happens at low levels. As a matter of course. Even if you don’t roll a 20.

            I mean, sure, it’s unrealistic that someone with a high speech skill can persuade the king to abdicate his throne. On the other hand, you are playing a fantasy game. Unrealism is the whole point.

          • Murphy says:

            The jumplomancer is a good example

            https://forums.giantitp.com/showthread.php?444052-The-Jumplomancer-are-you-serious

            Fighter 1 / Druid 9 / Exemplar 5

            At Exemplar 1, we choose Skill Artistry in Jump.

            Then, at Level 5, we get Persuasive Performance. Now we can use Jump as a Diplomacy check. So, we can now make a +370 Jump check using the idea above, and our chosen NPC (or crowd) is automatically turned into a fanatic

            I’ve also seem some absurd builds for fairly low level characters all built around maxing out one stat or skill to a stupid degree to allow you to reach those high checks.

          • The Nybbler says:

            You can’t fly even with athletics +100.

            But can you leap tall buildings in a single bound? Because that leads to flying, every time. (caveat: N=1)

          • Randy M says:

            The jumplomancer is a good example

            Good example of something, alright.

            But can you leap tall buildings in a single bound?

            You can probably manage to rip the tendons from your legs or something.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            NATURAL TWENTIES DON’T WORK ON SKILL CHECKS! That’s just something the internet made up because they stopped reading the rulebook halfway through and assumed the thing about attack rolls worked the same for all dice.

            Yeah. The way the simple, unified resolution roll is explained to new players always seems to lead to this misunderstanding. To quote my first search result from Twitter:

            You roll a 20-sided dice to see if you succeed in an action. The Dungeon Master (a referee who creates & controls the world) tells you if you succeed. Nat 20 or crit is when you roll a 20. You always succeed bigly on such a roll.

            The more complicated version in the rule book is there are two and only two types of random resolution where a 20 always succeeds and a 1 always fails.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            But can you leap tall buildings in a single bound? Because that leads to flying, every time. (caveat: N=1)

            Funny you should mention that example, as it ties in a 40 year-old debate over whether fantasy RPG characters should be allowed to grow into superheroes or not. Some people find it confusing and frustrating that a human could ever grow into a superhero rather than having an origin story that justifies being a superhero from the word go.
            The oldest famous example I know of is Steve “Realism Sexually Arouses Me” Jackson, whose first RPG, The Fantasy Trip (1980), had you level up by choosing to raise your Strength, Dexterity or IQ upon accumulating enough XP, which he found imperfect for long-term campaigns because it meant long-running characters would grow from stats somewhere on the normal human bell curve to – GASP – unrealistic ones! This was part of his motivation for making GURPS.

            The power of a superhero doesn’t have to be static either. Superman himself leveled up many times between 1938 and October 1946, from “fast as an express train” to “FTL flight” and from “a bursting shell can penetrate his skin” to “withstands atomic bombs.”

          • Ninety-Three says:

            I mean, sure, it’s unrealistic that someone with a high speech skill can persuade the king to abdicate his throne. On the other hand, you are playing a fantasy game. Unrealism is the whole point.

            This is an argument that people make all the time in fantasy settings and it’s awful. “In a world of magical superheroes why are you complaining that Batman survived a hundred foot fall onto concrete?” Because every fantastical setting is like reality unless noted, and I think Batman’s bones are still made of calcium, not adamantium. There are fireball-throwing wizards, the book was pretty clear about that, but human beings seem to still be ordinary human beings which means their leg bones can shatter when falling and their minds can notice that abdicating the throne is a dumb idea.

            What you are advocating for is not a world of unrealism, it’s a world with no rules, where literally anything could happen at any moment. Maybe that peasant will shoot you with his laser eyes! I mean why wouldn’t peasants have laser eyes, we’re not trying to be realistic are we?

          • Murphy says:

            If we want to talk about realism then… a charismatic individual convincing people to join them and turning them into fanatics willing to hand over all their worldly goods or be willing for die for their cause …. the overpowered nature of high diplomacy/charisma in D&D type games may be one of the most realistic/plausible parts.

            Because kings have been talked into handing over thrones.

            People have been converted to follow new leaders or to leave their families for a charismatic figure on remarkably short notice.

            But GM’s hate it because they rarely include ready-made plotlines for what to do if the antagonist is talked over to the heroes side.

            Also it tends to make for a worse story than one where the guy who can throw fireballs out of his hands learns how to edit the fabric of reality arbitrarily.

            Batman surviving a 100 foot fall without shattering many of his bones is way less realistic than the super charismatic guy convincing the village full of antagonists to abandon their cult and instead worship him because he pulled off a some stage-magician level tricks.

          • Matt M says:

            What you are advocating for is not a world of unrealism, it’s a world with no rules

            Not really. Because the original complaint here was that the rules of D&D allowed for characters with high speech to perform remarkable feats with said speech skills.

            Arbitrarily saying “thats bad because it’s unrealistic” (even though, as Murphy points out, it is a thing that has actually happened in real life) while ignoring the fact that every level 1 newbie wizard can shoot fireballs (i.e. use intelligence to perform remarkable feats) is just weird to me.

            The stated rules of the universe allow for both crazy speech feats and crazy intelligence/magic feats.

          • Spookykou says:

            To clarify at least my intent here, it was not that you can never achieve something impressive with a persuasion check, rather that there are situations where, their disposition, the facts they are aware of at the time, etc, prevent them from being amenable to your persuasion. I am saying, you are not a boxed AI, you can’t convince the guard to just let you out of the box with nothing but honeyed(or deeply threatening) words. If there is a reasonable framework by which you could achieve your goal, probably over iterative interaction, then that is a path I am willing to go down with my players.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            The stated rules of the universe allow for both crazy speech feats and crazy intelligence/magic feats.

            If someone complained to you that D&D lets you survive hundred foot falls and that’s stupid, would you come back with the same “but wizards can shoot fireballs, this is just a world where things work that way!” excuse? Because you can in fact do that in D&D. Once you get to about tenth level you can fall for miles without dying, the rules are dumb. Almost no one takes this to indicate that the Player’s Handbook is attempting to depict a world in which gravity works fundamentally differently: we all recognize that the rules are an imperfect abstraction and D&D is no more supposed to be a world of bizarre gravity than it supposed to be a world where you can use grappling to launch someone down a lineup of people at relativistic speeds.

            D&D gives every indication that it is supposed to be a world where people with the right mental muscles can shoot fire from their hands, it describes this as a fundamental part of the setting in dozens of different places. Nowhere does the book make it seem like this is a world where natural ones and twenties mean you can fly by body-slamming the ground twenty times until you miss.

            Our ability to determine which things the rules obviously didn’t mean to enable, and shouldn’t be used to enable, has something to do with realism.

        • moonfirestorm says:

          a crit on a skill check isn’t magic

          Note that in 5e, a natural 1 or natural 20 on a check does not guarantee success or failure. You just add the roll to the modifier, and if you beat the DC then you get the good outcome. Crits and fumbles are only for attack rolls.

          A lot of people houserule it back in because they like the stories it makes when someone succeeds/fails at a key moment despite normally being able to do it quite well, but it’s not a natural part of the game.

          “High modifier, low roll” moments still happen, but it feels a little more natural because it’s at least bound up with the DC, and it’s not too hard to get to a point where your modifier can still make checks despite your bad roll.

          I agree that it’s an important part of the DM’s job to figure out when a roll is appropriate though. Some things you should be able to do consistently, some things you should never be able to do no matter how lucky you get.

          • qemqemqem says:

            In general, if a 1 isn’t a failure and a 20 isn’t a success, the GM shouldn’t ask for the roll in the first place. When the player asks if they can climb the smooth glass wall, the GM should say no, and when they ask if their PC can jump over a puddle, the GM should not require a roll either.

          • Aftagley says:

            i kind of disagree:

            Let’s use your climbing a smooth glass wall example (and excluding any outside preparation such as spells or equipment that could let them climb it) I still think it’s valuable to let them roll, just to see how much of a failure it is. Maybe on a 20, they manage to get up a few feet before sliding down while on a 1, they crack the wall, or fall for a trivial amount of damage or whatever.

            I agree with you on not rolling to accomplish trivial tasks, however.

          • Randy M says:

            I still think it’s valuable to let them roll, just to see how much of a failure it is.

            In general, I’d say that’s a bad DM move. Unless the PCs have no skill and thus are very bad at estimating task difficulty, they should be aware that they are attempting an impossible task.
            If you tell them the target is literally higher than they can roll, and nat 20’s won’t even get them there, and they still say “Well I’m playing an idiot, so I’ll try it anyway,” fine, I guess, let them roll and piss off the others. Otherwise it just seems like a failure to properly communicate to the player what their character would know about the situation.

            I think Angry GM’s rules on this are reasonable–only roll if there is a chance for failure, a chance for success, and failure matters (such as time constraints, damage, noise, whatever).

          • Aftagley says:

            they should be aware that they are attempting an impossible task…. it just seems like a failure to properly communicate to the player what their character would know about the situation.

            Hmm, I don’t know if I understand you.

            Here is how this would come up in my game:

            Me: “in front of you is a smooth glass wall, given it’s immense clarity it’s difficult to discern how far up it extends. Through the wall you can see the garden of the aquamarine wizard.”

            Player: “I try to climb the wall.”

            I don’t think that at this point I’ve failed to properly communicate the situation to the player, they’ve just got a bias for action and didn’t take the time to examine the wall carefully, find out how slick it was or how high it extended.

            My option here is either follow the rule that has all major actions taken be influenced by a skill roll or set up a separate system where players can only attempt a skill roll if the DM thinks they could/should succeed.

            Also, they may not be able to succeed in their chosen action, but I can always work in some way to make a 20 feel nice – maybe they execute the wall-run perfectly, achieve massive height and establish that it goes up really, really high. This lets them now know they can’t go over it and need to look for another solution. Maybe while climbing, the player notice something on the other side of the wall, etc…

            This may just be my style, but the more skill rolls my player makes, the more hooks I feel like I have to play with/feed them information.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            In general, if a 1 isn’t a failure and a 20 isn’t a success, the GM shouldn’t ask for the roll in the first place. When the player asks if they can climb the smooth glass wall, the GM should say no, and when they ask if their PC can jump over a puddle, the GM should not require a roll either.

            I agree with your examples, but I think it’s important to distinguish “you can’t do that because it wouldn’t be possible no matter how good you were” and “you can’t do that because you’re not good enough at the skill”.

            Calling for a roll even when they have the modifier to make it on a 1 or don’t have the modifier to make it on a 20, helps connect their investment in specific skills to their success/failure. In the case of a roll that won’t be good enough even on a 20, it helps make it clear that this is a thing that could possibly be done, versus being impossible or bumping up against the limits of the DM’s world.

            This is most visible with knowledge stuff like Investigation in 5e, where if you aren’t calling for rolls it’s not always going to be clear whether the DM would have just told you this stuff automatically, or if you’re getting extra stuff specifically because you invested in Investigation.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t think that at this point I’ve failed to properly communicate the situation to the player

            I’m sure you don’t, however consider the inferential distance that may be here. Their skills are listed in abstract terms or at best related to actual context through an ill-remembered chart somewhere. On the other hand, they may be picturing a glass wall with occasional wood frames or purchase, or cracks here and there, something. Your words, however precise, won’t map exactly the same to actual difficulty in your mind and theirs. And maybe they have prior experience with games where any situation they encounter is surmountable with a lucky roll. What about just saying straight up, “Anyone with any climbing experience would know this is an impossible task.” Which, not to get bogged down in details, they’d probably notice upon touching it and before they got high enough to do anything harmful. (Of course it doesn’t help that a lot of games do in fact give target numbers for “impossible”, right?)

            As to that bias towards action, I suspect you don’t want to curb that with gotchas. Better to be eager to face challenges and try stuff than paralyzed by caution.

            set up a separate system where players can only attempt a skill roll if the DM thinks they could/should succeed.

            Yes, that. Do that. You are there to be the bastion of common sense between the rules and the PCs (or vice versa). Of course, try to align your sensibilities with the tone and setting presented in the rules, etc, blah blah blah.

            If they can’t succeed and insist on trying, tell them, without calling for dice, “You try to climb but immediately fall on your ass.” Then, if you think there is now a situation where they can attempt (and possibly succeed!) to mitigate the harm from the futile gesture, maybe “Make a climbing/acrobatics/whatever check to avoid taking falling damage.”

            (all IMO, of course)
            edit:
            @moonfirestorm
            I like all you said there.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think that at this point I’ve failed to properly communicate the situation to the player

            It would seem to me that you have failed to convince them of even the approximate degree of realism to be expected in the campaign, which is more important to get right than the details of a wall. But the miscommunication over the wall is at least an indicator of the broader meta-failure, and an example you can use to tactfully re-orient the characters expectations in that regard. Letting them roll the dice would be a false signal supporting their initial misunderstanding, and so ensuring more of the same to come.

          • Spookykou says:

            Tangentially related, I once had to roll something like 80 dice for some garbage in Mage, only to have the DM reveal that it was impossible for me to actually succeed on the check, the rest of the party was amused by my ire so maybe it works out from a utilitarian perspective, but I did not enjoy it.

          • bean says:

            There’s an obscure rule in the 3.5 DMG which I actually quite like that suggests treating a 20 as a 30 and a 1 and a -10 for skill rolls. This strikes me as a good balance. Crits aren’t magic that let an untrained archer hit a fly at 300 yards (or a normal PC climb the glass wall under discussion), but they do provide a substantial edge over what you could normally do. Likewise, a 1 isn’t always a failure.

          • Aftagley says:

            I’m 90% convinced y’all are correct – it’s definitely important to let your players know when they’ve run up against the limits of possibility and not give them false hope. Die rolls can give them this hope, so you need to be careful when calling for a roll.

            Here’s my final nugget of uncertainty: in my understanding of D&D and the related RPGs, players interact with the world by describing their intended action and then rolling a die to see how close they come to their description. The higher the number, the closer their description matches reality.

            As long as I’m having my characters describe actions they’re attempting (IE, I run at the wall and use my momentum to carry me up) instead of results they want (IE, I use dex and climb over the wall) I really don’t like the idea of taking the roll away from them. It kind of feels like I’m limiting their ability to attempt the action more than I’m successfully propping up the limits of my world.

            In retrospect, this probably has resulted in me not including very many literally-impossible-to-overcome obstacles in my campaigns. I’ll need to rethink my approach to this.

          • Randy M says:

            In retrospect, this probably has resulted in me not including very many literally-impossible-to-overcome obstacles in my campaigns. I’ll need to rethink my approach to this.

            I think we’re dealing with edge cases in general here. It’s possible nobody in your group thinks to try something stupid, though I’d put “use my momentum to carry me up the glass wall” in that category–such a feat requires a certain amount of traction, after all.

            Picture, for example, that your player comes up to the castle gates and instead of announcing themselves, or climbing, or whatever, tries to push the wall down. Do you let him roll for that? If so, you probably have something in mind like, “Well, on a 20 it’s a very poorly maintained portion of the wall, with considerable weather damage and possibly some gopher holes underneath.”

            The dice in this case is a stand in for not all the aspects of the world not previously specified. I wouldn’t say that’s an invalid philosophy. But it’s also reasonable to say, “This just isn’t something a person can do–that’s the point of wall. Since this is a busy city with numerous guards who would have reported any wear and tear given the threat of invasion, you can push all you like and roll any dice you want, you won’t push it down.”

            As for describing actions, I think you should solicit both the intent and the approach. That way you can let them know if the approach is feasible and clear up misconceptions, with a reasonable bias towards allowing their zany schemes a chance.

            For example, if a player says “I’m going to try to convince the guard we’re foreign dignitaries,” maybe you give them a high target number and let them try to see where they are going with it. If they add “so he lets us into the castle,” you can tell them, “actually, it’s open to the public now, you can just go in” if that’s the case since you realize his plan was predicated on misinformation. (Bad example, though, because of course we’d let them put on their stupid accent, have the guard ridicule it, then tell them it’s open to visitors).

    • Randy M says:

      I can look at a comparison like “Roll skill plus 1d20 vs Roll skill plus 3d6” and note that the systems work basically the same except that 3d6 is closer to a normal distribution, but I don’t have an inuitive feel for what that means when playing with those systems.

      They present the same approximate range for setting target numbers, but work quite differently with the how likely you are to hit any given number. And thus, if you give a +1 bonus in a 1d20 system, it makes 5% difference, always, but it is different in a 3d6 system because the players rolls are concentrated in the center of the curve.

      A flat probability of a single roll is more intuitive, but on the other had we are usually pretty well acquainted with normal distribution, so players should be able to grok either well enough.

      There’s also fudge dice, dice with -1,0, and +1 on them (2 faces of a d6 each), where your expected value will be whatever your skill is, with a range of how many dice you roll. Sometimes I play around with the 0,1,2 dice from betrayal at the house on the hill, which is mathematically the same, though in this case your expected value will be the number of dice you roll, with a range of twice +/- that. Kind of neat, and if you were rolling your skill, say, you’d always have a chance of failure, and instantly know if you had odds in your favor or not (skill>target?) but the actual odds are hard to calculate on the fly.

    • Thegnskald says:

      I went with a hybrid system for my home-grown system; the number of faces go up with skill, as does a flat bonus.

      I add +1 for every two extra faces. So if you start with 1d4, 1d6 level of skill gets a +1; 1d8 gets a +2; 1d10 gets a +3; 1d12 gets a +4; and 1d20 gets a +5. It goes higher but I forget the rules there.

      Rolling a “crit” on any die (the max number) gives a 50% bonus to the number on the die for skill checks, or invokes critical mechanics in combat. Roll a 1 and something (appropriately) bad happens.

      So a 1d4 has a range of Critical Failure, 2, 3, and 6, for an average of 3. 1d6 has Critical Failure, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 9, for an average of a little over 4. And so on and so forth.

      1 is always a critical failure, so as you get higher skills, the odds of a critical failure decrease; the odds of critical success also decrease, so there is some advantage to a rogue class to having lower attack die, as I have a lot of things tying into critical attacks.

      The overall system produces, perhaps counterintuitively, less variance the higher your skill gets; in particular, you get fewer and fewer critical successes, or critical failures, even though nominally there should be greater variance.

      But I also don’t routinely throw challenges that require a 15 at my players. If a character is good at something, this should be their chance to shine, or to get access to some kind of extra treasure, or otherwise benefit them; if the skills they have just become the prerequisite to completing the next challenge, what was the point in having the skill?

      So the most common challenge in the system requires a roll of 2-4. 5-8 is a little less common, 9-12 is pretty infrequent, and anything higher is rare.

