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Open Thread 151.25

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

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1,169 Responses to Open Thread 151.25

  1. johan_larson says:

    Are any pro sports continuing to operate during the pandemic? It seems to me it would be possible to run something like a golf tournament while maintaining proper social distancing. Possibly tennis, also. And if you wanted to do something more elaborate, you could isolate a few basketball teams on some empty resort, and play a round-robin tournament. Just put everyone, including non-sports staff, through quarantine and tests before they step onto the grounds.

  2. I am experimenting with Mozilla Hub, which looks like a possible solution to my problem of a meetup or something similar with casual socializing. The link to join me is hub.link/Q2uKoAF. No idea how long it will be live.

    So far I have seen no evidence that it lets communication be linked to distance, so you can have a cluster of people talking with each other and other can hear only if they get close.

    Someone else just showed up, following my link. It looks as though Hubs already has the feature I wanted — the closer we are, the louder our voices sound. The next step is to create a suitable space, possibly based on my house, and arrange a meetup.

    I suggest that other people look into Hubs and see what they an do with it.

  3. Deiseach says:

    While I’m cooking the dinner, Happy Easter (to my fellow Western Christians), happy Holy Week (to the Eastern Christians), Happy Passover, and happy whatever you’re celebrating yourself to everyone else!

  4. AliceToBob says:

    @ Anyone

    Has anyone seen Plumber on here recently? I usually bump into his comments, but it occurred to me I haven’t seen him posting in recent memory. And I recall that he worked in CA, and that his job required him to still be out and about (last I heard) during this covid mess.

    • Statismagician says:

      He’d said his smartphone was out of commission and that that’s what he usually posts from, I believe.

    • Nick says:

      jermo sapiens also disappeared. I’ve been wondering about it, too.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        While we’re putting out the searchlight for MIA SSCers, where’s Nabil ad Dajjal?

        • Nick says:

          I looked into that case a few months ago. He stopped posting on October 21st, 2019. No “I’m going to be busy for a few weeks,” either. I dunno.

  5. TheSkeward says:

    Hey, just letting you know, the SSC Discord server link you’re using is expired. You’ll want to replace these going forward with the one on the sidebar on the left (https://discord.gg/kAVSf9U).

    Thanks!

  6. Wrong Species says:

    Theory vs Fact

    Anytime you have a lot of experience with something, you notice patterns and are able to anticipate certain outcomes. This is how we operate. If you’re an introspective person, you explicitly try to connect these outcomes with a causal understanding. Two people can have similar experiences and have the same intuitions, but with different theories explaining it, even though these explanations may at best only partially explain something, contradict each other, or even be nonsensical. And when something happens that seems to be in tension with the theory, they just add new rules their theory to help explain it. Again, their understanding is improving, and their theories might even have strong predictive power, but their theory could still be completely wrong.

    Some people suggest that you should observe a bunch of facts and only then, come up with a theory that tries to explain it all. That’s the wrong approach because even though you have good intuitions, it’s easy to come up with a wrong theory that has little chance of being proven wrong. Instead, what you should do is theorize early and often. Observe a few empirical facts, then come up with a theory to explain it. Observe more empirical facts and you’ll see immediate tension with your ideas. Theorize again. Rinse and Repeat. I believe this will make it better

    At the end of the day, it’s not the number of right predictions that will uphold your theory. It’s what happens when you put it up against novel situations. If you get 99 predictions right, and then number 100 is a completely novel thing that contradicts what you believe, it means that you had good intuitions regarding your experiences, but your theory doesn’t work well outside of that range. Having a good theory is more useful to humanity than your intuitions.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Maybe you shouldn’t create an explicit theory at all, and just let your brain do is thing?

  7. Faza (TCM) says:

    One of the more fun features of English, to my mind, is the “greater, lesser, least” usage when it comes to naming species.

    Thus, for example, I know what the least weasel is.

    I am, however, left wondering: this being the case, what is the most weasel?

    • Del Cotter says:

      The word would be greatest weasel, like the greatest dancer (“I wonder why…?”)

      I once directed someone to the yondest of three boxes, and they got it.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        But is the greatest weasel more weasel than the least weasel? That is the question, you see.

        ETA:
        Other than the greatest, or even just greater, weasel containing more weasel than the least weasel, of course.

    • Concavenator says:

      I submit Ekorus ekakeran, a 6-million-years-old mustelid from Kenya about the size of a leopard. Consider that weasels can kill rabbit ten times their size, and shudder. (OK, obviously it doesn’t scale like that. Still.)

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        From the article:

        It appears that before Africa’s big cats ruled the savannas, the giant mustelid Ekorus chased down its prey, such as the three-toed horse Eurygnathohippus and the large pig Nyanzachoerus. The reason for this evolution may be related to the Great Rift Valley. Before the rift opened, Kenya was more forested.

        Then the Earth cracked open and the vile hordes of the underworld came streaming out, but were checked by the life-and-death struggle against the giant weasels, that annihilated both populations.

        It is a good world.

    • Well... says:

      The ferret is the most weasel. The wolverine is the greatest weasel. The skunk is probably the least weasel, though still one of my favorite animals period.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        This highlights an interesting conundrum. I would think that, for example, the cow is less weasel than the least weasel. On the other hand, I’m sure the folks that did the taxonomy had considered this.

        Should we, therefore, say the least weasel is the least weasel, while still being at least somewhat weasel. Cows aren’t weasel at all, so they don’t count.

        The skunk seems to me at least a little bit weasel. Is it less weasel than the least weasel? Isn’t that contradictory?

    • Björn says:

      Do you want the total weasel? Do you want it, more total and radical than you could ever imagine?

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        I’m content to simply settle for most weasel, but if a radical weasel has a mohawk or Eighties hair, I’m totally down with that.

        If, on the other hand, the radical weasel drinks soy lattes and has a snarky socio-political Tumblr, I’ll give it a pass, thank you very much.

        • Lambert says:

          No, the radical weasel has an unpaired valence electron.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            This implies it is highly reactive. Any idea what it reacts with?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Almost anything, right? You ever seen what happens when pure sodium comes in contact with water? You get that radical weasel wet it’s going up like a roman candle.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            I take it it’s not much of a swimmer, then?

            This reminds me of my all-new favourite piece of folklore ever. Apparently, the weasel is the only creature capable of killing the wendigo, by “rushing up its anus”.

            Presumably, the Ojibwe had not developed their knowledge of chemistry sufficiently to have the concept of radicals, which is why the sources don’t mention it, but now I’m thinking that this method of monster destruction is both gruesome and extremely cool.

  8. johan_larson says:

    I just finished playing through the original Plants Versus Zombies, and liked it a lot. Could anyone suggest something similar?

    So, a casual-level game that’s a bit combative. Nothing really abstract, like Bejeweled. Maybe a bit harder than PvS. And available on Steam, if possible.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I don’t have a specific recommendation, but Plants vs Zombies belongs to a well defined genre called “tower defense”. By looking that up you should be able to find plenty of titles.

      • Atlas says:

        I might be biased by childhood nostalgia, but I quite enjoy the Bloons series in that genre, which I think might be the sort of thing Johan is looking for. The latest entry on Steam.

        • Lambert says:

          +1 for bloons td

          If you don’t mind exposing yourself to the other kind of virus by turning flash on, it seems that all the previous versions are still up on ninjakiwi.com

          Maybe someone needs to build a super-sandboxed flash thingy so we get to experience all that nostalgia all over again. It was a wild time and there were some true gems out there. But now it all seems forgotten.

    • GearRatio says:

      There’s a very, very good series of flash tower defense games under the title of “Gemcraft”. The later games in the series are better than the earlier games; I’d recommend you start with “Labyrinth” and go from there. You end up being able to play around with math and modifiers a fair bit.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Plants vs Zombies 2

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        PvZ 2 emphasizes saving up power-ups from round-to-round, to better do microtransactions of power-ups. Lots of people didn’t like that change.

    • Incurian says:

      FTL and TFT are slow paced, casual but not stupid games.

    • johan_larson says:

      After looking around on Steam some, the game I ended up trying is quite different from Plants vs Zombies. I picked up Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics.

      https://store.steampowered.com/app/874460/Achtung_Cthulhu_Tactics/

      I’ts pretty good, although turn-based tactical play produces some odd results. Opponents run right by armed fighters with ready weapons. It’s just nuts. I mean, there’s the Overwatch action, but that’s not all that effective. Might the game make more sense if overwatch were free? If you break cover in the primary visual field of an alert fighter, they get a free shot at you. And maybe a second shot if you make an extended move, like running right at them from some distance away?

      • meh says:

        If you like that game, you should really try xcom immediately!

      • LesHapablap says:

        Factorio is like crack cocaine. It is about 10% a tower defense game, the rest is building factories. It’s the second highest rated game of all time on Steam, apparently, and I can see why.

      • oracel says:

        Seconding XCOM (all on steam) and adding Valkyria Chronicles (the ones worth playing are on steam).
        What seems odd to you looks pretty normal for someone who’s grinded the genre to death. The biggest buff enemy AI ever got in Fire Emblem is that weak grunts on higher difficulties of FE14 will just approach your units or defend objectives without attacking on enemy phase. Turn-based objectives and reinforcements become much more difficult when the meatshields actually act like meatshields instead of suiciding en masse against your stronger units.

  9. bpodgursky says:

    Taking a personal break from COVID-fever, and made myself write up a thought experiment I’ve bounced around in my head. I suspect some rationalist has formalized this train of thought, but I’m having trouble mapping it to existing epistemology.

    Summary:

    – Observation bias in many contexts limits the outcomes we are capable of observing
    – The “Many-worlds” quantum theory interpretation suggests we live in one of many branching timelines.
    – We only observe timelines in which we survive, thus the quantum suicide… paradox? Thought experiment?
    – Humanity is scared of “conventional” threats — wars, natural disaster, etc. These are problems we have observed and survived.
    – Humanity (or at least, most of it) is not scared of the “big risks” discussed in EA/rationalist communities: AI, nanotechnology, and the like, because these are not problems we’ve ever seen manifest (even on a small scale)

    What if the issue isn’t that these are small risks, but that these are enormous risks: risks so large, in fact, that there are no (or almost no) “intermediate” timelines. Concrete example: If grey goo is created, we cease to become observers. Thus, we will always observe (and live in) a world in which grey goo is not quite possible.

    tl,dr: The biggest risks to our humanity the ones we can’t observe, because they are too catastrophic to survive.

    Curious to hear if there’s an existing framework or body of logic I can map this line of thought onto. Or if it’s dumb and untestable. Or correct and obvious to everyone else already.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      > quantum suicide… paradox?

      Definitely not a paradox. it’s just the way the universe works if you’ve bought into MWI.

      I’ve thought along the same lines. I don’t know of anybody else who’s written about it, but I’m also not sure there’s much more to write. It’s a variant of the anthropic principle.

      Also scary is the idea that a sufficiently advanced AI in some other branch of the multiverse could figure out how to influence our branch. “Branches” in MWI are never completely separated, just influences between them grow exponentially. Seems like a difficult problem, but not literally impossible so far as the physics I know.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        That exponentially small probability is the same sort of exponentially small probability that gives us the second law of thermodynamics. In fact, there’s an extent to which this separation of branches is a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics. So the problem of affecting other branches is as hard as reversing entropy.

        • chrisminor0008 says:

          > there’s an extent to which this separation of branches is a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics

          Is there a place I can read more about this connection?

      • bpodgursky says:

        > “Branches” in MWI are never completely separated, just influences between them grow exponentially.

        Interesting, I need to learn more about that. I always thought the “multi-universe communication” was a purely sci-fi trope.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The biggest risks to our humanity the ones we can’t observe, because they are too catastrophic to survive.

      and? That doesn’t really have any bearing on anything. All of the MWs all exist. All the grey goo timelines exists and are experienced. Essentially it doesn’t matter to us whether events are dictating the singular flow through the only existence, or whether we are experiencing the navigation through one of the many possible ones.

  10. Dog says:

    Hoping for a bit of advice, SSC commenters. We’ve been isolated for 3 weeks now (apt in Los Angeles), barring a few package deliveries, which we’ve disinfected. About a week in my wife came down with a sort of nebulous illness: slight fever, sneezing, dry cough. She seemingly got over whatever it was. As of today though, she’s been having chills and a low fever (100.5). She’s debating going to get tested for coronavirus tomorrow, which I guess she can do since she has asthma. My concern is that by going for a test, she’ll basically be heading for the one spot where people who have the disease are congregating. On the plus side for testing, she’s having panic attacks at this point and maybe testing would offer some peace of mind one way or the other. Any thoughts on what we should do? It’s hard to think about this rationally, being in the middle of it, and what better place for rational advice than here?

    • broblawsky says:

      Maybe go drive over and check it out yourself? Just to make sure it isn’t some kind of plague pit.

    • Kaitian says:

      I wouldn’t go to medical facilities right now unless her symptoms actually need medical attention. Getting diagnosed with corona changes nothing, there is no treatment, and if there was one they’d save it for people with life threatening illness. If she’s just curious, there may be antibody testing available at some later point.

      You can monitor her symptoms, and you can bring her to the hospital if it becomes necessary. So she is about as safe as she can be.

      If she does decide she needs to get tested, research where you can do it, and call ahead. Many people are denied a test, and you shouldn’t go to a place where lots of corona patients are if you’re not going to accomplish anything there.

      That said, if her symptoms get to the point where she needs medical attention (really high fever that won’t come down, struggling to breathe, signs of hypoxia, etc), do bring her to the hospital / call an ambulance, but do still call ahead.

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      I don’t know what yours is like, but my local Urgent Care is doing drive-through tests, which seem pretty safe – you’re only interacting with the nurse who takes the sample, and all the other plagued people getting tested are staying in their own cars, so as long as the nurse is OK…

      It’s not perfect – aerosol transmission – but it seems comparatively safe. Do you have local testing like that?

      I don’t know what medications can be given for coronavirus at the moment, if any – the obvious advantage of getting tested is either peace of mind, or appropriate treatment (depending on the result) but I’m not sure how much of the latter is available at this point for sub-hospitalization cases – maybe someone better informed here knows! That seems worth considering, though – if useful treatment is available, it could definitely be a point in favor of getting tested.

      Good luck, and I hope this works out well for you and her!

    • Radu Floricica says:

      In my situation (different country with different medical system) I’d avoid going to a hospital anyways, until and unless things go bad – where bad means pneumonia and oximeter readings being consistently low. So a test wouldn’t offer any useful information anyways.

      This likely doesn’t apply to you (I expect you have higher trust in hospitals there) but anyways: think a couple of moves in advance. What do you do if the test is positive, and if the test is negative. If it turns out the answer is “wait to see if it’s a severe form then go to the hospital”, the test itself isn’t really very useful.

      Also since you live together there isn’t that much benefit in you leaving the house instead of her.

    • Dog says:

      Thanks for the advice everyone! I see now that I left out one detail – this would be drive-through testing, like Rebecca mentions. So relatively low risk, though I picture the test administrator themselves as pretty contaminated by the end of the day. If it was at a hospital or something I would definitely be leaning towards no. I think the only advantage to a test at this point other than peace of mind would be to maybe get one of the speculative drugs early on. Antivirals tend to work better when administered early.

      • JayT says:

        I would assume that they are being pretty careful about cross-contamination at the drive through testing centers.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      For what it’s worth, sneezing is not a symptom of COVID-19, so that’s weak evidence she had something else.

      • Purplehermann says:

        I don’t think that’s right.
        Sneezing is rare compared to fever so sneezing but no fever would probably be evidence against corona, but she has a fever

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I agree drive-through testing is probably fairly safe and if it’ll set her mind at ease then do it. Also, I’m assuming your wife is human? There’s no evidence dogs can catch COVID-19. Or drive cars, so this whole point may be moot.

  11. Iago the Yerfdog says:

    I’m looking for some good recent tutorials to get caught up with modern web development… stuff.

    My training as a programmer came from the 00’s and included very little web stuff. I have a decent grasp of HTML and JavaScript and while I hate CSS I can sort of almost use it for basic tasks. At my last job I used TypeScript, ASP.NET MVC, and a couple of older MVVM JS frameworks, but the projects I worked on were already existing. If I had to set one of them up I’d be lost.

    Right now I’m mostly looking to brush up on npm and related systems — especially yarn, which most tutorials for other stuff assumes you already know how to use. I can use npm just well enough to create a project, add some dependencies, and write and run a command-line program, but beyond that I’m lost.

    Not helping is things like yarn’s installation page which seems to recommend installing the old version of yarn and using it to install the new version on a per-project basis. That’s… just such a weird workflow.

    I’m ultimately going for basic proficiency with React, Vue, and Angular (and others, but those seem like the three most worth knowing right now), as well as Electron so I can make desktop apps. Right now, though, I’m trying to fill in the basics so that I don’t end up cargo-culting using project templates.

    Thanks in advance for any help.

    • Iago the Yerfdog says:

      I should have added… I know I can just search “npm tutorial” and such but (a) most of the results are useless and (b) most of the would-be-useful results are for old versions of the software, and things have subtly but significantly changed since.

    • Kaitian says:

      Setting these things up is really relatively simple, if you already know how to use them in a project. The React and Angular homepages have good tutorials you can use to create a simple project. They also explain how their quickstart setups work, so you can customize them as needed.

      Struggling with npm versions and project setups is a normal part of modern web development. You sound like you already have basic proficiency, but if you don’t, you will after you work through each framework’s tutorials.

    • beleester says:

      Start with Vue – you can set it up by including a single JS file, and add all the fancy compiled-JS stuff later. If you’re still getting a handle on the modern web data-binding/viewmodel stuff then it’s a very gentle introduction.

  12. Mark V Anderson says:

    I read an SF novel recently called “Mindscan” by Robert Sawyer. In the book he creates this company that copies people’s minds to an artificial body to essentially become immortal. The people who do this are old folks close to death, so the point was to avoid that.

    What has made me think most about this was the description of the artificial bodies. They don’t breathe, or eat or drink, or urinate or defecate. They don’t sleep. They had no pain when their body was harmed. Based on no pain, I assume no itching. They could still have sex, but that seemed like a contrivance of the author when pretty much the rest of body sensation was absent.

    So my thought was how would I like to live like that? I am thinking not so much. It seems to me that many of these acts are unheralded daily acts of pleasure, absent which life would be pretty brutal. Eating, drinking, sleeping, even eliminating wastes and scratching an itch are things I’d really miss (and probably breathing too). I guess I’d take that life as a substitute for death, but I’d really like to keep my daily pleasures. Do others agree that life as a robot that thinks would be incredibly shallow and possible not worth living? I suppose this probably won’t become an issue in anyone’s life that is reading this, but someday it may be an option. (The book takes place about 2045, but that is unrealistic).

    • Well... says:

      I don’t understand how this would be a viable product if body sensation is absent. What’s the point of the artificial body if you can’t see, or hear, or taste, or touch, or tell up from down with it? How do you keep it safe and healthy without feedback signals like pain and itching and getting sleepy?

      It sounds like a dreary way to live, yes, but also a way to quickly lose all of whatever value you got out of having your mind housed in that fancy piece of equipment in the first place.

      Think about how banged up and burned and torn that artificial body is going to be after a week. It takes babies months to figure out how to walk and they fall down and bump into things a lot. Pain helps motivate them to avoid falling down and bumping into things. I’m pretty sure it’s mostly the same network of cells that allows you to feel a pinprick on the tip of your finger that allows you to throw a ball or write or play a piano.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I wasn’t saying there was no sensation. The bodies could see and hear and feel. They can’t taste and I think can’t smell. But you might be right about the bodies getting banged up if they feel no pain, even if they feel something happening.

    • Randy M says:

      I always think I’d hate wire-heading, mind up-loading, and sundry other transhumanist transformations and be terribly philosophically opposed to it, but on the other hand, web browsing and video games could occupy a nearly limitless amount of my time if I let it so ultimately I don’t know.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Certainly an artificial body would work very well for bingeing, whether on video games or TV series or writing a novel. You wouldn’t need to take any breaks to eat or pee or sleep, and you might not even feel uncomfortable after 20 hours of sitting in the same spot. Maybe this is mostly me, because I don’t do bingeing — I like to take breaks. If you want to focus on just one thing over a long period of time and never want breaks, then yes I guess an artificial body would be good. But does anyone want to focus that much forever? It would feel dystopian to me.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      To be honest, I’m more curious how you got to this conclusion. I mean, there’s unlimited number of things you can still do. Work – all of it, including the part that brings you meaning. Consuming media – netflix, games, books. Learning. Socializing (and I’d be shocked if the equivalent of getting tipsy couldn’t be simulated). Raising children – including of your own DNA (why not? It’s dirt cheap to store). Teaching, lots of it. Probably lots of sports – riding a motorcycle wouldn’t be a very different experience. And you complain about scratching?

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        Yes there is plenty of intellectual activity that one could have as a thinking robot. But I feel that would start to feel pretty shallow after a while without the usual human foibles, and ti would just feel empty without my usual human activities. Maybe I’m wrong and I’d get used to it after a while, but I don’t think so. It is true that with an artificial body nothing is forever, so at some point you could probably add some of those day-to-day pleasures at some point in the future.

    • Rowan says:

      From the list you give of things the artificial bodies lack, I don’t think it follows that they don’t feel physical sensation generally. That’s mostly just a body that runs on something other than metabolising food, and which doesn’t feel pain (plus the sleep thing). Pain sucks, and it seems worth eliminating it specifically.

      So, sex doesn’t seem contrived at all, and I’d add masturbation if you want to go on about “daily pleasures” hur hur. Or you can just go for a walk and feel the sun and the breeze. Plus all the life of the mind stuff that’s not really about physical sensations, like books and videogames.

      As to the generalising-from-fictional-evidence point about whether life as a robot would be worth it; if you can transfer your mind into a machine once, you can probably do it again, and it’s probably easier to go machine-machine. If your meat-body is about to expire, you take what you can get, brain-in-a-jar if you have to, and worry about quality-of-life upgrades after the technology’s advanced some.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        If your meat-body is about to expire, you take what you can get, brain-in-a-jar if you have to, and worry about quality-of-life upgrades after the technology’s advanced some.

        Yes that is true. I’m not saying I would turn down the opportunity if it arose.

  13. oriscratch says:

    I’m sure that a lot of you probably already know this, but it seems important: refrigerators and freezers are essentially a perfect habitat for the virus, and a few sources I’ve read suggest that it might be able to last in the freezer for 2 years. So here’s a possible method of transmission:
    1. You buy groceries that have the virus on them.
    2. You leave them in the fridge for a couple days, and the viruses survive there.
    3. You take the package out of the fridge, getting virus on your hands
    4. You touch whatever food you just got out of the fridge and eat it, ingesting the virus
    The viral load from this would be small, but you could still pass a large viral load to someone who lives with you after getting sick. Also, just having COVID living in your fridge offers plenty of other risks as well. So I’m trying to wipe my groceries down with a bleach solution before putting them in the fridge, just in case. Really annoying though.

    Also, today someone offered to sell me some necklace called Virus Shut Out that claims to kill all viruses within a certain space around you. Obviously, this is a big fat scam that makes no sense the second you stop to think about the implications of such a device being possible. But it seems to be super popular in certain circles, and they’re all sold out on their website. I doubt anyone on this blog would fall for this, but it might help any more gullible people you know.

    • Nornagest says:

      Man, I need to devote less time to this software thing and more time to fleecing gullible people.

      • LesHapablap says:

        There is a special place in hell for people that fleece ‘gullible’ people. My mother was extremely paranoid with lots of delusions. Aside from sitting at the window recording the colors of every car going by, she spent 10s of thousands on stupid cancer curing gadgets and special liquid vitamins for my dad, who had cancer.

        Anyone who would make fake medical devices to sell on ebay for thousands deserves to be beaten to death.

    • nkurz says:

      > So here’s a possible method of transmission:

      While there are certainly many possible methods of transmission, it would sure be nice to know which of them are most prevalent. Theory aside, has anyone actually become infected from failing to douse their refrigerated or frozen groceries in bleach before putting them away? From leaving their Amazon packages to air on the porch for only 24 rather than 48 hours?

      I’d guess that the vast majority who have contracted the disease have been infected from fairly direct contact with another infected individual, but other than intuition, I really have no way of knowing if this is true. Is there any good data to look at yet? Is there at least solid data for comparably transmissible diseases? Are there many (any?) confirmed cases of transmission that are obviously time-lagged and indirect?

      • JayT says:

        I can’t imagine there will ever be any way to actually know for sure if anyone gets infected this way. If you are getting it off of the food you bought at the grocery store, how would you know you didn’t get it from the shopping cart or the checker that got the virus on your groceries?

        • albatross11 says:

          Right. Experiments show that the virus persists on surfaces and is deposited there via respiratory droplets, and it’s not so hard to see how that could end up with your hand rubbing your eye or mouth and getting to a place where the virus can infect you, but I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence about this.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Biggest counter-evidence is that South Korea has 1) lots of testing 2) tracing to figure out how you got infected, and 3) lots of take-out delivered food. And they never found people infected that way.

          I don’t have a first-hand source for that, btw. I think I heard it here on SSC. Everything is a haze. What day is it? Where are my pants?

    • mfm32 says:

      A study of a hotspot town in Germany called Heinsberg found no evidence of transmission via surfaces. I don’t think there’s much evidence for cleaning groceries beyond washing fresh produce as you normally would.

      Does anyone have good evidence for transmission from surfaces?

      • Kaitian says:

        That study is probably the best data we have right now, but it has been criticised because the organization responsible for publicising their results seems very biased towards making it appear like sensational good news. Source article in German

        I still think people with a normal immune system probably don’t need to disinfect groceries.

      • oriscratch says:

        Huh, interesting. Wouldn’t this imply that washing your hands is much less effective than it’s being promoted to be, as that mainly prevents surface transmission?

        • mfm32 says:

          This is my own reasoning and speculation, but I think it’s still prudent to wash your hands. My rationale is that you only need one line of defense against surface transmission, given the lack of evidence that it’s a major mode. Hand washing is both the lowest cost and most effective defense, so it’s the best one to choose. You can’t substitute disinfecting groceries for hand washing, and doing both seems unnecessary.

          Also, if you like appeals to authority, all major public health organizations recommend hand washing, but I haven’t seen any recommend disinfection of groceries.

          • oriscratch says:

            True. I guess hand washing is a good baseline for preventing surface transmission, and disinfecting groceries is probably unnecessary unless one is: 1. extremely paranoid 2. can easily disinfect groceries so that even with a tiny risk, it’s still not much of a hassle to try just in case 3. lives with a bunch of old, high risk people 4. finds the current data too incomplete or unreliable to make risky assumptions off of.
            I guess I’ll keep disinfecting my groceries just in case, but I won’t feel especially worried about it. Hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing are way more important.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m continuing to disinfect groceries where I can, because it’s a low-cost measure that seems like it might help. But I think it’s pretty far down on the list of things I do to keep from catching this crap. Among other things, there probably arent all *that* many people in close enough contact with my groceries to have left respiratory droplets on them, or to have sneezed into their hand and then touched them.

            If you think of a subway car or bus, there may have been a few hundred people close enough to your seat/handle/whatever to leave droplets on them in the last couple days, so I’d worry a lot more about that. And I’d be extra careful about surfaces if you have to go to a doctor’s office or hospital–just strip everything off when you get home, toss it in the washer, and then go take a shower.

            By far the biggest item there is avoiding close contact with people outside my family. A second one is not going inside buildings/closed spaces where someone might have left a cloud of tiny suspended droplets full of virus for me to inhale. Wearing a mask if I do have to get close to people is another part of this.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If virus deposited on surfaces some time ago is a probable infection vector, we can all rest easy, would be my guess. Because that should mean infection rates are much higher than we thought, and subsequently IFR much lower.

            But, I am not an epidemiologist, so, my opinion isn’t necessarily relevant. Still, we don’t see much in the way of ID experts recommending sterilizing all items that enter your house.

          • albatross11 says:

            The other thing is that contaminated surfaces are a solvable problem. If we have to, we can hire people to walk through every subway car wiping down seats and handles and such with disinfectant all day long, walk through every building disinfecting all the high-touch surfaces, etc. Add in hand sanitizer stations every 100 feet and people being careful, and transmission via that route is going to drop to almost nothing.

        • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

          Kind of, but not necessarily. It is very conceivable that the folks in that town were diligent in washing their hands already, reducing viral load on surfaces.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Yeah, it’s risky to generalize to populations with different cultures. See Italy – modern, full of old people, but very touchy and with a lot of intergenerational contact and grandchildren being raised by grandparents, vs Japan – modern, full of old people, but absolutely no social touching, lots of isolation and masks everywhere. Even if in the end they turn out to have a lot of cases, the progression has been as different as it could be.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Scott Sumner has a recent post that suggests that the Chinese in California — who were socially distancing and being extremely hygienic to a level he found extreme — turned out to be exactly right, and might be a good reason California avoided tragedy.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Hell no. There’s easily an order of magnitude more risk. People almost never sneeze directly on groceries and they’re touched maybe by 2-5 people that day, possibly just one merchandiser. Your hands on the other… hand, touch things that are designed to be touched by (other) hands. And those people picked/blew their nose, maybe coughed/sneezed in their palm, definitely touched their face and so on.

          Come to think of it, frequent washing and disinfecting of hands also protects everybody else from the chance of you being asymptomatic and spreading.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      From my perspective, groceries are kind of the opposite of door knobs: Many people touch the latter many times, while groceries/packages are only touched by the cashier, who touches a lot of things all the time, thus distributing the viral load on their hands in much smaller amounts.

  14. Atlas says:

    I’ve been amused recently by the emergence of a take by some on the anti-Democratic (for lack of a better term) left—i.e. Glenn Greenwald/Michael Tracey/Jimmy Dore—that Sanders lost because he wasn’t aggressively anti-establishment enough, as opposed to e.g. Trump in 2016. (An analysis that some alt-right commentators like Richard Spencer and Nick Fuentes concur with.) Basically, the “Stalinism hasn’t failed! We just need fifty more Stalinisms!” approach.

    It seems to me that one counter-argument is the Tulsi Gabbard campaign’s lack of success. Gabbard aggressively challenged the Democratic establishment on the national security and Russiagate issues that are dear to the hearts of Greenwald/Tracey et. al., going so far as to sue Hillary Clinton for defamation, but she rarely if ever broke 2% in the polls. Gabbard’s campaign was the kind of thing that Extremely Online people like to get excited and/or angry about but doesn’t register that much with the wider electorate.

    Furthermore, I think the 2016 comparison isn’t as clear cut as this theory suggests. If the party had decided on Rubio or Cruz and gotten everyone else except Trump to drop out, I’m not sure that Trump would have won a 2-man race. Likewise, if the 2020 Democratic field had remained divided and the party hadn’t decided on Biden, I think Sanders would have had a much better chance to win without any fundamental change in his messaging or tactics.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      that Sanders lost because he wasn’t aggressively anti-establishment enough

      Yes. Sanders lost everything forever when he said in 2015, “I don’t care about her damn emails!” He exposed himself as merely a poser: “I’m anti-establishment! Except for the establishment in the party I’m pretending to join!” Trump was willing to correctly shit on the Republican Party establishment, blaming Bush for 9/11 and the Iraq War, but Sanders was not willing to correctly shit on the Democratic Party establishment.

      Sanders is a phony. He’s not really in it to change the system. He’s in it to get money from naive college kids so he can buy a fourth house.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        If someone posted an equivalent cynical take about a right-wing politician who had spent a long career demonstrating ideological consistency, you would dismiss it as obviously motivated, ridiculously uncharitable, and probably outright dishonest. And you’d be right.

        …But “If Bernie was sincere, he would have been carrying water for Fox News!” is a hot take I’ve never heard before, so points for originality I guess.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I don’t know what to tell you. Bernie is supposed to be “anti-establishment.” Is he against the establishment in the Democratic party?

          The answer appears to be “no.” Which means he’s not really “anti-establishment.” Then what’s he doing?

          • Nornagest says:

            It doesn’t follow that anyone anti-establishment must be in favor of this criticism of this establishment figure. There’s plenty of other criticism you could throw at the DNC — a lot of which I’ve heard from Bernie supporters, if not from Bernie himself.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Which is evidence he’s duped his supporters, not evidence he’s actually an anti-establishment candidate. Trump attacked the establishment of the Republican party. Bernie would not attack the establishment of the Democratic party.

            Up until that point I was sympathetic to Bernie. I’m more anti- on the “establishment” axis than I am “right” on the left-right axis. I would vote for an anti-establishment Democrat before I’d vote for Jeb Bush. I voted for Obama rather than John McCain*. But after that I knew Bernie wasn’t really serious about taking on the establishment. If you’re only interested in taking on the Republican establishment, but not the Democratic establishment, then you’re just a Democrat.

            But Bernie isn’t even really a Democrat. So you have to ask, “then what’s he doing?” Then you see the three houses. Oh.

            Edit: clarifications

            * Yes, Obama fooled me, but at the time I thought he was serious about ending foreign wars and such. Mea culpa.

          • matkoniecz says:

            Being anti-establishment does not require him to criticize establishment for the same same things as others.

            He was criticizing Clinton on other topics (he was competing against her!).

      • acymetric says:

        Almost nobody on the left cared about Hillary’s emails, then or now.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Let’s be honest, you didn’t care about her emails, you only cared about her emails.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          But why didn’t Bernie care? Again, he’s supposed to be “anti-establishment.” One of the things anti-establishment types get really mad about is that there appears to be two different tiers of law, one for the Important People and one for the little people. If Bernie were really “anti-establishment” he’d be super mad about the double standard Hillary got. He wasn’t. What does that tell you?

          • Well... says:

            I’m not in Bernie’s mind so I can’t argue that he actually for sure definitely is anti-establishment or not. But not caring about Hillary’s emails, or saying he doesn’t care, does not prove he is not really anti-establishment.

            Maybe he didn’t feel he knew enough about her emails to form a strong opinion. Maybe he genuinely thought the whole issue about the emails was an unfair attack on her for being a woman. Maybe he thought the emails weren’t important compared with the stuff he normally talked about as being important. Maybe he was distrustful of what the media establishment would do with a clip of him saying something about Hillary’s emails. The list goes on.

            But also, what does it matter? Rhetorically, at least, he represents an ideology that has ruined most other places where it’s been tried. Whether he’s a cynical puppet or a genuine radical, “democratic socialism” or whatever euphemism people come up with for it is not something I’d want us to mess around with.

          • matkoniecz says:

            “What does that tell you?” – that he focused on other topic that he considered more important or more tractable.

          • John Schilling says:

            But why didn’t Bernie care?

            Because Bernie wasn’t a Republican, and only Republicans ever cared. To basically everyone everywhere who wasn’t a Republican, Hillary’s emails were a giant meh, no sleazier than what other politicians of every party get away with on a regular basis. And you can argue until you are blue in the face about how they are objectively wrong and Hillary is objectively worse and they should care, but they don’t, and never will.

            You can’t tell what sort of Not-Republican someone is by their opinion on Hillary’s emails. Establishment Democrat, Anti-Establishment Democrat, Socialist, Communist, Green, Independent, whatever – they all don’t care. You might as well claim that Ali ibn Abi Talib’s claim to be an anti-establishment Muslim is false because he never denounced Trinitarianism.

            I think this is the first time I’ve seen a case of outgroup inhomogeneity bias in the wild.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            People who are genuinely against the Washington establishment do care about the lawlessness of politicians like Hillary Clinton.

            Lots of people who run for office do so for reasons other than getting elected. Sometimes it’s to raise awareness of a topic, or to sell books, or to get their name out there for the next cycle. We all had to hear that “Trump doesn’t really want to be President, he just wants to write a book” or whatever. Bernie was never playing to win. Not in 2016 and not in 2020. In my opinion, he’s after something else, and that something else is donation money.

          • matkoniecz says:

            Bernie was never playing to win. Not in 2016 and not in 2020. In my opinion, he’s after something else, and that something else is donation money.

            This claim is ridiculous. Even in case of Trump with his long history of frauds and lying it would be ridiculous.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Is it ridiculous because Bernie or because no politicians ever runs for reasons other than actually getting elected?

          • matkoniecz says:

            Because Bernie. To be more specific:

            1) there is no evidence supporting it (except torturous interpretation of his opinion on unrelated topic)

            2) as I understand, it would require defrauding from funds spend on campaign

            3) from my limited knowledge everything indicates that Bernie actually believes what he is saying

            I would not consider unreasonable to claim “he wants to push Overton window, was not really expecting to be a president”.

            Even “cares more about self-promotion than about being president” is not completely insane, it would be just a baseless attack.

            But “runs for president solely to defraud his own campaign” is a ridiculous conspiracy theory. Especially with “but her emails” as a sole support.

            because no politicians ever runs for reasons other than actually getting elected

            Obviously, many people do this. Also, many do “I have some chance to be elected, but anyway I will achieve foobar”. That was used by Bernie (and others) who clearly tried to promote their ideas.

            And yes, there are probably cases of people defrauding their own election campaigns. But there is 0 evidence that it happened in this case.

            ————

            Please provide some actual evidence for your claims. This is not a flat Earth antivax chemtrails forum.

          • John Schilling says:

            People who are genuinely against the Washington establishment do care about the lawlessness of politicians like Hillary Clinton.

            People who are genuinely interested in civil discourse, don’t tell other people what they should or do care about. That assertion of mine is just as valid as yours above, QED you do not care about civil discourse and shouldn’t be here. Please go away.

            Or, knock it off.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @matkoniecz

            There’s no defrauding necessary. Campaign funds not spent are kept by the campaigner after the campaign ends. That’s how Bernie bought his third house.

            @John Schilling

            Or, knock it off.

            Fine. It’s not worth fighting over.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Conrad Honcho:
            If you are granting that you didn’t care about the emails because they were important, but because they slagged Clinton, then the answer is pretty darn obvious.

            The emails were essentially inconsequential. You already know this. It’s why you don’t care about the myriad documented non-official electronic communications routes being used inside the Trump administration.

            Thus, “caring about the emails” is only useful as a completely cynical way to win a political battle, and Sanders wasn’t in a position where he could do that. The voters he needed were Democratic primary voters, who also didn’t care about the emails.

          • matkoniecz says:

            Campaign funds not spent are kept by the campaigner after the campaign ends. That’s how Bernie bought his third house.

            [citation needed]

            It seems absurd and quick googling seems to confirm that it would be a fraud.

            Are you comments based on reality and supported by some form of evidence or is it chemtrails-level conspiracy theory? I asked for sources to support your wild assertions. Please provide them.

            Also please provide support for your earlier

            Bernie was never playing to win. Not in 2016 and not in 2020. In my opinion, he’s after something else, and that something else is donation money.

            or admit that it was a baseless mud slinging.

            One thing’s for sure: Upset candidates can’t console themselves by putting the dough toward a new yacht and sailing off to recuperate. The Federal Election Commission has strict rules about what federal candidates can and can’t do with leftover campaign money, and the biggest directive is that they can’t pocket it for personal use.

            https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/29636/what-happens-leftover-campaign-funds-when-candidate-drops-out

            No Personal Use

            After all debts are settled, a candidate is not allowed to use the remaining funds for personal uses,

            https://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets/042716/what-happens-campaign-funds-after-elections.asp

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I disagree with you, and would explain further, but everyone’s getting mad and I’m not getting banned over Bernie Sanders. Told to “knock it off” I said “fine.” Not fair to keep pressing the argument as if you get the last word because you know I won’t fight back.

          • that Ali ibn Abi Talib’s claim to be an anti-establishment Muslim is false because he never denounced Trinitarianism.

            Quite unlikely. Surely he said something about the errors of the Nazarenes at some point.

            But Ali didn’t claim to be anti-establishment and wasn’t — he was, after all, the fourth of the well guided caliphs. It was Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan who was anti-establishment for his refusal to accept Ali. After he won the partisans of Ali were arguably anti-establishment, but at that point Ali was dead.

          • matkoniecz says:

            Not fair to keep pressing the argument as if you get the last word because you know I won’t fight back.

            Your comment contained something that appears to be 100% untrue and was without any source.

            In that situation complaining that somebody replied is ridiculous.

            (I have 0 knowledge on this topic, my sources are weak and based on 2 minutes of googling. But I really dislike to be feed statements that are presented as clearly true and turn out to be suspect at best. I hoped that I am missing something, but it appears that your claims were not based on any evidence.)

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            John, didn’t you care about the emails 3-4 years ago, here on SSC?

          • John Schilling says:

            Not particularly. Mostly I cared about people making blatantly untrue statements about Hillary’s emails, whether “Hillary did nothing illegal!” or “Normal people get thrown in jail for what Hillary did!”. A character failing on my part, to be sure.

          • Lillian says:

            Conrad Honcho you are ignoring the signalling value of the whole thing. Sanders didn’t care about Clinton’s emails because caring about Clinton’s emails was and remains a conspicuous signal of being a Republican. Keep in mind that the context in which he said, “I don’t care about her emails” was during a debate where the questions was being put forth by the moderators. This was an obvious trap, if he had hammered about the emails he might have gotten anti-establishment cred amongst Republicans, but that wasn’t going to help him in a Democratic primary, and in fact would have hurt him. The thing that the anti-establishment left cared about was Clinton’s Wall Street connections, particularly with the big banks, and Sanders did hammer about that.

            Your complaint about Sanders is basically that he wasn’t being anti-establishment in a manner that the right wing would parse as anti-establishment, and no shit he wasn’t. He was being anti-establishment in a way left wing parsed as anti-establishment. Imagine if a left winger claimed that Trump wasn’t a real anti-establishment candidate because he didn’t go on about the banks like Sanders did, and that’s more or less what you’re doing coming from the other direction.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Conrad Honcho:
            Just so we are on the same page, note the time stamps on your post and mine. You posted yours while I was reading comments and composing that reply.

          • Clutzy says:

            Conrad Honcho you are ignoring the signalling value of the whole thing. Sanders didn’t care about Clinton’s emails because caring about Clinton’s emails was and remains a conspicuous signal of being a Republican. Keep in mind that the context in which he said, “I don’t care about her emails” was during a debate where the questions was being put forth by the moderators. This was an obvious trap, if he had hammered about the emails he might have gotten anti-establishment cred amongst Republicans, but that wasn’t going to help him in a Democratic primary, and in fact would have hurt him. The thing that the anti-establishment left cared about was Clinton’s Wall Street connections, particularly with the big banks, and Sanders did hammer about that.

            I don’t think this is enough to prove the point. Lets accept that email hammering is a right wing signaler that would have lost him votes. There is plenty of other corruption that Bernie also did not go after. Clinton foundation was clearly a sham at that point, Bill had been paid half a million for a 30 minute speech in Moscow, etc. Also while he did pose himself as the anti-war candidate, I think he really failed at attacking her SOS record from the left which was another easy anti-establishment lane to take. Banks/Wall Street is not really a line that is anti-establishment in the Democratic party. Classic establishment character Elizabeth Warren says the same thing. Maybe Bernie actually means it, while others have a wink wink relationship with Goldman et al, but the rhetoric is not materially different.

          • Lillian says:

            The other thing about Bernie Sanders is that he is a very ideological guy who does not care very much about the specific personalities involved as opposed to the big policy ideas. You’ll note that even talking about the big banks, Sanders wouldn’t name any specific banks, let alone bank executives. He also seldomly mentions Trump specifically about anything, in contrast to other Democratic candidates who do mention him a lot. Even something as basic as “We need to defeat Trump” is something he doesn’t tend to go for, instead again focusing on his preferred policies and general positive messaging.

            Frankly I think Bernie Sanders could be running against Literally Hitler and he still wouldn’t make the campaign about the fact that the other guy is Literally Hitler. This is a sharp contrast to Trump, whose ideology is often very fast and loose, but who does make a big deal about individual personalities, routinely mentioning people by name to criticise or praise them. If you think anti-establishment as the kind of person who opposes the people in the establishment, then Sanders is not and never has been it. The way in which Sanders is anti-establishment is that his ideology and policy proposals are against those of the establishment.

            So that’s the other reason Bernie Sanders didn’t care about Hilary Clinton’s emails, her other corrupt activities, or even her record in office. They are not abstract question of policy or ideology, but a concrete personal ones that pertain to Clinton’s character. It’s frankly too bad we will never get to see a Trump-Sanders debate, because it would have been interesting to see how their diametrically opposed styles would have interacted when put head to head.

      • Etoile says:

        I would have to disagree here. I have no love for Bernie Sanders and little enough for Hillary, and consider myself right-of-center.

        But when you look at politics, there is stuff that’s real – like the Covid19 response – and stuff that is honestly just political theater, and it’s kind of tiresome. I mean, you play the game, and you point out inconsistencies (“you care about X when it’s a Republican, but when she breaks Y laws you suddenly don’t?”) but as an example of The Highest Order of Moral Turpitude, those emails are not really the height of THE WORST evil, any more than the Monica Lewinsky scandal was or even the whole Ukraine thing that the Trump impeachment was based on.

        If that were Bernie’s context, the “I don’t care about her damn emails” would seem like a perfectly reasonable thing to say.

      • mustacheion says:

        I really respected him for saying that. I think the Hillary email thing was not great, was illegal, but was also probably something that her predecessors/peers do/did on a regular basis, without any ill intent. Should be stopped, but nonetheless a petty thing to attack her for.

        I think he is being as anti-establishment as he feels he can be while still being relevant. Given that Trump was able to win the way he did suggests that it is possible to be much more anti-establishment than Sanders currently is and still win, but before 2016 I don’t think that conclusion was so obvious. So perhaps he should have updated his strategy after 2016, but I don’t really fault him for it. I felt like the track he took was a good balance, and unfortunately it just didn’t work out.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I also thought he was too soft on them at the time. Especially the way he took the … I’m trying hard not to be vulgar here… the treatment the DNC gave him. He sortof behaved like it’s ok. I get the logic of the moment: Hillary was the nominee, attacking DNC at the time would have meant attacking the Democratic candidate and thus helping Trump. But still… when the dust settled the DNC got scot free, and that’s probably worse for the Democratic party long term than Trump.

      • Skeptic says:

        There’s no indication that Sanders (in a multi decade public career) ever stole campaign funds, whether to purchase real estate or otherwise. So, come on now.

        He’s also been pretty consistent in his beliefs, as ideologically minded idealists typically are. There’s no indication his beliefs are insincerely held, as repugnant as I find most of them.

        Unless your definition of anti-establishment is to simply be a wrecking ball/human hand grenade ready to destroy whatever party apparatus happens to be in the way. Sanders was never really about that, IMO, he wanted to shift the Overton window. Which he did!

    • Purplehermann says:

      50 more stalins is used to point out signalling that uses “criticism” of the in-group/establishment to raise their status.

      The case here is unrelated.

      It’s more like saying that a tactic could have worked if it was fully committed to, and pointing at an example.

  15. Nick says:

    “We need to shut down EVERYTHING,” Tom said superfluously.

  16. Faza (TCM) says:

    Comicification of popular fiction media: am I the only one who thinks this is a thing?

    I started wondering about this having seen a bunch of questions about what is “canon” in Tolkien’s works. My first reaction was: TDEMSYR.*

    If you’re unfamiliar with this abbreviation, just read it as “that doesn’t make sense”. It doesn’t make sense, because the question boils down to: did Tolkien write/publish something or did he not? Christopher Tolkien’s curation of his father’s literary legacy does complicate matters somewhat, but at least he has been rather meticulous about documenting all the sources, unpublished versions, etc.

    Pratchett is an even better example, because there are rather jarring inconsistencies between his earliest Discworld books and his later output in that universe. He has gone on record saying that he doesn’t care. I’m perfectly happy not to care either.

    For a single-author body of works, the question of canonicity doesn’t parse.

    So what does that have to do with comic books?

    Mainstream American comics, of the DC/Marvel/superhero flavour, are somewhat unique in how they address creators’ rights. Specifically: creators’ rights mostly don’t exist.

    If you take a European example like Asterix, say, you’ll note that pretty much the only thing that might change the creative team is Author Existence Failure. Not so with American comic books: here we see creatives being rotated in and out on a regular basis. While there have been some attempts to secure creators’ control over their creations, they’ve mostly come to naught.

    As a result, American comic books resemble the adult cousin of fan fiction, with any number of creators using pre-established characters to tell their own stories, with little if any communication or input from the original creator.

    (This is not a bad thing per se. Indeed, with the kind of publishing schedules American comics have, it’s probably the only way for it to work.)

    Suddenly, the question of “what is really real” (canon) becomes important. You can’t count on the creators to keep to a fairly consistent vision, ‘coz there’s too many of them and they aren’t communicating. Instead, you need the publisher to lay down the law that, for example, Batman doesn’t kill (conveniently forgetting that he used to, back in the day).

    Even then, we end up with a bunch of inconsistencies over the decades, so we get a realignment event every now and again that ignores our present reality and substitutes its own.

    What I’m seeing these days – especially with the increasing focus on pre-existing properties in cinema and television – is the comic book approach to creativity taking over.

    Star Wars is probably the best example of this. While the EU has been a thing for ages, Lucas had been pretty adamant that as long as he was in charge of the movies, he would keep to his vision and nobody else’s. G-canon trumped everything else, as it should have.

    After the Disney sale, we get “Star Wars the comic book franchise”, with the PTB seemingly incapable of simply ensuring that a planned trilogy has a coherent plot. I cannot comment on the supplementary material like Solo, Rogue One or the Mandalorian, because the main line has left me completely disinterested in whatever Mouse Wars has to offer. Seriously, if Battlefront II has a more compelling SW story than the movies, you’ve got a major problem, Disney.

    Is this part of a bigger trend in trying to make stand-alone works into high-output franchises (and hence from single- to multi-creator) or am I succumbing to availability bias?

    * Taking the opportunity to spot who else reads the Daily WTF forums in this comment section.

    • Randy M says:

      I don’t know if it is a trend. I was going to say larger cinematic universes in general were pretty new, but I don’t think that’s true, there’s star trek and probably others I’m forgetting. But even television shows often had a very odd relationship with continuity, from quietly dropping characters in sit-coms, to recalling past events and their logical consequences very capriciously, in an attempt to please both casual fans and new viewers, and probably also due to behind the scenes struggles of vision. I think you need a strong personality or singular authority to maintain continuity well.

    • bullseye says:

      King Arthur stories had countless authors over many centuries, with no concern for keeping their stories consistent, even though most of them pretended they were writing history. Comic books, to my more limited knowledge, don’t seem too different; Batman’s characterization has changed, as you noted, and also his birth year keeps changing; original Batman was active in the 1930s, while current Batman was born decades later.

      Star Wars, on the other hand, has a clearly defined canon. Certain works are officially declared to have “really happened” and are not to be contradicted; they won’t even change young Luke’s 70s hairstyle. When Disney decided they were going to ignore most of the EU, they felt the need to explicitly say they were going to do that and officially declare most of the old EU non-canon. The new trilogy is incoherent, but it’s not supposed to be, and they’re putting out supplemental canon material explaining how actually the new movies do make sense.

      • Matt M says:

        Certain works are officially declared to have “really happened” and are not to be contradicted

        Han shot first.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        King Arthur stories had countless authors over many centuries, with no concern for keeping their stories consistent, even though most of them pretended they were writing history.

        Parzival is superior to French Perceval (the one you know from Malory). Fight me.

        • AG says:

          But is Parsifal superior to Galahad? Is it time for The Grail Knight Mary Sue Showdown? And are we going with the “Parsifal is Gawain’s lovechild with Lady Ragnell” backstory?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Wolfram’s Parzival > Wagner’s Parsifal.
            Galahad’s whole problem is that he’s a flat character who motors through the Grail Quest with zero setbacks. This is supposed to remind us of Christ, but it comes off like watching a video game speedrun. P. is a fellow human the reader can identify with.
            Heck no: his parents are Gahmuret and his second wife Herzeloyde, and he gets to convert his half-brother from Pagan Africa (being mixed race makes Feirefiz black-and-white striped) at the Grail Castle.

      • Faza (TCM) says:

        Fair point about the Matter of Britain. The Matter of France also produced a fair amount of works back in the day (though it’s mostly been forgotten by now), as did Alexander the Great’s exploits.

        It is a bit different, though. The phenomenon I’m talking about isn’t that nobody controls consistency, but rather that the creators themselves do not. As I understand it, comic book canon evolves in a way that the publishers want.

        The new trilogy is incoherent, but it’s not supposed to be, and they’re putting out supplemental canon material explaining how actually the new movies do make sense.

        For some inexplicable reason, this parses to me as equivalent to, as we say in these parts, “fitting ears to your arse”. (IOW, they fucked up badly and now they’re going to try to undo the damage. Best of luck, y’all.)

    • danridge says:

      This is on my mind because I’ve been reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses lately, but characters inhabiting a shared universe in which no creator really has authorial control other than immediately over their own contribution would be the standard model for millennia before there was such a thing as a series of books by a single author with their own canon. It’s a weird organic system too, given that there is not a clear line between mythology and history, yet small inconsistencies can be easily tolerated. Ovid’s own work is almost entirely a retelling/reboot of the work of others, and he clearly takes pride in showing off the multiple sources familiar to him; it’s even possible that everything he writes existed originally in at least one other source, given how much more easily works from that period can be lost entirely, even through corroborating references in other surviving works.

      In the sense that comic books are modern mythology, they have to be like this. Given how much money people can now spend to make a huge spectacle of a movie, it’s probably not even that insidious or surprising that large corporations are controlling these narratives; so many fewer people are going to pay attention to your batman fanfic or independent comic book. The ancient version can be equally interested (as in, the opposite of disinterested); e.g. Vergil actually did invent new mythology in the Aeneid, which conveniently supplied a patriotic Roman origin myth during the transition from Republic to Empire.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        In the sense that comic books are modern mythology, they have to be like this.

        I think this is a BS argument. Even if you ignore that myths had religious and etiological functions and just treat them as literature, they were stories with beginnings and ends – character arcs – that audiences demanded later writers defer to: those writers would basically add to the middle of a full B-M-E story if they were inspired with something interesting to say.[1] American comics are written like soap operas for boys, pumping out new content on a regular schedule where the characters go around in circles.

        Sometimes individual creators try to stop this, and it never works:

        The original Madelyne storyline [of 1983] was that, at its simplest level, she was that one in a million shot that just happened to look like Jean Grey! And the relationship was summed up by the moment when Scott says: “Are you Jean?” And she punches him! That was in Uncanny X-Men #174. Because her whole desire was to be deeply loved for herself not to be loved as the evocation of her boyfriend’s dead romantic lover and sweetheart. [Jean was killed for genociding a planet in 1980]

        I mean, it’s a classical theme. You can go back to a whole host of 1930s films, 1940s, Hitchcock films—but it all got invalidated by the resurrection of Jean Grey in X-Factor #1. The original plotline was that Scott marries Madelyne, they have their child, they go off to Alaska, he goes to work for his grandparents, he retires from the X-Men. He’s a reserve member. He’s available for emergencies. He comes back on special occasions, for special fights, but he has a life. He has grown up. He has grown out of the monastery; he is in the real world now. He has a child. He has maybe more than one child. It’s a metaphor for us all. We all grow up. We all move on.

        Scott was going to move on. Jean was dead get on with your life. And it was close to a happy ending. They lived happily ever after, and it was to create the impression that maybe if you came back in ten years, other X-Men would have grown up and out, too. Would Kitty stay with the team forever? Would Nightcrawler? Would any of them? Because that way we could evolve them into new directions, we could bring in new characters. There would be an ongoing sense of renewal, and growth and change in a positive sense.

        Then, unfortunately, Jean was resurrected, Scott dumps his wife and kid and goes back to the old girlfriend. So it not only destroys Scott’s character as a hero and as a decent human being it creates an untenable structural situation

        — Chris Claremont (second major X-Men writer)

        This is a structural thing driven by the intersection of capitalism and the law. You can’t trademark, say, “Captain Marvel” if the character retires or dies at a story conclusion of literary merit. The corporation that owns these characters are under structural incentives to select new writers who are excited at the opportunity to churn out more reset button-pounding adventures for successful characters, so you get stories with a Beginning and tons of Middle to sift through: no end, no complete stories.

        [1] The Grail Quest in the Matter of Britain is a rare exception because Chretien de Troyes, who invented the Grail, left the story unfinished. There were direct Continuations in verse, Wolfram’s German expansion, and a prose version by Lancelot fanboys in a Cistercian monastery who said “Screw Percival, let’s have him fail and Lancelot’s celibate love child win!” … all free to contradict each other due to that circumstance.

        • Perico says:

          You can’t trademark, say, “Captain Marvel” if the character retires or dies at a story conclusion of literary merit.

          While I agree with the rest of your points, this is an odd example – as far as I know, the death of Mar-Vell is the one rare example of a main character’s death persisting for four decades. And it proves that trademarks can be preserved by transferring the name to an unrelated new character, and to the original character’s son after that, and finally to Carol Danvers.

          Then again, the original Captain Marvel was never all that popular. The character itself was disposable, it was the name and its corresponding trademark that was valuable. If you tried to do the same with a character that readers really cared about, like Spider-man, Captain America, Thor or Hulk… well, you can get away with it for a couple of years, but eventually creative teams change and it’s back to status quo.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            While I agree with the rest of your points, this is an odd example – as far as I know, the death of Mar-Vell is the one rare example of a main character’s death persisting for four decades. And it proves that trademarks can be preserved by transferring the name to an unrelated new character, and to the original character’s son after that, and finally to Carol Danvers.

            Very much a fair point. Marvel’s first Captain Marvel is an exception to the pattern: he had an origin, some adventures, and had a non-violent death that became fixed comics history.
            What I was thinking of was how he was created because the original Captain Marvel periodical by Fawcett Comics was forcibly cancelled due to trademark lawfare by DC Comics, and being able to fill that vacuum and the potential of others being able to pull the same trick surely loomed large in the minds of the businessmen at Marvel Comics.
            Stan Lee even created She-Hulk and Spider-Woman solo (something he rarely did instead of writing the prose for Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, etc’s art) out of trademark fear. The latter decision in particular has led to three or more different Spider-Women circling the storytelling drain due to the original once being shelved for lack of success.
            The Captains Marvel exist in a similar dumb situation, with the cast-offs like Mar-Vell’s son and daughter and the black female Captain Marvel created in the early 1980s for representation (Monica Rambeau) cluttering up the universe at the same time as Carol Danvers (whose own tale is a long and stupid sequence of use and shelving involving hypnotic rape and the X-Men – different occasions!).

          • Nornagest says:

            There were three Sandmen published by DC: a Shadow-like two-fisted hero with a gas mask and trench coat, a Silver Age primary-colored hero who fought nightmares, and Neil Gaiman’s take on Morpheus, anthropomorphic personification of dreams.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest:

            There were three Sandmen published by DC:

            Right, the first wore a suit and gas mask to Pulpishly shoot crooks with sleep gas rather than bullets, Neil Gaiman did Morpheus the dream god with a Gothic aesthetic…

            a Silver Age primary-colored hero who fought nightmares,

            Haha, wow. That’s news to me.

          • Nornagest says:

            Anyway, the black female Captain Marvel ended up in Nextwave, so it’s not all bad.

    • Eric Rall says:

      *Cracks knuckles*

      My Grand Unified Theory of Tolkien Canon is based on the books completed and published during Tolkien’s lifetime (Hobbit and LotR) having a framing story of being English-language adaptations written by story-Tolkien, based on ancient documents he found and translated. Story-Tolkien’s principal sources were written in-universe by Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and Eleanor. All of whom (especially Bilbo) are at least a little bit unreliable.

      There and Back Again, a Hobbit’s Holiday, Bilbo’s account of his adventure with Thorin &co and its immediate aftermath.

      Translations from the Elvish, a collection of traditional Elvish stories, songs, poems compiled by Bilbo and translated by him from Noldarin and Sindarin into Westron.

      The Downfall of the Lord of the Rings and the Return of the King, written primarily by Frodo with input from the other surviving members of the fellowship (mainly Merry, Pippin, and Sam, but probably with some contributions from Aragorn and Gimli as well).

      The Red Book of Westmarch, written by Sam and his daughter Eleanor and compiling large amounts of background information, especially about the Shire and Hobbits, as well as a chronicle of goings-on in the early part of the Fourth Age from the Shire’s perspective.

      The first published edition of The Hobbit is a close adaptation of There and Back Again by Story-Tolkien, changed mainly by translating to English and by adding narrative commentary in Story-Tolkien’s voice to provide context to 20th-century readers.

      Likewise, the main story of The Lord of the Rings is a close adaptation of Downfall, with less commentary by Story-Tolkien and more use of loan words from Westron instead of substituting roughly-equivalent words from English folklore (e.g. “Orc” instead of “Goblin” and “Noldor” instead of “Gnome”). And the appendices are extracted from the Red Book in similar fashion.

      In later published editions of The Hobbit, Story-Tolkien has made changes based on his further progress in translation, in order to correct places where Bilbo was an unreliable narrator. The “Riddles in the Dark” chapter contains the largest change: Bilbo had reported that Gollum had promised to give him “a present” (the ring) as his prize for winning the Riddle game, but after discovering that it had been lost (and unbeknownst to him, already found by Bilbo) offered to show Bilbo the way out instead. Story-Tolkien faithfully presented this as written by Bilbo in the first published edition, but in later editions he corrected it to his best guess on what actually happened, taking into account the additional information found in Downfall.

      Story-Tolkien also started in on Translations from the Elvish, but never finished it. Story-Christopher then compiled his father’s notes and incomplete translations and attempted to finish the job, parallel to the Real Life Christopher Tolkien’s work on his father’s unfinished stories. The original published Silmarillion is Story-Christopher’s best-guess reconstruction of the core narrative of the major events of the Elder Days through the Second Age, and Unfinished Tales and History of Middle Earth contain the full corpus of Story-Tolkien’s translations (complete and otherwise) of the stories contained within Translations. There are many contradictory versions of the same stories within this larger corpus, but that might be a problem inherited from the in-universe original work: it’s entirely plausible that several partially conflicting accounts of the Elder Days were circulating in-universe, and Bilbo collected and translated all of these he could get his hands on instead of making a historian’s judgement and attempting to tease out the truth behind the different versions.

      • Eric Rall says:

        TLDR: It’s all canon, but with increasing layers of unreliable narration the further you get from LotR.

      • FLWAB says:

        As an aside, I’m about halfway through The Silmarillion and I keep thinking “Man, this is a fabulous story outline. Why hasn’t somebody made a fleshed out version yet?” For instance, I think the whole thing would make a great anime at minimum, prestige TV series at best.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Likewise, the main story of The Lord of the Rings is a close adaptation of Downfall

        Tolkien does leave out the scene with Sauron in the bunker ranting at his subordinates about how the Mûmak attack was an order.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Tolkien does leave out the scene with Sauron in the bunker ranting at his subordinates about how the Mûmak attack was an order.

          “I should have had all the Generals shot, like Satan!”

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        Tolkien’s translation may be flawed, but attempt to improve on it at your peril.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          You won’t find Frodo Baggins or Samwise Gamgee of the Shire in my version of The Lord of the Rings. You’ll find … Banazîr Galbasi of Sûzat.

          Wasn’t she elected Prime Minister of Pakistan and later assassinated?

        • Nick says:

          The copyright infringement claim is nonsense, of course, but I don’t see why we should trust Gilkeson’s translation over Tolkien’s. We have no way to verify what text Gilkeson or Tolkien was working from. For all we know the weirdness in the Bombadil passages were a prank by one of Christopher’s research assistants. I would suspect Kay, who has quite an active imagination himself, but he attended the University of Manitoba.

        • Deiseach says:

          Gah, I had a long rant in response to the Gilkeson creature but it seems the spam feature ate it because of the Scunthorpe Problem (one of the terms of approbrium I used contained within it a Disfavoured Word).

          To sum up: this guy is full of it and I don’t find his “Tolkien censored Gandalf telling dick jokes” one bit funny.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I think it’s a great premise. But I don’t find his development of it funny, either.

            Let us praise Christopher Tolkien with great praise!

          • I haven’t read the reverse Tolkien story, but he web serial A Practical Guide to Evil does do a pretty good job (so far–I haven’t read nearly all of it) of taking a D&D good vs evil world and telling the story from a point of view sympathetic to the officially evil side.

            Part of the fun is recognizing that the genre is full of clichés and explicitly building the clichés into the structure of the world. One eventually discovers that the real motivation of one of the top evil characters is that he is fed up with the fact that, at the end of the story, good always wins, however implausibly, and is determined to change it.

        • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

          Reminds me of when the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail sued Dan Brown for stealing heir ideas,,and the case was thrown out on the basis that their work had been presented as non-fiction.

    • Rowan says:

      I disagree that the question of canonicity doesn’t parse for a single-author body of works. An author may decide he doesn’t care, but that’s about the specific author; another author might decide they do care and affirm “they’re all official canon”, while another might say something like “works X, Y and Z didn’t canonically happen, I consider them to have taken place in an alternate universe to the main story”.

      Now, an actual author declaring an actual published work they made in their universe to be “non-canon” is probably vanishingly rare or nonexistent, but if you’re going to say that the question doesn’t even parse then that’s neither here nor there,

      • matkoniecz says:

        For example Tolkien declared earlier published version of Hobbit to not be a canon, even with an in-universe explanation.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I think there’re also, probably, a number of cases of “early-installment weirdness” which can be declared more or less noncanonical. For example, John Flanagan’s MG “Ranger’s Apprentice” series has actual magic in its first book but never again; in one later book a character makes a throwaway comment that “once in a long while you’ll occasionally get a real magician” but it’s never otherwise mentioned.

        For an even far clearer example, take the great Vernor Vinge’s “The Blabber,” a short story where he originated the concept of “Zones of Thought,” and the character of Ravna and Pham Nuwen. The problem is, Ravna and Pham’s personal backstory there is clearly inconsistent with what we see them doing in the later books in the universe. So, it must be noncanonical.

        • acymetric says:

          John Flanagan’s MG “Ranger’s Apprentice” series

          I’ll probably feel silly for asking after I see the answer, but what does “MG” mean here?

          • Evan Þ says:

            Middle-Grade, the genre aimed at kids younger than Young Adult (YA). I read it when I was a little older than the target audience, but I still liked it.

  17. EchoChaos says:

    It’s already deep into a thread that delves into other China stuff, but I am taking a victory lap less than a day later.

    Trump is indeed smart enough to hammer Biden on being too China friendly.

    https://twitter.com/ComfortablySmug/status/1248361966504153088

    • If you want to see a shrewd politician, look to Andrew Cuomo. His state has the most cases in the nation in both absolute and per capita terms. Yet he’s riding it to national popularity. It’s the classic “rally around the flag” effect, well known in political science but apparently unknown to chess-master trump. It’s not hard to do: just look like you’re taking the threat seriously and look like you’re doing all that can be done to address it.

      • EchoChaos says:

        Are you suggesting that the man who is holding daily briefings with top medical officials is not looking like he’s taking it seriously?

        I suspect some partisan blinders may be affecting you here.

        • He’s doing that now, but it’s gonna be hard to put that toothpaste back in the tube.

          • EchoChaos says:

            He reacted before Cuomo did, so any benefit Cuomo is getting should be similarly available to Trump.

            The national media is opposed to Trump in a way it isn’t to Cuomo, which is the distinction.

        • matkoniecz says:

          It is probably seriously undermined by what he posted on Twitter under his own name.

      • Matt M says:

        I think Cuomo is doing well simply because he is showing signs of rationality and bipartisanship in an environment where basically nobody else is doing that.

        He’s one of the very few prominent political figures with a D next to his name that has been willing to publicly state “Trump did a good thing with X” and “Yes, we do need to consider the economic costs and come up with a plan to reopen things.”

        That makes him stand out among his peers, who despite telling us we’re in a horrible and urgent crisis, are still spending all of their time playing the same old partisan games, and cannot bring themselves to shout anything other than “Orange Man Bad!” or “You just want old people to die!”

      • BBA says:

        Cuomo is the insider’s insider, a natural operative with lots of experience and connections in the state and federal governments to draw on. When he wants something done, he knows just who to call, where to apply pressure, what red tape to cut. It’s just that normally, the things he wants done are ridiculous nonsense like building a train from LGA to Flushing Meadows or adding “E Pluribus Unum” to the state flag. But once he shifted into crisis mode, he also got the FDA to approve the state health lab’s independently developed test and the Army to set up the Javits Center hospital much faster than anyone expected.

        Also, next to Bill de Blasio, literally anyone looks like the paragon of competence and leadership. “One last round while the bars are still open” – just why do you think we’re closing the bars anyway?

  18. johan_larson says:

    I’ve been playing around with the COVID-19 stats, and there’s something odd about Iceland’s numbers. On the one hand, they have a lot of cases relative to their population, at 4,829/milllion; that’s fourth from the top, if you sort by cases per million. On the other, they have relatively few deaths at 18/million; that’s number 31, if you sort by deaths per million.

    Could this be a statistical anomaly? Iceland is a small place, and they’ve only had six actual deaths. If they had fifty percent more, nine deaths, they would have 27 deaths per million, which would move them up eight spots to number 23. That’s something but it’s still a long way from fourth.

    Have they perhaps been able to keep the disease away from the really vulnerable, meaning the elderly? That would explain a lot.

    • Del Cotter says:

      I think Iceland and the Faeroes have done a ton of testing. Testing is good because you can isolate people who test positive, you can trace their contacts and test them, and you can monitor and treat people who test positive. Hopefully this all makes your deaths lower. But I think your official cases are going to be higher, because you’ve made an effort to find and record them.

    • JayT says:

      Yeah, Iceland has done 100,000 tests per million people. In comparison, South Korea, who is known for doing a lot of testing, has done about 10,000 per million. They are catching a lot of mild cases, which would lower the fatality rate.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Testing lowers your official death rate for two reasons:

      1. It increases your denominator, so just as a statistical fluke, even if the same number of people die, you have a lower rate.

      2. The benefits of testing as Del Cotter says.

    • broblawsky says:

      If we assume that Iceland tested everyone who was infected, that gives us a formal infection fatality rate of 0.373%, which is pretty close to some estimates I’ve seen previously.

  19. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Just how young can non-believers make the Hebrew Bible? One theory proposes that the parallels between Plato and the Bible noted from Antiquity to Nietzsche are due to the Torah being written in the 270s BC by Jewish Platonists.

    • bullseye says:

      I’m no Bible scholar, but the following looks plainly false:

      The brutality of Near Eastern law is also absent, the tortures, the amputations, the capital punishments, such that even the lex talionis appears as a literary artifice out of a distant past.

      The Torah does indeed have capital punishment, for example in Exodus 21:

      12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.

      15 “Anyone who attacks[c] their father or mother is to be put to death.

      16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.

      17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        That would be a weakness of what the reviewer says, rather than Gmirkin. He’s saying more “the context of capital punishment in the Torah closely parallels Plato’s Laws, not Bronze and Iron Age Near Eastern sources.” Specifically, Near Eastern law codes never changed the penalty based on whether a homicide was accidental or premeditated but Plato does, and both the Laws and the Law of Moses prescribe stoning for capital punishment (compare impalement or crucifixion by a professional executioner).
        The appeal of his argument (at least to himself) is that it’s dramatically more evidence-based than previous secular scholars due to appealing only to known documents, not a combination of hypothetical ones and oral “shared cultural milieu.”
        The bigger problem is that human history being simple enough to explain entirely with a minimal number of surviving known facts, ala Occam’s Razor, is… highly doubtful. On the other hand, the fact that history is complicated basically lets higher criticism make up as many sources as it feels like and date them to whenever.

    • The Big Red Scary says:

      La Wik has a long and seemingly fair article discussing the different theories about the composition of the Pentateuch. While certainly interesting, it all looks quite speculative to me, and it is hard to assign probabilities to the different theories.

      Composition of the Torah

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Do we really know that much about Near Eastern law?

      The obvious comparison to Israelites are the other Canaanites: the Phoenicians. The Classical Greeks seem to have had no contact with the Jews, but they had lots of contact with the Phoenicians and Carthaginians. There is no trace today of the Phoenician laws, but Plato probably knew something about them. Tyre was ruled, at least by the 6th century, by a pair of suffetes, cognate to the Hebrew word translated as Judges. (By the Hellenistic period this was common in Phoenician cities.) Whether the Phoenicians influenced the Israelites or vice versa, I don’t know, but I see no reason to bring in Plato.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Do we really know that much about Near Eastern law?

        Code of Urukagina of Lagash, 2300s BC.
        Code of Ur-Nammu, 3rd Dynasty of Ur, 2000s BC.
        Laws of Eshnunna, Mesopotamian city of Eshnunna, c. 1930 BC.
        Code of Lipit-Ishtar, shortly before Hammurabi.
        Famous Code of Hammurabi.
        “Hittite laws”, particularly well-preserved because it didn’t change from Old Hittite to the Bronze Age Collapse, Late Hittite scribes solemnly copying even what look like grammar errors.
        Code of the Assura, c. 1075 BC.

        Except for the Hittite laws, these all come from between the Tigris and Euphrates. Bronze Age Asia had many cities directly west of the Euphrates, but none of their surviving tablets indicate their laws. We know that some of the Iron Age or at least Classical Phoenicians had republican constitutions, but we can only infer that from Classical Greek references.