    • Gurkenglas says:

      You could let the player invest his character creation points into a description of how he wishes to shape the probability distribution of how successful he is in different situations. Driver’s License might ordinarily gurantee success at driving, Mad Science might let you pump character points into increasing your potential without really reducing fumble chance. During the game, the GM would eyeball the character’s chances of success at any particular action based on how he understands the freeform text that the player wrote to define the character. The downside is that the player might be bad at predicting the eyeballs, and feel cheated. In this system, a d20 would be as good as any other combination of dice, so long as the DM understands the distributions involved.

      Similarly, a Wizard who prepares spells in the morning might write down (in secret?) a freeform description of what each spell does, and then (or as he tries to cast it?) the GM bases the mana cost/casting difficulty on how generally useful it is – or perhaps how useful his companions would expect it to be, had the Wizard told them of it at preparation time.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I’ve been messing around with Traveller and Stars Without Number lately and I like the probability curve on 2d6 a lot – much more predictable results than the randomness of a 1d20, and a bonus or penalty of 1 or 2 matters a lot.

      SWN does something interesting where it uses 2d6 for skills and 1d20 for combat, which is partly because it’s a weird hybrid of Traveller and D&D but I kind of like it because it makes combat much more chaotic and unpredictable than the rest of the system, which is interesting.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I am designing a homebrew system for tabletop roleplaying

      Why ? I get it, it can be fun to design a two-wheeled muscle-powered personal vehicle, but bicycles do already exist.

      In terms of setting toolkits, I think that Fate is the most flexible; you can take a look at Mindjammer to see how this seemingly simple toolkit can be used to create a work of art.

      If you’re looking for something with a lot more crunch out of the box, you can use the White Wolf system, or possibly even GURPS, if you’ve got enough time. I would recommend against using D20, however, since it’s pretty specific to D&D.

      The advantage of using a premade system (even a simple one like Fate) is that someone had already done the hard work for you. They’d balanced all the features to the best of their ability, figured out all the statistical probabilities, and playtested the game to make sure there are no obvious exploits. You can certainly do all that stuff on your own, but again, why ?

      • johan_larson says:

        +1 to this.

        A lot of RPG systems that have been created over the years. Looking for one that fits the sort of game you want to play sounds a lot more fruitful than trying to build a new one. At the very least, this will keep you from painstakingly reinventing the wheel.

      • silver_swift says:

        I get it, it can be fun to design a two-wheeled muscle-powered personal vehicle

        Seems like an adequate enough reason to do it, right?

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Because I know exactly how fast I want to go, how high I like the seat, and no one’s building bicycles to my exact specs.

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        Speaking as both a collector and designer of RPG systems, there are a lot of reasons to make your own.

        Systems encode a lot of setting and genre information into their mechanics. For example, in Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, Fantasy Flight games designed a custom set of luck dice (they don’t label them as such, but that’s what they are) and built a system where you roll them for everything. This created a system where it felt like your characters were always relying on luck; great if you want to play Han Solo, terrible if you want to play Qui-Gon Jin. In contrast, the West End Games Star Wars system used moderately sized pools of d6s, with force abilities stacking more dice on top. This had exactly the opposite effect: very high consistency made a great game for playing Jedi, but if you weren’t a force-user the system tended to offer you a choice between ultra-specialization and consistent failure. Both systems have great things about them, but are suited for very different games.

        A lot of games out there cluster around the same handful of play patterns. Fate, PbtA, and OSR games all fall into this category. If your group wants a lightweight, flexible system that encourages resource hoarding, hand-waves away most interesting differences, stalls completely in one-on-one duels and puts a huge amount of pressure on the GM, then Fate is a great choice for you. If not, then it isn’t, and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at Fate Core, The Dresden Files, Tian Xia, Secret Life of Cats, Mindjammer, or Camelot Trigger – they’re all going to make the same trade-offs.

        Game publishers also tend to have blind spots and cut corners (and playtesting is always the first corner cut). I tried to run the third edition of White Wolf’s Mage: The Ascension (still one of my favorite games) once. My players kept getting confused in combat, and I didn’t figure out why until I tried to read through the relevant chapter in the rule-book, only to discover that half the chapter was missing (the initiative rules from other White Wolf systems were gone and nothing was in their place, may abilities referenced sections that weren’t in the book at all, etc.). Failures that egregious are moderately rare now, but assuming that a system will be balanced for your group out-of-the-box is setting yourself up for disappointment.

        There are also a lot of niches that commercial systems haven’t successfully occupied yet. I’ve explored hundreds of systems, but I haven’t yet found one that does sword dueling well for an immersive player (Imagine is the closest, but pays a heavy price for that strength in other areas). I also haven’t found a good estate-management system for games that focus on the players being in charge of political holdings (Houses of the Blooded has a lot of potential, but quickly throws more resources than they could ever use at even half-way competent players). There are only four diceless systems I’ve encountered, three of them are quite specialized and the fourth doesn’t seem to do much well.

        My group has produced four full systems and a bunch of hacks on others. Even playing with systems in alpha states (never been playtested before, chunks of rules still not written down), the homebrew games have been more successful on average than the games we’ve played with published systems (and much more successful than the games we’ve played with the most popular published systems).

        • Lillian says:

          I’ve explored hundreds of systems, but I haven’t yet found one that does sword dueling well for an immersive player (Imagine is the closest, but pays a heavy price for that strength in other areas).

          Have you checked out The Riddle of Steel? It was written by Jacob Northwoods, President of the HEMA Alliance, and it’s intended to model realistic melee duels, which it does really well. It has however had consistent publishing problems, so there’s an official successor called Blade of the Iron Throne, and an unofficial one called Song of Swords.

          I have a personal soft spot for SoS since it was made by some of the folks over at 4chan’s /tg/ boards, which has long been one of my internet haunts. There’s actually an interesting story behind it too! Basically a guy was running Riddle of Steel duels on /tg/, and like anyone who has run a system for a long time he started to feel that he could improve it with some tinkering. So a lot of tinkering later he got together with some other guys, they made their own game studio, got a kickstarter going, and after an eternity of screwing around, finally published the game like a year ago. Here’s a quick example of play, you should check it out!

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Suppose we have some number representing a character’s skill, some other number representing a challenge’s difficulty, and a desire to inject some randomness into the process of comparing those two numbers: what sort of dice rolls should I use?

      I believe it’s better design to put more information on the character sheet rather than hidden from the player. Dungeons & Dragons gets this wrong with the entire concept of Difficulty Class. DC is the equivalent of AC (Armor Class) for every task resolution except hitting people with weapons, but AC is a line on yours and the monster stats, while DC is opaque information that has to be made up on a case-by-case basis, becoming the majority of the DM’s on-the-spot workload (as opposed to pre-game setting and plot crafting).
      One thing you can do with a normal distribution is have every dice resolution be roll under a number on your own character sheet and make the character roll more dice if the task is harder. Say normal resolution is 2D6: if an environment is harder to hide in, it requires rolling 3D6 (or more) under the relevant number on their character sheet instead.

      • Spookykou says:

        Well I like this idea a lot, but how would you recommend resolving contested rolls or hidden information? For example, I don’t want the rogue to know if they succeeded or not on their decent stealth check/deception check etc.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          @Spookykou:

          Well I like this idea a lot, but how would you recommend resolving contested rolls or hidden information? For example, I don’t want the rogue to know if they succeeded or not on their decent stealth check/deception check etc.

          Then I would say always treat stealth and deception as contested rolls and roll for the NPC behind a screen. As to contested rolls in general,

          @Ninety-Three:

          That sounds like you’re either going to compress all tasks into easy/medium/hard,

          Yeah, I’m assuming easy/medium/hard versions of any given skill check. That’s a relatively wide design space. 2D6 means that if a character trained in a skill = 11, they succeed at basic tasks 97.2% of the time and if they want to get amazing at it they have to raise it 9 times (to 20) to succeed on hard versions 97.3% of the time.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        That sounds like you’re either going to compress all tasks into easy/medium/hard, or you’re going to make a system with enough resolution that it reinvents the arbitrary fudge factor of assigning a specific difficulty to a task.

    • nzk says:

      The best system I encountered was this:
      The player had 2 attributes:
      1) Talent
      2) Skill

      Talent – A simple modifier.
      Skill – the number of dies (d6) to throw.
      Result of die throw – Max(all dies) +1 for every 6 past the first one, + talent.
      You compare that vs the difficulty.

      Example:
      Skil 3, talent 2

      throw 3 dies, result is 3,6,6 -> final result is 6 (max die) +1 (for the extra 6) +2 (talent) for a total of 9.
      Pretty good!
      So players with low skill get high variance, and players with high skill get low variance, with some upside.
      Terrible mistakes can still happen (all ones) or terrific results (all 6), but are pretty rare.
      The base talent has a huge impact.

    • helloo says:

      I don’t think it needs to matters that much. Depends on how much of the fun/game will be the strategizing of combat and how much of it is “roleplay”.

      There’s been a number of that use poker hands as the basis for skill checks.
      Most people are not precisely aware of the odds of poker hands, just the ordering and a intuitive guess of how “lucky” they were.

      I’m pretty sure it’s been done, but you can try a yahtzee skill with high skill granting them extra rerolls.
      It is intuitive enough and gives the player some sense of control. The fact that it’s probably not a typical system will also offer some uniqueness benefit to – at least for the first few sessions.

    • qemqemqem says:

      You might be surprised at how many people don’t want to do the math of ‘3d6 +2 +4 +5’, with different sized bonuses coming from different sources. So maybe think about either limiting the number of bonuses that can apply, like 5e does, or making each bonus/penalty the same size, like Blades in the Dark or PbtA does.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Another thing: one easy way to improve on Dungeons & Dragons is to make it so each character’s combat turn is resolved in one roll. The antithesis of what you want is 3.x, where you had to roll a first time to see if you hit, then 5% of the time (natural 20) you had to roll to see if you got a crit, and rolling for damage was Step 3.
      Instead, if you’re using a bell curve, use dice of different colors that are read as different things (damage can be red). If you’re using a flat distribution like a D20, damage could be something like difference between target number and actual number of a successful roll.
      (There’s a system named One Roll Engine you could look at.)

  26. albatross11 says:

    Random COVID-19 thought:

    I’m finding it disturbing to watch as people dither about making any decisions. Where I live, we have at least four known cases, and we should have closed the schools today. My guess is that it will take another couple weeks for the decisionmakers to wrangle their way to a decision, at which point, COVID-19 will have already spread extensively through the schools. Probably we should shut down local theaters, concerts, etc., as well.

    I hope there are people thinking about how to expand number of beds for patients and deal with overflow. As an example, in my area, there are a gazillion urgent cares. I suspect it would be smart to designate a couple as non-respiratory-illness-only centers, so people with broken bones or other urgent problems could handle them without going to a hospital full of COVID-19. I’m not sure how you enforce that, but it makes sense to do it.

    There are also a lot of unused hotel rooms right now, so maybe renting blocks of rooms and setting them up as makeshift medical suites for quarantined people or sick-but-not-critical people would make sense. It might also keep the hotel industry from collapsing, which might be nice. The restaurant industry is probably going to collapse. Maybe they can stay afloat somehow with deliveries? But you still need some way to ensure that the employees aren’t contaminating the food and that the delivery driver isn’t exposing you to something nasty. You can imagine mechanisms to try to do this, but it’s hard to see our (extremely wealthy, well-staffed, highly-educated) county being flexible and fast-moving enough to make such decisions, and it’s easy to imagine any such decisions getting tangled up in several years of lawsuits and restraining orders that ensure they won’t be effective. But I can’t help thinking that hiring someone to sit in a room with each delivery driver and restaurant cook for ten minutes and send anyone coughing/sneezing home with pay, plus checking their temperatures, would make this kind of thing workable.

    • FLWAB says:

      From my point of view I can’t understand why so many people online are freaking out about COVID19. It seems obvious to me that it’s probably not going to be a big deal in the US, and I’m mostly worried about the economic effects. So from my point of view doing things like closing the schools because 4 people have COVID19 is exactly the kind of alarm-ism that might damage the economy more than necessary.

      When I reflect on why I’m not worried It’s hard to pinpoint. Most likely it’s because I remember people getting scared of SARS, Swine Flu, and Bird Flu, and none of those amounted to much of anything. I know intellectually that previous scares mean very little about this current virus, any more than the fact that just because a mine has never collapsed before doesn’t mean it won’t today. But my priors on a Spanish Flu type pandemic have been set extremely low by experience.

      I’m not saying any of this to say I’m right, and if I am right I’ll be right mostly by luck (what do I know anyway, that I should be so confident?). I just want to give some context as to why so many people might be dithering. They just don’t think it’s going to be that bad.

      • Randy M says:

        I’m with you in being a bit taken aback by the panic (and in not trusting my own intuitions much). I took a week long media break, so the transition from “we need to keep an eye on this Chinese disease” to “well, the markets–financial and Costco–have crashed” took me rather by surprise.
        I don’t know, how much of the panic is numerology of the sort “there was a pandemic in 1920 too!” and how much of the sort “4000 casualties in the first 3 months represents an estimated X00,000 in the next 6 months”?

        • Nick says:

          With due respect, I have got literally no idea what world you guys have been living in. In the world I’m living in, the disease is highly contagious and deadly enough to kill millions of elderly and immune-compromised people in the US alone, the CDC and FDA have been worse than useless, Trump has been casting the whole thing as a conspiracy against his presidency with total complicity from the media, and other countries are resorting to far more extreme measures than we are and still failing to contain it.

          You don’t have to read tea leaves or engage in complicated Bayesian weighing of evidence about the Spanish flu or swine flu. Just look at the death rates already observed and multiply by our population and expected infection rate. And multiply that number by several times to get the number of severe cases, which will totally overwhelm our hospitals. There are factors which reduce that—we have better lungs in the US, more young people, better doctors—but none of those will reduce the number much. If that doesn’t concern you, nothing else I say will.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I think you are right, and people are reacting appropriately by closing schools.

            But I’m not sure about it. People get taken by panics and feel compelled to do the “1) something must be done 2) this is something 3) therefore this must be done” fallacy.

            I saw someone with high credentials on Twitter say “China did this to stop it, and therefore what China did is needed to what’s stop it,” which has a bunch of assumptions baked in. Those assumptions might be right, but they might not be, either.

          • FLWAB says:

            If that doesn’t concern you, nothing else I say will.

            And, strangely, it doesn’t.

            I could go off on a bunch of arguments against your points but I feel like it would be a distraction from the main point, which is that I’m not scared one bit about the Coronavirus. And reading your post didn’t change that. I don’t think it’s going to be that bad.

            I want to be clear that this is not a position I reasoned my way into, which is fascinating. I can certainly come up with arguments to justify how I feel, but they are superfluous. I feel like someone who just read all the statistics on car accidents and then happily gets in my car to commute. Nothing you said feels real.

            I’ve heard it said that people come to positions first and then come up with arguments to defend them. I don’t know if that’s true for everything, but it’s certainly true for me in this case. I’m not sure why but I am convinced that the fears are overblown. The human mind is a funny thing, isn’t it?

          • Plumber says:

            @Nick wrote:

            “…I have got literally no idea what world you guys have been living in…

            A world in which a plague ship is docked at the port of my hometown, passengers ordered to stay on, and a world where it’s time to dust off old songs: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=w5lA4EiWJsc (at about the 11 to 15 minute mark)

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

            It killed many a-thousand, on land and on the seas.

            Great disease was mighty and the people were sick everywhere.
            It was an epidemic, it floated through the air.

            The doctors they got troubled and they didn’t know what to do.
            They gathered themselves together, they called it the Spanish flu.

            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.

            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, 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.”♪♫♪♫

            -Blind Willie Johnson “Jesus is coming soon” first recorded 1928

          • matthewravery says:

            @FLWAB-

            It would probably be helpful if you described what “that bad” meant to you. (In the context of your belief that this “won’t be that bad”.)

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @FLWAB

            Just checking your age? If I was 35 I don’t think I would be worried about myself. But I am 72, and it has gotten my attention.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @FLWAB

            That’s probably the default reaction. It makes a lot of sense from both an evolutionary and a Bayesian perspective. The former because people around you don’t really panic that much, and socially you don’t have a license to do so. And Bayesian, you have a lot of previous evidence that this kind of thing blows over and usually doesn’t affect at all your corner of the world, so it takes extraordinary evidence to make you change your mind – evidence which you haven’t seen yet.

            There’s a pretty interesting discussion we could have on whether intellectual evidence is really that strong, from a brain-Bayesian POV. The truth is, when we have novel ideas that go against the conventional wisdom, we’re more often wrong than not. It takes a long history of going against the grain and being right to build up the confidence to actually act on your hypothesis. That’s one of the components of leadership, btw – to act on your ideas when people around you still look at each other for social clues. But it’s rare. Even in a highly intellectual place like this.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Except the CDC is still calling the risk to America “low,” and the reported mortality rates can only be vastly overstated when there are obviously plenty of other people who contract the illness but it isn’t bad enough for them to seek medical care and be tested.

            Trump is not calling the virus itself a conspiracy, but is critical of the media alarmism about the virus.

            I really don’t think the virus itself is going to be that big of a deal, but the overreaction to it will be. I think Trump is doing the right thing by telling people to be careful and wash their hands and what not, but not to freak out.

          • acymetric says:

            @Nick

            In the world I’m living in, the disease is highly contagious and deadly enough to kill millions of elderly and immune-compromised people in the US alone

            I would be patently shocked to see millions of deaths in the US, even if we re-opened everything that had closed/canceled and didn’t close anything else going forward.

            The most pessimistic estimate I’ve seen (from medical organizations who’s job it is to plan for the worst case scenario) is something like 500,000 deaths and I think even that is extremely unlikely.

          • matthewravery says:

            @acymetric-

            I tend to agree, though it’s tough to disentangle “COVID is getting tons of media coverage and people are all taking precautions like avoiding travel and large gatherings” from “there won’t be a ton of people that die from this”. I have no trouble believing that a million could die if we’d just ignored it, but at this point, “coronavirus” is the first word off everyone’s tongue, whether I’m talking to my parents, co-workers, or folks at social gatherings.

            So IDK. I expect basic things like everyone stopping travel, avoiding sporting events (the San Jose Sharks’ home arena basically said the games are canceled, for example) and conferences getting canceled to do a lot to limit the spread of the disease.

            It really comes down to what you consider the “null case”. Left completely ignored? Up to 6 million deaths in the US doesn’t seem entirely absurd. But there’s no scenario where it’s completely ignored, particularly by the media who I’m sure are getting lots of clicks and views on this subject.