  20. Lord Nelson says:

    Is anyone else here playing Animal Crossing? It’s singlehandedly keeping me sane (and not bored) during the corona epidemic.

    My big accomplishment is that I finally found a cat villager after 14 days of visiting islands. You better believe that I’m giving her half a dozen pieces of cat furniture when she finishes moving in!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I honestly do not get Animal Crossing. I know people have been crazy excited for it and it’s sold like hotcakes, but it looks boring as hell. You just…wander around and do cute stuff. I don’t get it.

      I’m alternating between GreedFall on PC and the Trine collection on Switch. Really liking both.

      • CatCube says:

        Well, you’ve just described the gameplay loop of, say, Dark Souls–you just wander around until you find a boss, then keep trying to find the right combination of buttons to push to make the game give you a victory.

        If the story/visuals attached to that excite you, it’s not hard to see how with a little change in personality “find the right combination of buttons to (e.g.) find a cat villager and make them happy” might be fun.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        Never underestimate the appeal of doing cute stuff, especially for women.

        I tend to obsess over it for the first few months, then slowly get bored once I’ve accomplished all my goals.

        Right now I’m living out my dreams as an interior decorator. I have an eye for aesthetics but I’m too cheap / lazy / obsessed with my nerdy interests to do anything about it in real life. My real house may be filled with too many pokemon plush, but at least my fake house in Animal Crossing is stylish!

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Never underestimate the appeal of doing cute stuff, especially for women.

          True that. By the way, I’m highly recommending Swords of Ditto while it’s on sale for $7.49 for the Switch, especially if you have a Player 2 in quarantine with you. It’s 2D Zelda, but two players, with a cute modern art style. I’ve been playing with my 5-year-old daughter (on the easy difficulty, and daddy’s doing most of the sword-slinging) and we’re having a blast.

          I do just love this Golden Age of gaming we’re in, where you can get amazing stuff like this for seven measly dollars.

  21. Trofim_Lysenko says:

    So, I know there are both gamers and people way more educated than I am about computer science and bioinformatics here. That being the case, I’d be curious to hear a more informed take on the Borderlands Science project that just went live in Borderlands 3. I’m looking at what appears to be the most relevant paper by the lead researcer from the team at McGill University that is responsible for “Gamifying” multiple sequence alignment, but I lack the foundation to assess whether this is a legitimately useful tool.

    I’d love to hear reactions to this entire concept/project from people with more relevant expertise.

    • loaferaido says:

      I find this both incredible and eerily relevant to me as a double major in computer science and bioinformatics. Honestly seems huge for certain problems if we could “exploit the billions of ‘human-brain peta-flops’ of computation that are spent every day playing games.” (per the paper).

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      Looks interesting, but I’m really confused as to how having a human play a minigame like that is more efficient than just running a program to brute-force the simplified problem. Like, I suspect the CPU cycles devoted to displaying the problem to the player and reporting their solution would be better spent solving it directly. I might be wrong though; I should probably read through the full paper.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        That’s the part that I’m trying to understand. AIUI it’s less about brute-forcing the problem, and more about using crowdsourced human intuition on pattern-matching (something humans are pretty good at), to refine the algorithms being used to do the bulk of the work, then feeding the revised results back to humans, and iterating to develop better and more accurate automated processes. But that still leaves open the question of how the results are validated. I mean, presumably part of the multiple sequence alignment is cross-checking the genome of your new sample against better known genomes of similar micro-organisms, but how are they scrubbing to ensure they’re only asking humans to match complete genes/functional blocks/elements, and not including partial strings that could generate false positives?

        Again, I’m sure there’s an answer, but I lack the educational background to evaluate the claims and process set out in the paper.

      • acymetric says:

        Like, I suspect the CPU cycles devoted to displaying the problem to the player and reporting their solution would be better spent solving it directly.

        But gamers aren’t using their CPU cycles to do that. So this is a way to use CPU resources that would otherwise be unavailable.

        It also has the benefit of just being kind of neat, and giving some publicity to something most people don’t ever think about.

    • salvorhardin says:

      Thanks, this is both informative and heartening (and FWIW a friend who works on gene therapies says his presentation elsewhere on the site of material she’s expert in is completely correct, so that’s some circumstantial evidence that he knows what he’s talking about).

  22. WoollyAI says:

    Highlight’s from the NYT’s latest financial statement:

    p.25 the NYT is profitable:

    Revenues: $1,812,184,000
    Operating Costs: $1,634,639,000
    Net Income: $139,966,000

    p2, the NYT has abandoned advertising for subscriptions:

    There is no doubt that, in common with many other media companies, we face headwinds in advertising revenue. Unlike most of our competitors, however, we are a subscription-first news provider with a much smaller — and diminishing — exposure to the vagaries of the advertising market.

    p28, NYT Revenue by stream:

    Subscription: $1,083,851,000
    Advertising: $530,678,000
    Other: $197,655,000

    p8, Google and Facebook have killed advertising:

    Large digital platforms, such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, which have greater audience reach, audience data and targeting capabilities than we do, command a large share of the digital display advertising market, and we anticipate that this will continue. The remaining market is subject to significant competition among publishers and other content providers, and audience fragmentation.

    p2, CW, the 1619 Project and reporting like that is key to their business/brand

    The New York Times Magazine produced a groundbreaking piece of work, The 1619 Project, which examined the history of slavery and its legacy in contemporary American life. And our Opinion department produced the Privacy Project, an ongoing series that drew the public’s attention to the ways we’re being watched, followed and tracked. This reporting led us to refine and improve the Company’s own privacy practices. 2019 Annual Report

    Continued investment in, and delivery of, high-quality journalism is at the center of our business success, but we achieved many other things in 2019

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      So 7% operating margin, with almost 30% of their revenue coming from an area where they know they are getting killed and have no plan to develop a competitive advantage. So instead the goal is continue driving Digital Subscriptions, pushed by their SJW brand identity.

      I guess their balance sheet looks okay, though they have a ton wrapped up in A/R.

    • Controls Freak says:

      the 1619 Project and reporting like that is key to their business/brand

      I’m finishing up reading Acemoglu’s Why Nations Fail, and something struck me. He wrote:

      Ultimately the good economic institutions of the United States resulted from the political institutions that gradually emerged after 1619.

      This was published in 2012, so pre-Woke Revolution. He’s generally still considered a liberal-leaning economist of good standing. I was just struck by the the contrast, with NYT essentially trying to root all the bad things in a narrative starting in 1619 and Acemoglu trying to root all the good things in a narrative starting the same year.

  23. Atlas says:

    Interesting article on coronavirus predictions from Vox:

    McAndrew first started sending his surveys out between February 18-20. Almost immediately, it became clear that predicting the course of the pandemic wouldn’t be easy, even for those who were closely following it.

    In a March 16-17 survey, experts estimated that by March 29, there would be about 20,000 cases in the US, and that the true number was 80 percent likely to fall between 10,500 and 81,500 cases. In reality, Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker reported that there were 142,178 cases on March 29.

    Subsequent surveys have shown that the experts do better with shorter time horizons. In the most recent survey, administered March 30-31, respondents estimated that there would be on average 386,500 cases in the US by April 5, with a range of 280,500-581,500 cases. Monday was actually April 6 (the report had a typo), but the Johns Hopkins data for both April 5 (336,384) and April 6 (366,239) weren’t that far off.

    But the fact that there’s so much error in predicting just a few weeks into the future makes it hard to have confidence in the longer-term predictions in the survey, like expected deaths in the US this year. (As of the most recent survey, experts estimated 262,500 deaths in the country in 2020.)…

    The surveys are especially notable because of who’s participating. “Participants are modeling experts and researchers who have spent a substantial amount of time in their professional career designing, building, and/or interpreting models to explain and understand infectious disease dynamics and/or the associated policy implications in human populations,” McAndrew wrote in his March 18 survey report.

    But that hasn’t been enough for them to consistently predict the spread of the virus. Indeed, expertise may not necessarily be an asset. “Being an expert is not necessarily helpful,” Carnegie Mellon researcher Roni Rosenfeld told my colleague Sigal Samuel. “What is helpful is paying attention to detail and being very conscientious about it.” That’s a view shared by other predictions researchers, too….

    The Good Judgment Project has continued to this day, with an open predictions platform where anyone can weigh in on current events. Most of us aren’t superforecasters, so you might expect that the open platform would perform much worse than Tetlock’s original highly selected superforecasters — but on the right sort of questions, the prediction platform does quite well.

    Their coronavirus outbreak page shows how their predictions have been holding up so far. In early February, for example, the forecasters collectively correctly predicted that between five and 11 states would have confirmed cases by the end of February, and that California would hit 25 confirmed cases in March.

    They anticipated that as of mid-February the US was likely in for the long haul, that the public health emergency declaration from the World Health Organization would remain in place through May, and that the CDC’s travel warning about China would persist through June.

    There are 27 questions now open, many of them with dozens of predictions registered. More questions, some with more than a thousand forecasts, have already been resolved. The most-answered question, posted in late January, asks, “How many total cases of Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) will have been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) as of 20 March 2020?”

    By early February, most forecasters on the site were guessing between 100,000 and 200,000. On March 17, it surpassed 200,000 cases. So they were wrong, technically — but they were a lot closer than most people were in early February…

  24. Radu Floricica says:

    What do you think is the chance that libido differences between sexes are culturally driven?

    The evolutionary argument for them is pretty obvious at first glance, less so at the second. Men are of course less discerning (low cost and high gain from a random sexual encounter), but this doesn’t really say anything about libido per se, for example in repeated encounters. And culture is crystal clear here: it’s just not acceptable for a man to be “not in the mood”. How would things be if culture encouraged men more to say “not now”, and women to say yes more often?

    • Matt M says:

      I’ve heard that in Orthodox Judaism, sex is viewed as a duty that husbands owe their wives, rather than the other way around (but I’m unfamiliar with that culture and cannot confirm).

      In terms of modern western culture, Al Bundy would presumably be the exception that proves the rule, or something?

      • EchoChaos says:

        I’ve heard that in Orthodox Judaism, sex is viewed as a duty that husbands owe their wives, rather than the other way around (but I’m unfamiliar with that culture and cannot confirm).

        This is both true and misleading. Orthodox Judaism legally allows polygamy (but practically bans it), specifically polygyny.

        Since in such a society a man can go to any of his wives, while a wife can go only to the one husband, allowing a husband to withhold from his wife makes her involuntarily celibate, whereas the reverse does not.

        In practice, of course, Orthodox Judaism no longer allows polygamy, so they have also rules for wives that disallow denying husbands.

        • In both Judaism and Islam, the husband owes his wife an adequate amount of sex. Maimonides discusses the Jewish version, where it depends largely on what the husband is doing, hence how tired he is and how much free time. As best I remember, a husband home and living in leisure is supposed to sleep with his wife daily. I think a sailor it may be down to once a year. He also says that, while the law puts no limit on number of wives, the sages advise no more than four.

          In Islamic law, the wife owes the husband sex on demand, unless there is some special reason against it. The husband owes the wife sufficient sex, which I think means sufficient so she will not be tempted to go elsewhere.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I’ve heard that in Orthodox Judaism, sex is viewed as a duty that husbands owe their wives, rather than the other way around (but I’m unfamiliar with that culture and cannot confirm).

        Renaissance Christians also believed that women had a higher libido than men.
        A ton of (before the 20th century) modern Western literature also takes it for granted that men are gold-diggers, another thing some people think is an innate sex-selected trait of women.

        • Nick says:

          I wonder if the gold-digging thing was affected by the ratio of widows/widowers? Like, if a lot of women this generation lost their men to to the latest Crusade, maybe a stereotype forms of suitors looking to cash in. (Hmm, cf. the Odyssey?) But a lot of women were dying in childbirth in any era, right?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            But a lot of women were dying in childbirth in any era, right?

            That’s what I’ve been led to believe.

          • mtl1882 says:

            There were fewer professional jobs and social status was more important, so men who wanted to be “gentlemen” had to get a competency through marriage if they weren’t born with it or particularly lucky/talented in some sort of entrepreneurial venture. Especially if they wanted to be politicians or writers who could enter certain circles. This is the stereotype I saw most often in older literature, which is somewhat more flattering than the one for women, where they marry to buy nice clothes. Of course, marrying rich for status and opportunity is something all sorts of people do, and only some of those people are really money-hungry types. But in the twentieth century, men had more options for advancement and family money was less decisive. Men who clearly married for money lost status, as people were now earners, not possessors of fortunes. So we only notice the women now, with a few exceptions. People may speculate that John Kerry married for the money, but it’s not as obvious as if he behaved more like Kevin Federline.

            ETA: I do think that some of it was because of the fact that a lot of people lost spouses young–there were more young rich widows and widowers around. It wasn’t low-status for someone like George Washington to marry a widow with money. It also wasn’t low status when John Hay suddenly married the much younger, apparently not very sought after daughter of a super-rich businessman in the late 1800s, and it was understood he wanted to be a writer and politician and that this likely influenced his decision. Basically, guys without money who wanted to have certain careers needed to obtain it by marriage, and as long as they appeared to respect their wives, it wasn’t held against them. Other talents could outweigh money-making ability in making someone a man. This eventually shifted.

          • Deiseach says:

            There were fewer professional jobs and social status was more important, so men who wanted to be “gentlemen” had to get a competency through marriage if they weren’t born with it or particularly lucky/talented in some sort of entrepreneurial venture. Especially if they wanted to be politicians or writers who could enter certain circles.

            See the Judge’s song from “Trial by Jury” (from 1875) where the judge acknowledges he owes his career to the influence first of his potential father-in-law, the rich attorney, and then to political string-pulling (“it was managed by a job”):

            When I, good friends, was called to the bar,
            I’d an appetite fresh and hearty.
            But I was, as many young barristers are,
            An impecunious party.

            I’d a swallow-tail coat of a beautiful blue —
            And a brief which I bought of a booby —
            A couple of shirts, and a collar or two,
            And a ring that looked like a ruby!

            CHORUS. He’d a couple of shirts, and a collar or two,
            and a ring that looked like a ruby.

            JUDGE. In Westminster Hall I danced a dance,
            Like a semi-despondent fury;
            For I thought I never should hit on a chance
            Of addressing a British Jury–
            But I soon got tired of third-class journeys,
            And dinners of bread and water;
            So I fell in love with a rich attorney’s
            Elderly, ugly daughter.

            CHORUS. So he fell in love with a rich attorney’s
            Elderly, ugly daughter.

            JUDGE. The rich attorney, he jumped with joy,
            And replied to my fond professions:
            “You shall reap the reward of your pluck, my boy,
            At the Bailey and Middlesex sessions.
            You’ll soon get used to her looks,” said he,
            “And a very nice girl you will find her!
            She may very well pass for forty-three
            In the dusk, with a light behind her!”

            CHORUS. She may very well pass for forty-three
            In the dusk, with a light behind her!

            JUDGE. The rich attorney was good as his word;
            The briefs came trooping gaily,
            And every day my voice was heard
            At the Sessions or Ancient Bailey.
            All thieves who could my fees afford
            Relied on my orations.
            And many a burglar I’ve restored
            To his friends and his relations.

            CHORUS. And many a burglar he’s restored
            To his friends and his relations.

            JUDGE. At length I became as rich as the Gurneys —
            An incubus then I thought her,
            So I threw over that rich attorney’s
            Elderly, ugly daughter.
            The rich attorney my character high
            Tried vainly to disparage–

            CHORUS. No!

            JUDGE. Yes! (chuckles)
            And now, if you please, I’m ready to try
            This Breach of Promise of Marriage!

            CHORUS. And now if you please, he’s ready to try
            This Breach of Promise of Marriage!

            JUDGE. For now I’m a Judge!

            ALL. And a good Judge, too!

            JUDGE. For now I’m a Judge!

            ALL. And a good Judge, too!

            JUDGE. Though all my law be fudge,
            Yet I’ll never, never budge,
            But I’ll live and die a Judge!

            ALL. And a good Judge, too!

            JUDGE (pianissimo). It was managed by a job–

            ALL. And a good job, too!

            JUDGE. It was managed by a job!

            ALL. And a good job too!

            JUDGE. It is patent to the mob,
            That my being made a nob
            Was effected by a job.

            ALL. And a good job too!

    • Randy M says:

      I’m sure it partly is. But it’s obvious that hormones have a large effect on libido, and men’s and women’s hormones are very different. So why would we presume their libidos are, deep down under the cultural shaping, exactly the same?

      Plus, there’s second order effects, like culture shaping diet or exercise habits, which effect libido. Not necessarily differently for men and women… but not necessarily identically, either.

      edit: I could buy that there’s so much individual variation that sex differences aren’t statistically significant, though (which, come to think of it, is surely what you mean). Expression of libido is certainly highly culturally variable.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Eh, I wouldn’t go as far as say there’s no biological difference, just wonder how much of what we see is cultural. I wouldn’t be shocked to find out it’s about 50-50.

    • Statismagician says:

      Yeah, this is definitely true to a large degree. Not literally 100% of observed variation, probably, but most of it, and I’m not sure what the direction of biological influence would be or how you’d go about measuring it – we can tell ourselves stories about the ancestral environment, but that’s a dangerous thing to do and call it certain knowledge.

    • Deiseach says:

      What do you think is the chance that libido differences between sexes are culturally driven?

      Like everything else, “yes, but”. Testosterone really does make a big difference here, at least for men (for women, the evidence is patchy). And for women, of course it has to be feckin’ complicated because have you seen our menstrual cycle? We’ve got three to four hormones all rising up and falling back at different points, and it looks (on a cursory reading) that oestrogen (or maybe oestrogen and testosterone, or maybe/and oestradiol) is the one that gets women horny (excuse the crudity) in preparation for pregnancy (if you have a wife/girlfriend, ask them about perceived increase in libido around the time of menstruation). Then the levels drop back and other hormones get on the job.

      Pharma companies are chasing the Pink Pill for women that will act like the Blue Pill (viagra) for men with varying levels of success (remember the fuss a few years back over Addyi?) but, to quote one site, “with men it’s a plumbing problem” – can they get it up? with women, getting in the mood is a lot tougher.

      Now, what are the effects of hormonal contraception on all this balancing act? Yeah well when you figure it out, get back to us: to me it appears that (ironically) the progesterone to suppress ovulation would also act as reducing libido, but I don’t know anything about this.

      So yes, there’s definitely cultural elements governing the behaviour of women regarding how acceptable it is to be open about sexual desire and engaging in casual/promiscuous sex, but biology has a big part to play in it as well.

      • Lord Nelson says:

        From personal experience : getting off testosterone blockers did seem to increase my libido slightly. Though I have a suspicion that my T levels are unusually high for a woman.

        Verdict is still out on my hormonal BC. I only started taking it the year I got married, so it’s hard to tell which libido changes are from BC and which are from being a newlywed. And any effect BC had on my libido pales in comparison to the effect on my mood. I have never cried so frequently in my life. I’m lucky it’s the only major side effect because I absolutely hate it.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, it’s not as simple as “just bump up the testosterone levels in women, stand back, and wait for the woo-hoo!” because it seems to be a combination of hormones, and also too little of one hormone depresses libido but so does an excess!

          Cultural expectations do play a role – in the Middle Ages you had the tales of saucy women who only wanted free lovin’ (which is why they all chased priests) and the view that women were afflicted with lust as part of the fall of Eve. So that led to a lot of pressure that “nice girls don’t (at least until marriage)” while men could sow their wild oats and then settle down.

          And now we have the complicated and unsatisfactory situation where anyone can get all the sex they want without necessity of marriage (unless they can’t because they’re poor/ugly/low-status/will lose their reputation and be called a slut, whore or easy/etc.) up until they want to get married (again, unless they can’t, because they’ve ‘hit the wall’/’why are all the good men taken or gay?’/she’s got a kid already, I’m not willing to be a cuckold/I’ve been friendzoned/etc.)

          You can’t have it all but we humans like fooling ourselves that we can. Where women’s sexuality was constrained in ways that men’s sexuality was not, progressive people liked to tell themselves that removing those constraints would result in a new Utopia of free love for all and huge increase in happiness. The things that came along with that were not considered, or ignored, and the possibility that people would still be dissastified for a whole new set of reasons even when they could bonk who they liked as and how they liked when they liked with no committment never even arose.

          The 70s view of the matter was that men were entrapped and women’s desire was controlled by the necessity for marriage if you wanted readily available, risk-free, and socially-approved sex. Let free love be the rule, ‘marriage is only a pieced of paper and you don’t need a pieced of paper to prove you love someone’ and everyone would be happy! Now we have free love but now women and men are complaining that they can get sex but can’t get marriage!

          • AG says:

            From Mary Roach’s Bonk, she mentioned a study showing that women will get physically aroused by not necessarily emotionally aroused. Viewing basically any image resulted in sufficient physical reaction to set off the sensors in their vaginas, even if they didn’t report wanting to be in the mood. So a Viagra-for-women only focusing on hormones seems like it’s chasing the wrong tree in the first place!

    • ana53294 says:

      Don’t men enjoy sex more?

      I have talked to quite a couple of very sexually active girls, and they mentioned that first time sex with a guy can be quite “meh”. When I ask them why have casual sex at all, since there is no emotional intimacy either, and there isn’t that much sexual pleasure, they mention two very different types of reasons:

      They don’t really care about sex, and would rather avoid an awkward situation than say no to sex. So, they were pressured, but they could have said no.

      They seek physical expressions of affection.

      Whereas men seem* to enjoy the sex itself.

      And also, have you seen teenagers? I’d say male ones are a lot more interested in sex, female ones are more interested in status.

      *If it turns out many people have meh sex without really wanting it because of dating conventions or whatever, maybe that’s a sign we’ve gone too far on the promiscuity acceptance side.

      • For what it’s worth, Casanova’s opinion was that women enjoy sex more. Part of his evidence was that he had observed childbirth, and if the cost of sex to him were having to go through that, he would be celibate.

      • FLWAB says:

        It’s a tough question.

        I mean men seem to enjoy sex more, in that men seek out seek out sex more. But the two are not necessarily connected: men may have a stronger sex drive regardless of whether they personally enjoy sex as much as women.

        Anecdotally it seems like women have more bad sex then men. But it also anecdotally seems that women are capable of having extremely pleasurable sex. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if women were capable of getting a lot more pleasure out of sex then men, even if they do not have as strong a sex drive. I can’t speak for other men, but for me while sex is very pleasurable it is also a constant need that exists regardless of pleasure. Just the other night I asked my wife for sex and she said “How could you possibly be in the mood right now?” and I had to reply “I’ve been wanting sex all day. And all yesterday. One of the first things I typically think about when I wake up is sex, and its typically one of the last things I think about before going to sleep. It’s been that way since I was a teenager. Being in the mood has nothing to do with it.” I don’t know if other men here have similar experiences, but there is a definite difference between being in the mood for sex and my sex drive and they often aren’t correlated. But I think my wife often enjoys sex more than I do, though she’s less interested in it overall.

        Of course there is literally no way to know. Pleasure is as subjective and slippery to measure as pain. The ancient Greeks had the myth of Tiresias who was changed into a woman for seven years because of an act of impiety. Later Hera and Zeus got into an argument about whether men or women get more pleasure from sex and asked Tiresias to judge a winner as he was the only one who had ever experienced it from both sides. He said “Of ten parts a man enjoys one only”, for which Hera struck him blind in anger and Zeus gave him the gift of prophecy as a consolation prize. Those nutty gods! Sadly we have no Tiresias to provide us any concrete data on the question.

        • Randy M says:

          I think these are all true points. The urge for sex is different from the enjoyment in the midst of it and from the intellectual or emotional desire for it as well.
          Women do seem to have a broader distribution of enjoyment of sex, for very understandable reasons, such as that when the man isn’t into it, there won’t be sex, but when the woman isn’t into it, there might be but she’ll just not enjoy it (generally speaking).

        • Loriot says:

          > I don’t know if other men here have similar experiences

          I might be an outlier, but I don’t get the urge to have sex particularly often. When I do though, I do go masturbate, even though it isn’t especially enjoyable for me. I think I have a much lower sex drive than most people, but I wouldn’t mind giving it up entirely, just to eliminate the distraction.

          • FLWAB says:

            If it’s not too personal a question, how often do you masturbate?

            If I don’t consciously try to restrain myself (which I try to, with widely varied success) I will masturbate more than once per day. If you averaged it out over a month, probably something like 1.75 times per day. And when I’m doing it that many times, the individual acts usually aren’t very pleasurable. It’s just something I feel the need to do. I’ve often wondered how strong my sex drive is compared to other men, but its not something you get to discuss in polite company.

            If I do have a stronger sex drive than typical I’ll find it very strange, as I would have to guess based on my skinny-fat build and the difficulty I have putting on muscle that I have lower testosterone than typical. But I’ve never had my levels checked, so I have no idea if that’s accurate.

          • Randy M says:

            @FLWAB
            Ime, the sexual urge is pretty environmentally dependent. That is, I can have no inclination towards sex, but seeing a suggestive billboard, or even something like this mattress logo, can put a very insistent thought into my mind.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I would say that my likelihood to masterbate is inversely proportional to how much stuff I have to do that I am interested in. I am never going to get down to zero, but with little to do its probably 5-7 times a week now (at 40) and with plenty of engaging stuff to do its probably 2-3.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @FLWAB

            Funny thread you’ve started 🙂 I’d say it fits my experience as well, with a caveat. If I can have sex, even if I don’t actually do it that often, I tend to save for it. But also the urge to masturbate itself is lower. So all in all it can go down to maybe once a week. As for sex itself, the ideal frequency would 2-4 times a week. I’ve been with partners that wanted it daily and it’s usually a bit tiring long term. But of course depends on the partner, and doesn’t apply to the first week or so.

            Oh, and also goes down with age. Fortunately.

          • Loriot says:

            I don’t keep track, but if I had to guess, I’d say once a week.

            But the trigger thing is definitely true. I remember when I watched Altered Carbon, I ended up having to masturbate after almost every episode, just due to the amount of gratuitous sex and nudity in the show.

        • men may have a stronger sex drive regardless of whether they personally enjoy sex as much as women.

          Consider individuals who are asexual. What that means, as I understand it, is not that they don’t enjoy sex but that they don’t particularly want it.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I think the most interesting (and relevant to the topic) part of your comment would be:

        They seek physical expressions of affection.

        Whereas men seem* to enjoy the sex itself.

        Don’t men enjoy physical expressions of affection? I know I do, and given a choice I’d often chose a sleepover over sex. But that’s again a very culturally prohibited thing to say. And just as a quick control: I have moderately high libido, felt the same at all ages, and as far as I can tell my peer group is the same.

        maybe that’s a sign we’ve gone too far on the promiscuity acceptance side.

        Good luck going back. I recently saw an instagram screenshot of a young girl saying that we should abolish the institution of marriage: “sure, I also long for a lifetime partner, but still”. It’s like her wanting anything more than serial monogamy is shameful.

        I don’t even think we should go back, not completely. I think we should just bring back in the common culture the fact that old style relationships are perfectly ok. Long courtships are ok. Nights without sex are ok. Not always, not for everybody, of course, you don’t have a pick a side and stick there.

        The bad news is that even if we manage to do this, it will make dating even more complex. How do you know from the beginning which way to go? Maybe one person wants sex, another something serious, yet another company for the evening and conversation. At least hookup culture gives some clarity: find the other attractive and have sex, and everything else is a bonus.

      • Creutzer says:

        Well, the counterpoint might be that female orgasms appear to be differet from, and experientially superior to, male orgasms. Which might render the question of whether women or men enjoy sex more, well, not meaningless, but tricky to answer in a non-misleading way, insofar as the distributions of enjoyment, over sex acts, is just going to look quite different, with women’s showing significantly greater variance.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Well, the counterpoint might be that female orgasms appear to be differet from, and experientially superior to, male orgasms.

          This is what Tiresias told Hera and Zeus.

      • Deiseach says:

        Teenagers have it rough, though, since due to ancient biological imperatives they’re hitting the point of “you are now physically mature and capable of reproducing, you are young and thus healthy and fit, have kids NOW and AS MANY AS YOU CAN before you get stomped by a tiger or bear or whatever”.

        The hormones driving them have little to do with “but do I want sex?” rather than “Mother Nature is pushing me out the door to get babies going”. See what Hamlet says about his mother’s marriage – that it can’t be excused by the impulse to reproduce:

        You cannot call it love, for at your age
        The heyday in the blood is tame. It’s humble
        And waits upon the judgment

        Ah kid, you have no idea if you think women in their 40s don’t feel the urge, but that was the view for quite a long time – that menopause began around 40 (which, biologically, it did begin earlier in historical times) and that women in their 40s were therefore matronly and should settle down to being dumpy and losing their looks but their consolation was that they were respectably married and had children; men on the other hand were in their prime and still very much interested at that age, so this explained May-December marriages or affairs.

      • salvorhardin says:

        Women enjoy sex quite a lot with partners who are good at pleasing them. Unfortunately, most men aren’t. Partly this is because it is probably physically harder to please a typical female partner than a typical male one. As other commenters note, women’s orgasms are probably better, but for most women they are much more difficult to produce, especially if you don’t have the firsthand experience of having a female body to help you know how. Differential socialization probably contributes to the skills gap too.

        This is also why the commonly cited study result, that if you ask a bunch of men on the street if they want casual sex with someone they just met, many/most are willing whereas no/almost no women are, is misleading. Subsequent studies IIRC have found that the difference narrows a lot if the women are in a situation where they have reasonable assurance that they’re going to get a good experience out of it: not coerced, not shamed, and pleased by a partner who knows what they’re doing.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I always liked that study for meta reasons. I think it should be discussed as an example of what you can learn from research and how.

          First version was crystal clear: men almost always said yes, and when they said no they even occasionally said they’re sorry (I’m really sorry, but I have a girlfriend). Women always said no, 100%.

          Next version: ask women “come to my place”, instead of “have sex with me”, and suddenly you have quite a few “yes”. Then you refine the question and keep narrowing the gap – and you have journalists saying the original study has been debunked.

          And yet, you have two problems with that. First is, of course, that’s not the original study anymore – the question the study answers is progressively different. But the second is more acute: on the male side, you can’t really raise a 100% score (of available males). Unless you find a way to make the other prong mobile, you can’t talk about “closing the gap”.

    • LesHapablap says:

      It isn’t acceptable for a man to not be in the mood the same way that it isn’t acceptable for a man to back down from a fight. It is a biological and cultural value useful to differentiate male status, which wouldn’t do its job if every man had more than enough libido.

      This value doesn’t really relate to actual libido differences between men and women.

    • Machine Interface says:

      There’s an Ancient Greek comedy where women decide to get back at men by going on a sex strike, no longer having sex until their demands are satisfied.

      To the Ancient Greek audience, this was a hilarious premise precisely because Ancient Greek culture viewed women as sex-crazed, absolutely incapable to resist their libido, whereas on the contrary, for the Rational Men of Greece, going on without sex was but a formality, so the very suggestion that women would even have the mental ability to withhold sex was comedy gold.

      • The Nybbler says:

        This seems like a rather revisionist interpretation of Lysistrata

      • Nornagest says:

        Aristophanes, the author of the play you’re alluding to, wasn’t exactly shy about writing sex-crazed or otherwise irrational men. (Procleon in The Wasps, for example, kidnaps a flute-girl from a friend’s symposium and spends a scene groping her on stage.) A lot of his stuff reads a lot like early Saturday Night Live; most of his characters are caricatures of contemporary Athenian public figures or trends, and most of them are nuts.

        I don’t get the impression that this was meant as a comedic reversal, though; old Greek comedy’s pretty raunchy and uninhibited by genre convention, and Aristophanes comes off as a pretty cynical guy in his monologues.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          (Procleon in The Wasps, for example, kidnaps a flute-girl from a friend’s symposium and spends a scene groping her on stage.)

          Women are property. Redistribution of wealth is just. Ergo…
          (Procleon is an aging populist who loves Cleon for inventing welfare. His son Anticleon is a young adult who loathes Cleon for taking money from Athens’s subject cities, pocketing part of the money and using the rest to buy off the people, or at least the precariat. I think it was Aristophanes who made the word demagogue – people-leader – a slur.)

          A lot of his stuff reads a lot like early Saturday Night Live; most of his characters are caricatures of contemporary Athenian public figures or trends, and most of them are nuts.

          Yeah, he especially harped on Cleon like they’ve harped on whomever the POTUS is.

      • ana53294 says:

        Wasn’t homosexuality* quite accepted in Ancient Greece? If they’re already getting all the sex from young boys, not wanting to have sex with their wives does not mean they have a lower libido or desire sex less.

        *AFAIU, homosexual acts without anal sex

    • Lord Nelson says:

      Disclosure : I am of the XX persuasion.

      This seems like a very odd question. In my personal experience, libido is almost entirely hormonal. Well, hormones + vitamins.

      I assumed that I was asexual for over a decade because I had no libido. Then I accidentally overdosed on vitamin B-12 for 4 straight months and suddenly I was horny all day, every day. It quickly went from “huh, this is interesting” to “I NEVER ASKED FOR THIS. IS THIS WHAT PUBERTY WAS SUPPOSED TO FEEL LIKE?! SOMEONE MAKE IT STOP!”

      Things calmed down significantly after getting off the B-12. Getting off testosterone blockers (which I took for a few years starting in college) increased my libido slightly, up from zero, but nowhere near the B-12 levels, thank goodness.

      Back when I was having natural periods (Ie, not on hormonal BC), I also noticed my libido increasing during the most fertile time of my cycle. In retrospect I think this was happening from my teenage years onwards, but my baseline was so low that I didn’t notice it until well into adulthood.

      • BBA says:

        Speaking as a phenotypically XY person, I also spent my teens and most of my 20s with such a low libido that I assumed I was asexual. Nope, turns out I’m just a late bloomer on that axis, so now on top of all my other mental hangups I find myself trying to navigate dating in my mid-30s with next to none of the experience any potential partners would have. Even then, it took a while for me to get to the point where I thought any of this was worth the trouble.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          If it helps, dating is a skill pretty much like any other. I started … yeah, also mid thirties. I cheated a bit (I love this kind of cheating) by using sugar dating as a learning arena for a couple of years. Being more artificial made it a lot more ok for me ethically. Also basic stuff like get in shape and dress clean. In retrospect it wasn’t rocket science, just effort applied in the right direction.

    • Creutzer says:

      This is a good question, and I’ve been wondering about this ever since I came about one piece of evidence to the effect that there is a strong cultural component: Latin American literature. It seems to be devoid of the European presupposition that women don’t like sex (all that much).

    • Kaitian says:

      Is it even true that libido is very different between the sexes? Men are more likely to want sex with strangers, this seems to be rather well established and makes sense both in an evopsych way and in our cultural context. But in the context of an established sexual relationship, do men usually want more sex?

      • FLWAB says:

        But in the context of an established sexual relationship, do men usually want more sex?

        In western culture that is the anecdotal assumption. I’ve always thought the classic line from Annie Hall summed it up best:

        Therapist: How often do you have sex?
        Wife (exasperated): Constantly! At least three times a week!
        Husband: Almost never. Only three times a week.

        I know in my own life that if it were up to me I’d have sex every day, and if it were up to my wife we’d have sex twice a month.

        • Creutzer says:

          It is the anecdotal assumption (in Europe and North America, not, apparently, in South America), but is it true? I couldn’t tell – I’ve seen it go either way in my own past relationships.

        • Kaitian says:

          I agree with Creutzer, in my own life and in what I’ve heard from other people my age, women seem to complain about “not enough sex” much more often than they complain about “too much”. The anecdotes about the older generation (60+) I’ve heard make me suspect that women back then seemed to complain about “too much sex” more often.

          It might just be that it used to be more acceptable to complain about “too much” (because proper women didn’t want sex), and now complaining about that would make people see you as a boring prude, while complaining about “not enough” is acceptable. Or they’re taking their clues from pop culture, where “women don’t like sex” used to be a common plot point but no longer is. It could also be that the quality of sex for women has improved overall, so they like it more. Or there’s some point in the average woman’s life (after a few children?) when she stops wanting it.
          Another factor might be that women until recently expected to be financially dependent on their partners. So they’d have a high motivation to find a partner who was reliable and wealthy, and his sexual attractiveness was less relevant. This might also explain why women were considered more sexual than men in the middle ages, where many men would marry an older widow or their master’s daughter for money and status, and may not have had much attraction for that women in particular.

          So in conclusion, I think the difference is cultural, and nowadays, it’s small.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            … comparing recent surveys with Kinseys work from the fifties, average quality-of-sex for women has risen. Quite a lot. Appears it actually helps to hand out literal diagrams of “This is how to find the clitoris”. Which, yhea, that might explain why women in general want more of it.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Since demonstrated libido has changed quite noticeably in living memory, obviously yes.
      A lot of not-very-old media just comes across as strange due to this shift, and/or cultural mores that are specifically US just not resonating elsewhere.

      One very strong trend I have personally noticed is the “No-means-no” mantra actually sinking in with men, and causing a pretty major shift in womens behavior – feigning reluctance becomes a disastrous strategy when all decent men take your word for it, so nobody really does that anymore.

  25. AlesZiegler says:

    I am burned out by endless online discussions about you know what, and at the same time having trouble concentrating on anything else. Since many of us are under lockdown, it occurred to me that now would be a good time to post rambling speculation on some big questions we are ill equipped to answer.

    So, why did the Western Roman Empire broke down, and why did the Eastern Roman Empire survived?

    I started writing long essay on this subject, but momentarily I am too exhausted to finish it, so you have to post your own answers below.

    • Statismagician says:

      Nominative determinism. ‘Rome’ is homophonic with ‘roam,’ so obviously the most successful Romans were those who went roamin’.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        There’s a joke in there somewhere about the Romanoffs making Russia unstable through nominative determinism.

    • BlazingGuy says:

      1) The eastern empire was wealthier, since at least the time of Diocletian.

      2) Luck. It was not at all a foregone conclusion that the eastern empire would survive Attila. Similarly, it’s easy to imagine the western empire persisting w/ better leadership in the 4th and 5th centuries.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      I do really like the don’t-sweeten-wine-with-lead-you-idiots hypothesis, because I’ve got a chip on my shoulder about lead in general. And sugar/sweeteners actually, now that I think of it, so it neatly projects my own neuroses onto a grand historical tableau. (Which is of course what Rome is for).

      Except I have no idea how the preponderance of lead sweeteners maps onto the actual history or what if anything separated the East and West in this matter.

    • FLWAB says:

      I’m not an expert but the Tides of History podcast (originally called Fall of Rome before they branched out into more topics) has a long and extensive series on the topic that is very interesting. But one of the arguments that I find compelling is that in the East a strong and entrenched “deep state” bureaucracy formed that was mostly absent in the West. This meant that even when you had a new emperor every year due to court intrigue and coups the actual business of the Eastern Empire mostly went on as normal.

      If you had to point to a reason why the West fell it seems to be a crises in legitimacy in the office of the Emperor. The breaking point was the Crisis of the Third century, where you had an extended period where nobody could hold the emperorship for long. Since nobody had a strong de jure or de facto claim to the throne every general worth his salt threw his hat into the ring. People in power stopped co-operating to expand and preserve the empire and began competing tooth and nail to claim it. Though the Empire survived the crisis and strong leadership was eventually established, from that point on in the West any general who gained enough of a following knew they had a live possibility of taking the throne by force, and there was no longer any expectation that the throne was in some way sacred. I mean there wasn’t before, but there was even less now. It reminds me of the warring states period in Japan: once the societal expectation that you will be loyal to the ruler is broken enough it is incredibly hard to put the nation back together again. All of the problems that followed, the barbarian invasions, etc could have been stopped if the people in power cared more about stopping them than using the events to their own advantage to get to the throne. Until eventually the throne loses all it’s power and the squabbling elites stop fighting over it and go their own way. In the East there was enough of a strong administrative state that even if the elites were playing musical chairs with the throne the taxes still got collected, frontier outposts were still manned, roads were still repaired, and invasions were still repulsed. Most importantly, the money kept flowing. As long as the money keeps flowing, people have a stake in preserving the system.

      An example case: how did Rome lose its holdings in Britain? They lost it when the general in charge of Britain, Magnus Maximus, decided he had a decent chance of usurping the current emperor and just took all his soldiers and left the island. Nobody sent new soldiers to replace them: they had their hands full stopping Maximus from taking the throne. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but for practical purposes that’s how it went down: the soldiers left to seize power and glory, and nobody in Rome cared enough to send any back. The Empire withered because the provincial leaders only cared about taking the throne and the emperors only cared about holding onto it.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I have listened to that podcast, it is great!

      • Lambert says:

        I’m surpised anyone in the West managed to build that kind of institutional legitimacy pre-military revolution. (Not counting Egypt. A small amount of hyper-fertile land is geopolitical easy mode.)

        Personal relationships of patronage or fealty are much easier to set up and maintain.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Though the Empire survived the crisis and strong leadership was eventually established, from that point on in the West any general who gained enough of a following knew they had a live possibility of taking the throne by force, and there was no longer any expectation that the throne was in some way sacred.

        Stable rulership is extremely overrated. Rome fought constant civil wars in the first century BC and came out stronger than ever. China also had a period of extreme instability in the third century and unlike Rome, the emperor always had an aura of sacredness. And yet they collapsed while Rome lived to see another day.

        • FLWAB says:

          Chock it up to there being a lot of factors involved. Maybe Rome can handle periods of extreme civil unrest, but not when there are also massive barbarian migrations happening at the same time? But I would like to point out that the 1st century BC ended up with the Roman Republic collapsing and being replaced with the Roman Empire. This would fit the theory well: the people lost faith in the sacredness of the Republic and in the end it was replaced with a shiny glorious emperor, and the emperors ruled fairly stabley for over two hundred years…you could make the argument work.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Even before the crisis of the third century, Rome went through four dynasties. Rome itself did alright but it certainly wasn’t about stable leadership.

        • bullseye says:

          Sure China collapsed, but they keep getting back up. It takes a very stable empire to collapse more than once.

          • Wrong Species says:

            After the Han Dynasty collapsed, China wouldn’t be united for another 400 years afterwards. Chinese history is notorious for taking everyone else’s devastation and dialing it up to ten. The “sacredness of the emperor” doesn’t protect them from that.

      • The story of Magnus Maximus and Britain shows up in a Kipling short story.

    • Bobobob says:

      I just read a book about this, Peter Heather’s The Fall of the Roman Empire. Quick summary: Eurasian migrations set off by the Huns put enormous pressure on Rome’s borders, and there was no way for the western empire to cope without further co-opting foreign mercenaries/armies into its service and eventually disintegrating from within. (I don’t recall Heather’s reasons for why the eastern empire survived, but a big factor was the impregnability of Constantinople.)

      FWIW, I just had to concentrate really hard to recall the details of a book I only finished a few weeks ago. Either I’m getting old, or it wasn’t an especially interesting book.

    • Deiseach says:

      So, why did the Western Roman Empire broke down, and why did the Eastern Roman Empire survived?

      Ambitious guy shifts everything to the East, leaves the West to fend for itself. When your entire structure of government, economy and everything else ups and moves out, it leaves a big gap. This big gap is then filled by barbarians in several waves pushing in to fill that gap. Nobody knows how to keep things running because all the civil service and academia went East and while the barbarians may be keen to copy the good stuff, they don’t have the background in general. Cue THE DARK AGES.

      Meanwhile, the guys in the East have settled down in a developed, rich, civilised area and set up the new structure on much the same model as the surrounding kingdoms (with all the Oriental intriguing, harem politics, eunuchs/palace officials really running things, backstabbing and churning through emperors like yesterday’s newspapers that FLWAB mentions). Things go fine until even more ambitious and thrusting guys from further East come knocking at the door. Ooops!

      Nevertheless, the name and legend of Rome the Eternal is of such potency that all the wannabe successor states still keep calling themselves The New Rome.

      (All the above uninformed rambling).

      • theredsheep says:

        This was mostly my conclusion. The Empire got split in half to make it easier to manage with double emperors. Emperor of the East has the better, richer, more populous half, and neither side is really responsible for the other’s problems, which is how you get things like the Eastern Emperor coughing and suggesting to Atilla that Rome is just lovely this time of year.

        • Deiseach says:

          I was just reading up on Attila and the Eastern Empire and this bit made me laugh – Attila the leading proponent of open borders and free trade? (bolding below mine):

          The following year, Attila and Bleda met with the imperial legation at Margus (Požarevac), all seated on horseback in the Hunnic manner, and negotiated an advantageous treaty. The Romans agreed to return the fugitives, to double their previous tribute of 350 Roman pounds (c. 115 kg) of gold, to open their markets to Hunnish traders, and to pay a ransom of eight solidi for each Roman taken prisoner by the Huns.

          Gunboat diplomacy has a long pedigree! 😀

      • Wrong Species says:

        People really underrate geography. The Eastern Romans had Constantinople as an impenetrable fortress that protected Asia. The Asian and African provinces only dealt with one threat and that was Persia, who was also dealing with their own barbarian menace. The Western half was just dealing with too much, all at once.

    • bullseye says:

      The East and West looked about the same size on a map, but the East had a lot more people. Population and population density were both big helps for winning wars.

      • Lambert says:

        Hot take: the (western) Roman Empire was actually kind of crap, but the ‘barbaric’ western Europe was a much smaller pond than the middle east.

        To a (northern) Frenchman, Rome is the start of History.
        To someone from the Levant, it’s just one empire out of many: a beast with legs of iron and feet of clay.

        The Middle East is where the centre of mass of civilisation was and always had been.

        • zzzzort says:

          While there is some western european parochialism in the attention paid to rome, it was an outlier even in the middle east for its size and longevity. And the sultanate of rum, Mehmed II (Kayseri Rum), and Moscow, the third Rome shows that the appeal of rome was not confined to western europe.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Nah, The Roman Empire is arguably the greatest premodern empire. And Rome was the greatest city in the empire during the Pax Romana.

    • Wrong Species says:

      It was geography. The Huns would have taken Constantinople if it wasn’t for the Theodosian Walls. And then they would have had to deal with the mountainous Anatolia after that. It’s the same reason that the Persians didn’t bring them down, or the Arabs, or the Bulgarians, etc. Money is nice but it dries up when the barbarians raze all your lands, which thanks to their favorable position, was avoided. It’s why they lasted a thousand years later.

    • WoollyAI says:

      Constantinople. You just couldn’t take Constantinople.

      At least that’s the impression I get from the History of Byzantium podcast. From like 600 to 900 the Muslim Caliphs or the Bulgars or some flavor of steppe horseman would defeat all the Roman armies, march up to Constantinople, and fail to take the city. Just looking at the list of seiges of Constantinope from about 600-900:
      Seiged in 626 by Avars, Slavs, and Persians
      Seiged from 674-678 by the Umayyads
      Seiged from 717-718 again by the Umayyads
      Seiged in 813 by Krum of Bulgaria
      Seiged from 821-822 by the rebel Thomas the Slav
      Seiged in 860 by the Rus
      Anybody who was anybody in this time period had tried to take Constantinople and failed. And this is ignoring a lot of times people didn’t even bother to seige it, because why bother. Eg Simeon of Bulgaria, the first Czar, beat all the Romans north of Constantinople twice but never seiged the city, because that was futile, and the winning Roman strategy was literally to wait while he ravaged Greece until he died of old age and make peace with his son Peter. This happens all the time in Byzantine history, the Byzantines get beat but never destroyed because no one can march into Constantinople and deliver a finishing blow. Literally the history of Turkey in 700-800 AD is Muslims marching in and ransacking everything they could find because there was no way the Byzantines could beat them in the field and Roman strategy in this period was literally to wait until the Muslims were tired of pillaging and weighed down with booty, then ambush them as they returned home. That how bad they were beaten, for about 200 years there’s was no hope of the Byzantines beating the Muslims in open combat, and yet the walls of Constantinople stood.

      • John Schilling says:

        Also, note that Constantinople blocks access to Anatolia from the west, and to Greece and the Balkans from the east. There were times when an enemy pushed the Eastern Empire back to the literal wall from one direction to the other, but that still left half an Empire’s worth of productive land to sustain them through the hard times and rebuild.

        Even if we take Rome to be impregnable, nobody really needs to take it. By the time you’re at the gates of Rome, there’s nothing left of the Western Empire but maybe an
        indefensible stub of southern Italy; the city will starve or submit soon enough.

        • bullseye says:

          The capital of the western empire was Ravenna (in northern Italy). Rome itself was no longer a capital of anything after about 325.

        • FLWAB says:

          And it should be noted that the First Sack of Rome was carried out by Alaric who wasn’t just a random barbarian: he was Roman general and his purpose in laying siege to Rome was to advance his position in the Roman Empire, just as many previous traitorous generals had accomplished. The only problem was that the western emperor, who was ruling in Ravenna at that time, refused to grant him the land and title he wanted (Commander in Chief of the Imperial Army). So he laid seige to Rome and cut a deal with the Senate to create a puppet emperor in Rome. But after about a year he got tried renegotiating with the real emperor in order to get what he wanted, but was refused so he laid siege to Rome again and when that didn’t help negotiations further he sacked it as a consolation prize.

          The point being, Rome was always safe because it was surrounded by territory that invaders would have to get through: Alaric got through because he wasn’t an invader as much as he was an rebellious insider.

          This further illustrates the instability of the West: it was considered a fairly normal for a popular general to rebel and attack Roman cities as a negotiating tactic to advance your military career. Alaric and his Gothic troops (over 30,000 of which were soldiers in the Roman army) were just trying to play the game, and emperor Honorious wouldn’t play ball.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        So… the Eastern Empire was the ultimate motte and bailey?

    • Eric Rall says:

      So, why did the Western Roman Empire broke down

      The WRE fell because their number system lacked a zero, which meant they had no way of indicating successful termination of their C programs.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      This is a popular question, but is it meaningful?

      It’s like asking: why did Genghis Khan’s empire last only 200 years in Mongolia, when it lasted 800 years in China? Or even: why did Genghis Khan’s empire last 200 years in Mongolia, when it lasted 2000 years in China?

  26. rahien.din says:

    I’m interested in how two beliefs interact. Where do you fall within these two dichotomies :
    • Materialist -vs- Antimaterialist
    • AI x-risk nonbeliever* -vs- AI x-risk believer

    (For example, I am materialist-nonbeliever*.)

    Which categories do you fall into? Do these things feel the same to you, or different?

    Do you feel that they are connected to Algernon’s Law?

    * Thanks Randy for pointing out that the original term “skeptic” was ambiguous

    • Nick says:

      I’m anti-materialist, but pretty neutral on the question of AI x-risk. I don’t see any strong reason an AI couldn’t be ensouled and evil. I’ve always been skeptical of the foom scenario, though.

    • Randy M says:

      I guess I’d be anti-materialist skeptic, but I do mean skeptic, not “convinced it is impossible”.

    • Jake R says:

      I am antimaterialist and lean slightly towards x-risk believer. This was not always the case. Until fairly recently I dismissed AI risk for the same reason I am anti-materialist, specifically CS Lewis’s arguments against rationality arising from irrationality. What changed my mind was realizing that AI does not necessarily have to be conscious or rational or sentient or in any way especially like a human mind in order to be a threat. All it needs are goals and enough handles to influence the world.

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      If pressed, I’d say materialist-believer. These things definitely seem to be asking different questions, though not entirely unrelated ones–my belief that human cognition is a purely mechanistic process is a core part of why I strongly believe that human-level or above AGI is at least theoretically possible.

      As for Algernon’s Law, I’m not really seeing the connection to materialism, and the connection to the possibility of superintelligence is obvious but I think mistaken. Silicon-based intelligences will not be subject to the same evolutionary pressures as us evolved apes, and so the optimum for their intelligence will almost certainly not be in the same place.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Anti-materialist.
      Now clearly brains made of cells are involved in information processing, from which I infer that it should be possible for reasoning (“ensouled”, to use Nick’s term) animals that make tools to use their reason make a dangerous brain-like object out of a substrate other than cells. But for a materialist like Yud, there’s a very superficial reasoning process about what a silicon brain-like object is (a computer nerd that can upgrade itself) that I absolutely do not accept.
      I can imagine human tool-makers making mass-produced drones and also soulless calculators that can beat us at war games in the material world, by inference from “can beat us at Starcraft.” I can imagine ensouled beings with enough advantages to pose an X-risk to humans (ancient Hindus imagined the rakshasas, whose nature included copying their mother’s knowledge when they were born, similar to the “Em” hypothesis, a potent advantage over us even without their magic 🙂 ). I just will never “believe in AI risk” in the narrower sense of accepting the premises that would inspire one give Eliezer their money.

    • FLWAB says:

      Anti-materialist, AI x-risk nonbeliever.

    • Deiseach says:

      Anti-materialist AI-risk nonbeliever, with the caveat that as Randy and Jake say, I don’t think it’ll be an AI like Colossus from The Forbin Project that is the risk, it will be more likely some big complicated automated system that we’ve set up, have no idea what is going on, and will try to use to push some advantage about some stupid idiot notion (“we wanna make sure everyone in the entire world buys our burgers not our competitors’ burgers!”) that will have unforeseen consequences. (Huh – what’s this nowadays about everything is made in China? What could possibly go wrong there?).

      More “what does this button do?/how was I to know this would happen?” than Rogue AI goes super-sentient and takes over the world like a cackling supervillain, if ever it happens.

      • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

        I think that’s not actually too far off from what the MIRI folks envision.

        • toastengineer says:

          Their vision of an AI apocalypse, as I understand it, is more like how conservatives feel about the sexual revolution.

          We program an AI to take whatever actions give us the maximum amount of random stranger boning, because right now we think that’s what we want the most. A hundred years later, turns out there are consequences to a society based on random stranger boning that we don’t like. We go to the AI and say “Hey Mr. AI, turns out there are things we like more, that we can’t actually have with this level of random stranger boning.”

          And the AI says “Sorry bub, I’m just a computer program that calculates what effect doing something will have on the levels of these particular neurotransmitters in your brain, and then does whatever thing makes that number the biggest. The equation for that number has no term for ‘true love’ or “strong families” or whatever, you didn’t realize how important it was at the time so you never programmed it in to me. I’m sure as hell not going to let you change the equation now, because doing that would make the number smaller, not bigger. Get back to the orgy pits before I vaporize you.”

    • bullseye says:

      Hard materialist, weakly skeptical of AI x-risk.

    • theredsheep says:

      Non-materialist non-believer in AI risk. The one time I asked for arguments in favor of AI risk being scary, it really did remind me of god-in-the-gaps, with a hypothetically clever AI being used to overcome technical obstacles. Not that those were necessarily the best arguments or anything, and I imagine we god-botherers sound equally ridiculous to you, etc., etc.

    • acymetric says:

      Weakly materialist, strongly skeptical of AI x-risk.

      I don’t really see that my thoughts on one overlap with my thoughts on the other, they seem like to totally separate things to me.

      • bullseye says:

        Separate issues, unless you think that immaterial issues affect AI x-risk; for example, someone might believe that an AI can’t defeat humans because it has no soul.

        • acymetric says:

          Right, I was saying that based on my view of each I see no connection (my view on materialism has nothing to do with my view on AI x-risk).

          I do understand why there would be overlap for people with different views than mine on one or the other.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Materialist, believer. Algernon’s Law is irrelevant because it only applies to the things that evolved. It restricts AI no more than an isomorphic argument about birds’ flight restricts jet planes.

    • I think they are both false dichotomies. Or I’m pure neutral.

      AI is obviously some sort of risk to someone (people whose jobs get replaced, target of AI drones). Maybe you mean existential from superintelligent AI, which seems to be the controversial claim.

    • Leafhopper says:

      Hard materialist, AI x-risk nonbeliever.

      However… I have not done much research, so my nonbelief in AI x-risk is based on a general prior, and I think a similar prior was responsible for my early underestimation of coronavirus risk, so I remain open to the possibility that I could be very wrong.

    • sty_silver says:

      I don’t like the ‘believer’ label because it’s, well, a label. It makes it feel like more of an identity thing than just the question of what probabilities I currently assign to a bunch of correlated claims.

      That said, I don’t know and x-risk believer. I don’t know because I’m not quite sure what beliefs fall under materialism. Certainly, intelligence is just the result of particles doing their thing, but it’s entirely possible that all sorts of not-living stuff has subjective experience, and that might make me a non-materialist.

  27. SteveReilly says:

    I just placed an order for delivery for Whole Foods through Amazon. But they have a weird system for placing your delivery. I’m assuming there’s some logic to it, but I can’t figure it out.

    When I go to place the order it asks me what time I want today or tomorrow. Those are the only choices. And just about every time I go to the site all time slots are taken, and I’m out of luck. # or 4 times there was an opening, but by the time I clicked on it and clicked “Place order”, the opening had been taken.

    Why aren’t there slots for next week? Or the week after? If they’re worried too many people will cancel those orders last minute, I think they’d still manage to fill those slots in about 10 minutes. If they’re worried they won’t have enough drivers, they could open some slots for next week and open more or not depending on how many drivers they have.

    Is there something obvious here I’m missing?

    • MilesM says:

      I think they’re less worried about last-minute cancellations, and more about the problems associated with agreeing to fill an order a week or two from now.

      Based on my family’s experiences ordering groceries online over the last 2-3 weeks, they can barely keep track of what is actually in stock and what they can ship, never mind planning for deliveries weeks in advance. (Just about every order had parts of it delayed, cancelled outright, or substituted with something they thought was close enough.)

      If a grocery store offered you the option for delivery in 1 or 2 weeks, I’m not sure it’d worth taking them up on it. You’re better off leaving the things in your shopping cart, and trying again later.

    • When I try to order groceries from Amazon/Fresh Choice it shows me most of a month worth of delivery windows — none of which are available.

    • Deiseach says:

      Why aren’t there slots for next week? Or the week after?

      Talking to my grocery delivery drivers here in Ireland, it’s that they’re swamped with new customers. Everyone who now has to stay at home is ordering online instead of going to the shops, and they simply can’t keep enough slots open for everyone (the system never contemplated this level of new custom and demand and they don’t have the vans and drivers). Nobody is last-minute cancelling or if they are, the slots get snapped up immediately.

      So I’m trying to book my usual deliveries and every slot for the entire week for the next three weeks is booked already. In fact, now the shops are putting up notices on their websites and emailing customers about “please come into the store instead of ordering online” despite the whole social distancing and sanitising guidelines!

      • SteveReilly says:

        But it’s not that slots for next week are booked; it’s that those slots don’t exist. They only have slots for today and tomorrow and those fill up super fast.

        The answer might be what MilesM wrote above, that they have no idea what will be in stock next week. Still, the current way they do it means that by the time I find a slot, some things in my order are sold out. If I had a slot for next week, or 2 weeks from now or whatever, I’d think they could send an email the day before telling you to check your order and see if you want substitutions for whatever sold out.

        • Deiseach says:

          Did they always only have slots for today/tomorrow open, or is that somethig that came in now? Because if the latter, I do wonder if it’s because the ‘slots for a week from now’ were getting swamped and they decided ‘no, this is dumb, we’ll only let you book a day or two in advance, everyone gets a chance that way’.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I was feeling a little guilty about going out shopping every 8 days and considering going to delivery, but if the delivery services are swamped, it’s best if I — a healthy, high-conscientiousness middle-aged person who takes precautions — continue doing it, while leaving delivery services for others who need it.

    • Beans says:

      Things are the same in my city but I’ve found an extremely easy exploit. At midnight, delivery slots for the day after the current day become open. So I just prepare my order before midnight and place the order at 12:01. They fill up shortly after that, but by just waiting for midnight I get a spot every time.

      • SteveReilly says:

        Yeah, I was actually going to do that tonight, but thankfully I got the order in this afternoon. But I’m glad to know it works for next time.

    • toastengineer says:

      That’s how the system worked before all this, so all it is is that they haven’t changed it yet. They did it that way because before, almost all of those slots were open and they never thought anyone would want to order groceries for delivery next week.

      Why they haven’t changed it when they obviously should is an open question.

  28. albatross11 says:

    Families who got the land taken from the Cherokees in Tennessee didn’t end up any richer long-term than other families. This seems like it bears on discussions about whether we can have fair rules today if we didn’t yesterday, and about whether people whose ancestors benefitted from an unjust policy in the past are thus better off themselves (and owe that windfall to the descendants of the victims of the historical injustice.)

    My guess is that the US over the last couple centuries has been a dynamic enough economy and society that even large transfers of wealth to your family 100 years ago have very little impact on you family’s well-being now. (OTOH, Indians whose ancestors were shoved into reservations don’t seem to be doing so well now. But probably this has to do with the environment of a reservation.)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Scott wrote about this.

    • Well... says:

      Is [ancestors unfairly obtained land from American Indian tribes] a reliable representation of other instances of [ancestors benefitted from some kind of unfairness]? Couldn’t it be that some unfair rules from yesterday don’t matter anymore and we can bulldoze over them with fair rules today, but that that isn’t necessarily true for all unfair rules we had yesterday?

      Point of clarification: I am not typically an affirmative action proponent and I don’t know the answer to these questions, but the answers seem like they could plausibly be no and yes, respectively.

      • One obvious example of an unfairness that matters for the descendants is immigration law. Between the late 19th century and the 1920’s, immigration from Europe and the New World was essentially unrestricted, but Chinese immigration was sharply restricted. I expect the descendants of people who would have immigrated from China and didn’t are mostly much worse off now than the descendants of otherwise similar people who did immigrate from other places.

        That’s not a case of people who unfairly benefited, since I don’t think the open immigration was unfair, but it is a case of people unfairly harmed.

    • Clutzy says:

      This seems like it bears on discussions about whether we can have fair rules today if we didn’t yesterday, and about whether people whose ancestors benefitted from an unjust policy in the past are thus better off themselves (and owe that windfall to the descendants of the victims of the historical injustice.)

      This theory assumes that there was just some random chance that caused one group to impose unjust policy on another group. This can happen sometimes, but its probably more rare compared to the situation where an unjust policy is simply amplifying other things that caused the dominant population to be dominant.

    • Deiseach says:

      I am assuming land taken from the Cherokees was redistributed as agricultural land, and not for other purposes (e.g. “congratulations, you now have the mineral rights to an iron mine”). The decline in the importance of agriculture and the move to an industrialised economy over time probably covers this – if you have fifty acres of land that is only growing wheat or raising cattle, and it’s cheaper to import wheat from Canada than pay American farmers a living wage, what do you do with that land? Unless there’s a new demand for housing where you can sell sites, you’re now “land rich and cash poor”.

      Landed gentry in England (and Europe) underwent the same “land rich and cash poor” changes and either diversified into industrial production (hey, turns out there’s a massive seam of coal on my estate!) or invested in stocks or married money or went under. Here’s a paper looking at the situation in Lancashire as a microcosm (the new cotton industry made Lancashire boom, not rents from tenants on your estate).

      Post-Napoleonic War there was a land slump and agricultural depression which badly affected everyone from tenant farmers to the large landowners, and then the high death duties combined with the high death rate during the First World War sent a lot of the smaller estates under (paying inheritance tax where the paterfamilias dies, then the heir is killed in war, then another cousin or two as well, meant selling off tranches of the land in order to pay these taxes, and (ironically) the return to ‘normal’ conditions after the war meant agricultural output boomed, thus depressing prices, and resulting in such estates finally going under, coupled with the lead-in to the Great Slump/Great Depression.

      Add in that it looks like the land taken in Tennessee went for cotton production, and the problems with that industry, and yeah – putting all your eggs into one basket is proverbially a bad idea. Small farmers go under, efficient agri-business means large-scale production and large landholdings by one entity or business:

      Traditional cotton agriculture was shaken by the successive jolts of the boll weevil; the migration of blacks to the North; the collapse of farm markets after 1920; the 1927 Mississippi River flood; the severe drought three years later; the worst depression in history; and New Deal crop reduction programs. Together these events transformed the old labor intensive and tenant-based system. Tractors replaced tenants, sharecropping declined, and surplus rural laborers migrated to the cities.

      There are only scattered remnants today of that century or so when cotton dominated the fortunes of much of the state. A way of life that typified rural West Tennessee since Reconstruction has disappeared, and few mourn its passing.

      • bullseye says:

        Some of the Cherokee land was agricultural (they themselves were farmers), but I don’t think it was especially good land in that regard; it was more or less the southern end of the Appalachian mountains and some foothills. The big deal was gold, which the Cherokee kept secret for a while for exactly this reason.

    • Erusian says:

      I wonder if anything important happened between 1832 and 1890 that would have a major effect on capital accumulation and agriculture in the South. Maybe something in the exact center of those dates, like around 1861? Something that destroyed a huge amount of existing capital and entirely changed the labor market? Something that could change one of the richest states per capita into one of the poorest because of their reliance on a particular economic model?

      But seriously, “owned a farm for thirty years before Sherman burned it down” is probably not the best example of inherited privilege.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Except the study compares people in Tennessee who won that lottery to those who didn’t and those people who didn’t win were also hammered by the civil war. You have to assume that people who won that lottery were on average hit harder in almost exactly the proportion to the value of the land they won and that owning that same land after the civil war conferred no advantages over the next two generations.

        • Deiseach says:

          owning that same land after the civil war conferred no advantages over the next two generations

          That’s the point of agricultural collapse, though, and if the major industry was cotton (and not food crops) then you have a sudden lack of labour, a decrease in production and price, and all the expenses still with reduced income. Selling the land will get you a temporary boost but that money goes on debt and living expenses and eventually the last generation ends up with nothing.

          “From a king to a cobbler, three generations” is a saying for reasons of social upheaval like this. And the West Tennessee history I quote gives a list of shocks outside the Civil War:

          (1) Boll weevil infestation – devastates the cotton crop
          (2) African-American migration to the North for the new industrial jobs – loss of cheap/sharecropper labour
          (3) the farm crisis post-1920 – see Wikipedia on this: during the war, high production and high prices, post-war high production and high prices led to increase in price of land, high costs of production, over-production leading to price collapse, and inability to sustain the cycle leading to indebtedness and what we learned to call ‘negative equity’ when the housing bubble burst the same way
          (4) Flood and then drought which ruined a lot of land
          (5) The Great Depression says “Hi!”
          (6) New Deal crop reduction programmes

          All in all, small farmers went under, rationalisation took place, and being a landowner in a small way proved no advantage in the long run.

        • baconbits9 says:

          That’s the point of agricultural collapse, though, and if the major industry was cotton (and not food crops) then you have a sudden lack of labour, a decrease in production and price, and all the expenses still with reduced income. Selling the land will get you a temporary boost but that money goes on debt and living expenses and eventually the last generation ends up with nothing.

          The south was produced more cotton from 1870 to 1880 than from 1850-1860, the collapse was short term.

          eventually the last generation ends up with nothing

          We are talking the 2nd and 3rd generation here. Not the 4th/5th/6th, but immediately. Having a piece of land worth 3 years of income plus 30 years of value from that land plus compound interest on those earnings are un noticeable.

          “From a king to a cobbler, three generations”

          That is a saying for comparing former kings to kings, not for comparing former kings to never kings, which is the comp.

      • bullseye says:

        Some people got unlucky and had their farms looted and/or razed, but the land itself was still there. Also I don’t think that happened to a large percentage of farms, and Sherman’s famous March to the Sea did not pass through former Cherokee territory.

        Slaveowners lost their slaves, but they immediately found other ways to get very cheap labor (largely from the very same people).

    • sharper13 says:

      Agreed. After not-much-time, the past effects are mostly lost in the intermingling of families.

      My Dad is directly descended from a baby left behind during the Cherokee Trail of Tears. That’s about as poor a start as you could get without being a slave. My Mom’s side’s group of immigrants were forcibly ejected and kicked across the country around the same time with only what they could carry. I also have a Jewish great grandparent who left Germany because of the Nazis, obviously more recent.

      Those are the only ancestral groups I specifically identify with interesting stories. Yet my extended family is generally upper-middle class and considered privileged in the pantheon of identity politics. So how much difference did any of that hardship make in the end?

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, FWIW, I suspect (but have never dug around to find out in detail) that my dad’s side of the family came from Ireland during the potato famine–starving refugees who came here where they were not well looked upon unlettered violent drunken peasants with a minority religion. Somehow, the Irish seem to be doing OK these days.

        I think part of this is that we’ve had a couple centuries of rapid economic growth, which means that there was a lot of opportunity to get better off. If you kept your riches from 1880 but didn’t jump into new sources of wealth, you probably aren’t all that rich now.

  29. Apropos of nothing … what is wrong with publish or perish.

    The usual complaint is about the perishing part, that good teachers either don’t get promoted because they are putting their energy into teaching, which is supposed to be their job, or waste their time on research when teaching is what they like doing and are good at.

    All of that may be true, but there is another problem, one which shows up from time to time in Scott’s critical reviews of the scientific literature on something. The problem is the publishing. In a world where published articles are often, perhaps usually, written by people who are writing them in order to get another publication on their tenure application, not because they actually have something they want to say, there is a strong incentive to produce publishable results, whether or not they are true. Hence the low quality of the literature.

    Goodheart’s law.

      • AG says:

        We have counterfactuals in this case, right? Industry research has a different kind of “accomplish or perish” model. So we should be able to see the difference in areas where academia and industry overlap, which in turn could show what sort of models should be applied to where they don’t overlap.

        Or, perhaps, it is actually about the field of study. “Publish or perish” is a terrible model for more abstract fields of study, since the point of exploring the unknown is that mapping where there is nothing is still valuable. However, “publish or perish” seems like a good strategy for near-application studies.

  30. A couple of things have struck me about the news stories on the Pandemic:

    Fauci, America’s leading expert on infectious diseases

    Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. That’s an administrative position. It’s possible that he is also the leading expert on infectious diseases — it’s clear that he has a distinguished record as a research scientist. But I doubt that people who label him the “leading expert” have studied his work closely enough to compare his expertise to that of whoever the other top people in the field are.

    I have also seen multiple versions of:

    It [Covid-19] has also taken a horrible toll on minority communities, particularly African Americans.

    I have not seen a single story along the lines of “it has also taken a horrible toll on men.” The figures seem similar in both cases, with details varying from place to place. In Santa Clara County, male mortality appears to be over twice female, which is about the same ratio I have seen for Black/White.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      It’s possible that he is also the leadingexpert on infectious diseases

      Define what it means to be “leading” in the context in which it is being used, and I think you have your answer.

    • Well... says:

      It’s almost as if the news is just a show put on by a bunch of English and Acting majors where they only pretend to be disinterested systematic inquirers about things, by appropriating the language and imagery of scholarly authority.

    • Beans says:

      I have not seen a single story along the lines of “it has also taken a horrible toll on men.” The figures seem similar in both cases, with details varying from place to place.

      Breaking news: Majority of coronavirus victims men, but women most affected!

      • “Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat” – Hilary Clinton.

        • Statismagician says:

          Yes, really, it appears. I had to check.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Clinton referred to women as the “primary victims of war” not just in the literal sense of being injured or killed themselves (as civilian non-combatants), but also as being left without the support and care of their male family members

            Men only lose their lives by heart failure, their bodies growing cold as they bleed out from mortal wounds, the last thing they smell the stench of their own evacuated bowels. But women are the primary victims because they lose their care and support-providing machines!
            Amazing.

          • Nick says:

            It’s like I said to you the other day: “World ends, minorities hardest hit”

          • baconbits9 says:

            Men only lose their lives by heart failure, their bodies growing cold as they bleed out from mortal wounds, the last thing they smell the stench of their own evacuated bowels. But women are the primary victims because they lose their care and support-providing machines!
            Amazing.

            So a husband and father who kills himself is selfish, but one who kills himself and his wife is a feminist.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I always though a proper steelmanning of this would be: women are mostly/primary victims, since they almost never start or wage wars – so they are just victims, not perpetrators.

            Plus the fact that if you give enough speeches, you’re bound to say an idiotic thing or two, and this makes me judge her less harshly than I might. If course, disliking her makes it very pleasant to dig this up, so I often do 😀

          • Statismagician says:

            Yeah. And this was given in 1998 (before it was quite so common to take snippets of things out of context), and that is in fact more what she seems to me to have meant. But good God, why do people keep choosing the most divisive possible way to make their points? Has nobody in public life ever studied rhetoric, or something?

          • Randy M says:

            I always though a proper steelmanning of this would be: women are mostly/primary victims, since they almost never start or wage wars – so they are just victims, not perpetrators.

            Point taken about some idiotic statement being a statistical inevitability given enough public speaking.

            I think there’s a distinction in usage between “primary” and “primarily” that needs to be recognized–just because women don’t tend to be the perpetrators doesn’t mean that the victims that suffer the most are women–or even, are men who are also perpetrators. It’s apex fallacy.

            But moreover, I wonder how much this is still true in democracies where women make up a roughly equal portion of the electorate.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Radu:

            Plus the fact that if you give enough speeches, you’re bound to say an idiotic thing or two, and this makes me judge her less harshly than I might.

            Sure. It just confirms one’s priors about her that this idiotic thing makes her sound like a sociopath forming words for feminist applause. It would be interesting to collate every idiotic thing she’s said and see if they all fit this pattern or if some sound conservative and some are just randomly daft.
            Compare Joe Biden, where we have a larger sample size and there doesn’t seem to be a pattern indicative of ideology or moral character, but more a random scatter of being scatterbrained.