          • acymetric says:

            @matthewravery

            Right, and I certainly don’t advocate ignoring it, doing absolutely nothing, and pretending everything will be find. I just want a little moderation in the reaction, or at least a willingness to say “ok, maybe the costs of doing [x] to prevent spread are higher than the benefits”.

            Although 6 million in the US is still far too high IMO. That basically assumes 2% mortality rate and 100% infection rate for the US population. I guess I would say it almost literally could not be any worse than that, but I would also say that it almost certainly would never get that bad under any plausible circumstances.

          • Aftagley says:

            Even removed from the death/infection rates, I’ve never seen a disease have as much impact on my work as COVID19 has.

            Our office is preparing to shift entirely towards having everyone telework, so far 5 separate conferences that were pretty critical to our mission have been cancelled and basically all planning for the rest of the year has been scrapped.

            Take the fact that this is a disease off the table – I would deem anything that caused this much disruption as a major event that’s was worth being concerned about.

          • Randy M says:

            @Aftagley

            I would deem anything that caused this much disruption as a major event that’s was worth being concerned about.

            Is that Beyesian reasoning? That is, all that disruption is a sign that something serious is happening? Or do you mean that the disruption itself is worth being concerned about even if it is unreasonable? Because that sounds like a feedback loop or tautology or something.
            One way or another, it’s definitely a big event at this point, no one is arguing that.
            And I wouldn’t be saying “See, that was nothing!” even if it turned out we didn’t have an epidemic here. It might be like y2k, where reasonable but unusual precautions prevented some significant harms, and some other imagined harms were the result of speculation, with it being unclear to the lay person which was which.

          • Nick says:

            If the coronavirus is ignored, which was matthewravery’s stipulation, then 6 million is not unrealistic; remember that our hospitals can’t remotely manage that many cases, so there will be many preventable deaths, among coronavirus patients and others.

            On the contrary, your 500,000 estimate, @acymetric, requires both a very optimistic fatality rate (say, 0.7%) and a very optimistic infection rate (say, 20%). I think both numbers will in reality be higher. The numbers that have me worried are fatalities 1 to 3 million, with infections around 50% of the country and 1-2% fatalities.

          • Chalid says:

            On the contrary, your 500,000 estimate, @acymetric, requires both a very optimistic fatality rate (say, 0.7%) and a very optimistic infection rate (say, 20%). I think both numbers will in reality be higher.

            There’s a good chance that seasonality effects will limit the virus’s spread and lead to a relatively low number of total deaths. (There’s decent evidence that the virus does not thrive in warm weather. If social distancing types of measures slow the virus’s spread, then maybe we in the US can make it to summer before the virus really takes off.) But by “good chance” I mean something like 70%; the remaining 30% of scenarios can be really really bad. My confidence intervals on this are *really* wide.

          • acymetric says:

            @Nick

            On the contrary, your 500,000 estimate, @acymetric

            Not my estimate. Talk to the AHA and NETEC.

            Either way, I stand by my contention that “millions” of deaths (as claimed by you) and 6 million+ deaths (as claimed by @matthewraverly) are both wild overestimates.

            Note that my number is actually based on information from the medical industry, while yours is…speculation? Conjecture?

          • Aftagley says:

            @RandyM

            I just mean that at this point I could emerge from this outbreak completely fine, noone I know could get infected and heck, mana could rain down from the heavens to cure everyone of this disease and this would still likely be one of the most disruptive events I’ve seen in my decade or so of professional life.

            I admit, my work is internationally focused, so I’m arguably predisposed to get hit by these kinds of disruptions, but still. I think that not being worried about the disease, like the top-level post was nominally about, is no longer a reasonable stance; you can not worry about the severity of infection, but the disruptions caused by this event are worth being concerned about, at least IMO.

            (ETA: I’m not trying to claim we disagree here, I’m pretty sure we are on the same page)

          • acymetric says:

            @Aftagley

            I just mean that at this point I could emerge from this outbreak completely fine, noone I know could get infected and heck, mana could rain down from the heavens to cure everyone of this disease and this would still likely be one of the most disruptive events I’ve seen in my decade or so of professional life.

            Right, I think the claim is that some, and maybe a significant portion of this disruption is unnecessary/self-inflicted by knee-jerk overreactions fed by panic and CYA shifted into overdrive.

          • Nick says:

            @acymetric
            I can hardly talk to them when you don’t cite your sources.

            If you have in mind Lawler’s estimate, that wasn’t a worst case scenario but a “best guess” forecast for which to prepare. It did not provide its assumptions about how we limit the spread of the disease—in other words, how concentrated the cases may be in time—and the AHA said it did not reflect their views. Did you have something else in mind?

          • Aftagley says:

            Right, I think the claim is that some, and maybe a significant portion of this disruption is unnecessary/self-inflicted by knee-jerk overreactions fed by panic and CYA shifted into overdrive.

            Who cares? I’m claiming that, at this point, the cause doesn’t matter. The effects are real and arguably compounding.

            A friend of mine has had a small business that has failed because of COVID-related disruptions. The work my office does has been set back already at least 6 months, possibly longer due to this stuff. We’re almost certainly going to be changing our hiring schedule as a result.

          • deadly enough to kill millions of elderly and immune-compromised people in the US alone

            It sounds as though you are assuming a death rate of at least one percent. I think that’s pessimistic. The figures we are getting use the number of infections detected as the denominator hence omit all people with very mild infections, and probably some with significant infections. And they are mostly for parts of the world where people are substantially poorer than in the U.S., hence less able to take it easy when they think they may be coming down with something.

          • acymetric says:

            Nope, that’s what I was looking at. The AHA should probably have asked him not to put their logo on the slide if they didn’t endorse the information.

            As far as “best guess” I understand that is the description given, but it is coming from a place where every incentive is to overestimate.

          • acymetric says:

            @Aftagley

            Who cares? I’m claiming that, at this point, the cause doesn’t matter. The effects are real and arguably compounding.

            A friend of mine has had a small business that has failed because of COVID-related disruptions. The work my office does has been set back already at least 6 months, possibly longer due to this stuff. We’re almost certainly going to be changing our hiring schedule as a result.

            It certainly matters, because we are still making decisions that are making the economic impacts worse, and it would probably be good for us to stop doing that. It won’t undo the damage done, but it will stop us from further driving the economy into the ground unnecessarily. I don’t understand why you think that wouldn’t matter?

          • Aftagley says:

            Hmm, I think we might be having different conversations right now. My apologies if I wasn’t clear:

            I think the topic of conversation in this subthread is “should we be highly concerned about COVID”

            to that question my answer is “Yes; it’s effects and ramifications on my life have already been really substantial” even though I don’t personally know anyone who’s been infected. Like I said earlier, it could be cured tomorrow and it would already be the second-or-third most disruptive event I’ve had to deal with during my career. That already puts it on the level of “the government shutdown” and “major hurricanes.”

            If it gets any worse, or if the reactions to it continue to intensify, this will be the most disruptive event I’ve ever personally experienced. All in all, this makes me very concerned, since I tend to dislike disruption and nothing I’m reading about makes it seem like this crisis has already reached its peak.

            It certainly matters, because we are still making decisions that are making the economic impacts worse, and it would probably be good for us to stop doing that.

            I mean, I’m not making decisions to increase the economic impact. I’m just stocking up on rice beans and TP.

          • matthewravery says:

            @acymetric-

            To be clear, I don’t expect 6 million Americans to die. As I said, that was what could happen if we ignored the disease completely and it was on the upper end of lethality and infectiousness. I was responding to your comment where you said, “The most pessimistic estimate I’ve seen… is something like 500,000 deaths.”

            Frankly, I think even 500,000 is unlikely because local governments and businesses appear to be taking strong measures these days and the virus is getting wall-to-wall coverage on the news. These steps alone will do a lot to reduce the spread and help keep the medical system from being overwhelmed. People who can’t get tested but think they might’ve been exposed are self-quarantining. Individuals and businesses are canceling unnecessary travel.

            The degree to which this is all necessary isn’t obvious, but such a potent reaction, delayed as it was in this country, will certainly reduce the effect of the virus from a deaths-and-infections perspective.

          • Loriot says:

            I’m curious what the people who think COVID isn’t worth the hype think about reports like this. It sounds like Italian hospitals have practically become a warzone.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Italy is clearly an outlier. Hopefully when this is all through someone will make it their business to find out why. I’m looking at the JHU board and it shows Italy with over 10,000 infections whereas no other Western country has over 2000.

            One thing is that human populations aren’t lily ponds. An outbreak doesn’t necessarily spread evenly; it can quickly saturate a local well-connected population, but then it hits limits and can only spread more slowly to other populations. So we see New York with 173 cases — but more than half of them are in communities closely connected to one particular patient. It’s not spreading anywhere near as quickly in general, even in crowded NYC. Why Italy is acting like a tightly-connected population is worth asking.

            But also, I think one must take a secondhand Twitter thread with some degree of skepticism.

        • Randy M says:

          I have got literally no idea what world you guys have been living in.

          Personally, ignorant of the recent news with a prior that new diseases come up about every three years and are often over-hyped. It’s worrying, it was just quite sudden.

      • Loriot says:

        > Most likely it’s because I remember people getting scared of SARS, Swine Flu, and Bird Flu, and none of those amounted to much of anything.

        Honest question: Did SARS ever reach the stage of community transmission in the US?

        • keaswaran says:

          My recollection is that there was a little bit of community transmission in a few buildings in Toronto (including a hospital) but that otherwise, all North American cases were travelers from Asia.

          Wikipedia says:

          Local transmission of SARS took place in Toronto, Ottawa, San Francisco, Ulaanbaatar, Manila, Singapore, Taiwan, Hanoi and Hong Kong whereas within China it spread to Guangdong, Jilin, Hebei, Hubei, Shaanxi, Jiangsu, Shanxi, Tianjin, and Inner Mongolia.[citation needed]

          I see that [citation needed] tag, but it basically matches with my recollection.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        There were no SARS deaths in the US. We had 27 cases, per Wiki.

        There are 600+ confirmed Coronavirus cases in the US, with almost 2 dozen deaths. We are about where Italy was 10-11 days ago, and our cases are spreading as quickly, with as much severity. Extrapolate as you wish.

        • matthewravery says:

          Italy just suspended their top-flight football league, FWIW.

          I saw reports earlier that the NBA has told its groups to consider contingencies for playing games in empty arenas. Colleges, even those in relatively remote locations no-where near identified cases, are telling instructors to be ready to move instruction completely on-line.

          Sure, buying 10,000 rolls of TP is an over-reaction born of panic. But the rest of this seems quite reasonable to me.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think a big difference is that SARS2 has a large fraction of people infected with few or no symptoms, whereas with SARS the great majority of people who caught it quickly got very sick. That made quarantines a lot more effective. If half your cases have no symptoms, then screening with a forehead thermometer isn’t going to work so well.

          The biggest concern I have w.r.t. SARS2/COVID-19 is that we could overflow the hospitals and medical care system–something that happened in Wuhan, and also now in Northern Italy. A lot of bad cases of pneumonia that are survivable in a well-equipped hospital with proper care are not so survivable if you’re on a cot in the hallway with one exhausted nurse checking on you every few hours, and no chance of better care if your case gets worse because all the ventilators are in use and half hospital staff is too sick to work.

          I suspect it would be possible to shut down the spread of this virus, drop R_0 below 1 and cause the thing to fizzle out. But doing so probably requires more decisive decisionmaking and coordination across levels of government than we’re capable of doing. That would be something like shutting down all schools, concerts, conferences, sporting events, etc., for a few weeks.

          My prediction is that all those things are actually going to be shut down over the next month or two, but in a non-coordinated way that will not be so effective at stopping the spread of the virus.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            That would be something like shutting down all schools, concerts, conferences, sporting events, etc., for a few weeks.

            What about airports? Those seem like a more significant vector than a random concert.

        • JayT says:

          The US had its first case a month before Italy did though. What broke down so badly in Italy that it has exploded there while continuing to be fairly minor in the US (and other countries)?

          • John Schilling says:

            Initially, one hospital in Lombardy mistakenly treated a coronavirus patient without taking any unusual(*) precautions against transmission. Which lead fairly rapidly to one hospital in Lombardy treating lots of coronavirus patients without adequate precautions against transmission and with the “staff” and “patient” roles now comingled.

            But what we are seeing in the past week or two goes beyond what can plausibly be blamed on that initial failure, I think. Either the coronavirus is spreading faster in Northern Italy than in neighboring countries even after taking that one hospital out of the equation, or Italy is identifying and reporting a much larger fraction of their total coronavirus cases than neighboring countries.

            * Or even what other first-world countries might consider usual

          • Loriot says:

            Given reports of entire hospitals being converted to holding coronavirus patients and running out of basic equipment, I think that goes beyond testing discrepancies. If you have that many patients in critical condition, it would be noticed, testing or no.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, whatever’s going on in Italy looks a lot like what happened in Wuhan–so many people getting suddenly very ill that all available medical resources are swamped, every bed in the hospital is full, all respirators are in use, and half the staff is sick with the disease themselves by now thanks to constant exposure, high stress, and insufficient sleep.

            This is the nightmare scenario, right? And I don’t see why it can’t happen in the US just as it’s happened in Northern Italy. Taking expensive, maybe-panic-inducing steps to prevent that seems prudent, given how horrible it would be if it happened across a lot of the US.

            If the disease follows this pattern in the US, it will probably start in Washington State or that small area in New York State that’s got such a high infection rate. But we’re so interconnected that it’s easy to imagine it happening all across the country, perhaps hitting at slightly different times for each.

      • Emby says:

        Your level of personal concern is almost certainly related to your own personal risk of becoming seriously ill from covid-19 which, if you’re under 40, non-smoker and don’t have any relevant health issues, is pretty low. I’m not concerned for myself either. But people in positions of responsibility have to be concerned for the safety of everyone, including all the over-70s and people with bad health. Logically that means serious preventative measures.

        Stick the fence way back from the edge of the cliff if you don’t actually have info about where the crumbly bits are, IYKWIM

        • keaswaran says:

          I have at times wondered whether it would be a smart idea for a purely self-interested person to get infected with the disease early, so that they have recovered by the time the local medical system gets overwhelmed with cases. (This would be like the original Vaccinia method, where people chose a moment when they had good medical support, to infect themselves and family members with cowpox, so that they wouldn’t get smallpox later.)

          However, just a few moments of thought made it clear to me that even from a purely self-interested perspective, this seems like a bad idea. Even with a fairly strong protocol of self-isolation during my own period of illness, it seems implausible to me that I would completely avoid transmitting the infection to anyone else in my community. And if I start a community outbreak earlier, then I increase the likelihood that the spread in my community is faster, so that it has a higher peak. Even if I personally have recovered by that peak, my ability to live life (go to the store, get food, see friends, do social activities) depends on the peak in my community being as low as it can be.

          Given all that, I think I should have personal concern about the badness of how this will hit the systems my life depends on, and not just on the direct medical effects on myself and my loved ones.

          • edmundgennings says:

            Also even with the FDA, I would be surprised if we do not get improved treatments in a few months. Even if we quite plausibly get no new drugs or vaccines, it would seem strange if large amounts of experience throughout the world did not find ways of using preexisting antivirals or modifications of standard treatment options to lower the mortality rate.

      • Robin says:

        We might be laughing about all this in a few weeks, but if you’d like to panic a bit more, here goes:

        https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1232922661740613634.html
        The people working in fast food / restaurants / retail cannot afford to be sick, so they aren’t. They keep on working and spread the virus everywhere.

        I have no idea how bad this really is. What do you think?

        • acymetric says:

          The people working in fast food / restaurants / retail cannot afford to be sick, so they aren’t. They keep on working and spread the virus everywhere.

          Incidentally, people like this also can’t afford for commerce/the economy to shut down for a few months. Not sure what we plan to do about that.

          • Aftagley says:

            In lefty circles I’m already hearing it taken for granted that we’ll need some kind of government-backed paid sick leave for people infected with COVID19.

          • acymetric says:

            How would that help people working for businesses that close down, reduce hours, or reduce staff who now aren’t working (or aren’t working enough) but aren’t actually infected themselves?

          • Aftagley says:

            ‘Dunno, I haven’t yet seen a serious proposal or really researched it too much.

            I’ll poke around and see if anyone’s put out a white paper or anything.

          • acymetric says:

            I guess my other question is “why would anyone think we could get something like that passed”? Seems like a purely academic excercise.

          • Aftagley says:

            Well, it’s like robin points out. If we have a system of quarantine but people who need to be in quarantine, especially people in public facing positions, can’t afford to not show up for work, our quarantine efforts will fail.

            People will suck it up, go earn their rent money and continue spreading the disease.

          • Matt M says:

            I watched “Mad Money” last night and Jim Cramer was calling for all kinds of federal stimulus. Of all varieties including cash tax refunds to low income workers, short-term zero-interest loans to any affected businesses, and massive federal grants to community health systems.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            If you ever wanted to argue for paid-sick-leave for food service workers, this incident is the perfect reason why. I can’t see us not getting PSL, for at least some workers, at the end of this.

            And also new enforcement mechanisms.

          • acymetric says:

            If you ever wanted to argue for paid-sick-leave for food service workers, this incident is the perfect reason why. I can’t see us not getting PSL, for at least some workers, at the end of this.

            And also new enforcement mechanisms.

            Legitimate question: Is there any kind of solid proposal for how sick leave would work for hourly employees with irregular schedules prepared only days or weeks in advance? Employees primarily paid by tips?

          • Aftagley says:

            Forgive me for exposing my ignorance here, but don’t hourly employees on irregular schedules still get a certain number of hours per pay period? That should be pretty easy to compute.

            As for tips, no clue; payout the minimum wage if their tipped wage falls below it?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Honestly, I gave this item (how to give PSL to hourly or on-demand workers) some thought yesterday and didn’t have an easy solution.

            I’m surely not the first person to think about this, though: how do European countries with mandatory PSL handle this? Do they not have hourly workers? Is “country with mandatory PSL” a figment that doesn’t exist?

          • acymetric says:

            @Aftagley

            Forgive me for exposing my ignorance here, but don’t hourly employees on irregular schedules still get a certain number of hours per pay period? That should be pretty easy to compute.

            Not consistently. Could be 10 or 15 hours one week, 35 hours another week. For cases where they miss a day, obviously they would just use the number of sick time hours to cover that missed shift. If they are missing a week or more, they probably aren’t on the schedule anymore so the question is how do you determine how many hours per week of sick time they can use?

            As for tips, no clue; payout the minimum wage if their tipped wage falls below it?

            That is likely the only viable option, and strictly speaking it is clearly better than no pay when missing time due to illness, but it may not be enough to prevent significant problems for someone who typically makes much more than minimum wage with tips if they’re going to be out for more than a couple days.