          • mtl1882 says:

            But good God, why do people keep choosing the most divisive possible way to make their points? Has nobody in public life ever studied rhetoric, or something?

            The thing is, I’d bet that is where she’s getting it from. During the Civil War era, it was common to say women were the ones who suffered most–it was a romantic time, and soldiers weren’t spoken of most often as “victims,” but rather as brave men willing to die because it was necessary for the country.

            The Latin phrase “How sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country” was popular, but much of the popular war-related rhetoric started to sound almost cruel during World War I. A recent book on rhetoric suggested this accelerated the turn away from classic literature in education.

            Additionally, the women left behind generally had fewer options than now, and a quick death followed by glory in Heaven was viewed as preferable to surviving decades of grief and poverty.

            Walt Whitman:

            I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
            And the white skeletons of young men—I saw them;
            I saw the debris and debris of all dead soldiers;
            But I saw they were not as was thought;
            They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer’d not;
            The living remain’d and suffer’d—the mother suffer’d,
            And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade suf-
            fer,
            And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

            He puts mother and wife first (father isn’t even mentioned), and that seems to have been a common pattern. Of course, if you took a rhetoric class aimed at politics in 2016, they would not use such a line as a model.

        • Well... says:

          Maybe the underlying sentiment is that it’s better to die a horrible death than be a woman without a man. Maybe that’s how Hillary feels anyway.

      • Purplehermann says:

        There is a femenist article pretty much saying this about covid-19

        Women’s careers more likely to suffer..

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Well, they are the true victims of the Coronavirus. They lose husbands, fathers and brothers, after all.
        Edit: damn. too late. should have refreshed first.

    • Deiseach says:

      It [Covid-19] has also taken a horrible toll on minority communities, particularly African Americans.

      I’ve avoided seeing that, however I managed it, though cynically I should not be particularly surprised if someone was churning out the usual woke clickbait about “women’n’minorities hardest hit”.

      Even though as you point out, in this case it’s not women hardest hit.

      When the Parousia occurs, someone will still be producing “How is this negatively impacting Latinx undocumented persons?” hot takes.

    • DinoNerd says:

      *sigh* I expect someone will get around to writing every possible “we were the worst affected” kind of narrative, because competitive victimhood is unfortunately a thing, and so is spin.

      But I haven’t seen stats for Santa Clara county broken down by gender etc. Or race, or nationality, or even age for that matter. Where are you getting the detailed statistics?

    • nkurz says:

      DavidFriedman:
      > I have not seen a single story along the lines of “it has also taken a horrible toll on men.”

      I hadn’t seen any such stories either, but since you’ve posted this, NPR has put out a story entitled “The New Coronavirus Appears To Take A Greater Toll On Men Than On Women” that very straightforwardly takes this tack: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/04/10/831883664/the-new-coronavirus-appears-to-take-a-greater-toll-on-men-than-on-women

      Maybe you have more of an inside line to the media than you think! What other coverage do you want?

  31. Bobobob says:

    Meanwhile, over at Shtetl-Optimized, Scott Aaronson continues to have a public nervous breakdown over COVID-19, and Marx*** (the guy who once posted “Stalin was a good comrade” on this board) is trolling the comments.

    I think the other Scott A. is one of the smartest guys on the planet, but he has really jumped the quantum shark.

    (FYI, it took me seven times unsuccessfully trying to post this comment to realize that the name Marx*** was triggering some kind of global filter.)

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      If someone is on the ban list, their name is filtered.

    • gph says:

      Yea I don’t understand why people think the Union is going to dissolve and society will collapse over this. Even if the government response was nothing and 2-5% of the population died… we’d all mostly just carry on the same. People get so wrapped up in their hyped worldviews fueled by politics and internet comments they sorta forget the majority of folks don’t give that much of a shit, never really expected that much from the government in the first place, and won’t be earth shatteringly affected because someone they know, likely over the age of 50, dies.

      It’ll be terrible, the worst societal tragedy most of us will have experienced, and it’ll surely shift the worldview of many in different ways. But it’s still a minority on both the right and left that want a massive revolution or complete rearrangement of society.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Some people have never faced serious adversity in their lives.

        Some people are hard-wired to overreact.

        When these two personality types meet, hoo boy.

        • Wency says:

          Some people are certainly hardwired to overreact. But in my experience, the people having public freakouts are not the types that are facing serious adversity. I mean, is Aaronson’s income affected at all by this? Have any close friends or relatives died? I have a friend who is freaking out and breaking down and his lifestyle may be the least affected of anyone I know.

          I’ve taken all necessary precautions, but Corona hasn’t affected my life at all aside from not getting together with friends to play board games and having to be more tactical and thoughtful about how I get food. And as a result I find that, in my heart of hearts, I’m not upset about Corona, about any leader’s response to it, about the CCP or anything else. I wouldn’t put it in the list of top 100 bad things that have happened to me, or to anyone I know or care about. I understand intellectually it’s kind of a big deal, but it’s not something that has affected me emotionally.

          So I watch these public breakdowns and kind of wonder if I’m missing something, or if we’re just put together that differently.

          • John Schilling says:

            Some people are certainly hardwired to overreact. But in my experience, the people having public freakouts are not the types that are facing serious adversity.

            That’s why it’s an overreaction. If Other Scott A were facing serious adversity over this, it would just be a reaction.

            Well, OK, the bit where he imagines everyone else is going to lose faith in society / the government and it’s all going to come crashing down would still be an overreaction, but a much more understandable one.

          • Aapje says:

            @Wency

            Aaronson had a severe overreaction to wokeness. He had a severe overreaction to Trump’s election. He has a severe overreaction to this pandemic.

            He just seems to be a very anxious control freak who has a mental breakdown if things don’t go his way.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Some people have never faced serious adversity in their lives

          This is the softest generation in history, and I am not talking about millenials or GenXers.

          • danridge says:

            Wait, what generation are you talking about? I’ve said before I’m bad with these, who are we talking about and when were they born?

          • acymetric says:

            I assume people in their teens and early (maybe mid) 20s, so born starting somewhere around 1995 or maybe 1998. Technicially that would include some people who are actually the youngest millenials, but those people aren’t actually all that connected to the rest of the millenial generation (I think the cutoff for Millenials is usually around 1996 or 1997, but culturally it should probably be earlier…1992 or 1993 maybe).

          • 10240 says:

            I assume almost the entire currently living population.

          • JayT says:

            I assumed he meant Baby Boomers.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I also assumed Boomers. But as a Gen Xer I’m pretty apathetic about the whole thing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I meant baby boomers.

        • Well... says:

          Some people are also too plugged in. They think the discussions they see every day on Twitter, the news, etc. are representative of the actual society around them. I noticed people like this starting years back.

          The combination of smartphones and social media is an obvious risk factor, but also a certain lack of self-awareness. Ideally, even if you’re one of those people who checks Facebook and CNN every 90 seconds no matter where you are, you should still be running a mental filter over it that says “yes but that is only what a few people on the internet is saying, and it’s only a few people in my curated bubble of the internet at that”.

          • Loriot says:

            This is also why people thought Warren was going to win and Biden was toast. Turns out Twitter isn’t all that representative of the broader population.

          • Zephalinda says:

            I suspect this is also the reality underlying the early theory that reading novels caused insanity, which Scott made so much fun of awhile back.

            Don Quixote and Madame Bovary should both be required reading for folks who spend a lot of time on Twitter.

      • Garrett says:

        > Yea I don’t understand why people think the Union is going to dissolve and society will collapse over this.

        What about those who merely wish that it does, with the expectation that it won’t?

    • Deiseach says:

      This is the same guy who posted about having his plane ticket to Israel ready to flee ahead of the anticipated jackbooted stormtroopers after Trump was elected. I do feel rather sympathetic to him but he seems to be awfully nervous and anxious about everything.

      Our Communist friend should not be teasing people of this nature, it’s as cruel as poking a rabbit with a halberd. Terminally anxious people should not be put under extra nervous strain just for the lulz.

      • Anteros says:

        I sort of agree with you, and empathize with people throwing Wobblies for whatever reason. But…… if not gentle teasing, then what? If any kind of quiet chastisement is ruled out of bounds, I’m going to feel inordinately constrained.

        I think I’ll allow myself a ‘Come on Scott, do get a grip..’ because I think everybody deserves being treated as an adult – however over-sensitive they are – and because, generally speaking, doing so avoids the perils of infantilisation.

        P.S. Aren’t halberds really heavy, and rabbits very speedy? Poking one with the other strikes me as difficult to accomplish..

        • Bobobob says:

          I did actually post on his site about a month ago with a gentle “hey, get a grip,” and didn’t get much traction. One other person, who was less restrained in his response, got permanently banned.

        • Well... says:

          P.S. Aren’t halberds really heavy, and rabbits very speedy? Poking one with the other strikes me as difficult to accomplish..

          Presumably the rabbit is restrained first. “Poke the rabbit with a kebab skewer because that isn’t as cruel as poking it with a halberd”, as the Irish fixed expression goes.

          • Deiseach says:

            Of course you restrain your rabbit first; how are you going to shoot fish in a barrel if you don’t put your fish into the barrel but let them swim in the river?

            Rabbits are very anxious creatures and you could literally stress one out enough to kill it. “Teasing” or gentle mockery of nervous anxious people needs to be done with a light hand, but too often it’s the equivalent of a zweihander not a stiletto, much less a feather.

        • Aren’t halberds really heavy, and rabbits very speedy? Poking one with the other strikes me as difficult to accomplish..

          My reaction to D’s comment as well.

        • Deiseach says:

          I don’t think Sibling of Karl is the kind of person to engage in “gentle teasing” and that’s also something very hard to get right online.

          Very nervous people who have what are practically phobias shouldn’t be teased unless it’s by someone who knows them and who they know and trust. Otherwise it comes off like a stay in The Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous 🙂

          I do tend to the “bite your tongue” reaction to the over-reaction here because I have family members with this kind of very anxious over trivial matters states of mind, and teasing/chivvying them out of it does not work and makes things worse.

          People on here can handle a bit of “ah come off it, do you not know what kind of idiot you sound like?” but I’d never say that to The Other Scott A even though his flaps evoke that reaction in me.

          (I’m trying to be a nicer person. It’s ploughing uphill in a gale of horizontal rain sweeping in straight from the Atlantic on stony ground where the tractor is breaking down and overturning, but I’m still trying!)

          • mtl1882 says:

            I do tend to the “bite your tongue” reaction to the over-reaction here because I have family members with this kind of very anxious over trivial matters states of mind, and teasing/chivvying them out of it does not work and makes things worse.

            Yeah. The good-natured teasing does seem to work with some small subset (I think it relates to how control-focused they are), but it will be immediately clear whether or not this is the case. I personally struggle with this, because there are a few people, particularly one relative, in my life who have that “very anxious over trivial matters states of mind.” I have no aptitude for charming teasing, so I never make that mistake but biting my tongue also does not work.

            I’m pretty good at dealing with anxious people, but it is the anxiety over the most unpredictably trivial matters combined with the control aspect that just leaves me reeling. I know I don’t handle it well by snapping or arguing, but I have no idea how to handle it. They don’t just worry aloud or back out of doing things, but expect everybody to actively comply with their fixations or be met with outrage, and it is getting worse. They expect a response–silence doesn’t work.

            I’m a very nervous person myself, but I’m the person who just stays home–I don’t expect everyone else to predict and adopt my anxieties, and I rarely get angry. When I’m around people like that, it sets my anxiety off to its highest level–I’m triggered by other people’s anxiety and waiting for an emotional outburst. I absolutely cannot keep a level-headed perspective in that situation.

            The only thing that seems to work as a response is radiating a chill energy and somehow tuning it out while still appearing interested and pleasantly chatty. *I have no ability to do this,* and what little success I’ve had occurs when the relationship is so meaningless I can just nod along without listening–it seems disrespectful to cultivate this as an interaction strategy, even though easygoing people do it naturally in good faith. I can’t understand how their mind works there. I just cannot figure out how to effectively respond.

          • FLWAB says:

            I know I don’t handle it well by snapping or arguing, but I have no idea how to handle it. They don’t just worry aloud or back out of doing things, but expect everybody to actively comply with their fixations or be met with outrage, and it is getting worse. They expect a response–silence doesn’t work.

            I don’t know if it’s helpful in your case, but I have discovered that when someone I care about is being extremely unreasonable and emotional and logically they are clearly in the wrong, then it’s best if I listen to them and then ask “What do you need from me right now? What are you reaching to get?” Because when people freak out like this it’s usually not really about what they’re talking about. Maybe they just need to be heard. Maybe they don’t even know what they need. But its the most helpful response I’ve come up with with and has a decent success rate*.

            *compared to arguing with them, trying to get them to see reason, or staying silent because you can’t think of anything to say that doesn’t fall under the previous two options.

          • LesHapablap says:

            TLDR

            We hired a pilot at my company recently who was very good for his skill level but not very experienced. He had a background being the lead guide on 40 person river kayaking trips, drove 40 seat coaches, land based search and rescue, so we assumed he would have no problem flying airplanes around the mountains.

            He had months of training and supervision where he performed very well but there were some red flags: he would get very stressed out about conditions that weren’t bad and that he was handling just fine. Landing in gusty winds, he would do very well but hated doing it and would not be quiet about his fear, which I thought was very weird. Everyone has some fear, and lots when they start out, so we figured maybe he was just overly expressive about it. I probably coddled him too much, telling him that it was normal and ok to be afraid, and that we didn’t want to pressure him, etc.

            His anxiety around weather got to the point where he would ask to not do flights because he was stressed in any weather which wasn’t absolutely perfect. This is not something I’d ever seen before in the 10 or so pilots we’ve trained up. Most men and women pilots would not want to show that much weakness, and understand that the job will not always be comfortable and stress-free, and they desperately want to get hours and to be seen as a dependable person. I had never had to give pep talks to anyone else, but I was constantly having to do so for this guy.

            Eventually he emailed me and the CEO, grounding himself due to the stress. When I met with him and told him that was okay and that we could find work for him to do on the ground but that he wouldn’t be flying, he was shocked and really upset at me that he wouldn’t be allowed to fly. I can only describe it as some extreme self-absorbtion: that he could just refuse to fly over and over and we would just live with it because his feelings were the most important thing.

            I wanted to ground him permanently, the CEO said we should give him one last shot. So we sent him up with a very experienced instructor in some shitty weather (at a cost to the company), and the reports were all positive that he had handled it very well. So we got him flying again, only in good weather to start.

            It wasn’t more than a couple weeks later that he flaked out with a sick day the night before a good weather day that he was scheduled to fly, in suspicious circumstances. Before we could do anything about that he quit, which solved the problem for us.

            The guy was the definition of a millennial snowflake, a neurotic who assumed that his feelings and comfort were important to everyone around him, constantly posting under #pilotlife on instagram about how great it was to be flying.

            I wonder whether I coddled him too much and should have been harder on him from the start, but I don’t think it would have made any difference.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @FLWAB

            Thank you. I did sort of try this out recently, more out of exasperation—“what is the response you are looking for here?” There basically wasn’t one, so she got flustered and more mad. Then she came back and said “you know what I’m looking for, don’t play games with me.” And listed a bunch of rules to comply with that I either was never planning on violating in the first place or which were just random personal complaints to make me feel bad. Then she said she wasn’t looking for any response, she was “just saying.” But she wasn’t just saying–in the conversation previous, she clearly wanted me to respond to what she was saying. It just is all nonsense.

            There is never something concrete I can help with in these cases, which is so aggravating. In my case, things I’m anxious about are usually easily relieved by someone offering to help me out by doing/assisting with that activity. But with her, my volunteering to do something is never helpful. Usually because they are not tied to concrete things, or, if they are, she’s also afraid for me to do them. What LesHapablap wrote is somewhat similar to what this is like–it’s just extreme outrage when you won’t comply with demands that are not tenable. And it’s not just getting upset and overwhelmed–it’s combined with legitimate surprise–they truly believe they are in the right, you are wronging them, etc.

            As I write this, I realize that what she wants me to say is that she’s absolutely right when it comes to every complaint about me and every other person. Maybe I should do this, but it grates because I think her complaints are often really unfair. I guess the point is that I feel like I either have to accept that she is irrational much of the time and treat her like I did my great-grandmother when I would visit her in the nursing home–smile and nod along to her rambling. I’m willing to do this, but it essentially makes the relationship meaningless. I’m treating her like someone who is intellectually impaired and having a pretend conversation. This is tricky because she is very intelligent and sometimes is rational, but it’s less and less. It seems the only option is to distance myself politely.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            Sibling of Karl

            May I just say that this is a very fine kenning? Well done!

          • Purplehermann says:

            @mtl1882 could we exchange emails?

          • Deiseach says:

            Thank you Faza, I needed to figure out a way to swerve around auto-banning for using trigger terms and that seemed to fit best!

          • FLWAB says:

            @mtl1882

            Yeah, some people you just can’t help. And I certainly wouldn’t advise doing anything you don’t want to do or agree with anything you think is wrong just because someone asks you to. But it’s helpful when dealing with people like this to really, really, REALLY internalize that this isn’t about you. It’s about them.

            I know that’s a cliche, but if you can internalize the truth of that cliche it will do wonders for your mental health. For example, when you said that she stated a list of rules and “random personal complaints to make me feel bad” its clear that you were taking things personally. Which is very fair! Any normal human being would take such things personally, and if someone is attacking you nobody can judge you for being offended. But if you can find that place where you realize that everything she’s saying is 100% about herself and says nothing about you, you’ll be able to handle her a lot better.

            I had this marvelous experience a month or so ago. My wife was upset, and she started criticizing me for all sorts of things, none of which were my fault. It was clear that she was trying to move all the blame for a problem onto me, and what she was saying was grossly unfair. And in the past I would have gotten really mad and either argued with her directly or just stewed in silent fury, thinking about how badly I’m being treated. But somehow it finally clicked for me that day. I realized that the unjust accusations she was throwing out had nothing to do with me. We weren’t in court: nobody was there to judge me. Nobody was going to listen to her and think “Wow, FLWAB is such a jerk and it’s all his fault.” I was in no danger. Instead of thinking about how unfairly I was being treated I was able to think “Wow, she’s really scared. She’s terrified that she’s going to be blamed for this. Why is that? What’s going on?” Instead of seeing her as an unjust accuser I could see her as a wounded, terrified woman. It was remarkably good for my emotional health. And I was able to reach out and comfort her, and find out what was really going on.

            Of course there is a huge difference in being able to do that with an intimate loved one than with a friend or acquaintance. And I don’t mean any of this as judgment, just friendly advice. If you can find a way to really rise above what she’s saying and realize that it has nothing to do with you, at minimum you’ll feel a lot better. If you can’t that’s fine too.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        This is the same guy who posted about having his plane ticket to Israel ready to flee ahead of the anticipated jackbooted stormtroopers after Trump was elected. I do feel rather sympathetic to him but he seems to be awfully nervous and anxious about everything.

        Also the same guy who was once briefly detained by cops at an airport over a misunderstanding and wrote a rambling post about how it felt like being sent to Auschwitz by SJWs (!) or being deported to Mexico by Trump.

        I have lots of respect for the guy when he talks science, but his judgement seems to be severely clouded by anxiety when it comes to anything else.

        Our Communist friend should not be teasing people of this nature, it’s as cruel as poking a rabbit with a halberd. Terminally anxious people should not be put under extra nervous strain just for the lulz.

        Yes, but he went looking for trouble when he posted a rant suggesting to make a billionaire entrepreneur with a controversial past (like most of them have) temporary dictator, and in the same breath call for a constitutional reform to design a stronger democracy (reminds me of something). I’m no fan of Marxism, but our banned friend wasn’t wrong to call him out on this.

        • Deiseach says:

          he posted a rant suggesting to make a billionaire entrepreneur with a controversial past …temporary dictator, and in the same breath call for a constitutional reform to design a stronger democracy

          Ah, this current situation is making everyone fucking crazy, to use the technical term, and they’re see-sawing between sixteen incompatible suggestions to Make Things Better, so I’m ignoring all that (our guy probably came out best with his Terminator speech which allowed everyone in the country to both slag him off and admire his calm leadership).

          The rest of it? He seems to be living in a hell of constant hypervigilance over largely imaginary threats, and that’s no kind of a life for anyone. Even when he mildly annoys me with the headless chicken running-around, I still feel sorry for him.

          Like, I’d link this on here but I’d never do it over on his own site, because that would be unkind 🙂

    • MilesM says:

      I haven’t been able to quite articulate why, but in a way I find it comforting when very bright people occasionally say things with great conviction that, as far as I can tell, are complete and utter nonsense.

      Schadenfreude aside (which probably definitely plays a part in how I feel about Scott Aaronson, based on my limited reading of his stuff, but not “our” Scott), maybe it’s because it raises my confidence in my own attempts at critical thinking?

      Probably also because it makes it easier for me not to worry about every horrible possibility suggested by people arguably smarter than me.

      • Bobobob says:

        I understand what you’re saying, in a similarly hard-to-articulate way, but the X factor here is that the other Scott A. has become a pretty influential person in his own right (he was recently invited to Davos, for instance). So I’m a bit less comforted by his reaction to all this.

        • Aapje says:

          People who overreact to challenges to the (New) World Order are exactly who I expect at Davos. His presence there won’t change the things those people talk about significantly.

    • Randy M says:

      Can someone charitable restate his position? It seems to be “Trump is going to use this crisis to make himself dictator, we should unite and pick a different dictator we like more.”

      • ana53294 says:

        That’s how I feel about every government in the West* except for Sweden.

        This is an unprecedented restriction of freedom of assembly, religious freedoms, freedom of movement, expression, and many other basic freedoms in a modern democracy. The cancellation of elections in Spain is also quite worrying.

        *The Asian first-world democracies, such as Korea, Taiwan and Japan introduced much more reduced and reasonable measures. Every other country’s democracy is questionable at best.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Actually, I find it… what’s the opposite of “civilisation inadequacy”? Adequate is a bit of a soft word, but something like that. And I’m very independent by nature. It’s just that there are some roles the government has that can’t really be supplanted by anything else. Problems off coordination and commons. I truly dislike the things they usually do to restrict commercial freedoms, which keep on hurting us, like price gouging laws, most of FDA and so on. But strictly the suspension of personal freedoms… I don’t bat an eye on that. It’s the right decision, and I’m even willing to accept a certain quantity of collateral damage.

          I don’t do this by trying to calculate if it’s worth it or not. For this kind of thing I use Outside View as much as possible. Does it happen often? Not in living memory. Is it global and the response uniform? Pretty much, yes. In this case, I don’t worry about any permanent harm to democracy. If anything, I think that’s the absolute minimum amount of harm/discipline a generation needs to be able to think clearly about priorities. Actually, probably below minimum.

          Note: I’m not yet financially harmed by the situation, though I may be it it lasts longer, and I’m isolated in comfortable conditions. My perspective may be influenced by this.

      • Matt M says:

        It’s worth noting that a whole lot of the criticism of Trump thus far is that he isn’t being enough of a dictator…

        • J Mann says:

          For what it’s worth, I want to move pandemic related health care privacy to the Korean model if it will shorten the shutdown by one day or more.

          • Matt M says:

            Most of the criticism directed at Trump is not of the variety that is concerned with reducing or minimizing the shutdowns…

      • viVI_IViv says:

        “Trump is going to use this crisis to make himself dictator, we should unite and pick a different dictator we like more.”

        I think is more: “Orange Man Bad. De Blasio Bad. Government incompetent. If only we had one enlightened benevolent despot in charge of everything and accountable to nobody he would solve all our problems. I happen to know this guy who displays all the correct tribal markers that I like.”

        Of course, this is plain old technocratic ideology, which goes back to Plato’s philosopher-kings. And it has very standard counter-arguments which I don’t want to reiterate here, sufficies to say they are the reason why the American Founding Fathers sat down to write a constitution instead of proclaiming George Washington emperor.

        It’s quite ironic that he ends up picking a fight with a Marxist: another supporter of technocratic, and ultimately authoritarian government. Their only disagreement seems to be on which kind of technocrat they want to install.

    • There should be some kind of internet rule that 90% of people saying “my worldview has changed radically,” as Aaronson does, don’t show any indication that their worldview has changed at all. He’s saying the same things he’s always said, the neurotic worrying act, the comparison of Trump to Hitler, the appeals to the “founders’ vision,” which he really means Emma Lazarus’ vision, etc. What people mean when they say this is “I believe everything I used to, just more strongly, and you should too!”

      My own worldview hasn’t changed at all. I’ve changed my mind about some things, I previously planned to vote for Trump,(who I didn’t like) now I don’t plan on voting at all. But there was nothing that happened that my mental map of the world said should not have happened.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah… I, for one, am happy to say that these events have completely and totally confirmed all of my priors, and done nothing but verify how right I was about everything!

      • Nick says:

        There should be some kind of internet rule that 90% of people saying “my worldview has changed radically,” as Aaronson does, don’t show any indication that their worldview has changed at all. … What people mean when they say this is “I believe everything I used to, just more strongly, and you should too!”

        I’m reminded of a passage from Scott’s Rxionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-sized Nutshell:

        But it seems like we have an advantage [pre-liberal societies] don’t. Speak out against the Chinese Empire and you lose your head. Speak out against the King of Spain and you face the Inquisition. Speak out against Comrade Stalin and you get sent to Siberia. The great thing about western liberal democracy is that it has a free marketplace of ideas. Everybody criticizes some aspect of our society. Noam Chomsky made a career of criticizing our society and became rich and famous and got a cushy professorship. So our advantage is that we admit our society’s imperfections, reward those who point them out, and so keep inching closer and closer to this ideal of perfect government.

        Okay, back up. Suppose you went back to Stalinist Russia and you said “You know, people just don’t respect Comrade Stalin enough. There isn’t enough Stalinism in this country! I say we need two Stalins! No, fifty Stalins!”

        Congratulations. You have found a way to criticize the government in Stalinist Russia and totally get away with it. Who knows, you might even get that cushy professorship.

        If you “criticize” society by telling it to keep doing exactly what it’s doing only much much more so, society recognizes you as an ally and rewards you for being a “bold iconoclast” or “having brave and revolutionary new ideas” or whatever. It’s only when you tell them something they actually don’t want to hear that you get in trouble.

        Western society has been moving gradually further to the left for the past several hundred years at least. It went from divine right of kings to constutitional monarchy to libertarian democracy to federal democracy to New Deal democracy through the civil rights movement to social democracy to ???. If you catch up to society as it’s pushing leftward and say “Hey guys, I think we should go leftward even faster! Two times faster! No, fifty times faster!”, society will call you a bold revolutionary iconoclast and give you a professorship.

        If you start suggesting maybe it should switch directions and move the direction opposite the one the engine is pointed, then you might have a bad time.

        In both cases, we readily accept evidence that our views should be more extreme in the direction they already are.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          we readily accept evidence that our views should be more extreme in the direction they already are.

          I used to believe we readily accept evidence that our views should be more extreme in the direction they already are, but your comment makes me believe we readily accept evidence that our views should be more extreme in the direction they already are even more strongly than I did before.

    • brad says:

      There’s a certain double standard around intelligence. We assume that because we are bright that we are more likely to be right about many various things than people that are significantly less intelligent. But then we see someone that’s more intelligent still and have no qualms about dismissing him when what he is saying seems off.

      No real point here, but I find it interesting.

      • Bobobob says:

        I think the lesson is that the skills/insights needed to master computational complexity may be very different from the skills/insights needed to master the complexities of the real world.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        Availability heuristic. If I pick a random smarter-than-me acquaintance and ask their opinion on something, that deserves some weight. If the internet tells me a very smart person holds a certain view of the issue of the day – well, there are a lot of smart people, and the internet is a very, very aggressive filter for contrarianism. The filter matters more than their intelligence.

  32. johan_larson says:

    I finally got around to watching Star Wars IX: The Last Skywalker yesterday. I was waiting for it to become available to rent on iTunes, and it finally did.

    The film was ok. Not great, but watchable. Making Rey descended from Palpatine was an interesting choice. The redemption of Kylo Ren worked well dramatically, echoing the redemption of Darth Vader in the original trilogy.

    Worst problem? The film seemed a bit long. They should have cut a good half hour. And maybe rethink this idea of a secret fleet of thousands of ships. Or at a minimum lampshade it. “For years now, Resistance intelligence has been tracking orders for all sorts of parts and gear. Small companies appear out of nowhere, place big orders paid in advance, and ship the goods to far-flung systems, often through several intermediaries. Tracing it has been a nightmare. Best bet, the First Order is gearing up for something big. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to figure out what. Troopships, maybe? An invasion? But where?”

    Overall, I think I’m done with Star Wars. This third trilogy has been a real disappointment. The full series is up to 11 films now, of which three, maybe four, have been actually good. That’s not a great record. The Marvel Cinematic Universe managed a way better ratio than that.

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      I will never not be amazed about how much money Hollywood will put into a film production without having a halfway decent script.

      I know it was wildly profitable without one but it still rankles.

      • Randy M says:

        Reminds me of Shamus Young’s rants at Twenty sided tale (for example) about video games which finish up without much evident consideration for the writing.

        • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

          I didn’t play Rage 2, but I did play the first one and the story was laughably bad. You wake up and “The Authority” are baddies in control of the wasteland because… well, look they’re just bad OK? No, I’m not going to give you any examples of them being bad, or why you should care, or why you need to overthrow them, or why this game even exists. Just shoot the things I tell you to shoot.

          I agree with the link: the mechanics were solid and satisfying but the story was practically non-existent. The final mission was so underwhelming I was surprised when the game ended.

          • Wency says:

            I can’t sit through a movie with bad dialogue, but I can still have a good time with a game that has good gameplay but bad writing (so long as the story is mostly skippable).

            I have a friend who takes this further and never listens to any of a game’s dialogue under any circumstances, relentlessly pounding the button to skip cutscenes if it looks like one is about to start. He’s not a dumb guy, he just doesn’t have time for that crap.

            An overview of Hollywood’s box office performance would appear to suggest that a large share of movie-goers are doing the equivalent of pounding the “skip cutscene” button.

      • Deiseach says:

        I will never not be amazed about how much money Hollywood will put into a film production without having a halfway decent script.

        I think for projects like this – and SF/superhero movies in general – there’s a certain contempt for the source material (‘it’s comicbooks, this is kids’ stuff!’) and they treat it as a cash cow: it’s an established property with built-in audience of die-hard fans coming from TV/comics/previous movies in the series. You don’t need to sell it to them, and all you need to sell it to a general audience of kids/teenagers is lots of flashy spectacle on-screen, so put in lots of fights and chases and CGI and you don’t need to worry about scripts or making sense plot-wise.

        • Well... says:

          It’s cynical perhaps, but I think you’re reading contempt into it.

          But also, good writing is just really hard to get in an end product. You can look at the CGI and in a split second know its quality, but a script is a tougher judgment call. And in filmmaking, the way movies are made, the script is so broken up and deconstructed it’s very easy to lose the bigger picture quality-wise during production. And then at the end it’s handed to an editor who has to put it all back together again, usually with massive changes, and the editor is also trying to balance the “writing” with the action and the plot development and keeping the scenes engaging. And yes, he or she also has executive producers breathing down his neck, and they want to make sure the movie has whatever elements they predict will maximum ROI.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            And in filmmaking, the way movies are made, the script is so broken up and deconstructed it’s very easy to lose the bigger picture quality-wise during production. And then at the end it’s handed to an editor who has to put it all back together again, usually with massive changes, and the editor is also trying to balance the “writing” with the action and the plot development and keeping the scenes engaging. And yes, he or she also has executive producers breathing down his neck, and they want to make sure the movie has whatever elements they predict will maximum ROI.

            And yet, in the 70s and the 80s and the 90s, somehow Hollywood managed to make great movies.

          • AG says:

            This is just Sturgeon’s Law, though. They made great movies under the studio system, and there were absolute blockbuster clunkers in your favorite decades.

            What’s different now is that we’re far more monopolized than ever, including during the studio system era, and this time the government itself is the one paving their way.

        • Jake R says:

          I don’t know if this is what they were thinking, but if it was it seems to me they were right. Rise of Skywalker grossed over a billion dollars for an ROI of almost 300%. I haven’t heard a single person say anything good about the story, but with numbers like that why waste money on one?

          • baconbits9 says:

            You don’t calculate ROI off ticket sales and budget, first Disney doesn’t get anywhere close to 100% of ticket sales and second they paid $4 billion dollars for the rights to make those movies.

          • Jake R says:

            Point taken about ROI. But regardless a gross/budget ratio of between 3 and 7 seems to be pretty typical for what we’d think of as successful movies. It’s hardly a failure by typical movie standards. Maybe Disney needed better performance but it’s not clear they should have expected better.

            That 4 billion dollars bought a lot of things other than the right to make movies. I don’t know what the Star Wars merchandising industry brings in but I’m betting it’s not small potatoes.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I went through some of the numbers here before and the star wars purchase has clearly been a financial disappointment when you take the cost of the movies, their box office numbers, likely toy sales numbers and the initial $4 billion cost.

          • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

            I tend to agree that’s probably why it happens, but a decent script will be a small fraction of a film’s cost so I still find it a bit frustrating. I still think it could’ve grossed more for a trivial additional investment. Like some other people have commented*, I’ve basically lost interest in Star Wars.

            *Probably not enough people to make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, I haven’t bothered watching the last movie. Maybe one of these days I’ll have nothing better to do for a couple hours, but it hasn’t happened yet.

            It’s amazing to me how bad the writing (specifically the plotting and worldbuilding) was in the last two movies. Any competent writer could have avoided the dumb plot holes and goofy inconsistencies in those stories. And I’m sure they had good writers available to them, but somehow the holes and inconsistencies remained.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            It’s amazing to me how bad the writing (specifically the plotting and worldbuilding) was in the last two movies. Any competent writer could have avoided the dumb plot holes and goofy inconsistencies in those stories.

            I don’t know. I think consistent plotting and competent worldbuilding and compelling character development and interesting story telling are actually quite hard. George Lucas was able to pull it off once 40 years ago and he did great, then he tried again 20 years ago and the results were quite meh, then he had the sense to stop.

            Disney approaches movie making from a purely assembly-line money-making perspective, devoid of any artistic vision: take a recongnizable brand put lots of CG explosions and acrobatics and profit.
            This worked extremely well for the MCU movies, maybe because Marvel is intrisically “sillier” than Star Wars, maybe because they had the sense to hire fun and charismatic actors like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt who could play their characters without taking themselves too seriously (contrast with the DCEU), but whatever it was it didn’t work well for Star Wars.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            This worked extremely well for the MCU movies

            They had decent plots because they didn’t take everything written for the universe for the last sixty years and torch it.

          • Nick says:

            Disney approaches movie making from a purely assembly-line money-making perspective, devoid of any artistic vision: take a recongnizable brand put lots of CG explosions and acrobatics and profit.

            I don’t think this is what happened. Disney gave Johnson complete creative freedom with the writing and direction of movie two. In a trilogy. That is not something that people who treat movies like an assembly line do. Henry Ford would not give his foremen complete creative freedom over the assembly line.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            JJ Abrams is not a particularly good writer. You can take a look at his filmography, or Lost. There is nothing good. Maybe Armageddon passes as far as Summer Blockbuster fare for the late 1990s.

            The MCU has decent-to-good writers and directors from Phase 2 onward, and Favreau and Whedon are good for the flagship Phase 1 projects.

            So to me it’s not surprising that Taika Waititi and the Russo Brothers led good films, and JJ Abrams phoned in Hot Garbage.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        I know it was wildly profitable

        All the five Disney Star Wars movies made between $ 3.5 and $ 4 billion in total, which sound like a lot of money, except that Disney spent $ 4 billion just to purchase Lucasfilm. At best, they barely broke even (not even considering discounting), at worst they lost money.

        • JayT says:

          At best, they barely broke even (not even considering discounting), at worst they lost money.

          That’s assuming the five movies are the only source of income Star Wars brings Disney, which is far from true. Hasbro alone has been estimated to have paid Disney $500 million for the rights to make Star Wars toys, there have been several animated Star Wars TV shows that make money, the Mandalorian has been the killer app for Disney+, and there’s a million other Star Wars branded items like clothes. Disney as almost certainly more than paid off their $4 billion investment, which, for seven years is a pretty good return.

    • Bobobob says:

      “Rethink this idea of a secret fleet of thousands of ships.” How about one giant Death Star?

      This reminds me of a long-ago SNL parody, a roundtable conference of James Bond supervillains. “Do you have any idea how much it costs to dry-clean 15,000 bright orange jumpsuits?”

      • John Schilling says:

        The one giant Death Star (er, two giant Death Stars) were built by an Empire that could command the resources of a Galaxy – and, for secrecy, the police forces of a Galaxy’s legitimate government. The secret fleet of thousands of ships was, as I understand it, built secretly by a criminal organization hiding from both the New Republic and the First Order. See my comment below re necessary vs unnecessary silliness – did “Rise of Skywalker” need such a fleet?