          • Aftagley says:

            Not consistently. Could be 10 or 15 hours one week, 35 hours another week.

            Wait, this is nuts. Forgive me for being trapped in my salaried bubble, but how on earth does anyone function when they can’t plan out how much money they’ll earn?

            Kind of repeating my previous question, but what guarantees do workers have in these situations? Is it like a “you will always be paid for at least X hours of work, but some weeks you may be needed for X+Y hours?” or do people literally have no clue how much money they’ll make from week to week?

          • acymetric says:

            @Aftagley

            Generally if you work for a good restaurant you will get a reasonably consistent number of hours, but there is always going to be some variance (and there is variance in what shifts you get, which greatly impacts how much you bring home in tips). In terms of actual protections…there is nothing other than that if the place you work isn’t giving you enough hours you can get a second job somewhere else to pick up the slack or you can quit and go somewhere else that you hope will give you more hours.

            My example (15 one week and 35 the next) was extreme, and probably somewhat unlikely for experienced servers unless they request to not be scheduled certain days for vacation or something, but +/- 8-10 hours from week to week probably isn’t totally out of the ordinary.

            Wait, this is nuts. Forgive me for being trapped in my salaried bubble, but how on earth does anyone function when they can’t plan out how much money they’ll earn

            In an ideal world, they save money from good weeks to use on down weeks. Probably more commonly, they end up eating a lot of Ramen and driving around with the gas light on for a week or two periodically when hours or tips are low.

          • Deiseach says:

            There is an Illness Benefit scheme in Ireland; basically, if you’re sick enough not to be able to come in to work, and it’s not “out sick a couple of days”, then you can claim Illness Benefit. You won’t get paid for the first 6 days of sick leave (which could be a problem for people needing that week’s wages) but you get paid thereafter as long as you are certified unfit to work.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In lefty circles I’m already hearing it taken for granted that we’ll need some kind of government-backed paid sick leave for people infected with COVID19.

            I think the priors are doing most of the work there.

          • Lambert says:

            >Wait, this is nuts. Forgive me for being trapped in my salaried bubble, but how on earth does anyone function when they can’t plan out how much money they’ll earn?

            It’s big issue in current labour rights politics. IDK about other countries, but the British left talk a lot about zero-hours contracts and the gig economy being bad things.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @Edward Scizorhands:

            Honestly, I gave this item (how to give PSL to hourly or on-demand workers) some thought yesterday and didn’t have an easy solution.

            I’m surely not the first person to think about this, though: how do European countries with mandatory PSL handle this? Do they not have hourly workers? Is “country with mandatory PSL” a figment that doesn’t exist?

            I can tell you how it works in Poland. As a general rule, monthly sick pay/illness benefits are calculated as 80% of the base*, where the base is the average monthly earnings for the 12 month period preceding the illness. For each day of documented sick leave** – whether it is a working day or no – the beneficiary is paid 1/30th of this amount.

            Sick pay is paid by the employer for the first 33 days of sick leave during the year. If the employee is absent due to illness for longer than that, illness benefits paid by social insurance take over.

            The self-employed (chiefly: small business owners) and people working on the basis of Civil Code contracts***, are entitled to illness benefits calculated in the same manner as above, provided they are current with their voluntary illness insurance.

            None of this is fundamentally incompatible with hourly-work, but it might not be compatible with “getting most of your pay in tips” – depending on how it works in practice in the States.

            * 100% when the absence is due to pregnancy, an accident occurring on the way to or from work, or – interestingly enough – when the absence is due to procedures associated with organ or tissue donation,

            ** Doctor’s orders of absence, issued on a dedicated, pre-numbered form, are required for both sick pay and illness benefits. We went fully digital with that last year, I think, so the relevant information goes to social insurance directly. Employers, as social insurance payers, may access the relevant documentation through the social insurance portal,

            *** There are essentially two flavours of employment here in Poland. “Normal” employment is regulated by the Labour Code. It is also possible to have an employment-like relationship based on the Civil Code. I do not propose to get into the weeds of that here.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Faza (TCM): Thanks, that seems quite straightforward, although I still wonder how they figure out your “base” for hours worked.

            If the US had a framework like that, the government would have some switches it could quickly throw in the face of pandemic: loosen the requirements on the second point, and pay a percentage/cap of those first 33 days.

          • albatross11 says:

            If this goes as badly here as in Italy and Iran, a large fraction of restaurants currently in business will go under.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            @Edward Scizorhands:

            Working out the base for sick pay/benefits isn’t terribly difficult, given that you declare the base for each month you are subject to social insurance contributions.

            For hourly pay, you calculate rate x time worked for the month, add anything else the employee earned on top of that (share of service charge/tips, commissions, etc.), figure out the contributions based on that and submit the declaration to social insurance by the 15th of the following month (or next working day after that, if it falls on a weekend/holiday). The obligation to submit the declarations (and pay the contributions, of course) falls on the payer, which will usually be the employer, unless the beneficiary is self-employed.

            There is a new Act to deal with COVID-19, specifically, over here, but the last time I looked through it, it was still going through the legislative process and I believe it was meant to be amended after it passed, because there was something missing. I’ll see if there’s anything addressing these specific points in there.

            Aside from that, I suspect that if someone is subjected to quarantine, for example (and I do know that the police will be looking in on those who are to make sure they are keeping quarantine) and they weren’t entitled to illness benefits for whatever reason (e.g. they opted out of voluntary contributions), they may be entitled to some manner of benefits, if they have no income because of this.

          • Spookykou says:

            When I worked part time at a grocery store my weekly hours were pretty random within a range of 5-25 hours, they cut me back to 6 hours a week for three weeks in a row so I quit.

            Edit: Actually I just remembered my stocking job for a clothing store that was even worse. It was a higher end woman’s clothing store so they didn’t want me on the floor, and their internal logistics were bad, I would basically be scheduled day by day and one week I went in for about three hours and was told to leave because they got word that they were not getting any new stock in at all that week, and that shift was all I worked that week.

          • acymetric says:

            @albatross11

            If this goes as badly here as in Italy and Iran, a large fraction of restaurants currently in business will go under.

            The disease won’t be as bad here as Italy or Iran. The economic impacts will probably be as bad or worse because of the way we are reacting to it.

          • albatross11 says:

            acymetric:

            Great! How do you know that?

          • acymetric says:

            Great! How do you know that?

            It’s my prediction based on available information. Obviously you might have a different prediction.

        • Elementaldex says:

          My wife is in the unusual position for a high wage worker of being both hourly and having very erratic hours. She works 20 – 50 hours per week and makes very good money on average. But the paycheck she got today was less than half of the one she got two weeks ago. It requires planning to make work, fat weeks go into savings and thin weeks tap from savings. My guess is that this is much harder for both people with weaker impulse control (which sounds bad but this is the place for saying things which are true but sound bad) and for people who make a lower hourly rate. Not to mention that if you are primarily compensated with tips you will have an erratic hourly rate to go with your erratic hours. My guess is that it is pretty hard.

        • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

          >I’m surely not the first person to think about this, though: how do European countries with mandatory PSL handle this? Do they not have hourly workers? Is “country with mandatory PSL” a figment that doesn’t exist

          People are trying to solve a difficult problem instead of an easy problem. The difficult problem is to calculate exactly what casual worker will make in the next week. The easy problem is how much money someone needs to live on for week

          • Loriot says:

            Incidentally, we really need to get rid of tipping and just raise wages, though that’s easier said than done.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            The easy problem is how much money someone needs to live on for week

            I think your intuition is wildly off here. To see why this is the case consider this very basic question: “How much money does someone need for a week’s rent?” It is in the same class as “How long is a piece of string?”

      • DinoNerd says:

        I have not currently seen data that justifies the level of reaction local to me (Silicon Valley), and one of the first employer-to-employee communications on the topic at my (WFH recommended) employer showed signs of serious clue deficit disorder. (More precisely, someone had confused Covid-19 with the general class of coronavirus, probably with the help of seacrh-and-replace functions in their word processor.)

        OTOH, “not currently seen” is not the same as “believe there is none”. And we all know testing has been botched so badly that we haven’t a clue how many people really have it.

        My WFH yesterday was at perhaps 75% efficiency, even though I WFH routinely when e.g. mildly ill, or waiting for a delivery. The difference is, (1) that when it’s short term, I choose tasks that are easy to do at home, and postpone those that really need to be local to the servers and (2) even though our networking capacity has been increased because of this, it was badly strained yesterday, leading to unexpected problems. (Our internal Slack system looked likely to collapse under the load, and the VPN was sluggish at peak hours.)

        On the good side, my employer has promised to keep paying its hourly workers, such as cafeteria staff. I’m not sure about contract workers, unfortunately, and this does nothing to help e.g. independent restaurants that get substantial business from our lunch crowd. But I’m glad they’ve at least thought of this impact.

        Also, I’m over 60 and live with an over 60 who has asthma. I’m happy to reduce our risk of catching it – just worried that we may be in this state of stay-home-to-avoid-infection for months.

      • Murphy says:

        Containment chance is basically nil at this point.

        Society will survive fine. It’s not even a particularly large danger to younger people.

        But my SO and myself were sitting down and working out the odds and if our parents catch it there’s about a 1 in 5 chance we’ll be short a parent at our wedding.

        Between the various older relatives it’s north of 50/50 that we’ll have one or more empty chairs.

    • Theodoric says:

      With respect to schools, one reason I have heard to keep them open is that some families rely on the school lunch program to feed their kids. I wonder how feasible it would be, and if would be worth it, to just leave the cafeterias open for any student who needs it (so just those students and the cafeteria personnel and some monitors, as opposed to the entire student body and teachers and staff) and not have class. Or, failing that, to temporarily give the parents of students who qualify for subsidized/free lunch a cash subsidy, or extra food stamps (I’m guessing that families whose kids get subsidized/free lunch also get food stamps), so they can buy the ingredients for, say, an extra sandwich and piece of fruit a day.

      • Konstantin says:

        Plus, it is my understanding that kids have a low risk of becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus. Closing schools shouldn’t happen unless the situation is so bad that all public places need to be closed, it makes no sense to close schools and keep places frequented by senior citizens open.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Children are super-vectors. They have extremely poor hygiene so if one gets infected they will all have it in a week, and then give it to their parents.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Yes, plus you get every teacher/principle/janitor/lunch server in the school sick and you are likely to have to close the school in a few weeks anyway, but with less control/notice.

        • How much of children’s immunity to coronavirus comes down to them having been more effectively quarantined in China? And not taking trips to China? I guess we’re about to find out.

          Closing schools shouldn’t happen unless the situation is so bad that all public places need to be closed, it makes no sense to close schools and keep places frequented by senior citizens open.

          It can have a negative effect on the economy to shut things down. The negative effect on the economy from shutting down grade schools is pretty dubious, particularly in the cases of those schools where kids need the free lunches. You could avoid it by just giving kids vacation now and keeping them later into the summer. If you’re too months in and they still need to be quarantined, just start school back up over the internet. And with that they’ll have more time to prep for it.

          • Chalid says:

            How much of children’s immunity to coronavirus comes down to them having been more effectively quarantined in China

            This is not it, P(death|infection) is very low for children. The mortality risk seems to rise monotonically with age.

            (And it’s not just something about China’s reporting, the pattern holds in Korea and elsewhere.)

          • Matt says:

            The school my kids go to has already sent us an email saying that if the governor declares a state of emergency and closes the schools they intend to continue instruction using the internet. All of the students have school-provided laptops.

          • Randy M says:

            The school my kids go to has already sent us an email saying that if the governor declares a state of emergency and closes the schools they intend to continue instruction using the internet. All of the students have school-provided laptops.

            This could be the catalyst for a very interesting change in education.
            Almost certainly not, though.

          • acymetric says:

            @Matt

            All of the students have school-provided laptops

            You probably already know this, but that is pretty atypical for K-12 education nationwide. For most kids, closed school means no school.

          • Matt says:

            You probably already know this, but that is pretty atypical for K-12 education nationwide. For most kids, closed school means no school.

            I didn’t know that. I suspect the opposite is true. That is, probably in 2020 more than half of all K-12 students have school-provide laptops or tablets.

          • Randy M says:

            @acymetric
            There are text books. Obviously not everyone learns best from a text alone, but it is something for upper grades.

          • acymetric says:

            @Matt

            Well, I stand corrected there, although it looks like you probably still have between 30 and 40% of students without access (and the places that don’t provide laptops/tablets to students seem likely to be the places where students are least likely to have their own via their parents).

            @Randy M
            Sure, but how are they submitting assignments (or getting assignments)?

          • Randy M says:

            Sure, but how are they submitting assignments (or getting assignments)?

            Teachers should be able to prepare emergency take home lessen plans for two weeks. Not “keep kids busy for eight hours” lesson plans, but “make sure kids are getting acquainted with the essential material” lesson plans.

            Submitting assignments and giving feedback is nice, but non-essential for emergency times.
            A lot of in-school time is non-instructional.

          • acymetric says:

            Teachers should be able to prepare emergency take home lessen plans for two weeks.

            Ah, here is the disconnect. We have very different ideas in mind of what kind of timeframe we’re looking at is. I’m expecting schools to end up being closed for the remainder of the academic year in many cases.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m expecting schools to end up being closed for the remainder of the academic year in many cases.

            Is that what is happening, or what you think will need to?

            In that case I’d say that you just end the school year a quarter short and restart it in July, though of course that’s a huge disruption to a huge number of people. Still, the alternative is to either pass everyone ahead half a grade assuming they are being homeschooled adequately or hold them back a year.

          • acymetric says:

            @Randy M

            Is that what is happening, or what you think will need to

            It is what I expect to happen* (and I think the groundwork is already being laid, not all of the current closings have given definite or even approximate resume dates and the ones that have I expect will have the closures extended). I’m also not even confident everyone will be ok with opening back up in July. I guess we’ll see where the panic level is by then.

            *Not what I think should happen, but unfortunately I’m not in charge here and my views seem to be a fringe minority opinion.

        • Spookykou says:

          Even if kids have a low risk of serious incidence their teachers don’t, so open the schools for a few weeks and then close them again when you run out of subs.

        • albatross11 says:

          The point of closing schools is to stop a lot of transmission of the virus. The kids are mostly not at risk, but their parents and grandparents and surrounding community are.

      • Poor parents manage to last three months without free lunch in the summer.

        I wonder how feasible it would be, and if would be worth it, to just leave the cafeterias open for any student who needs it (so just those students and the cafeteria personnel and some monitors, as opposed to the entire student body and teachers and staff) and not have class

        I’m sure you’d be hearing about the “stigma of poverty,” this wouldn’t signal well.

    • Chalid says:

      Kids don’t really get very sick from coronavirus. There seems to be some evidence this is paired with reduced contagiousness, but we don’t really know yet.

      Also kids being home in many cases will mean that grandparents or other elderly end up doing childcare duty, which seriously jeopardizes them.

      So it’s not a complete no-brainer to close schools. I don’t know what the right call is and I’m very glad it’s not my decision to make.

    • FormerRanger says:

      Closing the schools is more problematic than it seems at first glance, though widely practiced. Problems:

      1. Kids seem less susceptible to the disease than adults. (It may be they are asymptomatic carriers, though.)
      2. If the schools are closed, the kids have to go somewhere.
      3. If they are at home they need a caregiver.
      4. Parents who have to take time off work to care for children at home are not always going to be paid for that time off. In the US, a large fraction of workers don’t have large amounts of sick time or PTO to use.
      5. There have been reports of parents just dropping kids off at a local mall and then going to work (urban legend? possibly).
      6. If there is a caregiver at home, that person is more likely to get the disease from an infected kid.
      7. Caregivers may be grandparents or other older adults, and they are more in danger from the disease than children.
      8. Maybe older kids can be left alone, and then the caregiver goes to work while still in the asymptomatic stage (first five days, we are now hearing), and spreads the disease at work.

      The point of the above is not to say “don’t close the schools,” but that the trade-offs are not as clear as one might think.

      A lot of schools have been closed in my area, and universities, too. (Or colleges/universities switching to online classes.)

      • Nick says:

        This is why you close schools BEFORE all the kids are infected.

        • Randy M says:

          How long is that expected to be required? Seems to me it would need to be for some months.

          • acymetric says:

            As best I can tell, people are advocating that we shut the country down for 2020 and maybe we can give it another try in early 2021.

          • Matt M says:

            I dunno.

            Economically damaging quarantines are bad and should be avoided, for sure.

            But it seems to me that the Italy model of “wait until the virus is rampant in the community, then institute draconian quarantine measures” is probably something like the worst case scenario.

            If you’re willing to take the economic hit of a quarantine, the time to do it is before widespread infection in your local community. Once the widespread infection is already there, increased economic disruption isn’t doing you any additional good. At that point you might as well just have everyone keep going to work, tell them to wash their hands, and hope for the best, right?

          • acymetric says:

            @Matt M

            I agree with all of that, but with the additional note that it is probably possible to limit the spread of the disease better than Italy did without the level of economic disruption that is being casually proposed (or is already taking place) here in the US.

            I don’t want us to take no action, I just want us to take intelligent, reasonable, effective action but that isn’t what is happening now (to my eye).

          • Matt M says:

            probably possible to limit the spread of the disease better than Italy did without the level of economic disruption that is being casually proposed (or is already taking place) here in the US.

            Really? How? I believe the opposite is true.

            The US is one of the most individualistic societies on Earth. We are very reluctant to voluntarily surrender our own freedom of movement. Already there’s a cute little series of stories from St. Louis of an affluent suburban family, recently returned from an Italian vacation, who is supposed to be under quarantine. Some local journalists have gotten quite a bit of mileage out of stories where they follow these people around as they continue to go grocery shopping, go see a movie at the theater, get their nails done, etc.

            And how are you going to stop them? Short of some pretty severe legal threats or armed guards outside their house in a manner that almost assuredly violates the spirit of the constitution, and our basic core principles about what American liberty means? And even if you are ready, willing, and able, to post those armed guards, how long can you do that? How many families can you guard at once?

            I appreciate that in South Korea, the government can decree “everyone stay home now for the good of society, if you break this pronouncement you are shameful and dishonorable” and most people will assent.

            That’s simply not going to happen here. The best option is probably for the government to lean on large businesses and guilt/shame/threaten them into closing. Eliminate the desire to break quarantine by taking away all the destinations such people might go. But the local individual small businesses will almost assuredly still try to violate this, and what do you do about the people who insist they have no food, etc.?

            I see no reason to forecast that America is better equipped to handle this than anywhere else, and plenty of reason to suspect it might be much worse.

          • Deiseach says:

            And how are you going to stop them? Short of some pretty severe legal threats or armed guards outside their house in a manner that almost assuredly violates the spirit of the constitution, and our basic core principles about what American liberty means? And even if you are ready, willing, and able, to post those armed guards, how long can you do that? How many families can you guard at once?

            Social shaming. In the case you mention, if the local news media post big photos of Suburban Plaguebearer and kids, and make big splashy headlines about “These people could be infecting YOU” , then neighbours, local businesses and random people on the street are going to shun them, refuse to do business with them, and browbeat them into staying home under quarantine. And if anyone does get sick from being in contact with these people, there is always the recourse of going to law to sue them for public endangerment or the like.

            If everyone is literally crossing the street to avoid them, if the nail salon manager asks them to leave because the other customers are demanding “them or us”, if nobody will associate with them, the possibly infected may be as independent as they like free of the government, but boycotting by the people who live around them is a different matter. Angry mobs may not be pretty, but in the ultimate extreme they do work.

          • Matt M says:

            Social shaming.

            Yes, yes, I understand that this is supposed to be the answer. My only point is that Americans seem to be the least susceptible to this of basically anyone on Earth.

            So if there’s a high negative correlation between “severity of epidemic” and “population’s willingness to sacrifice individual benefits for the common good either altruistically or due to fear of social shaming,” then I would expect the US to be the worst hit of all countries.

          • Aftagley says:

            if the local news media post big photos of Suburban Plaguebearer and kids, and make big splashy headlines about “These people could be infecting YOU”

            Well, maybe. But this only works for the first walking infection vector. What about when it’s, say, 20 people? I can’t keep a mental list of 20 strangers I’m supposed to be shaming all day.

          • John Schilling says:

            So if there’s a high negative correlation between “severity of epidemic” and “population’s willingness to sacrifice individual benefits for the common good…

            What about willingness to seek individual benefits whether or not they also serve the common good? I think you are dramatically underestimating the willingness of the American people to make sacrifices; we meet pretty much our entire demand for blood transfusions by voluntary donation, for example. But in this particular case, most of the behavior we need to prevent the transmission of coronaviruses matches the behavior individuals would rationally perform to selfishly avoid being themselves infected by their unhygenic neighbors. Or, at the institutional level, avoid being blamed shamed and sued for getting people infected at the e.g. music festival they didn’t cancel. And we’re seeing just that behavior, individually and institutionally.

            Keep in mind, we don’t need 100% suppression of every deviant disease-spreading behavior. If the collective behavior of Americans (or Europeans) in general reduces the spread of the virus by a factor of two or so, R0 drops below 1.0 and the pandemic stalls and dies.

      • Spookykou says:

        I think teachers skew pretty old as well though, if we are worried about old people having to spend time around children(I think we all are) I am not sure sending them to school does much to resolve that one.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I think teachers skew pretty old as well though

          This was the opposite of my instinct, which is that teachers tend to be younger out of college sorts, so I looked it up.

          http://neatoday.org/2018/06/08/who-is-the-average-u-s-teacher/

          The “average teacher” is a 42 year old white woman, so not exactly skewing old (that’s a bit younger than the workforce on average).

          • Spookykou says:

            Anecdotes gonna anecdote, it might be that everywhere else I ever worked actually skewed young, when I did volunteer work for my local isd the elementary schools seemed to be full of boomers.

  27. bean says:

    Biweekly Naval Gazing links post:

    The big thing over the past two weeks has been the launch of a new series on merchant shipping, with an introduction and the first part, covering passenger ships.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I also looked at the early history of auxiliary ships, in the era before my first part on the subject.

    Lastly, I put up pictures from my collection of Iowa’s enlisted mess facilities.

  28. zardoz says:

    [Post 7 reviewing Business Adventures]

    Previously: Post 1, Post 2, Post 3, Post 4, Post 5, Post 6

    The next chapter of Business Adventures, “The Impacted Philosophers” is a relatively short one about price fixing at General Electric.

    During the 1950s, GE participated in a cartel whose goal was to prop up the prices of gear produced for the electrical grid. By 1960, someone defected from the cartel, and the government went after the remaining members for violating the Sherman antitrust act. This chapter doesn’t focus on how the cartel worked. Instead, the focus is on GE’s successful attempt to insulate its senior leadership from blame. Actually, “attempt” is probably the wrong word, since GE succeeded. As Brooks writes, “the uppermost echelon at GE came through [the investigation] unscathed.”

    The higher-ups at GE defended themselves mainly on the grounds that they didn’t know what their subordinates were doing. The whole affair is a bit reminiscent of Volkswagen’s efforts to pin Dieselgate on “a small group of rogue engineers.”

    The details are amusing. GE had in place a “Directive Policy 20.5” which specifically forbade price fixing (among other things) but “when some executives orally conveyed, or reconveyed the order, they were apparently in the habit of accompanying it with an unmistakable wink.” These guys are lucky that email hadn’t been invented yet.

    Supposedly, the custom of winking declined over the years, and the Chairman of GE even described himself as “an antiwink man.” However, his subordinates still engaged in price fixing.

    Near the end of the chapter, Brooks sardonically concludes that “philosophy seems to have reached a high point at GE, and communication a low one. If executives could just learn to understand each other, most of the witnessess said or implied, the problem of antitrust violations would be solved.”

    This chapter was fun to read, but it would have been nice to have a little more context. How big a percentage of GE’s business was electrical equipment? How credible really were the denials of the higher-ups? In a sense, the higher-ups were punished simply because GE suffered financially because of the antitrust actions. But in another sense– that of criminal responsibility– I feel like I still have some doubts about whether justice was done.

    • Aftagley says:

      but “when some executives orally conveyed, or reconveyed the order, they were apparently in the habit of accompanying it with an unmistakable wink.” These guys are lucky that email hadn’t been invented yet.

      Supposedly, the custom of winking declined over the years, and the Chairman of GE even described himself as “an antiwink man.”

      I can’t tell if this is a sarcastic metaphor about their practices or if he’s trying to say that people were literally winking at each other all the time in 1950s era GE.

    • Wency says:

      My father once taught a business ethics class at a not-very-elite college. The curriculum they gave him wanted him to teach these kids about Kant and Mill and try to apply the categorical imperative to business scenarios. Yawn.

      He quickly scrapped that and mostly gave kids examples like these — “If you follow an unethical command that comes from above, don’t be surprised when they save their own hides by throwing you under the bus.” Which I suppose is as good a way as any to dissuade unethical behavior, unless that student manages to become the high-level exec, at which point it becomes an instruction manual.

      But as I said, it was a pretty low-ranked college.

      • Matt M says:

        One of my COs in the Navy had a good policy (that he followed himself, but also insisted we all follow as well) of “any time someone gives you an order or request that sounds even the least bit shady, demand they send it in writing, signed by someone you know.”

        Nearly half the time we got requests, by phone, from our superior command, when we asked them to send the request in writing (email is fine!), they never bothered. Was sort of eye-opening…

  29. salvorhardin says:

    If social distancing measures and increased hygiene intensity work well against COVID-19, they should work well against the “ordinary” seasonal flu and colds as well, unless there’s some difference I’ve missed. Thus we should see a significant drop in prevalence of ordinary cold/flu symptoms in areas where these measures have been in effect for awhile. Do we in fact have evidence of such drops? Or is it too early to tell? Or are the relevant data unavailable or too noisy/confounded for the effects to show up clearly?

      • salvorhardin says:

        Wow, that’s exactly what I was looking for, and indeed hoping for; far better that we do all this for some real gain than for nothing. Thanks!

      • mcscope says:

        I’d love to believe this but I wonder how much of this can be explained by people just avoiding healthcare settings for anything but critical conditions right now.
        Though if you had respiratory symptoms and testing was available I guess you’d go…

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          People here probably know this, but if you think you have the flu or COVID, call your doctor or a clinic, don’t go visit your doctor or a clinic.

          I watched yesterday’s press conference, and I don’t think that was mentioned. (Possibly because many Americans don’t have a doctor.)

          • Matt M says:

            Can you call a doctor’s office and actually talk to a doctor?

            IME the only person you’re allowed to actually talk to is the receptionist, whose entire scope of duties is booking appointments and who can tell you nothing useful aside from when the next available appointment is (spoilers, not today!)

          • Eric Rall says:

            If you have health insurance, another option is to call your insurance company’s Nurse Advice Line. It’s one of the phone numbers on the back of your insurance card. You’ll talk to a registered nurse who will triage whether you need to go to a doctor and how urgently (i.e. call your regular doctor’s office and make an appointment, or go to a walk-in clinic today, or go directly to your local hospital’s emergency room).

          • Theodoric says:

            @Matt M:
            Sample size of one but: I once had an ear infection that was misdiagnosed as an eustacion tube disorder. I called my doctor’s office, and was put on hold, then told to go see an ENT. So sometimes the receptionist will at least consult with the doctor for you.

          • keaswaran says:

            Presumably the receptionist can at least warn the doctor that a patient with respiratory symptoms plans to come in – let’s make sure everyone in the waiting room has masks on first.

          • JayT says:

            I talked to a doctor over the phone today. I needed a prescription refilled, and didn’t want to actually go to a doctor’s office. Turns out my insurance uses a service called MD Live, where I got on the app and explained what I needed and paid my $20 copay, and then a doctor called me about five minutes later to talk about the drug I was wanting a refill on, and then she called it in to my pharmacy.

            Another time I talked to a doctor on the phone was when I was still with Kaiser (an HMO). I badly sprained my ankle and called to make an appointment. My doctor wasn’t available, so the receptionist found a different one that had an opening. A few minutes later he called me to talk about what I did, and he told me just to go straight to imaging, because he wouldn’t really be able to do anything in the office. I went and got an x-ray, and the tech told me to wait in the lobby. A few minutes later, the doctor called me again, told me I didn’t break it, and that I should wrap it and ice it. I would also do most of my interactions with my primary doctor through email, and would only see him once a year.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      What’s the cost-benefit trade-off that makes this reaction appropriate for COVID-19 but not appropriate for seasonal flu?

      (The subtext is that maybe one of our reactions is wrong. I have no idea how to determine it, though.)

      • matthewravery says:

        I don’t think its CBA that makes us do one thing for COVID and another for the tons of other viruses whose impact can be limited in a similar way and have consequences that aren’t insignificant. It’s the immediacy and novelty of COVID that gets us to do things that we should probably be doing anyways. “New thing that can kill you” perks up our ears in the same way that “same thing that killed people a while ago and will kill people again next year” doesn’t. Same reason people don’t always wear seat belts.

        If you wanted to get into a CBA, the big reason to limit the speed of COVID spread is to keep our health care system capacity from being overwhelmed. (Relevant graphic.)

      • Eric Rall says:

        I see two factors that cut in favor of reacting like this to COVID-19 but not for seasonal flu.

        The first is COVID-19 seems to produce severe illnesses about an order of magnitude more often than seasonal flu: for COVID-19, ~10% of infections require hospitalization and ~2% kill the patient, compared to 1-1.5% hospitalization and 0.05-0.1% death rates per infection for seasonal flu. So if COVID-19 spreads as far as a seasonal flu, as seems likely if we take no extraordinary precautions, that means millions of hospitalizations and hundreds of thousands of deaths in a country the size of the US. It’s also significant that we’re not very confident of our estimates for hospitalization and death rates for COVID-19: they could be a lot lower then we currently think (as occurred with the 2009 Pig Flu pandemic), or they could be even higher.

        The other is that COVID-19 is a novel virus, not currently in general circulation and probably only entrenched in its one original animal reservoir. So by responding aggressively now, we have a chance to eradicate it. But if we let it run rampant, the usual pattern for widespread communicable diseases is for them to circulate endemically at a low level and periodically explode into epidemics as new strains evolve around immunity or when new generations of people who’ve never had the disease reach a critical mass. Even if COVID-19 were to turn out to be no worse than seasonal flu, it’d be a defensible tradeoff if the level of effort we’re expending against COVID-19 had a real chance of permanently eradicating influenza after a single flu season.

      • keaswaran says:

        Back of the envelope calculation.

        If these diseases are basically the same, so that an infected person in a naive population will spread it to two others before recovering, then an endemic flu must be such that half the population already has immunity, in order not to be having exponential growth. The only stationary state for this differential equation is if the number of people who get the flu each year is half of the number of new people in the population each year.

        If social distancing means that an infected person in a naive population spreads it to 1.5 others before recovering, then we will eventually settle in a new equilibrium where 1/3 of people have had it, and the number of people that get it each year is 1/3 of the number of new people in the population. That is a moderate reduction in disease burden.

        But with a novel disease, to which no one in the community has immunity, it seems likely that there will be a period of nearly exponential growth, until the virus has infected nearly half the population. At that moment, the number of people with the virus will still be substantially higher than the number in the eventual steady state. My intuition about this sort of differential equation is that the solution will involve overshoot and fallback over many years, before eventually stabilizing at the steady state.

        By reducing the effective infection rate from 2 to 1.5 early in the progression, we can make sure that the overshoot is smaller, causing less disruption in this peak, in addition to achieving the moderate reduction in disease burden long term.

        But I think mitigating this peak is the primary goal, and it’s something we don’t have to worry about for endemic diseases that have already been established.

  30. I’ve been reading Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized. It’s an interesting book, and the basic argument may well be correct. But it strikes me that there is a serious problem with his view that a large part of the psychological difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives are afraid of change, while liberals welcome it.

    The problem is that this is inconsistent with the politics of population and climate change. Both issues were about fear of change, in one case purported effects of population growth, in the other of warming due to greenhouse gases. In both cases, it was the left that was afraid of change.

    Of course, someone on the left might argue that the difference was not that people were afraid of change but that they realistically anticipated its consequences, while the right was hiding their heads in the sand. As many here know, I think the opposite is true in the case of climate change, that it is the alarmists who are letting their ideology overpower their reason. But whether or not that is true for that issue — neither side of the argument can observe the future — we now have more than fifty years of data on population growth. Over that period what happened was the precise opposite of what was predicted. Population continued to grow, but poverty in poor countries declined sharply and calorie consumption per capita in poor countries grew instead of shrinking.

    What the two cases had in common was fear, an extraordinary level of fear, of change.

    If I had Klein’s email address I would have sent this to him. Since I don’t I’m posting it here. He may see it, and in any case others will.

    One further, but not unrelated, point. A good deal of Klein’s analysis relies on studies purporting to show things, usually disturbing things, about people. We now know that some such studies were bogus, that the authors were falsely reporting their results. In other cases they were reporting what they probably believed, but their data showed less than they thought it did — I got involved in one such case, via an extended exchange with the author on my blog, some years back. I don’t know whether the same is true of the studies Klein cites and relies on, but I am less willing to trust their reported results than I would have been fifteen years or so back.

    • 10240 says:

      Both issues were about fear of change, in one case purported effects of population growth, in the other of warming due to greenhouse gases. In both cases, it was the left that was afraid of change.

      It can be interpreted both ways. The left is afraid of climate change, conservatives are afraid of the policy changes that would be necessary to prevent climate change.

      • sentientbeings says:

        I think you are mistakenly conflating two ideas of “[afraid of ] change.” I haven’t read the book, but my understanding from prior reading is that this phrase is something of a term of art and does not exactly correspond to a general language phrase “afraid of change.”

        One could claim that someone is “afraid” of any unwanted change, but I don’t think that what the phrase is meant to mean. In the case of policy changes, there are a number of concrete expectations, as well as unknown risk factors, and many of the concrete expectations deal with things for which people have very definite preferences. The change is not a mere change of conditions, but a change between two well-understood conditions.

        In the case of climate change, there are much larger error bars, more unknowns, and unknown values associated with certain outcomes (i.e. Given X amount of change, how does that affect a particular actor, and how does he subjectively evaluate his well-being in response? Even if X is known, he might have no good way to predict his subsequent well-being. This point is especially important due to the time scales involved, as it’s largely not that individual’s subjective judgement involved, but that of future generations.).

        Consider risk in the stock market as an analogy. Risk can be categorized as systematic and idiosyncratic risk. Meta-afraid-of-change might be be broken down into systematic-afraid-of-change and idiosyncratic-afraid-of-change. The idiosyncratic change would be related to specific issues, which need to be considered but aren’t really the essential meaning of the “afraid of change” phrase. It’s the change qua change, the “systematic” change, that is the real object of consideration.

        • Aapje says:

          There are enormous unknowns and risks to the social chances that progressives tend to favor though. For example, if multiculturalism or integration of large numbers of migrants doesn’t work, you can get disintegrating countries or even civil war.

          You can’t explain progressive worry about climate change by a worry about unknowns and then ignore how other huge risks tend to be waved away or taken in stride.

    • Anteros says:

      We have at least 50 years of data on climate change

      ETA on second thoughts I’ll save all that for a fractious thread.

    • Swami says:

      it strikes me that there is a serious problem with his view that a large part of the psychological difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives are afraid of change, while liberals welcome it.

      Another way of segmenting people is between those who embrace spontaneous order/ Invisible hand / emergent order vs those who embrace planned change. IOW, Emergent change vs planned change.

      This doesn’t so much capture the difference between liberals and conservatives, but between classical liberals and progressives.

    • Plumber says:

      @DavidFriedman says:

      “I’ve been reading Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized. It’s an interesting book, and the basic argument may well be correct. But it strikes me that there is a serious problem with his view that a large part of the psychological difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives are afraid of change, while liberals welcome it…”

      Maybe Ezra is correct but I’m doubtful of his analysis based on my own beliefs assuming conservative = more laissez faire/unregulated markets, and liberal = regulated markets/more statists (yes, that’s the opposite of the current Australian and the19th century usage of “liberal”, but we’re both Americans in the 21st century who remember the 20th).

      To me the less regulated markets are the faster they bring change, and I don’t like change. 

      That the British, Indians, and Soviets kept manufacturing copies of 1920’s to ’50’s designs for bicycles and motor vehicles into the ’70’s and even the ’90’s seems glorious to me! 

      Unfortunately (judging from the reports of my ex-Soviet and ex-Warsaw Pact co-workers) actually existing socialism was terrible at producing needed supplies (never enough insulation to build a new building properly, shingles didn’t match the needed nails, etc.), but otherwise progress was effectively in amber, they were still making copies of a 1937 German motorcycle into the ’90’s! 

      The Indians made a ’50’s British car into the 21st century! 

      The Brits hardly changed the MGB from 1962 to ’80, or the Triumph Bonneville until Thatcher pulled the plug of the co-op in 1983!

      That’s so cool! 

      There’s a sweet spot somewhere of enough capitalism to prevent bad central planning induced shortages, but enough socialistic regulation to inhibit disruption and “creative destruction” and stop all these newfangled innovations!