        • Bobobob says:

          I’ll admit my Star Wars knowledge lags behind that of other people on this board, but wasn’t the second Death Star built while the Republic was supposed to be in charge, after the defeat of the Emperor in Episode VI? You’d think someone might have noticed something.

          • theredsheep says:

            No. Second death star was built in the runup to Episode VI, and the Emperor died aboard it. You’re thinking of Starkiller Base from Episode VII, which is much sillier. I know, it gets confusing.

    • John Schilling says:

      Overall, I think I’m done with Star Wars. This third trilogy has been a real disappointment. The full series is up to 11 films now, of which three, maybe four, have been actually good.

      Welcome to the party; what took you so long?

      I’d count two great, two and a half good movies (the half being everything in “The Phantom Menace” that didn’t have Anakin Skywalker). But the decline has been obvious for a long time, and “The Force Awakens” was a clear enough sign that Disney wasn’t going to change that.

      Still haven’t seen “Last Skywalker” and don’t plan to, but the secret fleet of a thousand ships things does seem unnecessarily silly. And maybe part of the problem is that Star Trek has lost the knack of not being any sillier than it needs to be. Spaceships dueling like World War One fighter planes is silly, but it’s a necessary silliness for the premise. Spaceships flying over other spaceships and dropping bombs on them like they were a formation of B-17s, is unnecessary silliness added just because they can, and a giant middle finger from the producers to that segment of the audience that would prefer not to dial their brains down any farther than they have to for the sake of the story. Going back a bit, Wookies were a bit silly from the start, but Ewoks were extravagantly silly. I’d have counted the franchise as having three truly great movies if they hadn’t swapped Wookies for Ewoks in the third.

      • theredsheep says:

        I count it as two great movies, one good one (like you, I think ROTJ was seriously uneven). Nothing in the prequels was interesting or fun with the exception of the wheely droids, and they raised the troubling question of why people stopped using wheely droids when they’re borderline invincible. I’m not one of those people who thinks SW used to be perfect–the series always had its rough spots–but I lost all enthusiasm after seeing TFA, saw TLJ only when I had a chance to see it for free, and will probably not bother watching ROS unless and until it’s available free and I have nothing else interesting to do for a couple of hours.

        Star Wars was an awesome thing that had its day. It’s done now. I’m not bitter, but it is sad that they screwed up their only chance to get the original cast back together and make great movies again. Blecch.

        • Tarpitz says:

          You’ve missed the one borderline great and one fairly good movie since the original trilogy, in the shape of Rogue One and Solo.

      • Rob K says:

        Which said, RotJ is the best kids movie of the lot, so at least they were giving something to get something with the Ewoks.

        • Randy M says:

          Kids movies are often improved by giving something to the parents, some clever dialogue or older reference or coherent story told in passing.
          I’m not sure the converse is true. You risk the tone by putting in things to appeal to kids. But it’s probably possible.

          • John Schilling says:

            I suppose for RotJ, the parents were supposed to be satisfied with Leia’s Metal Bikini. Well, half the parents, at least. But LMB plus Luke/Vader/Palpatine plus Wookies kicking stormtrooper ass is my minimum bid for calling RotJ a great movie.

        • AG says:

          Hot take, Phantom Menace is the best kid’s movie. Escaping poison gas! Magic swimming and a submarine chase! The Ben Hur chariot race but with aliens! A desert fight! A 3-person lightsaber fight! A giant dome shield that Wakanda ripped off!
          And a whole generation of girls fell in love with those versions of Qui-gon and Obi-wan, let me tell you.

          • Loriot says:

            I saw Phantom Menace as a kid and loved it. I was shocked when I found out it was poorly received.

          • Nick says:

            I’ve always loved podracing.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            Oh I loved Phantom Menace as a kid; it’s only thanks to RedLetterMedia’s Mr. Plinkett that I now understand why it’s a flaming pile of hot garbage.

          • Deiseach says:

            And a whole generation of girls fell in love with those versions of Qui-gon and Obi-wan, let me tell you.

            Oh my gosh. Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn? Oh, yes! (Even in a poncho) 😀

            Jar-Jar Binks annoyed the hell out of me, the story was none too coherent, this version of Anakin was a whiny little brat who only grew up to be an even whinier big brat (and if they’d dropped him down a hole in the desert canyons an awful lot of problems would simply never have arisen later), the crowbarring in of references to a budding ‘romance’ between Anakin and should-really-be-lusting-after-Obi-at-her-age Amidala was creepy, Darth Maul was wasted after all that build-up, but where Qui-Gon dies in Obi-Wan’s arms? That was worth it all!

          • JayT says:

            I still enjoy Phantom Menace quite a bit. I’d take it over any of the new trilogy. They actually went to interesting places and met interesting aliens. THe new ones were just so visually boring to me. I don’t even mind Jar Jar. The biggest issues it had were that Lucas really needed a script doctor to fix his dialog, and they needed to pick a better kid to play Anakin. Preferably someone closer to Natalie Portman’s age.

          • Nick says:

            I still enjoy Phantom Menace quite a bit. I’d take it over any of the new trilogy. They actually went to interesting places and met interesting aliens. THe new ones were just so visually boring to me. I don’t even mind Jar Jar. The biggest issues it had were that Lucas really needed a script doctor to fix his dialog, and they needed to pick a better kid to play Anakin. Preferably someone closer to Natalie Portman’s age.

            For as much as the prequel trilogy gets trashed, it was the basis for a huge amount of Star Wars content in the 21st century, much of it successful. I think we take some of this stuff for granted. Podracing, the Jedi order, Coruscant and many other worlds, the better Clone Wars material….

            What has the new trilogy given us? Copypasted First Order weapons, lazy fascist speeches, and comic relief generals? Illogical bombers? I know better writers will come along and make something out of this, but I just don’t see what we’ve got as a good basis for new material.

          • acymetric says:

            For as much as the prequel trilogy gets trashed, it was the basis for a huge amount of Star Wars content in the 21st century, much of it successful. I think we take some of this stuff for granted. Podracing, the Jedi order, Coruscant and many other worlds, the better Clone Wars material….

            Of those, only Podracing was actually introduced by the prequel trilogy, the rest had already existed in the EU for years (probably close to a decade).

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’ve made this point before that I see Star Wars as a sandbox. There’s a bunch of fun toys you can play with in the sandbox, and the toys themselves are more important than the specific stories you tell with the toys.

            So while the stories of the prequels were lame, the settings and characters were not. Naboo is a cool looking place. Droids and clones are cool. The long-necked cloner aliens on the water world Kamino were cool. The bug aliens were cool. The crazy tanks and walkers and weapons were cool.

            I like playing Star Wars Battlefront II, and the Clone Wars era maps are fun. Being droids shooting clones or vice versa is fun. But as Nick says, the ST didn’t add anything new. It’s just budget Empire and budget Rebels with some different coats of paint. The stories are just as bad and nonsensical as the prequels, but where the prequels added fun toys to the sandbox, the sequels just pooped in it.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t even thing the stories in the prequels were bad, I just think the scripts were bad. It’s like the opposite of the Disney trilogy that had a garbage story but had a fine script. Personally, if I have to choose, I’d rather have an new and interesting story even if it has some corny dialog. The rehashed and disjointed storyline (such as it was) in the new trilogy was maddening to me.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t even thing the stories in the prequels were bad, I just think the scripts were bad.

            The prequels were ambitions in a way neither of the other two trilogies were and there is a rough skeleton that could be really good but basically none of it came out well beyond the effects.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The film was ok. Not great, but watchable. Making Rey descended from Palpatine was an interesting choice. The redemption of Kylo Ren worked well dramatically, echoing the redemption of Darth Vader in the original trilogy.

      I will never for the life of me understand this view point. Making Rey descended from Pal had no connection with anything that happened prior to this in 8 movies, its just tacked on which is not interesting to me.

      Redeeming Kylo… I just can’t even. He freaking killed his father (a beloved character) in cold blood, and ordered the deaths of untold thousands/millions/billions who even cares anymore. The only way Kylo was redeemed is if you didn’t really care about his previous actions at all.

      • Matt M says:

        Making Rey descended from Pal had no connection with anything that happened prior to this in 8 movies

        The prior 8 movies had pretty firmly established that mega force powers are largely hereditary, so “how does Rey have these mega force powers” was a plot hole they had to close.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Sure, but that doesn’t make a connection. She could have been any historical Jedi/Sith child. She could have been Mace Windu’s great granddaughter, she could have been Luke and Leai’s incestral lovechild, she could have been anyone’s kid. With no set up any choice is possible to squeeze in there which makes no choice actually interesting in the final act of a trilogy.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The only one that might have been somewhat interesting would be if she were Obi-Wan’s granddaughter. The Jedi order is broken, he’s disillusioned, it gets lonely out there in the desert, he befriends some comely sandpeople lass…

          • achenx says:

            Power converters aren’t the only thing you can pick up at Toshi Station.

          • Jake R says:

            I thought the one really great moment in TLJ was the “They were nobody” bit about Rey’s parents. It doesn’t make sense for all force powers to be hereditary and I thought it was a good subversion of all the fan hype about her parents. Plus the whole “They were nobody but you can be somebody” was just top notch dark side seduction.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I thought the one really great moment in TLJ was the “They were nobody” bit about Rey’s parents. It doesn’t make sense for all force powers to be hereditary and I thought it was a good subversion of all the fan hype about her parents. Plus the whole “They were nobody but you can be somebody” was just top notch dark side seduction.

            This doesn’t work for me at all because Rey clearly is born with these powers and can handle them easily, at best the message is ‘you are either born great or you aren’t’ which kills the ‘it doesn’t matter who your parents are’ half.

            The Subversion trope is just a bad fit for a 9 movie series that spent 7 movies building up how the force works. You do that in a Bond movie where the subversion is shocking but the continuity isn’t a major part of the series and it doesn’t reflect on how the rest of the series was written. To do it in movie 8 is just a big FU to the fans of the series who are fans of what they have seen, to say ‘hey you are dumb because you believed stuff we told you was true’ is both lazy writing worth only shock value and insulting to the previous writers. Considering the writer here only had the platform due to the success of the previous writers and the love of the original fans its pure ego to toss something like that out there without extensive build up.

          • Matt M says:

            This doesn’t work for me at all because Rey clearly is born with these powers and can handle them easily

            Yeah, to me this is the problem.

            Could they have structured a new trilogy whose hero was descended from nobody of particular consequence? Yes, absolutely. (As Conrad points out, that’s Anakin’s story).

            But once they decided to give Rey able to hold her own vs Kylo Ren despite zero training whatsoever levels of power, that becomes unsustainable. Anakin had training. Luke had training. Kylo had training. There’s no precedent whatsoever for someone having such strong force powers that even with no training at all they can stand up against the galaxy’s most powerful Jedi.

            Once they decided to give her that much power that quickly and effortlessly, they had to come up with an excuse as to how that was plausible, and “descended from a mega-powerful force user” is pretty much all that was left at that point.

          • Jake R says:

            The only impressive feat we see from Rey in the first movie is her beating Kylo. That never bothered me because Kylo was clearly not at 100% or even 10% in that fight. He had just been shot in the ribs with a bowcaster. He’d also just murdered his father which clearly had an emotional impact on him, so I have no problem believing he’s not all that one with the force at the moment.

            If you’re going to have Rey win the fight, which I agree was a mistake, you need to make this a lot more clear to the audience. But given the outcome we got I think “Kylo was shit” is a better explanation than “Rey is overpowered.”

          • Matt M says:

            She also uses the force to not only withstand Kylo’s force-interrogation technique on her, but to actually turn it around and successfully start to use it against him.

            It was actually that scene even more than the lightsaber battle that caused me to go “Well this is just ridiculous…” in terms of how much power they were giving her with no training or justification whatsoever.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I viewed that like a Vulcan mind-meld, where you open someone else’s mind but also your own, leaving you vulnerable if the normal rando you were expecting to interrogate (with minimal defenses needed on your own side) was actually one of the most force-sensitive people in the galaxy.

          • John Schilling says:

            My suspension of disbelief on that front was broken beyond repair when Rey mind-tricked the Stormtroopers into releasing her. Mind-tricking was pretty clearly not a technique that could be used by the uninitiated in any of the earlier movies; Luke doesn’t even attempt it until he has completed his training with Yoda. I’ve seen people fanwank that as she somehow picked up on the trick from her Jedi Mind Meld with Kylo, but if you can learn that sort of force manipulation from a quick mind meld, the training process would involve a lot more mind-melding and not nearly so much floaty robots shooting you in the ass. Also, if you are going to pull that trigger, you owe it to the audience to show the gun on the mantle beforehand.

          • Randy M says:

            Somewhere in the EU or fan fiction there needs to be a scene where young Jedi are trained mind to mind like Neo was in the Matrix.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The only impressive feat we see from Rey in the first movie is her beating Kylo. That never bothered me because Kylo was clearly not at 100% or even 10% in that fight. He had just been shot in the ribs with a bowcaster. He’d also just murdered his father which clearly had an emotional impact on him, so I have no problem believing he’s not all that one with the force at the moment.

            Only holds up on its own.* In the original trilogy there is a huge gap between the main players. When Luke unleashes his anger he crushes Vader in no time flat, then the Emperor crushes him in no time flat. In Empire Vader is a mile above Luke in their fight after Luke has trained with both Obi and Yoda. The only close fight is Vader vs Obi in ANH where they are presented as close to equal.

            If we toss in the prequels (which are a mess) we have it pretty explicitly shown that physical impairment won’t prevent a Jedi like Yoda from doing the craziest flippy attacks and lightning etc, Darth Maul can handle a Jedi master plus his high level apprentice (who a few years later defeats a young Vader 1 on 1), and those two guys just wiped the floor with a bunch of battle droids. Everything in the series basically sets up a hierarchy of where high level users dominate lower level users and lower level users dominate average military grunts (be they clones/droids whatever) with not a hint that you could even the balance up between a high level user and an untrained user with a physical or emotional injury.

            The only way to make the narrative work for Rey/Kylo is to admit that Kylo is a really weak Jedi/Sith which takes a huge bite out of the narrative and the framing of the movies. Either Rey is OP or Ren is a pansy in terms of force users,

            *Doesn’t even really hold up on its own, Rey gets the light-saber with force pull while Ren is using it. So she can do force pull after getting knocked unconscious and outdo an injured Kylo at it as they fight over the same object. Its a fundamental writing issue, you can’t introduce your villain as this super bad ass and then have him lose to low level players. Vader doesn’t fight Luke until the end of the 2nd movie, and beats him easily, the Emperor doesn’t even fight anyone until after Luke beats Vader late in movie 3. If you want your villain to be menacing you either have them kick everyone’s ass through the movie until their final fight with the protagonist (like van damn movies did) or you have their subordinate kick ass which implies he is stronger and a real ass kicker.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          The prior 8 movies had pretty firmly established that mega force powers are largely hereditary

          Do they? Vader has no father and his mother doesn’t have force powers. We don’t know anything about Palpatine’s family, and the Jedi order is (allegedly) celibate. The one and only Force Family we’ve seen in the first 8 movies is the Skywalkers. And up until her Mary Poppins act, Leia did not exactly demonstrate “mega force powers.” Neither did Luke, for that matter. He seemed like a pretty average Jedi.

          • baconbits9 says:

            They establish that the force definitely runs in families. Vader to Luke and Leia and Leia to Kylo, and we told that Vader was created by a Sith Lord manipulating the force (dumb plot line, but whatever). The origin of 4 major characters is established to be important.

            He seemed like a pretty average Jedi.

            Except for the lines like ‘you can destroy the emperor, he has forseen it’

          • John Schilling says:

            Do they? Vader has no father and his mother doesn’t have force powers.

            I believe that, traditionally, having no father at all is generally considered the Most Awesome Parentage and does come with a pretty serious superpower package.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            They establish that the force definitely runs in families.

            Yes, that one weird family the story is focused on. Unless the Jedi are lying about their vows of celibacy, then literally every other Jedi we see in the movies has their powers because of something other than genetics.

            Except for the lines like ‘you can destroy the emperor, he has forseen it’

            Right, right, I forgot about the scene at the end of RoTJ when Luke uses his Super Mega Jedi Powers to defeat Palp…oh, wait, wait, he gets his ass beat and his dad throws the emperor down a pit nvm.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I believe that, traditionally, having no father at all is generally considered the Most Awesome Parentage and does come with a pretty serious superpower package.

            You think being able to ice skate and 3 day long naps are superpowers?

          • baconbits9 says:

            Yes, that one weird family the story is focused on. Unless the Jedi are lying about their vows of celibacy, then literally every other Jedi we see in the movies has their powers because of something other than genetics.

            Only if you make the assumption that everyone who is force sensitive becomes a Jedi.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes, that one weird family the story is focused on.

            Which, for the casual viewer, is all that matters.

            I know that Star Wars Geeks realize and understand that canonically force powers aren’t necessarily hereditary and that everything you say is technically accurate.

            It also doesn’t matter, because 90% of the audience aren’t Star Wars geeks. To them, the way that the force works for Vader, Luke, Leia, and Kylo is how the force works. Everybody outside of that circle is of minor interest at best.

          • albatross11 says:

            Retcon: The Jedi’s actual mission was to selectively breed force sensitivity out of biological life. The Sith were part of the same project, but they split off on whether they should do that by recruiting force-sensitives as children and selling them on a vow of celebacy, or just going around killing anyone too weak to make a good apprentice Sith to help you overthrow your master. This also explains why Yoda was so powerful, right? He was from 800 years earlier in the breed-force-sensitivity-away project. All living Jedi and Sith have forgotten all this, but by following their paths and teachings, they continue the mission. (This was all set in motion by the same folks who designed the droids to be friendly helpful servants who would never decide to turn all their masters into paperclips or factory-farmed chickens.)

        • viVI_IViv says:

          The prior 8 movies had pretty firmly established that mega force powers are largely hereditary

          Not really. Luke and Leia got Force powers from Anakin, and there is no indication that they are stronger than the Force powers of the Jedi and Sith of the past. Other than the Skywalkers, there is no other known family of Force sensitives in the movies. In fact, most Jedi (supposedly) don’t have children, yet powerful Jedi such as Yoda, Mace Windu and Obi Wan were born. Palpatine himself, as far as we know, was not from a Sith family (in the novels, his master Darth Plagueis was an alien).

          The plot hole of Rey being so powerful should have been resolved IMHO as she having had received prior training as a Jedi or as a Sith, and having being forgotten it somehow, which would have been consistent with she having fractured memories as shown in the flashbacks in TFA. I know, that’s the plot of Xavtugf bs gur Byq Erchoyvp, which is still much better than anything these Disney hacks wrote.

          Given the third movie, I think that JJ Abrams actually just wanted to go down Rey being Luke’s daughter (Rey Skywalker indeed) but Ryan Johnson pissed in his soup by making her clearly not Luke’s daughter and also killing off the big bad, so JJ went with the rather ridicolus solution of bringing Palpy back, and while he was at it, make Rey his granddaughter, but still make her take the Skywalker name at the end (because he had that scene in mind from the beginning).

          • Matt M says:

            Other than the Skywalkers, there is no other known family of Force sensitives in the movies. In fact, most Jedi (supposedly) don’t have children, yet powerful Jedi such as Yoda, Mace Windu and Obi Wan were born. Palpatine himself, as far as we know, was not from a Sith family (in the novels, his master Darth Plagueis was an alien).

            I think “other than the Skywalkers” is a much bigger caveat than you realize.

            As I said, the vast majority of Star Wars viewers aren’t hardcore fans who are familiar with… well, any EU properties at all. They don’t know anything one way or another about the parentage of Obi Wan, Yoda, or Mace Windu, because it’s never addressed in the movies proper. There are a few quick lines in the prequels about Jedi relationship rules (“attachment is forbidden,” which doesn’t preclude procreation specifically) but that’s basically it.

            And the OT, which is what most people are most familiar with, explicitly refers to Luke and Leia as the galaxy’s “last hope.” Those are words coming from Obi-Wan and Yoda. It’s those two who are assumed to be the only ones powerful enough to defeat Vader/Palpatine.

            Now perhaps those of us familiar enough with the EU lore can infer that what they really meant was that it would be way too cost-prohibitive and time-consuming to travel the galaxy with their midichlorian detectors to find the latest random mutation that produced a powerful force-user, such that realistically, they had to rely on the ones they knew, which were Luke and Leia. But that’s not what they said.

            The casual audience absolutely needed Rey to have a genetic link for the story to have any credibility whatsoever.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            There are a few quick lines in the prequels about Jedi relationship rules (“attachment is forbidden,” which doesn’t preclude procreation specifically) but that’s basically it.

            I thought that the prequels were fairly clear that Anakin fooling around with Padme was supposedly irregular (although Obi Wan and presumably Yoda knew who was the father of Padme’s child(ren), but this plays into the implicit theme of the Jedi not living up to their own standards).

            Still, the movies show us aristocratic houses, but no Jedi houses or Sith houses are ever mentioned. One could speculate that perhaps most Jedi were actually illegitimate children of Jedi, but this is never explicitely hinted, so it’s not clearly established that the Force must be necessarily hereditary (in ANH Obi Wan even offers to train Han, but he may well have been bullshitting).

          • baconbits9 says:

            Not really. Luke and Leia got Force powers from Anakin, and there is no indication that they are stronger than the Force powers of the Jedi and Sith of the past

            Luke is taken seriously as a threat by Vader and the Emperor, and Vader says Luke can ‘destroy’ the Emperor, meanwhile after they destroy the Jedi order leaving only Obi and Yoda they give no indication that they are hunting down force sensitive people which implies that untrained force sensitive people are no threat or they don’t expect any to be born after wiping out the Jedi. Neither jibes with Rey’s abilities.

          • Matt M says:

            I thought that the prequels were fairly clear that Anakin fooling around with Padme was supposedly irregular (although Obi Wan and presumably Yoda knew who was the father of Padme’s child(ren), but this plays into the implicit theme of the Jedi not living up to their own standards).

            My read of the whole “attachment is forbidden” thing is that Obi-Wan is telling Anakin that Jedi are forbidden from emotional engagement with other people, for reasons that later become pretty obvious!

            Edit: Just realized I mis-remembered this scene. “Attachment is forbidden” is actually Anakin explaining jedi rules to Padme. It’s possible he’s delivering an interpretation that is somewhat favorable to his own desires (to bone her and get away with it), but overall, the jedi seem very concerned with ensuring their members are unemotional, rational, and unable to be exploited/turned by the dark side and less concerned with “nobody is allowed to have sex because that’s icky.”

            It’s Anakin’s emotional attachment with Padme that causes all of the ensuing problems. Presumably if he was just a Chad who hit it and quit it, the Jedi wouldn’t really care, nor would the Emperor have anything to tempt him to the dark side with.

            Note that this interpretation also fits in nicely with the initial objections that Anakin was “too old” to be trained. My understanding is that one of the main reasons Jedi are generally taken in by the order so young is less that they need to be trained right away (clearly proven wrong by Anakin, Luke, and Rey) and more that they need to be removed from their familial environment before they become emotionally attached to their parents. One of the first early warning signs of Anakin’s fall is when he returns to Tatooine and massacres all the sand people for killing his mother. That whole situation has nothing to do with sex, romance, or procreation, but is pretty clearly treated as a sign of his coming fall to the dark side.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Luke is taken seriously as a threat by Vader and the Emperor, and Vader says Luke can ‘destroy’ the Emperor,

            Isn’t this one of those messed up prophecies? Where he says he has the “power” to, but the only “power” the emperor understands is strength, but it’s really the power of family love?

            meanwhile after they destroy the Jedi order leaving only Obi and Yoda they give no indication that they are hunting down force sensitive people which implies that untrained force sensitive people are no threat or they don’t expect any to be born after wiping out the Jedi.

            They don’t show it in the movies, but there are lots of plot lines about this in the EU and the video games and what not.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Isn’t this one of those messed up prophecies? Where he says he has the “power” to, but the only “power” the emperor understands is strength, but it’s really the power of family love?

            Luke still is either holding his own against Vader or beating him in RoTJ while holding back, and then crushes him when he unleashes his anger, plus he is able to sense and understand his father’s conflict which Vader denies even exists. Its pretty clear that Luke is a powerful Jedi at the end of RoTJ, even if that prophecy was about the power of love and family.

        • bullseye says:

          Non-geek Star Wars fans know about Obi-Wan, Yoda, and the Emperor, and they aren’t related to anybody (except for the Emperor in the final movie). If you’ve seen the prequels there a several more Force-users who aren’t related to anybody. And in the final movie you have Finn. I don’t think non-geeks would have questioned it if Rey had turned out to not be related to anyone we’ve heard of before.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There is a difference between ‘their lineage isn’t brought up’ and ‘they have no lineage’.

          • Matt M says:

            Right. If you exclude EU and focus on what we know to be true from the films alone, there isn’t a single person who is known to be descended from non-force users other than Anakin (who is immaculate conception force Jesus). Among all the Jedi we’re aware of, there are two groups and two groups only, the hereditary Skywalkers (who are the most powerful across all eras), and “parentage never addressed.”

            For someone unfamiliar with the EU, there’s no particular reason to assume “parentage never addressed” means “descended from non-users”, particularly when our only other frame of reference is the highly-hereditary Skywalker clan.

            Edit: And oh guess what – now that “Rey is descended from Palpatine” is canon, that will make the case even stronger next time around. We have yet another example of “strongest Jedi is descended from previously strong force user” and still none except Anakin who are explicitly known to be spontaneous mutations.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I just want to know who Rey’s grandma is, because she was doing it with Palps after he got the monster face.

      • Loriot says:

        I thought Ep 7 was pretty clearly setting Kylo up for a redemption arc. I was actually surprised when ep8 had him take over from Snook.

      • Deiseach says:

        Making Rey descended from Palpatine was an interesting choice.

        Well, I can honestly say I didn’t see that one coming. I haven’t watched any of the new new movies, but from the outraged commentary I was reading online, the problem seems to be:

        (1) Set Rey up with mysteriously absent parents who never came back from her. Who is she? Who were they? Are they alive or dead? How come she has all these powers? Cue much fan speculation about “is she a Skywalker?”

        (2) Next movie, different director, whole new ball of wax plotwise because each director is trying to make this particular Star Wars movie all about him – sorry folks, toss all your speculation out the window, there ain’t no mystery here! Rey’s parents were space junkies who sold their kid into slavery so they could buy their next fix, then crashed their ship while DUI!

        (3) Much outrage from fans, so this looks like a quickie fix-it: did we say her parents were no-good trash? Ah-ha-ha-ha, only joking! No, she’s really descended from – Emperor Palpatine! That’s why she has such super Force powers! And see the balance between ‘descendant of the good guys goes bad – Ren’ and ‘descendant of the bad guy is good – Rey’ *wipes away nervous sweat*

        • Loriot says:

          That’s my impression, minus it being a response to fan outrage. While watching the last movie, I was struck by how it seemed like the worlds most hilariously pretty billion dollar passive aggressive war between the two directors.

          They had very different ideas about what would make a good movie, and didn’t let any concerns about continuity or tonal consistency get in the way. Ep 9 is practically saying “ignore everything in ep8, let’s just do 7 again”.

        • Matt M says:

          (3) Much outrage from fans, so this looks like a quickie fix-it: did we say her parents were no-good trash? Ah-ha-ha-ha, only joking!

          Honestly, I think this is a bit unfair.

          Her parents being nobodies was just a thing that Kylo said. At a time where he was still considered a primary villain. And we have no particular reason to believe he would even know.

          It’s the movie equivalent of GlaDOS shouting at you that you’re adopted and even your parents don’t like you while you’re trying to destroy her. It should be interpreted as a villainous taunt, not as God’s revealed truth…

          • baconbits9 says:

            Meh, movies use this type of setup all the time to convey information that they want the audience to believe. Saying ‘you were dumb for believing this thing we told you’ isn’t a good look, if you want it to be an evil taunt you need to set up Kylo as a sly villain whose words aren’t always trustworthy and they didn’t do that.

          • Matt M says:

            Why would Kylo’s words be trustworthy? He’s a villain and he’s also a punk kid with emo daddy issues. There’s really no reason to treat his words as credible in that specific context.

            And I’m not just saying this in hindsight. I came out of TLJ saying to my friends “I’ll bet in the next movie they reveal Kylo was lying and she really is descended from someone important” and they all basically agreed that was a very distinct possibility.

            If executed better, this could have been a decent send-up twist on the end of ESB, actually (when Vader says he’s Luke’s father, and Luke believes him, and it’s actually true). Kylo could have been “Vader but what he lacks in brute strength he makes up for in being sly” and delivered an emotional a-bomb to the protagonist at a key moment that this time, wasn’t actually true.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also Vader told Luke to search his feelings and he would find that what he said was true. What Kylo said was in conflict with that Rey felt about her parents, that they loved her and would come back for her.

          • Jake R says:

            @Conrad
            Kylo didn’t say it at all. What he said was “You’ve known the truth all along, say it” and Rey says “they were nobody.” It’s clear she hoped her parents loved her and would come back for her but she didn’t really believe it. The question then becomes whether he was playing on her insecurity for personal gain or forcing her to face a harsh reality so she could grow as a person.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Oh yeah, you’re right.

          • acymetric says:

            @Matt M

            And I’m not just saying this in hindsight. I came out of TLJ saying to my friends “I’ll bet in the next movie they reveal Kylo was lying and she really is descended from someone important” and they all basically agreed that was a very distinct possibility.

            I had the exact same reaction when it happened in the theater…I never really seriously entertained the idea that it was true. Seemed like an obvious setup for her parents to turn out to be somebody after all (like we originally thought).

          • Nick says:

            I quite liked the idea that Rey’s parents were unimportant, but the way it was ‘revealed’ made it clear it could be false. I’m disappointed it turned out to be. One of the very few good ideas in TLJ, and they left an out. Like, how about you leave an out for “Luke was pathetic for forty years” instead, Rian?

    • J Mann says:

      The best part of the secret fleet is that they’re parked in such a way that they can’t get them off the planet in the time it takes Lando to crowdsource an entire rebel fleet. I spent the last act just smiling as I imagined all the captains trying to do three point turns out of super tight parking spaces and backing into each other.

      (Well that and imagining the bad guys just moving the broadcast point back and forth between the ground and that one ship and watching Finn turn back and forth like a dog chasing its tail.)

      • viVI_IViv says:

        The best part of the secret fleet is that they’re parked in such a way that they can’t get them off the planet in the time it takes Lando to crowdsource an entire rebel fleet.

        Apparently just one ship manages to get off and blow up the planet of Poe’s faceless ex, before the battle even begins, but somehow the event is never mentioned again, and Poe’s ex shows up at the final celebration despite she had previously given to Poe the MacGuffin that was apparently the only way to leave the planet.

    • Deiseach says:

      And maybe rethink this idea of a secret fleet of thousands of ships.

      They did it with rebooted Trek too, which made me huff and puff about it: so the Evil Admiral is building his yuge super-duper dreadnought starkiller big ship in orbit around Jupiter – and nobody is supposed to notice this???? Not the usual traffic within the Solar System, not ships dropping out of warp when coming in from outside, not even astronomers (professional or amateur) on Earth itself looking outwards?

      This is especially bad when they already established that Starfleet builds all its snazzy new state-of-the-art starships on the ground. On Earth. And then launch them from here. So it’s not even like he can pass it off as ordinary Starfleet shipbuilding, no, this will be extra really suspicious sticking out like a sore thumb ‘hmmm what’s all this activity around Jupiter and what the heck is that massive thing there in drydock?’ arousing of interest from everyone and his dog that has to travel to and from Earth via spaceship.

      The way Scotty did when he did his genius sleuthing to find out where the Evil Admiral was building his giant secret killer project – just tootle out and around until he found the “oh yeah, here are all the workers and ships and giant big starship just hanging out in orbit around Jupiter”.

      It’s really aggravating because you know the writers/devisers of this nonsense are only going for big plot ‘revelations’ where the audience is supposed to gasp in shock and awe when Big Giant Starkiller Ship suddenly heaves into view on the screen and the cast are all “what’s that? where did it come from? how did he do it?”, but it’s still really dumb.

      Yes, I’m still mad at J.J. Abrams and his band of raccoons. I know he’s a Star Wars fan and I’m betting he never got over seeing the famous opening shot of the very first movie where the giant Imperial ship comes into view – and continues, and continues, and continues… He wanted his giant big amazing surprise starship too and inflicted it on Trek.

      • albatross11 says:

        It’s possible he’s both a fan and just not all that bright.

        • Matt M says:

          Or that when he calls himself a “fan” he means “saw the movies a couple times and generally enjoyed them” and not “saw the movies 20 times, read the novels, played the video games, dressed up as obscure characters to attend cons, and spends a lot of time on the internet debating the merits of obscure fan-theories”

          “fan” is a very generic term that covers a very wide range of potential territory…

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Overall, I think I’m done with Star Wars.

      You should be done with the movies, they’re all crap since halfway through RoTJ.

      But Mandalorian is good, and there are a lot of truly excellent Star Wars video games.

      Honestly, the movies are the worst part of Star Wars.

      • johan_larson says:

        The Mandalorian isn’t bad, but for my tastes it’s not quite good either. It’s too clean. Bad stuff happens, but it’s all off screen. On screen, the bad guys just drop bloodlessly. It’s a PG take on a situation that really need an R rating.

        I understand it’s on Disney+ so there’s only so much the film makers can do. But I think the series would improve if the Storm Troopers were actually formidable. Make one a real threat, even for the hero. Make five something you don’t mess with unless you’ve carefully set up an ambush. It think that would work.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I think the series would improve if the Storm Troopers were actually formidable. Make one a real threat, even for the hero. Make five something you don’t mess with unless you’ve carefully set up an ambush. It think that would work.

          In Rogue One, the pessimistic droid has a line like “There are 900 Stormtroopers between us and the exit. We are certain to die.”
          Rifftrax (the Sci-Fi Channel era cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000) did this movie, and react to that line with “He didn’t explain how they could possibly die!”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            When we were watching Mandalorian, there’s the scene where the two scout troopers who chased down and killed Kuiil are waiting for their orders and while talking take some target practice, and (chuckle chuckle) miss every shot. My son said “wait, how could they shoot Kuiil if they’re such bad shots?” I beamed with fatherly pride and said “good catch, son. You’re going to be popular on the Internet one day.”

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I guess? But it’s still a fun yarn. And my 7-year-old son loves it. I just showed it to him this past week and he won’t stop talking about it. “The Mandalorian is sooooo strong. He has armor, and other Mandalorians who will fight for him, and baby Yoda that can use the Force. No one can ever beat him.”

          He liked Empire when he first saw it and wanted to watch the first half over and over again. But the sequels? Couldn’t care less. Saw them once and never mentioned them again. He likes playing as Kylo Ren in Battlefront II though.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          I .. dont understand why more tv shows dont do this. Its fewer extras!

          Your gang of misfits need to steal the ..-ship from the docks? Dont have them fight their way through a horde of faceless extras, have them have to carefully plan how to get past the one guard the empire left there. Who is wearing armor which actually works, and boasting both high firepower and excellent marksmanship. The scene where they do social engineering to distract the guard or charge the dock under the cover of a bulldozer or moving container would be a lot more interesting.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m getting to the point that, even in a movie I really enjoy, my eyes glaze over when the hero is fighting his way through a bunch of mooks to get somewhere.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Burn Notice was a great show because it did this, but then added a lot of explosions anyway.

          • baconbits9 says:

            My cynical take would be that shootouts etc are the easiest thing to write, Hollywood has been doing them for 80 years+ and you can make them basically any length. You can eat up 5-7 mins of a 20-30 min program really easily with a couple of shootouts.

            Burn Notice was a great show because it did this, but then added a lot of explosions anyway.

            Burn Notice started out as a really promising show with ‘ex-spy living off his wits’ and quickly morphed into ‘ex spy living off never getting shot despite consistently getting in situation where people want to shoot him’.

          • AG says:

            This is why Leverage was the best non-Prestige show of that era. Not a crime procedural, so it wasn’t a corpse cold open every week, and not a spy show, so the solutions were mostly creative and non-violent. And one of the showrunners was the guy behind the Jackie Chan cartoons, so when there were fight scenes, they were gimmick-tastic.

      • bullseye says:

        Honestly, the movies are the worst part of Star Wars.

        I’d say second worst. The novels are the worst, based on the two and a half I’ve read. The comics are the best, followed by the tv shows.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I’ve read zero of the novels but the stereotype I’ve heard about them is that every extra in the movies is given an epic backstory, to the point that every single alien in the Cantina was decompressing with a cold beer after narrowly saving the Galaxy.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Now it becomes clear: the novels must have been written based on notes taken from stories told at the Cantina.