      I know I would love if I could get a new Sunbeam Tiger off the show room floor that was just like the ones made the year before I was born! 

      Of course it took capitalism to get us the point of the products of 1967, but if we could’ve frozen it at that year it would’ve been glorious, and sure, not having the Instapot electric pressure cooker of this decade would be a drag, but wouldn’t you trade it for a brand-new ’67 Dodge Charger? 

      I know I would! 

      Plus, with less change you may plan your life and career with some confidence and security! 

      “The full Cuba” traps us in the ’50’s with a handful of cars from then, what we need is to freeze it in the mid to late ’60’s with the vehicles of then still rolling of the assembly line, with plentiful replacement parts, Radio Shack’s around still selling tubes to fix televisions, brass and bronze shower valves instead of today’s plastic crap, steam heat radiators (okay that’s ’20’s instead, but you get the gist), regulating the Hell out of markets should do the trick, we can’t expect government to be efficient, but we may expect a status quo bias, and it’s past time when change should’ve been slowed way down!

    • newstorkcity says:

      I have not read Klein’s book, so take my musings with a grain of salt.

      I think a slightly more nuanced wording is more accurate. I would phrase it as: Liberals encourage changing how things are run wherease conservatives prefer to rely on how things have been done in the past. With this formulation, both examples match between theory and reality.

      At least for european and european influenced countries, the general pattern has been exploitation of non-renewable natural resources (fuels, minings, deforestation). This has generally been pretty successful in the past (with some notable counter examples). So when the issue of climate change arises, conservatives would rather not change the trend.

      And for population concerns, it is widely held that families were much larger in the past and are continuing to shrink. A conservative would seek to stop this trend so that families do not get any smaller. The fact that there are second order consequences to the total population is irrelevant, because that does not directly relate to how things are run.

      While I don’t think ascribing the emotion “fear” is quite accurate, I do think the general point fits with reality. This description fits most of the main talking points of both sides. Eg women’s gender roles, drug prohibitions, teachings styles, etc.

      A confounding factor could be population drift of intrinsic values. Assume people intrinsically fall into C type or L type. C types generally like what modern day conservatives like and L types generally like what modern day liberals like. For unspecified reasons, C types used to be more common but L types are on the rise. Because C types agree with the majority of the past, it looks like they want to stay the same. But in reality they just want C type values. And L types look like they are very comfortable with change, but if L type values were already dominant they would not want to budge.

      I’m agnostic as to which of these is more accurate to the actual state of things.

      • Plumber says:

        @newstorkcity,
        Eh, I don’t buy it, since futures are unknown most are reactionaries, just with different years in mind.

        A left-winger would chose 1946 or 1976, while a right-winger would chose 1926 or 1986.

        Those who “dream of what has never been” are rare, and a negligible part of the electorate that may be rounded down to zero in terms of political factions, the fight is over when to turn back the clock, and how to recover what has been lost, and how best to prevent the harms the future may bring.

        • newstorkcity says:

          I don’t believe that the average person knows enough about history to actually be reactionary for the time that matches their values. Or, at least, that they are only vaguely aware about it, not enough for them to actually care about it or try to emulate it.

          Maybe I am just projecting here, I certainly don’t know enough about history to know what time if any was like what current left wing or right wing culture is.

          Though perhaps you are arguing that while many individuals are not reactionary in the sense that they have a specific time to go back to, the cultural movement as a whole is reaching for some specific time period to emulate. I don’t understand by what mechanism that would even happen though.

          As for “dream[ing] of what never has been,” maybe the average person can not conceive of a hypothetical future world (I am skeptical of this claim), but they can certainly see others dreams and choose to follow them.

    • viVI_IViv says:

      I don’t think either group supports or opposes change in general.

      The left supports directed change, social engineering, economical planning. They may range anywhere from incrementalism to revolutionism, depending on how quickly and forcefully they want to change things, but generally agree that some kind of public oversight is needed on change, and they usually more or less agree on the direction to steer the boat to.

      The conservative right supports organic, emergent change. Don’t rock the boat, keep doing business as usual, and the Invisible Hand will keep giving you better and better stuff. The problem with this view is that “business as usual” means exponential growth, not just in population size (which was always the case since the Neolithic) but also in per capita levels of economic activity. Exponential growth, of course, either becomes unsustainable or creates qualitative differences that upset the social order: you can’t “go back to the 50s” in a world that has 3x the people and 9x the GDP. You can’t pretend that things like the refrigerator, the contraceptive pill, the TV, cheap air travel and the Internet did not create social and therefore political discontinuities. This fundamental contradiction is why, IMHO, the conservative ideology is dead.

      Enter the populist right/alt-right/alt-lite/whatever you want to call the ideology that ranges from Donald Trump to Viktor Orbán, from Nigel Farage to Jair Bolsonaro. This ideology embraces the leftist perspective that economic and technological change results in discontinuous social and political change, and that left “unregulated” (or rather, regulated by opaque institutions captured by illegible special interests) this change is mostly bad for most people. They strongly disagree with the left about the direction that this change should be directed to.

      Anyway, this is a topic for a fractionally-numbered thread.

      • Aapje says:

        You can’t pretend that things like the refrigerator, the contraceptive pill, the TV, cheap air travel and the Internet did not create social and therefore political discontinuities. This fundamental contradiction is why, IMHO, the conservative ideology is dead.

        You also can’t pretend* that biological inequality, a fundamental human desire for conformity, a strong human desire for consumption, a fundamental human desire to ‘win,’ etc create social and therefore political discontinuities.

        By your logic, the progressive agenda is just as dead as the conservative agenda, no?

        Unless pushing society in a direction is a valid political agenda, in which case, neither conservatism or progressivism is dead.

        * Well, you can, just as much as you can pretend that the refrigerator, the contraceptive pill, the TV, cheap air travel and the Internet don’t have a big impact.

        • AG says:

          No, the progressive agenda, in some respects, assumes that “a fundamental human desire for conformity, a strong human desire for consumption, a fundamental human desire to ‘win,’ etc create social and therefore political discontinuities,” and therefore believes that humans need to be regulated by a governing body to prevent them from defecting as per such desires.

          • Aapje says:

            You can describe conservatism in the same way.

          • AG says:

            @Aapje

            Sure, progressive and conservatives may overlap on “we should change people’s cultures/minds,” but that’s not a rebuttal against viVI_IViv’s point on why the old conservativism was uniquely contradictory in the way progressivism was not. “People’s behaviors create social discontinuity” is not the mirror to “Material changes in technology (that occur because of desired business as usual) change people’s behaviors.” The claim that conservatives ignore that latter does not logically lead to the former, much less the former implying that therefore the progressive agenda is fatally contradictory.

          • Aapje says:

            I disagree that these contradictions necessarily exist as claimed. For example, the claim by viVI_IViv that conservatism requires fast economic growth is absurd. If anything, it is progressivism that requires this.

            After all, at the core of conservatism is the claim that people desire things that are bad for them in the long term and that their life will ultimately be better if they restrain themselves and take responsibility. This is perfectly compatible with an economically stagnant society where the best outcome is when people shape themselves into a cog for the machine, which replaces an old cog that retires, to keep the system working.

            In contrast, very many of the progressive wins were bought with economic growth: better welfare, better healthcare, more government services, more female independence, wealth redistribution, etc.

            Remember that unions, feminism, and progressivism in general gained enormous momentum during the industrial revolution (as well as during the later automation phase), when economic growth increased a lot. Isn’t it then quite plausible that economic stagnation will cause the opposite? Progressivism often promises salvation after their next achievement. What happens if the economy stagnates and progressives can no longer buy achievements? A backlash seems quite plausible.

            Many of the social and political discontinuities are not obviously robust, in the sense that they are safe from a political course correction. We’ve seen plenty of historic cases where such course corrections happened and there is no reason to assume that society will keep marching in the same direction, especially if the economy keeps stagnating or the stagnation becomes even worse.

            After all, the stagnating economy of the 80’s already caused the mainstream left to adopt neoliberalism and to substantially pivot away from redistribution towards Social Justice, which is a deeply inconsistent ideology.

            Take working women. Having this as the ideal and as something that (middle and upper class) people increasingly depend on, is a major change from the past. Yet women don’t report being happier. They don’t tend to actually want to sacrifice as much for work as men, but then also often get upset about not getting the same benefits or about spending their paycheck on daycare, creating a great dissatisfaction in many. As Warren wrote in her book, double incomes tend to result in more fixed expenses for the family, actually increasing financial risk compared to a single-income household (and the increased tendency for people to separate makes it even worse).

            We see that progressives are trying to get women into top positions and failing. To equalize earnings and failing. To equalize housework and failing. To increase the financial situation of mothers and failing, as more and more mothers are single mothers.

            Then how can you or viVI_IViv claim that the conservative agenda is fatally contradictory, but that the progressive one isn’t? Do you claim that it is inevitable that the solutions that progressives keep trying will suddenly ‘take’ or that a new solution will be found that will fix it?

            Of course, if politics pivots back to trying far more conservative solutions, it won’t be the same conservatism of the past, but the same is true for progressivism. Again, if not being able to return to the exact same conservatism shows up conservatism, then why not progressivism as well?

          • viVI_IViv says:

            I disagree that these contradictions necessarily exist as claimed. For example, the claim by viVI_IViv that conservatism requires fast economic growth is absurd. If anything, it is progressivism that requires this.

            My point is that conservatism is a hands-off approach: keep doing whatever you have always being doing and things will be fine.
            If you do this in, say, the Middle Ages then chances are that you’ll be leaving to you grandchildren a society that looks pretty much the same as the one that your grandparents left you.
            But in our late industrial society, this results in unchecked transformative change due to fast economical and technological growth.

            Progressivism doesn’t require fast growth per se, it requires abundance, and our present abundance has been generated by fast growth.
            If most people are poor subsistence farmers, ruled by warriors, then there is nothing to redistribute, and since men are better at farming and fighting with that kind of technology, the idea of women being equal to men makes no sense.
            If the economic and military strength of a society is mainly a function of the number of people in it, and if there are recurrent outbreaks of diseases like the plague and leprosy, there is no way that people who primarily engage in sterile sexual acts with a large number of partners to be seen as anything but dangerous degenerates.

            Of course progressivism is also at odds with the physical world even in our modern society, and these contradictions are, IMHO, the reason why it is in cultural decline. Progressivism is based on the idea that people are fundamentally equal: differences of outcomes must be the cause of some kind of unfairness in the system that can, and must, be corrected. People are starting to become more and more aware that this is not true: people are fundamentally different at both individual and group level, given equal opportunities some people will succeed and other will fail.

          • Aapje says:

            My point is that conservatism is a hands-off approach: keep doing whatever you have always being doing and things will be fine.

            I think that you are confusing not wanting to change the rules of the game with being hands-off, which is not the same. Preserving the status quo can be a hands-on affair. After all, many progressives who argue that historic society was oppressive claim that there would be an intervention when people would try to exercise certain freedoms, right?

            In general, getting ‘hands-on’ to try to prevent changes is perfectly consistent with a strong desire to “keep doing whatever you have always being doing.”

        • viVI_IViv says:

          By your logic, the progressive agenda is just as dead as the conservative agenda, no?

          Progressivism is the dominant ideology but it’s declining, while the populist right ideology is ascending.

          Progressivism is still entrenched in institutions with high inertia and high barriers to entry, but go anywhere people can say un-PC things without fear of repercussions, anywhere they can vote with their vallet (“get woke go broke”) or they can vote with their actual vote, and you can clearly see that the populist right, or at least anti-PC sentiment is ascendent.

          • Aapje says:

            Yeah, if you don’t need an education or a job at a company with lots of progressive customers, or want to go to a conference or don’t mind risking being targeted by the institution called the courts that can force anyone to do what they want, then you can say and do what you want, without fear of repercussions.

            Well, except for the fact that of the last four Dutch populist party leaders, one had his wife lose her leg due to an antifa attack, one was murdered and two need security due to death threats (including by a very non-fired university teacher, who called upon the person who committed the aforementioned murder to kill another populist party leader).

            Also, people are forced to give a substantial amount of their money to the government, which means that they can’t vote with their wallet with that.

            The evidence that populists feel bullied into silence is pretty strong, including that they are very prone to lie about their preferences, causing their secret vote to usually diverge significantly from pre-election or exit polling (Hello, unexpected Trump victory).

            Ultimately, populists keep saying that their lived experience is being oppressed for their beliefs. To get more objective evidence for or against this, they would need a fair shake by the institutions that, according to you, have “progressivism still entrenched” and high inertia and high barriers to entry.

            However, I would argue that these institutions are heavily biased, so those barriers of entry are not impartial, but they prevent a course correction. For example, Bo Winegard was just fired for wrongthink that at worst was mildly racist by gesturing to some groups being less capable, while hateful racism like this by an assistant professor is apparently considered acceptable). Imagine a white professor writing about wanting to kick a black homeless person in the face because of sins associated with his skin color.

            This is not just about PC. The choice is between defending institutions that accept these kind of things, as long as they target their outgroup, while they don’t accept things that are way, way less noxious, but that target their ingroup.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            This is not just about PC. The choice is between defending institutions that accept these kind of things, as long as they target their outgroup, while they don’t accept things that are way, way less noxious, but that target their ingroup.

            But this is what I mean by progressives being entrenched: they use the power of the institutions to protect themselves and attack their opponents, from a company or a university firing people for wrongthink, to the police punishing people for mean (= right-wing) tweets, while lefties can call for murder on Twitter without repercussions, to the police looking the other way while the antifa commit acts of terrorism while swiftly punishing any “far-right extremist” who dares to fight back.
            This is the result of 40+ years of leftist entryism, as well as the unholy alliance between the ultra-elites and the radicals (it’s not a coincidence that the first result of the woke movement was breaking up Occupy).

            Still, the progressives are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the people. This puts them in an unstable position: a class of political commissars hated by the general population could perhaps maintain itself in a completely totalitarian system like North Korea or the Stalin-era Soviet Union, but in Western societies, as long as democratic and market mechanisms are still operational, they can’t go on forever. At some point, the institutions they co-opted will need the support of either elected officials or paying customers, and if they can’t get it they will have to either un-wokefy themselves or collapse.

          • Aapje says:

            Sure, but what we call democracy often in reality results in leaders with a substantially different agenda and/or who make substantially different decisions than the will of the people, for various reasons, including that the very institutions that shape the process and that interpret what the voters actually meant are not impartial & because the policy-making process is not impartial (being biased in favor of political leaders with a certain agenda and biased against other agendas).

            For example, the Brexit only happened because of a weird combination of hubris and deference, where a politician decided that he didn’t need the power of those institutions to reshape the actual will of the majority into something ‘acceptable’ because they would vote right, but who didn’t cancel the outcome of the referendum when it didn’t go as planned. In contrast, in my country the politicians in power started off with the same hubris that voters would support the elite, but when they didn’t, the politicians simply ignored the rejection of the EU ‘constitution’ and stopped doing referendums. Problem solved…for now.

            Also, propaganda that doesn’t directly conflict with people’s own experiences often does work. Russians tend to distrust their government, yet they largely bought Putin’s MH17 lies.

            Ultimately, I again come back to hubris. An elite that accepts that the will of the majority of people is different from their own can permanently bias society towards their own desires, as long as they lack the hubris where they want to have it completely their way, rather than get far more than they deserve. Only when they themselves start a war with a large part of society, where they lack the means to win that war, they doom themselves.

            Similarly, the media and other propaganda channels can create a substantial bias in favor of their views, but if their hubris makes them tell people to stop believing their own lying eyes, they go further than their means allows.

    • Loriot says:

      My suspicion is that politics is largely cultural and which issues end up in which camps is almost random.

      • Aapje says:

        I think that there are underlying biases, but that issues tend to have so many aspects, that many can go either way.

        An interesting aspect is that when one side adopts a cause, they often frame it in a way that works for their biases/preferences, but conflicts with the biases/preferences of the other side, which polarizes the issue, especially if one side has media dominance. That is (another case) where having strong control over the propaganda being published can actually work against a cause, because it makes people believe that:
        – the only reason(s) for the cause are those that resonate with the other, while reasons that resonate with ‘us’ don’t exist or are not sincerely advocated, but merely offered up to manipulate
        – the cause is part of a package deal and thus that advocating for the cause will bring about the goal(s) of those whose goals ‘we’ oppose.

        You can see these mechanisms work pretty clearly in how people respond to causes, in a way that often confuses the other side. For example, by the critic complaining about a larger agenda that is (allegedly) being advocated for, which can seem like dragging in unrelated topics to the other side.

        • Loriot says:

          Reminds me of the stories I’ve heard about conservative environmentalists who like to be able to go hunting and fishing

          • acymetric says:

            I don’t know if I’m misreading this statement, but it sounds like you’re considering these environmentalists who like to hunt and fish as some semi-mythical group. Hunters and fishers have been a leading part of environmentalism and conservation efforts for a long, long time.

          • Lambert says:

            You just don’t notice them because they’re the other tribe and they have different branding (conservation as opposed to environmentalism).
            Also because they wear camouflage.

          • Loriot says:

            I wasn’t saying they were mythical. Just that they aren’t visible in the mainstream due to political pressure.

          • acymetric says:

            I wasn’t saying they were mythical. Just that they aren’t visible in the mainstream due to political pressure.

            This is definitely a bubble thing, I’m guessing you live in one of the larger urban areas of the country. I see these kinds of people in public and various media sources all the time (but I live in a mid-sized blue urban area in a state that is mostly red with a lot of rural areas).

    • Emby says:

      I’m fairly left myself, but I think the phrase “afraid of change” applied to conservatives is poisoning the well somewhat. Conservatives have a preference against change – that’s kind of what ‘conservative’ means, preferring to keep things the way they are. Progressives have a preference in favour of change because they have a belief that if you change what you’re doing you’re more likely to get something better than something worse – that’s kind of what ‘progressive’ means too.

      Phrased like that, the conservative and progressive positions on climate change and population make perfect sense. Conservatives are trying to keep their own personal life circumstances as close as possible to what they’re used to which means not changing what they do in their day to day life (and, if you’re a conservative this will give you a bias in favour of thinking that no bad things are ever going to happen which you might need to change for – and you should look out for that). Progressives are trying to experiment with new things in order to improve their lives (and, if you’re a progressive this will give you a bias in favour of thinking that whatever change you have in mind is bound to have all up-sides and no down-sides – and you should look out for that) which means more looking into the future, trying to figure out what’s changing, and responding to that.

      In any particular circumstances, you don’t necessarily know who’s going to be right about a particular proposed change. Maybe it makes things better for everyone, maybe it makes things worse for everyone, maybe it’s just a change and all the progressives are saying “Hey! New stuff! Cool” and the conservatives are all “FML not more goddamn NEW shit!”

      • Aapje says:

        I take a bit of an issue with calling it “trying to experiment” when it is often actually a society-wide change, which often cannot be undone and/or is not rigorously evaluated, where reverting back is presented as a viable option.

        In general, I associate a willingness to experiment more with centrists or center-right (on my scale, where someone like Dominic Cummings is center-right). The far left typically seems extremely unwilling to experiment, preferring to just make the change. The center-left often seems theoretically willing, but very commonly seems to have a low threshold for proof, preferring to switch from experiment to implementation based on, in my view, insufficient evidence for efficacy. I agree with you that far more conservative people are relatively often not very willing to experiment, nor to just make the change.

        • Emby says:

          I’d agree that the far-left are often locked into positions that they can’t or are unwilling to break out of – I’d attribute it to a theory that if you’re the far-anything you’ve pretty much tacked your colours to the mast, and would find it difficult to back down without losing face (due to being part of a relatively small group in society, with whom most people disagree)

      • You are assuming that “conservative” and “progressive” mean what the words imply, which is risky. Everyone is a progressive in the literal sense of the word, since everyone is in favor of those changes that are progress, i.e. improve things. It’s just that I think cutting the size of the government in half and returning our legal rules to freedom of contract is progress, and other people think changes in the opposite direction are progress.

        Similarly for “conservative.” Currently, conservatives are pushing for less immigration, much less than the essentially open borders that the U.S. had for most of its history. Liberals want something closer to that past policy, so if they aren’t conservative they are reactionary. Liberals very much want to conserve the New Deal policies.

        The names have become labels for ideologies, having only a weak connection to what the words mean.

        • Plumber says:

          @DavidFriedman says:

          “You are assuming that “conservative” and “progressive” mean what the words imply…

          …The names have become labels for ideologies, having only a weak connection to what the words mean”

          So very much +1!

    • Simulated Knave says:

      How many Cambridge professors does it take to change a lightbulb?

      CHANGE?!?!?!?!?!

  31. FLWAB says:

    I enjoy historical podcasts, and one has raised a question that I was hoping someone here might have more insight on. I have been listening to the second season of What We Saw (which can be found on Apple Podcasts among other places), which deals with the Cold War. The first season was about the Apollo program and was very good and so far the second has been of similar quality. It should be noted the the creator, Bill Whittle, is a staunch conservative and the podcast openly acknowledges that it looks at the Cold War as a struggle between good and evil (or “liberty and slavery”). As such it tends to linger on USSR atrocities. That’s fine by me: I would prefer more of my podcasts were explicit in their biases up front. So far I’ve learned a lot about USSR atrocities that I didn’t previously know, and whenever I’ve double checked a factual claim it has come out accurate.

    However in the early episodes there is a claim that is much harder to verify. Bill Whittle claims that as World War II was winding down it was Stalin’s plan to use his massive military machine to take as much of Europe as possible, up to and including declaring war on West Germany, France, etc. The claim is that Stalin believed that the war weary British and American democracies did not have the stomach to outlast him in a fight for continental Europe, and that Stalin has a powerful numerical advantage on the continent in terms of men and machinery. The only reason that Stalin did not use his massive army to launch WW III right out the gate was the American development of nuclear weapons. This, Whittle claims, changed the calculus: America would not need to commit massive amounts of blood and iron to defend Europe now that they had nuclear weapons. Atom bombs could wipe out Stalin’s massive ground forces and turn Stalingrad into glass. Thus, the claim goes, the invention and use of nuclear weapons by the Americans not only prevented a costly land invasion of Japan but also prevented WW III by demonstrating to Stalin the power of atom bombs, which forced him to abandon a plan of outright war against the western powers in the aftermath of WW II.

    This is a remarkable claim: for one thing it significantly changes the moral calculus on using the atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and of the effects of nuclear weapon development in general. It’s also something I had never heard of before. Quick and casual Googling has not been helpful in determining how valid the claim is, so I thought I’d bring it to the thread. Do you think, if nuclear weapons had not been developed, Stalin would have outright invaded parts of Europe after WW II? Was that really in the cards? Was that an actual plan Stalin had in the works? Or is this just wild speculation by an open American patriot to help justify America’s use of nuclear weapons?

    Edit: (If this is too close to culture war then forgive me, but I honestly just want a historical and tactical assessment which I think is fine. I’m not interested in moral assessments, just factual ones).

    • Bobobob says:

      From all the histories I’ve read, one of the reasons America dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki was to convince the Soviets that we had an ample nuclear arsenal at our disposal. And yes, in the absence of nuclear weapons, I think Stalin would have advanced his troops as far west as possible, and beyond. “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

      • Statismagician says:

        I’m about 65% sure I’ve read meeting minutes at the Truman library which say this was at least believed to be a real possibility by American leadership at the time, but Wikipedia says it’s not ‘accepted by mainstream historians,’ whatever that means, so I could be imagining things.

      • cassander says:

        This theory is often repeated, but not supported by any actual evidence that I’ve seen. The principles involved were all overwhelmingly concerned with japan.

      • Dack says:

        The US military didn’t know the atomic bomb would end the war at the time. That is hindsight. They would have dropped however many it took for Japan to surrender. They dropped the first two in August 1945 and had a third one “on the way” tentatively scheduled for late August/early September,…and were apparently planning for three atomic bombs a month (possibly with a concurrent invasion!)

        http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/2012/04/25/weekly-document-the-third-shot-and-beyond-1945/

        This week’s document is one of the more vivid demonstrations of this fact. It is a transcript of a telephone conversation between General John E. Hull, who was involved in Allied planning in the Pacific theatre, and Colonel L.E. Seeman (here incorrectly noted as “Seaman”), an assistant of Groves, on August 13, 1945. The subject is the “third shot” — the next bomb ready for use after Nagasaki, which was anticipated to be ready by August 23 — and the shots beyond that.

        From the transcript:

        S[eaman]: … Then there will be another one the first part of September. Then there are three definite. There is a possibility of a fourth one In September, either the middle or the latter part.
        H[ull]: Now, how many in October?
        S: Probably three in October.
        H: That’s three definite, possibly four by the end of September; possibly three more by the end of October; making a total possibility of seven. That is the information I want.
        S: So you can figure on three a month with a possibility of a fourth one. If you get the fourth one, you won’t get it next month. That is up to November.
        H: The last one, which is a possibility for the end of October, could you count on that for use before the end of October?
        S: You have a possibility of seven, with a good chance of using them prior to the 31st of October.
        H: They come out approximately at the rate of three a month.

        H: That is the information I wanted. The problem now is whether or not, assuming the Japanese do not capitulate, continue on dropping them every time one is made and shipped out there or whether to hold them up as far as the dropping is concerned and then pour them all on in a reasonably short time. Not all in one day, but over a short period. And that also takes into consideration the target that we are after. In other words should we not concentrate on targets that will be of the greatest assistance to an invasion rather than industry, morale, psychology, etc.
        S: Nearer the tactical use rather than other use.

        H: That is what it amounts to. What Is your own personal reaction to that?
        S: I have studied that a good deal. Our own troops would have to be about six miles away I am not sure that the Air Forces could place it within 500 feet of the point we want. Of course, it is not that “pinpoint”. Then the stage of development has to be considered. The work it is liable to be used for the more or less has to be explosive effect. It would be just a gamble putting or sending those troops though.
        H: Not the same day or anything like that. We might do it a couple or three days before. You plan to land on a certain beach. Behind which you know there is a good road communication and maybe a division or two of Japanese troops. Neutralization of that at some time from H Hour of the landing back earlier, maybe a day or two or three. I don’t anticipate that you would be dropping it as we do other type bombs that are in support of the infantry. I am thinking about neutralizing a division or a communication center or something so that it would facilitate the movement ashore of troops.
        S: That is the preferable use at this time from that standpoint. The weapon we have is not a penetration weapon. The workmanship is not as good as possible. It is much better than average workmanship. We are still developing it though.
        H: From this on more or less of the timing factor, how much time before the troops actually go into that area do you think would be the safety factor? Suppose you did get a dud or an incomplete explosion, what safety factor should you consider, one, two, three days?
        S: I think we are sending some people over to actually measure that factor. I think certainly by within 48 hours that could be done. Everything is going so fast. We would like to train people and get them in a combat spirit to do that. I think the people we have are the best qualified in that line. Of course, as you say, if it is used back in a kind of reserve line or in a reserve position or a concentration area but that you wouldn’t be up against right away.
        H: I don’t think you would land at eight o’clock in the morning and you would drop it at six o’clock, out the day before, even from the tactical standpoint without regard to when it fails to go off or something like that.
        S: Another thing you may be likely to consider is that while you are landing you might not want to use it as it could be a dud. It is not something that you fool around with.

        H: I would appreciate if you would discuss that angle with General Groves. I would like to have his slant on it. That is the question, how do we employ it and when do we employ it next? It has certainly served its purpose, those two we have used. I don’t think it could have been more useful than it has. If we had another one, today would be a good day to drop it. We don’t have it ready. Anyhow within the next ten days the Japanese will make up their minds one way or the other so the psychological effect is lost so far as the next one is concerned in my opinion, pertaining to capitulation. Should we not lay off a while, and then group them one, two, three? I should like to get his slant on the thing, General Groves’ slant.

        • FLWAB says:

          That’s a remarkable transcript. It really illustrates how they didn’t really know what they had at the time. They’re discussing how soon troops could land after bombing a beach, and they are mostly worried about unexploded ordinance, as if it was a normal bombing run. No discussion of the radiation danger. It remind me of Bean’s post on the Navy’s nuclear detonation tests after the war, and how they really underestimated how much radiation would be left behind and for how long.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It remind me of Bean’s post on the Navy’s nuclear detonation tests after the war, and how they really underestimated how much radiation would be left behind and for how long.

            “Behold! I am become Death, destroyer of your troops by cancer.”

          • Nick says:

            It’s also interesting because a defense commonly made of dropping the atomic bombs is it they were necessary to end the war with fewer casualties. If it surprised everyone that it ended the war so quickly, well, that’s very nice, but that should change how we view the decision to use them.

          • FLWAB says:

            @Nick

            To be fair, it sounds like the tactical use of nukes was just speculation in this transcript. And even if planners had planned for Japan’s surrender, they had no way of knowing how many bombs it would take. It’s only prudent to prepare for many bombings, and prepare for the possibility of having to invade anyway, even if they had hoped and expected not to need to.

            Honestly the morality of the bombings is a personal quagmire for me that I can’t settle to my satisfaction. One thing listening to this podcast has made me wonder at though is how amazingly fortuitous it was that America was the nation to first acquire nuclear weapons. If it had been the Nazi’s, well, no need to speculate on what a disaster that would have been. But if it has been Stalin then maybe he would have leveraged them to take more of Europe. That the A-Bomb landed in the lap of America, a country with no real desire to conquer anybody at that point in history is just…I don’t know how to describe it other than Providence. If Stalin had the bomb first I can imagine him using it to conquer and subdue. Because we got it first even those who got it afterwards were too afraid to use it. And then because the USSR got it soon after we did, America was also put in check: if we were the only ones with nukes I imagine we might have been sorely tempted to use them in Vietnam, and we just missed using them in Korea.

            Maybe I’m putting too much weight on this, but the more I learn about the Cold War the more I feel like it was a marvelous miracle that things have turned out as well as they have.

          • Dack says:

            I don’t see how Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be morally different than say…firebombing Dresden or Tokyo. All are indiscriminate devastation. That one bomb does the work of hundreds doesn’t change anything. The ‘fuel” used doesn’t change anything.

    • Aftagley says:

      Every now and again, I see evidence that some otherwise-respectable seeming allied leader immediately post-WWII was basically willing to stay on wartime following after the war ended, re-mobilize Germany and march east from Berlin until Uncle Joe was no more. Churchill is the most common example of this, but I’ve heard that there’s a pretty long list of people who, at the time, were convinced that war with Russia was imminent following the defeat of the Germans.

      In response to this information, you can either just assume that all these people were so blinded by a hatred of communism that rationality departed them, or accept that the idea of war with Russia immediately following WWII wasn’t an impossibility.

      As for your claim, I doubt there was any one thing that prevented Stalin from invading Europe. Nukes were almost certainly a factor, but I don’t know if focusing on them to the exclusion of all else is correct.

      I enjoy historical podcasts

      Mind recommending some? I listen to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, but that’s about it. If you’ve got any others you like, I’d love to hear them.

      If this is too close to culture war then forgive me

      How could this be culture war? I mean, it was a culture war, but we’re talking about stuff that was almost 80 years ago since it happened and 30 years since the country involved collapsed.

      • FLWAB says:

        Tides of History is quite good. The host is extremely knowledgeable, and he does a good job of making it feel relevant and real. The podcast originally started under the name “Fall of Rome” and dealt with all that, and has since been slowly making its way to modernity. It is extremely detailed, but the host’s monotone voice can be a bit boring sometimes.

        99% Invisible is supposed to be about design, but is mostly about the history of designed objects when you get down to it. It has a lot of great episodes dealing with various historical subjects. I like to pick and choose from it’s extensive episode list for interesting topics.

        Gastropod is all about food, but as a result there are a lot of neat episodes about history, like the history of cheese, or the tea trade, etc. It’s another pick and choose kind of podcast.

        Sawbones is specifically about the history of medicine. It’s not as good as the other ones listed, but not bad.

        I’m sure there are a ton of others out there, but those are the ones I listen to. What We Saw season 1, about the Apollo program, was really good and I recommend it.

        How could this be culture war? I mean, it was a culture war, but we’re talking about stuff that was almost 80 years ago since it happened and 30 years since the country involved collapsed.

        I dunno, that’s what I thought to. But then again, you never know. I’m probably being too cautious with that notice, but I’ve seen other people go wrong on the threads before so better safe than sorry.

        EDIT: In my podcast list I forgot to mention American History Tellers which (despite having a terrible name) is quite good. It has some very interesting stories about pieces of American history.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I am currently in the middle of History of Byzantium, which is very good, and once I finish it, I plan to try History of the Papacy.

        I already finished Fall of Rome, also very much recommended.

        Regarding Stalin and possible WWIII, it is obvious that even without nuclear weapons Anglo-American alliance in 1945 was vastly stronger than USSR. Perhaps Stalin was too irrational to be deterred from war by that fact, but also sufficiently rational to be deterred by nuclear weapons, but personally I find that implausible.

        • cassander says:

          thanks for those recommendations.

        • cassander says:

          Also while it’s true that in 1945, the anglo american alliance is much stronger than stalin, by 1947, it definitely wasn’t, if not sooner. In a long fight, sure, but the soviets de-mobilized far less than the west did after the war, and had substantial conventional superiority.

          @Evan Þ

          thanks for that, that was a typo. I think you might be right about 1946, but it was definitely true by 47.

          • Evan Þ says:

            The West was most likely stronger on 10 May 1945 (depending on how you weigh logistics train v. boots on the ground), but the United States demobilized fast enough that I doubt they were still stronger by 1946.

      • Atlas says:

        Mind recommending some? I listen to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, but that’s about it. If you’ve got any others you like, I’d love to hear them.

        In Our Time.

      • matthewravery says:

        The History of Rome

        Revolutions

        Both by Mike Duncan. If you listen quickly, you may be able to catch up before Duncan completes the Russian Revolution!

      • Jliw says:

        The Ancient World

        Several series exist by this fellow, but IMO the first one is the best (back on page 16 of that rather bad layout). Lots and lots of episodes, great detail, and while I thought his voice was kind of boring at first it ended up being quite pleasant.

      • fibio says:

        The big names have been mentioned, but here are some quirky ones.

        Cautionary Tales: More focused on how things go wrong, but uses a lot of niche historical examples such as the great British airship race.

        Inward Empire: A podcast that focuses in on American national history on subjects such as the Great Strikes and the Pinkertons. Very few episodes but the ones that are there are top quality.

        Spectacular Failures: Dead itself (ironically) but has some great stories of how major corporations fell.

        Wittenberg to Westphalia: Come for the wars of the Reformation. Stay for the remarkably detailed information on life in medieval Europe. Also, wait for the wars of the Reformation because its been 6 years and he’s still laying groundwork.

        A History of Oil: Dead as well but covered the entire sweep of the discovery and explosive growth of the global oil industry during its run.

    • Matt M says:

      This is a remarkable claim: for one thing it significantly changes the moral calculus on using the atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and of the effects of nuclear weapon development in general. It’s also something I had never heard of before.

      I’ve certainly heard “part of the reason for actually using the a-bomb was to scare the Russians” many times before. But I’m not sure I’ve ever heard “and were it not for that, the red army would have advanced all the way to the English Channel” before…

    • The timeline’s all wrong if the idea is that using that atomic bomb prevented the invasion. If Stalin was planning on attacking Western Europe he wouldn’t have shifted forces East to attack Japan. It’s possible that the knowledge of the atomic bomb before it was used prevented him from continuing into Western Europe.

      • FLWAB says:

        Is it likely that Stalin may have been planning to take the rest of Europe, but only after the war was over and America and Britain had moved off of a war footing? Or would it have been better to just keep marching West immediately after the fall of Berlin?

      • Bobobob says:

        Right, but the *second” bomb demonstrated that we had more than one. How many more, Stalin might not have known.

    • John Schilling says:

      Do you think, if nuclear weapons had not been developed, Stalin would have outright invaded parts of Europe after WW II?

      The Red Army’s logistical tail was rooted firmly in Detroit; they managed their impressive production numbers for tanks and planes by largely outsourcing their manufacture of trucks and locomotives to the United States. So I’m skeptical of any claim that they were likely to try invading places that already had American troops all over them.

      Grabbing as much of Europe as they could without having to fight the Americans and their close allies, then settle in for the defense, sure. They can defend in place without America’s help. But the amount of advancing they can do without positive US assistance, would not extend to overrunning all of Europe to the Pyrenees, and I doubt would gain them enough counter losing every bit of common-allies-against-the-Nazis goodwill.

      Also, and notwithstanding the cheese-eating surrender monkeys bit, if you try to tell Paris even in 1945 that you’re going to conquer their entire country and you expect them to not put up a fight because they’re tired of fighting, they’re going to put up a fight. If you tell London and Washington that you’re going to conquer the France they just spent four years liberating and you expect them not to put up a fight because they’re tired of fighting, they’re going to look into all the low-impact ways of fighting they can engage in, like dropping bombs on your armies and supply lines from 30,000 feet and shipping the backs-against-the-wall French all the lend-lease goodies that they’re no longer shipping to Russia. Even without atomic bombs, that doesn’t end well for Stalin.