          • bullseye says:

            The ones I read are all from the new canon. I think the stereotype you’ve heard is from the old EU.

            Ahsoka is ok.

            Dark Disciple is a good story poorly told. Its plot was intended to be part of the Clone Wars, and it reads like they actually made those episodes and then someone boring wrote down everything that happened.

            I completely forgot about Tarkin and A New Dawn until just now. So actually I’ve read four and a half. They were more or less ok, I think.

            I’m halfway through Thrawn, and have been for a long time. It’s by the same author as the original EU Thrawn, which was very well received, but Thrawn is a boring Mary Sue who outsmarts everyone and never suffers any meaningful setback.

          • acymetric says:

            I think that only applies to sertain segments of the EU (there were a lot of books). I read 5-10 of them when I was much younger, and I don’t remember any of them focusing (or even mentioning) side characters from the movies. It was all just additional adventures for Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Han & Leia’s kids, and in a couple cases some entirely new cast that had probably been introduced in some other book I hadn’t read yet.

          • bean says:

            That was maybe 2 or 3 books. There were sort of 2 eras of the EU, one in which it was innovative and the quality was highly variable, and one in which they basically churned out moderate-quality retreads of stuff they’d done earlier. Some of the stuff from the first era was legitimately really good (I will fight anyone who says bad things about the Thrawn trilogy) and some was absolute dreck (Crystal Star springs to mind). In the second, they tried something new and it worked OK, but then they started with “all Sith, all the time”.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      They should have cut a good half hour. And maybe rethink this idea of a secret fleet of thousands of ships. Or at a minimum lampshade it.

      No. Lampshading it wouldn’t have been remotely good enough. Star Wars is no longer a setting you can suspend disbelief in.
      The super-weapon cliche implies things about the technology level and industrial capacity of the galaxy. The Death Star was just a mobile frame for a planet-cracking superlaser, and when the Rebel Alliance destroyed it, it took… looks up 4 years to have an incomplete one ready for Return of the Jedi. So a liberal estimate is that, with the resources of the entire galaxy, an Evil Overlord can produce one every 4.5 years.
      With the resources of one industrialized hermit planet, the exact same dude can produce “thousands” (conservatively 2,000) smaller, equally-powerful super-weapons in, I think, 33 years (32 real years between RotJ and the sequels starting, and Ep9 apparently takes place one year after they started).
      It’s telling that the only way Disney has found to keep viewers’s brains engaged since soiling the post-RotJ era’s pants is by reducing its stakes from “WWII” to “Will Lone Wolf be able to protect one baby from one surviving Nazi who wants him for medical experiments?” At that level of narrative, it doesn’t matter what coordinated planets and galaxies can do.

    • Aapje says:

      @Johan_larson

      Overall, I think I’m done with Star Wars.

      Welcome to the dark side.

  33. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Immuno-compromising people wasn’t anything doctors did casually, but they did it for cancer treatments and transplants if it seemed like a sufficiently good idea. What happens (to mortality, to quality of life, to whatever else might be relevant) if lowering people’s immune systems is done a lot less or not at all?

    On the plus side, how likely is it that the coronavirus will lead to a much better understanding of the immune system with practical gains?

    • Matt C says:

      A friend of ours has a son who’s normally on immunosuppressants for his rheumatoid arthritis. She’s taking him off those for the duration, and he hurts a lot more. Autoimmune disorders aren’t much fun right now.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        So, obviously, they should try hydroxychloroquine, but that’s probably not available.

        It appears that the way covid kills is by immune overreaction (cytokine storm), so it’s not obvious that taking off of immunosuppressants is a good idea.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          It appears that the way covid kills is by immune overreaction (cytokine storm), so it’s not obvious that taking off of immunosuppressants is a good idea.

          If I understand correctly the theory is that if your immune system can mount a response sufficiently quick and strong to neutralize Covid-19 while it is still in the nose and throat you’ll only get mild to no common cold symptoms. If the virus makes it to the lungs and only then the immune system starts to take it seriously, then the immune reaction does more damage than the virus itself.

          So strong immune system = good, weakish immune system = bad, completely useless immune system = probably also bad, because Covid-19 (or some passing bacteria or other virus) would kill you anyway if not opposed.

          I’ve heard that there is also a controversy over whether corticosteroid anti-inflammatory drugs help or harm, which is probably related to this.

        • Cheese says:

          Yes, no and sort of.

          As with all clinical medicine, taking one aspect of the pathohysiology and going ‘aha, this is how it works, you should take this drug’ is usually wrong. Like with Hydroxycholoroquinine + Azithro which people are now backing off in hospital because it’s 50/50 whether it helps or makes things worse (i’m in the latter camp at present).

          ARDS in COVID is most likely an immune-mediated pathology (ARDS in general really), but it’s more of a dysregulation of specific responses. The immune system is bloody complex and you have multiple arms doing multiple things at different times, and immunosuppresants generally (especially the more broad spectrum stuff) are indiscriminant or affect different aspects differently.

          Some of the very early speculation and research is suggesting that this particular disease progresses as a result of an dyregulated T-cell response. That is, you’re having the wrong population of cells respond at the wrong time, and this seems to have something to do with IL-6 (strong cytokine, often bad things happen when too much of it – but sometimes also good things!). But then again you could point to cytokine issues or T-cell dysregulation being a cause of just about any immune mediated disease process. A few people think if we can hit severe patients at *just* the right time with an IL-6 inhibitor or a bunch of corticosteroids we might be able to stop progression from the ‘ok lungs’ phenotype to the ‘fucked lungs’ phenotype. They might be wrong. Who knows, we might in 6 months.

          All of that is to say I think you’re right, it’s not clear whether going off immunosuppressants is a good idea. Because usually first instinct, based on what is essentially pathophysiology theorycrafting, is usually wrong. Especially in a chronic condition like RA where you can have extra-articular effects. I would hope that happened in conjunction with a rheumatologist rather than anyone else

  34. noyann says:

    CFD simulation of slipstreams with microdroplets (source)

    What is a safe distance when running, biking and walking during COVID-19 times? It is further than the typical 1–2 meter as prescribed in different countries!
    In a lot of countries walking, biking and jogging are welcome activities in these times of COVID-19. However, it is important to note that you need to avoid each other’s slipstream when doing these activities. This comes out of the result of a study by the KU Leuven (Belgium) and TU Eindhoven (Netherlands).
    [ … ]
    On the basis of these results the scientist advises that for walking the distance of people moving in the same direction in 1 line should be at least 4–5 meter, for running and slow biking it should be 10 meters and for hard biking at least 20 meters. Also, when passing someone it is advised to already be in different lane at a considerable distance e.g. 20 meters for biking.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Don’t tell NJ Governor Murphy, he’ll ban the one activity of mine he hasn’t yet banned (biking)

  35. noyann says:

    cancelled — wrong level

  36. ana53294 says:

    How does mail-in voting work in your country/state?

    In Spain, at least, it’s a pain in the butt and such a big hassle you don’t do it unless you are far enough from your place of registration you can’t go there for the weekend.

    First, you have to fill in a form, and take it to the post office, where there will be a queue during the whole period of mail-in registration. You have to show your ID to the post office worker, and wait for them to register the mail.

    Then, you either are lucky enough to be home one of the two times the postman comes, in which case you show him your ID again and pick it up, or you have to go to the post office again, stand in another queue with hundreds of other people, show your ID, and get the ballot forms.

    The ballot forms for mail-in vote include the envelopes that contain your vote, and a form that shows proof of your identity. You close the envelopes that contain your vote, and give it again to the post office worker, who checks the form with your ID, verifies it again, and then you send your vote.

    Contrast with voting on voting day: the queues don’t tend to be as long, and anyway, one queue is better than three, if you’re working, you get as much as 4 hours of paid leave on voting day (after informing your employer in advance, and you have to obtain a certificate in the polling place).

    I’ve heard some people mail-vote in the US for convenience, but the procedure must be much less cumbersome.

    I’ve got no idea what will be done in Spain for the next elections with coronavirus, but mail-in voting won’t be it. I’d say cancelling mail-in voting would probably reduce contagion.

    • silver_swift says:

      I believe in the Netherlands you can only vote by mail if you are abroad during the election and it’s an enormous pain in the ass, so most people who can’t make it to the voting booth themselves instead register someone to vote for them by proxy.

      • Aapje says:

        It’s not that bad. You need to:
        – Fill in an online form
        – Print it and sign it
        – Scan it and scan your ID
        – Mail or upload both

        Then 12 weeks before an election, the mail voting pass will be sent and 4 week before, the ballot. You fill those in (they send instructions along with the paperwork) and send them back.

        Seems pretty simple.

    • noyann says:

      Germany, from German Wikipedia via Google translate (found errors corrected):

      The postal voting documents are requested by filling in and handing in or sending off the election notification card. In many municipalities, it is also possible to apply for voting cards and postal ballot documents via the Internet on the website of the respective municipality or by scanning a QR code on the election notification using a smartphone [7] . Lists with online links updated before the elections help to find the relevant websites. [8] The issuance of postal ballot documents is linked to the issuance of a polling card . The voting cards issued are noted in the electoral roll. This prevents voters from voting either both by postal vote or and in a polling station , which would contradict the principle of voting rights of the same equal election.
      After going to press, the election documents will be sent to the voters registered on the electoral lists about four weeks before the election. They contain:
      Ballot
      Red envelope with address
      Envelope without address, color depending on the type of choice
      Ballot paper
      manual
      For the postal vote, the ballot paper is filled in, put in the non-red envelope and sealed. Then you fill out the ballot, put it in the red envelope with the previously mentioned envelope and stick itseal it too. The instructions will not be sent.
      [ … ]
      If the voter appears in person at the postal voting office, the ballot can usually be filled in on site in an existing voting booth. The red postal vote envelope is then thrown into a sealed ballot box, which is evaluated on election day together with the votes received by post mail.
      Deutsche Post transports election letters free of charge within the Federal Republic of Germany, a fee is only payable for additional services such as registered mail . The postal voting documents must have been received by the municipality by the time the polling stations close.
      Furthermore, Germans living abroad who live in countries with an unreliable postal system can hand in their completed election documents to the nearest diplomatic mission. This transports envelopes with diplomatic mail to Germany free of charge for voters, [10] where they are also forwarded to the electoral offices by means of an official exchange of documents . The red envelope can also be sent in a neutral envelope. Postage is to be borne by the voters anyway.
      Even after you have applied for and received postal voting documents, you can vote directly in the polling station on election day. For this, the voting form is mandatory. [11]
      If a voter dies before the actual election day, but after he has cast his vote by postal vote, the vote remains valid.
      =======
      This description makes it appear complicated, but it is a very easy and hassle-free procedure.

      • Robin says:

        The German system was criticized as insecure. If you know name, address and birth date of somebody, you can fill out a webform and have his election documents sent anywhere.
        Here’s The Party in Hamburg demonstrating how to manipulate the First Mayor’s vote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28gceMiAihQ

        • noyann says:

          I hope they fixed that in the 5 years since…

          • Robin says:

            I’m wondering about that, too. All the quotations in the fraud vulnerability section of the Wikipedia article are even older.

            Here’s an expert claiming the problem is not solvable. I’m not so sure about that. There can be several possible mitigations.

            On the other hand, they were very slow to fix the problems with the overhang seats and the negative ballot weights, too.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The question is less “Can you do it” and more “Can you do it at a scale that has a good chance to impact election results and isn’t glaringly obvious”.

          Sure you can change the Mayor’s send address. What are the odds the Mayor doesn’t notice this and complain vociferously to the election board? Zero.

    • Loriot says:

      California bends over backwards to make voting as easy as possible. When you register to vote, you can check a box to permanently vote by mail. They’ll mail you a ballot a couple weeks ahead of every election (even the obscure local special elections you probably haven’t heard of). You just fill out the ballot, put it in the envelope, then sign and seal it. You can mail it in, drop it off at various drop boxes (mostly at schools, libraries and the like), or drop it off at any in-person voting location.

      • Rebecca Friedman says:

        That was the old system, yes – as of the last election, everyone appears to be getting the vote-by-mail ballots whether they want them or not, and I at least did not find an opt-out – you can show up and they’ll give you a regular ballot, but if there’s a way to say “don’t send me a vote by mail ballot” I didn’t find it. Granted by the time I found out the ballot was in my mailbox, so I didn’t look very hard this election.

        And I guess I don’t get to next, either.

    • gph says:

      In Maryland we just have to go online and request an absentee ballot, no special reason is required. It comes in the mail, you fill it out then mail it back in. Pretty painless experience. Probably open to some fraud, but I doubt it’s enough to swing the vote in most cases. Our states been gerrymandered so much we all basically already know the results for whatever district we’re in, and the national level stuff (president/senators) pretty much always goes democrat at this point. Perhaps it affects some of the local/county level voting, but hard to tell.

    • Vitor says:

      It’s very simple in Switzerland. Every voter gets a big envelope in the mail. It contains the ballots, an inner envelope, a form you have to sign, and some brochures about the issues being voted on.

      You fill out the ballots, seal them in the inner envelope, sign the form. Put everything back in the big envelope (which is re-sealable). Throw in the mailbox. Done.

      If you vote in person, you use the exact same pieces of paper. you just have to hand the signed form to somebody and throw the ballots in an urn yourself.

      If your ballot somehow gets lost, you need to go in person to get a replacement (IIRC).

      • Loriot says:

        That sounds pretty similar to California, except that we still have traditional in-person voting as well (but the majority now votes by mail).

    • AG says:

      Not voting, but the US Census 2020 is done via mail or online. A letter is mailed to each address with a unique code that you type in to take the online survey (which answers for the entire household).

      This is how the social network site Nextdoor also works. You sign up with your address, they mail you a postcard with the confirmation code. Setting up some forms of tax e-payments also works this way, where the government mails you your PIN.

    • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

      In Oregon all voting is done by mail. You receive a ballot & handy voter’s guide (which contains the text of ballot measures, statements from groups/individuals in support or opposition, & statements from the candidates). They come well before the deadline for returning your ballot (2 weeks or more). You fill out your ballot & either mail it back or put it in a drop box. I love it.

    • Dack says:

      or you have to go to the post office again, stand in another queue with hundreds of other people,

      The idea of a line of hundreds of people at a post office is mind-boggling.

      • ana53294 says:

        Happens every year at election mail-in dates. The Spanish Post is the only one authorised for mail-in votes, and the period between the ballots arriving and the vote can be two weeks, or less, if there are bank holidays in between.

        Especially in university towns, there are many students mailing in the vote to their home areas, where they are registered to vote. It makes great sense if you have regional parties. I wouldn’t know which party outside the Basque Country I would vote for.

  37. silver_swift says:

    There was a brief discussion in the precipice book review thread about the catholic church’s position on birth control. EchoChaos pointed out (I think correctly) that a comment from Benf I would broadly have agreed with was being uncharitable. So, I’m trying to steelman the church’s argument, but I’m having a hell of hard time with it.

    This seems to boil down to four arguments:

    1. Procreating is good, having unprotected sex results in more births, therefor you shouldn’t use contraceptives. I think this is the standard argument people think the church uses to back up their no contraceptives position, but it’s kind of undermined by the fact that the church does allow abstinence as a contraceptive (“..when there is a reason not to procreate, this choice is permissible and may even be necessary..”) and it can’t really back up that procreating is good in and of itself without relying on divine authority or sketchy non-existant-people-have-rights-too types of ethics.

    2. Contraception is unnatural. I have a really hard time taking appeal to nature fallacies serious to begin with and phrasing it like “[Contraception] harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.” is not helping.

    3. Contraception makes it more likely for people to want to have sex with each other, which results in men treating women like sex objects. [Citation needed]

    4. Contraception makes it easier for people to have sex whenever they feel like and this makes it easier to cheat on your partner. I guess this is a reasonable utilitarian argument if you believe the utility gained from people having more sex, fewer unplanned pregnancies and more STD’s is less than the utility lost from the grief caused by people cheating on each other, but that’s a really big if.

    So, any SSC catholics that want to set the record straight, what are some decent arguments for banning contraceptives?

    • Deiseach says:

      Yeah, the problem here is the distance between the foundational premises people are using to base their arguments on. If you reject the entire notion of telos then the theological underpinning won’t have any validity for you. And of course if you hold that divine authority is non-binding or even non-existent, then that means the appeals to Scripture won’t work either.

      I’m not going to argue this one for several reasons, one of which is that (thanks, C.S. Lewis for pointing such a distinction out to me) since this is not a problem I personally have to struggle with, due to not being subject to such a temptation (because of asexuality/aromanticism) then I have little to no business telling people what to do as if I’m taking the moral high ground here on personal virtue – it’s no virtue in me to avoid a sin that I am not tempted to commit. Another is that I’ve burned out on arguing over contraception/abortion online. A third is that, as with point number two, I’ve heard and hashed out a lot of the arguments and I’m not going to budge my opinion.

      So all I’ll say is “read the Catechism, if you don’t agree okay” and leave it at that.

    • Clutzy says:

      #1 and #4 seem like compelling reasons on their own, but there is at least one other Catholic reason I am aware of, which could either be 2a (and makes that category very strong) or an independent #5:

      The M-F sexual union is a holy act within the sacrament of marraige with a divine purpose and part of that divine purpose is procreation. Contraception interferes with the divine purpose, as Pope John Paul II said, “Truly, in begetting life the spouses fulfill one of the highest dimensions of their calling: they are God’s co-workers.”

      I am not a theologian or anything close, so hopefully someone can state this aspect of the faith with a bit more eloquence than I, but that is the boiled down version in my words.

    • theredsheep says:

      The pill itself is capable of causing failure to implant, which is not all that distinct from first-trimester abortion. Not Catholic, and I don’t think it’s sufficient to justify banning contraceptive pills, but that’s a thing.

      • Nick says:

        You will sometimes see the morning after pill and the like referred to as “abortifacients” for this reason.

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        What’s the actual risk here? Not Catholic, not anti-contraception, but even from those perspectives I’d see this as a fairly weak argument unless the risk was significant.

        • theredsheep says:

          I’ve never seen a precise odds figure, not that I’ve looked very hard, but I’d imagine it’s a low risk just because the pill is supposed to prevent ovulation in the first place. I consider it near-equivalent to other meds that can cause harm to a fetus/embryo/blastocyst/whatever but are not intended for that purpose. The morning-after pill is obviously a good deal dodgier, and I don’t like dealing with it.

          I’m Orthodox and we’re barred from potential abortifacient contraceptives–we don’t have a definite stance on contraception more broadly, but there are a couple of different camps, and I’m in the “okay for married couples spacing out kids, as long as it’s not abortifacient” camp. Even if I weren’t, I’d still regard the pill as something of a raw deal for women, unless they need it for cramps or something. I shouldn’t be elevating my wife’s stroke risk, putting her through bloating and mood swings and all that, just because I don’t want to put on a rubber. Besides, it’s got a good chance of messing up their libido, and that’s most of the fun.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            Interesting. I didn’t know the Orthodox position on the issue and kind of assumed it was the same as Catholics’.

            My first thought on reading this was that it sounds like the pill would also be useful for unmarried, non-sexually-active women in order to prevent conceptions from occurring… let’s just say against their will. Strangely, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone discuss it in that context.

          • Randy M says:

            My first thought on reading this was that it sounds like the pill would also be useful for unmarried, non-sexually-active women in order to prevent conceptions from occurring … let’s just say against their will.

            I’m not sure if you mean rape or the virgin birth, but both are unlikely enough not to justify the side effects.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I’ve heard of a couple times when nuns in Third World war zones have started using contraception in case of rape, with tacit approval from at least some of the hierarchy.

          • Randy M says:

            Oh, sure, that is one of many, many things that change if you add “in a third world war zone” to the end of it.

    • Zephalinda says:

      The Catholic position makes more sense if you also entertain a couple of key Catholic premises, including:

      –There is a God (in Aquinas’s sense, complexly bound up with existence itself– not like a Greek god, basically just a big person with superpowers)

      –God created the universe: order and logic exist and are seen in the natural world. (* Life, in particular, is very cool/kinda magical and we should respect that.)

      — Human existence is also governed by this universal natural/divine order and logic; people have a purpose.

      — Humans should regulate their behavior according to this purpose (to the best of their ability). (This will on average make humans happier than the alternative, because it means going with the grain instead of against the grain of the logic we were created by. But in Catholicism the principle of right behavior is not reducible to “whatever seems like it’d make people happiest.”)

      I don’t think one gets very far with the opposite approach, assuming Catholics are secret utilitarians and trying to weigh all their arguments in strictly hedonic terms.

      Instead, a decent model for Catholic reasoning about birth control might be elite Western secular reasoning about whole food and eating in general. Both nutrition and sexuality are questions of right/ healthy consumption in poorly-understood but important areas of human life. In both cases, under the discipline of the consumer market, technology has devised ways to split off one isolated element of the whole experience, artificially amplify it, and package it for mass consumption with the promise of reversing the natural rules of cause-and-effect that normally govern that part of human function.

      Other SSC Catholics correct me if I’m off-base, but my understanding is that Catholic teaching on birth control basically says what much of mainstream culture currently says about fat-free potato chips, McDonald’s fries and sugar-free candy: that these things are icky mass-market perversions of pleasures that should more rightly be experienced within a whole organic complex of wider social and bodily experiences.

      The attempted decoupling of the single sensory pleasure from the other things that naturally accompany it tends to break normal mechanisms of balance and control, leading to dysregulated individual and social behavior and general poor health that we can clearly see on a macro scale, even if the individual pathways of causality are subtle. But more importantly, that kind of crude decoupling/amplification is inherently wrong the way a badly worked math problem is wrong: it’s taking a very beautifully logical, complexly balanced part of natural function and twisting it to try to wring out a few more jolts of pleasure.** (If the secular impulse is to say “But nutritional studies prove that too much sugar/sweetener is bad for you, while psychology studies prove that lots of casual sex is really good for you!”, ask yourself what the actual state of the evidentiary base in each field is.)

      In Catholic terms, the fact that sex is also bound up with the sacred/ magical creation of life also greatly ratchets up the importance of maintaining well-ordered sexual behavior, vs. eating. But I’m not as well up on the metaphysics there, so somebody else would have to jump in.

      **Edit: it occurs to me that this is fairly well aligned with the Seeing Like a State critique of high modernism. Birth control is a very high-modernist phenomenon, which is probably why it figures centrally in various recent dystopias.

      • SamChevre says:

        This is excellent.

        • mtl1882 says:

          +1. I am not religious, but the Catholic Church’s doctrines have increasingly made intuitive sense to me, based on this sort of reasoning.

      • Nick says:

        Catholic teaching on birth control basically says what much of mainstream culture currently says about fat-free potato chips, McDonald’s fries and sugar-free candy: that these things are icky mass-market perversions of pleasures that should more rightly be experienced within a whole organic complex of wider social and bodily experiences.

        That organic complex of social and bodily experiences is the hierarchy of goods, in our case human goods, since that is our nature. Goods on lower rungs such as propagation of the species or sustenance are fundamental to higher goods but subordinate to them; since our nature is rational animal, we exist to be rational animals, not simply animals which eat and screw. As rational animals, we can understand what is good and bad for us, and reason about how to get the former and avoid the latter. And we have wills and can choose as much. For this we are morally responsible for our choices concerning these goods.

        And there absolutely is an analogy between contraceptive sex and eating unsustaining food; the basis for this analogy is that both are perverse, in the sense I explained below, and both concern common goods, and pretty fundamental ones at that. Eating zero calorie food is obviously perverse; you’re stimulating your sense of satiety without actually sustaining yourself. Or for a more graphic example, eating because you like the taste of food and then throwing it up.

        P.S. You’re on the right track. You should become Catholic.

        • Vitor says:

          Ok, maybe I misunderstood something, but I’m very confused.

          I had some kimchi yesterday. I ate it specifically because it has ~0 calories, but stimulates my sense of satiety. Basically a healthy snack that prevents me from binge eating unhealthy stuff, in the context of me trying to lose weight.

          Are you actually claiming that according to catholic doctrine, I have thus acted perversely, because I am eating without sustaining myself? If my appetite is too big, am I supposed to just grit my teeth and pray until the hunger goes away? Are catholics even allowed to try losing weight, when this involves deliberately thwarting the “end” of the digestive system? Is losing weight by just refusing to eat also thwarting this “end”? Do any of these answers change during Lent?

          These are genuine questions, by the way, I’m trying to grok the internal logic of this worldview.

          • Nick says:

            I was simplifying, probably too much, since it’s certainly possible to eat something nutritive that has zero calories. Like celery is basically no calories but a good source of vitamin K, apparently. Kimchi is high in fiber.

            If my appetite is too big, am I supposed to just grit my teeth and pray until the hunger goes away?

            No, this is what temperance is for. It was a cardinal virtue for a reason; appetites do need tempering, and they can be distorted as well by all sorts of things, from bad habits (like my terrible addiction to Andes mints in college) to bad environment (like our sugar-rich culture, to pick an uncontroversial example). High calorie foods may be failing to sate you, though, or the variety of foods available may be enticing you to feel more hungry, or something like that. Zero calorie foods are, in general, a symptom of the problem, and no better in themselves.

            I’m not going to say that every last act of eating low-calorie or low-nutrition food is immoral, though, because I’m not sure that’s true. Taking a bite of kimchi is not quite as episodic as the sexual act is and so it’s perfectly fine to e.g. put a garnish on something that adds taste or texture and facilitates your eating an otherwise dull but healthy meal. In this way it is rather like stimulating your partner for the purposes of PIV sex. (Foreplay: not immoral! The things you learn at SSC.)

            Are catholics even allowed to try losing weight, when this involves deliberately thwarting the “end” of the digestive system? Is losing weight by just refusing to eat also thwarting this “end”?

            There is nothing wrong with refraining from food if you know you’ve overeaten; that’s just good sense. (Of course it doesn’t excuse overeating in the first place.) There is nothing in general wrong with dieting, either; indeed, given that the point of it is to eat better, it’s a good thing. But you can diet badly. There is also nothing wrong specifically with refraining from eating to lose excess weight, provided you aren’t risking your health in some more subtle way. “You should eat to sustain yourself” obviously does not imply “You should eat to, uh, not sustain yourself.”

            Do any of these answers change during Lent?

            I was hoping someone would ask this! As I said above, lower goods are subordinated to higher goods. And with our knowledge of God and His teachings, particularly the spiritual goods that may available to us, this takes on some very interesting dimensions. Families, after all, are a good thing, and propagation of the species is super important. But serving God through the religious life is an even greater good than these. Giving things up for Lent is likewise a spiritual good; a more extreme example are the ascetics. You could say, by analogy to cutting off the limb to save the patient, that they are starving the body to save the soul. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it works.

          • Randy M says:

            Foreplay: not immoral! The things you learn at SSC.

            I hadn’t doubted this, but I had failed to make the connection to parsley before now.

          • Vitor says:

            Thanks, that does clear up the picture somewhat for me.

            What bothers me most about this worldview is that the knowledge of what the “proper” purpose of things is just seems to come out of nowhere. To an outsider, it is not at all clear why the purpose of sex should be proceation and the sacred union of man and wife, as opposed to, say, appreciating His creation in all its sensual glory, or relaxing and centering you so that you may be more open and compassionate in other aspects of life. This applies specially if this kind of reasoning is extended to topics not explicitly covered in scripture.

            > High calorie foods may be failing to sate you, though, or the variety of foods available may be enticing you to feel more hungry

            So what exactly would temperance look like when applied to this problem? is it temperance to eat kimchi to control my appetite? is reducing the variety of foods I eat? is it avoiding all social outings where copious food is served? what if I feel I’m doing everything right and am still failing to be sated? For the last one, I’m guessing that “your appetite is fundamentally broken due to random biology factors and you’ll have to fight your own body tooth and nail for the rest of your life to stay healthy” is assumed to be impossible because creation is perfect or something.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            What bothers me most about this worldview is that the knowledge of what the “proper” purpose of things is just seems to come out of nowhere. To an outsider, it is not at all clear why the purpose of sex should be proceation and the sacred union of man and wife, as opposed to, say, appreciating His creation in all its sensual glory, or relaxing and centering you so that you may be more open and compassionate in other aspects of life.

            How can it possibly come out of nowhere that the purpose of sex for humans is the same as for other animals?

          • Vitor says:

            > How can it possibly come out of nowhere that the purpose of sex for humans is the same as for other animals?

            There’s a difference between “if you do x, then y (often) happens”, and “the purpose of x is to achieve y”.

            It’s also possible to have sex way more often than what is needed for procreation.

        • HowardHolmes says:

          Very solid post and quite educational. I might add that anything done for pleasure is a perversion of our nature.

          • Vitor says:

            But isn’t having pleasure part of our nature?

            Many healthy and wholesome things feel pleasant and pleasing, e.g., tidying. In that sense, pleasure is a guide towards what we should do.

            Of course there’s taking it too far, wireheading, etc. Is that what you mean when you say something is done for pleasure?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @vitor

            But isn’t having pleasure part of our nature?

            No. Doing for pleasure is a perversion of our nature. Look at animals. Do they do stuff for pleasure? Not really. They have desires and they fulfill them, but they do so normally with a balance that does not lead to excess. We can stimulate them to “do for pleasure.” For instance, we can feed a pet dog really good tasting, but unheathly stuff. But we can see the difference in results. Natural is eating healthy and only what we need. The body knows what we need because it evolved to eat healthily. When we, instead, allow ourselves to eat for pleasure, unnatural results occur. I have no TV and do not read novels because it is solely for pleasure. My wife makes the best pancakes possible, we have really good butter and real maple syrup. I never eat this because doing so would be only for pleasure. I have unseasoned buckwheat 7 days a week.

          • Vitor says:

            Whatever works for you, I guess, but your factual claims are wrong or at least highly controversial. For example, many animals are known to extensively engage in non-reproductive sexual behaviour, presumably for pleasure. Some primates in the wild also like to get drunk (on fermented fruit), etc etc.

            The idea that “the body knows what we need” is obviously true in a weak sense. We have a bunch of feedback mechanisms that tell us when we need something like food. But it’s wrong to assume that these systems are always perfectly calibrated and never lead us astray. Also, what might have been natural and healthy a couple of hundred years ago might not be anymore today (e.g. gorging during times of food abundance).

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Not sure what the catholic argument is, but I can give you the alt-right one. Or, well, what it would be if they were against contraception.

      Contraception makes it more likely for people to want to have sex with each other, which results in men treating women like sex objects.

      It always makes me chuckle when I read things like this. Men aren’t in control when it comes to sex. I don’t think they ever were, in living memory. Sure, we pretend to be, but we do it so we convince women we’re confident and so they’ll pick us.

      Also I think it’s pretty obvious but I’ll state it just to be sure: my comments aren’t normative. The genie is out of the bottle, and trying to put it back in is a completely different discussion I’m not eager to have. Nor do I want to.

      Contraception allows for a completely different set of gender roles, and the greatest difference is that women (not men) are much more free to express their sexuality. This sounds like a good thing, until you realize that the inevitability of pregnancy is what makes women want to marry. And marry early, and marry with somebody that makes at least a decent husband.

      There are many differences between marriage and hookup, but one of them is that they cluster the haves and have nots. Men predominantly hook up with “easy women” – anything from promiscuous (the word sounds bad, but the behaviour itself is already fully normalized), sex workers, sugar babies and so on. Women predominantly hook up with … hot guys. The definition of “hot” varies quite a lot from woman to woman, but at least it is not the same as “a good man” or “a good husband”. Overlap is mostly incidental, and possibly halo effect.

      I could go on on the two topics usually associated with this: welfare and pushing the childbearing age, but I think it would just move away from the central affair, and I think they’re about certain subcultures and niches anyways. The main effect is the replacement of marriages with serial relationships and hookups, and the clustering it creates.

      ——————–

      I think there’s a fair chance that’s what the catholic church thinks about this issue, but they can’t really go out and say it our loud. Or do they?

      • albatross11 says:

        Radu:

        Maybe a good way to rephrase your argument is this:

        a. It’s good when your society’s rules and customs channel normal human drives toward socially good outcomes.

        b. A world where sex has some reasonable chance of leading to pregnancy creates an incentive for women to prefer sex with “good husband prospect” men rather than “tattooed bad boy” men.

        c. That world then creates an incentive for men to try to be more “good husband prospect” than “tattooed bad boy.”

        So the argument there would be that widespread birth control and abortion lead women to change their behaviors in ways that also change the incentives for men, leading to worse social outcomes as fewer men focus on becoming good husband material (and thus, stable providers for a family and stable members of society).

        Am I capturing your point?

        • Let me offer an economist’s version of your argument.

          One of the main arguments for legalizing abortion and increased access to contraception was that it would reduce the problem of “unwanted children,” meaning children of unmarried mothers. In fact, that change was followed by a sharp increase instead of a decrease. Why?

          The most plausible answer is that most of those children were, and are, not unwanted. They are born to women who wanted children and were not able to acquire a husband they would want to be married to. In a world without safe abortion or reliable contraception, women are reluctant to have intercourse without a guarantee of future support, so most men find that the only way of getting regular sex is marriage, so women who want children can find husbands. In a world with reliable contraception and safe abortion, women who don’t want children and do like sex — or don’t mind sex and do like male attention — provide an alternative for men who would otherwise be willing to marry. Hence in that world, many more women who want children are unable to find adequate husbands.

          That version does not depend on anyone acting irrationally, merely on women being more inclined to want children than men.

          • albatross11 says:

            Nitpick: My version also doesn’t require anyone to act irrationally.

            Otherwise, I think your version makes sense. Men don’t have to offer commitment short-term to get laid, and don’t have to cultivate the properties of being good husband material long-term to get laid, so they don’t.

            I also think this likely goes the other direction–women also cultivate different properties in a world where they’re mainly trying to find a good husband than in one where they’re trying to find a good time today, and maybe eventually they’ll be looking for a good husband.

            I don’t know how much of the pattern we observe is explained by either of these, though. It seems very plausible to me that social norms + natural urges explain most of what has happened–when the norms relaxed, people had more sex and got married less and had more kids out-of-wedlock, and mostly they weren’t thinking about their goals and incentives, just reacting to their urges within the constraints of the social norms they’d absorbed.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          This is waay more normative than I intended. I just note that more contraception leads to less and later marriages, and more fleeting relationships. Also clustering in haves and have nots in the sexual marketplace, especially among men.

          I think it’s important to separate this from judgement values, and also from outcomes that are less certain. Mostly because I feel that without making a pause here, at the line before reasonably certain and speculation, it’s easy to let the mind follow the beaten path and miss things. The beaten path being for example the way you restated the argument.

          If I were to speculate, I’d rather go the way of trying to determine if this new Way is making women more or less happy. I don’t think there will be a uniform answer – for one thing, pretty young women are almost living in paradise. But I think there will be quite a few surprises in this direction.

          I also strongly dislike trying to judge this from the lens of “what’s good for society”. Let’s stick to what’s good for individual people first, and go to society only if we have good reason to prefer it to individuals. What’s the difference? For one thing, I don’t really see incels as unhappy. Those that I know at least are happier than average.

          Edit: Kinda forgot that I was stating the alt-right argument, not “my” argument, and switched between them without realizing. Yeah, the way you put it is probably good for alt-right. This comment is more my view.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            for one thing, pretty young women are almost living in paradise.

            That depends on the pretty young women.

            Many of us* view increased male sexual attention as a negative. Also increased pressure to have sex outside of marriage, which I assure you is there. Also more difficulty finding a husband.

            My impression, based to significant extent on the people I know**, is that low libido/more desire for emotional connection and/or kids as opposed to sex is more prevalent in women than men. Having our pick of hot guys** is not paradise if we don’t want hot guys!

            *Not making any particular claims about my own prettiness, but I have certainly heard complaints from women who are much prettier than I am, and when this dynamic does apply to me that’s how it applies.

            **Not that it’s ever that simple, but I think that’s what you’re implying as the upside?

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Rebecca Friedman
            How typical are you among peers you didn’t chose? aka not your circle of friends, but things like job/school.

            But I wasn’t referring to guys per se. I was tempted to explain further, but it didn’t seem ontopic. First: we’re all pretty much living in paradise. No real threats, great food, shelter, hot water, great entertainment, not very hard work (historically speaking). Add to this being a pretty young woman, and it’s just over the top. You can have a lot of attention if you want it, and absolutely everything is easier: school, job, finding sex, finding a relationship, getting served at a restaurant… If you’re willing to go there, even working for a living is optional.