      Stalin and his generals almost certainly understood all of this, so I’m going to ask what hard evidence Whittle has for this hypothesis.

      • FLWAB says:

        Stalin and his generals almost certainly understood all of this, so I’m going to ask what hard evidence Whittle has for this hypothesis.

        Just to be super clear, I’m not entirely sure if Whittle thinks that Stalin would have invaded France. He was kinda vague about the extent of what Stalin’s plan was, which is one of the reasons I tried to get more historical info. However I do remember that Whittle specifically stated that Stalin would have taken West Germany by force if necessary if the atom bomb hadn’t been in the equation. Do you think taking West Germany (possibly by just by throwing his weight around diplomatically) might have been feasible?

        Good point about the logistical end of things. I was wowed thinking about massive tank battalions charging west, and forgot about the fact that we were propping up their war effort to such an extent.

        • Randy M says:

          Was there a particular reason they wanted West Germany? Revenge, native ethnic Russian populations, residual industry or resources, geography, show of strength?

          • FLWAB says:

            Whittle didn’t say. Then again, I’m not sure he needed to. Why did they want Poland? Why did they want East Germany? Why did they want Romania? The USSR seemed hungry for client states and buffer zones at the time.

        • John Schilling says:

          If Stalin wanted more of Germany than he historically got, the obvious first move is to have his army march to the point of first contact with the armies of the Western allies and say to the allide commanders on the ground, “our orders from Moscow are to march another twenty miles west, today, and we will obey our orders and if you try to stop us then you will be responsible for starting a war with Soviet Russia”. And maybe this is a bluff. But it maybe gets them a chunk of West Germany for free, and it definitely gives them a good indication of whether they’ll be able to take all of West Germany on the cheap while retaining the opportunity to back down if it’s going to be too expensive.

          And, they didn’t do that. Even when Stalin didn’t know that the US had atom bombs, they didn’t do that.

          I’m pretty sure both sides deliberately considered forestalling the whole Cold War thing with a prompt march to the Atlantic/Moscow, and decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, in both cases, the potential enemy had a big mobilized army right there, ready to go, so it wasn’t going to be “attack an unprepared enemy and destroy his air force on the ground,” it was going to be “attack an enemy with a large veteran army mobilized and ready to go right now and maybe get in one surprise attack on your allies before they figure out what’s going on.” Also, I think it would have been politically very hard for the Allies to have turned on the USSR at the end of the war, and I think the USSR was still getting substantial aid from the US up until the very end of the war.

          • CatCube says:

            If Stalin wanted more of Germany than he historically got, the obvious first move is to have his army march to the point of first contact with the armies of the Western allies and say to the allide commanders…

            Well, the Red Army didn’t have to tell the US and UK forces “we’re going to march opposed against you” to get them to pull back, as we did that without the threat: the Line of Contact was significantly inside the area we had already agreed to give the USSR at Yalta, and it would have been a tough sell politically for Truman to not keep faith with them after the end of the war. The West made the calculation that it was better to pull back to the agreed-upon lines to get access to Berlin, so putting up an actual fight to keep more than we had agreed to give them wasn’t in the cards.

            Aside from that, I’ve always heard there was a real possibility that the Western Allies could have captured Berlin before the arrival of the Soviets, being only about three days’ march from the German capital by early to mid April before the start of Seelow Heights. Eisenhower actively decided not to pursue it because it wasn’t seen as worthwhile to sustain massive numbers of US and UK casualties for a city that we’d already decided to give to the Soviets.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The Red Army’s logistical tail was rooted firmly in Detroit; they managed their impressive production numbers for tanks and planes by largely outsourcing their manufacture of trucks and locomotives to the United States.

        This, this. Soviet mass production of things like “tanks 98% as good as those fiddly expensive Panthers” was amazing, but the Red Army being the amazing machine it was was utterly dependent on being able to outsource manufacturing of what really won the land war: trucks. When asked how the Allies won the war, Eisenhower always said (IIRC) “Jeeps, 2 1/2 ton trucks, and liberty ships.”

        • cassander says:

          it’s worth noting that, like all soviet economic figures, soviet ww2 production figures cannot be taken at face value due to the pervasive lying up and down the system. the soviets definitely made a lot of T-34s, IL-2s, etc. but almost certainly not as many as they claimed to.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Sure, but the point is that for any value of X T-34s and IL-2s, there would have been 1/5 as many or less if we hadn’t shipped the USSR every truck for their Motor Rifle Divisions and sundry logistics on liberty ships.

          • cassander says:

            Oh, definitely. And that’s to say nothing of the radios, aluminum, aviation gas, rolling stock, and other goods, lots of which had a value to the USSR in excess of their dollar cost because the soviets couldn’t get them any other way.

    • Aftagley says:

      Didn’t Russia walk away from WWII in control of most of eastern Europe?

      Why would it make sense for Russia to be afraid enough of getting nuked to not want to march into Austria, but not enough to leave Poland?

      • FLWAB says:

        Well the idea is that we would have had to ask them to leave Poland. Which means risking that they would say no (which, I think, they probably would). And we didn’t really have a strong enough interest in liberating Poland to go to war and nuke several million Russians.

        By the same token, if Stalin wanted West Germany bad enough to fight over it, would we have been willing to go to war for them? I could see an argument to be made that we wouldn’t have.

        • EchoChaos says:

          And we didn’t really have a strong enough interest in liberating Poland to go to war and nuke several million Russians.

          Which is ironic since the reason that the UK entered the war is so that Poland wouldn’t be under the yoke of a totalitarian tyrant.

          • FLWAB says:

            Poor Poland. I get so angry when I read about the early stage of the war, and how Britain and France sat on their defensive lines while Germany ran roughshod over Poland. If they had gotten off their buts and forced Germany to fight actively on two fronts we might have nipped things in the bud. Then again I can’t blame them for thinking things would play out like WWI and wanting to stick to Maginot line.

            The Poles fought magnificently against impossible odds, and their reward was 50 years in chains. Doesn’t seem fair. I hope their future is brighter than their past.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @FLWAB

            Yeah, Poland was the opposite of blameless. They invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938 and then after allying with the Germans in that act, deliberately provoked the Germans because they believed their guarantee from the British was sufficient to deter Hitler. They also refused Soviet aid, although that was probably wise as we know Stalin’s proposal didn’t guarantee Poland’s eastern border.

            They basically played Russian Roulette with five bullets and were surprised when they shot themselves in the head.

            If you ally with Hitler to gain land, you don’t get to act surprised when Hitler wants land.

          • John Schilling says:

            If they had gotten off their butts and forced Germany to fight actively on two fronts we might have nipped things in the bud.

            The French invaded Germany in the first week of the war, while the British were bombing and blockading. There’s not much more that can be done before both armies are mobilized and the BEF had been deployed to France. Germany’s unexpectedly quick victory over Poland, aided by Stalin’s own invasion, allowed the Germans to pivot and deploy their whole force against France before that could happen.

            To force the enemy to fight on two fronts is strategically wise if you can pull it off, but it requires armies on both fronts ready to go at the same time. If the enemy has strategic surprise and can win a decisive victory on one front before you can mobilize on the other, then you’re SOL for that plan.

          • Dack says:

            To force the enemy to fight on two fronts is strategically wise if you can pull it off, but it requires armies on both fronts ready to go at the same time. If the enemy has strategic surprise and can win a decisive victory on one front before you can mobilize on the other, then you’re SOL for that plan.

            When it doesn’t work your enemies get to call it “divide and conquer” in retrospect.

          • @John Schilling

            It was my understanding that the French could have taken out Germany’s industrial base and won the war in the first few weeks if they hadn’t called off the invasion and abandoned Poland.

            Saar Offensive

          • Lambert says:

            Can we really expect the Rhine-Ruhr captured before Fall Weiß was completed?
            The French never crossed the Siegfried Line.

          • John Schilling says:

            It was my understanding that the French could have taken out Germany’s industrial base and won the war in the first few weeks if they hadn’t called off the invasion and abandoned Poland.

            And if the German army hadn’t had something to say about it.

            I’m familiar with the Saar offensive; that’s why I referred to it in my previous post. The idea that the Saar offensive leads to the destruction of Germany in three weeks if the French aren’t a bunch of pansies, just no. The Germans didn’t deploy their entire army to Poland; they had more than twenty divisions in the West, a strong fortified defensive line, and behind that a dense urban area with a loyal population. The French did not have their army mobilized in advance, and they did not have an army trained in the sort of rapid, flexible offensive tactics necessary to achieve decisive results in weeks.

            There is no plausible offensive that doesn’t result in the French army advancing some modest distance into Germany and then being crushed by the victorious German army just returning from Poland. They need their own strong defensive lines to hold. And even if we imagine the French are going to go full scorched-earth on whatever bits of Germany they do temporarily occupy, that doesn’t save Poland. After 17 September, Poland cannot be saved, it can only be differently partitioned between its conquerors.

            That’s not worth sacrificing the French army for. Temporarily occupying part of the Ruhr, if we very optimistically assume this was plausible, isn’t worth sacrificing the French army for. Sacking and burning the Ruhr, if we even more optimistically assume this was plausible, isn’t worth sacrificing the French army and the Western Allies’ moral high ground for. All of these leave Poland conquered, and put German troops in Paris sooner rather than later.

          • Again from Wikipedia, the Germans seemed to disagree:

            At the Nuremberg Trials, German military commander Alfred Jodl said that “if we did not collapse already in the year 1939 that was due only to the fact that during the Polish campaign, the approximately 110 French and British divisions in the West were held completely inactive against the 23 German divisions.” General Siegfried Westphal stated that if the French had attacked in full force in September 1939 the German army “could only have held out for one or two weeks.”

          • John Schilling says:

            That is one German, not “the Germans”, and it is a German war criminal standing trial for his crimes and so highly motivated to testify that everything possible was Somebody Else’s Fault. There is thus reason to suspect that his statement might be a weensy bit removed from the historical truth.

      • Lambert says:

        The Soviets were the first to enter Austria and immidiately began to form a provisional government (ambiguously puppety). A soviet occupation zone was agreed upon at Berlin. They just didn’t care that much and managed to get a bit of political goodwill by letting it re-unify in ’55 or so (after plundering what they could).
        They could have absolutely gone all DDR.

    • Wency says:

      To a first approximation, it’s probably wise to model political leaders as being focused, above all else, on retaining power. Foreign policy is largely for the consumption of domestic audiences or the enrichment of the regime, unless you have true megalomania at play (e.g. Hitler) or an existential threat to the nation is perceived to exist.

      From what we saw of Stalin’s behavior, he didn’t seem to have the Hitlerian inclination to risk everything on dreams of conquest. Sure, he was happy to expand his territory and bully minor nations at relatively low cost when the opportunity was available. But he never did anything, wrote anything, or said anything to make us think he was willing to risk his regime starting another world war. Let’s remember that he was directly involved in the overthrow of a regime (or two) that fell from power largely due to misfortunes and mismanagement in WW1.

      But all that said, people are complicated and miscalculations happen. When decisions of national destiny come down to the whims of one man, anything is possible.

      • Atlas says:

        From what we saw of Stalin’s behavior, he didn’t seem to have the Hitlerian inclination to risk everything on dreams of conquest. Sure, he was happy to expand his territory and bully minor nations at relatively low cost when the opportunity was available. But he never did anything, wrote anything, or said anything to make us think he was willing to risk his regime starting another world war. Let’s remember that he was directly involved in the overthrow of a regime (or two) that fell from power largely due to misfortunes and mismanagement in WW1.

        Some corroborating discussion in The Remnants of War:

        On one level, the Soviet Union was essentially content with the postwar status quo; indeed, except for the dismemberment of Germany, even a war-exhausted Hitler might have been satisfied with the empire his archenemy Josef Stalin controlled. On another level, however, it was viscerally opposed to it.

        According to the ideology on which the regime had been founded in 1917, world history is a vast, continuing process of progressive revolution. In a theory propounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, updated and pragmatized by Vladimir Lenin, modified and enshrined by Stalin, and institutionalized by Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, the Communist revolution in Russia was only the first step in a process of terminal world Communization. Steadily, in country after country, the oppressed working classes would violently revolt, destroying the oppressing capitalist classes and aligning their new regimes with other like-minded countries. Eventually the world would be transformed, class and national rivalries would vanish, and eternal peace and utopian bliss would inundate the earth…

        Of central concern to international Communists were the wisdom and efficacy of methods that might be used to confront and undermine the decadent capitalist world. The basic shape of things was clear: history was the ally, capitalists were the shifty-eyed opponents, and “struggle” was the order of the day. However, although history was moving generally in a favorable direction, it was important to struggle in a manner that did not cause one to be blown off the face of the globe while gingerly seeking to speed up the process. Various possibilities were available: major war, military probes, crisis and bluster, and subversion, seduction, and revolution.

        Major War When musing about major war—war among developed countries—Marxism-Leninism distinguished two kinds: war between the capitalist and Communist worlds, and war among capitalist countries.

        If the Soviet regime can brook comparison to Hitler’s in some respects, the Communists, however dynamic and threatening their ideology, have never subscribed to a Hitler-style theory of direct, Armageddon-risking conquest. Lenin may have concluded that before international capitalism collapsed, a series of “frightful collisions” between the Soviet Republic and the capitalist states was “inevitable,” but the Soviets have expected that a major war between the Communist and capitalist world would arise only from an attack on them by the enemy, citing continually the example of Western intervention in their civil war in the aftermath of World War I. By 1935 at the latest, however, official proclamations had abandoned the notion that such wars were inevitable, concluding that the solidarity of the international working class and the burgeoning strength of the Soviet armed forces had made them avoidable.9

        Moreover, Lenin’s methodology contains a strong sense of cautious pragmatism: a good revolutionary moves carefully in a hostile world, striking when the prospects for success are bright and avoiding risky undertakings. As Nathan Leites has pointed out, three central rules for Soviet leaders were “Avoid adventures,” “Do not yield to provocation,” and “Know when to stop.”10

        Apart from his “frightful collisions” remark, Lenin had little to say about wars between the Communist and capitalist camps. He had a great deal to say, however, about the other kind of major war—war among capitalist states. Indeed, this type of war was central to his whole theory of imperialism. He posited that as capitalist countries greedily carved the world into colonies, they would increasingly clash with each other over questions of turf. These conflicts, he believed, would eventually lead to wars among them: “Imperialist wars are absolutely inevitable as long as private property in the means of production exists.” These wars were capitalism’s ultimate “contradiction,” and he felt they could be transformed by crafty and agile revolutionists into massive civil wars that would ultimately lead to capitalism’s final collapse. In his last major tract, published in 1952, Stalin continued to insist that although intracapitalist rivalries were currently being held in check by the “jackboot of American imperialism,” temporarily inconvenienced capitalist states such as Germany and Japan would eventually rise again and “try to smash the U.S.,” and thus “the inevitability of wars between capitalist countries remains in force.” A few years later, however, his successor, Khrushchev, declared that Lenin’s dictum about the inevitability of war had become out of date: although “acute contradictions and antagonisms between the imperialist countries…still exist,” they “are compelled to heed the Soviet Union and the entire socialist camp, and fear to start a war between themselves.” Therefore, “the likelihood is that there will not be wars” between them, “although this eventuality cannot be ruled out.”11

        Over the course of time, then, Communists took varied stances on intracapitalist wars. But all believed that such wars spring from the peculiar competitive nature of avaricious capitalism, not from their own efforts.

        That is, in Mueller’s judgment, the communist leadership thought that the capitalist world could/would be overthrown by a combination of subversion, revolution and internal division, but not by a direct major war initiated by the Soviets. (One possible exception is the Soviet-Polish War of 1920, but I don’t think it’s a fundamental/fatal challenge to the thesis.)

        • Wency says:

          Good thoughts. My only objection would be the implication of Stalin’s sincere belief in Marxist philosophy, particularly by the time 1945 rolled around. Not impossible, but not something that should be assumed. Either way, wielding Marxist philosophy was objectively valuable in giving moral authority to the USSR’s espionage and subversion efforts, however cynical Stalin’s core beliefs.

    • zardoz says:

      I always thought that because of Stalin’s deep belief in Marxism, he saw Communism’s victory as inevitable. So his foreign policy was essentially to take control of whatever he easily could, but not to make any desperate gambles. He didn’t see any need to do that, since history was on his side anyway. Its easy to forget now, but he had plenty of spies and sympathizers in the West who felt the same way, including some at the very highest levels of Western intelligence agencies and the press.

      I think Marx also said something about capitalism inherently leading to war, and Stalin believed that too. So he probably figured he could wait for the next big war where the capitalist states would fight each other again, and communism’s reach could grow again (because communists would never fight each other, natch).

      In summary, if I had to guess, I would guess that Stalin probably thought that more states would follow the path of Czechoslovokia in the future, rather than that of East Germany.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Its easy to forget now, but he had plenty of spies and sympathizers in the West who felt the same way, including some at the very highest levels of Western intelligence agencies and the press.

        This reminds me of a historical interesting fact that I’ve wondered on, which is why fascists were such complete disasters at espionage while communist countries were really good at it.

        Is it endemic in the systems or is it just coincidence?

        • FLWAB says:

          I think the confounding factor is that there aren’t too many fascist countries to compare to. The Nazi’s were good and finding and taking care of enemy spies, but comically bad at spying on anyone else. But can this be blamed on fascism? It seems like the main problem is that the Abwehr leadership was not very committed to the whole Nazi project. The Abwehr was pretty realistic about Germany’s chances and as such were pessimistic of a good outcome to the war. It’s no wonder that Hitler disbanded it entirely in 1944. It seems like it was badly hampered by having to compete with the SS, RSHA, and SD. Hitler certainly liked pitting departments against each other, but I don’t know if that in particular to fascism or just Hitler.

          I don’t know anything about Italian spy efforts but Italy was bad at everything at the time so that’s to be expected.

          It probably helps that communism was popular among the Western intelligentsia in a way that fascism was not. Makes it easier to recruit informers.

        • John Schilling says:

          Fascism is a generally nationalistic ideology, whereas communism is globalist. Spies, or at least spymasters, really ought to have a cosmopolitan education and speak multiple languages, and they also ought to have an ideological commitment to whomever they are spying for. So, one of these ideologies is more appealing than the other to the sort of person who goes to university and majors in international relations or whatnot. That’s the side that gets top spymasters on their own side and the best odds at recruiting the other side’s spymasters.

          Also, the track record of Fascists on this matter is dominated by Nazi Germany, and Germany’s top spymaster was working for London for most of the war. Kind of puts a limit on their level of achievement in the espionage area. Does anyone have a good feel for how the Italians and Spanish did, espionage-wise?