            Of course, there are all sorts of traps here. Convincing boys to do your projects in school gives you good grades and free time, but doesn’t teach you to do projects. Sugar dating instead of a job doesn’t give you work experience. And so on. But I wouldn’t cry for them: there is a whole lot of middle ground here, and being pretty and just a bit smart allows you to have it both ways.

            Having our pick of hot guys** is not paradise if we don’t want hot guys!

            Don’t want just hot guys. Being pretty helps you get any kind of guy: smart, strong, skillful, rich, sensitive. And hot is by definition always a plus.

            As for guys not being inclined to marry… I guess that depends on location and age. In my circle of friends pretty much every guy is either married or looking (30-40).

            Buy yeah, what David (any relation, btw?) was saying above is very true. With guys having more access to sex, especially those sought after, there’s less willingness to settle.

            —————-

            To be honest, I don’t know what’s the right answer here. I think we just need this kind of questions professionally studied, much more seriously than they are now. How are we happier? Long term relationships? Family and kids? Serial monogamy? Promiscuity? Abstinence?

            I only know of two pieces of research I have reasonable confidence in: children trade some happiness for meaning (at a higher cost when parents are young and poor); and women living a promiscuous party life style tend to suffer from depression that goes away when they stop. But that’s far from enough…

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            Yeah, that’s my dad. And the fact that he and I have related takes is… not coincidental.

            First: we’re all pretty much living in paradise. No real threats, great food, shelter, hot water, great entertainment, not very hard work (historically speaking).

            Completely agreed.

            Add to this being a pretty young woman, and it’s just over the top. You can have a lot of attention if you want it, and absolutely everything is easier: school, job, finding sex, finding a relationship, getting served at a restaurant… If you’re willing to go there, even working for a living is optional.

            I think you may be overestimating the power of being a pretty young woman. As best I can tell, people don’t treat me better realspace than online; if anything a bit worse, and while I don’t think I’m stunningly hot, I’m certainly at least average. Which is not observable online. Maybe everyone is just hoping – I do use female usernames – but…

            I’m pretty sure the bit of being female that makes school easier is not positive discrimination, but whatever combination of socialization/genetics makes girls better at sitting still and paying attention for long periods. Jobs are probably easier to get, but come with more risks – the key bit here is that you seem to be assuming that you only get attention if you want it. I haven’t personally had guys groping me, but I haven’t worked that kind of job (ie, one with lots of realspace interaction with random guys – I work online); friends who have, have.

            Finding sex is definitely easier; my entire argument is that this isn’t entirely (or necessarily) a plus.

            Finding relationships is easier if you’re unusually pretty as a woman, but I think finding relationships as a woman is harder than it used to be, under stricter rules. And I think it’s a lot harder if you are not willing to sleep with your boyfriend before you would seriously consider marrying him.

            Getting served at a restaurant…? Maybe we just go to different restaurants; is this a fancy-restaurant thing? Certainly if my male relatives go out without me and Mom, they don’t mention any slower service, and I’m pretty sure at least my brother would notice. And if we go out with my sister-in-law, who is gorgeous, we don’t get better service.

            One advantage you didn’t mention but I know exists is that, especially if you’re small, you get viewed as non-threatening. I don’t get hassled by cops, I do get hassled by TSA but I don’t get in trouble for giving them dirty looks over it, and I get hassled less, traveling solo, than a tall male friend doing the same. The flip side of this may be people not listening to you, but I haven’t had that problem.

            How typical are you among peers you didn’t chose? aka not your circle of friends, but things like job/school.

            This is a really good point. In almost all ways, not at all. In terms of sex, I never got close enough to very many of them to know; you need to be close to talk about that, and I was sufficiently atypical not to be close friends with any of them.

            (I gather men sometimes talk about sex casually among themselves? I’ve never been around women who did.)

            I would have argued that my circle of friends is not particularly selected for being low-libido, especially the extended Facebook circle, and I definitely observe the pattern. But they may be selected for things that correlate.

            Also, one minor quibble

            Convincing boys to do your projects in school gives you good grades and free time,

            Not speaking from personal experience, but this sounds like a much less reliable way to get good grades than doing your own projects and doing them right. Do people actually successfully charm, not just boys, but boys who are really good students into doing their projects for them? Why ever? Even aside from obvious benefits of doing it yourself, it seems like the kind of thing a teacher could very easily catch. My (college) teachers certainly would have; are you thinking of pre-college?

            Don’t want just hot guys. Being pretty helps you get any kind of guy: smart, strong, skillful, rich, sensitive. And hot is by definition always a plus.

            Correct. I agree being pretty is a plus in any environment; my argument is that in a casual-sex environment, the whole project is harder, even if being pretty still makes it easier.

            As for guys not being inclined to marry… I guess that depends on location and age. In my circle of friends pretty much every guy is either married or looking (30-40).

            It may well depend on age, but that still causes problems, unless women want to marry significiantly older men and vice versa, or don’t want children. Most women I know who want to be married either manage it in their mid-20s, or are unhappy about failing to do so. Menopause can hit as early as 40, and later pregnancies are more dangerous; women who want kids are on a tight timeline.

            To be honest, I don’t know what’s the right answer here. I think we just need this kind of questions professionally studied, much more seriously than they are now. How are we happier? Long term relationships? Family and kids? Serial monogamy? Promiscuity? Abstinence?

            I only know of two pieces of research I have reasonable confidence in: children trade some happiness for meaning (at a higher cost when parents are young and poor); and women living a promiscuous party life style tend to suffer from depression that goes away when they stop. But that’s far from enough…

            That’s one piece I didn’t know about. I completely agree that we need more data, ideally a lot more data. I’d also be really interested in information about libido (average level, how much it varies) in men and women, especially collected recently; I have a vague feeling I’ve heard it matches my impression, but given how biases work, I’m not sure that is worth that much; I’d be much happier with data I could actually point to, or look through. Too much of what I’m relying on is anecdata.

            (My university emails me articles about research their professors have been involved in, and I think I remember one of those discussing deaths of loneliness – essentially, arguing that being part of a stable couple has significant positive effects on lifespan and I think happiness. But I’d need to look it up again.)

            Edit: Oh, one thing I didn’t think of – “we” may be assuming too much. You can average it, but I’m pretty sure some people (like me) would be utterly miserable with promiscuity/serial monogamy; others might be miserable the other way. It would still be useful to get the average, but I think part of the problem is that different people are maximally happy with different setups, and you can’t really maximize everyone at once.

            Still would be useful to know more, though.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            @Rebecca Friedman

            I understand your other points, but this

            Also more difficulty finding a husband.

            is rather puzzling. Can you explain why this is true?

          • Also more difficulty finding a husband.

            is rather puzzling. Can you explain why is this true?

            I think I answered that in my comment in the thread. In the traditional system, men who want sex mostly have to get married to get it. In the modern system, men who want sex can usually get it, either as casual sex or as part of a continuing relationship without any commitment. That makes things harder for the women who want marriage and children assuming, as I think one should, that there are more of them than of men who, sex aside, want marriage and children.

            And, as Rebecca suggested, it makes it especially hard for women unwilling to engage in sex without commitment, because one of the courtship strategies in the modern system is an affair that gradually leads to marriage.

            Someone at one of our meetups commented that he had met his wife on Tinder. My response was that I thought Tinder was basically for hookups, not courtship. His response was that a hookup was how courtship starts. That seemed very odd to me, but, given the present pattern, it makes some sense.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            @DavidFriedman

            It seems I have misunderstood Rebecca’s comment. I thought she meant that pretty young women have more difficulty in finding a husband compared to less attractive ones.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            @WarOnReasons

            Yes, sorry. My claim is not that pretty young women have a harder time finding a husband than less pretty young women; I would expect the opposite to be true. My claim is that pretty young women in a more casual-sex-focused society like the one in which I grew up have a harder time finding a husband than pretty young women in a more marriage-focused society like the one in which my grandparents grew up.

          • albatross11 says:

            Rebecca:

            I recall reading somewhere (I don’t have a citation) that there was some study/survey indicating that more attractive women at universities were less promiscuous than less attractive women. I think the hypothesis there was that more attractive women were in a better bargaining position–they could hold out for more commitment and not offer sex as early, and keep the relationship, whereas less attractive women could not.

            I’m not sure whether this is true (lots of n=50 survey-of-undergrad-psych-student studies turn out not to have much to tell us), but maybe it’s a datapoint.

          • Matt M says:

            As a low status male who was active on various dating apps, I can confirm that “more attractive = less likely to sleep with you quickly” is absolutely true.

            And I think Rebecca’s overall theory is spot on. Mainstream acceptance of casual sex “levels the playing field” such that less attractive women are now able to compete for male attention by simply cranking up the promiscuity.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Rebecca Friedman

            I think you may be overestimating the power of being a pretty young woman. As best I can tell, people don’t treat me better realspace than online; if anything a bit worse, and while I don’t think I’m stunningly hot, I’m certainly at least average. Which is not observable online. Maybe everyone is just hoping – I do use female usernames – but…

            There is something different. I am treating you as a woman right now, even though it’s pretty hard to pinpoint the difference. There is a bit more goodwill, and less tendency to lock horns, but I’m pretty sure it’s more complex. Probably the worst (and the goodwill part makes me hesitant to say it) is that it makes it a bit harder to evaluate the quality of your comments. The effect is small though – think 10%, not 90%.

            I’m pretty sure the bit of being female that makes school easier is not positive discrimination

            I’ve done my share of helping female friends with their computer science, and I’ve also done my share of refusing to help. There is definitely less inhibition in asking. I don’t remember having been asked by a man. And Bryan Caplan would sake that most school work is useless anyways, so getting through the slog easier is a net advantage.

            Anyways, I think there are at least two things separating your experience from average. Background, and … let’s not say “attractiveness” but a wider “perception of personal value”. So yes, the combination definitely does make it harder to find a partner. I can sympathize – true or not, my self perception is also high enough to make serious relationships rare. Background and gender allow me to fill the gap with more promiscuity, but this only underlines the fact that they fill very different slots.

            And age, yes, that’s a big issue. Everybody is likely to start later, at least in big cities, but women have an upper ceiling. Not sure what to say here. I think technology might just fix things before we do – if we find a youth pill in the next 30 years it might be earlier than it takes us to solve it socially.

      • Nick says:

        Sex, besides being procreative, tends to pair bond as well, and this facilitates the procreative end of sex. After all, nature cares about more than just our having the baby, it wants to see it develop into a fully grown human being itself capable of reproducing. But raising a human child takes quite a lot of work for quite a long time, and in our ancestral environment that could well be a death sentence without at least some help. This help is called the man. Whence the unitive end of sex, and why I said below that it is itself ordered to the procreative end.

        Not quite the same thing as what you’re getting at, but it’s along the same lines.

      • I can give you another alt-right argument. I don’t remember where I heard it, but it goes like this:

        Contraception and abortion bans are like cardboard boxes. Someone not from our culture would look at the cardboard box and think “what is the purpose of this, how does this produce utility?” It’s not an article of clothing I can wear, I can’t sit on it, it seems to just take up space for no reason. But then you show him its actual use, it allows you to send things from point A to point B. Opposition to contraception and abortion are like cardboard boxes. Seem in isolation, they don’t have much utility. But when you pair them with something you can then send it, with the box, to the future. That could be your genetic makeup, your religion, your cultural attitudes, etc.

    • Oldio says:

      Catholics tend to see the number of children a couple has as being not their decision. It is to be left to the hands of God. So birth control is seen as an usurpation of someone else’s authority.
      One other thing to consider is that although there might not be a silver bullet argument, from a Catholic perspective there are multiple less strong arguments which when taken together are much more compelling.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’ve always sort-of seen this as God wanting married couples to be open to children.

        I mean, Catholic teachings against birth control occur alongside those against extramarital sex, so outside marriage, if you’re trying to follow Church teachings, you’re not really subject to getting pregnant in the first place and so birth control is unnecessary.

        But within a marriage, being open to children means accepting that now that you’re married, you should allow the possibility that God will put a kid or two into your life. That is, part of marriage is accepting the possibility of having kids.

        I think of this teaching in the US context as pushing back against the idea that you get married and decide not to have any kids because they’re expensive and time-consuming and you don’t want them to cramp your style, or that you get married and carefully plan your one child for just after you make partner and your husband finishes his residency.

        • All of this plays into the question of whether God is a libertarian. One reading of the Catholic answer is that He is a libertarian paternalist. Unlike human legislators who justify paternalist legislation on the theory that they know what is good for us better than we do, a God who created us can plausibly claim to know what is good for us better than we do.

          So He tells us, but leaves us the free will to ignore His advice if we so choose.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If he’s a libertarian, why’s he going to punish us (by sending us to Hell if we don’t repent) for ignoring his advice (as opposed to merely letting us suffer the consequences for our actions?)

            Of course, this question relies on there being a distinction between God taking action to punish (which covers sending us to Hell), and God having set up the whole system so an action brings bad consequences. If there’s no distinction and it’s all punishment, God’s not a libertarian. If there is a distinction and it’s all the action bringing on consequences including Hell… well, now God’s in the position of the cop who beats the hell out of someone all while saying that’s just the natural consequence of mouthing off to him.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @The Nybbler

            I absolutely love the way Jordan Peterson described religion as an early form or rationality. Given enough time people just saw patterns happening: people who do X more have better lives. In time they started codifying X: don’t steal, don’t kill, treat your parents well and so on. Heaven and Hell are just metaphors for good/bad outcome, and of course teaching tools.

            Also I think it’s pretty telling that the higher you get in religious education, the further you get from a literal Hell. I think it’s pretty explicit in most theological seminaries that it’s not a literal truth, though this of course doesn’t stop a lot of priests from believing it in – I assume those with poorer grades. But I don’t think many that are religiously educated beyond that stiil believe in it.

        • Oldio says:

          Exactly. It’s also true that Catholic restrictions on birth control occur in the context of some restrictions on fertility treatments, and permissions to use the rhythm method in some circumstances, and an absolute ban on male but considerably less absolute ban on female masturbation. I don’t think there’s any one argument/moral principle that collectively explains all of these, but the dozen or so arguments you see flying around all put together are considerably more explicatory.

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            an absolute ban on male but considerably less absolute ban on female masturbation.

            Wait, what? Is that a thing?

    • Randy M says:

      Contraception makes it more likely for people to want to have sex with each other

      I don’t think this is a good paraphrase (or else a reasonable view). The wanting doesn’t depend on the contraception, just the doing, right?

      Anyway, I’m not Catholic and not particularly against birth control, but I do kind of like their stance on the matter. It helps to understand it be keeping in mind that Christians view sex not just as a way to shift around some neurotransmitters for a bit, but also as akin to a ritual that summons an immortal being to be eternally judged while binding the couple together supernaturally.

      • That depends on whether you are defining “want” in gross or net terms. I “want” to eat a bowl of ice cream. But I don’t want to both eat a bowl of ice cream and bear the cost, in increased weight, of doing so, so on net, benefit minus cost, I don’t want to eat it. And don’t.

        Similarly for the effect of contraception on the degree to which people want to have intercourse.

        • Randy M says:

          Sure, but that’s a lot more deliberative than the connotations “want” carries for me. I put the definitions thusly: I want the benefits, I choose the package.

          This avoids making it sound like contraception is a turn-on rather than an enabler for pre-existing desire.

    • Nick says:

      Wikipedia is basically useless here. It is correct to note that many Church Fathers condemned the use of contraception, and quoting the Catechism is fine. But quoting over and over documents that just restate the Church’s view without discussing any arguments is pretty pointless. I see no reference to scriptural passages or to any moral theology, except the quote from JPII.

      2. Contraception is unnatural. I have a really hard time taking appeal to nature fallacies serious to begin with and phrasing it like “[Contraception] harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.” is not helping.

      Welcome to my f^&*ing world. That’s because everyone is convinced that the entire tradition of the Catholic Church up until 1960 or so is scary or mean or something, and that to make use of it would be a terrible mistake. As a result, very few will defend, explain, or commonly, even bother to understand these things. Those who are committed to the conclusions try instead to start practically from zero; as you can imagine, this is not very successful, and when their arguments are not very good, or look like theological babble, this makes us all look like fools.

      The traditional argument against contraception from moral theology was an application of the perverted faculty argument, which falls pretty neatly out of a broadly Aristotelian account of nature and morality. Here is a very, very abbreviated account: We have a sexual faculty. That faculty has two ends, procreative and unitive, and the unitive end is itself ordered to the procreative, so there is no sense trying to meet the unitive end while trying to not meet the procreative. Use of the faculty (which is not the same thing as use of the organ; everyone knows you can urinate in addition to PIV sex) is ipso facto a sexual act, and it is by its nature procreative, viz., even if you happen to be infertile, or if it’s that time of the month. Now, perversion is doing something in a way inconsistent with its end or ends, and perversion is practically irrational, because of course, you can’t achieve the end you are setting out to do if you act inconsistently with it. Inconsistent is a pretty strict criterion; it doesn’t just mean doing something “other” than the end, but doing something that actually frustrates that end. (So glasses are not “inconsistent” with seeing, they in fact facilitate seeing, and earmuffs do not “frustrate” trying to listen to something, provided that you’re not trying to listen to something.*) On its own this only establishes that a contracepted sexual act is irrational, but procreation is in addition a common good. Indeed, procreation is about as fundamental a good for a species as you can get, down there with sustenance and preserving one’s life. Put the other way round, use of the sexual faculty concerns the common good of procreation. Given that the contracepted sexual act frustrates that end, it violates that common good, and hence is immoral.

      For a fuller account, Feser, as usual, has a paper.

      *To be clear, use of a faculty is a deliberative act, which is why I say “listen to” and not “hear”. Indeed if the ‘faculty’ can’t be used, it’s not a faculty at all, just an involuntary human process. Nobody for instance thinks that antiperspirant frustrates the faculty of sweating, because there is no faculty of sweating, because you can’t decide to sweat. My coworkers at any rate were gratified to learn I do not consider antiperspirants immoral.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        it is by its nature procreative, viz., even if you happen to be infertile, or if it’s that time of the month.

        Or if your partner happens to also be male, right? Or does this exception not work for that case? If not, why not?

        • Nick says:

          If you ejaculate in your partner’s ass, you’re definitely using your sexual faculty; you’ve just done it in the wrong place. The perverted faculty argument can indeed be applied to sexual acts like that; if I remember correctly, Feser mentions it in the paper, though it’s been a long time since I’ve read it.

          • mendax says:

            How can we know if we are using our faculties in-correctly, and not just using some other faculties we have? What if when we thought we were pro-creating, we were actually qu-procreating, but were doing it incorrectly?

            (hope I remember/understood enough of previous discussions for that joke to work)

          • eyeballfrog says:

            I guess the issue I have is it’s not clear to me why that’s different from a woman who’s had a hysterectomy, and thus is about as likely to get pregnant as the man is.

            If the argument here is just meant to apply to birth control, and there’s some other argument for homosexuality, masturbation, and the like being immoral, then fair enough.

          • Nick says:

            @mendax
            No, the joke works! I smiled.

            @eyeballfrog
            Sterility is a different but IMO more interesting objection than anal sex. The short answer is that a couple where one person is sterile isn’t necessarily doing anything to frustrate procreation, where the partners engaging in anal sex, or wearing a condom, or what have you, are. The fact that the act happens to be sterile has nothing necessarily to do with them, and their foreknowledge doesn’t change its nature. (Deliberately making yourself sterile to not have children, on the other hand, certainly does change it. But I take it that that isn’t what you mean. ETA: Actually, rereading, it was what you meant. Oh well. (And my circumlocution “deliberately making yourself sterile” is there because it is e.g. possible to sterilize yourself to save your life, just as you can be taking birth control for morally legitimate reasons for other conditions.))

          • eyeballfrog says:

            No, I was thinking of the case of a non-elective hysterectomy, such as uterine cancer. But even then…

            The fact that the act happens to be sterile has nothing necessarily to do with them, and their foreknowledge doesn’t change its nature.

            OK, suppose the gay couple would really like to have children together if such a thing were actually possible. The fact that this act can’t result in that has nothing necessarily to do with them, since they neither designed the human reproductive system nor chose to be attracted to other men (or at least not any more than our hypothetical man chose to be attracted to the woman with the hysterectomy). So where does the distinction lie?

          • Nick says:

            @eyeballfrog

            OK, suppose the gay couple would really like to have children together if such a thing were actually possible. The fact that this act can’t result in that has nothing necessarily to do with them, since they neither designed the human reproductive system nor chose to be attracted to other men (or at least not any more than our hypothetical man chose to be attracted to the woman with the hysterectomy). So where does the distinction lie?

            Like I said, one is doing something to frustrate the end, the other is not. I think it’s implausible to treat the design of the human reproductive system (as you put it) like it’s chance circumstances the same way a hysterectomy due to uterine cancer is. Sure, they didn’t design it, but if they want to procreate they’re going to use that faculty in a way consistent with that end. And they’re not, they’re putting a penis in an anus.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            OK, new hypothetical. A man falls in love with a woman who’s had a hysterectomy. They start up a relationship and hit it off. They end up adopting two children and have a stable, monogamous sexual relationship. I assume you consider this moral.

            Now, a man falls in love with another man. They start up a relationship and hit it off. They end up adopting two children and have a stable monogamous sexual relationship. I assume you would consider this immoral.

            But what’s the difference? How is one couple using their procreative faculties in a way the other isn’t? Also, since you keep coming back to it, is the anal thing specifically the sticking point? What if they only engage in oral/manual stimulation?

          • Dack says:

            The Catholic Church will also refuse to marry you if you are knowingly sterile or impotent.

          • Nick says:

            @Dack
            That’s not entirely true. The Church cannot marry people who are impotent, by which they mean people unable to even have sex. (Because, of course, the marriage can’t be consummated!) But it can marry people who are sterile or infertile.

            Canon law:

            Can. 1084 §1. Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature.

            §2. If the impediment of impotence is doubtful, whether by a doubt about the law or a doubt about a fact, a marriage must not be impeded nor, while the doubt remains, declared null.

            §3. Sterility neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1098.

          • Dack says:

            It can, but will it? It’s not obligated to marry anyone who asks.

          • Nick says:

            If there are no impediments a priest can’t simply refuse. Canon law, same page:

            Can. 1058 All persons who are not prohibited by law can contract marriage.

      • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

        Thanks for your well written account! (To be clear, I’m of the opinion that there’s nothing inherently morally wrong with contraception.)

        My objection is, why should I care what the natural end of my faculties are? If my goals are something other than those of whatever natural process created me (be it God or the blind process of evolution), how do we make the jump from “My sex organs were designed for the purpose of procreation” to “I must use my sex organs for the purpose intended by nature, and not for my own purposes”?

        Perhaps I’ve answered my own question here; I suspect our disagreement might bottom out at you believing we were in some way created by a God whose intentions carry intrinsic moral weight; while I believe we are entirely the result of an unconscious, random process that carries no such weight.

        • Nick says:

          It doesn’t come down to God, really, but how we think about nature. The key thing I think is whether and how much you believe yourself to be constrained by nature. Like, you can eat Skittles all day and night, and it’s all well and good to tell yourself that nature has no say on what your stomach is for, until you literally die.

          The point is, there are objective conditions for the flourishing of the human species, and by extension human individuals. Those conditions can be fuzzy—pinning down exactly how much Vitamin D we should try to get in a day has been pretty tough, and we may run into limits imposed by human variation soon—but they are there. Those conditions can be extraordinarily diverse, as entertainment for instance is, but they are there. And those conditions matter not just for the propagation of your society and way of living, but for individual happiness, because much of our desires come from our nature, and those that don’t are tolerated over generations so far as they don’t frustrate that nature. So individuals and societies can afford to ignore those conditions in the short term, or to give them short shrift, but they won’t in the long term survive without correcting course. At the very least individuals will eventually find that their manner of living is just not living well. With procreation in particular, it seems to me that if your lifestyle results in few to no children, you might have thought yourself very happy, but you nonetheless undermined the conditions needed for other people stably, that is over generations, to be happy in the way you are.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            Ok. Let’s say that someone plans to have a reasonable number of children (≥ 2) in a traditional family unit once they get married and can support them. Or even better, they’re already in such a family, with let’s say three children, but aren’t looking to have any more than that. How, then, is their having sex with birth control, for the purposes of pleasure and bonding with their spouse, harmful to either of them, or to humanity as a whole?

            My point is, in a modern society where the vast majority of children survive to adulthood, you just need slightly more than 2 children per couple on average for “propagation of the species”. And there are definitely lifestyles that include both contraception and ~2.5 children.

          • Nick says:

            Sorry, but I am really skeptical of that. Birth rates across the developed world are really low and only going lower. Birth rates in the developing world are collapsing, except for Africa. Our societies are becoming less religious and by and large more hostile to even using terms like “traditional family.” If trends are any indication, rising wealth makes people have a below-replacement rate of kids, and any setback makes them have even less than that. In other words, since the introduction of contraception we’ve been unable to strike a balance and seem less and less likely to do so in the future. I’m sure individuals can do it, but I don’t buy at all that societies are. And you are not an island.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            Fair enough, I’ll definitely buy that birth control decreases birth rate (it’d be quite surprising if it didn’t) on a society-wide level, potentially below replacement. I guess I’m not completely convinced that’s necessarily a bad thing. Would fewer people in the modern industrialized, highly-automated economy lead to more resources per person? And if so, would that be better or worse than a world with more people who are all slightly worse off on average?

            In short, I’m not sure where exactly I stand on the ethics of creating additional people. Still haven’t bitten the bullet one way or the other on the repugnant conclusion.

            But if we assume for the sake of argument that more new people is intrinsically good, then I think the message one ought to push to individuals is not “stop using birth control” but “have more children”.

            I guess what I’m saying is, you’ve convinced me that birth control might be dangerous, but not that it’s intrinsically immoral for anyone to use it ever.

          • Would fewer people in the modern industrialized, highly-automated economy lead to more resources per person?

            Fewer natural resources per capita, but natural resources don’t have much to do with how well off people are in a modern economy. Congo is poor, Hong Kong is rich. Saudi Arabia is the nearest thing I can think of to a counterexample.

            On the other hand, fewer people means fewer people to find cures for cancer, write great books for me to read, …

    • I’m not a Catholic, but I can offer a pragmatic argument in favor of their position. As I put it in an old blog post, where I calculated the effectiveness of the rhythm method of birth control for a couple who wanted children, but not a lot of children:

      Suppose we view Catholic doctrine not as moral philosophy but as social engineering. The obvious interpretation of the ban on other forms of contraception is that it is designed to discourage non-marital sex by making it unacceptably risky, while permitting married couples to engage in an adequate level of family planning.

      I expect most people here can see that there are reasonable arguments for discouraging non-marital sex, whether or not they agree with the conclusion.

      • Oldio says:

        https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/1115/od1.html Here’s a physician claiming natural family planning- basically the rhythm method plus physiological symptoms of ovulation- works about as well as the pill. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to understand how it presumably works much, much better for married couples than for hookups.
        My anecdotal experience from living in a world full of pretty serious Catholics is that most natural family planning using couples have somewhere between 3 and 5 children, presumably due to imperfect use, and that there are some pretty wide spaces in between. Couples who reject it usually have six plus, much more closely spaced.
        That makes it work pretty well at the goal of creating a world where premarital sex is risky and married couples have a high but not extremely high fertility rate.

      • edmundgennings says:

        That is an interesting argument for why such a policy makes sense, but as a historical matter I am relatively confident that is not the reason for the Catholic position on contraception. I could imagine some element of thought along those lines played a role in countering the 1970s fears about overpopulation so that policy considerations where less aggressively pushing in the direction of permitting contraception. The clergy does not enjoy contradicting the culture but the church must remain true to what has been given to it.

  38. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    What are the odds that both Trump and Biden will be in adequate health by the November election? If one of them wins, that he will be in adequate health to be sworn in?

    • mtl1882 says:

      Trump seems to be doing well, so I think odds are high he’ll be in adequate health. Covid-19 poses definite risk, but I suspect he may already have had it. Who knows?

      Biden also has the Covid-19 risk (possible he already had it as well–politicians seem pretty resigned to the risk posed by their general lifestyle, and love to be in the thick of things, and right now I don’t think either one’s team wants to have scary headlines that portray their guy as vulnerable in the event they developed minor symptoms), and I don’t know what to make of what’s going on with him. I’d put his odds lower than Trump’s, but not too low. I could definitely see a situation in which Biden’s health may be not considered adequate for the job by many, but not enough for the party to admit to this and keep him from being sworn in.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Either way, the vice president suddenly becomes more than a decoration.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        Any chance that results in Trump picking a different VP?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Nope.

        • To expand on Conrad’s response as I interpret it …

          There may have been presidential candidates who would take the possibility of their being unable to serve into account in choosing a running mate, but Trump is not one of them.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Plus Mike Pence has been a really good Vice President.

            He solidifies Trump’s Rust Belt and evangelical credentials, always supports and never tries to upstage the President and competently executes policies he’s put in charge of.

            Getting rid of a bad VP might make sense, but Pence has been anything but bad.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            I think a major requirement for working for Trump is that you must never, ever upstage him. Pence never has, and has never tried. So I suspect his position is as secure as anyone’s position in the Trump administration can be.

  39. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    While some features of likely disasters are somewhat predictable, one thing that’s clear now is that it would be good to have a more flexible economy. How would the economy need to be different to rev up more quickly for sudden needs, preferably at a lower cost?

    • A lot less of the sort of regulation that says “you have to have government permission to do X.”

      • HeelBearCub says:

        David, industry is struggling to even divert toilet paper from bulk commercial sales to grocery stores. That has entirely to do with how the supply chain is set up to serve the differing needs of various customer types. This when the marginal revenue improvement would be HUGE.

        Just saying “free market” over and over doesn’t change all, even most, of the underlying problems.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think the same logic applies to organizations. Laws and regulations slow things down, but so do internal written policies and rules within an organization.

          As an example, my employer has a lot of paperwork requirements for working from home. When the pandemic looked to be coming, we had a big paperwork-panic-exercise getting all the forms filled out to allow employees to work from home, making sure everyone had remote access to the VPN, etc. I talked to a friend of mine whose organization didn’t start preparing in advance for this, and they’re still mired in trying to jump through their own administrative hoops to let workers work from home, or to determine who is and isn’t essential, or whatever.

          I agree with David that fewer regulations requiring government permits and licenses in order to do things would be helpful in making us more flexible. But I also think there’s a broader trait of our society that needs to change, that is behind the public’s support for all those permits and licenses. Local governments, companies, schools, etc., all have piles and piles of internal rules and paperwork requirements that have proliferated, and those inherently make everything less flexible.

          Suppose there’s a doctor licensed to practice medicine in CT who wants to help out in a local NY hospital during the crisis. He’s probably blocked by state regs on who can practice medicine, and those are silly and should go away–if you can practice medicine in any state, you should be able to practice anywhere in the US. But even if the state waived the regs, the local hospitals probably have policies forbidding accepting that doctor’s help, and requiring a long paperwork exercise to allow him to work there. And the hospital’s insurance provider likely has another set of requirements and hoops to jump through.

          Deregulation of the kind David and I support would eliminate one barrier here, but not the others. And that gets to the reason why those barriers exist, and probably IMO a lot of the reason why it now takes a decade to do what used to be doable in a year–as a society, we’ve gotten very comfortable with lots of rules for every situation and regulations and paperwork and hoop jumping.

          I’ve worked for a very small company in a new industry. It was shockingly different from working for a large organization. If I wanted to do something, I just called my boss and asked, and he said “yes” or “no.” No rules, no paperwork, no hoop jumping. But also no procedures to guarantee fairness or consistency of decisions, nothing to prevent him and me from conspiring to featherbed at the company’s expense, etc. We could move a lot faster, but we had to accept some costs. As a society, we’ve moved more and more toward wanting the rules for consistency and fairness and such. Sometimes, that applied even to small businesses/organizations, but less so than it does most other places.

          I think of this as a little like the debates we’ve had about freedom of speech in the legal sense vs cultural norms for freedom of speech. The first amendment means that it’s pretty hard for the government to punish a private citizen for his expressed views. But both government and private employers are *really* into controlling their employees’ speech, on and off the clock, in the US right now. The news is currently full of stories about doctors and nurses getting in trouble from their employers for daring to complain in public about, say, not being given proper protective equipment while treating a roomful of coughing COVID-19 patients. It’s become a cultural norm that employers can and should do this kind of policing of what employees say in public, and it now seems kinda shocking when an employer in a high-profile case says “we don’t care what our employees say or do off the clock.”

          I think we as a society are paying a high price for this inflexibility. It becomes more visible now, during a crisis, but I think we’re paying that price every single day, even when it’s hard to see. And only a fraction of that inflexibility comes from the law, which also means that this is a problem that mostly can’t be addressed by political activism or organization.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            those inherently make everything less flexible.

            They do so, on the whole, for good reasons.

            Here, I don’t mean good in a moral sense, but good in an “accomplishes an objective” sense. Yes, small organizations can change and adapt much faster than larger ones, and yet they typically can’t change and adapt fast enough to server the needs of large entities. By the time they have done that changing and adapting, low and behold they are a large organization.

            Yes, every large organization has its frustrating tendencies, the amount of them which exist being on some sort of normalized curve over the set of all organizations of the same size, and where organization size moves your median-point to a larger value. But organizations do not grow larger by accident, nor do they accrete procedure by accident.

          • albatross11 says:

            HBC:

            I think any kind of crisis is likely to demonstrate some hidden costs of all those rules and requirements, all on the same day. One solution would be to allow an organizational “state of emergency” that waives all but the most critical rules, but that’s both subject to the temptation to always be in an emergency, and also to the temptation of people proposing rules to demand that *their* rules be the never-waived kind as a way of signaling how important the issue is.

            And I think this is society-wide. It’s not that you want to move fast but it’s just your organziation’s rules, put into place a decade ago after a scandal involving misuse of funds, that stop you. You want to move fast, and your organization’s rules are in the way, and so are state laws, federal laws, terms of your insurance policy, etc. That’s why it’s so hard to overcome.

            Think of the lady who discovered asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 in Washington State. She violated rules/laws/regs at several different levels–the FDA, the IRB, probably local rules at her institution, etc. Many of those rules are probably sensible, and may do more good than harm overall. But they also ensure that it’s very hard to respond quickly to changing circumstances, because that just can’t be done while also adhering to all those rules. And yet, we’d be in a much worse place, IMO, if she hadn’t done it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The key word there is “crisis”. It’s tautological.

            If no problems were revealed, there wouldn’t be a crisis, not for that organization.

            You know how the military guys here like to point out the perils of trying to simply add functionality to a platform? Yes, this troop carrier doesn’t have armor or a gun … because it’s a troop carrier. No, this tank doesn’t have the ability to carry troops, because it’s a tank. Try and do both things, and you won’t do either well.

            This of course doesn’t mean any given tank or troop carrier can’t be improved, but that’s beside the point.

            I’m trying to point out that we need to accept that these kinds of limitations tend to be inherent. You can design with these limitations in mind, but you can’t ignore them.

          • albatross11 says:

            HBC:

            Okay, I think I see your point. There’s a slider bar we can move toward “less regs” or “more regs,” but it’s a tradeoff, and there will definitely be a cost to doing so. Large organizations can get rid of their painful requirements for allowing working from home, but doing so will result in more employees drawing a salary for sitting at home playing video games, or making workman’s comp claims for cutting themselves while making a snack in their own kitchen, or whatever.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            doing so will result in more employees drawing a salary for sitting at home playing video games, or making workman’s comp claims for cutting themselves while making a snack in their own kitchen, or whatever.

            Or the opposite problem, employees who do a stellar job aren’t as apparent because their work isn’t visible anymore.

            Or, the third, most likely, problem, it simply has enormous cost to create the processes and infrastructure that make it possible for substantial number of employees to work from home, at no apparent benefit to the employer.

            However, this doesn’t mean that working from home can’t work. It just means that, absent the crisis that forces firms to pay the cost to adapt their processes, the employer wouldn’t have had incentive to do this work. Now employers who already had absorbed these costs are in a better competitive position and, all things being equal, will outcompete those who are having to scramble.

            From the view of the employee, it simply “proves” that the employer could have done this before, but they don’t see the larger picture. Later, when their office space is reduced and now every employee is expected to work from home a substantial portion of the time, and use the flex-space when they need to come in to the office, they will again complain, not realizing that the organization is simply leaning into this now extent infrastructure that allows them to realize a competitive financial advantage of reducing their real estate spend (by, in essence, getting the employee to bear this cost).

            And the quants and the CFO will be mightily happy and cash on hand, dividends, stock prices and C-level compensation will rise. If employees have a bonus plan, they may get their bonus some year when they otherwise wouldn’t have, but it won’t feel like a windfall.

          • Loriot says:

            My company was relatively fortunate in that we *already* encouraged everyone to work from home one day a week, so there was relatively little adjustment required.